Aggressive Goodness

robert - brooklyn, New York
Entered on March 31, 2009
Age Group: 65+
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This I Believe

I am an artist and I believe in, “Aggressive Goodness” — the power of Art to project caring and compassion into the world.

In the early 70’s, I was an Abstract Painter and a successful one at that– featured in Time Magazine and with work in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum. But I began to lose interest in “Modernism” which was becoming overly intellectualized and Academic, detaching itself from its audience. I began experimenting with the ‘low art’ of everyday domestic ornamentation of wallpaper and linoleum patterns and finding in them a new way to explore the nature of not only painting itself, but something that seemed to be becoming lost at the time– Beauty. By the middle 1970’s a group of like-minded artists emerged and we became known as the Pattern and Decorative Movement. Over the many years since, I found myself growing with this new way of thinking about painting and started using words like civility, sweetness, and sentimentality when describing my work– words usually not associated within Contemporary Art discourse.

Then, on 9/11 things shifted within me. The day after, with my wife stuck in Canada, my daughter and me went down to Ground Zero to see if we could help. Upon arriving and witnessing firsthand the devastation, my first thoughts were: ‘Why?’ and, ‘if I knew anyone who might have been in these buildings’. As my horror receded I was left wondering “Does a single act of violence make all things caring and good inconsequential?” And for me, more directly, what is art’s purpose in the face of such inhumanity?

After my sense of grief and emptiness passed I knew that I did not want my work to glorify nor be determined by the sickness of mad men. I realized for me, Art’s purpose is to heal and to instill balance into the world. Art is not passive, for it has the power to plant seeds of optimism deeply into the human psyche.

The first paintings I did after September 11th were a series of large canvases of invented lace patterns. But why lace?– I had no idea. It was totally intuitive. But with time it became clear: for me Lace became a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things– erasing all our sociological and geographical boundaries. We are all deeply a part of each other, like woven threads. For me, these Lace Paintings, started to mend the firmament in which we all live.

So my Art is unapologetically “aggressively” about nurturing, sentimentality, kindness, civility, sweetness, respect and beauty – in two words, ‘Aggressive Goodness’. Unfortunately these life affirming attributes have been seen as embarrassing trivialities in our and other male dominant cultures. They are too “womanly” or even the dreaded word “sissy. So call me ‘sissy’ then! We need to get past this fable of manhood and the idea that anything gentle and caring is ineffectual and weak– on the contrary, these powerful characteristics are the very substance that holds our existences together. They are what makes us, fully, human.