Painting

Portraits: No Politics, Just Pictures

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled the official presidential portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama last month. Much of the fun of it was in reading pundit responses to the paintings. I resisted adding to the chatter. But so many people emailed to ask what I thought of the duo, it is simpler to do one post than multiple repetitions. Besides, now that the heat of the moment has cooled is a good time to take a second look at the portraits unfiltered through a political lens. Continue Reading
The Obamas' Portraits & Identity Politics

At the end of each presidency the Smithsonian commissions an official portrait of the outgoing royals for the National Portrait Gallery. Museum curators advise, suggesting names to suit the sensibility and self-image of the couple. Barack and Michelle Obama have each selected their individual immortalizers. Kehinde Wiley will collaborate with the former president on his own iconography. Amy Sherald will work with the former first lady on hers. Final commentary awaits delivery of the finished products. Meantime, there are things to be learned by looking at the signature styles that brought Mr. Continue Reading
Bruce Dorfman. Santa Fe Silver (2010). Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.

An artist who seeks subject matter is like a person who can’t get up in the morning until he understands the purpose of life. Fairfield Porter
Porter could easily have said the same about segments of art’s audience. There lingers a tired complaint that unless some aspect of the human condition presents itself—some scene, narrative, or vignette—an artwork appears empty, dehumanized, self-absorbed. Among this species of beholders, interest is tethered to subject matter. The art of a work is little more than a carrier for the anecdotal burden of the piece. Continue Reading
John Walker at Alexandre Gallery

In Painting and Reality, Etienne Gilson argued that painting should be experienced on its own terms. That is to say, aesthetically. He insisted that audiences greet art without thinking of it as something to be understood, decoded, or interpreted. A painting is not an essay, not a set of propositions. Whatever literary, philosophical, or narrative content might be claimed for a work, the art of the thing lies elsewhere and exists to be welcomed for its own sake. To do otherwise, he wrote, is to turn a work of art into a book. Continue Reading
El Greco, Messiah of Modernism

Among Platonists, man is mind, intellect, above all else. Man is ordained to think. His province is learning and true wisdom. The rest is flesh and appetite, or, in the phrasing of Timaeus , an Eros of begetting. A common, ignoble thing that resides in the lower precincts of the body and pulls us earthenward, away from our celestial affinity. Christopher Johnson, in the comment section to the previous post, alludes to that ancient polarity. Speaking of El Greco’s St. Martin and the Beggar, he notes that the painting transports the scene from a mere act of charity to an encounter between the mortal and the divine. Continue Reading