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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion: Dec 2017 - Two Kinds of Christmas Images: Currier & Ives vs William Eggleston

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minniev
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Monthly Masters' Discussion: Dec 2017 - Two Kinds of Christmas Images: Currier & Ives vs William Eggleston

Post by minniev » Thu Nov 30, 2017 8:34 pm

For our December Masters' discussion we will look at two very different kinds of Christmas Images, both from acknowledged Masters of their art. Compare and/or Critique at your pleasure, or just discuss some aspect that appeals or doesn’t appeal, to you personally. And consider, if you will, whether you are a Currier and Ives Christmas artist or a William Eggleston Christmas artist? Share an image of your own if you like as a part of you discussion.

The first image, Homestead in Winter, is from the Currier and Ives' Winter Scenes collection. Currier and Ives had a lithography company in the mid 1800’s and produced a large volume of popular and affordable art. There is fascinating information in the links about the process of their lithography business, which involved intricate original art incised into stone, with prints made and hand-tinted for commercial distributions of various sorts. Most of us recognize their art from calendars and Christmas cards that have been popular for over a century. They have come to represent an idealized view of American country life in an idealized past. Some of us are moved by the sentiment these pieces stir in us, while others rail against false nostalgia and still others disdain their mass-production commercialism. The curator at a recent museum show of the original lithographs suggests that Currier and Ives influenced America as much as America influenced Currier and Ives with their idyllic view of American life.

The second image, titled Tennessee, features a utility pole festooned with unlit Christmas lights. William Eggleston is often called the Father of Color Photography, and is usually mentioned in any list of the most influential photographers. His work is permanently displayed at MOMA, the Met, the Smithsonian and countless other prestigious venues. And Eggleston, at 79, is still producing new art. HIs work has always focused on the complexity and color in mundane scenes of daily life. For Eggleston, there is just as much artistic interest to be found in the ordinary as in the exceptional, depending on how one chooses to compose an image. He doesn’t see any reason to offer interpretations, preferring to allow viewers to find their own meaning in the photos. Martin Parr, a critic who hosted a BBC documentary about Eggleston’s work, called him “a photographer’s photographer... his vision is more difficult to describe than most peoples' vision, because it is about photographing democratically and photographing nothing and making it interesting.”

Questions to consider as you respond critically to this Master’s offering (respond to as many as you like):

1. Evaluate one or both of the images based on the criteria of composition, technical merit, color, and impact. What's your opinion?
2. Do either of these images say “Christmas” to you? Why or why not? What emotion, if any, defines your reaction?
3. Do the images created by Currier and Ives have impact on American life today? If so, what?
4. What is the message you get from the Eggleston image?
5. Do you see influences from either of these artists in what you do or admire today?
6. Would you want either of these artworks on your wall? If so, which one, and why/why not?

For Further Study

Currier and Ives
http://currierandives.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currier_and_Ives
https://www.ohiomagazine.com/arts/article/heart-rendering
http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/14/arts/art-view-currier-ives-as-telling-as-ozzie-and-harriet.html
https://nbmaa.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/currier-ives-when-does-commercial-art-become-fine-art/
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma05/macdonald/currier_ives/intro_cur.html

William Eggleston
http://www.egglestontrust.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Eggleston
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-happy-holidays-from-the-high-low-20141224-column.html?barc=0
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/arts/design/william-eggleston-at-78-in-a-new-key.html
http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1505/william-eggleston-american-born-1939/
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/genius-in-colour-why-william-eggleston-is-the-world-s-greatest-photographer-8577202.html
http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/04/01/10-lessons-william-eggleston-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/
Attachments
cur172a.jpg
https://www.philaprintshop.com/images/cur172a.jpg fair use
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https://www.pinterest.com/pin/211598882464592666/ fair use
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Psjunkie » Thu Nov 30, 2017 11:27 pm

minniev, you know I don't know squat about art or much else for that matter...so I'll just say I find the first a pleasing image, if the second was found on my camera I would delete it...I do appreciate your effort very much and while all may not be read by me I do wander through all the links..I'm just not able to absorb a whole lot.

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Post by minniev » Fri Dec 01, 2017 12:04 pm

Psjunkie wrote:minniev, you know I don't know squat about art or much else for that matter...so I'll just say I find the first a pleasing image, if the second was found on my camera I would delete it...I do appreciate your effort very much and while all may not be read by me I do wander through all the links..I'm just not able to absorb a whole lot.

Thank ya Frank. I'm still a bit puzzled by Eggleston's work, but it intrigues me. I'm old enough be affected by the nostalgia bug of Currier and Ives.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by LindaShorey » Fri Dec 01, 2017 5:58 pm

For the current generations, I wonder if the "sentiments stirred in us" are different for people growing up in Hawaii or Florida than those of us who grew up in places like Maine, where not only is there almost always snow at Christmas, but the architecture and countryside is exactly like this Currier & Ives print. So most definitely yes, #1 makes me think of Christmas - because of my own childhood.

I don't have an objection to any idealized sentiments portrayed as these are just artistic visions, not documentary. I didn't educate myself too much with the links, but I can respect the historical context. I wouldn't want one on my wall because I don't care for the busy style and the subjects, nor do I care much for nostalgia.

To read your quote by Martin Parr, that Eggleston "photographs nothing and makes it interesting," reassures me that my lack of formal art education has not been much of a loss.

I have no idea what the message is with the photo posted here, and can't help but think of the scathing critique this would draw if submitted to a photo forum by one of us regular folk :)
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Post by PietFrancke » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:59 am

ugly red, green, blue
the flotsam of our Christmas
ugly wires disarray

sweeter pale color
neighbor's good cheer well earned
strong souls in soft snow

so which becomes you?
half full, or now half empty
is it the same cup?

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Post by minniev » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:52 pm

LindaShorey wrote:For the current generations, I wonder if the "sentiments stirred in us" are different for people growing up in Hawaii or Florida than those of us who grew up in places like Maine, where not only is there almost always snow at Christmas, but the architecture and countryside is exactly like this Currier & Ives print. So most definitely yes, #1 makes me think of Christmas - because of my own childhood.

I don't have an objection to any idealized sentiments portrayed as these are just artistic visions, not documentary. I didn't educate myself too much with the links, but I can respect the historical context. I wouldn't want one on my wall because I don't care for the busy style and the subjects, nor do I care much for nostalgia.

To read your quote by Martin Parr, that Eggleston "photographs nothing and makes it interesting," reassures me that my lack of formal art education has not been much of a loss.

I have no idea what the message is with the photo posted here, and can't help but think of the scathing critique this would draw if submitted to a photo forum by one of us regular folk :)


Thank you Linda. Yes, you grew up in a Currier and Ives environment! For people who grew up in the South, this was the scene we dreamed of having at Christmas (likely BECAUSE of Currier and Ives) but never did. They definitely impacted our vision of Christmas and our dissatisfaction with the Christmas we had instead. I see my grandsons impacted now, though more with scenes from movies than by old calendar type prints. They yearn for snow and sleds and blazing fireplaces, but they instead get 70 degree temps, a disconnect between the idealized and the real.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by minniev » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:53 pm

PietFrancke wrote:ugly red, green, blue
the flotsam of our Christmas
ugly wires disarray

sweeter pale color
neighbor's good cheer well earned
strong souls in soft snow

so which becomes you?
half full, or now half empty
is it the same cup?


Your poetry is always a treat Piet. How you weave your words into a meaningful critique is more than amazing. The same cup, indeed.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Duck » Sat Dec 02, 2017 10:25 pm

I'm not sure if I would have picked a lithograph as a contra comparison to Eggleston's image, but I get the gist of the meaning.

Having grown up in New England, the Currier & Ives is deeply embedded in my mind and heart, but that has nothing to do with this conversation. Of the two ideals, I lean towards the Currier & Ives sentimentality rather than the stark truthfulness of Eggleston's vision. Christmas, after all, is about fantasy. One that tries to instill a sense of family and fellowship and good cheer which is, sadly, being overpowered by commercialism and the all-mighty dollar. Underneath that layer of fantasy is the Eggleston image. Ugly, untidy, unlit and frustratingly jumbled. This is the "morning after hangover" image of Christmas. The one I'd rather not see, as it ruins the illusion.

Great topic of discussion, by the way. :thumbup:
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Post by minniev » Sun Dec 03, 2017 1:13 am

Duck wrote:I'm not sure if I would have picked a lithograph as a contra comparison to Eggleston's image, but I get the gist of the meaning.

Having grown up in New England, the Currier & Ives is deeply embedded in my mind and heart, but that has nothing to do with this conversation. Of the two ideals, I lean towards the Currier & Ives sentimentality rather than the stark truthfulness of Eggleston's vision. Christmas, after all, is about fantasy. One that tries to instill a sense of family and fellowship and good cheer which is, sadly, being overpowered by commercialism and the all-mighty dollar. Underneath that layer of fantasy is the Eggleston image. Ugly, untidy, unlit and frustratingly jumbled. This is the "morning after hangover" image of Christmas. The one I'd rather not see, as it ruins the illusion.

Great topic of discussion, by the way. :thumbup:


Thanks for pitching in Duck. I started to use a Thomas Kincaid image to compare to the Eggleston, but Kincaid's stuff sets my teeth on edge. I agree with your point about the fantastical nature of the Christmas season, when magic should prevail. The fantasy of bygone days may be a part of that.

And I've never known what to make of Eggleston. He makes me look. I cannot avoid looking at his images. Over and over, whether I like them or not. Maybe that is the point.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Charles Haacker » Sun Dec 03, 2017 2:37 am

Psjunkie wrote:minniev, you know I don't know squat about art or much else for that matter...so I'll just say I find the first a pleasing image, if the second was found on my camera I would delete it...I do appreciate your effort very much and while all may not be read by me I do wander through all the links..I'm just not able to absorb a whole lot.

My sentiments exactly, Frank! I did however go looking at more of Eggleston's stuff plus studious commentary so now (as usual) I am torn. Like you I don't know squat about art or much else for that matter, but I've said often that I have fairly eclectic tastes in many things. I'm crazy enough to truly enjoy Gursky's Rhein image even though I think it's somewhat, um, overvalued shall we say? I very much enjoy Jackson Pollock, even beginning to see the method and pattern he put into his paintings. I enjoy Piet Mondrian's squares. I also love Ansel Adams and the work of all the Farm Service Administration photographers, but especially Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. On and on yada yada et cetera (yawn)...

That said I am having real trouble with William Eggleston. Not that I am alone. He is pretty much a contemporary of mine yet I had never looked at his work (thank you, Minnie!). When he started he was, not surprisingly, pretty much laughed out of the galleries. Critics called it pretentious snapshots. Critics, however, are all pretentious narcissists. But so are many artists.

I've looked at enough pictures now to see that he very consistently looks for the color. He likes it loud and brassy. He appears to play it exactly as it lies, right down the garbage in the gutter. Many of the pictures I saw made it plain that the color was the subject, the buildings and roads and license plates and smushed beer cans incidental, only there because they carried or supported or contrasted with the color, "...photographing nothing and making it interesting.”

Except really? By that I mean, is it really interesting? Min, the picture you selected (Tennessee, 1980) is pretty typically not pretty if ya know what I mean. Yet the Getty says this:
Isolated against a clear blue sky criss-crossed by electrical wires, the base of a green column wound with contrasting Christmas bulbs creates a study in color, texture, and light. William Eggleston transformed the mundane into the curiously dramatic, including just a glimpse of a drab parking lot and shopping center peeking cautiously around either side in the lower corners to confirm the banal setting.
It interests me that they worked in words such as "mundane," "drab," and "banal." For me, just subjective old all-his-taste-in-his-mouth me, it's just terrible, a bad, ugly picture of an unusually ugly scene, interesting (if it is) only because it is so bad and ugly. Like Frank said, if I'd made it I'd delete it. Yet People Who Know Stuff think it's high Art. Um, okay.

I came across an untitled work from 1970, a young black woman in a bright lime green dress walks near a farm under an interesting, somewhat threatening sky. It is in my estimation a good picture, but I quickly perceive that the reason I think it's good is because it is more ordinary, more conventional. He made another in 1968 of a smoking woman in a diner with a very high, elaborate gray beehive with a french roll... from behind! That one I really like! So therefore I cannot dismiss Eggleston completely now can I? In 2013 the Independent (UK) wrote:
Most of all, you must resist seeing through the photograph to the bald image of a recognisable object too quickly, too readily. Instead, begin by looking at the form and the tight framing of the piece, the angle of view, the playing off of colour against shadow – that sort of thing. Otherwise, you will exhaust the imaginative possibilities of Eggleston's work before you even begin.

Yet most of what I have seen I honestly think is pretentious snapshots. I think sometimes there is an emperor-has-no-clothes dynamic working: the "artist" has enough guts to sell the snake oil off the tailboard of the wagon and the critics buy into it. There. I said it!
By the way, I despise Thomas Kinkaid, I like Currier and Ives okay but I like Grandma Moses too so there's that. :cheers:
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