Ming Things

The art we’ve discussed the last few months has mostly come from Europe, with some from the United States and Mexico, but it didn’t include extremely influential periods happening in other parts of the world, such as China, Japan, and Russia.  Of course, you could learn about different kinds of art and the creators for the rest of your life and never hear about very many famous pieces, but I’d still like to put some exposure on some really interesting art, especially because I can get out of the realm of paintings.

The Ming Dynasty was an era in China that lasted from 1368 until 1644, and was presided over by the Han Chinese following the overthrowing of the Mongols.  The Ming Dynasty was famous for governing China in an extremely efficient and stable manner.  Often, when a country is stable for a long period of time, they have the luxury of developing the arts, and that was definitely the case in Ming-led China.  Painting and theater developed many different styles, but some of the examples that we see more often are those in other forms, like pottery, woodworking, and sculpture.

Ming dynasty pottery became famous, and is often extremely valuable today, because of new methods of creation.  The porcelain found in the Chinese pots was not seen elsewhere in the world, and the methods were protected closely.  It’s interesting, because the reason porcelain was created was to improve an underwhelming product.  Chinese pottery was considered low quality up until porcelain came along.  Many examples of Ming Dynasty pottery will be white pots with blue paintings, but that wasn’t the only type being created.  The jar below incorporates many colors, while also making use of traditional Chinese symbolism with the fish and the patterns.

 

Ming Dynasty Jar, Jian Mark
Ming Dynasty Jar, Jian mark, 1522-1566, China

 

Wood furniture in the Ming Dynasty also was an area of advancement. The Chinese had access to a wide variety of wood, including some not found elsewhere, and they took advantage of it and created very unique pieces.  The desk below is actually semi-atypical, because of the fairly ornate nature of the relief and carving.  The boxes on the top, on the other hand, represent Ming woodworking well.  Simple, elegant lines dominated the time, and many of their designs would fall right in line with modern or futuristic design standards today.

 

Ming Dynasty Drawers, Unknown Builder
Ming Dynasty Drawers, Unknown Builder, China

 

One of my personal favorite things to come from the Ming Dynasty are the Foo Dogs, also known as Guardian Lions.  These large sculptures were seen as companions to Buddha, and every aspect of their design is a symbol.  The ear position, stance, gender, decor, and adornments all represent different things that would be important to the owner, either of a home, business, or city.  A particular medallion on one may mean that the owner values success in business, while the shape of the mouth may mean that honesty is also valued.  Foo dogs are often seen in pairs, but there are also many famous solo examples.  The one shown below is located in the Forbidden City, which is the Imperial Palace located in the center of Beijing.

Imperial Male Lion in Forbidden City, Unknown Artist
Imperial Male Lion in Forbidden City, Unknown Artist, China

 

It is amazing how many interesting pieces were created in the Ming Dynasty, and how many different types of art were encompassed.  It’s also extremely impressive to see how in demand these things still are, and how many of them still exist.  One last interesting thing is that many of the pieces, outside of the pottery, don’t have records of their artists, so they are more often authenticated to the era, instead of the artist.

 

Sources:

Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2015, April 21). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved from MetMuseum: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/17.127.2

University of Maine Farmington. (2015, April 21). Ming Dynasty Furniture at the Shanghai Museum. Retrieved from China!: http://hua.umf.maine.edu/China/SMfurniture/

 

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Art-itechture

While architecture incorporating art was hardly a new concept at the beginning of the 20th century, it was taken to a whole new level by the architects who came onto the scene at that time.  The Mid-Modern era actively produced many different art styles, from music, to theater, to art installations containing paintings and multi-media pieces.  People everywhere were enjoying the feeling of sophistication that comes with being able to tell people that they saw XYZ’s newest piece while on vacation, and that they were the only person in their group who really grasped the true meaning of the piece.

As art was adopted as an acceptable way of putting on airs, it grew beyond the individual.  Companies wanted to participate, as governments across the country.  While several hundred people may come and view a painting in a museum, it wasn’t viewed by nearly as many people as an entire building in the city center!  With that in mind, commissions for dramatic, fanciful buildings were given out, and a lot of interesting works of architecture were created.  Some have even managed to pass the test of time.

One of the premier architects of the Mid-Modern era was Eero Saarinen. Saarinen began design at an early age, and was responsible for some very famous designs in the field of furniture.  He even inspired the design for the original Star Trek bridge chairs.  Saarinen completed works at several universities, and they varied quite a lot in style.  One of Saarinen’s favorite design styles was massive, thin-shelled structures, especially when placed in the proximity of strong, stout buildings.

The Krege Auditorium is a great example of one of these thin-shelled structures, with it’s large glass fronts and highly designed roofline. As said, he especially liked buildings like this when close to stronger looking buildings.

 

Kresge Auditorium at MIT
Eero Saarinen’s Kresge Auditorium at MIT, Opened in 1955

 

The chapel at MIT is one of these stout buildings.  It is squat, made of brick, and all-naturally colored.  The two works were designed and built at the same time, and the contrasting styles are very interesting.  Saarinen does bring some of the fragility of his designs into the altar in the chapel.

Saarinen's MIT Chapel, Opened in 1955
Saarinen’s MIT Chapel, Opened in 1955

 

Saarinen is also responsible for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which is impressive mostly because of the scale it was built on.  An arch may be thought of as a fairly simple structure, design-wise, but when it is being built at the height of 630 ft, the logistics of construction are as impressive as the result. The Gateway Arch is the tallest arch in the world, and one of the most recognized architectural landmarks.

Saarinen's Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Opened in 1965
Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Opened in 1965

 

While many of the architects of the time were coming up with new ways to catch people’s attention, another was trying to make buildings that could be considered organic in nature, and balanced with their surroundings.  That would be Frank Lloyd Wright, a man of many talents.  He was also a well-received author, playwright, and professor.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s whole approach to architecture came to be known specifically as organic architecture.  Instead of dramatic structures sticking out and forcing people to see them, he designed in a way that made buildings look like they were almost natural dwellings.  By taking advantage of different building materials, shapes, and sizes, Wright blended his structures into the surroundings.  His most famous example is Fallingwater, a house considered the most well-known house in Wright’s time.

Frank LLoyd Wright's Fallingwater, Completed in 1935
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Completed in 1935

 

The H.C. Price Company tower may not have been placed in beautiful surroundings like most of Wright’s buildings, but he was very happy with the structure, because it allowed him to add a huge “tree” to the prairie that surrounded the area.  The colors make the tower look like a tree with green foliage, with the brown horizontals between floors looking like large branches.

HCPriceCompanyTower
Frank Lloyd Wright’s H.C Price Company Tower, Completed in 1952

 

Of course, some of the buildings that were built as art were designed specifically to hold art.  The Guggenheim Museum, Wright’s most famous design, holds a large collection of art, and most of it holds close to styles that grew around the same time, mostly Mid and Post-Modern art. The Guggenheim has many abstract shapes, and also involves light and the way it shines as a large part of its design.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Completed in 1956
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Completed in 1956

 

Saarinen and Wright are two of the more well known architects of the time, but their are many others.  Some of their buildings have went out of style and been destroyed, abandoned, converted, or remodeled.  Some are out their with people wishing that they would also go away.  There are also some beautiful structures, which look like they could be fresh designs from today, or from a hundred years in the future.  They are all across the country, and worth looking into while going on trips.

 

Sources:

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. “Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.” n.d. 12 April 2015. <http://www.franklloydwright.org/&gt;.

wrightontheweb. “Wright on the Web.” n.d. Wright on the Web. 12 April 2015. <http://www.wrightontheweb.net/&gt;.

 

Sad Art Can Be Good Art Too

Art representing reality is nothing new.  It has happened since the beginning of art.  If cave paintings are considered early art, which they typically are, it is easy to see that a herd of red line-drawings of antelope are directly tied to the close proximity of a herd of antelope.  Paintings of early ideas of gods, as found in ruins around the world, showcase the importance of those gods in the lives of the people of the time.  George Washington crossing the Delaware was a representation of the actual act.

What changed in the early 1900s was the artist’s willingness to paint the negative aspects of their world.  In the past it was easy to steer away from those areas, since it was unlikely that someone would want to own and display such a sad scene, but with the growth of art outside of the rich man’s world, art could have a non-commercial presence.

One of the first big examples of art representing the negatives of the world, at least in the United States, was the art of the Great Depression. The poverty that came about during the era, and the general hopelessness of the population, made for some very poignant pieces.

Mervin Jules painted several famous Great Depression-era paintings, including Bare Statement, which shows a family camped out on the side of the road.  This was not an unusual scene, as people ran away from their poor town, on their way to another poor town.  If you’ve ever read The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, you’ll know that it was a common belief that you might not know what to do to improve your situation, but doing something was considered better than doing nothing.  Jules shows the very sparse belongings of the family, as everything they need to move can be packed into their car.

Mervin Jules, Bare Statement, 1941

Mervin Jules, Bare Statement, USA, 1941

When men and their families couldn’t find work during the Great Depression, they were unable to provide for their families.  This led to despair, starvation, and sickness across the country.  In order to help the nation, the government started providing some basic necessities to the poor.  The handouts were given on the outsides of towns, where people had gathered into shantytowns, unable to survive in their family homes.  In order to get the handouts, you had to be near them, not hundreds of miles away in the country.  These shantytowns became known as Hoovervilles, named after the president people were blaming for their hardships.  Hoovervilles were looked at as hotbeds of sickness, crime, and despair.  George Biddle painted Hooverville by Night to show the rough conditions in the towns. The painting shows the rough cabins jammed together, as well as some interesting behavior from a couple of the residents. There is nothing positive about the painting, and showing the town at night just made it more obvious how the people were living.

George Biddle, Hooverville By Night

George Biddle, Hooverville by Night, USA, 1940

After roaming the country looking for work, men eventually made their way back to their home, either because conditions were improving or because they hadn’t found anything worthwhile anywhere else. Often they found their houses in disrepair, or even worse, damaged by others who had been homeless and travelling the country, looking for a place to stay for the night.  Those people, with no respect for property that wasn’t their own, and the feeling that the world was against them anyway, often vandalized and destroyed places just because they could feel like they had some power.  Thomas Hart Benton, one of the more popular Great Depression painters, shows a man coming home to his destroyed house after a long time on the road.  His cow is dead, his roof is caving in, his tree and yard are dying.  Hopefully he’s coming home because conditions are improving and his life will get better, although that is unlikely since Prodigal Son was painted in 1936, and things didn’t really improve until 1939, and even more in the early 1940s.

Thomas Hart Benton, Prodigal Son, USA, 1936

These three paintings do an excellent job portraying the world of the artists, but instead of only looking for the positives, Jules, Biddle, and Benton were all honest. They showed the way things really were at the time, which is important historically.  It is easy to look back at an era and not really understand what was going on.  It takes at least a few hours to read Grapes of Wrath, and you have to specifically search it out.  When history is portrayed in a visual art like a painting, someone can gain a new view of the time shown in mere seconds.  They can also stare at it for hours, gaining a new vision and feeling it so intensely that they might cry, imagining the world back then, what the people were going through, and maybe even understanding that their families experienced and survived that time for real.

Sources

Mutual Art. (2015, April 1). George Biddle Artwork. Retrieved from Mutual Art: http://www.mutualart.com/Artist/George-Biddle/1AC53ADE9F985B3F/Artworks

Smithsonian Art. (2015, April 1). Renwick Gallery. Retrieved from Smithsonian American Art Museum: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=12782

Impressionism – Art for Art’s Sake

I really appreciate the era of Impressionism, because the paintings engage me in a way that other eras don’t always.   When a person views Impressionist art, it can trigger simple opinions about the piece, such as whether the person in general likes the painting, but it can also draw the viewer in, where the appreciation of the art can go beyond the actual traits and techniques on display.

One of the things that makes Impressionist art different from the art of generations before was the way that artists could work independent of sponsors and contracts, which meant that they had the freedom to produce art that would not have been requested in the past, and could have possibly ended up in them being punished.  In other eras, a simple farm landscape may have been requested by a client, but usually only if it was their farm.  A woman’s portrait could be commissioned, but that meant that it would be the customer’s wife, daughter, or mother.  A piece of art that wasn’t representing something personal would be grandiose and heavenly, showing things that would never be seen on earth, such as cherubs playing harps and flying through the sky.

Impressionist painters separated their art from the real world, and would choose to paint anything they found interesting.  Sometime it would be a landscape of a remote spot on a fishing creek, something common in many Hudson River School paintings.  Others would be of a group simply entertaining themselves, like Luncheon of the Boating Party (Renoir, 1881, France).

boating

 These works shared common techniques, like quick brushstrokes, blended colors, and an overall blurriness, which is how Impressionist art received its name.  The techniques resulted in a scene that gave the impression of the scene being recreated.

While many Impressionist painters just painted things they found interesting, some of them did paint things that would be seen as landmarks of historical events.  John Singer Sargent was one of these men, and one of his pieces stood out to me.  Poperinghe: Two Soldiers (Sargent, 1918, USA) grabbed my attention even though its subject matter isn’t one that usually interests me.

twosoldiers

Sargent had a great way of painting the world that he lived in, which included being an American in Europe during World War I. While being incredibly productive with over 3,000 paintings, he managed to put a personal touch into his paintings, which falls right in line with Impressionist ideals, as does the coloring and brush technique.  In Poperinghe: Two Soldiers, there are simply two soldiers laying on their backs.  They may be napping, they may be talking about family, or they may be planning something, but the interpretation is left up to the viewer.  I tend to think they are enjoying their first quiet time in a long time, but still understand they need to be prepared, hence the weapons close at hand.

In previous generations, a painting of soldiers would most likely be something glamorous, heroic, and romantic, compared to this simple painting.  In the Baroque Era, it would be a soldier in full dress uniform with a dark background. During the Classical Era, it would be incredibly detailed paintings of a famous surrender on the battlefield.  The Renaissance would have portrayed soldiers in battle on strangely proportioned horses.  Sargent’s piece, though, appeals to me because it is simple, beautiful, and allows me to engage with the scene.  It’s like a good country song, because you can make up or imagine a full story to go along with it.

Sources:

Kimmelman, Michael. New York Times. 21 March 2015. <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/john_singer_sargent/index.html&gt;.
Phillips Collection. Phillips Collection. 21 March 2015. <http://www.phillipscollection.org/collection/boating-party&gt;.

Catering to Your Customers

 

As the Baroque Period ended, it was followed directly by the Classical Era, which was also known as the Age of Enlightenment, which lasted from approximately 1750 to 1830.  While previous periods of art usually were guided by wealthy aristocrats and churches, the Classical Era is well known for being a time when the middle classes exerted their influence.  The main reason that the middle class ended up being influential is because the class grew much larger than it had been in the past, when there had mostly been a small upper class and a huge lower class.  Obviously an artist looking to make a living would target the customers that would most likely give him something in return.  Before the classical period, it would have been easy to overlook everyone besides the aristocracy with the belief that they couldn’t afford luxuries and entertainment.  But, when the middle class started growing, and the members began compiling their own wealth, it opened up an entire new customer base, and like any good salesman, an artist would be able to look to that base for income.

In music, the Classical Era changed dramatically, discarding many of the previous subjects of work.  The religious statement pieces, as well as the pieces made to appeal only to the rich, were gone.  They were replaced by music that could be enjoyed by a large crowd of merchants and other successful businessmen.  The works could be appreciated even while socializing with friends, and maybe clinking cups and allowing people to leave for the restroom during performances.  These new works had very strong tempos and instrumental approaches, which didn’t require the listeners to have complete silence.  Different people could appreciate different aspects, and a listener didn’t have to worry about not understanding the intricacies of the arrangements. The following is the Overture for Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Germany, 1791), and it displays the difference in style compared to a Baroque piece:

 

Artists like painters and sculptors were following the money as well.  It is unlikely that a middle-class man would choose to buy a painting of a mounted aristocrat overlooking his estate, because that is not something that he would be familiar with.  He may not find it attractive, pointing out that even though he is a successful man, he still isn’t the man in the picture.  Instead, he may appreciate a picture of his heroes, like generals and revolutionaries, or maybe something that does relate to his life, like in Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (Trumbull, USA, 1820).  A lord surrendering to a group of revolutionaries was very relevant, and something that the middle class would be interested in, instead of something that showed a scene from hundreds of years prior, or something heavenly that doesn’t exist around them.

Surrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis

The economics of the growing middle class also played into entertainment in the form of theater.  As an example, the French government in Paris had full control of all theaters until 1791, when the demand of the middle classes was finally listened to, and after the Chapelier Law, which allowed unrestricted operation of theaters, was passed, the number of theaters in Paris more than quadrupled.  Of course, with all the theaters now available for theater companies to perform in, new theater was constantly under production, and the content many times mirrored that of the music and art.  Plays were built around the entertaining characters and stories of everyday life, and a fishmonger could be a hero just like an army general could, either as a serious role or as a comedic event.  While comedies had been present in theater for centuries, during the Age of Enlightenment it wasn’t always gods playing tricks on each other, or the funny situations that take place during a masquerade ball.  The merchants wanted to be able to recognize a setting or circumstance and relate to it, while at the same time be entertained.

Overall, the reason that the arts changed was because the artists decided there was a profit to be made by appealing to a larger group.  While the previous generations relied on commissions and sponsors, a new group could make a living by selling one painting or ticket at a time.  Catering to the customer led to the success of the Age of Enlightenment.

 

Sources:

Sumrell, M. (2013, January 28). Art and Politics in the Revolution. Retrieved from All Things Liberty.com: http://allthingsliberty.com/2013/01/john-trumbull-art-and-politics-in-the-revolution/

TheaterDatabase. (2015, March 5). 18th Century French Drama. Retrieved from TheaterDatabase.Com: http://www.theatredatabase.com/18th_century/french_drama_001.html

 

 

“An Imperfect Pearl”

Following the Renaissance, and overlapping slightly, was the Baroque Period. While the Renaissance can be used to encompass a large number of changes in society, such as mechanical advancements, philosophical advancements, art styles, and upheaval regarding religion, the Baroque Period is only used to discuss the art world.  While art is the focus when discussing the era, it is very important to know that art reflected attitudes during the time, so it does have direct correlations with the way that the world was changing.

Baroque art varies quite a lot from Renaissance art, almost as if an artist had a checklist of common Renaissance art attributes and made sure that he did not check of any of the boxes, just like the population was taking a similar approach to their practice of Christianity.  A Baroque artist, taking the temperature of their clients, which would be churches, the wealthy, and tradesman (who became big art consumers during the era), would disperse with the fine details associated with Humanism and the Protestant Reformation, would paint in rough strokes, focusing on the emotion and action in their art.  Instead of static poses that led to regal and sometimes cold art, a Baroque artist would paint the action of a scene into the painting, leading the viewer to feel an attachment with the piece.  A Baroque artist, like Bernini with David (Rome, 1623), would show a man slinging a rock at his target, muscles tensed and full of action, while Michelangelo’s sculpture of the same subject (David, Italy, 1504) simply shows him standing there, contemplating his possible actions.

While there are many different paintings to point to in order to show the differences between the two periods, a favorite of mine would be Girl With a Pearl Earring, (Vermeer, Netherlands, 1665).

Girl With a Pearl Earring

While the painting is fairly straightforward, it still has the characteristics of a great Baroque piece.  Vermeer painted the girl with very rough strokes, not focused on the fine details of her face and clothing.  Even while stationary, she is representing motion, with the look over the shoulder and the parting of her lips, maybe caught mid-breath or while breaking into a smile.  Vermeer used tenebrism, a method of lighting a subject from one direction, usually in a very dark place, which was another characteristic of a Baroque painting. Girl With a Pearl Earring could have hung in a merchant’s home, portraying the client’s daughter, or maybe a love interest.  There is enough romance and mischief in the picture that it wouldn’t be considered sophisticated by typical art owners of the Renaissance era, who would rather have a painting of an elevated society that they belonged to and desired to portray.

To look for a comparative piece of art from the Renaissance Era, it would be necessary to pick something with a similar subject.  A single woman, posing for the artist, without a lot of extra things going on in the background and foreground of the painting. An obvious example would be the Mona Lisa (da Vinci, Italy, 1503).

The Mona Lisa may be the prototype for a Renaissance work of art.  The details of the subject are focused on to an incredible extent, from the wrinkles on her knuckles to the many folds in her clothing. The entire point of the painting is to marvel at how realistic da Vinci could represent the subject.  While someone looking at the painting might try to guess her thoughts, that intricacy is there because it was on the subject’s face, not likely as an addition by the artist.  This painting, if hung in the home of a wealthy aristocrat, would not invite scandal or questioning of the meaning of the picture.

After viewing the two paintings, it might be a little easier to imagine the life and focus of citizens of the era.  Under the influence of the Protestant Reformation, and with the ability to represent a figure so accurately, the Renaissance took a lot of the emotion and guesswork out of their art.  As the pendulum swung back the other direction, and the Counter-Reformation grew stronger, the artists of the Baroque Era, while capable of painting with the same detail, decided that there was more to a painting than an accurate representation, and they ended up with warm paintings, full of action and emotion, that can actually be viewed as a window to the era, portraying lives and feelings.  That is why two art periods that butt right up against each other can be so different.

Sources:

Janson, J. (2015, February 23). Girl With a Pearl Earring. Retrieved from Girl with a Pearl Earring Info: http://www.girl-with-a-pearl-earring.info/

Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2015, February 22). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved from MetMuseum  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/verm/hd_verm.htm

Louvre. (2015, February 23). A Closer Look at: Mona Lisa. Retrieved from: Louvre.com. http://www.louvre.fr/en/oal

The Mona Lisa Foundation. (2015, February 22). Mona Lisa. Retrieved from The Mona Lisa Foundation. http://monalisa.org/   

Art from the Protestant Reformation Era

From approximately 1517 until 1648, Europe went through a period known as the Protestant Reformation.  The Protestant Reformation revolved around beliefs that the Catholic Church, including the Pope, was no longer strictly following a holy doctrine, but was instead acting in their own self-interest.  Things like the selling of indulgences (allowing a person to serve less or no time in Purgatory) and the glorification of religious officers and residences were the target of vocal protests, from clerics and commoners alike.

This Protestant Reformation movement became very popular, and churches began to be formed with specific guidelines for the rules of worship and administration.  While these churches were not all standardized, they did follow a similar set of beliefs, which was that churches should be about worship, prayer, and a conservative lifestyle.  Besides setting up Protestant churches, the people also began to try to get rid of the things they saw as wrong.  This lead to iconoclasm, which included the destruction of religious paintings and sculptures.  The art was seen as excessively luxurious and placing the glory in items instead of in God.

To fill the void created by this destruction, artists began painting in a new style, focusing on the people who lived around them, and set in their real environment.  A great example would be Harvesters, painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in the Netherlands in 1565.

harvesters

Harvesters is an excellent example of Protestant Reformation art because it accurately depicts the everyday person, the work that they did, while conveying emotion and understanding to the viewer.  The results of a long, hard days work are evident in the painting, with the wheat already cut being bundled, while showing how much work is still left.  There is still wheat standing right next to the workers, but also on the hills behind them.  The men are exhausted, resting together under a tree before they get back to work.  The imagery definitely helps depict the work done by the everyday man in the 1500-1600s.

Sources:

“Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Harvesters (19.164)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/19.164 (September 2014)

Spencer, T. (2015, Feb 10). The Protestant Reformation and Early Secular Art. Retrieved from Art History 236: http://timothyspencer.blogspot.com/2012/02/protestant-reformation-and-early.html