Friday, June 26, 2015


In Post #12, (almost two years ago) I wrote about keeping trade secrets, how artists (past and present) hide their work methods, hoping to keep the magic to themselves.  Like the Wizard of Oz, they are (correctly, I believe) aware that once you learn how simple something is to do, you’ll have less respect for it, or worse, can easily imitate it. Picasso was known among his contemporaries for stealing their ideas, while he, on the other hand, didn’t trust them and kept his studio door locked at all times. Chagall, in his days at La Ruche, an artists’ rooming house in Paris, refused entry to fellow artists, assuming that he had nothing to learn from them and they had much to steal from him. Of course, the rumor that he painted in the nude (he supposedly had only one suit of clothing he didn’t want to get dirty) might have discouraged him from admitting visitors.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop me from blabbing out all my trade secrets; too many years of teaching art have taken their toll.  My theory (probably incorrect) is that just because you know how I do something, doesn’t mean you can do it, or, do it well. I recently cut out some small figures and projected them on a superhuman scale as silhouettes on my studio wall. They looked an awful lot like the Matisse cut outs recent shown at MOMA. Matisse “supposedly” drew the figures on large sheets of colored paper using a long stick with a piece of chalk tied to it. His assistants then cut them out. But it’s hard to draw that way; any art student can tell you that. You don’t have much control and how do you correct your work? What if Matisse worked small (he was bedridden with arthritis at the time), and used a projector of some kind to blow up life-sized silhouettes for his assistants to cut out?

But what should I do if I really came up with something new? My stuff is so low tech that anyone can duplicate it. Or can they? Or do they even want to? I recently printed photos of my latest paintings, those mournful, surrealist cityscapes I showed you in the last blogs onto sheets of acetate and found that if I matted small sections and framed them under glass, they looked like late 19th century miniature etchings or aquatints. Unless you really looked carefully, you couldn’t tell the difference. The first people who saw them asked if they were for sale. At last I had a saleable product  – and one that I could make more of at any time at a price anyone could afford. The only hard part was finding suitable frames. But my artist friends all wanted to know how I did them. Do I tell? Any idiot with a camera and a computer printer could copy the technique. But, would the work have my soul? My vision? Never!  Could Picasso’s fellow artists at the Bateau-Lavoir ever equal him? They all tried and nobody was as good as he was and besides, by the time they got the hang of it, he was on to something new and more wonderful than ever.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Like most women of my generation, I’ve never been comfortable with technology. Men drove cars, fixed broken windows, repaired lamps. We were supposed to be decorative and cook. When the word processor came along, I took to that fairly easily; it was essentially just a smart typewriter. All the other bells and whistles were unfathomable – designed to be operated (and repaired) by the men in my life. Because I was paid to produce a newsletter several times a year, I acquired some additional skills: I can now send text and photographs to A MAN (Bob Callahan) who is a genius in Photoshop and puts it all together for me. I proudly take credit for the result, when all I did was use the computer to type and send photos. (yes, I know how to “SEND.”)

Photography is another mystery to me, although I have a couple of really great women photographer friends. I have a basic Point & Shoot camera (the $179. model) and now know which buttons to press. I know how to attach the camera cord to the computer, download my photos and SEND. Most recently, I discovered other miracles like cropping and enhancing. Will modern wonders never cease?

Part of this difficulty with technology is due to my age; I’m one of the few of my contemporaries who has any proficiency at all. Most of them own computers or I-Pads (bought for them by well-meaning children) but don’t know how to even open them When I ask if they have read any of my blogs, the usual reply is: “I need to wait ‘til one of my children stops by.” How can someone with a high IQ and an advanced degree from a reputable university not be able to open e-mail? This, of course, makes me feel very superior. I (capital letters, underlined) can open e-mail!!!!

My current challenge is my f-------g printer; I have a love-hate relationship with it. First of all, it’s ALWAYS out of ink. Hewlett Packard makes a living off suckers like me who buy cheap printers and then spend their life savings on ink cartridges. Lately, even the new cartridges weren’t working so I was forced to enlist the services of my computer guru, Bud Freund. He determined that I had left remains of the wrapping tape on the cartridge and that was literally gumming up the works. I am so angry at the machine (and myself) that I haven’t used it since.

I have decided that computers are like dogs; they sense fear. And that is why mine freeze up, gum up and generally screw up. They know I’m afraid of them and they are laughing at me. Thank God for people like Rosie who puts my blog together. Everybody is SO impressed with me. Little do they know that without the “young woman-next-door,” there would be no weekly message.

So, enjoy my son’s Photoshop paintings. I can’t believe I did them!

If you would like to see Ned's own work please click here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

POST #89: MY SENIOR MOMENT in the sun

36"x48" oil on canvas

Guess what? Older Woman Artists are the flavor of the month; we finally made it! You don’t believe me? Just read the New York Times: two big articles lately on women artists in their seventies, eighties and nineties. It looks as if the art establishment (who/whatever that may be) has tired of macho men, minorities and transgenders and turned their interest to older women. Now, it’s never been easy to be a “woman artist,” but if you were young and sexy, or married to someone important, you might have a minor career. An OLDER woman, forget it! They remind gallerists (and buyers) of their hated mothers… In the past, the best way for an older woman artist to get noticed was to paint flower vaginas, have well-publicized affairs with adolescent men or do portraits of themselves in the nude - generally not a pleasant sight. The sad part of the Times’ new found interest in “older women” artists is that the one’s they’ve chosen to “discover” have been around for decades and are, truthfully, not all that deserving of fame and fortune. They are okay and not much more.

36"x48" oil on canvas
Ironically, most of the better known women artists of the past fifty years, really deserved acclaim: Lee Bontecue, for example, is as good as any male artist in the last half of the 20th century – Julian Schnabel, Basquiat and the whole pack of Neo Expressionists from Germany included. Since I resigned from the New York Art scene a couple of decades ago, I have no idea who’s really hot today.

Linda Nochlin, the art historian, hit the nail on the head fifty years ago in her essay “Why There Have Been No Great Women Artists,” in a book entitled: “Art & Sexual Politics.” She criticized the nascent Women’s Studies movement for their interest in women artists, dredging up mediocrities and lauding them as neglected major figures in the history of art. Her well-taken point was that rather than to extol lesser talents, examine what it takes to achieve a high level of performance as an artist – male or female - and how women were not given opportunities for greatness. But, whatever the historic reasons, we need to look at the here and now.

How does someone achieve fame and fortune in the contemporary art world? Notice that I don’t even mention talent; that’s near the bottom of the list. We all know the importance of being in the right place at the right time, socializing with important people, calling attention to oneself by behaving outrageously and so forth. But the key factor, the one you rarely hear mentioned is chutzpah, gall, consummate arrogance, relentless self promotion, BALLS! How un-lady-like can you get? There’s a reason success requires “balls” (both literally and metaphorically) and women (or so they’re told) aren’t going to be liked – by either men or women - if they have them.

40"x36" oil on canvas
At one time, my goal was to be “discovered,” a great artist hiding away in a cottage in the suburbs. I always wanted to be in a Whitney Biennial; I’m as good as 90% of the artists who show there. But, guess what? Unless there’s some some form of Divine Intervention, it’s never going to happen; I’m resigned to that. And, in the old “be careful what you wish for” warning, maybe it’s for the best. I go into my studio practically every day. I’m peaceful; I paint. I dance around to corny Leonard Cohen records (I know; I should say I listen to Honneger or Philip Glass, but I happen to have a crush on Leonard Cohen). The seasons change from my north light window. My refrigerator is full and my bills are (mostly) paid. I entertain friends, fellow artists, feed them, go to Curley’s Diner (my version of Picasso’s Lapin Agile) and show my latest work to anyone willing to stop by. The Day of the Older Woman Artist will come and go; the Times will find another “hot” genre and I’ll still be here, unknown, undiscovered. And you know something? It’s ok with me. I’m as happy as any “famous” artist I ever met or whose biography I ever read: maybe happier.

And there’s still a chance I could make it into a Whitney Biennial. I’m not dead yet. Can someone get me an introduction?

Friday, June 5, 2015

POST #88: Stay Away From Memories

click on picture to enlarge
"Backstage at the Theater (Waiting for a Cue)", Mikhail Zwibak, pen and india ink, c.1935 8"x10"
A few weeks ago a friend with a very colorful past told me a wonderful story about something that happened to him when he was in his mid twenties – fifty or so years ago. I suggested he write a memoir since he has lots of other stories and he writes well, but he shook his head. “Nah, no one is interested.” “Not true,” I protested. But now I think I know his real reason and I agree with it. Once you open Pandora’s memory box, there’s no telling what will turn up. Better, as they say, to let sleeping dogs lie; too much remembering isn’t good for your mental health. It’s one of the reasons I don’t approve of psychoanalysis; concentrating on past unhappiness only makes the present worse. Recent studies of holocaust survivors show that the one’s who make the best adjustment, remembered the least. My best friend, Dina, who spent her teens in a German work camp refused to participate in Steven Spielberg’s SHOAH project; for her, the past was past.

"Development Team", Renee Kahn, India Ink wash, c.2000, 8"x10"

The memoir issue came up again a few days ago when my daughter asked me to write down what I remembered about my Uncle Mischa, an opera singer who ended up composing music for the Yiddish stage. It seems the Museum of the City of New York has a large Yiddish theater archive and was looking for memoirs of people who were around in its heyday, the nineteen twenties and thirties. Since he died when I was twelve, I didn’t have a lot to offer, but I did as I was told and wrote down the little I remembered.  Unfortunately, she was correct when she said it would come back to me; it did, and more than I bargained for. This was a really dreadful time in my life, one that I had put behind me for good reason. Within a year of Mischa’s sudden death, two of my mother’s remaining brothers died and she collapsed, physically and mentally. I became her “caretaker” (at twelve) and remained so for the rest of her life. What saved me was going off to the High School of Music & Art where I discovered the “high” of being an artist, a joy I still live with today.

"Planning Board  Meeting, Renee Kahn, pen and India Ink, 2005, 8"x10"
Anyhow, the story has sort of a happy ending. After I finished writing my recollections of Mischa and the little remembered about his life, I went off to see Bob Callahan, my graphic designer, to work on our preservation newsletter. I was crying and had trouble getting out of the car, but finally calmed down and went in to see him. When I sat down, his cat, a Russian Blue named Duby, who normally refuses to play with me, rushed over, climbed into my lap, put her face next to mine and her paws on either side of my neck and began to purr. I was so touched; the mood lifted and Bob and I went to work.

Now, since this is an “art” blog, let me tell you about Uncle Mischa the Artist. It seemed that he constantly sketched the theater life around him, both when he was with the Chicago Opera Company and when he came to New York to be involved with the Yiddish stage. He did hundreds of satirical drawings of backstage which my relatives threw out after he died. There is only one left and the amazing thing is that it looks just like my work. Everyone who sees it asks me if I did it. I sit at endless meetings and sketch.  Is it possible to inherit a line or a satiric outlook? I’m sure someone, someday will discover the gene for it.