Friday, July 9, 2010

Gérôme’s Critics

Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight gives the “thumbs down” to academic painter Jean-Leon Gérôme (1824-1904), who is featured in a large exhibition currently at the Getty Museum.

Knight dismisses Gérôme as a “populist painter” who “didn’t have a clue,” and who indulged in “sword-and-sandal melodramas.” He argues that he failed the Prix de Rome competition through lack of drawing ability, later selling out to commercial considerations.

According to Knight, “every artist we revere today was on the other side” of Gérôme and that he failed because he “disengaged with art’s possibilities” by limiting his artwork to mere illusionism.

Although Gérôme’s artwork is not above criticism, Mr. Knight’s assessment is regrettably narrow and unfair.

The documentary evidence from writers of Gérôme’s own day paints a more sympathetic and nuanced portrait of the man and his art.

Gérôme was genuinely respected by critics his day, and by his students, even many who pursued an impressionist approach to painting. He was admired not just for his ability as an artist, but for the breadth of his artistic vision.

Consider the following:

“Gérôme remains at sixty years of age the same as he was at thirty-six: as youthful, vigorous, active, and wiry; full of life and sympathetic. An agreeable, gay talker, pensive notwithstanding his good humor, respectful of his art, frank and loyal, adored by his pupils, he is the professor who teaches the young those rare and neglected virtues: simplicity, study, and labor. In a word he is a noble example of what a master-painter of the nineteenth century may be: an artistic soul with a soldier’s temperament, a heart of gold in an iron body.”

--French critic Jules Claretie, quoted in Nancy Douglas Bowditch, George de Forest Brush: Recollections of a Joyous Painter.

“I cannot but esteem him as one of the masters and most distinguished men of his age.”
--J. Alden Weir, “Open Letters.”

“As a teacher he is very dignified and apparently cold, but really most kind and soft-hearted, giving his foreign pupils every attention. In his teaching he avoids anything like recipes for painting; he constantly points out truths of nature and teaches that art can be attained only through increased perception and not by processes. But he pleads constantly with his pupils to understand that although absolute fidelity to nature must be ever in mind, yet if they do not at last make imitation serve expression, they will end as they began—only children.”

--George de Forest Brush, in “Open Letters: American Artists on Gerome,” Century magazine, February 1889.

“Oblivious to methods, seeking to develop each pupil’s peculiarities and temperament, he frowned upon any attempt to follow in his ways unless he thought it entirely within the sympathies of the pupil.”
--Wyatt Eaton, “Open Letters.”

Let us allow Mr. Gérôme to rise from the grave and answer Mr. Knight with his own words: “As to the self-styled critics, their approbation and their raillery have always found me indifferent, for I have always had the most profound contempt for these ignorant vermin, who prey upon the bodies of artists.…These art critics, whose ignorance is often deplorable,—quite encyclopædic in fact,—who have not learned the a b c of our profession, consider themselves fully competent to criticize it.”
-- Gérôme quoted in Century magazine, February, 1889, page 488 and 495.

The exhibition “The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme will remain on view at the Getty Museum in West Los Angeles through September 12, 2010. The first exhibit of its kind in nearly 40 years, it contains 99 works by Gérôme and his contemporaries.

LA Times review.
Getty museum website
Century magazine archives
Jean Leon (big database of image)
Thanks, Dave!


Shelly Wan said...

I love Gerome's retort! Another vermin in the pile underneath the foot of the great artist~ ^0^

Dave McNeal said...

Well those who can, do. Those who can't become critics. That's how I've always looked at it.

Mark W said...

As much as I like modern art, the universal rejection its proponents adopted towards the academics and realists sounds like cliquey groupthink.

My Pen Name said...

I remember reading similar brush offs of Rockwell - when one critic said in so many words- we 'won' the world Rockwell represented is now it's 'ok' to say he was good.
"modern' or abstract art was politically motivated to demoralize and dehumanize us, and they have succeeded. In order to destroy the west you had to destroy its values, its culture. Nearly all of these so called critics are academic marxists.

Anonymous said...

I think it's telling that Christopher Knight and his audience's nearest point of reference is the latest pop culture Hollywood "sword-and-sandal epic". It's the LA Times, of course, but still....

Glendon Mellow said...

I love Gérôme's work also.

To my mind, this is the period in art history where the separation between "fine artist" and "illustrator or commercial artist" starts developing.

The fine artists were playing with light, with paint, with colour, and the subject of each painting is the method it was painted in.

The artist-precursors-to-illustrators continued to explore new aspects of old stories and hone their styles and craft in yes, illusionism.

Unfair criticisms such as the ones leveled at Gérôme are still made today when people confuse the word "art" for the meaning of "fine art" as opposed to other kinds of art.

jeff jordan said...

I'd love to own any Gerome over , say, a Jasper Johns, or Damien Hirst, any of those folks. Gerome is one of my many heroes, a HUGE influence on what I do, and his work makes me want to work much harder than any of the so-called "Cutting Edge artists of this generation. Talk is cheap, and Art Criticism is among the cheapest of the cheap.

अर्जुन said...

>>According to Knight, “every artist we revere today was on the other side” of Gérôme…<<

Which revered artist would they be: Gérôme's friend Degas? or an artist Gérôme admired Corot? The much revered Caillebotte? The maestro of museum merch movin', Monet? I guess Manet (faux spanish style never goes out of fashion).

My Pen Name >>Nearly all of these so called critics are academic marxists.<<

Knight is a perfect example, claim to be for the people whilst you spit on them.

etc, etc >>pop culture Hollywood "sword-and-sandal epic"<<

The genre hasn't been the same since the socialist destroyed Italian cinema.

Ray Lederer said...

I like that the whole point of his critique is that Gerome was filled with self grandiosity and the painted the modern equivalent of bread and circuses. I couldn't help but notice the adverts for MLB jerseys splashed right across his very precious and scathing art critique!

Ray Bonilla said...

its like sending a jazz critic to cover a death metal concert..... Thanks for the post Mr.Gurney

Unknown said...

well said Gerome. I couldn't have expressed it better myself!

E.M. Gist said...

This is a truly stunning show. Anyone one who walks away with anything less than admiration (of at least his technical skill) loses any and all credibility with me.

Oh and of the 90+ paintings in the show, I think there are perhaps 1/2 dozen that could be considered "Sword and Sandal Epics". The rest consist of sympathetic portrayals of foreign lands and cultures. And one pun laden advertisement for an optometrist... seriously.

By Scott Flanders said...

damn right.

David Palumbo said...

ha! That Gerome quote is gold

Lucas Thornton said...

Pardon my "french" but this guy is an a-hole. Gerome was a painter that can't be criticized, he was a master beyond most artist dreams. I'd love to view this spectacular assemblage of high fine art rather than a whimsical smudge painting of Monet's.

kev ferrara said...

Gerome completely nails Knight from the grave. Knight has no idea how little he knows about aesthetics and expression, or even history... all he knows is the correct politics to pronounce. Knight's role as a cultural gatekeeper is to control thought and keep it dogmatically "correct". He has no thought of his own.

People like Knight are the proverbial finger in the marketing dike that is preventing a full scale resurgence of quality art from flooding back into the mainstream of western life. I imagine there are a number of investors in postmodern junk and postmodern "thought" that are very anxious that he not falter in his "duty".

The dam won't hold forever, though.

Anonymous said...

Hear Hear!
Thanks for this response! As widely read as your blog is (and rightfully so!) I think you need to have this published as an op-ed in the LA times itself. I'm sure you don't need another chore, but you speak so eruditely and passionately I think the readers who have been poisoned against Gerome need your remedy!

Larry said...

Having Christopher Knight review Gérôme Is like having (insert the am radio talk show host of your choice) review The Federalist papers. They'll never admit anything is beyond the scope of their expertise.

disclaimer: I love swords, sandals and melodramas!

Blake said...

To be blunt: Boooo Knight! Yay Gerome!

Paolo Rivera said...

No amount of criticism, deserved or not, could keep me away from this show. I was so happy to learn that it would be up during my trip to California later this month.

draigstudio said...

He has ALWAYs been my favorite painter from that time period. I think besides Frazetta he was my other artist I would look towards to be inspired.

draigstudio said...

Paolo: I'm Jealous!

Tyler J said...

Struck a nerve with this one, eh? =)

One of my favorite speeches in cinema comes from Anton Ego in Ratatouille, masterfully delivered by Peter O'Toole, the first part of which I think is apropos:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

Keep fightin' the good fight, all.

Unknown said...

There is a painting with Gerome's critics portraits in it. That says it all.

James Gurney said...

Jason, thanks for the link to that image! A scary one for critics to ponder.

I appreciate everyone's comments, which are brilliant.

Steven K said...

That review is so...nineties. Maybe eighties. Knight is a dinosaur and doesn't know it.
Can't wait to see this show. Amazed that the Getty put it together. Friends in LA tell me its fantastic.

Gordon Napier said...

If you can tell which way up it's meant to go, it's 'low-brow' to there critics. They do indeed have just enough of learning to misquote...

Everett Patterson said...

My Pen Name: While I wouldn't deny that a lot of abstract art was and is politically motivated (think of Picasso's "Guernica"!), as well as some art criticism (even more so in literature and cinema), I'd be very careful about plopping either down in the "academic Marxist" category. Posthumous shows of Jackson Pollock's work were underwritten by the CIA-backed Congress for Cultural Freedom; non-representational art can be upheld as an antidote to Soviet "socialist realism" after all. So who are the "they" who have succeeded in destroying the west's culture and values? The abstract artists and their critical proponents were no secret conspiratorial order - they didn't even all agree in their politics, any more than all Republicans listen to the same music or everyone in the Green Party enjoys the same sculptures.

Of the artists I have personally spoken with, "modern" or otherwise, not even the dourest existentialist has confessed to creating art deliberately to "demoralize and dehumanize" her viewers. At the very least, her art draws attention to what she sees as the misery and confusion of the world around her - and consider the condition of the world that birthed abstract art!

I'm a much bigger fan of Gerome's illustration than I am of any of the high modernists, and that's mainly why I read this blog. But art appreciation is one thing, and criticism (by which I guess I mean analysis at a level other than the technical) is another. Knight's incompetent review vacillated between the two, taking neither very seriously. That was the first I'd ever read of him, and he may indeed be a phony "man of the people," as अर्जुन said, but remember that though individual writers try to mobilize criticism to one political end or another, criticism itself is by nature flexible and open-ended.

For instance, Edward Said and the post-colonialists have had a field day with Gerome's "orientalist" art, pegging him as an unconscious tool of empire. But could you not also extol "Pollice Verso" as a cautionary proletarian fable? The underclass (in this case literally on a lower strata) are pitted against one another, and instead of uniting against their common oppressor, the victim impotently reaches up to "the boss" for salvation, while the momentary victor looks to the boss for approval. I couldn't imagine a more perfect Marxist allegory!

I guess all I'm saying is that one "side" of the debate over modern aesthetics does not necessarily correlate with a particular "side" of any political or, as you suggest, "cultural" debate. And if you maintain that it does, you should at least realize that you have become "a critic" too, engaged in the same broad analytical activity.

My Pen Name said...

EP - never implied a 'conspiracy' and it doesn't matter if your 'artist' friend intended it or not - abstract art, by its very nature, is dehumanizing, except when of course when degrading the Virgin Mary, Christ, or some other Christian symbol. ANd of course no one is going to 'confess' to attempting to demoralize and degrade- it's always to 'raise awareness' 'challenge conventions'.

No, obviously not all people of political stripes agree about art or music - but Roger Kimbal's Rape of the Masters , or Wolfe's Painted Word, well document that there was a strong movement to destroy, demoralize and degrade
denying this is just silly.

as for Said and other critics of orientalism - Kristin Davies does a much better job than I can refuting their claims. , not only that the book is one of the most beautifully produced 'coffee table' books on orientalist art (lots of gerome)

My Pen Name said...

..and lastly, there is plenty of beautiful 'abstraction' - for example, islamic art - which Orientalists like Gerome often captured :)

Eric Bouffard said...

I saw the show and was blown away. It is hard to see a large body of Gerome's work. This show enormously breathtaking to me. Although I must admit I was shocked while walking through it most of general audience wasn't as captivated. The Getty was closing down the Leonardo sculpture exhibit and everyone was saying that was much better. The Gerome collection is outstanding. If anyone is in LA area I highly recommend going!

Anonymous said...

I do think that all art critics should take drawing and painting lessons.
They do not have to eventually master our trade, but in order to became a good critic one would greatly benefit from having the first hand knowledge of the problems the visual artists tackle.
Gerome will still be Gerome within 100 years time, while nobody would remember his contemporary critics, just like nobody remembers the critics of his era.

Everett Patterson said...

My Pen Name, I have to chime in one more time. How is abstract art "by its very nature" dehumanizing? Because it doesn't depict physical human beings? If that is the case, then all purely instrumental music is dehumanizing, since it doesn't represent anything. Because it uses too much red and not enough blue? Because there are too many scalene triangles? I know this can not have been what you meant, but what exactly did you mean?

I was not referring to a particular individual friend of mine, but anyway: you said she would claim to be "raising awareness" or "challenging conventions," all the while actually and deliberately demoralizing and dehumanizing the viewer - to what end? Pure evil for the sake of evil? Is she aware of this dark ulterior motive, or is her desire to tear down noble values totally subconscious?

As for criticism: I have read Kristin Davies' The Orientalists introduction (in the bookstore) and thought it was very good. I read the review you linked to of Rape of the Masters and also an interview with Roger Kimball in a back issue of National Review:

I'm sure you will think I am "just silly" for disagreeing with (what I can gather of) Kimball's views, but I'll take that risk. Kimball seems to champion a sort of total aestheticism, with sensual beauty as the paramount, and all positive content as a sort of infection. No wonder he quotes Oscar Wilde, the English decadent par excellence! Vis a vis the conservative interviewer's fondness for the works of the Communist muralist Diego Rivera, Kimball advises "Enjoy the work, eschew the politics." Do I even need to reduce this position to its absurd conclusion? There inevitably comes a point, different for for different viewers, when one can no longer ignore the "message" of a work of art, when purely aesthetic "appreciation" must take a back seat - you and I both seem to have had that reaction to the pop-blasphemous provocations of Chris Ofili, Damien Hirst, and the like.

But does Kimball really hate any sort of analytical or interpretative criticism, or does he only hate it because the majority of contemporary criticism yields interpretations that oppose his own personal poltics? A valid complaint to have, by the way, but instead of countering with, say, a conservative interpretation of Sargent's The Daughters of E. D. Boit (which would be easy to make), he throws up his hands and says "stop criticisizing! stop your mumbo-jumbo and just enjoy the painting!" Kimball is like a man who says "I hate surprises," because what he really hates is unpleasant surprises.

Everett Patterson said...
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Everett Patterson said...
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My Pen Name said...

stop criticisizing! stop your mumbo-jumbo and just enjoy the painting!"
on that I would agree.
concerning The Daughters of E. D. Boit, I assume you read the absurd 'interpretation' of it - this attempt to take any sort of beauty even something as innocent as a picture of children and sexualize it. That is not so much a reflection of Sargent's soul, but rather the sick mind of "professor" Lubin. I just wonder how we got to the point where people like him and the critic mentioned in JG's post became 'taste makers'
deliberately demoralizing and dehumanizing the viewer - to what end? Pure evil for the sake of evil?
If you want a revolution, you have to destroy fabric of society- that's what the french revolution did, that's what the communsits did, that's what the cultrual marxists have been attempting to do here-- and they have by and large succeeded.
Look at all the critics of Norman Rockwell - what are they really objecting to?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Everett Patterson said...
"If that is the case, then all purely instrumental music is dehumanizing, since it doesn't represent anything"

Actually Everett, all musical systems are human systems that organize pitch into systematic, regular intervals so that there is structure and order at it's elementary level; furthermore the intervals are divided into scales thereby creating more even structure and order. There is nothing dehumanizing about it, and it does indeed represent mathematical ratios. Unless you can show some correlation with abstract art (i.e. underlying order), it's not a good analogy.

Everett Patterson said...

etc. etc., I'm well aware of the mathematical origins of musical intervals and scales - they certainly are orderly. My point was simply that instrumental music does not represent anything external to itself, in the way that an illustration represents its subject matter or an opera with words and stage action represents a story. Pure music is such a beautiful mystery in part because it refers not to a specific external but to itself... or, as we often feel, to an ineffable, inscrutable external, the story that flows through our mind as we listen to it, that can be described by nothing but the wordless language of music.

It is in this sense that I compare non-vocal music to abstract art. When art is non-representational, it refers only back to its own component sytems (line, form, color, composition etc.) or its own materials (paint, canvas, bottlecaps, etc.)... or, if you like it and are moved by it, to some indescribable subject matter in the realm of ideals. It is this sense that I think the two are comparable.

As to your point of "underlying mathematical order:" Though its basic materials (the various divisions of the octave) have mathematical origin, music composition still features a hefty amount of intuition, wouldn't you say! A certain period in early 20th-century abstract art definitely fetishized intuition at the expense of calculation - let me be clear that this is not the kind of art I like. But since you brought it up, contemporary art still features "calculated" elements beyond simple splattering (the topology-influenced sculptor John Robinson is an example), especially if you want to talk at the level of formal building blocks (the right angle, as an example, is like the musical octave - a mathematical harmony that strikes a pleasant nerve in the human pysche). Also, remember that even the most traditional musical systems depend on countering the stability of the triad with moments of dissonance, suspension, anticipation, etc. if there is to be any artistic tension or dynamism whatsoever. In art, absolute order, total clock-work, is not necessarily any more human than meaningless chaos, and I'd be careful about exalting one or the other as an artistic ideal or the basis for an artforms "humanity."

Just defending my analogy :) And "dehumanizing" was not my word; it was My Pen Name's. I certainly don't consider music dehumanizing, less than human, or anything like that.

kev ferrara said...

Everett, the notes of the 12 tone scale provide order to whatever expression is made on western style musical instruments. Even the most dissonant chords will have some kind of inner mathematical harmony that provides unity.

If you want a sonic parallel to pure "abstract" art, attend a screaming match.

Furthermore, a classical piece of music can move the emotions through a great many tonal changes over time, with themes developing and varying with great depth, and overlapping in counterpoint, rests, changes in volume and note flow, etc. "Abstract" art doesn't have that kind of room and so tends to portray a single tonality with little thematic richness and little in the way of textural order, nor melodic, chordal, or rhythmic sophistication.

And you might want to gander at Gramsci's War of Position before you dismiss what "My Pen Name" is penning and naming here. I also recommend reading some oral histories on the Smithsonian American Art Archives site. You will be surprised at what you hear... how often Gramsci's strategies were played out in reality by radicals looking for toeholds in the culture.

Everett Patterson said...

Let's put my instrumental music - abstract art analogy to rest. I was only comparing them in that neither directly represents a subject external to itself (in the context of what was actually kind of a sarcastic remark, so sorry about that.) Instrumental music and abstract art are clearly not the same in every way, as no analogy ever is. (If two different things were exactly alike, we could not call them "different things!") One way in which they are different is that I like one and not the other.

I certainly didn't want to seem dismissive of "My Pen Name's" ideas. I wanted to draw him out on two premises that he (or more fairly, New Criterion editor Rob Kimball, whom he cited)seemed to be putting forth:

* That "abstract art" as a whole is somehow a nihilistic force eating away at Western culture's moral fiber.

* That not merely the majority of art critics but the entire enterprise of art criticism, the critical activity iself, is compromised by a specific political ideology, prima facie as it were.

Regarding only the latter, I would briefly say this: while the idea of Cultural Hegemony as a societal force was developed by a leftist (Gramsci, whose basic ideas I know, but whose War of Position I have not read), Hegemony itself is an empty vessel, available to any and all partisans. Any conservative who speaks of a "Culture War," a fundamentalist of any religion who says he deserves special treatment, any school newspaper editor who runs a provocative editorial cartoon, is playing Gramsci's game. And so what of it? That political struggle takes place in the Realm of Ideas and Opinions seems pretty undeniable (indeed, none of us are denying it!) And no doubt a survey of the curators of America might reveal a tendentious voting record. But the idea that art criticism itself is biased - Kimball's idea that it is the province of liberals to analyze, interpret, dissect, and theorize about art, while conservatives should simply lay back in passive 'appreciation' of skill and beauty - I find pretty deeply misguided.

Diana said...

I have no great contribution to make myself but I must say this is a very interesting debate. Everett, you make excellent points.

Diana said...
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Diana said...
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tayete said...

Well, Gerome is in every art or history book for more than a century. Let's see in how many books appears the critic's name in some years...

My Pen Name said...

That "abstract art" as a whole is somehow a nihilistic force eating away at Western culture's moral fiber.

* That not merely the majority of art critics but the entire enterprise of art criticism, the critical activity iself, is compromised by a specific political ideology, prima facie as it were.

abstraction is not eating away at the west- I gave the example of islamic abstraction, but certainly the non-representational, 'modern' art movement was by and large so called 'counter culture' attacking the conventions of west both aesthetically and as we see from "prof' lubin - morally- - and no doubt it came from the far left (i am not talking about whether you want health care nationalized or not)

There are other motivations. Money- its easy to talk up and hype this garbage because the meaning of it is more in the hands of the critics- with the said sargent painting - most anyone with an ounce of common sense and not motivated by politics would dismiss "Prof" Lubin's comments- a side note, but do you notice how they are almost always freduian - who himself was a complete fraud who's ideas are almost completely unfounded (and who himself admitted his 'hero' was Hannibal -for attacking the west)

Going back to money, many, myself included, think that the market for this junk art is another bubble waiting to burst- its the dutch tulip craze all over - but at least tulips did something useful (and beautiful).

There is also social status- liking this sort of thing is radical chic- you are demonstrating you do not have the the sentiment and values of the American middle class - you're urban, cosmopolitian - and if you don't 'get' the art you are probably not chic.

kev ferrara said...

A great percentage of the modernist-to-postmodernist project has been a war on the values that promote stability... that is, the transcendent values of truth, beauty, order, logic, clarity, contemplative mystery, narrative sequence, morality, quality, talent, craftsmanship, responsibility, respect, emotional or intellectual depth, honor, innocent joy, family, heroism, adventure, and the like (I could go on.)

If you don't understand the political agenda at work here, you really haven't been exposed to the reality of the world. Just a quick gander at the vitriol directed at Andrew Wyeth over his career should provide a clue as to how seriously the activists take their charge. (It should be noted that, because of how thoroughly the indoctrination has permeated the "elite" cultural circles of most western cities, which includes so much of the media and academia, it will be difficult to tell the true-believers from the simple-minded indoctrinates, or the "fellow travellers" who simply enjoy the frisson of radicalism and like the ego-boost that comes from being part of the "sophisticated" in-crowd. Those out to make a buck on this type of art, on the other hand, are generally more concerned with dollars than political sense and will say anything to help make the sale.)

War of Position is a strategy, not a book. The idea is to fight to control the sources of information in a society first. And from there, to use the control of information to increase political power through dissemination of propaganda. It just so happens The Art World was the easiest mark, so it fell first. Since we've all grown up with it as it is, its political activism doesn't register unless we become re-sensitized to it.

When Illustration takes its rightful place in the big tomes entitled "History of Art" that appear in bookstores everywhere, then we will know the political movement has lost its grip. Because the only possible way the incredible illustration of the 20th century could be excluded from its rightful appreciation is due to the influence of Academic Marxist values demanding that art have no commercial ties and be part of the critique of the middle class, rather than something enjoyed by it.

Roberto said...

I’m dying to jump in on this, but my spider-sense tells me to “beware, der is a tar-baby in dem der briars!” (when has that ever stopped me?)
So… when designing a work of art, all the masters teach us to construct our paintings with close consideration to line, form, color, composition, etc. etc., but if we explore these attributes only for their own sake then we are subverting the culture, and if we happen to find a market for our trash and somehow manage to make a profit, then we have sold out and are trying to overthrow the capitalist order.
(But I digress. Let me try hittin dis thing with ma other foot.)
So… everyone I know is an art critic. Amazingly all the ones who agree with me are brilliant and morally correct, and them that don’t are Satan’s minions; and the ones making all the money are Marxists out to spread propaganda and eat babies, and the underdog is the poor starving, misunderstood commercial illustrator (preferably with little fish symbols next to their names). The last time I remember hearing such a bizarre attack on modern art was when the politically correct Fascists were gassing degenerate artists in favor of the morally correct and wholesome works favored by the Fuhrer!
(Owe! Now dat foot got stuck too! I think I’m’a gonna let dis Tar-baby go!)
All dis fussin’ an fightin’s got me all confusticated and jibber-jabbered.
I’ve got babies to eat in the morning.
Good night Mrs. Magilicutty, wherever you are. –RQ

Petr Mores said...

I have recently gained more insight into what poised academic painters and modernists against each other. I visited a concentration camp memorial in Dachau, Germany and saw there an antisemitist poster, competently painted by a Czech academic painter.

I understood then why realist painting was perceived by the modernists as a technical skill or craft that can be learned by almost anyone, regardless of their character, or soul, if you will. That is why they tried to establish art forms that would be more "expressive" of the painter's personality and values, otherwise art would just become a form of propaganda and advertising.

I think there is no simple truth. I also like realist art (which is why I read this blog daily), but I perceive how easily it can become sentimental and false, and why some people are sensitive to it.

Some painters have battled this dilemma in their own lifes and works. For example, the Czech painter František Kupka, one of the founders of abstraction, started off as a prodigiously skilled realist painter and illustrator. He was conflicted his whole life about the issue, but I have to say I love both sides of his work.

My Pen Name said...

...sigh.. somehow I knew this would end up as it's like 1933 all over argument...
Petr, I don't really see your point. on one hand you say anyone can learn realist painting which, because of it power to.. umm express.. ideas is dangerous, but on the hand you say modernists encourage forms that express the values of their soul...
Is this correct? Are saying that the ability to express onesself abstractly is some sort of measure of morality and purity of soul?
from what i see of most modernist art is that the power of the interpretation is in the hands of critics - and naturally critics understandably like that idea.
lastly if realist art is 'dangerous because anyone can learn this craft (btw have you ever actually tried to learn this 'craft'?) and it can convey powerful ideas - well can't the same thing be said about writing? Perhaps we should just all write random characters like this : sadraselkticsrt arfsadf " since its more expressive of my value.

@ kev f. - great post!

My Pen Name said...
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kev ferrara said...

Sorry Roberto, I didn't mean to imply that all abstractionists have a political agenda. As you say, some are simply interested in making a decorative object by exploring graphic design via painting.

Of course, any history of the heyday of abstract expressionism yields endless examples of exactly the kind of political partisanship mentioned previously against any and all realists, which many decorative abstractionists were more than willing to piggyback on.

The anti-authoritarianism of the whole decorative abstractionist milieu is fairly obvious. That it became an institution, may have made the genre banal to the point that its innate politics became all but invisible, but the politics of it remain a force.

Petr, there is no such thing as Fascist Aesthetics. That is just a political attempt to destroy masculine cultural values by associating them with Nazi Germany.

Petr Mores said...

@My Pen name

I take your point and I actually agree with you. The fascist painting anecdote was not raised to argue that realist art is inherently fascist, but to offer better understanding into the debate of the time. I try to understand the modernist views, but I don't adopt them. I tend to think that modernism did not fulfill the hopes it brought about and that in general, it was a grand experiment with noble motivation, which nevertheless failed (not completely, of course...). I study realist painting and I do know very very well that it is extremely hard to do right.

Basically, I'm trying to be discerning in such matters. Truth is never black and white and one often learns most from somebody they disagree with.

Anni said...

Even beneath the budding daisies, Gér ôme still eloquently puts all these snobby art critics in their places! It really is quite true how these critics think it perfectly reasonable to criticize without fully knowing our profession. They speak based on the trend of society. What is "now" not what was "then." Mr. Knight should still his tongue until he himself has gone through the process of creating art and can more comprehensively understand why we do what we do. Look with your eyes, but understand through action.

Doug said...

I'm a little late on this one, away, camping and preparing for a new cover illo.

This is just a guess, it could be worse than a narrow view of Gerome's work at play here. Isn't it possible that Knight read Gerome's thoughts on critics before his review? Could it be possible that Knights review of Gerome's work comes from a bruised ego rather than an educated critique? Imagine, Knight researching this wonderful artist for the big show, and as you said it , from the grave Gerome calls him " ignorant vermin, who prey upon the bodies of artists.…These art critics, whose ignorance is often deplorable... :) oops! Suddenly these paintings aren't quite making the grade.

Unlikely? probably.

Gerome is one of my favourite artists, his originals are extraordinary. I can't imagine anyone with any understanding of what it takes to produce a "good" picture coming down this hard on Gerome, but here it is.

Does Knight also review movies?

Ah, oh well.

James H. Fullmer said...

Wow! What a discussion. I just want to say that I've always loved Gerome's power and drama in telling a story. My favorite piece is, "Pygmalion and Galatea" and the first time I got to see the original at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I was shocked by how different it was from the pictures I had seen in books.

This blog post has inspired me to open my new blog with a comparison of the original work (which I got to photograph at the museum) with the more common version as found on the site Mr. Gurney has linked in his post. You can check it out at:

I have also posted a full-sized image that I took of the original that anyone interested can download.

Enjoy! For those that can see the exhibit at the Getty - I am soooo jealous.

Unknown said...

I hope those commenting on Knight have done so after actually reading the LA Times article, rather than just echo-chambering one another. He doesn't so much to be giving Gérôme a thumbs-down as merely pointing out that the art-sales world turned a different corner. Criticisms of Gérôme's drawing come not from Mr Knight but from those he describes as "the Simon Cowells and Paula Abduls of France's Royal Academy" -- a phrase that to me indicates that he is much more on the side of Gérôme than the discussion is letting on.

I agree w/Petr btw -- whether one agrees with the idea of it or not, realist painting/imagery has been considered by many, at least since the advent of the photo camera, to be more of a useful propagandistic commodity than an expressive art form. They consider (however wrongly) that the artist "disappears" and that all paintings (or photos) are driven not by artist but by content (the trim blond selling soap or the burly proletarian standing against the Stalinist sunrise)