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« Female Gaze | Main | Free Reads -- Self-Esteem Redux »

October 10, 2002

Free Reads -- Philip Roth Reredux

Friedrich --

Funny rant about the incoherence of visual people, thanks. A professor I know who has to teach aesthetics to visual-arts majors tells me there's no way to get his students thinking intellectually in an even semi-organized fashion. "They're hopeless," he says, rolling his eyes. And a painter I know (that rarity -- a bright one) tells me the French have an expression, "Bete comme un peintre" ("stupid like a painter").

I find visual people to be in many ways like performers -- talented, rarely gifted with much in the way of intellect, and full of meaningless chatter, which is, however, interrupted now and then by brilliantly helpful, offhand observations and statements. Like performers, they seem to have no idea when they're being idiotic and when they're being insightful. Listening to them is a peculiar experience, something like this:

babble babble bab AmazinglyInsightfulObservation babble babble bab.

But I'm sometimes charmed by their silliness, their sense of style, and the way they feel so very strongly about how things should look. Even the babble, properly edited, has its pleasures. Degas, for instance: what an amusingly stylish gruff bastard.

A couple of excerpts from Degas' letters:

No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament ... I know nothing.

Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty.

Cranky Bastard

Is there anything to what he says? Maybe. What I mostly like is the way the words, the thoughts, the attitude, the pickiness, and the sheer Frenchiness all snap into place. Ker-thwam. I find his little sayings as pleasing as good jokes.

On the other hand, phew, can visual people radiate "attitude" or what. Why are so many of them so prone to do this? The artier types in the media world, and the arty types in the art-gallery world, can out-disagreeable and out-snoot the worst country-club snobs.

My best shot at an explanation runs along these lines: they aren't smart, they are stylish, there's a natural tendency to cluster with people who are kinda like you and once there to look down on outsiders...This line of reasoning suggests that visual people are very insecure -- perhaps about having such lousy verbal skills? Perhaps they deal with their vulnerability about not being very smart by over-doing the visual-style snobbery. What are your former-art-student thoughts about this?

Complicating matters a bit, I notice that people who go into commercial illustration and graphics are often funny, bright, irreverent and pleasant -- they're like the kids in the back row who throw spitballs. I once asked a few of them about this, and was told that many of them grew up loving (and drawing) comic books, and either never went to art school or tried it and dropped out.

An art school education equals "attitude"?
Growing up on comic books equals "likable irreverence"?

It's a theory, anyway.



posted by Michael at October 10, 2002


Very perceptive, although I took umbrage at the idea that visual people aren't smart, at first. But you redeemed yourself when you talked about graphic artists. You have described the difference between artistes vs artists, fine arts majors vs. graphic arts majors, attitude vs skill. An artiste needs more attitude than talent or skill, and more ideas than paint.

Posted by: Alexandra on October 11, 2002 12:11 PM

Personally, I find it amusing how people will completely agree with you as long as your criticism isn't directed toward a group they identify with personally. Perspective is a very curious thing, both in art and in thought.

Posted by: melissa on January 9, 2003 4:23 PM

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