Art about art

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Dear Artist,

After my last missive about George Condo’s advanced goofiness, dozens of emails remarked about art relating to the art of others. Art about art is in tsunami-mode these days. The wave made me want to say a few words about Cesar Santos.

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“Three graces”
oil painting 48 x 40 inches
by Cesar Santos

In Three Graces Santos shows us Henri Matisse’s The Dancers, awkwardly simplified and well-gushed ladies eclipsed by three mini-skirted, heeled and booted, bare-breasted contempo-girls dangling colourful garlands in homage.

Santos was born in Santa Clara, Cuba in 1982. While growing up in Miami he studied conceptual art at the New World College. Eager to get a “sound training in the art of painting” he moved to Florence, Italy to study under Michael John Angel, a student of Pietro Annigoni. Married to the lovely Valentina, who frequently models for him, Santos now cleans his brushes in New York. His recent work touches the nexus of academic art, Renaissance art, and contemporary society. Like Condo, folks are eating the guy up.

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“After the arrival”
oil painting 44 x 56 inches
by Cesar Santos

Another painting, After the Arrival, mimics Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa. It shows contemporary folks reenacting, as if self-consciously bored with the lack of challenge in modern life, the famed shipwreck and distress but in the safety of a rubber inflatable in a modern, neoclassical hot tub with hints of the Berlin Wall.

When an artist takes as a starting point some popular work that has entered the public imagination, he starts to say,

— Art has universal values that are immutable and timeless.

— Art is not so sacrosanct that it cannot be parodied.

— There’s nothing new under the sun.

— There’s always something new under the sun.

— Art is a brotherhood and sisterhood that defies death.

— Art about art teaches the dangers of entrenched tradition.

— Older and time-worn ideas are forever worth examining.

— Art about art need not answer all the questions about art. Riddled as it is with riddles and enigmas, art lends itself to further riddles and enigmas.

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Santos and his wife with his awarded painting at the Salon International 2009

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Tradition becomes our security. When the mind is secure, it is in decay.” (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Esoterica: In many of Santos’ paintings he seems to be saying, “Look, I can do better,” and “Look, there is something to be said for the human figure as it is.” This is the prerogative of the golden ego. But more than anything it’s a triumph that a young man might follow his bliss to a place where a dying art is still taught, that he might make it his own and do it with honesty and little fuss. Say what you will — it’s a wise understanding. “The world,” said Joyce Cary, “is in everlasting conflict between the new idea and the old allegiances, new arts and new inventions against the old establishment.” What is old? What is establishment?



Seriously adrift
by Bill Skuce, Sooke, BC, Canada


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“Jarna III”
original painting by Bill Skuce

In Gericault’s painting the arrival meant rescue, but a rescue, by contrast, from much different circumstances… modern life, boredom, the undramatic. The title After the Arrival …does it not raise questions? Arrival where? Arrival of what? Or of Whom? In Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa it was the life-saving arrival of the rescue ship on the horizon. Perhaps, among other things, Santos is saying his rafters are seriously adrift in a senseless stupor, unaware, even, that they need rescuing.







There are 2 comments for Seriously adrift by Bill Skuce

From: Bill Skuce — Feb 25, 2011

Jarna was an Australian student at the International School I had been teaching at and an avid art student. I used her lovely face in this copy I made of an 19th century neo-classical painting. She was my model for four paintings.

From: Hugo — Feb 25, 2011

Bill, it’s not just that there was a lovely face – it’s what You did, how You expressed the face that connects with me. Those other exercises of realism just make me wonder, why not just use a camera?





Why stop now?
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA


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“Dear Deer”
original painting by Angela Lyon

We’ve imitated and mimicked art forever and who’s to say we should ever stop? Look at Picasso’s outright theft of African art, the effect of Japanese woodcuts on Europe, classical images appearing again as impressionist ‘follies.’ It is very cool to notice how a few basic designs permeate every single culture, whether ‘primitive’ or ‘sophisticated,’ like the simple fish outline, the spiral, the stair step, the zig zag.

Have you seen Andrew Leipzeig’s work? Same idea — with pretty hilarious (and sometimes pretty glum) variations.







Contemporary classics
by Joseph Jahn, Nibe, Denmark


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“Alien body”
original painting by Joseph Jahn

His work is an interesting solution to a problem. How does one pursue classical figure study and still look contemporary? That’s usually done by using surrealism, but Santos has found another and unique way. I think he just enjoys painting in a traditional manner and to his credit has found a way to enroll critics and public to his side. Bravo.









There is 1 comment for Contemporary classics by Joseph Jahn

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Feb 26, 2011

I think you have done a wonderful job of using the figure. Great color also. I think this is very unique.





Santos’ figures too real
by Gail Caduff-Nash, Mountain home, NC, USA


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“Stormy day”
oil painting by Gail Caduff-Nash

I disagree that Santos’ work is “having a go” at other artists. The message I seem to get from his work is that he can’t let go of the realism to get into abstractions. His grasp of the human form is pretty clearly good, and his ability to mimic other art is also clear but there’s no real connection there. And the figures in his work just look like studio models to me. I like Three Graces and consider it very talented and a good way to define HIS 3 Graces by using Gauguin’s Graces. Saying “chicks are chicks.” I’m no fan of Gauguin.

It strikes me that, to borrow from your last article, Robert, artists who are very excellent draftsmen need to tone down their realism when they want to create something intangible. In other words, Santos’ people are too real. My imagination has little to work with when I view his work. He tells me too much. Apparition does not look apparition-like. It looks like a woman about to fall onto that guy. Maybe I’m missing something?

But about the main thought of your thesis, why not use other art as a subject of art? If you look around these days, it’s really hard to NOT include other art into your own when you’re painting real things. Everything has art on it now, from bed sheets to bumpers, from t-shirts to tomato sauce. I really like Santos’ painting of the woman painting plein air. It might be an inspiration for a piece I’m working on. Perhaps I’ll do a painting of a painter who is Santos painting Gauguin.

There is 1 comment for Santos’ figures too real by Gail Caduff-Nash

From: sarastar — Mar 17, 2011

I don’t think his figures are too realistic. They aren’t photorealistic for sure. A lot of his work is specifically criticizing the current museum institutions. I think it is really interesting. My favorite of his pieces is drawing in MOMA. It speaks volumes.





Life expressed visually
by Susan Holland, Bellevue, WA, USA


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Untitled
mixed media by Susan Holland

Any subject can be worthy of a piece of art, and if angst, grief, lust, religious fervor, grandeur, poverty, terror, cuteness, fury, etc., are ok in famous art, why not humor? Laughter is as normal as sneezing, and it’s all about life, and visual art is life expressed visually, yes? We are funny, as well as all the other stuff. And we can make serious art about funniness, oddness, eccentricity, and even the bizarre. DaVinci did some very, very strange and unattractive face drawings that are included in his collections in art history books, and they are instructive and quite beautifully crafted. Toulouse Lautrec found very funny things to paint, and we would pay big money to have Jane Avril in our houses, would we not? I have a great postcard book of take-offs of famous art pieces that are very funny, and if I feel safe, I send them. Not everyone thinks all kinds of humor funny. To each his own. That doesn’t make it bad art.



Riding on another painter’s emotion?
by Nancy Ness, North Creek, NY, USA


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“NV, Ruby Mts”
oil painting by Nancy Ness

What about communication? Does this artist have any relationship with the subject matter or is he riding on another painter’s emotion, passion and era? These paintings are clever, but not sure how believable. “To thy own self be true.”







There are 4 comments for Riding on another painter’s emotion? by Nancy Ness

From: Sheila Minifie — Feb 25, 2011

I agree.

From: Sheila Minifie — Feb 25, 2011

ps. Love how you’ve done those mountains.

From: Victoria — Feb 25, 2011

Praise be to zinc white!

From: sarastar — Mar 17, 2011

I think he is making very sophisticated commentary with his paintings. And a lot of them are very funny in the context of art history. He is having a conversation with the art.





Enjoyable spoof
by Richard F Barber, Watford, Hertfordshire, UK


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“MacDonalds pour le dejeuner sur l’herbe”
original painting by Richard Barber

Your letter “Just for laughs” brought to mind a painting that I did while living in China. It was a spoof of Edouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur L’Herbe, but I had renamed it McDonalds pour le déjeuner sur l’ herbe. I used one of the characters from another painting of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Le Dejeuner des Canotiers. He’s the guy on the bike returning with their order from McDonalds. I married the two together because Edouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir often painted together. I have tied their works in together on this one because I could visualize the robust character from Le Dejeuner des Canotires pop in on his bike to McDonalds for an order of Big Macs, and taking them back to the gallery where Manet’s party were having lunch.

I lost track of the painting after returning to the UK. The painting is a large one 122cm x 122cm on 6mm plywood. So whoever has it, I hope that they enjoy it as much as I enjoyed painting it.



Humour a fleeting emotion
by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada


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“Green Light”
watercolour by Marney Ward

I think that the reason Fine Art is seldom associated with humour is because humour tends to be a fleeting emotion. We laugh at something briefly and then move on. It is found as brief interludes in Opera, Theatre, Literature, even classical music. There are comic scenes in Shakespearian tragedies, to lighten the mood after a heavy dramatic scene. Even in comedies, there is a serious undercurrent to the comic scenes. But a painting doesn’t unfold the way a novel or a play does. Its impact is absorbed in one long moment of time, immediate and complete. A painting’s mood needs to have integrity. Most people want to hang a work of art in their home that stirs the deeper emotions. Whether it is exciting or calming, it needs to please us in a more profound way. Most people would get tired of a painting that simply amused, especially since the amusement depends to a large degree on the element of surprise and tends to lessen with familiarity. There is also the time-honoured association of humour with sex and toilet functions, which works well for comic relief or stand-up comics appealing to somewhat soused audiences, but isn’t really something most of us want hanging in our living rooms, though I suppose there will always be some market for the prints of Hieronymus Bosch. I suspect that as we age most of us refine our sensibilities away from what amuses us briefly to something that fills a deeper need for beauty in our lives. We like to laugh daily at cartoons or comics, visual treats that we look at once and enjoy, but expect more from paintings we intend to look at again and again. Those works of art need to endure the test of time.

There are 2 comments for Humour a fleeting emotion by Marney Ward

From: Brenda W. — Feb 25, 2011

Well said! I agree …..

From: Bill Skuce, Sooke BC — Feb 25, 2011

Bravo Marnie! I especially like your summation, “I suspect that as we age most of us refine our sensibilities away from what amuses us briefly to something that fills a deeper need for beauty in our lives.” P.S. I’ve long admired your watercolours.





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Columbia Gorge 223

watercolour painting by Bonnie White, OR, USA



You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Lucan Charchuk of White Rock, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I thought art was always about art, except when it’s about life.”

And also Haim Mizrahi of New York, NY, USA, who wrote, “One must get to know one’s self before one ventures into anything other than the inner message, waiting to be revealed.”

And also Jane Walker who wrote, “Art referencing art is one way we pass the culture from one generation to another.”

And also Ben Novak of Ottawa, ON, Canada who wrote, “In my view both Condo’s primitive style, and Santos’ classic mastery, is way better than painting from photographs. I would pay for some of these works. They are creative.”



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Art about art

   
From: Faith — Feb 21, 2011

I commented at the end of the last clickback. Now I’ll start the ball rolling here by appealing to the sensibilities of the less successful art makers. There seem to be two distinct camps here: a) those who admire the painter’s skill and audacity (including me) and b) those who don’t. But Santos’ work is fortunately not dependent on either. He is doing his thing. He feels bound to have a go at some of the so-called “sacred” ( i.e. literally priceless?) artworks. And why not? Are they really above critique? Do they really need a host of Don Quichottes defending them to the death? There’s room for everyone, and in particular individualists. Sour grapes never got anyone anywhere. Innovation did and does. Any more clichés, anyone? Is your work free of them? Mine isn’t.

From: gail caduff-nash — Feb 21, 2011

I disagree that Santos’ work is “having a go” at other artists. The message I seem to get from his work is that he can’t let go of the realism to get into abstractions. His grasp of the human form is pretty clearly good, and his ability to mimic other art is also clear but there’s no real connection there. And the figures in his work just look like studio models to me. I like Three Graces and consider it very talented and a good way to define HIS 3 Graces by using Gauguin’s Graces. Sorta saying “chicks is chicks”. I’m no fan of Gauguin. It strikes me that, to borrow from your last article, Robert, artists who are very excellent draftsmen need to tone down their realism when they want to create something intangible. In other words, Santos’ people are too real. My imagination has little to work with when I view his work. He tells me too much. “Apparition” does not look apparition-like. It looks like a woman about to fall onto that guy. Maybe I’m missing something? But about the main thought of your thesis, why not use other art as a subject of art? If you look around these days, it’s really kinda hard to NOT include other art into your own when you’re painting real things. Everything has art on it now, from bedsheets to bumpers, from t-shirts to tomato sauce. I really like Santos’ painting of the woman painting plein air. It might be an inspiration for a piece I’m working on. Perhaps I’ll do a painting of a painter who is Santos painting Gauguin.

From: Victor — Feb 22, 2011

having thought a lot about ‘what is art’ I have come to the conclusion that art is in fact a process in which human creativity combines with physical effort to produce a ‘work of art’. Thus there are many kinds of works of art ranging from a mathematical equation to skyscraper to unmade bed – in fact all human endeavour is art & the results of all human endeavour is a work of art. What has happened is that the term ‘art’ has become encrusted with layers of snobbery & cultural exclusiveness in which only the self defined cognescenti have the right to proclaim that this is art & that is not. There are merely different kinds of art which are valued differently by different people. Even this message is a work of art which may not be recognised as such by the artistically minded but it is just so.

From: Darla — Feb 22, 2011

This is in response to Gail. If I have not gotten it wrong, you are saying that realism should inevitably evolve into abstraction in order to convey more intangible concepts. I understand, but think that abstraction is only one of many tools to convey meaning, as funny as that sounds. Look at Dali — his technique is quite realistic, but the way the realistic elements morph into each other and are placed change the meaning into something else altogether. I agree that art is fair game for art — everything is fair game for art.

From: Brigitte Nowak — Feb 22, 2011

“Art about Art”: interesting food for thought. My first reaction is that one of the purposes that art serves, is to comment on life, on the human condition, in order to provide some insight for the artist and the viewer. Art that riffs on other art seems less willing to explore our world and our place in it than to comment on the exploration – and achievement – that other artists have undertaken. However, I see Santos’ use of historical paintings in a different way. Using historical paintings as a jumping off point, and populating his canvases with eerily contemporary references, may be a way of putting things in context: the more things change, the more they remain the same. “Art Star” John Currin seems to have a similar take on things, in a slightly different way. That said, I’d be interested in seeing Santos use his considerable skill and combine it with intellectual and emotional curiosity to invoke, not only historical western masterpieces, but the world in which we live, and the situation in which we find ourselves. There is still room to say something new.

From: Susan Avishai — Feb 22, 2011

To Darla–if I’ve got her right, I believe Gail isn’t advocating that realism ought to end up as abstractionism, but that a painting too finished, too real, too complete is a shut out and leaves little for the viewer to add of her own imagination, experience, or feeling, except for the wows of the artist’s technical prowess. Wow…it looks just like a photograph!! Better to leave something open-ended, mysterious, interpretable, unfinished, or “abstracted” for the 2nd and 200th viewing.

From: Renew — Feb 22, 2011

Santos work is too perfect, the women are too beautiful, the men too good-looking. Of course this is the way people look in Hollywood, on TV network news, or the streets of NYC. Of course, in New York you would not expect to see us common folks. Santos should go to Walmart to get his models. But then the resulting artwork would be too shocking and might not sell in his life time. Just ask Van Gogh.

From: Linda Bray — Feb 22, 2011

One of my favorite artists is Connie Townsend who’s paintings always make me smile until my face hurts. Her expressive animals pared with some great old cars is priceless. Yes, I’d rather be happy than so boringly serious.

From: Linda Bray — Feb 22, 2011
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 22, 2011

I like these paintings…the more things change, they don’t actually remain the same. Isn’t it like doing Shakespearean plays in modern dress?

From: Bill Skuce — Feb 22, 2011

In Gericault’s painting the arrival meant rescue, but a rescue, by contrast, from much different circumstances…modern life, boredom, the undramatic. The title, “After the Arrival”…does it not raise questions? Arrival where? Arrival of what? Or of Whom? In Gericault’s “Raft…” it was the life-saving arrival of the rescue ship on the horizon. Perhaps, among other things, Santos is saying his rafters are seriously adrift in a senseless stupor, unaware, even, that they need rescuing.

From: doris weed — Feb 22, 2011

I think Santos is a very fine painter and is up to speed with the modern? culture. I think it is all about “Now”. I think I like it.

From: doris weed — Feb 22, 2011

I’m not sure if my first comment went thru..but I like his art. Very current. Plein Air, I have seen somewhere, not his work, can anyone help with this?

From: Dirk Hoaglund — Feb 22, 2011

I can’t take my eyes off the “Three Graces.” The three women are languid and handsome without being tarty. While one appears to have a small tattoo, another has glasses like a librarian. These are modern, confident young women who outshine Matisse’s stuffy attempt at graciousness.

From: Anne Baird — Feb 22, 2011

This one is for Sarah, I LOVE the Premium Link page you created for me! You did a wonderful job. And I am so pleased you allowed the images to be larger, because I think people actually need to see the detail. (The devil really is in the details with me.) Only one extra thing, if you don’t mind. Could you please include the link to my blog page? I only just launched it. But it is huge fun, since, like Robert, I am a fairly compulsive and comfortable writer. And It’s all connected to both my art, and to my take on the world.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 23, 2011
From: Caroline Trippe — Feb 24, 2011

I agree that Santos’ work is technically amazing, and people seem to love this kind of realism. It was what the Salon painters were doing before they were unseated by the Impressionists. It doesn’t move me. The problem with art about art (and all art is, on some level, of course, about art) is that is can lose touch with real life and real experience. Technical perfection often misses out on emotional beauty.

From: M. D. Phelps — Feb 24, 2011

I have an acquaintance who completed a large canvas of a pasture populated by a single horse — Picasso’s screaming equine from Guernica — toward which was walking a cowboy with a lariat, worthy of James Bama. I was at a local show where an artist showed medium sized color fields with slogans such as “you can take the artist out of the picture” and “yes is the new no” and “commit an act of erasure.” At that same show I overhead a local newspaper reviewer hold forth that Botera was “just more Rubens.” Last year there was an opening that included perhaps a dozen highly idealized, though not romanticized, nudes. In the brochure that artist said he was trying to “get past Lucien Freud.” At this point there is so much art around, it cannot help but be intra-referential.

From: Cee Delaponte — Feb 24, 2011

There should be an new “school” of painting called This Is Art Too, Just Like The Other Stuff. It seems that anything and everything can be validated somehow.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 24, 2011

It has been said to me; and I believe; there is nothing new in the world, just reinvention’s of old ideas. I’ve used themes from the masters many times. They were dealing in the discovery of their world and were in search of the secrets of their times as we are today. We are the same in trying to understand the world we live in. The emotional content of great works still moves us today. Why, because we connect on an emotional level. The themes of love, contact, emotion, strife, journey, discovery of self and our world are still themes we use today. The work I produce has these same themes but with a modern spin. My vision as I see it. Artists today are interpreting the world in the same way as in times past only with newer and better and perhaps difference materials. If a master concept worked then, it will work today only with a modern motif. We like to think we are different from our ancestors, but in the end we need to see we are all one and suffer the same conflicts and emotions as those who have come before and those yet to come.

From: Roslyn Levin — Feb 24, 2011

I have noticed that in times of crisis the buying public appears to put their hard-earned dollars mainly into whimsical art works. The work still must be well-done but it also must bring a smile to their well-worn frown-lines. Does this perhaps explain the more recent successes in the art world that have more “serious” artists reeling?

From: Heidi Smith — Feb 24, 2011

I don’t have much to comment on George Condo’s art as I have my own ideas what constitutes “good” art. However, I do like whimsy as it is usually light and refreshing and have been known to use it myself. As for Krishnamurti’s quote; “Tradition becomes security. When the mind is secure, it is in decay” is very synonymous to “The only thing constant in life is change, and if you don’t adapt, you will disappear just like the dinosaurs did”.

From: Tish Lowe — Feb 24, 2011

Yours is a delightful commentary on Cesar’s work, one which will, no doubt, increase his recognition enormously. I was a classmate of Cesar’s at Angel Academy of Art, have purchased his work, and consider him to be an inspiration. By the way, he finished the four-year program in two years! He’s not only good, he’s fast — personable fellow with a marvelous sense of humor.

From: Kathy Herlihy-Paoli — Feb 24, 2011

Thank you Robert for these essays, they are very good fodder for any creative person!

From: Gail Mardfin — Feb 24, 2011

I absolutely love your sanity! No matter how late, when I see the Twice-Weekly Letter come in, I must read it because I know I will always feel better after doing so. LOVE your sensibility, Robert: you don’t take things too seriously and you love what you do. On top of being a wonderful artist, you are a wonderful writer.

From: Barton Chen — Feb 24, 2011

I am always left with a sense of wonder and self questioning.

From: Cassandra — Feb 25, 2011

The artist has power. This power enables any artist to depict ‘any’ subject that motivates. ‘Any’ subject includes the works of others from ancient times to yesterday. Most still life depicts artifacts made by other artists and crafters, so why not paintings made by others. The conflict arises in that the viewers also have power. Their power enables them to say of paintings that depict paintings: “This is a copy, a forgery, an homage, a clever joke, a well executed parody, a modern view or a poorly executed theft of another’s work or theme. As always first quality work trumps most criticism and reduces may complaints to jealous nit picking. Poor work will be universally criticized or totally ignored.

From: Sharon Cory — Feb 26, 2011

To Linda Bray Thanks for sending along Connie Townsend’s web address. I had a good laugh this morning.

From: mars — Feb 28, 2011

to begin with — bad art — it begs the question of human intelligence — quote!!!!!! I would put some of this in that context. — More like — kitsch — multicluturalisem — (which doesn’t work) — whimsical — why paint like that —  unless these people can’t do realism & usually get away with such!! Sublime gift — moral-intelectual — supreme — they are not!!!Art should be a mistique — so the viewer can decide — JOseph John — has no detail — can’t decide what it is!! Susan Hollan — what is it? What is meant by this — when mind is insecure it’s in decay? — I’d like an answer to that one!!! all in all — found most of this rehtoric confusing — not much substance anywhere. Thanks.

   
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