Wednesday Sep 08, 2010

Curator: Apparently So


Bathers by a River, 1909, 1913, and 1916

Henri Matisse
French, 1869-1954

Painter Henri Matisse considered this large painting to be among his most pivotal; note that he didn’t say one of his best.

The other day I watched an interview of two curators, one from The Art Institute of Chicago, and the other from MOMA. They were discussing the show they helped mount: Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917.

During the interview, the MOMA curator uttered “obvious” at least five times—once was too many.

As many of you who read this blog and my book, An Artist Empowered, know: obvious is on my verboten list of words, and for good reason. Obvious is empty calories; it means being apparent or self-evident (much better alternatives) to everyone.

So, when the curator stumbles again with: “It wasn’t immediately obvious,” we understand that this sentence is flawed and meaningless. When then did it become obvious? When did “everyone” get it?  Was there a vote? Remember, Jefferson penned: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. . .” He avoided the “obvious” trap. Self-evident implies mindfulness; obvious implies the mob rule of rote—repeating without comprehension.

There is nothing obvious about art—in making it or appreciating it; if art were obvious, then everyone would recognize your genius now, in the present moment. Removing obvious from your vocabulary strengthens both your character and art. You will be rewarded as your mind finds new inventions and trade routes in a sea of stagnate hope, change, and mindlessness. 


I grin and revel in being a champion of precise communication. I like the concept of “pivotal” rather than “best.” It focuses on the development of the artist in continually searching, continually honing craft.

Janet Riehl

Posted by Janet Riehl on 10/02 at 05:04 AM from St. Louis.

Hi Janet:

As usual, you “get” it. While the self-proclaimed best may fall, the great do not.

Posted by Eden on 10/02 at 10:43 AM.

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