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Posts Tagged ‘photography’

In the 19th century and until the middle of the 20th century, art students spent an enormous amount of time drawing from plaster casts. Art schools had store rooms full of life-size replicas of the classics, from Myron’s discus-thrower, to Michelangelo’s Medici Tomb figures.  There were also casts of individual body parts, like eyes and feet.  The art student copied these and tried to achieve a technique with shading so subtle that the drawing looked like a photograph.  We don’t teach that way anymore, for two reasons:  1) photography (invented in the 1830’s) can do it better; and 2) students would refuse, like, this is sooooo booooring and who wants to become, like, a technician anyway.  True, if you spend all your time drawing to create illusions of photos you will, indeed, become a technician.  So, let’s not go there.

In my class room we don’t have plaster casts, but occasionally I give my students the opportunity to draw from photos of sculptures, specifically those of Michelangelo.  Working from photos is easier than working from the three-dimensional sculpture (or plaster cast) because the photo is already two-dimensional.  But it’s also harder because you have to visualize the three-dimensionality of the shape you’re drawing. And that is precisely why the exercise is so good.  You’re not just duplicating dark and light areas as seen on the photo, you have to internalize the shape and then draw from that image in your mind.  The exercise teaches you to see “in the mind’s eye,”  the eye you need to cultivate in order to draw.

Michelangelo’s Medici Madonna

Michelangelo’s Dawn from the Medici tomb

Drawings by Danielle and Linné D.

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

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In “The Blot and the Diagram,” Kenneth Clarke talked about Leonardo’s intellectual range.  His formidable brain loved to analyze systems (diagrams); but he was also fascinated by chaotic forms (blots).  In his notebooks Leonardo tells us that he often would stop to look at a wall that was water stained, cracked or peeling.   He writes, contemplating such chaotic forms stimulates the imagination.

I think of Leonardo as one of us,  he shared our sensibility, with his insatiable curiosity and courage, his scientific approach; his playfulness; his openness to possibilities; his skepticism; his use of inconsistencies; his caricatures; and for the purpose of this post, his embrace of accidentals.  In this sense, Kenneth Clark says, he anticipated modern art.  About 120 years ago, when paint started dripping on a canvas, it was sometimes allowed to do so.  By the 1940’s dripping paint had come to represent an aesthetic in itself, with Jackson Polack it’s most famous representative.  An aesthetic of chance occurrence was edging out the old aesthetic of control.

If you’ve ever seen Urban Decay Photography, you know that it speaks to the modern sensibility.  At first, it may be shocking (never was to me, though) but then it sinks in and reaches you at a very deep  level of your  life experience. Where the old sensibility measured time teleologically, this new sensibility embraces time– how shall we say—mystically, as an element of constant surprise and potential.  And isn’t that where we live, from one moment of consciousness to the next and to get to the next moment, we have to let the previous moment die.

Decay.  Urban Decay.

What other kind of decay is there?  Well, obviously, rural decay.  But that’s too fast and predictable, since in a season or two the new crop grows out of the compost of the old.  But Urban Decay is slow and it’s not predictable, because it’s about ideas.  What we see crumbling is not just that wall, that arch, that mural, that tracery, that tile floor, etc, but the ideas, values and hierarchies these things once defended.

 

My shot of the CTA tracks at Wabash and Madison (above) has some of that reflection in it.  It has that reference to crumbling urban structures and the reminder that these structures are inventions, as man-made and ephemeral as the ideas and hopes from which they sprang.  But that shot illustrates one other element we find in Urban Decay Photography:  severe composition.  In this case, it’s three horizontal stripes, progressing from narrow at to top, to wider in the middle, to widest at the bottom, creating a progression.

This emphasis on form is what distinguishes Urban Decay Photos.  It is well worth your while to study this genre. Here’s a link, for a start:

http://www.pics-site.com/2010/07/11/urban-decay-photography/

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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The invention of photography in the 1830’s freed up the imagination. You want a portrait?  You got it.  Takes only a few minutes. No need to pose in front of a painter for hours.  How about a picture of your wonderful garden in bloom.  Ditto.  A few minutes.  The ships in the harbor, the mountains, the cathedral, the cows in the field, we know all that and take it for granted now.  What this means for the painter is that the portrait he paints of you or the landscape she paints of your garden is as much a reflection of the artist as of the object being depicted.  The imagination has, of course, always been at play throughout our history, but since the invention of photography (which can document reality with far greater accuracy) the pictorial imagination has truly come into its own.  I would even say, the imagination is IT.  Our artmaking is about the imagination itself. You can let it run free.  You can turn trees into shrubs, a meadow into a river or a frozen pond, you can turn the blue sky pewter gray—if you think all this will make a better picture.  Who decides what will make it a  better picture?  YOU.

All these developments took place in the imagination of my student Spike S. as he faced a radiantly illuminated October park scene  with a blazing, rotund maple tree. Because the sky is muted in his painting (pastel), the foliage is all the brighter.  The ground, now a mysterious surface of water or ice, recedes visually and in doing so allows the foliage to glow.

Another student, Beatrice K, faced the lake through a tangle of shrubs and trees, only one of them in bright fall colors.  She edited out the confusion.  The painting (oil on canvas) became a serene meditation: sky, lake, beach, rocks, a dead tree trunk and a small tree at the right that appears to be raging at the dying of the October light.

The painting, then, is not a documentation of the arrangements of molecules masquerading as trees, rocks and ground, so much as an independent object that came out of your mood that day.  The word “mood” makes it all sound so facile, doesn’t it.  You  can’t imagine how hard the work of the imagination really is.

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