Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nice naivete

On something of a whim I picked up a book at the library last weekend on naïve painting. It's an interesting field.  The best known naïve artist is probably Henri "le Douanier" Rousseau, although he's a strange example.  His attention to things like perspective and foreshortening varies widely from picture to picture, so that at times you suspect he's being unsophisticated on purpose.

Even those who are definitely true naïves aren't always simple to talk about.  One French painter in the book paints the Rouen Cathedral as this gloriously intricate pointilist thing dappled with bright candy colors.  At the same time, all the cars he paints at the base are semicircles with two wheels each.  The way I drew cars when I was five, basically.
Simon Schwartzenberg - Rouen Cathedral
Of course trained artitsts have imitated aspects of naïve ones since the nineteenth century and still do.  That muddies the waters too, in an interesting way.


susan said...

In general, naive artists are those who have no academic background and so tend to ignore things like perspective, muted backgrounds, and distant objects losing detail. You're right that there are a number of very famous artists who paint in this style - nobody would deny Rousseau and Paul Klee are great artists but it's likely they were consciously imitating primitive styles. On the other hand, Grandma Moses was a true naive.

I'd like to see that painting of Notre Dame you mentioned. I'm guessing he was delighting in its permanence and sanctity compared to the cars.

Ben said...

Yeah, this book doesn't devote much space to folk art, and definitely not American folk artists like Grandma Moses. It does have a funny anecdote about Rousseau telling Picasso they were the two greatest artists of their time.

I found a .png of the painting I was talking about. As you can see I was wrong about it being Notre Dame. Consciously or otherwise I think the artist was doing just what you said.