Some Abstract Thoughts

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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In all my years at Keloland, I only got royally chewed-out by my bosses a couple of times..and both had to do with comments I made on the air about so-called works of art.
The first was after I had been sent to cover the unveiling of a new water fountain in the center court at one of the malls.
Water came trickling down a 25 foot tall hexagon shaped metal structure into a pool below.
The mayor and other dignitaries were on hand  to dedicate the thing which I said in my story looked kind of like a big Shell No-Pest Strip. (An insect killing device containing a strip of poison that was hung-up in rooms. It was banned in 1979 when it was found to be poisonous to more than bugs.)
Well, after taking lots of angry calls from mall officials and art lovers, our vice president of operations, Tom Sheeley, called me into his office and let me have it.
When he was through and I got up to leave..he winked and said, “I was thinking the same thing when I first saw it.”
It happened again when I reported on the unveiling of Sea Dream, a metal sculpture by Steve Thomas from Augustana College.
It now stands in the park across the street west from the statue of David.
I actually like the looks of it but at the time I said it reminded me of the severed cover of a golf ball.
Back to Sheeley’s office.
With my track record as an insensitive clod, it’s surprising that I would wind up doing so many stories over the years about art and artists.
I don’t think I’m really all that insensitive but I always have had trouble accepting works of art at face value…especially abstract stuff…where the artist says it is meant to convey a feeling and it’s up to you to decide what that feeling is.
 I’ve seen people at galleries nodding their heads in approval as they stare at a Jackson Pollock type painting or an Andy Warhol silkscreen of soup cans and I wonder to myself..what the hell am I missing?  
I want to understand Picasso and Mark Rothko, I really do but, I just don’t get it.
One of my favorite songs is “Vincent” by Don McLean in which he describes the tormented life of abstract impressionest Vincent Van Gogh who was so frustrated over not being understood by the public..he once cut off a chunk of his ear..and in 1890 he killed himself.Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime. Today they bring millions.
One of several self-portraits by Vincent                Starry Night by Vincent Van GoghMcLean writes of Vincent, “This world was not meant for one as beautiful as you.”
I like the song, but I don’t think that not understanding everything Van Gogh “tried to say to me” makes me unworthy to live in this world.
Every time I look at a far-out abstract painting, sculpture or gem like this thing from Joy Crane of Sioux Falls called “Chastity Belt” I can’t help but think the artist is standing behind a screen laughing at my gullibility.

So, I usually put abstract art to the Cheeta/Congo test. 
Paintings by of the Tarzan movies who turned 75 this year..sell for 150 dollars.
Three paintings by the chimp, Congo..who died 40 years ago, recently sold for 25 thousand dollars to a guy from Pasadena who says “humans don’t have a monopoly on the ability to concept abstractly.” 
Two masterpieces by "Congo" Sorry, I’ve just gotta stick with art that I do understand…from the realism of  a Michelangelo, Terry Redlin or Mark Anderson to the gentle impressionism of a Mary Cassatt, Harvey Dunn or Mary Groth.  
  Mary Groth                    Mary Cassatt
I’m sure that I’ve ticked-off some of you who appreciate or create abstract art and If Tom Sheeley were still alive I’ll bet he’d be calling me back into his office for a good butt chewin’.
Followed, perhaps, by a wink.   Harvey Dunn


  1. Kate Sheeley says:

    Hey, Doug-

    I really got a kick out of reading this-I still remember that corner office of his at KELO…and the talks…and a wink or two.

    Hope you’re doing well!

    Very best,
    Kate Sheeley

  2. Dorie Sheeley Buswell says:

    What fun to read of good old Tom Sheeley again. It reminds me of the criticism heaped upon him when he had do away with a Christmas special show because Billy Graham Crusade bought TV time to show their crusade. As I recall, the Argus nicknamed him the “grinch who stole Christmas” The phones rang off the hook!!…Enjoyed your column very much, Doug.
    Dorie Sheeley Buswell

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