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On Sickert

Post #1346 • May 11, 2009, 8:02 AM

A reader shares his thoughts on Sickert, inspired by Bunny Smedley's review:

Sickert is unfathomably complex and so his work, full as it is of the truest of touch, is so complicated that has seemed to defy critical nailing down. If I've understood his nature, he'd relish that. He'd wave it in Whistler's face. Whistler seems to have been to Sickert roughly what Gaugin was to Van Gogh. Intellectual bullying going on in both cases. At one point Sickert approached Whistler, who had dismissed him, hoping for a reconciliation. Sickert rather pathetically asked Whistler to, essentially, please like him again. This gave the preening Whistler his open to blow Sickert off for good.

The way the Impressionists proceeded, Renoir included, reminds me of Darwin or of any scientist or naturalist who goes out and collects field specimens and then takes them back to the laboratory to reflect on them and then orchestrate them into expressions of some kind of hypothesis (The Impressionists were always coy about how much was done in the field and how much was done in the studio.). In this approach, the Impressionists were working more or less exactly along the lines of 19th Century science. Their having proceeded along those lines, resulting in art of a high order is, in my view, their accomplishment. All of that French charm was only to get us in the door, but if we stop at 'mere beauty,' we miss a great part of the story.

Once I was browsing the art section of a bookstore, and I overheard an artsy adolescent in the act of trying to impress his girlfriend say, "Real artists don't like Monet." I thought to say something—"Yes, we do"—but the blank look on the girl's face indicated that he was withering on the vine without my help. People who think of Impressionist beauty as sensory fluff typically don't realize how methodically the Impressionist effort proceeded. If you have some talent, you can execute the method in a lazy way and get some success, due to the lusciousness of oil paint and the inherent splendor of the outdoors. But beauty at the level of Sickert's best accomplishment must be forged.

Work on the new blog system clambered over a giant stumbling block this weekend. I'll spare you the details (let's just say that I now know how to configure a virtual host in Apache and restart it) but I think it's safe to say that while I'm on a good track, comments are likely not going to return for some time. With that in mind, I'd like to experiment with Andrew Sullivan-style comments, in which especially well-written and thoughtful remarks appear anonymously as full posts. E-mail them to the usual address (see the About page).

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