ARC Chairman Fred Ross On Picasso

Jeff Perren's picture
Submitted by Jeff Perren on Wed, 2009-05-20 00:31

Fred Ross, the chairman of the Art Renewal Center, answers a post by a young woman praising Picasso. His takedown is masterly.


    "I love the way Picasso did that woman all shards and angles. I don't recall the name of the work. But, he painted the woman in her turmoil how she tore herself apart within, and how he saw what her turmoil did to her. He painted the way he saw her, as fragmented as he saw her. She was a beauty on the outside. Yet, he painted the ugly face of her turmoil, and in so doing painted his turmoil as well.

    Picasso worked in a turbulent time. I think it's why some of his works appeared to be reflections in a broken mirror. Shards, impressions all cut up and each with a voice about his subjects and of Spain. His work shows a deeply sensitive artist and was a pivotal point for the Russian avant garde school that said it was okay to feel in paint, to get all the chaos out in paint... I didn't love him until I studied him..."

Mr. Ross:

    "You're salivating at a symbol much the way people react to their country's flag. The flag comes to be seen as beautiful because it represents family, home and hearth, friends, loyalty, and the things we love. You've been taught to react to symbols instead of responding with the freedom of independent thought to works of art that are not supposed to be flag-like-symbols of great artistic ideas, but the great works of art themselves, which communicate, through a readily discernible visual language, some aspect of the human condition.

    You had to be taught to love Picasso, because nobody would love him otherwise. But people don't need to be taught to love Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Bouguereau, or for that matter Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, or Tom Sawyer, The Grapes of Wrath, Alice in Wonderland, or The Christmas Carol.

    Teaching and information can add to the depth of understanding of great works of art, but they are great initially by their ability to capture the soul and imagination of the viewer, without thousands of words to instruct us on how to deny the evidence of our own senses and to deny our innate sense of truth and reason."

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jeffrey smith's picture

you've actually gone and read The Romantic Manifesto Jeffrey
No, not yet. But I have been reading the Fountainhead. And I think Rand's depiction in the first few chapters of architecture in the early 20th century as being intellectually bankrupt may or may not have been true of architecture during that period--I'm not up on architecture enough to know--but it spot on describes the type of art that Bougeureau epitomizes.

Sounds almost like

gregster's picture

you've actually gone and read The Romantic Manifesto Jeffrey, Sticking out tongue .

Jeff P.

jeffrey smith's picture

I get it. You regard Romantic art as inferior to other forms, usually Naturalistic art.
No, I don't. In the sense the terms are generally used, I think there's some good Romantic and Naturalistic art, and some bad. In the sense that Rand used the terms, I don't--in fact, I tend to agree with Rand that Naturalism is inferior. Let's just say there is some Romantic art that is naturalistic, and some Naturalist art that is romantic. In fact, in Rand's sense, Homer strikes me as more Romantic than Bougeureau. And remember that I listed Delacroix, Turner, Sargent and Rodin as examples of artists who I think escaped from the mediocrity of their contemporaries--and I think they can safely be called Romantic artists, both in Rand's sense and (except perhaps for Sargent) in the general sense

My problem with Bougeureau is essentially, that's there no life there: it's almost a paint by the numbers routine: put a pretty girl in a pretty scene and paint her; or add some Classical imagery that's been used by every other artist in the last three hundred years and make it some sort of mythological genre picture. It's soulless--in fact, it probably qualifies for the term anti-Romantic as much as any work of the 20th century. Whereas Homer found the romantic element in everyday life and drew it.

Side note to everyone in the world Thanks for noticing. But let's just say it's not the first time this has happened to me Smiling

And this might cheer you up a wee bit:

Talking Past

Jeff Perren's picture


[Side note to everyone in the world: this name is NOT here spelled Jeffery.]

We're using different criteria to evaluate paintings and I prefer not to take the time now to validate the pros and cons of mine versus yours and vice-versa. Suffice to say: I get it. You regard Romantic art as inferior to other forms, usually Naturalistic art. A pattern is emerging. [I anticipate your response: "No, I just prefer good art to bad." Noted.]

on 19th century academic art

jeffrey smith's picture

I wouldn't claim that Gerome is the equal of Michelangelo. But given a choice between him (and his students) and what is generally well-known in art circles today, I consider it no contest.

If forced to pick between the two, I'd find a good book to read:)

But one doesn't need to compare the Academics to Michelangelo to know they are second rate. Compared to some of their contemporaries, they are second rate. Bouguereau painted plenty of stereotypical working girls. Winslow Homer painted some, too, but they are far from stereotypical

And here is a fairly typical Bouguereau

The French girl is obviously posing, and what she's resting from is not very apparent. Carrying the vessel behind her on (our) right, probably; but this is a girl who knows she's being painted.
Contrast the Homer, in which the girl is actually walking away from the viewer; we only see her face because she's momentarily distracted by something on the right--the rose bush, probably--but you can see that's she carrying something relatively heavy by her posture--notice how her left arm is pushing out to balance the bucket on her right arm. This is a girl in the middle of doing something, unlike the Bouguereau. She's not there for the convenience of the painter; he just happened along at the right moment, it would seem.

(Both sites are obviously run by the same outfit, but I don't see anything linking to a parent website.)

Mindy--I don't think any of that is very obvious in the painting. I just see an elegantly painted woman who is half-nude with her drapery flying about on the beach.
Sharon--do we know what his intentions were? He certainly seemed to paint an awful lot of nudes. Female nudes. In a culture where painting and arts were the only way to acceptably depict a nude. Prurience is not be ruled out.

Bougereau--elegant pornography?

sharon's picture

Jeffery denigrates the painting by calling it “pornography” because it depicts a nude woman. It would seem to me pornography is meant to appeal to "prurient interest", but this was not the painter's intention, as it wasn't Michelangelo's intention when he painted nudes on the sistine chapel.

An interesting painting

Ptgymatic's picture

I think there's more to it than a nude, Jeffrey. Don't you like the two-tone simplification he brings to all the elements? Earth, sky, clouds, water, wind, and woman are divided into two groups--the lighter, higher, finer ones are pink and the lower, harsher, raw ones are "brown."
Man is implicitly brown, and woman pink. Man is tied to the earth, to struggle, to mastering the physical elements, but his eye is on the heavenly, the finer, the sensual rewards he might earn. (I realize there is no man painted. The viewer is man.)
The cloth around her represents her dual citizenship, as being a luscious, other-worldly goal he hopes to achieve, but wrapped in the garments of earth and reality. Notice that she actually floats above the ground, but the darker, denser fabric "binds" her legs, as if holding her down, keeping her within reach.
What do you think?



Jeff Perren's picture

I loathe Wolfe's fiction, yet I highly recommend The Painted Word and From Our House to Bauhaus, two non-fiction works. I'm not fond of the smarmy tone but his views (or should I say dissection of, as one would rotting corpses) on modern art and architecture - as examples of post-modernism - are worthwhile. Or, at least, they would be viewed as such by anyone who thinks post-modernism isn't merely boring but actually destructive. In your case, I still can't predict how you'd react. Anyway, they're both extremely short and easy to read so you'll know quick enough whether you want to finish them.

As to your views on Academics, I'll let it go with this: I wouldn't claim that Gerome is the equal of Michelangelo. But given a choice between him (and his students) and what is generally well-known in art circles today, I consider it no contest. Thankfully, there seems to be a second renaissance underway, examples of which one finds on PC's blog from time to time (as I have elsewhere in my continuing search for beauty that is less than 50 years old).

Jeff P.

jeffrey smith's picture

Have you ever read Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word?

No I haven't. The novelist, you mean? He actually has written something worthwhile?

I invariably respond passionately to elegant pornography.

I tend to respond passionately to pornography, elegant or not Evil

But the response (as here with Evening Mood) is more hormonal than aesthetic. It's a very good female nude--but nothing really more than that.

If you've not come across it before, the site has, apparently, everything he ever painted, so you can have your fill of elegant pornography if you wish. Smiling

It hit me last night, after I posted my earlier comment, that academic art of the 19th century--the sort that Bougeaureau was master of--is very much like the field of architecture as Rand portrayed it in The Fountainhead--intellectually bankrupt, with the architects of the time living off the mental capital of their forerunners. In the case of 19th century art they were running off the capital built up by the Renaissance (or in the case of the PreRaphaelites, the Middle Ages)--with the result that the mass of it is dry, stulted, boring--until the Impressionists came along. There were of course exceptions (Delacroix, Rodin, Turner, Sargent, etc.), but B. is certainly not one of them. (And this applies to sculpture as well, which is why I mentioned Rodin.)


sharon's picture

You aren’t addressing me, but you captured my attention and recall: I read The Painted Word years ago and I would be curious to know your estimation of Wolfe’s point in writing that book and what it means to you, Jeff.

I’m not sure in what context you mention this book.

More Elegant Pornography

Jeff Perren's picture

Have you ever read Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word?

I invariably respond passionately to elegant pornography. Here is one of Bouguereau's finest in that line, and one of the best reasons for invading Cuba (to free this masterpiece), and for living (to be able to see this):

Evening Mood (1882)

On the contrary

jeffrey smith's picture

But people don't need to be taught to love Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Bouguereau, or for that matter Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, or Tom Sawyer, The Grapes of Wrath, Alice in Wonderland, or The Christmas Carol.

They do need to be taught to love those artists. If they didn't need to be taught, Mr. Perigo would have no need to fulminate against "headbanging caterwauling".

And the counterexamples he brings are extremely unfortunate. Looking at the Lady of Shalott, I don't see a women afflicted by inner turmoil: I see a woman stretching her back after a session at the loom. And his other selections are the epitome of why I don't like most 19th century art--dry, stilted, formulaic depictions of stereotyped scenes that very often seem nothing more than an excuse for elegant pornography. The painting that supposedly awakened Mr Ross to the greatness of great art is exactly that (Bougereau's Nymphs and Satyr).

Just contrast Bouguereau's Birth of Venus with Mr. Newberry's:

Bouguereau merely shows us a beautiful woman on a vanity trip; Newberry shows us a woman literally awakening to life and passion--and he only needs one person to do it, not the whole panoply of mythological hangers on to fill out an essentially meaningless canvas.

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