Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Painting Is, James Elkins

In James Elkins book What Painting Is I found a description that goes so well with Courbet's Violoncellist, Elkins writes:
Paint records the most delicate gesture and the most tense. It tells whether the painter sat or stood or crouched in front of the canvas. Paint is a cast made of the painter's movements, a portrait of the painter's body and thoughts. The muddy moods of oil paints are the painter's muddy humors, and its brilliant transformations are the painter's unexpected discoveries. Painting is an unspoken and largely uncognized dialogue where paint speaks silently in masses and colors and the artist responds in moods.
Now compare the Violincellist with all its muddy moods and unexpected brilliance to this other Courbet in the European gallery, Autumn.

Autumn depicts two people on a bluff above a river under the changing leaves of a deciduous tree in fall. It has nothing of the memory of the tired body that made it, something according to Elkins you can see in great work of great artists. The painting should show the careful and nourishing gestures, the exhausted truces. Painters can sense those motions in the paint even before they notice what the painting is about, says Elkins. It reminds me very much of something Eudora Welty said about writers, that they can hear the rhythm of the next sentence coming before they know what it will be.

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