If you would like to see a topic discussed here, ask me.
|CR writes 10-01-98:
Werner, I went to Ann Hariss' page as well as the exhibition. she has something to say and is consistent in her presentation, but I've never been able to appreciate the work of primatives.
Somehow it makes my own hard-won technical abilities seem un important,. I liked her concepts and the approch to design. I didn't care for the clumsey exicution.
How is it that people like this get so much attention. It could be her age
78. after all the most famous primative in the US was
My favorite in this is a painter whose works I see in my mind nature with
tigers and trees and flowers and peaple stretched out...
? or something like that. not very good with remembering names or spelling
of names. but really enjoyed his work.
Have you written about the work of primatives? I'd like to know what YOU think. The best of this kind of work shows strong design and use of color and usually something important to the artist to say, but why is it so wonderful to be clumsey and awkward.
Werner Stürenburg replies 10-02-98:
Thanks for your comments. Reading and answering them I got an idea. I'd like to put them on a separate web page named "Discussions on Naive Art".
I expect similar discussions on other topics as well. For example: Why should Realistic Art be art - especially when it only seems to simulate a camera. So please allow me to publish your letter on that page. I will keep your privacy, but forward serious comments to you.
I named the gallery in charge of Naive Art after Rousseau who was the first to become famous. He was kind of innocent, not capable of reflecting about his work, not able to see himself in a correct perspective with respect to art history.
There is a famous anecdote illustrating this. I could not find an exact date in suitable time, it must have been around 1907/9, when Picasso gave a dinner for his friends in honor of Rousseau, among them Apollinaire, Jacob, Braque and Rousseau himself.
Picasso had painted which was to become famous as "Demoiselles d'Avignon".
Whoever saw it was irritated, to say the least. Braque said he could just
as well swallow fuel.
Uhde called this style "egyptian", Rousseau "assyrian", and Rousseau is to have said to Picasso on the occasion of the dinner: "We are the greatest masters, you in the assyrian style, I in the modern style."
Of course, they laughed at him. They knew about art history, they knew where their place was in this respect, they were conscious about creating new art at the beginning of the new century. Picasso adopted all modern styles, he stole from Munch, Steinlen, Toulouse-Lautrec, Greco, to name a few. Rousseau was just naive in the very plain sense.
I don't look at art with respect to styles or techniques. One of my earliest experience was to overcome the fear of technique or rather fear of lack of technique. If you are after something and can't get at it because of technical or stylistic problems, you are stuck.
That's extremely bad. In fact that could be the end to just about everything. You ought to be at ease with your aims and your technical and stylistic abilities.
People often suppose realistic painting and here especially portraying to be most demanding. I found out and later proved to my pupils in class that this is not a problem at all. Read the first issues of my Creative Journals, they start easy and arrive at drawing portraits.
After having dealt with the technical question, I went on to the real hard problems, which are of personal nature: "What do you want to do?" Which means in my understanding: "Who are you?" This is a life's question, of course, so no definitive answers can be expected.
I think it can be seen very easily, once you are experienced, at which level of artistic expression a painting is. Technique and style alone is nothing. You can be a master in these and produce empty, meaningless work. If your work is moving but lacks of technical and stylistic reasons, your disappointment is not equally great. You feel pity for the painter rather than being upset.
Best is, of course, your message is at even terms with your technique and style. This said, let's come back to Naive Art. People want to express themselves visually, professional painters and lay people alike, and there are many reasons for this desire.
Picasso said at old age (I recall from my memory): "After all, what is a painter? A collector not being able to buy the works he wants, trying to paint them himself. But whatever I do, I spoil it and it becomes a Picasso."
Usually, Naive Art occurs when somebody wants and has got something to express which moves your heart but doesn't quite meet academic standards regarding technique and style. Furthermore, naive artists don't care about art history and all the stuff our forbears did to form our culture, but rather resort to themselves in an innocent childlike state.
It is not easy to achieve this. Most people feel extremely uneasy being untrained, having no technical means and no style to perform, so they just don't do anything at all, resulting in frustration. These frustrated people I had in mind when I invented the Creative Journal.
And you can't pretend to be naive, either. If you are educated and trained, you can't go back. Matisse tried and Picasso tried and Beckmann tried, all three being impressed by the power and depth of Rousseau's work. It didn't come out right in either case.
You see pretty easily that it is a non naive painter pretending he is naive. He isn't, of course. Well, they learnt their lesson fast and stopped trying. By the way, there is nothing bad about trying. They produced homages to Rousseau, and I think this is great. Those masters acknowledged that Rousseau's art is great art, although they felt slightly uneasy nevertheless.
The uneasiness is inherent to Naive Art. A naive painter shows something not to be expressed otherwise, but we feel uneasy through the very naiveness. It is a view of life as a child, and we have all but lost this view.
Picasso, again, said he never experienced this, being a wonderchild, so he worked hard all his life (once being free enough to permit himself this endeavor) to get back to the roots of childlike naive painting (which is impossible as we know by now - either you are naive or you are not).
To get back at Anne Harris: She paints with the mouse, after sketching at nature. I simply couldn't do it. I can't even produce valuable drawings with a pressure sensitive pen and tablet and simulating software, which is as close as a computer can come to real materials. She doesn't use all these fancy calculating techniques the software offers and others, like our photographers, experiment with.
She is not interested in cheap impressive effects. She was even content with a 256 color mode. Now she got better equipment and images improved technically, but this is not important for me. Sophisticated artists often try to free creative energy imposing severe technical restrictions upon themselves. Horst Janssen, highly reflective German draftsman, wrote lengthy about being stuck and bored by his artistic excellence, inventing all sorts of games to free up again.
Anne does not need any such fancy tricks. Her pictures flow freely from her
heart. The technical difficulties are not sought after, she takes them as
they come without worrying much about them, getting rid of them as equipment
improves. It is not part of her style. She is a highly educated and reflective
woman, educated in the arts, too, but in her painting she is genuinely naive.
Don't ask me how she manages to, I don't know.
Her paintings are unobtrusive at first sight, but I like her composition, line and colors very much. They are highly original in all parts, in spite of their naiveness and childlike approach.
She knows much about perspective, certainly more than most people do, she is able to portray herself consistently with those primitive means, she uses bold compositions like the one in the middle showing her from back and above and from the front in the mirror simultaneously.
Most astonishing, she tells of something not often heard of: A fulfilled life throughout and even in old age, a lust of life in spite of bodily weakness. Old age is no popular theme, we need examples of how to cope with it, and I'm not surprised to see her books being distributed and discussed in retirement homes.
You still manage to live by yourself and be productive, too. Anne prepares to be even more handicapped in the future, when she will no longer be able to paint. She learns voice recognition to be able to talk to her computer, communicate with friends through email and let letters be read by the machine if necessary.
If you manage to read through the Bathsheba journals, you will find that I do not even touch upon style and technique with respect to this painting. I relate exclusively to content. What does this painting tell us 20th century people? It turns out that Rembrandt experienced life with all its hardships. This enabled him to understand the biblical story on a personal level, having learnt the same lesson as King David.
I contrast this in the last issue with Picassos paraphrase of that painting,
being totally void of meaning, crude in technique and brutal in style. Picasso
did fail in his life, too, of course, but he did not learn his lesson. At
the moment, he is highly appraised because of commercial interests. Also,
he was a great person and will deserve interest for that reason alone.
But many of his paintings are outright bad, and in my opinion this is related directly to his experience in life. To put it short: I'm glad to have you and Anne as friends, I'd liked to have Rembrandt as friend, but I'd rather not have had Picasso as friend.
To round this up, have a look at Navitrolla. I show one painting only in
my artist's list, but you can see from this one alone that he is not really
naive. At some paintings you see how close he is to comics, cartoons,
illustration, science fiction. This gives an uneasy feeling of some other
What kind of message does he communicate with his paintings? It doesn't help to make paintings large to prove they are art and nothing else. He is young and has all rights to develop his own way. Nobody will compare his work with a full life's work of any master. I think he will have a long way to go, and as he is not really naive, the decision to use a naive style may prove to be wrong in the long run. If so, he will have taken this path to make a great start to something new.
Thank you for the asking.
© 1998 · Werner Stürenburg
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