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Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance’

It’s also called “The Man with the Blue Sleeve.” Titian (1488-1576) painted this portrait around 1510. It’s a good example of the High Renaissance’s self-confidence, the assertion of the dignity of humanness.  The power of his ego is not coming at us in a front view, which would look aggressive or defensive. No need for that.  This man is so self-assured and self-contained that he can engage your full attention with only a sideways glance. The bone of his elbow is pointing at us, but we don’t see any bones or muscles that might intimidate us.  No need for a display of brute force.   This man’s power is deeper, beyond  your peasant understanding.  The sleeve is quilted, it’s soft: poetically anchored power.

If this were a portrait of a member of the high aristocracy or the ruling class we would surely know his real name. The fact that we don’t, suggests he was of the rising middle class, a merchant perhaps. This is the confident face of the future.

That confidence is conveyed in the composition itself:  the triangle, the most stable geometrical shape. We’ve encountered the triangle composition before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rafael squeezes his Madonnas into triangles to satisfy his client, who needs to assure his congregation that this theology is stable, eternal and unbudgeable.

In Titian’s Ariosto notice how pronounced the triangle is.  A black cape is draped over the far shoulder to clarify the two equal sides of the isosceles triangle.  We can’t know what the extra black fabric or fur over the left forearm is.  I marked it in pink.  Whatever that brushstroke represents, it’s important compositionally.  It gets the eye moving upward along that side of the triangle.  In laying out the composition with both clarity and ambiguity, Titian is thinking as a modernist, as one of us.

(This painting by Titian, 32” x 26,” is in the National Gallery, London.)

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

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When you’re being paid to get a message across, composition is your friend.

Florence, ~1500.  Sandro Botticelli has been commissioned to make a painting in which a baby—quite literally–is the message. The culture Botticelli lives in is built around this theological message. He’s well acquainted with the usual cast of characters, will assemble them again for this painting and he knows he has to work out a composition that makes this baby the focus of attention, again.

Botticcelli yawns, takes out his sketch pad and draws straight lines and arches.  Those are the most important tools for his composition and really all he needs: straight lines and arches.  The arches will enclose the space around the baby.  The straight lines will converge on the baby.  Botticelli concentrates on his scribbling for two minutes.  Gotcha, he says.  He means the viewer.  The viewer’s gaze will not wander, will constantly be led to the point of convergence, the baby. The client, who is powerful and wealthy, better pay him well for this fine work.

It was the custom for a master like Botticelli to have assistants that were trained by the master to specialize in rendering specific parts of a painting. One student might specialize in painting drapery, one in skies, and one in vegetation.   When the master’s name is followed by “and workshop” we can’t be sure that the master actually worked on the painting. It may mean that he only drew the initial sketch (called “cartoon”) with the all-important composition lines and then assigned his assistants (his workshop) to flesh it out on canvas.  It may mean that he painted only the faces and hands and then turned the painting over to his trained assistants.  But it may also mean that the workshop crew had been trained so well by him that they could work in his style without him being present at all.

As for creating the cartoon, that was the main job and usually performed by the master. But, as you can see, once you knew where the focus had to be—and that came with the all-pervasive theology of the time—you reached for your composition tools and, voila, the thing fell together: arches and converging lines.

What about anatomy?  Well, anatomy has to become subservient to composition. Joseph’s left arm is too small and Mary’s right forearm cannot be attached to an upper arm. Both  are squeezed into place somehow. St. John’s right leg is not attached to his pelvis.  The bodies of the two adults are hulking and humongous in relation to their tiny heads.  The new born weighs about forty pounds. But no matter. We accept it all.  Why? Because the composition tells us so.  Enveloping arches and converging lines focus the mind.  The mind loves that.

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.

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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MondrianTree6

Oh, trees!

If you’re a Mondrian-lover you stand in front of one of his paintings, like the one above, and exclaim, “I just love the way he painted trees!”  Right?

You have a friend who doesn’t understand Mondrian, so you volunteer to give her a tour of the moderns at the Art Institute of Chicago or the MoMa.  You position yourselves in front of the Mondrians, and you learnedly explain that here we have the essence of tree-ness.  Right?

Mondrian was painting simplified trees.  Right?

Mondrian drew diagrams of trees. Right?

Abstract trees. Right?

Oh, please!

No one has ever looked at a Mondrian and seen trees. Right?

Right!!!!!

Then why do we constantly get the evolution of his paintings—The Mondrians—from trees.

http://emptyeasel.com/2007/04/17/piet-mondrian-the-evolution-of-pure-abstract-paintings/

MondrianTree1

[The] process of simplification and reduction would continue until he wasn’t even painting from nature at all.

The rise of Cubism also gave Mondrian a means to segment and reduce objects to their most basic forms.

MondrianTree2

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived in Paris when he was in his early 40’s.  There he met Braque and other Cubists.

To interpret Cubism as “reducing objects to their most basic forms”  is as blatantly ridiculous as the other cliché about cubism, namely that a cubist painting shows us an object from all four sides.  I’ll post just one example here, Picasso’s “Portrait of D.H. Kahnweiler,” 1910. Have a good look. You are seeing Mr. Kahnweiler’s “basic forms” and you’re seeing him from all “four sides.” Correct?

kahnweil

Really?

LOOK!

Cubism is so scary to think about that people, even otherwise intelligent people, repeat these absurdities about “basic forms” and “four sides.”  You’ll find this sort of thing not only on internet pages but, with more academic circumlocutions, in serious publications. The Cubists—Picasso and Braque–are scary to think about because they made a clean break with the past.  Naughty, naughty. Thou shalt honor thy father and mother…  The only father the Cubists honored was Cézanne and he, in Robert Hughes’ words, painted DOUBT.

Let’s see now, we don’t have any commandments honoring doubt.

In 1910, art that threw out all previous assumptions was difficult to take.  Still is.  But doubt is so much more invigorating than having answers without first having questions.  Medieval certainties and Renaissance illustrations of mythological characters are not invigorating, are they?!

The Cubists—and they didn’t call themselves that—came up with something new.  The painting is now not an illustration but a work in its own right.

You must be kidding?  In its own right?  The audacity!

That’s right.  Audacity.

So, are Mondrian’s paintings abstractions or essences or diagrams of trees?  No.  They are something completely new.  They stand in their own right as objects.  Something to contemplate.

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

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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15JaneWhatFour
You’re not inclined to interpret this painting. You’re probably not asking “what is the significance of the number four, what does it symbolize or refer to, what is the sum of all the fours here and what would be the meaning of that large number, ditto for multiplication,” etc. This kind of interpreting is what we used to do. For example, when you look at this painting by Nicolaes Maes, you can’t help but try to figure out what the NicolaesMaesIdleServantartist is illustrating. Why did the artist put in the cat, the sleeping maid, the guests in the background? What is the hostess saying to us by gesturing that way? What was the social status of servants in mid-17th-century Holland?
We stopped digging for meaning about a hundred years ago. I recently found this 1923 Picasso quote in an announcement of the current MoMA show: “Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the songs of a bird?”
If this sounds perverse, it’s because prior to about 1900 images were used for didactic purposes and that’s what we got used to. They illustrated a story, a myth, a compositional ideal, an ideal ratio, an ideal body, an ideal color relation, etc. Ideals are culturally defined and over time get enshrined as absolute and immovable. By the early 20th century, these ossified standards were crumbling in Western culture: in the place of capital-t Truth we got evolution, relativity, psychoanalysis and the leveling of social classes. This is not to say that Cézanne, Manet, VanGogh, Matisse and Picasso were now illustrating these new theories. Not at all. They painted in a new way because to be alive at that time felt new.
The major societal shift involved the relationship between artist and client. Whereas before, the artist was a servant, he is now of the same middle class as his client. Whereas before, the client (pope, emperor, czar, king, archbishop, et al) was interested in the finished product and how it promoted his power status, now the client becomes more and more interested in how the work is put together and what philosophical dynamics those artistic processes embody. Whereas before, the work of art “appeared” in a mythical sense, like Athena from the head of Zeus, now the painting or sculpture shows the traces –the brush strokes, the chisel marks, the scratches, the nuts and bolts—of how it was made.
This is why the reviewers of art exhibits and the critics in art magazines like Art in America and Artforum will write at great length about the process that went into the making of the work of art. Most of the writing does not attempt interpretation of the pre-19th century kind at all. It’s assumed that you, as a contemporary, love process. You love to stand in front of a painting or sculpture and try to figure out how the artist made this thing. Reconstructing the process will trigger empathy with the artist, will vicariously pump you up with energy and, generally, make your day. Later you’ll meet a friend for lunch and, gesturing energetically,try to convey your aesthetic experience.
Well then, what was the process behind “What Four?” You can see that the painting, 30” x 40”, started as a color study: blue/purple and greens. What followed was only one layer of paint, but a layer produced through complex procedure. The artist, Jane Donaldson, decided to mix media. The first layer is painting. This second layer is printmaking. She carved the letter four on a linoleum plate. She painted it white and pressed it onto the canvas, one four after the other, until the white paint was worn from the plate. She now inked the plate again and started another set of “four,” and so on.
I find this very exciting. It has something child-like about it, but at the same time it hearkens back to that incision in Western civilization when in 1439 Johannes Gutenberg invented printing in Mainz, Germany, and literature was able to take off. Without printing, no Renaissance, without the Renaissance, well, you know, on and on.
That’s one of the chain reactions set off in the mind. There are others, because the process of decline/degeneration/fading and rejuvenation/fresh start is so true to the experience of life. The process tempts you to interpret metaphorically, but remains unspecific. It reverberates deeply in the imagination because it is visually rich. That richness comes from its process.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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LorrieMooreBlog
I haven’t worked on the caricatures for my facefame blog since, oh my, January. In the winter and spring months I was up to here in printer’s ink, modifiers, press settings, the ol’ hot plate, solvents, exhaust fans and periodic printshop fatigue. Printmaking is not for the faint of heart or lungs. In five months I pulled (that’s how printmakers talk) 152 prints, and many more if you count the rejects. But more on that later, much later. This past week I finally summoned the courage to see if I could get back into the facefame-caricature mode. (facefame.wordpress.com)
I like reading Lorrie Moore. I pulled up the Google images for Lorrie Moore on my 24” computer screen, leaned the customary drawing board against my desk and drew her with the customary Stabilo aquarellable pencil. Twenty minutes, maybe all of thirty, and there was this intelligent, witty face on my paper. I was rather pleased. Well, I thought, the hiatus on facefame has just ended. I love drawing like this and there are plenty of writers and other artists (maybe even politicians in this presidential circus) that I’m eager to draw.
The next day, the drawing didn’t look good any more. It looked pleasing, you know, goody-goody. It said “look how well the artist controls the medium; a little ironic, but at the same time it has that classical feeling; being done in sepia, it alludes to the mighty Renaissance and who doesn’t love Leonardo and Michelangelo.” Time to put it aside, reconsider.
How can I bring this drawing into the 20th century, ok, the 21st? To do that, the drawing needs to be a bit edgy. Maybe adjusting the size will help. I took it to Kinko’s and shrunk it, from 14×11 to about 11×9. Now, loosely tracing that size to my aquarellable paper, I was less tempted by detail and literalness. I leaned into the pencil, deposited a lot of black stuff, smeared with a damp paper towel, LorrieMooreReyetextured the paper (in printmaking that’s called tone) and found my caricaturing zone. I knew I was in it when I drew her right iris with a flick of the pencil. That cranked up my courage and then adding the color patches was a sure thing, easy in the sense of “hey-it’s-my-drawing.”
This happens all the time, this wanting to please and then realizing the next hour, or the next day, that what you really need to do is summon your courage and do strong work.

LorrieMooreBlog650
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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PicassoNudeDrapery
Drapery? Where? You mean those whitish-bluish triangles and trapezoids?
Picasso was twenty-six when he painted this. By the time he was fourteen, he had mastered the skill to create the illusion of drapery or any other illusion he might have felt like creating. There was big money in illusions in the 1890’s. But not for Picasso. With Picasso the illusion-achievements of the Renaissance come to an end. And that means, for one thing, drapery is dead. Finished.
The question is, do you have to master the Renaissance skills of drapery, anatomy and perspective to be an artist? The answer is “no,” but it’s an uncomfortable no. I’m uncomfortable about dismissing the value of drapery drawing/painting for two reasons. One is in the looking: drapery in an image draws the viewer in and focuses the mind like a labyrinth; more on this in the next post. The second reason is in the doing and for similar reasons: drawing drapery develops visual concentration since you are always drawing from the image in your mind; and it focuses the mind, resulting in the kind of high that comes from a)intense concentration on a limited problem and b) repetition of minutiae. This is drawing for the sheer pleasure of drawing, meaning the “high” you get from moving that pencil.

Drapery
This is my pencil drawing of some drapery I set up for a demo in drawing class last week. Students watched over DraperyGreenDemomy shoulders and asked questions. As I was drawing I explained the procedure. This 17”x11” page took about an hour. Without my talking, I estimate it would have taken less than a half hour. It looks so easy and the principles of light-shadow-reflected light are a piece o’cake.
But the doing takes practice. But, hey, it’s not like there’s ever nothing to draw. Look around you. Throw your coat over a chair, leave the dish towel on the kitchen counter, don’t make your bed—drapery drapery everywhere….
In “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the need and result of practice. He has made the 10,000 hour rule famous: to get good at anything takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice. That comes to 3 hours a day.

130207DilbertHoursPractice
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
http://facefame.wordpress.com
http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com
http://www.katherinehilden.com
http://www.khilden.com

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