Where's the "Art"?

stlukesguild

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I'm pulling this discussion to a new thread in order to not derail the thread on "Recent Art You Like".

I posted this lovely (IMO) painting by Jeremy Lipking:

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Shortly thereafter, I got the following responses:

Looks like the photo it was painted from. Which makes one wonder. Why not just take a photo. In fact now photos can be altered to look more like a painting than this does.

Impressive skill, but where is the art.

... if you ask me, there isn't much art in most portraiture. It's craft.


Honestly, while Jeremy LIpking works from photographs as well as from life, the above painting does not look like a photograph to me nor I am able to tell whether it was painted from life or from a photograph. Considering that the painting is of the artist's daughter, Skylar, I suspect it was painted from life.

But then "there isn't much ART in portraiture?" Surely, that is an absolutely ridiculous statement. Is there an artistic genre that has resulted in more masterful works of Art than portraiture? Portraits rank among the finest works of art for longer than many other genres such as landscape or still life dating back to ancient times across cultures:

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There are endless masterpieces of portraiture by the "old masters" across the ages:

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Portraits remain a leading genre since the onset of Modernism in spite of the growth of the popularity of Landscape, Still Life, and Abstraction:

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These examples barely scrape the surface of all the great portraits across the history of art. And then we have the issue of photographic portraits. Any time the question is raised of the "photoreal" nature of some paintings and whether such paintings lack true Art, this ignores the fact that photography is an art form and that there are any number of great photographic portraits in which those having studied the genre for some time can tell one photographer from another. In other words, not even photography can be seen as presenting some universal "realism" sans Art.

I personally lean toward an art in which the artifice is more obvious... where you can easily discern the artist's mark-making, distortions of shape and form and space, exagerrated colors, etc... but "realism"... an art of great illusion... also employs a great deal of artifice... although this may be more difficult to discern without a degree of experience. The paintings of Vermeer and Ingres often look "photo real"... at first. It is amazing how much abstraction exists in these paintings. This is something recognized by subsequent artists. The colors and areas of pixelated surfaces in Vermeer inspired the Impressionists. The artificial color, composition, and distortions of form and space in Ingres inspired Degas, Picasso, and even DeKooning... among other artists.

So where does the Art in a work of Art lie?
 
Fair points.


But I said there isn't much art in most portraiture. Like the Lipking. Sorry, but I see craft there, not art. But I'll admit that, personally speaking, portraits usually bore me. Including the Mona Lisa. So it may be my bias speaking. And in the above examples the art is in the figurative paintings more than the pure portraits. IMO. Which is subject to change without warning.

Many of the great artists of the past made their living doing portraits but after becoming successfull stopped and did other types of works. They then followed their true artistic desires. There is a reason for that.
 
Many of the great artists of the past made their living doing portraits but after becoming successfull stopped and did other types of works. They then followed their true artistic desires. There is a reason for that.

I don't know where you heard that. Most of the old masters... and modern artists who painted a good number of portraits continued to do so right up until their death.

Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Durer, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Frans Hals, Boucher, Fragonard, Gainsborough, Gilbert Stuart, Joshua Reynolds, Henry Raeburn, J.L. David, Ingres, Goya, George Bellows, Courbet, Thomas Eakins, Sargent, Anders Zorn, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Morisot, Pierre Bonnard, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Schiele, Klimt, Kokoschka, as well as Picasso, Matisse & Max Beckmann (arguably the three greatest painters of the 20th century)... and even later masters such as Lucian Freud, Avigdor Arikha, Andrew Wyeth, etc... all continued to produce portraits late in life. I honestly can't think of a single major artist known for painting portraits early in life who abandoned these later.

Neither am I aware of many artists prior to the 19th century who were able to abandon commissioned works... whether portraits or another genre... and turn toward whatever they wanted to paint. There are a few exceptions. Hieronymus Bosch was able to paint what he wanted for most of his career thanks to the fact that his wife was the wealthiest woman in the county.

I said there isn't much art in most portraiture. Like the Lipking. Sorry, but I see craft there, not art.

Art exists in the whole of a painting as both image and object. It exists in the brushwork or artist's mark-making and the surface. It also exists in the choices made in organizing the art elements: line, shape, value, color, etc... Looking at Lipking's portrait I see how the artist has greatly simplified the background... the sky, the mountains, and the ground. The ground and the mountains remind me of the unfinished handling of the same elements in Courbet's last painting. Lipking has also simplified the coat or wrap almost like a saint's robe in a Renaissance painting. He has also toned down the colors. All of these decisions are made in order to focus upon the face in the shadows. The empty space above and around the figure and the figure's placement are all conscious decisions... and these decisions are all part of the "Art" in any painting or image.

... in the above examples the art is in the figurative paintings more than the pure portraits. IMO. Which is subject to change without warning.

This seems as absurd as suggesting that somehow still-life paintings of oranges are more artful than still-life paintings of apples or that landscapes of mountains are more artful than landscapes of suburban settings (Impressionism).

But I'll admit that, personally speaking, portraits usually bore me.

And that may be the crux of the issue.
 
Yes, still lifes are also boring. Hard to say which are more boring, portraits or still lifes.
 
Slukesguild, wonderful roundup, incredible the painting by Jeremy Lipking, actually initially it makes you think of a photo, but then more of an incredible painting (I don't know if because I know that I have a painting and I didn't shake after a second, now maybe we happen to to do so a little for everything, even art I see it like this and even before I do not museums but I believe that in a museum it would have its own reason and maybe I would focus on something else, I would not think about photos or less, perhaps they affect these things but I do not know)

how nice to see all these works together, the human subject, portrait interpreted in such different, incredible ways and always with wonderful results is absurd, unthinkable,
there are many genres and each is a different world but the same genre finds infinite possibilities. and many examples of beauty.

may I ask if the last fourth is by Lucian Froid?
these days I am seeing an art documentary, it is about him, "Lucian Frrid" self-portrait, about an exhibition they have set up about self-portraits, I wonder if many others like him and Rembrandt have practically all their lives self-portraits (or this is something rare, anyway all these phases, testimonies still within reach, visible without having dispersed and witnessing so much of their art, of them,), how they did what they did, however, is probably incredible.
However beautiful this exhibition on Froid and in any case the film, leaves you speechless, portraits (or in general perhaps thinking of other artists) seem to say much more than I thought, and the changes in his art, his style, his character, his choices he did in creating, or some finding or reconstructions or interpretations,
use of the mirror, a single apartment plan and his face a little covered, and a small canvas as well and how they projected you to another place or continent, do not make you think of a room, or other works, a picture of a face that can hit you like punches in the face,
I don't know why he could have been a type perhaps a little gruff or raw or because maybe you see the passage of time in a flash, or something of his art that captures me or whatever I like, anyway after that, after having seen many of his works (I remembered some figures, one that had been vunduta just so much) I admire him even more. figures initially I preferred them 70 to 30 (not his, I say in general) to portraits but thinking of Rembrandt or Durer, Sergent faces of MOdigliani or Froid, lady with an ermine Vincent the portraits I like the same, more than in the past. the things I prefer even if in the end every genre we are lucky that there is and it is therefore nice to see and it often happens that I particularly like it and that in moments I like to admire it much more than figures or portraits.
 
may I ask if the last fourth is by Lucian Froid?

The first one in the last row? Or the last one in the last row? The first one in the last row is by Lucian Freud. The 4th one in the last row is Eric Fischl.
 
I must admit. Many of the more modern examples above I like. Particularly the Van Gogh's. I think it's mostly the pure face shots I find boring and the photorealist ones. The abstracted portraits are pretty cool. There is more creativity in them. Creativity is the key.
 
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these days I am seeing an art documentary, it is about him, "Lucian Frrid" self-portrait, about an exhibition they have set up about self-portraits...

I "discovered" Freud in a slim volume in the library in my art school with the text by Robert Hughes. He was little known in the US at the time and the Met in New York had turned down an exhibition of his work as "realism" was largely an anathema at the time. Some years later, the Met did offer Freud a Retrospective. The paintings were stunning.

I wonder if many others like him and Rembrandt have practically all their lives self-portraits...

Van Gogh immediately comes to mind... even though his career as a mature painter in less than 10 years. The German painter, Max Beckmann is another artist who created self-portraits across the whole of his career.

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Beckmann's self-portraits date from the early 1900s during his stint in art school absorbing the lessons of Impressionism, through the horrors of WWI, into the nightclubs and cabarets of the post-war Weimar era on through the late 1940s.

... figures initially I preferred them 70 to 30 (not his [Lucian Freud's] I say in general) to portraits but thinking of Rembrandt or Durer, Sergent faces of MOdigliani or Froid, lady with an ermine Vincent the portraits I like the same, more than in the past. the things I prefer even if in the end every genre we are lucky that there is and it is therefore nice to see and it often happens that I particularly like it and that in moments I like to admire it much more than figures or portraits.

Of course, I admire paintings of the figure above everything else. I identify with Ingres and Degas who began their career with aspirations toward becoming the next great multi-figural narrative painters... only to realize that such was not to be. Yet both found a way to capture the motion, the colors, and the compositional complexity within the genre of portraits, ballet dancers, and simple nudes in the dressing rooms.
 
Speaking of Degas. I just read a piece about him. The dancers he painted were prostitutes and he was a misogynist.

The sordid truth behind Degas' ballet dancers​

 
Stlukesguild,
thank you very much, yes, I meant the first one in the last row, sorry.
Thanks for the reply and the wonderful and interesting new examples.
You are right about Van Gogh and very beautiful portraits, of Van Gogh I did not know before I saw them online, different, of his incredible work as a designer, of his practice, very beautiful drawings.

I did not know Beckmann's works, incredible here too how they explored, I interpret the self-portraits, and all the various works, a bit as if it were a summary of his career, of his art. Some are very striking.
Wonderful the figures of Degas and his art of him. Actually the dancers come to mind, as he captured the movement like few, incredible dynamic works, Ingres I have to look for, especially I remember only a couple of portraits, wonderful portraits, it's incredible.
 
I glanced at this thread and well... there’s no doubt that when SLG makes a point, he truly makes it!! Accompanied by so many backups....
But when you say, SLG (and not for the first time), that you are more appreciative of works of art where brushstrokes are visible, colors are chosen arbitrarily or shapes are purposely distorted, I must admit that my own appreciation lies therein too.
I thought I might illustrate what we’re talking about here by attaching a portrait by Paula Modersohn-Becker. Could she create photorealism as well as Jeremy Lipkind? Probably not. Is her own personality reflected in this portrait by pictorial means that you and I appreciate? Probably yes.
There are of course more “extreme” examples that illustrate the point I’m making here and Van Gogh’s self portraits (or any other portraits he did) would probably be top of the list. As far as Lipking is concerned, he is certainly highly skilled and an amazing technician. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that people who buy his paintings do so for admiration of his technical ability and not because his art has the psychological and even spiritual effect that a Van Gogh piece has.
 

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Typical sensationalist bullshit of the media when concerning art. It's either this or hyping the latest $100 Million sale at auction. Everything in that article is outdated knowledge that the author hypes up.

From Degas' time and earlier, it was assumed that all artists' models were prostitutes. And it was true for some of the girls when we consider that they were all from the lower classes and had few options when it came to employment.

The ballerinas of Paris in the late 19th century were not as highly skilled as we think of today... but they were dancers who spent most of their time working at their trade. Many of the dancers who garnered the best roles were supported by wealthy male patrons who treated the girls in a manner not unlike the racehorses they also bankrolled. This patronage often involved sexual favors. These favors often took the form of voyeurism where the patrons could watch the young girls dressing (sounds like a certain politician I know of). Degas produced a couple of scenes based on this:

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In this pastel, we are given a patron's view peering through the doorway as the dancer dresses.

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In this pastel, a woman (the girl's mother or chaperone) makes the final adjustments to her costume while her patron looks on.

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A good many of the dancers were accompanied by chaperones... often their mothers... in order to make sure they avoided the propositions of sleazier "patrons".

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Dance has always had and retains an erotic element. An admiration of beautiful bodies remains an element of our experience of celebrities, models, actors/actresses, and even pro athletes. The author's shock at the erotic... and at times sordid aspects of the ballet in the 19th century is disingenuous at best. Her assertions of Degas' supposed abuse of his models and his misogyny are absolute bunk as anyone having read a deal on his history would know.

Degas did not choose to portray backstage scenes of the ballet in order to promote a sleazy view of the modern world. Rather, his choices were based on a desire for an unconventional point of view which placed the viewer into the experience. He used similar points of view for his paintings of the theater and orchestra:

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Just as he did with his drawings of racehorses, Degas spent hours at the dance schools and backstage at the ballet making endless drawings from life of the girls engaged in various ballet motions, preparing backstage, or onstage seen from the wings:

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These finished paintings and pastels were based upon rapid drawings and sketches made on site. Only later, when his health was failing, did Degas work primarily from models in his studio.

As for Degas' supposed misogyny... this is based on what? A few comments no more sexist than one might expect for the time? The fact that he, like many unmarried men of the time visited the brothels? While Degas may have made a number of sexist comments, he has also been quoted suggesting that women might make better artists than men due to their attention to the visual details. He went shopping for clothes and hats with Mary Cassatt whose work he championed. He would later champion the paintings of Suzanne Valadon.

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The reality is that we know so little of Degas' personal life that calling him "sexist" or "abusive" or "misogynistic" is simply poor journalism.
 
As far as Lipking is concerned, he is certainly highly skilled and an amazing technician. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that people who buy his paintings do so for admiration of his technical ability and not because his art has the psychological and even spiritual effect that a Van Gogh piece has.

I certainly sense a greater psychological drama in Van Gogh than I do in Lipking... but I would point out that psychological angst is not the only human experience or emotion worthy of art. I would also point out that the expression of angst or psychological drama or passion or whatever intense emotion is not conveyed only through brushwork... but through all the art elements.
 
Thanks for a very interesting and informative post. I feel like I have a new appreciation of the subject (portraiture) and the artists whose works you included.
 
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