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Friday, December 19, 2014

Filippino Lippi

Apparition of the Virgin to St Bernard, 1480-86, Filippino Lippi

Filippino Lippi Self-portrait, 1485
It's a tradition we don't often see in today's world, when a son follows in his father's footsteps, taking up his father's profession as his own. Few artists train their sons or daughters to likewise become artists. In fact, the practice has become relatively rare in virtually all areas of professional endeavor (except politics, unfortunately). I suppose the practice lingers most often today in the entertainment professions and the medical field. I'm not sure why so few children pursue their parents' professions, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's because of the wide variety of other vocational opportunities and training available to them. Or, perhaps it's just that, having seen what their parents had to endure to achieve some degree of success, they simply swear "NO WAY!" The Italian painter, Filippino Lippi didn't have that option. His father, Filippo (below, left) died when he was twelve, leaving him in the care of an aunt. As a handsome young lad of sixteen, Filippino began his training with one of his father's former students, the highly esteemed, Early Renaissance master, Sandro Botticelli.

Fra Filippo Lippi, Self-portrait
Few artists have ever had so colorful a parentage. Filippino's father was a defrocked priest, his mother a nun. Their son was born around 1457 (some sources say 1459). In any case, his parents were not married until 1461. Even for a defrocked priest, Fra Filippo Lippi's behavior and lifestyle were quite scandalous by fifteenth century standards. However, like so many today in the entertainment world, if you have talent, and know the right people, it's amazing what you can get away with. Just ask Justin Bieber. Fra Filippo Lippi had both, and despite his licentious misdeeds, he continued to survive, even thrive, as an artist until his death in 1469 at the age of sixty-three.

Having known his painting master's young son since birth, Sandro Botticelli took the teenaged boy under his wing, taught him to paint. He served as a much-needed father figure, insuring that the young man did not grow up to be like his father. In this effort, Botticelli was largely successful, although Filippino also did not grow up to possess his father's undeniable talent with a brush. It was a different era. The 1480s marked the beginning of what we term the "high" Renaissance (1480-1520), when there were so many truly outstanding artists at work (Botticelli among them) that any artist of lesser talent had little chance of rising above a very crowded field of journeymen. However, thanks again to Botticelli, Filippino Lippi seldom lacked for work. Botticelli ran a fairly typical Renaissance "art factory" though his was more portable than most as he traveled to various wealthy Italian cities decorating with frescoes the many churches and palaces popping up like mushrooms on a damp day.
The Torture of St. John the Evangelist, 1497-1503,
Strozzi Chapel, Florence, Filippino Lippi
Allegory of Music, 1500, Filippino Lippi
Filippino Lippi's Apparition of the Virgin to St Bernard (top), dating from around 1480 is considered to be, if not his masterpiece, then certainly among his best works. His works previous to that had a distinctly "Botticelli" look to them, but as time went on, Lippi veered away from his master's style into a somewhat less sensitive (and thus less satisfying) style of his own. In 1487, Lippi was asked to decorate the Strozzi family chapel in Santa Maria Novella with the Stories of St. John Evangelist and St. Philip. His Torture of St. John the Evangelist (above) on the wall of the Strozzi Chapel in Florence, dates from 1497-1503. It wasn't until about 1503, after his patron's death (and shortly before his own), that he finally completed the commission. Filippino Lippi also designed the stained glass windows of the chapel using musical themes (left). They were completed around the same time. Lippi's work during this period reflects the political and religious turmoil in Florence at the time, the clash between Christianity and paganism in the arts being violently debated during the rise and fall of the fiery zealot Girolamo Savonarola.

Apparition of Christ to the Virgin,
ca. 1493, Filippino Lippi
Adoration of the Magi, 1495,
Filippino Lippi

Mystic wedding of St. Catherine,
Virgin and Martyr, 1503, Filippino Lippi
Lippi seems to have developed a reputation as a more than adequate family "chapel decorator." Even before finishing his work for the Strozzi family he was in Rome decorating the chapel of the Carafa family. During this time he seems to have commuted back and forth between Rome and Florence, completing such works as Apparition of Christ to the Virgin (above, left), around 1493, and Adoration of the Magi (above, right), completed around 1495. Surviving works in Bologna (left) and Prato (southwest of Florence) indicate he had gained some fame near the end of his life and traveled about as needed to make the most of it. Filippino Lippi's final commission was for a seven-panel polyptych for the Santissima Annunziata church in Florence. Lippi planned the work but was not able to complete even the central panel, his Deposition from the Cross (below), before his death in 1504. The entire city of Florence took the day off to attend his funeral. The unfinished central panel and the other six were completed by Pietro Perugino around 1507.
Deposition from the Cross, 1503-07, Filippino Lippi,
(completed by Pietro Perugino).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Art Critic

And it's on velvet, no less.                                       
Painted from life no doubt.
So, you'd like to be an art critic? Very well, let me pose a question. Your response will suggest what type of critic you might be and your qualifications for the job: Which is more important in creating (and thus) evaluating art, technical proficiency, or originality of thought? If you chose the first, you would be a very conservative critic. If you chose the second you'd likely be a very negative critic, so hard to please no artist (or anyone else) would give much thought as to what you thought or said. Okay, it was a trick question. Both are important--I'd say equally important, though in fact, few professional art critics (myself included) can claim such an unbiased stance in this regard. The amateur critic often freely admits, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." The response to this assertion could best be stated, "You don't know what you like, you just like what you know."
Even the most beautiful scene can be made into bad art.
The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and
the Eleven Thousand Maidens,
1615-20, Peter Paul Rubens.
Bad art from a good artists.
Most such "wannabe" critics know and like Norman Rockwell. Pardon me while I start a new sentence; they also like Thomas Kinkade (wouldn't want to use both names in the same sentence and thus risk equating the two). I have mentioned several times how I have a personal dislike for virtually all art created by Henri Matisse. Although personal tastes are bound to color any critical assessment of a given work of art, they should not play a conscious role. I would never categorize any painting by Matisse as "bad" art. Moreover, labeling art "good" or "bad" should have nothing to do with personal taste and everything to do with critical evaluation. Several months ago I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on Evaluating Art. That was a kind of "how to" piece dealing with the "nuts and bolts" of critiquing art, concerned not so much with "good" art or "bad" art but in improving art. A critique is an educational tool consisting of artist-viewer interactions, aimed at helping the artist see his or her work more clearly from other points of view, and hopefully do better the next time.
The Museum of Bad Art, Brookline, Massachusetts
Comic artists frequently 
produce the worst of the worst.
The art critic, on the other hand, seldom (perhaps never) interacts with the artist, and in fact, is likely to be so disinterested in the artist personally as to care little whether that artist shows growth or improvement. One might even go so far as to question the critic's objectivity if there were any personal involvement along this line. The critic has a different audience. Although his or her words are quite likely to be read by the artists involved, they are under no obligation to accept the critic's pronouncements, much less apply them to future efforts. The art critic writes for the benefit of his or her readers, advising them as to whether an artist is "worth their time," guiding them in purchasing, and helping them frame their opinions based upon presumably unbiased, professional, knowledgeable, experience in the arts.
Good art may sometimes be unattractive. Bad art is sometimes disgusting.
Bad art strikes both photography
and attempts at humor
In doing all of the above, critics may choose to substantiate their opinions based upon individual works of art; but more often, they evaluate artists themselves, their potential, their collectibility, their consistency, their background, training, experience, point of view, focus, and the validity of what they have to say. Yes, critics also consider an artist's technical skills, first in choosing a medium of expression, and finally as to their expertise in using it. There is no precise order of importance in all of this. As I implied before, theoretically they should all be of equal importance, depending somewhat upon the artist...also depending upon the critic.
Bauern panorama. Old art does not equate to good art.

Sci-fi and eroticism are often
a showcase for bad art
In terms of good, bad, or indifferent art, as I suggested in the original article, there is something of a bell curve. On the left, we see very little truly outstanding art, followed by somewhat more "good" art, a tremendous amount of mediocre art in the middle, with "poor" art and really "bad" art petering out on the right. In that creative communication requires at least adequate, skills, whether in writing, singing, acting, sculpting, painting--whatever--a deficiency in this area inhibits, perhaps even prohibits communication, making the resulting art not just "bad" but worthless. By the same token, and this is more often the case, artists find it easier to concentrate on "how to" rather than the much more difficult "what to" do. Landscape artists, still-life artists, even portrait artist all realize that poor technique is easily identifiable even by the most uninformed viewer. Thus they concentrate upon this area in their studies. They equate "pretty" art, "pleasant" art, even "interesting" art, with good art.
Multi-media and mixed-media are not the same thing.

Fan art is usually horriffic. Poor Harry.
Technical prowess with a given medium does not guarantee "good" art. By the same token, a lack of technical skills can, and often does, guarantee "bad" art. That's why today we so often see an artist mixing media--painted images, words, sculptural surface effects, sounds, attached items, moving parts, lights, video, and mechanical elements (hopefully not all that in a single work of art) but you get the idea. The overriding factor comes down to "whatever works." In other words, an artist can quite reasonably choose the medium in which they are most skillful providing it "works" in conveying their message. One might draw the analogy: a brilliant speech into a "dead" microphone is just as bad as the deafening feedback whine from one that everyone wishes were dead.
Some people should never be allowed near art supplies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Golden Gate Park--San Francisco

The Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden.                                     
A Golden Gate Park Bridge in the
Japanese Tea Garden.
If anyone ever tries to sell you a bridge in Golden Gate Park, don't pay an exorbitant price. There are a two or three quite picturesque stream-crossers in the park, but not the city's graceful, brick-red, trademark/landmark you first think of. Actually, the Golden Gate Bridge isn't even visible from the park. The bridge makes it's landing in the city of San Francisco in the Presidio, which is a couple parks north of Golden Gate Park. The park was named, not for the bridge, but for the narrow inlet into San Francisco Bay. There are many worthwhile sights to see in the "city by the bay," but to my way of thinking, Golden Gate Park tops the list. Enjoy the cable cars; dine at Fisherman's Wharf; pay your respects to the "Painted Ladies" (thirteen blocks east of the park); expect to be disappointed if you visit Haight Ashbury (bordering the park to the east); and stare up at the pyramidal TransAmerica building. But whatever you do, spend at least a day exploring the 1,017 acres (20% larger than New York's Central Park) of urban greens pace rivaling any urban park in the world (well, except for Walt Disney World, perhaps).
Golden Gate Park from the air. Lincoln Park is at the bottom.
The Presido is not visible in the photo but resides just off the bottom left corner.
One of several waterfall in the park.
I was joking when I compared Golden Gate Park to Walt Disney World (WDW), but in fact, there are a number of apt comparisons. At just over three miles in length and about a half-mile wide, Golden Gate Park is not as big as WDW, but just as easy to get lost in (I find WDW terribly disorienting). There is no "Space Mountain," but the park does have a carousel (bottom) and sports some pretty nice rolling hills (some natural, some manmade). You won't find any fairytale castles but there is some fairly impressive architecture, nonetheless (such as the De Young Museum of Art on the northern edge of the park near the midpoint in its length). My wife and I visited the park in mid-May of this year (2014) when everything floral was just beginning to erupt in a cascading explosion of color easily surpassing WDW and it's desert of endless parking lots. The place is a landscape gardener's paradise. (The three-year California drought had not been kind to the place.)

Golden Gate Park's De Young Museum of Art built in 2005 following the .
Besides the De Young, and the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park also boasts a graceful floral conservatory, an arboretum, a science museum, golf course, riding stables, two stadiums, a concert shell, a beachfront chalet (two restaurants and a brewery), and a soccer field (there's also an 800-car underground parking garage at the De Young). Add to this the usual lakes, ponds, fountains, secluded park benches, two windmills, a buffalo zoo, and throw in a model yacht sailing basin, and you have a recreational area that's not only (mostly) free but quite lovely to look at virtually all seasons of the year (San Francisco has relatively mild winters).

The Golden Gate Park's Floral Conservatory dates from 1879.
John McLaren 1847-1943
Although the park was supposedly intended to provide the city's residents with a vast recreation area, its real purpose was to spur residential development in the city's neglected west side. That, it did. San Francisco's Golden Gate Park arose from a muddled area of sand dunes and scrub shortly after the Civil War as several major American cities began to imitate Frederick Law Olmsted's Central Park in New York. Olmsted's San Francisco counterpart was John McLaren, the park's superintendent for over fifty-three years. Although the park was surveyed and planned by the early California civil engineer, William Hammond Hall, it was McLaren who executed the plan, planted the 155,000 trees (not personally, of course) needed to stabilized the dunes while fending off the San Francisco millionaires wishing to install a racetrack (that he did do personally). On a single weekend afternoon in 1887, nearly one fifth of the city's population took the cable-cars to the park (47,000 out of 250,000). When it came time for McLaren to retire at age sixty, he refused, continuing on, as the park's manager and greatest defender, living within the park itself until his death in 1943 at age ninety-six.

The Golden Gate Park Temple of Music on the Main Concourse dates from 1894.

Golden Gate Park occupies a half-mile strip running
west from the city's central ridge down to the sea.
The day my wife and I visited Golden Gate park, the weather was sunny and mild, the weekday crowd was modest, and there was a high school band performing in the park's Beaux-Arts style Temple of Music (above). While I took in the art museum, my wife had a very pleasant day relaxing in the park, listening to live music, and playing games on her Ipad. It was a welcomed respite from the "hell on wheels" that she called the experience of driving the "Streets of San Francisco."

WDW has nothing to worry about, but Golden Gate's carousel seems to appeal to visitors of all ages, especially those over fifty.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Indiana Art

William Merritt Chase, Self-portrait, 1915, Indiana's most famous artist.                  
Love, Robert Indiana, Indiana Museum of Art,
based upon a 1964 Christmas card for
New York's Museum of Modern Art.
In continuing my series dealing with the indigenous art and artists of the fifty individual states which are (more of less) united to make up our American nation, I continue to move clockwise around my home state of Ohio, this time to the state of Indiana. Indiana is west of Ohio, east of Illinois, making it the poster child for what most people think of as bland mid-western art. That's a false stereotype, of course, but not one that's altogether surprising. I've had to poke through a good deal of pretty bland (pretty, but bland) art to choose what you see below. In beginning, when we contemplate famous Indiana artists, we think mostly of just two names, William Merritt Chase (top, born in 1849) and Robert Indiana, the latter of whom was actually born Robert Clark but adopted the name of his home state early in his career.
New Harmony on the Wabash, 1842, Karl Bodmer
(German, but he once slept in Indiana).
Nik Daum, Mude 5, (Moody Nude).
As I've found so often in pursuing this series on the various states, quite often the best artists the states have produced no longer live in their home state. That was the case with Chase (born in Indianapolis) as well as with Robert Indiana (now eighty-six, born in New Castle, Indiana). Another favorite son artist, William Forsyth, was born next door in Cincinnati (Ohio) but spent his life living and painting in Indianapolis. Among other Indiana-born artist who have deserted the state are Red Skelton and his clowns, Daniel Garber and his Impressionist landscapes, John Rogers Cox and his stormy wheat fields, and more recently, Nik Daum and his moody nudes (mudes, right).

The Indiana Museum of Art--not what you'd call "mid-western bland."
Of course the place to see Indiana art is, of course, the Indiana Museum of Art (IMA, above). Outside you will find Indiana's Love, and and inside, works by the others listed above, as well as that of lesser-known artists such as Antreasian Garo (below), Ghada Amer, Tara Donovan, Kate Gilmore, Robert Irwin, Sol LeWitt, Maya Lin, Nam June Paik, and Heather Rowe.

Mural of Indianapolis, 1952, Indianapolis Children's Museum, Antreasian Garo
Just north of the museum is one of the largest sculpture parks to be found anywhere--one-hundred acres. Besides work by Indiana's Mr. Indiana, I was especially captivated by the suspended sculpture known simply as the IMA Rings (below), a collaboration between New York conceptual sculptors Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin and the IMA staff featuring two steel rings suspended from poles and nearby trees (you can hardly see the thin cables). The rings align with the sun during the summer solstice to form a single shadow on the ground. The rest of the year they seem like eerie UFOs hovering over the seasonal landscape, their shadows as fascinating as the rings themselves.

Align (the IMA Rings), Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin.
F1 Blue X Yellow,
Mina Papatheodorou-Valyraki
In exploring the art and artists of Indiana, I'd be remiss if not mentioning Indianapolis' greatest sporting attraction. Just as Kentucky races horses at their famed Churchill Downs, Indianapolis races horsepower at the "Brickyard"--the state's Indianapolis 500. Although "Indy Car" racing does not dominate the culture or art of Indiana as do horses in Kentucky, it's not hard to find and for the most part very reflective of the various art styles and eras since the founding of "The Five Hundred" in 1911. F1 Blue X Yellow, left by Mina Papatheodorou-Valyraki (not a very common name in Indiana) captures the roaring, whiz-bang, rough and tumble atmosphere of the race. (She's Greek, by the way.) A far more calm, pastoral landscape, then and now, is depicted by Indiana artists, Jacob Cox, with his Pogue's Run Swimming Hole (below, left) from 1840, and present day artist, Dan Woodson with his The Old Mill (below, right) from 2013, winner of the Best of Show award at the 2013 Indiana Artists Club Art Exhibit. (Does every state have an old mill just for artists to paint?

Pogue's Run Swimming Hole,
1840, Jacob Cox
The Old Mill, 2013,
Dan Woodson

Pre-release artwork for Raiders of The Lost Ark, 1981, Richard Amsel,
depicting Indiana's most famous archaeologist.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Jean-Étienne Liotard

Liotard, Landscape with cows, sheep and shepherdess, 1761, Jean-Etienne Liotard.

Jean-Étienne Liotard Self-portrait, 1773
I've long claimed that the greatest compliment one can pay an artist is to say, he or she is quite versatile. There are perhaps a dozen or so major content areas which would encompass most art. A truly versatile artist should be able to paint competantly in any and all of these areas. Bot only that, but paint it in virtually any style, using virtually any painting medium. (Better still, any sculptural medium, as well.) In today's Postmodern art, the line separating one medium from another, one content area from another, even one style from another, is growing fuzzier and fuzzier every day. Painting only special content might be appropriate for a large city, but it would be foolish now or then in a rural setting. The French portrait artist, Jean-Etienne Liotard is one of the few painters of his time who could claim such a distinction as to versatility

Still Life Tea Set, 1781-83, Jean Etienne Liotard (dirty dishes).
Apollo and Daphne, 1736,
Jean-Etienne Liotard (after Bernini)
Dating as far back as Leonardo and the Renaissance, right up through Warhol and the Pop Era, as well as today, portrait painters have always tended to be among the most versatile of all artists. Jean-Etienne Liotard was a portrait painter; and having become a master at what should be consider the most difficult of all content areas, he was perfectly suited to paint over a broad spectrum of content areas from farm livestock landscapes (top) and high tea still-lifes (above) to classical subjects, genre, children (below, right), and of course, portraits of the high and mighty, rich and famous of his time. Liotard's Apollo and Daphne (left) from 1736, gives evidence of the artist's mastery of Greek mythology, though compositionally based upon the most popular embodiment of the couple, Bernini's Baroque masterpiece, completed just over a hundred years earlier.

Madame Levettand and Mlle Glavani in Turkish Costume, Jean-Etienne Liotard
Young Girls Singing into a mirror,
Jean-Etienne Liotard
Jean-Etienne Liotard was born in 1702, the son of a Geneva jeweler. He began his art studies under Professors Gardelle and Petitot learning to paint miniatures in enamel (an exquisite art demanding extreme patience and skill). In 1725, Liotard move on to Paris and later Naples to continue his studies. By 1735, he was in Rome painting portraits of cardinals and Pope Clement XII. From there he visited Constantinople "painting" in pastels Turkish officials and genre scenes. Liotard even adopted Turkish apparel which he often continued to wear even after returning to Paris around 1736. Doing so was considered what we'd term "chic" today, to the point many of his important portrait subjects (above) chose to be painted in mid-eastern costumes which he supplied.

The Chocolate Girl, 1744-45,
Jean-Etienne Liotard
Lady Ponsonby in Venetian Costume,
1742-43, Jean-Etienne Liotard
Then, as now, a portrait artist's "bread and butter" revolves around wealthy society figures (mostly women), their remarkable hairdos, richly detailed dresses, and youthful appearance. Liotard was good at meeting all thses expectations and demands. But he also found fascinating the lower levels of French society, the serving classes and those who could no more afford his fees than fly. But they were quite willing, even flattered, to pose for free or a small fee in order to be painted by the same artist who rendered the visages of their employers.

Marthe-Marie Tronchin, 1758-61,
Jean-Etienne Liotard
Portrait of a Young Woman,
1761, Jean-Etienne Liotard
Liotard's work is rich in detail, human nature, and even humor. Moreover he was quite prolific for a portrait painter of the 18th-century as academic profectionism was starting to take hold of the French art world. Besides Italy and Istambul, Liotard traveled broadly with trips to London, Vienna, and Amsterdam where he painted portraits of royalty and royal wanabees in both pastels and oils. He also was an expert engraver, even mastering the art of painting on glass (from the back). Of course high society women and the men who paid Liotard for their wives' portraits were pretty conservative, conventional, continental sorts. It's only when we look beneath the surface, digging out works such as his Portrait of a Young Woman (above, left) from 1761, or his gracefully aged portrait of Marthe-Marie Tronchin, (above, right) from 1758-61, that we come to realize why his work, quite apart from his portraits, has come to be so respected over two-hundred years after his death in 1789 at the age of eighty-seven.

Portrait of François Tronchin with his painting by Rembrandt, 1757, Jean Etienne Liotard. 
The portrait (above, right) is of Madame Tronchin, his wife.
The Rembrandt dates from 1645 and is titled, Woman in Bed (Bride of Tobias).