Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

1. Please read "What are the Arts," included below, and include 4-8 annotations on each page. If you were not in class, then copy this to a Word document and then print it off. Please place it in the "Handout" section of your notebook.
NOTE:  You were introduced to the color coding regarding your annotating and notating. Each type of notation correlates to a specific color. Please see the color key below.

  • If you  find a section of text confusing then you would underline it using BROWN.
  • If you are able to make a connection to your own life then you would underline that section of text using your PURPLE.
  • Another way to annotate is by asking QUESTIONS about the text. RED is the color you will use for this annotation.
  • If you come across a VOCABULARY word that you don't know use YELLOW!
  • If a piece of text touches you emotionally, then BLUE is the color for that annotation.
  • If a piece of writing is poetic to you, then use BLACK!
  • If text gives you a different perspective then GREEN is your annotation color.
  • ORANGE is the color you will use if you come across text that you find interesting.

          There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists. One must understand that the word “art” may mean different things in different times and places. No wrong reason exists for liking a piece of art. Someone may like a landscape painting because it reminds him of home, or a portrait because it reminds him of a friend. There is nothing wrong with that. All of us, when we see a painting are bound to be reminded of a hundred-and-one things which influence our likes and dislikes. As long as these memories help us to enjoy what we see, we need not worry. It is only when some irrelevant memory makes us prejudice, when we instinctively turn away from a magnificent picture of an alpine scene because we dislike climbing, that we search our minds for the reason for the aversion which spoils a pleasure we might otherwise have had. In fact, the beauty of a picture does not really lie in the beauty of its subject matter.

The trouble with beauty is that tastes and standards of what is beautiful vary so much. For example, Figs. 1 and 2 were both painted in the fifteenth century, and both represent angels playing a lute. Many prefer the Italian work by Melosso D Forli (Fig. 1), with its appealing grace and charm, to that of his northern contemporary Hans Memling (Fig. 2). It may take a little longer to discover the intrinsic beauty of Memling’s angel, but once we are no longer disturbed by his faint awkwardness we find him quite lovable.
         What is true of beauty is also true of expression. In fact, it is often the expression of a figure in the painting which makes us like or loathe the work. Some people like an expression which they can easily understand, and which therefore moves them profoundly. When the Italian seventeenth-century painter Guido Reni painted the head of Christ on the cross (Fig. 3), he intended, no doubt, that the beholder should find in this face all the agony and all the glory of Christ’s suffering. But even if this intense expression of feeling appeals to us we should not, for that reason, turn away from works whose expression is perhaps less easy to understand. The Italian painter of the Middle Ages who painted the crucifix (Fig. 4) surely felt as sincerely about this event as Reni.
       Most people like to see in pictures what they would also like to see in reality. This is quite a natural preference. We all like beauty in nature, and are grateful to the artists who have preserved it in their works. For example, when the Flemish painter Rubens made a drawing of his little son (Fig. 5), he was quite proud of his cherubic appearance. He wanted us to admire the child. But this bias for the attractive and engaging subject is likely to become a stumbling-block if it leads us to reject works which represent a less appealing subject. The great German painter Albrecht Durer certainly drew his mother (Fig. 6) with as much devotion and love as Rubens felt for his chubby child. His truthful study of careworn old age may give us a shock which makes us turn away from it, and yet, if we fight against our first repugnance we may be richly rewarded, for Druer’s drawing in it tremendous sincerity is a great work.

         Most new-comers to art are often brought up against another difficulty. They want to admire the artist’s skill in representing the things they see. What they like best are paintings which “look real.” This is an important consideration. The patience and skill which go into the faithful rendering of the visible world are indeed admirable. Great artists of the past have devoted much labor to works in which every detail is carefully recorded. Durer’s watercolor study of a hare (Fig. 7) is one of the most famous examples of this loving patience. But who would say that Rembrandt’s drawing of an elephant (Fig. 8) is less skillful because it shows fewer details? Indeed Rembrandt was such a wizard that he gave us the feel of the elephant’s wrinkly skin with a few lines of his chalk.
       Finally, it is not sketchiness that mainly offends people who like their pictures to look “real,” but that they are repelled by works which they consider to be incorrectly drawn, particularly when they belong to a more modern period when the artist “ought to have known better.” As a matter of fact, there is no mystery about these distortions of nature about which we still hear complaints in discussions on modern art. Everyone who has ever seen a Disney film or a comic strip knows all about it. We know that it is sometimes correct to draw things otherwise than they look, to change and distort them in one way or another. Those who enter Disney’s enchanted world do not go to his shows armed with the same prejudices they like to take with them when going to an exhibition of modern painting. But if a modern artist draws something in his own way, he is apt to be thought a bungler who can do no better. Whatever we may think of modern artists, we may safely credit them with enough knowledge to draw “correctly.” For example, Fig. 9 shows a sketch by the famous modern painter Pablo Picasso. Surely no one could find fault with his charming representation of a mother hen and her fluffy chickens. But in drawing a cock (Fig. 10), Picasso was not content with giving a mere rendering of the bird’s appearance. He wanted to bring out its aggressiveness, its cheek and its stupidity. In other words, he resorted to a caricature. But what a convincing caricature it is!

          There are two reasons, therefore, which we should always ask ourselves if we find fault with the accuracy of a picture. One is whether the artist may not have had his reasons for changing the appearance of what he saw. The other is that we should never condemn a work for being incorrectly drawn unless we have made quite sure that we are right and the painter is wrong. We are all inclined to be quick with the verdict that “things do not look like that.” We have a curious habit of thinking that nature must always look like the pictures we are accustomed to. It is easy to illustrate this by an astonishing discovery which was made not long ago. Generations have watched horses gallop, have attended horse-races and hunts, have enjoyed paintings and sporting prints showing horses charging into battle or running after hounds. Pictures and sporting prints usually showed them with outstretched legs in full flight through the air. The French nineteenth-century painter Gericault painted them in a famous representation of the races at Epsom (Fig. 11). About fifty years later, when the photographic camera had been sufficiently perfected for snapshots of horses in rapid motion, these snapshots proved that both the painters and their public had been wrong all the while. No galloping horse ever moved in the way which seems so ‘natural’ to us. As the legs come off the ground they are moved in turn for the next kick-off (Fig. 12). If we reflect for a moment we shall realize that the movement could happen no other way. And yet, when painters began to apply this new discovery, and painted horses moving as they actually do, everyone complained that their pictures looked wrong.
        Admittedly, taste in art is something infinitely more complex than taste in food and drink. It is not only a matter of discovering various subtle flavors; it is something more serious and more important. After all, the great masters have given their all in these works, they have suffered for them, sweated blood over them, and they have the right to ask us to understand what they wanted to do. One never finishes learning about art. There are always new things to discover. Great works of art seem to look different every time one stands before them. They seem to be as inexhaustible and unpredictable as real human beings. It is an exciting world of its own with its own strange laws and it own adventures. Nobody should think that he knows all about it for nobody does. Nothing, perhaps, is more important than this: that to enjoy these works we must have a fresh mind, one which is ready to catch every hint and respond to every hidden harmony; a mind, most of all, that is willing to discard habits and prejudices.

Gombrich, E.H. The Story of Art. Prentice Hall Publishing. Englewood Cliffs:CA. 1972.