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Spanish painting at el Gugg

Post #958 • February 20, 2007, 3:15 PM • 57 Comments

New York City — Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History assembles Spain's heavyweights into a substantial exhibition that groups works nonchronologically by theme. Any show with Velázquez and Goya in it in such quantities will compensate your visit, of course, although in this case, they injured other artists on display, to the detriment of the whole presentation.

My estimation of Picasso, especially, took a drubbing. Picasso riffed on paintings by Velázquez and Goya, and the show paired a few examples. This provided an interesting glimpse into the mind of Picasso, but I mostly saw Cubist worry there. We don't normally think of Picasso as tentative, but that's how these homages looked - apologetic in their playfulness, and in some areas of unfinished execution, seemingly given up for lost. One can imagine why - a flayed sheep head and ribs rendered with astonishing realism and gravitas by Goya makes Picasso's take on the same theme look like a poor cartoon. Goya even makes Zurbarán look a bit wooden. Picasso, in his presence, might as well have painted with his elbows. To be fair, these were not prime Picassos; I think a few analytical Cubist still lifes circa 1911 would not have wilted so readily next to Zurbarán's realist ones. (Dalí only ever looks more like a talented illustrator with poor taste, and around Goya, one questions the talent.)

The thematic organization served its purpose, but arranging this show chronologically would have exposed a wide temporal gap between the death of Goya in 1828 and the birth of Picasso in 1881, causing the presentation to leap from Romanticism to Cubism in an odd manner. That gap could have been effectively filled by Joaquin Sorolla or Fortuny y Marsal. Actually, Díaz de la Peña would have been perfect if he qualifies as Spanish. But to paraphrase a recent secretary of state, you go to the show with the objects you have. Within those limits, the Guggenheim makes the case for Spanish painting as a cohesive tradition, the influence of Catholicism on its early part and of Paris on its later part notwithstanding.

I'll look closer at some of the jewels in later posts. Velázquez in particular comes off as a miracle. Like Rembrandt, he holds a place in my mind reserved for sublimity, but my mental image doesn't record how mind-blowingly good his best works are. This reason alone makes the Guggenheim show worth attending. The imperfections fade in the glory.

José de Ribera (1591-1652), Apollo and Marsyas, 1637, oil on canvas, 71 5/8 x 91 5/16 inches (182 x 232 cm), Museo Nazionale di San Martino, Naples

Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), Still Life with Sheep's Head, ca. 1808-12, oil on canvas, 45 x 62 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, photo © Photo RMN/© Franck Raux

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Still Life with Sheep's Skull, 1939, oil on canvas, 50.2 x 61 cm, collection of Vicky and Marcos Micha, © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Francisco de Goya, The Duchess of Abrantes, 1816, oil on canvas, 92 x 70 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, photo © 2006 Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Marie-Thérese Walter with a Garland, 1937, oil and pencil on canvas, 61 x 46 cm, private collection, © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo by Beatrice Hatala

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614), The Vision of Saint John, ca. 1608-14, oil on canvas, 222.3 x 193 cm; with added strips, 224.8 x 199.4 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1956, photo © 1996 The Metropolitan Museum of Art




February 20, 2007, 4:02 PM

I really can't afford to attend this show. Is the Catalogue for $50 worth purchasing?



February 20, 2007, 4:58 PM

Yeah, the catalogue's lovely.



February 20, 2007, 5:04 PM

Themes are always inappropriate when showing serious art. It pushes the work toward illustration. And putting a 1939 Picasso up against a Goya of any period is a violent mismatch. Picasso had just about lost it by then, and Goya just kept getting deeper & loonier.

The 1911 Cubist picture would indeed have been a match, but then it wouldn't fit their theme. So much for themes. The only interesting comparison is "which picture is better".



February 20, 2007, 5:06 PM

And for crying out loud how long does it take before people stop thinking Dali is some kind of "great master". He was a hack, and a second rate hack at that.



February 20, 2007, 5:24 PM

The Ribera is terrific, and that Goya still life is just amazing.

Picasso had his moment and has his place, but his work clearly degenerated, often badly, partly because he was active for so long and cranked out so much stuff (which was partly because he knew almost anything with his name on it would sell).

The mammoth ego, encouraged even further by a blindly adoring establishment, ultimately turned him into a kind of self-parody. In a sense, he sold out to his own inflated image. It may be that his historical importance will eventually be seen as greater than the actual merit of much (if not most) of his work. I basically feel that way now.

Certainly, I would not put him on a par with Goya or Velazquez in terms of how good his oeuvre as a whole actually is. He's an example of someone with real talent and great influence who was nevertheless clearly overrated. It's not as bad as it was now, but more and more of his works look weaker and weaker as time goes by--at least to me.



February 20, 2007, 5:28 PM

Re the Goya, those may be the most exquisite, elegant and dignified pieces of meat I've ever seen.



February 20, 2007, 5:42 PM

Dali was a fancy practical joke, but it was so succesful that even now the system can't quite admit it and act accordingly. Warhol's not much different, essentially, and in his case the system definitely isn't ready to admit it. Too much money at stake and too much face to lose--just ask Arthur Danto.



February 20, 2007, 5:46 PM

Jack, I think Picasso after "Demoiselles" until about 1914 will stand up to just about anyone. After he lost Braque as his "rudder" he slowly went to pieces, even though he did much that was very good, at least once in a while, and in small scale, through the 30s.



February 20, 2007, 5:56 PM

Yes, OP, but what proportion of his career or oeuvre does that represent? I'm not trying to take away his indisputable merit and importance, but rather putting his overall achievement in a more rational, objective perspective. A lot of what he wound up doing now seems frankly embarrassing, both because he "lost it" and because he was naturally inclined (and much encouraged by others) towards unbridled hubris. In the end, his reach exceeded his grasp.



February 20, 2007, 6:17 PM

Well, I hate to penalize him for living a long time. I don't disagree with you. I just like to concentrate on the good stuff, which, as I said, for me anyway, stands up to just about anyone.

That doesn't keep me from wincing every time some idiot pays $50 million for one of those sappy 1930s portraits.



February 20, 2007, 7:57 PM

Opie, you commented before on illustration being of lesser esthetic value. It could be said that El Greco made some great illustrations, and Michelangelo some great animations. Both are figurative narrative painters. Serious art can also be illustrative, containing: rythm, compositional and color harmony, coherence, etc. Could we then assume that you are refering to (for example) hard edge figuration, or maybe narratives reflecting social concerns such as religion, culture, politics...?
These painters refered to in Franklins post had built upon the same themes as many illustrational looking pictures are, except that there may be a blob or two of paint here or there, or are embued with a more emotional charge/ caress.



February 20, 2007, 8:14 PM

The good stuff, including the best of his graphic work (like the wonderful Vollard Suite), is indeed great stuff. My point is that a lot of what he did is of much lesser quality and should clearly be recognized as such. For a long time, and in some moneyed quarters even now, his signature alone was/is enough to induce automatic genuflection and profuse praise (or at least a simulation thereof). This is simply unfounded and therefore illegitimate.

In all sorts of fields, not just visual art, it is entirely possible to be great sometimes or at some things but clearly not at others, or great for a period but certainly not indefinitely. This is probably just the nature of things, the more or less typical scenario. Cases of unflagging and progressively greater accomplishment are relatively rare and obviously not to be had as a matter of course. Everybody can't keep going higher and higher till death finally stops the rise at age 93.

I happen to be especially averse to what amounts to blind idolatry, whereby Artist or Performer X is always somehow great, can basically do no wrong, and any opinion to the contrary is treated as some perverse (or ignorant) heresy. This, to me, is a kind of fanatical and thus irrational behavior, which is a form of delusion. I have a very hard time dealing with the afflicted because, frankly, it's like dealing with someone with a mental problem--and I'd just as soon not do that.

I am not, of course, even remotely implying that you, OP, fit such a description, but I really dislike uncritical, hyperemotional, floridly effusive hyperventilation over people who may actually be very talented, but who are most definitely fallible and imperfect. The one does not negate or remove the other, and both need to be acknowledged and examined as dispassionately as possible.

Picasso in art is or at least was, for a time, a case in point. I'm sure there was a period when most people wouldn't dare say the things I'm saying now because he was too much of a sacred cow. Sacred cow status, by the way, can have widely varying degrees of basis in fact, meaning the actual quality of the work or achievement. However, in Picasso's instance, the extent of that basis was rather narrower or more limited than for, say, Shakespeare, Michelangelo or Beethoven.



February 20, 2007, 8:28 PM

JM I never said that illustration was of lesser esthetic value. That is another kind of discussion, pretty much a semantic discussion, really. What I said was

"Themes are always inappropriate when showing serious art. It pushes the work toward illustration."

Obviously virtually all painting before the modern era served as illustration of some sort. But presumably in a museum exhibit we want to enjoy great art as great art apart from its capacity for illustrating. Presenting art thematically directs us to look at it as illustration rather than look at it as art. That's all.



February 20, 2007, 8:38 PM

As I said, Jack, I certainly agree with what you are saying. When it comes to assessing a career all these things must be considered. And Picasso is a perhaps unique (I use the word with temerity) as an artist whose early genius and dominance managed to support decades of sometimes horrendous and often trivial work, and still does. I don't know of another artist whose range of quality was so great.



February 20, 2007, 9:46 PM

I'm theorizing or speculating here, but I think Picasso's decline was due to a combination of his personality and the tremendous and sustained success of his long career.

He was only too ready to believe in his grandiose image and "greatest artist alive" status, even long after his work stopped living up to that. Either he couldn't see it, or wouldn't face it, or figured it didn't matter as long as the world kept paying homage and buying anything he churned out. He had the luxury of resting on his laurels and coasting, and he took full advantage of it, regardless of whether he was conscious of doing it or not. Once he became a major international celebrity, a revered icon, he no longer had to be great or even very good--he just had to be Picasso, and he played the part with relish.

The veneration, fawning, and stroking from essentially all quarters, not just the art world but popular culture as well, probably acted as a kind of Prozac or "there-is-no-problem-here," "I'm-still-the-greatest" happy drug. Indeed, that must have been very hard to resist, especially for someone with his ego. He didn't; he went right along with it, and it obviously hurt his work.

Perhaps he would have "lost it" anyway; maybe he only had a limited supply or time of greatness, and simply padded the rest of his career with the leftovers as best he could. There's certainly a lot of filler in it, even if the best work remains extremely impressive as well as important.



February 20, 2007, 10:33 PM

Picasso was a great inventor.
He eventually ran out of things to invent and just played with the toys he had.



February 20, 2007, 10:42 PM

Mediocrity always attacks greatness.



February 21, 2007, 7:21 AM

Good morning.
As to where we are now .... A lot of people think that humanity has moved from 3D into 4D. I.e. it is no longer a world where hard work and time invested is the most likely thing to pay off. More important what things look and feel like. Media exposure is more important than the facts. What you radiate is more important than what experience you've actually had.



February 21, 2007, 7:58 AM an extention to this idea, lets talk about labour regarding art.



February 21, 2007, 9:20 AM

A few observations on Picasso and his oeuvre.

First, to address the ‘uneven’ quality found in his body of work as a whole I would agree but also observe, as opie noted, he lived a long time. During his lifetime Picasso produced, by my estimation, what must be over 15,000 artworks in various media. It appears that he was somewhat of a packrat and saved everything. His oeuvre includes all the little insignificant ideation’s, false attempts, abandoned works, studies, etc. This being the case, it is not surprising that we find the good with the not so good.

Picasso’s life as an artist was punctuated by two world wars, as well as a civil war in his native country. In retrospect, I cannot estimate, nor personally comprehend, the psychic distress caused by the visible destruction and loss of life during these periods. In particular the affects of the second world war which occurred during the middle point of his career and must have been devastating after having lived through the trauma of the first world war.

Picasso was just another human being, he was ambitious and I suspect probably egotistical. These are traits which allowed him to forge the direction his work took over the years, without self confidence, without that blind belief in the self, I do not believe he could have produced the works he did.

Jack remarked, "he was naturally inclined (and much encouraged by others) towards unbridled hubris", also paraphrased slightly differently in other his comments. I realize I could just take this as one persons personal point of view with its attendant biases but supposing it might be the case, what does it tell us? To my view, it says more of Picasso’s humanity than anything else, that he like most others liked to be appreciated, stroked, for what he did. I do not see this as a particular failing, it seems more like one of the normal responses I would expect from a successful but human artist. I do not think I would necessarily attribute it to the perceived decline in his later work, I think there were probably other reasons.

The question of judging or comparing Picasso’s work with his historical predecessors is a difficult one. I feel that without a doubt he was the greatest artist of the 20th century and that his best works stand up in comparison with the greats of the past.

One of the problems in making such historical comparisons is the apple vs. oranges problem. Picasso’s work was focused on pictorial invention, from analytic cubism to his death in 1970 he produced thousands of artworks exploring possibilities of pictorial representation outside of the classical mimetic paradigm. Pollock is quoted as saying something like, "damn him, he covered all the bases" (from memory, may not be exact).

Pollock was right, Picasso almost single handedly, defined abstraction as a pictorial category. If one looks at his body of work, Picasso explored, experimented and made works using just about every conceivable approach one could take towards abstraction. One can find his influence in just about any abstract painting made since 1910. This achievement alone ensures his place in the Pantheon of paintings greats.

Extrapolating, pursuing and pondering, the question of whether or not Picasso ‘lost it’ or became consumed by his success. Success is a strange mistress, it gives you what you ‘think’ you want but nags you like a witch in return. I don’t think Picasso was pressed for money in the latter half of his life, I suspect he might have made some things just to get people off his back, but it’s just a speculation.

I would give Picasso credit for the unbridled invention within the new abstract genera, it appears that this was the central focus of his earlier work (starting in 1907+). His invention was ruthless and all encompassing, and I wonder if he just came to a point where he ran out of things to invent. The well went dry because he drank all the water.

His approach, his personal vocabulary existed as he defined it within his historical cultural context, there was no turning back to the past, towards making a mimetically ordered representational painting. He may have just gone as far as he was capable of envisioning without endlessly repeating his earlier analytic or synthetic cubist successes.

One final thought. I haven’t looked at all the late work yet, but it appears that at the end of his life Picasso seemed to get some of the ‘juice’ back. After 50 or 60 years of painting, heck after 30, one looses contact with ones earlier discoveries. They exist as memories but one forgets how one did them, the concentration of the thinking, feeling, and seeing which occurred in that previous moment. The cognitive part of the process of making a painting mutates over time. It is informed by our own history but the present moment, with all its distraction or excitement holds sway. If anything, where it appears to me that Picasso’s work may have faltered in the later years, was in its lack of intensity, either in intent or focus, I’m not sure which.



February 21, 2007, 12:06 PM

I followed Franklin's link to the show, clicked on Highlights, then clicked on 2. There's a Velazquez portrait next to one by Picasso. A comparison may be odious, but it's intentional and hardly favorable to Picasso.

The question that came into my head was: Is this really about doing something differently, or about resorting to a patented gimmick (already a bit tired by 1939) that allows one to, in a sense, take the easy way out? I mean, that Picasso portrait is mighty close to caricature.

Yes, the Cubist elements in the face are interesting, the abbreviated yet tactile handling of the white ruff is pretty good, and the sober palette is both appropriate and also a safeguard against getting too close to kitsch.

But as to which is the better painting, it's no contest.



February 21, 2007, 12:29 PM


1. The little things he saved like a packrat are not part of anyone's estimation of Picasso's failings.

2. Picasso was inconvenienced at least by the second war, with the Nazis in Paris. (He was a Spaniard and a noncombatant). The first war was spent doing work for "Parade", falling in love with Olga, travelling back and forth to Spain, and other pleasant pursuits. There is no evidence I know of that he was in any way traumatized by any of it.

3. That he is the great artist of the 20th C. is arguable. Matisse comes to mind. There are also all sorts of folks on record who want to hand the title to our friend the Great Urinalist.

4. You did not state it as such, but your implication was that he was an "abstractionist". He denied this, for what it's worth.

5. Picasso was a prodigious formal inventor, but he was weak conceptually, in the sense that he had a problem building from the "bottom up". He need Braque to put him on to Cezanne and to co-develop Cubism and to invent collage, etc. When Braque dropped out (He went to WWI, unlike Picasso, and got shot in the head) Picasso dropped off.



February 21, 2007, 1:00 PM

The link to the show also has images of a Murillo Madonna next to one by Dali. I agree with OP: why would serious people at a serious institution doing a serious show even remotely want to include obvious claptrap like Dali in the company of greatness? It's insulting and embarrassing, like putting some Escher thing in color in there. Why can't the powers that be just admit Dali was a joke and throw the bum out?



February 21, 2007, 1:30 PM

To say he was "inconvenienced" by the war is putting it mildly. The wars happened in Europe and that certainly is inconvenient if one is European. My opinion on this point is based upon looking at his paintings from the period.



February 21, 2007, 1:32 PM

Probably better to base your opinion on the facts, George.



February 21, 2007, 1:47 PM

That was a curt response.

I've looked at hundreds of paintings (jpegs) from the W.W.II era and it's evident, at least to me, that W.W.II caused more trauma than W.W.I. Maybe it's because W.W.II followed the Depression and was still within memory of W.W.I. To suggest that because Picasso was a noncombatant would insulate him from the anxiety of the war is lubricous

Explain what you meant by ‘bottom up’



February 21, 2007, 2:08 PM

It did not need to be any more than curt.

I have looked at hundreds of paintings too. Paintings like "Portrait of Dora Maar" 1942, "L'Aubade" 1942, "Child with Pigeons" 1943, "First Steps" 1943. Paintings that are as cozy and domestic as can be.

"Lubricious", George? Arousing sexual desire; lustful; lecherous? I suspect you meant "ludicrous". And how can it be "ludricrous" to suggest that his noncombatant status insulated him from the war, when he spent the war in Paris, discussed art with Nazi soldiers (which he could not avoid, of course), continued to paint and go to cafes and had his friends escaping to America (Rosenberg), joining the underground (Elouard) and dying in concentration camps (Max Jacob)? C'mon George!

By "bottom up" I meant that he could make wonderful, inventive versions (and great art) of something already there but could not invent anything really radically, basically new. Everything he did derived one way or the other from someone else's more fundamental innovation, with the possible exception of "Demoiselles", which was a strraightforward, self-conscious effort to do something radically new and which, despite all the claims, really led nowhere. The "guitars" of the early teens were close, but he himself did not really understand their potential nor try to work it out until he met and worked with Goinzales almost 20 years later. He was an absolutely brilliant improvisor but very much overrated as an innovator.



February 21, 2007, 2:14 PM




February 21, 2007, 2:20 PM




February 21, 2007, 4:11 PM

Jack wrote:

I happen to be especially averse to what amounts to blind idolatry, whereby Artist or Performer X is always somehow great, can basically do no wrong, and any opinion to the contrary is treated as some perverse (or ignorant) heresy. This, to me, is a kind of fanatical and thus irrational behavior, which is a form of delusion. I have a very hard time dealing with the afflicted because, frankly, it's like dealing with someone with a mental problem--and I'd just as soon not do that.

Perhaps in order to assess (with any degree of objectivity) how great an artist is, we must wait until not only he has died, but his disciples as well. So often these "He was the greatest"/"He was the worst" arguments are just proxy battles for those whose finances, reputations, and egos are invested in the legacies of such artists.

My own tastes tend to lean toward the Academic masters, like those that the Art Renewal Center lauds. But their deification of Bouguereau is getting creepy, and their vicious dismissal of those who did not kneel at his feet overreaching.



February 21, 2007, 4:40 PM

I always find it asinine to declare any artist "the best" or "the greatest." I find art is always subjective. This isn't baseball or football.

How can one really get in the mindset of any artist by looking at their paintings? Just because one paints dark and dreary, does that make him dark and dreary?

People can lie and be insincere, in their work, as well as their lives.



February 21, 2007, 5:19 PM

Art is not subjective, BMD. It is either good art or bad art or somewhere inbetween. Getting to what's good is a subjective process.

"Getting into the mindset of an artist" and evaluating the art are two different things.

I don't know how one can "lie" in art. Art is visual and lying is verbal. I suppose forgery might come close.



February 21, 2007, 5:32 PM

Opie, Please explain how Dali is a second rate hack.



February 21, 2007, 6:15 PM


Actually, there's good art, bad art and art that you could care less about either way. Of course, whether it's good or bad is subjective to the person viewing the art. You could give a 100,000,000 reasons why a painting by Dali is good or bad, but that doesn't make you any more right then the person with no art background, viewing the same painting for the very first time who has a completely different reaction to it.

As for people who "lie" in their art, I was speaking about not only painting but also art (music, writing, painting, etc) in general.

This was in resonse to someone who claimed that by looking at Picasso's work he could get a sense about what he was feeling during World War II. A point which I disagreed with.

One could be happy and paint miseable compositions b/c he knows miserable will sell and vice versa. Not that I'm making any presumptions about Picasso.

Anyone else agree with me about that a painter could "lie" in his work?


Marc Country

February 21, 2007, 6:46 PM

"Of course, whether it's good or bad is subjective to the person viewing the art."

Of coure, I suppose, the same would go for killing. Whether it's good or bad is entirely subjective, depending if you are the killer or the killed, or someone else...



February 21, 2007, 7:23 PM

As long as we allow that there is such a thing as good or bad art, BMD, then the matter good or bad is not subjective but a question of how we get to it. I never said that quality was provable.

"Lying" can only be acheived verbally, or with the appropriate explicit signal. Art does not lie. Nor does it tell the truth. Nor does it tell us what Picasso was feeling duriung WW2, as you say.

SP it is my opinion that Dali is a second-rate hack. If you disagree there is little I can do about it.



February 21, 2007, 7:40 PM

Art does and can lie, people are insincere about there expresions for a number of reasons one of them being finacial, alot of times people make art not because they feel it but because it is the popular choice, you give most people enough money and they'll do or paint anything..................and mr. opie i wasnt asking you to do anything or be defensive about my question, i was simply asking you why you think someone most regard as a genius is a second rate hack, an explination , maybe something that will validate your opinion.



February 21, 2007, 7:45 PM

This was in resonse to someone who claimed that by looking at Picasso's work he could get a sense about what he was feeling during World War II. A point which I disagreed with.

I would accept your disagreement in part. I would also suggest it may reflect an insensitivity on the part of the viewer, an unwillingness to fully engage with the artwork in question. It suggests that painting is incapable of conveying any information other than what one perceives in a strict formal sense, (its color, composition, texture, pattern, drawing etc).I do not believe this is true but see no point in carrying the discussion further.



February 21, 2007, 7:57 PM

SP you are talking about people lying and being insincere, not art. There's a difference.

Your question about Dali did not make me feel defensive at all. I have dealt with this kind of question a thousand times. I guess if we stood in front of a Dali I could point to characteristics which might convince someone that he is a bad painter. But most people who think he is wonderful are not sensitive to the things I would be pointing to anyway. If you don't see it you don't see it. And it is perfectly legitimate for the other person to say the same thing to me. It is only art, after all.



February 21, 2007, 8:13 PM

Fair enough....although the man did paint pretty well by anyones standards. anyways, what I'm talking about is people lying and being insincere on canvas, paper, video, etc... which does happen. People create what others want despite their own wishes, that is a lie and insincerity.



February 21, 2007, 9:01 PM

If it's any consolation, I think Dali is a first-rate hack.



February 21, 2007, 9:37 PM

if Dali is any kind of hack, what does that make the artists working in miami today..........................................



February 21, 2007, 9:38 PM

or anywhere for that matter...



February 21, 2007, 10:27 PM

#42, it makes them hacks without painting skills.

Well, Franklin, that means he is more of a hack than a second-rate hack, so I guess i will have to agree with you. You drive a hard bargain.



February 21, 2007, 10:41 PM

Actually, I see him as the predecessor of the guy who did the album covers for Yes. In his context, fantasy illustration, there's nothing wrong with him. His work just doesn't make for high art. I don't understand how people prefer him to Redon or Ernst.



February 21, 2007, 11:08 PM guys are funny..."yes" albums. hacks without painting skills? so you agree he had painting skills...but you don't agree with his.....?????? show us something better, show us what is "good" or atleast explain why "it's" bad....don't sound bitter or envious Please.....................give an explination with as much articulation as your arguments, why does Salvador Dali Suck?



February 21, 2007, 11:22 PM

It doesn't work, #46. There is no specific thing you can point to in a picture that is a "good"characteristic or a "bad" characteristic. Art is by nature estimated intuitively.



February 21, 2007, 11:24 PM

BTW if you want to see this question worked out exhaustively over & over again read the last 2 or 3 years of this blog. Then come back and ask.


Bunny Smedley

February 22, 2007, 5:34 AM

Franklin is exactly on target with the comment about Dali as a fantasy illustrator. Yes, he understood the basics of perspective, shading etc but if that counts as 'great art', then it's time to open the doors for a lot of people who made a good living e.g. painting loaves of Hovis bread for magazine advertisements, let alone album covers or dustjackets for paperback pulp fiction. For what it's worth, I just don't think Dali ever made his medium, oils, do any of the things it does particularly well. Do please, if you doubt this, compare one of his works with something by Velazquez, or even Miro. Is there anything Dali does that genuinely works better in real life than it does in colour reproduction? That's got to be a bad sign, surely?

And as for Opie assertion that Picasso wasn't much of an innovator ... I'm mildly envious. It's the sort of arresting, annoying line where one initially thinks 'that's just mad ...' - followed up, several moments later, by '... but actually rather strangely hard to refute.'

Having worried about this through breakfast, a shower and so forth, the only thing that occurs to me is to compare Picasso with Mick Jagger. No, they probably weren't the 'real thing' - they plundered the history of their medium for all it was worth - and depended on a lot of people who probably didn't get the recognition they deserved. But then, both Picasso and Jagger were lucky, in that, while their friends and contemporaries fell prey to various ills (drink, drugs, disease, mental illness, name your own genre of generalised disaster) they simply kept putting in the hours in the studio, being nice to the press and keeping an eye on the balance sheet. Both sort of pretended to be wild-child bad-boys but actually worked hard, studied hard, and kept their act together. If these are dull virtues, both had the tact to keep their virtues well-hidden. Instead, what we saw was often something so catchy that one couldn't help but rather admire it. This is, after all, art, not life, and so I don't think theft or subterfuge matters much.

Nor does inconsistency, for what it's worth. I once saw an exhibition of Picasso's pottery, some of which is quite silly. It made me realise that I rather admire his 'sod this, I am Picasso, I can do what I want' mode. Of course he produced some appalling rubbish. So did Titian, at various points. There's a sort of grandeur in not caring - especially if, as in both Titian's and Picasso's cases, you can turn out actual brilliance when you really need to.

Finally, for >? and so forth - the questions you raise are interesting ones, but as Opie suggests, not really open to verbal reasoning. All I'd say is this: if you go into the sort of rooms that Franklin did, with works by Dali but also works by Goya and Velazquez and so forth, and you still come back to looking at the Dalis - well, then, what draws you to art is something quite different to what attracts me.

Those Goya hunks of meat are amazing, Franklin. Goya was, obviously, a bit of a collaborator with the Napoleonic regime in Spain, but one can see that famine got to him at some level, and probably carnage, too. Either way, that's an astounding piece of painting.



February 22, 2007, 7:37 AM

Bunny, part of my comment was picking an argument with George, of course, because he & I have been having fun here for ages, and part of it just stirring things up to see if anyone else bit on it (which didn'r happen, alas). Years of teaching a Cubism seminar has made me immune to the usual assumptions of Picasso mythology, so I wasn't making anything up just for the sake of argument. It has a lot to do with timing, as you say; the ones that get most of the credit in any endeavor are usually the harvesters rather than the planters.

Picasso was also weak in large size, and I like to put "Guernica" up in evidence rather than the more obviously awful "Night Fishing", and listen to the howls of protest.

The "hunk of meat" picture is indeed excellent. Oddly enough I had just found and downloaded it off the internet to provide material for a talk on Goya's influence on Manet, which actually is more evident in, say, renderings of clothing than of meat, but I could hardly resist it.



February 22, 2007, 9:10 AM

BTW on the other hand, I do not take "originality" all that seriously in art, It is very overrated, and it is much more complicated than most people suppose. The only thing that counts is how good is the art. Picasso made great art and for almost 10 years made nothing but. That's what counts.


Bunny Smedley

February 22, 2007, 9:30 AM

Opie, I would never have suggested that you, of all people, would have taken something like 'originality' as a pseudonym for quality - not least, your many posts on this site show something different and frankly far more interesting.

Also, you are right about 'Guernica'. It is, perhaps, the present day's most perfect example of all the extra baggage people pile up about the feet of uncomplaining paintings. It is, in its own way, an 'illustration' of many of the things its enthusiasts wished it might be.

(Which isn't, I hasten to add, a denigration of illustration per se. I love, in a British context, e.g. the work of Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and John Minton. It's simply, for me anyway, a way of saying 'this picture doesn't seem so good without the back-story'. The psychic charge that 'Guernica' delivered when it was young - and I've heard about this from several people who saw it at that time - is interesting principally because it is so little about 'art' and so much about different issues. But that's a point which, although it impinges tangentially on Goya, is largely irrelevant to most of this discussion.)

It would be genuinely interesting (to me, anyway) if the people here who really love Dail's work would explain the specific facets of it that grab them. I've seen a bit of this stuff, both around Barcelona and in London, and the paint always looks totally dead. Is it just the refracted Classicism you like? And if so, don't you know that there are plenty of pictures which do that whole thing, yet do it better? Or do you like your Classicism undercut by 'Surrealist' subversion?



February 22, 2007, 10:10 AM

Bunny writes "the paint always looks totally dead" and that is it in a nutshell, just to partially answer those who need explication on the matter. If you can't see painting you will not see this and you will be impressed by the detail.

What Dali and some of the other Surrealists did was to "weirdify" reality, and this, coincidentally, jibes perfectly with a concept of "what modern art is" to people who don't understand art, or are new to it. Modern art has take all kinds of liberties with realism and this is a liberty they can understand. Dali is right up there with Picasso, Van Gogh and Michaelangelo in terms of name recognition among my freshman foundation students.



February 22, 2007, 10:18 AM

It made me realise that I rather admire his 'sod this, I am Picasso, I can do what I want' mode.

More recently known as the "I'm Keith Hernandez" mode. Picasso's ceramics are indeed an excellent example.



February 22, 2007, 10:25 AM

All artists, regardless of how talented, are inconsistent to some degree, which is inevitable--but the degree, the frequency, the extent and seriousness of that inconsistency does vary from artist to artist, as does the perceived or imputed quality of the lesser to inferior work--which can get a "free ride" by association, and that bothers me when it occurs on a large enough scale.

An opera singer who's great for a few years before "losing it" for whatever reason is not the same as one with a 40-year trajectory which, while variable over time, remains solid and outstanding throughout. The "shooting star" or "meteor" phenomenon may be very romantic, but the reality remains that of a fleeting, limited burst which eventually fizzled or dwindled down to a significantly reduced version of its former brilliance. That in no way negates or takes away the former brilliance, but when it's gone, it's gone, and that should be recognized, not glossed over.

Of course every artist, no matter how great, can stumble or outright fail on occasion, but that's not what I'm referring to. I'm talking about a progressive or sustained decline, generally speaking, despite periodic or sporadic flashes of former glory. The point is not that such a thing should never happen, but that when it does, it should not be overlooked--certainly not by those who are supposed to know better.

In Picasso's case, his star never waned, although the quality of his work certainly did (and not just now and then). A good bit of that "free ride" may have been due to non-art issues, like personality and lifestyle and the typical shallowness of popular media in such matters, but pretty much everybody went along with it, for quite some time. Even now, there are people ready to pay huge sums for something like that Dora Maar picture which is nowhere near being worth it. It bothers me, that's all.



February 22, 2007, 2:18 PM

Re: Picasso as a great innovator, wasn't it Picasso who said "'great' artists steal." I'm pretty sure knowing the little I know about Picasso he was likely including himself in the "great artist" group.


jesus de la suarez

February 26, 2007, 3:05 AM

Dorsch couldn't sell three aces to a poker player.



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