Wednesday, August 01, 2012

DOUGLAS DUER (1887-1964)

You don't hear much about Douglas Duer these days but the once popular illustrator painted for books and magazines from 1912 until the Great Depression.


A student of Howard Pyle, Duer worked for magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and Red Book, and illustrated covers for Zane Grey novels such as Riders of the Purple Sage.  During the Depression Duer's illustration work dried up so he found work painting murals for the WPA.  Later he made a living doing advertising work and greeting cards.



 Duer belonged to that school of artists who painted the world in smooth, rounded forms with no cracks, sharp points or frayed edges.  His figures had skin like a porcelain doll's.



It's difficult to say why a whole flock of artists during this period were attracted to such a clean, artificial look, but artists such as Enoch BollesTamara de Lempicka, Thomas Hart Benton and Dean Cornwell all painted with a similar style.  They took the idealized flesh of Ingres and Bouguereau and converted it into injection molded plastic.

Personally, I suspect this style became popular because these artists worked in an era where  science, industrialization and mass production held out the prospect of designing our own environments. In a man made world, everything became cleaner and more streamlined-- polished steel and aerodynamic engineering eclipsed the unruly knots and warts of organic nature.  This aesthetic seemed to apply to people as well.


This stylistic moment did not last long, nor did Duer's career as an illustrator.  But Duer produced some nice work during this interval, and it continues to appeal.

99 Comments:

Anonymous MORAN said...

Malcolm Liepke paints the same way. Every face has a white highlight, like it has been painted with shellac.

8/01/2012 5:23 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

I’m surprised by your coolness to Duer’s work David. The synthesising impulse which is the hallmark of all artistic endeavour courts a fine line between optimum fermentation and bland sweetness. Pyle’s own work is not immune, but is often masked by the muscle of his scenarios. Duer’s temperament sought the poetry of stasis and was perhaps not served well by the requirements of illustration.

8/01/2012 7:30 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Nice selection of images. Hadn't seen any of them.

I think the broad painting style can be traced most clearly to Manet and Homer in the modern era. Robert Henri was a big proponent of the Manet style and brought it to NYC, eventually leading to the breakout of the Ashcan school, which was very influential in the NY scene.

The fact that such a style, when done in a simplified way, is graphically effective on the page, and a quicker way to paint, explains the rise of the style in illustration. It really was a kind of advanced cartooning done in oils.

There is a beautiful life painting by NC Wyeth done in Pyle's class of a cavalier (1903) that shows the Manet influence most clearly: But painted with so much more sensitivity than Duer had.

Pyle was also an avid fan of Homer and promoted him to his students.

MacCleland Barclay, early Mead Schaeffer, the Rozen brothers, and Walter Baumhoffer were also in this style.

8/02/2012 12:53 AM  
Anonymous Priscila Yambay said...

I especially like the second picture, is quite striking, it brings to mind some peculiar moods, I hope not to bore you with this comment hahahaha

8/02/2012 5:21 PM  
Blogger Donald Pittenger said...

Smoothness and simplification of surfaces to the point that they became visibly something more than the simplification most artists do in the normal course of things can be linked to Modernism and its stylistic desiderata.

Yes, Tamara de Lempicka in her heyday carried smoothness and simplification far beyond what Duer did, though her work was "conservative" in that human proportions were not grossly distorted. So Duer might be said to inch in her direction, but not even so far as Petty and Varga did in the 1930s. I'll have more about this sort of thing in an e-book that might appear later this year.

Your thoughts regarding technological or industrial analogies are apt because those too are part of Modernism.

Actually, I kinda like Duer. Thank you for calling him to our attention.

8/02/2012 7:27 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- It's true, Liepke seems to work the same way. Like Cornwell, he applies oil paint in that thick, buttery style. But unlike Cornwell, Liepke seems unable to resist using that same white highlight on every forehead and every nose.

Chris Bennett-- Did I sound cool toward Duer? I didn't intend to. I admit I don't think he is one of the great geniuses of illustration, but I wrote about him here because I think he definitely deserves more attention than he gets these days (which is none). I like this streamlined look.

Kev Ferrara wrote, "Hadn't seen any of them."

That's why I wrote, "You don't hear much about Douglas Duer these days."

That's an extremely interesting take on the genealogy of this "look." Mead Schaeffer definitely had a period like this, as did Cornwell and Brangwyn, although they all seemed to move in and out of it. Even Leyendecker had a long period when he painted flesh like a high gloss, manufactured veneer. I confess I would not have thought of Manet as a precursor, but I guess there were some (le dejeuner, for example) where he used that approach. The same with Homer (perhaps this is more Hopper than Homer?) But I do like the notion of "advanced cartooning done in oils." (I don't view "cartooning" as a pejorative term, and hope you didn't intend it as such).

Since you raise McClelland Barclay, I am trying to confirm a story I was told while researching the Albert Dorne book for Auad Publishing. I was told that Barclay was on the second floor of the Society of Illustrators, flexing his muscles in front of other illustrators and crowing about how macho he was, when Dorne socked him in the head and knocked him halfway down the stairs. The story is that Dorne (who was a professional boxer before he became an illustrator) took exception to Barclay's description of his female conquests. Has anyone out there heard this story? Do you have any verification?

8/02/2012 11:46 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Priscila Yambay-- Not bored at all. Thanks for writing.

Donald Pittenger-- Petty is another good example. I think you're right, the interesting point arrives when the artist goes beyond simplification and transforms the subject matter into a different, idealized substance-- for example, painting flesh like shiny molded plastic.

All of the artists we've discussed, including Kev's Manet and Homer, all worked post-industrial revolution, when man made environments began to seem feasible.

An e-book? How cool! Tell us more.

8/03/2012 12:16 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David-- ‘Coolness’ was possibly the wrong term. ‘Less hot than I would have expected’ is a tad clumsy though!

Regarding Kev’s Manet influence, I’m in disagreement with him. Ingres would be a better example. Your word ‘streamlining’ gets to the heart of this particular artistic impulse. Manet may have simplified his forms, but it was not in an effort at idealism, but rather that of graphic impact and truculence – the opposite of streamlining.

Donald Pittanger is nearer the mark by mentioning Petty and Varga, who, deep down, really have ancient Greek sculpture at the back of their minds. And I believe this is what lay behind Duer’s too.

This has little to do with the gloss of surfaces either. Modigliani is in the same artistic temperamental camp as Ingres, Petty and Duer, yet his surfaces are rough physically and by implication.

8/03/2012 5:04 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

D.A., nice clone-stamp job on Duer137!

I feel as though I'm in Bizarro Land. Two separate styles are being discussed as though they were one. Manet v. Cabanel, Hals v. Reni, aggressive staccato v. smooth glissando. I mean, Bolles v. Brangwyn, would someone please pass the bath salts. (I give up)

That Benton is going for a Renaissance fresco effect, i.e., Michelangelo or Pontormo.

fun facts & figures:

Manet ~ 6+ years under Couture (Manet's hagiographers tell us that this period was followed by the obligatory repudiation of Couture's teachings.)

Henri ~ 3 years at l'Académie Julian in the class of Bouguereau/Tony Robert-Fleury. The "Gist of Art" highlights the influence that their friend, illustrator Charles A. Winter*, had on Sloan, Henri, and Bellows. Chapter vii : Painting, details a palette that many of Henri's modern devotees are in willful ignorance of.

Petty ~ 3(?) years at l'Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens, some of his other "illustration" students: the Leyendeckers, Anton Otto Fischer, Mucha, S. N. Abbott, Ernest L. Blumenschein, Richard E. Miller, J. Allen St. John, Jules Guerin, William H. Cotton, Antonin Sterba (see my blog post), Wellington J. Reynolds (a post to yet come)

*Charles Allan Winter ~ 2 years at l'Académie Julian, Bouguereau/Gabriel Ferrier

8/03/2012 9:23 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Well, Ingres was certainly the earliest example of this look that came to my mind (his painting The Source could have been the inspiration for Duer or Bolles-- all you'd need is a little tarty make up.) Manet, on the other hand, I always thought of as a painter who liked to show his brush strokes. He does seems to have gone for a flatter, smoother look upon occasion. Perhaps Kev has some specific suggestions?

I take your point about classical Greek sculpture-- polished marble has the same flawless, smooth quality as the painted surfaces we have been discussing. (Besides, it helps that marble is not a medium where an artist can easily depict wrinkles and lines with brush strokes.) But I would think the inspiration in a post industrial world was a little bit different than the inspiration for the Greeks. Previously sculptors were trying to find the art in the stone, and to chip away everything that wasn't art, in order to make something of beauty and permanence. But by the time of Ingres and the artists that followed, people were molding metals to make steam engines and heavy industrial equipment, using polished, rounded surfaces. The promise and excitement of these transformations were palpable for artists. Unlike the Greeks, these people had a feeling for the first time that they could remake their environment along their own idealized lines. (The great industrial designer Peter Behrens played a visionary role in this process. Perhaps the motivation of the artist, or the sociological context is not as important as the physical art itself, but I do think that the context matters: Greek sculptors did not streamline their figures with aerodynamic art deco lines because aerodynamic aesthetics were a product of 20th century speed.

8/03/2012 11:19 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- Re Duer137, I don't always encounter these images from dusty old magazines in a time or place where scanning or photoshop capabilities are optimal. But we limp along as best we can.

As for discussing Bolles and Brangwyn in the same breath, I think that's one of the things I'm proudest of around here. I like the way this group rejects class distinctions maintained by sniffy museums, auction houses and pedants. It would not be in the financial interest of such guardians of culture to dilute the fine art brand by mentioning a commercial tradesman like Brangwyn in the same breath as Manet, but the people who chime in here seem willing to give every image a fair chance on a level playing field. They will look with fresh eyes to see if Ingres has something in common with MAD magazine. I am very fond of them for that.

You more than anyone else live in Music Bizarro land, drawing analogies with all kinds of weird and long forgotten music dredged up from the far corners of the galaxy (Rah Rah, Rasputin!). I always find their juxtaposition with even the highest art entertaining and interesting.

Putting all that aside, where on earth did you find those "fun facts and figures," especially the ones about Petty, Fischer and Cotton?

8/03/2012 11:54 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This is a great conversation in the making. Too bad we aren't all in the same place so we can do this over coffee and art books. (For example, if I said Sloan was full of crap half the time, it would be much easier to demonstrate around a table, with back and forth argument and ready-to-hand examples, than online as here)

Understanding the distinction between classical aesthetics and romantic/symbolist aesthetics is critical to distinguishing the styles at play here. It is the difference between describing and idealizing versus implying and romanticizing. As time wore on, the best training increasingly concentrated on the role of the imagination in creating form and depth. (Moving from Platonism to Symbolism, one might say, serenity to expressionism) Although the impressionists rejected narrative and romantic metaphor, they used the romantic technology of imaginative suggestion to manifest form and space

(This is not to say that Classical art wasn't also using romantic techniques to some degree. But it was almost an accidental byproduct of the application of some classical tenets by the heavweight talents, rather than an M.O. that was applied globally. The extent/depth to which the imagination may suffuse a canvas only gradually became appreciated.)

Guys like Manet, Puvis De Chavennes, Van Gogh, Vouillard... the information they were working with precipitated out of Romanticism as it was being techologized in the hot house environment of 19th C. salons and ateliers and top schools (Paris, Munich) for use in Salon painting.

I think Bolles was a cartoonist plain and simple. He may have been influenced by any number of smooth breadthy painters, but only at the surface level. There's no indication he actually understood the philosophy. And it is the philosophy of aesthetic form that I am tracing here. Not all connection between student and school are hard and fast. Leyendecker was considerably influenced by late romantic and post impressionist ideas after leaving school. Anton Otto Fischer clearly became a Brandywine artist in philosophy after he studied with Pyle, regardless of who he studied with in Europe prior. One needs to look at the principles at work in the application. Pedigree/lineage quickly becomes meaningless. Just look at Brangwyn's earliest work compared to what he became. Do you think William Morris is actually part of his lineage in any meaningful way?

8/03/2012 12:17 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

All of these comments are really informed and insightful...but...to bring things down to a base schoolbay level, what's up with the weird choices made in the third image? The woman (who apparently has the mumps) is a magical genie who's sprung from the man's zipper to grant him awkward tangents galore (mostly the one where the corner of his jacket meets the top of the genie smoke coming out of his pants.)
I do like thid gus's work...but it's also nice to see he's human.

8/03/2012 1:25 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Ok...I should look at my comments before I post them (to bad I can't edit them after the fact) but...I like this "guy's" work" and as for tangents "galore"....um....that was really over stating it but, the one that's there is pretty glaring.

8/03/2012 1:29 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

"Schoolboy"
Wow...have I been drinking?....I can't remember.

8/03/2012 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Jacques Protat said...

HI David,
I am only now discovering your fantastic blog, looking for classic illustration art collectors, so congratulations! I could not find a feed option though. Is there one I missed?
Also, I would of course appreciate a link to my gallery!
Congratulations and best wishes,
Jacques

8/03/2012 3:44 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David Apatoff -- “Greek sculptors did not streamline their figures with aerodynamic art deco lines because aerodynamic aesthetics were a product of 20th century speed.”

I believe that they are expressions of an identical aesthetic impulse, but achieved by different means.

Streamlining, in its purest, most puritan form, is a result of form following function with regard to the least troublesome passage through a medium.

Idealism is a concrete expression of the impulse to the transcendental; the ideal, unsullied by the corporeal drag of the roughage of everyday flux.

The lines of a sports car and the airliner are the embodiment of worldly escapism.
The Greek ideal is an expression of the universal principle of transcendence over a medium. And as such, can be considered a presentiment of same principle manifested as aerodynamics.

8/03/2012 3:49 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

Kev Ferrara, what do you think is the difference between idealizing and romanticizing?

8/03/2012 5:29 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Chris: "Regarding Kev’s Manet influence, I’m in disagreement with him."

me too. i see zero Manet influence here.

the last two paintings don't fit the 'streamline molded' style of David's initial take, and have a much more vigorous, flickier surface akin to NC Wyeth.

i also see hints of Mucha in the earlier smooth style.

8/03/2012 5:59 PM  
Anonymous Will said...

This post is so simple, yet I am moved. I'm not the only one just look at all the intelligent responses. David can I ask how you became a blogger, what you read, what is your training, etc. i know this sounds like sucking up, but I am honestly curious.

8/03/2012 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A non-sequitur for you; have you ever blogged about the Australian painter/ illustrator/ sculptor/ writer/ all round creative guy Norman Lindsay?? Made quite a splash down here in his time. Oh, and thankyou, love your blog, Leah

8/03/2012 10:46 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Moran, I would put the distinction this way, Ideality (in the narrow sense) purifies a conception toward a more Apollonian state of timeless perfection. Whereas Romanticism exaggerates and emotionalizes a conception toward a more intense expression of experience. Good art almost always has some of each tendency, with one tendency usually dominant.

Here’sthe Wyeth I was referring to.

8/03/2012 11:29 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

I second Chris Bennet and Laurence John.

Kev I understand and now see where you're coming from. It is the D.A. thats dithering!

"Pedigree/lineage quickly becomes meaningless."
~ Granted, i speak to artistic integrity and the ground for a richer aesthetic sense.

"Just look at Brangwyn's earliest work compared to what he became. Do you think William Morris is actually part of his lineage in any meaningful way?"
~ Yes. Its's Brangwyn's earliest paintings, the Newlyn "square brush" marines that don't fit. Look at his tapestries, tiles, furniture, stained glass, tile mosaics, book plates, interior designs, pottery, glass, and a couple of the murals. Perfect sense.

(I've never seen that Wyeth, thanks.)

D.A. asked, "especially the ones about Petty, Fischer and Cotton?"

~ Petty, most of his biographies mention it, from high-school to the Julian Academy under Laurens, then back home at the outbreak of WWI. I don't know the exact length hence the '?', 2 …3years? I've misplaced my info, but I believe Vargas was there also.

~ Anton Otto Fischer : Marine Artist, His Life and Work
by Fischer and Hurst
pgs31~33 ; Paris, Two years under Laurens (includes class photo, Julian's Academie – Jean Paul Laurens on chair in centre : A.O.F. over his left shoulder.)
pg36 A.O.F. did not study with Howard Pyle in Wilmington as many people believe. It is a question often asked.

~ Cotton, the short CV that accompanied all of his entries in fine art competitions and exhibitions. or: Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design: 1826-1925, and the bio on pg116, which also pictures his required ANA diploma presentation, a self-portrait.

8/03/2012 11:47 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

You make a good point that Brangwyn's decorative work has its antecedents in Morris. I wouldn't go so far as to put his painting in that same line.

Fischer was in the Pyle art colony in Wilmington DE from 1908 to 1910.The sole purpose of him moving to a Franklin Street studio was to learn from Pyle how to compose pictures. Just like countless other artists.

By 1908 Pyle no longer had a formal class, but the art colony was still going strong.

Pyle's studio and the 3 adjoining studios were/are at 1305 N. Franklin St. The AOF studio was at 1110 Franklin St. You can walk from one location to the other in about 4 minutes or so. I was just there. The schoonover studio is on Rodney street, also just a few minute's walk away.

8/04/2012 1:07 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "the last two paintings don't fit the 'streamline molded' style of David's initial take, and have a much more vigorous, flickier surface akin to NC Wyeth."

I agree-- the last two were earlier works and less stylized, but I thought it was more important to share Duer's best pictures than to document my thesis. After all, how many more posts on Duer are we likely to see? (I do think the picture with the axe shows Duer starting down the road to that Thomas Hart Benton, rounded forms style.)

norm-- Kev would probably say that your typing teacher concentrated on the role of the imagination and expressionism rather than classical typing skills in teaching you how to use the romantic technology of imaginative suggestion to manifest form and space.

Jacques Protat-- welcome, I enjoyed looking at the art on your web site. I always wondered who outbid me on a couple of those paintings...

8/04/2012 3:11 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Where do these two philosophies of aesthetic form take you with respect to Duer? I don't read you as saying that one philosophy is superior to the other. The romantic period followed the classical in time (this is more clear cut in music than visual arts) but I don't think you would view the romantic as a higher evolutionary stage of art. In the past your comments have suggested that you may be a fan of the classical archetype, but you say in your comment that "the best training increasingly concentrated on the role of the imagination in creating form and depth."

I agree with your point that "Good art almost always has some of each tendency, with one tendency usually dominant." Duer seems to be no exception. He trades in idealized, timeless forms of human beings without freckles or birthmarks, yet there seems to be an element of exaggeration, perhaps brought on by the same social context that seems to have inspired so many of his contemporaries to explore a similar plasticized approach.

I don't deny that there are interesting philosophical observations to be made regarding this spectrum (Nietzsche was highly impressive on the topic) but where do you place Duer on this spectrum and how does his location affect your perception of his art?

As for your point about Bolles being essentially a cartoonist, I agree with you. There are a number of artists who draw in a tighter, more detailed fashion than Bolles (Dorne and Frazetta among them) who also strike me as being largely cartoonists. No crime in that, as far as I can see.

Chris Bennett wrote: "I believe that they are expressions of an identical aesthetic impulse."

I may agree as far as the "process" goes-- "the universal principle of transcendence over a medium" may be an ongoing process, but I'd say that the process digests different substantive content with each successive generation. Hence, the Greek ideal had nothing that looked like aerodynamic streamlining because they had no experience of the speed that we know today.

8/04/2012 5:52 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote: “but I'd say that the process digests different substantive content with each successive generation. Hence, the Greek ideal had nothing that looked like aerodynamic streamlining because they had no experience of the speed that we know today.”

When you say experience of speed, do you mean the witnessing of man-made objects designed to go at fast speeds or the physical experience of speed itself?

I would say that we cannot directly experience speed beyond limited parameters in terms of sensations of the body. And those parameters do not exceed what was available to the ancient Greeks. For example; sitting inside an aircraft is not experiencing speed.
Sitting inside an open top sports car is to experience high wind and the rushing past of the ground close by. Something a Greek horseman would have felt.
Anything faster than this is not experienced as a qualitative difference I terms of emotional experience.

Looking at a streamlined vehicle is to witness the conditions for effortless movement, not the movement itself. An ancient Greek would have witnessed the same thing in a seagull, a dolphin and a discus.

Unless I’m missing something in what you are saying!

8/04/2012 7:56 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

The difference  between classical and the romantic is  how the artist thought, it seems to me. The one being a little more indifferent to it's faith and a little less disturb by the ways of the world or the difference between a calm and accepting mind and the excited and desiring mind.  The desiring mind is always searching for something, wanting something more form life  hoping something is going to fulfill it wishes and hopes for itself.  In that desire  it quickly slips and slides over form and understanding to try and satisfy what it is looking for in a narrative, or story or personality, a distance land a different time in history and it is always left wanting more. It is a state of constant consumption.

And all comparisons are relative.  Manet's work looks one compared to one artist and quite another way compared to another artist.  But his understanding of form is degrees above Duer. And understanding of form leads to clarity of thought.  Frontal lighting doesn't make form flat, it makes it appear flat compared to 3/4 lighting. The key word here is "appears", the artist still has to deal with the form.  In Duer's first illustration the woman's body below the chest line fades away  into an undefined narrow confusion that doesn't seem able to support the weight above it.

In the second illustration I am not  sure what the man is expressing, is that a saxophone in the case or a snake?  And after you do figure it out what 's the revelation, is there really anything there to hold you?

"Hence, the Greek ideal had nothing that looked like aerodynamic streamlining because they had no experience of the speed that we know today."

One only has to look at the moulding the Greeks created, the cyma, cavetto,the ovolo and scotia which all expressed the experience and geometry of speed. However they  seemed to intuited that stability is the first principal in our universe.

8/04/2012 9:41 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

My fascination is with Romanticism. Which is to say, poetry. And how it works. My own sense of the matter is that Classicism is best understood as one particular genre or branch of Romanticism, one particular poetic style with certain aesthetic conventions attached (which cause certain aesthetic results).

The idea that classicism came first in the grand scheme of things actually makes no sense. You can read romantic ideas bandied about in antiquity. You can see them at work in cave paintings. This is not surprising. Because tropes aren't something man developed. It's simply one way our minds work, a particular toolset we have.

I don't have much to say about Duer's work in particular. Pyle was a romantic and taught a particular kind of picture making philosophy which was highly imagination based. This went for anatomical form as much as the overarching reality of the scenario depicted. Duer seems to have digested some of Pyle's teaching, but he has the Bolles tendency (which too many computer cartoonists share) to grossly simplify anatomy rather than poetify it. This confuses the issue.

Comparing Frazetta and Dorne to Bolles also confuses the issue. Because all great figural artists are cartoonists to some degree, in that gesture acts as a foundation for the facts of their depictions. The merit of the thing is to what detail is the character of the object abstracted out as well, and then built back into the gestural form in the event. Rockwell, Dorne, and Leyendecker are the absolute masters at this Brangwyn and Frazetta are petty damn great at it too. Wyeth and Dunn and Pyle, less so. Bolles? Not so much.

Comparing Duer and Robert Riggs might be a sharper comparison.

8/04/2012 8:17 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Throw Louderback in there too, particularly his work prior to 1925.

8/04/2012 8:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett wrote: "An ancient Greek would have witnessed the same thing in a seagull, a dolphin and a discus."

I have a lot of sympathy for the notion that there is nothing new under the sun, and I am prepared to believe that most of the changes in art are attributable to process rather than progress.

Nevertheless, I do believe there is a qualitative difference between Aeschuylus sitting under a tree watching swooping sea gulls and an artist watching a rocket ship blasting off for the moon. I believe there is a qualitative difference between a Greek marathon runner feeling the wind in his face and a modern motorcycle racer seeing the road race by at 80 mph. I think that difference manifests itself in dramatically different art. Once Muybridge demonstrated photographically that all four of a horse's feet leave the ground when it runs, and Giacomo Balla painted his famous dog with the blurring feet, it was only a matter of time before action painting was invented by artists such as Kline and de Kooning, or before Bob Peak began painting race cars distorted by speed and revved up by clashing steel-against-glass fluorescent colors that didn't exist in the days of the ancient Greeks, and artists began using conventions for speed learned from cinema.

I take your point that the efforts of ancient Greeks and Franz Kline could both be called "a concrete expression of the impulse to the transcendental; the ideal, unsullied by the corporeal drag of the roughage of everyday flux." In that sense, they both serve the same procedural role for me. But personally, when I look at Bob Peak's flashing guns, racing horses and leaping cheerleaders,
I experience them as more than just a quantitative increase in velocity, I experience them as a qualitative difference in terms of emotional experience.

What would you say is the reason Greek Sculptures or vase paintings did not show hair flying straight out behind a person or a horse, parallel to the ground?

8/04/2012 9:43 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote, "One only has to look at the moulding the Greeks created, the cyma, cavetto,the ovolo and scotia which all expressed the experience and geometry of speed."

Tom, a very interesting and worthy point which I hadn't considered. By creating straight lines with geometrically curved features not found in nature, the Greeks too were imposing their own aesthetic on nature's shapes. However, I'd say (in fact, I did say in my response to Chris Bennett, above) that this looks very different to me from the aesthetic of speed in modern art. Don't you think that Greek temples looked very static by comparison (in fact, were intended to look very static and solid and stately, rather than dynamic)?

अर्जुन-- I had no idea there were multiple "biographies" of Petty; the closest I've found is his article in Esquire about being a big game hunter. No wonder you're always turning up stuff I'd never heard of. As for l'Académie Julian producing both a Petty and a Vargas, it just goes to show you that teachers can only do so much. After that, it's up to the student.


Will-- You're right, the premise of this blog is "so simple." It was intended to serve as a little oasis of honesty untainted by the professional rivalries, profit motives or social pretensions which distort so much of what passes for dialogue in this field. I'm not saying our dialogues always achieve that level but, it sure helps that I'm not selling anything or running for mayor. I have never taken even the most basic steps to expand the readership or promote this site. Perhaps that why it gets such "intelligent responses" from people who help me learn and who point me to great new pictures. After all, it's all about the pictures.

8/05/2012 6:48 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

David 
Some of the curves come from the conic sections, the ellipse and the hyperbolic which are found in nature, I think.  It is interesting that many of the forms for automobile bodies in the teens and twenties of the last century where design by architecture moulding designers.


In a way speed is orderly too.  And yes a Greek vase painting looks quite static in comparison to a Bob Peak illustration. But cultural I think the dynamic is making us more and more hyper. I remember when the lettering on District police cars where all applied to the doors of the car vertically, stately and calmly.  Now they are still vertical but they have more punch with swooping dynamic lines, frenzied and aggressive, even the color is bold and loud, for what purpose one has to ask.

It seems the dynamic has become a way to compel the viewer's attention. Through violence and excessive stimulus.  But this my get the point across better.  I don't know if you have seen 2001 a space odyssey but if the movie was made today, here is the trailer that would be run the theaters.

http://maxkeiser.com/2012/07/28/2001-a-space-odyssey-2012-trailer-recut/

8/05/2012 8:16 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you, Riggs and Louderback are both closer to Duer than any of the other comparisons we have discussed. I threw in Frazetta and Dorne solely for the point that being a "cartoon" doesn't mean that a picture must be simple, or simple minded. Rockwell, as you say, is another example of that.

But it seems to me you are being awfully tough on "gross simplification" of anatomy. Rockwell, Dorne (and Frazetta too, during at least some phases of his career) could never leave a square inch of flesh unmottled. Bumps, wrinkles, creases and whiskers were their stock in trade. Sometime it poetified, occasionally not so much. But doesn't it seem to you that Duer and Riggs were playing on a different playing field altogether? They took a steam press and ironed all of those bumps, wrinkles, creases and whiskers. Why isn't that just a different type of poetifying?

Grant Wood's landscapes such as "Young Corn," similarly "grossly simplify" nature's shapes, giving hills and trees the shape and texture of plump grapes. They create a sense of bounty and ripeness. The "pastoral" sequence in Fantasia offers another example of fullness and ripeness that resonates with us in a subliminal way. Don't you feel that wrinkle free, spot free, idealized human figures create the same sense of fullness and comfort? And isn't that a valid form of poetification too?

I suppose classicism vs. romanticism creates a "chicken and egg" problem for me. Which came first? Without archetypal rules, where do you get that romantic feeling of overflowing boundaries and transcending restrictions? I was thinking of classicism preceding romanticism because of a prior exchange we had about music, where the romantic era (ushered in by your favorite Beethoven) replaced the precision and complexity of classical composers such as Bach. But I think you said it best when you suggested that there is some of both in the best works-- kind of a yin and yang thing.

8/05/2012 10:18 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Abused horse: Each narrative idea presents its own set of problems. These problems can be solved with respect to the idea, (true poetification) or these problems can be solved by the application of some read-to-hand technique the artist feels comfortable with (stylization, simplification).

Sometimes these ready techniques work adequately and harmonize with the overall poetic idea, sometimes they bodge things because the technical simplification is at odds with the overall poetic idea.

Pyle put it this way: If you live in the picture the drawing will be good. It is bad and looks bad only because something has marred the sanctity of the idea you have been trying to express.)

And the reverse is often true, where too much detail mars the idea (J.F.Kernan, say)

Young Corn does not "grossly" simplify form, but rather poeticizes it in keeping with an overall poetic idea.

Bolles keeps his poetic idea the same every time out of the chute, which is to give an aesthetic quality of cushy warm softness to the skin of his gals. That would be fine if he had other aesthetic ideas as well. But he doesn't, that I can tell. Elvgren is much more clever and creative, and can produce the effect of cushy warm softness without dispensing with the bone structure.

8/05/2012 11:56 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/05/2012 11:59 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote: “I experience them as more than just a quantitative increase in velocity, I experience them as a qualitative difference in terms of emotional experience.”

Emotion, if you can forgive my analogy, can be thought of as the way in which we taste experience physiologically. And like the tongue, there are only a handful of basic taste parameters that are distinct - Sweet, sour and bitter etc, for the tongue - fulfilment, anger and fear etc, for the emotions.
The ways they are combined give us variety in emotional dishes:
A sense of awe, for example, might be thought of as fulfilment mixed with a dash of fear.
The launch of the Saturn 5 instils a sense of awe, as does the sudden appearance of low flying military jets on a quite summer’s afternoon.
But in what way is this sense of awe any different qualitatively from the sense of awe instilled by the sight of an anvil storm cloud or a sudden take-off of flamingos? The butterflies in your tummy getting into a fairground car feel exactly the same as those prior to an important meeting.

Bob Peak’s graphic dynamism could be describing lava from a volcano as much as the razzle-dazzle of modern machine experience. The thrill tastes the same even though its lollipop is pulled from a different mold.
The effect on the psychic taste buds is the same. Raw Mammoth or King Burger – the tongue turns it into the same thing.


David Apatoff writes: “What would you say is the reason Greek Sculptures or vase paintings did not show hair flying straight out behind a person or a horse, parallel to the ground?”

Because they did not experience such effects in common, daily life, I agree. But it does not follow that witnessing these effects adds to the armoury of their artistic expressive potential.
Illustrating hair flying straight out behind a person does not in itself express speed, in the same way that placing a crash helmet on their head doesn’t.
Think of the Greek sculpture, ‘Laocoon and his Sons’, dug up in Michelangelo’s day. What better expression of clouds tortured by the lightning bolt? How close it is to the gimbling thrusters of the Saturn 5 hefting the great white tower into the sky.

The rippling drapery of the Parthenon marbles; the tousled flight suit of the falling sky diver; the ribbed sand of the beach; the cheeks of a man in a centrifuge; the flutes in a Doric column; the vapour trails of a fighter squadron…

8/05/2012 12:08 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Damn:
My post above, first sentence:
"physiologically" should read:
"Pschologically"

Hijacked my meaning altogether!
Bloody spell-checking programs!

8/05/2012 12:36 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Aaargh!

"psychologically"

Dammit!

8/05/2012 12:39 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Just in case it still isn't clear, Chris means that "hair flying straight out behind a moving figure" is an artifact of the movement, not the movement itself. It tells of the movement, but it doesn't demonstrate it. (Chris and I often discuss this important aesthetic distinction in our emails.)

8/05/2012 3:34 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/05/2012 6:59 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

Kev, I gotta disagree with your taste on Bolles. Elvgren shows more bone structure and everything but his dumb calendar gags aren't more poetic than Bolles' love dolls.

8/05/2012 11:23 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I agree that Elvgren's gags can be pretty gag-inducing compared to the lightness of being which buoys Bolles' grinning babes. But I'm not talking about the gags. I'm talking about the aesthetics.

8/06/2012 9:12 AM  
Blogger Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

"Just in case it still isn't clear, Chris means that "hair flying straight out behind a moving figure" is an artifact of the movement, not the movement itself. It tells of the movement, but it doesn't demonstrate it."

Kev, you and Chris just blew my mind a little with that.

8/06/2012 3:28 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

"Each narrative idea presents its own set of problems"


 Hi Kev

Don't you think the narrative idea frees the artist to consider more fundamental  truths about the nature of reality like,  how are the things of the world put together.  I.e. The story just an excuse to do something more fun like experiencing the space we exist in. What always astounds me about art works is how an artist has conceived reality and how they have arranged it.  The narrative or story becomes an excuse to think about more fundamental things like how does the body balance in space above it's legs, or how one thing contrasts with another an yet together they feel harmonious. Quality and strength seems to be a more enduring attribute to the work of art then the story the work tells.


Does the idea of narrative include or mean the emotion one wants to express?

I can't agree on Young Corn in my eyes it does "grossly simplify," it fact I think that is a great way to state it.   The excessive and redundant curvature makes it mostly annoying and predictable as if the artist can not be brother by  relationships.  It remains of Botero where all things become the same and there is no relief from the roundness.  It also feels crowded instead of spatial maybe because the contours of all the forms tend to have the same degree curvature.  That foreground makes me feel like I am in a nose dive and there is no way that I will be able to pull out it before I reach the middle ground. The paintings predictability robs it of any wonder. Not that you might convince me otherwise .

8/06/2012 8:20 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Hey Tom,

In my understanding, Art and Science view reality differently. Finding out how things are put together is an analytical question, so it belongs to science (which leads us to smash atoms to bits to see what the bits are.)

Art, it seems to me, by its nature, deals with abstract essences, which are synthetic, conceptual and human-centric, and exist "beyond" the substance of things we experience. Rather than analyzing things to bits, we imaginatively synthesize all the bits back into abstract wholes, called concepts.

Concepts exist only in the "spiritual realm" of mental abstraction.

Platonists and related philosophies believe this realm of abstraction is the real reality. While materialists cling to the idea that the real reality is purely physical. (Not all scientists are materialists, though. Particularly those who can imagine the consequences of extra dimensions and quantum non-locality.)

I think platonism is a natural philosophy of experience. Blue, for instance, has no material existence. It is merely a sensation. It exists only as a percept. And the icon of blue, the bluest blue that can exist, has never been seen and never will. So the color concept known as "Blue" is only really a conception, the perceptible grayed-down manifestations of which only hint at the actual essence of the idea.

So while I agree that artists seek after truths... I don't think these truths are analytical.

Regarding narrative and emotion: Motion and emotion are correlated at the aesthetic level.

I agree that the emphatic use of visual metaphor in Young Corn causes an absurdist stylization which breaks its sense of reality. I like the picture anyhow. Just like I might like absurdist Humor.

8/07/2012 11:34 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Kev

I guess in a way I don't see a conflict between the two.  It's seems you can only show your understanding, or maybe a better why to say it is you can only express what you consider constitutes reality.  People draw their idea of reality, i.e. they draw the same way, whether they are looking at something or drawing from their imagination.  

I don't know if we can have experience of what is beyond our experience.  Unless you are saying everything , art works, language etc can only point to what can not be spoken.  That we can only talk about or draw in terms of analogy.  A tree trunk is like a  cylinder, a river is like a branching system. 
Or the zen expression, " the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon."


When someone shows me a new way to look at things, or I come up with a new analogy for drawing something, I see it in the world, it is reality.  Where does the world end and concepts begin,at what point?

The blue of the sky after a cold front comes through will always be greater then any concept or idea of blueness I hold in my head, or even what a scientist tells me  what blue is conceptual. It is unfathomable. And what is blue without all its other relations in the world. I am always amazed at how weak conceptions are in the face of reality.

Understanding may be analytical but the drawing is the synthesizing of that understanding. The response to a strongly felt emotion.

Are motion and emotion correlated in rhythm?






 

8/09/2012 5:52 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Tom,

Not sure of your argument because you seem to both agree and disagree with me about some of the specifics I offered up. But I'll address a few points quickly..

I think you are assigning an abiding interest to artists that isn't necessarily there. Your choice of the word "constitutes" implies that all artists try to convey an analytic theory of material reality in their works. Very few have ever done so that I know of, and those that have are necessarily trafficking in either metaphor or pseudo science.

The opposite idea is the common one, of artists conveying a synthetic reality. For the entire history of painting as a popular art, the vast majority of artists were trained in one brand of philosophical idealism or another. And idealism can account for the sensual world as both real and conceptual without becoming analytical about the nature of matter.

The platonic nature of some iconic blue is an intellectual proposition. I'm not suggesting you can imagine a bluer blue than the bluest blue you have ever seen. But I am suggesting there always is a bluer blue than you have seen. And this leads one to extrapolate towards the icon of the color. It is a bit like contemplating infinity.

Motion and emotion are correlated in all ways.

8/09/2012 12:09 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

I just returned from traveling, and am trying to step back into Heraclitus' stream. Sorry this is out of sequence:

Tom-- The Greek curves may come from the "ellipse and the hyperbolic which are found in nature," but they are not found in nature in the pure geometric form distilled in Greek moulding. The Greeks employed math to simplify and understand nature in its ideal forms. The "cyma, cavetto and ovolo" are not organic shapes any more than Bolles' women are organic shapes found on real women.

I understand your point that the cultural dynamic "is making us more and more hyper," but I suspect that change is mostly the result of the underlying physical realities. We have nuclear weapons that can extinguish all life on earth-- that seems far more than a "quantitative" change in weaponry, that counts as a "qualitative" change. We also have computers and telecommunication technology that have accelerated the pace of stimulus,so we have developed a taste for the kind of frenetic, fast paced, chopped up presentation in your 2001 clip. This seems to make us perceive reality in an impressionistic, skim-across-the-surface way. Fifty years ago that style would've given viewers a headache.

Kev Ferrara-- you seem to suggest that in order for simplification in a picture to work, it has to be consistent with the overall poetic idea of the picture. That is why you think Bolles simplification is gross but Grant's simplification acceptable (in other words, the adjective "gross" does not refer to the degree of simplification because both pictures have been greatly simplified). A picture can be reeeeally simple and yet poetic and successful. But you fault Bolles only for having "the same" poetic idea every time. Is there something other than repetitiveness that makes you so unforgiving of the way that Bolles streamlines his subjects?

Chris Bennett-- Some of the reasons I think our taste might be qualitatively different from human taste of centuries ago are discussed in my response to Tom above. You say, "Bob Peak's graphic dynamisim could be describing lava from a volcano as much as the razzle-dazzle of modern machine experience." Perhaps. And yet, nobody did it before. In 30,000 years of artists and volcanoes co-existing before Bob Peak, not one of them reacted anything like the way that Bob Peak did. Why?

8/09/2012 12:59 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett, Kev Ferrara and Sidharth Chaturvedi-- if you all agree that streamlined, art deco hair flying out behind a moving figure "tells of the movement but doesn't demonstrate it" how is that different from all other art (with the exception of animation or theatre, which presumably demonstrate it). Isn't all art "an artifact of the movement and not the movement itself"?

8/09/2012 1:03 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote -- “In 30,000 years of artists and volcanoes co-existing before Bob Peak, not one of them reacted anything like the way that Bob Peak did. Why?”

I’m not entirely sure that’s true David.
Thinking just off-the-cuff; Bob Peak’s visual syntax isn’t all that different from what survives of Roman frescos, some medieval manuscripts and an awful lot of oriental brush painting.

Are you arguing that Bob Peak’s style is proof of a qualitative difference in modern humans?


David Apatoff wrote – “Isn't all art "an artifact of the movement and not the movement itself"?

Unlike a word, a shape embodies a meaning literally in its corporeal self.
The word ‘flow’ doesn’t look like something flowing.
But a ~ shape expresses a literal optical dynamic.

‘Movement’ expressed in a picture as ‘non-artifact’ is manifested by the way in which the eye and the imaginative consciousness behind it is persuaded to sequentially experience elements of the work to evoke the emotional expression of movement in graphic terms.

Most of the Italian Futurists missed this point entirely, believing that transposing the literal photographic artifacts of movement to picture making would achieve the effect in their half baked art. Blurring and stop frame are the results of movement’s effects on a recording device which are learnt to be interpreted as evidence of movement. They do not induce the sense of movement in us experientially. Look to Delacroix or… Bob Peak.

I see far more movement in a George Stubbs than any strip of Muybridge ponies.

Apologies for the italics… ;)

8/09/2012 2:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Well, I would hate to be cited for the proposition that "Bob Peak’s style is proof of a qualitative difference in modern humans." He is hardly my favorite illustrator. But I would be very interested in seeing any Roman frescos or oriental brush painting that you consider close precedents. Peak's colors alone-- jarring, tension filled combinations of DayGlo fluorescent pigments that did not exist 30 years earlier-- puts him in a different category, as far as I can tell. Then you add in the fact that Peak took permission from abstract expressionists to put a lot of spasmodic thrashing around in his paintings-- blatant brush strokes, finger paints and spatters that I don't see in previous art-- or add in Egon Schiele's line work (that you might trace back to Klimt, but not much earlier), and stir in his cock-eyed dynamic angles, and I just don't see a precedent from earlier centuries.

I've seen a lot of traditional painters try to capture the power of volcanoes, but I don't see any of them demonstrate the 20th century atomic age perspective we get from Peak. (This is not to be interpreted as saying that I prefer Peak to Turner's painting of Vesuvius). But by all means, if you think there is something close out there, send me links, I would be fascinated.

On your more complex topic, you write: "Unlike a word, a shape embodies a meaning literally in its corporeal self.
The word ‘flow’ doesn’t look like something flowing.
But a ~ shape expresses a literal optical dynamic." If I understand you properly, isn't an onomatopoeia a word that embodies a meaning literally in its corporeal self? The bang of a door, the buzz of bees, the hiss of a snake? Admittedly, I am saying that the "corporeal self" of a word is a sound rather than a visual symbol, but that's just the difference between words and pictures. (Perhaps pictograms and hieroglyphs bridge that gap?)

I agree with you about the Italian Futurists "transposing the literal photographic artifacts of movement" although everything was so new back then, it's hard to say their failed attempt was completely unworthy. But don't you think artists learned important things from photography and cinema which they were then able to employ well in pictures? The stop action photography that shows the bucking bronco or the thrown punch at the exact moment the coiled spring is released, or the race car blur smeared across the finish line both seem more successful than what the Futurists did. (Notice I did not offer Peak's diamond diffraction effect from the Star Wars poster as an example?)

8/09/2012 3:32 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I don't dislike Bolles. Some of his pictures have an interesting doughy quality that is uniquely his. But his world is as narrow as any artist in history.

Poetification is never gross, and it is in no way a mere simplification. It is reducing things down to their emotional essence without losing the essence of the substance as well. (For instance, Foggy Hill by Zaoming Wu is deceptively simple in its poetry.)

Incidentally, in Hawthorne on Painting, the artist seems to imply that the meaning of the word "fine" was "poetic"... Fine Art being then, art that rises to the level of poetry. (This works for me.)

We should steer clear of the word "literally" when discussing what aesthetic effect a symbol can embody.

The cause of movement in art is a very complex topic. The simplest thing to say about it is that it is in the mind of the viewer and nowhere else. Just as the "magic" of a magic trick takes place entirely in the mind.

Nothing should be taken away from Peak's innovate design ideas. Influences upon him probably: Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Les Nabis, Vienna Seccession, Symbolists, Ophism/Futurism, Avante Garde poster design, Klee, fashion illustration, Fuchs, Briggs, and more.

8/09/2012 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kev - and all , what do think of some of Alex Kanevsky's "movement" paintings in terms of depicting motion or constituting an artifact of motion ?

Just got the Bob Peak book - the full range of his work is certainly covered in it .

Al McLuckie

8/09/2012 6:49 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

"But his world is as narrow as any artist in history."

Kev Ferrara, meet Ernie Bushmiller.

8/09/2012 8:04 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi David

A cyma is an "s" curve and it is found everywhere, and ovolo is a thumb moulding, shaped like the end of your thumb.  If I remember right cyma comes from the Greek meaning little wave. The contrast between the straight and the curve and the round and the flat is found everywhere in nature. It fact the forms of moulding are more like archetypes that can be found in an infinite amount of things.

I don't know Bolles work, but what is in us, or what we express, through math or art, all comes from the same source.

Remember too Bridgeman wrote about moulding and the figure.


Hi Kev 

No I am not in disagreement.  I am not sure what "an analytic theory of material reality," means.  Maybe architecture would be a better word or mechanical balance for what I meant.  You can't make a drawing of how something works if you don't understand how it works.

 

8/10/2012 12:56 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

an art critic who has been mentioned in this comments section several times, Robert Hughes, died on the 6th of August.

here he is savaging Damian Hirst:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/13/damienhirst.art?intcmp=239

8/10/2012 11:38 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I like Kanevsky's paintings a great deal. Imo he's the most interesting living painter. I tend to think of the "movement" in his paintings as representing a kind of duality of existentialism and ephemerality. A comment on the dislocation of the modern psyche in a world of constant change maybe?

Bushmiller: I think of him as an information designer. Something about his art reminds me of the inside of a pocket watch.

Went through all the available images of Bolles online; He's much better trained than I had originally guessed. And he could have been a much more interesting artist. At his best he reminds me of a combination of a California illustrator named Leon Gordon and Leyendecker.

Hughes was great. Now who's left with the clout, determination, and courage to call BS on all the BS?

8/10/2012 1:57 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote – “But don't you think artists learned important things from photography and cinema which they were then able to employ well in pictures? The stop action photography that shows the bucking bronco or the thrown punch at the exact moment the coiled spring is released, or the race car blur smeared across the finish line both seem more successful than what the Futurists did.”

Yes, I agree.
But it is with regard to ‘motif’ rather than means.
Which is what I’m getting at regarding Bob Peak.
Manet and those before him, painted galloping horses with all four legs off the ground because that’s how it appeared to them and how the shape on the canvas best expressed the experience.
Kanevsky (I mention him because he’s just been mentioned) paints the photograph of the horse in movement. (I’m thinking of a show jumping picture of his). He is painting the experience of looking at a photograph with the knowledge of what that photograph relates to in real time experience.

In this regard Kanevsky is a deeper artist than Bob Peak because of how photography as motif, informs his art.
It seems to me that Kanevsky has forged a language that makes ‘doubt’ a pictorially significant subject in his pictures and has developed a way of writing its syntax into them in an explicit and above all, meaningful way.

And this is where I think I perhaps join you in your reasoning…
Doubt, be it existential or pragmatic, first became a subject in art around the close of the 19th century and the first artist to build his artistic language out of it was Cezanne.

I consider universal ‘doubt’ to be the defining subject of modern man’s concerns. And therefore it’s chief artistic subject and one that distinguishes it most from past epochs. Not speed, or streamlining, or razzle-dazzle; all of which have been interpreted in the differing (but essentially the same) expressive modes of previous civilizations.

Post modernism is its cultural symptom, not its artistic expression.

This is why Kev’s right to say Kanevsky is one of the most interesting painters working today. He has taken our modern malady not by the horns… But instead, sweeps, dodges, passes, waves and snatches his pictorial capote in front of it.
And leaves it to us to find the opportunity within his fluttering images, to make insight’s kill.

8/10/2012 3:54 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- Thank you for mentioning Robert Hughes. His passing certainly merits our attention and respect.

I love the courage and lucidity of his writing, but most of all I was impressed by his notion of the role of an art critic. He said that in a field such as art, a "critic" deserves no credibility for having a prestigious academic degree or a fancy job title or for affiliation with some organization. A critic has to live or die by the words alone: either they are illuminating and persuasive or not. (And not yesterday's words, either, but today's words applied to the current purpose.) It was a high standard to set for himself, and it's the kind of standard that caused more cowardly critics to retreat into merely descriptive reviews with no normative content. Hughes never chickened out that way, and we shall miss him.

8/11/2012 6:52 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie, Kev Ferrara, Chris Bennett-- We should be having this conversation with examples of Kanevsky's work in front of us. I like Kanevsky's work very much, but would like to learn from people who have investigated him more deeply than I. He seems to give us enough fragments of realism to establish that he understands color and form, but rather than continuing down the dead end of photographic realism, he gives us modern vigor and motion by chopping up representational images and obscuring them with slashing brush strokes and spatters.

In this way, Kanevsky raises an interesting variation on the issue we have been discussing. Current artists (and audiences) seem to have have less patience for classical stillness. Could the aerodynamic streamlining we have been discussing be considered an earlier, quainter version of revving up those images, the same way that Kanevsky put shapes in a Cuisinart today?

I would be interested in hearing more about the "doubt" that Chris Bennett sees in Kanevsky's work, because I'm not sure I see it. There is ambiguity of course, but there is also great confidence in the brush strokes. I agree that existential "doubt" is hugely important today (there have been eras of great doubt before, but doubt somehow seems especially crushing in our post-enlightenment disillusionment) and if Kanevsky focuses on that, tell me more.

I do think Kanevsky's paintings benefit from some sure fire crowd pleasers: naked figures in personal positions ("Topic A: always interesting"), as well as his clean, modern use of white paint that artists from Diebenkorn, De Kooning, and Johns to Ashley Wood and Bernie Fuchs have found resonates with today's audiences. The "white paint" device appeals to me too, as a way of obscuring content, framing a stronger composition, and importing vitality into a painting (without having to incorporate that vitality into the structure the way that Sorolla, Beaux or Sargent did).

8/11/2012 9:22 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Bushmiller: I think of him as an information designer. Something about his art reminds me of the inside of a pocket watch.

You mean because Nancy's hair looks like sprockets? Hey, that's pretty good.

Tom-- I take your point that "the contrast between the straight and the curve and the round and the flat is found everywhere in nature." My point was that they don't exist with that artificial, man made precision we've been discussing. The insight of the Greeks was that they could learn about the natural things you mention (such as waves) by viewing them as mathematical relations between abstractions. That's why math is the language of physics. That's why Galileo wrote that "the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics." I suspect the Greeks distilled the cyma from nature the same way the artists we've been discussing distilled idealized human forms from nature.

8/11/2012 10:34 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David Apatoff writes – “In this way, Kanevsky raises an interesting variation on the issue we have been discussing. Current artists (and audiences) seem to have less patience for classical stillness. Could the aerodynamic streamlining we have been discussing be considered an earlier, quainter version of revving up those images, the same way that Kanevsky put shapes in a Cuisinart today?”

Great observation David. I think this helps to define the heart of the issue.
You are right; ‘streamlining’ is just a modern variant of idealisation, which in turn is a concrete expression of transcendence.
So idealisation translates movement into stillness.
This is something entirely different from movement ‘captured’ by the freeze frame.
Embodying movement, as opposed to freezing it.

The classical belief packs movement back into its chrysalis and sees it as part of an overarching order, so that the components of the world are closed into a singularity like the shutting of a peacock’s tail. The ‘doubt’ of the modern psyche believes in no such thing. The options are always open.

So Kanevsky does just this. He leaves the resolution as to what sort of picture he is making open, whilst trying to make this state of affairs a ‘wholeness’ in itself.
His pictures look like shots at recollecting an ideal painting. Hence the doubt. And hence their truth.

We have not found a way to embody our modern malaise (doubt) into stillness. It is perhaps, not possible. And it is perhaps why those who try, myself included, end up with images reeking of nostalgia.

8/11/2012 2:25 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Could the aerodynamic streamlining we have been discussing be considered an earlier, quainter version of revving up those images, the same way that Kanevsky put shapes in a Cuisinart today?

It's only the same in that both ideas are aesthetic, existing for a poetic purpose. But the purposes differ markedly.

Doubt does not arise from too many choices, but a dilemma (or trilemma, quadrilemma, etc) coupled with a lack of fortitude, ambition or courage to attempt to surmount the challenges of any of the particular paths on offer. In other words an uninspiring choice contemplated from a state of pessimism. The obvious duality of content and technique present in Kanevsky's work, it seems to me, marries scenario existentialism and ephemerality of form. And that option pair, coupled with the wan coloring, is the cause and the meaning of the tone.

8/11/2012 4:05 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

David, Kev and Chris thank you all for this interesting discussion. With talk of a painter expressing “existential doubt,” I was wondering who you thought was the most iconic 20th century painter to best express existentialism?
Francis Bacon was the first name to come to my mind -although, he seemed to be fixated more on the nauseous than doubtful aspects.

8/11/2012 5:06 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

 
David if you  have Bridgeman's life drawing book,check out the figures he drew with the forms of moulding underlying the human body for streamlining.

If a form is idealized are you saying in a way, that the way we portray the human body is a reflection of how we think about the body or what we chose to emphasis about the body, i.e a machine age draws a different body then a spiritual age?

Chris
I would like to hear more about " doubt". Doubt of what more specifically. Would doubt into stillness include an artist like Giorgio Morandi? And what about the paintings Alberto Giacometti? Giacometti seems to fit the description of an artist never arriving at a fix image because everything is always in flux.

8/11/2012 7:53 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Matthew Harwood wrote: "I was wondering who you thought was the most iconic 20th century painter to best express existentialism?"

Whoa, that's a great topic. Since existentialism is a cluster of related philosophies, I suppose a lot depends on your notion of existentialism. The central premise of existentialism seems to be that, given the absence of a God or even of meaning in the universe, it is incumbent on each individual to find their own purpose (or live without one). Some of the great existentialists such as Nietzsche or Camus believed in existentialism with laughter. Others, such as Kierkegaard or Sartre, believed in an existentialism that led to nausea or fear and trembling. So as far as I am concerned, the possible candidates for artists range from George Herriman and Bill Watterson to Giacometti and Bacon. It's hard to think of an artist who paid more for his existential stripes, or conveyed them more devastatingly, than late Goya. Amongst illustrators, the talented Matt Mahurin jumps to mind. There must be 50 other good candidates out there. Thoughts, anyone?

8/11/2012 11:21 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Yes, that is what I'm saying. I don't think we can extend the point to extremes; the geometric shapes that Bridgman uses to teach anatomy seem pretty universal, and there are plenty of variations at any given time. But generally I suspect that in times of disintegration we are more likely to see figures drawn in a more jagged or disoriented way, just as we see romantic figures in romantic eras. And in times of industrial growth or scientific progress it seems to me that we are more likely to see that reflected in human images.

Kev Ferrara-- You just reminded me of what the aforementioned Robert Hughes said about doubt: " The greater the artist, the greater the doubt; perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize."

8/12/2012 12:14 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Matthew Harwood wrote: “I was wondering who you thought was the most iconic 20th century painter to best express existentialism?
Francis Bacon was the first name to come to my mind -although, he seemed to be fixated more on the nauseous than doubtful aspects.”

Kev’s mention of pessimism with regard to doubt is very helpful here (Though I’m not sure if he means if doubt is contingent on pessimism of if it is only sometimes a component).
I agree with you about Bacon. He is really illustrating the condition of existential doubt as phobia of the human body. His work does not embody it by way of its syntax as it does in say, Kanevsky, Giacometti or Cezanne.
Similarly, Edward Hopper illustrates existentialist concerns, in his case; those of alienation.
Both artists, in their best work, achieve catharsis: Bacon by formal resolution, Hopper by formal resolution AND empathic resonance. (therefore in my view the greater artist) By which I mean that alienation is recognised as an ingredient in our human commonality.

So neither of these two artists embodies doubt, existential or otherwise, in the formal, plastic language of their work.
The artists that do are considerably fewer than those who ‘illustrate’ the condition.
The prize for this I would have to award to Giacometti, who after his surrealist period, is almost a manifesto of the condition. His lines literally describe the movement of his sight over what he is looking at, drawing nothing more than the activity of looking. Is it really there? Is it? And what is it? He is the double slit experiment of art… ;)

8/12/2012 6:44 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Tom wrote – “I would like to hear more about " doubt". Doubt of what more specifically. Would doubt into stillness include an artist like Giorgio Morandi? And what about the paintings Alberto Giacometti? Giacometti seems to fit the description of an artist never arriving at a fix image because everything is always in flux.”

I mean ‘doubt’ as a general condition. Science is very precise about the context of any conclusions it draws with thorough understanding of their provisional and conditional nature. Our culture has reaped overwhelming rewards from this and its success is the example from which our culture takes its cue.
The trouble is that the principle is mauled once it gets into the less rigorous hands outside of the scientific discipline.

So I’m talking about ‘doubt’ in terms of limits to a conclusion – something earlier systems of thought believed to be ultimately resolvable and expressed this by way of their art.
In this sense ‘doubt’ is not contingent on pessimism, but rather an expression of our understanding of our cognitive limits. The probabilistic nature of reality that starts at the quantum threshold is the evidence supporting this view of the world.

But art’s mother tongue is synthesis, to make better and put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.
However, it’s no good pretending the egg isn’t broken or contenting ourselves by looking at a substitute.
Every time we stick it back together we can’t kid ourselves that the glue joins aren’t showing.
‘Cos they are.
Every time we try.
But art has done it before hasn’t it?
Something must be wrong.
Maybe we are looking at things skewed. Maybe we need a new paradigm. Maybe Humpty was always glued together and we just didn’t notice? Maybe…
Maybe…

So, Morandi:
He is seen as an exponent of existentialism in the same way that Hopper or Bacon is. The confident, settled, middle class order expressed in the formal beauty of the still life remains in the still lifes of Morandi… without the abundance. All the formal exquisiteness of the genre is there, but with the associative, sensuous juices squeezed out. It is the irony of this that spells out the sense of the existential in his work, not its syntax itself.

I agree with you about Giacometti chasing flux, and embodies the condition in his pictorial syntax as I mentioned to Matthew above.

Doubt and stillness seem to me to be mutually excusive…Yet art’s stock in trade is to unify. To cram doubt and stillness into the top hat and pull out a leaping, sleeping rabbit.

Henry Moore is just such an example.

8/12/2012 6:45 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

It seems to me that doubt is quite often still, as in a state of despondency, depression, resignation, cowardice, etc.

More psychically active forms of doubt are of course available as well: Vacillation as a particular method of equivocating between two choices to a sine wave's tune. Confusion is a randomized vacillation that isn't ordered into distinct choices along a distinct axis.

And physical doubt: The double-take, a figure in a state of surprise or shock, a pause in stride because an action-altering thought has struck... (the physical being a manifestation of the mental, as always.)

I think one needs to define doubt at a much higher level of abstraction in order to comprehend it properly, in order to best appreciate its translation into graphics. Otherwise we'll just keep tossing complex instantiations of it into the ring, mistaking the various species of doubt for doubt, the general concept.

8/12/2012 12:20 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Kev writes – “It seems to me that doubt is quite often still, as in a state of despondency, depression, resignation, cowardice, etc.”

Are these not the effects of doubt on the psyche rather than the thing itself?
I would say that doubt is the inability to make a conclusion that is believed in, and therefore very difficult to represent as some form of stasis.

8/13/2012 5:10 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"I like Kanevsky's paintings a great deal. Imo he's the most interesting living painter."

Kev, i'm amazed that you would choose a self consciously 'modern' painter, when you're a proponent of the Brandywine / romantic symbolist tradition.

8/13/2012 8:58 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Chris,

When you doubt a man's word, you are feeling that not only are you unsure that he is telling the truth, but you are pessimistic about the possibility that he is telling the truth.

The most abstract we can get on the idea of doubt is probably that it consists of, essentially, a mixture of pessimism and unsurety. Can much more can be added to the definition? I think not. And note that nothing definite is said about the psychic energy level involved.

Yes one can be full of anxiety and reeling mentally when in doubt. But I believe one can also experience a dilemma without being frenetic in the least about it, either mentally or physically. Or simply put, one can be calm in their indecision. and resigned to their pessimism, just so. (I didn't use the word static, btw.)

Note also: Each state of doubt I listed implies a species of indecision and a level of energy accompanying it. And yes, my point was that they were Instantiations of the overarching abstract emotion we're discussing.

---

Laurence, I'm a great fan of the Brandywine Romantic-Symbolist tradition because it results in great images. The strongest I know of. When a Brandywine image isn't any good, I could care less if it was done by a Brandywine artist or a graffiti artist. Good is good and bad is bad. (There are a host of Pyle and Dunn students who did junk work because they simply didn't have the candle power to be a great artist, no matter what kind of training they had.)

When Kanevsky creates strong images of his own, whether accidentally composed or not, in my reading/feeling they seem to hold symbolic meaning in a way that is perfectly in keeping, philosophically, with Romantic or Brandywine art. After all, distortion for the sake of pictorial effect has always been an indispensable aid to symbolic image making. And I can't see a reason to fault Kanevsky for not having a Romantic-Symbolist pedigree or lineage or something. I only care about quality of the work.

My interest in Kanevsky in no way takes away from my appreciation of Richard Schmid, Jeff Watts, Carolyn Anderson, George Carlson, Clyde Aspevig, Christopher Blossom, Dmitri Belyukin, Russel Chatham, David Curtis (UK), and a host of other current painters.

8/13/2012 11:36 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Kev wrote – “But I believe one can also experience a dilemma without being frenetic in the least about it, either mentally or physically. Or simply put, one can be calm in their indecision. and resigned to their pessimism, just so.”

You are still talking about an attitude to a sense of doubt rather than doubt itself.
Being ‘calm’ or ‘frenetic’ (still or animated) over feeling doubt about something is a condition produced after the fact.

For this reason I can’t agree that ‘a mixture of pessimism and unsurety’ nails it.

Since a machine can only dither (think of a counting device calibrated in units trying to deal with exact halves), it cannot be thought of as ‘doubting’. So I agree with the implication that ‘doubt’ is uniquely a human experience.
But not that it is an emotional one in its purest, abstract, state. That is why I think it is indissoluble from belief.
Hence I maintain that an ‘inability to make a conclusion that is believed in’ is the nearest definition.

So doubt is caught up with belief and belief is caught up with doubt.
Or;
Doubt is the absence of certainty. Certainty is the absence of doubt.
A man can feel uncertain about the way his life is going. Whether he is pessimistic or optimistic; gets depressed, frenetic and anxious, or accepts and stays calm about that is entirely to do with his make-up, not the doubt itself.

8/13/2012 1:09 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

You may say that doubt is the absence of certainty, Chris. But that is not a route to actual understanding.

I think one can't actually conceptualize the absence of something in any meaningful way. Can you tell a fellow who can't see the color red to just imagine red as the absence of black, white, gray, blue, green, yellow, orange, and purple?

Instead, it seems obvious that to truly comprehend any thing, we must appreciate its present qualities first and foremost, otherwise we risk playing word games with ourselves.

So we must try to define doubt by its positive characteristics as best we can.

I do believe that Pessimism and Unsurety are at a high enough level of abstraction to define doubt as a general concept, and to allow for a wide variety of instantiations of it, as states of mind and/or actions.

Also, you gave an example that didn't quite go; Yes, a machine may seem to dither, but it is never unsure. Because a machine only takes binary instruction. If a machine is trapped in a loop, the pattern of its action was either its instruction, or it lacks an instruction to exit the loop, or something blocks it from exiting the loop. The machine doesn't vacillate between choices, because it doesn't actually have choices available to it. There are no options in mechanics. There is only ever one path at at time, which the machine falls into or not depending on its mechanics and instructions.

Furthermore, a machine obviously doesn't hope for a galvanizing instruction to exit a loop.

For a human being, however, a pattern of action is an emotional state. Human dilemmas aren't binary. They are first and foremost felt.

8/13/2012 5:34 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Kev:

That’s why I said; “it (a machine) cannot be thought of as ‘doubting’. So I agree with the implication that ‘doubt’ is uniquely a human experience.”
So I agreed that doubt is uniquely human. And I therefore agree that it can only be felt.

As far as I see it, we only disagree in terms of where doubt emerges as human psychological experience.
I’m saying it is a cognitive malady which is later given emotional value depending on the mindset of the individual.
The ‘pattern of action’ is indeed an emotional state, but it does not instigate the doubt and therefore is innocent of its cause and therefore its essential property.

Are you saying that doubt and pattern of action are the same thing; that the first does not begat the other?

8/13/2012 6:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Concepts are abstractions. Abstractions are emotional categories. We only think in conceptions. These are the symbols of the mind. So how could a cognitive malady, a confusion of conception, not have emotion content already? It can't: The vacillation between conceptions is an emotional vacillation. Pessimism is a different concept overlayed upon or suffusing the vacillation., further conditioning it to the mental sense.

So as I see it, doubt is a particular pattern of thought which is a distinct emotional state wherein unsurety and pessimism reign. Doubt doesn't give rise to an emotional complex. It is the emotional complex.

8/13/2012 6:52 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi Chris


I my not understand you here, but isn't it the artist responsible for coming  up with conclusions of how shapes  should be resolve?  And isn 't that one of the reason it is hard being an artist?   Even in the past where things seemed resolved  or understood  different cultures have come to different conclusions.  And different artists or different cultures often have completely different exceptions for art.    One of the hardest things about art  is knowing what you what to say.  And I don't just mean in terms of the narrative of the work or the subject of the work, but in the actual drawing or the painting of the thing. How are you going to do it,  how are you going to conceive it?   There are so many problems when you come against these issues, it can make any one doubtful of one's ability to form a coherent image  of anything. .


In a way doubt is thinking about life or art.  I am sure once you start working on something doubt disappears at least during the time you are making the picture.  

Maybe coming to conclusion is knowing what the artist  wanted to say. Somebody said "True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist." Which to me implies that art has little to do with a personal self.

Have you seen Art 21.  In the episode on balance the artist Rackstraw Downes is interviewed.  He will often paint at one site over a period of years. He says in the film that his work often starts with a narrative, but once he starts painting, things he hadn't thought about or considered before he began the painting become very important. Almost implying that these unknown things that he hadn 't known about before hand become the real content of the painting. Like the difference between the plane of short grass and the tall grass. I am paraphrasing here is the link to the show.

http://www.pbs.org/art21/watch-now/episode-balance

8/14/2012 12:04 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Kev:

I’d want to believe you – it would make the problem simpler for a start. But you’ll pardon me if I have my doubts…

Optimism about an outcome is just as much part of the unsurety as pessimism.
But optimism and pessimism are mutually exclusive.
So optimism and pessimism would therefore define two types of doubt. Two types of unsurety.
So are you saying there is no such thing as unsurety in its absolutely neutral sense, just various types of emotion that exhibit degrees to which an individual is predisposed to certain outcomes?


Tom:
I'm under time pressure... I'll get back to you a little later...!

8/14/2012 8:22 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

So optimism and pessimism would therefore define two types of doubt.

Huh? Are you arguing for the existence of optimistic doubt?

Doubt, it seems to me, has a negative quality. (Unsurety plus pessimism) Like Hope has a positive quality. (Unsurety plus optimism, natch?)

Unsurety isn't the same as doubt. And I don't see unsurety as having anything necessarily to do with either optimism or pessimism. One can be unsure and feel a sense of neutrality about the entire matter.(But in this neutral case the choices themselves wouldn't have much in the way of emotional or physical consequences. i.e. Do I want pepsi or coke to drink, for instance.)

It is the conceptions themselves that carry the emotional baggage. Which is why there is so much effort among humans to euphamistically shade negative conceptions this way and that, so as to confuse the depressing power of the symbolic thought and defend the emotional keel of the mind. People use word-symbols to lie to themselves all the time. Which is why text is such a deranging medium of communication. (Yet also, sometimes, we might say, a necessary prophylactic on reality.)

Time frames, threats, and financial pressure add further conditioning forces to the equation, ratcheting up the intensity level of mere doubt or hope. So doubt becomes fear (doubt (unsurety, pessimisim) + physical threat), and hope becomes frenetic (game show contestant hopping up and down).

8/14/2012 12:30 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Tom:

The English artist Michael Andrews said of painting: “It’s the most marvellous way of making up my mind.”

Yes, the whole point of art is to try and produce something that synthesises. It may start with an impulse; like seeing someone cross the street, a commission for a portrait or being given a theme for an illustration. As we start putting down marks the problems appear. So a notional finish line starts to form in the mind about the resolution of the accruing problems.

These are concrete and specific and entirely in the realm of the work.

But to synthesise them requires a sense of where one is going; an artistic true north in which to navigate each pictorial voyage, regardless of the problematic events on its waves.

In times of cultural certainty, this magnetic centre is taken care of.
But the modern artist has to find their own.

Some believe the direction is entirely relative and play with the Post Modernist kaleidoscope.

But some choose to see the swirling, drunken compass needle as a subject in itself. What then of their destination; the finish line of synthesis, resolution?
It is the moment of stilling of the artist themselves, faced with uncertainty. (I’ve called it doubt and thanks to Kev, realised my error in naming what I really mean!)
This is why their subject is always perception.
Think of Giacometti, Cezanne, Kanevsky…
Buoys anchored to nothing but their perception in a raging ocean of uncertain possibilities.
All three hope for coalescence out of the struggle itself.
So the struggle is visible in the syntax of the work. It is the subject of the work. And the work is finished the first time it holds steady.

8/14/2012 1:30 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Kev wrote – “Unsurety isn't the same as doubt. And I don't see unsurety as having anything necessarily to do with either optimism or pessimism. One can be unsure and feel a sense of neutrality about the entire matter.”

You’re right Kev. I’ve been using the wrong word. I mean 'uncertainty'.

That’s why it seemed crazy to think in terms of optimistic doubt – which is what I thought to be the logical outcome of what you were saying, as I understood it.

Thus, retooling: Uncertainty arises in us and it is the individual’s disposition that places emotional value on it.

Assuming I’ve natched…

8/14/2012 1:41 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I think you're leaving off the issue of consequences, which is to do with the nature of the choices involved in the question which, again, has direct bearing on the emotionality of the matter.

Yes, uncertainty/unsurety can be toned by one's disposition. But one's disposition can be toned by the options. Whether to order a coke or a pepsi is a different kettle of emotions than whether to eat or pay rent, or whether to date a soulful dancer or the girl next door.

8/14/2012 2:00 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

That’s true. I missed that completely! The severity of the consequences is certainly going to deepen emotional involvement which the disposition of the individual then tones.

So, how about;
‘Doubt’ is uncertainty’s effect on the emotional cognition of a given situation.

This leaves ‘uncertainty’ clean of emotional baggage for the purpose of my general argument.

8/14/2012 5:16 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Vacillation/Uncertainty is the essential core of the matter, neutral conceptually. The emotional value of the choices themselves is what most clearly situates the matter to be decided in, one might call it, emotion-space. Pessimism or optimism are tonal effects which further condition the mood in emotion-space. Pressure brings intensity to all, causing fracture and emotional spikes.

8/14/2012 6:29 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Chris

That 's great, I like that.

"The English artist Michael Andrews said of painting: “It’s the most marvellous way of making up my mind.”


You start with doubt or uncertainty  and in the doing everything starts to feel right even if you don't understand why.

"In times of cultural certainty, this magnetic centre is taken care of.
But the modern artist has to find their own."

Exactly true freedom.  I think David makes that point a lot here on his blog.  The illustrators work better because clients set boundaries by defining the subject and how they want the work to affect a given audience.   I feel that way about  Renaissance and Baroque artist, society choose the subject the artist worried about the art.

Downes works with perception also, people said the same thing about Sargent, he would just plop down any where.  It funny in the film Downes has work on painting for a long time and as he approaches the end he turns and saids, that a nice spot over there, I wonder why I did not do the painting from that spot.

There is also the great story of Giacometti and Bacon having dinner in London.  Bacon carries on for about 45 minutes about the nothingness, meaninglessness of life, the cruelty etc, finally it's Giacometti turn to speak, he shrugs his shoulders and says,"maybe."

8/14/2012 6:48 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett, Kev Ferrara, Tom-- The problem with discussions like this is that they make it absolutely impossible to rejoin the conversation without setting aside an hour in a quiet library to ponder the vocabulary and the positions taken (ten minutes in an airport waiting line just doesn't cut it).

As I try to put together what has been discussed, I wondered whether uncertainty (or its multitudinous nephews doubt, vacillation, unsurety, Huey, Dewey or Louie) is a desirable or undesirable quality in the making of pictures. It seems to me that we all admire certainty in art as long as that certainty is warranted, just as we all admire uncertainty in art as long as it doesn't devolve into paralysis, pessimism and those other nasty attributes Kev was talking about.

When the vocabulary of art starts to sink in the murky swamp of subjectivity, I usually do what everybody else does-- I see how close I can legitimately get to the vocabulary of science and rationality, and hug that vocabulary close.

When the great mathematician Descartes set out to "doubt" everything, including what his senses and his brain told him, he put us in a box that no one has yet navigated his way out of. We have all talked in circles about Descartes' philosophy of rational skepticism in late night dorm conversations until we realize that even his "Cogito ergo sum" does not provide certainty.

I like Tom's quote about painting from Michael Andrews: “It’s the most marvelous way of making up my mind.” That's an artist's solution, a solution that a mathematician such as Descartes does not have available. I think that a picture that doesn't at least start out with the great uncertainty and doubt that accompanies wisdom will not amount to much, but I think that the doing of art-- the testing of multiple iterations to see what "looks right"-- helps us make up our mind, eradicate doubt, find certainty. And when we are there, when we have found certainty, we can land on it with both feet.

8/15/2012 3:09 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

A picture begins with an idea. Not doubt.

8/15/2012 3:54 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Sometimes a picture begins with a phone call: "Forget whatever ideas you have been mulling over in your worthless head , and get me a prelim by Thursday." As you sit down in front of the blank page, uncertainty perches on your shoulder until you take steps to dispell it.

8/15/2012 4:03 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The issue we were getting lost in the weeds about wasn't whether uncertainty was part of the picture making process, but how best to express doubt in an artwork. This led to the question of the definition of doubt. (following a typical ideation process, I was)

On your tangent, wouldn't you say that an assignment begins with a phonecall, the artistic process begins when you understand the problem, and the picture begins when you have an idea?

Yes, the trials of Hercules have just begun at that point. But if you don't even have an idea where you're going, best not to paddle out to sea. (Much decorative gibberish results from fishing for a clue in situ.)

8/15/2012 6:02 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Tom -- That’s Bacon/Giacometti quote is marvellous – I can just picture it!

David – I believe this is why those who choose uncertainty as their subject (Cezanne, Giacometti, Kanevsky, William Coldstream) use perception itself as their springboard. It is their dialogue between themselves and the world outside them that is the engine of their pictures. Their question is always ‘where am I’ and their picture is the momentary answer. Which is what I took you to mean with regard to the Mike Andrews quote. (Andrews was a great mate of Coldstream’s by the way, and started as a perceptual painter under Coldstream’s influence.)

Kev – I agree. But for someone like Coldstream, I know for a fact his pictures began with uncertainty. His extraordinary ‘method’ was the idea he brought to the easel to kill the cat.

8/15/2012 6:28 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Kev

I totally agree a picture starts from an idea, but can't a picture also start from inquiry or curosity?  I think painting and drawing in and of itself is a marvelous way to find out about the world and to experience the space that everything exists in.

8/15/2012 8:26 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Chris,

Didn't Coldstream work relentlessly from life?

(Incidentally David, you might want to look into the Coldstream Report)

Tom,

This gets into a squeaky area. But my own view is that if we draw to understand, out of curiosity, we may end up with a piece of art, but not necessarily a picture or image, if you know what I mean. Kanevsky is a perfect example of the problem of proceeding without a destination; I've seen hundreds of his paintings, but only a handful seem like pictures to me.

8/15/2012 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Kanevsky's site are links to 3 or 4 very interesting interviews .

About the closest time he's come to presenting an artists statement , which I love , is " Painting . Its goals are undefined , the means are inefficient and the results uncertain . I like that ."

Al McLuckie

8/15/2012 10:57 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Kev – Yes he did. That’s why I’m saying he used perception itself as his springboard; his art being built on the idea that a picture is an answer to uncertainty regarding the sanctity of objectivity. He saw measuring as no more reliable a method of getting his hooks into reality than anything else, and regarded it as nothing more than a way to ‘get something going that has the ability to generate itself’.

‘Belief’ in the picture was a sort of mantra among his first generation pupils and was the all-important factor in artistc merit. Talking about the Van Eyck ‘Portrait of a Man with a Turban’ Coldstream even went so far as to say that it was the belief with which the brush marks were placed down that was responsible for the picture’s power and not the ‘ordinary idea of composition’.

Yet he is on record as praising the Holbein with the stretched skull at the bottom (The Ambassadors) because of its ‘arresting’ composition.
All to say that his idea of ‘composition’s’ role in the effect of a picture is problematic when trying to determine exactly what he meant.

He wasn’t against pictures ‘made up out of one’s head’. Far, far from it! On the contrary, he felt his own method was dangerously close to ‘just a way of manufacturing paintings’. His reason for working the way he did was because ‘I like to be ruled by what I see’. And went on to say that he found anything he ‘invented’ gave him ‘a profound sense of distaste.’
But he thought that great artists were able to do precisely what he could not – the real heavyweights were those who were possessed by an idea. Coldstream chose his path simply because he knew his strengths and his weaknesses. And in so doing found and expressed, the dignity in uncertainty.

A bit rambling I know Kev – but I wasn’t sure what your understanding was regarding my take on ‘perception itself’ as a subject for a painter. Hope this lays a little Tarmac down on the matter. ;)

8/16/2012 5:42 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Chris,

Confused about your line "uncertainty regarding the sanctity of objectivity."I'm assuming you mean that Coldstream was aware of the tension between measuring and feeling while creating work from life.

Yet you say just after that Coldstream understood that his measurements were simply a springboard. So it seemed he wasn't all that uncertain about his process; he considered his artmaking a kind of negotiation between subjective conception and objective perception which must by necessity find its agreement in the course of the making.

But this is what any artist worth his salt is contending with under the same circumstances. Yes? Reminds me of a classic line from Harvey Dunn's teaching that "if you just paint what you see, you won't end up with a good looking thing."

And, again, we shouldn't confuse searching for tactical answers in process for a lack of overall aesthetic strategy or method. Coldstream's pictures look like his pictures. Just like Uglow's look like Uglow's..

We also shouldn't mistake process for result. If the process is about finding answers to questions (alleviating uncertainty), the end of that process results in answers, not uncertainty. This is a different thing than having as one's very motive the manifestation of existential doubt on canvas... where the answer is to properly pose the question in an aesthetic form.

Now that that's cleared up we can move on to Spinors, Tensors, and Twistors! ;)

The point about theVan Eyck, I think, is interesting because it argues that belief is a value in art, even if it is only belief in dogma. I happen to think that dogmatism ruins art, so I'm iffy on the proposition.

8/16/2012 12:33 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Kev wrote – “Confused about your line "uncertainty regarding the sanctity of objectivity."I'm assuming you mean that Coldstream was aware of the tension between measuring and feeling while creating work from life.”

Yes. Measuring gave him something to ‘believe in’; a provisional certainty around which the subjective reactions to reality, realised as brush marks on the canvas, could be fastened onto.
And I completely agree with what you go on to say just after this.


Kev wrote – “And, again, we shouldn't confuse searching for tactical answers in process for a lack of overall aesthetic strategy or method. Coldstream's pictures look like his pictures. Just like Uglow's look like Uglow's.”

Quite. Coldstream was intensely aware of the standards and examples of art history. His genius was to place his understanding of this within a process that was reflective of the cultural malaise. 1936, the time he came up with ‘the method’, was a period of intense political uncertainty overlaying the aesthetic uncertainty that had been developing since the late 19th century.


Kev wrote – “The point about the Van Eyck, I think, is interesting because it argues that belief is a value in art, even if it is only belief in dogma. I happen to think that dogmatism ruins art, so I'm iffy on the proposition.”

Certainly Coldstream was against any form of dogma. He was none too comfortable with people copying his method. (He said his own paintings looked like ‘old ladies knitting’ compared to the exuberant works of his contemporaries.)
But I don’t think this is what you mean.
‘Belief as a value in art’ identifies the problem really well Kev. (If only you had been at the Slade with me!). It means that composition ‘in the ordinary sense’ is unnecessary for its effect. Hence David Sylvester, asking Coldstream about the inclusion of a clumsy radiogram upsetting the balance of a painting of a nude he was working on, resulted in the artist response: ‘It was rather heavy to move… it’s there, so we go on’. ;)

The fascinating thing about Coldstream’s work (and I’ve seen nearly all of it ‘in the flesh’) is the emotional power built out of the indifferent compositional circumstances that were in front of him, whether they be awkward, ordinary or beguiling.

8/17/2012 2:10 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Raucher said...

Since he lived until 1964, wonder why he worked up until the great depression. I never heard of this guy but his works are pleasing to the eye and interesting.

BENJAMIN RAUCHER

8/24/2012 5:32 PM  

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