Life, found or arranged

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment


The still life has always fascinated me. There are so many aspects of the art form that I could talk about but in this case I want to consider just one thing; the placing of objects verses objects found already in place. I took this photo of crab and sake items some months back, far enough in the past that I have forgotten if I place the objects where they are or did I simply took a photo of objects that are there by chance. I think it is very likely that the objects were arranged for the photo. The question however is one that often haunts me about still life paintings. Actually there are three associate questions: 1. Can you tell if objects have been purposefully arranged for a still life? 2. Can you tell when the objects were simply there by chance, and not arranged. 3. Can an artist disguise arrangement to appear as if objects were not arranged?

I once had a discussion with friend and fellow museum educator about the reason I liked Chardin.  At the time I said that I liked is still lives because they did not look arranged by the artist before they were painted.  Looking at Chardin’s painting today I see that I was very much wrong about that. They are paintings of objects obviously arranged before hand.  I know now what I like about Chardin, and that is the quality of his painted surfaces and his subtle almost smokey tones. 

The lingering issue for me however concerns what is being communicated if objects are recorded as they are found and is it different than presenting objects that have been arranged before hand.  In the former, I think we are dealing with the real clues of life.  If you were to walk into an room that I have just vacated and look for signs of my recent activity in that room you would be discovering signs of me and my life.  On the other hand, if you took those same items and arranged them artfully to be recorded, it would say more about the artist, composition, color, texture, etc. and perhaps less about life as lived.

You may wonder why I ask these questions.  If you were to enter my apartment today you might see that on a side an empty wine bottle as it has left last night and not far away an empty and unwashed wine glass.  Those two items found as they are carry lots of information about my life and to paint it as it appears by chance captures and makes that part of my life fixed and still. Where I to set up a scene with empty wine bottle and glass for the expressed purpose of painting objects of daily life would I be doing the same thing as a painter?

Chardin, my favorite still lift painter is sometimes good at hiding the fact that things are arranged before hand and sometimes not. Perhaps the randomness of the objects was not for him an issue of great concern.

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