Skip to main content

Best Contempory Modern Art or Scam ? Artist Cy Twomby

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art


Paintings come in all forms. Think of the detailed, anatomically correct Renaissance paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo. Scenes so human you'd think the subjects could just jump off of the canvass. On the opposite end of the spectrum, think of the abstract works produced by Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning. Their ines of intersecting color producing pure energy on canvass. Then think of all they styles in between.

Impressionism, modernism, rococo,romanticism, rococo, pop, I love the broad spectrum of genre that paint on canvass has shared throughout history.

Cy Twombly is an American artist.

He was born in 1928 in Lexington Virginia.

Let's take a look at him here


Edwin Parker Cy Twomby, Jr. is an American painter who lives in both the USA and abroad. He was born in Lexington, Virginia in 1928.

Cy Twombly studied art at a number of institutions such as Washington and Lee, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Black Mountain College and the Art Students League of New York.

I first became interested in Cy Twombly after visiting a gallery dedicated entirely to him at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Have A Look

Before we go any further on this topic, scroll down and take a hard look at the next image I have posted. This is one of Cy Twombly's works found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Look at it and think about what you are seeing for a minute.

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

What Did You Think ?

Yeah.... For those of you looking at his work for the first time I felt the same way. Skeptical.

To back up a bit about me, I appreciate art in all forms. I am not they typical observer that looks at contemporary pieces and abstract works and exclaims, "My kids could do that!"

It just isn't my nature. I don't believe the 'anyone could do that' statements anyway. I suppose if we all could do it, we'd all have our own exhibits around the world.

For me, each work of art is a masterpiece in its own way. Any painting, for example, even just a scratch on canvass, represents a certain (though varying) degree of inspiration and artistic commitment. You buy the canvass, assess the surface, determine your media, create the art, display the art and discuss or defend the art to others. There's a lot more behind a swirl or slash or smudge that meets the eye.

Scroll down and look at another piece by Twombly.

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fifty Days at Illiam

This painting is part of a series of works called Fifty Days at Illiam. The art in this series depicts scenes from Homer's Illiad. The story of the Trojan War.

For those of you who have studied literature, especially the Greek classics. What do you think of this work of art? Does match your own mental image of the Trojan War as described by Homer? Did you have a different impression?

Scroll to Continue

The next image I have posted below are more paintings from the same series.

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Twombly's Permanent Exhibit at The Philadelphia Museum of Art

To put these pictures in better context, they are part of a major, permanent exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Philadelphia museum of art dedicates an entire gallery to Twombly's artwork.  No small feat for Twombly. Museums have limited space and the Philadelphia art museum does not just dole out entire galleries to anyone.

The museum boldly displays this collection. This is not a small room and the paintings are not exactly petite either. The canvasses are very large. By my estimate, figure on average to be 5 feet high by 7 feet wide. Perhaps larger and there's a lot of them.

Philly's most profound art museum is very serious about this collection.

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cy Twombly, Philadelphia Museum of Art

What Do You Think of Cy's Art

Thoughts On Twombly - The Pro's

Artists begin their journey learning their craft. Whether formally or by self study. Eventually, the artist begins to create works that reflect the styles or influences they have studied. With hard work and time, the artist may develop their own style.

This might be an oversimplified assessment, but for sake of argument, let's see how this relates to Cy Twombly.

Unique Style

Twombly's art defies any particular style or form. Artists like Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg have associated with Twombly, yet I see none of their style in Twombly's work . You have to give Twombly a lot of credit for finding his own way. He creates art that appears to brush aside his training and contemporaries. His art finds its own way.

Our Inner Child

Defining the work of Twombly is a lot of fun. If you are an adult staring at his pictures, it is a struggle to define his style in the present time. You have to reach back into your own memories. You need to think of your own childhood. You need to delve into the memories you had as a child.

As children, we were all artists. We scribbled on paper, we colored in books. We were full of confidence and ambition. Every picture was a masterpiece yearning to be displayed. Your parents were the curators, your home was the gallery. Twombly's art has that same feeling. His large, grandiose canvasses have a way of hollering out "Look Mommy! Look what I did!"

There are some that call Twombly a painter, I prefer to think of him as someone who draws. The preferred method of a youngster. Twombly's tangle of lines and uneven geometric shapes convey a strong pre-teen arrogance and recklessness. He channels that childhood essence through the media that children wield best; crayon, chalk, graphite (pencil) and ink. Paint too of course. His media punctuates the images in my mind of forbidden, rebellious doodles inside of a school textbook.

He impressively holds dear what so many of us adults have lost; that energy and idealism of our childhood. Try approaching life with the same youthful boldness of Twombly's work and you'll see what I mean. Fellow grown ups, get out there and roll in the mud, build a 'fort', play with the dolls, and see what you produce. Much of us lose that creativity and imagination that Twombly is still able to exhibit.

Thoughts On Twombly - The Con's

Twombly has lived a long life. I suspect that he has felt as much if not more passion, pain, accomplishment, confusion, etc as anyone his age. As with any life lived, there is a wealth of experience that naturally attaches itself to a person's core.

What is He Conveying?

Twombly's art fails, in my eyes, to express any of that history or feeling. While I do feel a certain energy in his work, his swirls of crayon and highlights of graphite don't covey any sort of real passion, pain or pleasure.

Let's look again at 50 Days of Illiam. His use of large canvass does make his art more visually profound but it also diminishes the intensity by helping spread the media too thin. You can't feel the sweat on the artist's brow or that aching in his mind to 'get it all out'. The size of the canvass dilutes its strength like coffee made with too much water.

Does He Lose His Audience ?

I read a tremendous book titled "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee (winner of the 1999 Booker prize). The main character, David Lurie, a South African, well educated, white, college professor is completely out of touch with cultural upheaval around him. As South Africa undergoes political turmoil and radical racial change he continues to work on romantic European literature projects, which of course receives no attention.

Clearly Twombly receives more attention in real life than David Lurie does in the fictional world. That said,Twombly is similar to Lurie. Twombly produces work that is oblivious to his own experiences and perhaps to his audience. I see little personal passion or experience in Twombly's work. He manages to hide it or even bury it with themes that seem to go nowhere. Themes that his audience may not fully grasp. Take the 50 Days of Illiam at the Philadelphia Art Museum. This series on Homer's Illiad on the surface could be taken as a bold step forward by such a contemporary modern artist. The problem is the finished product is entirely unrecognizable. Maybe 'unrecognizable' is the point of the project. Or is it? Is Twombly trying to state something by stating nothing at all? If not, does his art challenge your mental image of the Trojan War? Does it bring new perspective? Does it even offend? I don't feel any of this when I look at his work.

Another example is "Leda and the Swan." "Leda and the Swan" is scene from Greek mythology. Many artists have done their own rendition of this ancient Greek tale. One of my favorites is by Michelangelo. The art contains some nudity which I believe is allowed here but to play it safe I won't post Michelangelo's version here. You can easily look it up on line though. The painting is of a semi-nude woman laying down with a Swan (actually Zeus in disguise) beside her. It is exactly the style and quality of painting you would expect to see from Michelangelo.

Twombly does a version of "Leda and the Swan as Well". I've linked it below. It's quite "G" rated.

What do you think? Like Illiam, I'm not "feeling it" for this work either. If this art was a piece of music, it would be a cover song so maligned that no one would recognize the tune. To further the comparison, it would be a cover song that few would recognize even if it were played correctly.

Leda and The Swan - Cy Twombly

To Sum Up

Twombly by no means is a scam. Like him or not Twombly is to be taken seriously. He is major artist. He's also an anomaly in that he is a living, successful, artist. He has the rare combination of recognition and still being alive (Author's Note Updated 7/15/11: Twombly has passed away but I'll won't change previous 'living' status in order to emphasize in the art world how unique it is to be famous and, at the time I wrote this article, still very alive). Such fame or notoriety in the post-humorous world of art is usually reserved for the terminally ill or the dead.

If we ever possessed anything remotely close to Twombly's technique, we certainly lose it by the time we reach our teens or early adulthood. I admire Twombly because he has been able to continue this technique throughout his whole life.

He has admirably created a style apart from his influences.

Twomby loses his audience with esoteric and poorly translated subject matter. I'm not sure what he is trying to convey.

When he uses large canvass, it diminishes any passion or intensity.

In the end you may or may not like Twombly's work but go see it regardless of your thoughts. Twombly's work does cast a certain spell called 'conversation.' I often discuss Twombly with a friend who is a true art critic (not someone just giving it a shot here like I am :-). The conversation usually goes like this:

TurtleDog (me): "I'm always astonished at the amount of space the Philadelphia Museum of Art allows Twomby."

Friend: "The art museum in Philly! Don't they have works by some of history's most renowned artists?"

TurtleDog: "Yes, one of the greatest art collections from all over the world."

Friend: "Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Thomas Eakins, Pablo Piccasso, they're all at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, right?"

TurtleDog: "Yes."

Friend: "Are we talking about Da Vinci today?"

TurtleDog: "No."

Friend: "Are we talking about Marc Chagall?"

TurtleDog: "No.

Friend: "Who is the only artist you are bringing up today?"

TurtleDog: "I was only talking about the Twombly exhibit."

Say what you want about the guy. Twombly is an irresistible topic,often at the expense of all the other great artists.

James Michner Art Museum

There are plenty of great art museums out there some far, some close. If you live in the Bucks County, Montgomery County and Philadelphia area you might not be too far from Doylestown PA, which is home to a number of museums. I visited the James Michner art museum in Doylestown and wrote a review on it.

Review of James Michner Art Museum

I also wrote a review of the very home of much of Cy Twombly's work, the Philadelphia Art Museum and linked that post below. Hope you like it!

Review of Philadelphia Art Museum

How To Paint Like Jackson Pollack ... Sort of :-) Learn Here...

France May Have Great Artists but This French WWI Film is the Worst.... Reviewed Here.....

  • Worst World War One Film Ever - La France DVD
    OK, I've seen some bad movies. Haven't we all? In terms of the war genre, La France has to be worst World War One movie ever. The parade of WWI movies hasn't been historically spectacular either. There...


Tara Adams on March 31, 2018:

Pseudo-intellectual elites love being snookered by these SCAM artists. Makes them feel ever so clever; delving deeply into the "artists" meaning behind each piece (of shite).

Logan on November 17, 2017:

It is bunch of shit and the only reason we're talking about it, is because people with more money than they knew what to do with, pissed it away on this crap.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on May 10, 2014:

His work reminded me of my doodling workbook. (Mind drawing from the Higher self) Every person is an artist within, but would I visit his art gallery? Well that depends. If a lot of people are bragging about it I would probably want to see for myself what I might be missing. I must admit I can think of many works of ( true art for me) I rather see than Cy Twomby. It was fun reading your hub!

TurtleDog (author) on March 23, 2013:

Tremendous comments Tom and David! Perhaps Twombly is a great example of someone able to 'play the system' and get the right connections.

Tom, appreciate your comments and the fact you've taken the time to see the Twombly exhibit "several times"

Tom Aytoe on August 07, 2011:

I always try to keep an open mind when I examine art that is especially quirky or unusual. I have been to Philadelphia & seen the Twombly Gallery several times. I have also seen his work in other museums as well. I cannot embrace his work as art. I strogly agree with Rembrandt on this blog. I think Twombly got a free ride to the top by his involvement with inner circles. I view Twombly's work with this analogy. A musician who has evolved and is able to create beautiful music vs a mad man who grabs a tuba & begins to make loud incoherent bellowing & pure noise. That is what Twombly has given us ... noise. Or in the visual sense SHIT!

David on July 05, 2011:

Tw's work is garbage. Why all the worshipful babbling about it? He was of a certain breed of artistic fraudster promoted and enabled by another breed of fraudster, the art "critic."

David on July 05, 2011:

"There's a lot more behind a swirl or slash or smudge that meets the eye."

My God, there would have to be, right? If there weren't some kind of mystical, ineffable supersomething lurking behind what we could merely see--the splotches and smudges--Twombley would never have gotten the reputation he got as being a greater artist than a two-year-old.

But maybe the worship of such dreck has less to do with the alleged skill and vision of the "artist" than the philosophies and cultural pretensions that lead critics to assure others that they are way to sophisticated to claim that "anybody can do" what, in fact, anybody can do.

TurtleDog (author) on May 15, 2011:

Thanks Ken Thibado for your interpretation of Twombly's energy hidden and no-so-hidden in his art. Well said comment "If it has you talking, it must be art."

Thanks for stopping by

Ken Thibado from Utica on May 15, 2011:

They feel like energy contained.... or energy unleashed. Nervous energy.

Surfaces that once held a message now only reveal what has been erased; like pencil marks not quite erased. Mistakes? Shyness? Frustration.

I agree with you; there is a childlike application being mimicked here. However I do think there is a conveyance of pain and passion (I couldn't find any that struck me as pleasure).

If it has you talking; it must be art.

Nice bit of writing!


TurtleDog (author) on May 10, 2011:

Thanks for checking out this article Rembrandt! I appreciate your comments

Rembrandt on May 10, 2011:

No intellectual or emotional connection in Twombley's work. Like so many others who have no artistic ability. It's fraud. This is where his true talent lies. Fraudulence. He, like Pollack and numerous other crafty snakes are not artists, but are or were, successful con man. Throwing paint around, putting on airs, playing the part , getting in the right circles. Some of us take painting seriously and work blasted hard at it. These cheats have made a mockery of our sweat since the late ninteenth century. Humans are gullible. Hitler said something to the effect: the bigger the lie the more people are apt to believe it. I'm not fooled by non talents. Emperor Twomblay and his ilk are buck naked.

Related Articles