December 2018

NOTES & COMMENTS

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Winslow Homer and Photography
The exhibition Winslow Homer: Photography and the Art of Painting is on view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford, Penn., through February 17, 2019. As we noted in anticipation in our 2/13 Current News, the exhibition seems to argue that Homer (1836-1910) copied, or based his paintings on, photographs. See the publisher’s description of the exhibition catalogue, and a review that notes:

While Homer never spoke about his photography, art historians posit that the medium made an important impact on his later artwork. Taking that into consideration, they make the case that Homer can be reconsidered as a “proto-Modernist,” . . . rather than a realist, the description he is most often labeled with. “Exhibition to Bring Winslow Homer’s Long-Lost Camera—and Photography—Into Focus,” Julissa Treviño, Smithsonian.com, May 1, 2018.

The following review also indicates the exhibition’s emphasis on photography’s direct influence on Homer: “On Looking into Winslow Homer,” Gail Obenreder, Broad Street Review, December 07, 2018.

In my view, a more meaningful insight into the nature of Homer’s art was offered by the art historian Lloyd Goodrich (1897-1987), who observed:

[Homer’s] work itself gives ample evidence of conscious artistry. His style was highly selective [emphasis added]. He saw things in a big way: he simplified, he eliminated, and he concentrated on the large forms and movements. This bigness of style had been instinctive from the first; as he matured it became a deliberate process. (“Winslow Homer Essay,” Winslow Homer, New York: Braziller, 1959, 11-32. WorldCat [Libraries] / Amazon.com.)

Ayn Rand, as many of our readers are aware, defined art as “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments [emphasis added].” (See What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand, esp. pages 26-27 and 103-108; also see the complete text (and endnotes) of Chapter 6, “The Definition of Art,” [94-108], esp. the section “Rand’s Definition of Art.”) In my revision of Rand’s definition [108] I insert the more comprehensible term “fundamental values” in place of “metaphysical value-judgments.”

Goodrich understood the essential attribute that made Homer an artist years before Rand’s definition of art was published. His work on Homer deserves wide recognition in today’s culture.—L.T.

Andy Warhol Redux
A huge retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum (Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again) through March 31, 2019, touts Warhol as “one of the most inventive, influential, and important American artists.” For a very different view, see Michelle Kamhi’s “The Apotheosis of Andy Warhol” (Aristos, December 2012).

Holding Firm against the Breakdown of Standards
An article promoting “Visual Culture Art Education” (VCAE) in the latest issue of Studies in Art Education, a leading journal in the field, notes that Aristos co-editor Michelle Kamhi is one of the few remaining holdouts against the VCAE movement.* In addition to citing her Aristos article “Rescuing Art from ‘Visual Culture Studies’” (January 2004)—which was reprinted in Arts Education Policy Review (September/October 2004)—it also points to her book, Who Says That’s Art? A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts (Pro Arte, 2014).

In an appreciative review of Kamhi’s book, Peter J. Smith—a retired professor of art education—aptly noted that the “institutional theory” of art (which is vigorously debunked in the book’s Introduction)

has destroyed the foundation for art teaching—the idea of anything as a cultural treasure, as something to hold up as an example for students. Even once-serious places of instruction now seem clueless. To cite one egregious example: the Art Institute of Chicago boasts a wonderful collection of art works, yet the art school associated with it hired “visual culture” advocate Kevin Tavin to teach there—ignoring that he would in effect deny the value of the museum itself, with its splendid assemblage of art works. As a visual culture theorist, Tavin . . . was less concerned with the art works in the Art Institute than with the contents of the nearest shopping mall.

Tavin, who now teaches at Aalto University in Finland, is co-author of the article cited above. For an indication of the pernicious influence his sort of thinking can have, see Kamhi’s weblog post “‘If you see something, say something’.”

* Though only the article’s abstract is free to read, it will give you some idea of the authors’ convoluted mode of thought.

Letters to the Editors
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