Posts Tagged ‘Lolita’

Ralph Fasanella- Bread and Roses

Ralph Fasanella- Bread and Roses

Artistic originality has only its own self to copy.

–Vladimir Nabokov


Earlier this week a friend sent me a link to a Paris Review interview with the late author Vladimir Nabokov, best known for his novel Lolita.  In response to a question that asked if he was conscious of being repetitive in his work as some critics had claimed, Nabokov said that derivative writers always seemed more versatile because they were free to imitate the writer of both the past and present.  But he added the words above– Artistic originality has only its own self to copy.

That really rang a bell with me.  I have sometimes had people with good intentions give me advice on how I could improve my work by taking on the characteristics of other painters.  I always listen and try to show my appreciation for their recommendations, usually with a smile on my face.  But lately I  politely add that this is what I do and who I am and that that other painter does what they do and is who they are.  I don’t want to be that other painter and I am pretty sure they don’t want to be me.

This vividly reminded me of a blog entry from a few years that  was about the same subject.  Here’s that post:

I came into the studio this morning and immediately sat down to read my emails.  Among them was the most recent post from the Fenimore Museum.s blog titled Ralph’s Take On Rembrandt.  It concerned the late and great American folk artist Ralph Fasanella and his reaction to criticism and unsolicited advice.  I finished reading and burst out laughing.  Boy, did it hit close to home!

Over the years, I have been approached by several people who think they are doing me a great service by telling me that I should change the way I paint in some way or that I should try to paint more like some other artist.  Early on, when I was first exhibiting my work, I had another more established artist tell me that I should change the way I paint my figures, that they should look the way other artists paint them.  I responded to this artist and the others who offered me their advice with a smile and an “I’ll look into that.”  But  that one time,  I also mistakenly heeded the older painter’s words, being inexperienced and seeking a way as I was, and stopped painting figures for a while before realizing that this was not good advice at all. 

Here’s the post about Fasanella and his response to such advice. 

Ralph Fasanella- Sandlot Baseball

Ralph Fasanella- Sandlot Baseball

Ralph Fasanella had trouble painting hands. A lot of trained artists do too, so it is not surprising that a union organizer who turned to drawing suddenly at the age of 40 would struggle with hands early in his career. But he did have something that proved better than years of formal training: he believed that he was an artist and that what he was doing – painting the lives of working people – was a calling that deserved his complete attention and all-consuming passion.

And that made him react when anyone suggested that his paintings weren’t up to snuff. He said that he was painting “felt space,” not real space. His people and the urban settings he placed them in were not realistic in the purest sense of the word, but they sang with spirit and emotion. As Ralph said, “I may paint flat, but I don’t think flat.”

Rembrandt Hands

Rembrandt Hands

His most memorable quote, and the one that says the most about him, occurred very early in his artistic career, when someone told him that his hands looked like sticks. He ought to study Rembrandt’s hands, they said, in order to get it right.

His response is priceless: “Fuck you and Rembrandt! My name is Ralph!”

I may not really adopt Ralph’s approach but you can bet his words will be echoing in my head the next time someone says “You should paint like…”

PS: Maybe Ralph should have had the Quote of the Week, after all.

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