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"I think that every painter is more or less obligated to re-enact, very rapidly, the entire history of painting in his or her own development - that is to understand and pass through classicism, the 19th century, the Harlem Renaissance, impressionism, surrealism, and abstraction. Contrary to the myth of the artist as an exceptional being neither parents nor conditioning, I am persuaded that there is a precise theoretical logic in the history of painting.

"The most important dimension of painting lives in the zones of silence, emotions, and mystery created by the forms, the lines, the colors, the materials, the brushstroke, and the frailties forged by chance. No one would dare say that a painting by Rembrandt or Monet is not an accumulation of abstract passages even if there is a figure. You need simply observe the picture surface to understand the extent to which, if you isolate any given square centimeter, you are immersed in an abstract canvas."

Artist Statement of Milton Bowens
Photo of Milton Bowens from 2006 exhibition catalog

I was plodding along when a young New York artist contacted me about the stages in development of my Easter mural, "The Battle Between Carnival & Lent."  He said:

"I enjoyed seeing your mind work as you showed us the stages of your work. As I invite you to view my work, I have definitely enjoyed learning of your creativitiy. - TMNK"

I went to his site and found:  Nobody Was Here - A Day in the Life of an Artist


Knowledge is King



Pest Control



Million Dollar Baby

I wrote to the artist who calls himself "nobody."  He leaves his art all over New York City, and sells his art for as little as $16.00 on ebay.

dear tmnk

there are some painters i think you should look at:

you are not "nobody" but are somebody working within a tradition of art made by "somebodies"

Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet (July 31, 1901 - May 12, 1985)


Vampire Slayer

Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988)


Untitled, 1984

Romare Bearden, (1911-1988)


Tomorrow I Might Be Far Away, 1966-1967

Milton Bowens; http://www.milton510...


Strange Fruit, 2003

and, by a strange coincidence your shoe series is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's commercial graphic art




Andy Warhol

Shoe Advertisement

these are your brothers in the art world, your comrades. out of all of them I would pick Romare Beardon as a teacher and mentor for you... even though he is no longer with us, his work and words and teachings live on

now get yourself to the Art Student's League, and to the public library study these artists, keep working, and stop calling yourself "nobody" you are a member of a remarkable art family



TMNK, or The Man Nobody Knows, will continue to call himself "Nobody" as long as he likes, and continue to leave his artworks around New York City with the tag "Nobody Was Here."  He will continue to sell his art on ebay for as little as $16.00 as well.

As I looked at his work I found very strong correspondences with some very important art traditions that course like a river through art history.  And I came back to that statement from Milton Bowens:

I think that every painter is more or less obligated to re-enact, very rapidly, the entire history of painting in his or her own development - that is to understand and pass through classicism, the 19th century, the Harlem Renaissance, impressionism, surrealism, and abstraction. Contrary to the myth of the artist as an exceptional being neither parents nor conditioning, I am persuaded that there is a precise theoretical logic in the history of painting

It occured to me that it is important for the artist to place himself/herself within that river that runs through us...the great traditions in art... I was sad that an artist would call himself "nobody" and sad that art is being discarded like trash on the streets of New York.  His statement on ebay:  "As an artist you're nobody, until somebody buys your work. Yet, I hope I have created something that somehow connects with you. Thanks for making this "Nobody" feel like a somebody. Your support and encouragement is sincerely appreciated."

Someone on the outside of the art scene might think that TMNK is terribly pathetic and self-serving in his statement.  But if you look into the work of Martin Irvine Institutional Theory of Art and the Artworld you might find that TMNK's statement is not that far out.

The artworld also provides the structure of value, prestige, and many other intangible factors that are fungible values--exchangeable for money.
What makes something an artwork is invisible: there's no "there there" outside a position in the artworld network.
What makes something an artwork is not an observable property in an artwork itself.
The work is a node in a network of forces without which it would be unrecognizable-- literally invisible

 By this theory, as long as TMNK works outside the art world network his pieces remain invisible.

I really think TMNK is seriously mistaken.  As an artist you are somebody, independent of how the market values you.  And the work of art has intrinsic worth, regardless of the price tag, or market history.  The work of art itself does not change if it is, say, given away, stored, or sold for several million.  But the value of the artist in society?  That's another matter, and I think TMNK makes this message clear each time he gives to the New York Streets another piece of art gone unrecognized.

The late Kurt Vonnegut's statement at a 1997 exhibition of his graphic work:

"I asked many people more committed than I am to the making of pictures by hand when it was taht their art gave them the most satisfaction.  When it was framed and exhibited?  When it was published or sold?  When it was praised by loved ones or an important critic?  When?  Three of those I asked were my own daughters Edith and Nanette, and my son Mark.  Few I asked were world renown.
  All replied without hesitation that they were most at one with the universe when making a picture in perfect solitude.  All the rest was by comparison annoying balderdash.  I say that, too."

And I say that, too.


Originally posted to dgr on Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 05:33 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  the art disconnect (7+ / 0-)

    i looked long and hard at the work of TMNK and found it to be far from trash... but work of the highest order... why is this guy calling himself "nobody"??  why is he selling so cheap??

    what is the place of the artist in modern American society?

    •  graffitti or manufacture. (0+ / 0-)

      plastic media is no longer of social consequence. i thought that was understood.

      TMNK probably has a dealer and buyers who hunt for his eggs for fun. i'm sure at least one freelance curator has written furiously about him, mapping nomadic incarnations of the world.

      relax. TMNK is yet another "happening".

      Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

      by MarketTrustee on Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 05:51:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  i've looked into it (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        he has no dealer.  No, I looked into it.  He's legit.  TMNK is not "happening."

        •  hmm. sorry to be flip then (0+ / 0-)

          about exploitation. sadly, i was living in NYC when diallo was murdered, '99, the aRude phenom, and thelma golden who got her black male on at the whitney, '94, and all that. it's much too easy for me to react cynically, and that's not kind.

          thanks for sharing your "work" --curatorial work?-- here.

          Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

          by MarketTrustee on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 05:14:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  What he said about "Pest Control" (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hermitcrab, marykk, carpunder

        Black Men: As Dangerous As Deadly Mosquitos

        That’s what I surmised was the thinking when Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Black man was gunned down by the New York Police in the doorway of his home. Sprayed with 41 shots. Exterminated like a damn mosquito. The Same year, New York’s Mayor Giuliani ordered the mass spraying of toxic chemicals to exterminate mosquitos carrying the deadly West Nile Virus. Yet it was reported that only 2% of the mosquito population carried the deadly virus.

        I believe that it was this same erroneous perception of Black men as all being violent, deadly, that led to Amadou Diallo being exterminated much like those "damn mosquitos". Thus, the inspiration for the painting "Damn Mosquitos." One of the details of the painting, is a torn page from a legal pad affixed to the painting. On the painting written, as though in Diallo’s own handwriting, "My name is Amadou Diallo, I’m a human being." It is written over and over, reminiscent of elementary school punishments (i will not talk in class, I will not talk in class, I will not talk in class.)
        I am a human being.

        Damn Mosquitos is therefore, not a painting about race or racism. It’s an observation, a discussion about humanity (or the lack thereof). You the viewer are now invited to join that discussion. If I may, I’ll leave you with this closing thought:

        look inside me.
        neither black nor white.
        neither straight nor gay.
        not jewish.
        not christian.
        not muslim.
        not religious.
        not a boy or a girl,
        or a mother, or a father.
        within me,
        i am human.
        i am
        just like

        TMNK:5150 - nobody did it.

  •  there are no such things as coincdences (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vcmvo2, MarketTrustee, dgr

    today i spent all day photographing graffiti tags here in sf.  only the tags and art were on the sidewalks.  local artists have been primarily using stencils (some amazing stencils) to lay out their sidewalk art. but there is one artist who uses nothing more than a black marker and spilled paint splotches that are to be found randomly on sidewalks around the lower haight.  this artist finds these splotches of white paint and then turns them into these multi-headed collage -like images simply by drawing onto and into the already extant splotch of paint that has been there for years.

    like this one ("FMRL N"): title=

    i find TMNK work extraordinary.  i would love to have the opportunity to trade with him one of my art pieces for one of his -- as i think the greatest compliment an artist can give to another is to have a piece of their art for safekeeping and acknowledgment and inspiration.

    both basquiat and keith haring were who was one my mind today.

    now, i kind of think the universe wanted me to do the footwork and then discover TMNK since today's work was about me beginning to find him everywhere.

    thanks for the awesome diary.

    and the photo is mine, taken today.


    "...Repeat, the dog pisses on the gardenia at midnight. Over."...

    -8.25, -6.15

    by dadanation on Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 09:05:44 PM PDT

  •  Once again a lovely diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills, YetiMonk, Little Red Hen

    filled with art and that special perspective that teaches how to see the less "conventional" pieces.

    Thank You! dgr these are some of my favorite diaries!

    Yes,'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? Bob Dylan

    by vcmvo2 on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 08:31:15 PM PDT

  •  Thanks (4+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the inspiration today.

    Been sitting here with my head down so long thinking politics that go nowhere...

    Good to realize (again) all the creative stuff that connects.

    The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution. Paul Cezanne

    by MeToo on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 10:03:20 PM PDT

  •  I once had a website bookmarked (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ghostofaflea, YetiMonk

    of paintings by developmentally disabled youths.  Unfortunately, I lost the site when I had to wipe my hard drive clean.  Many of the pieces displayed were a wonder to behold.  How beautifully they painted their interpretation of being.  

  •  Incredible! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Little Red Hen

    Before you know it, if you're not careful, you can get to feeling for everybody and there's nobody left to hate. --William Wharton, Birdy

    by YetiMonk on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 10:24:02 PM PDT

  •  Great diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Little Red Hen, Dvalkure

    We need some thoughts from the visual folks, that's for sure.

    As a spouse of an artist, I have to say that much of what you talk about is very applicable to the world of artists.

    The act of creating is the best part, that is what drives artists. Yes, driven is what they are. Most would create if no one saw the art.

    Although being able to sell the artwork so more time can be spent creating is a real perk. Having to work at something else can really drain the energy.

    The process is the reality. ~ Samuel Johnson

    by splashy on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 10:47:57 PM PDT

  •  You know a civilization (0+ / 0-)

    is in deep decline when they no longer cherish art.

    Nobody expresses it perfectly in his choice of name.

    It matters little how good you are or what gifts you bring forth to make the world better.

    You can only be Somebody with power/money.

    A society of sheep must beget in time a government of wolves. Bertrand de Jouvenel

    by Little Red Hen on Tue Apr 24, 2007 at 06:03:31 AM PDT

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