Thursday, September 15, 2011
...I know what I like...
I think a lot of people who know what they like in art, but can't really say why, really only lack vocabulary. I am new to reading and thinking about art, analysing why I like what I like, and I have found it very difficult to articulate my thoughts. I am starting now to collect a vocabulary that describes what I think, but it's still quite difficult.
The other day I was thinking that I wasn't so keen on portraits as I am on still life, but I was having trouble identifying why. What I've realised is that I often find modern portraits, even the ones by modern contemporary realist painters whose work I admire, to lack a sense of universality.
Everyone can know the universal significance of a still life or a landscape, or even an anonymous nude figure, and modern realist painters usually really shine in these genres. But I've noticed that when it is a formal portrait, very often the sense of a universal meaning is lost. They are often technically extraordinary, but they lack a deeper meaning. Maybe this is because of the influence of photography, but there is something about the portrait above, by the 18th century German painter Christian Seybold, that surpasses the simple creation of a good likeness. She glows with inner strength and an extraordinary beauty.
I remember seeing in the Chicago Art Institute and the National Gallery many 17th and 18th century portraits, often by Dutch painters, that had this same inner glow. So much that they harbour a kind of beauty and serenity that is nearly impossible to see in day to day life. I imagine that this is what people would look like in heaven.
Why do modern painters so often fail to create this kind of meaning in portraits?