the essential things about style in art, from antonio salemme

i was talking to my student justin after class tonight (5/1/07), and showed him this statement (bottom) by the great painter/sculptor antonio salemme, and it is also posted online here:

 no single page of writing has ever had such a powerful and enduring impact on my ability to think critically about art, any art.

i first read this in 1984 when i was 21. i also met antonio once while he was alive; he was a contemporary of Picasso, and he was very famous for some time. He won the Prix de Rome in the 1930s. He did a life-size nude state of Paul Robeson that was on display in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia– imagine a nude African American statue in the most ritzy neighborhood of Philadelphia! I also saw his works myself in his studio and at the house of a friend, and i have never seen, before or since, any artist that i thought was even close to his genius. the wonder to me is that he isn’t as famous as a Van Gogh.

 i wrote about my experiences with his work as a painter in my first blog, and you can see that he inspired directly one poem of mine, if you go to:

then click the link “Regarding a poem inspired by the great painter Antonio Salemme”



by Antonio Salemme/Master Artist (1892-1995)

Style is most important, whether it be a book, a piece of music, a painting, or a piece of sculpture. But style is recognized only in retrospect. If one has style in mind while one is painting, one becomes stylistic. One produces a style after the Gothic, or Renaissance, or African. The style becomes superficial and becomes a manner, and we call that stylistic. My style comes out of my whole life. The style is the result of the state of mind of the artist, the subject matter one is handling, the state of one’s health, and the clarity of one’s mind: all that goes into the work. After it’s done, the style can be recognized. Whatever comes out is a spontaneous and mysterious thing. Style cannot be defined intellectually. It can be seen only in retrospect.

For example, the Gothic style came out of the condition of France and Germany in the 13th and 14th century. The 12th century was Romanesque: after the Romanesque came the Gothic. The Romanesque was a result of the Roman Empire, the Greek art and all of that. Then the Gothic came because the people began to express themselves more directly. It came out of The climate, the stones they had to work with, and their religious approach… their interpretation of Christianity. That whole thing produced what we call the Gothic style, and the word ‘gothic’ means ‘barbarian’, uncivilized’. It was original expression, getting away from the Greek and the Roman. But it all came about in retrospect. The people who built the Gothic cathedrals built them as well as they could under the condition and the state of mind they were in, and out came what we call the Gothic style.

So when someone does a painting, the same process takes place. Everything one is comes out in that painting. If one’s able to be spontaneous, then there is spontaneity in the style and there is vigor in the brush strokes. If one is not able to be spontaneous, because one is still immature and one is uncertain, and one’s technique is not complete, then style doesn’t come through, because one is still struggling with technique. If one has mastered the technique and lived, and is still vigorous, and paints with pleasure, then out comes what we call style. Style is never an intellectual and willful effort. It is like grace in the spiritual life. We try, we pray, we sit, we meditate. By the grace of God in a mysterious way we become enlightened. You don’t become enlightened by mere effort. You don’t achieve enlightenment. Enlightenment comes after great discipline and effort, but we don’t achieve. It is the same with style in Art.


One Response to “the essential things about style in art, from antonio salemme”

  1. Chris Miller Says:

    This is very similar to what Milton Horn (1906-1995) had to say about “style”.

    Horn was also a sculptor, working in NYC in the 1930’s.

    And there are many other similiarities as well:

    *interest in medieval and Asian art
    *use of religous content (though Horn’s content was all Jewish)
    *use of statements like “I was the first sculptor in art history to …..”
    *both were born in Europe — and both first learned English in Boston – so they even had a similar accent.

    They had to have known about each other.

    If only they were still alive – so they could talk about old times – and we could listen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: