Northwest Thoughts, Notes, Photos, Posts

Helen Frankenthaler vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell

with 11 comments

This post has four pictures, two of them are painted by Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract expressionist who achieved no small amount of attention. She passed away on December 27, 2011. And here are two self-explanatory examples of her art, which I’ll call “Blue” & “Yellow.” Pleasant, indeed, but worthy of greatness? The paintings above and below are the work of one of her unknown contempories, Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, aka Cove Loon, aka Mom. Frankenthaler achieved fame and attention, yet comes from a period that I simply do not get. She counts artists such as Jackson Pollock among her influences. This is problematic, Pollock is not great. Certainly, he is among the many of her contemporaries that have changed & influenced art, but I would argue that they have not advanced art. They’ve lowered the aesthetic bar, added elements that take away from pursuits of beauty and meaning and replaced them with simplicity. Often I think the art world has gone nuts, and rewarded people not on skill or talent or aesthetic but on random chance and marketing. Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Paul Doran, Arshile Gorky, Damien Hirst, Lee Krasner, Dale Malner, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Andy Warhol, et al somehow managed to replicate pop culture or fill a niche or fund bizarre projects as they spread globs of paint on canvas or as they manufactured junk into a visual display; their art is craft or promotion. Am I an unsophisticated lout who has no appreciation of art? That usually is a defense artistes wage against detractors, fair enough, but I have grown up amidst art, am familiar with the art historians, and think that for an artist to be great, one of the criteria is that they must have talent.

As far as Frankenthaler’s art, intuitively and with a further and deeper glance, I do not see why her paintings have value. Her art does not interest me, I pass it by and look for something else.

This brings me to my mother, and do not think I imply that she should be famous. Her talent is worthy of greatness, but her output, ambition, drive, complacency et al have hindered her overall body of work. She is exactly where she should be in the art world, someone who is appreciated by family and friends. Nevertheless, take a look at the art within this post. What would you rather have on your wall?

11 Responses

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    I enjoyed your article greatly on Art: it was extremely well thought out and interesting. I, too, have had a problem with the so-called great artists considered to be Modernists, absract expressionists, etc. like Jackson Pollock and even Picasso, some of his periods do not interest me. I went to a Picasso show at DeYoung and was truly disappointed in the featured work of his. I went down to the Museums gift shop and got some of his work on post cards not featured in the show, which I liked a lot better.

    I like your last line”What would you rather have on your wall ” ….. that says it all re your mother vs. Frankenthaler

    However, I do feel that your comment “her talent is worthy of greatness, but her output, ambition drive, complacency et al have hindered her overall body of work” is unfair..
    Why? She not only has a great body of work from the different times of her life, including Cooper Union, but some of her work, in my opinion, is unsurpasable and she could easily show in a museum like the DeYoung in San Francisco and be more than comparable to artists who are “known”.

    I shall be showing friends your article, it is very good.



    Nancy Wilson

    February 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm

  2. […] years, to the befuddling success of  Warhol, Pollock (Yankee Pot Roast captures my opinion), Frankenthaler, Still,  etc.  I classify Tracey Emin as a parallel […]

  3. […] successful artists to create until completion. In previous posts my mother has taken on Paul Doran, Helen Frankenthaler, and Clyfford Still, and her technique has handily defeated them. However, beating those three […]

  4. I would honestly rather have the Frankenthalers on my wall. They have a visual and thematic unity to them that the other paintings lack. No disrespect, of course.


    July 1, 2012 at 10:21 pm

  5. […] Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell vs. Helen Frankenthaler  Winner- Powell […]

  6. […] what else. I’m wont to taunt her admirers, as done previously regarding Paul Doran, Helen Frankenthaler, Tracey Emin, and  Clyfford Still. Their ilk produces scholck and lacks rigid attainment of […]

  7. Yeah, I’d go for Frankenthaler, Since BJWP has never shown for sale or sold a painting, there is no market value there. (smile) Seriously, Caleb, you show a certain naiveté and I might say pigheadedness when you do this. Dave did not choose one of Eva Hesse’s best pieces, but WOW think of how happy your kids would be to inherit it. I personally like your mother’s paintings a lot, but can not rank them with Rembrandt or Vermeer or Monet by any stretch of the imagination.

    Susan litsios

    July 19, 2013 at 12:03 am

    • Thanks, Susi, but did you read the last paragraph?

      As to you correlating worth to money? Hmm, your “naiveté” or “pigheaded” comment turns back to you, suggesting a material outlook lacking a complex defense for art. Of course I’d take a Hess or a Frankenthaler. My children also would benefit more from receiving the estate of a book like Fifty shades of Grey but in no ways would the fact win any argument concerning the greatness of pulp literature. You are implying the pleasure derived from Frankenthaler comes from the fact some collector paid six or seven figures for it, and this would surmount any intrinsic value of the painting as a work of art. That’s problematic.

      As for my mother, I don’t think she’s great, which is why I wrote: “This brings me to my mother, and do not think I imply that she should be famous. Her talent is worthy of greatness, but her output, ambition, drive, complacency et al have hindered her overall body of work. She is exactly where she should be in the art world, someone who is appreciated by family and friends. Nevertheless, take a look at the art within this post. What would you rather have on your wall?”

      My mother has talent but is lazy. I express more disappointment when I pit her against Bruegel the Elder. But outside of financial value I still cannot understand why anyone would bat for Frankenthaler. The question, then, is why artists like Frankenthaler and Hess became famous.

      Caleb Powell

      July 19, 2013 at 6:47 am

      • If this really interests you, I can tell you a little about Eva. Fame happened, I think, mostly because she was the first to use latex and rubber and all that stuff and because the so-called “Woman”s Art” movement was going strong. There is also a metaphysical energy in some of her stuff, which, if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

        In the 70’s she had everything going for fame – a new technique, a recent divorce, the ability to talk about her work and a certain beauty. There was also a large input of what I can only call “luck”.

        In fact what I have on my walls are some not-terribly-vauable Japanese prints and work from FRIENDS, – gifts, purchases, trades. A couple of 19th c. etchings whose etchers I admire a lot.

        It is only that I find it arrogant for you to keep comparing your mother’s work with others more famous. As it is, she has never confronted the wretched gallery system, or the real and unpitying art world – I don’t blame her but Caleb, it really appears that she has NO DRIVE AT ALL! Does what she does mean ANYTHING to her or is it just Dave trying to get her to paint something? Someone as smart and talented as Trice should have some incentive of her own. Frankly, I don’t understand her at all, although I like what she does, she is a dilettante. She makes nice watercolors when she feels like it, and you compare her to people who WORK at what they do. Personally, I find it depressing. At least Eva worked hard to get where she got.

        Susan litsios

        July 20, 2013 at 4:59 am

  8. P.S. I even have a small drawing of Trice’s on the wall.

    Susan litsios

    July 20, 2013 at 10:51 pm

  9. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Frankenthaler’s painting of flowers is very cheerful, uplifting and I definitely would enjoy having it on my wall. Why must a painting be perfect and worked to death to be considered worth buying or displaying? Andrew Wyeth, one of the most famous and accomplished American artists of contemporary art, is, of course, a truly good artist. However, his work is also very depressing. Until he produced the Helga series, one had to wonder if he was really human. Yet, his works of art are probably way out of reach of the average person.

    Actually, the reason I like ‘Trice’s paintings, although not all of them for various reasons, is that I enjoy them. That is good enough for me. She also has the ability to render buildings and other objects realistically, and she sees in people what they are, and has the ability to reproduce her impressions so the viewer can re-live,
    along with her, her impressions of the moment.

    I rest my case.

    Merle Segault

    July 28, 2013 at 8:02 pm

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