I just happened across a 2015 article – “Francis Bacon and the Masters review – a cruel exposure of a con artist” – by Jonathan Jones of The Guardian fame, about how he can no longer take Bacon seriously, in which case I can no longer take Jonathan Jones seriously. It very well may be that people are keyed so differently that one of my absolute favorite all-time artists is completely shit on by someone who loves Matisse and Cubism and probably Duchamp’s piss pot. Let me just do a search for that.
Yup, a complete and utter BELIEVER in the legacy of Duchamp. Allow me to quote another painfull article by him:
His big idea – that any ordinary “readymade” object can be chosen by the artist as a work of art – has sunk so deep into modern culture that he is imagined almost as a biblical prophet, a remote figure of authority. It’s as if contemporary art history begins with him. Art is steeped in tradition – today, there is a tradition of the readymade – and to make a painting, a film, a photograph is to know you are contributing to a form that has been shaped and defined by predecessors. ~ Jonathan Jones.
Shiiiiit. He does indeed imagine Duchamp as a biblical prophet. It gets worse:
Duchamp’s idea of the readymade is the final, triumphant endgame in western art’s long campaign to establish the intellectual status of the artist (Duchamp, who officially gave up art to play tournament chess, was an authority on endgames). In this, his predecessors are not just Leonardo, but Sir Joshua Reynolds and all those academicians who insisted that theirs was a mental calling. ~ Jonathan Jones.
Ah, Duchamp is not just the heir of Leonardo da Vinci (you’ve just gotta’ be F’ing kidding!), but anyone that insisted art was a mental calling. As opposed to what?! And so what, he played Chess. My father was an internationally ranked Chess player with a bookshelf devoted to “The End Game” and several Chess computers he’d exhausted, triumphed over. He was a Chess hustler at the beach. It didn’t make him an artist.
Come to think of it, I used to play a bit of Chess myself, and when I found out that a computer could beat the best players, I realized that I couldn’t use ingenuity or imagination or feeling or intuition to win, and that sheer power of calculation was the only necessity. This killed the game for me. Thus, the sheer absence of artistry is held up by many critics and teachers as the pinnacle of artistic inspiration. FAIL!
Let me guess, if he hates bacon and loves Duchamp, he’s going to orgasm over Jeff Koons. Be right back. Yup. And it couldn’t be more vomitose. This sentence from an article championing Koon’s line of hand bags for Louis Vuitton is about as concise a self-condemnation as an art
cretin critic could make:
In championing the likes of Fragonard, Rubens and Titian, Jeff Koons’ line of Louis Vuitton accessories brings high art to the high street – and shows off his sincere passion for painting. ~ Jonathan Jones.
The above handbag is ‘high art” but Francis Bacon, and not Marcel Duchamp, is a “con artist”. There are two litmus tests I would give to an art critic I was considering reading. 1) What’s their take on Francis Bacon? 2) If they hate him, what art do they actually like? In my much longer piece In Defense of Artist, Francis Bacon I examined the vicious criticisms of the like of hackers Jed Perl and Jerry Salz, and then shared the art they actually liked. What uninspired, unskilled, insipid dreck! And Jones is just as bad, heralding a designer hand bag as great painting while taking enormous craps on a truly great painter.
A lot of this may just be a matter of taste, or so I’d think, perplexed, if I were feeling generous, but when you put Duchamp in the same category as da Vinci, and your idea of a passion for oil paintings is a print of a famous painting on a lady’s handbag, you probably are yourself a cruel con artist, wittingly or just stupidly.
His article revolves around a show that presented works by some old masters and some moderns, such as Bacon and Matisse. A dreadful painting by Matisse, in my estimation, apparently knocked the socks off of Jones.
Matisse paintings like the above strike me as so cerebral and crude at the same time that they neither express anything nor are beautiful. Gotta love the rectangular river, and the woman’s left arm. Is she lying lying on her side or crawling, supporting her weight on the back of the wrist of her shorter, turkey leg of arm. Look at their faces and line mouths. Ouch! Gonna’ tell me they are expressive? Here’s what Jones had to say about this prize painting:
Matisse’s raw and savage painting Nymph and Satyr (1908-9) hangs near rollicking terracotta nudes by the 17th-century genius Gianlorenzo Bernini. The sensuality of Bernini’s shaping of clay, as fast and soft as water, brilliantly sets off the primitive lurch of Matisse’s sex-crazed satyr as it creeps up on a nymph whose body is all pink curves vibrating against green. ~ Jonathan Jones.
The “satyr” doesn’t even have goat body parts: no hoof, horn, or beard. It’s just a lurching man with one foot recently pulled out of a vice and still looking as angular as a brick. My favorite part though is probably her right breast which she can tuck under her head and use as a pillow. That’s what I call a proper DIU hack.
I went in a Bacon fan, and left wondering how he conned so many people, not least the Sainsbury family. For this show not only reveals an aesthetic failure, but a moral one. Bacon seems painfully contrived and insincere. He looks like an overblown poseur, with no real heart. ~ Jonathan Jones
This tells me that he was never a real Bacon fan, never understood the art, but assumed his superficial familiarity was the same thing as liking art, which calls into question his much greater appreciation for handbags, urinals, and hastily sketched, blocky, painterly abominations.
Here he compares a portrait by Bacon with one by Picasso:
The same jarring silliness is exposed when Bacon’s smashed-up face of Isabel Rawsthorne is set beside Picasso’s 1909 painting A Young Lady, which strips away layers of illusion to glimpse a multifaceted cubist truth under the skin. Picasso’s dismantling of the human form is precise, it is convincing, and it makes you see with new eyes. It is true modernism. Bacon’s attacks on faces, by comparison, just look pointlessly morbid. ~ Jonathan Jones.
It’s so odd to see two images side by side and have the diametrically opposed view from someone else. What is a multi-faceted cubist truth? Answer: it is a multi-faceted cubist truth. Allow me to retort. Picasso’s portrait is a study in the concept of looking at an object from faux-multiple perspectives, which somehow results in the sitter being so angular she looks more like origami than a human. If it says anything at all about a real person, and is not an abstract composition all about form, I can’t see it. It’s mostly formal quasi-geometry, and the identity of the blocky person is incidental at best. Her boobs look like the cardboard they stuff in men’s shoes to hold their shape.
By contrast, Bacon’s portrait is of a real person, and personal friend of his. He refused to merely illustrate the natural appearance of someone and instead sought to capture their essence through painterly suggestion. Perhaps you can notice an uncanny resemblance in a photo of Isabel Rawsthorne:
I would like my picture to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail leaving its trail of the human presence… as a snail leaves its slime. ~ Francis Bacon.
I think Bacon succeeded here. While Picasso used a generalized woman as a prop for formal experimentation in line with concepts about painting, Bacon captures the quality of a specific person without resorting to merely copying her outward appearance. True, he always emphasizes the vulnerable, mortal flesh of the subject, but you just can’t leave out the ghost in the machine: the ethereal, incorporeal, subjectivity of the subject.
It may be that some people prefer academic, formal abstraction, sketchy nude abominations, mind games, and designer accessories to more personal, genuine, and substantive art. Or maybe Jones and I are just at opposite sides of the spectrum. Quite possibly I’m missing something in the ghastly Matisse or the drab experiment by Picasso (I’m much more a fan of some of his other work). On the other hand, I never thought that I really liked Matisse, and Jones believed that he liked and understood Bacon, when he only scratched the surface. How great is your art appreciation when you are already a published critic, and you suddenly realized that what you thought was great art is con art?
Bacon’s paintings, whether the subject matter and handling of paint is to ones personal tastes or not, are sumptuous and gorgeous if you have an eye for color, impasto paint, and, well, the art of PAINTING in general. Or maybe it is the more visceral, expressive, gooey side of painting.
But then Jones ends his hasty condemnation with a most peculiar conclusion:
Quite soon, I found I could barely look at his art. It seemed such a redundant imposture. Don’t even ask what a Bacon looks like beside a Rembrandt, or a Van Gogh, or a touching portrait by Chaim Soutine.
The problem here is that Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Soutine all belong in the same general territory as Bacon, and nowhere near Duchamp or Koons. They all use impasto, expressive brushwork, and there is an obvious love of the viscosity and texture of paint in their work. Picasso and Matisse use thinner washes of paint, and the pattern or general design in more emphasized. Not only is Jones not a true connoisseur of painting or visual art, he apparently can’t be arsed to do his research, otherwise he’d know Bacon has done some wonderful tributes to Van Gogh which unquestionably show a strong link between the two artists.
Here is Painter on the Road to Tarascon, by Van Gogh:
And here are five Bacon paintings based on this painting:
I am surely a bigger fan of Van Gogh than is Jones, who may wake up tomorrow to discover that Van Gogh was a con artist all along when compared to William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and I think Bacon’s paintings look quite good adjacent to Van Gogh, even if he thought they were failures.
While Jones accuses Bacon of being a redundant imposture, we must consider the source is himself a redundant imposter, merely echoing the popular anti-Bacon, pro-Koons/Duchamp paradigm of other more formidable, but perhaps equally visually stunted art critics – Jed Perl, Jerry Salz, Peter Schjeldahl – who hate Bacon because they can’t fathom him. To read my evisceration of their criticism, go here.
For me the painting above is an obvious masterpiece in the long tradition of fine art painting, but for Jones Warhol’s Billos boxes are “mystical” and his silk-screen copies of Marilyn Monroe “reveal human vulnerability”. Naturally the critic who hates Bacon and loves Duchamp and Koons loves Warhol. He has an article titled, Andy Warhol should be made a saint – he makes every day sacred. No, it’s not ironic:
Of course, not every good Catholic or every moral person deserves to be made a saint. Yet Warhol was much more than this. He was a martyr who let himself be vilified, hated and even shot while making art whose compassion was rarely acknowledged in his lifetime. ~ Jonathan Jones.
I am not joking about Warhol becoming a saint. The Vatican should start by considering his Last Supper paintings. ~ Jonathan Jones.
Look again at those soup cans and Brillo boxes. Their clean lines and simple shapes are ethereal, pure. The ordinary is sacred. Like a still life by Zurbaran, these everyday objects are transfigured by mysticism. Warhol painted Campbell’s soup for the soul.~ Jonathan Jones.
Behold! Ethereal, pure, mystical art for the soul!
In one of Bacon’s interviews I read decades ago he scoffed at various people who didn’t like his art, even saying that he didn’t want them to like it. He might have called them “cows”. I rather think if he knew who Jonathan Jones was, he wouldn’t want his art to be trivialized by accolades issued from that source. He would be happy to know that the guy who thinks that Andy Warhol is a saint, Brillo boxes are mystical emanations for the soul, and Duchamp is da Vinci reincarnated with a third testicle, thinks he’s shit.
I’m pretty damned sure Jones would hate my work as well, and under the circumstances I would be flattered. And I do believe that Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Soutine would tell him he’s blind, but is pretty good at playing with words without understanding the meanings (I refer you back to the mystical Brillo Boxes created by a Christian Saint).
~ Be back soon with another baboon.
Funding. Through Patreon, you can give $1 (or more) per month to help keep me going (y’know, so I don’t have to put art back on the back-burner while I slog away at a full-time job). Ah, if only I could amass a few hundred dollars per month this way, I could focus entirely on my art. See how it works here.
Or go directly to my account.
Or you can make a small, one time donation to help me keep on making art and blogging (and restore my faith in humanity simultaneously).