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Old 06-04-2005, 04:39 AM   #1
Thomas Nash Thomas Nash is offline
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Blake Gopnik trashes official portraits and oil painting in Washington Post article




For some reason, the Washington Post employs a guy as their top art critic who thinks that painting is dead. He is enamored with photography and video mostly and is very intolerant of other art forms. The article ostensibly concerns itself with "official portraits" but he really says that anyone who would be foolish enough to work in oil on canvas nowadays isn't really an artist.

Most artists don't go out of their way to bash another art form. Most people just go there own way and if they don't have something good to say, they shut up. As a critic he felt compelled to criticize the art, artists and patrons of official portraiture in Washington rather than write an article on the positive qualities of his favorite type of artists.

I know it's a downer to read this junk because we are in a positive and happy business. The good news is that it is rare and that few people in the public really care what he thinks. It is healthy though for everybody in the portrait world to know what is sometimes said so that we can be better ambassadors of our art form and speak up for it when appropriate.

The reason I was even aware of the article was that they requested a photo of my painting without telling me what a hatchet job they intended to do on traditional oil portraiture. The author didn't have the artistic curiosity or journalistic integrity to even call me before making false assumptions about my painting.

In order to attack "the current crop" of official portraits, he reached back to a painting I did five years ago of the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. One can be forgiven for smelling a political angle in this choice.

The article "Portrait Capital" was in Sunday May 29th edition of Washington Post. It's on-line. The photos aren't shown.
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Old 06-04-2005, 05:50 AM   #2
Edgar Coleman Edgar Coleman is offline
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Here is a Link with passwords to enter WashingPost.com

Tom,

Here is the link to the article:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...48.html?sub=AR

The Wasington Post will require a log-in and password to view the entire article.

Plug these two login passwords to obtain entrance to the WashingtonPost.com site (thanks to Bugmenot.com):
1. Email password: biasedmedia@yahoo.com
2. Password: rathered

Regards,

Edgar
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Old 06-04-2005, 10:50 AM   #3
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Thanks for posting this here, Tom. Since I am about to begin painting an official gubernatorial portrait myself, I was particularly interested in reading this author's take on the current state of governmental portraiture.

The author, Blake Gopnik, misses the overwhelming irony in this statement he made, on the third page of the article:
Quote:
If money is being spent on public art of little lasting value...
He is referring, of course, to the official portraits that he spends the rest of the article deriding but I can't help but think of the millions of dollars of taxpayer money going into often outrageously silly (if not downright offensive) contemporary public "art" that is heavily funded and displayed throughout the country.

At least the curator of the Hirshhorn, Kerry Brougher, understands the real situation regarding the traditional portraiture we create:
Quote:
"What they (clients) want and where contemporary art is right now may be two different places."
I don't think any of us practicing this profession even want to be "where contemporary art is right now", and neither do our clients. What we do is so very different from the performance art/video art/installation art that, by its attention-grabbing sheer shock value, gathers up so much of the public funding for the visual arts these days.

Quote:
As Brougher points out, most of the portraiture that goes on in contemporary art is "the kind of thing that's in opposition to what federal officials want to say about themselves".
Exactly.

Gopnik is biting into an apple and expecting it to taste like an orange. The traditional portraiture we do is not part of what is commonly thought of as today's "contemporary art" -- and pretty adamantly doesn't want to be.

I'm saddened that he attacked your work, Tom, and the methodology used by that other charming and gracious artist, Simmie Knox. It's too bad he had to assail your reputations in trying to make his point.
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Old 06-04-2005, 12:30 PM   #4
Linda Brandon Linda Brandon is offline
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Nicely argued, Michele.

I have a museum curator aquaintance who once confessed to me that she regarded herself as having extraordinary artistic Taste and that if she could find the time and inclination to be an artist, she would be an extraordinary one. There are a lot of pundits in academia, the media, galleries and the art world who feel the same way. The truth of the matter is that being an artist takes as much guts as it does in having the talent, taste, stamina, and whatever else is necessary to rise to the top.

Most critics are under enormous pressure, both external and internal, to appear trendy and "original" and of course the irony is that they end up as advocates of the multi-million dollar Establishment art marketing machine we see operating today.

Personally, like many artists, I would love to see a little shaking up of the "man in the suit" look, but Washington officlal portraitdom is probably not the place where this will happen.

Never let anyone get your goat. Go Tom!
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Old 06-04-2005, 12:37 PM   #5
Claudemir Bonfim Claudemir Bonfim is offline
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This Blake Goblin is just mad because nobody wants to portray him.
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Old 06-04-2005, 01:20 PM   #6
Thomas Nash Thomas Nash is offline
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It's a long article and is clearly written with a simple agenda but that agenda is not to educate the readers about official portraiture today or even the state of traditional painting today. Gopnik is simply a fan of another area of the art world and wishes "his guys" could get in on the official portrait business.

What has evolved to be called art in the last hundred years is so diverse that the term "art" becomes pretty meaningless unless qualified. Even "apples and oranges" falls one complete produce section of the grocery store short of describing the current options within this "big basket" of what could be termed some form of art.

I personally have found some "installations" and video loop and other types of art that are very different from our own to at times be fascinating. I have never felt threatened by the fact that they are made or questioned the validity of the artists who did them or their right to do so.

Most artists working hard at their craft in whatever media it is will recognize honest effort and creativity in others even when the tools and materials and even the goals are different from their own,

It seems that sometimes the champions of what is broadly referred to as "contemporary art" that aren't actually in the arena, aren't actually artists, are the ones most guilty of bashing those artists who do not conform to their vision of what an artist is and should be doing.

I would not encourage my fellow traditional painters to waste their time talking about what they "don't' do" or "don't like". This seems to be a common theme among much of so called "contemporary" art. The descriptions ones reads of why an artist did something often begin, "I didn't want to do------- or "i wasn't' interested in merely........... . The better contemporary artists have more of a reason to get up in the morning than simple " to NOT do something.

At the root of this is a fear (and a mistaken one) that somehow life is "a zero sum game". That is, that someone has to lose in order for someone to win and that there is "only so much to go around", so if you are not getting everything that you want, it must be because someone else got it instead.

Blake Gopnik clearly feels that if only those stodgy old congressmen were as enlightened as he was, that they would all run right out and commission video installations or manipulated photos for the walls of the Capitol rather than painted portraits. His strategy to achieve that is to belittle the traditional work and those that would patronize it. He is very lacking when it comes to explaining the reasons that his "product" would serve anyone any better.

No one lives or dies by whether or not they get a commission for a high profile public portrait. These are plums and we consider ourselves lucky when one falls our way. In thirty five years I have one painting in the U.S. Capitol. Gopnik knows that even if the official world of portraiture were to take a whole different view and suddenly hire his guys, the number of pieces commissioned would not feed all those that practice that art. The irony is that what he is really begging for is "acceptance" and recognition within the very world he is attacking.

Since I spend my time focusing mostly on my specialty, I was not familiar with Gopnik or the "experts" he brought in to help him write his article. Unfortunately for him and them both, today with a simple Google, we can get up to speed and easily expose what their personal agendas and biases actually are.

Kerry Brougher from the Hirshhorn is clearly just another photo as art enthusiast if you see the books he has for sale under his name. Had Gopnik had a sincere desire to write an informative article on the good, bad and ugly in official portraiture today (and it could be written) he would have turned to someone who could help shore up his own considerable shortcomings when it comes to knowledge of traditional painting.


There is much more that could be said on this article and this subject. I'll be back!.
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Old 06-04-2005, 01:44 PM   #7
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Perhaps a rebuttal to the editors of the Washington Post might be worthwhile.
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Old 06-04-2005, 01:54 PM   #8
Robert McGee Robert McGee is offline
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Every writer has an angle

It seems to me that Gopnik's attack was more on the clients who commission the artwork, rather than the artists who give them what they want. It's unfortunate that he chose to use Tom's fine painting as an example of what he considers to be the bad side of official portraiture, but I think it's pretty clear to anyone who paints portraits for a living that you can't pay a lot of bills by painting people with "warts and all."

As a personal aside to Thomas, a similiar thing happened to me a couple of years ago when Texas Monthly called and asked if they could do a story on me after a piano competition in Las Vegas. (They had gotten a press release about the competition.) When the article came out, I was listed among the 100 most bizzare things that happened in the last year. I was mad at first, but I gotta say in hindsight that the article was the best thing that ever happened to me. There's no such thing as bad publicity.

Robert
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Old 06-04-2005, 02:39 PM   #9
Thomas Nash Thomas Nash is offline
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Everybody puts on a clean shirt and brushes their teeth in the morning before they go out and face the world. No one should feel they have to apologize for wanting to look their best if they are to be painted and seen for hundreds of years.

I have always been a strong defender not only of what we do but of those that ask us to do it. Our clients appreciate portrait painting and make it possible for us to do what we love. We should be as staunch in our support of their right and motivations to commission a portrait as we are about our right to paint them.

I have found that the majority of portraits I am hired to paint are simply because someone wanted to celebrate and remember someone that they love, admire or wish to honor in some lasting way. Most portraits are initiated by someone other than the subject.

There are clients who make it clear they are concerned about how they will look, but ironically Newt Gingrich was not one of those. In all my years of portraiture I have never had a subject who was less preoccupied with his appearance. He is more into ideas. I could've painted a montage of the Contract with America he is holding and some other symbols of things he is interested in and left him out of the painting altogether and I don't think he would've cared.

I have written a response to the WP but I have no confidence they would print it. The article was nearly 3000 words long but you are only allowed a maximum of 700 words to respond.
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Old 06-04-2005, 05:52 PM   #10
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco is offline
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Sorry for the intrusion, this has not much to do with official portraiture but there is a figurative painter among the finalists of the Turner Price, the most important art prize in UK, the one who was won a couple of years ago by an empty room with the light going on and off, by the amazing title of on/off.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main...ixartleft.html

Painting is not that dead, after all
Ilaria
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