Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Nymphs & Satyr - William Bouguereau

Fred Ross from the Art Renewal Center argues that anything by Bouguereau trumps anything by Picasso -- or any of the moderns.

Where the moderns bring ugliness, here there is beauty. Where everything about the finished modern product "is utterly awful and would be beneath the capabilities of a talented 12 year old," the technical skill exhibited here is immense. But most importantly, where you need to approach a modern work "as you would a Rorschach inkblot test," you can simply approach a Bouguereau with your own eyes, your own judgement and without books or texts or convoluted explanations.

You have to be taught to love Picasso, because nobody would love him otherwise. But people don't need to be taught to love Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Bouguereau, or for that matter Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, or Tom Sawyer , The Grapes of Wrath , Alice in Wonderland , or The Christmas Carol .
Teaching and information can add to the depth of understanding of great works of art, but they are great initially by their ability to capture the soul and imagination of the viewer, without thousands of words to instruct us on how to deny the evidence of our own senses and to deny our innate sense of truth and reason.
Of course, what tends to happen to people who have allowed themselves to be convinced that the emperor is wearing beautiful clothes, is that they have become "ego invested" due to years of having parroted the same falsehoods... and the associated humiliation that goes with acknowledging that one has been had.
The more years, and the more said in support of Modernism, the greater the difficulty in breaking through the gestalts, and taking off the iconic blinders, shedding all the preconceptions and looking again with "innocent eyes" and describing what is really there (at least to yourself), and then comparing it to the maligned academics like Waterhouse, Bouguereau, Lord Leighton, Burne-Jones, Gérôme, and Alma-Tadema, and deciding with freedom of thought and an honest wish to find the truth, which of them indeed are works of art, and which are snake oil salesmen.

Read Ross's whole piece here. Very, very good. Hat tip to Jeff Perren who says, "I invariably respond passionately to elegant pornography." (And click here for a very large version of the artwork.)


  1. I think my remark needs a little context. A poster complained that much of Bouguereau was just "elegant pornography."

    So, in time-honored fashioned (as when the Israeli representative at the UN responded to a charge from the Soviet one: "An insult from the Soviet Union is a compliment to Israel) I decided to make a badge of pride out of what was intended to be a criticism, as if art has to be joyless, sexless, or 'purely spiritual' in order to be deeply worthwhile.

    Plus, I like viewing attractive naked women.

  2. Although I do 'get' Picasso and the moderns, and appreciate them accordingly, there's something severely lacking in the bulk of their work. That thing is Beauty. Cleverness takes precedence over beauty, and that's why most people can't stand it. Very little (if anything) that the moderns created is as beautiful as any piece by Bouguereau.

  3. My goal is to have every single one of my (American like me, and even worse, from California) friends read this blog in the hopes they soak up some uncommon sense. Thanks for another great post.

  4. I used to have music lessons in the local art gallery, so saw all the displays. I could not understand how some brightly splashed nonsense would be given pride of place and a high pricetag, while a landscape that someone had obviously spent hours painstakingly reproducing in great detail would be placed in a poor position and be sold (relatively) cheaply.

    I have often considered producing some modern "art" to see if anyone would be gullible enough to buy it, but I'd say your name has to be recognised as someone in the "in" crowd for people to "recognise" that your work displays some great insight into the human psyche, rather than just being three primary colours of paint thrown aimlessly at a wall.

  5. If that satyr ever needs a holiday, I don't mind filling in for a few weeks...

  6. :)

    Ross: "You have to be taught to love Picasso, because nobody would love him otherwise."

    I love Picasso. (And no one taught me.) ;)

    Picasso is one of my top four favorites, along with Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Monet. There is a great deal of light, color, stunning arrangements, and expression in that quartet.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.