Visual Art Aug 14, 2019 at 4:00 am

The Seattle Times critic did not go with the right mind-set.

The "Chamberlain Casket" that Seattle Times stupidly called “painfully kitschy.” Courtesy of Seattle Art Museum



I can't believe I'm writing this, but I think Charles nailed it.


Good Afternoon Charles,
I beheld (that's the proper verb for this exhibition) "Victorian Radicals" at SAM and enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended to those who haven't seen it. I also read Faigin's review in the Seattle Times. I was confounded. Perhaps you're correct, he probably didn't view the show with the correct "Mind-Set".


I found that entire show to be self-indulgent saccharine slop produced by the privileged young of the time. Weird, ugly crap.


PS, I definitely did not have the correct "mind-set". When you're old enough to have seen the "groundbreaking" nonsense created by several generations of self-absorbed youth, it's all just more crap.


Oh sure, always fun to look at. But if SAM had put British industrially-assisted art objects in one room and the academy-approved French equivalent in another, you'd see the Brits coming in second. In many an English middle-class mantle stood a small statue of dear martyred General Gordon, while in smart Parisian apartments was the framed copy of the death mask of the smiling drowned woman (who later became the face of "Rescue Annie" CPR dummies). There's a contrast of cultures if there ever was. Also, when the Victorians decided they'd beaten the world and were too highfalutin' for those JMW Turner smearings, if stopped itself up with Pre Raphaelite stodginess until after the Blitz, when the cork exploded letting Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud out. It's not industrialization on display: it's national hubris; which always results in kitsch.


I'm not sure of the idea of progress as only 300 years old.
After all, wasn't the spread of Christianity (and Islam) as the revelation of one true God considered progress over earlier religions that worshipped a multitude of gods?
Hence arose an incentive to baptize or convert (or kill) indigenous peoples who had not been exposed to these revelations.


@4 Who's going to miss you when you die, old man?


I think there's some major context you're missing here, esoteric knowledge and dialog about the art world that someone like Gary Faigin, founder of Gage Academy of Art, would possess. You're on to something with industrialization's affect on the painting world. Paintings are a bespoke luxury good for the luxury class; industrialization changed this in the form of prints for mass distribution, but also once photography came about the painting industry took a huge blow.

The result: a 20 century artistic dark age, as far as quality technique goes. All the rebellions against establishment art (impressionists, modernists, postmodernists) were what got into Life magazine. The world's greatest paintings, as far as technique is concerned, were completely dismissed.

Go back to the Radicals show, and look at the Landseer painting. It's the best piece in the show, and totally out of place. Edwin Landseer was as non-rebel as it gets; a Royal Academician, top of his class with a career trajectory to match, and a favorite of royalty. If you judge solely on technique, you can see what the preraphaelites lacked. Although their compositions were innovative, they often had poor finishing. They also ignored best practices, which is why their paintings are horribly cracked (they often used varnish as a medium, and other zany experiments.)

The 20th century was largely a devolution in art, formulated around a thesis of "LOL fuck art, art is dumb." The exception was commercial art, where quality still mattered. The fine finishing and hardcore technique of the Academy can be seen in the matte paintings of Star Wars, the Coca Cola santas of Haddon Sundblom, and in Max Ginsburg's Fabio book covers. Their quality technique is without question; therefore, we label them as "not REAL art."

Millenials grew up with games and movies, where quality visuals, descended from the representational tradition, inspire because of sheer quality. Old boomers then talk a bunch of bullshit about Jackson Pollock or whoever, and use their societal power to control the dialog about art. A drunk talentless overvalued paint-dripper is a pretty good metaphor for boomers. The pre-raphaelites were somewhere in the middle: grounded in good technique and education, but kinda doing stupid shit because fuck it, why not, and in some ways did age poorly as a result.

To help you understand where Faigin is coming from, you should understand where Gary Faigin is coming from. He is one of the EXTREMELY rare exceptions to this Boomer legacy, tending the flame of the realist tradition. It's founded in scientific best practices for assembling a painting, as well as the best practices for cultivating yourself as a good artist: rigorous life drawing, a deep reverence for the Truth of your optical experience (which, if you're using your eyes, is EXPLICITLY a realistic experience), and hard work.

Some "artists" make a living by having sex with Peggy Guggenheim, and call that art. It can be tempting to look at that exchange of money for nothing, and chase it. If that's for you, far out. But you should understand that Faigin's life's work largely equates to a pursuit of perfect images rendered in immortal technique.

99% of the fine art world is NOT concerned with that pursuit. So when Faigin and other representational realists see pre-raphaelite art, they see art that's on the fence: obviously trying to draw people convincingly, practicing a fair chunk of one's life to get there, but kinda saying "fuck it" at the end or whenever it gets frustrating.

Perhaps Gary Faigin could do a better job outlining his own lived experience, and the lifelong quest that he brings to the table when being dismissive of these painters. But hopefully this gives you some idea for where he's coming from. How many of the Victorian Radicals, if they were painting at Gage, would get their work criticized for amateur flourishes, bad technical practices, and phoning it in when munsell charting while avoiding mud-mixing before softening a terminator? I expect Faigin would applaud the growth of their student-quality efforts, and give them solid advice for how to do better next time.

"Do it better." For those raised with the poison of 20th century art attitudes, no advice could be less artistic.


I don't know why people have to bash art they don't care for. There are plenty of artists I respect for their contributions, but don't really like (Mondrian). I personally found the Victorian exhibit uninteresting, but that's just my taste, which runs more to modern art. People I know loved the exhibit. They aren't crazy, they just like different art than I do. Not a problem.

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