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.