Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

There's a thought-provoking review in the Times today of an anthropolitically focused exhibition in Paris titled "L'Amour, Comment Ça Va?" or "How's Love Doing?" Organized, not by an art curator or critic, but by two French intellectuals (oooo, how that phrase polarizes Americans, no?)---Arlette Farge, a historian, and Rose-Marie Lagrave, a sociologist---the exhibition sets out to explore how Love itself has evolved over the past few centuries and, as the Times put it, how Love serves as "an accurate — and at times disturbing — gauge of social evolution." To demonstrate their point, they've called upon photos and films of artists like artists like André Masson, Barbara Kruger, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pedro Almodóvar, Wim Wenders, Robert Mapplethorpe, Raymond Depardon and Stanley Greene, etc.

"Our intention is to disturb the visitor," Ms. Lagrave notes in an exhibition pamphlet. "While people might expect to find images of physical contact and beauty, we show how difficult it is to love today."

Ms. Farge suggests a reason: "In the 18th century, a man and woman lived together for a maximum of three or four years because of wars, epidemics, death during childbirth and so on. Life was a succession of funerals and remarriages. In fact, until today, couples have never had to live together for a long time."

In other words, the organizers argue, love inside or outside marriage is now exposed not only to new challenges but also to an extended test of time.
The resulting mosaic of images, while often specific to France, reflects the experience of other Western societies in which patterns of love have been altered by a host of new or intensified variables: feminism, gay and lesbian rights, H.I.V./AIDS, longevity, late marriages and single mothers, plastic surgery, fashion, falling birth rates, advertising, immigration and unemployment.

In other words, nowhere does love exist in a vacuum. It must constantly confront new problems, freedoms and expectations.

One of the things you think you know when you think about Love from this vantage point is how adversity can impact it, both positively and negatively. "When Poverty walks in the door, Love flies out the window," is one popular notion, but the exhibition explores another as well:

In difficult times, the show argues, love can take the form of solidarity: those coming together to fight a common injustice are also expressing a kind of love. In fact, Ms. Farge points out, "collective emotions" often spawn romantic love. "In the Resistance, there were ardent love affairs," she writes in a book accompanying the show. "And people later suffer when they can no longer share moments of emotional complicity, which can transform love."
In reading how the exhibition concludes, I was somewhat disappointed though:

The show's final section leaps into the 21st century, "from love to subversion," as its organizers put it. By that they apparently mean subversion of the traditional rules of love as people set out in search of new versions of happiness, apparent in the rising numbers of gay marriages and falling numbers of heterosexual ones, the obsession with physical appearance and the anonymity of Internet dating.
I find this a cynical and not too thorough exploration (and bear in mind, this is one critic's take, not necessarily the intent). Looking at where we stand now a bit more carefully, I would note that internet dating, for example, has led to several of the happiest marriages I can think of; obsession with physical appearance is likely a good portion of why people are living longer than ever; and the falling numbers of heterosexual marriages is in no way whatsoever tied to the rising number of gay marriages (in fact the Times writer should issue a retraction of that implication, IMO).

The article does end on a charming note about the beautiful, if frustrating, complexity of love though:

[A] such-is-life short movie, "Pacotille" ("Trinket") by Eric Jameux, drew the largest crowd one recent afternoon. In it Thierry gives a necklace with a little heart to Karine and points out the inscriptions: "More Than Yesterday" on one side, "Less Than Tomorrow" on the other. Karine doesn't understand. Thierry explains that each day he loves her more.

"But you said less!" she retorts.

Thierry tries again, but to no avail. "I want someone who loves me the same every day," Karine declares — and walks out on him.
Perhaps what this exhibition is really exploring is the evolution of romance, not love, per se. I'm not sure I want two French intellectuals attempting to explain the difference, but...


Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Ah, those french.

Fragments Du Discours Amoureux by Roland Barthes was really depressing.

On issues of love I always figure myself on an island alone with Tarzan And Jane and they always laugh and joke together while I'm truly getting bored.

Than I get terribly sick but no one comes to help me because they have their kid to take care of.

That's love.

Gimme compassion, man

Cedric Caspesyan

6/14/2006 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger serena said...

what this exhibition is really exploring is the evolution of romance, not love, per se.

Thanks, Edward. It's a sign of widespread soul sickness when the two become conflated.

6/14/2006 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

They didn't mention never having to say you're sorry?

6/14/2006 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Two french social theorists decide to do a show to support a thesis, so they ask a bunch of artists whose main inspiration is french social theory. That is classic. It is the problem in a nutshell.

As for love, I'll stick with experience.

(Do they have any data to support their claims about the past?)

6/14/2006 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...

I'm off-topic here - I hope that's ok - but I just gotta get it out or else I'm gonna scream.

This week's New Yorker arrived today, with a review of the Picasso double-exhibition at the Prado and Reina Sofia in Madrid by the usually estimable Peter Schjeldahl.



I always knew in my heart that his muted modernist palette was actually due to the fact that HE HAD NO COLOR SENSE, NOT LIKE THE (suddenly) GREAT VERONESE.

That all that Cubist nonsense was mere TRICKERY to cover the fact that HE COULDN'T DRAW.



Omigod!!! Someone wake me up and tell me it was all a dream!!!

I'm hyperventilating!

Ten years ago the entire cast of heros (Veronese, David, Titian, Velasquez, among others) in Schjeldahl's review were the assholes, who only used fancy color and figuration BECAUSE THEY OBVIOUSLY COULDN'T THINK PROPERLY LIKE US SMART MODERN PEOPLE.


Until next week, that is ...

Ed, thanks for your indulgence ... I feel much better now ...

6/14/2006 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Picasso couldn't draw?

once again, I'll stick by my experience, Picasso could draw.

6/14/2006 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

I agree
and I stick with you tim :)

6/14/2006 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous -Elyceum said...

mm I'd have to agree. Juryduty might wanna check the facts, picasso was an excellent draftsman. and while he may not have deserved the disporportionate praise that he has received--he really was an influental artist.

This exhibit actually sound absolutely wonderful and very interesting, I'm really disappointed that I know I will not get to see it, and I'm a little saddened by people's rather cynical responses here. Love, modern love, is a concept that seems to go out the window, it high time we start looking at it again, what does it mean, what does it constitute, and how can it possibly survive the things its up against (as listed in the excerpt of the review)? Is it on the cusp of a revolution??

well, I'm glad you chose to write about it E_

6/14/2006 04:52:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Okay, so here's the article Jury Duty is referring to.

The confusing review takes some jabs at Picasso's color usage, and concludes with "How good was Picasso? The best anyone could be then, and unlikely to be equalled anytime soon."

So JD, are you hyperventilating because you think Picasso was a great artist and are offended by the mixed review, or because you've always hated his work and now feel vindicated? I can't tell from your comment. Peter Schjeldahl doesn't label anyone an asshole, as far as I can tell. Besides, you don't need to read an art review to know who the assholes are. The main ones appear daily on the front page of the Times.

6/14/2006 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Hmm, my link didn't work. Copy and paste:

6/14/2006 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

So how does the art of Picasso links with the romance ideal of its period?

Cubism sounds pretty pornographic.


6/14/2006 07:01:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...


No wonder I feel so misunderstood.

Picasso was obviously a great artist.

Who could draw. Whatever he liked. However he liked.

Great artist. Period.


Great artist.

Who could draw. Whatever he liked. However he liked.



And so on.

I guess what irritates me most about the review (perhaps my sarcasm was just a little too subtle for a Wednesday afternoon), is Schjeldahl's boring, predictable, des riguer academic revisionist attitude.

NOW WE KNOW WHAT'S RIGHT (this week)!!!

Quote: "Picasso's smartest decision in Guernica, a consummate feat of pictorial intelligence, was to limit its palette to black-and-white. He thereby forged his chief handicap into a thematic weapon ..."

Translation: Picasso's smartest idea in this "consummate feat of pictorial intelligence" was to hide his supposed "handicap" regarding color.

Response: WHAT?

The guy's "The best anyone could be then" (italics mine) but the reason he didn't use color like Veronese is BECAUSE HE COULDN'T?

What if he didn't want to? No, it couldn't be that. What if nobody's even been talking about painting that way since 1900? I mean, really?

Well, if you're still not convinced that he was a bum ... he was mean to women!!!

I'm sorry, but who cares? Does anybody care if Agnes Martin was mean to men? Or nice? How nice?

OOOOOH ... TRACY EMIN ... I like her art and all, but she's kind of a run-around - I bet that's hurtful to the men in her life.

Does it matter?

What if ALL THESE ARTISTS were great artists, in different moments, doing different things, AND THEY WERE ALL VALUABLE IF YOU'D JUST OPEN YOUR EYES. My point is not just to defend Picasso from bogus revisionist criticism, but also to demand some better justice for Veronese, who was also a victim of bogus revisionist criticism until apparently about ten minutes ago, and was great even when he was despised as a decorator concerned only with superficial frivolities like COLOR.

METATRANSLATION: Peter Schjeldahl clearly understands that FIGURATIVE PAINTING IS FASHIONABLE (this week).

Am I a little clearer this time?

6/14/2006 08:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Ruiz said...

Seems like an event worth considering, whatever your conclusion. Personally, I think its a poor representation of modern day love, but the more than yesterday/less than tomorrow is an incredibly interesting example of love as paradox - regardless of the film itself. :)

As for Picasso:

When visiting an exhibition of children's drawings, Piscasso remarked: "When I was their age I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them." (Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 1958, p. 275)

Depending on your personal artistic philosophy, that quote could go either way (sham or genius). I know of a few 20th century artists/critics who would have carved it in marble and hung it over their dining tables, and a few 19th century ones who would spin in their graves to hear it. Personally, I feel just as uncomfortable with dismissing him or praising him; for better or for worse, he was incredibly, historically important and influencial. All I know is that I see his influencial well gone dry, and that however much he connecting with the spirit of the 20th century is the measure of how much his work has disconnected from that of our own. Bad drawings, no matter what excuses are given, still look like bad drawings - or worse, smoke and mirrors with the lights on.

6/14/2006 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...

How do you define "bad drawing" (this week)?

6/14/2006 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Ruiz said...

In the obvious or most straight-forward visual sense, I guess, rather than intellectual? Its a rather broad question, but I think we can all tell the differences between skill in draughtsmanship.

6/14/2006 09:15:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

The whole good/bad thing is not only completely subjective, it's also a moving target. Good luck getting people to agree about it.

It seems pretty obvious from Picasso's early works that he had considerable skill as a draftsman. (Whether he could draw like Raphael is another story, but who cares?). As far as whether "the critics" like what he did with that skill, that's going to change with the weather. But it does seem that he drew the way he did by choice, and not because he was incapable.

6/14/2006 09:47:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...

Steve, with all respect, good draftsmanship and good drawing are two different things - good penmanship doesn't necessarily mean good writing, right?

And does Veronese, dead 500 years, still offering the same influnces he's been offering all that time, suddenly have something newly relevant to say to us modern folk? Is it that drafting skills are a worthy basis of judgement in art - an argument that's been dead since ... El Greco?

Of course they matter, but only as much as they matter in a given piece.

Why can't Picasso and Veronese BOTH be right?

6/14/2006 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...

Hey look - I'm perfectly happy with "Veronese is newly relevant in this moment of resurgent figurative painting", but why do we have to sh*tcan Picasso as part of the statement? Seems not only short-sighted but kinda mean-spirited, too.

6/14/2006 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Is it that drafting skills are a worthy basis of judgement in art

I admire good drawing (drafting, whatever you want to call it) skills as much as anyone, but I agree, they are not a valid yardstick by which to measure "good" art. There are plenty of other issues.

We all credit Edison for his invention of the lightbulb. I've never heard anyone say "yeah, but the guy could never build a decent fire."

6/14/2006 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger brent hallard said...


You know it it not hard to think why Picasso made that statement considering his great drawing ability at such an early age: he saw in a child's art no hinderance of expression curtailed and cottoned off by the hand and its intellect that slavishly recreates its own form. He experienced, perhaps, a greater number of buttons being pushed than had been under his haute court rule, it upturned by the simple and naive wound world of child's art. Personally i have no interest in Picasso, but when you let down the guard you do get punched!

Who was the guy who looked at stone walls for his inspiration?

6/14/2006 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Ruiz said...


I've stood in front of the Guernica, at the Prado - whether he could draw or not had less to do with that powerful experience than did the paintings history, its author, the bullet-proof glass, and the two armed guards flanking it. In comparison to other artists, even of his own time, Picasso was a lukewarm draughtsman and colorist at best, but that wasn't the point.

Re-reading my comment, I realize I might have made it a little confusing, so here's what I meant. In no way am I saying that we can look back on Picasso (or any successful artist of his own time) and say that, for whatever reasons and through whatever methods, he was not or did not make himself to be perfectly applicable for his own place in history. Picasso was, when placed and considered in the context 20th century, probably the greatest artist. When this historical window widens so wide as to include Picasso and Raphael, this type of contextual criticism falls apart - they lived in vastly different times, and made different art for their own times and for the reasons of their own times. Basically, and again in a historical view, I think it becomes less about their actual skill as artists and more about the impact and effect their art had. In this sense, Picasso and Veronese are both right, and the Madrid exhibition just wasn't playing fair.

Of course my own opinion is that certain aspects of visual art do and should matter, and being able to draw is one of them. I find good draughtsmanship in art to be something very appropriate to our own time, even if 60 years ago it wasn't; theirs was a time of social rebellion in the fractured war and post-war world, and ours is more a time of information-based, active realism. This is again only the way I see things (you may see our modern day as even more socially distorted than ever), but I do believe it is vital as artists to actively try to understand and connect with (as Picasso did very well) the character of his or her own time, lest we wind up like the talented, unheard of artists who were still painting greek academics while Hitler was bombing in Basque.

6/15/2006 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I love all you guys


6/15/2006 03:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Could or couldn't draw, Picasso?

Seriously? There's a debate about that?

I can't imagine what that means, actually...that he was sometimes too stylized? That he didn't always choose to render things with an architectural rigor? What?

Picasso could draw freakin' anything in freakin' any style, at least to my eye. Case in point:
Picasso's bulls

If there's disagreement about that, what does it center on?

6/15/2006 08:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Draughtmanship is a fantastic skill.

They use them in Hollywood.
All those big movies' mattes!

Fantastic, I tell you.

Did Picasso ever draw a movie matte?

Cos that is truly fantasic.

Cedric The Wowed

6/15/2006 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

To return to the article at hand, if you don't mind, I'm curious about the choice of image that you have here. Is it being used to advertise the exhibition? If so, then it strikes me as being quite sensational - like an anti-Calvin Kleinesque conception of beauty. But the exhibit is in France, not New York, as you say, so I'm wondering how it's being analysed/discussed in relation to the topic of love and short-term romance.

It's certainly an interesting photo of this Rubenesque older woman - it caught my attention and I kept reading in order to see what might be said about it. What the curators are saying (or what you're saying) about love and beauty among older people (women?)in focusing upon this image?

6/15/2006 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

They use them in Hollywood.
All those big movies' mattes!

Sorry to have to tell you this, Cedric, but they haven't done it that way for years. Now it's all digital, a lot of cutting, pasting and color-correcting in Photoshop. Difficult to do, but no drawing and painting. Hope you're still wowed, 'cause it's still impressive work.

6/15/2006 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...

Whether it matters or not, Picasso could draw, without a doubt.

But again, my gripe with the review is not that it's Picasso who's being mistreated - it's with Schjehldahl's gratutitous and irrelevant denigration of any artist in pursuit of establishing his fashion-consciousness.

Point of the article, IMO, is that Peter Schjeldahl is 'hip' to the fact that figurative painting is currently fashionable and Picasso is not - and nothing else. Why is it necessary to denigrate Picasso as color-handicapped relative to Veronese when they were focused in different directions for different reasons at different times?

Perhaps if color had been Picasso's focus he might have been the superior colorist? Maybe he was. Who knows?

Who knows how Veronese treated women? Maybe he was MEANER. Who cares?

Why isn't Veronese described as conceptually-handicapped? Because it would irrelevant, of course.

And a cheap shot, too.

6/15/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jury Duty, you kind of get what you pay for. If you bother to read reviews, you're going to come across a lot of gratutitous and irrelevant denigration, along with gratutitous and irrelevant praise. Wouldn't you rather spend your time doing something more gratifying, like, I don't know, painting or going for a walk, or reading a good book?

6/15/2006 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...

Anon - fair enough. I guess I'm just disappointed in Peter Schjeldahl, who I usually find to be a little more ... well ... astute.

Thanks again for indulging me, Ed - I didn't mean to hijack the thread.

6/15/2006 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

But, speaking of love...

from Yahoo News: "Stephen Hawking has said that humanity is finally getting close to understanding the origin of the universe...The 64-year-old also said his unfulfilled ambitions, among many, were to find out what happens inside black holes, how the universe began and how the human race can survive in the next 100 years...Above all, he joked, he wants to understand women.";_ylt=AsEpIcdLxQiuQThIKcAljcKs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3ODdxdHBhBHNlYwM5NjQ-

6/15/2006 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Actually Picasso did a matte for Entr'Acte, but I'm saying: so what if Picasso would or wouldn't have the talent for it.

I have a cousin with a doctorate in academic painting and drawing but she still does things like this, background stuff that she is payed to execute. There is absolutely no artistic intent
or purpose from her. Drawing for her is an everyday job.

It's very ackward but, it's like taiwaneses replicating a van gogh
in series, skills has ...ok why are we even discussing this?....nothing or little to do with art.

I dont think it's irrelevant to consider Veronese as conceptually-handicapped. It offers perspective on art history, and why we have a harder time to grasp with the Veroneses of today.

Again to make links with the begining propos of this thread, when you see a Veronese it translates a general "concept" of its time. A mind frame. Even conceptualists from the 60's don't escape that.

The essence of the question is to know, what is you do with your art that unconsconciously speak of the time when it was made. I mean, once you relegated to "art"
everything that is conscious (and self-conscious) about it: what is your piece of art an "artefact" of?

Cedric Caspesyan

6/15/2006 09:28:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I think we are talking about the difference between a child prodigy and a true master. The child will hit all the notes at the right time but the master will make you cry with the very same music. The difference is not on the page but in the subtle shading.

There is an aspect of performance in art as well. Picasso was a master draughtsman in this sense. Beyond drawing the thing correctly he made it sing. A few lines to define a hand on a knee that absolutely were alive.

This is probably why he became the poster boy for modern art. He demonstrated classic artistry at a very high level, and then chose to push past that guaranteed success and find new ground. He becomes an example for the uninitiated on where the modern impulse comes from.

6/16/2006 03:25:00 AM  
Blogger brent hallard said...

Or put: Each note has register no matter in which manner it is played--often brute, often pure, contrived, or elegant, of manner, of mastery, as only the ingenious can do.

Nature's sing:

He was also a monster thief.

However, he didn't steal what he did not understand. Thus when we consider Picasso we must understand his legacy: despite the fluid and the bulk, his inquiry was often fleeting, heavily repetitive without inroads.

Picasso strove to devour the classic and lasso the modern (as he understood it): Other histories in painting developed without the hinderance of his touch.

A child's drawing, he probably knew, is not drawn by the sword.

6/16/2006 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Edward, are you in Basel? Bring us back some chocolate.

6/16/2006 12:33:00 PM  

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