Leonardo Da Vinci is quoted as saying that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I think that this true statement definitely applies to the photography of Patrick Demarchelier. Demarchelier received a camera as a gift on his seventeenth birthday, which is how his passion for this art began.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
Later, he pursued this interest professionally in Paris, working as a fashion photographer along with (and learning from) legends in the field such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacque Guilbert.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
Over the course of his long and very successful career, Demarchelier has worked for magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire, Mademoiselle and Vogue, creating some of the most memorable and iconic images of celebrities, including Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and Christy Turlington.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
What I find most interesting and distinctive about Patrick Demarchelier’s style is that it has a simple and classic feel across its wide range. There’s certainly a vintage feel to much of his photography. Many of Demarchelier’s images are in black and white and his portraits sometimes resemble Hollywood shots of famous actresses of the 1930’s and 40’s.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
Yet, somehow, his style isn’t at all retro. In fact, it feels very fresh and contemporary. Stripped down to the basics of form, elegant fashions that reflect an impeccable taste and poses that capture expression more than dramatic movement, Demarchelier’s photographs appear timeless.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
This is the case whether a given picture resembles in some respects vintage photographs or whether it features futuristic fashions. A striking simplicity of content and form defines the sophisticated, classic style of Patrick Demarchelier.
Romanian masterpices at the Grimberg Gallery: Balancing originality and autonomy with tradition and patronage in contemporary artistic styles
By Claudia Moscovici, art critic, founder of the postromantic art movement, and author of Romanticism and Postromanticism (2007)
Since the modern era the notion of “artistic style” has become synonymous with “originality”. Originality represents a step beyond individuality. It traces each artist’s unique fingerprint, setting his art apart from the works of other artists. This understanding of “style”, however, is relatively new in the history of art. Before the nineteenth-century, originality and individuality were not the most highly prized qualities of art. As for autonomy, or regarding art as separate from social functions, this notion didn’t even exist before the modern period.
During the Renaissance, the artist emerged as an individual assumed to have a unique talent that was in some way useful to those in power. Artists helped elevate the status of the Church or the State through their masterpieces. They were also considered useful to society in general, by providing works of rare and incredible beauty that the educated public could enjoy. Despite, in fact, being “original”, Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo perceived their paintings and sculptures as a means of elevating and preserving the social order of their times not only as a mark of their individual genius. No doubt, both Leonardo and Michelangelo could afford to select among patrons and to aggravate those they did serve by postponing deadlines to perfect their masterpieces. In this way, they created the blueprint of the temperamental and independent “artistic” personality that would emerge more fully with Romanticism. Despite the increased prestige of masterful artists, however, Renaissance art contributed to the glory of the patrons and the community (or the nation) it was created for. In other words, art’s undeniable beauty was inseparable from its social usefulness.
As artists’ prestige increased during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so did their relative power and independence from patrons. Romanticism marked this transformation by explicitly declaring the artist to be a creative genius and by regarding individuality and originality as the supreme qualities of true art. Yet for most Romantic poets, writers and artists, as for the Renaissance masters, art was still bound to its social function. The artist or writer imagined by poets like Wordsworth, Lamartine and Hugo spread to the public, through his unique aesthetic sensibility, imagination, discernment and talent, not only aesthetic pleasure but also a heightened and more empathetic moral and political consciousness.
While earlier forms of Romanticism couple social utility and beauty, late Romantic and Modern art and literature would come to disassociate them. As early as the 1830’s, the autonomy of art from society was proclaimed by Théophile Gautier’s phrase, “art for art’s sake” (l’art pour l’art) and by his criticism of the notion that art had to be in any way useful to society.
postmodern philosopher, Arthur Danto
Postmodern art resurrects the notions of art’s utility and individuality, but usually only to critique them. Gautier’s well-known polemic in his 1834 preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin—“the most useful place of a house is the latrine”—seems to have turned into a twisted prophecy almost a hundred years later, when Marcel Duchamp, under the pseudonym R. Mutt, exhibited a urinal as an objet d’art at the 1917 Independents’ Exhibition in New York City. With this partly joking provocation, art took a seemingly irreversible conceptual turn. As the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto convincingly demonstrates, what constitutes art can no longer be discerned visually.
Ion Dimitriu Barlad – Enescu
Contemporary Romanian art, however, seems to distinguish itself through a partial return to the worthwhile aesthetic values of the past. And it’s about time. The Grimberg Gallery features some of the best contemporary Romanian artists, each of whom has a unique style; each of whom pays homage to the artistic past rather than only turning away from it. To offer only a few examples, among many talented artists: Ioan Dimitriu Barlad’s masterful sculpture is perhaps the most explicit homage. His bust of the composer George Enescu (1881-1955) captures the musician in a realistic style and paradigmatic pose: a particularly expressive moment of sensibility and contemplation.
Ioan Stoenescu – Icoana cu medalioane
Ioan Stoenescu’s Christian icon, “Icoana cu medalioane”, evokes the now lost art form of medieval “illuminations”: smaller oval portraits of revered saints surrounding the central depiction of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, painted with great delicacy and skill. A gilded foil illuminates the composition from within, giving it an otherworldly aura.
Adam Baltatu – Nuduri in peisaj
The painter Adam Baltatu reawakens our interest in figurative art, which is, indeed, after decades dominated by abstraction and conceptual art, becoming popular once again. His “Nuduri in peisaj” (“Nudes on landscape”) shows the beauty of the countryside enhanced by the beauty of feminine forms. The artist conveys the two women with a sense of harmony, balance and muted colors reminiscent of post-Impressionism, particularly of the paintings of Gauguin and Cézanne.
Iosif Iser- Odalisca
Iosif Iser’s “Odalisca” (“Odalisque”) also evokes post-Impressionism in style, although the odalisque was a favorite theme of Neo-classical and Romantic painters (particularly Ingres and Delacroix). Iser’s odalisque holds a relaxed, modern pose, displaying her half-veiled body in an almost defiant manner reminiscent of Manet’s Olympia.
Doru Moscu – Alfred’s dream
Doru Moscu’s “Alfred’s dream”, painted with broad brushstrokes of blues, grays, browns and greens, is more Expressionist in style. In this painting color assumes extreme importance, suggesting a somber mood, as furtive and enigmatic as the shadowy man on the right side of the canvas.
Mihai Zgondoiu -Artist`s Golden Hand Triptic
Surrealism has experienced a contemporary rebirth as well, as we can see in Mihai Zgondoiu’s “Artist’s Golden Hand Triptic”. In this monochromatic composition the artist’s hand, in a golden cast, stands out in poses suggestive of classical sculptures yet truncated, headless, and fragmentary: like the pieces of a disjointed dream that assume great symbolic significance.
Aurel Tar – Lectura
Aurel Tar’s “Lectura” carries the legacy of Impressionism forward, into the relatively new field of digital art. A painting reminiscent in theme and style of the works of Morisot and Cassatt–a mother reading to her tired, sleepy daughter as they wait together at the train station—has a (paradoxically) new feel through its explicitly retro look (the newspaper print-like pointillism of digital art).
Why is it is it so important for contemporary artists to reinvent, in their unique and original styles, some of the greatest traditions in art history? I think, first of all, because no art exists in a cultural vacuum. Complete individuality is an illusion. Originality, when pushed to an extreme, risks degenerating into mere shock value. Just as contemporary artists can’t reject the influence of the artistic movements that came before them, they shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their patrons: the critics, the viewers, the buyers and the lovers of art.
Picasso and Gilot
For, to conclude my introduction with a citation by Picasso—arguably the most subversive and original modern artist—even subversion cannot exist without tradition, nor can originality exist in the absence of sound aesthetic standards:
“Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production is submitted to rules. They—the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians—did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was the painter’s sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals. Sculpture died the same death. … Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each one of us must recreate an entire language from A to Z. No criterion can be applied to him a priori, since we don’t believe in rigid standards any longer. In a certain sense, it’s a liberation but at the same time it’s an enormous limitation, because when the individuality of the artist begins to express itself, what the artist gains by way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.” (My life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, 21)
Returning to some shared artistic criteria and reclaiming art’s role in society doesn’t mean reverting to the rigid criteria of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, which can be respected but not revived. It means revitalizing the importance of art today. As we’ve seen in my brief perusal of Romanian contemporary art featured by the Grimberg Gallery, individuality of style can coexist with respect for past artistic traditions and artistic freedom is entirely compatible with an appreciation of art’s patrons: us, the viewing public.
The Holocaust brought out the worst in human emotion: hatred, prejudice, fear and indifference to immeasurable human suffering. Indifference too is an emotion, not merely the absence of feeling. Its underlying foundation is often contempt: in this case, for the lives of specific groups of human beings deemed by the Nazis to be “subhuman”. After all, as Samuel Beckett famously stated, “Nothing is more real than nothing” (Malone Dies, New York; Grove, 1956, 16). It is only fitting that the horrors of the Holocaust be captured by an artistic movement known for its emphasis on emotion and reviled by the Nazi regime: Expressionism.
Edvard Munch, Separation
In retrospect, the best-known artist considered to be the forefather of the Expressionist movement is the Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Rather than focus, like the Impressionists did, on the optical experiments with play of light in natural settings, Munch turned within, to express through art our most raw human emotions: love, jealousy, hatred, anxiety, fear of death. Munch rendered explicit the goal of his art, stating: “We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one’s innermost heart” (Edvard Munch, http://www.edvard-munch.com/backg/index.htm).
Edvard Munch, The Scream
His most famous work, “The Scream”, exists in several forms: two pastels (1893 and 1895), two oil paintings (1893 and 1910) and several lithographs. In fact, “The Scream” remains one of the most well known paintings in the history of art, selling for $119,922,500 in 2012. “The Scream” series began as an introspective expression of agony, or as Munch put it, “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self”, but soon became a general symbol of humanity’s angst in the modern era. The bright colors reflect feelings of madness and hysteria, while the skeletal form on the bridge confronts our mortality, sketching the boundary between life and death.
Expressionism as an art and literary movement, however, crystallized a decade or so later, in Germany, at the beginning of the 20th century. Expressionist painters, poets and writers placed primary emphasis on the expression of emotion, images and impressions that haunt human beings: in dreams, visions, and in life in general. Not shying away from the underside of human emotion, Expressionist artists conveyed anger, hatred, fear, jealousy, often mixing sex and violence. As the psychologist Carl G. Jung observed, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.
Chain of Command, Michael Hafftka
With this apt citation, Robbin Zella, the Director of the Housatonic Museum of Art introduces the work of Michael Hafftka, an American artist whose paintings convey the horrific experiences and the dark emotions that characterize the Holocaust. The son of two Holocaust survivors, Hafftka experiences the pain and misery of this dark era of history not as a direct witness, but as someone deeply haunted by the experience nonetheless. For him it becomes a revelation as well as a way to commemorate the suffering of his parents and other victims of the Holocaust. Michael states: “I began to paint my dreams and soon enough the experience of painting brought on exciting and mysterious experiences, as suggestive as dreaming. I felt freer than I had ever felt before. Painting became revelatory” (Michael Hafftka: A retrospective: large oils 1985-2003, Housatonic Museum of Art, Bridgeport CT, with an introduction by Robbin Zella).
Externalizing the nightmare that has haunted his family and his childhood, Hafftka expresses the raw emotions and undisguised horrors of the Holocaust. In his oil painting “Chain of Command”, we see mutilated–decapitated and amputated–humanoids whose features have been wiped out by misery and torture. Most of them are naked, deprived of every shred of civilized humanity. It’s not clear anymore who are the victims and who are the victimizers. As we know, in the sordid life of the concentration camp, prisoners acted as guards and torturers of fellow prisoners. With each person fighting for even one more day of survival, empathy was rarely possible in this environment. At Auschwitz, Polish and Ukrainian prisoners guarded the Jews, and some of the Jews were forced to be a part of the group that ran the crematoria. Humanity is desecrated to the core, reduced in its entirety to an emotion that is inseparable from sensation: unspeakable pain.
Ceremony by Michael Hafftka
In the painting “Ceremony”, we see the aftermath of the slaughter of the innocent. The title is somewhat ironic, however, since millions of human beings were ruthlessly sent to their deaths–gassed and burned–with no ceremony whatsoever, and no real burial to commemorate their death. Their truncated, desecrated bodies become intertwined in the last effort to defy death in the gas chambers by climbing upon another body, living or dead, for a last breath of air.
The Charnel House, Pablo Picasso
As Sam Hunter states in his introduction to Hafftka’s series of paintings of the Holocaust, “The maimed and truncated body forms, with their ghastly pallor, recall the visual obscenities of the Nazi death camps seen in postwar photo journalism, not to mention Picasso’s mournful and eloquent Holocaust elegy, “The Charnel House”. (Michael Hafftka, with an introduction by Sam Hunter, DiLaurenti Publishing, 8). Like in Picasso’s masterpiece, there is no human emotion left on the canvas in “Ceremony”. Instead, it’s all transposed to us, the viewers, who observe with horror the gruesome spectacle of death.
The great Russian literary theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin, argued that culture can best be appreciated in terms of chronotopes, or slivers of time, that are synchronic (measuring events taking place at the same time throughout the world) rather than only diachronic (meaning events taking place one after the other). A Chronology of Culture (O Cronologie a Culturii, Editura Junimea, 2012), written by the Romanian intellectual historians Marian Gavrila and Minodora Perovici, does just that. This ambitious encyclopedic book shows the highlights of culture that occur more or less simultaneously, during each period of time starting with the beginnings of civilization around 45,000 B.C. to our day, around the world.
A Chronology of Culture is bound to please not only scholars, art historians and literary critics, but also anybody curious about cultural phenomena. In an age of the internet, blogging, ebooks and all kinds of online mass media deluge of information that risk engulfing culture, it’s wonderful to have a bird’s eye view of the best that has been preserved in human creativity–in art, literature and science–internationally, throughout human history.
The authors state on the back cover of O Cronologie a Culturii:
“A Chronology of Culture (O Cronologie a culturii) is dedicated to those readers who wish to access in the shortest amount of time the most information, offering them the tools, in an accessible format, to see a bird’s eye view of the synchronic evolution of human knowledge, internationally. In its nearly 10,000 entries, this work traces the history of creativity. It offers a synthesis of the evolution of human civilizations organized around key dates, presenting the masterpieces that have shaped our notion of “beauty” and defined our vision of the world. This wall of mirrors, which reflects the power of human imagination, presents a guide which, through its concise and dense comments and references, leads from the past to our present, opening the path to the future.” Marian Gavrila and Minodora Perovici
When you look at Rodney Smith‘s photographs you may think of René Magritte, the Belgian Surrealist artist known for his visual puns and, generally speaking, thought-provoking, “conceptual” images. Surrealist art, in general, combines the best of both worlds: a “realistic” representation of objects, which requires talent and technical skill, and a fantastic imagination that takes us past the threshold of the rational and the knowable, so we can explore the mysteries of the subconscious.
photo by Rodney Smith
Surrealism offers an escape from the real world yet also probes the depths of a perhaps truer and deeper reality: the reality of human desire; of our dreams and nightmares; of our hopes and fears; of our collective past and a visionary future we can barely imagine. Surrealism can also be playful: at least in the hands of an artist like Miró as well as in Magritte‘s linguistic imagination, whose paintings are filled with visual puns and paradoxes.
photo by Rodney Smith
Rodney Smith’s education and professional route is somewhat unusual for an artist. He earned a Master of Divinity in Theology in 1973 from Yale University, where he also studied photography with Walker Evans and developed a love for this field. Far from being stuck in the Ivory Tower, however, his highly successful photography has been commissioned by mainstream businesses such as American Express, I.B.M., Merril Lynch, the New York Stock Exchange and VISA (among many others).
photo by Rodney Smith
To call Rodney Smith’s Surrealism “eclectic,” as I do in the title of this introduction, may seem somewhat redundant. After all, Surrealist art is usually eclectic. Yet Rodney Smith adds so much Romantic flavor to many of his images–as well as playing with optical illusions, surprises and visual puns–that “eclectic” is the best term I found to describe his art.
photo by Rodney Smith
In fact, this is a term Rodney Smith uses to describe himself. Although art isn’t exactly autobiographical, I think that, in this case, there’s no better introduction to Rodney Smith’s quirky and eclectic Surrealist photography–which is filled with personality–than reading the witty and revealing description the artist provides about himself and his art on his website:
Given his background, it’s not that surprising that Vadim Stein’s photography has a sculptural–even monumental–look to it. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Stein studied sculpture restoration. He also worked as an actor and lighting designer, fields which play a significant role in his sculptures, in which carefully chosen lighting helps create the folds and shapes of the the people he photographs, often in staged and dramatic positions.
photo by Vadim Stein
Of course, “people” may not be the right word to describe the beautiful women, often nude and partially wrapped in stretched out fabrics, that Stein usually photographs. Each of them has a perfect, dancer’s body. Their sinuous forms and muscular shapes can be detected even underneath the cloth that envelops them. There’s a classical perfection in the figurative photography of Vadim Stein. That too is no accident, since classical aesthetics has influenced this philosophical photographer.
photo by Vadim Stein
As we recall, for Plato beauty and ethics were inseparable. The philosopher draws the connection between these fields most famously in The Symposium, his best-known dialogue about beauty, ethics and love. According to the prophetess Diotima, aesthetic beauty was one of the main ways human beings could learn about the perfection of Forms. By appreciating first the concrete beauty of a human being (or artistic object), then the more abstract beauty of all human forms, then beautiful objects and so on, one could eventually arrive at the even more abstract notion of Beauty itself. Thus Plato sets up his famous idealist ladder from aesthetics to ethics, which leads from physical sensation to pure form; from the particular to the universal; from the individual to the most important form, which he calls the Good.
photo by Vadim Stein
In his images, Stein establishes a similar connection between aesthetic beauty and ethics, one which is as far removed as possible from any moralism, however: “Solving the aesthetic problem,” Stein states, “I also reveal many ethical questions. For me, such things as love and death are revealed through the aesthetic category, beauty – the predecessor of ethics.” (http://500px.com/stein) Almost all of Stein’s photographs have not only a sculptural look, but also an abstract feel to them. The nude bodies he photographs are displayed on a pedestal and wrapped in fabrics that partly hide the (usually) female form and renders its sensual beauty and erotic appeal more subtle and abstract.
photo by Vadim Stein
I find that many of Stein’s images are also inspired by the field of topology. This relatively new branch of mathematics, derived from the Greek roots “topos” or “place” and “logos” or “word” and “study of,” analyzes the properties of objects that remain the same even when objects are deformed or stretched. According to my father, the mathematician Henri Moscovici (who works in the field of topology), topology can be explained as follows: “Two “objects” (topological spaces) are considered identical if they are homeomorphic, ie there is such a continuous function with continuous inverse between them. For example, a perfect sphere and the surface of potato or a tomato, are homeomorphic.”
Stein constantly creates such homeomorphisms, experimenting via lighting, fabrics and dramatic positions to change properties of the human form. In so doing, he creates, through his sculptural (and philosophical) photography, an homage to the perfection of femininity and to the ethical beauty of form.
Lately, Vadim Stein has collaborated with composer Petr Dmitriev and several professional dancers and musicians on a series of spectacular art videos that unite the beauty of artistic film and photography, music and dance.
Poetry, meditation and spirituality are often linked. Since the Romantic movement, poetry has been about using an economy of words–condensing meaning only to the essential–to express our profound feelings. Similarly to meditation, this process requires looking within. The photography of the Hungarian artist Noell S. Oszvald is poetic and spiritual: a visual meditation through images rather than a verbal one through thoughts and words.
by Noell S. Oszvald
It seems to be inspired by the the Buddhist practice of focused thought to achieve peace of mind and the cultivation of wisdom. There’s also a certain animism in it, as the human figure–usually a willowy and beautiful young woman with long dark hair–appears in total harmony with her environment. She often mirrors the positions of the objects or beings around her.
by Noell S. Oszvald
Like in poetry, form itself takes on the utmost importance. In one image we see the young woman from behind assuming exactly the same position as the cat sitting next to her. In another photo, she bends like the tree close to her, in an environment as minimalist and stark as the setting of Samuel Beckett’s plays. In fact, the human being mimics so well her surroundings that she, too, appears to be a prop in the theater of life.
by Noell S. Oszvald
Beckett once said, “All I know is what the words know, and dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning and a middle and an end, as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead.”
by Noell S. Oszvald
Existential in mood without being somber, Noell S. Oszvald’s photographs do not offer, however, a long sonata of the dead. They stage the perfect setting for a meditation about life, simplicity of forms, oneness between body and mind, and a sense of harmony with our surroundings that doesn’t place human beings on top, but rather as one with nature.
The cosmopolitan artist Adam Martinakis was born in Poland, grew up in Greece and lives in England. His style combines a unique mixture of Surrealism and Futurism and his genre can be described as highly versatile. Adam creates sculptures, intallations, and 3D models (via digital photography).
by Adam Martinakis
Although many of his works would fit right in as the posters for science fiction movies, they are, quite literally, multidimensional, not only in form but also in content. These silent humanoid figures speak volumes about the complexity of romantic love; the angst of the human condition (reminsicent of Edvard Munch’s expressionism); the pieces of our personalities and external influences that compose each and every one of us socially and psychologically.
by Adam Martinakis
There’s a clear scientific bent to Martinakis’s images and installations, as many of the human figures are positioned within structures that look like the orbits of planets or the makeup of atoms, reminding us, as did the ancient philosophers, of our material place within the universe.
The remains of a memory by Adam Martinakis
The metaphysical dimension of Adam Martinakis’s artwork is very evident in the sculpture “The remains of a Memory,” which reveals both the physical closeness of the lovers and the ephemeral nature of their temporal bond. Like the lovers themselves, memory and existence are inseparably intertwined. As their memory of each other disintegrates, so do their bodies. Adam Martinakis combines art, philosophy and science to create works of art that make profound statements about the human condition.
I find it rather extraordinary that we commemorate through art important historical events, war heroes, authors and political leaders, yet we rarely commemorate in art what is most important to most of us: our family lives and our children. During the 19th and 20th centuries, depicting children in art was usually relegated to female painters (most notably, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot) or depicted with unsettling undertones of sexuality, as is the case in Balthus’s controversial paintings.
The figurative painter Mark Lovett commemorates through his beautiful paintings and photographs what matters most to so many of us: our children. Mark Lovett depicts children, particularly girls, during the years (between 3 and 12) when they are old enough to appreciate family activities yet young enough to still enjoy the company of their parents. The subject of family and children is inherently personal, so I will mention one personal note, which is part of the reason why I’m so touched by Mark Lovett’s art. I remember with great fondness the many activities my husband and I did with our children, Alex and Sophie, when they were younger: apple orchards, zoo trips, museums, Renaissance fairs, art camps, cub scouts, hiking and vacations in so many beautiful places around the world. The kids, and their joie de vivre, added enormous pleasure and sense of meaning to our lives.
by Mark Lovett
Because this part of childhood and family life lasts roughly ten years, it’s easy to have the false impression that it will never go away. Yet like everything beautiful in life, it’s ephemeral and it passes. As the children grow up, you can relive your their early years and the joy they brought to your family in your memory, in your heart and, if you’re fortunate, in great artwork like the one created by Mark Lovett.
by Mark Lovett
Mark is a graduate of the University of Maryland, where he studied figurative and portrait painting at Nelson Shanks’ Studio Incamminati in Pennsylvania and of The Art League School in Alexandria, VA. As you can probably tell by looking at his realist paintings, Mark finds inspiration in the old masters. He is particularly influenced by the works of Bouguereau, Sargent, Renoir and Monet. He employs many of their techniques, particularly in depicting his subjects in a realistic fashion. Yet ultimately, like all great painters, he has his own unique style.
by Mark Lovett
Mark’s works depict children in an unsentimental fashion that nonetheless evokes the best experiences many of us have of our family lives. His backgrounds tend to use bold strokes, while his figures themselves–the children–are very finely painted, with a delicate touch that captures their individual features and expressions.
As you can see on his website,http://www.marklovettstudio.com/,Mark has won numerous awards including: 2006 Portrait Society of America Children’s Portrait Competition; MD Annual Art Show and 2005 Rockville Art League Art Show Winner. His works have been featured in numerous magazines, including Washington Spaces Magazine 2007 and 2006; Who’s Who of Strathmore Worldwide 2007-2008; Preview Magazine Art Expo, NY 2007; Strathmore Applause Magazine cover 2006; Art Business News Magazine 2006 and 2005. You can view his works primarily in his own studio, MarkLovettStudio, as well as in several galleries in the U.S. and Europe, including the prestigious gallery Galerie Pierre in France (http://about.me/GaleriePierre). Thanks to Mark Lovett’s talent and works, we can commemorate our children’s most fun and memorable years through art, as well as in our lives and fondest memories.
Like many scholars of my generation, I have lived through the “culture wars” in the arts and humanities, marked by the rise and critique of poststructuralist and postmodern theories. My personal view on these so-called “culture wars” is that life’s too short to focus on the negative. Why get bogged down in largely academic debates, when there’s so much of value in art and culture? Early on in my career as an art and literary critic, I made a conscious decision to concentrate on the aspects of art, literature and scholarship that I believe make major contributions to culture internationally. This is what the postromantic art movement, which I co-founded with Leonardo Pereznieto in 2002, is all about.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” Albert Einstein
The inspiration I found in the writing of art historians/aesthetic theorists E. H. Gombrich and Arthur Danto kept me going along this positive and constructive path. In my opinion, their books set the highest standards in expository writing in the arts and humanities. Both of them felt equally comfortable writing for a large general audience as for a smaller group of specialists. In fact, they wrote different books for these different audiences. Though highly respected for their scholarship, both Gombrich and Danto are best known for explaining art history and aesthetics to the general public in a simple, clear and engaging manner. They abide by one of the most famous sayings attributed to Albert Einstein—“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”—which, I believe, should be a mantra for expository writing in the arts and letters (creative writing being, of course, another matter).
E. H. Gombrich and “The Story of Art”
Gombrich put into practice his belief that clarity, logical elegance and simplicity are the best ways to communicate ideas about the history of art. Although the author is appreciated among scholars for his later theoretical works, The Sense of Order (1979) and Art and Illusion (1960), which present a psychology of perception and explain the artistic process, his best-known and best-selling work is, by far, The Story of Art (1950). Originally intended as a high school textbook, the book is written so simply and clearly—and it reveals such a genuine appreciation of art–that it quickly became very popular with the general public. Translated into 39 languages, this introduction to art history has been a bestseller for over 50 years, selling over six million copies worldwide. “This is a book which may well affect the thought of a generation,” The Times Literary Supplement declared in 1950. This high praise turned out to be an understatement. The Story of Art has influenced many generations and, I predict, it will continue to do so.
Aside from its clarity, simplicity and eloquence, this book explains cogently and persuasively how the artistic process works. It also introduces the most important artists and art movements of Western civilization. E. H. Gombrich declares from the start: “There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists” (“The Story of Art,” New York and London, Phaidon Press, 15). By this the author means that art has no timeless standards of value or beauty.
There is no essence that encompasses that which different periods and cultures call artistic. Rather than trying to capture the essence of art, Gombrich focuses instead on the particularity of artistic movements and the accomplishments of individual artists. Which is not to say that he leaves aesthetics to the philosophers. His descriptions of artistic movements interweave the texture that holds groups of artists together under a dialogue of assumptions, perceptual problems they are working on, innovations, economic possibilities and modes of representation.
famous Picasso quotes
“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” Pablo Picasso
Although written for a general audience, and therefore in a much simpler more accessible style, The Story of Art is not worlds apart from his best-known scholarly book, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. In both books, Gombrich describes the creative process from a psychological—and hence social–perspective. He contends that artistic creativity is never fully original. In fact, originality didn’t become important until the Renaissance and didn’t become the main artistic standard until the nineteenth century. But no matter what period we are considering, no artist reinvents the wheel, Gombrich contends. Each artist inherits artistic conventions (which he calls “schemata”) and selectively incorporates some of the techniques of established artists that came before him (or her).
This doesn’t mean, of course, that new art is a simple regurgitation of the past. Rather, the past—with its diverse styles and traditions—offers inspiration for new generations of artists. This leaves a lot of room for creativity. The best artists abide by Pablo Picasso’s famous quote, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist”.
M. C. Escher
According to Gombrich, artistic creativity consists of a trial and error process of experimenting with former techniques and inventions to create something fresh and new for your times. His main contribution, however, is that he manages to make even indifferent readers appreciate art. There’s no way to describe, without having the pleasure of reading The Story of Art, how Gombrich’s clear, simple and eloquent writing style captures readers’ attention and imagination, making us fall in love with art. This is any art historian’s greatest achievement.
Arthur Danto and “Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present”
Arthur Danto has a unique background that prepares him equally well to be both philosopher (of art and aesthetics) and art critic/historian. He thrives in both fields, which are not only close, but also complementary. The field of aesthetics explains the underlying structure of art: what is art; how is it created; what is an artist; how does art reach an audience; what are the relationships between art and other fields, like sociology, religion, psychology and life in general. Art history touches upon all of these questions, since the works of every artist are, simultaneously, a creative process, a form of knowledge, an expression, and a contribution to society (even if for some, like the Dada movement, it’s just to negate meaning, “high art” and knowledge).
Like Gombrich, Danto expresses his ideas and theories equally well for both a large mainstream audience and for a small group of specialists in art and aesthetics. From 1984 to 2009, Danto was the art critic for The Nation. For many years, he also taught philosophy at Columbia University, where he is now Johnsonian Professor Emeritus in Philosophy. He’s known as one of the most effective and earliest proponents of postmodern art. In fact, he introduced Andy Warhol to the general public before he was (in)famous.
In most of his theoretical work, Danto explains the rise of conceptual art. His artistic heroes are Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, who arguably contributed most to make art what it is today: aesthetic in the critical and reflexive ideas it raises about art, not in the way it represents objects. Duchamp’s urinal and Warhol’s brillo boxes, Danto argues, are not artistic in their materiality. There’s nothing intrinsic to these objects that makes them different from ordinary household objects. Their aesthetic qualities, Danto suggests, lie in the way their make us question the nature and existence of art in a radically new and provocative way.
The millennia-old Platonic tradition of understanding art as some kind of inferior mimesis or imitation of reality is clearly gone in such ready-made objects and pop assemblages. Gone is also the equally old tradition, famously initiated by Plato and resurrected by the Romantics and even by Gautier, of art as a special, almost daemonic, inspiration that leads to the creation of beauty. Last but not least, in reading Danto we get the impression that the notion of creativity and originality, so vehemently defended by Emile Zola, remains in artists such as Duchamp and Warhol, but is hard to match after them.
Once originality is pushed so far as to eliminate the intrinsic qualities and extrinsic social functions of art, what’s left of aesthetics? Does art even continue to exist as a separate domain of creativity? Even Danto, the philosophical defender of pop art before it became popular, is not optimistic about the future of art. In After the End of Art (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1998), Danto sees no innovation possible after the destruction of the aesthetic object. Tracing the path to this destruction and seeing if it can be, in some ways, reversed or pushed beyond the current impasse hence presents a real challenge.
Encounters and Reflections by Arthur Danto
As is the case with Gombrich, Danto’s writing is most effective—and moving—in his art criticism. Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997) contains many of his vivid art reviews published in The Nation between the years 1986 and 1990. In these essays, the aesthetic philosopher takes a back seat to the art historian. Danto reveals the wonders of the greatest artists in the history of art, from old-time favorites such as Van Gogh and Klimt, to relative newcomers—and two of his personal favorites–Warhol and Mapplethorpe. Accessible, clearly written, poetic in style, and reflecting not only a deep appreciation of art history but also a genuine love of art, Gombrich’s The Story of Art and Danto’s Encounters and Reflections continue to enlighten countless readers and set the highest standards for expository writing in the arts and humanities.