How Photography Changed Everything

I’ve often wondered about the moment where someone paused, paintbrush in the air and decided that copying reality, adding to it only a dash of idealism, metaphor and allegory was tedious. Who was the first to pause and ask why they should be copying endless paintings from the great masters, plethora of drapes and fruits, dissecting hidden symbols in a twisted quest for meaning? Who jump started the creative process, opening the way for new art and a new way of expression? I think that singling a lone artist at a precise time and place would be almost impossible. The Idea seemed to come to several around the same era and in different locations. How can we reinvent artistic expression? In this class, we studied the transition of art into something new and exciting. It was intriguing to see all the different stages and styles, with artists struggling to push art forward. I think we shouldn’t down play the impact of photography in this process. Besides, the time frames coincide nicely, the first photographs appeared the 1800s and becoming popular in the second half of the 19th century, just as the first impressionists were questioning the artistic status quo. I always thought that photography was the trigger. Suddenly there is a way to make an exact copy of an instant in time. A perfect copy, that takes a few hours at best, instead of the months it would take a painter to struggle and duplicate that same image. I believe those first Avant -Guard artists saw the potential in photography and also might have seen the end of an artistic area. Not wanting to be left behind, they had to create something new, and find a new path for an artistic expression that photography could not offer. There is something more intimate and emotional in a painting, something about the time and energy, thought and technique used in painting and drawing that transcends photography. Which is probably why the fine arts realm snubbed it for a while. I think the artists felt threatened by this new technique, and refused to give it the artistic acknowledgement it deserves. It’s a tricky process to compose a good artistic shot. It takes a lot of knowledge and manipulation, you have to have a good subject, the adequate lighting, and proper processing technique. There is a lot of skill and creativity involved in artistic photography. It took some time for the higher end artistic circles to realize this. Despite their hidden uses of photography for their own work. Indeed Photography and Painting have a long history of co-dependence. Here is a fascinating article on the subject, discussing just how painting and photography are linked.

Painting_and_Photography_p_124_combinedHow Photography changed Everything

It talks about how artists rapidly came to use photographs, as snapshots of a subject and duplicate, or at least use the image as a reference in their own work. (artists today do this routinely, Modern artist at work ) The funny part was the denial of the painters themselves, still considering photography as simplistic, unworthy of the “fine arts” title. According to the article, Critic Ernest Lacan described those painters’ relationship to photography as “like a mistress whom one cherishes but hides.” And visa versa, photographers have dived into the vast archives of paintings in search for subject matter and composition inspiration. (the two images at the beginning of the article were particularly striking) Here are a few examples 1apolka dots 8 final copy films-inspired-art-13 In our own highly multimedia world, photos have taken over. We are constantly taking pictures on phones, tablets and cameras, sharing them in some hopes that they will perpetuate the memory of an instant, becoming pseudo artists ourselves in an attempt to communicate something visually. It’s an interesting development for our society, this urge to share our personal perspective and vision in an overwhelmingly quantitative way. The anthropologists of the next century will have literal tons of images to go through, hopefully helping them decipher our intricate modern society. A down side of this photo craze, is the absence of ACTUAL memories. A new study came out this week, showing that the distraction of taking a picture, hinders the process of creating a detailed memory. By taking rapid snap shots, you are more likely to forget the details and locations of items and specifics of events. This article here talks about it.

www.imaging-resource.com

How photography can affect your memory if you aren’t paying attention

I feel like this wouldn’t be a problem for an artist reproducing that item or that instant in time. They have to carefully study and observe before recreating (in what every style, composition or technique) what they have seen. There is something to the creative process that demands careful consideration, experimentation and precise execution. It’s interesting to see that off handed, careless photo taking is damaging our own abilities. Perhaps we have grown too comfortable and too reliant on our technology, expecting it to remember and create in our place without pouring in the essence that is Art.

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Ice Age Art, the Beginning of Everything

(This is part 1 of 5)

A beautiful documentary from the BBC about ancient art. Fascinating exploration of prehistorical art, with great explications and high, BBC quality.

Very much enjoyed this one. It’s fascinating to see and to try and understand that ancient art. We humans have always been pushed towards creating. One can only wonder why? Why must we seek out aestheticism, beauty and creation?

The documentary touches on an interesting correlation between the advent of art and the beginning of society, associating prehistorical art with the awakening of the human as we now know it. We can theorize that the process of creation might have helped develop the minds of the modern man. A very romantic idea indeed.

Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 7 The Modern Woman II (final)

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I was intrigued to see this artist as a sculptor. The name Matisse usually brought up thoughts of paintings and drawings for me. So it was quite intriguing to see some of his sculpting pieces. This was part of a series, four female figures seen from the back, emerging slowly from the stone. Even though this is a different medium, you can still get a sense of the artist’s “flavor” and style. (Nude from the back stage 1, Henri Matisse 1909)

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I was intrigued by the heavy line work of this piece. The outlines were anything but subtle. Even the lines in the face were hard, heavy lines. Something about the contrasting black, yellow and white made this painting stand out. (Nini, dancer at “Folies Bergeres”, Kees VonDongh, 1907)

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I liked the stylized figures of this artist. You could also see the progressing and simplification he was moving towards. The left hand sculpture predates the one on the top. You can almost see the creative process at work here.

(Series of Nudes, Henri Laurence, clay 1930-1947)

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Here was another example of an artist having more than one specialty Andre Derain made a series of nude figurines (see previous post) but is obviously quite capable with a brush. Some of the facial features were similar between the two, but still. The similarities between sculpture and painting are not as clear as with Matisse. (Alice Derain portrait, Andre Derain, 1920)

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Modern artists also used the female body as a means, integrating concepts and allegories in their pieces. Here, the artists is making a statement about reality contrasting with dreams and illusions. The female body is morphed and transformed. These last few slides present some of the strangest pieces I saw, a little puzzling and odd, some quite disturbing really but still original uses of the female form in their art. (“You shouldn’t see reality as I am”, Max Ernst, 1923)

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Giacometti’s style was quite intriguing, pitted, rough surfaces, elongated and unnatural figures. Here is a woman, easily recognizable by her female attributes, but still in such a unique representation that I felt it was worth sharing.

(Woman from Venice V, Alberto Giacometti, 1956)

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This portrait grabbed my attention and I ended up standing in front of it for quite some time. This gave me a chance to see some of the reactions of over viewers. Some were disgusted, perplexed, curious or scoffing. But no one really understood. Reading the nearby sign I discovered that the artist Balthus loved to make a ruckus He was an innovator, promoting erotic art. Claiming that eroticism was different than obscenity. He wanted to shock his viewers and make them ponder the question of nudity and eroticism in art. However this piece was quite disturbing. The model was the wife of a close friend of Balthus. They had a rather ambiguous relationship. Another dimension was the title “Alice” referring to the child’s book. She is wearing little ballet shoes, like a little girl, yet her body is that of a full grown woman. Her blank, blind stare makes her particularly unnerving.

(Alice, Balthus, 1933)

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Bacon’s perspective was also a little off. A woman in a provocative pose, contrasting with the pure black darkness behind the doorway and seemingly melting away. He face was decomposing almost, the mismatched eyes and devious grin only added to the uncomfortable feeling you had when view this painting. (Female Nude Standing in Doorway, Francis Bacon 1972)

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This was the last piece I wanted to share. An ephemeral ink and acrylic painting. There was something eyrie but fascinating about her. There was no story or interpretation offered here, leaving us free to imagine who this ghost like woman is, and to wonder what she might be thinking, staring back at the hordes of viewers passing by. She seems almost amused, with a slight grin, hiding some kind of secret we will never know. (Labeled, Marlene Dumas 1998)

 

Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 6 The Modern Woman I

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The Pompidou center offered a very different perspective on the female figure. I also found that women were one of the most common themes in the art here. There’s something to be said about the fascination of artists with the female body, trying to represent it, change it and mold it into something new, but still expressing the natural beauty of the women in their lives. After the advent of photography, the art world changed completely. Artists were seeking a new meaning to creation, a new inspiration, and women played an important part in that search for a new art.
(Naked woman sitting, Georges Braque 1907, Fauvist movement with outrageous colors.)

Picasso

Picasso’s vision of the world has always fascinated me. I simply marvel at the variety of his works, and so there are quite a few of his works here. The cubist movement was scorned and mocked, but I find it to be a show of technical prowess. It’s a much more challenging piece to admire and decipher, but definitely worth the effort.

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Woman’s bust, 1907

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Woman sitting in a chair, 1910

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Girl with a hoop, 1919

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Naked woman with Turkish hat, 1955

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Women by the ocean, 1956

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I liked this series of sculptures, marble and stone women, standing with tilted heads. The one on the top in embracing a lover. The perspective is a bit odd, it almost seems like the breasts are in the wrong spot, I was a little puzzled at first, but it was in the cubist exhibit, so perhaps it is just a different point of view than what we are used to. The figure on the bottom gives of a gentle softness with a smile.

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Andre Derain, 1907-08 collection of nudes

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Otto Dix’s works are always a little perturbed. But this one was especially so. The main characters are reflected multiple times throughout the pieces as if they are surrounded by mirrors, each reflection focusing on a different part of the strange couple. The strangest part of the piece is how the artists identifies the female here as a nun, making this representation of vice and hubris all the more shocking. (Soldier and Nun, Otto Dix 1916)

Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 5 The Second Empire

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We continue with the theme of allegories in the second empire. This large bronze piece was carefully constructed. Each element having a specific significance and symbolism. It’s a nationalist piece, the center female figure representing France herself. (France is always personified as a woman) She is surrounded by artistic muses and symbols for the Roman empire and supremacy.

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Here are two another bronze allegories, personifying poetry and the art of creation. They are placed in front of Paris’ “Hotel de Ville”, the main city hall of the city, a stunning piece of architecture, covered in sculptures of great men of France, authors, politicians and of course, some of the more important mayors and city officials. She is one of three only female presence on the building (the other is France herself above the clock.)

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The portraits of the second empire, show the fashions of the time, something I love to see. Following the different trends in clothes and fashion through art would be another great topic to study more in depth.

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But they also reflect a sort of genteel feel, calm, soft images and a feeling of delicate elegance that I found charming.

Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 4 The Renaissance Period

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In 1622, Marie of Medici was crown Queen of France and commissioned 24 painting from the painter Rubens to decorate her new palace. Its a series of big oil paintings, representing different important scenes from the queen’s life. Each is elaborate and very detailed, with allegorical and mythological additions. The aim is to glorify the Queen and her rule, but each piece reflects the golden age of classicism.

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Here is a good example of what I meant. We can clearly see the queen at the center of the piece as the main focal point, in light clothing to contrast with the other characters. But surrounding the queen are figures from Greek and Roman mythology, such as Naiads and sea nymphs, but also cherubs and angels. The renaissance period was a revival of all the old myths. The ancients also provided artistic instruction as artists copied and studied their works, compositions and anatomical studies. I also found it interesting that the pagan characters are always naked or very little dressed, whereas the proper ladies of society are shown in full regalia. It certainly makes for an interesting contrast.

DSCN1930Again, portraits of ladies and noble women are all dressed in fine garbs with jewels and accessories This shows Rubens wife and son painted around 1640, showing the elegance and refinement of their status.

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We have a portrait of an Italian Noble woman, painted by Antoon Van Dyck around the same period. I loved the attire and complicated gown. I think this models the saying “One of the best ways that status can is conveyed is through impracticality.”

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The Classical artists were fascinated with myths, collecting them and digging through to seek out the raw materials of creation. The female forms here are voluptuous and round, miles away from the ideal of beauty in our generation, of stick thin skeletal models. But at the same time, the dressed women of this same period are wearing corsets and dresses that curve their forms to the extreme to have narrow waists. (Rembrandt, 1654 Bathsheba holding David’s letter)

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This contrast is fascinating to me. The differences between the ideal of the naked women and the ideal of the “clothed” women. (A mortal catching a glimpse of sleeping Venus)

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The classical artists were also fascinated by allegories and personifications. Something probably inspired from the Romans. The female body becomes a means, not only is it an object of beauty but it represents something more than that. The game of symbolism hunting is quite  fun also, trying to understand why the artists picked certain objects or creatures as metaphor and symbols. (Religion destroying Heresy, Jean Hardy 1653)

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Union of Painting and Sculpture,  Jacques Burette,1677

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Allegory of Spring, Pierre LeGros 1629. I love these allegories, showing how the artist would envision how the person incarnating Spring would look. It’s part of a series of four (obviously) each woman holding attributes of each season.

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This sculpture was interesting, portraying an actual person dressed as the goddess Juno. It’s like a reversed allegory. An actual person representing a concept, an immaterial goddess. (Marie Leaszczuncka as Juno, Guillaume Coustou 1677)

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This photo might seem a little strange. But I visited the “Conciergerie”, the prison where Marie-Antoinette spent the last few months of her life before being executed by the new regime. This photo is a restoration of her cell (with added mannequins). And I felt like this was an interesting perspective on the theme of this project. Here is the place where one of the most famous, frivolous women in world history spent her last few days, in austere conditions, having lost everything.

Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 3 The Middle Ages

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I had the opportunity to visit the Cluny Medieval Museum, which I had never been to. It was a wonderful experience to see the different art work of that era (650-1400 c.e.) as I feel like this is a somewhat forgotten aspect of art history. The craftsmanship and talent of the Middle-ages surprised me greatly, changing my outlook on the so called “Dark Ages” completely.

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What fascinated me the most were the massive tapestry panels. The sheer size of them alone is awe-inspiring. But they are so rich in detail and pattern that one truly has to wonder about the time and care an artist puts into these beautiful fabric masterpieces.

DSCN1071This elaborate scene showed the baptism of a French prince and showed the divine blessing on his future reign. I found it fascinating as nearly every person of the prince’s entourage was female. Beautiful noble women dressed in their finest, surround and supporting the future sovereign. Each lady has a small caption, naming each also. The occurrence of text and words in tapestries was unknown to me and I found it a little out of place but of great historical importance. It leaves little room for misinterpretations. The scene takes place in an elaborate background, nature, especially flowers and plants had great symbolic values and you can find them in nearly every piece.DSCN1072

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Another slightly surprising thing I found at Cluny was this strange pose of the Madonna. I’d never seen them in this tilted pose, holding the baby on their hip with such a pronounced curve. Usually Madonnas are much more stiff and standing straight. But I feel like this pose made her seem more human and approachable. Religious art was THE most important theme to be found here. The sheer quantity was staggering. 9 out of ten pieces, if not more, were depicting some kind of Christian scene, character or event.

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The wood carving ability of medieval artisans should definitely be mentioned. This piece struck a chord with me. Saint Madeleine’s statue was slightly smaller than true size, but her presence compensated for it. Her dress was a complicated mess of folds and creases and it was hard to believe she was made of wood at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The most famous series of tapestries is beyond a doubt the Unicorn collection. It is a five piece series, each showing a noble maiden in a fantastic, imaginary place filled with plants, flowers and small animals. Each scene presents her with a lion and a white unicorn and each represents a different sense. This one here, shows the sense of sight, symbolized with the mirror. It was interesting to see the different representations of these senses throughout the room. And for once, to not have a major Christian theme in these pieces.