The Laws of Nature

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mile 7 ...

It looks like our discussions have really heated up! This is exciting and I'm learning a great deal from all of you. Before I press on, you should know that it's my intention to end my review of Williams' book with Mile 10 (Thursday or Friday), which means I'll be galloping ahead at a pretty good pace and will let you fill in the holes as you see them. After that, I'd like to open the floodgates for your ideas about the influences on your own work as an artist. Therefore, I'll happily relinquish the "floor" and post your ideas if you'd like to write something. The length should be about the same as one of my posts. I will act as moderator. If you're interested, email your write-up and attached images (if you have some) to: I'll post submissions in the order that I receive them, but I may have to interrupt the sequence from time to time in order to feature some of my work. This blog is dedicated to the critical analysis of art and your opinions are very important!

A couple of other comments before returning to the trail. Camper, Margaret Ryall said yesterday: I wonder if changes through art history are as neatly packaged as Williams describes. History gets written after the fact and is based on whatever evidence remains. I agree, and want to again clarify that Williams' book is only one man's interpretation of the evolution of art theory through the ages. He's trying to make a single point about the importance of theory in art. The reason I've chosen to focus on this book is because it speaks to and helps me understand the influences on my work. Our collective discussion brings breadth to the ideas expressed in this book.

Don also asked about the omission of Cezanne from my text. He makes the excellent point that Cezanne had one of the largest influences on modern art as we know it. I consider him the transitional element between the Impressionists and the ensuing development towards abstraction. His quote to the painter Emile Bernard could be construed as the essence of modern thought, "Drawing and color are not distinct... The secret of drawing and modeling lies in contrasts and relations of tones." Many of the artists of the early 20th century considered him the father of modern art. I agree Don, and was surprised that Williams didn't present Cezanne that way. Well stated!

Back on the trail: Mile 7. I'll start with Ruskin and the Aesthetes (sounds like a Motown group!) which requires a little backtracking. In discussing the art theories of the 19th Century, Williams devotes a lot of text to France, Germany, and America. But, England was a happening place, too! (This is for you, Mark!) John Ruskin (1819 -1900) was an English writer who wrote a tome entitled Modern Painters, published in 1843-44 and another 4 volumes in 1860. He had a LOT to say! Essentially, this publication was a revision of the history of art and a theoretical foundation for modern art. Ruskin is considered the greatest writer on art in the English-speaking world - ever. He saw art as the product of economic, political, and spiritual conditions. The essential argument in his book is that traditional landscape painting (academic type) is bankrupt because it's really about artifice rather than nature. It's formulaic. He felt that art is better when it's not overly concerned with technical perfection. Hurray for Ruskin! I like that :)

Ruskin's books provided a theoretical foundation for a new group of English artists called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, established in 1848. They were fed up with academic rules and revived the use of illustrated religious themes or stories from Medieval history and poetry. A blast from the past!

And, there's more: Ruskin urged for the development of artistic talent in the underclass and that the prices of work by living artists should be regulated so that people of modest income can afford them. Now, that's radical!! The artist, J.M.W. Turner was influenced by Ruskin's theories.

But, what have we learned about people who publish books?? They get criticized. In this case, the artist J.A.M. Whistler represented the opposition to Ruskin. He felt that the task of an artist is to pursue beauty rather than truth. His supporters were known as the Aesthetes, and Oscar Wilde was among them. Between them, Whistler and Wilde advocated for "Art for art's sake." Wilde wrote: We spend our days searching for the meaning of life. Well, the meaning of life is - Art.

As we boldly march into the Early 20th Century, we see a dramatic acceleration of artistic innovation that led to greater variety than ever before. There's a proliferation of "isms" and I seriously doubt that I'll write about each one, so you'll have to write about the ones that most interest you. At the turn of this century, there was a widespread belief that science, technology, and industry were about to transform everyday life completely. Theories became more important.

Futurism burst onto the scene in 1909 through a manifesto published in Paris by the Italian poet, F.T. Marinetti. He called for a complete and violent rejection of the past and a whole new system of artistic values. As Williams puts it: Italian artists attempted to represent movement itself with abstract dynamic patterns, strong linear rhythms, and color contrasts. There was a glorification of war and violence, scorn for women, and eager anticipation of the Great War. Artists were activists.

And, this is where I'll sit back by the campfire to listen in awe to all the wonderful things that YOU have to say! Next time: Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, American Modernism, Expressionism...

Please pass the wine ...


Alex Perez pintor contemporaneo said...

Thank you for stopping by my Blog and for your kind comment.
Happy holidays!

M said...

I knew I was going to love this post. Ruskin's writings in particular have had an inpact on my work and my beliefs about how I want to be an artist. I sometimes think I should have been born in an earlier time. My interests in content in art seem to be old fashioned. Is it my age?

Ruskin love flowers. He didn't have to do or write anything else to impress me! But I agree that he did write some wonderful stuff. I know him from some of his comments about trying to corral nature in gardens. It's similar to the landscape comments. I'll find the references and see what choice bits I can come up with.

I'm with Ruskin and his belief that
art is better when it's not overly concerned with technical perfection. There has to be some soul.

I am not a fan of the Futurists. Even seeing the work up close and personal did nothing for me. Most of it is harsh and somewhat driven. Delete the Futurists. Oh dear, I'm in that kind of mood today.

Please pass the wine ...I mean snow shovel. The whole campfire has disappeared.

Casey Klahn said...

I've finished the Alberti book, and will have something to say soon.

I'll also give my 2 cents on my favorites - the modernists.

Unknown said...

Alex - you're welcome!

Margaret - I'm so glad you expressed your comments about the influence of Ruskin on your work. I can see the connection, but hadn't thought of it before posting. Sometimes I, too, feel a little dated. The influences from my early training have stayed with me.

Casey - Yes, please share your thoughts! Perhaps submit a feature blog to me that I can post? I'd like to learn from you in a coherent way.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I have trouble with the Pre-Raphaelites; sometimes they seem too ethereal. More likely, I haven't seen enough or read enough to see their work properly. I equate Rosetti's work with the Raphaelites.

Ruskin did like Turner, and I think Turner's work is wonderful! So, points for Ruskin.

I like the Futurists work. Some of their manifesto ideas I pretty much gloss over, especially the political part. But, their exploration of movement, shape and color interests me.

I once read where moderns followed one of two veins: those that followed Cezanne, Cubism, Futurism...etc. And the other went along the Gaugin, Symbolist, Redon Bonnard, Kandinsky vein. There's a lot clumped into two groups. Perhaps this approach has something to do with how Williams wrote...or not. Has anyone else read something similar?

Wonderful discussion!

Anonymous said...

Oops, regarding the Pre-Raphaelites, perhaps ethereal isn't the right description! I see ethereal in my own work. Perhaps I should leave it at I don't know enough about them!

-Don said...

The Pre-Raphaelites have some of the most beautiful, sensual, well painted pieces of work that for some reason bore me to tears. I understand and appreciate what they were doing, saying and creating, but I just can't get past that feeling. Maybe their works were too well thought out and structured for me... I just don't know.

Now the Futurists do intrigue me. Not for their words or beliefs (thank God they didn't gain actual power), but for the energy they were able to put to canvas and bronze. Interestingly enough, my favorite of the Futurists, Joseph Stella, is often considered American even though he was originally from Italy. His Brooklyn Bridge series of paintings are totally awe-inspiring to me.

As I re-read what I just wrote, I realize I must like chaos in my life... I mean art... hmmm...

Two of my favorite artists, Fernand Leger and Franz Marc, bracket what the Futurists were doing with paint. Leger (considered a Cubist), like the Futurists, reveled in machinery and industrialization, while Marc (considered an Expressionist) was reacting to what industrialization was doing to nature, and specifically his beloved animals. (I realize these are oversimplifications and gross generalizations of these men's work - forgive me...) It saddens me that Marc was lost to us during WWI. He was just reaching his stride when that horrific explosion of nationalistic ridiculousness came about...

Well, maybe I don't like TOO much chaos...

Peggy, I'm intrigued by your two paths of modernism. It's interesting and makes sense, but I had not heard it separated out like that. I'll be studying a bit more on it...


hw (hallie) farber said...

Thank goodness for Wikipedia!

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - I didn't know about the two lineages, one beginning with Cezanne and one with Gaugin, but it makes sense. Thanks for educating me!

Don - I agree with you about the Pre-Raphaelites' work - boring. I think their work lacks passion and is only about technical prowess. I see something similar today in the paintings of hyper-realists. As for the Futurists - I think you should write a blog for us about them! Feel like posting one here next week?

HW - I'll have to start looking at Wikipedia. I haven't had the time yet.

Dan Kent said...

I'm pretty new in the journey of trying to develop my art skills, but I have found that when I stop being "overly concerned with technical perfection", that the work flows better, is more natural, and generally more interesting. So I raise a toast to Ruskin!

I also am attracted to the idea of portraying beauty but only to an extent, because I believe that truth must be contained in the work. I think that falseness or insincerity is easily seen. So I raise a toast to beauty plus truth!

On the third hand - let's see, one, two, yes three hands (no I haven't had too much wine - give me that!) - I think "dynamic patterns, strong linear rhythms, and color contrasts" enhance much art, whether realistic or non-objective. So I raise a toast to the Italians! Fine pizza too!

It just shows that many, often conflicting ideas, when thrown together make great minestrone soup! And that we are the sum of the many ideas that came before us.

Say, let's drink to that! Anyone want to dance?!

-Don said...

HW, Amen on the Wikipedia. It sure comes in handy when I'm helping the kids research things for school.

Kathy, It would be my honor to compose something regarding the Futurists. I hope I do them justice. Wikipedia, here I come... (just kidding).


Mark Sheeky said...

I agree with Dan about truth being the most important thing. I find the pre-raphaelites work a bit boring too but it was radical at the time, it's not just about technical finery. It was Ruskin's public support that made them famous. Their principles are; realism not idealism, such as biblical scenes as they might "truthfully" appear; non-standard shapes of composition, and lots of detail and bright colours. All of those opposed academy teaching at the time.

Unknown said...

Dan, I raise my glass(es) to all the "toasts" you made and agree! And, yes ... I'd like to dance. Just watch out for my two left feet :)

Don - Yes, please do inform us about the Futurists. I know I'm skipping over a lot of important stuff. Send me whatever you like and I'll post it!

Mark - you're right. I was hasty in my comments about the pre-Raphaelites. They must be considered within the context of their own time. Thank you!