Tag Archives: Art

Comes in many forms.

TRANSITION, WAR, & REBELLION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World ImpressionismTHE JUDGMENT OF PARIS By: Ross King

Narrated by Tristan Layton

The Judgment of Paris offers a story of rebellion and art’s transition from classic to impressionistic realism. Though Ross King’s book is largely about an art movement, it is also about France’s transition from monarchy to republic. King shows that art, war, and rebellion are judged by Paris’ events. Art’s transition takes place in the context of war.

CIMABUE'S CRUCIFIX (1287-1288) AN ARTIST THAT PAVES THE WAY BACK TO CLASSIC REALISM
CIMABUE’S CRUCIFIX (1287-1288) AN ARTIST THAT PAVES THE WAY BACK TO CLASSIC REALISM

Visual art begins a return to classic realism in the Renaissance. The Renaissance culminates in 19th century Paris exhibitions of “ideal art”– an art with the correct balance of light and dark, and near photographic representations of reality. Though Ross King does not write about Cimabue’s historic return to art’s past, he offers a story of art’s transition to something different, something considered new in the 19th century; something greater than mere representation of reality.

The new art is called impressionism. King suggests it is a revolution, wrought by The Judgment of Paris. In the 19th century, art exhibitions flourish in Paris. The exhibition coveted by all is the Paris’ Salon.

PARIS SALON IN 1865
PARIS SALON IN 1865

An artist exhibition in the Salon offers fame (sometimes fortune) to all that are selected by the Academie des Beaux-Arts of Paris. Without the judgment of Paris, artists exhibiting in early 19th century France have little hope for success. Between 1825 and 1865, the most coveted French’ artists paint historical scenes of Napoleon,  other great men, their horses and equipment, and epic battles between great armies. The greatest commendation went to the most idealized and perfect representations of historic events.

However, in this age of classic realism, the advent of photography challenges the meaning of idealized art. Photography mocks idealization. Impressionism adds something, an emotive truth to stories reflected in pictures. King’s book tells the story of a revolution in art; it takes place in mid-19th century Paris.

An artist that is perennially rejected by the Salon is Paul Cezanne either because of judged banality or notoriety.

As in most revolutions, tradition resists innovation. Artists of the mid-19th century move away from idealized realism (the perfect person; the perfect scene). While classic artist’s bathe in adulation, they ridicule innovation by Manet, Cezanne, Monet, Whistler, and Renoir. Traditionalists mock those who have become bored with convention; those who seek something different, something universal, something real.

EUGENE DELACROIX (LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE 1830)
EUGENE DELACROIX (LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE 1830)
EMILE ZOLA (1840-1902)
EMILE ZOLA (1840-1902)
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE (1821-1867,POET,ESSAYIST,ART CRITIC)
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE (1821-1867,POET,ESSAYIST,ART CRITIC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

King suggests leaders of Paris’s art revolution are writers and painters. The painters of note are Delacroix and Edouard Manet. The writers are Charles Baudelaire and Emile Zola. King identifies Manet’s paintings as the initiators of an art explosion. The support of Dellacroix, an established painter, and Zola, a professional writer, are matches that light the fuse.

EDOUARD MANET (1832-1883)
EDOUARD MANET (1832-1883)

Manet’s paintings incur the wrath of established artists and critics. The greatest artist of the age, the “cock of the walk”, is Ernest Meissonier. King explains that Meissonier spends months studying circumstances of historical events before rendering a work of art. Meissonier’s most famous paintings recreate precise conditions of historical events; down to the uniform that is worn, and the horses that are ridden.

JEAN-LOUIS-ERNEST MEISSONIER (1815-1891)
JEAN-LOUIS-ERNEST MEISSONIER (1815-1891)

King recounts Meissonier’s obsessive habit of re-creating battle scenes before beginning to paint. If a scene reported to or experienced by Meissonier involves snow, he creates a field of snow from white baking flour. If topography is reported as rough, with furrows on the sides of roads, Meissonier hires laborers to lay roads and dig furrows. Meissonier is alleged to have waited until the date of historic battles to record light and shadow characteristics of the season. King shows Meissonier to be obsessively focused on idealized realism. Meissonier’s most famous painting (Friedland) took ten years to complete. That reputation makes Meissonier the most respected and financially successful artist of his time.

ERNEST MEISSONIER (FRIEDLAND-1875)
ERNEST MEISSONIER (FRIEDLAND-1875)
NAPOLEON III (1808-1873) DEFEATED IN THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, EXILED TO ENGLAND
NAPOLEON III (1808-1873) DEFEATED IN THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, EXILED TO ENGLAND

King intersperses French history in his story of Impressionist art. Napoleon III is defeated in the Franco Prussian war of 1870-1871. Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, is taken prisoner by Otto von Bismarck. The second French Empire is dissolved and the Third French Republic is proclaimed. Alsace-Lorraine is taken by the Prussians as a reward for victory. (A part of WWI’s stage is set.)

France, a defeated nation, is a cauldron of discontent that comes to a boil in Paris. With communists fighting nationalists for control of what is left of the nation, the Commune of Paris is formed. The Commune rejects monarchy and the church and begins to dismantle the royal history of Paris. Nationalists create a second siege of Paris, after the Prussian invasion.

GUSTAVE COURBET (1819-1877)
GUSTAVE COURBET (1819-1877)

Artists are torn between loyalty to the goals of the Commune and Nationalist interest in preserving the proud history of France. Gustave Courbet, an impressionist, sides with the Commune.  Edouard Manet sides with Meissonier and other Nationalists.  Courbet makes an enemy of Meissonier.

PABLO PICASSO (LES DEMOISELLES d'AVIGNON, 1907)
PABLO PICASSO (LES DEMOISELLES d’AVIGNON, 1907)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)

Meissonier’s fame with “Friedland” is superseded by Edward Manet’s “A bar at the Folies-Bergere”; which is superseded by Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”. Napoleon III’s France is superseded by the Commune of Paris; which is superseded by the Republic of France. Meissonier reputation fails the test of time; Manet becomes the catalyst for change; Manet, not Monet (according to King), becomes the father of the Impressionist’ movement, and Picasso adds another dimension to impressionist perception.

King cleverly melds the transition of art with transition in politics in The Judgment of Paris. Change is shown to be hard; with unpredictable consequence. Consequence of change is measured by time and recorded history. Change of minds and alliances inch society closer to something different; both in art and politics. History records the value of the difference.

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ART AND FEAR

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Art & fearArt & fear By David Bayles & Ted Orland

Narrated by Arthur Morey

DAVID BAYLES (PHOTOGRAPHER, CONSERVATIONIST, GRADUATE OF U.OF COLORADO)
DAVID BAYLES (PHOTOGRAPHER, CONSERVATIONIST, GRADUATE OF U.OF COLORADO)

Art and fear seem odd conjunctive words for the title of a non-fiction book. The authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, waste no time in explaining why the conjunction makes sense. Their definition of art revolves around humans that choose to take a risk to produce something unique that may mean much to the maker and nothing to anyone else. An artist is always alone.

TED ORLAND (GRAPHIC ARTIST FOR CHARLES EAMES AND ASST. PHOTOGRAPHER TO ANSEL ADAMS)
TED ORLAND (GRAPHIC ARTIST FOR CHARLES EAMES AND ASST. PHOTOGRAPHER TO ANSEL ADAMS)

Bayles and Orland are professional photographers. They take photographs in a field that became known as “fine art” in the 1970s. Bayles and Orland argue that fear is a common element in the life of artists because of risk; i.e. the risk of untethered freedom of choice, ego deflation, and financial insecurity.

An artist’s fear seems similar to the fear that every entrepreneur in the world feels when he/she chooses to start their own business. Undoubtedly there is some similarity except that an entrepreneur’s risk is largely quantifiable; an artist’s is not.

Bayles and Orland suggest there are great artists and good artists but the distinction is not singularly defined by talent. They argue that most art is made by people who work at it; not because of innate talent but because of a compulsion to produce something unique. Artists are defined by persistence, volume, and aesthetics (a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty).

DAVID BAYLES PHOTOGRAPHY (UNTITLED #9-handcolored photograph)
DAVID BAYLES PHOTOGRAPHY (UNTITLED #9-handcolored photograph)

Art is never perfect in Bayles’ and Orland’s conception. Art is the pursuit of refinement in the face of imperfection. Bayles and Orland make a distinction between great craft and great art; i.e. they argue that great craft represents technical perfection while great art represents human’ imperfection. Art pursues meaning to an artist and to an artist’s audience. Art is psychically successful when it represents what the artist means; art is only economically successful when it represents meaning to others.

TED ORLAND (STUDIO PHOTOGRAPH)
TED ORLAND (STUDIO PHOTOGRAPH)

Fear of failure, both private and public, is an artist’s constant companion because reward and failure come in many guises. The artist fails if art does not represent artist’s intent. The artist fails if art does not appeal to the public. The artist’s art is often ignored or reviled in the artist’s life time. In life, an artist’s reward may only be personal; in death, an artist’s reward can only be fame. Every work of art is personal; every work of art challenges the artist’s sense of self-worth.

Bayles and Orland argue that fear is an artist’s perennial companion. In contrast, a business entrepreneur is rewarded, or not, within a life time. The business entrepreneur has options after failure. The business entrepreneur starts another business or goes to work for others. The artist is alone in success and failure.

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ART’S BAD BOYS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and ProfaneCARAVAGGIO By Andrew Graham-Dixon

Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini

CARAVAGGIO-SELF PORTRAIT
CARAVAGGIO-SELF PORTRAIT

Caravaggio is one of art’s bad boys. Born in 1571, Caravaggio arrives in the midst of religious turmoil between European Catholic nations and the Ottoman Empire.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON (ART CRITIC-JUDGE FOR THE TURNER PRIZE, BP NATIONAL PORTRAIT PRIZE,& ANNUAL BRITISH ANIMATION AWARDS)
ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON (ART CRITIC-JUDGE FOR THE TURNER PRIZE, BP NATIONAL PORTRAIT PRIZE,& ANNUAL BRITISH ANIMATION AWARDS)

Caravaggio comes to life in Andrew Graham-Dixon’s biography. Graham-Dixon explores the light and dark of Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio’s short life.

Graham-Dixon suggests Caravaggio’s life is self-formed by history’s circumstance, political family connection, and the rebellious nature of a boy who loses his father at the age of six.

A self-formed life is a description of Caravaggio’s growth to manhood because it suggests Caravaggio’s artistic ability is from innate inner drive more than formal education. Though Caravaggio is apprenticed to painters in his youth, his teachers’ contribution to artistic ability is obscured by differences in what Caravaggio paints and what his teacher teaches.

CARAVAGGIO-BOY PEELING FRUIT (THE EARLIST KNOWN WORK 1592-1593)
CARAVAGGIO-BOY PEELING FRUIT (THE EARLIEST KNOWN WORK 1592-1593)

Use of light and shade (chiaroscuro) reflects an early break with what teachers taught and what Caravaggio could do. In his early work, Caravaggio’s beginnings of genius are shown. Even though the subject “Boy Peeling Fruit” shows immature dimensional perspective, Caravaggio’s use of light and dark dramatically highlights his subject. As time passes, Caravaggio skillfully improves chiaroscuro to further dramatize his work.

Graham-Dixon recounts Martin Scorsese’s 1960s comments about Caravaggio’s cinematic sense. Caravaggio’s paintings tell stories of the bible known by the public, but known more symbolically than literally. Caravaggio’s work dramatizes biblical stories.

CARAVAGGIO-DOUBTING THOMAS (DETAIL OF THE EXTENDED FINGER, ITS DIRT& REMINISCENT MICHELANGELO SISTINE CHAPPEL HAND)
CARAVAGGIO-DOUBTING THOMAS (DETAIL OF THE EXTENDED FINGER, ITS DIRT& REMINISCENT MICHELANGELO SISTINE CHAPPEL HAND)

The dramatic finger probe of Jesus by Thomas cinematically illustrates Jesus Christ’s rise from the dead. From the frown on doubting Thomas’s face–to Thomas’s dirty fingers, the biblical story becomes graphically real.

CARAVAGGIO-DOUBTING THOMAS
CARAVAGGIO-DOUBTING THOMAS

At times, Caravaggio went too far and displeased his benefactor with biblical interpretations that offended social propriety. In St. Matthew and the Angel, the intimacy of the angel and St. Mathew offended his client. A second version had to be painted before Caravaggio would be paid.

CARAVAGGIO-ST-MATTHEW-AND-THE-ANGEL,THE-ORIGINAL
CARAVAGGIO-ST-MATTHEW-AND-THE-ANGEL,THE-ORIGINAL
CARAVAGGIO-ST MATTHEW AND THE ANGEL-(THE REVISION)
CARAVAGGIO-ST MATTHEW AND THE ANGEL-(THE REVISION)
CARAVAGGIO-THE CARDSHARPS AND THE FORTUNE TELLER
CARAVAGGIO-THE CARDSHARPS AND THE FORTUNE TELLER

Jesus walks among the poor, the bereft, and sinners of society. Caravaggio’s characters are workers, prostitutes (courtesans), and gamblers like “The Cardsharps…” Caravaggio paints from models of working people of his time to make stories of the bible more true to Jesus’s time.

But, as Graham-Dixon observes, his sexualized “Cupid as Victor” challenges morality with a lascivious suggestion of Cupid’s sensuality. Graham-Dixon also points to “V” shaped patterning in Caravaggio’s rendering; suggesting it symbolizes the juncture between women’s thighs.

CARAVAGGIO-CUPID AS VICTOR (A STORY OF V'S-SENSUALITY OF HUMAN BEINGS)
CARAVAGGIO-CUPID AS VICTOR (A STORY OF V’S AND HUMAN SEXUALITY)

Caravaggio paints people as they are. He shows the dirty feet of a visitor in “Madonna of Loreto”.

CARAVAGGIO-MADONNA OF LORETO (DETAIL OF THE FEET)
CARAVAGGIO-MADONNA OF LORETO (DETAIL OF THE FEET)

Graham-Dixon’s reports that Caravaggio is a profligate sinner himself. Caravaggio is described as a person who wears black to obscure his visage at night when he is raising hell with his friends and enemies. Caravaggio violates the law by carrying a sword without a license; by brawling in local brothels, and practicing illegal-sexual acts. Graham-Dixon goes so far as to suggest Caravaggio may have been a pimp to subsidize his income. Graham-Dixon suggests pimping may have provided ready-availability of models for his art. Finally, Caravaggio commits the most heinous of sins; he murders a man without just cause. He is sentenced to death.

Caravaggio is reported by victims and witnesses to have a volatile temper. Though the biographer mentions painters were sometimes behaviorally affected by lead and other paint contaminants, Graham-Dixon does not conclude Caravaggio’s behavior is caused by a painter’s poison. Interestingly, in 2010, lead poisoning is found in what is believed to have been Caravaggio’s remains. However, Graham-Dixon is skeptical.  He reports no one really knows exactly where Caravaggio is buried.

KNIGHTS OF MALTA
KNIGHTS OF MALTA

Graham-Dixon concludes the biography with an explanation of Caravaggio’s mysterious death. Caravaggio made many enemies but no one knows for sure what caused his death. Graham-Dixon believes a vendetta, by a member of Knights of Malta ( a select group of Christian warriors in the middle ages), is the proximate cause of Caravaggio’s death.

Caravaggio, when he tries to become a Knight of Malta (one who becomes a Knight of Malta may be pardoned by the Pope), insults one of the Knights. The insult goes unsatisfied and is compounded by Caravaggio’s abandonment of the Knights of Malta when he believes he will get a pardon for his crimes without the Knights’ commission. Before pardon, Graham-Dixon suggests the insulted Knight catches up with Caravaggio to severely cut his face.  (A face-cut in 17th century Italy is to not-kill but injure a person who insults another.) Several months later, Caravaggio is still recovering from wounds when notice comes to him that upon arrival in Rome, in return for all paintings in his possession, he will receive a pardon.

Caravaggio packs his bags, and his last three paintings, and heads for Rome.

CARAVAGGIO-ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS
CARAVAGGIO-ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS
CARAVAGGIO-NATIVITY WITH ST. FRANCIS AND ST. LAWRENCE
CARAVAGGIO-NATIVITY WITH ST. FRANCIS AND ST. LAWRENCE
CARAVAGGIO-SALOME WITH THE HEAD OF JJOHN THE BAPTIST
CARAVAGGIO-SALOME WITH THE HEAD OF JJOHN THE BAPTIST

The trip is by ship. The voyage includes a stop before arriving in Rome. At the stop, for an unknown reason, Caravaggio is retained by a local sheriff. The boat sails without him. When Caravaggio is released, he buys a horse to meet the departed vessel at its next port before Rome.

Caravaggio is still recovering from his wounds. When he arrives at the port, he is sick unto death with fever and exhaustion. Some days later, he dies at the age of 38.

Art history moves on after Caravaggio, but Caravaggio marked a pivot point in the history of art. Painting became more than symbolic representation; i.e. it became a cinematic representation of the real world. The imperfection of humankind, both physically and spiritually became a part of the Bible’s story about life. Caravaggio’s art reflects on the violence of life, the imperfection of humankind, doubts of belief, and the true nature of human beings.

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TRANSLATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

english translationEnglish Translation and Classical Reception: Towards a New Literary History

By Stuart Gillespie

Narrated by Alex Hyde-White

Dr. STEWART GILLESPIE
DR. STEWART GILLESPIE

Dr. Stuart Gillespie, among other qualifications, is a scholar of Shakespearean literature at the University Of Glasgow, Scotland. “English Translation” is an intellectually dense examination of the art of translation; particularly translation of ancient classics like “The Iliad”, “The Odyssey”, and works of Ovid, Juvenal, and Horace.

ALEX HYDE-WHITE
ALEX HYDE-WHITE

The selection of Alex Hyde-White, actor and narrator of “English Translation”, magnifies the value of Gillespie’s fascinating work. Not knowing whether phrasing of ancient texts are correct, ignorant listeners are impressed by Alex Hyde-White’s smooth transition from understandable English to not-understood sounds of foreign and nearly “dead” languages.

One surmises Gillespie embarrasses and enlightens most college educated people who think they know something about literature. “English Translation” reveals how mislead readers can be when reading translations of classic texts. Gillespie concretely reveals the difference between a good and bad translation. His assessment is based on the ability of a translator to remain within the culture of a classics’ writer while revealing modern “transforming moments”.

Gillespie’s insight to quality is as important to modern as to ancient text translation. When Dostoevsky is translated into English, it is as important to convey information about Russian culture as to convey a theory of sub-conscious human motivation. A reader learns something about another culture while experiencing a “transforming moment”, a universal cultural understanding of psychological motivation.

Words are slippery things. The same words mean different things to different people even when they are raised in the same culture. Part of the reason a book written in a native language becomes a classic in the country of its origin is because its familiar cultural context is only a piece of what a reader learns.

RICHARD WRIGHT (1908-1960 WROTE-NATIVE SON)
RICHARD WRIGHT (1908-1960 WROTE-NATIVE SON)

When Bigger Thomas murders a white woman in “Native Son”, he murders within the context of his culture but Richard Wright is also telling a story about universal taboos that cross all cultures. Wright offers readers a trans-formative moment because murder’s causes and consequences cross all cultures.

EZRA POUND (1885-1972, POET)
EZRA POUND (1885-1972, POET)

Gillespie offers a brief history of translation in his book. He suggests a turning point in translation occurs with Ezra Pound in his translation of Homer’s “Odyssey”.

Pound injects his own understanding into the translation of Homer’s epic. Pound modernized the classic without destroying the context of Homer’s time. Pound used modern English to translate a Latin version of Homer’s “Odyssey” to show that excavation of the past can illuminate the present and the future. Pound did not translate the “Odyssey” word for word but he grasped a trans-formative moment in the story, turned it into English, and made it both his and Homer’s work.

Gillespie’s book is a warning to book critics that are not authors but interpret author’s work. If a critic fails to understand trans-formative moments, by those authors that can create trans-formative moments, then the critic’s critique is a failure. Gillespie suggests that critics that are not authors should not be critics; i.e. a little too harsh for this ignorant critic.

This is an interesting and insightful book that would be more fun to one who understands Latin.

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BEETHOVEN AND MUSICIANSHIP

Audio-book Review By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.com 

BEETHOVEN'S SHADOWBeethoven’s Shadow

By Jonathan Biss 

Narrated by Jeff Woodman

JONATHAN BLISS (BORN 9.18.80--32 YEAR OLD CLASSICAL PIANIST)
JONATHAN BISS (BORN 9.18.80–32 YEAR OLD CLASSICAL PIANIST)

This is a panegyric for Beethoven and musical artists; i.e. a tribute to what makes Beethoven great and musicians talented.

In this two-hour narration, one begins to understand why Beethoven’s music is important; what makes the difference between a good musician’s performance, and a great musician’s performance.

Jonathan Biss began taking Beethoven seriously at the age of ten. Biss’s introduction to music became an obsession that began with emotion felt in listening to Beethoven’s Sonatas.  He began practicing Beethoven’s most difficult pieces to develop muscle memory to exercise his technical talent.  However technical mastery left an “in the moment” appreciation of Beethoven’s genius that eluded Biss until later in his career. Biss debuted at the New York Philharmonic in 2001 at the age of 21.  He is the winner of the 2005 Leonard Bernstein Award and the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award which acknowledges his insight to musical quality and musicianship.

What Biss makes clear to a reader or listener of this Beethoven vignette is that muscle memory, though technically important, is only a beginning understanding of Beethoven’s immense contribution to music and musicianship.  Muscle memory is spectacularly revealed in this 3 year old’s musical debut:

Like the imprint of morality when a child is born into a culture, muscle memory only gives musicians an outline of one’s musical talent.  Musical talent fills in the outline based on personal interpretation of a composer’s work.  Biss explains that each performance becomes a musician’s own, through an “in the moment” understanding of the composer’s melodic structural genius and intent.

Biss shows that Beethoven’s contribution to music is in his ability to offer structure to a world of talented musicians and future composers who can tell their own musical story. Some stories are or will be great and some not.  Biss infers that every performance of a Beethoven Sonata by the same musician can and should be different because it reflects the genius of Beethoven and the fundamental talent of the musician.

An inherent weakness in Biss’s vision of musicianship is the negative influence studio recording has on great talent.  Recording studios engender mediocrity in some musicians because studios lack emotive triggers which influence “in the moment” musician’ creativity.  An artist playing to a microphone is more influenced by muscle memory than emotive musical interpretation.  Microphones are recorders of information, without emotion, while audiences are emotive; i.e. they become participants in musical performance.  Audiences affect musical performance, they are a catalyst for “in the moment” experience.

There is an element of salesmanship in this vignette because Biss is planning to produce recordings of all 32 Beethoven’ Sonatas.  One is tempted to buy his first two albums to see how he escapes recording studio mediocrity.

On balance, “Beethoven’s Shadow” offers insight to how far Beethoven’s shadow extends into the music world, what “real talent” is in composers and musicians, and what is gained and lost in studio recording of great music.

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EXTRAORDINARY ARTISTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com 

LIVES OF THE ARTISTS-MASTERPIECES, MESSESLives of the Artists-Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)

By Kathleen Krull 

 Narrated by John C. Brown, Melissa Hughes

This is a brief introduction to a number of extraordinary artists, several well-known and a few rarely heard of.  Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Warhol, Rembrandt, Chagall, Rivera, O’Keefe, Matisse, and van Gogh are recognized by most people who have a passing interest in art.

But, few art history dabblers have heard of William H. Johnson, Mary Cassatt, Sofonisba Anguissola, Maria Kahlo, Katsushika Hokusai,  or Kathe Kollwitz.

KATHLEEN KRULL
KATHLEEN KRULL

At best, “Lives of the Artists-Masterpieces, Messes” will broaden a dilettante’s interest in visual art and make a reader look up some of their work.   Kathleen Krull barely touches the lives she writes about but when one sees the work of the artists she chooses, her choices of subject make the book worth reading.

WILLIAM H. JOHNSON (1901-1970)
WILLIAM H. JOHNSON (1901-1970)

William H. Johnson is not a household name but he was a relatively successful black artist in the 1940s and 50s.  He was never a great financial success but he created some remarkable folk art that is on display at the Smithsonian.

WILLIAM H. JOHNSON - STREET MUSICIANS - 1939-40
WILLIAM H. JOHNSON – STREET MUSICIANS – 1939-40

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Cassatt is an American painter that became friends with Edgar Degas while living most of her life in France.  France in the mid-19th century was a hot-bed of impressionist art.

Cassatt confronted the male bastion of patronizing American art teachers and was rejected as a student.  She began studying old masters on her own and left for Paris in the 1860s,  She became a copyist at the Louvre.  Cassatt confronted some of the same patronizing attitudes of male artists in France, but had a break through opportunity with her first Paris Salon selection in 1868, “A Mandoline Player”.

She became known as an Impressionist in the 1870s with paintings like “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair”.

SONONISBA ANGUISSOLA SELF PORTRAIT -BERNADINO CAMPI- LATE 1550s
SONONISBA ANGUISSOLA SELF PORTRAIT -BERNADINO CAMPI- LATE 1550s

It is interesting to find discrimination against women artists had been challenged earlier in art history by Sononisba Anguissola.  Anguissola became a well-known portrait artist in the 16th century.  Anguissola’s self-portrait seems to show her teacher, Bernardino Campi, as a patronizing mentor, exuding male superiority.  In any case, she became a successful portrait artist that painted queens and became a member of the court of Spain.

 

The evocative work of Kathe Kollwitz reminds one of the ugliness, and pain of war.  Kollwitz lived through WWI and the beginnings of WWII as a German resident.  She was a painter, printmaker and sculptor.

The name Katsushika Hokusai may seem obscure but when a picture of his iconic work is seen, hardly anyone will be surprised or confused by the author’s choice.  One of the reasons Hokusai’s name is not well-known is that he changed it at least 30 times.

KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760-1849)--THE GREAT WAVE 1832
KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760-1849)–THE GREAT WAVE 1832
FRIDA KAHLO (1907-1958, PAINTER, MARRIED DIEGO RIVERA 1929)
FRIDA KAHLO (1907-1958, PAINTER, MARRIED DIEGO RIVERA 1929)
FRIDA KAHLO'S -THE SUICIDE OF DOROTHY HALE-1939, COMMISSIONED BY CLARE BOOTH LUCE
FRIDA KAHLO’S -THE SUICIDE OF DOROTHY HALE-1939, COMMISSIONED BY CLARE BOOTH LUCE

Frida Kahlo is a lesser known Mexican painter; in part, because she worked with, and later married, the famous muralist, Diego Rivera.  Both Kahlo and Rivera were active communists that met, and for a short time, lived with Leon Trotsky.  Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico in 1940.  It is presumed that the assassination was ordered by Joseph Stalin.

Kathleen Krull proves how little one knows of the lives of artists and their art work.  As Plato wrote of Socrates, “I know something that I know nothing.”

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ART

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com 

The History of Western ArtThe History of Western Art

By Peter Whitfield 

Narrated by Sebastian Comberti

PETER WHITFIELD
PETER WHITFIELD

Peter Whitfield offers a whirlwind

tour of “The History of Western Art”.  He begins with cave paintings and ends with performance art by an “artist” locked in a library with a wild animal.  The distressing thought is that “art is anything you can get away with.”

In slightly more than five hours of narration, a listener traverses 30,000 years (some say 40,000 years) of art history.  Whitfield is a poet and critic.  “The History of Art” is an intelligent introduction to a mystifying, fascinating, and intimidating subject.

The journey begins with France’s Neolithic Lascaux cave paintings created between 18000

CAVE PAINTING (LASCAUX CAVE IN FRANCE)
CAVE PAINTING (LASCAUX CAVE IN FRANCE)

and 10000 b.c. This is among the earliest known records of representational art.  Whitfield jumps from the Stone Age to Egyptian art (3100 b.c.) that focuses on the afterlife.  Twenty six hundred years after the pyramids, art flourishes in the Minoan civilization of Crete, off the coast of Greece. One looks at some Minoan wall paintings and cannot help being reminded of Egyptian art.  The slender figures are reminiscent of images on ancient Egyptian frescos. Wall paintings of human forms jumping over bull’s horns at the Knossos ruins in Crete show another form of representational art.

BULL LEAPING FRESCO AT KNOSSOS RUINS IN CRETE (GREEK ISLAND KNOWN AS THE CRADLE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION)
BULL LEAPING FRESCO AT KNOSSOS RUINS IN CRETE (GREEK ISLAND KNOWN AS THE CRADLE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION)

Whitfield describes the growth of architectural art with Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns of Greece that provide balance and proportion to monuments like the Parthenon in Athens. (Youtube video of Athen’s Acropolis:http://youtu.be/xP-FsX0QW88.)

ÎÄ»¯Ö®Â㺵ØÀíÈËÎľ°¹Û±ÚÖ½¾«Ñ¡ µÚÁù¼­ PARTHENON IN ATHENS
ÎÄ»¯Ö®Â㺵ØÀíÈËÎľ°¹Û±ÚÖ½¾«Ñ¡ µÚÁù¼­
PARTHENON IN ATHENS
COLOSSEUM IN ROME
COLOSSEUM IN ROME

Rome picks up where Greece leaves off but Rome’s art perfects realism in representational art.

The arch is a Roman contribution to architecture.  Coliseums are built to stage athletic events and Christian persecutions.

Statues of great leaders are sculpted in idealized forms reminiscent of ancient Greece.

ROMAN STATUE OF APOLLO
ROMAN STATUE OF APOLLO
ST. SERNIN, TOLOUSE, FRANCE
ST. SERNIN, TOLOUSE, FRANCE

The next leap in Whitfield’s  history is to the Middle Ages.

Architecturally, cathedrals are designed to shock and awe observers with an “other worldly” vision of God and heaven.

St. Sernin and Notre Dame illustrate how architectural design moves from the ROMAN AQUEDUCTpractical construction characteristics of a Roman aqueduct to an ethereal and spiritual experience of a multi-chambered, high ceiling cathedral.

The early Renaissance peeks through the Middle Ages with Cimabue and Giotto creations.  Rather than stick figure symbols of saints, common in the Middle Ages, Cimabue and Giotto create more realistic and emotive human forms.

GIOTTO'S-CRUCIFIXION (1310)
GIOTTO’S-CRUCIFIXION (1310)
DONATELLO'S DAVID
DONATELLO’S DAVID
DA VINCI'S VITRUVIAN MAN
DA VINCI’S VITRUVIAN MAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Early Renaissance (1400s) arrives with Brunelleschi, and Donatello.  The classic art forms of Greece and Rome are re-discovered.  Human figures become more classic, ideally formed but more natural looking.  Da Vinci begins detailing human anatomy.  The High Renaissance (1500s) reaches a pinnacle with Michelangelo.  Whitfield wonders–if Giorgio Vasari, the first art historian, believes Michelangelo reaches the pinnacle of art, what artist could improve on the achievement. (Youtube history of Michelangelo: http://youtu.be/t9owI8k7x1E.)

MICHAELANGELO'S DAVID (1501-04)
MICHAELANGELO’S DAVID (1501-04)
COSIMO de' MEDICI (1389-1464)
COSIMO de’ MEDICI (1389-1464)
MICHELANGELO'S TOMB FOR LORENZO de' MEDICI
MICHELANGELO’S TOMB FOR LORENZO de’ MEDICI

Whitfield digresses with an explanation of why the art Renaissance begins in Italy.  He notes that the Renaissance flourishes in Italy because of the rise of Nobles and a secular class; particularly Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici in Italy.  But, also the Roman Catholic church which uses its wealth to support promising artists.  Popes offer a “canvas” for great art with cathedral building and beautifully maintained landscapes.

DURER SELF PORTRAIT 1500
DURER SELF PORTRAIT 1500

However, Whitfield acknowledges that Renaissance art also flourishes, though slightly later, in France and Germany with Durer, Bruegel, Bosch, and Jan van Eyck.  (Youtube video of Albrecht Durer’s work: http://youtu.be/3uBSzOHT87w . ) Whitfield believes the two art movements rose independently. He notes that less skin is shown in northern artist’s work which suggests an independent renaissance of classic art. (One wonders if skin exposure is simply because of climate difference.)

Curiously, Whitfield suggests after the Renaissance, art is classified by its decade rather than categories like Classic, Romanesque, Gothic, etc., but ironically Whitfield continues to give future art works categories.  Whitfield’s next category is Mannerism.

EL GRECO (THE HOLY TRINITY 1577-1579)
EL GRECO (THE HOLY TRINITY 1577-1579)

Mannerism moves away from perfect forms and begins to trick the eye of the observer.  Distortion is used to elicit reaction in the observer.  Artists break the rules of perfect human form.  Tintoretto and El Greco are two of the better known rule breakers in the mid-1500s. (Youtube video of El Greco Paintings: http://youtu.be/dhj93Qq1fVM.)

REMBRANDT (THE NIGHT WATCH)
REMBRANDT (THE NIGHT WATCH)

Next is the Baroque period of art with Rembrandt (Youtube video of Rembrandt works: http://youtu.be/ekpSExdM3Zk)  and Caravaggio (Youtube video of Caravaggio works:http://youtu.be/WXwbhssHTKk ).  One begins to see a softening of image but with more attention to light and color that enriches the appearance of the painter’s subject.  Some argue that religion becomes more important in art of this period because of the burgeoning rift between Catholics and Protestants.

CARAVAGGIO (JUDITH BEHEADING HOLFERNES)
CARAVAGGIO (JUDITH BEHEADING HOLFERNES)

The age of revolution is Whitfield’s next era of art history.  Romanticism plays out in the French and American revolutions.  Imagination becomes an important element of art. Delacroix, and Turner romanticized war in their paintings.

EUGENE DELACROIX (LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE 1830)
EUGENE DELACROIX (LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE 1830)
JOSEPH TURNER PAINTING (BURNING)
JOSEPH TURNER PAINTING (BURNING)

Whitfield jumps to Impressionism which seems right when one looks at Turner’s paintings which seem somewhat impressionistic even though they pre-date Impressionism.  The effect of light becomes a preeminent concern of artists like

CLAUDE MONET (IMPRESSION, SUNRISE 1872)
CLAUDE MONET (IMPRESSION, SUNRISE 1872)
VAN GOGH (THE POTATO EATERS, 1885)
VAN GOGH (THE POTATO EATERS, 1885)

Monet, Renoir, and Degas.  This leads to the category of Post-Impressionism that dislikes artist’s over-emphasis on light.  They return to importance of subject without abandoning the importance of light.  The new leaders are Van Gogh, and Cezanne. (Youtube video of Van Gogh self portraits: http://youtu.be/O5tKG39G6Qk.)

PAUL CEZENNE (STILL LIFE WITH CURTAIN AND FLOWERED PITCHER, 1895)
PAUL CEZANNE (STILL LIFE WITH CURTAIN AND FLOWERED PITCHER, 1895)

 

KANDINSKY (LANDSCAPE WITH TWO POPLARS, 1912)
KANDINSKY (LANDSCAPE WITH TWO POPLARS, 1912)

 

BRAQUE (VIOLIN AND CANDLESTICK, 1910)
BRAQUE (VIOLIN AND CANDLESTICK, 1910)

Moving into the 20th century, Whitfield picks Matisse and Kandinsky as representatives of Expressionism.  (Youtube video of Kandinsky’s works: http://youtu.be/H62BRsqEruE. ) Abstraction becomes more and more prevalent with Cubism, and Futurism led by Braque and Picasso.  Then there is the jump to dreams with Dada and Surrealism,

GIORGIO de CHIRICO (LOVE SONG, 1914)
GIORGIO de CHIRICO (LOVE SONG, 1914)

practiced by Dali, Magritte, and de Chirico.  (Youtube video of de Chirico’s works: http://youtu.be/D3GjVlnQm1A. ) Whitfield notes that Dali’s self-promotional exhibitionism turns off many of his contemporaries.  Other Surrealist artists are internally motivated by their imagination without outward concern for acceptance or rejection by the public.

JACKSON POLLOCK (BIRTH NAME PAUL JACKSON POLLOCK 1912-1956)
JACKSON POLLOCK (BIRTH NAME PAUL JACKSON POLLOCK 1912-1956)

Finally, Whitfield notes that abstract art breaks with representation with artists like Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, and Warhol.  (Youtube video narrated by Jackson Pollock describing how he works: http://youtu.be/CrVE-WQBcYQ. ) Art represents itself, not as an image of something else but as an unrepresentative image, a thing unto itself.  Art becomes what an artist and observer is moved by.

At the end, one wonders whether art is entering a new dark age where the value of art is degraded by technology that makes too much of medium as message.  Art needs to be more than a transaction between willing seller and buyer.

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