Noticing the good

Dear Artist, Over the past 400 years, if you happened to be good at making giant sculptures of generals on horseback pointing or waving swords, Argentina had a job for you. This country has the highest percentage by population of these items. Nowadays there’s less sword waving, but they still put their dead generals in flowery monuments next to rich people. Maybe the Argentines have a love affair with death; they seldom remember birthdays, but death-days are big events. School children are encouraged to commit their generals’ last words to memory.

giant sculptures of generals in Argentina

These days the Argentines charge Americans $100 to get into their country. Why they charge Canadians only $75 is beyond me. In Buenos Aires at the Museo de Bellas Artes there’s a terrific show of 19th and 20th century Italian artists — from Antonio Mancini to Amedeo Modigliani. Unfortunately there’s no catalogue, but the show is exemplary of the renewed popularity of some relative unknowns who could really paint. Not many remember Mancini, for example, but none other than John Singer Sargent at one time declared him “the greatest living painter.” Antonio Mancini (1852-1930), was born in Rome, showed early ability and studied under the best available in Naples. He specialized in oils and pastels of street children, clowns, acrobats, etc., and often worked in a broad, impasto-laden style with intelligent use of light and surface moisture. He was soon accepted into the Paris Salon. Mancini suffered a severe mental breakdown and depression in midlife, became destitute and was supported by friends and former patrons. In later life he brightened up, as did his palette, and he once again out-dazzled his contemporaries. The Italian show, together with a marvelous modern show at the Palais de Glace, mostly featuring young Argentine women artists, is a good top-up before going “plein air” in Patagonia. It’s good to humble yourself by knowing just how good other people can get. And noticing the good people, too — the Argentines are friendly and jolly. Funnily, they may charge you to get into their country, but they don’t charge you to get into their art museums. Best regards, Robert PS: “The way to understand painting is to go and look at it. And if out of a million visitors there is even one to whom art means something, that is enough to justify museums.” (Pierre-Auguste Renoir) Esoterica: If a brilliantly good artist happens to live just down the street, his top-up of your efforts may be harder to take. That’s why it’s good to check out dead artists. The dead guy won’t let you take him to dinner or tell you, “There’s something wrong with that mouth,” as several of our subscribers did with my painting of Mel, but he can show you stroke by stroke how things might be. Cruising your eyes over someone else’s work in silence and with respect may be the next best thing to struggling on your own. Art museums help artists realize they’re never truly alone.   Antonio Mancini

“Sleeping boy”
oil painting, 1877


oil painting, 1877


“Ritratto del padre”
oil painting, 1903


“Il Saltimbanco”
oil painting, 1900

                Anders Zorn exhibition by Linda Kulhanek, Luebeck, Germany  

“I Sangkammaren” 1918
oil painting
by Anders Zorn

On seeing the piece on Mancini, I thought I would share another exhibition of interest. I am traveling myself from southern Germany, my home, to Luebeck in the north (about an hour from Hamburg) this coming Monday to see the show. Anders Zorn is finally getting attention in Germany. For your information, or to pass on: Check out the bookshop for catalogs and books. Unfortunately the site is only in German. If you Google or better yet use as a search tool you may find an English site under tourism for the area Luebeck. The show goes until end of April I believe.     There is 1 comment for Anders Zorn exhibition by Linda Kulhanek
From: Anon — Jan 24, 2012

The Google Translator does a pretty good job on the European languages.

  Peak experience by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“The Gate”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

I haven’t had the opportunity to go to many art museums but when I do, it is a peak experience. When I stand in front of a great painting, it is as if the painter was speaking to me personally. He or she might be saying ‘Look at what I did with that edge there or I wanted to do this but couldn’t accomplish it.” I feel this amazing connection to the great fraternity of artists who attempted the impossible and succeeded or failed in various degrees. I never feel depressed about my lack of skill in comparison. I’m always inspired by the great skill of artists throughout history. There are 2 comments for Peak experience by Paul deMarrais
From: Rae Smith — Jan 24, 2012

Glad to see your pastel painting Paul , like the sunshine opening.

From: shirley fachilla — Jan 24, 2012

Before I began painting again, my husband and I went to every art exhibit we could manage (and afford!). It was often a subliminal lesson in good painting. It didn’t teach me how but it did show me what I wanted to do and at a time, when I didn’t realize, I would take up painting once more. Your “The Gate” is a lovely evocative work. I’d like to travel that path to the sunshine.

  Adding to the great pool by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada  

“Pacific Sunset”
acrylic painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Art museums make me feel humble — it’s a reminder that it’s not all about us and our art. It’s about doing what we can to create something that adds to the great pool. If our work never makes it in, someone’s will. But if we have something that’s trying to come out, there is a responsibility to give it our best shot. Visiting a museum always makes me want to go to my studio and work harder with a feeling that we cannot fail, and all who came before can be our teachers if we keep an open mind.     Argentinean quirks explained by Patricia Barbero, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“Fuente de las Nereidas”
1903 sculpture
by Lola Mora

Being Argentinean myself (and a proud Canadian for over 30 years) I can shed some light into a couple of the quirks that you mentioned. 1. Sword waving statues of dead generals: Generals had a very high concept of themselves (shared only by other generals), enough to take charge of the government by force in more than one occasion. Having said that, some 19th century ones actually accomplished something, especially during the wars of independence. For a different type of statue, see the Fuente de las Nereidas by Lola Mora
in Buenos Aires — costanera. 2. Charging fees to get into the country: Only what Argentines are charged to get into the foreign country themselves. An Argentinean has to pay $100 to get into the US, and only $75 to get into Canada. The law of reciprocity, they call it. 3. El Museo de Bellas Artes is one of my favourites. I used to go there since I was a little girl. The Teatro Colon is another great venue for music and ballet. Argentines are very proud of their art, and value its contribution to a better life. It is a public right to experience beauty (and play soccer), hence this and other art museums are free. I hope you get to visit San Telmo, in Buenos Aires, for great cityscape painting. 4. I don’t know about your comment: Maybe the Argentines have a love affair with death; they seldom remember birthdays, but death-days are big events. School children are encouraged to commit their generals’ last words to memory. I disagree. 5. Quinquela Martin is another Argentinean painter that achieved fame, specializing in images of the Puerto and La Boca. I think you are going to enjoy his work. There are 2 comments for Argentinean quirks explained by Patricia Barbero
From: Jackie Knott — Jan 24, 2012

Also worth noting, these entrance fees into a country are designed to support the particular embassy and consulates in that host country. Thus, the salaries of staff and facilities is self supporting and not an additional burden to the taxpayers of that country.

From: Jim Oberst — Jan 24, 2012

Reciprocity is good.

  Monet’s Water Lilies by Damar Minyak, Kansas City (area), MO, USA  

“Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond”
1920 oil painting, 79 x 502 inches
by Claude Monet

This past summer, the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City displayed the full triptych of Monet’s Water Lilies. First time in decades all three panels were shown as a unit. Of course, I had to make the pilgrimage! While others who went with me spent much of the day visiting the museum, I spent the entire time available, sitting in my wheel chair, far enough back from it, to just take in the whole huge panorama. (I brought binoculars, to get into the details.) For those who have only seen this in books or prints, this work is like three billboards lined up together. It’s massive, and overwhelmingly effective. What would be brush strokes in a smaller scale are paint blotches. Seeing this made me intend to someday try my own hand at some expansive pieces. Not yet ready to do that, but I have already begun to collect the large scale, heavy canvas sheets that will someday be used for such a purpose. One last item, regarding “judged entry” shows: History has shown that those who set themselves up as arbiters of “proper art” are wrong, almost 100% of the time. Consider as the prime example, the Impressionists, who set themselves up because the museums and “art experts” of their day refused their products. Today, it seems, almost everybody wants to pretend to the title “neoimpressionist” or “post impressionist” or “non-impressionist,” or whatso-everist. Judged shows usually mean “It all has to look like our stuff.” Virtually all of the artists I respect were the renegades of their periods. So, it remains, for my contemporaries. Being told I’m not doing it correctly just makes me smile, and say, “Thank you!” There are 4 comments for Monet’s Water Lilies by Damar Minyak
From: Violetta — Jan 23, 2012

Your idea of a billboard is sensational! Your experience of enjoying Monet’s Water Lilies tryptych is inspirational.

From: P. Y. Duthie — Jan 23, 2012

Your letter makes me think and it inspires me. Thanks! I agree with your last paragraph. I no longer go out of my way to see boring, predictable juried shows. Bring on the renegades!

From: edie pfeifer — Jan 24, 2012

I love your term “whatso-everist” I think I’m one of those :)

From: Liz Reday — Jan 31, 2012

If the price of canvas and oils on that scale is prohibitive (it is for me), try enormous sheets of paper, 40″ X 60″ with tons of gesso (and flat latex house paint on the back) – then paint in acrylics. Nova color sells great jars of the stuff at good prices. Tears in the paper can be mended with archival linen tape (Valley Moulding), or you can even edge the paper all around with it, but it’s a hassle. Lovely to paint big. And if the studio doesn’t fit, move it all outside! It helps to live somewhere warm. Back up the paper with 1/2″ fome cor or sheets of corrugated cardboard – re-useable, especially for storage.

  A spiritual classic by Damaris O’Trand, CO, USA  

“Go Diva”
original painting
by Damaris O’Trand

One of the things I have been working on for almost 30 years is figuring out a way to communicate with others (husband, children, friends, siblings, relatives, fellow artists, and fellow residents on Planet Earth) and to give feedback that does not reveal my own shortcomings (ignorance) or cause harm to others. I am rereading Dag Hammarskold’s (with double dots over the o) spiritual classic, Markings. I highly recommend it to anyone who really wants to see the mind and heart of a human being (homo sapien) at work becoming a Master (homo spiritualis). He chose, perhaps wisely, to let a friend decide after his death whether or not to publish his collection of personal musings. Fortunately for our planet, his friend thought it worthwhile to publish this remarkable book. Surely there are enough reality shows and hostile Web communities where artists can be humiliated by so-called experts and judges and human critters struggling with their own jealousy, envy, and fear. It would be nice to have a few places of sanctuary on the Web where artists can share their art and ideas respectfully. A place where all work is honored (professional, student, and amateur). A place where we can share what we are learning and working on. At last thought: Letting go of the ideas of fame and fortune can be quite liberating when it comes to allowing ourselves to follow our own paths, and to become the artists we are meant to be. There are 2 comments for A spiritual classic by Damaris O’Trand
From: DM — Jan 24, 2012

Although I am intrigued by the photo of your painting, I suspect it is one that definitely needs to be seen in person, to fully appreciate and understand. And, I agree with the flow of your sentiments regarding judgement-ality. Though it is always good to study something well done by those who are more proficient than I am, I find it equally enriching to experience the not-so-well-done. Sometimes, the bitter experience is the better. But, I have a caveat – Mark Twain, writing from the experience of a riverboat pilot, told of the pleasure the passengers often experienced, watching the play of light on the ripples of the water. He understood, however, those ripples indicated a hidden snag, a log or other submerged object that might tear a hole in the bottom of the river craft. Sometimes, we can study a thing to death, and forget the pleasure of our original discovery. Maybe, how and why we are touched by a painting we appreciate is perhaps not so important as that we are. Gaining a degree in literature, long ago, almost ruined my taste for reading. I hope I never learn so much of the “technique” of artwork, that I forget to see the beauty of it. Most often, Mr Professor, a cigar is just a cigar !

From: Judi — Feb 05, 2012

I’d be willing to bet that your professor’s cigar equals mine’s pickle….. I got so fed up with symbolism that I, the incredibly shy one, actually challenged a statement to the effect that “the pickle symbolises…. “. So nice to find a fellow sufferer again !

  Argentina’s Hipolito Bouchard by Diana Bouchard, Montreal, QC, Canada  

Hipolito Bouchard

My husband and I visited the country in 1980 while it was still an oppressive military dictatorship, but with a beautiful country and wonderful people. I remember the many generals and the fact that the Club Militar had a gigantic five-story, wrought-iron entrance gate that was the biggest I had ever seen in my life. In particular, I noticed a nineteenth-century gentleman (or perhaps not) that we have encountered here and there in our travels: Hipolito Bouchard. So far as I know, he’s not a relative, but he shares our name, and some sources say he was born in Trois-Rivieres (as Hyppolite), just down the river from Montreal. He seems to be a pirate or a naval hero depending on where you are (e.g., he raided both Monterey and Santa Barbara in California). In Argentina, he is the latter and has a large boulevard named after him.   La Cabana sculpture by Leonard Skerker, Ann Arbor, MI, USA  

La Cabana Steak House,
Buenos Aires

The art museum in Buenos Aires is spectacular even without the current special exhibit. Only problem was its opening time, around noon, so wife and I sat in the park just across from it. Along came another B.A. specialty, two dog walkers bearing about 25 dogs between them. All were released and spent an hour cavorting or just lounging, surrounded by traffic (no fences). When the guys started to pick up the leashes they huddled around them and left… all in good order. Amazing. If you return through this city I recommend the restaurant called La Cabana, which is known for super steaks. While there (two stuffed cows at the entrance) we discovered a sculpture inside that we had once considered buying (by John Mills, English), of a totally dressed short fellow dancing with a rather buxom nude, I think called Manet and Model Dancing. Fun. But not an old general.   No regrets by Elena Devincenzi, Buenos Aries, Argentina  

“La Reconquista de Buenos Aires”
1909 oil painting
by Charles Fouqueray

We remember our history, like North Americans do. We don’t make movies about our history, and sales are to all the world, as you do. We charge a rate for North Americans because we, too, have to pay a lot of money to get the Visa and also prove that we aren’t criminal, neither terrorists nor horrible Latinos trying to destroy your country or steal your jobs. Canadians don’t do that. I understand you have heroes, we only have… “giant sculptures of generals on horseback pointing or waving swords.” After all we live in South America, a third world continent. No regrets.   Inspiration, aspiration and awe by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA  

“Jewels, a lapdancer”
watercolour painting
by Brenda Behr

Please know that none of my comments below have to do with your painting of Mel. Your portrait was soulful. Sometimes I believe there must be a protective shield that deludes us, keeping us from looking at our own work objectively. I look back now on some of the work I did when I was just beginning, and I wonder, what kept me going? How well we see our weaknesses in retrospect. Museums are where we as artists can pay tribute to those who walked before us and to those whose paths we aspire to follow. Rembrandt in America is the largest collection of Rembrandt’s work ever to show in America. The exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art closes as I write today and heads for Cleveland, and after that, Minneapolis. How fortunate we are that there is still a budget in this economy to bring these masterpieces to us. How awesome a body of work for anyone’s eyes, artists and non-artists. The protective shield that keeps us from viewing our own work objectively can be lifted by seeing the work of masters like Antonio Mancini, Sargent and Rembrandt. Depending where we are in our development, it doesn’t take a Rembrandt to know just how far one might go. I look at their work, and I ask, what keeps me going? Three years ago I was fortunate to attend The Art of the Portrait Conference here in America. My scant portfolio was embarrassing. I found the Portrait Conference to be a true talent reality check. I recommend it to any artist, especially to any artist getting the least bit cocky about his or her own work. I don’t delight in being humbled, but inspiration, aspiration and awe are impossible for me to resist. There is 1 comment for Inspiration, aspiration and awe by Brenda Behr
From: dottie — Jan 24, 2012

I love your poignant but frank painting, which appears to show compassion and caring for someone most of us would pass by, eyes averted.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Noticing the good

From: Daniela — Jan 19, 2012

Thank you for bringing Antonio Mancini to our attention – wow! “Cruising your eyes over someone else’s work in silence and with respect may be the next best thing to struggling on your own.” This is so relevant…I used to wish there was a perfect person I could go to galleries with, mostly I find “in silence and with respect” on my own, is the best way. Love your posts, thank you Robert.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jan 20, 2012

“Why they [the Argentinians]charge Canadians only $75 is beyond me.” That’s because Canadians are so nice, Robert. They should PAY you to enter their country! ;-) Like Daniela, thank you for the mention of Mancini – inspirational.

From: Brenda McCourt Pulham — Jan 20, 2012

The reason I paint is because no one can make me paint their way-I will stop look and listen -take in what I like – accept suggestions and store it for awhile. Basically I paint because it is introspective and a place I go therefore alone. It is a beautiful peaceful place.

From: Dwight — Jan 20, 2012

I wouldn’t know for sure, but maybe Mel’s mouth was “wrong” because that’s the way Mel’s mouth looks. Ordinary and beautiful faces are not interesting to look at for long or to paint. The wrinkles, the deformities, the results of aging and even what’s left after some accidents make some faces more interesting and, in their way, “beautiful.”

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jan 20, 2012

Renoir’s right. There’s no substitute for actually studying paintings in museums. Non-painters just glance at them, and see no more than they would by looking at the same image reproduced in a book or poster. Antonio Mancini shows us that the human figure is best represented by using those traditional Italian earth-tone colors.

From: Tatjana M-P — Jan 20, 2012

Dwight, I feel the same as you about the beauty of imperfections on people’s faces. Unfortunately I have found that the more marvelous portrait I feel I have made, the sitter likes it less. I guess the concept is not easy to grasp. LOL

From: Anna Harrison — Jan 20, 2012

Thank you for introducing Antonio Mancini to me; what an amazing artist – his paintings really speak to me and I want to discover more.

From: Paula Timpson — Jan 20, 2012

the good is around reflect upon its source, in the Light, true art radiates peace

From: Angela Court — Jan 20, 2012
From: Nigel Blackburn — Jan 20, 2012

The “Charge” that US citizens pay to enter Argentina is no less that what Argentines pay for a visa to get into the USA. At least US citizens do not have to travel to the Argentine consulate in Washington to get their visa. All Argentines have to travel from their home town to the US Consualte in Buenos Aires for interview before (perhaps) getting a visa to enter the USA, even for tourism. In fact it is hardly “Reciprocity” just a reminder of how the USA treats its visitors.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Jan 20, 2012

What is good and noticing the good are relative and they are in the eyes of the beholder. It depends on their interest as well. Having said that I think that people should have a sense of what makes the quality of a work of art either good or not so good: lines, proportions, perspective, balance and color value to name a few. Some notice the brush strokes, color harmony and techniques or styles. Often times they also base their opinion on the popularity of the artist and current trends. In this era where there are so many budding artists everywhere and so many venues where you can find works of art it is very confusing. Do people even know what they are talking about when they comment on works of art?

From: Frances Stilwell — Jan 20, 2012
From: Sharon Knettell — Jan 20, 2012

Thank-you posting work of the exquisite artist- Antonio Mancinci. Sadly the adjective ‘exquisite’ is very rarely used today in art reviews unless it refers to artists and art of the distant past. I am glad he persisted in painting beauty- it must have been difficult during his time when 20th Century art was rearing its ugly and overrated head.

From: Mary-Ann — Jan 21, 2012

“Seeing the good” is a healthy way to “view life”.

From: Sherri — Jan 22, 2012

Thank you so much for this article. Don’t know why, but I’ve always been so intimidated by art in museums – by dead or alive artists. But, I’m going to head down to the local museum with new eyes and intent. Thanks!!

From: Mary Jean Mailloux — Jan 24, 2012
From: Art and Fear — Jan 24, 2012
From: Rafe Terwinkel — Jan 25, 2012

My significant other always says, It just doesn’t seem quite right. She often cannot tell me why she’s not satisfied with my pictures, but after I ponder for a while I usually do. I seem more willing to overlook “trifling errors” that, unfortunately poison the composition. She, on the other hand, knows what she likes. (And, in her case, that doesn’t mean clowns on black velvet.)

From: Christie — Jan 25, 2012

Art & Fear is a book I have read more than once, full of wisdom and humor, and relevant to all “creative” people.

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Indian Point on Savary Island

acrylic painting by James Sclater, Aldergrove, BC, Canada

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