Norman Rockwell v Chuck Close

October 13, 2019

Why did I not go the fine art route? What is fine art even?

I guess I had to preface this article by defining, or more accurately, trying to define what fine art is. But then I realized that trying to define it is going to be difficult. There are no rigid lines to draw to truly delineate one from the other. If Clement Greenberg thinks that Norman Rockwell is too kitsch, then how come Chuck Close is not? And who gets to pick if they are in one group or another?

I’m sure there are readers out there who are confused because I’m trying to make a distinction between the two. But the distinction is real and apparent for any practitioner of art. In short, if I do commercial art, ie. my work gets printed in a cover of a book or I designed a logo for a popular franchise, then I’m automatically not a fine artist. I’m a commercial artist. Or at least that’s how art historians and art critics would see it.

When conceptart.org was still around there was one particular thread that talked about this very subject. I wish I had been able to save that thread because the conversation was meaningful. I don’t remember exactly what I had written, but I do remember saying something to the effect of “there are pros and cons for being in one group or another. But in the end, I would much prefer to paint another technically challenging image (like a painting by Bouguereau) rather than having to rehash Manzoni’s Merde D’Artiste.”

Being a fine artist is difficult. Art critics and art historians are always on the lookout for something “original.” The problem with this is that after Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, hardly anything is original. I used to adore Mark Rothko. I used to think he and the field painters were original. I thought distilling a painting into one color canvas is brilliant! And then I found out that Kazimir Malevich was doing similar paintings during the Post-Impressionist era. That was pretty much when I realized that everything that came after Post-Impressionism are all rehashes.

I don’t want to impress the reader that I am solely devoted to being a commercial artist because the fine art community is too progressive and avant-garde. This is actually not the truth. The truth is that I just simply want to paint pictures that are appealing to me. That is all. And if it happens that what I painted is too kitsch for the taste of fine art, then that is fine. But if I do paint an image that the fine art community accepts then that would be nice also. Besides, Norman Rockwell might have been mocked by Greenberg for “not being serious,” but Greenberg also did say that Norman Rockwell looks happy. And in the end, I guess that is all that matters.

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