Before our research can begin, before we dive into the available online databases or comb through the volumes in Ricker Art Library, we, as art historians, must first look. We must look, and think, and spend time with our chosen image or object. We look and we think about what we have seen, noticing the choices made by the artist. And then, we write, in order to delineate through language what we have seen before us and to explain to a reader why this image or object deserves attention. Composing a descriptive visual analysis is the basis of the discipline of art history.
Throughout the journey of pursuing undergraduate degrees in Art History, we have taken courses with topics as broad as “Renaissance to Modern Art” to courses as interdisciplinary as “The Islamic Arts of Africa.” We have learned how artifacts can reflect the social currents in which they were made. We have learned about the development of various media and how these function within contemporary times. We have learned that we have the potential to further the scholarship of the field. With guidance and support from professors with expertise in their fields, we have grown from memorizing basic information about canonical artwork for exams, to writing semester-long research papers that challenged us to look more and to seek more. Our minds have been expanded, our biases have been re-examined, and our writing has improved. We will graduate from this program with a greater appreciation for the history of humanity and the importance of art within society.
The Art of Describing
by Amanda Adreani and Sarah Spalding
Although the School of Art + Design does not currently offer a degree in printmaking, interest in this medium has recently surged. Various studio classes in the print shop are now available to students, led by faculty members Emmy Lingschelt and Guen Montgomery. In an interview with Montgomery, I understood how her interest in printmaking stems from her appreciation of the “Power of the multiple” and the “process-centric nature” of the medium. She views hand printing as “a remedy for an increasingly instant, virtual, digitally saturated life,” enjoying “how concrete the processes are and how they provide a better understanding of your materials.” While teaching these classes, Montgomery hopes to introduce students to the “camaraderie of the print shop, the interesting traditions, print-specific superstitions, and feeling of community that can form around people united in a specific way of working.”
In her own artistic practice, Montgomery is “interested in the complexity and inherent theatricality of real and imagined human characters” and is “motivated by family, history, and identity discourse.” To view the work of Montgomery, please visit http://www.guen-montgomery.com/. The artist recently produced two small prints, both the same size, with alliterative titles: Pry and Power. By strategically utilizing text and visual image, besides manipulating artistic convention, Montgomery conveys her social concerns within these two pieces. Matching embossment surrounds each image and reads, “Have we the tools to dismantle the very structures we live in?” This question is expressed with particular word choices, which speak to the notions of building, strength, and destruction seen within the images. As this text encircles the scene, half is elegantly handwritten, the words woven around decoratively arranged Power cords attached to electric drills. Within two wooden panels, the rest of the embossed text conversely appears to have been typeset. The delicate size of the actual printed images seems comparable to an object that one may own and keep as a personal possession, such as a photograph or a jewelry box.
Each image focuses on a singular woman, but denies certain canonical conventions of portraiture. While the women are clothed in what appear to be upper-class outfits, the seemingly nineteenth-century woman in Pry is not posed and seated in her living space. Instead, she is seen taking action. While audaciously eyeing the viewer, she wields a crowbar and attempts to free herself from the dim, sparse room in which she has been kept. In Power, a woman dressed in a hoop skirt is centered within the pictorial field, but she is unexpectedly turned away from the viewer. This apparently eighteenth-century woman clutches anachronistic tools: a Power drill and an oversized screwdriver. These objects would typically be associated with male construction workers who create the domestic spaces of women. Unlike the scene in Pry, where the woman is stuck in the grim interior of a house, the woman in Power is situated in an allegorical space. The slabs of wall, floor, and ceiling around her appear unhinged. It is as if some of the “dismantling” has already taken place, but a lot of tough work still lies ahead. These structural fragments are heavily shaded, perhaps referring to dark days of the past. The woman in Power stands with upright posture, which connects with historical standards of ladylike poise. However, her body configuration can also convey that she is ready to take action. It is as if she is mentally preparing herself for the task ahead by taking a deep breath, tools in hand, and willing herself to move forward into the ambiguous space.
Clearly these are not scenes produced during the heyday of the printing press, but they harken back to the past and to European traditions of printmaking. Montgomery created hand-drawn generalized images of Western women from history and then situated them in unexpected positions of strength. In these works, she demands the attention of today’s women and presents a call to action. By reworking the conventions of art, as well as notions of domesticity, femininity, and social structures, Montgomery’s prints Pry and Power evoke the unease she feels about the treatment of women in the past, and her lasting concerns about the issues that remain today.
Pry and Power: Meaningful Contributions to the Print Medium
by Amanda Adreani
Mel Ramos's Manet's Olympia from 1974 closely resembles Edouard Manet's 1863 Olympia both in subject matter and in composition. Manet's Olympia presents an attractive naked woman reclining on her bed. She has kicked off one shoe and greets the viewer with a smile. A servant attends her. The servant holds a bouquet of flowers, meeting the viewer with a sideways glance. The viewer is in the position of a client coming into the beauty's chambers. Her pose is as unnatural as that of the woman Manet portrayed in Olympia: both women cover their genitals in an exaggerated manner. However, Mel Ramos's woman does not implicate or confront the viewer; she invites our gaze in a playful manner. The monkey at the foot of her bed invites us to view the work through a humorous lens and to suggest the woman's position as a courtesan or perhaps a model.
Manet's Olympia is small and windowlike in size. The work is bold in its use of saturated colors and subject matter. It is a collotype print, which is a form of high-quality printing without the use of a screen. The hand of the artist is absent in terms of brushstroke and texture; the surface of the work is smooth. Ramos aims for a sort of stylized realism in terms of formal qualities. Ramos creates naturalistic space; volume, depth and perspective are all realistically defined. However, unlike Manet, Ramos achieves a comic book effect. The colors are saturated to an unnatural extent, lending a vibrant cartoon-like quality to the skin and clothes of the figures. This print refers back to Olympia in both subject matter and composition but embodies a different meaning entirely. Edouard Manet sought to confront his viewers and subvert the tradition of the idealized female nude. He exposed the thinly veiled eroticism that was present in the Salon and implicated those who claimed to appreciate “high art” but really came to see naked women. Here, Manet's Olympia takes nakedness beyond Manet and modernizes it; this print recalls a Playboy advertisement. Her body is hypersexualized and idealized at the same time. Her tanned skin tone contrasts with the dullness of the yellow blanket and the white sheets underneath her. As with Olympia, her nakedness is reinforced by her shoes and accessories; her tan lines draw attention to the absence of clothing. Mel Ramos is often discussed as a pop artist because the main body of his work presents naked women with a brand name, commercialized product. He plays with the notion of advertisements using sex to sell their products. This work does not contain a brand name product but is a pop art piece because it is appropriating an iconic image and giving it a new meaning for the twentieth century.
Throughout Ramos's career, many critics and members of the public have criticized his work as sexist, claiming he objectified the female body in his use of the nude. In a recorded interview, one of Ramos's largest collectors responds to the feminist outcry towards his work stating, “Mel is critiquing a certain perception of the woman seen as an object of consumption.” At first, I thought this painting was a hypersexual modernization of an iconic work that did in fact treat the body as a sexual object. But this work is unattractive; the color contrast between her tanned skin and the bed sheets is cacophonous. Her expression is artificial and contrived and the servant looks at us as if she is mistrusting of the viewer. Her hand covering her genitals communicates a guarded sexuality but her smile indicates otherwise. We do not know if the woman reclining the bed is fond of us or distrusts us. This work operates in a similar fashion to Olympia in that it implicates the viewer who would recognize the trope at play. Olympia angered the critics at the Salon because she was a courtesan and those who recognized her were exposed for their involvement with courtesans. A viewer who considers that Manet's Olympia bears a likeness to a Playboy model, and who comments on the female body as an object of pornography, is made to feel guilt. For the hypersexuality displayed in Manet's Olympia is forced and scripted just as the women who pose for Playboy are. She is a model; her make up is done and her body is placed in this scene to invite the male gaze. The iconic gesture of the hand covering her genitals tips the viewer to make the connection back to Olympia's disdain for the male gaze. This accompanied with her artificial smile emphasizes the phony display and contributes to the unattractiveness and “off” nature of the scene. In Manet's Olympia, Mel Ramos cleverly unsettles the sexualization of the female body by calling attention to its constructedness in popular media and pornography, and through the connection to Olympia he implicates the viewer who partakes in this ubiquitous treatment of the female body.
by Haily Cook
Paris’s Parc Monceau provides a singular example of Louis-Napoléon’s nineteenth-century Haussmannization and its mark on society. In the summer of 1852, Napoléon III initiated his venture in park renewal including among many, the Bois de Boulogne, Buttes-Chaumont, and the Parc Monceau. Property of the city by 1852, Parc Monceau became divided and resold for subdivision to the capital’s wealthiest entrepreneurs including the tycoon Émile Péreire by 1861. Sealed by elaborate cast-iron gates, Parc Monceau became the backyard and local promenade for the wealthy and principally Jewish families in the Eighth Arrondissement of Paris, fabulously nicknamed Le West End. Inevitably captivated by the exclusivity of the park and the neighboring grande bourgeoisie, by the late 1870’s Gustave Caillebotte and Claude Monet were the sole Impressionists to depict the semi-private and sensuous interior of the Parc Monceau.
By 1878 Gustave Caillebotte, born into the elite society of Le West End, was the charitable financier to Claude Monet’s living arrangements at 17 rue Moncey, neighboring the Gare Saint-Lazare. Although both artists were raised distinct from the other – Monet son of a grocer in Le Havre, and Caillebotte heir to financial entrepreneur – their passions for painting, Paris, and leisure merged their subject matter. At the center of affluent western Paris, Monet and Caillebotte chose to highlight Parc Monceau’s semi-private screen of lush foliage as a confined forest in a modernized European capital.
Claude Monet’s 1878Le Parc Monceau utilizes the screen-like foliage as a statement on the Le West End’s elite society and the levels of its sweeping formality. Like the Haussmann building peeking through the layer of trees, Monet illustrates the new public environment and the false anonymity modernized Paris lent to its citizens. The Impressionist’s composition contains his usual painterly brushstrokes, arranging layers of pastels to form nursemaids, children, and their elegant costume. Like a screen or a curtain, the abundant leaves form a separation from the public boulevards as a sense of isolation and privacy. Juxtaposing this sense of security is a solitary male dressed in black. Returning the viewer’s gaze, he imposes on the familiar sense of comfort, addressing again the nineteenth-century notion of the stranger and the new public.
Diverging from Monet’s vibrant forest interior, Gustave Caillebotte’s 1878 The Park Monceau is an abandoned decaying landscape. As the bare branches weave like latticework across the gray winter sunset, the Arc de Triomphe looms in the background. Overpowering the singular figure, Haussmann’s architecture parallels to the ancient folly in the foreground establishing its force on the dynamic society. Minimizing the mysterious figure in the middle ground Caillebotte’s technique illustrates the anonymity that accompanied the advent of Haussmannization.
Ultimately this thesis strives to highlight the singularity of Parc Monceau and its image of an elite society. A comparison between Gustave Caillebotte, who grew up steps away from Boulevard Malsherbes, and Claude Monet’s more modest and nomadic lifestyle creates two unique perspectives on the hyper wealthy and its relationship within an exclusive quarter of Paris. As Caillebotte and Monet’s passions for art, gardening, and leisure assimilated, their friendship flourished breaking the boundaries of Impressionism and establishing a tone for the nineteenth century and Paris.
The Parks of Nineteenth-Century Paris
by Heidi Heim
How does study abroad enrich an artist?
First of all, you get to see how art affects different cultures. Studying abroad can affect an artist in how their creative process works. With a city like Florence, where their pride of art history is strong, it allows you to understand how art affects people differently. I could walk right inside a church and learn about new artwork at no expense to myself. It’s interesting to see how art is integrated into everyday culture there. Here in America, art doesn’t have a big of a voice in culture as I would say in Italy in terms of the amount accessibility to art. There’s a visible disconnect to the public and art. There’s this kind of stigma where you’re an art major that what you make won’t contribute to the larger aspect of society. But in Florence, there’s a pride into being an artist. It reminded me how powerful art is, not that it was not worth something before, but validated in its worth that what I’m doing is acceptable. That pushed me to be more conscious of what I made. Not necessarily for people’s approval, but to assure that whoever views it, especially myself, that it’s worth looking at. I didn’t think my art was bad before, but there was definitely a push to grow.
How/Why did you decide to go into Photography?
Looking at graphic design and industrial design, they’re more consumer based/ business oriented which is not a bad thing. It’s very important to have knowledge in that vein as an artist, but for me I believe I interpret art in a very different way than what is generally thought of as art. Photography allows me to get the best of both worlds. I can definitely be consumer based with my digital work, yet I also have free reign in what I do with my other work. I’m not limited to certain styles that I feel like I personally would have been within other majors. Photography had the least amount of rules for me. I like structure in art, but I also like a great deal of freedom. I like being able to interpret art the way I want to. Plus, I really enjoy photography.
What medium/style of art do you practice and how would you describe your art making process?
I work in digital (DLSR) and scan. I scan in origami paper and then through Photoshop, I manipulate it to create an art piece. I would consider my work very labor intensive and it’s important for my audience to understand it as that. I don’t necessarily need the audience to know how I do certain things -I like to keep that a mystery- but I want the intensity and laborious nature of art to come through. I do think structure is necessary but I like the freedom of my process. The creative process is much more complicated than people assume because they only see the finished product and I’m almost trying to show my artistic process. Right now, my senior class produces work weekly; every Tuesday, we bring work and we critique it. My professors and my peers would then give me constructive feedback, telling me what’s working and what’s not. I will typically take a day to think about what was said to me. Then I fold and scan in the origami paper, Photoshop them, then add them to a new file to create my final product. Sometimes I have an idea of what it would like but most of the time, I don’t. I feel that when I do that, I restrict myself a lot and I get frustrated if it doesn’t look exactly the way that it is supposed to. One thing I struggle with my art process is when people ask why I do certain things, I can’t really answer because I can’t say that this is what feels right or this is the work that just resulted from it.
How would you like your artwork to be interpreted?
It’s important for people who view my artwork to know that it’s photography and use it in a different way. Photography is not just point and shoot, it’s a lot deeper than that. With my work, I want people to see how labor intensive, photography can be. When people look at my work, I don’t want them to view it as something that can be done in 5 minutes. I want people to spend time with the piece. It’s very abstracted so that it encourages the audience to unpack the image. Trying to look at the motivation behind it and see how it was made. Also, I want my work to be aesthetically pleasing.
Interview with Jayme Eng, Photographer
by Debbie Kim
Yves Tanguy’s Suffering Softens Stones (Le malheur adoucit les pierres) was painted with oil in dull blue and gray colors. Sharp and fluid lines present a struggle for the viewer, for it is difficult to make sense of what he or she is looking at. Is this a landscape, or a flat space with organic objects arranged on it? The painting invites the viewer in by offering a unique otherworldly and unknown space to consider. The shadows of organic and fluid forms, harshly delineated in the foreground, also draw the eye. These forms are illuminated by an unknown light source, which is projected into the painting from the space of the viewer. The shadows of these objects create a deep contrast with the background, which was painted with blended shades of grey, blue, and a noxious green. The texture of the painting is soft, executed with smooth and blended colors; the fluid objects in the foreground are also smooth and well blended, creating a melting, liquid-like effect. Try as one might, a viewer cannot discern the artist’s brushstrokes.
Trying to decode the painting, a viewer’s first instinct might be to create a landscape. The larger objects at the bottom of the painting, with objects gradually becoming smaller and smaller toward the center of the painting, certainly suggest a receding space. The flat, stark shadows also give a sense of ground on which the objects rest. To enhance the appearance of this potential landscape, the painting is divided into an upper blue “sky” and a lower dark grey and green “ground.” But is this a landscape? Or is it an ambiguous three-dimensional space, created by the arrangement of big objects and small objects, hemmed in by what appears to be a “horizon line”? Looking at the painting from different viewpoints, a viewer may discover evidence for a flat surface. The perspective from which the picture is viewed determines whether it is a landscape or a combination of shapes.
The first emotion I experienced when looking at this painting was a sense of the past. The painting projects the viewer into this otherworldly landscape riddled with sharp, piercing objects. The objects take on the appearance of corroding or decaying metal parts. The wisps of smoke in the background offer the possibility of a great fire recently burned out. The painting creates the effect of an aftermath; it is seen through the decay or melting of the harsh objects in the foreground, which scar the harsh and smooth landscape or background. The painting seems to offer the viewer a glimpse of a dreamlike landscape that recently experienced a great and terrible event capable of causing such wreckage. The painting also has the suggestion of a horizon line, accentuated through the darker blacks and grays of the lower half and the lighter grays, whites and blues of the upper half, creating almost a smooth undulating landscape. The objects in the foreground as well as their deep black shadows stand stark against the background. They almost resemble machine pieces in a state of decay or corrosion. War machinery or parts of war machinery comes to mind, as one object resembles an anchor or even pieces of a crashed plane. I find the painting suggestive of a past battle or war scarring the landscape in the process of decay, suggesting the passing of time after the moment of the event. The lack of foliage and the absence of human forms add to the look of destruction. The lighter shades of grays and blues in the upper half of the painting counter the lower, creating feelings of healing and lightness.
The imagery within the painting also gives cause to wonder if this scene represents a state of mind or an actual event. The former seems more plausible, as nothing within Suffering Softens Stones seems recognizable. One form on the right side of the painting takes on a vegetal appearance, but this first impression is countered once the viewer notices the sharpness and non-plantlike shape of the form. The army green color used also adds to the militaristic impression of the painting and other forms resembling a crashed airplane. Perhaps it represents an ambiguous dreamlike mental landscape with reference to actual events, as the artist, Yves Tanguy, lived through World War II, and this is how he remembers the war. Perhaps he suffered mentally because of the things he saw. Several of the objects seemingly resemble a crashed airplane’s parts, while others have no color and look like pieces of folded paper, two even being connected by a thin, almost invisible line, letting the viewer attempt to make sense of what they are looking at, but coming up short of any conclusions as he or she looks more closely at the painting for a longer period of time.
Overall, Suffering Softens Stones is an ambiguous painting. It offers multiple possibilities for what the viewer is looking at, thus allowing the viewer to come to multiple conclusions. Devoid of life, it alludes to a warlike and destructive past through the seemingly metallic melting parts and noxious greens and grays used by the artist to create this otherworldly landscape.
Visual Analysis of Suffering Softens Stones (1948) by Yves Tanguy
by Tess Madden
At first glance, the bright colors and circuslike subject matter fascinate the viewer through an airbrushed, graffiti-like style of Glen C. Davies’s The Optimist. The small, poster-size canvas banner draws the viewer in with its many small details. Two curtains are pulled to the sides of this whimsical painting to centralize the figure of a man riding his unicycle across a tightrope, making him the star of this dismal show. Yellow, green, and pink spotlights shine on the figure from the top corners and from the bottom center of the painting, creating an unnatural glow. He is blindfolded, carrying a running water hose in one hand, an umbrella in the other. A noose grips the man’s neck, as he smokes a pipe and smiles, unaware of the chaos that surrounds him. In the bottom left-hand corner, a hand holds a pair of scissors reaching to cut the rope from underneath the man to send him to his death. However, when taking a closer look at the man, one sees that the figure is not really a man at all: his body is composed of wooden legs and arms, covered with realistic hands and what appear to be shoes; his torso is made of a wooden log worn thin at the middle ready to split in half at any moment. At the top of this wooden torso, the heart of the man glows from underneath a tattered white tank top. Despite the wooden body, the figure’s human aspects create an anxious concern for his wellbeing. We wish somehow that there were a way to save him. The title The Optimist expresses an irony about this smiling man: his ignorance is his bliss.
Link to the artist’s webpage: http://www.glencdavies.com/#our-team
by Lauren Riggs
From afar, Ivan Albright’s Self Portrait looks like a muddled hodgepodge of black and white. A closer view reveals the hazy mass crystallized into a chaotic jumble of tiny, distinct, shapes, lines, shadows, and highlights, but still no color. It is not until the picture is at about an arm’s length away that the viewer is able to make out a subject. In the center of the image, a man sits at a decadently laid table, drink in one hand, cigar in the other. The man’s face, shriveled and wizened, is crisscrossed with dozens of dark, deep wrinkles. His eye sockets, disproportionately large and sunken back into his skull, gaze vacantly at the viewer. The absence of distinct eyeballs almost makes it seem as if his eyeballs have been gouged out of his head. His fingers, fleshy, swollen, and embedded with wrinkles, grip a glass of brandy on the right and twirl a cigar on the left. His arms fit snugly into a bulging suit jacket that has been shaded to contain an almost oily sheen.
The scenery surrounding the grotesque figure is not any more appealing. The back wall of the room seems like an unofficial sketch, looking bleak, bare, and masked in shadow. The chair-back behind the man is seems to be exact opposite: hyper-realistic and cluttered with detail. The table the man is sitting at is covered down to the last centimeter with intricately stitched lace and littered with ornate jewelry, an elaborate cigar box, a vase of flowers, and an extravagant urn of fruit - all of this depicted in a bleak range of black and whites. Furthermore, a twisted sense of perspective makes the table tilt towards the viewer, with its cluttered jumble of objects appearing to be on the verge of converging into a muddled heap on the viewer’s lap. Although on the one hand the extreme detail of the props compels the viewer to peer closely at the picture, the chaotic disarray of objects, the overwhelmingly intricate detail, along with a twisted sense of perspective, simultaneously repulses them, making for a surprisingly disturbing image.
What makes this picture particularly surprising is that the grotesque man rotting away at the ornately laid table is actually a self-portrait of the artist himself. Ivan Albright, a graduate of the University of Illinois’s Architecture and Engineering schools who went on to work as a medical draftsman during World War I, made this lithograph in 1948 and entitled it Self Portrait at E. 55 Division St. Although the fact that the image is a self-portrait is still surprising, knowing Albright’s background helps to explain the disturbing image. After World War I, many veterans returned home disillusioned with the human race and weary of living. The chaos, decay, and gloom in the lithograph, amidst the overwhelming display of opulence and leisure, unearth the vanity of the human life. Albright’s placement of himself alone, with no other human to sympathize with him in his misery, is a bitter renouncement of faith in mankind. All Albright has left is the oppressive presence of his material wealth, which also happens to be decaying. The lithograph is small (14 ¼ in. x 10 1/8 in.). But Albright’s ability to elicit a surprisingly strong reaction of disgust and gloom results in a strikingly forceful critique of the emptiness of the human life.
Ivan Albright, Post World War 1, and His New Self-Portrait
by Sarah Spalding