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MondrianTree6

Oh, trees!

If you’re a Mondrian-lover you stand in front of one of his paintings, like the one above, and exclaim, “I just love the way he painted trees!”  Right?

You have a friend who doesn’t understand Mondrian, so you volunteer to give her a tour of the moderns at the Art Institute of Chicago or the MoMa.  You position yourselves in front of the Mondrians, and you learnedly explain that here we have the essence of tree-ness.  Right?

Mondrian was painting simplified trees.  Right?

Mondrian drew diagrams of trees. Right?

Abstract trees. Right?

Oh, please!

No one has ever looked at a Mondrian and seen trees. Right?

Right!!!!!

Then why do we constantly get the evolution of his paintings—The Mondrians—from trees.

http://emptyeasel.com/2007/04/17/piet-mondrian-the-evolution-of-pure-abstract-paintings/

MondrianTree1

[The] process of simplification and reduction would continue until he wasn’t even painting from nature at all.

The rise of Cubism also gave Mondrian a means to segment and reduce objects to their most basic forms.

MondrianTree2

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived in Paris when he was in his early 40’s.  There he met Braque and other Cubists.

To interpret Cubism as “reducing objects to their most basic forms”  is as blatantly ridiculous as the other cliché about cubism, namely that a cubist painting shows us an object from all four sides.  I’ll post just one example here, Picasso’s “Portrait of D.H. Kahnweiler,” 1910. Have a good look. You are seeing Mr. Kahnweiler’s “basic forms” and you’re seeing him from all “four sides.” Correct?

kahnweil

Really?

LOOK!

Cubism is so scary to think about that people, even otherwise intelligent people, repeat these absurdities about “basic forms” and “four sides.”  You’ll find this sort of thing not only on internet pages but, with more academic circumlocutions, in serious publications. The Cubists—Picasso and Braque–are scary to think about because they made a clean break with the past.  Naughty, naughty. Thou shalt honor thy father and mother…  The only father the Cubists honored was Cézanne and he, in Robert Hughes’ words, painted DOUBT.

Let’s see now, we don’t have any commandments honoring doubt.

In 1910, art that threw out all previous assumptions was difficult to take.  Still is.  But doubt is so much more invigorating than having answers without first having questions.  Medieval certainties and Renaissance illustrations of mythological characters are not invigorating, are they?!

The Cubists—and they didn’t call themselves that—came up with something new.  The painting is now not an illustration but a work in its own right.

You must be kidding?  In its own right?  The audacity!

That’s right.  Audacity.

So, are Mondrian’s paintings abstractions or essences or diagrams of trees?  No.  They are something completely new.  They stand in their own right as objects.  Something to contemplate.

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

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16FebArches
These cropped forms suggest some architectural element, with variations. Or, maybe, chair backs. In any case, something well designed, serious and possibly monumental. At the same time, unstable and meaningless. If they are structures, you can see that they lack bracing but are, nevertheless, solid. They’re grand in some way. And there are many of them, this we can infer from the cropping.
This, therefore, is a painting that at first glance suggests clarity of statement. But if you fall for its seduction, you’ll soon chase yourself in circular thinking and you end up not “getting” it at all. This is a good thing. You’re looking at art.
Painting by Harold Bauer. Oil on canvas, ~30” x 24”
16FebArchesFlipNow let’s flip it horizontally. Oh, look! The flipped version seems much friendlier, more accessible. It lacks the gravitas of the original. I would not ponder this version, I would consider it “lite,” a bit decorative, merely clever.
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In her essay on German realism, George Eliot says: “The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies…Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.”

Quote found in James Wood’s  How Fiction Works, p 171.

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15JanHandsCharcoal
Treat yourself to an afternoon of drawing hands!
Hands. Are you kidding?
The hand is arguably the most difficult thing to draw. It takes some practice. But, look, there’s no excuse, it’s always there. Just draw it.
Actually drawing your left hand (or your right hand if you’re a lefty) is not that easy, since it’s hard to hold it steady and in a comfortable position. Therefore, I recommend that you draw from photos of hands, which are ubiquitous in our ad-crazed culture. Your desk is full of junk mail showing hands holding a product or pointing to one. It’s not junk mail, it’s a treat.
Barbara Heaton in my drawing class worked from a photo of two hands. She drew with a graphite stick on white textured paper that she had previously rubbed gray with graphite powder. The white highlights were created by erasing the graphite down to the original white paper, about 12”x14”. Is this not breathtaking?
This is classical drawing. I hope it never gets boring.
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RedSplash
Are you sure?
Well, now, let me get out the rule book and check.
That’s an imaginary exchange. I ask the question, are you allowed to do this, when there’s a splash on a painting and the painting feels finished. It’s a rhetorical question, since everybody knows the answer. What I meant when I first asked the question, months ago, must have been obvious. I think it might be the tone of my voice when I say those words. No student has ever said, no we’re not allowed to make a splash and let the paint drip. The answer is yes. YES! And yet, the questions needs to be asked over and over again.

Painting by Keren Vishny, oil on canvas, ~36×24. 2014
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Nov2014
Yes, it’s all rectangles and squares. What an interesting challenge! Wherever you look, it’s all 90° and you think this should look stable and fixed. Not so. It’s all motion and speed. How do you make a painting consisting of right angles so lively?! Try to look away. Gotcha!

Our visual apparatus evolved to detect motion. Frogs can only see what moves. If you don’t want to be associated with frogs in your family tree, try to remember what it’s like to sit in a train while reading. It’s hard, because your eyes are attracted to the blur and motion at the window. Maybe a painting that simulates the effect of motion holds our attention for the same reason. But this painting does not illustrate motion.
Let’s look at an illustration of motion.

HorsesBeachHere we have a specific instance, a narrative of motion. Horses and riders on a beach can evoke the memory of a beach, the smell of the ocean, the energy of young men and the power of horses. Notice that all these are specific memories and as such they’re limited and limiting.
In the painting,  our experience is deeper. Without a narrative as a hook and employing a most restrained composition, it moves us to introspect on how perception itself works.  We have to ask how this is possible.  And that’s endlessly fascinating.
Painting by Maria Palacios, 30×40. Oil on canvas.
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14DavidWilmette3
The Wilmette Public Library has a life-size replica of David’s head. It was a gift to the library some 14DavidWilmette4years ago and then the library didn’t know what to do with it. Who knew!? Well, very few people. It’s in an acrylic case, in the basement, behind the elevator.
What a treasure! Anybody can go behind the elevator with a drawing pad and a pencil, pull up a chair and treat her-himself to a couple of hours of studying that head. I took my drawing class there recently. Drawing from plaster casts 14DavidWilmette1was standard practice in art schools through the 19th century and well into the 20th. I can’t think of a better way to study the anatomy of a face. Look at the eyes, for example, you can clearly see how the eyelids wrap around the sphere of the eyeball.
Of course, Michelangelo’s David is an idealized, heroic figure. The fate of all heroism in our age is parody. I have my own mild caricature of dear old David, from about thirteen years ago.

01MyDavidSpoof

For a few more, see
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syVGfnuDXDE
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