Perhaps because paper was once in short supply, we note that the old masters drew on their rare pages with more joyful abandon than is typical of artists today. And they were more thrifty. Often a page of old master drawings will have several subjects on the same page, and they will not necessarily have anything to do with each other. Often they are at right angles to each other. And sometimes artists (like Ingres or Rubens) would even put more than the correct number of limbs on their figures — all presumably in the interest of deciding what the pose should be. Four armed ladies? Let’s not go there. Save that for another occasion.
In our era of anything goes, it’s interesting that this conceit — this putting lots of things onto the same page hasn’t caught on as a revivified trend. Heck, a lot of artists could do it and suppose that they were inventing something brand new (the ones who have not studied history, that is).
Besides things that happen to rent space on the same page are the colors that halo objects. Everything in the world is colored and if you look really closely at all the color, it can drive you nuts! There is so much of it to notice. I didn’t peer too deeply in this drawing, but just enough to put some blue on top and green on the side of the marigold.
[Top of the post: Studies of Plants by Aletha Kuschan]
Interior designers and artists have a lot in common when it comes to still life. Both are engaged in arranging objects into beautiful and significant relationships. Often the kinds of objects are similar too: vases, flowers, objets d’art, textiles, and tabletops. Moreover, these arrangements are intended to tell us a story about someone’s life.
I had some inkling I was meant to be an artist from an early age because I was fascinated with anything visual, including carpets, textiles and furnishings. And now I recognize all over again, in a somewhat different way, that I’m meant for art every time I go to the grocery store and find myself faced with the task of putting my groceries on the conveyor belt. Merely to lay out the items for purchase is not satisfying. I have to arrange them. It’s an odd inner need, evidently, almost a craving to establish order. Boxes must be arranged together by size. Cylinders must be placed with cylinders (this principle is good with paper towels, toilet paper, stuff like that). So, it often happens that humble tasks can reveal profound things about the self: as here my learning an autobiographical fact in a very plain and quotidian setting.
Anyway — in art, in still life — one has a decidedly more deliberate kind of ordering to recognize. When I painted the still life of cabbage and potatoes, I was aware of Van Gogh having painted potatoes in his early work. For Van Gogh the subject represented an identification with the peasants who dig their livelihood out of the earth. For me, the subject represented an identification with Van Gogh as the 19th century painter who most epitomized my idea of the modern.
That much accounts for the subject generally. But the particular arrangement of objects, the cabbage in the center, the potatoes clumped around it like chicks around a mother hen — that specific ensemble has meaning — it really does! — but I was not aware of creating it. Yet it is the very core of what the painting is about.
As I say, I always had something in common with interior designers. When you are arranging things — perhaps quite unconsciously — all toward the purpose of discovering meaning, whether it is self-knowledge or knowledge about a whole society — that is certainly a very noble branch of design generally and even of interior design in the finest sense, understood as relating to the decoration of the soul.