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March 10, 2006

Peripheral Explanation

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

This is part of a comment-reply to this recent post. I decided to elevate it to post status because the same issues keep popping up in Comments. I (foolishly?) hope I can avoid endlessly repeating myself in comment replies by giving my position more prominance. Here goes:

One reason I'm doing this "Peripheral Artists" series and gave it that name is because I got what was probably a typical late-1950s American art history education. Huge chunks of late-19th and early 20th century painting were ingnored if they weren't held up to ridicule.

In recent years I've been coming across some of that work and realize that it can be very good indeed.

Had I only known!

That's the problem. I didn't know because no one taught me. And I suspect that a lot of art history courses since my time haven't been a lot better regarding representational art. So I've launched this little educational project here at 2Blowhards highlighting artists I used to know nothing about, yet on discovery are worthy of appreciation and study.

The word "peripheral" (as I keep trying to make clear) is sort of a pun. Artists mentioned are peripheral to the history of painting as I (and others) received it in college. And it happens that these same artists (so far) come from what might be seen as Europe's geographical periphery. This does not mean that I regard them as lesser artists: in nearly all cases, quite the opposite.

The artists I've dealt with thus far are famous in their home countries for good reason. Some were well-known elsewhere in Europe when they were alive, before Modernism in its various guises made its march from Paranoid Victimhood to Paranoid Establishment.

I don't regard this as some sort of "national character" issue: it's really more of a power politics thing within the art world.

Still, the fame of the Russian artists I've been featuring undoubtedly was held back by the Cold War. Many Americans were leery of all things Russian and the Soviet Union kept itself pretty well sealed off from Westerners and foreigners of all kinds save Party members and prominant fellow-travelers. (Yes I know there were plenty of exceptions to that sweeping statement. But the gist is true: think Intourist.)

Nor do I think it fair to fall back on a kneejerk notion of "American insularity" to explain our relative ingnorance of the likes of Gallen or Vrubel. In fine arts, Americans strike me as being quite the opposite of insular. In fact, for much of our history, we've had a self-image of being second (or worse) rate in all forms of culture. I don't have any statistics to back this up, but let me assert that, for almost any museum, shows featuring Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh and Rembrandt will draw larger crowds than shows featuring home-grown Pollock, Motherwell or Warhol.

As I said, the problem lies in the art world itself. Its history had become unbalanced, distorted -- in America, at least. This 2Blowhards series is intended to let Americans learn what they've been missing all these years.



posted by Donald at March 10, 2006


O h c'mon Donlad---we all know you are just an ugly American who thinks anything you didn't study in school is just obscure second rate stuff! We KNOW you are just making up another reason for that "peripheral" description of your title, after the fact, covering your ass! :)

Posted by: annette on March 10, 2006 02:31 PM

Ooops, that should be "Donald" above---although Donlad is kinda cute.

Posted by: annette on March 10, 2006 02:32 PM

Yeah, annette, that's exactly what we know- and no amount of covering up will delude us.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 10, 2006 03:06 PM

As the clod who most recently misconstrued Donald's use of the word "peripheral," let me just add that I never would have jumped to my interpretation if it weren't for Donald's well known reputation as a crypto-fascist cultural elitist counter-revolutionary running dog lackey for the western imperialist art establishment. Under the circumstances, what other conclusion could I possibly draw?

Posted by: David on March 10, 2006 11:08 PM

"... I never would have jumped to my interpretation if it weren't for Donald's well known reputation as a crypto-fascist cultural elitist counter-revolutionary running dog lackey for the western imperialist art establishment."

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on March 11, 2006 03:50 PM

Poor, poor Donald! Don't you know that Art is about Ideas? What Great Ideas do these "peripheral" washups have? Sunsets, flower pots, and pretty girls in dresses? Or do you prefer mug shots, a day at the beach, or people lounging about? You know, regular life is not a Great Idea. But being a Great Artist--now there's an Great Idea!

Of course, the regular people (proles, consumers, cannon fodder--call them what you will) do serve one valuable purpose. They can be used to promote or fund some kind of Great Idea. Outside of this, they have no use. You, being a regular person, and therefore an idiot, were taught the Great Idea long ago. Too bad you're a little slow on the uptake. You may refute the Great Idea all you want. Nobody (important) is listening.

When you look back proper, all those Renaissance painters were Great, not because they studied the natural world, but because they painted the Great Ideas, Great People, and decorated the Great Places. That was a Great Time! The study of nature has only one true purpose anyway--to destroy the Idea of any Being Greater than Us. And to increase Our power. Other than that, it's useless.

So you see, there is a continuity, an unbroken lineage between the Great Artists of the past, and the Great Artists of the present, and those Great Artists yet to come. They have all dealt with or will deal with Great Ideas. The flower pot piddlers, the sunset schmucks, no matter how pretty the paint, are simply technicians of the lower order(s). They can imitate the technique of the Great Artists of the past all they want. The Great Idea has now moved beyond technique, and exists on its own. And no matter how many curtains you look behind, Donald, no matter what you see, your evidence is irrelevant. Its all a matter of the mind now. The past is gone.

Some people think that since painting of the lower order(s) has recently come back into a sort of pallid vogue, that somehow a toppling of the Great Idea will occur. Not so. Rest assured, the dolts will find out that the Great Idea and the Great Artist will rise in that movement in direct proportion to the power of its increase. Checkmate!

You simply can't escape it, because that is what Great Art is. My advice to you of the lower order(s) is to enjoy your sunsets, your flower pots, and your sun-dappled loungers while you can. Your lives are short and brutish anyway. Please leave it to the Great Minds to figure all this out. And as for your protests, Donald, I have to ask...

what's the Big Idea?


Your loving Hot Dog

Posted by: Hot Dog on March 11, 2006 06:54 PM

All -- Select appropriate comment reply:

(a) Ohmigod!!
(b) Tee hee.
(c) So's your old man!
(d) It's all Friedrich's fault.
(e) But I thought it was a Great Idea.
(f) I'll get even (somehow).
(g) All the above

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 11, 2006 08:55 PM

Yawn. Hot dog (what's the great idea with your pseudonim - nobody would've call you hot w/o the animistic modifier?), have you made a bet on how many times you stick Great into incoherent rambling?

Donald, you think you had it bad? See what COULD happen to you...

Posted by: Tat on March 11, 2006 09:25 PM

Hot Dog:

I'm not sure you're entirely wrong about the importance of ideas in painting, but I think you need to think a little harder about what constitutes a "great idea". The idea content of painting is very, very small, as painting is a very low bandwidth activity for abstract thought. So I would suggest that such painting is particularly dependent on a culture of shared ideas, which are hinted at (no more), albeit sometimes provocatively (i.e., contradicted or criticized), in the paintings themselves. When such shared ideas (the only ones easily legible in paintings) are scarce on the ground in society, art may very legitimately tend towards well-painted flowerpots or sunsets or portraits or landscapes--subjects that have sufficiently broad appeal not to need much in the way of shared cultural assumptions to be decoded and reacted to.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 12, 2006 05:43 AM

I guess I thought Hot Dog was being ironic. Was he/she serious?

Posted by: annette on March 12, 2006 08:50 AM

You're asking me? Whattya, nuts?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 12, 2006 01:30 PM

The "great idea" thesis is an easy nail to hang your hat on, but the wood you pounded it into is rotten. Look, over there, your hat is rolling around it dog shit. Hot dog. Your thesis may hold up in high school but fall appart in the real world. I'm sorry. I missed the "great idea" behind Degas's art. If anyone made pretty pictures it was Him. So we can no longer consider Degas a master? Let me see, I can think of about fifty other Masters (with a capital M) who painted pretty pictures. BTW, your hat is still rolling around in dog shit.

Posted by: rico on March 13, 2006 11:25 AM

Donald -- if I may call you by the first name -- I have enjoyed your "Peripheral Artists" series more than anything related to visual arts I've read on- and offline since ages ago -- and not just because my Russian self is flattered whenever a Russian artist is given his due. Since what counts as periphery depends on what passes as the center, I think it would be fair to say the center American art schools took for granted in the 1950s was Paris. If we moved it to St. Petersburg or Moscow (as a thought experiment), the peripheral Russian artists you've written about (Serov, Levitan, Vrubel) would become central, as they are central to the history of Russian arts. (Moreover, Levitan, his teacher Savrasov, and a few others may even be central to the cultural identity of millions of Russians.) Now let's shift this center westward, to the East Coast of the US or even farther, to the Midwest. What artists -- central to US arts but peripheral in a Paris-centered universe -- would form the core of this new world, where American art would provide a yardstick for everything?

Posted by: Alexei on March 17, 2006 11:27 AM

A quick note in respects to the comments of Donald, Hot Dog, and the Russian: When I came to this particular peripheral Blog on "Peripheral Artists," I thought that maybe this fellow Donald may be on to something. Perhaps he is, and the obscure, cryptic comments actually mean something, then again perhaps not. However, as I continued reading I came across this rather crude and extremely arrogant individual by the name of "Hot Dog," and I again found myself wondering if it were perhaps he/she that would provide me the confirmation of my own findings regarding the analysis of certain works of art. My own research and findings regarding certain "peripheral Artists," and their strange sidelong portrayals of the "Great Idea," has led me to seek out confirmation in world of art. Some of these artists, and yes to the Russian individual’s comment that it is a matter of relativity as to what constitutes "peripheral artists," are in fact considered Masters on a Global scale even today. The point is this, the content of a group of flowers or a seemingly jovial depiction of a summer picnic may be just that, but then again depending on the "relative," view, or position of the individual observing the painting, drawing, etc., it may actually be an amazing portrayal of your elusive "Great Idea", Mr. Hot Dog.
P.S. The study of Nature and the depiction of said studies in art is not the same as the study of nature through science. In conclusion, not everyone is out to destroy an aging and slowly passing, yet still grand and “Great Idea” as the one you may have been referring. On the contrary, some of the greatest ideas come upon the mundane and the masterful through the simplest of pictures and or actions. Also you may try to remember that no man or woman is born standing up and to be a master you must first be common and foul.

Posted by: The Messenger on March 31, 2006 01:59 AM

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