Posted by: cboulay | April 1, 2009

the art of the gumball machine



Horace Pippin


Horace Pippin


Horace Pippin


Horace Pippin Harmonizing


Ellsworth Kelly


Ellsworth Kelly


Chardin–The Smoker’s Case


Chardin–Soap Bubbles




Chardin  still life






Wayne Thiebaud










Candy apples







Morris Louis




  1. I’ve always thought the best art is the most simple. I love when you see a painting, and it’s amazing, and simultaneously you think “this is mind-blowing and it doesn’t even look like the artist spent more than a week on this.”
    As kimmelman touches on, simplicity implies a kind of truthfulness and keen perception of the world. Thiebaud’s paintings are inviting, ripe, and delicious and immediately grab the viewer.
    But I must also acknowledge Chardin’s darker, more mysterious works that are inviting in a different way. Objects are frail, cold, and static in the paintings above.
    But the painting that made me most curious was “Man Sitting – Back View”. It reminds me of Magritte’s “The Son of Man” in that it poses questions concerning identity and concealedness.

  2. Thanks, Ian. I like the idea that “simplicity implies a kind of truthfulness.” In that case, I wonder how “truthful” the complicated lemons we have been viewing/discussing all semester are–they are not simple to paint, but perhaps they are ordinary objects, and that makes them simple, and true.

    Here’s a question for the rest of you: how does the ordinary nature of these objects make you feel? Kimmelman argues that Thiebaud and Chardin “provoke happiness if for no other reason than that they are content to be what they are, which is plenty” (225). Is this enough for you? Ought they to be more ambitious, or is simple happiness an ambitious enough goal to achieve. Fee free to discuss other aspects of this essay if you like.

  3. Like Ian, I agree that the best art is the most simple. I think there is something to be said about a painting that does not try and glorify objects into things they are not. Merely painting an object the way it appears in real life, nothing more, nothing less, gives that painting a simple eloquence about it that just isn’t the same as other more extravagant paintings. Kimmelman argues a very good point when viewing paintings by Thiebaud: “Were we stuck beside them, we might regard those scenes as nowhere, but Thiebaud shows us they are heavenly.” These paintings by Thiebaud and Chardin reveal a different perspective on everyday affairs that we may never notice. They have the “ability to slow our systems, calm our minds, and show us reality as we have probably never considered it.” Personally, I do not think that paintings have to be overly ambitious, as simplicity is often times a more interesting way to portray everyday scenes/objects.

  4. The essay and images taught me something today: it’s rare that I wonder about a painting, why would someone notice this and paint it? And I know that the subjects of the work reflect social mores, status, trade, etc….but Chardin’s work, especially “The Smoker’s Case,” left me with so many questions. What’s going on outside of the scene, just beyond the box, or the pail, or the table, and why did he paint that woman in a green apron at the supper table? Not that I think there is no point to the painting, I just think it’s the first time I have ever asked that question, why this and not that, and I had the feeling that if I moved the picture over a little bit I could see more inside the painting’ world.

    As far as the question goes, I really do enjoy simplicity in art, and in everyday life–those shivery moments when the sun does something to the Huron River or people walking down 4th are arranged in just such a pattern that is both perfect and never to be repeated again. The perfection of Thiebaud’s cakes and pies, or the landscapes touched by some trick of light, will never be repeated. These are pictures of what was and never will be again, which makes them all the more marvelous for their rarity. In owning these pieces you can own a token of some still and peaceful fleeting moment. Grandiosity is irrelevant if it doesn’t give me that shivery feeling.

  5. I have come to realize through this class that visual art is majestic in that it allows the artist to capture a specific moment in time, and the viewer to interpret that insistence however one may choose. The availability of the objects Thiebaud paints are inviting because they are so accessible and familiar to any audience.

    I enjoy this simple art because it is not intimidating, many of the colors bring about a warm feeling and even in some of the more drab pieces by Chardin the simplicity of the objects are enough to welcome the viewer.

    It does not take a mind bender or extremely abstract piece of art to stimulate the brain in my opinion. Some of the most famous works of art are portraits, people sitting, staring, doing nothing. There is something to be said for approachable art and I believe that simplicity and comfort go hand in hand.

  6. in response to the second question-

    I feel like artists spend there whole lives trying to complicate their work and overhaul it with density for acclaim…only to end up at the answer that says “simplicity” is what the audience wants, “simplicity” is what the majority sees, and “simplicity” is, in fact, the root of all things.

    Ambition’s a tricky word in this case because on one hand, this kind of painting is (almost startlingly) easily accessible but at the same time is attempting to answer more questions and express more ideas about culture than, say, a representative piece of 17th century queens and kings. I say the ambition increases as the ambiguity increases.

  7. I have to say that art that is simple representation is great. I love the ordinary presentation of these various objects. There is beauty in their simplicity. It is very ambitious and hard to attempt to acheive happiness through this representations. Although it can be achieved and definitely comes close with these depictions. I think that these objects represent a feeling of nostalgia and that is where a feeling of happiness comes from. Yet at the same time art that is “more” complex would be greatly missed if all the art in the world were like this. So maybe complex art gives a different kind of satisfaction or happiness.

    I really liked how the essay addressed capturing simple objects as a way of seeing. In that truly taking the time to look at the simple things in life you gain a greater adoration for these things. I definitely felt like it was channeling Learning to Love You More. Essential I guess that what art is all about. Taking the time to gain appreciation for the things in our lives.

  8. In Kimmelman’s essay, he comes to the conclusion that though many works of art based on simple inanimate objects may appear basic, most have deeper meaning. It is like Doty referred to in Still Life with Oysters and Lemon that an object could become what you make of it when the viewer brings their own experiences to the piece or object. Simplistic forms are easy for a viewer to grasp and especially in Theibauld’s pieces; the objects are bright, colorful, and aesthetically pleasing. Kimmelman’s essay starts off quite simple with him going through some of his thoughts when bombarded with extra time such as standing in line at the grocery store, and then takes us into a complex comparative essay between the works of Thiebauld and Chardin.

  9. Simple art works make me feel…ordinary. It does not get me excited or feel extreme horror when I view this type of art. In some ways, I feel as if these simple art are something that I can view on my kitchen counter and would not have to pay money to go see it in a museum. Then again, I could see that another way of viewing this type of simple art is a way of meditation, to find peace within the ordinary mundane life. I could also see this type of art as a way of glorying the ordinary way of life.

  10. I think that often times people look too hard in trying to find deeper meanings in things such as paintings. We are so focused on the bigger picture that we fail to notice simple pleasures. The everyday objects portrayed in Thiebaud’s paintings remind us that even the simplest things can bring happiness and awe.
    In Kimmelman’s essay he compares the simplicity of such paintings to the way that a child views the world. Children have such a unique outlook on life, because everything seems new and foreign to them. They do not overlook small details because they have seen them so often as adults tend to do, rather they view each day with a sense of awe. I think that the child-like perspective is in itself an ambitious project. It’s not easy to take something that seems common and normal and portray it with a sense of wonderment.

  11. Less is more has always been an opinion of mine. Kimmelman says that Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings are full of ‘small miracles’ in the everyday world. We all are able to see these little miracles if we only choose to look for and see them. I agree that because the objects in some of Chardin and Thiebaud’s paintings are so simple, they evoke a certain pleasure in us because despite being so simple, they are, in their own way, more complex than that. For instance, we could look at the painting ‘Still Life with Oysters and Lemon’ and see two ovular splotches of yellow that ‘are lemon’, or we could choose to look deeper into the simple majesty of a lemon and see the other colors that it consists of, the textures, the folds and wrinkles. From looking deeper into the ‘idea’ of an apparently simple lemon, we might begin to appreciate the miracle that such a thing could exist and mean so many things to so many people. As Kimmelman quotes of Proust “Great painters initiate us into a knowledge and love of the external world” (214).

    Later in his essay, Kimmelman goes on to expound on the fact that children see the world through ‘fresh’ eyes which is why they stop to stare at the sort of thing that most adults would ignore. A thing so trifling as a gumball machine entices and fascinates children. They are continually in awe of the things around them. Kimmelman suggests that painters who capture this sort of thing also evoke a slight feeling of sadness for something that has been lost. As we grow older, our childhood fascination with the world slowly disappears and we forget how we once were until we see paintings such as these and are reminded to stop and smell the roses, or rather, actually really ‘look’ at them for once.

  12. While I believe that simplicity in art is preferable to unnecessary excess, Thiebaud leaves me feeling empty. There is a certain clinical sterility to his work, and far from “feeling like a child”, I am reminded of the glossy pages of commercial magazines. I am struck by the fetishism of commodities, the focus on the product, its perfect form. The pieces feel fake to me, as if almost deliberately mimicking Pop Art.

    I agree much more with Kimmelman on Chardin, whose technical expertise makes viewing simple objects a more sensual experience. With Chardin’s attention to detail allows one to appreciate the physical qualities of each object.

  13. I think there is definitely something to be said about the smiplicity of a work of art . Something that is depicted exactly as-is, for example a still life. However, as a huge form of expression painting provides a means for artists to do just that, express themselves. And i think its fair to say that most artists wouldn’t be content just drawing exactly what they see, exactly the way that they see it.

    Putting one’s own taste and spin on things allows us to open our eyes and broaden our horizons. By painting a scene is a way that is distorted from the original scenario sheds new light on something in a way the viewers would have never been introduced to otherwise.

    On the other hand, I do agree with the satisfaction one receives from viewing this “simple” art. I think this definitely allows us the opportunity to form a greater appreciation for things that we might not necessarily have noticed or thought twice about.

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