Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rejlander's "The Two Ways of Life" vs. Raphael's "School of Athens"

On the brink of  Modernity, artists all over the globe buzzed with anticipation of a new, avant-garde art movement that allowed painters, sculptors, and architects alike to break free from traditional means of artistic patronage and dive head-first into a movement that inspired change, growth, and, for the first time, an uninhibited freedom to create. At the forefront of this crusade was a new mechanism of art that had not yet been explored prior to the 19th century: photography. Although members of the Avant-garde movement sought to break away from the strict rules of the Salons, a body of wealthy patrons who took it upon themselves to define what qualified as “art”, and singlehandedly destroying the integrity of any work that strayed from their ideals, artists remained wary of this budding medium which was unlike any method ever used before. Those opposed to photography as a fine art believed that it was a machine that captured the image, not the artist himself. Because of this, many early photographers sought to make their prints resemble fine paintings.
A prime example of this technique is Oscar Rejlander’s photograph “The Two Ways of Life” as compared to the famous artist Raphael’s “The School of Athens”. Similar in composition and subject matter, these two works are unmistakably linked.  Raphael’s most notable masterpiece, “The School of Athens” is a large fresco painted on the interior of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. In it are portraits of the great thinkers Aristotle, Plato, and a self-portrait of Raphael himself. The setting in which the painting takes place is a basilica-shaped church, the Greek cross layout symbolizing the intersection of pagan philosophy and Christian theology, two major ideologies flourishing at the time. Framing the painting are allusions to Greek mythology. High-relief sculptures of the god Apollo and goddess Athena buttress the themes of renaissance thinking such as music, wisdom, and rebirth of the culture of classical antiquity.
Likewise, Rejlander’s photograph, composed of over thirty different images combined into one complete arrangement, has many similar references. “Rejlander emulated not only the artistic methods and ambitions of academic masters, but also their pretensions to high moral purpose.” (Arnason, 16) “The Two Ways of Life” tells the story of a pair of men presented with two different paths of life; the path of morality, vice, and virtue, and a life of “sin that so easily entangles”. Amidst the young apprentices stands a wise patriarch, guiding and imparting knowledge as Plato instructed Aristotle. On one half of the composition are erotic scenes of sexual indulgence, gambling, and lust, while the other half comprises ethical scenes of philanthropy, humanitarianism, and academia. Not only are the figures presented in a lackadaisical manner, lounging on the steps of an Italian cathedral as in “The School of Athens”, but their mannerisms and placement are also parallel. Architectural features such as the arched entryway, marble staircase and doric columns of Rejlander’s building mirror elements used in Raphael’s famous mural as well.
As time went on, this sudden shift from traditional means of artistic creation to modern techniques became more widely accepted. Photography as a method of fine art became more universally regarded as artists began to “purge their work of the artificial, academic devices…and instead report the world and its life candidly.” (Arnason 16) With the emergence of artists like Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot, who revolutionized photographic procedures with their creation of the Daguerrotype and Callotype, photography’s place in the art world not only established, but thrived, setting the stage for countless iconic works to come. 

Union Solder after Release from Andersonville 

In late 1863, the confederacy began to construct prisoner of war camps to house union soldiers. Often these soldiers were exchanged, like property, in bargains. The camp was built in Andersonville village by W. Captain Sidney Winder. Ironically, the camp was built by slaves in such a way that the tight fitting pine-log buildings gave no view of the outside world. Small gates were also erected around parts of the camp and anyone prisoner found near them would be shot. 

Originally, the 16.5 acre prison was supposed to house about 10,000 prisoners. Despite another 10 acre expansion (using prison labor), Andersonville became severely overcrowded. By February of 1864, 33,000 union soldiers were kept in this horrible place. The summer months were treacherous and men suffered from malnutrition, disease, and dysentery; furthermore, polluted water sources caused even more death. Confederate soldiers had to mass graves just to dispose of the bodies. 

The union won in the end of course, but at what cost? Matthew Brady, a famous photographer of this era, took numerous pictures during the civil war. Many of them were portraits, however, one I saw in class today really caught my attention. 

Nobody would think that Americans could do such grotesque things to their fellow countrymen; however, war causes panic and cloudy judgement. Think about if photography didn't exist during this time...this unique form of art told so many stories and without Matthew Brady the world might never know the true horrors of the Civil War. 

This particular picture reminded me of a war that came less than a century later. In World War II, jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and other minorities were kept in concentration camps (also known as death camps). This era of "racial cleansing" came to be known as the Holocaust. Like this union soldier, survivors of death camps were skeleton like. 
It's curious how history repeats itself. Nonetheless, people around the globe are allowed to visualize these atrocities because of photography. This form of art has completely altered human psyche. When images like these are thrown into the face of someone ignorant, their lives are changed and they become a little more knowledgable. It's this knowledge that can save us from repeating history.

"Piss Christ"

“Piss Christ”, a 1987 photograph by artist Andre Serrano, is, on the surface, a piece of anti-Christian propaganda composed of a plastic crucifix submerged in a vile of the artist’s urine. Controversial at best, this work caused a national uproar when displayed in a private gallery in 1989. Not only was this photograph open to public exhibition, it was the winner of the Southeastern Conference of the Contemporary Art’s “Awards for the Visual Arts” competition, an organization partly sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts, a government agency dedicated to the funding of artistic projects. This essentially means that Andre Serrano’s slap in the face to people of faith across the nation was subsidized in part by these taxpaying Christ followers themselves; an issue they proposed was a violation against their rights, claiming it breached the laws of the separation of Church and State. Serrano himself received death threats and hate mail, later losing backing by his sponsor’s because of the work’s religious controversy. However, what we may not be able to see immediately, through the fog of obscene vulgarity that tends to cloud our vision when gazing upon this serene image of Christ on the cross, bathed in a golden light of offense, is that Andres Serrano himself was a devout Catholic. To him, this symbol of divinity, piety, and dedication to Christ enveloped in his own “piss” was meant to highlight a truth that we as Christians are not so quick to recognize.  In an interview with The Guardian, just days after Serrano’s photograph went on display for the second time at the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery in New York, Serrano himself commented on his piece. Piss Christ is a reflection of my work; not only as an artist, but as a Christian…The thing about the crucifix itself is that we treat it almost like a fashion accessory. When you see it, you're not horrified by it at all, but what it represents is the crucifixion of a man... So if Piss Christ upsets you, maybe it's a good thing to think about what happened on the cross." Sister Wendy, a Catholic nun and renowned art critic expounded on the relevance of Serrano’s message. She stated, “…this is what we are doing to Christ. We are not treating him with reverence; His great sacrifice is not used, we live very vulgar lives, we put Christ in a bottle of urine…to call it blasphemous is really begging to question: it could be, or it could not be. It’s what you make of it.” 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket

The painting:

 Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold is an "artistic impression" based on a nighttime scene of fireworks that the artist saw over London's Cremorne Gardens. This scene, in Whistler's mind at least, was the perfect subject for one of his "Nocturnes." He painted it not with the objective of making it look realistic but instead with the goal of capturing the atmosphere and his memory of the place ; something that he hoped to convey to the public. American artists see the subject as "intrinsically modern." Critics at the time had different opinions...


    When most people of today think of controversial art their minds are almost always steered toward sexually explicit, sacrilegious, or politically incorrect images. But in 1875, James Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket was the very definition of a controversial work of art. Although scholars of today look at this piece as the high point of Whistler's middle period, critics of the 19th century saw it as confusing, incomprehensible and even insulting. One such critic, John Ruskin, had this to say about the "nocturne":

  "For Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of willful imposture."

     Ruskin said that Whistler was a "coxcomb," or a pretentious fop, and that asking two hundred guineas for  "flinging a pot of paint in the publics face" was outrageous. Because Ruskin was such an influential voice in the art world at the time and so many people read the criticism, Whistler sued for libel. A trial ensued and eventually Whistler came out to be the victor. He was awarded one farthing (roughly a few pennies) for winning the case but was pleased with the symbolic victory nonetheless.  Years later the painting sold for 800 guineas. An accomplishment that Whistler was not going to let go unnoticed: 

“the Pot of paint flung in the face of the British Public for two hundred guineas has sold for four pots of paint, and that Ruskin has lived to see it!”

My thoughts: 

     I personally enjoy this painting quite a bit. The high contrast between the sheets of dark and the splashes of light combine perfectly to convey an air of mystery and what I believe to be an intentionally ambiguous theme. The open interpretation of the piece helps to keep the painting relevant and intriguing in my eyes. The wide range of emotions that Whistler is able to provoke from "flinging a pot of paint" is incredible and clearly justifies his large influence on generations of artists.

The Two Ways of Life by Oscar Rejlander

       Oscar Rejlander was one of the first artists to use photography as an art form. His most famous work is The Two Ways of Life, created in 1857 over six weeks.
        The work is set in a great stone hall, with a forest scene visible through a doorway in the background. Placed in almost the exact center is a preacher with two men in front of him.
        The man on his right (our right) is holding the hand of the preacher with a serene expression on his face. In front of the serene man are various scenes taking place at the same time: one woman is kneeling and weeping at the feet of another woman standing over her. At their side is an almost semi-translucent woman with a crown of flowers and a white gown that also has flowers on it. This third woman likely represents an angel, and this one scene gives the mood of some sort of confession. Also on the right side of the work are what appears to be an African doctor rubbing the eyes of someone whose face is covered by the cloth, as well as a cartographer taking measurements on a globe with a compass, along with some men and women in the background; one at work with a clothes iron, another stitching up what appears to be a doll, and other everyday tasks that are obscured.
        The man on the left (our left), however, has let go of the preacher's hand and is looking at three women on the bottom left with the most wolf-whistle worthy look I have seen. The wolf-whistle man is shading his eyes with his right hand to get a better look at the women, as if preparing to get a piece of the action. Besides the three women looking at the wolf-whistle man, there are at least three other bare-chested women on the left side of the work, which in this case represent sinful pleasure. Other scenes on the wolf-whistle man's side include three men standing over a veiled table; the man on the far left appears to be a fortune teller, and the man on the right seems to be discussing the implications of the fortune he was given. A third man stands between the two, tugging at his hair as if in disbelief of the scene unfolding directly in front of him. What is more interesting is what looks like two women kissing each other to the top right of the fortune-telling scene. (At around this time, the influence of the church was still strong, and homosexuality was frowned on.) All the while, the preacher has his hand raised upwards, as if the wolf-whistle man had just let go to get a better look at the three women.
        This work is notable due to the fact that Rejlander took 30 separate photos and placed them all together in a single picture. It was the Romantic equivalent of today's Photoshop.

Olympia, by Edward Manet was a very controversial painting in the era it was made. The fact that the woman in this painting is nude is one thing, but the fact that she is also making eye contact with the viewer, who could be a male viewer, made it all the worse and more scandalous. The face that Manet gave Olympia in the painting, humanized prostitution.Many of the men who knew the woman in the painting personally, were outraged when they saw this painting hanging in the Salon while they were with their wives. There was a separate salon made for such paintings called the Salon de Refuses. This was Manet's way of expressing the real life people of Paris. He used the sharp contrast of the dark colors of the background and the light colors of the woman to draw the viewer's eye toward the woman. Margaret Atwood wrote a poem about this painting entitled "Manet's Olympia". In this poem she speaks of the closed window, if there are any, so that nobody would be able to see the "...indoor sin..." going on in this room. She also takes into account the body shape of this woman saying that it is, "...unfragile, defiant...". This is not the iconic woman, but the everyday woman one would see around town. The servant in the background is seen offering Olympia a beautiful bouquet of flowers, possibly from a man she recently saw. This, of course, also adds to the scandalous feelings of this painting that was part of the reason in creating the Salon de Refuses.

Goya's "The Third of May" and a Modern Day Comparisson

Francisco Goya’s painting "The Third of May" shows an injustice unknown to the general population at that time. Artist’s like Goya can used their paintings the same way that news journalists may use photographs. Because the internet, telephone, or even telegraph did not exist in Goya’s time, paintings could be used as an informational media.
On a side note, One could argue that paintings provided a less accurate depiction of an event than photography or film could have, but I think that modern news informants can also manipulate, misconvey, or simply make-up data in a way that makes this point irrelevant. Here is an articles in which a false fact is given. Here is an article which explores the perception of news bias. Art has long been used as a tool to point out injustices in the world, and in the 19th century, photography has been a main media of choice. I think that Goya and other artists use studio art to convey a message in a more multifaceted way than photography. Studio art allows the artist to inject his or her emotion into the actual visuals. An example of emotion conveyed through the composition of the image as opposed to simply the subject is “The Scream”.
The colors, lines, and exaggerated features of the painting portray stress and a anguish. Goya's cause and the emotional qualities of "The Scream" remind me of a modern injustice that invoked the creativity and a sense of justice from artists: Modern day slavery. Currently, there are 70,000,000 slaves in the world (more than anytime other time in history) ,and artists are starting to take notice. Designers Against Child Slavery, is an organization aimed at raising awareness to this issue. View a video about their purpose and first exhibition. A particular piece uses a digital media and creates a piece with comic book influences, but the colors and exaggerated facial features portray intense emotion, similar to "The Scream". It uses this emotion to draw attention to a certain injustice in the same way as Goya. Although people have modern medias for news, people are still using classic techniques to raise awareness for a cause.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édouard Manet (1863)

This picnic/luncheon painting proposed is showing a naked woman in the company of two well-dressed gentlemen of the bourgeoisie (typically referred to as the middle class), and another half-naked woman in the middle of the background. It gave rise to fierce criticism, as it was rejected at the Salon, but later on it was exhibited at the Salon des refusés 'The rejected salon' in Paris, 1863. According to the times conventions, nudity were accepted only in paintings with classical, mythological/spiritual, or oriental themes.

As mentioned earlier, this painting in particular aroused fierce indignation. The public viewed the piece as being an embarrassment cover of today’s moral decay. Seeing two gentlemen of the bourgeoisie on a picnic with two prostitutes, one whom has already taken off her clothes with clear eye contact to the viewer was simply way over the limit. From Manet’s perspective, it was probably just meant as a non-moralizing observation of modern life’s freer or suitors and in literally more natural ways of showing togetherness.

Despite the endless controversy regarding the naked women, the “unfinished” work in the middle of the background, and other implications that critics could find; his work was carried by groundbreaking modernity both in form and content. The painting manifested itself among other things, because he purposely modified the persons’ plastic volume and also strongly emphasizing the painting’s two-dimensional nature or composition if you will. Basically, it is sharp structures (being the characters) within the composition. It is like Manet tried to anticipate a curtain image view, which subsequently became the basics of modernism today.

Every great artist must receive his inspiration from somewhere, and just like any other, Manet had an ocean of different inspiration, but to narrow it down I have chosen to take paintings that Manet was inspired by, and also other artists’ paintings inspired by Manet.

First, I would like to go back in time and show you a piece that I personally will classify as the major piece that influenced “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe “. This painting is called “The Judgment of Paris“ by Peter Paul Rubens (1636). Despite the fact that there is worlds of differences between Goddesses and prostitutes, Manet’s blueprint lied deep into the roots of this art piece, so basically different people. In my opinion, Rubens’ work is best described as being diplomatic and subtle, whereas Manet’s work is best described as avant-garde, but the distinction comes about because of the different eras.

Now, let us go to a time after Manet’s work. I have discussed that Manet’s work was the spur of modernism. When something is so conceptualized, we have learned from history that it most likely will create a whole new era of art. When all is said and done, I would like to introduce Claude Monet’s  “Women in the Garden“ (1866).

This painting does not show any nudity, but nevertheless it is not the point. The point is that just like Manet's “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe“, “Women in the Garden“was rejected at the Salon in 1867. The critics came about their comments the same way. Manet's work was unfinished, and Monet's work was too frail.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet (1849-1850)

The subject of the painting is a funeral that Courbet actually participated in 3 years prior to excelling his experience on the canvas. His great uncle was buried in September, 1848. The reason why I choose to interpret this painting is because it is a very controversial time in Europe. Revolutions where sweeping Europe; each country in Europe wanted to get rid of the longstanding absolutist regime. These revolutions' spur moments and place was Paris, France, a revolution in its proletarian character that almost was considered a socialist uprising which witnessed to the downfall of freedom movements.

This brings me to our artist that was upheld as an artist of realism. A Burial at Ornans is with great implication the artistic movement that portrayed townsmen just like Francisco de Goya's work called Third of May, 1808.

I relate these two paintings, because they were both received by the public, and state with great controversy, but more importantly the similar idea or purpose, but different contextualization of the given scene. There is a gap of about 40 year, and one country between the two paintings, but nevertheless the distinction is not completely thrown out of proposition. In my opinion, the color use is very dim, and that is something that blends well with the occasion being.

It is hard to categorize this painting due to the “art-era” it was made in. What I mean by that is all the revolutions sweeping Europe, a church controlled Europe, and certainly a revolution in art from Romanticism to Realism, or just in general to anything that can bring out the truth, meaning genre-free art.

Hopefully, I am not off on a tangent, but I feel like Courbet’s painting was a very essential stepping stone to the many revolutionary acts we see today not even involved with art, but most likely inspired by it. Just to take an example, we have “Tank Man”. This rebel stopped tanks in Beijing in 1989 due to his passion, liberty, and most importantly to show the world a message.

What makes people rebel and do unusual things according to social norms? Just to mention a few: oppression, unexplained law, and discrimination . Back to Courbet’s painting; we see the painting expressing sadness, grief, simplicity, reality, and a genuine feel of the occasion.

Liberty Leading the People

Though I don't know much about the French Revolution, I realize that it was a crucial period in history that has shaped much of how France functions to this day--much like America's Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The funny thing is, when I saw this painting yesterday I didn't think bloody battles, the beheading of Kind Louis XVI, or an overthrow of Government. I thought of Coldplay. This one of my most favorite bands and seeing one of their album covers in my art history class of all places was pretty awesome. 
I knew that many of their songs were inspired by the French Revolution (i.e. Viva la Vida, Cemeteries of London, etc.) but learning about "Liberty Leading the People" has given me a new appreciation for how far art (and the history that goes with it) can branch out. 
This painting (or in my mind album cover) makes me think of music. Music in general unleashes the memories of when and where I listened to a particular song as well as the experiences that went with it. So instead of thinking of gory scenes of war and high treason as Eugene Delacroix probably intended, I see my own memories. I'm in the car listening to "Speed of Sound" with my brother who is currently attending medical school in India. I'm just beginning high school, totally high on the song "Viva la Vida." I'm driving home from an amazing football game on a chilly night, listening to "Fix You." There are SO many more about nostalgia! 
It's interesting how different art can be to people...I'm sure nobody expected what I was about to type but oh well. I'm a science major so when I get a rare moment to be subjective I'm totally jumping on it!

P.S. I'll figure out how to indent on this thing eventually...

On "The Raft of Medusa"

When I first saw the painting from the slideshow in the classroom I was impressed. The focus is men ascending towards the back of the raft that eventually depicts a ship way off in the distance. They are waving white flags in hopes of rescue. From this I am reminded of the popular statue that displays the U.S. soldiers raising the American flag. When researching, I found out that it actually originated from a photograph by Joe Rosenthal titled "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima". I believe the two have similar qualities. They both have a group of ascending men with their focal point being a flag that represents hope and freedom. On the raft, the flags represent hope and freedom for the men on the raft. They were stuck there and endured ungodly things and the flags are their way to signal the ship in the distance to rescue. The flag in the photograph more represents hope and freedom for our country in general. The soldiers from the picture may have been drafted (Vietnam) and not had been there on their own terms. However they still formed together to overcome hardships and raise the symbol of our country in inspiration. On the raft, I am sure none of the men wanted to be there. They themselves triumphed over hardships and had survived together, well that seems odd to say considering cannibalism was a factor. However, at the moment in the painting the able men must have been raising their flags as well in hope and freedom. Anyway, both the men from the raft and the picture would forever be bonded by this single act captured on canvas and photograph.

Also, another thing I found interesting was the background work that the artist, Theodore Gericault, put in. He interviewed one of the survivors and even viewed some of the deceased in morgues so that he could better capture the moment on canvas to tell their story. And tell their story he did for it influenced government policy change in acquiring qualified people for positions.

"The Raft of Medusa"
"Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thoughts on The Hay Wain

WINK OF INK: The Hay Wain

The Massacre at Chios

In March of 1822, the small Greek island Chios was burned and pillaged by an estimated 40,000 Turkish troops sent to squash out Greek revolutionaries from the neighboring island of Samos. Although some of the Chians had joined the fight, the majority of the population were "innocent" in the sense that they had not joined the revolt and thus had done nothing to provoke the killings. Alongside burning the town, the troops were ordered to kill all infants under three and all males 12 years old and over. Approximately 20,000 Chians were killed or starved to death and an estimated 23,000 were exiled.

A large outrage followed the news arrival in Europe and in 1824 Eugene Delacroix painted "The Massacre at Chios." The piece was presented in the Salon of 1824 subjecting people that much more to the horrible atrocities that had taken place. Inspired by Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa, Delacroix sought to inform people of current events and make them want to do something about it.

I personally love this painting. The colors used are perfect for the content and composition. They represent the bleak hopelessness of a town being torn apart by war and couple perfectly with the anguished yet almost accepting faces of the pile of people at the base of the painting; especially those of the woman on the right and the man on the far left. Another parallel to this hopelessness is the background Delacroix chooses. Desolate piles of bricks, smouldering rubble, clustered masses of bodies and empty fields all come together and present a mood of general despair intended to make viewers aware and upset about the Chios Massacre.

In 2009 a copy of the painting was hung in the Byzantine museum on Chios but was later withdrawn in November of the same year. The withdraw was meant to act as a "good-faith initiative" for the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations, but was still met with protest by the Greek press. The original has been on display in the Louvre since November 1874.

Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix

       At the time Eugene Delacroix painted this work, the July Revolution of 1830 was in full swing throughout France. The Revolution's goal was to overthrow the then-ruler of France, Charles X. Charles's popularity had dwindled ever since the start of his reign in 1824, but it all came to a head with the signing of the July Ordinances on July 25th, 1830. These ordinances gave him more power by dissolving the Chamber of Deputies, the lower body of the French parliament that represented common citizens. The  Ordinances also reduced the Chamber's size, repressed the media, and overall took away the people's say in French gubernatorial affairs. After three days of
fighting, Charles X was exiled to Great Britain and Louis Philippe
was installed as a constitutional monarch.

       Although Delacroix painted the work in October, well after the revolution's end, it portrays a very dramatic view of what he believed the Revolution stood for. The painting centers on a bare-chested woman leading a charge over a mound of dead bodies. She is holding a tricolored flag, which was a symbol of the French Revolution of 1789, and is the flag that France has used since the July Revolution. Also of note are the young boy flaunting a pistol in each hand, and the young man standing behind the woman holding a rifle firmly. The mood of the painting is one of fiery determination to win the battle ahead, complemented by the smoky sky overhead emphasizing the turmoil France was in at the time.
       Related trivia includes the bare-chested woman being an inspiration for the Statue of Liberty by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi in the 1870s. The instructor for our arts history class mentioned that the young man with the rifle was a self-portrait of Delacroix. If this is true, then Delacroix's motive for creating this painting was at least partially out of patriotism and revolutionary fervor.

A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet

A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet

The French Salon was a gathering of the aristocracy where artists would present their work and the elite critics would pronounce judgement.   There had been a tradition of painting to please the aristocrats, flatter them, contribute to the evidence of their superiority,  until a radical shift in the thinking of the artists began in the late 18th century.

The successful rebellion against the British Empire by citizens of the United States planted the seed of discontent in the French psyche.   The social order in which people are ordained unequal no longer satisfied the French commoner.  Now equality, no difference between the person born in a palace and someone born in the farmhouse, became the desirable system.

Courbet became a thorn in the side of the establishment.  He began portraying common people in a way that had been reserved for heroes of biblical and mythological proportions.  This is the idea fundamental to Un Enterrement á Ornans, the common people are painted life-size (the painting measures 10ft X 22ft).  The aristocrats were unused to being forced to look upon the common citizen and they were offended, to say the least.

While Courbet accorded his common subjects some of the honors typical of the popular paintings of the day, he denied them others.  His refrained from idealizing and painted the world exactly as he saw it.  The human subjects were given no more attention than a stone and their faces did not reflect the socially acceptable formula of expressions.

Courbet's work is representative of the new philosophies and ideals that began to evolve in the 18th century and became characteristic of 19th century France.  We can trace these ideas through the writings of Voltaire, Rousseau, and others.  The other arts also showed a revolt against the formula.  The Opéra was a social institution as, if not more, influential than the Salon and often became embattled with various institutions for staging or not staging controversial operas.  Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opera, 1789-1794 by Mark Darlow gives details of the conflicts that became typical during this period of political tension.  As with painting there was a shift away from the idyllic, romantic towards an expression of "real" emotions and events.  Though written and performed later, Carmen by Georges Bizet is the epitome of the scandalous and wild staging of reality.  The heroine is no longer a picture of virtue, but a woman perhaps more typical of of the streets.

What I love about this period is the amount of hope that the destruction of romanticism brought.  Now it was fathomable that a common person could be as heroic as a god or at least be equal under the law.  The mourners Courbet depicted at the burial are actually a picture of hope and life, not death.

The Third of May

This painting has always been one that stood out to me personally. We can clearly see in the faces of the men about to be shot, especially the man in the white shirt, the pain, anguish, and desperation of these men who know that they are about to die. This painting makes me mad in the sense that the men waiting to die, have no choice in what is about to happen to them while the soldiers on the right of the painting are emotionless and are mindlessly killing under Napoleon's rule. It shows the flagrant abuse of power by Napoleon and his soldiers. "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a poem written by Wilfred Edward Salter Owen in regard to The Third of May. In his poem, Wilfred talks of the people who are dying like cattle. These people are obviously the Spanish citizens on the left of the painting and in lighter colors. He also speaks of the, "...stuttering rifles'rapid rattle," and how there will be no mourning for these men who are about to die. Owen writes of the tears in boys' eyes of saying their final goodbyes. This painting is a great example of what can happen when one person takes charge and attempts to push their views on other people. It shows what happens when we allow people to gain too much control. They abuse their power and use it to mutilate and torture people for their differences.
 This piece of art makes me feel a cold, dark feeling. The fact that he made it so graphic is, to me, such a gift to the world. Horrible things like this happen so much in the world today and usually anyone not involved are very oblivious to what goes on around them. This picture is such a good description of what happens when people that don’t know what they are doing are put in charge or takes everything in their own hands. William Wordsworth's poem "The world is too much with us" was written in the 1800's around the time that this painting was made. I think the poem gives a good prediction of what later actually happened and then was painted about. Two of the lines read "This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; The winds that will be howling at all hours." That, to me, is exactly what the picture depicts literally, but figuratively there is so much more behind both the poem and the picture. The world will swallow us up if one person tries to everything themselves. The world is like a big ocean, ready to tear us apart like the raft.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Humanities Visualization Space at TAMU

One goal of the TAMU Humanities Visualization Space initiative is to explore all the possibilities for virtually engaging with literature and languages, geography, philosophy, music, performance and the visual arts from across all cultures in all times.  In order to better grasp the potential for the Humanities Visualization Space initiative, watch these youtube videos on data visualization, cultural analytics/software studies and interactive immersive spaces:

Then visit the Gallery One Project at the Cleveland Museum of Art:

Watch the youtube video presentation on the interactive immersive Gallery One experience:

If you have an iPad (2 or later), download the ArtLens app:

Next, check out the resources available on the google art project:

Finally, fly over to the Prado Museum in Madrid using Google Earth and zoom in on the masterpieces in the collection:

Once you've reviewed all of these videos and sites, compose your first blog post for the Humanities Visualization Space initiative, drawing upon the following premises, descriptions and sample content for inspiration.

The best way to experience a work of art is to come into close physical proximity to (or in the case of architecture, direct physical contact with) the work.  In most cases, a digital reproduction of an oil painting (for example), achieves only about 30% of the full aesthetic force of the painting represented.  High-definition digital video can offer a full 360-degree view of a work of sculpture, but sharing the space in which the work is displayed resolves issues of scale that undermine even the most sophisticated video presentation.  Similarly, digital video can capture the affective power of great architectural interiors and exteriors, but to feel and hear one's feet on the floor of Chartres Cathedral connects one to the medieval past through specific types of sensory stimuli that are missing even from IMAX 3D films of that sacred monument.  Virtual encounters with art, then, have certain limitations.  On the other hand, interactive immersive content delivery systems allow for certain types of experiences that are for the most part absent from conventional museum and gallery settings.  One can assemble collections and exhibitions of works that simply cannot otherwise be seen together in a single setting.  One can compare and contrast works of a given artist or within a movement over a specific period of time.  One can listen to a recording of a deceased artist speaking about the work that is being displayed, read an art critic's response to the work or watch a video of an artist discussing the work's influence on his or her own work.  One can add contemporary text, music, film, photographs and other relevant materials such that the context for the work is displayed and experienced along with the work.

For example, in the Humanities Visualization Space one will be able to

1) view Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's painting A Montrouge (Rosa la Rouge) to scale and then zoom in to see the heroic brushwork and carefully controlled palette with which he created the composition
2) call up a copy of the lyrics to the song A Montrouge by Aristide Bruant (the inspiration for Toulouse-Lautrec's painting)
3) link to an online dictionary that will help to identify and translate the many slang terms used in the song
4) listen to an mp3 recording of Bruant singing A Montrouge at Le Mirliton, his Montmartre cabaret (available on iTunes)
5) link to the downloadable pdf of Colta Ives's exhibition catalogue "Toulouse-Lautrec in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," which includes information on Bruant
6) link to the article on "femme fatale" (a late nineteenth-century trope of which Rosa la Rouge is an example)
7) link to JSTOR to find Chris Snodgrass's excellent 1990 Victorian Poetry article on Arthur Symons and Aubrey Beardsley
8) link to the website to check on the availability of Bram Dijkstra's Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture
9) link to online collections that include other examples of "femme fatale" paintings and graphic works such as Toulouse-Lautrec's La Goulue, Gustave Moreau's L'Apparition, Aubrey Beardsley's designs for Salome and Edvard Munch's Vampire
10) curate an HVS exhibition on the visual cultures of the femme fatale in the late nineteenth century that includes contemporary textual, musical and visual resources for each work in the exhibition as well as 20th- and 21st-century scholarship on the topic

These examples represent only a few of the options that one might consider when creating content for the Humanities Visualization Space.

Assignment:  Select at least one work of art from each day's lecture/discussion to serve as the focus of your HVS content-development blog post.  In each post share your personal thoughts on the work and suggest some additional images, texts, music and other art forms that provide context for the work that you have chosen.  You may also suggest possibilities for displaying the work or for creating an exhibition that includes the work.

The Culture Mechanism blog is part of a larger online initiative dedicated to the study of visual cultures in the global societies of the 21st century.  Active contributors to this blog include undergraduate and graduate students, professors, artists, curators, gallery owners, critics, journalists and members of the art-going public, all of whom have a vested interest in drawing attention to the diversity and complexity of history, theory, criticism and--most importantly--practice in the visual arts.