10 April, 2007

Caravaggio Fight

The Card Sharps,

Love Conquers All,

Here I go, again, following the direction of some comments coming in. I think it's a nice opportunity to open up a can of: Art Criticism on the old Baroque master Caravaggio.

If you see the comments from my last post, Philip and Robyn and I have each our own opinions on this artist, and we are taking the risk of sharing these opinions in the public square. As my teacher, Diane Townsend once said about a Kandinsky that I was trying to not drop rain upon in class, "We have permission to not like his art."

What do you think about all of this?


Casey Klahn said...

I want to bring the discussion forward with some art posted. I paste Philip's last comment here:

Philip said...

I'm not sure what you mean by narrative colour choices. To my mind, the old masters relied too heavily on shadow and light. I suspect that if these pictures were painted now, they would not attract much interest as they are heavy beyond heavy. They are of historical interest to me but nothing more. I would much rather look at Jafabrit's 'Humerous' than the work of Caravaggio which seems to have no presence in the age in which we live. To a lesser extent I feel the same about Van Gogh. He is one of the few artists that I have been diappointed in when I saw his work in the flesh in Amsterdam - sorry as I know is your hero but I have to say what I think.

As for realism (going back to Caravaggio) I think, at that time, the crucifixion of Christ was portrayed in a very unreal way. It is the ultimate act of torture and should be stomach churning to look at. The paintings of the crucifixion are always sanitised compared to what was the reality. If we are to believe what happened to Christ in the days before the crucifixion, where are the signs of the brutality and the scars and blood on his body? I am left wondering why these religious paitings are done in such a sanitised fashion. In their own way, these paintings are, in my opinion, highly political. We need to take account, I suppose, of who was paying for them and what was their agenda.

Casey Klahn said...

Narrative colors are, to me, colors that tell a story or describe things. Brown describes garments and walls in these paintings. I never use brown at all(in my Colorist American Landscapes), because it kills the intensity range of the primary and secondary colors I am describing in my art.
I don't really disagree with your take on the heaviness of the pieces. The darks were, for Caravaggio, a direction that he wanted to go with art that was necessary for it's day. I once climbed a rock route that was the equal in grade to my hero Royal Robbins' (Google him) breakthrough climb of the decade of the Fifties. I have met him, and it had meaning for me to do it, but the divergence of the times is the key element. When he did it, he personified the "Spirit of the Age" by his climbs. When I did it, I was just making a personal journey that was otherwise unremarkable historically.
That's why newness in art is so important. But I don't disavow the past because it's the past. I rate it by it's value for it's moment, and I actually get a "buzz" from that knowing that this historical character had originality.
Van Gogh's skills with his medium may be at culprit. I think much of the Impressionist stuff that I have viewed looks crappier than the oil paintings that my friends do now.
I don't share the need for gore, although the narrative in the Bible gives us enough to "see" this in our minds as we read the crucifixion story. Much has been made, too, of the European looks of these models. I look more the part because of Semitic blood in me. I say "big deal", as the narrative natures still work for me.
You raise the politics behind art patronage, but who would have boughten and preserved fine art, then, in those days of the second Millennium A.D.? Someone had to do it.
I guess I am willing to allow for the market realities of earlier times. Should art hisitorians now try to "redact" what was the better or hidden art of earlier centuries?
You seem very hung-up on the subject parts of his art (which may be okay, I don't know). I seem to be more interested in the formal qualities.

Philip said...

I agree with a great deal of what you say. I don’t dispute that Caravaggio has an important place in western art history and nothing I might say could possibly change that – and nor would I want to.

You and I are very different as artists but that does not mean I am hung up about one thing compared to another. I am more interested in what a picture means and its purpose than I am about formal style, etc. That is of secondary importance to me. That is all I am saying.

On the point of ‘gore’ – I use it as an example to question what is ‘realism’. Most people are not Christians on this planet and tens of millions are therefore have not read the Bible. All I am saying is that if one wanted to understand the horrifically brutal nature of a crucifixion then most religious art would not be of any help. Since the gore was a central part of the reality why is this element missing? Of course that would not have been palatable at the time (not sure it is now) but since these paintings are often regarded as the ultimate in realism I think we need to remind ourselves that they were, in fact, only a very sanitised version of realism. In fact one might say that the portrayal of a crucifixion is in fact always fairly abstract at a philosophical level.

I would venture to suggest that Picasso’s Guernica is a very realistic picture in the sense that the horror of what the painting is portraying comes through loud and clear. It has not been filtered in any way to make it more acceptable to its audience. I short, if we are talking about realism in paintings then let’s deal with true reality.

Casey Klahn said...

On the crucifixion thing, Christians talk about the "offense of the cross", meaning that the theology itself repels the unbeliever. Not so much the detailed gore, but the idea of the need for salvation by faith. Seems to me that the cross subjects were devotional. You're right about the "palatability" of it. I might take the hypothetical blood scene over the piss or the elephant dung media, though!

I wonder if we mean the same thing by realism? I think of a formal style even then. It's not so much that a realistic artwork is perfected of image, but I see it as a means of presenting ideas through nature or the figure to some degree.

I didn't want to use the term "hung up" negatively, BTW. I accept the view of interpreting art by meaning. It is less my own interest to present meaning. and more my thing to raise art to a level that is self-interested. The "formal" qualities of what the 2-D plane (in our case) does; what the medium does; what the tools do, etc. Can an artist turn the painting back on itself without the "subject" or "objects" taking control? Can we short-circuit the "meanings" of symbols in order to look at the art as art?

Thanks for the great talk.

Casey Klahn said...

On Picasso, I have been meaning to say some things about Guernica for some time. Perhaps I'll save that for a post a little bit later.

Anonymous said...

These paintings show me a master of figurative work, form, and value. However, I agree that they are "heavy," and the lack of brighter colors takes some of the life out of the painting. I'd guess they're much better in person than reproduced, but the first thing I think is "great figures, but drab."

The topics and subjects, while historical, are fairly easy to relate to. As for realism, I always saw it as a technique and style, but hadn't considered its role as a historical tool. Interesting point!

tlwest said...

Picasso’s Guernica bleugh!

Casey Klahn said...

Meg's got a point that realism is seen as a technique. Most don't link it to it's historical school or place in schools of art. I think of what comes now in art, and wonder what place realism has.
Terri, say what you really think ;)
See Ricki's comment, which really belongs here because it talks about Caravaggio - who seems to be a study for Rickie. Knowing Philip, I wouldn't be surprised if he has seen originals. I noticed that the quality of jpegs on the internet from carav. vary in quality a lot. Also, the intensity of colors is usually over saturated on the screen.

Anonymous said...

I can't often think of something to say. Philip does a wonderful job at commenting on works though! You do too Casey! I envy you both soo much. Just thought I outa say that. I really would say more if I could think of what to write down. I think of something...and then it just pops right outa my head though. Anyhoo...to get to the point here...I think that it's a wonderful thing for many of the artist's that can think of things to say for you to do this Casey. Your a great guy! *HUGS*

Casey Klahn said...

Ricki's comment is in my "Types of Subjects" post.

Philip said...

the ephiphany artist - I wonder if you might expand on 'bleugh'?

Casey Klahn said...

Angela, I hope you don't envy my knowledge. I am really just a guy talking "out of school", as I don't have formal art history training.

I do, however, like to apply reason to what I read coming from arts professionals. Sometimes I disagree with what they say, and then I let them know it!

Thanks to everyone who has had the patience to read all of this!

Robyn Sinclair said...

While I've been entertaining visitors, I've missed all the fun! I have read every word now but, as my opinions are instinctive rather than educated, I won't weigh in again. I do have to say, however, both of the above Caravaggio paintings are in reality much warmer and more saturated than they appear here.
And Philip - I'm sure you've seen DAVID WITH THE HEAD OF GOLIATH - where a haunted, murderer artist used his own head as model for the decapitated monster. Sounds like good old Catholic guilt to me and rather realistically gory. And finally poor old Caravaggio apparently did suffer some interference from Popes.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for the comments, and for reading every word, Robyn. While my own laptop is in exile, I am using our PC, and the experience is poor. I can't surf as well, and I have noticed that the graphic quality of my posts are way down. Place crying emoticon here.

Yeah, I think the papal "criticism" of art is known to me. Why am I defending Catholics, when I am not even one of them? I guess when it comes to today's environment and discourse, I have a requirement for exactitude when it comes to these things.

Then there's me, arguing for the faith of the scoundrel Caravaggio. That's a hoot! Place silly emoticon here.

Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism