Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Response to South

Following Yesterday's post, this question was asked of me:

T or F: Monumental work is nearly always impressive by merit of its sheer size. How would your impression of this work change if it were small(er)? Is the answer that artists should go back to painting machine sized canvases? Discuss amongst yourselves.

After reading this question, I spent the morning discussing it amongst, well, myself. This is what I decided:

I completely agree with you that, in a general sense, monumental work cannot help but be impressive. With this work, in particular, I believe the large scale was not simply a marketing tool, but a necessity. Perhaps I should have mentioned this in the original post, but in the year before this painting was created, the artist actually spent time in Polar Regions (although the specific area currently escapes me). That being said, Rockman's understanding of the scenery is unique. To me, this seems to be a more realistic approach to a commonly discussed but rarely traveled area of the world (*note, I am basing the realistic qualities on size alone). Of course my impression of this work would change were it smaller. Rather than being forced to step back and let the work guide me, I would likely lean in. I believe my attention to detail would remain constant, however the overall glory of the piece would diminish.
In regards to whether or not artists should go back to machine sized works as a whole, my answer is a firm absolutely not. I find that if more than 3 machine sized works are too proximal in a gallery, their size negates each other. South was so striking because it was the only work of this scale in the exhibit. I don't believe there were any works at all comparable in size. As the only machine sized work, it is alluring. As one of many, it would seem cliché.
Rather than machine sized painting, however, I believe the real issue here has yet to be approached. Landscape Painting.* How many times have you thought to yourself, “Thomas Cole, where have you gone?” while roaming through a museum? The answer? Probably not as many times as I have.** I love landscape painting. Yes, it is formulaic, but all painting is. No, I’m not saying that I think all Contemporary artists should flock once more to the Hudson River or the Great American West, but I congratulate Rockman for boldly approaching a traditional style, which so many artists seem to shy away from.

*The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to a great deal of landscape paintings, including works by Cole, Bierstadt, Church, etc.

**Unless your name is James Swensen.

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