All posts by William Eaton

Make lines, lots of lines

Charcoal, face behind torso, by William Eaton, Nov 2019Make lines, lots of lines

Notes for Poem #3 on Contemporary Art

Peu de temps avant sa mort, Degas étant allé rendre visite à Ingres, celui-ci lui dit en matière de vade-mecum : « Faites des lignes et des lignes d’après nature ou de mémoire et vous deviendrez un bon artiste. »
 — Henri Hertz, Degas : Art et esthétique (Paris: F. Alcan, 1920)

Make lines Ingres is said to have said to the young Edgar de Gas, before he repositioned his name. Make lines, young man, lots of lines, from your memory, from your life, you will become a good painter. But if, I am thinking, chaining my bike to a parking sign outside a New York art gallery, I read in a magazine that the contemporary art market is dominated by about 150

very rich people, advised, guided, channeled, befriended, hustled by not all that many art professionals with degrees from places like Harvard; though more important than their degrees are their connections and talents for befriending, et al., and for knowing when to compromise and how to build on and feed off consensus, plus how to help rich people launder

assets, avoid taxes and protect against inflation. You have to think that the situation is not all that different from what it was in past centuries. (Not the Impressionists again! Nor, say, Victor Choquet, or starting with Victor Choquet and ending perhaps around Leo Castelli? Or Alfred Barr, the Rockefellers and the CIA?) But you want to know: Is there some question in

Charcoal, top contra middle, by William Eaton, Nov 2019here about art? What questions would be worth asking? In another poem I asked, if we accept how much is pre-scripted, whatever would we say? Now I would ask, if an artist or group of artists could arise – artists who had, above all, their own independent ways and a small group of friends and collectors such as the low-paid customs officer Victor Choquet or like the weal-

thy independent painter Gustave Caillebotte who ended up struggling to give the French state the Impressionist paintings that now help the French tourism industry make millions. Would there be a way for the work of such contemporary artists to be recognized, not as interesting minor or outsider art, but upsetting the whole golden apple cart, a revaluation of all values, a

Nietzschean could call it, and a Marxist can say that all this depends on there being changes in economic relations. Nobody can be waiting for the final withering away of all governments, but how about “a rebirth of wonder,” as Lawrence Ferlinghetti proposed in the 1950s? I’m not holding my breath. Faites des lignes, Ingres said, beaucoup de lignes. Make lines, lots of lines.

— Poem and drawing by William Eaton