Monday, January 26, 2009

A Non-European Renaissance

When we think of great periods of flowering in the arts, we, as westerners, usually think of the European Renaissance or the Baroque periods, or Ancient Greece. I think it is very important that we understand that many non-western cultures have had flowerings in art and culture equal to or surpassing that of the European Renaissance. One such culture was the Safavid Dynasty that ruled Persia (Iran) from 1502 to 1736.

The reign of Shah Abbas I in Iran (1588–1629) is considered one of the greatest periods in the Safavid dynasty. Abbas reclaimed much land taken by the Ottoman Turks, including Baghdad, and moved the capital to Isfahan. He monopolized the silk trade through Iran and used the profits to initiate a building program and patronage of the arts previously unseen in Iran. Book painting became less important in Iran towards the beginning of the seventeenth century. Single-page works of art became increasingly popular, because lavishly illustrated books tended to be extremely expensive.

Riza Abbasi was one of the masters of single page compositions, and one of the first Iranian artists to prefer such works over book illustration. Trained by his father Ali Asgarh, Abbasi worked in the court workshop of Shah Abbas as a young man. In 1603, he was given the honorific of “Abbasi,” meaning “of Abbas.” Shortly thereafter, he left the court workshop. According to contemporary accounts, Riza was temperamental and preferred the company of the common people to courtiers. However, he rejoined the royal workshop in 1610 and remained until his death.

This work is typical of Abbasi’s style. Figures are elegant, composed of fluid and graceful lines. Color is applied in a semi-transparent, almost impressionistic manner that recalls Chinese landscapes with their suggestion of form. Chinese painting had been influential in Iranian painting starting in the 16th century. Abbasi’s style had a great impact on all subsequent Iranian painting. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Abbasi’s work does not display any overt influence from western art.

This link shows you more examples of Iranian painting.

Connections Across Curriculum - The Silk Road was mentioned in the first post of this blog for its link between Greek and Buddhist art. It is interesting to see that 1,500 years later trade routes between the east and west continued to have a major influence in commerce and art. Although it had declined, the Silk Road experienced a revival during the Safavid Dynasty, especially as the empire was positioned to trade with European and Asian powers. Today, we make connections between the east and west through foreign relations, the media, the internet, commerce, and many other outlets. How are these connections felt in our daily lives? How can art mediate these experiences?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pioneering Digital Artist

DID YOU EVER CONSIDER that in the 1970s and 1980s computer art was in the same position as photography was in the 19th century — not considered “fine art?” But things have changed in the 21st century — digital art and computer-generated art are accepted as fine art. Does your school teach the tools for producing digital art? Have you held any group shows?

Laurence Gartel has been a pioneer in the field of computer art. In the 1970s, he produced some of his first examples of electronic art using tools he had built and modified himself. At the age of twenty-nine he had learned 42 different electronic systems for creating art. Combining actual painting and photo-manipulation, he produced a unique art form a decade before corporate-produced software allowed the general public to emulate his technique. He started working with video synthesizers in 1976, ten years before the introduction of Paintbox, and Amiga. Gartel is unique for having entered the paintbox style of work so early, and having persisted through the evolution of this technology to the present day.

By the age of seventeen Gartel had trained himself in the skills of computer graphics. This interest led him to the Media Study/Buffalo center where he met Nam June Paik. Paik virtually invented the medium known as “video art.” While Paik was concentrating on presenting things in motion, Gartel is interested in creating complex combinations of still images.

Gartel taught alternative processes at the School of Visual Arts upon earning a degree and was a founding instructor of the school’s computer graphics lab in 1982. The revolutionary Commodore Computer’s Amiga series was the most advanced system for graphics and video. As an Amiga guru, Gartel taught Andy Warhol how to use graphics technology. Apple Computer hired Gartel to experiment with their first color screen prototype. By 1985, Gartel’s work was used to illustrate magazines, record covers, calendars, and posters. In 2004, Gartel was given a thirty-year retrospective at the Coral Springs Museum of Art in Florida. His work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Long Island Museum, Princeton Art Museum, and the Norton Simon Museum of Art. Gartel has also given workshops around the world.

For more about Gartel visit his website.

Connections Across Curriculum - Just over thirty years after Gartel started producing digital art, it is hard to imagine creating digital art from the ground up. The artroom can now be a key contributor to not only developing creative thinking skills, but also learning a number of computer systems and programs. From understanding computer basics to working with animation, the artroom is more connected to a well-rounded education than ever. Not surprisingly, there are many websites on this subject. Art Education 2.0 is a social networking site that allows educators using new technologies to connect. The blog Digital Art Education is also very informative and provides a lot of interesting links.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The King of Impressionism

Among my heroes in the history of art, Claude Monet has to be right near the top. Of all of the impressionists, Monet’s work, especially his late paintings, has had the most impact on my own landscape painting. One of the things that is so remarkable about his career is that he continued to grow as a painter until he died, creating works that were quasi-abstract. How many of you still have your students go outside to produce landscapes on the spot in nature? Do you find that students respond better to painting nature when they’re in the middle of it?

Monet’s mature style was a combination of the influences of the realist Barbizon school painters who encouraged him to paint outdoors; his fellow artists Renoir, Sisley, and Bazille who were all searching for new ways of exploring nature through pure color; and the romantic, atmospheric landscapes of the English romantics Turner and Constable.

Monet painted “An Impression, Sunrise.” This painting gave the movement its name. It was displayed in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 in Paris. The emphasis on shimmering light, reflections in water, and use of bright pure color were the antithesis of what academic painting represented at the time, and critics were initially not kind.

By the late 1880s his perseverance with the impressionist style paid off. His first big success was at an exhibition in 1889 where he showed his paintings alongside a showing of Rodin’s sculpture. He was well on his way to becoming an established artist. The 1890s was a period during which Monet produced numerous series of paintings. These series were views painted of the same subject at different times of day under differing weather and light conditions.

Late in life, Monet’s work focused almost entirely on and around his home in Giverny outside of Paris. There he created a magnificent garden with a Japanese-style bridge and water lily pond. These became almost the exclusive subject matter of his late works. As he reached his 60s and 70s, Monet’s eyesight gradually deteriorated. The works from this period show the greatest amount of fracturing of the form into shimmering reflections of light on local color, some of the works verging on abstraction because of the dissolution of form.
To paraphrase the great post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (1839–1906): Monet was “only an eye, but my goodness, what an eye!”

The following links take you to some large groupings of Monet’s works:
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

This website has awesome resources about Monet’s life and work:

Connections Across Curriculum - Artists and their works offer a great opportunity to learn about history and culture. What better place to use art to explore a country or region than a foreign language course? Monet’s garden in Giverny that was such an inspiration to his art can also inspire French language learners. Explore Monet, his art, and Giverny. (The site is also available in English). The French blog “Giverny News” also includes information of Monet’s garden.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Early American Watercolorist

Among the earliest artists who worked predominantly in watercolor in America were several women who rose to prominence. Mary Ann Willson was one of these. Imagine being an artist and basically a pioneer on the American frontier in the second decade of the nineteenth century. No art supply stores, no galleries to show your work, and few sources of inspiration. And yet this amazing woman actually thrived by selling her watercolors.

Willson’s work was unknown until 1943 when a collection of her watercolors was discovered in a New York gallery. The works were accompanied by an anonymous letter dated 1850 that detailed what little biographic information is available on her. Apparently Willson and her partner, a Miss Brundage, built a log cabin in Greenville, New York in 1810. While her partner farmed the land, Willson produced watercolors which she sold to neighbors. According to the writer of the letter, “An Admirer of Art,” Willson’s watercolors were in demand from New York to Mobile, Alabama.

Living in the wilderness, Willson used bright colors made from such materials as berry juice, brick dust, and vegetable dyes. Untrained, she drew images from popular prints in bold colors and simple shapes. The boldness of color and strong decorative pattern combine with a total lack of interest for conventional drawing, perspective, or realism. The Prodigal Son series she produced, of which this work is a part, was a subject particularly popular with American settlers. The foppish attire of the male figures is obviously based on fashion plate illustrations of the day, a major source of inspiration for Willson.

After Miss Brundage died in 1825, Willson was said to have been inconsolable. No further watercolors were produced after that date, and Mary Ann Willson disappeared from the art world. What she left behind was a wonderful body of work that gives insights to rural American frontier in the early days of the country, produced by a self-taught artist. Willson’s story inspired Isabel Miller’s 1972 novel, Patience and Sarah.

See more of Willson’s works at the National Gallery of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Here you will find a resource for research into women’s art.

Connections Across Curriculum - The popularity of Mary Ann Willson’s paintings during her own lifetime points to the young country’s interest in the frontier. As westward expansion depleted the wilderness, the idea of frontier life became mythologized as a uniquely American experience. This can be seen in works by other artists of the time, such as members of the Hudson River School, as well as in literature, most notably that of James Fenimore Cooper. Students can explore the conditions in which Willson may have lived in Cooper’s novels, including The Last of the Mohicans and The Pioneers, set in New York State.