"I will astonish Paris with an apple" Cezanne was famously quoted as saying. He apparently did astonish Paris with his apples. But every time I see his work I wonder why? Was it because he told everyone he would and so everyone believed him? I don't know. I'm tired of hearing people get all choked up over these apples. They say Cezanne painted hundreds of apples. Well, I've painted hundreds of apples too, and I don't see in Cezanne's paintings what attracts me to keep painting apples. I have to wonder, what it is that everyone else seems to see that I don't.
In my opinion, Cezanne's apples are only about one thing - Cezanne. Look at the picture to the left. Honestly ask yourselves, does he really care about these apples or is it just brushwork? Are the apples treated differently? Personally I don't think so. I think all of these apples are treated the exact same way, and I don't get a sense that Cezanne loves the apples. I get a sense that Cezanne loves Cezanne.
A painting should never be solely about how well it was painted. So much realism is done with tracing and grids, it just sucks the life out of the work. When I paint apples, I am looking at the personalities of the apples. In the painting to the right, titled "All Sorts Of Apples" I deliberately picked different apples. It may be difficult to see, but the third apple from the right, the golden delicious, has a stripe on it. I have never seen an apple with a stripe on it and picked it up immediately like a piece of gold. My painting is about the apples.
Look at this painting to the left that everyone raves about how great it is. What is so great about it? Really? I'm asking you? The painting itself has no depth, it's flat. The perspective on the table isn't even close, the apples would roll right off of it. And the apples once again are all treated the same way. If Cezanne were to teach a class I think he could call it, "Painting Without Trying". I realize that when this was painted it was something that had really not been seen often so it's popularity comes from a sense of being different, but is that enough? Painting is the only field where the rules can go out the window and people still love it. Would you listen to a song where the musician tossed out all of the rules...nope, it would be unbearable to listen to, something like Primus I would guess, but even worse. Would you read a book where the writer tossed them out? Could you read that book? Try reading Naked Lunch and imagine it about ten times worse...How about eat at a restaurant where the cook tossed the rules out? "Hmm how about I put some raisins in the fried chicken batter and some chili powder in the rice pudding"..No huh? Fly in an airplane where the pilot said "OK, no rules today on this flight! You be scared out of your mind...One last one - would you live in a building if you knew that the architect tossed out the rules when he designed it? - "Support beams? Nah, who needs support beams...and all of the electrical outlets will be on the ceiling"...yeah, that would work. The basic rules to painting are: Learn to draw well, study values, composition, perspective, color, and learn how to mix the paint well enough so that it doesn't get muddy.
We have a tendency to like what we are told to like without every really thinking too hard about why. Sometimes I have to force myself to look at a situation with fresh eyes. Cezanne's apples do not make me cry, in fact they don't make me feel anything at all. It's just a painting where everything in it is treated the same way. If I had never seen this before and a student brought this into my class, I would tell them to pay more attention to the objects in the painting. Do a few sketches, study perspective, and try again. I don't see this as brilliant, I see it as lazy painting.
I am also aware that no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to look at this painting with fresh eyes. It would be like seeing the 1931 version of Frankenstein and trying to pretend that you haven't seen a thousand versions of it since. It's difficult to do that.
I'm sure that this post is going to create some thoughts like: I'm full of myself, I compared myself to Cezanne, who am I to argue with history, and of course some comment like I wish I had his money. My point is that I am not just going to say I like or love a painting because everyone else loves it, nor am I going to copy the style because I like it, or it is popular. There are many impressionistic paintings and painters that I do love, Degas, and Monet just to name two, but I have no plans to copy their styles any time soon either.