8.22.2010

A trip to the Blanton Museum to see "Matisse as Printmaker".

Once again, this photograph has very little to do with the post itself.  It's here because I like to look at it.  Michelle in the studio.  film.  paper.  scanned.


Belinda and I dropped the boy at the swim club and headed over to see the Matisse exhibit at the Blanton Museum today.  I am famous for putting things off to the last and, as you might guess, the show closes tomorrow.  I unabashedly love the Blanton.  Their eclectic collections are usually just provocative and quixotic enough to intrigue and entertain.

Let's start at the top.  This was a well curated collection of Matisse's lithographs, woodcuts, sketches, linoleum engravings and other kinds of prints.  While the show displayed only a few hundred pieces it's interesting to know that Matisse had completed well over ten thousand pieces by the time of his death.  And judging by the show and the information in the catalog the overwhelming majority of his works incorporated nude or nearly nude women.  So,  practice makes fluid and beauty is addictive.

Let's talk about the quantity first.  It takes practice to get to the point where an artist can create a fluid line that, in one brief flicker, that belongs, without question, to that artist.  Matisse used iteration after iteration to distill his vision.  To hone his craft until he was able to create a fully realized work with a radical economy of line.  Like the hauntingly simple melody from the first line of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue".  Hear it once and you're not likely to forget it.  See the sure course of a Matisse pencil line and you're not likely to forget that either.

While he was alive Matisse was constantly experimenting with his vision and his style, not just in painting but also in sculpture and prints of all kinds.  But his subject matter stayed focused on the female form,  it's design, it's display and, very much, the sense of gesture.  I believe that it was the constancy of his practice that pushed his art to prominence.

And he chose a subject matter that's been a major driving force of art since the dawn of man.  Female beauty.  While I looked carefully at the show I was reminded of a philosophy professor who once told me that all men are motivated by two things,  The sensual and mysterious allure of women and the power of money.  He further explained that men were drawn to the power of money in order to better attract sensual and alluring women.  I told him that it was really only one thing then.  He smiled a small smile and said, "Exactly."

To bring this all back around to photography I have several observations to make.  I am certain that some of them won't be very popular but I guess we're not holding a contest.

My first observation is that truly influential artists do their work to the exclusion of everything else.  While a few famous poets could work as doctors or publishing and insurance executives (William Carlos Williams, T.S. Elliot,  Wallace Stevens......) and still be successful, people in the plastic arts need to be absolutely immersed and engaged to rise to the highest levels.  Picasso is another artist who, like Matisse, was amazingly prolific.  People who do photography as a hobby, with full time employment in other fields, do not want to hear this.  But they've made a trade for other intangibles and it's not my intention to judge their circumstances or their choices.  Wanna be a world famous photographer?  Quit your day job.

My second observation is my own law called the "parabola of achievement and success".   It goes something like this:  If you fire a gun up into the air the bullet will follow a parabola or a curve.  The angle at which you fire the gun determines how far the bullet travels, linearly, away from you.  (Not its total distance travelled).  If you aim a gun nearly straight up the bullet will speed up and then come down and it may only land a few inches in front of you (depending on the trajectory, which is mostly influenced by the angle of the gun when fired.)  If you chart the success of most companies, fads, trends, styles and artists on a piece of paper you'll find that some catch on quickly and rocket to success.  On a graph they are a curve that heads north very quickly.  Some build slowly and organically.  Think of a company like IBM that took decades and decades to become the biggest IT company in the world.

Here's my law:  The faster the rise (the steeper the trajectory) the equally quickly they will decay and fall. The slower the rise the slower the fall.  Die at the peak and all bets are off.

The photographers that tend to become hot "over night" tend to fall into two categories.  The first category are the artists who've worked in relative obscurity before being systematically discovered by the cognoscenti of the art/photo world.  They paid their dues and worked the long curve.  The other over night successes are people who were launched into the market at a much steeper incline. Their launch corresponded with a hot style in which they worked on the sharp edge.   The law, "the parabola of achievement and success" predicts that their fame will be short lived and their notoriety extinguished like the appeal of white tasseled loafers.  Some of the overnight successes will build on their instant success to establish a new trajectory. But for most, the laws remain.  But in the end all artists grow old and die.  And when they are dead the only people who really care about the integrity of their trajectory are the ones who inherit their estates or have collected their work.

If it's all for naught then why even bother?  I have no idea.  Really, these kinds of questions are all tied up in the trauma and triumph of early childhood and how you respond to Rorschach tests and other bits and pieces best dealt with by mental health researchers.  But I do know that if I gave my life in service to art I would follow the examples of Matisse, Rodin and Jeff Dumas and try to photograph, sketch or paint as many beautiful nudes as possible.  You can have the landscapes............

12 comments:

Dave Jenkins said...

So can I tell my wife she is the one who has hindered my success?

kirk tuck said...

I wouldn't suggest that course.....Not if you're married to the same sort of incredibly sweet and wonderful wife who also happens to read my blog on a daily basis........

Poagao said...

I wonder if your philosophy professor ever met a gay man. How does that philosophy transfer to gay artists, or female artists for that matter?

kirk tuck said...

Super easy question for anyone who lives in Austin.....substitute beautiful nude woman with beautiful nude man. No problem.

Anonymous said...

Gay artists create art that interests them. Male or female.

Poagao said...

Yeah, I thought that would be the case; I was just a little taken aback at your professor's statement of "all men" without any qualification. Also, I really should visit Austin...it could be the one place that redeems the state for me.

Kurt Shoens said...

In the old days, wasn't a lot of art created commercially, paid for by royalty, wealthy people, or churches? Since photography has replaced (for example) painting in many practical applications, today (my opinion) painting is done much more for art's sake.

Nowadays, a lot of really great art photography was done originally in the service of editorial, photojournalism, and advertising. The commercial framework provides a structure for the work, along with financial support. Art free of any such constraints sounds very daunting to me.

Kirk, you mentioned workshops a few posts ago. When Don Giannatti was in town a few months ago, I took his workshop. I learned some technical things but most importantly, I understand better why I take pictures. I photograph to see better and to remember better. I'm trying to get better so the images express what I'm trying to see and remember more faithfully.

I have no problem with the assertion that you have to do the art full-time to really make it. Beyond not having enough time, people like me don't have enough motivation.

Example from this week: I heard a radio program about a somewhat non-traditional cellist. She markets her music through social media because (according to her) she doesn't have the classical young beautiful woman looks to be marketed by a record label.

If you're like me, you hear that as a challenge. I would love to create a picture that does this musician justice. Of course then I thought a) she has 100,000 twitter followers, b) she's located in San Francisco, and c) she could send out a tweet and get a dozen offers from very capable photographers to take a portrait. And I looked online and she's of course a very attractive woman of 40 years, so I don't even know what she was talking about.

I'm not going ask for her time because I don't need a picture of her for my portfolio. If I did this full-time, I might very well need assignments like that.

Getting back to your proposed artistic subject matter, commercial work photographing what I'll diplomatically call figure studies doesn't, uh, ahem. Let me start again. Figure studies for art's sake rather than commerce sounds like the better approach. You'd have to provide your own framework for it. Too challenging for me!

kirk tuck said...

"I understand better why I take pictures. I photograph to see better and to remember better. I'm trying to get better so the images express what I'm trying to see and remember more faithfully." Kurt Shoens

This hits the nail on the head for me. It's exactly why I photograph. Thank you for this great distillation. Cognac of thinking, as opposed to my jug, red wine.

Curt Schimmels said...

"It takes practice to get to the point where an artist can create a fluid line that, in one brief flicker, that belongs, without question, to that artist."

"My first observation is that truly influential artists do their work to the exclusion of everything else. While a few famous poets could work as doctors or publishing and insurance executives (William Carlos Williams, T.S. Elliot, Wallace Stevens......) and still be successful, people in the plastic arts need to be absolutely immersed and engaged to rise to the highest levels."

I've just read a very interesting book called "This Is Your Brain On Music," by Daniel Levitin. While his interest is in how music works in your brain (greatly simplified), he has a chapter called "What Makes A Musician?" to which the short answer is, "practice, practice, practice." He submits that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of playing to become competent in playing an instrument at the highest levels. Clearly there is a correlation, here, with visual arts. From that, while there are occasional flares of creativity without that effort, to paraprase an old saying, "the more I practice, the more creative I become."

Anonymous said...

Nudes trump landscapes. Always.

Bold Photography said...

I've found that my photography hobby has changed how I see. This is particularly true when shooting with a tripod. Not just what, but how.

I'm not sure I remember any better.... My future as a world-famous photographer may have to wait for my retirement from my day job...

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Kirk: forget it - you'll take the landscapes ;-)

cheers,
Wolfgang