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

Native American Artist

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  Fritz Scholder

How do you personally handle criticism of your work?

Fritz Scholder: First of all, you have to realize that art in its nature is esoteric. And for the very first time in all of art history, today any style is viable. Now, this has never been before. There was always the church to dictate, or the burgermeister, or the patron, whatever. It's a strange time. In some ways people say, well, this is good, that any style is viable. You can dig a ditch in a desert, you can wrap a building, you can jump off a building, you can shoot yourself -- and one artist did. Conceptual art is very big, and that's fine, because that's part of television, that's part of films and so forth.

Then you have more traditional artists, like myself, who love to continue the kind of renaissance, or classical activity. I have a new toy, a letter press. I'm doing my own books on beautiful, handmade paper, with great type -- Baskerville, one of the finest types designed in the 17th century. I do strange writings and etchings, and beautiful bindings. I'm a bookaholic, so I just like to continue that.

There are so many different types of artists now. Many of them are very interesting and must be taken seriously. But unfortunately, when you have that kind of situation, where anything is viable, you have every wannabe, every weirdo, come out of the woodwork and say, hey, I'm an artist. There's a strange, emperor's new clothes syndrome that's happening in New York City, and Los Angeles and elsewhere, where some of your top galleries and even museums are showing things that really aren't worth showing.

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
You might say, aren't they experts? Shouldn't they know? Unfortunately, the hype has gotten to them, and greed has entered the world of art, the last bastion of self-integrity. Unfortunately, it is a strange time, because when art fails, then you better watch it.

Do you read reviews of your work?

Fritz Scholder: Yes I do, because I like to know what is being written. I remember my first review was a great review. They said, keep watching this guy, he's going to become something, so that was awfully nice. I remember not being able to go to sleep, because that was my first professional show. I knew there'd be a review, and from a real reviewer.

My second review was not that good, which shouldn't have surprised me, because if you have a great review to start, the odds are that the second one may not be so good. And I was so embarrassed, I didn't want to leave the house. I thought, oh, man, everyone read this, and they just think I'm, you know, dumb. But you soon realize that it is the self-integrity in the studio that counts. And if you have that, it doesn't matter what any reviewer says, or writes, or anyone else, and you have to, in fact, realize that the last people you want to even listen to are those closest to you. They are well-meaning, but because they're close to you they can hurt you as far as your own idea, or view of what you're doing. It's all up to you.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

You have to be your own worst critic. Painting is very much a maturing process. This is nice, because at the end of your life you can be doing your best work. Hokusai, the great painter, on his death bed at 102, said, "If I could only have one more day, I could do a great painting."

Have you ever had any real fears about your work?

Fritz Scholder: I've never had any fear about the work, simply because I give thanks every day that I've been able to take my craziness and make it work for me. And I'm completely crazy. I'm so intense that I am out, all the time, somewhere else. And I had to learn to communicate, to act calm, because if I couldn't paint, I would be on the streets shooting people.

A lot of people have talent, and potential, and desire, and they don't all succeed as artists. What quality of yours do you think puts you in the succeeding category?

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
Fritz Scholder: Everyone has talent. Today, unfortunately, that is just one of many components if you want to succeed. Timing, luck, who you know, can often help, but it's mainly hard work. Georgia O'Keeffe once told me that the only guarantee an artist has is his work. Either it's good, or it isn't, and that's completely up to you.

On the other hand -- and my favorite word is paradox -- the minute you say one thing, you can say the opposite. I truly believe that almost everyone can live out their fantasies. I recently gave a commencement address in which I simply told the students, "It's your movie. You can do whatever you want in your movie. You can have whomever you want in it." Most people are very accessible. Andy Warhol was listed in the phone book when he was alive. You could call Andy and, if he felt like it, he might invite you over.

When I was a young painter in New Mexico I'd heard the horror stories about Georgia O'Keeffe, how she never answers her mail, she never sees anyone, she turns away Life magazine. But I tell the students, "You must make your gesture, by coming halfway and presenting yourself." No more, that would be intruding, no less, because then you'd be bad to yourself. So I wrote a fan letter to Georgia and said I was a young painter, I'd just come to New Mexico, I'd like to visit her. I put it in the mailbox and thought, "Well, I've done my duty." My return mail I received a hand-scrawled terse letter saying, "Dear Mr. Scholder, I don't know why you'd want to see me. You can come Thursday afternoon."

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
So, there I was, Thursday afternoon in Abiquiu, the little village where she lived. I also tell people that it's dangerous to meet one's heroes, you can be very disappointed. I could have met Francis Bacon several times and, after the stories I'd heard about him, I decided I'd rather not.

But there she was, Georgia O'Keeffe, in her black dress and her Calder pin, her hair severely pulled back. She truly floated, instead of walked. She talked in poetry. But as we crossed the famous patio, with the black door that she'd painted so often, she said something to me I'll never forget. She said, "There are times when one must spend an afternoon with one who one will never see again." I knew what she meant. She was lonely. This was before Juan, if you know that story. I spent many afternoons with Georgia O'Keeffe. That first afternoon, I literally sat at her feet and she gave a soliloquy. Either you knew who Jimmy was (James Johnson Sweeney) and Frankie (Frank Lloyd Wright) or you didn't.

What fascinates you now? Where is the future of your art?

Fritz Scholder: I am fascinated with every single day. In fact, I say something aloud when I wake up. It may be embarrassing to some, I don't know. I read it from Charles Bukowski, a down-and-out poet. He had this one poem, I remember, in which he said, "Have you just woken up, three o'clock in the morning in a hotel room in Detroit, looking for a cigarette? Another good day."

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
I always wake up and say, "Another good day." I believe that one is a different person with every day. I believe you should have new adventures every day, meet new people, bring in new information. If you don't, you're being bad to yourself, because we only have that day, we only have the moment, but it's up to us.

We only own ourselves, we don't own anything else. So it's completely up to us to decide what to do with ourselves. I don't believe in excuses. I don't want to hear any excuse, any crying around. Either do it or don't, but it's up to you.

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
Do you have a notion of what the American Dream means to you?

Fritz Scholder: The American Dream, I do believe in, and it can only happen in America. Because this is truly, still, the best country, even with all the problems. I've done quite a bit of traveling, and there's some nice things about many other countries. At times I thought it might be nice to have a villa in Italy, or to be in Paris, or Barcelona. But America is unique. It's harder, but it's still the only place where you can live out your fantasy.

I'm sure I'm prejudiced, but fine art is still the best racket around. It is simply the basic human activity. Without machines, without others, walking up to a canvas by yourself and, directly, with a brain telling your hand what you want to do, making a mark.

It doesn't matter what that mark looks like. If you have to make that mark, if you have the integrity, the audacity, to try for the greatest luxury that a human being has, of doing exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it, and not care what anyone thinks. And being able to stand next to that painting when it's done and saying, I did this. Knowing that some people will laugh, some people will criticize, but some people might be on your wavelength. Those are the people you're interested in, after yourself. Because it has to be completely for yourself, and then you put it out there.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Again, there's so many nuances.

To be different for the sake of being different means nothing. You must walk that tightrope between accident and discipline. Accident by itself, again, so what? Discipline by itself is boring. By walking that tightrope and putting down something on a canvas that conceivably is unique, coming from your guts, you have a chance of making marks that, of course, will live longer than you.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

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