Open Your Eyes! It’s Proust on Art…

The Silver Goblet
Musee du Louvre, Paris

I’m in the midst of one of Alain de Botton’s erudite and vastly introspective essays on life — this one’s titled “How Proust Can Change Your Life“. In this barely 200-page book, de Botton relays a Proustian essay that details how Proust set out to “restore a smile on the face of a gloomy… young man”. This young man was lamenting how ugly and banal his surroundings were: the mundane scene of his mother doing her knitting, a cat curled up in the windowsill, unfolded laundry in a basket. The young man longed to visit the Louvre, where he could “feast his eyes” on gilded paintings and magnanimous sculptures to take away his gloom.

But Proust had plans for this young man.

Instead of writing into the plot that the young man finds happiness meandering through the great halls of the Louvre in the halls of richly ornamented works, Proust surrounded the young man in a tiny room with the  simple works of Jean Baptiste-Chardin.

Jean Baptiste-Chardin didn’t paint queens or palaces or riches. He painted ordinary things: milk jugs, bowls of fruit, coffeepots, loaves of bread. But, the outcome — however simplistic the subject — was extraordinary.

Chardin’s paintings succeeded in being extraordinarily beguiling and evocative. A peach by him was as pink and chubby as a cherubim; a plate of oysters or a slice of lemon were tempting symbols of gluttony and sensuality… There was a harmony, too, between objects: in one canvas, almost a friendship between the reddish colors of a hearthrug, a needle box, and a skein of wool.

With subdued colors and mellow lighting, Chardin’s work celebrates the beauty of commonplace subjects, with intimacy and domesticity.

Take that, young man! Look around you. The world is rich, wondrous, beautiful. Just open your eyes.


Eye Candy


Art as eye candy! These look too good to be fake. But they are. Check ’em out http://peteranton.com/

Peter’s premise:

I like to create art that can lure, charm, tease, disarm and surprise. My sculptures put viewers in a vulnerable state so that I can communicate with their inner selves in a more honest and direct way.

Hmm, does this mean that realism can be arresting and disarming? Andy Warhol rings a bell. Or the ’70’s artist who lives in San Francisco who paints pictures of cakes… Sounds like? Let’s play charades because I cannot remember his name and no amount of googling will get me there.

Oh wait, Wayne Thibaud!!! He paints objects other than confections, but the Philips Gallery in DC a few years ago focused on just his sweet works. And they were sweeeeeeeeet!

Thiebaud Three Machines

Thiebaud Three Machines

Art Critics Rock My World

So after a month of trying to figure out the real punchline of this blog, and thinking until this point that it was just a freeform commentary on all things art, I’m realizing that I’m equally (if not more) fascinated by the critics’ writing about the art as the art itself. Maybe it’s because I like to write and I’m in awe. Yep, that’s probably it.

Not only am I rocked by their descriptive language, but also their perception of the art. I think: how did they get that, from THAT?

Just “listen” to this, written by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith for the Tate online:

Eva Rothschild’s sculptures have been likened to “artefacts from some lost civilisation or from some post-apocalyptic scenario” whose symbolic meanings have all but faded from memory or lie just beyond our current imaginings. Though leavened by wit and humour, especially evident in the choice of titles, their occasional intimations of esoteric magic also hint at something darker. Many perch on spindly stands, while some jut out from high corners, or arc precariously overhead, or appear to hover improbably in mid-air, a narrow cascade of coloured leather strips obscuring their support. Though fundamentally stable, they often appear to twist on their axes or teeter precariously. Her lexicon of forms is instantly recognisable, but surprisingly varied. It includes thick lumpen masses, thin angular slabs, sinuous coils, woven sheets, shaggy fringes and, above all, slender rods of painted wood that kink crazily here and there, creating complex, off-kilter geometries in space.

Pretty good stuff.

But a few other things: 1) without the art, there’d be no inspiration for those critics, and 2) many artists are on the fence about the critics… Bad review and your career is over, good review and you are flying high. Artists are beholden to the critics. Sometimes this does not paint a pretty picture.

Art conveying concepts v. tangible objects

Art is partly about drawing out feeling. Contemporary art is often the search to find another way to express an object, idea, or concept other than the way it is usually visually represented. For example, if someone wants to portray a dog, the artist might paint a tree with a dogpile at the foot of it. Not only does the viewer think “dog” but it also erupts feelings about the dog, such as annoyance that a dog just  ran havoc through their yard. If the artist were to just paint a dog, there likely would be less feeling elicited on the part of the viewer. Art is about drawing out feeling.

Often artists try to convey concepts, such as unemployment, and since concepts are not concrete, they require creativity to pull off the representation (see Unemployment, below). So that makes sense that you’d have to stretch the imagination. But the other mental exercise in composition is to take something that already exists in a tangible form, and figure out how to invert that tangible object, so that you get a concept (see Garden Print below). So in one case, artists are taking a non-tangible object and making it tangible, and in the other case, they are taking a tangible object and making it non-tangible.


      GARDEN PRINT: 1987