What is GOOD ART? – by Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky

What is GOOD ART?
by Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky                                       http://www.StoneHollowStudio.com

Someone recently remarked to me, “Even when I see what I know is great art, I don’t know what makes it good.   I just don’t know much about art.”

That comment prompted a discussion. It caused me to realize that my non-artsy friend is probably not alone in wondering what determines ‘good’ art, that many people stroll through museums without understanding why certain works are lauded as great. And, sometimes notable art can be intimidating. There can be embarrassment in saying, “I just don’t get it.”

The feeling that one is not knowledgeable about art also prevents the purchase and collection of art from contemporary artists. And that’s a real loss, both for today’s artists and for those who surrender to the ennui of décor. Who knows what future-great artist is working in your area? What great works might a collector scoop up but doesn’t because of a lack of confidence? Art investment can be a gamble but it’s a risk that can also enhance your abode.

Learning the fine skills of art appreciation can take years, indeed a lifetime, to fully develop. University courses offer wonderful in-depth study of the intricacies involved to understand art.

My intention here is not to diminish that study at all, but to simplify it for those with limited time or interest. It is my strong opinion that anyone can develop an ability to appreciate art.

After much consideration, I think that which makes art ‘good’ can be distilled down to five basic questions that I believe remain true for all works.

Do you like it?

Certainly, personal taste determines what comprises a private art collection. There are simply things we like, and things we don’t, things we are drawn to and things that repulse us. The initial question need not be “Why do you like it?” but simply “DO you like it?”  Of course, the reason why you like a work can generate extensive examination and debate. And, because this particular qualification is so extremely personal, it should be restricted to private art collections. Without a doubt, the art you privately collect should be work you like. Nevertheless, for the museum visitor, this question can also lead one to cultivate a list of favorite works as well.

Does it draw you in for a closer look?

The urge to get closer to a work of art is a sure sign that it’s speaking to you.

Why does the work draw you closer? Is it because you are intrigued by the artist’s technique (brush strokes, manipulation of the material, etc.) and wish to study its detail? Some works have the ability to immerse the viewer when viewed closely. Good art pulls you in; it does not allow a viewer to pass it by. Equally, the urge to step far back and spend some time viewing the overall work can similarly denote quality.

Does it cause you to think?

Good art is not necessarily pretty art. It does not match your sofa nor blend into your color scheme. It might make the viewer uncomfortable. But, whether disturbing or delightful, good art triggers consideration.  Even if the work is not understood, the very fact that it prompts you to wonder about it indicates a depth of meaning. Good art reaches beyond the canvas or the clay or whatever medium it may be.

Is it innovative?

Innovation can be simple or complex. The cave paintings of Lascaux, France remain avantgarde even after 20,000 years. The Impressionists of the nineteenth century continue to engage us, as future art-lovers will be intrigued by the technological elements being utilized today by contemporary artists.

Does it compel you to return?

This final proviso is closely related to the very first offered in this list. Whether you like a work of art or are repulsed by it, if the work lures you back, it has touched you. Think of a work you have seen but didn’t like. You remember it, don’t you? If you disliked it, why do you remember it?  Art stirs the viewer. Art connects with you. If unable to revisit a work in person, study it in a book or online.

Art is much more than five simple attributes.  Arguably, there are many, many additional components that can be employed to qualify ‘good’ art.  I believe, however, that the above facets offer a solid starting point for art appreciation.

Armed now with some indicators of how to evaluate art, let’s consider how to experience art, particularly in museum collections.

Again, I offer my opinion and encourage you to consider this:

Who goes to a restaurant and orders every item on the menu in one sitting? So why then do we feel that we must see everything in a museum in just one visit?

Understandably, a person may visit a particular museum only once in a lifetime, perhaps while traveling abroad, for example. But which is better? To say that you set foot into all the exhibition spaces in The Prado, or to personally know the powerful emotion portrayed in Goya’s El Tres de Mayo (The Third of May)? To have sprinted upstairs and downstairs in the Chicago Art Institute, or to experience delight as if on the picnic in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte?

To maximize your artistic experience to a museum, rather than racing through every gallery, select one or two exhibition areas (or perhaps only a few individual works) and visit just those, as you would visit a friend. Take your time to get to know them better. Observe what you have not before seen in the work. Think. Remember. Return to revisit those works, or to view different works in the same manner. If unable to return, explore online options. Your artistic experience will definitely be enhanced.

Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky is an award-winning artist whose work includes murals, drawing, illustrations,   sculpture, painting and photography but, for the past 39 years, she has carved herself a reputation as a master of the early American art form of scrimshaw.

Mike and Emmet

A Jewish Joke: New Jewish Theatre presents a drama about a comedy

New Jewish Theatre presents the one man play, “A Jewish Joke” written and performed by Phil Johnson. Set in 1950’s Hollywood at the height of McCarthyism, the play focuses on a very dark time in U.S. history when many careers were ruined by friends and colleagues with just a whisper.


Bernie Lutz is a hot-tempered comedy screenwriter and a partner in the writing team of Lutz and Frumsky. The duo write scrips for the Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye and for NBC. The play takes place at a time when Lutz and Frumsky’s new movie, “The Big Casbah,” is about to premiere and potentially give their careers a huge boost.

Bernie finds out that he and his partner, Morris Frumsky, have been placed on a “blacklist” for their ties to Communists in the movie industry. Asked to rat out Morris, his friend of 30 years, Bernie must choose between saving his career or his self-respect.


“A Jewish Joke” runs November 29 – December 10. The New Jewish Theatre is located in the Wool Studio Theater in the Arts & Education Building of the J’s Staenberg Family Complex at 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur.

For information, visit newjewishtheatre.org.

Exhibit Honors 20th Anniversary of St. Louis Artist’s Death

A 20th Anniversary Memorial exhibition honoring local artist Nate McClain will be displayed September 8th and 9th at St. Louis ArtWorks on 5959 Delmar Boulevard in the Loop East. Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain features over 50 works by McClain including his award-winning Arnolfini Pasta Portrait, original paintings, vibrant portraits, and engaging still lifes. In addition, the exhibition will be supported by archival material including smaller works, Kodak National Honors photographs, and his first published piece at age 4.

Arnolfini Pasta Portrait
Arnolfini Pasta Portrait

Nate McClain was an emerging artist who tragically passed away at age 24 from a Mississippi River drowning accident in 1997. Born in Granite City IL, Nate was an only child and became a published artist at age 4 when his Happy Birthday Card was sold nationally by Hello Studio’s. He pursued art with a passion winning student contests and earning a Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State). His mother passed away from cancer in 1993 which had a profound impact on him as she was also an artist and his biggest advocate. After college, he lived in the Washington Avenue ArtLofts in St. Louis as a freelancer being commissioned for a 9-foot mural of Ozzie Smith for his retirement from baseball. Nate was offered a Head Art Director position around the time of his passing.

Ozzie Smith Retires
Ozzie Smith Retires

Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain is the first major retrospective to broadly examine McClain’s legacy in honor of the 20th Anniversary of his tragic passing. The exhibit was crowdfunded via the Arts and Education Council’s stARTup-StL Crowdfunding platform and organized by the Nate McClain Gallery in association with over twenty private collectors from the St. Louis area, Kansas City, Charleston S.C., Portland, Chicago, and New York City.

Painting the Town
Painting the Town

“This rare event celebrates the life of our dear friend and encourages rediscovery by viewing his works up close and in person, not online,” said Kristopher Barks, curator of the digital Nate McClain Gallery. “Nate was my best friend since preschool and his sudden passing shocked everyone who knew him. For the past twenty years, his loyal friends and family have kept his memory alive thru his online gallery and even saved one of his 16-foot murals from demolition. These passionate fans made this exhibit possible so a wider audience can share in Nate’s legacy.”

Self Portrait by Nate McClain
Self Portrait by Nate McClain

Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain opening reception is Friday, September 8th at 7 p.m. followed by an exhibition on Saturday, September 9th from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Reception and exhibit are free and open to the public at St. Louis ArtWorks, 5959 Delmar.

Article by Kristopher Barks, Curator

Dean Christopher, A St. Louis Gem Not to be Missed – by John Hoffmann

If he could enter Mr. Peabody’s time machine and go back to 1970, Dean Christopher would be the guy sitting next to Johnny Carson instead of Rich Little – he is that good as an entertainer, comic and impersonator. Give Dean a big band and he will put on a fine show as Dean Christopher, but when Dean does his Rat and Pack and More show it is as good as any show you could hope to see in Vegas.

Dean grew up in South County, where he still lives, and went to Bayless High School. For his senior year, he transferred to Affton High School, into the class of 1971 along with actor John Goodman. They were on the same bill in the Affton Spring play of 1971.

The big difference between Dean and John Goodman (aside from million dollar salaries) is that at 64, Goodman looks like he is 64, while Dean looks like he is approaching 50.

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Dean worked his way up from being a doorman to an emcee and singer at various clubs, including The Speakeasy and the Playboy Club, after it moved from Lindell to South County.


Some of the best fun I’ve had in St. Louis was going to Frank Pierson’s Goldenrod Showboat in the 1970s. Every performance of the same melodrama was completely different from the last, as the actors on stage joked with each other and traded barbs with the audience. Dean was on the stage at the Goldenrod from 1977 to 1979.

Dean moved to New York, where he performed in stage plays and in television soap operas including “One Life to Live,” “All my Children” and “As the World Turns.”

He married Victoria Churchill in 1980 and eventually returned to St. Louis, where Victoria is a drama teacher for the Parkway School District. Dean continued to perform, doing on-camera and voice over work in corporate videos and television commercials. Much of the institutional work dried up after the 2009 recession.

But there was still stage work. In 2012 he won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for his performance as Amos Hart in “Chicago” at the Muny.

He did not start his Rat Pack stage show until 2000. Dean has always had a talent for doing voices. He has Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. down pat. His show is titled “The Rat Pack and More,” and the “More” is my favorite part. It is fun to hear Dean sing “Beyond the Sea” as Bobby Darin, but it is a greater experience when he decides to sing it as Daffy Duck.

Dean as Dino 1     image6     Dean as Sammy

One night at One 19 North in Kirkwood, Dean sang as Daffy Duck all alone because the musicians, Jim Manley and Chris Swan, were laughing so hard they had to stop playing.

Dean’s Rat Pack Show still draws audiences in with full houses at the Wildey Theater in Edwardsville and the Cultural Arts Centre in St. Peters. He used to do a shorter Rat Pack show as an opening act for the recently deceased Don Rickles, as well as on cruise ships.

Dean at Finale

Dean’s following really began to grow in St. Louis from 2005 until the close of the Finale Nightclub in Clayton in 2008. Four times a year he would put on his 70-minute Rat Pack and More show with two sold out shows on Friday and Saturday nights, but he also performed with various big bands around town.

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I really enjoy Dean Christopher most when he plays restaurants and bars. If Dean’s fans come out he will break out the comedy, especially in the second set. That is when you never know what to expect.

image8He also does a Dean Martin tribute stage show in cabaret clubs where he plays Dino with just a pianist, who plays the role of Martin’s longtime accompanist Ken Lane.

My favorite Dean Christopher performance is his Christmas Show. He often performs it as a fundraiser for his church, First Unity Church of St. Louis in South County. Recently, he has been doing the show at civic auditoriums in St. Charles County. This year it is scheduled at the Sheldon in St. Louis on Tuesday, December 5.

It is the same show every year, but I have seen it at least seven times in the last 10 years just to hear Dean do “The 12 Days of Christmas,” impersonating a different Hollywood film star from the 1960s for each day. It is probably something people 50 and older will enjoy more than younger generations, but even they will find it entertaining.

The first day of Christmas starts with John Wayne, then goes to Walter Brennan. At one point Paul Lynde appears. Dean does a bit with each actor and includes a quote from a famous movie. In the case of Paul Lynde he sings a couple of bars of a song from the movie “Bye Bye Birdie.”

The fifth day of Christmas is Kirk Douglas. Dean gives a perfect impression of Douglas from “Spartacus.” While I understand that Walter Brennan might be tough for some folks to recognize, I’m always amazed at how many folks under 50 have no idea who Kirk Douglas is – then I remember that Kirk is 100-years-old.

IMG_4683    07Bartending

I was at a nightclub a few years ago when Dean was doing the “12 Days” and came to Henry Fonda. A forty-something lady at the table next to mine said, “Who is that?” It caused me to yell over to her “that Jane Fonda’s father!,” but then I realized that Jane was already in her mid-70s.

If you watch Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at all, I would highly recommend the Dean Christopher Christmas Show.

banner_122413John Hoffmann was a disc jockey in St. Louis from 1969 to 1972.  He then took an about face and spent 30 years in public service as a policeman, detective and command officer. During that time Hoffmann also wrote articles for St. Louis and Washingtonian Magazines, worked the sports desk at the Kansas City Star and was a Washington Correspondent for several Public Safety trade magazines.  He was also a sportswriter for a chain of papers owned by the Washington Post, a baseball website and magazine. When he returned to St. Louis he was an editor for a traffic reporting service, a columnist for AOL’s Patch.com  and from 2008-2010 served as Alderman for the city of Town & Country.  Hoffmann has written hundreds of articles for regional publications, covering local government and sports. In 2012 he was awarded the prestigious “Best Newspaper Columnist” in the Riverfront Times’ annual “Best of St. Louis” awards. Hoffmann is the editor of popular “News from Snoburbia.”

St. Louis County Arts Blog Launches

Coming April 5!!

St. Louis County Arts Blog Launches

Non-profit website will highlight local arts and artists

April 5, 2017—A new online magazine will connect artists and residents who love the arts in St. Louis County. The blog—stlcountyarts.com – goes on Wednesday, April 5.

The goal of St. Louis County Arts blog is to highlight notable local artists who work in a variety of media, including music, theatre, dance, designers, painters and much more.

St. Louis County Arts Blog is a non-profit, volunteer-driven initiative. The co-creative directors of the blog are Valerie Tichacek and Bill Motchan.

Tichacek was formerly web editor at public radio station KDHX. Motchan is a writer and photographer whose work regularly appears in the St. Louis Jewish Light. Both are enthusiastic about the opportunity to expose more St. Louis Countians to the wide variety of arts in the area.

“The St. Louis County arts scene is alive and vibrant, and we plan to feature the people who make it happen,” Tichacek said. “It could be behind-the-scenes stories of the stage designers at the Rep or the working musicians who call St. Louis County their home base.”

The blog will provide listings of upcoming events, feature stories, photos and audio interviews with notable St. Louis artists.