My friend Valmonte linked this fascinating article the other day:

It led me to a thought which I felt it was urgent to share with you.

First let’s summarize the article: astronomers have been recording incredibly bright flashes from one corner of the sky for the past 120 years. There’s a distant galaxy there with two gigantic black holes at its center. One of them has a mass 150 million times that of the sun. That’s the small one. It’s orbiting the big one, which has a mass 18 billion times that of the sun. …

I’d like to draw your attention to a painting by Richard Combes, Barn Door Lock. Combes describes his art overall as naturalist, but this particular painting can be appropriately described as photorealist. It demonstrates the paradox of photorealistic painting: if it were a photograph, we would hardly glance at it. It would be nicely composed, but not a remarkable photograph. And yet, because it is not a photograph, it dazzles us.

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Richard Combes, Barn Door Lock, oil on canvas, 36”x36”, 2018

Photorealistic painting most often dazzles through its weird combination of talent and obsessiveness. Most realist painters hate to hear the compliment, “That looks just like a photograph!” …

I was teaching a life drawing class recently, and I came up against one of the main issues that gives me qualms about teaching at all. My student was doing something which he thought was wrong, and he asked me about it. From a certain perspective, having to do with the mechanical representation of the optical facts, he was correct. What he was drawing was wrong. But the art teacher telling the student that some quirk is wrong rankles with me. So I told him what I really think.

I said something like — “I see what you mean, and I can show you how to do that ‘right.’ But I also want you to know that in art, there is no ‘wrong.’ Everything comes down to a choice. You are free to embrace what you are doing here, and to continue to do it. It is a difficult way to solve this problem, and tends to produce ugly and ineffective results. But an aesthetic can be built around anything. You can build an entire mode of drawing which provides a context within which this ‘wrong’ choice makes sense. You just have to make a conscious choice and then follow through.” …

In the middle ages, technologies were largely a matter of handcrafting by artisans, and they showed a high degree of variability. The industrial revolution generated a new demand on technological artifacts: standardization. If machines were going to proliferate, and machine-parts work together, then those parts were going to have to show compatibility. For example, when George Stephenson designed the first railroad line in England, he decided the width between rails should be 4 feet 8 ½ inches wide, based on the width of a coal wagon. This “Stephenson gauge,” by act of Parliament, became the standard gauge throughout England and, eventually, America. …

I had the good fortune to see the Michelangelo show at the Met. Amid all that spectacular rendition of muscle and sinew, flesh and bone, there was one drawing that was startlingly different. It was not heroic, not vigorously drawn, not superhuman in its strength. Rather, it was dim, gentle, and ethereal — it was romantic.

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Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi, c.1528–32, Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo was in the habit of giving drawings as gifts to selected favorites of his. This drawing, a portrait of a young member of a Florentine banking family, was a gift to the sitter. …


Daniel Maidman

Author and artist working in New York. My books “Daniel Maidman: Nudes” and “Theseus: Vincent Desiderio on Art” are available from Griffith Moon Publishing.

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