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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Food for Thought

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

It is odd to think that of all the forms of paintings that there are, still lives seem to have effected me the deepest. I can recall being in an art museum in  Antwerp when it dawned on me that I was getting more pleasure from viewing the still lives than anything else in the museum.  Perhaps it was dovetailed  with another  interest… food.

In later years when I worked as a museum educator at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I recall more than once the pleasure I received teaching elementary school groups in front of a still life of cakes, raisins and a glass of wine by Raphaelle Peale. The pleasure came from coxing out of them information they already knew.  “What time of Year do you think it is?” I would ask and eventually by looking at the fruit, in particular the raisins, they would see that it was fall or winter.  I then would ask them to be more specific,  to consider the cakes. Eventually seeing the green and red sugar decoration on the cakes they would conclude that it was probably the Christmas season. The discovery that they did not have to get all the information from me but rather they could make discoveries on their own by looking and putting the clues together was a happy revelation for many a child.  At least that was my intention and my hope.

For more about the Peale family Play Video

Six Persimmons

June 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was introduced to this painting while in college. It was in an aesthetics class on Asian art. I have always loved the painting.  It is somewhat like a mental talisman that I now turn to when dealing with other examples of still life painting. I came across this odd lecture about the six persimmons a few days ago. It goes long and the speaker is a bit quirky but if you have the time you might enjoy this and learn a bit about the work of an intriguing Chinese painter from the distant past. This is a man who did not fit the conservative mold of his time.     Play Video

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