Wednesday, May 27, 2015

KYLE STAVER


I like the way Kyle Staver applies the freedoms of fine art to the storytelling of illustration.

Her paintings have all the personal indulgence of fine art-- she takes liberties with the human figure and boldly flattens forms the way Milton Avery did...

Prometheus
...she injects a personal mysticism and symbolism into her paintings the way Gauguin did...

Groupers

... and she occasionally bleaches out detail with radiant light, the way Bonnard did.

His Turn

Yet, her paintings also contain the type of narrative more commonly found in illustration.   She says, "I'm first and foremost a storyteller.  When I went to art school you couldn't say that, you couldn't say that you wanted to make paintings because you wanted to tell a story.  But secretly that's what I wanted to do."

I think her paintings benefit from the discipline added by a personal story.  Her urge to communicate keeps her away from the self-indulgent obfuscation that plagues so much of contemporary art.  She paints myths and legends but they frequently end up as personal stories about her life (which lends welcome humanity in an often sterile post-modern art scene).

Andromeda



Trapeze

Birdcage

Illustration has been properly faulted for being too literal and too obvious.  Fine art has been properly faulted for being too self-absorbed and irrelevant.  Staver carefully selects attributes from both disciplines and ends up with her own blend.  I think her work suggests fruitful possibilities for both illustration and fine art.

Releasing the Catfish




61 comments:

Laurence John said...

i could easily imagine these being in an illustrated book.

chris bennett said...

I rather like the last one with the boat.
One or two others are OK, but I can't say I'm very much taken by her work generally. I dunno, I feel it kinda 'runs out' really quickly to be considered fine art, and doesn't really have enough literal focus to be illustration.
But thank you for drawing attention to her. Certainly worth a look.

Donald Pittenger said...

I like her comment about art school (wonder which one she attended). Sort of like my first-year architectural class where anything traditional was verboten.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- As you know, I'm not one who believes in a bright line between fine art and illustration but I think one can sometimes draw some useful generalizations. (For example, I believe the current fine art establishment is generally more commercial and more intellectually dishonest than illustration.) I agree with you these pictures could be great illustrations, perhaps in a book of myths and legends, or a book about a relationship.

Chris Bennett-- I think these are different from much of the art that we discuss here-- they're softer, without that hard draftsmanship core. But they have their own charm; it seems to me that Staver is doing some interesting and artistically difficult things in her pictures. I don't think it's easy to re-invent the human form the way she does in Prometheus or Trapeze. You have to shed an awful lot of training and muscle memory in the service of design and concept. But most of all, I think she draws from a personal space that is rarely revealed (or even touched) by most of the "tough guy" artists we discuss. It's something that Gauguin did very effectively. It's not a matter of technical skill but it's a very evocative part of the final image.

Donald Pittenger-- Staver got her art training at Yale, just like the great illustrator Morton Roberts.

Laurence John said...

David,

there are some lovely touches in 'Trapeze'; the way her small head is framed against her own derriere, the pointy feet dropping into that empty space between her legs, the high-lit hands of the man.

in some i don't think the physical distortions work so well (the lower body of the male skater seems pointlessly lumpen) and the crudeness of the drawing in some is distracting rather than charming (the woman's head in 'Andromeda' could have been so much better).

good to see some work that's out of the usual Illsustration Art comfort zone though.

lennard grahn said...

"When I went to art school you couldn't say that, you couldn't say that you wanted to make paintings because you wanted to tell a story. But secretly that's what I wanted to do."

Same ignorant dogmas when I went to art school... the whole idea of the modern art school is to make students stop making art and have a career in art academia instead, talking and writing about what's wrong with all the artists who sell art..
it's an incredibly stupid system.

MORAN said...

I disagree with David she paints about personal things which is different than illustration. Her paintings aren't explicit but are much sexier than pin ups and academic nudes because they're personal. Only fine art is that honest. Illustrators should try it.

chris bennett said...

David,

I certainly go along with what you are saying. And, thinking of Laurence's point about distortion, I would argue that I do not feel her forms are 'distorting' the human form at all. To me, they functioning very much like Picasso's liberties with form (the influence was immediately apparent to me) in that they are enticing in the viewer a sense of moving near and far and slightly around the figure and its surroundings. This is strongly exampled in the trapeze picture with the girl's large hand. But the sense of one not being in a fixed place in our viewpoint of the picture is happening more subtly in every other picture; even in localised areas as our eyes move across, for example, a chest or an upper leg. In the boat picture this is happening particularly with the space itself, giving off a very subtle dream-like sense of flying slowly about the scene with the birds moving around us.

chris sheban said...

Terrific work, David. Thanks for the introduction. His Turn, Bird Cage and Releasing the Catfish are beauties.

David Apatoff said...

Lennard Grahn-- I suppose that part of it depends on where you went to art school. I may be imagining things, but sometimes it seems that the more prestigious the school, the more insufferable its teachings. But there are some very practical and focused schools out there, from the Famous Artists School to Schoolism, which seem more concerned with arming students with the skills necessary to achieve whatever kinds of art they choose to make.

MORAN-- I disagree that "Only fine art is that honest" but I understand what you mean about Staver's work being "sexy." There is an intimacy to her visions which makes this work quite personal. I think illustrators could benefit from that, but it would be hard to summon dreams and fantasies and memories like that to satisfy a deadline.

Chris Bennett-- I take your point about "enticing in the viewer a sense of moving near and far and slightly around the figure and its surroundings" but I also see a plasticity born from her concepts-- for example, that Prometheus is all splayed and open and bent over backwards in impossible ways to heighten his vulnerability to the bird of prey. The male skater has impossibly wide haunches to give him a firm foundation for catching the floating, flying female skater. Such exaggerations may all be intuitive rather than conscious, but they do seem consistent with Staver's themes.

Tom said...

What no mention of Bonnard in regard to the interiors? I like the paintings especially the catfish painting. Thanks for posting them David.

Sean Farrell said...

Kyle Staver has really studied the artists David mentioned and others from the decorative school, Gauguin, Vuillard, Mattise and then Picasso, Ben Shahn and artists of New England leisure like Alex Katz and Fairfield Porter. Her archived paintings at her website display an impressive and wonderful colorist and excellent designer with very little actual drawing. There are some drawings from life done with some thick lines that are honest and capture real people, but in the paintings, especially the new ones unsupported by the patterning and less direct direct homage to earlier masters, the absence of honest drawing is really dragging on the level of the work, giving it that “somewhere between illustration and fine art” look. The level of the art, the design and understanding of the canvas is at a high level, but then it all seems as if filtered through the mind of a children's book editor.

That might sound very harsh, but there is a lack of the personal in many of the faces in the newer work. One that does work for me is the turned head of Eve in Adam and Eve with Goats at her website, but these wonderful designs require more authentic characters and would do better with some authenticity in at least the faces, verses plugged in faces from previous artists, or cartoon faces used in previous paintings. It's one thing to learn from others, but once stepping out, one has to ask, where is the Kyle Staver who drew real people in her life portraits? I can't imagine these images would be worse with some honest drawing and some of the shapes get a little too goofy and fail as design for the same lack of confidence in the drawing. It's almost as if she is trying to avoid drawing, or subjugate it to design, but her life portraits have something that the cartoon faces desperately need, confidence in herself. Here's an artist who needs to find her way into her own work. I think she is a very impressive artist, who will enjoy far greater success if she works to bring her own drawing into her work as she does with her design.

Laurence John said...

Chris & David,

it seems she's doing both (often in one painting); there are areas of suggested 3-D form, and also areas of flattened shapes that have that Picasso or Matisse-ish quality.

there is a tension and interplay between traditional illusory depth and graphic surface mark making that seems to be what she's interested in.

Tom said...

Well I see i just went right passed your Bonnard comparison when reading the post, Apologies David, when I came to the images of the interiors all I could see where those miniature Bonnard's and not your sentence.

Tom said...

Laurence John wrote
"here is a tension and interplay between traditional illusory depth and graphic surface mark making'"

Well said. I think it leads to some uncomfortable places the mythical paintings, where 2d shapes dominate 3 dimensional reality. The rock which Prometheus is bound is so insistently flat it feels sharp like it is piercing Prometheus back instead of supporting it. And the horse's back/spine doesn't turn underneath the rider in Andromeda, it reamins a hard edge, giving me a feeling of a most unpleasent ride. It doesn't happen in the rest of the painting where the interplay between shape and form feels more in tune with the subject and the changing dimensions feels much more rhythmic
.

lennard grahn said...

Well, who cares about fine art anyway, it belongs to the world of the elite who treasures it for its exclusive uselessness.

Robert Cook said...

"(For example, I believe the current fine art establishment is generally more commercial and more intellectually dishonest than illustration.)"

This is hardly a new development. I took life drawing classes at NY's Art Students League with former illustrator Gustav Rehberger back in the 80s. He told the class once that after having spent many years as an illustrator, becoming ever more frustrated by its constraints and the too often uninformed interference by art directors and/or clients, he decided to quit the field and apply himself to "fine art," to making art of his own. He discovered, as he put it, that the "fine arts world is more dirty and corrupt by far" than anything he had ever seen in the commercial art field. (Following up on this: one of Rehberger's class monitors took a batch of Rehberger's slides around to a number of the new NYC galleries popping up downtown at that time. He said all were highly interested in showing the work of this "unknown, undiscovered" artist...until they discovered he was not a young man but a septuagenarian who had had a long career in illustration and art education. Rather than desiring to show the work for its merit, they were interested only in "discovering" the next new young potential sensation.)

Robert Cook said...

Lennard Grahn,

You dismiss fine art too casually. There are many very talented artists working as fine artists, and much work that is worth seeing.

lennard grahn said...

Robert Cook:

There certainly are great artist working today, they create graphic novels and stay away from the putric stench of the gallery, the exibition space, the art fair, and the museum.Fine art has merged with fashion and design to provide expensive meaninglessness for the elite, a demonstration of their power, no different than buying million dollar apartments and leaving them uninhabited.

Robert Cook said...

Lennard Grahn:

I am aware of the talented artists working as cartoonists and illustrators, but there are also many fine artists working simply as fine artists in the traditional manner: painting, making prints, etc. If anything, there are TOO MANY good artists working today, as it makes it that much more difficult for any one of them to find an audience or build a career for themselves.

kev ferrara said...

Robert, can you share the names of some of the current fine artist that you think are really worth looking at.

lennard grahn, exactly!

JonInFrance said...

Her work reminds me of Hockney - especially young Hockney - somehow...

Robert Cook said...

Ann Gale, Mark Greenwold, Susan Moore are just three that come to mind, all of whom I like very much. (I include here representational artists, in case you scorn all abstraction out of hand. Here is writer Jonathan Lethem's father, whose work also pleases me: Richard Brown Lethem

Of course, you may hate or be indifferent to the work of any or all of these few artists I have put forth; your tastes may be quite different from mine. However, I can only believe that anyone who condemns the entire cohort of contemporary fine arts painters out of hand simply is not looking.

Anonymous said...

Kev get real. Tom Uttech, Alex Nevsky, Walton Ford's huge watercolors, David Beck.

JSL

kev ferrara said...

Kev get real.

Excuse me?

I was honestly hoping for some names doing good work that I didn't know, names that were big among the venues and institutions which represent the "fine art world" of our time, like Art Basel. I already knew of Anne Gale and Alex Kanevesky, and the two of them alone hardly constitute a mass encroachment upon the presiding pomo BS. (So "get real" right back at ya!)

David Beck's sculptures were fun however, and I didn't know about his work.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Sheban-- Glad you like them. It seems to me that Bird cage and His turn have a nice intimacy to them, a kind of mood that we don't see in stern, more disciplined pictures. I think Staver knows what she is doing and is capable of a more rigorous image, but wisely exchanged that for the softness and charm of these pictures. As for Releasing the Catfish, those huge, looping wings on the gulls were not an obvious choice but I think they worked out extremely well.

Sean Farrell-- Thanks for an interesting take. I don't disagree with you about the quality of the drawings on Staver's site but I'm not sure why you write that "absence of honest drawing is really dragging on the level of the work, giving it that 'somewhere between illustration and fine art' look." First of all, is that look bad? I can think of lots of admirable work that contains elements of illustration and fine art (such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). And I'm not sure that "honest drawing" is essential for every kind of painting, but I think the outlines of the woman in Birdcage and His turn are both knowledgeable and honest.

Laurence John-- Agreed.

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Yes, I think your description of Prometheus provides a good example.

Robert Cook-- Another good example. The illustrator Robert Fawcett started out as a fine artist. He had a successful one man show at a Manhattan gallery and one of his pictures went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, he was so appalled by the "fine art" world-- the sales process with the phony persiflage aimed at unwary customers, the focus on status and the pricing process. So he abandoned the fine art world to perform what he called "honest commercial work."

Lennard Grahn-- I am one of those who think you paint with too broad a brush when you categorically condemn fine art. I have no doubt that a sickness plagues the fine art world, and I have repeatedly used this blog to ridicule fine art superstars and their ill-motivated clientele. I think Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and their ilk are, as you say, "fine art merged with fashion and design to provide expensive meaninglessness for the elite, a demonstration of their power." And yes, I think Miami Basel is a symbol of a decadent culture. But I don't know why you'd surrender fine art to such people just because they've cornered the money and the accompanying headlines. Would you surrender illustration to Kincaid or LeRoy Neiman because they were far better known and made far more money than talented illustrators? Money and public relations have their place, but that doesn't mean the glorious traditions of fine art should be abandoned to the taste of clueless hedge fund managers and investment bankers, surrounded by concentric circles of sycophants and parasites. Human nature being what it is, it stands to reason that there are good things being done at all levels of fine art by people without press agents.

David Apatoff said...

Lennard Grahn-- PS, I think the quality of art in graphic novels is roughly comparable to the quality of fine art. There are a lot of crappy comic artists out there.

Kev Ferrara-- This is a huge question and worthy of more space than the comment section of this little blog, but it seems to me that there are many fine artists who are "worth looking at,"(including Kyle Staver, whose work I posted because I thought it was worth looking at). I think Andy Goldsworthy does interesting, innovative work that escapes the sickness of the contemporary art market. I learned to understand and like Christo after listening to him lecture. I like James Gallagher's collages. They're probably no longer "contemporary" but I like Gregory Gillespie, and I am deeply impressed by Claes Oldenburg's early drawings and designs. I agree with JSL about Tom Uttech-- I don't know if you've seen his work in person, but he paints huge and mysterious post-apocalyptic forests with all of the birds and animals fleeing in one direction, witnessed by a symbolic bear. The same with Walton Ford's wall sized paintings of extinct creatures with writings and mythological backgrounds. I like Phil Hale (who started as an illustrator before he became a gallery painter). I'll bet Eric Fischl doesn't have the oil painting technique you like, but I think his work is quite striking. And if you are putting a premium on technique, there must be a number of contemporary traditional painters "worth looking at," such as Adrian Gottlieb or Jeremy Lipking.)

This is not a systematic list, just a bunch of names that come readily to mind. As I said, more discussion seems warranted.

JonInFrance-- That connection didn't occur to me, but I'll check it out. Any particular Hockney paintings that come to mind.

chris bennett said...

David and Laurence -- Yes, I agree that there are wilful exaggerations in her forms that are there for expressive effect. But for me when they are distinct as 'distortions' alone rather than an outcome of the shifting viewpoint sensation I described, they feel a little crass IMO. This is the reason I am so much taken with her last picture of the boat and seagulls; the moving viewpoint is very expressive of what the picture is about, and it is in ways that are extremely subtle (witness the tonal change of the water framed by the gulls' wings and how they imply a shift of viewpoint).

And David (Robert and Anon), I fully endorse your reply to Lennard Grahn and Kev in contesting the idea that the entire barrel of the fine art world is contaminated with Post Modern blight. Although I see that Kev has clarified his initial endorsement of Lennard's view so that I understand him to mean something far more balanced and reasonable.

kev ferrara said...

Lipking does some great stuff and some sappy stuff. But his "October Aspens" was the most beautiful picture I've seen in quite a while. Gottlieb seems stuck in atelier mode, so I don't know why you threw him in there. (I think you were annoyed that I used the phrase "worth looking at" so you were trying to zing me with a reference to ARC. But I don't share their mission at all. So, no points on the zing.)

I find myself increasingly drawn to art with deeply felt and imaginative expression inextricably fused with a believable, sensitively-observed environment. Everything else seems frivolous, shallow and/or tricky by comparison. And I understand the value of having some identifiable "trick" in the fine art marketplace as a brand identifier. But all tricks are ultimately shallow by definition.

Blurring out all the faces in one's paintings, or meaninglessly chopping up the pictorial surface is bad enough as tricks go. But at least those artists can paint. Even crafting pretty arrangements with colorful seashells is redeeming as decorative work. But once we accept utterly basic and drab graphic designs on canvas and the covering of objects with expensive drop cloths as aesthetically significant, we've descended all the way into the state of utter credulity required to power bullshit-ville at its full cash-generating capacity.

JonInFrance said...

Well, maybe it's just me and the 'connection' is tenuous (or emotional or stg), but I was remembering things like (I've always liked Hockney, funnily enough (compared to the 'rest' of my 'taste'):

Harlequin from Parade

Le Plongeur (Paper Pool 18), 1978

Man Taking Shower in Beverly Hills, 1964

Sean Farrell said...

Hi David,
No I don't think the look is bad, I think she is doing some interesting things in the new designs too. But she is a fine artist, showing with other fine artists and it is here that I find the stock faces, like something off an assembly line and the drawing subordinate to the much better designs. It's my opinion and I understand other opinions are fair, but I wonder as I look at the work, what might be if the characters were real people as she drew them in her life portraits, which I found far more engaging for their expressionistic authenticity. The lines and shapes were less predictable and engaging over the stock profiles and face forward heads. I think she is better than this. That's what I meant by more honest.

I really enjoyed her work and loved the luminosity and color in her archived work. Thanks very much for posting it.

Robert Cook said...

Christo's installations must be experienced to really "get" or enjoy...photographs don't do it. When his GATES were up in Central Park, they truly were something to see and walk through. Quite a joyful experience in the barren winter months they were up.

I do think Christo's project drawings are wonderful in their own right.

kev ferrara said...

Really? I thought those gates were a bunch of orange sheets hung in central park on a cold day. I "experienced" them, and was bored and chilly and felt like a fool for the four minutes I stayed on the trail.

I also confess that I wasn't at all swayed by the hype. So I wasn't conditioned to like the drapes just because a bunch of art critics and credulous friends told me they were important or worthwhile. I don't buy pre-conditioning hype or most explanatory artist commentary. A work stands or falls on its own merits. And the gates did neither. They were meaningless structures with pleasing color which contrasted pleasantly to the drab colors of that day.

I suppose on a better day we can enjoy them like children running through fresh laundry on a clothesline, (actually they were less enjoyable than that, because fresh laundry has a wonderful smell) but don't mistake either simple enjoyment for the art experience.

Like David's lightning rods in a field example, its a kind of amusement park ride; we are amused according to the features the ride affords. And any revelations one might get while on that ride are purely of our own authorship. (Another form of the "projection test" format that modernism and postmodernism traffics in to achieve its emotion-effects without actually doing any composing.)

Robert Cook said...

I never said The Gates were important, and I didn't swallow the hype. I discovered, however, that walking through Central Park was delightful with the Gates erected for their brief time. I don't require that art be "important" or that it "mean" anything to be able to take pleasure in it. I don't require "revelations." (I don't expect them, either.)

"They were meaningless structures with pleasing color which contrasted pleasantly to the drab colors of that day."

That's enough, isn't it?

kev ferrara said...

That's enough, isn't it?

Enough to be amusing. But is an amusement alone enough to be considered Art? (assuming we take the word art to have some meaning beyond "anything I say is art.")

My answer to that must be no. Amusement is not enough. Nor is beauty. Because beauty without meaning is also a mere amusement, a kind of simple pleasure.

Which is not to discount the value of simple pleasures and amusements. Who would want to do without them? But just because we like simple enjoyments does not accord them the status of art, in my understanding. Because the word art is not some honorific we bestow upon any old created thing we happen to be pleased by.

Robert Cook said...

"Enough to be amusing. But is an amusement alone enough to be considered Art?"

Well, this goes back to the old question: "What is art?"

(Notice that you say "Art" with a big "A" while I say "art" with a little "a".)

I would say "art" is any expressive artifact made by humankind. This does not speak to the quality or worth of any given work of art. Most "art" will be forgotten--if noticed at all--much of it in its own time, the balance of it over time. Very little "art" ever made will be remembered or valued beyond its time and place. This applies to most of the art most of us here enjoy or that David speaks about on this blog.

etc, etc said...

Kudos to Kyle Staver. A design schtick is the only worthwhile schtick.

kev ferrara said...

Robert, I like the sound of "any expressive artifact made by humankind." The devil, however, is in the details. The word expressive, for instance, as the sole criteria to differentiate a work of art from any human work whatsoever... that sets the bar so low for entry that even the shape of a common household design would qualify.

A sample discussion of "art" might go...

"Hey did you see that Velasquez portrait at the met?"

"Yes, I did. Have you seen this drinking glass I found in the trash?"

Point being that there is fifty times more qualities that separate and sensibly distinguish the Velasquez portrait (which is undeniably art) from the common drinking glass, than qualitatively unites them as artifacts. And in the act of not distinguishing the two creations categorically, we not only elide everything worth saying about art, de-educating ourselves in the process, but we also diminish the greatness of the Velasquez in the process of associating it with a run of the mill piece of human expression.

Which is why I would opt for a distinction between upper case Art and a more colloquial lower case art.

David Apatoff said...

JonInFrance-- I see your point with those Hockneys.

Sean Farrell-- I agree that Staver is not trying to make those painted faces distinctive, the way she makes her more sharply observed drawings. On several of her figures (as in His Turn and Bird Cage) there is no face at all, just solid color. On others (such as Groupers or Andromeda) she employs a few generic lines or shapes for faces, but I suspect that is just intended for universality. Despite that fact, I think there is some insight in the turn of the woman's head in Bird cage or the ice skating man's head. These don't seem to me to be mere stereotypes. Others, like the face of the woman ice skater, I agree fall short.

Robert Cook and Kev Ferrara-- I agree that Christo's installations should be experienced, and it helps if you've heard his lecture about his intentions. He speaks eloquently about the link between his wrapped building and the aesthetic of draped figures in ancient Greek statues. I agree that they don't correlate directly to the aesthetic of painting, but I think they are still a sensory and intellectual experience, crafted from some of the same instincts. There is an excellent documentary about Christo's running fence which captures some (I think) truly lovely and eerie aspects of the sculpture, but I haven't found it yet. I did find this video of people opposing the running fence: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1ta0NaacfY ) Kev, is that you in the sun glasses?


David Apatoff said...

etc, etc-- I think there is a lot to be said for design oriented art (although I would argue that Staver's art, with its narrative content and personal intimacy goes far beyond pure design). I tend to be pretty skeptical of art that abandons design and composition altogether in favor of "concept." After all, if you're going to disregard the challenges of form making, why make visual art? Why not write treatises instead?

Kev Ferrara-- Another sample discussion of "art" might go:

"Hey, Did you see that ugly childish bullshit Jeff Koons portrait at the met?"

"Yes I did. Have you seen this beautifully designed drinking glass I found in the trash? Some anonymous and underpaid production designer cared enough to give it a lovely pattern and the sun illuminated it beautifully on top of that banana peel and the newspaper."

I don't have any objection to developing a set of presumptions about where we are likely to encounter quality, and what form it is likely to take. After all, I think that's what a civilized, cultured person does after they've had a bit of experience. But I think we do ourselves a disservice when we make our expectations more than presumptions and irretrievably foreclose ourselves from potentially rewarding aesthetic experiences. (I'm referring here not just to the difference between the met and a trash can, but also to the difference between traditional, narrative art painting and abstract or conceptual work.) Christo's running fence is a different kind of experience than a Velasquez painting, but if you saw the documentary recording the fence, with great lines of fabric billowing in the wind in zig zag patterns on an epic scale, and you heard the sounds of the breeze and the sensed the scope, you might have a series of complex sensory and intellectual reactions worthy of human consciousness. Are they your preferred art form? No. But they might raise some ontological and epistemological questions about the relationship between art and nature that could affect the way you view your preferred art forms.

I offered up Andy Goldsworthy earlier as an artist who is doing intellectually challenging work that is well outside the maw of the current art establishment. He might be less objectionable to you than Christo. Do you have a reaction to his work?

chris bennett said...

I think there is a difference between a non-functional object deliberately contextualised so as to prompt ever-divergent questions about what and why it is, and a non-functional object (or work) that irrespective of its context induces an experience communicated by an intrinsic language embodied by its forms that yields a resolution to a question we had not consciously realised we had been asking. (To whit; Imaginatively living one of the fundamental human truths)

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Are you saying that one is preferable to the other? There seem to be twin dangers to "intrinsic language" being too literal or too incomprehensible. I'm having trouble with what you mean by 'contextualized." Isn't everything affected by its context? The frame you put it in, the wall you hang it on, the fight you had with your spouse right before you viewed it? The "intrinsic language" in a Kathe Kollwitz image might mean one thing to me if I view it alone in my study at 2 am, another thing if I view it in a sunny meadow where I've been playing with baby kittens, and a third thing if I'm a Nazi shutting down her exhibition because I view it as "decadent."

kev ferrara said...

I agree that Christo's installations should be experienced, and it helps if you've heard his lecture about his intentions. He speaks eloquently about the link between his wrapped building and the aesthetic of draped figures in ancient Greek statues.

It shocks me when you accept such salesmanship as even worth remembering, let alone repeating. I would have thought you far less programmable than that.

Reminds me of that old saying about a sufficiently open mind; that anyone can pour anything into it.

Speaking eloquently is what an artist is supposed to do in the artwork itself. Not about it. To speak about it is the role of the critic, academic and blogger... their role being to incorrectly and heedlessly translate what is crafted in the ultra difficult language of art into the simple-minded understandings available to well spoken fanboys of all ages. Christo's big, meaningless gestures are crafted to appeal to just such a strokable crowd.

but if you saw the documentary recording the fence, with great lines of fabric billowing in the wind in zig zag patterns on an epic scale, and you heard the sounds of the breeze and the sensed the scope, you might have a series of complex sensory and intellectual reactions worthy of human consciousness.

More salesmanship. Again, as with academic text supplements to art, I don't need a filmmaker to hype the experience of any artwork to me using cinematic tricks learned at NYU. I was actually there, lived the work and appreciated the mindless vacuity of it just as it actually was. I assure you it was not cinematic walking under a sequence of drapes in the cold. It was programmatic.

Re: Andy Goldsworthy. Saw his designs. If he could just make some smaller work he might be able to open an Etsy store.

kev ferrara said...

Just realized you referenced a different Christo work in that last quote I pulled, one that I did not actually experience.

But I can tell you that I was once on a large sailboat that was caught in a sudden storm in the Hudson and I know very well the drama of great billowing cloth. Maybe a better example... I also once had a summer job of putting up event-tenting and was once caught along with a crew of five in an outlandish windstorm and took a few rides skyward on massive sheets of billowing canvas. Having been a part of battening down that whole disaster surely gives me a better sense of the billowing experience than one might gather from Christo's controlled gusty flappage (not referring to his speeches).

Tom said...

Pretty funny response Kev, LOL (in a good way)! I use to argue with a friend that if everything is art then the word has no meaning.

The is it art question seems like a type of shopping, or consumerism, picking a experience, or things and asking the question is that thing art, is this experience art? Which is not quite the same as making sense of experience or knowing what you want to say about experience and then translating it into a new form that is govern by its own inherent nature, i.e.. paint, ink, charcoal etc.

kev ferrara said...

The "is it art?" thing actually has a rather epic story behind it, too long to get into here. The history goes back to the origins of modernism in Impressionism, maybe before. And it has gone through any number of evolutions, all of which are designed to push some boundary of the meaning of "art" in order to "make art history" by being less artful.

The current postmodern version of this game you are talking about, the "found art" movement, has also gone through some changes. The latest incarnation at the Gagosian in NYC has outdone itself. It has Richard Prince playing the assigned role of outraging all us art conservatives by simply stealing other men's illustration artworks and putting his own name to it.

My previous belief was that all this pomo bullshit just needs to be yawned at in order to disempower its guerrilla marketing strategy (which is to create an outrage which gets media attention). But stealing another man's work, framing it, and putting your own name to it really is just theft and should be litigated as such.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- What do you have against salesmanship? I suspect you've read Vasari; if Tintoretto and his peers indulged in salesmanship, I'm not sure how you deny it to Christo 500 years later. Same goes for the salesmanship of Rubens. Same goes for the salesmanship of Turner. I'm not surprised, we're talking about artists, not monks. Christo doesn't shrink from salesmanship; he states that part of his overall "project" is persuading local zoning officials and politicians to grant the licenses and permissions for his work. If the work turns out to be good, an artist is doing me a favor by selling me on his or her work.

And who comes up with these rules like, "Speaking eloquently is what an artist is supposed to do in the artwork itself"? Before Beethoven's 9th Symphony, no one had ever put words in a symphony before. Several people objected, "You're not supposed to do that!" Unfortunately, I can't name those people for you today because they're all on the ash heap of history.

I understand your point about open minds, but ion the other hand I've always been persuaded by Seneca's admonition, "If you judge, investigate." That's why I went to hear Koons lecture and it's why I went to hear Christo lecture. I came out of Koons' lecture more persuaded than ever that he is a fraud, but Christo's lecture went a long way toward turning me around.

I can't really dispute your description of the function of the blogger, except to add that it is only a partial description. Bloggers clutch at the slim hope of adding value if they are able to circulate higher resolution images of work by deserving but neglected artists.

Tom-- I haven't been shy about my own preferences for what constitutes the most rewarding and profound art, and I don't mind trying to justify those preferences with words and reason, to the extent I am able. However, I get nervous around purity tests for "what is art," especially tests that devalue the intuitive, subconscious and non-rational side of art. Willfully translating experience into a new form can be a dandy thing but a lot of great work has accidental components.

Tom said...

David

I was just responding to Kev's hilarious post about billowing sail cloth I was trying to see what was the different between making something and asking what something is. I was not devaluing any aspect of art. As in art, as in life the willful and intuitive exist simultaneously. The great thing about art is it points to wholeness not division. Usually the most, trained person is the most spontaneous. The training in fact brings intuition into being. Most training in the arts (ballet, dressage, martial arts everything) is done so one can act spontaneously without hindrance or conflict. So one can act with the grace and beauty.

As Degas said, "Only when the painter no longer knows what he is doing does he do good things."

Accidental like coincidence seems more like an interpretation of events then a fact.

kev ferrara said...

David,

I hope you didn't take offense at my ribbing. If you did, my apologies. I think this blog is wonderful. However, the question of being convinced about the merit of an artwork by its artist is legitimately worrisome.

And I don't mean having pretty girls or exciting action when I talk about salesmanship. I don't mean entertainment value. What I mean is that the artwork should be its own best advocate. When artists start using their mouths to sell their work, we may just chalk that up to a need to survive, and savvy folk like us can take whatever is said with a grain of salt. But when artists use their mouths to explain their work, and we find the explanation necessary to the "correct" appreciation of the work, the question arises... is their mouth part of the work? (Or as Dean Cornwell said, "I wish all artists were mute.")

The basic principle being defied by artistic explanations extrinsic to the work is UNITY. The principle of unity entails that artwork should function as a unit, self contained, unto itself, expressing directly to the audience in the universal language of art. When extra texts and talk are deemed necessary to experience the work... those communications are outside the bounds of the work, extraneous to the art, breaking unity.

This is literally the most fundamental principle of art and has been so since antiquity. So I feel rather confident that encouraging (and expecting) unity in art isn't some mere preference on my part. It isn't a whim.

Given that we have seen loads of crap art being sold by the mouth, by academic balderdash, by investment brochures, and ad copy, in the last century, I think it couldn't hurt to push back against that kind of unprincipled marketing. And above all we shouldn't mistake that marketing for artfulness.

It is no great leap to note that artists unprincipled about the necessity of unity in their art usually forgo other less central principles as well. So nothing gets my defenses up quicker in the arts than an artful mouth. There are vastly more people in the world that can talk a bird out of a tree than paint it. And I've met enough talkers for three lifetimes.

Frebnedzo said...

In addition to Staver, thanks for all the artists I've been exposed to in this thread. I did a few searches and Mark Greenwold makes interesting art and seems interesting (in a real way) when discussing it. Great find!

etc, etc said...

When I was a small child playing inside the house I would gather a few chairs together and cover them with bedsheets to form a haphazardly shaped tent. I'm not sure why, but back then it would set my imagination on fire. It was a mountain I could crawl over or journey inside. Even though highly stimulating to my imagination as it was, knowing what I know now I could never consider it a true aesthetic ART experience. I suspect that's a distinction that needs to be made in regard to Christo and perhaps a lot of modern art.

Chris James said...

Always late to the most interesting discussions *sigh.* But this reminds me of something I've wondered for a while: What exactly does the "fine" in fine art meant anymore? I always assume it referred to quality of craft, but with so many roughly painted, chalky, garish canvases not only qualifying under the heading, but some even placed among the greatest achievements in their medum, I can only assume this isn't the case. If I had heard the term "fine art" and understood what abstraction means in the visual arts but had yet to see a Modernist abstract work, I would imagine such a work would at least have a quality of surface more like a Van Eyck and less like a sidewalk chalk drawing or old cream cheese on a bagel.

Some may notice that I specifically relate quality to craft -why? Because it's the most evident; it doesn't need to be claimed, made exceptions for, explained (unless for even deeper understanding and appreciation), etc. What else,quality of idea? Apparently less evident, as evidenced by the need of so many Modern and Post Modern artists to attach some kind of written or verbal statement explaining the work. Thoughts can run deeper than surfaces, but they can also be more deceptive.

I also must question the art school admonishment against drawing skill that people have experienced. How do the Modernist zealots explain the fact that their patron-saint, Pablo Picasso, the man that many of them consider the master among masters when it comes to abstract art, was quite skilled in representational drawing? And do they think that this skill in representational drawing is incidental to his supremacy (their opinion about the man, not mine), being that he was one of the few Modernists to reach an academic level of ability? An ACADEMIC level of ability, which means even more representational than the Renaissance or Baroque artists (which were CLASSICAL, not ACADEMIC); I've seen pieces from Picasso's brief representational period that were less abstract than Ingres even.

I've noticed that the Modernists' defense of their dogma is only as sound as their ability to move the goal posts, for example how they're quick to point out
how an artist like Picasso had "mastered" traditional skills* if you criticize the validity of Abstract Expressionism. These people need to make up their minds about the credibility of traditional skills/training.

*Supposedly there is a quote from Picasso himself where he states he could draw as well as Raphael. Ha, I highly disagree with this and I have a feeling he might too, going by some other quotes of his. I'll just say he knew exactly what was going on around him...

chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote -- Are you saying that one is preferable to the other? There seem to be twin dangers to "intrinsic language" being too literal or too incomprehensible. I'm having trouble with what you mean by 'contextualized." Isn't everything affected by its context? The frame you put it in, the wall you hang it on, the fight you had with your spouse right before you viewed it? The "intrinsic language" in a Kathe Kollwitz image might mean one thing to me if I view it alone in my study at 2 am, another thing if I view it in a sunny meadow where I've been playing with baby kittens, and a third thing if I'm a Nazi shutting down her exhibition because I view it as "decadent."

I am indeed saying one is preferable to the other. And for this reason: Everything is of course, by the nature of existence, contextualised; eating breakfast at a friend’s house, hanging out the washing on a lovely morning, going to the museum on a crowded train, seeing the Velasquez hanging near the toilets, the daub in the private view painted by the pretty artist telling us it is a scene near our childhood home, the TV drama watched late that night to take our mind off the foolishness in buying the daub. So if everything in life is necessarily contextualised, one of the distinctions between art and anything else is that the less a work of art is diluted by extrinsic components (understandings that do not come from the imaginative experience induced by the work’s intrinsic language) the purer, or ‘greater’ is that work of art.

Context is the everyday lens/filter/framework through which we witness the world, including works of art. And I agree that it can distort our view of that which we behold. But when the authored meaning of a work inducing an imaginative experience in us is believed to reside in the context through which we sense it, it follows that we cannot trust that it is being communicated by something other than our subjective awareness. Hence the relativist dogma argued by Post Modernism where Chiristo’s sheets are the emperor’s clothes draped over a Knave - the same bedclothes as Tracy Emin’s bed inside the palace museum.

But I believe the noble man remains so without his crown, and it is our responsibility to see through the pageant of finery, footmen, billowing flags, hysterical publicists and cheering crowds, so that we can tell the difference. And I passionately believe this is for our sanity as individuals and the society at large.

Because Art is a language; a language written in the forms that embody it; so are we to say that the meaning of the book, whether it is written in words, forms or sounds, resides in its cover, in other words, the mood of the reader, the room they sit, the house they own etc…? If that is the case, what is being communicated, if anything, from within the cover of the book itself?

Robert Cook said...

"In addition to Staver, thanks for all the artists I've been exposed to in this thread. I did a few searches and Mark Greenwold makes interesting art and seems interesting (in a real way) when discussing it. Great find!"

Greenwold is more recognized for being the subject of an iconic portrait painted by a long-time friend of his than for his own work.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Thanks for your consideration, but I promise I took no offense at your ribbing. I would've responded sooner but I've been on the road (Houston, San Diego, Chicago) and my agenda made commenting difficult. But I'm always interested in your sharply pointed positions, even when they're wrong.

I agree with you about the importance of unity in a work of art, as far as the point goes. But wouldn't you also agree that art can operate on multiple levels, instead of one consolidated meaning? Wouldn't you agree that form and content can be two separate components of great art, appreciated and criticized on separate tracks? Wouldn't you say that great art establishes visual priorities to lead your eye around the picture sequentially, even as the picture holds together as a unity? If these subdvisions of art are valid, I'm not sure how you can begrudge "extra texts and talk" which add depth to an image. I agree that an image should be capable of standing alone, but how many times has your appreciation of an image been enhanced by background information?

Frebnezdo-- Thanks, I've heard Mark Greenwold's name suggested before. My initial reaction to his images is not great-- his palette seems so unhealthy and his distortions of the human form, with the big heads and small bodies, is not generally to my liking. His subjects-- nude domestic scenes of family and friends-- is always an attention getter, but when I went looking for his descriptions that would enhance my appreciation, my first efforts didn't produce much. I found an interview at a reception on youtube where Greenwold joked that he paints his penis smaller than it is in real life, but other than that didn't have a whole lot of insight to share about the art.

Tom-- Kev associated Christo's cloth fence with billowing sails, while Etc, etc associated Christo's cloth with his childhood tents. I guess we all interpret events. I'm not sure why combining cloth with gesso and paint is valid but combining cloth with wind and sun is not.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc wrote: "knowing what I know now I could never consider it a true aesthetic ART experience. I suspect that's a distinction that needs to be made in regard to Christo and perhaps a lot of modern art."

I wouldn't sell short those childhood projects that set one's imagination on fire. And people who try to build a fence around "a true aesthetic ART experience" seem to be motivated as often by status, prestige and greed as they are by imagination and intellect. I haven't found a single formula that works yet.

Chris James-- I think you're correct to ask what the fine in fine art means "anymore," as I believe the term has been a moving target. In my view, things have changed and, especially in the last 50 years, not for the better. However, I think there are legitimate reasons not to limit quality to a question of craft. In the past, an excess of craft has resulted in superficial, ornate and shallow work, which set people to hungering for emotional sincerity-- often conveyed with a more natural, unschooled appearance. The whole romantic period in the 1800s resulted from people having their fill of aristocratic excesses and too many layers of civilization. They turned to passion, spontaneity, emotional authenticity, folk art, etc. as more genuine than craft. I don't know how you feel about Rousseau, but any movement responsible for Turner, Beethoven and Goethe can't be easily dismissed.

Chris Bennett-- I have no quarrel with your proposition that "the noble man remains so without his crown." In fact, there almost seems to be an inverse relationship between crowns and nobility these days. But I think I step off the trolley before I reach your point that "the less a work of art is diluted by extrinsic components (understandings that do not come from the imaginative experience induced by the work’s intrinsic language) the purer, or ‘greater’ is that work of art." I think "purity" by itself can't be a measure of quality because I have seen too many pictures that are pure crap. I agree that there has to be a volitional act at the core of a work-- an intrinsic language if you like-- but so many great works are opened up (rather than "diluted") by extrinsic components, I often think that the greater artist is one who taps into those extrinsic components and makes a picture more open ended and ambiguous, rather than trying to control some intrinsic message right down to the punctuation. The artists who are too controlling and deliberate often end up with work that is too narrow.

This may sound like "relativist dogma" to you, but I would argue that we have just as much to fear from "absolutist dogma," if not more.

kev ferrara said...

But I'm always interested in your sharply pointed positions, even when they're wrong.

Thank you, David. By way of touché - I prefer your wildly incorrect views to your sane ones because the defects in your thinking are so beautifully hidden by your intellect that there is great sport in ferreting out the core foolishness.

I agree with you about the importance of unity in a work of art, as far as the point goes. But wouldn't you also agree that art can operate on multiple levels, instead of one consolidated meaning?

I think the word “operate” is too vague a word to use here. A work of art refers. And it lives of its own accord by virtue of its aesthetic dynamics. There we have content and form, respectively, with the proper relationship of the two being co-existence in synthetic superposition. In other words, artistic unity entails an inseparability of content and form.

Content is supposed to “operate” by offering “verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative” … which is to say it provides details that corroborate and ground the emotional expression of the piece in a recognizable reality. The form being that which operates to provide the emotional expression vivifying that referential content.

In other words form and content only operate artistically with respect to each other. So if content and form are operating independently from one another then in what sense are they operating at all?

Wouldn't you agree that form and content can be two separate components of great art, appreciated and criticized on separate tracks?

Well, we can break anything apart with our intelligence. But only a crummy work of art will be undisturbed by that fracturing. We can marvel at the silky smooth technique of utterly dead realism, or the breadth of reference in an over-intellectualized mess of a novel or the daring smarts of an unlistenable atonal symphony, or the “raw emotionalism” of the acting in some histrionic disease melodrama… but these are each examples of admiring a work through a microscope; myopically or fetishistically… Praising the surgeon for killing his patient so beautifully. This, to me, is exactly why art criticism has always been such a potent force for miseducating the public, particularly the already-myopia-prone intellectuals.

Wouldn't you say that great art establishes visual priorities to lead your eye around the picture sequentially, even as the picture holds together as a unity? If these subdvisions of art are valid, I'm not sure how you can begrudge "extra texts and talk”…

You are talking composition here. And since composition is the sine qua non for synthesizing form and content, it is the very cause of artistic unity; the very opposite thing to the “extra texts” you have been trying to legitimize.

I'm not sure how you can begrudge "extra texts and talk" which add depth to an image.

What? Text is definitionally a surface aspect of a work, David. So what you are actually defending is the addition of extra shallow content to explain prior shallow content. Don’t mistake breadth of reference for depth.

I agree that an image should be capable of standing alone, but how many times has your appreciation of an image been enhanced by background information?

Appreciation of an Artwork? Never. Appreciation of art comes through the senses unfiltered by background information. It is a direct experiential kind of thing. Sometimes I was better able to analyze a picture, or better sympathize with the craftsmanship, or to appreciate the struggle of the artist or the historical moment in which he/she worked through added information. One might call these technical or literary appreciations, not artistic ones.

Laurie Anderson said...

beautiful!!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, very nice.

Anonymous said...

Her work reminds me very much the Californian Figurative movement: David park, Nathan Oliveira...On the form,there is a very good skill on contrast and lighting + the lines and composition.The content-themes-is pleasant too. great paintings