January 16, 2009

"As popular paintings go, 'Christina’s World' is remarkable for being so dark and humorless..."

"... yet the public seemed to focus less on its gothic and morose quality and more on the way Wyeth painted each blade of grass, a mechanical and unremarkable kind of realism that was distinctive if only for going against the rising tide of abstraction in America in the late 1940's."

Really? I think people — even all those ordinary people who make up the substance of popularity — responded to the sadness and loneliness. Later, when photo-realism made the grade with elites, what were they focusing on?


Andrew Wyeth, dead at age 91.

You can see "Christina's World" at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.


rhhardin said...

Funny, I thought he painted in the 1800s. Live and learn.

Young America.

chickenlittle said...

I like this humorous take on Christina's World.

Host with the Most said...

I remember a Wyeth hanging in the home of Senator McGovern when we dined there. When I asked if it was original, the Senator said yes, then paused and said that he believed it was, and that though he had several times met and talked with Wyeth, it was not a gift from Wyeth.


it's my favorite painting in that entire museum. it's one of the first paintings you see as you get off the 4th floor escalator. i keep a postcard size print in my room. i always seem to have a different interpretation of this scene- perhaps depending on my mood. it never occured to me when i first saw it that she was crippled. but i always feel that she's trying to get to this distant place that is within her sight. the painting for me therefore has this tension. a movement, however slow or labored. a yearning. cause it seems we all want to get to that certain place.

Palladian said...

"As popular paintings go, 'Christina’s World' is remarkable for being so dark and humorless..."

As unpopular art critics go, Michael Kimmelman is remarkable for being so dim and humorless.

Salamandyr said...


He does seem remarkably negative about anyone actually liking Wyeth, doesn't he?

Palladian said...

"He does seem remarkably negative about anyone actually liking Wyeth, doesn't he?"

That's the job of the New York art critic: to make sure no one enjoys anything.

Henry Buck said...

I agree with the negative review of Kimmelman's work, but I did appreciate one phrase from the piece: "cultural disobedience through traditional behavior."

ricpic said...

It is remarkable that a single image can convey both yearning and dread. The painting is a piece of masterful contrivance on Wyeth's part, contrivance not being a pejorative term. First we get the impact, which is immense. Only later do we become conscious of the deliberate compositional devices Wyeth used to achieve his effect.

Look at the painting. Don't rush. Sink into it. The elements that make it work will emerge. You'll see.

Palladian said...

"cultural disobedience"

Ah yes, the highest goal according to the average New York art critic. Cultural disobedience. That's how I'm going to couch my opposition to Barack Obama. We'll see how far that gets me in the New York Art Scene. Cultural disobedience only goes so far, you see.

PatCA said...

It's an amazing painting. The first time I saw it, in high school, I wrote a poem about it, which was subsequently published.

Lem said...

Baby got back ;)

bearbee said...

I did not know the background of Christina's World.
Amazing and emotionally moving.

Jeremy said...

That's beautiful. I've never seen it before.

Henry said...

It's an astonshingly negative obituary. Kimmelman seems determined to dredge up every critical hit-piece from Wyeth's past.

At the same time, he blithely ignores the judgment of Wyeth's most prominent champions such as former Met Director Thomas Hoving. ("In 1976," writes Kimmelman, "Wyeth was given a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum." That's it.)

The only generous thing he does is to let Wyeth have his say -- and Wyeth is darker, more serious, and more discerning than Kimmelman can ever understand:

Wyeth added: “Let’s be sensible about this. I put a lot of things into my work which are very personal to me. So how can the public feel these things? I think most people get to my work through the back door. They’re attracted by the realism and they sense the emotion and the abstraction — and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion.”

chuck b. said...

My father somehow obtained a reproduction of Christina's World and it hung in our living room during my childhood. I don't care for it now.

traditionalguy said...

I do have an impression that art realists may get surreal when they face modern style.Just kidding. Let's note that the NYT appeals to readers with of a High Critical nature.[All others need not apply]. My more plebian Joy of Art comes from the wonder about the creator artist's life experience as deduced from his Oeuvre. What made them see and think like that? So all art gives me some pleasure. Like Meade said, it's not either/or, but enjoy them all.

Pogo said...

"Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject"

"...so we hated him, and tried to destroy him. And now he's dead. Our paintings, that no one ever looks at except in passing, are unpopular and reject bourgeois values, so we know better. Nyah nhyah nyah."

Intellectuals are so frequently wrong, it seems, that it appears to be some kind of mental defect, one that prohibits them from seeing what is right before their noses.

Palladian said...

"Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject"

Modernism didn't claim to reject "middle-class values and ideals". That's just Michael Kimmelman's little 68-er wet dream. Because what could be more middle-class than being one of the most forgettable art writers at the country's biggest failing newspaper?

MadisonMan said...

My favorite Wyeth painting is A wind from the sea.

There was a collection of his works at the High in Atlanta when I was there 5 years ago, and it was a crowded museum. Very interesting to see so many of his works.

Synova said...

I've often thought that "art" was primarily about separating the worthy from the masses. Thus, anything over popular is automatically bad, because it's not "art" unless you're one of the few able to appreciate it.

It's about making some people feel smarter than other people.

I also think this is true of "literature."

traditionalguy said...

Synova... Don't fall for that put-down by industrial strength elitists. They may get to feel that they are adding something special from their performance. But you can enjoy the experience on your own level. They'll never figure out why you're smiling while they are way off in left field. The artist worked to reach you, even thru time, at his/her moment of true expression. The critics are like the CSI TV series and they never get to meet the subjects alive.

Jen Bradford said...

but i always feel that she's trying to get to this distant place that is within her sight.

Except Christina was blind...

I blogged about Wyeth today also. I did degrees in both art history and painting, and he was either dismissed or derided in both zones. My favorite is still Groundhog Day (1959) which lives in Philly.

knox said...

We'll see how far that gets me in the New York Art Scene. Cultural disobedience only goes so far, you see.

I've been wondering if, on the same note, Mickey Rourke's comments about Bush will cost him the Oscar.

Jen Bradford said...

Hey, maybe I'm crazy for thinking she was blind. I have a friend who grew up on Cushing and remember her talking about being scared of her and her eyes. And I've always thought of her as blind. But that may be one of those ideas that gets planted early and takes root without being true.

bearbee said...

I always thought it as a symbolic reaching out, searching, yearning.

Dr. Henry writes about "Christina's World"

Art critics mostly heaped abuse on his work, saying he gave realism a bad name

That single sentence was most irritating, suggesting that Wyeth or, indeed, all artists consult critics to orient and correctly apply their vision so as to not offend the critics delicate sensibilities.

Susan said...

I love Wyeth but Christina's World is one of my least favorite. Ones like MadisonMan's favorite A Wind From the Sea are more to my liking. Like I feel about Grant Wood: love the Iowa landscapes but not his most famous American Gothic.

blake said...

Quote of the day from Palladian:
That's the job of the New York art critic: to make sure no one enjoys anything.


I liked "Naked Blond Chick In Barn" best. The others I found less appealing.

But I haven't seen any Wyeths in person, and that makes a big difference.

TMink said...

Mechanical and unremarkable realism my ass.

Those paintings took sweat and tears to make. He had a vision and thankfully for us he never listened to people who cannot paint telling him what to do.


TMink said...

Pogo wrote: "Intellectuals are so frequently wrong, it seems, that it appears to be some kind of mental defect, one that prohibits them from seeing what is right before their noses."

I know what you are saying, but maybe that applies to pseudo-intellectual posers. The phonies are obscure and oppositional in order to ape the revolutionary ideas of the true intellectuals they attempt to copy.

I mean, people like Thomas Sowell, an intellectual by any measure, make sense! Contrast him with someone like Greenwald and I think you see what I mean.


rcocean said...

Everyone I know loves his paintings. I guess that's why The Critics hated him.

Jake said...

Oops. Commented on the wrong post.

My obit is here:


Duscany said...

Kimmelman's notion that Wyeth paints with a "mechanical and unremarkable realism" is stunningly obtuse. Wyeth did one painting (not mentioned in the NY Times article) of a waist-high boulder alone in a field. In his painting the rock comes across as mysterious and powerful. Yet when one sees a photograph of the actual rock that Wyeth used as a model, one is stunned to see that it is ordinary and uninteresting in every way, a rock and nothing more.

This what Kimmelman missed. Wyeth took ordinary objects and filled them with haunting emotion (kitchen curtains blowing in the wind) and even dread. In this sense, Wyeth isn't realistic at all. It's remarkable that Kimmelman doesn't get this.

kynefski said...

Along with our host, I grew up where Andrew Wyeth was recognized as a celebrity. (I remember my 5th grade teacher describing his order of pork chops at a butcher they both frequented.) As a child, I never thought of him as an artist; the images were just too familiar. Then, as an adult, I had opportunities to see the paintings, and I was astonished.

The difference between Wyeth images and Wyeth paintings cannot be overstated. Take this. As an image, it looks bizarre. As a painting, it looks amazing.

William said...

Christina stretches for a home she cannot walk to. That beaten house is probably as much a part of her pain as her pinched vertabrae. And for all that, that house is the only home she knows and can even visualizing knowing....I didn't know that until I read the back story, but I felt all that in the painting.

gt said...

My family went to the museum in Chadd's ford over xmas. I stayed home to wrap presents, then found out they got a personal tour from one of the Wyeths. Not Andrew obviously. I like the Jamie Wyeth stuff there better. The museum is on rt 1, hang a right on 202 going south and you're just a few miles from the Charcoal Pit.

blogging cockroach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
blogging cockroach said...

you know i have this human soul
and i can still remember last time
before i was reborn as a cockroach
i was a 12 tone composer and music professor
at a 3rd rate state u but now i live near harvard u
which is probably comeuppance for my last life
anyway when i was in a human body
and believe me i was in as many female
grad students human bodies as i could be
which may be one reason i m a cockroach now
i remember that only abstract expressionism
would do over at the art dept
just like only 12 tone or serial music was
if you were a composer and no matter what
you had to like it if you were a serious modern
person at all but i don t think that applied to
cockroaches which is one benefit of my current status
yes abstract expressionism and serial music went
hand in hand at the college of arts and god
help you if you had any other ideas i know i sure didn t
so if you were a studio art student and painted
an actual picture of something you might as well
have composed a piece of music in g major
oh the shame

abstract expressionism and 12 tone music also
had a lot of trendy leftish ideas stuck to them
like mold on an overripe fruit ready to drop into
somebody s hands except if you were
an old fashioned communist you had a problem
cause stalin liked mickey mouse and minuet in g
and zhadinov would send you to siberia for
bourgeois formalist tendencies if you thought
jackson pollock or anton webern were cool
ah the rat maze of politics and art
except most of the rats i know these days
are smarter than that which is another problem

bourgeois was the catch all epithet
used against art like andrew wyeth s
i bet you thought i d never get to the point
and i ve got to tell you i still get a little queasy
at christina s world because it was part of the air
i breathed that stuff like that was stupid
and sentimental bourgeois illustration
dark and humorless as it is
i remember this visiting french art professor
and several of us going to a wyeth exhibit
in town for a good laugh
except he was a little dark and humorless himself
and used to puff his cigarette between his thumb
and forefinger with his hand turned toward his face
and say ah you amerwicains you are so bourgeois
you theenk a fire burning in ze fireplace is expressif
what is expressif is a fire burning ze house down
i think he was a structuralist
he would sit in his cafe on the rue de bac thinking
and then amble over to the universite and teach
for which the republique francais paid him enough
to sit in a cafe on the rue de bac in paris thinking
i was luckier because the state u where i taught
paid me enough to not have to think at all

no tenure for poor wyeth and no cafe sitting either
he had to paint pictures and gasp sell them
so the non trendy ignorant bourgeoisie
could gape at them not understanding
the slightest thing about art
except you can see the grass blades
oh the shame