But I Know What I Like
Painting is the branch of the arts in which I feel the sharpest division between what I admire and what I respond to emotionally. For example: I admire the mastery, the skillful re-creation of reality of the painting Ivy Bridge by J. M. W. Turner, and God knows I could never duplicate it. But, honestly, it leaves me cold.
Likewise: Titian, Caravaggio, John Constable – I admire them all, and for the same reasons, but I wouldn’t make a special trip to see their paintings. No, the works that stir me tend to combine simple forms with vivid color, to eschew photograph-like realism — the trompe l’oeil style — in favor of bolder statements. At the same time, I generally require some element of representation — exceptions to this rule being the work of Kandinsky and Pollock. (I feel about abstract and, particularly, conceptual art the way Robert Frost felt about free verse, I guess — that it’s like tennis without a net.) I suppose that is what I aimed for with my own paintings on this blog.
The painters I respond to, then, tend to be Impressionists and — especially — post-Impressionists: Picasso, Matisse. And check out this 1919 painting by Kees Van Dongen, titled The Corn Poppy. Or Matisse’s Nono Lebasque, from 1908, and Laurette in a Green Robe, from 1916.
Maybe what I like — this is just a theory — is that these works allow me to form a partnership with the artists, in a way that conceptual art is supposed to but never does. With conceptual art I feel I am doing all the work (there are some pieces that truly make me feel as if the artists have done none). With a work by Turner or Vermeer, there is nothing for me to do but marvel. But viewing a work like Laurette, armed with Matisse’s bold impressions of this woman, I can imagine her in full myself — I feel on my own that I know her, or at least know something about her.
Who’s with me? Or would you like to defend the artists so summarily dismissed above?