Thursday, October 30, 2008

Art and the State of the Soul

"Art seems to me to be a state of soul more than anything else. " --Marc Chagal

The artist, Sharon A. Hart, in front of a Chagall painting at Miami Art Basel. "Being so close to a Chagall, seeing the tiniest of brush strokes evoked a sense of awe."

Holland Cotter, art critic for the New York Times, in an article entitled Making Secular Art Out of Religious Imagery averred,

There is little question that contemporary art is changing yet again, and in ways that have little directly to do with the current economic crisis. After several years of submersion in lightweight post-Pop painting, clever design and quip-driven soft politics, we seem to be ready for something with a little more depth, breadth and soul.

Considering the amount of kitsch that abounds in the contemporary artworld,, these may be seen as “fighting words.” However, there is truth in them. The sociological Jeremiah, Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin, was the son of a Russian icon-writer. He is best noted for having written several books about the excesses of modern culture. I'm confident he would feel vindicated had he lived to see this day, as the founding professor of Harvard’s department of sociology had prophesied our society’s fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era.

In Sorokin's controversial 4-volume tome, Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937-1941), he classified societies according to their 'cultural mentality', which can be ideational (reality is spiritual), sensate (reality is material), or idealistic (a synthesis of the two). Within these pages he analyzed and compared the history of art, ethics, philosophy, science, religion, and psychology, to explore general principles of human history. Based on his research, Sorokin predicted that modern civilization was moving toward a bloody period of transition. That interim period would be characterized by wars, revolutions, and general conflict, technological progress. He further prophesied our society’s fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational (religious/intuitional) or idealistic era. Sorokin further emphatically believed that altruism was the antidote to our destruction, and that we needed to seek truth and knowledge within the spiritual realm.

Artists have long answered the call to experience and interpret spirituality. The works they produce may not always been overtly religious, but those who have been touched by what in Spanish art is called Duende, (loosely translated as having soul.) cannot help but create works that reflect their personal or our collective experience with the Divine. The art that is produced will actually touch the viewer in a direct manner.

In his brilliant lecture entitled The Theory and Function of Duende Federico García Lorca attempted to shed some light on the spiritual essence that lives in the heart of certain works of art: " This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzsche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it---"

Earlier, Rumi addressed the same emotive expression using these words:

"In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no one sees you, But sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art."

Obviously there is, indeed, a place in our society for artwork that is based upon spiritual themes and have depth greater than the patina on inexpensive kitchen cabinetry. The creative dichotomy that exists between the sacred and the secular is not something to be reconciled by the artist, but to be embraced. Ultimately one recognizes that the secular is sacred, if seen with clarity of spiritual vision.

For Marc Chagall, despite having studied with the cubist Robert Delaunay and the abstract expressionist Kazimir Malevich, abstract art was a product of a mechanistic world that lacked a sense of God. For him, the removal of figurative aspects from painting was tantamount to a desire to make a world without God. Examination of Chagall’s work reveals that throughout his career, he interwove spirituality, Jewish cultural life and folklore, and a close dialogue with the avant-garde. Recognizing the impact of one's roots on one's one, Chagall stated unequivocally: "If I were not a Jew (with the content I put into that word), I wouldn't have been an artist or I would be a different artist altogether." A deeply spiritual man, he was not disturbed when his art was declared by critics as “ too mystical.” In fact, he once told his granddaughter, "When I paint, I pray.

Despite the uniqueness of vision, the experience of the artist who elects to explore the tension between the sacred and the secular is often challenging and is certainly not filled with significant monetary or critical reward. Consequently, it may be encouraging to take solace in the words of Robert Bateman,

When one thinks of the real problems facing the planet and, indeed, civilization, at the end of the 20th century, the problem of whether art critics appreciate this form of art or that form of art or me seems so minuscule as to be virtually invisible. Being rebuffed by one's peers in the art world is, of course, hurtful, but that has always happened and always will and it really doesn't matter. It is still fun to discuss and dismember... I do it myself, as you may have noticed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Art and the Bridge to Nowhere

As museum directors are bracing for the effects of financial meltdown, I found myself rambling through the galleries in The National Gallery of Art, the Freer Museum and the Sackler Museum. Insulated from the news of stock price declines, the museums served as a sanctuary from the economic and political storms raging in the United States. Fortunately, all these museums remain free of entry charges so even the most financially impoverished families can be exposed to great works of art in Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery, of Art comprises two buildings, linked by an underground passage: the West Building and the East Building, The West Building has an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures by European masters from the medieval period through the late 19th century, as well as pre-20th century works by American artists. Highlights of the collection include many paintings by Titian , Raphael. Jan Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Durer,, J. M.W. Turner. Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Degas, Goya, Ingres, Delacroix, Seurat, Cézanne, Gauguin, William Merritt Chase, and the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the western hemisphere. The East Building focuses on modern and contemporary art, with a collection including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky, René Magritte, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Alexander Calder.

On October 15th, a special exhibition opened at the National Gallery of Art. Oceans, Rivers, and Skies: Ansel Adams, Robert Adams, and Alfred Stieglitz will be on show until March 15, 2009. As a long-time admirer of all three of these legendary American photographers I looked forward to seeing the exhibition that features 21 works and was organized by Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art. In particular, my sensibilities were piqued for Stieglitz's series Music: A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs, which was last seen in its entirety in 1923. Alas, the exhibition was a major disappointment and I even heard another viewer proclaim, “Obviously there was a good reason these photos haven’t been exhibited together since 1923.

Considering the economic demands upon museums, I debated whether or not to publicly criticize the showing. However, during this economic crisis it behooves directors and curators to provide the public with exhibitions worthy of attendance---and not just piece together shows that may attract numbers based upon the “name” of artists.

An antidote to the disappointment found in Oceans, Rivers, and Skies is a permanent installation residing immediately across the hall: The Armand Hammer Collection. Amongst the treasures found in this selection of drawings and paintings is a watercolor by Andrew Wyeth. It alone made the trek to the area of the West Wing that houses the photo exhibition worthwhile.

Not all exhibitions presently on view in the Smithsonian affiliate network were substandard. In fact, through January 25, 2009 one can view the breathtaking and inspiring exhibition Seascapes : Tryon and Sugimoto at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

The exhibition consists of series of 22 pastels of the Maine coast by the late American landscape painter Dwight Tryon, juxtaposed with six black-and-white photographs of the sea by contemporary Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto from his ongoing series "Seascapes." As the museum’s marketing material states, “ The formal resonances between these two series will encourage quiet contemplation.” A small selection of the works can be viewed at

Another surprise is housed within The Freer Gallery of Art. When the gallery opened to the public in 1923, it was the first Smithsonian museum for fine arts. The gallery houses a world-renowned collection of art from Asia However, it is the American collection of works created between 1855–1919 that captured my breath. Charles Lang Freer, founder of the museum was a Detroit businessman who began collecting American art in the 1880s. Freer’s collection was eventually gifted to the American people and includes an unparalleled collection of over 1,300 works by Whistler as well as numerous masterpieces by Dwight William Tryon , Abbott Handerson Thayer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, and John Twachtman. In this quiet and unpretentious museum, one is reminded of Whistler’s comment that a work of art "should appear as the flower to the painter—perfect in its bud as in its bloom—with no reason to explain its presence—no mission to fulfill—a joy to the artist—a delusion to the philanthropist—a puzzle to the botanist—an accident of sentiment and alliteration to the literary man."

While I was exploring the artistic wonders in the Smithsonian museums, I reflected on the recent report issued by the bipartisan Americans for the Arts Action Fund: the Congressional Arts Report Card, covering the 110th Congress (2007-2009). The document containing detailed scores of every Member of Congress based on his or her voting record on arts issues can be found online at

The 2008 Congressional Arts Report Card reveals that 43% of Congress received a grade of A or higher. When the grades of the Members of each state delegation are averaged on a state-by-state basis, the highest scoring state delegation is Maine, with a perfect score of 100. Alaska and Wyoming are the lowest scoring state delegations with a score of 20 points each.

Well worth considering is Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, statement, “As the arts and arts education increasingly established a foothold during this year’s presidential campaign trail, the Report Card will serve as a compelling guide for the public to make overall arts-informed decisions at the ballot box on Election Day. Although the Report Card shows that Congress is progressively acknowledging the importance of the arts and arts education, further support is needed in arts funding.

With state and local education budgets being slashed and an increased focus on testing and test preparation, there is a real potential that arts education will disappear from schools. This trend started years ago as more attention was placed on the need for progress in critical courses such as the maths and sciences. Additionally, museum budgets are dependent upon funding that is sought by a myriad of sources all vying for increasingly limited monies.

It is vital that this country and others do not neglect the arts ---especially during an economic downslide. In addition to providing inspiration and a glimpse into the past, the humanities are an essential component of a successful civilization. Furthermore, arts programs are part of a well-rounded education that helps enrich our society and aids individuals to develop their abilities to think creatively and independently. Natalja Fedorova Borovskaja, an art history professor at the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, at a recent conference shared that as a young woman growing up under state atheism in the Soviet Union, she never thought about God except when encountering works of art, music and literature. Truly the arts and and humanities have long been a way to build bridges among people of different countries, cultures, and faiths. If we elect politicians without concern for the arts we have truly built our nation’s bridge to nowhere

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Heroic Tardis of Portraiture

The Fishing Lesson
a watercolor portrait by Sharon A. Hart

Many years ago I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the Art Worker’s Guild Hall at No. 6 Queen Square, London WC1. The hall was designed by F.W. Troup and built in the 1913-14 and is a testament to the best quality of craftsmanship of the period. The entire experience harkened back to an earlier and more formal time, as we were immersed in a traditional, somewhat quaint, environment , induced by sitting on heavy wooden ladder-backed, rush seated Clissett chairs, based on a design by Ernest Gimson.

My mind and eyes wandered during a talk that made most of the attendees slip into ennui; around the wall are painted the names of Guildsmen since 1884: white when still with us, gilded when not in niches sit busts of some of the founders, while the walls are covered with portraits of the Guild’s Past-Masters. Having a slightly perverse nature and not immediately recognizing any of the Masters by their portraits, I envisioned alternative non-arts related careers for the host of illuminated talents. When the prayed-for intermission finally arrived, I surveyed the room anew, discovering the actual identities of the past Masters. To my sensibilities’ horror, the man I had cast in the role of a libertarian accountant was the esteemed Walter Crane, book illustrator who is considered one of the strongest contributors to the child's nursery motif of the latter 19th century. Crane’s presence in the Art Worker’s Guild Hall is significant, especially when you become full aware that the symbol above the Master’s chair, designed by Walter Crane bears the motto ‘Art is Unity.’

When I think about portraits, this is the primary experience that colors my understanding of their impact and the truths about human nature the artform can convey. As Aristotle stated, “The aim of Art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance; for this, not the external manner and detail, constitutes true reality.

The history of portraiture is rich and has its origins in funerary commemoration; the first representations of identifiable individuals date from the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt about 3100 BC. Early Christian art, dating from the 3rd century to the 7th century, included portraits in mosaic and stylized imago clipeatae that convey authority. This portrayal of “authority” and social stature was later more fully embraced during the Renaissance, and the artistic Baroque and Rococo periods (17th century and 18th century, respectively.) It wasn’t until the mid-19th Century when the realist artists began to create objective portraits of “the common people.” I suspect that this turn in approach was partially due to the philosophy expressed by William Morris, “You cannot educate, you cannot civilise man, unless you give him a share in art.

The focus on portraiture as an art form has waned over the years, but there has been a resurgence in the number of artists who specialize in portraying perceptive images of individuals, as well as pets. The Australian artist, Kim Barker, recently announced a contest on her blog, Lake Trees, which will award the winner with a portrait of their choice, .painted in acrylic and valued at $6,000+ .

This past summer, the author Stephen King published Duma Key, a tale of conflict between the forces of horror and the redemptive power of creativity. It tells the story of a man who has seemingly lost his way in modern life and retreats to a Florida island to regain his sense of self. Amazingly, out of nowhere, he starts drawing and painting, producing sketches and surreal landscapes. His landlady, provides enigmatic awareness into what is happening to her tenant. "Art is memory, Edgar There is no simpler way to say it."

While I’ve never been a fan of Gothic or Horror fiction, King’s work engaged me with insights such as this:

How to Draw a Picture

Start with a blank surface. It doesn't have to be paper or canvas, but I feel it should be white. We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can't remember. How do we remember to remember? That's a question I've asked myself often since my time on Duma Key, often in the small hours of the morning, looking up into the absence of light, remembering absent friends. Sometimes in those little hours I think about the horizon.

You have to establish the horizon. You have to mark the white. A simple enough act, you might say, but any act that re-makes the world is heroic. Or so I’ve come to

King draws on Faustian concepts such as those Oscar Wilde introduced in his classic Gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the tale, the primary character is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian cries out, wishing that the portrait Basil has painted of him would age rather than himself. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, subsequently plunging him into a series of debauched acts. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin being displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging. I suspect that Wilde was aware of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Aesthetics in which the author raged against “Almost repulsively lifelike portraits,” insisting that portrait-painters flatter their subject, paying less attention to outward appearance, but “Presenting us with a view which emphasizes the subject’s general character and lasting spiritual qualities.” According to this philosophy, it was the spiritual nature that should determine our picture of the human being.

Artists have long transformed their subjects in the alembic of the artist’s imagination, whether or not they were painting actual likenesses. They have taken liberties while still embracing aesthetic points of view. A good example of this is found in the melancholic portrait of Queen Charlotte by the Georgian master, Thomas Lawrence. Queen Charlotte, who sat for Lawrence in 1789 to 90. She had lost her her husband, George III, to madness and their son seemed to offer the monarchy a poor future. Lawrence captures all the nuances of the historic period and the inner grief of Queen Charlotte, yet still conveys her majesty and beauty.

Another individual who reveled in having her portrait painted was Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth. She was very proud of her beautiful hands; she considered them her best feature and took pains to have them prominently displayed in all of her state portraits. In 1546, the portrait-painter, William Scrots sent a portrait of Elizabeth as a gift to Elizabeth's half-brother, King Edward VI. In the letter accompanying the gift, Elizabeth wrote:

'For the face, I grant, I might well blush to offer, but the mind I shall never be ashamed to present. ....when you shall look on my picture you will witsafe to think that as you have but the outward shadow of the body before you, so my inward mind wisheth that the body itself were oftener in your presence.'

Another portrait of Elizabeth, painted when she was in her late sixties, portrays a young and beautiful Queen, seemingly ageless and immortal. It’s a classic Tudor portrayal by Isaac Oliver (c1600), weaving allegory and symbolism with each brushstroke. Here is an exegeis of the painting from an Elizabethan scholar who has spent time studying the painting:

Elizabeth's gown is embroidered with English wildflowers, thus allowing the queen to pose in the guise of Astraea, the virginal heroine of classical literature. Her cloak is decorated with eyes and ears, implying that she sees and hears all. Her headdress is an incredible design decorated lavishly with pearls and rubies and supports her royal crown. The pearls symbolize her virginity; the crown, of course, symbolizes her royalty. Pearls also adorn the transparent veil which hangs over her shoulders. Above her crown is a crescent-shaped jewel which alludes to Cynthia, the goddess of the moon. A jeweled serpent is entwined along her left arm, and holds from its mouth a heart-shaped ruby. Above its head is a celestial sphere. The serpent symbolizes wisdom; it has captured the ruby, which in turn symbolizes the queen's heart. In other words, the queen's passions are controlled by her wisdom. The celestial sphere echoes this theme; it symbolizes wisdom and the queen's royal command over nature. Elizabeth's right hand holds a rainbow with the Latin inscription 'Non sine sole iris' ('No rainbow without the sun'). The rainbow symbolizes peace, and the inscription reminds viewers that only the queen's wisdom can ensure peace and prosperity.

To my knowledge, few modern portrait painters incorporate symbolism at this level. Additionally, artists such as Lucian Freud have abandoned the pretense of flattery and have often provided unsympathetic portrayals of their subjects.

In my opinion, the artist’s search of honesty in their portraits doesn’t require negative reflections, as one can always find an artful truthfulness in the dignity of the individual. For example, Annie Leibovitz used her camera to create a sensitive portrait of Britain's aging Queen Elizabeth seated in an unlit room in Buckingham Palace, that is highly reminiscent of Lawrence’s portrait of Queen Charlotte.

There is little in my past that I regret. However, I occasionally lament the fact that I failed to paint portraits of my children while they were young. An exception is found in my painting “The Fishing Lesson.” In the same way that the earlier Queen Elizabeth insisted that the paintings of her later years would convey her as a young woman, portraits capture a specific moment in time that can be returned to each time one gazes upon the work. Indeed, art is memory and can alchemically transform the past into the present.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Does Humility have a Role in the Art Market?

My profound thanks to Veronica Escudero, the talented creator of “A Painting A Day by Veronica Escudero” who recently really caught me off guard when she graced The Artist’s Muse with the Brilliante Weblog award. I am honored by this recognition as The Brilliante Weblog is a prize historically given to web sites and blogs that are creative and brilliant both in content and design.

Gifts are meant to be shared, so I’d like to award this prize to the following talents:

Over the years, I’ve discovered that artists, regardless of their medium, tend to fall into two classifications:
  1. Those who love everything they create and shamelessly promote their work, without any true sense of discernment; and
  2. Those who are hyper-critical of their work, hesitant to share their artistic expressions, and are self-effacing when accolades are received.
As a student of psychology, I’ve often wondered if humility is part of the creative process, as it encourages us to reach heights that complacency and pride might prohibit. The noble person must look first within, then to others for clues as to how one is actually progressing. I believe this is done by humbly assisting others with our abilities, while not denying our abilities and talents. Such humility is understood to “preserve the soul in tranquility; In the Bible, an exhortation to humility is found in Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, is quoted as saying: "You shouldn't gloat about anything you've done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do."

We are taught to take pride in our accomplishments, but pride functions successfully only when comparing yourself to others. It is folly to base one’s self-worth on how you stack up to others and their achievements. Instead, I believe it is wiser to focus on yourself and how you can improve. C.S. Lewis said the following about pride:

The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive-is competitive by its very nature-while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.

The issue of pride, humility and competition has been a frequent topic in many conversations I’ve shared recently with fellow artists. Therefore, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the concept of competition in the arts community.

In an essay published in 1994, A Dysfunctional Culture: Competition in Music, Rodney E. Miller, Dean of Wichita State University College of Fine Arts, articulated his theory that by eliminating competition in music education, co-operation and creativity is encouraged. Miller’s article leads with this sentiment,

For art to be art, it must be a reflection of our human condition. This is because art is ultimately a subjective sharing of emotion, usually emotion affected by or in response to the conditions in which the artist and the subject find themselves. Paradoxically, art very often becomes a casualty to the very social conditions it tries to reflect. One of the most insidious examples of this in our contemporary society is the obsession for competing that has permeated all venues of our society, including our artistic environment. Life for many of us in America has now evolved into a series of challenges to compete. We are bombarded with this doctrine at work, at school, and worst of all,, at home. It has become perhaps the only common thread in the diverse patchwork culture of American life. We hear it in our commercials (Pepsi vs. Coke in a taste test), in our politics (Republicans vs. Democrats), and in our recreation (Cowboys vs. Redskins). So saturated is our society with this spirit of competition that we allow its effects to go unchecked because we simply don’t recognize its existence, or worse yet, we fail to understand how it decays the very essence of art and creativity. Yet, as psychologist Elliot Aronson maintains, the prevailing spirit of competition is a dysfunction of epidemic proportions.

The spirit of competition is not uniquely American, nor is it restricted to the 9-5 business world, as Miller clearly demonstrated. However, to fully understand one’s strengths, it is helpful, if not vital, to understand your competition and your positioning in the market.

Many artists naively believe that they are exempt from these issues---that their “job” is simply to create works of art. Yet, they also worry about the financial realities of their experience as artists, often failing to consider critical questions such as “Who competes with you for your customers’ time and money? “and “What are their strengths and weaknesses? How are they positioned in the market?”

In other words, an artist should know how they are positioned in the market. Why do people buy your artwork instead of the others offered in the same general categories? Think about specific kinds of unique aspects of your work and audience, comparing where you think you can show the difference.

During the process of my contemplation on these issues, I explored the history of the Impressionists, PreRaphaelite artists and the Futurists with relationship to competition amongst each other. It’s a fascinating study that exceeds the limitations of this blog. One of the most important benefits I derived from the experience was reinforcement of my belief that only the best of my work should be seen by others.

When looking at the 4,000 pictures Pierre-Auguste Renoir left behind it is helpful to be aware that he actually was more prolific --- producing over 6,000 paintings during his active years as an artist. Although Renoir’s critical reputation has fluctuated throughout the years, the general populace continues to embrace Renoir’s paintings. He is a wildly uneven painter and one who often did not finish pictures.

In 1864, Pierre-Auguste Renoir had his first success with a painting entitled “Esmeralda Dancing with her Goat around a Fire Illuminating the Entire Crowd of Vagabonds --“the very first painting he had managed to show in the much coveted Paris Salon. Yet, in 1865, Renoir destroyed the painting and began a shift in his style. Later, he destroyed practically everything he had painted up to 1866.

While writing the post, The Booker, The Dobell and the Ultimate Prize, about Melbourne artist Virginia Grayson winning the 2008 Dobell Prize for Drawing for a for drawing she had struggled to produce, I was reminded of a letter Renoir wrote to his dealer, Durand-Ruel, in 1881: "I am not satisfied and I erase, I erase again..." In a similar sentiment in 1889 he refused to exhibit at the Exposition Universelle, declaring: "I find everything I do to be bad".

Many art critics have expressed their opinion that Renoir’s saccharine paintings are “too sweet”, and may even agree with Renoir’s insecure sense of his position in the art world. However, I believe this stems from a lack of understanding of his themes, as he once remarked, 'Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.'

Fortunately, Renoir did not destroy all of his work, and we have the opportunity to use his paintings to learn about the culture in which he lived .

The Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C., was America’s first museum of modern art and is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest small museums. In 1923, Duncan Phillips purchased Pierre-Auguste Renoir's brilliant example of impressionism, Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–81), which is now considered the museum’s best-known work.

In Britain, one can see Renoir’s masterpiece, La Loge, at the Courtland Gallery in London. La Loge was Renoir’s principal exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874.

Renoir’s La Loge received enthusiastic reviews when it was first exhibited and later that year it traveled to London for an exhibition organized by his dealer Durand-Ruel, making it one of the first major Impressionist paintings to be shown in England. However, the painting did not sell at either exhibition and was bought inexpensively the following year by the minor dealer ‘Père’ Martin for 425 francs, providing Renoir with much needed funds to pay the rent.

Although he is best known for scenes of Parisian life such as La Moulin de la Galette and paintings of children and young women, his landscapes were nearly all created in the first two decades of his career, before he began to concentrate on figure painting. between 1865 and 1883. It’s been written that the young artist used landscapes to experiment. With innovative explorations of color and brushstroke.

As Nancy Ireson, a curator of Britain’s National Gallery, said concerning his landscapes: "There is a Renoir that we know, the chocolate box Renoir, and there is a secret Renoir. Renoir wasn't so keen on showing them, some were unfinished, and they wouldn't have commanded the same prices, but landscapes were absolutely integral to his life. In a way he used landscapes to test himself."

One of Renoir;s amazing landscape, Le Jardin d'essai à Alger (The Test Garden), was painted in Algeria in 1881. It now hangs in a private office at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas

Late in his life Renoir’s style underwent a significant change, his outlines becoming less defined and his works entirely softer, with stronger use of reds and oranges. This variation in technique was largely effected by his severe arthiritis

By 1913 he was partially disabled by a stroke, his limbs deformed by arthritis, and he had become frail and wheelchair-bound, his hands coiled inwards like claws. Renoir continued to paint, with a brush jammed between paralyzed fingers strapped with bandages to prevent the fingernails digging into his palms.. After expressing a desire to work in sculpture to his friend and dealer, Ambroise Vollard, he began to work with sculpture. According to the tale, In 1913 Vollard introduced Renoir to Richard Guino, a 20-year-old Catalan sculptor, at Spanish sculptor Aristide Maillol's studio, announcing, 'I have found your hands.' . From 1913 until 1918 Renoir and Guino worked together, mainly at Renoir's 100-acre estate, Les Collettes, in Cagnes-sur-Mer, creating about 37 sculptures, many based on Renoir's paintings. There were other assistants, after 1918 , when Guino stopped working with Renoir.

Had Renoir not destroyed well over 2000 paintings, I suspect his reputation as a master of Impressionism would be significantly questioned. Similarly, his foray into creating sculptures based on his earlier paintings, is only footnote in some art history books as his quality pieces of art were created much earlier. I think of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Renoir, who in their winter years turn to assistants such as Juan Hamilton, to complete their vision when their hands or eyes have failed. The issue of “ownership of creative rights” often becomes a legal issue, but perhaps it’s more than legal---it’s a moral issue.

In today’s commercially-cognizant art world, noted individuals, such as Jeff Koons, Dale Chihuly and Damien Hirst, have morphed the time-revered profession of “artist” into “marketing promoter.” The “art work” is not produced by their own hand, despite being entirely healthy and able to create their own work. Instead, a stable of artists are hired to produce pieces to be sold at auction and in high-street galleries. The artwork, however, doesn’t bear the name of the actual creator, but the “Brand name” of the audacious artist who has. employed others to create their works. The artists' names have become trade-marks, essentially brandnames no more significant to the concept of "originality" than a McDonald's hamburger on a bun.

Referring to the mass-produced spot paintings of Rachel Howard, that are sold as Damien Hirst originals, Hirst has said, “"The spots I painted are shite. The best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel. She's brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel."

While addressing the factory-based production of Dale Chihuly’s work, the Portland Art Museum curator, Guenther, astutely stated "But at some point you lose faith in a production that is so distanced from the artist, from the creative mind that brought it out initially. At what point is there a loss of faith in the work and an erosion of the brand?"

Perhaps we’d do well to return to basics, take responsibility for our own work, assign only our own names to work we personally create, and use humility and discernment while determining which pieces “see the light of day.” Every work an artist creates is not a masterpiece, every poem a poet create is not forged in genius, and every book labored over by an author is not worthy of the lives of the trees that will showcase one’s words.

The consumer also has responsibility in this arena. While everyone cannot afford to purchase masterpieces by known artists, most individuals have the ability to purchase an original piece of art---not a giclee or an “edition”---but an original that bears the name of its actual creator. By selectively purchasing art, the excesses and deceptive marketing practices of Brand-names in the art world will be reduced, hitherto unknown artists will gain overdue recognition, and one’s “true” position in the marketplace will over-ride unhealthy competition fueled by greed and rampant consumerism . Through this revolutionary and shockingly simple process, art may, indeed, once again reflect the truth of the human condition.