Modern Art – not really ‘modern’

January 14, 2013
Modern Art

Picasso, Kadinsky, Derain

The nomenclature modern art is often misinterpreted. Believe it or not, the genre of painting called modern art (modernism) existed from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Often people interpret modern art to be the recent compositions of an artist. Alternatively, it is also common to hear people referring to any kind of abstract art as ‘modern art’.

In the late 1800s there was a movement from depicting the obvious, to more esoteric expressions by artists. Artists felt the need to move away from the figurative expression to a more abstract expression. As Picasso put it, “artist paints not what you see, but what you know is there”. This was a major shift in philosophy and ended up being the biggest deviation in western art. The artist’s impression of the colours were used in the paintings rather than what the actual colour of the subject was. In this philopsophy, art with a contemporary theme / subject were favoured over historical paintings and art, which was the main themes until then. The shift also liberated the form in painting compositions like Picasso’s Cubism.

Thus in art history this era of art was termed as Modernism, which quested for radical thought and freedom of expression in art. Around this time, the artists had the freedom to paint any subject listening to their creative energy, as there was no Patrons to please. In the modern era of painting art moved away from replicating reality to compositions that concentrated more on form, line, and colour, as the central theme. Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky were some of the pioneers of this philosophy.

So, the next time somebody is talking about modern art, be aware that the painting is quite old. Contemporary art is a better nomenclature to describe the art that been created in recent times.

How to describe a painting

November 21, 2012

 How to explain an painting

I guess all laymen, who appreciate art, are dumbfounded when asked an opinion on a particular painting. Somehow the words don’t flow as we expect them to. The most people can think of is ‘Nice’ or “Beautiful” or even worse “I think the green should be a darker shade”. Well in this article let me take try to make us all seem art smart and sound like we know what we are talking about.

It’s quite simple once you follow some fundamental tips. A painting is made up of different elements that come together to make the work what it is.

First start with the simple fact of knowing the artist’s name and the type of painting – its either Figurative, where the subject of the painting is discernable or Abstract, where its mainly colour, shapes and lines arranged in a harmonious correlation.

Second, describe what type of material was used to create the work of art. For e.g.: the artist could have used acrylic / oil paint on canvas, water color on paper etc. The most common working materials are canvas, paper and board and the most common mediums are oil paint, acrylic paint, pen and ink, charcoal etc. Some artists use more than one media and then its called Mixed Media. It’s not unusual to ask the curator or the artist as to what medium and materials were used in the paintings. And while you are at it, you are also welcome to ask them what the painting means or conveys. You usually tend to get an answer for figurative paintings than abstract ones. Take it from me; no abstract artist can actually explain the abstract work.

Explain the one thing, so striking in the paintings or some aspect that makes you keep staring. Explain the objects in the painting, or what actions are being done by the subjects, e.g. walking in the park hand in hand. Every body is welcome to interpret the painting in their own way. There is no right and wrong, let your imagination run wild.

Next would be the colours used in the painting and the semblance of light and shade. It good to learn the different shades of colours, this helps you explain the painting more accurately. Turquoise, Fawn, Pastel, Azure are some of the colours that could give the listner a better picture, depending on how ‘colour educated’ the listener is.

I guess if one goes through all the above points, one could describe an artwork to a friend and share the joy of the painting.

Some useful links:

http://understandingpaintings.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/appreciating-abstract-art/

http://www.wikihow.com/Critique-Artwork

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/thesaurus-category/british/Words-used-to-describe-works-of-art-and-pictures

The Scream by Edvard Munch

June 18, 2012
The scream by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch – best of expressionism art

The Scream is a very interesting painting to discuss and mull about. The Scream gives the viewer infinite possibilities to interpret the painting and its subjects. Munch has juxtaposition various elements of despair and melancholy in this painting. The bright orange  fiery sky shows a high level of movement and confusion, with undulating waves like a swirling whirlpool. The figures on the bridge are as melancholic as the Screamer. They may be on the way back home from work; their posses show a depressed and anxious stature. The third element is an eerie ship in the distance, which looks like it is aimlessly floating in the dark blue whirlpool.  Lastly we come to the centre point of the painting a ‘being’ with a ghoulish face, screaming, and clutching a contorted face. The face depicts the despair the screamer is going through. It could be a sign of being left out and lonely in a fast moving world. It looks like the sound of the Scream is spreading through out the painting, enveloping everything in the same agony.

Munch’s Screamer tries to capture the anxiety of modern life, prevailing at the times. During the years at the end of the century the world was moving faster than one could realise. Society was being transformed politically, socially and technologically. Modern cities were growing rapidly, and with them a sense of isolation and alienation. New machines like the airplane, the automobile the telephone, and the radio were changing people’s lives. And advances in science and psychology were establishing the importance of emotions and the unconscious. Artists of the time like Munch, needed to express their feelings about these disturbing changes.

Thus the Scream was painted.

The Scream is one of the best known examples of a new kind of painting called Expressionism. In this work, Munch doesn’t just paint what a person in pain might look like. He sees the world through the eyes of this agonized person. In The Scream, the entire landscape is distorted by pain and despair. A ghostly figure clutches its skull-like head in agony. Blood-red lines vibrate around it like shrieks of terror.

The painting was stolen back in 1994 but recovered in the same year. The painting is cared for by the Museum of Oslo, Norway. Recently ‘The scream was declared on the highest paintings auction in western art, beating the price of Picasso’s ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’. The painting was acquired by a telephone bidder for $119.9 million.

More Info:

http://www.edvard-munch.com/

 

Still life paintings – How still are they actually?

April 11, 2012

Still life with flowers

A still life painting can be plainly defined as a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, flowers, plants, rocks, or shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, and so on).

The origins of modern still life painting can be traced back to the seventeenth century. This is when artists began to depict inanimate objects as independent paintings, intended to stand on their own. The style of painting gets its name from the Dutch “Still Leven”.

Initially still life was not given the importance that is given now. Many art critics called it mere copies, requiring no actual skill. This brings us to the question, is a still life painting mere depiction of objects or is there something more to it?

The skill level in still life paintings are manifested not only in the depiction of objects but also the arrangement of the objects, the stage in life cycle of the objects (rotting fruit, budding flower) and the back drop on which it is painted. The objects in a still life painting have a sublime message to convey which could be religious, allegorical, social, cultural, personal, moral, or spiritual. Most of these objects are included to convey a message or reflect the artist’s mood.

Some of the common objects in still life are food, flowers, pearls, wine and the dreaded skull. For example, fresh food and wine conveys the message of affluent living and the joie de vivre that life gifts, where as rotten food reminds a person of the fragility of life. Similarly artists use flowers to depict the same transience of life. However flowers in religious paintings could also symbolize the Virgin Mary or in other contexts even sensuality. The depiction of a skull in a still life is again a reminder of death, in contrast to the fresh flowers and grapes arranged on the table.

An artist with the intention to portray beauty and the good side of life usually has a backdrop of a window showing the blue sky, or the objects arranged on silk table cloth. A flower and vase in the corner of a dark room depicts the opposite.

Some still life paintings portrayed the yearning of man for knowledge and discovery of science, by portraying objects like books, ink pot, the globe, a compass etc. Several still life paintings portray culture of the times through musical instruments.

The artist carefully chooses the objects he/she wants and takes care to arrange the objects around each other with an appropriate background to convey a certain message. The still life artist also uses the objects to experiment with colour contrast and composition.

To answer the question whether still life paintings have a meaning, let’s conclude this article with a saying that sums it all:

 “When I paint a still life, I want it to be anything but still. I want it to shimmer with light. I want it to rustle with movement.” (Kurt Anderson)

Google brings Masterpieces online – the google art project

March 12, 2011

google art project

The insatiable, and mostly inspiring, efforts of never-evil Google to contain all the world on a 14-inch screen took another giant leap forward with the unveiling of the Google Art Project. Working with 17 of the world’s leading galleries and museums – from MoMA in New York to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, from the Hermitage in St Petersburg to London’s National Gallery and Tate – the project takes the corporation’s street-view technology behind closed doors. It allows you not only to wander, at the touch of a mouse, the corridors and halls that contain many of the greatest masterpieces ever made, but also to view some of those paintings in finer detail than if you were standing in front of them.

The sharp focus is made possible by 14bn pixel photography that brings the most delicate brush strokes into microscopic relief. So far, this headline-grabbing technology is restricted to one painting per gallery – Holbein’s The Ambassadors is the National’s mesmerising example, Van Gogh’s Starry Night is MoMA’s – but it seems inevitable that it will eventually illuminate far more of the collections.

The almost magical potential resource raises many questions, not the least of which is whether viewing online will ever be a substitute for the real thing. (Along with the not-insignificant supplementaries: if it is, what effect will this have on gallery attendance and on our idea of art?)

After spending a few hours on the site (yet another new way of digressing on a screen), the answer to the first part feels like a qualified no. Looking at a painting on screen, however vivid the detail, is wholly different in kind from standing in front of it. Though there is genuine wonder in the backlit clarity of the images – in Bellini’s St Francis in the Desert from the Frick Collection in New York, for example, you can make out the artist’s fingerprints in the surface of the paint – as with any reproduction, what is lost is a sense of the painting as a physical object, as a little framed force field.

Mostly absent too, therefore, is that uncanny sense of communion that great paintings sometimes provide, the feeling that you are in the human presence of something that can talk to you directly across time and space; one element of that latter feeling undoubtedly derives from the sense of effort that brought you in front of the painting in the first place (the closest many of us get to pilgrimage).

You look at the on-screen pictures, as a result, with a somewhat more academic than emotional eye. It’s not a reductive experience (how could this extraordinary level of free access to some of the world’s most enduring images ever be that?), but neither is it the same thing, quite.

Despite this reservation, Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, was probably right when he claimed the Google project as “the first global art collection” and one which gives us the clearest sense yet of “the digital future for museums”.

There was also, from Serota, inevitable talk of the website bringing “communities of like-minded visitors together to connect in ways that aren’t always possible in the gallery”, which I suppose means that visitors to the site will be able to share responses to particular paintings in a way they might feel reluctant to do while standing next to a stranger in front of a Botticelli.

The gallery directors involved in the project are of course confident that the online versions of their collections will extend curiosity rather than satisfying it; that the art project will act as an advertisement for those who can get to the galleries.

One can only assume that the museums not involved – the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid, for example – are less sure of that equation. As always, with the digitisation of culture, the answer will not be long in coming.

Source: The Guardian

The Google Art Project

Wake up in an artwork

November 20, 2010

ART HOTELS

Being a passionate art collector, art lover and art museum visitor, I always wanted to compile this list.

Imagine waking up amidst masterpieces of well known contemporary and modern artists….

There are many art hotels around the world, but these selected hotels have  used their rooms as canvases or gallery spaces. Every room in the following hotels is differently decorated with an artistic theme by famous aritsts. Its almost like sleeping in an artwork!!!!

Fox Hotel   – Copenhagen, Denmark

Fox Art Hotel 

 Every room is a piece of art, with murals, paintings on the wall and matching accessories and furniture. The rooms are decorated by contemporary artists from around the world. There are 61 rooms, 21 artists, 1,000 ideas. The rooms are covered with everything from Manga, pop art, cartoons, graffiti, video game characters etc. Some of the known artists are German artist Boris Hoppek, Italian designer Simon Legno. The hotel is actually owned by the German car maker Volkswagen and was set up in 2005

 

Altier Sul Mare  – Castel de Tusa, Sicily

ARt Hotel

Atlier Sul Mare - Art hotel

 

 

 

 

 Atelier Sul Mare is a ‘hotel-museum’ with rooms designed by many talented artists specialized in contemporary art. The idea behind the project is to create a surreal world where the client dreams inside a museum and falls asleep in an artwork. Located along the coast, there is a wonderful view of the sea from the rooms. The unique element in this hotel is that you need to keep changing rooms every day, so as to provide variety to the guests and enable everybody to experience as many rooms as possible. 20 of the 40 rooms were realized by important international names such as Danielle Mitterand, Hidetoshi Nagasawa, Luigi Mainolfi, Umberto Leone & Ute Pyka. 

 

Hotel du Petit Moulin – Paris, France

Art Hotel - Petit Moulin

Petit Moulin - Art hotel

 

 

 

 

 

This 17th century building, the site of an ancient bakery, has been completely renovated. French designer Christian Lacroix has transformed the interior of this former bakery. The 17 rooms represent 17 ways to discover the area Le Marais, from rustic history to zen spaces.“Each of the 17 rooms corresponds to a way of approaching this area of Paris where you don’t go downstairs by chance but rather because you are drawn by the History and the spirit of the times.” Christian Lacroix. The facade, dating back to 1900, as well as the shop sign, both of which are registered as historic monuments, have been preserved.

 

Gramercy Park Hotel – New York, United States of America

Gramecy park - art hotel

gramercy park - art hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bold, individualistic spirit of the public spaces at the Gramercy Park Hotel is carried on into the 185 guest rooms and luxury suites here in Manhattan. They are generously scaled and beautifully appointed. Each is different with its own unique layout, vivid Renaissance color palette inspired by Raphael and distinctive collection of art and objects. The Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan opened its door in 1925.

 

Le Sutra – Mumbai, India

Le Sutra - art hotel

Le Sutra - Indian Art Hotel

 

A non-descript old hotel in the streets of mumbai was refurbished and redesigned by several artists, designers, curators, philosophers and visualizers to create India’s first art hotel. Taking from a palette of philosophy, myth, art form, and historic pride, it turned out to be quite a journey as we delved across time in our search of the illusive Indian-ness.

Well start the journey of experiencing them…… Sweet dreams…

No.5, 1948 – Jackson Pollock – world’s most expensive painting

July 19, 2010

No.5, 1948, painted by Jackson Pollock, is currently the world’s most expensive painting ever sold. It was priced at $140 million in 2006, when it changed hands from one collector to another. Here’s my attempt at explaining what the buyer could have seen in Jackson Pollock’s painting that could justify the price tag.

Art Collectors and investors are always on the look out for gaining exclusive collector’s items, which could increase their prestige and also serve as an excellent investment medium. In the art field that means, an artwork that has made a significant impact on the history of art or an artwork created by a very influential artist. It is even better if the artist brought about a paradigm shift that changed the conventions of the time. Eg: da Vinci with Mona Lisa, Picasso with Cubism, Lichtenstein with Pop-Art.

Such works automatically assume an august stature which attracts art collectors and investors. There is also the economics of art that plays a role, the rarer the painting the better the investment. No.5, 1948 has all this going for it.

Pollock’s radical techniques and methods made sure that his drip series were (still is) talk of the art community nationally and internationally, with several show conducted in leading the US and Europe. The drip series established Pollock as a leading figure of new American painting. Pollock was an iconoclast and a rebel, which got him a reputation that made him infamous. This in turn was great publicity for his drip series. Pollock with his unconventional methods influenced many artists to abandon conventions of fine art and encourages more creativity and boundary-less expression. Pollock created art history with his new kind of paintings.

There’s also a mathematical theory that explains the popularity of  Pollock’s drip series. Mathematicians and Scientists believe that Pollok’s drip series contains a mathematical, yet natural, concept called a fractal. It is a rough, geometric object that can be subdivided into parts, each of which looks like a reduced-size copy of the whole. In a fractal pattern, each smaller configuration is a miniature, though not necessarily identical, version of the larger pattern. Mathematicians believe this phenomenon is what attracts people to Pollock’s drip series. The fractal pattern they claim is subconsciously pleasing to the eyes.

Now here is my speculation, in addition to the above qualities, the painting was also supported by economics. All of Pollock’s paintings in the drip series (this is Pollock’s trademark) are safeguarded in museums except the No.5, 1948. The paintings hanging in museums rarely get sold which in turn creates a lack of supply in the market that the only one that can be a potential asset is priced exorbitantly. Pieces like this will not only be a good investment but also a status symbol worth exhibiting.

Sources:

http://www.learn.columbia.edu/pollock/html/preface.html

http://www.jackson-pollock.com/jackson-pollock-drip.html (about Fractals)

List of the World’s most expensive paintings

Triva - world's most expensive paintings
3 paintings are works of Picasso  
2 paintings have the same model - painted by Klimt    
1 painting has a double of it, differentiated mainly by the colour, painted by van Gogh    
the latest of the lot was sold this year in May 2010, for $106.5 million     
1 painting is actually not a painting at all - its screen printing by Warhol     
3 paintings have the artists' mistress as models     
50% of the top 10 paintings were sold in 2006     

Le Sutra – an art hotel explored

June 28, 2010

For mind, body and soul

AMINAH KHAN

Explore Indian art and philosophy amid material comforts at Le Sutra: the Indian art hotel in Mumbai.

 

An oasis of calm: Embark on a spiritual journey through India at Le Sutra

As you drift through the mystical world of Indian art and philosophy set amid the tranquil earthy mysticism and eroticism of Le Sutra, you’ll be transported to a time and place far away.

It’s an oasis of calm in stark contrast to the vibrant suburban west side of Mumbai with a bright orange mural on its outer wall that’s really hard to miss. The wall was painted and signed by Baz Luhrmann, the award winning director of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge”, and the Australian artist Vincent Fantauzzo known for his portrait of the late Heath Ledger and Baz Luhrmann himself.

Once inside, it’s easy to forget that you’re in a city, surrounded by the pandemonium of fast cars, busy people, typical Mumbai chatter and a shopping district that lures residents to indulge in retail therapy.

Ascend the chakras

 

 

At Le Sutra, you’ll be drawn away from the mundane and material as you float in a sort of semi trance on a journey that begins in the lobby and continues as you ride up the elevator, ascending up the 7 ‘ chakras’ (the spiritual body’s energy centres located along the spine) to the pinnacle of peace. Everything here seems surreal, but that’s what makes the experience so unique.

Sutra in Sanskrit means ‘a thread that binds things together’ and Le Sutra is a place where art and philosophy are woven into a tapestry of Indianness framed for the wall of hospitality. A mind-body-soul communion in a place where art form, energy and inspiration are crafted into contemporary artwork that speaks of Indian mysticism is what Le Sutra is all about. Under an hour’s drive from Mumbai’s international airport and conveniently close to West Bandra’s colourful shopping area with plenty of posh pubs and restaurants the hotel is ideally located for the discerning traveller.

This 16-room boutique hotel will take you on a spiritual journey through India with the luxuries of personalised service and hotel amenities, features and facilities that make your stay in Mumbai both interesting and comfortable.

“With a tour of Le Sutra you can actually complete a spiritual or mystic learning of India, which is far more exciting than in an ashram; not that I’m competing with ashrams,” says Mr. Bajaj, the company’s director.

 

There’s something intriguing about climbing down the curving stairways and walking through the corridors with antique jaalilamps over head casting lacy shadows around you. There’s an aura waltzing through every chamber, every hallway here that takes you journeying back in time through Indian mythology.

The reception, where you start your journey through the pages of Indian philosophy, is a rendition of Kundalini, the coiled cosmic energy lying dormant at the base of the spine. This is the energy needed to ascend through the three gunas or levels of consciousness: Taamsic, ‘Raajsic’ and ‘Saatvic’, up the seven chakras (the energy centres on the vertical axis of the spiritual body) that appear in succession as you ride up in the lift to the top floor. The three gunas are the themes on which the art and design of the hotel are based with a floor devoted to each idea.

Each room is a contemporary personification of Ravana, Ashoka or Buddha or an embodiment of sensuality, love or purification and each offers a new experience and whispers a different secret. There’s Dyutta, the gambling room; the Kathak room that depicts the classical Indian dance form and 14 more uniquely decorated chambers here.

Art everywhere

 

 

Le Sutra is a hotel that is art with every detail in the room from the chair to the headboard coming together to tell an intriguing tale of India with an in-room interactive TV that lets you explore the subject in greater depth once your curiosity has been roused.“It appeals to you aesthetically, it tickles your mind and hopefully it’ll inspire your soul. I’m not saying this as a sales pitch but I would like you to experience it for yourself,” says Bajaj.

At Le Sutra you can immerse yourself in a world of art, without going to a museum and take a spiritual journey within yourself in air-conditioned comfort with the luxurious essentials of fresh linen, vivid colours and incense. You won’t find a pool or a spa here but you will find peace of mind and artistic soul food, some instantly visible and some a surprise that you stumble upon but every detail is a flicker that lights the way to spiritual awakening.

“I want to get your body and I know I’ll get your mind, but can I dig deeper than that? Can I go to that part of you which even you don’t know? Maybe your subconscious or your unconscious mind. Can I appeal to that, to those deeper sensibilities, or your spiritual being? Can I tickle that part of you and, if I can, do I have any competition in the world?” says Bajaj.

Times of India, 27 June 2010

http://www.lesutra.in

Essay on soceital progress and its influence on Art

June 6, 2010
Courtesy Monsoon Canvas 

It is interesting to observe how societal progress or change has affected artists and art through the ages.

The industrial revolution in the mid 19th century was responsible for many innovations and inventions that influenced painting. One of the main influences was the improvement of quality and variety of paint itself.

Artists were previously restricted to painting in earthy colours, using minerals that were naturally available. However the advances in chemical pigments bought with it the ability to create varied colours and shades that were previously impossible. The new colors like cobalt blue, emerald green broadened the artist’s venue of expression.

Machinery also made it possible to grind minerals faster and in larger quantities, making life more convenient for the artists. Traditionally the artist had to grind the paint himself and then mix it with linseed oil. Paint making was part of every artist’s training. The commercialized version of paint used poppy oil as a binding agent which gave the painting a more textured look.

One of the biggest changes resulted from the invention of collapsible tin tube in 1840. This enabled the artists to move out of their studios and paint outdoors. The artist was able to recreate nature, without depending on vague impressions from his memory. The Impressionists took great advantage of this by introducing bright colors of the spectrum into their paintings and also depicting the effects of changing natural light. The impressionists like Manet, Monet started and ended their paintings outdoors, which was contrary to the then norm.

   

Claude Monet, 1872, Impression, soleil levant,Musee Marmottan

Industrial development also indirectly contributed to the increase in creativity of the artists, as his patronage from nobility and the Church dwindled. The artist now had the freedom to experiment and move away from the restrictions of commission work. Thus the birth of the various ‘isms’: fauvism, cubism, impressionism etc.

Over the years the building architectural style and purpose changed from grandeur to more practical structures that could house assembly lines and the working class. These vertical structures changed the way man understood shapes and also influenced the artists.  Sculptors were equally influenced by the architecture and also the new materials that were used at the time like metal, new technology like welding and new forms and shapes.

With the advent of photography, mass media (print and television), motion pictures, the artist’s perception of image, time and space changed. The new mediums of capturing still and moving images compelled artists to use innovative techniques to attract an audience towards the fine-arts. There was no point in competing with technology, so they chose to innovate. This fact combined with increasing psychological awareness, helped artists to gradually move away from reproducing actual images to depicting a more abstract sense of the reality they experienced. Artists also started thinking in terms of mass and movement rather than a static likeness.

Pop-Artists in the 50s and 60s were inspired by the consumerism in society. Inspiration and themes were derived from everyday objects of commercialization like the new neon signs, television and hoarding advertisements. Andy Warhol’s “100 Campbell’s soup cans” is one of the best examples of this trend. Roy Lichtenstein another Pop artist preferred to create art works based on comic strip imagery subtlety mocking its influence on the American culture.

100 Campbells’ Soup Cans, 1962 By Andy Warhol

The later part of the 20th century saw artists racing to be unique and original and not merely novel. Major developments like moon landing, science fiction, women’s lib movement, etc played an important role in expanding people’s imagination and outlook. Since the public’s imagination was way beyond what it was years ago, the artist was forced to work harder to create a novel experience for the public. All these influences had a huge impact on the themes artists worked on.

With the advent of computer and electronic imagery, a new genre of art called electronic art, came into being, examples being new media art, interactive art, video art etc. Computers have enabled artists to create images and art works with lesser effort but with unimaginable levels of creativity. With the help of computers, graphic software and the internet, it has become possible to experiment with art more rapidly and imaginatively. The rule of this genre of art dictates novelty, innovation and extreme imagination.

There are surely many more influences that could be mentioned and in future, there is sure to be a lot more influences that determine trends, style and the course of art. But one thing is for sure, artists will never stop imbibing form the environment around them.

The Nude and Art

January 31, 2010
 
Nude Art Grace, by Sunitha Anand Rao, courtesy Monsoon Canvas  

  

What does nudity in art signify? Does it always allude to a sensual motive or do artists intend to convey something more? This article tries to delve into other principle reasons for the Nude in paintings.   

To understand the significance of nudity in art, we need to travel back in time when sculptures were the most prominent art form. Sculptures were created to depict various important aspects of social life, especially religion and government. These sculptures formed an integral part of society and adorned temples, court houses, palaces, gardens and other public places of importance. Sculptors therefore needed to have high levels of skill and imagination to make the sculptures seem more life-like. Sculptors experimented with the pose, the symmetry, placement and angle of body parts and various other details to bring out a perfect life statue. This meant the viewer needed to perceive emotions from the sculpture, leading artists to use more than just facial expressions to convey emotions. Sculptors began to use the whole expanse of the body for this purpose, which also meant they could not dress up their subjects, as clothing cannot convey the person’s emotions, but portray them nude. 

Nudity and emotions 

Laoccon and Group 

The bare body gave the artist more room to express emotions like tension, anger, power, desperation and also allowed the expression of movement. The taunt muscles, bulging veins, contorted torso, sinewy legs, ribbed stomach gave the sculptures a sense of movement. The exaggerations also displayed the mental state of the character portrayed. One of the most famous sculptures is the one depicting a Greek mythological character, Laocoon and his sons called the Laocoon Group. Here the sculptor uses the bare body to show the struggle of the father and the sons with a serpent. The sculptor uses the bare bodies to display the struggle, agony, fear and anger.     Sculptures like Laocoon inspired Renaissance painters like Michelangelo to use the same technique of the nude body, in his paintings, to inspire the viewer with the stories from religion and mythology. Eventually paintings borrowed the ‘nude technique ‘of sculptors to give life and emotion to a scene or story.  Soon the study of the nude (male nudes initially) became an indispensable part of an artist’s training. Art students not only studied nude male models but also classical sculptures which show them how an ideal nude body could be represented. It’s well known, that Da Vinci in his effort to perfect the human muscular and skeletal system dissected and studied cadavers.      

 Nudity and artistic skill    

 Mastering painting of the human body is seen as the truest artistic skill and the vehicle for a wide range of expression. Unlike painting a clothed figure, a nude image required perfect mastery of painting the skin tone, a good knowledge of the skeletal and muscle structure, proportionate alignment of various parts of the body along with alignment of the body to the surroundings and other characters.     

 An interesting quote by an American artist Jacob Collins* sums up the complexity of painting nudes; “I wanted to pour all of my energy into the greatest challenge a painter can face. There is nothing more difficult to paint. To paint a figure clearly and simply, with beauty and strength, to paint the humanity inside the person through their outer body is the hardest and greatest goal. To paint with the skills of past masters while still feeling fresh, to paint anatomical forms that feel alive, to paint a head that feels like it is full of thoughts, is to jump into the world of the great figure painters of times past.”    

 Nudity and virtues  

 It was also common to use nudity when portraying God and Goddess from mythology to bring out the virtues of valor, bravery, courage in case of male nudes and the qualities of beauty, coyness and fertility in case of female nudes. Artists at times, used these depictions to evoke a sense of divinity and innocence in the viewers mind. Although, after the rise of Christianity in the west, nudity primarily depicted shame and humiliation; this was thankfully eliminated by the revival of the renaissance. The Rocco and Baroque periods brought with it nudes that portrayed frivolous or playful eroticism. Rubens’ voluptuous female nudes were sensual and carefree. Paintings of Degas, Manet and the others also depicted this theme. The nude females in these painting provided the scenary with a flippant mood, like a group bathing scene, or enjoying a picnic. It signified the joie de vivre attitude of whole setting.   

 There could be other reasons for depicting nudity in art, than the ones mentioned above; one of the most common reasons is the shock value. Shock value acts as a medium to convey an important message or to increase the artist’s publicity. 

 The above explanation will hopefully help in understanding Nudes and the intentions behind them.  Send me your comments; if you feel there are other aspects to nudity in art, I would be glad to include them as an annex to this article. 

 

 

*Jacob Collins paintings   

    

    

   

   

   

   

 


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