Thursday, May 28, 2020

BULL

In 1967 Bernie Fuchs drew this bull for an ad for the Henry Schroeder Banking Corporation. 


Eight years later, artist Susan Rothenberg rocked the fine art world with this picture of a horse:


When Ms. Rothenberg passed away last week, The Washington Post extolled her as "one of the most acclaimed and influential artists of the past half century."

Why?  The New Yorker explained the "asteroidal impact" of Ms. Rothenberg's horse pictures:
[T]he effect of the horse paintings that Rothenberg sprang on the world in 1975... was like an asteroid impact....her huge paintings in acrylics made some of us laugh with sheer wonderment....The works conveyed anger, exaltation, and self-abandoning intrepidity. 
The Fuchs picture is a far superior design; it's a more sensitive and observant portrayal of the animal, with a more powerful use of dense blacks, artfully contrasted with light, lacy drawings of broken china.  It is a more mature, sophisticated piece.  It even has a discernible, layered meaning. Yet, we must all concede that the Rothenberg picture is stronger in the "self-abandoning intrepidity" department.

Fuchs' failure to master self-abandoning intrepidity will always remain a serious drawback to his art. But he did seem able to tell the difference between a horse and bull.

47 comments:

Robert Cosgrove said...

Discerning bull is an art that many never quite master . . .

Richard said...

Pretending the Rothenberg picture is a masterwork is preposterous beyond words. But it would also be silly to present the Fuchs picture as something remarkable.

When Pierre "The Rock" Grug painted his masterpiece Auroch at Lascaux, that was something else.

When 18,000 years later Aetion of Chalcis resurrected silhouetted animals with his summer hit "περισσός δάκτυλος" that was a killer throwback jam that made all the girlies go wild.

But ten to the twelfth power greater masterwork Bull silhouettes were created and forgotten before the invention of the spoon.

We can do better than this.

Minimalist silhouettes are garbage, and the early 20th century illustrators who made them were unwittingly helped lay the groundwork for the collapse of Art.

Fuchs' pointless Cow drawing isn't standing in opposition to Rothenberg's horse, rather, he helped produce the conditions for the lionization of Rothenberg's non-art.

Wes said...

What's wrong with silhouettes? I rather like them. Garbage? Nah, just another abstraction.

Anyway, the Fuchs drawing isn't really a silhouette, is it? Its a real rendering. Its a straw man to call it a silhouette.

The hooves on the ridiculous and poorly rendered horse look like human feet (with shoes), and the hourse is wearing short bell bottoms too, so the drawing skills aren't really comparable, are they? Looks like her 6 year old tried to help get the outline of the horse approximately correct, but that both failed.

Probably sold for a goodly amount though.

As important as the Lascaux art is, I doubt Lascaux teaches us much about skillful art that came afterwards. I wouldn't cite it as a standard.

kev ferrara said...

The anti-art punk bullshit of the Schnabels and Rothenbergs of the world only matters to a small population of insouciant cynical hipster pseuds. I don't know why it keeps getting your goat that such tripe is promoted in all these garbage publications. It is fairly clear: The 'cultural elite' knows nothing. They've been taught nothing. They've been praised for parroting aesthetic gibberish. The body is long dead, the rot long rooted.

Silhouettes are something of real value. Silhouettes edges are one of the key technologies of great art, one of the main drivers of its development out of the 15th century, through the salon era, into the Golden Age of Illustration, the funny pages, and then into the comic book era. Encoding silhouette edges with information is one of the main methods of poetic concision in good visual art. Classes in silhouette were taught, theories were formed about edges, and now science is getting involved in understanding them, as they seem central to how the brain processes visual information.

Not coincidentally, one of Cezanne's stated big 'missions' of his 'modern art was to 'break the silhouette.'

David Apatoff said...

Robert Cosgrove-- Agreed, and the funny thing is, people with big vocabularies and advanced degrees seem most susceptible to this form of blindness. It's hard to tell whether they've hypnotized themselves with their own eloquence, or they have too much time on their hands to explore their own sensitivity, or whether we're just witnessing plain old class prejudice against pictures with the taint of commercialism.

Richard-- I'd say the Fuchs picture is "something remarkable," provided that the remark is that "it's a strong, tasteful drawing to serve as a spot illustration on an ad for a bank." Whether a small spot illustration or a full color mural, Fuchs brought a grace and charm to his work that I think stands out. In that sense, I disagree with your argument that Fuchs' cow is "pointless." Personally, I don't require a point beyond the qualities I've just listed.

It's interesting that you mention the cave paintings at Lascaux, because several of the critics looking for a way to elevate Ms. Rothenberg's oafish paintings claimed they were in the tradition of Lascaux. Speaking as someone who inspected the Lascaux paintings up close and personal (I was the chief lawyer for the International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux) I think their analogy is ridiculous. I do think the Lascaux paintings, like the art in the caves at Altamira and Gargas, are sublime. As previously noted on this blog, the cave at Pech Merle contains what may be my favorite drawing ever. It is very instructive that in nearly 20,000 years the celebrated Ms. Rothenberg could show no progress over her prehistoric predecessors. To the contrary, I find her work substantially inferior.

Wes-- Obviously you're having trouble grasping the importance of self-abandoning intrepidity. You stubbornly seem concerned with the way the picture looks.

I agree with you about silhouettes and about how the Fuchs drawing is not really one. While it is not readily apparent from my poor reproduction, Fuchs left variations in the darkness of the brush marks, which reinforced the abstract qualities of the design.

kev ferrara said...

The horse silhouettes in this Toth page always knocked me out. See panels one, two, three, and five.

Wes said...

The horse is so sad and pathetic, drawn with contempt for its animal nature. The bull has great animal "dignity", reminding me of an idea of Santayana:

"The bull, magnificently sniffing the air, surveys the arena with the cool contempt and disbelief of the idealist, as if he said: “You seem, you are a seeming; I do not quarrel with you, I do not fear you. I am real, you are nothing.”"

Poor horsie has no artist to champion its best animal character.

Tom said...

It is interesting the some of the best silhouettes are created by artist who don't draw the flat edge of things(that is they do not trace the outline of something) but those that draw with the most solid volumes, like Leyendecker, Titian or Bernini. As anyone who has moved there head while drawing quickly realizes their is no edge to form but it is continuous like walking over a hill. Silhouettes tend to look too clipped, too cut out and don't leave the eye with anything really to grab hold of, the eye isn't allowed to settle on the core or the life force which always radiates from the object's center and is quickly disappointed when it moves to the interior of the form by the flatness of black.

I agree with Wes on the horse. My first thought was, "two men" in a horse costume. The fetlocks of the two back legs seem to be touching the ground like the hoofs, creating a dead feeling and resembling a man's or a raccoon's foot more then the grace, mobility, and speed one senses when looking at the subtle beauty of a horse's hoof. Fuchs does give just enough volume to the steer via the eye and horns to establish a sense of presence that is lacking in the Rothenburg. The Rothenburg picture seems more about the idea of why can't we paint something else then abstract pictures which I'm sure was freeing and a relief to a lot of college age artists in the 1980's.

Thanks for the Sickles post they where wonderful David. Another artist who created satisfying silhouettes via strong dimensional drawing.







David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I don't know why it keeps getting your goat"

A good question. If I were a bigger person it wouldn't. But this week I've seen four obituaries for Rothenberg in highly respected publications and each was more irksome than the previous one. My self-restraint was gradually worn down by passages such as:

"Susan Rothenberg restored figurative vigor to painting."

Critics and her fellow artists were puzzled at first — What, create a painting with a recognizable object? — then soon were won over."

"Critic Peter Schjeldahl, writing this week on the New Yorker’s website, declared Ms. Rothenberg 'the best thing that happened to the art of painting in New York in the nineteen-seventies.'"

“I make a mark and then retreat, and wait, and wait some more,” she told The Post in 1985. “And then I make another. It’s all very mysterious. "

Soon I couldn't help myself, not for the sake of convincing those who don't understand, but for the sake of defending those who do. But you're right, I know you're right. Aquila non capit mosca.

kev ferrara said...


But this week I've seen four obituaries for Rothenberg in highly respected publications and each was more irksome than the previous one. My self-restraint was gradually worn down by passages such as: (...)

It ain't the same hermit crabs in those "highly respected" shells, just in case you hadn't noticed. The old crabs began dying off in 1995. None are left. It's over.

Chris James said...

I'm with Kev on this, and also similar comments he made back on the Julienne Skiball post. The people who make these empty claims and the artists who they make them about have little sway outside of their incestuous world of insider art trading and try-hard culture vulturing. No one's growing up saying they want to make horse drawrings like a mentally handicapped hobo or "paintings" out of broken ash trays. To the extent that people can pull themselves away from movies, TV binging, anime, video games, and music videos to notice graphic art at all, they are not looking at that kind of thing. What they are looking at is mostly kitsch, but at least there are no pretensions that a Hyperrealistic pencil drawing of Cardi B or sci-fi background painting #3,571 are anything other than what they are.

I'm reminded of a filmmaker I admired, Werner Herzog, saying something to the effect that art didn't get better than cave paintings until Picasso came along. Then I thought "Oh....he's one of those/them." I haven't watched a film of his since.

Unknown said...

John S Goodall, a fine illustrator who produced a number of books of stories told entirely in pictures, did one called "Escapade" in silhouette. It's a lovely piece of work.

https://www.stellabooks.com/images/stock/1208/1208865.JPG

And Lotte Reiniger made a number of excellent animated movies in silhouette.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotte_Reiniger

But the point of that Rothenberg painting is that she is coming from a position of abstract expressionism, with totally non-figurative paintings, and saying "Some people make marks that look rather like animals". It is not meant to be a good drawing of a horse, but more like some cracks and smudges on a wall that you might think look like a horse.

I don't much like the result, but why criticise her for failing to do something she wasn't even remotely thinking of doing ?

kev ferrara said...

It is not meant to be a good drawing of a horse, but more like some cracks and smudges on a wall that you might think look like a horse. (...) why criticise her for failing to do something she wasn't even remotely thinking of doing ?

Intent doesn't exist. Only results exist.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you about those strong Toth silhouettes. He excelled at a chiaroscuro technique which he (like Milton Caniff) mostly picked up from watching one of his heroes, Sickles.

Wes-- It's not clear to me that Rothenberg had ever seen a horse in real life, or cared about capturing its "animal character." The New Yorker explained that Rothenberg was a citizen of NY and that her great insight to paint horses came early in life, before she'd had much experience: "nothing prepared us for the powers of a young woman from Buffalo—trained as a sculptor and, small and lithe, sometimes a dancer—who had been painting for barely two years." I think she said in one interview that she viewed horses as people.

Tom-- "Two men in a horse costume"-- I think you may have something there. One could speculate about who those men might be. Charles Ponzi? Milli Vanilli?

Your point about "no edge to form" is one of the things I find so interesting about not just silhouettes but all graphic arts; they force a compromise with reality which is a revealing test of an artist's mettle. Some artists work hard to soften that dividing line by creating the illusion of 3 dimensionality, while others are content to flatten the form with a conceptual bulldozer. But ultimately you have to "draw the line somewhere."

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "The old crabs began dying off in 1995. None are left. It's over."

That suggests that people will always react to art from mutually hostile camps, that the degeneration of language and the consolidation of ignorance will continue unfettered. I can't believe that. I acknowledge that this blog doesn't do much to cure the problem, and at times exacerbates it. And even if I were more conscientious I don't think anyone at the New Yorker (or Miami Basel) is fretting too much about the ideas exchanged here. But at least by requiring people to explain their standards and justify their conclusions we try to make this a little oasis of integrity in the language about art.

Today people are so promiscuous with their language about art (think "self-abandoning intrepidity") that it ceases to communicate, but the history of the world is the history of renewal. A whole generation accused of frivolous behavior had to get sober during the Great Depression, followed by World War II. By the 1960s memories had faded and a "Depression era mentality" was viewed as a historical curiosity. We don't know yet what the long term consequences of the current pandemic will be, but the massive failure of businesses and the high unemployment level may soon remind us what a Depression era mentality is all about.

Chris James wrote: "The people who make these empty claims and the artists who they make them about have little sway outside of their incestuous world of insider art trading and try-hard culture vulturing."

Well, many of them certainly seem to have gone semantically adrift in a sea of status and money. Their prestigious academic degrees were awarded by institutions panicking to keep up with changes in the world, and their wealthy clientele who shape the taste of the marketplace are shockingly ignorant. We'll find no Medicis among today's patrons of the arts.

Still, I'm not sure this crew is solely responsible for throwing the sextant overboard: I think that the times we live in have jolted many of our assumptions, the technology has revolutionized our media, and many of the old solutions have lost much of their vitality. I think that when people regain their footing and identify the things of permanent value in art, and when progressive tax laws siphon off some of the surplus funds that fertilize the blight of ignorance, that incestuous world you describe may begin to open up a little.

Unknown-- Good examples. What do you think of the silhouettes of the current artist Kara Walker? (https://www.karawalkerstudio.com/)

I take your point about Rothenberg coming from a position of abstract expressionism, where any identifiable subject matter was a shock to artists who had made unwarranted assumptions about the progress of art. But do you think she is entitled to go back to the very beginning, without at least contending with some of the lessons that were commonly known a century before?

Wes said...

Kev said:

"Intent doesn't exist. Only results exist."

Strict liability in art? So unforgivng!

Anyway, she had the mens rea (intent to create a bad looking horse) and actus reus (she created a really ugly horse) = guilty as charged!

And her champions - even if they are all dead, still deserve our scorn for celebrating her crimes. Never pass up a chance to heap more scorn on dead but bad ideas, for they might come back from the dead.

Wes said...

Can any of the experts here point me to a good summary of the scientific info re how perception is triggered via distinct or moving lines, change in light etc.? I want to get more info re how these findings are reflected in art. The talk re silhouettes made me realize that the issue of distinct lines, edges is something I should know more about. I.e., is the scientific knowledge relevant to how we understand art?

Unknown said...

David -- I like Kara Walker's work as images, but I find her subject matter very stale.

Yes, I think Rothenberg did have to go back to before Lascaux if she was asking "what is it that makes an image represent something ?"

Kev Ferrara -- There is certainly intent. Every brush mark you make is measured against your intent, and if it doesn't come close to the intent, it can be wiped off or painted over. Likewise the whole finished work is measured against the intent. If I set out to paint a portrait and the result is not such a good likeness as I intended, then the work is at least a partial failure.

On the other hand if I paint a portrait, and somebody says "That's a lousy piece of concept art. You couldn't use a character like that in a movie," I can reasonably say "Get lost -- that wasn't my intention".

If you had said to Rothenberger "Those don't look much like real horses", she could say "They aren't meant to."

Don Cox





kev ferrara said...

The history of the world is the history of renewal.

I fully agree with this point, David. My point was that the renewal probably won't come from publications that have been occupied by hyper-political postmodernists. They are, it seems to me, bitter-enders who are willing to take any institution they inherent right into the dirt, so long as they feel righteous in the process. As far as I can tell, the cool kids' table at the Condé Nast commissary is more important to them than coherent aesthetic philosophy, let alone the basic humanity of millions of people who just want visual art to enrich their lives, but don't quite know what that means, having never experienced it since giving up children's storybooks in adolescence.

kev ferrara said...

There is certainly intent. Every brush mark you make is measured against your intent, and if it doesn't come close to the intent, it can be wiped off or painted over. Likewise the whole finished work is measured against the intent. If I set out to paint a portrait and the result is not such a good likeness as I intended, then the work is at least a partial failure.

The simple point is that once intent (presuming it is actually knowable, which presumes that artists are actually in conscious communication with their inner impetuses, which I mostly doubt) is actualized, it evaporates. It was not material anyhow. All that is material is the result. Back engineering intent is a guessing game, even for the most aesthetically conscious artists in history. Most artists are not verbal people and so just use what fashionable verbal tools are ready to hand, even if the artist produces work that is worthy on its own merits.

The reason I made the point - its relevance here - is that there is an 'unreliable narrator' problem to art that is sold by the mouth and the word, rather than on its own value; any result at all can be justified with fanciful wordplay. "I meant that!" is the cry that goes out. And there is no doubt that huckster artists have learned scores, possibly hundreds of different pseudo-defenses for impoverished work, each of which has been sanctified by equally full-of-crap cultural mandarins. No matter how ludicrous the pronouncement, if it is, or becomes the 'hip, smart' thing to repeat, it will be repeated.

Talk of intent is usually advertising hype, and should be ignored. Words are not visual art.

kev ferrara said...

Never pass up a chance to heap more scorn on dead but bad ideas, for they might come back from the dead.

How about that... you've actually recommended beating a dead horse.

Unknown said...

Wes

You could try Richard Gregory's book "The Intelligent Eye" and Semir Zeki's "Inner Vision". Gregory was an experimental psychologist and Zeki is a physiologist.

Vision is a huge subject and there are huge gaps in our understanding.

Don

Tom said...

David wrote
"But ultimately you have to "draw the line somewhere."

Was that a pun David?:)

Silhouettes are great as they are a refection of the internals that make up a form but I don't think artists have to "comprise," with reality. Artists express their feelings and ideas of reality. Look at Leonardo's drawings, the edge is the part of the form that is furthest away from the eye and it is understood and felt as such by the viewer. One's eye travels across a surface, form itself creates a rhythm the eye can follow back into and around space instead floundering in blackness looking for a anchor to grab hold of so a journey can begin. Titian directs the eye to the body's center with a clear sense that the more "distance," part of the bodies forms are retreating away from the eye. The closest part of a sphere is the part of the surface tangent to the picture plane not it's edge.

It would also be interesting to post the two pictures in there true relative scale to each other. I bet the Rothenburg painting is 5 to 6 times the size of the Fuches drawing.

Wes said...

Dear Unknown -- thanks for the references.

Dear Kev -- Ha! Touche! Perhaps I meant "whack a mole"? (He asked, weakly.)

kev ferrara said...

Silhouettes are great as they are a refection of the internals that make up a form but I don't think artists have to "comprise," with reality.

You are severely short-changing silhouettes, my friend. And Titian was clearly a silhouette master who knew exactly the point of encoding information at the edges of masses rather than rendering within the mass. He was a poet, not merely a renderer.

Titian directs the eye to the body's center with a clear sense that the more "distance," part of the bodies forms are retreating away from the eye. The closest part of a sphere is the part of the surface tangent to the picture plane not it's edge.

For me, Titian's best work is Bacchus and Ariadne. And in that picture, his silhouette prowess is in full flower; the figures are far more expressed as silhouettes than spheres.

I don't agree that Titian directs the eye to the bodily centers of his figures. I don't see that, and such an 'intent' is not good composition and wouldn't jibe with the musical-narrative nature of his work.

kev ferrara said...

Dear Kev -- Ha! Touche! Perhaps I meant "whack a mole"? (He asked, weakly.)

Actually Wack A Mole is a pretty good metaphor for the problem. If only the easy cheesy ideas of postmodernism would die. But first they need to be shamed and uncooled. Which means, first, those who defend and buy the ideas need to be shamed. But they're postmodernists, investors, and hucksters. So none of them believe in shame. And so it goes.

Francesco Paonessa said...

Self-abandoning intrepidity sounds great, but what is it? Is it to have the courage to move beyond what you know, and away from what's familiar or reliable? Genuinely curious.

David Apatoff said...

Wes / Don Cox / Kev Ferrara-- I agree that "intent" is often an important element in the creation of art, but we seem to be using the term in different respects.

Rothenberg disavowed intent just as stream-of-consciousness artists and shamans on peyote purported to turn control over to some larger subliminal force. She said: “I make a mark and then retreat, and wait, and wait some more. And then I make another. It’s all very mysterious." She's obviously just taking orders from some higher muse. (A less charitable observer might insert here that the law, too, attaches special significance to intent: if someone with diminished mental faculties lacks the ability to form an intent, the law is less likely to hold them responsible for their actions.).

I agree that it's nearly impossible to escape intent altogether-- if an artist ties a paint brush to a donkey's tail, that still doesn't eliminate intent from the resulting painting. The donkey is a tool just like a brush, and is still an extension of the artist's intent. More importantly, "intent" seems to be crucial to judging the various apples and oranges of art. A Van Eyck, a Turner and a Rothko are all Art but you can't compare them without taking into consideration the different intentions of the individual artists. How worthy are their ambitions, and how successful were they in achieving those ambitions? I like to believe that Holbein, with a little patience, could appreciate the value in what Degas was doing, even though they were running in very different races. Intent is the only way I know of to separate those races.

Having said that, in a different sense of the word "intent" I agree with Kev that a work of art must stand on its own, and can't be saved by some windy essay about the artist's intention.

Don Cox-- I'm interested in why you find Kara Walker's subject matter "stale." I too like her silhouette images (although her paintings seem very weak to me) but I'd think her subject matter is more current and topical than any of the other artists we've discussed here. I think her images have permanent values, but her subject matter is in the headlines today, with the riots following the killing in Minnesota, and her medium is explicit sex and violence rarely found in more traditional art in museums. For example, I'd think she's more current than John Goodall's more classical silhouettes.

kev ferrara said...

Just to clear the point...

The artistic impetus inside us - what we feebly call 'intent' - is not born of a word, or a sentence. There are no words in the brain. It is all chemicals, electricity, and meat. (Maybe a little bit of spirit, if you're so inclined.)

So when somebody pronounces on their intent - using words - that can only ever be, at best, a rough, lossy, dogmatic approximation of actual deep intent.

The point that sentences are linear things is crucial to the understanding of this point. For in art, with each stroke of the pen or brush, multiple and manifold relationships of graphic forces and sensible qualities manifest in multiple physical and conceptual directions and scales. And many of these relationships are quite subtle, often even subliminal, even to the artist. There is no converting these proliferative organic dynamics of art into literature. Simply can't be done, can't even be approximated.

Which is why, again, Cornwell would repeat that, "anything sufficiently described in words is not a fit subject for pictures." This would include such words as comprise "stated intent."

I believe that the only way to judge true intent is to sufficiently back engineer the actual act, subtracting out the errors, accidents, and stupidities. (Presumably, nobody means to be stupid in their art.) For in the results, the results of the intuition and heart are available for inspection, just as well as the results of the conscious mind.

comicstripfan said...


Mr. Apatoff said: I agree with you [Kev Ferrara] about those strong Toth silhouettes. He excelled at a chiaroscuro technique which he (like Milton Caniff) mostly picked up from watching one of his heroes, Sickles.

Alex Toth on Noel Sickles:
http://todaysinspiration.blogspot.com/2008/08/alex-toth-on-noel-sickles.html

kev ferrara said...

Thanks for that link.

Alex Toth Said:

It is: "The Majesty of the Simple thing"! (Repeat after me -- 100 times -- "The Majesty of the Simple Thing.")

To add to the truth subtracts from it!" A beautiful quote. (Heard or read months ago. Sorry, can't recall the source.)"


Just to close another circle.... "The Majesty of Simple Things" and "To add to the truth subtracts from it" are both Harvey Dunn quotes.

comicstripfan said...

Thanks for the reference to Harvey Dunn - I learned a little about this early 20th century South Dakotan painter who was famous as "a demanding teacher and at times a harsh critic."

Tom said...

Kev wrote

"You are severely short-changing silhouettes, my friend..."

I think I wrote "silhouettes are great." The best silhouettes are produced by complete internal development as I wrote earlier. I was short changing "comprising with reality."

Of course Titan subdued and contrasted edges but his strongest light is in the interior of the form. He submerges and subordinates form compared to for example Florentine painters.

Who said he was a renderer? Masses contain edges too, the only edge is not at the silhouette. The greatest light gathers at plane breaks.

I wasn't saying Titians figures where spheres. I just use a sphere as the simplest example of how the closest part of a form to the viewer or the backside of the picture plane is at the surface of a form not at it's edge.

David wrote,
"I agree that it's nearly impossible to escape intent altogether...More importantly, "intent" seems to be crucial to judging the various apples and oranges of art."

Well you could replace intent with express. An art expressing the poetry of the Tao well certainly take a different form then the art expressing the suffering of man through the image of Christ. But all artist do have to conceive what they want to express which to me seems like intention.

kev ferrara said...

I think I wrote "silhouettes are great."

You wrote: "Silhouettes are great as they are a refection of the internals that make up a form."

But I would argue this is not the reason that "silhouettes are great." Rather this idea is the one that comes from "comprising with reality."

The bleeding inward of information encoded into silhouette edges is far more informative to the intuition about the nature of an element than your inside-out belief. To create an effective silhouette, the understanding of internal structure is necessary, I agree. But actually experiencing a silhouette (which is to say, an articulate shape-character) is an edge-inward intuition. And one cannot compose an effective silhouette without deeply considering the edge-inward read.

The overwhelming majority of silhouettes one experiences in life, photography, and even art rather poorly "reflect internals" because Silhouette Value has not been considered as paramount. Silhouette Value is something that has to be installed by a mind that has a deep appreciation for the how the intuition apprehends shape abstractions and edge information. It is a deep part of the art because it such a synthetic/wholistic kind of expressive act.

An internal edge, unless of tremendous narrative value, will be meager in comparison to the silhouette outline/edge in terms of its layered density of abstraction and meaning.

Worth reading up on Kimon Nicolaides methods of teaching this material. Although not explicitly philosophical about why he was teaching what he was teaching, his teaching still reflected much of the philosophical progress made up to that point on the essentials of drawing, painting, and most importantly feeling edges.

I just use a sphere as the simplest example of how the closest part of a form to the viewer or the backside of the picture plane is at the surface of a form not at it's edge.

Yes, of course. But why is that so important to your argument? Why do you keep emphasizing that factor above all others?

I agree that the eye travels to the lightest portions of his figures, but it is more important to understand that these are not static destinations where the eye freezes. Rather they are slightly better lit portions of larger pathways that guide the eye through the work. The lighter areas draw the eye, but they don't cease it. The eye carries through the figures entirely, animating them and the pictorial ideas in the process.

Richard said...

Talk of intent is usually advertising hype, and should be ignored. Words are not visual art.

Words are not visual art, but they are often effective memes when used in conjunction with a piece of visual stimuli.

A large black polished stone can mean nothing as a sculpture in one moment, and then you declare it as a reminder of the holocaust, or POWMIA, or children killed in this or that school shooting, and it suddenly becomes an extremely effective device.

I think a bit too much is made about the evils of intent and the artist statement on this board. It is comparing apples and oranges.


For me, Titian's best work is Bacchus and Ariadne. And in that picture, his silhouette prowess is in full flower; the figures are far more expressed as silhouettes than spheres.

It is the three dimensional form that contains the poetry in Titian's figures. The beauty in the silhouette is merely the 2d holographic compression of 3 dimensional poetry.

Similarly, what poetry there is in Fuchs' bull is the poetry of the three dimensional form that births that silhouette. Had he rendered it beautifully it would be more beautiful, not less.

Had he sculpted the bull that produced that silhouette, it would be more beautiful yet again.

And if he could reach out like a God and produce that bull in the flesh, stretching sinew over bone, blossoming atoms ex nihilo, and breathing consciousness into clay, it would be more beautiful yet again.

The poetry of Concision is merely man's making excuses for not being a God. There is nothing in that -- maximal reality contains the maximal artistry.

20th Century hyperrealist art isn't shit because it's not concise. It's shit because its an uncanny plagiarism. 19th Century academic artists approached hyper-reality, but they did it organically, and it turned out more beautiful than any other of man's creations.

David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "Words are not visual art, but they are often effective memes when used in conjunction with a piece of visual stimuli."

I agree that words can be very effective when used in conjunction with visual stimuli, just as words can be effective when used in conjunction with music (as in Beethoven's 9th or Tristan and Iseult). I must say it seems a little odd for a group discussion of illustration, which ties images to words more than any other modern visual art form, to disavow words and their myriad applications. In fact, I'll do you one better and argue that words can be visual art; they have power as symbols or pictograms, or as calligraphy (for example, in korans) even apart from their literal meaning. We may not be able to translate hieroglyphs but the mere fact that they have meanings affects the way we process Egyptian art.

"I think a bit too much is made about the evils of intent and the artist statement on this board."

You're probably right, but I attribute that to irritation over today's trend of concept increasingly dominating form. This is largely the work of artists who neither understand form nor are capable of doing good work with form, so their efforts to substitute long treatises for good visual work is particularly annoying. A lot of people, myself included, instinctively strike out at them. It doesn't help that so many of today's artist statements are inane. (https://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2011/12/art-basel-miami-beach.html). I'm willing to read what Marcel Duchamp has to say because he was an interesting pioneer feeling his way, but Tracey Emin... dear god, what a nitwit.

"19th Century academic artists approached hyper-reality, but they did it organically, and it turned out more beautiful than any other of man's creations."

Whoa!! you're a brave man!

Francesco Paonessa wrote: "Self-abandoning intrepidity sounds great, but what is it?"

Exactly!

Kev Ferrara, Richard and Tom-- Is there no love for the Rape of Europa out there? One glimpse of those perfume-infused tinctures from Venice at its peak and I become so besotted that I can no longer concentrate on the silhouettes in Bacchus and Ariadne.

kev ferrara said...

It is the three dimensional form that contains the poetry in Titian's figures. The beauty in the silhouette is merely the 2d holographic compression of 3 dimensional poetry.

Any personal meaning- and feeling-driven means of lossless compression is poetification. There are all sorts of poetic concisions/abstractions available to the artist. (Edges, silhouette value, colorvalue, tropes, structural form, depth, etc.)

How strongly and coherently the poetry is vivified as a complex of effects through the audience's mental closure (and how well that meaning is received sans intellection) is the only testament to the quality of the poetry.

The flatness of Titian's silhouettes in Bacchus and Ariadne is not meant to re-inflate, it is meant to stay flat. Because the work is functioning as both illustration and decoration, which is to say, as narrative and musical narrative.

However, I also agree that there can be great poeticism to creating the effect of structural form. There is a reason why Bargue's and Bridgman's drawings look as they do. Because those fellows understood, as all good artists of that day did, that gross roundness is exactly the wrong way to go about creating volumetric illusions. What works is edge projection, and that entails clear decisions about form. And clear decisions about form also entail clear decision in the edge work. (I recommend Charles Bargue's The Painter and His Model (1878) as a master class in the subtle use of his methods of structuring sculptural form.)

kev ferrara said...

Sorry but I just don't think Titian's Rape of Europa is any good.

In fact, I'll do you one better and argue that words can be visual art; they have power as symbols or pictograms, or as calligraphy (for example, in korans) even apart from their literal meaning.

Letters that don't exist formed into a non-word can be written in an expressive typographic way. And the gibberish will have the same expressionistic quality as an actual word written in the same typographic style. The only difference will be that one is decodable and the other not. (Any number of unreadable band logos or graffiti will prove this point without resorting to actual made-up letters.)

So the art of typography is actually a stand-alone graphic art, which need not be grafted onto known letterforms to give expression.

Chris James said...

" '19th Century academic artists approached hyper-reality, but they did it organically, and it turned out more beautiful than any other of man's creations.'

Whoa!! you're a brave man!"

Yes, I would like to hear more about this. Academic art is moribund art, to me. No wonder it was over for representational art soon after.

Richard said...

I would suggest that you feel like Academic art is dead for the same reason that most musicians prefer Frank Zappa to Clair De Lune or Eine Kleine NachtMusik. It’s not that Claire de lune is inferior, quite the opposite, it’s that as an artist you’ve gotten addicted to high-sensation parts of art that are wholly irrelevant to nonartists who don’t need that kind of fix (and frankly, dead ends to the art language).

The flourish of pencil like a squeaking jazz horn taken to the limits of liberated dissonance, the spatter of ink like a non-functional Harmony, a cutting experience that scratches an itch for the artist, but devoid of any real content in the fundamental language of the artform — all Dionysian plasticity devoid of Apollonian ideal — no better than abstract expressionism.

Like the brain on high-grade porn that doesn’t appreciate the simple beauty of a girlish figure, the artist Brain is high on art crack and can’t figure out why in a simple comparison test most of the human species of any culture would rate Bouguereau’s angels as the greatest paintings they’ve ever seen, even if they’ve never heard of him.

And it was this difference that made artists and public do their separate ways. The addicts went off on their own with these hyper-aesthetic beautiful dead ends like Zappa and Bernie Fuchs. They’re still waiting for us to get out acts together, get clean, and start making more Academic art.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- You don't think Titian's Rape of Europa is any good? After you just got through saying "There are all sorts of poetic concisions/abstractions available to the artist. (Edges, silhouette value, colorvalue, tropes, structural form, depth, etc.)" you can't find any love in there for the Rape of Europa? I haven't seen Bacchus and Ariadne in person but I saw Europa at the Gardner Museum and understood for the first time why Titian was so celebrated for his use of color.

Richard-- What you characterize as a "beautiful dead end" I'd characterize instead as a different destination-- better for some purposes, worse for others. I like some abstract expressionism, I like some Bernie Fuchs, I like some porn. I think they're each superior to Bouguereau in some respects but worse in others.

But the real gap between our views is with your conclusion that artists are the ones addicted to high sensation art, while the "public" doesn't need that kind of fix. I suppose that's true in some limited circumstances, but I think more often the opposite is true. I'd think the general public is more susceptible to bright colors and flashing lights; they'd prefer rock n' roll to Chopin any day. Yes, they might say Bouguereau’s angels is the greatest paintings they’ve ever seen because they like realism or they like angels, but if you give them a choice between Bouguereau’s angels and porn on a Saturday afternoon, I'm guessing you'd lose them 95% of the time.

It may be that artists appreciate avant garde art more than the general public, just as experts in any field find it easier to assimilate pioneering work. But does that mean artists have become de-sensitized to the fine points of classical Greek sculpture, the delicacy of an Ingres drawing, the mastery of a Sargent watercolor? I don't see why that follows.

Tom said...

Kev wrote

"The bleeding inward of information encoded into silhouette edges is far more informative to the intuition about the nature of an element than your inside-out belief"

Things grow from the center. Things collapse and die form the outside in. An internal energy or desire produces the outside contour of form against or with the force of gravity.

Yes you could trace backward to the source to find the center but I would prioritize the center first. Otherwise you kinda cobbling together your image. Like a point in geometry, or a seed or the Big Bang its better to sense and find generating force. IMHO

Kev also wrote,
"An internal edge, unless of tremendous narrative value, will be meager in comparison to the silhouette outline/edge in terms of its layered density of abstraction and meaning."

And edge is the meeting of planes. Its the strongest area of light. It directs the eye to the center of a body, at least the bodies surface center. It's the point of rest for the eye. It's the destination. It's where the pathways lead. A point of rest. The satisfaction of a journey completed. In general Titian directs the eye to the face not to the silhouette of the head. The eye looks at the object not its edge as it does in life. One looks at things not contours. HIs bodies assert themselves forward into space and he handles his silhouettes accordingly. The outer form recedes from this center of light. I'm thinking of the portrait of Ranuccio Farnese in the National gallery of art for example. Or his drawings.


Kimon Nicolaides that has to be one of the weakest drawing books of all time. Contour copying and scribbling page after page with no comprehension of form or the understanding of building blocks of form. Better to read a book on descriptive geometry.
Without comprehension how can one have a philosophical viewpoint? If anything his book reflects the decline of artistic thought into a kinda mind numbing copying. He fails to see the relations between parts unless they are right next to each other let alone providing a way to organize parts into a coherent whole which always demands some kind of hierarchal thinking. Granted these are memories of the book at this time but that is my overall memory and it leaves my mind in a stupor. I won't be mindlessly crawling my pencil across a piece of paper like a snail while looking at someone's shoulder without the slightest trace of any understanding of it's mechanics.:)

One's pencil should flow, rise with clouds descend with waterfalls climb with a vine, travel to distance objects, sense how one volume or plane supports the next volume or plane as if stair stepping through space. Space and form is continuous in all directions.

Kev wrote,
"Yes, of course. But why is that so important to your argument? Why do you keep emphasizing that factor above all others? "

Because everything exist in space. Everything is a relative distance from each other. Space itself is not flat. It becomes a body of space when contained by points lines not a negative shape. A shape is only a product of volume. And how long does a shape truly stay flat relative to the picture plane? Flatness is always the enemy of good drawing. Things in a more profound way line up from front to back with space in-between them then they do in any 2 dimensional matter. What's the point of concentrating on the edge between your lapel and your coat in your drawing if at first you don't understand that the lapel is in front of the coat?

All in IMHO!

Like Richard said
"It is the three dimensional form that contains the poetry in Titian's figures. The beauty in the silhouette is merely the 2d holographic compression of 3 dimensional poetry"


Richard said...

> but if you give them a choice between Bouguereau’s angels and porn on a Saturday afternoon, I'm guessing you'd lose them 95% of the time.

For 10 minutes until they've wiped themselves up, get disgusted with the porn in front of their face, and become functioning human beings again.

kev ferrara said...

Yes you could trace backward to the source to find the center but I would prioritize the center first. Otherwise you kinda cobbling together your image.

One moves from the general to the specific, from the whole to the detail, from the synthetic imaginative visualization to the realization of that as specifics through analysis. If you can't previsualize the shape on the page, you shouldn't put the pencil to the paper, and even before that, you should have felt the idea. Otherwise you are cobbling together your image. Proportion is a wholistic matter. The idea is a wholistic matter. Composition is a wholistic matter. I've never known any artist to work "center out" except in the sense that a brief gestural line can be of assistance in capturing a pose. (Unless somehow you have some unique meaning for the words you're using.)

One's pencil should flow, rise with clouds descend with waterfalls climb with a vine, travel to distance objects, sense how one volume or plane supports the next volume or plane as if stair stepping through space. Space and form is continuous in all directions.

You seem to have understood what Niccolaides was after without realizing that you did. That he concentrates on contour does not exclude haptic experience of other qualities and dimensions.

In general Titian directs the eye to the face not to the silhouette of the head.

The face is a detail, and an incidental detail in narrative paintings. Just as we don't see the faces of the participant in an event as we first enter into it - we get the gestalt - we don't see the faces of a narrative painting first. Rather, we feel them, we sense them, in the act of feeling and sensing the complex totality of forces that makes the picture alive. And only later do we fixate on them as we fall out of the total effect of the picture and its general meaning.

No doubt faces must be good, and in keeping with the story, and worth inspecting, but a face is only a small part of a story told in bodies, environments, texture, space, volume, value and color. (I find your insistence on centers and faces myopic.)

Because everything exist in space. (...) Things in a more profound way line up from front to back with space in-between them then they do in any 2 dimensional matter.

The idea of a picture goes beyond space, though it takes it in. The idea takes in all factors, and all factors serve the idea. If the idea requires shallow space, there shall be shallow space. If the idea requires shallow form (as with Bacchus and Ariadne) so be it.

If it is any good, the idea is of the picture, the thought behind it, is what is profound. To the extent that depth assists the profundity of the idea, it has served the picture well. Illusions without a point are just a trick.

Tom said...

Everything relates to the first drawn axis or maybe I should say everything relates to the X and Y axis of the paper first. An axial line starts at a point an moves is one direction. All the parts of the whole are held in relation to that axis. In symmetrical objects all the parts are balanced across that center. The center unifies the whole, it holds the parts in relation and makes the parts comprehensible. The parts follow and respond to the center. Like the invisible but felt axis of a hallway, or the nave of a church or garden of Versallies or the way the muscles masses of the legs arrange and insert in relation to the thrust of the leg. The way a river flows or how trees are lifted following the direction of a hill from the plane to the hill's peak down the back side. In plan the power of the center is even more felt. As Delacroix wrote the drawing is determined from the first mark. Everything follows or contrasts with the flow in the same manner that remoras attached to the body of a shark. Because everything can not help but relate to that first mark like a datum line in mechanical drawing.

And even a line representing the visual end of a form is traveling forward and back into space. It does not arrange itself like a line of gravity evenly stacked up one point above another. It comes closer and farther from the eye of the viewer as it descends or raises form a level ground plane (real or imagined).

Not to sound contrary but I did not get my understanding from Kimon Nicolaides from his platitudes about feeling the growth of a flower etc. one would never arrive at anything specific with his drawing book or and understanding of the richness and depth of space. Older books, geometry and the science of drawing that the West undertook in perspective and descriptive geometry are much more demanding and complete in the understanding of form and space. With it one can begin to comprehend how many of the works of the past where created. Nicolaides never came close to providing access to such wonderful experiences.

I used the face because the painting I used as and example is a portrait.

Shallow or deep your still dealing with space. There is nothing but space, illusions( I assume you mean fooling the eye) have nothing to do with it. Why worry about bad art? Because something looks "real" is a most shallow understanding of art although it can be a crude acknowledgement that some one has been captured by a works spirit.

kev ferrara said...

Everything relates to the first drawn axis or maybe I should say everything relates to the X and Y axis of the paper first.

Everything relates to the flow of the idea. In order for a picture to have unity the idea has to encompass the canvas.

everything can not help but relate to that first mark like a datum line in mechanical drawing.

If you want to play this academic game, I'll play: The frame edges and the canvas surface comprises the initial pictorial state. A first mark relates to this initial state. The second mark relates to the first mark just as much as the first relates to the second. And both relate to the initial state. The third mark relates to the first and second just as much as the second relates to the first and third and the first relates to the second and third, and all relate to the initial state. And so on. Blah blah blah.

None of this means anything without an idea. The idea is a complex effect that expresses some truth of human experience. Since the idea must comprise the canvas, breadth is of paramount importance in the expression of the idea, thus in the expression of its components.

Chris James said...

"I would suggest that you feel like Academic art is dead "

More accurately, I felt it was never alive compared to what came before. They had not the Italian's fluidity and vigor of drawing or the Flemish eye for rich, gem-like color. The academic training method could not and cannot produce it.