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Friday, February 28, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2840 -2843

 2840. And the stains from the coffee grounds make it all the better, although in Mr. Hunt’s case it was a certain coloration provided by a tea bag.

 2841. Thinking these confusing and contradictory thoughts as he stood on the sidewalk there on Oxford Street in 1848, he espied in the distance a fellow painter, also one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, coming his way. Fortunately he had stopped talking out-loud to himself because this was all taking place over 150 years ago, so there was nobody around to think he was simple talking on a cell phone.

 2842. The fellow painter who was approaching him was none other than John Millais, the other founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. John M. And Holman Hunt had a lot of things in common in that they both did highly detailed, lavish paintings in which they attempted to extol the virtues of medieval art, especially its vivid colors which they greatly admired.

2843. But even though their paintings were similar, and even though they were both founders of their “Brotherhood,” still they often disagreed about certain mundane subjects, and it was Holman’s opinion that John M. was simply a contrary personality, prone to disagree with any idea anyone ventured to express. I am sure you are familiar with the type. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2836 - 2839

 2836. But he was willing to express the contrary notion because it is exactly what non-artists think, and he had so often been praised and rewarded for how long his painting took, and how difficult they were to complete that he had adopted the attitude for himself, even though he did not truly agree with it.

 2837. He was like so many professional men in the world who come to believe fervently in what ever it is they are paid the most for doing, even if it is destructive of themselves and everyone else.  In the end they mistake their accumulated wealth for evidence of the truth of their ideas.

 2838. How was it that he knew he was wrong you ask? One would only have to visit his studio, or for that matter the studio of any artist to find the explanation to this question. It will be found behind an old sofa, or in the corner under the edge of a rug, or even in the trash can underneath the coffee grounds and often stained by them. 

 2839. It is found in the preliminary drawing, and in the sketch in a notebook that was scribbled down in a moment of inspiration. A drawing done in a moment which contained the germ of the idea that Mr. Hunt may later spent a year elaborating. But when the year is past, and the work is completed, he will compare the finished work to the original unfinished drawing, and he can never escape the realization that the preliminary drawing is the better work, and can’t even be improved upon.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2832 - 2835

 2832. But the problem is, how on earth will I make any money; how can I pay my bills. In the past I could always set aside a few weeks for my important paintings of ancient Roman history that I have been wanting to do, but only because of the portraits I do that pay all the bills and allow me to have a house keeper and a gardener.

 2833. In the future, with no portraits to do I am going to have to clean the house myself. I am going to have to cook my own meals. Not only that, with no one to send to the store I will have to even do my own grocery shopping, I wonder what that will be like.

 2834. Having said all of that to nobody, standing there on the street corner, Mr. Hunt fell to thinking and the direction of his thoughts was not a good one. It was a combination of despair mixed with envy. Despair about his plight, and envy of all those artists who never had to do portraits of dogs and cats and their wealthy aristocratic owners with their families.

2835. But the biggest problem for Mr. Hunt, and something he was very loth to mention, even to himself, was that he did not believe a word of what he was saying out-loud to himself. He knew, since he was an artist, that the amount of time spent on a work of art has no relationship at all to either its value or it quality. He knew this and he had always known it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2828 - 2831

 2828. When I did the Brinkenhoff family they wanted the daughter’s horse in the background, and God forbid I should accidentally leave out the white star in the horse’s forehead. The entire family was in the studio when I was done looking at the horse with a magnifying glass. I wonder why it was they were so concerned about the horse, and those two cats of theirs, and hardly looked at their portraits at all?

 2829. I have to admit however that there is nothing more distressing and impossible than these God awful family portraits. There is only one thing worse, and that is portraits of extremely important old business geezers with their goiters in their three piece suits.

 2830. On the other hand, perhaps in the future artists like myself will no longer be called on to paint the portraits of rich families and their pets. That would leave us free to paint the pictures we have always wanted to paint. And the great thing about painting the pictures I have always wanted to paint is that if it is some historical subject no camera picture can compete with it.

2831. And if the image is from the imagination, there again the camera is no threat unless they develop a really novel sort of machine that can take pictures inside your head. I do not think this is likely, but one never knows.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2824 - 2827

 2824. Now look at our cathedrals for example. Hardly a person has ever stood in front of one of those things without asking the same time honored question, “How many years did it take to build it. And if it took a hundred years, that is what we like, the notion that somebody years ago may have been in a rush and got the thing done in ten years would be a true disappointment.”

 2825. But out cathedrals are put together with one dressed stone at a time, piling them up like tinker toys year after year until it is finished, but the Hindu temples are carved right out of a solid mountain of rock. So one might ask, “If our cathedrals were carved out of one solid mountain, and took a thousand years instead of a hundred years, would they therefor be ten times better.”

 2826. So it is with these photographs.  If only it took them months and months to manufacture them, then it would be a fair competition. Let us say that after they snap the picture with that machine of theirs, they had to take it in a laboratory and work on every tiny square centimeter with little specialized tools and chemicals for hours and hours.

2827. If that were the case I could have some respect for their photographs, but as it is they can produce a portrait of six people, an entire family, and they can charge hardly five bob and sixpence including the frame. Why if I had to do a commission like a set of six people including a father and mother and four children in a bucolic setting with their pet dogs, every one dressed up in their Sunday best, why just the dog along would add fifty pounds to the price, and a studded collar another ten pounds.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2820 - 2823

 2820. You can’t just disregard the question of how long a thing takes to do can you? Why, every one who comes to my studio, the first thing they say is “How long did it take you to do this?” It is obvious that the fact that my pictures take endless amounts of time to complete affords those viewers some sort of odd satisfaction. I hardly ever tell them the truth, because I know they would be disappointed.

 2821. For an Englishman, and for the Americans also, we value hard work, the harder the better. We think that a drawing that takes one hundred hours to do is automatically worth a hundred times more than a sketch that takes only one hour. It goes without saying. 

 2822. I think that is the reason those sloppy sketches in oil with no detail, and done in a half an hour by those superficial Frenchmen like Corot will never catch on here in England. We look at it and the first thing we think is, “Why, this took only a few minutes to dash off so it can’t be any good can it.” 

 2823. No, an Englishman likes to travel to India for a vacation and make a detour to visit the ruins of the Hindu Temple at Khajuraho just so he can stand in front of a gigantic mountain of  solid rock that has been carved into intricate patterns with fornicating stone figures and be able to think to himself, “Now that thing took thousands of people hundreds of years to create.” And the very fact that it took so long, and made so many knuckles bleed is the reason we like it so much.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2816 - 2819

 2816. But what was he to make of the fact that the object he was admiring had been created by a machine, a machine capable of rendering an image without the encumbrance of a mind conscious of what it was doing? 

 2817. Mr. Hunt was so upset by this experience that he suddenly stopped in the middle of his walk home and began talking out loud to himself, right there in the middle of the sidewalk. It was Saturday afternoon, in a later September in 1848, in London, England. Mr. Hunt was dressed in a black three piece suit with a cravat and a top hat.

  2818. Many other men dressed exactly the same as Mr. Hunt were passing him to and fro, some with walking sticks and some without, others with black umbrellas.  But he was the only one standing still and giving a lecture to himself, as if in an auditorium, addressing an attentive audience. This is what he said. 

2819. “The thing that bothers me,” he began, in his light tenor voice, “ is that fact that those photographic people can make their images so quickly. They set up some kinds of machinery, there is a flash, and a few hours later they produce an image complete with all of the textures and details of reality.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2812 - 2815

 2812. Just as the scribes who invented the alphabet thousands of years ago are somehow resident in the souls of all those who sit down at a typewriter and attempt to write something, so in every artist who tries to describe the world with paper, pencil and an eraser, the ghosts of Raphael and Rembrandt can be found. 

 2813. And Mr. Hunt, and all those other artists residing in his makeup are plunged into that state of  shock, the  precursor of despair, because of the realization that they are witness to an event that is going to turn all their skills, their insights, and their learning into an irrelevant thing of the past of no real use to anyone any longer except as a freak display of technical skill.

 2814. A freak display of technical skill is a poor substitute for a position in society as the only individuals capable of describing the visual world with the tools of a specialized trade. Mr. Hunt, as he walked home, thought about all of those whose skills had become of no consequence, to be now incorporated into the wax museum of anomalies of history.

2815. Mr. Hunt was perfectly willing to award the palm of accomplishment to a better artist. When he was looking at the photograph in the store window and all the while thinking it was a beautiful drawing, he was more than glad to recognize in the work an artist of extraordinary skill, more capable than himself.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2808 - 2811

 2808. It was a drawing of a model he especially liked, and after the pose was done and the model had gone home, he labored at the drawing for many hours, elaborating the details from his imagination. The drawing in the shop window was the same sort of inspired image, and like his own drawing, it seems to be that sections of it were left unfinished and rather hazy.

2809. It is only gradually that it dawns on Mr. Hunt that he is not looking at a drawing but an object that was created by a machine and the utilization of chemicals in a laboratory. When he looked very carefully at the object this is what he noticed: the clothing appeared to be unfinished as when in a drawing something is left undone, or scrubbed out with the eraser. But the unfinished parts were full of very faint mathematically accurate detail.

 2810. That there might be perfectly rendered details in the unfinished portions of a drawing he knew was an impossibility, and as he was trying to figure out this enigma, he happened to notice the sign board in the windows which explained that he was looking at a daguerreotype. 

2811. Poor Mr. Holman Hunt. Just for a moment we will imagine that he is not just Mr Hunt, but a combination and amalgamation of all the artists who have ever lived. In his blood and in his bones, in his genetic makeup are all of those individuals who dedicated their lives to trying to figure out how on earth one goes about getting what the eye sees down onto a piece of paper so other people might understand it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2804 - 2807


2804. The first photographs, produced at the beginning did not look like much, they look rather like the shadows cast on a wall which sometimes remind one of landscape and city scenes. But by mid-century the process had advanced to such an extent that reproducible images could be created and those images displayed the physical world if a sharp focus. 

 2805. As soon as the photographic process was formalized and made predictable and repeatable small shops and business began to appear in places like Paris and London, the purposes of these small businesses was to invite the public in, and for a small sum, produce a photographic portrait of the individual or of his family.

 2806. Now we have to imagine Mr. Holman Hunt leaving his studio in London on a Saturday afternoon, and going for a walk in the public gardens, and after that a promenade down Oxford Street. For the first time in his life he comes across a photography shop in which daguerrotypes are being made. In the past he has read some articles in art journals about the process, but this is the first time he has seen any examples displayed in a shop window.

2807. Mr. Hunt imagines that he is looking at a drawing in pencil on a very dark piece of paper. He is struck with admiration for such a drawing. He thinks to himself, “Sometimes when I am concentrating to the best of my ability I am able to do a drawing of this great accuracy.” He remembers a drawing he did years ago, his favorite drawing that he has at home in a gilded frame.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2800 - 2803

2800. Then again the lace collars that the Flemish women liked to wear; made up of tiny white threads, might come out looking like a plate of pasta was spilled at the top of the woman’s chest.

2801. But regardless of the difficulties of getting the small details right, and indifferent to the tragic mistakes and catastrophes involved, artists for thousands of years struggled as best they were able to make their images as realistic as possible, and then came the Pre-Raphaelites; born into the world at a very awkward time from the point of view of details in pictures.

2802. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of English painters was founded by Holman Hunt and others in the year 1848. The picture above is a typical Hunt painting, and also very usual for the Pre-Raphaelite school. We can pass over their philosophy which is a lot of vacuous ideas critical of the art from Raphael on, and simply note that the paintings of this period are characterized by excessively tiny detailed observation coupled with trite sentimental subject matter.

2803. As Mr. Holman Hunt was laboring in his studio producing canvases in which the surface of things was being rendered with meticulous precision, another set of images was being produced in France which was to have a profound influence on the question of how to depict things like hair, thread, flies wings, dust and feathers in an image. Photography had been invented, and for fifty years the process had slowly evolved.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2796 - 2799

 2796. Before I say anything about the Pre-Raphaelites, I have to say right out that I can’t stand any of their paintings, and I find them all to be irritating. For some reason, I can’t guess what it was, the painters of that period were obsessed with kind of saccharine sentimentality that makes my skin crawl to look at.

  2797. I will try to restrict myself to just talking about the subject, which is the small details in oil paintings, but you may notice some sarcasm creeping into my comments, but I have been honest and have stated at the beginning why this might be.

 2798. All paintings from the earliest times have contained a certain degree of fine little details. Even in very ancient portraits, such as on the death masks the Egyptians put on their mummies, you can find the painters attempting to indicate things like eyelashes, and facial hair, and even age spots. Then as now, artists were always praised for the degree of resolution they were capable of achieving in their works.

2799. But those little details are very difficult and time consuming, and have the nasty habit of making a picture look comical and ridiculous if they are not done just right. So a painter might attempt to render certain age spots or birth marks in a portrait only to get the color slightly wrong and have people say, “Did ketchup splash on this face?”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2792 - 2795

 2792. No, the above statement is incorrect! We have to leave out the Sistine Chapel because Michelangelo did not employ any assistants in any of his work. And so, if you look carefully at the figures, you will not find any hairs painted on his figures. Mr. Buonarroti is content to indicate the hair-do’s of his figures, but not any actual hairs.

 2793. He also treats all of his draperies in a broad way, as if  big wool army blankets had been thrown over his figures, employing only sometimes a purple stripe along an edge for elaboration. But never do you find him painting tedious little patterns in his cloth, a thing which is so fascinating in the works of Holbein who was his contemporary.

 2794. But I do not need these critics finding fault with my ideas about the role of tiny details in oil paintings and the question of whether the little details enhance or detract from the quality of the works. I can point out, all by myself, a perfect example of very fine paintings the rendering of which is resolved down the most minute details, and done without the help of any assistants.

2795. Whether we want to or not, we have to include in this discussion the paintings of those painters called the Pre-Raphaelites, those English painters whose works do seem to have been painted from start to finish with the one hair brush.