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Archive for the ‘Imagination’ Category

Alain de Botton published this book in 2006. His prose can be purple and dense.  You’ll be inclined to read slowly and thoughtfully.  That’s a good thing because you’ll want to reflect on our built environment.  How does the space you live in effect you—your view of life and your  imagination?

I recommend you savor the book at your own pace whenever you get to it, but watch the three episodes that he narrates on you tube—as soon as possible:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80fb7Lt0z58

Why the urgency and why now? Simply put, because we go for walks now.  It’s nice to head for the woods, but it’s also stimulating to walk through the half deserted streets of our towns.  Alain de Botton will nudge you to observe and question why buildings are the way they are.  Do the buildings you encounter and the spaces you enter make you feel happy, optimistic, resourceful, energetic?  Or, do you feel, ermm, locked down?

 

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A banana in a grocery store is an excellent source of potassium.  You go to the grocery store for practical reasons. You evaluate the displayed fruits and vegetables according to how they will benefit your body.  You pay money for things that will impact your life and improve it immediately.

A banana taped to a  museum wall is a mind game.

You go to the museum for no practical reason at all.  The entrance you pay at a museum doesn’t get you anything.  Why on earth would you go to such a place?!  You go precisely because you feel it’s time for a mind game.  You want to have your brain scrambled.  Name a piece of art that didn’t have that effect on you!

Correction:  Name a piece of MODERN Art that wasn’t a mind game. That’s because art since the middle of the 19th century has engaged the viewer in the literal sense of that word,   meaning involve.  Meaning you have to think about it, to puzzle it out.

Engaging with Modern Art means identifying your assumptions and expectations.  That takes practice.

You don’t even have to go to a museum to practice that, you can do it anywhere, with anything.  Right now, for example.  Go to your kitchen and look at a banana and at the assumptions you have in your head about its characteristics, like the color yellow.

Becoming aware of your assumptions and expectations is actually easier in a museum than in your kitchen. That’s because in the museum the objects are already taken out of their normal, habitual context.  A banana taped to a museum wall is a mind game if you stare down your assumptions about what’s supposed to be on museum walls and what art is supposed to be.

If you think museums should show this…

and this…

and this…

…you’re also being asked to play mind games.  You may think that ancient images are more real and therefore not mind games.  But that’s because we tend to be in awe of very old objects, whether coins, pottery, murals, inscriptions, monuments or paintings.  Even in their own day, they already were mind games.

Actually, you don’t have to think about anything.  But what’s the fun in that?

 

I recommend this article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/arts/design/banana-art-guggenheim.html

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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At first glance you may see a slap dash watercolor sketch, maybe a preparation for a painting.

Look again.  Take time to look.  Stay with it.

Two things will happen. One, you notice that he works with a very limited palette: blue, green and sepia with a touch of yellow.  Two, the white of the paper showing through serves to define shapes.

To see how brilliant this painting is, let’s mess with it.  Let’s imagine some passer-by looked over his shoulder and suggested he “cheer it up” by adding some bright colors.  Why not put in some flowers?  Like this…

Doesn’t work.  It’s a contemporary cliché to say bright colors cheer things up.  “ Brighten things up,” we say.  By demanding attention, bright colors spoil the overall effect and break up the composition.

Now, what about the composition.  It’s quite rigorous, actually.

Far from being a surface of daubs, this painting hangs together by calculated geometry.

Go back to the top and look at Sargent’s painting again.  Squint a little and eliminate the two figures and their straight-edged objects: books, easel, stool, and palette.  Now the waterfall and the foliage are hardly discernible and the painting really is a mess of daubs.

Watercolor is the most demanding painting medium.  You have to plan way ahead because corrections will gum up your surface.  To make the painting luminous—the desired effect—the white of the paper has to stay pristine.  Meaning, no corrections!

And negative space!  Notice how the painter’s right shoulder is indicated indirectly, by having the background push against its contour.  Ditto the book of the friend.  Find other examples.

This painting , btw, is from 1914.

John Singer Sargent,  1856-1925

Related posts about Sargent:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/john-singer-sargents-hands/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/the-pleasure-of-plein-air-painting-and-john-singer-sargent-again/

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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FigureRosso

At the end of class there’s never enough time, it seems, to transition from the rich web of associations that has been spinning in our minds to the rules of the road in the practical world out there. I sometimes forget to take photos of the students’ work and sometimes I’m too rushed when I make the rounds with my camera.

As you can see, the photo of this student’s drawing was taken in haste.  It’s obviously blurred. You can barely make out the head and upper torso of a draped figure.

I do wish I had a clear shot of that fine drawing.

But I don’t regret having this blurry view.  I immediately found it moving.

The feelings of incompletion and ambiguity have been threads running through the past few posts.  Look at this photo for a while and observe what happens in your mind.

There are examples of mystery and “veiledness” that go back quite a ways in Western Art.  My first association was to Medardo Rosso’s heads of children.  Up next.

Drawing by Chelsea. Graphite on paper, ~12″ x 10″

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Hoya1

Same plant.  More daring.

I call this view of the plant more daring because it’s not centered.

When the object of your gaze is not centered, you’re likely think it is…

not traditional

unbalanced

incomplete

unexpected

surprising

edgy

engaging

modern

Which of these stands out because it contains all the others?

If you say “modern” you might be running a gallery or ready to start one.

If you say “engaging”  your insight goes to the heart of the matter. Because the drawing is incomplete, unbalanced, surprising, etc, you sit up and pay attention. The viewer is challenged to participate in completing the view of the plant.  The art experience becomes a conversation.  That’s how we as moderns relate to art.

This drawing also says “incomplete.”  We see it as a work in progress.  That’s how we experience conversations when we’re in them.

For that reason we want to see the marks on paper as just that, marks on paper.  We can see that more marks may come.  Therefore we want to see the paper as paper with all the sense of potential that that implies: show the unmarked edges when you mat it.   See above.

The sharp edge of the mat, announcing this drawing is finished, conveys a misleading  feeling.  Do you agree?

Hoya1CleanMat

See also:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/16/just-a-plant/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/and-now-a-message-from-the-mat/

Drawing by Sunja Kim.  Graphite on paper, 18”x 12”

 

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Giamatti1

“There’s really not much to do. I’ve tried to do a little writing. I’ve been drawing again, which I hadn’t done in many years,   that’s been a wonderful thing, actually, having this time on one’s hands, to take up things again….A lot of my life I wanted to be some kind of artist, a cartoonist or some sort of illustrator…

All I can do is sort of weird funny faces…I just kind of do these faces…I got a lot of time on my hands….honestly, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…I never really took any lessons….It’s been fun to do it again….it’s been a good thing.”

Giamatti is in a Zoom (or Zoom-ish) conversation with Stephen Colbert and he’s saying that this self-isolation has a good effect.  He has rediscovered the pleasure of drawing!

At that point the conversation had a chance of going deeper into how drawing feels in the mind, how it’s developed over centuries, how it’s taught or not taught and such, but this is TV, so Colbert takes the shallow turn and suggests Giamatti could do a graphic novel. That’s ok.

Nevertheless, we had witnessed a subtle moment in American television:   we heard a big star saying to another big star in the entertainment industry that being alone in your quiet room and drawing—that is a wonderful thing.

Yes, it is.

 

You can see that conversation at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9B8ij0GGBI

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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103ClassMOIChardin2

Working on a drawing is a kind of conversation.  It’s an interaction between the artist and her materials, her graphite sticks, erasers, paper texture and size.   When you’re in the process you may not think of it as a conversation because you’re so involved, but later, when you’re asked to verbalize what it feels like, you may analogize it to a conversation.  Then the conversation comes to a conclusion and you call the work finished.

You think you’re finished when your drawing is finished.

But then a whole other conversation starts.  Now the mat has to put in its two cents. It says, here or…here? Do you want to have a clean edge with the mat overlapping the pencil marks (see above) or do you want to show how the pencil marks fade into the blank drawing paper (below)?

103ClassMOIChardin1

You can see that the feeling is quite different.

In class I showed both versions. The consensus was in favor or version two, the pencil marks fading into the blank drawing paper. The students had no difficulty articulating why they liked this version better.

Well, what is the difference in feeling?

The question will come up again, soon.  It’s worth reflecting on with more examples to consider.

 

Drawing by  Katherine Hilden. Homage to Chardin. Graphite and white conté on toned paper, 18”x26”

 

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RedOnions

The painter Françoise Gilot met Picasso in 1943. They lived together from 1946 to 1953, dividing their time between Paris and the south of France, where they paid frequent visits to Matisse, who lived nearby.  Her book Matisse and Picasso, a Friendship in Art (1990) gives us a glimpse into how hard everybody worked.

Both Picasso and Matisse are world famous and immeasurably wealthy by this time.  What impresses me as I read this book is that neither of them is interested in fame, interviews or paparazzi.  During their visits they talk about art. Matisse is working on an extensive project for the Vence Chapel, designing textiles and murals. When Picasso and Gilot get home they are back at their easels, painting late into the night.

At the beginning of the chapter entitled A Merry-Go-Round of Objects we see a photo of objects often used in Matisse’s still-life paintings.

MatissePots

Gilot writes:

In the twentieth century, with the decline of historical and religious painting, the end of the Symbolist movement, and the freedom of choice in subject matter, still lifes reached equal status with other themes or nonthematic works, and great painters renewed this form of art and brought it to new heights. 

From the start Matisse recognized the importance of still lifes in his own development.  He copied one of books and a candle from a composition by Chardin and others from deHeem.  (p.145)

 

Being an artist is so easy. All you need is a few ordinary pots and the perseverance to paint all day and late into the night.

 

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954

The Red Onions, 1906

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973

Françoise Gilot, b. 1921

 

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In 1915 Matisse, at the age of 45, painted his variation on Jan de Heem’s “A Table of Desserts.”   The Dutch still life, 80 inches long, depicts heaps of fruit and pies on an enormous table, accompanied by a lute and decorative objects, in front of some architectural structures that are partly obscured by, what else, a swath of red-maroon drapery.  The image is a fantastic, exuberant invention. You can say those grapes are so realistically painted, they make your moth water.  Not to mention that gashed-open pie.  Imagine standing in front of this huge painting, being entranced by its realism.

Now shake your head and tell yourself to wake up.  This is not realism.  Every object in this painting is painted to seduce you into thinking it’s real, but the whole pile of stuff, wall to wall, is assembled in the most contrived way.  Ask yourself what it would take to construct this scene out of three-dimensional material.

So, it’s not realism.  It’s a construction.  And all the more wonderful for being an invention!  That was 1640.

Now in 1915 Matisse sees this painting at the Louvre and feels so drawn to it that he has to do his own riff on this fantastic composition.  He will paint his own invention inspired by de Heem’s invention.  Why not!  It’s the 20th century!

Matisse’s painting is also big, about 6 feet long.  I saw this a few years ago when the Art Institute of Chicago had a Matisse show.  Breathtaking.

Let’s play with this.

Stare at Matisse’s painting so that you see only

-the yellow areas

-the blues & greens

-the red bits

-the black

-where lines converge

-curved lines

-straight lines

This takes time.  Don’t rush. Do this over several days.

Now notice that yellow, orange and red come forward in the picture plane.  The cool colors—blue and green—recede.  Practice seeing that. Stay with it.  Some colors come forward, some recede, and what you get is a sense of depth. Foreground, background, transition. It’s powerful.

He does this without any of the techniques perfected in the Renaissance, which he knew very well.  No perspective, no chiaroscuro.

When you look at Matisse, you’re contemplating the painting and your own contemplation. It’s a bit much, isn’t it.

Ah, Matisse!

 

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954

Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1606 -1684

 

https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/table-desserts

 

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Copying an admired work of art is a highly recommended exercise for any art student and for any artist at any age.  We know that as a student Matisse spent many days at the Louvre copying paintings,  by Chardin, for example, and that he continued the practice as a mature artist.

Or take Picasso.  In 1957 Picasso—at the age of seventy-six—did more than fifty variations (“riffs”) on Velazquez’ Las Meninas, a painting he greatly admired.

http://www.blogmuseupicassobcn.org/2015/11/the-inhabitants-of-the-museum-las-meninas-2/?lang=en

So when we took Chardin’s Still Life with Peaches and Mug (Cup) as our subject for study we were following an honorable tradition.

One of the students in that class copied and then riffed on the motif by plopping a hand full of peonies into the mug.  Peonies?  Or a riff on peonies?  Pure invention!

You may think the peonies are a decorative embellishment, an indulgence of prettiness.

But I think this is witty. I see drama. It’s the centripetal vs the centrifugal.

The cluster of fruit with pear and peaches reads like a classic still life, perfectly executed as if were a 19th century submission for entrance into the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It is serene and balanced, rendering the spheres convincingly three-dimensional with faithful observation of shadow gradations and reflected light.

If you try to stay centered in this serenity, good luck, because the turbulence at the right is coming to get you.

The petals of the peonies are as exquisitely articulated as the peaches, but they are of a different vitality.  Where the round fruits say “centripetal density,” the peony petals are centrifugally chaotic.

Notice that the flower petals do not touch the fruit. The student/artist shows us these ordinary objects arranged on a shelf, fruit and flowers, but they are of two different domains. The knife cuts right through the divide. If the flower petals overlapped the fruit spheres, this “still life with fruit and flowers” would be just what you’d expect, harmonious.  It would be uneventful.

At its best, the work of copying an admired painting is not an act of obedience, but a conversation. My guess is that Chardin would enjoy this conversation and would encourage more of “le riff” on his paintings.

Drawing by Selina, graphite on paper, 12”x18”

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