Clown with Long Nose by Walt Kuhn

“When art is made new, we are made new with it. We have a sense of solidarity with our own time, and of psychic energies shared and redoubled, which is just about the most satisfying thing that life has to offer. “If that is possible,” we say to ourselves, “then everything is possible”; a new phase in the history of human awareness has been opened, just as it was opened up when people first read Dante, or first heard Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues, or first learned Hamlet and King Lear. ” (Russell 13) This new art spoken of, the coined “secret revolution” that was a part of the new phase opened up, was modern art.
This revolutionary form began shortly before 1914 (Russell 126) and is still present today. It was during this time period that artist Walt Kuhn gained great popularity and his work Clown With Long Nose was painted. It is important, before looking at the painting, to first understand the purpose and direction modern art usually has. “The entire gamut of modern art can be viewed from the vantage point of the artist’s attitude towards the object, an examination which should throw some light on the larger problem of how the modern artist chooses to interweave art and reality and, ultimately, of what constitutes reality for him (Johnson 11).
A major part of interpreting modern art lies within determining that reality. Viewers search for their own meaning in the painting since the simplicity of most modern works leaves much room for imagination. When the modernism phase of artwork began it was not exactly obvious to the public, but over time there “came about a general awareness that there was such thing as a modern sensibility, and that that sensibility had the key to modern life (Russell 126)”.

It was thought that if one was modern they had to easily be able to notice changes of life and be accommodating of “the unconscious and the irrational” side of humans (Russell 126). These aspects will later influence the works of Walt Kuhn in his various oil paintings of the time. Born in Brooklyn, New York, a cultural mecca for all things up and coming, in the year 1877, Walt Kuhn began making a living out his craft at a young age (“American Modernist”). He sold his first painting when he was only 15 to a small magazine, and quickly chose the career path of an artist.
Though he “did not emerge as a mature painter until he was fifty years old (Wall plaque)”, Kuhn ‘s cartoonist and set designer background helped him turn his “multi-faceted interests” into a lifestyle. “After he began cartooning professionally inn1899, Kuhn decided to acquire art training and traveled to Paris to study at the Academie Colarossi (Wall plaque). ” He was a big fan of modernism, and so, despite his traditional tendencies, the form randomly showed itself in his own work. He found is theme in the mid- twenties when he began to paint large canvases featuring single figures, usually circus performers or clowns. (Wall plaque). ” The figures may have represented a counterculture of the flamboyant, flapper time period of the twenties, or possibly, they could depict some part of Kuhn that maybe felt like an outcast or somewhat of an oddity in society. It is not really known but generally his pictures were “depicted with solemn demeanor (Wall plaque)” and not all that pleasant to look at.
Contradictory to Kuhn’s norm however, “Clown With Long Nose has an unusually animated expression, addressing the viewer with a look of clever self-satisfaction ad mischievous delight (Wall plaque)”. This work is a very good representation of the artist in that it stays true to his circus character subject, and like cartoons, the painting plays on the hope that people’s sense of humor will appreciate it as a new way to think about and look at art.
The reason it can be considered a modern work of art is the ability it gives its viewers to interpret. Unlike the preceding realist period, this work leaves the viewer room to wonder. Questions like “What is the clown smirking at? ” and “What is he staring out? ” can all be pondered while looking at the painting. It aesthetically pleasing enough and has just enough quirks to it to make this painting one to remember and a good example of what some twentieth century art looks like.
Through his education and appreciation for the art of which he lived in, Walt Kuhn was able to create not a masterpiece, but a story with his Clown With Long Nose painting. It may not be the most serious or useful peace of artwork from the time period, and it more than likely does not have some deep message or meaning hidden behind its brush strokes; however, the 1936 painting is fun to look at. A viewer is able to look at it for what it is and determine his or her own personal value for the work. It is a good addition to the modernism period and to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

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