Archive for the 'Weekly Tasks' Category

Foucault’s reading of Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’

velazquez-las-meninas

 
 
 
 
 

Las Meninas

Diego Velazquez, 1656

Oil on canvas, 318cm x 276cm (125.2in x 108.7in)

Museo del Prado, Madrid

I feel Foucault’s main point in this text is the idea of gaze within and beyond the picture, and it is this gaze which I will discuss. Whether it is the artist, who first appears to look at us as though we were the models; or the maids’ somewhat intense looks at their young mistress.

The frequency at which gazes are shot about the image and outwards towards the viewer is astounding. The gaze, however, always returns to the place in which we, observing the painting, are standing. But we are and yet are not the observed, due to the fact that the intricacies of this painting are held on the back wall within the mirror and its misty figures. Where the view feels he or she would be reflected we instead are shown the apparition of the king and queen of Spain. It is they, not we, who are being represented on the canvas which back takes up the left hand of Las Meninas. And so the royal figures gaze upon the same scene as we do, yet also they gaze back at themselves, and equally, at us.

It is this reciprocity of the gaze which draws us in:

‘the painter’s gaze, addressed to the void confronting him outside the picture, accepts as many models as there are spectators; in this precise but neutral space, the observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange’ (pp.4-5)

Are we seeing or are we being seen?

In my next post I will take a look at another interpretation of this painting and consider some  of Velazquez’s other works involving the royal family.


Artist’s portraits of the 1950-70s

For this study, I’ve decided to make simple lists to summarise the ideas that are brought up in relation to these photographs of artists.  Obviously,I’m taking a slightly feminist view, so my thoughts often came back to gender roles,especially as ‘gender’ has been the over-arching theme of this week’s readings (notes/thoughts on those to follow).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Click on the artist’s name to visit their site or their biography. All portraits are the work of Hans Namuth (1915-1990)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Ad Reinhardt with his family (1958 )

ad reinhardt– authority

-masculinity

-traditional roles (father, husband, bread-winner)

-control

tingurly and saint phalie

Jean Tinguely and Nicky de Saint-Phalle

New York City, 1962

-Gaze(who/what is the focus on? who are we supposed to be looking at?)

-Female form (of sculpture)

-Gender roles (He’ll smoke and work, she’ll sit there, bored but pretty)

de-koonings1

Elaine de Kooning and Willem de Kooning

East Hampton, New York      1953

-Again, ideas of focus and importance, though here it made more obvious that Willem de Kooning is the focus of the photograph due to his prominence in the foreground.

-However, it is the woman this time caught smoking, which seems somewhat unusual, though it may be considered elegant in certain cases,and rendered masculine in others (“women on fire eating meat!”, as certain male friends of mine insist on saying rather rowdily every so often)

frankenthaler1

Helen Frankenthaler

West Islip, New York    1964

-here the scene shows Frankenthaler being taught by a man (presumably another artist)

-could be seen to hint at women’s lack of skill, but equally it is just a picture of her learning something new, or of a piece she worked on with another (it’s all too easy for us to read into things- we cannot tell whether the scene is staged or not, for example).

barnettnewmanBarnett Newman

-Again,smoking (perhaps I’m a little more aware of this as someone living in the age of the ban (how would they cope?)), but this stereotype plays further- alone, male- were the decor different, it could almost be a bar.

-There is a sense of self assurance as the artists sits, back to the canvases, almost as if he were not phased by them (though he may yet be unaware of how important these pieces would become/were made to become (more on that in week 2))

___________________________________________________________________________________________

In general I feel these photos show a tendancy for women to be quite literally pictured as being a different kind of/of a lower class of artist in comparison to their male contemporaries. We see this through the subtle positioning of women in the image compared to the men (often behind, in the background), and the overall feelof the image- for example,whilst Newman seems clever, independent and confident due to his aloof position away from the camera- women in images are often not portrayed so powerfully.

Louise Nevelson (1900-1988 )


(Russian born, emigrated 1905 to Rockland, Maine)

NevelsonbyUgoMulasc1965

Portrait of Nevelson by Ugo Mulasc (1965)

It is encouraging to see pictures like this portrait of Nevelson producing works, in the action of creation, as from a certain perspective that would be viewed as a typically masculine trait.

Between 1929/30 Nevelson studied at the American Art Students League. In 1931 she visited Europe and was inspired by African art and Boccioni, Brancusi and Picasso. A year later she studied under Hans Hofmann, and then in 1933 had her first solo exhibition in New York. Her paintings and sculptures showed in galleries all over the world, including in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1962.

Nevelson escaped small town life through a marriage that she soon found constraining, spliting from her husband in 1931. It seems she was only too aware on the restraints placed on her as a creator, not just because of her sex, but because of her class too- “I soon recognized that within their circle you could know Beethoven, but God forbid if you were Beethoven. You were not allowed to be a creator, you were just supposed to be an audience. They thought they were terribly refined.”*

She is also the first of our featured artists to be well known for sculpture, not just 2-D work. Poetically described ‘Her sculptures included wood assemblages typically painted in either jet black or, later, in white and gold as well, ranged in size from the small and personal to the large and monumental, inviting viewers to observe a world into which they could not go but in which they often feared they had already been placed.’* Like many women artists, Nevelson had a long career and achieved, if not fame, success. In 2000, the United States Post Office issued five limited edition postal stamps in recognition of Nevelson’s contribution to art.

nevelsonstamps

Sources- *http://gregcookland.com/journal/uploaded_images/picNevelsonbyUgoMulasc1965SiBlog-770621.jpg, Art of the 20th Century (Taschen, 2000, p.778), http://www.louisenevelsonfoundation.org/index.html (“an organisation to educate the public on the life and work of the American artist Louise Nevelson”), http://www.wmscnet.com/3379-83paneof20.jpg

Lee Krasner (1908-1984)

lee krasner 1949Lee Krasner with Stop and Go, c. 1949. Photographer unknown.
The Pollock- Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Krasner first studied at Washington Irving High School (the only public institution to offer art training to women at the time in NYC), she then trained at the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union and, in her early 20s, at the National Academy of Design. Like many of the Abstract Expressionists, Krasner studied under Hans Hofmann in the Federal Art Project. It was here that she was exposed to the works of the Cubists. Her work uses geometric elements combined with more muted colours than some of her contemporaries, gestural brushstrokes and floral motifs.

Krasner met Pollock in 1942, and in 1945 they were married. Like other female artists at this time, Krasner was excluded from the canon in favour of her male contemporaries, and her connection to Pollock only added to this:

‘For Krasner, the oeuvre of her husband… long stood in the way of a serious evaluation of her own work’*

This can be witnessed, for example, as she sits at sidelines in the famous film of Pollock (1951), with a “token (in)visibility”**, an anti-thesis of the image of the artist (Pollock) as “modern, as American, as masculine”** But Krasner produced and carried onto to produce great works of art, long after her husband’s death.

Like many artists producing work at that time who are women, Krasner’s work only really began to see recognition even remotely on the scale of Pollock and Rothko after her death, in exhibitions such as the major American retrospective (curated by Robert Hobbs) in 1999-2000.

Sources- Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Centuries ed. Uta Grosenick (Taschen, 2003, p.108), Griselda Pollock Cockfights and other Parades, Oxford Art Journal 2003 26:2 14, http://www.galeriedada.com/bio/Krasner_Lee.html, http://www.easthamptonstar.com/dnn/Portals/0/20080731/Lee-Krasner-in-1949.jpg

Helen Frankenthaler (1928- )

From 1945 to 1950 studied at Bennington College, Vermont, at the Art Students League and with Hans Hoffman in New York (his biography in the same book* fails to mention this)
After this period she went on to develop her own style of “staining” painting- ‘Frankenthaler became the first American painter after Jackson Pollock to see the implications of the color staining of raw canvas to create an integration of color and ground in which foreground and background cease to exist’** This was an influence on later artists such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Her painting “Mountains and the Sea” (1952) is considered to be one of the most important pieces of colour field painting.
frankenthaler

Portrait from series by Ernest Haas http://www.ernst-haas.com/celebrity_frankenthalerHelen1.html 

Frankenthaler married Robert Motherwell (fact not mentioned in his biography on the same text*, and subsequently in my own piece on Motherwell (week 1c)) in 1958. This coupled with the Pollock/Krasner relationship surely prompts us to wonder about the MUTUAL source of inspiration each artist found inone another, and how it is that the women will always be more in danger to playing the minor role in such circumstances. In the same year she taught at several universities, including Princeton and Yale.

She has had a long career, well over 50 years, yet still remains relatively unknown compared to her male expressionist contemporaries. As well as painting Frankenthaler has produced work in other mediums, most notably print making.

Sources- *Art of the 20th Century (Part 1: Painting, Taschen, 2000, p.723), **http://www.lesliesacks.com/gallery/artistPages/frankenthaler/frankenthalerbio.htm, http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/frankenthaler_ext.html, (image) http://mintwiki.pbwiki.com/f/Frankenthaler.jpg.

Robert Motherwell(1915-1991)

motherwellportrait

Motherwell was both a critic and painter and is seen by some as the voice of the Abstract Expressionists: “Without his tireless devotion to communication (in addition to his prolific painting), well-known abstract expressionists like Mark Rothko, who was extremely shy and rarely left his studio, might not have made it into the public eye.”* He studied philosophy, art history, aesthetics and archaeology at various American universities. In the writings of Motherwell, as well as in his life, we see the rebirth of a kind of Renaissance man, a well rounded, intelligent and articulate artist- “Every intelligent painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head. It is the real subject, of which everything he paints is both an homage and a critique, and everything he says is a gloss.” ** [Note again the way language betrays a male-biased society]

Motherwell wrote: “It may be that the deep necessity of art is the examination of self-deception.”*** I feel this chimes with what I was discussing in the studies of Rothko and Pollock, the element of self in painting. In a broader way, does this mean that our standard knowledge of abstract expressionism is an exploration of the male self or psyche?

Sources: *http://www.artinthepicture.com/artists/Robert_Motherwell/Biography/, ** http://www.artinthepicture.com/artists/Robert_Motherwell/Quotes/, *** http://quote.robertgenn.com/auth_search.php?authid=67 . Image: http://weblogs.newsday.com/realestate/blog/motherwellstudiio.jpg


Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

(Lithuanian, Markus Rothkowitz)

Studied at Yale in the early 1920s, then from 1924-1929 at the Art Student’s League (NY). Founded the Expressionist group with Adolf Gottlieb the Tenth (1935). He is probably the most well known colour field painters. Like Pollock he too fitted well into the established canon of troubled (male) genius, committing suicide in 1970. [I do not wish to disparage Rothko’s death, but to point out the way in which it is used to define him as an artist] It may well be only respectively that we come to view Rothko’s expanses of colour as somewhat dark and troubled. We must be aware of how our knowledge of the artist’s life shares how we view their work.


“I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers. They have been created from the need for a group of actors who are able to move dramatically without embarrassment and execute gestures without shame. Neither the action nor the actors can be anticipated, or described in advance”*

Despite my better judgment, I can’t help but see a sense of self in these words, a feeling that Rothko uses his work, the very act of painting, as an escape, but also as an echo of (his) life.

Sources- Art of the 20th Century (Part 1: Painting, 2000, Taschen, p.798, *p. 293), http://eaobjets.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/rothko_portrait.jpg

And don’t worry, I am getting round to the women who are  artists too, I’m saving them up as a treat (plus it’s harder to gather information on them as they are less famous/acknowledged)