Tag Archives: Modern Art

Jacob Lawrence

Check out the work of Jacob Lawerence, particularly his Migration Series. This 60-panel epic was completed when he was only 23 years old.


“Housing was a serious problem.” 1940–41, Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy

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Robert Reed

Check out the work of Robert Reed, an alchemist of color and geometry. https://hyperallergic.com/491306/the-bauhaus-and-the-black-experience-the-magnificent-and-mysterious-robert-reed/

Robert Reed, “Galactic Journal: Antibes Vert (aka School Colors #2)” (2004), acrylic/oil marker on canvas, 90 x 81 in

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Thursday Thoughts: Selected Quotes from “The Aesthetics of Silence” by Susan Sontag

“Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself. (Spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at the resolution of painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.) In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is “art.”

…The newer myth, derived from a post-psychological conception of consciousness, installs within the activity of art many of the paradoxes involved in attaining an absolute state of being described by the great religious mystics. As the activity of the mystic must end in a via negative, a theology of God’s absence, a craving for the cloud of unknowingness beyond knowledge and for the silence beyond speech, so art must tend toward anti-art, the elimination of the “subject” (the “object,” the “image”), the substitution of chance for intention, and the pursuit of silence.

…no longer a confession, art is more than ever a deliverance, an exercise in asceticism. Through it, the artist becomes purified — of himself and, eventually, of his art, The artist (if not art itself) is still engaged in a progress toward “the good.” But formerly, the artist’s good was mastery of and fulfillment in his art. Now it’s suggested that the highest good for the artist is to reach that point where those goals of excellence become insignificant to him, emotionally and ethically, and he is more satisfied by being silent than by finding a voice in art.

…Committed to the idea that the power of art is located in its power to negate, the ultimate weapon in the artist’s inconsistent war with his audience is to verge closer and closer to silence… And none of the aggressions committed intentionally or inadvertently by modern artists have succeeded in either abolishing the audience or transforming it into something else. (A community engaged in a common activity?) They cannot. As long as art is understood and valued as an “absolute” activity, it will be a separate, elitist one. Elites presuppose masses. So far as the best art defines itself by essentially “priestly” aims, it presupposes and confirms the existence of a relatively passive, never fully initiated, voyeuristic laity which is regularly convoked to watch, listen, read, or hear — and then sent away.

…But these programs for art’s impoverishment must not be understood simply as terroristic admonitions to audiences, but as strategies for improving the audience’s experience. The notions of silence, emptiness, reduction, sketch out new prescriptions for looking, hearing, etc. — specifically, either for having a more immediate, sensuous experience of art or for confronting the art work in a more conscious, conceptual way.

…Contemporary art, no matter how much it’s defined itself by a taste for negation, can still be analyzed as a set of assertions, of a formal kind. For instance, each work of art gives us a form or paradigm or model of knowing something, an epistemology.”

You can find the complete essay online or in her collection Styles of Radical Will.

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How to Look at Art:

A friend recently loaned me an excellent book on teaching art appreciation: Getting It: A guide to understanding and appreciating art by Becky Hendrick. Below is a simple outline of the book’s main points.


Art Appreciation=Life Appreciation

2 Requirements for Appreciating Art:

1. Look at it objectively without prejudice

2. Know enough information about its relationship to history and culture

Fine Art: 

-Not created for external demands (like graphic design or advertisements, it’s internally motivated)

-Non-verbal language, looking at art is like hearing a foreign language for the first time

-Content rather than subject matter (not an one sentence “answer”)

-“That’s terrible” really means “I don’t like it” Learn to be aware of personal preference

-If you bring the wrong set of expectations to a work of art you won’t be able to “get it”

-Most people spend an average of 10 seconds looking at a work of art

How to Look at Art:

-Describe it objectively without interpretation (a skill that needs to be practiced)

-Make subjective connections (this makes me think of_______)

-Analyze the content of the work

-Interpret and judge

Visual Vocabulary:

-Artists communicate in a different language they learn through making art

-Line, shape, space, value, color, texture, etc.

-Artists make a series of decisions based on their knowledge of their visual vocabulary


-If it’s in a book or on a screen it’s not actually the work of art

-Pictures can’t communicate scale or subtleties

“Art may not ‘mean’ anything in the literal sense, but like the atmosphere preceding a storm, it puts us into a frame of mind for pondering the timeless questions of existences and meaning.”


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Mark Rothko

This documentary is absolutely fascinating. It’s an intriguing look at the life of Mark Rothko as well as an excellent example of a documentary that teaches one how to look at modern art. I highly recommend it for both the skeptics and the fans of modern art.



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Brief musings on the contemporary art world

The contemporary art world feels like a river swollen with the deluge unleashed by modernism. It rushes forward inexorable, surging through all definitions of art and breaking all conventions. This energy has opened the flood gates to all kinds of art-making and has washed away the linear progression of “isms” that marked the earlier art world. However, such energy can hardly continue forever. At some point artists must build a dam to slow this forward momentum to a steady stream while allowing the deluge to pool into the depths of a reservoir that will sustain and nourish the community around it. The wild river opened up the landscape and allowed for a global trade of ideas, but our communities need an expanse of art that will nourish them instead of rushing ever forward in the continual movement of art about art.

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The Tate Modern

The Tate Modern

The Tate Modern

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern in London. I didn’t have as much time to wander around and contemplate the art as I would have liked, but I was able to make several observations:

I. I discovered the “missing link” between realism and abstraction-Monet’s paintings. 

Monet: Water-Lilies. If one saw this painting without knowing who it was by or the typical subject matter of Money they could easily assume it was simply an abstract painting.

Monet: Water-Lilies. On a screen the subject matter of this painting becomes more obvious. However, stand in front of it as it stretches from wall to wall and it becomes easy to forget that it’s a painting of Monet’s water-lilies and to get lost in the abstract texture, color and form.

Some abstract artists work in a way that highlights the beauty of texture, color, and form without obviously referencing the visual world we are familiar with. This becomes a stumbling block to many viewers who have difficulty seeing the craft or level of care put into such paintings because they are looking for the world they know. However, paintings like the above serve as a reminder that the beauty of nature is abstract. Trees, mountains, sunsets, etc. are not beautiful because they look like themselves, but because of their forms, colors, and textures. Monet and the other impressionists began paving the way for abstraction by seeking to depict the beauty of the world in a way that would help their audience see with fresh eyes.

II. The Tate used a combination of past and modern art to help viewers understand what they were seeing and to show them how to approach the art. 

Understanding art requires an understanding of each movement’s place in art history. Art works derive some of their significance from their location in history. In several exhibits the Tate would provide examples of past art that influenced modern artists to help viewers better understand some of the artistic decisions the artists had made.

Rothko greatly admired Turner's work, particularly his later paintings, which are pared back to be almost pure evocations of light and mood.

Mark Rothko greatly admired the work J.M.W. Turner’s. Particularly his later paintings which are pared back to be almost pure evocations of light and mood.

No. 8 by Mark Rothko

No. 8 by Mark Rothko

Black on Maroon by Mark Rothko

Black on Maroon by Mark Rothko

III. My favorite painting at the Tate, and the one I felt was the most visually striking, was Max Ernst’s “The Entire City.”

I know some artists and critics who balk at the idea of picking a favorite work of art after visiting a museum. My art education helps me to appreciate and understand art that I may not like, but I still gravitate towards work that I find beautiful or attractive. It is human nature to categorize things based on our personal preference, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as one can move past that and see the merit in work they may not like.

The Entire City by Max Ernst. Ernst used a technique called Grattage in which we would place a canvas over a rough surface and scrape paint across it to create rich textures.

The Entire City by Max Ernst. Ernst used a technique called Grattage in which we would place a canvas over a rough surface and scrape paint across it to create rich textures.

IV. The more contemporary the art, the less information or explanation accompanies it. 

One thing that frustrated me was the lack of information on contemporary art pieces. This was all the more irritating because most of the art from more than twenty years ago had a paragraph or two to help viewers understand the work better. Famous paintings which many viewers likely would have learned about in school were still accompanied by basic explanations. Yet the more contemporary work, which the average viewer would likely have no familiarity with, would frequently lack any kind of conceptual framework or title.

V. Art that illuminates music- Gerhard Richter’s Cage paintings. (Description taken from Tate exhibit)

“Richter’s monumental Cage paintings were completed in 2006 and first exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Like his earlier squeegee abstractions, they are the outcome of several layers of painting and erasure. Their surfaces are animated by lines where the squeegee has paused, by brushstrokes, other scrapings, and areas where the skin of oil paint has dried and rippled. Cage 1 with its soft lateral striations evokes the surface of a gently running river; in Cage 2 a veil of grey covers autumnal yellows like a thin mist; in Cage 3 grey paint seems much more material recalling the coarse surface of a concrete wall. Deep reds dominate the upper and lower section of Cage 4 and are more concealed in Cage 5Cage 6has the greatest chromatic range but there is still a sense of understatement and muted light.

Richter was listening to the music of John Cage while he worked on these paintings and titled them after the composer. He has long been interested in Cage’s ideas about ambient sound and silence, and has approvingly quoted his statement ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it’. Richter is also drawn to Cage’s rejection of intuition as well as total randomness, planning his compositions through structures and chance procedures. While there are no direct links between any particular work in this series and any composition by Cage, some critics have suggested affinities between the two figures’ approaches and between the constant flux in Cage’s music and the space created by Richter’s paintings.”

Cage 4 by Gerhard Richter

Cage 4 by Gerhard Richter

V. Whenever I visit at museum or gallery I make a list of artists I want to research later. 

The Corridor by  Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

The Corridor by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

Crucifixion by F.N. Souza

Crucifixion by F.N. Souza

Lee Ufan. I found this painting quite striking and evocative. Ufan's process was mechanically precise. He would load a paintbrush and run it down the canvas until it ran out of paint. He would repeat this process until reaching the edge of his surface.   Yet despite the simple approach this painting has a great deal of depth and suggestive power.

Lee Ufan. I found this painting quite striking and evocative. Ufan’s process was mechanically precise; he would load a paintbrush and run it down the canvas until it ran out of paint, repeating this process until reaching the edge of his surface. Despite the simple approach , this painting has a great deal of depth, interesting form, and suggestive power.

Moment by Barnett Newman. This was one of his first paintings to incorporate the zip.

Moment by Barnett Newman. This was one of his first paintings to include the famous “zip”.

Ibrahim El-Salahi

Ibrahim El-Salahi

Lares by Paul Nash

Lares by Paul Nash


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