Sunday, April 14, 2013

ONE LOVELY DRAWING, part 43


 Here is a drawing with attitude:


This working drawing by Adolph Menzel (1815 - 1905) is an astonishing ballet of hand and eye.  Look at the speed and clarity with which he captures the most telling details of a military coat:

Sharp realism combined with abstract design

These long, sweeping lines show Menzel's confidence:


But mostly I like Menzel's attitude toward this drawing.  Rather than place it on a shelf to be admired, he marks it up with notes as if he were a master carpenter plying his trade.  The notes are part of the artistry of the sketch:


Contrast Menzel's empty coat with this far more famous empty robe series by pop artist Jim Dine:


Dine's "fine art" pictures of empty robes are treated with reverence and sell at auction for over $100,000.  But I have no doubt that Menzel's working sketch is the superior work of art.



93 Comments:

Blogger अर्जुन said...

I'll second that! The notes encapsulate his artistry, they're essential to the image. Not all of his drawings are so marked up. I've planned a post about Menzel but haven't gotten to it (1 year and counting!). Till then!

p.s. A few Menzel drawings have topped $100,000. Though the average 15~25G is nothing to sneeze at.

4/14/2013 3:35 AM  
Blogger Katherine Thomas said...

This is a great post. I like the idea that the artist's notes around the drawing are part of the composition just as much as the main subject. I also admire how artists like Menzel can reveal the IDEA of every little detail without actually rendering every little detail. Every fold in the jacket is not drawn, but we feel like we can see every fold and how the jacket moves as the person moves. I guess that just takes careful observation and lots of practice?

4/14/2013 7:00 AM  
Blogger Chuck Pyle said...

VonMenzell, what a remarkable and dedicated artist, a life lived through his pencil. Eye as camera to record the world around him, and provide the reference for his paintings. I use his drawings as examples in my costumed figure drawing class often. Humbling.

4/14/2013 12:04 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- Thanks for the additional Menzels. I recognize that not all of his drawings are so marked up, but I often prefer his marked up drawings. He draws so accurately, he has a tendency to get too tight and precious for my taste. I love these drawings where you can see his rough edge.

Katherine Thomas-- Exactly! The creases in that leather lapel look like a high resolution photograph, but when you look closely you see that Wenzel was able to take a lot of liberties once he understood the nature of the coat.

Chuck Pyle-- Lucky class!

4/14/2013 2:38 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Cool site ~ https://images.nga.gov/en/search/do_quick_search.html?q=menzel

4/14/2013 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Menzel and Dine have different approaches because of entirely different interests and purposes. On what grounds are you comparing them, besides the most superficial connection that they depict long outer garments?

Also, the inflated price tag of the Dine is not a reflection of its artistic superiority, but a reflection of a unique and distorted market. Why take offense at it?

You've revealed your bias in taste, but not made an argument for why apples are better than oranges. Why is this even a contest? Can't we like both for different reasons?

4/14/2013 8:09 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- All worthy questions, meriting a serious response.

I sympathize with the theory that a work of art should be judged only by its success or failure in achieving its own particular purpose. At the same time, I don't think we should be afraid to conclude that some purposes are superior to others.

I also think we should resist being too hasty about concluding that two pictures have "entirely different interests and purposes." Dine and Menzel share a common language of line, value and composition. Both artists share a common interest in design. To the extent that Dine claims a different psychological intent behind his empty garment (yes, I know what Dine and Livingstone say about his robes) I'm afraid I tend to subtract points, as I often find his rationalizations diminish his art. I'm happy to discuss if you'd like.

I agree that "the inflated price tag of the Dine is...a reflection of a distorted market," and I wouldn't blame someone for taking offense at it, but I hope my reaction is a little different. I was always impressed by William Blake's philosophy: "When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do."

You write, "Why is this even a contest? Can't we like both for different reasons?" Certainly. But if the purpose of "evaluating" something (that is, assigning "value" to it) is to decide what's important to you, it should not surprise anyone that some work turns out to be more important than others.

4/15/2013 2:34 AM  
Blogger Joss said...

Anonymous,
Somehow the form of a contest, goads me to penetrate deeper into the mystery of why I Iike the Menzel so much, while Dine doesn't move me. Why our art seems to have thrown the baby out with the bath water. In an attempt to escape "lowbrow" content it has arrived at a conceptual purity that seems to have been neutered! A sad devolution of our graphic expression as a culture that is certainly worthy of analysis. I have been tempted at times to discount Mr. Apatoff for his biases, but I end up challenged by the broadness of his appreciation. Isn't the ability to make distinctions of quality a measure of cultural achievement?

4/15/2013 2:37 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Joss-- I think we have an obligation to minimize our biases and explain our reasons as much as we possibly can.

To the extent we have done so conscientiously, and to the extent we have clearly identified the inevitable biases that remain, I think we are entitled to be proud of them.

4/15/2013 2:49 AM  
Blogger Dustin Haynes said...

David,

These "One lovely drawing" posts are my favorite part of this blog. I only wish, however, that they were tagged in some way to allow me to easily revisit them. Just a thought.

4/15/2013 2:27 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

an empty coat?
You never cease to amaze me.
Also, thanks. Publication should be out soon, what a wonder (well I do particularly like finance, maybe it is inherited!)

4/15/2013 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Menzel piece is beautifully observed but I absolutely see no point of comparison between the two pieces beyond the obvious connection of subject matter.
When the intent is different and the market is different it seems incredibly pointless to compare the two,except for being able to say "What a funny old world we live in" which is a bit of a hackneyed observation.
For an intelligent observer such as you it's like repeating the same old joke.

4/16/2013 4:51 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

There certainly is a point of comparison to be made here, assisted by the similarity of the two images. (No salient difference is ever so stark as when demonstrated to exist between similars.) And it is a comparison that scales out to a wider sociological point.

The gist of the matter is that Menzel, in believing in his art, in Art in general, and in his time, well represented his time. And Dine, lacking a belief in any of those things, well represents ours.

In Menzel’s era, Metaphysics was a useful tool of the mind, not yet a clubhouse for cultural twerps. The culture wasn’t yet under the command of undisciplined intellects and cultural guttersnipes.

Whereas Dine dines out in an epoch where otherwise intelligent people, in need of some way to advertise their interior superiority, and trained in the ways of metaphysical and moral pretension, will praise a deliberately incompetent pole vault attempt, singling out for praise, in particular, the exact mechanism of its failure.

4/16/2013 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's just the worst kind of inverted snobbery you find among lovers of the 'craft' of art, they refuse to accept that fine art was as much about the idea or the personal vision of the artist and the skill of rendering that idea.
So why compare one discipline where the concept is paramount with another where technical virtuosity was important?
This kind of narrow-mindedness was used against impressionism,cubism,surrealism etc, ie any new way of seeing the world.I suspect your point of view is a very close parallel with what the nazi's concept of degenerate art.

4/16/2013 1:04 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Anonymous,

You are following a dog-eared script of how this conversation goes, wherein you win the argument handily and feel like you've defended an important cultural high-ground from the philistines.

I am not following that script. So try to pay more attention.

I suspect your point of view is a very close parallel with what the nazi's concept of degenerate art.

I suspect your point of view closely parallels other college-age kids who think such a heedless aspersion sounds erudite and functions as argument.

...they refuse to accept that fine art was as much about the idea or the personal vision of the artist and the skill of rendering that idea. So why compare one discipline where the concept is paramount with another where technical virtuosity was important?

Strange how you seem utterly ignorant of just how personal the vision of any great artist is/was regardless of era or movement. (Put works by Fechin, Vermeer, Brangwyn, Leyendecker, Titian and Andrew Wyeth side by side to get an instant re-education.)

As well, you seem completely oblivious to the presence of concepts in work where those concepts sublimate behind realism. Leaving aside the literary symbolism which Whistler reacted against in painting, and the romanticism that the materialists demanded excised from art, you even seem oblivious to the fact that, at its core, even the worst realistic art is just as conceptual as the graphic decorations and sculpted editorials that you have been brainwashed into calling "fine art."

Is it really so that if the concept of an artwork is not concsciously directed to your waking attention (by virtue of some kind of supplementary text attached to the painting or by the fact that the painting itself acts as a kind of readable text) then you will be completely insensitive to its symbolic content or meaning?

In other words, it seems that if somebody doesn't straight up hand you the brain gum in an easily-opened wrapper, you won't know what to chew on. (Which is not to say that your insensitivity or programming in this matter is uncommon.)

Nor do you seem to appreciate the validity of the idea that truth and beauty are synonymous. (Let alone that many sensitive souls outside of your milieu may be able to distinguish, on sight, the merely mimetic from the actually truthful.)

Which is, I suppose, all to say, there is just as much "concept" in that Menzel as in that Dine. But you can't read it, so you don't see it. So you expect that the accepted truth of the matter will be that it isn't there.

Be more circumspect than that.

4/16/2013 5:06 PM  
Blogger Donald Pittenger said...

The currently ongoing debate centered on Anonymous' comments deals with opinions and therefore, unlike mathematical logic or empirical measurement, cannot yield an ultimate "truth."

That said, what we seem to have here are two matters. First is the intention of the artist, the other is the perception of the viewer.

Taken to its extreme, the intent of the artist as the criterion for art reduces potentially reduces art to whatever a self-proclaimed (that's an intention, after all) artist claims to be art. Therefore, anything is potentially art and worthy of respect. That is the state of the current art scene as defined by the Art Establishment. (Check out the exhibits from the 2012 Whitney Biennial for a taste of this.)

The viewer, on the other hand, has his criteria for judging the worth of the art he sees. These criteria can be thought of as his intents. Taken to the extreme, we find rigid doctrine regarding what art is and isn't.

In the real world, such extremes aren't always reached. But if I had to prioritize, I'd say that for "art" intended for public display, the viewer's reaction to a work is more important than the creator's intention.

Which is why I am greatly impressed by Menzel's coat and not much impressed by Dine's.

4/16/2013 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1 again. I'm sorry to see the condescending screeds here.

I believe Dine's robes are a symbol or icon for himself. He's not trying to draw the weight and sheen of fabric, or any of what Menzel is trying to do. For Dine, the robe is simply a motif he repeats in various media to explore various types of mark making. As such, the crude flat shapes are deliberate, and that's why I think this comparison with Menzel's drawing is a cheap shot. If you want to talk about Dine's technical drawing skills and lively line work, look at his nudes, or his tools, or his Pinocchios, all of which are wonderful.

Everyone is welcome to prefer whatever he likes, but art rightly encompasses many aims and approaches. I think trying to apply one standard against different artists with different aims shows little respect to the varieties of human creativity.

4/16/2013 8:24 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Anonymous #1??You mean there's two different people on here who still haven't figured out that they inconvenience everyone else in the discussion by not at least coming up with a fake name by which they can be readily identified? (Boggles the mind.)

Everyone is welcome to prefer whatever he likes, but art rightly encompasses many aims and approaches. I think trying to apply one standard against different artists with different aims shows little respect to the varieties of human creativity.

Firstly, as it is currently defined, any idiot can be "creative". So why respect creativity?I certainly don't. Secondly, you aren't reading what people are saying closely enough.

For Dine, the robe is simply a motif he repeats in various media to explore various types of mark making.

For Prismacolor, the pencil shape is simply a motif they repeat in various product lines to explore various types of pigmented coloring.

I'm sorry to see the condescending screeds here.

It's just terrible, isn't it? There's just no reason you should be exposed to such rank incivility. Thus I fully support any action you feel is necessary to prevent you from reading such disrespectful diatribes in the future.

4/16/2013 11:01 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

I like the measurements in Menzel's drawing. He can place that coat along with what looks like a suit case in any position and proportion he wants too, in a finish painting. He even marks the height of the coat. Notice too that the coat hangs on and is activated by an invisible body. His drawing comes alive because he thinks spatially and doesn't merely copy what he sees. Those numbers tell you a lot about what he is thinking. What an apperication for the proportion of things. I think it was Gainsborough who said, "the quality of a work of art is the product of the artist's mental effort," or something like that. Menzel's world, is a world you can touch with your hand.

4/17/2013 12:09 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Sorry Joshua Reynolds
"The value and rank of every art is in proportion to the mental labor employed in it, or the mental pleasure in producing it."

4/17/2013 12:14 AM  
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4/17/2013 12:31 AM  
Blogger henry the fifth said...

I agree with Anonymous. Why bother trying to compare Dine and Menzel if they had different goals in mind? Some people may be affronted by what they see as an Art World that heaps laurels on apparently technically incompetent art, but skill is no guarantee of quality. Have a look at some of the art produced by Chinese painters or closer to home by these resurgent "ateliers". Without doubt technically excellent but for the most part all looking the same ; pretentious and kitsch at the same time. Menzel's drawing is great but I'd take a later VanGogh ink drawing any day, and he was derided in his day for lack of technique.

4/17/2013 6:47 AM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

It's not worth getting angry, but I don't understand why Dine is allowed to draw badly just because his robe is "a symbol or icon for himself." Can't an icon be drawn with skill and quality? Besides, it's a stupid icon.

4/17/2013 9:53 AM  
Blogger Mike C. said...

One small point: the annotations describe this as "General Moltke's rubber coat (Gummi Mantel)", i.e.it's a rubberised raincoat, not a leather coat.

Mike

4/17/2013 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really, the problem here is a person's inability to see beyond their own predjudices and hang-ups.
Mr Ferrara pours out his horrible venom for those who don't share his worldview.
And actually, this kind of attitude is the antithsis of everything that's important about 'real art', as opposed to the exercise of craft skil.
You find it a lot with people who's hard won skills are no longer valued by society.A bitterness induced blindness envelops them.
I'm reminded of those Alex Toth splenetic tirades about any and everything that occurred in society and the comics industry after about 1952.

4/17/2013 1:41 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Dear tedious whining baby,

News Flash: Not everybody shares your worldview.

Thought Experiments: Imagine the possibility that your own viewpoint is not as enlightened as you think it is.

Imagine the possibility that you are not the smartest, hippest, most educated, and most sensitive person in the room.

Imagine for a second that I and others who disagree with you might have a legitimate viewpoint even if it opposes yours.

Thanks, have a nice day.

4/17/2013 3:48 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymouses 1 and 2-- If you write in again (and I hope you will) please identify yourselves (perhaps as Anonymous 1 or 2) so that we don't commingle your comments, as I am about to do.

Whichever one of you used the term, "splenetic"-- great word!

You write: "it seems incredibly pointless to compare the two,except for being able to say 'What a funny old world we live in' which is a bit of a hackneyed observation.... it's like repeating the same old joke."

I agree that my observation is hardly new, yet the opposing position seems even more hackneyed: the cliche that "concept" vs. "technical virtuosity" is a dichotomy that insulates conceptual artists from criticism for sloppy work when it comes to creating the forms to embody their concepts.

This may have been an interesting excuse when modern art first began its explorations; I would certainly have cut Marcel Duchamp some slack, just to see where he was going. But I think the barricade between concept and skill has proven over time to be quite porous.

Dine did some marvelous graphic work-- I like his tools, his hearts, his ties, his hair / braids-- and there is no good reason he could not have drawn marvelous robes too. But I think he danced through a lot of goofy trends in the 60s, 70s and 80s that turned out to be artistic dead ends (Happenings? Puh-leeez). He seems to have stopped taking the discipline of forms as seriously, which I think was unfortunate.

Not only that, I think the "concept" behind his robes would not receive respect from a more discriminating audience. Sure, Dine deleted the man from the bathrobe advertisement to create a hollow man (a la T.S. Eliot) or invisible man (a la Ralph Ellison) style self-portrait. Is this what passes for profundity? I promise you, Menzel's concept is every bit as profound as Dine's. And if it wasn't, it could become so merely by renaming his drawing "The external trappings of power of the blustery generals who, in reality, are utterly hollow and insubstantial."

I don't understand why we are so willing to let Dine and other conceptual artists off the hook so easily. Why should the quality of their concepts be so separate from the execution of those concepts, and why are both the concept and its form immune from second guessing?

This week, the art critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer reviewed the illustration show I curated at the Delaware Art Museum, and wrote what I consider a prime example of this hackneyed position: he complimented the "obvious skill, imagination and beautiful drawing" of the illustrators in the show, and even called some of them "geniuses," but concluded, "the works on view here lack emotional and psychological depth... we expect from high art." I don't know what "emotional and psychological depth" this art critic finds in the work of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, John Currin, or other superstars of fine art, but I would surely love to test his thesis on them.

Bottom line, I don't think that we should be intimidated out of holding a Dine up against a Menzel, or up against a flower, or up against a used Kleenex, to see what we might learn from the contrast. Even if the intentions of the two artists were irreconcilably different, it wouldn't hurt us to make up our minds about which intention is more worthwhile.

4/17/2013 9:01 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Mike C wrote: "it's a rubberised raincoat, not a leather coat."

Thanks for the correction, Mike. I am going to take the liberty of correcting my original text, since I don't know if everyone will read this far in the comments. One of the most popular posts in the history of my blog was about the artistic treatment of plastic raincoats. It turns out (who knew?) that there are whole clubs of men who are sexually excited by raincoats, and they revisit that post frequently. This rubber trench coat is going to make me their best friend!

Dustin Haynes-- That's a good idea. I will try to do that, thanks.

StimmeDesHerzens-- Not so empty. Look at that big belly conveyed by the negative space. Look at those powerful haunches beneath the coat, betrayed by the folds and contours. That's a lot of empty!

I didn't know you were one of those international financiers I've read so much about.

4/17/2013 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is my worldview?
That there is something called 'fine art' which embraces conceptual art and pop art etc.
And there is something called 'illustration' that at one stage valued high technical skill in the making of a narrative image to accompany a text.
2 separate things both interesting and intriguing in different ways and both conditioned to move with the times rather than stagnate culturally.
When Andy Warhol quit as New York's highest paid illustrator he moved into a different discipline entailing a new workflow.No longer commissioned by a client to make a pretty drawing of a product, he was now free to explore his own ideas about the world. And this is what Dine is about. All that is truly important is the expression of the idea, not a display of client-pleasing technique.

4/18/2013 3:04 AM  
Blogger henry the fifth said...

Who is better , Menzel or Dine?

Or another one, who is better, Bernie Fuchs or Jim Flora?

4/18/2013 3:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which piece has more cultural significance?
Which is the better investment?
Which piece will help me with my painting tecnique?
As many questions as purchasing motives.

4/18/2013 9:04 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

And there is something called 'illustration' that at one stage valued high technical skill in the making of a narrative image to accompany a text.

Are you trying to define illustration in the worst, narrowest straw man way imaginable? Are you joking? Or just clueless?

Wait a minute... Warhol was the highest paid... Are you "Mark Allen?" The same guy from this comment thread?

4/18/2013 9:10 AM  
Blogger Michael Hall said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/19/2013 1:04 AM  
Blogger Michael Hall said...

I just wanna put my two cents in. I've had these conversations with various coworkers (surprisingly quite a few art school grads and musicians are union ironworkers). The day we discussed 'mark making' got quite heated.

I think there was a line drawn, albeit a very wide line, from Duchamp to Warhol where ' anything I do is Art' became the accepted norm. Everybody gets a trophy. What a crock.

When I read artist's statements I just want to gag. I'm pretty sure we are artists because we came up with a cool visual idea and spent the time in study and practice to produce works that most can't. Gerard Richter doesn't have an artists statement. He thinks they are a distraction from the subject. The image is everything. Though,note, they are very well rendered images.

Me, I blame the hippies.

4/19/2013 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am i wrong when I characterize the path of illustration fron realism to conceptual in the late 60s, early 70s.
And weren't the highest paid illustrators at one stage masters of technique?
And then in the later period way more 'out there' in terms of technique? Closer in fact to the approach of Jim Dine.
Your reluctance to embrace these simple points suggests your outlook is so massively deluded that it's impossible to deal with you.
A minnow who has grasped a few simple self-supporting ideas and clings desperately to these to justify their own bigotry.

4/19/2013 3:14 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"And then in the later period way more 'out there' in terms of technique? Closer in fact to the approach of Jim Dine."


Anon, you're right, the Dine does resemble works from the 50s by illustrators such as Shahn, Stone Martin etc. when the naive, primitive influence came in, but i think the term 'conceptual' is often misused when all that really happened was a shift in style. suddenly the raw, cruder energy of the more primitive styles seemed fresh and the market went with it... not a big conceptual leap exactly.

i also think that 'conceptual' is over used today for illustration that is basically a mix of graphic design and visual pun, sometimes incredibly dumb or obvious, sometimes elegantly done, but definitely not overly burdened with 'concept'.

4/19/2013 6:13 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Concepts seem only as important as what you can do with the concept. Menzel can do a lot with his drawing concepts, in fact Menzel's concepts seem to be in tune with reality. Which is reflected in what he can do as an artist.

What is the profound concept behind Dine's drawing that produces such a weak work? How can something profound take shape in such an unpoetic and unstructured form? An expression of the universe will always have more power and beauty then a idea we have about how the world should be.

4/19/2013 8:16 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Anon/Mark Allen

Your reluctance to embrace these simple points suggests your outlook is so massively deluded....

Sigh.

Where do I start?

Your view of 40s and 50s illustration -- Want to begin to learn what Illustrators of the 50s had in mind? Read the Famous Artists Course books. All the way through. And realize that that was merely foundational information. Then go through the art annuals of the era to see the range of work being done in a professional capacity. Or the hundreds and hundreds of periodicals that came out per month.

I prefer art to stand on its own merits. Therefore, I don't care what time period art is from. Or what movements it was attached to. I don't care what it was reacting to, or how radical it was. I only care about whether it was good.

So your repeated attempts to situate the Warhols and Dines of the world in their artistic milieu holds no sway over whether I think they are pseudo-intellectual, marginally talented, self-hyping hipsters or not. (Even if Warhol was making a lot of money as an illustrator... a point you seem fixated on... I simply don’t care.)

Equally, your insistence that I and others do not understand the deep intellectual concepts of the artists you tout is equally misguided.

I and others here know all too well the concepts being put forth, the mark-making, the irony, the rebellion against commercial and bourgeoise values, anti-art, proto-punk, references to mechanical reproduction, advertising, and the ennui of middle class life. I find it shallow and boring and silly. It was a fashionable at one point. Maybe, from some perspective, necessary. And now those works are just another pretty commodity and a chapter in an art history textbook. The dogma of its importance being perpetuated institutionally and as investment properties, (and thus financially) and by gatekeepers and custodians of dead fashions such as yourself.

And your single-word deep arguments, shall we list them: venomous, bigoted, deluded, jealous, hung up, prejudiced, bitter, blind, biased, shallow.... any others I forgot?

These arguments by single word do not show philosophical consideration and engagement. Do you actually think you are "scoring points" in the discussion with these single word ad hominem attacks, this peppering of epithets?

At the risk of presuming to speak for others here, this blog is filled with people who look at art without reference to cultural pressure, hectoring, bandwagoning, hype, political correctness, pseudo-profundity, snootiness, fashion, pretension, accepted art history, commodification, politics, or any other rationale extrinsic to the work itself.

In other words, the fact that Dine and Warhol are Brand Names in the art world means zero here. We look at art with our own eyes. We make up our own minds. We can’t be hyped.

4/19/2013 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First out, my initial comments were directed towards David Apatoff, not you.Why you felt the justification to intervene in a conversation which wasn't addressed to you, I can only guess.
Secondly,your dislike of any conceptual/ideas based work is very apparent.
You say in your penultimate paragraph that you only want to judge this kind of work by the technical skill of it's execution, when that's way down on the list of priorities of the artist.
It's like judging the flavor of a meal by the color of the food.

4/19/2013 12:16 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

You say in your penultimate paragraph that you only want to judge this kind of work by the technical skill of it's execution, when that's way down on the list of priorities of the artist.

No, I did not say that. You only think I implied that. But why?

Is art only intellectual conceit, sociological influence and/or technical skill to you?

Seems so. In other words it seems you are wholly uncomprehending of Art outside of Heideggerian academic influence. (Although you may not have read, or even heard of, Heidegger.)

This is a problem with your education. Somebody or some educational milieu has led you to believe that they taught, and now you know, all there is to know about art. But it isn't so. (This possibility wouldn't seem so remote if you had also been taught epistemological humility in the course being indoctrinated into this blinkered view of art.)

My initial comments were directed towards David Apatoff, not you.

There's this thing called a conversation that goes on around here.

And there's another thing, a useful habit we humans call "naming," the existence and utility of which you seem unaware.

4/19/2013 1:08 PM  
Blogger henry the fifth said...

This is Lucien Freud expounding on why simply recording what you see is not enough..

"..the picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own....to move the senses by giving an intensification of reality.."

And if you think Freud had no technique/ability you really have no idea what painting is.

4/20/2013 5:16 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Henry V,

Who are you arguing against? What argument or assertion are you addressing?

4/20/2013 1:19 PM  
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4/20/2013 3:29 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

The Freud quote is interesting. I think that was the point of David's post. The Menzel drawing is imbued with a sense of life (not technique). The drawing comes alive. The Dine drawing on the other hand fails to take on that life force, even if there is some great concept behind the work.

4/20/2013 8:48 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Now that I am back in a location where I can weigh in on the most recent string of comments, I will try to offer my reactions without impeding progress too much. I will have to write this in more than one installment to begin to do justice to these comments. (Fortunately, once you filter out the references to "Nazis" and "whining babies," this thread becomes 47% shorter.)

Kev Ferrara writes, " there is just as much concept in that Menzel as in that Dine." I agree, and although some of those concepts may differ in nature, I think there is enough overlap so that we can find a common language between the two pictures.

Anonymous disagrees, saying "this comparison with Menzel's drawing is a cheap shot." He or she asks, "why compare one discipline where the concept is paramount with another where technical virtuosity was important?" Henry the fifth has a similar view: "Why bother trying to compare Dine and Menzel if they had different goals in mind?" And the other anonymous (I think) also draws a bright line between "fine art which embraces conceptual art" from "high technical skill in the making of a narrative image."

I have rarely seen a complete bifurcation between concept and implementation except perhaps at the outermost fringes of art. A good propadeutic artist for understanding the overlap between the two categories is Andrew Wyeth, everybody's favorite whipping boy for "high technical skill in the making of a narrative image." Wyeth was interviewed (and vivisected) enough during his lifetime so that we now have a pretty good notion of the "concepts" he believed were inherent in his highly realistic pictures. It turns out that his paintings were dense with concepts, both visual and intellectual, in a way that makes Dine's robe concept seem superficial.

Take for example Wyeth's painting Groundhog day which some might dismiss as a realistic scene outside a farmhouse window, rendered with the same sharp eye as Menzel's coat. One art critic recognized the conceptual nature of this scene as follows: "In the foreground is a table set with a white plate, cup and saucer and knife on a flat table. Wintry light spills through a window just behind, and through the window you see brown grass, a barbed-wire fence and a huge log with a jagged end and a chain wrapped around it. A remarkable orchestration of light, space and texture, it is also richly symbolic: outside there is violence and death; inside a sacramental order and the light of an austere divinity. The window, a recurrent motif in Wyeth, both connects and separates the realms of inner culture and outer wildness." But there is a conceptual layer to the painting, relevant to our discussion of Menzel, that goes even beyond that. If you look at Wyeth's preparatory drawings for Groundhog day (which are readily viewable) you'll see that he originally included a German Shepherd dog, which he later replaced with the log. Wyeth said that the log, with its jagged,splintered end and its rough texture, served the same function as the dog. It provided an extreme visual / tactile contrast with the smooth porcelain plate and the thin, civilized interior. It also provided a dark shape in contrast to the light. It provided an abstract form that served the same compositional function as the dog's form. If Wyeth can compare the meaning of a dog with the meaning of a chopped down tree, I don't see why we can't compare Dine's drawing with Menzel's.

(to be continued)

4/21/2013 12:16 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

(continued)

Another good example of an artist who straddles the concept vs. form gap, but who is closer to the concept end of the spectrum, is Saul Steinberg. You couldn't claim that his work is not "conceptual"-- his ideas dominate his work-- yet, his better concepts are neither as linear or as literal as Dine's robe series. His concepts melt into visual forms, and pays obeisance to those forms. He would never disrespect them because they are essential to embody his concepts.

It is clear from his other work that Dine knows how to respect visual forms too. He can do it extremely well. Perhaps as part of his exploration of the outer perimeters of art (what Harold Rosenberg called the "de-defintion of art") Dine sometimes questioned whether that obeisance was really necessary, or whether it was just an obsolete drag on concepts. (In this sense, perhaps Michael Hall is correct to "blame the hippies.") If that was Dine's intent, I'd say it was a worthwhile experiment that turned out to be a great financial success but (in my humble opinion) an artistic failure.

In earlier posts I have quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald's wonderful description of a life-transforming kiss as a metaphor for artists committing their concepts to physical form: "He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star."

I think that marrying concepts to physical form inevitably involves compromise, exasperation and disappointment, but that struggle for me is really the most glorious part of art, the part that draws me to it again and again. Artists who focus too much on the concepts in their brain, and who neglect the "perishable breath" aspect of the kiss, don't interest me nearly as much.

4/21/2013 12:33 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger wrote, "In the real world, such extremes aren't always reached."

I agree. The intent of the artist is not irrelevant, nor is the perspective of the viewer. The prudent person has to find a home somewhere between scylla and charybdis, and has to be prepared to relocate on a regular basis.

Tom-- I like those numbers too. They add a tone of unpretentiousness while simultaneously adding to the design of the picture. But Joshua Reynolds sure didn't give much weight to spontaneous bursts of inspiration, did he?

Henry the Fifth wrote:

"Who is better, Menzel or Dine?"

I think Menzel is better at some things, Dine is better at others.

"Or another one, who is better, Bernie Fuchs or Jim Flora?"

Bernie Fuchs.

4/21/2013 11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to say that I've learned more from this blog than from thousands of art books or art school - for me it's like a version of Henri's Art Spirit in a different format .

Thanks , Al McLuckie

4/22/2013 3:53 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David,

what's the 'concept' behind Menzel's study / working drawing of a coat ?

4/22/2013 4:17 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

What's the concept behind Dine's picture of a coat?

4/22/2013 8:35 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, i don't know as i haven't read the text that goes along with it.

don't get me wrong, i'm not siding with Dine and the 'conceptualists'... i'd just like to hear what David - or you - thinks is the concept in a working drawing such as this one by Menzel.

4/22/2013 11:14 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Kev, i don't know as i haven't read the text that goes along with it.

Ha! ;)

Well, the thing is, in order to compare the conceptions of Dine's and Menzel's drawings, we need to look at both.

What Dine is doing is right there for us to see. It kinda looks like a coat. But it’s a crude and graphic/cartoony icon/symbol of a coat which explains itself mostly as a silhouette. It is rendered without reference to volume or lighting. Although the pose of the coat and the lack of the back of the coat on view through the opening at the neck gives an indication that the coat is occupied, although by an invisibled person. The coat is rendered as discrete patches of fabric, each of which has a distinct texture. This texture is unrelated to form or the actual material of most known coat/robe styles. Thus the image is falsified by its rendering.

And there you have it. That's the conception which is intrinsic to the work.

The Menzel also functions as a silhouette icon/symbol of a coat. One of the basic principles of depiction since antiquity is that silhouette alone can do about 90% of the job of establishing the existence of and explaining the nature of any particular object. Squint your eyes at the Menzel and you will see it will still read as “a coat.”

Where Dine’s coat is rendered without reference to volume or lighting, Menzel’s is. Although, crucially, it is not rendered so much as to dash the silhouette value of the coat shape. Rendering without volume or lighting or form is no more or less of concept than rendering with volume, lighting and form. In fact, one would have to say that having such conceptions present in the work is more conceptual than not having them. (In the world of pseudo-intellectual eggheads, often only the negation of an idea is considered profound. Since, in the grand scheme of things, this is mere petulance, there’s no compelling reason for such a view to hold sway going forward.)

Menzel’s coat equally portrays an “invisibled man.” So there is conceptual equivalence on that point. (Regardless of the fact that Menzel intends to place a figure in the coat in a later work, whereas Dine does not.) Menzel adds the additional concept of expressing the volume of the invisibled man, particularly poetically by the vertical shape of the opening of the coat as it lays over the protrusion of the belly and drapes from it.

Dine gives each portion of the coat its own texture. Menzel gives each portion of the coat its own texture too, but by virtue of the way he articulates the particular form happening at each part of the figure. Look at Menzel’s collar flap (flat) versus the left arm (zig-zag folds galore) versus the hanging portion below the belly (draping pipe folds). Dine’s concept is to have the textures unrelated to what might actually happen in a real coat. Menzel’s concept is to have the texture related to what happens in a real coat. (Again, negating the concept of form through rendering is certainly no more of a concept than positing the form through rendering. )

Leaving aside the note-writing and incidental scrawls on the Menzel, the invisibled man missing from the coat, and the lack of background reality (all of which falsify the drawing unintentionally), the Menzel drawing is just as falsified on its own merits as a drawing as the Dine, but far less crudely so. The verve of Menzel’s charcoal touch, his dabs of white, what he leaves undone, the brown paper showing through the drawing, the stray downward strokes, and his use of materials... all tell us that this is not a photo, not a tromp l’oeil image designed to fool the eye. But it is instead the work of a human hand. Crudity not required.

4/22/2013 12:46 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

(con't)



There was a great deal of philosophical debate during the 18th century about the problem of tromp l’oeil fooling the viewer. The argument that won that debate (for many reasons) was that a picture was better if it felt like the experience it was depicting rather than merely looked like it in a superficial way. Sometimes, or often even, this required of the picture maker that he render something deliberately incorrect, exaggerated or otherwise poeticized, in order to portray the depicted experience with more truth. This idea gave rise to everything from Fechin and Schiele to Cezanne and Picasso to NC Wyeth and Jack Davis. Dine is way late to that discussion. And his solution to just be stupid and random rather than poetic, is hardly an interesting solution to the question. And it was already done by the Dadaists anyhow. (The abstractionist solution was to increasingly not bother with depiction at all. Thus creating sensations on canvas in reference to nothing.)

4/22/2013 12:47 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, you're using the word concept in a different way to the Anons (above) so it's no wonder this conversation reads like (tetchy) answers to misheard questions.

The anons (and me) mean 'conceptual' art in the sense of a work in which an explanatory text is required before the idea is understood e.g. Duchamp. the form of the work could be literally
anything (e.g. a urinal) but what it's about is usually something other than the form.

the opposite would be work which requires no explanatory text because the idea is self evident .e.g Norman Rockwell. the meaning of the work is conveyed through visual
storytelling grammar (e.g. a girl running because it's starting to rain).

hardline fans of B usually find the ideas of A weak and the form ugly. hardline fans of A usually find the ideas of B obvious and the form technically competent but out of date.

i have no idea why you insist on calling mark making / rendering - in a working drawing such as the Menzel - 'conceptual'.

4/22/2013 4:00 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David, this sort of thing:

"The window, a recurrent motif in Wyeth, both connects and separates the realms of inner culture and outer wildness."

...is art waffle and you should know it. anyone with a brain looking at the painting knows that the window connects the inner and outer world. this is the self evident stuff i mention above. it's not 'conceptual', and doesn't require a critic to explain it.

4/22/2013 4:40 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The anons (and me) mean 'conceptual' art in the sense of a work in which an explanatory text is required before the idea is understood e.g. Duchamp. the form of the work could be literally
anything (e.g. a urinal) but what it's about is usually something other than the form.


Where in the world did you arrive at this definition of conceptual? Who says an "explanatory text" is required? Who says form doesn't matter?

If you don't believe in their game, don't play it.

4/22/2013 4:52 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev: "Who says form doesn't matter?"

well, Duchamps's urinal isn't about the form of urinals is it ?
it's about the idea that a found object can be 'art'. there's your 'concept'.

whether you or i think this concept is worthless or not is beside the point.

4/22/2013 5:08 PM  
Anonymous hakim said...

Laurence John, your definition of conceptual art seems to have nothing to do with what most people consider art - the creation of pleasing or moving images, the same way music deals with sound. Conceptual artists seem more akin to philosophers or writers the way you describe them, and not visual artists at all.

4/22/2013 6:20 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

well, Duchamps's urinal isn't about the form of urinals is it ?

Yes, that's true. But it's an extreme case, isn't it? Duchamp didn't draw or make anything with Mr. Mutt's urinal. Thus artistic form isn't involved. Whereas Dine did make that coat. Thus Dine did create its form. Since form is readable as concept, I read it an described to you what concepts I thought it held.

Hakim, Laurence was attempting to describe what others presume art to be. He has not offered his own view.

4/22/2013 6:33 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Daviid
"But Joshua Reynolds sure didn't give much weight to spontaneous bursts of inspiration, did he?".

A long gestation can bring forth spontaneity. An artist makes things that are difficult look easy. I am sure learning law was difficult and tedious but at some point all the effort of learning starts to function on it's own. It's the learning or mental effort that gives the spontaneous power.

Hakim
Isn't all art philosophy?

4/23/2013 12:40 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Hakim, Kev is right; that isn't my personal definition. i was simply trying to point out the standard useage of 'conceptual' art.
and you're right much of it is akin to philosophy. and yes, most of it is yawn worthy or offensive to one's senses. haven't you been to a modern art exhibition ?

David and Kev, you both seem to think that if you can ignore the difference, or convince the conceptual post modern types that there's just as much, if not more, quality concept in a Leyendecker as a Koons they will suddenly perform a volte face and cry "oh of course, we see it now... how silly of us !"

or better yet, if you just ignore or deride modern conceptual art or alter the definitions (make everything 'conceptual' !) it will go away and it will be like it never happened and we can rewind the clock to 1890. too late i'm afraid. it happened.

4/23/2013 3:42 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Me …I like Leyendecker and Koons.

"like it never happened and we can rewind the clock to 1890"

Ha ha! Koons owns canvases by Poussin, Fragonard (Young girl holding two puppies, ca.1770), Courbet (Le veau blanc, 1873), Bouguereau (Le jour, 1884) and Manet.

4/23/2013 4:57 AM  
Blogger Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Laurence,

I've wondered the same before, and even asked Kev about it once (Hi, Kev!). I will say that, especially in internet discussions, it's been incredibly helpful for us flies on the wall to see this stuff argued out. Especially when you're young and easily bamboozled by anyone who sounds like he's trying to throw out tradition and fight The Man. With fancy words, no less. There's probably no getting through to someone so deeply indoctrinated, but you can certainly help anyone listening in see through the farce. I don't know where guys like Kev and David get their patience from, but I'm glad they bother.

David, love your posts as always.

4/23/2013 6:45 AM  
OpenID Thomas said...

Funny that you liken him to a "master carpenter" - he used to use a carpenter pencil to draw these.

4/23/2013 7:37 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David and Kev, you both seem to think that if you can ignore the difference, or convince the conceptual post modern types that there's just as much, if not more, quality concept in a Leyendecker as a Koons they will suddenly perform a volte face and cry "oh of course, we see it now... how silly of us !"

There are some in Fortress Sophistication who will listen. Most will be stunned that there even is counter argument, so insulated are they. Not being taught to think for themselves, they will often simply reject any opposition out of hand and begin demonizing/name-calling. Many will not, can not bear any information counter to their dogma and self-perception and status. It is very rare indeed that anyone will come to believe anything that will ultimately diminish their real or perceived status in their community (or ego or pocketbook).

One objective here, Laurence, is to let all those knaves and egos and fools in the pomo militia know that their assumptions - assumptions of righteousness, assumptions of cultural power and primacy, assumptions of sophistication, assumptions of philosophical rigor -- will be challenged... forcefully, intelligently, and passionately. They should know that every time they presume to be in the right, and act accordingly, it won’t be an easy victory anymore. The argument will be slog. And their egos will be in jeopardy.

Part of the point of talking all this out (hi Sid!) is to give the rest of the concerned community a fighting chance when the next bulldozing session happens.

Which is to say, one must be prepared for when someone in the pomo militia calls you a Nazi... or bigot or reactionary or unsophisticated rube. Or when they say, “I guess you like Thomas Kinkaide too.” Or when someone casually uses “Norman Rockwell” as a euphamism for trite and cheesy commercial all-american bushwah. Or when someone repeats those wonderful bumper stickers; “Illustration isn’t art” or “that’s merely illustration.” You have to be ready and armed to combat these cheap tactics for winning the cultural conversation. Because though cheap tactics they may be, they are incredibly effective tactics against those who are not mentally prepared to fend off the attack. And over the long term, you see what happens. Negativity, shallowness, sensation, and hype wins.

4/23/2013 10:51 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

(con't)

Having the will and the ammo to counter the bulldozing (and spreading these memes by whatever means available) will help prevent the next generation from being brainwashed. This is important. Those who have excluded the beautiful and laughed at the true and spit at the needs of the heart and found workarounds and rationales to avoid craft... they are a societal problem, in my view and maybe yours, that needs to be dealt with. If you agree, why not come on board the plan. All you have to do is be prepared and willing to defend what you like and think good regardless of the names you are called.

Now, this is not to say I want to ban postmodernism. That’s insane. True fans of postmodern art can have all they want and they don’t need anybody’s permission to do so. And I don't want to turn the clock back to 1890 either. (Most of my favorite art comes after 1890, btw.) I don't want to remove anybody's fun or art or philosophical interest.

The point is that they (the cultural chat masters) shouldn't think postmodernism any better than narrative art... they should be disabused of their notions of moral, intellectual, philosophical, or aesthetic superiority. Because it is all provably bull, provided one is prepared for the conversation.

It is by virtue of their self-aggrandizing belief system and cultural control, (plus the social power play we call fashion, which is a whole other story) which allows a certain small, nasty set of culturistas to rationalize the exclusion of narrative art from the cultural conversation. Despite the fact that narrative art is the oldest art form we know of. (In fact, a solid argument can be make that narration is art and always has been.)

Lastly, Laurence, again speaking of “you’re trying to turn back the clock”, I do wish you would stop assigning me ulterior motivations I don’t have. Didn't we have enough of that from Mark Allen/Anon who accused me of being everything from a bitter Nazi to a shallow bigot? If you want to know my motivations, read what I’ve written above.

Best wishes,
kev

4/23/2013 10:51 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev,

i think you might enjoy some recent comments from Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery, London:

On art forms he does not relate to: "The art form I don't relate to – I'd put it more strongly actually – is video because it seems to me so often merely to be an incompetent form of film, made with the excuse that it is untainted by the professionalism associated with the entertainment industry. I'm not very impressed by conceptual art nor very often by performance art. I'm uneasy with some aspects of the legacy of Marcel Duchamp.

On "modern" wings in American art museums: "frankly these wings impress me as deadly: the same white walls with the same loud, large, obvious, instantly recognisable products lined up on them. Nothing in the so-called academic institutions of the 19th century approach them in orthodoxy and predictability."

On criticism: "There is a lamentable lack of critical debate about contemporary art. If you think about the way Modern and contemporary art was received in the 19th century, there was always a tremendous amount of critical defence and attack, far more than is the case today."

On museums and the market: "Exhibition in a museum – and, even more so, acquisition – is an endorsement which has become a substitute for critical appraisal. There seems to be a belief that the reputations of artists in museums will never be challenged. This is a valuable myth for the market. It may be that once a certain amount of public money has been invested in art it will be valued forever. But I doubt it."

On looking at contemporary art: "I try not to think of contemporary art as a separate category. I object to being asked whether I 'like contemporary art'. The question betrays the assumption that one will look at the art of today without a critical eye."

On meeting artists: "I think it is a mistake to suppose that meeting an artist would help to understand their art. The intelligence and imagination of many artists really exists only in what they painted or carved or modelled."

4/23/2013 11:09 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "what's the 'concept' behind Menzel's study / working drawing of a coat ?"

Obviously, we are seeing differences of opinion about the meaning of the word "concept," and given the long, unruly history of that term in the art world, I don't think this little blog is going to be the place where the vocabulary is cleaned up once and for all. Laurence, Kev and the Anons have demonstrated that there are multiple legitimate definitions of conceptual, and that fact should make us a little more open minded (and slower to bristle) about the different positions voiced here.

In answer to your question I'll offer my own view, but first I want to say that sometimes I think these analyses of drawings go past the point of diminishing returns (as I tried to explain in my recent post "Against Scholarship in the Arts"). Since I opened my big mouth on the subject, I can't very well back out now without explaining myself.

I don't give a whole lot of extra credit for avowedly "conceptual" art because I think most good pictures, such as Menzel's, also have concepts inherent in them. I think it is hard to find an artist's selection of an object (such as Menzel's coat) that is totally devoid of editorial content, simply because the choice itself, the focus on an isolated object, usually begins the process of conceptualizing it, and transforming its nature. (And even if it didn't, you could still add a conceptual layer at the end just by changing the title-- for example, by changing the name of a flat red picture from "Red # 27" to "Blood of the Proletariat.")

In the case of Menzel's coat, that is one heck of a coat-- big, dramatic, with a lot of personality. It is easy to see why Menzel chose to focus on it as an object of significance, revealing the personality of its wearer (unlike the general's pants or shoe laces). Menzel's editorial decision to emphasize the general's stout belly and powerful haunches (rather than flattening the design as Dine did), the significance Menzel found in the puffed up arms and shoulders, ballooning out with those interesting folds and creases-- there is a lot of editorial content in those choices, just as Dubuffet and Chagall used to play up buttons and lapels and pocket watches as trappings of the bourgeoisie. I would say that the universe of potential information about Menzel's subject (including the coat's wearer and its background) was processed through a conceptual filter to produce the drawing we see.

I don't think this kind of conceptual content is as literal (or as obvious) as Dine's formula (empty robe = hollow man) but it wouldn't take much imagination to transform Menzel's drawing into a similarly philosophical statement (empty military coat = hollowness of the war machine, all bluster and superficial drama with no soul or inner content).

Personally, I'd guess that such considerations were implicit in Menzel's choice of subject, one small part of what was going on in the back of his mind, but he most likely omitted the wearer more for economy (aahhh, a wonderful thing, economy) than for a political or philosophical statement. I don't think we need to know for sure in order to enjoy his picture.

(I've blabbed on too long and bumped up against blogger's word limit. I'll have to offer the moral of the story in a second installment).

4/23/2013 11:20 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

(cont.)

I understand perfectly why many artists of the 20th century began paying less attention to the time consuming, technical skill aspects of picture making, hoping to cut to the chase with the concept. Chaucer understood the same problem long ago, moaning, "The lyf so short, the craft so long to learne, Th' assay so hard, so sharp the conquerage." Perhaps the camera has liberated us from the drudge work of technical virtuosity? Artists would be foolish not to check out that possibility.

I think initial pioneering efforts had some interesting results. I am a big fan of Duchamp, just as I am a big fan of Steinberg. And I think Dine was continuing along that path with some of his early explorations such as with "happenings." But somewhere along the road, I think the path of what I'd call "conceptual" art became thinner and less substantial. Too many people gravitated to it because it was subjective and easy. Too many people deluded themselves into underestimating the importance of visual concepts in hard work such as Menzel's, while overestimating the importance of intellectual, literal concepts which turned out to be pretty superficial and facile.

I genuinely enjoy work in both camps, and think that both camps continue to do important work. However, given the fashions of our day (fashions which reward talented artists such as Dine for producing slop) it seemed more important to remind people of the ongoing value in work such as Menzel's.

4/23/2013 11:23 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David,

what you and Kev are calling 'concepts' or 'conceptual thinking' in the Menzel drawing i would simply call 'observation', 'mark making', 'rendering'
or how about plain old 'DRAWING' ... all of which sound less grandiose. i can agree that 'editorial choices' are made in a drawing, but again i don't think
these are necessarily 'conceptual'.

actually, i think the word 'conceptual' has been tainted by the modern usage and should be left in the Duchamp corner.

4/23/2013 11:44 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev: "Or when someone casually uses “Norman Rockwell” as a euphamism for trite and cheesy commercial all-american bushwah. Or when someone repeats those wonderful bumper stickers; “Illustration isn’t art” or “that’s merely illustration."


agreed, but the defenders of illustration / narrative art likewise shouldn't feel the need to talk it up into something it isn't. to intellectualise it into the ground. that smacks of over compensation.

your analysis of the Menzel drawing is accurate, but all you've done is explain in a very long winded way what the eye (of an observant person) takes in instinctively, and what the artist would have been doing instinctively.
i'm afraid i find that sort of visual analysis of an artwork unilluminating, and - as with the Wyeth critique above - perilously close to art catalogue babble. no offence intended.

4/23/2013 12:14 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I don't mind calling what we're talking about "drawing," although that is hardly a more precise term than "conceptual." Aren't we really just concerned with the value of the underlying activity, regardless of what we label it?

I think people try to enhance the value of Dine's robe (or make it more "grandiose," to use your term) by calling it "conceptual." If it weren't "conceptual," museums would never display such an unimpressive drawing and wealthy patrons of the arts would not line up around the block to buy it, right? So I prpose that we ask ourselves, "exactly what is this nameless activity that adds so much value / quality / edification / insight / inspiration / or whatever to a drawing that, standing alone as a physcial object, would scarcely merit our attention?" If the activity is merely Dine's thought that he identifies with an empty robe, and that the robe symbolizes a person who is lonely or alienated or hollow or insubstantial, I would say that such a thought (or concept, if you like) ranks pretty low on my inspirational scale. In fact, I'm guessing that most high school students who have read J. Alfred Prufrock would not feel particularly edified or enlightened by Dine's thought. Perhaps investment bankers who buy Dine's paintings would.

But if we compare this kind of thinking, this kind of intellectual, cerebral, (yes-- even "conceptual") activity with the kind of editorial, observational thinking in the Menzel drawing, I would say that for me, the Menzel drawing is a superior intellectual achievement. The Dine thought process seems kind of lightweight (and paradoxically, heavy handed) by comparison. So that may be the heart of our disagreement.

4/23/2013 12:25 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David: "I would say that for me, the Menzel drawing is a superior intellectual achievement."

i'm afraid i just don't see the Menzel drawing as an 'intellectual' exercise. i see it as a visual one.
Dine's weaker drawing is propped up by an intellectual / conceptual statement which the Menzel doesn't require.

4/23/2013 12:38 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I agree with your last post David.

I would add that, in order to announce one's affiliation with any particular tribe, the symbolism of that tribe must be worn out in the open.

Thus, it is the very obviousness of the "intellectual" point of Dine's picture that makes it an intellectual work of art. If the idea were sublimated in the work, the intellectuals wouldn't be able to see it. And thus they would rally around the idea that it was not there. Most intellectuals being, rather than insightful people, those who need to have all thoughts verbalized in order to be sure of them.

Dine's proclamation of tribe (elitist, sophisticated, hip) is the real value of the work. Anyone who buys the work, is paying for entry into the tribe, with all its perquisites.

The actual quality of the intellection present in any particular work is surely not something they can or will consider.

Laurence,

Thanks for those quotes from Mr. Penny. Striking how in tune we are.

On your other post, again, he who makes the rules, usually wins that game. The fight is for who makes the rules. Why not just stop accepting their rules. Why give Duchamp the word "concept?"

Maybe think about how concept has been a part of art for 2000 years. Start with the Greek statues. Or the art found in Pharos' tombs. There are many kinds of concepts, as David points out. It is broad phenomena. One can't even make a work of art without a concept.

4/23/2013 1:03 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev,

why ? simply to better understand each other in a debate like this.

when the late critic Robert Hughes used the phrase 'conceptual art' you can be pretty sure he meant Tracy Emin and not EL Greco.

i don't prize the word 'concept' myself, but i take your point.

4/23/2013 1:21 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I can tell you don't subscribe to Milton Glaser's position that "drawing is thinking."

If Menzel's activity doesn't count as "conceptual" (or whatever we want to call this ingredient that justifies Dine's picture and distinguishes it from Menzel's) it would help me if we could hone in on the nature of what does make something genuinely conceptual. Does it have to be a philosophical message? Does it have to take the form of words delivered in a linear (rather than purely visual) presentation? Does it have to take place in a particular part of the brain? We have been using terms such as "intellectual" or "conceptual" or "cerebral" which all denote some kind of mental activity (as opposed to manual dexterity, for example) but I am really not sure how to distinguish Menzel's activity from Dine's in a way that does justice to the "conceptual" argument.

By the way, Kev's comment reminds me that I, too, was impressed with Mr. Penny's views and should have thanked you for them.

Finally, you write: "the defenders of illustration / narrative art likewise shouldn't feel the need to talk it up into something it isn't. to intellectualise it into the ground. that smacks of over compensation."

I agree. I think that fine artists and illustrators are largely guided by the same polar star: "Whatever you're buying, I'm selling." To the extent that illustrators aren't as obnoxious, it's only because they are kept on a shorter leash by a more discriminating market. But in my view, they are no more commercial than "conceptual" artists or "fine" artists.

Kev Ferrara writes: "Anyone who buys the work, is paying for entry into the tribe, with all its perquisites."

I fear that is the motivating principle behind most of our overheated art market-- a lot of people with more money than taste, purchasing a certificate of "sensitivity" or "intellectualism" or "vision" to show their neighbors.

4/23/2013 2:30 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

P.S.-- Laurence John writes, "when the late critic Robert Hughes used the phrase 'conceptual art' you can be pretty sure he meant Tracy Emin and not EL Greco."

What, pray tell, did Hughes say about Emin? To me, she is a moron but on the other hand, she is buck naked in every photograph I've seen of her working in her studio. Not exactly the strongest feminist attire, but not without its redemptive features.

4/23/2013 2:37 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David,

i can't state my position on the topic any more clearly than i have already;

-one type of art requires an additional text / statement in order to understand it.

-the other doesn't.

...


i don't have a quote from Hughes about Emin but you can be sure it wouldn't be complimentary !

4/23/2013 2:55 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, I tried to imply earlier that what distinguishes conceptual work (as you see it), from work not so categorized, is that conceptual work is baldly conceptual.

That is, again, that such work is intentionally obviously intellectual. Or obviously philosophical. Or obviously transgressive or political (two qualities which now pass for intellectual or philosophical.) And there is not much at all to the work beyond the bald presentation of the concept.

Again, the more obvious the presentation the easier it can be intellectually digested, the quicker the artwork can be turned into conversation. (This is why I often point out that postmodern work is most closely aligned with editorial and allegorical illustration.... painted words, all. )

The easy translation of the meaning of the artwork into conversational fodder is the real necessity. Whether better "understanding" of the work comes out of that, I don't think matters. The point is to be part of the cocktail conversation.

4/23/2013 3:33 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- Thanks for the very kind reaction.

Thomas-- I had no idea anyone could achieve results like these with a carpenter's pencil.

अर्जुन wrote: "Koons owns canvases by Poussin, Fragonard (Young girl holding two puppies, ca.1770), Courbet (Le veau blanc, 1873), Bouguereau (Le jour, 1884) and Manet."

I have previously complimented Koons (sincerely) for having the good taste to buy the work of artists with more talent, but less marketing skill, than he has. Last week I sat a few feet away from Koons and listened to him explain his art. He is one smooth and articulate devil. When someone asked him how he justified "borrowing" other people's art for his own work, then suing anyone who dares to borrow from him, Koons didn't even blink. "It's different." I'll say one thing for Koons, his art makes Dine's look good.

Laurence John wrote:
"-one type of art requires an additional text / statement in order to understand it.

-the other doesn't."

I assume you don't mean that conceptual art needs an actual, physical statement accompanying the artwork, correct? (I don't believe that such a document exists for Dine's robe.) I assume you mean that viewers should be able to infer such a "text/statement" from looking at the picture? If a viewer infers the wrong statement, (one which the artist never intended, but nevertheless a plausible interpretation) is that still valid? If that's the case, how do you feel about the text / statement I conjured up for the Wenzel (empty military coat = hollowness of the war machine, all bluster and superficial drama with no soul or inner content). Couldn't that convert Menzel into a "conceptual" artistby that standard?

4/24/2013 6:44 AM  
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4/25/2013 5:53 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David: "I assume you don't mean that conceptual art needs an actual, physical statement accompanying the artwork, correct?"

no, usually there IS a written statement accompanying the work, or if not, then usually a critic's 'official' explanation or pointer comes along with it in gallery blurb.
this is the easily digestible tag line that Kev is referring to above. in either case the audience has to be given something else besides the work to make it 'work'.

for instance in Rauschenberg's 'Erased De Kooning Drawing' the work itself looks pretty unexceptional, but once you hear the 'idea' it (supposedly) opens up various
questions about authorship etc. if that kind of dry intellectual game is your idea of fun you're in luck !

let me clarify again: i am not saying i like this kind of conceptual work, 90% of the time i find it idiotic. i'm simply describing the common usage of the term 'conceptual' art.
the same way Robert Hughes uses the term when he's lambasting it.

"If that's the case, how do you feel about the text / statement I conjured up for the Wenzel ?"

i'm not convinced by it. as i said of Kev's interpretation it's dangerously close to the kind of over blown, over interpretive art babble that (bad) critics use. but i can tell you don't
believe that interpretation of the work either.

4/25/2013 6:23 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

no, usually there IS a written statement accompanying the work, or if not, then usually a critic's 'official' explanation or pointer comes along with it in gallery blurb.
this is the easily digestible tag line that Kev is referring to above. in either case the audience has to be given something else besides the work to make it 'work'.


That's not what I was saying. I was trying to point out that a critic's "official" opinion is not essential. What is essential is simply "critical intellectual opinion', which can come from anyone in the conversation surrounding the artwork. More succinctly, the "supplementary text" you refer to is more basically understood as the "sophisticated" conversation surrounding the work, which can be spoken, typed or auto-generated by software... it doesn't matter which. All that matters is that smart sounding words are spilled in reference to the work.

i'm afraid i find that sort of visual analysis of an artwork unilluminating, and - as with the Wyeth critique above - perilously close to art catalogue babble. no offence intended.

as i said of Kev's interpretation it's dangerously close to the kind of over blown, over interpretive art babble that (bad) critics use.


What I wrote is, as far as I can tell, true. If you don't want to register the concepts I pointed out as concepts, that's your prerogative. But your denial of their conceptual nature has no rational basis that I can see.

4/25/2013 7:50 AM  
Blogger nuum said...

Menzel died in 1905.

One hundred years and we are here talking about him and his beautiful drawings.
I would like to know if someone will be talking about Jim Dine in 2113.

Thanks David.

4/25/2013 4:56 PM  
Blogger nuum said...

David,

Have you ever watched Scott Burdick's video "The Banishment of Beauty" ?

You can watch the four-part video here.
http://www.scottburdick.com/

Museums have stolen the word "ART"

4/25/2013 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anthony Zierhut said...

Wonderful post, David! To me the big difference is that one is a working drawing and the other is meant to be a finished piece. Menzel's working drawing benefits from being utterly and completely unselfconscious, honest as it is brilliant It's fresh because there's no ego or pretense -- and because it wasn't meant to be seen by anyone but the artist, it has the aura of an undiscovered treasure about it.

The comparison of these two drawings makes me think about the Zen-like paradox of creating something meant to be seen and celebrated, yet somehow maintaining the freshness and spontaneity of ego-less action.

That being said, I'm happy that I live in a world that can value and embrace both Adolf Menzel and Jim Dine.

4/25/2013 6:48 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

""He is one smooth and articulate devil."" ~ Jeff Koons: Art Imp

I sent the quote to a friend that knows/knew Koons, the reply, 'He's an inarticulate goober who has nothing better to do than hold a personal grudge'.

Goober features the "Andy's Elvis" pose. FYI; The Hulk = Elvis

4/26/2013 9:39 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

nuum-- Many thanks for the comment, and also for the reference to "The Banishment of Beauty," which I will definitely check out.

Anthony Zierhut-- I share your preference for unpretentious and honest artwork, and I am also glad that we live in a world where we appreciate both Menzel and Dine. Having said that, I think Menzel's working drawing is a more complete and finished work than Dine's. I think it can stand alone quite nicely, framed on a museum wall.

अर्जुन-- I said Koons was smooth and articulate because he was dressed in an impeccably tailored gray business suit, and spoke in quiet, unctuous tones. He said eloquent things ("I had a childhood fascination with Victorian gazing balls because I loved their generosity, and that fascination came back later in my balloon animals.") He seemed to have a good knowledge of classical painters. And when he came upon subjects that might cause a normal person to stammer or stutter (such as his X rated photographs with his porn star wife or his thefts of other people's images)he was completely unflappable, gliding through answers with oleaginous perfection. I thought I might have hit upon the secret of his success; his art seems like utter crap to me, but if he can put on a good show for investors, that might account for the otherwise irrational market for his work. He may have been an inarticulate goober at one time, but apparently he can pull himself together now for a public talk.

4/26/2013 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Jones said...

Djeezes Kev. Reading your posts, no wonder your art is just a bore to look at. And this is by no means a personal attack, just an observation. We all know your opinion about modern art as you told the same thing over and over again, countless discussions on blogs, forums.. Leave it there, be open minded and focus on your own thing man, It will do alot more good then trying to convince people why one artist is so much better then the other.
Sorry I just had to post this because I see you pop up everytime there is a discussion about these sort of things and it gets repetitive.

5/01/2013 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, I stepped out of that to:

1.Stop having to re-word the same point of view X thousand times and

2.Show that I have no interest in trying to 'win' the argument just state a point of view without being shouted down by the neiborhood bully.

Having left space for KF to reveal some deep lying issues about himself and his motives I walk away a wiser man.

PS. Laurence John you are so on the money I raise my hat to you.

5/06/2013 1:33 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Et Tu "Jones!"

lol!

5/06/2013 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr McLuckie,
I have enjoyed reading your words
and learnt a great deal from them too.
I shall try Henri's Art Spirit next.
(I have only recently discovered the wonderful world of art -
i am drawing and painting as much as i can and am
learning new ways to express ideas; or at least, for the
time-being practicing technique andlooking at things and
considering ways ideas might be expressed..).
Is that your website with the quote:
'A painting should look like a battle..
a battle that the artist has won'.
I'm surprised. Cant a painting look effortless?
(Perhaps its not your site).
Lovely paintings and illustrations tho.
Yours,
ZG

7/04/2013 8:26 PM  
Blogger ZGAnon said...

Thanks Mr McLuckie,
I have enjoyed reading your words
and learnt a great deal from them too.
I shall try Henri's Art Spirit next.
(I have only recently discovered the wonderful world of art -
i am drawing and painting as much as i can and am
learning new ways to express ideas; or at least, for the
time-being practicing technique andlooking at things and
considering ways ideas might be expressed..).
Is that your website with the quote:
'A painting should look like a battle..
a battle that the artist has won'.
I'm surprised. Cant a painting look effortless?
(Perhaps its not your site).
Lovely paintings and illustrations tho.
Yours,
ZG

7/04/2013 8:48 PM  

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