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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

World's Most Amazing Painting

Though I started painting pictures back in 1963, the period when I was most active at it lasted about 20 years, from around 1980 through catastrophe-filled 2001. I still look on myself as being a painter even now, because I see stained glass -- at least the way I do it -- as being a form of painting, using a medium consisting of glass and light. But even then, I feel as if, if I was so moved, I could pick up a brush and paint a complete work with oils or acrylics just as easily. But so far I haven't done that in the last 11 years.

Painting entered my mind a few days ago because I seem to have awakened thinking about freedom in creative stuff, whether it's in painting, writing, or in any other of the creative bags, and my mind started reviewing what I know about the famous masters of the past, and what they did about it.

The pictures that gave me the most trouble by far were portraits. That's because, first, they're technically the most difficult to paint, and secondly they offer the least latitude for artistic freedom, because of how they are greeted by others after the work is done, which isn't likely to be as generous as it is in the case of any other genre. And when those who wanted the picture disapprove, they don't hold back from expressing their displeasure. As a result I would bet that the great majority of paintings that end up being turned face to the wall through at least the first hundred years of their existence are portraits. Probably it's easiest for them to look good if you don't know how the person or persons really looked. Maybe, then, they are best viewed only after a cooling-off period of that length.

One reason for this big snag is that there's nothing harder to paint than the human face. It is incredibly subtle, and even the smallest single stroke can easily result in a totally different face every time. You would think that this would make people correspondingly hard to recognize in ordinary day to day life, yet the human mind is miraculously structured so as to be able to pick up these minute distinctions with just a glance. This could be why the planet can hold all seven billion of us, with a few more billion to come. So, when you finally dare to consider a portrait finished, it's not at all guaranteed that you've arrived at the best likeness, and I wonder if, even in the case of the greatest masters, whether it was just as likely that they reached the point where they finally gave up trying and delivered the thing, while holding their breath and hoping for the best.

For these reasons maybe portrait painters should be lauded over all others. At least they display the most heart.

Of all the paintings of any genre that I've ever seen anywhere -- the overwhelmingly great majority of them reproduced in books, naturally -- my vote as the most amazing painting ever completed and presented to the world goes without hesitation to the huge group portrait that Goya did around 1800. Titled "Charles IV of Spain and His Family," this painting is amazing because it shows a fair proportion of the dozen or so life-size figures in guises that are in no way flattering but instead-- Well, what can I say? Borrowing from Red Skelton's comic character of yesteryear, Klem Kadiddlehopper, "They just don't look right to me." Something tragic happened to the genetics there, and no one in the picture except the artist seems to have noticed that.

I know that Goya was as highly regarded in his time as he is now, and well he should've been. Still, this painting shows Spain's royalty of that time in such an unfavorable light that I don't understand why he wasn't immediately snatched and hauled off for questioning as soon as he had finished even just a quarter of it. And I don't understand either how he managed to unveil the whole thing without the royal family, given the thoroughgoing Spanish capacity for cruelty in those and earlier and also some later times, having him put away in a dank dungeon for the rest of his life.

But we are told that they liked it!

I don't understand. Still, I am glad that Charles the 4th and his folks left this painting to the ages. The searing aspects of its subject matter performs a little dance with its continued existence that shows there is hope yet for humanity.

If I wasn't so cursed by an intense dislike of travel, and if my presence didn't have a bad effect on the colors, which we are told is the case with all the crowds that see the other painting that I am about to mention, I would dream of visiting Spain just to see Charles IV and his loved ones in all their dumbfounding splendor -- though only after first checking out Velasquez's 1656 "Las Meninas," another huge painting in every way and also showing a Spanish royal family, of 150 years earlier. Both paintings can be seen in the Prado, which I think is in Madrid, and both probably occupy their very own little -- or big-- rooms.

"Las Meninas" is also amazing, not so much in its having had the potential to invite mayhem upon the artist, as it is in being a singularly haunting conception, when it comes to how Velasquez arranged the figures and so forth. His composition here recedes from front to back in a really cool kind of third dimension. Goya kept his composition mostly up front, extended from one side to the other.

In both the paintings the artists stuck themselves into the compositions peering out from their easels -- as clear a sign as any that Goya had his predecessor very much in mind when he decided to make a very different statement on Spain's monarchs -- and incredibly, at least to me, got away clean with it.

I wanted to show the paintings in this post, but Blogger wouldn't let me. All of a sudden they jumped stingy with their free megabytes. But Google will show you both in seconds flat.


Blogger carl can said...

Sounds very interesting! I will check this out! painter in phoenix

7:59 PM  

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