An art historian’s job is to show the public why certain works of art made history: what made them exciting, new and worth seeing for their times. If we can come closer to understanding what excited the viewing public then, we will have far more appreciation for that art now. To my mind, nobody brings art history closer to us, to make us feel its importance both then and now, than The Nation‘s art critic, Arthur C. Danto. If future generations will have any sense, his Encounters and Reflections will be remembered the way we still remember Diderot’s Salons. These are lively, knowledgeable and exciting essays about artistic masterpieces which shouldn’t be relegated only to the pages of art history, but also enjoyed by the general public today. Arthur Danto’s essays help us savor the delectable pleasure of art.
I have just finished my second novel, The Seducer, and had to choose a cover for it. I selected Edson Campos’ postromantic painting, Timeless (pictured above). Indeed, there’s a trace of timeless, romantic longing in this picture, rendered all the more moving by the ruins which surround the pensive woman dressed in blue. This fits perfectly with the mood and theme of my novel.
The Seducer tells a tale of dangerous, forbidden love and the devastation caused by psychopathic seduction. I wanted the cover artwork to capture the dreamy mood of longing and pain of the heroine. I also wanted a picture that was, in some ways, timeless and could take readers back to the tradition of nineteenth century fiction–particularly Tolstoy’s classic, Anna Karenina. You can preview my new novel, The Seducer, on the following links:
Please find below a more detailed description of The Seducer:
My native country, Romania, is best known for a fictional character, Dracula, which is only loosely based on a historical fact: the infamous legend of Vlad Tepes. Novels that draw upon this legend—ranging from Anne Rice’s genre fiction, to the popular Twilight series, to Elizabeth Kostova’s erudite The Historian–continue to be best sellers. Yet, ultimately, no matter how much they may thrill us, the “undead” vampires we encounter in novels are harmless fictional characters that play upon our fascination with evil. However, real-life vampires, or individuals who relish destroying the lives of others, do exist. We see them constantly featured in the news and, if we don’t know how to recognize them, sometimes we even welcome them into our lives.
What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Neil Entwistle and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charming, charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody some of the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the fundamental incapacity to love. To such men, other people, including their own family members, friends and lovers, are mere objects or pawns to be used for their own gratification and sometimes quite literally discarded when no longer useful and exciting. In other words, these men are psychopaths.
My novel, The Seducer, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. It traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling alienated from her husband and trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be caring, passionate and charismatic; her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath, transforming what seemed to be the perfect love story into a psychological nightmare. Ana discovers that whatever seemed good about her lover was only a facade intended to attract her, win her trust and foster her dependency. His love was nothing more than lust for power, fueled by an incurable sex addiction. His declarations of love were nothing but a fraud; a string of empty phrases borrowed from the genuine feelings of others. Fidelity turned out to be a one-way street, as Michael secretly prowled around for innumerable other sexual conquests.
To her dismay, Ana finds that building a romantic relationship with a psychopathic partner is like building a house on a foundation of quicksand. Everything shifts and sinks in a relatively short period of time. Seemingly caring, and often flattering, attention gradually turns into jealousy, domination and control. Enjoying time together becomes isolation from others. Romantic gifts are replaced with requests, then with demands. Apparent selflessness and other-regarding gestures turn into the most brutal selfishness one can possibly imagine. Confidential exchanges and apparent honesty turn out to be filled with lies about everything: the past, the present, as well as the invariably hollow promises for the future. The niceness that initially seemed to be a part of the seducer’s character is exposed as strategic and manipulative, conditional upon acts of submission to his will. Tenderness diminishes and is eventually displaced by perversion that hints at an underlying, and menacing, sadism. Mutuality, equality and respect—everything she thought the relationship was founded upon—become gradually replaced with hierarchies and double standards in his favor. As the relationship with the psychopath unfolds, Dr. Jekyll morphs into Mr. Hyde.
The Seducer relies upon the insights of modern psychology and sensational media stories to demystify the theme of seduction we find in classic literary fiction. In its plot and structure, my novel deliberately echoes elements of the nineteenth-century classic, Anna Karenina. In its style and content, it fits in with contemporary mainstream psychological fiction such as Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue and Wally Lamb’s I know this much is true. As much a cautionary tale as a story about the value of real caring, forgiveness and redemption, The Seducer shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.
The contemporary philosopher and art critic for The Nation, Arthur Danto, has stated that it’s nearly impossible to leave one’s mark upon culture as an art critic. If one looks at how few art critics are remembered, it’s difficult to disagree with this observation. Since the mid-eighteenth century, when art criticism became prevalent, there have been thousands of art critics, but only a handful of them are still known today. Among them, in the French tradition, we can count Diderot, Baudelaire, Gautier, the Goncourt brothers, Zola and Huysmans. But even these cases are difficult to judge from the point of view of art criticism, since all of these writers are known primarily for other accomplishments: Diderot for being the editor of the Encyclopédie and author of novellas, philosophical treatises and plays; Baudelaire for his poetry; Gautier, the Goncourt brothers, Zola and Huysmans for their novels. Would any of these critics be recognized today had they written only about art? In the case of Diderot I certainly think so, and to begin supporting this point, I’d like to consider here the importance of Diderot’s Salons to our contemporary appreciation of art and to the development of Romanticism, particularly as it pertains to what I call his stance of “passionate lucidity.”
Diderot’s Salons have much more than a purely historical value. They did, indeed, allow readers far removed from the Parisian art exhibits to appreciate new works of art. And they do, indeed, still tell us so much—and so entertainingly—about the artistic standards of the eighteenth-century. But they also accomplish more than that. They help us understand better the connection between aesthetics and art criticism—or, otherwise put, between abstract philosophical inquiries about the nature of art and beauty and specific value judgments about particular artists and paintings.
Aesthetics — a word derived from the Greek word aesthesis meaning “sense experience” — concerns itself with the study of art. Aesthetic philosophy seeks to understand the principles that underlie our value judgments: What is beauty? Is it objective in any way? How is aesthetic pleasure related to perception? What is an artist? What is called talent or genius? What makes something be art? Today we believe that such philosophical questions are also historical, and thus cannot be answered only in the abstract. Thus, aesthetic philosophy can benefit from art criticism and art history, which register the responses of a given era and the economic and social forces that helped shape and consecrate art. Art historians and art critics attempt to answer questions such as: What constitutes artistic value for a given period, group or set of artists? What perceptual and aesthetic problems were specific artists working on? Were they successful? By what standards? Who sponsored them and why? What do we think of them today?
Given that the two fields are complimentary and interdependent, it makes sense to combine aesthetics and art history or criticism; yet, surprisingly, in the modern period few critics do. Since the eighteenth-century, there appears to exist an invisible divide between art critics and aesthetic philosophers, such that, for example, in the work of Kant or Hegel the mention of specific artists is almost completely seeped in philosophical abstraction, while, conversely, the writing of art critics such as the Goncourt brothers, despite its exquisite style, learnedness and sensibility, has little philosophical resonance. True to the spirit of the Enlightenment, when the philosophes touched upon every subject that the human mind could grasp, Diderot is one of the few and most engaging modern writers to examine the question of artistic value from a dual perspective, that of philosopher and art critic. His Salons help us think about our own responses to art: particularly to the art of his times, since standards of value and what is considered art have changed beyond recognition since the eighteenth century.
As the title suggests, Diderot’s Salons were a collection of his art criticism of the official Parisian Salon exhibits. These reviews took the form of letters to close friends—particularly to his best friend, Friedrich Grimm, the editor of Correspondance littéraire between 1753 and 1776–and to far-away readers, most of whom could not make it to see the paintings in person. The Salons, in turn, were state-sponsored art shows first held in 1667, under Louis XIV’s reign, at Colbert’s initiative. These art exhibits were initially meant to showcase only the work of artists who were members of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, but became accessible to all artists in 1791, upon the orders of the Revolutionary government. After 1699, the exhibits moved to the prestigious Salon Carré of the Louvre and after 1737, they were organized more frequently, either once or twice a year. Open to the public from the very beginning, the Salons offered a feast for the eyes. Dozens of beautiful paintings were displayed next to one another, covering the walls from eye-level to ceiling. In 1798 the evaluation of artwork and the prizes given at the Salon was placed in the hands of a committee of judges who were members of the Academy and selected by the government. Since the Academy was so important in determining the standards of value of French art for nearly three centuries, it’s also worth saying a few words about it.
Colbert founded the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1648 in response to pressure from painters who claimed that their occupation was not a trade or a craft, to be controlled only by the guilds. They considered art an intellectual endeavor that required rigorous academic training. Louis XIV developed the Académie using Italian academies, which had flourished during the Renaissance, as his model. Very soon, however, the French Academy set the standards for art in Europe. It adhered to a classical training, where art was taught according to a set of rules established by first drawing copies of Renaissance master drawings, then proceeding to drawing from casts and live models, and finally moving on to oil paintings. Regarding art as an intellectual endeavor that required a broad education, The Academy held lectures and courses on drawing, anatomy, geometry, mathematics and perspective.
During the eighteenth century, the standards of the Salon and the monopoly established by the Academy were disrupted. Popular painters like Chardin, who specialized in still-life, and Greuze, who specialized in portraits, helped shift the hierarchy of subjects and genres, which had privileged allegorical and history paintings. In so far as the Salons were associated with the stringent rules of the Academy, during the nineteenth-century they began to lose prestige. In hindsight, with the popularity of artists such as Manet, the Impressionists and the postimpressionists in mind, we can now look at Salon art— which is sometimes called pejoratively “l’art pompier” – and see it as excessively conservative and narrow in its criteria.
Diderot’s art criticism upheld the value of a kind of Salon art that asserted its uniqueness and independence from the strict standards of Academic painting. We might say that Diderot began a trend of art criticism that celebrated the modernity of art. The influential writings of Diderot, Baudelaire, Gautier, the Goncourts and Zola played an important role for their respective periods in what we can call, retrospectively, the modernization of art by placing increasing value on individuality, passion and creativity rather than on following, even if masterfully, a particular set of academic rules.
Diderot is arguably the most famous of these art critics. He reviewed the Paris Salons of 1759 through 1771, 1779 and 1781. Unlike the livrets distributed at the Salons, which were meant to be looked at during or shortly following the visit to the exhibit, Diderot’s reviews, published as private newsletters, were addressed to a broad, international audience. His readership included members of the royal houses from Russia, Poland, Sweden and other nations—individuals who, for the most part, had not seen the paintings and probably would never have the opportunity to do so. This geographical and temporal distance between readers and paintings compelled Diderot to write his reviews in a personable, engaging, even theatrical style that not only depicted art in vivid detail, but also peppered those descriptions with personal anecdotes and illustrations that made the paintings come to life before the readers’ eyes.
As is the case with most of Diderot’s writings, these reviews don’t fall neatly into any particular genre, straddling several domains. They’re simultaneously aesthetic philosophy; letters to a close friend and to far-away readers; art criticism and entertaining literature. Diderot’s ability to bring art to life for those who, for the most part, didn’t have the chance to see it, parallels his ability to stimulate feelings of love in a relationship (with his mistress, Sophie Volland) that is defined mostly by separation and distance. In both cases, art and love, Diderot cultivates aesthetic passion through a refined narrative imagination heightened by artistic sensibility and tempered by lucidity and knowledge.
Both Relative and Universal: Diderot’s Traité du beau
Diderot first broached the question of what is beauty in an article of the Encyclopédie that was published on January 21, 1752 entitled, appropriately enough, “Beauty.” He then edited and developed his arguments further in the Traité du beau, which was published twenty years later. This philosophical treatise considers the arguments about beauty presented by the British empiricists Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. What appeals to a materialist such as Diderot about their writings is the understanding of beauty as the product of an infinite number of repeated experiences. Like Diderot, Shaftesbury proposes a refined empiricism that applies the insights of inductive models of knowledge to age-old aesthetic problems, the most important of which is elucidating the nature of beauty. In broaching this subject, Shaftesbury himself relied upon Plotinus’ neoplatonic philosophy to reconcile empiricism with idealism, or, more specifically, the variety of sensory impressions with an everlasting, unified and universal idea of beauty. The beauty of art and of nature, Plotinus had claimed, reflects a higher, divine harmony. Like his precursor and inspiration Plato, the Renaissance philosopher climbs upon an idealist ladder that leads from physical sensation to pure form; from the particular to the universal; from the individual to the world soul, or what Plato had called the Good.
Shaftesbury is not an idealist like Plotinus. Nevertheless, he too sees the beauty of nature and of art as a reflection of the higher harmony and meaning of the cosmos. In appreciating beauty, Shaftesbury further suggests, we’re not simply passive beings that absorb sensory impressions, but rather creative individuals who exercise judgment and taste. The appreciation of beauty–at least according to the philosophical tradition that leads from Plato to Diderot–is therefore sensory but not merely physical. It engages our faculties and reveals the underlying harmony of the world.
Even assuming that this conception of beauty were true, an immediate question presents itself: how do we gain access to this higher realm; how do we discern the beautiful? Finding himself in agreement with Shaftesbury, Diderot maintains that the appreciation of beauty is instilled, first and foremost, by repeated observation. Thus like the empiricists, Diderot founds aesthetics—which means, as mentioned, “of sense experience”—appropriately enough upon perception. Nonetheless, it can be objected that observation in itself doesn’t give us any particular direction: seeing things repeatedly doesn’t even indicate that we necessarily like them, much less imply good taste. To address this objection, Diderot offers his own definition of beauty, one that combines Neoclassical standards with empiricist assumptions. Beauty, the philosopher states, is a harmony between the parts and the whole; or, phrased more in line with his materialist theory of knowledge, it’s the perception of the relation of unity between the parts and the whole. This understanding of beauty is broad enough to apply to a vast array of things: natural objects, art, feelings, human beings.
Yet, one could further object, if we all appreciate order and harmony in similar ways, what is one to make of the obvious variations in standards of beauty? Diderot is preoccupied with this problem. He raises the fundamental question, is beauty “something absolute or relative?” (Traité du beau, 81) Or, otherwise put, is there an unchangeable, eternal, essential beauty or is beauty like fashion, variable and dependent upon shifting tastes? (81) Ultimately, as Baudelaire would do several generations later, Diderot settles upon both. If beauty were eternal, there would be no way to explain changing criteria. If it were ephemeral, it would be a product of ignorance and, as he states, “throw the whole philosophical question into sheer scepticism” (81). A good way of explaining more tangibly the abstract claim that beauty is both particular and universal, Diderot implies, is by considering one’s judgments of concrete objects of beauty, such as paintings. Which is precisely what he does in the Salons.
Lucidity and Passion in Art
If Diderot’s Salons are such a pleasure to read hundreds of years later, it’s in part because of their conversational tone, inflections of humor and theatricality—all of the rhetorical and personal skills that season Diderot’s writing in general. The author illustrates his arguments about beauty with vivid descriptions of paintings, descriptions which are themselves peppered with unexpected but relevant personal anecdotes. In the Salon of 1767, for example, Diderot explains his attitude as a critic by comparing it to his attitude as a lover. In critiquing two little paintings which he happens to own, he wishes to convince readers that he can evaluate them with integrity despite the fact that he possesses and loves them. After describing the paintings, he focuses upon their minor flaws. Not because he considers these paintings important or the flaws serious, but because he wishes to make a more general point about the proper aesthetic stance. Even when a critic loves a work of art, Diderot suggests, he must see it from multiple perspectives, as completely and clearly as he can.
Art criticism, like philosophy, like love itself, depends upon cultivating a lucid passion. Passion, because without it it’s impossible to have the enthusiasm and sensibility necessary to appreciate a work of art. Lucidity, because without it it’s impossible to maintain that enthusiasm or to explain and defend one’s appreciation plausibly to others. Thus Diderot advises that “in art as in love, a happiness that’s founded only on illusion won’t last. Friends, follow my example. See your mistress as she is. See your statues, your paintings, your friends as they are. And if they enchanted you the first day, their charm will last” (568-9).
Appreciating a work of art, possessing it, gazing at it entails some measure of love for it, for its particular manifestation of beauty. Art criticism is therefore not objective. Yet, Diderot cautions, it also can’t be confused with arbitrary subjective preference. To maintain a balance between love and a critical attitude, the art critic or philosopher must be able to describe the work of art as if from an external perspective; to acknowledge both its strengths and its flaws; to see it as if from the point of view of those who have no attachment to it. One might be tempted to say that Diderot reflects here the Enlightenment dream of seeking objectivity in the realm of the subjective. For the ideal of having artistic taste be both subjective and objective defines, most notably, Kant’s Critique of Judgment.
Yet Diderot doesn’t follow the path of the subjective universal, which, in its simplest formulation, claims that one’s subjective taste in matters of beauty, if on the mark, should be everyone’s. When judgments of beauty are not shared, Kant suggests, that proves lack of taste rather than a variety of possibly valid judgments. Diderot’s aesthetics do not imply that those who disagree with his philosophical standards of beauty are necessarily wrong. He begins by arguing, like Kant, that, at root, taste is personal. Yet, unlike Kant, he doesn’t assume or impose similarity of aesthetic judgment. True to his simultaneously open-minded and opinionated conversational manner, the philosophe wishes to seduce readers into seeing his point of view. Artistic appreciation, like love, are all the more profound when experienced so personally that one accepts an object of beauty or affection in its entirety–qualities, flaws and all. Rather than being objective, this honest assessment of aesthetic value is touchingly personal: a form of knowledge of something (or someone) so acute that it becomes a form of intimacy.
I’m not off base in using the language of passionate love to describe the appreciation of art. Diderot himself peppers his philosophical argument with an anecdote about his life-long mistress and friend, Sophie Volland:
I remember a woman who doubted a bit the kindness of my eyes asking me to sketch her portrait which she didn’t have the courage to let me finish; she covered my mouth with her hands. And still, I was drawn to her… (568-9)
This example, like the argument it serves, is symptomatic of Diderot’s art criticism. Representing aesthetic taste not as something objective that all individuals do or should share, but as something idiosyncratic that can be nonetheless defended intelligibly and intelligently to others, characterizes Diderot’s attitude as philosopher, critic and lover. Aesthetic taste, the author suggests, is nothing more nor less than a lucid and passionate appreciation of beautiful things.
Diderot is nonetheless very forceful in his judgments. Taken aback by the vehemence with which he defends his artistic opinions, the Goncourt brothers would later claim that Diderot’s scathing remarks about Boucher and Fragonard and resounding praises of his favorites, Chardin and Greuze, should be taken with a grain of salt. They even insinuate that the philosophe is quite unfair to the artists he doesn’t like. No doubt that’s true. Yet if we keep in mind how Diderot has described the nature of aesthetic judgment, this charge glides off him. For, by his own standards—which make perfect sense even in our day–if a knowledgeable and sensitive critic can defend his judgments, which are themselves formulated with as much integrity and lucidity as he can muster, then he has done his job. In reading Diderot’s comments about Chardin and Greuze in particular, one gets the impression that his taste for these painters is personal—idiosyncratic even—but not arbitrary. In drawing such a tenuous distinction, I feel compelled to defend it.
The safest way to describe the difference between a subjective taste that is personal and one which is arbitrary is sociologically and more or less relativistically, the way Bourdieu and other Marxist critics do. Good taste occurs when one’s personal judgments are validated by people who themselves have authority and expertise in that domain: as, for example, when an artist one admires receives broader critical acclaim. Diderot’s judgments were confirmed in this sense by his contemporaries, as the highly sensuous Rococo style associated with Boucher began to decline and the more austere, Neoclassical style of Chardin and the attractively sentimental style of Greuze gained popularity.
But appealing to a collectively affirmed judgment is, in a way, a way of begging the question. It doesn’t explain why a group of people who are influential in the world of art come to value some works of art and not others. Despite the elegance and intricacy of his explanations, even Bourdieu eventually runs up against this fundamental problem: for saying that taste is nothing more than endowing something with economic or cultural capital still doesn’t explain why such a value is attributed to specific objects to begin with. In insisting upon an answer to this question, I agree with Diderot’s argument in the Traité du beau: namely, that declaring taste to be, at root, arbitrary means to “throw the whole philosophical question [of aesthetic value] into sheer scepticism.”
So what is good art during the eighteenth-century? A noble simplicity is how Winckelmann described Neoclassicism, or the kind of art that sought to recapture the elegance and beauty of Hellenistic sculpture and functioned as a foil and rival to the more decorative, gay and charming styles of Baroque and Rococo art. Diderot’s artistic tastes are similar to, but more eclectic than Winckelmann’s. He too sought to instill the value of simplicity and moral elevation in art. For this reason, he consistently criticized in the Salons François Boucher, who was the personal favorite of Mme de Pompadour and, through her friendship and patronage, became the chief court painter of Louis XV.
Boucher was perhaps the most famous eighteenth-century painter of feminine beauty and sensuality. Even Diderot could not resist the visual appeal of his work as he commented in the Salon of 1761, “Pastoral scenes and landscapes by Boucher. What colors! What variety! What wealth of objects and ideas!” (205) Yet, lest he should seem too complimentary, the critic added, “This man has everything except truth. There is no part of his compositions which, if separated from the others, doesn’t please; even the whole seduces you.” (205). Boucher’s work exhibits sumptuousness and harmony. Each part of his paintings reflects physical beauty and so does the whole. Yet, Diderot qualifies, “We ask ourselves: did we ever see shepherds dressed with such elegance and luxury?” (205)
What becomes clear as we read Diderot’s critiques of Boucher is the fact that the critic demands from art a harmony and believability that are not simply visual. While seeming to call for physical verisimilitude in saying that such well-dressed shepherds are improbable, Diderot in fact asks for something deeper: a kind of beauty and true-to-lifeness that elevates the imagination and emotions, rather than only exciting the senses. Which is why he reduces, perhaps a bit too harshly–as the Goncourts point out–Boucher’s entire artistic production to a series of visual fragments:
He is made to dazzle two kinds of people; his elegance, cuteness, romanesque chivalry, coquettishness, taste, ease, variety, daring, his made-up incarnations, his debauchery, should captivate the little artisans, little women, the young, the socialites, the host of people who don’t know true taste, truth, fair ideas, the severity of art; how would such people resist the licentiousness, the pomp, the pompons, the bosoms, the derrières, the epigram of Boucher? (205)
Diderot champions Chardin as a kind of antidote to Boucher and their equally famous pupil, Fragonard. Although Chardin was also trained in the Rococo tradition (by P.-J. Cazes and Noël-Nicolas Coypel), his work resembles much more the paintings of the Dutch masters of still-life. In the age of lavish paintings featuring the pleasures and refinements of the aristocracy, recognition was slow to come for Chardin’s more modest style and middle-class subjects. Later in life Chardin enjoyed a great measure of success and was even elected to the French Academy in 1728. Diderot can’t take credit for this consecration since by the time the critic praised the artist, Chardin was already famous. Nevertheless, Diderot crystallizes like no other art critic the appeal of Chardin’s art. He rightfully observes that in Chardin’s still life we perceive the glow of vitality and, more importantly for him, hints of spirituality that no representation of human beings in Boucher could evoke.
While Boucher offered a feast for the eyes, Chardin offers nourishment for the soul:
It’s always nature and truth; you feel like taking the bottles by their nozzles if you are thirsty; the fish and grapes whet the appetite and invite the hand… This Chardin is a smart man; he understands the theory behind his art; he paints in a way that fits him, and his paintings will be in demand one day. (197)
Diderot was, indeed, accurate in his prediction. Chardin’s art would be highly regarded not only by his contemporaries, but also by his followers, including Courbet and Manet, who would find inspiration in his paintings. Diderot begins his praises of his favorite painter by focusing on the visual resemblance between objects and their representation. Yet what he admires most about Chardin’s paintings is less tangible. He’s fascinated above all with the artist’s unique talent of giving an internal glow, an unspoken aura of mystery, to the most mundane objects: a wine bottle, a plate, a wooden table.
If Chardin animates objects with a hidden power akin to feeling, Greuze does the same for human subjects, especially sentimental and subtly suggestive depictions of young girls. Greuze first became known in the Salon of 1755 for his complex and spectacular painting, Father of the Family Reading the Bible. As Diderot repeatedly points out, his paintings titillate the senses and stimulate the imagination, enabling the viewer to reconstruct a whole story from a single scene while also delivering an edifying moral lesson that, as we tend to believe today, is rich with innuendo and ambiguity. In the Salon of 1765, Diderot gives Greuze glowing reviews:
Here’s your painter and mine; the first among us to give manners to art and to link events in a way that easily makes a novel. He’s a little vain, our painter, but his vanity is that of a child; it’s the inebriation of talent. (379-80)
What captures the critic’s attention most is Greuze’s painting of a young girl who bemoans the loss of her bird. Using Greuze’s symbolic images to create his own story about a girl who regrets the loss of her virginity, Diderot waxes ecstatic over this painting:
Lovely elegy! Beautiful poem! The pretty idyll that Gessner would make! It’s the vignette of a piece by this poet. Delectable painting, the most pleasant and perhaps the most interesting of the Salon. (381)
Although the critic describes L’Oiseau Morte in great detail, he focuses above all on the emotional appeal of the girl’s youth, beauty and sadness to an implicitly male viewer. A good painting, Diderot seems to suggest, is not one that puts pictures into words, thus conforming to Neoclassical principles, but one that touches viewers so deeply, both visually and emotionally, that they invent their own stories about it. A good painting is a novel, not just a scene, authored primarily by the viewers, not just the painter. It stirs the senses and sensibilities, refines the taste, stimulates creativity and elevates the mind. For these reasons, Diderot suggests, appreciating such beautiful art is not the consumption of visual images for pleasure but, to return to my initial characterization of his aesthetic stance, a form of passionate lucidity.
In saying that taste requires lucidity—which entails seeing a beautiful object clearly and from multiple perspectives as well as explaining one’s judgments compellingly to others—we see that one’s faculties and sensibilities have a lot to do with what we call art and our appreciation of it. The transmission of taste, Diderot indicates, is in part cognitive and in part rhetorical: it’s an emotive, not just aesthetic, sensitivity to beauty that can be expressed to a broader community in a way that can be appreciated by others. Not everyone has such a sensibility, and certainly not everyone has such powers of persuasion. But Diderot certainly did and this is part of why he succeeded in being a trend-setter of the artistic standards of his times. His Salons contributed to the rise of a style that, in its emphasis upon simplicity and moral elevation, revived classical standards while also foreshadowing, in its emphasis upon pathos and passion, the work of the Romantics. It would therefore not be an exaggeration to find in Diderot’s Salons the aesthetic blueprints for both Neoclassicism and Romanticism.
David Graux was born in Besançon, France in 1970, where he still lives and works. He has experimented with different styles before finding his own unique artistic touch. His main subject is the beauty and mystery of woman, evoked both through his sensual nudes and through the symbolic richness and Oriental motifs of his colorful backgrounds. His paintings are, in effect, forms of tangible poetry.
Even David Graux’s titles exude poetry, let alone his evocative art. “The shadow of the wind,” “Grazed sigh,” “The echo of a dream” all suggest the last breath of Romanticism as it meets the impenetrable mystery of Symbolism. As in Symbolist poetry, Graux’s art combines the accessible with the unintelligible. The beautiful nudes are palpably accessible: sensual, classic, in private poses that excite the curiosity, stimulating dream, but not desire. Yet the Oriental symbols—invented by the artist and belonging only to the language of his own imagination–are ungraspable. They touch upon the playful and the abstract, never fading into mere background or ornamentation. On the contrary, they travel the surface of the paintings, functioning as background and foreground alike–as an enveloping atmosphere–to the ethereal nudes.
David Graux’s art, like all forms of poetic expression, is inherently philosophical. It captures the essence of a significant aspect of human existence: the way in which what seems most transparent, accessible, real and temporal is simultaneously illegible, distant and unattainable.
Postromantic artists are influenced not only by Romanticism, but also by the “post”: by so many art movements that came after the Romantic movement, particularly art nouveau and expressionism. Our art movement looks at art history not only as a sequence of movements that follow each other, but also as, on some level, synchronic. Art movements borrow from so many past influences and reframe them in a way that is fresh and innovative for their context and times.
Ideologically speaking, it would seem that the greatest art critic and art historian of our times, Arthur Danto, and the postromantics would have little in common. Danto is the theorist behind the Postmodern movement in art as much as Clement Greenberg was the critical force behind abstract expressionism. Postromanticism, on the other hand, offers a more traditional alternative to postmodern art. However, while as an aesthetic philosopher Professor Danto is the most powerful proponent of postmodern art, as an art critic he is the most sensitive and eloquent contemporary popularizer of art history. His writing makes art movements from the past seem fresh and alive for us today, attempting to capture how they were when they first formed.
Today I’m pasting below his article on Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, which greatly influenced the postromantic movement, particularly the works of the French painter François Fressinier, whom I’ve introduced before. Professor Danto’s article is called “Live Flesh” and was posted in The Nation on January 23, 2006.
Schiele had been poised to assume the position of Vienna’s leading artist, having abruptly arrived at his signature style in 1910, at the age of 20. The change was more like a metamorphosis than a transformation. Schiele had been a precocious student, but nothing he did before 1910 would have prepared anyone for the singular artist he all at once became. The only parallel case that comes to mind is that of Arthur Rimbaud, writing urgent and unprecedented verse while still a schoolboy. Rimbaud and Schiele were comparable geniuses, and Schiele was in a way a vilain bonhomme, as Rimbaud and his drinking buddies called themselves. But Schiele’s rebelliousness was part of the overall secessionist spirit that possessed twentieth-century artists impatient for official academic art to be junked and Modernism to begin.
There was nothing criminal in his character, as there had been with Rimbaud, but the extreme eroticism that marked his work–and his use of very young models–raised suspicions that he was capable of transgressive sexual acts. Indeed, he was jailed in 1912, accused of abducting and sexually abusing an underage female, while he was living in a small village outside Vienna with his long-term lover and model, Wally. At the trial the charges were refuted, but one can easily understand, on the evidence of his art, how he could be believed capable of sexual delinquency. The authorities found pinned to his studio wall an evidently salacious drawing of a young woman, naked from the waist down. He was sentenced to an extra three days in prison–his incarceration lasted twenty-four days in all–on the ground that he displayed an indecent picture where it could be seen by innocent eyes. The offending image was subjected to judicial destruction.
Interestingly, the fact that the authorities found drawers full of similarly “indecent” images did not count against him. The offense was showing, not making, dirty pictures. Eroticism and pictorial representation have coexisted since the beginning of art, and many great artists have a few erotic images in their “X Portfolios” (to use Robert Mapplethorpe’s term). But Schiele was unique in making eroticism the defining motif of his impressive if circumscribed oeuvre. He was also unique in that drawing was his chief medium. Willem de Kooning said that flesh was the reason oil painting was invented, but Schiele demonstrated how remarkably fleshly thin transparent washes of pale color can be.
Consider the iconic self-portrait of 1910, in which the naked artist is gazing–or glowering–at himself in a mirror, over his left shoulder. The right arm is bent around his head, which he grasps with his hand. The fingers are abnormally long, and his face is focused in a look of intense concentration: One eyebrow is raised, the mouth is pursed in a sullen grimace. The left arm, all bone and stringy muscles, falls straight down from shoulder to a flared elbow. Whatever he is looking for in the mirror, the artist is as confident as the drawing of his arm, his outthrust rib cage, his curved back, his narrow waist. Lines of tension give definition to his body, matching the ferocity of his look. Two features call for specific comment: the wiry thatch of hair beneath his right arm–echoed by a curl of pubic hair at the bottom of the sheet–and his right nipple, red almost to the point of blackness. These express not so much the gender as the sexuality of the body. The hair is not indicated but drawn, and the nipple suggests a target. There is a touch of red on the elbow so sure in its execution as to take one’s breath away. The same red is on the cheekbones and on the finger clasped around the artist’s head. There is nothing else in the self-portrait besides Schiele and the signature initial S in the lower right corner. The paper is yellowish. The figure is cropped, which heightens the intensity both of the posture and the execution.
The accuracy of the drawing is confirmed by several photographs, in which Schiele contemplates himself in the mirror, clearly proud of his looks, his elegant figure, his leonine head of hair. Unquestionably, this is a vain young man. Schiele was 20 when he drew his self-portrait. Compare it with any of the earlier drawings of nudes in the exhibition of Schiele’s art on view at the Neue Galerie in New York City through February 20, and you will see instantly what I mean by the abruptness of his style. All of a sudden, and until the end of his pathetically brief career, everything is mobilized to express the sexuality of the human body. Schiele inevitably drew many naked figures in the course of his academic education. The sexual attributes are all shown. But in his final style, the whole body expresses its sexuality. If I can put it somewhat paradoxically, he has found a style that sexualizes eroticism. In Schiele’s work the human body expresses its sexuality as artistic truth. In art history textbooks, Schiele is often and carelessly labeled an Expressionist, a description intended to distinguish his eroticism from the decorative eroticism of his mentor, Gustav Klimt.
Klimt, of course, depicted lovers clasped to each other in intense erotic embrace. There is nevertheless something operatic about Klimt’s lovers, as if they were figures in a myth. Like Tristan and Isolde they are caught up in the sweep of passion as the music swells around them. Sex is somehow meant to be transfigurative, a way of transcending the sweaty realities of the flesh depicted. Schiele’s figures, by contrast, are raw, hairy and bony, their young bodies marked by erotic zones like maps of where to touch each other. Sex is what they live for, the essence of their lives. It is an end in itself, not a means for transfiguration. They can’t keep their hands to themselves when they are together, and they can’t keep their hands off themselves when they are alone. Masturbation is their default state.
In their leanness, Schiele’s figures might be said to resemble those of Picasso’s Blue Period. But Picasso’s figures are gaunt because they are poor and needy, whereas Schiele’s have no thought for eating, as their only hunger is for sex. They are like illustrations of a thesis of Sigmund Freud, Schiele’s fellow Viennese, that human reality is essentially sexual. What I mean to say is that there is no art-historical explanation of Schiele’s vision. Expressionism was certainly in the air in Mitteleuropa in those years. But his drawings look like nothing one would see by artists who belong to movements like Die Brücke (“The Bridge”) or Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”).
The German Expressionists used heavy black outlines and were inspired by a vision of primitivism. My own view, hardly inspired, is that Schiele expressed what Freud describes in his central thesis about human nature and conduct–that from infancy on, sex relentlessly holds us in its grip. In Schiele’s work we see what we know is repressed in the men and women painted by Edvard Munch, the artist I think Schiele is closest to in terms of achievement. The reference to Freud is not an appeal to a Viennese zeitgeist by which Schiele’s work might be unpacked, although I think it says something about Vienna before World War I that eroticism was the main artistic achievement of the Austrian capital’s most original artist at the time. Rather, I mean to suggest that Schiele is likely to have known about Freud’s views, whose Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex was published in 1905. Consider Schiele’s extraordinary Mother and Child, another drawing from 1910.
The theme of mother and child has a considerable history in Western art, from Venus and Eros to the Madonna and the Christ Child, but there is nothing to compare with Schiele’s study. The mother is shown from behind, looking over her shoulder, gazing back with a flirtatious glance. Her body is curved in a particularly sexy way, giving a thrust to her hips and a saucy swing to her generous buttocks. She is nude except for her black stockings, and we can see the tip of one breast from the side. The child is sitting next to her, on the arm of the chair the mother leans into. One of his hands is pressed against her waist, which he appears to be kissing with the intense fervor with which he would be sucking at the breast, if that were anatomically possible. The other hand conveys the child’s total absorption in the mother’s flesh. It is very much as if they are lovers–hardly a posture that would have occurred to anyone had the idea of infantile sexuality not been in the air. Schiele had drawn pregnant females at a clinic with a certain obstetrical precision.
But Mother and Child has a moral daring, and it expresses a psychological truth. Interestingly, the pair is surrounded by a kind of white aura, scrubbed onto the yellow of the paper, and the flesh itself is given life by the way the paint is swirled on, as in finger painting. The space where the buttocks join the thighs is punctuated by a dark cross as black as the mother’s eye or hair. Kneeling Semi-Nude, done in 1917, shows how little Schiele’s style and vision had evolved over seven years. The naked upper body of the kneeling woman emerges from a voluminous frilled undergarment. She is intensely involved in palpating her left breast, holding it in her right hand while she probes above the nipple with the other hand. The round red nipple is fully exposed, and the woman is peering at it with such intensity that the celebrated male gaze of contemporary feminist theory appears by contrast to be a passing glance. Like all of Schiele’s women, she is slender and beautiful, and her face is framed marvelously by tangled black curls. Lips, cheek and nipple are the only touches of red in the otherwise neutrally painted body.
With their audacious use of female underwear, boots and dark stockings, Schiele’s drawings express erotic fantasies that would not have been out of place in underground postcards of the era. They are transcriptions of how Schiele and his patrons imagined sex, and they belong to the edge between pornography and art that Mapplethorpe would also explore. The images of men and women masturbating, or making love–and especially the pictures of lesbian couples–suggest to me that there was a demand for such representations, just as there was a demand for fleshy, dissolute boys in Caravaggio’s Rome. That too tells us something about Schiele’s Vienna, and about those who collected his work and showed it to others–and something perhaps about Freud’s patients, if one insists upon a Viennese zeitgeist. What Schiele’s provocations imply in terms of his own life, on the other hand, remains a mystery. Schiele made more self-portraits than Rembrandt, and a great many pictures and portraits in the exhibition at the Neue Galerie are not overtly sexual. But the erotic work inflects everything else, as if everyone depicted ne pensent qu’à ça–“thinks only about that”–as the French like to say. The Neue Galerie show is, in essence, an intimate one, almost a family album, with photographs, juvenilia and toys from the artist’s cabinets, and there is enough of the work that made Schiele a great artist to make us feel as if we have gotten to know him and the world to which he and his subjects belonged.
Still, the title of the show, “Egon Schiele: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections,” makes clear that it is a double celebration. Lauder and Sabarsky founded the museum as a venue for German and Austrian art of the early twentieth century, and both were devoted to Schiele at a time when his work was widely scorned. Because it is partly about two collections, and in a way about Schiele’s American reception, the show has limits that one devoted solely to the artist, borrowing from various collections here and abroad, would not have had. There is, for example, only one of the drawings made by Schiele when he was in jail, awaiting trial and uncertain of his fate. It shows him with a beard and shaven head, leaning back on his prison pallet, wrapped in a reddish greatcoat to keep himself warm.
It has the title, probably added later, I love Antitheses (1912). He is suffused with self-pity, and we know from his writing that he was profoundly demoralized by his prison experience. Schiele’s prison images have the quality of Japanese drawings–single skinny unwavering lines define the cell doors and the prison corridor, with brooms, mops and washtubs piled in a corner and spindly branches visible through a window. This is, after all, not Sing Sing but rather a poky provincial jailhouse in Austria. If I were curating a Schiele blockbuster, I would show all the prison drawings I could lay my hands on. And I would display Schiele’s extraordinary painting of his bedroom in Neulengbach, the town where he was arrested, a place almost as monastic as Vincent’s bedroom in Arles. Instead of these arresting images of confinement, the Neue Galerie exhibition gives us Schiele’s landscapes, which to my mind seem too opaque, lacking the transparency of his best work, his scenes of the body in its fleshly joys and torments. It was, after all, the reinvention of men and women as sexual beings that accounts for Schiele’s greatness.
As Sabarsky said, “At last, Schiele is becoming contemporary,” by which he meant that in terms of the representation of sexuality, the times have caught up with and almost overtaken him. Mapplethorpe is in the museums, even if our government keeps its distance from him, and frontal nudity has become commonplace on gallery walls. Yet there is no body of work anywhere that shows the sexuality of human flesh as truthfully as Schiele’s, with the vulnerability and burden of our appetites and imaginations drawn so clearly and with such passion. Freud writes in Civilization and Its Discontents that “the genitals themselves, the sight of which is always exciting, are hardly ever regarded as beautiful.” It is the excitement of the erogenous zones in otherwise beautiful people that makes Schiele’s work so true.
I have recently run across on youtube upon Philip Scott’s Johnson’s spectacular video, “Women in Art.” This video offers a sweeping look at the greatest masterpieces in the history of Western art. Each image flows seamlessly into the next. This is no easy task, since no doubt Johnson had to carefully select each image, and each facial type, that can morph so elegantly into the next one.
The result is a breathtaking, fresh look at the faces of art history. This video is not only entertaining, but could easily be used in art history courses as an eye-catching visual introduction, that will leave students wanting to see–and learn–more. Johnson did similar videos for “Women in Film” and “Men in Film”. From a recent email exchange with him I learned that he’s not a professional video producer. Creating artistic videos is only his hobby. But as you will see in the video clip pasted below, Johnson is an absolute pro at his hobby. I highly recommend his videos for art history and film history courses.
Even though I don’t believe that photography replaced realist art, I must admit that when you combine the visual appeal of artistic photography with flowing movement and beautiful music, you get magical results.
Perhaps only film can unite all the arts in such a spectacular manner. I have recently run accross on youtube.com upon Elia Iglesias‘ channel of artistic photography, which she calls “poetic sensuality“. Indeed! This phrase captures it well, but to become lost in the enchantment you’ll have to take a look at the video link below:
The aesthetic revolution that occurred during the twentieth-century is unprecedented in the history of Western art. Even the invention of one-point perspective and the soft shading that gives the illusion of depth (chiaroscuro) during the Renaissance didn’t change aesthetic standards as radically as the creation of non-representational, or what has also been called “conceptual” art. Since Marcel Duchamp we have come to believe that a latrine, if placed in a museum, is a work of art. Since Andy Warhol we have come to accept that brillo boxes and other ordinary household objects, if placed in a museum, are objets d’art. And since Jackson Pollock and the New York School of abstract expressionism we have come to realize that what may appear to be randomly spilled paint, globs and other kinds of smudges are not only artistic, but also considered by many to be the deepest expressions of human talent, thought and feeling.
Once art took a conceptual turn, it also became philosophical. As Arthur Danto argues in representational art what constituted “art” was more or less obvious. The only question that was always difficult to determine was: is it good art? By way of contrast, Danto explains, conceptual art compels viewers to think about the very nature of art. The postmodern answer to this question is not only philosophical–namely, that art is a concept because it cannot be identified visually, just by looking at it–but also sociological. Art is, as Danto himself declares, whatever the viewing public and especially the community that has the power to consecrate it–by exhibiting it in galleries and museums, buying it, writing books about it, critiquing and reviewing it, etc– says it is.
A priori, art can be anything. A brillo box, a toilet seat. But it isn’t everything for the simple reason that not everything is consecrated as art. What may seem, by older standards, to be art—such as contemporary Impressionist-style paintings–may not be considered art (but only cheap imitation) by the public or critics, while, conversely, what doesn’t seem to be art—a brillo box—can be perceived as the highest manifestation of artistic genius.
As noted, what makes twentieth- and twenty-first century art conceptual is the fact that what makes it be “art” can no longer be seen with the eye. We can’t see the aesthetic difference between the brillo boxes we discard and Warhol’s brillo boxes. Yet one is called trash and the other pop art. Clearly, it’s not the physical qualities of the object, but rather the assumptions of a community that determine what is (good) art. I cannot dispute this argument—made in different ways by Pierre Bourdieu and Arthur Danto–because, given everything I observe is being called art, I see it as the most compelling explanation of the term “art” as it’s being used today. Having conceded the artistic nature and value of nonrepresentational art, however, postromantic aesthetics argues that just because nonrepresentational art is valued doesn’t mean that contemporary representational art should be dismissed.
To explain the conceptual revolution that occurred in art at the end of the nineteenth-century and the beginning of the twentieth century, some art historians claim that photography eliminated the need for representational art, or the kind of art that tries to imitate “nature” by depicting faithfully what the eye can see. We can add in parentheses, as E. H. Gombrich observes in The Story of Art, that the notion of the representation of what the eye can see has changed throughout the history of art. Needless to say, it too is shaped by social assumptions. Nonetheless, the difference between a kind of art that aims at faithful visual imitation of the three-dimensional qualities of physical objects and one that doesn’t remains relatively easy to discern.
For instance, even without reading the descriptive title of the painting, it’s clear to tell by just looking at Renoir’s Girl Bathing (1892) that it features a nude girl bathing. Without its explanatory (or deceptive) title, however, it would be impossible to know what Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1 (1911) is supposed to represent The last thing that might occur to those who look at it–if it were not for the title–is that it shows a nude.
The invention of photography had a lot to do with the move away from visual representation. To say that photography eliminated the need for representational art, however, is an overstatement. Undoubtedly, the invention of the camera encouraged artists to experiment with other means of representation in the same way that the invention of machines displaced hand-made crafts. The camera probably did for painting what the industrial revolution did for artisanship. But that doesn’t mean that artisanship–or hand-made beautiful objects–are no longer valuable. For what the human imagination, sensibility, eye and hand can create will always be somewhat different from what can be made with the aid of machines. The texture, sense of color and vision that are captured by painters are not identical to those that photography can produce, even though photography can bring us closer to visual reality and even though photography can be artistic.
Verisimilitude, or the true-to-life physical representation of objects, already existed in classical Greek, Hellenistic and Roman art, all of which rendered the beauty, movement and sinuosity of the human body especially palpable in their breath-taking sculptures. In classical Greek and Hellenistic art in particular, the human body conveyed (what was perceived as) the essence of beauty: the glorification of divine powers and aesthetic ideals were embodied in the human form. Philip Scott’s Johnson’s spectacular video vividly captures the beauty of classical sculptures:
While Greek paintings and especially sculptures showed knowledge of human anatomy, movement and foreshortening, it’s Renaissance artists who discovered the two other key components of verisimilitude in painting: one point-perspective and shading, which give the illusion of three-dimensionality to two-dimensional painted forms. Gombrich and other art historians credit the architect Filipo Brunelleschi with the invention of one-point perspective as it was enthusiastically adopted by Italian Renaissance painters. Perspective entailed the application of geometrical principles to convey in painting the relative size of objects in terms of their distance from one another and from the viewer. (The Story of Art, 228-9).
The most famous Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci, added another dimension to making the objects represented in art seem almost real. His most famous painting Mona Lisa is said to deceive the viewers into believing that the woman’s eyes move, returning and even following their gaze with her eyes. Likewise, many have speculated about the meaning of Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile, whose lips have a mobility that renders her at once impenetrable and expressive. Leonardo was able to achieve these complex visual and psychological effects through the technique called sfumato, or the smoky blurring the contours of the object depicted—especially the corners of Mona Lisa’s eyes and mouth—to leave their outline and expression more open to interpretation.
The study and representation of human anatomy and of nature, foreshortening, capturing human movement and expression, one-point perspective and the creation of soft shadows which give the illusion of three-dimensionality to painted forms — all these techniques which took centuries to develop–have the magical effect of making objects represented by art come to life before our eyes. This kind of naturalistic art is not necessarily “realistic” in the sense of capturing human life as it actually is. For instance, some of the paintings of the surrealists were realistic in their anatomically accurate and three-dimensional representation of the human body, but fantastic in their rendition of reality.
In its preference for visual resemblance (as opposed to realism or plausibility), postromanticism argues that the artistic techniques that give a sense of three-dimensionality and life-like quality to art are difficult skills that require both patience and technical talent and that are worth preserving and appreciating in art today. There’s no reason to discard the masterful qualities that made art artistic for five hundred years. Nor do such techniques have only a purely historical value. In an artistic world that prides itself upon pluralism, openness and variety, artists who desire to continue the legacy of realistic representation should be able to coexist with those that have rejected it. Postromanticism presents not a rival, but an alternative to modern and postmodern conceptual art. For in a world of such diverse tastes and sensibilities, there’s certainly room for both.
François Fressinier is a French artist of remarkable versatility, delicacy and talent. Influenced by the great European masters, he has studied fine art at the Ecole Brassartin Tours. His paintings are exhibited all over the world, including the United States, Europe and Japan.
If François Fressinier’s work appears so familiar and yet so unique, it’s because he makes his own the art which has influenced his style: the frescoes and sculptures of the classical and Hellenistic periods; the fervor, beauty and simplicity of David’s Neoclassical painting; the tempting, innocent beauty of Bouguereau’s Romanticism; the evocative theatricality of the Pre-Raphaelites; the ornamental motifs that embellish the sensuality of Klimt’s art nouveau. Absorbing so many distinct periods and styles, Fressinier’s paintings are a lesson in art history all unto themselves. Yet what strikes viewers even more than the density of these cultural allusions, is the individuality, freshness and versatility of the artist’s style.
Fressinier gracefully moves from the vaporous fresco-like classical paintings such as “I love you,” “The Three Graces,” “Odalisque” and “Pure Innocence” –where beautiful young women seem to emerge like Venuses from the froth of creation– to the allure, vibrant color and ornamentation of the art deco style of “Visions,” “Woman of Love” and “The Pearl,” where the beauty of the feminine form could be confounded with the richness of the background. Each style he touches, the artist transforms, adapting it to his own goals: “My passion is to paint the human figure in all of its intricacies of beauty and life. I am interested in projecting sentiments of admiration and joy with modern images reminiscent of the ancient world.”