I grew up with the Muppets, they were my iconic avatars in understanding the nature of the world. Jim Hensen was obviously a genius, and I think the best kind of artist in that he used his art to make the world a better place (and had no worries in getting the work out there and also being successful). Kermit the Frog was also Hensen’s avatar, the Muppet that he felt the closest to, who spoke for him. Sometimes artists can be fairly inarticulate when it comes to speaking, but are able to create their work, their own “Frankenstein Monsters” that walk and talk and speak for them, and Kermit was like this for Henson. Puppeteering is very close to cartooning and other kinds of artmaking, in that puppets (or lines on a page in comics) aren’t alive, but in the case of Kermit, pieces of felt (and ping pong balls originally for the eyes!) that have Henson’s hand up the “butt” of the puppet who animates it and makes it come alive. Art is about alchemy, and the spirit of Henson is what created the persona of Kermit—while the character lives on, and is portrayed by a new puppeteer post Henson’s death, isn’t quite the same as when Henson was breathing life into him. However, I am interested in how characters (and great art in general) has a life beyond their creators—I do think that Kermit has a life of his own that extends beyond Henson and even the Muppets, now Disney owned, in the minds of people throughout the world that identify and relate to this iconic character, and feel they know him and is a friend in their imaginations.
When the Muppet Movie first came out in 1979, it blew my (and most children’s!) mind to see Kermit in this famous scene riding a bike, in a full body shot, without Henson’s, or anyone’s hand controlling the puppet, nor strings or any other perceivable devices—it was as if Kermit truly was his own being, alive and well, and able to ride a bike to fame and stardom (this was just after where Dom DeLuise, portraying a agent, finds Kermit singing in the swamp and encourages him to go to Hollywood to become a star to make “millions of people happy”. Just after this scene, Kermit is almost run over by a steamroller, controlled by “Doc Hopper” who subsequently wants Kermit to subjugate him to be a mascot for his fast food chain for fried frogs legs. Kermit’s line, after he magically appears on the top of the steamroller says “…if frogs couldn’t hop, I would be gone with the Schwinn”. This is funny, but also symbolic of his character and the Muppets in general: although Henson was wildly successful, he never “sold out” in that he used his characters and his talents to entertain children of all ages, whilst at the same time gently portraying a fuzzy hippy ideology of cooperation, empathy and compassion, that particularly affected my generation in the primary mode of the Muppets creation on Sesame Street, and as we grew older, the Muppet Show and the Muppet Movies (and all their spin-offs), and continue to enchant generations, despite our post-analog, ADHD world of videogames, CGI, irony, and quick editing.
This is from an image in the Muppet Movie Book, which I also owned and cherished (along with all the commercially available Muppet puppets—I could do all the voices!—and soundtracks, books, etc.) As I love Monet and the work of the other impressionists, who as Modernists were also able to bring out their perception of reality and to use landscape as a map onto which to project their unconscious, as I painted this I listened to the Muppet soundtracks, movies, and shows, allowing myself to regress to this more innocent time in the hope to infuse into the painting my emotions and feelings of my younger self. I also, in a post-post modern way, think that paintings CAN be windows onto other worlds, to the unconscious, and want to use the painting, just like the phenomena of seeing Kermit as his own agent, without any strings or hands controlling him, to make a painting that has a life of its own, with a character that seems alive in a world of nature, where the human created being, in a good Frankenstein Monster kind of way, is as alive as the environment surrounding him (which also breaks into unconsciously realized other worlds of my subconscious). A friend during this time told me that I should “peddle as fast and as hard as I can” to get where I want in my life and career by the time I was 50, and I also, from my mature adult perspective, was meditating on this, with Kermit as my avatar that I was suturing into, wanting to appreciate all that life has given me, to work as hard as I can, like Kermit (and Henson) did, in the hope and aspiration to make my own life and career even better, so I can have my art make the world a better place (without selling out!), before I, like the bike and Henson himself, was “Gone with the Schwinn”.
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Monet, The Parc Monceau, 1878, Metropolitan Museum
Of course Monet is amazing, beyond blue-haired old lady art and posters on freshman co-ed’s walls, he really knew how to paint, helped to create an art movement that changed the world, and also had, along with his mentor Manet, a lot of politics in his pictures, from the Steam Engines remarking about the industrial age to the personal politics of his life in Paris and the Simulacrum of his paradise he created for himself in Giverny and his paintings of optical space that created new realities, through light and his cateracts. I do think that painting can give new light to preconceived notions of landscapes and space, and make new realities out of oil that are real—in the mind of both the artist and the viewer. Like Kermit exists beyond Jim Henson’s hand, the world of Monet’s water lilies is alive in the worlds consciousness, and when you view his earlier paintings, like this lovely little gem in the Met, his perceived reality becomes your own and you are transported into the romantic space of his perceived world that becomes alive in your imagination—and strange worlds also exist in his tempered strokes that, like Cezanne’s interior negative space of rocks and foliage, give us an insight also into dream worlds beyond the painters consciousness that seem palpable and alive.