De Gustibus…

I try to envisage EthicalDative as a safe space for saying that I like certain art. Tolerating tastes, especially other people’s, doesn’t come easily to our species. Persons with cultivated eye, especially, may compare it to defending people’s right to have opinions based on alternative facts. I myself, uncredentialed and untrained in art, experienced a fugitive thrill of specious superiority once when a man retired from 30 years of teaching art in the public schools told me his favorite artist was Norman Rockwell. De gustibus non est disputandum, I reminded myself. “There’s no arguing over tastes.”

I find much to like about Noah Davis’s painting.

Also, I always find something to be intrigued by, puzzle over, and admire in Roberta Smith’s art commentary.

Davis once said he preferred to think of himself as a painter rather than an artist, and the 27 canvases here… back him up. He was immersed in the medium, its materials and its history, and although his work was ostensibly traditional, it was also subtly pushing at the envelopes of subject matter, psychological expression and painting technique.

For me the provocative notion of identifying as painter rather than artist has appeal. It makes a backhanded kind of sense; whereas adverbs almost always fog my windshield. Words such as “ostensibly” and “subtly” sap vigor from the traits and acts they qualify.

[Davis]… refused to commit to a single figurative style or to use photographic images in a formulaic way. Nearly every canvas here is different, and most have an interpretive and painterly openness. Your eyes and mind enter them easily and roam through the different layers of brushwork and narrative suggestion. There’s an unexpected optimism to all this. The paintings also dwell in silence, slow us down and hypnotize.

The bit about not using photographic images “in a formulaic way” gives me something to grope my way towards understanding. Also, paintings that “dwell in silence.”

(Roberta Smith, “Noah Davis Is Gone; His Paintings Continue to Hypnotize,” NYTimes, 2-6-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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3 Responses to De Gustibus…

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    I’ve seen worse.


  2. Eric Wayne says:

    In case you didn’t catch on, I was joking. I’m not crazy about his stuff, but it has a certain appeal, and even reminds me a bit of Peter Doig. These days I’m leaning much more towards more precise sorts of renderings, since I’m trying to learn those more refined techniques myself. When one doesn’t do shading, perspective, modeling, or anatomy with any precision, well, that’s a choice and has some merit, but they also are skipping the technically difficult stuff.

    I’d agree with your teacher about Rockwell being rather exceptional, but only in terms of skill (except for his painting, “The Problem We All Live With”, which I think is a masterpiece. He’s corny as all hell, and it’s not surprise he’s thoroughly derided in art school. I’d almost find it refreshing if a teacher liked him. I certainly would have thought such a teacher was an idiot a couple decades ago. Oddly, Rockwell gets better and the Abstract Expressionists get kinda’ worse over time.

    If I had a Rockwell book and a Pollock book, I’d surely spend more time thumbing through the Rockwell, cringing at the sentimental caricatures, but marveling at how quintessentially American they seem to be (was it reflecting America, or defining it?). Brilliantly executed sap at least has one thing going for it.

    That said, even in the realm of pure Americana, I’d much prefer Hopper most days.

    In the case of Noah Davis, I like a lot of his paintings, and they all show potential, but I can’t find any one in which the potential is realized and that I REALLY like. But, that’s perhaps a matter of tastes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. JMN says:

    Your amplification is very helpful and interesting for me. I don’t know Peter Doig, but would like to look into his work. I like what you say about leaning into refined techniques. If I could master a fraction of what Rockwell could do I’d feel pleased with myself. I agree with your Rockwell-Pollock comparison. I’m not sure what I could learn from Pollock. Also agree about Hopper! I guess it’s not very interesting to keep saying that I agree with you. I was introduced to Noah Davis by the article I referenced, and the sad case of his early death lends weight to what you say about under-realized potential.


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