Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekend Distractions

My birthday is on Saturday (yes, wish me a happy birthday ;-)... so, I may not get around to finishing my discussion on nudity in art until the beginning of next week. I hope, by then, to also have a finished painting to share with you! I've been posting progress pictures of it on Facebook, but I'll be very excited to finally get it up on my website, after three months of hard work. I'll have pictures, and a detailed explanation.

In case you were wondering what artful things I might be doing for my birthday... Steve is taking me to the symphony to hear one of my favorite piano concertos of all time, Brahms' 2nd! I wanted to learn one of the movements back in college, just for fun, and my piano teacher told me, "Don't even bother." Not the most constructive thing to say, but his point was, "That piece is way too hard for most everyone." Ha!

Well, have a delightful, creative weekend!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nudity in Art, Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, nudity in classical art was meant to personify an idea or to reveal certain qualities of the human condition. During the Renaissance, the Catholic Church was still one of the biggest patrons of the arts, and as a result we have such priceless treasures as Giotto's The Life of Christ frescoes in Scrovegni Chapel and Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel. Both painters demonstrated new-found understanding of anatomy, foreshortening, lighting, form and drapery. Images of Christ being taken down from the cross, or being carried to his tomb, depicted Him nude or semi-nude. I find it refreshing to see the physicality of Jesus in Renaissance and Post-Renaissance painting, because the Bible tells us that He was both fully God and fully Man.

Giotto di Bondone, Lamentation, in the Scrovegni Chapel (1305) 

Of course, Michelangelo, who was greatly influenced by Humanism, took this physicality a step further in his commission for the Pope Julius II, painting the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. The frescoes tell us the story of God's creation, man's fall, and humanity's utter need for salvation as offered by God through Jesus. With over three hundred figures, mixing both characters from biblical stories and figures from ancient mythology, Michelangelo successfully combined Christian theology with the Humanism of the Renaissance. While the amount of nudity met with some criticism, I am inclined to agree with Pope John Paul II when he said, "It seems that Michelangelo, in his own way, allowed himself to be guided by the evocative words of the Book of Genesis which, as regards the creation of the human being, male and female, reveals: 'The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame'. The Sistine Chapel is precisely – if one may say so – the sanctuary of the theology of the human body. In witnessing to the beauty of man created by God as male and female, it also expresses in a certain way, the hope of a world transfigured, the world inaugurated by the Risen Christ."

Michelangelo, detail of Adam and Eve from the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512), Rome 

The symbolism of the nude would carry on through the 18th century; we can see an excellent example of this in one of my favorite paintings from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, "Peace and War," by the Italian artist Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (whose work - on a side note - would later greatly influence American artists Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West). Perhaps ahead of his time, the phrase "Make love, not war," comes to mind when looking at this painting. War is represented by the Roman god Mars, who appears fierce and unstoppable in his armor. Pax, the goddess of peace, pleads with him with her gaze and gently pushes aside his sword. Her tender breasts are exposed to symbolize both strength and vulnerability. The two simultaneously come together, and push away. It is a work of art riddled with meaning, particularly as we look at the date it was created and remember the historical events taking place at the time.

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, Peace and War (1776), oil on canvas

However, the above painting is perhaps an exception to the trends that were already taking place by the 18th and 19th century. Art was changing considerably. Not only did God disappear from art, but so did man. Obviously enough, art is a man-made thing. It is what separates man from the animals, for we do not find animals creating works of art, erecting buildings, or composing symphonies. However, the Enlightenment stripped from man even his humanity, by turning man "natural". The consequences were severe: if man is just another animal, then the great ideas believed for centuries to be principles of truth no longer have their meaning. Can there even be such a thing as "love?" Science's answer was that love is nothing more than libido, a carnal and animalistic instinct. Love is sex. The great art critic and historian, H.R. Rookmaaker, has summed it up this way: "Life itself, instead of the varied and deep meaning it had in biblical language - man's full being, his true humanity, his work, dreams and aims, so that Christ Himself was able to say that He is the Life -- life became nothing more than biological life, the beating heart and sexual urges and quest for food and drink. We can understand the man who, standing at the end of this development, asked recently in one of the underground papers, 'Is there a life before death?'" (Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, p. 47).

That being said, nudity in art changed along with the attitudes and beliefs of the times. Around 1800, the Spanish painter Francisco Goya painted his mistress in two versions, naked and clothed. In both paintings she is laying on a couch, evocative of the goddesses from the 16th century, which would have been familiar subject matter to anyone living at the time. However, this woman is not a goddess - she is simply herself, clothed and unclothed. It is possible that Goya created these two pictures to show that Venus was dead, and all that was left was a man and his mistress.

Goya, The Clothed Maya, and the Nude Maya (c. 1800-1803), Museo del Prado, Madrid

Gustave Courbet dealt perhaps the biggest blow to traditional themes. These themes included great facts of history, biblical stories, and mythology (such as our reclining Venus), and were used to illustrate both human and Christian truths. Courbet rejected any old ideas for choice of subject matter and began to paint exclusively what he saw in the world around him. He is famous for saying, "I have never seen an angel, so I shall not paint one." Instead he painted peasants and workers, shocking the public by making these paintings as large and important-looking as any of the portraits commissioned by kings and nobles. His paintings tell us that truth lies only in what we can see and feel.  

Eduard Manet took Courbet's ideas even further, and is particularly famous for his "Luncheon on the Grass" and "Olympia." While "Luncheon on the Grass" still looks ridiculous to us, 150 years later, we can only imagine the shock with which it was received in 1863. It depicts two fully-dressed men, picnicking casually with two women who are as naked as can be. Manet painted them on a huge canvas, which would normally be reserved for grander subjects. I would love to elaborate on the history of this painting (a great source for further study is Ross King's The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism) ... but for our purposes here, the painting simply represents a rejection of the old, and an embrace of a new "reality:" that the only place we might see such a scene is in a brothel or among people of questionable propriety. Gone is the reclining Venus, or the fearless Lucricia demanding justice for the crime commited against her (another popular theme in classical art).

Eduard Manet, Luncheon on the Grass (1862-63), oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Manet's "Olympia" also translated the old theme to a contemporary one, by depicting a prostitute reclining on a couch, much like a traditional Titian or Giorgione, would have shown Venus. Instead she is a high-class prostitute, waiting for a client. She gazes out at us, unabashedly and without modesty. Manet included many little details in the painting to make it clear what this woman represented; for example, the black cat symbolizes prostitution, and the orchid in her hair, cast off slipper, and pearl earrings are symbols of wealth and sensuality.

Eduard Manet, Olympia (1862-63), oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

In my next blog post, I will finish my brief discussion of nudity in art history, and talk about where Christianity ties in to all of this. My goal is help us become more comfortable walking into art museums, educating our children about art, and embracing art as a vocation, by understanding what we are looking at.

More to come. :-)


Monday, January 24, 2011

Introduction to “Good Art / Bad Art” from a Christian Standpoint; On Nudity and Art

Ever since graduating from Hillsdale College and starting a career in painting, I have searched for ways to use my artistic calling to glorify God and contribute to our culture in a way that is meaningful and uplifting. In my quest for meaning, I’ve received a lot of advice and suggestions. Many people suggested that I write and illustrate children’s books, donate my time to churches by painting murals, or paint narrative scenes depicting stories from the Bible and great biblical truths. While all of these things have their place, I found that whenever I heard such proposals, I was hardly enthusiastic. Recently I’ve figured out why my reaction was so indifferent and half-hearted.

“Christian art” as we know it has become watered down and sentimental, with little or no basis of reality. It leaves us feeling either warm and fuzzy or cold and empty, because the gravity of everyday life has been stripped from it, leaving only the Hallmark-esque, Sunday-school art we’ve become accustomed to. In fact, we are afraid to embrace “Christian art” as anything more, lest we fall into the secularism of our time.

But what if there’s no such thing as “Christian art?” After all, Christians are not perfect – they, too, can have a skewed vision of the world, and so their art will follow accordingly. Biblical themes have been portrayed in art by Christians and non-Christians alike (something we will get into later on, among other things). How are we to determine which works of art are “good” and which are “bad” from a biblical standpoint? And how will we decide as artists what kinds of subject matter to portray in order to contibute positively to our world?

Though I have little experience and I don’t claim to be an art critic, I’ve given this matter a great deal of thought. So… I humbly offer my opinion here in the hopes that this discussion will spark some thought, and perhaps even inspire other Christian artists out there to reevaluate their own standpoint on art and culture.

The Nude: Timeless Symbol of Culture and Worldview

I’ve decided to start my series on “good art / bad art”, with the topic of nudity. I know, it’s a strange way to begin, but I got your attention, didn’t I?

Nudity is actually a subject that encompasses all the aspects of art which I would like to address in my discussion. These aspects incude content (what it’s about), form (the craftsmanship of the work), purpose (what it’s for, or what message it intends), and historical context (how people would have understood the work at the time of its creation).  If the content and form are both good - that is, if the idea or message conveyed is good, and the work is technically excellent, then the work of art may be called "good." We will find that there are many things we enjoy, such as songs, paintings, or movies... but they might not be good based on these guidelines. Taste must be differentiated from truth.

When my husband and I first moved to Texas, I proudly displayed my paintings and drawings in my home studio space. Many of them were academic nudes from various classes I had taken, including a series from my studies at the Florence Academy of Art. However, shortly after we moved in, some family members came to visit, and they brought their two young kids. These children, both under the age of nine, had never seen fine art nudes before. I felt embarrassed and slightly awkward as they peered up at my drawings and exclaimed, “Look, bare butts! Boobies!”

As humorous as this situation may seem, the topic of nudity in art is actually quite a quandery in our culture today, as people are either passionately for it or adamantly against it. Christians and conservatives are especially indignant about their children being exposed to the naked human body, whether it is considered fine art or not.

The truth is, we are indignant because we are ignorant.

The Nude in Art History

Considering how often the nude has been portrayed throughout history, I'm not even scratching the surface here, but I'd like to explain the relevance of historical attitudes towards nudity, as well as knowing the story or idea that a work of art is portraying.

According to the ancient Greeks, who believed that man was the measure of all things, the human body represented an ideal. Thus, the Greek sculptures we see depicting the nude (such as Myron's Discus Thrower, below) show us this ideology. Greek art is highly idealized, as its purpose is to show us what the human form should look like, rather than what we see. Though Christians are inclined to disagree with the content of Greek art (i.e. false gods, deified human beings), we cannot deny that this art is excellently crafted and beautiful in form.

Myron, The Discus Thrower (Roman marble copy- 400 BC)

 Looking at art from the Middle Ages, we see very little nudity. The Medieval artists were focused on creating art that was more symbolic and pointed upwards to God. We especially see iconic depictions of the Madonna and Child, and the saints. Mary is shown to be pure and supernatural. She is not painted realistically, or meant to describe a particular moment in time, as a photographic image might. Instead, she symbolizes something of great importance, which crosses beyond time or history.

Duccio (1255-1318 AD), Madonna and Child, tempera on wood

As the Renaissance dawned, however, artists began to look back at the art of the ancient Greeks and Romans. There was a renewed interest in anatomy and linear perspective. Humanism was growing in power and popularity, and quite often, went together with Roman Catholicism rather than against it. It is very difficult for us to imagine the world before Humanism, because we are still living under its influence. The basic idea, of course, is that man’s insight and power are what shapes the world. Once the Reformation took place, Humanism catered almost entirely towards secular activities; however, the Renaissance was steeped with it, and so we must attempt to understand this worldview when studying classical art.

The most common nude themes we see in 16th and 17th century painting is those of Venus (or Aphrodite) and other Greek and Roman deities. Whereas the ancient Greeks and Romans worshipped these gods religiously, no one in the Renaissance actually worshipped them or believed they existed. However, the images of pagan gods became allegorical symbols of very real concepts which could be made visible through art. For example, Mars stood for war, Venus represented beauty and love. The classical Venus was always depicted respectfully and symbolically. Though she herself was not “real,” the love and beauty she represented was absolutely real, and gave the viewer much cause for reflection and realization of that reality. An excellent example of this is Titian’s “Venus and Music.” The woman reclines nude on a couch, while a musician plays. The two figures are separated from each other, but the organist gazes back upon Venus, looking to “love and beauty” for inspiration in his music. It is this symbolism that makes these paintings meaningful; the reclining nude in 16th and 17th-century art represents inspiration. She is a muse. She is not a woman of questionable propriety, because she is not real. Instead she represents the higher things and provides a way for man to contemplate human values and truth.

Titian, Venus with Organist and Cupid (c.1548)

Later on, with the dawn of modern art, the symbolism of the nude would gradually be stripped away, along with meaning as a whole...

However, this is getting long enough for a single blog post.



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Judith Carducci Workshop, January 2011

It's 4:30 in the morning and I've been up all night. This is not my normal schedule! Just ask any of my former college roommates: they'll tell you with just a hint of ridicule that I like to be in bed by 10:30 p.m.! However, my work hours have been turned upside down since Steve switched positions within his company. Last week, he was on 1st shift (5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.). This week, he jumped from those ungodly hours to even worse hours -- 3rd shift (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). So, I am attempting to match my sleep schedule to his. Strangely enough, it's working out okay. I just finished a delightful painting session during which I completed an arm and a leg; meanwhile, my dog slept peacefully on the floor next to my easel while I listened to the soothing sounds of Beethoven. I'd say it has been a good night. I never considered myself a night person, but I'm making the most of the schedule change, and so far, so good.

I wanted to write breifly about the Judith Carducci portrait workshop which I was privileged to attend from January 5-9. It was hosted by Michael Mentler and the Society of Figurative Arts here in Dallas. Judy did 3-hour demos in pastel each morning of the workshop, followed by 3 hours of insruction and guidance in the afternoon as attendees took their shot at drawing or painting from the model. I've always found that the best teachers can say just a few words and it's like a lightbulb goes on above your head and that you're able to progress immediately. Judy is no exception - she explains her process with clarity and patience, much like her former teacher, the renowned Daniel Greene.

I'm sure that every single person at the workshop took home something personally challenging that they could apply to their artwork. In my case, I heard the words of every art teacher I've ever had still resounding in my head: "Soften your edges!!" But beyond that, I took these things to heart:

- If you're going to be a portrait painter, you had better know anatomy. Learn the anatomy of the face so that you know what to look for... but on the flip side of that, always paint what you see rather than what you know.
- When doing commissioned portraits, the emotions of the client (how they feel about themselves or the one they love being portrayed) will always be different from the emotions of the artist. The most successful paintings come as a result of the artist being true to their own aestheic standards, while remaining sensitive to the subject.
- You're the artist! Make good aesthetic choices, especially when forced to work from photos.
- A note on technique: use cross-contouring to give the figure volume and roundness.
- Here's the hard one (the one that takes years to master...) Paint with "panache"! Make every stroke count!

Well, there were also a lot of things covered that I already knew (like VALUE, VALUE, VALUE!), but it was definitely good to hear them again and be reminded of what a truly great calling it is to be a painter. Judy has SO much fun while she paints! She relishes every sroke, every shadow, every highlight, every contour. I have a long, long way to go before I ever reach Judy's level of skill and experience, but she will be the first to tell you that it's not about the destination, it's about the journey. As an artist, one never truly "arrives". That's a good thing! If ever we stop having fun in our artistic experiments, clumsy mistakes, and little victories, we ought to turn in our brushes and choose a different career. Judith Carducci has become a role model to me for good reason: she LOVES painting, loves people, and loves life.

Here are a few pictures from the workshop:

Here I am with Judy (I'm dressed up because Emily and I were models on the last day of the workshop):

More photos can be seen in my Facebook photo album here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

P.S. - A Nice Surprise for 2011 - Feature in "Informed Collector"

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday morning to discover that I've been featured as a recommended portrait artist in The Informed Collector, one of the e-newsletters sent out by Canvoo, a major online art marketing site. The feature came as a result of "Twin Arts" being a finalist in the Raymar Fine Art Competition.

You can check out the feature by clicking below:


Blessings for the [Artful] New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! Good things are already happening here at Artwork by Anna Rose!

Don't worry... I haven't forgotten about my discourse on good art / bad art and Christian art philosophy. But I am still working on what I want to say, and how I want to say it, so in the mean time, I'd like to pause and dwell for a moment on this past year, while looking forward to our brand new one, 2011.

In spite of the many negative things that took place around the world in 2010 (e.g. the gulf spill, the economic crisis, politics in general...), I felt very blessed and encouraged by all the artistic growth I saw, not just in my own work, but in the work of other artists whom I've come to know either through social networking, artist groups, or here in DFW. I was extremely grateful for the portrait commissions I received throughout the year. The ultimate compliment to an artist, especially in hard economic times, is when a patron is willing to spend their hard-earned money on a work of art. I also saw a rise in interest in art, in general. I realized that perhaps people were beginning to miss being surrounded by beauty, and so the demand for art increased. Of course, things were still "slow" for most of us artists, but we have been encouraged by small victories throughout the year.

If you think about it, an artist is a remarkable person. There are so many obstacles he or she must overcome, whether they be finding time for art while balancing family or another job, finding the right representation, fixing faulty technique, or simply having enough money to buy art supplies. The few artists who are lucky enough to create art full-time know how good they have it and try not to take it for granted. Artists must get used to spending many hours alone in the studio, while being able to socialize on the rare occasions that they are in the spotlight. Artists realize they think differently than most, and so they seek out other artists with whom they can relate. When no other artists are around, they turn to old books and the great art critics and teachers of the past for fellowship. Or, in this new generation of social networks and online tools, they start forums and find places where they can be an active part of stimulating conversations. They constantly struggle to master their technique, to find their own voice, and to be seen as relevant in today's world. Yes, the artist's life is hard, but in spite of all this, we must realize just how good we have it! I mean, gone are the days of storing oil paint in pig bladders... we live a life of luxury and freedom, and we are blessed beyond measure!

I write this not to brag or tell you how special I am (I mean, come on... I have a long way to go!), but rather, to congratulate my peers and to encourage them to continue in the great work that they are doing. We are all in the same boat together, and we are ready to embrace this new year and contribute what we can in order to make our world a more beautiful place.
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