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Research point: historic and contemporary artists whose work involves the underlying structure of the body.

Before answering this question I need to define what I understand by ‘work’… I take work to be the finished artifact that was put up for sale at the time of painting.

So, I’m not going to include Leonardo Da Vinci. I think he (quite literally) took the human to pieces in order to build it up again. He wanted to understand the underlying structures in order to perfect his portrayal of the outer structure.

As a great artists his anatomical studies are always more than anatomical diagrams but if we compare one of his studies:

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… annotated in a very scientific and precise way…. to one of his finished paintings:

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… we can see a great difference.

One is part of his finished body of works the other part of his process of learning.

I couldn’t find any of his finished works that used the underlying structure as part of the painting.

E.H.Gombrich ‘ART & ILLUSION’ supports this in part 2. He writes about the different functions of art (story [the ‘How’ of imaginative interpretation and fiction] telling) in Greek art versus the ‘Reality’ of conceptually based Egyptian art. And then goes on to discuss schemata. The Platonic art that sought the Godly geometric patterns of harmonious perfection – aesthetics [so art had no business portraying the particular, the flawed copies made of base materials] and the neo-platonic where artists were allowed as they were the gifted, who sort the true patterns of the Gods by improving the base examples in the real world… by constantly searching for the universal and perfect.

He then expands saying that art is looking and noticing. And that you can’t notice without schemata. So, for example, once you have a schemata for a head (the egg split by lines) you can draw a head in any position without the need for a real head to copy. The ‘head’ is now a geometric pattern or relationship. And that all artists learn schemata.

In this context Leonardo was dissecting bodies to reveal the underlying structures not to draw the underlying structures per se. But to better improve his schemata of the human body. In the same way he studied trees or Constable copied the cloud patterns of Cozens.

Just as an aside Gombrich then notes that great artists (like Leonardo) have always used the schemata as a starting point – a template to notice then adapt to the particular. Whereas the hack imposes the schemata on the particular making the minimum alterations to indicate king or general.

He says the schemata as slavishly followed templates broke down in the late 18th and 19th centuries. So, it is from 1850 that I will look for artists whose work involves the underlying structure… rather than artists who studied it as part of their mastery of human schemata.

In my internet searches I couldn’t find any historic artists who used underlying structure.

However… there are several contemporary artists that do.

There were some who paint a normal body and show its inner structure… like an anatomical painting but with a fully painted body. But these seemed hybrids of poor figure painting and weak anatomical painting uncomfortably stuck together. More a gimmick than art.

One example is Fernando Vicentes born in Spain in 1963:

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For me the face is poorly painted, more poster than fine art, and the anatomical illustration – though it looks accurate to a non trained eye… is for the general public and doesn’t have to stand the test of medical scrutiny.

So,  I had to look again – and found two examples.

(1) Laura Ferguson (I couldn’t find any biographical details in terms of age, nationality, training… just that she worked with medical institutions and taught anatomical drawing – ‘How to Draw a Human Heart’… which would take us back to schemata!!!)

So, I’ve found one of her paintings and will say why I think this is a work involving the bodies underlying structure.

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To me, this is a beautiful drawing in its own right… organic and whole. Where the underlying structure is incorporated into  the meaning and ‘used’ in the work.

The sandy broken down background and naked body make me think of prehistoric man… of evolution. And the beauty of the human body. The backbone pulling out of the body not only gives movement to the whole but makes me think of it as a separate structure within us… like a living thing.

Of how we’d be a sack of flesh without it. Of its materiality and purpose.

For me this drawing is both poetic and philosophical.

I also found Adfa Dobrzelka who painted a series of paintings called ‘On the Shape and Likeness’. (Again I struggled to find any biographical information… this is where having a good library and a tutor wandering round your university would be useful!).

Here’s an image:

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This is superficially very attractive and for some strange reason reminded me of pop art?!!!

Whatever, it certainly uses the underlying structure as part of the whole work… and is impactful and shocking.

The eyes humanize it and hold the viewer… this is a person… the nose and skin round the eyes is also ‘external’. In this painting it’s almost like a person has put on a skull mask. Yet we can also block out the person and see the skull. A bit like one of those trick paintings where it switches between duck and rabbit but you can’t see both together.

However, the skull is not dead bleached bone but bathed in colour. Alive. Like a different being.

For me it almost, but not quite, works. In that I see the living bone… but am then pulled away to the fleshy person. The two never meld. It’s beginning to do some very interesting things and is definitely using the underlying structure. But ultimately is more shocking than effective.

Finally, as a postscript, while doing this it made me think of Francis Bacon. I don’t think he uses the underlying structure as such in terms of backbone and skull. But he paints the underlying psychological structure that degrades and debases the outer image. And also reminds me of the underlying bones.

Perhaps his art (even without anatomical accuracy) is the most potent in using the underlying structure. For it makes me think… what is really a man. And what this fleshy mask???

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Reflection: concepts of modern art – From Fauvism to Postmodernism. Edited by Nikos Stangos: Third edition 1994

This book has transformed the way I think about art.

That said, even though I have a BA in Hermeneutics I only understood about a third to half of it. The language was very dense. However, I ploughed through as I was getting a great backdrop and context for understanding art… even if I couldn’t answer many questions on the details of the different ‘isms’!

There seems to be three kinds of ‘art’.

In art it seems to me you either make (1) a high value commodity (traditional oil painting); (2) a political/social argument (modernism and postmodernism); or (3) a mixture of the two… most of the ‘isms’ from 1900 to the 1950’s.

But art criticism seems to change rapidly (even over ten years) which makes the criticism itself an historical record… primary evidence of contemporary views about art. But even so I think you can make some big distinctions.

Commodity art: 

Is high value property owned by a single person (and can be bought and sold)… it is unique (unlike craft items which may have an equal degree of skill but are mass produced)… involves a high degree of skill… is high value… produced by a known individual… and traditionally in Western culture is owned by the white, heterosexual male who are economically and educationally privileged.

Even today, a bottom end professional oil painting would start at around £2000, which would preclude most people having one in the living room!

Success is judged in financial terms.

Postmodernism:

Is art as polemic – which at times can seem little different from graphic design used to further an argument.

It can deconstruct (modernism) the present system by exposing stereotyping and the power structure… art used to challenge meaning and the conventions of meaning… or it can deconstruct and build (as in postmodernism) by forming notions of sexuality, nationality, environmental, ethnic and/or gender.

It is not owned as such and is not property (it is an idea)… it can be mass-produced in videos, on the internet, and in magazines… created collectively… and if it is ‘owned’ [maybe by being consumed?] it is owned by everybody… it is a mass product.

It doesn’t have to involve any traditional art skill – such as a copper rod sunk into the ground or my thoughts at a certain time of day. The ‘art’ is the idea and its value is its effectiveness. As such art is opened up to non artists.

It has no monetary value as a unique object.

It exposes conventions which have been internalized and are taken as real, and by making them explicit challenges the status quo and seeks to replace it.

Success is judged in how effective the idea is.

Modern art (or the art of ‘isms’)

Here – in simple terms – it seems art (hacked from its job as visual recorder by the invention of photography) was finding new ways of investing itself with value and purpose. And it did so by attaching theories, of art and life, to painting. The modern world in Futurism… or the true nature of seeing in Impressionism.

These were often supported by a dense manifesto and pushed by powerful artists with groups around them… but the groupings weren’t stable and broke up. The ‘ism’ fading and the next one taking its place.

Conclusion:

So, it seems to me we have two extremes.

Art as unique object judged financially in a cash market… like a footballer or an opera singer – highly skilled and in very short supply; and art as a mass ‘object’ judged by its political/social effectiveness in raising awareness, like a political idea.

But a lot of art strides both camps… early religious paintings promote Christianity and are full of symbolism but they are also valuable objects. Perhaps because the means of production meant they were produced as unique objects, and the skill of the artist made them into valuable items in spite of the ideological restrictions.

How many multi million pound church paintings are produced now?

As an artist this raises the question of what do you want to do in your art practice? How ideologically driven are you going to be? How financially driven? Are you going to work for a ’cause’… or work for the market? Or a bit of both?

Art cannot be neutral… choices have to be made.

It might come down to a definition of terms but I don’t think art is the idea. I think art is the unique object (produced with skill by an individual) and mass produced images supporting an idea are political.

 

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Project 3: Exercise 3: Stance

These are all in A4 with the same supporting medium (my sketch book: heavy weight… 170 gsm- for pencil, pen and ink, and water-colour) but with different drawing medium.

From Croquis Cafe: a dancer who was frozen in 12 poses.

A few things spring to mind…

(1) The technique’s of relating all the different parts to each other and using negative spaces really helped with these as there was a lot of foreshortening.

(2) The centre of gravity was not the same as the lines of energy from the last exercise – which was very interesting. Eye lines can be energy, as can energy held in part of the body like an arm or finger, or a limb reaching out from the body… the centre of gravity is what takes the weight.

It’s a sort of deadening pulling force quite at odds with the energy of the person.

(3) There was only one pose where the dancer took his weight equally on both legs… most of the time one of the legs took most of the weight which funnelled the line of gravity down through the spine, across the pelvis and into the leading leg.

(4) Different mediums make you draw (and even see!) in different ways. You find you’re drawing a different kind of picture when you change the drawing medium.

(5) The dynamics between stance and energy are very interesting.

My favourite is five (with the red conte crayon) as it looks like he’s just arrived in this pose and and is already moving into the next pose… it doesn’t look ‘frozen’.

Generally the more ‘line’ the more frozen it looks… though I loved the dip pen and think this has lots of potential. Though it is unforgiving as you’ve basically got to get the shape right first time. I was surprised at how effective the hatching was.

I wonder how effective mixing say ink pen and pastel would be???? A sort of hybrid between shape and tone/movement.

Anyway, here we go:

4B pencil

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Fine artist’s pen

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Willow charcoal

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Compressed charcoal

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Refd conte

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Children’s wax crayon with fine art pen correction

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Art pen

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Graphite stick with fine art pen correction

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Pastel

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Metallic colouring pencil

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Dip pen, black ink, fine nib

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Highlighter

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Part 4: Project 2: Research point: draw foreshortened body.

Compressed charcoal, A2 drawing paper, standing at easel…15 minute sketch.

As you can see this isn’t my body.

I don’t have a spare mirror so I took the opportunity at my life drawing group at Anglia University to draw the foreshortened model. She’s lying down so her whole body is a sort of foreshortened cylinder with a blob on the end.

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This was fun to draw and I used the relationship of the different parts of the body to help.

The legs are about the size of the bottom! … And the torso is foreshortened so it’s shorter than the shoulder to elbow.

It seems tone that foreshortening does two basic things:

  1. It makes things look shorter when angled towards the viewer. Just imagine drawing a shut door horizontally across your paper, then draw the same door when it’s fully open and the edge is facing you.
  2. Anything nearer the viewer (by the laws of perspective) is bigger than it would be if it was further away. So a plant pot at the end of a two metre stick (roughly the length of a body) is suddenly much bigger if you reverse the stick and put the plant pot in front of your eyes!

So… most of the time we see bodies vertically with everything ‘in proportion’, but if a limb is pointed towards us (like lifting an arm and pointing a finger at our face) the limb would appear shorter and the hand bigger.

However, we often see bodies from unusual angles… like when we’re lying on the beach or someone passes us an ice cream. And we take foreshortening for granted. It’s only when we come to draw someone with foreshortening and impose our knowledge of proportion (instead of drawing what we see) that there’s a problem.

The point then is why would we choose a foreshortened image?

A dead body lying on the ground could be from the head/feet at ground level… or vertically above (which wouldn’t be very natural) the body.  So foreshortening is an artistic choice.

 

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Foreshortened figure of Jesus Christ, The Mourning over the Dead Christ, tempera on wood panel by Andrea Mantegna, about 1475; in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy.

Here the feet are bigger (because nearest to us) and the body shorter (pointed towardsus).

In this painting it has the effect of highlighting the wounds in Christ’s feet. It forces us to focus on the manner of his death.

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An Ironman poster.

Here we get foreshortening of the fist and arm.

Which emphasises the power and punch of Ironman.

 

Saint Eulalia exhibited 1885 by John William Waterhouse 1849-1917

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Saint Eulalia exhibited 1885
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The opposite to the dead Christ… here the head is closest.

It makes us focus on the crucified woman

To conclude, we take foreshortening in everyday life for granted (we don’t ‘see’ it) but because we so often draw what we know rather than what we see we tend to impose proportion on foreshortened figures and then they don’t look right.

Foreshortening is a tool to help us see!

 

Part 4: Project 1: Research point: contextual research into nude drawing (and the wider position of art in society)

Reflect and analyse how the depiction of male and female nude has changed over the centuries.

The OCA recommends John Burger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, a 1972 BBC series, as a good starting point.

I’ll watch each programme in the series, there are four episodes, and write a reaction.

When I’ve finished the series I’ll write a conclusion and also try to read one or two of the other recommended books.

So… although I’ll post this now I will return to it over the duration of this course.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube with subtitles: Tue. 15/08/2017)

Oh… that was great!

Firstly, he’s talking about traditional European art from its birth around 1400 to its death in 1900. I’m taking this as significant because, for instance, only European art used a single pint of view… he uses the image of a reverse lighthouse with everything focusing back on the single viewer.

That would not apply to traditional African art.

Also, when he talks about paintings only existing in one place that wouldn’t cover japanese or Chinese woodcut prints for a mass market.

There was nothing about nude in the first programme but it’s a great introduction to viewing European art and well worth commentating on.

I took four pages of notes so this is a much simplified version!

In a nutshell he says art has been divorced from having a single unique meaning. Before photography it was a unique surface, in a unique place [context] with the viewer physically present. With photography it has become multi present in multiple forms, in multiple contexts and with multiple meanings.

And as such it has become like words to be arranged and manipulated.

Before photography you had to go and see the painting as it was intended. It’s context in a church or castle, was part of its meaning. You saw the whole picture which was still and silent. Either the artist or the commissioner (or both) gave it a meaning. You stood before it and absorbed that meaning – you connected with the painting, and the building it was housed in, on its own terms.

Now it’s meaning is malleable and can be manipulated by whoever controls the means of production. Be that in a book or a television programme.

In an art book for example there is false mystification with erudite explanations giving ownership and control to the expert, in an advert the meaning is subverted (by music, video, editing – such as picking out a single part of the canvas – and the words around it) to sell us something. What both have in common is that the meaning is controlled by the user to their benefit. And has nothing to do with the original meaning of the painting or how it naturally connects with and enhances our lives.

He argues that we should be sceptical and aware of art as a language used to manipulate us for the benefit of the producer.

The original painting was viewed as a whole picture in silence, and how a painting does not need unravelling in time unlike a film or music. Music affects our emotional response and close up radically change the meaning. How we stand in silence before a painting and enter the tunnel that connects us through time to the moment of its creation, and even questions the meaning of time itself.

Money has replaced religiosity. People journey to see a religious icon… and that they don’t even need to see it to know that god is behind it – and close their eyes in reverence as the que shuffles past. And how today we will journey to a Leonardo painting behind bullet proof glass in a stream of people because it is worth 10 million.

This all goes back to my definition of art (I’m open to changing but this is where I am at the moment): that true art connects with us as humans – otherwise it’s decoration or manipulation – and touches something inside our shared humanity… whether it’s recognising a political system, entering into beauty, or seeing the world through another persons eyes so we are no longer alone.

Which isn’t to say we can’t do what the advertisers and experts do and use art as a language to support/promote our own points of views to ourselves or others.  For instance pinning Goya’s painting of the execution next to a newspaper article of modern-day executions of totalitarian regimes.

But, I would say, using a painting as a language is different to enjoying a painting as art.

So, it will be very interesting to see how he deals with male and female nudity in traditional art – not about its creation but about its usage and meaning today, and whether we should still create it.

At the moment I can’t feel there is any other reason for nudity than to satisfy the male or female gaze. Whether that’s acceptable out of a learning situation (part of learning to draw is learning how to draw figures) is a matter of degree and personal social/political value judgements.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 2 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube: Tue. 18/08/2017)

This episode is about the nude in European art from about 1400 to 1900.

My main reaction to this episode was anger. I may have subconsciously known that the nude exploited women, but I’d not really thought about it. When it’s pointed out to you you can’t ‘un-see’ it… and it’s both shocking and glaringly obvious.

He had a great definition for being painted without clothes:

Naked: to be completely oneself.

Nude: to be seen naked by others but not recognised for oneself.

There was a lot of history in the episode so I’m going to try to boil it down to my interpretation of his argument and my ‘modern’ day spin.

The paintings of nudes during this period represents the position of women in the social elite. They were objects to be used by men. The women had no action in the world and their value, status and power was derived from the men they were attached to. The prize for being beautiful to the male gaze was to be attached to a man.

The level of hypocrisy is breathtaking: painting a naked woman because they enjoyed looking at her and then putting a mirror in her hand and calling it vanity – when she was forced to make herself ‘beautiful’ to satisfy male desire. And in doing so echoing the church’s blaming Eve for original sin when god sentenced her to a life of subjugation to man… God said that Eve’s punishment for biting the apple (original sin was the womans fault!) was that man was now her god. A whole ideology that ruled church and state for 100’s of years based on the subjugation of women.

Placing the moral blame on women for making themselves look ‘beautiful’ for men is also a way of diminishing and controlling women.

If a woman’s very survival (let alone her physical comfort and status) depends on being attractive to a man it is logical that she would focus a lot of attention on that.

He starts the programme by saying that men dream of women and women dream of being dreamt of… of being attractive… of winning the beauty competition. We infer (or hope) that that was then not now.

In the paintings the women are passive and available for the viewer. They rarely look at male lovers even if they are in the painting, but look out at their real master (the owner of the painting – the viewer) or away from their ‘lover’. The only competition is cupid who perversely as the giver of sexual attraction and conquest is a toddler presenting no sexual competition to the adult male viewer.

Women are shown lying down, languid, lips often apart, wide-eyed responding with charm to the male viewer they know is looking even though they don’t know them. They have no pubic hair as that is a symbol of sexuality and their sexual passion needs to be minimised. The bodies are not real but idealised objects of desire… like the woman winning the competition in the many paintings of The Judgement of Paris.

They are not shown active… dancing… or initiating sex for their own pleasure… just as available and acquiescent to the demands of the man. They are there to feed an appetite not have any of their own.

In other cultures (with a different audience) women are shown as equal in a celebration of nakedness. In Karma Sutra painting in India nudity is depicted equally, both women and men are active and consumed by sexual love.

One is not there to feed the sexual appetite of the other.

Male lovers were painted but these tended not to be for public display… and were generally pornographic.

The height of this practice was in the public academic art of the 19th century. Huge canvases filled with nude women ready to feed the most ravenous male appetite or wildest fantasy hung in important public buildings. Yet at the time it was not seen as ludicrous but acceptable, condoned and hung proudly with the blessing of the art world and the men with social and political power… in retrospect revealing the unquestioned control by men over women in ‘polite’ society.

The questions that arise from this are: Why? How? Did it matter? Does it matter now? And how does it affect our art practice today?

Why?

Because they could. Men had absolute power over women and wanted (they couldn’t under the Christian mores have had pornographic paintings on public display) to titillate themselves by looking at nude women, so they did.

How?

Rich men and important groups of men… initially the church, in medieval times, and then more secular were the only ones who could afford to pay for art. And artists satisfied their market. It was possibly so acceptable that neither the artist nor the buyers knew what they were doing… or maybe they did and chose to ignore it?

It would need a social historian to answer that one!

There wasn’t a mass market for art… and the elite controlled the flow of ideas and images. That they didn’t challenge it themselves is interesting. The challenge to nudity in society and on public display (like girly magazines having plain covers) didn’t come from enlightenment within the ruling classes. The change came as women gradually became more active in the world and gained economic and political power.

It was also challenged when photography was invented, along with the mass distribution of images, as artists and thinkers started questioning the role of art. Artists such as Edouard Manet who painted ‘Le dejeuner sur l’herbe’ in 1863 exposing nudity in art for what it was.

But my feeling is that real change was driven more by the increasing power of women in society – the right to own land – to vote – to work – to have economic and social power.

Did it matter?

HUGELY!!!!!! Painting nudes normalised abuse. It normalised the view that the role of women in society was to satisfy men . It mattered that the artists were painting these pictures and it mattered hugely that they were glorified by being hung in public places and the corridors of power.

Does it matter now?

Less so… art is not the dominant social force it once was… that has passed to TV/film/magazines… and the mass distribution of images. And art can be manipulated by anybody with a computer, so the artist and owner have little or no control over its usage.

And the ideas, rights and needs of women are part of modern society… in some groups more than others. Paintings of nudes, like girly magazines, are no longer acceptable on public display and would be challenged.

Though it’s ironic that alongside this public shift in attitude there is now freely available porn in private on the internet. As though the ideas and usage have not gone away but just gone underground, hidden. Maybe a bit like Victorian mistresses? The wife for public appearances, home keeping and child-bearing and the mistress and prostitute for sex and fantasy.

That said, it does matter… there is less economic need to paint nudes for artists. Though artists always had a choice as there were portraits of men and women and lots of other subjects… it just seems like nudity sold.

And still does!

So, if an artist chooses to make financial gain by feeding the male gaze and lending support to an exploitative view of women as objects (or as John Berger puts it – as ‘sights’ to be viewed not as individuals recognised for themselves) he is making a choice.

A choice that affects him, his model and society at large.

There is an argument that the model enters into the contract freely and gets paid. But I would counter that most women don’t strip naked for a living if they have economic choices and that the implications are bigger than the contract between artist and model. Nudes lend support to the owner/viewer (and wider society) that women are there to feed male desires.

How does it affect our art practice today?

Now nudes have been exposed an artist has to make a decision whether he will profit by serving the male gaze or paint something else.

It affects him, the owner/viewer, the model and societal attitudes to women. It is a significant social and political act.

Artists cannot control how their work is used however much they try to control copyright. Once a picture is painted and sold it’s almost impossible to stop it being copied and distributed online or foresee how it will be used. It can be changed by the addition of music, movement, cropping… and used to support arguments and for the benefit of others in the way the artist never intended.

But there is a world of difference between having a work of art subverted without permission and painting a nude.

I think it’s fine to paint naked men and women but personally I would not paint a nude.

A final point… John Berger said that during this period there were tens of thousands of nudes painted and only 20-30 exceptions. He mentioned paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and George De La Tour which were more like personal love poems, character pieces where the woman is seen as herself.

It would be nice if in the future we looked back and those numbers were reversed. (Though we probably don’t need tens of thousands of naked paintings – a few exquisite ones would probably do!!!)

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 3 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube: Tue. 18/08/2017)

Okay… I just watched that all the way through without taking pages of notes… so this won’t be as detailed. I might watch it again but I think I got the gist.

This should be a lot shorter.

Oil painting (from 1500 to 1900) was all about ownership.

(Not withstanding the few notable exceptions which break the rule! He cites three pictures. One by Rubens which celebrated the land and château near where he lived… but the owner is away and the land is full of plenty… the hunting is free. It shows a world of plenty contradicting ownership and the entire history of private property. A second by Vermeer of a woman weighing gold or pearls that is really about a moment in time (held between her fingers) and weighing the nature of existence; and the third the older self-portrait by Rembrandt showing him bereft of property and wealth,alone with the question of existence.

But, John Berger emphasises that out of hundreds of thousands of oil paintings these were a handful. And however much the art experts try to hold these up as examples they do not represent traditional oil painting in this period.

Of the 99.99% of paintings we see only a tiny proportion in our galleries, but they hung everywhere there was money, status, wealth, ownership and power.

He starts by saying that the style was to paint objects as if they were real. Be that goblets, lutes, exotic food, tapestry, pedigree livestock or country estates. Real things which are buyable. So the purpose of the painting was to advertise the owners good fortune prestige and wealth.

It is ironic that the paintings themselves, that displayed these objects, were also objects that could be bought and sold. They were in some respects the most valuable objects of all.

Many paintings were about classical mythology in classical literature and seem remote to us, but to them it was very important, a secret world entered only by those initiated with specialist knowledge, the privileged few.  It put them apart.

They could imaginatively put themselves into these paintings. The painting gave them props, setting, characters and a situation… they could play out the protagonist as they wished.  They could be the god displaying all the classical virtues and making all the classical gestures. It gave them a mythology and reinforced their vision of themselves.

It was part of the mentality that let them start the slave trade, conquering far away lands, destroying the native culture (and gods) and replacing it with ours, with Christianity. Otherwise the natives would not be difficult to control. We siphoned off the wealth of the world for our benefit, it’s that wealth that made the grand living possible, and the rich justified it by telling themselves they were the most advanced civilisation in the world. The natives were savages and barely human so they could do with them as they pleased. They were noble gods with the world as their playground.

Another point he makes about paintings is that you can’t hang music or poetry on the walls – but you can hang paintings. And in those paintings you can see your wealth displayed. Mr and Mrs Andrews, for instance, would take great pleasure in Gainsborough’s painting showing them as owners of their land.

Land that was not to be shared… in those days you could be whipped for stealing a potato and deported for poaching.

Even today paintings represent wealth and galleries (where that wealth is housed) are guarded like banks.

So, painting served material wealth – not spiritual as in the early religious paintings or in symbolic paintings from around the world. It was the first time in human history paintings had realistically represented objects (possessions) as if they were actually there. That could be expensive goods from silver trays, to goblets to pineapples; livestock with a pedigree as proof of value (not in nature but like an object emphasising the social pedigree and wealth of the owner; and buildings, not idealised beauty, but as seats of power and privilege.

The rich (the only people who could afford art) also bought portraits to celebrate, not things, the ‘confidence to whom ownership brought confidence’. Generations of human bloodstock showing the continuity of  power and worthiness – 100’s of thousands all over the country, but representing only a tiny proportion of the population. The portraits painted their patrons like a mixture of livestock, furniture and tailors dummies. The paintings said, I had power – I existed.

Women were often painted in seas of expensive materials emphasising wealth.

There were also paintings of Mary Magdalene, but they were sexually hypocritical. The title was framed in sacred love – but the painting was about profane love. They were painted as pretty, well dressed available young women not as religious icons. No different to portraits of young women for their betrothed, the women were objects that could be bought and owned.

The poor of this period do not have any portraits or annals.

So, it seems to me that you could argue the painters of this period were craftsmen not artists. They were employed like architects or builders to make something useful for the owners, not to reveal a human truth. The value was not to humanity (like Shakespeare’s plays) or society at large… their use and value was solely for the benefit of the owner. A painting was like a car – it did something very practical for the owner – it didn’t get him around – it displayed his wealth – his right to ownership – his confidence – reinforced his self-image as being like a God and gave him an imaginary stage to play out his mythological fantasies.

In short it was a great skill imprisoned by money (they had to paint for their markets which were the landed gentry, church or powerful organisations). It was a very tight artistic brief!!! The greatest painters like Leonardo Da Vinci had always subverted this brief. Psychology, colourism, expressionism, impressionism (and most of the ‘ism’s that came after 1900 were already in the finest paintings). They define the tiny percentage of paintings from1400 to1900 that are recognised as great works of art. These great works like Titian and Michealangelo fill our museums and art galleries… but the rest, in terms of absolute volume the vast majority of oil paintings, did a job for their owners in a particular society at a particulr time, and are never seen today.

However, around 1900 painting was freed by photography and the rise of the middle classes. Suddenly artists had a new market. If not quite the general public, like Shakespeare  and his groundlings, then certainly a much wider cross-section than the landed gentry and inherited money. Self made men and the rising middle classes could afford modest art. And with reproductions in print art was even available to the working classes.

With this new market and new freedom art had to find its way in the world. A purpose and a position. In short from about 1900 to 1950 art had an existential crisis which resulted in a burst of creativity and experimentation and was supported by lots of manifestos.

In short, art became a public visual language. A house with many rooms exploring the nature of humanity, society and existence, connecting people… entertaining and enlightening.

Art is still used for propaganda and to control public images (just as photographs of the famous are photoshopped to perfection)… and portraits of the wealthy are still commissioned to hang in stately halls and castles.

But now all the might, beauty and undeniable power of the painted image (or multi media) can serve mankind as a whole.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 4 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube: Tue. 04/09/2017)

Wow… advertising!

So, this is a summary having soaked in my brain overnight. It might be easier to bullet point the main points then add my thoughts.

Similarities advertising and oil painting:

  1. Oil painting was a medium designed to show the physical reality of things which has today been replaced by colour photography.
  2. Advertising uses much of the same visual language as oil painting from 1400 to 1900: settings, gestures, looks, love etc.

Differences advertising and oil painting:

  1. Oil painting was based in facts and showed the reality of everyday life and possessions (though not the source of the money which was often based on slavery or exploitation) of the landed gentry whereas advertising shows a fictional world.
  2. Models have replaced gods and goddesses.
  3. Advertising shows us that we would be richer by buying the products (the products themselves are neutral) even though we are financially poorer.
  4. Advertising shows us our unsatisfied needs and is based on individuality… in advertising we are sexually potent, the centre of attention, eternally happy, surrounded by wealth, possessions and love. If we do not have the product we are faceless and powerless.
  5. Advertising creates glamour – the concept of glamour did not exist where there was no social mobility and status was governed by birth (as in society 1400 to 1900). Glamour exists where society has introduced social movement, and then restricted it to an elite.
  6. Advertising is based on envy – envy of a fictional lifestyle that we could own if we buy the product. A ‘reality’ where we are rich and life is always happy. By buying the product we are buying a different and better life.
  7. The key to this fictional lifestyle is money, and money is turned into a god.
  8. We are forever stuck in the reality of the present, working two jobs to pay the bills, dreaming of a life where all our dreams will be realised.
  9. Advertising images surround us and are constantly taken in – however briefly.
  10. Advertising amounts to an ideology where we are disconnected from reality and connected to a fictional world. I guess a bit like religion and heaven?
  11. Press photography depicts disasters in the real world (it is based in the world of facts) but these happen to other people (not us) whose fate is meant to be different to ours. The contrast with glamourised adverts is startling.
  12. Colour photography on one page of a glossy magazine can show people drowning in flood water and on the opposite page there can be an advert for cool people in a hip bar drinking the latest vodka.
  13. Oil paintings were hung in gold frames in country houses. They reflected the fact of the owners wealth and were part of that wealth. Advertising is framed by the streets… by our phones. The gold frame is now a a billboard in a slum or a smart phone in a squat.

My thoughts:

The question of addressing our real situation, as different from our fictional one, is huge. It is one thing to know something intellectually and quite another to look it in the face.

In the same way that we know a slice of beef comes from a cow but we don’t see the process of factory farming, transport and slaughterhouse. All we see is the picture of a happy cow in a field eating buttercups!

But this is an art course… though I’m beginning to realise that art has a lot to do with ideas and is not just about copying things we see around us.

Art is not innocent!!!

It is very interesting (artistically) to see just how close colour photography is to oil panting. John Berger had many examples… using statues, country houses, copying poses, Rubens doodles adding weight to an advertisement for a pencil…

It also begs the question of medium. Oil painting still has the highest status in society as a painting medium, more than drawing, printing, acrylic, pastel and multimedia. But as art now has different purposes to showing the reality of physical objects it should, logically, be better suited by other mediums. By the right tool for the job.

Which I think is slowly happening with the rise of other media…and even drawing!!!

Advertising is disposable (like fashion) – it consumes huge amounts of images and ideas… and it makes me think that maybe art is becoming disposable too?

If art is a language and tied to society, as society changes it will become irrelevant… the only art that will stand the test of time is that which addresses the human condition. Like Shakespeare’s plays or the Mona Lisa. Paintings that capture something beyond the historical moment.

That capture something uniquely human.

So… maybe there’s high art… exclusive art like a Jackson Pollack that speaks to all but the unique surface is owned by a few, and commands a fabulous price. And art for the people which could be in the form of a print?

I’ve never see a photograph of a painting that comes even close to the real thing. But everybody could own a print?

Maybe the ancient Chinese had something after all?!!!!!

 

Part 4: Project 1: Exercise 1 Drawing fabric using line and tone

fullsizeoutput_53c20 minute line drawing using fine art pen. Barbour jacket on back of chair… eveining. Inside by french window, light dimming.

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15 minute charcoal drawing with 5 minute putty rubber. Barbour jacket on back of chair… afternoon. Light cloud. Inside by french window with door open.

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How easy did you find it to create volume in the folds of fabric?

Not easy!!!

I think what I learnt by the end (and there was a progression through the drawings as I failed and tried to understand why and try something new) is that there is both a pattern of shapes to folds… and a tonal structure.

Patterns of folds

You can suggest a single fold by a highlight, shadow and tonal gradation between the two. Sometimes even a dark line next to a light one will suggest a fold.

It’s easier from a distance, as in the 20 minute tonal charcoal drawing of the jacket. Here the context of the jacket helps you ‘read’ it (pocket, arm, flaps) and light or dark areas that run down the material. The more complicated shadows like the pocket that have a tonal change that give it reality so the smaller creases (a highlight against a uniform grey area) read like a crease.

The line drawing gave me some lovely patterns but not volume, though interestingly the area with least work (but the shapes are right) is the nearest to working.

However, in the ‘close ups’ you don’t have any help, it has to read as a section of folded cloth.

By square 7 the folds are beginning to work but it’s not until they are organised properly (speak to each other as folds in material)… in 8… that it looks like a piece of cloth.

In short, there’s a sort of ‘language of folds and creases’ and how they fit together, and you need to get that pattern right for it to work.

Tone of folds

This is easier in that where you have a shadow or a sharp turn, such as the pocket or the crease around the arm, the tonal change is big. But where there is a gentle turning there is a more gradual change in tone.

The technique seems to be to get the changes in tone right… to a glance there’s a line of highlight next to the turned away material which is darker, but in reality there’s almost always some form of gradation. If it’s too abrupt it looks like a hole, or just unreal – as in 2 and 6 which are poor.

If it’s right it starts to look like real folds as in 8.

Conclusion

To show volume in folds of fabric you’ve got to get both the shape and pattern of the folds and the tonal changes right.

This is harder when you have material in close up with no clues as to how the material is lying and nothing to keep your eye moving.

Footnote:

I unintentionally made this harder as apart from the natural light and dark caused by the folds, the jacket has light and dark areas caused by wear. Which add a second layer of difficulty as they are working in a totally different way to the folds of material.

Also, I think having an olive-green jacket (tonally a mid dark grey) made the tonal changes harder to see and draw. The material absorbed the light – and I was also, in effect, drawing the tone of the material as well as the light and dark caused by the folds.

A lighter material would have shown volume differently – more clearly – and I think it would have been much easier if I’d used a piece of white material.

 

 

Part 3: Project 5: Exercise 4: Statues

This feels like it may be a bit of preparation for Part 4???

I decided to treat this as a way of using different media (and initially had thought of using colour) to draw the same object and see which worked best. And also to draw a series of sketches of the same statue and see if I got better/saw more relationships/tones/shapes the more I drew it.

My main priority was to get a ‘feel’ of the statue as well as a visual resemblance.

As St Ives is my nearest town I headed out as I was sure I’d seen a statue in the market square.

And, sure enough, there was a very stern looking Oliver Cromwell!

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Interestingly the bustle of people (it was market day) didn’t bother me – the wind was more of a problem as it blew the page up.

I also missed using a putty rubber with charcoal… in retrospect I probably could have done but would have had to do it sequentially, and it’s quite nice using putty rubber and charcoal together so you’re constantly picking one up and swapping over. A bit like having a conversation rather than a monologue!

The details (and face!) on this don’t work, they’re smudgy and indistinct, but the posture and position in space is quite good. Maybe that’s because charcoal is fluid and lets you look at the overall shape?

I decided not to use colour as the statue was a uniform grey with tiny bits of stain… so decided to go for pencil next and improve the detail.

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It’s weird… the bit I like the best is the bit I did quickest (his right leg from the ankle down to his shoe sticking out over the plinth – and the bits I liked least were those I worked on most… like his hands and face.

In retrospect the hands aren’t as bad as I thought, though the book seems to have shrunk! And his left arm shoulder to elbow is too long.

But it’s beginning to get a ‘personality’… not sure how that’s happening but he’s beginning to connect with the viewer.

I then wondered what it would be like if I used graphite pen. It flows like a pen (has graphite in it??) but looks like an HB pencil… only you don’t have to press on.

Maybe I’d get detail and fluidity?

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The book has shrunk even more!!!!!

And the left shoulder is still much too long…

But, his face looks a bit like Cromwell??? and from the waist down it’s quite pleasing. Shame about the middle!!!!!

Next, I thought I’d try a black byro. It is more forgiving than black ink and lets you find a line without making big black patches (though that didn’t quite work when I had to move his left shoulder!)…

I thought it might split the difference between the qualities of the 3B pencil and the graphite pen.

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I struggled with making him look down but eventually managed to make him make eye contact. I also tried to get his hair which I noticed I’d (mainly) been missing.

The book and the hand holding the gloves works much better – I tried looking at the statue and relating all the bits to each other. His sword is more effective but the pointing finger and foreshortened arm still need a lot of work… though are a little bit better.

Belly button down this works.

His waistcoat was really difficult as it didn’t have any obvious folds and was quite smooth. And I found it hard to judge the exact angles at the bottom. I think maybe this is where a pencil or charcoal would come in to add tone?!

But… the sketch has got better and this is beginning to both look a bit like the statue and take on a personality.

Conclusion:

Statues, like people, are very hard to draw.

I don’t know how much of the personality of the original person they capture but to make them work you’ve not only got to get a physical likeness, but also capture (create) something of the personality of the original person and also the moment in action.

Not dead stone (being on a plinth we know it’s a statue) but a ‘real’ person we relate to!!!