Thursday, December 21, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Much has been written about Cézanne‘s composition, which somehow works in spite of oddities like this. Or rather, this way of looking at it helps to explain why his composition works so well. In this case, I'm proposing that the off-centre pedestal was not random or arbitrary, and that it was not a vague device “to strengthen the composition”; and further, that Cézanne was not consciously inventing a revolutionary school of painting. Rather, I'm saying that he moved the pedestal because everything on earth is subject to the law of gravity, and it suited his pictorial purpose better to move the pedestal rather than to move the fruit.
This completes the thought about Cézanne‘s pedestal which was originally mentioned in a discussion about the artist's intention.
(Edited Jan 10, 2007 -- rephrased and cut but the meaning not changed)
Friday, December 15, 2006
Monday, December 4, 2006
More info about Oxford's online art history courses here. They also offer short courses (for credit) in Philosophy, Literature, and History of Architecture.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Friday, November 10, 2006
Specific, answerable questions arise:
1) The table itself, is it parallel to the viewer (horizontal) or is it at an angle going into the picture, or both?
2) That round yellowish thing in the lower left quadrant, is it a drawer knob? Probably not, because it’s too big. So what could it be?
After much pondering, I began to wonder if the lower left part of the painting could be explained by an additional tablecloth with a border and a big pattern. This would mean there are three different fabrics in the painting in addition to the white tablecloth: two in the background, a red and green one on the left, and a beige and green one on the right, and then, underneath the white cloth, another tablecloth with a big pattern and a border, placed on the table at an angle so that you’re seeing the border as a diagonal in the lower left of the painting.
Seen in this way, the table could be straight on to the viewer, with the proposed new tablecloth draping over the corner of the table at far right. A Google image search shows that in the majority of Cézanne’s still lifes the table is in fact horizontal ; and the renowned critic Meyer Schapiro has said that the mass of the the objects in this still life is more or less horizontal across the picture plane. But these two things alone don't prove anything. More convincing evidence could come from another quarter: As a painter of still life myself, I’m conscious of how studio props may be used by painters over and over again in different combinations, so much so that you can sometimes identify the painter by the props. So, to find supporting evidence for my hypothesis, I set out in search of another Cézanne still life with the proposed new tablecloth in it. This was the mission: to find a still life by Cézanne containing a fabric with a large pattern and a border.
To my amazement, I actually did find one, obscure as it may be, on the website of the National Gallery of Wales. It's called Still Life with Teapot (1902-06, left), and the big pattern and border of the fabric are consistent with the proposed new cloth. The bordered edge is even draped diagonally over the table edge. The colours are not identical, but this is not significant, because the purpose of still life painting is not necessarily to copy the objects.
And as if that was not enough, earlier this year I had further confirmation that the hypothetical tablecloth really did exist in Cézanne’s studio. I came upon it, amazing as it may seem, in the Museum of Modern Art in New York: another Cézanne still life with the hypothetical cloth, called Still Life with Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl and Oranges, 1902-06.
(Above: My blurred photo of the Moma still life)
So now I am reasonably sure that this is a valid explanation of this particular aspect of Apples and Oranges, or rather its lower left quadrant. It was a fun project, a little like detective work, and I was thrilled to come up with a plausible alternative to existing theories. But it has left me feeling sceptical about academic readings of paintings and still unconvinced about the role of multiple viewpoints in Cézanne's art; which in turn makes Cézanne's role in Cubism less clear.
(See also Cezanne 1: Multiple viewpoints and Cubism)
Friday, November 3, 2006
Apples and Oranges (above) is a case in point. Art historians point to it as an example of Cézanne’s supposed use of multiple viewpoints. “Multiple viewpoints” is seen as a founding principle of cubism. It’s claimed that in Apples and Oranges the table as a whole is seen from one viewpoint, while the tilted plate of apples (mid-left) is seen from another viewpoint, higher up. However, Cézanne was known to use things like wooden blocks and books to tilt objects upwards or forwards in his still lifes. Often the block would be hidden by a cloth, but sometimes it was visible (e.g., image at left, Still Life with Basket of Apples, 1890-94, arrow). Therefore it’s safer to assume that a tilted plate in a Cézanne still life is the result of being physically propped up rather than assuming a revolutionary change in the method of picture-making. A supporting block may be more mundane, but it’s more likely to be true.
Of course, if one now accepts the notion that the plate is physically tilted by a block placed underneath it, one might begin to wonder, why did he do that? That is another question altogether. I’d guess if one put one’s mind to it, a logical explanation would emerge, and in any case it’s not unusual for painters to use such devices in still life set-ups to get everything looking the way they want. But I do know that if the initial premise is wrong, the conclusion is likely to be wrong too, and I’m tending to feel that that is the case with the “multiple viewpoints” theory, both in Cézanne’s art and in Cubism.
Both images from Wikipedia
See also Cezanne 2: Multiple viewpoints and tablecloth
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
A few quotes from the interview:
- You want to be free? – go look for a forest.
- [About Jaye Q’s show] ... it’s a moment of stillness.
- I want to be the sun, you want to be the sun, but all of us don’t make.
- It is not easy to be yourself.
- I’m getting older and probably seeing more clearly.
- People need to stop planting confusion.
- We must prepare more centres of quiet …there is too much babbling.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
The show repeats today at 3 p.m., and tomorrow (Sunday) at 2 a.m. and 4 p.m. (our channel 37).
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Sometimes I try to draw moving people from the TV. Not only do the people move, the camera angles move too, so an actual image may be on screen for only a second, which is not enough. This is usually the case with movies, though I didn’t realize how often the camera angles change until I tried doing drawings. On the other hand, talk shows offer better opportunities. A head may remain on screen in approximately one position for a whole minute, and chances are the camera will come back to the same person before the show is over. The drawings tend to be unfinished, naturally, which doesn't bother me. I assume, perhaps wrongly, that the viewer will fill in the gaps from imagination, such as the back of the head of the man at right.
These two men were in the same talk show but were drawn at different times. Oddly, accidentally fetching up on the same page, a kind of tension emerges between them which expresses something of the fraught historical relationship between east and west.
Friday, October 20, 2006
This is a scribble in ballpoint after a painting called Grande Rivière by Peter Doig. The real picture is at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Doig painted it in 2001-2002 from photographs and memory after a visit to
It might be an ordinary landscape except for:
- the size (about 7 feet by 12 feet)
- the strange colour
- the corbeaux, common in the area, which give the picture a spooky atmosphere, clustered as they are around the pony.
More about the painting and Peter Doig at the National Gallery of Canada website
Saturday, October 14, 2006
"Aristotle regarded the visual and dramatic arts as naturally mimetic, in some manner representing something, whether in words, marble, or paint. He viewed the human interest in representations — pictures, drama, poetry, statues — as an innate tendency, and he was the first philosopher to attempt to argue, rather than simply assert, that this is the case: “For it is an instinct of human beings from childhood to engage in imitation (indeed, this distinguishes them from other animals: man is the most imitative of all, and it is through imitation that he develops his earliest understanding); and it is equally natural that everyone enjoys imitative objects. A common occurrence indicates this: we enjoy contemplating the most precise images of things whose actual sight is painful to us, such as forms of the vilest animals and of corpses” (Poetics 1448b). Aristotle’s frame of reference for generalizations was specific to ancient Greek culture, but it is impossible to dispute the claim that children everywhere play in imitation of their elders, each other, even animals and machines, and that such imaginative imitation appears to be a necessary, or at least normal, component in the enculturation of individuals. The other side of Aristotle’s mimetic naturalism holds that human beings everywhere enjoy to see and experience imitations, whether pictures, carvings, fictional narrative, or play-acting. For Aristotle, the child’s fascination with a doll’s house with its tiny kitchen and table settings is not to be reduced to a desire for adult power, but in its imitative play is based in the instinctive delight in representation as such. This pleasure, he argues, can be independent of the nature of the subject represented: that is why the sight of a large, black fly walking over ripe fruit might disgust us in the kitchen, but can be a source of delight in a meticulously painted seventeenth-century Dutch still-life."See the whole essay.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Saturday, October 7, 2006
Friday, October 6, 2006
"It’s not necessarily true that half-baked art ends up in the prize’s annual show, but even for a lover of contemporary art it does seem to be a prize riddled with problems."Read the whole article
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Saturday, September 30, 2006
As the blog goes into its second month I begin to think that drawing and writing are in different orbits and can never quite meet. Sometimes they come close but there’s a final barrier, something to do with the laws of nature, a visual/verbal divide. They can enrich each other but cannot replace or explain each other.
I like this idea. It gives me a sense of a deep natural cause or genesis for all the arts. Most likely it’s an old idea, but to me it’s new and it arises from my own experience, what I have seen and touched and otherwise felt with my senses.
Furthermore, through drawing, I’ve been able to add a sixth sense to the usual list of five, the sixth being a sense of balance. By this I don’t mean the medically well-known “position” sense, whereby when our eyes are closed we can tell which way up we are, and where our limbs are in space. Instead I mean the ability to tell when something outside ourselves is in or out of balance. I don’t know where this “sense” resides anatomically, but I can feel it best by standing well back and wiggling the lower mid-section of my body while looking intently at the thing where I’m doubtful of the balance, e.g. an object or figure in a painting – to study whether it’s in danger of toppling over.
Law-of-gravity balance is one of the first things I notice in art. That’s just the way it is. The last three posts all have balanced figures (Sabrina Charran's nude, my "Man with camera at beach", and Anna Serrao's figure), though I didn’t pick them for that reason, it just happened. And I can’t explain in words what it is about the drawings that gives the figures their balance, only that it is so. Who knows to what extent this undocumented sense of balance feeds into our intuitive response to drawings and paintings, and into the aesthetic response in general?
Friday, September 29, 2006
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
An approximately life size drawing on brown paper by Anna Serrao at The Bottom Line, an exhibition of drawings by 13 of Trinidad’s top artists. The exhibition runs from Sept 27 to
Other exhibitors at the show are Akuzuru, Dean Arlen, Beckett, Pat Bishop, Bowen, Sabrina Charran, LeRoy Clarke, Hinkson, Greer Jones Woodham, Makemba and Sundiata.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Here is a montage of hands by master artists, but which artists? Is it possible to tell the artist from just one little part of a picture?
Hands are considered to be difficult things to draw and paint. Artists often avoid them, using a variety of devices to keep them out of the picture. However, if the artist has the skill, hands can express character and mood to an amazing extent, as the montage shows. Here are some labels to describe the way I read the types, mixed up, not in the numbered order:
- No-nonsense hand
- Shy hands
- Earnest hands
- These hands mean business
- Man-about-town hands
- Expressive hands
- Debonair hand
- Decisive hands
Click here for the artists who painted them and the way I read the types. The pictures are bigger too.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Toulouse Lautrec’s posters stand out even today for their modern look, with their broad flat areas of colour. The “flatness” of modern art became a big deal around the middle of the twentieth century, promoted by the influential American critic Clement Greenberg. But the overall effect of Lautrec’s work is not flat at all. On the contrary, he creates a wonderful impression of three-dimensional form, and he does it solely with line, not with darker tone (or “shading”, as it’s often called).
The lines of the red scarf show the roundness of the neck and the bulk of the shoulders and chest. The lines of the cuff/sleeve show the roundness of the wrist. The placement of the cuff and hand tell you the size, shape and movement of the whole arm. And we haven’t even got to the head and hat yet. You can tell just how much space this guy occupies, and roughly what he weighs. Which should be mundane but isn’t in the least.
To me this is drawing at Toulouse Lautrec’s brilliant best, with tone and colour playing secondary roles, although they may have more immediate visual impact.
In 1900-1901, the last year of his life, Lautrec lost the ability to draw. His figures lost their unity and became disjointed and amateurish-looking. For an example see The Art of Toulouse-Lautrec by Nathaniel Harris, republished 1996 by Chancellor Press, ISBN 1 85152 951 9, page 78, where the kneeling figure in Messalina is truly horrible (I was unable to find an example of one of the late awful drawings on the web).Image from Wikipedia
Monday, September 18, 2006
Sunday, September 17, 2006
I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea of visual art as a “language” with its own “vocabulary of marks”. “Language” and “vocabulary” are deeply ingrained in my psyche as words referring to speech and writing. However, I’m getting used to it, because in the contemporary art climate there’s no choice. And now I’m even beginning to see that it’s a useful concept. To see painting as a language is to realize that it takes time to learn, both as practitioner and viewer. A painting is more readily comprehensible on the surface than a page of Greek, it is true, and in this sense painting is a more universal language than verbal languages. But it still has its own forms and rules, tradition and history, allusions and illusions, and, yes, vocabulary of marks, that are there to be discovered and delighted in by the informed observer.
On the other hand (as the liberal said), the visual arts may be becoming too verbal, too self-consciously intellectual, thereby losing touch with the wellspring of visual art, which is the desire to make marks, simply and literally; the same impulse that makes a child scribble on your nice clean wall.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
'… but Carey carries a large chip on his shoulder when it comes to his aesthetic interests. Moreover, those interests are rather limited. There is not a single loving description of a painting in this book. It is clear that he cares little for music: the longest passage on music is about how much Hitler enjoyed Bruckner and Wagner. No wonder Carey would cut off all state support for the operas at
Covent Garden. Take that, opera snobs!
Considering his personal aesthetic relativism, it is a surprise that Carey ends his book with two chapters defending literature as the best of all the arts. Literature “can criticise itself,” and in fact it can criticize anything. Carey quotes a passage of Tolstoy making fun of opera and helpfully explains that, anyway, music “is the art that has most consistently seemed irrational to poets and writers.”
Not only does the self-conscious rationality of literature demonstrate its aesthetic superiority, it is English literature that is the highest of all: “English literature does no go in much for art worship of the mystical, Hitlerish kind.” Take that, foreigners!
But however preposterous Carey can be, his literary analysis can be acute. His discussion of aesthetic indistinctness in Shakespeare is a pleasure to read. Of a single sentence from The Merchant of Venice, Carey shows how it “manages at once to be both vivid and nebulous. It is brilliantly and unfathomably indistinct, which is why the imagination is gripped by it and cannot leave it alone.”
With some of the aesthetic issues that have gripped John Carey in this book, one might wish he had left them alone. He does push half-understood questions to sometimes absurd conclusions. On the other hand, if any book can be said to provide pleasure along with exasperation in its meanderings, it is What Good Are the Arts?'
Denis Dutton in a
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
A failed attempt to draw a mother and baby from memory.
To me, bad drawing is like being out of tune in music. It can be very subtle and “minor” and yet it makes all the difference. Maybe the drawn thing is not in balance, meaning literal balance to do with the law of gravity, or maybe it tends to be flat where it should be round, or it might lack unity, or it could be “disjointed”. All of these would be due to failures of observation, as in this memory drawing where there was no model to observe. To me both of the figures lack unity and are disjointed, at the very least.
Sunday, September 3, 2006
I think knowing the context affects how one interprets the drawing. Yet it’s not only an illustration, it’s an infinitely expressive drawing, oddly sympathetic and universal. And too, in my view it does something that photographs can't do, though I can't put into words what it is.
"She wrote her final letter known as her 'Testament', to her sister-in-law Elisabeth. She expressed her love for her friends and family and begged that her children would not seek to avenge her murder."Image and quote from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinette
P.S., added September 17, 2006: The reason I put that quote in was because before stumbling on this (famous) drawing, all I knew about Marie Antoinette was, "Let them eat cake". The drawing however showed such an intriguing personality that I went looking up more about her. It turns out that (as no doubt everyone except me knows) she's a highly controversial figure among historians, and very likely was not as bad as she's been painted. In such cases the picture gets murkier with the passage of time until one doesn't know what to believe. But facts are facts, and her last letter was (I assume) a documented fact; and to me, her request that her children not seek revenge shows that she was not all bad.
And the Web Gallery of Art has this to say: "Marie Antoinette was only thirty-seven, but a year's imprisonment had made her look much older. Her hair was prematurely grey and, robbed of her false teeth, wig and corset and seated on a wooden plank on the back of a tumbrel, she looked a pathetic figure. After a brief loss of composure she met her end with great fortitude, dignity and calm, even apologizing to the executioner for having accidentally stepped on his foot."
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
On the first day of the seminar we met in a small room around a big conference table. There were about twelve of us in all. Leon introduced himself and the topic, and asked each of us to say what we expected. Now, the seminar title was rather general, even vague, so few people had any idea what to expect. Nevertheless we each came up with something, in my case what I hoped for. Leon then divided us into twos and threes and handed out some actual objects and images. Our group got the thing in the drawing. It consisted of pale green overlapping discs held together with red and gold threads, with a loop at one end and two long tassels at the other. We didn’t know what to make of it, except that it was oriental and maybe some sort of cheap ornament. I made a sketch/diagram of it as it lay on the table thinking that the scrutiny of drawing might turn up some fact we had missed (it didn't). Later on some of the members of the whole group recognized in it some sort of symbolic significance and suggested that the discs might be jade. Another group got a Japanese magazine which read from right to left and from “back to front” (as we would say). It showed how arbitrary our Western assumptions are, based on convention rather than on some deep law of nature. Some spirited discussion followed. The session ended with Leon allocating topics to be researched for the following week. Up to now I don’t know what the object is, its function or if it has a name.