Monday, July 19, 2004

July 18 Sunday

Saw the modern art museum of the Pitti Palace today.  The best part of this was the large number of very fine small landscapes and cityscapes done in a simplified manner by Italian artists of the 19th century.  Fattori's work was wonderful, as was Giuseppe Abbati's, 1836-1868, and those of a few others.  On the whole, though, I'm afraid there was a lot of second-rate work in this museum.  It's amazing to think that this museum represents the works of a period of time comparable to the Renaissance itself, for a similar region of the world, and is so much inferior in quality.  I wonder what causes this disparity in the qualities of certain modes of expression in different cultures.  I know there are all sorts of historical factors, but since the great works are always by the hands of a few artists, can these individuals really be seen as the outcome of statistical processes?  We always talk about how Michelangelo couldn't have done it if not for this and if not for that, but this kind of conditional thinking doesn't explain the essential sources of an action's quality.  Maybe it can be seen in terms of one person's quality stimulating another's--Donatello raising a bar to which Michelangelo felt he could aspire.  For us today, Michelangelo is too distant a figure.  The level at which he set the bar became an ideal itself, rather than an accessible challenge.  The thing to do, I think, is to find a way of honestly reaching for the quality that great artists of the past can inspire in you, without adulation, but by actually seeing the same spirit in yourself.  You have to join with those artists, not worship them on an altar.  
As far as painting is concerned, I guess the action, as it were, was mostly in France during the 19th century.  The one French painting I noticed at the Pitti Modern, a strong work by Pisarro, reinforced this judgment by standing out very brightly from the pictures around it.  This painting, and the many simplified landscapes I mentioned before, made me see the importance of regarding your work as a statement when viewed at a distance.  Of course this is a basic idea, but you can never think too much about it. 


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