The Easel

2nd May 2023

The poor relation of the art world

One view is that the art we value expresses the temper of our times. Alternatively, what is deemed ‘good’ art can be manipulated by governments or curatorial fashion. These latter factors explain why figurative art – notably landscapes – are being “driven out” of museums, especially in Britain. Villains like Stalin, Hitler and the CIA get named. All fine, except that abstraction was creeping into art even before 1900. Tranquil landscapes perhaps don’t resonate with modern viewers like they once did.

Georgia O’Keeffe before she was famous

O’Keeffe, in remote New Mexico, churned out oil paintings. They have not been immune from criticism – they “reward glances, not scrutiny”. Working on paper was her foundational expertise and these works are “spectacular”. Early watercolours show she was an “intuitive, surprising artist”. Charcoal drawings feel “rash, rough, magnetic … in a word, alive”. The time she devoted to oil painting, perhaps swayed by its prestige, is a case of “a world class sprinter [who] chose to run marathons”.