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Gainsborough

As some of you know, I recently moved to Indianapolis.  I am now happy to let everyone know that I have recently started a drawing class in nearby Columbus, In.  Columbus is famous for its world class modern architecture with a tourism center kept busy by an international crowd lining up to see those eighty (!!) famous buildings.  This city of 47,000 has a branch of Indiana University but it did not offer a drawing class for the public until—tatah!—I jumped in to fill that vital void.

Our Columbus drawing class meets in the library–designed by I.M. Pei.  The class, called “Drawing as Seeing,” has met only four times so far.  I’ll start by showing the work done in our third class. Ready?

Our topic was “Markmaking,” which is a scribble/shading technique that is as individual and unique as your thumb print.  After a brief demo with students looking over my shoulder, I sent everybody to their seats with a Xerox copy of Thomas Gainsborough’s masterful drawing called “Landscape with Horsemen.”  You can see it at the top of this post.

What happened in class was highly rewarding and led to the discussion of an important topic:  “incompletion” in a work of art.

ShwetaGainsborough

The time allotted for this exercise was only an hour and that proved to be an advantage because it meant that students had to leave with their drawings incomplete.

JudyGainsborough

I held up all the drawings and introduced the idea of Incompletion as a topic in modern art.  I suggested that it’s precisely because these drawings are incomplete that they are so engaging.

MaryGainsborough

Incompletion in a work of art reaches us with evocative power. It engages us—paradoxically, perhaps—more than an image that’s carefully worked out in every detail.

Katlandscape

The next drawing was done by a left-handed student.  I had copied him a mirror image of the original Gainsborough to work from because the left hand moves in a different radius than the right hand.

JustinGainsborough

I reminded students that they had the option of leaving the drawing as is, “incomplete,” or doing more work on it at home.

MaryLandscpe1

In the next class, this teacher was gratified that none of the students had “completed” the drawing.  Every student seems to have gotten the modern bug.

We will get back to this Topic of Incompletion many more times.

We are off to a promising start!

Thomas Gainsborough, 1727-1788  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gainsborough

Columbus, Indiana https://columbus.in.us/architecture-story/

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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One of the themes in these past few posts has been the challenge to look critically at much admired paintings by much admired artists.

Giovanni Bellini is one of the celebrated Venetian painters of the 16th century. At first glance, his Madonna of the Trees seems harmonious, pleasing and perfect.

But look again.  First, the woman has no right shoulder. Her right arm would have to be attached to that (missing) shoulder.  Therefore, quite a bit of anatomy would have to be visible behind the baby.  Second, the drapery over the right forearm abruptly stops behind the baby’s ankles. You would expect it to circle around, but no, it mysteriously breaks off behind the baby’s crossed ankles. This abruptness would be more obvious if the legs were separated, so he makes this plump newborn stand up straight and cross his ankles. If you consent to the missing shoulder, why not also accept absurd drapery and a posturing newborn!

As I’m writing this, I keep looking at the reproduction of this painting in a book.  Even after my analysis and my full realization of Bellini’s trickery, I find this painting totally appealing.

Once that happens, I have to figure out why that happens, of course.  The appeal of this painting, I think, comes from the rational organization of the composition. It’s as if your brain said, how can something so carefully laid out not make sense?  As for the interrupted drapery around the arm, notice how the curve of that cloth is echoed in the left elbow’s drapery, forming a perfect ellipse.  There you are, your brain says, I rest my case.

For more on how your brain accepts trickery like this, including optical illusions, see Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.  Readable, relevant, highly recommended.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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In the early 2000’s green was a fashionable color, meaning it was associated with romantic love.  In Steve Martin’s 2005 movie Shopgirl (he wrote the screenplay) the walls of the shopgirl’s apartment were green. I remember thinking, how odd, I thought green walls were for hospitals.

So it goes with color associations.  We talked about that earlier, in the post about blue.

There have been paintings of solid black (Barnett Newman), solid blue (Yves Klein), solid white (Bruce Nauman) and solid red (Malevich). But solid green?

In the 1990’s the Tate showed large solid color paintings by Maria Lalic, including a green that is, however, not applied evenly and flat but thinly striped. So we can’t count it.  https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/maria-lalic-2639

What is it about green? Why has nobody made a solid green painting? Kazimir Malevich would not have shown a Green Square next to his Red Square in 1915.

On the internet you can look up “color therapy,” and read that green is the most therapeutic color: “This is the most basic color of all in healing. It is the color which you always use first and last.” https://www.aetherius.org/healing-yourself-and-others/color-therapy/    Is that why walking in parks and woods is restful? But then, consider that there’s more hitting the senses in the woods than green-green-green.

A given color will affect us differently in different contexts.

Try this.

It’s 3 feet square.  In what room of your house would you like to see this?  Really?  For how long?

Next, imagine walking unassumingly into a museum or gallery and there it is, it 8’ x 8.’  Your whole visual field is filled, it envelops you, nothing else exists. Here you have green and its complementary color, red, for maximum contrast.  The Malevich juxtaposition in 1915 would have been comical, but here the contrast may give you a profound jolt.

Now let’s take another break from color.  What happens when you switch abruptly between the Renaissance sensibility and the modern sensibility in which we’ve been immersing ourselves here? We will now toggle back again from 2000 to 1500.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/black/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/red-and-rational/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/those-blues/

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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The box you saw a couple of posts earlier is now fully integrated into the painting. In full frontal view its third dimension disappears.  But notice the added wit—feathers!

Having completed the painting, the artist now has to name the thing. When she walks her dog by the lake, Terry Fohrman takes pictures of sidewalks with their cuneiform cracks and collects found objects like Robert Rauschenberg. In general, she feels appalled by our culture’s wastefulness.  The title came easy: “Don’t Throw It Away.”

I look forward to seeing this piece displayed on a wall.  Here you see it leaning against a wall, which requires a certain effort on the part of the viewer.  You have to ignore the floor and the baseboard.  As you put up with that task, you may feel that thinking and painting “inside the box” was/has been not such a bad idea after all.  Right. Following the rules is the common thing to do, it’s easy, which is why “thinking outside the box is rare.”  And we call that “art.”

You can see the earlier stage of this piece at

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2018/10/29/art-outside-the-box-and-with-the-box/

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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No, your five-year-old cannot do this.*

This painting is called “Homage to DeKooning 7.”  It’s this artist’s seventh painting using this brush/palette-knife technique while varying the color relations between “background” and “foreground.”  To illustrate, here’s an earlier painting in this series.

These paintings are fairly large, 30”x40.”     I think paintings like this, should be seen close up, about two or at most three feet away, so that you feel immersed in the painting.  If you do this and also don’t rush yourself, you will experience a sense of space within the painting that obviously has nothing to do with perspective. You can then reflect on why your brain would conjure up this space sensation when nothing like a horizon or receding Renaissance columns or mountains in the distance are depicted.

This is what makes abstraction—true abstraction, not simplification—endlessly fascinating: you’re looking at the games your mind plays.

*I’ve actually heard a man say “my five-year-old can do that” in front of a Picasso at the Art Institute.

Paintings by Bruce H. Boyer.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/black-dot-anthropocentrism/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-ii-stretch/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-iii-rack/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-iv-asperatus-clouds/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-v-blue-rectangle/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/untitled-vi-back-and-forth/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-vii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-viii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-ix/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/untitled-x/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/untitled-xi/

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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George Stubbs (1724-1806) was sought after as a painter of horses, often shown with their proud owners.  His format is always horizontal, since a horse’s body is long.  To show it in its full glory you needed to portray it from the side, in its longest extension. In his paintings of horse and rider, the horse is more important than the rider, even if it’s the Marquess of Wocestershiresauce.

If the owner of the horse wanted to be shown as more important, however, the format had to be vertical.  Now the Marquess of Watever is shown in full verticality and his beloved horse…oh, wait, how can we get the horse in this picture?  Looks like we have to foreshorten the animal.  That means, the horse has to be shown either from the front or the back.  Well, we can’t have the horse’s hindquarters, the whatsit, poking out towards the viewer, so I guess it will have to be the head.

An example of a foreshortened horse is Joshua Reynolds’  portrait of Captain George K.H. Coussmaker.  The wall sign at the Met says, “Reynolds gave close attention to his portrait of George Kein Hayward Coussmaker, a lieutenant and captain in the first regiment of Foot Guards.  No fewer than twenty-one appointments—and at least two more for the sitter’s horse—are recorded between February 9 and April 16, 1782.  The composition is complex and the whole vigorously painted.”  Complex, indeed.  The  horse’s body is forced into a semi-circle, stretching its head to an anatomically unbelievable length. To show that the head is connected to a horse, Reynolds paints in some hooves,  pointing daintily like a ballerina’s toes.  A tour de force, all for the sake of framing the captain in an elegant arch. He must have been a vain, humorless man.

We get an even more daringly foreshortened horse in Henry Raeburn’s portrait of George Harley Drummond. This horse—and I wish we knew the horse’s name—is shown in complete indifference to the proceedings.  She grazes nonchalantly while the aristocrat is posing for his portrait.  Aside from the anthropomorphizing of the animal, the artist has solved the foreshortening challenge in an ingenious, witty and possibly satirical way.  Really, your lordship, the horse’s hindquarters?!

One wonders if the expression “horse’s ass” was in circulation in Scotland in the early eighteen hundreds.  Perhaps the man in the fine boots had a sense of humor—after all, he must have approved the composition—and hung it in his great entrance hall where he positioned himself to greet his neighboring land owners as they arrived for his party, letting everybody know what he really thought of them.

The Met, once again, stays away from the possibility of satire: “The foreshortened view of the grazing bay horse is the most complex part of the composition, though not the most important.  It is curious, therefore, that the animal’s hindquarters should so prominently displayed.”

Exquisitely painted hindquarters, yes.  But the Met is prudishly polite: the horse’s ass is  obviously the most important part of the painting!

Happy April Fools Day to All!

George Stubbs | The Marquess of Rockingham’s ‘Scrub’, 1762

Joshua Reynold (1723-1792).  Captain George K.H. Coussmaker

Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). George Harley Drummond.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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16novcodeyellow

In my peripatetic reading, some years ago, I came across this suggestion about how to look at art:  Instead of thinking you’re going to judge the painting, stand there and imagine that the painting is judging you.

That may sound ridiculous.  Try it anyway.

You can start with this painting. How is this painting judging you?

When the tables are turned this way, you’ll notice that you’ve been judging art by rather arbitrary, inherited standards; that you like it that way; that these standards make you feel smart; and that this realization is embarrassing.

Currently, I’m reading From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present  by Jacques Barzun.  In this section (p. 167) he’s mainly talking about writing in the 17th century, but what he says applies to the visual arts, too.

The first modern critics did not spend all their time discussing tragedy.  Other forms of poetry enjoyed their minute attention, most often in the light of Horace’s precepts.  Applying such pre-existing standards was the very definition of criticism until the 19th century.  The process was analytical and judicial.  A sort of stencil was laid over the work and the places noted where the right features showed through the holes.  The more points scored, the better the work.

Now, ANALYSIS, the breaking of wholes into parts, is fundamental to science, but for judging works of art, the procedure is more uncertain: what are the natural parts of a story, a sonnet, a painting:  The maker’s aim is to project his vision by creating not a machine made up of parts but the impression of seamless unity that belongs to a living thing. 

Painting by Karen Gerrard, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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