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Posts Tagged ‘Cezanne’

16septlargedrapepot

Draw a portion of the still life so that your drawing will have a definite shape on the page.  That was the assignment.  I brought in large 20160922_144208textured paper, 30” x 22”, and encouraged everyone to work in charcoal or very soft graphite.

Notice that the pot in reality is big.  Does it have to be drawn big? No.  The pot and the drapery should be drawn in such a way that they sit nicely on the page.  The artist adjusted the size of the pot so that it becomes part of the arc of the composition.

The arc could have been drawn as if floating in space, but the artist suggests some terra firma by putting in a line to indicate a table top.  Notice that the table top line is broken cezanne-sl-applesbehind the pot.  Cézanne plays this game in his paintings all the time. We’re not committed to documenting reality. The goal is to create a lively page.

Drawing by Jeanne Mueller, charcoal on paper, 30” x 22”

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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.

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15JaneWhatFour
You’re not inclined to interpret this painting. You’re probably not asking “what is the significance of the number four, what does it symbolize or refer to, what is the sum of all the fours here and what would be the meaning of that large number, ditto for multiplication,” etc. This kind of interpreting is what we used to do. For example, when you look at this painting by Nicolaes Maes, you can’t help but try to figure out what the NicolaesMaesIdleServantartist is illustrating. Why did the artist put in the cat, the sleeping maid, the guests in the background? What is the hostess saying to us by gesturing that way? What was the social status of servants in mid-17th-century Holland?
We stopped digging for meaning about a hundred years ago. I recently found this 1923 Picasso quote in an announcement of the current MoMA show: “Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the songs of a bird?”
If this sounds perverse, it’s because prior to about 1900 images were used for didactic purposes and that’s what we got used to. They illustrated a story, a myth, a compositional ideal, an ideal ratio, an ideal body, an ideal color relation, etc. Ideals are culturally defined and over time get enshrined as absolute and immovable. By the early 20th century, these ossified standards were crumbling in Western culture: in the place of capital-t Truth we got evolution, relativity, psychoanalysis and the leveling of social classes. This is not to say that Cézanne, Manet, VanGogh, Matisse and Picasso were now illustrating these new theories. Not at all. They painted in a new way because to be alive at that time felt new.
The major societal shift involved the relationship between artist and client. Whereas before, the artist was a servant, he is now of the same middle class as his client. Whereas before, the client (pope, emperor, czar, king, archbishop, et al) was interested in the finished product and how it promoted his power status, now the client becomes more and more interested in how the work is put together and what philosophical dynamics those artistic processes embody. Whereas before, the work of art “appeared” in a mythical sense, like Athena from the head of Zeus, now the painting or sculpture shows the traces –the brush strokes, the chisel marks, the scratches, the nuts and bolts—of how it was made.
This is why the reviewers of art exhibits and the critics in art magazines like Art in America and Artforum will write at great length about the process that went into the making of the work of art. Most of the writing does not attempt interpretation of the pre-19th century kind at all. It’s assumed that you, as a contemporary, love process. You love to stand in front of a painting or sculpture and try to figure out how the artist made this thing. Reconstructing the process will trigger empathy with the artist, will vicariously pump you up with energy and, generally, make your day. Later you’ll meet a friend for lunch and, gesturing energetically,try to convey your aesthetic experience.
Well then, what was the process behind “What Four?” You can see that the painting, 30” x 40”, started as a color study: blue/purple and greens. What followed was only one layer of paint, but a layer produced through complex procedure. The artist, Jane Donaldson, decided to mix media. The first layer is painting. This second layer is printmaking. She carved the letter four on a linoleum plate. She painted it white and pressed it onto the canvas, one four after the other, until the white paint was worn from the plate. She now inked the plate again and started another set of “four,” and so on.
I find this very exciting. It has something child-like about it, but at the same time it hearkens back to that incision in Western civilization when in 1439 Johannes Gutenberg invented printing in Mainz, Germany, and literature was able to take off. Without printing, no Renaissance, without the Renaissance, well, you know, on and on.
That’s one of the chain reactions set off in the mind. There are others, because the process of decline/degeneration/fading and rejuvenation/fresh start is so true to the experience of life. The process tempts you to interpret metaphorically, but remains unspecific. It reverberates deeply in the imagination because it is visually rich. That richness comes from its process.
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ReflectedLightCanYes, why is that? (Continued from previous post.)
The drawing of the cylinder in the class demo was about 2” high. Everybody stood around and watched how I did it and listened to the straight-forward explanation of how this works. It took 2-3 minutes. So quick, so easy. Students love the effect created by the Reflected Light. They understand how the effect is IMG_3988created. Then they set out to draw a still life that’s full of curved shapes that clearly invite practicing the shading illusion that involves reflected light—bowls, pears, drapery—and, look, IMG_3989they don’t bother with reflected light.
Something else happens in their drawings.
Why is that? I don’t know, but it’s fascinating to me. And the drawings they produce are fascinating. These are all interesting drawings and so IMG_3991MODERN! The markmaking in one reminds me of Cézanne. Another student draws as loosely as Matisse. The drawing with the suitcase hinge, playing on the opposition between line and surface, looks like a modern graphic.
The charcoal pencil drawing, below, shows that the IMG_3986artist certainly has the dexterity to play the
Reflected Light trick, but she chooses not to. She skips the hard won technique that reigned supreme for four-hundred years in Western Art and plunks herself down in the art-deco 1920’s, Leger1922right next to Leger. And behold, the pears look like pears and the bowl curves as you expect it to curve.
In a few weeks I’ll do the Reflected Light demo again. There will be oohs and aahs and eye-rolling admiration for Caravaggio. And then what? I won’t be surprised when I stroll through the classroom-studio and see drawings that honor Cézanne, Matisse and Leger. Dyed in the wool moderns, all. How did this happen? Don’t know. But it’s fascinating.

(Fernand Leger, 1881-1955)
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Kandinski3
This extensive exhibit of Kandinsky’s work is well worth the hour-and-a-half drive to Milwaukee’s Calatrava by the Lake. Word has gotten out that the show closes Sept 1st and if you’ll go in the next three days, you’ll have to share the gallery with a large, rather elegant crowd.

I was there two days ago and heard a women say, “he was arrogant.” Well, consider this: you’re meeting a 19th century Russian aristocrat who gave up law to study art in Paris, convinced that the avant-garde’s mission was to elevate human consciousness from lowly realism to a lofty, spiritual, transforming art.
About “spiritual.” Kandinsky’s short, pity book Über das Geistige in der Kunst , 1911, appeared in English in 1914 as The Art of Spiritual Harmony. The title was later changed to Concerning the Spiritual in Art, a more literal translation of the original German, but still, there’s that troublesome word “spiritual.” In New Age parlance “spiritual” is used to mean “good, feeling, non-thinking, non-analytical … inclusive, us.” Geistig in German doesn’t mean any of that, however.
In German Geist means ghost + spirit + intellect. So, at universities you can study a Naturwissenschaft or a Geisteswissenschaft. Wissen = to know, Wissenschaft = science, knowledge. So, Naturwissenschaft = natural science, that’s easy to see. Geisteswissenschaft means “Humanities.” Here you’re studying the mind: philosophy, art, history, literature, et al. It’s definitely intellectual. You can see that this doesn’t at all remind you of crystals, pyramids, and holding hands around a bonfire at the winter solstice.
Around 1900, when Kandinskiystudied art in Paris and Munich, his mind was spinning in the explosions of all the arts, the Geisteswissenschaften. The achievements of the Renaissance had exhausted themselves—there’s just so far you can go with anatomy, perspective and mixing oil paint to create the illusion of flesh tones. The revolt against Renaissance principles that we see in Cézanne, Braque and Picasso (just naming a few) went hand in hand with an anti-hierarchical social & political consciousness. Renaissance art was seen to glorify wealth, power, status—what Kandinsky calls “the nightmare of materialism.” To negate all that, where did artists turn for inspiration? They were inspired by and identified with the uncivilized, with African and Oceanic art. Kandinsky felt a spiritual (geistig) relationship to “primitives,” who, he writes “sought to express in their work only internal truths.”
You can see that “internal” is a synonym of geistig. And you can see that this verbal analysis is getting tedious and self-referential. In his book, Kandinsky tries to get at his feeling for art—and it is about feeling, despite the categorizations and definitions—but it’s only when we see the analogy between painting and music, where words fail, that we get what he’s getting at. (We’ll do that in the next post.)
Here’s Kandinsky, from Concerning the Spiritual in Art:
“The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip. Only a feeble light glimmers like a tiny star in a vast gulf of darkness. This feeble light is but a presentiment, and the soul, when it sees it, trembles in doubt whether the light is not a dream, and the gulf of darkness reality. This doubt, and the still harsh tyranny of the materialistic philosophy, divide our soul sharply from that of the Primitives. Our soul rings cracked when we seek to play upon it, as does a costly vase, long buried in the earth, which is found to have a flaw when it is dug up once more. For this reason, the Primitive phase, through which we are now passing, with its temporary similarity of form, can only be of short duration.
These two possible resemblances between the art forms of today and those of the past will be at once recognized as diametrically opposed to one another. The first, being purely external, has no future. The second, being internal, contains the seed of the future within itself. After the period of materialistic effort, which held the soul in check until it was shaken off as evil, the soil is emerging, purged by trials and sufferings. Shapeless emotions such as fear, joy, grief, etc., which belonged to this time of effort, will no longer greatly attract the artist. He will endeavor to awake subtler emotions, as yet unnamed. Living himself a complicated and comparatively subtle life, his work will give to those observers capable of feeling them lofty emotions beyond the reach of words.”
Arrogant? Try courageous.
He was not alone in his energy and courage. Think of the courage it took to be Woolfe, Joyce, Ravel, Stravinsky, Mahler, Strauss, Rilke, Kafka, Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Kokoschka, et al. Think of all the censors, ridicules, accusations of insanity and immorality, and all those vegetables and rotten eggs thrown at the stage. Nobody knew if modernism would survive.

Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944

“Impression III (Concert),” 1911, oil on canvas

Quote from “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” translated by M.T.H. Sadler, 1914

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When I set up a still life for my drawing class, I look at the placement of the objects from all angles and do some fine tuning to allow for interesting compositions.  But the objects themselves?  Nothing fine-tuned or interesting about them. For this class, I brought in some very stressed, dirty gardening gloves.  What else? An old piece of crockery from the supply shelf and a plastic flower.  These objects don’t come close to the idea of beauty as it has been handed down to us through Western Art.  My modern sensibility is moved to appreciate a fine drawing inspired by—what?—refuse.

As he started to work on this fine drawing, Linné first took the time to look.  This may seem like an obvious first step, but looking, really looking takes practice and discipline.  I’m reminded of Cézanne, who spent a lot of time just looking quietly without working the brushes and paints.

A number of things are impressive about this drawing.  You can study the intensity of the composition by following the color associations at right:  alignments (blue),  repetition of shapes (pink), quadrant division with implied horizon (green). The cropping (yellow) did not come about through erasing or matting, but was planned for in the initial contemplation, a la Cézanne.  That takes an eye!

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This landscape by Ivan T. originated from a photo he had taken in the Green islands.  In the photo the boats are smaller, more evenly spaced and with more water visible between them.  The houses are smaller because they’re farther in the distance.  The hills are also smaller because they’re very far in the distance.  That’s what he started with.

At the beginning of the class I showed how Cézanne pushed the distant elements of his landscape up in the picture plane. (See previous post.)  Ivan immediately applied this insight to his 24 x 18 painting, which he had started the previous class.  The boats became bigger, crowding the harbor.  The houses became bigger and fewer in number. The houses farther up the hill are not diminished in size, as perspective would dictate and as they appear in the photo.  At this point we suspect that he might be pulling a Cézanne on us.  When we take in the mountains, there’s no doubt:  this is Cézanne country.  The mountains have been pushed up and towards us.  The whole tripartite scene is being pushed forward and crammed into the picture frame.  The composition is made up of three elements: boats, houses and hills. Each of these sections is “in front;” nothing recedes into the distance. This immediacy is made even more tactile by the handling of the paint. The artist painted with a palette knife, thick and loose.  So that we’re looking at boats and at the same time paint itself.  We also get this effect in Cézanne, too, who did not blend, but rather left his individual brush strokes visible.

There’s more to explain the dynamic of this painting: 1) the zig-zag of the overall composition; 2) the golden section; and 3) the cropping of the mountain.

1) The pink lines in this diagram trace the zig-zag of the big forms in the painting.  (See post “Skies Tahiti,” April 22, 2011 ) The masts, rather tame and thin in the photo, are zig-zag and coarse, an invention of the artist.

2) The green line shows the golden section, a topic for a future post.

3) The mountain on the left is brought up to the upper edge of the canvas so that the sky does not go clear across the top of the scene.   This has the effect of bringing the mountain even closer to us.  I’ll talk about that in connection with Caillebotte’s photographic cropping in a future post.  Soon.

And what about that orange house to the right.  And the rhythm created by the windows, which are painted in single slashes of the brush.  It’s an engaging painting.

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