Interviewsand Articles


Art and Ethics: A Dinner Conversation at Flytrap Studio in Oakland CA

by several, Jun 24, 2017



One evening six long time artists and I made our separate ways to Kallan Nishimoto’s Flytrap Studio, one of Oakland’s hidden treasures. We were coming to dinner there. But there was more to it. We were going to have an exchange during the meal. It would be recorded. Might something of real value be brought to light? This was the real question.

For over thirty years, Kallan has hosted events at this location, many of them around music performances. (If you ever have the chance to watch Kallan and his taiko drumming group perform, don’t miss it!) Kallan is blessed with of a broad variety of gifts, not the least of which is envisioning and putting together creative events, both public and private. This was one of them. Here’s the transcript from that evening’s conversation in East Oakland.

(The artists: Bruce Helmberger, Brenda Louie, Ron Nakasone, John Toki, John Wehrle, Richard Whittaker, Yoram Wolberger)

Kallan Nishimoto:   I want to introduce you to your chef for the evening. This is my daughter, Moe Kobayishi, and her mom, Kumiko [Uyeda] is in the kitchen right now. So there will be periodic interruptions as we bring out each course for the evening.

Richard Whittaker:   Thank you, Kallan. It’s just amazing what you all have done preparing this. I have to give you credit for the whole idea, too—of having this dinner with artists and trying to have a conversation together around a specific topic. [to all at the table] We talked this over a good bit. Kallan thought it would be more interesting if people didn’t know the topic in advance, and we agreed. 
     So here’s our topic: art and ethics. It's a big one. This question first came up for me from a conversation I had with the artist Enrique Martínez Celaya. No other artist I’d talked with had ever brought this question up. And so to help introduce the topic, here are three quotes from Enrique. Maybe these go with the appetizer.
     “Wide acclaim is not needed for something to be true.”
     “In art, real knowledge is not what comes from hearsay, or what is gained by listening to the consensus, but what is unconcealed by deep engagement.”
     “The qualities that distinguish great art from the rest are directly or indirectly related to ethics. At the heart of great art, you will find love and compassion. A great work of art cannot come from hatred or cynicism.”

And if you don’t mind, I'll read a couple more quotes.
     This one is from Robert Irwin: “To be an artist is not a matter of making paintings or objects at all. What we are really dealing with is our state of consciousness and the shape of our perception. The act of art is a tool for extended consciousness.”
     And this is from Jacob Needleman on the potential of art. “I think what we’re talking about here is what is the salvational influence in society? I think what art can do is give hope, real hope.”
     So that’s our introduction to our topic for our conversation tonight. 
[ the silence was soon broken]

Ron Nakasone:   I can agree with every one of your quotes. And concerning art and ethics, there’s a big push now in academia to talk about art and justice. We had a conference some years ago, and that was one of the sub-topics. It’s very similar to art and ethics. One of my students, for one of his comprehensive exams, decided to put on an exhibition on art and justice in the Latino community. And that should be coming up on the Summer of 2018 at the Graduate Theological Union. So, I'll let Richard know, and he can spread the word.

Richard:   Well, with this topic, I imagined it would quickly lead to something like issues of social justice. And there’s a lot of art that’s made about that. Right?

Ron:   That’s true.

Richard:   I found it interesting when I interviewed Squeak Carnwath, quite a while ago, that she said, “I'm not interested in didactic art.” What interested her she called the question of “the unmediated self.” It’s hard to know what that means, exactly, but in terms of this question of art and ethics I think everything’s on the table.

Brenda Louie:   I think ethics is really quite broad. When you talk about social justice, I think this is the real issue in graduate school. Does an artist have a social responsibility? Talking about responsibility, to me it means to be productive, to bring out hope to whoever sees the work.  Some people say, “My responsibility is just to make the thing I like.”  But then you talk about social justice—okay, it could be that, too. So what are we talking about?

Richard:   That goes right to the main question. If the artist has a responsibility, which I think Enrique would say, what is that responsibility? And do you feel that? It’s a question that I’m guessing might have some relationship to everyone here.

John Toki:   When you brought up the question of art and ethics, I immediately thought that in the studio as an artist, I never think of ethics. But when I'm in the studio, maybe it’s John Toki making his own set of ethics. Then once you step outside the studio, it’s a different set of ethics. That brings in the question of society—kind of looking in or out, and setting up a set of ethics we follow. But in the studio, I never think of ethics as something that’s going to drive my artwork. But now, I'm really thinking about it. 
Richard:   What does drive your art making? Could you say something more about that?

John T:   Well, I view my studio as sort of a science chamber for the artist. It’s where I do my experimentation. It’s where I can break any rules, where I don’t have any set of ethics guiding me along; I never thought of that before. But maybe there are sets of ethics that one sets up personally to help guide one’s life—in my case, of working and making art for 45 years.   
Richard:   There’s something that guides you in making the art, right? You’re in the process of making a piece and you decide to make this part a little bigger, or put in this color. So, what’s guiding you?
John T:   What guides me personally, is a sense of exploration. For years, I've tried to make something I’d never seen before—a shape, a design, a sculptural form. What I've learned is that it’s really difficult to do that, because things start to look like “something else.” So, for years and years—and even now—I've tried to develop forms or shapes, or combinations of those, with color that shapes its own language in three-dimensional form. And in my case, it will be with clay.

Richard:   So, you have a world of experience and want to make something you haven’t seen. So whatever you’re making is being compared, automatically, to this encyclopedic awareness of everything you’ve seen. Is it really that you’re looking for something that’s different? Or is there some other function going on besides comparing?

John T:   I always believed that the artist is thinking about all those parameters that help shape their ideas that passed through their hands as they shaped the material—or put paint on the canvas, or the wall. Once the artist starts, I always believe it’s more like the free fall, and you’re just naturally falling to where you should be. All the training, all the external thoughts and notions, ideas and vision—it’s all compressed into this ball of energy, and out of that comes your artwork.  
Richard:   I love that image of free falling. And what I'm getting from that is you don’t have to think; you’re doing something. And whatever you’ve learned in the past is informing you, without your having to think about it.

John T:   That’s true.  

Richard:   So something is informing you in this free fall. Stuff is being moved around, decisions are being made, some part of you is saying “yes” to this and “no” to that.

John T:   True. Like how do you make the decision to make that first mark on your painting? Like how does John Wehrle decide where to make that first mark? Or when I look at Brenda’s vast paintings, with all that energy in there—like where do you start? How does it happen?

Brenda:   Yeah. I think that’s very interesting. I also believe that the process, the magic, with the seven of us, is not the same. So does the ethics come after that process? The ethics is who you are, what you think. So that comes with the process. The final work is the result of the process, and some works have no final product.
     Let’s say you’re going to have a show. So that process begins today and that’s the magical part of that work. In between, a lot of things are involved and you have decision-making at every step. So this is also part of the process.
     [to Wehrle] I think when you make your mural, it’s probably different from the way that I make my map painting. [yes] So, the decision-making of each step when you are in a certain stage also dictates the result of the work, too. Right? I think it’s just like life. A lot of decisions you have to make and my painting is like that, too.
     One thing we talk about is like “the zone.” That part is magical. When you keep on practicing, keep on experimenting it, searching for it—at some moment, you’ve really lost yourself, and that moment is magic.

Richard:   Would you be willing to say that there are different parts of ourselves at work? Maybe it could be called an intelligence, but not the way that we ordinarily think of it.

Brenda:   Maybe intelligence, intellect, and intuition, and experience, too.

Yoram Wolberger:   Intuition is a big part to it. I think that’s what makes artists artists—because many people can have ideas. Many people are very good with their hands; they are good craftsmen. But that moment where the intuition is added to the process, that’s what makes artists, to me. I think my process is very different than with some of you. I'm very much about the idea coming first; I almost know where I want to go. I almost can tell how it’s going to end up. There’s a free fall here and there, but not completely. I'm not letting go. The process is a tool to get to the end. But many times on the way, there’s another thing that gets added or changed that’s not in my control. So even though it was my idea in the beginning, it could change. It’s not like a scientist, but I’m sure even scientists can have that same moment, when they suddenly go in a different way.
     I feel that the intuition is the thing that, suddenly, I'm in a place where, “How did I get here? I don’t know.” Something else was driving me. Right? Maybe that’s the best part. But can I ask a question? Can you define ethics? Maybe we all have different ideas.

Brenda:   Exactly. It’s just so wide.

Bruce Helmberger:   That’s the pursuit here; we’re trying to figure that out. The question is, what is ethics? That’s where we’re going.

John T:   Right. Yes.

John  Wehrle:   There’s a quote from the sciences, if I can throw this in. I think they are parallels in the creative process in the arts and sciences. But the ethical question for a scientist is, if you can do it, should you do it?

John Wehrle, Brenda Louie, Moe Kobayishi

Yoram:   If you can do it?

John W:   Right. If you can do a certain thing, should you do it? Einstein certainly got into that with E=mc2, which gave rise to the Manhattan Project. This was an ethical dilemma with a scientific discovery: should you apply the scientific discovery? I think it becomes very difficult. Right now, what’s happening in the biotech revolution is a technique called CRISPR, where you can actually insert snippets of DNA. So, you can reprogram DNA. So it’s actually genetic engineering. It has a great potential for good, there are various genetically transmitted diseases that you can eliminate that carrier. So, if that technique could be used to make more perfect human beings, where do you go with that?
     I don’t think art quite gets to that level of being problematic, but you could ask, is this painting good for mankind? You know—first, do no harm. Right? There’s that sense to it.

Bruce:   It seems to me that we’re speaking of two worlds. There’s a truth about what you’re doing within yourself. And there’s also, whatever the result is of this process is, how does it influence others? So, what ethics are we speaking about?
     It seems to me that there’s an internal ethics that includes something on the order of authenticity. Is it really authentic? Is it derivative in some sense, or repetitive? Is it something I created in my mind? Exactly where is it coming from?

Yoram:   Do you think it’s separated, the inner and the outer? Because to me, whatever I do is about communication with others. I'm not intending for my art to stay in my studio.

Bruce:   The question I’m asking is around authenticity—what is authentic or true in yourself? Because whatever you make, it’s being projected into the culture.

Yoram:   Right.

Brenda:   Like before the universe is formed, there’s no name. Art is like that, too. Like if you’re making an abstract piece, when do you say, “I'm done”? When do you see that? So, with authenticity, when do you think your piece is finished?

Ron:   So, ethics, in many ways for the artist, is a kind of integrity or authenticity. One of the parts of that is, how are we honest to the material that we’re using? That’s a kind of authenticity. If it’s clay, then you can bring out the potential of the clay, so you don’t make it do something it wasn’t intended to do. There’s a kind of ethical posture to the material itself, and to the media. And ethics is also about social responsibility. There’s some responsibility the artist has to the society in which he or she lives. But at the same time, if that society is a bad society, according to whatever judgments we have, then the artist really should not have a responsibility to that evil society, as it were. That’s what I was saying to you.

Brenda:   I see. Yeah. For example, probably many of you remember the piece, very controversial, someone like put a rat in a bucket with razors and then others try to cut it. They talk about ethics in that piece. It’s so inhumane, so what is difference in the ethics? Should artists do that just for the three minutes of fame? Is it the topic of ethics?

John W:   I’d say that dips into ethical territory, certainly. I think it gets back to, if you can do this, should you do this?

Yoram:   That brings something I remember when I was a student. When I wanted to explain what artists do, I had a vision that we take the viewer on a journey. There’s a point, where many people say the artist is on the edge of being insane. Right? So, we are walking this fine line between sanity and insanity. So, if someone goes to the museum and they see something that really makes them emotionally difficult they don’t have to really go through something that will endanger them. The artist is taking them over to the other side and bringing them back.

Brenda:   That’s a good point.

Yoram:   And I feel this way. That’s kind of what some of us are talking about— “should we do it or shouldn’t we do it”? Or even what you said about the material, Ron. Sometimes, we break the rules when we do something that no one else dares to, but is safe. I mean, there are some people who shoot themselves—I forgot his name now.

Richard:   Chris Burden?

Yoram:   Chris Burden, thank you. But most of the time it is safe, in a way. When the audience sees it, they go through an experience, but they can always come back safe and go to home and have dinner with their family.

John T:   The artist Clayton Bailey, who was my professor at Cal State Hayward, made a coin-operated electric chair. You put in $.25 cents, and it depicts somebody getting electrocuted. He exhibited that piece at the Triton Museum in Santa Clara, and it was picketed because the public just felt that, I would assume, it’s an unethical topic to deal with. Knowing Clayton as well as I did, he was a very serious artist. He often would, through his artwork, address topics that were reflective of his fear. Now, is that unethical?

Richard:   Well around this topic of art that’s shocking, I have a question. You can go back to the Dada movement which was a reaction to World War I. The Dadists began to make art that was absurd. Maybe it was meant to show people, “This is crazy.” But then that shocking art thing became a convention and every art student has to do their shocking work. And you’ve got people like Damien Hirst who is very fashionable and rich.

Yoram:   I wouldn’t say fashionable. By saying that, I think you downplay a lot of good art. I think we are in a time where we’re competing on people’s attention with all this electronical media. I don’t see anything bad with an artist having to compete with attention, to try and shock someone. I mean, you can feel when it’s fake. Some of their pieces are like that. Others, I think, are very good, I like them. It can be shock, or it can be like your work; it’s very meditative.

Richard:   Okay. And some of it is fake and some of it isn’t?

Yoram:   Yeah.

Richard:   So, how do you tell the difference?

John W:   Well, I think the Dadaists felt like art could no longer speak to people. So they created an anti-art, essentially, which was Dada. That then morphed into Surrealism, because you can’t keep it up. You can do it once, you can do it twice, but after a while it loses its power. And there’s Goya’s paintings of the disasters of war. Certainly, I wouldn’t call Goya’s art unethical. Art can fulfill a lot of functions. But Damien Hirst is a little more problematic for me. Goya was exposing a part of society and considered it his responsibility to do it. I don’t know what Damien Hirst is really trying to do.

Brenda:   Well, ethics codes could change. It depends on the time in history and the place in the world.

Yoram:   I was very influenced by the movement that Damien Hirst was part of.  I was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute when I went to see The Sensation. That was a show in London, where he and his friends were showing for the first time. At that time, my teachers, everyone, was downplaying shock art. But my earlier education was in graphic design and I understand where they came from. In that generation they all came very influenced by the commercial media, advertising. They took those tools that advertising was using, and brought them into art. I don’t see anything wrong with that, because it’s just the technique. When it’s fake, we know when it’s fake. You feel it when it’s fake. Same thing as someone who is doing brushstrokes; you can see when it’s a master and you see when it’s a student. Right?

Ron Nakasone, Yoram Wolberger

Ron:   Even if a student’s calligraphy is bad, it doesn’t mean it’s fake.

Yoram:   That’s true, but he is trying to be something that he’s not.

Ron:   Maybe not. Anyway, in Islamic art, the feeling of Islamic art, is that the artist ventures into the great unknown, which is called “nothingness” or Allah. And the artist has a taste of this absolute truth, or whatever it is that’s called Allah, and the artist comes back and tries to depict that. That is the task of the Islamic artist and it’s based on this belief that Allah is nameless, but is supreme reality.
     But the task of any artist, or writer, or philosopher, is to venture into this great unknown and to come back and depict, or articulate, what he or she experienced or felt. And that would be, according to the Islamic view, art with great integrity.
     There are all kinds of questions that arise. Did he really go there? Did he really come back? And how do you formalize this kind of vast, unknown experience into form? You know, in Buddhism, we call it “formless form.” That’s a big question. [laughs]

John T:   One of the subjects that I always face is color in artwork. I've dealt with quite a few different people who, if I used red—“I hate red.” Some people hate black, some people abhor yellow—and I use all those in my artwork. So, I faced individuals who were looking at my work, and I could feel those reactions.
     Some people really abhor certain things because it brings up imagery to them, and I've become really sensitive to that. But when I go back into the studio and I’m working on my own work, I shed all that.
     So, ethics and art, on that personal level, has dissipated. But when an external source comes into the studio, then it can change. I become a lot more sensitive to the use of color and what it means, what it symbolizes, to different cultures around the world. So, art and ethics—maybe we need to ask somebody who’s on the outside coming in, and then giving us a little response, to that.

Brenda:   I think ethics is from the outside. Does the piece of work achieve to be what it is rather than being right or wrong? I think a piece of work is aesthetic. Right? Like John, you just said how you create piece. I think it’s not right or wrong if it’s red, or whatever colors. Right?

John T:   True.

Bruce:   There’s no right or wrong. It’s red.

[Someone]:  You’re wearing a red shirt.

Ron:   That’s the wrong color shirt. [Room erupts in laughter.]

Richard:   Well, as Bruce said earlier, there are two ways of approaching this, the outer and the inner. There’s art that shocks people—or gets attention by using the methods of advertising, as Yoram was saying—where the artist intentionally crafts a piece to have that impact. And what would you say? Do you trust something in yourself about that—so that whatever the reason might be, you want to get their attention? [to Yoram] In your own work, what typically would be the reason you would be wanting to get people’s attention?

Yoram:   Because I want to have a conversation. I want to say, the reason I'm making art is because I want to talk to people.

Richard:   Do you have a point of view?

Yoram:   I do. But most of the time, I try to presume my art is more of a question, which someone here said, “I don’t want to give the answer. I want to start the conversation.” Of course, I have my own opinion and you can kind of see what my opinion is, if you look into it.

Richard:   Right.

Yoram:   But I'm hoping that some people look at my art and say, “Oh, this is really fun,” even if to me, it’s like the most horrible thing. Some people say, “It reminds me of my childhood, when we played.” Other people will say, “This reminds me of a genocide from my culture.” How can those two things live together? That’s not my job. I want to have the conversation. That’s why I do the art. I'm not prepared to assume yet, anything. What I'm doing is not shocking, but to me, it gets closer to insanity in a different way than minimalism, from the simple power that comes from one stroke. It’s no different than someone who is shocking, in the sense of what emotions it can bring out. To me, all these are just different tools. I don’t know if I'm clear in what I'm saying? So, I'm using tools that I learned in advertising, and then others that I learned from all these different things.

Richard:   Do you have, behind all this, a vision of sanity, or a wish for sanity?

Yoram:   What do you mean?

Richard:   Well, you’ve said art can take people up to the edge of insanity and come back safely. So, the question would be is there a value in taking people up to that edge? Is there some other thing that interests you there, or you just think getting close to insanity is good?

Yoram:   No, no, no, no. Again, I don’t like insanity. I think that when I say we take them to the other side, I don’t mean that I do it myself. I think that art in general does it. But when I feel like I'm doing it, it’s because I want to shake what’s known. I want to make you look at things differently. I want to show you what you haven’t seen. And so, to shake you, I need to do something to you, to get you to open up your eyes in the sunlight. It can be an aesthetic that pulls you in, or it can be like, “Wow, that’s a great idea,” or it can be, “This is crazy.” You know?

Richard:   Yeah. So, if you want to open their eyes, what do you want to show them? Or what do you want them to see?

Yoram:   I want them to see what they haven’t seen before. What is being ignored, what is being hidden, what is being suppressed, so we don’t talk about it.

John T:   What I see Yoram talking about it is the big question of ethics. You’re questioning it in a really strong way through your artwork. Right? I mean it’s pretty clear. Ethics is in question here through your artwork. I never thought about that until just now.

Richard:   So, the question I have is, if I want to wake people up, do I have any vision of why they should wake up? Maybe you don’t have a vision of why they should wake up.

Yoram:   Well, no, of course I do.

Richard:   Could you say something about it?  

Yoram:   I mean, I never thought about why. I know that’s what I wanted to do, but I can think about it now. I think that it could also be personal experience. I think that we are being told a lot of things. We are being taught a lot of things. We want to believe things that are not true, and by ignoring the truth, we keep making the same mistakes. We keep hurting other people. We keep promising our children the same things that are not true. So we are causing damage. We are causing pain. We are causing wars. Waking people up might change this. Now, I'm not a crusader. I'm not going to say I'm a political artist, and that’s what I want to get at the end. But I'm hoping that maybe someone will start a conversation.

Richard:   What I'm hearing is that there’s something that you would like to come from the work for the good. You’re uncomfortable with that?

Yoram:   No. I'm cautious about taking on too much…

John W:   Yeah, I think the thing about waking people up and having people see is that you have to take what they see. I mean, the idea is to wake them up and then hopefully, they see the truth. Maybe it’s not your truth. I think that can often happen, when you’ve done works that you think… Well, didactic is always a problem. You’re trying to send, you want to send a message like a telegram.

Yoram:   Exactly.

John W:   So, it’s almost a Zen awareness thing. You know? A Zen koan—one-hand clapping. I'm not very good at this. It’s not my culture.

Brenda:   You’re fine.

John W:   Right. I think the artist is trying to do that. I mean, that’s one goal. Sometimes, artists are following a tradition and want to take it a step further. Some artists want to break the tradition entirely. You can create a new one. Shiva: “To create, you must first destroy.” So, there are different approaches.

Richard:   Well, if we look at art in terms of ethics and social justice, I would think that you could say, for instance, war is bad. Why don’t people wake up and see this is insane? We’re killing each other again. I would think that behind that would be a wish for people to wake up and not be killing each other. We could say that would be the good. I mean, this is in the direction of the good?

Yoram:   Well, I mean, there are such things as “just” wars.

Richard:   I suppose so. [looking at Ron] Is “good” a word in the Buddhist vocabulary?

Ron:   Yeah, you can find “good” in the book of Buddhist vocabulary. [general laughter]

Richard:   Would you say something about Buddhist ethics?

Ron:   Oh, gosh. Well, let me just say that the great Buddhist question is, what is the nature of the human mind? They assume that it’s good and just, and everything that flows from that original mind would be good if you can tap it—that is, the mind we all possessed before it became clouded over with ignorance. So, yes, the Buddhists essentially, are optimists. They believe that human nature is essentially good. They talk about ethics and they talk about art—and then they cloud it up, and get it all confused. [general laughter]

Yoram:   Going back to the question about waking up. Isn’t Buddhism, in your practice—you’re trying to wake up. Right? You are trying to get to a stage where you’re enlightened.

Ron:   Well, Zen emphasizes that, but most Buddhists are not Zennists. Most people are ordinary—fishermen, business people, farmers—so the teaching is different for them. I'm also a Buddhist cleric. I have to go preach tomorrow, but when I go and preach, I don’t talk to them about becoming enlightened. It’s an ideal that’s so far removed from their daily lives, it’s meaningless to them. I need to talk about them caring for each other, their parents, their ancestors, all those things. And when they die and I have to conduct a funeral, I can’t say, “Well, he wasn’t enlightened.” That would be a cruel kind of sermon. We urge them to take care of each other, avoid meat, whatever, and try to do as little harm as we can to the environment, and to each other. It’s a very humble teaching.

Yoram:   But when you do your art, do you feel that you are trying to get to that place?

Ron:   Well, that’s a whole different question. There’s a long tradition that I emerged from, and when I do my art, I understand where I belong in that tradition. So, it’s quite different from this other question about social justice and things like that. What we strive for is authenticity. That is, can we reveal or express through our writing our spiritual dwelling place, and every one of us has a spiritual dwelling place.
     There are levels of spiritual maturity, in a sense. When we write [calligraphy], we express the spiritual dwelling place that’s at our level. That’s all it is. We have examples of people who are very spiritually mature, and the aesthetic quality of their lines look quite different. It’s hard to explain what that is, but that’s the kind of integrity I strive for. I’m honest with my brush; I’m honest with my ink; I’m honest with my paper and honest with my intentions.
     I suppose that ethics. It’s a spiritual ethics that one does, whether it be clay, or paint, or music. That’s the kind of ethics I strive for. I don’t want to say “we” because some other artist will have a different idea. But that’s how I was trained, and that’s my tradition.

Richard:   I appreciate hearing that. In Western art we don’t have a tradition like that, not that I'm aware of. And in relation to social justice, I ran into something shocking seven or eight years ago. Do any of you know Ehren Tool? You know him, right, John? [yes] He was in Desert Storm. He came from a gung-ho family of Marines and he believed very strongly in the U.S.’s mission. He’s very plainspoken and said, “We were going over there to unfuck those Iraqis. But we got over there, and we weren’t unfucking anybody.”
     When he came back and he was trying to recover from the trauma of war and he started making simple ceramic cups. Every cup had these military themes—bombs, gas masks and so on—and he started giving these cups away. He’s made and given away 18,000 cups now. When I met him, he’d given away a few thousand. I was shocked. I was shocked that there was an artist working that hard and giving away all of his art.
     I asked him, “Are you against the war? Are you for the war?”
     He said, “I don’t say. I call myself a war awareness artist.”
     I was kind of stunned and I thought, “This is an interesting way to shock people by giving them something you made.” And I realized the power of his cups one day when I was thirsty. I grabbed one of his cups, put some water in it and started to drink, but I stopped just as it got to my lips. I couldn’t drink out of it. So I put it down.

John T:   Richard, I have one of those cups. I've known Ehren for many years, and I was given a cup by Garth Johnson at Arizona State University, where Ehren had a big show. I don’t think I can drink out of the cup, either, because the imagery is so powerful. Garth said, “John, please choose a cup.” Great, the one with a gas mask? Or one with the guns? It’s powerful imagery, so it’s really difficult. So, his message is getting across without him having to tell you his story.

John W:   Being a veteran, I was in a show with Ehren early when he was first making the cups. The cups were all on this platform that was a map of Oakland. Everyone was taking a cup and Ehren explained that the map showed how much of Oakland would be affected if each of the cups was a cluster bomb. It was a pretty powerful statement, and it took you a minute to figure out what that was about.

Ron:   So, the artist has a responsibility to open our eyes, as it were, to show us reality as they perceive it, and that we never saw. In that sense, the artist has a great social responsibility. It’s this artist’s reality that he’s trying to make us realize. So, in that sense, he’s very successful, at least for two of you here. He makes us see a reality that we have not seen before. And all of us here, I think, as artists, try to do that.
     My medium is calligraphy. It took me many years to have mastered the brush. So I try to show a discipline—something about my experience of being an artist—and my cultivation of the ink and brush. It’s very suitable for that because it’s almost instantaneous. You can’t go back and cover it up a mistake. Now, with clay, and other kinds of sculpture, it’s a little different. It takes longer, so it’s hard to read spontaneity into things like that. So, every media has its strengths, but also it has its difficulties.

Bruce:   It strikes me though, that it’s still quite possible to follow what you were speaking about earlier. The question under the surface seems to be where your attention is when you work, and how your attention relates to the present moment.  

Ron:   Yes, yes. In that sense, calligraphy is a performing art that has a record. If a dancer does a move incorrectly, it’s passed. But here there’s a mark on the paper. If it’s not successful you throw the paper away and do it again. Then question becomes how do you judge which is good and which is bad?

Richard:   And that’s interesting. And I appreciate that Bruce brought up the question about where your attention is. So if your attention wandered then the brush shows you that.

Ron:   Yeah. But sometimes wandering is good, though.

Richard:   So, it’s always a question.

Ron:   Well, you know, some flaws are good. [laughter]

Richard:   That’s great.

John T:   Richard, going back to Ehren Tool. He gives everything away—18,000 cups to-date. So I was calculating how many tubs of clay that would be. Do you think if he charged $1.00 a cup that would change the aura of his art?

Ron Nakasone:   That’s $18,000, though. [general laughter]

John T:   That’s good calculation, Ron. [more laughter]

Bruce:   Everybody’s been speaking in a way that I find really interesting. There’s this question, what does it serve?—this thing that’s made? What is it serving? Is Damien Hirst serving the culture? Is he self-serving? Is he in the money business? I don’t know. My sense is it’s more ego-based.

Yoram:   Would you say the same about Jeff Koons?

Bruce:   Absolutely. It may be serving other cultural needs, too.

Yoram:   I think it does. I’m not saying that they don’t enjoy the money that they’re making, but I think that as far as art history, Jeff Koons has done a lot for the art world. He opened something for artists who came after him. I mean, even myself. I cannot speak for them, but some of their pieces made good ripples in the world. Others, maybe not.
     But even to me, Damien Hirst’s skull with diamonds, as controversial as it is, it’s an amazing piece, if you think about it. When I saw it, it was brilliant. What are the intentions? I don’t know. Maybe it’s not important. What do we get out of it?

Brenda:   For me, I think about authenticity… We have fine art and functional art. So functional, it’s intention. Right? But you talk about art for the sake of expression and communication. Intention is not part of the beginning of the piece. As an art historian, I think it’s important to have intentions. It’s not just that you make a piece. Do we always have intention?

John W:   I usually get some idea in my head, and I want to see what it looks like. Right now I have an interest in tool-using animals. It pretty much separates animals from humans. We’ve got the opposable thumb and then you’ve got the New Caledonian crows. I think about these things and then something comes out. It’s not really trying to prove anything; it’s just playing with an idea to see what it would look like. For me, that’s usually sculptural stuff. The mural paintings often are assignments. A lot of the public art I do is almost like with an architect—I have a problem to solve.

Yoram:   I don’t think that we always know what the intentions are. But somewhere along the way I start to see sometime. And sometimes, I learn about what the intention was when the piece is done and someone says something.

Brenda:   I agree. Sometimes I don’t have intention when I make a piece. Even when I finish, I still have no intention. But when they ask me for a statement, then I have intention. [laughter] So, I'm not sure that’s honest or not honest.

Richard:   So, Brenda, would you say that when you start a painting, there’s a search involved?

Brenda:   Yeah, actually. There are like different levels of search. I think when you’re getting more educated, the search is a different level. When I started, it was really naïve, like really intuitive—maybe innocence. It seemed more authentic because it really came from not trying to control.
     But now I’ve done research. I have become knowing more—like mapping my work, serious. I research about cartography so I think my work is no longer just what I started with, totally intuitive, totally like based on how I see, how I feel—direct. Like Einstein talks about intuition is a high level of intelligence. But I start to rely on more of my intellect. If I know exactly what is the scientific way of approach to do something, then I've lost some of the intuition. So, would you that call it authentic? I don’t know. Ron, what do you think?

Ron:   I'll give you a Buddhist answer. Can I swallow my food first? [general laughter]

Yoram:   That’s a very good answer.

Brenda:   Yeah. besides it’s very important.

Ron:   So going back to this… There’s a Buddhist philosopher named Hisamatsu Shin’ichi. He was a great scholar and also a great calligrapher. Anyway, talking about Zen art and Buddhist art, he said great art, Zen art, is something that tells you about the Zen experience. That is authentic Zen art, or Buddhist art. So I have a context in which I see my art, and a standard of judgment, as it were. I have a context in which I work. So I can agree with that.
But in the modern world—not only here, but in Japan—when you don’t lead with the long tradition that I come from, all these other questions come up: is it authentic? Is it genuine? What’s the integrity in it? I'm not saying it’s rootless. It has an historical context—Dada to Surrealism, Abstract expressionism, Minimalism—they all join together, historically. Maybe that is a tradition. I'm not sure. But it happens so quickly that we don’t have time to master it. That’s my feeling.

Richard:   That’s interesting. I mean, modern and contemporary art is happening very quickly compared to the traditions in the East that are a few thousand years old.    
Nakasone:   I'm not saying that tradition is good. But that’s a tradition that was given to me. I have an exhibit right now, actually, in the Museum of Modern Art in Santiago, Chile, of all places. It’s a big space, so I put in some scrolls because I needed to show variety, but ideally, I would have had bigger pieces because it’s for a museum. It’s not for a small, Japanese tea house, for example. So, we try to adjust. I don’t know what’s next, but my life is almost over, so I don’t have to worry about that. I did my part for my generation. [laughter]

Bruce:   There’s still much left to do.

Ron:   I agree with you. I was telling Richard this—when I was in Taiwan in April, I was negotiating with this printer. He takes pride in his work, and at the end of our negotiations he tells me, “You’re kind of young for a calligrapher, aren’t you?” [general laughter] I’m 74, and I said, “That’s true.” When he mentioned that, I trusted him, because in calligraphy, only when you become much older does the real flavor of the brush come through.

Brenda:   It’s 94.

Ron:   So, 20 years. But he’s a businessman, so he says, “Come back in five years, we’ll do another book.” [general laughter]

Richard:   That’s something we don’t have here, a tradition that could be a lifelong adventure, even into one’s nineties. You told me the story about your teacher who said, “I can’t wait until I get older.”

Ron Nakasone:   I was 26, you know? I said, “What is this old man telling me?” I mean, it just sounded stupid. But it turned out to be true. I think it’s true for any artist. How will my art mature as I mature? I think that’s a really important question. So, we all need to look forward, not to retirement, but to getting wiser and older, and more settled—spiritual growth, whatever you call it.

Yoram:   When I decided I wanted to be an artist and not a designer, was when I went to the Guggenheim to see a Rauschenberg retrospective. His best work was his latest work. I mean, it was more than 20 years ago and he was still working. But I felt that if there was a show about a graphic designer, it would be the opposite way. As you get older, you’re not as trendy. So, I thought, I want to be an artist. I want to get better in my work as I get older. I have a lot of respect to the Eastern culture. I studied a little bit. I played a little bit. I lived in Japan. Now, I'm a big fan, and I do a lot of Chinese medicine. But to say that the Western culture doesn’t have tradition when it comes to art, I think it’s not fair. If you start from the Greeks—you can start earlier, you can start 3,000 years ago with Persian art—but let’s start from the Greeks. I think six or seven of us here, and Kallan, we are all building on the tradition. I wouldn’t do my art if I hadn’t seen what other people have done. And I didn’t know a lot about art history, but the tradition is in the culture everywhere. Maybe it’s less traditional in the way that we break it every time.

Richard:   Well, it’s a good point you make, and what’s missing is there’s not a lineage of teachers passing on from teacher to student.

Yoram:   Not in a direct way. But an indirect way, there is. If you’re looking at the groups, the history, one is based on what the one did before.

Ron:   There are always breaks in the tradition, even in calligraphy. So, the Buddhists get away with that. They may skip a few hundred years. We call it a spiritual lineage.

Yoram:   My teacher in Japan, and his teacher maybe, started making long shakuhachis that are very different from the short one; you have to play it very differently. He would make fun of the shorter one. Even in the East, there are those avant-garde people who tried to do new ways.

Richard:   You’re from Israel, right? [yes] What’s the tradition of art there?

Yoram:   I started making art when I came here. All of my family did it in Israel before, but there I was a designer. I was making money, you know. I was very practical. I allowed myself to do Fine Art only when I moved. So, I don’t know anything about Israeli art.
[small break in recording]

Yoram: [to John Wehrle] How do you find public art? What do you think?

John W:   I find it very interesting these days. The first large painting I did was at the De Young Museum in 1976. So then you have a track record. Lately, I’ve done work for Washington State. I’ve done work for Chevron, for biotech companies, for cities and what’s changed is that the amount of regulations and requirements make it very difficult. So it’s very difficult for an artist to get a start doing that kind of work.

Brenda:   I got a project, but I don’t know how to do it yet. I have to find a fabricator. My piece is like a big giant ring. I use mosaic on a metal surface.

Ron:   They call what you need a sub-contractor. [general laughter] But artists have to depend on other people. When I make a piece, it has to be mounted. I have to contract a wood worker to make my frames, all those things—so you have to charge a lot of money.

Richard:   Does this relate to ethics? [general laughter]

Ron:   They call it survival ethics.

John W:   It goes back to “first do no harm—to yourself.” [laughter]

Brenda Louie:   Also, insurance very hard to get. No insurance company will insure me.

John T:   There are people out there. Talk to me.

Yoram:   Here’s a question:  I’m no good without a fabricator to do my work so I struggle finding the people who can do what I want to do. I cannot learn all the techniques. It takes me forever. I find one and then pretty soon I lost this one. But we never give them credit. It’s always our work. Is that ethical?

John W:   I’ve done work where I’ve had assistants and I list them on the work. On the other hand, the thing I did for the Chevron Technology Center was installed by Rick Ambrose. I always give him credit any time I mention it on FaceBook, but it’s not on the piece. I didn’t sign it, either. So I think you do want to give people credit for the work they do. But it’s your idea and your name goes on the top.

John Toki:   Stephen DeStaebler needed a lot of help with some of his work—the wax person, the caster, the welder—and he used the analogy of a typesetter putting together a big story. Only his name is on the piece.

Yoram Wolberger:   I’d need a very long list. There are a lot of people involved.

Richard:   I have another question to pose. In terms of the whole process of your work and in what you end up with, what do you trust in yourself? I mean, it’s a deep question. [looking at Brenda] What do you trust in yourself when you make a painting?

Brenda:   You’re asking me right now?

Richard:   No, I’m asking everybody. I’m just repeating it because you weren’t here. You spoke about entering a project and not knowing what you’re doing. But you end up with something. So you had to trust something in that process or you wouldn’t end up with anything.

Brenda:   I trust my decision, I think.

Richard:   Is that all there is to it?  You decide to make a painting?

Ron:   To me, there are aesthetic decisions.

Brenda:   The aesthetic decisions, yes—at every turn.

Richard:   So something is in there making the judgements: “yes” “no”—what is that?

Brenda:   Very interesting. Did you guys ever take a visual test? All kinds of things that you see and at the end you get a score? Amazing! All kinds of images they give me and I answer exactly. I get 100%. So I think, as a visual artist, you can see even a little bit change. You know that.

Ron:   You have to trust your training and your instincts. Then there’s always something that comes up that you never experienced. Then you have to make a decision. Then ten days later you think it’s a bad decision. [laughter and voices “I know that part” – “that’s why acrylic is better than watercolor”] I think that’s true for any artist.
     It’s like life. You make these mistakes all along the way.

Brenda: [laughing] and keep on repeating them.

Ron:   The only way not ot make a mistake is to never leave home.

John T:   Sculptor David Smith said, “People are better at making mistakes than making things.”

John W:  You just want to leave it so you can correct those.

John T:  It’s part of the creative process.

Brenda:   You have to allow yourself to make  mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes you get no magic.

John T:   I’m aware of how important that is to understand that mistakes are just part of the process.  Sometimes you can really discover things like vulcanizing rubber. The chemist left the sap on the burner too long and “wow, I got a really hard compound here. It’s not what I wanted…” But he just discovered rubber.
     I watched Stephen DeStaebler. He put some low fire clay in the kiln and heated it 4500 hotter than you should and it kind of bloated. He loved the look. A lot of people would call that a big mistake. It was published in Ceramics Monthly.

Richard:   Brenda, you said something in our interview—there was a painting you worked on for a long time.

Brenda:   Ten years.

Richard:   And you said, “After working for ten years on this painting I know everything about painting.”

Brenda:   Yes. Life never stops. So I have a huge painting—7 x 16 feet. It was in a very pretigous gallery that showed my work, very expensive. But nobody buy the painting, so I take it home and put it in my studio because I have no other place to put it. So I have to see the painting every day, every day [general laugther]. So the more I see it, the more it’s bothering me so I start painting it and working simultaneously on other pieces. Then I think, “Maybe it’s done.” But the more you work on it, the more it’s not done, right?
     It’s not like every day I work on it, but for ten years, it’s sitting in my studio. And every time I work on it, I see there’s more to be done. At the end, after ten years, I say, there’s no place it can go. I do like the painting. I have no regrets.

Richard:   That’s an amazing story. Probably everyone has the experience  of “I don’t know if it’s done.” And doing some more, and then some more, and pretty soon, it’s ruined. [laughter]

Yoram:   When do you know it’s done? That’s very intesting to me. Sometimes I have this moment, like, okay. Sometimes it could be a dealine, too. I have to finish. Or, there’s nothing I can do to it.

Brenda:   I think a perfect painting is boring. But the moment I feel I have confidence I can kill a painting because I feel that I can revitalize it.

Yoram:   That’s one thing I was going to say about your question, the one thing I learned over the years—talking about getting older and getting a little better—I just trust one thing: the piece will never be perfect. That frees me up.

Brenda:   That’s like calligraphy. You always know the next piece will be better, right?

Ron:   It usually is not, though. [general laughter] Calligraphy is kind of interesting. Sometimes I would work on a piece for many months to get the forms perfect, the ink, whatever, and nothing comes up. So you abandon it. Then you do something else. And sometimes it comes out all at once. So that’s both the agony and the ecstasy of these things. I think the creative impulse is like that. Maybe the cooks have the same problem. Their food is a work of art, but the customers have to pay for this, so they can’t have the agony because customers won’t come back.

Richard:   You know, Agnes Martin said “the life of an artist is a life of suffering.” You think, “Sure, nobody is buying their work. They can’t get a gallery. No one cares.” But that’s not what she means. You go into the studio and paint and nothing works. You keep trying and day after day, you can’t find it. That’s the suffering. Then one day you’re painting and there’s a moment of perfection. That’s what she calls it. The magic. In that moment the road ahead is clear and everything is in order. Life makes sense. Everything is good.

Ron:   Until the next day. [general laughter]

Richard:   Exactly.

John T:   Richard, that young gal who was helping me this past week, was at my studio yesterday for an American Museum of Ceramic Art function. She flew out from Boise to work with me for one week. I asked, “Are you sore yet?” Because it’s lots of physical work—from crawling around on the floor or wedging or moving clay or pieces of sculpture. So are you sore yet? In my field it’s a reflection of your effort. It’s not too scientific; it’s just a reality of getting the job done.

Richard:   John, it isn’t fair, but I want to put you on the spot. I really think of you as a very special person. Do you have a principle that you follow in how you lead your life? I am putting you on the spot here, I know.

Ron:   You don’t have to answer that. [laughter]

John T:   Giving is really important to me. Giving through my art wortwork as an offering to the world—this is my statement as an artist. But I also believe in giving, like with this young woman. She’s an intern coming to my studio, but I’m paying for her flight, her room, all her food. I said to her, “If you really want to learn what it’s like you should come and work with me for a week.” And she said, “I will!”
     We all know what it’s like to be a young artist. It’s not that easy. So to have a mentor is a help. I’ve also learned that giving, like what Ehren Tool is doing—I call it an offering to our society, to our culture, to all cultures. What he’s doing, his message—it’s not for everybody. Not everybody wants to do what John Toki is doing. For me, it’s pretty seamless. I don’t think about it. I just do it.
     John Wehrle and I have been friends for a long time. He called once and had a problem. So I was on the phone calling my friends all over the country trying to figure out how to stop John’s tiles for his public commission in Bakersfield from cracking.

John W:   Yes.

John T:   I took it really seriously. In fact, I take every conversation I have with any of you seriously, even if it’s a little thing—like what nuts and bolts should I use? So I would like to help someone else the same way I’d like to be helped if I asked.

Richard:   And my experience with John totally confirms that. I know that when an artist or art student makes a commitment, you’re all the more in with support. That’s beautiful and there’s a responsibility that probably we all have if we realize what we’ve been given.

John T:   The mirror of commitment was there with that 21-year-old young woman. She had the nerve to come out here. What was I doing at the age of 21? John Wehrle is totally committed. Everyone here tonight is totally committed, which is so special. I can see that in the beautiful presentations of your work. So it’s really easy for me if somebody asks me. Like if Ron said, “Hey, John, I want to make a 20' x 20' brush painting of calligraphy. I’d say, “Well, Ron, you can borrow my scaffold.” [general laughter]

Brenda:   I really appreciate that you shared this with us. And I’m sure everyone here believes that giving is blessing. At the same time, there aren’t too many people like yourself who are so generous.

Richard:   Bruce, earlier you brought up a very good question: what does your effort serve? Could you follow up on that a little?

Bruce:   It’s a very individual question. It seems to me it starts with the question whether one is authentic. The relationship with oneself as one works is what imbues the object with some quality, a certain energy that serves something. I found this a very important question. In fact, it’s thrown my work into complete question so that I’m actually approaching my work from a entirely new direction. For many years, I’ve done work that pleased me. I followed something that was quite intuitive and led the way. But what I’ve learned over many years is that this, yes, it pleased me, but it also left me feeling something was missing. So it’s led me to search, from the very beginning, for the mark making that I don’t do. And for the use of…

Richard:   Did you say the mark making that “I didn’t do?” [yes] What do you mean by that?

Bruce:   Actually, it came from a painting workshop I took that was being led by a pianist. We were using very simple materials. Each of us just began on a blank piece of paper and within a minute or two, he says to me, “Oh, you already know all these materials. Well, that’s a special problem.”
     I said, “What do you mean?”
     He said, “You’re completely habituated to how you use paint, the way you use brushes and therefore you skip over what the new possibilities are for you.”
     His specialty is improvisation. And I realized there was something that could be more alive in my work. So I stopped working the way I’d been working and have started in several new directions. I still don’t know where it’s going. But my feeling about other people’s work changed, too.  In a certain sense, my feeling deepened and I began to feel them in their work. It’s opened my mind—and opened my heart, really. And I feel that this kind of work that you [everyone at the table] do is extremely important in the culture. The culture is very much habituated. And can this work help others open, or awaken? That’s become an extremely important question for me. I don’t have any answers.

Richard:   Thank you, Bruce. That’s great. But don’t worry, we’ll have an algorithm for all that pretty soon. [laughter] That’s a horrible thought, isn’t it? [more laughter] I think we’re just about ready to stop here. Is there anything someone would like to add?

John:   I can go back to the ethics thing just in terms of a couple of projects. These are public projects. I did something for a library and used a couple of quotes. On one wall I painted this quote from Kafka,  “We must choose those books that stab and wound us. A book must feel like an ax for the frozen sea inside us.” And on another wall, I painted this quote from Groucho Marx, “Outside of a book, a dog is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
     The other ethical thing was when I did my painting for an early biotech firm in Emeryville. This was when people were really worried about recombinant DNA getting loose. It was really an ethical question of the time. So I made an allegorical painting “The Return of Jonah.” It’s an image of a whale that has come to the Golden Gate Bridge and there’s this scientist in a lab coat jumping off the whale ready to return to work. This was for Cetus Laboratories. Actually, it was couple of their scientists who hired me and later it became an image the company used. So in some situations I consider allegorical approaches and ethical questions.

Richard:   Was this something, that ethical question, that you felt yourself?

John W:   It was actually suggested to me by a friend who was a scientist. They should be thinking about the ramifications of what they’re doing, which is not something that scientists who are getting paid usually think about. They’re thinking about solving a problem.

Richard:   Yoram, did you want to say something?

Yoram:   One thing I don’t feel comfortable about in my work is that it’s very expensive so only rich people can buy it. So I started doing some smaller pieces that cost less, but it’s still… Of course, I’m enjoying having the money because I can make more work. But I sometimes feel bad about it. If my work is about opening the eyes—I mean, you can see it online, and I see people’s responses—but to actually see the piece? It’s in a private collection. So that’s something that’s not settled for me.

Richard:   It’s a good question. I would think that with this topic, art and ethics, having the question is the important thing. Then maybe something will take shape.

Ron:   I have a question for Richard. [laugher] It wasn’t fair that you asked all the questions.

Richard:   That’s true.

Ron:   So what do you think of this conversation?

Richard:   I feel very good about it. I think there’s some wonderful material here. It’s a good opening to such a big topic.

Brenda:   Yeah. I really like this format. I learned from all of you and oh, by the way—your dinner was incredible! [general applause]

Yoram:   Maybe you should ask Moe about this. I feel like she was part of the art.

Richard:   Moe, I agree with Yoram. Do you have any thoughts about this question of art and ethics - maybe in relation to your art as a chef? And the dinner you prepared for us tonight was definitely art.

Moe Kobayishi:   Yeah, it’s a very broad question. Previously I worked as a chef in fine dining for four years in Chicago. When your food is considered an art and you think about the ethics of it, it’s incredibly wasteful and very bourgeois, but the experience of it—you could say it’s performative art. Then there is food ethics. That brings up the question of eating meat and looking at the carbon footprint of that what you’re eating.

Kallan:   So probably in this room, including Kumi [Kumiko Uyeda], there’s probably 400 to 500 years of art making. That’s a whole lot of years of doing artwork. So is it worth it? If you could rewrite all the years of your artmaking, would you make any changes? I just wonder if any of you have any thoughts on that?

Kallan Nishimoto, Kumi Uyeda, Moe Kobayishi

John T:   I think the journey is just so important. And the walk, or the run, as we trek through life.

Ron:   But you know, Kallan. It’s too late now. [laughter]

Richard:   It’s an interesting question. When you ask is it worth it? You could have a yes/no answer—okay, next question. But let’s say, “Okay. 450 years of experience with art. What does that mean?” Was something deposited in myself? or learned? It’s very difficult to quantify this, but let's say there’s something in the invisible realm of our inner life, and that it has some value, even some value to our culture, possibly. Is there anyone who even thinks about that? Or has anything to say about it? To me it’s an imponderable question, and really worth asking. People express it this way, “We shouldn’t close down art education because art is worth something.” I suspect it’s true. There is something really important, but how do you measure it? It’s a very interesting question.

Ron:   Is that the second dinner? [general laughter]

John T:   How did you two come up with this? It was the two of you?

Kallan:   Well, I haven’t known Richard that long. We have a couple of mutual friends—Zoshi Takayuki and Sam Bower. I’ve known Sam for twenty five years. I met him through the mentoring program for the Oakland High School. Then we started doing art salons together here in the studio. So I’ve met a lot of people and I met Richard somehow.
     The first time we chatted, we chatted for like four hours. We didn’t even notice the time going by. So we stayed in communication and I asked him, “What do you think about doing a dinner?” Because food is something that people gather around, and communication should be without people constantly looking at their screens. We thought maybe a dinner would be really nice. We could get some artists who have a lot of experience and see if there could be a conversation about something. We threw around a whole bunch of ideas.
     One of the ideas was, if you have older artists who have been doing it for their whole life, what makes them commit to that lifestyle in a way that most people give up? What is it that is in you all and has led you down this road and allows you to pursue your art in such a significant and strong way? You stay your course. I mean, it’s a really hard thing to do, but it’s also, I think, one the most valuable things in the world, to do art.
     I’ve met so many artists. Some of them continue and others don’t. So that dichotomy is a fascinating subject for me. And I think this format has merit.              


About the Author

Kallan Nishimoto wears many hats.. Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.    


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