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Bannard article rediscovered

Post #1392 • September 18, 2009, 11:13 AM • 159 Comments

John Link, who is at work on a biographical introduction to the Walter Darby Bannard Archive, noticed an article referred to in his 1970 Notes on American Painting of the Sixties that wasn't listed. After a bit of digging around, Darby recovered it, and I have edited it and installed it: Present-Day Art and Ready-Made Styles, from the December 1966 issue of Artforum. It is, I think it fair to say, one of his major essays, full of keen remarks about the motivations of artists at the time, and how they relate to each other and artists before them. It hasn't yet gotten the full treatment from WDBA's Resident Copyeditor of Great Powers or its Sharp-Eyed Canadian Champion, and notably, the footnote numbers have disappeared from the body text, but it's still quite worth your time. Please e-mail me corrections.

A bit of Web searching turned up a similarly titled piece by Peter Plagens in the same issue of Artforum: Present-Day Styles and Ready-Made Criticism. I'm not sure what to make of it; in some places it seems like a reaction to Bannard's piece, but given that they were in the same issue, that's probably not the case, unless Plagens was anticipating an appearance next to Bannard and knew the general direction his thoughts would take. Maybe Darby will have some insight into this.




September 18, 2009, 10:52 AM

"Plagens was anticipating an appearance next to Bannard and knew the general direction his thoughts would take"

That's exactly what happened, courtesy of the editors of AF and unknown to me.

It wuz a set-up!


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 11:01 AM

Their standard was Cubism, more specifically the flexible Cubism of which Guernica was an early example....

Gasp! Darby mentions "Guernica" in a non-disparaging context!



September 18, 2009, 11:04 AM

Also notice the positive take on Andre, within the parameters of minimalism. That might be unique in the corpus as well.



September 18, 2009, 11:53 AM

Looking forward to this. I've been gnawing on the Pollock, Smith and Cubism piece from around the same time.

Regarding the last post and my comments there, I'm not sure I've got any real place to say anything. Opie I know you guys are bigger than that and that the respect shared amongst you all wouldn't allow for any real damage. The exchanges are informative and entertaining to say the least. Maybe as a Canadian there's a bit of peacekeeper in all of us, although this proves to be more of a dubious title as each day passes. Or maybe I'm hardwired by boomer parents that tore into eachother for years, maddened by some of the pressures highlighted in your dialogue.



September 18, 2009, 12:28 PM

One of the most startling insights in "Presemt-Day Art and Ready-Made Styles" is found in footnote 3: The source of possible subject matter for Pop is huge. 20th century kitsch. It is easy to come up with something "new." I am surprised that the range of Pop subject matter is so modest..

It illustrates how to be considered "new" an artist had to stick to a certain narrow "list", despite the vast sea of equally relevant subjects that would just as easily satisfy the formula. Thus, the irony of all that "newness" is squared - the formula for "originality" was too broad to be comforting and easily recognized, so it apparently had to be throttled back.

Also enlightening, the observation that Pop did not elevate the soup can to the level of art, but rather demoted art to the level of the soup can.

These statements were heresy in 1966 and retain that characteristic to this day.



September 18, 2009, 12:45 PM

This struck me:

Eventually the cleavage will become visible; on the one hand there will be painters and sculptors, and on the other there will be Pop artists, doing the sort of thing Warhol and Kaprow are doing. It is just a matter of evolution and distinction. Pop thinking will find its proper expression away from the gallery.

The bit about the gallery was wrong; if anything, a lot of the Antecedent Pop relies on a gallery context even harder than painting and sculpture. But the rest of that was astonishingly prescient, even though people didn't end up calling it Pop.


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 12:50 PM

I really like this essay a lot. Reading Darby, as I told Franklin just now in a private message, for me is like reading Bunny: I feel like a complete amateur.

Putting together WDB's insights in this essay here, his analysis of painting and Modernism, with some of the things said recently on this blog about Impressionism -- I think it was in the Prendergast thread -- about breaking the surface down into small pieces of color and brushstroke and enlivening the surface of an oil painting; putting all of it together gives me a lot to consider as I think about my own work.

Specifically I wonder at the Impressionist dot and dash; thinking about Van Gogh's swirling skies, for instance (which, yes, isn't strictly Impressionist). I appreciate what they did -- Monet's water lilies again, too -- and how it clearly works for a viewer. But when I look at my own work, the bottom line is I simply don't see that way. Maybe it's the old airbrush artist in me, but I see the sky, for example, as a sheet of hammered, painted steel, smoothly shaded and flat, like the underside of a shield, not as a swirling maelstrom of differing hues. I don't see buildings as flickering, shimmering facets of color, I see them as solid slabs of harsh geometry.

For me, the world isn't a hazy moving field of color dots, like a field of poppies; for me the metaphor would be that of the shiny new car, the splintered light off a compact disc.

This makes it hard for me to practically apply the ideas WDB puts forth in this essay and the thinking that goes by in the comments; when I try to break down into small pieces in my painting, I find I can't help but start to blend everything back into a smooth piece, like one piece of sheet metal.

I'm not clear on whether this is okay or not, not in terms of a dogma or theory, but simply in terms of final result.



September 18, 2009, 1:02 PM

Chris and Ryan have looked it over and it's in much better shape now. I have also added the subtitle, which is "In which the formal contribution of Pop art is found to be negligible." Darby, was that yours, or did Artforum do that to you as well? I was also able to reattach footnote #6 to its proper place - I'll need the rest from you.

Chris, IMO, Precisionism is an underexplored style and it sounds like you'd be a ringer for it. Start with Charles Sheeler. No sense in making art that doesn't conform to how you see things.


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 1:51 PM

I consider the way Van Gogh's work progressed from his clearly trying to emulate the stews and gravies -- "The Potato Eaters" -- to his learning from the Impressionists and then taking off on his own. I'm not giving up on the Impressionist way as described by Darby in his essays and by others in comments here; but I do have my problems with applying it.

Looking up Precisionism online I find Charles Demuth and his famous painting Figure No. 5 which has some curious interconnections: It's one of my wife's favorite paintings because 5 is her favorite number (she was born on May 5); Demuth was from Lancaster, PA, and my wife is from Philadelphia; and Demuth died of diabetes, which I have now. Yikes.



September 18, 2009, 5:26 PM

I just got a reply from Peter Plagens, with permission to share here:

Thanks for the e-mail. That "Ready-Made..." piece is from so long ago, I've only the dimmest memories of how it came about. It may be that I was given the manuscript of Bannard's piece and asked to write an in-effect response to it (I was very young, and if that was the case, would have been totally flattered to have been put in, as they say in the magazine business, "in the front of the book"). Or, it may have been that I wrote something on spec--I think my basic idea was that Minimalism, in its cold, mechanical quality, was simply imageless Pop Art--and Phil Leider and John Coplans decided to print it side-by-side with Bannard's piece and give them Tweedle-Dum / Tweedle-Dee titles. (My essay isn't available to me right at the moment, therefore all the guesswork.) Whatever, I was substantially wrong about Minimalism, at least the timeless-art-forever Don Judd version of it. At the time, it offended my painterly sensibilities and, truth be told, seemed threatening. Over the years, I've come to regard certain Judds, Smiths, LeWitts, etc., as quite beautiful and profound.



September 18, 2009, 5:57 PM

"In which the formal contribution of Pop art is found to be negligible."

That was Artforum, all the way. I was not pleased with it because my attitude then was "these are just the facts. You decide". Even though I was clearly disparaging pop & minimal I felt that the point was that people should look harder and see what was going on.

I have always liked Andre's work, althought I think it is limited, in more ways than one. At this time I had just had my first solo show at Tibor's and the show right after mine was Andre's show of styrofoam "log cabins", which reamains my favorite exhibit of his.

I think some Picassos of the early 20s may have been better examples than Guernica, and I really only developed my negative opinion of Guernica after seeing it again at MoMA some time after this. It rather suddenly struck me that it simply did not hold together and I had to think through why.


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 6:05 PM

I'm just old enough to have seen "Guernica" at MoMA -- I was ten when it was moved -- but I didn't. I guess I could go see the tapestry at the UN. Is it publicly visible?

Oh, wait, Wikipedia reports the tapestry is in London now.



September 18, 2009, 6:08 PM

I saw the Guernica in the Prado in 1997. It's hard not to be impressed with something that big, but I'd like to go back and have another look at it.



September 18, 2009, 6:28 PM

Dude, it is kind of like a family squabble: it gets heated sometimes but the basic respect and affection is always there, and it really is water off a duck's back.

I don't know what to do if I don't have someone to hassle with, and we have driven off all the dummies. So what choice do we have?



September 18, 2009, 6:31 PM

"but simply in terms of final result."

Chris, that is ALWAYS the final measure.


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 6:41 PM

Well, OP, that's why I added that: I know that ultimately it can only be worked out in the painting. (I'd say on the canvas except I don't use canvas, I paint on panels. Although I'm thinking about going back to canvas for a change, just to see how it goes.) All the thinking is sort of beside the point unless it leads to better painting.



September 18, 2009, 7:31 PM

"Personal" v. "impersonal" art was a big debate in the 60s. It was in the air, even in Oklahoma.

I'm not sure there is any debate in art right now. Can anyone think of a hot one like that one was hot? Or have we leveled out to such a state of entropy that you are either in or out of the system, and that is it?



September 18, 2009, 7:33 PM

My position, at the time, BTW, was that "impersonal" required the maximal amount of "art", whatever that was because it could so easily slip over into the abyss of boring.



September 18, 2009, 8:11 PM

Opie, I shouldn't have said anything. Not my place, not my argument, and I sure as hell didn't have anything to add.


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 8:18 PM

You know the old joke about the actor who gets the part of the gravedigger in Hamlet? He comes home to his wife who asks him, "What's the play about?" and he says, "It's about a gravedigger who meets a prince."

Keep in mind I may be the actor playing the gravedigger.

It seems to me there's no real current debate within the art world itself. It looks to me as if the debate is now between the haves and the have-nots, the wild and woolly Internet hordes and the blue chip people. I have yet to meet a person (online or in real life) who honestly thinks the works of guys like Hirst or Koons have any merit at all, and yet they're still doing quite well for themselves. There's a disconnect far larger than the old cliche of "my kid could paint that".

But I'm not sure. I was thinking yesterday of how I'm planning on writing a review of this new TV show, "Glee", which you haven't seen if you're lucky. But I saw it and hated it. And I was thinking how I wanted to savage the show's creator, a guy named Ryan Murphy.

The details aren't important. What I started thinking was how, back in the 1980s, let's say, if you were reading an essay by, for example, Harlan Ellison, in which he discussed TV show creators or movie directors, such background, backstage, insider knowledge was something special. Because who knew who Norman Lear was, or Sherwood Schwartz? Who really kept track of cinematographers? I didn't even know how important film editors were until I took a course on film in high school.

Today a lot of us on the Internet are still behaving as if we're part of some small privileged clique who keeps track of TV show creators and writers, film directors, editors, and so on. But you know what? Everyone can do that now. It's easy. All the background insider knowledge you ever wanted is two clicks of a mouse away!

So, given that, where do I get off criticizing a guy like Ryan Murphy? He's out there making stuff, fighting through the compromises, doing what he can, watching his vaporous ideas become too too solid flesh, taking the memos from idiot executives telling him what to put in and what to take out. He's in the trenches every fucking day, and I'm on my broken-down sofa at home taking potshots. What's wrong with that picture?

So sometimes I wonder if all us Internet Idiots are worth anything at all. Are we participating or just making noise?

But outside of the Internet, I don't see or hear about any one debate in the art world, or even debates plural. Maybe it's become too much of a business machine cranking out collectible widgets to have room for debate. When's the last time anyone debated the merits of different Beanie Babies or Hallmark Christmas ornaments?



September 18, 2009, 9:00 PM

Or, Chris, maybe there is not enough life in the system to have a debate.


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 9:04 PM

Maybe. I read about de Kooning and Greenberg getting into a fistfight and can't even imagine something like that happening today. I wonder if the equivalent events are going on now but I just don't know about it.



September 18, 2009, 9:37 PM

I think that In or Out of the system has probably been the only game in town since the mid-'80s, and as the number of artists increases, even that will become meaningless, because even the lucky relative few will spend less and less time In the system.

At one point over at Ed's blog I floated the idea of the übercreative - people who can work convincingly in diverse mediums inside and outside the art world: David Lynch, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Anselm Kiefer (who just wrote an opera), maybe even Terry Teachout (ditto) to the extent that he involves himself in art. The way art is going, this may end up being the only way to become recognized by more than a handful of specialists. And it relies on the fact that the other genres don't have completely broken mechanisms for valuation.


Chris Rywalt

September 18, 2009, 9:42 PM

That doesn't sound like there's room for success for more traditional artistry. I like Lynch's films (some of them, anyway), but he's hardly a purely visual artist. What happens to real painters? Do we all have to get successful at something else, like John Mellencamp?



September 18, 2009, 9:52 PM

What happens to real painters? We'll talk about them at, for the fat lot of good it will do them.

The only other avenue I can think of is for them to cultivate their own disintermediated audiences and sell their own work to collectors.



September 18, 2009, 10:04 PM

Well Franklin, looks like the ole art glut continues its "work". There is no room left for debate, just enough room to nudge your way from one spot to another, like rearranging air in a balloon.



September 18, 2009, 10:10 PM

Back in the New Orleans Vieux Carre of the early 70s, before it was ruined by tourists (a loss that has yet to be calculated), a lady friend had had enough of my cranking about not having a forum, and in the middle of dinner at her place she exclaimed, "Tim! You have to make your own forum!" She was right. It continues to be the case. What that meant for me was: give in to the calling, which I'd already completely done, then, give up on the existing venues which are always locked games and involve so much politics that it becomes itself a career, then get to work, watch where it leads and help it get there.



September 18, 2009, 10:18 PM

"rearranging air in a balloon."

Now there's a metaphor for our times! I just got a pitch to join the "Talk Like a Pirate" society. I should think we could garner a good lot of air-arrangers in no time.

As Prospero said, in "The Tempest":

Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air...



September 18, 2009, 10:24 PM

I agree with you and your lady friend, Tim. The good news is that it is now possible to create your own forum in a way that has never been possible before.



September 18, 2009, 11:38 PM

'And it relies on the fact that the other genres don't have completely broken mechanisms for valuation.'

Troll that I am, I managed to crash a blog up here by asking what it was that a reviewer actually valued that they could possibly build into a critical base. It went nowhere of course, even after I calmed down, and as there were no fake answers for real questions, finally 'moderation' was invoked and now all comments must meet the approval of said reviewer before posting.

John, I'm not sure when or how any debate of substance will emerge until the dust settles a bit. There are murmurings about how to bring criticism into the mix in a credible way, but how? It's all such a mess. Meaningful evaluation could take a while. I thinks it's more likely traditional mediums will be further marginalized, at least the good stuff anyway. I don't see this as a bad thing, not in the long run. Franklin points out where Bannard missed with his prediction on the role of the gallery, and the way in which this relationship has determined most of the fall out. Major museums have been able to hold out in some measure, but for the most part the common regional 'venue' for art has become as monstrous as its object. Tim's comment about the futility of trying to get in the door should be taken very seriously by any painter or sculptor not aiming to please and wanting to get real work done. I agree with Franklin that this is becoming more feasible, albeit slowly, for outsiders wanting to make a living off work that matters.

Chris, fisticuffs do still almost happen, sort of. It wasn't Greenberg and de Kooning the other night at ECAS, where both Mr. Link and Mr. Bannard were showing work alongside other Edmonton moderns, but the story goes that two vets were snarling at one another pretty wickedly and it almost got out of hand. Damn if the spirit in the room between a couple of old mod dogs getting at each other and needing to be pulled apart over taste doesn't pale all the flimsy motives for the crap we've got floating around up here posing as criticism.

Meanwhile, film remains the strongest, deepest model going and artists working in video and installation need to acknowledge this, get over themselves and learn something.



September 18, 2009, 11:52 PM

An empirical stance has to become fashionable. But that's kind of oxymoronic. Moronic for sure.



September 18, 2009, 11:55 PM

It's all such a mess because 'Where it's happenin' reigns. Pop has obliterated all other possibilities above ground. Anything that gets pulled in to 'Where it's happenin' is DOA if it was alive in the first place. It, that is, IT, is not happening on the beaten path. Got to drift off into the neighborhoods and stop looking for it. Then it will show.



September 19, 2009, 12:59 AM

My comment regarding the potency of film is meant to reflect more agreement with Franklin's notion of valuation and its prerequisite critical base. Literary visual art needs a literary valuation for it to fly in any meaningful way. You can say meaningful things about film stylistically and so forth, and about how it works or doesn't. So far, I think film has succeeded to the fullest effect because of this. The short history of artists being handed a gallery space carte blanche shows quite clearly that many have yet to parse any significant value.



September 19, 2009, 1:03 AM

I'm off on a bit of a tangent. It's not something I have very figured out because I really don't know how to think about what I actually feel is successful. There is so little good stuff leading you.



September 19, 2009, 9:24 AM

"Eventually the cleavage will become visible; on the one hand there will be painters and sculptors, and on the other there will be Pop artists, doing the sort of thing Warhol and Kaprow are doing. It is just a matter of evolution and distinction. Pop thinking will find its proper expression away from the gallery."

This should have been expressed more specifically. By "pop thinking" I actually meant to indicate anything that was not made specifically as gallery art - art you can have in your house - and in the 70s we had that wave of "earthworks" and body art and performance art and such like, which was the kind of thing I was thinking of.

My mistake was assuming that non-gallery art would energetically expand and develop and become a form in itself, when I should have realized that its intrinsic timidity would cause it to cling to and conform to the gallery, as you indicted.



September 19, 2009, 9:34 AM

'The gallery' has basically just become an all-encompassing promotional vehicle for public spectacles, whatever their nature. It could be an exhibition of paintings, or it could be someone delivering a monologue, or swimming laps in a pool, just so long as they can promote it to the public to try to get bums in seats. What the spectacle is doesn't matter, since the bums in the seats are simply tallied up for the shareholders (er, I mean donors, or supporters, or whatever) as a measure of the gallery's success. Lip service is paid to "art", but if that's the Art of Hockey, or the Art of the Motorcycle, that draws the bigger crowds, then that simply doesn't leave much room for the people who want to see the Art of Art.



September 19, 2009, 10:28 AM

Not only that, MC, but as video art amply demonstrates, when art goes wandering off into other realms the products are pathetically inferior in every way to professional applications.



September 19, 2009, 10:49 AM

Er, Link and Bannard are not from Edmonton, as my comment would imply. sheesh



September 19, 2009, 10:58 AM

Long-live the Art of Art.



September 19, 2009, 11:54 AM

When I was working for the university, it became painfully obvious that showing paintings with groups like ECAS did not impress those in middle management. (Remarkably, the chair understood such exhibits as at least equivalent to academic "juried" shows, but deans and better wanted the word "juried" in there somewhere or it didn't count much.)

I am an avid bowler and one day when the lanes were empty I took my old video camera with me and set it up to record the number of revolutions my ball made from my hand to the pins. For each of eight frames I would enter from the left, release the ball on the right side, and it would track down the lane breaking towards the center as the "hook" took effect until it hit the pins. Because it was too much hassle to turn it on and off I recorded spare shots as well, that I made with a different ball that looked like a soccer ball.

In the ninth frame, my left foot was sliding nicely as the ball swung down even with my ankle and my thumb had just cleared its hole when I encountered a sticky spot on the approach. The ball proceeded into the heads normally but my left leg became the equivalent of the pole a pole vaulter uses and leveraged my entire body into the air, parallel to the surface of the lane, and because of the momentum of the approach, I proceeded (entirely airborne) across the fowl line, arms now flailing as I attempted to move them from their bowling positions to get them under me to break the impending horrible landing, but to no avail.

The net effect was very similar to doing a belly flop into a swimming pool, except there was no pool. It was a fall that would have caused Chevy Chase envy. The heavy oil in the front of the lane caused me to slide a few feet as the ball continued on course towards the pins (it takes 3-4 seconds from release to get there), creating a contrasting analog to its smooth roll.

Because I was injured and because of all the oil it was a struggle to get up too, which added some nice after effects. Bowling was over for that day and several that followed.

When I put the tape into my computer I began to get "creative". Why not make this footage into a short video entitled "The Lanes of Life"? I could enter it into one or more of the many juried video contests that academic institutions love and finally prove I was up-to-speed with modern educational "outcome measures".

Was the video crude enough? Check.
Was it amateurish? Check.
Was there an easily discernible plot? Check.
Did it make a comment on life? Check.
Was there sufficient spectacle? Some but not enough.

The last question caused me pause. I realized that if I had been a pretty naked girl instead of an aged fully clothed man this video would be a sure winner. So I abandoned the project and gave up on acquiring points for being up-to-date, even though I was the one who built the computer lab everyone was using for their digital projects.

Ah, there really was a life lesson in that session on the lanes ...



September 19, 2009, 12:38 PM

I think the "art" problem would have been that it was too real and also too funny, in a slapstick kind of way. To be "art" is has to be dingy, out of focus, hard to comprehend and tarted up with repeats and the like.

Sounds like it would be a smash hit (so to speak) on Youtube.



September 19, 2009, 12:51 PM

John, I assume you've seen The Big Lebowski, but in case you haven't you must. I recommend it to anybody. It has bowling, priceless laughs and brilliant spoofs on contemporary art and the Gulf War all-in-one. One of my favorite films hands down. There's a reason I adopted 'Dude' as my handle.



September 19, 2009, 1:01 PM

I not only saw THE BIG LEBOWSKI, I bowled for a year with those folks. The team captain, who was retired and bowled five nights a week, always wore a baseball cap over his mullet hair-do and regularly broke wind at the table where we all sat.

It is against bowling rules to wear a cap while delivering the ball but everyone let him by with that. We didn't like the breaking wind so much, but there is no rule against that.



September 19, 2009, 1:47 PM

As they say John, you are the shit!!



September 19, 2009, 2:08 PM

Opie is right about the additional defects in my proposed competition video, but I think the naked girl might have made up for them.

Dude, are you saying the smeller is the feller? That would be true except that Leroy always broke out an ear to ear grin when he did his deed. Eventually, and mercifully, he would retire to the john and we would be thenceforth spared.



September 19, 2009, 2:30 PM

No John, when one finds themselves hailed as the shit, and we're talkin' THE SHIT here, one is approaching a state of supreme badassness.


Chris Rywalt

September 19, 2009, 2:41 PM

Pretty naked girls improve just about everything.

That said, a naked girl, slow motion, and a soundtrack that just goes "woooooOWOWOWOWOWoooooooow" in a deep register would definitely qualify it as art.



September 19, 2009, 3:30 PM

My film comments came before starting to read the Bannard piece. I am happy to read him back me up in the tail end of his list of Warhol traits when he writes,"[p]op thinking can express itself better in film or in the theater." I'm only halfway through but for the most part, his description of the Pop M.O. holds true today as then. It's incredible given the massive amount of flailing around since then trying to find potent subject matter, how very little the basic formula and its ability to satisfy has changed.



September 19, 2009, 7:03 PM

Chris maybe a naked girl running on a treadmill wearing a ski mask with occasional barking iguanas between the woooows.

This could be overlaid with John's alley oops.

No, is beginning to sound actually interesting... That won't do at all.


Chris Rywalt

September 19, 2009, 7:42 PM

"Naked girl on treadmill" is an interesting Google search.



September 19, 2009, 8:51 PM


Your written description is so much better than the film. Why don't you try it as a Bruce Nauman in neon?



September 19, 2009, 9:03 PM

This is the one I'm going to be pondering for a while:

"The ability to build a delimited style which excites rather than inhibits expression, which expands rather than restricts freedom, is one of the traits of a great artist. When I look at the paintings of Monet, Manet or Goya, I can recognize and envy the deep openness and the tough flexibility which existed in that part of the artist's mind which concerned his work. In terms of simple choice, his style is restricted and specific, simply because he has rejected all repressive limitations in order to bring his style to the point of expressive expansiveness. The mechanics of this series of decisions are terribly difficult to particularize. It is a function of the personal breadth of the artist - whether he is willing to take on big things or chooses to stick to little things. If I could explain it, I could explain the difference between Robert Rauschenberg, fettered to Cubism, and David Smith, who used that deadly style as if it were another piece of sheet steel, how Shakespeare and Beethoven could lift themes wholesale from everywhere and make them their own with apparent ease, and how Goya got away with the Horrors of War. It is beyond me to figure it out. I am just pleased to be able to recognize it at work."



September 19, 2009, 9:16 PM

and most of what follows.



September 19, 2009, 9:35 PM

I agree with Chris way up at #7, the part about Impressionism -enlightening. In fact the whole sequence from Corot and Constable through to Cezanne - leading back to style, is wonderfully concise and useful. It makes me want to go back out to Williamstown and get 2" away from my favorite little Daubigny and the Jonkind next to it. "Leading away from nature" explains a lot to me too. My first real teacher, post art school (Kaji Aso, Franklin) led us back to nature because he was Japanese. And that's always been my problem with the art world.

Darby, I'm curious what your take (if any)was on Twombly then, speaking of artists running away from Ab Ex, and what it is now (if any)?



September 19, 2009, 11:18 PM

I can't remember having seen much of Twombly back then, although I must have.

I like his work OK, some of it, but I would hardly say he was escaping from AE; his painting is a specialized variant of it. He is one of those artists like Rauschenberg whose work is often pleasurable but almost never thrilling.

Also, as so often happens, he is one of those not quite first rate painters, like Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Wayne Thiebaud and others, who is very handy for students to look at for certain useful characteristics.



September 19, 2009, 11:22 PM

BTW I am also very fond of the Barbizons & the pre-Impressionist French landscape painters. You can still buy some very good ones quite cheaply, especially at auction, in this economy



September 20, 2009, 12:01 AM

Corot is so good. Total formalist. Some of my favorite light and compositions.



September 20, 2009, 12:32 AM

You can see the same kind of set-ups in a lot of the landscapes Cezanne and Poussin were painting a little later. More importantly though, something of the Barbizon abstractness carried forward too. This ties into my thinking about the basic impulse of Cubism not really being that specific to its time. As soon as painters became sophisticated enough, the real game has always been quite simply how to get across a surface and keep it interesting. The tablecloth in the Titian would seem to be his response to the challenge. Cubism put the lens on these efforts properly, draining the color out to state most directly how abstract space could be created and used. Olitski or somebody said somewhere that painting is just about keeping a surface alive. Back on the Venetian thread where I said some of this stuff and expected to get properly schooled, nobody said boo. I might come off sounding like a dope, as I'm not the best writer but please everybody don't let me just drop this stuff and sound like a wanker. I want to contribute something here and hopefully learn a thing or two but if I'm off base or out of line I'd like to hear about it. Or if I should just can it then that's fine too. I don't have all the experience with the real deal, especially historical work, that you guys do and this is probably the single place for me to turn to work some of this out.



September 20, 2009, 12:38 AM

The tablecloth should be seen rather as part of Titian's response, the rest of the response being the rest of the picture itself. Just to be clear.



September 20, 2009, 9:21 AM

Olitski was quoting Degas, as I remember,but I don't know the exact quote. I do remember that some critic took violent exception to the idea, for the usual reasons.

Dude, you don't have to apologize for yourself. What you are saying is perfectly OK, and if someone disagrees they will. That's what we do, as you know from our wonderfully enlightening political discussions, where we conclusively solved most of the problems of the world.



September 20, 2009, 9:52 AM

Cheers. As an artist I'm just hungry for real discussion and feel like an amateur most of the time, which is fine. It's pretty special to be able to go back and forth with the folks here, but sometimes I get into deep water and I know it and would rather be sure I'm helping not hurting the credibility of the dialogue. I'm just saying I want to be corrected if I sound like a kook.

Moving forward then, Opie agrees Titian was a Cubist. Excellent! I'll proceed with my manuscript.



September 20, 2009, 9:53 AM

"If I could explain it, I could explain the difference between Robert Rauschenberg, fettered to Cubism, and David Smith, who used that deadly style as if it were another piece of sheet steel"

Perhaps Bannard could expand on what he means by "deadly" in this lovely little phrase of his.



September 20, 2009, 9:53 AM


Thanks for your thoughts on Twombly. A specialist. I find him a useful foil to a lot of what ails me in contemporary painting and I suppose I got interested in him when I needed him, which was fairly recently - which is probably what you mean about his usefulness to students. I loved the huge Four Seasons when they were up at the MOMA atrium. I find it interesting when he gets close to Turner - a couple of things in the Works on Paper show at the Whitney, and the Green paintings in Houston. There's an early review by Fairfield Porter that refers to his Orientalism, which might also explain my thing with T.,



September 20, 2009, 10:12 AM

I sort of cringed when I reread that, MC. This is not unusual upon reading one's writing from 40+ years ago.

A better word might have been "preponderant" or "domineering". Cubism was powerful enough at the time to be both generative and "deadly" in the sense of either overwhelming or, in the case of so many artists of the AE generation, looking like a scaffold without a building to justify it.

You obviously are more familiar with Twombly's work than I am, David, but it is always a good idea to be cautious about imputing orientalism in the work of abstract artists, given the exmple of Franz Kline, who got justifiably pissed at being called a calligrapher.



September 20, 2009, 10:31 AM

Hey Dude (Wasn't that a Beatles tune or something?), I'm enjoying your comments. If questions arise, put um out here, and I'm sure you'll get some responses which could likely just lead to more questions rather than provide answers.

I always saw Cezanne as having realized that what the Impressionists lost in their quest to devise paint equivalents of light phenomena was a sense of form. So he set about to bring form back to French painting.

Monet, understanding Cezanne's point, covered a wall in his bedroom with Cezannes so he could look at them while lying abed. Better than TV, I'd say.

Monet, ironically, at the end of his career was knocking himself out to leave the material realm altogether in his paintings. But he couldn't do it, I believe, because his painting was so rooted in physical phenomena. His program had been to record the "light envelope of things." He ended up frustrated that he couldn't break through that. But his efforts to do so are pointed to as some of the first examples of non-anecdotal painting.

It's funny how so many fine Corots wound up in whore houses, many in the USA. Those silvery, invented Arcadias must've added to the notion of escape in those places.

A great deal of Twombly is in the Menil collection in Houston. I haven't gotten a line on his things. I come away from it with the feeling that it's a rather thin version of a lot of things that came before his, like watching his precedents decompose or dissolve in his paintings, but stop short of resolving into something else. I'm left with a sense of blurriness, but I know I'm not through with it.



September 20, 2009, 10:50 AM

Regarding the Barbizon painters, I believe that civilization is long overdue for a Diaz de la Peña retrospective.



September 20, 2009, 11:12 AM

And Daubigny, Troyon, Harpignes, and Valenciennes, an earlier plein air painter who seems completely overlooked.

These artists paved the way for the Impressionists. This is recognized by most scholars but is quite unknown to the general public.



September 20, 2009, 11:14 AM

Tim your take on Twombly in the last ¶ of #65 seems pretty much on target.



September 20, 2009, 11:25 AM

'Monet, understanding Cezanne's point, covered a wall in his bedroom with Cezannes so he could look at them while lying abed. Better than TV, I'd say.'

Whoa. Well I hear the Barbizons can be picked up dirt cheap at auction, and our bedroom needs where's my Visa?

I went through a phase in school where I was looking at Twombly and tried to use something from him in my own work but it just came out looking like Twombly cut and pasted into my work. This seems to support Bannard's assessment in #55. He's just too specialized to get any real mileage out of him. If somebody said they bought a Twombly, I would just need to know from when and can reasonably envision what they bought. I think with other painters that have more depth and breadth and less of a 'look', I can't jump to the same inferences. Bannard says some pretty useful stuff about limitations of these kinds of style choices in his essay.

Seriously though, Corot just kills me. There was one at the Frick ten years ago in NYC that stopped me dead in my tracks. My head wasn't anywhere near him at the time and that pic is still burned in my brain.



September 20, 2009, 12:08 PM

Darby, I was surprised by the oriental reference in Porter. I agree about not making connections to calligraphy, although... as you may remember I have this thing about japanese tea bowls and I always wonder about that model - combining painting, craft and poetry. I'm working on that idea in some contemporary furniture pieces I've been making. I haven't got to poetry yet, but Twombly keeps coming to mind with his Rilke quotes and his scrawl. I've done a drawing of a piece with a scrawl of a Frank O'Hara poem across the front. "Where is Gary Snyder, I wonder if he's reading under a dwarf pine...".

The Porter ref. is "The Oriental in American Art" 1960, on Ad Reinhardt, Joseph Fiore, and Twombly", in "Art In Its Own Terms". T is just a small part of the review, but his points are pretty subtle.

and Tim, next time you're at the Menil collection, look again at those " untitled, Green Paintings" for echoes of Turner and Monet, and see if you think it's interesting that someone who came from AE ended up there. I haven't seen them live so I don't know what the effect might be in person.



September 20, 2009, 12:08 PM

Franklin, re a Diaz de la Pena retrospective, I'd borrow money and stand in line to get to view it.

Dude, if your talking about Corot's Boatman of Montefontaine (sp?), man, I've been lucky to have gotten to spend time with that one at the Frick on more than one occasion. On each occasion, time and noise went away.



September 20, 2009, 12:11 PM

Dude, no you can't copy Twombly. And yes, Corot kills.



September 20, 2009, 12:12 PM



September 20, 2009, 12:21 PM

Somewhere beyond this roof a jet is making a sketch of the sky
Where is Gary Snyder I wonder if he's reading under a dwarf pine
Stretched out so his book and his head fit under the lowest branch
While the sun of the Orient rolls calmly not getting through to him
Not caring particularly because the light in Japan respects poets.



September 20, 2009, 12:25 PM

That's good stuff, David. I've tried to get poetry going in painted works but this is about as far as I've gotten.



September 20, 2009, 1:16 PM

love it Franklin. I just bought a fresh copy of Gary Snyder's "Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems" for inspiration after reading a wonderful piece on Riprap in American Poetry Review.I haven't read Snyder since college days.



September 20, 2009, 1:41 PM

David I have a thing about Japanese (and Chinese) ceramics, and teabowls in particular. I just love them, and find that I am able to discern very subtle differences in quality, which is half the fun.

Jack, who often contributes here and seems to have taken time off (probably wisely) when we started talking politics, has come upon oriental ceramics as a place where a certain esthetic purity reigns.

But any time I try to incorporate the spirit or appearance of those things in my art it fails miserably. I am too addicted to color and surface drama and jiviness and other Western staples. Being brought up on AE probably contributes to this.



September 20, 2009, 2:30 PM

re. teabowls,

I learned to always look at the "foot" first. There's a well known ceramicist here in SE Mass. whose work sells for high prices and who has a big national reputation, but his feet are usually weak and I couldn't get past that. I studied with some folks in Boston for a while and made a lot of bowls for fun for a year or two, which taught me a lot. I have an old bowl that was given to me by the abbot of a Zen monastery near Kyoto. I visited with a group and we all admired the bowls on our table and he told us each to choose one to keep. Now and then I'll buy one from local ceramicists for $15 or so when I see one that's really outstanding. It really is a pure aesthetic, although I also love what the contemporary Japanese ceramic artists are doing.

Here's a link to the Norths who are American collectors and who promote the stuff and sponsor shows.



September 20, 2009, 3:07 PM

Yeah that's the Corot. To see it now it actually doesn't stir me up as much as other works by him that I've grown to like, or even some of the stuff I've found looking into more of the Barbizon. The repoussoir is part of what hit me as a device, along with that 'silvery' light. There is a Cezanne at the Courtald Institute that comes in from the left with darker and flatter trees and it really drove something home. Cezanne's flatness pressure cooks the available tension and his eye just nails the optimal angles and space for everything, it just feels so right. Undeniably right and so charged. What a sensation! Of course we see this in many Cezannes and that's what makes him a master.

It wasn't copying Twombly exactly, as I was smart enough to know that would go nowhere, more of an assumption of something of his affected AE gesture. By dumbing it down a bit and introducing his doodly system he eked out a bit of space for himself. I think I like his goofy plaster covered sculptures better than his paintings.

Thinking on Twombly actually makes me think of a recent Corot print that was through town recently that really struck me for its blatant formalism. I can't find the exact one but here's a link to one similar:

He was getting stuff done with this goofy loop doodle stroke and it feels already like Impressionist diffusion. Makes me think too of those Seurat conte drawings built of pure atmosphere.

I read Dharma Bums in high school (1992). Gary Snyder is a cool zen cat.

Darby, as a confessed teabowl nut I don't think you could avoid those influences finding their way into what you do. It's probably just too silly a thing to tease out for reflection. I myself fell for Hamada in a big way in art school and tried to make something of his glazing and color and surfaces. Inevitably, the works got very small and very muted in color and i thought the seriousness of it all was just dripping off them. There is an admonishment in their philosophy against color and overtly exaggerated form that took me down a certain path and it bottomed out, along with a propensity for stagey minimal antics. I realized that I had nowhere to go and color was the true path. I now feel color is the lifeblood of painting, and Hofmann is my new Hamada. I still use some of Hamada's techniques to this day, but now I know I must find the middle way. ;)



September 20, 2009, 3:13 PM

I found my fairly steady gallery pace thwarted by a Corot at the Frick (or, should I say, Ms.Quoted's gallery pace). It was the first painting on the left upon entering the room, and I remember two or three intricate bronzes on the table in the middle, and it seemed that each time I went to look at another artwork, I would have to come back to look at The Lake. I saw it fresh a dozen times in that three quarters of an hour.



September 20, 2009, 3:24 PM

Dude, I trust you've seen Darby's Hofmann essay.



September 20, 2009, 3:38 PM

Yes Ahab, I think that's the one I meant. It's much better. What a wonderful mess with these little figure blips. I dunno, it was a long time ago. Corot wasn't even on my radar at the time, let alone landscape.

Yes Franklin, the Bannard Hofmann piece is one of my favourites. It is a very sharp and critical piece that every painter and critic should read. He nails Hofmann on his spottiness and his glory and just sounds so good having immersed himself in Hofmann over a period of research for the project.



September 20, 2009, 3:46 PM

Franklin i thought you were linking to this one for the retrospective:



September 20, 2009, 3:55 PM

It helped me to see better and forgive Hofmann his clumsiness, which is just a foil anyway.

The Rectangles piece is one of his nuts and bolts painting pieces that is also indispensable and every painter should read. I have this dog eared pile of Bannard and Link's articles printed off, along with Moffett and Fenton that occupies a special spot on my bookshelf.



September 20, 2009, 3:59 PM

My shelf is no match for the undercounter display at Common Sense however, where the Big Berg's output has been properly enshrined.



September 20, 2009, 4:05 PM

I remember that Corot. As I recall it is much larger than most of his paintings. It is a winner, for sure. It kills me that he gets away with that huge blot of a tree, and cute cows.

Dude, I still think the pots are not influences but just something I like a lot. I could be wrong because it is so personal, but I simply cannot apply any of those principles to my painting. Maybe I am not seeing into it enough.

There are a lot of good pots being made by English artists, following the example of Hamada & Leach. I think Lisa Hammond is especailly good:



September 20, 2009, 4:29 PM

Darby, I'm not interested in speculation on how you've absorbed anything from being a pothead. Not that it's worth anything but I think I could tease out a reasonable relationship between the glazing and figure ground stuff in the pots and some aspects of your work. How we sublimate this stuff, who knows. I can't say as much in the very recent work though (Which is really coming together and everybody should check out by the way).



September 20, 2009, 5:26 PM

Lisa Hammond's work looks delicious. There's a couple there with dark grey body and the light slip that stand out for me and the last 6 or 8 footed cups are fantastic. The cover piece on the 2009 monograph is just so sexy and mysterious, wowsers.



September 20, 2009, 6:47 PM

You're right about the glazing. I got obsessed with it. But then I was obsessed with Chemistry when I was a kid.

Hammond's cups are consistently good, probably her best form.



September 20, 2009, 8:18 PM

This type of thread is what I come here for and what I want from Artblog. It is a vast improvement over certain highly unfortunate recent examples, although that's not really saying much, if anything.

A few random and rather minor comments:

In #58, who is (or who was meant by) Poussin? Obviously not the Poussin (died 1665).

Re #67, don't forget Boudin, a friend of Corot and the painter who introduced the young Monet to plein air work.

Re Corot, who indeed rules, he also happened to be a wonderful human being, who did things like support Millet's widow and come to the rescue of the blind and impoverished Daumier in his final years.

Re Japanese ceramics, they've proved a godsend, an oasis in the contemporary wasteland. Unlike Chinese porcelains, which are about perfection, Japanese work, even their porcelain, is far more human. It is still exquisite, but in a different, deeper way.



September 20, 2009, 8:38 PM

I'm not any sort of conoisseur and when Hamada hit me it just did. I looked at him and Leach etc. and fell hard. I was already a sucker for anything with a whiff of Japanese about it.

I looked a bit more at Modernpots and upsized a lot of the individual works and there is good stuff from everybody on the site but Hammond does stand out. Thanks for the link, I haven't looked at ceramics in a while and was always a bit frustrated with not being to find much to suit my taste beyond Hamada, not that I looked that hard. I've never had much access to the real deal so it all comes from books. There's a funny pic somewhere of him in an Eames lounge chair, which he esteemed quite highly alongside simple English chairs whose name escapes me.



September 20, 2009, 8:44 PM

Sorry Jack I meant Pissaro. Whoops. There's a wonderful catalogue from a show called Pioneering Modernism that was at MOMA intended to highlight their back and forth.



September 20, 2009, 8:57 PM

These tea bowls might be of some interest:



September 20, 2009, 9:10 PM

I should note that the images listed above are of bowls not made by major-name potters and thus fairly inexpensive. Some of them are relatively "jivey" for Darby's benefit.



September 20, 2009, 9:34 PM

Those are nice Jack. I'll take the outside of L589. The way that second lip brings the glaze around to enclose the series of negative spots, instead of just running down the side is lovely.



September 20, 2009, 9:42 PM

Potheads always go for the jivey stuff.



September 20, 2009, 10:28 PM

Very nice bowls Jack. I appreciate your description of the difference between Chinese and Japanese bowls. We saw the Chinese painting show at the Met a week ago and were talking about the differences between Chinese and Japanese painting, and what you say bears on painting too I think. This must be tea weekend for me. I just yesterday bought a book published by Kodansha called "The Contemporary Tea House", with examples by Ando, Isosaki, Fujimora, and a few others. It also has a comprehensive essay about the history of the tea ceremony and tea house architecture with many historic tea bowls included, though not as well photographed as the buildings. All of them cited the one remaining tea house by Rikkyu called Tai-an. My friend Wendy Maruyama built one a few years ago.

Franklin, some time I'll have to take you to the Sunday afternoon tea ceremony at the Kaji Aso studio in Boston. They built a beautiful tea house under Mr. Aso's direction and he trained several of the women in tea ceremony. There are quite a few of Mr. Aso's paintings and sumi work there too.



September 20, 2009, 10:42 PM

Jack, you misunderstood me. I don't like "jivey" pots - generally the more subtle the better.

The point is that this feeling, or admiration, or proclivity, is not something I could ever transfer to my own art not matter how hard I tried, and occasionally I have tried.



September 20, 2009, 10:44 PM

David, it has been too long since I've gone to a tea ceremony. Say the word.



September 20, 2009, 11:00 PM

After another look 589 was more likely upside down for the glaze application, non?

The pouring on of a quantity of creamy fluid paint body and the straight ahead linear drawing with the same kinds of viscosity were the licks I took from the ceramics, but maybe above all else was just the straight ahead-ness of it all. No fuss. Just do it.



September 20, 2009, 11:16 PM

Believe it or not, there was a wonderful potter in the Japanese tradition named Hyme Rabionowitz from South Africa, who just died at age 88. I have an old ceramics magazine with his work in it but can find nothing on the web.



September 20, 2009, 11:19 PM

BTW Franklin, I like the TMFOM redesign very much. It's a bit of a nod to the old header.



September 20, 2009, 11:27 PM

Not having read the label, or not remembering it, I thought Corot's The Lake more likely titled The Cow in The Lake. But I do recall it being big, like 4'x5' big. [Wait... 52 3/8" x 62" says the The Frick Collection website... and wow is their zoomify feature ever amazing.]



September 21, 2009, 12:01 AM

re. applying the qualities we love in tea bowls to our own work, I've been on this kick of looking at art as knowledge, initiated by James Elkins seminar this week titled "What do Artists Know", which is actually about teaching and the arts PHD, but I'm taking my own inspiration from the title. Anyway, art as knowledge: take Darby's comments about Cezanne in his article. It adds something to my understanding of Cezanne. So it adds something to Cezanne's work as a body of knowledge. I can then consider "Cezanne" as knowledge that I can then learn and apply - not comprehensively, but certainly in some part. So with the tea bowls, I can study and learn as much as I can, and figure out whether any of that knowledge is applicable to my own work. It may not be. Or I may find some small part that I can use. It doesn't have to be "calmness", or subtle colors, or unity between use, form and art. Actually that last one is exactly what I take for my furniture design work, but not for painting. If I can't use it in my work, I can save it for blog discussions or daydreaming.

And with that little pedantic rant I'll say goodnight.


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 7:11 AM

I know what you mean, David. I realized a few years back that I and my friends value knowledge for its own sake. We just like knowing things. It occurred to me that this isn't an especially useful thing, collecting knowledge. We had a joke about one of our friends that he was full of useless knowledge. Someone we'd just met suggested that he'd be great on "Jeopardy!" but we pointed out that winning on "Jeopardy!" counts as a use for his knowledge, and therefore it wouldn't work: His knowledge was all useless.

Regarding art I also collect knowledge. It frequently runs through my head that the Impressionists figured out that shadows cast in daylight are purple. I never ever see purple in shadows, but I think of it anyway.

So I have all these little LEGO bricks of art knowledge and they rattle around in the big tub of my head and sometimes there's an aha! moment where I can click one on to what I'm doing. That's nice when it happens.



September 21, 2009, 7:52 AM

Re #101, the first 589 image is the inside of the bowl from above; the second image is the outside.

Re #99, I figured you preferred the quieter, more subtle, more classical pots, which are obviously wonderful, but I wanted to show some of the variety that's out there, certainly now. Also, there are so many pottery centers throughout Japan, each with its own traditions and stylistic traits, that the richness and diversity of the field are endlessly stimulating.



September 21, 2009, 7:56 AM

Chris, the way to notice purple in shadow is to notice the shadow and the sunlight at the same time. The sunlight has yellow/orange in it, so it makes the complimentary blue/purple in the shadow apparent, but if you're just looking at the shadow, it's not so easy to see the purple. The Impressionists exaggerated this effect in their work in the course of promoting their ideas of equivalence, complimentary contrasts, how to make paint express light phenomena.

A good example of the complimentary use of purple and yellow by a later painter is R. Diebenkorn's Interior with View of Ocean, 1957, Phillips Collection.



September 21, 2009, 8:27 AM

Chris, what you are referring to is not knowledge for its own sake, but knowledge for your own sake, for our own sake.

The "useful" things in life are there so we can enjoy the "useless" ones. Like art "for art's sake", they are the reason to live.

The misunderstanding, misuse and perversion of this basic principle is the root cause of much bad art and most bad art writing.



September 21, 2009, 8:30 AM

Jack - the first five in your series above are killers.

Are these all contemporary?


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 8:46 AM

Tim, I understand the theory of why the shadow is purple. I just don't see it. Ever. Again, it may be the old airbrush artist in me: I have some trouble seeing masses of color and instead think in terms of overlays of color. So I tend to see the color of the shaded item, with a shade laid over it. I know this is one of those things you're supposed to get over when you take an art class -- drawing on the right side of the brain and all -- but I haven't gotten there yet.

Part of the problem may be that I'm just not a colorist. I'm certainly not color blind but maybe my color sense isn't strong. Or maybe I haven't practiced in the right way for long enough. Maybe my eyes just don't work right (I have a little double vision, too). Not sure.

OP: I know what you mean but there are times when I feel like I have a problem. Some people have trouble eating just one doughnut. I have trouble not knowing something. Last night we were watching an episode of The Muppet Show from the first season. The guest star was Florence Henderson. My daughter said she looked different from when she was on The Brady Bunch and I realized I didn't know what year The Muppet Show was from and which season of The Brady Bunch it overlapped with, if any. I had to go look it up. (Incidentally: The Muppet Show episode was from 1976; The Brady Bunch ended in 1974.)

That's the kind of dopey thing I need to know. Of course I also look up concepts in physics, dates in history, and methods of solving the Rubik's Cube.

And now images of tea bowls. Thanks, guys.



September 21, 2009, 9:13 AM

Re #107 I figured that out and was kinda cheating by choosing the outside of 589 only. Those little blips of the body under the rim and the color struck me but the inside I found a bit too uh...jivey.

Chris, every spring in Alberta if you spend a bit of time on the highway on the right kind of day with the right kind of surface conditions you are literally surrounded by complimentary contrast in the shadows. If I could take you for a drive on one of these days you wouldn't be able to avoid seeing it. On a road sided by fields of yellow wheat stubble poking through the remaining snow (the stalks introduce a very diffuse yellow note which helps and there has to enough snow to cover the rest of the ground), with some late afternoon sun and the whole scene takes on a lavendery violet shimmer. It's amazing and it's something I just never noticed was happening until a few years ago on a drive and then boom I couldn't not see it even if I wanted to. There are a few competent landscape painters in the region that have painted works to capture it and when you see the work and all the violet they load up into the shadows, at first you think c'mon that's just goofy. And at a certain distance from the paintings it busts up into a Fauve stroke and the individual bits are pretty apparent, but get back a bit and it falls back in line in such an amazing way. Monet worked some of the same motifs and color in the haystacks and every time I find myself on the road under those conditions I just can't help but smile ear to ear. It's really glorious.



September 21, 2009, 9:17 AM

"I sort of cringed when I reread that, MC. This is not unusual upon reading one's writing from 40+ years ago.

A better word might have been "preponderant" or "domineering"."

"Deadly" was a nice word choice, I thought. It makes Smith sound like a sushi expert who doesn't even worry about the poison in the blowfish anymore. 'Deadly' has that excellent combination of connotations: like that last reference to "Killer bowls".

Chris, the coloured shadows are impossible to miss in a snowy winter landscape (I suppose because the ground is white, the colour in the shadows is undistorted). Go north, young man! If you come to Edmonton, my wife (who is an excellent colorist) can lead you in the "What Colour Do You See" game she played as a child with her art-teacher grandmother... they usually would use clouds, I believe, and the excitement begins when you notice that 'white' and 'grey' are just the beginning...



September 21, 2009, 9:18 AM

Sorry 'bout the tag, Franklin



September 21, 2009, 9:22 AM

Haha MC! There you go Chris, go north.

Glad you brought up 'deadly' again. It's one of those kinds of word choices that get me when I read Greenberg. I usually have to pause and think about why that word, sometimes I have to fetch a dictionary, and by the time I've got it figured out I'm thinking "nice word, dude."


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 9:39 AM

Maybe it's just New York light. Even looking at snow -- ever notice how greeting cards and so forth always use blue for the shadows on snow? -- I don't see it. Maybe I need to go to Alberta or Nice or some place less New Yorky.



September 21, 2009, 10:23 AM

that deadly comment needs expanding. it's the context that makes it so good. the meaning becomes very specific somehow. we can be ponderous about slick word choices all we want.



September 21, 2009, 11:04 AM

Joaquin Sorolla saw snow for the first time when he visited New York and expressed surprise at how purple it is.



September 21, 2009, 11:12 AM

You've put Prince in my head Franklin.

More deadly comments...Could I say it's about sensing some quality in writing?



September 21, 2009, 11:21 AM

Re #110, the bowls are all ca. 1970-80s except No. 677, which is ca. 1940.



September 21, 2009, 11:22 AM

that's not clear at all. what i mean is somehow the word gathers more than it should and it's magic like that.



September 21, 2009, 11:30 AM

Chris the knowledge thing is also a curse. I am a compulsive looker-upper also, especially words. Whenever someone asks an unanswerable question I say "oh shit" to myself because I know I have to go look it up.

MC someone like you gets the connotation of "deadly" exactly as I meant it, but the reason I criticize the usage at this point in my life is that I realize that the harder job is to say the same thing with a little dumbing down so it will be more widely understood. It is a kind of painful and hard to negotiate compromise.

On the other hand, I am quite sure I can use "killer" on this blog and not be misunderstood.

To see some "killer" winter shadows look at Monet's "Magpie", 1869 (I think it's 1869)

Thanks, Jack. Some excellent things there.



September 21, 2009, 11:46 AM

'It is a kind of painful and hard to negotiate compromise.'

I say never mind the bollocks, Darby. It's just plain better the way it is. It is a special skill to be able to put it together the way you do and I am ahppy to afford you some poetic license. Look what you're writing about for chrissakes. It doesn't sound flaky at all, in fact its tough and good for that. Yes you need to know a little of Smith and Cubism, but that is exactly the point.


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 11:47 AM

I accidentally typed in "money magpie". First hit is a site on money management. Which leads me to wonder the perhaps unfair question towit: Who would take financial advice from a blonde named Jasmine?

Getting back to art: If you look at the Google Image Search results for "monet magpie" you'll see the problem: There are JPEGs with grey shadows, blue shadows, purple and even green ones. Clearly this needs to be seen in person.

This may help explain the preponderance of Pop and Surrealism (and Pop Surrealism) these days. It reproduces really well. Whatever its good qualities, they come through in the posters. Impressionism posters sell, I think, more because they're sentimental favorites: People know they're good even though the reproductions fall short.


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 1:24 PM

We've got a beautiful sunny day here and while I drove around I looked at shadows. Trees, mostly, shading asphalt and sidewalks and grass. Still didn't see any purple.

Maybe my eyes don't get that frequency.

Then again, who knows? Check out Tim Folzenlogen's "Brenda" series. Looks to me like he uses every color in the damned book and yet he makes it work. I could never do that.

Seeing a lot of art over the past few years I've realized you just have to accept your limitations when you find them. Even great artists don't always make great art, and they're not equally good at everything.

Maybe I'm just not good at color. Certainly I've spent my whole life working on line and form. Color is a relatively late entry.



September 21, 2009, 1:28 PM

That's OK, Chris. Just stick to Florence and pass on Venice.



September 21, 2009, 1:48 PM

Chris, I don't get why you can see the colors in paintings but not in 'nature.'

Also, next time you're out, look at the general scene where the shadows are and not straight at the shadows.


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 4:10 PM

Well, Tim, you should know that pigments only cover about forty percent of the full spectrum perceived by the human eye. Clearly I can see across the whole range of pigments just fine, but who knows how I do on the rest of the rainbow?

Funny, Jack, that you should mention Florence and Venice. I've been thinking for the past few years that I'd love to visit Florence but nothing I hear about Venice makes it sound like a place I want to be. Could be I've had enough of swamp between life in Staten Island and New Jersey.

Of course my mother's family is from Napoli and Torino. Split the difference and I guess you get Florence.



September 21, 2009, 4:29 PM

Yeah Chris, but the 'who knows' is easy enough to get tested. But I don't want to push something on you that you don't want.


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 4:54 PM

Let's put it this way: Most of my life, almost thirty years, my mother would say I was "mother deaf". That is, every hearing test I was ever given I passed perfectly, flawless hearing, always heard the beeps in the headphones. Except when my mother spoke to me for some reason I couldn't hear her all the time. She'd say, "Get me my cigarettes off the counter" (great example, right? Now I sound like some abused trailer trash or something), she'd say that, and I'd get up, get to the counter, and stand there, having no idea what I was doing. How did I get here? What I was attempting? Was there a task I was supposed to complete?

Somewhere in my late twenties the psychiatrist I was seeing, after performing several physical tests on me, suggested I get my hearing checked more thoroughly. This I did. It turned out I not only have perfect hearing, I have oversensitive hearing. Not to mention various other slight abnormalities all the way from perception through to short-term memory as related to hearing. Which is why I couldn't remember what my mother asked for: I'd heard it, processed it, started on the task, and then my brain neglected to store the instructions, leaving me wondering why I was such an idiot.

And my mother thought I was just ignoring her.

So while I've passed every vision test I've ever had (aside from being extremely nearsighted), I suppose there's a test somewhere which is much more detailed and involved which may turn up all kinds of vision abnormalities. For all I know I have terrible peripheral vision and see everything sideways and backwards.

But mostly I'm not concerned about it. If the worst thing that happens is I don't understand how to make Impressionist paintings, I'll muddle through somehow.

Basically, what I'm trying to do in painting, as much as I can, is be true to what I see. Not paint what I see, exactly, nor am I aiming for some kind of academic or photo-realism. But I want to be true to what I see, without mediation -- without photos or lenses or that level of art training that makes you add in things you "know" are there but can't really see. Like purple shadows.



September 21, 2009, 5:28 PM

Chris, if you're true to what you see, it'll always be anticlimactic. What about being true to what you know or to what you can make?


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 6:20 PM

I'm not sure how one would go about being true to what one knows, at least in terms of visual art.



September 21, 2009, 7:08 PM

Chris, if you know about complimentary contrasts, then you can use them in your painting, whether you can see them in 'nature' or not. Right?


Chris Rywalt

September 21, 2009, 7:29 PM

But then I'm not really being true to what I know, I'm being true to what I've been told. Unless I see it myself, then I'm following someone else's instructions, aren't I?

Maybe I'm being a Sophist.



September 21, 2009, 7:34 PM

Painting is artifice.



September 21, 2009, 8:59 PM

A few more pots, relatively mundane examples, but still satisfying:

The first is a modern tea bowl of Oribe ware (named after a 17th century samurai obsessed with the tea ceremony, who took to designing tea utensils in a very distinctive style that I happen to love).

The second is another tea bowl, or chawan.

The third is a humbler vessel, a tea cup or yunomi, more for everyday use than for the tea ceremony. I'm quite fond of this example.

(Please do your magic, Franklin).



September 21, 2009, 9:39 PM

Thanks Jack, I won't have to bother with dessert tonight. Went hunting for more Oribe ware and found lots of good stuff. Keep em' coming.



September 22, 2009, 12:06 AM

Bannard, 1966: "By taking the elements of his painting from painting, instead of from nature, Cézanne started us away from nature and back toward style."

Plagens, 2009: "Kandinsky... let the pictorial remnants of mountains and hills fall where they might, and balanced it all out according not to the laws of nature, but to the laws of art as Kandinsky intuited them."



September 22, 2009, 5:10 AM

Interesting comparison, Ahab.

I think I would change Plagens "laws of nature" to "observation of nature" or "derivation from visible nature".

It's a small difference but an important one. To my mind "laws of nature" would seem to encompass "laws of art" rather than exclude them.

The extreme submission to observation seems to have been peculiar to Impressionism. The fact that such a doctrinaire position worked so well for art-making is worth a discussion in itself because it questions the proper place and function of innovation.


Chris Rywalt

September 22, 2009, 6:23 AM

I was going to Japanese restaurants for lunch during work for a couple of years, back when I worked in Manhattan. $12 a day on lunch back when $12 was real money, what the heck.

I would always order green tea and it would always come, of course, in a Japanese tea cup. And each time I'd try to pick it up immediately and end up burning my fingers and putting it back down. If someone came with me to lunch, I'd complain to them: How was it a country could be so advanced in so many ways and yet still serve tea in a cup without the technological advance of a handle?

After a couple of years of this I was out with someone I'd never gone with before. The tea came, I burned my fingers, and I commenced my rant.

"If the tea is hot enough to burn your fingers," my companion pointed out to me, "it's too hot to drink."

And I was enlightened.



September 22, 2009, 8:08 AM

re. Ahab and Opie,

Someone said that Dekooning was the last major painter to work from observation. (It was probably Jed Perl in "New Art City"). An interesting idea in relation to Bannard and Plagen's quotes. I agree that it's a good topic for discussion. In a way I see someone like Daubigny and the Barbizon painters as a painters of "extreme observation". The Impressionists started to have "ideas".


Chris Rywalt

September 22, 2009, 8:56 AM

I'm going to be great one day. You just watch.



September 22, 2009, 9:14 AM

Attaboy, Chris! In it to win it. You have a gorgeous hand already so get crackin'.

That kind of hunger, that healthy natural competitive spirit of Modernism, is something the PooMoos will never understand as necessary. Not sure they even get the notion of 'better'.



September 22, 2009, 9:17 AM

There's an old story about a Japanese painter who shocked his student by painting bamboo with red ink. The student said, "Everyone knows that bamboo isn't red." The teacher replied, "That's right, it's black, isn't it?"



September 22, 2009, 9:56 AM

It has been my observation that typical "representational" artists spend more actual time looking at their specific work than they do the subject they are using.

I've done a fair amount of "realistic" sculpture, drawing, and even some painting like that myself, but the main source has been watching students work after I have given them "tight" representational assignments.

Obviously, an empirical accounting of the percent of time an artist's eyes fall on his or her work versus on the subject does not obviate the use of the term "observational" no matter which side of the teeter totter the final percentage falls on. But I have always speculated the impressionists, for all their emphasis on getting out there and looking at the subject, probably put their eyes on their canvasses more than they did the subject.



September 22, 2009, 11:01 AM

That's right about the Impressionists, John. After having made a big deal about working from the motif, Monet was suspected of doing a lot more inventing in the studio after returning from the motif than he cared to admit. His reply to the suspicion was that it's none of anybody's damn business.

I understand the Impressionist circle's program to have been one of going out into 'nature' to gather 'field specimins,' so to speak. At first, those field specimins were thought of as complete works in themselves. Later in their careers they brought those back and orchestrated them into paintings that were largely if not entirely done in the studio. After a certain point, direct attachment to nature became less important to them than a sort of harvesting of what they discovered about equivalences, etc., to make paintings from. Those paintings were at least as invented as they were derived from the natural motif. The only one of the original Impressionist circle who stayed more or less true to the original program was Sisley.

My experience in my own work is that the motif of 'nature' is a point of departure, something to get a painting started. After the painting starts going somewhere, 'nature' is left behind in deference to the life and terms of the painting.



September 22, 2009, 1:33 PM

like the impressionists, with cezanne you can see nature's impact all over his paintings. his working of coniferous trees are especially impressive with his planes of color. everytime i see one of these trees in nature i now see it like cezanne painted it.



September 22, 2009, 4:44 PM

"I have always speculated the impressionists, for all their emphasis on getting out there and looking at the subject, probably put their eyes on their canvasses more than they did the subject."

Of course. Any realist painter does. This is obvious. But the relative length of time looking at one thing or another has little or nothing to do with the degree to which the observed visual characteristics of nature enter the painting.

Monet was known for reworking in the studio, but the reworking was obviously in tune with the program.

And although he was not really with the program there are photos of Cezanne at one or another of his motifs working on what appear to be virtually completed paintings.



September 22, 2009, 5:36 PM

Well as much as we might love Corot's finished paintings, his oil sketches are really fabulous.



September 22, 2009, 5:42 PM

from the mid 40's onward hofmann drifted away towards more abstract painting, but i think he might have said that nature was even more influential in his painting than ever.

as absract painting progressed it seems that painters just wanted to see what the paint and other materials were capable of while nature was somewhat in the background.

paint (materials) and other painting is a source for stealing, but nature is such an inexhaustible source.

maybe it all just creeps in as one.



September 22, 2009, 5:46 PM

for me, corot is one of the guys you really have to admire, but i don't go over big for his paintings. that frick piece is very nice, but i'd be leaving that place with many other paintings if i had a van parked out back.



September 22, 2009, 6:46 PM

All this talk about nature reminds me of the famous quip by Boucher, who was attacked by Diderot for his artificiality. Boucher scorned nature on the grounds that it was "too green and badly lit."


Chris Rywalt

September 22, 2009, 6:48 PM

I don't usually approve of billboards but I happened to notice one yesterday advertising something I hadn't heard about but which is right in line with our discussion here: Cézanne and American Modernism at the Montclair Art Museum.

Anyone wanting to go see it with company, hey, let me know.


That guy

September 22, 2009, 7:16 PM

"too green and badly lit." that's funny! I alway tell my students that vegetation has a lot more yellow than they think. They normally have an "ah haa" moment if they look hard enough.



September 22, 2009, 7:59 PM

My point, I suppose, is that the real issue is not so much "true to nature" vs. "artificial," but rather, what the artist does with either approach and how effective the result turns out to be.



September 22, 2009, 8:00 PM

I wanted to say something earlier about how in the early 19th century you can see the role that observation in the landscape played as a catalyst for the experimentation which led to the development going forward into Impressionism and Cezanne and finally full blown abstraction via Cubism. Cezanne's still lives might as well be landscapes. It's like the landscape forced it on them. To borrow Bannard's terms, the landscape obviated the limits of their observations in a sense, and they had to respond. I bet they really couldn't put a finger on it, but something was starting to feel dishonest in the method at that point. But you couldn't just jump off and it definitely still had to be good. In Corot, it's already coming apart and everybody after that were maybe something like "damn, that is freaking beautiful and it still looks like the thing and hell check out the paint!" And so the next guy starts with a little bit of flatness, loosed from the program at that time, and he tries to get something of it for himself but he can't go too far at a time. It builds up slowly until maybe Manet where we start to see the program dropped altogether in spots. But even with Manet, it's tied in to the program, in fact he's kinda retro, and his work highlights an amazing new kind of tension. On it goes until Picasso and Matisse blow the top off. Kandinsky, still looks like he needs the landscape. By 1915, Matisse and Picasso are more abstract, and yet more representational. Like I was saying earlier, I think we could trace this pressure in the landscape back much further.



September 22, 2009, 8:19 PM

I think the point, ultimately, is what works. The reasons for that can certainly vary, right along with the means employed to get there, but those are secondary issues. The ideal landscapes of Claude, for instance, are nominally realistic, but still imaginary constructs. It doesn't matter; what matters is what Claude achieves with his particular approach.



September 22, 2009, 8:48 PM

I was going to end my comment by saying this has probably been said elsewhere much more succinctly. The Cezanne comments on this thread got me thinking I should check in on the Bannard article before posting but I didn't. I'm a slow reader and tend to read stuff like this very carefully and had only gotten as far as the paragraph past the Monopoly/chess analogy, and skimming ahead through the end of the piece I see he's covered everything I was trying to say and more. Feels good though, to know i was pretty much on track.



September 22, 2009, 8:51 PM

I agree Jack. One hundred percent. I don't even want to know how magic works.



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