CHARLES KRUGER: ART FOR LIFE’S SAKE

Thurs Jan 20, 11, Martha Bros. Coffee — Church St.

(Evan Karp)

Credit: William Storage

A year ago, at the age of 53, Charles Kruger was fired from his job as a high school teacher. Although he had started painting 4 years prior, he felt like the artist within had expired. Rather than search for another job immediately, Charles attempted to attend 90 art and culture events in 90 days and to document the experience on his blog, Storming Bohemia. To read it from the beginning is to see the man’s eyes open again, and his perspectives reflect this rapid acuity. He has just finished his first month as a high school language arts teacher for the Monterey County Office of Education at an alternative school for incarcerated youthful offenders.

This is the second in a series of profiles for SF Weekly.

Evan Karp: What do you think makes somebody a writer?

Charles Kruger: I guess what makes a writer is a drive to communicate. I guess I don’t differentiate between the different arts. An artist is an artist. It’s about the drive to communicate, to get past the separation from other people. I think we are naturally separated but I think some of us feel it more intensely than others.

EK: And you would argue, perhaps, that artists in general feel that separation more strongly, or less strongly?

CK: I think artists in general feel an obligation to bridge that separation more strongly.

EK: For you personally, are your attempts to communicate, then, born out of your own need?

CK: It’s born out of a need to justify myself. To feel like my life is meaningful. Because—and I don’t know if other artists experience this, but—I think that there was a period of my life, especially as a child, when I felt extremely unworthy . . .

EK: Do you think you would be at any point satisfied? That you would feel satiated beyond the need to express yourself?

CK: Not so far.

EK: Is that a concern of yours?

CK: No it’s not, because there’s a satisfaction in realizing that there’s legitimacy in making that full commitment to the community. I used to think I wanted to make good art—something that people would say was good art—that would give me positive feedback. And that’s no longer an issue. It’s more a matter of being committed to the identity of being an artist. That’s the important contribution. The artifact is incidental. It’s wonderful, but it’s not the most important thing. Not for me. Maybe for others. Maybe after I’m dead the artifact is the most important thing. But for the living artist in the community, the artifact is the least important thing. It’s the commitment to live for it that matters.

EK: So in that sense, really, the poet is the poem.

CK: That’s it exactly. The artist is the creation. Our willingness to commit to that, to live for our art and for the communication and that sort of depth experience in the culture, is what the great contribution is. And that’s important to me because it means that even if I don’t produce a great artifact, then my engagement in the process is valuable to me and to the community. And I get satisfaction out of that.

EK: In a way your art is really just your bones—it doesn’t really change that much. The artifact, I mean; that’s the only thing you leave behind, in that sense.

CK: Well no, I wouldn’t say that. What you leave behind is the artifact. After I’m gone, the artifact will matter (if anything does). But while I’m here, the artifact is secondary. The artifact is not necessary to justify my being an artist. My commitment justifies my being an artist—that has its own need, and makes its own contribution to the community. Once I’m dead, that commitment is no longer there to communicate unless maybe I’ve inspired some others, but the artifacts will be there.

EK: So it’s all relative, art.

CK: It’s all relative. When Picasso was alive, his significance was that he was alive and painting. Once he passed, it’s the paintings that are significant. Suppose he passed having been Picasso, and if history had determined that the paintings had been worthless then he wouldn’t have left the artifacts, and he wouldn’t be that important historically, but his life would not be meaningless. He would still have been Picasso. You see? That’s what matters.

EK: What are some of the challenges you face? To prove to yourself that you are that artist?