An unusual look on the use of the body in Medeival art. Definetly worth the read!
The human body is one of the most common objects encountered in art, whether in paintings, sculptures or other objects. Things have not changed much since medieval times, when artists loved to fill their work with human figures – commonly saints or individuals affiliated with biblical stories. Among the great diversity of depictions, there is one type that stands out in that the body is used (or rather, abused) to express something other than itself. These particularly fascinating and often amusing depictions are found on the medieval page. We see people bent and stretched into unnatural shapes in order to change them into something for which the book was created: letters (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 – Letter G: British Library, Add. MS 8887 (15th century) – Source
Looking at these unfortunate victims of book decorators – in this case the letter G from the Macclesfield Alphabet Book – may bring a smile to…
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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.
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 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.
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.
Time Traveler’s guide to Elizabethan England, Part I The Common People
Here is the first chapter of a delightful little BBC series. We are taken through history by a knowledgeable historian, right back to the 1550s. He retraces the everyday lives of the people. It is quite fascinating to explore the “golden age” of England through the perspective of the poor peasant people, to get a glimpse of their miserable lives. The host shows us the very different culture and beliefs of the time. Be prepared for shock as you learn the favorite past time of Elizabethans, Bear baiting… the cruel battle between a chained bear and English mastiffs, for the pleasure of the crowd. Or how beating your children was recommended, or how going to church was required by law…
Times change…. and values have as well. The process is fascinating. The world has changed dramatically since Queen Elizabeth the First, and many of those changes we so easily take for granted.
This documentary is filled with fascinating tidbits and snapshots from nearly 500 years ago.
Time Traveler’s guide to Elizabethan England, Part II The Rich
Time Traveler’s guide to Elizabethan England, Part III Brave New World
(Unfortunately All the episodes were removed from Youtube, due to the lovely Copyright infringement bots. Truly a shame, as these were excellent documentaries. I tried tracking it down but to no avail… However, Amazon carries both the original book and audio book the series was based on)