Skip to comments.ART Appreciation "class" #1: Manet and Homer
Posted on 05/25/2005 6:27:04 AM PDT by Republicanprofessor
Well, now that exams are over, grades are in, Id like to bring some Art Appreciation ideas to Free Republic. Unfortunately, as artists have become more and more abstract, it really does take some study and/or education to understand what their ideas are. One doesnt always need a snotty PhD art historian to do so, however. Once a person learns how to look at artworks, one can make ones own decisions about form and content. (One can't just "appreciate" the blue in a painting to really understand what the painting is about.)
Form and content: thats what I emphasize in all my classes. What is the artist trying to say and what forms (colors, lines, shapes, etc.) does he use to convey that message? Another fun thing about abstraction is that different people can have different interpretations, that the pieces can work on different levels. Im hoping we can have some fun discussions here on FR about these works. (I didnt get all this stuff right away; Ive been studying it for decades.)
So, here goes.
The camera was invented in 1839. While I am not going to deal with the history of photography, whats important is that at this point artists are freed to go beyond realism. The camera can take normal portraits and all kinds of realistic images. The artists can begin to explore abstraction.
In the late nineteenth century, Maurice Denis said this A picture--before it is a a war horse, a female nude, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a particular order. Thus the artist is now free to do what he wants on the painting. Whistler won a court battle for this at the end of the nineteenth century.
So lets begin with Eduoard Manet (1832-1883) Here is his Olympia 1863 in contrast to the older (more realistic) image of Titians Venus of Urbino from the early sixteenth century.
Can you see the differences between these? What has Manet done to update Titian? Hes made the lady flatter and bolder; she is definitely a prostitute, and a rather successful one at that (judging by the flowers from an admirer).
Manet is a part of the movement called Realism from about 1860-75 or so. This includes Courbet, but Im going to spare you his more socialist works. This does not mean that the works look realistic, but that they are exploring a new, more modern and flattened style of realism. What is real in this world? That question is discussed in this famous work by Manet, Dejeuner sur lHerbe (Luncheon on the Grass) which is another reworking of another Venetian Renaissance work, this time by Giorgione Pastoral Symphony.
Manet Dejeuner and Giorgione's Pastoral Symphony
Notice that, in the earlier painting, these ladies are not prostitutes. Notice also, in Giorgiones work on the right, that those men are not even paying attention to these ladies. Thats because the women are muses. The large, golden size is inspiring to the men as they compose music; one woman dips into the well of inspiration, while the other plays a flute-like instrument. This is also one of the first luscious landscapes, with a beautiful golden sky typical of artists from Venice.
Manets work has often bothered me. Why the larger, dressed woman who is bathing in the background? She actually completes a compositional triangle that has been seen frequently in art history. The other woman is blatantly looking at you, and is not looking slyly to the side as in Giorgiones nudes. She is also not dressed, in contrast to the dressed woman who is bathing. And again the men are not looking at her. Why? One idea that I subscribe to is that the men (who are artists themselves) are discussing how to portray a nude. And one says he would paint her flatly, as if in real light, and not with the veiled allusions of the past. He would paint her directly and realistically, and voila, there she is. Manet is also saying that he can do whatever he wants in a painting. That means he can play with our heads, just like he does here and at the Bar at the Folies-Bergere.
Now I want to end by looking at Winslow Homer (1836-1910) our great American painter from the end of the nineteenth century and a contemporary of Manet. Manet has a tremendous world-wide reputation, but Homer is seen more regionally. But what do you think? Who is better?
Homers The Gale and Fog Warning
Perhaps Homer just appeals to me because Im a New Englander, and I love the ocean and think he captures that life and death struggle of the ocean very well. I also like the way the stories of his paintings are open-ended. Will her husband return from the sea? Will the fisherman make it back to his boat?
These works will always move me more than Manet. And both men have a wonderful way with the brush. Things look nicely detailed from a distance, but up close you see just a sweep of a brush here and there. That brushwork, what we call painterly, is even more important in Impressionism and thereafter.
I am also wondering: do you see these works as pornographic? Why or why not? Pornography seems to be an issue in art nowadays. When did that start? What is pornography? (I have my definition....I want yours.)
Why do you say she is definitely a prostitute?
cool thread prof. I look forward to the rest of the lecture series. Thanks.
Well the figures on these ladies are definitely more in line with what this middle aged woman would call "realism", LOL!
For the first two for example, when I look at the top one from the corner of my eye, it looks more "realistic" than the second one from the corner of my eye. Similarly for the next set, with the "less realistic" of the pair looking "more realistic" at a glance.
I'm not sure why...
Because that's what "they" say in all the art texts. She is also looking at the viewer directly, as if saying how much she charges. She's got the flowers from an admirer (so she must be good). She also has a dulled expression on her face; is not modest; and has "a working class body" (or so "they" say).
Prostitution was up and coming in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Victorian age. Sex in the marriage bed was for procreation only. Men went elsewhere for "fun." And women were said to be shocked by this painting, and others by Manet, which highlighted prostitution.
Interesting post. Certainly the paintings aren't pornographic (although like the Supreme Court I can't define pornography but know it when I see it). The depiction of the female nude has a long history in art, and so, for that matter, does the male nude. Does anyone consider Michelangelo's David porn? The very question is absurd.
THANK YOU, PROFESSOR! I'm tempted to frivolously define pornography as "I know it when I see it", but to be serious for a second these paintings are not pornographic because they do not arouse or titillate anyone other than adolescent boys (and let's face it, there's no hope for THOSE turkeys :^)). I'll read the rest of your kind submission later, I've got to get ready for work. Thank you again.
Well, after having several children myself, I do like looking at other "beauties" in art history. The standards of art change completely in time. Are you familiar with Rubens and his "Rubenesque" nudes?
The slip-on mules. "Ladies" did not wear those.
The jewelry is also not appropriate for a lady.
I do not know the story in France, but it was fashionable in a slightly earlier period in London for ladies of the demi-monde to have African servants.
But really, the direct gaze at the viewer is the giveaway. A jeune fille de bonne famille would blush, turn away, and hide her face.
Have to run out for a while...the last few pings on various art threads, you've made some points that I want to address...if I can find the time to freep!
And from the paintings, many seemed to be saying to themselves, "How many ways can I think of to paint nekkid women?" :o)
I'm just kidding. I strongly prefer the realism to abstract. I have no idea why. Maybe it's an indication of very linear thinking..."It doesn't look like...something. So I guess it's really...nothing." Of the painings herein, my favorite is Titians Venus. My favorite is still Edward Hopper.
Wow! Could you please add me to your ping list? I'm not sure my 13 year old homeschooler is ready for some of this, but I don't want to lose these threads.
I do not believe these are pornographic. There needs to be some kind of lewdness to it that I just don't see here. I know many Christian ladies who would consider this porn merely because of the nudity, but it's missing something... I guess I'm not so puritannical about art. :)
For me the acid test is watercolor, because it can't be worked over or corrected. What you see is what you get, and Homer is brilliant in the medium:
Hard to believe that last one IS a watercolor . . .
"Deconstructing Manets Olympia: Foucault has Nothing on Me, Bee-yotch
Obviously, in comparison to earlier nudes, the use of a prostitute shows us all that we must be sexually liberated. Manet understood that you must do it in the street. And did you see how lovingly the other woman is looking at the woman on the divan? This indicates that Manet was well ahead of his time, and understood that one day gay marriage would replace Christianity, which is supported by the lack of any religious symbols in the painting. Of course, the other woman is African, so Manet could have been a racist, but definitely not a sexist or a homophobe, unlike the warmongering, Chimp Bush, who is all three.
How did I do?
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