Friday, January 2, 2009
Gustave Courbet. Le Guitarrero, 1844.
It may seem odd for me to feature Courbet here, he being somewhat outside the family of painters we study (and outside the realm of my scholarship, apart from simple appreciation!) -- but truly he is a kindred spirit of Hals, Claesz, Holbein, and our other heroes, by simple fact of his unerring commitment to the representation of simple truth.
Here we have a beautiful example of that commitment. But, more deeply, we have a study -- perhaps an appreciation, rather? -- of the artist's craft in general, which takes place on two levels: the appreciation of the artist's communion with nature (nature serving as a meditation on truth, of course); and, second, of the communion the artist makes with truth in his translation of object to art.
Nature, of course, is endlessly inspiring; countless painters have made their careers on portraying its plunging depths, its sweet wisdoms, its soaring highs. The young man playing his guitar is communing with nature, then. His eyes lift heavenward. His papers, matches, and fresh joint, in the hands of a Courbet, seem alert and full of energy. He gingerly plucks what looks to be a C Major chord, his hand already moving for the next chord change, probably inspired by what all of us have experienced in nature: sitting, letting nature be, breathing sincerely and deeply of the piney silence. The young man realizes that life, as we live it, as artists live it, is a struggle against inertia, a vigorous thrust toward living and not just life.