Skip to main content

Van Gogh on subjects in art

From a letter dated July, 1885:

Nothing seems simpler than painting peasants or ragpickers and other workers, but  - there are no subjects in painting as difficult as those everyday figures! As far as I know, not a single academy exists in which one can learn to draw and to paint a digger, a sower, a woman hanging a pot over the fire, or a seamstress. But every city of any importance has an academy with a choice of models for historical, Arabic, Lous XV – in a nutshell, every sort of figure, provided they do not exist in reality . . .

“But I should like to point out something perhaps worthy of consideration. All academic figures are put together in the same way, and, let us admit, ‘on ne peut mieux’—impeccably—faultlessly. You will have gathered what I am driving at—they do not lead us to any new discoveries . . .

“I can put it more succinctly—a nude by Cabanel, a lady by Jacquet, and a peasant woman not by Bastien Lepage but by a Parisian who has learned his drawing at the academy, will always convey the limbs and the structure of the body in the same way—sometimes charming, accurate in proportion and anatomical detail. But when Israels, or, say, Daumier or Lhermitte, draw a figure, one gets much more of a sense of the shape of the body, and yet—and that’s the very reason I’m pleased to include Daumier—the proportions will sometimes be almost arbitrary, the anatomy and structure often anything but correct in the eyes of the academicians. But it will live.”
 Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.


A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
Most of this is…