MADDIE GILMORE | DATE 12/16/2016
"It's funny – not that funny."
Ramblings of a Wannabe Painter, written in 1903 by Paul Gauguin just months before his death, may seem like an absurd title to the contemporary reader. Even in his own time Gauguin was a painting superstar, garnering both the fame and mythology of the wandering artist who shuns civilization in favor of more "authentic" experiences. If Gauguin is a "wannabe painter," the reader asks herself, what am I?
"More than anything, visual art needs to be loved a great deal."
But the irony that is embedded within the title of this elegant little publication from David Zwirner Books – an irony that is knowingly knitted throughout Ramblings – is not unfamiliar. In an age in which reviews and art criticism are produced and circulated online faster than anyone can meaningfully process, Gauguin's manner of self-reference feels eerily predictive, both of the surplus of outlets for the critic's voice and, in consequence, the surplus of criticism itself. The art critic's penchant for locating genius in the past, Gauguin argues, makes it a challenge for a contemporary visual artist to be anything more than a "wannabe" in the eyes of institutions.
"When looking at an artist's work, only the future matters; the so-called well-educated critics are only educated in matters of the past."
Gauguin does some serious work in Ramblings, noting the contributions, good and bad, of both artists and critics of his time to the world of visual art. And it truly is a world. For Gauguin, art does not exist in a closed system, but rather responds to and situates itself within a myriad of influences, from the market to the "Literati" to a banquet put on for "Mr. Puvis" de Chavannes. But for all of the serious work, Gauguin delivers it with wit and a refreshing type of open association. Music, H. G. Wells, cannibalism – all is included in Gauguin's efforts to separate art from over-education and to herald its return to emotion.
"A man kills; the forensic pathologist says he wasn't drunk. He wasn't… but maybe his father was."
The first in a new ekphrasis reader series from David Zwirner, Ramblings of a Wannabe Painter perfectly inaugurates a conversation between visual arts and writing. Lively, smart, and yes, even fun, reading criticism about criticism has never been so good. The biggest takeaway from this essential essay? Know yourself. Whether artist or art-lover, it will help you to understand the great mystery that occurs between the individual mind and the canvas (or the page).
"I could be accused of having a wild imagination…"