Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pieter Brueghel's masterpiece, The Tower of Babel, 1563

I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.
..................................-- Walt Whitman

John Singer Sargent's preliminary design for his portrait of the Wyndham sisters



Matthew Adams said...


Beautifully done David.

I have this wonderful little Oldman Pocket Art Series book on Bruegel. All the pictures have been cropped badly, but the colours they've managed to achieve in the printing blow your mind. I wish I could see one of his paintings for real.

Anonymous said...

That's ridiculous. You're not claiming that this little sketch is equivalent to that big beautiful painting???

Mark H.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mark. That scribble probably took 10 seconds if that much. It didn't require the same talent as the painting.

Kev Ferrara said...


You are right. I should have further qualified that statement about splitting compositions down the middle. Unfortunately, this blog software doesn't allow edits after the fact.

From what I've seen, in humorous pictures and portraiture, it quite often is done sensibly and well. (Although the examples you show are hardly cleaved, and much is done to nullify the split) But generally, for a host of reasons, in dramatic illustration, (the topic we were discussing) it causes problems.

I'm sure there are many exceptions, however, which would be great to see in order to analyze how the artists pulled together the bifurcation.

Regardless, the point of all that babel wasn't to actually do a thorough crit, David, but to demonstrate its possibility, in order to make a larger point. Undoubtedly, I failed to uphold the Hippocratic oath in the process. For that I apologize.


Anthony said...

Not sure if this is a fair comparison -- not because of the difference in technique / detail, but that one is finished and meant for public viewing, and the other is a composition study meant for the artist's eyes only. A better example might be this painting by Bada Shanren -- one of my all-time favorite artists. Apples and apples.

Matthew Adams said...

hmmm... I think people are missing the point...

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Matthew!

Anonymous-- yup, that's exactly what Walt Whitman and I are saying. These are each excellent in a way that fills its period and place.

Anonymous 2-- Ounce for ounce, Sargent's scribbled exploration of the design of his painting probably has more creativity than Brueghel's painting. (But of course, creativity is only one factor).

Kev, I don't claim to know any hard and fast rules. I leave that to you and Rob. I just like the questions presented by the wealth of great pictures out there.

Anthony, I like your painting by Badren Shanren, but I have to confess I am not looking to compare apples and apples. I say that an apple and an orange each have their own form of excellence.

António Araújo said...

>Ounce for ounce, Sargent's scribbled >exploration of the design of his painting >probably has more creativity than >Brueghel's painting.

David, how are you measuring your ounces?
Brueghel called, he feels shortchanged - please re-check your scales :)

Now for real, I am missing your point. That's just a compositional sketch. There were certainly many of those (at least mentally done)behind Brueghel's painting, though we might not have them (and how "creative" were those?), so I don't think I understand your point.

And placing a sketch of an artist against a painting of another is certainly apples to oranges. Look at Leonardo's drawings against his paintings, there is so much vitality lost when he takes the brush in hand, that's what you get in exchange for finish.

David Apatoff said...

Omwo, I called Brueghel back and we reached agreement, thanks for taking the message. I explained to him that, with the exception of the time it took Sargent to draw the outline around his picture, every second of his drawing was spent wrestling with the abstract forms of the composition--how high should that horizontal line be, and how steep should the angle be? What should the negative space look like? How can he avoid making the design too symmetrical? (Kev's point). If he draws a vertical divider in the background, should he center it? Will it accentuate the differences between the two horizontal sides? Basically, this is his foundation to make sure the picture "looks" right. Brueghel, on the other hand, spent weeks implementing the design he'd already chosen-- measuring the spaces between windows, grinding pigments, making sure the doors of the building were all uniform, waiting for layers of paint to dry. It's all necessary work, and highly skilled, but the big creative decisions had already been made.

After we talked, Brueghel said, "ok," he understood the point I was trying to make, and did not take offense. But he did ask me to thank you for sticking up for him.

Rob Howard said...

Breughel sent me a text message from the Babel Mall..."OMG ICU2 ART 4EVAH WHATEVAH"

kev ferrara said...

"every second of his drawing was spent wrestling with the abstract forms of the composition--how high should that horizontal line be... ...this is his foundation to make sure the picture "looks" right."

Why do you assume this is true, David? As far as I can tell, significance is what makes a picture look "right." The questions you suppose are "supporting documents."

Anonymous said...

Hey! You wouldn't believe this, but Sargent just sent me a fax. He says "Kindly let David know that's the one I did while scribbling on the telephone. Later I did another fifty on index cards, as always" :)


David Apatoff said...

Rob, I like the babel connection, but don't you think that tweets from 1563 would be paced a little differently: "Am..... watching.....paint....dry....." I would love to see Brueghel's facebook page since he was a weird old buzzard, or even better yet, Bosch. With all the free time out there for antisocial behavior, I'm surpsised that someone hasn't put together a website made up of such pages.

The illustrator Stanley Meltzoff, a true intellectual, made himself a little reliquarium of the pallettes of great painters, which was a highbrow variation of my website suggestion.

David Apatoff said...

Kev, this may just be a difference in nomenclature, but you're going to have to help me with your use of the word "significance" here. Normally, I would say that the abstract "design" or "form" is what makes a picture look right. There are lots of different ways in which a picture can be decsribed as significant, ranging from its philosophical profundity to its historical impact to its physical weight. Are you using significance in a specialized sense?

David Apatoff said...

Omwo, I am surprised that Sargent is using antiquated technology like a fax machine in this day and age. You should tell him about twitter.

It is fine with me that Sargent was chatting on the phone when he made his sketch, just as it is fine that he explored 50 other variations on index cards. For me, the important thing is that he was playing with raw form, exploring variations. Others may disagree, but my sense is that this is a free floating process involving eyes and hand and some part of the brain that is not used for phone conversations. A lot of great designs have been developed during boring phone calls.

Anonymous said...

>I am surprised that Sargent is >using antiquated technology

he finds it... distinguished. :)

>and some part of the brain that >is not used for phone >conversations

agreed. I used to hate the concept of audiobooks until I realised that I could draw and listen at the same time with no apparent loss of performance on either task ( I finally digested the Eneiad last week on account of the "reading" time thus gained and Thucidides is next :)). It actually helps the drawing to shut the verbal brain up by feeding it unrelated prose - the next best thing to an actual zen-like silence of the mind. The caveat is that this is only after you dealt with the verbal aspects of the picture (if illustrating a story for instance there is a point where there are still too many words in your head and the thought is only partially visual - you cannot concentrate then if you are chating or listening) But after that point it seems true, at least to my (humble) experience in the matter. Although I still would think it is more appropriate for observational drawing than to composition - you might miss some ideas if you cannot switch to verbal mode and back at a whim's notice.

omwo (actually let me dump this stupid acronym - its just the initials of my blog, not a nickname) - the name is Antonio, nice to meet you.

Andy S. said...

In thinking of artists and modern technology, another question that comes to mind is whether they’d have eschewed the regular avenues and just, say, posted their work on Flickr. I am constantly amazed at the quality of the drawings and paintings I find on there – if you’ve not wandered around, it’s worth the time. Three examples of work I stumbled across below – I have no idea who these people are, have absolutely no connection to any of them, nor know whether they are professionals or amateurs or what.

To the extent that they are not making livings as artists (and they may well be), it’s interesting to think of them in the context of the conversations on this blog. Usually the discussion is about the disparity between the highly successful but ostensibly less talented museum artist (your John Currins) and the less heralded but more gifted toiling illustrator (like, say, Mort Drucker). But what about the even LESS heralded, but perfectly talented artist who is neither of these. At least in this day and age, their work can be seen by people all over the world, even if they never make a dime from it.

(NB - I know URLs tend to run off the page on this blog, but you can usually still copy one if you just start highlighting and go all the way to the right, trusting you've captured it.)

Rob Howard said...

>>>The illustrator Stanley Meltzoff, a true intellectual, made himself a little reliquarium of the pallettes of great painters, which was a highbrow variation of my website suggestion.<<<

Meltzoff is not alone in that hobby/obsession.

Rob Howard said...

>>>Alright. Boring over. <<<


David Apatoff said...

Antonio-- very, very nice to make your acquaintance.

Brian said...

Wow. You mean artists do sketches before they paint? Who would have guessed?

Rob Howard said...

>>>At least in this day and age, their work can be seen by people all over the world, even if they never make a dime from it.

Do you think that this exposure on the Internet is raising the general quality of art?

black and white said...


Andy S. said...

>> Do you think that this exposure on the Internet is raising the general quality of art? <<

From my layman's perspective, I'd say probably not. It does potentially raise the likelihood of finding a diamond in the rough. And there may be times where someone takes inspiration from someone else and does something interesting with it (check out Virginia Heffernan's Times article on Kutiman: Cool stuff).

In any case, it seems nice for the artists, and it's fun for me to stumble upon something beautiful unexpectedly. I imagine you and the other professional artists would take a different view?

Anonymous said...

>>>Alright. Boring over. <<<


(2:42 PM)

Though David will assumedly delete this comment I really have to at least try tell you, Mr. Howard, that in your "answer" to Kev's comment you have finally proven to be nothing more than a child. And quite a poor child, appearantly, with some pretty distressing disorder...

peacay said...

I protest! Nowhere in your blog header or about page does it advise that usage of this blog may involve my feet being tickled by feathers.

Now I'm not about to argue with the thrust of your point(s) David but I admit that my first thought on seeing the two images and quote was that you had seen a crack in the wall and decided to drive your semi-trailer straight on through. Nice driving sir!

Rob Howard said...

David, what I find interesting in the Sargent sketch is the indication of only a silhouette when what is salient in the composition of the Wyndham sisters is the swirling energy that takes place under that edge. The leftward slope gives some indication of what's to come, but not much. Obviously this is a very personal aide memoire Sargent made to himself and one which does not bear comment. It's as though Brueghel had drawn a horizon line with a bump in it and not indicated all of the action that was taking place beneath the line.

Rob Howard said...

David, what I find interesting in the Sargent sketch is the indication of only a silhouette when what is salient in the composition of the Wyndham sisters is the swirling energy that takes place under that edge. The leftward slope gives some indication of what's to come, but not much. Obviously this is a very personal aide memoire Sargent made to himself and one which does not bear comment. It's as though Brueghel had drawn a horizon line with a bump in it and not indicated all of the action that was taking place beneath the line.

Rob Howard said...

>>>nothing more than a child.<<<

I've listened to people like you telling me to get in touch with my inner child. Your ilk always offers perscriptions on how others should lead their lives yet never offer an example worth following. Should I learn to paint and draw like you? Should I have a non-existent portfolio, no curriculum vitae to speak of and show my work on some internet backwater? Will I finally live up (actually down) to your standards and expectations.

Look through the long history of art and artists and pick out the ones you'd want to have for know, the soccer Mom, backyard grille, always a pleasant hello type who borrows your lawnmower...the people who adhere to you moral code. They'll fill a small boat. Now look at the artists who have made a mark on society. Picasso, Caravaggio, Bosch? Talk about petulant children...oh sorry, you don't study those aspects of art history. Well how about some who appeal to the suburban culture hunters...let's gather the SUVs in a circle around Degas, Cassatt and them and you'll come away with a case of the creepy weirds according to your "let's play nice" mentality.

Yeah, I know that seeing people argue upsets your bourgeois hard-wiring learned from Mister Rogers and Barney, but that doesn't stop you from trying to impose vapid suburban behaviors on any and all who don't conform to that narrow set of predictable behaviors. Kev doesn't need your help in defending himself. He's a big boy and can handle it. In case you hadn't noticed it, testosterone is not a poison anymore than estrogen is. Guys are guys. Back in more manly days, boys would fight, give each other black eyes and shake hands and be friends. Girls never understood that or the seat-up thing. You've got a lot to learn.

I make no bones about primary concern has been with making art. Not getting the kids off to school or getting out the vote...making art. My wife is the same. We have very, very few friends who are civilians because, frankly, they cannot understand why we would cancel a dinner party at the last minute just because a client made changes and needs the piece overnighted to them. Our fellow pros understand that. They, unlike soccer Moms, would not consider it rude behavior.

We live in two very, very different worlds and you are clearly overstepping your bounds in commenting on the fact that a working pro does not conform to your standardised, out-of-the-box way of life. According to your standards, I am a flawed person. Okay, I'll buy that. However, according to mine, your set hasn't accomplished anything, past buying posessions, that they can point books authored, no art in major collections, no major client list, no history of reaching out to help artists...nope, just carping and tpngue-clucking that Mr. Gaugin, suddenly left his wife, kids and that good job as a broker and became a beatnik and a bum.

Just think of us as another species and you'll be a bit closer to reality. There's a big gulf between the audience and the stage and, sadly, all of the fan mags have made the audience feel as though they deserve a spot on the stage. The truth is, we really don't need an air guitarist.

David Apatoff said...

Kev, if I'm following you correctly and the "significance" that makes a picture look right for you is tied to the meaning or function of the symbol ("Any symbol's significance is determined by its functional role in the mechanistic generation of meaning by a communication.") then we may have a difference of opinion unless you are using "meaning" in the broadest sense to encompass all kinds of nonlinear, noncognitive, non-literary meaning (such as the "meaning" of the yellow of a daffodil).

I know that any time a person starts to quote himself it's time to start looking for a new gig, but perhaps you will forgive me in this case because of the benefits of efficiency. (Think of the following like the joke about the convicts in the prison yard who just call out a number instead of telling the whole joke because they've heard every joke so many times, it's easier to tell them by number): I took a crack at the difference between words and pictures in an earlier post and said that one of the things I really liked about pictures is precisely that they are not limited to what you here call "intelligible controllable expression." My point back then was "Lines that have been civilized into letters and words can never return to the pagan state. Language is rule defined, so it becomes unintelligible as it approaches chaos. But the lovely, wild line of art is still at home in chaos." I like that potential for chaos, and the ways in which art is not "intelligible, controllable expression." I like the virility of the noncognitivism that comes with a Franz Kline slash, or the borderless contemplative state that can come with the proper Rothko.

I'm not sure how you would describe the symbolic "significance" of such abstract visual forms, and yet there are clearly Klines and Rothkos that "look" right, and others that don't-- just as there were potential designs for that Sargent composition that "looked" right to him, and others that didn't.

It occurs to me that, since you and Rob are both "rules" based guys who believe in "intelligible controllable expression," this may be a case where I have galvanized the two of you against my position. Omigod! What have I done???? The axis of evil!

David Apatoff said...

Andy and Rob, this is a whole different (and in my view, very interesting) bounce worthy of a lot of discussion. The internet may be a tower of babel in many ways, but many of the rooms in that tower have turned out to be pretty darned interesting.

Rob, I know what you're implying with your question whether exposure on the internet has raised the general quality of art. (When Flannery O’Connor was asked whether college writing programs discourage young writers, she responded,“Not enough.”) The internet is certainly a conduit for raw sewage (artistically speaking) but it also exposes people to more art, and especially a wider variety of art, than they would ever see otherwise. Every time I go on Bibliodyssey, I thank heaven for the internet and for peacay who ferrets out all those wonderful images. Same thing for Today's Inspiration, where Leif Peng pulls together and gives new life to illustrations that would otherwise be lost forever.

Ever since Gutenberg, artists who wanted a broad audience for their work had to go on bended knee to some publisher and demonstrate that a book was cost justified, often putting themselves under the editorial control of some philistine. Now, as long as a quality artist doesn't care about getting rich, they can find that audience. That, I submit is a real boon to art.

Anonymous said...

>>Picasso, Caravaggio, Bosch? Talk about petulant children...<<
>>Just think of us as another species<<
Oh my, poor Robbie, do you really believe you play in the same league? Gauguin (whom you can't even spell correctly)?
Really? Then that's fine with me, then, well, just go play...


David Apatoff said...

Sarah, of course I would never delete your comment, and I am sure Rob would not want me to. (When Rob and I recently disagreed about an artist, I dismissed his opinion as some sort of LSD flashback and moved on to another topic. Rob was not the least bit perturbed. He continued to have his opinion and I have mine, and that was fine.)

One thing I learned from watching statler & waldorf on the old Muppets show is that it is always a big mistake to empower someone by responding to taunts. Frankly, I am surprised by the way that both sides of some of these disputes continue to rise to the bait.

Rob Howard said...

>>> Frankly, I am surprised by the way that both sides of some of these disputes continue to rise to the bait.<<<

David, you're using an unrealistic yardstick (probably the result of thinking that there is, indeed, a real life Mister Spock).

Reasonableness in human beings is a slef deception of the first order. We hold that illusion because we do not want to admit how close we are to our pet's emotions.

Just read the works of some of the greatest minds...Epictitus upon being introduced to Alexander the Great..."hey kid, move, you're blocking my light." Read Marcus Aurelius, or Neitzsche, or Freud or Jung or Marx...those guys would occasionally touch on what suburbanites might call reasonableness but largely, they were not at all like that fictive scion of reason, Mister Spock.

The world borders on utter chaos at all times and the delusion of reasonableness is an attempt at gaining some control over forces well beyond our abilities to master and control.

I suspect that I am being realistic in viewing most dogs as better and more honest than most people. While not entirely without guile, they seldom deceive themselves.

António Araújo said...

>Frankly, I am surprised by the >way that both sides of some of >these disputes continue to rise >to the bait.

It is natural that in our far too confy society (I can speak for myself - I have been in no war and very rarely in any sort of physical fight) the levels of accumulated testosterone should make all of us far too prompt to charge into any symbolic fray. Often have I replied in anger - or with unnecessary and unwise, even when not undue, derision - to a troll's bait for instance, when my better judgement called against it. I'll never get back those precious drops of wasted time.

On those times I could control myself it was by repeating this very wise and amusingly un-pc mantra I picked up somewhere:

"Arguing on the net is like participating in the special olympics: Even if you win, you are still a retard."

I enjoy both kev's and rob's comments and it would be a shame to see any of them go away. But I trust none of them is at risk of suffering a mortal wound -thick skins there - and an armistice is sure to come. The exertion of war is surely good to their adrenalin levels, or the debate would have ended for lack of use. it will subside as they see fit to delare time for tea, thus ending their verbal calistenics. And meanwhile i just take from them the inestimable technical references they still let slip and discard the wasted munition lying about (taking care not to get hit by the crossfire - and mind you, I am minding my words, look at me being gentle as a breeze, the very spirit of discretion :)).

I once hear the anecdote that when the great minds of Bourbaki met at lunch to discuss the foundations of mathematics they were erecting, and a member read his proposed contribution to the whole, the learned dispute among them was not above the level of name calling and food throwing. So we are all in good company, if that is the level of discourse at the ultimate heights of the marble tower. :)


Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob, my Grandmother had a great quote, which she often repeated. "Self Praise Stinks."

The more you ask for the praise of anonymous people on this blog, the more you gently "suggest" comparisons between you and Gauguin and Picasso, the more you "intuit" entire identities of people you have no clue about in order to put them down, the more you reveal your raging insecurity. The more you talk, the less anybody believes in you. <<<

Kev, I know that you'll excuse me if I am blunt, but who the heck is your grandmother and why should anyone pay any attention to what she says? Can I find her aphorism's in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations?

I have no doubt that she looms large in your legend and the effect of those pearls of wisdom dropped on an adoring four year-old must have seemed monumental at the time, but in the long run, are they the basis of a philosophical movement?

To put it in perspective, I am a grandfather. If my grandson quoted me, we all know that he'd be quoting a complete and utter ass (I'm sure that you and Anonymous #1 through #255 will concur).

Now I'll let you in on one of the most liberating philosophical soon as you can put it into practice you will have lifted a great burden of falsity and self-deception from your shoulders (and, as you well know, I say this with 98.7% love)...I really don't give a damn what you or anyone else think. Although he's often chagrined, I'd like David to think well of me because he has shown himself to be admirable in many ways. But, tearing a page from Dean Swift's writing, the reality is that if Anonymous 1 through 255's brains were on fire and I doubt that I'd pee in their ears to put it out.

Seeing that we're all such reasonable people, let's try this one for size; say that you had 1.3 billion dollars ($1,300,000,000.00)...all in ones, and you noticed that a few hundred of them were blowing away and catching fire. How concerned would you be? How concerned would you be if it was a few thousand dollars burning?

Guess how many human beings...all so very special and wonderful, there are on the planet? That's right, 1.3 billion. As De Gaulle rightly said, "the cemeteries are filled with indispensible people." So, unless you want to do something nice for shovel my walkway in the winter, fill my tank with fuel, help in the garden or even send me a birthday card, why on earth would I think to listen to your (or grandma's) advice on how to comport myself?

Are you or Anonymous 1 through 255 putting yourselves up as exemplars of what I should aspire to? If so, show me your portfolios. Let me read your curriculum vitae. In the words of Jerry Maguire..."show me the money." In short...who are you people? What are you?

I realise that this sounds a bit peckish but this is exactly what goes through everyone's head when you and Anonymous 1 through 255 hold forth with their free (nobody will pay for it) advise.

Kev, these are the harsh realities of life and we, with rare exception, have created little fictions and mannerisms to keep us from facing who we are and what we mean in this time. I am like Swami peace with the knowledge that I am but a flea on a cow's arse in the middle of a herd of cows being viewed at a distance from a speeding train...and the really ugly, terrifying truth that leaves one desolate is that this insignificant little flea has accomplished more than most of the people on this and other fora...and at that it means nothing.

Reality really bites, doesn't it? But don't fret, I still luv ya buddy!

kev ferrara said...

1. Ibid. (My Grandma's quote.)
2. Op. Cit. (NOBODY needs to defend themselves to you. This is NOT your blog... you are NOT in control here)
3. Op. Cit (David, you should at least charge him an advertising rate.)

Anonymous said...

>>Guess how many human beings (...) there are on the planet? That's right, 1.3 billion<<
That's a lot less than I have learned. You mention this number twice, Mr Howard, so I don't think you just made an oversight there. Would you please explain, who you count as human beings - and who you don't? If you really are what you claim to be in your last comment, and who would doubt that, you probably don't want to miss this opportunity...
Very very curious,

Brian said...

Hey Rob Howard,

Isn't it about time to shove another doughnut down your fat piehole? I can see from your photo that tennis court you own doesn't get much use. Your mouth, on the other hand, is in fine shape.

As far as your curriculum vitae and portolio, I think it sucks, and you are no better than the people you critcize. You are now engaged in the absoluete nadir of all art forms, photographic oil portriature. You should be proud of the hacks you run with in that sorry crowd.

You're a big fat coward. I'd love to talk to you face to face. If you're going to criticize people's opinions, why don't you start with the blog owner, who hasn't done any illustration or fine art worthy of mention either. C'mon c(H)oward--let's see that happen.

You make me sick. Give me two weeks to get something done, and I'll post it. I'm not even a "professional". I'll put it up against anything you do. Let's make a bet and let the other people here decide. Put up or shutup time, Rob. You up for it?

tania said...

My dear renegade,
all of a sudden we get a glimpse of the ugly side of art, hmmm?
Maybe you should have stopped this much earlier - now it's too late; Me too I would love to know Mr. Howard's counting procedure, though of course I have a guess...
Anyway, you may want to think again if you keep on letting the (quote) complete and utter ass (unquote) misuse your blog...
By the way, I love this recent post and, reading through the comments, I'm probably the only one who really gets it...
Best wishes,
your savage Tania

kev ferrara said...

OMWO, lol.

At least you're learning something. I haven't learned a thing in weeks! :)

This is not really going to war, though. I think I have been rather civil, personally, given the relentless mortar fire over the line. I can get infinitely vicious when required, however.

And Brian, you've fallen into exactly what I was trying to prevent.

The game is this:

1. You disagree with Mr. Howard.
2. He demands your credentials. This is an arrogation of power. By demanding credentials, he asserts his own authority.
3. Equally, he is asserting that an argument or opinion only has merit according to his assessment of credentials.
4. As well, his offensiveness commands the floor, also an arrogation, but of attention.
5. If you agree to his demand for credentials, you agree that he has authority over you and you agree that an argument or opinion is only valid based on credentials as judged by Mr. Howard and you accept that he is the center of attention.
6. Your credentials will be found wanting by Mr. Howard, ergo, you have lost the argument, ergo, Mr. Howard is superior to you.

I advise nobody to play this little game. It is a quite common one in the psychoanalytic journals (I kid, I kid.) We are not at the German border, nobody who demands our papers, gets them.

David, I'm sure you know that Edmund Burke quote about "good people doing nothing."

Matthew Adams said...

Ah fuck...

Debating is fun, and this mass debating is even more fun, but can we get back to the original (and rather more sexy) topic before it gets messy?

slinberg said...

Rob, I'm just wondering: do you extend the disdain and contempt that you repeatedly demonstrate here for those with inferior artistic pedigrees to your business? Will Studio Products hold its nose and take our money, or should we find other sources for our lead napthanate?

Rob Howard said...

David, I was musing on the men behind the admirable artistic techniques and why we may be seeing so little of that thoughtful content in today's art. Then I came upon an article by Roger Scruton in this month's American Spectator in which he speaks to the willful lack of judgment today's students are heir to.

What else is the making of art but judgment based on a set of accepted standards? Instead, today's student is taught to condemn any form of judgment..."oh, you're so judgmental." Scruton's article speaks from the standpoint of a generation whose teachers realized that we would not be prepared for a study in the humanities without a thorough grounding in classical languages.

That brought up our favorite Italian-American...that is, Italian-born American, John Sargent. Like Rubens (who spoke at least five languages and was a foreign ambassador) and like Andrew Wyeth, Sargent did not even graduate grammar school, let alone high school or college, yet when his body was found in his bed, he had an open copy of Catullus (in the original) in his hands.

Perhaps, as Scruton points out, introducing women's studies and black studies and pop music studies into the curriculum may be the reason there is such a decline in art...there's a decline in artists and the way in which they (and other students not training in the Sciences) are trained.

You can read the article at

Rob Howard said...

>>>Will Studio Products hold its nose and take our money, or should we find other sources for our lead napthanate?<<<

I have litle connection with that business except in an advisory capacity. If your commitment to fine art materials also involves a petulant foot-stamping, I might question that commitment. I have heard of some people who will not drive a German car because of wrongs done between 1937 and 1941. Aside from the usual "whatever" approach, what do you think of that mentality?

Would you purchase superior goods from a company helmed by someone who did not hew to your political beliefs? Conversely, would you purchase inferior goods from someone who voted as you do?

Do you see where your query leads?

slinberg said...

"If your commitment to fine art materials also involves a petulant foot-stamping, I might question that commitment."

No, I was just curious about YOUR stance. Since you seem unwilling to enter dialog with people whose artistic pedigree and resume and whatever else don't meet your approval, I was just wondering if you'd still take their money as customers, or dismiss them in the same way you do here. That would be more consistent, I think.

However, since you asked, I do tend to favor interacting with people who are kind, friendly, and free of combative ego, all things being equal. The world has more than enough hostility and belligerence already, and so I prefer not to reward or engage it when I don't need to. Luckily, I rarely do, as the world is filled with people who are brilliant and capable, and some are jerks and some aren't.

I think the only one here engaging in "petulant foot-stamping" is you, refusing dialog with people whose cvs or portfolios don't impress you, even when it's as relevant to the topic (which YOU frequently start) as me demanding your engineering credentials before talking to you.

Fortunately for me, George at Natural Pigments is about to begin producing his own lead napthanate, and he's a friendly and knowledgeable guy who's perfectly pleasant to deal with, so yeah, I'll buy from him instead. Why wouldn't I?

Johnny Rotten may be a hugely important figure in the history of music, from whom much could be learned, but by all accounts he's also an insufferable asshole, looking contemptuously down on the planet as being swarmed by his inferiors, and won't talk to anybody undeserving of his brilliance, which is virtually the whole world. We all just have to soldier along without the wisdom and potential teaching that the Johnny Rottens of the world withhold from the rest of us in their disgust, and just hope they never get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

Anonymous said...

>>Johnny Rotten may be a hugely important figure in the history of music, from whom much could be learned, but by all accounts he's also an insufferable asshole...<<
Yeah, but if you look close enough, Mr Rob Complete And Utter Howard is only a Hoomer doing the Johnny, no need to adulate him with such an analogy...

Anonymous said...

"Would you please explain, who you count as human beings - and who you don't"
Have you read his brainfarts about colonialism some posts earlier? He simply doesn't count anything that hasn't got a fat white backside like his own. It's obvious.

Unknown said...

^I agree with Anonymous up here^

The blatant racism of this person, in these times, are unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, I've missed all the fun! I haven't heard such pomposity and posturing since I was a kid in Hyde Park, sitting around the dinner table with a bunch of academics.

He can't be a racist. China counts as the world doesn't it? (pop. 1.33 billion...)

"I like the virility of the noncognitivism that comes with a Franz Kline slash, or the borderless contemplative state that can come with the proper Rothko."

Maybe that's why Rothko saved my live once...well, two paintings did anyway.

Spring is wonderful, the sap really starts to rise...

~catherine (pcp)

kev ferrara said...

I would guess he simply erred on the number.

Matthew Adams said...


I love your posts mate, I hope you never get discouraged enough to stop posting.

kev ferrara said...

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Plato)

David, would you mind deleting all my ire directed toward Mr. Howard. If you are unable to edit my posts, simply delete them.

Adam Brill said...

I learned a long time ago, the hard way, after years of dismissiveness in my work and my life, that if I wanted to improve as an artist/cook/musician, etc. that valid criticism could come from any quarter, whether the person offering said critique were my 'equal' or not. You can learn from anybody, if what you're interested in is learning, rather than protecting your point of view, which is by nature limited. You can even learn from people you don't like, or otherwise respect. I have learned art techniques and guitar licks and flavor combinations from people who couldn't draw, or pick, or cook, as well as I do, and I'm grateful for their generosity, and that they'd share what they know with me, and glad that I finally learned to not hit them over the head with my 'superior' skills because I felt that I had to pump myself up at their expense. I'd like to think that their input was offered in order to make my work better, not tear me down. In any case, that's how I choose to interpret it.

Anonymous said...

>The blatant racism of this person, in >these times, are unbelievable.

The blatant way in which the lynching mob resorts to unproved accusations of racism - or paedophilia, or witchcraft, or whatever is in fashion - to destroy someone they don't like is unbelievable, "in these times".

Kev, glad the testosterone hit subsided. I bet it was the lynching mob putting its head out that brought you to your senses. There is a certain beauty to a duel, however unwise, between two eager and valid persons, but when the rabid crowd starts cheering too much it really crushes the aesthetics.

Adam Brill: Well said.

Antonio (omwo)

David Apatoff said...

Dear Savage Tania, how nice to hear from you after all this time. I have kept a candle burning for you in the window, hoping you would return to show these mere amateurs what real savagery can be: instead of sharp words, a sharp guillotine blade in the town square! Instead of bile flowing so freely, the gorgeous red blood of aristocrats who would seek to perpetuate illegitimate hierarchies! That is what we need more of around here! Welcome home!

On your last point, you could well be right.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I read the article in the American Spectator that you recommended. Whenever I approach anything in the American Spectator, I always begin by reminding myself that an idea is not responsible for the people who believe in it. That's because so many of the readers of the American Spectator are just plain nuts, it would be easy to dismiss their writers as well. Scan those letters in response to Scruton's column ("Teacher unions in the hands of marxist goons have "educated" three generations of illiterate morons...")and you will understand what gave "judgment" a bad name to begin with: wildly intemperate, closed minded Savaranolas venting their rage. So much for Scruton's theory that reading Shakespeare develops more well rounded and emotionally mature human beings.

But as for Scruton's main point, it seems to me to be half of the argument, a half that I have agreed with here many times. In prior discussions I have repeatedly rejected the lack of standards and taste prevalent in so much of modern art. I think the philosophy of "it's all good" is silly and self delusional. But at the same time, you have probably seen me rail against closed mindedness and intolerance in the arts as well. I think that the relative stature of fine art and illustration is a result of people being judgmental and narrow minded.

While I yearn to find the kind of "absolutes" that Scruton describes (on one end of the spectrum or the other) I find so far that the only solution for me is to pitch a tent somewhere on the road between scylla and charybdis, and to be prepared to pull up stakes and move a few feet in one direction or the other as circumstances require.

Your point about whether human beings are inherently reasonable is an excellent example. There are days when I share your view that humans are not reasonable, but I am sure on other days you recognize that there are so many contrary examples to suggest that they are. There will always be counter examples to spoil any absolutist view of human nature. That's why the Spanish philosopher Ortega said that man has no nature, what he has is his history. Man is as man does.

David Apatoff said...

Catherine (pcp)--

"Spring is wonderful, the sap really starts to rise..."

Yeah, but the antlers start to grow, too.

Laurence John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Bravo Brill!

Kev, you are truly a sweet real man. Wonderful way to own your postings and move on. Very gracious.

Antonio, thank you! Your point is well taken and insightful.

Tania already got her kudos from the master...

Rob, you have a sense of humor and enjoy sharing your thoughts, care to expand the view? Actually as I have gotten older, I've discovered asking questions and listening to the answers has made a greater impact on those around me than when I was young and thought I knew everything. Funny that it took me so long to discover that. I wonder how many people I drove away?


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