Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jean-Léon Gérôme

Yesterday the Wiffee and I visited the Getty Center in Los Angeles to see the Jean-Léon Gérôme exhibition. He was a 19th century French painter known best for his romanticized images of the Middle East. (You can see many of his works at Jean-Léon Gérôme).

His paintings are stunning. On the one hand, they appear photographic, yet they're better than photos, plus he blurred edges of everything except the important subject. The images still look detailed, yet the subject pops out of the canvas with its sharp edges, brilliant contrast and color.

Above is one of Gérôme's paintings: Pollice Versa! (Thumbs Down!) (If you've ever seen the 2000 movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe, you've seen this artwork brought to life on screen in the opening moments of the film -- the director obviously knew about this piece!) Seeing the painting up close and personal, it's amazing how much detail Gérôme put into it, especially with the numbers of people in the stands of the Circus Maximus. It appeared to be the most popular work in the exhibit.

The description cards along side each work often mentioned comments made by the critics of Gérôme's time. Reading them made me realize how biased and subjective critics were then, as they are today. As an artist, I could see how hard Gérôme worked on his paintngs and how incredibly skilled he was in creating them. One of the bios on the walls mention he sketched eight hours a day, over and above painting and, later, sculpting. No wonder he was so good! I should take the 8h/d habit as advice for my own artistic development.

Seeing paintings of this caliber makes me realize how far I need to go as an artist, but it also demonstrates comments I've seen on artists' forums: artists who paint as Gérôme did would have a hard time surviving today. It takes a long time to work that way, and the painter would have to settle for low production while asking high prices -- a situation galleries don't care for. They want artists who can crank. This may account for all of the modernistic art we see so much of today. They can be made relatively quickly, and with the right kind of promotion, convincing and marketing, might even sell for lots of money.

In short: exhibitions like Gérôme inspire me and discourage me at the same time. Funny how life can be like that, huh?

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