In Fine Art Connoisseur > Salman Toor examines Johannes Vermeer’s
Salman Toor examines Johannes Vermeer’s "Mistress and Maid" (right). His own painting, "Museum Boys" (2021), hangs at left in the rotating show "Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters" at The Frick (New York).

From the Fine Art Connoisseur September/October 2023 Editor’s Note:

“The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas. And I want them back, thank you very much.”

Mark Twain wrote these words long ago, yet their perversity still has the power to amuse us, and to give us pause. Rather than throwing in the towel, regretting that it’s all been done before, we must draw from Twain’s quip the courage to carry on. We would be fools to think no one has ever before felt exactly as we do, or pondered the same thoughts. Yet each individual is unique in the history of the world, casting their eye backward and forward in a completely distinctive way.

Fine Art Connoisseur cover SepOct2023
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The necessity of such back-and-forthing is borne out by a range of articles in this issue, which have got me thinking about how crucial it is to bring living artists, and contemporary artworks, into proximity with historical ones. This can come through an artist’s lived experience, as it did for the California-based conceptual artist Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), who spent seven months exploring Europe’s great museums when he was 24. (“Europe,” he recalled, “added the weight of history to the whole picture.”)

But magic is also worked when historical artworks are literally presented side by side with contemporary ones. I’m thinking of the revelatory displays we’ve enjoyed recently at New York City’s Frick Collection; please see David Masello’s admiring article about them on page 77 of our September/October issue. Far from making the living participants seem derivative, these juxtapositions have only enhanced the power of their visions. It has been win-win all around, and these projects should happen more often — at similarly high levels of quality.

I have never met a living artist — no matter how “edgy” — who does not stumble into something thrilling while walking through a museum display of Old Master or 19th-century art. There one artist recognizes another, across the centuries; their methods and markets may be different, but that inner drive is fundamentally the same. Artists ask each other not just “how did you do that?” but “why did you do that?’

This impulse comes through loud and clear in Jeremy Caniglia’s comprehensive recap of his four-year-long journey to paint a master copy of Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (1606–07). Please see page 95 of this issue to learn how deeply this gifted Nebraska-based artist delved into the process, and ultimately the mind, of his Baroque hero.

Finally, please turn to page 82 of this issue to read James C. Andrews’s helpful overview of nine different institutions offering top-notch training in realism today. Scattered around the world, these are just some of the extraordinary venues that have emerged to reconnect students with the techniques and ideas of our realist forerunners. You don’t need to be 18 or 25 to participate, either — most ateliers welcome pupils of all ages and levels of artistic experience.

Now more than ever, we need more people asking more questions of each other, even of those who have already departed this crazy, cruel, wonderful thing called life. Mark Twain could see that, and those of us who love visual art should, too.

What are your thoughts? Share your letter to the Editor below in the comments.

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  1. I love the grounded hopefulness of this essay Peter. We can but marvel at the broad array of artistic endeavors across old and new media, and be at peace that realistic figuration is once again a valued guest at the table.


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