William Bouguereau - Cold?

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William Bouguereau - Cold?

From Robin

Published before 2005


A few thoughts (fascinating conversation!)

Timothy Tyler wrote:
Pejorative labels such as "mere illustration" "commercial", "hack or hackney" and "kitsch" are samplings of the indictments leveled at realist artists of the 20th century (and late 19th century Academic art such as Bouguereau.)

This still goes on today, and I see it expressed even in digital media and the same arguments rehashed over and over - where those who prefer representational art come into conflict with those who prefer modernist/abstract.

I have a very wide appreciation for art and likely I am more liberal about this than many - although my preferences are entirely for representational art (I am a Bouguereau fan!) I do not shut out art which progresses to new media, nor do I shut out mathematical art (so much of that can be applied to representational art as well - nature itself is the greatest showcase of mathematics in the biological and mineral world, and an understanding of that adds to the realism). I like to think that Bouguereau, alive today, would be just as experimental with new media and techniques - and perfect them with dazzling brilliance, with the same application of his artistic philosophy, just as he did when alive. The 19th century was one of progress and upheaval, in both technology and social ethics. I like to keep the forward-looking spirit alive.

It is my strong belief, to excel at digital media, you need to tackle traditional media first. Nearly every good digital artist I've seen has been a good traditional artist first. Digital characters are often sculpted and usually drawn first in traditional media before heading to the computer. You need to learn how to paint, to draw, to sculpt. Then you can progress to new tools.

My main argument [against] the modernists is that they are so very intolerant while claiming tolerance - they don't teach art appreciation (as has been noted), they don't believe you even need to know how to draw. My observation is that modernist artists do not learn to really observe the world around them. For me, this is a large part of art's function for the person who learns to be an artist, and why you would still want representational art to be a major part of an educational curriculum.

And I ran into the inevitable result of that headlong in the most bizarre fashion, when people came to me for help with 3D game mods (back when I used to enjoy doing such things). They couldn't move from their 2 1/2 dimensional mental space to the 3D space - they simply couldn't visualise it. It was like dealing with a kind of mind blindness. It may be a controversial opinion - but it was at that moment when I thought that perhaps a solid art education for young people, when they learned to draw and sculpt in a representational way, to take note of the illusions in nature in how we perceive things - that they could become far better observers of the real world. (And maybe good artists themselves.) Cameras are great, but you still have to train your eyes to actually "see". Perhaps we got lazy with the invention of the camera.

Timothy Tyler wrote:
But Patrick [Lawrence] says that Bouguereau's figures show a narrow range of emotions. I don't quite know what this means other than he is judging the works upon a narrow range of features.

If I may offer an observation - real people do not show exaggerated emotions in their face, rather it is a total body expression. Real emotions are very subtle. It is difficult for those who animate a realistic character to get the emotions down in a realistic way, they usually over-exaggerate the emotions and get it entirely wrong. It will come off looking like a cartoon rather than a real person. (This is a large part of why realism in 3D animation is so difficult, and why motion capture from actors is usually used, especially if the character has to interact with real actors.)

Fred Ross wrote:
What's lacking is that you are not seeing them in the flesh. Since they are all life size, most of the emotional impact cannot be experienced from the computer screen.

That is so TRUE! I saw my first Bouguereau hidden off in the back corner of the Met while Renoir, Van Gogh were given prime floor space. I was totally blown away. There is nothing quite like viewing one for real. His work literally glows off the canvas. His mastery of light and skin tones, his use of colour is simply amazing.

Anyway, thanks for the wonderful thread - interesting as always.

Take care,