But not in my house!

There’s a trope of art criticism that runs something like this: this work of art is okay, but I wouldn’t want it in my living room.

I’m not sure where and when this critical chestnut was first uttered, but was a little surprised to find a version of it issuing from the mouth of Paul Cézanne. It had been placed there by his dealer and biographer Ambroise Vollard, who naturally had a strong professional interest in the question of matching art to appropriate spaces.

You know, Monsieur Vollard, the grandiose (I don’t say it in bad part) grows tiresome after a while. There are mountains like that; when you stand before them you shout, “Nom de Dieu. . . .” But for every day a simple little hill does well enough. Listen, Monsieur Vollard, if the Raft of the Medusa hung in my bedroom, it would make me sick.”

In terms of size and subject matter, Cézanne recognizes Gericault’s famous 23-foot painting to be better suited to the Salon or to the Louvre than to a domestic space.  Better a simple mound than a sublime mountain–let alone Gericault’s  pyramid of traumatized survivors, all heaped up and desperately straining to catch the attention of a passing speck on the horizon.

It’s the type of disturbing subject that might inspire nausea and trouble the imagination–hence, perhaps, Cézanne refuses to put it in his bedroom, rather than some other room. Here, in his bedroom, it would best inspire restless nights and bad dreams. Here romanticism would ruin romance.

raft of the medusa in a bedroom

Folks, you are free to disagree, and if this is the image you want for your bedroom then there’s a website that can help you with that.

The but-not-in-my-house trope is very familiar and still circulates today but, Cézanne aside, I can’t recall other good examples. And my hunch is that the room in question–if one is specified–is more usually a living room.

Where and when, I wonder, did this critical cliché first emerge–this tendency to claim and cut-down a work of art by placing it in one’s own living space, at least in imagination?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this, and to enlist your help coming up with further good examples. If you have any, please send them to me (bharvey@caad.msstate.edu) and I’ll add them to this post. Together let us celebrate the fact that there are works of art in the world that have absolutely no right being in our domestic spaces!

 

Comments:

Nov 10, 2016. This from Hels (https://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com.au/)

I suspect the comment “this work of art is okay, but I wouldn’t want it in my living room” is actually a polite way of saying “I don’t like the painting at all”. Romanticism was never romantic; it was always untamed, melodramatic and tragic.

Cezanne wasn’t always correct, but he was right to say that traumatised survivors, all heaped up, belonged in a public gallery with enormous walls.