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Pearls from artists* # 323

"The Absence," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Absence,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Art cannot play to the demand because it inheres precisely in bringing forth the unexpected, the New.  It unearths what normality buries away.  No wonder so many people are afraid of it.

All authentic art, then, is “challenging,” not just the avant-garde.  We cannot omit the fact that some great art has an outer layer that makes it more agreeable to popular taste at a particular moment.  For example, the work of Vincent van Gogh, one of modernisms prime instigators in the visual arts, seems to be everywhere today even though no one saw much to like in it while he was alive.  But while it may be true that on the surface van Gogh’s work is all pretty colors and neat swirls, its immediate appeal is a siren’s song luring us to the depths.  There is a chaos lurking in every print of Starry Night (1889) that livens up a suburban bathroom.  This chaos isn’t something that van Gogh injected into his painting of an otherwise benign night sky.  It is the essence of the starry sky when seen for what it is, that is, when captured outside all comforting clichés that might shield us from its compelling monstrosity.   

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 107

 

"The Ancestors," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“The Ancestors,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

If the proper goal of art is, as I now believe, Beauty, the Beauty that concerns me is that of Form.  Beauty is, in my view, a synonym of the coherence and structure underlying life (not for nothing does Aristotle list plot first in his enumeration of the components of  tragedy, a genre of literature that, at least in its classical form, affirms order in life).  Beauty is the overriding demonstration of pattern that one observes, for example, in the plays of Sophocles and Shakespeare, the fiction of Joyce, the films of Ozu, the paintings of Cezanne and Matisse and Hopper, and the photographs of Timothy O’Sullivan, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange.

Why is Form beautiful?  Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.  James Dickey was right when he asked rhetorically, “What is heaven anyway, but the power of dwelling among objects and actions of consequence.”  “Objects of consequence” cannot be created by man alone, nor can “actions of consequence’ happen in a void; they can only be found within a framework that is larger than we are, an encompassing totality invulnerable to our worst behavior and most corrosive anxieties.

… How, more specifically, does art reveal Beauty, or Form?  Like philosophy it abstracts.  Art simplifies.  It is never exactly equal to life.  In the visual arts, this careful sorting out in favor of order is called composition, and most artists know its primacy.

Beauty in Photography by Robert Adams

Comments are welcome!