Art about life, not about art

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Art about life, not about art

From David Dennis

Published before 2005


I enjoy painting outside as well. Oddly it was one of my most ardent "modernist professors" that I studied with that required this in a special studies class. He told us of modernists like Mondrian, that painted from life daily, in Mondrian's case he would paint from his flower garden every day and then paint his squares. Markowitz saw nothing wrong with painting realistically to inform our explorations into abstraction, he in fact encouraged it and graded harshly those who tried to slip by with quick, splashing unstudied strokes. He was one that believed in order to be a great abstract painter, one had to master realistic painting. He in fact had, he was amazing, his abstract work was really based on his realistic studies. He worked me to death in painting and drawing and I love him for it! That one semester with him, two courses I completed like 150 paintings and drawings. I don't believe I slept that entire 16 weeks! I learned more from him than I did in the previous 4 years. He read poetry from Whitman, Blake and Shakespeare aloud while we did gesture and figure drawings, played Wagner, Mozart and Tchaikovsky (really loud so that it would invade our minds and hearts) while we painted still lifes, he tore drawings and paintings from the easel if he believed you were welching, I wish he had been there for the entire program. He made us read from James Elkins, Joseph Campbell, Robert Henri and Ruskin and write papers on their views as applied to the artist's obligation to society.

That may be the problem with so many who approach Modernism now, they don't have the basics down and they think, "Hey, I can do that," when in fact, they have no idea how some created the works they did. I have to confess that while I am working towards a more realistic mastery of drawing and painting, there are certain modern painters that I admire. It is in fact the abstract elements of a so-called classical or realistic painting that can make it so powerful and interesting. A prime example is Rembrandt, the details of his work are amazing and keep one engrossed for hours. Vermeer became more loose and more abstract with his details as he progressed. Sargent used abstraction to great advantage in his alla prima approach to painting portraits as did Delacroix and Velàzquez. I will admit to being memorized by painters like Keefer, Pollack and Stella (especially his latest work, I live in S. Florida and they've had the Art Basel here now for 3 years.) I went to the Biennial at the Whitney last March and was blown away by the great work and nonplussed by the majority of mediocre work there. I spent a lot of time at the Met and the Dahesh that week. While Michelangelo and Bernini are supreme masters, Rodin is much more interesting at times. My biggest issue with Modernism and Post Modernism is the promotion of artists like Mapplethorpe, Damien Hurst, Serrano, Koons, that idiot that drives steamrollers and blows things up, oh yeah, can't recall his name right now, oh yeah, Chris Burden, Christo who wraps things and calls it art. Yet I love Otto Dix and Schiele, Pearlstein and yes even Lucian Freud and Odd Nerdrum (though he is, I feel, unnecessarily crude at times). Lichenstein makes me laugh and I know so many modernists that hate his work as well as much as the purists. And I never miss Laurie Anderson when she performs her spoken word and electronic art, though she's using less of the technology now.

Oh well, I've rambled for a while now,

David