I went to the Memphis Brooks museum today to see an exhibition of sky scapes by one of Memphis's finest artists, Veda Reed. She was a long time teacher at Memphis College of Art, and she was a deeply kind mentor to me when I got started on my painting career.
Veda's show is amazing, and if you're in Memphis, I hope you get a chance to go see it. One thing made me crazy, though. The text panel that accompanied it said, "It may seem conservative to be making landscapes in the twenty-first century..."
Seriously?? That seems to diminish the whole show, not to mention a great deal of the Brooks collection, and certainly the work I spend my life doing. My favorite painter John Constable was belittled as far back as the 18th C for being a landscape painter instead of doing "deeper" history and religious paintings. Are we still marginalizing landscapes as not being deep enough? Do we really have to put down landscapes in the chase after the modern concept or the avant guard? Can't we value all of it? (I also ran into this bias in my printmaking class at MCA a few years ago, though that was just one teacher.)
In a lovely coincidence, there's an article on Chuck Close in the NYT today. He was talking about feeling alienated from the NYC art scene because he's still a painter instead of a conceptual artist. He thought about changing to conceptual work after a medical condition left him largely paralyzed, and then he said, "But I was going to miss the activity of pushing paint around. So pretty soon, I thought, I'm going to get the paint on the canvas if I have to SPIT the paint on the canvas."
I LOVE that!
Yay for Chuck Close for standing up for hands-on art making as a craft and the time honored tradition of painting. I've long known that I wouldn't fit in to the faddish New York art scene, but it was deeply disheartening today to see a placard in the museum by my house diminishing the art of landscape painting. I ended up writing a letter to the new director.
On the upside, she is working hard to create a more welcoming atmosphere among the guards and staff, and no one stopped me from sketching today, and everyone was quite welcoming. That's definitely progress.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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