Updike Reads The Lines in American Art
Jefferson Lecturer Tackles Nation’s Quest for Identity
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 24, 2008; Page C07
Give novelist and sometime art critic John Updike credit. The 2008 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecturer tried to answer the thorny question: “What is American about American art?”
Onstage at the Warner Theatre Thursday night, in front of 1,900 culture lovers, the angular, silver-haired Updike used more than 60 images, ranging from formal mid-18th-century portraits by Bostonian John Singleton Copley to the hyper-realistic late-20th-century renderings of Richard Estes, to make his point: “The American artist . . . born into a continent without museums and art schools, took nature as his only instructor, and things as his principal study.”
One of the salient traits of this country, he told the gathering, is an urge to define what is American. To delineate the romantic wildness of our nature. To search for a national self-image. That desire to map the New World is reflected in the tight classicist tradition of American art.
Drawing rules in this country’s artwork, Updike said. He quoted a European-trained artist who criticized Copley — the first American to exhibit a painting in Europe — for being too “liney.” That is, too reliant on the drawing in his paintings and not free enough with color and light.
By tracing that harsh “lineyness” in American painting, and juxtaposing it against a freer, more colorful romantic “painterliness” in other work, Updike laid out a convincing answer to his overarching what-is-American question.
Yet he did it subtly. Flashing slides of well-knowns, such as Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, Grant Wood and Norman Rockwell, Updike pointed out the distinctions.
European-influenced artists, such as Homer and John Singer Sargent, tended toward the painterly; more purely American artists, such as Copley and Thomas Hart Benton, toward the liney.
Reading from a text, Updike, 76, spoke in a raspy voice. The presentation moved quickly. An invitation to deliver the Jefferson Lecture is the loftiest award given by the federal government for “distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities,” and there was a patriotic air to the affair.
Even the U.S. Marine Band showed up to play before the ceremony.
At no point during the speech did Updike, or the slideshow technology, falter. The address was based on “Picturing America,” an NEH initiative to distribute reproductions of American paintings to schools and libraries.
Diversity was nearly absent in Updike’s presentation. The painters he referred to were mostly males of European descent, a cohort he referred to as “that least hip of demographic groups.” He did not, for instance, mention the extraordinary American painter Mary Cassatt, who became an expatriate.
Either ignored or overlooked, as well, was any reference to a 19th-century European debate — similar to the liney-painterly dichotomy — between classicist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and romanticist EugÃ¨ne Delacroix.
Regardless, Updike’s lecture was high-minded and provocative — like most of his work.
Soon after the talk ended, the patrons repaired to the Willard Hotel for a wine-and-sweets reception. So did Updike.
My Artomatic 2008 Opening Night Exhibit Dissected on Flickr
|| 5/27/2008 || 2:50 pm || Comments Off on My Artomatic 2008 Opening Night Exhibit Dissected on Flickr || ||
I’ve never been a fan of Flickr. I dislike how photos are lifted from Flickr all the time without proper citation. One of my biggest annoyances regarding my artwork or other people’s work is when it’s posted on-line with no link back or extra information regarding the artist or the circumstances regarding the image’s origin. Instead you get “neat huh?” “Cool photo!” “Look at this!” etc and while it’s great that more eyes are seeing the image, it undermines the artist’s visibility because the citation is not always accurately presented. A good example of this lack of information can be seen at the social image bookmarking website FFFFOUND!. This lack of citation is not the case 100% of the time, but its the main reason why I don’t upload my artwork to Flickr. Since I have ample server space and nearly unlimited bandwidth I’ve never needed another repository for my images.
I also don’t like the stalker ability that comes with having all of your photographs on-line for strangers to look at and download. I won’t name names, but I’ve looked through some Flickr photostreams of some of my friends and have found that the photos offer far too much information about their lives, activities, and friends. You can look through someone’s photos and see their exes, the interior of their homes, and basically just about anything the person decided to place out there for strangers to view. Worse is that you cannot access the information regarding where your photographs are viewed from. Since I have access to my website’s server logs I can find exactly how many times a photograph has been looked at and by what IP addresses. This information is shielded from the Flickr user and dumbed down to a lowly view counter.
With those reservations aside, I decided to play nice and upload one photograph of my Artomatic 2008 exhibit taken on May 9th. I went through and tagged the photograph twelve times showcasing the content that has been placed on top of the Base Map. Since I embedded quite a few links into the notes, I’ll be able to track exactly who clicks on the image and know with a certain amount of certainty how many times the photograph has been looked at and where the photograph is being looked at from– if they click.
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