out standing in his field


Everybody knows what a painter is like. Bigger than life, flaunting convention in both his personal life and art practice, the great man stands at the threshold between the wilderness and civilization, channeling the creative forces of nature as he slathers, wipes, pokes, scrapes and daubs the oily patches of color in a fever of improvised choreography — pausing only to quaff a stein of ale or bang a model — until his latest masterpiece is birthed, ready to be unveiled to the astonished and scandalized bourgeoisie, who, if they play their cards right, may be accorded the privilege of paying through the nose to take the miraculous, revelatory canvas home.

As cartoonish a stereotype as this is, the only part I have any problem with is the implied gender exclusivity. Yet as a myth, its power and centrality have been such that painters (and most other artists) have been exploiting or struggling to undermine it for at least the past century. And they pretty much owe it all to Gustave Courbet, the 19th-century French painter who coined the term “realism,” launched painting on the path of sticky formalist self-absorption that wouldn’t peak until the advent of the Abstract Expressionists, and created a persona for himself that continues to be the template for the market- and publicity-savvy art star to this day.

more from Doug Harvey at the LA Weekly here.