Cecilia Beaux on “Intricacies and Interdependencies”

Delivering a lecture at Simmons College, the American landscape and portrait painter Cecilia Beaux acknowledged that she was faced with the same challenges as her male counterparts when it came to painting the face.  When clients and patrons commissioned her to do their portraits, Beaux said she was presented with the complex and myriad interactions between creator, subject and medium.  Fortunately for Ms. Beaux, she enjoyed a long and distinguished relationship with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts that was collaborative.  In her Simmons College lecture, Ms. Beaux stated:  “In this collaboration between personality, artist and material, there must be exercised infinite reconciliations shiftings, compromises—exchanges between the absolute—(that is, the weight and momentum of the personality) and the flexible power of line, modeling and color…But to go into the intricacies and interdependencies of the interchange between spirit and matter…all of this would be an endless story.”  What are your thoughts on Beaux’s notion of “intricacies and Interdependencies” regarding face painting (i.e., the interactions between creator, subject, and medium)?

Cecilia Beaux painting Cardinal Mercier, 1919

Cecilia Beaux, Portrait of Georges Clemenceau, 1919



About roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.
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19 Responses to Cecilia Beaux on “Intricacies and Interdependencies”

  1. eric burwell says:

    Seems artist of this time had some care of how the figure was handled. In modern age we tend to see it much different way. Seems to she she feels like it becomes a personal thing to capture people as their likeness not as how they are really seen. Also since these are going to be lasting and viewed elevating the mundane of some of these figures and show them in higher light might have been an issue. I feel she cares about soul or something of that nature to capture. Why people do this is beyond me, I know why I just fail to acknowledge. To end with the endless story is it because its one person portraying another how they think they see them. Maybe this is where a lot of translation gets lost.

  2. B. Mann says:

    If one is to take all intricacies that make up ones personality then the interpretations of those intricacies from an artist’s hand are endless. The lines and brushstrokes used to display characteristics may reflect that personality but all it takes is one, or the lack of one to lose it as well. As a creator, she understood that her hand and her medium can transform or emulate the subject. She also understood that there is a point in which you can only go so far. She knew that she must choose which intricacies to display because it would be a process by which she could never fully complete.

  3. Hwanhee Lee says:

    When it comes to art, there are infinite ways to interpret and imagine. There is a deeper, three-dimensional meaning behind art and Beaux understood this. There are no correct ways. Art can capture unlimited forms of reality.

  4. Kristy Asato says:

    I have heard about patrons rejecting portraits before, but I had never seen it firsthand until I saw it on an episode of “Cake Boss”. To expand the bakery’s catalog, the decorators are asked to create a new type of cake. One guy decided to do a portrait cake of the boss’ sister. She wanted him to make her look cuter, thinner and perkier. He made her look like the picture she gave him. She was not happy. It is interesting how different our perceptions of ourselves sometimes differ from how others see us. When taking on commissions, miscommunication or unrealistic expectations can make the experience frustrating.

    Her critique of his work is from 4:00-4:47 in this clip showing what happens when the interactions between creator, subject, and medium collide.

    • Kristen Carroll says:

      HAHAHAH that is hilarious! I love the cake boss and i totally feel for Juan. People want pictures and they need for them to be perfect and not realistic like the picture shows. they are not the artist so they dont understand the dilemma between the subject, creator, and medium.

  5. I think the way a person sees themselves and what an artist sees and paints differs tremendously. Everybody thinks and imagines themselves in their own way so once they see themselves through someone else’s eyes there could be clash of personalities. It is true that an artist can interpret a subject in infinite ways. That is why I agree with what Ms. Beaux said, “there must be exercised infinite reconciliations shiftings, compromises.”

  6. cuencaso says:

    The way the artists perceives the subject definitely changes the way that the painting is produced. The intricacies and interdependencies that Beaux speaks of describe regular human relationships of which there is no absolute truth and the discussions could go on for a very long time. You can discuss easily, how to make a painting attractive through the use of line, color, and modeling but how one person perceives another person and their experiences and knowledge is a vast bank of discussion.

  7. Jennifer Frazell says:

    Cecilia Beaux, along with many other portrait artists, had difficulty portraying their subjects. She is explaining how it is difficult to paint her subjects based on how she perceives them and how they perceive themselves. There should be a “collaboration between personality, artist and material.” She would have to decide what she would take from the personality, what she saw herself and what the client wanted portrayed. I believe portraitures challenged her because to paint all the “intricacies and interdependencies” would be a never-ending process.

  8. Peter Fajardo says:

    I agree with most of the previous posts. “…there must be exercised infinite reconciliations shiftings, compromises…” There are multiple ways to paint and record detail especially in terms of potraiture. Artists constantly battle which lines and details to include, delete, or dramatize. The component as a whole, which is the face, can express so much compared to its inanimate counterpart which is a painting. The compromise comes with which moment and expression to capitalize and capture.

  9. Cheuk Sham says:

    I agree with Beaux that face painting is not easy, especially with strangers. The interaction between the subject and artist is a “prerequisite” in a sense. It takes unusually long to understand one’s personality and see if they are comfortable with the one look that represent him or her in a portrait painting. And since some people with strong emotion their mood vary from day to day, it is more challenging to capture their personality with just one expression.

  10. racre says:

    To capture someomes personality not just their exsact facial features is a difficult task.May never be perfect. Each person had their own perspective of themself and when the artist doesnot capture it then they may reject it, not because it is dead on but because that is not how they want to be precived as.

  11. Heather Roberts says:

    I believe that Cecilia Beaux notion is that she wanted to create more than just the figure on her canvas. She wanted to connect all the matter with the spirit of the human she is painting. I have seen lots of paintings and drawings and I understand where she is coming from because there are artists who can capture the figure, but then there are artist who can capture the spirit and give the viewer more to think about when they see the painting. It then becomes more than a painting because people feel something from it.

  12. Jason Carrara says:

    I think the most important part of the quotation was the final mention of, “an endless story.” This not only relates to the breadth of an artists creativity, but the fact the art is something that is timeless and lives on even after the artist is deceased. Beaux discusses how the interaction between artist, subject, and medium offers infinite combinations and possible creative avenues. When an artist begin a piece, there are thousands and thousands of differing possibilities and results that can be the fruit of creative labor.

  13. Patricia Luisi says:

    I believe that Cecilia Beaux is purely saying that being intricate and painting every detail in there face isn’t as important as capturing the spirit of the person whom they are painting. She also says that if you are being too intricate you can continue to paint the same thing forever.

  14. Amber Eilers says:

    Cecilia Beaux lived in a time where portraiture was a major part of being an artist I think. Depicting faces is an endless battle. This is because each time it is outstandingly different. First there is realistically conveying the person, then the personality. Much can be said in the use of one definitive line. In this there is both “intricacies and interdependencies”. She said they are interchanging and always changing the mood of the painting from something to the next. Painting people is everchanging, because depending on the length of time it takes, the painter finds a new outlet to that person. It isn’t a still life.

  15. JennaLarkin says:

    I think that Cecilia Beaux’s statement is very interesting. When facing challenges during face painting (or any other painting for that matter) it is not so much that you are correcting the subject like William Gilpen’s quote said in an earlier post. But each element (subject, material, and artist) are all making compromises to get the best result. Each has to be flexible in order to capture the spirit of the subject.

  16. danielle nazareno says:

    As an artist, it is crucial to gain the likeliness of the individual you’re painting. It is not as easy to paint carelessly as every stroke and mark must have thought behind it. It is true; it is very easy for an individual to form a connection with what they are creating, and it is an endless story when discussing going into intricacies and interdependencies of the interchange between spirit and matter. In order to capture the spirit of an individual, one must take into account the every they make to translate the individual perfectly.

  17. Josh Beauchamp says:

    Cecilia understands that the way she views a subject and the way that they view themselves vastly differs and to attempt to portray everything is endless and a compromise must be made. Everything from the line strokes, color and composition can invoke a particular emotion. So there must be a compromise between the artist, the model and the medium. I agree that the people are very complex and attempting to show everything would be very frustrating. There is not one facial expression that can sum up the intricacies and thoughts of the human mind.

  18. Caleb Kelly says:

    Humans are complicated. The human spirit is hard to pin point. It is this complex nature that the artist can get lost in. Photographers have a similar challenge as does the painter as to selecting which facial features to highlight and showcase, and which to deemphasize.

    The painter has a greater challenge. The painter has the ability to see past physical traits and see the heart of the subject; the painter has the choice as to allow the nonphysical essence of the subject to influence the depiction of the physical. This intense series of choices makes the job of the painter exhaustingly difficult

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