04/21/13: the critic’s/curator’s mind.

It’s such a lovely day today I had to take a walk through the park so I headed over to the Metropolitan Museum. It’s not for need of inspiration. Words and pictures seem to be flowing out of me this week. I figured I’d wander around the museum and catch another glimpse of the exhibition, “Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity.” While strolling through I couldn’t help but notice there was something about Degas’s paintings that separated them from the work of other artists. Something about the way Degas applied the oil to the canvas. Paint and canvas were one, not unlike what happens in a platinum photographic or matte finish digital prints. I have always loved Degas but today I felt something special about his work I hadn’t noticed before.

I stood in front of one of Degas’s paintings (“Sulking”, 1874) for a while. It is a picture of a man sitting, leaning against his desk with a much younger woman at the side, sprawled in the man’s direction over a chair near the desk. He leans away from her, slightly. The note at the side of the painting, I imagine written by the curator of the show, states, “her dress…strikingly at odds with the businesslike surroundings. So too is her missing hat and slouching, informal stance, which may suggest a familial or intimate relationship but leaves faint clue as to the cause of his “sulking”.”

edgar degas: "sulking". 1870. courtesy of the metropolitan museum of art

I often find these writings or critiques so silly. I’m not sure if Degas left notes about this painting or not? (After researching the painting I have found out he did not.) The sulking man, writer Edmond Duranty, doesn’t look to me like he’s sulking at all. He looks deep in thought. Isn’t that what writers do? I actually thought the title, “Sulking”, applied to the young women, though I feel she looks more bored than sad. It’s more likely the model was familiar with both Degas and Duranty, as she was a well known muse and appeared four years later as the model in Corot’s, “Lady in Blue.”

The entire reason I have “muses” is because they become “familiar” to me. It is why muses are celebrated and cherished in art. Their closeness to the artists makes them comfortable so they can completely concentrate on their art work. It helps to bring out, if I may be so bold to say, one’s creative genius.

I often read critiques of photography, dance, and painting and wonder, “where in the world,” did the critics comments come from? Were they in the studio with Martha Graham? Did they sit by Monet in Giverny as he painted the water lilies? Have they wandered the streets of New York City with Alfred Stieglitz or Bruce Davidson? The critics write like they were there but a critic or curator can only guess what the artist was thinking. Still, they seem so sure about their viewpoints. I’m guessing most often they are wrong.

I see Degas’s, “Sulking”, in a very different way than the curator of this exhibition. The painting was most likely planned but how much so is left up to conjecture. My guess is Degas set up a portrait session with Duranty for this painting. Possibly he planned to take sketches and possibly some photographs so he could work on the final oil painting in the studio. Since Emma Dobigny was a known model, having posed for Degas often during the four years before this painting, maybe she happened to stop by his studio unannounced as Degas was leaving for Duranty’s office. Since they were friends, Degas asked her to join him during the portrait session. Deep in his mind, Degas knew he might use her somewhere in Duranty’s portrait. (If this happened to me, I would have used mirrors to shoot the two subjects together and then the three us would have gone out for sushi when the session was over.)

Of course, Degas had to begin the session sketching Edmond Duranty alone since this was the original arrangement. Emma finally got bored waiting around the office, walked over to the desk and leaned across it, deliberately in a manner Degas and Duranty had to notice. As Dru in “Despicable Me” would say, “Light Bulb!” A simple portrait of Duranty alone had by accident become something much more interesting and special. This portrait of these two people together is really two portraits merged into one, becoming something greater as the whole.

Later as I wander the modern galleries I pass as always, Giacometti’s sculpture, Three Men Walking II.” A man is photographing the piece and if his lens got any closer it would become part of the sculpture. I couldn’t believe the guard didn’t make him move away. I thought it would be a good place for a self-portrait. After exploring the gallery I came back to the Giacometti sculpture with my camera and mirror in hand and began shooting. The lighting was more interesting than I had anticipated. I could capture both the sculpture and the reflection of my face in light that made me “happy.” After five minutes of shooting a gentleman, another visitor to the museum, stopped next to me and asked what I was doing? I must have been quite the picture with my ponytail and wearing shorts, holding the mirror near the sculpture, shooting, but looking away from the camera and statue, into my mirror.

self-portrait with giacometti's, "three men walking II"

I showed the man several of my images. “Very cool,” he said. “What’s it all about?” I found it so funny he thought my self-portrait was “about” something. It was not! As many of you know, I’m doing a series of mirror portraits. The situation and lighting at the Giacometti sculpture happened to be beautiful. I told the man it was nothing more than that. My work is very spontaneous. It’s about light, composition, and emotions. Very simple. Nothing more is necessary.

The perfect example is the portrait I took of Madison McDonough 2 days ago. It was a spontaneous shoot. The portrait session I had expected to do that evening was canceled and Madison happened to text me to see if I was available for pictures. I was exhausted from shooting for weeks straight and I thought a short walk in the park with Madison along with some of my special green tea would make a shoot with her just what I needed.

Madison is one of the few muses who always wears clothes perfect for my pictures. I did bring a vintage dress for the shoot but her black sweater, short black skirt, and boots were perfect for the Central Park location. I had no idea what the pictures would look like before we began. I wasn’t sure how the light would work in the tunnel this time of year. I had no idea what mood Madison would be in.

madison mcdonough in central park. 04/19/13

During the shoot I said something to Madison that probably brought us closer together as friends. This photograph comes from that time. It’s unexpected. It’s all about the light, the composition and her emotions. Madison is perfect. No planning was necessary.

If my art becomes famous some day and the self-portrait with Giacometti’s statue hangs in a gallery one hundred years from now, I wonder what the critics and curators will say?

“Self-portrait With Giacometti’s Three Men: 2013.” “Mr. Goode was likely capturing the contrast between the three thin men and his round face but also note the rough texture of both his face and the sculpture. Was Mr. Goode commenting on the infatuation with the male body during his day or was it his own desire to become more like the men in Giacometti’s sculpture? Mr. Goode’s smirk, rare in most of his self-portraits, shows his sense of humor either way.”

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