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