Drawing, painting, sculpture?

Recently I heard another conversation that reminded me of the problem of identifying an artwork as  a “drawing”, a “painting”, or a “sculpture.” An example of this categorization challenge is this work in the “sculpture” collection of the Portland Art Museum:

1976 Eskimo Curlew mixed media on aluminium

Frank Stella (American, born 1936), Eskimo Curlew, 1976, litho crayon, etching, lacquer, ink, glass, acrylic paint, and oil stick on aluminum, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Vollum, © artist or other rights holder, 79.36

For PAM, with the need to decide on a category, it seems the expression of the third dimension is what moves this wall-bound work to “sculpture.” But, for me, this work, at this stage of Stella’s career, is so bound to working with painting ideas that it is essentially a “painting.” Later on Stella moves on to works that completely leave the wall and are first and foremost “sculpture.”

In his best known works Morris Louis expressed the fluidity of paint and celebrated color as in this work from his so called “veils.”

1958 Tet magna on canvas 241.3 x 388.6 cm

Morris Louis (American, 1912–1962), Tet , 1958 magna acrylic on canvas 241.3 x 388.6 cm

These works evolved into more direct expression of color in the “unfurleds.”


Morris Louis (American, 1912–1962), Alpha–Pi, 1960  Acrylic on canvas; 102 1/2 x 177 in., Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1967 (67.232), Metropolitan Museum of Art

I remember how surprising it was to me when in some film either Kenneth Noland or Clement Greenberg (I don’t remember which and maybe it was someone else) said that in the  “unfurleds” Louis “showed that he could draw.” It occurred to me then that “drawing’ could be found in places I hadn’t thought about before. In the Louis, some aspects of drawing become expressed in an important way—composition and line—and I suppose those were the aspects that showed that Louis “could draw.” However, Louis was “drawing” in what still is essentially a “painting,” not a  big colored drawing. But, I’m splitting art hairs.

Since then I’ve come to the idea that we do not have hard and fast guidelines for deciding whether something is a drawing, painting or sculpture, but that there are attributes that belong to these categories (I might be forgetting some attribute here and there):


  •       Composition (the fundamental arrangement of whatever we think the “parts” are)
  •       Line
  •       Shape
  •       Value (issues of light and dark)


  •       Color
  •       Surface quality
  •       Viscosity (so oozing glue in a collage could be a “painterly” aspect)
  •       Texture


  •       Third dimension
  •       Form (including holes)
  •       Volume
  •       Mass
  •       Materiality (e.g. metal vs. ceramic)
  •       Connections (that would make the addition of materials in a collage a “sculptural” aspect)

And in many contemporary works there are architectural issues:


  •       Shelter
  •       Space that can be occupied

So, when we categorize a work as a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture, we are deciding what set of attributes is most important.

A drawing could be made with paint. A painting can be made with ink.

As has been pointed out many times, David Smith made “drawings in space” in steel.


David Smith, Hudson River Landscape, 1951. Welded painted steel and stainless steel, 49 15/16 × 73 3/4 × 16 9/16 in. (126.8 × 187.3 × 42.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 54.14

But we think of them as sculptures because of the importance of the third dimension, form (including holes), volume, mass (we can tell it is heavy), materiality and connections. More important, for the purpose of categorization, than the beautiful lines.

But, Hudson River Landscape would look good in a drawing show.

Selling Bacon

Shoen Library at Marylhurst University has just received a copy of the Christie’s catalog for the auction where Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud sold for $142 million. (The Jeff Koons Balloon Dog (Orange) on the cover went for only $58.4 million. Just FYI, it is ten feet tall.)


This ten pound (estimate) catalog is pretty amazing. Here’s how the cover opens.


There’s charming Jeff Koons on the inside flap of the dust jacket.


And a Roy Lichtenstein (Seductive Girl, 1996, estimate $22-28 million) on the flyleaf. But wait! Here’s the book cover with Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spatziale, La fine di Dio, 1963 (est. $15-20 million). And inside the dust jacket, De Kooning, Untitled VIII, 1977 (est. 20-30 million), and Rothko, No. 11 (Untitled), 1957 (est. $25-35 million).


But wait!

The “cover” unfolds!



And there’s the big star!

You need a three page foldout for a painting like this. But wait! There’s another one inside!


And…after 10 pages of copy about the painting…one more fold out!


Now that’s how you promote a painting!

Baconomics—Art, baseball cards, diamonds, postage and toast


Francis Bacon’s painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142 million.

 So folks ask, “ Why does art go for such enormous sums?”

 It doesn’t, really. Let’s look at some other commodities.


1. Baseball card

The most expensive baseball card is the Honus Wagner card, produced by the American Tobacco Company for its T206 series of baseball cards between 1909 and 1911. Wagner didn’t like tobacco and told the company to stop making the card, so there aren’t very many around. One example has been sold for $2.8 million. It is 2 5/8” tall by 1 7/16” wide, an area of 3.94 square inches. So it cost about $700,00 per square inch.

The Bacon paintings are each about 4524 square inches in area, so at the baseball card rate, worth about $3.2 billion each. Of course there are three of them, so the total would be worth $9.5 billion.


2. Postage stamp

According to Wikipedia: “The world’s most expensive stamp was printed in Sweden in 1855 and was the result of a printing error. Instead of printing the three-skilling stamp on green stock, it was printed on yellow/orange stock paper.”

It sold for $2.3 million.

I don’t know how big that stamp actually is, but if it is the size of a common USA commemorative it would be about 1.5 square inches, so worth about $1.5 million per square inch.

At that value per square inch the Bacon would be worth $20.4 billion.


3. Diamond

The most expensive diamond (or any jewel) is a 59.6-carat flawless pink diamond called the “Pink Star,” auctioned for $83.2 million. That’s $199 million per ounce or $3,184,000,000 per pound.

Say the Bacon work overall weighs just 100 pounds, that’s $318.4 billion.


4. Toast

A woman who said her 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich bore the image of the Virgin Mary sold it for $28,000 on eBay.

I don’t know how big that grilled cheese actually is, but let’s say it’s a triangle with a 3” base and 5” tall, so 7.5 square inches, just $3,733 per square inch.

At that rate the Bacon is worth only $50,668,800.

Evidently toast is more reasonably priced than art.

Obama, art historians, machinists, hairdressers…

From the Washington Post yesterday:

WAUKESHA, Wis. — When President Obama extolled the virtues of training to work in manufacturing and the skilled trades here, he may have inadvertently offended a key part of his political base: art history majors.

During an event at a GE gas engine plant, the president emphasized that Americans would be better off if more of them could work in the manufacturing industry.

“Manufacturing jobs typically pay well,” he said. “We want to encourage more of them.”

And while some young people might not think of the skilled trades as a lucrative career, Obama added, they can probably earn more “than they might than [with] an art history degree.”

This is another example of understanding economics in only monetary terms, terms that seem to mean less as people have the ability to understand quality of life, and how that isn’t just about money.

In The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, Richard Florida recounts this anecdote:

 …I laid out the problem to my first-year public policy students (I was teaching at Carnegie Mellon at the time). I asked them: if you had just two career choices open to you, where would you work— in a machine shop, with high pay and a job for life, or in a hair salon, with less pay and where you were subject to the whims of the economy?

Virtually every student chose the hair salon, and mainly for the same reasons. Even though the pay was not as good, they saw the work is more stimulating and more flexible. You’re scheduled to meet your clients and are then left alone with them, instead of grinding away to meet quotas and schedules with your bosses looking over your shoulder. It’s clean. You get to work with interesting people and you’re always learning new things, the latest styles. You get to add your own touches and make creative decisions, because every customer is a new challenge, and you’re the one in charge. When you do good work, you see the results right away: people look good; they’re happy. If you’re really talented, you can open your own salon. Maybe you could even become a hairdresser to the rich and famous and get written up in celebrity magazines—like Christophe or Vidal Sassoon. Even when I pressed the issue of pay, most said the pay differential really didn’t matter. In almost every case, the content of the job and the nature of the work environment mattered much more than the compensation.

Of course that was the viewpoint of students who could afford a private college education.

On the other hand I worked a part-time minimum wage job throughout my 20s so I could have the non-monetary luxurious life of being an artist.

Louis Bunce interview 1977

There’s a nice little show of works by Louis Bunce at the Laura Russo Gallery right now. 

The Portland Art Museum had a Louis Bunce retrospective in 1979. Time to do another one for those under 50 who missed that exhibition and have no idea who he was.

I had the good fortune to talk to Louis on many occasions. Here’s an interview from Willamette Week, September, 1977:


Petrarch on Giotto — a young radical

Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-31-_-_Kiss_of_Judas In a video that I show in class every year, Bill Viola points out that Giotto, and other “old masters” were actually the “young Turks” of their time.

Giotto painted the Scrovegni Chapel (aka Arena Chapel) in Padua (detail above) when he was in his late 30s.

I just finished reading the Measure of Reality, Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600, by Alfred W. Crosby.

Book cover CROP blog

In the book, Crosby notes that Petrarch owned a painting by Giotto, and of it Petrarch said, “The ignorant do not understand the beauty of this panel but the masters of art are stunned by it.”

And Petrarch also stated, “[Giotto] brought back to light an art which had been buried beneath the blunders of those who, in their paintings, aimed to bring visual delight to the ignorant rather than intellectual satisfaction to the wise.”

Radical art of the 1300s, like radical art today.