In reading the essay I was reminded of a comment I heard a choreographer make recently regarding the "difficulty" of appreciating contemporary dance. I'm paraphrasing: 'people, stop intellectualizing! Do you like it? If so, great. There's nothing to understand and there won't be a test after the performance.' But, beginning with Abstract Expressionism, painting does become about intellectualizing. (Of course, the visual arts have always involved conceptual considerations, but in the second half of the XX century the dominant trend becomes a kind of self-immolation: look? see: Nothing here!) There often isn't much to look at. Inside jokes. No one needs to go to a museum to see a big monochrome canvas. It's just as well, and more convenient, to simply have it described for you. Now, Van Dyck. That's another matter. His Portrait of Frans Snyders is a masterpiece I could contemplate again, and again, and again. (The zoomable image available at the Frick Museum website is a wonder! How it brought me back to my encounter with Snyders at the museum: Aldrich, I am me. Who are you? I think! Do you think? What do we share?!) The notion that one's face is a window to the soul is affirmed with such mastery. When I contemplate a work such as this it performs the healthy miracle of handing me a most useful illusion: that I actually know something of what it is to be human. Velázquez performs the same miracle, but with a style and technique that seems to me quite noticeably different. Velázquez, too, reaches for the soul, and never more so than in the self-portrait he incorporates into Las Meninas. I can imagine a conversation between Van Dyck, Velázquez, and Warhol. Van Dyck and Velázquez would want to talk about craft, but Andy might keep pushing things towards Kraft. Above, Van Dyck's portrait. (Another day, I would like to consider the paired portrait Van Dyck did of Margareta Snyders, Frans' wife.)
Warhol meets Van Dyck
Last night I read an interesting essay in The New Yorker about Andy Warhol. The essay, by Louis Menand, reviews Warhol's career and reevaluates his role in the emergence of Pop Art. (Actually, one of the most fascinating details for me was the bit of outrageous moralizing performed by Time magazine on the occasion of the shooting suffered by Warhol at the hands of a paranoid schizophrenic in 1968: "Americans who deplore crime and disorder might consider the case of Andy Warhol, who for years has celebrated every form of licentiousness. Like some Nathanael West hero, the pop-art king was the blond guru of a nightmare world, photographing depravity and calling it truth. He surrounded himself with freakily named people–Viva, Ultra Violet, International Velvet, Ingrid Superstar–playing games of lust, perversion, drug addiction and brutality before his crotchety cameras... As he fought for life in a hospital, pals insisted that he had not brought it on himself." Oh my! Little Andy brought down Western Civilization all by his lonesome!