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.