Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Works of Art

            As a beginning artist I didn’t have much knowledge of the different artistic periods and movements.  Of course there are always names that are well known and that you hear of such as Monet, Renoir, Salvidor Dali, and many others.  It’s easy enough to buy cheap prints from these artists, I think I used to have Van Gough’s Starry Night, but I didn’t really understand the period or the painting style, I just knew that I like it.  Throughout this quarter I have learned a lot about different artistic styles and I feel like I have a better understanding of the stylistic characteristics and the history and reasoning for many of the different styles.

            When I look at my own work, which I have to admit was done a while ago, I can associate some different artistic characteristics and styles associated with different periods, even though at the time I had no inkling of these things.  In my acrylic painting, Bayonne, I was interested in showing the affects of light and color in the reflections of the wet pavement in the parking lot.  The brushstrokes are loose and, like many of the Impressionists artists, it is done outside.  From the paintings we’ve studied this semester in art history, it more closely resembles characteristics of the Impressionist artists Monet and his painting, Impression: Sunrise.

            In Sunrise Monet captures the time of day, when the sun is low on the horizon and throws wonderful spectrum of colors into the sky, which is also reflected in the water.  The few similarities to my painting include his use of loose brushstrokes, albeit much looser than mine, interest in capturing a certain moment in time, the “plein air” or outdoors, and the interest in the affects of color and light.  His painting captures the Realism of the moment at sunrise, whereas Bayonne captures the moment right after the rain.  He contrasts the cool colors of the water with the fiery brilliance of the orange sun.  In my painting, the cool blues contrast with the warm colors of the leaves on the ground and those being reflected in the puddles.  Differences in Monet’s style from mine include much looser brushstrokes, a thicker application (I tend to use my acrylics more like watercolor), and his painting is done right at that moment, capturing it at that moment in time.  Mine was done from a photograph that my mother took of the town we lived in southern France.  I always liked the picture and I thought it captured the city well.  It’s interesting looking at it now how it captures the old architecture with the modernity of the European cars and the tarred pavement.  I did this painting when I was in High School and acrylic paint was my favorite medium at that time because it dried quick and was easy to cleanup.

            The photograph, Dark Dog, was done while taking a black and white photography class.  The dark reflection of the white dog always makes me think of people’s wilder and more primitive nature within us, that it’s there just underneath the surface.  Although not similar in technical style with the modernist painter, Gauguin and his paintings (that show abstraction of figures and the landscape, bright colors, bold lines), his ideas of primitivism can be applied to the photograph.  The white dog’s resemblance to a wolf, takes the domestic tame dog and makes it more wild, and closer to nature.  As we can see from Gauguin’s paintings of Brittany, such as Vision after the Sermon, and his zincographs, he was interested in studying “primitive and savage imagery” and getting away from modern life.  Primitivism was about getting closer to nature and away from modern society

So even though I didn't know about the different art movements at the time of creating my works of art, I can now look at them and see different characteristics that tie in with different art periods and styles.  This class has giving me a much better understanding, and I know will probably influence my future art endeavors, whether consciously or not.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Martin Puryear: Process Artist

Martin Puryear is an artist who started as a painter and later turned to sculpture.  His work combines a “traditional sculptural involvement in techniques…that reflect some of the methods of Constructivism and Assemblage” (Society for Contemporary Art).  Many of his sculptures are abstract, sometimes simplified to simple ovoid and lines.  His sculptures seem to be minimalistic because of the abstract nature of the forms, but Minimalists were interested in leaving out any representation of the natural world from their works.  Puryear’s works have been simplified to simple shapes, but one can get the feeling that many of his works are a representation of something organic because of their biomorphic forms and shapes.
Puryear is more of a Process artist.  He is interested in exploring the process and the physicality in his work.  He will often leave the evidence of the human hand in the crafting of his different pieces, because to him the actual process of making the piece and “the fabrication of things” tells a narrative about the work of art (Puryear 2003). His pieces also convey a sense of history in the craft of woodworking and stone carving.
The artist’s hand and craftsmanship can be seen in his work A Ladder for Booker T. Wasington, done in 1996.  The piece shows off Puryear’s skill with wood and his forced manipulation of perspective.  The Ladder is one of Puryear’s more representational sculptures.  It is very obviously a ladder in its representation.  The natural color and the unevenness of the ladder seems to represent a nostalgic time in history when ladders were made by hand, instead of mass-produced in a factory in China.  The Ladder is 36 feet long and the rail is made of one single sapling from his estate that was split and carved by hand.  The wood has been left to its natural color, which lends to the homemade and old fashioned feel to the piece.  The spindly rails of the ladder curve in an uneven serpentine movement, marked by sharp jags and a narrowing of the rungs, which forces the rails closer together and ends with them only an inch and a half apart at the top.  This narrowing gives a skewed sense of perspective and a “diminution of space” (Puryear 2003).
The placement of the ladder seems to hang in space.  It seems to have a beginning, but it is out of reach.  It takes the utilitarianism of a ladder, which is used to get oneself from a starting point to a higher point, to extend our reach, and makes it a nonfunctional object.  It forces the viewer to look at it as more than just a ladder and instead as a metaphor of beginnings and endings and the journey to perhaps an unattainable goal.
            Puryear is stated in an interview that he didn’t start the sculpture with Booker T. Washington in mind, the title didn’t come to him until after the work was finished.  To him the work was about the tree and the forcing of perspective.  The connection with Washington, though, can be seen in the idea of progress, and the slow progression of racial equality.  It also draws similarities with Washington’s own struggles in his own life and his struggles to rise in society as a black man.  As Puryear states, it’s about beginnings, how you start and the progression to the end, the goal, and how we get there.  He wants the viewer to read their own journey into the piece along with finding connections to Booker T. Washington’s own struggles.


3.     Society for Contemporary Art.
5.     Stokstad, Marilyn; Cothren, Michael W. Art History. Pearson Publishing, Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 2011.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Dada Movement

            The Dada movement was an art movement that was seen as a response to the apparent collapse of bourgeois cultural values.  Dada artists responded to the devastation of World War I.  The war showed the barbarism and the collapse of society, and their art was a critique of that society and mimicking too the chaos and the probability of chance.  They challenged artistic conventions by critiquing the ideas of art and who defines what art is.  They also wanted to reject subjectivity in art and take out the artist as the subject of the art, and instead embrace objectivity.

            Where Impressionist and Cubist artist had been more interested in producing subjective art rather than making a political statement, Dada artist are interested in critiquing society and the politics of the times.  A Dada work of art that shows the a critique of society is the War of Corpses – Last Hope of the Rich, by the German artist John Heartfield, which was published in 1932.  His work is a photomontage that makes a blatant critique of the bourgeoisie and government.  By cutting up the different pieces of pictures and joining them together into a cohesive whole, he has created a powerful statement about the rich taking advantage of the war and even profiting from the devastation.   The concept of the artist taking a partisan role and using their art to draw awareness or a critique is similar to Simonian definition of avant-garde (Wood p. 234). 

Even though photomontage wasn’t a new technique used by artists, it became a new form for Dada artist for making political and societal critiques, and was considered an objective medium that removed the subject of the artist.  It also challenged the usual artistic convention of using the usual fine arts medium and incorporated found object art.  The different photos are not ones that Heartfield found himself, thus they fit into the category of found object art.  Photos were seen as an objective way of portraying the world around you and since Heartfield didn’t take the photos himself, can it removes the artist’s influence within the individual photos themselves.  

Dadaist changed the concepts of what art is.  It questions whether the artist has to be the original creator of the art to be considered art and if the artist needs to be technically trained to be considered art as well.  Heartfield found the photos, but he was not the original creator of the photos.  I’m also assuming he was not technically trained in photomontage, that he simply took the photos and cut them and put them together.

A different artist who is well known for questioning the concepts of what is defined as art and who defines art, is the Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp.  He was known for taking found objects or readymade objects and calling it art.  One of his pieces, Bottle Rack, from 1914, is simply a bottle rack that he purchased and called art.  If I look at the piece for it’s formal qualities, and I didn’t know what it was or that he simply purchased it and did nothing to change it in any way, I would without hesitation call it art.  It has a very sculptural feel to it and I like the rounded forms juxtaposed with the sharp lines coming out of the form.  Knowing the background, though, and that he did nothing to the piece himself, I can’t help but feel a reticence to call it art.  And that is the point that Duchamp was trying to make with his artwork.  His work was more about questioning what defines what we normally call art.  By naming the piece, he let’s you know right away what it is.  He is not trying to disguise it or hide what the piece is.  He makes us question our conception and views of art, and what or who defines art.  Each viewer of his piece will determine whether consider it appropriate to call it art, thus he leaves the viewer as the critic and to come up with their own views.  Heartfield’s artwork showed how the form and content of art changed in the Dada movement by using photomontage, a found object art, as a means to make political and social critiques.  The change in concepts of art such as what and who define art can be seen in Duchamps’s bottle rack that was a readymade item.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How Gauguin's Painting of "Yellow Christ" Fits with the Avant-garde Movement

            Paul Gauguin was a French artist during the later part of the 19th century who was in the forefront of the modernism art movement that was against the aspects of Impressionism that involved “the study of appearances” (naturalism).  Instead Gauguin was interested in imagery that represented the deeper ideas and feelings, even the artistic impulses within the artist’s psyche (Wood p. 174).  The synthesis of feelings and observation are represented through abstraction of the lines, shapes, colors, and spaces within the imagery (Stokstad p. 997).

            Gauguin’s position as an avant-garde artist can be seen in his oil painting “The Yellow Christ” done in 1889.  To see how he fit in with the definition of an avant-garde artist, we will use the art historian’s, Griselda Pollock, formula, or definition, of reference, deference, and difference.

            Reference refers to the artist’s awareness of what’s happening in the art world, such as artistic traditions and conventions.  Gauguin references several style of paintings in his work of “The Yellow Christ”.  The landscape scenery in his painting references the tradition of landscape painting and the painting of rural scenes, which became popular with Netherlands artists such as Peiter Bruegel the Elder during the sixteenth century.  The golden hills are even reminiscent of his painting “The Harvesters”.  The imagery of Christ on the cross is a very traditional religious imagery.  His depiction of Christ on the cross in an outdoor landscape, the composed figure of Christ and of the quiet composure of the mourners, are similar in characteristics to Perugino’s fifteenth century painting “Crucifixion with Saints” (image Stokstad p. 622).  Even Perugino’s painting shows some flatness to the land, which is taken even further by Gauguin in his landscape with his solid patches of color.

            Pollock is looking for deference in the works of avant-garde artists.  Does the artist defer, or give reverence and respect, to the latest and most radical developments or to the work of another artist, especially in terms of technique?  Gauguin shows deference to the Impressionists artist with his use of loose brushstrokes and his interest in color and light.  He also shows deference to the “primitive” Breton region with his depiction of the rural landscape and the women painted in traditional clothing.  By showing woman in costume engaged in acts of religious devotion, he combines the customs and culture of Breton.  Gauguin found in the Breton community “ a source of artistic inspiration that was at odds with, and of more value than, the civilized metropolitan culture of Paris” (Wood p. 174).

            Difference helps to establish an artist as “modern” or “avant-garde” by showing how the artist is making a marked difference in advancement on the current issues regarding aesthetics or art criticism.  While referencing Impressionist with some of his techniques, he also breaks away from them with his use of lines, shapes, color, and space.  The figure of Christ in the painting shows Gauguin’s use of heavy lines to outline his figures, which he believed helped to give them a more ‘primitive’ quality.  Color and form are abstracted and simplified.  The trees become simple shapes of color instead of details of individual leaves, as is some of the women’s clothing.  There is some hint of illusion with the trees receding into the background, but overall the picture is very flat.  Other differences that separate Gauguin from Impressionist artists, include his breaking away from scientific observation and instead focusing on the deeper ideas in the painting through his use of color and form.  Images were to represent inate artistic impulses within the artist’s psyche through the primitive characteristics expressed in the imagery (Wood p. 174).  He synthesized feelings and observations through his use of the different technical elements (line, shape, color, and space) and went beyond just the formal observation alone.  A noticeable difference, as well, is using the figure of Christ as a self-portrait, which changes the perception and the romantic view of the artist as a courageous independent struggling against the traditions of the public.  It instead portrays the male artist as a superior being producing deep truths and purer forms of art.

            By utilizing Pollock’s method for establishing artists as avant-garde, Gauguin’s painting “Yellow Christ” fits within her criteria of reference, deference, and differences.  While he referenced the traditions of other artists and art styles, and showed deference to some of the techniques of the Impressionists artists, his use of lines, colors, shapes, and space within his image, and his ideas and feelings represented in the imagery, help to separate him from the Impressionist artists of the time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gustave Caillebotte and Modernization

           Gustave Caillebotte was a French painter and supporter of Impressionist artists during the Impressionist period.  He is known for the ‘Caillebotte Bequest’, which left his collection of Impressionist and modern paintings with the French state upon his death in 1894.  As an artist, his paintings show the modernity of France: the bourgeoisie (upper level middle class) at leisure, the Haussmanization of Paris, modern technology, and an sense of isolation and loneliness that reflected his own personal life, but it can also be said to reflect some of the affects of the new modernization and urbanization of France.  Some of his paintings are an interesting mix of both a celebration and a critique of modernization.

            A painting that reflects these concepts of celebration and critique of modernization in France during the 1870’s is the Pont l’Europe, done in 1876 (Challenge of the A-G p. 138), oil on canvas.  The subject matter shows the pedestrians walking across a bridge.  At first the painting seems to celebrate modernization.  The viewer can see the rebuilt street and buildings, which were damaged during the destruction of the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune uprising.  The widened streets show the Haussmanization of France, which was a modernization of Paris streets prior to the war.  The bridge supports look as if they are made of steel beams, which was a fairly new technology that started to be mass produced in the mid 19th century.  Electric street lamps can be seen in the background and adds to the sense of mondernization.

            Pont de l’Europe has a mood of isolation, which is reinforced by the spacing and the perspective, the color palette, and the characteristics of the figures.  Caillebotte’s unique perspective angles the ground up and divides the space.  By angling the sidewalk, Caillebotte divides the scene between the people on the sidewalk, which now takes up most of the picture plane, and the street and the background, which get pushed to the side of the canvas.  He’s created this open space between the figures that seems to isolate them from one another.  The cool and somber color palette adds to the feeling of isolation of the figures and the harsh light creates deep shadows which lend itself to the more somber mood.  The figures themselves seem to be caught up in their own thoughts (such as the figure on the right).  There is very little interaction between the figures in the foreground or those in the background.  The man and woman on the left side of the canvas seem to have a casual interaction taking place, but the man’s placement in front of the woman and a couple of steps away from her, creates an awkward distance between them, and there are no feelings of intimacy in their interaction.

            The sense of isolation, which can be found in many of Caillebotte’s paintings, can be seen as a critique of modernization.  With the advent of the Industrial Revolution it brought a huge migration of people from the rural areas into industrialized urban areas.  The influx of people seeking jobs in the factories, mines, and mechanical manufacturing often got paid very little and had to work long hours in order to support their families (Stokstad p.962).  This caused isolation with some of the population who worked long hours, different shifts, and people who had little leisure time, unlike the flanners, who were rich upper class that pursued a life of leisure.

            Other critiques of modernization that Caillebotte is conveying in his painting are the advent of disease and prostitution.  The dog, which I associate positive feeling towards and who seemed the happiest of all the figures, is a symbol of the bourgeoisie’s fear of the rabies disease.  Because the dog seems to be wandering the streets without a human companion and seems to be a mutt, the bourgeoisie, or the upper class, would have seen the dog as a threat for disease, and would have been terrorized by the sight of the dog.  The man in the top hat talking to the woman over his shoulder may in fact be propositioning her.  Her fine clothes and because she is unescorted walking in public, her reputation is questionable and it’s possible she could be a courtesan, or prostitute.  Modernization while causing an influx in labor, also brought wealth to some of the bourgeoisie and more time for leisure activities, including prostitution.

            While Caillebotte’s work did show the modernization of France with the technology, the improvements of the streets and buildings, his work also shows the critiques of modernization.  He successfully conveys the mood of isolation of people, through his use of perspective and space, somber colors, and deep shadows.  He also shows the other realities of modern day life with the fear of disease, which can be spread more rapidly as people bring diseased pets from other areas, and the seedier results of wealth, such as prostitution, on some of the middle class.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Political Impressionism: Contrasting Paintings of Monet and Manet

          The political upheavals and wars from the 1850’s to 1878 in France caused much unrest and destruction.  The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Paris Commune in 1871, a civil war and urban uprising that lasted 72 days, both had devastating affects on the newly remodeled “Haussmannization” of Paris and the people.  There was much bloodshed and loss of life that was caused by the wars along with the destruction of architecture and roads.  After the wars, many of the French people wanted to forget about the destruction and the horrible events that had taken place.  They were interested in the present and looking to a brighter future.  Much of this attitude of forgetting about the past can be seen in the Impressionist art that was created after the Paris Commune.

            With artist focusing on events of the present day France, and hiding aspects of the past in their paintings, Impressionism became known as the “Forgetful Art”.  Some artist showed this new future and joie de vivre in the their bright and colorful paintings.  Not all artists, though, wanted to forget the events of the past, and instead of trying to escape in their paintings the events that occurred, some drew attention to the past with reminders the price of war.  By comparing two works of art through their use of subject matter and radical techniques, we can better understand the “Forgetful Arts” and some of the political radicalism still present during this time.   Two painting, created about the same celebration of the 30th of June, 1878, in France, are the works of Claude Monet and “The Rue Montorgueil, Festival of 30th June, 1878” and Édouard Manet’s “The Rue Mosnier with Flags”.

The subject matter at first seems to be the same for both the paintings.  Both artists captured the waving flags of the celebration, the warm sunny day, and a scene with people on the streets.  The compositions are somewhat similar, they both show a scene of the street from above, but Manet’s is much closer to the ground and shows only a hint of blue sky and a few flags fluttering near the edges of the painting.  Monet’s painting of “The Rue Motorgueil, Festival of 30th June, 1878” is vibrant and energetic.  His view point from above captures a scene full of bustling energetic people and gives a sense of life to the street.  There is a sense of “joie de vivre” with the bright colors, the sunshine, the bright warm light, and the light palette.  The repeated use of the red, white, and blue cause almost a constant undulating pattern of waving flags that emphasizes the energy of the celebration.  The bright colors draw a similarity between “its own coloristic brightness and another kind of brightness it claims for the future (Wood p.124).”  We can also see another color reference of the future with the lightening of color as the scene progresses to the background and the bright sunny sky that can be seen between the buildings and waving flags. 

Manet’s painting of “The Rue Mosnier with Flags” seems almost stark in contrast.  He uses a much cooler palette of colors.  The buildings and the streets almost look washed out with bright light.  The street is far emptier than Monet’s street, whose street was packed full of moving people.  Instead Manet shows very few people, and those people seem to be more intent on their own personal business.  No one is shown waving flags and there are workers in the background who are repairing the street.  A man on crutches, a veteran of the war, is in the foreground, and his stark contrast with the street changes the mood of the painting.  Not only do we not see the same bustling energy and joie de vivre of Monet’s painting, instead, we see reminders of the past and the price that was paid.

Both artists were radical in their technique.  Both paintings show the radical techniques associated with Impressionism of loose brushstrokes, painting directly on the canvas (“à la prima”), the use of oil paint in tubes, painting “en pleine aire”, or outside, and the building up of thick layers of paint.  While both artists seem to embrace the technical radicalism of the times, Manet’s painting, with reminders of the past and not just showing a brighter future, shows the ongoing tension of the division of radical art and radical politics in Avant-Garde.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Offending the Bourgeoisie: Gustave Courbet's "The Stonebreakers"

            Amid technological and scientific discoveries during the 19th century the middle class experienced a rise in wealth and power, while the lower class were experiencing extreme poverty, and many were exploited in the factories.  In France during this time there was a social division between the classes; the bourgeoisie who were composed of the wealthy middle class and the proletariat who were the working class (lower class).  This division of class, and the exploitation and the oppression of the lower class by the bourgeoisie, brought about political turmoil and unrest.  Multiple uprisings of the working class in Europe were attempts by the lower class to gain equality and improvements in living conditions.

Realistic painters, painters of the Realism movement, were interested in painting the world around them, modern life that can be visible and tangible to the artist.  They were interested in painting the “here and now”, things from the real world.  Unlike historical paintings, they did not paint anything of ethereal or mythological subject matter.  Gustave Courbet, a realist painter, was only interested in painting what was in front of him.  His painting, “The Stonebreakers”, shows the gritty reality of the working class.  His style and subject matter fit in with the new Avant-Garde of political and artistic radicalism and found offense with the French bourgeoisie.

Courbet’s painting “The Stonebreakers” is an example of the socialistic Simonian philosophy of the Avant-Garde during the 19th century.  Saint-Simonian believed that artists should use art to better society and bring about change.  They should understand what’s happening in the world around them.  By using art, artists can motivate change and their art can have a lasting affect on viewers and on other artists.  Through the realistic depiction of the working class, Courbet is drawing the viewer’s attention to the hardship and the poverty of the two figures in the painting.  The bourgeoisie would have found the subject matter offensive, because of the uprisings and social revolutions, the working class could be viewed to mean political unrest and upheaval.  These men with their hammers and tattered clothing would have been seen as threatening and slightly menacing to the bourgeoisie.

Through his artistic style, which helps to emphasize and make affective his political message, Courbet also demonstrates artistic (technical) radicalism by not fitting in with the academic style, which helped to further garner negative critique by the bourgeoisie.   His figures of the poor workingmen fill the foreground and a large portion of the painting.  It makes the figures and subject matter very prominent and “in your face” and seen as confrontational.  The viewer cannot view the painting without viewing what the painting is about.  He further elevates the subject matter by painting on a large scale, 5’ by 8’, which is normally reserved for historical paintings.  Historical paintings were seen by the academies as the highest art form and usually involved “noble” subject matter of historical events or subjects of classical reference.  Courbet’s painting doesn’t incorporate either one and would have found offense by the bourgeoisie for Courbet’s implication that these two workingmen in his painting deserved the same elevated status as a historical painting.

Other characteristics that break away from the normal academic style include the turned away faces.  The faces of both men are turned away from the viewer and they cannot be recognized.   This lends a sense of ambiguity and could be seen as even more threatening to the bourgeoisie because these men seem to represent the threat that can come from any working class man.  There is some hint of illusion of depth with hills that are faintly painted in the background, but then the flat color of paint in the background on the left side of the canvas seems to make the scene more flat.  There is also rough application of paint which takes away some of the details of the foreground and the background, which further flattens the painting.  Courbet’s rough brushstrokes, which show the texture to the paint, further separate him from the academic style of smooth brushstrokes.

Courbet’s elevation of the working class through his radical techniques of realistic prominent subject matter of poor workers, rough brushstrokes, large canvas size, disinterest in perspective, and turned faces, breaks away from the set rules of the academic style of the time, and fits with the political and social radicalism of the Avant-Garde.  By glorifying the working class and expressing empathy for the oppressed, he is drawing attention to the realities of the current events and people and seeking to bring change and reform, one of the many challenges of the Avant-Garde.