How Art Works: Week 3 What makes Art Different? Comparative Analysis

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  • Last week I spoke about how the roots of the discipline of Art History we practice today emerged during the Renaissance, initially in the context of collecting art, and subsequently in the lecture halls of the art academy. Integral to developments in art history was the development of new technologies for example, the printing press, contributed significantly to these developments in two areas, that of the book and that of the print. Giorgio Vasari, for example, was able to take advantage of the printing press to produce multiple copies of his book of artists' biographies. His book provided both a framework and a methodology for the study of art history.The roots of art history teaching are to be found in the lectures given at the various art academies beginning in the 16th century.Visual aids: lecture was not illustrated and so the lecturer had to rely on the assumption that his audience would be familiar with the works he mentionedpainting at hand, which meant that everyone in the audience could see with their own eyes what was being talked about The availability of casts and prints had expanded the scope of art history. Reproductive prints allowed one to compare and contrast a painting in Rome with a painting in Venice. This ability quickly came to define a central activity for the art historian. As the study of art history took shape around "study aids" - reproductive prints and plaster casts - the art history lecture consequently became more difficult.
  • Because the discipline is a visual one, the desire is to show the audience what you are referring to, but how do you do this in a lecture? The useful "study aids" are practically useless as "visual aids" in the lecture hall. It is difficult to move full-scale plaster casts into the lecture hall as needed, while holding aloft copper-plate prints, which are generally rather small in size, would be difficult to see across a large and crowded room. The desire to find some way to illustrate art history lectures in some cases resulted in the laborious production of enlarged drawings and diagrams. John Soane, for example, who lectured at the Royal academy for nearly thirty years, amassed some 2,000 display drawings of architecture, most of them measuring four feet by two feet and coloured for effect (the collection is still housed in Sir John Soane's Museum in London). Photographs, after they became available in the 1840s, were of little help because, like reproductive prints, they were small in size. What was needed was some form of enlarged photograph. Technology came to the rescue in 1850 with the invention of a transparent positive image of a photograph in the form of a glass slide that could be projected onto a wall or screen using a Magic Lantern.
  • In 1850, two Daguerreotypists in Philadelphia, William and Frederick Langenheim, invented a transparent positive image of a photograph in the form of a glass slide that could be projected onto a wall or screen using a Magic Lantern. The practice of using Magic Lanterns to project images on glass plates was by no means new. As early as the 17th century, glass slides had been projected using a Magic Lantern.
  • Wölfflin pioneered the use of twin projectors (magic lanterns) in teaching.Heinrich Wölfflin who also embraced the new technology. He used slides extensively and was the first to use two slide projectors together so he could show details alongside the principal image, or show different images side-by-side.Widely influential professor of art history, major exponent of formalist methodologyWölfflin’s interest focused on the principles for analyzing works of art as much as the art itselfWölfflin's most significant contribution to art-historical methodology may be in his side-by-side comparison technique of images.  Throughout his writings, he used comparison to demonstrate polarities in artWolfflin’s art history is essentially comparative in method. It begins with a pair of images each embodying a different set of visual principles, and thus demonstrating stylistic and historical shifts. Such an approach was greatly encouraged by the rapid growth of photography, which allowed the juxtaposition of images of works of art that were otherwise widely dispersed. Wolfflin showed slides side by side for comparison, but the slides nor the photographs he used were not in colour. It is noticeable that the discussion of colour is a fairly neglected aspect of his stylistic analysis, as are features related to texture. Nor was Wolfflin interested in questions of originality.
  • Heinrich Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History Art history before this book consisted largely of anecdotal narratives and lists of art works. Wölfflin had in mind a new method for examining the art of the past. He investigated the roots of style in isolation and sought laws, which would be applicable throughout all the changes, which the visual arts developed. The body of his text covers the “whats, wheres, and whens” of these styles, but he only fully brought up the “why” in his conclusion—and then only unsatisfactorily. Some art historians approach the art of past civilizations from the perspective of the society which produced it, keeping in mind the music, politics, literature, economic systems, and general spirit of that period and place; Wölfflin did not use this full background in this book. As to his theory that his dichotomy was applicable to numerous generations and places, there can be raised many objections; artists have personal aims, aesthetics, techniques of problem-solving, bad ideas, etc. Does Wölfflin’s theory allow for these? No. What about the problem of society’s taste in art, which is especially prominent during the Protestant Reformation? There is little or no discussion of that here. He states in several places that later artists could not visualize or create works in older styles; why not? To what extent does the art of the past influence the art of the future? For Wölfflin, “everything old is new again”— ways of seeing and representing in the past will probably occur again. New styles are born when older styles no longer suffice—according to whom and why? Oftentimes new styles are developed in an era with different problems which call for new solutions. These differences of opinion aside, Wölfflin provided a very necessary new way to examine and think about the visual arts. A more objective way of studying art, via the seven elements of form, was needed at that point in art history. His technique for close examination of the use of line, shape, edge, form, color, texture, and composition are very helpful for coming to a fuller understanding of a work of art. To this extent he was very successful with his proposal. Once the viewer makes a careful study of the artwork itself, one can then proceed to further explorations into the realm of the artist and his or her society. Such investigations allow us to gain a perspective on the people of the past, how they saw, and how they lived; this, in turn, enriches our world and gives us new worlds to see.
  • By linear Wölfflin means that all the figures and all the significant forms within and surrounding the figures are clearly outlined. The boundaries of each solid element (whether human or inanimate) are definite and clear; each figure is evenly illuminated, and stands out boldly like a piece of sculpture.In contrast, in a painterly painting, the figures are not evenly illuminated but are fused together, seen in a strong light which comes from one direction and reveals some things while it obscures others. Contours are lost in shadow, swift brush-strokes bind separate parts together rather than isolating them from one another. Some figures are barely visible.
  • Planar means that the elements of the painting are arranged on a series of planes parallel to the picture plane. In the Raphael, for example, the first plane is given by the small step in front. The next plane coincides with the front of the platform of the Madonna's throne, in line with the saint on the right. The saint on the left is in line with the front edge of the next step back, while beyond is the plane of the rear of the throne. All these planes are parallel.Raphael’s planar composition is different from the recessional construction of Guercino’s painting in which the composition is dominated by figures placed at an angle to the picture plane and receding into depth. The figures move back from the front plane, starting with the man on the right, who directs our attention towards the woman on the left, and towards Christ, a little further back. The other figures are recessed along diagonals behind.
  • In the closed form of theRenaissance painting, all the figures are balanced within the frame of the picture. The composition is based on verticals and horizontals that echo the form of the frame and its delimiting function. The saints at the sides close off the picture with strong vertical accents, reinforced by the vertical accent of the throne in the centre. Horizontal accents are provided by the steps of the throne and the horizontal canopy over the throne. The picture is self-contained. The closed form conveys an impression of stability and balance and there is a tendency towards a symmetrical arrangement (though this, of course, is not rigid).In the open form of the Baroque painting vigorous diagonals contrast with the verticals and horizontals of the frame. Diagonal lines not only play on the surface of the picture, but move back into depth. Figures are not simply contained within the frame, but are cut off by it at the sides. There is a feeling of space beyond the edges of the picture. The composition is dynamic rather than static; it suggests movement and is full of momentary effects, as opposed to the tranquil repose of the Renaissance painting.
  • A pair a terms which is most obviously relative, for all great works are unified in one way or another. What Wölfflin means here is that the Renaissance painting is made up of distinct parts (multiplicity), each one sculpturally rounded in its own right, each one clearly filled with its own single local colour, while the unity of the Baroque picture is much more thoroughgoing, largely achieved by means of the strong, directed light.In Guercino's painting all the units - and there are many of them - are welded into a single whole; none of them could be isolated. Colours blend and mingle, and their appearance depends largely on how the light strikes them. For instance, the colour of Christ's cloak is visible only in parts, others being in dark shadow.This is much less true of the cloak of the siant on the right in Raphael's painting. The even, diffused light in the Renaissance painting helps to isolate elements so that a multiplicity of independent units can be balanced against one another.More or less self-explanatory, given the above categories. For Wölfflin, absolute clarity is arrived at through representing things as they are, taken singly, while relative clarity is the result of representing things as they look, seen as a whole. While for Raphael the ideal was perfect clarity in the depiction of subject matter, for Guercino this was less important and the explicitness of subject is not the sole aim. Whereas for Raphael, composition, light, and colour served merely to define form, for Guercino these same elements are given a life of their own.
  • Recap:
  • multiplicity/unityMultiplicity: This is very closely related to linear. These painting were made in parts in a way that each part of the painting could stand alone. This is a bit more of a conceptual play on linear. Each part is capable of standing as a free member.Unity: Again, closely related to painterly. The subjects in Baroque paintings can not be separated from one another. They depend on each other to exists, you cannot tear them apart.Just decide if you can use scissors on the painting to separate distinct pieces.
  • linear/painterly?planar/recessional?closed/open form?multiplicity/unity?absolute/relative clarity?Linear: In The Creation of Adam can you see the paint by number effect? Very solid lines between color planes and figures.Planar: Michelangelo's piece is not the best example but this is all technically on one planeClosed:The Creation of Adam is a unique example of the closed polarity because this painting is technically a snippet from an entire mural (Sistine Chapel). Each set of figures, Adam on the left and the other on the right, are in their own closed little pods of the mural. The lines of the ground and the shell frame each area.Multiplicity: In Michelangelo's piece you can cut each figure out, they could all stand on their own.Absolute Clarity: God and Adam bridging the gap between Heaven and Earth. It doesn't get much more clear than that.
  • The School of Athens is a fantastic example of closed form. A huge archway framing the entire piece. This is also a great example of multiplicity, do you know why?
  • linear/painterly?planar/recessional?closed/open form?multiplicity/unity?absolute/relative clarity?Painterly: In Gentileschi's piece, it is difficult to detect where the line of one figure or object and another coincide. Look at the drapery. Look at the darkness creeping in.Open Form: In Judith Slaying Holofernes anything could be going on beyond these woman. We have a close up shot of a room. The man's body is even off the page.Unity: The two women and the man in this painting must exist with one another to make any sense visually. It is also very difficult to dive them from one another (think of scissors)Relative Clarity: We know a woman is killing a man. WHY? Relative Clarity. It makes sense in the composition but many questions are left unanswered.
  • Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968)Key questions for Art HistoriansCan artworks be judged objectively?How much can we understand about a time period by looking at individual works of art?What methods should we use when studying art?Panofsky interpreted works of art through the analysis of symbolism, History, and Social FactorsFamous for studies done in Iconography and Iconology
  • An object which demands to be experienced aestheticallyDepends on the “intention” of the creatorQuote - “The intentions of those who produce object are conditioned by the standards of their period and environment”. (pg 13)Bedroom in Arles by Vincent Van Gogh is a great example of how an artist's environment and time influence his art. This painting is of Van Gogh’s environment while he was painting in Southern France.
  • Iconography The study of the conventional meanings of works of art that are meant to convey some doctrine or traditional story.IconologyThe identification and description of symbols and subject matter in artHumanitiesThe two meanings according to PanofskyMan vs. less than man (value)Man vs. more than man (limitation)Notion of CulturePanofsky portrays culture as the essence that separates man from other animals, giving him morals, values and a foundation of knowledgeOrganic SituationArt History lives off Art Theory and vice versa.The Pieta Great example of Iconography. To those who are not familiar with Western or Christian cultures, they may just see a man laying on a woman’s lap. For those who are familiar with Christian cultures - they will be aware that this sculpture depict Jesus laying on the lap of his mother, the Virgin Mary.
  • Art Connoisseur vs. Art HistorianMatter of emphasis and explicitnessDoes not assess the aesthetic value with regard to culture or from a humanistic standpoint, only through quality and valueArt historian takes the aesthetics and value and places it into the cultural “intention” of the artist.Art TheoryAllows subjectivity to artGives viewer personal expression which an Art Historian is not allowedViewer can apply their own expressions to the painting instead of trying to understand the artist’sNaïve ViewerThe naïve viewer is one who looks at a work of art and views it from only the cultural perspective they have experienced.The art historian goes out of their way to learn about other cultures to better understand the “intention” the artist intended.The Mona LisaGreat example for the “Naïve Viewer”Portrait seems traditional, but it was anything but traditional during the time it was painted.Reasons why it was “untraditional”Subject looks directly at and engages viewerSubject is not idealizedNo plucked foreheadNot made to be “beautiful”
  • Erwin Panofsky advocated a particular method…IconologyPrimary or Natural Subject Matter (Pre-Iconographic): The most basic level of understanding, the stratum consists of perception of the work’s pure form. For example, The Last Supper. If we stopped at this first stratum, such a picture could only be perceived as a painting of 13 men seated at a table. The first level is the most basic understanding of a work, devoid of any added cultural knowledge.Secondary or Conventional subject matter (iconography): This stratum goes a step further and brings to the equation cultural knowledge. (For example, a western viewer would understand that the painting of 13 men around a table would represent The Last Supper. Similarly, seeing a representation of a haloed man with a lion could be interpreted as a depiction of St. Jerome)Tertiary or Intrinsic Meaning or Content (Iconology): This level takes into account personal, technical, and cultural history into the understanding of a work. It looks at art not as isolated incident, but as the product of historical environment. (Why did the artist choose to represent The Last Supper in this way? Most art history prior to Panofsky focused on formal developments. In other words, art was thought about in relation to a particular style. Panofsky’s achievement was to shift attention to content and meaning.Although Iconology doesn’t guarantee objectivity, Panofsky himself admitted that the deeper meaning could be imposed by theorists and tried to add his own “correctives” (checks against source material of the time), it does open individual artworks to discussions of broader cultural influences.
  • Primary or Natural Subject Matter: The most basic level of understanding, perception of the work’s form. 3rd of May Viewer sees a row of men being shot and a row of men shooting them.
  • Secondary or Conventional subject matterTakes cultural knowledge into accounts, including environment, historical happenings, etc…3rd of MayAnyone with knowledge of Spanish history could Identify this picture, perhaps also by title, as being a picture from the period of time when Napoleon's Armies invaded Spain
  • Intrinsic Meaning or Content Looks at the personal, technical, and cultural history in order to understand a work of art.Artists Technical Ability?Artists opinion of Subject Matter?Environment3rd of May Goya wanted to commemorate Spanish Resistance to Napoleons ArmiesCommissioned by Spain Provisional governmentFocal figure lighter, posed like he’s being crucified.
  • Writing a Compare/Contrast Art History EssayImportant Points of an Art History ImageIdentityWho is the artist or is the artist unknown?What period or style is it?What is the name of the artwork?To what culture does it belong?Of what material/medium is it made?What is its subject matter?
  • StyleHow big is it? Does its medium affect the quality?What are its formal elements (line, color, composition, etc.)?Is it abstract, naturalistic, idealistic, realistic, or a combination?How is the subject being depicted?What is the origin of the style? - Is it a combination of cultural styles? 
  • Function/Symbolism(Often relates to cultural context)What was it used for? Why was it made?It is sacred or secular?Does it communicate a message? Is it asking for something?Does it contain symbolism? What does it mean?
  • Cultural ContextWhat was happening historically, politically, socially, religiously, intellectually, and/or economically at the time it was made?What were qualities of life at the time and place the piece was made that may have affected its function and style?Do historical events or overall aesthetic tastes relate to the image/story depicted?Compare and Contrast/Be Concise and to the PointExplore the differences and similarities of the two works being compared using the four topic areas discussed above. Begin your essay with an opening paragraph stating the main point of the comparison? Each paragraph should discuss what is the same and what is different about the works in regards to each topic listed above. (e.g. one paragraph will discuss what is similar and different regarding style.)Start with main concepts and then move to relevant details. (Remember to state the obvious.)Use complete sentences. Each paragraph should focus on one main concept/topic Conclude with a paragraph which sums up your main ideas. 
  • How Art Works: Week 3 What makes Art Different? Comparative Analysis

    1. 1. How Art Works Week 3 What makes Art Different? Comparative Analysis
    2. 2. This lecture: Formalism Theories of Heinrich Wöfflin (1864-1945) on progression of formal qualities in history of artistic representations Iconography, iconology, attributes (symbolism) Theories of Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) Tools of the Trade: Comparative Analysis Writing a Compare/Contrast Art History Essay
    3. 3. Magic Lanterns and Slides The roots of art history teaching are to be found in the lectures given at the various art academies beginning in the 16th century. Either the lecture was not illustrated and so the lecturer had to rely on the assumption that his audience would be familiar with the works he mentioned or the painting was at hand, which meant that everyone in the audience could see with their own eyes what was being talked about.
    4. 4. Sir John Soane's Museum The desire to find some way to illustrate art history lectures in some cases resulted in the laborious production of enlarged drawings and diagrams.
    5. 5. Magic Lanterns and Slides In 1850, two Daguerreotypists in Philadelphia, William and Frederick Langenheim, invented a transparent positive image of a photograph in the form of a glass slide that could be projected onto a wall or screen using a Magic Lantern.
    6. 6. Heinrich Wölfflin • Widely influential professor of art history, major exponent of formalist methodology • Wölfflin’s interest focused on the principles for analyzing works of art as much as the art itself • Wölfflin's most significant contribution to art-historical methodology may be in his side-by- side comparison technique of images. Throughout his writings, he used comparison to demonstrate polarities in art
    7. 7. Content/Meaning • Formalism • Theories of Heinrich Wöfflin Principles of Art History… 1-Linear vs. painterly 2-Plane vs. recession 3-Closed form to open form 4-Multiplicity to unity 5-Absolute clarity to relative clarity – Developed for 16th-17th art but applicable to later art – Examples: Ingres vs. Delacroix in 19th c. French painting
    8. 8. Heinrich Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History • Art history before this book consisted largely of anecdotal narratives and lists of art works • He investigated the roots of style in isolation and sought laws, which would be applicable throughout all the changes, which the visual arts developed
    9. 9. 1. Linear and Painterly
    10. 10. 2. Planar and Recessional
    11. 11. 3. Closed Form and Open Form
    12. 12. 4. Multiplicity and Unity
    13. 13. The Wölfflin Principles linear/painterly: Linear: Imagine a painting that was outlined first, like a coloring book, and then filled in. Painterly: Fluid, outside of the lines. If you tried to cut each color swatch out you would not be able to because they flow together.
    14. 14. The Wölfflin Principles plane/recession Planar: The entire image is on one plane. Recessional: The image is on various planes, going back and forth, in and out. Depth.
    15. 15. The Wölfflin Principles closed/open form Closed: The piece has a closed for, something visual is enclosing it in a way that you cannot imagine anything outside of the picture plan. Many times something architectural will frame the pieces. Open: Something in the picture plane suggests a world outside of the painting. A line of prospective that shoots right off of the page or subjects walking in and out of the piece.
    16. 16. The Wölfflin Principles multiplicity/unity Multiplicity: This is very closely related to linear. These painting were made in parts in a way that each part of the painting could stand alone. This is a bit more of a conceptual play on linear. Each part is capable of standing as a free member. Unity: Again, closely related to painterly. The subjects in Baroque paintings can not be separated from one another. They depend on each other to exists, you cannot tear them apart.
    17. 17. The Wölfflin Principles absolute/relative clarity Absolute Clarity: You can tell exactly what is going on. No questions asked. The artists did not leave a lot of room for artistic interpretation by the viewer. Relative Clarity: The artist left some information in the painting up to the viewer. There are some solid ideas but room for intellectual movement.
    18. 18. Michelangelo The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel (1511) Linear: Very solid lines between colour planes and figures. Planar: This is all technically on one plane Closed: This painting is technically a snippet from an entire mural (Sistine Chapel). Each set of figures, Adam on the left and the other on the right, are in their own closed little pods of the mural. The lines of the ground and the shell frame each area. Multiplicity: You can cut each figure out, they could all stand on their own. Absolute Clarity: God and Adam bridging the gap between Heaven and Earth.
    19. 19. Raphael, The School of Athens, 1511
    20. 20. Artemesia Gentileschi Judith Slaying Holofernes linear/painterly? planar/recessional? closed/open form? multiplicity/unity? absolute/relative clarity?
    21. 21. Panofsky: Meaning & Iconology
    22. 22. Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) Key questions for Art Historians • Can artworks be judged objectively? • How much can we understand about a time period by looking at individual works of art? • What methods should we use when studying art?
    23. 23. • Aesthetic Experience • Intention of Creator • Environment • Time/Era Vincent Van Gogh Bedroom in Arles c. 1888 Oil on Canvas
    24. 24. Michelangelo The Pieta c. 1499 Carved Marble • Iconography • Iconology • The Humanities – Value – Limitation • The Notion of Culture • Organic Situation
    25. 25. Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa c. 1506 Oil on Poplar • Art Connoisseur vs. Art Historian – Emphasis and explicitness – Aesthetic value – Intention • Art Theory – Subjectivity • Naïve Viewer
    26. 26. Studies in Iconology • Published in 1939 • Discusses – Themes in renaissance art – Classical and medieval relations • Addresses 3 “layers” of art – Primary subject matter – Secondary subject matter – Intrinsic Meaning
    27. 27. Panofsky’s achievement was to shift attention to content and meaning
    28. 28. Primary Subject Matter • Natural Subject Matter – Most basic understanding – Perception of form • The 3rd of May 1808 – Row of men shooting – Group of men being shot The 3rd of May 1808 – Francisco Goya c. 1814 Oil on Canvas
    29. 29. Secondary Subject Matter – Conventional subject matter • Iconography • Cultural Knowledge – Environment – Historical happenings – The 3rd of May 1808 • Knowledge of Spanish History The 3rd of May 1808 – Francisco Goya c. 1814 Oil on Canvas
    30. 30. Intrinsic Meaning • Iconology • Content – Artist’s personal history – Technical Abilities – Environment • The 3rd of May 1808 – Commemorate resistance – Focal figure mimicking crucifixion The 3rd of May 1808 – Francisco Goya c. 1814 Oil on Canvas
    31. 31. Writing a Compare/Contrast Art History Essay Identity • Who is the artist or is the artist unknown? • What period or style is it? • What is the name of the artwork? • To what culture does it belong? • Of what material/medium is it made? • What is its subject matter?
    32. 32. Writing a Compare/Contrast Art History Essay Style • How big is it? Does its medium affect the quality? • What are its formal elements (line, color, composition, etc.)? • Is it abstract, naturalistic, idealistic, realistic, or a combination? • How is the subject being depicted? • What is the origin of the style? - Is it a combination of cultural styles?
    33. 33. Writing a Compare/Contrast Art History Essay Function/Symbolism(Often relates to cultural context) • What was it used for? Why was it made? • It is sacred or secular? • Does it communicate a message? Is it asking for something? • Does it contain symbolism? What does it mean?
    34. 34. Writing a Compare/Contrast Art History Essay Cultural Context • What was happening historically, politically, socially, religiously, intellectually, and/or economically at the time it was made? • What were qualities of life at the time and place the piece was made that may have affected its function and style? • Do historical events or overall aesthetic tastes relate to the image/story depicted?

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