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Beautiful like a Chardin

Post #1376 • July 31, 2009, 9:01 AM • 16 Comments

Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life:

To escape his domestic gloom, if he couldn't catch the next train to Holland or Italy, the young man might leave the flat and go to the Louvre, where at least he could feast his eyes on splendid things: grand palaces painted by Veronese, harbour scenes by Claude and princely lives by Van Dyck. Touched by his predicament, Proust proposed to make a radical change to the young man's life by way of a modest alteration to his museum itinerary. Rather than let him hurry to galleries hung with paintings by Claude and Veronese, Proust suggested leading him to a quite different part of the museum, to those galleries hung with the works of Jean-Baptiste Chardin. ... spite of the ordinary nature of their subjects, Chardin's paintings succeeded in being extraordinarily beguiling and evocative. A peach by him was as pink and chubby as a cherub, a plate of oysters or a slice of lemon were tempting symbols of gluttony and sensuality. A skate, slit open an hanging from a hook, evoked the sea of which it had been a fearsome denizen it its lifetime. It's insides, coloured with a deep red blood, blue nerves and white muscles, were like the naves of a polychrome cathedral. There was a harmony too between objects; in one canvas, almost a friendship between the reddish colors of a hearthrug, a needle box and a skein of wool. These paintings were windows on to a world at once recognizably our own, yet uncommonly, wonderfully tempting. After an encounter with Chardin, Proust had high hopes for the spiritual transformation of his sad young man.

Once he had been dazzled by this opulent depiction of what he called mediocrity, this appetizing depiction of a life he had found insipid, this great art of nature he had thought paltry, I should say to him: "Are you happy?"

Why would he be? Because Chardin had shown him that the kind of environment in which he lived could, for a fraction of the cost, have many of the charms he had previously associated only with palaces and the princely life. No longer would he feel painfully excluded from an aesthetic realm, no longer would he be so envious of smart bankers with gold-plated coal tongs and diamond-studded door handles. He would learn that metal and earthenware could also be enchanting, and common crockery as beautiful as precious stones. After looking at Chardin's work, even the humblest rooms in his parents' flat would have the power to delight him, Proust promised:

When you walk around a kitchen, you will say to yourself, this is interesting, this is grand, this is beautiful like a Chardin.

Having started on his essay, Proust tried to interest Pierre Mainguet, the editor of the arts magazine the Revue Hebdomadaire, in its contents.

I have just written a little study in the philosophy of art, if I may use that slightly pretentious phrase, in which I have tried to show how the great painters initiate us into a knowledge and love of the external world, how they are the ones "by whom our eyes are opened," opened, that is, on the world. In this study, I use the work of Chardin as an example, and I try to show its influence on our life, the charm and wisdom with which it coats our most modest moments by initiating us into the life of still life. Do you think this sort of study would interest the readers of the Revue Hebdomadaire?

Perhaps, but since its editor was sure it wouldn't, they had no chance to find out.




July 31, 2009, 12:15 PM

If Proust thought the editor of the Revue Hebdomadaire was a tough sell, one shudders to imagine what his experience would have been with the editor of one of the current art mags.

"Chardin? What is that, some sort of wine? Oh. I see. Well, it's just...objects and stuff. What's the point? What's it mean? I'm sorry, it's just too dull. No content to speak of. At least if a woman painted it we could go for some kind of domestic oppression angle, but who cares about kitchen junk painted by some old dead white guy? Really, this is totally out of the question."



July 31, 2009, 12:52 PM

I would work for free if I could be the main editor for an art mag. That is one of the few places where one could change the course of art for the better, pretty much fer sure. I would not do it all at once, but I would do it pretty quick. I'm probably wrong, but think I could carry most of the advertisers with me. Seems like the times are "ripe" (as in smelly) for a different aroma to associate with art. I'd start out with limiting articles to those that did not send anyone to the dictionary in order to read them.



July 31, 2009, 4:52 PM

Well, John, I'd certainly subscribe. As it is, the only art publication I now bother with is Art & Auction, which is at least reasonably straightforward. When you get your editorial job, though, make sure you don't call your mag Modern Painters when it's about every format under the sun, including the kitchen sink. Weirdos like me get really pissed off over that sort of thing (even more so when the magazine's idea of a painter includes the likes of Damien Hirst, who pays assorted flunkies to paint for him).



July 31, 2009, 5:11 PM

I saw something interesting at the bookstore today: Turps Banana. "No dvertising. No Backers. No Professional Critics. No Life Style Drivel. Just obsessive, self absorbed, deluded, lonely, dirty, penniless, alcoholic painters discussing what they love most. Turps Banana is the only painting magazine written exclusively by painters."



July 31, 2009, 5:24 PM

I'm assuming, Franklin, that it's written by painters who can actually write. The two skills don't necessarily go together. Just as Hirst's real skill (self-promotion) does not go together with the ability to paint (except in the merest technical sense, which can be managed by a monkey).



July 31, 2009, 6:08 PM

Of course, John, these days it has gotten so you almost wish some art writers would indeed consult the dictionary, and art history, while they are at it.

The unreadable "October" types seem to be fading out but I have seen a lot of ignorant dont-give-a-shit writing that is just as bad.

"Turps" could be interesting. Their attitude seems healthy.



July 31, 2009, 6:14 PM

Uh, Opie, the problem (or part of it) is that there's precious little to give a shit about, so...


John S.

August 3, 2009, 11:55 PM

Hello Jack I am sorry for asking you directly in this forum, but I have not seen you in a very long time and don't know if I will (maybe my show in October @ Dorsch?) What do you like in painting? Are you or have you been a painter? I have always been curious about this. I am not asking to qualify you in any way. I am genuinely interested. (I hope you can excuse the plug for the show Franklin)

Great post Franklin. I have tried teaching myself some by copying Chardin.



August 4, 2009, 7:37 AM

Hello, John. You haven't seen me in a while because I no longer go to Wynwood unless I'm pretty sure it will not waste my time, and I've lost interest in the "scene" generally, so I no longer keep up with it.

I'm not and never have been any sort of artist, nor have I had any inclination to be one. My talents, such as they are, clearly lie elsewhere. As Franklin said recently, I am, or try to be, a "pure, uncompromised looker." That means I expect and demand that any and all visual art satisfy me on a purely visual level first, up front, before I even consider any other aspect or dimension of the work. If the visual fails, I'm no longer interested, because the work is a failure as visual art, and other aspects become moot or insufficient.

As for what I like in painting, I like good color, effective design, beautiful or strong line, good paint handling...which I suppose may be like saying I like food that tastes good. I like a sense that the artist knows what he's about, both in terms of abilities and purpose, and does his best with what he's got to work with. I like a sense of serious commitment to the work as such, to the making of it. I have no use for "idea men" who simply don't have what it takes to execute successfully. I don't care what the artist intended or meant or wanted: show me the result, the final product, and I'll decide if it works.


Tom Hering

August 4, 2009, 7:46 AM

Jack, I hope my 1000 fans (if I ever have them) will all have your expectations and standards - because that will tell me I've succeeded in what I'm trying to do.



August 4, 2009, 8:29 AM

I'd settle for 100.


john S.

August 4, 2009, 8:33 AM

thanks Jack I think the same


Chris Rywalt

August 4, 2009, 10:19 AM

I'd settle for one fan with MONEY TO BURN.



August 4, 2009, 11:13 AM

Sorry, Chris. Won't work. Such a person would almost certainly need you to be validated by the patronage of numerous other such persons. "Major" collectors don't all collect the same artists for nothing.


Chris Rywalt

August 4, 2009, 4:37 PM

It's my dream. If I want to ask for a pony, I'm gonna ask for a pony, dammit.



August 4, 2009, 6:44 PM

I guess you missed the boat on Bernie Madoff, Chris. Though I think he collected antique clocks or some such. Problem is, you're too nondescript. If you were Chinese maybe, or better yet, a Chinese transvestite, but I'm afraid you're too normal.



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