Like any other online course, I did not know what to except when enrolling in Art 1000. I set pretty low expectations and thought it would be a breeze. Not even a day into the class did I find out that it would be the complete opposite. The course being only 3 weeks long, set it at a very fast pace, which meant any student taking this course would have to put in the time and effort. Well, that’s exactly what I did. For the last three weeks I forced myself to spend at least 4 hours of my time working on each assignment, and I can tell you the work payed off. Through the class lectures and Living with Art by Mark Getlein, I became extremely familiar with knowing and defining art.
The very first thing I learned in this class was, art is always the expression of the artist. Art is communication; whether that be the artist showing us something, telling us something, or making us experience something. Session one, showed me how to look at art by doing a descriptive analysis. Step by step working through from what you initially see in a piece, explaining its elements, giving meaning to those parts, and finally reaching an opinion on it all. In session two I learned more about those elements going into the work. The Formal Elements, also known as the Visual Elements are line, shape, form and mass, light, color and value, texture and pattern, space, time and motion. The Principles of Design are unity and variety, balance, emphasis, focal point and subordination, scale and proportion and rhythm. After learning about each one of these elements and how they relate to artist’s work, it became easier to understand meaning behind each individual painting.
In session three we were presented with thematic categories and we began working in groups with our online peers. This became a common assignment with session’s five through 8, which gave us a great opportunity to share ideas and get feedback on our work. My group looked at the thematic category Imagination and Fantasy (Getlein’s Invention and Fantasy), and established different themes for a specific work that was chosen. Throughout the process of this we were introduced to the idea of Surrealism. In session four, our assignment was to look at the art piece Puppy by Jeff Koons and make the connection between the piece and the materials used to create it. By doing this, I learned that material does matter when creating art. It can make the entire piece; even by changing the medium may change how the piece comes across to viewers. The third assignment of session 4, we were to watch the movie Citizen Kane from the 40’s, and establish the possible themes and representations in the film. By doing this, I learned how much goes into a production and how even the smallest thing like a camera angle or sound can symbolize something much bigger in a story.
As one can imagine, this is a lot of work that I have learned over the past three weeks. Without learning all of this though, I would be like a majority of art viewers who don’t “get it”. After learning all that I have, I have a greater appreciation for art whether it be the art itself, the artist, or the artistic creation behind all of it. There is a lot that goes into an artist creating a piece that they visually communicate. Three of the biggest things I’ve learned that has helped me understand artwork better are understanding the visual elements and principles of design, knowing a background on the artist, and learning the reason for what materials they use. For example, looking at The Jungle by Wilfredo Lam I would have never understood it without learning about the space, color and value. In this case, Lam specifically chose blue and green colors in order to portray a night or dark scene. I also would have never understood the way he incorporates scale and proportion in his painting, along with subject matter and theme. Lam used disproportion between shapes to create an uneasy balance at the composition’s heavy top and more open bottom. The subject matter of Lam’s painting was based off African/Pacific Islander masks, which he painted after he returned to Cuba from Europe.
Wilfredo Lam’s experience with traveling and being a member of the Surrealist movement influenced his art work, which is an example of knowing about the artist’s past and life to get an understanding of their work. Piet Mondrian’s work is another artist that I learned in order to “get” you need to dig deeper into his earlier work. Piet’s painting Apple Tree in Flower is hard to understand the first time you look at it, unless you’re familiar with his Red Tree or Grey Tree. Mondrian developed his work based on the spaces in the painting, rather than the trees themselves. He was focused on purity and began to eliminate elements from his work as years went on. Besides learning the background of the artist and their earlier work, another major thing is knowing about the materials they are using and how that relates to the work on its own. Puppy by Jeff Koons was specifically made out of flowers in order to communicate happiness and security to the viewers. He combined the two most sentimental visual images – flowers and puppies – to draw on a specific emotion of his viewers. The vibrancy and optimism of the flowers is what made Puppy be what it was. The whole concept and feel of Puppy would change if the materials would have changed to something of marble or steel.
I think being an informed viewer will have positive ramifications for a viewer beyond appreciating art. Looking at a piece of art can be overwhelming and confusing, but it’s not meant to be easy. Artist spend years making these pieces, so for the most part it’s not going to be thrown right in your face; it’ll take time to figure out. Taking the time to research and learn not only on the artwork itself but the artist’s history and how their work developed can make your experience with the piece of artwork more intimate. It’s an exciting feeling when you finally “get” the piece of work.
Linear Perspective is a technique used by artists in which the relative size, shape, and position of objects are based on lines converging at a point on the horizon. With this, forms seem to diminish in size as they recede from us. When the lines converge at the horizon they disappear and this is called the vanishing point (Getlein 105). In The Tribute Money, Masaccio uses linear perspective by overlapping the people in the painting, making some appear closer and farther. Along with this, a mountain scene is shown in the background. He uses linear perspective to create the illusion that this landscape is far away and high up, touching the sky. In The School of Athens, Raphael uses linear perspective by creating two walls that converge to an opening of the sky. As the walls recede further away, they become closer together until the door way opening of the sky. Along with this, he uses stairs to convey those at the bottom are larger because they are closer, and those on top of the stairs are smaller because they are further away.
Theme, composition, and linear perspective are all interrelated in Renaissance art. Early Renaissance art was dominated with religious themes. In The Tribute Money, Masaccio created two-point linear perspective with the placement of Christ. The compositions of these types of paintings were balanced due to the fact everything was relatively symmetrical in order for the lines to converge at the horizon. Leonardo da Vinci used theme, composition, and linear perspective when creating his painting The Last Supper. The religious theme depicts the gathering of Jesus Christ and others sharing a meal before Christ was crucified. Da Vinci creates one-point linear perspective by placing Christ at the vanishing point as Masaccio does. The composition of this painting is also balanced, with Christ in the middle and a symmetrical amount of people on the left and right of him. There are four doors on the left and right sides of the way, converging to the back wall with three windows.
A great technique that artists have used is the inclusion of the artist themselves in their work (Lecture Notes). The Burial of Count Orgaz by El Greco and Las Menians by Velazquez do a beautiful job at achieving this. The presence of each artist in their works enhances the overall image and meaning of the them. Like many artist, El Greco and Velazquez include themselves in their paintings in order create a new perspective and include their own personal views on the story being told. In Las Menians, Velazquez can be seen in the left corner staring directly at the viewer. The painting depicts a behind-the-scenes look at the Spanish court, including the King and Queen in the background framed or shown in a mirror. Theories suggest by painting himself, and having the hanging picture or mirror in the background his audience is looking from the viewpoint of the royalty reflected in that mirror (Mental Floss). The Burial of Count Orgaz contains images of both El Greco and his son. El Greco can be found in the line of mourners left of center, while his son can be spotted in the foreground one hand on the long torch. On his son’s pocket is the year of his birth on his pocket square (Mental Floss). I think El Greco did a good job of including himself and his family, without interrupting or taking away from the piece of art itself. The levels of reality in each of these images enhance the piece due to the great skill of the artist’s. There is a great deal of realism making the paintings feel as if these are real people in real time. Another painting that demonstrates this is The Ashes of Phokion by Nicolas Poussin. In this painting, the landscape looks as if it were a photograph. It looks so realistic that the viewer can almost imagined themselves there in that moment.
I believe that there are several alternatives for artist to include themselves in their work without including a self-portrait of themselves. I think a lot of artist do that without us even knowing it. Many artists may include items in their paintings that symbolize certain aspects of their lives, that viewers would have no idea of unless they dug deeper into the artist’s life. An example would be van Gogh, and his work with creating pieces of landscape and nature. Although he’s not including himself in these paintings, he’s made it known that that type of work is what defines him and gives him pleasure.
When creating a self-portrait of myself, I would not make it look realistic, but more on the creative and fun side while still resembling me. I would create the painting on a large canvas, much larger than my 5-foot body. I would use a variety of water colors, making sure that each color didn’t correspond to what it normally would it real life. For example, instead of painting my hair brown like it actually is, I might paint it purple or blue and fade it to pink.
I would create my painting focusing on color and value, making sure the portrait of me is vibrant in color. I have a big personality, that is warm, and filled with laughter so I would make sure my colors are warm but bright. I would use texture and pattern to represent the silliness and how unpredictable I am. Perhaps I would texture my hair in a way that it mimics confetti, and use heart shaped patterns on my lips, with the star symbol as my pupils. I would make sure my lips are the focal point of my painting, because my lips are my favorite feature of mine. Not only that, but the mouth being the main piece of the work would symbolize the importance in the right to speak and vocalize your values and beliefs.
I would be sure to use Iconography in my painting in order to make the portrait more personal. I would be present in my image, like the portrait of the Mona Lisa, but I want to exaggerate the way I look; almost as if I were made up in a dream. In theory, yes it is a self-portrait of me, but I would not want my viewers to know right away who the woman in the painting is. I would want my viewers to try their best to interpret the painting, and make sense of the symbols. Another symbol I would use to describe me would be making the back drop blue with bubbles everywhere. The bubbles behind me would represent how bubbly my personality is, but the blue in the background would make the painting feel as if we were underwater; which would represent my childhood spending my time in the water with my father. I would also have two squirrels resting on my shoulders. As weird as this is, this would represent the times spent as a child playing under the trees watching squirrels look for acorns. As simple as this may sound, it was a major part of my childhood.
The painting Self-Portrait with Monkeys by Frida Kahlo (Getlein 66) inspired my vision of my own self portrait, in a way that the first thing I thought of when hear “portrait” was her work. The one major part that influenced my self-portraits idea are the monkeys surrounding her. I thought this added so much to her painting, and made the viewer ask why they were placed there? Because of the curiosity of the animals, it makes the viewer do their research and dig deeper. Another piece of her portrait that influenced me was that you could only see leaves in the background, no light or depth between them. That’s the way I envision my portrait; just a blue background with bubbles everywhere.
Looking at the different centuries, and the different names for them I could only wonder what the 21st century would be called. I feel that the philosophy that best defines our time would have to do with technology. We’ve come so far with technology, and are able to create art now with the touch of our fingertips. There is endless possibilities when it comes to creating art with the help of technology, whether that be digitally advancing something, drawing up an image of your computer, altering an image with photo shop, creating an animation that looks like real life, and the list goes on. I believe the 21st century is the Age of Technology.