The Research Trail

To get started I decided to do the Assignment suggested in the Introduction to HE course.

Assignment

Research a work of art and note into my learning log

  • Notes, diagrams etc – How I did my research
  • Documentary evidence
  • Summary of the outcome

Aims

  • Demonstrate skills described in the Introduction Course
  • Produce summary material
  • Evaluation of my work and experience
  • Use my learning log to
    • Collect, analyse, reflect
    • present finished work
    • reflect on my experience

Decision

To visit the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, and choose a painting for this assignment. Idea: a painting with lots of different marks in view of coming coursework. I found none I was happy with so I went with one that caught my interest due to a question I put to myself the other day when playing with collages:

What do the glued in bits contribute? Why not paint the areas instead? Are “because they’re pretty” or “because I can” good enough reasons?

Initial Research Plan

photo

My own Thoughts

Description

Pablo Picasso: Bouteille, verre et violon (1912/13); Collage with paper, coal, graphite

Colour Range

Subdued, old-paper-brown, black (coal) and grey (graphite). Background white

Description

The pictuer shows a cubist (?) representation of a violin in the righthand third. It fills its space top to bottom. On its left “shoulder” are geometric shapes that can be made into a very simplyfied representation of a violin: the 5-shape of its midriff, a part of a circle for the top of the body, a rhomb for the neck and a circle for the pegbox and scroll. Two dark areas behind the neck/strings of the two violins suggest the fingerboard. In the middle of the picture a bit of newspaper is glued, it sais “Journal” in bold capital letters, slightly slanting uppwards to the right. Below that is a rectangle standing on its short side (presumably the glass from the title). The top half of the leftmost third contains the image of a bottle as a papercut.

Balance

Compared to the left and middle thirds which contain one element in the top half (bottle) and a rectangle and “Journal” in the lower half respectively, the righthand third seems crowded. It contains two representations of the violin which are – in contrast to the simple shapes of glass and bottle – rather complex as they are shown in several sections, several mediums and styles and are perspectively challenging.

(Compare with Paragraph “The Golden Ratio”)

Mediums

Cut out bits of newspaper: bottle, glass, “Journal”, background behind the geometric violin, background behind the pegbox/scroll of the large violin, glass

Wood imitation wallpaper (?) or similar: part of the righthand side of the large violin

Coal: pegbox and scroll, geometric violin

Graphite: rest of the large violin, a line from the fingerboard to the right and down behind the wood imitation bit (=> side of a table? ), lines around “Journal” and glass, the bottle stopper

Observations

  • Newspaper cutouts seem to take the cubes in cubist pirctures a step further as they are actual cut outs (the effect the strong straight lines cutting through objects in cubist pictures has on me, being cut)
  • The scroll reminds me of the Golden Spiral representing the Golden Ratio -> check out releationship between G. Ratio and Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds seems to have been observed: the geometric violin lies roughly on the line betw. 2nd and 3rd third with its pegbox approx. on the upper cross -> focal point
  • Marks and lines: The lines in the Scroll are very defined and sure, black. This is an experienced drawer at work. By contrast the body and strings of the violin are drawn in fyzzier pencil lines, less defined, slightly wobbly. Why did he do that? – I think: The scroll is the part of a violin that is wholy static. Here, the strings are pitched and find their anchor point -> strong sure lines. The body, strings and bridge vibrate to make the music, they are dynamic -> dynamic lines, “vibrating”, less defined and also less defining. I wonder, did Picasso play the violin?
  • Elements: Why so many different styles, mediums in the violin? It seems all the different mediums and styles each convey an aspect of the violine, showing it not only from diff. points of view, but also different properties of it:
    • woodimitation -> material right, but not really the form
    • pencil -> static versus dynamic as outlined above
    • golden ratio scroll -> harmony ?
    • geometric representation -> shape, parts, basic construction. Violin as an object, a body
    • small and large f-holes -> musical dynamics (pianissimo to fortissimo)
    • => viewed like this, this “garbled” representation of the violin is much more “accurate” or true to a violin than would be e.g. a photograph ->check out what impact photography had on painting
  • Why the word “Journal”? Why is it smack in the middle? “Journal” in French means Newspaper and Diary
    • understood as newspaper it puts a focus on the clippings. I notice that the geometrical violin – a representation like that must have been very new indeed at the time – is in its entirety drawn on the newspaper -> is “in the newspaper” – is News. So why too is the very neatly drawn Golden Spiral scoll and pegbox? Harmonious pitching -> a new harmony for painting in cubism?
    • Understood as diary: I see a representation of the artist’s day: sketching, drawing, thinking about representation while sitting at a table with a newspaper and a glass of wine. A still life. Seen in this manner the violins are sketches, drawings rather than actual violins. Ir the big one might be and the geometrical one is the drawing -> it is on a piece of paper -> a drawing lying beside a violin.
  • Where is the focal point – in the middle, or in the upper right cross according to the rule of thirds? -> Learn more

Evaluation so far

I am overwhelmed by the amount of ideas, details, lines of thought to follow up, artistic elements etc. I was able to find once I started looking and discussing. And this is a picture I was not even very fond of at the outset.

Research plan (2nd edition)

New lines of enquiry have evolved:

photo-3

Research

Biographycal data on Picasso

*1881 in Spain, +1973

Studied classical painting with his father and at an Art Academy. Realistic paintings. 1898 broke with his studies to join a group of avantgarde artists.

1900 moved to Paris with a friend where they led a bohemic life until the friend commited suicide (1). For the following years Picasso’s paintings were sombre and quite depressive, painted in mainly blue tones -> Blue Period. Influences from El Greco (2)

By 1904 his pictures became more about social injustices and statements against capitalism (Circus artists).

By 1906 influences from Césanne became more prominent, esp. Césanne’s radical treatment of space. Primitive art (mainly African) also caught his interest. He admired the “expressiveness” and “formal strangeness” of African masks (3). -> used as inspiration but never sought to understand them or the cultures they sprang from.

1907 “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”: shows many sources of inspiration and influences but is essentially a very new way of painting. The picture was shocking to many, it was very radical and was refused at the Salon d’Automne.

Georges Braques embraced this new way of depicting -> the two painters workd closely together. They conducted visual experiments that led to the forming of cubism. The word derives from “little cubes” which Matisse is said to have called Braque’s paintings and the critic Vauxcelles, too, talked of a reduction to cubes when writing about these paintings.

1917-1924 Picasso painted more realistically, but still with a flattened picture pane (2).

After 1924 he went back to deforming reality but now not to show different aspects of it but rather to express his own feelings and reachtions to it.

Picasso’s  artistic career was long and very productive. He continually developped his art that came to encompass paintings, sculptures, assemblage and more. He was influenced by many artistic movements but never committed himself to one. Rather he let himself be inspired by new ideas and developped them into something that was his own.

Césanne (3)

*1839, +1906

Césanne exhibited with the Impressionists although he had a different approach to painting. Rather than capturing the fleeting effects of light he sought to study the “sensations of nature”. He said his paintings are “not a representation of nature but a construction after nature” -> highly structured paintings.

He began to challenge traditional rules of perspective and space:

->depicted objects from slightly different angles in one and the same painting

-> flattened the picture pane. There are elements of perspective (e.g. athmosperic perspective) but he treated them less strictly than was custom then and he also used large areas of flat colour.

Césanne had strongly influenced both Picasso and Braque.

Cubism (2)

1908-1914, fully developed by 1910/11

Constitutes a break with traditional realistic painting

Elements:

  • Mainly geometrical forms as colourfields with
  • defined contours around objects, one side often dissolving into a nondescript background (or middleground?)
  • Pockets of dark colour giving an impression of threedimensionality
  • Broken shapes on a flat picture pane
  • subdued colour palette

analytical cubism 1909/10: visual fraction of objects as if to analyse them

sythetic cubism 1911/12: picking apart objects and rearanging them in a new way to conform with composition rather than perception.

After 1912 the pictures became rather more recognizable again. Neither Braque nor Picasso quite let go of reality into fully abstract paintings. Total abstraction never was the goal.

Cubism has influenced most artists of the 20th century in one way or another (2).

Time – In what kind of time was the painting made?

The early 20th century was a new era in very many ways that opened up for new ways of thinking. Suddenly things were possible nobody had dreamed of before and old truths got toppled over:

  • Einsteins Theory of Relativity shakes the foundation of Newtonian physics (3)
  • Many technological achievements (3) challenge people’s understanding of the world which led, among other things, to far-reaching social changes
    • powered flight
    • automobiles
    • industrial developments
  • Psychoanalysis changed how people see their own mind (3), their nature, free will etc. Reality is no longer all there is to the world.
  • Photographic process had become easier and thus more accessible to a broader public (4)
    • -> challenges to painting
    • -> changes to aesthetics (4)

New and revolutionary thinking was strong

Collage (2)

Developed from “papiers coupés”, a technique Braque had introduced to painting: the inclusion of cut bits of paper glued to the canvass/paper. Collage uses not only paper but all kinds of materials. Other techniques have developed from collage, e.g. assemblage which could be called a threedimensional form of collage – assembling (found) objects to form a work of art.

Golden Ratio

A proportional relation between two lines, where the proportion of the longer to the shorter one equals the proportion of both lines together to the longer one. Mathematically:

a/b = (a+b)/a

This formula gives a constant φ, that like π goes on indefinitely:  1.6180339887498948420

This proportion has been found to be harmonious and very pleasing to the human eye. It has been widely used in art and architecture since the dawn of time it seems. In the Renaissance it was a basic element of composition.

The Golden Spiral is a logarithmic spiral that has a growthfactor of φ. Interestingly it exists everywhere in nature: mollusc shells, pine cones, seed arrangement in sunflowers etc. Drawn into a rectangle where the side lengths correspond to the Golden Ratio it can be used to get a φ-grid. It looks roughly like a grid of thirds but the three rows (and columns) are not of the same width. It is seen to be less rigid and less obvious than a grid of thirds (Rule of Thirds). Focus lies in the centre of the spiral or along the lines and their intersections.

=> In “Bouteille, verre et violon” by Picasso I would say that the centre of the spiral lies on the peg box of the geometric violine! Furthermore, the “action” of the picture is concentrated in a similar way as the line of a Golden Spiral concentrates, leaving the lefthandside almost empty in contrast to the righthand side where the line spirals.

Research Map (End of assignment)

mindmap

Sources

1 Fox, J. (presenter): Blue – A history of Art in Three Colours. BBC Documentary, published 2012

2 Jørnæs, B., Hornung, P.M., Sandström, S: Fogdedals Konstlexikon. Copenhagen, 1995 (Swedish Edition)

3 Stockstad, M., Cothren M.W.: Art History. Pearson Education Inc., USA 2008 (5th edition 2014)

4 Bragg, M. (host): In our Time: The History of Photography. BBC Podcast published July 7, 2016

Reflection

I did this initial research assignment to get a feel for what is coming with regard to theoretical research. I found that I do it quite easily although it was very time consuming to find adequate sources, keeping track of them and write one coherent document.

Mind mapping is new to me. I had come across the idea in earlier studies but never really used them. This time I found they make a good overview on which to build my research and not loosing track of where I’m going. It was fascinating to see how the map grew. My initial research plan seemed quite complete to me at the outset. Compared to the mind map at the end it was rather poor (or better, unspecific).

I can see how this kind of research can lead to understanding theoretical concepts and widen my understanding of art. In this specific case I am not sure what I want to take into my own work. The picture I chose whas not one that moved me or interested me to begin with. However, I am no longer indifferent to it and have experienced that there is often more to a picture than meets the eye at first glance. What I learned about the Golden Ratio/Golden Spiral I will defenitly use in coming compositions.

I have in my career so far developed a clear way of thinking. This came in good stead in this assignment and certainly will in others. I feel, however, that I need to develop intuition, fuzzy thinking, letting go of control to be able to tap into my creativity in the way I want to. I hope that I will be able in future to take the leap from theoretical research into visual research and from there into my own work.

To answer my initial question about the reason for cut out bits I need more research and experience.

I am very glad I took the time to read the Introduction to HE document and complete the assignment. It gave me oportunity to get my bearings on the Student website, set up my blog and check out some of the resscources on the internet and in my town. It contains some very good advice on time management and study technique that will be helpful to me. I wish I had gotten advice like that when I started my university studies…

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