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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyWed 27 Nov 2019, 13:12

With regard to photographs, and in particular photo-journalism, as art ... we've encountered this forlorn little lad before on the Cecil Beaton war photography thread, albeit that it was taken by Toni Frissell.

What is Art? - Page 17 Toni-frissell-3

I was interested to see that there are at least two other versions of this image, clearly taken at the same time but with both the photographer and subject having slightly changed positions.

What is Art? - Page 17 Toni-frissel-5  

What is Art? - Page 17 Toni-frissel-4

Clearly someone - whether Toni Frissell herself, or a magazine editor or exhibition organizer, - thought each one was in its own way worthy of being made public (they are all now owned by the US Library of Congress). But in terms of this thread why does one work better than another? I have my preferences. And of course that decision may well depend on what we ourselves bring to the viewing, the circumstances of our seeing the image, and what use and message it is being used to portray to us. These particular photos are often used to illustrate the horror of the 1940 bombing Blitz on the eastend of London, although they were actually taken following a V2 missile strike on Battersea in 1945 just a few months from the war's end. Given his young age, all that lad will ever have known is rationing, shortages, bombing, blackout, disrupted schooling, uncertainty ... and probably also happily running wild over bombsites - like his own home has now become - playing 'war' and collecting shrapnel.
 
About the circumstances of when the photos were taken, Frissell said, "I was told he had come back from playing and found his house a shambles—his mother, father and brother dead under the rubble. ... he was looking up at the sky, his face an expression of both confusion and defiance. The defiance made him look like a young Winston Churchill."

The first image of the boy, with his stuffed toy and facing slightly towards his right, was used by IBM to publicize a show in London some years after the war - I'm guessing in the 1960s - because according to Frissell "... the boy grew up to become a truck driver after the war, and walking past the IBM offices, he recognized his picture."


PS - And regarding photojournalism, if anyone is down my way around the first two weeks of August, every year Perpignan hosts the International Festival of Photojournalism Visa Pour l'Image. The exhibitions are all free and are held in some of the city's best buildings such as the medieval cathedral, the old palace of the Kings of Majorca, the medieval Couvent des Minimes, the art moderne Hotel Pams, and with film screenings in the cathedral cloister and the grand courtyard of the palace, etc ... and I know a great little b&b place just a hour from the city centre. Wink
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 08 Dec 2019, 13:51

@Meles meles wrote:
every year Perpignan hosts the International Festival of Photojournalism Visa Pour l'Image. The exhibitions are all free and are held in some of the city's best buildings such as the medieval cathedral, the old palace of the Kings of Majorca, the medieval Couvent des Minimes, the art moderne Hotel Pams, and with film screenings in the cathedral cloister and the grand courtyard of the palace,

The television chef Rick Stein was pottering around French Catalonia in the most recent episode of his Secret France series. He didn’t mention the photojournalism festival in Perpignan but he did mention the Pablo Casals Music Festival in Prades. He visited the abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa (one of the venues of the festival) to buy and sample some fromage de brebis made from sheep’s milk by the monks there. He also pointed out something which I hadn’t appreciated about Pablo Casals which was that he was so long lived, and his career so extensive, that it spanned from having played cello for Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight in the 1890s to performing for President Kennedy in Washington in the 1960s. And he was still conducting orchestras in 1973 at the age of 96.

Stein also visited the fishing port of Collioure and a bar there which was frequented by another Pablo (artist Picasso) and also by writer Patrick O’Brian who made his home in the town. Mention of O’Brian prompted a memory of mine from my school days in which our rather pompous Latin teacher approved of those pupils who read O’Brian’s novels while frowning upon those who favoured C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. I belonged to the latter group. We were informed that O’Brian’s books were more high-brow and intelligent and also that the author ‘really knew his stuff’. Forester’s work by comparison was dismissed as being frothy and of lesser value. Having a copy of, say, O’Brian’s The Golden Ocean (1956) on one’s desk was a sure-fire way of currying favour with said member of staff. The reality, however, is that neither O’Brian nor Forester was a genuine expert on 18th or 19th century maritime affairs which is, of course, why they were novelists and not historians.

The Golden Ocean is a story which follows the adventures of a young midshipman who joins the squadron of Commodore George Anson which undertook a somewhat piratical circumnavigation of the globe during the War of Jenkins’ Ear between Britain and Spain in the 1740s. During his lifetime, Anson approved a book called Voyage Around the World written by Richard Walter (his chaplain during the voyage) and published in 1749. This was undoubtedly the source material which was drawn upon by O’Brian. It’s strongly suspected that Voyage Around the World was actually ghost-written by mathematician and engineer Benjamin Robins but that Walter’s name was put on it because being a man of the cloth this might offset any negative publicity which Anson may have accrued from some of the more ghastly incidents which occurred during the voyage. Anson had become fabulously wealthy by dint of having captured a Manila galleon stuffed with silver and faced potential political opponents jealous of his new-found status and influence. He was keen to present the voyage not so much as a buccaneering rampage but rather as a noble venture of exploration and science and in the interests not only of Great Britain but indeed the wider world. And Voyage Around the World was duly published in English and also in French and Dutch.

The introduction of Voyage Around the World is especially interesting in that it makes much of the need for officers who are good at drawing and welcomes the fact that the admiralty has appointed a drawing master at Portsmouth. It says:

And though some have been so far misled, as to suppose that the perfection of Sea-officers consisted in a turn of mind and temper resembling the boisterous element they had do deal with, and have condemned all literature and science as effeminate, and derogatory to that ferocity, which they would falsely persuade us was the most unerring characteristic of courage: Yet it is to be hoped, that such absurdities as these have at no time been authorised by the Public opinion, and that the belief in them daily diminishes.

In short Anson and his officers are presented as thoughtful men of science, learning and progress. The book includes 42 drawings of Anson’s voyage made by Lieutenant Peircy Brett and these were then engraved onto copperplates by JS Muller and J Mason working with the printers John and Paul Knapton:

What is Art? - Page 17 Anson13

(Plate XL which depicts the engagement between HMS Centurion and the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Covadonga.)

This in turn was recreated in the following years by artists such as Samuel Scott and John Cleverly in varyingly romanticised and dramaticised paintings to suit the tastes of their 18th Century patrons:

What is Art? - Page 17 War-of-jenkins-ear-large-56a61c163df78cf7728b633f

(Samuel Scott's painting of the event.)
 
More than 200 years after the publication of Voyage Around the World and nearly twenty years after O’Brian’s novel, a factual account was offered by Canadian writer Leo Heaps in his 1974 book Log of the Centurion based on the personal account of captain Philip Saumarez from Guernsey and one of Anson’s ablest lieutenants. This book didn’t really do much to contradict what was in Walter’s authorized account but what is noteworthy about it is its dust-jacket. On it we see a stylized and colourised version of Brett’s drawing:

What is Art? - Page 17 Md18923640210

It is a detail focusing in on the ships Centurion and Covadonga. The background of the original, which faithfully depicted the coastline of Cape Espiritu Santo on the island of Samar in the Philippines, is omitted. This artwork reveals an essential truth about the voyage and public perception of it. Despite all the protestations and propaganda regarding science and learning etc, the fact remains that the most memorable aspect of the voyage was the seizing of the booty. Who cares where it happened? Just show us the action!
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 08 Dec 2019, 22:39

Vizzer, thank you very much for your mentioning of the circumnavigation...and also for your story of your Latin teacher. Youth rememberances are also dear to me...and I liked Captain Hornblower...

I just searched for a replica of a ship that was used in the Captain Hornblower series and that I visited in St. Malo complete with British crew... and I found a lot about the Hermione and that I only saw when it was built (took some years, while it was done with the old methods)

What is Art? - Page 17 Premiere_sortie_de_l%27Hermione_dsc3310E

But they spoke also about "l'étoile du roy but by that I came on the grand turk, which was the one in St Malo and now I see that I saw it in Ostend too with the international fleetdays.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89toile_du_Roy
What is Art? - Page 17 300px-Grand_Turk%2801%29



But again to the circumnavigations. Now I see that it was even before Bougainville

I mentioned it in my thread about the first French circumnavigation of the world:
https://reshistorica.forumotion.com/t1448-first-french-circumnavigation-of-the-world
 
and as mentioned above and in my thread Jeanne Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the world.

Kind regards, Paul.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyWed 11 Dec 2019, 09:11

@Vizzer wrote:
The television chef Rick Stein was pottering around French Catalonia in the most recent episode of his Secret France series. He didn’t mention the photojournalism festival in Perpignan but he did mention the Pablo Casals Music Festival in Prades. .... Stein also visited the fishing port of Collioure and a bar there which was frequented by another Pablo (artist Picasso) and also by writer Patrick O’Brian who made his home in the town.

I lived in Collioure for six months when I first moved here and I know the bar you/Rick mentioned: it's about the only one that stays open all year, although it was hardy 'throbbing' when last I was there (winter 2002/3). In size Collioure is really little more than a village but it is undeniably a very 'arty' town as it was where many of the 'Fauvists' gathered ... and it has certainly dined out on that reputation ever since.

At the beginning of the 20th century Collioure was suffering from the collapse of its two principal businesses, fishing and wine, so it tried to remake itself as a cheap Mediterranean holiday destination for those who couldn't afford the Côte d'Azure. Henri Matisse first came to Collioure because he was looking to escape the Parisian summer and he needed cheap lodgings for his wife, two little boys and his older daughter (by a former mistress). He was joined there by André Derain. Both artists were impressed by the quality of the light and the colour ... this short stretch of coast is unique in being the only east-facing coastline in France. They were followed by other artists and Collioure soon became the centre of the so-called fauvism movement. Today the formerly impoverished fishing village is a chic resort, its ancient winding streets sporting artists' studios and galleries; its medieval harbour full of luxury yachts, and its magnificent castle and defensive harbour walls crammed with amateur painters desparately trying to create (and sell) their own masterpieces.

But à propos of this thread ... around the town there is now a 'Fauvism trail', with over twenty reproductions of the works of Matisse, Derain and others, displayed excatly where the artists perched their easels, along with mounted metal picture frames through which you can also 'frame' the exact scene that these painters saw:

What is Art? - Page 17 Collioure-1

What is Art? - Page 17 Collioure-2
Matisse, 'Vue de Collioure - L'eglise', 1905.

What is Art? - Page 17 Collioure-3
Derain, 'Le Phare de Collioure', 1905.

..... and of course one can also view many of the original paintings in the local Musées d'Art Moderne, either in Collioure itself, or at Cérèt about 30 mins inland.

Collioure is still a lovely 'pittoresque' town, but it's either packed with tourists (summer) or completely dead and shut (winter). In fact the whole town is a mix of incongruity: crowded with tourists half the year; empty the rest ... in summer expect to pay well over the odds for an ice-cream or a beer, yet out of season I've eaten incredibly cheap, spanking-fresh fish at a seafront bar that would easily charge five times the price in summer. The town is a genuine shrine to modernist art, but it has also become a mecca for every mediocre 'painter'. 

And whilst the castle remains an iconic, romantic, medieval backdrop to everyone"s photos of the town, it is not some fossilized romantic ideal of the past ... rather, it is still very much an active military base. The upper levels of the castle are always open to the public and regularly host art exhibitions, theatrical performances and historical re-enactment displays. But the lower levels are still occupied, and are fully-used, as a training base by elite amphibious warfare commando units of the French army. It is not at all uncommon to be sat -  sipping one's pastis at a seafront bar and admiring the view across the bay (as you do) - only to have the castle's 'watergates' suddenly open and a line of inflatable dinghies and commandos come out, to do manoeuvres in the bay. 

Well, it certainly creates a bit of interest of a quiet, chilly, winter Sunday morning:

What is Art? - Page 17 Collioure-4

And I can well understand why Charles Rene Mackintosh preferred Port Vendres, just 5kms further west along the coast:

What is Art? - Page 17 Collioure-5
Charles Rene Mackintosh, 'The Little Bay, Port Vendres', 1927.

After Collioure, I lived in Port Vendres for two years: it's nowhere near as pretentious as Collioure, and, as it still a working deep-water port (most of France's Caribbean and African fruit imports come through here), the bars and shops remain open all year, as well as it generally being much cheaper than Collioure.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyThu 19 Mar 2020, 12:04

I'm posting this mostly for Temp, who I think might enjoy it, but I'm sure many others here will enjoy watching Julian Baumgartner's brilliant videos showing how he goes about restoring paintings.

I recommend all the ones with commentary (he used to post versions with and without). In these days of enforced stay-at-homedeness it will certainly kill quite a few hours!

His latest one shows restoration of a Henry Ranger painting. Ranger was a "tonalist", which makes the state in which Julian received the work all the more sad, and his restoration to its original quality all the more important. Tonalism was the American term for a style which in Europe, especially France, was termed "Barbizon", and which is seen as a direct forerunner to the more popularly known Impressionist style that developed later. Turner in England, quite independently, also developed a very similar style even earlier, and there is still huge debate regarding how much influence artists like Ranger and the French Barbizon, Pointilist and Impressionist artists ultimately drew from Turner as a sort of pioneer in the field. Duranty, the French art critic, when asked to distinguish between all these styles in terms of importance famously grouped them all together and described them as "art by and for the gloriously short-sighted". He was actually a huge fan.

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Green George
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyThu 19 Mar 2020, 16:16

Paul : Another (earlier) circumnavigation with artistic consequences - Woodes Rogers circumnavigation 1707-1711.

The art connection? They rescued a man called Alexander Selkirk. The inspration for Robinson Crusoe
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyThu 19 Mar 2020, 17:05

@Green George wrote:
Paul : Another (earlier) circumnavigation with artistic consequences - Woodes Rogers circumnavigation 1707-1711.

The art connection? They rescued a man called Alexander Selkirk. The inspration for Robinson Crusoe

Yes Gilgamesh, you are right. What one learns here everyday as new...You know me, I had to see it all in detail.
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Selkirk
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Robinson-Crusoe-novel

Kind regards from Paul.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyFri 20 Mar 2020, 09:21

@nordmann wrote:
 I'm posting this mostly for Temp, who I think might enjoy it, but I'm sure many others here will enjoy watching Julian Baumgartner's brilliant videos showing how he goes about restoring paintings.


Oh, thank you for that, nordmann - I have viewed the first one and was indeed fascinated watching the restoration process unfold. I had never heard of Julian Baumgartner before your post. What an brilliant skill the man demonstrates - it must be the most satisfying of work, but also the most nerve-wracking! I was amazed at how he used those dangerous chemicals to remove the ugly blobs of "added" paint. If I had my time again I should like to "do" Art History - with an option to learn some (basic!) restoration technique: in my day a History of Art degree was for posh people only (who then got a job in prestigious galleries run by family chums). I wonder if that was so in other countries? 

Will work my way through the Baumgartner stuff over the coming days and weeks - ideal viewing for those stuck at home trying not to cough. Only so much reading of Haunted Hilary one can do in twenty-four hours! We need some more "Museum Hours" posts from you here - interesting and educational!
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyFri 20 Mar 2020, 16:36

There is always time to "do" art history, or at the very least tackle it from the point of view of finding out as much as you can about the people behind the works. We tend to regard paintings from the past as belonging to very strict "categories of worth", designated as such through arcane means by self-appointed authorities on the subject. These authorities, in effect, not only decide which paintings are to be deemed worthy of inclusion in the canon of "classical" works, but also even the very definition of aesthetics that should be applied to justify this totally arbitrary classification.

What has always fascinated me, and this is true for almost every so-called "period", "school", "style" and indeed any other sub-category these authorities tend to promote, is that invariably one finds when one researches the people who actually produced the stuff just how diametrically opposed to such a self-serving and false imposition of worth through authority the truly great artists often were. In fact I would go further and say that one can draw an impressively consistent parallel between contempt for such a stilted and artificial classification of their work and the undeniable impressiveness of the work these people then produced.

We talked here earlier about Caravaggio, who is probably one of the more blatant examples of this, but he is by no means alone in exemplifying how the very impetus to wreak havoc on social conventions and a seeming disregard for others' opinion (and in many cases a close to nihilistic disregard for social consequences entirely) also proves the impetus for artistic expression and skill that transcends all the assumptions and impositions the self-appointed critics and custodians of "artistic heritage" would have us believe require to be "understood" before we too can truly appreciate either the history or quality of human artistic expression.

When I stand in front of a painting in a conventional art gallery showing works from centuries past, I always take the time to look closely at the grain of the paint on the canvas, regardless of the aesthetic worth of what I'm looking at - claimed by others or subjectively appraised by myself. What each obvious brush stroke represents is a human hand working sublimely in tandem with a human brain in intimate intercourse with the surface that you now also regard, just as the artist did, and within precisely the same proximity. In that moment you quite literally occupy his or her space, and while you are the viewer and they were the creator, you both - whether in execution or simply contemplation of the individual brush stroke - share so much more than mere space. It varies of course from piece to piece, but it is astonishing how often one can commune with the artist through their work at that level right down to the humour they were in when they applied the paint, the depth to which they had dived in the revery of creation, and even sometimes faint echoes of the actual thoughts that maybe ran through their mind at that precise moment. Unlike as with literature, when one intersects with the creator of a work at that level, pictorial art seems more often free of artifice or doubt. The good writer prompts such communion through skill with words so that even the most remarkable instances of it leave one feeling one has been at least partially manipulated. The good artist more often does it through proof of their sheer abandonment in the joy of execution, leaving you free to share that abandonment as the observer or not as you see fit. A far more honest exchange between two people separated by centuries, and all the more beautiful and moving for that.

If that doesn't whet the appetite to learn more about the executor of the piece you are regarding then I suppose "art history" is indeed not of your concern either. If it does however, then there is no greater satisfaction to be obtained than to actively seek out as many other personal details of the person whose mind and space you have just shared. Then, the next time you encounter their work the true context of the piece has been so much more enhanced by your research, the curiosity piqued more, and the incentive to learn even more about the artist encouraged.

Do that enough times and I guarantee that you cannot fail to become an "art historian". It's an unavoidable consequence of enjoying what you're observing to the extent that you - like the artist - go beyond mere aesthetics in trying to understand what you're looking at.

Don't "do" art history. Let the story of art "do" you.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyFri 20 Mar 2020, 23:05

I agree with every word of nord's essay on art. The pundits speak of all the genre and subsets but in my own experience  art tutors in the studio did not. Although I never followed it through  far later because I knew I was not good enough my training is invaluable for when,  say, I am in a gallery.

I too often stand in the artist's shoes - and can go one better than nord because I will know which and how the colours were mixed, exactly how applied - and often in what order. It also means that I see only about four gallery art works properly at a time It can be a heady, exhilarating experience. Then also there is exploring an artist's life - that is not always so enriching. Sometimes what you learned from the  product of the guided hand is enough. As for written work on an artist's work, much of it is eye widening bosh, in my opinion.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySat 21 Mar 2020, 09:24

@Priscilla wrote:
... and can go one better than nord because I will know which and how the colours were mixed, exactly how applied - and often in what order.

Don't get me started on the pigments, Priscilla. They're a fantastic route into "art history" all on their own and within them lies a story involving humans' exploitation of the planet and each other (from the discovery of fire to the slave trade), the rise, expansion and destruction of entire civilisations, as well as nearly every noted advance in metaphysics as it applies to the natural observable universe (the principal root within the development of human understanding of what became chemistry). And that's even before one starts mixing them!

Pigment application these days is also a fundamental aspect to the forensic examination of provenance. I know that's not exactly what you meant in what you said, but it is certainly true that others share your appreciation of the importance that this apparently "random" or "natural" action has in the process of individual creation. Having learnt some of the techniques of application you certainly can often then identify which technique was used. In fact it is even possible to go a step further and identify subtle variations within this technique that apply to different specific artists, and even those artists at different stages of their life. It's a fascinating business - and certainly only adds to the potential reward for an observer equipped with this extra level of insight.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySat 21 Mar 2020, 11:09

Such good posts from you both, nordmann and Priscilla. I envy your ability to talk so confidently about these things: I lack such confidence because I am totally ignorant! I hesitate even to venture into a discussion about art with you two. You both obviously have had disciplined training, and so can happily discuss pigments, application techniques and other such mysteries. I haven't a clue! I just stand in front of painting and either feel drawn in or feel nothing - and often my own response (or lack of it) baffles me. Where art is concerned I feel I can never express myself adequately or intelligently: often, when I am looking at the work of an acknowledged master, but without real appreciation, I long for an expert to explain what it is I could be missing! You see, I actually respect the advice of experts when it is sincerely offered without pretension. I appreciate good teaching! That's why I should like to have a go at a serious course and study the subject properly - whatever properly means. I'm a believer in the the old saying: "A good sheriff proves he can shoot before he throws away his gun." When it comes to the appreciation of technique, I often feel I don't even know how to load the gun! A peculiar analogy, I know, but perhaps you get my gist.

I am actually fascinated by the biographies of artists, and I like finding out what it is in their experiences of life and of people - the pain, the anger, the frustration - that has fuelled their genius. True creativity is so often born of pain. I've just ordered something I've been meaning to read for a long time - it will be an ideal book for me to wrestle with during enforced isolation: Jung's work: The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature. I suppose that sounds pretentious, but I like such delving.

What a puny post compared to last couple of offerings here, but will still send.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySat 21 Mar 2020, 12:04

How is that a "puny" post? It addresses the nub of the matter, in my view.

A background knowledge of the artist, their physical or mental disposition, their technique, materials, the place and time in which they lived - all these things are secondary to the subjective experience of basic appreciation of a painting. Important, but secondary.

Take Van Gogh, and I use him only because it is almost unavoidable to have acquired a whole plethora of such background insight when one looks at his art works. And take just one of his paintings - "The Starry Night" - often described as the single most recognisable painting in the history of art (though I have a feeling a certain miss Lisa del Giocondo might disagree). Then visit MoMA in New York (if we still have airlines in a few months) and stand in front of this two foot by three foot window into the man's mind for enough time as it takes to register a first impression (about a nanosecond should suffice). In other words your completely subjective "gut" impression, formed before any of the preconceptions and background data gets a chance to kick in and "correct" that feeling.

Given that your eyesight is reasonable and you are seeing rather than looking at what is before you, I would wager that this impression will contain within it - in that nanosecond - a terrible confusion of anger and the sublime, both screaming at you to be absorbed before you even begin to analytically apply whatever insight you may have brought to the experience. That's the artist talking to you right there - the creator getting his part of the exercise completed before you can begin yours. This is not the preserve of a "great" artist. It is essentially the dialogue in any appreciation of an individual art work regardless of an artist's perceived "skill", but I will continue with the example since it illustrates my point completely.

The anger you perceive is not present in the image itself. Of course you can make it seem so, and even believe it to be so, based on what you know about the man, his technique, and of course his famous style. This style certainly employed contrasting and often unnatural colours in severe overlay and applied in swathes of oil rather than carefully placed pigment, so that the swirling effect gives a vivacity and illusion of movement in even the most mundane and stationary subject. But that's not where the anger comes from - many artists use a similar technique so to adduce it from his style definitely requires data that you have brought to the experience.

No, if you are fortunate enough to see this work at close quarters, then have an even closer look at the displaced pigment, the oils gouged into and through the others already applied, and then even more applied later gouging into and through them, sometimes repeating several times, and this frenzy of almost meaningless reapplication concentrated in pools of activity where one might least expect it - in the trees, in the townscape, in the far mountains. Then look at where he has not done this - again where one would least expect it - in the fantastic cacophony of tones constituting the impossible night sky for which the painting is rightly renowned.

Something is going on in all that, and it's all in Van Gogh's mind. He is communicating huge frustration, in fact lividness, and it's not in the core of the subject but in the peripheries he has chosen in which to frame that which he is trying to portray. And it's not being communicated intentionally through subjct matter, style or arrangement. It's in the very texture of the pigment and only truly understood or appreciated with time, patience and possibly a magnifying glass to aid the observer. And yet all of this is communicated in a nanosecond - before anything else can kick in and colour one's perception.

It's an extreme example, but I use it just to illustrate why art appreciation (even of works one detests) does not "require" an intellectual understanding of the context to occur. It's unavoidable, and in that instinctive first impression - which neither the viewer nor the artist could ever honestly replicate with planned intent - lies the whole point of art in the first place. The eye has done the donkey work, and has done it in a blink. The rest is contextual justification for what one has already instinctively understood.

Where context helps of course is when looking at far less obvious examples - Vermeer and his "mountains" of paint to draw the eye away from the subject (in Dublin there's a Vermeer tiled floor in one of his works that almost suggests a mental breakdown in an otherwise stylised and almost mechanical depiction of a mundane domestic interior scene), Rembrandt's almost obsessive attention to shades of background darkness that surely took inordinately more time to execute than the foreground subjects, even Gainsborough's obsession with leaves - these are all things that the eye absorbs immediately and no amount of contextual data will remove from one's perception.

Knowing the artist and his or her circumstances might well explain how and why these approaches and techniques were employed, and it is certainly helpful in understanding why they are not evenly applied by the artist (which they most usually are not), but such knowledge helps only to mitigate one's confusion, explain one's affinity, or otherwise inform one's opinion. It certainly leads to one spending more time in front of certain works and more enjoyment of the experience when one does, but it by no means informs or causes the basic and instantaneous appreciation of the work. So I highly recommend acquiring such background data and knowledge. But, as you rightly imply, don't fall for the false notion that it's "required" to appreciate the work. That remains the subjective experience it can always only ever be - the bit "art historians" in the sense you referred to them above certainly fail to remember, or even intentionally ignore so as to preserve an "authority" on their part which in fact isn't required to appreciate art at all.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 08:19

Yet another excellent message, nordmann - thank you for taking the time and trouble to give such an informative and detailed response. And you wonder why I feel my offerings are "puny"! You should really be giving a series of lectures at the Courtauld Institute. Failing that, please keep posting here.

Francis Bacon is an artist who perhaps is an example of a "genius conman", someone who has fooled many, myself included: I was intrigued by his life story - so full of pain and trauma - and, although I hated his work, I assumed it was my ignorance that made me unable to appreciate it properly. I found it all disturbing, sickening stuff, but I decided that it was I who was deficient, who lacked understanding, and that the man must be a genius because everyone told me he was. Surely, I thought, Bacon was, like Van Gogh, an artist who painted "in a rage"? Yet, that said, to me it all looked like a dark soul splattered distressingly on canvas, another cry of rage certainly, but a horribly cynical one. I was relieved, therefore, to read this Guardian article:

A Cruel Exposure

I went in a Bacon fan, and left wondering how he conned so many people, not least the Sainsbury family. For this show not only reveals an aesthetic failure, but a moral one. Bacon seems painfully contrived and insincere. He looks like an overblown poseur, with no real heart.
That is because all the works of art here except his glow with human truth...


Ah, glowing "with human truth" - how on earth is that done with a bit of oily pigment and a brush -  it is a miracle, like music. Literature comes in last behind the other two - and I never thought I would say that. I suppose art and music started earlier...


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 09:14

Bacon was a fraud, not as an artist per se but as an individual. He scammed, flammásed (there's a good Irish word) and lied his way through an extremely sordid, wannabe dissolute, and delinquent life on a day to day basis. Along the way he made some genuine friends, including a near neighbour of Priscilla's, Isabel Lambert (who was Isabel Rawsthorne by the time she settled in Essex), but these were always troubled relationships with as much bitterness as friendship in them, normally down to Bacon's parasitic tendencies. So much so that it is hard to evaluate them as much more than self-serving acquaintanceships fostered by Bacon and tolerated by these "friends" through altruism or even nihilism. Far more often were cases of strong alliances short-lived, a pattern that persisted throughout his life as people initially attracted to him for whatever reason inevitably withdrew. However he learnt early on to expect this, and perfected a rather odious system of extracting as much gift and favour from these people as quickly as possible, in the knowledge that amity would not be maintained.

Which is where his art comes into it too. Bacon was by definition an opportunist, and this certainly comes across if one looks at his extant works in detail and chronological order. Compare contemporary reviews and prices paid for his work with concentration on certain styles and subject matter, and one immediately sees an artist playing to the gallery. And this can be forgiven to an extent - after all it was, with scrounging, his bread and butter - and is true of many artists, even some of the most renowned classical practitioners.

So much for style and subject though. What you refer to above from your own experience, and probably applies equally to the Guardian writer, is an impression formed of the individual based on something more immediately evident in his work, which I would describe as his "execution". And it is something I share with you completely with exactly the same conclusions, so much so that I spent a bit of time in the past actually researching the guy to find out why his paintings evoked such a visceral and intense dislike - not of the paintings as such but of the man, even before I knew anything much about him at all.

The key, I reckoned, was to be found only by reading between the lines of the many written accounts, be they from close acquaintances, professional peers, biographers or critics. That Bacon was a very clever man seems to have been universally acknowledged, and that he did indeed pursue in some way an aesthetic goal is undeniable - his style is too well thought out and increasingly polished as he got older to contradict this. So one can safely assume therefore that he was not a mere slave to his basic character flaws and understood full well that many of these flaws - all rooted in dishonesty - flew in the face of his aesthetic as expressed in his images, which I believe he genuinely attempted to be as honest a representation as he could manage (and many indeed are just that). Which to me means that the critical aspect to the man's character, and also his paintings, is self-loathing, and on an enormous and consistent scale (that which the Guardian writer detected as "cynicism", though I disagree with that word here).

An artist who loathes himself - and there have been some spectacular examples - pours this onto the canvas whether he wants to or not. As does the megalomaniac, or the narcissistic, or the romantically deluded, or the mentally ill, and so on - such traits appear to abound more among artists than others, but in fact I would suggest that this is only because most of us bearing such traits tend not to leave indelible proofs of them in graphic form.

Extreme self-loathing leads to a lot of projection by those who suffer from it. The antagonism extends beyond the self and is taken up against the world. And Bacon's world - in fact a very big part of it - included the viewers of his paintings, people Bacon himself was never shy of disparaging, discounting, mocking, and even hating. And I do not think there exists a single Bacon painting in which the artist has failed - probably completely unconsciously - to express this too.

So when you feel an initial disquiet, or even something more visceral, upon first looking at a Bacon painting, remember that in his case you are actually the subject of a form of assault. It is akin to "having your buttons pushed", and not by a very nice individual either, in more standard social discourse and communication. And, like Isabel Nicholas/Lambert/Rawsthorne, you also have to choose if you will overlook this transgression or not and, if so, why. But, like Isabel, you must also acknowledge that you have been "used". This is why the Guardian writer used the word "conned", and if confronted with a lot of Bacon's paintings all in one go that conclusion is almost unavoidable.

Personally, I'm with Isabel and look beyond his deceit and animosity. Not in every case, but there are a few of his works that seem of more importance than these considerations of his character should ever be allowed diminish. But because he's Bacon these traits are so much ingrained in the execution of his aesthetic that they cannot but be acknowledged in that first instant of viewing his work, and those who refuse or fail to admit this impression - in my view - are immediately suspect of sharing something of these qualities themselves.

Which of course is also why his paintings are such great "art".

PS: I agree with you about literature in general, though I am sure you'd agree that some poetry certainly strays into the same category of "miraculous" expression despite the economy of the material employed, and especially when the poet has ditched adjectives and adverbs from her arsenal.

PPS: I corrected the format of your previous post - it was in a tiny font and difficult to read.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 09:57

I was staggered by what you said about projection - I understand all that about how we project our own self-loathing onto others in real life, but had never before thought an artist could be projecting his darkness on to me when I stand in front of a picture. But yes - gosh, you are right!

I'm struck too by what you say about my immediate loathing of some of Bacon's stuff, but yes again - his shadow meets my shadow and they recognise one another? Oh heck. But that recognition, that admission, that instinctive recoiling, is a good thing - an honest thing? Have I understood you properly? The recognition/confrontation of the shadow - one's own and that of another human being, even if that other human is using a brush, or an instrument or a pen to delve into his or her darkness - is a sign of mental health, is it not? As you say, it is the failure to own or to acknowledge our darkness -  a darkness which we all have - that is unhealthy. Unfortunately, for the artist, his or her medium all too often becomes a means of avoiding the truth: it still remains unconscious or festering, revealed only in the work. That is the artist's tragedy: healing - or the individuation of the personality - kills the creative impulse? 

My self-doubt now activates and I think: "What rubbish you are spouting: shut up, Temp.

I don't live in Essex by the way - Priscilla is our Essex Girl!

Another great - but disturbing! - post. Thank you. Back to Hilary now.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 10:03

Thanks for the correction - I've moved you back into quarantine in your own county Smile

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 12:30

I've edited my post above, nordmann, after re-reading yours. Have I understood what you said - or am I in a Jungian muddle?
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 13:21

I can't disagree with you - though your reference to addressing or realising the darkness within one's own mind through vicarious interaction with the creative output of another person applies, I imagine, to just about every medium of communication, be it a book, a film, a play, a poem or indeed, a painting. But you're right - and in the case of Bacon right in spades.

So I would quibble only about two things; why just darkness, and how much is Bacon a good example of the actual phenomenon?

On the first question I would simply say that the unconscious transmission of any personal trait or human sentiment via pictorial or graphic "art" is not unique to the "darker" or negative aspects to humanity. It is equally true of some of the more elevated, sublime and positive aspects too. You would have to have a heart of stone, for example, to look at a very recent (2007) variation on the pieta theme by the New York artist Max Ginsburg (who I highly recommend), and not immediately feel affinity with the humanitarian ethos it screams at first glance.

However this is not what Ginsburg is trying to get across. As the first nanosecond subsides then all the obvious things he has intentionally placed within the work kick in - the use of a trope so heavily ingrained in our consciousness through its religious origin that we think we know what to expect before we actually take a closer look, the expression on the mother's face of absolute anguish so obviously missing from the trope as we are used to seeing it, and a composition of elements so overtly directing us to a particular moral conclusion that we feel in fact almost dared to contradict the validity of that conclusion, and for some people indeed even to cynically question the honesty of the artist.

What is Art? - Page 17 41f86eb159b12e4178c96cf960df5da6--pieta-figure-painting

Whatever one might argue through knowledge and intellect about the emotional manipulation of the scene, or the honesty of the artist, or a heavily implied criticism of the trope it uses, or even the realistic style (Ginsburg is often criticised by so-called "experts" on all these scores), there is absolutely no way you would blithely walk past this depiction in a gallery, and no way any non-sociopath would fail to have the humanitarian aspect to their own nature engaged at first glance.

On the second question Ginsburg's picture also points to how Bacon is therefore not necessarily the greatest example of an artist unconsciously appealing to or communicating with our own conscience. Like Bacon, Ginsburg most certainly brings an agenda and quite a lot of his own personality to the table when he constructs an image to be viewed by you, and must therefore - also like Bacon - have a preconceived notion of who he thinks will be doing the viewing and how he expects them to react. But unlike others - for example Hieronymus Bosch - who painted thinking they were in complete control of the message they were conveying, Ginsburg seems to know that he has no direct control over that first impression (he excites alarmingly opposite reactions in that respect) and concentrates on rewarding the viewer who sticks around beyond that nanosecond with some often sublime subjects and compositions (and in my case a technique I greatly admire for its sheer professional skill). Bacon, the deceitful con-artist that he certainly was as an individual, was rarely so accommodating to the viewer (who he distrusted, demeaned and detested in equal measure), and equally rarely ever able therefore quite to elevate his paintings beyond the frankly unsettling impression he unconsciously and unavoidably imparted with the first glance. If I'm going to be stuck in a gallery surrounded by the works of either artist for any amount of time, I know which of them I would choose.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 16:39

Struck me as a horribly appropriate image today for the other side of  "Mothering Sunday" -  mothers mourning for sons "lost" - wounded and killed -  on the battlefield of life. Not the happy family version, but the miserable reality for so many. Not all sons are heroes; many end up simply as defeated men. Failures. Lost souls. The sword goes through the heart of many mothers, not just that of the Virgin.

That immediately made me think of another art form: the dance. I was reminded of another, even darker, side of motherhood, and of men's often tortured relationship with their mothers and subsequently with their lovers. Last weekend BBC4 showed the Royal Ballet's production of Mayerling - one of the most painful and disturbing productions I have seen in years. What on earth did it say about the unconscious of Kenneth MacMillan, the creative genius who devised and choreographed this ballet? The Prince hates his cold and rejecting mother, yet also yearns for tenderness from her. She will not, or cannot, give it. His appeals to her have obviously been futile throughout his life, and so his defence is to use and abuse every women available to him (and there are many). Yet just about every female is shown to deserve his hatred: they are all presented as being as hard, cold, cynically exploitative as he - or as just stupidly begging for love. (The corps de ballet is grouped collectively under the rather disquieting title of "whores.") The following YouTube clip shows the his last lover (a young girl whom we hope will "save" him) as the worst of the lot, for she is no mere tempting Eve: woman is made to appear here by Kenneth MacMillan as the serpent itself. Her superb dancing - her body used as her instrument - is breathtaking as she slithers and slides and entwines herself around him. She is a nasty - but beautiful - piece of work. In several scenes besides this one Stephen MacRae as the Prince is the most convincing "mad Prince " I have ever seen - he beats even Hamlet. Probably not your thing, nordmann, but thought MM and Priscilla might be interested:


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 17:05

Thank you, Temps. How well they did that demanding encounter. Ballet is a good medium for dark.... 'Media' leaves me shattered. and Bacon's stuff has a wretchedness about …. like shit plastered on a toilet wall.... if you will excuse the crudity of that. I'd better stop there.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 17:21

"Shit" is the classically approved word! In sterquiliniis invenitur - "in the cesspool/dungheap you will find it" - which Jung (the alchemist) turned into "that which you most need will be found where you least want to look" i.e. check your dungeon or embrace your shadow. Bacon's dungeon/shadow was pretty grim!
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 17:28

Of course it is, and why I  used it. Not fully understood everywhere - when asking Heals in Tottenham Court  Road for shit green carpeting they had a shudder but also  knew exactly what was wanted. I said I knew colours. Rather like  Bacon's meaty flesh tones being shades of wounded corpse. One can paint with words as you know so very much better than I.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 22 Mar 2020, 17:30

Doesn't get more visceral than that Smile

He still produced some very effective art - it's just he never failed to betray the true nature of his own character with his work. And that character was one which was both abominable and also self-aware enough to know it, and even hate himself for it. When this was reflected in his paintings, which it inevitably was, it produced art work that puts the viewer on the same level of cautious alert and prone to the same levels of repugnance one feels when confronted with such a person in almost every other circumstance.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyMon 23 Mar 2020, 12:01

@Priscilla wrote:
Of course it is, and why I  used it. Not fully understood everywhere - when asking Heals in Tottenham Court  Road for shit green carpeting they had a shudder but also  knew exactly what was wanted. I said I knew colours. Rather like  Bacon's meaty flesh tones being shades of wounded corpse. One can paint with words as you know so very much better than I.

Now there's a coincidence: just read this on page 244 of The Mirror and the Light:

Call it two and a half months - late May to Lammas-tide. The dead are no longer fresh, but copper-green flesh is still adherent to their bones.


"Copper-green": of decaying flesh -  the colour of a corpse no longer "fresh". Startling and horrible, but superbly effective.

Have you really got a shit-green carpet in your sitting-room? That worries me.  Smile

MM's Egg Dance brought me back down to earth a bit, so a hasty return to yesterday's serious art stuff. I checked out the Max Ginsburg website. I really like his portraits, but I've got the battlefield picture all wrong, I think. I find it very hard to look at it actually, which is worrying as to what it reveals about me. Never ask what do you get from the text - or picture - but what it is getting from you. Seems I can't cope with too much reality. I see no beauty there, not even in the mother's grief. It's just agonising agony. On his website, Ginsburg says this:

I choose to paint realistically because I believe realism is truth and truth is beauty. I derive an aesthetic pleasure in skillfully done realistic drawings and paintings. I believe that realism can communicate ideas strongly and it is this communication that is extremely important to me.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyMon 23 Mar 2020, 12:17

I choose to paint realistically because I believe realism is truth and truth is beauty. I derive an aesthetic pleasure in skillfully done realistic drawings and paintings. I believe that realism can communicate ideas strongly and it is this communication that is extremely important to me.


To which Caravaggio (and every other artist between 1200 and 1800) replies:

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Ginsburg was replying to "critics" who think his realistic portrayal cannot be "true" art. That's why we have photographs, they say ...
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyMon 23 Mar 2020, 12:36

I was certainly not suggesting that the man is not a true "artist": I just cannot cope with the stark horror of  the battlefield image. My deficiency, I suppose. I feel the same about Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyMon 23 Mar 2020, 12:50

I realise that - I just felt it was important to put Ginsburg's quote in context. In fact his comment came after he received huge criticism for another painting, this time from Christian fundamentalists who objected to his painting "Torture Abu Ghraib", also inspired by the Iraq war. The cause of their objection is obvious, given the pose of the torture victim. But it was actually said that the image would "not have been so offensive" had it not been also so realistically executed.

What is Art? - Page 17 Tam_june13_05_composition

I am sure that very similar criticism came Caravaggio's way after his "Judith" was revealed. But I prefer your reasons for discomfort over the fundamentalists' and "art critics'". And I think both artists would too.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyMon 23 Mar 2020, 12:53

That actually is superb - and I find it, although terrible, immensely moving. On his website, Ginsburg said Caravaggio was an influence - that is obvious here.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyMon 23 Mar 2020, 13:30

I do wonder, though, to what extent an artist can actually know who and what their influences are.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyMon 23 Mar 2020, 15:51

The Ginsburg "Torture Abu Ghraib" picture has really got to me: I keep returning and looking at it and seeing new details that intensify the horror of it all. I almost wish I had never seen it - yet not. The blood, the shit, the callous indifference of the onlookers - that young female soldier! Dear God! That hideous and obscene thumbs-up gesture! And is it really protective gloves she and the soldier in front of the "cross" are wearing? It is one of the most profound and moving things I've seen in ages. I think Caravaggio would nod in approval.

How do the Fundamentalists manage to miss the point of everything - this image captures the whole meaning - terrifying and beautiful - of the Crucifixion.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyTue 24 Mar 2020, 11:39

And it's far more telling than the secret film of such an episode - which did include the woman in T shirt.



And for the record the shit-green carpet was for the friend I was with ….. and in the 60's when such shades were fashionable.... I guess.

My carpet choice began about then for the hand knotted sort with traditional designs. Perhaps I ought to have got one of the Afghans for my tribal collection that so appalled me. The patterns were skilfully changed to  weaponary  shapes of  of all descriptions with Kalishnikovs bordering the motifs of grenades etc. realism or what? And carpets in that neck of the world are made by children.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyTue 24 Mar 2020, 13:04

What is Art? - Page 17 ?u=http%3A%2F%2F3.bp.blogspot.com%2F-4ssyxI08ZZs%2FT9dRGX_ewWI%2FAAAAAAAAKvw%2FX3_IjSFlVZc%2Fs1600%2FPicture%2B4
One of those was used in "History of the World in 100 Objects". Here's its link on wikimisleadya. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Throne_of_Weapons
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyThu 09 Apr 2020, 12:49

Found out that today is National Unicorn Day.

Virgin and Unicorn by Domenico Zampieri c 1604/5

What is Art? - Page 17 581px-DomenichinounicornPalFarnese
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 12 Apr 2020, 09:11

Interesting, Trike, that you found this particular work - given the title of the thread - to illustrate "Unicorn Day". Domenichino (Little Dominic) is one of those artists whose career is often used as a typical example of just how subjective the question "what is art?" can be.

Zampieri was arguably the most famous of the many students who learnt their trade under Annibale Carracci, a "Marmite" artist of the highest order who, depending on which critic you read, either single-handedly launched the whole Baroque style and a gloriously new and flamboyant avenue of artistic exploration of common themes, or else single-handedly "killed" all that was most innovative in Renaissance art through reducing everything to a lowest common denominator style bordering on the kitsch. The reason Carracci invites such extreme opinion, and even did at the time in fact, is basically in how he operated; his "factory" of artists working within a business model very much based on a "give the customer what they want" approach. It wouldn't be too extreme in fact to label Carracci the Walt Disney of his period and, just as with Disney, contemporary voices criticised his motivations and quality of output even as the same voices begrudgingly had to admit that what he was producing was quickly becoming the industry standard and by far the most commercially popular output of its day.

If you're ever in Rome head for the Palazzo Farnese and ask the French Embassy staff for permission to visit the gallery behind their offices. This is where the Unicorn fresco is to be found, along with about 100 other scenes painted by Carracci, his brother Agostino (Baroque's Roy Disney), and their army of young artists as they spent a decade attempting to surpass the Sistine Chapel for their patron Cardinal Odoardo Farnese. The Cardinal himself chose the theme "The Loves of The Gods" - Odoardo was a classical nut, having even been warned by his uncle Pope Paul at one point to lay off the pagan stuff as unbefitting a top church "capo" - and the Carracci outfit interpreted this theme as broadly as possible within Greek and Roman parameters, exploring not just who the gods loved but also how they loved, how they defined love for mortals to emulate, and even some of the consequences of love gone wrong, such as unrequited love, narcissistic love of self, or excesses of passion and failures in judgement prompted by love.

What is Art? - Page 17 Volta_della_Galleria_Farnese_dopo_il_restauro_del_2015
The Farnese Gallery ceiling (walls are also available from the same vendor)

What is Art? - Page 17 Farnes01

Domenichino's unicorn fresco is to be found just above the main door leading into the gallery (extreme left in the above picture), in other words least likely to be seen by visitors on first entering the room, this relatively obscure location most likely given by Carracci to an apprentice who, while undoubtedly talented, was still a teenager. However young Dom also seemed to have quite a lot of say in how he went about his fresco, and if you compare his unconventional composition of his subjects with the more "classically posed" subjects of the other depictions in the gallery, you can see how he took advantage of this freedom to put down a sort of marker for how he was going to go about his paintings thereafter - substituting mannerism (the great definer of Renaissance style) with often quirky introductions of realism (about the only thing done well in Baroque art according to its more vehement critics). In this fresco his subjects emphasise shyness as an aspect of virtue by sitting over to one side avoiding centre spot, and a landscape devoid of humans with only a suggestion of civilisation far away in the distance in the form of a town's skyline demanding inspection by the viewer if only to emphasise the remoteness and isolation of virtue from the mundane world which the rest of us inhabit. All very clever, if a little laboured, for an eighteen year old.

Is it art? Domenichino thought so, as presumably did Carracci who allowed it, Odoardo Farnese who approved it, and - based on comments over the next 200 years - most everyone else who visited the gallery. Until Ruskin, that is.

Ruskin, as has been previously pointed out here, hated Baroque. Which is not to say that he hated the artists - he did praise certain artists for "overcoming" the limitations of the style in their day - but he certainly loathed its perceived originators as a style, a category Carracci fitted by default and for whom Ruskin reserved special vitriol. By extension therefore the many artists of the style who had started out as apprentices in Carracci's factory were also suspect in Ruskin's view and he certainly went to town on Little Dom, who he saw as a main culprit in continuing Carracci's "Disney" legacy within popular art for another century before it would be "rescued", primarily by Northern Europeans. So influential was Ruskin as a critic of Western Art that when he dissed an artist by name it was rarely that the artist's reputation recovered and many were consigned to obscurity - Domenichino included.

If you look at Domenichino's most commercial output you can easily fall into Ruskin's trap. His patrons weren't looking for artistic innovation, and many in fact demanded its absence. What they wanted was art which utilised Baroque technical advances (as much to do with material as style) to emulate their idea of "classical" art, which in terms of composition and subject harked back to the early Renaissance works of Giotto, Fra Angelico, and others from the "mile quattracento" period, before people like da Vinci, Michelangelo et.al. had hijacked this "pure" approach for what they considered egotistical ends.

We might find this strange these days given how we are now encouraged to regard these late Renaissance geniuses, and Ruskin was never shy of explaining how he regarded the Baroque style that came after them, as nothing short of a philistine attack on art itself. But you need to appreciate the political and social climate of the period to understand this atavistic longing for a pre-reformation and simpler approach to the "great" themes, just as you need to appreciate the working conditions of the artists to understand why they so willingly obliged this taste shared by a majority of their potential patrons. And then, unlike Ruskin, you can probably begin to appreciate some genius in their work which, unlike the generations just before them, could not now be conveyed through an absolute freedom of expression and experimentation but in economy of expression and innovation subtly inserted into their paintings.

Domenichino's work exemplifies this superbly. At first glance his oeuvre does indeed seem to justify Ruskin's disdain for what he considered an unimaginative "chocolate box top" approach to art. Safe themes, in typical compositions, and in a basic style firmly modelled on early 15th century examples. But if you look more closely at this oeuvre and rate the works according to the monetary value their respective patron owners placed on them along with the corresponding introduction of small "aberrations" to the rigid early Baroque delimiters of style, then you can see how both Domenichino and his patrons were subtly bucking the predominant ethos, be it thematically, through some very unusual compositions (foreshadowed by his unicorn fresco as a very young man), and most tellingly of all the frequent manipulation of facial expression in portraits of groups, in which all expression is often reserved for just one subject in stark contrast to the relatively neutral countenances of their companions.

This is an artist working within very strict rules, and therefore having to be incredibly clever in how he seemingly follows these rules slavishly while still incorporating innovation and expression in his work. Easy to dismiss by lovers of blatant artistic expression, like Ruskin, but in my view all the more demanding of respect for their artistic genius when it is done well, as with Domenichino.

To illustrate this one can take just two of Domenichino's works. In the first one, a classical nativity scene, everyone from shepherd to the obligatory putto, adopts exactly the pose and demeanour that Giotto established as "proper" and which in early Baroque was now almost a hard and fast rule. But see if you can spot Domenico Zampieri himself (he pops up in many of his own paintings and nearly always with the same cynical and almost disapproving expression as he regards the main subject of his own painting). How did Ruskin miss this? The artist had anticipated and preempted the critic's disdain by hopping into his own work during its manufacture and expressing almost the same attitude of despair at the cliched limitations of the style that Ruskin and others would later use to condemn it.

What is Art? - Page 17 Domenichino_%28Domenico_Zampieri%29%2C_The_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds%2C_c._1607-10%2C_Oil_on_canvas%2C_143_x_115cm%2C_National_Gallery_of_Scotland

And then my own favourite, Little Dom's portrait of Giovanni Agucchi, his friend and an influential art critic, theorist and patron of his day. Agucchi has given Domenichino the freedom to depart from the strict rules of the day and Dom has seized on the opportunity to show just what he can do. Which is no little thing, as it turns out. The respect Dom has for his subject is palpable, as is their friendship, and the execution is sublime.

What is Art? - Page 17 Domenichino_-_Portrait_of_Monsignor_Giovanni_Battista_Agucchi_-_YORAG_787

I suppose the point of this long response to Trike's random find of a unicorn painting is simply to warn against an over reliance on supposed "quality" when ascertaining that which is or is not "art". If expression makes it through considerable restrictions to reach a viewer, then maybe doing so in spite of these might even be said to have enhanced, rather than diminished, the claim for that medium to be classified as "art" in that instance. Domenichino, like many others, has been the victim of some influential critics' refusal to see beyond these restrictions and therefore judge an artist's supposed abilities based on when they acquiesced rather than on how they frequently chose (often were forced to choose) subtler means to advertise their ability in their work. Appreciation of these artists and their work may require a little more effort and scrutiny on the part of the viewer, but is it then "lesser art" for that? I would contend there is a good argument to be made that the opposite may indeed apply.
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 12 Apr 2020, 10:56

Thank you nordmann for this "long response" as it is in my opinion a perfect (nearly Wink) written illustration of how difficult it is to define what "art" really is.

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptySun 12 Apr 2020, 13:08

Agree with Paul, a most erudite post Nord.

Correct, it was a random selection.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   What is Art? - Page 17 EmptyWed 29 Apr 2020, 12:05

BBC 4 have been showing a series entitles "Museums in Quarantine".

Link to the exhibition:Young Rembrandt

Last night featured the Ashmolean Museum's exhibition Young Rembrandt,programme presented by Simon Schama. One of the works featured was this one, "The Good Samaritan", where the Samaritan, whose face we cannot see, delivers the assault victim safely to an inn. The rest of the etching is noticeable for its' everydayness. A woman drawing water from the well, a bored looking patron of the inn looking out the window, the groom standing with the horse and, the last thing to be expected in a biblical scene, a dog taking a dump in the foreground.

What is Art? - Page 17 DP814420
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