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« Elsewhere | Main | Notes on the Word "Intellectual" »

August 08, 2003

The Chaos of History; Art circa 1940


After a laughably long gap, I resume my demonstration of the variety of art since 1900. (Completely unscientific and idiosyncratic surveys of the years 1900, 1910 and 1930 can be seen here, here and here. I can no longer remember why I skipped 1920.)

This survey is of the years around 1940, a time which, after spending an hour or so looking through my art books, I would have to dub the era of Picasso. His influence was at its peak during this era; interestingly, I would say that it served mostly to intimidate and constrict the output of other artists. Still, there was quite a good crop of painting and drawing produced, particularly in styles of art that were somewhat distant from Picasso’s specialities.

(I had to illustrate Pablo's own work with L'Aubade, probably one of my three or four favorite works by Sr. Picasso. It has a truly monumental tenderness and a stillness that seems charged with emotion.)

STILL LIFE G. Braque, Black Fish, 1942


P. Picasso, L'Aubade, 1942


O. Kokoschka, Self Portrait As a Degenerate Artist, 1937-9


L. Muhlstock, William O'Brien, Unemployed, c. 1935


G. Wood, Iowa Landscape, 1941


Unknown, Dime Mystery Magazine Cover, 1938

I had to sneak that illustration in; I think because of its conceptual distance from the Spanish Overlord of Art, it is probably as lively a piece as any in the survey. Do you agree?



posted by Friedrich at August 8, 2003


Yay! Blowhards do art history again!

Posted by: James Russell on August 8, 2003 6:45 AM

I think "Unemployed" is really quite haunting.

Posted by: annette on August 8, 2003 11:24 AM

I completely agree about the illustration, but then I have a fairly strong bias towards illustration anyway, the best of which I find truly brilliant.

My bias is towards science fiction/fantasy illustration, which seems less infested with pretense than most areas of art. For some modern examples, I'd recommend Michael Whelan, David Cherry, and Nene Thomas for starters.

On a somewhat related note, my wife runs several sf/f art shows. At one of these I overheard an artist proclaim, "I'm not an illustrator, I'm a fine artist." I had to restrain my self from saying, "Don't worry, you'll get a commission someday". The funny thing was that she was actually very good at representational art, unlike so many with that attitude.

Another excellent Blowhards post, thanks.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on August 8, 2003 11:38 AM

Thank you for your support of my art-historical tendencies.

A quick quiz: which of these paintings is the most radical? I would vote for Grant Wood's "Iowa Landscape" because of its gestures towards deep space, which (if you note) has otherwise left the world of art c. 1940 (even in the illustration.) But, of course, others of you may have other opinions. The floor is open to nominations.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 8, 2003 12:22 PM

"Radical" as in "good"?

The Grant Wood is surprisingly casually painted (in a good way), don't you find? I like it, though I can often find his stuff overworked. The simplicity here helps.

What do you suppose viewers 25 years hence will make of the Kokoschka? Will they look at it and register "lots of blunt painstrokes that express expressionist fury, angst, glamor, and decadence"? Or will they look at it and think, "what a weird way to make a picture"? Where modernist picture-making is concerned, I wonder this kind of thing more and more. We know how to explain the various styles and approaches; we know what the rationales are; we're seeing the paintings as exemplars of these often-complicated rationales. But what about people who are just looking at them? (Of whom there'll be more and more as time goes by.) Will they just look at them and think, "Hmm, kinda cool," or "What the hell?" Ie., without all the critical gobbledegook that has till now surrounded them, what remains of modernist painting?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 8, 2003 3:17 PM

I'm not posing as a defender of Kokoschka's rather gooey brushstrokes, or at least not in the Modernist sense that his technique is what makes him a significant painter. (At least in reproduction, I'm not put off by them, either, and I included him, in part, as a counterpart to the extremely linear emphasis of Picasso.) What I mostly like about the painting is the rather hurt, confused and vulnerable expression in the portait. It seems so much less hieratic than most portraits (e.g., the Holbein portrait I posted on a few days ago.) I also liked the big chin. I guess I'm guilty of big-chin-ism.

And, no, I didn't mean "radical" in the sense of "good" but rather "radical" in the sense of "different from what other people were doing at the time." Not that it matters, but I think the Grant Wood landscape is more formally interesting than the others, in the sense that it is grappling with more formal issues. Also, as you mention, it has a kind of goofily unpolished quality about it that his more finished compositions completely surpress.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 8, 2003 6:44 PM

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