In different periods, artists “imitated life” differently, because, duh, life was different.
Turner painted clouds as furious abstractions. Before him, seventeenth-century Dutch artists imitated life, but mostly glommed onto material culture, except for their doing landscapes and cows. Pearly glass windows, crystal goblets—the Dutch mirrored life, and painted mirrors. Visual puns. A mercantile society inspired artists to render trade goods, glass and silver, imitations of their patrons’ bounty—their output makes aesthetic sense.
Andy Warhol figuratively lunged at his patron’s throat. He painted a dollar sign, a gift for Malcolm Forbes, capitalist tool magazine guy. His portraits of the wealthy are studies like Rembrandt’s.
The Dutch spanked their scenes with unnatural light and shadows. Vermeer, totally arresting case, thought to be inimitable but no one knows how many fakes are out there. Rembrandt: introspective portraits. My art history course zeroed in on landscapes, not portraits. The Romantics had an attachment to Nature that contemporary society has lost: Nature as a willful, indifferent enemy, not an ecology or ecosystem, but as a symptom of God’s power and genius. To naturalists and pantheists, God was Nature. God was in the natural elements.
“God is in the details.” —Mies van der Rohe
Craft and skill once were the painter’s slam dunk. Along came the spider, photography.
Painter Jack Whitten: “The image is photographic, therefore I must photograph my thoughts . . . I can see it in my brain, and it’s reproduced. I’m using the word ‘reproduce’ in the same sense that you would use a Xerox copy machine or a computer—any form of a reproduction device.”
Gazing at clouds, another diversionary tactic—if an unwanted prof or student person crossed my path, I looked up.
I found relief, similar to consolation or faith, in clouds, stars, weather shifts, when I acted like a prognosticator in old movies. I took pleasure, pleasure must be taken or had, in subtle shadings, size, shapes, the wind stirring. Night-time: Shooting stars, UFOs.
Here I go, here I go, here I go.
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