The making of Tessa’s Portrait
Once I started on Tessa’s portrait. I was struck by her pose and charisma, and the small chair from Honduras fitted in very well. Still, whatever I tried, I didn’t like the colors.
I took a different approach and found a photo with lavender flowers on a mountain top in the Pyrenees, with beautiful violets and greens. Using Photoshop I filled in the background. All of a sudden I let that go on into the dress. Gotche! Sketching with Photoshop is so much quicker and it brings you all kinds of new ideas.
I didn’t want the lavender look like flowery wallpaper to continue into the dress, which I had seen somewhere. It should look ‘real’, spatial. Flowering, life, the pleasure of youth, a world that is open to you. Just as she stands there, with that smile.
What had I got in to! Two differrent kinds of perspective had to be joined! The lavender plants themselves stood in the direction of an invisible horizon. But I didn’t want it to look like Tessa was standing among the lavender on that mountain. The dress with the lavender also made that impossible, because it made a standing plain surface. This whole idea turned out to go irritatingly slow, without any clue whatsoever for a happy turn out. Why oh why, you ms. Quixote! Only at the end would I know if I had succeeded. And if not: all those hours of work thrown away? But in my phantasy it still looked phantastic. Giddy up, Rocinante! It turned out to be a two years quest.
Artbook forgot modern realism
Recently I was given a Dutch translation of the book: Art – The whole story (editor: Stephen Farthing; first published in 2010).
Beautiful pictures, handy time bars. I can’t judge the quality, but the Dutch title and subtitle promise to tell “the whole story” and “the right perspective”. At once I look up the last chapters: does it include contemporary realism? No! No? No! Well, Lucian Freud is included. He is mentioned under European figurative painting, which according tot the time bar lasted from 1945 till 1966. What? Freud wasn’t dead then and went on painting with gusto and realism. Just as figurative art (also called realism) is going till this day.
Oh yes, hyper realism is included, dated 1968 till today. But, but, modern realism is so much more. This omission can be blamed on the taboo on realism. Well, let’s do something about that. We’ve got the internet, where you can see wonderful contemporary realist works of art. Just a handful:
Art historian Peter Trippi, among many things curator of the exposition of Lawrence Alma-Tadema in the Fries Museum and Waterhouse in the Groninger Museum, once pointed out a significant and curious phenomenon. On the one hand we see long queues at the museums featuring 19th-century realist art. Quite a few spectators would love to have a Breitner or Mary Cassatt on their own wall. Well, we can’t afford those, can we?
because on the other hand there is affordable top-quality contemporary realist art. We can buy those! Only, because of the taboo, this art is not prominent in the media. The potential buyer doesn’t know it. Or is reluctant because of this taboo.
Nevertheless modern realism is alive and kicking – so much so that it is quite a movement nowadays in the US. It was already well established in the Netherlands. And now look at Spain. And Japan. And.. and..
My thanks to all artists who permitted to post their images:
Vincent Desiderio, Joke Frima, Lorena Kloosterboer, Kenne Grégoire, Ricky Mujica, Teresa Oaxaca, Grietje Postma, Museum Møhlmann (Rob Møhlmann), MEAM (Aurelio Rodriguez Lopez, Grzgorz Gwiazda, Golucho).
Galería artelibre, “20 years, in 20×20”
Galería artelibre in Zaragoza, Spain, exists for 20 years as an on-line art gallery. Founder and director is José Enrique González. He is promoting modern realism thru all kinds of activities, especially the internationally renowned portrait competition ‘Modportrait’ – in co-operation with MEAM (Museu Europeo de Arte Moderno in Barcelona). He writes:
“From the very beginning we decided to create one of the first virtual galleries that would strongly support the figurative, realistic and hyper-realistic art.
Times were far from easy for this artistic current which was vilified, neglected and even forgotten by both, gallery owners and official bodies.
(…) Even though there is still a long way to go on this, this is the beginning of an unstoppable era.”
The “20 years” are being celebrated extensively, with works of art of 20×20 cms by 165 artists from all over the world. All framed in the same way, they are being exposed in beautiful rooms, shining like stars in the sky.
To be seen in Zaragoza in the beautiful Palacio Bantierra,
from March 7 till Apil 5.
In Barcelona in the swinging MEAM Museum, from July 9 till September 1st.
I am happy and proud that it includes my work “Our gingko in autumn”. And that I am part of Galería Artelibre, under “Grandes Autores”. https://www.artelibre.net/
Kunstzaal Van Heijningen
This art gallery in The Hague has created an on-line art platform, where my work is to be found as well.
Art Gallery Clatia
I was invited to participate on this on-line art platform from China. It includes internationally acclaimed artists, it looks real good! My page will come on-line shortly.
I was invited by the Fundación Cultural del Banco Central de Bolivia to expose in the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz, Bolivia, and the Centro de la Cultura Plurinacional in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. A great honor!
This is wonderful, because I lost my heart to Bolivia, where I worked for many years with lots of love as a sociologist, especially in developing educational material, and where I was able to study at the Escuela de Bellas Artes, the classical art academy in La Paz.
Imitatie en Verbeelding 4
Dit is de laatste aflevering van de lezing die ik in mei 2018 gaf, Imitatie en Verbeelding, voor TRAC2018 (The Representational Art Conference) in Nederland. Het betrof natuurgetrouw realisme, het spanningsveld tussen imitatie en verbeelding in de klassieke kunst, ook in zijn hedendaagse variant. Naturalisme is een van de vele uitingen van realisme, eentje met een hoge graad van imitatie. Een commentaar in facebook (28-10-2014) op een zeer realistisch schilderij spreekt boekdelen:
‘Ik kan niet begrijpen waarom een kunstenaar zo hard zou werken om een schilderij als dit te maken dat zoveel op een foto lijkt. Daar zijn camera’s voor. Ik zie hier de bedrevenheid van de kunstenaar, maar niet de ziel.’
Dit soort opinies hoor je vaak. Want zeg zelf: verdringt naturalisme niet de verbeelding? Exact! Geen ziel, geen artistieke creativteit! En daarover gaat deze discussie. Ik ga de mening bestrijden dat verbeelding in het naturalisme ontbreekt.
Deel 1 van de lezing staat in mijn blog van augustus 2017 (zie Archief).
Deel 2 in de blog augustus 2018 (zie Archief).
Deel 3 in de blog oktober 2018 (zie Archief).
Deel 4 , laatste deel, volgt nu.
19de Eeuws realisme
Twee eeuwen na de Hollandse Gouden Eeuw, in 1855, werd Courbet’s De Steenbrekers door De Parijse Salon afgewezen als zijnde vulgair. Dit klinkt bekend, denk aan de Hollandse Gouden Eeuw (zie archief 2018 oktober). Courbet huurde vervolgens een houten barak, doopte het met de naam Pavillon du Réalisme, en toonde daar zijn werk tijdens de Wereldtentoonstelling in Parijs. Hij schreef er meteen het Realistisch Manifest bij en muntte de term realisme, trouw aan de werkelijkheid, naar inhoud en vorm.
“Geen mythen”, zei Courbet, “Engelen? Ik heb ze nooit gezien.” Kijk naar de alledaagse werkelijkheid, naar gewone mensen. Verzinnen hoeft niet.
Courbet was geen dogmaticus, hij verzon wel eens wat. Maar hij sloeg wel degelijk een bres in de klassieke traditie waar ‘Inventio’ stond voor verheven onderwerpen en idealiseren. Waar de Hollanders nog het goddelijke in de natuur zagen, schafte Courbet de metafysische dimensie af.
Aan het eind van de 19de eeuw waren er allerlei varianten van realisme, denk aan Lepage, Bougueraux, Sargent, Waterhouse, Alma Tadema, Zorn, Repin. Ze waren in hun tijd beroemd maar verdwenen later uit de kunstgeschiedenis. Echter, realisme kan fantastisch zijn en geenszins inferieur aan het zo gewaardeerde impressionisme van die tijd.
Zie de Amerikaan Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900).
Of Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898). Hij schilderde bij uitstek natuurgetrouw. Als je Winter van hem in het echt ziet raak je overweldigd door de grootsheid en echtheid. Uiterst verfijnde kleur- en toon nuances in de sneeuw. Een rijkdom aan details in de schors. Veel afzonderlijk zichtbare takken en toch zie je het bos door de bomen. Shishkin versterkte daardoor het realiteitsgehalte.
Sommige collega’s noemden hem wel een ‘boekhouder der bladeren’.12) Kunstdocenten zijn vaak huiverig voor veel detaillering om begrijpelijke redenen. Maar als het goed gedaan is kun je detaillering vergelijken met muziek waar elke noot duidelijk wordt gespeeld zonder dat de melodie verbrokkelt, waar variatie in de herhalingen alleen maar verrijkt. Grootsheid sluit het detail niet uit.
Het ‘eigen handschrift’ van Shishkin? In Van Manders woorden: “geen bedenksels, geen vercieringhe”. Hij laat de natuur haar eigen taal spreken. Niets meer aan doen! Dat vereist grote vakbekwaamheid. Hoe succesvol hij ook was, critici vonden zijn werk te natuurgetrouw. Ja, want waar was de verbeelding? Die wist Shishkin echter heel knap in zijn subtiele kunst te verbergen. Daarover straks meer.
Hij werkte zo natuurgetrouw om de geziene kwaliteiten, dat adembenemende, te vangen. “Net echt”, zegt het publiek dan en ervaart vast iets van de oorspronkelijke beleving van de kunstenaar. Wat maakt deze schilderijen zo ontroerend? Dat kan toch niet alleen ‘Imitatie’ zijn, of wel?
Kijken, weergave en beleving
Niet dat ik mij op het niveau wil plaatsen van deze meesters, maar sprekend vanuit mijn eigen ervaring, merkte ik dat het schilder proces in mijn hoofd begint zodra schoonheid in de buitenwereld mijn oog treft:… deze kleur moet het zijn… dat patroon… dit er in… dat er uit…
Sfeer en beleving zetten zich vast in het geheugen. Ik zie almaar meer van dat wat me zo trof, de architectuur van de boom, nuances, gradaties, eigenaardigheden. Een selectie natuurlijk want alle takken zijn niet te schilderen. Die selectie komt ook voort uit mijn persoonlijkheid. Er ontstaat een beeld in mijn geest.
Bij het schilderen werkt de oorspronkelijke beleving als een voortstuwende kracht en als strenge beoordelaar: is die sfeer er nog? Pak dan die kwast, die kleur. De beleving verenigt zich met de techniek. Zo komt het gevoel in het schilderij.
Allerlei problemen moeten worden opgelost. Vorm en kleur werken op een paneel anders dan in het echt. Stel een oneindige ruimte waarin een boom met kale takken zich uitstrekt. Het schilderij heeft echter slechts een rechthoekje tot zijn beschikking. Dat moet worden goedgemaakt. Want juist de oneindige ruimte moet worden opgeroepen, dat bepaalt de sfeer. Een moeilijkheid daarbij is dat de verf van de geschilderde lucht het echte licht terugkaatst, terwijl de ruimte in werkelijkheid juist mede voelbaar wordt door het licht in de lucht, door stofdeeltjes die licht vangen.
Dwalend door de voorstelling moet het oog van de kijker ongehinderd kunnen genieten. Daarom is er een harmonieus abstract patroon als het ware onder de voorstelling gelegd, met aandacht voor richtingen, licht en donker, evenwicht, etc.
Dat patroon kan gebieden takken weg te halen of krom te buigen. Soms maak ik een foto van het onaffe schilderij en bewerk die in Photoshop; dat gaat sneller dan schetsen.De illusie van ruimte op het platte vlak kan dwingen tot het veranderen van kleuren in de verte ook al waren ze als zodanig niet waargenomen.
Kortom, in natuurgetrouw realisme brengt de schilder bewust vervormingen aan, maar zo onopvallend mogelijk. Het moet verborgen zijn.
Hoe groter de vakbekwaamheid, hoe treffender de beleving wordt belichaamd. Onopvallende vervormingen zijn in veel klassieke kunstwerken te vinden. Persoonlijke gevoelens? Zeker, heel persoonlijk, in de betekenis van met huid en haar betrokken zijn. Wat de kunstenaar wel degelijk toevoegt is de eigen betovering die werd ondergaan, de schoonheid, de ontroering, met het kunstzinnig talent aan het roer. Ook bij natuurgetrouw realisme.
Wie bij het Straatje in Utrecht in tegenlicht zegt ‘Oh, dit ken ik al’ loopt meteen door en ondergaat de schoonheid niet. Dat is voorbehouden aan de aandachtige kijker met een open mind. Zij of hij wandelt in gedachten door die straat, met die fijne atmosfeer. Hoe was dat bereikt? Door alle soorten keuzes die de kunstenaar maakte. Hij zorgde dat ze verborgen bleven.
Is imitatie alleen maar virtuositeit? Het is meer. Want hoe kan het dat de kunst van de Hollandse Gouden Eeuw nog steeds miljoenen mensen betovert? De schilders zelf waren betoverd door schoonheid en drukten dat bekwaam uit in hun werk.
Dennis Dutton stelt in The Art Instinct 13) dat liefde voor schoonheid is aangeboren. Zo lang dat instinct bestaat, zullen er altijd mensen zijn die door schoonheid worden gegrepen en kunstenaars die gedreven zijn om de schoonheid die in de werkelijkheid is gevonden te re-creëren.
Alsjeblieft, geen dogma’s. Er leiden vele wegen naar schoonheid; hedendaags naturalisme heeft recht op een eigen plaats in kunst en kunstgeschiedenis.
12) Henk van Os, Voor het eerst: Russische landschappen, p.39. In: Patty Wageman & David Jackson (ed.), Het Russisch Landschap. Groninger Museum, Groningen & The National Gallery, London, s.d.
13) Dennis Dutton, The Art Instict. Beauty, Pleasure & Human Evolution. New York 2009.
Naast het boek ‘Leonardo. Guía de arte y artistas’ publiceert Galería Artelibre jaarlijks ‘Arte y Libertad’ met zo’n honderd kunstenaars, wereldwijd. Dat kwam eind 2018 uit en mijn werk staat er ook in!
Deze galerie zetelt in Zaragoza, Spanje, en wil een venster zijn voor kunstenaars uit alle windstreken. De galerie is virtueel en heeft een site waarop vele kunstenaars staan, www.artelibre.net. Mijn pagina is: http://www.artelibre.net/en/node/27050.
Met groot enthousiasme worden allerlei activiteiten ondernomen. Zoals het publiceren van boeken, het organiseren van een jaarlijkse portret competitie, geheten Modportrait, samen met het MEAM. Of het lesgeven in het atelier van de galerie in Zaragoza, het organiseren van exposities (op andere lokaties).
Spreek je over de galerie dan zeg je José Enrique González.
In november vorig jaar bezochten mijn echtgenoot J en ik Galería Artelibre om ‘Onze Ginko in de herfst’ in te leveren voor de expositie ‘20 años, en 20×20’ ter ere van het twintig jarig bestaan.
Er gaan 150 kunstenaars meedoen, allemaal met een werk van 20x20cm. Je kunt ook zeggen, de 20 staat voor twintig jaar ijveren voor realisme. Dat steelt mijn hart. Net zoals het ijveren van Museum Møhlmann in Appingedam of het MEAM in Barcelona.
José Enrique González was heel gastvrij en toonde een grote collectie kunstwerken. Hij deed de techniek van ‘droge olie’ voor. Je kunt er als het ware mee tekenen; je moet het penseel met olieverf net zo lang deppen tot de verf droog aanvoelt; daarna kun je ermee op papier werken, zie Tetuán II.
We konden ook de opening van de prachtige internationale expositie ‘Algo más que realismo’ (Iets meer dan realisme) in Zaragoza bijwonen. Ook die expositie is jaarlijks.
Kortom, het bezoek aan Galería Artelibre was hartverwarmend en inspirerend!
In May 2018 I gave a lecture, Imitation and Imagination, at TRAC2018 (The Representational Art Conference) in The Netherlands. The lecture was on naturalistic realism, the area of tension between imitation and imagination. Naturalism has a very high degree of imitation. See for example a comment with regard to a pretty realistic painting, on Facebook (28-10-2014):
“I can’t understand why an artist would work so hard to make a painting like this that is so much like a photo. That’s what cameras are for. I can see the artist’s skill, but not the soul.”
Because really: isn’t imitation getting in the way of imagination? It is a widespread idea: naturalism lacks imagination. But, I will contest that opinion.
Part 1 of the lecture: earlier blog (archive, August 2017)
Part 2 in blog, August 2018
Part 3 is following now (elaborated)
Forgotten Dutch Golden Age art theories disclosed
Let us jump to the year 2000. Rembrandt. The Painter at Work is published. It’s a real art treasure from the Dutch Golden Age, expertly and fascinatingly revealed by Ernst van de Wetering. It is nothing less than the forgotten art theories about realism. These had been overlooked for about three centuries. The artists of those days proved to be theoretically very well grounded. This had sharpened their skills and insights. Their world fame was’t for nothing!
This was especially true for Rembrandt, who pondered, investigated and experimented a lot and developed new insights himself.
That was an awareness that came to me when I read the book with increasing amazement. How could it be that those ideas weren’t known to us? I wrote to Ernst van de Wetering that I would very much like to learn more about those theories, but didn’t have the time to read the original texts in Old Dutch. I didn’t have to: he sent me more unpublished texts until he published Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking in 2016. Again, I was stunned: what a rich source for the visual arts, so many intelligent ideas in treatises on art theory were brought to light!
Professor Van de Wetering said to me that many people came to tell him that his books were a revelation to them, even if they believed themselves to be well versed in Rembrandt and seventeenth century art. Just like me!
Now let us jump back to that age, the seventeenth century.
Art treasure of the Dutch Golden Age
A new realism originated in Dutch painting, already in the sixteenth century, but especially in the seventeenth century, known as the Dutch Golden Age.
The artists of that age stressed the importance of imitation and observation. Of course they included classical elements such as perspective or anatomy.
Painter-author Karel van Mander described a great many natural phenomena in Het Schilder-boeck. 3)
Rembrandt’s former pupil Samuel van Hoogstraeten also wrote an important manual, Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst: anders de zichtbaere werelt. 4) These books belonged to the cultural baggage of every self-respecting painter.
It makes for fascinating reading, certainly also for contemporary realists. It stimulates awareness of many aspects of observation and representation. You can read all about it in Rembrandt. The Painter at Work, and Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking, and other publications by Ernst van de Wetering.
Essential was to create space in order to get the illusion of reality.
Besides perspective, an important element was the ‘perceptibility’. It was found that putting a piece of sky-blue paper against a sky of the same color, you would still notice that the piece of paper is close to you, and the blue sky infinitely distant because of the relative roughness of the paper. The application of the discovery of perceptibility would contribute to three-dimensionality. 5) Imagine painters pondering that! The idea that air has substance, that it forms a body over a short distance, and that its presence should be suggested around every object to create spatiality is wonderful.
Van de Wetering: “The young Rembrandt had already applied this insight with great subtlety in the ‘Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”. He argues:
“It is only when one consciously takes notice of these extremely refined modulations of light and tone from one head and collar to the other, from front to back, that it becomes clear that this is one of the main reasons for the strikingly atmospheric effect of Rembrandt’s paintings.” 6)
Rembrandt applied this phenomenon quite often, see the details of his Night Watch. You can see it comparing when you compare his Night Watch with similar paintings nearby it, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
There was also a treatise on the degrees of shadows and what pigments should be used in painting them. Or the theory of the numerical diminution of a light beam falling into a room. 7) Vermeer was probably familiar with it, as is witnessed by the interior light in his paintings. He created a genial combination of spaciousness and intimacy.
These examples show the exceptional level of knowledge among the painters of that age. I don’t mean that we should copy these theories, but we can learn from them, and even improve our art.
Realism, banal, vulgar
Another writer on this period is Boudewijn Bakker. He tells that the extreme realism of the Dutch invited criticism by the Italians: imitation, okay, but what about imagination? After all, art should lift reality to a higher level, creating perfect beauty, idealize. The Dutch subject matter was deemed banal, vulgar.
How this Dutch realism was seen even in the 18th century is shown in this caricature by the English artist Thomas Rowlandson: A Dutch Academy.
Classical art theory taught that students should draw after antique statues, since these had perfect proportions. Samuel Van Hoogstraten, who later turned to a more classicist style, complained that Rembrandt brought ugly models into his studio.
“Indeed, I bemoan my lot when I look over my old Academy drawings, that we were taught these so sparingly in our youth; since it is no more labor to imitate a graceful posture than an unpleasant and disgusting one.” 8)
Rembrandt really went far… In one of his self-portraits I detected a pimple on his left cheek. He must have had fun painting that ‘truth’.
I told this to my dear teacher Diederik Kraaijpoel. ‘Without style there is no art’, he had written in one of his books; that makes sense: reality itself has no style. So, such a pimple, such far-reaching realism, I asked, isn’t that going beyond style? Well, he could not believe that Rembrandt had actually painted a pimple on his cheek… And about this far-reaching naturalism he said: it’s never a copy, the artist always makes a selection, it is impossible to paint all.
Answer: a ‘find’
Karel van Mander answered the Italian criticism by stating: “In life one finds all”, there is no better textbook. In the ‘book of nature’ the visible creation is seen as the second or even first ‘book’ of divine revelation, next to the Holy Scriptures.
Inventio, Imagination, can also be seen as ‘a find ‘, something that is found in nature after long and sharp observation. Intensive looking is the entrance key to beauty. Beauty is enclosed in reality. Reality is created by God. 9)
As soon as possible the painter should start to work after nature. And what about style, maniera? His advice: don’t make things up, “go from ornamentation towards truth!”. Fabrications could affect the illusion of reality. The painter should not stylize or idealize, but characterize. 10)
For Rembrandt, ‘truth’ was life, to be captured in its ‘most natural liveliness’.
Van de Wetering remarks that the painting Young woman in a picture frame gives the impression that the young woman is about to place her right hand on the frame, even the earring seems to be moving, life is caught in the act.11)
Well, the Dutch diverged from current art theory. Imitation was highly appreciated. But invention or imagination was never far away. Beauty in truth, intensely observed by the artist, was transferred into the work of art.
For me, it was like homecoming. I had always felt that way.
1) Roodnat, Joyce. “Met drift geschilderde ‘kleine onderwerpen’ “. NRC, 2018-02-28.
2) Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Volume 1. Introduction by George Bull. London, 1987. p. 19-20.
3) Mander, Karel van. Het Schilder-Boeck. Haarlem,1604.
4) Hoogstraten, Samuel van. Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst: anders de zichtbaere werelt. Davaco Publishers, s.l., 1969.
5) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter at Work. Amsterdam, 2000. p. 183.
6) Id., p.187.
7) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. Amsterdam, 2016. p.157.
8) Emmens, J.A.. Rembrandt en de regels van de kunst. Amsterdam, 1979. p.220.
9) Bakker, Boudewijn. “Natuur of kunst? Rembrandts esthetica en de Nederlandse traditie.” In: Christiaan Vogelaar e.a., Rembrandts landschappen. Zwolle, 2006. p.163.
10) Id., p.167, 166.
11) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. Amsterdam, 2016. p.263.
In May 2018 I gave a lecture, Imitation and Imagination, at TRAC2018 (The Representational Art Conference) in The Netherlands, together with Ernst van de Wetering, the world’s foremost authority on Rembrandt. His contribution was about Rembrandt and assessing quality. He compared works of Rembrandt with works of his pupils. His lecture was based on:
A CORPUS OF REMBRANDT PAINTINGS Volume V Chapter IV with the title: On quality: Comparative remarks on the function of Rembrandt’s pictorial mind (pp. 283 – 310). Freely accessible in The Rembrandt Database:
My lecture was on naturalistic realism, the area of tension between imitation and imagination in the classical art, including the contemporary variant.
Naturalism is one of many expressions of representational art, one with a very high degree of imitation.
See for example a comment with regard to a pretty realistic painting, on facebook (28-10-2014):
“I can’t understand why an artist would work so hard to make a painting like this that is so much like a photo. That’s what cameras are for. I can see the artist’s skill, but not the soul.”
This prejudice is often heard. Because really: isn’t imitation getting in the way of imagination? Exactly! No soul, no artistic creativity. And that’s what this discussion is all about.
I will contest the opinion that naturalism lacks imagination.
Part 1 of the lecture is in my earlier blog (see archive, august 2017).
Part 2 of Imitation and Imagination is following now.
However, the criticism does fit in with my doubts about my own work. For years I was haunted by questions:
● Is naturalistic realism actually the same as copying?
● Is it a lower form of art? Boring?
● A lot of people enjoy this kind of work, but that doesn’t mean it is relevant art.
● Does it add something? After all, reality, the real world, is already there. You should do something to it, with it.
● Shouldn’t you put your personal feelings into your art?
Good art, who judges?
Contemporary realism in the Netherlands has been flourishing for about thirty years now. This is exceptional in Europe. Nevertheless the official art institutions and the media mostly neglect its existence. After thirty years this is strange. The wider public is deprived of a cultural treasure.
Recently a journalist wrote in a prestigious Dutch newspaper that realism can be dangerous, in the context of great skill. Yes, virtuosity is a must, she writes, but the comment ‘It looks like a photo’ is not a compliment. ‘It looks like the real thing’ even less. The artist has to expose himself, otherwise his painting will be only an illustration, not more than a picture. She mentions Henk Helmantel, who said not to be in search for expressing his personal feelings.1 In her interpretation he is doomed to produce mere illustrations, far from high art.
Nothing against personal feelings in art. It is a romantic concept and we have seen great romantic art. But there seems to be a consensus that the personality, the feelings of the artist are primordial, while other approaches are excluded or rejected.
Although it’s not quite the same, this reminds me of Giorgio Vasari who pointed out that besides imitation and invention, good art should possess style and maniera, a personal artistic elegant style.2 True, a style of one’s own will add something to the art.
Well, you could say that my development until now just seems to have taken the wrong direction. Some twenty years ago I made The painter and her model, see the picture on the left. On the right a recent work: Daphne. It went from a loose touch, free colors and free imagination to naturalism.
And naturalism is less focussed on style and handwriting.
Yes, in my beginner’s years I experimented a lot and I often had a personal spontaneous handwriting. The works of that period will never be dubbed copies or photos. Why on earth did I choose a more naturalistic way of painting? It only complicated things!
The crazy thing was: I couldn’t help myself. More and more I wanted to celebrate the beauty I had seen, to make it my own.
Could it be that the history of art had witnessed earlier discussions about this question? I started on a search.
The Ancient Greeks had a great appreciation of the naturalistic detail. Birds should see painted grapes as real and try to pick them. An anecdote about Apelles clearly illustrates their admiration for imitation. The horse he painted was so life-like, that it is said that the horse of Alexander the Great started whinnying spontaneously on seeing it.
The Greeks had clear views on imagination. The artist should have in mind the Platonic Idea, the perfect form, the supernatural beauty of the object he wanted to portray. This did not come about automatically, because models were only ordinary mortals. Even the most beautiful human body could have fat ankles. Well, in that case you would take somebody else’s ankles!
Idealizing thus, the artist would transcend pure imitation.
So there we have it: Imitation and Imagination…
But suddenly I jumped up. I read about the sculptor Lysippus, who worked at Alexander’s court. He wanted to convey what he saw in a naturalistic manner! Not following the current rules for perfect beauty, developed by the old masters, but his own observation.
We don’t know much for sure about Lysippus. But the sculpture attributed to him, Alexander the hunter, clearly shows a naturalistic realism. Whoever made it, this artist was capable of far-reaching imitation.
I was happy about this Lysippus.
1) Roodnat, Joyce. “Met drift geschilderde ‘kleine onderwerpen’ “. NRC, 2018-02-28.
2) Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Volume 1. Introduction by George Bull. London, 1987. p. 19-20.
Imitation and Imagination will continue in the coming blogs.
Galería Artelibre ’20 years, in 20×20’
Galería Artelibre invited me to participate in its virtual gallery, in the category of Grandes Autores. This Spanish gallery has artists on its site like Anders Zorn, Natalie Holland, David Kassan.
It is promoting realism internationally, already for twenty years, and that is heart-warming, I think! A special exhibition will celebrate their twenty years anniversary, “20 years, in 20×20” (all works will be 20x20cm). It will travel through Spain, and also visit MEAM, Museo Europeo de Arte Moderno, in Barcelona. My work will be part of it!
Calendar, diary, cards
Art editor Bekking&Blitz has published art diaries and calendars for 2019. A work of mine figures between artists like Sorolla, Sargent, Kenne Grégoire.
In Brugues I saw an art card of my work in the Groeningemuseum, but it was forbidden to take a photo of it. I explained that it was a work of mine, but no way. Still, I disobeyed and the officer kindly pretended not to see it.
In the Drents Museum of Assen there was another art card, and my book. Stimulating! This helps the brand awareness. It’s the small things that count!
TRAC2018, The Representational Art Conference in Holland
Gezien van de Riet. With an article by Lorena Kloosterboer
TRAC2018, The Representational Art Conference, was in The Netherlands, for the first time in Europe!
Part of the event is the Classical Art exhibition, Zaailand, Frisian Gallery, Leeuwarden, may 1 – june 24. My ‘Dunes in the snow’ is there too.
Some impressions of TRAC2018:
Ernst van de Wetering and myself presented joint lectures. Ernst van de Wetering on judging the quality of an artwork, comparing paintings with the same theme by Rembrandt and by his pupils.
The next Blog is about my lecture ‘Imitation and Imagination’.
Now a review on TRAC2018 by Lorena Kloosterboer for Poets and Artists: click on the link: https://www.poetsandartists.com/magazine/2018/5/11/kloosterboer-on-trac-2018
Her article, A movement is sweeping the art world, is translated into Dutch and Spanish by Jeroen Strengers on this blog.
By Gezien van de Riet
With a contribution by Joke Frima about the Da Vinci Initiative
FACE: Figurative Art Convention and Expo, together with
TRAC: The Representational Art Conference,
Miami, November, 8-11, 2017
Continuum, my dream
A movement! Classical tradition cast in a modern mould, high notes for craftmanship, thinking about what you make –content and form– about your contribution to culture. Becoming stronger together. Moored in official art history. That was my dream, ever since the early 80’s, when I seriously started out drawing and painting.
The classical tradition has known many currents, ever since the Greek Antiquity. Now, a contemporary one is being added to it. Daniel Graves, founder of the Florence Academy of Art, also speaks of a continuum, in stead of a tradition. What all these currents have in common is the representation of the visual reality. That requires a great deal of craftmanship; only think of painting the sky or space: paint is something else… bronze is not the same as flesh…
Beauty, including that of the awe-inspiring or dramatic sort, is also part of that continuum. Not just technique, not just content, but a mutual influencing of both was and is the goal. Art with a capital A, why not?
TRAC2014 in California
In 2014 I first glimpsed that that dream could become reality. I saw a message on Facebook about TRAC2014 in California, The Representational Art Conference, aimed at laying a theoretical foundation for the contemporary classical tradition. I had to go there! Words like ‘Renaissance’ and ‘movement’ floated thru an enchanted conference room with more than 300 enthusiasts. Some-one next to me burst into tears spontaneously. Finally out of the isolation that so many had experienced, finally a broad appreciation for the figurative, for realism! Internationally. At the time it was already called ‘the most important movement in today’s art world’. Would it last?
Back in Holland I passed on the message to as many interested people as possible. Read more in my earlier blog ‘TRAC2014. Movement!’ I longed for a TRAC in the Netherlands, in Europe.
TRAC2015 in California
The message resounded among several colleagues. But tickets and hotel didn’t come cheap. It was great that Tom Hageman, Director of the Classical Academy in Groningen, and artist Joke Frima could attend TRAC in 2015. I was supposed to give a lecture on true to nature realism, but unfortunately I fell ill.
It was a pity that in 2016 TRAC couldn’t continue in the same way. A critical moment.
FACE-TRAC-2017 in Miami
But now there’s FACE, the world’s first Figurative Art Convention & Expo! The dream of a movement has come true, the founders say. FACE aims at the corner stones of representational (or figurative, or realist) art. During the event you could participate in model drawing and painting, under the guidance of internationally famed artists, like Max Ginsburg, Steven Assael or Daniel Gerhartz, who also gave demonstrations. And there were lectures.
I had a strange feeling sometimes. On the one hand the focus was on endeavor for quality and vision in connexion with the past, the grand masters of the classical tradition – a strengthening of your own endeavor. On the other hand there was a view at the future: how to connect to a younger generation with a completely different cultural luggage; what does it mean for art that the future human being will be much more artificial, that the latest reproduction techniques make ‘slow art’ obsolete.
What was interesting: FACE invites TRAC to be part of this event. TRAC can continue to build at the theoretical foundation of representational art.
Again there were more than 300 participants, among those Joke Frima and myself from Holland, who now may carry the honorary title of ‘Founding Members’.
It is not just painters and sculptors who participate in the movement. Especially in the U.S. there are all kinds of initiatives of art lovers and art historians, aimed at spreading and deepening the classical tradition, basing it in society and institutions, spreading consciousness to a broader audience, because –let’s face it– artists themselves just don’t have the time for all that!
FACE will be a yearly event now.
Founding fathers: Eric Rhoads, Peter Trippi and Michael Pearce
Eric Rhoads, founder of FACE, CEO of art magazines like Fine Art Connoisseur, Plein Air magazines, yearly Plein Air Conventions & Expos, and more. FACE selects the best artists who also have the gift to encourage and inspire others thru their demonstrations and lessons. See also Fine Art Connoisseur of December 2017.
Peter Trippi, co-founder of FACE, editor-in-chief of Fine Art Connoisseur and co-curator of the Alma Tadema exhibition earlier this year in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, and later in London and Vienna; curator of ‘The American Dream’ in the Drents Museum in Assen, the Netherlands, and more.
They started the magazine Fine Art Connoisseur in 2005. In 2011 they took the initiative for a movement. Some twenty-odd influential artist of world renown were invited to a secret meeting. Sadly enough it could not exceed the level of individual interests. Disappointed, Eric and Peter concluded that the time was not yet ripe.
Nonetheless, the idea trickled thru to:
Michael Pearce, painter and professor at the art faculty of the California Lutheran University. In 2012 he started TRAC, together with Michael Lynn Adams, who quit after 2015.
Pearce described the reason for producing the conference: “Until we did TRAC, there were literally no conferences at all about representational art – which is a strange absence, because there was then and is now a huge amount of representational art, and a very large community of people who are interested in representational art. It seemed like a big gap that needed filling.”
Themes at TRAC
Of the many themes touched upon by TRAC, I mention here: post-modernism and the contemporary classical tradition; the importance of beauty; neuro-esthetics; connexion to the younger generation; ethno-centrism in art critic; art education at school.
Our team had a fantastic time at the Figurative Art Convention & Expo and we can't wait until next year! Thank you to all of the faculty and attendees for making this possible. It was a memorable experience. 🙂 #FACE17
Geplaatst door Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine op Dinsdag 14 november 2017
The Da Vinci Initiative: Changing the Culture of Art Education
A report of the lecture by Amanda Theis, TRAC2017
Amanda Theis tells us passionately about her work at the Da Vinci Initiative (DVI), that aims at skill-based education. DVI makes up educuation programmes and the idea is to share and use these in secondary schools. It is aimed at the U.S. school system.
DVI has a YouTube channel with 30 movies of 5 minutes.
Free to watch at: http://www.davinciinitiative.org/
In Amanda’s experience, most art and manual skills teachers believe that drawing, if it has to do with art, cannot be taught. She gathered this wide-spread idea during weekend refreshment courses and summer schools (compulsory for U.S. teachers).
The most important criticism on DVI’s view is that skill-based education kills creativity. But Amanda points out that skills are just tools at the servicie of creativity.
She believes it’s prudent not to talk about modernism during work shops and courses. After being exposed to skill-based education, people are able to draw their own conclusions. Many people actually are visually illiterate, and skill-based eduction opens a new dimension for them.
To parents of children who want to study this kind of art, and who may be concerned that there is no future in it, she says: “Skill-based education will not give you a degree, but it wil give you jobs.” Amanda herself has undergone training by Juliette Aristides in Seattle. These kind of ateliers don’t provide a teaching license in America. That can only be obtained at university. The problem is, that art faculties in universities don’t provide for skill-based education. Amanda would like to hear from the participants where she can refer children and young people to for a good atelier training.
TRAC2018 in the Netherlands, first country in Europe!
May 1-4, 2018, in Leeuwarden.
Follow also on internet and my blog.
Next blog will continue with ‘Imitatio et Inventio’.
Translation NL-EN by Jeroen Strengers