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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thoughts on Avant-garde and Manet

            I think of avant-garde as a movement of people who are ahead of their time, the fore runners of a new movement.  When I think of avant-garde in art, I think of artists who are experimenting with new techniques, mediums, ideas, and social and philosophical theories of the time.  They were willing to break away from tradition of their time and express their ideas in new and different ways.  They were challengers of the norm.

            Some of the art that was considered avant-garde, and it was not always understood or liked by the public or the art critics of the time.  Sometimes their art has been considered too “out there”.  Manet’s painting “Luncheon on the Grass” challenges the viewer because it is made up of so many elements that don’t seem to make a cohesive whole.   Most viewers expect to look at a painting and get a sense of a story or event that is taking place.  I think there is a natural inclination to try make sense of what the eye is seeing by at first trying to relate a scene with something that is relatable to the viewer.  When we first look at the painting “Luncheon on the Grass” the viewer first notices that it is an outdoor scene with people sitting down for a picnic lunch.  But right away the eye notices the differences from the normal picturesque scene and tries to make sense of it.  The main figure is a woman who seems to be comfortably nude sitting with two well dressed men, who seem to be ignoring the woman and talking with each other.  The nude woman, who seems like a more naturalistic depiction compared to the nymph like figures of women being done at the time, such as “The Birth of Venus” by Cabanel.  Manet’s nude looks directly at the viewer, as if acknowledging their involvement.

            The odd figure of the woman in the water in the background also challenges the viewer.  The woman is in the water, which is behind the figures in the foreground, but her large size doesn’t fit with our idea of perspective.  In order to fit into the scene more naturally, she should be much smaller than the figures in the foreground, and yet Manet deliberately made her the same size as the other figures.  The food in the foreground is a strange mix of fruit and bread.  The fruit portrayed do not really fruit at the same time of year, thus it is not a realistic representation of food.  The background also appears somewhat flat and not as detailed compared to the figures in the foreground.

            Manet was considered avant-garde because of his use of use of loose brushstrokes and his depiction of the female nude.  In his painting style, he made sure that you could see the paint and he didn’t try to soften the brushstrokes, which were being done with academic paintings at the time.  His portrayal of the nude woman was different from other nudes at the time.  Instead of depicting a sinuous, lounging, woman who looks coyly or seductively at the viewer, he represents a woman who is looking right into the eyes of the viewer.  She is not trying to seduce the viewer, instead she looks boldly back.  Neither is she being portrayed as an ancient  figure of Venus, thus the viewer does not have the excuse that they are looking at the woman for classical reasons.  If avant-garde is to challenge the conventions and the ideas of the times, then Manet was successful with his “Luncheon on the Grass”.  He was also seen as a leader and a figurehead to the young artists of the time, and those to come, such as Picasso, who wanted to break away from the academic rules of art.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Favorite Artists from the Quarter

            This quarter we studied a variety of artists from the Early Renaissance in Northern Europe and Southern Europe through to the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century in Europe and North America.  I tend to enjoy the artists that show an attention to detail in their painting style, such as the Northern European artists like Van Eyck and Durer.  In sculpture I was drawn to the details of the figures and landscapes in Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise and the sense of action and drama in Bernini’s sculpture of David.  I also enjoyed the landscapes during the 16th Century art in Northern Europe during the time of the Protestant Reformation.  So much of the art focuses on male artists, so it was good to learn as well about the female artists who were just as involved in the different art periods and who established themselves as talented and respected artists.

            Some of my favorite artists come from Northern Europe. Jan Van Eyck, an artist from the Early Northern Renaissance is well known for his technique with oil paints, and helps to establish the medium.  The amount of detail and sense of life-like texture he is able to convey is also impressive.  The Altar at Ghent shows so much detail, from the naturalistic figures of Adam (Van Eyck shows the veins just under the skin and hair on his legs) who looks as if he is about to step out of the frame, to the glowing jewels in the mud around the fountain.  He is so into the details that he even puts the light source in the painting as if it is coming from the real window where the altar was installed.  He starts to blurs the boundary between the painted figures and the viewer.  Another artist who was interested into details was Albrecht Durer, a northern artist from the sixteenth century.  He was able to show details and really portray a sense of texture within his works of art.  His wood prints and engravings, such as his “Adam and Eve”, show minute details of texture between the smoothness of the skin in the naturalistic human figures, the roughness of the bark of the trees, and the soft fur of the different animals.  I enjoy his use of the animals as allegories for the different humors of the body.  His self portraits, especially his “Self Portrait” done in 1500 show amazing details in his rich clothing and help to give a sense of wealth and privilege.  Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who is known as a landscape artists who is also from the same time period as Durer, portrayed a sense of a vast landscape opening in front of the viewer.  His portrayal of everyday life and open landscapes, a theme that was popular after the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe, gives a tranquil scene filled with details of life of everyday people.  His use of atmospheric perspective and his high view points help to draw the viewer into scenes of harvest in the “The Harvesters” and into the cold landscape that is full of activity in the “Return of the Hunters”

            Lorenzo Ghiberti, from the Early Italian Renaissance, combines naturalistic figures and architecture to create scenes that portray a sense of depth and perspective.  His scenes from the bronze door, Gates of Paradise, from the east side of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, show the successful use of one point perspective.  He uses the relief of his sculpted figures and classical influenced buildings and one point perspective to give a life-like sense of depth.  His buildings seem to naturally recede into the background and his figure get smaller, shallower, and move up on the picture plane to realistically show them further into the background.  Bernini’s sculpture of David, from the Italian Baroque period, shows the Baroque style of drama and emotion that can be really interesting and helps to involve the viewer.  His naturalistic figure seems to be caught in that pivotal moment of action that adds the sense of the theatrical and drama.  I love that he seems to be caught in the moment and that he also seems to be looking and aiming just behind the viewer.  His figure of David doesn’t seem static at all compared to many of the sculptures from earlier periods.

            I also enjoyed learning about the many female artists from the different time periods.  Before this class I wouldn’t have been able to name one female artist from these time periods.  Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the Caravaggesque painters during the Baroque period followed the Caravaggio style of mostly monochromatic backgrounds, tenebristic lighting, bold colors, and sense of drama.  Not only was she very talented but her subject matter seem to empower women.  A few other female artists that I liked were the still life paintings of flowers by Rachel Ruysh and the pastel portraits done by Rosalba Carriera, who helped establish the Rococo style.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rosalba Carriera and the Rococo Style

            Rosalba Carriera was an influential female portrait artist during the Rococo period in Italy and France.  She specialized in using the pastel medium, which most artists at the time used only for simple sketching. She was known to soften figures with stumping or rubbing with a dry cloth and developed a dry-brush technique that helped to give a gauzy appearance to clothing (AICMS Vol. 26).  Her skill and technique proved that pastel’s could be used as a medium for finished works of art.  Even though she didn’t come from a wealthy family, her mother was a lace maker and her father was a clerk, she was raised with a humanist education and learned music, Latin, and French.  She started her career as a miniature portrait artist, and developed into doing full portraits for tourists, often young gentlemen doing their Grand Tour to Italy.  Soon after arriving in Paris, her artistic skill was recognized and she was asked to become a member of French Royal Academy in 1720, an honor that had been bestowed to very few women at the time.

            Carriera also created allegorical pictures along with portraits.  “A Young Lady with a Parrot” is a combination of portraiture and allegory.  Done with pastel on paper, the portrait captures the rich pastel colors of the clothing, the varied texture of clothing and hair, the graceful lines of the figure and the hands, and the provocativeness and grace of the female figure.  The picture also captures the Rococo characteristics of lavishness and the theme of eroticism and the interest in nature.

            Even though the picture is done in pastel, Carriera still captures the rich color of the satin garments and the luminescent glow of the pearls that wrap around the neck of the figure.  The dark monochromatic background seem to make the colors of the garment and the pale skin of the figure seem to almost glow and standout.  There is an interest in texture, similar to that of Northern European artists, which helps to accentuate the richness of the figure.  The satin garment seems to shine and glow and there is a sense of lightness and sheerness to the lace, the soft curls of the hair frame the porcelain like face with it’s smooth skin, and she even portrays the texture of downy feathers on the parrot.  The lines of the arm and the hands are graceful.  There isn’t the strong sense of diagonals and energetic compositions of the baroque period, instead there is a soft dreamy feel to the picture. The composition forms a loose triangular composition.  The figure’s right arm forms one side of the triangle leading the eye to the top of the triangle at the head, then to the right side of the triangle, which is formed by her slightly exposed chest, and the parrot she holds in her left hand.  The parrot not only shows the Rococo interest in nature but is also said to be an allegory for seductiveness.  The provocative gesture of “baring one’s breast” is transferred to the parrot (AICMS Vol.26).  The theme of eroticism and the lavishness of the woman’s jewelry and clothing are other characteristics of the Rococo style.  Because of the intimate nature of the portrait, it was probably meant for an intimate setting. 

According to Bernardina Sani, the sitter could be the figure of a young Englishwoman, maybe one of the daughters of Lord Manchester (AICMS Vol. 26).  There is an interest in naturalism in the figure and with the parrot, but the figure has also been idealized.  The anatomy seems true to life but the woman is shown at the peak of young womanhood with very pale skin and incredibly rosy cheeks, and unnaturally red shiny lips.  The skin shows no wrinkles or flaws, or even any creases and the fingers of the figure’s left hand seem very skinny and somewhat elongated.

The portrait of “A Young Lady with a Parrot” shows Carriera’s skill as a portrait artist using pastel medium to create finished and provocative works of art that fit with the Rococo style of the early 18th century.  She creates an idealized figure of a young woman that has a dreamy and soft, yet charged with sexuality.  She shows off the aristocracy’s interest in wealth by showing the rich texture in the satin and the lace, and by showing off the abundant string of pearls and the jewels that decorate the young lady.  The figure demonstrates the Rococo interest in nature with the parrot but also the interest in love and seductive subject matter with the revealing of the figure’s chest.


National Museum of Women in the Arts

The Art Institue of Chicago
“A Young Lady with a Parrot”

A Young Lady with a Parrot, c. 1730
Rosalba Carriera
Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies
Vol. 26, No. 1, Maineri to Miró: The Regenstein Collection since 1975 (2000), pp. 30-31+93

Art History. Stokstad, Marilyn and Cothren, Michael.  Prentice Hall.  Fourth Edition.  2011.  Saddle River, NJ.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Incorporation of Renaissance Ideals in Baroque Art of the 17th century

            The Baroque period of the 17th century incorporates some of the ideals of the Renaissance period, but not all of them.  By comparing Bernini’s sculpture of “David”, which gives a sense of some of the Baroque characteristics of drama and emotion, and a sense of movement, with Michelangelo’s “David”, we can get a sense of Renaissance characteristics and those that define the Baroque period.

            In Michelangelo’s “David” we can see the Renaissance period’s interest in Classicism and in Humanism, balance of form, naturalism, and idealism.  David’s naked form is posed in the contrapposto stance and bears a similar composition to the “Spearbearer”.  Both bear weight on their right leg, which is fairly straight, while the other leg is relaxed and bent slightly back.  The right arm hangs loose and relaxed straight along the body, while the other arm is bent.  Michelangelo’s David seems still.  The composition is fairly vertical and balanced with the relaxed appendages balancing out active ones.  The lines of the body, the legs and the figure’s right arm form fairly straight lines.  There are a few slight vertical lines with the figure’s left leg, the bent arm and the angle of the jaw, which is shown in profile.  The body is frontally orientated, with just the head twisted and shown in profile.

            There’s an interest in naturalism.  Michelangelo has carefully rendered the muscles and tendons on David’s arms, stomach, legs, and neck.  He even idealized the figure by making the figure older than Donatello’s figure of David.  Instead of a youth, we see a young man at the prime of life, who is healthy looking with very defined muscles, even in the groin muscles (which couldn’t naturally get so defined), no wrinkles, scars, or flaws.

            Bernini’s sculpture of “David” still shows an interest in humanism, an interest in the human form, and an interest in naturalism, but we see much more interest in the Baroque style of drama and motion rather than the interest in visual harmony.  His figure, like Michelangelo’s, depicts a young man in peak physical condition.  There is an interest in naturalism of the Renaissance period, which can be seen in the defined muscles of the leg, stomach, and arms.  The very defined muscles suggest some idealized rendering, but there is also more of an interest in naturalism than in Michelangelo’s David.  Bernini depicts the tense lines of the furrowed brow and the lines that can be seen under the eyes, and the hair that looks disheveled by the wind.  He also shows an interest in the different textures of the hair, the smooth skin, the small sack, and the drapery of cloth, and the scaling of the garment at David’s feet.

            In composition Bernini’s David is drastically different from Michelangelo’s David.  Instead of the Renaissance’s interest in balanced composition and depicting a David that is thinking and contemplating his next move before taking action, Bernini’s David is a dramatic twisting form that is at the peak moment of action, a Baroque characteristic.  The sense of drama is strengthened by the use of strong diagonal lines formed from the leg going back and the arm that is reaching down on the figure’s right side.  There aren’t the straight vertical lines like there are in Michelangelo’s figure, instead there is a dramatic twisting of the hips, arms and shoulders, with the neck twisting in the opposite direction of the shoulders.  There is an active sense of tensed action and movement, and because the figure isn’t frontally aligned, it encourages viewer interaction by encouraging the viewer to look at the figure from other angles and move around the body, another characteristic of the Baroque period.  Another characteristic that encourages viewer participation is that the figure seems to step forward with his front leg into the viewer’s space and the rock, according to the figure’s gaze, seems to be intended for someone standing behind the viewer.
            By comparing Michelangelo’s David from the Renaissance period with Bernini’s David from the Baroque period, the viewer can get a sense of Renaissance ideals that were still incorporated in the Baroque period, along with the characteristics that define the Baroque period.  We can see the incorporation of the Renaissance ideals of humanism, naturalism, and some idealism.  From Bernini’s statue, we can see the Baroque period’s interest to show even more naturalism through the lines around the eyes and the interest in texture.  We can also see the interest in drama and movement instead of visual harmony.  Bernini’s figure also encourages viewer interaction, which is in keeping with the Counter-Reformation guidelines for art of the Roman Catholic Church.