Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Style (and a Minor Memory Triumph, sort of)

From ARTnews' Retrospective:
"An example: I take a ball . . . if this ball is drawn by Leonardo, by Ingres, by Degas, by the Douanier Rousseau or by a normally gifted student of the Beaux-Arts, it will have a good chance of being presented with the same features . . . What style, then, are we able to attribute to these different artists? . . .

"True style . . . is set forth so skillfully and effectively as to become invisible . . . Greco makes a show of style . . . Velásquez has no style.

". . . We have all been able to imitate Lautrec, Cézanne, Renoir or the Negroes . . . No one has ever risked imitating Velásquez."
—"Fragments of a Conversation with Derain recollected by Georges Hilaire, 1944," May 1960
Rather shocking today the way Andre lumped all of African art together, but his declaration, while fabulous, prompted this memory buried deep in my mind...a voice back there somewhere coughed into its hand and said, "Uh, well, actually...someone did imitate Velásquez, and I'm not talking Picasso or Bacon's recreations, but an actual daring daylight theft."

Then of course, I couldn't stop thinking about it until I recalled who had done so. So I revisited the Velásquez's I knew and this work seemed to be the missing link:

"That's the one!" the voice proclaimed. "Someone dared to imitate that painting."

My brow furrowed at this point. Derain didn't claim that no one had repainted the same subject matters...but that no one would risk trying to imitate Velásquez's style...because it was so refined that you'd fail.

"OK, OK," conceded the pushy voice. "But still, who repainted that piece? That's the one. That exact piece...someone shamelessly stole that exact composition...who was it?"

"Holbein..." another, gruffer, calmer voice offered from off in the distance.

Holbein?
I thought...Um, only if he had a time machine.

"I'm telling you," the gruff voice insisted..."you're thinking of Holbein."

Well, then, clearly I'm mad. Holbein died about 50 years before Velásquez was born. Besides, why would Holbein even be so close to the top of my conscious---....ah, yes...that TV show...the Tudors...that's why."

And indeed, that was why. The TV character Holbein (as we've discussed here before) had painted one of Henry's lovers in the same position:


That settled, though, I began to wonder who else had a style " set forth so skillfully and effectively as to become invisible"?

And so I open a thread. Who indeed? It's probably a wide matter of opinion, but...feel free to offer yours.

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16 Comments:

Blogger Iris said...

I'm not sure this statement is true today. Velasquez style seems very visible to the late 20th century-early 21st eye. At least that's what I see, but I may not understand this statement properly! however, the way I understand it, I would think the statement would be more true relating to some photo-realist painters, who really strive to show no sign of painterly style in their work. For that matter, if referring to 'painterly', there are many other examples, from Mondrian on, of art that strives to show 'no style' although that is a style in itself. However, if you're referring to 'painterly', than it is true. Or pop art which wants to imitate generic, non-personal products, may want to show no personal style, but again, that is a style in itself. Manufacturing of giant balloon-animals doesn't really have a style, does it? although, quite easy to imitate... so not a good comparison to Velasquez, which goes back to my point, that his paintings absolutely have a prominent style. Or am I missing the point you and Derain are making?

4/27/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Style is a tricky thing to put your finger on... and Iris is right, something that may seem at one point in time to be style-less may at a later point be revealed to have a very distinctive style. But I'm not sure that style is the same thing as the artist's individual mark.
That said, style in this context is generally defined as the manner of expression, and is often contrasted to content. Therefore, to me, the question is akin to the formalism vs conceptualism debate.

And the answer, Who else had a style " set forth so skillfully and effectively as to become invisible"? would be those artists that find the beautiful in between spot where form and content meld into each other and both disappear. Most truly great artists hit this spot, no matter what era they live(d) in. An to me, that is why their art keeps giving and giving, over and over again throughout the years. I can think of too many to name.

4/27/2010 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous nemastoma said...

If the Georges Hilaire is the same archconservative Georges Hilaire who was a rabid antisemite and racist during the Vichy Government, it would make sense that he sees “style” as a negative, with only Velasquez holding up the traditional ideals of "classical" beauty. Does he view the other painters he listed as having a style that is too “modern”, one that doesn’t uphold the classical ideal? One that is iconoclastic and in his view too easily imitated? One that thus would be too degenerate? Does he equate style with the latter?

4/27/2010 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Anon 11:00, can you try to name a couple anyway, just to explain your point? I would really like to understand!

nemastome, I don't know who that Hilaire is, but it seems he was just quoting from a conversation with Derain, therefore expressing Derain's opinion, not his own.

I think it's difficult to understand the meaning without reading the whole article, only the tiny quote.

4/27/2010 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Possibly Derain is stating here that
Draughtsmanship is equaled to mirroring the perception of reality
Style is correlated to expressing ones emotional engagement to reality.
A masters style, being one that becomes transparent, where the viewer is imbued with that emotional connection to reality versus seeing and analyzing the means of transmitting such a connection.
A masters style couldn’t be copied as it is invisible, all that could be copied is a parallel emotional response to reality. Which probably by definition would always be individualistic and so ultimately unique. Hence to rise to the level of mimicry of a masters style would of necessity entail the engagement of the copiers (artisists) emotional engagement to reality and so give rise to a new masters style…

Yet somehow I keep thinking Turner has his own style. His own vision if you will, which is his alone.

4/27/2010 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Charles Browning said...

A few years back I was at the Spanish painting show at the Guggenheim. Looking across the spiral at the paintings I hadn't gotten to yet, there would be a painting or two that would jump out at me from all the others, even when I couldn't see it all that clearly. Every time, when I got to that gallery, it was Velasquez - outshining amazing paintings by Goya, Zurburan, Ribeira, et al., all by virtue of his basic brush work and composition.

Velasquez seems to me to fit what Anon 11:00am said: "those artists that find the beautiful in between spot where form and content meld into each other and both disappear"

4/27/2010 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Iris-
sorry, maybe too vague. What I was trying to get at is that as you suggest, mechanical can be a style, too, or plastic, etc.. it doesn't have to show the evidence of the artist's hand (so to speak) to have style.

Style has to do with the way you make your art, which I liken to formal technique. The merriam-webster dictionary uses the following examples to define style: .
Of course, that first example reminds me a lot of the formalism vs conceptualism debate, I believe there was a good thread going here a while ago that may do a better job at what I will attempt to explain here.
The power of the quote, and the power of the idea of "a style set forth so skillfully and effectively as to become invisible", reminds me of the place in art where it's not about either form or content, but both meld together, compliment each other, carry each other through so as to be almost indistinguishable.

The first example that comes to mind, likely because of the artist cited in the original quote, is Rembrandt. His portraits and biblical scenes have a very distinctive content, but they are just as much about the paint, the light and dark, and the emotion created by the technique and medium as they are about the subject he chose to depict. You could speak of his work purely in formalist terms, or purely about the content or historical context of the work, but it is really the way the two feed off of each other that makes the work so great.
All art that I keep coming back to marries form and content in this way. Some other examples: The recent Calder exhibit at Gagosian did this for me, Olafur Eliasson I think does a good job at this.
Some artists have concepts that aren't carried through very well by the form, I am reminded of this by Jerry Saltz's recent review of Dumas, where she painted a bowl of grapes and called it "Grapes of Wrath." A concept not carried through in the form, IMHO.

So in short, I guess you could say that it is the difference between style being a shtick, and style being excellent technique that helps carry the art through to the next level.

clear as mud?

-Anon 11:00

4/27/2010 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

anon 11, must run to my 'day job' now, will read and comment later when I get a chance, thanks for trying to explain!

4/27/2010 01:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

There's more than one way to pigeonhole an artist. If it is not by style (academic by definition hopes to eradicate style at the service of perfection), than you can do it by subject, theme, media, etc (which to me are all part of form = style)...

Some artists like Gerard Richter (there, let's dare a name) are harder to pigeonhole because their
approach is to experiment with styles and themes. But eventually
you can always make a sense of an ensemble (easy with Richter when each of his series is quite recognizeable in itself, but you would be pressed to test if a newbie can tell that one abstraction and one candle painting are from the same artist).


Ed has the opportunity to ask Eve Sussman about this. When she made her film about the Velasquez painting, certainly question of style came into focus. No?

Also, it's not because a style is so subtle that it means it is absent.


Cedric C

4/27/2010 02:13:00 PM  
Anonymous nemastoma said...

Well, Derain is also largely regarded as having been a collaborator in WWII. Both he and Hilaire, among other artists/writers.

4/27/2010 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous nemastoma said...

The problem is that “style” means so many things to so many people. It can refer to a 1) singular “Style”, 2) an upon-agreed stylistic convention, or 3) an epoch. Velasquez was revolutionary in his 1) Style in the way he individualistically and uniquely approached painting. His 2) style could be viewed as baroque and he painted during the 3) Baroque epoch.

4/27/2010 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

This is a very interesting topic for the current historical moment.

One of the immediate problems in making any comparison with paintings in the past and with the present condition of painting is that the cultural environment for painting has radically changed. The most obvious difference is that we no longer have a culture which requires mimetic resemblance from our image makers.

The discussions of style in the era of Velasquez were intimately linked with the ideas of resemblance. The genius of Velasquez was in his ability to see what was necessary, and what was not, in order to achieve semblance in a painting.

Considering his two paintings at the Guggenheim, portraits of the King and Queen of Spain, and the two flanking paintings by others. What was amazing about the Velasquez paintings was the brevity of his marking in certain areas (the lace) and the more precise execution on the heads. These differences in paint handling turn the idea of "style" on its head by utilizing them as a means of expression rather than as a means of personal identity.

Thinking about what is necessary for an image to have resemblance, to look like the subject, it becomes clear that it requires more than a precise point to point mapping to achieve an optimal solution. In the case of the Velasquez and his peers at the Guggenheim, the lesser painters went to great efforts to precisely render the smallest details. In a side by side comparison, this approach was less satisfying than the looser approach taken by Velasquez. (This is the downside of all the so called photorealist painters).

Since the image is never what is depicted, it's an image not the subject so no amount of fussing is going to make the semblance more convincing. In fact what seems to occur is that the execution becomes an end in itself which then designs to "show off" the artists technical skills, at the expense of the subject. This is what I felt occurred with Velasquez and his imitators at the Guggenheim.

So, I would suggest that whatever "invisibility of style" was being attributed to Velasquez was really an appreciation of his ability to effectively utilize the appropriate technique to achieve what he wanted to see. Making some scribbly brushmarks look like lace is much more difficult than precisely rendering it. It requires both the ability to understand the appearance of lace and the technical ability to paint this, the appearance of lace rather than the lace.

Moving forward into the present, style as it has been discussed, is an artifact of an era when the artist was a guild member, a craftsman who made objects. This is why I raised the idea of "resemblance" as an issue, one which no longer is a strict requirement. At the present the notion of "style" has been usurped by the marketplace.

4/27/2010 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

I may be over simplifying the meaning of the statement (I still can't agree with it..) it's like a great actor's technique and style so invisible that the viewer is absorbed with the character they are playing, it seems the actor's personality disappears. This is mastery of the craft of acting. It may be also true regarding classical musicians. So I guess, that was what he meant as 'invisible', the art is so much of the period, the viewer forgets about the artist behind the painting, being completely absorbed with the work of art in itself. However, I disagree with this being only Velasquez' quality. When taken literally, it does not make sense to me. An artist like Velasquez can be compared to a director, not to an actor. An artist composes and 'directs' a whole piece, and taking the analogy further, when a movie is so good that you are so absorbed and taken by it, you may say the 'style' is invisible. But same can be said about any great piece of art. Maybe what he meant with 'style' is mastery of technique? I don't know if there's much point in trying to understand. Anon 11, what you are talking about is the latter that I mentioned, I think. What you are talking about relates to every great artist or great piece of art, but what Derain was referring to was specific to Velasquez, not "Lautrec, Cézanne, Renoir or the Negroes . . ."

To conclude let's all agree that Derain was a dorky Nazi collaborator, who made some good paintings in his life time but not much sense otherwise.... lol...

Or maybe I just still can't get it into my thick brain?...

4/28/2010 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles said: "A few years back I was at the Spanish painting show at the Guggenheim. Looking across the spiral at the paintings I hadn't gotten to yet, there would be a painting or two that would jump out at me from all the others, even when I couldn't see it all that clearly..."

I like it better when I don't recognize who the artist is. This is easy for me when viewing work before the 1900's because unfortunately when I was a student, I was only interested in Modern Art, and doodled away the time during those "early" art history classes. I've also learned I was an idiot back then to have not been paying attention, and have since devoted much time to learning what I didn't appreciate/understand as a student.

But I rather enjoy seeing paintings without coming to them with the baggage of preconceived notions, or influence/information of art historians or critics. I prefer to just experience a painting first, then learn about the artist afterward if so inclined. This works for me - but I'm not advocating as proper.

Did anyone happen to catch the Giovanni Boldini Exhibition at the Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA? Perfect example, I had no idea who he was but I was STUNNED (and apparently that's been a common reaction according to the museum). His brush work/paint handling were incredible.

4/28/2010 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I think there is a difference between recognition of an artists work and recognition of his 'style.' We are familiar with the reproductions of all of the painters mentioned and that is what is being recognized.

Anon's comment about Boldini is telling because because it reveals his personal response to the paintings without the veneer of prior publicity. I've had this experience with Alice Neel's work several times now, it's a "who did that?" response. This is always a nice feeling.

4/28/2010 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

I also saw the Boldini Exhibit at the Clark. I went on the recommendation of a former professor/friend. Although I knew a little about Boldini, it was not to the extent of the exhibit @Clark. I was completely blown away. As George said: It's a "Who did that" response.

I also agree with Anon. that Boldini's brush work and paint handling were incredible. From finely painted details to slapping paint around with brush strokes that surpass any of the abstract-ex's. I left with a new appreciation of him, and a nice feeling too.

4/28/2010 01:18:00 PM  

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