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March 03, 2006

Art Links of Note

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

-- The current Weekly Standard has Paul Cantor's review and commentary on American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting by Steven Biel. Cantor has a lot of thought-provoking things to say, so click here and give it a read.

Cantor devotes much of his space to political-social issues of the 30s and later, but also gets in some more purely art-oriented licks. For example:

More is at stake here than one painter's reputation. In a conflict that Biel sketches but does not thoroughly analyze or try to adjudicate, American Gothic stood at the flashpoint of one of the great aesthetic debates of the 20th century. Attacks on the work were among the opening salvos in the relentless war of the modernist art establishment against representational painting and in favor of abstract expressionism. In the modernist view, this was a battle between a mean-spirited, narrow-minded regionalism and a generous, forward-looking internationalism. But for those, like me, who are skeptical of the preeminent value of abstract expressionism, the battle could be reformulated as an attempt on the part of a single brand of 20th-century painting to erect itself as the one and only authentic form of modern art, while condemning all alternative visions to the realm of inauthenticity and kitsch, to use Clement Greenberg's favorite term of reproach.

-- Among the comments on my Isaak Levitan post (here) was one by painter Jacob Collins. Collins wields his brushes amazingly well. Although he attains what can be termed a "high degree of finish" the result is not the overly-painted hard-edge look that often results from straining to be realistic, by trying too hard.

I haven't seen Collins' work in person, but if what's on display on his web site is any clue his results are very satisfying. Take a look.



posted by Donald at March 3, 2006


I'm certainly very impressed with Collins' work. I don't quite know how to describe the quality he captures -- it's certainly realistic, yet not photographic, and part of the quality is the choice and arrangement of the subjects. I always love paintings of unmade beds. The head of the wolf rug is quite striking. Maybe the paintings could be called poignant -- they're not sentimental but they are certainly emotional in a suggestive but subtle way. A lot has to do with light, which is really apparent when he paints the same scene in different lights. But there's also a good deal of tenderness and a feel for the beauty of the casual detail, like the orange segments and peel.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on March 3, 2006 11:47 PM

No doubt about it, Collins skill is impressive. Perhaps in about twenty or thirty years he will have something to say. Dont get me wrong, I admire his gift. But I will take the lesser paintings and drawings of Jerome Witkin, William Beckman, Alfred Leslie, Martha erlebacker, Jack Beal, Sir Sidney Goodman, Sigmund Abeles (especially Abeles), etc. But I must say, I do like a good nude.

Posted by: rico on March 4, 2006 12:59 AM

An excellent article by Cantor. Since the influence of Memling on Wood was mentioned I took the opportunity to visit ARC. My thought was that if Wood had seen Memling it was quite possible he also saw one of my favorites, Rogier van der Weyden. Memling and Weyden were nearly contemporaneous, close geographically, similar in subject matter and style. An analysis of their differences was more than I could handle on brief inspection and my first cup of coffee.

I also have great difficulty in seeing Rene Magritte in Wood's "Paul Revere". I certainly see a kinship with Benton.

The ideological dimensions of the battle of modernism vs representationalism continues to be of interest to me. The extremes of Pollock and Kramer make for an easy target, but I doubt the classicists are all that appreciative of Surrealism or Cubism etc. More interesting is which side gets to appropriate O'Keefe or Burchfield and why

Posted by: bob mcmanus on March 4, 2006 9:53 AM

The irony in the attack on Woods is that he was not, IMO, a representational painter. Obviously what he painted was recognizeable: a man, a woman, a house. But his work was highly formalized, even mannered. His subject matter may have been naive; his way of presenting it was sophisticated. In no way did he share in the primitivism of the Benton school of regionalism.

Posted by: ricpic on March 4, 2006 1:21 PM

rico -- I'll soon be Googling on that list of names you dropped. Given that Impressionism supposedly shelled the concept of a hierarchy of painting subjects at or near the waterline, it was interesting that you think Collins needs to come up with "something to say." I've been pondering a post on painting subjects for a couple months now, but I need to do more reading first.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 6, 2006 1:30 PM

I continue to find references to the "relentless war of the modernist art establishment against representational painting and in favor of abstract expressionism" curious. One might make the case that the dominant arbiters of taste were once, for a brief period from mid-Fifties until a decade or so later when Andy Warhol 'popped' onto the scene, "modernists ... in favor of abstract expressionism." Their reign was brief and has been over for a long enough time that, if anything, they are due for a comeback.

Without completely rehashing points raised in a previous 2blowhards thread concerning Thomas Kincaid, I'll say again that nearly every artist believes that the art s/he finds most compelling has been given short shrift by the Art Establishment. [As an aside, I see Mr. Kincaid is currently embroiled in controversy of a far different sort. Check this piece in the L.A. Times.] Many, if not most, artists feel (perhaps rightly) that the art THEY are engaged in is being ignored by the art establishment, ask them who SHOULD be getting the attention and you'll get as many different answers as there are artists.

While far from complete, the list of movements that have held the art establishment supposed scepter of power since abstract expressionism's moment include Minimalism, Pop, Neo-expressionism, any number of representational "identity" related variants (e.g. feminist, African-American, gay) and, most significantly, Post-Modernism.

This weekend while at an art collector's home I happened upon a huge annual compendium of "emerging artists" deemed significant. (Sorry, I don't have the title, etc. although I could find it should anyone insist.) There were installation artists and photographers and performance artists and painters whose images might have been purposefully unsettling but were nevertheless anything but abstract. Among the thousand or so artists covered there may have been a dozen or so aesthetic descendants of the abstract expressionists.

While tangential to the issue of Grant Wood's "American Gothic" and the supposed hegemony of modernists and abstract expressionism I like this quote from Eric Gibson, the Leisure & Arts Features Editor of The Wall Street Journal, taken from his article "Can Artists Ever Truly Be Modest?" that appears on the "In Context" web site.

"Itís not uncommon to see, on an artistís studio wall, a small gallery of reproductions of favorite works of art. One might expect these galleries to be exact mirrors of the artistís own aesthetic sense Ė that an abstract painter would have only reproductions of works by Mondrian, Malevich, Pollock and others on his wall. On the contrary, not only are they always startlingly eclectic in terms of style, period, date, and civilization, but they often contain examples of the very type of art the artist has repudiated in his own work Ė a narrative painting on a biblical subject by an Old Master in the studio of a contemporary abstract painter, for example. ... These arenít just souvenirs or decorations; theyíre a pantheon, a partial catalogue of the artists and objects he admires and against which he wants his work to measure up."

Final note: however much I admire plenty of abstract painters, so, too, do I find rico's list of representational artists (again, especially Sigmund Abeles) full of wonderfully talented painters.

Final final note: I'm unsure whether my links are appearing above, so the URLs are - for the Kincaid piece: ",0,4387601,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines" and for the Gibson article ""

Posted by: Chris White on March 6, 2006 9:22 PM

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