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The superb art of Max Weber, and of 'Metal in Africa'; Our critic as a painter -- and a look at two touring shows

By Theodore F. Wolff / November 23, 1982

New York

Readers have asked from time to time if having been a painter for many years has helped or hindered me as an art critic.

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The answer is simple: It has been of inestimable value, especially in helping me understand what it takes to create art.

I started to draw at 10, and began falling in love with old-master paintings and prints (starting with Rembrandt's) at 11. By the time I was 15, I could draw quite well, and counted Michelangelo and a good two dozen other old-master artists among my closest ''friends.''

College meant art and art history - and I ended up with an advanced degree incorporating both. Since then, my life has been involved with my own painting, a consuming curiosity about the art and artists of all periods, and an active involvement with the contemporary art world (as exhibiting artist, art appraiser , and advisor to collectors).

The result, over the years, has been a large body of art works that were both very personal and very much ''in dialogue'' with one or another old or new master - or with a particular style or movement. I've made delicate pencil studies of trees in Central Park, expressionistic watercolors of the Maine coast , and bold abstractions out of squares and circles. I've painted 20-foot Abstract-Expressionist canvases that required gallons of thinned-down paint and a half-dozen electric fans to move that paint around. And I've spent weeks on canvases creating interior fantasy worlds out of extravagant creatures and colors.

And that's only part of the story, for while I was carrying on this ''dialogue'' with the art of others in order to understand what and why they were doing what they were doing, I was also working very hard at my own art.

All these experiences started coming together in 1977, when I began to write about art, and they've continued to do so ever since.

After 40 years of painting, studying, and discussing art with everyone from John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton in the early 1940s, to some of the best younger artists and art professionals of today, I feel very fulfilled in my role of art critic.

And why not? Where else could everything I've experienced about art be put to better use - as I view an exhibition of old-master drawings, a show of Cezanne watercolors, some prints by Jim Dine, or a very new and somewhat perplexing work by a young artist in SoHo. It's all there, and because it is, I have a pretty good idea of howm these artists did what they did - as well as more than just a hint of whym they did it. Weber and the avant gard

Max Weber (1881-1961), was an extraordinary artist who created art of depth and character while also serving as a leading member of the American avant garde.

He was always fascinated by the significantly new and by those who produced it. As a youngster, he befriended Henri Rousseau in Paris, when the great ''primitive'' painter was still unknown to the general public. (Rousseau, as a matter of fact, threw one of his famous soirees in Weber's honor, and exhorted the young artist ''not to forget nature.'')

Weber helped Matisse establish an art class in 1908, and became increasingly involved with the European avant garde during that year. And in 1909, upon his return to New York, he became affiliated with Alfred Stieglitz's famous modernist gallery ''291.''