Thursday, April 30, 2009

Last class

We had the last session of art history today. Curtis took a couple photos with his iPhone. Dick had asked us each to sum up what we'd gotten out of the class. I'll be posting several summaries, but thought it would be nice to start with this one from MJ, which I think speaks for most of us.
What I got out of my summer vacation art history class which was in the middle of the winter. . .

Frankly, I would not pass an art history test and I did not take a single note. In the first class, I started to take notes, harking back to my days of being a good student, then I realized that I just wanted to listen. I didn't want to study notes. Instead, I wanted to pay attention to you and learn from you. I will not use this information to become an artist or to visit European museums. I just wanted to learn.

And I did. I know very little about art, how to judge it, how to spot "real" art, how to appreciate how it has evolved. I would never have given Picasso's bicycle seat and handle bars a second glance. Now, however, I understand that the religious art that I have always so hated has a very interesting evolution. Art evolves just as man's consciousness evolves.

I learned. I broadened my mind and my understanding of art. I enjoyed the artists in the class. I had a fun time.

I want my mind to be as sharp as yours when I'm 80. And, as a student of people and a writer of their peccadillos, I watched and learned how you use humor and positive, good will to make everyone in the class feel special and loved. They all cling to your words and your insights, not just because you are knowledgeable and have a lot of answers, but because you are a fun and positive person to be around. You have a spirit that is even more delightful than your class.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Comments on William Turner's Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting "Temeraire" tugged to her last berth to be broken up
1838; Oil on canvas, 91 x 122 cm; National Gallery, London

Dick asked us to prepare comments on this painting for our April 9th class (see assignment). Here's what are Bonnie, Joelle, and I had to say.
(Wanda's comments added April 28.)

I see the cycle of life eternally moving slowly forward. Death is proudly giving way to new life. The Temeraire, ghostly white, appears already dead without its sails and armaments. Although the old ornate wooden ship holds herself proud as she is towed to her destruction, the setting sun creates a final metaphor for the end of her era and her life.

A new day will be dawning with iron, steam-driven ships taking over the seas. Life spews from the smokestack of the vividly colored tug. The tug is full of energy and has the strength to pull the large, highly honored old warship to her last resting place. Iron steam-driven ships now rule the seas. The cycle of life continues with each new dawn.

Looking at this painting one literally is peeling the onion: the more you look at it, the more layers you discover. What appears at first as a single event becomes a symbol for a whole era of changing times. Not only Turner tells us the story but how he feels about it…Rather than an exact rendering of the event Turner makes a suggestion of reality; everything is touched by light almost like by his own emotions and feelings: in this case a sense of loss and nostalgia for the grand past of the British naval power.

The sun setting and the ghost-like coloring of the boat are metaphors for the passing of the old warship while the small and steam-powered dirty tugboat evokes the beginning of the industrial revolution… (Maybe also the people’s revolution and the end of royalty as it used to be).

The whole painting appears to me to be made of opposites and contrasts:
  • light / dark
  • sun / moon
  • warm / cold
  • soft, blended, detailed, meticulously painted / rough, emotion-filled brush strokes
  • clean / dirty
  • wind powered / coal-steamed powered
  • life / death
  • geometric / organic
  • grand / common.
Comment on the word “Téméraire”: (French for temerarious…)
In French has a sense of courageous, fearless

In English fool-hardy, rash, impetuous

This painting conveys the significance of reality through appearances of reality. The sun is setting on the day, and on the era of sailing ships. The still atmosphere shows the advantage the new steam ships have, and the haze hints at some of their impacts. The pale sailing ship is being towed to a salvage yard by a steam ship, and already looks like a ghost. The steam ship is a crude brown form, while the sailboat is rendered in loving detail. I think Turner is saddened, and painted this poignant scene to mark the occasion.

The space is at least as important as the objects. The sky is alive and in places appears more substantial than the boats. The sky and the sea are horizontal planes extending from the foreground into the vanishing point of the setting sun [where sea sun and sky become one], and the composition is circular, allowing the viewer to soar out there and return again. Everything is inter-related and and unified; colour, space, object and composition. There is also a mysterious ethereal quality to it with the pale ships and the whisper of a moon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The father of modern art

In another synchronistic event, I learned of a current exhibit on Paul Cezanne and his influence on other artists in the same week that Dick talked about him in art history class (week 7). The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a major show going on through May 31, "Cezanne and Beyond." Apparently, he was very influential on both his contemporaries and later artists. The New York Times art review says both Picasso and Matisse have been credited with saying "Cézanne is the father of us all." The reviewer has some quibbles, but says "it’s a deeply satisfying show, with enough spectacular moments to justify the ticket lines and plenty of quieter revelations that will resonate particularly for working artists."

Dick declared Cezanne "the father of modern art" and credited him with "an entirely different way of seeing." He said Cezanne was "trying to recognize a reality beyond what we perceive. He wanted to give solidity and form to what had been dissolved by the Impressionists. He didn't want to have a disintegrated canvas, he was trying to integrate it." He highlighted some of Cezanne's work towards the end of his lecture on April 16, which you can see on Slideshare here. The first part of the lecture covered Realism and Impressionism, and is on Slideshare here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Week 6 assignment

The Fighting "Temeraire" tugged to her last berth to be broken up
1838; Oil on canvas, 91 x 122 cm; National Gallery, London

For class on April 9, Dick has asked us to prepare some comments on the work above:
Please take five or ten minutes to view the attached image of Turner's painting and pen a couple of comments regarding how his painting reflects his interpretation of the event. Having some quiet time to contemplate this work without outside interference is important here. With your permission, we would like you to read your comments at the appropriate time in the lecture.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Warm-up assignment, take 2

And now, a second viewpoint comparing these two works. This one was written by artist JoelleC. (See the first here.)

Although the theme of both paintings revolves around music, Harnett’s [on the left] is a detailed, almost photographic rendering of all the elements depicted, creating an illusion of reality. It appears as a careful set-up which gives clues to the viewer into a world of nostalgic and romantic nature.

On the other hand, Picasso’s* painting, by using a series of geometrical shapes and patterns, doesn’t merely imitate the world as seen, but creates an impression connecting us to the essence of music and its rhythm. The use of words creates the festive event context in which the music is played. In spite of the theme, the painting has become an independent object where colors, composition and textures invite the viewer to perceive the world from different points of views. The ambiguity of the visual message can be the starting point for the viewer’s own creative process.

What is interesting to me is that, although the painting on the left appears to be more realistic, it could be totally an illusion... where the one on the right might actually be a bigger picture of a real event.

* There was some debate among the group whether this piece was created by Picasso or Braque, as they were working closely together in a similar style. Joelle thinks it looks more like Picasso's work of that time. --Karen