Jacob Epstein

Home / Education / ARChives / Foundational Discussions

Jacob Epstein

From Jeffery LeMieux

Published before 2005

Mike McConn wrote: Perhaps you can comment on the works themselves provided in the links, clear visual examples of the same artists works.

Of course, the intent, the idea should be encapsulated with the image itself.

Presuming to imagine, I would speculate that Epstein's intent was not to make something ugly for the sake of "garbage", but to provide a disturbing (ugly) image to convey a gloomy futuristic glimpse. Epstein was no dilettante, indeed he was a master, a great portraitist, who like so many other artists, may have overreached in this one particular example. After all, if a work doesn't first pass through the visual heart via beauty, why should one even consider the peripheral implications.

The works themselves are a study in contrast. The portraiture reveals Epstein's mastery of medium and observation. Certainly we cannot doubt his technical ability. His expressions are likely very accurate transcriptions of his intent, though I still maintain that intent is not suitable as a measurement of the value of art. The art object itself is where the value must reside, not the wishful thinking of the artist who made it.

The Jackhammer piece, I am led to understand, went through a transformation from Vorticist evocation of power and optimism in the first iteration to defeated and emasculated metaphor for mankind in the later stage. I think the symbolism and choice of images is suitable and evocative, the technical qualities solid and well ordered, but with the statement itself I disagree. I don't see man as hybrid or machine, nor do I see man as powerless and/or defeated.

Are the Maya artworks that depict ritual human sacrifice good works of art? Technically, formally, they may have much to recommend them. Because of their content I'd not have them in my life.

So are they great art? I don't think so. I think they well represent a particular culture and historical/geographic period, and as such are useful, but no, I'd store them somewhere out of the public eye. As objects of research, fine. As objects of transcendent beauty and good, Nope.

Which gets back to my original statement about everything being art, but not everything being good art.