Thursday, March 13, 2014

Everyone Can Be A Critic: Art vs. The Artist

Are you an artist? I like to consider myself one. The reality? It's still up in the air.

Can you explain your art? I mean can words truly express what you feel when you paint and what you've created?  Do your words make sense? I know when I paint I am frequently in another world. I may take pictures of each stage and can tell you the steps I used ( well maybe), but what I feel? No, not really. With over 1 million words, English doesn't cover every thought and feeling still.

View of Armory Show in 1913, New York City
Reading my latest AMERICAN ARTS QUARTERLY, I was struck by what several writers had written about art. My father-in-law, much to my wife's chagrin, said that those that can't do, teach.  I wonder, does that mean those that can't paint become art critics? If you can't or don't paint, can you truly understand the artistic process? That would be like walking in another's man's shoes. I do believe though that you CAN appreciate art and maybe at a level beyond words.

The lead article, a year late I might add, concerns the 1913 Armory Show in New York City. 1600 pieces of art were displayed, featuring mostly American but many European artists. For many this was the first time they had ever seen what had been happening in Europe since around the 1860's. Art by ALL the usual suspects was there, artists such: George Bellows, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Brancusi, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Camile Corbet, Edgar Degas, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Gauguin, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Edward Hopper, Edouard Manet, Henri Rousseau, Georges Rouault, Auguste Rodin, Georges Seurat and James Whistler among others.

The author dismisses many of the American artists of that time and gives wondrous praise to the Europeans. However, Americans, at least at that time and maybe any time, had a different take on the show and its artists singling out the, to them, outrageous "Nude Descending A Staircase, #2" painted the year before by Marcel Duchamp as the perfect example of how immoral Europe had become. While many American artists were familiar with trends in Europe as were the upper classes, those who had never traveled to Europe were shocked. American critics had a field day with many of these paintings. This show traveled on to the Art Institute in Chicago (where Seurat's SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE GRANDE JATTE resides today) and finally Boston to equal outrage.

I find it ironic that the Impressionists would have caused much of a stir. California Impressionism started around the 1880's lasting as a movement until the 1920's and is still popular and immulated even today. Art by those artists graced many magazine covers, travel posters and museums. Many of those original covers and posters are valuable today. In fact, they used colors even more vivid than the Europeans because the desert Southwest was wondrously colorful. Think ARIZONA HIGHWAYS.

Abstract art though was another thing. Americans are, if nothing else, very literal. It took a long time before they began to venture into that genre. Our most popular artists of that time were Hopper, Whistler, Bellows, Hassam, Innes and Cassett who followed a more American version of Impressionism. We had a different take on art and the world around us. Does that make it better? Or Worse? Can a critic truthfully make that judgment? The proof of the pudding, so to speak, is who buys it.

Abstract art was dismissed in this country until around WWII because it was considered too European and therefore un-American. There was little support by patrons and even less by museums. Did the Armory Show change art in the United States? Probably but it took 50 years before it became a force to be reckoned with. Some may postulate that it predicted WWI. It showed that the European moral fabric was failing. I once read an amazing book that felt art and artists predicted movements and trends before they occurred. Did Duchamp's nude show the coming shattering of Europe? A case could be made that it did that very thing. After the war, every government, every empire changed or fell apart. Very little of the old Europe was left.

Art IS important. How one can say what an artist was trying to do, even the artist themselves, becomes problematic. What is important is how the people, all the people, relate to it. I find it ironic that Leonardo's MONA LISA is considered the finest painting, finest piece of art in the world. It is an enigma wrapped in an enigma. What is more surprising though is that STARRY NIGHT by Van Gogh comes in second place. Reams of words have been written about these two pieces of art. However, it is whats written in the people's hearts that makes all the difference in the world. We are moved often in ways that we can't explain. For me, that's all that matters.

Visit for my vision of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment