In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff


We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.







Try Advanced Search


  1. $$$martphones ...
  2. Mental -- And Physical -- Health
  3. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  4. Checking In
  5. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  6. Rock is ... Forever?
  7. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  8. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  9. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  10. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions


CultureBlogs
Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
PhilosoBlog
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Gregdotorg
BookSlut
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Cronaca
Plep
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Seablogger
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette


Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Samizdata
Junius
Joanne Jacobs
CalPundit
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Public Interest.co.uk
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
Spleenville
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
CinderellaBloggerfella
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
InstaPundit
MindFloss
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes


Miscellaneous
Redwood Dragon
IMAO
The Invisible Hand
ScrappleFace
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz

Links


Our Last 50 Referrers







« Rock is ... Forever? | Main | Checking In »

July 15, 2009

Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I wrote here about Ken Auster, who paints mostly cityscapes and restaurant and bar scenes. I like his work (with a few reservations), but there's another artist who also does cityscapes that I like even better. I should add that I haven't seen his paintings in person, instead relying on magazines and the Web.

That artist is Ben Aronson (b. 1958) who offers this statement about himself on his website. Please read what he has to say before viewing the sampling of paintings below.

Gallery

La%20Marais%20-%202006.jpg
La Marais - 2006
This shows a Paris neighborhood that didn't get Haussmann-ized. What I like isn't so much the ambiance, but instead Aronson's treatment of light on the cars. Many of his paintings include cars with the top-lighting afforded by city streets enclosed by high-rise buildings.

Paris%20Morning%2C%20Left%20Bank%20-%202007.jpg
Paris Morning, Left Bank - 2007
More Paris, more cars; catnip to a Paris-lovin' car lovin' guy like me.

Bay%20Bridge%201.jpg
Bay Bridge 1
Now to San Francisco, a city depicted in the Gallery section of the posting on Auster. Compare. While both artists treat detail in a sketchy manner, Aronson's paintings tend to have starker value contrasts and stronger composition.

Urban%20Reflections%20-%202008.jpg
Urban Reflections - 2008
And if you haven't caught on yet, all the Aronson paintings shown here have essentially square formats. Gustav Klimt did the same when painting landscapes.

Closed%20Ramp%2C%20West%20Side%20Highway%20-%201997.jpg
Closed Ramp, West Side Highway - 1997
Oops, here's one that isn't square. It was done a decade earlier than the rest, so perhaps Aronson hadn't settled into his dimensional groove. Note the strong, almost abstract design.

Oceanside%20-%202008.jpg
Oceanside - 2008
Aronson does people, too. Again the design is strong and, if certain details were omitted, would become an abstract painting. This point is more obvious if you squint or look at it from a distance.

The%20Secret%20-%202008.jpg
The Secret - 2008
Not all of his work is done outdoors. Seems that Aronson can do portraits too, if he sets his mind to it.

Nighthawks%20-%202008.jpg
Nighthawks - 2008
The takeoff on Edward Hopper's famous 1942 painting of a nearly-deserted downtown diner was intentional. Aronson's twisteroo was to place the subjects in a fancy contemporary bar, another overlap with Auster, even down to including a painting behind the bar..

So far, I like what I see in Aronson's work. I notice that he's represented by a San Francisco gallery, so I'll make an effort to stop by when I'm in town later this year to find out if his originals are as appealing as the reproductions suggest.

Aronson shows us a way in which lessons from modernist experiments can be used in the creation of paintings that are more representational than not. No resorting to contemporary modernist irony or other in-your-face tricks, either.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at July 15, 2009




Comments

I like these very much, particularly the San Francisco street scene. Pleasing blend of representational painting with modernist touches, as you mention.

Posted by: JV on July 15, 2009 4:57 PM



Actually, the reconciliation of realism and abstraction, the dynamics of light and space, composition as a contest of forces, and the manipulation of the paint itself are among the important elements that have always interested me in the works of the many masters that I admire both ancient and contemporary – from the cave walls at Lascaux to Rembrandt and Corot, to Sargent, Hopper, Bacon, Kline, and DeKooning to name a few.

In working from familiar surroundings, as I often do, I find that in order to raise a work from the commonplace to the extraordinary – from a simple descriptive record to a work of art, the main objective is not merely physical likeness, but rather to aim for the most concentrated form of a powerful visual experience. Perfect spelling alone does not make great poetry, just as the realistic rendering of numerous visual facts will not alone amount to high art.

Does this guy really believe what he's writing at all? His work doesn't show it. Its the same photo-copying that is rampant in the New Realism. The fact that he comes from a family where, gosh!, everybody is an artist makes me suspicious. Really? Nobody wanted to do anything else but paint?

At some point in time, people are going to figure out that the culture is completely controlled by the money interests. The New Realism is now fully under control, and the artists that will be propelled to the front will be modernist and multi-culturalists photo-copy types. If that's not the case, can anybody show me anything different? Where's the freedom? I don't see any.

Thanks for the post Donald--its nice that somebody is covering the visual arts. But man o man is this realism revival heading downhill fast.

Posted by: BTM on July 15, 2009 6:02 PM



I don't see these painting as photo-copying at all, BTM. I'm wondering if the fact that they're of modern scenes makes them seem like the intent was some kind of photo-realism. I know I sometimes get that impression. Photography really has done a number on realism, because if that's what people want, they'll choose a photograph over a painting. I know I do.

I agree about his bio, but it's all part of the game. Every artist who wants to make any money at all needs a website and some kind of fluff about his/her background.

Posted by: JV on July 15, 2009 8:24 PM



I don't see these painting as photo-copying at all, BTM.

Why? Its obvious that he copied from a photo. At least it is to me, since I paint all the time.

I agree about his bio, but it's all part of the game. Every artist who wants to make any money at all needs a website and some kind of fluff about his/her background.

I don't think you know what I mean. Art talent is not really distributed to each and every member of a family. Its extremely odd that everybody in a family would be a painter. There are many more talented people than the Aronsons, so how is it that they are all painters and doing well? Connections. The art market is manipulated and controlled this way. You control the painters, then raise them up to the limelight. Its easy when the standards are lowered to simply copying, or even worse, modernism.

Posted by: BTM on July 16, 2009 12:55 AM



I think the guy has come very close to his objectives. There *is* an energy to his work, there *is* dynamic composition, (THERE ARE BRUSHMARKS AND TOOLMARKS--YAY!) and it's more than slavish "photo-copying." He may or may not use photos as a point of departure, but there is nothing wrong with that IMHO. It all depends on what the artist is after. Plein air painting is a really big deal now, but I don't see that it's producing all that much that is of real merit, especially where I live (the Southwest). The Classical Realists are producing a lot of technically near-flawless but ultimately unsatisfactory work based on actual models and still lifes that I call 'dead life,' even for all the emphasis on theirs being an 'art about life' rather than an 'art about art.'

Posted by: KR on July 16, 2009 11:06 AM



Oh, I misunderstood what you meant by "photo-copying." I thought you meant attempting a kind of photo-realism. At any rate, I don't care what the source of the painting is, only the result. As KR mentioned, there are plenty of painters painting live models or still-life whose paintings are lifeless. The ones here, in my opinion, have a nice energy.

As for artistic talent being hereditary, I don't see why it wouldn't be. It's a trait like anything else, be it a mind for math, athleticism, etc. Of course, being from an artistic family does not automatically guarantee you'll be a good artist. And I agree, having a family in the arts gives you a head start in that you see it happening around you, your family can point you in the right direction, introduce you to the right people etc. But so what? In the end, only the work matters. I liked these paintings before I visited his site and read his bio. I don't care what his background is.

Posted by: JV on July 16, 2009 11:35 AM



Okay. I give in. Let's make BTM the American Art Czar and give him a well armed, well trained, paramilitary unit dedicated to rounding up and eliminating any and all artists who fail to meet his criteria for excellence.

Side note: Couldn't families with multi-generational runs of successful arts producers (e.g. the Bachs, Bruegels, Wyeths, etc.) be seen as the result of genetic predisposition combined with members being surrounded by art as they grow up rather than the cynical manipulation of the art market by evil modernists?

Posted by: Chris White on July 16, 2009 11:59 AM



FYI -- the bar in the last painting posted is the Old King Cole bar, located in the St. Regis hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Posted by: Rover on July 16, 2009 12:47 PM



Okay. I give in. Let's make BTM the American Art Czar and give him a well armed, well trained, paramilitary unit dedicated to rounding up and eliminating any and all artists who fail to meet his criteria for excellence.

I didn't realize that having an informed opinion and expressing it was a form of totalitarianism! I don't want to be an art Czar. I just think the work is highly mediocre. Guys like Aronson really are a dime a dozen. How dare an audience have an opinion!

Chris White once again uses his persecution complex to make any kind of criticism a form of victimhood and attack. Donald has had many posts where he showed painters that I like. I see that you choose to ignore those.

Side note: Couldn't families with multi-generational runs of successful arts producers (e.g. the Bachs, Bruegels, Wyeths, etc.) be seen as the result of genetic predisposition combined with members being surrounded by art as they grow up rather than the cynical manipulation of the art market by evil modernists?

Are you comparing this photo-copying to Bach? With a straight face?

I guess it could be seen as a genetic predisposition like that. Or it could be the kind of genetic predisposition the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Astors enjoy--one based on position and not merit.

You know--one where people collude to rig a market.

Is there no evil in your world?

Posted by: BTM on July 16, 2009 2:50 PM



BTM - My world does include evil. It also includes stupidity, banality, and a host of other lesser ills. Another thing it has that I find particularly irritating and too often respond to with excessive sarcasm is someone displaying the kind of arrogance that presumes their own aesthetic taste is so elevated as to have become factual rather than merely their opinion.

You've expressed your opinion that art should be left to the private market, with no public funding, because only the private market will allow great art to flourish. Art you dislike that succeeds in the marketplace could not have done so because it honestly resonates with anyone else's honest aesthetic but must be the result of collusion and market rigging. Aren't these self-contradictory stances? To reconcile them wouldn't it require truly objective criteria for determining the value of art objects or performances and equally object regulatory oversight of the market in which they are offered? Which gets us back to where you might claim it is possible to have objective criteria whereas I will deny that possibility. If you were correct, wouldn't Microsoft or Google already have created a program to identify, if not create, images which are aesthetically beautiful and compelling?

FWIW I was making no effort to compare the quality of the music Bach and a few of his many children composed with the quality of paintings produced by either the various members of the Wyeth or Aronson clans, merely grabbing some well known examples of families that seem to have a predisposition toward art making.

As to the real subject of the thread, my take on the work of Ben Aronson based on the images presented here is that they appear pleasing and competent, if not particularly compelling. My favorite is "Closed Ramp, West Side Highway – 1997" followed by the homage to Hopper. I suspect the artist does refer to photos, which can be a very useful tool ... just as it can be a limiting crutch. In his case I like the effects he gets that might be the result of studying photographic images, such as his depiction of the city canyon, top lighting, reflections on cars Donald noted.

Posted by: Chris White on July 16, 2009 5:26 PM



Chris White: "...I suspect the artist does refer to photos, which can be a very useful tool ... just as it can be a limiting crutch. In his case I like the effects he gets that might be the result of studying photographic images, such as his depiction of the city canyon, top lighting, reflections on cars Donald noted."

I agree, it really depends on what the artist is after and how he/she uses them. There is nothing inherently wrong with using photos, if one is aware of the idiosyncrasies or potential for distortions that cameras produce. For some subjects, I'm not sure else how one would be able to depict something, particularly subjects involving a lot of rapid motion, or portraits that aim to capture unselfconscious moments where the individual's personality is revealed, as opposed to the frozen studio posing that characterizes so much bland 'artist society' and atelier portraiture done today.

Posted by: KR on July 16, 2009 6:05 PM



Another thing it has that I find particularly irritating and too often respond to with excessive sarcasm is someone displaying the kind of arrogance that presumes their own aesthetic taste is so elevated as to have become factual rather than merely their opinion

I gave an opinion that differs from yours, and often do. That's what you find irritating because you are an intolerant jerk. It also irks you that I know what I'm talking about. Too bad for you.

The quality of Aronson's work is mediocre at best, and his family is similar. The Bach family is famous for its quality music, same with the Wyeths and art. Maybe if this clan doesn't show that aptitude (which they don't), their presence in the art world is more akin to the Kennedy's in politics--it being about connections and $ and not quality. Why is that difficult to handle?

This guy is a dime a dozen and his artist statement is some of the most pretentious crap I've ever read. I don't like his work, and there is nothing special about it. If you disagree with that, then show me what's so great about it.

Posted by: BTM on July 17, 2009 12:21 AM



BTM, what specifically do you find mediocre about this work? I know you don't like compositions derived from photos, but what precisely about that do you find objectionable? I do think the streetscapes are more successful than the figures, but I've been looking at literally hundreds of artist websites from every state in the U.S. for over a year and I haven't seen all that many artists working like this (granted, there is selection bias in my unofficial survey in that I'm not looking at a significant number of gallery artists). I see far many more 'Salmagundi Club' type artists working in very slick, very homogeneous styles.

Posted by: KR on July 17, 2009 10:32 AM



KR,

BTM, what specifically do you find mediocre about this work? I know you don't like compositions derived from photos, but what precisely about that do you find objectionable?

I don't find his work objectionable at all. To me though, its simply very mediocre.

The reason that I think it is mediocre is that I'm familiar with the realism movement and I see paintings like this constantly, by many different artists. It's become pretty cliche. That's all. I'd just like to see something different and creative.

I keep thinking that the New Realism will somehow produce painters like Brangwyn, or Mucha, or Boldini, etc., but rather than getting better, the work seems to be getting more mediocre. I don't know why that is unless it's being steered in that direction. Every other field seems to be full of creativity, but not painting. I can't firgure out why.

Posted by: BTM on July 17, 2009 3:08 PM



Probably many talented visual artists are now drawn to digital media. Certainly plenty of breathtaking innovation going on in that field.

Posted by: JV on July 17, 2009 4:01 PM



BTW, thanks for the reply. I'm not familiar with the artists you mentioned, but I'll check them out to see how they compare. As far as seeing something different and creative,are you referring to subject matter, treatment or both?

Posted by: KR on July 17, 2009 8:22 PM



KR,

As far as seeing something different and creative,are you referring to subject matter, treatment or both?

Bingo! Yes, both.

By the way KR, check out guys like Dean Cornwell, J.C. Leyendecker, Abram Arkhipov, Joaquin Sorolla, and Anders Zorn too. If you haven't seen their work before, you're in for a real treat.

Posted by: BTM on July 18, 2009 12:25 AM



BTM, I checked out the first 3, and I am familiar with Mucha's Art Nouveau graphic design but just didn't place the name when I read it. Yes, I see what you mean. Brangwyn looks to me to be more of an overall draftsmen, even when working in watercolor. Being a drawer first and foremost myself, I do like that a lot, and he's probably the most original and interesting of the 3 in terms of the subjects and the technique and style. Boldini was a contemporary and from what I understand derivative of Sargent, and while I generally like his bold and expressive brushwork, in his full length portraits of upper class women it becomes a bit of an affectation. But in my search I found a couple smaller, more informal portraits that were wonderfully done. Mucha's work is very original, but probably not as directly comparable as it is really more commercial art.
To me, Aronson's work is simply very modern in both subject and execution. Instead of asking if a painting or drawing looks like what it is depicting, I always go a step further and ask if it *feels* like what it is supposed to be, and Aronson's streetscapes do feel like 'the modern city' to me, and take me back to the days when I was going to art school in a major city and walked every day from the train station to the high rise where I had classes. They work for me, even though they are not like the work you referred me to.
I'll definitely check out the other artists you mentioned, as I am always on the lookout for new artists to study. Thanks!

Posted by: KR on July 18, 2009 10:47 AM



Just to see what reactions there might be .... three artists who show with a major NYC gallery that primarily handles pop and abstract modernists [Paul Kasmin] who have strong traditional ties (although not entirely, of course). Walton Ford, Mark Innerst, T.R. Ericsson. Ford especially is an intriguing painter with contemporary conceptual concerns but who uses very traditional techniques and (at least on first impact) imagery.

Posted by: Chris White on July 18, 2009 3:41 PM






Post a comment
Name:


Email Address:


URL:


Comments:



Remember your info?