MASTER AND APPRENTIC

© 2007

tm.

by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D. The conventional point of view regarding the relationship between a master and his apprentice is that it is a linear one, that is, that the apprentice follows in the footsteps of the master, not unlike that of the child following in the footsteps of The Good King Wenceslous through a heavy snow storm. I suppose it might be correctly stated that there hasn’t been anyone from whom I have failed to learn something and that one conclusion of that might be that it was I who selected what it was I was willing to learn. I, consequently, should bless all those with whom I’ve come into contact for whatever insight I had been able to glean from the contact. Aside from what such acceptable or unacceptable experiences might suggest about their importance in forming one’s character, it raises some fascinating questions as to how the individual is able, through all the foggy vision of inexperience, able to make a decision of any sort, good or bad, or, having made a decision how he uses the knowledge gained from it. At this point it appears to be all a matter of the individual’s choice and any observed pattern is a structure imposed upon the chaos by the individual for his own, still obscure, purposes. When I learned that Pierre Bonnard had been a student of Gustave Moreau via Matisse I was surprised as to how this could be, of course my surprise was rooted in my limited understanding of the vocabulary used and my having applied a too strict reliance on definitions…my apologies to Wittgenstein.

Pierre Bonnard: The Dining Room

Henri Matisse: Le Bon Heure de Vivre

Gustave Moreau: Diomedes Devoured by Horses I had often been curious about Gustave Moreau and about my mildly negative reaction to the way he applied paint to canvas. That reaction to the manner that paint was applied to canvas also was related to my judgment of George Rouault. In the case of George Rouault, however, his work was saved from nearly complete condemnation by the way he had contained formless disorder with the broad, firm outlines in which some commentators have seen a relationship to the Gothic stained window.

Georges Rouault: Clown

Chartres. rose window

I should also state, by way of clarification, that while I was sort of intrigued by Moreau’s approach to gothic tale illustration I was aware that it was the literary reference which was the connection and the interest and NOT the nature of the graphic illustration. At the time all of these impressions were evolving I don’t think I would have been able to have put a report of them into words. This last statement, alone, should be of considerable interest to those educators concerned with how people learn and what the nature of any evidence of learning might be. A possibly appropriate description of the work of Moreau follows: Moreau’s work is characterized by an amorphous, partially homogenized, glutinous, sticky substance, the various pigmentation of which suggests the existence of some barely definable objects inhabiting a visual bouillabaisse of values, hues and intensities, not unlike, metaphorically speaking, a primevil soup. I hope the spirit of Moreau will forgive this uncomplimentary description which I have chosen to use as a spring board for communication. It is, however, I think, a correct description even though slanted to create a memorable visceral response. For the sake of the reader’s sense of security at this point, I should reiterate that I do not dislike Moreau’s work I am merely trying to place it in its proper orbit…”proper” as I see “proper”. To be fair to the reader, I think I should add that the above description could not have been made prior to 1850 by most Euro-American observers, unless they had been, like Mme de Stang, particularly observant. Moreau, himself, was only 24 at that time. How does one go about explaining the traditional concept of the master/apprentice relationship in the face of such startling evidence of a revolution in perception as that which takes place between Moreau and Bonnard? What are these changes in perception that take place? Well, aside from the obvious one of their being a change in the purpose of a painting from one which describes a mythical event taking place in a world that never had been…a romantic view, certainly, to a view of the mundane , banal world having been changed into a brilliant radiating vision of visual enchantment. While both artists can convince us of the realty we are seeing, one, the Moreau, is a reality that is being described and the other, Bonnard, is a reality that is being experienced.

At this point we begin walking an even narrower tight rope because, there seems to be no way in which one can comfortably dissect potential meanings in the word “experience”. We will try. Obviously when we gaze at both these works we are “experiencing” them. I, for one, am fascinated and perplexed by the Moreau subject matter which deals with the subject of the 8th labor of Herakles who had to tame the wild man-eating horses of Diomedes, the Thracian. The horses became tame after Herakles had thrown their master into their feeder and they ate him. Since Horses are not normally carnivores they must have been very angry with Diomedes to have over-ridden their natures to that extent. But such is the view of a realist and not that of an accepting theatrical romantic. Since Diomedes was the son of Ares, the God of War, his nature may not have been one that would have endeared animals to him. In any event the narrative is highly unusual whereas the “story” if there is one which may lie behind the dining room scene with a listless woman peering in, can hardly compete in a dramatic narrative way with the attention-getting qualities of the Moreau painting. However, on the level of an aesthetic as opposed to a literary level the Bonnard painting is visually far richer in its ability to excite the visual neurons and to delight our visual sense in the absence of any narrative. It is even not necessary to be detailed in the characteristics of any of the depicted items in the Bonnard painting for they are shown in only a very general way to be what they are. The color, and its shimmering integration captures nearly all our attention. It is precisely those qualities which demand they be described in this way that tells us the probable focus which was Bonnard’s at the time he painted the work. Balancing out all these qualities of the two works in front of us one might feel compelled to conclude that their inherent and their interpretative values are very different indeed. That difference might well be described as being one between the operations of the detailed story-teller and the obsessed sensualist. One of the values very much appreciated in the operations of the western artist for many tens of thousands of years is the ability to draw. Many of the drawings from the caves of

Lascaux and Altamira show an understanding of anatomy surprising in works of art that date back some 14,000 or more years.

Altamira cave painting of a bison I should like now to call your attention to the figure of Diomedes and the figure of the woman in the Bonnard painting. I would consider that both are well drawn but in different ways. Moreau in his depiction of the anatomy of both man and horses has been very accurate, with the possible exception of Diomede’s left foot. Bonnard, on the other hand has presented very few details of the woman’s body. The figure is definitely not a list of anatomical characteristics but it is a convincing representation of a human body in a particular space. The observer does not feel deprived by not having the details of the woman’s garment emphasized. It is enough that we see her existing in a particular space with the light bouncing off her form in a range of ways and directions. Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault were both students of Gustave Moreau. Judging from the work that both these artists developed in their life times a more accurate description of their relationship might be that both were exposed to Moreau’s influence for looking at their work one would be hard pressed to identify the ways in which Moreau might have influenced them in any linear, direct way. Neither Rouault nor Matisse pay attention to the detail of drawing that Moreau had done and both have expanded upon the uses of color over what Moreau had done. In fact, it might

be said that Moreau lacked a color sense and that he thought primarily in black and white. It is, however, the drawing to which I’d like to draw the reader’s attention. While the rendering of the horses and of the human form is not burdened by detail and, especially in the figure of Diomedes, there is evidence of a generalization of form slanted toward the end of creating an attractive body; there is nothing to suggest a distorted anatomy. However in the etching of a man by Rouault there certainly is distortion evident in the overly long simian-like arms. I do not know what Rouault might have had in mind when he did this piece, but the distortions of the reality of the human figure are sufficiently evident for me to be reminded of a petroglyph I found in the desert of New Mexico which remains, for me, one of the more exquisite examples of graphic communication.

George Rouault: Man

Petroglyph from New Mexico. The image is borrowed from my CD “In Broad Daylight”. The artist of this work had adopted several positions of observation simultaneously. Not only does he realistically show

how the buck approaches the doe in a moment of anticipation, he also, in a self-portrait of his reaction, indicates his own genital excitement by showing his quite obviously enlarged organ and in the original its outline is clearer than it is in this illustration. While it might be awkward to suggest that in this area he had exaggerated its importance it would not be an exaggeration to say that in his drawing of his arm and hand there is undeniable exaggeration. This approach to graphic representation is called “haptic”, that is from the Greek haptikos meaning to grasp, or hold, the sense of holding, or grasping, a tactile and kinesthetic response. This artist has vividly told us of his experience and has done so with inventive graphic devices. One might well ask which of the two works is the more telling, the Moreau “Diomedes” or the petroglyph by an unknown? And what does this tell us about the nature of art and judgments of its value by art critics?