Neo classical art was the name given to the art, architecture sculpture that began emerging in the mid eighteenth century in Europe, it was the new age interpretation of classical art, taking its inspiration from stories and great works of art of the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
Johann Joachim Winkelmann’s work ‘The History of Ancient Art’ was one of the major inspirations for the rise of the neoclassical movement. Simplicity and symmetry are the stand out characteristics of the work done in this movement. Some of the famous artists include Pannini, Benjamin West and Jacques Louis David.
The design is kept austere and linear and is much more accurate in its depiction of the ancient times. This was also driven by the recent excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii by Winkelmann. Winkelmann himself was a great admirer of the ancient civilizations and inspired artists to follow their style of art stating ” it contains a noble simplicity and a quiet grandeur” he believed that the Greeks artists came as close to perfection as possible and by following them current artists could come close to an idealized depictions of natural form which has been stripped of transitory and individualistic aspects.
One work or art which comes to fore as a true depiction of all that Neoclassical work stands for is, Oedipus and the Sphinx, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, painted in 1808 and reworked at in 1826 when it was finally completed. It is the depiction a scene from the Greek play Sophocles where Oedipus, is stopped in his tracks by a sphinx, who asks him a riddle, on answering correctly Oedipus won the kingdom of Thebes and a wife. The work is Oil on canvas. As is typical of that period the design is kept austere and linear. Oedipus’s stance can be captured perfectly in horizontal and vertical lines, a typical neoclassical characteristic that uses balance and line to highlight beauty and harmony. Another striking feature is imperfectness of Oedipus which makes him a perfect depiction of human form as we all carry our imperfections in line with what Winkelmann said.
The simplicity of the art can also be viewed as shedding the excesses of the Rocco movement. As this form emerged during the French Political and the English Industrial movement, it gives the impression of leaving behind frivolity and heading towards depicting a more serious form of human nature and philosophy.
19th Century – Impressionistic
Rebellious, vibrant, vivid are a few words that come to mind when discussing impressionistic art. Beginning in the mid nineteenth artists such as Degas, Morisot and Monet, began to break the norm of academic painting, by giving up on the detailed stillness of the academic painting and bringing in the restlessness of the world around us into art. The name impressionistic was coined from the inspiration behind the art, which is ‘as the human eye sees it’. Impressionist artists tried to capture movement as best as they could, for which they employed light as their favorite element, with different angles of accentuating light being used to depict movement in place and time. This was done with the help of free and short brush strokes of called broken strokes, colors were unmixed giving vibrancy to the design. The difference between impressionistic art and the art before it can be captured by looking at a tree outside the window, if we observe the tree closely we observe minute details and if we look at it fleetingly we get a different impression. Thus the earlier art aimed to capture every details of the tree, impressionistic art would capture the tree as we will see it if we just casually look up while walking past it, a little hazy, a little blurred, swaying with the wind, with the light making the same green look like a million different colors.
One of the most famous artists of this era was Claude Monet and his most famous work Soleil Levant or Sunrise, painted in 1872, oil on canvas. It is probably the work of art that gave rise to the term Impressionistic as it was described – the impression of the harbor as Money saw it from the window. Another special feature of this work is the use of color makes the setting sun look more vibrant than the rest of the sky, but that is just the perception of the human eye, as a black and white copy of the painting proves that the sun just disappears into the sky, capturing the nature perfectly.
20th Century – Surrealism
As depicted by the name, Surrealism aims to blur the lines between dreams and reality. The main characteristics of this form of art are that the concepts and scenes chosen were illogical and strange to the point of being shocking in many cases, but they were drawn with photographic precision, such that they seemed to be picked out of some unnerving alternate reality.
Elements used were surprise, drawing something so far removed from the viewers imagination such that oddity would drive them in, this was achieved in many cases by juxtaposing reality and fiction, good and evil, truth and falsehood and sometimes by breaking the sequence of actions that we automatically assume would follow a certain pattern.
Surrealism was also believed to be inspired from the Dada movement which began in Europe after World war I. It was led by Parisian artists, still fresh from the horrors of “The Great war” attempting to leave reality behind, driven by the belief that bourgeois rationality in thought movement and action had brought the war upon them
One of the more controversial artists of the movement was Andre Masson, for he used a technique viewed with skepticism by many, Auto- drawing or automatic drawing, he would go for days without food and water and use drugs to put himself in a trance like state do that the work of art is truly drawn from point in the mind between dreams and consciousness. This can be very clearly seen from his work also called Automatic Drawing, drawn in 1924, ink on paper, the vivid eyes seem to belong to creatures from some dreamlike state and curvy lines seem like an attempt to five them human form
Late 20th Century – Minimalist
This form art was one of the very few that began by finding its footing in post-World War II America, often seen as an reaction to Abstract Expressionist art of the previous decade, minimalist art as suggested by the name aims to shed all the excesses carried by the design to bring out the true form. This can also be viewed as a reaction to modernism, that encourages society to shed it excesses or it can also be called as a reductionist form of art. Another way to understand it is that the art aims to expose the essence and it does by slowly removing all the non-essential forms incumbent upon the form. Many designs are depicted by geometric patterns where the edges are thin and sharp, and colors have not been used in modulation. This work of art is almost always the artist’s perception, derived from a personal experience, it need not follow any mathematical or lyrical sequence, and it is an attempt to present what is exactly as it is, as seen by the eyes of the artist
Frank Stella was one of the earliest artists to take up the minimalistic form, her work Die Fahn Hoch! Painted in 1959, enamel on canvas is regarded as a forerunner of minimalist art. The painting on the outset seems like a simple collection of lines, it brings out many hidden meanings and interpretations on closer inspection. Another feature of this and many other paintings by Stella is that the title chosen would be ringing with emotions of temper and hatred like Die Fahn Hoch which is eerily similar to the Nazi title. By using such emotive titles for her simplistic interpretations, Stella lets irony do the talking.
Though each form of art chosen above, on its own has broken the norm of the current age, Impressionistic art seems to be the most intriguing. It broke the norm of the day by bringing out, that the only purpose of art is not depiction of form, painting can be truly emotive and intriguing if perceptions and personal views are made to play a part in the final outcome, in many ways Impressionist Art laid the foundation for many other styles to come
Robert Mapplethorpe Photography Analysis
Mapplethorpe: Art or Pornography?
art: the expression of creative skill through a visual medium such as painting
pornography: printed or visual material intended to stimulate sexual
The question of art versus pornography is one that has long dogged the visual Arts of all mediums. Nudes on stage, actors fornicating on screen, and artists painting, drawing, sculpting, or photographing naked subjects or explicit acts, have all been scrutinised, discussed and argued over. Some have even been taken to court. Some depictions of naked forms do not even cause a stir. Nobody protests against the Romantic images of naked men or of the paintings and sculptures by Pre-Raphaelite artists of nude mythological beings. What is it then that determines whether something is classified as art or pornography? I would postulate that it is not quite as simple as categorising a piece as one or the other, and I will discuss this during the course of this essay.
We must at this point turn to the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of pornography and the key word “intended”. The deciding factor appears to lie in the intention of the artist; if he or she intends to “stimulate sexual excitement” the result will be pornographic. Mapplethorpe has admitted that his pieces are homages to desire, and that he himself was sexually stimulated whilst photographing his male nude subjects. It would be unfair to say however, that his photographs are not expressive of “creative skill”. His images, which I will examine in greater detail later in the essay, are formally beautiful and skillfully posed and shot. Can a piece of work be both art and pornography? Mapplethorpe himself insists that he makes pornography that is art (2). If an artist’s technique is masterful, why should the fact that the piece is sexually stimulating to others prevent it from being classed as art? Why can’t a piece of art have multiple functions?
Some view Mapplethorpe’s photography purely as pornography, believing it impossible to classify photographs of naked men and women as art. When Mapplethorpe’s retrospective exposition The Perfect Moment exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Republican Sen. Jesse Helms was the most forceful objector. So outraged was the Senator that he would carry around photographs from the exhibition to illustrate his point to journalists. One photograph he would often present was “Rosie”, showing a young girl of two or three pictured with her crotch exposed, which he argued constituted child pornography. Others have agreed with Helms. In 1996 the image was removed from a London exhibition on the grounds that it might attract paedophiles. As many others have argued however, this view casts both Rosie and Mapplethorpe in an unfair light. As with many of his other photographs of naked individuals, what is most striking about “Rosie” is the humanity and innocence of this little girl; it is what is revealed about the figure that is most interesting. Nakedness is represented in the Bible as the state of innocence to which we must all return if we are to know God. In Genesis it is only when Adam and Eve fall from innocence and know evil that they realise they are naked. Saying 37 in the Gospel of Thomas alludes to the innocence of naked children:
His disciples say to him: “On what day wilt thou appear to us, and what day shall we see thee?” Jesus says: “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed, when you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children and trample on them! Then [you will become] children of Him who is living, and you will have no more fear.” (3)
“Rosie” is only seen in a sexual context by those with the predisposition to see it in that way, whether they be paedophiles or hard-line moralists (4). Rosie herself, aged 23 at the time of the London exhibition, protested that the photograph was beautiful and innocent and not at all indecent (5). She had even hung a copy on the wall of the restaurant she managed.
Mapplethorpe’s most explicit photographs are seen as obscene by many who are not moralists or particularly religious. His X Portfolio contains graphic pictures of homosexual sexual acts and bondage, such as ‘Helmut and Brooks’, which depicts one man’s arm inserted up to the elbow in another man’s anus. ‘Man in Polyester Suit’, another of the photographs often produced by Helms to show journalists, depicts a black man’s semi-erect penis protruding from his flies. It is an odd image, the picture having been cut from just above the man’s knees to his chest, directing the gaze to the penis. Is this pornography? Against the cheap suit, Celant asserts, the penis becomes an object of beauty, like an emergent flower, beginning to bloom with desire. It is erotic, certainly, but is it obscene? Many certainly view ‘Helmut and Brooks’ as obscene and, accordingly, not art.
In 1987 Dennis Barry, Director of the Cincinnati Museum of Art, was put on trial for exhibiting The Perfect Moment. In court his Defense asserted that the aesthetics of Mapplethorpe’s work made his photographs art and not obscenity. In Janet Kardon’s essay, written as a guide and an introduction to the exhibition, form is emphasised as the focus rather than the content or context. Even when faced with explaining the photographs depicting homoerotic sexual acts Kardon extols the virtues of Mapplethorpe’s camera technique, almost ignoring the sexual content altogether:
There is a drama in each photograph; edges are used as the perimeters of a proscenium, with subjects strategically sited within those boundaries and caught at a moment of absolute stasis. Most sitters are portrayed frontally, aligned with the camera lens, in direct eye contact with the photographer and, in turn, the viewer. Nudes generally assume classical poses… although his models often are depicted in uncommon sexual acts, the inhabitants of the photographs assume gestures governed by geometry, and they are shown against minimal backgrounds” (6)
Returning to ‘Man in a Polyester Suit’, Kardon refers to the image as “outrageous” but only because the shot has been set up to appear as a clothes advertisement, making the juxtaposition of the penis “unsettling” (7). As Kidd writes, it is interesting that Kardon uses the term “outrageous” rather than ‘obscene’, and that it is not the act of photographing a penis that is “outrageous” but the actual penis itself, being rather large (8). The reason for this being, Kidd continues, that the term ‘obscenity’, has sociological and legal implications.
In terms of the sociological implications, the obscene is a subversion of what is sacred, and is also separate from daily life – it is perceived as taboo, especially by religious organisations. Its legal implications are what led Dennis Barry to victory in his court case. Congress defines the ‘obscene’ as:
1. the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that such project, production, workshop, or program, when taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
2. such project, production, workshop, or program, depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and
3. such project, production, workshop, or program, when taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. (9)
The defense successfully argued that Mapplethorpe’s work had artistic value – it is formally beautiful and striking, and the composition is masterful. His photographs could certainly be argued to fall under the first two definitions but all three definitions must fit for something to be considered ‘obscene’, therefore legally Mapplethorpe’s photographs could not be labeled as such.
Flageolle extolled the “exquisite tonal qualities of the platinum print and controlled studio lighting” of Mapplethorpe’s photography, which can be observed in both his ‘hard-core’ and less explicit work (10). Photographs such as ‘Ken and Robert’ and ‘Ken and Tyler’, where Mapplethorpe juxtapositions black and white models, are made even more striking by using black and white film and posing the subjects in a rigid, symmetrical stance. All of Mapplethorpe’s photography is extremely precise, which actually adds to the eroticism of the images. In pornography models tend to assume very overt poses, leaning into the camera and pushing their assets towards the lens, and by extension towards the viewers. Much of Mapplethorpe’s work however, is more restrained in that regard. Subjects may perform explicit sexual acts, urinating in other man’s mouth for example, but it often seems to be personal, intimate. In ‘Jim and Tom, Sausalito’ the two men are almost unaware of the camera, a feeling heightened by the placement of them in the shadows. Mapplethorpe’s figures can sometimes feel almost cold, and distant, looking past the camera at something we cannot see.
However, as Samaras has contended, pieces of art cannot merely be considered for their formal qualities, as that “relegates art primarily to the role of timeless visual entertainment not historicised cultural elucidation” (11). Mapplethorpe’s photographs showed the public another world. The homosexual and S