Friday, October 24, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 6)

Similar to Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg took ordinary, manufactured objects and enlarged them as statements of society's dependence on industrialization.  A sculptor, Oldenburg also chose unconventional locations wherein to position his artworks for public viewing.  They most frequently appear, not in museums, but in regular, everyday public places, such as this giant pickaxe, which rests awkwardly on the grounds of a park in Kassel, Germany.
The focus is vaguely reminiscent of Georgia O'Keeffe's enlargement of the flower.  Oldenburg's attention to conventional objects in unconventional places displays not just the intricate social critique of a pop artist who seeks to comment on the nature of consumerism in American culture but a memorable effusion of one of the basic qualities of artists of all mediums; and it is the thing which has come to define art in the modern era perhaps most of all—the ability of the artist to think outside the box.  After all, most of the fun in inventions such as this lies in wondering why the artist chose to position the pickaxe the way in which he did; and why that particular location; and why so big; etc., etc.  This is the heart of ingenuity, creativity, and, in a way, art itself.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 5)

If it's pop culture we're dealing with here, then I don't need to say anything regarding the developing style of graphic art in the '40s and '50s.  Comic books today still carry such a significant relevance in society that we're almost drowned in them.  I can no longer count how many superhero movies Hollywood has produced over the past decade.  Clearly, this is a medium that has embedded itself into the fabric of social culture today.  Images such as this, the Drowning Girl, therefore, are still today instantly distinguishable.
In 1963, Roy Lichtenstein produced this painting, a rip-off of an actual panel in a real comic series.  He changed a few things, however, and made the image his own; and today it is considered one of the staple inventions of Pop Art.  It features the kind of typical melodramatic action common to most genres of graphic art fiction; a girl with blue hair is drowning in the ocean or some other stormy body of water (true to the genre, we can't see anything else because this is a single frame of what would ordinarily be a string of images, telling a story—I trust all of my readers are avid comic book fans).  We can see tears beginning to stream down her cheeks, a true "damsel in distress" as per the superhero stories.  A word bubble, the most famous element of comic book fiction, appears at the top with the following melodramatic lines of the perishing girl: "I don't care!  I'd rather sink—than call Brad for help!"  The exaggerated drama and overemotional theatricality of such a frame is characteristic—almost archetypal—of the genre which Lichtenstein is here recreating and elevating to the art world (and the girl's blue hair, too, haha!).  As a product of the culture of the day, this recognizable image bears implicit connotative significance in the eyes of viewers everywhere who get the reference; and that's definitive Pop Art.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 4)

No doubt Warhol's most famous contribution to the art world was the simple image of a Campbell's Tomato Soup Can.
Once again, such a straightforward image can speak for itself.  It's commonplace, widespread, and instantly recognizable.  Perhaps I can't identify with Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series, but in America back at this time this would have been something I looked at very regularly, maybe even on a weekly basis at the grocery store.  It would therefore have its own meaning with me—(perhaps to remind me that we're out of tomato soup).  The art here ceases to be about the artist (as with Van Gogh and Pollock) and becomes about the public.  This is a cultural image of a public reality: countless people buy this kind of soup, even today.  To qualify such an entity as a work of art is a statement on the lifestyle of the American crowd in the Postmodern Era.  America is, after all, infamous for its consumerist-centered commercial industry; why not marry art to that?  And the implications of a work such as this on American consumerism surface most visibly when examining the artist's larger collages of Campbell's Tomato Soup Cans.  Warhol even went so far as to include 100 Cans in one of his works (and he titled it simply that).
When you think about it within the progression of art history up to now, it isn't as deconstructive to art theory as one might first expect.  When Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal to an art salon in 1917, it was a clear, satirical jab at the institution of the art world at that time; but there is a degree of sincerity in Warhol's Tomato Soup Cans which goes beyond a mere avant-garde shift of focus onto the unexpected.  Shouldn't the fact that this is an object seen by so many people on a regular, everyday basis be a vindication for it to ascend to the level of art?  This is capturing culture.  In the Baroque Era, kings and queens and princes had their portraits painted to display to the public, and that was a statement of societal construction; it asserted the dominance of royalty.  Similarly, we looked at several propaganda paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte from the Neoclassical Period, which made direct statements on French politics at the time.  Art has perhaps always reflected pieces of the society in which it appears.  The Postmodern world simply embraced a broader hierarchy of significance, from continental maps to a mere can of soup—and that is reflective of the philosophy of such a time as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 3)

It was Andy Warhol who defined Pop Art in America in the 1960s, and he did so with simple collage constructions of very well-known people and things.  This is a collage of negative photographs of Marilyn Monroe.
We see the famous movie actress in a variety of vivid and energetic colors—none of them quite right for a realistic image of Monroe.  Like Color Field painting, the color scheme of the work comes across as mostly random or arbitrary, but this time we get a clear image of something we can relate with.  Whatever is to be read into that goes largely unspoken; it's a given that everyone who looks at this will be thinking the same thing: "That's Marilyn Monroe."  Yet we are handed nine prints of the same thing, copied and structured evenly next to each other.  We are given in excess the image of this pop culture icon, and we may perhaps read into that.  A statement on glamour and publicity, this striking work of art catches our eye with many bright colors very much like the actress herself attracted attention from her audiences (and John F. Kennedy).  Seeing her in this light almost oversimplifies her allure—it's all merely colors and duplications; but no one can question that Monroe was one of Hollywood's most prolific actresses and, indeed, a symbol herself of the American lifestyle.  All the appeal and shallowness, the fascination and turpitude of pop culture comes out through the image.  The artist merely reproduces it and adds a simple stylistic touch of color and form (like a painting).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 2)

Jasper Johns, for example, began producing collages in the 1950s which formed the image of the American flag.  This 1961 painting, entitled Map, shows in rough order a map of the United States.
Similar to a Willem de Kooning or Jackson Pollock creation, the artist has slashed paint onto the canvas with strong emotion.  The vibrant colors, red, yellow, and blue—which are the three primary (and most vivid) colors—lend further intensity to the painting.  It's a huge painting and one associated with the Modern Art tradition of Abstract Expressionism; but it displays an image (albeit compromised and messy) with which we are all familiar.  And when you think about the simplicity of the subject, too, you can glean an understanding of what Pop Art centered itself around.  This is a mere map of the United States.  Why paint something which is already so well-known?  What significance is there to be found in such a commonplace image?  This movement of art continually asserts that there is abundant meaning in images from popular culture; that audiences can choose for themselves what such an image means to them.  But here Jasper Johns has slashed away at his subject in an expressionistic approach that causes us to see the map of the U.S. in a fuddled, unattractive, and visually startling light.  This is the ability of Pop Art to alter our perspective on things otherwise taken to be ordinary and familiar.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 1)

It might be a shock to you, but some people don't appreciate Modern Art.  Especially during its upswell, art which was so ahead of its time received little real recognition among the general public, and the new generation of artists noticed this and challenged these techniques with new art styles.  It was time for something new, a breath of fresh air from the higher complexities of Abstract Expressionism.  And in America, the 1960s was most certainly a time of change, both cultural and ideological.  A new art form swept the nation, and it's one that is still with us largely today.
If you ask me, the reason why the Modern Art movement failed was that it didn't connect with its audience.  We can see this by looking at the successive generation of artists and the qualities of their art.  The new generation of artists challenged the old techniques and introduced a style all its own.  Pop Art portrays images from popular culture, and it came to the U.S. around the 1960s .  In England during the 1950s, collages with magazine clippings and pictures of familiar household objects became popular; this theoretical ideal then crossed over to America to influence the next artistic movement.  As we will see, this type of art is wholly devoted to commonly understood and widely recognized objects or people.  Modern Art had been about artistic ideals of stylistic approach and creative technique (such as with Pollock), but that apparently didn't do a whole lot for the general public.  Not everyone can look at a Diebenkorn or Rothko color field painting and appreciate it as a masterpiece; after all, it's just color on a canvas.  But perhaps people would appreciate the images more if those images showed things which they knew and could respond to.  Pop Art dominated in well-known, instantly recognizable images.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 20)

Rothko's Blue and Gray from 1962 is another example of minimalistic color field abstraction in Modern Art paintings.  This is simply blue and grey, and that's it.  There's no subject matter, no story, no likeness to reality, no shapes, no intelligibility whatsoever.  We're just meant to observe the colors and paint on the canvas and absorb that without the distracting entities of subject matter, structure, form, shape, and theme.  In a way, then, it's perhaps one of the truest manifestations of art in all of art history.  If Manet had, a hundred years earlier, sought to rid his paintings of all pretext for illusion and deception and create artwork that admitted sincere awareness of its own two-dimensional medium, then Mark Rothko's color painting series breaks down all formalities of false perspective and artistic realism.  This is merely a painting and professes to be nothing more.  We see colors but no image; we see a painting, but no subject.  Art has rarely ever typified itself so directly.
These meditations on color offer in perfect distillation the same qualities which art has always carried to viewers: simple paint on a canvas.  But rather than the distracting subject matter, here we have a chance to look at art eye-to-eye, seeing only the color and the paint (even the "shapes" in these works are indistinct).  Though abstract and often not readily accessible to the public, these works nonetheless provide viewers with the most elementary essentials of art and beg the question not only of what it could mean unto itself, but what all of the rest of art means in light of the same fundamental revelation: that, in reality, all art is comparable to this, boiled down to this, and in fact is simply this.  It's all just colors and shapes, folks.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 19)

Mark Rothko fused color field painting with the developing artistic style of Minimalism to create some of the art world's most recognizable canvases.  His paintings often comprise only two or three colors, painted in simple shapes that plainly cover the canvas and give no reference to subject matter.  The above painting is his Orange and Yellow.
Again, approaching their art with philosophically and theoretically experimental techniques, painters like Diebenkorn and Rothko saw art as a more complicated invention than a mere visual copying of the physical reality of the world around them.  Abstract emotions and concepts must also exist in the two-dimensional frame of the canvas, but in order to convey these intangible elements the artist's approach to painting needed to change dramatically.  Here we just see patches of color, but more focally we are looking at orange and yellow.  By allowing these colors (mere pigments of light itself) to speak for themselves, the artist opens the door for transcendent, metaphysical significance to permeate the canvas as luminously and vividly as the hues of the painter's palate.  But what truth or meaning do you see in this?  Within the blankness of such abstraction, transcendent significance no doubt lurks, if you'll forgive the pun, in many shades but seldom in definitive, outright clarity.  In such hazy interpretive contexts, therefore, might some of us be vindicated in raising our own arguments as to the questionable integrity such art maintains to its genre or medium?  Do you think this is art?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 18)

Andrew Wyeth's paintings frequently contain profound imagery of stark emptiness, harsher than the soft brushstrokes of Edward Hopper.  Wyeth's colors, too, often muted and considerably darker, tell of a more callous world, tougher and sterner than the subdued melancholy of Hopper's paintings.  In this unconventional portrait, the artist paints a solitary sitter in almost total darkness, with his back and side to us.  That Gentleman (as the work is humbly titled) sits calmly and thoughtfully behind a closed door.  His shoes are neatly placed upon a desk behind him, below a board of hanging scissors, also neatly placed; and in front of him is darkening wall fading off into black.  The only ray of light in the painting glides across part of the man's back, his right shoulder, and his left hand, delicately resting on his lap.  Our only vision of the man's face reveals the back of his balding head, his ear, and his thin cheeks.  Apart from that, the man sits in isolated anonymity and peaceful simplicity.  The rugged man of the world sits in the dark with naught but a small beam of light to illuminate his thumbnail; and yet this, too, is a scene relaxing and quiet, quite calm.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 17)

This famous 1948 work of art, Christina's World, has become one of Modern Art's iconic images.  Recreated in several movies, the scene shows a woman strewn on the ground of a field, her fist clenching the earth, looking up ahead toward a farmhouse on the horizon.  Once again, this painting is accomplished through hard-edge approaches to technique; each blade of grass is especially distinguished to give a thorough vision of the field.  This attention to the detail of the ground brings us nearer the earth, as if we are seeing the grass and dirt up-close.  And amid it is the stark contrast of the woman's pink dress.  Christina refers to a real person, a neighbor of Wyeth's, who was crippled and suffered from polio.  Her struggle in the painting is then a very literal, or physical, one: she must slowly, painfully crawl up the hill to reach the farmhouse—and the distance is daunting.  Suddenly the specificity of the grass all around her has meaning, for all of this she must traverse—each blade of grass—with strained effort and great difficulty in order to reach the house.  Her destination, however, appears grim rather than inviting, resting dark and ominous in the distance.  The struggle is vast and intimidating, and the end result appears equally hopeless: this is the world in which this woman lives, as the title alludes to.  Thematically, the pictured struggle of this woman has come to be recognized also as a spiritual battle, fighting against the nature of the world itself, its apparent cruelty and hopelessness.  She digs her fingers into the earth in defiance and holds her head up to face the horizon while a faint gust of wind lifts a couple locks of her hair to the side.  We never see her face, but we can identify with her anyway to a degree almost as thorough as the realism of the grass all around her—we might as well picture ourselves in the scene, holding such a posture (though it is quite an exaggerated pose).  Faced with similar circumstances, all alone in the world, beaten down by our own infirmities to the bare soil of the earth, and plunged into the desolate waste land of an empty field, would we be able to make it safely to our destination?  Surely, this is not a life for the faint of heart.  But Wyeth's painting broadens its contexts to all of humanity.  It is the state of the modern world; that things are difficult and nature is cruel.  The literal situation for Christina in the painting is for the human race the imminent metaphorical situation in the Postmodern Age.  The poeticism of such a painting still rings cords of profundity in American popular culture today: this is probably the most frequently imitated painting in modern motion picture history.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 16)

Wyeth's artwork mostly all follows the same stylistic approach.  This painting, Turkey Pond, reveals in hard-edge Photo-Realism a similar visual construction of a figure lost within a landscape.  The landscape, it should be observed, is painted with painstakingly precise detail, to the point at which nearly every blade of grass is visible.  The result is a visual feast for viewers, even though the subject of the painting contains very few elements: it's merely a man walking through a field toward a pond in the distance.  Hard-Edge painting, however, turns these simplistic scenes into masterworks of art.  This painting, too, contains a subtle poignancy to it that balances the stark realism of Wyeth's brushwork and technique.