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dateline july 12, 2002. we hit the scene to pose the all-important question: what's booze got to do with it?

photos by maureen duncan

It does Pollock no service to idolize him. ...Compared to his paintings, the myth of Pollock hardly matters.
--robert hughes, 1982
  Marshall Marcus

Occupation: retired

How many martinis have you imbibed tonight?

None. I don't like martinis.

So what is the relationship between alcohol and art?

Alcohol is related to everything. If someone asks you to go to a lousy movie, you say no. If they say there's free drinks, you go. Wherever there's booze, people go automatically--it's a very good idea. People come for the liquor way before they'll look at the art.

Does it make the art look better?


Do you think alcohol is an important part of the creative process?

Absolutely. Jackson Pollock didn't do a damn thing until he got drunk, and look at what he did.

He crashed his car!

He did that, too, but he also made some spectacular art.

Carol Stitzer

Occupation: retired

How many martinis have you had?

I haven't had any. Only lemon water; I'm on my bike.

Because drinking and biking don't mix.

That's right!

Do you think alcohol makes the art look better?

No, I like it better without the alcohol, definitely. I think it's fun to hang around here and have a drink, but I would come here without the drinks.

Good answer! Do you think alcohol has a role to play in the creative process?

You know, I'm a bad one to ask about alcohol because I don't like to drink that much. Though I just had a revelation: now I know why my art is not hanging in a gallery--I don't drink enough. I'm going home to have that martini!

  Barbara Kendrick

Occupation: professor/artist

How many martinis have you had tonight?

None. Vodka gives me a headache.

Does alcohol play a role in the creative process?

I'm not sure if it happens so much anymore--I wonder about that--but I think there was a lot of mythology coming out of the '50s and '60s with Jackson Pollock, of thinking one had to drink in order to create. I just don't find any link between drinking and being more creative; I've never been able to do that and make art.

Do you think alcohol helps people appreciate art?

I think it's a social lubricant that we all seem to need, just to be able to talk to each other.

Does it make the art look better?

I don't think so. It certainly loosens up inhibitions, though, so it may make people more open-minded.

  Nathan Keay

Occupation: self-employed

How many martinis have you had tonight?


Which kind?

I have no idea.

You're an artist in one of the shows tonight, and you're wearing your piece. Do you think alcohol plays a role in the creative process?

Yes. It can inhibit, but it can also work in a positive way. I've gotten my best ideas from being drunk and from being completely stone sober.

Were you sober when you made this piece?

I was drunk when I came up with the idea, but sober when I created it.

Do you think alcohol enhances people's appreciation of art?

No, I think it makes them more belligerent toward it. I'm actually totally worried that someone's going to spill red wine on me tonight.

  Andrew Young (modeling martini, right) and Adam Brooks

Occupation: artists

Which martini are you on?

Andrew: This is my seventh.

Awesome! So what is the connection between alcohol and art?

Andrew: It's a myth--it's the romance of Jackson Pollock peeing in the planter at Peggy Guggenheim's birthday party.

Adam: It was the fireplace.

Andrew: It was in the fireplace? See, I thought it was in a plant.

Adam: Artists think that alcohol fuels creativity, but it actually cauterizes it.

Do you think the alcohol helps people appreciate the art?

Andrew: No. I think everyone loves a party, and it more or less bolsters the whole social dimension or cachet of the art world.

Adam: But it diminishes the ability of people to actually be able to see the art. They can't do that at openings to begin with, but this makes it even more difficult.

Andrew: It's an interesting paradox, because the creative process has such a desperate solitude to it that we probably generate or fabricate these social experiences as an antidote to the isolation.

How many people do you think are out here tonight because of the alcohol?

Andrew: About 75%. Plus, it's summertime. Chicago lives in hibernation seven months of the year, and then we come out and celebrate. So this is a miniature art orgy, like Taste of Chicago is to restaurants. I have no problem with that. But if you really want to experience the artwork, do it on a sober day, by yourself.

  Amy Honchell, left, and her mom, Jane Honchell

Occupation: artist (Amy) and teacher (Jane)

How many martinis have you had tonight?

Jane: I've been abstemious; I've only had one so far.

Amy: And I have had two Cosmopolitans.

Is there a connection between alcohol and the creative process, or alcohol and the appreciation of art?

Jane: They probably feed on each other. From the observer's point of view, maybe alcohol loosens up people's inhibitions so they can step back and enjoy themselves a little more, and not be so fearful about approaching new things.

Amy: I think some art is better when viewed while intoxicated...but not mine! As a maker I've always been really annoyed by artists who feel that intoxication, or altering their mental state to create, is the way to some kind of genius. If you're gifted, you can be gifted without any life-altering device, so I think it's a crutch for a lot of people. I don't have a major problem with it, but I'm frustrated by the images of famous painters who lock themselves away and have to drink or do drugs to be great, and who all end up dying tragically young. Is it so tragic? I think it's debatable!

Jane: Well, I'm a writer, and I have to agree, because that same alcoholism thing applies to writers, as well. I think drinking makes you believe you're a lot better than you really are.

Occupational hazards: Robert "researches" our intrepid reporter, Julie Farstad.

Occupation: artist/teacher

How many martinis have you had this evening?

Too many to count.

Which one's your favorite?

All of them.

What role does alcohol play in the creative process?

Well, I go out and party for my research, so there is a big link between my artwork and alcohol. What can I say? The drunker you get, the more you see. I'm just hoping I can write it off on my taxes, because cover charges are expensive.

What sort of research do you do with alcohol?

Do you want to know everything? I don't really test the alcohol--it's all going down, so it doesn't matter if it tastes good or bad. But the drunker I get, the more aggressive I get, so I approach people and maybe talk to them more. Then I use them as subjects of my paintings. Also, when they're in front of the camera, they can be stiff, so you booze them up and they lose their inhibitions. They get pretty wild--there are lots of nipples showing.

Do you drink when you paint?

No. Because I can't stand straight; I fall over. I've done it before, and I've made very bad work.