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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mondrian and Monet flowers in Paris and Notre Dame as Rhizome

My book on Drawing and Painting languishes in virtuality, somewhere on the servers at KDP, although occasionally on my dashboard I see someone scratches at the file to bring it in to actuality but then after a page or two lets it lapse into the mostly unread. Is the unread like the undead when it reverts back to the virtual? Not quite fully alive? I notice that spell check won't let me consider the spelling of virtuality as valid; so I look it up and find it has a rather esoteric philosophic meaning making its way from Duns Scotus to Charles Sanders Pierce, Bergson, Proust and Deleuze, though not in direct order of descent. It seems it has uses in many domains of intellectual pursuit: Virtual Image in Science, Virtual World in Technology, Virtue in etymology and the Possible in Ontology. The most intriguing is the actuality of the Eucharist as truly embodying the blood and body of Christ: (actual vs virtual), which was held as untrue by the Sacramentarians and supported by Luther.

What I can gather from this divagation is that information needs red-blooded humans to make it truly come alive. Like a revolution needs people in the street willing to spill blood to fulfill the words of its goals.

Seeing an art show in a gallery does fit the bill of live human contact activating art. The reality of the white cube, so close to that of a church with believers, will never die (I hope). 

In Paris I saw a show at the Musee Marmottan Monet of the early work of Mondrian that changed my opinion about Piet. If you put his work into the context of those whom he influenced especially post WW11 American artists he comes across as the progenitor of an arid intellectualization of art. Early Stella for example is an hard-nosed Yankee interpretation of Mondrian. If you see the abstraction in the context of his early work, his painting becomes more tentative and probing. The overall mood of many of his landscapes is reminiscent of the  Hudson River School’s use of luminism to evoke the transcendental. Even as he begins to coax an underlying linear visual structure out of these landscapes the moody light of dawn or dusk remains.

Throughout his career he drew flowers belying my understanding that they were limited to the pre-abstraction stage of his career. The petals are soft and pliable and verge in their organicism on the infinite. On the one hand they could be seen as the antidote to his abstraction, on the other hand the abstraction has a lot of that pliability, a gentle push and pull off of the flat surface of the canvas.  Notions of tenderness and delicacy come to the fore.


This reconsideration of the geist of his work helped me reconsider the work of the late Monet on permanent display downstairs from Mondrian. My first response is that he is a better abstract painter than his imitator Guston. And like Mondrian was moved by the organic growth of flower, although his flowers are more explosive like Dylan Thomas’s green fuse.


So the role of the flower seems formative in abstraction. At least in Europe.

The plug has been pulled on Notre Dame’s magic. I heard from my sister who spoke with someone involved in funding the repairs that the scaffolding put up for the renovation pre-fire are so completely welded to the stonework that there is a risk of collapse of the building of they are separated. The notion of hierarchy and the blending of heaven and earth embodied in the building have been severed. I am sure anti-hierarchical Bataille would have loved this and Deleuze would encourage leaving it as is or turn it into a structural rhizome as part of the infrastructure of the urban sprawl.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Links to the book and other related comments from readers of the book

Link to book
probably needs some fine tuning but to be on the other side is rather exciting after 10 years of writing editing gettin permissions for reproduction etc.

from MIKE ANANIAN professor of art at UNC-G

This fine Sunday I have been able to smell the roses: with coffee by my side and a little time to relax, I sat and read more of your book on drawing.  Although I have only read as far as chapter 2, I just had to pause to exclaim that I'm deeply impressed with your insights about the relationship of value and line and the physiological functions of the seeing, visual cognition, etc. versus the intellectual and aesthetic.  I must confess, with my beginning students measurement by way of  line and the distinction and discernment of planes, again using line instead of value contrasts, has been my teaching method.  Your book has already challenged me to reconsider my approach not only in my teaching of drawing but also how I begin a painting in my studio.  It's a wonderful book.  I just wanted to let you know that.  When I finish it, I'll review it enthusiastically on Amazon!

Mark Stone does a nice summary of the book on twitter

here is MARKS first response:

Hi Martin - I've put together a post for your book which I plan to post on Saturday morning on Henri. I really enjoyed the reading and I think you've done a wonderful job putting together an interesting and useful "handbook" for artists! I also enjoyed your history through art and how that informed the construction of your "lessons" for artists. Good job, Martin!

My first response:

It dawned on me that in this book I have collated 30 years of teaching in 7 different academic settings. I was developing new exercises right to the end when I taught at NHTI in Concord,NH in 2007. On the one hand I am chagrined I had to move around so much on the other all that change helped to generate new ideas. What I found intriguing was the universality of visual intelligence.The community college students at NHTI, many of whom would transfer on to 4 year schools were the equals of Dartmouth or UNH students.

I added the following to the site on Amazon:

Perceptual theory as a basis for learning how to draw. The author describes his own development as an artist at Yale College and advanced studies at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and at Yale University where he acquired his MFA. He studied with William Bailey, Lester Johnson, Al Held, Erwin Hauer and Bernard Chaet the author of "The Art of Drawing".cThis book is deeply informed by readings in cognitive theory and personally discovered connections between drawing, painting and science. Moreover, it is shaped by 30 years of teaching at Dartmouth College, The University of New Hampshire, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the Art Institute of Boston, now part of Lesley University. The book uses images of student work, the work of the artist and that of his teachers in particular Al Held and Erwin Hauer. It is one of the few books available to the student and teacher that makes the work of the 20thc abstract painters teachable and not esoteric. Mugar sees a clear correlation in the evolution of artistic styles and the understanding of how the eye sees the world. The book is a practical textbook with explicit exercises but also a philosophical text on what art is at this point in History

From Svetlana Alpers who is an acquaintance of my sister Betty in NYC:

Dear Betty,
              Thanks for sending me  your brother's book.  I have now taken the time to read it  through.
             I share his interest in the relation between seeing and drawing/painting.           
               It is full of interesting points--  starting off with the review of David Marr in the NYRB  which was not only important for your brother but for myself and Michel Baxandall ( also mentioned in the text.) We both thrilled to Marr's discoveries and the opportunities they offered to think newly about seeing by painters and thru pictures ( as it were).  Studies of vision have moved fast since then and Marr seems a bit old-fashioned !!!
               Perhaps your brother makes too quick and firm a link between the knowledge we have about the eye and seeing and what artists do/have done-  the "lines" he posties in Cezanne do not convince me.   Baxandall, who was much concerned with the question of  vision and painting , thought  we did not know nearly enough to make the kinds of links claimed in this book.  
             There is a  kind of single-mindedness running through-- an anxiety to be or is it to do or make right.   Maybe writing thoughts out in a book is different from practice in the classroom.  I expect  your brother has been a fine teaches-- in fact his students' work and his own look good on these pages.

                                                                               ever ,  Svetlana and

 from a classmate  at Belmont Hill School Jay Paris:
Appreciate its readability and continuum of thinking and exploration. Makes me wonder what a life would have been like as a painter. Good work!
 from Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Hi Martin, Thank you very much for sending me your book, I enjoyed it and have a couple of people in mind who'd probably like to look at it.  All the best, Jeremy.

From another Yale classmate Dr Joe Knight who went on to study English literature at Harvard:
Dear Martin,

You book is a fascinating "tour de force" - a brilliant exposition of complex matters which displays exceedingly great erudition, an admirable command of the history of art from the Renaissance to the present, and a lifetime of experience both creating and teaching art.

Your writing also demonstrates that some artists can write as well as they can paint - your sinuous and commanding prose keeps the reader turning pages with excitement and unable to stop.  I doubt that there exists any short disquisition that explicates your subject with as much excitement and verve.  It is surely about time that you gave the world your concise contribution to their appreciation of the nuances of great art and the principles of teaching it to all promising students as well as a clear outline for art teachers of how to teach those students well.

If you truly mean what you wrote in your card - namely, that you may edit your book further in the future - I will venture a few minor suggestions for you to consider.  If not, then feel free to ignore them.

Firstly, your opposition between great artists' interest in seeing, their intuitive understanding of the effects of light on the eye, and the scientific study of the biology of the eye and the process of learning how light affects it, may be considered as a possibly unnecessary dualism which in its championship of art does injustice to science.

The study of the ocular mechanism was already far advanced in the time of Plato, and Aristotle championed against Plato the theory of intromission - ie. that light rays from outside the eye excited receptors from the optic nerve in the process of seeing - as opposed to the theory of extromission which proposed incorrectly that emanations from the brain to the eye created the light energy which we then perceive.

And it has been speculated that the phenomenon of the Camera obscura was known even to Paleolithic Man and was used by him in his cave paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci was an unusual example of a combined artist and scientist, and he, too, favored intromission and studied the structure of the retina as well as other parts of the biological structure of the eye.  The full structure of the optic mechanism was scientifically well advanced before Rembrandt, Vermeer, the Impressionists, Cezanne and Matisse made their visual experiments on how light can affect the production of great and even revolutionary paintings.  Galen studied the mechanism of seeing in the 2nd Century C.E., and Islamic scholars as early as Avicenna later made significant advances in the European Middle Ages.

Your book's apparent opposition between art and science, led me to review the famous debates between science and the arts & humanities, from Matthew Arnold and Thomas Huxley, to the "Two Cultures" set forth by Lord Charles Snow and refuted in an unfortunate ad hominem manner by Dr. F.R. Leavis.  In this regard, an essay by Lionel Trilling entitled "The Leavis-Snow Controversy" showed up the weaknesses of Snow's position and the inadequacy of Leavis's mean-spirited response.  But the finest exposition of this mistaken opposition between the two modes of knowing and learning is an essay by Isaiah Berlin called "The Divorce between the Sciences and Humanities."

On a more mundane level, I would simply remind you that sometimes when you refer to the "eye", perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to the "eyes", as the art and science of seeing depends not merely on a single eye, but on binocular vision which provides the viewer and the artist with both perspective and depth.  I know this from personal experience, as I have a lifelong amblyopia, and consequently lack depth vision, and this severely detracts from my ability to detect the fine points of much figurative art, and may also impair my appreciation of abstract art as well.

I will make only one more substantive comment on the overall thesis of your book.  Judging from the main part of its subject matter, perhaps a more accurate title than Drawing & Painting would be Teaching Drawing & Painting.  And in this regard, I might consider showing somewhat fewer of your own drawings and paintings (some readers may consider this practice somewhat "egotistic") and also somewhat fewer of your student paintings, especially the less successful ones, in favor of illustrating your teaching principles with the more illuminating art of the great Masters of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

By the way, as you mention Vermeer several times, I cannot recall if I have previously mentioned to you the very fine film illustrating the painting of one of his greatest works.  The film is on YouTube and is called "Girl with the Pearl Earring".

Finally, although your writing in general is brilliant and striking in its trenchency and cognitive excellence, there are of course quite a few minor grammatical errors.  I have far too much neuropathic pain to write all these small errors out in an email, but if you are really serious about someday revising your book to make it even better - though it is quite fine already - if you would send me another copy I will endeavor to mark the spots where a slight change in grammatical form might render some sentences more comprehensible.

Please don't take my minor quibbles with any seriousness.  It is in my nature as a habitual literary critic to pay undue attention to relatively unimportant matters of grammar and sentence structure.

Overall, I can only judge your book as a masterful guide to university teachers of art of how best to teach their most promising students to strive to make maximal use of their intrinsic talents.  And your own example makes a further significant point:  Rarely a great artist may also be a great art historian, an effective teacher, a major philosopher of conceptual, figurative and abstract art, and even a seminal prophet of what may become the next major stage in the development of culture.

I salute you.  You have attempted a difficult project and succeeded beyond any reasonable expectations.  A century from now your book will most likely still be read, and its principles practiced by most farsighted teachers of the next several generations of aspiring artists.  It was certainly worth it to wait till your book could be published rather than giving up because of the crassness of the publishing world.  

It is a triumph!

How proud I am of my college roommate.  How honored I am to be your friend.

Yours sincerely,


Jerry Saltz took an exercise from the copy I sent him and posted it on Twitter sans attribution:


from Charles Giuliano at BFA