Reading One: Three Couples by Ivy C. Dally

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1 Reading One: Three Couples by Ivy C. Dally Now that you have an understanding of the role that artists and viewers play, you can begin to look at different artworks with some authority. The next step in the process of learning to appreciate art is being able to describe what you see in a little more detail. This will help you gain some insight into the message the artist is trying to convey. In today s lecture we are going to discuss a few more terms that will really help you as you begin your journey into understanding the visual arts. We will begin with the idea of form, in part because that is where all visual artworks begin. FORM can be defined as the total effect of the combined visual qualities within a work. Rodin, The Kiss Musee Rodin To briefly review the concept of form through Rodin s The Kiss, we see a 3D sculptural mass made of marble. As actual light shines down onto the two figures, we see a

2 number of values ranging from light, white marble to completely black shadows. The contour lines follow the outline of the figure s bodies, curving gracefully. The light is shining on the two figures as they kiss, emphasizing the upper portion of the sculpture. Unity is created by the whiteness, and the smoothness, of the marble. There is some variety provided in the rough-hewn marble at the figures feet. The piece has actual balance, because it is not falling over. It is also pictorially balanced in an asymmetrical manner. The simple, lighter areas outnumber the darkest areas, and the rough hewn areas. There seems to be an abundance of diagonal lines that may imply either motion, or more likely, a heated emotional state. As we are describing what we see, you may notice you may want to use terms not discussed in the visual elements and principles of design lecture (which is next week). For example, in order to talk about this piece in particular, one needs to mention the fact that there are two human figures, one male and one female. Both are nude. The woman embraces the man around his neck; his hand rests upon her hip. They sit atop of some surface which is hard to discern. All of these features describe the SUBJECT or SUBJECT MATTER of the work. The subject is simply describing what you see in everyday terms. Or, the subject is answer to the question, What is it? A couple kissing. When looking at different examples of the visual arts, you will notice that sometimes the artwork looks just like something you would see in the real, physical world. Sometimes it doesn t look like anything that you have ever seen! There are several very important terms that you should become familiar with that describe an artwork s appearance in relationship to the physical world. These terms are REPRESENTATIONAL and NON-REPRESENTATIONAL. Representational art depicts objects and things (ie subjects) that we recognize from the everyday physical world. Non representational art presents visual forms that do not refer to anything outside of themselves. Representational art can look very much like the physical world, or not at all like the physical world. You can think of representational art as a spectrum with two extremes. One extreme contains art that is very realistic. Terms to describe this type of art include trompe l oeil (fool the eye), mimesis/mimetic (art that mimics reality), and naturalistic (looks natural). On the other side of the spectrum contains art that refers to the physical world but doesn t look realistic because the subject has been simplified, distorted, and/or exaggerated. This type of art is called abstract. Let s go back to our Rodin and compare it to a sculpture called The Kiss by Brancusi to elaborate on the two types of representational art.

3 Rodin (left) and The Kiss by Brancusi Philadelphia Museum of Art In looking at these two sculptures, we see that the subject matter is the same. Both sculptures represent couples kissing each other, their arms wrapped around each other s bodies. We see a few similarities in the form as well. Both are sculptures, so they have actual mass. Both are devoid of color. Both rely on actual light to illuminate the areas that have been carved. Both are examples of Representational Art. However, in looking at these pieces, we can easily see there are more differences than similarities between Rodin s Kiss and Brancusi s Kiss. In the Rodin, we see two human figures that look very much like one would expect. These life-sized figures are anatomically correct from head to toe. Rodin has excelled at sculpting a chunk of hard marble into what appears to be soft, human flesh. He has taken a naturalistic or mimetic approach to the subject of a kiss. Brancusi, on the other hand, has created a man and a woman that do not look like the men and women we see in our everyday lives. The bodies of the man and the woman have been simplified to the point of appearing like round-edged rectangles. The woman s body is distinguished from the man s body only by a slight curve indicating the side of her breast. The arms and hands have been simplified into two long bands. The eyes are simple ovals. The hair is created through the repetition of wavy lines. Other features, including elbows, noses, and even the jaw lines, have been omitted completely. Here, abstraction has been used to show the subject of a kiss between a man and a woman.

4 Two Representational Sculptures. Two couples kissing. Two world-renown European sculptors. Two artworks that don t look alike at all!!!! You might be wondering why? The differences in form, the differences in appearance, are due to the fact that these works have a different CONTENT, which is defined as the underlying truth, message, or meaning in a work of art. Oftentimes, the underlying meaning will influence the choices an artist makes when deciding what kind of form his or her artwork will take. The content, the underlying message, behind Rodin s Kiss, is the artist s idea of the passionate couple in love. Rodin shows the viewer the youthful, beautiful bodies in a very intimate moment. There is a sensuality that is almost tangible; the softness of the human flesh becomes even more convincing when contrasted next to the roughly carved marble they are perched upon. I am sure this piece has left more than one viewer breathless. What viewers may not notice today is that the woman and the man are equal partners in this embrace. She does not shy away from her partner; rather, she pulls him in closer by throwing her arm passionately around his neck. This is the stuff of our Hollywood movies; but the idea of a capable female lover was considered rather risqué to many of Rodin s contemporary viewers. A copy of this statue was sent to the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893; it was considered unsuitable for the general public and was available for view only to those who applied for prior written permission! In a word, the content of this piece is passion. How better to communicate the idea of passion then through a steamy embrace? The content behind the Kiss of Brancusi is that true love is lasting love; it is, pardon the pun, solid as a rock. We are not overwhelmed by the passion of these two figures, but we are struck at how in this sculpture, two separate people have fused together, joined together, into one entity. In many respects, they are almost mirror images of each other. Furthermore, they are so wrapped up together, it is hard to tell at a glance where one figure starts and the other ends. This idea of union, this idea of everlasting love, is strengthened and underscored through the use of abstraction. Because Brancusi has utilized abstraction, he is able to use the same wavy line technique on the hair of the figure. This eliminates any distinction between the two; for they are to be understood as one. The same is true of the way the eyes have been carved; in fact, it looks as if there is just one oval rather than two separate eyes. The lips, the site of the Kiss, are shared by our male and female subject. Once again abstraction is used to drive the point home that true love between two people is the joining of body, mind, and soul. This is the content of this piece. We have now reviewed FORM, the total effect of the visual qualities of a work, SUBJECT MATTER, what the artwork shows us, CONTENT, the underlying message or meaning in an artwork, and the appearance of art in relation to the physical world. In terms of appearance we have discussed an example of naturalistic or mimetic REPRESENATIONAL ART and an example of abstracted REPRESENTATIONAL ART.

5 We will finish this week s lecture with an examination of NON-REPRESENTATIONAL ART through the third and last of our couples. I put the term couples in quotes because, if you remember, Non-Representational art is defined as visual forms that do not refer to anything outside of themselves. They do not refer to the physical, visible world that you and I live in. It is pattern, it is shape, it is mass, it is form. Just as we can respond to music, we can respond to visual forms. They can take us on an emotional journey as well as any song on the radio, and they should not be viewed as inferior to representational art, or as lacking subject or content. Barbara Hepworth, Two Figures (Menhirs) Art Institute of Chicago. Image from In looking at the Hepworth s sculpture, we are confronted with two masses created from teak wood. The mass to the left is tall, long, and accented by three rounded shapes of varying sizes that have been carved into the wood. These shapes are accented by a cream colored paint. Each rounded, concave shape has had a small, round piece of wood removed, allowing light to come in through the statue. The shape to the right is also long, although not quite as tall as the shape to the left. It has two long, rounded concave shapes carved into its surface. These are also accented by cream paint. Two long, narrow, rounded pieces of wood have been removed; the wall in the background is visible through this space. Unity and rhythm are created in the piece by the use of both long forms and rounded edges. Variety is introduced through the small, circular shapes that have been removed from the left side of the piece. There does not seem to be one area that is emphasized over the other. While this might be a detriment to some

6 works, this lack of emphasis works well in this piece. Rather than focusing on one detail, our eye is allowed to wander over the piece, circling around and around again, enjoying the texture of the wood grain, the smoothness of the concave area, the gentle curves of the contours. We may even peek through the spaces created in the depressions of the concave areas, allowing us to see through the piece. It is a visually appealing sculpture, we enjoying looking at it simply for the experience of seeing something out of the ordinary. This is the content of this piece. This is one of the joys of Non-representational art. Again, let me emphasize that this is a Non-representational piece. The title of this piece, Two Figures, may cause you a bit of confusion, and that is why I avoided using the title above. In looking at the work of Barbara Hepworth, we see that she began as a sculptor creating highly abstracted works. As her career progressed, she moved into nonrepresentational art. This piece was created at the cross-roads of that change; in form and subject matter and content she has moved to non-representational art. However, in the early 1950 s, she continued to give sculptures such as this names that referred to the physical world. In doing this however, she created questions in the viewers mind such as Are these figures male and female? Do the concave depressions represent human anatomy? Etc. Just a few years after creating this piece, Hepworth began to give her pieces more generic names such as Form to underscore the non-representational nature of her mature work. In this lecture, we have used three different couples to help us understand the concepts of form, subject matter, content, and appearance in the visual arts. Be sure to study these terms at length, for they will be used for the rest of the semester as we begin to examine the history of art in west.

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