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October 12, 2011 / caswelld

Henri Matisse 1918 Self Portrait

Henri Matisse, at the beginning of the 20th century, was the leader of the Fauve  movement.  He latter went on to do more diversified work but was well know for his use of  symbolic color, something he used somewhat boldly at times.  He was also known to exaggerate his color for  expressive effect and, in the process, tended to simplify his drawing.  Matisse believed art should have therapeutic effect, saying that art should have the same effect on a person  that a comfortable armchair has on a tired businessman.

You can see Matisse’s style clearly in his 1918 self-portrait.  The colors are flat and simple and depth is shown through the shapes of the objects within the painting.  The floor,  chair, and case between his legs are all examples of shapes being used to show depth rather then color and tone (color and tones being used in earlier styles).  Depth is also shown using overlapping objects.  For example, Matisse is overlapping the washbasin;  Matisse is at the front of the room relative to the observer while the washbasin is at the back.

As far as color theory goes, there are there are four main colors in the painting, though I  am not sure how important they are: White, Brown, Red, and Purple. The washbasin is white, and I do not think this is accidental; white is often used to show purity and cleanliness. Matisse is brown, which could be representing the artists humility despite the fact this is a self-portrait.  The wall purple and purple tends to represent wealth or power.  I am not sure how this may relate to the painting, it just may be the background color he choose or it may have to do with the power of art or something similar.  Finally, the rug is red which is often used to represent danger, anger, violence, love, and passion.  It may have something to do with his passion or art.

October 12, 2011 / caswelld

Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon

In 1907, the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso finished his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) after months of preparation and hundreds of sketches.  Originally titled The Brothel of Avignon (Avinyo Street in Barcelona) the painting propelled Picasso to the forefront of “Modern” Art. His painting was revolutionary in multiple ways; from the style he used to meaning of it all, and was very likely the first truly modern painting.

The style of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is completely different from much of the art of the time.  At the turn of the century, the predominate style was the color and light defined forms of the impressionists and the Fauves (who were mainly led by Picasso’s friend and adversary Henri Matisse).  Instead of using color and light, Picasso used line drawing to depict three dimensions. His style of line drawing helped establish cubism.

Another way his painting was revolutionary was the meaning behind it. The painting is of a brothel scene with five nude prostitutes, but there is more.  Jonathan Jones offers a thought experiment on the painting, “Look directly at Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and speculate on its meaning.  You can’t … actually looking at the picture means moving constantly from one facet to another; it never lets you settle on one resolved perception.” Put simply, this painting is about looking, looking at it and it looking at you. The figure in the center has huge, deep, black eyes that look back at you with such boldness.  The painting, as a whole, seems to have contempt for whoever is looking at it.

The most important proof that this painting is, at the very least, among the first modern paintings is just how much it relates back to the modern world.  Look at the women wearing masks; why are they wearing masks?  The most obvious reason to wear a mask is to disguise yourself, and in the case of the African masks, to turn yourself into something else such as an animal or demon or a god.  Modern art wears a mask, too.  It does not say what it means; it is not a photographically perfect representation of a scene. Picasso picked nudes because of how popular they were at the time, how over done they were.  He wanted to show that originality in art has next to nothing to do with narrative but instead, that originality had everything to do with invention. Modern art, at least for Picasso, meant a victory of form over content.

October 7, 2011 / caswelld

Spectacle and Modernism

Modernism is not modern in the strictest sense; though it itself is obviously modern, the circumstances of modernism only became so through spectacle.  Clark writes, “I wish to show that the circumstances of modernism were not modern, and only became so by being given the forms called ‘spectacle’”.  Mass media for example, which according to Guy Debord is among the most glaring forms of spectacle, originated from the modern world.  As people learned how to read and became educated, they wished to know what was happening in their world.  As mass media was born, it ceased providing news as much as entertainment.  As more and more people begin using mass media, a form of spectacle, “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity”.  As even news became spectacle, society was no longer reading news to stay up to date but rather reading news because everyone else was, “the spectacle is not a collection of images but rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images”.  The society reads the news so the person reads the news and thus mass media becomes a spectacle and a form of modernism.

Modern art is not spectacle because, unlike previous art that strived for realism and could easily be glanced at and understood.  Modern art and forces people to observe, experience, and understand the art. For example, Claude Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines and George Seurat’s Un dimanche après-midi à I’Ille de la Grande Jatte.  Spectacle, according to Debord, uses culture to bury all historical memory.  Monet’s painting shows rows of apartments built by Baron Haussmann.  Haussmann leveled entire districts of Paris’ medieval era winding streets to build the style of apartments show in the painting with accompanying boulevards, which made troop movement easier and resistance (blockades) more difficult, though it was done under the guise of making the capital more sanitary, beautiful and modern. Debord also states that modernism’s goal is to restructure society without community.  Seurat’s painting shows both the spectacle of modernism as well as the isolation.  In the painting no one is facing each other or even interacting in a meaningful way.  They seem to be going the Island of Grande Jatte for the sake of going and, more importantly for spectacle, being seen.  Both these paintings and many others are without a doubt modern, but point out spectacle rather then being part of it.


September 27, 2011 / caswelld


Power lines stretch across the view,

Computer monitor shines in the corner;

Trees begin to bud,

Against a backdrop of grey hangers;

The birds come out to sing,

As the clouds begin to part in the distance;

Cool breeze on my face,

Warm sun on my back;

As the yellow sun parted the clouds,

A white airplane parted the grey hanger doors;

I can see the airplane flying in the distance,

Just behind the power lines that stretch across the view.

– Derek Caswell

September 26, 2011 / caswelld

National Geographic – Francesc Torres

The paid for article that National Geographic had in there actual magazine will hopefully be more interesting but I feel like the online article was lacking, very lacking.  There was nothing all that interesting in the little slide show they had.  The antenna was interesting and the mystery rail was interesting but not for art reasons.  They were interesting from a “how did that survive” or “what did that come from” perspective.  I’m hoping that the September National Geographic (which I still have not received) will hopefully have a much bigger gallery and much more interesting article about the subject.

As far as Francesc Torres, and judging this from a photography perspective rather then an “its in Nat Geo” perspective, I think it is interesting.  What he did was unique because he showed the destruction it caused without showing the actual destruction caused.  He showed the aftermath, the twisted remains and did not show the actual buildings collapsing or the piles and piles of ruble that were at ground zero.  A person looking at the photographs can realize the destructive forces involved in making the objects without seeing the event itself. Some of his photos were also interesting because of what else was in them; for example, the picture of the subway panels and the photo of the towers going down.  On the subway panels, every panel but the one with the Trade Center on it is painted with red and the “OK” is almost eerie in a way.  For the photo of the towers going down, the balance of the destruction of the Trade Center on half the photo with the kitsch on the other half the photo is, in a way, poetic.