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The Values of Big and Small – Robert Glenn

diamondThe Values of Big and Small
by Robert Glenn

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, stood near the harbour. It was constructed by Chares of Lindos over an eight-year period starting in 292 BC. Felled by an earthquake after only 56 years, as a pile of bronze shards and stone rubble it commanded just as much attention (a thumb, it was said, was larger than a man). Sold for scrap 800 years later, it took 900 camels to carry the remnants away.

A monument to Greek power and in honour of Helios, it had become a metaphor for fallen gods and the decay of great civilizations. With the competitive and often warlike nature of mankind, it would seem there is a natural tendency to make things big at the expense of making them sensitive. Bluster is the greater part of power, and a strong sense of power is implied by size.

This may be changing. Is it possible that a more understated and gentler world may be upon us? Recently, a few of us were looking closely at the newly reattributed Portrait of a Man, a smallish canvas now certainly thought to be from the hand of Diego Velasquez. Probably another self-portrait, it shows a remarkable feeling for character and a penetration of personality. "A small gem," said somebody. "That's quality," said another. If we were any closer our noses would be rubbing on it.

In another museum a giant wall-filling modernist canvas of Cy Twombly was being given a quick pass by visitors on their way to look at something else. I couldn't help wondering if we're witnessing a transition from big, blundering and blustering to a more sensitive and understated world. Is size now being understood for what it is? As the photorealist and sculptor Audrey Flack has noted, "If you can't paint, paint big." So you can get an idea what I'm talking about, we've put up a few illustrations at the top of the current clickback.

Not that size can't have quality. Look at the giant canvases of Velasquez. They're often an assemblage of smaller gems. Integrated as a significant whole, sensitive to colour, light and nuance, an understated, decentralized self-portrait may be placed here and there with care.

Best regards,


PS: "It's better to have a small diamond than a large piece of glass." (A new bride)


For more inspirational posts by Robert Glenn, visit painterspost.com.  Robert has given ARTAZINE permission to post his newsletter on this site. 

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1 Responses »

  1. Thanks for the reality check, Robert. I agree that "big" and "abstract" needs to be seen for what they often are - just a way for artists to fit the current mold - and be called good artists. Note that I said "often". There are exceptional artists who do big and/or abstract, but far too many big and abstract artists who are bad. What goes up, must come down: what was big only, must come down to the sensitive, just as we, ourselves, must!

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