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Extremes
Virtually all of us are aware of the stereotypes applied to artists, and painters in particular. The popular image, cultivated over several centuries, but particularly the last two, is that of a highly emotional, high-strung, perhaps somewhat giddy effete, capable of bursts of creative genius, but just as prone to self-destructive fits of pique making all who know him (yes, the stereotype is always male) ill at ease in his presence (AKA Edouard Manet). Strangely enough, there is also the opposite stereotype, that of the hard living, hard driving, hard drinking, womanising bull of a man, the poster boy for megalomania, with skin as thick as horse hide and the sensitivity of a bulldozer (AKA Pablo Picasso). It's strange, isn't it, how stereotypes gravitate toward extremes. We're tempted to point out that reality lies somewhere in between, but actually, it lies everywhere in between. I'm not sure, by the way, if there IS a stereotype of the typical female artist but that's probably just as well.

Manet was what the English would call a "dandy." To Americans that word has a totally different meaning (as in fine and dandy) than is intended by the British. They would define it as highly refined, exquisitely stylish, overly sensitive, tedious to a fault, just a tiny bit peculiar, and overall, marvellously intriguing. Manet was all that "in spades" as they say. He delighted in shocking his viewers with his work yet recoiled in horror when they took offence. He worked hard yet was easily discouraged. He would often give up on work he deemed unsuccessful, either destroying it, or in some cases slicing it up into bits and pieces, creating smaller paintings of areas that "worked." One of his more famous works, The Dead Toreador, is an example of this. The painting accepted by the salon jury in 1864 is not the same as that which today hangs on the wall in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It originally had a bull in the background that critics complained of as being too small. Stung by a cartoon showing the bull as a pull-toy on wheels with a string dangling from its neck, Manet cut the work into two parts. The bull now rests in the Frick Collection in New York.

On the opposite end of the stereotypical spectrum, still raging some 25 years after his death, another bull snorts and paws the turf, daring anyone to so much as breathing a word of criticism in his direction. It's no accident Picasso had such an affinity for bullfighting and the symbolic presence of the male bovine in his painting and sculpture. It's practically his trademark. Were he not himself a ceramicist, we might be tempted to invoke the image of the "bull in a china shop" with regard to his artistic persona. There would be no slicing and dicing of paintings for this macho master. If it didn't work, he made it work, by sheer force of will if need be, overpowering the canvas with layer after layer of concrete masses until the work was forced into subjugation. His Les Demoiselles de Avignon is a prime example of this artistic brutality toward his work. So, which are you, the bull or the dandy, the dilettante or the Doberman. For myself, I've always tended toward the domesticated Democrat.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
19 March 1999

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