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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Originality of Style--The Eternal Debate

God knows I've been posting entries about originality and development of style for what seems a lifetime. I am not anywhere near coming to an opinion, either concrete or phenomenological. But the ideas for examining these questions often come to us from the most unexpected places. I was raking my front yard the other day in the middle of that day and noticed my neighbors' "For Sale" sign gone. A little later, a truck pulled in backwards into their driveway and they began to fill it up. My dear neighbors are gone, I thought. Their labor continued for most of the day. I spied as little as possible, thinking it rude to simply stare. Frankly, I was just sad. Suddenly, the movers carefully loaded Jack Vettrinano's "The Signing Butler" in the cavity of the large truck. You know the painting; it is available in most furniture stores and also in major department stores such as Target and even Walmart. I don't write this in order to bash Vettrianos' masterpiece; I rather like the work myself. But I remember an overly opinionated art appreciation professor I had in my sophomore year in college (gheez, how many years ago) who considered "The Singing Butler" little more than kitsch art. To my amateurish view, that's just downright an ugly statement. Do a search of Jack Vettriano's art and you'll see that this man had a talent that was not kitsch at all, but rather a beautiful self style that echoed with the style of a Master: Edward Hopper. I am certain that I am not the first, nor will be the last to make this connection. Again, do a search and you will see that there are plenty of people willing to label Vettriano a "Hopper wannabe." To me it is the other way around. I suspect that I am being innocent about this, but I think the parallels between the two artists was more the case of one artist absorbing the style of the older, wiser artist and developing a style of his own by means of incorporation. Certainly, the styles are similar in terms of round lines and soft edging, but there is a quality to Vettriano's art that Hopper simply lacks. I cannot post all of the illustrations here to make my point, but the two examples offered here were chosen for a reason. First, the similarities are clear--I've said that--but one thing absent in Hopper is the fullness of movement; the representation of wind, movement and the angular capturing of nature. To be sure, Hopper couldn't possibly do this while depicting his subjects in urban scenes that often turned desolate and lonely; many consider his subjects prisoners of modernity. There are, to be sure, plenty of Hopper paintings (especially his series of residences in Cape Cod) that incorporate elements of nature, but for the most part we know Hopper for his statements of isolation of the individual; the human subject often trapped in rooms with a single window offering the world outside as if in temptation. Vettriano does the same, but places the subject outside the confines of urbanity and reveals nature.

Going back to the idea of color, angular projection and round lines, Hopper and Vettriano are so similar one could easily confuse one for the other. I believe that whether or not Vettriano aimed to make it so (even if he hadn't ever heard of Edward Hopper), he successfully developed an original style from that of Hopper. The absence of facial expression is also a great difference between the two masters. Nevertheless, the two styles blend so closely one has to consider them both original on their own terms.

Good heavens... I've forgotten to write about finishing up "The Diaries of Christopher Isherwood 1939-1960" and how long it took me to cross the ocean of 900 pages. But I feel I have gained new friends in a way, such a tender and tumultuous artistic life; both his and that of Don Bachardy, his long-time partner. The diaries do not cover the later artistic recognition that Isherwood got in the seventies with the extravagance that was "Cabaret." You may recall on my earlier post about Isherwood that I mentioned Sally Bowles and "Cabaret" are based on stories by Isherwood, very early stories at that. At any rate, despite the fact that I disagree with Isherwood practically on everything, I enjoyed "meeting" him and also Bachardy. Here's a video documentary that talks about their relationship HERE. I really think that anything based on real love is a wonderful thing, and, while I don't follow the same emotional interest as Chris and Don, it is a tender story; one can easily grasp that by reading "The Diaries" or watching the documentary. Anything that is REAL LOVE between two people is a blessing... there's already too much hate in the world and anger and pain.

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2 Comments:

At 5:20 AM, Blogger 晴天 said...

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At 12:59 PM, Blogger m caroline said...

Ah… is it style we are talking about here or is it the old “good” art vs. “bad” art debate… A prospective client asks, “I love it, but do you have it in blue to match my sofa?” Just because this individual is perhaps not as sophisticated in his appreciation of art, he does appreciate it and knows what he likes. The struggle is not in the marketplace, customers like what they like, for whatever innate reasons, usually instinctive, something they cannot verbalize. They see an art piece that touches them and that is enough. They do not care if the work is “slick” or “kitsch” or “commercial” all terms that critics love to use in reference to art they do not deem worthy. The problem is, who defines worthy- and more importantly, worthy of what?
The department stores, franchise art galleries, Internet are full of art that actually sells. (Think: Kinkade, “The Painter of Light”) They provide the average person, not comfortable or familiar with the Friday night gallery opening scene, with the ability to purchase art they like, and surround herself with it in an affordable way. Some might argue that this is one goal of the artist: to somehow interpret and present their own inner vision in a manner that another might appreciate. So, for the artist that produces this particular work that is appreciated, reproduced and purchased to a wide audience (aka: slick, commercial) was this a conscious decision? Maybe.
This is not to say that more sophisticated art does not sell. It does, just perhaps not in the same volume. But, artistic elite tend to snub noses at this other type of art (ok, I admit my membership here,) categorize it as perhaps not worthy of educated criticism or of museum quality, as if that should be the ultimate goal of every artist. Does that make it any less valid, less appreciated by those who just like it?
Artists are as individual in their talents as any other humans. Some are technical geniuses, some innovative in their ideas or use of media, some just amazingly unique in style and theme, etc… Some are destined for greatness, to be depicted in art history books, idolized in museums, studied by future students as pioneers or herculean talents, some are just happy to make their art, or to have an outlet for their creativity. Artists themselves may wonder if their vision is worthy of execution- just talk to any young artist struggling with the notion of allowing another to view their work- to put their soul out for all to see, but are driven by an inner desire to create regardless.
This conversation has been taking place since artists first came together to talk, theorize and criticize. Perhaps this worthiness idea is now irrelevant. Art has gradually become more of an intrinsic part of our day-to-day lives. Think about the images, designs and sounds we are bombarded with from everywhere (literally) Many artists are seeing the lines becoming blurred between those who yearn for commercial success and those who yearn for critical success. They see their own survival in an embrace of and manipulation of the marketplace to their own advantage.
So, back to Hopper vs. Vettriano, Hopper has already won his place in museums and art history books. Vettriano is selling his original paintings on his website for $50K+, his work touches a wide audience. If he was influenced by Hopper, that is even better. Maybe a few of his clients or appreciators will be moved to look at Hopper or another artist. And, if you talk to most any artist, they will say, “Buy art,” it is all worthy of that.

 

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