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 Post subject: Whistler on Whistler
PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 7:52 pm 
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Whistler, what you can tell me about the painting in your signature? It is lovely. I'm afraid that my knowledge of art is very lacking.

For posterity's sake, in case W changes his signature, here it is:

Image

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Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Fri Nov 25, 2005 4:49 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 9:02 pm 
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Yes, I've also been meaning to ask if it's a Whistler, because I thought it doesn't look like one (not that I know much about Whistler). :)


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 9:28 pm 
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It is indeed a seascape by Whistler.

People in general know little about Whistler because he takes a bit of study to understand. Such artists as Degas, Monet and Van Gogh have long overshadowed him. There is no movie about him. Most people don’t know much about him at all, except that he painted his mother. And even though everybody knows that painting, not many will say that they actually like it.

Whistler rejects everything that most people regard as "good" in art, and even I found him incomprehensible when I first began to look at him seriously. But then he "clicked" with me, and I have been devoted to him ever since.

I have an actual etching by Whistler in my studio, and recently I participated in an online auction for one of his paintings. Of course I was promptly outbid, but it was quite a thrill even to imagine owning an oil from his hand.

I will create a proper Whistler thread when I have the time. But I remind everyone that Berhael is a doctor of fine arts (or something to that effect; she’ll have to provide the proper title) whose expertise will certainly surpass my own.

I’ll tease you with one bit of trivia: A close associate of Whistler, who delivered the painting of Whistler’s mother to its first showing in Paris, was a man named Walter Sickert. He was also an artist.

And, quite possibly, Jack the Ripper.


Last edited by Whistler on Fri Nov 25, 2005 5:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 9:41 pm 
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:shock:

Quote:
Walter Sickert had been tangentially implicated in the Ripper crimes as early as the 1970s, with the release of the now infamous "Royal Conspiracy" theory. But it wasn't until the early 1990s, with the release of Jean Overton Fuller's Sickert and the Ripper Crimes, that the peculiar artist became a Ripper suspect in his own right. More recently, Patricia Cornwell has claimed to have found DNA evidence linking Sickert to at least one "Ripper letter".


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Sickert

I was always in favour of the Duke of Clarence connection myself.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 9:47 pm 
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Yes, I have Cornwell's book in my studio also.

Ripperologists quibble with it over many points, but I think that's because they want to keep the mystery alive. It's a hobby for them, like the JFK assassination is for others. The last thing they want is for the fun to be over.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 10:47 pm 
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This is my Whistler etching, a scene from Amsterdam. There are tiny windmills visible in the background, if you look for them.

I'm not posting this to elicit compliments, so you needn't pretend to like it: Whistler deliberately worked in such a way as to conceal his skills, despising all showiness in art. The result is art that looks effortless, unfinished, almost accidental. But it is as carefully planned and executed as the work of a surgeon.

Image


Last edited by Whistler on Fri Nov 25, 2005 5:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 11:20 pm 
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Thanks for all the fascinating info, Whistler!
I think the seascape is lovely! Do you know if it's an actual or an imagined landscape?

You're right, the etching definitely looks like a rough sketch, but a very good one!
But I must admit I can't tell what the foreground is - is it all water, or the bank of a river, or even all land?


Last edited by truehobbit on Fri Nov 25, 2005 2:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 11:33 pm 
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Water in front, land in the middle, sky above all.

Whistler, by the way, is generally regarded as having created the greatest etchings since Rembrandt. Later I will try to find some that are a little easier to grasp.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 11:57 pm 
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Ah, that makes sense - thanks!
I noticed the mirrorings in the foreground, but the structure so smooth that I thought the water was more likely the structure in the middle (which however has mirrorings, too).
Though, of course, water in a canal is smooth.

One more thing - I wonder if it's just my fevered imagination, but I think the shape in the very centre of the pic looks like a grave. Do you think this impression is intentional?
I can't tell what the rectangular structure in the middle actually is (a half-sunk boat?), but the vertical line that is mirrored below where it hits the horizontal line of the ground forms a cross that extends, again by mirror-effect, right down to the rectangular structure.

Most likely, though I just need to get away from the PC! ;) :)


Last edited by truehobbit on Fri Nov 25, 2005 2:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 12:07 am 
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Whistler would call this discussion irrelevant.

For Whistler, art was composition and color...or in this case, composition alone. It doesn't matter what this or that thing translates into in the real world. What matters is its significance in the composition. Whether it's a grave (it isn't) or a boat or a buffalo, Whistler wouldn't care as long as it suited his purpose.

I forgot to answer your question about whether the seascape is real or imaginary. Neither and both: Whistler had what would be the visual equivalent of a photographic memory, which means that instead of remembering facts and figures he could remember light and color. He would view a scene in reality and then accurately re-create it from memory in his studio.

However, he seldom cared to re-create a scene exactly as he’d seen it. That was because of his opinion that “nature seldom succeeds in creating a picture.” It was his thinking that nature never did anything he couldn’t improve upon.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 3:34 am 
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Whistler's "Woman in White" is one of my top ten favorite paintings of all artists in all times.

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Last edited by Jnyusa on Wed Nov 30, 2005 10:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 4:07 am 
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Oh, yes, Jn! I considered that one for a sig pic, but it's too vertical and wouldn't work well with this format.

When that painting was unveiled, there was a huge debate over what it symbolized. Dozens of theories were presented, all of them wrong. The painting meant nothing, which was in fact its meaning: art for art's sake, free of philosophical "clap-trap."


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 11:11 am 
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Whistler wrote:
I will create a proper Whistler thread when I have the time. But I remind everyone that Berhael is a doctor of fine arts (or something to that effect; she’ll have to provide the proper title) whose expertise will certainly surpass my own.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the History of Art. Which is a pompous way of saying that I wrote a 300-page summary of all the books I read in five years.

I was reading a book about pigments the other day (as one does, while teaching a course about colour... I'm an artist and restorer by training, so you could say I'm professionally interested in pigments and what produces the colour as much as in its visual effect), and in the chapter about white the author mentioned Whistler's "Symphony in White", as the painting is now known:

Quote:
Whistler's painting - which now hangs in the National Gallery in Washington - shows a woman dressed in a white gown. She is standing in front of a white curtain, and is holding a lily. Her face is quite dark: she probably did not use the fashionable Bloom of Youth [a cosmetic product made with lead white that, literally, poisoned long-time users], which was lucky for her. Her hair is long and red, in a shade beloved by Whistler's Pre-Raphaelite contemporaries. The effect of all the white is dazzling, but as you fix your eyes on the painting, the snow blindness begins to have a curious effect. Two patches of colour begin to emerge from the canvas, almost as if they are two separate concepts framed in a foggy dream. There is the woman's face, of course, but then rather improbably at her feet there is wolf's or bear's head that seems to be part of an animal-skin rug. Why would Whistler have chosen to place it there?

The painting was first shown in London in 1862. At first it was called The Woman in White, but the writer Wilkie Collins had just published a ghost novel with that title - which confused everyone. The artist pretended to despise the confusion, but it was in retrospect a canny marketing move: in the two years since it had appeared, the novel had already precipitated an extraordinary fashion for white dresses, white handbags, white lilies and even what were called 'white' waltzes. This painting, then, was sure to find a buyer.

A decade later, after the first title had caused a storm of complaints from people claiming the model did not remotely resemble Collins' heroine [book purists - LOL! :rofl: ], Whistler decided to rename it Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl. But the painting was jinxed, and he merely attracted more peppery comments from the London art world. The critic Philip Gilbert Hamerton complained that it was not precisely a symphony in white, since anyone could see that it also included yellow, brown, blue, red and green. 'Does he then', asked Whistler, 'believe that a Symphony in F contains no other note, but shall be a continued repetition of F, F, F...? Fool.'


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 2:58 pm 
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Whistler wrote:
Whistler would call this discussion irrelevant.

For Whistler, art was composition and color...or in this case, composition alone. It doesn't matter what this or that thing translates into in the real world. What matters is its significance in the composition. Whether it's a grave (it isn't) or a boat or a buffalo, Whistler wouldn't care as long as it suited his purpose.

Would Whistler then have thought all discussion about art irrelevant? Sounds to me like that would be the case.
So, should there be no academic discussion of his works at all?
I don't think so. :)

So - what is it?
And what purpose did it serve in Whistler's opinion?

I mean, if I don't know what it is, then its only purpose is to bring a certain geometrical shape into the composition at this point.
Now, it may be that this really is all what Whistler wanted, but for me it is a bit too basic, I must say.
Putting shapes where they should be to achieve an effect is the beginning of art for me, not the end.
The end is only approached if there is a deeper reason (not using the word "meaning" on purpose here) for bringing in a necessary element in just the way in which it is brought in and no other.

To be a bit more concrete (I think the bit above was rather abstract):
Imagine the rectangular shape away. The picture would be dull.
So, we need something somewhere to enliven the fore- and middle-ground.
(Does English language art history use the word middle-ground? Ber, maybe? It might be a Germanism.)
The clear-cut rectangle right in the middle of the picture fulfills this purpose wonderfully.
But if it's just a rectangle, then, I think, we are dealing with abstract art (and I don't think we are, given the windmills in the background).
If it's not abstract it must be something.
Let take the most likely thing to put there: a boat.
A boat would serve the purpose of the composition perfectly - but it would not be a very imaginative or meaningful object to place there, I'd say. Unless there's something special about it.
Or it could be something else entirely, and that's when it might start to get interesting!

But maybe Whistler and I just have very different ideas about art. :D


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 3:42 pm 
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Understand that I do not really agree with Whistler's ideas...at least, not as a last word on anything.

The notion of "art for art's sake" is reasonable: art should need no justification; its beauty should be enough. But to apply this philosophy to all art, now and forever, is nonsense. It's a dead end, artistically and intellectually. People do have things to say about politics, religion, history and whatever. Art is a powerful medium for saying those things, and it is absurd to expect that artists should not make use of it.

Whistler's philosophy arose as a reaction to an over-emphasis, in art, on storytelling and moralizing. In its day, it made perfect sense. But it needs to be kept in its historical context to make much sense today.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 7:18 pm 
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truehobbit wrote:
I mean, if I don't know what it is, then its only purpose is to bring a certain geometrical shape into the composition at this point.
Now, it may be that this really is all what Whistler wanted, but for me it is a bit too basic, I must say.
Putting shapes where they should be to achieve an effect is the beginning of art for me, not the end.
The end is only approached if there is a deeper reason (not using the word "meaning" on purpose here) for bringing in a necessary element in just the way in which it is brought in and no other.


That approach is called, if I'm not mistaken, "formalism", and is the basis for most abstract art. It's a valid form of art, since the eye (or rather, the brain) can be trained, or naturally predisposed, to admire aesthetically pleasing shapes. Artists say that a work of art "works" or it doesn't; that often means that the composition or arrangement hangs together in such a way that it is pleasing, or coherent, or both things.

I used to be a traditionalist and preferred figurative (non-abstract) art, but the more GOOD abstract art I see, the more I learn to appreciate it. I'm currently going through a phase of admiring Rothko, for instance. But it isn't immediately easy to grasp, and the reaction "that is BAD - my three year old could make it!" is sadly too prevalent.

I think that regularly whenever I see modern art, by the way. :D But there is a lot of modern art that I think is interesting, relevant and attractive. :) There is just too much chaff and too little wheat, but there are some gems out there. The trick is not to expect the same things from modern art as from an Old Master; for instance, one of the artists whose work I currently enjoy is Rachel Whiteread. Her works trasmit a tactile quality that I like; I like seeing her arrangements of cubes of translucent plastic, especially the coloured ones, like this one here:

Image

They look like jelly sweets, or pieces of soap, or jewels... I would like to touch them, to play with them. Being in the same room as them makes me smile. :) It's a similar pleasurable feeling to the one I get from looking at Titian's Triumph of Bacchus in the National Gallery, but for diferent reasons.

Quote:
(Does English language art history use the word middle-ground? Ber, maybe? It might be a Germanism.)


Yes. Foreground, middle ground, background. :)


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 8:12 pm 
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I like pictures of kittens.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 9:31 pm 
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The notion of "art for art's sake" is reasonable: art should need no justification; its beauty should be enough. But to apply this philosophy to all art, now and forever, is nonsense. It's a dead end, artistically and intellectually. People do have things to say about politics, religion, history and whatever. Art is a powerful medium for saying those things, and it is absurd to expect that artists should not make use of it.

Whistler's philosophy arose as a reaction to an over-emphasis, in art, on storytelling and moralizing. In its day, it made perfect sense. But it needs to be kept in its historical context to make much sense today.

Ah, I think I understand a bit better now, Whistler - thanks!

I quite agree, if there are too many statements and on everything, it gets trite. It can be excellent, too, of course.
But I didn't even mean that the structure should be such a big comment - in seeing a grave in it, I didn't mean it was really a grave - just a structure that was purposely constructed to be reminiscent of one - and I didn't take it to be meant as a comment on Amsterdam as a place of death or so - it would just have entered the notion of death into the picture - for whatever reason.

But I agree even that is giving it a lot more meaning than just l'art pour l'art, which is a valid concept, too!

Quote:
That approach is called, if I'm not mistaken, "formalism", and is the basis for most abstract art. It's a valid form of art, since the eye (or rather, the brain) can be trained, or naturally predisposed, to admire aesthetically pleasing shapes. Artists say that a work of art "works" or it doesn't; that often means that the composition or arrangement hangs together in such a way that it is pleasing, or coherent, or both things.

Ber, thanks - "formalism" is a term I wasn't familiar with!
I quite agree that we, naturally or by training, respond to certain shapes. And, yes, composition is a great part of what makes an image work. That's why I said earlier, imagine the rectangular thing away, and it doesn't work. Or take the lighthouse in the pic Prim posted in the pictures-thread, where I also commented that it was a necessary element of composition for the picture.
But all these things were worked out many centuries ago, weren't they? It might have been a breathtaking discovery in the middle-ages, but now we work with it as a matter of fact. It's still thrilling, on a personal level, to realise how these things work, but it's hardly a great discovery in general. That's why I found it so little satisfactory, at first, to think an artist concentrated on nothing but this. Although I guess you could take it as a rediscovery of the origins of painting, a kind of "back to the roots" movement?

Not the greatest fan of modern or abstract art here, either, although I agree there is the occasional good idea.
I really like the way you described your reaction to the colourful cubes (even though you did invest them with a concrete meaning for yourself in seeing jellies or jewels in them! ;) )! Yes, I think they are cheerful and positive about life (not sure there is such a nice word as "lebensbejahend" in English - "saying yes to life") - and so is much of baroque art, so I think I understand feeling similarly about them.

Thanks for the info on the vocab! :)

And for Whistler:
Image

;)


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 9:39 pm 
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Awwww! How pwecious!


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 10:38 pm 
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And it's in artistic black and white! :D


(Actually, one could study how harmoniously the curve of the body complements the direction of the tail and of the look of its eyes! :D )


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