December 2016

NOTES & COMMENTS

The "Little Journal That Could" Needs Your Help
Since its founding on a shoestring in 1982, Aristos has been a singular voice advocating objective standards in scholarship and criticism, and offering a unique perspective on the arts based on those standards. Like "the little engine that could" we have achieved results far beyond what might have been expected from our modest means.

Jacques Barzun (1907-2012), the most eminent cultural historian of the twentieth century, more than once praised Aristos--saying on one occasion that reading it had given him "much pleasure and instruction."

The print edition of this "gutsy little journal," as Magazines for Libraries once referred to Aristos (see reviews), is in the permanent collection of leading academic, museum, and public libraries in the United States and abroad. And the journal has continued to be recognized as an important contrarian voice on the arts in its online life. It is among two dozen aesthetics journals listed on the website of the American Society for Aesthetics; it is cited as an Arts and Humanities Community Resource by Oxford University; and the respected Art History Resources website lists it as one of just sixteen "Online Art Newspapers & Arts News" resources, along with well-known publications such as Artforum, the leading avant-garde monthly magazine.

Online citations such as these have helped to send a steady stream of worldwide visitors to our website over the years--an average of 650 per day this month.

Finally, our articles have been reprinted in journals such as Arts Education Policy Review and are often included on reading lists for university courses. They have also served for working out ideas that have later been expanded upon in articles for publication elsewhere, as in the Wall Street Journal, the recent book After the Avant-Gardes, and our own books What Art Is and Who Says That's Art?. See also "Stirring Debate in Art Education" and "Work in Progress--Trust Betrayed."

None of this could have happened without the support of our readers over the years. If you enjoy Aristos, look forward to more of its unique perspective on the arts as evidenced in the present and past issues, and want to help spread its influence, please make a tax-deductible contribution, however modest, to the Aristos Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It's easy to do by credit card (or your PayPal account) via PayPal [click on $0.00 to enter amount], or by check. Thank you!

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Stirring Debate in Art Education
Leading art educators have been taking note of Aristos Co-Editor Michelle Kamhi's book Who Say's That's Art? A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts. In addition to reviews in Studies in Art Education, Canadian Art Teacher, and Arts & Activities (see Review Excerpts), others in the field (as well as ordinary readers) have enthusiastically praised the book (What Readers Say).

Even those who disagree with some of the book's content recommend it as a stimulant to much-needed debate. One of them is David Pariser, Professor and Chair, Department of Art Education, Concordia University in Montreal--who reviewed the book at length in Canadian Art Teacher, the journal of the Canadian Society for Education through Art (see also Michelle's response). Pariser has used the book, as well as articles by Michelle, in graduate seminars he teaches, and reports that some students agree with her views and positions, as they have felt "alienated from prevailing academic discourses."

Having urged the inclusion of Who Says That's Art? on "any undergraduate or graduate reading list," Pariser has also organized a panel debate on this "controversial" book for the 2017 conference of the National Art Education Association in New York City in March. (International in scope, the conference is the largest annual gathering of art teachers and professors of art education in the world.) Panel members will "critically consider" Michelle's approach to visual art--which, Pariser notes, "while not popular within academic circles, is in fact accepted as uncontroversial among the lay public."

Work in Progress--Trust Betrayed
A book project I first conceived nearly a decade ago in considerably different form is well underway. Titled Trust Betrayed, it focuses on avant-garde incursions instigated by recent boards of trustees into four traditional "house museums" founded by visionary collectors in the twentieth century: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum [more] in Boston; the Morgan Library [& Museum] [more] and the Frick Collection [more], in New York City; and the J. Paul Getty Museum [more ] in Los Angeles, which evolved from the Getty Villa [more], the original location of the Getty art collection.

A chapter will be devoted to the increasing focus on "modern" and "contemporary" work in the collection and exhibitions of the influential Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Met Breuer), whose late-nineteenth-century founders and early trustees included J. P. Morgan and Henry Clay Frick as well as artists such as the sculptor Daniel Chester French (on whom see below).

In addition, Trust Betrayed will examine avant-garde incursions into the former homes and studios (now historic sites) of three of America's most venerated artists: Chesterwood, the summer estate of D. C French; the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, the former home of Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painting; and Olana, where Frederic Edwin Church, Cole's most prominent student, resided.

A final chapter will consider contemporary artists who carry on the legacy of those admired by Gardner, Morgan, Frick, and Getty, and of Cole, Church, and French, but have been ignored by the foregoing institutions in favor of the avant-garde.

What is trust, and what constitutes betrayal? What is the proper role of trustees of museums whose founders are long deceased? What are the ethical (and legal) obligations regarding those founders as well as their ultimate beneficiary, the public? Those are some of the thorny questions Trust Betrayed will aim to answer. With the bulk of the research done, I expect to begin writing in 2017. --L.T.

Richard F. Lack: Catalogue Raisonné
Richard Lack (1928-2009)--who served as painting advisor to Aristos from February 1984 to March 1986--was one of the most accomplished artists and influential teachers of the latter half of the twentieth-century, though he was entirely ignored by the art establishment. He founded the Classical Realism movement, for which he coined the term. Prior to the publication of this monumental 496-page Catalogue Raisonné, however, we had but a limited idea of how wide-ranging, prolific, and accomplished an artist he was. In a career lasting some sixty-three years, he produced more than 1,300 paintings, drawings, sketches, studies, etchings, woodcuts, and watercolors (most of them pictured in the catalogue), while also finding time to write about art--a prodigious output by any measure.

Throughout the history of Aristos, in print and online, we've published much both by and about Lack (search for "Richard Lack" in quotes on our home page). We were gratefully reminded of that by the amount of space devoted to Aristos in the telling of his life and work (there's even a long-forgotten photograph from many years ago of us with him).

Lack's devoted Boswell is Gary Christensen--the researcher, author, and designer of this comprehensive volume, on which he toiled for thirteen years--first, as a student, then as a lifelong friend. Stephen Gjertson, one of Lack's first students and also a lifelong friend, wrote the definitive biography for the catalogue.

Musical Compositions as Tokens of Thanks
We generally recommend that in listening to classical music, one should experience it directly first, without having read biographical or interpretive program notes or critical commentary, because it affects each listener in a uniquely personal way. But such commentary can occasionally offer an added dimension to one's experience. A case in point is "6 Great Classical Music 'Thank You' Compositions" by Michael Rosin (WQXR Blog, November 22, 2016).

"[E]very now and then," Rosin observes, "a composer will take the time to pen a work of personal thanks to a friend or teacher they admired, or even someone who helped them in a time of need. These pieces are usually very moving--the type of music that a composer will save the 'best notes' for."

Heading Rosin's annotated list of musical thank you's is Rachmaninoff's beloved Piano Concerto No. 2, followed by "Nimrod" (the ninth of Sir Edward Elgar's fourteen Enigma Variations). The last four stellar compositions are Shostakovich's Second Piano Trio, Brahms's Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 26 ("Les Adieux"), and Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 5. Rosin provides links to performances of each work (our preferred alternative for Elgar's Nimrod variation is Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).

Beethoven's Curtain Call
In July, we made a summer music pilgrimage with two dear friends and travel companions to Caramoor in Katonah, N. Y., to attend what proved to be a stirring concert performance of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio. Pablo Heras-Casado conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke's, of which he is the principal conductor.

During the curtain call by the performers and conductor to well-deserved tumultuous applause, I noticed from our seats near the last row a brief gesture I might have missed without the aid of binoculars. Acknowledging the audience's approbation, Heras-Casado raised his left arm, holding up what appeared to be the score of the opera.

As it happens, my own applause was partly intended for Beethoven, and it occurred to me that the conductor, too, may have been honoring Beethoven by his gesture. To be sure, I wrote to Heras-Casado's manager, Christopher Dingstad, to inquire if my hunch was correct--and, if so, had the conductor done the same on other occasions. It was and he had. As Dingstad replied, "I had a chance to speak to Pablo yesterday, who confirmed what you thought. By holding up the score, he indeed wanted to honor Beethoven in response to the big applause, and yes, he has done the same thing on other occasions too." A fitting gesture indeed.

As a footnote, I should add that WQXR Operavore's inimitable Fred Plotkin was spotted among the Caramoor attendees. For his astute reflections on the splendid performance, see "A Recipe for Success on the Opera Stage." -L.T.

Prussian Naturalist Who Inspired American Painter
The influence of the great naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) on Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), a leading Hudson River painter, was the focus of a recent exhibition--Capturing the Cosmos: Frederic Church Painting Humboldt's Vision of Nature--at Olana, Church's estate. See "Turning Science Into Art," by Andrea Wulf (Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2016. To read the best version of her essay, search for the title at Google and click on first result.) As Wulf reports, Humboldt "was the most famous scientist of his age, influencing some of the most important thinkers of the time--figures such as Thomas Jefferson [see her book The Founding Gardeners], Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Charles Darwin," as well as Church. We are all in his debt.

EXHIBITION: Discovering a Neglected Master
It is a rare treat indeed to learn of a great painter from the past whom one had never heard of before. See Michelle Kamhi's review "Valentin Who?--A Neglected French Master Spotlighted at the Met," in praise of a splendid exhibition of work by the painter Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632) now at the Metropolitan Museum, through January 22, 2017. One of Caravaggio's many followers, Valentin surpassed him in some respects, she argues.

In Memoriam: Tibor Machan (1939-2016)
The death of libertarian philosopher Tibor Machan on March 24 of this year struck us personally, as we were lucky enough to have benefitted directly from his friendship.

As a professor of philosophy at Auburn University, a founding editor of Reason magazine, and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, he wrote and spoke widely on such topics as the value of individual liberty and limited government, the nature of Ayn Rand's philosophy, and the principles of business ethics. In 2011, his life's work was featured on C-SPAN's In Depth with Tibor Machan.

Although art was not among Tibor's primary interests, he encouraged us expand our series of articles on Rand's philosophy of art into a book and recommended philosophic colleagues who might offer comments and suggestions. One of them was Jesuit scholar W. Norris Clarke (see "A Jesuit's Praise of Rand's Theory of Art"). Tibor's encouragement meant a great deal to us.

Morley Safer (1931-2016)--Intrepid Artworld Gadfly
On May 20th, Michelle Kamhi posted the following item on her Facebook author page:

Anyone who values genuine art should mourn the loss of 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer, who died yesterday at the age of 84. His skewering of the contemporary artworld's absurd pretensions in "Yes...But Is It Art?" (1993)---as well as in a 1997 sequel and a 2012 piece on the "contemporary art" market--was peerless. As I noted in Who Says That's Art?, no one else in journalism has shown his courage and good sense in exposing that cultural sham. See also "Yes . . . But Is It Art? Morley Safer and Murphy Brown Take on the Experts," an article by Louis Torres and me in Aristos. . . .

Remembering Richard A. Ciganko (1943-2016)
We learned of our friend and colleague Rich Ciganko's February 5 death in an especially poignant manner--through an editor's footnote to his review of Michelle Kamhi's Who Says That's Art? in Studies in Art Education. Our first contact with Rich had occurred at the NAEA's 2003 meeting in Minneapolis, where he informed Michelle that he was using our book What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand in one of his art education courses.

A dedicated teacher, Rich shared our concerns about declining standards in the artworld as well as in education, and he didn't hesitate to question prevailing views. At NAEA's 2007 conference, he chaired a session provocatively entitled "Of Course Photography Is Art! Isn't It?" The description read: "Art teachers today assume that photography is art, and are unware of reasons for clearly distinguishing between the two. This session will promote a long-overdue head-to-head debate [between Michelle Kamhi and veteran art educator Jerome Hausman] on the issue."

Rich's passion was landscape art, and he was working on a book of interviews with landscape painters when he died. For more information about his contributions to art education, see his bio for the Cook Honors College of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, one of the many institutions at which he taught. Art education is the poorer for Rich's loss, as are we.

Painting Clouds and a Winter Moon
In two brief time-lapse videos, "How to Paint a Cloud Scene" (2:35) and "How to Paint a Winter Moon" (3:01), contemporary painter Lauren Sansaricq--who works in the Hudson River School tradition (see HRS Art Trail)--demonstrates her technique. (See our note on an exhibition featuring Sansaricq and Erik Koeppel last February.)

Reading Agnes Martin's Minimalist Work
Writing about the retrospective of the Canadian-American minimalist painter Agnes Martin's work now at New York's Guggenheim Museum, New York Times critic Holland Cotter confides:

To be honest, I wonder what a lot of people see in abstract painting. . . . How do you approach an art empty of figures and evident narratives? How do you find out what, if anything, is in it for you? ("The Joy of Reading Between Agnes Martin's Lines," October 6, 2016)

We have often posed such questions ourselves. But our answers are very different from Cotter's. For him, her paintings composed of little more than grids and stripes make this "the most out-of-this-world-beautiful retrospective . . . in this space in years." And in the end, he accepts Martin's vacuously pretentious claim that "Anyone who can sit on a stone in a field awhile can see my paintings."

Portrait of a Young Girl (c. 1476) by Petrus Christus
Judith Dobrzynski's Real Clear Arts webblog post "A Master, A Mysterious Girl and An Unsolved Question" (August 16, 2016) offers an intriguing perspective on this fascinating fifteenth-century portrait. See also her review of the exhibition, "The Girl With the Sidelong Gaze" (Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2016). To access the review, copy the following--WSJ http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-girl-with-the-sidelong-gaze-1471029783 (including "WSJ" followed by a space)--and paste it into your browser search window. Then click on the first result. At the end of the review, click on "Show Comments" to see reader comments, including one by Louis Torres (at the top when sorted by "Newest"). See also his replies to comments by other readers (scroll down to find them).

Letters to the Editors
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