Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Fulcrum of Modernist Painting

While meandering through the retrospective Cezanne in Provançe, I overheard the following statement, “his earlier paintings looked more like something.” Such a comment is typical of pedestrian appreciation, which is not incorrect, just categorically arrogant, ignorant or misguided.

Art, by definition, should not be a work by the hand created to look like something “recognizable.” This idea was abandoned nearly two centuries ago with the invention of the photograph. Arguably, the idea occurred before that.

Cezanne represents many things in the history of art. Had it not been for his analytical dissection of form I ponder if Cubism would have occurred so soon thereafter. There is an immense consideration of how the paint is applied – simply look at the brushstrokes of his paintings in the 1880s for further evidence of this. And there is this obsession of something so inane as a mountain for a subject, painted again and again – a passion best understood by artists, and maybe Chicago Cubs fans. Barbara Rose has commented on several occasions how Cezanne is “the Greatest 20th Century artist of the 19th Century” (and Picasso the inverse). It is for the above reasons. It is for those reasons Don Kimes yelled in an Italian restaurant, in Todi, Italy, “I can’t get past this fucking Cezanne!” It is for those reasons Al Held, at a nearby table, picked up his glass of wine and walked over to this perfect stranger and said something equivalent of “you too?”

For the pedestrian, artists do not expect you to really “get” Cezanne. He is only the fulcrum of Modernist painting.

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