Author Archives: klrblog

Call to Arms

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Jail, deportation and even exile will not prohibit a call to arms demanding art construction that represents the native people of Mexico. Abolish capitalism, create social equality and document it all with public murals, will dissolve the problems of the people. Inviting combat over art, or this point of view, may not be the norm in political movements, but Siqueiros would disagree with this notion. He attempted to balance transgression with artistry, but his, “…Artistic ventures were frequently “interrupted” by his political ones, Siqueiros himself believed the two were intricately intertwined” (1). Was his message understood or simply dismissed as political rhetoric will likely be theorized by art and political critics for years to come.

David Alfaro Siqueiros (birth name José de Jesús Alfaro Siqueiros) was born in 1896 in Camargo, Chihuahua, and died in 1974. His life was filled with political strikes, jail, fighting in the Mexican Revolution and Spanish Civil Wars and membership activities associated with the Communist Party. He studied art and architecture at the Franco-English College in Mexico City and was one of the founders of the Mexican Mural Movement. Siqueiros specialized enormous murals, easel and lithograph works that were socially driven, “Throughout his life, he espoused the ideal that art, by its nature, had to be political in order to carry any substance” (2). His painting techniques were executed with great minuteness; using an electric projector allowed him to trace images onto walls, to save time he sprayed lacquer paint from a paint gun and he methodically conformed images so they were visible from multiple angles.

In 1957, Siqueiros created From the Dictatorship of the Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution the People in Arms. Painted with acrylic paint on a plywood surfaces at an undocumented location, this mural consists of three separate sections. Combined, the images suggest the political atmospheres during the 1910 Mexican Revolution when Adolfo Lopez Mateos was president. He shifted policy in favor of imperialism, which supports unequal balances based on domination and subordination, creating anger and rebellion from all people.

Left side by Siqueiros, 1957
From the Dictatorship of the Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution the People in Arms

Left side of mural. This image shows the political leaders on the left side and the peasants with weapons on the right emerging as a united social force.

Center by Siqueiros, 1957
From the Dictatorship of the Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution the People in Arms

Center of mural. This image shows miners of Cananea are striking against William C. Green of the Green Consolidated Copper Company of American for independence and control over Mexico’s national flag.

Right side by Siqueiros, 1957
From the Dictatorship of the Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution the People in Arms

Right side of mural. In the center of this image, surrounded by supporting political puppets and their wealth, is Porfirio Diaz, the Mexican leader from 1876-1911.

I find the work of Siqueiros to be fantastic and obvious that every image is conveying a message or statement.  I think his paintings are reminiscent of the baroque period. He creates dramatic scenes with the manipulation of dark and light shadow and purposefully uses bold lines and heavy brush strokes. Emotion and vigor radiates from every sculptured form and elaborate detail; people are in conflict and history is being captured. The dynamic colors captivate my vision and the political message haunts my mind. Every piece created by Siqueiros is alive with intense flavor and I imagine no apologizes were ever uttered for his passion, action or art. Today, this mural can be found in the Hall of the Revolution, National History Museum, Chapultepec Castle, in Mexico City.

Work citation:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alfaro_Siqueiros
(2) http://www.abcgallery.com/S/siqueiros/siqueiros.html
(3) http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/10-09-30-art-revolution.html
(4) http://www.biography.com/people/david-alfaro-siqueiros-9485144
(5) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/546485/David-Alfaro-Siqueiros

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Throne of Weapons

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The tropical coastal plain beneath one of the world’s poorest countries is soiled with blood that eventually seeps into the Indian Ocean. About 1 million people died here, defending their home and rights. Rifles and bullets played a huge part in this destruction, but human spirit was not lost, “To take away instruments of death from the hands of young people and to give them an opportunity to develop a productive life” (1), is the present Mozambique enterprise, in Southern Africa. Optimism is a relatively new future after 16 years of civil war that left behind an estimated 70 million guns. It all began in 1505, when Mozambique was a Portuguese Colony and remained that way for 470 years. Then the people of Mozambique acquired independence in 1975 and within a decade, the National Government of Mozambique was threatened. Anti-government guerrillas opposed the new government and civil war broke out. In 1995, Mozambique became a member of the British Commonwealth and thankfully the war ended.

Emerging from tragedy was an organization that facilitates exchange of weapons previously used by combatants for household, farming and construction tools; it is known as the Transformaçaõ de Armas em Enxadas (Transforming Arms into Tools). Promoting utopia, this organization commissioned an artist to contrive a symbol of human strength and monument to the victims of the Mozambique Civil War. Artist Cristovao Canhavato received this honor and was supplied with a variety of decommissioned weapons for a sculpture, “I wasn’t affected directly by the Civil War, but I have two relatives who lost their legs…” (2). Born in 1966 in Zavala, Mozambique, Canhavato was trained in technical engineering construction, but eventually changed course. He attended the Núcleo de Arte in Maputo, a multi-arts and culture organization and began creating art under the name Kester.

Throne of Weapons, by Kester, 2001

Throne of Weapons is a chair sculptured out of guns and was designed by Kester in 2001 in Maputo, Mozambique. In African tradition, a chair or stool signifies power and progression of a king or chief. They are also considered spiritual, “They were understood to be the seat of the owner’s soul and when not in use were leaned against a wall so that other souls passing by would not settle on it” (3). Kester’s creation is a compilation of weaponry and functionality. The seat is a mixture of rifles collected from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Capable of selective firing at a rate of 600 rounds a minute is the Russian designed AKM assault rifle functioning as side leg supports. Displayed between the front legs is the Soviet designed PPS submachine gun that was intended as a low-cost personal defense weapon. The arm rests are Russian designed AK47’s capable of providing submachine firepower with rifle accuracy. Symbolizing a church is the backrest of the chair. To accomplish this, Heckler and Koch G3 German manufactured battle rifles were used along with their curved aluminum ammunition magazines. These selective-fire automatic weapons are rare and expensive. Also on the backrest top right rifle butt is an anomaly explained by Kester, “I didn’t carve the smile, it’s part of the rifle butt . . . the screw holes, and the marks left from where the strap was attached to the gun. I wanted to just use the gun as it was, not change it. So I chose the guns and the weapons that had the most expression” (2).

I find the Throne of Weapons to be a fascinating, heart retching and contradictive sculpture. When I first examined this piece, I thought the chair was made of wood; the rusty appearance of the steel and aluminum weapon metal, definitely fooled me. I thought the chair exuded a gothic quality with its connected curves of the magazine clips and symbolism of an historical event. I feel tremendous grief and glory when I examine the complex layers of meaning and symbolism embedded in this piece. As I learned about the weapons used in the sculpture, I discovered the intended purpose of each gun parallels the symbolism of the African stool. Recycling barbaric symbols of death convinces me that the people of Mozambique have ideal morals and forgiveness not common in today’s society. This memorable sculpture currently can be found on display at in a British Museum.

The artist enjoying his work.

Work citation:

(1) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aoa/t/throne_of_weapons.aspx
(2) http://kofiannanfoundation.org/newsroom/news/2010/10/%E2%80%9C-history-world-100-objects%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-episode-98
(3) http://www.hamillgallery.com/EXHIBITIONS/AfricanStools.html
(4) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13890416
(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heckler_%26_Koch_G3
(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AKM
(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PPSh-43
(8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AK-47

How to get a girl into bed

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Put away your notepad and pencil, you will not be picking up tips on how to get a girl into bed. Don’t be disappointed because I will be exploring another phenomenon that is just as stimulating. Why are contemporary artists fascinated with capturing images of girls in bed? Let me titillate your imagination further and present the idea of three female contemporary artists photographing their bodies in bed. I am prepared to show you this reality, but it may not be what you expect. Art critics have suggested all three artists desire a shift in how woman are portrayed, but only you can decide if this mission was accomplished or a disaster.

All art occurring after World War II is considered contemporary or post-modern art. New York was shifting as the new art center of the world and designs are more socially mindful than any previous era. “Contemporary art can sometimes seem at odds with a public that does not feel that art and its institutions share its values” (1). In painting, conventional techniques are used along with geometric shapes and hard-edges. Architects eliminate historical reference and created minimalist structures that were functional. Sculptors could create art out of everyday materials and skill was optional. During this period, artists had unlimited freedom to create outside of the box and were no longer tethered to tradition.

Mariko Mori, Love Hotel, 1994

Influenced as a fashion model and student at Bunka Fashion College and Chelsea College of Art and Design, Mariko Mori is a Japanese photographic and video artist.  Layering the placement of two abstract concepts near one other, is commonplace in her design work.  Mori frequently models for her own art, “I was trying to criticise consumerism through my work, so that’s how I started to use my own body” (2).  In Love Hotel, Mori is dressed as Tetsuwan Atomu (or Astro Boy) the main animated character in a Japanese television series designed for elementary boys.  Disguised under a school girl uniform, she possesses silver ears, hair, hands and feet like this animated character.  I am not a big fan of abstract conceptualization, but I do like the unpredictability of this piece.  Mori is unyielding to the pink round bed and appears to have zero intention of seducing her viewers.  I am not sure of her motives, but the random elements demand my attention.

Cindy Sherman is an American film director and photographer and, “has sought to raise challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art” (3).  Her interest in visual arts began at Buffalo State College where she was educated in painting and photography.  Sherman likes to work alone and assumes all roles in her art from director to model.  She uses elaborate make-up and costumes to create a character and then poses them against meager backdrops.  Using Untitled in the name of her images allows the viewer to explore multiple interpretations behind her work.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #93, 1983
(The Black Sheets)

Sherman describes, “In one of the centerfold pictures, which I call The Black Sheets for obvious reasons, I think of that character as having just woken up from a night on the town. She’s just gone to bed and the sun is waking her up and she’s got the worst hangover, and she’s about to pull the sheets over her head. Other people look at that and think she’s a rape victim” (4). The disheveled blond hair lying on the black sheets hints to me that this is the making of a centerfold in a provocative magazine. I think this image is effortless and has a tantalizing quality that may vary at any moment, which gains my enthusiasm for the piece.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #33, 1979

In Untitled Film Still #33, Sherman designed this image to look like a 1940 classical Hollywood crime drama emphasizing cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. This image was taken at her boyfriend’s family beach house on Long Island, New York. I like this black and white image because it feels like the viewer has infiltrated a situation already in motion. There is a pause to the room and awkwardness to this woman. Why is her attention trapped off-screen? Like classic crime drama, this image is a cliffhanger and reveals no clues to my multitude of questions. This piece is one of sixty-nine images in the series.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #11, 1997

In Untitled Film Still #11, Sherman offers another image reminiscent of film from the 1940 period. Hoping to portray an ordinary life in a realist plot, Sherman shot this image in her apartment and borrowed a friends doggy pillow, which is lying at the head of the bed. I think the décor of the bedroom and the woman’s clothing capture this era perfectly, but a despondent woman, was not achieved. Despite the tissues in her hand and the void look on her face, I still am not convinced. This staged image is unsatisfying and sterile and unfortunately doesn’t tickle my imagination.

Moving freely from art, film, photography, painting and writing is American artist Eleanor Antin. She designs art in which the concept involved takes precedence over traditional subject matter. Antin explains, “Conceptual art was opening up the possibility to cross mediums, cross genres, cross boundaries all over the place, to do something intelligent and fun, amusing, startling” (6). Creating interesting narrative and then transforming those details into art is the core to her creations.

Eleanor Antin, The Ballerina and the Poet, 1986

In this piece, Antin has created a fictional oddity named Eleanora Antinova, whose identity is a combination of historical fact and imagination. The character described by Antin, “…is a conflicted, African American ballerina who performed with the prestigious Russian Ballet Russe troupe in the 1920s. Eventually she fell from stardom during the Great Depression and supported herself as an actress in American soft porn films. The contradictions within this character are multi-faceted in that she is an African American modernist living before the civil rights movement and does not have the body of a conventional ballerina…” (5). I admire the complex detail behind this image, but I see a scene from a live stage play. Every prop, character and body position looks choreographed and artificial, which I don’t find glamorous. I have an appetite for some erratic behavior by the ballerina; has she considered quenching her thirst with the beer on the floor?

Eleanor Antin, RN, 1976

“Playing with clichéd feminine personae, Eleanor Antin in The Adventures of a Nurse manipulates cut-out paper dolls to tell the story of innocent Nurse Eleanor who meets one gorgeous, intriguing, and available man after another” (7).  Antin is the star and creator of this video and the image of the nurse on the bed is promotion.  The adventure proposed and devilish expression by nurse has me hooked and excited; the actual video is archaic and I have mental health concerns for the nurse.  I like the bizarre and simple elements of the image.  A nurse, bed and paper dolls is a group of words that I may never hear together again, and this alone, astounds me.  See a short clip of this video by clicking the address: http://www.vdb.org/titles/adventures-nurse

Work citation:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_art

(2) http://prestigehongkong.com/2012/09/shape-shifter

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cindy_Sherman

(4) http://www.pbs.org/art21/images/cindy-sherman/untitled-93-1981

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Antin

(6) http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/antin-eleanor

(7) http://www.vdb.org/titles/adventures-nurse

(8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astro_Boy

Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence

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This is not a joke.  How many words does one artist have to speak in order to enrage a University, clergy, art critics, Vienna, parliament and even Adolf Hitler?  Three: Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence.  Would you believe me if I told you these three words generated art reviews consisting of pornography, disturbing and overtly sexual?  You should, because it is all true.  Inadvertently creating public outcry, Gustav Klimt painted these three masterpieces.  In the end, they would never decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall and Klimt willingly paid back his commission, “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad” (1).

Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, Austria-Hungary in 1862 and died 1918.  One of seven children, he was brought up in relative poverty and financially supported his family during his life.  In his teens, he was awarded a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts.  He was schooled in architectural, academic and conservative painting and greatly admired Hans Makart who was considered a celebrity painter of academic history.  Acclaimed for his interior and theater decorating work, he won many award, pioneered artistic groups and achieved fame.  As interest sparked, he studied Japanese, Chinese, ancient Egyptian and Mycenaean art and was possibly influenced by monochrome photography, consisting of images in one shade of color with limited hues.  “He was also a highly accomplished and prolific draftsman. For drawings, Klimt preferred to work in black chalk and pencil, monochrome media which draw attention to the extreme refinement and intensity of his line” (2).  At the height of Klimt’s fame, he began to unfold his new radicle innate style.

Klimt was commissioned to decorate the Great Hall ceiling at the University of Vienna with three paintings.  He was instructed to present three black and white images of his paintings and was given complete freedom to illustrate complex characters, events and concepts.  It is unknown where these drawings were created, but Vienna is possible since Klimt lived the majority of his life there.

Philosophy by Klimt
1899-1907

Philosophy, the proposed theme was, “…triumph of light over darkness” (3).  This first mural was presented in 1900.  Klimt describes it as, “On the left a group of figures, the beginning of life, fruition, decay. On the right, the globe as mystery. Emerging below, a figure of light: knowledge” (4).  I see a diluted background with water bubbles and ripples.  Bereavement overtakes the crowd as they agonize with head in hands and open mouths.  Below, death creeps upward and is not intimidated by the scene.  Tragic subject matter is not my favorite, but I am impressed by the incredible detail and emotion captured in this drawing void of bright color.

Medicine by Klimt
1899-1907

Medicine, was the second painting presented in 1901.  Art critics state, “Klimt conveyed an ambiguous unity of life and death, with nothing to celebrate the role of medicine or the science of healing” (3).  I see the main focus of a healer or sorcerer who is bright and adorn with a type of caduceus, a staff with serpents that symbolizes medicine.  Men, women, children and death cascade behind this powerful woman, but she is not afraid.  She commands such power and I find her the most arousing element of the drawing.

Jurisprudence by Klimt
1899-1907

Jurisprudence, is described as “psycho-sexual” (3), referring to Freud’s theory on libido.  Three females representing truth, justice and law are circled around a condemned man and are represented as Eumenides, Greek gods of vengeance.  The females are chastising the man with the deadly entwine of an octopus.  The top mosaic section appears to be the three females watching themselves in action.  Below, the women appear uninterested or bored of their activity, unlike the male, who is clearly broken.  I find this piece quite confusing, but enjoy looking at the details and the mystery surrounding its meaning.

Photo manipulation is what I think when I see all three images.  Even though I know they are black and white sketches, I could easily suggest that these images have been edited in order to create deception and grandeur.  Layers of special effect, illusion and long exposure are also transparent, if only they were actually photographs.

To view larger images of Klimt’s three black and white drawings, click on link below and scroll down:

http://hoocher.com/Gustav_Klimt/Gustav_Klimt.htm

Work citation: 

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Klimt

(2) http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=23283

(3) http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/?a=120339

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klimt_University_of_Vienna_Ceiling_Paintings

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monochrome

Impressionism

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The Dance Class by Edgar Degas 1874

You’re hired!  Now, paint a picture of reality, use color to excite, focus on the effect of light and infuse together in a scene of immediacy.  You might think that these instructions would leave an artist in the 1800’s scratching their head, but you would be wrong.  Considered as the first movement in modern art, Impressionism began during this time in France.  Impressionists were not a formal artistic group but a collaboration of artists seeking recognition for their innovative techniques and approach to using color in art.  Contemporary developments in color theory created more of an exact analysis of the effect of color and light in nature.  To accurately capture the atmosphere of the moment, artists had to work quickly.  Details and outlines had to be sacrificed, instead using strokes of small bright color.  Paintings took on a feel of spontaneity and subject matter was mainly landscape, portrait, still life and figure composition.  The development of photography and Japanese woodcuts influenced the Impressionists style.  I really adore artwork during this time because the minimal detail creates subject with wide-open spaces that are not complicated and easy to absorb.  With this disentangle, I can fully swallow every brush stroke, color and emotion captured in a snapshot of time.

Blue Dancers
by Edgar Degas 1899

Edgar Degas was a French painter that created delicate artwork that I find spellbinding and vivid.  My favorite subjects are the ballet dancers he painted backstage or in rehearsal, highlighting their status as professionals at work.  He was a master at accurately freezing a moment in time while preserving a sense of movement in the subject.  Degas shies away from the Impressionist title, “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing” (1).  Critics disagree and Degas has earned a place in this movement, “The changes to his palette, brushwork, and sense of composition all evidence the influence that both the Impressionist movement and modern photography, with its spontaneous images and off-kilter angles, had on his work” (1).  I find it rare that an artist subject is seen through the eyes of the spectator.  Unusual viewpoint and angle often give Degas’s paintings a sense of looking at a photograph or real life.

Portrait of Felix Feneon
by Paul Signac 1890

By 1910, “The Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings, though they did not agree on the way forward” (2).  Modern urban scenes, landscapes and seashores became the focus of many art pieces during this time.  Systematic use of tiny dots of color called Pointillism was used.  Impulsive mannerisms were refined by using practical guidance to mix color for optimum visual impact and applying brush strokes that were conscientious calculated.  I like that this new style changed the expressive effect of art through unnatural or random colors that were unrestrained, but the subject matter is stale.  French painter Paul Signac’s painting Portrait of Felix Feneon features subject matter that I find mediocre and dormant, but the unusual shapes and colors are hypnotizing.  Signac is a great example of a painter during this time, “he abandoned the short brushstrokes of impressionism to experiment with scientifically juxtaposed small dots of pure color, intended to combine and blend not on the canvas but in the viewer’s eye, the defining feature of pointillism” (3).

The Birth of Venus
by Sandro Botticelli 1486

“Renaissance art sought to capture the experience of the individual and the beauty and mystery of the natural world” (4).  Emerging around the 1400, a perspective art technique was popular, in which parallel lines are represented as converging to give illusion of depth and distance.  Artists studied light, shadow and human anatomy.  Subject matter depicted an appreciation for beauty, fantasy, elaborate religious imagery and historical documentation.  Engaging me into a world of fantasy is what I find most appealing during this period.  The Birth of Venus by Italian painter Sandro Botticelli is a great example of this type of captured illusion.  The elongated neck and torso of Venus may be anatomically improbable, but this leisure visually enhances a feeling of fantasy. The two-dimensionality creates simple effective lines that are easy to following and pleasing to view. The lighter colors appear to emerge from darker areas, creating the illusion of rounded and sculptured detail on flat surfaces.

Venus at her Mirror
by Diego Velazquez 1647-1651

“The appeal of Baroque style turned consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography that was direct, simple, obvious, and dramatic…” (5). Beginning around 1600, this style emphasized grandeur, political and cultural changes, overt emotional content and realism.  Intense light and dark shading and appropriate colors to create an emotional connection were used.  I find little charm and lure in subject matter that is often engaging in awkward positions that look uncomfortable.  Coloring that gravitates toward dark is depressing and serious.  The overall simplicity of Venus at her Mirror by Spanish painter Diego Velazquez is one gem I found that is revitalizing and attractive.  The skin color of the nude female radiates warmth against black linens, she wears no jewelry and her hair is neatly up.  The dark room is void of distractions, creating intense focus toward the sensual lines of the female.  The intrepid path that Velazquez took in this painting gives me hope that I may stumble upon another painting in this period I find exciting.

The Artist’s Daughters, Molly and Peggy
by Thomas Gainsborough 1760

Branching off into many styles is the Classical period beginning around 1700.  Pastel color, curving forms and light pleasant subject matter were popular.  Individual thinking was breaking out and subject matter was serious and praised tolerance.  I find the emphasis on formal composition, historical and contemporary settings to be unvaried and sterile.  But sparks did fly when I discovered an anomaly, “On looking at them, we find tears in our eyes and know not what brings them” (6).  This statement perfectly describes how I felt when I discovered The Artist`s Daughters, Molly and Peggy by English painter Thomas Gainsborough.  I can’t take my eyes off Gainsborough’s portraits; I find them intriguing, sweet and simple.  Every subject displays subtle emotion and their attention appears to be captivated just off-screen.  No matter what portrait I view from Gainsborough’s collection, I get the feeling that every subject has something on their mind.  Questions and mystery, surrounding what is happening at that moment in time, peaks my curiosity and nothing more.

Word citation:

(1) http://www.edgar-degas.org/biography.html

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Impressionism

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Signac

(4) http://www.history.com/topics/renaissance-art

(5) http://www.artinthepicture.com/styles/Baroque/

(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gainsborough

(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance

(8) http://www.theartgallery.com.au/kidsart/learn/impressionism/

(9) http://artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/impressionism.htm

The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

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The listening system linked up to his piano used to help, but Beethoven notices the sounds of the acoustic cornet are also fading away.  Suicide is the only solution to, “…the unfairness of life: that he, a musician, could become deaf was something he did not want to live through” (1).  Beethoven did not commit suicide.  Instead he threw himself into his music and proceeded to earn a reputation for being completely untamed emotionally and a fornicator with his students.  Truly a celebrity of his day, Beethoven would have fit in perfectly with the musicians of today.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 and died 1827.  His grandfather was a Flemish musician and his son, Beethoven’s father, was also a musician who taught piano and violin lessons.  At an early age, Beethoven showed attentiveness for music, which didn’t go unnoticed. His father had limited musical and teaching talents, but spent his downtime instructing his son.  Beethoven’s first formal training in composition and philosophy came from Gottlob Neefe and before he experienced puberty, he was giving public performances and publishing music, “If he continues like this, he will be, without a doubt, the new Mozart” (2), Neefe once bragged.  At age 14, Beethoven became the appointed organist of the court of Maximillian Franz, the Elector of Cologne.  Becoming financially stable, he assumed the role as provider for his family, moved to Vienna and studied music arrangements with composer Joseph Haydyn.  Beethoven’s life flourished in Vienna.  He studied, taught, composed and published music, becoming the world’s first independent composer.  At age 26, Beethoven experienced turmoil in dealing with tinnitus, a ringing in his ears that created hearing loss.  To aid in his disability, he utilized a piano listening system called acoustic cornets and the metronome to indicate preferred tempo in his music.  In the end, he didn’t cope with his deafness and withdrew from his friends and public life.

Personal standards and government behavior were shifting in this era, creating a rise in the middle class.  People had expendable income and wanted access to music performances in their leisure time.  Catering to demand, Beethoven began to arrange public concerts that transformed music lovers into his biggest supporters, “…at the time certain listeners found the symphony strange, overly extravagant, and even risqué.  This genius, Beethoven, who was still a young, new composer, was already pushing the established boundaries of music” (1).  One of Beethoven’s piano sonatas is The Moonlight Sonata, composed in 1801 in Hungary and published in 1802.  It was dedicated to one of his pupils Countess Giulietta Gucciardi.  It has been suggested that the composition is written about Beethoven’s passion and unshared love with Giulietta.  This composition consists of three unique musical movements.  The first called adagio sostenuto, defined as play slowly, but faster than slow tempo and sustain right foot pedal.  Beethoven instructs performers to play the music with delicacy and without dampers.  This movement opens with a prominent sequence of straight beats that can be easily counted as 1, 2, 3, over again.  This comes together with emphasis placed a certain notes, creating an introspective and foreboding atmosphere.  The second called allegretto, defined as a fairly quick tempo and is short in length.  It has been suggested that it is only a connection between the first and third parts.  The bulk of this movement thins and the atmosphere gradually fades away.  The third is called presto agitato, defined as immediate quickness with an element of magic and excited manner.  It is twice in length as the first two movements and has two themes that are interlaced.  The first theme is turbulent that is built on rapid succession and strong emphasis notes.  Distinctively, the second theme is wildly enthusiastic.

I find it alluring that Beethoven did not follow the traditional classical outline of a sonata in The Moonlight Sonata.  Fast-slow-fast is customary, but slow-fast-fast is a better fit that describes the movement character.  The first introduction to this piece of music approaches my ears softly and methodically, like a slow approaching fog.  Before I know it, my mind is consumed with grumbling ghostlike sound suggesting a dark presence may be approaching.  As my body tenses and braces for impact, the notes transition to a happy and optimistic nature that is unexpected.  I let my guard down and again I am transitioned to ferocity of strong accented notes that force unbridled emotion deep in my bones.  The majority of the composers’ effort and emphasis appear to be saved for the last movement.  Skillful piano playing and a demand for changing emotion appear to be necessary for a musician to recreate this piece.  I find the unaccompanied piano music and transitions within the piece exquisite and I am surprised by Beethoven’s assessment of his work, “They are always talking about the C# minor sonata surely I’ve written better things” (3).  Apparently, an artist is his own worst critic.

Work citation:

1-http://www.lvbeethoven.com/Bio/BiographyLudwig.html

2-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_van_Beethoven

3-http://theuniversallanguageofmusicic.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/sonata-quasi-una-fantasia-better-known-as-the-moonlight-sonata/

4-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Nepomuk_Maelzel

5-http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16283109 (tinnitus)

Listen to The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQVeaIHWWck&feature=em-share_video_user]

Link

Venus at her Mirror by Diego Velazquez

In 1914, Mary smashed a protective glass barrier and then stood and stared for several minutes at Venus at her Mirror.  Seemingly mesmerized, she lifted a meat cleaver and slashed the masterpiece.  Why would a 1651 piece of art generate such emotion?  Militant, Mary Richardson said one reason was that is she didn’t like, “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long” (1).  Nude subject matter was rare during the baroque era and Velazquez’s experienced no repercussion to this realism vision.  Could the slashing of this masterpiece be a bit of karma over 200 years later?  No one knows.  Spectators continue attempts to unravel the subtle meaning behind Velazquez’s brief departure from traditional portrait painting.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez was born in 1599, in Seville, Spain.  He came from a good family and received fine education and training.  At a young age he showed enthusiasm for art and his talent may have been influenced by several men.  He apprenticed with Francisco Herrera who disregarded Italian influence and Francisco Pacheco’s who emphasized academically correct representations of subjects according to history.  He followed painter Peter Paul Rubens’s recommendation to visit art collections in Italy that he admired.  Velazquez’s paintings mainly focused on portraits of the royal family, commoners and noblemen, scenes from the bible and some landscape and still life.  His painting style recreated reality in the form of a painted photograph.  Captured subjects had a level of dignity and his ability to merge simple colors, light and lines was masterful.  In 1624, Velazquez was paid to create a noble portrait of King Philip IV of Spain and instead created a divine contemporary vision of the monarch.  Impressed and a great lover of art, King Philip IV retained Velazquez and promised no other artist would paint his portrait.  A lifetime involvement, influence and friendship with the Spanish Court began and Velazquez was rewarded with free lodging and medical, plus many royal commissions.  Thanks to King Philip IV, Velazquez was well off and he produced art to suit the monarchy.  “During this time, King Philip was visiting the painter almost daily in his studio in the palace, resulting in some 40 portraits of the king plus portraits of other members of the Royal Family…” (2).

Velazquez painted Venus at her Mirror, which was completed around 1647-1651, during a trip to Italy.  It is also known as The Toilet of Venus, Rokeby Venus or Venus and Cupid.  It is the only surviving female nude portrait painted by the artist.  Nude and brunette, Venus is reclining on a bed and is viewed from her back side.  She has a small waist and curvy hips, which was a departure from the robust nudes of the time.  She is gazing into a mirror held by Cupid and pink silk ribbons are draped on the mirror frame and Cupid.  Composition simply utilized mostly shades of red, white, black and grey.  The creamy, smooth and luminescent white color caressing Venus’ skin is a dramatic contrast to the black, grey and brown accents of the room. The use or portrayal of nude females during this time was frowned upon, paintings could be seized by the Inquisition and artists could be fined or banished.  Void of these fears as painter for King Philip IV, Velazquez, “did indeed lead a life of considerable personal liberty that would have been consistent with the notion of using a live nude female model” (3).  It has been suggested that King Philip IV kept this painting in his personal collection, away from the public eye and possibly the Inquisition.

This private moment of intimacy creates a comfortable atmosphere for viewing and exploring this portrait.  I find the overall simplicity of this masterpiece very refreshing and attractive.  The skin color of the nude female radiates warmth against black linens, she wears no jewelry and her hair is neatly up.  The dark room is void of distractions, creating intense focus toward the sensual lines of the female.  It has been debated that it is physically impossible for Venus to see her own reflection in the mirror and even if she did, her head size is all wrong.  But these anomalies create greater interest for me and bring curiosity as to why every brushstroke was taken.  It took courage for Velazquez to venture outside of his comfort zone, sparking speculation that Venus was his mistress.  Holding the mirror for the beauty of his world, Cupid proves he is a little man and shows his innocence as he is distracted by silky pink ribbon.  The adventurousness that Velazquez painted in this piece only confirms that he was the leading artist of the Baroque era.  This painting is currently on display at the National Gallery located in London, United Kingdom.

Work citation:

1- Diego Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus by Suzanne Hill, 2008
http://suite101.com/article/the_rokeby_venus-a44477

2- Top Tour of Spain
http://www.top-tour-of-spain.com/diego-velazquez.html

3- Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rokeby_Venus

4- http://www.theartgallery.com.au/arteducation/greatartists/velazquez/about/

5- The Venus effect: What we see in the mirror isn’t what would really be there. By Dave Munger, 2009
http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2009/03/26/the-venus-effect-what-we-see-i/

6-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Gallery