Monday, March 16, 2009

Garnered Genius 3/16/09

Art is either plagiarism or revolution.

Paul Gaugin
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Here again are you? Good.
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I was a member of the Art Students League of New York City. When I first started life drawing, I was terrible at it. Some of my drawings were embarrassingly bad. There was a woman in the class whose drawings were excellent. Not only did she have a near flawless rendering of the figure but she also managed to capture a sense of life in each piece she did. I would get to the class early, wait until she chose a seat and then sit next to her. I copied. I plagiarized. Out of the corner of my eye I watched to see how she started a drawing and how she continued it, to try to learn from her how to approach the whole problem of drawing the human figure. Thanks to her and my persistence at learning how, I eventually got very good at it, in my own style and manner. Then I noticed that some of the younger students were always sitting next to me and watching me. Okay. It was pay back time.

Artists have always used other artists ideas, all through the centuries. If you listen to 17th Century music you will hear a lot of composers trying to sound like Bach. In the 18th Century there were Mozart copiers. And so on. Today, how many rock bands play in the style of some other band?

But every now and then someone breaks through the tradition. Arnold Schoenberg was well trained in the tradition of Late Romantic German music but one day he decided that all twelve tones were of equal importance. He set aside the tradition of harmonic and intervalic progression and made what became known as twelve tone music, The dancer Isadore Duncan came out on stage, threw herself on the floor and gradually rose up. Something happened then that finally got called Modern Dance. Pablo Picasso drew a portrait one day that showed the face looking front and sideways at the same time. Jackson Pollock took his brush and dripped paint on his canvas. Andy Warhol painted a picture of a soup can. Samuel Beckett wrote a plotless play and some poet, I don't know who, let go of strict meter and let the words dance around themselves.

Each time those things happened there was a massive, silent crack in the sky which almost no one noticed. The world would never be the same. Revolutions had taken place. Right at this moment, somewhere in the world, it is about to happen again.

DB - Vagabond Journeys
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Get your taxes done. Then celebrate.

6 comments:

Big Mark 243 said...

Very profound. I keep thoughts like this in mind, when it comes to encouraging someone. You never know when genius is going to strike someone, and I would hate to have been the motivation to be proven wrong.

Beth said...

And how often are those artists scoffed at, viewed as no-talents and hacks? All too often, I'm afraid.

Hugs, Beth

Gerry said...

I was really struck by Gaugin's thought on the necessity of revolution in art which I think is so true. But with originality the artist runs the risk of not being accepted sometimes for years. Look at van Gogh. Think how many writers opt to write the generic equivalent in thriller, romance, and fantasy fiction and make a good living. But if others did not opt for revolution we would never have the great works that move the race forward, kicking and screaming. Gerry

judith ellis said...

What a most beautiful post. Wonderful! Thank you so much for this. As an opera singer, I never consciously remember desiring to sound like anyone in particular,in my surrounding or on a recording. But I did so admire the way certain opera singers would turn a phrase with a crescendo or decrescendo effortlessly or sustain a pianissimo seemingly indefinitely.

I loved listening to various interpretations of the same opera, piano sonata or quartet. I have many recordings from the early part of the last century and I'm in awe of the simplicity of the interpretation that goes straight to heart of me, not enhanced by technology, just pure beauty. I suppose unwittingly these great artists helped to form me. Thanks again for the post, DB.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Mimicry and coping is the highest form of flattery.

Taxes done, first federal refund in seven years :o)

Coy said...

Throughout the ages, art students have been instructed to reproduce the works of the masters as part of their academic training. I remember taking a few painting classes and struggling with the thoughts of copying someone elses work however ... there is much to be learned by doing so.
DB have you ever thought of sharing some of your knowledge about painting and drawing with others? I took evening classes at a community school.
*** Coy ***