Millet – The Angelus

January 27, 2010

Rob brought up this painting last night before we all went out to see Darien Brahms play at Port City Music Hall. (She played Green Valentine for Cole)! We barely talked about the subject matter: Man and woman in a field, bent over, revering a basket. We mostly talked about how it was painted and why? Why?! Rob was interested in our thoughts on what could inform a painter to paint a particular way.  In this example with smooth, sharp, realistic execution, joined to a broken up, disparate, playful display of woven color. I am predisposed to the latter disparate way of making marks, a way of showing the world as being anything other than smooth, yet still fluid. So i quickly reacted to the replication in Rob’s art history book as beholden of valid ways of seeing the world with your own eyes.

I imagine the bottom and sides of the painting to be executed differently from the center and top because of our own eyes inability to focus on the periphery. The sharpness falls on our focus, our subject, the people we are looking at. The surrounding areas inevitably fall off and are recreated in pieces because they are not the focus of light or of our vision, but are still being molded into appearing by the light. I went all the way to say that painting something in a situation that is more direct to the actual light source depicted in your painting makes it a better painting. I know, i say things like this in very limited company, and then write down the word “better” here. Don’t know if i really want to say that, but lets just put it our there, and now talk about what Rob brought this painting to our attention for.

Rob and Cole had talked about the piece briefly before, they noted The Angelus as being a painted work displaying evidence of strong influences of photography. Cole agreed with Rob that Millet was depicting a vision that was not seen before photography. They thought that the way the periphery is painted — blurry, broken up, less focused — is indicative of a camera’s ability to re-present the world. In other words, the camera begins to show things as somewhat vignetted as a lens is rounded. They speculated that Millet surely looked into a camera obscura and had access to the technologies of the day which could re-present a scene in this way. No one spoke of the painting being made FROM a photograph, simply that it had the potential to have been INFLUENCED by a photograph.

The great and complicated relationship painting has to photography still eludes me in definition. Its helpful to be a part of a conversation like this. Its helpful to remember dates and times of advancement in sight. Its helpful to talk about the medium’s respective differences and also to note when we see them coming together to create a singular vision, like we presume they are in The Angelus. Recognizing when one is exposed to technologies which help us record and re-present the world help us to understand the trajectory painting has taken to get to now. Things that have never been seen before begin to show in Millet’s example of multiple ways of seeing the world. A way that shows us the beginning of a painter’s — an artist’s — ability to make a version of the world which includes multiple perspectives, not disproportional re-presentations, but more than one way of seeing in one thing.

Either way you break it down — as a personal vision or as a way of seeing perpetuated by photography — there exists an undeniable admittance that photography did exist at the moment in time this painting was made. Chronologically reassuring us that photography was accessible.   It also reminds us that painting has a strong ability to evolve and incorporate different ways of seeing the world into itself in order to connect with a viewer. An ability to take different views and impart, coerce, weave, collect, relate, multiple impressions to show a clear singular thought and vision.

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