Language Of Visual Art

  • 8,647 views
Uploaded on

Important concepts on art

Important concepts on art

  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
    Are you sure you want to
    Your message goes here
    Be the first to comment
    Be the first to like this
No Downloads

Views

Total Views
8,647
On Slideshare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
0

Actions

Shares
Downloads
209
Comments
0
Likes
0

Embeds 0

No embeds

Report content

Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

Cancel
    No notes for slide

Transcript

  • 1. CHAPTER TWO T he Language of the Visua l Artist The visual arts have their own language, and the artist thinks in tercos of that language, just as a musician thinks Line in sounds and rhythms, and a mathematician in num- A une is the path traced by a moving point. For the artist, bers. The basic visual vocabulary consists of the so-called the moving point is the tip of the brush, pen, crayon, or formal elements of style, which include Line, shape, color, whatever instrument is used to create an image on a sur- light, and dark. When artists combine these elements in a face. In geometry, a line has no width or volume; in fact it characteristic way, they are said to have a style . In order has no qualities at all except for location. In the language to describe and analyze a work of art it is helpful to be of art, however, a line can have many qualities, depending familiar with the artist's perceptual vocabulary. on how it is drawn (fig. 2.1). A vertical line seems to stand stiffly at attention, a horizontal line lies down, and a diag- onal seems to be falling over. Zigzags have an aggressive, Form sharp quality, whereas a wavy line is more graceful and, like a curve, more naturally associated with the outline of In its broadest cense, the form of a work of art-literary, the human body. Parallel lines are balanced and harmo- musical, or visual-refers to its overall plan, composition, nious, implying an endless, continuous movement, while or structure. It denotes the relationship between compo- perpendicular, converging, and intersecting lines meet nent parts, whether chapters of a book, movements of a and create a sense of force and counterforce. The thin symphony, or lines and colors of a painting. The form of a line (a) seems delicate, unassertive, even weak. The thick work depends on how its formal elements are arranged one (b) seems aggressive, forceful, strong. The flat line or organized, and is distinct from its subject matter or (c) suggests calmness, like the surface of a calm sea, content . In a narrower sense, the form of an object may whereas the wavy line (d) implies the reverse. The angular refer to its shape, which can also be a component, or line (e) climbs upward like the edge of a rocky mountain. element, within its overall organization. (Westerners understand (e) as going up and (f) as going down, as we read from left to right.) Balance In a successful composition, the harmonious blending of Expressive Qualities of Line the formal elements gives the work its balance . The most Many of the lines in figure 2.1 are familiar from geometry simple form of balance is symmetry. This is a term whose and can therefore be described formally. But the formal original meaning is that there is an exact correspondence qualities of line also convey an expressive character be- of parts on either side of an axis or dividing line. In other cause we identify them with our bodies and our experi- words, the left side of a work is a mirror image of the right ence of nature. So, in math, a straight line is the shortest side. The human body is an example of this type of bal- distance between two points and, likewise, a person who ance, as shown in Leonardo's Vitruvian Man (fig. 16.2). follows a straight, clear line in thought or action is be- Balance can also be achieved when non-equivalent ele- lieved to have a sense of purpose. "Straight" is associated ments balance each other. In Berniní s David (fig. 19.14), with rightness, honesty, and truth, while "crooked"- for example, the weight of the figure is not evenly dis- whether referring to a line or a person's character-de- tributed on either side of the central axis. However, notes the opposite qualities. We speak of a "line of work," although the parts are not in perfect symmetry, there is a a phrase adopted by the former television program balance or equilibrium between them which produces an "What's my Line?" When a baseball player hits a une drive, esthetically satisfying result. This is known as asymmetrical the bat connects firmly with the ball, and a "hardliner" balance. takes a strong position on an issue.
  • 2. LINE 25 Regular Lines Vertical Horizontal Curved 2.2 Lines used to create facial expressions. In the configuration of the face, it is especially easy to see the expressive impact of u nes (fig. 2.2). In (a), the Diagonal Spiral Zigzag upward curves create a happy face, and the downward curves of (b) create a sad one. These characteristics of upward and downward curves actually correspond to the emotions as expressed in natural physiognomy. And they are reflected in language when we speak of people having "ups and downs" or of events being "uppers" or "downers." Speeches (fig. 2.3), drawn by Saul Steinberg, uses only Wavy or S-shaped line to convey the character of the two figures and their "dialogue." The enlarged curvilinear head and neck of the woman and the long horizontal of the dogs head corre- Lines in Relation to Each Other spond to their speech. The floral curlicues "spoken" by the woman seem mellifluous and demure like her pose, while the harsh zigzags coming from the dog's mouth suggest a sharp, rasping bark. Reinforcing this effect are the diag- onals of its eyebrow and pointed tail, which are contrasted with the wide-eyed, open expression of the woman. Parallel Perpendicular Converging Intersecting (at right angles) Irregular Lines (c) (d) 2.3 Saul Steinberg, Speeches. 1954. Steinberg was born in Romania and studied architecture in Milan before emigrating to the U.S.A. Since 1940 he has been a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He has described drawing as "a way of reasoning on papen'; to make a good 2.1 Lines. drawing, he has said, "one has to teil the truth."
  • 3. 26 2 THE LANGUAGE OF THE VISUAL ARTIST The importance of line in the artist's vocabulary is illus- The parallel modeling lines on the front surface of the trated by an account of two ancient Greek painters, cube are called hatching . If they intersect other parallel Apelles, who was Alexander the Great's personal artist, lines, as in the cylinder and the oblique surface of the cube, and his contemporary Protogenes. Apelles traveled to they are known as cross -hatching . The closer the lines are Rhodes to see Protogenes' work, but when he arrived at to each other, the darker their surface. They suggest shade the studio, Protogenes was away. The old woman in or shading, which is a gradual transition from light to charge of the studio asked Apelles to leave his name. dark. Shading appears on the side of the object that is Instead, Apelles took up a brush and painted a line of color turned away from the light source. A shadow is seen as on a panel prepared for painting. "Say it was this person," dark and denotes the absence of light; it is cast onto a sur- Apelles instructed the old woman. face when the source of light is blocked by another object. When Protogenes returned and saw the line, he im- mediately recognized that only Apelles could have painted it so perfectly. In response, Protogenes painted a second, and finer, line on top of Apelles' line. Apelles returned and Depth added a third line of color, leaving no more room on the In some styles the artist creates the illusion of three- original line. When Protogenes returned a second time, he dimensional depth in a two-dimensional image. Tech- admitted defeat and went to look for Apelles. niques for achieving this effect include: Protogenes decided to levve the panel to posterity as something for artists to marvel at. Later it was exhibited in • use of modeling lines to simulate three-dimensionality Rome, where it impressed viewers for its nearly invisible (fig. 2.4) lines on a vast surface. To many artists, the panel seemed • making the nearer object overlap a more distant one a blank space, and for that it was esteemed over other • depicting the nearer object as larger than the more famous works. After his encounter with Protogenes, it was distant object said that Apelles never let a day go by without drawing at • making the base of the nearer object close to the lower least one line. His experience was the origin of an ancient edge of the picture and, conversely, the base of the proverb, "No day without a line." more distant object closer to the horizon line. Lines Used for Modeling Perspective Even though drawn lines have only two dimensions, Artists have also developed mathematical systems, known height and width, they can be used by an artist to make an as linear or geometric perspective , to aid them in cre- object appear three-dimensional (fig. 2.4). ating the illusion of depth. The simplest system is one- point perspective . Imagine a person standing in the middle of a straight road (fig. 2.5). As the road vanishes into the distance, it seems to the viewer to narrow, even though in reality its width is constant. The illusion of depth is enhanced by the fact that equal-sized and equally spaced objects along the side of the road (trees, telegraph poles) seem to become smaller, and the spaces between them shorter (or foreshortened ), as their distance from the viewer increases. In early fifteenth-century Italy (see Chapter 15), a system was developed to provide artists with a method for de- picting figures and objects as if located at increasing dis- tances from the viewer. The picture plane (the surface of a painting or relief sculpture) is conceived of as a window, whose frame conforms to the frame of the painting. The edges of rectilinear objects in the picture (often architec- tural features such as roofs, walls, rows of columns) are extended along imaginary "lines of sight." These lines, called orthogonals (from two Greek words, orthos mean- ing "right" or "straight," and gonia meaning "angle"), are perpendicular to the picture plane and parallel to each other. Although parallel lines never meet in reality, the 2.4 The fines inside the sphere, cube, and cylinder create the illusion orthogonals seem to converge at a point known as the that these objects are solid. They also suggest that there is a source of light coming from the upper left and shining down on the objects. Such vanishing point (fig. 2.5). In the simplest form of this fi nes are called modeling fines. method, the vanishing point is on the horizon, at the eye level of the viewer, but it can theoretically be anywhere
  • 4. SHAPE 27 Shape When lines endose a space, they create a shape, and the line that outlines the shape is called its contour. Shapes are another basic unit, or formal element, used by artists. There are regular and irregular shapes. Regular ones are geometric and Nave specific names. Irregular shapes are also called "biomorphs," or biomorphic (from the Greek bios, meaning "life" and morphe, meaning "shape") be- cause they seem to move like live, organic matter. Shapes can be two-dimensional (fig. 2.7) or three-dimensional, in which case they are solid or have volume (fig. 2.4). 2.5 Diagram of one-point perspective. Expressive Qualities of Shape Like lines, shapes can be used by artists to convey ideas and emotions. Open shapes create a greater sense of movement than closed ones (fig. 2.7). Similarly, we speak of open and closed minds; open minds allow for a flow of ideas, flexibility, and the willingness to entertain new Vanishing Vanishing possibilities. Closed minds, on the other hand, are in- point point accessible to new ideas. Horizon Specific shapes can evoke associations with every- day experience. Squares, for example, are symbols of Regular Two-Dimensional Geometric Shapes 2.6 Diagram of two-point perspective. Circle Square LI Rectangle v Oval inside the composition, or even outside it, depending on the artist's organization of content and space. This system 0 D O Triangle Trapezoid Hexagon can be used when one side of the object providing the orthogonals is parallel to the picture plane. It focuses Irregular , or Biomorphic, Two-Dimensional Shapes attention on a single vanishing point and assumes that the viewer is standing at a single fixed spot. Two-point perspective is used when objects are set at an angle to the picture plane. For example, if the artist stands at a street corner and paints a building situated diagonally across the intersection on the opposite corner, there will be no facing surface parallel to the picture plane (fig. 2.6). One-point perspective will not work, because there are two vanishing points on the horizon which are Open Shapes Closed Shapes widely separated from each other. If a picture contains many buildings or objects, each with its own orthogonals, there can be a number of vanishing points ( multiple-point perspective). 2.7 Shapes.
  • 5. 28 2 THE LANGUAGE OF THE VISUAL ARTIST reliability, stability, and symmetry. To call people "foursquare" means that they are forthright and unequiv- ocal, that they confront things "squarely." If something is "all square," a certain equity or evenness is implied; a "square meal" is satisfying in both amount and content. When the term "brick" is applied to people, it means that they are good-natured and reliable. Too much rec- tangularity, on the other hand, may imply dullness or monotony-to call someone "a square" suggests over- conservatism or conventionality. The circle has had a special significance for artists since the Neolithic era (see p.43). In the Roman period, the circle was considered a divine shape and thus most suitable for temples. This view of the circle persisted in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when ideal church plans were also circular. The appeal of the circle's perfection is illustrated by a 2.8 The visible spectrum has seven principal colors-red, orange, Renaissance anecdote about Giotto. As the story goes, the yellow, green, blue, indigo (or blue-violet), and violet-that blend pope's messengers scoured Italy to find the best living together in a continuum. Beyond the ends is a range of other colors, artist. When a messenger arrived at Giotto's studio and starting with infrared and ultraviolet, which are invisible to the human eye. If all the colors of the spectrum are recombined, white light is asked for a sample of his work, the artist took up a piece again produced. of paper and brush. He held out his arm stiffly as if to make a compass of his whole body and drew a circle. When the puzzled messenger asked the meaning of his action, Giotto told him to take the picture to the pope, who would under- colors produced through the use of pigments are not as stand. As soon as the pope saw Giotto's O, he recognized pure or intense as the colors in the spectrum. Either they his genius and summoned him to Rome. From that anec- reflect more than one color, or they reflect one color plus a dote carne the expression, "You are more stupid than certain amount of white light, which makes the basic color Giotto's O." less intense. If all pigments were recombined, the result would not be pure white but, at best, a pale shade of gray (see p.29). Light and Color Objects that are white, gray, or black (known as neutrals) reflect all (or none) of the colors in a ray of light Ught may be technically defined as electromagnetic and differ among themselves only in the amount of light energy of certain wavelengths which produces visual sen- that they reflect. Pure white reflects all color waves; sations when it strikes the retina of the eye. The opposite, absolute black (which is very rare) reflects no light at all; or the absence, of light is darkness. Color, one of the most shades of gray reflect different amounts of light-the powerful elements at the artist's disposal, is derived from darker the gray, the less light is reflected. light. Rays of light emanating from the sun are composed of waves with various wavelengths (i.e. they vibrate at various frequencies), and these are perceived by the Physical Properties of Color human brain as different colors. This can be examined There are seven principal colors in the spectrum. Each of scientifically by passing a beam of light through a prism (a the seven has many variations, which depend on the three triangular block of glass): each wavelength is refracted, or physical properties of color: hue, value, and intensity. bent, at a different angle. Light can be reflected on to a screen as a continuous band composed of separate colors Hue This is virtually synonymous with color. Red is one (fig. 2.8)-basically the same phenomenon as a rainbow, hue, yellow is another. Each has a different wavelength. when rays of light from the sun are refracted through Mixing one color with another changes its wavelength and falling raindrops. hence its hue. Red plus yellow, for example, produces Each beam of light contains all the colors of the spec- orange; adding more red makes a reddish orange and trum; but objects look as though they have different colors adding yellow makes a yellowish orange. because they have pigmentation which allows them to ab- Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors. They sorb certain color waves and reflect others. We see a cannot themselves be produced by combining any other tomato as red because its pigmentation absorbs every colors. However, all of the other colors can be created by color of the spectrum except red, which it reflects. The col- mixing the primary colors either in pairs or all together. A oring materials, or pigments, that artists use also absorb mixture of two primary colors produces a secondary and reflect different waves. If applied to the surface of an color: yellow and blue produces green, blue and red pro- object, the pigment transfers this quality to the object. The duces violet, red and yellow produces orange. A tertiary
  • 6. LIGHT AND COLOR 29 or intermediate color can be formed by combining a pri- Value The relative lightness or darkness of an image is mary with an associated secondary color. Thus mixing known as its value, also referred to as brightness, shade, green (which already contains blue) with more blue pro- or tone. An object's value is a function of the amount of duces a blue-green; mixing violet (which also contains light reflected from its surface. Gray, for example, reflects blue) with more blue produces a blue-violet. The number more light than black but less than white, which makes of intermediate colors is unlimited because the propor- gray lighter than black and darker than white. The tions of each mixture can be varied to an unlimited degree. value scale in figure 2.10 provides an absolute value for Hues containing a common color, although in different different shades. But, in fact, our visual perceptions are proportions, are known as analogous hues and their more relative than absolute and are "colored" by the combination produces a feeling of color harmony in a context in which we perceive something. For example, in work of art. If only a single hue is used, the work is said to figure 2.11 the band across the center is of a uniform be monochromatic (from the Greek mono, meaning shade of medium gray (i.e. it has the same value through- "single" and chroma, meaning "color"). out). However, when seen alongside the darker gray on The color wheel (fig. 2.9) illustrates the relationships the right it looks lighter, and vice versa on the left. Artists between the various colors. The farther away hues are, the are constantly aware of the absolute values of the shades less they have in common, and the higher their contrast. with which they are working and of the effect of juxta- Hues directly opposite each other on the wheel (red and posing different colors. Breen, for example) are thus the most contrasting and are Value is characteristic of both achromatic works of known as complementary colors . They are often juxta- art-those with no color, consisting of black, white, and posed when a strong, eye-catching contrast is desired. shades of gray-and of chromatic ones (from the Greek Christmas colors, for example, are red and Breen, and chroma, meaning "color'). On a scale of color values (fig. Easter colors are commonly purple and yellow. Mixing 2.12), yellow reflects a relatively large amount of light, ap- two complementary hues, on the other hand, has a neu- proximately equivalent to "high light" on the neutral scale, tralizing effect and lessens the intensity of each. This can whereas blue is equivalent to "high dark." The normal be seen in figure 2.9 as you look across the wheel from value of each color indicates the amount of light it reflects red to green. The red's intensity decreases, and the gray at its maximum intensity. The addition of white or black circle in the center represents a "stand-off' between all the would alter its value (i.e. make it lighter or darker) but not complementary colors. its hue. The addition of one color to another would change not only the values of the two colors but also their hues. Intensity In darkness, colors are invisible; in dim light they are muted and difficult to distinguish; in bright light, color is at its most intense. Intensity (also known as saturation or chroma) refers to the brightness or dullness of a color. There are four methods of changing the intensi- ty of colors. The first is to add white. Adding white to pure red creates light red or pink, which is lighter in value and less intense. If black is added, the result is darker in value and less intense. If gray of the same value as the red is added, the result is less intense but retains the same value. These three methods are illustrated in figure 2.13. The fourth way of changing a color's intensity is to add its complementary hue. For example, when green (a sec- ondary color composed of two primaries, yellow and blue) is added to red, gray is produced as a consequence of the balance between the three primaries. If red is the domi- nant color in the mixture, the result is a grayish red; if green is dominant, the product is a grayish green. In any event, the result is a color less intense and more neutral than the original. Expressive Qualities of Color P"PI- {a,ed P^^PIe 2.9 The color wheel. Note that the three primary colors red, Just as lines and shapes have expressive qualities, so too yellow and blue-are equally spaced around the circumference. They do colors. Artists select colors for their effect. Certain ones are separated by their secondary colors. Between each primary and its two secondaries are their related tertiaries, giving a total of twelve appear to have intrinsic qualities. Bright or warm colors hues on the rim of the wheel. convey a feeling of gaiety and happiness. Red, orange, and yellow are generally considered warm, perhaps because
  • 7. 30 2 THE LANGUAGE OF THE VISUAL ARTIST 2.10 This ten-step value scale breaks the various shades from white to black into ten gradations. The choice of ten is somewhat arbitrary because there are many more values between pure white and pure black. Nevertheless, it does illustrate the principie of value gradations. 2.11 (below) The juxtaposition of objects with different tonal values produces a contrast. Objects from opposite ends of the value scale create a very high or strong contrast-the simplest example is the juxtaposition of black and white. of their associations with fire and the sun. It has been multiple meanings. It can symbolize danger, as when one verified by psychological tests that the color red tends to waves a red flag in front of a bull. But to "roll out the red produce feelings of happiness. Blue and any other hue carpet" means to welcome someone in an extravagant containing blue-green, violet, blue-green-is considered way, and we speak of a "red letter day" when something cool, possibly because of its association with the sky and particularly exciting has occurred. Yellow can be associ- water. It produces feelings of sadness and pessimism (see, ated with cowardice, white with purity, and purple with for example, the discussion of Picasso's Blue Period on luxury, wealth, and royalty. We might call people 'Breen p.452). with envy," "purple with rage," or "in a brown study' if Colors can also have symbolic significance and suggest they are quietly gloomy. The great European plague of abstract qualities. A single color, such as red, can have 1348 is referred to as the Black Death.
  • 8. LIGHT AND COLOR 31 19191919 las Violet Red -violet Red Red -orange Orange Yellow- orange 1119191919 Black Low dark Dark High dark Medium Low light Light High light White 1900191919 Blue-violet Blue Blue-green Green Yellow-green Yellow 2.12 (aboye) A color value scale. The central row contains a range of neutrals from white to black; the rows aboye and below match the twelve colors from the color wheel with the neutrals in terms of the amount of light reflected by each. 2.13 (below) Changes of intensity. Scale of neutrals
  • 9. 32 2 THE LANGUAGE OF THE VISUAL ARTIST Textu re • representational: representing natural objects in recog- nizable form. Note that a work of art may be represen- Texture (from the same word stem as the Latin texo, "I tational without being realistic. weave") is another expressive quality at the artist's dis- All of these terms can be applied to a painting such as posal. It refers to the surface characteristics of an object or Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (fig. 16.14). material. These are usually described by adjectives such as rough or polished, hard or soft, firm or fluffy, coarse or If an image is representational but falls short of absolute fine, cold (like steel) or warm (like wood), shiny or matte, faithfulness to the original object, it may be that it is: stiff or pliable. • stylized : emphasizing certain features, or distorted in Texture is associated with the tactile sense (the sense of accordance with certain artistic conventions. Stylized touch), and indirectly with vision. By touching or feeling forms can be found in ancient Near Eastern art. The an object, we experience its texture directly. But our eyes eyebrows of Gudea (fig. 4.14), for example, are identi- also have a role here. As soon as we see something, we fiable by virtue of their position aboye the eyes, but they either recognize its texture from experience or make an do not replícate the natural appearance of eyebrows. assumption based on how it looks. When we explore art, • romanticized : emphasizing characteristics which show the senses of sight and touch interact. Thus, a sculpture of the subject matter in a "romantic" light. Chapter 22 con- polished bronze will look and feel hard and smooth. siders the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Unpolished marble will look and feel rough. Romantic style. It is necessary to distinguish between actual texture and • idealized : representing a figure or object according to simulated (or implied) texture. Actual texture is the surface an ideal of beauty or perfection accepted at that time. quality of a real object-canvas, marble, paint-which is Perhaps the most idealized depictions of the human fig- the artist's medium. When artists simulate texture, they ure in western art come from the Greek Classical period create an illusion. (see Chapter 7). Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, it was cus- tomary for painters to use their medium to create illusions If the shapes within a work of art bear little or no re- of texture. During the past 150 years, however, certain lation to observable or natural objects, they may be called: painters have begun to incorporate the literal, textural quality of their medium into the work's impact. Brush- • nonrepresentational, or nonfigurative : the opposite strokes have intentionally been made visible so as to of representational and figurative, implying that the art arouse the viewer's sense of touch. More recently-since does not represent real objects or subject matter. the late 1940s-many artists have emphasized the medium Examples of such work appear in Chapters 26 to 29. to the point where its literal tactile character is a central Certain Abstract Expressionist works contain no recog- aspect of the image. nizable figures or objects. • abstract : not representing observable objects, but de- All of the formal elements of art-whether line, shape, rived or abstracted from real things. Often the artist is light, dark, color, or texture-are arranged by artists to attempting to depict the essence, or intrinsic qualities, create images. Their final arrangement is called the com- of an object. The result may be representational, in that position of the work. It involves such matters as balance the viewer can still recognize the original object. and harmony, the relationships of parts to each other and to the whole work, and the effect on the viewer. The transition from naturalism to geometric abstraction is encapsulated by the early twentieth-century Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg in figure 2.14. He gradually changed Stylistic Terminology his drawing of a cow from image (a), which could be called naturalistic, figurative, or representational, to image (e), Certain terms have become conventional in describing which is an abstract arrangement of fiat squares and rect- works of art, especially with reference to their styles and angles. In (a) and (b), the cow's form is recognizable as that shapes. Since they are used throughout this book, the of a cow-it is composed of curved outlines and a shaded most important are set out here. surface that creates a three-dimensional illusion. In image (c), the cow form is still recognizable, especially as it The word "naturalistic" describes a work whose forms follows (a) and (b). It is now devoid of curves, but still represent figures and objects as they are perceived in shaded-it has become a series of volumetric (solid, geo- nature. Related terms are as follows: metric) shapes. Even in image (d), the general form of the • figurative: representing the likeness of a recognizable cow is recognizable in terms of squares, rectangles, and human (or animal) figure. triangles, but there is no longer any shading. As a result, • realistic : attempting to depict objects accurately, as each distinct color area is flat. In image (e), however, the they actually are. In the nineteenth-century style called shapes can no longer be related to the original natural Realism (see Chapter 23), artists consciously tried to form. It is thus a pure abstraction, and is also nonfigurative depict everyday reality. and nonrepresentational.
  • 10. STYLISTIC TERMINOLOGY 33 (a) (b) (c) (d) 2.14 Theo van Doesburg , Study for Composition (The Cow). 1916-17. (a) and (b) pencil, 45/8 X 6% in (11.7 x 15.9 cm); (c) pencil, 4%a X (e) 53/4 in (10.4 x 14.6 cm); (d) tempera, oil, and charcoal , 155/a X 223/4 in (39.7 x 57.8 cm); (e) oil on canvas , 143/4 X 25 in (37.5 X 63.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York ((a), (b), (d), (e) Purchase, (c) Gift of Nelly van Doesburg).
  • 11. 34 2 THE LANGUAGE OF THE VISUAL ARTIST relation to the landscape, even the woman as a metaphor Subject Matter, Content, and for landscape. The iconography of the Mona Lisa has been the subject Iconography of numerous studies and is fraught with controversy. She The subject matter of a painting refers, not surprisingly, to has been seen as a symbolic mountain because her form what is represented, such as figures, landscape, inanimate echoes the distant rock formations. Certain landscape objects, or formal elements such as lines and shapes. The details, such as the aqueduct, merge into the lines of her content refers to themes or ideas contained in a work and drapery, and the spiral road repeats the undulating folds may include its subject matter. In western art there are cer- of her sleeves. Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis (see tain standard categories of subject matter: p.448), thought that she evoked Leonardo's childhood memory of his mother-particularly her smile-and that • human (or animal) figures, either in generalized form this explained Leonardo's attachment to the figure's mys- or al portraits of specific individuals. This category terious expression. An American physician analyzed her may in turn be divided into subcategories that include smile as a reflection of the serene inner satisfaction of a religious, historical, and mythological themes. pregnant woman, and a computer researcher identified • landscape-scenes in which human figures are ab- her as Leonardo's self-portrait! Not all works of art are sent or minimal; subcategories are cityscapes and as elusive as the Mona Lisa, but her case illustrates the seascapes. potential complexity of nailing down a precise icono- • still life, in which the artist arranges inanimate objects graphic interpretation. Most good images are quite specifically to be the subjects of an image. complex and Nave multiple layers of meaning. • genre (the French word for "kind" or "sort")-scenes of everyday life. The word iconography is used to refer to the signifi- Following this brief survey of some of the major visual ele- cance of what is represented, the literal and symbolic ments used by artists , we begin our historical sequence. meanings of the imagery. In the Mona Lisa (fig. 16.14), for Many important works of art are necessarily omitted from example, the subject is a woman seated on a balcony in a book such as this. Nevertheless, what follows is an at- front of a landscape. The content includes the subject, but tempt to convey the remarkable range of western . art and also encompasses the traditional idea of the wornan in a sense of the artists who created it.