Friday, January 02, 2009


I consider Adrian Gottlieb one of the finest young figurative painters working in the classical tradition today.

His timeless work speaks with a quiet authority.

On the other hand, the most financially successful figurative painter working in the classical style today is John Currin:

Currin lacks Gottlieb's talent, but this painting recently sold for $5,458,500-- a thousand times more than a painting by Gottlieb.

How do we explain this huge disparity? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with the visual qualities of the images.

Mia Fineman, art critic for Slate, offers the following explanation for why the art market adores Currin:
This year, the name on everybody's lips is John Currin, whose midcareer retrospective recently arrived at the Whitney Museum. By now, the major critics have weighed in on Currin's slyly satirical, figurative paintings, and the reviews have been unusually enthusiastic. There are some wildly different ideas about exactly what Currin is up to—New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman sees him as "a latter-day Jeff Koons" trafficking in postmodern irony while Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker finds him a blissfully sincere artist tapping into the timeless values of "mystery, sublimity, transcendence." But everyone is unanimous about one thing: John Currin can paint. In almost every review, Currin's technical skill is acknowledged with a kind of breathless wonder.
Currin's "technical skill" can't possibly account for his prices. Currin doesn't even have the technical skill of Gil Evgren, let alone of Adrian Gottlieb. Currin's "technical skill" that Fineman claims excites "breathless wonder" in the fine art market is almost commonplace in the underpaid field of illustration. But the contemporary fine art market turned its back on "technical skill" so long ago that it can no longer remember what skill looks like.

What else might account for the high price of a Currin painting? I suspect that Currin's "post modern irony," his "mystery, sublimity, transcendence" and the rest of the flumadiddle used by oleaginous art dealers accounts for at least $5 million of Currin's price. The fine art world values derivative paintings for the very same qualities that it fails to admire in the original; Currin draws upon "low culture" sources such as 1950s advertisements, pin up art, internet pornography and high school yearbooks. Patrons of the arts would save a lot of money if they had the vision to recognize the attributes in the originals. However these qualities remain invisible to them until some dealer with a continental accent and an expensive suit points out the "post modern irony" in a "low culture" image.

It does not bother me that art dealers prey on the credulity of wealthy simpletons and the venality of art speculators. To the contrary, it serves an important social function by taxing stupidity. The faster that these buyers can be stripped of their excess money, the less damage they will be able to do to society in other areas.


Anonymous said...

While Gottlieb may be have more craftsmanship, Currin is a lot more exciting and different. Gottlieb is just one more artrenewal clone that creates romantic/kitsch poses and dark dinosaur-landscape backgrounds. It is time to figure out how to do something new with all that skill.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I agree with both your post and the above comment. What makes Currin stand out is that he's different, and however good or bad his skill, there's something unique and quirky about his - recognizable - style (quirky seems to be 'in' these days, in film too).

I admire Gottlieb greatly for the skill he achieved, and the depth of his paintings. But I have to agree with anonymous above that he - as all the others I know that have achieved such amazing classical skill - doesn't do anything with it.

There are quite a few technically great painters around, but I have yet to find one that - in my eyes - has true soul, to use a very abstract term. Where is today's "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose"? For that matter, where is today's classically trained artist that *stands out*, like Sargent did, or Rubens, or Michelangelo, or any of the big names we remember today?

Currin might not be better, but he stands out. It is just unfortunate that it is quirkiness that stands out these days, and not skill, or better yet, soul.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first post. Gottlieb is waaaaayyyy overrated. He has demonstrated absolutely no imagination at all, beyond the same atelier copycat skills that many young "artists" are learning today.

Copycatism is death in the fine arts. Odd that you would give this guy props at a site called Illustration Art, where you have posted work by many many illustrators who have shown they have more imagination in their left thumb than this Gottlieb guy has in his entire body.

Take away Gottlieb's model and see what he can do. The answer is: nothing. Verdict--Copycat!

Anonymous said...

Great post. Two points. First, Gottlieb does have grand technical skills and to that effect, so does Currin to some degree. While I do admire Gottlieb’s virtuosity with oils, when I view a body of work of such as his, I am left with the feeling that it is all an exercise. All he seems to want to say is laid stroke by stroke in the technique. He does not speak to me other than the fact that I can appreciate, technical details such as the quality of the paint, his handling of anatomy or his particular attention to details. He is similar to a grand pianist, whom can play classical music note for note upon hearing it, yet is at a loss for speaking the music in his own soul. He has the voice, he should say something.

Currin on the other hand, although I am happy that an artist can make a living, reminds me why I hate contemporary fine art. It seems to be contaminated with codified marketing descriptors for the sake of hocking half rate work. And people complain about movie sequels. How many summers will Currin direct paints to be the face of Gwyneth Paltrow and blond nymphs for the sake of “mystery, sublimity, transcendence” Sorry, I’m not impressed. Or amused, or inspired. Believe it or not, Illustrator’s do this kind of work on a daily basis, and move on. If it is large and doesn’t appear in print, its fine art I guess.

That’s the great thing about illustrators, they have to have range. The good ones do at any rate.

PS: comment about tax on stupidity: golden.

Anonymous said...

Since when do we reward quality with money? The art market is a market, not a classroom - stuff sells because someone with money wants it, not because it's good.

People with lots of money (and museums with lots of money, for that matter) want Currins more than Gottliebs, hence the price difference. Let's not call people stupid just because they have eccentric tastes.

For the record, there are far worse Currin paintings than the ones you've posted:

David Apatoff said...

First anonymous, I need you to explain to me what makes Currin more exciting. I am one of those who is more excited by excellence, even when it comes in a traditional package, than mediocrity in a totally new package.

Then I will need help understanding what exactly Currin does with his skill that qualifies as "new." I am unpersuaded that Currin's pale realistic nudes against dark backgrounds become innovative merely because his intentions are "slyly satirical."

And finally, if you find something genuinely new in Currin's work, please tell me if you think it is worth $5 million.

David Apatoff said...

Benjamin, I don't view Currin as all that "different"-- he has followed the time honored formula of appropriating a candy coated, pop style and juxtaposing it with a classical artistic format for artistic legitimacy. (A combination of pin-up artist and Botticelli / Cranach). I find his work entertaining to look at (lord knows he has picked a subject matter designed to appeal to guys everywhere) but I don't find that it carries much artistic weight.

As for Gottlieb, I think it would be a mistake to treat him as just one among many "art renewal clones." There is a huge difference in the quality of those painters. Gottlieb paints from a tradition where artists were still genuinely interested in the world around them. Today, when most painters are primarily interested in themselves, Gottlieb's is an instinct to be valued.

David Apatoff said...

Second Anonymous, it is hard for me to understand your math. Two contemporary artists paint similar paintings of similar subjects. Painter A sells his work for 500 times more than Painter B, but you think that Painter B is the one that is "waaaaayyy overrated"? Help me with that.

Anonymous said...

"He has demonstrated absolutely no imagination at all, beyond the same atelier copycat skills that many young "artists" are learning today"

I don't know what art schools this poster has visited, but in my experience, in no context could anyone say that'many' artists are achieving or even attempting to achieve this level of excellence.
And considering the amount of time and money I have personally put towards that exact goal in my career, I would say that I'm in a position to speak to that matter.

David Apatoff said...

Myron / Artninja, you've put your finger on the larger issue I wanted to make here: "Illustrators do this kind of work on a daily basis, and move on."

Currin's technical skill, and (believe it or not) his "mystery" and "satire" as well, are exercised every day in a workmanlike fashion by hundreds of illustrators around the world. They are expected to have such talents in order to keep their jobs.

The same critics and dealers who fawn over Currin sneer at these illustrators. Is there a difference in the art forms? As far as I can tell, the only difference is that Currin does it with "post modern irony." Is that irony worth $5 million in any kind of a rational market? That is the real question posed by this post. My own reaction, alluded to here, is that you can only achieve that differential when you have investment bankers and billionaires with little or no taste, treating art as another status symbol to be fought over.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Mark. I did not pick these Currins as his worst examples, I tried pick art that would get me closest to an "apples to apples" comparison with Gottlieb's work. But I agree with you, there are worse Currins out there to be had.

I also agree with you that quality and financial success are very different things, and when they overlap it is usually just a happy coincidence. I think you're right that the marketplace is self-legitimizing; if people want it, they will pay more for it. I guess I would ask you to go beyond that point, and address "why" the market values Currin and Gottlieb the way that it does. I would not agree that it is merely a matter of "eccentric taste," although my term "stupid" may be an unhelpful explanation. I would say that today more than ever there are a number of factors affecting the art market that are unrelated to taste: pretentiousness that blinds smug collectors to the possibility that the same artistic talent resides in humbler venues; insecurity in their own tastes that makes them dependent upon (and vulnerable to) shamans who have mastered the art of marketing (as well as the arts of propaganda and mass psychology) to an extent never witnessed before; art speculators who invest in art the way they would any other commodity, with little or no understanding of the aesthetics; macho competitors who get into a tug of war over objects as a way of measuring their status in life... you see a lot of these factors at work in the distortions of our contemporary art market. I am guessing that you didn't see these factors in the same proportions in the days when the patrons of arts were wealthy aristocrats like the Medicis who trained and prided themselves in their artistic sensitivity and taste.

David Apatoff said...

Jim, I agree with you. I think that Gottlieb is a special talent, and anyone who has the patience to explore his portraits will find a real treasure trove.

There is great disparity of talent within the art renewal crowd (as there is within any school of art) and I have little regard for the mere technicians, for the same reasons that I have criticized illustrators such as Boris and Bama on this blog. But I find Gottlieb to be among the very best of that school. I certainly prefer him to Currin.

Shayla said...

Perhaps some don't see the emotional content, vulnerability and complexity of Gottlieb's work. It's not simple "craftsmanship." Excellent article. People are mostly exposed to the "low culture" sources that you mentioned. Everything has to be instant, including art. Educating ourselves by looking at lots of art is easily accessible to everyone, yet how many people do it? So no wonder "pin-up" inspired "classics" are overvalued.

Good points you made after about illustration and fine art. I find the snobbery irritating and narrow minded to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Anything I would want to say has already been said far better than I could do in the previous posts.

It's long been true that illustrators do work on par with fine artists, with a fraction of the respect...but, it's been that way forever, and will it ever change?

I might have a fresh view, since I did not know of either of these painters (although, anyone mentioned in the same breath as raconteur Koons can go jump in a lake, as far as I am concerned). Both seem to paint incredibly well, though Currin's palette seems pretty limited (I guess the same could be said for Gottlieb). I can see some humor in Currin and some weight in Gottlieb.

Why does one sell so much more than the other? Because some dork with money decided it was so and others followed. Has it ever been any different?

Again, great post.

Ken Meyer Jr.

Anonymous said...

I'm not interested in the extreme literalism that is the aim of modern academic art. The old guard had a canon of proportions and shapes that they thought represented the most aesthetic vision of the human figure. It seems these modern artists do not, they paint the model "as is," which doesn't appeal to me since I don't find the great majority of people make an attractive picture as they are.

Even ugliness was rendered according to aesthetic principles.

Currin's approach reminds me of Mannerism. His paintings aren't people as literal figures, but calculated, conceptualized masses of shapes and lines that appeal to that artist. That is actually closer to classicism than Gottlieb's work. Even the academic/student work of the French (see Ingres)was idealized. None of the legendary artists I can think of took the figure as is.

António Araújo said...

Look, it all becomes simple if you understand what the operative word in "art market" is. Clue: it is not "art".
Some paintings (and artists) are worth a lot of dough simply because this is late stage capitalism, and therefore there is a lot of money concentrated on a few big winners. Such people would like (for tax and boasting reasons) for the market to supply them with a few big, priceless works of art and a few big priceless artists so that they, as buyers, can clearly, by acquiring a few items, define who has the biggest...wallet. And so, obediently, the market creates out of the vacuum those works and artists. Get this: the price of the top artworks is directly proportional to the net worth of the top buyers. THAT IS ALL. And how are those works selected? Mostly by accident and momentum. Some guy gets an accidental good review from a well-rated critic. This happens for some fortuitous reason, maybe he liked the colors, he wondered in drunk, his niece is banging the artist, whatever. Then it is very important that the artist gets a few such brakes in a row. Most of the time this doesn't happen - hence those thousands of wannabes you never know about, no less talented than the one to whom it does happen for no other reason than sheer statistics. Then his price goes up 100% in a short time (after years of obscurity, sometimes) and then momentum takes hold. You get seller's remorse (or rather, non-buyer's remorse), buying panic, and then sheer momentum that feeds on itself. To state that he is valued for his "wit" or for the way he "questions society" with his art is just the same as saying that oil went up because of a storm in the gulf of whatever. It is just post-fact window dressing for people who like explanations fed to them. The specific justification is chosen among those who fit the mood of the age, but they are nonsense. The price of oil is up today (any real trader will tell you) because today it is more expensive than yesterday, that is all. Traders jump on trends. If oil breaks out, traders will follow, out of fear of being left behind, and they will in turn feed the trend. Until it blows, because, yes, it has to blow for the same reason that a ponzi scheme has to blow - one day there is no idiot left further up. There is no cash left to feed the trend. It falters, panic sets in, and you get a market of sellers.
No art work is "really worth" what these guys are being paid. But "real value" has no meaning in a market. The value of something is the value someone is prepared to pay. Because he craves it, because he is an idiot, whatever the reason. But such value is not permanent. One day the bubble bursts and the priceless paintings will be worthless paintings. It is good that these art icons are usually chosen among the most run-of-the-mill art. Because when it bursts the remaining value of those works will be so low compared to the write-off that many will probably be scraped rather than stored. While real art, bought at reasonable prices by real collectors, will, with luck, get a more modest but more permanent, more loving home. Or not. Pointless to worry too much about where this type of money goes. It is a market, just like the stock or derivatives market, it depends as much on the art as on the kind of tax breaks the government happens to allow, or what kind of a hit buyers are taking from their other investments in gold, pork bellies, oil, and the like. David is right. He is also wrong to think that art critics and buyers, and even art students, need to be taught anything about true worth of art. Such people (even art students for the most part) are in professions completely orthogonal to any interest with true worth, or art: they are in the trend following business.

Oh, and by the way, I like Currin. He amuses me a bit. And Gottlieb. THe awes me. Both are totally worth what I pay for their works (Some spare time and a few clicks). Real money, that I would only pay to Gottlieb, but that would be for art lessons, not paintings! Haven't we realized yet that the real fun is in the doing?

Anonymous said...

Great discussion.

As an artist engaged with the figure, I enjoy looking at works by artists like Gottlieb (there are many), mostly as technical studies, but Currin's works are hot precisely because his work actually participates in that messy dialogue we call Contemporary Art. The images on Gottlieb's site (I haven't seen the originals) do not push forward the boundaries of human aesthetic experience. Like the paintings or not (I enjoy many of them and find others dreadful), Currin's work DOES participate in that process. Purely academic figurative work doesn't engage in that dialogue - they are simply repeating what's been said (better) by other painters in the past. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's the primary reason that the 'elite' culture of collectors/galleries/museums is not as interested in Gottlieb as it is in Currin (as measured by price point).

You can learn more about Currin's work in an interesting New Yorker article (google 'new yorker' and 'lifting the veil').

Rob Howard said...

David, you're beginning to echo the angry recidivists at ARC and judging art on the basis of manual skills.

Don't get me wrong, I know Adrian and when he was a student in Florence, our company made sure that he had top quality materials. He had promise then. There was still that spark of the illustrator in him but he has essential gone over the the ARC corporate vision of same old same old Florence atelier stuff, indistinguishable from any of the other skilled hands. While they are well painted, those nudes are nothing m ore than the stuff we used to do in art school...and what Adrian did in art school. A bit more polished, but hardly inspired work. The reality is that you could shuffle them in with a dozen or so other practitioners of that strange contemporary idea of what an atelier is. Jacob Collins is producing some. The Florence academies are cranking them out. There are a few other places that drill in the instructions and produce identical practitioners. Renderers, yes. But a lot closer to craftsmen than to artists.

Currin's far from a favorite of mine but at least his work has an individual stamp on it rather than the imprimatur of an academy.

Artists have a message and, in the best cases the message is unique. These single figure art school projects hardly have any more message that "look at how well I handle a brush." If anyone thinks that is the be-all and end-all of what art is all about, then they are in direct contravention to much of what you have published in the past.

I sincerely hope that Adrian can break out of this lacklustre and anonymous stuff and get back to expressing himself as he was able to when he studied illustration and before he lost so much of his blood. Frankly, I don't know if he has that spark anymore. It's very conformist. The stuff we see at ARC and coming out of the ateliers looks like it was done on a work release program from an embalmer's school.

Anonymous said...

Hi, second Anonymous here.

Yes, Gottlieb is a poor painter. Hard to believe that anyone would say that, I know. But he and all the atelier clones (Jacob Collins, Juliette Aristides, et al) are simply copycats. They continually try to pass off studio studies as finished artworks, and they aren't. Artists of the past would have been embarrassed trying to pass off studies as finished works. Not one of these copiers has ever demonstrated any imagination in any of their paintings, nor the ability to paint anything of depth. They are all cartographers, and nothing more.

I could spend 30-50 hours on a painting and do the same thing as these guys do. I'm not kidding either. And I know a number of people who can do the same. Its just an unbearably boring exercise. There is nothing special about Gottlieb or Collins except for the fact that they are both east coasters and some really big money is pushing these guys as masters because they bought in early. That's what the Fred Ross ArtRenewal thing is all about. Setting up a new group of chosen, "collectible" painters for an insider group of collectors.

The fine art market is totally rigged, across the board. The big money makes and breaks people and they pick their favorites. It has little to do with talent. Modernism should have shown you that. Its been that way for a long, long time. This copycat atelier clone is just the latest one.

You can throw Jeremy Lipking into the copycat bag too. The same technique, the same empty paintings of inert bodies in isolation. I noticed that the art market in this "New (rigged) Realism" breaks down into the same New York/LA cliques as the current modernist one. Big shocker there! Since realism is making a bit of a comeback, its time to control the market (just like the century old "southwest art" scene, that's been running on fumes for about the last 70 years or so).

Its too bad that no imaginative work is being showcased anymore, with the illustration market drying up and the rigged fine art game the last man standing. You can love these copycats all you want, but they are mere shadows of real artists, nothing more.

Anonymous said...

An interesting topic, with many thoughtful comments. My minimal additions:

1. At the right time and place, a Van Gogh or Vermeer would've been as absurdly cheap as a Currin is expensive today. Let's not get worked up about prices. In art, price is fashion, not value.

2. I'm guessing Currin's work is having a bit of a joke with us as it sits precisely balanced between kitsch and art, irony and inquiry, beauty and offensiveness. (His buyers presumeably like to advertise that they're in on the joke.) If we don't enjoy being provoked and toyed with in this way by the artist, there is plenty of other art out there to look at. Currin is not necessarily a fraud, Gottlieb is not necessarily an academic hack, and neither is necessarily the greatest artist of our age.

3. All of which is to say, art is not a contest.

David Apatoff said...

Wow, this is getting good.

One of the best things about being a dillettante who uses a blog to skim across the surface of lots of different kinds of art is that every once in a while I wander into the crossfire of some long entrenched battle that I didn't even know existed. That's when I start to get a real education.

For example, I learned the hard way that Chris Ware has a paramilitary brigade of loyalists who scour the internet looking for anyone who dares to criticize him. And who would have guessed there was some wacko out there counterfeiting Gil Evgren paintings who, once enraged, would be impossible to get rid of?

This whole ARC business seems to be another one of those debates as old as the La Brea tar pits (and probably just as impervious to reason.)

I can't claim to know a whole lot about the ARC philosophy, but I think I understand why it has everyone so agitated, both pro and con. I stumbled across the ARC web site years ago, before I even had a blog. I liked some of the images, others not so much. But the organization itself seemed to be run by some fanatic with a persecution complex. I wrote him back then saying, "your
site is so filled with wild accusations about the 'arrogance, greed and folly' of people with different taste that you just come across as amateurish and silly." I urged him to take a valium and try to remember what art was about, then left the ARC site never to return (until today, as a result of comments by Rob, second anonymous and others). I gather that this gentleman chose not to take my advice and that he has devoted the last seven years to continuing to antagonize everyone he can. So there's a part of me that can't blame the faction that wants to firebomb ARC.

Rob, I thought your comment about the work release program at an embalmer's school was absolutely hilarious and absolutely accurate. And to all those who have commented that the ARC philosophy attracts a lot of technicians with no soul or no imagination, thank you very much, I agree.

But I also think you are overreacting to the problems of working within the structure of an academy, and underreacting to the problems of rampant self-expression.

Plenty of great art has been created from a straightjacket. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote from a jail cell. Sure, you have to work within a narrower set of confines, but that does not mean that brilliance is not attainable. You can say that these traditional artists are a bunch of mad ascetics who work on the same assembly line, study the same techniques, and paint the same subjects. You can say that there is at most a 5% variance in their creative solutions one way or the other. My view is that if 5% is your range (as it might be with any of a dozen highly formalized movements through history). I can work within that framework. 5% is enough for me (and, I suspect, you) to go through a collection of images and pick the winners and losers, one two three. Yes, I might conclude that 87% of these artists have hydraulic fluid in their veins, but it also seems obvious to me who has the spark.

I like Gottlieb's work more than you do (which is fine), and I think you are tarring him with too broad a brush. There are portraits from his web site (such as Jitka, The Noble Jester and My) that I think are really first rate, and have none of the problems you associate with the ARC crowd.

One reason that I think you are underestimating Acadmy art is that I think you are overestimating the value of a personal voice. Rob says of Currin, "at least his work has an individual stamp on it rather than the imprimatur of an academy" but I don't view an individual stamp as necessarily a good thing. There are lots of voices out there that are absolutely terrible, and can't be redeemed by uniqueness, tenacity or volume. Currin is OK, and I like his pornographic work, but all that baloney about his rare insight and his postmodern irony makes me nauseous. Dear god, doesn't anyone read a book any more? Is this art lite what passes for $5 million worth of culture today?

If Gottlieb is to be tainted by his association with some petty despot who runs ARC, then why isn't Currin tainted by the vanity, greed and arrogance of his audience?

Fred, this may be the wrong time to mention it but I really respect and admire what you and your organization does, and I keep resolving to get involved with it, as soon as my day job lets up. I don't want my comments to be misconstrued. John, I am less impressed than you are with the way Currin "pushes the boundary of aestethic experience," but I really like your credit card paintings. And second anonymous, I don't know what the heck your work looks like, but it sounds lke you do some interesting things too. You guys may be wrong about Gottlieb but I suspect all three of you could teach Currin a thing or two.

Li-An said...

Well, I am amazed of the prices of Currin paintings ?!?
I knew his work but I won't have said he was so famous. I don't know if he is a great painter but he has a quality: when you se one of his painting, you can remember it. It's more like illustration art or advertisement but it's a real quality.
I won't discuss about art market... By chance, I'm not an Artist :-)

ps: I think I have to write a post about Chris Ware, just to see the brigade in action.

Chris Register said...

Very interesting discussion pro and con, and seems to be working around that intangible line, or point at which, if and when, the "spark" happens.
What I do find discouraging however is the fact that this is all based on the premise that price is the determining factor in quality, which I think you all would say is false. Yeah yeah, I know all the arguments about being paid for your work, economies, price reflecting demand, etc etc., but we never discuss what artists got paid when we talk about great art. Carnation Lily,Lily, Rose? Great painting, has the spark, I don't have a clue how much Sargent got for that, and what others, like Howard Pyle may have been making at the time. And I could care less who fetches more at Christie's. They are both great artists. I think if we weren't so consumed with fame and fortune, the tent would be a lot bigger. I was familiar with Currin, so thanks for showing me Gottlieb's work

Anonymous said...

Ha, boy...not to divert the thread, but I have thought Chris Ware was overrated for a long time now, despite most of my professors at SCAD idolizing him. Expert in execution, a great combo of depression and satire, but not worth all the hype and canonization.

Sorry, got off on a tangent. Go get 'em, Dave!

Ken Meyer Jr. (still can't figure out how to not be anonymous...or just can't remember my damn google password)

David Apatoff said...

Shayla, thanks for a moment of patient kindness about these pictures.

Crisp-- "I don't find the great majority of people make an attractive picture as they are." Well, that may be so, but everybody who writes in to this blog is good looking and charming.

OMWO, I agree with you. Yet we all seem to have a persistent instinct to try to connect quality and value. Perhaps our inherent sense of fairness makes us think the two should be related.

Third anonymous, you are like our better angel whispering in our right ear. Yes, we all need to remember that art is not a contest... and yet, it seems to spawn rivalries, competitions and feuds from Picasso / Matisse on down to the lowest collector. It sure does get the blood racing.

Ken Meyer, if you are going to say such things about Chris Ware, you'd better go back to being anonymous. In fact, it's not too early to start looking into a witness protection program.

António Araújo said...

David, I find the world a reasonably acceptable place since I stopped expecting fairness from it. :) If we accept it for what it is, we start seeing more ways to walk around the traps.

And by the way, I don't see this as a problem of distribution of a constant pot. what leads you to think that if the art world opened its eyes to reality the pot of money would stay the same? In all fairness, Currin wouldn't be payed more money than Gottlieb, but probably Gottlieb wouldn't be paid more than what he is paid now. I think that if the art market stopped being a contest in di...sorry, wallet size, and became a real market of honest and knowledgeable people, honestly interested in good art...well, such people are few, and not as rich as the current patrons, and they wouldn't play bubble anyway. The market would shrink, and even the top payed artists would command much less than today, make no mistake. The bloated money pot is only there because the idiots are too. You can't have Falstaff and have him thin.

Anonymous said...

Well, I usually stay out of any conversation where the phrase "late stage capitalism" is bandied. As my mother used to say about political commentators, "everybody says what they want to hear."

Anyhow, I find Currin's work more enjoyable than Gottlieb's, and give it credit for more artistic integrity overall. And the reason is that Currin's style is synthesizing with his subject matter and creating a new metaphor. Currin's work, in my opinion, is about something non verbal, he is expressing something about a certain kind of girl and a certain kind of youthful femininity, that is both awkward and sexy, silly and existential. If you've ever known that kind of girl, and I do believe I have, you will recognize what he is doing and what he is saying. I for one, think he has really captured something ineffable about that particular kind of gal in his best works. Forget all the postmodern rationales, that's all salesmanship... It isn't the irony that's causing the work to be appreciated, its the truth.

Alternately, Gottlieb, in my opinion, is doing beautiful reportage... which is to say, he is only making a metaphor of his subject matter, but excusing himself in the main from a more encompassing statement that includes himself. I believe this shows a distinct lack of personality on his part that I find dull. It seems to me, he does not have something he really wants "to say" from his heart. Which is not to say that the meditative aspect of his engagement with his art doesn't evidence itself. It does, but watching someone meditate is only interesting to me if the insight at the other end of the tunnel is more of an epiphany, rather than a description.

As far as the price disparity... I've decided to stop getting angry about such things. And even if you are puzzled by Currin's monetary success, at least he isn't spitting on the idea of art, like so many other cynical self-hyping pseudo-sophisticated political-philosophical-nihilist.... etcetera etcetera blah blah blah.

Anyhow, if you want to see what someone with Gottlieb's training and taste can do when also running a real live charismatic personality as an operating system, I recommend Dan Adel's fine art stuff (arcadia gallery in new york).


Anonymous said...

You have a nice blog.

David Apatoff said...

Omwo, I take your point. That doesn't bother me. A lot of great art was created back before there were celebrity artists making superstar salaries.

Chris, I'm glad you see something in Gottlieb's work.

Li-An, don't take the chance!

Kev, since the world began there has never been a theory of aesthetics that could stand up to a view that begins, "I knew a girl once..." but I guess that's the way it should be. I will lock horns with you on the merits of these artists some other day.

Anonymous said...

"Have you ever noticed this?" and "Here's my version of it," are very old "aesthetic theories" indeed.

In the context of such an exchange, "No thanks, I have a camera," is a reply to be dreaded and avoided, as well as, "I know five guys who say the same thing about that."

On other hand, "There's more here than meets the eye," and "I can't explain it exactly, but he's captured something ineffable," would be replies to treasure.

While both painters capture the "effable" aspects of their muses, only Currin captures the ineffable. :)

This is all my opinion, however.


António Araújo said...

>Well, I usually stay out of any >conversation where the phrase "late >stage capitalism" is bandied.

Ken, I don't think I meant by it what you think I did. You thought I was some kind of pseudo-marxist fruitbasket? I implied no moral connotations, and by late I did not mean necessarily "near the end" (though maybe the end of a cycle, as capitalism goes through natural semi-catastrophic self-renewal). I was thinking in terms of game theory. I think that even in a random market the tendency is that late in the game you'll have the pot concentrated in a few hands. That comes simply from the fact that capital breeds capital. Even if the game was totally fair, or even if it was totally random, or even if everybody started with the same initial capital, early fluctuations in relative advantage would tend to grow over time. I called it late stage simply because we are clearly in such a point in the game, especially if you count corporations as individuals. Please understand that when I refer to the characteristics of the game I am not disparaging it or saying that I think there is a better game available. I actually think capitalism, with all its flaws, works better than most systems, especially, and strangely, if you don't care too much about winning big but just finding your own niche near the sidelines. Though that takes skill too.

David: point taken, I understand you would prefer to see fairness and a smaller pot. That may still come to pass, it has happened before, as you say, and may happen again. I agree, it would be more pleasing to the soul. But I'm not sure if the rules haven't changed, there is a guy called Taleb who argued that increased global connectivity tends to lead even popular taste to put resources more and more in the hands of a few random big winners (think Harry Potter) for no other reason than initial accident and trend following gone hyper over the lack of the old borders - meaning cultural, political, economical, or even just the borders defined by the slow speed of information travel. But who knows.

Big Al said...

I very much enjoy your blog. In previous posts you've mentioned Bouguereau and perhaps it was Ware too that they had technical skill but nothing to go with it. As an aside, I still like how you refer to Bouguereau as a gifted orator but with nothing to say.

How then do you see Gottlieb as different from these examples? At least with the images you posted, he seems to fall into the same camp as above - talented, but without much to say.

David Apatoff said...

Kev, I offered you a "get out of jail free" card and you didn't even use it.

There are lots of weighty theories about the best way to appreciate pictures -- hermeneutical, epistemological, metaphysical, teleological, Hegelian, eschatological-- but none of them enhances the experience as much as when the painting evokes a special girl from your life. How could some musty old theory possibly compete with "a certain kind of girl [with that] certain kind of youthful femininity, that is both awkward and sexy, silly and existential." So when you wrote, "If you've ever known that kind of girl, and I do believe I have, you will recognize what he is doing and what he is saying," I knew I was out of ammunition. I just wanted to tip my hat in respect, and tip toe off the battlefield.

Since you have returned, I will add that I suspect you contribute a lot more to what you see in Currin's picture than he does. If his paintings give you an "ineffable" feeling, go back and thank that girl. Don't waste your gratitude on Currin, for I fear that if you viewed his paintings from an unensorcelled condition, you would find them rather pedestrian.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Big Al-- I appreciate it. Personally, I view Gottlieb and Bouguereau as very different. Gottlieb doesn't waste time painting fingernails and strands of hair. Rather than striving for a perfect, glass-like finish with no visible brush strokes or texture, Gottlieb is not afraid to leave the artist's fingerprint on his works. For example, on the third painting I especially like the way he has left raw unpainted canvas with pitch dark drips by the model's feet. It shows me that he doesn't get too caught up in manufacturing an illusion; he follows the design, which is good. I also like the way he does dramatic things with lighting and I think he chooses good moments to capture.

You won't find much nuance or expression in these figure studies, but if you look at his portraits of Jitka or The Noble Jester on his web site, you will see what I regard as very nice portraits as well.

Anonymous said...

I just had to share, considering the level of nudity in the pieces we are talking about here, that the word verification word I have to use is...wait for it...


that's right, bught. Say it out loud.

Ken Meyer Jr., always elevating the conversation

Anonymous said...

I'm sure they are.

What are you're thoughts about my statements concerning modern classicism versus old classicism and? It has nothing to do with the main crux of your post (value, monetary or otherwise), but I'd like to know what you think. It's the difference why Bougeureau's realism appeals more for me than
-insert modern acadamecian here-

David Apatoff said...

Crisp, I am no expert on classicism (old or new) but that sure won't stop me from offering an opinion.

I agree with you, I don't particularly care for what you call the "extreme literalism" of the modern academy--the painfully meticulous, sharp edged realism that comes out of a number of ateliers today. (For reasons discussed above, I don't put Gottlieb in this category).

Such work seems less an artistic achievement than an accomplishment of discipline and rigor. I do find this work intellectually interesting because human beings have dedicated themselves (like ascetic monks in a cell) to a long, painstaking process to achieve a result that could be approximated mechanically. I might hang it on the wall solely because of its technical virtuosity, like a math puzzle or a scientific experiment, but it is not my kind of art.

As for your point that artists in the academy historically did not treat people as literal figures, but idealized them to suit the taste of the master, or portrayed them as calculated, conceptualized masses of shapes and lines-- I think Ingres is your most persuasive example. I adore his work, but there weren't many like him around.

I don't put Currin in the same category. His "idealization" seems closer to heavily airbrushed models in 1950s pin up magazines, or even (except for the lack of clothing) characters in a children's book.

I should also add that I am one of those people who is attracted to freckles on a shoulder, a lopsided grin or hair out of place. Perhaps we have diferent reactions to Currin because I am not one of those who believes that "the great majority of people don't make an attractive picture as they are."

Rob Howard said...

David, this whole neo-crypto-pseudo-classicism has interested, amused and bemused me for several years.

In Jung's Man And His Symbols the author brings up a fascinating point of how an image distanced from the initial source of energy becomes more abstract as distance (or time) increase. To illustrate, Jung showed a Roman coin minted in Rome. It bore a finely detailed profile of the emperor. The same denomination coin, minted a distance away, showed a decided coarseness. They simply couldn't manage the finesse of the original. The further the mint from Rome, the more crude the image until finally in the ancient equivalent of Altoona PA, the same denomination coin bore an almost abstract image of a head.

What we have with today's ateliers (and these monuments to drudgery bear little resemblance to the original ateliers, and do not come close to producing comparable professionals) are aesthetics so far removed from the original as to be coarse abstractions of the original. Indeed, even their model is a manque version of original classicism. They take as their exemplar, Neo-Classicism. At best, that might be one step removed from the sublime Greek models. Actually, it's far more removed, having filtered through the bloodless Roman attempts at Greek perfection (those boys missed the boat by a mile).

The Neos missed by an even wider margin and were very much influenced by the rather florid theatre of the day...what we'd consider completely over-the-top theatricality and screaming to the cheap seats. Still, those Neos had energy and could produced a fairly decent pictorial composition . . . nowhere near the suavity and sheer power of a Dean Cornwell illustration, but serviceable.

Those little nudes of Adrian's would have been quickly knocked off studies for a larger piece. The problem with today's atelier derived crypto-neos is thinking on a tiny scale...get it done quickly...not to many figures and definitely, no understanding of how to stitch a pictorial composition together

As an instructional project, I had members of the Cennini Forum submit compositional sketches for a project about Aristotle and the Peripatetic School of Philosophy. Artists with different degrees of skill made sketches, revised them and finally made color sketches.

As fate would have it, another artist had cancelled an event for which they'd booked travel and lodging, so we volunteered the studio, stretched up an eight foot canvas and everyone worked on it and finished it as well as the limited time (just a few days) allowed. It was great fun, but more importantly, it was much more compositionally daring and demanding than anything I've seen come out of the ateliers. There were several layers of architecture, eight main figures and over a dozen secondary figures. Given a month and this would have been finished easily as well as anything on ARC.

What made it stand out is the lack of navel gazing laziness. Painting those single, double or even treble figures seems to be beyond the energy and ambition of the Crypto-Neo atelier crowd.

As you know, I'm a former working pro illustrator who left the field after the Mac made Everyman an artist and drove the field into its current despair. Also, as you know, there are two traditional "elephant's burial grounds" for old illustrators -- western art and portraits. I chose the latter. It's a good living...not as good as illustration was in its heyday, but very good -- interesting, my illustration was always noted for loose, flashy strokes. I tightened up when I chose to do was my choice, not anything forced on me. I guess that I needed a change. I've yet to explain it.

As anyone with decades of experience illustrating, I can certainly render as tightly as the best (or worst) of them. But the similarity ends there. They all lack energy and, as some pol said..."the vision thing."

Currently, I am at work on a rather large painting of the First Crusade. It takes place on the morning preceding the attack on Jerusalem and the assembled host is getting ready. The horizontal canvas is cut along a long diagonal representing a berm. At the bottom, in shadows, are sinister and terrifying men. These are adventurers who have managed to survived the hike through Europe and down through the Middle East, surviving hunger, disease and hostile attacks every foot of the way. These are people you don't want to meet in a dark alley...or even a well lit alley.
Above, in the light is a different cast of characters. This area has the ideologues, the zealots, the pure and honest True Believers.

The composition is daring. Thus far, we have a total of 52 figures, two horses, four mules, and four mastiffs. Because I did historical illustration, I know that there's always some armchair general ready to play gotcha if you get an insignia or weapon wrong, so the research involved is pretty intense. Also, the number of costumes and weapons is quite impressive. All of the figures are drawn from imagination. Once they are fitted together, then...and only then, do we hire the models. The models are not there to inspire us. Thus is my picture, not theirs and they get paid to take the pose that's been drawn out in advance (we will tweak the pose when the model gets there).

I absolutely defy any of the pontificating and arrogant single-figure renderers to muster up the energy...nay, to have a grand concept and follow through on it. All of them are much younger and more fit and energetic than I am.

And there you have what I consider to be the big difference between these single-figure painters and us old-school "commercial" artists. For people of my circle, it's simply what we've always done for a living not some magical priesthood in the Church of Saint Fred the Upset.

Anonymous said...

Enough has been said here that I can't add much to the discussion, but I'd like to know why contemporary art has this obsession with being "different." Is this why Currin's paintings of nudes with bulging eyeballs and alien bodies are considered genius while Gottlieb's isn't? Contemporary art seems to be in a race to nowhere, trying desperately to find new ways to shock (in this case, Currin's entry to pornographic art) and be recognizably different from the other guy that it forgot art's original purpose. (And might I add, the stuff they do stopped shocking and entered the ludicrous phase years ago.)

I also find some comments regarding realists as "technicians" with little imagination as ignorant. Sure there some artists who are a little obsessive with technique, but to attack artists who paint from life is basically attacking a rather large part of art history, which as we all know, was far from dull.

I agree with the some here that atelier programs has the propensity of producing artists who paint in the same exact style and I'd wish they put more into having their students embrace individuality, but I believe atelier programs are more about teaching the craft of painting. How the students knowledge of painting can be put to practice is up to them. Painting from life doesn't mean you can't be an individual. It's easy to differentiate a Sargent painting and a Wyeth.

Anonymous said...

There is a site called photoshopdisasters that highlights the artists miscalculated proportions and other notable errors of composition --- a fortune waiting to be sold!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know why contemporary art has this obsession with being "different."

For the same reason that the Chinese Mandarins cultivated a taste for rotten food and grew their fingernails to absurd lengths. It sets apart the aristocracy (intellectuals - real and pseudo) from the common hoi polloi. Cultivating a taste for the rotten, the ironic and the degenerate marks you, mainly to yourself, as a superior being.

Due to the limitations of money, it's tough for the well off to achieve self satisfaction, but there are any number of artists and art critics willing to cook the cultural books to keep that rare product coming off the fine art assembly lines.

Anonymous said...

Ever read "The Twilight of Painting" by R.H. Ives Gammell. I think you could appreciate it.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, thanks for a very interesting explanation. Let's see if we can refine the point a little.

You say, "I absolutely defy any of the pontificating and arrogant single-figure renderers to muster up the energy...nay, to have a grand concept and follow through on it." But surely you mean something more than that. I know you understand that "quickly knocked off studies" are not necessarily bad-- Rembrandt did a number of them that you would label brilliant. So did Reubens. So the lack of a complex composition or grand concept should not be a disqualifying feature. (I note that the vaunted Currin pictures which started this whole kerfluffle are no different-- he paints single figures against a flat dark background. If Currin is getting credit for some special talent, it sure ain't for his complex compositions).

As for your point about arrogance and pomposity-- I share your irritation, especially when the arrogance is so unwarranted. But I would think your view would make you more sympathetic to the Gottlieb side of the equation rather than less. You say, "For people of my circle, it's simply what we've always done for a living not some magical priesthood...." One of the reasons I decided to take a poke at Currin is that I saw people worshipping at his feet and paying astronomical prices for his work because he had been cannonized by Sothebys and NY galleries (talk about a "magical priesthood..."). By comparison, Gottlieb is doing yeoman work trading honest value for dollars. You don't see him hawking his wares with phony rhetoric about "mystery, sublimity, and transcendence."

In other words, it seems to me that Currin is to the "Neos" what the the Neos are to "old-school commercial artists." Am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Rob Howard hit the nail on the head. Thanks for giving us your well-informed POV.

There's a big difference between Rembrandt's sketches and the Neo-cartographers. The Neo-cartographers have no feeling in their work. Rembrandt had it in spades. That ought to be some kind of test for artistic aptitude--holding up a Neo-cartographer painting to a Rembrandt sketch. If you pick the Neo-cartographer, you should have your paint brushes confiscated.

What's your big obsession with this guy anyway, David? He hasn't shown a darn thing in his work to separate himself from the rather large and growing population of atelier copycats out there. He seems to be some kind of big wheel in the New York realist scene, but that means little to a real art lover.

This guy is a copycat and nothing more. Atelier's are the death of realist art. Same with the photo-copiers of the "southwest" art scene.

Its all about controlling the market, giving you your celebrities, and controlling the culture. Just like the movies and TV, only less expensive. We son't see any kind of really good work out of these businessmen with brushes. Just copies.

David Apatoff said...

Ken, since you are clearly a refined and tasteful fellow, I am assuming that you prononounce the word "bught" as "beaut" rather than "butt."

Chris and K-- an interesting discussion on the importance of "novelty" in art. I agree, but I also think that Currin and others like him don't really do anything new.

John D, I haven't read it but I will check it out. Thanks.

Anonymous (the fourth? fifth?) my "big obsession with this guy" is only that I was surfing the internet a few years back, saw his pictures and stopped because I liked them. If he is "some kind of big wheel in the New York realist scene" that's news to me. I know he works and teaches in LA. But I will ask you the same question I asked Rob-- if you don't like overpaid celebrity "big wheels" in the NY art scene, how can you possibly prefer Currin to Gottlieb? Finally, we seem to agree on some basic points-- that's its not enough to say "it's only a sketch" or "the composition isn't complex enough" or it was "quickly knocked off" or that it "only involved one figure"-- because if you are good (like Rembrandt) none of that matters.

Perhaps I am nuts, but I see big differences between individual artists in what you call "the rather large and growing population of atelier copycats out there." Some have the spark and some don't.

Rob Howard said...

David, over the years this is one of the very few times which our taste has not coincided. Generally, I am in complete agreement with your choices and observations, appreciating especially when you introduce me to an artist I had not fully explored.

When you wrote "I know you understand that "quickly knocked off studies" are not necessarily bad-- Rembrandt did a number of them that you would label brilliant. So did Rubens. So the lack of a complex composition or grand concept should not be a disqualifying feature. I realised that I must have been less than clear. The dashed-off studies are important. Like Rembrandt and like Rubens, (and definitely like Leyendecker) I do tons of them. And they are exactly that..."studies." That is, they are little paintings or sections used to work out a particular aspect that's unclear in your head and you don't want to try to work it out on the masterpiece, so you take the risk out by working it on a little throwaway canvas. Here's a typical dashed off study at
I had some questions about how the light would hit the hands. These are very fast problem solving tools. As a picture, it's without content and, hence, rather vapid. If I took it to finish, it would still be vapid and devoid of content.
And that's the objection. This is one of 52 pairs of hands (not counting the hoofs and paws). There are also 52 sets of feet. Some of the hands will be gloved and the feet will have all manner of footgear. Obviously, there's a great need for accurate, diagrammatic paint sketches that work out the problems before they are committed to the large final piece. The studies done by Rubens and Rembrandt are of this ilk...preliminary for larger, composed pieces.

Not so with Adrian's nudes. These are fully complete. They are not studies for a larger piece. In short, it's taking the non-content sketch medium and tarting it up to be more than it can possibly be. It's like taking a three-note tune and cobbling it into a symphony. There simply isn't the intent nor the content to support and justify the labor.

And that's really what it appeals to...our Protestant work ethic which permeates this nation. The more evidence of man-hours, the better. Indeed, that's how the rubes judge art, but demonstrations of painstaking work. Those hard-working rubes understand work very well and they assume that the more someone embroiders an image, the greater it's worth. To a great extent, Currin's work appeals to the rube/work mentality. Sure, they are more wealthy rubes but chances are, if you check out the radio stations on their car radios, it will be the same bubblegum they were listening to in high school. Taste is not a growth area.

What's ironic is that Adrian's work (and all of ARC) justifies itself on that most modern art dictum of all..."art for art's sake." That mentality is at the antipodes of what the Neo Classicisists like David and Gerome were trying to do. They were never doing it for the sake of art...they always bent their considerable skills to communicating.

This overwrought nude studies attempt to have the air of freshness about them, with open areas of canvas, judiciously (and self-consciously left open. That shows that it's free and lively. Meanwhile, the paint is fairly labored. It damned sure hasn't anything like the brio in a Velazquez or Sargent study.

Sadly, this is what we can expect when students are turned into drudges, copying cast after cast. The creative spark is beaten out of them. They become as corporatist as a cubicle worker. Whatever joie de vivre they may have had when entering the atelier has been ground into paste upon leaving. Yes, a few do manage to survive but most end up as dull as wallpaper paste. They know it so what do they do...these callow renderers with no life experience and even less job experience feel fully qualified to teach. So we end up with the bland leading the blind.

This "slow painting" movement is setting art back somewhat. Fortunately it has so little energy and appeal that it won't do much damage to the field.

Jack R said...

Let's talk about an artist with both amazing technical skills and an intellectually provocative vision of the human figure. I'm referring to Philip Pearlstein, who though in his 80s, is doing better work than Gottlieb or Currin ever will. Even if you despise his figures you cannot ignore his compositional skills, which are as complex as they are absent in either Currin or Gottlieb. Perlstein may not sell for five million dollars but 50 years from now it will be his work that will be talked about and debated, not Currin's.

David Apatoff said...

Jack R, I would not disagree with you-- there are a lot of artists doing interesting, complex nudes-- not just Pearlstein, but Freud, Gillespie, etc. etc. We should have a great discussion about them some day (another post?) I singled out Currin and Gottlieb not because I think they are the best or the worst, but because I thought it was interesting that their paintings were so similar (size, subject matter, colors, technical skill, age of the artist) and yet one sells for hundreds of times what the other does. Scientists would say those are perfect "laboratory conditions" for isolating some crucial distinguishing factor which makes one of the objects so much more valuable than others. I thought this post would be a good place to tease out that factor (althought as usual, the discussion took on a life of its own and went off in a totally different direction).

Rob Howard said...

Jack R. In this age of Relativism, where everyone has their own definition and that definition is equally valid because, well Mister Rogers told us, "we're special," claiming that Perlstein is a master of pictorial composition could fit with that very special and personal understanding. But in the world of fulltime working artists who must make their living at art, those are "arrangements." More like the weighting in graphic design. Composition and graphic design are miles apart.

The only elements in painting that create emotion (aside from the big-eyed kitty cat with a tear) are composition and color, with the latter being handmaiden to the first. Aside from an uncanny ability to make every nude unappealing, Pearlstein's arrangement cannot produce definite emotions. And the operative word here is "definite".

It like writing the theme music for a movie. Composition lies in the background propping up the pictures and the subject matter.An understanding of pictorial composition soon(about two or three years of diligent study) gives you an understanding of the difference between how we get emotion with a painted image and with a photographed image.

Composition...the emotion builder that, if handled well produces similar emotions in the viewer, not leaving room for "interpretation"...(into what, Icelandic, Croatian?) If the art needs an interpreter, it's failed. However, in the beginning stages the student will do well to have a guide to point the difference between the many elements that can go into the simplest of good art.

Although long out of print, if you can lay hands on a copy of Painting Techniques of the Masters by Lester Hereward Cooke, it will take the open-minded student into a far richer land than that of simple "I like it." The first time you cover Van der Weiden's red sash and see the color drain from the face is when you grow aware that there are forces at work of which you must learn.

It will be interesting for you to return to Pearlstein after studying Cooke's book.

Anonymous said...

Rob, your work is really beautiful and inspiring:

However, I think some of what you write is debatable. (By way of avoiding insult, I should say that some of what follows are simply "givens" written for the sake of making a point, rather than "teaching the obvious" to those who already know it.)

Since every object touched by man "communicates" something, even the most tedious atelier study would as well. For example one can read into Gottlieb meditation, perspicacity, craftsmanship, a longing for 1880s, an interest in observation, etc...

No doubt these communication can be thought shallow or weak. But these communications can only be dismissed as illegitimate because of their shallowness through opinion/fiat. Which is to say... I assume what you are saying is that the purpose of art is to communicate something more than the above list. But there again, even if I agree with you (and I do), the fact remains that "the purpose of art" has never been agreed upon, so we are back to opinion. Unless you can show me a book by the person who first coined the word Art with accompanying definition.

Specifically, you seem enamored of "specific" emotion. Show me the rule book that states that an emotion or communication must not be ambiguous for the art to be good. This opinion lets out the Mona Lisa, (just as the easiest example.) In fact, an argument can be made that one of the salient features of art has been to commingle emotions (the emotions caused by beauty and strangeness, for example) thereby making an easy emotional reading of the piece impossible. (Possibly I have misunderstood you in this regard, and if you would care to explicate your position further, I will listen.)

As far as your contention that composition and graphic design are miles apart, given your work, I find it hard to believe you believe that. Surely there is a considerable correspondence between the two. Possibly you subscribe to some definition-based distinction that clearly separates the two disciplines?

Personally I prefer paintings with dramatic-metaphoric content, rather than only artist's-hand metaphors of creation or symbolic surface play. But, as the English say, I wouldn't insist on it.

I will seek out the Cooke book. Thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

"As an artist engaged with the figure, I enjoy looking at works by artists like Gottlieb (there are many), mostly as technical studies, but Currin's works are hot precisely because his work actually participates in that messy dialogue we call Contemporary Art.
That's the whole thing in one. Aesthetics are part of the philosophic concerns of any given era. As nice as Adrian Gotlieb's work is, it does not take part in the current aesthetic discussion, that yes, like it or not is being directed by the modern art academia. Neo Realism's attempt to pretend that discussion is hogwash, is on the same level as Born Again Christians trying to convince us that Intelligent Design is a viable alternative to Evolution. A reactionary stance and response which attempts to set up it's own context is almost always besides the point.
For me personally, there's no reason why we can't appreciate skilled work for what it is. Why does every damn painting have to be ART with a capital A? If lies have to be told to sell art, which should, as far as I'm concerned, sell itself, then we just have to face the fact that visual art in general is not that important to most people, or at least the experience of it is not as important as the status of owning something that is currently fashionable or that is of potentially historic value.
I like both artists and recognize that they work in different contexts. As opposed to dismissing what Currin is doing, one could recognize that he had the necessary schooling in Current Art Theory to create work that could function effectively in that context. Why isn't that as valid as any other training?
And the discussion of money is completely and totally irrelevant. William Merrit Chase ,"the painter's painter" and a widely regarded teacher in his era, couldn't give away his paintings at one point in his career.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, you obviously have a lot of history with these ARC types, and it has left you with some strong opinions that are a little difficult for me to address in this context. Have all of these students been turned into drudges? Do none of them have any life experience at all? Are they all lazy navel gazers? And do they actually have the power of "setting back art?" (whew!)

I don't know any of these people or their teachers or their working methods personally. I am only going by what my eyes and my brain (such as it is) tell me about the pictures themselves. They tell me that you are correct that none of these artists have the brio of Velasquez or Sargent, but they also tell me that some of them (in this case, Gottlieb) are at least as good as the overpaid Mr. Currin.

I hate to suggest that two such fine fellows as we are might possibly be anything less than objective, but perhaps our difference of opinion stems less from the art itself, and more from the different demons that bedevil us: I can't abide the phony vocabulary and shallow standards of the contemporary fine art market, which I think is often poisonous to more important artistic values; you on the other hand are obviously incensed by the motives and techniques of the ARC / atelier crowd. Perhaps in each case the baggage of the artist colors our respective reactions to the painting.

I really enjoyed your study of the hands-- solid evidence of a man doing honest work, in the tradition of Leyendecker. I maintain that preliminary sketches of a hand or a nose may be utilitarian working drafts, but with a good artist they can usually stand alone as well designed, coherent images. Sure, they are incomplete, yet they often often contain a microcosm of a finished artistic statement. An artist can't help it.

And by the way, the samples provided by Kev are really quite lovely. You have certainly earned the right to speak.

Rob Howard said...

David, in response to " Have all of these students been turned into drudges? Do none of them have any life experience at all? Are they all lazy navel gazers? And do they actually have the power of 'setting back art?'" No. Of course not. You can encase a truly creative person in cement and he'll continue to be creative despite your best effort of quieting him. This is apparent when you read the biographies of creative types who were always daydreaming or getting into trouble in the typical Dewey-system public school. No matter how many times they were sent to the principal's office, they simply couldn't contain themselves.

What I am speaking to are the students without that overwhelming degree of creativity. One or two trips to the principal's office is enough to turn them into compliant students who don't fidget. That is exactly what happens when you subject a student with decent creative talent that could be developed and encouraged to endless hours of drudgery that rival that of work on an assembly line or in a cubicle. Enough of those damned Bargue drawings. A few days of those are enough to take the edge off a sharp wit. Endless months of it are enough to cripple creativity.

This is DEFINITELY not the way the original ateliers were conceived. It is, however, an excellent business model. What follows will sound cynical to those who have not seen it firsthand.

First get a highly desirable address in the shadow of the Duomo. Impressionable students think that walking the same streets that Florentine masters trod will somehow run off in the form of that old fantasy...inspiration.. The next step is to recruit students with some flash...generally in the form of those rendered nekkid ladies and drawings of casts that look like, well...drawings of casts. Nothing, not one single student or faculty piece will remotely resemble the masters of those hallowed Florentine streets. Hey, that doesn't matter to someone with an undeveloped visual taste.

Here's where the economic model forms the artistic and teaching model. Let's face it, putting some kids in a studio with a model and an instructor is a lot more costly than putting the same kids in a room with a cast nailed to the wall and one where the instructor shows up every few days. That's efficient business...keep the teacher's hours short (and thus pay them less...hey, they're in Florence and that should be payment enough).

The atelier system is an efficient money maker, allowing the owners of atelier to buy up prime property. There will always be an endless supply of hopeful kids who think that rendering is artistry. That's why there was such a spate of airbrush artists and then, once the Mac allowed Everyman to render flawlessly, brigades of "artists" trained at art departments of land grant colleges and even community colleges.

With that sort of taste as a background (hey folks, those copies of Frazetta and Vallejo are getting just a wee bit long in the tooth and damned derivative...the market for Sci-Fi illustration disappeared when illustration disappeared as a high-paid profession) it's no wonder that the young 'uns judge art on the basis of hand skills.

ARC just plays into that with all of those bogus awards and titles...Living Contemporary Master or whatever Fred's fertilizer is.

Can they set art back? Sure. Any movement or practice that diminishes talent when it should be encouraging it can take a potentially good player out of the field.

That said, I have seen a few atelier-trained who managed to come away with real artistic energy and verve. Obviously, those are the impolite kids who were always a bother in class.

Kev, when you said "Specifically, you seem enamored of "specific" emotion. Show me the rule book that states that an emotion or communication must not be ambiguous for the art to be good", I was reminded of the sweet young thing who asked Louis Armstrong what Jazz was. His answer came from years in the trenches..."if you've got to ask, you'll never know."

I tried to be very clear in stating that any work of art should, not just convey, but create an emotion. Not just any emotion but the specific emotional response the artist wishes to produce. An excellent example of creating an emotion...the very same emotion, and causing exactly the same response was done by Puccini in the second act of La Boheme.

You should understand that going to the opera is as much as social event as it is an artistic performance. After the first act, everyone files out to the grand lobby to chat, ogle each other's dresses and gossip. Later, stewards with little xylophones circulate among the crowd, informing them to go back to their seats. Chatter, chatter, just can't shut them up. They go to their seats and continue chattering. Indeed, they'll often continue talking when the performance begins, after all, did you see what she was wearing? OMG!

Puccini knew this so he opted for the orchestral version of crowd control. The orchestra starts off with a Kaboom that knocks the audience back in their seats. Okay, that's the equivalent of Currin's porn paintings...schlock and awe. But here's where Puccini was clever...right after that explosive boom, a chorus of children with teeny weeny voices begins singing something very softly that everyone (who have been shell shocked by the boom) leans forward to hear what the lyrics are...tweeet, tweet, tweet...KABOOM! Just when they're trying to hear the soft voices, he hits them with another mortar blast. At this point, he owns the audience. He's made them do exactly what he wants, on time and on command. You never see that sort of crowd control at a rock concert.

Visual art is a language. While it doesn't construct sentences, there is a structure and syntax of sorts. Speaking in that language is to control your medium well enough to be able to convey exactly what it is that you want the audience to feel. This has nothing to do with what you feel. If you can sing and make the young girls cry, you've done your job. If, however, you get up to sing and you cry, get off the stage. This is art, not art therapy.

The great artists can communicate an unequivocal message. Like Shakespeare, one time it will be a tragedy. Another time it's a comedy. But in the case of a Shakespeare, it's always of a high level and it gives you a lump in the throat when he writes it in and makes you laugh when he writes that in.

Where we go wrong is not paying attention to content (as in a Shakespeare play) and are dazzled by someone who can type 500 words a minute. That's what those manual skills are all about...typing, not making art. BTW there are no rulebooks.
My rulebook was simple...I left college and went to a real art school without the safety net of a degree in case I failed I had no backup position. I wanted to be a working artist. Period. Failure was not acceptable. Nor was teaching. There would be no fall-back position. Succeed or die.

With the idea that I wasn't going to school to learn a fun hobby (and then get a straight job and paint in my spare time) my eye was always on art as a profession...actually, a trade (when asked i still tell people that I work with my hands). Nowhere did I read this in a book on art careers (I mention that because you brought up books as the be all...actually, they're just as wrong as Wikipedia is).

I immediately scouted around for jobs in art. I landed little freelance jobs and managed to make a buck here and another there. Toward the end of my second year, I was getting swamped with freelance assignments and had to determine if I wanted to be a professional art student and do the whole five year course, or if I wanted to be a professional artist.

Those were good times for a young artist because there were big art studios that hired. Best of all, I was getting paid to be trained by real pros. After a few of those studios I had developed my chops...something I never could have done in an art school. Modern illustration and graphic design were blossoming and it was a great time to be an artist...especially since I had gone to New York.

Ah yes, those were the days and they aren't coming back anytime soon. Today's artist has to be an autodidact, teaching himself. What a lonely and unproductive way to travel the path.

The best that I can do is to honor those old bullpen artists who yelled at me, cajoled me, encouraged me and showed me the ropes. Occasionally I take in an exceptionally promising young artist and try to get them launched in the right direction...not MY direction.

We have to give back to the field and the preying upon young artists by many schools is unconscionable. Art is the most competitive field imaginable, and not preparing students to compete is criminal.

Anonymous said...

Rob, you are very talented. What do you think about abstract art? Is there anything good about it, or are you one of those guys who hates everything after 1900?

Rob Howard said...

There is no area of art that I can dismiss out of hand. As someone who makes fairly realistic pictures, I realize that there's a great deal about making images that goes beyond a mere demonstration of being able to draw and paint with precision. Of primary importance to me is the intention of the piece...what is called content. The vehicle for best expressing content is with the elements of pictorial composition...this is far and away the most intellectual aspect of picture making.

Composition is built on the basis of abstract forms, edges, contrast and a dozen other aspects that must come into play. Details are the very last thing to be considered, yet the artist who has little idea of what composition is will immediately gravitate to the details...put down a precise drawing and then doing what they learned as a child with a coloring book...stay within the lines. Therein lies the reason for all of those tightly rendered pictures with hard edges throughout, and that's the reason Vallejo's stuff is flat and without depth and you can fall into a Cornwell picture (not to mention that Cornwell is a master of compositional tools and they still remain a mystery to Vallejo).

At age 16 I had the splendid good fortune to study with Hans Hofmann. He was a influential teacher of many of the most influential abstractionists of that time, with his influence being felt even today. I was called "the kid who can draw," because that's the way I thought...realistically, and I had the inborn skills to work in that manner. What I was lacking was the ability to make a picture work from the edges on in. Like most primitives, I thought of composition as making pleasant arrangements and color as having no other duty than to be pleasant and clean. Boy, what I was missing!

That was an important part of my life, learning not only from Mr. Hofmann (that's how I always think of him...I was a polite kid) and a number of older artists who took me under their wing. Franz Kline was particularly kind to me.

Those men were among the most honest and driven artists I have ever met. They were exploring very difficult aspects of the picture plane and just as today's astrophysicists have based their advances on scientific knowledge of centuries ago, so too were these abstractionists doing their own version of advanced methods and ways of thinking.

Much has to do with the eye of the beholder. Some primitive tribesmen, when presented with a Polaroid of themselves cannot see any resemblance to a human in that flat plane. They just see the flat shiny piece of plastic and paper. The same was said of the American Indians who saw Columbus come ashore. They could not see the ships parked in the harbor because they didn't have that frame of reference. We assume that visual perception is the same in everyone but there are things in our backgrounds which make certain aspects invisible to us.

That's much the case of those who dismiss abstractionism out of hand. That's the equivalent of claiming that quantum mechanics doesn't exist.

Look at some of the compositional sketches of Howard Pyle. They are completely abstract jumbles of darks, lights and shapes. A discussion of the advances in the use of color, based on perception, enters into a rarefied atmosphere, indeed. Also remember, that the average theatre-goer and TV-watcher of the '50's would not be able to follow and perceive the images in one of those rapid-sequence series we routinely see on TV and the movies. Back then, the smartest among them also knew that no man would ever run a four-minute mile. Roger Bannister finally did it (and collapsed at the end of the run). In less than ten years, high school kids were routinely running a four-minute mile.

What had happened? Another mental barrier had fallen. Keeping a barrier up about abstract art is as debilitating as that myth about the four-minute mile, or the nonexistent ships or no picture on the Polaroid. Yes, it attracts charlatans and buffoons but so does realistic work. There simply is no single "pure" area of art and all the rest are junk, no matter what Fred Ross and the folks at ARC have to say.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I think I should set up a whole separate blog along the lines of "My Dinner With Andre" or "Tuesdays With Morrie"-- it would certainly be more edifying than my normal offerings.

So much of what you say rings true with me-- so many of the choices that you identified and confronted along the way, so many of the conclusions that you drew, so much of the language that you use, all seem natural and right, like a perfect note played on some long ago lute. Which makes the areas where we differ all the more interesting, and all the more worthy of reconsideration.

I'm not talking so much about Fred Ross and the ARC crowd; I think you have gone 'round the bend on your hostility toward them, but I now attribute that to sincere motives (your concern about young talent being misled or fleeced) combined with the fact that you seem to view them as counterfeiters who are devaluing your own currency. I can afford to be more dispassionate because I don't have the same personal stake. So let's put them aside. I view many of your points as valid, some of your points as nutty, but bottom line I would be careful about lumping everyone in this school together. (It would not be doing anyone a service for me to list the specific painters who I view in the "embalmer's school" category and who I think has "the spark.")

Instead let's go back and talk about some of our other apparent differences along the way, where our positions haven't yet hardened.

You say "Art is the most competitive field imaginable" but you're going to have to explain that competition for me. Who is running that competition, and by what standards are they judging it, and what is the brass ring? Is it personal satisfaction that you've done your highest and best work, or is it pleasing some audience? And if it is some audience, which one? The art director, the museum curator, the pope, the wealthy tasteless patrons, the art speculator? A lot of artists do a lot of pandering to lowbrow audiences in order to become successful. Are they the winners of the competition you describe? I think it is possble to identify sub-markets within art where it is possible to have genuine competition (those old bullpen artists you describe understood fierce competition) and the art is probably better for the competition. But you know good and well that art is not the dog races. There are lots of people doing art-like things who are running in very different races, with very different goals. Are you in a position to tell me that any particular race is at the pinnacle of art? That Dean Cornwell's race is a better one than Hans Hoffman's or than the race of a monk painting an illuminated manuscript? I would be surprised if you said yes. Your answer to some commenter about abstract art was exactly the open minded, intellectually curious response I hope I would have given. Yet you don't hesitate to assert a fairly formalistic and (I think) narrow notion of the one true competition of art: "I tried to be very clear in stating that any work of art should, not just convey, but create an emotion. Not just any emotion but the specific emotional response the artist wishes to produce. An excellent example of creating an emotion...the very same emotion, and causing exactly the same response was done by Puccini in the second act of La Boheme." I agree you have been very clear in earlier comments. You are not just talking about emotion, but a "definite emotion." From an anthropological perspective, I think there is a lot of great art that falls outside of your standard: art that is intuitive and subliminal or built on lucky accidents; art that is deliberately ambiguous, which triggers different emotions from different audiences; art from foreign cultures that cannot be decoded, and therefore the original intent of the artist cannot be discerned, but which is beautiful nonetheless. And from a purely metabolical perspective, what do you do about the fact that the artist is only half the equation, and that the viewer who makes up the other half is a huge gaping variable. Their emotional response could depend upon their age, their personal history (including what they had for breakfast that day) or a host of other factors. You seem to think that the artist is in control of a lot more than I think he or she is capable of controlling with the kind of careful architecture that you decsribe.

Anonymous said...

Rob, thanks for your response.

Yes of course an artist can control the experience of his audience through compositional means, just as a composer or architect may. That is surely a different point than saying the emotion must be definite. (For some reason I quoted "definite" as "specific" in my first response to you.) Regarding that point, I direct you to David Mamet's play Oleanna, as an operative example of a masterfully controlled piece, which produces diametrically opposed responses among audience members.

I am very deeply interested in compositional theories, from the innate qualities of the blank canvas and how it is charged to the metaphoric meaning of a brushstroke or a shape or a graphic design. I am particularly fascinated with the transition in Germany from Romanticism to Modernism and have made a rather extensive study of it, with particular emphasis on questions of the sublime and Von Stuck as a transitional figure. I also compose songs, music, essays, and stories, all professionally.

Which is as gentle a way of saying to you as I can imagine that your "playing" of that Louis Armstrong quote on me was born of an error of induction on your part.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to ask why only very early student works created by Gottlieb and one commissioned piece requested to reflect atelier "studies" were used to represent his accomplishments? For one thing, how can anyone complain that an artist's work resembles a student work if IT IS a first year study? And at least two of those images fit that definition.

As for Currin's amazing "creativity," we know his works were copied images from Danish pornography films. He copied stills exactly as they appeared in the films. Who's creativity are we talking about?

As to Rob Howard's comments, Gottlieb's art supplies while studying at Charles Cecil Studio and the FAA were purchased from predominately Zecchi's in Florence and a Brooklyn supplier. Very very little was provided by Rob's company and while he offered to make a contribution, he follow up the order with an invoice and an immediate payment due date.

I'm not quite sure why Gottlieb is supposed to be "an ARC artist." Despite being offered an e-gallery in the ARC living masters online museum, he never agreed to be represented on the site and never submitted his work. He did win first place in the ARC's annual international scholarship competition but he also won over 17 scholarships before he even graduated high school, and numerous scholarships and grants during his years of study first as an illustrator and then as a fine art painter in Europe. His own studio program is recognized by the ARC but other than that, he has no real ongoing relationship with ARC other than that he is a contemporary realist painter, more geared toward naturalism than classical realism.

Adrian Gottlieb is 32 and has already painted members of the British peerage. John Currin is 47.

Perhaps we should keep an eye on Gottlieb and his work as commissions allow him the freedom to take the time to paint beyond portraiture.

Daan Hoekstra, an editor for Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine wrote of Gottlieb "He shows us all the mystery and the miraculous quality of the most ordinary moments. We see a deep, quiet, patient, inexhaustible compassion for humanity. His work is an affirmation of life, of things-as-they-are, that pinpoints a fountain of informed optimism in an ailing world—of simple goodness. A passion for craftsmanship suggests a stubborn belief that things matter, matter matters, and this record of our humanity must last. I think of a piece of Shaker furniture—all the reverence poured into lumber in the knowledge that people hundreds of years in the future would understand the product as a material prayer. This attitude is very rare in the 21st century. Expectations of the longevity of humanity might be self-fulfilling prophecies. Gottlieb stands nearly alone and delivers quality over quantity--materialized humanism, made to last centuries. He defends us all.

Moreover, Adrian Gottlieb is an artist’s artist. The more knowledge of the craft one has, the more one appreciates his work. .."

Anonymous said...

This is Anonymous #3 again, from some miles back in the post.

Don't you think that artists primarily speak to people who share their own interests, and that's why different people like different types of work?

A viewer (for example) who likes order, control, and clarity will probably admire an artist whose work exhibits those qualities. A second viewer might find the same work tedious. He in turn might prefer confrontation, attitude, and energy in art that a third viewer will find exasperating. Sometimes interests overlap, and sometimes not. There's enough art out there for everyone, and my tastes need not be an insult to yours.

I suspect that, in arguing the superiority of one type of work over another, we are always talking much more about ourselves than about art.

David Apatoff said...

Dear Anonymous no. ????--

The three early examples of Gottlieb's work were definitely NOT selected to "represent his accomplishments." They were only selected because they were physically similar to the three examples of paintings by Currin. As explained through multiple comments above, the whole idea of this post was to analyze why such physically similar paintings commanded such wildly different prices in today's bizarre art market. I recognize that we have strayed away from the original intent of my post, but that's just an occupational hazard of blogging.

Keep in mind that as the topic wandered, I did refer readers to Gottlieb's later portraits on his website, which I think are splendid. Also, one of the commenters claims that Gottlieb's earlier work is better than his later work, because it was done before Fred Ross personally strangled all creativity out of Gottlieb and others. Me, I like both his early and his later work.

As for Currin, he is amazingly creative when it comes to marketing and public relations, but I would prefer a painting by Gottlieb any day.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous #3, welcome back. You have probably grown a long gray beard since this chain started.

I think you are mainly correct about what attracts us to art, but I am enough of an optimist so that I continue to believe that art broadens our horizons-- that we stumble across art that is very different from our personal experience and biases, but which intrigues us and serves as a catalyst for personal growth in new directions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation David.

You noted: "one of the commenter's claims that Gottlieb's earlier work is better than his later work, because it was done before Fred Ross personally strangled all creativity out of Gottlieb and others..."

Interesting. I'd like to hear from Gottlieb on that one.

From what I've heard, Gottlieb has met Fred Ross once and has had less conversations with him than you could count on one hand.

One of my problems with all of this is that one cannot judge a work of art based on a jpeg image. There are elements inherent to Gottlieb's work (especially his latest work) and, in all fairness, very likely Currin's work, that are not perceivable through the variations inherent to computers, software, browsers and monitors. CGI professionals in the film industry have their computers color calibrated weekly.

Probably many more people have seen Currin's original work than Gottlieb's. For one thing he's been around a lot longer and for another, he's more prolific.

I have seen Gottlieb's work, and there more to it than one would guess based on online images.

I'm sorry for those talented young realists who have had the fortune/misfortune of winning ARC scholarships. The experience, while it undoubtedly helped those who were not pursuing their studies supported by trust funds, probably made the difference between being able to return to their studies or not. However, when that student goes on to become recognized in his or her own right, it seems that the association is gleefully exaggerated and distorted to feed a grudge or espouse a broad based generalized disgust for ARC. Claims that all atelier trained or ARC recognized artists paint in some identical fashion are absurd.

I can't help but be reminded of Rob Howard's diatribe against Bouguereau, on the basis that the artist was "a pedophile." I'm not a particular fan of Bouguereau but I know better than to judge work out of social context. And I know better than to judge an artists work based on the organization that awarded them scholarships or the educational institutions they attended.

Graydon Parrish is another painter who has been first idolized and then demonized not on the basis of his work but rather personal vendettas that have no place in the context of honest critique.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

This is a great post and discussion. I even wrote a bit about Illustration Art on my blog. David, try to remain humble if you read it.

I believe it is much easier to paint shock and awe than it is to raise a simple object or just a posed figure model to the sublime. Now I agree that the Gottlieb's work can appear as little more than figure studies, but he is a young painter in the life long journey of learning the craft. Actually, one could argue that realism itself is young as it struggles to come back from the ruins. Modern art, or at least it's affect on art schools has been devastating. As more schools pop up that actually teach the craft of painting, I think we are going to see a lot of work that is little more than an expression of that struggle. I say give Gottieb some time and we will see some great stuff. If you have ever read Kenyon Cox's writings on Winslow Homer, he states that if Homer had not lived past the age of 50 he would not have the place in American history as one of its greats (if not 'the greatest' American painter).
It is fantastic to see so many intelligent folks discussing these topics.

I would also like to throw in a recommendation for Gammell's Twighlight of Painting. Everyone should read that book who is interested in beauty and truth in the arts.

Rob Howard said...

Haha! I have just returned from My Dinner with Andrée, who is my wife, but indeed I would enjoy the luxury of a smooth conversation rather than my somewhat pinched and staccato sounding attempts at typing my thoughts.

First, a bit of background...I had a studio at Fenway Studios, just down the hall from Gammel's studio. His student's crawling and licking created what was by far the cleanest section of hallway imaginable. Most of us are like the blind men describing the elephant...the one on the leg says "it's like a tree," the one touching the trunk claims it's like a snake. In the case of Gammel, he described the elephant as a sack with grapefruit, such was his very limited view, for you must understand that he went to Europe to study with two very undistinguished students of Gerome's. When only partway through the beginning, the outbreak of hostilities on the continent forced him to return to the states and only partially in possession of the teachings of those lacklustre students of Gerome. It is upon that that he based his teaching and, indeed, his philosophy.

Gammel's magnum opus was his series The Hound of Hell. In it, he puts a gallimaufry of abstraction, symbolism and realistic rendering together to illustrate a virtually incomprehensible poem. Like a badly catered party, one had to pick among the jumble to select the tidbits. That said, he also had a few small paint studies that showed what lay underneath his indulged rich kid oddness. They were ovely and fresh, showing that he could really paint. Sadly, he was like so many artists who can do inspired sketches but simply can't bring it to finish. In truth, that's one of the most difficult things to do and that's why people like Rubens, Velazquez and Rembrandt were revered a great masters...they could put the big contrived picture together with an easy suppleness few of us can master. Gammel certainly could not.

I was struck with what a martinet he was. He was most unkind to his students. To me, that's an absolute no-no. You must be good to the kids. That's what I was doing with Adrian. Being kind to a promising kid. I had never met him and only spoke to his mother on the phone. His family had fallen upon difficult times and that was when we offered to send supplies. His mother insisted on a bill and we offered to defer payment until Adrian got on his feet and was making money. We have never pursued payment, even though he's long since made something of a name for himself. I did finally meet him once, as he was going abroad to paint some titled person. He was more impressed by that than I was, but what the heck, this was his first time out and he deserved encouragement.

Encouragement was the reason I wrote my books, made videos, taught classes and started a couple of online art fora. It was certainly not for the purpose of taking my focus away from a lucrative career (even though it did). It was because my daughter (an excellent artist in her own right) said..."Daddy, it would be a shame if you took your knowledge to the grave." That was sobering. It was also the beginning of trying to share knowledge with as many people as possible.

What was happening in the world of art and art education had not escaped my notice. There really wasn't much that I could do to change the world of art. That's a natural/social force that is like trying to hold onto quicksilver. However, I saw an opportunity to make some little difference in art education.

What I saw (and still see) are largely non-professionals...oh and let's get this out of the way...what it says on your tax return is your profession, not what you wish it to be, not what in your heart of hearts you'd like to be, simply what you do for a living is your profession. If you teach Art, History, are a teacher, not necessarily an artist, historian or physicist. The difference is not subtle nor subject to equivocation.

What was most distressing was seeing students, many of whom had the basic talent (a predisposition toward the subject) being ground up and ruined by bad instruction (with advice like...just stand at the easel and express yourself) and the many tried and untrue canards that keep the students and their parents pouring money into those institutions. The basic message that most students at art schools, and even more in the art departments of universities learned was that only a very small percentage of graduates ever had a chance of taking what they'd spent years and fortune on, and have the field support them and pay them back.

As a lawyer, can you imagine how, after attending college and then law school, you and your fellow grads would feel if at graduation it was announced that less than 10% of you could ever hope to gain employment in the field you had just invested years and money into? Chances are that you would have taken the law into your own hands and lynched the teachers. Yet, this is precisely what happens in the study of art. The steady drumbeat is that you won't make a living unless you win some sort of lottery or roll of the dice.

Combating that has been a driving force in sharing knowledge. And before you say so...yes, I am a deeply flawed person. I would not be the ideal work mate in a cubicle environment. I do not stand on lines and wait for tickets or for entrance into an eatery. I have sharp opinions which I state immediately rather than go home and mumble about what I should have said. I am prickly. I can be uncomfotably like Wilde, Mencken or Whistler in that regard. But the reality is that I have a lot of useful information to share and also have the highest batting average of students who have gone on to become self-supporting artists...making art. Not working in galleries or art stores. Not teaching kids or giving half-baked workshops...students who have learned how to amplify their skills and vision to make art that makes money. I know of no other instructor who comes close to my percentage of conversion into pros. Also, not one of them paints as I do.

Anything that stands in the way of a talented student becoming a working professional is an impediment.

Like most people, I don't enjoy being misquoted by people with limited reading skills. Thus, when I stated that Bouguereau (a generous working artist for whom I have respect) painted for a market that was buying his yummi-licious nudes as soft core "in the men's study" paintings, or that his "hey little shepherd girl, want some candy" paintings appealed to paedophiles, the hard-of-thinking took out many of those cumbersome words and made the statement into "Bouguereau is a paedophile." Alas, I am a victim of a poor reader.But in today's short attention span world, speed reading and speed thinking go hand in hand with multi-tasking whilst driving.

Speaking of those "happy accidents" you cite, I look out at my icy streets and think that I might be able to drive at speed and do a spinning donut down the road and come away headed in the right direct. For me, that would be a very happy accident. However, if I could do that fifty times in a row, that would no longer be an accident. That would be skill. The happy accident is a pleasant one-off but should not be accorded any greater weight than just something pleasant to look at. It certainly is no reflection on the artist unless he can do it over and over again, and what we are talking about are artists, not accidents. Pollock was one such artist who managed to do it with consistent results. When you can do it that consistently, that's no longer accident.

Again, I would truly enjoy My Dinner With David. I think that we'd be able to clarify any difference and see that we are not occupying such different positions.

Anonymous said...

I had a funny feeling you would divert your attack to that word rather than admit your induction error. I guess the only corrective this time out would be for me to fax you my tax returns. Barring that, a bop with a polo mallet might do.

Pleasant dreams, super genius.

Jack Ruttan said...

It's kind of hard to make a scale "better" and "more deserving," and then judge it by money paid. It's filthy lucre, after all!

The mood at a particular time rewards a certain kind of art. I remember that Russian artist you were championing a while back, who did the solid, rosy-cheeked peasants. Saw one of his paintings in a book explaining why Cezanne was a "better" artist, and why he was a reaction to that. But I imagine at the time there was a lot of laughter at C.'s expense.

Maybe, looking back 100 years from now, Currin will seem as freaky and silly as some of those more extreme Mannerists, or the symbolists from the turn of the 1900s. I certainly get a kick out of Gustave Moreau and Felicien Rops, for instance, but wouldn't call them academically beautiful)

(Maybe someone has already made a point in this direction -- I haven't read all the comments!)

Jack Ruttan said...

Oh yeah, now having read the discussion ... I had a lot of fun. I think this sort of thing is part of what thinking and talking about art should be like (except for one of the more sarcastic comments as above!). The ideas will get all tangled, of course, and you can be contradictory, and still right. That's the nature of it, because it's not as cut and dried as the dogmatists would like. By the way comics friends hate the Art World to an unreasonable degree, and vice versa.

Two quick anecdotes which may be relevant or not: as an art critic for a free weekly, I was "thrown out" of one of the the city's most pricey and reputable galleries, because the coming events section inthe paper had made a silly joke about one of the images. So, kind of a thin skin, but I imagine such jokes, if they catch on, potentially costing the gallery thousands in terms of market value. Make of that what you will.

And if you want outrage, when I was at the Banff Centre in the late 1980s (as a libretto-writer for "music theatre," if you can believe it, and very unsuccessful), a clutch of big time curators made a tour of the visual artists' studio complex. They made of point of walking right by the cubicles of anyone who was a figure painter, and were only interested in the installation artists, because installation was hot at the time.

Happy to say that the figure painters came back a little while later (can't think of names right now, and am too lazy to Google: there was a Slavic guy who painted nude skinheads), but art has always been slave to what "the age demanded," to conjure Ezra Pound - who was a jerk and a snob, and maybe helped ruin poetry, but was an interesting artist.

Matthew Adams said...

Hey Dave, this all interesting and... Nah, who am I kidding, it just keeps going in circles.

Post a new blog, or blog a new post or whatever it is.


Anonymous said...

keeps going in circles since years!!!
there is no help, obviously...

Anonymous said...

I have no great insight to offer but wanted to commend the participants in this discussion for a highly enjoyable, very educational, kind of exhausting read. The quality of the writing overall is outstanding and highly unusual for blog comments (in my experience). I recommend that some of the big players (David, Kev, Rob, and/or an Anonymous or two) seek out a literary agent and transform a conversation about some of these topics into a book for the general public (in the way, for example, that Cornell West and Michael Ferber recorded their dialogue on race and religion). As to the original question, and for what it’s worth (I have minimal background in art history and calling me an amateur artist overstates it by several degrees -- I took up drawing only recently, and the extent of it is going to figure drawing sessions on Saturdays in Brooklyn or the occasional sit and sketch at the Met), I actually think the first few posts capture my feelings about the two artists. I would prefer to be able to paint like Gottlieb, but I’d much rather hang a Currin on my wall (sorry David).

David Apatoff said...

Andy S-- Ouch.

Well.... that's OK, I guess some people just prefer more post modern irony in their human figures than others.

But thanks for writing, I do appreciate your note.

Anonymous said...

gottlieb says on his site he doesn't like to work from photos cause they are flat and lifeless, yet his work is essentially just like a photo in the end, a rendering of light to create the appearance and likeness of a three dimensional object on a two dimensional surface. He's a capable draftsman but compared to currin he lacks the same ability to render volume and space, even despite working in a more realistic manner.

Currin's work is better because he moves beyond just rendering the likeness of something. He gives his subjects a life by treating them as more than a still life which exist only for the sake of showing how well he can draw or paint. They have meaning beyond just the technical application of the artists skill because they are imagined and thought out. In other words he's not just making a painting of a model and leaving it at that... essentially, after reviewing gottlieb's work, that's all gottlieb seems to be doing, and if your comparing his work to the work of good art throughout history, that's just not good enough.

David Apatoff said...

Latest anonymous, obviously you and I have different reactions to these two artists. If you think that Currin has a superior "ability to render volume and space," I just don't see it (and I have looked pretty hard) but that's OK. You don't have to like Gottlieb-- my point is that there must be 10,000 artists who can "render volume and space" at least as well as Currin. Pick the artist of your choice. I guarantee you he or she is not making $5 million per painting. Why?

What interests me most about your comment is that it contains a thread I have heard a LOT as technical skill diminishes in the contemporary art world. People claim that some favored artist is entitled to special deference or consideration because the physical work of art is enhanced (or redeemed) by the underlying intention or attitude of the artist. Currin's work is somehow better because he painted a nude woman with "postmodern irony" in his heart. I understand irony. I also understand the many frauds and self-delusions perpetrated by gallery owners and art history graduate students. So when you tell me that Currin's paintings "have meaning beyond just the technical application of the artists skill because they are imagined and thought out," I would ask you to explain yourself. What does being "imagined and thought out" do to enhance the painting? And these "thoughts" that Currin has... are they good thoughts or bad thoughts? Is his "imagination" a particularly creative one? In what way?

There are plenty of people out there who are dopes, in which case the fact that they have "thought out" a picture may make it worse rather than better.

Michael Swofford Paintings said...

Someone recently described a certain filmaker's work as "quirk-tastic",which isn't a compliment-- it means that it is esentially hollow and showy, like Currin's paintings. Gottlieb's work is based on quiet, honest observation of real people. Currin's work is merely superficially weird, and its derivative quality escapes notice only because his customers are unfamiliar with the Northern Renaissance paintings he imitates. Good for him that he's making money, though.

Anonymous said...

"my point is that there must be 10,000 artists who can "render volume and space" at least as well as Currin. Pick the artist of your choice. I guarantee you he or she is not making $5 million per painting. Why?"

Who cares why. I don't know or care how the art market regulates itself, I care about what I like. There are artists I like better than Currin, but the comparison here is between Gottlieb and Currin. And in my opinion Currin is a better painter. His style is better. His compositions are more complex. And even though he may not paint his figures in a anatomically accurate manner I find his renderings more tangible than Gottliebs.

And my previous argument had nothing to do with the old 'artists intention' justification, my argument was that Currin is making pictures while Gottlieb is just recording what he sees and if you can't see the distinction between these two concepts then no amount of explanation will make you understand.

Michael Swofford Paintings said...

Currin is a more modern (meaning more conceptual) artist than Gottlieb. People today aren't interested in beauty per se, but in content-- especially the outre. Currin gives his figures pop culture attributes such as plastic/sinister "evil doll" expressions and sly smiles, all contrived to make us "uneasy" and unsure of the artist's intentions. Lots of modern artists are doing this because it grabs some people, whereas Gottlieb's work seems kind of musty, like stuff you see in boring old museums. I like his use of light to define space, though, and his solid sense of anatomy. But then I like 19th century writers and other traditional things.

Mxikna said...

Well every one has his own style, one; old school, and the other more modern. Just I can said, that attitude of the model is the focus it's the valuable ; non the artist itself . That final result in the emotion is that represents you, what you wanna want to see, sometimes is what you are feeling in that moment if you are happy, you gonna love John Currin if are more nostalgic you prefer Gottlieb's artwork, it is the question of ways to see. Some people look technique, others like me; look something that evoke you to an special moment.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous again, you are perfectly entitled to say that you don't care how your society evaluates (that is, assigns value to) art, and that you only care about what you like. It sure doesn't sound like you've ever had to survive off of the sale of art.

But more importantly, that kind of philosophy will only lead you to dead end statements like "his style is better" or "no amount of explanation will make you understand." Looking back on the dialogue between various commenters above, I am particularly proud and impressed with the way that bright and articulate people have attempted to bridge the gap of subjectivity and compare notes in a meaningful way about what they value.

David Apatoff said...

Michael Swofford, I like your contribution and I see your point about Currin's "pop culture attributes such as plastic/sinister "evil doll" expressions and sly smiles, all contrived to make us "uneasy" and unsure of the artist's intentions." I agree that is a difference between the two artists, and I agree that viewers can have legitimate differences about which is superior. But don't stop there. Would you say that these "attributes" are particularly profound? Are they something that other artists are incapable of painting? Are they something that no one else has thought of before? I guess what I'm asking is: Does that evil doll expression or sly smile account for a $5 million differential?

Anonymous said...

while i'm completely puzzled as to what "postmodern irony" is meant to be, i can say currin's work to me are more fun,because they seem to be caricatured work of "the old masters". maybe this is the "postmodern irony", but i find it really fun to think that f.ex. rembrandt and co. painted portraits and full-body figures as realistic as they could,and treated their subjects with as much individualism as possible, while currin seems to set out with the same goal,but warps the representation so much,it becomes a caricature of his subject, while still remaining in an almost "classical style". gottlieb sure has a good eye and steady hand,but as others already have pointed out,the pictures are more like studies, something to occupy the artist until he can express his own thoughts, which he doesn't. my guess is that currin makes a comment about our times and values,while still remaining "classic", and gottlieb just stays with "classic",and pretty much "makes pretty pictures",without much thought behind it, "art for art's sake",as others have said. (and by the way,i greatly enjoy reading your blog, as it constantly reminds me as to what is important in art. whenever i get lost in the rules of proportion etc. i look back here to get reminded it is all about the subject,the fun in the lines and being the best damn artist one can be. thanks.)

David Apatoff said...

Carnifex, I have two reactions. First, a number of people seem to share your view that "Currin makes a comment about our times and values" which is a good start, but no one has been able to explain to me yet why his comment is particularly profound or sensitive or worth paying attention to (or worth $5 million). Is there some rare insight hidden here? Is there the scathing social commentary of a George Grosz or Kaethe Kollwitz? Is there some multi-layered subtlety I am missing? Just being a "comment" without assessing the quality of the comment doesn't do it for me.

But second (and far more important for me) is your point, "whenever i get lost in the rules of proportion etc. i look back here to get reminded it is all about the subject,the fun in the lines and being the best damn artist one can be." Nothing could delight me more. I admire those who study the history and sociology and academics of art, but for me the engine that fuels this whole enterprise is the pure titillation that comes from wonderful, wonderful pictures.

Jeff Norwell said...

Elvgrin was a party,Sunblom was master...
Gottlieb has much talent.....uber talent.
But Cornwell was the almighty.

But then again ,I am biased... and right!

Michael Swofford Paintings said...

David Apatoff asks,

"Does that evil doll expression or sly smile account for a $5 million differential?"

No, that's just a fluke of the market. Art has been about the "shock of the new" for so long that that itslef has become a rut. Mark Ryden does the "disquieting" thing with greater facility than Currin, but genuine naivete (minimal talent/training) is valued by the art marketeers as representing a sort of genuineness. Currin's images seem contrived and derivative ( Odd Nerdrum and Balthus with a touch of Jeff Koons' curdled faux-innocence), only Currin really acts like he's got a secret behind his smirk. That's an artistic pose, and it's EVERYWHERE today. I prefer the straightfoward to the self-conscious sidelong glance, which is why I like roll-up-your-sleeves, working class illustration like '60s comics '40s animation and '50s illustration. Gottlieb is a little too "atelier" for me, as if the technique is an end to itself, but I did see a painting of Jennifer Fabos (a person I know) without her usual glamor make-up that was psychologically penetrating and "genuine" than anything Currin can offer.

Anonymous said...

All Currin has is Irony.That's it.Its the modern disease.His stuff is so obviously referential; that's what makes it ultimately disposable,another pathetic product of the post-modern age.

Anonymous said...

How come these bullshit art dealers all speak with a "continental" accent? I think you'll find NY art dealers and critics are as bad as they come.

David Apatoff said...

Most recent anonymous, I agree with you that NY art dealers are second to none when it comes to perpetrating fraud. I just meant that dealers with a continental accent sound more cultured and therefore more credible to rubes. (The Sothebys website video on the current art market is a great example of this). For all I know, half the art dealers with French accents were born and raised in NY.

Traven said...

Apart from providing a tax on stupidity, John Currin's artwork serves a useful function in that it's a litmus test of individual psychology. For example, I wouldn't like to be on intimate terms with someone who "likes" him more than minimally.

I'm not very attracted to classical art, but I find Gottlieb's paintings - the first two, at any rate - quite pleasurable. He is not just craftsmanship.

John Will Balsley said...

Hello Friend, I enjoy that you have a great respect for the subtleties of images, I'm enjoying your blog a great bit. I just started one myself.


Anonymous said...

I think Gottlieb paints from a live model and photo reference.

I think Currin is taking concepts from early Renaissance artists like Sandro Botticelli and capitalizing on it.....with his nudes anyway.

I don't think anybody is exhibiting anything 'new'.

I do appreciate the technical skill of Gottlieb more then Currin. I think people have an infinity to Currin's pieces because it more in line with 'entertainment', images that are bombarded to us by television and print. It's more about the familiar then the technical. I think Currin would be considered a Lowbrow Artist, and Lowbrow art is usually more about cultural values then execution.

I think Gottlieb has greater 'technical' skill though.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Currin is new:P
Check Cranach's and Boticelli Paintings.



Absolutely new and unique way of painting just like Cranach/Boticelli.

JC Bravo said...

I am the guy your looking for!! Soul is my middle name =]

I am an artist an i understand your point of view and really appreciate the courage it takes to speak your mind with out restraints.

I think all artwork is priceless. Any amount attributed to any work of art has to do with the skill of the seller or institution. To me art is comparable to pearls or diamonds. they are just natural beautiful objects found in nature, we pay for them because someone with authority tells us how valuable they are and we believe them.

This can be said about John Currin or any other successful artist out there. His work is unique and he has the right authority in his corner to back him up. he is not better than Gottlieb, he just has the right connections. It is also has to do about demand and supply. There is only one John currin, but many Gottlieb's.


Desmond said...

I enjoy reading the thoughtful and informed comments and discussions about Art on this website. The two artists that are discussed are both competent craftsman. But I think a $5 million price tag of Currin’s is a result of market manipulation. There is a famous quote, if you say a lie often and loud enough eventually everyone will believe it.