Friday, November 27, 2015

A painter’s concern

August 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Art Politics

There was a review in the New York Times on 8/15/09 by Souren Melikian, the International Herald Tribune art critic and editor, of the London’s National Gallery show “Corot to Monet”.

“Sunset in the Auvergne” by Théodore Rousseau

The article starts reasonably enough and traces the evolution of landscape painting from the late 18th and early 19th century when landscape painters started to break out of academic landscape formulas and experiment with painting from direct observation, specifically naturalistic light. The show draws from the National Gallery’s stellar collection of early landscape painters such as Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, Bonnington, Théodore Rousseau, Daubigny and of course – Corot. Seems like a worthy trip if you can spare the travel time and expense. Sadly, I’ll probably have to take a pass, the show is up until Sept 20, 2009.

But the real reason I’m making a brief post about this review was the ending paragraphs where Melikian says;

“…Monet, Renoir and others discovered springtime and brought it into European art for the first time.

Very little in earlier development heralded this metamorphosis. It only lasted until the late 1880s. Then a genius called van Gogh began to apply with uncontrolled fury intense primary colors chosen for their expressive value. The Nabis, the Abstractionists, the Fauves, the Cubists, followed in rapid succession, like so many artistic upheavals. Singing nature and rendering atmospheric light would never again be the painters’ concern. The modern world had come into existence.”

I’m probably preaching to the choir here but I find this statement disturbing. Why do so many art critics and historians see art history in rigidly linear time-lines. That once a certain style evolves, like post-impressionism, you need to move on, never stand still, on to the newest avante-guarde’s dictum.

This “art-world” mandate often seems like it is saying that today’s painters can only paint subjects with compelling narrative and critical theory standing in front of it, perhaps paint and canvas itself is suspect. Only dead painters can make naturalistic landscapes with integrity. That the observed world lacks the passionate intensity required for post modern art-making. Singing love songs to nature and light will likely banish you to obscurity in today’s art world according to Melikian’s point of view here.

Turning our backs to nature is half the reason we are in so much trouble to begin with. In these times of global warming and the wide range of other man-made environmental disasters is precisely the time for intense and honest looking at nature in every conceivable manner.

 << Previous Post -       - Next Post >>


10 Responses to “A painter’s concern”
  1. Philip Koch says:


    Your comments are right on target.

    In visual art the spirit of modern time is a tree with many branches. Out on some branches are abstraction, minimalism, conceptual art, performance, etc. But on other limbs rest all the varieties of realist painting.

    Fortunately some in the art museum world embrace this diversity. And in the future more will. Your efforts writing this blog help hasten that day.

  2. Wm. Dubin says:

    As an artist, the last thing I give a damn about is some newspaper critic, much less one who seems to have gotten his FACTS wrong! in the first place, it was the ENGLISH who first went outside to bring us “spring” or even the truth of “outside”. The entire English water color movement gives evidence to this, much less Turner! And, not forgetting it was John Constable who turned the French Academic art world up side down by exhibiting the Hay Wain at the Solon, that did as much as anything else to get painters to LOOK at nature.

    Then, to cut it all off in the 1880’s is equally absurd, and historically ignores the entire American contribution to both Impressionism AND Realism.

    This critic is simply STUPID! Or lazy, or both….

    As to linear time lines, they make for easy understanding by the people who think reading a critic will make up for seeing the show itself. It can easily be shown that modern REALISM can owe as much to the thinking of an artist like Marcel Duchamp, as it ever did (or does) to Impressionism!

    As Mr. Koch comments, your blog is an important resource towards recognizing the work being done today which doesn’t fit into the art critics current mentality……. carry on!

  3. Pavel Svacha says:

    Mr. Koch and Mr.Dubin said it. I just raise my voice to support their opinion!

  4. The tendency to write linear histories is practically unavoidable for coherent argument’s sake if nothing else. Inevitably, worthwhile work is left out; Fairfield Porter being a good example. The real beauty of painting is that it resists any effort to be pinned down by mere words…

    • Larry says:

      Many critics and historians sure try hard to pin down paintings with words to fit neatly into their doctrine but people who actually look and engage with the painting can
      resist the BS and just marvel over the beauty. Sadly all too many people spend more time reading the text explanations of the painting – or more perhaps even more likely, just taking a picture with a cellphone and moving on to the next without actually seeing anything at all.

      Great comments everyone. William Dubin – They do have some Richard Parkes Bonington works in this show – a masterful British landscape painter who worked from observation. Sadly he died young. I saw a big show of his work at the Yale Musuem of British Art back in the 80’s sometime that was awesome.

  5. Philip Koch says:

    In light of Dmitry Samarov’s comment, I just returned minutes ago from an afternoon down at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Saw they have a stunning Fairfield Porter on display- one of the very best of his oils. As Dmitry says (its beauty) “resists any effort to be pinned down by mere words…”

    One of the things I try to do with the classes I teach at MICA is introduce students to some of these off the beaten track masters like Porter.

  6. Philip Koch says:

    Speaking of Bonington, I had the very good fortune when I was in my MFA painting program at Indiana University in ’70-’72 to take an art history class on 19th century landscape painting. The professor, Louis Hawes, was a Constable scholar, having written his Ph.D. thesis on Constable’s cloud studies. Three times a week I’d sit in the front row and soak in the slide presentations on European and American landscape painters, most of whom were brand new to me.

    As in my own work I had recently turned from abstract painting to realism, this experience was a huge shot in the arm. It is good to know there is a “grand tradition” of observation-based art one can be a part of. And if we keep our eyes open, there is no reason we can’t do work that adds something new to that tradition.

  7. Wm. Dubin says:

    You were really lucky to have seen the cloud studies when you did. Good for your professor. I’m afraid mine (art history at 2 different art colleges) never even heard of Constable! Art started in 1945, or didn’t you realize that!

    While Constable was doing his studies in England, Boudin was doing the same in France. I’ve seen some of those reproduced, wonderful lessons……

    By the way Larry, the SD Museum used to own a beautiful little harbor scene by Boudin. It disappeared about the time they added their Los Angeles, excuse me, their Modern wing. I asked a guard about it, and he told me it was de-aquisitioned. It was basically the major reason to visit that museum…. hope you had the chance to see it.

  8. Ruza Bagaric says:

    Nothing will cure the art establishment of its hybris as a good environmental crisis! And that is virtually guaranteed! The relentless promotion of a nihilistic (cynical, ironical, transgressive) world view at the exclusion of every other voice is deeply anti-humanistic. Art is not a commentary on the world, but a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  9. art of the couldly sky before rain..

Please share your thoughts

comment here...
if want to show your picture with your comment, go get a gravatar!