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… and try painting with egg tempera, instead of their usual media (oil, acrylic). It was a joy to share my favorite medium with my critique group (Ellen Holtzblatt, Monica Sageman, Gabriella Boros, Colleen Cox and Jackie Eddy.) We enjoyed the hospitality of Cindy Jevon’s PerficalSense Studio and Art Salon.
Egg tempera can be purchased in tubes, but the traditional (and most rewarding) way to use it is by mixing pure pigments (the color ingredient in all paints) with the yolk of an egg on a glass palette. A little water is added to thin the paint, and the result is a brilliantly vivid, water-soluble paint that allows for transparent glazes and layers, opaque paint when desired and incredibly fine lines for detail.
Here are some examples of how I have used egg tempera:
… more can be seen on my website.
In her NY Times review of Saul Steinberg: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, Deborah Solomon reminds us that Steinberg was most famous for his “View of the World From 9th Avenue”, a Manhattan-centric remapping of the world.
Steinberg was a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker. In addition, his drawings and sculptures were shown in high-brow galleries and museums, and prized by art collectors.
Solomon, who authored a forthcoming biography of Norman Rockwell, has good reason to be well-versed on the topic of “fine art” vs. “illustration”. About Steinberg, she comments: “In his heyday, art critics butted heads over whether his drawings should be considered cartooning, illustration or museum-worthy art. By now such attempts at classification seem beside the point. Most of us do not believe that an invisible velvet rope separates museum art from magazine art, or that a painting hanging at the Museum of Modern Art is automatically superior in aesthetic terms to a children’s book illustration. The truth is that any genre can produce works of enduring power” (italics mine.)
Solomon cites an anecdote from the biography that mirrors this pedestal-busting view of art: “(Steinberg) once described Picasso, after visiting him at his villa outside Cannes, as ‘an old Jewish man in the Florida sun– all torso and shorts.'”
What do you think? Is there an important distinction between illustration and fine art? Does it matter?
Thomas Hart Benton: A Life is a new biography of the American Regionalist artist by Justin Wolff (reviewed in the NY Times 7-1-12.) Reading about Benton reminded me of my scorn for this reactionary, xenophobic, homophobe back when I was in art school in the 1970’s. His life’s arc is summed up by the fact that this popular and successful Social Realist artist was eclipsed by his former student, Jackson Pollock. Benton’s stylized realism and nostalgic view of a simpler America was like Andy Griffith at a Lady Gaga concert.
My personal view of Benton evolved as I outgrew the need to square off against ideologies in art, in order to form my own identity. In other words, I put aside my own prejudices against Benton’s prejudices, and took a fresh look at his work. In the mid 80’s, I happened upon a trove of Benton lithographs in an exhibit at R. S. Johnson Fine Art in Chicago. I was struck by the sinuous beauty and powerfully expressive line in Benton’s graphic work.
Reading about Benton today, I thought about ways his influence pervaded American art. One of my favorite films is Night Of The Hunter, by Charles Laughton. Looking at film stills, it is clear that Laughton had a painter’s sense of expressionist drama. Perhaps his stylized view was influenced by Benton’s view of silhouettes of the human drama, played out against the gentle swell of Midwestern plains and river valleys.
Grant Wood, despite the iconic status of American Gothic, also has been marginalized. Until I saw the fine collection of his work at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in Iowa, I thought of him as a one-hit-wonder. Like Benton, his work has a lyrical, stylized approach to American landscape that is as distinctive as it is beautiful. It is well worth a second look.
In a review of the Frieze Art Show in New York, Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Frieze show artists as “worker bees in an art-industrial hive. Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.” He distinguishes between the art he saw at Frieze and art one would find in “studios, or going to offbeat spaces… where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”
I asked the members of my monthly artists’ critique group what they thought about the hive metaphor for the art world.
Q: What factors are contributing to the “art-industrial hive”, as described by Cotter?
E: Art has become an industry that starts in art school now, manufacturing art. Before, artists were told, “Express yourself” to the extent that the teachers didn’t actually teach anything. People tended to grab onto their “gimmick” in order to show they had an artistic identity.
Now, there’s a move away from hands-on connection with art; it’s all about where’s the next big thing.
J: I think it’s very natural to have shifts in technology over time. Whoever’s got the resources decides what people see.
G: Art schools now think in terms of involving the engineering school [in creative projects, just so they can get grants] for funding.
C: But, painting is looked at as quaint and not serious.
Q: What do you think about what Holland Cotter’s description of the Frieze show?
E: Art fairs are like a big box store for art.
C: I get the impression art is marketed, packaged [and designed to] pull in investors. I have heard some people who are running galleries now have financial backgrounds, not art backgrounds; it’s all part of this set up to sell the art work as another type of commodity. Small dealers have been driven out of business. Galleries in Connecticut [for example,] became an art destination where people would go when they got out of New York in the summer. The dealers all knew the artists, they were friends; they had a real dialogue and relationship. These galleries have been closing. People with a genuine passion for art have been driven out.
Years and years of stripping art out of the schools has the result that people aren’t educated about art. Their art choices are based on decorative or financial considerations. People aren’t culturally sophisticated. There used to be a respect for the humanities, no longer.
Architects and designers have become involved in designing interior spaces, to the extent of what people put up on their walls. I have been stunned to learn people have a lot of money, yet they have blank walls, and they have to hire somebody to decide what goes on the walls. Their choices are driven by status or decoration. They’re either afraid to make choices of art or they have no opinion, no taste. It’s cowardly, but also ignorant– out of not having education, not having exposure to art and experience with it. For people who don’t have lots of money, museums are often too expensive.
An alternative to the bee-hive: E and I attended an opening reception June 15 for “Facemask”, a juried group show, curated by Sergio Gomez, at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, which fits Cotter’s description as one of those “ offbeat spaces… where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.” (One of our critique group members, Gabriella Boros, has a work in the show.)
The work was fresh, provocative and varied, and the energy and dialogue among the artists/attendees was palpable. E and I left feeling inspired and energized, eager to get our hands dirty in our studios.
Artists: what do you think of the art-industrial hive? How do you want to reach the public with your art?
I walk daily on a path through a virgin prairie near where I live. The blooms change week by week, and I photographed some of them, to preserve their image before they withered and stepped aside for the next wave of blossoms.
I was listening to the sound track of “Forrest Gump”, which has songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s, the music of my childhood and teen years. “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane was playing:
“Come on now we’re marching to the sea
got a revolution got to revolution… ”
I thought about the flower children of the 60’s, calling for revolution, and the reference to “marching to the sea”, which calls up Sherman’s march to the sea, from the Civil War. I am currently reading Sick From Freedom: African American Illness and Suffering During The Civil War and Reconstruction, by Jim Downs. Mr. Downs revises the glossy view of the emancipation of the African slaves in the United States, and documents the catastrophic wave of privation and disease which met the newly emancipated bondsmen and women, because of medical ignorance and administrative incapacity. Thousands upon thousands of former slaves died of exposure, starvation and disease following emancipation. Which is obviously not to say that they were better off in slavery; in fact, the fear of that argument kept the grim facts from coming to light for generations. It is important that this story is finally being told.
It may seem odd to make a jump from beautiful wildflowers to catastrophic demographic displacement, while in the midst of a gorgeous meadow on a summer day, but that’s how my mind runs. Tearing down, I thought, is quick and easy; building up is slow and torturous. As I listened to the song calling for political change, I felt glad that the cultural revolution of my youth did not escalate to a violent overthrow of the U.S. government. This sounds simplistic; but as I watch social/political upheavals around the world, and see our country use “shock and awe” as a “defense” policy, I worry. Change is essential; people are suffering under cruel dictatorships, but as with the prairie, the return of life following a scorched-earth policy takes generations; the cost is terrible and the results are always mixed.
My little photographic record (which led to this line of thought) began with seeing a flower I’d never seen before, a few days earlier. Since I didn’t have my cellphone/camera that day, I took a mental photo and did a little sketch in watercolor while I was at my teaching job at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Fay, an avid gardener in my class, didn’t recognize it, either, and suggested that I take it to Plant Information, where they were able to identify it for me: Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea Purpurea). The description in the book said it requires a “rich, well-developed environment.” In other words, it only grows where generations of untouched prairie plants have been able to flourish and propogate and create the right conditions; it’s not just going to pop up on a foreclosed subdivision where people stopped mowing the grass for a year or two. Which explains why I’ve never seen it before; it doesn’t grow just anywhere.
The custodians of Gallery Park, the beautiful jewel which contains patches of untouched prairie, utilize controlled burns to maintain the natural cycle of destruction and rebirth that allows the prairie to flourish. How do we replicate a “controlled” burn in the world of politics and nation building? Now, there’s the challenge.