Monday, August 27, 2018

Beethoven's Jacket

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Re-worked an older Beethoven of mine. He needed some new clothes!

I was looking at children's books the other day and saw one where Beethoven was one of the characters. The artist nearly got his likeness n one of the drawings--but the others were a bit substandard, even given the possibility that this book was partially an attempt to humanize the composer, make him seem less intimidating.

There's one plate where "Beethoven" is standing on a podium in a concert hall, looking over his shoulder as if wondering where the restroom is, and you're kind of looking up at him. The composition and atmosphere and color work are wonderful, the musicians look great, the hall is beautiful...but Beethoven is fat and shiny, his cheeks ballooning and sagging at the same time, and his expression is utterly hapless. It's fine to use your uncle as a Beethoven reference, as long as he looks a little like Beethoven. And as the artist you can supply whatever's missing--cheekbones, in this case.

Yes, it is intimidating to draw composers, especially when you revere them. I felt that way doing Leonard Bernstein recently. I'm under no illusions that my Beethoven here is the definitive one. This is a caricature, after all. But he works for me. I never think of him as angry or crazy, or whatever the stereotypes are. Was he fat? I don't know, but that's something I might suggest more than emphasize in a drawing, because it's okay to idealize a larger-than-life personality like this. In one of his biographies I read a letter Beethoven sent to a little girl who asked his advice regarding her piano practice. I was completely won over by the tenderness of his response. Where do people get this idea he was a glowering grouch? So not the case.

If as an artist you're going to make Beethoven grotesque, fine—but it’s a cliche. I’ve seen some interesting odd caricatures of him, but the’re often uncharitable.  His art of course couldn’t be further from the grotesque. His resplendent works cover an incredible range, from his early Mozart-like piano concertos to his late quartets, which anticipated 20th-century music. He was a wide-ranging, rigorous and groundbreaking artist, not a chaotic one. The wild-eyed genius with unkempt hair whose mind became distorted with madness may or may not be an accurate image. It’s been done to death, but a bizarre or ugly artistic conception of Beethoven is still better than a bland one.

What bothered me most about the Beethoven character I saw in that children's book, is that he wasn't either ugly or idealized. He just looked like a life insurance salesman. Hey, nothing against life insurance salespeople. But you can't go mediocre with Beethoven. Make a choice, and make it a bold one!

Beethoven wasn't a Caspar Milquetoast, is what I'm getting at.

Leonard Bernstein

One of my Lennys. This was done recently on request. At the time I had no idea Bernstein's 100th was coming up. I figured it out in time to post the drawing to my other accounts on August 25th, but neglected to post it here goes. I usually use a lot of color, but I felt the drawing was strong enough on its own. I think the black and white makes it look more vintagey as well. I love men in suits!