Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Alice Neel's Aphorisms

Last night, the Sundance Channel aired their compelling film on Alice Neel. The best parts of the film are undoubtedly all the recorded videos of Neel herself.

When painting her portraits, for example, she said that she had four things in mind:
1. Art - the best part of the process was the moment of "dividing of the canvas," the setting out of the composition.
2. Likeness - the portrait needed, after all, to look like the person being painted. Only then could one try to move on to...
3. Capturing something of the inner character of the sitter.
4. And finally, she explained, the painting should have an aspect of zeitgeist. A portrait painted in the 1970s shouldn't look like as though it were painted in the 1930s.

Keeping all that in mind, have another look at the Museum of Art's Portrait of Mildred Myers Oldden, which was just reinstalled in the newly configured 20th Century Galleries.

Painted around 1937, the portrait is a relatively early work (and as such is an interesting counterpoint to her better-known paintings of the 1970s), but it gives you a pretty good idea of what Neel meant.

The best line of the documentary, however, was something else entirely. At one point, Neel turned to the camera and explained...

Art is not as stupid as human conversation

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