Sunday, December 20, 2009

In The Eye of the Beholder

Yet again, this post may be sub-titled "aimless rambling of that guy on the east coast" or "Al should stay away from the hard stuff".

About a month ago there was a national news story here about an oil painting--correction, an oil sketch--that sold in auction for about $3.5 million Canadian. You can link to the full CBC story here or you can go to the auction house information about the paintings for sale here. The sketch in question was called "The Old Stump, Lake Superior" by Group of Seven Artist Lawren Harris (shown above). They were a group of Canadian landscape artists, primarily from the 1920's, heavily influenced by European Impressionism that held a strong desire to depict nature in their own unique way.

I will be up front about my total lack of background in art. If my knowledge could be measured, it would half-fill a shot glass and I would spill the contents down the front of myself trying to drink it. One only has to look at the stick-men drawings my son does by way of art at school to know what side of the family his abilities came from. I was trained as a draftsman in school, back in the days when pencils, rulers and drafting boards were used. I find comfort in the linear and orderly words and lines on the page. I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the foreign world of technology and AutoCad. Art is even more abstract and foreign to me.

The story caught my eye because of Lawren Harris. Many years ago, while living in London, Ontario, I spent a weekend in Toronto and took a side trip north to the village of Kleinburg. There you will find the McMichael Canadian Art Collection that displays contemporary art, First Nations Art, Inuit Art and most of the works of the Group of Seven. If you find yourself about the Toronto area, I recommend a side trip to the McMichael. the McMichael I saw Mt. Lefroy, by Lawren Harris and was mesmerized by it (shown right). My lack of art education shows when I can't even explain why I liked it so much...I just 'did'. I suppose that if I had a few million of disposable income lying about I may be inclined to buy that piece of art, or something similar by Harris.

I recall a story a few years back about the federal government buying a painting from a Canadian artist for a large sum of money. That's fine, I suppose, except that it was three vertical stripes. I wish that I could remember the name of the artist or painting and I would attach it here. The three stripes thing just doesn't inspire me the way that mountain does. Then again, I guess that it's up to a person's individual tastes.

I know that a couple of you that read my blog have some art training and are much better qualified to discuss a topic like this. What do all of you consider art? Have you a favourite?


Anonymous said...

I suppose that if I had a few million of disposable income lying about I may be inclined to buy that piece of art, or something similar by Harris.

Or you could just get his calendar.

I can't even draw a straight line. It's frustrating.

Cate Gardner said...

That top picture looks like a whale surging out of the ocean too me. I wonder what a psychologist would make of that.

I have no art training at all, though I do an very nice line in matchstick men and women.

Ooh, and thank you for the gorgeous Canadian Christmas card.

Laura Eno said...

I'm not moved by the first one, but very much by the second.
The first is too symetrical to appeal to me while the asymetry of the mountain, clouds, snow, engages my brain.

Laurita said...

I enjoy art, but I really have no idea about it. I'll stick with the old standby - "I know what I like." I do very much like that mountain.

Jarmara Falconer said...

I love art and when I say art, I mean, works of art that have a lot of thought behind them. Not paint thrown at a blank canvas and called 'untitled 3'. To me, the Pre-Raphaelites were among some of the greatest painters alive, but there are many others who came before, and after. It's all down to taste, like books, films and music.

To me, I have to at least have some idea of what I'm looking at to be able to say I understand what the artist is getting at, wants to show me their view on life through their eyes and creativity. Your example shows me the clean, clear lines of a mountian top touching the sky. The Artist is showing me the same in his choice of colour, lines and brushstokes. Everything about the picture is clean and sharp, nothing fussy or overdone. The way the snow has been painted keeps taking your eyes back to where the top touchs the cloud. The sweep of the sky brings your eyes back to the mountain top and helps to keep your focus on the picture.

I hope you can understand my explanation of what I think the artist is saying in his work to me. I'm no expert and have had no formal training, just mess about with art and sold a few painting along the way.

Happy Christmas,


katey said...

I've had so much friggin aesthetic theory crammed into my head over the long years of my art history education that I'm sure I could invent some bullshit reason for it all-- but ew. Beauty is subjective because we think things are beautiful when we recognize them, or something in them. Dude's lines speak to you-- what could be better or more important than that?

I do find that the more I know about an artist and their work, the better I like them. I didn't care for Kandinsky til I did some reading, and I've made many a Pollock convert preaching to friends in front of Lavender Mist in the National Gallery. (At their request-- I'm not That Person, I swear!) That's fine for the Art Nerds, like with lit for the Lit Nerds, but I think real success is an instinctive reaction in the audience, whether it's uncomfortable or joyful or whatever.

Thanks for the tip about the McMichael-- I need to hit that next time I'm in the frozen north!

K.C. Shaw said...

I like the clean lines and the use of light in both paintings. I like Impressionism, myself; I love the way a good Impressionist artist can evoke a mood with a few deft strokes of the brush.

Aaron Polson said...

I'm kind of a gritty, grungy-art guy myself, but there's something to "The Old Stump, Lake Superior" that works on that level. I think Katey nailed it re: beauty being subjective. I want to vomit everytime I read some over-blown description of a work at a gallery. Just give me the art, man. I also feel the same about artists--hated Warhol before I drew his name for a project my freshman year in college. Now, I love the dude in all his weirdness.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Anton, I'll ask Santa to bring me a calendar. Knowing my luck it won't be that calendar, but one with pugs dressed in costumes instead.

Cate, That's funny about the whale. I hadn't noticed it but now that you mention it...and thanks back at ya for the card!

Laura, "engages the brain". I see what you mean by that.

Laurita, I can see that we're in total agreement on this one.

Jarmara, "show me their view of life through their eyes." I think that's exactly what Harris was about. I read in Wikipedia that he wanted to express his theosophical and spiritual interests through his art. I sense that in both works.

Katey, I'd listen to you lecture on Pollock any day of the week. I think that you're spot in with the opinion about getting in instinctive reaction from the audience. I think (hope) that is what all types of artists strive for.

KC, I did enjoy them both. I find it interesting how the clouds are depicted so differently in the two works.

Aaron, I could do without the over-blown descriptions as well. That's how I manage to go through an art gallery so quickly. I take in the works that touch me on some level. The written descriptions are secondary.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I love rich oil paintings of Greek mythology and realistic sculpture (again, mythological themes preferred).