Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A great artist

There was a short item in last Saturday’s Age on one of my favourite painters, Hans Heysen (1877-1968).

Heysen did not view his role as an artist in the modernist way as being to provoke, shock, break down or unsettle. He succeeded in what I consider to be the true role of an artist, namely to literally “inspire” – to communicate to an audience a higher, spiritual experience.

He did so through what might seem to be unpromising material: paintings of cows in gum forests bathed in early morning light. When you see these paintings, though, you are drawn into the heightened response to nature which Heysen wanted to convey.

I admire Heysen also for his success in family life and for establishing a fine home, The Cedars, which is now a popular tourist destination close to Adelaide.

What I hadn’t been aware of until I read the Age story were the difficult circumstances in which Heysen began his career.

Heysen originally worked selling eggs and butter on his father’s cart, and had to wait for Sundays and holidays to sketch and paint. Then in 1899 an Adelaide pawnbroker recognised his talent and agreed to buy a number of paintings each week.

This allowed Heysen to paint full-time, but there were still financial hardships: Heysen was reduced to living off boiled rice and sleeping on a bare floor.

When I read this, I thought of the feminists who argue that male artists got where they did through patriarchal privilege. In so many cases, including that of Heysen, this is patently untrue. Male artists often had to take great risks and endure considerable poverty to develop their talents.

1 comment:

  1. The notion that art's purpose is to 'shock' is a relatively new concept. It's evasive of 'what' are is.

    Art is supposed to 'say' something.

    Today's modern notion is that it has to stand out above everything else. Everything (we are told) must be original to succeed.

    But, by what measure are we to gauge success? By what is the 'loudest' (like Big Brother, devoid of substance)? simply because enough people are drawn to it? does it not have to mean something to the creator other than making money?

    As a part-time artist myself; I'd contend that art cannot be sustained (from a creator's standpoint) by simply churning 'souless' work out for a consumer market. It must drive an artist's creativity. If one 'can' make (so-called) art with only the notion of money, success & product - then I'd say that one is more a 'producer', than an artist.

    Because art is relatively subjective (but also objective for those who want to 'belong' to the 'cool crowd'), it's a topic that can't easily be defined. It's also a reason that many liberals are drawn to modern art because of it's lawlessness. Modern art can be produced without any skill what-so-ever. The art can be 'defined' afterwards. There doesn't have to be an initial intent, or years of honing skills before a work is done. (Heck, we even have monkeys & elephants splashing paint around that sells for amazing amounts of money).

    Almost anything can be art.