“The Artist Project” Reveals What 127 Influential Artists See When They Look at Art: An Acclaimed Video Series from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Nan Goldin’s cel­e­brat­ed series The Bal­lad of Sex­u­al Depen­den­cy would like­ly have sent por­traitist Julia Mar­garet Cameron reel­ing for her smelling salts, but the cen­tu­ry that divides these two pho­tog­ra­phers’ active peri­ods is less of a bar­ri­er than one might assume.

As Goldin notes in the above episode of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art’s online series, The Artist Project, both made a habit of pho­tograph­ing peo­ple with whom they were inti­mate­ly acquaint­ed.  (Cameron’s sub­jects includ­ed Vir­ginia Woolf’s moth­er and Alice Lid­dell, the inspi­ra­tion for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Won­der­land.)

The trust between artist and sub­ject is evi­dent in both of their work.

And both were round­ly crit­i­cized for their lack of tech­ni­cal prowess, though that didn’t stop either of them from pur­su­ing their visions, in focus or not.

Oth­er par­tic­i­pants in the six sea­son series, in which artists dis­cuss their influ­ences, chose to zero in on a sin­gle work.

John Baldessari, who chafes at the “Con­cep­tu­al­ist” label, has been a fan of Social Realist/Abstract Expres­sion­ist Philip Gus­ton since high school, when he would tear images of ear­ly works from his par­ents’ Life mag­a­zines.

His admi­ra­tion for Gustin’s night­mar­ish Sta­tion­ary Fig­ure reveals a major dif­fer­ence in atti­tude from muse­um goers sneer­ing that their kids could have paint­ed such a work. Baldessari sees both the big picture—the idea of death as a sort of cos­mic joke—and the sophis­ti­cat­ed brush­work.

Car­toon­ist Roz Chast chose to focus on Ital­ian Renais­sance paint­ing in her episode, savor­ing those teem­ing can­vas­es’ cre­ators’ imper­fect com­mand of per­spec­tive and three dimen­sion­al­i­ty.

May­haps she is also a fan of the Ugly Renais­sance Babies Tum­blr?

The max­i­mal­ist approach helps her believe that what she’s look­ing at is “real,” even as she grants her­self the free­dom to inter­pret the nar­ra­tive in the man­ner she finds most amus­ing, play­ful­ly sug­gest­ing that a UFO is respon­si­ble for The Con­ver­sion of Saint Paul.

Oth­er par­tic­i­pants include Nina Katchadouri­an on Ear­ly Nether­lan­dish por­trai­tureNick Cave on Kuba cloths, John Cur­rin on Ludovi­co Car­rac­ci’s The Lamen­ta­tion, and Jeff Koons on Roman sculp­ture.

The series also spawned a book, The Artist Project: What Artists See When They Look At Art.

See a list of all artists and episodes in the Artist Project here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

60-Sec­ond Intro­duc­tions to 12 Ground­break­ing Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hop­per, Pol­lock, Rothko & More

An Online Guide to 350 Inter­na­tion­al Art Styles & Move­ments: An Invalu­able Resource for Stu­dents & Enthu­si­asts of Art His­to­ry

1.8 Mil­lion Free Works of Art from World-Class Muse­ums: A Meta List of Great Art Avail­able Online

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  She tack­les artist Jules Bastien-Lep­age in New York City this Thurs­day, when Necro­mancers  of the Pub­lic Domain reframes his biog­ra­phy as a vari­ety show, Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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