03 November 2009

personality contest

of course ultimately, I think that the ideal critic should not, in any way, be prejudiced-either favorably or unfavorably-by personal idiosyncrasies of the man whose work he judges. This is a condition which I think should be aspired to-and I have long tried to make it apply to my own judgments, and I know that in some cases, at least, I like the work of certain artists whom I did not like as persons. It is too bad-and in some cases unjust-that people will allow habits of the artist which seem personally unpleasant to them-to imbalance their judgments about the work-because in the end, the artist, and his work, are two entirely distinct things.
(Clarence John Laughlin, photographer to Minor White, photographer, editor of Aperture)

farewell to the past
Clarence John Laughlin


  1. The last thing I think about when I look at the gorgeous photo above is whether the photographer was a nice person, did he have a happy childhood, or what did he have for breakfast (well the last might be pertinent). What I see are the genius of forlorn bits of rumble and darkness scattered in the corners and the contemplative stance of the draped figure. I agree.

  2. This explains quite clearly why I usually do not wish to hear much personal information on the artists whose work I admire. If you notice, so often these days it's the personal questions that interviewers seem to pose more than the artistic ones. I really don't care what Henry Moore liked to eat for breakfast, or if Meryl Streep wears make-up to the market.

  3. I don't know this photographer's name, or anything about him so I have no moral lens filter when I look at his work, but this is a beautiful image. Is that Belle Grove? The level of the detail, the attenuated proportions & the apsoidal bay make me think it might be.

    The converse of your discussion is true, too. A few years ago, I met a dynamic woman who dresses with the same elegance she had back when she was high-fashion model back in the 1960s, and who has a killer sense of humor & timing. What I didn't know was that she was also an artist, which seemed to make her even more interesting, although if I had known what kind of art she made, I wouldn't have asked to see it. Old dollies in lacy dreses, teddy bears at picnic, darling (if ill-proportioned) toddlers with weird smiles, the whole shebang--a cavalcade of icky, cloying images. And BIG. Thank heaven she received an important phone call right in the middle of the exhibition and I was able to escape without saying anything, because I'm not the kind of person who could be rude and say I hated it, but I'm also not a very good liar, and even if I just made a poltroonish general comment--and here, a line in Barry Lyndon comes to mind: "I love the artist's use of the color blue..."--she would have seen right through my dissembling. Talk about a no-win situation. Anyway, I learned my lesson: so now, when someone says "I paint"(or "I sculpt" or "I write epic poetry in Middle English" or whatever) my automatic response--before I scram, that is--is devoid of every trace of interest or enthusiasm, sort of like Andy Warhol's bored-out-of-my-mind delivery: "Oh...how nice" which tells them right away that I'm clearly no Lover of Art, and that showing their work to a dullard like me would be a complete waste of time.

  4. I agree and am struck, as I always have been, by the power of the male pronoun to eliminate more than half of the population by a simple grammatical convention.

  5. I am glad that I got agreements from my favourite readers! It is a fascinating premise -one I wish we could look at art with always. same as it ever was doesn't seem to be fair to brilliant artists we don't agree with politically or poetically. I would like to explore this more- thank you for your input.

  6. Magnaverde-always a wonderful story and as you know Barry Lyndon-holds secrets yet to be revealed- we will see that quote again and again here. thank you.G

  7. of course it is always a happy surprise when the artist is nice:)

  8. I've always loved CJL's "Ghosts along the Mississippi." I know nothing of his personality, character or political persuasion however. I think these things are separate as you say, but difficult to digest once you know something truly creepy. Have you also noticed the example of the perfectly ordinary, nice person type who doesn't have much discernment in a lot of things, but who creates art that can transport you to another realm? I'm convinced that some are mediums for profound things to work through - be they stinkers or at the other extreme goody-two-shoes.

  9. lestyle- I Agree. Interestingly- CJL was his own worst enemy- He could not let go of any of the process-esp. the publishing end. He made sense in his protests-but the reputation stuck. His bio-which I finished reads like a novel-as do many artists'. I would recommend it. GT

  10. That’s a wonderful insight about sound critical analysis. Thanks for posting!

    I was talking with Whitaker and John English the other week, about artists’ statements, and the all-consuming fascination with biography and background process. The point came up, about the disconnect between painters and their work. Will said something that seemed to me good advice… I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this: ‘Forget about self-expression when you’re looking at someone else’s work. Instead ask yourself, what meaning the image would retain, if you knew nothing about the person who made it… if it were just produced by some nobody from Middle-America. Does it still resonate with you, once stripped down like that? If so then it succeeds as an independent work of visual art, if not, and further explanations are required to make it resonate, then its something else, something ancillary.’ Been trying to keep that in mind lately.

    I recently heard it argued, that the history of modernism (particularly in painting) is the history of aesthetics being co-opted and replaced by biography and philosophical speculation. Perhaps an unfortunate hold-over from the Salon system in Europe, or the result of an almost complete dismantling of any coherent consensus here in the States, by 20th century art theorists. The suggestion, I suppose, is that many artists have been willing and eager participants in this transformation, from the Armory Show right up to the present. And that the major galleries have fully encouraged this, since it vastly expands the number of works that can be sold. Interestingly though, there are also signs that the pendulum is about to swing violently in the opposite direction. I hear some people starting to express an open and sweeping disdain for figures such as Picasso and Cézanne, like we haven’t seen since Bouguereau fell out of favor in the 20s. Has anyone read the ARC newsletter lately? I mean, talk about reactionary. They’re already comparing the last century in visual art to the dark ages… a net loss in almost every arena, with the possible exception of graphic design.

    I find it hard to agree with anything so embittered, but it does seem that there's a shift occurring where the ars vita is concerned. I wonder sometimes if a figure like Duchamp is going to survive in tact, or if he’ll just be relegated to the chess board in perpetuity. I’d like to think there’s something to be learned from all that self searching we engaged in over the last hundred and thirty years. But it’s also hard to deny that we lost something important as well, when traditional figure drawing was tossed out of the academy, in favor of experimentation and new approaches.

    I'm not sure what it all means, but I feel very lucky that we have photographers and filmmakers around. They've probably done more than any other group of artists to nurture the old curiosity with representation, and to preserve it in the popular consciousness. Its important that people like Laughlin be recognized as masters in their own right, and that magazines like "Aperture" (alongside the architecture, design, and fashion mags) get the same respect typically afforded to publications in the traditional arts. Their art is every bit as significant and compelling, as that being produced on canvas with brushes. Thank you PGT for posting about these things, and encouraging us all to keep the thinking cap on. Hope you'll forgive that wall of text, but Little Augury has been very stimulating for me today. :)



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