Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Signature of Man

Naturally, being in the art business myself, I am interested in what Chesterton has to say about the subject. I'm also interested in what Dale Ahlquist says Chesterton says about the subject, so I'm reading the chapter in Common Sense 101 called "The Signature of Man."

Ahlquist begins:

"It is one of the great ironies that the twentieth century's greatest writer--G.K.Chesterton, for those of you who haven't been paying attention--never went to college. He went to art school [which he never finished--ed.]. And his definition of art school is itself a work of art: 'An art school is a place where about threee people work with feverish energy and everybody else idles to a degree that I should have conceived unattainable by human nature.'"

Which might explain why most of the artists I know have never been to art school, and work very hard at the art they do because they are attempting to make some kind of a living at it.

"Art," says Ahlquist, "is about being articulate."

I like that. And maybe that's why I've never really understood abstract art, because it is so inarticulate. Not that it can't be beautiful. It might simply be a statement about color or form, and then, perhaps, it is being articulate.

Last weekend our art booth was next to one of the most articulate artists I've ever seen. In fact, his paintings had warnings all over them stating things like: "These are NOT photographs, these are paintings." and "There are NO PHOTOGRAPHS in this booth!" because, as I suppose, people are frequently fooled into thinking that his very articulate paintings are so photo-realistic that they might be photos.

But I actually thought that they were less artistic because they were SO articulate. I like photography, after all, that's what my husband does. But when a painting is mistaken for a photograph, is that good or bad?

The articulate painter won the "Best of Show" award at the art show, so I think the judges really liked his articulation.
Naturally, I wasn't one of the award judges, or a photographer would probably have won "Best of Show."


  1. It is my understanding that Chesterton hated Impressionism (anyone -- correct me if I am wrong), so I bet he would have liked paintings that could be mistaken for photographs.

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  3. I have a framed print of a photograph (by Georges Meis) in my living room which I initially had mistaken as a painting. (hahh!)

    So, was the photographer articulately inarticulate?


  4. I guess there are times when one just has to ask, is it beautiful? Does it lead you to comtemplate Truth? Love? God? Creation? Creator?

  5. And the answers to those questions are...?

  6. Wanted to link to a pic of a portrait that looks like a photo, but I couldn't find it.

    I like paintings that look like photos- they're amazing (to me anyway). I would think it would bring God to mind- as that ability to create is from Him, & the person hasn't buried their talent. Hopefully, too, the work & worker give glory to God.

  7. For me, responding to Impressionist art takes (an often unsuccessful)intellectual effort. Realistic painting hits me directly in the soul. I don't know if that's typical. (BTW, I recently returned from Rome. Coincidentally, I just posted a photo of an ultra-realistic street painting on my Funny Business blog.) Ciao.

  8. Even GKC would agree that all of art is a form of abstraction. I doubt that GKC disliked the impressionism of Monet or the Fauvism of Matisse. Their abstraction sought beauty and vitality. GKC would most likely dislike the nightmarish despair of Munch and the "floorless" abstraction of "Dada" popular in his later years.
    -- Furthermore - he would not admire Photorealistic art merely because it was photorealistic. He would want to see what the painting content is. Besides, GKC may actually bemoan photorealistic art because it will only show what can be seen by the "mechanical" eye and not the "human" eye; which can see more than what is merely apparent.
    - UncleAuberon - TJP

  9. Impressionism- depending on the subject & the artist's ability- can be nice. Like a scene through a wet windshield- or what I would end up with if I painted without my glasses on:p But liking or not liking is usually a matter of an individual's preference.

    Photography hasn't been around that long. & a photographer can only portray the subject (somewhat) accurately (it's not 3D.) If a person uses their God-given creative talent to alter the photo, creating something (again, hopefully) beautiful- that's art also.

    Like what Mr. B. does:)


  10. Photorealism, as an artistic school, may be like what GKC said of rhetoric: it's an art where you're trying to convince the audience you aren't an artist. Most painting, of course, involves convincing people you are an artist.
    I know a thing or two about photography (my sister's a film student), and also about studio art (she used to do that). The trick, in good photography, is to compose the shot so that, as in a painting, the arrangement of figures/objects leads the eye through it, and the attitudes captured reveal some truth about the subject.
    Watch, for instance, Sam Raimi's "Spiderman" movies, which use triangular composition all over the place. The reason for that is twofold: (1) Raimi's an under-rated genius; and (2) the movies, and their shots, are based on comic books. If you'd like to learn the principles of art, as taught in the Renaissance, learn to draw comics. The average panel of a comic is more faithful to the Renaissance tradition in art than anything taught in mainstream art schools. Not to mention they're much more interesting than most mainstream art.
    Speaking of underrated art, why is short shrift given to Norman Rockwell? Far from being the treacly nostalgia most people seem to think his work is, he seems, as far as I can tell, to be of the same tradition as Rembrandt. Has anyone noticed how ugly most of his people are? How about his incredible compositions? The painting, for instance, of the two girls flirting with the soda-jerk? The curve of the one girl's back would have done the Renaissance proud, and yet the whole flow of the piece is toward the gawky, dorky shop-boy. I challenge anyone to say that's not genius.

  11. Hmmm...I have an art degree. BFA in painting. I finished it in 1990, when I was 36 years old (long story).
    I learned that GKC was right, when he talked about the three persons working feverishly and the rest lollygagging. In fact he was over-generous.
    The one thing I think most amusing is that photorealism comes from the non-objective tradition, and is based on inhuman, or anti-human, tenets. IMHO, that is.


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