— Drawing and poem by William Eaton
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
here 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
The inspiration for this piece? See Farah Nayeri’s November 18, 2019, New York Times piece: Is It Time Gauguin Got Canceled?
For those wishing to read the text of the poem without all the colors intervening . . . here ’tis:
On Gauguin being chased from museums
for being a savage person and having
said and done savage things
Let those sans sin, one might reply,
Yet what’s so special about our times
(Though, at least in this, not special – sigh)
Is how many now loudly cry
(And not just great sisters and mothers) –
We’re not savage like those others!
Who we shun or, better, expose
Those humans painting too unclothed!
And saying, doing, quite savage things.
While we, the pure, accusations sling!
The French editorial cartoonist Xavier Gorce has, in his own way, weighed in on this subject:
Notes made while and after a keynote speaker was having trouble getting from beauty parlor to Uber to . . .
— Drawing and poem by William Eaton
. . . I wanted to say a hair more about my “secret dream” of learning how to draw. What I meant was this. Some people, much as many artists long ago, first seek to learn some set idea of the basics before they try to make art. For example, French art students used to have to work years with plaster casts before they got to draw from live models. But I . . . we . . . For one, we don’t know what the “basics” are any more. Perhaps the most basic and hardest thing is learning how to let one’s heart lose on the paper? And how do you learn that?
— Text and watercolor by William Eaton
N.B. It might be said that Robert Browning got here first, in his Fra Lippo Lippi“:
Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true
As much as pea and pea! it’s devil’s-game!
Your business is not to catch men with show,
With homage to the perishable clay,
But lift them over it, ignore it all,
Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.
Your business is to paint the souls of men—
Man’s soul, and it’s a fire, smoke . . . no, it’s not . . .
It’s vapour done up like a new-born babe—
(In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth)
It’s . . . well, what matters talking, it’s the soul!
Give us no more of body than shows soul!
From the New Jersey exurbs, a friend e-mailed a “photo of a kind of erotic ‘still-life’ of peaches.” This was a challenge. Among other things, and borrowing from an old song: If you can’t make my peaches erotic, honey, please leave ‘em in the trees?
I had the idea to print the photo on my black-and-white laser printer. This seemed to simplify the challenge, or at least I could begin work with more confidence. The light values were clearer; all the colors became gray tones.
Around dusk one evening, an employee of my local café was clearing the junk from the outdoor tables; he saw me drawing and the work in progress and, with a smile, quipped: “Gotta love cleavage!”
I can’t say that peach-cleavage was exactly what I was after, but I was emboldened by his remark. At least something erotic was coming through.
Often when drawing models I have in the back of my mind: How could I do this with just a few lines? And it seems at times that one is drawing and drawing above all to build up the confidence to just make those few telling lines and then STOP! Don’t let extra time or insufficient daring cause you to rework and rework.