Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Museums

I have found that art museums are, for the most part, fairly quiet places. They seem to operate on the same dynamics of a library. For example, though museum workers rarely will, the environment has somehow conditioned me to expect someone to raise a finger to their lips and “shh!” me if I breathe too loudly. When I read about the debates on the concepts of art during the 19th century—what is art? is art moral or immoral? is the artist insane for making a splatter-painting and asking $5,000 for it?—I imagine that many of these thinkers had lengthy and animated conversations in front of works of art and museum patrons. It seems like back then art museums used to be more warm and invigorating, their works the subject of thoughtful conversation. Today, museums have evolved into colder spaces for hushed whisperings and silent reflection.

Part of the museum experience is allowing the art to sink in and permeate your mind. I honestly can’t do that by just standing in front of a painting and looking at it in silence. Okay, so I understand that some people like to concentrate quietly on the painting before them, but I feel that many others like to delve actively into the art to make it more alive for them. Furthermore, talking about a painting or sculpture with others allows for different insights into the work. For example, I might only talk about the artist’s use of shadows and how they might reflect a darker personality, whereas one of my friends might point out the quality of light in the work and how it serves to illuminate the combat between good and evil. That interpretation actually widens my horizons on the matter, which is important when discussing the different messages a work of art can impart. And yes, we can talk about the painting outside the museum, but once you’ve seen more than 800 works, how can you bring that single canvas to the forefront of your brain (unless you’ve got a photographic memory, in which case, you’re incredibly lucky) and talk about it in detail?

So what can we do if we want to have those spirited gallery sessions of yesteryear? GMOA has programs for group tours and interactive art sessions. We’ve had a plethora of student groups who have already come through and there are other events such as Family Day for families to gain a greater appreciation for art through activities, discussions and seminars. We’ve even gone a step further to implement the Artful Conversation program, which invites patrons to join Carissa DiCindio, our curator of education, to discuss one of the pieces in the galleries—all of these certainly amount to a step in the right direction, but what about for the rest of the museum community? Should curators install soundproof glass chambers to separate the “talkies” and the “silents”? Should there be loud days and quiet days during the week? Or should each work be put online for viewers to scroll through and discuss/silently regard at their leisure? GMOA has even begun work on a new collections database that will eventually put many of its works online. Ironically, while there is no easy answer when it comes to art, the question still inspires very passionate discussion, which is a good start.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Salvator Rosa!

        Salvator Rosa was an Italian Baroque painter, poet and printmaker born (June 20) in 1615 best known for being a proto-Romantic. Initially, his father had wanted Rosa to become either a priest of lawyer, and entered him into the convent of the Somaschi Fathers. Rosa, however, felt that art was his calling and began secretly working under the tutelage of his uncle to learn about painting. He then moved on to study under his brother-in-law who was, in fact, a pupil of Jusepe de Ribera, an eminent Spanish Tenebrist painter, before coming under the apprenticeship of either Aneillo Falcone or Ribera himself. It was during his apprenticeship that his father died, leaving the family destitute and Rosa without financial support.
        Rosa earned money by selling his paintings cheaply through private dealers as he moved back and forth between Rome, Naples, and Florence. During this time he began producing the forerunners of Romantic paintings. Picturesque views of mountains and beaches were among his early landscapes for which he became well known. As well as painting, Rosa also wrote multiple satirical plays which gained him both favor and enemies, including Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the sculptor who originally designed the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome.
        Rosa continued to paint and write until his final days, having fallen ill with dropsy, and he died in 1673. His legacy was, most prominently, the beginning stages of romantic painting, evinced by the picturesque works of J.M.W. Turner, who arrived in the art world about a century later. It is almost poetic, in fact, that Rosa should be remembered as one of the fathers of the romantic painting style, as his birthday just so happens to fall on the first day of the summer equinox. If you’d like an up close and personal example of Rosa’s work, especially today, the GMOA happens to have one of his paintings within the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Collection. 

Salvator Rosa--Saint Simon the Apostle

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Art of the Cloth

    Water, whether we really notice it or not, is involved quite a lot in art. For potters, water is an integral part of making plates, bowls and jugs on their wheels. For painters, mixing pigment with a water or oil mixture is necessary to create landscapes or portraits—for watercolorists, that goes without saying, obviously. But I’d also like to make mention of another art-form that requires water and copious amounts of it: tie-dye.
    Making patterns on cloth through the use of dyes isn’t an uncommon or new practice—in fact, some of the earliest forms of tie-dye originated in Egypt and India—albeit not often seen in everyday fashion. Tie-dye really took off in American culture during the period between the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Musicians such as the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin brought the “psychedelic” spirals and other designs to the forefront of the hippie movement, making it an icon for the youth of the nation to associate with their ideas of peace and love.
    With all the hustle and bustle of the world and the focus on new technology and the stuffiness of more modern art, the humble form of tie-dye has begun to fade from view, save for the occasional costume party where a “hippie” makes an appearance for the cameras. But really, dyeing twisted cloth can be quite therapeutic—at least, for me it is. Focusing on which colors to dunk a section of your shirt in tends to make the mind blot out almost every other outside stimulus. Turn off the iPhone, let the computer hibernate, play some relaxing music, have a few friends over and have a tie-dye party. Doing something like that—looking at the hues and shapes that you made—makes you see a burst of your own creativity instead of keeping a lid on it for work.
    Or, if you want to challenge yourself with cloth and dye, combine rich colors with a manual wax-resist dyeing technique and make some batik—the museum happens to have a prime example of it in the permanent collection, thanks to Leo Twiggs.

Leo Twiggs: Georgia II
    Tie-dye or batik: it’s a form of art anyone can do—you don’t have to remember dimension or shading; there’s no structural weakness to account for; you can let loose with an art that’s just good, clean (if you take the necessary precautions) fun. And who doesn’t want some of that every now and then?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"What Is Art?" Continued...

    Last week’s post by Kat, one of my fellow interns, made me think about what art is. For me, each unique piece, no matter if it’s photographic, kinetic, electronic or even made out of dry noodles, conveys the essence of the artist—his or her perception, opinion, state of mind—everything he or she can’t say out loud because there simply aren’t any words that exist to express those emotions or thoughts. But then I thought of the different kinds of art. There’s aesthetically pleasing art, such as sculptures, paintings, and music; there’s functional art, which either serves a tangible purpose (such as a beautifully designed bench) or promotes thought and conversation; there’s even language art, which includes poetry and prose that is artistically written.

    Going over these genres, I then began to trail through my memory and look back on my own experiences with art. I traveled to London in March, and one place I had to go was the Tate Gallery. It was there I saw one of my favorite paintings in person: “The Lady of Shalott,” by John William Waterhouse. That painting is not merely a canvas with pigment on it—the story behind Alfred Tennyson’s poem that inspired the work stretches as far back as the 13th century with the legend of Elaine of Astolat. Just think; the Lady traveled nearly 600 years just to become a visual work of art that, today, another hundred years later, inspires, awes and (perhaps in my own opinion) mystifies. What is she looking at? Is there more to her story than simply wishing to meet Sir Lancelot? What does she yearn for, truly? What were Waterhouse, Tennyson, and the writer of the original legend trying to express through their respective mediums that they couldn’t say outright?

John William Waterhouse,"The Lady of Shalott"

    Thinking all of this, I realized that this is painting that encompasses the genres I mentioned previously. It’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s functional in that the subject promotes some form of thought, and it was initially based on a work that persisted through time. But, more than that, as I stood in front of it, I felt this overwhelming sense of history, myth, and emotion coming together in a magnificent form envisioned by Waterhouse—I could see what he saw, feel what he felt. That, for me, is what art is. It affects you in such a way that you can’t ignore the artist’s hands that held the brush, chisel, clay, or pen. It can be an understanding of a message, such as Damien Hirst’s “The Void” or just a feeling as it was for me and “The Lady of Shalott.” What makes art art is the impact it leaves on the viewer, and I hope very much that you find that impact at GMOA. 

Friday, June 08, 2012

What is art?

At first, the question seems easy to answer, the elegant paintings of Edgar Degas with his ballerina’s who float across the canvas, or maybe the gargantuan statue of David that Michelangelo so meticulously sculpted. Maybe even the bizarre sketches of Salvador Dalí come to mind. However, what really constitutes as art? I found myself wondering this very question as I toured Museum Brandhorst, a modern art museum in Munich, Germany.

There were such strange forms of art and I couldn’t figure out how some of the artists even came up with their ideas.  “I could do that,” I thought to myself. As I continued to walk around and read the descriptions, I tried to decipher what inspired such strange creations and one particular work: Damien Hirst’s stainless steel pill cabinet called “The Void” stuck out.

The display includes 6,000 pills made from resin and plaster, which were then hand painted.  The pills are positioned precisely on rows of shelves. I couldn’t help but stare in confusion. I thought to myself, “How on earth is this considered art?” I read the description under the title “In this terrible moment we are victims clinging helplessly to an environment that refuses to acknowledge the soul.”

Damien Hirst's stainless pill cabinet "'The Void"

 I understood. Well, maybe not the caption, but the idea behind it.

Visual images often say what verbal language cannot. Instead of words, artists use images to communicate their feelings and thoughts, essentially the ineffable. The process of art allows the mind to soar to great heights and create an image that expresses, rather than states, the artist’s product, allowing the artist to describe, explain, or even challenge the world through a different form of language: visual art.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

I Louvre it!

Many students take advantage of the endless study abroad opportunities that UGA has to offer.  In fact, the Open Doors 2011 list released annually by the national Institute of International Education ranks UGA in the top 15 for the number of students studying abroad.

Just last summer I was packing my big red suitcase and stepping off the plane in Paris. I not only expanded my field of cultural reference, but also learned about international affairs, and had the chance to see famous works of art and landmarks that I would not have seen otherwise. 

Spanning eight thematic departments and 35,000 works of art dating from antiquity to the early modern period, the Louvre can be overwhelming to visit! I was in dazed by its size of the Louvre, and the map didn’t do much help with a museum that big. I wished I had done more research of the paintings inside, so I ordered a vanilla skinny latte from Starbucks and sat down to figure out where to go first. I couldn’t make much sense of the map, but the energy of the caffeine was kicking in, so I was ready to roll! I was itching to see every painting, every sculpture, every Egyptian work… basically every detail of the museum. Here are a few helpful hints I wished I had known when trying to conquer the Louvre.
I took this picture from a window inside the Louvre

  •  First, it’s free the first Sunday of every month for students. That being said, get there early and expect a crowd.
  • There is a third entrance through the Louvre mall (on rue de Rivoli), beneath the museum. Lines here tend to be shorter than the others but can occasionally be long as well. 
  • If there is a crowd of people around a work of art, you can bet it’s one you should look at too. Even if you aren’t familiar with the work, it’s probably famous. Test it out- write down the name of the work and the artist and Google it later. I did that a few times and was so glad that I took the time to appreciate it even though I had no idea what I was looking at.

Kat’s top 10 works to see in the Louvre:

  1. The Nike of Samothrace, known as “Winged Victory”
  2. Aphrodite, known as the Venus de Milo
  3. “Liberty Leading the People” Eugène Delacroix
  4. “Oath of Horatii,” Jacques-Louis David
  5. “The Death of Marat,” Jacques-Louis David
  6. “The Raft of the Medusa,” Théodore Géricault
  7. “Mona Lisa,” Leonardo da Vinci
  8. “La Grande Odalisque,” Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
  9. “The Wedding Feast at Cana,” Paolo Veronese
  10.  The Code of Hammurabi
"La Grande Odalisque" Jean- Auguste-Dominique Ingres succeeded in his desire to capture purity, and the essence of her beauty is indescribable up close!

"The Death of Marat" Jacques-Louis David

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Seeing is Believing

I am a rising senior at the University of Georgia. In high school, I took a humanities course, which inspired me to take Art Appreciation at UGA to fulfill my cultural diversity requirement. I never would have thought that these two classes would forever change my life. I learned about all the famous artists— Michelangelo, Monet, Raphael and Cézanne and observed the small printed pictures found in textbooks. I immediately fell in love with the Impressionist art of Monet, Renoir and Degas.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris. Never in a million years did I imagine I would one day be faced with some of the most famous pieces of art in the world! I spent hours at the Musée d’Orsay, a museum that hosts many of the Impressionist paintings. I stood in awe of my favorite painting, “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette,” by Renoir and I found my feet leading me back to it a second time even. The colors seemed to glitter in the light and dance on the canvas just like the people in the painting. I couldn’t believe the texture, and the raised paint strokes made me want to reach out and touch it, hoping I would be sucked into the painting and teleported to the dance floor. I felt like I could capture every movement, every laugh in the crowd.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Dance at Le Moulin de la Gallette"

This is where I learned almost to hate art textbooks. How could I look at this painting again in its small print with dull colors? No publishing company could capture the stunning painting that stood before me. It was absolutely beautiful. But that’s the rub; art looks better in person. That insight made me appreciate and scrutinize every painting I have seen in person since then.  Sometimes the only way to capture the moment is through memory.

Monday, June 04, 2012

On the Road: John Baeder

As is the status quo in nearly any artistic medium, visual artists draw inspiration from the physical world as source material for their work. During the creative process, they reference these pictures, memories, or transcripts dozens of times until the final product is complete. Once the finished pieces go into an exhibition, the original source material is oftentimes forgotten, discarded, or stored in a shoebox beneath the artist’s bed. This is not the case, however, when we look at the work of John Baeder, whose original photographs that inspired many of his photorealistic paintings hang in the Georgia Museum of Art’s Boone and George-Ann Knox I, Rachel Cosby Conway, Alfred Heber Holbrook and Charles B Presley Family Galleries.
Baeder, though born in Indiana, was raised in Atlanta and attended Auburn University. As he made frequent trips between Georgia and Alabama, he was no stranger to the roadside eatery in rural America. From an early age he carried a camera and photographed objects—old cars, derelict buildings, and portions of dilapidated towns—that evinced the phasing out of small-town life. His paintings really strive to depict that atmosphere embodied in those old diners with signs from the 1950s.

                                                                                 John Baeder-Trailer

Baeder has primarily produced oils and watercolors, many of which are included in the collections of such museums as the High Museum of Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His original photographs, however, present a pleasant surprise to followers of his work as they were first and foremost considered reference material. It is one thing to see the painted product of an artist’s talent and creativity; it is quite another to see, in Baeder’s first strictly photographic exhibition, the objects that influenced him.