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Turning Over New Leaf

Friday, January 20, 2012

Knowledge Through the Back Door

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In 1958, the Metropolitan Museum of Art conducted a series of educational seminars to teach the public about visual arts. Last year, I purchased a few books written in connection with the Met seminars to help me with my Integrated Arts course.

As I perused my new possessions, I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks. I continued to ponder its meaning for quite some time, and it is usually difficult to sidetrack me when engaged in reading. Nevertheless, since I recently wrote a post where I opined about what art was not, I thought I would post the quote I discovered, which deals primarily with paintings:

“A painting is a layer of pigments applied to a surface. It is an arrangement of shapes and colors. It is a projection of the personality of the man who painted it, a statement of the philosophy of the age that produced it, and it can have a meaning beyond anything concerned with one man or only one period of time.”

I had never before seen this definition, but it occurred to me that there is much to learn in this statement, not only about visual arts, but also about Philosophy, History, and other concentrations in the field of Humanities. Think about how interesting a History course might be if it were presented solely via visual arts, without the written word or a flood of dates. How exciting would a philosophical study of world societies be if we set aside Socrates, Kant, Descartes, and Sartre, focusing only on the visual arts of their respective eras?

If you are up for a challenge, do a little research on two famous works of art. The first is an important icon of prehistory discovered by archeologists in 1908. It is called the Venus of Willendorf, created at least 25,000 years ago. The figurine rests at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

The second is the well-known Venus de Milo of the late second century BC and can be viewed at the website for the Louvre in France.

A comparison of these treasures reveals voluminous information about the attitudes, especially toward women, of human societies existing thousands of years apart.

My point is simply this. Perhaps, some of us should find other methodologies for learning more about our ancestors and ourselves, instead of rejecting the deep glance backward through the ages because History and Philosophy are academic subjects, too time consuming and mind boggling to fit into our busy adult lives. Visual arts just might provide the solution to any gaps widened by our ever-changing education system.

While we are on the subject, why is it that whenever education budgets grow tighter, visual arts are the first to meet the axe?
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22 comments:

  1. The arts and music seem to take a back seat, probably because it still isn't accepted as something that can be a career.. medical, engineering field and teaching seem to be more acceptable... Back in the day, I think the arts and music were equated w/people who didn't have a steady income and played or created as a substitute for something to do.. (am I wrong?) just guessing from what I've seen portrayed in tv, movies, etc.

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  2. just to add, actors are in the arts category and somehow being an actor is considered more acceptable and serious enough of a career... ironic, huh?

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  3. While reading this interesting and thought provoking post, honestly the first thing that jumped out of print and was screaming at me was "It is a projection of the personality of man who painted it,..." as well as "....and it can have a meaning beyond anything concerned with one man...." Was the author of this quotation specifying that men were the only painters of great art? Or was this quote meant to be taken as all of mankind? There were many accomplished woman painters. Lavinia Fontana became an official painter to the Papal Court in Rome, Catherine de Vigi produced many religious images just to name two. I am not an expert on art but I do know that I like it and I like to know the information behind the art. I can't help it when it comes to recognizing discriminating towards woman who through the centuries struggled for recognition. I think because of who I am and what I was, it will always be ingrained in me. Now if the author replaced the word "man" with "artist"..then I'm cool with that.~Ames

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  4. Ames: I doubt the author meant that, but it did jump out at me as well. Since a quote is a quote, you got the original. I can't change it. In any event, the book was written in 1958. I am certain that anyone purporting to be an expert in the field would agree that artistic contributions by women have been second to none.

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  5. KBF: Artists have been revered for centuries, but the modern world is changing, and not always for the best. Regardless of negativity aimed at the art world from time to time, it is a part of global culture, ingrained in all of us. Artistic works represent a part of what it means to be human.

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  6. Disregarding art is a short-sighed narrow minded attitude of our societies. Art and creativity should always be prioritized because they provide a way for kids to develop new creative solutions to the problems. Albert Einstein needed to play the violin when he had to solve a challenging mathematical problem. The human brain works in amazing ways...

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  7. They are cut by people who lackluster, period. Color outside the box? Never... JJ you should (if you haven't already) go see the new film, The Artist. When I first heard it's a remake about silent films I thought (yawn) okay going to pass, until, I saw a clip for it! Amazing! It's like a moving, dancing, (already won awards for their music) and free flowing-freshly painted piece of fine artwork like you've never seen before. Their story is told in a manner that takes your breath away.....luckily somebody bothered to make The Artist. ;)

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  8. Oops, almost forgot. I will take a deep look at both of those paintings and get back to you...right now it's been a long day....but I will report back!

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  9. Arts cut first. My take on this. How can schools teach anyone how to paint a picture? Well, I guess you can, somewhat, but it would be like paint by numbers. Or you could have a class on art appreciation. But to teach a person how to become a successful painter/artist ?????? That would be like a god-given talent that comes from within and one could improve by working with a master, but how would one get that from a class in a school?

    Like dance...... What a waste to have a degree in dance. To me, that is also a talent. I had a girl as a flamenco student who had a degree in dance from NM. (I guess that is a popular place to get a dance degree). She still owed over 50 thousand on a school loan and I was giving her free flamenco lessons because that is how I learned.

    Or am I not keeping up with the times? I'm serious. I won't be offended if you say I'm not. :)

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  10. Fascinating pot. Thanks for getting my grey cells pumping and bringing - they are doing a jig right now. I dig a semester on philosophy during my psychology degree way back, but still remember the sense of awe during the lessons.

    Losing art in school is a sinister betrayal of humanity and its right to individual thought and the knowledge that feeds it.

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  11. Julia: Absolutely! The arts are part of the human culture and experience. We should not deprive our children of a segment of life.

    Manzi: I would not say anything negative about you, even with your permission. It is more likely a miscommunication. They are not cutting painting classes. They elminate knowledge of art, music, theater, dance, and many literary studies. I could not dance if they turned me into Ben Vereen, but that does not mean I can't appreciate a theater or dance performance. Attending an opera, for example, is not appreciated by most without some basic knowledge of the purpose and meaning of the operatic performance. A complete education should be available to our youth to enhance their lives.

    Shah: I wholeheartedly agree. It cuts out a part of the human experience.

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  12. Karen S: I have not seen the film, The Artist, but I will make it a point to do so. I use silent film clips in many of my literature and writing classes to demonstrate numerous principles of communication via different types of media. Students actually become better writers when they understand the essential concepts upon which to focus.

    As for the Venus sculptures, you will enjoy observing them. They provide a ton of information about the changing attitudes of people over time, especially toward women.

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  13. You are so right, because they both appear more male like to me. What an eye opener on the Venus of Willendorf! Venus- (the name) first brings beauty of the richest to mind for me, Willendorf sounds like a place I'd love to visit, but oh my the statue is a cross between a sumo wrestler and something else ? It amazes me that someone could sculpt something like that way back then, that in itself was a treat. Glad I don't resemble it though. Venus de Milo well again sort of manly and why not include all the limbs? Really, I know way back when it cost more to have limbs painted in a picture, so they hid them, but this one is clearly CUT off! It's like stressing far too much the pain of no Medicare back then right? No, I'm being silly now, but both do serve a purpose if we stand back and ponder, what was the artist thinking?? What was life like back in those days? All art is telling, of something. From your comment, I know you will like The Artist, because just from the clips I've seen, the actors without words have a million things they are showing! Really! Thanks for bringing these beautiful pieces to life!

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  14. Karen: Although the Venus de Milo is widely renowned for the mystery of her missing arms, enough evidence remains to prove that the right arm of the goddess was lowered across the torso with the right hand resting on the raised left knee so the sliding drapery wrapped around the hips and legs could be held in place. There is a filled hole below the right breast that originally contained a metal tendon that would have supported the separately carved right arm.

    The left arm was held at just below the eye level of the statue, above a herm, while holding an apple. The right side of the statue is more carefully worked and finished than the left side or back, indicating that the statue was intended to be seen mainly as a profile from its right. The left hand would have held the apple up into the air further back inside the niche the statue was set in. When the left hand was still attached, it would have been clear to an observer that the goddess was looking at the apple she held up in her left hand.

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  15. @JJ: if they have been revered as u say, why is it that i.e.(some) parents seem to cringe whenever their kids will say they want to pursue dance, painting, acting? Revered in the professional world? definitely...

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  16. Amazing information on Venus de Milo!

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  17. Ames: When I first discovered those facts, I found them extremely interesting. From that point on, I have been researching more on Venus. Fascinating.

    KBF: Of course, I understand why parents cringe. I hear young people when asked about possible career choices respond with statements like, "I would like to be a brain surgeon, or do something with collage." Frightening. But I think what I am referring to is denying children the knowledge of the arts. You can have only the ability to paint stick figures, but still appreciate the contribution of visual arts to human society.

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  18. Hello there!! Gosh such a profound post! Let me see - I read history at university and loved every moment of studying it from discovering first and secondary sources, oral, written, visual and academic. I was a richer person for being exposed to all these many facets that make history so I guess I'd say they all - written and visual all things that engage mind, body and spirit combined - are essential and perhaps not mutually exclusive. It's worth the effort to find time for all of them.

    Arts subject are always the first to go when budgets are slashed! Philistines!! :-(

    Take care
    x

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  19. JJ, I wrote a post on art and politics in 2010. If you are interested in reading it, I think this link will get you there:

    http://rogueartistsspeak.blogspot.com/2010/08/can-artists-and-politicians-mate.html

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  20. Judie: I'll take a look, but remember, I am independent, and not politically correct.

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  21. Old Kitty: I wholeheartedly agree!

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  22. Hi JJ .. it's opening our minds to all things - certainly since I started blogging AND inadvertently giving myself an education along the way - I've learnt much. I look at everything in a different light .. perhaps because I weave my posts together with ideas, facts and photos ..

    I too wrote about the Silent Artist and what was the more famous silent movie in the excellence range "The Passion of Joan of Arc" in my January post 'When I'm 64 ..' where I linked to two further posts I've done on Silent movies and their musical accompaniest - the silent pianist.

    Lenny Lee a 12 year old sent me a quote - which is in my latest post on the present he sent my mother and I .. by John Ruskin: “Nature is Painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty ...”.

    But I love the thought of your description and the post as a whole ... I want to write about Hockney's new exhibition and then his contemporary who is exhibiting at The Ashmolean in Oxford - Sir Howard Hodgkin -

    - there's so much synesthesia in the disciplines as we define them that is only recently coming to the fore.

    Thanks another fascinating thought provoking blog post .. cheers Hilary

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