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That’s around the time Jim Love came, and he did a terrific fence with pieces of sculpture built into a fence. We were down there all the time, painting the walls, hanging this or that, opening crates, closing crates. We were so involved…involved to the point where we were on call if the ADT went off. So as that damn thing would open up, they’d be calling us in the middle of the night to go down and check the place.

The art league and the museum

The Art League

Art League Houston, one of Houston’s longest operating non-profit visual arts organizations and the first alternative art space in Texas, was founded in 1948 and incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1953.
I guess always fought the uphill battle being a prestigious group, you know, an important group in the city, because a lot of the people were frankly beginners. They were interested, but they had limited resources. They were Sunday painters. But of course they did not think of themselves as professional in any way. The Museum, of course, when I arrived it was just the old U-shaped building and then the Cullinan wing was added in 1958. And that changed things quite a bit.

Chillman was director when I first came. He ran the show and used to teach at Rice. Ava Jean took classes with Chillman. They used to have a show every year for Houston artists. The prize was about $500 for about five years, [then] they upped it to $1,000 and I won it on a great big abstract painting—a non-objective painting I should say—and that was the last year they had the exhibit, in 1960. They later had shows, but they didn’t have competitions as I remember.

The view from here

There is a heck of a lot of variety [today], but at the same time, I understand a number of galleries have closed and are about to close. They just can’t make it. They can’t sell. There’s just not enough traffic. You know there will always be a market for $50 and $100 paintings, but for more expensive things you need a certain amount of income to do it, and the people that have that are just not buying art. Listen—the ballet, the opera, all of these organizations are hard-pressed. They’ve had to cut back here and there in different ways and the same with the galleries. It hasn’t been easy, and I think it’s kind of a pendulum maybe.

So we have more people who are millionaires and billionaires than ever, but we need the people who are upper- middle class—not giants. It has to do with education, too, what goes on in the schools. When I went to school [the arts] were a very important part of everything. I went to a very unusual school of music and art in New York and once a week we’d all go down and listen to a symphony. They had three symphony orchestras—can you imagine?—in this one high school. When you walked through the halls you’d hear instruments practicing…and it was a fabulous thing. There were studios full of kids painting and making jewelry, and I felt this was what life is all about. But you go through the schools today and it’s just not happening. I don’t know what the hell is going on because they don’t seem to be studying math or geography or anything else.

It’s inconceivable to me that somebody can live a life and never be interested at all in music or art or literature or something—but apparently a lot of people [do]. One thing that just drives everybody I know crazy is this business of putting down intellectualism. What is an intellectual? An intellectual is somebody that knows something! So don’t make fun of them, for crying out loud—make fun of the boobs. We depend on the doctors…the lawyers…the engineers, scientists and lawyers. All of them you can group as intellectuals. We do not depend on rock stars at all for any kind of education, and the public spends billions of dollars on that stuff.

Television hasn’t helped. Gee whiz, it sure as hell hasn’t helped. You know when I was growing up all I could think about was that I wanted to be an extension of the art of the centuries. Hell, I didn’t want to overturn anything. I don’t believe that the artists of any era way back felt, “Boy—I’m going to overturn everything that’s been done. I’m going to make a brand new start.” They wanted to take what was there and do something with it, and they revered the work before. If their personality and character changed it, that was alright, but hell—they never thought about revolutionizing technique or something. It was a very gradual thing. Now we’ve got an “ism” change monthly. In our century they have gone crackers about newness.

Herb Mears was interviewed on November 30, 1995. You can listen to the interview here .

Questions & Answers

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STM - Scanning Tunneling Microscope.
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Source:  OpenStax, Houston reflections: art in the city, 1950s, 60s and 70s. OpenStax CNX. May 06, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10526/1.2
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