Still Life


No. 15 Still Life

Spring 2014

To the casual viewer, still life painting has never been the exciting character of the art world. While Cezanne may be responsible for our collective subconscious visual archetype of what fruit should look like,  but he doesn’t always get the praise of the Impressionist’s color palette, or to the Abstract Expressionist’s massive scale and freedom. Images of life post-mortem are not likely to draw the same crowds as Adams’ images of Half Dome, or Arbus’ portraits of streetwalkers. Hundreds will be passed over on a daily basis en route to a tiny painting of an average looking woman in the Louvre.

The still life, on the surface, seems ordinary and plain. You could argue they are little more than fruit on a table, flowers in a vase, trophies from the hunt, or last representations of a loved one. For anyone who has ever taken an art class, still lifes almost certainly have been the first two, three, or ten assignments. They are the standard for practical art training, but artists today continue to make them because the still life is so much more. 

The immobile composition will help the student learn shape, color, light, and composition, but the seemingly simple moment in time can also be loaded with symbolic meaning and expression. Giorgio Morandi found them important enough to be the main approach to his over 1300 paintings completed during his career. Outside of the image on canvas, to the Dutch masters who created economical images for the working class, the still life could be a medium for social change. 

After almost 2000 years in one form or another, the style persists. What meanings are there still to pack, and unpack? Where is the room for still life artworks in the scope of new and mixed media? How much further can we push Still Life, and how much further can it push us?


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