Monday, October 26, 2009

Cézanne & American Modernism

A periodic recurrence on the Quiltart list is carping about how someone's quilt is a knockoff of Mary Famous' work and how terrible that she (or he) has been so influenced by Ms. Famous, from whom she may or may not have taken a class. The list members throw up their virtual hands in horror as a beat-the-dead-horse discussion ensues about imitation: flattery or dishonesty? Should the piece be banned from a juried show? What are the copyright issues? Blah blah blah blah. Sigh. Have we forgotten about cross-pollination among/between friends or students/teachers? I have often mentioned the musical influences between Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein -- so strongly intertwined that sometimes, on hearing an unfamilar musical phrase, I am unsure for a moment which one of them composed the piece. A few notes later, it becomes obvious who it was...but the influence is clear. Ditto Hayden & Mozart. So what? Nobody complained that Picasso, Braque, and Juan Gris created work that was practically indistinguishable, one from the other. And nobody blackballed Cezanne for painting some pieces that were strongly influenced by Matisse, with whom he had studied and referred to as his master. This afternoon, Marty and I went to a fascinating exhibit at the Montclair (NJ) Art Museum. The exhibition, 10 years in the planning and organizing, showed the influence of Cézanne on many American artists -- some you might never have heard of, like Morgan Russell. And others like Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Maurice Prendergast, Max Weber, Arshile Gorky, and even Man Ray. The Cézannes were juxtaposed with similar paintings by the Americans who were studying Cézanne's methods of working. None is as good as the Cézannes, but some were quite well done. (I stealth-snapped this painting with my iPhone. All that pattern going on is clearly à la Matisse.) Bottom line for many of the Americans in the exhibition is that eventually, most of them found their own way of integrating some of those techniques/influences into their work as they found their voices. Some went in a totally different direction. But the artists who never stopped imitating; never found their own voices, are the ones we have never heard of. Lessons learned? If you are anywhere within driving distance of Montclair, NJ, go see this exhibit. I will go back at my leisure and see it again. It is on till January.

26 comments:

Sojourner Design said...

Rayna,

What a wonderful post. Very helpful to me as I wander to and fro, searching for my own voice.

Diane

Nina-Marie said...

Here!Here! I do tend to hit the delete button more when the THE LIST gets themselves all riled. Some like nothing more than to get their panties all in a twist! That said - this summer I listen to a lecture at QBL where the man called the quilt world incestuous. I thought that odd because I personally thought the whole art world had that kind of relationship. Does anybody create in a vacuum? I'm all for thinking and creating outside the box - but different doesn't always equal better. (that's my 2 cents LOL!)

Aleeda said...

Well said, Rayna. I saw a similar show with Picasso works at the Whitney a few years ago.

I have never met/seen an artist, who wasn't influenced by other artists, many of whom are their friends. No matter how much of another artist's influence is in a piece, we want to eventually bring some of our own creativity to the process. I think musicians own up to, (and get over it) being influenced more easily...the quote I've heard someone say is "after all, there are only eight notes." :-)

claire waguespack said...

well said, dear..

Martha C. Hall said...

I saw a similar exhibit last spring at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As artists we are influenced by other art, in all forms. Susan Shie told us at our workshop last summer to go ahead and enter our work from her class into a show if we wanted. She felt that even though she was teaching us, our work was OUR work, not hers. Despite her challenge I won't enter those pieces for jurying because any jurors will say they're derivative, not matter what Susan says! And, yes, all our class pieces looked unique even though we used the same techniques.

Sujatha said...

Great Post Rayna...often I wonder if I am taking umbrage under "influence"...but nice to know that someone else' influence also does inspire unique work...

JYA Fiberarts said...

I enjoyed this post and agree with your point of view. I sometimes read the list and yell, "STOP," but the carping goes on and on!

Dianne Hricko said...

Hi Rayna... sounds like a great show. IMO all art "learns" from what is out there to see. Perhaps the problem occurs when one is starting out from working from a kit or specific directions and then struggling to swim without those "safety nets". Regardless it is always a struggle and each individual learns from the experience. And as far as Picasso goes... I would have hated to be his friend... he would see you best ideas and then improve on them and get them out there before you could. OUCH that must have been difficult.

Sherryl said...

I have always been afraid that some of the work I think about doing is too much like something I saw somewhere. I think what we see triggers other ideas, but is it far enough away so that someone does not say it is a copy? I don't think you can create art in a vacuum and it is so true that the old masters copied and borrowed from each other regularly... I wonder if the art world in those days was in a uproar over that?
Finding my own voice.... I love that statement. I hate what it stands for. To me, it means that you have so narrowed down what you do that you no longer experiment. I enjoy trying new things and I hate repeating old things. I will probably never be considered a "serious" artist because of that. As long as I enjoy doing what I am doing, that will be enough.

Natalya said...

wise words! thank you for letting us know about the exhibit too, will have to wind my way to Montclair one day...

Mandi said...

I think we all must learn from what has come before. But what gets me a bit riled up is when you see whole groups of "art quilters" copying a trend or the work of a trendy artist and then never making it their own, or even trying to learn from the experience. It's just make the thing the same and then move to the next item/artist. It's rather boring and so unoriginal that its sad when they call themselves artists.

Leslie Tucker Jenison said...

Wise words, Rayna. With few exceptions, we simply do not work in a vacuum. We are influenced by many things in our individual environments, not the least of which is the work of our contemporaries (whether we are conscious of it, or not). The challenge is to personalize our influences into our own work.
I wish I had a trip planned to the northeast: I would love to see that exhibition!

ann said...

"Good Golly Miss Mollie", that was certainly well said.
thanks for taking the time, ann

Approachable Photos said...

I couldn't possibly add anything original to what's already been said (har-har, I made an ironic funny), because I agree with most of it.

We all wish we were innovators and sometimes, we will hit on something uniquely our own. But chances are good that when we do, and share it with the world, someone will say, "Holy cow, that's great- wonder if I can do that, too?" and a whole new trend is off and running.

In art school, or so I'm told, one of the most common teaching methods is to have students reproduce works of the masters. It's one of the ways artists learn. It's how I taught myself every danged thing I know about art.

My teachers- both the ones I've studied with live and those I've learned from remotely (like YOU, dear Rayna)- are my touchstones and my inspiration. When I stray so far off the path that what I'm doing no longer makes sense to me, I return to the comfort zone of the lessons taught to me by those who have come before me. It doesn't shame me to review what I've learned and then launch myself once again into the world.

Matisse and Picasso were close friends... who copied each others works fervently. No, I'm not shamed.

Thanks for this post, Rayna.

Antonija said...

A wonderfully thoughtful post.
I actually enjoy it when "The List" gets riled up about a topic. Always enlightening; sometimes infuriating.
I found your comparison between quilters and past masters interesting. No--no one complained that Cezanne's work is influenced by Matisse, or Mozart's by Papa Hayden. But neither did Matisse or Hayden develop patterns for, and package and sell their "work" for others to directly copy it.
That is the weird thing about quilters. (Mostly traditional) quilters are encouraged by articles in magazines, quilt shops on online vendors to buy kits and patterns, use specific fabric collections to make quilts, then represent the finished piece as thier own. Art quilters, too, offer patterns to copy! What do we do with that? Its a lot of fun, but not original by any means.
IMO, there are very few in this world who have the desire or passion to find their own true voice, and each one is the result of everything we've seen, heard and learned about in the past.

Linda Branch Dunn said...

At art school, learning from other, better artists is part of your JOB. Borrow, copy, transmute, discard - whatever - but know what's come before you, as well as what's happening now.

Linda Branch Dunn said...

And whenever I'm printing, I think of and thank you, Rayna. Very much.

brenco1 said...

Rayna, thank you for putting this "dithering" into prospective. Everyone has an opinion and that is what makes the world go around, I just prefer to hit "delete" and not join in the discussion. Do you remember the discussion on whether art quilts are art or are quilts art, or, etc., you get my drift. Thank you for sharing your opinion if it wasn't for the quilters and artist before me I would have no idea where to begin.

Eva said...

The irony about it is that many who consciously strive for originality often produce the most cliché and mainstream things, whereas those who learn honestly from their ideals turn out to be very genuine.
In general, in the "age of Aquaries", things have started floating. Never in history has there been a chance for worldwide communication in minutes. The idea of maintaining perfect copyright is a little wooden fence against a tsunami.
I'm not sure if I like it or not.

Terry said...

I find the quilt art world very incestuous and sadly lots of folks are copying the worst of what's out there instead of the best! Well, my opinion anyway. I always find that copying something you've seen in order to learn to see what the other artist saw (as opposed to just trying to duplicate something superficial) always leads to more originality rather than less. Most of us, even in copying mode, put our own mark on our work almost inspite of ourselves.

Marni Goldshlag said...

Wow! Sounds like an amazing exhibit! When in January does it end? Fred and I are probably heading north over New Years and I might need to add this one to the amazing exhibits at various New York museums.

Marni Goldshlag said...

Oh yeah - I went "no-mail" on QA while I was out of town and forgot to start it up again. Sounds like quite a brouhaha happened while I was gone.

Approachable Photos said...

Weird... I've been all over the Quiltart list site, have even subscribed to it, but for the life of me, I see no forums of discussion. What am I missing?

Debra said...

None of us were born knowing. We all had to learn & that usually involved having a teacher. I tend to think those who continue to do what the teacher says stay students and the rest get bored with following the example and strike out on their own.

I've found through blogging that others can recognize what is "me" or "my style" more quickly than I can recognize it. I often fight against what I think I like or feel but when I give in to my tastes and preferences, I am the happiest with my work. And, when I look around my environment it basically looks the same as my quilts.

Once when I was looking for a house my (now) daughter-in-law was going with me. When she got to the car she said something that has stuck with me. She said, "It doesn't matter what the house looks like now. You will make it look like your own when you move in." The gist of it for me was no matter what you give me to work with, I will make it my own and almost do it intuitively. I had never really thought of that until she brought it to my attention. It is also why I never (or hardly ever) ask anyone "What do you think?" or "What do you think I should do?" because they are not me and then the piece doesn't reflect me but begins to reflect them.

Kay said...

I agree that all artists, all people in general, are influenced by others. Tracing influence keeps critics, both professional and amateur, in business. However, I agree with Antonija that quilting is more imitative or incestuous than many other art forms. It began and continues to be based on patterns, at least for many. The acceptance of this makes it harder for people to find their own style and voice.

Thanks for the post. I wish I could see that show. There have been several with similar themes-- influence again, this time by museum curators!

arlee said...

It MUST be in the "ether"--i'd been "worrying" about this issue also. None of us were raised with wolves or on a deserted island. Even in cases where they didn't give a lot, they gave you something. You moved on from that. Absorption, assimilation, osmosis. Learning, expanding, deriving, experimenting, developing.