Posts Tagged ‘Mondrian’


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?


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



[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.


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?




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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One of the painters in my “What Would Mondrian Do?” group often brings photos of flowers and trees to class to kick off a painting session.

Keven Wilder is an accomplished painter.  The collectors of her work eagerly follow her latest output. The reception of this painting has been enthusiastic.

I’m glad.  I find the enthusiastic response of non-representational art very encouraging.  It’s a measure of progress in human consciousness, I think, not to be tied to the literal.

Nobody looks at this painting and says, “Oh, yes, trees. I see the blue sky and the vertical tree trunks and the horizontal branches.”

People who love this painting love it even after they find out that the artist started with a photo of trees against a clear sky.  They don’t get hung up on trees.  Sorry there.

People who love this painting love its color, shapes, texture, process, surprises.  It’s not an illustration, abstraction or diagram of anything.  It’s an object in itself.

An object of contemplation.

Keven Wilder showed this painting at the Ethical Humanist Society earlier this year.

Thank you, Keven!



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




www.khilden.comEthical Humanist Society


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13StudioGalleryPtg2The exhibit of my Thursday morning painting students will be up for only one more day.  Get on a jet plane, hop in your Chevy, saddle your horse, slide through that worm hole! Don’t miss this show.

Most of these paintings have been analyzed and celebrated in previous posts here and you may find it worth your while to review.

The class is called “What Would Mondrian Do?”

Congratulations to Patty Cohen, Bruce Boyer, Harold Bauer, Lorna Grothe-Shawver and Lauren Myers-Hinkle! It’s a great pleasure for me to be working with you.


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




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That’s the title of the painting class I proposed for the fall. 

The class used to be called “Impressions of Landscape”  and it will retain this title for the plein air class held in the summer, but for the indoor version it’s just not a good fit. My students actually pointed this out to me during the winter term because what we were doing in that class was really all about abstraction.  True, we talked about what makes a painting landscape-Y and we referred to the Impressionists a lot. But basically, folks, abstraction is what we thought, felt, breathed and painted.

Unfortunately, the word abstraction is intimidating. It sounds cold, unfeeling, merely cerebral. 

But the experience of working abstractly isn’t anything like that!  It’s a passionate, highly personal, engaging process.  So much so, that at the end of a three-hour painting session, you’re likely to be exhausted and ready for a nap.  Well, you can’t put language like that into a class description. 

After much doubt and procrastination,  I came up with a class blurb that asks “What would Mondrian do?”  and then goes on with a short paragraph like this:  “…or Diebenkorn, or deKooning, or Hofmann?  Learn from the masters of modernism and from your own experience how line, value, edge and weight can create tension and movement in your work.  Learn what pleases the eye, tickles the mind and draws the viewer into your painting.”

Someone in the office must have liked these words, because they put them on a poster, using a Diebenkorn painting as ground.  And then this: “Take Katherine Hilden’s ‘What Would Mondrian Do?’ or choose from many others.” 

Oh, do!

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




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