Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Favorite Artists - The Top Ten At This Moment

Dr. Paige Baggett and I were discussing art and artists earlier this week. Paige is a Chagall fan and was energized by seeing his wonderful mosaic depicting the seasons in Chicago that is about the size of a freight train boxcar. No need to ask about her #1, but I wondered about what other artists sent her artistic sensibilities reeling. I asked. She responded: "Do your top 10 and I'll do mine." It looks as if she has already done hers. I won't peek at hers until I finish mine and we will see if there are overlaps.

It is harder than you think. Here is my list... For the moment. And a caveat: all of those selected here are "famous" and dead. I have some favorites who are not famous, and some not dead either. I'll will share some of them with you in a later post.

I have added a sentence or two to explain my choices.

Pablo Picasso
Picasso did everything, and in great quantity. And the quality, for the most part, was exceptional. When in Madrid in 1996 I saw two special Picasso exhibits celebrating the 25th anniversary of the installation of Guernica at the Museo Reina Sophia. A large sample of Picasso's "studies" - actually finished paintings for the most part - for the Guernica were on display. Picasso created over 200 of these full size paintings/studies during the month in which he created Guernica. What an astounding feat!Guernica

Walker Evans
On occasion I pretend to be a photographer. Walker Evans is one of the best photographers ever. The photographs he did for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men are among his most moving. They continue to touch my heart. Take a look at Allie Mae Burroughs and you will understand.
Allie Mae Burroughs by Walker Evans

It's not just Modigliani's nudes that fascinate me, but his other paintings and his sculptures as well. There is something about the stretched out proportions that intrigues me, also a characteristic of a sculptor's work found later in my list of 10. There are not many Modiglianis in existence since he died at such a young age. I have been fortunate to see an unusually large number of them in special shows in New York, Los Angeles and Paris. This is his Red Nude painted in 1917.
Modigliani Red Nude, 1917

Van Gogh
Ten years of productive work (and only about 5 really count) and that's all we have. How unfortunate! I have been able to see a great number of Van Goghs in Amsterdam, Paris, New York and elsewhere. All are stunning! How many artists can you say that about? I feel blessed when I am in the company of a Van Gogh. I had a tough time selecting one for this post. I'm heading for Arles this Christmas so I selected Van Gogh's Room at Arles, 1889.
Van Gogh's Room at Arles, 1889

Judith I, 1901My friend, Walter Lippincott, has had a print of Judith I, 1901 hanging in his house as long as I can remember. It fascinated me when I first saw it at Walter's almost 45 years ago. It still does now. Between 1965 and now I have come to love and admire many other of Klimt's works. My selection below is The Virgins, 1913. I selected it since I have a huge Venetian plate that is based on this painting. I love it. And I love it's source. Unfortunately, I have seen only 3 or 4 of Klimt's paintings in person. I saw a lot of his drawings at a special exhibition in Paris. I keep looking!
The Virgins, 1913

As with Modigliani, I am taken with the elongated figures of Giacometti. I have seen many in person. They always provoke a sense of awe, a sense of humility in me. I do not know the official name of the following. I'll call it Three Figures.
Giacometti sculpture of three human figures

Color. Bold color. Lines and shapes. I don't think I have ever seen a Matisse I didn't like. I have seen a lot of Matisse. Years ago at the Cone Collection in the Baltimore Museum of Art. More recently on a truly overwhelming visit to The Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA. Here is Woman in a Purple Coat, 1937. You know I love purple!
Matisse: Woman in a Purple Coat, 1937

Oh my. I could go on forever about Monet. How did he do it? Get close to a Monet. Move slowly backward, if the crowd will let you. It keeps changing. Walk forward. It changes again. How did he know what the painting would look like when he painted it within an arms length? A mystery to me. But a great mystery. I love Monet. I especially love his "leftovers," the paintings he did not sell. And in many cases did not sign. See them at the Musee Marmottan in Paris, a museum I did not discover for much too long a time. And do not miss perhaps the most stunning installation of any artist's works: Monet's Les Nymphéas at Musee de l'Orangerie in the Jardin de Tuileries, Paris.
Les Nympheas

If you have ever visited The Accademia in Florence and seen The David in person you would need to know no more. I was there once when there were only two other people in the room. Hundreds were there on each of my next five visits. But they were fewer in number than the seeming thousands that forced my eyes permanently upward in the Sistine Chapel to view Michelangelo's great fresco ceiling. Struck with awe is appropriate when viewing Michelangelo's work. With a crowd or while alone.
Michelangelo's David

Ben Shahn
If bakers can have 13 donuts in a dozen, the I can have eleven artists in my list of my top ten favorite artists. My last two are famous and dead, as are the rest on my list. But they are different in that I have had dinner (on separate occasions) with both of them Ben Shahn and Thomas Hart Benton. Shahn was a neighbor and friend of the Assistant to the Chair of the Political Science Department of Livingston College (Rutgers University) when I served as Chair 1970-72). Consequently, I was invited to dinner with Mr. Shahn and his wife. He regaled with stories of friends and foes alike, and enjoyed being able to say "I'd give my right arm for that" to accquaintances who did not know he was left handed. Since President Truman connects with my other member of this set, here in Shahn's Truman: NOTE The following photograph will be replaced soon with a photograph of a poster of Truman by Ben Shahn that is now a part of the John H. Strange Art Collection at the University of South Alabama.
Harry Truman, drawing by Ben Shahn about 1948

Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart, as I knew him, lived across the street from my uncle Randall Jessee in Kansas City, MO. There were both friends of President Truman and the three of them gathered in the basement of my uncle's house to drink eggnog and swap stories every Christmas season. Thomas Hart painted the mural that is the centerpiece of the Truman Library in Independence, MO. President Truman and my uncle also contributed to the painting. If you look closely you can't miss their brush strokes in the sky on the far right of the mural. My uncle and my aunt both served as models for some of the figures in the mural. Uncle Randall is immediately to the left of the covered wagon above the door. Aunt Fern sits to the right and slightly below that same wagon. Meeting artists in person increases the chances for them being included in your top ten. Ben Shahn and Thomas Hart Benton merit their place on my list on their own. But knowing them helps!
Independence and the Opening of the West
Independence and the opening of the west, Thomas Hart Benton's mural at the Truman Library, Independence, Missouri

and Persephone, 1939. I can't figure out why, but I feel a need to include it in my post!
Persephone by Thomas Hart Benton, 1939


  1. It is really a good thing that the university has assigned an art lover/artist to the task of teaching EDM 310. Especially for me!! I love your choices Dr. Strange. I saw my art teacher from high school in the lab (our lab) the other day. It was a most unexpected encounter. I hadn't seen her for almost 15 years. When she saw me, she didn't recognize me at first (because I'm much fatter now), but you could literally see the confusion when she realized who I was. I believe that the College of Education was the absolute last place she thought she would run into the likes of me. That is a book of an explanation in itself, so I'll spare you, but my point for bringing this up is the fact that Ms. Stephanie Bromley had a whole other world waiting for me at Murphy High School. She has a passion for art. She made me feel comfortable and accepted enough to escape when I came to class each day. She is a teacher in every sense and I will never forget what she instilled in me; a true love for art. By the time I got finished talking to her she was in tears. I love her and art because of her.

  2. This is some really wonderful works of art. I think it's really interesting that you have had the chance to meet them too. I really like the story of President Truman and your uncle. I have to be honest though and all the art lovers out there that might read this please don't misunderstand what I am about to say. I have tried to look at art on so many occasions and get an appreciation for it. I have never seen a painting and got a sense of awe. I do realize that it is something very difficult to do and takes a lot of talent. I think maybe if I was to ever take an art class and really understand how difficult it is, I could appreciate it more. I can remember trying to play a guitar and after that I have a huge appreciation for anyone that plays an instrument. I think these paintings are lovely but I would love to see it like some people do. I guess it's just the generation I come from. No one paints anymore really because of all the technology with digital pictures and such. I met someone that was born in New Orleans and was a painter. He literally would sell his paintings on the side of the street. He was an older gentleman and he stopped painting for a living because people could buy much cheaper paintings that weren't hand painted. It was really sad to me. My favorite picture out of all you favorites is the Walker Evans photo. It makes me think she is from the depression era. It makes me wonder what she is thinking and what her story is. Is that what defines good art? Or is art just a matter of opinion and how it affects you at that time when you look at it? Is there good art and bad art? Art is a fascination to me because I want to see what you see. I know that I am one of the few that feel this way, and honestly I can't believe I'm going to hit post comment. I actually envy art lovers but I think it is probably a really good hobby. No matter what someones hobby or passion is, I always appreciate the fact they have one even if it's not mine.

  3. To get this out of the way first, I’m a student in your EDM 310 class this spring. Even though you already know this, here is a link to my blog to hopefully make things a little easier for you:

    Now, what a cool idea you and Dr. Baggett had to list your top ten artists! You have such a passion for art that is actually contagious. I love art, even though I’m not talented and don’t have nearly enough knowledge or experience as you. I love learning about it though. One of my top three favorite courses I have taken was one that covered art history from the Renaissance through the modern periods. Unfortunately, I haven’t been as privileged as you to experience pieces firsthand. Traveling to Europe to see some of the classics is definitely on my bucket list.

    I’m glad I got assigned to read your blog because I just learned some things that I never knew about before. I’m pretty embarrassed to say that I have never heard of Giacometti’s work before. To go along with your “I don’t know, let’s find out” philosophy, I did some research. You were right; his work is pretty amazing. I also think it’s fascinating that you personally knew Ben Shahn and Thomas Hart Benton. How proud you must be!

    An artist I do know something about is Matisse and I completely agree with your opinions of him. His use of color is amazing to me. My favorite quote by Matisse is “there are always flowers for those who want to see them”. I’m not sure if he was referring to painting and technique, but I have always thought that quote was really inspiring.

    I’m really glad that I read this post of yours. Art is clearly something you are very passionate about and your knowledge is something to be admired. Have fun in France this Christmas!