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There is an eerie stillness in emerging adolescence that Balthus captures. We are glimpsing, just for a moment, that interior self-sufficiency of the adolescent, where body, mind and world are united and creating a unique space of possibilities. Balthus paints her leaning back in an armchair.

Her face is apparently turned toward the viewer, but not if one looks closely focused directly either on the painter, whom she is supposedly gazing towards, or us. Her pose is relaxed and understated. Raised and crossed on top her right leg, her left is relaxed with her left hand placed on the knee. The world around them is then remade in that interior view.

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Balthus obviously was influenced by that work. Here a female figure wearing only white knee socks and red slippers is on a chaise longue. She is stretched across the longue with her head back, eyes closed and one arm raised above her and another down towards the floor. Her hair is loose.

ISBN 13: 9780880012348

The colours are muted. Body, mind and place are one within the painting. Possibilities of an emerging physical, psychological and sexual realm abound, but never is one realm privileged over another. It is a mistake to see Balthus as focusing only on the sexual. Balthus often said that his paintings had no overt sexuality. I think he was not so much denying such sexuality existed, but that is was not the only thing his paintings were about, or even what they were about at all.

The sexuality in Balthus is never vulgar or cheap. It is strangely protective as the gaze of all the girls is private and inward, never outward or beckoning. It is only the person who fails to understand or to truly experience what Balthus is doing and instead forces Balthus into a single meaning — in most cases today one of prurience and admonition against adolescence having any kind of healthy and meaningful interior life that is not circumscribed by adult expectations or worries over innocence and experience — that will miss what makes Balthus important.

No one has anything good to say about critics. They are a despised lot, of a lower order to that occupied by the artist. Even the greatest of critics are more commented upon than read. It is no better for more recent critics. One reason why critics are so poorly thought of is that proper criticism has been much diminished. Take a look once more at the small list of names I mentioned. These critics situate their subjects and ideas within larger arguments of history, philosophy and previous and current commentary.

#MeToo has reached the art world. Don’t think it’s running out of steam

They examine how artists work and explicate upon the various strands of thought, criticism, ideas and politics at play in their works. At the same time, these critics show why certain artists are worthy of such sustained attention. When criticism works, it brings forward not only the aesthetic aspects of the work under study, but the mechanism by which that work makes its aesthetic claims and thereby allow a reader to see why its is aesthetically superior to other works.

Its author may not purpose this — authors propose many things — but the construction of some sort of object, whether too disorderly to be a world or too mechanical to be alive, cannot be avoided. The art of fiction is, at it core, an assemblage of words, shaped by the artist who places them onto a page under mechanisms chosen by them in order to shape those words into a fiction. And what is realism? Gass is a master in teasing out how writers shape words and sentences to achieve the desired ends. Reid disparages Stein because she embodies principles that upset his notions of art.

Gass points out that Stein has had that affect on critics from the beginning; and that is the very point of what Stein is trying to do with her prose. She wishes to challenge in the most direct way possible our notions of art and style, of or received opinions, and she will sculpt language to do so.

Many still do. But it is only on closer reading and looking at what Stein is trying to do with this language, especially as developed it in her later works, does one understand her strategies. People love the gentle marmalade-scoffing bear.

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Rightly so. The excellent movie The Florida Project is thought to be underperforming, because a certain little bear has brutally beaten it up at the box office. Couples are somewhat sheepishly settling into their cinema seats and hugging themselves with anticipation as the lights go down. The combination of Paddington and Hugh Grant is just irresistible. Other films might just have to wait until the bear has gone away. Facebook Twitter Pinterest. Topics Sexual harassment Notebook. Art New York MeToo movement comment.

Reuse this content. From slaves and wage slaves to Balthus is the distance between slavery and liberty.


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Balthus is interested in the same continuities as in his interiors: the survival of certain manners, ways of spending time, intimacies of the bath and bed. Impressionism was devoted to roads, paths, rivers: a collective study of the network of roads that connected one French village to another. These ways were once ancient sheep paths, then market roads, then the highway system of the Romans.

Impressionism was an assessment of civilization up to its time, as if prophetically aware that in a11 this would be mud and trenches; seventy French cathedrals would collapse under artillery fire; a mode of life would be forever lost. Swann's W a y the name of a road ends with automobiles in the Bois de Boulogne. Cubism moved indoors, focusing on the humblest tabletops. Impressionism followed its logical study in Monet, back to the roadless France of prehistory-to the marshlands before they were drained for agriculture. That's what the lily pond at Giverny is, and the haystacks winter fodder are almost as archaic.

But the beginning was with Pissarro's farms, fields, orchards; fields measured out in baronial times, apple orchards as old as Gaul apples came north with the Romans, as did the pear, Roman wheat, Latin, the engineering of canals and bridges, walled cities, strange Mediterranean gods. So Balthus when he turned to landscape emphasized local geography, the specific character of particular places, generalizing nothing.

As his houses are without electricity, without radios, TV, telephones; without bathtubs or faucets; his farms are eighteenth-century, using horse and ox power. The figures in his landscapes wave greetings.

Van Gogh had painted farmers as drudges and starving peasants. Balthus's farms are visions of pastoral life. Stephen Dobyns in his The Balthus Poems in which he writes poems about thirty-two of the paintings catches the tone of Balthusian pastoral in "Landscape with Oxen": W i t h the boards he will build a shelter for spring lambs that he will fatten in summer, sell in the fall, and of this pattern of seasonal routine he has woven a life much in the way his wife weaves the wool into thick cloth, into such a blue jacket as the farmer is now wearing, which the lawless wind tries uselessly to take from him.

He paints from inside the figure outward, as if the figure painted itself. They are, in a disturbing sense, too lifelike. And they are not here as painters primarily, but as the fathers of daughters. They are soliloquies in paint. Chagall, around the time of the Derain and Miro portraits, had himself photographed with his deliciously sexy twelve-year-old daughter wholly naked, achieving an homage to and subtle parody of Balthus, but recognizing his authority of innovation and iconology.

This portrait illustrates as well as any of Balthus's his ability to take the bare minimum of a subject and bring it to the highest pitch of clarity, of presence. This rich spareness contrasts with the century's aesthetic of merging figure and ground in a dazzle. Reproductions of it trick one into believing that it is an intimist canvas, fairly small.

Balthus Cats and Girls at the Metropolitan Museum of

I was unprepared for its size when I saw it first at the Centre Pompidou in an afternoon of surprises. I had just seen my first Tatlin and some late Maleviches unknown until then. I had seen an abstraction by Ivan Puni that made me feel for the moment that Western design still had everything to learn all over again from the Russians. The surprise of suddenly turning and gazing into not at Balthus's great painting was a splendid and complex experience. For the first time I remembered how familiar the street was to me, a locale I crossed time and again when I first knew Paris just after the war.

The painting did not exist then, though Balthus must have been making studies of it, a picture to epitomize all his work, including the brilliant landscapes. For just as The Street is conscious of being a displacement of a forest with all its allusions to wood and the mythology of woods , so f i e Passage is conscious of being where a meadow once was. The dog is sheeplike, a man carries bread, and we are only a few streets from Saint-Germain-des-Pres, of the Meadows.

Inside the painting's mysteriousness there had been all along a familiarity I had not isolated until I stood before the canvas itself. A more wonderful way of seeing Proust's theory of the redemption of time in triumphant proof I cannot imagine. Another surprise was to notice that for all the resonances in this most Balthusian of all Balthus's work the Rilkean question, as of the Saltimbanques, "Who are these people?

There's the same flat ordinariness, as if to say: Look, the world is not really a mystery at all. It appears to be, but look again. These eight people, a dog, and a doll are the very essence of a Left Bank back street.