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If you like Fritz Scholder's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Dale Chihuly,
Chuck Jones,
Maya Lin,
N. Scott Momaday,
Wayne Thiebaud
and James Rosenquist

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Fritz Scholder
Indian/Not Indian

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Fritz Scholder
Fritz Scholder
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Fritz Scholder Interview (page: 3 / 4)

Native American Artist

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  Fritz Scholder

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
Being one-quarter Native American, you developed your own vision of the world that you wanted to paint, and then suddenly it was like, no, you're not painting the right way. You're not depicting us the right way. Isn't that correct?

Fritz Scholder: Today, in our society, everyone has to contend with the media, in which they like to immediately pigeonhole you and say, "This is an expressionist, this is this type of artist, or dancer, or whatever. It's a constant fight. All artists have to fight against what they become known for. My teacher, Wayne Thiebaud, was mislabeled a pop artist when he started painting pies and cakes. Wayne was not interested in the pop movement. He was a historian who had seen the edibles on the tabletop of Monet and took it from that. So often, popular media will pounce on something and not be accurate, but you're stuck with it. Usually forever, because they hardly ever come back and do an update.

I was mislabeled an Indian artist because I had done a series on the American Indian when I came to Santa Fe. It was a very natural thing, because all painters who go to Santa Fe become immediately seduced by this very strange and foreign little town. Who still thinks about how much Indian blood someone has? Well, I never thought about it, because I grew up in public schools and I'm not an Indian. I'm very proud of being one-quarter Luiseño, which is California Mission, but you can't be anything if you're a quarter. Plus, I just never had that background. But I found out what Indians think in Santa Fe. For the first time I met real Indians, and they have a whole different mind-set.

American Indians, or Native Americans, or whatever you want to call them today, are the only minority that don't want to join the mainstream. And that makes a very interesting kind of conflict. Most Indian people marry Indians, and if they don't, they're ostracized.

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
This was all foreign to me. When I got on the faculty of a national Indian arts school for five years, it was my one and only job. I resigned because I knew I had to really get going on painting. But I did find out about that element, which is a very strange factor in our whole make-up today. You realize that the supposedly most sophisticated country still has wards, human beings who don't have full rights.

You don't have to live on the reservation, but if you do, some of your rights are gone. Plus, the government has had the worst history of dealing with the Indian. First they tried to make him white, and that failed, and now they don't know what to do, because they lost. It's the fastest growing minority population in this country.

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
I really had a very unique position in Santa Fe and elsewhere, because people didn't know what to do with me. I look more Indian than I am. I have a perspective that transcends any of this current history. You can't blame Indians for not believing the white man, because all the treaties they made were broken. Just recently, they found that billions of dollars in Indian money, have been lost in Washington. So it's still going on. But that's a whole different thing.

I don't believe that art and politics mix. In Europe, art and politics are very close. In America, you do have those who protest and are political, but America has really never had a war on its land. It's quite abstract, and it just doesn't have the political feeling.

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
When you go to Europe, the newspapers are much more political in their attitude than our newspapers. And down the line, it's just a different mind-set. The artist is dictated by the times. America lost its lead. In the '50s, abstract expressionism made New York the art capital, and took it away from Paris.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, New York has lost its lead. It became wimpy. It played games in the '80s and now it's barely struggling. It's back in Europe, meaning Germany, because now a generation has grown up that has to deal with their national guilts, which they're doing, and that makes for strong art.

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
If you're talking about the avant garde, if you're talking about strong statements, which is what art's really about, art is a very serious thing. Especially today, the artist is more important than ever, because the individual is fighting for his life in this cybernetic age.

I recently gave a commencement address, in which I said the shaman-artist has now drawn the line and has begun the fight against the cyber-technocrat. It's not that I'm against computers, but I think that the human being has to be very careful in the coming millennium. That's the subject of my new series of paintings, because it's pretty scary what may happen.

I truly believe the artist must be an intellectual. Painting is a renaissance activity. In a way, it shouldn't even be happening, and yet I say that tongue in cheek. Painting today is probably even more important than ever before, but the artist really must have something to say, about whatever subject, because every subject is a cliché. We all are so sophisticated, and especially visually. We've seen thousands of apples, or women, or cats, or dogs, and so the challenge to the painter is great to still come up with something different. And yet, it's more than just an intellectual or aesthetic kind of game. It goes right to the core. Because the two things that every society has had from the beginning is, of course, religion and art.

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This page last revised on Oct 27, 2007 14:58 EST
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