February 10th: The Body As Your Tool

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Ahoy, ahoy!

We’ve launched into performance art, as I’ve mentioned previously.  Performance art is incredibly body-centric.  If there was no body, there would be no performance!  Thus, how the body behaves and interacts with the audience is what truly gets the message of the piece across.  What costumes are being worn?  Are there even costumes at all?  How is the body interacting with the audience?  Is the audience even aware that they are an audience?  So many different factors come into play, and the success of the piece is dependent on all of them.  And even then, the piece will always be different because we are never existing in the same way at any given time.

Some performances are done on stages, some for video cameras.  Others are done in public space, when the people around may not even know what they are witnessing.  But for the most part, performance is united in the focus it places on the body.  Performance art developed a strong following of both people interested in it, and those who practiced it in the 1970’s.  Coincidentally, this is the same time period that focus on the place of the body in society was becoming a dominant focus of anthropology.  Many anthropologists began centring their ideas around the importance and place of the body in society, and developing theories related to how we view the body’s role.

A interesting phenomenon among human beings is how we will automatically be drawn to focus on something when it is undergoing a change.  The body was no different.  Over the 20th century, technology became more and more advanced as time progressed.  Suddenly, to see or communicate with someone did not require actually being physically in the same place.  You had photographs and telephones, radios, then televisions, movies.  Computers and the Internet would catch on later.  Additionally, the 1970’s were a time of liberation from stereotypical roles attributed to gender and race.  People were breaking down barriers every which way you turned.  Suddenly, not only were you communicating differently with others, you were communicating with different people in different ways and contexts from the past.  Your body was communicating with other bodies in a new way.  And this is what spurned anthropologists and other social scientists to begin theorizing and discussing the body and it’s societal role in an almost instantaneous way.

I truly believe that the onset of performance art in Canadian society had much to do with this new context the body was being placed into.  After all, art imitates life, and life was focused around the body and the liberation of the body.

That’s all!

Brit

January 18th: Golden Ratio

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Today we spent quite a bit of time focussed on Alex Colville, which is understandable, because not only is he a Canadian artist, he is also a Sackville artist!  We spoke about how his work was very centred around measurement and mathematical proportions, and the Golden Ratio was mentioned.  The Golden Ratio is a rather interesting crossover between mathematics and art.  The desire for the replication of human perfection has been around for centuries, and the Golden Ratio has inspired people in all sorts of disciplines for over 2’000 years.

The ancient Greeks developed the figure of the Doryphoros or spear-bearer in approximately 45 – 50 BCE  in their quest for a perfectly proportioned human body.  Additionally, it is thought that the Parthenon was created using golden rectangles as a basis for it’s architectural design.

Doryphoros, marble copy of bronze original

It was during the Renaissance that artists began to really pick up the use of the Golden Ratio in their works.  The quest for perfect proportion in human figures was made example of in Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which laid out a set of specific measurements by which representation of a person should follow.  Human symmetry was seen as an extension of the symmetry of the universe, as it existed as and because of nature.

Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

The Golden Ratio is a highly transferable to all sorts of different disciplines.  Le Corbusier made use of it in his new, international style architecture.  He referred to this style as the Modular, and began using the concept in his buildings around the 1930’s.  Twenty years later, measurement of his own house would inspire Colville to begin working with the Golden Ratio in his paintings.   Symmetry and straight lines can be seen in Colville’s works, along with works executed by other artists of this timeframe.  The label of “magic realism” to works of this time could be seen as referrring to the fact that in nature, symmetry does exist, but not to the degree of perfection expected and aimed for by artists and architects alike over the years.  Perhaps it is following these ratios that results in such a super-real quality in these pieces.

That’s all!

Brit

October 5: Photography Disputes/The Importance of Research

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Ahoy ahoy lovely readers of the blogosphere!  I am back with another post, though this time it is a somewhat guilty one as I thought we didn’t have to post about last Thursday’s lecture, as it was a library session and I figured “Everyone knows how to use a library, I’m sure I don’t have any divine wisdom to impart on this topic.”  But Gemey seems to think we (as a class) do!  Result: a rather long entry today, but a good one! (I hope)

So lecture on the 5th.  We began looking at photography influencing the art of oil paintings and landscape paintings and were faced with the concept of photography being an art or photography being a science.  This whole concept always somewhat amuses me.  People still argue over whether or not photography books ought to belong in the science section of a library or should it belong to the art section?  To me, the whole idea of creating art is a science.  In nature, I would say that many things are seen as aesthetically pleasing.  Mountains, rivers, trees, even the way people and animals move and are shaped– we see these things as being visually pleasant, at least most of the time.  In order for an artist who is painting a landscape in the sense of a traditional landscape painting, is also trying to create something visually pleasant, whether it is the view of a forest or a canyon ridge, whatever.  So in order to do this, the painter or sketcher must attempt to recreate images from nature onto a 2 dimensional surface.  A landscape is almost always three dimensional and in order to make something properly function as three-dimensional, you have to have at least some concept of how mathematical proportions and geometry function.

I don’t think people look at math and call it art.

This is not to say that artists sit around working out math equations all day long.  But I am saying that I believe artists learn a particular, geometric and mathematical way of thinking that gets translated into the success of their works on a 2 dimensional surface.  Furthering the connection of science and art, when a science textbook demands a detailed, in-depth reproduction of a work, do they turn to a photographer or an artist?  To complete an illustration of a cell, it is only natural that an artist would first look at a microscopic photograph before attempting to sketch it out.  Photography, like art, serves many different purposes aside from just being decorative.

Another idea that could factor into the concept of what classes as a science and what classes an art is the idea of graphic art.  Graphic art is created on a computer, and it definitely requires a knowledge of how to use a computer, which is considered a scientific machine, much like many would argue with the camera and the processes that were originally used to develop film.  Now we have programs like photoshop and digital photography so anyone can make the colours of their sunsets more vibrant or eradicate wrinkles from the face of an ageing woman.  Is someone who works with digital art not an artist?  Is their work any less authenticated as art than someone who uses paper and a pencil?  So how can one say that photography is either one or the other when it is so clearly both?  This divide between science and art is such a Western concept and it applies throughout the comparison of science to many other studies as well, such as sociology, music and a variety of other schools of learning.

Our lecture on September 30 was more of a library based session about different research methods available to us as Mount Allison students.  Now, as a student, I can say that research is an integral part of our day to day lives.  For our upcoming essay in Canadian Art we’re invited to use a variety of sources in order to complete our essay.  In the digital age we have access to so many different sources of information.  Entire books can be found online and downloaded, along with countless journal articles, old newspapers, visual images…the list really goes on and on.  But who are these resources created for?  The Wikipedia page about Emily Carr is a very different information source than a scholarly article written about Emily Carr.  A collection of her works, bound in a coffee-table book, is yet again information aimed at a different audience.  A Wikipedia entry can be used as a jumping off point for research, yet because it can be edited it can also act as a forum for people to share what they know.

So often, as a student, you get your information from a secondary source, you research someone else’s research.  This entire concept sometimes seems so bizarre to me, especially when it comes to analyzing works of art.  Is it okay for me to just think for myself and make my own interpretations?  Does background information about an artist intercede with my own personal feelings about a particular piece, or will it help me to understand if I find myself confused?  This is especially difficult when that artist is deceased because we have to rely entirely on interpretations from others.  Research can sometimes produce even more questions than it answers!

Well that’s enough on that subject.  In other news of art and art history, my roommate Liz and I have decided to do a collaborative art project for our Modern Art class.  We’re using a bunch of different media on paper, ie pastel, ink, pencil, paint etc and doing a series of automatic drawings and writings.  She or I will start the piece, and the other will finish or we will both add to it until we feel it is complete.  I’m really excited!

That’s all for now!

Brit