Tuesday, December 28, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #14 - American Gothic

American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930, Oil on Beaver Board, 78 x 65.3 cm (30 3/4 x 25 3/4 in.), Signed on man's overalls: GRANT / WOOD / 1930, The Art Institute of Chicago

This is one of the most interesting paintings - not because I think it's such a fantastic work of art, but because it has spawned so many variations and has been used in advertising ad nauseum! Right up next to the Mona Lisa, I think this painting has a notoriety that is astounding. It has a ton of parodies - check out this site that shows some of them. You know what they say, "Imitation is one of the sincerest forms of flattery." Grant Wood should fee really flattered! Let's see how this painting got to be so famous.



Wood was one of the artists that started a new movement of art in the United States, Regionalism. For most of Western art history, European art and artists drove the boat. Let's face it - with the Greek, Roman, and Renaissance artists (to hit the high points) all centered in Europe, it's no wonder it was so important. Paris was the art capital of the world until the mid-twentieth century when it shifted to New York. American artists in the twentieth century wanted to begin their own traditions and began breaking away from the European tradition. Artwork that was based not only in realism, but also reflected American towns and people became the subjects of the paintings of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry. Grant Wood's American Gothic was a hit when it was first exhibited and it has remained an icon for Midwestern America.

His early art education included metalworking, silversmithing, woodworking and jewelry-making. The Craftsman, or Arts and Crafts movement, was a big influence in his artistic style. It helped that he had so many skills because he was able to support himself as a silversmith while he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1934 he became the director of the PWAP for Iowa and was able to draw from the artistic community he had launched by involving many of the Regionalist artists to work on public art projects. From 1934 until his death in 1942, he was a respected painter and professor of painting at the University of Iowa.

Let's take a closer look at the painting - a man and woman stand formally in front of a farmhouse - they look serious and stern. Though the house is in the background, the painting is set up like a portrait. You can see a Gothic-style window in the house, a corner of a red barn and some treetops in the background. The couple are dressed in their finest clothing - the woman has a white collar with a cameo fastened at her neck, the man is wearing a formal dark blue jacket over his overalls and work shirt. Holding a pitchfork in his hand, his face tells of a life of physical labor and exposure to the elements.



The farmhouse looks a bit like a bungalow with Gothic church detailing. The window is arch shaped and has a tripartite (three-part) division, just like the windows in Gothic churches in Europe. There are other Gothic references: the lightning rod that is cut off could represent a cross and the stiff postures of the couple resemble the carved saints that might surround an entrance to a Gothic cathedral. There are lots of decorative details, patterns in the fabrics, details in their clothing, the grain of wood the house is made of, which makes the painting super realistic. So realistic, you think he has documented a moment in a farm couple's life. But Wood carefully set the scene himself - the woman is his sister and the man is his dentist. Everything, man, woman and house, were sketched separately and combined into his composition.

There is some ambiguity in their countenances - the woman is staring off with an expression that could be worried, dreamy or distracted, but the man confronts the viewer's gaze directly. His grip on the pitchfork communicates his ownership of all you see in the picture - he is protective and proud. The seriousness of the painting tips just slightly into satire. Is he honoring this couple or mocking them? Even when the painting was first exhibited, no one was quite sure what his intentions were. He never tipped his hand; he just explained it as part of the Regionalism movement. Smart guy. Artists do not always have to tell everyone what their work is about - it can be up to the viewer to make their own meaning. Is this one of the reasons this painting has been parodied so much, because it already has this edgy quality to it? What do you think?

Grant Wood Self Portrait, 1932

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Art I students' thoughts about making art

Wordle: What Art I students feel about making ArtClick here to see a higher resolution of the word cloud on wordle.net's site

OK - so I did the same thing with my Art I students and was curious to see how different their thinking might be. Their ideas weren't radically different, but there were some responses that were different. Check out their word cloud by clicking up above and visiting it on the wordle site.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My sculpture students' thoughts about making art

Wordle: Thoughts about making sculptureClick here to see the word cloud on Wordle's site in better resolution.

I gave my sculpture students a fall semester survey to get their feedback on the class so far. One of my questions was for them to make a list of words and phrases that communicate their feelings about their art making. I used wordle.net to make a word cloud of my student's word lists. After typing in all of their words, Presto! A word cloud was formed! BUT, I found out you can't search for your word cloud on their site, but could paste the html into your blog, which I have done. The resolution isn't great for this post, but I've created a link above to the original word cloud. Much nicer. The biggest words were the ones that were the most frequently listed, with the smallest words being the least frequently used. Fun stuff.

Monday, December 06, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #13 - Winona

The Winona, 1935 Sears Honor-Bilt Homes

This Honor-Bilt model home was the top of the line (and the most expensive) for Sears' home kits. They had lesser grade structures - the Standard Built and the Simplex Sectional. In the 1930s, this house would have cost between $721 and $1998, which would be from $10,000-25,000 in today's dolllars. The style is a bungalow-style house from the Craftsman movement. The Craftsman movement was one that wanted to go back to a handmade look. After the advent of the Industrial Revolution, there was a return to things that looked handmade and not machine made. A bungalow is a small, intimate dwelling and has been a popular house throughout the 20th century. You will hear of bungalows in California, where they were widely built, but they are super expensive in that real estate market now!

They typically have covered porches and low-pitched roofs. There are deep overhangs and exposed beams. The look is simple, square and there is limited space. In order to make the small space seem bigger, the main spaces (kitchen, living room and dining room) are open to each other with built-in furnishings. You can see the floor plan in the image post. The main living areas are on the left and have arched openings to the center of the structure. The right side of the building has the bedrooms, bathrooms and closets. There was some customization available - the customer could choose between two and three-bedroom designs. Or, they could flip the design so the bedrooms were on the left. The house came with a basement and an attic and the owner could add a garage or a carport.

These kits made owning a home very affordable. Because Sears could mass produce these, and the houses were limited to the customization, they could keep the price down, more people could afford to build them and it really upgraded their life in spite of their limited incomes. Compare these prices to the $155,000 it took to build Fallingwater (the next post down), and you can see why they were popular! In the 1930s, the average salary was $1,600, so even though these houses were inexpensive, they were still a commitment to the buyer. In order to make it more attractive for potential home owners, Sears, Roebuck and Company set up financing so people could purchase their homes with a loan that had 6-7% interest. Coupled with the steady growth of the automobile industry, the middle class was beginning to boom in the early part of the 20th century, and the average consumer was in debt for a house and a car. Debt spending had begun on a larger scale in the U.S.! But, in the end, the Great Depression hit even this industry and during the 1930s Sears stopped offering the financing because people could not keep up their payments. Sales fell and in the 1940s Sears stopped offering mail-order homes all together. During the 24 years they sold the house kits, between 70,000 and 75,000 people bought them and there are still many Sears houses standing today.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #12 - Fallingwater

Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright, Designed 1935, Built 1936-39

Good grief! Where do you start? Entire books have been published about this magnificent work of architectural genius. Wright was a born architect and never strayed from his course, even when he had hard times (which he did - boy, oh boy, did he ever). He was a singleminded man, designing, building, and teaching. Any city around the country that has a building of his design touts it. But Fallingwater is one of his iconic works (alongside the Guggenheim in New York City in this blogger's humble opinion).

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959 - he lived to the ripe old age of 91!) was born and raised in Wisconsin. From an early age, he had an interest in architecture. His architectural apprenticeship was in the firm of the famous Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, who is considered to be one of the fathers of modern architecture. Their working relationship came to an end when Sullivan found out Wright was working on commissions outside the contractual agreement they had for his employment. Wright went out on his own and designed houses in the Chicago area. He developed a new style of architecture known as the Prairie Style. Prairie Style homes have these features: low-pitched roof, overhanging eaves, horizontal lines, central chimney, open floor plan and clerestory windows.

He might have been a great architect, but he would have been on the front cover of the gossip magazines because he created a scandal when he left his wife for the wife of one of his clients and then proceeded to travel around Europe with her. This kind of behavior almost destroyed his career, but his talent compensated for his lack of a moral compass, and he kept getting work. He built a home and studio for himself and his lover Mamah Cheney, Taliesin, but karma caught up with him. In 1914 an unhappy butler set fire to the house when Wright was working in Chicago and seven people were killed, including Mamah and two of her children.

Wright married twice more, but by 1928 he was deeply in debt. His last wife, Olgivanna proved to be an important partner in helping him get his life back together. She helped him create a school at Taliesin (which is still in existence today), and for $650 per year, architecture students could come live, study and assist Wright. It was one his student's parents that commissioned Fallingwater. This project restored his architectural reputation and led him back into the fame and fortune arena. It became his most famous residential project and to this day is a marvel in design and beauty. Not only did he establish a unique American school of architecture, he also left more than 400 buildings behind that he designed.

Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., the son of a successful department store owner in Pittsburgh, became a fellow at Taliesin, met Wright, and found they shared an interest in designing model communities. Their relationship led to the commission of this home on a plot of land that had been a summer camp for the employee's of Kaufmann's department store, Bear Run. Vacation time became a big luxury for the employees, and Kaufmann and his wife decided to build their own vacation home on the site. They told Wright they wanted their home to have a view of waterfall, but did not expect him to build the house into the falls! This was an extremely radical idea and the engineers he worked with thought he was nuts. But like many artists tied to their vision, Wright prevailed and the work proceeded. In the end, there were some structural problems with the design, but Fallingwater is a major tourist attraction for Pennsylvania and I for one want to see it!!

Interior of Fallingwater

One of the important factors of Prairie Style, and the reason for the open, horizontal design, is to incorporate the building into the landscape that surrounds it. Fallingwater is the ultimate example of this aesthetic goal. The house is built over a 30 foot waterfall, magically rising above the stone and water and it looks as though it is floating. This floating appearance is a result of the cantilevered blocks of concrete (supported only on one end). These cantilevered blocks also create a strong horizontal line in the design of the house. Vertical elements, chimneys and mullions (window dividers), are also worked into the design, and are built of local stone. The vertical line contrasts with the strong horizontal nature of the cantilevers, but using stone as the material keeps it visually connected to the surrounding stone of the landscape. Open spaces and glass keep it light and integrate the inside and outside spaces in a natural way. It is truly a beautiful and magical place.

Frank Lloyd Wright

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #11 - Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam, Gordon Kaufmann, Nevada-Arizona Border, Concrete, Commissioned by Bureau of Reclamation, 1931-36

Herbert Hoover commissioned this public work as the Secretary of Commerce under President Harding in 1922 and it was named after him. He had a background in civil engineering and with the help of the committee designed a dam that was unprecedented between Arizona and Nevada. It's job - to harness the power of the Colorado River and manage water resources for Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming! Woah!! This thing is massive!! The concept was massive as well - it is an anti-gravity concrete dam. DemiDec says, "It combines the structure of an arch dam, the open end of which faces downstream, with the massive heft of a gravity dam." When it was completed in 1936, it was for a bit the tallest dam in the world. And, check out the new Hoover Dam Bridge that was just completed - it's a new wonder of the world as well!!

Godon Kauffman (1888-1949) was an English architect who was asked to consult on the aesthetic look of the dam. The engineers had been really focused on the function of the structure, which wasn't looking too great. Kauffman redesigned the dam to incorporate the streamlined aspects of Art Deco design. No small feat because the dam rises 726.4 feet from the base from the highway to its crest. An additional 40 feet rise from the towers and the ornamentation. There were four main areas of the dam: the intake towers, dam crest, power plant and the spillways. The dam has a strong vertical line in the intake towers at the top (which are essential to powering the plant). The entire structure is massive, powerful but elegant and stately. It's purpose was to provide flood control and provide water for seven states as well as generate electricity. President Roosevelt held the dam up as a symbol of progress. It buoyed the public and people thought that if this massive project could be created, there was hope for the country to pull out of the economic crisis.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #10 - Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, New York City, NY, 1931

The Empire State Building was created by the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. They founded their firm in 1929 in New York. In spite of the Depression, commissions for skyscrapers were still flowing in and they were in demand; they had made a name for themselves developing Manhattan office buildings and designing the 10-story Reynolds Building in North Carolina. The Empire State Building's creation came to symbolize not only the city but the era.

Tallest buildings in the world

1,239 feet from the street (the pinnacle adds 203 feet), the Empire State Building dominates the Manhattan skyline. At one time it was named the Eighth Wonder of the World because it was so tall. It is the tallest building in New York City, and at the time it was built was the tallest building in the world. But man's desire to keep building higher and higher (ever read any history about Gothic Cathedrals?) was stronger and it lost that status. Currently, at 2717 ft tall, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is the tallest building in the world.

As other skyscrapers of the time, it is supported by a steel frame with the exterior facade comprised of equal parts of stone and glass. The stone is a light gray Indiana limestone and granite with vertically oriented windows running the length of the building creating a vertical effect. The surface is broken with setbacks , kind of like smaller blocks are stacked one on top of another. This provides a slimming effect of the building as it rises higher and higher and cuts down on the visual weight of the structure. More light can move around it, keeping the building looking lighter as well as more light getting to the other buildings.

Unbelievably, the building was built in one year, forty-five days with the labor of lots and lots of men (up to 3,000 working at a given time, many of whom were immigrants). As was customary during this time, there was a photographer, Lewis Hine, that was present to document the process. He played two roles: document the work in progress and help shape public perception. Though immigrants had a back seat role in society at the time, Hines highlighted their participation in the building of this great structure.



For its inauguration, President Herbert Hoover pressed a button from the White House and hundreds of miles away, and the Empire State Building lit up. It was a strong symbol of the future and despite the financial crisis, proved that great things were still possible. It was a big building to fill, and for some time people called it "The Empty State Building", but by the late 1940s it became profitable. People now, as when it first opened, would ride to the observation deck and look out over New York, the city that never sleeps.

Portrait of Lewis Hine

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #9 - Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, Ansel Easton Adams, 1941, Gelatin silver print, 36.9 x 48 cm (14 1/2 x 19 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago

Who doesn't love the work of Ansel Adams!?! So vivid, beautiful, even though you know he is shooting a real scene, his work looks hyper-realistic because of the crisp clarity of his picture. It was his destiny - he fell in love with Virginia Best whose family owned a photography studio in Yosemite National Park. He had a unique opportunity to have access to equipment, a darkroom and an incredible area of the country that defined his aesthetic eye. He was a pioneer in the field of photography and preferred working with a camera that had large format film (8" x 10" negatives). One thing that makes his pictures so exceptional is the contrast (or difference between the light and dark areas of the image). He is able to get the whitest whites right alongside the darkest darks, which adds to the drama of his scenes. In order to control the contrast precisely, he developed a technique called the "zone system" which allows the photographer to adjust the level of exposure in different areas of the photograph. His love of precise photography led him to a group of seven California photographers that were dedicated to "straight photography" - they were called Group f/64, named after the smallest possible opening of the aperture of a cameral lens (the part that lets the light in). When the aperture is adjusted to this setting, it produces a picture that has very sharp focus, with the foreground and background equally crisp and sharp. Their mission was to shoot without manipulating the image using cropping or special effects.

This aesthetic had a contemporary ideology behind it. Just like the art and architecture of the time, "straight photography" was interested in simplicity, objectivity and realism. Adams was interested in photographing the glory of nature and hoped that his pictures of the national parks would spur politicians to protect them and keep them pristine. He also became a part of the nature preservationist organization, the Sierra Club, and later became the director. What a great pairing - he could use his pictures to promote the mission of the club. He worked with the Department of Interior in 1941, then was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue with his work of photographing the parks. It was through this continued work and exposure that Adams lifted photography from a journalism tool to the status of fine art. He has been one of the most famous photographers of all time.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is a serene landscape with a huge sky. In painting, perspective is shown by blurring the background detail in order for it to recede into the back, but the mountains in this photo are crystal clear even though we know them to be far away. Adams perspective is flat and emphasizes the contrast between the light and dark that create abstract shapes in the landscape. In the foreground we see different buildings nestled around the few trees in the landscape. This moment captures the setting sun - you can see the crosses of the churchyard gleaming in a brilliant white as the moon rises over a bank of clouds.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 print

Once the negative is developed, additional prints can be made. Because printing a photograph involves chemicals and light, many variations can be made to manipulate the image. Ironically, though Adams didn't want to manipulate the image in the original shooting of it, he was not opposed to manipulating subsequent prints of the negative. Adams developed several prints of Moonrise, and each print has a difference in contrast. Compare the photo at the top of the post with the one just above this text. This is one of the places the artistry of photography comes in. Playing with the contrast, Adams could change not only the appearance of the photo, but could also alter its mood. Color is a big element in visual media - removing the color to black, white and shades of gray allows the viewer to focus more on the composition and the subject of the photograph. It helps distill the image down to its very nature. Black and white photography has been very popular in fine art photography because of its simple and direct nature.

The circumstances surrounding Adams shooting this particular scene are described by the artist:

We were sailing southward along the highway not far from Espanola when I glanced to the left and saw an extraordinary situation - an inevitable photograph! I almost ditched the car and rushed to set up my 8x10 camera. I was yelling to my companions to bring me things from the car as I struggled to change components on my Cooke Triple-Convertible lens. I had a clear visualization of the image I wanted, but when the Wratten No. 15 (G) filter and the film holder were in place, I could not find my Weston exposure meter! The situation was desperate: the low sun was trailing the edge of the clouds in the west, and shadow would soon dim the white crosses. I was at a loss with the subject luminance values, and I confess I was thinking about bracketing several exposures, when I suddenly realized that I knew the luminance of the moon: 250 c/ft2.


The perfect photo required not only the correct equipment, but ultimately the eye of the artist seeing the image in the flash of a second. Nature's cycles do not wait, and photography is ultimately about capturing light on film. Adams, though he had been out working for the government that day, did not bill the government for the photograph. Somewhere in his mind his intuition was acute. This image would become one of his most famous and popular images and he was ultimately able to profit from it. He also had full rights of the image and could control how he developed and used each print.

I lived in New Mexico as a young girl in the early 1960s. This print captures the nostalgia of that special part of the country and supports the slogan still sported on the New Mexico automobile license plate - "Land of Enchantment".

Ansel Adams Self-portrait, 1936

Sunday, November 21, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #8 -Contrasting No. 331 East 39th Street with Chrysler Building and Daily News Building

Contrasting No. 331 East 39th Street with Chrysler Building and Daily News Building, Manhattan, Berenice Abbott, November 8, 1938 Art Institute of Chicago

New building materials, steel, glass and chrome, in the 20th century led to the rise of many new skyscrapers. Steel was an incredible new material, and allowed for lighter walls which then allowed for glass to be utilized in new ways. Elevators became a more reliable technology and allowed for buildings to be built higher and higher. Architectural styles used in buildings that were built from World War I until the 1930s are known as "traditional", after that time they were considered to be "modern". These new materials created the modern aesthetic - one that was not only new but would also showcase these innovative materials. The Bauhaus was in full swing in Germany and one architect, Le Corbusier, was the champion of the International Style.

The cityscapes were changing rapidly; Bernice Abbott took note and set out to document the changes. She studied in Paris and was a darkroom assistant to Man Ray, a very famous portrait photographer and Dada and Surrealist artist. He trained her in his methods, and soon she was shooting for herself and mounting her own shows. Rather than take pictures of people, she decided to take portraits of the buildings that were appearing in the city. New York was one of the most dynamic places for new skyscrapers at the time, so that's where she settled down. She realized that her goals were in tandem with the WPA/FAP, and submitted a proposal to document the historical changes being made to the New York City skyline. He proposal was accepted.

Look at the building that is named only by its address - its windows are boarded up, posters cover the doors and windows on the street level. It appears to have been a residential building. It was unremarkable, except to Abbott it spoke of the problems during the Depression - evictions, people fleeing in search of a lucrative opportunity, an example of urban decay. The new buildings, the Chrysler Building at the far left and the Daily News Building to the very left of No. 331 East 39th, are beautiful, new, named and renowned within the city. This contrast between the old and new is not necessarily a political statement. Much like Walker Evans, she is merely capturing the image of the change and bringing it to the viewer's attention.
Bernice Abbott

Saturday, November 20, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #7 - Migrant Mother


Migrant Mother, Nipoma, California, 1936, Dorothea Lange, printed later, Photogravure, 30.4 x 23 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago

OK - a little more background detail. FDR's New Deal programs are in place and at work. Among the tasks of the Resettlement Administration's mission was to provide loans to farmers, set up camps for migrant workers, work on soil conservation and reforestation programs, and document all of this work under the RA's Historical Section. Photography was a fairly new technology and was really efficient at documenting the problems of the Great Depression. Roy Stryker was appointed the head of the Historical Section of the FSA and was in charge of directing the imagery that would capture the story. His photographers, such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, travelled around the country capturing the details of people as they moved through this extraordinary life situation. He was the consummate promoter in that he knew how to use the images in magazines and newspapers to show people what was going on across the country. This work of his produced an enormous body of documentary photographs of the Great Depression.

Dorothea Lange suffered polio at the age of seven, but survived the disease and went on to study photography in New York City. When she moved to San Francisco, she set up a successful portrait studio but eventually began to document life on the streets of San Francisco. It wasn't too much of a leap then to begin taking pictures for Roy Stryker who recruited her to the Historical Section in 1935. This began her work documenting migrant workers in California. Her work is some of the most compelling photography of the Great Depression, and this photograph, Migrant Mother, is iconic of the time.

Like Shahn's Riveter, Lange crops into the image tightly. The mother and her three children fill the frame. The composition is powerful - the mother's face is full of anxiety; she is deep in thought, her brow furrowed. She clings to her children as the cling to her. Their faces are turned away or only partially revealed. The are worn and dirty, gaunt and miserable. This image of a mother caring for her children in a world of misery is a universal one and produces a visceral response in the viewer. Here is her quote about taking this photograph:

"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to bury food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it."


That migrant mother was Florence Owens Thompson. Listen to an audio file of her talk about that time.



10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #6 - Negro Barber Shop Interior, Atlanta

Negro Barber Shop Interior, Atlanta, Walker Evans, 1936, Gelatin silver print, 22.1 x 18.3 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago

Walker Evans worked through the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and toured the Southern United States for a year with Roy Stryker. We've seen artists so far that used their art to illustrate social injustice (Rivera, Shahn, Biddle), but Evans wanted his work to be "pure record, not propaganda...no POLITICS whatsoever." Stryker had an agenda for Walker to follow, but Evans was deliberate and careful about his shots. He was looking for images that would engage the viewer and make them think, without giving them a political agenda or viewpoint.

Evans broke from the FSA in 1936 to work with James Agee on a commissioned article about white sharecropper families in Alabama. They were on location for several weeks compiling the story and the images that were to accompany it. It was published as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Walker's imagery was contemplative and objective and his style established a new way of supporting Agee's passionate text through illumination, not illustration. He was fired from the FSA in 1937 but "Evans had already established his fame as a documentary photographer. He had the honor of being the first solo photographer to have an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1940 that funded his projects." (Thanks DemiDec for your great art resource!!) He eventually became a staff photographer at Fortune magazine and worked there until 1965. He went on to become a professor of photography at Yale University until his death in 1975. He was one of the most important photographers of this time because he had a keen, unimpassioned eye and inspired other photojournalists to shoot without opinion or emotion.

This black and white photograph is full and empty at the same time. The scene is carefully constructed - chairs wait for customers, linen ready to be used, hairdressing tools at the ready. And yet, there are no people in the shot. People are not even reflected in the mirrors. One mirror reflects black emptiness, the other filled with an image of a full shop. The shop is in an old space - chipped paint on the back wall, worn leather chairs - there's a sense that it's been patched together to fit the space. The documentary style of Evans captures all of these details in a high degree because he used a large-format camera.

The barbershop is a communal and intimate space. Men are groomed here on a regular basis. Relationships are formed. Social discourse takes place - the are free to talk about life, work, sports, politics. During the 1930s segregation was in place and black men were required to frequent their own barbershop, not one that white men went to. Evans shows us that environment, without people and without judgment. He presents richly detailed images that are direct and interesting inviting the viewer to interpret what is happening. Check out more of his work from this major retrospective exhibit of his work that was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Friday, November 19, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #5 - Muse of Music, Dance, Drama


Muse of Music, Dance, DramaGeorge Stanley, 1940, granite, 22'H x 220'W, Hollywood Bowl Association

George Stanley was a sculpture and sculpture teacher at the Otis Arts Institute in Los Angeles. His public sculptures are local landmarks of the city. With all that public exposure, he is known for his role as co-designer of the gold statuette known as the Oscar. Stanley's fountain and sculpture Muse of Music, Dance, Drama is a fitting monument in the city that has become an icon in the culture of entertainment.


Muse of Music

It achieves its height by following the curve of a hill which acts as a retaining wall outside the amphitheater. The overall design is very geometric. Flat panes contrast with a curved central pier and water cascades down concentric tiers. It is against this structure that the three muses stand - clean, elegant and solemn, they embody not only the history of Music, Dance and Drama, but also the Art Deco style. The figure at the top of the fountain is the Muse of Music, playing a harp that echoes the shape of the central pillar. As in early Greek sculpture, her figure has little detail and her face little individuality.


Greek Kore


Muse of Dance

The muses of Dance and Drama are in niches on either side of this main sculpture. Dance has a bent knee referencing the important contribution the Greeks made to sculpture, the contrapposto pose.


Kritios Boy

And Drama holds a tragedy mask in front of her face and a comedy mask across her chest alluding to the unpredictability of theater (and life!) - one minute you're down, the next minute you're up, especially in Hollywood! The style of Art Deco is known as an anonymous aesthetic because you do not see the individual style of the artist. The Hollywood Bowl is still a major venue for music, dance and drama performances. The city of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Bowl Association commissioned the work and collaborated with the WPA to fund it. The city is caring for this treasure and in 2006 made a restoration of the monument by repairing the fountain, the lighting system and replacing tiles. With such a location and tradition, the muses must look fabulous, dahling!


Muse of Drama

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #4 - The Riveter

The Riveter (mural study, Bronx, New York central postal station), 1938, Ben Shahn, tempera on paperboard, image: 33 x 14 3/4 in. (83.8 x 37.5 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum

Here's another connection with Diego Rivera! It was a small art world during the Great Depression! Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a can do kind of artist - he cleaned paint brushes for Rivera when he painted the Rockefeller Center mural, took pictures for the FSA in California and painted his own murals in a government-sponsored model community in New Jersey. He came from a Jewish Eastern European immigrant family and through perseverance made his way to Brooklyn. His main style of art is social realism, a style that featured the hard life of the working poor and criticized the social structure that causes such problems. His first major work, The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti was spawned by Shan's sympathetic leanings for the defendants as a liberal immigrant himself.

His career included not only working with Rivera, but also with Walker Evans, a well known photographer that taught Shahn about working with cameras. When he was not awarded some mural proposals, Evans recommended Shahn to another government agency, the Resettlement Administration. Traveling through the South and Midwest with his love and companion, Bernarda Bryson, he documented the life he saw, but photography was not to be the medium of choice for Shahn. Photography was a study for his paintings. He continued getting commissions, including a mural at the Bronx Central Postal Station.

The Riveter was a study using tempera on paperboard for the "Resources for America" mural cycle at the Bronx Central Postal Station. The compelling composition uses the vertical space to box the workman into a compressed space. You can think of it as though you had put a photo into Photoshop and cropped tightly down on the subject. This compressed scene focuses on one worker. The environment he is in, which you see little of because of this close up study, seems to be a factory. There is a lot of ambiguity to the painting - what city is he in, what kind of factory is this, what is he working on? By keeping the details vague, this one workman symbolizes factories and workers all across America doing the same type of work. The face of the worker is not complete enough for clear identification. Even the color palette of coveralls and skin color blend together so you're not sure what ethnicity he is from. The white gloves provide a focal point with a red power cord leading from the machine. It looks like an artery not only in color but in the placement of the composition and serves as a symbol for industry being the heart of the American economy.

Shahn won this commission out of 189 submissions. Perhaps because his composition combines the universal with the realistic and his ability to represent such an important aspect of American life - industry. It represented every man and was easy for any viewer to understand. During this time of the Great Depression, his painting did not focus on the unemploymed, but the employed by putting the worker on a pedestal and making him the heart of American industry.

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #3 - Tenement, Mural Study

Tenement (mural study, Depart of Justice Building, Washington, D. C.), 1935, George Biddle, tempera on fiberboard, 40 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. (102.9 x 80.0 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum

George Biddle (1885-1973) was born into a wealthy family who expected him to become highly educated and establish a law career. He got a law degree, but traveled to Paris (the art capital of the world at that time) and enrolled in a famous art school, the Academie Julian. After serving in WWI, Biddle began his art career. On a trip to Mexico in 1928, he met Diego Rivera. They proved to be valuable networking friends, each recommending the other for work in each other's countries. Franklind D. Roosevelt was a former classmate of Biddle. George wrote him a letter, and was able to get his ear about painting murals in the Department of Justice. He got the commission and dedicated the rest of his life to public art. In the first mural of a five-panel series Biddle did for the federal government, he contrasted just and unjust societies. The final panel, Tenement, depicted the private lives of poor Americans. This art thrust the struggles of America's poor right in the face of the government.

Tenement is a single wall that's divided into three areas. His cut-away view of the inside of the apartment building shows immigrants and poor families going about their daily lives. The left section is a vertical section showing the outside of the building with bars on the windows and laundry hanging to dry. Utility poles lean left and right suggesting disorder in this urban environment. An old woman is in the foreground of this section and holds an axe and some firewood. This figure and it's placement tie into the figures on the right side of the composition that are inside the building. He compositionally connects both inside and outside with these figures. The people inside are working, playing or taking care of their family, but all have dull, unemotional expressions. It's as though they are just going through the motions of daily life.

The crowding, barred windows, and forlorn expressions suggest their homes are just lonely prisons for them. They are tired but enslaved to the poverty they endure day to day. By placing this mural in the Department of Justice, Biddle hopes to show the people that are making decisions some of the people they affect. "He underscores this point by including two quotes in the mural. At the bottom of the right-hand field, Biddle paints a plaque reading: “brandeis: if we would guide by the light of reason we must let our minds be bold”. The quote is from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856–1941). It joins another quote that appears at the beginning of the five-panel series, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience,” attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841–1935), who had just retired from the Supreme Court in 1932." (Quote from the DemiDec Art Resource Guide - thanks DemiDec for what you do for Academic Decathlon!!)

The first quote is imploring the viewer not to turn away from the hard images of poverty. And the second quote grounds in the subject matter that Biddle has chosen. He is challenging the notion of just law and visually states that it is not enough to have the law of Justice. Justice must also mean helping all by improving the lives of people in their society. Pretty in your face, huh? And all under the wing of a public art vehicle. He radically changed the course of Depression-era art.

George Biddle at work on his mural Society Freed through Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice Building., Washington, D.C., 1936

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Artist of the Week - Ray Villafane


My art teacher friend forwarded images of Ray Villafane's carved pumpkins and I was hooked on several levels. Definitely blog worthy, but also art class lesson worthy!

1. I gave 6 weeks exams to all of my 170 students yesterday and it was grueling work! You think test day would be an easy, quiet day, but au contraire! We needed some fun today. I'll just leave it at that.
2. Halloween is Sunday, so there is a definite timely, holiday theme to the art.
3. We had a pep rally at school this morning which meant the kids were all hyped up and we would have shortened classes from 50 minutes - what to do to engage the kids?
4. It falls into my blog category of "food art" which I love, think is fun and is a popular category on my blog (especially with my students).
5. We are getting ready to do a clay relief sculpture in my sculpture classes, so it's an excellent lead in before designing and executing their projects. Lots of juicy ideas.
6. We are also getting ready to start contour drawing in Art I - his work uses lots of line and would be really fun to draw using any number of contour drawing techniques. Another great lead in.
7. It looked like a fun thing to do today for them and for me! We all needed some fun!

So that was the lesson - a review of the body of his work, the television interview (linked in the post title) and the great tutorial on his website about his sculpture process. They enjoyed it. So.......I'm challenging my students and the reader to go carve a pumpkin! You probably won't be able to compete with his 15 or more years of pumpkin carving expertise, but you might get a new idea or two to try. Go for it! Halloween cometh!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Business of Art: Forgery

The drawing known as La Bella Principessa - by Leonardo da Vinci?

What's the big deal about forgery? Only tons of money! And think of the reputations great art collectors and museums have at stake when being duped into buying a fake. Check out the link in this post headline to read about 11 of the most controversial art forgery stories.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #2 - Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers

Aaron Douglas. Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers. Mural series comprised of four panels: Song of the Towers, From Slavery Through Reconstruction, An Idyll of the Deep South, and The Negro in an African Setting. Oil on canvas, 1934.
The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division.

I have a special connection to this work. When I went back to college (at the age of 47!) to finish my bachelor's and become certified to teach art, I had the privilege of taking some Art History classes (which I went on to teach and love with a passion). The last class I took was an African American Art class, taught by Dr. Jennifer Way at the University of North Texas. The reading list was long. The course had a sizable focus on the Harlem Renaissance which I knew NOTHING about! How was that possible? Such a fantastic flowering of artistic expression born in the United States, and I had never even heard about it. Dr. Way gave us a challenge - go to our comprehensive art history textbooks and search for African American art in them. Nada. Nothing - or next to nothing. The tome of Art History (unnamed but easily guessed at), out of over 1,000 pages of art history, had two paragraphs about the Harlem Renaissance and a pitiful representation of modern and contemporary African American artists. I was appalled and it left a lasting impression for me. This period of artistic expression should be taught and celebrated! Aaron Douglas' work excites me so because of not only the formal qualities of his paintings, but the modern expression, the passion and the soul of the African American that he depicts. I just love his work.

The Harlem Renaissance was an incredible explosion of intellectual and artistic talent between 1910-1940 in Harlem, New York. The neighborhood was largely black, impacted by the Great Migration in which over one million and a half African Americans left rural areas across the U.S. to find work and new opportunity in urban centers like New York City. The new demographics spawned a search for new expressions of black cultural identity from their African heritage and ancestry. The artists of this time were looking for ways to come to terms with the duality of their African roots and their American birth rite. Sadly, the Depression hit the movement hard in the 1930s and it withered, but it spawned incredible talent: writers W.E.B. DuBois and Alan Locke, poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, visual artists Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence, and jazz musicians Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Charlie Parker.



Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, studied art at the University of Nebraska and taught art in Kansas City. He went to Harlem in 1925 and started working as an illustrator for books for Cullen and Hughes as well as African American magazines Crisis and Opportunity. His work was critically acclaimed and eventually he was commissioned to paint a four-panel series for a branch of the New York Public Library - Aspects of Negro Life.

Song of the Towers is the last panel and the only one that has an urban context. The central figure is playing a saxophone (symbolic of the jazz movement) in the midst of the New York City skyline. The emotion displayed is not clear, is could be celebratory or defiant. Far in the distance is the Statue of Liberty, an icon of freedom, in the center of concentric circles that radiate out in the composition. The figures are in silhouette against the jutting, rectilinear buildings thrusting skyward. This style of portraying the men in this abstracted way became known as "Egyptian form" style because they are shown in profile. The lower part of the painting show men with industrial imagery - cogs and smokestacks. The figures are tense and struggling juxtaposed with the central figure which speaks of equality for African Americans in this new time and place. The colors are warm and throbbing. This is not a calm image. There is visual tension with the use of the complimentary colors of red and green. The green is not the color associated with growth, but has an ominous feel.

Aspects of Negro Life depicts the development of African American culture from the village in Africa, through the crisis of slavery and racial oppression, ending in the glimpse of the Harlem Renaissance in the Song of the Towers. The series has visual unity compositionally, repeating the elements of the silhouette, concentric circles and bold color. The power of the silhouette is its ability to represent a group without individuality, making it more powerful visually. This celebration of the African culture was an important step to illuminate the accomplishments of African Americans, though it would be decades before they would begin to gain rights and freedoms and not be treated as second-class citizens. This modern imagery was important as a sign of progress for men and women who had much to give to America.

Aspects of Negro Life: The Negro in an African Setting

Aspects of Negro Life: Idyll of the Deep South

Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction

Saturday, October 02, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #1 - Detroit Industry, South Wall

Detroit Industry, South Wall, Fresco, Diego Rivera, 1932-1933, Detroit Institute of Art (Thanks to Daniel at DemiDec for providing me with their Art Resource for my blog work - DemiDec rocks!!)

The link in the post headline takes you to the Detroit Institute of Art's website. The image has a rolling magnification feature to it which gives you a more close up view of the work. I highly recommend it!

Diego Rivera is on of the most important artists from Mexico. Diego Rivera's training as an artist was grounded in the traditions of European art traditions - he received a scholarship to study in Europe at 21. This training heavily influenced his own aesthetics. He lived during a politically tumultuous time - the rise of both the Communist Party (of which he was a member) and the continued rise of capitalism in the United States (important patrons for him in his career). He struggled to walk a line between them both, but was not entirely successful in negotiating between these two disparate ideologies Some of the commissioned works by US capitalists such as JP Morgan, angered the Communist Party members and Rivera was expelled from the Party. The communists believed in the abolition of private property and social hierarchy in favor of a classless society with government ownership and regulation of resources. Accepting art commissions (and the money paid!) from US capitalists angered the Communist Party. But that wasn't his only problem! His artwork and the imagery in some of his frescoes was grounded in not only portraying the political ideals of Communism, but also included their political leaders. This did not make his US capitalist patrons happy either. He spent a good part of his illustrious career caught between a rock and a hard place!

The Detroit Industry frescoes were true, or buon frescoes. Rivera was known as the leader of the Mexican Renaissance because fresco painting was very popular during the European High Renaissance (remember Michelangelo & the Sistine Chapel?) and because by 1930 Rivera had painted over 17,000 square feet of buon fresco -he became a master. Just like Michelangelo, Rivera had to paint his mural around the architecture of the building, the Garden Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The work we are looking at was on the South wall and is integrated around the doors and colonnades.

The fresco illustrates the process of assembling a Ford car in the assembly plant. You see pipes, pumps, wheels, and an assembly line of workers showing the process of building a car from beginning to end. The wall is divided in sections - notice the bottom panels that are painted in shades of grey paint - this technique also comes from a Northern Renaissance tradition and is called "grisaille". You see Henry Ford teaching a class in these grisaille panels. Just like in Northern Renaissance altarpieces that represent the patrons of the work; this work shows Edsel Ford (the president of Ford) and William Valentine (the head of the Art Institute) in these grisaille panels. The allegorical top panel represent the universal concept of man in people of different races. The entire wall is symmetrical in balance and changes scale, from the large panels on top to the smaller, more intimate imagery in the panels on the bottom.

Rivera's preparation for this project was intense - he photographed and studied the Ford Motor Plant for months in order to capture the true spirit of the manufacturing process. He made sure to include the people and businesses of Detroit into his imagery, but it included a stylized imagery that would appeal and relate to anyone who viewed it. This allowed the artist to portray an Ideal vision of Detroit which produced abundance and harmony. Because the Great Depression had crippled the city and slowed it's production, this public work of art was meant to help heal the spirit of the people and the city. His work was intended to satisfy the patron who commissioned it, but it was also meant to touch the spirit and souls of the people of Detroit.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Red Bull Art of the Can

Liberty Rising, Irene Juliet Deely, Boise, Idaho, Metal

OMG! I realized that today was the last day for the Red Bull Art of the Can exhibition at the Galleria in Dallas! It's the night before the first day of school, and I'm in a panic that I HAVE to go to the mall (which I hate to do) and go see the exhibit and take some pictures. Mr. Miller graciously accompanied me and we zoomed to the middle of the mall to see the exhibit.

I'm teaching sculpture this year, and I thought I have to show my students this work. I have this great book that shows you how to work with tin cans to make art (I even have my own tiny rocking chair made from a tin can) - this might be a great project for my students to do. There could even be one of them who might come up with a fantastic sculpture utilizing this technique!

We zoomed and I frantically documented the exhibit. I loved seeing the work - so imaginative, so well crafted, so artistic! From the huge plane that hung overhead, to the fashion items, paintings, and sculpture, this competition draws from all ages and art backgrounds. In 2010 there were only two venues: July 31 - Aug 22, 2010, the Galleria, Dallas, TX and the spring show in Miami, Fl, South Beach, March 4 - 14, 2010. I don't know when the deadline is for a 2011 show, but keep your eyes peeled. I'm really glad we made it to the last day of the exhibit.

Here's what the website says for Liberty Rising: 'For full-time studio artist and gallery owner Irene Juliet Deely, inspiration didn’t come from a statement but from a question: “When pursuing big dreams one often comes face to face with obstacles that demand extraordinary effort to overcome. What might help to fuel such achievements?” she asks. The model for her sculpture is an eight-foot cast bronze that is currently on exhibit in San Antonio. “Liberty Rising” displays the indomitable spirit of Liberty cloaked in voluminous folds of Red Bull’s red, silver and blue.

“Liberty Rising” incorporates 42 Red Bull cans into an intricate welded-metal form of a familiar American icon. The judo-kick stance makes one think of Lady Liberty as an action figure with a sense of humor to boot. The sculpture is indicative of the title of Irene’s own gallery, “Woman of Steel.”'



I've included this exhibit with an Environmental Art tag because at the exhibit, there was a sign that said "Recycle". Simple sign - simple action. Do it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Artist of the Week - Chris Jordan

Light Bulbs, Chris Jordan, 2008, 72x96"
Depicts 320,000 light bulbs, equal to the number of kilowatt hours of electricity wasted in the United States every minute from inefficient residential electricity usage (inefficient wiring, computers in sleep mode, etc.).

Educating ourselves in regard to our consumption and waste is a step toward modifying behavior. Starting to make changes on a personal level will begin the shift into societal change. Chris Jordan's work represents visually the staggering statistics of how we use resources and dispose of our waste without thinking about the ramifications.

The post headline leads you to a TED talk in which he explains his work and his hope that we can each raise our consciousness to the various issues his manipulated photography highlight: how much electricity we use, how many trees we cut down, how many plastic cups are used on air flights every day, etc. Once we are informed about the issue, we can begin to make changes in our every day life.

I particularly love this piece which is evidence of part of the collective moving in the direction his work wants to take us. Our collective web is strengthening.

E. Pluribus Unum, 2010, 21x21 feet, laser etched onto aluminum panels
Depicts the names of one million organizations around the world that are devoted to peace, environmental stewardship, social justice, and the preservation of diverse and indigenous culture. The actual number of such organizations is unknown, but estimates range between one and two million, and growing.

Concept and design: chris jordan
Computing and design: Craig S. Kaplan, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Organizations database research: Paul Hawken