Dec 132012

I finally received the answer to my letter to the Getty. (see below) It did not surprise me. I have been receiving such refusal from art historians to discuss since I made my Rembrandt discoveries in 1974. The first was from Christopher White, who was then in charge of Rembrandt’s drawings at the British Museum. (He had written a good book on the etchings.) He did not commit himself in writing but after sitting on my first article for over a month he told his colleague, who had assisted me in composing the article, “that it would be very important if Konstam could prove it.” To a scientific mind it was proven then; as far as is possible to prove anything of this nature.

The Burlington Magazine refused my article until E.H.Gombrich called a governors’ meeting at which it was suggested that he should help me re-write it, which he did. The article was then accepted by Benedict Nicholson the editor, who wrote “I find it of the greatest possible interest and so I am sure will Rembrandt scholars, who must now get down to revising the corpus of  drawings.” The appalling revision that has taken place since then has been in the opposite direction to that I proposed.

Pieter Schatborn (recently of the Rijksmuseum) who master-minded the Getty show, translated my second artictle into Dutch. It was printed in Rembrandthuiskroniek (1978) but he has taken no notice of its contents since. I spent an evening with him in his flat taking him through the contents of the book on Rembrandt that I was preparing. He was unable to produce any counter arguments.

My agents informed me that Phaidon had accepted my book “with the whole editorial board behind me” knowing how controversial it was. They only awaited a reader’s report. When it came it was so damning Phaidon dropped the project and ran. On first reading I was shaken myself but on looking into the report I realized it was nothing more than a  cunningly concocted swindle. Thirty years later I am still looking for a brave enough publisher.

After a perfectly reasonable exchange of letters with Martin Royalton Kisch, who had succeeded White at the British Museum, he gave me a hefty thumbs down in his catalogue of Rembrandt Drawings (having entirely ‘misread’ my analysis of two drawings of Rembrandt’s first mistress). I countered with three newspapers (The Save Rembrandt Campaigner) and a showing at St Martin’s in the Fields, to try to get my viewpoint heard at the time of the theoretical debate 1991 “Rembrandt and his Workshop”.

The National Gallery (London) actually took the microphone from me (on the orders of Christopher Brown, then keeper of Dutch paintings there) because I asked to show three slides which would have put an end to their novel and destructive viewpoint. The educated public having suffered from the teachings of The Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) since 1969,  can probably no longer remember the greater Rembrandt. (The RRP and their followers in the departments of drawings have reduced the accepted Rembrandt works by over 50% because of their misguided ideals in art.)

When I asked The National Gallery for space to present an alternative view at that time I got an almost identical letter as that from the Getty. The BBC  has refused to take any further interest after they discovered how my view of Rembrandt upsets the establishment. My view happens to be in complete accord with the known opinion of Rembrandt’s contemporaries. Other publishers and broadcasters have followed suit. For further interest I have scanned similar letters from the RRP and from E.Havercamp Begermann (Yale).

I gave a talk at Harvard  in 1978, which fell on deaf ears. I thought the many doctoral students there would go back to their books and see the sense of my view. Alas, many of that large audience will have been teaching the standard guff  on Rembrandt ever since. The guff is absurdly complicated, Rembrandt is easy to understand if you get the fundamentals right. Rembrandt was the great sign-post for artists saying observe, observe , observe “anything else was worthless in his eyes”.

This controversy between Rembrandt the observer and Rembrandt the inventor, has been successfully swept under the rug  since 1974. Though I have had a few successes at the Wallace Collection and recently The National Gallery where Rembrandt’s  “The Adoration of the Shepherds” rejected by RRP has now been replaced as a Rembrandt, where it belongs. (see YouTube for Konstam saying yes it is, and the National Gallery saying no, it isnt.)

It is difficult to escape thinking that art historians perhaps resent the intrusion of an artist into their private kingdom. Art History belongs to artists and the public at large, we need to get it straight. Look at what has happened to painting since the down-grading of Rembrandt. This is our culture in headlong decay!

I have made several similarly important discoveries in the field of art history and archaeology which have been similarly neglected. Best known is the role of life-casting in ancient Greek sculpture, which featured in the film Athens II as well as the Oxford Journal of Archaeology. The full story can be found in the second edition of my book Sculpture, the Art and the Practice.

Dec 132012

Copy of Reddit Article

The brain of Man has undergone a transformation since we painted the caves.  “In the beginning was the word” the invention of speech was the beginning of that transformation. Speech, number, geometry and mechanics are the chief abstract categories that rule and blinker our perception of the world. They are so useful that they have all but obliterated the rich variety of messages that our animal senses bring us.

It was the chief task of the visual arts to re-examine and extend the interface between the abstract quality of our mindset and the rich variety of the world out there. Traditional artists working from nature and humans soon become aware of  how inadequate are our mental images. We know we are burdened with a brain that wants to reduce the world to abstractions. The process of observation brings our abstracting mindset to confront the actual. Each search for understanding
developed  by an artist becomes in itself “form”.

The word ‘form’ is generally used to  mean three dimensional shape. In art it has another set of  meanings. It is also used to mean that which is formalized, or form in the sense of “sonnet form”: a mould into which any number of ideas or feelings can be poured. It can mean manners in the sense of “good form”; manner in the sense of the “Classical manner” which is derived from classical Greek sculpture. It  has a structural meaning in the coordination of parts to make a meaningful whole. “Form” can be used to describe a number of conceptual schemes, it is not just meat.

In fact the recognition of form was the chief aim of an education in art. Form is an amalgam of all these ideas and has come to mean that emphasis that comes about from an artist’s interpretation of nature: the aspects the artist particularly wants us to see as important.

Traditional art attempts “to hold a mirror up to nature”. Since the invention of photography this activity has become less rewarding because the camera does this so well. But there is another aspect to the best traditional art which we could describe as the mental digestion of nature; art can be the interface between our habitually abstracting mind and the richness of nature. Art stretches the mind to comprehend more. Around 1904 Art became more conscious of form but recently unconscious.

An art rooted in tradition has the huge advantage of being able to strikes chords in the mind and evoke emotion because of it’s relation to a depth of human experience, recorded and evolving through history. It is our cultural inheritance. The evolution of art is an important part of our appreciation of the visible. As we moved away from the hunter-gatherer, where awareness was all important, we have come to rely on art to keep our senses alive. Without observed art we lose touch with the wealth of what is out there in the world; we receive it less fully, we become less human.

Music and poetry have forms also. In a recent review, a poet was praised for her “impressive formal range… an England rooted in Nature of Chaucer, Shakespeare,Wordsworth and John Clare.” Though I have no ear for poetry I understand what this means because it is similar to visual form, and refers to that cultural inheritance as above.

For instance, in my own experience my love of Rembrandt’s drawings was considerably deepened by visiting a show of Giacometti’s drawings. Giacometti had consciously or unconsciously used space clues similar to Rembrandt’s, his primary focus is on space. Rembrandt, like most draughtsmen, mainly focuses on the solid figures but it is the space between the figures that makes them so meaningful. In my view it is crucial to understand this aspect of Rembrandt’s form. The scholars’ study of style (the mere marks he made) has led the “experts” very far from the Rembrandt recorded by his contemporaries; he has been much diminished by recent scholarship and his philosophy: the primary importance of original observation, has been turned upside down.

Two main lines of development in the form of western art can be seen. That derived from the Greek sculpture is easily recognised in the lay figure which was present in every academic studio. It is epitomized by the work of Raphael but was generally used during the Italian Renaissance and in academic art since.

The Roman is derived from the survey techniques that Roman sculptors used for transferring their work into the permanent medium of stone. It is based on solid geometry as a pattern to compare with nature. The Roman needs to be distinguished from the Greek because it operates with a different syntax. The Roman is more analytical and therefore better adapted to sharpening observation. Each artist gives the tradition  a nudge in the direction of their own personal philosophy. Rembrandt used Roman form when he observed; and Greek on those rare occasions when he had to invent: his flying angels for example.

I have made a short film to explain the high points in the development of form with appropriate images (URL). I regard Rembrandt as the greatest humanist draftsman because he realized that the space between two people expresses as much or more than their individual gestures or facial expressions. He developed the Roman form to incorporate space as well as solid.

My rediscovery that Rembrandt deployed groups of live models so as to find the maximum expression and then drew observing the space with the same attention as the solid bodies is contrary to the modern belief among art historians. They refuse to abandon their mistaken belief that imagination is superior to observation in art. Imagination as commonly understood means drawing out of ones head, often no more than construction by formula. Rembrandt understood that the intimate, meaningful space between two figures cannot be constructed, it is too subtle. It has to be observed. This is the secret of his psychological and dramatic gift.

The teaching of form goes through periods of development and decay. Sadly ours is a period of such decay that many young artists have missed ‘form’ in this special sense in their artistic education. They are deprived of that sense of brotherhood with former artists that sustains and supports a living tradition. As a consequence we are losing contact with nature and with the great tradition of seeing as exemplified by recent Rembrandt scholarship. Art matters!

Note. The word form was crucial to artistic discussion before Wolfflin moved the goal posts with his book “The Principles of Art Hisrtory”(1915). He had no conception of the artistic use of the word form.