02 March 2009

Yin Yang Art Critics

Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory recently posted some flattering commentary about some "artwork" on Abraham Lincoln.

Kevin writes:

"I’m still trying to figure it out, but I love the way Kalman balances what appears to be a fairly sophisticated understanding of Lincoln’s life and legacy with the innocence of the illustrations and child-like penmanship. At one point Kalman imagines bringing Lincoln into “my world,” which includes meeting Frida Kahlo, viewing an exhibit of Fred Sandback’s sculptures, and a baked potato. What do you think?"
Well, since you asked, quite frankly, I'm speechless (almost). I suppose I don't possess enough intellectual sophistication to discuss Ole Abe and his opinion of the baked potato.(!?) Weird.

But what I do find interesting is Kevin's lack of criticism for the art which, in my humble opinion, is rather cartoonish. No disrespect meant to the artist - to each his own. Kalman's artwork is fitting for the New Yorker. I also find it interesting that Kevin fails to comment on the artist stating the following:

"I looked deep into his [Lincoln's] eyes and found that I was falling in love."

That is "fairly sophisticated"? Can you imagine the howls if a modern artist were to make that comment about Lee? I must be missing something here. Perhaps Kevin is just pulling our collective legs and baiting his detractors. It really is hard for me to believe that this art on Lincoln is to be taken seriously. Judge for yourselves. Of course, no modern I, I'm no doubt missing the more refined aspects of Kalman's work.

Now, compare Kevin's comments regarding that artwork (and the lack thereof from his readers, which I find very curious) to what we read regarding Mort Kunstler's very attractive piece depicting Robert E. Lee as he weighs his decision about resigning from the United States Army:

Click here. (Warning, one of the comments includes the F bomb.)

Now, it's quite obvious that the Lee post was intentionally mocking with lots of high fives and LOL's being passed all around throughout most of the comments that follow. I suppose some folks honestly found some of that stuff funny but, personally, I thought most of the comments were rather juvenile; appealing to the lowest common denominator. But, again, to each his own.

But no such low-brow humor on the Lincoln artwork. If one was so inclined, at which of the following could you poke the most fun:

Now, seriously, is there any contest? Which piece would you want gracing your study? Kunstler's piece most assuredly depicts a scene not too far from reality, while the Kalman piece looks more like an English judge than Lincoln's Mama.

One of my readers recently commented that he reads both my blog and Kevin's for the Yin - Yang effect. Though I'm no adherent of Chinese philosophy, I'm ok with that as long as I'm the Yang.

(<--- Not Lincoln's Mama)


Arthur B. Breedlove said...

The rank hypocrisy of these people is nothing short of astounding. It would also seem that their favorite modus operandi is petty bomb throwing.

They show up on sites they disagree with demanding answers to their questions. Yet when you pose them questions or show evidence refuting their claims, they vanish. It's all just an attempt to derail the discussion. The last thing they want is people having independent thoughts about the WBTS that challenge orthodoxy.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I tend to agree with you sir.

Kevin said...


You must be desperate for something to talk about. I appreciate the reference, but it seems to me that this reduces to an aesthetic difference and nothing more. There are plenty of prints of Lee that I find quite attractive and would love to have hanging in my office. In fact, I am looking at one of Lee at Antietam right now by Don Troian, which hangs on my office wall. One of my favorites is Edward Caledon Bruce's which was done during the war. In a recent post I praised the Lee monument in Richmond, which I think is breathtaking. Funny how you conveniently fail to mention that.

Yes, I don't like Kunstler's art, which I think is simplistic and often childish. I have a different view of Kalman's art and I have no doubt that I would have said something positive if she had taken on Lee as a subject. You seem to think that my commentary is meant as a criticism of the subject. Well, it isn't. So, what have we learned about our many differences in this exchange? We disagree about what constitutes good art and social commentary. What a surprise. lol

Have a good one, Richard.

Kevin at Civil War Memory

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Good morning Kevin. Thanks for your input. I think the derogatory, mocking commentary/posts regarding the Lee print was directed at the "Lost Cause" aspect of Kunstler's work. You've also commented before about certain bloggers having "crushes" on Stonewall Jackson. Don't you find the artist's comments about "falling in love" with Abraham Lincoln similar in sympathies(even more so) to what some critics accuse the Southern heritage crowd of?

That was my main point, along with the fact that Karman's comic book type of art is not in the same artistic league with Kunstler.

Jubilo said...

Dear Old Dominion,
Although I confess an affection for Henry A.Ogden prints, I think the finest portrait of Lee is by Thomas Welch. It graces the cover of The Museum of the Confederacy Museum Magazine Winter/Spring 2007. Lee appears noble,intelligent,military, and aristocratic.It warms the heart to discover the peace offering to you form Kevin the carpet-Bagger; could you two become the David and Jonathan of the bloggosphere?
David Corbett

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

David: Kevin and I are usually at polar opposites on issues, but we try to keep it civil. I read his blog often and his commentary is sometimes interesting. I'm glad he at least thinks my blog is worth visiting from time to time.

13thBama said...

Isnt Kevin the one who removes any posts that are counter to what he thinks?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hey 13B, I don't recall Kevin doing that. I do recall he removed a couple of his own posts, but I'm not aware of any comments he's removed for the reasons you state. Anything specific?

Kevin said...

I don't get it, Richard. You take the time to write up a thought-provoking post in response to one of mine and all your readers can do is take pop shots at me. Corbett calls me a "carpetbagger" which is truly bizarre to me and this other guy accuses me of deleting comments. Hey guys, how about offering some kind of feedback to the content of the post.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Don't take it too personal Kevin - it could be worse. Someone on your blog once called me a "holocaust denier."

I'm not sure where the deleting comments accusation comes from. Perhaps 13B has a specific example in mind.

Thanks for your input. As always, it has been interesting.

Larry Cebula said...

Richard: What bothers some of us about work like that of Kunstler is not just the Lost Cause imagery, but the paint-by-numbers aspect. Kunstler's Lee is very like every other hagiographic painting of Lee, with a bit of Thomas Kincaide thrown in for good measure.

When I was growing up there was a public TV show with some goofball painter guy who would say "today we are going to do a seascape by moonlight" and get out the rollers and pallet knives and whack out a seascape by moonlight in 60 minutes. There was a certain workman like talent, but his paintings looked exactly the discarded paintings at Goodwill. Kunstler has no originality.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


For the sake of this argument, I'll accept the "paint by numbers" criticism. So where's the criticism for the Kalman comic-book style whose subject was Lincoln? There was none, absolutely none. Moreover, the criticism directed toward Kunstler (and others) is ALWAYS related to Confederate subjects. Do you see a pattern here?

The Kalman work could have been done by my 8 year old granddaughter. I don't think she could match Kunstler - even if she did paint by numbers.

Thanks much for reading and thank you very much for taking the time to post your thoughts.


Arthur B. Breedlove said...

I think we might be missing the point of the Kunstler works. It would seem to me that he is trying to depict historical periods, and in that case is striving for REALISM. It's not much different from making a historical film with it's attention to detail.

I guess to some of the artsy types of the New York scene, might find it a little pedestrian, but that's probably not his (Kunstler's) core audience. In the case of "Lost Cause imagery", I'm not sure how we would define that. I guess to some it would be those who insist on depicting Lee, Jackson and other Confederates in any kind of favorable light. I think this has got a lot more to do with bias that some have against all things Confederate, than any serious art criticism.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yes, Kunstler is not "chic."

"In the case of "Lost Cause imagery", I'm not sure how we would define that. I guess to some it would be those who insist on depicting Lee, Jackson and other Confederates in any kind of favorable light. I think this has got a lot more to do with bias that some have against all things Confederate, than any serious art criticism."


Thanks for a great comment Arthur.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


I have to retract my defense of Kevin Levin. Until recently, I was not aware of Kevin removing comments which disagreed with his opinions (after he intitially posted them).

Ironically, he has just done exactly that with my own comments:


You'll need to go to the comments section to see his reasons for doing so.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

As a final comment, I would really suggest readers visit Kevin's post on Kunstler and the Lee print and compare those comments with the post on Kalman and the Lincoln comic strip. This is a very teachable moment.

You will note nothing but derision and mockery of the very well-done painting of Lee and nothing but praise for the kindergarten style of Kalman's Lincoln comic strip.

As you read the Kalman praises, can't you just imagine Thurston Howell's voice reading the pseudo-intellectual praise on such cartoonish work?

"Ah,yes, Lovy, isn't it JUST maaawwvelous the way the artist uses such simple, child-like techniques to educate the poor rubes. Pass the h'ordeurves daahhhling."

Larry Cebula said...

Oh please, the Kunstler painting is not "well done," it is a ponderous cliche. The Kalman work is no better, and in fact the studied child-like thing is a cliche of its own.

As to the different receptions of the paintings, you make a legitimate point, (if a bit wrapped up in martyrdom). My reaction to a painting of Lee or Lincoln is in part culturally constructed. I am from Connecticut, and we don't hold treason in the same regard as some.

(OK, now I am just pulling your chains. I will stop.)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Dr. Cebula. As I posted on Kevin's blog, it's a matter of taste, at least for some. I detest modern art of any kind and I consider Kalman's work to be in that category. Again, I'm no art critic, that's just my opinion.

I do understand the Connecticut mindset, though I don't know that I would go so far as to call Lincoln's actions treasonous.

Please continue to visit and post whenever the spirit moves you.


Arthur B. Breedlove said...

Mr. Cebula:

I suppose if we were to get down to brass tacks, all art is ultimately subjective. To each his own. However, facts are not...Here is a quote from you from your blog regarding a Wikipedia article on Lee:

"So the article on Lee is generally admiring and minimizes and excuses his life-long support of slavery in a way that makes this historian uncomfortable."

No need to state the obvious about this false statement. I will repeat what I stated earlier that, "I think this has got a lot more to do with bias that some have against all things Confederate, than any serious art criticism."


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


I think you're right. I would believe the denials of the anti-Southern bias had it not been so apparent in the different tones regarding the commentary on the 2 pieces of art, not to mention the fact that Mr. Levin said he, too, was "falling deeply in love with the man." Now there's objectivity for you.

Quite amazing, is it not?

Arthur B. Breedlove said...

Mr. Williams:

I think we are on the same page when it comes to this issue. It is a little annoying watching them ignore the 900 lb guerrilla in the room. However, I think it ultimately has the effect of turning off fair minded people.

I did read some of the commentary on that other blog and found most of the posts childish, and devoid of any real content. I got bored with it all real fast.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yes, rather juvenile. As I noted, a very teachable moment.