Art for Thought: The Nerdrum Effect

Odd Nerdrum gave a two-hour lecture on his philosophies on painting in the library of the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen building at American Artist's Weekend With the Masters Intensive: New York City this past June.

Odd Nerdrum gave a two-hour lecture on his philosophies on painting in the library
of the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen building at American Artist's
Weekend With the Masters Intensive: New York City this past June.

There are certain people in life who you simply cannot ignore. Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum is one of those people. Form an opinion about him one way or another you must, as an encounter with this self-proclaimed prophet of painting leaves you pondering his beliefs long after you've left his presence—and questioning everything art stands for.

After participating in American Artist's Weekend With the Masters New York City event this June, Nerdrum left the art community abuzz, with people all over the country discussing the philosophies and teaching he shared in his workshop and lecture. His presence was larger than life, his conversation and questioning direct and unapologetic, and his painting and sentiments shared with artists profound and thought-provoking.

I had the privilege of observing him paint; listening to him lecture; and having conversations with him, his wife Turid Spildo, the director of the Nerdrum Institute Björn Li, and select artists that he invited into his sphere throughout the event. To make even a cursory attempt at delving into the complexity of his content and the depth of his thoughts would take much more space than I have here; so suffice to say that in the short time I had to interact with Nerdrum, I found myself thinking about art history, aesthetics, philosophy, and what it means to be a painter on an entirely different level.

Self-Portrait of the Prophet of Painting (The Savior of Painting), 1997, oil. Courtesy The Nerdrum Institute, Disena, Norway.
Self-Portrait of the Prophet of Painting (The Savior
of Painting)
, 1997, oil. Courtesy The Nerdrum Institute,
Disena, Norway.

From his time with us I was able to glean several main tenets of Nerdrum's beliefs and practice. He has taken back the label "kitsch" and in doing so flipped its derogatory connotation on its head. He repeatedly refers to the term "refugee," explaining that that some of the best painters in history have not really belonged to their time or had a home. He believes the best art is born from real life experience, especially oppression, tragedy, and misfortune. He feels there is something lacking in the motivation behind much of what is being created today. And, finally, Nerdrum seemed impressed with the sense of community and camaraderie that American artists are cultivating with one another. 

I took these observations to heart, thought about them from many different angles, and allowed them to expand my own ways of interpreting what is happening in today's art world. What will you make of Odd Nerdrum? If you ever have the opportunity to watch this master paint in person or to hear him lecture, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Whether or not you agree with him, your perspective on painting will never be the same.

Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist.

 

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About Allison Malafronte

Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist magazines, and the project editor of  Plein Air Painting and Workshop With the Masters magazines. She is also the creative manager of the Weekend With the Masters Workshop & Conference (www.aamastersweekend.com) which was launched in 2009 and is now in its third year. She is author of the Art for Thought column in American Artist magazine (also on the Artist Daily site under The Artist's Life blog) and the 2008-2010 Plein Air blogs on Artist Daily. 

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