I confess to more than a little snobbery when I was in art school. I wasn’t a snob about status or money, because those things seemed far too pedestrian to me. I was a snob about work. I was immensely impressed by craft and labor. This is not to say that I didn’t appreciate conceptualism, because I absolutely did. I just expected to see it — to have some tangible proof of the time and suffering inherent in the birth of an idea.
I was a naive idiot, and is there anything worse than a stupid snob?
I scoffed at Cy Twombly’s work (all those dots and scribbles — I could make that in my sleep!). But if I am honest with myself, I didn’t like his work because I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t discern any method to his art or craft whatsoever.
It’s been eight years since I finished school, and the art world was different back then. Art was about something — your gender, your home, your race, your pet chickens. What didn’t really matter, but there damn well better be a metaphorical SOMETHING in there somewhere.
And so, as a young photographer I was quite sure Twombly’s work was outdated, superficial, and self absorbed.
After all, photography in the late twentieth century threatened old school gestural painters like Twombly much in the same way photography threatened painting back in the early nineteenth century, leading Paul Delaroche to utter most famously, “Painting is dead.”
And after all, Cy Twombly lived in relative obscurity for decades — a recluse doing his own thing off the coast of Italy. An irrelevant person of little interest. At least that’s what I thought.
So it’s really rather funny that Twombly is undeniably popular now; it’s funny that it has become such a fad to scribble all over a canvas and call it Art with a capital A.
But the difference between Twombly and all the trendsters, the thing that I did not understand about his work when I was in school, the thing that perhaps most people were too jaded and eager to dismiss about him when he first started painting amidst all the splashy ab ex guys and minimalists years and years ago, is intent. Or INTENT, rather. Yes, with capital letters. Purpose is the key.
And to make that appear effortless is the mark of a virtuoso.
If you doubt that, read his own words regarding his work: “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization.”
Spoken like a man well versed in the wisdom of the classics. I hope it’s not too late for me to learn to follow suit.
Rest in peace Cy Twombly.