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Political — Pablo Picasso “Guernica” (1937). Twentieth Century. Spain.
Pablo Picasso was an artist best known for Cubism. He evokes powerful narratives in his work despite the fact that his paintings and murals are often non-realist in style. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is a good example of political art. The work is a mural and it was created in the twentieth century in Spain. The mural tells a story. It is an example of narrative art. The mural depicts the suffering people experienced during the Spanish Civil War. The Fascists had bombed the small town of Guernica. The scene depicts market day on the day of the bombing. People are crowded in the streets. The image is political because it reads like a documentary film. While it is a work of art, it also testifies to an actual moment in history. According to Arnheim, the work can be traced to a particular day in history: Monday, April 26, 1937 (2006, p. 138). Innocent people suffered. People not associated with the war in any direct way were killed.
What is striking about the work are two important things as they relate to political power. First, the work was Picasso’s immediate reaction to the event. He painted the mural upon learning of the bombing. It is both personal and political, as many things political tend to be. It is personal because Picasso wanted to express real people’s unnecessary pain. These people did not have to die. Second, it is interesting that the work evokes emotion from the viewer, but it is not like a photograph of the events. It is painted in Picasso’s abstract style. The figures are obviously human. However, what is it about the mural that signals to the viewer its message? Without even knowing the context of the painting one can instantly see that it is about human beings’ suffering. Is it the central figure who lifts their hands and head up to the sky? Is it the feeling of devastation that appears on the face? The mural is political because it is saying war is wrong, especially when innocent people suffer. Picasso is using his art to denounce something he sees as wrong with the world.
Regional Kathy Jakobsen, Grand Central Terminal, 2003 (21st Century North American).
What defines regional art? What instantly comes to mind is the work of Grandma Moses. However, Moses’s work is a better example of folk art. Since she is a twentieth century artist, she was not someone I could choose. Regional artworks typify a region. In the same way that William Faulkner’s novel typify the Southern Region of the South. Regional works are good examples of how art can tells us about local tastes and culture. In one way, all art is regional. All art originates from a place where the artist gets his or her inspiration. Regional art, however, seems fixated on origins, on the local. For example, the American Artist Kathy Jakobsen is a good example of regional art. Her work comes from our most recent century: the twenty-first century. She draws mostly works that typify the northeastern region of the United States. Her work is regional because it evokes the areas she knows best. However, she is not a realist. In her work “Grand Central Station” the point is not to capture how the train station appears in Midtown Manhattan in real life. Her woke evokes folk art styles because she is drawing the station as it appears in her memory (Congdon 2012, p. 58). Even though she does rely on photographs to help her in research of what to draw, she is guided by a sense of what she can recall. in the image, the moon is a crescent in the sky. The night looks inviting. The city of New York is magical. The work is not anything but regional for the image evokes a love of the city. The perspective is slightly distorted. While in real life it would be hard to see the station set against the sky, with clouds in the background, and in the middle foreground, the Chrysler Building. The image asks us to look at New York through the artist’s eyes. In this way, regional art is similar. It asks us to look at a place that is familiar to the artist and to look at the work through their eyes. It would not be regional if it were just a realistic portrait of the city. Regionalism is all about celebrating a place through art. The focus is always on place.
Economic — Artists Unknown, The Cave Paintings at Lascaux (30,000 B.C.E.). Prehistoric Peoples of the Eurasian Continent).
Economics is about the process in which goods and services are bought. How is this depicted in art? The best way is to understand this field is to look at some of the oldest examples of visual art to see how the earliest people thought of exchanging goods. In the time before credit cards and money, people had to have an economic relationship with nature itself. Art often reflects this basic economic partnership. What is striking about the cave paintings at Lascaux is that not only that they are so old, but they were found only in this past century by a couple of French boys. The paintings lie within a deep, dark cave. When they were painted thirty two thousand years ago, they were only able to be viewed by torch light. Left in the darkness, they are completely hidden from view. What makes these paintings economic? No one really knows for sure. However, the art has to do with getting something in return for an action. The walls are mostly filled with depictions of animals. Perhaps the artists who depicted these images killed the animals for food, and then, in a purely economic fashion, decided to depict the deceased animal’s image on the way. They took the animal’s life for food and its fur for clothing, so as way to memorialize the “kill” they kept a record of their actions. It is interesting that art emerged first as a human skill before writing. In writing we are our most economic selves. We record. We take down what we observe. In art, too, we are economic in that we are making sense of the world. Economics is not just about money. Economics is how human beings create processes to make the world a more orderly place. The paintings at Lascaux illustrate this point. For example, as Trevor Paglen points out, the only depiction of a human being at the cave site is in the deepest part of the cave (Paglen 2012). It is an image of a human. However, it is hard to know what he is doing. The figure is surrounded by other images. Since the cave is not visible by human eyes in the dark, the point of the work remains a mystery. What paint images in a dark cave that no one will be able to see? The answer is easy. It points to how economic art can be and how in this example, art is not about the display of beauty, nor is it political, or religious. It is a record of humanity’s accomplishments. The focus is not anthropocentric. The focus is objective, and in this way so is economic history.
Technological — La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower), Stephen Sauvestre (1889). Nineteenth Century, France.
Stephen Sauvestre’s name is not as popular as his technological achievement. “La Tour Eiffel” is an example of technology as art. It is technological art. It is also architecture. As the word suggsts, technology denotes achievement in a particular area or work. La Tour Eiffel represents modern’s human beings achievement to build works out of iron and steel. It also suggests how what we build reflects who we are. A spire rises from the heart of Paris, France. The tower is visible all over the city for not only is it tall, but it seems to be a centrifugal force keeping the city together. The photographer Lucien Hervé took photographs of the tower that make it seem as if the structure is the center of everything (2003, p. 21). Art becomes technological when it exhibits human ingenuity and skill. Of course, all art takes creative skill, art that dives into the technological realm is like the ancient Tower of Babel. The work soars to the heavens. In this way, the Eiffel Tower is like the Space Shuttle, or the invention of drawing in three point perspective. Art is a tool. And the Eiffel Tower epitomizes this field of inquiry. The structure soars to the skies. It is completely made out of wrought iron steel. It is the durability of the material that speaks to the structure’s endearing qualities. It is interesting that the structure was built in the nineteenth century, during the period in Europe when the industrial revolution was just taking place. The tower prefigures other advancements that were being made at that time, and were in the planning stages of being made. For example, the airplane, the automobile, the steam engine, and the light bulb. The Eiffel Tower is not beautiful in the same way Beethoven’s symphonies are beautiful, but it is beautiful, in how it speaks to the skill in making something purely for the benefit of human ingenuity. The tower serves no other purpose. It is not a house. It is not a factor or a place of business. It is a monument. Deeper still it is technological. We think of technology as only having to do with tools we use like computers, and iPods. However, technology is anything to do with human skill. Technology has to do with our ability to shape natural materials to serve our purpose, be it sending people on a manned mission to the moon, or opening a can with a can opener. The cousin to technology is engineering. Specially, the tower is a product of human engineering. Unlike the Tower of Babel, someone designed it so it would not fall.
Religious — “Pietà” (1499) by Michelangelo. 15th Century, Italy.
Often we think of art and religion as very much kindred spirits. It is commonplace to see art works in holy places such as churches or mosques. In the example of Michelangelo’s “Pietà, which is protected behind bullet proof glass, in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the work depicts Jesus being held by his mother Mary soon after the crucifixion (Ragionieri 2008, p. 118). The work is interesting because the figure of the mother is larger than the figure of the son. In other words, if you pay attention to the sculpture, the sculptural presence of Mary looms larger than that of the figure of Jesus.
In religious art what is the purpose? If art is supposed to be an expression of feeling, what feelings does religious art imbue? Religious art tries to capture both the human and the divine. Religious art, like the Pietà express the love of a mother for her son. However, there is also the divine aspect of the painting. The work expresses something beautiful, to both honor divine beauty. In the late fifteenth century, when Michelangelo completed this work, made entirely from bronze, the effect is still the same today as when it was made.
Ethnic — “Couple,” Madagascar (17th to late 18th Century, Southeast Africa)
Defining ethnic art is difficult. For just as regional art is about a particular region, ethnic art has come to define most specifically the arts of non-western artists. Ethnic art, then, usually is represented by the arts of the continent of Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and Eastern Asia, and the Middle East, as well as Native American art, Oceanic art, and any art that does not originate from European or North American sources or artists. In this way, ethnic art is about influence. Who influences the art. As is common with Western styles of art, the influence is often Christianity, or Western artists and writers.
In the example of “Couple,” a wood carving from the Sakalava people in Madagascar of Southeast, it is interesting that the object is a universal theme: husband and wife. However, this little more than three feet sculpture was intended to sit on a pedestal and was made as a focal point of worship for the ritual surrounding boys’ circumcision (Metropolitan Museum of Art). The figures are nude. The eyes are carved in such a way that they appear recessed. The male and female figure hold their arms around their midsection. The female figure has a pot on top of her head. The feet are missing in the sculpture.
The work is supposed to be a universal symbol of regeneration and fertility, a sign to the community of the importance of the continuation of the culture. It is interesting, as the label from the Metropolitan Museum of Art indicates, the work, which dates from about the seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries, was influential in the Parisian art scene. African art highly influenced European styles of abstraction that became prominent in the early to mid-twentieth centuries. In this way, looking at examples of art it is possible to see how the art world has influenced different fields. In this example, non-Western art is very influential in Western art.
Gender — Marble statue of a kouros (youth), artist unknown (Greek) 6th Century B.C.E.
A survey of artists, artworks, and their respective fields would not be complete without mention of the sculpture of ancient Greece. When speaking of gender it is important to clarify that what we are talking about is how masculinity or femininity is displayed in art. In this way, gender becomes a construct. In other words, it is not the biological nature of “sex” that is most interesting, but how in culture gender is shaped by social forces. So for example, what is considered masculine beauty versus feminine beauty is shaped by the particular attitudes and beliefs of a given time and culture. In nineteenth century oil paintings from Europe, women are depicted nude, and they are also heavier looking than models that adorn the advertisements of Calvin Klein or Christian Dior. What defines beauty changes over time. In the example of ancient Greek art, the kouroi were representations of male beauty. Looking at the sculpture, whose artists is unknown, we can discern what constitutes masculine beauty for the Ancient Greeks from around the sixth century B.C.E. Male beauty was associated with power. The boy stands erect. His hands are at his side. His hair is long. He is nude. His body shows no sign of disfigurement. He could be either ready to fight in the military, or a member of the upper social classes of archaic Greek society. In fact, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the statue now resides, the kouroi represents the grave of a dead Athenian aristocrat. Why, then, is it related to gender. The statue is not supposed to be a realistic representation of the male aristocrat who died. Rather, the statute is a symbol of male beauty and power. In this way, it is an excellent example of how gender and sexuality are shaped by cultural practices, attitudes and belief systems.
Generational — Apollodorus of Damascus, “Trajan’s Column,” 2nd Century C.E., Ancient Roman Civilization.
One interesting aspect of a project that asks to select artists from different time periods and geographies is one begins to see how much art pervades culture, literature, politics, and all fields of human inquiry throughout the ages. In Homer’s Iliad, for example, the generational story of how heroes emerge is told. The “Bayeux Tapestry” from France tells the story of how the battle of Hastings was won by the French in 1066. The topic of generational style has to do with how art transmits culture. It has to do with how art transmits values, ideas of social class from one family to another, from one city to another, from one nation to another, et cetera. In the book History of the World in 1,000 Objects the authors from the Smithsonian museum amass a visual collection of objects. One object in particular stands out as generational: Trajan’s Column. The column is not just an ordinary column. The column tells the story of the Roman conquest of Dacia (which is now modern day Romania and Moldovia). The column is generational because the story depicted is one that spans several years, from the time of the conquest, to the battles, to the return in triumph of Trajan’s army. The work is more about passing on a story that is of course very political (so it could easily be applied to this topic) as well as technological, for it shows the prowess of the Roman army. However, the work is very much about detailing “great works” and how Trajan dedicated a section of the ancient Roman city “for such great works” (MacGregor 2011, p. 89). Today the column is basically amidst a sea of ancient ruins. The modern Rome has grown up around the ruins. However, Trajan’s column still stands. The original buildings that were associated with the place are now gone: including the temple and the library. However, it is obvious from looking at the space that it was intended to preserve the glory of the Roman people, not only their conquests, but to commemorate Roman pride. Generational art, in this way, is not just about families. Generational art serves a purpose. It is both ideological and political. It serves the purpose of telling a story. Looking at the column, one can “read” visually the entire story without have to walk around the column. The frieze is one continual strip that literally wraps itself around the tower’s surface. 2,600 figures are represented in its friezes. Trajan speaks to his men, the Roman flag is depicted. The drum of white marble stands as a testament to how art can pass on one generation's story to another. Are we to believe the story of Trajan’s column as historical fact? It is not the point of generational art. Historical fact is not as important. It is like when a grandfather tells his grandchildren stories from his generation. The point of these stories is about telling the story, not about getting the details correct. It is why historians are still trying to figure out the difference between what really happened versus what was told.
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