Tag Archives: Art History

Let’s Keep the Minimalism to a Minimum

Call me ignorant, but most of the minimalist work I’ve seen is silly, or not even interesting enough to be silly… more just boring.  Minimalism has all of its reasons, sure, but to me it seems as if people without the technical skills required to be real artists just created a new art form for themselves.  What would Raphael and Michelangelo say about Tony Smith’s Die?

Die is a six-foot by six-foot black square.  It is meant to evoke a reaction in the viewer who is forced to confront it, as it takes up space and must be walked around.  Oh!.. and it is not a sculpture… it is an ‘object’.  Don’t get it twisted.

It is a regression.

I am all for “anything can be art” and “if you think its art than it is”, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it or find it remotely interesting or necessary at all!  Where is the skill?

To me, it has nothing on something like this….


(Van Gogh, Self portrait I)

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A Stroke of Genius, See the Pun?

Oh the world of Introduction to Art History classes, a world of super-famous artists that everyone has heard of already but doesn’t know exactly why.  Well, I suppose we all know this impressionist… Claude Monet anyone? I thought so.

Allow me to direct you to a specific series of his work on the Rouen Cathedral.  Monet did several different paintings of this cathedral from the exact same viewpoint, with the only variations in the time of day and weather conditions.  This type of work was entirely impressionistic in which the subject matter was not the main focus, but the brush strokes and capturing the qualities of nature were the focus.  This was the conceptual revolution people!

(All of these are obviously separate paintings, put together by MOI on Photoshop for easy side-by-side viewing.)

While in  my Intro to Art History class I am usually scribbling down the notes that are on the slides and getting cut off mid-jotted-down-sentence by a professor that goes too quickly, today I just sat back and observed.  You would have, too.

There are a lot of great things about these paintings.  For starters, they were painted outside, en plein-air, on the spot.  There were no real preliminary sketches that prepared Monet for the works, rather just paintbrush, oil paints, and canvas.  Another great thing is the quickness with which they were created.  When one is trying to portray a certain time of day, time is the most important thing, it is a race against the changing colors of the daytime.  Nature waits for no one.  Not even Claude Monet!  Other great things include the believable shadows, depth of architecture, and apparent intricate details.

Monet created many works in this way, as one of the most famous French Impressionist painters of all time.  His similar series of haystacks (http://www.monetpaintings.org/107/haystacks/) in a field are equally as fascinating and skillful, if not more.  Which is saying something.  Agreed?  Agreed.

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My Shallow Interests in Pretty Things

Prepare yourself now for a short post in which all I basically say is ‘its pretty, its pretty, pretty colors!’

Allow me now to share some of my favorite paintings based purely on aesthetics (except maybe the Birth of Venus).  I say this because I know very little about them, but I find them so exceptionally stunning that I must post them.  I must.

First is the Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.  I first saw this in my high school Art History class and my (attractive) teacher professed his love for its twisted beauty to the class.  He was pretty passionate about it.  I have to agree with his claim of its intrigue.




The twisted forms and the strangeness of it all makes me curious as the to the thoughts that produced it.  Don’t you wonder?

(I warned you I knew little about it.)

Next, is one of the great masters, Raphael.  In particular, Madonna of the Meadows.  The vibrant colors were exciting in the time it was created because people were just discovering the wonders of oil paint.  (I have recently been discovering the wonders of oil paint myself…).


I am not interested in this scene for its religious value, though I find it interesting, but for its obvious beauty.  Flat out, I just like looking at it.  The crispness in line of this disegno painting is pleasing to my eye.

If I am being completely honest, I just can’t resist a good-old-fashioned chubby baby.

Finally, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli is one of my all-time favorite paintings.  I have an outside interest in mythology so I admit it helps, but I find the cool colors to be exquisite.  And exquisite is not a word I typically use.  Its stunning.

I dare you to disagree.


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Caravaggio, You Evil Genius

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), the masterful Italian painter,  became more interesting to me once I learned of his ‘rebel’ status.  The man was thrown in jail on several occasions and had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope. THE POPE.  Caravaggio was known for ‘swaggering about for a month or two with a sword at his side’ after completing much of his work.  Eventually Caravaggio killed a man in a late-night bar brawl- making him the most bad-ass painter I have ever heard of from his time.


I first heard of Caravaggio in my Introduction to Art History class where we studied his genre paintings, in particular The Calling of Saint Matthew.  This painting showed up on the class Midterm, as well.  Caravaggio masterfully mixed contemporary life with a religious scene.  The figures around the table are in contemporary attire, counting money as they are interrupted by the traditionally attired Christ figure.  The viewer is also seeing this scene as it happens, live.  The viewer interrupts the moment just as Christ does.


The fact that this genre painting mixes the contemporary and the traditional (the nerve!), made it a revolutionary gesture of the time period.  It allowed viewers to relate to the moment and believe that anyone could be called to be an apostle at any moment by Christ himself. 


Subtle symbolism makes this painting interesting.  The window flung open revealing the cross in its frame is not accidental, nor is the light pouring in from an unidentifiable source- meant to call upon the divine.  The light playing off of Jesus’s naturalistic face is matsterful in its use of chiaroscuro. 


All of this said, when I first saw the painting I was not blown away.  I think the colors are dull and it is a bit dark for my taste, but I cannot deny that it is a work of genius.  Maybe it is the fact that I can never wrap my head around just how exactly painters can communicate naturalism so well, while interweaving symbolism and meaning at the same time.  Yes, it is that exactly.  How do they do it?!


I am captivated again and again.

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John Rogers, You Moron

In my ‘Sculpture in the US’ class we recently were required to read 40, COUNT EM!, 40 pages about a sculptor named John Rogers.  Here is what I have learned:

John Rogers was an American sculptor who turned away from neoclassical ideals.  He is known for his genre sculptures, scenes of everyday life.  His are the sculptures that would appear in Victorian homes in 19th and 20th century homes because of how inexpensive and likable they were.  A lot of people in the cities bought his art depicting farm life and rural scenes because it connected them to a place they didn’t actually live in.  There were thousands of these sculptures produced and sold.

After finishing the reading our next class was held in the storage section of our University Museum building and were were able to actually see and touch some of the sculptures by John Rogers (suhweet!). In particular, my group was looking at ‘Coming to the Parson’.  Instead of getting into the depth of the subject matter, I would like to touch on a few technical things.


I don’t particularly like this sculpture, but there are a couple of interesting things about it.  For one- the detail in the table the parson is sitting at is pretty impressive (clawed feet).  For two, even though this sculpture is meant to be viewed from the front, there are interesting details in the back of the parson’s chair and in the books behind the newspaper.  I admire when details are not overlooked in places that may not be viewed as often.

(I do also quite like the animosity between the animals around the feet of the figures.)

What really IRKS me about John Rogers’s sculptures, though, is the color.  The color of his sculptures is meant to look like the clay it was made out of, but it isn’t.  It is a paint that is added after the sculpture has been fired.  Whoever mixed up the color  was definitely waiting until it was the most detestable color possible before applying it and solidifying it for every other sculpture he makes.  It is distracting.. and detracting.  Why not leave it the pretty white color that the cast makes it?  Or why not sell the bronze models?  The muddy brown, not-even-a-color color ruins all of his work for me.  Call me immature, but I can’t enjoy his sculptures (eye-sores).

Any challengers?

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This stole my mind for a while when it came up on the screen in my art history sculpture class two weeks ago.  This beautiful thing is called Ganymede and the Eagle by Bertel Throvaldsen (1817-29).  Looking at sculptures like this one and  Greenough’s Prisoner to Wisdom (1836) in a dark room in a cozy building makes me happy.  Simply happy.  It takes me to a place where I could stay for a long time- my little art history world where things are made of marble and I can look at them forever.  Smooth white marble bodies of perfection, with faces that convey so much feeling.  It is a whole world of symbolism and meanings in myths that one can study forever and never fully learn it all.  My art history world is like a great dessert that I never finish.


Love Prisoner of Wisdom does that thing that takes me out of my body and into the picture.  Love Prisoner of Wisdom is this cupid figure shackled to an owl that signifies wisdom.  Pure and simple and beautiful.

I could think on these forever.  Smooth.  White.  Marble.

Marble, Marble, Marble

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Venus of Willdendorf vs. Six Armed Woman


This is probably the first image my AP Art History class in high school looked at as a class.  I immediately liked The Woman of Willendorf (as a body-conscious girl in high school) for not sporting a thin figure.  I knew, if this figure could know things, that it would understand the phrase “chub-rub”, and that was comforting.  Our young and handsome teacher then posed the question to the class “What do you think this image represents?”, to which mostly everyone fell silent.  We were all looking at a possibly morbidly obese woman with no face, feet, or arms.  Maybe it represents the ability to hunt and gather food?  Nope.  This statuette, estimated to have been created between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE, represents “fertility”.  This is the body of a child-bearing woman who has the hips to withstand childbirth along with the healthy breasts to feed it.  That feels like an important meaning to me, and it somehow offered me comfort that this figure was one worth portraying some thousands of years ago.  This fertile figure has stuck with me.


In contrast to the prehistoric Woman of Willendorf, I offer up Tim Burton’s Six Armed Woman, created in 1996. Both of these works depict women, yet one is a ‘sculpture’ and one is a painting.  One woman has no face, arms, or feet, while one woman has six arms and quite a “pretty” face.  While the Woman of Willendorf humbly represents fertility, the Six Armed Woman seems to flaunt it with large round breasts and eyes that seem to turn down towards them.  Also, Burton’s use of color makes this painting a fun and imaginative one.  I am not sure of any known meaning for this work, and it could be that it is supposed to be left up for interpretation, or purely aesthetic values.  To me the Six Armed Woman is a sex object, a beautiful woman that girls want to be and men want to be with (but maybe without the whole six-arms thing, or maybe with? 😉 ).  Tim Burton thrives on the “wacky” and the fantasy in his movies and in his artwork, which is part of why he is one of my favorite artists.   Though the figure in Six Armed Woman seems to scream femininity, down to the flowers in her six arms, I almost wonder if this is meant to be a woman at all, or just merely a creature of desire who flirts with the viewer.  And though I am sure I would have loved this image had I found it in high school, I do not think this unattainable body would have been of any comfort to me as the Woman of Willendorf strangely was.  Both of these images will be forever thought-provoking for me as they resonate so wholly somewhere inside of me.  Though there are thousands and thousands of years between their moments of creation, they both represent the power of women- to me.

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