I woke up this morning with two thoughts in mind. “Did it get down to below freezing last night, and, if it did, were my plant covers OK?” and “Wow, at the French Academy they actually have a book that shows what various colors ‘do’ to each other when put next to each other. That’s what art education is all about. What kind of mind would put that together? And how could anyone read it without losing their mind? And I think I’m an artist? Has the meaning of being an artist changed?”
I don’t know if it got down to freezing last night because Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho are all fine this morning as are the Golden Gua attending them. The little tomatoes are fine, too. Paper sacks work well. I also made bags out of bubble wrap that worked great as well.
A few weeks ago I watched Waldemar Januszczak’s series on the Impressionists. I liked it a lot. One of the paintings (and artists) he talked about was George Seurat. When I was a young person I thought Seurat’s paintings were stupid. Just “head” paintings, no “feeling.” Then, in my late 20s on a bizarre trip to Chicago I saw Sunday Afternoon at the Grand Jatte at the Chicago Art Institute. I don’t know what Seurat was, but that painting is a force. Still, I do not know why anyone would want to paint tiny dots. This is truly an intellectual tour de force. I happen to love the painting, but I would lose my mind if I undertook such a thing, even 1 x 2 inches of that.
I woke up thinking about Januszczak’s questioning an old guy, a professor, at the French Academy about the book he was holding. It was fold-out page after fold-out page of dots. “This is where Seurat got the idea, right?”
The old guy dismissed Januszczak’s questions over and over. It was clear Januszczak was going to believe what he wanted, and the French art scholar was going to look down his nose. I felt I could read that scholar’s mind (I couldn’t), and it was thinking, “Zat is not what ze art is about, you English Pig Dog! I spit in your general direction!” Was the French professor showing disdain for Seurat or Januszczak, or was that just the guy he IS? TV documentaries don’t allow deep looks into the psyches of the people who show up for 3 minutes and vanish.
It’s true that in earlier times being an artist was a job. Public spaces were usually elaborately painted with murals. Painters’ studios bid on contracts. To get the best contracts, a studio had to have a stable of skillful painters who could be depended on to do what they were told. The skills of painting at the time — and forever — were like the skills of any profession.
Januszczak’s discussion of the Impressionists stresses their rebellion from the Academy, their determination to paint what they actually SAW. Their rebellion (as Januszczak explained it) took the shape of painting the world around them rather than the idealized and often mythological subjects that were shown at the academy exhibits — trains vs. Aphrodite . The paintings favored by the Academy were completely different from those the Impressionists were doing. Many were large, smooth, mural-paintings that might hang in public spaces. I don’t know if they reflected, confirmed or determined the taste of the time. I do know that the group of painters — Monet, Degas, et. al — the blossoming of Impressionism — changed the world’s understanding of painting forever.
I started out an art major. It didn’t last long for a couple of reasons, mostly money. My mom was supplying my pocket cash at school where I, otherwise, had a full ride. Art is an expensive major, and she didn’t want me to major in art. Also, I didn’t have any confidence. My high school art teacher really disliked ME and didn’t even look at my work. He was a GREAT teacher to a lot of my classmates, but not to me. I don’t know why. When I became a teacher myself, I took that lesson with me, realizing there would be students I didn’t like. There were very few, as it turned out.
I didn’t understand the technique part of art studies. Even now I don’t think I do. I showed a painting to a friend who has more training, and she dismissed it because the horizon cut the painting in half. That’s a “no-no” — I know that, but when I looked at the scene, at the painting, I saw the line somewhere else. For some reason, for me, the line is below the river but it is, actually, for most people just below the background trees.
I also realized I break most of my paintings in the center of the “canvas” even though I “know” better.
I wondered if I went to school if I would become a better painter. That’s when I realized I’m deeply suspicious about school. Strange for a teacher, right?
(featured photo: detail from Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jatte by George Seurat)