View Full Version : Thomas Hart Benton
June 29th, 2005, 06:43 PM
While in another thread discussion, Benton came up and I thought that he might be a good topic for conversation. For those who might not know who he was, Benton was an American regionalist painter from Missouri who painted the American south as he saw it. He was closely associated with Grant Wood (American Gothic). From what I've read, he was quite the character, being cranky and opinionated.
One of his paintings, The Wreck Of 'Ole 97 is one of my favorites. The way he painted the clouds in the sky moving in the same way as the smoke from the locomotive is incredible. http://www.umich.edu/~hartspc/umsdp/HN/HN006.html
Anyone else with some thoughts on Thomas?
June 29th, 2005, 11:32 PM
He may not be the best technically but I admire his passion for drawing. That's what he always did. Just like many artists, he drew and drew and then later used some of those for a painting. He would put different elements from a bunch of different drawings and put them all together to make one coherent picture.
Anna from Russia
June 30th, 2005, 04:20 AM
It's been not so long since i've first heard about this American artist, but i like his creative work very much. I like the mood of his paintings, it seems very American to me (btw, i live in Russia).
It is rather interesting that every 'regionalist' painting has that very regional mood. Maybe because the artists put a part of their soul in the paintings, where they depict the things they truly love?
The themes, colors and composition of Benton's paintings are purely American to me. i've never been to the States so maybe i'm mistaken. Please tell me if i'm not right...
June 30th, 2005, 09:20 AM
I enjoy his compositions. I think that's some very smart stuff sometimes. The way he draws the figure plays into that, i don't think his pictures would make as much sense in a more realistic style. Definitely someone to learn from.
June 30th, 2005, 07:03 PM
I think that part of his appeal is that he didn't paint exactly what he saw, but what he felt, and that is far more interesting than being technical. One thing that he did in preperation for a painting was to create the scene in clay, so that he could get the shading down. He must have had the patience of a saint.
Anna, you pose an interesting question about regionalism. I wonder if just because an artist paints the region that he loves makes him "American," or even "Russsian?" My point being, if an American went to Russia and painted scenes of a region, would the art be considered American or Russian? Would that be regionalism, as well? I sound like I'm rambling. Does this make sense? I guess, I'm just wondering if, say, Benton painted American life, does that equate to being an American artist? Kind of the same as 'what is Russian art'. I agree that Benton is distinctly American, but I don't know what makes that so.
As Patdzon said, he had passion and that's what comes through in his paintings. I can't think of any other artist that was similiar to how he painted. I feel that his color use was original, too.
July 4th, 2005, 01:17 AM
Regionalism is defined as being a movement around the 1930's in which American artists strove to achieve what was uniquely American in their art while avoiding all reference to European influences. Basically it was a rejection of the heavy influence that Europe had on the Western art world at the time. So when you say Benton's work looks completely American you would be correct. It was intended to be so. Also, an interesting note, Thomas Hart Benton taught a young Jackson Pollack at the Art Students League in New York. The two were apparently quite close as their personalities (and vices) were similar. Check out Benton's mural work. Its really great stuff. The "America Today" pieces are fantastic.
Anna from Russia
July 4th, 2005, 07:16 AM
madplanet, yes, that's the point! But i don't think that just being in America makes the artist American... I believe that it is rather FEELING American. I mean the mentality and beliefs... Thanks a lot for this thread, it provokes much thinking.
Thanks also for saying about his making the scenes in clay. It speaks alot about his personality. The shading is just great in his paintings.
Jedmo, thanks a lot for defining 'regionalism', the only question i have is if this term can be applied only to American art. Is this notion purely American and describing this protest against European influences or is it appliable to art of any nation?
Thank you so much for the link! "America Today" pieces are just awesome. I can almost hear the sounds and feel the smell... Amazing!
July 4th, 2005, 07:41 AM
Thanks for that definition of regionalsm, Jedmo. I tried to put it in my own words without sounding too textbookish, but you put it much better than I could. I find it interesting that Benton would want to depart from everything Euorpean since, I think, he did spend some early years training in France. I guess one would need to have that knowledge in order to break with it.
I forgot about Pollack. If I remember correctly, he broke with Benton after awhile because he was too traditional, or something like that. Two cranky guys.
Thanks for the link. I forgot about a lot of those paintings and they were good to see again.
Anna, So would that mean that an American painting in Russia would have an American 'Regionalist' feel to his or her works? I guess that would make sense. I think that with any art movement, it begins somewhere, but can be applied anywhere. Just because the origins of regionalism began here in America doesn't mean that Russia can't have its own form of regionalism, something being distinctly Russian. I could be wrong. I can just hear some art historian saying, "No, no, no... you have it all wrong! Regionalism is regionalism and it stays here!" Just throwing thoughts out there.
July 5th, 2005, 04:12 AM
I was thinking about something along the same lines. I think there are a lot of paintings that show typically german or american scenes. So just to show something typical can't be the point of making the image, rather trying to find the essence of what makes something american(, russian, german).
The (controversial & successful) german artist Jörg Immendorf did something similar in his "Café Deutschland" pictures, drawing scenes from divided germany. He relied not on technique but on his selection of things he would draw and paint, so there's no intricate brushwork here.
Der Heuler (1983) (http://www.dhm.de/sammlungen/gifs/sammlungen/grafik/gr95_5.jpg)
July 5th, 2005, 09:25 PM
At times, I still have a hard time telling just what makes a work of art American, German, Russian, ect. Like you said John O., just depicting a scene doesn't necessarily make it their own, it's putting the essence of the artist into the scene.
Thanks for the link of Immendorf's piece. I'm not familiar with his work, but I will look into it some more. So, is your point that he has his own form of regionalism by depicting scenes from his Germany?
July 6th, 2005, 08:55 AM
His work is directly caused by his environment. His teacher was Joseph Beuys, who coined the phrase "there is an artist in everyone". So don't expect well done paintings. I took him as an example because in almost everything he does he expects the person who views his art to know a good deal about germany, german politics, his own history, the biography of his teacher, stuff like that. I don't expect him to find many fans on this forum, but he's a good example of what you wrote, putting the essence of the artist into the scene. It's just that he leaves it at that, and doesn't go out of his way to make the scene more understandable or interesting.
Anna from Russia
July 6th, 2005, 09:13 AM
i find this thread very intreseting and thoght provoking, and i cannot but agree with all the things that have been said, but it is still difficult to me to decide for myself what makes artworks American, Russian, German or whatever. I can definitely tell American painting from Russian one, but i don't know how...
john o., thanks for the link to Jörg Immendorf's artwork. it's a shame, but i do not know much about contemporary German art... It is off-topic, but i cannot but mention that i love German literature. E. M. Remark is my favorite writer :) just adore him. I'm going to learn some more about German visual art right now.
Studying other cultures is amazing!
July 6th, 2005, 10:28 AM
Anna, of the contemporary german artists almost no one impresses me more than Gerhard Richter. Another important painter here is Neo Rauch (http://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/12/selected_works_1.htm). Immendorf is somewhat important where i live because he teaches fine art at an artschool in a city near where i live. Not someone i want to learn from, though.
July 7th, 2005, 03:33 AM
One more thing I would like to add about this painter was he showed what America was like during those hard times especially during the depression era. One could definitely tell what was going on at the time.
There's this great article on him and his drawings included in the latest issue of American Artist's Drawing Magazine. Check it out!
Anna from Russia
July 7th, 2005, 09:15 AM
john o., thanks for the link. Neo Rauch's artworks are very impressive. As for Gerhard Richter, i've found several of his artworks on the net, but not too many. Would be very interesting to see more of his work.
July 7th, 2005, 09:39 AM
I suppose you already found the list on artchive (http://www.artchive.com/artchive/R/richter.html#images)? I've seen his work in an exhibition, his paintings are very impressive. You can't really reproduce the effect digitally.
Anna from Russia
July 7th, 2005, 09:54 AM
john o. thanks for the list. I did not find it myself. The paintings are very impressive even digitally. I believe they are just striking when seen in real life. I was impressed by the photorealistic portraits ('Betty', 'Reading' ...). It is a strange feeling, but the paintings give an impression of a photo and at the same time you perceive immediately that it is not a photograph...
I'm learning more and more at these forums! Just cool!
July 7th, 2005, 08:30 PM
Patdzon, that is very true about Benton. It's a good history lesson just viewing his paintings. They were and are an excellent window to view the events of his era. And I also picked up that issue with him in it. Another interesting aspect of his career is that he was an illustrator for the Navy (I think) during WWII. Some of those paintings are very interesting.
john o., Thanks for the link for Neo Rauch. His works are right up my alley, with all the symbolism going on. It's hard for me to get to the point of his works, but they are a visual treat. Now, do you think that he has a regionalism aspect to his work? Is this typical for a German artist? I really like his work. I have yet to check out Richter, but I will.
July 8th, 2005, 11:34 AM
If you ask me (and i'm by no means an expert) i think while he includes elements that are german i wouldn't call it regionalism. The elements that have a typically german connotation mean other things as well. In Bentons work, american scenes show the essence of everything that is america to Benton. It is his aim to show the viewer his idea of america. But i don't think it's Rauchs aim to show the viewer germany. He just happens to be german and has a german point of view which influences his work. But (i did some reading on the internet :teeth: ) the comic and advertising influence the critics see in his work could well be called an american influence.
I think just the things that are present in his pictures act as symbols much like the elements of the Immendorf picture i linked. You're free to combine their meanings and read the different stories they can tell. Because they do not come with a fixed meaning, you can read into them what you want. Unlike the Benton paintings where he selected the symbols to mean something very distinct. If you combine the railroad, the horsewagon, the landscape and the corn you get a picture that almost literally means "america". Everything that could distort that meaning has been erased.
If you're interested in symbolism, Umberto Eco wrote a good if somewhat sketchy introduction to semiotics, which is, to put it very simple, the study of signs and symbols.
July 8th, 2005, 04:08 PM
Well said. It is the very point of view, the point of view of the artists own country that I find so interesting. It's true what they say about being a product of one's environment, although to rise above that is something in and of itself. Maybe something for another thread.
I looked at Richter's paintings and as much as I liked them, I still liked Rauch's work more. Oddly enough, I was drawn to his abstract pieces. Courbet and Dark were my favorites. They had good colors. As I get older, I am tending to appreciate abstract art more and more. Not a lot, but they are out there. The other two paintings that I really liked were Seascape (cloudy) and Reading. The use of light in Reading reminded me of a Vermeer painting. Very nice. I have German blood in me and it's sad to say that I don't know a whole lot on contemporary German artists, so this another good topic.
Which Umberto Eco book did you have in mind. I went to Amazon.com and they had more than one book on semiotics. Thanks for that recommendation.
July 9th, 2005, 05:26 AM
I guess it would be this one (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0253202175/qid=1120899379/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/102-3622728-0772163?v=glance&s=books). It seems like it is missing some information that is in the german book. The german one is called "An introduction to semiotics", and also costs just a third of this one. I suppose you can pick this one up at a library, i'm not sure i'd buy it for that price.
Another good book on the subject is "Aesthetica" by Max Bense, although it focuses on literature. It does not seem to be available in america.
There's not many good books that focus on semiotics of images. One that stands out and is a very easy read is actually "Understanding comics" by Scott McCloud. Although he doesn't call it a book on semiotics, it contains some very interesting thoughts on the topic.
July 9th, 2005, 03:37 PM
Yeah, that one is a bit pricey, so I'll go to the library for it. I saw McCloud's book back when it first came out. I think one of my friends has a copy. Thanks for the recommendations.