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May 07, 2008

Steve on Art

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Steve is asking all kinds of Sailer-esque, so-basic-they're-dangerous questions about art and art history.



posted by Michael at May 7, 2008


His take on art history was pretty good, at least one way of reading it. It is the way that artists influence other artists, both their contemporaries and those who follow after, that results in their inclusion and level of importance in art history. Certainly different periods of time will see the interest and reputation of various styles and particular artists rise and fall, but over the long arc of time great art and artists tend to endure while lesser ones recede into footnotes.

His take on art using the Picasso assemblage (and many of the too predictable comments it generated) first seems to ignore his own take on art history (the level of influence Picasso has had on the artists of his era and subsequent generations) and then slips into willful ignorance (ignoring Picasso's widely known status as a visual prodigy whose adolescent paintings clearly show his technical prowess) before taking potshots at the single example piece without connecting it to the totality of the artist's output or the times and context in which it was created and appeared. These "questions" are not so basic-they're-dangerous, they're so narrow-they're-beside-the-point.

Like many 2Blowhards' threads on modern art it all comes back to whether or not the best (only?) way of judging art and artists is with a single standard, that of how faithfully the artist can depict the real world as observed by the unaided human eye. When artists (e.g. Duchamp) are considered highly influential among other artists without having the sort of general public understanding and support of, say, Norman Rockwell (whose influence among artists is modest) the question becomes whether the arts experts or the public are closer to getting it right. I suspect it is the former, not the latter.

That said, I don't think there is a single "right" when it comes to art, but rather countless variations of taste. If you prefer tight realism there's plenty of it out there, much of it excellent and lauded by fellow artists and art critics. Similarly there are many variations of abstraction or assemblage or installation art or whatever that are admirable and enjoyable and equally valid as art. There is also a plethora of lousy realism and lousy abstraction.

Posted by: Chris White on May 7, 2008 7:19 PM

This is a fairly frivolous comment. That said, way too much is made of Picasso's technical ability as a realist painter. As in, "Picasso could have painted like Norman Rockwell(or Ingres) if he wanted to." I'm a fan of Picasso, but having looked quite closely at his early, conventional work, he was no Norman Rockwell and certainly no Ingres, or Degas, or Gerome, or Holbein, or even Monet (a remarkably accomplished draftsman when he chose to be.) Picasso was unquestionably a trained draftsman (his father was an art teacher) but I've known several fairly youthful art-school instructors to say nothing of commercial artists who are more accomplished draftsmen. And given the fact that he was painting at a time when certain artists had achieved a kind of mind-boggling facility (take a close look at Sorolla or Zorn), the constant insistence on Picasso's godlike conventional technical chops is a form of P.R. happytalk for modern art.

Picasso's strength was always in his stylishness, not in his unusual mastery of objective rendering. This is not a criticism. I like Picasso, but I think we do him a disservice when we make too much of his conventional skills.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 8, 2008 12:18 AM

When the argument is used that Picasso had no "conventional skills" it is worth pointing to his adolescent work, which reveals him to be fully capable of realistic rendering. One can then move on to other questions. Among them, what might Picasso have painted had he devoted all of his time and talents to mastering the tradition rather than being an innovator? Which leads to asking; is the world of art is richer or poorer for his decision to innovate rather than delving deeper into the tradition? If, as Donald states, there were other painters with greater technical chops, did the art world need another "not-as-great-as" conventional painter more than it needed an influential innovator?

Unless something has changed here in the anti-modernists' line of attack we still get back to the question of whether using one, and only one, criteria for determining artistic talent and greatness makes sense. Picasso is essentially dismissed (or patronized) for lacking "unusual mastery of objective rendering." His innovations and influence are derided because they fall outside of objective rendering.

Posted by: Chris White on May 8, 2008 7:52 AM

Chris, the "artistic creativity" thing has done a huge amount of damage to art over the last 100+ years. Technical ability counts for more. But what counts most is the almost indefinable contribution of the artist's personality / sensibility / whatever. A decent amount of that and good (but not necessarily great) tech skill trumps "creativity" any day, so far as I'm concerned.

What we have today is a bunch of wannabe creative geniuses who only "connect" to a tiny audience that believes it is so sophisticated that only it is truly capable of appreciating the magnificence of, say a piece of Conceptual Art that strikes a blow against the bougeoisie, Republicans, the Church or whatever.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on May 8, 2008 8:40 AM

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