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Mather attacks

Post #1267 • December 15, 2008, 2:48 PM • 9 Comments

The College Art Association named its award for published art criticism, given annually to the variously deserving, for Frank Jewett Mather. I've been looking a bit into Mather's work, and I'm starting to wonder if anyone at the CAA has read him. Although as erudite and credentialed as could be, he had a low opinion of collectors, academia, and theory. He wrote a satirical novel, The Collectors: Being Cases mostly under the Ninth and Tenth Commandments, with some choice passages:

From the mere scraps and hints of Lombard words in Paul the Deacon and other historians anybody but a German would have declined to draw any conclusion whatever. But just as every German citizen however humble, becomes eventually a privy counsellor, a knight of various eagles of diverse classes, an overstationmaster, or a royal postman, so German science for the past hundred years has permitted no fact to languish in its native insignificance. All have been promoted to be the sponsors of imposing theories. And Hauptmann's theory, which got him the degree of Ph.D., maxima cum laude, was that Lombard is an East Germanic tongue. This he simple intuited, needing the degree, for the fifty mangled Lombard words displayed none of those consonants which tending to double or of those vowels which still vexing us as umlauts, mark a language as belonging to the great Eastern or Western group. But Hauptmann was first in the field, and if it was impossible for him to demonstrate that he was right, it was equally impossible for anybody else to prove that he was wrong. So he stood his ground and by dint of continually hitting the same nail on the same head he had so greatly flourished that he was mentioned respectfully as far as the Lombard tongue was known, and at thirty-four had passed from the honourable but unpaid condition of Privat-dozent to that of Professor Extraordinarius.

Remind anyone of anything?

Comment

1.

Jack

December 15, 2008, 8:00 PM

"He had a low opinion of collectors, academia, and theory."

Gee, that sounds familiar (or at least perfectly reasonable).

2.

opie

December 15, 2008, 8:03 PM

Mather was of a generation that wouldn't dare write about art without a sufficient education and background. These guys could be old fogies (Mather was the "modernist" in the very old fogy art department I studied in, though long since retired) but they sure as hell had standards.

As your selection clearly shows, they knew how to play with language in a precise and delightful way.

3.

Chris Rywalt

December 16, 2008, 1:06 PM

I'd dare write about art without the background, but to my credit, I think, I'm working on it. I'm like Cézanne, not Picasso, that way.

4.

Jack

December 16, 2008, 1:35 PM

I find myself increasingly alienated by Picasso. There was too much huffing and puffing for too long after he'd already peaked, too much attitude and self-satisfaction, and too much blind (or convenient) aiding and abetting of same by too many people. When that Dora Maar picture recently sold for all those millions, it was like a bad joke. I wouldn't really want it in my house.

5.

Chris Rywalt

December 16, 2008, 2:00 PM

I went to see the little Picasso Marie-Therese show at Acquavella. I felt like I should. In a sense Picasso's work reminds me of what I'm doing -- I'm no Cubist, but in terms of color and subject and cloissonism, sort of. And Picasso is sort of the touchstone for art anyhow, even if one doesn't want him to be.

So I went. It was better than I expected, actually. All the work -- not a lot -- was from the same time period, I think about 1932 or so. Mid-'30s. I wasn't really excited by it, not, you know, jazzed or anything. But I appreciated it more than I thought I would. In person, vibrant, positive, they just sort of pop. They're definitely there. You can see Picasso's questing hand in them, pushing things here, moving things there. I could even feel the bristles of his brushes on the surface -- very different from my surface. I felt it was a good painter-to-painter time. Which I also got from Morandi -- a feeling of continuity, as if I really was in dialogue with these guys through our shared experiences of moving oil paint around on a surface.

The Picasso which surprised me was this one heavily Cubist, one might say monstrously Cubist, figure, Baigneuse assise au bord de la mer, which looks uninspiring, and actually kind of yucky, in reproduction, but which had some special something happening in real life.

Anyway, I just read Galenson's Painting Outside the Lines, which wasn't great, but which has me thinking of the two approaches to art -- more like two temperaments -- which for Galenson are best represented by Picasso and Cézanne. It turns out I'm more like Cézanne, the experimenter, than like Picasso, the conceptualist.

6.

opie

December 16, 2008, 2:01 PM

Stay before 1920 after 1905 and you can hardly find a bad picture, Jack. The late stuff, certainly after the mid-30s, is pretty horrible.

7.

Chris Rywalt

December 16, 2008, 2:03 PM

Oh, and the gallery had a big collection of photos of Picasso and Marie-Therese. I'd expected Marie-Therese to be really beautiful, some kind of knock-out Hollywood starlet-like stack of gorgeousness, but instead, judging by the photos, she was a little stern and scary. Like, I don't think I'd want to arm-wrestle her, that's for sure. After seeing the paintings, I'm imagining she sat down in front of Pablo at the easel and said, "You will paint me. Now."

8.

David

December 16, 2008, 7:15 PM

For Picasso I always go back to the Vollard Suite.It was a huge thrill to discover all the prints at MOMA on my first trip after the re-opening.

9.

Jack

December 16, 2008, 7:58 PM

Re 6, that's pretty much my point, OP. It's one thing to go downhill, which obviously nobody does on purpose; it's rather another to keep up the "I'm the greatest artist on earth" act, even if he really believed it. Lord knows he had enough enablers and sycophants, but it's still offensive.

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