Jacques Callot

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Woke up this morning thinking about the work of Jacques Callot and his images of war and hell… and   William Tecumseh Sherman’s concise dictum: “War is Hell.” And after committing troops to Syria the other day exactly how many military conflicts we’re engaged in (not to mention losing)? We’ve been in Afghanistan how many years now and haven’t so much as secured Kabul? Am I dreaming this? Perhaps by mid-century we’ll have the situation stabilized?

I was also thinking of how while artists like Callot in the 17th century and Goya in the 18th   witnessed their surroundings while the American Art World offers up empty images, masturbatory performance pieces, etc. to the point that Chomsky’s famous visitor from Mars surveying the mess of rubbish at art fairs would have no idea whatsoever the work was created in a country engaged in (how many, folks?)  global military interventions.

Of course, if you want to see images of war and destruction pick up any video game or hit your local cinema. Just don’t bother wandering around the Santa Fe art world, which is my local kitsch peddling art community. I don’t know if anyone else out there goes to art galleries that shows work that isn’t kitsch… It’s all I see in art magazines I pick up.

The Lynda Benglis type sculpture that are an epidemic looks like they’re inspired by an elephant’s bowel movements. Nothing if not critical, eh, Robert Hughes?

How mediocre and untalented does an artist have to be to be ruled excluded from the circle of American Art  Geniuses I wonder? I also wonder how many of these manure piles decorate the McMansions of the sophisticated art collectors of today.


Linda Benglis

So to witness just how far Spengler’s  West has declined (whoever Spengler was) we can travel back from gray elephant flop just a couple centuries to Jacques Callot. It’s also notable that Goya gets so much play for his Disasters of War and Callot is virtually unknown/unmentioned by comparison. Naturally if one is unmentioned one is invariably unknown. Perhaps if the brilliant Chapman brothers had clowned up some Callot etchings he’d have gotten a nod from the cognoscenti?

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Callot (1592-1635) made over 1400 etchings, each a small masterpiece (IMHO) ho ho. Clowns, beggars, gypsies (tramps and thieves), and mercenaries. Refreshingly modern…. So let’s date the beginning of Modernism with Callot and not Goya, although Josipovici (Gabriel Josipovici Whatever Happened to Modernism?) prefers starting with Dürer. Why not Giotto as the first Modernist? He had all that flattened space after all, Greenberg’s idea of art. Or why not Egypt just after the birth of Christ?

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Egyptian Mummy Portrait


A Gabrielle Bakker portrait described from where I picked it up as some of her “startling new work”…. Yes, startling if you’ve never looked at an art history book. Otherwise, a tepid rehash of French Beaux Arts style from the 19th century with some pseudo-primitivism to Modernize it up for sophisticated art buyers.

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Callot’s work pulsates with observed life, whereas Post Modernism is mummified imitations of mummy paintings. PostModernism is Death in Life for a Zombified culture. If you can’t feel what is in these Callot etchings your imagination has been replaced by your computer. Shut it off. Don’t even continue viewing the rest of these Callots. There’s no point in it.

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EPSON scanner image

Callot worked for the Medici court, like so many other great masters of the time.  Rembrandt was a big collector of Callot’s work and clearly inspired by it. Personally, I’d take that Callot above over any of Rembrandt’s etchings but there’s no accounting for taste. And what do I know after all? Rembrandt is the giant of the centuries and Callot an obscure nobody. Rembrandt is the master of light… Callot has mastered dark. Perhaps I favor Callot because the light that informed Rembrandt, that of the Enlightenment, is now extinguished? For whatever reason, I’m fascinated by the space in Callot’s hell, as I’ve always been by that of Bruegel and Bosch… and much as I love Rembrandt, his space is too obvious and logical and doesn’t correspond to my experience of space whatsoever, the space between my ears.

I like to think of Rembrandt and Spinoza coexistent in the same place. Spinoza, one of the architects of Enlightenment thought, was considered a heretic by his religious contemporaries. He was expelled from the Jewish community and there was even an assassination attempt on his life. Show where rational thought gets you surrounded by a community of true believers. We all know of Galileo’s famous trial by the Inquisition. The Sun at the center of the Solar System!!! What madness is this!!!

So science had it’s day and it manifestly failed…. unless there are still some people out there expecting better living through chemistry on the horizon? PBS viewers, NPR listeners? Oprah gives commencement lectures to Harvard Grads… Rule the world through the power of Positive Thinking! Pope Oprah and Deepak Chopra… has a nice ring. Faith-based reality, that’s where it’s at.

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” –Albrecht Einstein

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About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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10 Responses to Jacques Callot

  1. We didn’t actually commit troops to Syria, just a few knives and daggers, and I do not think we will. Great blog. Keep it going.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Hi, Russell. By my definition, 300 Marines on the Syrian border in Northern Jordan to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels is committing troops. So we really just have a semantic difference here, I think?

    Just as the CIA training the Mujahadeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan created a monster leading to our current catastrophic condition, our engagement in Syria is going to have blowback we can now hardly imagine.

    I lived a block away from an Al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn. I worked a few blocks from the first terrorist attack on the WTC… and I was packing our house when they took down the Towers….

    I recommend vacating the premises (by which I mean USA! USA!). I ALSO RECOMMEND THIS TO EMPLOYEES OF BIG BROTHER READING MY BLOG! We’re descending into madness.



    Perhaps we can all reconvene in Costa Rica? Not bloody likely! Oh well… on with the show.

    Remember, as WSB wrote: “A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on.”

  3. Paul Rumsey says:

    I guess that Goya gets much more attention than Callot because Goya also paints, and painting is seen as ‘real art’ but prints and drawing are seen as mere ‘illustration’.
    There are vast amounts of amazing images that are hardly known because they are prints, and thus hidden in books and classed as illustrations.
    I just found this archive of Popular Imagery…..(I was looking for Romeyn de Hooghe at the time)


    there is also this website which has a huge collection of links and bibliography….


    When I was young I used to look at ‘real art’, and think about brushwork, aesthetics and artistic formal stuff, but now I mostly look at stuff that is outside the ‘real art’ category: political prints, popular imagery, emblems, scientific illustration, alchemical illustration, etc.
    And I think about the subject, the meaning, and try and convey those ideas as simply as possible, I let the ‘art’ look after itself….
    “If my thought dreams could be seen….”

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Again, Paul, very much obliged for those links. I couldn’t agree with you more. It sounds like we’ve followed a similar evolutionary path. Almost all my inspiration for the last decade has been from the sources you mention. Part of that is due to the fact that I live in New Mexico and the painting here is beyond horrible. Unimaginably bad painting is now the standard. Americans put forward the notion and spread it through their Art Schools that one didn’t have to learn to draw to be an artist. The results are what we see today. Drawing is the only conduit to our “thought dreams” and without that avenue to the inner world all an artist can produce is sterile kitsch that ends up being hyped by sales talk that would have made P. T. Barnum cringe.

    The New York Review of Books only allows a bit of access to the piece by Sanford Schwartz (below) in their latest issue. To get a load of the kind of tripe churned out by “highbrow” art writers you should try to locate a hard copy. It’s a real gem. Fischl has only vaguest idea of color, drawing, composition, paint quality, light or anything else. Look at the mess he’s made of the central female’s figure’s lower back for a notion of just how lamentable this character is. Is Schwartz a complete moron? Does he really not see just how lame Fischl is? Does the fact that Fischl is worth so much money make Scwhartz believe he must be a great artist? Schwartz is comparing him favorably to Lucian Freud and Edward Hopper, for fuck’s sake.

    “[The exhibition] provided a needed new glimpse of a decade or so in our art that, except for a few figures, has not been given its due, certainly by museums.” What a load of complete horseshit. This kind of completely flatulent sales talk backed by the financial bubble is all that stands between these 80s superstars and the local landfill. And I find it seriously hard to believe that Schwartz isn’t perfectly aware he’s writing a load of rubbish. But on the other hand, having been a typesetter for a decade at the New York Review that allowed me to gain an awareness of just how completely visually blind left-brain people are, it’s entirely possible he doesn’t.


    For me, the qualities that matter in a work of art are its psychological/emotional honesty and deep imaginative capacity. The rest is secondary. The 80s art stars don’t have a thimbleful of either. These Fischl paintings don’t even rise to the level of what one finds on the covers of pulp fiction from the 50s, much less belong next to a Hopper or Lucian Freud in an art museum.

    (image cropped on right due to techno-ineptitude… full image here:)

  5. trueoutsider says:

    ps…. just glancing through the Macarenses site I see the link to Zdzislaw Beksinski, who I was just putting together a post on yesterday…. I’ve now got probably 40 posts though that are all sketchily done so it’s impossible to tell if/when I can put them up. Many of them not much more than incoherent raving, my specialty and how I generally begin writing. Otherwise I wouldn’t have the energy to do any of this./// Lord, just looking at that woman’s lower back above I’m going to have nightmares. How did it come to this?… This kind of shabby work would have been laughed out of any undergraduate painting class when I was in art school because back then there was at least basic competence in a few of the faculty. But now total incompetence is paraded around as the work of genius. These are brilliant conceptual ideas? Fischl shows us Hamptonites are a gang of dim-witted morons? Who knew?

    And artists don’t say a thing about it? Do they think that to have access to the gallery world they have to sycophantically drool at whatever is hanging in the major galleries or do they actually like this stuff? At this point, I don’t what know which is worse, selling yourself out before you even get started or being too dumb to to realize you’re looking at mediocre junk.

    Largely rhetorical questions, but any of you young bucks with stars in your eyes for the upper echelons might pipe in here.

  6. Paul Rumsey says:

    There is so much good stuff to look at (like that archive of popular imagery) why bother even thinking of about yesterdays crap like Fischl, in the end you just have to let it all go and ignore it… because nothing is gained from looking at crap and confirming that it is indeed crap.
    I think it is best to just ignore the ‘art world’ (except to laugh) because it is just crawling up it’s own arse… for example in 1993 Martin Creed made ‘Work Number 79’, which was a small lump of Blu Tack stuck to the wall, this year I saw an exhibition by Richard Hughes, with loads of bits of Blu tack stuck to the wall, but wait, -this was very clever,- it was not really Blu Tack, it was Blu Tack cast in bronze and painted to look exactly like Blu Tack. I find this smug self referential shite very annoying, so now I am annoyed and you probably are also, and nothing has been gained.
    The test for crap art is that if it is more interesting looking out of the window of the gallery than looking at the contents of the gallery, get out of the gallery.

    So in the end I just do what I like, for myself, and it is too much to expect that many people will like it, because they mostly shuffle past with their eyes half closed and their mouths half open.
    The one big advance in art is internet broadband, because it means that artists like us can have their work seen even if they are outside the art world and ignored by critics and magazines, etc.
    Back in the 90s the only people to see my work lived near the gallery, and to show work to people further away I had to post bundles of expensive photos. But now that alternative work can be seen worldwide, culture will change, – and the computer screen has a leveling effect, because your six inch drawing is the same size on screen as a three meter Fischl or a 100 meter sculpture.
    The 20th century obsession with artistic form and progress leading through all the various fashions, art for arts sake, leads to a dead end. But if artists stopped thinking about ‘art’ and looked at the world the possibilities of art are endless because the world is always changing. That is why pre 20th century art is still valid because it was about the world, Goya and Bruegel and Callot say more about the world as it is today than most recent art.
    So much interesting 20th century art has been ignored, the last time I looked, our local university art library had no books on Kubin or A. Paul Weber… probably because they are drawings and prints, and thus not ‘art’ just illustration.
    I saw the Edward Burra retrospective at the Tate gallery exactly 40 years ago…. have you got that recent book on him from Pallant House Gallery?

  7. trueoutsider says:

    Paul, I’ve got the Pallant House book and I imagine the majority of everything that’s been published on Burra, including many of the catalogs from Lefevre Gallery. I saw the Burra Retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in 1985 on a visit to Europe and it had a determinative impact on the course of my work. It was the point at which I lost interest in contemporary art. I hadn’t been interested in it that much in the first place, but the trip to Europe finalized my feelings.

    I find the socio-political-economic aspects of contemporary art interesting in and of themselves. Generally speaking, I’m looking at the Fischl more from that perspective than an aesthetic one.

    Fischl is working in the mode of the Western tradition, unlike Creed/Hughes who are Duchamp derivatives, and it genuinely flabbergasts me that a critic like Scwhartz simply can’t see how bad that painting is by criteria that have long been in existence for figurative painting in Western Art. And so, for me, this indicates the case that everything is now in Duchampian mode, where it matters not a bit what a reviewer is looking at all that matters is how the viewer interprets the “idea”. Deconstruction has so eroded the entire art world that, as many of them keep uttering, art is dead–although taking no responsibility whatsoever for their role in killing it off.

    I don’t think of Robert Hughes as having much of an eye, but even he can see there’s something wrong with Fischl’s work.

    He writes (and how he’s considered a great art writer after reading that first sentence is beyond me):

    “Clearly, Fischl wants an overall look that is not too finished, that is consistently “imperfect,” with an air of unconcern for its own pictorial mechanism the creamy, dashed off realism of a Manet oil sketch. But this requires a mastery over the detail and frequency of brushstrokes, and a certainty about the drawing embedded in them, which he cannot manage. He will slide from a passage of assured colloquialism to one of awkward smearing and prodding, and not fix – maybe not see – the difference. Because Cal Arts training, such as it was, starved his talent of skills, which ought to have become second nature, he must make everything up as he goes along like someone who talks by consciously forming each syllable in turn.”

    I would think that ANYBODY can see these qualities in Fischl’s work who has any sort of basic grounding in the visual arts. That’s why my question remains, are these people writing art criticism actually so completely stupid about what they’re looking at or are they deliberately manufacturing drivel for the people who have invested money in it? Or do they think, as someone commented on a previous post of mine that since Fischl can call call himself a “conceptualist” and thus bypass any requirements whatsoever in making a figurative painting? Is Maira Kalman now the new Henri Matisse?

  8. trueoutsider says:

    What I’m really trying to get at, and I know I’m expressing it clumsily because it’s not entirely formulated, is that if one is to look around for something in today’s world that invokes the qualities that one sees in Callot you’d be looking at someone in the comics world like Phillipe Druillet or in the animation world. The fine art world, to my knowledge, is almost entirely bereft of artists who can draw with the kind of imagination and complexity that one can find in areas of the popular arts.

    So that art language, at this point in time, has managed to stand art on its head. In other words, to possess exemplary drawing skill and to deploy complex imagery indicates one is a vulgar low artist. But to have no artistic skill whatsoever indicates you’re a deeply ironic conceptual artist (See David Shrigley, who had a retrospective recently at the Hayward Gallery, where I saw Burra in 1985, and as another indication of the art world’s decline into the abyss.)

  9. Paul Rumsey says:

    I don’t see David Shrigley as a conceptual artist, his work is very similar to the cartoonist Michael Leunig, very similar sense of humour, so I don’t know why he is put in a gallery….. small books seem the perfect format.
    Not every thing is in decline, the exhibition on at the Hayward at the moment “The Alternative Guide to the Universe” looks very good, I have just ordered the catalogue.
    There are still artists that can draw, in France for example you have Francois Houtin, Erik Desmazieres (who has done versions of Callot’s ‘Hell’), Gerard Trignac and many others.

    The tax payer funded galleries in the UK are promoting conceptual work to the exclusion of all else, our local gallery which cost nearly £30,000,000, has shows of the usual piles of fruit, stones, old clothes, bits of scattered junk, or perfect replicas of scattered junk, at the moment is showing the paintings of Sophie von Hellermann, who I suppose must be a ‘conceptual painter’, because the paintings were created mostly for the gallery, ‘site specific’, and will be painted over when the show ends. She has managed to eliminate all trace of those out-dated traditional skills from her work.
    I know a woman who has the traditional skills of sculpting, she is employed to make the sculptures for some of the big name artists who have no skills or talents. When she showed the finished work to one of them he said “That is the best thing I have ever done”.
    I have just finished reading that two volume autobiography by Brian Sewell, he writes interesting things about the different levels of criminality in the art world. How old paintings are changed to make them easier to sell. How drawings by an British artist had the signature removed so that they could be sold as Delacroix. A painting by Polidoro, is said to be a worthless copy by a famous art historian, who then buys the picture himself for £50, and it is later sold for £500,000. All the experts who are paid to authenticate fakes. He gathers evidence on a huge industry of fakes, gives this to the police, but they do nothing. Why rock the boat when everyone is making money, the fakers, the galleries, the buyers when they resell, everyone is happy because there is more art product in the world, perhaps the police are made happy to ignore it….
    With the Tom Keating, Samuel Palmer fakes they were so bad that either the gallery owners were visually illiterate and did not know their job, or else they could clearly see they were fakes, but just wanted the money. As you quoted a few posts back “It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it”
    I am interested in fakers, Hebborn, Myatt, Shaun Greenhalgh, and recently Beltracchi and the Max Ernst fakes, pictures which Werner Spies thought were great discoveries, and Dorothea Tanning said was the most beautiful picture her husband had painted…..
    Fakes are interesting… is this worth millions or worthless trash….
    And imagine faking the work of those many modern artists who employ other people to make their work anyway….

  10. trueoutsider says:


    As far as fakery goes I wonder if you’re familiar with Knoedler’s dealings in fraudulent art works, resulting in the closing of a gallery that had been in existence for 165 years.


    Recently I read an interview with Dore Ashton, who speaks about how Robert Motherwell’s estate is being defrauded.


    Mentioning Motherwell, he once said, “The end of the 20th century will be a showdown between Picasso and Duchamp. Well, Duchamp won hands down. And his victory was due to the fact that following Picasso’s path takes enormous skill, dedication, and hard labor. Following Duchamp’s path one can sit on their ass, network, write applications for arts grants, and bullshit until the cows come home. The art can be thrown together over a drunken weekend from the looks of what I see in galleries.

    That’s the sense in which I call Shrigley and almost everyone else a conceptual artist. They certainly don’t evolve from Picasso. The point I’m trying to make is that prior to Duchamp what Shrigley does would never have been considered art that would have a retrospective at the Hayward Gallery. I use the term “conceptual” loosely and satirically.

    I’m aware that there are still artists who can draw with great ability and imagination. The point I’m making is that to be able to do became entirely irrelevant if one was to be considered a major artist in the 1980s in NYC. And the complete disintegration of artistic standards has continued apace since then.

    As an example, here are the artists Schwartz lists from the exhibition Fischl was in that starts his article: David Salle, Carroll Dunham, Barbara Kruger, Julian Schnabel, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and Jeff Koons. Other major 80s artists would be Keith Haring, Susan Rothenberg, Jean Michel Basquiat. If you did work like Desmazieres, your work wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being considered major or significant art. I lived in NYC through the mid-80s and 90s and I never encountered work of the quality of Desmazieres at a single major gallery in NYC.

    Here’s someone that D’s work brings to mind, and an old blogpost I did on him. A friend of mine edited Batman at the time and I encountered his work hanging on the floor that he worked at DC Comics. That’s why I said that one could see work relating to Callot in Comics or Animation/Movies (more easily than one could find it in the fine art world).


    What I’m getting at is that high art has been defined as specifically OPPOSED to these kind of “traditional” drawing skills and complex imagination. Thus Haring/Basquiat artistic geniuses; Furst/Desmazieres artistic throwbacks unaware that Modernism has ruled them extinct. And this is a situation that has evolved out of the denunciation of “academic” skills in the late 19th century by artists who defined Modernist concerns. … although some Modernists, such as Dalí made use of them. This was actually argument that Clement Greenberg used to demolish the Surrealists as passé because of their use of hackneyed academic techniques.

    I wish this wasn’t the case, but I don’t see any way of getting around the fact that it is. I’m not trying to argue with you. I’m on your side and I greatly appreciate your pointing me to work that I find inspiring and uplifting. And not just to me, but to readers of the blog. I even agree that I shouldn’t be spending so much energy and time focussing on the trivial shite pouring out of the art world sphincter these days. But I feel an obligation to point this out to any younger artists who might be taking what is in galleries seriously and who I might benefit, even if it is only a handful of them who will listen.

    It was of enormous importance to me when I was younger that I encountered a few older artists who were dissenters from the mainstream muckfest. So if nothing else, I consider it payback to those few artists to carry on their opposition to the extent I’m able, regardless of how ridiculous and out of it I might appear to current beliefs and fashions.

    A couple films that just sprung to mind on forgery: Orson Welles’ F is for Fake and this:

    PS… I’m off for a couple days to Denver so anything you or anyone else writes won’t post until I return. Best,

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