Monday, May 25, 2015

Gérôme on Truth, Illustration, and Photography

Late in his life, academic painter and teacher Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) wrote a statement of his beliefs about art.

"The fact is that truth is the one thing truly good and beautiful; and, to render it effectively, the surest means are those of mathematical accuracy. Nature alone is audacious above anything human; she alone is original and picturesque. It is, then, to her that we must become attached if we wish to interest and enthuse the spectator."

Illustration by Howard Pyle
"The art of illustration has made progress. It is more documentary, but none the less artistic. From this point of view the Americans excel. They have learned how to make use of the document and to make it serve their purpose. In this, instantaneous photography has been of inestimable assistance…. From all this one must conclude that our sense of sight is not as well developed as that of the Greeks or of the Japanese, and that it is not one of our gifts to observe with sufficient attention the various aspects of nature when in rapid motion."

Jean-Léon Gérôme - Diogenes, 1860, Walters Art Gallery
"When one is young and inexperienced one prefers the art of sentiment, and has even the false idea that too much study, too much truth, take away from work its light and its movement. When one has grown old in the harness, when one has worked for many years, observed well, compared well, ideas change. The artist should be a poet in conception, a determined, honest, and sincere workman in the execution. One must put into his work an artistic probity, and, above all, work, work. But there can be no serious and durable work if it is not based upon reason and mathematical accuracy.—if, in a word, art is not allied to science."


Sesco said...

I happen to agree with Mr. Gerome, regarding the notion that an artist must be artistic in conception, but I part ways with the idea that the execution must be workmanlike. I personally enjoy the artistic conception along with the artistic/poetic SUGGESTION OF this conception, as opposed to the workmanlike documentary of photographic accuracy. The Impressionists were gaining ground in the late 1800's, and Mr. Gerome died in 1904, so depending upon when these quotes were written I would assume these sentiments, coming from an academic especially, were crystallized in response to this new movement.

Bobby La said...

The four golden attributes of all good art according to the late, great Robert Hughes when writing about Chardin - "To see Chardin's work en masse, in the midst of a period stuffed with every kind of jerky innovation, narcissistic blurting and trashy 'relevance', is to be reminded that lucidity, deliberation, probity and calm are still the chief virtues of the art of painting."

I think Gerome would nod approvingly.

Andra said...

"From all this one must conclude that our sense of sight is not as well developed as that of the Greeks or of the Japanese..." is this, perhaps, like memory? Training memory to be able to sing an opera or act in a play, must be similar to artistic training to capture a scene, then interpret and balance it. Gerome seems to fall into the trap of believing there is only one truth, though.