There are no quality standards in Art

How can I consider myself an artist if I don’t know what that is?
Every time I hear this word my stomach unfailingly turns. Nobody knows what it is because it became an indecipherable idea — anything can be called “art” in our times. There are no quality standards.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to come across a great academic figurative painter, Alejandro Boim. He taught me in a clear manner some technical and observational matters about representation and construction of a painting. He also taught me to embrace the natural, question light, and to reflect on the profession: simply to draw and steal. “Steal” what you like and what captivates you. Make your own “salad” and leave the idea to rise in the painting.

One day Alejandro showed me a book full of beautiful paintings by Odd Nerdrum. I asked Alejandro “is this man alive?” to my surprise he said “yes.”

Two years later, at a workshop with Fabián Larosa, yet again something “vibrated” among a pile of books full of images. It was the echo of Odd Nerdrum, perhaps the magnetic resonance of the ancestral that I’ve always loved: Rembrandt, Titian, Käthe Kollwitz, Velázquez and a few other giants.

The universal and singular, that melancholic spirit that seeks the eternal and the self-improvement that is never enough. The beauty of antiquity that lies in technique.

When I met Odd I could see for myself that he is what he painted and it moved me. He contemplated the painting in complete silence, and analyzed it more than he moved the brush. He exemplified the importance of discipline and presence in a painter’s work. Like he often said “you must forget yourself.”

I agree with his philosophy; we need a visual consensus with the values of antiquity. We need to distinguish between an ‘artist’ and a ‘draftsman’ or  ‘painter’. Anything can be called ‘art’ in our times and the word is practically meaningless. Nobody really understands why something is considered art and there are no quality standards.

Everytime someone calls me an ‘artist’ I get angry, but I understand they do not really know what they are saying. I know what I do, and what interests me. I am not an artist.

Long live the spiral thoughts!

Long live the painters!

Long live the drawers!

Long live the craft!


— Agustina Caruso, The polytheist

I was in the wild for many years

I started drawing when I was a little girl. I had a lot of interest in studying faces and portraying them. Especially older people, perhaps because their faces showed that they had lived a long life, and told a story.

I understood early on that figurative representation was not the ‘right’ thing but I did not understand why. It did not stop me from painting what I liked. Since I did not go to art school, I learned painting from the old masters.

I was in the wild for many years until I studied at The Nerdrum School, where I learned about philosophy in art. Then I understood that I am not an artist but a kitsch painter.

Art is the salvation for the talentless

I don’t call my work art. The reason is simple: all fields that the ideas of Art have touched, have crumbled to dust. From modern architecture, modern concert music, to modern paintings. All have embraced the art-concept of “originality,” which, taken to extremes, simply means bad looking, ugly and alien.

“New” is the new religion, and all kinds of atrocities are done in its name. None of the old masters cared about originality. They knew that the world either improves or stagnates. They chose to improve, building on knowledge from the past. “New” is an excuse for not improving oneself.

Art is the salvation for the talentless, for the Platonist, for the modern universities. It is an intellectual game that tells us to reject our nature. That tells us that every time a new shoe-box building shows up in our city, we should learn to love it. If a new classical building is being built on the other hand, we are told not to like it. 

It’s kitsch they tell us, it’s a pastiche. 

But how can nature be our enemy, when we ourselves are nature?

Kitsch is the salvation for the talent. For while art shows us something “new”, kitsch shows us something familiar. I know there exists bad, even awkward kitsch. That is the nature of a natural hierarchy. I choose kitsch because I am not afraid of embarrassing myself, I am not afraid of improvement. I choose to satisfy myself, my nature and my eternal soul.

The craft is not dead!

I started studying on my own, attending workshops, and copying photographs in a painter’s studio. I knew that to progress from there I needed a mentor. That is how I met Sebastián Salvo and came to his studio; a place where time does not exist, walls decorated with his ageless paintings, it felt like home. I was excited to see the great masters reflected in his works. 

The craft is not dead! 

We are disciples of Nerdrum, Titian, and Apelles. Following their track, as in the Renaissance, we copy, compare, and compete. By taking the best of each era and each master, one can objectively progress in painting. 

While looking for a place to show and sell my paintings, my friend arranged a meeting with two prestigious curators. Excited about this opportunity, I packed a painting and prepared my portfolio. We drank some coffee together, and without even paying much attention to the work they had in front of them, the curators asked me: “What do you want Javier? Money? Prestige? Fame? We can help you, but talent is not enough. You need a theme that talks about your own time, build a social or political message and we can guide you. We can build your identity as an artist together, otherwise there are no places to show these kinds of paintings”.

I went back to the studio more confident than ever. I understood that I am not an artist, I am a craftsman; a Kitsch painter.

I am not going to follow art trends or be original

In the name of kitsch there is a language to be learned, a language that is easily understood. Kitsch should not be mistaken for camp; kitsch is a literal perspective that cannot be conceptualized. Painting is a process and with every line there is purpose. A painting gives me the same experience as when I read a humanistic work of literature or listen to a composed song with humanistic elements. If there is no direction I am then left with an unknown engagement. 

I was first introduced to Kitsch by my teacher Rima Jabbur who studied with Odd Nerdrum. Jabbur gave me Nerdrum’s book “On Kitsch,” and upon reading it my purpose for painting became clear: I was not going to follow art trends or create something original, I was going to learn from the masters and do it well. I hope to one day establish a timeless story within our world as a painter and not an artist.

I found myself as an outsider, rejected by mainstream galleries

In the 1980s I understood that I was a storyteller. I came to love the skillful dramas of the Old Masters like Caravaggio, Ribera, and Kollwitz. I traveled across the United States and Europe seeking out the pieces in which I had found a strong connection and kindred spirit between their work and my own. In the 1990’s I was showing my drawings and paintings in smaller independent galleries across the United States. I found myself as an outsider, rejected by mainstream galleries who embraced modernist-inspired artists and the Clement Greenberg contemporary philosophy on art.

I can still remember in 1998 when things changed for me. Odd Nerdrum, a fellow painter that I admired, declared that he was no longer an artist but rather a kitsch painter. He was done with the modern absurdist ideas that embraced apathy and ego. He was fully embracing empathy and the technical skills of the Old Masters. He could care less what society thought of him. He would embrace his large scale narratives that were full of timeless archetypes. It was at this moment that I felt the sea change and transformation. I would jump off the modernist ship of artists and join Nerdrum. I dove deeper into my work and embraced the archetypes of birth, love, death, and rebirth. I would eventually find my path to Rødvik gård and study with Odd Nerdrum.

Call it “kitsch” or what you want, we are painters searching for sentimentality and I will never apologize for being genuine. I follow the path of those who have come before and left clues. In a kitsch masterpiece, we find a time and a distance more than mortal thought may trace or even comprehend. It leaves the viewer with joy or sorrow greater than tears. It lifts the veil and exposes the heart strings of life that resonate and reverberate into the depths of the human condition.

Art professors said my work looked “too Renaissance”

Some years ago I went to Florence to study classical painting and was a student at Accademia delle belle arti di Firenze for some time, which included many absences as I would escape into the adjoining Galleria Accademia, which housed Michelangelo’s David among other old master works to study.

I was constantly told by my “Art” professors that my work looked “too Renaissance-like” and they said they wanted me to “express myself” and “be myself” (whatever that means). 

In one instance I was asked to do a series of self portrait drawings. I did but when I showed them to my “professoressa”, I will never forget the look of despair, disappointment, and criticism as she exclaimed: “Troppo Rinascimentale!” (Too Renaissance) and begged me to change my approach.

To add to the sadness and ignominy, the Accademia was founded by Cosimo I de’ Medici in the 16th century and such great names as Michelangelo and Giorgio Vasari were associated with it.

A drawing made by Marjan Bakhtiarikish

The art historian fired all the teachers at the university

I have studied in two art universities to learn how to draw and paint. In the first one they taught me how to hang threads between eassels to recreate a spider web.. In the second one I found teachers who were painters, drawers, sculptors, etc.

Paradise didn’t last too long.

After two years studying in this unusual “art” institution the director changed and an art historian became the leader of the university.

The first thing she decided to do was to fire all of the teachers.

The second one was to make groups between the students and organize meetings.

Some others and I were in the “fine arts group” she told us, “we are interested in imparting knowledge of modern art, and you are more like ‘fine arts people.’  We want to have a career of the highest level under modernism, so you decide if you are interested or not …” 

After that she held a conference where she said how important it is that the artist gets in touch with the feelings of a meteorite.

Since that moment I have decided to definitely move away from modern art and study only with the great masters.

She told me my good paintings were bad

When I went to Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art I recall an instructor that tried to convince me that my good paintings were painted badly, and my bad paintings were painted very well. I did not accept this as fact, and I wondered what her husband’s thoughts were since he was also an instructor at the Academy. 

One day I approached him and showed him the same paintings that she saw. What he said next was exactly as I thought… that my good paintings are good, and my bad paintings are bad.

At the end of the semester she exclaimed that I “didn’t do a single thing (she) told the whole semester!”, and I replied, “Of course I didn’t do what you wanted me to do; you tried to set me up for failure.” I was fortunate because I was warned about this kind of behavior from modernists back in high-school by a great art teacher. #kitschified

Alien to the so-called art world

Late afternoon.

One of the most important Art galleries in town: finally the appointment with the gallerist.

“I’m very proud to be here and have the opportunity to show you my work!”

 White walls, politeness.

“OK let me see your catalogue!”

Quick glances at my old masters copies.

Suddenly he stops: the man is captured by my copy of a self portrait by Rembrandt, at age twenty-one.

“WOW! This is wonderful! But… please, let me know, explain to me: how do you make these works?”

A little embarrassed: “Well… They are all oil paintings…  you know, you have to do some preparatory studies, then understand and build on your foundation; after this you trace the drawing and complete it with the oil colors.”

“Ohhh… Really? Are you talking seriously?!”

A little flattered by his amazement: “Yes! I do it all by hand, and with the help of my eyes, obviously!”

“You’re saying don’t you make them using a plotter or printer?”

“A printer?! Absolutely not! I thought you knew that I’m a painter…as I told you!”

“Oh”, a certain awkwardness in his speaking, a sort of delusion in his eyes, “Well…. In this case I’m sorry: these are not the kind of works we exhibit in our gallery.”

Speechless I left the gallery: I thought that my works could be not good enough to be shown in such a famous gallery. I did not imagine they would have been refused because I spend my life trying to get the best I can out of my brushes instead of using a printer!

The result is obvious: if printed they would have been worthy to be hung on the walls, but since they are the result of my craftsmanship they are not. 

“Something doesn’t work here… there’s something strange here! This is beyond a refusal of content; this is the refusal of the love I put in my work, of my craftsmanship, and skill! Did this man ever read a book of painting by Leonardo da Vinci? Did he ever hear anything about Cennino Cennini? He made his living selling art, but did he ever read the “Lives” of  Vasari? All of these great minds spent their lives trying to sharpen their knowledge about nature, about the traditional methods of painting, about how to compose a masterpiece and to express something timeless!”


In the darkness, a slender flame: it is the thread that can reconcile you to the ancient masters. I followed it and I found myself in Norway with Odd:  then came the answer to all those questions… It was so simple! Cennini, Vasari and Leonardo: they were not talking about art, they never did! They were talking about the deepness of the heart of mankind, about the eternal archetypes which inhabit it, and the way to express them through refined craftsmanship.

They were talking about all which is nowadays alien to the so-called art world.

They were talking about love. They were talking about Kitsch.

Don’t we all have an itch for kitsch?

— Matei Călinescu, literary critic