The Academy versus The Street, neo-Poussinistes versus neo-Caravaggisti

I am fortunate to live in a vibrant neighbor, the Arts District of Los Angeles.

7th & Mateo St., Los Angeles

This neighborhood  may  well be  the center of Los Angeles’ Renaissance, for like 15th-16th century Florence, my neighborhood is rich with public work. On a recent jog through town I  confronted  a familiar face plastered upon a derelict wall, St Therese , lifted directly from Bernini’s masterpiece, translated from divine marble to street-worthy stencil.

I wasn’t sure what to think, I was pleased that this anonymous artist found her beautiful face as inspiring as I have ; but I am concerned that there is a lack of reverence that great art is due. We seem to live in a time and place where all imagry is up for grabs, to be clipped and pasted to suit the creator’s taste and imagination. My experience with fellow students, is a dis-regard for the source, what matters is the aesthetic appeal. This saddens and worries me, what is the relevance of great art when it is as desirable and as ephemeral as an image from advertising.

Damn you Mr. Warhol

I am concerned our cultural experience will become increasingly less rich and less rewarding. This isn’t a new argument of course, Nicholas Poussin famously complained that “Caravaggio had come into the world to destroy painting”. Poussin’s opposition to Caravaggio’s “street” art is understandable considering Poussin’s belief that “…the first requirement, which is the basis for all others, is that the subject should be great, such as battles, heroic actions and divine matters…”; Caravaggio’s saints with dirty feet would certainly have conflicted with Poussin’s directive to “disregard anything that is vulgar…” (source:Alain Merot Nicolas Poussin).

Los Angeles is in enthralled with this image of spontaneous street expression, MOCA is enjoying popular attendance with its blockbuster exhibition Art in the Streets. This enthusiasm for uninhibited (illegal ?) expression can be found elsewhere as well, Pasadena Museum of California Art has jumped on the “street” bandwagon with its current exhibition Street Cred: Graffiti Art from Concrete to Canvas ; recently there was an event downtown in which  skateboarding youth were quite literally given the streets, Wild in the Streets.

As I sit and type this I am aware of how curmudgeonly conservative I appear. I am conservative, but I do not believe that restricts my appreciation of public work with visual merit; my concern is that the traditions I most admire will be lost in a cloud of aerosol .

That said lets look at pretty pictures.


2011 (?)


7th and Mateo, Los Angeles


Work by Nomadé is difficult to not admire and enjoy, I run by examples quite frequently, particularly around the corner from my home at 7th and Mateo. The work is pasted up and requires  regular maintenance, which often translate into another arresting (no pun intended) image.




7th & Mateo


This short clip is marvelous at demonstrating the creation,  as you will see, studio preparation is  an important part of the process.

More work by Nomadé can be found at this link.

Please follow the following prompts for more examples to be found in my neighborhood, work by JR, D*Face, Shepard Farey, etc., link and link, you will be in  for a visual treat.

But for all of that robust masculine expression created by Nomadé, I must of course confess an allegiance to that monarchist traitor, Jacques Louise David .

I prefer David’s beefcake to Nomadé’s.

Jacques-Louis David ( 1748-1825)

The Intervention of the Sabine Women



oil on canvas


Can I be blamed for preferring the above to this,


I have been “crushing “on David’s noble soldiers since I was a boy, his paintings have continued to give me great joy. A joy  and satisfaction that I doubt a paste-up will be able to sustain.

Although “street” art often requires extensive preparation, this attention to detail  pales to the fifteen years David devoted to his monumental Leonidas at Thermopylae. David strove for  the “ideal beauty” the Academy and subject demanded.

Poussin may well have chided David for defying his decree that an artist must “…make every effort to avoid getting lost in minute detail, so as not to detract from the dignity of the story”, for David made many sketches reworking the composition time and again. The painting has been criticized as over-worked, but again, I am merely infatuated with the virile splendor and painterly virtuosity.

Leonides at Thermopylae


oil on canvas


Leonidas at Thermopylae


I have been in love with the soldier on Leonide’s left for decades, the timelessness of love and art.

For a higher quality image of the painting follow this Encyclopedia Britannica link .

The following are some of the examples of David’s attention to detail, both source links offer very interesting insight into David’s process, well worth a peek.

Leonides at Thermopylae

ca. 1814

black chalk, squared in black chalk

Metropolitan Museum of Art

ca. 1813


I will end this Academic love fest with just two more images ,because I can never be satisfied with less.

I appreciate your indulgence.

Study after Michelangelo


black chalk


Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces


Musée royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique

I appreciate the opportunity to rant, until next time, take care.

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque


6 Responses to “The Academy versus The Street, neo-Poussinistes versus neo-Caravaggisti”

  1. Bronson Says:

    I found the Art in the Streets exhibit at MOCA to be somewhat disappointing.

    It felt completely out of context. It felt like a zoo. It felt like the equivalent of seeing a lion in the zoo – compared to seeing a lion on the Serengeti. The exhibit at MOCA felt sterile.

    There were some good pieces in my opinion, that took some time and dedication to put together. I left thinking that the entire exhibit was to bring people in without there being as much substance there as there could of been.

    I heard a phrase a few months ago “Kunst kommt von konnen” – “art from ability”. That is however, the depth of a more technical value compared to the content and context behind a piece.

    …and just for kicks, if you haven’t seen this:

    I’m at a little loss for words.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Hello Bronson,
      I haven’t seen the MOCA exhibit, I am ambivalent about encouraging this aesthetic. I have read that the new director, Jeffrey Deitch is determined to stabilize the beleaguered museum, this sort of populist spectacle seems to have been a good move in raising the museum’s visibility. I like your point that the work is out of context, that said, the exhibition does allow suburban patrons the opportunity to experience urban living without the unpleasantness, dog poop, homeless folk etc. If you ever wish to see the work in-situ give me a ring, i’ll treat you to coffee.
      Take care,
      BTW, I have not seen the Franco proposal, he is a smart fellow,I think he is only half teasing us.

  2. JL David is one of my absolute faves – he really did paint such handsome faces and bodies. love, love, LOVE!

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Thought you might like.
      I know this is terribly tardy, but I am free for summer, fabric district, just hanging, etc.

  3. Hmmm. A particularly thorny and difficult subject handled well. It throws up some interesting and sometimes uncomfortable issues for the contemporary art and decoration world.

    I personally do not believe in elitism in the fine or decorative arts. I think this has done untold damage to the accessability of art to the masses, who on the whole ignore or sneer at it because they feel excluded from the aesthetic.

    As to using past imagery of other artists and genres, I suppose it depends how creatively it is used. Mass producing artwork for Ikea is not as creative as an individual street art composition. However, all is subjective and all depends on the level of ingenuity, individualism and level of creativity, and this is as it should be.

    Of course the irony of the position we find ourselves in at the beginning of the twenty first century, is the blogging factor of the internet, where we are all constantly reformatting past creative work and repackaging it for a mass audience.

    Thanks for an fascinating article which I will be discussing with other people today. That, is the potential power of a blog.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Hello again,
      I appreciate your kind words.
      I hope I do not come off as elitist, but i do feel there is something inherently elitist , or at the very least rarefied about serious art. I mean this in that it is necessary to remove oneself from the banalities of daily life to create something truly lasting. I do not think that should exclude the masses, goodness knows this little white trash boy from New Jersey found/finds tremendous solace in great works of art . I believe in a democratic elitist approach, I do believe great work requires intellectual rigor, but that of course should not exclude anyone due to class.
      I too was aware of how blogging is so often a matter of cutting and pasting; my intention with this blog is primarily to make sense of my own thoughts and bring some order to my interests. I am not intending to create art, but there is a sense of aesthetics involved.
      As always I am so happy to chat with you, you have such a keen mind, I really value that.
      Until next time,

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