IMAGE:  February 2003 GRAPHIC:  University of Chicago Magazine
Volume 95, Issue 3
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GRAPHIC:  Also in every issueLetters
"From encouraging terror to wasting pages"

Still-Life Controversy still rages
As a still-life painter I thoroughly enjoyed discovering (“Letters, ”December/02) that controversy continues to swirl around the humblest of the genres in the visual arts—controversy at least as old as the fourth- century B.C. painter Piraeicus. In his Natural History Pliny tells us that Piraeicus painted modestly scaled pictures of ordinary things—“eatables and the like”—and earned the name Rhyparographer (Painter of Waste) in much the same way that certain early 20th-century American painters got tagged the Ashcan School. Pliny also passes on a tradition of uncertainty about the worth of Piraeicus’s achievement. You can almost hear a kind of confused surprise when he adds: “…in these pictures he gives exquisite pleasure, and indeed they brought heftier prices than the largest works of many other painters” (translation mine).

Andrew S. Mine—unlike Elizabeth McGuerty, Piraeicus, and myself—has obviously not been bitten by the bug of the quotidian, the leftover, the world that is there when we aren’t in it. Perhaps if he had been, he would have noticed that Laura Letinsky’s refined, austerely manipulated images could not have emerged from an Introduction to Photography class and would merely perplex readers skimming through a Food Pix Annual. I can’t really blame him: feeling vulnerable to transcendent moments whenever we happen to encounter “eatables and the like”—anywhere and at any time—isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

G. Daniel Massad, AM’77
Annville, Pennsylvania

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