Compare and Contrast (15)

1. Stephen Dunn: The Imagined.
2. Shakespeare: Sonnet 138.

The Imagined

If the imagined woman makes the real woman
seem bare-boned, hardly existent, lacking in
gracefulness and intellect and pulchritude,
and if you come to realize the imagined woman
can only satisfy your imagination, whereas
the real woman with all her limitations
can often make you feel good, how, in spite
of knowing this, does the imagined woman
keep getting into your bedroom, and joining you
at dinner, why is it that you always bring her along
on vacations when the real woman is shopping,
or figuring the best way to the museum?

                     And if the real woman

has an imagined man, as she must, someone
probably with her at this very moment, in fact
doing and saying everything she’s ever wanted,
would you want to know that he slips in
to her life every day from a secret doorway
she’s made for him, that he’s present even when
you’re eating your omelette at breakfast,
or do you prefer how she goes about the house
as she does, as if there were just the two of you?
Isn’t her silence, finally, loving? And yours
not entirely self-serving? Hasn’t the time come,

                     once again, not to talk about it?

Sonnet 138

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies, 
That she might think me some untutor’d youth, 
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties. 
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young, 
Although she knows my days are past the best, 
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue: 
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d. 
But wherefore says she not she is unjust? 
And wherefore say not I that I am old? 
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust, 
And age in love loves not to have years told: 
   Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
   And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.

Compare and Contrast (14)

1. Titian: Man with a Quilted Sleeve (detail).
2. Philip Guston: Sleeping.

This is another big stretch but, I’m telling you, I can’t look at that sleeve in the Titian and not think of Philip Guston. I may not even have the best Guston to illustrate the comparison, but there’s something about the strokes on that sleeve…

Compare and Contrast (13)

1. Francis Bacon
2. Random Japanese postcard

…because I have an overdeveloped Bacon radar.

Compare and Contrast (12)

1. Robert J. Lang
2. Satoshi Kamiya
Robert J. Lang
4. Satoshi Kamiya 

Compare and Contrast (11)

1. Alex Prager: Desiree.
2. Cindy Sherman: untitled 96.

C’mon Alex. Homage is one thing, but when every third photograph cites a Cindy photograph, parodies a Cindy photograph, or looks openly imitative of a Cindy photograph, which photographs were also citing, parodying, and imitating things, 1) you might be heading into a creative cul-de-sac and 2) we might be tempted to overlook your more interesting, more unique work.

(…and let me get in a shout out to everyone who, like me, had that linoleum (bottom) in their house or knew someone close to them who did. Never forget.)

Compare and Contrast (10)

1. Rogier van der Weyden: The Crucifixion, c. 1460.
2. Francis Bacon: right panel of Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962.
3. Francis Bacon: Figure in Movement, 1985.
4. Francis Bacon: center panel of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, Second Version, 1944.

Francis Bacon’s sense of color and the framing devices he used - perhaps the two most distinctive elements of his style apart from the figures themselves - both seem to come out of thin air. His biggest influence was Picasso but I don’t see much trace of either the peculiar color juxtaposition or the monumental centeredness there. If not out of thin air, I’m tempted to think they might have come from earlier religious painting such as this diptych by Rogier van der Weyden in which the orange cloth, acting as a frame within a frame, is similar to framing devices Bacon used over and over again (not to mention the orange which is signature Bacon as well). Bacon’s proclivity for diptychs and triptychs had to have come from looking at old religious works (since there isn’t a secular tradition for such a thing); who knows that the same paintings didn’t also influence his choice of subjects: Bacon painted several Crucifixions - far less reverent ones, to put it mildly.

Bacon mentions, in several interviews, Cimabue’s Crucifix, and in the Sylverster interviews he cites it as the source for the third panel of Three Studies for a Crucifixion (above), where he inverts it. In the Archimbaud interviews, he says he likes “not only [the Italian primitives]; primitives in general” but a little later when asked about “the German and Flemish painters, Holbein, Bruegel,” he says “They mean nothing to me.” Is van der Weyden a primitive or a Flemish painter? I guess if Holbein and Bruegel are the Flemish painters, van der Weyden is, to Bacon, probably more a “primitive” than a “Flemish” painter. (You always wish they’d gotten deeper into it but, alas, they jump from this to Rembrandt. I’m sure there are other interviews where Bacon talks more about those “primitives,” whoever they are - I just haven’t seen them.) Looking at the above diptych, I imagine van der Weyden might have been a primitive who meant something to him.

Compare and Contrast (9)

1. John ChamberlainM. Junior Love.
2. Vincent FecteauUntitled.
3. John Chamberlain: Latin Disco.
4. Vincent Fecteau: Untitled (I think).

Compare and Contrast (8)

1. Marina AbramovićThe Artist is Present.
2. Whistler: Arrangement in Grey and Black.

Compare and Contrast (7)

1. Caravaggio: The Entombment of Christ.
2. Rubens: copy of The Entombment of Christ.

It’s instructive to look at paintings through another artist’s eyes. Most of us would look at the above Caravaggio and think the woman standing arms raised at the apex of the fan motion there was indispensable, compositionally. But for Rubens, the interest of the painting was obviously elsewhere - in the person of Nicodemus maybe, in the chiaroscuro, or, more generally, in the little motifs, the parcels of energy that are, to the people who look at paintings just as much as to those who read books or watch films, the true content of a work of art. Look at how closely he mimics the folds in the cloth falling from Christ’s body - that was important, as was the bone and muscle in Jesus’ thigh, the precise angle at which the other Mary’s head rests on her hand, or the way Nicodemus clasps his hands and juts his elbow, and yet the Mary at the back, doing everything she can to draw attention, wasn’t.

Why, I wonder. Maybe Rubens just saw that there wasn’t any room for a third Mary on that slab of stone. The people in the Caravaggio are impossibly cramped (three of them look as if they could all be standing on the same pair of legs), an effect that David Hockney thinks might have arisen from the use of camera obscura - each model might have been placed and painted separately. Overcoming laws of physics was hardly a task too great for painters like Rubens though, so I doubt this would have been the decisive reason for excluding her. Maybe - and I’m aggressively substituting my own feelings for Rubens’ now - he was put off by something overdramatic about Mary’s drunken lament, a little at odds with the moving realism of the scene. Maybe - and I wish this were true even though it’s pretty doubtful - he just didn’t have time, what with affairs of state and running a business, to finish it.

Rubens continued to copy the older masters long after he had become an old master himself. This is one of the most endearing things about him. He was thoroughly a student of art, humble before Titian particularly, even late in life. Perhaps it is in his many copies that you can see the artist most truly, when there was nothing but pleasure to gain by retracing and updating his predecessors.

Compare and Contrast (6)

1. Tony Randall in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?.
2. David Byrne in Stop Making Sense.

Compare and Contrast (5)

1. Howard Hawks: Hatari.
2. Howard Hawks: Bringing Up Baby.

Compare and Contrast (4)

1. Howard Hawks: Hatari.
2. Howard Hawks: Only Angels Have Wings.

…I think there are maybe even more of these gather-round-the-piano scenes in Hawks films.

Compare and Contrast (3)

1. Cranach: Judith with the Head of Holofernes.
2. Cranach: Salome.

…first off, I’m seeeing two red hats.

Compare and Contrast (2)

1. Max Beckmann: Columbine (Carnival Mask, Green, Violet and Pink), 1950.
2. Willem de Kooning: Woman, 1950.

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