The Laws of Nature

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Exhibiting the Complexity of Culture

Edward Hopper

Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 2 "Identity and Authenticity",
section 6 "Exhibiting the Complexity of Culture"

Before I begin a discussion about this section of Richmond's book, I'd like to thank each and every one of you who took to the time to evaluate and critique my work over the weekend! Your comments are very, very helpful and I'll continue to ponder them as I move forward. Working in a vacuum is OK for awhile, be I need to engage in dialogue about my work from time to time to stay on track. Thank you for your generosity and for tolerating my self-indulgence!!

And now, back to Richmond's book:

Here, the author continues her exploration of the influence of culture upon the arts in the context of representing one's national identity. Her conclusion is: "Perhaps the strongest argument for learning about other cultures through the arts is to consider the ways that we, as Americans, are represented in other nations. Hopefully, there will be support for venues in the world that provide alternative ways to the ones delivered by the mass media."

She precedes this conclusion in her text with a discussion about contemporary Chinese art that has been exhibited at venues around the world and represents the modern Chinese culture as a fusion of the past with the present, and concern for the future. These artist provide the world with insight into the cultural transition that is occurring in their nation. Richmond cites several specific examples and I'm certain that my savvy readers (you!) are familiar enough. Today, I prefer to focus our discussion on the overarching concept of this book section rather than to delve into these specific examples.

As an artist, do you view your work as representative of your nation? Intentionally or not, does it provide to the world a glimpse of your own culture? Should it? Does it matter? I don't have the answer to these questions, and must admit that it really doesn't matter to me. As Richmond discussed earlier in her text, we are the product of our culture and, therefore, our art must in some way reflect it even if we're not making a conscious effort to do so. Even so, should an artist necessarily be preoccupied with the purpose of creating art that is representative of his/her nation or culture?

I included an image of Edward Hopper with this post because his work and viewpoint typifies the America of our recent past. I don't know that it was his intention to reveal the culture of his nation to the world, but that is one of the consequences.


Casey Klahn said...

Hopper is as great choice. THBenton would be another one, huh?

I just figured out (I am a slow child) that you have been illustrating each post re: this book review, with a famous artist portrait. I really like that idea.

Gary Keimig said...

Your recent painting posts are worthy of your exploring directions. These are great pieces, Katharine. Like your directions as you call them.

-Don said...

Hopper is a perfect example of what you've addressed here today. Other artists which jumped into my mind whose works are distinctly American were, Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O'Keefe, George Bellows, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock (to name a very few)-many who have been mentioned or featured in your recent postings and comments...

Since my work is often quasi-auto-biographical in nature I think my cultural roots have no choice but show. I paint what I know. There is no preoccupation or preconception in my choices to make my work reflect any nationalistic or cultural intent - it's just who I am.

When I view art I really don't care where it came from as long as it intrigues me, inspires me, challenges me, or in any way causes a response in my psyche. Do I notice cultural influences? Of course. Do those influences affect how I view the work? Nope.

As I've been typing this and thinking on art from all over the world it came to mind how distinctly each culture has impacted art which has over time overlapped boundaries as other cultures accepted, studied and then emulated these cultural influences. In our modern art vernacular, Impressionism was distinctly French, Expressionism was distinctly German, Futurism was distinctly Italian and Abstract Expressionism was distinctly American. Now I see artists from all over the world using these cultural creations to inform their own work. When we look back historically, this has been going on forever. African masks informed Cubism. Cubism informed Expressionism and Futurism. The Dutch Masters informed the Italians. Renaissance Masters informed all of Europe. (In order to keep this short I'll stop my analogies here - but you get the idea.) This amalgam has been occurring and will continue to occur - possibly even more rapidly - as the world gets smaller thru the internet and other instant media outlets.

So, I guess I'm basically postulating that the culture of art influences itself, taking it outside nationalistic cultural boundaries.


hw (hallie) farber said...

I think Hopper was painting his environment and his mood. Did viewers really think the culture of America was loneliness, gas stations, and diners? I've thought about this post all day and I'm still circling.

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - Oh, yes, Benton too!! Thank you. I didn't really make a point of my illustrations for each post and thought I'd let them build up over time. You noticed! Thank you :)

Hi Gary - thank you very much for your encouragement. Coming from you, that's high praise indeed!

Hi Don - more great American examples! Thank you. Your synthesis of influences is perfectly stated. I always enjoy the clarity you bring to a discussion. Have you considered becoming an art professor? I think the students would learn a lot from you and definitely relate to your style.

Hi Hallie - I think that was Hopper's aim as well, be his work typifies the America of his time so well. When you mentioned how others would see America through his paintings, I'm reminded of Remington's work and how many other cultures think our country is the wild west (not just from Remington, but also our movies and TV). Do comment more when you've finished circling :-)

Mark Sheeky said...

Hallie - Yes they did! :)

I'm with Don. Culture is very homogenised now. If Don pretended to be French or South African or Chinese, nobody would doubt his word based on his artwork.

In my own work I have no nationalistic cultural references. British art was not historically good enough to be worth imitating. I fear imitating anything.

I spend a lot of time online so my social and cultural nation is the whole planet. Or at least, the English typing e-nation which is at least 50% American at the moment.

Stan Kurth said...

I would like to think that I'm not revealing my culture so much as I am making a mark on it or adding somehow to it's definition in a collective sort of way. To me, art pretty much defines culture, but also transcends it. Without a doubt certain cultural views or biases will emerge in a work of art, but are really only a part of the ingredients that go into a it; similar to pigment, marble, film or other mediums. The manner in which the Chinese artist in the book worked is a perfect example. Although the subject was China in a state of flux shown from past present and future in a unique way with the Chinese backdrop, the theme in the work seems to me more universally encompassing. That to me is what art is all about, whether it is made in China or the USA. It can, but certainly doesn't have to reveal, to any large extent, the culture in which it was made. I'm certainly not striving to reveal my culture, but it's in there none the less. It's part of who I am. But I'm hoping that it reflects a little on the human condition that we all share regardless of our heritage.

Unknown said...

The world is getting so much smaller because of the advancement of technology. We are no longer limited to our own culture, environment or other elements specific to the place we live. We can even Google Earth and place ourselves in a small Tibetan village if we want to. I don't think it matters any more to most people.

I do wonder if we lose something that way. Do we lose the special something an artist can add to a piece that is uniquely a part of their culture/nation because they are living it?

I can immediately tell for example, the mass produced oil paintings by the Chinese painters because there is no life in their portraits of families, cowboys or other western icons. I also cringe when I see people who are not well educated in the Asian culture when they paint Geishas for example.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I guess I'm circling because I wonder why Hopper, and why not Benton, Marsh, Remington, etc. Hopper is, of course, one of my favorites.

I think Don's last paragraph is where we are today.

And, Mark, when I think of England, I think of royalty, Francis Bacon, and the characters on Absolutely Fabulous.

M said...

I'm glad I'm coming into this discussion after such effective responses. I get to say ditto all comments. My that was easy!

Certainly my art does not represent Canada. Newfoundland has a distinct culture when compared to the rest of Canada, but I can't say my work is representative of that either, but I can think of a number of artists locally whose work is.

I think cultural influences on artists may be subtle and not always recognized. My early years in an outport (communities that had a fishing tradition and were built around the ocean) culture informed/impacted/influenced many of my aesthetic interests (design, texture, colour,pattern etc.) There was also a common belief that you can make it with your own hands and you were expected to especially if you were female. I know my colour palette can be linked back to my early experiences as well as my interest in pattern.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark - your work is very closely tied to your subconscious thoughts, which have both universal and Western themes, although not necessarily British to the viewer. I like the fact that you create your own forms and symbols, which don't reflect any particular nationality.

Hi Stan - well stated! I agree with you.

Hi Sheila - you raise an important point about this shrinking world and the appropriate of techniques/subjects that the artist has no personal connection with. I guess it's up to the viewers and critics to separate the wheat from the chaff among artists, and up to us individually to create authentic work. Thanks for bringing these important points to our discussion.

Hi Hallie - I selected Hopper only from personal choice. His works resonate with my youthful notions of America. The others mentioned are certainly worthy. And ... I just love the characters on Ab Fab!!! They don't show it here any more so I guess I'll have to get the DVD's.

Hi Margaret - you continue to reveal to us a fascinating world. I hadn't thought about your work in that context, but it certainly makes sense!

Celeste Bergin said...

Great article!
Hopper seemed to be painting his inner world--his isolation and disconnect from his wife.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - Hopper's work really does convey that sense, but the locations and scenes are so iconic of that American era to me.

Casey Klahn said...

I never realized the influence of my environment/geography on my own work until a couple of years ago when an Israeli critic "unpacked" it for me. He had me inundated with water. Although I wasn't doing water scenes at the time. He was right on, and I got a window into how much my area comes with my art, no matter what.

I know we're talking about culture, but my thoughts are on the place. I think in particular of the American West, which has a solid visual iconography that the whole world recognizes.

Turns out the Northwest School (Tobey, Callahan, etc.) and I have some things in common, and of that I was unaware until recently.

That's what fascinates me about Matisse and (if I understand correctly) Picasso, who where so interested in African and Islamic art that they sought it out purposefully in order to revive their own art.

Don's comments are particularly great here. Kudos.

Casey Klahn said...

I just read Katherine Kean's interesting post on Hopper's influence on movie set designs.

Some of the movies might be British, I guess, but the American theme is strong, IMO.

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - thanks so much for explaining your geographic connections and influences. I guess we all identify with a particular environment that inspires and informs our work, and I can see it in yours. Interesting! I'll take a look at the Hopper post. Thank you.