A painting ought to change as you look at it, and as you think, talk, and write about it. The story it tells will never be more than part of the stories you and others tell about it. The stories --or interpretations, as they are sometimes called--come in different genres, such as the formalist, the iconographic, the connoisseurial, the genetic, the convervatorial, the contextual, and various mixtures of these and other genres.
Harry Berger, Jr.. Fictions of the Pose, p.107.
Tuesday, September 4: watch video entitled Behind the Mask which explores the social context of "art" in the Dogon tradition, an African tribal culture. Review questions associated with video.
Thursday, September 6: discussion of the Dogon video. In preparation for the discussion respond in your journal to the questions accompanying the video.
Tuesday, September 11: take one of the questions accompanying the video and write a short 2-3 page paper responding to it. Bring this paper to class to workshop.
A major monument of Early Medieval Art is the Book of Kells. This manuscript is the text of the Christian Gospels. It was made in a monastery in the British Isles, perhaps in southern Scotland or Ireland. One of the most famous pages in the manuscript is the so-called Chi Rho page. Chi Rho are the Greek letters that are the monogram of Christ. The page presents the beginning of the 18th verse of the first chapter of the Book of Matthew. This work presents us a useful focus to the function of art in the context of a monastery. We will use it to the explore the act of "making" art and its use and meaning in the life of the monastery. Review the webpages I have developed to explore the context of Hiberno Saxon Art and the Book of Kells in particular.
Questions I am repeatedly going to come back to during the course of the semester are:
1) What is the role or function of the "work of art" in the social context?
2) What is the position of the artist in the social context?
3) What is the conception or nature of making "art" in the social context?
4) How do your answers to the first three questions help you to gain an understanding of the particular culture's conception of reality?
Tuesday, September 18: Turn in your revision of your short paper (2-3 pages) on Dogon art. The sculptural decorations of the facades of Romanesque and Gothic churches presented a way for expressing the authority of the church in medieval society. The west facade of Chartres cathedral contains the so-called Royal Portals, a mid twelfth century sculptural program. Review the webpage introducing the Royal Portals that I have prepared for my Medieval Art course. Made by teams of anonymous craftsmen, the Royal Portals becomes a good way of understanding the position of the artist in the social and political order of medieval society.
Thursday, September 20: In the later Middle Ages artistic production was dominated by the development of guilds. The artist was understood to be a craftsman trained in a trade like any other industry. Review the page entitled Medieval Guilds and Craft Production. (Life of St. Denis)
Tuesday, September 25: we will continue our discussion of the medieval craftsmen. Review the webpage entitled Medieval Guilds and Craft Production. At the end of webpage you will find excerpts from Cennino Cennini's Craftsman's Handbook. Read this carefully and try to articulate the values or nature of the craftsman as articulated by Cennini. Compare this to your preconceptions about the role of the artist.
If you are interested in knowing more about the material you can read my article entitled Considering a Marginal Master.
Thursday, September 27: In class on Tuesday, I alluded to Artist Contracts. Review the examples that I have included on the page entitled Samples of Artists' Contracts and get a sense of the priorities of the patrons and artists.
In the later Middle Ages and Early Renaissance with the development of the courts of Europe, the role of court artist presented a professional and social alternative for the artist. Review webpage entitled Court Artist. Jan Van Eyck was the court painter for Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy. Review the webpage dedicated to Van Eyck as Court Artist. For an introduction to the court culture of Burgundy see page entitled The Frontispiece of the Chroniques de Hainaut: an Introduction to Valois Burgundy. If you are interested in learning more about the Arnolfini Double Portrait you can read the webpage I have dedicated to it.
Tuesday, October 2: We will continue our discussion of Jan Van Eyck as court artist. I also want to bring into the mix a comparison to a painting by a contemporary of Jan Van Eyck. Rogier van der Weyden was the town painter of Brussels.
Rogier van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin, c. 1435.
Review webpage I have created for this painting.
Thursday, October 4: A major moment in the history of the Italian Renaissance was the competition for the commission to do the doors for the Baptistry of Florence. There remain two of the competition panels, one by Ghiberti who got the commission and the other by Brunelleschi. Review the webpage I have dedicated to the Baptistry Competition. I have included on this webpage two contemporary literary accounts of the competition, one written by Ghiberti himself and the other part of a biography of Brunelleschi. Careful reading of these accounts provides us interesting insights into two artists' attitudes towards art and the role of the artist in society. On the basis of your study of this material, I want you to play the role of a judge in the competition and choose who you would award the commission to. What is important is not getting the right answer, but how you justify your decision which should be based on both the visual evidence of the panels themselves and what you have been able to glean about the attitudes of the respective artists.
Tuesday, October 9: Fifteenth century Florentine artists were concerned with transforming the social status of the artist. Read the following webpages: Anthony Blunt, "The Social Position of the Artist" , A.C. Crombie excerpts and Renaissance Conceptions of Man. Pay special attention to the comparison between the jamb figures of Chartres Cathedral and the St. George by Donatello. Also read carefully the excerpts from Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man.
Thursday, October 11: I want to continue our examination of the different modes of fifteenth century Italian painting with our comparison of Botticelli's Birth of Venus to Piero della Francesca's Brera Altarpiece. I would also like to turn to a consideration of the work of Michelangelo. Look at the images of the David and the Creation of Adam included on the webpage Renaissance conceptions of Man. Read the excerpts of Vasari's biography of Michelangelo.
Tuesday, October 16: we will turn to a consideration of the work of Michelangelo. Look at the images of the David and the Creation of Adam included on the webpage Renaissance conceptions of Man. Read the excerpts of Vasari's biography of Michelangelo.
Thursday, October 18: Draft of Second Paper: bring it to class to be workshopped. We will continue our discussion of the work of Michelangelo. Pay special attention to the David and the Creation of Adam.
Tuesday, October 23: Second Paper due. We will continue our discussion of the work of Michelangelo. Pay special attention to the David and the Creation of Adam.
Thursday, October 25: We will devote the class to an examination of the Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci.
Tuesday, October 30: we will continue our discussion of Leonardo da Vinci with special attention to the Mona Lisa. Review the excerpts from the Notebooks and relate them to the Mona Lisa.
Thursday, November 1: The literary historian Stephen Greenblatt wrote a book in the early 1980s entitled Renaissance Self-Fashioning. Drawing upon sixteenth century etiquette books like Baldasar Castiglione's The Courtier, Greenblatt emphasized how identity is constructed or fashioned through the cultural codes presented by culture. Read the excerpts of John Martin's essay entitled "Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence: the Discovery of the Individual in Renaissance Europe."
The ideas about self-fashioning will be at the center of our discussion over the next part of the course. The significant increase in the number of self-portraits in the sixteenth century attests to artists' concerns with their identity. Self-portraits provide artists ways for artists to construct or fashion their identity as artists. A good example of this is presented by a self-portrait by a Florentine sculptor and rival of Michelangelo, Baccio Bandinelli. Read the webpage I have dedicated to Bandinelli's self-portrait. Consider a remarkable series of self-portraits created by Sofonisba Anguisola, a daughter of nobleman from Genoa who became a court painter active in the court of Philip II, King of Spain.
Note that I have added a comparison to consider at the end of page dedicated to Bandinelli's self-portrait. I would like you to consider this comparison as a way of gaining perspective on the transformations in the conception of the artist from the beginning of the fifteenth century to the middle of the sixteenth century.
Tuesday, November 6: I guess Halloween was too much for a good number of you. There were only ten students approximately who made it to class. I decided to postpone the material scheduled for November 1 to November 6. Please understand that I spent about 15 hours developing the webpages that are a part of today's assignment. If I put that amount of time into the project, I expect an appropriate amount of work from you in response.
Thursday, November 8: Albrecht Dürer, a German artist of the end of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, was very conscious of his position and status as an artist. His series of self-portraits present us with a remarkable example of the artist consciously fashioning his artistic identity. This will be the focus of much our discussion, but before we consider the self-portraits I think it is important to get a sense of his artistic contribution. Review the following webpages that I have constructed for my Northern Renaissance art class to get a sense of the art of Albrecht Dürer: Key Dates and Events in the Life of Albrecht Dürer, Albrecht Dürer: the Human Figure and Introduction to Albrecht Dürer.
Tuesday, November 27: We will consider Hans Holbein's painting entitled The Ambassadors, painted in 1533. Review the extensive web site I have constructed for this painting.
Thursday, November 29: we will look at Velazquez's Las Meninas.
Tuesday, December 4: we will examine Rembrandt's Self-Portraits. Consider the different identities he has fashioned or constructed for himself. Read the excerpt from Svetlana Alper's Rembrandt's Enterprise: the Studio and the Market. Discussions of these self-portraits regularly place them in the context of ideas of individuality in western culture. Where is the individuality in these self-portraits?
As a way of gaining a perspective on the contributions of Rembrandt in portraiture consider the following comparison to a portrait by his Dutch contemporary, Frans Hals:
Man with the Golden Helmet
Thursday, December 6: review pay entitled Constructing Female Artistic Identity in the Seventeenth Century.(Note that this webpage is still a work in progress.) Pay special attention to the Judith Leyster self-portrait.
Tuesday, December 11: I want to consider one of the major artistic statements of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. I want to examine it in the context it plays in the narratives of the development of Modern Art. This narrative is made manifest not just in the art historical discussions, but in the lay-out of museums. Read the excerpts from Carol Duncan's essay entitled "The MoMA's Hot Mamas." This essay makes explicit the central role the female body has played in the development of Modern Art. We can use this material to come to terms with some of the dominant ideas of the male artist in Modernism.
Consider how the major 20th century painter, Wassily Kandinsky, describes the act of painting:
Thus I learned to battle with the canvas, to come to know it as a being resisting my wish (dream), and to bend it forcibly to this wish. At first it stands there like a pure chaste virgin...And then comes the willful brush which first here, then there, gradually conquers it with all the energy peculiar to it, like a European colonist.
Thursday, December 13: We will consider the work of Cindy Sherman and Jenny Saville. Consider these two artists' self-representations. As part of your consideration of the Saville painting entitled The Plan compare it to the image of Albrecht Dürer of the artist drawing the nude.
Consider also the comparison of the Jenny Saville's The Plan to the Paleolithic statuette known as the Venus of Willendorf:
Third Paper Assignment: topic due: December 4; Draft for workshopping due: December 11; Paper turned in on December 13.
Final Meeting Time: Tuesday, December 18, 9:00-10:30 AM, FA 224. I have constructed a webpage dedicated to the Art of Frida Kahlo. With the development of feminist perspectives and the emphasis on cultural identity in recent critical discussions, the work of Frida Kahlo has attracted more scholarly and popular attention. As you review the gallery of her work, consider her identity in relationship to contemporary discussions of Identity and Difference. Identify the different cultural, social, and artistic traditions that you can detect in her work.
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