#239 from R&D
Innovator Volume 5, Number 10
Gallery of Innovation: A
Closer Look at Results
King is director of Cultural Studies & Analysis (Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, phone 215-592-8544), identifying cultural values in
products and marketing for business and institutions.
Too many times we
celebrate the individual without respecting the activities that
went into the contribution. We
then miss out on a valuable and intriguing learning experience. Thinking about art as I toured the Philadelphia Museum of
Art's Cezanne Retrospective,
my thoughts were equally relevant to science and technology.
This was the
first major exhibit of Cezanne’s work since the mid-30’s.
Cezanne (1839-1906) is widely acknowledged as the artist
who set the stage for what eventually turned out to be modernism.
He originated a patchwork of color planes to create a more
solid, geometric vision of nature, focusing on the structure and
volume of his subjects rather than on light effects or single
work opened a new vista to the eyes of artists who would later
give us the new image gallery of the mind:
green cows, multifaced people, melting watches, giant
clothespins, and great wall-to-wall expanses of a single color.
Picasso called him "the father of us all."
But looking at
the exhibit’s more than 100 paintings and 70 watercolors and
drawings, it is difficult for the average viewer to appreciate
Cezanne's contribution. In
fact, this important show would seem to be quite underwhelming.
The muted brilliance of landscapes and still lifes are
inviting but unpresupposing.
Sketchy or thickly laid on, some are
"understudies" for later works.
Others are curiously unfinished or off the mark, rendered
in "raw" colors, or lighting undecided, with sources
from every angle. What
we witness here is the small-scale working out of problems of form
and color—an intimate, backstage exercise in trial and error,
which is the “research” of expression in the arts.
Unfortunately, the typical museum-goer doesn’t
notice—and isn’t especially interested in—this important
evolutionary stage in art history.
Audiences thus miss out on the creative act that is being
performed before our eyes.
What is most
dramatic about this exhibit is, ironically, its low-key
anything stands out. Cezanne's
favorite subjects were familiar, accessible, and low-budget:
his family, his friends, himself, and still-lifes with
food. Only at the close of his career, at the end of the century,
did he begin to paint monumental works that took on
three-dimensional sculptural qualities.
The canvases in
row after row (arranged in curator's favorite rank, by year)
didn't seem to live up to the block-buster publicity for this
show. It certainly
wasn't apparent just by looking how these works influenced
Picasso, Van Gogh, and Matisse.
This collection struggles to meet Cezanne's textbook
viewers find themselves on a perplexing journey, caught between
dutifully trying to be appreciative of high culture, while
harboring the slightly depressed thought of having missed some
elusive, but important, experience.
It is the experience of intellectual insight, the glimpse
of innovation about to happen.
This Cezanne show
is bigger than just a collection of a master's paintings; it's the
meshing of mind with matter.
It is a show of an artist's artist, setting out the
rudiments of a liberating new vision.
The glimmerings of his genius are here, but clear only to
those who are trained to discern them.
That is the genius of this show, but the point is quite
most subtle shifts of perception can lead to full-scale
And isn't it true
that many technical innovations arise through subtle shifts of
instance, just looking at a problem in a slightly different way,
or bringing in a traditional perspective from an
"outside" discipline, can lead to a breakthrough.
While the final technical innovation may attract attention,
the researcher's stepwise contributions are mostly lost in the
shuffle of background sketches. Rarely is there any "show" of the stages that led
to the breakthrough. Most
people just want to celebrate the “big achievement;” they
therefore ignore the value of a retrospective analysis of the
subtle, cumulative, mental shifts that led to the achievement
itself. Thus, rich
opportunities to better appreciate themes that lead to
breakthroughs are missed, and we all waste an important research
But even the
Cezanne show makes it difficult to see exactly how the artist
encouraged Picasso to achieve his bold, flaring statements. The exhibition would have been far more valuable if we could
see the connections made through Cezanne.
For example, what about linking the ties to previous
movements, the "before" vision of the world, to project
those connections through Cezanne's work to the "after"
vision? What did Cezanne's apples look like before, and after,
Cezanne's brush took to them?
How did Picasso, the high-profile artist of our century,
turn Cezanne’s view of a bather into Modern Art?
The astonishing conclusion from such an education is how
subtle and undramatic innovation can be.
Artists and Scientists
Great Artist is still something museums do well. A perfect monument is erected to style and genius in a sealed
aesthetic, a pure world constructed in the mind with images.
The spell cast by these images can enchant so completely
that we lose track of why we are being enchanted:
that the artist's vision is taken over and evolves into an
entirely new “lines of sight.
parallel with researchers--the Great Scientist (within a
department, an organization, or within the scope of the world) is
put on a pedestal, but with little acknowledgment of the trials
leading to the Great Discovery—or to the small discoveries by
others whose work helped set the foundation.
I think it is
clear that we would all better appreciate art and science if we
would concentrate less on the result and more on how
the result came about. This
awareness would also make us more creative researchers.