Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TIME RUNS OUT

The artist Pavel Korin centered his life around one grand ambition: to paint a masterpiece about the impact of the Russian Revolution.

Preliminary study for "Farewell to Rus"
 Korin worked for 42 years in preparation for his painting, developing sub-themes, experimenting with  various compositions and painting detailed sketches.  He researched the science of art conservation to make sure his masterpiece would last for centuries without restoration.  He ordered an immense canvas specially made and installed it on custom built stretchers.  Then he died before he could apply his first brush stroke.

Korin's blank canvas, with preliminary studies
A tough break, but at least fate was more generous to Korin than it was to poor Masaccio, one of the most promising painters of the Renaissance. Vasari described Masaccio as "the best painter of his generation," but after he began work on his famed frescoes at the Branacci Chapel, Massaccio took a side trip to Rome and died unexpectedly at age 26.  He never had a chance to finish his work, and the laurels went to Michelangelo and Raphael instead. 

Many an artist has fallen short of his or her potential by miscalculating how much time they have left to complete their "best" work.  So you have to admire the audacity of artists who gamble on creating one epic work, rather than a lifetime of smaller pieces.  They leave themselves no margin of error; it's all or nothing.

Of course, even if an artist calculates his or her allotted time accurately, they still get no guarantees.  Alexander Ivanov was another artist who built his career around one major painting (The Appearance of Christ Before The People).  Ivanov was called "the master of one work."  He succeeded in completing his painting after twenty years,  but unfortunately the painting turned out to be second rate.  And who could forget artist Bill Pappas who worked methodically for ten years, from 1993 to 2003, on a single pencil drawing of Marilyn Monroe?  Pappas drew every pore on her face in excruciating detail, using 20x magnification lenses.  When he finished his picture on schedule, Pappas had demonstrated a great talent for precision, but little else.

The muse, it turns out, is not always flattered by good time management skills.

Many an artist produces lesser work in order to pay the rent, secretly planning to redeem themselves later.  This requires them to gamble on notoriously fickle actuarial tables. Still, it is impossible to have children and remain insensitive to some of the excellent reasons for compromise.

As philosopher Walter Kaufmann suggested,
One lives better when one expects to die, say, at forty, when one says to oneself long before one is twenty: whatever I may be able to accomplish I should be able to do by then; and what I have not done by then I am unlikely to do ever.  One cannot count on living until one is forty-- or thirty-- but it makes for a better life if one has a rendezvous with death. 

61 Comments:

Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Thank you David. Excellent Post. One slight disagreement. I've been painting professionally for over 25 years. In my mind, my best work is the one I'm thinking of doing next but I agree, there never seems to be enough time to do it all.

3/29/2011 2:24 PM  
Blogger Charles George Esperanza said...

this is an amazing post. I have spent the last six months writing and illustrating a children's book I have been planning since 2007. Spending so much time on one project, it becomes very personal and your worst fear is either not being able to finish it, or people not realizing the thought and effort that went into it.

3/29/2011 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Korin's failure to finish his final magnum opus is a lesson to everyone. You cannot put all of your effort into one solitary object.

I have an artist friend who toiled in secret on a single, enormous and expensive sculpture for over 15 years (and the work was hidden for all of that time). When he finally unveiled the finished work he somehow thought the sky would open up and he would be finally recognized by the universe. Instead there was curiosity -- but little else. And he was crushed. How could there be more of a response when your intentions are so misguided? This artist also, in a manner similar to Korbin, obsessed over the archival nature of the art. But you cannot worry more about the importance, reception and technique than the work itself.

3/29/2011 5:23 PM  
Blogger Donald Pittenger said...

Infinite time would lead to infinite dithering -- for the likes of me, anyhow.

I almost recoil at the thought of doing a painting requiring plenty of planning because I can see myself either continually changing things or else giving up partway through if the project became a disaster and then kicking myself for wasting all that time.

So I marvel at the personalities you mention along with even some Pre-Rafaelites who would spend months at a painting rendering leaf after leaf after leaf.

Bottom line: I turn out hurried garbage, but waste small amounts of time at it so I can go on to do more of the same.

3/29/2011 9:22 PM  
Blogger Blake said...

Aside from just putting all of your eggs into one basket, so to speak, some of the works you spoke of were just labored over for too long. I can appreciate the investment put into details, but images can lose expression and character when over-thought. Great post! It's great to have someone tell us (or me) to get into action...it's a well-needed (and appreciated) kick in the seat.

3/29/2011 9:48 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Great post David!

Boy, what a bunch of dead boring work. Its a sad thing, an artist who never realizes how essential a life force is to good composition. The only point of rendering is to capture the idea... but these embalmers build iron walls of technique to cage nothing.

Or as Pyle said: I think first of all (art students) should be taught to believe that all they are learning of technique is only a dead husk in which must be enclosed the divine life of creative impulse.

Also reminds me, a friend of mine once saw Sienkiewicz slathering paint on one of his pictures using a 45rpm record as a brush. As he did this, the artist repeated; "Art, not control... Art, not control..."

3/29/2011 10:25 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

What oddsters. Their artwork is only a byproduct of their real contribution to society: cautionary tales.

I think Korin would have faltered even had he lived another twenty years. He postponed the first brushstroke of his painting until he was well into his seventies, an age at which he'd have lacked the strength to complete a work of that size with any precision.

Ivanov's case is strange in that his "20 year masterpiece" is only 2 feet by 3 feet, and no more detailed than works by Alma-Tadema or Gerome, who could have produced something similar in a couple of months, at most. Maybe he took a lot of pee breaks?

Pappas, who spent a decade on one small headshot, made some glaring errors of value and proportion. (His Marilyn's irises are too pale, her forehead is too dark, the angle of her left eye is wrong, her jaw is too long....) So his piece is lacking its only possible merit: accuracy.

In addition to everything else, working at these guys' speed would entail starting all over again every so often, in order to incorporate any new knowledge gained in the intervening years. Otherwise, you'd end up locked into a composition that represents the skill level you began with. Zero progress!

Sad.

3/30/2011 12:15 AM  
Blogger Neil Toulch said...

OMG, What can I say?

At 58 (outlived so many famous artists) and only recently taken up the obsession - my masterwork may well be nigh- but I pay it no mind.
It is the act of painting every day whereby I find satisfaction.

Thanks for your thought provoking article.

3/30/2011 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand, some people do finish big works. For example, Mucha with his Slav Epic series, Ward's "Gordale Scar", or several by Veronese.

And Wagner finished the Ring, and Gibbon completed the Decline and Fall.

So if one wants to try something grand, why not give it a go?

DC

3/30/2011 11:50 AM  
Blogger Siolo Thompson said...

Excellent post! I had not heard of Pappas and his 'Marylin', what an intriguing story. As an artist I am always struggling with the issue of atristic compromise but every painting helps me become more skilled, even if it's a crappy advert for some product. I lean through the execution of the work how to be a better painter and for me that brings a different value to the question of gains/integrity. I'm still planning my 'masterwork', hopefully I won't die before it's completion!

3/30/2011 11:54 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Matthew Harwood-- I don't think we disagree. That next image that is taking shape in our head is what keeps us going forward. (If you succeeded in completing even one painting in your 25 years, you've already done better than Korin!)

Charles George Esperanza-- Sometimes it's better if people don't realize the effort that went into your work, as long as they appreciate the thought. Is your children's book the one you make available in pdf form on your web site, or is it somethng different?

Anonymous-- agreed. If the quality of the work itself is there, then your friend didn't lose the gamble after all.

3/30/2011 8:14 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger and Blake-- I think that for most of us, there is (after a certain point) what economists call a "diminishing marginal utility" to each successive brush stroke (or what Don called "dithering.") I am certainly guilty of it; sometimes knowing when to let go is the toughest decision.

It is hard to keep a painting vital and dynamic after ten years. Hopefully we are very different artists (and human beings) at the end of a ten year period than we were at the beginning.

Kev Ferrara-- I know Pyle felt that way about the contribution of feeling and spirit to a finished painting. Of course, there are some plenty of successful painters out there who go about their work as methodically as accountants, but there's no denying that Pyle's approach produced marvelous results for him.

Does Sienkiewicz really use a 45rpm record as a brush? Cool!

Jesse Hamm-- Agreed. There are cautionary tales in artists who aimed high but crashed and burned spectacularly. Yet, people continue to reach for the stars, and I'm kind of glad they do.

3/30/2011 8:32 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Neil Toulch-- Thanks very much, I appreciate it.

Siolo Thompson-- Thanks, it's good to hear you have such enthusiasm for the road ahead. I hope you divide your projects into increments shorter than 20 years!

3/30/2011 8:43 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

I can't vouch that Sienkiewicz ever used a record to paint with more than that one time. And that Pyle quote that technique by itself has no life, has been repeated in a thousand different forms by a thousand different artists. I just happened to have the Pyle version handy.

3/30/2011 10:20 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

In addition to everything else, working at these guys' speed would entail starting all over again every so often, in order to incorporate any new knowledge gained in the intervening years. Otherwise, you'd end up locked into a composition that represents the skill level you began with. Zero progress!

This is an excellent point, Jesse. This happened to me on my graphic novel, in fact. I started it a while back, did pages here and there, but when I finally got going on it I soon realized how little I knew about anything and the entire process became a very intense learning process. By the time I finished, I felt like I was aping the style I began with, in order to keep continuity.

3/30/2011 10:55 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Is it passion or is it a compulsive disorder? The bigger question here is what compels a person to devote themselves to their art? From Michelangelo painting the ceiling of Sistine Chapel to Sam Rodia constructing the Watts Tower, what makes human beings strive to overcome all obstacles and realize their grand vision?

3/31/2011 11:11 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous / DC wrote: "On the other hand, some people do finish big works."

Exactly. That's where the grandeur of the challenge lies. If a decade-long painting was merely a foolish and hopeless gesture, there wouldn't be much point in writing about one. But I approve of big challenges and I have written about successful epic paintings, such as
Ivan Albright's astonishing painting of "The Door," that were successfully completed after ten years of hard labor.

3/31/2011 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

It's as well Korin never did paint his masterpiece.He'd have spent the rest of his life painting out heads as the subjects fell foul of the Kremlin and were executed.
Rodchenko learnt just such a lesson.

4/01/2011 3:57 AM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

Have you ever been to Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA? They have a truly remarkable painting there by Jan Styka- The Crucifiction. The painting is monumental, almost as wide as a city block. It was painted for a world's fair and after the fair it was wrapped around a telephone pole and shoved into storage. Hubert Eaton, the fella that created Forest Lawn discovered it, dusted it off and built a 3/4 scale Gothic cathedral to display it in. It's well worth the trip to visit it if you visit LA. They have a cheesy light show with music and Charleton Heston narration to show it off, but the sheer scale of the thing can't be made trivial by the kitsch presentation.

4/03/2011 2:36 PM  
Blogger Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Another very enjoyable post!

I think, however, that it might be a mistake to read the story of Pavel Korin as merely a cautionary tale. For me, at least, there is something Borgesian about the way all those preparations, notes, sketches and studies are fixed in orbit around his intended painting, perhaps ultimately defining his idea in the most appropriate fashion.

Had he actually painted the "the last parade of the Orthodox Church, depicting the tragedy and at the same time the misery of those people who would will disappear into irrelevancy", would it not most likely have disappeared into irrelevancy by now?

Instead, his vision exists and is relevant. It is unseen, but the effects of it's gravitational well is undeniable.

For me, this is not an allegory of failure, but one of defiance in the face of inevitable deafeat. Of not accepting the tragedy of every life dedicated to creative work - it is never finished, it merely stops.

The story of Pavel Korin is the story of every artis who ever lived.

4/03/2011 5:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Bravo Øyvind Lauvdahl

4/03/2011 9:33 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

What?

Eh?

Korin's work is unimaginative and he was unproductive.

The two probably go hand in hand, as the really great imaginations, when properly trained, seems to do a lot with their time. Maybe Korin was depressive, who knows.

All I know is that N.C. Wyeth made 3000 illustrations for publication, and hundreds of them are great. Frazetta has 40 or so great images to his credit and a hundred or so finished ink illustrations that are great. Pyle has hundreds of finished images worthy of note. Coll has 100s. Fuchs has hundreds. Sickles has hundreds. Rockwell has hundreds. Leyendecker hundreds. Etc.

Aside from a few nice portraits, Korin had one big boring idea which he didn't finish. I don't see any resemblance between him and the fast company mentioned above. Nor is there any resemblance between Korin and a whole host of artist friends of mine who complete work after work after work, week after week, at the top of their capabilities.

There is nothing valiant in Korin wasting his life procrastinating over the final execution of a dull work. That's like comparing a hitter who never even swings the bat to Mickey Mantle.

No guts, no glory, no nothing. (Except maybe fuel for a nice life-lesson post from David Apatoff years down the road in the fabulous future.)

4/04/2011 1:36 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/04/2011 1:58 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

kev farrara, to be fair to Pavel Korin, his oeuvre is more vast than David lets on in his Post. The preparation and studies for his grand work are what he is famous for. Another factor that needs to be underscored, Korin was an artist that lived and produced art in the Soviet Union - a prison state. The interesting thing about Korin’s unfinished symphony is what is implied. I thought Øyvind Lauvdahl expressed it beautifully.

4/04/2011 2:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Matthew, I did a google search of Korin after reading David's post and went through quite a number of his images on Russian language sites so I could get a better sense of his career. As I said, I found a few of his portraits to be very good indeed, but ultimately it seemed to me his worked lacked imagination.

If you want to make a case that Korin did not finish his work about what had been lost in the revolution because of what had been lost in the revolution... then I see the opportunity for a deeper understanding of the man's life, but not a redemption of the work he planned, nor a redemption of his inability to finish it. Why romanticize the matter?

4/04/2011 4:35 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Why romanticize the matter?

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this. I like the idea that the human spirit will find a way to express itself even in the most difficult of circumstances. I like the idea, and I don't know if this is true, that a painter found away to express a big idea that got passed the KGB knuckle draggers that were assigned to keep him in line.

4/04/2011 5:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/04/2011 6:38 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

He didn't complete the expression. And I'm not sure if the picture, had it been completed, really would have expressed much of anything, (let alone been an important expression.) If art is to be used as rhetoric (not in the pejorative sense), then it must have an orator's power.

Picasso's Guernica may look like a funny cartoon, but at least it attempts to reflect the tragedy and horror of what it refers to... And it was finished.

4/04/2011 6:40 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Exactly. The first brushstroke on that massive canvas would have ruined the concept.

4/04/2011 7:11 PM  
Blogger Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

I apologize for the delayed reply. And, thank you, Matthew Harwood, for the kind words.

I didn't intend a complete revision of the man's life. To whatever degree they can be trusted, historical facts are what they are. There is no point in denying it - the canvas is empty. ( For the same reason, the factual accuracy of phrases such as "unimaginative", "unproductive", "wasting his life", "procrastinating", "No guts, no glory, no nothing", remains unknown to me. I am certain, however, that since Mr. Ferrera so confidently speaks of these matters, he has done extensive research on Pavel Korin. )

The canvas is empty, but the story of the canvas is brimming with content. And my main point is that this story, like all good stories, can be told in more ways than one. Don't trust me on this, ask any storyteller. I just wanted to offer another variation, a reframing if you will (excuse the pun).

And, even though statistical facts gathered from the halls of fame are a fine thing, I find it helps to step outside at least once in a while, if only to clear my head, breathe the fresh air and maybe even possibly experience some new sense of wonder.

4/05/2011 3:24 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Reality.... its there for you to see. If you can stand it.

The words we use to describe reality aren't the enemy, but they make convenient scapegoats when the truth can't be changed.

4/05/2011 10:54 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/05/2011 1:42 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Yes but as artists we often find different ways to express or to interpret that reality. In Gestalt psychology, the example is given of the picture of the silhouettes of two faces or the vase. To perceive one is to exclude the other but either interpretation of the "reality" is valid.

4/05/2011 1:46 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Listen, I know the cup is half empty, Rashomon drill... That's different than indulging in fancy or fantasy.

Is there evidence that Korin did not finish this work for fear of his life? It seems to me he would have hid the studies had that been the case. A thought crime doesn't need to be completed. It just needs to be thought, and any evidence of that thought is enough to convict in a totalitarian situation. Seems it was all right out in the open.

Secondarily, it seems Korin did in fact plan to complete the work. So he neither hid his plans, nor did he abandon them. Clearly fear of retribution wasn't the issue. He just planned and planned, all potential energy and no kinetic as the saying goes. Or as John Lennon had it, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."

Alright? So... the facts are he openly worked on the idea his entire adult life and didn't even start it. That's the story, like it or not.

4/05/2011 2:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

According to Wikipedia:

"Korin feverishly painted people present at the burial service for Tikhon, often the last survivors of families of Russian nobility, or dissident priests, soon to be destroyed. Rumors about the dangerous painting soon became a matter of NKVD interest."

"The NKVD contained the regular, public police force of the USSR but is better known for the activities of the Gulag and the Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB), which eventually became the Committee for State Security (KGB). It conducted mass extrajudicial executions, ran the Gulag system of forced labor camps, suppressed underground resistance, conducted mass deportations of entire nationalities and Kulaks to unpopulated regions of the country, guarded state borders, conducted espionage and political assassinations abroad, was responsible for influencing foreign governments, and enforced Stalinist policy within communist movements in other countries."

4/05/2011 2:40 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Matthew, anybody reading this can quickly check wikipedia to read the next few sentences that you, just by accident I'm sure, clipped off your quote... which indicates that, following Gorky's suggestion, the renaming of the painting made it safe from NKVD meddling.

FYI:
bad faith 1) n. intentional dishonest act by not fulfilling legal or contractual obligations, misleading another, entering into an agreement without the intention or means to fulfill it, or violating basic standards of honesty in dealing with others. Most states recognize what is called "implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing" which is breached by acts of bad faith, for which a lawsuit may be brought (filed) for the breach (just as one might sue for breach of contract). The question of bad faith may be raised as a defense to a suit on a contract. 2) adj. when there is bad faith then a transaction is called a "bad faith" contract or "bad faith" offer. (See: good faith, fraud, clean hands doctrine)

4/05/2011 3:32 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

I apologize kev. It wasn’t my intention to deceive. The rest of the Wikipedia quote:

“In 1931 Maxim Gorky advised Korin that the name Requiem for Russia was too strong to be accepted and recommended a change to Русь Уходящая - literally Rus that is going away, but usually translated as Farewell to Rus. Gorky believed that the painting showing the last parade of the Orthodox Church, depicting the tragedy and at the same time the misery of those people who would will disappear into irrelevancy, would be accepted and even well-received by the Government. Korin agreed with the new name of the painting.”

This reminds me of Veronese's Inquisition Trial and the Last Supper being changed to the Wedding at Cana.

4/05/2011 3:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

No problem, Matthew. /hat tip/

Be well,
kev

4/05/2011 11:57 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Thanks Kev.

What interested me was that Korin's painting was described as Dangerous. Why?

More Wikipedia:

"The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion and its replacement with atheism. Toward that end, the communist regime confiscated religious property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. The confiscation of religious assets was often based on groundless accusations of illegal accumulation of wealth."

"Marxism-Leninism has consistently advocated the control, suppression, and, ultimately, elimination of religious beliefs. Within about a year of the revolution the state expropriated all church property, including the churches themselves, and in the period from 1922 to 1926, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were killed (a much greater number was subjected to persecution)."

4/06/2011 12:50 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

“Pavel Korin was born in the village of Palekh …to a family of a professional icon-painter Dmitry Nikolaevich Korin [in] 1892. In 1897, when Pavel was only five years old, his father died. In 1903-1907 he studied at the School for Icon Painting at Palekh getting a formal certificate as a professional icon-painter. In 1908 he moved to Moscow and until 1911 worked there at the Icon shop of the Don Monastery.”

“In 1911 he worked as an apprentice to Mikhail Nesterov on frescoes…at the Convent of Martha and Mary…in Moscow. In 1926 the Convent of Martha and Mary was closed by the Soviets and all the art there was to be destroyed. Pavel and his brother Alexander managed to smuggle out and save the iconostasis and some of the frescoes. On March 7 of that year he married Praskovya Tikhonovna Petrova, a disciple of the Convent of Martha and Mary.”

“In 1931 Korin started to work as the Head of the Restoration Shop of Museum of the Foreign Art...He held this position for until 1959. After this he held the position of the Director of the State Central Art Restoration Works…until his death. As one of the most senior Russian restorers of the time he contributed enormously to the saving and restoration of famous paintings.”

4/06/2011 4:09 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

“In 1933 Korin moved to the studio on Malaya Pirogovka Street in Moscow where he worked until his death. Now the building is Korin's museum.”

Korin’s Museum?

My hypothesis: the grand canvas for Korin’s life’s work was really the contents of his house, left to history just as he planned, a finished piece of art, expressing his love of icons and as much religious context he dared share in a society that was trying to stamp that religion out.

From the website of the State Tretyakov Gallery:

“The House-Museum of Pavel Korin, part of the All-Union (All-Russia since 1994) Museum Association of the State Tretyakov Gallery, is located in a small building on 16-2 Malaya Pirogovskaya Street. The artist moved here in 1933. A considerable part of P.Korin’s creative and art collecting work, which consisted of an extensive collection of old Russian icons, is associated with the house. At the end of his life the artist composed a will where he left everything he owned, including his icon collection, house and everything that was in it to the Tretyakov Gallery. His property was to be preserved in the same condition as the day he died. When Pavel Korin died, his widow Prascovia Korina addressed the Gallery and the Ministry of Culture in the USSR in 1967 with the same proposal. The Council of Ministers of the USSR passed a decree accepting the old Russian art collection as a gift and established an art museum, a branch of the Tretyakov Gallery, in the Pavel Korin’s house. Its first director and guardian was Prascovia Korina.”

4/06/2011 4:14 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/06/2011 5:41 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

You are back projecting postmodernist pseudo profundities about "what is art?" onto an artist that had no discernable association with those ideas.

The oppressive history of the USSR is well known to most readers here.

4/06/2011 5:43 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

This discussion reminds me of a debate between C. S. Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard (summarized here and available here), in which they argued the merits of two competing views of poetry -- or, by extension, art. On one view, art's purpose is to reveal the artist, the way a primitive man's garbage and tools reveal him to an anthropologist. The artist's intent in that case is mostly irrelevant to what his works reveal about his identity. On the other view, art's purpose is to reveal the world outside of the artist, or at least parts of it that might have been missed by others. In that case, the artist's intent is important, but his own identity is irrelevant. Lewis and Tillyard conceded that both identity and intent may be at least somewhat relevant to art appreciation, but they differed over which of those matters is trivial and which is paramount.

I'm not sure which side I agree with. If identity is paramount, why even bother with art? We can just study people's habits and conversation, and spare them the trouble of expressing themselves through hard-won craft. But if intent is paramount, you have to grapple with the fact that most artists -- even good ones -- have a lot of stupid things to say, and are themselves often more interesting than their opinions.

In Korin's case, I find both his intentions and his life uninspiring.

4/06/2011 9:18 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

(First, I apologize for the heavy text. I only wanted to demonstrate my speculation was based on some facts.)

It was his destiny to be an iconographer. It was in his genes. That whole world was almost completely destroyed. He risked his life to save what he could. How do you secure what you love for future generations? I think he developed a code that could be read by like minded individuals and not be rejected by the censors in a life or death strugle. I find it revealing that in his preliminary sketch for his opus only the elements of religious significance are rendered in color.

4/06/2011 9:42 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Jesse, that argument reminds me of a question once put to Orson Welles about his use of the Scorpion and the Frog fable in one of his movies. They asked him whether he could categorize people along those two lines and he replied, "no, there's a lot more animals to choose from."

4/06/2011 10:22 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Kev, surely Lewis and Tillyard knew other theories of art; those two are just the ones the men happened to clash over.

4/07/2011 2:58 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/07/2011 12:44 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Thanks Jesse. This helps me see Kev's point.

I am not arguing that we look at Korin's large canvas and put an asterisk next to it to explain what he intended and that his intention and extenuating circumstances make it great art. My argument is that Korin’s life’s work has meaning and his contribution to the arts was profound.

4/07/2011 12:46 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I actually don't see the connection between the Tillyard-Lewis aesthetic debate and this one about biographical facts and epistemology. I admit I was glib in my reply there, but for the reason stated above. We can get into it another time, I suppose.

I am puzzled by what you say, and how you characterize what you say, Matthew. I feel either I am missing your points or you aren't distinguishing between the following types of statements:

Argument: a discussion in which reasons are put forward in support of and against a proposition/thesis, proposal, or case; a point or series of reasons presented to support or oppose a proposition. A course of reasoning aimed at demonstrating truth or falsehood: A fact or statement put forth as proof or evidence; a reason: A set of statements in which one follows logically as a conclusion from the others.

Hypothesis: A statement that explains or makes generalizations about a set of facts or principles, usually forming a basis for possible experiments to confirm its viability. The technical name for a theory.

Conjecture: Inference or judgment based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence; guesswork, speculation

Assumption: Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition:

Opinion: A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof:

Fancy: A capricious notion; a whim.

Fantasy: An unrealistic or improbable supposition. An imagined event or sequence of mental images, such as a daydream, usually fulfilling a wish or psychological need.

Counterfactual: expressing what has not happened but could, would, or might under differing conditions

Fallacy: an incorrect or misleading notion or opinion based on inaccurate facts or invalid reasoning

4/07/2011 10:47 PM  
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4/08/2011 1:21 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/08/2011 2:55 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/08/2011 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Syd Field said...

Matthew, I see you have an abiding interest in making up stories. Have you considered taking the next step? My courses have been designed for beginners just like you, to take your innate talent for story and narrative and turn it into cash gold and a fun and rewarding career. I encourage you to sign up for the workshops available on my site. I think in the long run, you will find the money well spent towards a lucrative career in showbusiness.

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The Guru of All Screenwriters ~ CNN

4/08/2011 5:19 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Kev,
I must admit my argument is a first draft constructed on the fly. I’m sure given time I could polish the presentation more. If I was an academician writing my dissertation, I would of course need more research. I imagine a trip to Moscow would be in order to collect primary sources, see Korin’s collection for myself, and scour through his old KGB case files.

However, I believe my hypothesis (a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument) makes at least a provocative story. There is enough here to inspire a “Doctor Zhivago” style novel. Of course, the novel begins and ends as a love story of Korin and his wife.

The last page of the future screenplay would describe the defeated artist looking up at his massive blank canvas dejected as a failure. The camera pans back to include his sketches and preliminary works and then further pans back for a wide-angle view that includes the icons displayed at his home. Text appears on the screen describing the fall of the USSR and the return of openly practiced religion in Russia. And then a “Schindler's list” of icons and paintings saved by Korin appear one after the other as the credits role.

After I sell the screenplay to Hollywood, the movie version would star Brad Pitt as a red dipper baby attending art school at UC Berkley. At a SDS sit-in he meets the love of his life, Angelina Jolie, a member of the Weather Underground. Agents from the evil Edgar Hoover FBI confront Pitt dissuading him from the completion of his masterpiece that would have ended the Vietnam War. Pitt is forced to become an illustrator for a large advertising firm on Madison Avenue but longs to complete his masterpiece.

Well you get the idea.

4/08/2011 5:59 PM  
Anonymous Syd Field said...

Matthew, I see you have an abiding interest in making up stories. Have you considered taking the next step? My courses have been designed for beginners just like you, to take your innate talent for story and narrative and turn it into cash gold and a fun and rewarding career. I encourage you to sign up for the workshops available on my site. I think in the long run, you will find the money well spent towards a lucrative career in showbusiness.

I look forward to meeting you!

Sincerely,
S.F.

The Guru of All Screenwriters ~ CNN

4/08/2011 6:31 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

It's amazing how words about images always seem to end up being words about words.

4/09/2011 2:09 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Words about anything can become words about words. Because words themselves are opinions, opinions often lead to arguments, and arguments often become about the argument. The playing of the game becomes about establishing the rule set of the game in progress. This is the futile essence of debate. Once the debate has been framed, one side has generally already won.

:)

4/09/2011 3:48 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Alex-- Just think how much easier photoshop would have made Stalin's work repainting the faces in those group portraits.

Stephen Worth-- I've never been afraid of kitsch and I'm certainly a big fan of art in unconventional places, so I am putting the Styka crucifixion on my list.

Oyvind Lauvdahl-- I think there are others who have embraced your alternative way of viewing Korin's aborted project. They compare his unpainted canvas to Malevich's "white on white" canvas, and his preparatory sketches to the sketches of Christo or Duchamp. I'm not sure I am persuaded by these analogies, but I agree that with a little charity and good will, it is possible to breathe a little life into Korin's unfinished work.

4/13/2011 6:30 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "All I know is that N.C. Wyeth made 3000 illustrations for publication, and hundreds of them are great. Frazetta has 40 or so great images to his credit and a hundred or so finished ink illustrations that are great. Pyle has hundreds of finished images worthy of note, etc."

Kev, your list of prolific artists reminds me of how many of the greats combined creativity with extreme productivity and discipline. They just kept pushing finished work out the door. If we look at the work habits of Rockwell, Leyendecker, etc. we see they worked like dogs but were also methodical and goal oriented. I suspect their ability to produce finished work was one of the keys to their greatness. Which brings me to one of your examples in particular, Frazetta. I would not dispute your assessment of "40 or so great images" but that number is pretty anemic compared to the other artists you cite. Frazetta was no Korin, but he did repeatedly brag that he was lazy and would often prefer to be playing baseball and hanging out rather than working. It didn't stop him from becoming a legend and making your list, but when you look at how he ended up, I wonder if he didn't cheat himself with his work habits. After his illness and his stroke, he struggled so hard to teach himself to work with his left hand, and managed to produce limited, inferior output. Do you think that, during that disabled period, he had moments of thoughtfulness about his missed opportunities to produce more during his prime? He might have produced two excellent paintings during his peak in the time it took him to produce one inferior painting post-stroke.

4/13/2011 8:57 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

It is always interesting to read people's thoughts on art blogs. I think it is a good way to share information between us artists and give us exposure.I recommend you to visit our blog http://segmation.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/3-ways-that-artists-can-benefit-from-blogging/ and share ideas. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

4/19/2011 4:50 PM  

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