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Thread: Why is "art" synonymous with "painting"?

  1. #16
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    This is a controversial point in art theory.

    "Controversial" indeed. The theories of Art pour l'Art and Formalism developed initially as a rejection of the notion that art can or should be judged upon non-Art external elements such as narrative, theology, morality, etc... The average member of the art audience during the Renaissance would not have questioned the idea that a painting might be deemed "poor" if it did not meet certain expectations in terms of religious expression, morality, etc... With the late 19th century, this idea was called into question. It was suggested that art might portray subjects or themes that were deemed ugly, inappropriate, unsavory, or even bland... and yet if the form in which these were realized was fine enough, such work might still qualify as "good" or even "great" art.

    You naturally know that in the art scene of the 19th century, historical, mythological and religious motifs became more and more disputed by artists who believed in the autonomy of visual art, that is, in the independence of the artistic expression from things that haven´t anything to do with painting in itself.

    Initially, the rejection of historical/mythological/religious themes had more to do with the artist's efforts to create an art that spoke of the "modern world".

    The first to rebel against the traditional idea that painting has to transport non-visual contents were the Impressionists who reduced these contents to an extreme superficiality - that is, the viewer was not in need of knowing a wider cultural context of the shown scenery because he or she knew it from everyday life...

    I would avoid assigning the rejection of non-visual elements to any single group of artists or period. Rubens was painting landscapes that had no higher narrative meaning in the 1600s...

    [IMG][/IMG]

    The same was true of Gainsborough, Turner, Constable and numerous others...







    Artists like Chardin and Zurbaran focused on the humble still life... which were essentially motifs for painting...





    And artists like Vermeer and Boucher frequently focused upon scenes of everyday life:





    Vermeer often repeated such motifs to the same degree later employed by the Impressionists... until it became something like a theme and variations in music...



    The next step was the Expressionism which reduced the objects to half-abstract shapes.

    While Expressionist distortions might have been primarily formalist to some artists... pointing the way toward total abstraction... this certainly wasn't true of many of the Expressionists... especially not Munch or the German Expressionists.







    For these artists, formalist innovations remained a means to an end... a means of wrenching further meaning out of their chosen themes/subjects.

    Kandinsky made the next and final step to abstraction using only colors and forms to express the basic visual energies, being inspired by music as I wrote before. Some years earlier, the artists Hilma af Klint and Frantisek Kupka created the first abstract paintings, both of them unfortunately remaining rather unknown in spite of their pioneer work.

    Remember, that Formalism and Abstraction were not unchallenged in the 20th century. The German Expressionists, Surrealists, Magic Realists, Social Realists, Mexican Muralists... and even Picasso would have called these notions into question.

    So, radical advocates of the idea that painting should be basically independent of non-visual content would argue that the artificial value of - for example - the pictures shown in your article are only to be measured by the visual expressivity, independently from any historical or cultural background information.

    Such is the theory of Greenbergian Formalism... but it was not universally accepted. Even leading figures of Abstract Expressionism (especially DeKooning and Guston) questioned the notion of removing narrative and non-art elements (the subject matter) from art. While one may embrace a film as primarily visual (2001, A Space Odyssey, comes to mind) one would never suggest that the non-visual elements present in a film were not of importance in understanding and even valuing a film. The same is true of painting. Any element present is of importance in fully understanding the work.

    It would be pretentious of me to suggest I fully understand these works of art...





    ...based solely upon my notions of art rooted in Modernist Formalism. It would be no less pretentious to suggest I fully understand a Baroque narrative painting without having the least knowledge of the narrative employed or the tradition in which the work was created.

    So it is one thing to ´understand´ a painting and another thing to appreciate its articifial qualities. What is needed for understanding has nothing to do with these qualities. For example, to appreciate the quality of Rembrandt or Rubens or Leonardo or Caravaggio paintings, one needs no historical or religious or mythological background info. Moreover, in my view such info does not add anything to the artificial value of those paintings.

    Yes... I can "appreciate"... "like" a work of art that I don't understand... we all bring prior knowledge of our own... prior experiences... to bear upon any work of art... yet it seems only logical that a greater understanding of a work will likely increase the appreciation... although the reverse is also possible.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  2. #17
    Registered User bounty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bounty View Post
    hah! laughs...

    danik, lemme hunt up some of my old readings and i'll share a little bit here from them.
    stluke---you might get a kick out of hearing, when I went in to look at my old readings, one is titled: "prurient interest diminishes female athletes"

    it was written back in the early 90s, would be interesting to hear what the author today might think of women's beach volleyball.

    danik---too much to read, but the viewing refreshed some of my memory. the readings mostly center around two questions, one is, "is sport, art?" authors took various positions trying to define the two, and then comparing, contrasting, disqualifying etc. at one point I think, the journal of the philosophy of sport posed that as a topic and solicited papers, some of which appeared in a journal dedicated to that topic.

    the second question is pretty much, what in sport is aesthetic or has aesthetic value, either for viewers or participants and the answering of the question goes beyond what are traditionally considered the "aesthetic sports"---skating, gymnastics, diving, dance, etc.

    the short directive for me is, when you watch sport, look for the beautiful. the first time I saw synchronized diving, it moved me to tears. I dislike the ending of basketball games because the purposeful fouling and subsequent stoppage of play disrupts the flow. sometimes in volleyball, a bump/set/spike combination will give me goose gumps.

    on another hand, athletics, in particular the human body in athletics, is itself the subject of art. most people are likely familiar with at least some of the sculptures of R. Tait McKenzie, whose works appear commonly in our culture, and on colleges campuses across north america.

    https://www.pinterest.com/lorriesnel...tait-mckenzie/

    one of the grad schools I went to housed a McKenzie collection and I get to see some of the original stuff first hand.

    also, some of you might find it interesting that pierre fredy (de Coubertin), the father of the modern Olympic movement, was instrumental also in having poetry contests during the Games, and actually won one (under a pseudonym) once.

  3. #18
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    There's a long history of sports and athletes in art going back to the ancient Greeks (and beyond). It was a norm in Ancient Greece for athletes to exercise and compete in the nude... especially in Sparta. We see any number of examples of athletes in the buff from the ancient Greeks:


    -The discus throw


    -The discus again


    -Runners (foot race)


    -Horse race


    -Wrestlers (Etruscan)


    -Boxers (Minoan)

    Scenes of athletes and sports fade with the Middle Ages as the church dominates the arts and art that praises human achievements... and the human body... is frowned upon.





    There are a good number of images of fencing, hunting, jousting, and other sports... still the arts remain dominated by the church and increasingly by wealthy aristocrats who are not overly interested in art praising the achievements of athletes that would likely come from the poorer classes.

    With the Neo-Classical revival of the Renaissance and Classical GReece and Rome... and the subsequent movements of Romanticism and Realism we see an increasing apppearance of athletes and sports in art.


    -Wrestling


    -Wrestling again


    -Boxing


    -Horse racing

    Edgar Degas was one of the artists who was most obsessed with athletes... specifically horse racing and dancers/ballet. He began his career with the intent of making himself into the next great history painter... painting multi-figure compositions of grandiose historical and mythological events. Among his favorite works of art were the bas relief sculpture of horse races and dancers from the ancient Greek temples such as the Parthenon. He sought an art that captured the human figure in motion. With time, however, he began to recognize that the history painting as he (and the painters of the academies) understood it, was no longer relevant to the modern world in which he lived. Ths he sought to find subjects in the modern world where his love of the human figure might be seen. Horse races and the ballet were two of his most used subjects. In both instances, he often focused upon the scenes backstage. With the ballet dancers, it was backstage where he was able to watch the dancers stretch and practice and repeat the movements. Various critics tried to read into Degas' love of the ballet, but he rejected any interpretation suggesting some deep social or psychological intent, stating that he was merely enamored of watching (and drawing) pretty girls in motion wearing beautiful costumes.


    -Degas at the races


    -Degas dancers



    As we move into the 20th century we find many artists enamored of the more theatrical aspects of sports and dance... including the cabaret, burlesque, strippers, etc... George Bellows painted dozens of images of boxing:



    While Paul Cadmus follows in Degas' tradition of backstage views... here with the circus performer (gymnast or trapeze performer) being "gilded" or oiled up:



    With the rise of the Third Reich, the Nazis strove to revive the ideal of the "superhuman" Neo-Classical bodies of athletes as representative of the "Master Race":







    Nazi Germany churned out an endless array of paintings, sculpture, and photographs of nude or near-nude muscular athletes. The fixation upon the male nude has led some to suggest an almost homoerotic aesthetic. Perhaps the most influential of Nazi artists was the film-maker Leni Riefenstahl:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6-0Cz73wwQ

    The example of Sports in Nazi art was likely one reason for a sharp decline of sports imagery in subsequent art. To this we might also consider the impact of abstract art and the dominance of photographic art when it comes to art documenting human events.


    -Swimmer


    -Gymnast


    -Heptathelon


    -Dancer


    -Dancer


    -Body builder


    -Yoga

    Undoubtedly, images of female athletes dominate from the mid-19th century onward for the simple reason the the majority of visual artists... painters, sculptors, and photographers... were and remain heterosexual males. There might also be a lingering revulsion of images of the "superhuman" male athletes of the Nazis. We might also consider the fact that artists whose interest is the beauty of the human body (male or female) no longer need to justify such art by framing it as paintings of sports... or mythological narratives... etc...

    There are still some outstanding examples of sports/athletes in painting and sculpture...



    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  4. #19
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Bounty and Stluke
    Interesting contribuitions. Thanks for raising the theme, Bounty. And stluke, this last post is a real lecture on the subject and must have cost some research. I think it will make me look at sports contests in a new way.
    "You can always find something better than death."
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  5. #20
    Registered User bounty's Avatar
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    by far my favorite piece at the louvre was the nike/winged victory statue.

    stluke, my undergrad school's health and PE building was also an art gallery of sorts. all the hallways were lined with art work, some of which you describe above and the famous wrestling/pancration statue sat prominently in the main entrance area. some years ago, but recently, there was a hubbub about having to take the works down because their upkeep was costing so much money. I don't know what the final disposition of that issue was.

    danik---in late 1999, espn produced a number of historical pieces having to do with the 50 greatest athletes of the century. if you want some particular insight into the aesthetic in sport, watch #36, the one about secretariat (you can find it on youtube). the aesthetic is not the purpose of the production, but there are plenty of allusions to it throughout. I used to show part of it in my class and for the most part, the students loved it.
    Last edited by bounty; 12-12-2016 at 11:54 AM.

  6. #21
    Registered User bounty's Avatar
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    oh and surely one of the best all time poems in the history of poetry is "casey at the bat!"

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