American Fundamentalists
(Christ's Entry into Washington in 2008)
by Joel Pelletier
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Artist Joel Pelletier


I have been calling myself a multimedia artist for a number of years now, since I am incapable of limiting myself to one media or discipline (and am able to knock out things in many of them). My site, joelp.com, itself a sort of "Art Piece," features samples of much of this work, including my experiments in classical and pop music, fine and graphic arts, home and automotive restoration, and words about many other things that can't necessarily be communicated any other way.

I am not a "professional" artist in that I do not currently (as of 2004) pay my bills through the creation of what I call Art (although, at times, I have). This is deliberate. So-called "Amature Artists" used to be a term of respect, but today amaturism is somehow a derisive term (in this respect, Charles Ives was an amature, using his insurace executive salary to finance his music composition and performances). I do websites and some graphic design work for that (again, as of 2004). One of my interests/obsessions/peeves is the (usually negative) effects that commerce has on Art and the artist. Yes, many poo-poo the whole "careerism" complaint as childish and absurd, and my shelves are filled with stories on the lives of artistic giants that struggled daily with the issues of money and sponsorship, but what I see in our age of marketing and world media is a degradation of the individual and ideas. Can Art thrive in this environment? I'm not sure, but I kind of doubt anything can win against the "Free Market," which is constantly looking for the path of least resistance and most profit. Gee, perhaps I'll should write a song/paint a picture/do something about this...

Despite the current obsession with money, I don't believe being an Artist is defined by how much money I make doing it. I am an Artist because of the way I think, the way I approach everything I do. I define Art as a combination of ideas and aesthetics that create something larger than they could ever be alone (I am expanding on this more for a stage/musical work). Ideas without some sort of aesthetic (beautiful or not) is not Art. Art without any ideas or content is simply graphics. My latest song, including it's lyrics, the music and the string arrangement, is Art. My Art Deco-inspired bathroom, with each tile, frame and fixture placed there by myself and/or my wife, is Art. My brain just works this way. I can be nothing but an Artist. If one day I can make money to not have to update someones website for billable hours, so be it, but it changes nothing. Which brings us to this painting...

I first saw Ensor's monumental canvas, orginally painted in 1888, at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles sometime around 2000. Sometimes a painting effects me deeply, as did Rousseau's "Sleeping Gypsy" or Picasso's "Three Musicians." Why did it touch me? Is it because, as is the case with the three canvases mentioned, that the technique is within my grasp - that I can do something like it? As an artist and musician, am I attracted most to things that remind me of my own style and technical abilities, or is my style and technique influenced by others that I like? Is it because they also depict animals or musicians (two things I love)?

Well, this is a big question for all artists, and I can't pretend to resolve it here.

What I do know is that I first got the idea of doing an "update" of the painting as early as 2001. Religious broadcasters, fundamentalists and political movements have been an interest of mine for quite a while, part of a general interest in religion, philosophy, ethics and Art (and how they are closely related and interdependent).

I put off starting the project for a few years, concerned with the enormity of the canvas (but convinced that, if I did it, that I would do it in the same size as Ensor's original). Although I have concentrated on music for the last 20 years, I was equally into drawing, painting and music as a child and adolescent. While attending music school earning a degree as a classical composer (Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, CT) I convinced the Dean to allow me to attend the Hartford Art School (just across the way on the same campus) instead of the required academic credits. As a freshman, after a recital that premiered a piano piece I wrote, his one comment was a compliment of the illustration I made on the cover of the manuscript. Perhaps he was trying to tell me something (not that an 18 Joel had any intention of listening to anyone...).

Another reason I struggled with doing the "update" was that, as an Artist, I have not wanted to submerge myself in topics I found distasteful. I wrote and performed a lot of protest/diatribe songs in the 1980's, which in the end were not particularly successful (ever heard of them?). I made a conscious decision to explore the personal rather than the political, or to at least tie them together. As I get older I have especially been interested more in beauty and truth, rather than aggressive, cutting edge and confrontational.

But, as I continue to explore what Art means, I am finding that it forces you to topics and subjects, instead of you choosing them. I am not interested in producing "graphic art," or something pleasant to hang over the sofa. This painting won't FIT over my sofa, and I am not very interested in seeing the people I planned to portray in the painting on a daily basis. But I am finding that Art takes the artist where he/she NEEDS to go, not necessarily where he/she WANTS to go. The topic of Christian Dominionists, Christian Reconstructionists and the American Ultra-Right Wing is real, looming and generally a mystery to most people. With the election of 2004 approaching, I felt I no longer had a choice - it is now or never.

As I started researching James Ensor, his work and "Christ's Entry" specifically, I have found much more in common with him than I would have ever expected. I have returned to painting, something I think about all the time but never seem to get back to, and my chops are now better than they have ever been, and better than I imagined possible.

That growth and discovery experience, through all the large and small decisions required when doing any work, is the Art. I look forward to seeing how my advances in painting technique will effect my piano playing or my composing (it sounds strange, but they always do), and how much further (in any discipline) it will continue. The final, finished piece (if any piece can ever be "final" or "finished") is only a by-product. For most people, Art is a noun.

For me, it's a verb.

Order a signed poster (click here).


2004 Joel Pelletier, joelp.com, email: joelp@joelp.com, web design: the Way Home media

Original text & images protected by copyright law; reproduction without consent prohibited.

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