Soutine once shocked his neighbours by hanging a side of beef in his garret so he could paint it. The carcass collected fleas, putrified , and this death on exhibition alarmed the tenants to bring the gendarmes to put an end to the stench and proceedings. His loft was an abbatoir of art where the dead animals suspended from the rafters were in order to directly experience the visceral color of putrefying flesh.A discussion ensued intitiated by Soutine; a lecture on the relative importance of art over hygiene, and the gendarmes, who in turn showed Soutine how to inject formaldehyde and preservatives into the animals. Urban legend? Soutine painted ten works in this series, which have since became his most iconic. His carcass paintings were inspired by Rembrandt’s still life of the same subject, which he discovered while studying the Old Masters in the Louvre.
‘‘Soutine painted hallucinatory landscapes reminiscent of Van Gogh (whom he said he loathed) and dark brooding portraits, but his slaughterhouse still-lifes have proved to be his most potent, personal, and enduring works. In the eviscerated fowl, flayed rabbits, gutted fish, and hanging cows, the depressive Soutine found his perfect subjects, which both gave form to his darkest anxieties and alluded to his cherished forerunners, the paintings he’d copied for tourists in his early days in Paris.” (David Marcus, Tablet ).
The formal art of convincing is called rhetoric.The case of Soutine, is the power of the rhetoric, the phenomenon, what creates the value of his work or is it the fictive language in Soutine’s narrative which has strong emotions and a coherent, grounded structure of its own. Or, is the value of the art based on rhetorical language of his work in which the content is relatively unimportant. Think Yoko Ono’s Odyssey of a Cockroach Exhibit, an allegory for the concept of hype as artistic achievement. Is the convincing power of rhetoric determinant in the creation of myth and archetype, folklore and comprehension of history? To clothe the work of Soutine in a sublime narrative action, not easily understood, to create value for art based strictly on form and structure? An art buyer purchasing an envelope without a letter, or a blank letter. In art, content is intangible and elusive and subject to rhetorical manipulation and if the form seems more important than the content, it is because form is more easy to understand and classify, commodify, and content which in the case of Soutine is complex and only fully understood through the course of time, and therfore more difficult to monetize.
”Sure, enjoy the rhetoric/salesmanship wherever you find it, but mistrust it too. Because at its best, correct rhetoric is an art; and, as in all art, form is more important than content. The painter Chaim Soutine painted a side of beef, yet created a masterpiece. Picasso painted a broken guitar from six viewpoints at once, and created another. It’s not the “what,” but the “how.’ ” ( Avner Mandelman, GlobeInvestor ) There is some question about a cartesian, linear and hyper-rational view from captain of markets projecting identical rationale from stock hustling to vote peddling and art values from deceased painters. Nonetheless, the view is ”prevailing wisdom” and somewhat unsettling that broader perspectives are limited to the relationship between the testicles and the credit card limit. In his analysis, the third member seems effectively neutered and preserved like Soutine’s carcass. The rhetoric guides the content and the content’s structure must be rhetorically correct. Tails wag dogs. Which shows that those with the means to buy art, often know the least about it. They are buying a market value and are willing to sit on their dividends.