Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin-Form Without Spirit

Walking toward the south end of campus, you’ll see a new building at the University of Texas. It’s a large bulbous looking structure near the Blanton Museum of Art, as you pass between the PCL building and Jester dorm.  It looks like a giant igloo from the back–plain stone, bereft of architectural interest.


As you walk around, three of the four sides of the cruciform structure have colored glass in simple, geometric patterns.

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The building is called “Austin”, and the plans were gifted to the Blanton Museum by American artist, Ellsworth Kelly, shortly before he passed away in 2015.

Here’s what the publicity says:

“Kelly envisioned his creation as a site for joy and contemplation in the tradition of modernist artist-commissioned buildings, such as the Rothko Chapel in Houston and Henri Mattisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire in Southern France. It is an extraordinary acquisition for the Blanton and Austin community.”

Of course, one wonders how it can be in the tradition of the Rothko chapel and the Mattise chapel when the Blanton museum has gone out of its way to make sure everyone knows it’s not a chapel.

The building will be open to the public for the first time this coming Sunday, February 18, with an accompanying exhibition, Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin.

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The title of the exhibition should raise the brows of anyone who’s paying attention.

Kelly was an atheistic naturalist. This philosophy denies the existence of anything spiritual. If you believe, as Kelly did, that matter is all there is and we are nothing more than the product of mindless, unguided natural processes, there is no spiritual realm.  There can never be any spiritual dimension for the atheist, unless they borrow from a religious framework, which is exactly what is happening here.


Kelly’s structure is form without spirit. That would be a better title, consistent with the the artist’s life and the corpus of his work.

Atheists, like Ellsworth Kelly, borrow from religion because they cannot consistently live out atheism and its ramifications, or speak about it without refuting their own views. Their art must draw from other resources to find meaning.

I explain Kelly’s worldview in this short video and then relate it to the “Austin” structure in this short video.

Ellsworth Kelly’s homosexual partner, Jack Shear (still living), has called it a “secular chapel”.  But that’s an oxymoron. Before we jettison all logic, we should recall that “chapel” is a word referring to a place for Christian worship. At the very least, it denotes a place for religious observance. Don’t take my word for it, just google it.

An argument could be made that the language surrounding Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin does violence to language itself. It denigrates what little Christian heritage remains in our culture by redefining and confusing the very words we use to talk about it.

Some questions to think about:

Why do atheists use religious language?

Why is the Christian faith often seen as an enemy of the artistic elite?







Wings of Many Colors


On my recent visit to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, I saw colorful wings!

Many pieces of art in the medieval and Renaissance galleries feature angels with rainbow colored wings and feathers of many hues.  I was immediately inspired by these gorgeous pieces. Here are some of the photos I took during my visit. I hope they inspire you, too!
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Two Kinds of Museum Visitors


While working at an art museum, I have had the chance to observe thousands of people walk through the doors.

During my brief foray into the museum studies program at Johns Hopkins, I took a course in Museum Education and read multiple studies in which social scientists tried to categorize the folks that go to museums. Some of them make distinctions based on demographics. John Falk has taken a different approach and determined that museum-goers can be grouped into different “identities” such as:  explorer, facilitator, experience seeker, professional/hobbyist, and recharger. There is also the odd museum-goer, like me, who enjoys museums so much that she volunteers, blogs about art, takes a job at the desk, exhibits her own work, and considers herself a member of all five identity categories. But I’d like to consider a different way of looking at museum visitors; a way that eliminates social distinctions and gets to the heart of the matter.

Here is my conclusion after 3 years: I think there are two types of museum visitors and the distinction does not depend on demographics or visitor needs.

I believe the distinction rests upon how visitors view reality.  In other words, it is primarily a philosophical issue. Whether or not the concepts of reality are on the minds of museum visitors (probably not) they may be the primary thing that determines why they come to the museum and what they want to see.

Let me share some observations.  In the early part of the year, the museum I am involved with had two temporary exhibitions. One was a 13th century illustrated bible from the court of King Louis IX, and the other was an exhibit of contemporary art from the 1990s. As usual, there were information cards for both exhibits at the front desk.  As I welcomed guests and gave them the schpeel about the two exhibits, I noticed a recurrent reaction. Visitor’s clearly presented a marked preference for one or the other.  They were either excited about the bible exhibit or they were eager to find out where the 90s exhibit was located. Throughout the run of the shows, many visitors took both cards, however, they would express interest in one or the other verbally or by facial expression.  This allowed me to observe a clear preference time and time again. Rarely, a visitor would express interest in both.

Why would the majority of visitors present such a clear preference for one exhibit or the other during the run of these two shows?  I submit that it is because the exhibits presented antithetical worldviews, specifically theism and atheism. The visitors who had a strong preference for the bible exhibit likely had a transcendent view of reality. Given that the bible is considered a sacred book by many, I think it’s possible that those wanting to view the illustrated bible of Louis IX  held to a some basic religious beliefs such as a belief in God and moral absolutes. Conversely, the Art of the 90s exhibit was primarily composed of contemporary art bereft of moral content; and it focused on subjective issues such as identity politics and alternative lifestyles. The exhibits presented mutually exclusive worldviews and the choice between them revealed the philosophical bent of the visitor.

Clearly, there was a worldview in the bible exhibit that acknowledged a universal standard for mankind; in fact, it illustrated a strong belief system in which there was a law given by a divine creator, a law to which mankind was subject. In the 90s exhibit, the galleries were full of art that, either directly or indirectly, denied traditional values and embraced progressive social change. These two exhibits could not have been more divergent.

Can it be proven that the philosophical views of museum visitors was at the heart of these observations? No. But watching the marked preference repeatedly has led me to believe that this simple distinction has been missing from  current studies on museum visitors. I think it’s highly likely that a visitor’s view of reality determines what art they want to see, regardless of age, income, ethnicity, or gender.

Does God exist?  Are moral restraints merely human constructs of the past?

Keep these questions in mind the next time you visit a museum. I’d love to hear if these philosophical questions contribute to the decisions you make in an art museum.










“Road Trippin'” at the Georgetown Art Center

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I wasn’t allowed any captures of the newest exhibit at the Georgetown Art Center, but I’m going to tell you about it, anyway.

The new exhibit is called “Road Trippin‘” and is enjoyable to view and family friendly.  My young artists and I enjoyed all of the travel themed art, including altered suitcases that resemble RV’s, large paintings of local landscapes, mixed-media collage, and several unique and edgy edited photographs of highways and byways.

This colorfully collaged lady resting upon the bench was found casually installed on the east side of the downtown square. No information about her was to be seen, but my kids thought she was….interesting.

I also happened to pick up a new art book they were selling in the Center, featuring the imaginative assemblage work of artist, Scott Rolfe.



The book features Rolfe’s original assemblages illustrating  twelve of Aesop’s Fables.  This book is not only delightful to look through, but my 8 year old son was immediately inspired to begin collecting rusty hinges, doorknobs, metal parts, and all manner of discarded objects, to begin his own assemblage in the garage!  And to my surprise, I opened up to the back cover to find that my very own Uncle Duane, of O Studio Photography, was the art photographer for the issue.  Small world!

Be sure and check out the new exhibit if you have the chance and remember their annual Art Hop competition deadline is fast approaching, August 31st.

Have a great week!