December 2003


EXHIBITION: Who Was Charles Bargue?
Known today only to a small circle of art specialists, Charles Bargue (1826/27-1883) was an extraordinary French painter whose most notable accomplishment was the creation, in collaboration with Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), of The Drawing Course (Cours de Dessin), published in France in the late 1860s. This instructional tool--consisting of 197 lithographs of drawings executed by members of Gérôme's circle, and then copied onto stone plates by Bargue--reflected the widely accepted sequence of art training in the nineteenth century: drawing after plaster casts, then copying master drawings, and, finally, drawing the male nude from life. Primarily intended to improve the skills of commercial art students so that France could compete more effectively in the international market for industrial design products and decorative arts, the course became a mainstay of fine arts students as well--not only for budding academic artists but for modernists such as Van Gogh and Picasso. In 1881, Vincent wrote to his brother Theo:

Careful study & repeated copying of Bargue's Exercises . . . have given me a better insight into figure-drawing. I have learned to measure and to see and to look for the broad outlines so that, thank God, what seemed utterly impossible to me before is gradually becoming possible to me now . . . I no longer stand as helpless before nature as I used to do.

Drawings by both Van Gogh and Picasso based on the Bargue plates are included in the illuminating exhibition Charles Bargue: The Art of Drawing, now on view at the Dahesh Museum of Art in New York City (through February 8, 2004). Consisting mainly of original plates from The Drawing Course, along with a number of stunning original paintings by Bargue himself, the exhibition celebrates the re-publication of the Bargue-Gérôme course in a new edition by Gerald M. Ackerman, with the collaboration of the artist Graydon Parrish.

Review of What Art Is in New Book by Kimball
Cultural critic Roger Kimball's review of our book What Art Is for the journal The Public Interest has been reprinted, with minor stylistic revisions, as a chapter of his recent collection of essays, Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Uncertainty (Ivan R. Dee, 2003). It also appears, as an excerpt from the book, on the website of The New Criterion, the monthly of which Kimball is managing editor. The August 27 entry of "Armavirumque," the weblog of commentary by editors and writers of that journal, features a related post by Associate Editor James Panero, who begins by asking: "What does Ayn Rand have to say about art? I haven't a clue. A revived magazine called Aristos seems to have the answer, however." Panero then quotes our August 27 press release, "'Gutsy' Arts Journal Re-born Online," including the link to our response to Kimball's review. He also provides a link to the review as published in Kimball's book (see the first link of this note).

Unfamiliar Painting by Eakins
Since publishing our article on Thomas Eakins in August, we have learned of a wonderful portrait previously unknown to us, The Cowboy(ca. 1890), in the collection of the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. As is characteristic of Eakins's portraiture, it reflects the subject's inner life.

EXHIBITION: Houdon at the Getty
Art lovers in the Los Angeles area--and beyond--will not want to miss Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828): Sculptor of the Enlightenment, at the J. Paul Getty Museum through January 25, 2004. Previously shown at the National Gallery in Washington, where we had the pleasure of viewing it earlier this year, it is the first major exhibition devoted to the work of this greatest of all portrait sculptors. Through Houdon, one gains an intimate view of the towering figures of the Enlightenment. His portraits of Voltaire alone are worth the visit. An article on Houdon's work will be forthcoming in Aristos.

On Education
What is the purpose of a school? asks cultural historian Jacques Barzun. Quite simply, he says it is "to remove ignorance." In a trenchant essay entitled "What Is a School? An Institution in Limbo," published last year, Barzun examines the basic principles underlying elementary and secondary education, and questions the various distracting roles, activities, and purposes too often imposed on our schools.

Covering topics ranging from how a teacher teaches and how students learn to what subjects should be taught and the role parents should play, Barzun's no-nonsense critique extends to the teaching of the arts:

Is it appreciation, history, or performance that is wanted? And of which arts? Too often where 'Art' has been offered, pupils are . . . given a hodgepodge. . . . The far more lasting and useful instruction aims at mastery of the fundamentals: drawing with pencil or charcoal and studying color and compostion; for music, learning how to read notes, which leads to sight-singing. . . .

We wholeheartedly agree, except to insist (as we have argued elsewhere) that meaningful art and music appreciation are as important as drawing, and learning to read music.

In a second essay, "Trim the College! A Utopia"--published together with "What Is a School?"--Barzun considers the proper nature of undergraduate education. Here he argues that the basic college ought to "devote its energies and resources to the liberal . . . arts: . . . the humanities, math and science, and the social sciences," for they "are fit for all minds, endowing them with particular and general abilities: to think, speak simply and clearly, express views rationally, own and use a body of facts and ideas that help communication because they are widely known, detect errors and fallacies, resolve intellectual problems, and possibly make discoveries in some branch of learning."

What of students interested in a career in film, theater, art, music, or television? Training in such fields qualifies as preprofessional, Barzun argues. "Let there be a School of Applied Arts on campus . . . similar to the Schools of Business and Journalism. The applied arts are not college work; the very scheduling of long hours of practice makes for conflict with other studies," he argues.

Anyone who truly cares about education at any level should read Barzun's essays. Single copies of the booklet containing them can be ordered at no cost; and additional copies, at a nominal fee. Address orders and queries to at the American Academy for Liberal Education, one of the three sponsoring organizations.

NEA Watch: Where's the Art?
Grants by the National Endowment for the Arts in the category of Arts Learning (arts education) for this year include one for $15,000 to the 911 Media Arts Center, Seattle, WA: "To support continuation of Reel Girls [the correct name is 'Reel Grrls']. This after-school media program, designed and targeted for teenage girls, will involve rigorous after-school and weekend programs to explore media literacy, gender identity and video production."

Our Dutch Connection
In late September we received an e-mail message from Lennaart Allan, a reader in Amsterdam, commenting on our "very interesting website." Noting that he had read Ayn Rand's Romantic Manifesto (which includes her essays on the nature of art), he added that he would order What Art Is and looked forward to reading it.

A month later, Allan wrote to say that he found the book "marvellous." Noting that Holland was a bulwark of the avant-garde, he added "There's a lot to do here." He further informed us that, in collaboration with the Foundation of Amsterdam Artists, he was organizing a lecture on modern art by Julian Spalding, former director of the Glasgow Museums and Galleries and author of the recent book The Eclipse of Art: Tackling the Crisis in Art Today (which we will review early in 2004).

Taking part in a panel discussion with Spalding following the lecture, which took place on November 28, were two Dutch scholars--Diederik Kraaijpoel, who formerly taught painting and drawing at the Academy of Fine Arts at Groningen and is the author of several books on modern art; and the art historian Willem L. Meijer. Allan told us he had thought of giving each of the three panelists a copy of Roger Kimball's recent book Art's Prospect, but decided instead on What Art Is. Both Kraaijpoel and Meijer, he said, have reported positive initial impressions. We await further word.

Astute Brits
Unlike the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (the official publication of the American Society for Aesthetics--of which we are long-standing members) and the Journal of Aesthetic Education, British scholars have not failed to consider our contrarian viewpoint. In September 2001, The Art Book, the quarterly reviews magazine of the British Association of Art Historians, published a favorable assessment of What Art Is (see our response). More recently, the British Society of Aesthetics (BSA) invited information on our work for distribution at its annual conference in September. We happily complied by providing a flier on both the book and Aristos. BSA subsequently added Aristos to the recommended links on its website. A similar listing by the American Society for Aesthetics was at our initiative.

Responses to Critics of What Art Is
Michelle Kamhi's response to a symposium on Ayn Rand's esthetics in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (much of which dealt with What Art Is) was published in the journal's Spring 2003 issue, and is now available online. Entitled "What 'Rand's Aesthetics' Is, and Why It Matters," it deals with subjects ranging from the genesis of esthetics as a concern of philosophy to the present state of art education. Influential thinkers whose theories of art are compared and contrasted with Rand's include Kant, Hegel, and Susanne Langer. Louis Torres's response to the symposium has just been published in the Fall issue of the journal (see the Table of Contents for an abstract), and is available for purchase.

EXHIBITION: From the Academy
Intended to serve visitors as both a primer and a manifesto for "the new face of academic art," Reframing Academic Art: Masterworks of the Dahesh Museum of Art (New York City), on view through February 8, 2004, offers an impressive range of work by academically trained artists. It has been expanded from one of the musuem's two inaugural exhibitions by the addition of approximately 50 works, doubling the number on view. Among the paintings we found particularly appealing are Maurice Leloir's Manon Lescaut (1892) and José Tapiró Baró's Tangerian Beauty (ca. 1876)--images courtesy of the Dahesh Museum. (For a review of the other inaugural exhibition, see "The Dahesh Museum: Reclaiming Academic Art," in this issue.)

EXHIBITION: National Sculpture Society Annual Awards Exhibition, 2003
During a hasty visit last month to this exhibition (on view through February 13, 2004), we saw works that would never have passed muster in the Society's early days. Nonetheless, it is well worth a visit, for the few genuinely fine pieces on view. A fifty-page catalogue is available for purchase. The exhibition is located in the Park Avenue Atrium building [more] at 237 Park Avenue (between 45th and 46th Streets), New York, NY 10017; tel. 212-764-5645.

Despite the address, there is no entrance to the Park Avenue Atrium on Park Avenue. Entrances on 45th or 46th Street (the latter through a small courtyard) between Park and Lexington Avenues, and at 466 Lexington, are all, astonishingly, prominently marked "Park Avenue Atrium, 237 Park Avenue," however. The dramatic lobby is best entered from either 45th or 46th Street--rather than from the Lexington Avenue entrance, which necessitates a dreary escalator ride up. The offices of the National Sculpture Society, which include a library open to the public by appointment, are located on the ground floor of the building, adjacent to the exhibition lobby. (For a review of the previous NSS exhibition, see "Birds, Birds, Birds" in this issue.)

Holiday Gifts
Are you wracking your brain for an unusual gift for the discriminating art lover on your list or for friends or relatives eager to expand their cultural horizons? Why not consider giving a set of timeless back issues of the print version of Aristos (1982-1997) in a handsome simulated-leather binder? (See Ordering information.) Or a copy of What Art Is--available from at 30% off list price.

Our Annual Appeal--We Need Your Support!
The future of serious arts commentary and criticism is on the Internet, some predict. We've staked out our turf in that future: upholding objective standards in theory and criticism, debunking modernist and postmodernist theory and "art," and championing neglected 20th- and 21st-century artists. But we will be hard pressed to continue without the help of readers like you, who value what we are doing. What's in it for you to support our endeavors? A point of view on the arts that you will not find anywhere else, and that is garnering increasing attention. Don't just take our word for it, however. Peruse this issue of Aristos, beginning with these Notes & Comments--as well as the Aristos archives and What Art Is Online--to judge for yourself.

There are several easy ways you can help. If you shop online--for holiday gifts or year-round--you can support our work, at no cost to yourself. For book or merchandise purchases from, simply bookmark this page and be sure to access the pages through the link we provide. We will then receive referral fees from for any new merchandise you buy. For other online purchases, access your favorite merchants' websites through and designate The Aristos Foundation as your "cause"--a portion of each dollar you spend will be sent to us.

Would you like to contribute more directly? Both PayPal and the Honor System make it easy to do so by credit card. Or, if you are more old-fashioned, simply send a check by postal mail. [Since The Aristos Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, all contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.] Direct links and detailed information on all the support methods mentioned above, and on The Aristos Foundation, are just a mouse-click away.

Worth Reading
For a fascinating account of both the art and the life of one of America's most beloved composers, see "Richard Rodgers: Enigma Variations" by Stefan Kanfer, in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.

Letters from the Editors
Bafflingly, John Cage continues to attract the serious attention of scholars and critics. Yet another tome on him--The Cambridge Companion to John Cage, edited by David Nicholls--was published earlier this year by Oxford University Press, and reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement (September 26), among other periodicals. The TLS reviewer, Peter Quinn, began with these remarks:

No other composer in the history of music has provoked such extremes of veneration and contempt as John Cage (1912-92). Depending on whom you ask, Cage was either the greatest thing to happen to American music [see, for example, music critic Tim Page's "The Savant of Avant"] or a charlatan.

In a letter to TLS published October 10, Louis Torres argued that "by any objective measure, Cage was not a composer of music at all. He was indeed a charlatan, but may also have been a schizoid personality." Drawing upon material from What Art Is, the letter continued as follows:

In Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought (1992), psychologist Louis Sass cites Cage's "glorifying of the unique and the random" as an example of "schizophrenic-type consciousness." Schizoid individuals, Sass further notes, characteristically seem "detached," displaying extreme "emotional flatness." Cage once told an interviewer that emotions did not interest him, as "[they] have long been known to be dangerous," declaring on another occasion that concertgoers should resist "responding emotionally."
Quinn refers to Cage's "revelatory encounter" with Zen Buddhism, which allegedly influenced his use of "indeterminacy and chance" and allowed him to renounce control. This claim is belied by one of the most celebrated Zen-inspired tracts on aesthetics--On the Art of the No Drama, by Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443)--which cites such principles as intentionality, intelligibility, integration, and the contextuality of meaning, all of which were ignored or rejected by Cage. Moreover, contrary to Cage's eschewal of both meaning and emotion, Zen artists typically focus on emotionally charged subjects related to such elemental human concerns as love, death, beauty, and nobility. Quinn cites only some "viscerally exciting passages" in a single piece by Cage. Music, however, does not ever affect just the viscera. When it is exciting, it is primarily so because it touches certain emotions--which themselves are automatic subconscious responses to fundamental values.

Contrary to Quinn, we do not think that Nicholls's Cambridge Companion (or any volume on Cage)--written though it may be "by a team drawn from the new generation of Anglo-American Cage scholars" --"may help to sway even his most ardent critics."

Letters to the Editors
We invite readers to comment on matters related to items published in these pages, current or archived.

What Art Is Online--Appendixes
Our newest item in Appendix C : The New York Times-- "The Arts" is an extended note and comment (with links) on a particularly galling example of the Times's flagrant disregard for the meaning of the term "arts"--its featuring in this section of a piece about a Christie's auction of Playboy magazine memorabilia.

Websites We Like
New to our listing of "Other Sites" this month are websites for the Dahesh Museum of Art and for the French academic painter Bouguereau. We have also added new links to striking images related to the work of sculptors Daniel Chester French and Harriet Whitney Frishmuth.

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