Tuesday, August 7, 2018

An Unlikely Duo: Norman Rockwell and Rene Magritte

Rockwell, Triple Self-Portrait (1960)

Magritte, Clairvoyance (1936)

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) painted people and so did Rene Magritte (1898-1967).  What is the difference?

Many art critics look down on Rockwell and many people may not like Magritte too much.  I have found that those who do not know much about Magritte, however, think his artwork is intriguing enough to view, while few art critics take Rockwell seriously as anything other than an illustrator.

It would be an interesting survey of people to see how many find interest in a Magritte, and how many art critics think of Rockwell as anything but an illustrator. 

One parallel between the two artists is that both put their hand to commercial art, as Magritte took to designing wallpaper early in his career in order to earn an income.  

Rockwell, of course, is famous for his covers adorning the Saturday Evening Post and, later, illustrations for Look magazine and other periodicals.  

A point to ponder is how much of the commercial aspect infused Magritte’s art and how much fine art found its way into Rockwell’s painting. 

Interestingly, there are two Rockwells and there are two Magrittes.  

There is the Magritte of early cubism and futurism, struggling to get at another way to see the world.  Then he saw a painting by Chirico and—eureka!—it inspired to him take another route as in 1926 he created his first “Magritte” work, The Lost Jockey.  It is close to the approach of the movement of Surrealism and, eventually, the group invited him to become a member.  Magritte’s art was the iconic type of surrealism with its everyday views given a strange twist.

Painting in this style, it occupied him for the rest of his life except for the vache or “nasty” period during WW2.

Rockwell began illustration right at the beginning and always thought of himself as such.  Nonetheless, after his long association with the Post, he took on work with Look magazine and began to paint about the Civil Rights movement.  He had already painted the Golden Rule in 1961 after reading some ideas about comparative religion, and having failed to begin a similar project for the UN, he set about to represent a diverse group of ethnic and religious groups.

Following this, one of his paintings, The Problem We All Live With, remains a strong statement during a time of unrest.

So what is the difference?  Rockwell painted scenes as one may like to remember them, the romanticizing of illustration, but later he perceived how conflict might bring together humanity.  Magritte painted scenes that he derived from other styles, but soon broke out to present his haunting vision of the unexpected in human perception.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Art as Prophetic: Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan

Considering how the direction of some Western nations seem to be questioning the role of a liberal democracy (i.e., a nation founded upon individual rights), I wondered about the role of artist as a prophet rather than as only working as a poet.  A couple of thinkers from the past, Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan, came to mind.  The quotations here are courtesy of

Walter Benjamin, 1892-1940

“It is well known that art will often – for example, in pictures – precede the perceptible reality by years,” wrote the philosopher Walter Benjamin in the 1930s. “It was possible to see streets or rooms (in paintings) that show all sorts of fiery colors long before technology, by means of illuminated signs and other arrangements, actually set them under such a light. Whoever understands how to read these semaphores in advance not only knows about currents in the arts but also about legal codes, wars and revolutions.”

Marshall McLuhan, 1911-1980

Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan offered a different metaphor with a similar point. “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it,” he wrote in the sixties.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Niagara Falls and Inspire: Beyond the Barrel 2018

This year for the 14th annual Beyond the Barrel exhibit the theme is "Inspire."  What is Art?  Why do people create Art?  From May 12 to July 29 the exhibit will present artwork that will portray the inspiration of various artists.  While it was not required of artists to do this, it should be intriguing to see how others understand the concept of inspiration and how it leads to the final conception--the work of Art itself.

I entered two works into the show, one of them is on exhibit for the first time, Self-Portraits.  Using a drawing that I completed a few years ago I decided to enlarge it on a 30" x 40" panel.  Portraits have been a source of inspiration in the Western Art heritage and I thought it was appropriate for this theme.

Self-Portraits; 40" x 30", mixed-media on panel

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Erich Fromm on Art, Productiveness, and Human Personality

Reading through Fromm's work from over 70 years ago caused me to remember some of the discussions back in my college days over 40 years ago concerning both the question of Art and the inherent creativity of humanity.  I think Fromm may have misused the notion of "photographic fashion" in trying to label Realism, but that hardly detracts from his point.

"Generally, the word 'productiveness' is associated with creativeness, particularly artistic creativeness.  The real artist, indeed, is the most convincing representative of productiveness.  But not all artists are productive; a conventional painting, e.g., may exhibit nothing more than the technical skill to reproduce the likeness of a person in photographic fashion on a canvas.  But a person can experience, see, feel, and think productively without having the gift to create something visible or communicable.  Productiveness is an attitude which every human being is capable of, unless he is mentally and emotionally crippled." 

---Erich Fromm, "Human Nature and Character," Man for Himself (1947), p. 85.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

26th Regional Artists Exhibition at the Artists Group Gallery in Buffalo, NY

This year the 26th Regional Artists Exhibition for Western New York will take place from 6 October to 10 November.  The judge was artist Gary L. Wolfe, who selected my mixed-media artwork Reservation pictured below.

While I was favoring the other entry, I am happy that Mr. Wolfe chose Reservation to make this the sixth time I have had the privilege to display my work in a Buffalo regional.

Reservation is a slightly different direction for me although the imagery is similar to the last several years of my drawing and mixed-media pictures. Nonetheless, Reservation is one of two recent icons in which I employed the use of a clear acrylic sheet as another visual layer in addition to drawing and collage.

Reservation; 25" x 28", mixed-media on board and acrylic

Saturday, September 30, 2017

John Berger and _Ways of Seeing_

After a re-viewing of the 1969 series Civilisation by Kenneth Clark this past year, I was reading various articles about it.   One reviewer recommended watching the shorter 1972 four-part series Ways of Seeing by John Berger as the "other side" of Art History.  I never had heard about it, or at least did not remember it, but off I went into YouTube in search of it.

When I was done with the first episode, I decided that I was going to purchase the book as well since this was a fresh look at Art.  Well, at least a fresh look to me of European Art.

Several writers have disparaged Berger's series, stating that he does not give a full account of Art as did Clark.  I judge this as unfair for the simple reason that four half-hour episodes are simply not going to be a full counter to Clark.  Further, I do not think that Berger was as much trying to balance Clark as much as he was trying to show another side of European Art.

While Clark engaged the formal aspects of Art and their historical context, Berger presented the economic context more so (after all, Berger was a Marxist) as well as the social context of a human being "seeing" Art in new settings.  

Further, and as weighty, he discussed as near a phenomenological reduction of Art as any philosopher could ask.  First, Berger helped the viewer take the presuppositions off the field of perception by showing artwork playing diverse sorts of music; he demonstrated how the background music played a role as to how one understands the artwork.

Manipulation of the audience perception of an artwork through the music is clear enough.

Next, he then exhibited artwork without music as one would see these elsewhere.  And, lastly, he offered artwork in other contexts just as we see them today and as no one in the past could have done so; in magazines on TV, in commercial advertising.  

These various perceptions of artwork showed how the social context can be manipulated and understood as such so as to be avoided.

Berger also dove into the notion as to how a person sees in contrast to how a camera sees, how the setting of the viewer surely needs consideration as well, and the relation of the artwork to the viewer--is it just a commodity? 

Much more to say about this short but pithy series as Berger touched on serious philosophical issues concerning our understanding of Art.  While Clark provides a wonderful commentary as to the importance of Art in regards to the progress of human spirit (however construed), it becomes a bit too tidy at times.

Berger, however, revealed the precious, delicate state of Art in its own time and how many paintings considered "Art" need to re-visited.  I think it would be rewarding for any artist to watch Berger's series to remind one how such a particular selection of history may skew ideas about Art.

You can view all four episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk

Sunday, May 21, 2017

NACC Radio Interview 16 May 2017

Here is the link to my radio interview with Kelly Lang at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center.  The interview lasted about 35 minutes and this section presents half that length so it is not too boring.