The Roberta Smith and Maureen Dowd Zeitgeist

Grad school — Elysian Days

Yay. Roberta Smith has published yet another article in The New York Times about, as she phrases it, the “annoying so-called death of painting.”  Titled It’s Not Dry Yet,” it’s an inspiration.

Not only does Smith debunk the ridiculous myth that painting is dead, she also takes issue with the 20th century Modernist notion that representational painting and abstract painting share no inherent common ground.

For painters whose work falls somewhere in between representation and abstraction (I’m one), today’s article is cause for celebration. Because it follows so closely behind her first article, which I blogged about in February, I’m excited to think that the return of painting is becoming part of the zeitgeist.

All of which brings back the memory of one great summer during grad school when my friend Barbara and I shared a painting studio. The ingression of the zeitgeist, or “collective unconscious,” into the work of artists had been a frequent topic of conversation for us.

In the bakingly hot studio in which we worked, Barbara and I would listen to the same paint-smudged cassette tape — Tommy James and the Shondells — over and over again (the two of us shared equal fascination with this cassette).

We  painted, rocked out and engaged in stimulating conversation, sometimes, all at once. I guess if you put an Aquarian and a Gemini together in one room, that’s what happens.

(N.B.: The cassette contained a good selection of songs, like Crimson and Clover, but also pretty bad [but-in-a-hilariously-good-way] songs like Getttin’ Together.)

Retro tunes aside, what was always a source of fascination for us was how similar motifs or symbols would wind up surfacing in each of our work — when we’d reconvene after working apart for a stretch of time.

We might notice, for instance, that we’d each developed a certain obsession with a number or shape or color or stoke of the oil crayon — or that some esoteric entity theretofore unexplored had entered both of our paintings. Likewise, a piece of work hanging in a gallery exhibition we’d happen to be visiting often would contain that very same element.

Zietgeist. Collective Unconscious. Call it what you will. It’s real and it’s back.

So thank you once again, Roberta Smith, for focusing your attention on painting.

At the end of this same article, Smith writes: “And something else greatly reduces the chances of the death of painting: too many people — most obviously women — are just beginning to make their mark with the medium and are becoming active in its public dialogue.”

Speaking of women, Maureen Dowd has also written a killer column today in The New York Times called A Nope For Pope. What we need, she says, is a nun who is pope. It’s a gratifying read.

Today, it seems, was a great day to be a woman. Every day should feel this way. Are you listening world?

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One Response to “The Roberta Smith and Maureen Dowd Zeitgeist”

  1. rottenart Says:

    Heh. Your post came up as “possibly related” on my own take on Smith’s piece. Nice work! Let’s hear it for a return to figuration!

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