Monday, March 26, 2012

Women's History Month IV

To wind up Women’s History Month, I’ve brought you a work of art from women who are largely ignored by art history books: weavers. Weaving is an ancient tradition, especially among First Nation cultures. In the 1970s the Feminist art movement reinvigorated art forms traditionally attributed to women and elevated them to fine art. The Pattern and Decoration movement, including artists such as Joyce Kozloff, was one result of that. I think it’s high time that art works from the “decorative arts” (a term I loathe) be included in the pantheon of art history. Maybe I’m biased because the Davis Art Gallery is sending out a call for fiber artists for our next show???

According to tradition, Navajo women learned weaving skills from two spirit beings: Spider Woman and Spider Man. Navajo women actually learned weaving from Pueblo males in New Mexico. In Pueblo cultures men were the weavers. Pueblo cultures raised cotton and wove blankets since about 700 ce. In the seventeenth century, the Spanish introduced sheep to Pueblo cultures, and wool was added to Pueblo weaving. After learning how to weave, Navajo women quickly developed a distinctive style of their own.

The Navajo wove blankets mainly for use as clothing, although “blankets” were also used as covers for doors and room dividers. It was after starting to trade blankets with whites that they began to create larger weavings that could be used as rugs rather than for wearing. Fragments of weavings from the late eighteenth century found in Canyon del Monte, New Mexico, are the earliest existing examples in the US of naturally colored, handspun wools with stripe patterns.

In the 1860s commercial dyes were introduced from Germantown, Pennsylvania. By 1870, weaving was no longer used primarily as clothing but for trade. This blanket has a common zigzag pattern alternating with stripes. The pattern was meant to complement the curves of the human form when worn. The natural black wool contrasts with the brightness of the imported red and indigo. The jagged edges of the zigzag are taken from a pattern that symbolized clouds, an element of nature that represented change. The colors are also symbolic: red and yellow are synonymous with the sun and its nurturing warmth, black is the symbol of hope and joy, and blue symbolizes the sky. To this day, about 5000 Navajo women continue to weave rugs and blankets.

Activity: Weaving on a cardboard loom. Using a piece of cardboard approximately 11 x 8 1/2,” cut slits in the top and bottom 1/2 inch apart. Take yarn and wrap warp abound the cardboard securing it in the slits. Weave another yarn over and under the warp, changing the order with each row. Use a fork to pull each row of weft tight against each other.

Correlations to Davis programs:   Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.31; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 5.27; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 2.10; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.30; A Global Pursuit 2.3; Exploring Visual Design 1, 4, 7, 8, 11; The Visual Experience: 14.5; Discovering Art History: 4.10

Monday, March 19, 2012

Women’s History Month III

One of the most interesting things about Russian modernism is the number of prominent women artists. Art historians still debate why this was so. It may be because women were admitted to the Academy in Saint Petersburg as early as 1871 (slightly later in Moscow), and that the artists of the avant-garde in Russia around the time of the Revolution (1917) were part of a new middle class in Russia that emphasized equality and education. One key component to women’s prominence in the forward looking art styles was the fact that traditional Russian folk art, including embroidery, were major influences, blurring the hierarchies of what was deemed “fine art” in most western European countries. Natalija Goncharova is a unique figure in this period because she painted in many of the newest styles: Cubism, Futurism, Rayonism, and Suprematism. She also created designs for theater stages and costumes.

Goncharova was educated and her style blossomed in Moscow during the fruitful pre-revolutionary period. She was a leader—along with her husband, avant-garde Russian pioneer abstractionist Mikhail Larionov (1881–1964)—of artists who espoused traditional Russian art infused in the latest avant-garde movements in Western Europe, especially those based on Cubism. She painted in many of the contemporary western styles, but what is particularly interesting is her interest in “neo-primitive” art that had a basis in Russian icons, Chinese art, and Japanese prints.

Rayonism: Blue-Green Forest comes from the period when Goncharova and Larionov introduced Rayonism (or Rayism), officially in 1911. Rayonism was based on the principles of movement found in Futurism (ultimately based on the idea of elapsed time in Cubism), and the principles of fragmented form found in Cubism, but was primarily focused on representing the idea of rays of lights reflecting off of objects. The style is sometimes called Cubo-Futurism because of these influences. The painting also points out the influence of Orphism, a color-infused version of Cubism. In 1913 she and Larionov published a manifesto on Rayonism.

In 1915 Larionov and Goncharova moved to Paris to produce sets for the Ballets Russes, essentially bringing Rayonism to a close. When they returned to Moscow after the revolution, Constructivism and Suprematism had center stage in Russian modernism. Although Goncharova gradually rejected overt French influence in her painting, she still believed that progressive ideas about style were valuable to Russian art.

Activity: Create a drawing or painting of an abstract tree. Use tempera paint, markers, crayons, or colored pencils to produce a drawing. Base the work of sketches of real trees. Simplify the shapes and lines found in the realistic sketches. Try to create a color scheme that is not realistic. 

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 2.12; Explorations in Art Grade: 4 1.6, 6.33, 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 2.7-8 studio; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 4, 5, 6, 12; The Visual Experience: 16.6; Discovering Art History: 14.2

Monday, March 12, 2012

Women’s History Month II

Last week I featured a woman who was a member of the first generation of Japanese women admitted into art schools, the coveted guild of ceramic artists in particular. I featured a Japanese woman artist who bucked the guild system, but unfortunately, such examples are few and far between. That being said, the acceptance of women artists in the West is equally as dismal, although I still maintain that public recognition does not mean that women artists have not always been an important contribution in art history, and that goes for both East and West.

The women associated with the Impressionists were no less ground breaking than any other period. Eva Gonzalès was part of the first generation of women artists who displayed their work as art-for-art’s-sake, rather that adhering strictly to academic guidelines. Although she showed almost exclusively in the French Academy, her work breaks with past traditions of subject matter and style.

Along with Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) and Berthe Morisot (1841–1895), Gonzalès was the only other woman of any stature associated with the French impressionists. Although her style is identified with the impressionists, she never exhibited in their independent shows, although she was invited. Like Édouard Manet (1832–1883), Gonzalès preferred to achieve personal success in the official Salon, rather than in the independent exhibits.
Gonzalès was the daughter of a celebrated Parisian novelist, who introduced her to avant-garde literary and artistic circles when she was a child. This exposed her to the latest ideas in the art world at an early age. At the age of sixteen she became the student of academic master Charles Chaplin (1825–1891), whose style was basically realism. The major impact on her career, however, was her meeting and eventual friendship with Manet in 1869. The relationship evolved into a warm master-pupil type.
Gonzalès’ first entry into the Salon in 1870 was highly praised, not only for the sensitivity of the work, “The Little Soldier,” but also because she was only twenty-one. Already with that work, Gonzalès showed the influence of Manet’s painting from the early 1860s, a period when he was influenced strongly by Spanish Baroque painting. Gonzalès showed works every year after that, but she never achieved the professional success of Morisot of Cassatt. Her painting style changed little through the years. 
Nanny and Child is typical of her style, and strongly evocative of Manet. Formal characteristics such as the somber, muted palette; limited middle tones; and fluid brush were elements of Manet’s work that appear in Gonzalès’. Silhouetting the light figure against a dark background recalls Manet’s single figure paintings from the period of 1861 to 1866. Her subject, like most of the impressionists, was chosen from every day life. Unlike the impressionists, her palette reflects her academic training with Chaplin.
After 1871 Manet chose to work in the more brilliant palette of the impressionists, but Gonzalès did not follow his lead. She continued to use her muted palette because she felt it suited her temperament. Her works, painted with the same sense of detachment as Manet’s early figure works, continued to reflect a sensitivity and sincerity until her early death in 1883.
Activity: Portrait with light and shadow. Using heavy textured colored construction paper (suggested colors: beige, black, orange, gray, or green), draw a portrait or figure of a person in dramatic darks and lights. Use chalk, charcoal, or white or black colored pencil to achieve dramatic contrasts in light and dark.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 3.15, Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.8, Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3, Explorations in Art Grade 4: 2.7, Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.2, Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.3, A Personal Journey: 6.1, A Global Pursuit: 7.1, Exploring Visual Design: 3, The Visual Experience: 16.4, Discovering Art History: 13.1

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Great Tradition Endures

 As I’ve written before, ceramic arts in Japan are among the oldest on Earth, dating back to the Jomon Culture (dates to ca. 11000 bce, flourished ca. 3000 – 200 bce). The reason I bring up Jomon ceramics is that they are the first ceramics known to have been decorated purely for aesthetic rather than utilitarian purposes. The idea of ceramic vessels serving aesthetic purposes has persists to the present day in cultures around the world. It is particularly compelling in Japan, where the ceramic tradition has such a long history.

Shoko Koike is one of the first generations of Japanese women to become major ceramic artists. Before the 1950s, ceramic arts were dominated by men. Like most other art forms in Japan, ceramics followed the tradition of master and apprentice with guilds often named for a famous ceramic artist. Women were discouraged from participating in the art form. Those who did were by and large disregarded. It was only after World War II (1939–1945) that women were admitted to Japanese art schools and kilns.

It is interesting to note, in contrast, that in the West as early as the nineteenth century women were encouraged to take up “art pottery” as an artistic form of expression, mostly because they did not have to attend art school and be subjected to “inappropriate” forms of education such as life drawing. In the case of the “art pottery” artists and Japanese ceramicists such as Koike, the art form has flourished and pushed the boundaries of traditional ceramics.

Koike takes the sea as the point of departure for her forms. Many of her works are inspired by either the forms or texture of sea shells. She creates her forms out of Shigaraki clay (stoneware). The body is first thrown on the potter’s wheel, and then she creates the distinctive organic shapes by hand. The stoneware is then covered with a white slip (liquefied clay) with the edges, such as this vessel, emphasized with iron brown glaze.

Koike’s work is in collections internationally. She has been honored in Japan with the prestigious Japan Ceramic Society Award.

Activity: Mold-formed vessel. Direct students to press of slab of clay into a Styrofoam bowl (which is reusable as long as they are not cracked from students pressing too hard). Separate the clay from the bowl with plastic wrap (also reusable). Trim clay from rim that goes past the edge of the bowl. Remove the bowl and decorate the surface of the clay with found objects, clay tools, or even a pencil. Bowls can then be fired and glazed, or painted with watercolor.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Exploration in Art Grade 3: 6.35; A Personal Journey: 3.3; A Global Pursuit: 2.2; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 6, 11, 12; The Visual Experience: 10.6