Month: September 2013

LET’S THROW PAINT! POLLOCK AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

Rachel Bowden

ENG328 Fall 2013

LET’S THROW SOME PAINT! POLLOCK AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

Pollock, Number 8, 1949, enamel/oil

Pollock, Number 8, 1949, enamel/oil

Jackson Pollock’s Number 8 embodies artistic techniques that encapsulate a “make it new” revolution in art.

This piece is interesting because there isn’t necessarily one image or shape in particular that catches our attention. There seems to be an avoidance of any discernible parts within a whole. Instead, there is a series of splatters, globs, curvy lines, and colors that look as though they’ve been flung onto the canvas. Pollock only uses a few colors, and the red obviously is the one that is most unlike the others in terms of pop. The lines look lively, and have an aggressive quality to them, as though Pollock was moving about the canvas with varying rhythm when he painted this.

Although there is not an image that is clear in this painting, there is a clear sense of motion involved, and some lines are definitely more predominant than the others in terms of thickness (the thicker lines draw our attention more). The thickest lines are black, and there are really only two that are significantly larger than the others. The strokes and way that some of the globs of paint are thicker in some parts show where the lines were started and where they ended, and we get the perception that the painter literally attacked the canvas from all four sides, constantly changing his direction and color choice, perhaps. Some lines seem to be straight, while others have a distinct curve to them.

During the late 1940’s, Pollock redefined not only the techniques that artists used, but also the experience that viewers took on. Pollock’s works were mostly numbered, perhaps because he didn’t want the viewer to have a premature misconception of what the art should be taken as through analyzing a title.  He wanted the viewers to create their own meaning—and clearly, he gave them a head start by not having a clear image displayed in his works similar to Number 8. He abandoned the traditional idea of composition in terms of relations among smaller parts—of course, perhaps his way of “making it new!”. He understood that the journey toward making an art piece was just as important as the piece itself, and his approaches and methods truly reformed the pre existing norms.

Instead of relying on a typical “form”, he decided to make it new through his revolutionary techniques. One of the first known artists not to use an easel, Pollock instead simply put the canvas on the floor, and was able to constantly move in order to create the motions, flows, and drips that he wanted. Put simply, Pollock broke boundaries that existed before he came along—completely making it new and creating new abstract forms for artists who followed. Pollock used new techniques and abstract images that ultimately revolutionized the art of his times, creating abstract expressionism. This idea of “breaking tradition” is clearly expressed in this piece, and is key to the modernist movement which Pollock called home.

Pollock, Jackson. Number 8. 1949. Neuberger Museum, State University of New York. Web 22 September 2013. <http://a-painting-per-day.blogspot.com/2010/01/number-8-by-jackson-pollock.html&gt;

“Jackson Pollock.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 22 Sept.

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Barbarism: The Cultural Break into Modernism

Igor Stravinsky‘s Rite of Spring

In May of 1913, a well-known progressive Russian artist named Igor Stravinsky traveled to France to create the greatest and most volatile performance of the twentieth century. His ballet, Rite of Spring, became the defining cultural break between the Victorian era and the new Modernist age.

At a time when the arts (ballet, painting, music, etc.) were so valued and respected, Stravinsky redefined the concept of the delicate, Victorian ballet, into something blunt and somewhat grotesque. With no preparation for the kind of performance that would commence, the audience eagerly awaited the ballet as they would any other. However, when the atonal beats rolled out, when the natives began to chant, and the sacrificial virgin was given to the gods, all hell broke loose. Slowly, men and women filed silently out of the theater, grunts of disapproval quietly escaped the mouths of the members, and eventually the entire theater was in an uprising. A war had broken out amongst the audience.

The purest form of beauty and grace had been mauled into an ugly, pagan ritual. Only the most progressive members applauded this transformation. However, the general consensus among the French aristocrats was to reject the brutal change that had been wrought upon the traditional. Stravinsky named this performance Rite of Spring, and it was to become the metaphor (and foreshadowing) for the First World War.

Much of Stravinsky’s inspiration for the barbarism and savagery in Rite of Spring is rooted in the cultural rift between Germany and Western Europe that has existed for thousands of years. With the decline of Victorian influence and heightened tensions among European nations during the early twentieth century, Stravinsky was anticipating and contributed to the shocking cultural movement before the First World War.

Although the Modernist era somewhat attributes its style to its resemblance to the Victorian era, this ballet symbolizes all that is new and different from the latter: the dancers’ attire is simplistic, the music is crashing, a virgin is sacrificed. This type of art parallels the style of modernist poets like T.S. Eliot, for whom traditional structure and limited external perspective had become far less important than conveying indefinite, ambiguous, raw emotion. Stravinsky’s masterpiece seems earth shattering compared to the subtle shift in perspective that authors such as Eliot had created during this era. That being said, Stravinsky was not nearly as concerned as Eliot and other American writers in defining the new Modernist movement; his goal was to create a work of art that would exemplify the changes he was anticipating in a global perspective, not pinpointing details that separated Modernist literature from Victorian.

There is no singular answer for what defines Modernism. Although known as a primarily American cultural movement, the ramifications of shifting from a stifled, suffocating, and “civilized” Victorian era to the raw, malleable, multiplicity of the Modernist movement are products of a global transition. Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring concretely defined the beginning of a new era, before WWI stripped what was left of the traditional civilized world.

Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring. Dir. Yoel Levi. Perf. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Telarc, 27 June 2011. Web.

“After The Revolution.” Dance Magazine 87.2 (2013): 32-36. Humanities International Complete. Web. 17 Sept. 2013.

Eksteins, Modris. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989. Print.

Barbarism: The Cultural Break into Modernism by Laurel Wiebe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at https://polygrafi.wordpress.com/

http://artnc.org/works-of-art/green-bridge-ii

Off To Work We Go: A Memory of the Working Class During WWI

http://artnc.org/works-of-art/green-bridge-ii

The Green Bridge II, 1916. Oil on canvas, 49 3/8 x 39 ½ in. In the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Lyonel Feininger, an American artist living in Berlin, painted The Green Bridge II in the middle of World War I. Feininger uses elements of cubism to provide an impression of a working-class neighborhood in Paris.

The dominant image is the subject of the painting’s title – the green bridge. The curving arch of the bridge draws my eye downwards, first to a gas lamp glowing orange and then to a woman in the corner. Following the gaze of the woman, I look up and down the line of people walking on the boulevard. The dark tree on the left catches my eye next, and I follow its length to the top of the bridge, thus completing a circle around the painting. This circular motion is repeated on a smaller scale in the brush strokes and curving geometric forms used to depict the people and the place.

Four of the five figures on the bridge seem to be walking across, while one is gazing over the edge at the people passing underneath. This figure both aids and impedes the circular path my eye takes: he provides a link to move across the bridge to the figure on the far right, but he also faces forward and looks down to the line of people intersecting the arc of the bridge, drawing my eye down. Towards the front of that line is a figure holding a pickaxe. The majority of people wears subdued colors – blues, browns, greens, and purples – and is swathed in many layers of clothing in gradating colors. The buildings as well are a subdued purple-red color. These serious and restrained colors are punctuated by light sources glowing yellow and orange – the gas lamp on the right and the light from an open door on the left.

The sweeping arc of the bridge, the circular path taken by the eye, and the curving brush strokes indicate movement. This movement animates a picture that might otherwise be seen as static and cold. While I’m taken on a circular path around the painting, this path is disrupted by several figures that draw attention to the line of people in the center. The bridge may be the most dominant image, but it surrounds and thus highlights the people underneath it – the working class. Constructing the painting in this way allows for constant and continual movement. There is always something leading the viewers’ eyes to another object, and every object is important. The subdued colors, particularly the icy green, the bare tree, and the solitary figures wrapped in layers give the painting an air of melancholy – but it is not somber. The light sources provide warmth, and the movement makes it lively.

As an admirer of French culture, Feininger visited Paris several times before the war. His painting depicts a form of reality that can’t have been true for European cities during the war; perhaps, then, he pairs subdued colors and circular arcs to reconcile the conflict of the war and his memories of a happier time.

Feinringer, Lyonel. The Green Bridge II. 1916. North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina. ArtNC. Web 18 Sept. 2013. <http://artnc.org/works-of-art/green-bridge-ii&gt;.

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City of the Living Dead

Spencer, Sir Stanley. "The Resurrection, Cookham 1924-7." Tate Britain. Tate Britain, July 2007. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

The Resurrection, Cookham. 1924-7. Oil on canvas. 2743×5486 mm. Tate Britain, London.

Stanley Spencer’s The Resurrection, Cookham 1924-27 uses color and religious motifs to depict a scene of joyful resurrection from death caused by the Great War.

The painting depicts a church graveyard in which a community is rising out of the tombs and coffins. There are mothers taking care of children and husbands, children playing together, men waking up alone. The white church is in the upper right corner of the painting, and along the wall are saints and angels who appear to waking up as well. The upper center of the painting is dominated by a triangular arch of flowers, under which a family of three sits. In the upper left corner of the painting, a river flows in the distance, and a boat full of people is preparing to dock. Some figures are either standing up or lying down with their elbows level with their neck, some with their forearms stretch out and some with their forearms hanging. The overall color scheme is full of white, black, reds, and greens.

Before further analysis, it is important to note that Spencer served in the Royal Army Medical Corp during the Great War, which makes the choice of a graveyard setting more logical However, in contrast to many veterans of the war, the main point of his work appears to be community, happiness, and life. He uses a specific color scheme and religious motifs in the painting—along with, of course, the subtle hint in the title—to indicate that the message of the painting is resurrection.

The dominating colors of the painting are white, black, red, and green. In most Western paintings, white is associated with life, innocence, and purity while black is associated death, corruption, and mourning. The contrasting presence of black and white mirrors the contrast between life and death. Likewise, a similar tension is present in the color red. The color is often associated with blood, which, depending on the context, could be a symbol of life (in the body) or death (out of the body). Green is the color of nature and rebirth, as much of nature dies in the fall before being reborn in the spring.

The religious motifs range from obvious to subtle, alluding to the life, death, and rebirth of Jesus. The eye is immediately drawn to the upper center of the painting, depicting a scene that looks very much like a nativity scene, alluding to the birth and life of Jesus. On a more subtle note, some of the figures are hanging or lying down in a manner indicative of Jesus on the cross, alluding to his death. The graveyard is next to a church—most likely Anglican—which follows the teaching of Jesus, the man who rose from the dead. Additionally, and on a more pagan note, the river scene in the upper left corner could be alluding to the river Styx, which brought souls to the underworld—another symbol of death. Unlike those souls, however, these souls appear to be jovial—a symbol of life. Water is another symbol for rebirth.

Although it is unclear what precisely inspired this community’s rebirth after death, presumably, from the Great War, Spencer’s portrayal of life amidst death is unique among Great War artists.

Sources

Spencer, Sir Stanley. “The Resurrection, Cookham 1924-7.” Tate Britain. Tate Britain, July 2007. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

“Stanley Spencer.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

 

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The Kiss: Gustav Klimt on gender at the turn of the century

Image

Klimt, Gustav. The KissDer Kuss, 1908. Oil on canvas.  180 x 180 cm.  Belvedere, Wien.

Gustav Klimt’s depiction of a man and woman in an embrace.

Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, Austria in 1862, the eldest son of an immigrant gold engraver from Bohemia.  He studied art at the School of Applied Arts in Vienna alongside his brother, Ernst. Klimt worked initially as a decorative muralist, yet the sudden deaths of his father and brother in 1892 triggered a withdrawal from society during which Klimt’s art became increasingly eccentric.  He became obsessive about privacy, never married, and had several illicit affairs; he was rumored to have fathered fourteen illegitimate children.  These factors manifested in his efforts to oppose the status quo throughout his oeuvre by using new painting techniques, and allegorical symbolism of life and death.  Klimt’s personal life also engendered his preoccupation with portraying women as sexual beings, thereby illustrating the paradoxical gender roles at the turn of the century.  These elements are all relevant in Klimt’s most famous work: The Kiss.

In The Kiss, a couple is shown embracing in a field of flowers.  The man is bent over the woman, who clings to him tightly as she waits for his kiss.  The male figure is distinguished by square and rectangular shapes on his gold clothing, while the female is ornamented with soft lines and a floral pattern. A delicate, golden halo envelops the couple, which creates a sacred atmosphere in the painting.  Yet, the female’s toes are sharply bent and rooted into the ground; she appears to be constrained by the golden flowers in the meadow.  It is also interesting to note that while the gold flowers wrap around the female’s ankles and legs, the flowers beneath the male are much shorter, less invasive, and multi-colored.

The depiction of the male as dominant to the female, by being bent over her, is in alignment with the Romantic, 19th century social constructs for how a man and wife should interact.  Moreover, it was a common perspective that men were the dominant gender and heads of the home, as well as leaders in the political sphere.  Women were seen merely as angels of the home, and the ideal woman was soft, gentle, and subservient.  One should also note that the dark, sharp, structured shapes on the male’s clothing contrasted by the delicate flowers on the female’s clothes seem to follow the Romantic gender mold exactly.  The woman’s constraints in the meadow further emphasize her servitude to the male; in a way she is his slave.  The golden halo around the couple is also centered on the female, which seems to suggest that she is the angelic human, who is simply bringing the male into her blissful atmosphere.

Yet, upon closer examination you notice that not everything fits the Romantic gender mold.  The woman is not only clinging to the man, but pulling him to her.  She also appears to be intensely enjoying the moment.  Thus, it can be argued that she, in fact, is the seductress in this situation.  There is also no evidence that the couple is married. Though Klimt did not use nudity in this particular painting, he still uses many of his trademarks; the woman is sexualized, and the halo juxtaposed with the woman’s constraints in the meadow can be interpreted as an allegorical representation of life and death.  Klimt’s painting techniques also differentiate this work from that of the previous century.

Ultimately, what initially appears to be a representation of Romantic ideals is in fact a rejection of those principles and art forms.  Klimt’s The Kiss is thus an iconic Modernist piece, challenging every gender ideal and social construct from the preceding time period.
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