Sunday, June 24, 2018

Image and Self (Unit Thirteen)

Image and Self (Unit Thirteen)
Frida Kahlo - The Two Fridas (1939)

Throughout history, artists have created images to reflect themselves and society. By the creation of self-portraits, portraiture and scenes of society, abstraction, the surreal, and most recently the rise of the selfie, the creation of images that represent the self is ubiquitous in all eras.
In this unit, we will consider images of the self created through a variety of media and time periods, including:
  • Painting (Baroque, Modern Abstraction, Surrealism)
  • Drawing (Photo-Realism)
  • Printmaking (Japanese Woodblocks, American Screenprints)
  • Photography (Identity / Feminism)
Painting has a long history of image making in the fine arts. We are going to focus on a few artists, looking at their styles and what their forms of representation speak about self-image.
Baroque - At the beginning of the 17th century, artists in Italy and Northern Europe straddled a world in which church influence and a rising merchant class vied for power. Coming just after the Renaissance, these artists had an independent point of view, while still working for their patrons.
Caravaggio - Young Sick Bacchus (1593)
Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, otherwise known as Caravaggio (1571-1610), was an Italian artist whose short life was filled with both promise and danger. He painted directly from life, and is known for making use of recognizable everyday people, some of low repute in his religious paintings of Christ, the Virgin, and saints, thus mixing the sacred, or high art and spirituality, and profane, common or everyday life.
Caravaggio - David With the Head of Goliath (1609-10)
The first painting above is a self-portrait, made when the artist was a teenager and apprentice. He is thought to have been recovering from an illness or poor health when the picture was painted. The second painting is near the end of his life, when he was on the run from the Knights of Malta, who were pursuing him over grievances. It is conjectured that he painted his own face onto the head of Goliath in this picture.
Caravaggio - BBC Documentary
The dramatic contrast in Caravaggio's work mimicked that of his own personal life. "Caravaggio's innovative approach to painting had earned him an impressive reputation... at the same time, he was involved in numerous brawls." ("Gateways to Art" p. 485)
  •     What can we learn by studying the paintings of Caravaggio about how the artist related to himself and society?
Modern Abstraction - Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), born in Spain, was one of the monumental artists of the modern era, spending most of his life working in France. 
Pablo Picasso - Self-Portrait (1906)
He was an early promoter of abstraction, in which images from real life are distorted or changed in some way, and co-founded Cubism, an early 20th century technique that broke the picture plane up into multiple points of view.
Picasso made self-portraits throughout his career, that tell us not only about his self-image, but also give insight into his stylistic changes and innovations over time.
Pablo Picasso - Self-Portrait (1972)
  • What do the self-portraits of Pablo Picasso tell us about his evolving sense of style and view of himself throughout his life?
Surrealism - Frida Kahlo (1907-54), was an influential Mexican artist whose work encompassed aspects of folk or naïve (untrained) art, and is associated with the international style of Surrealism, which explored the use of dream imagery and the unconscious.
Frida Kahlo - The Wounded Deer (1946)
Frida was married to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and both were known as revolutionaries in their home country.

Frida Kahlo - Frida and Diego (1931)
As a teenager, she suffered a harrowing streetcar accident that left her in pain for the rest of her life, and she used that trauma as a subject in many of her self-portraits.
Frida Kahlo - Film Footage from Her Life
  • What can we say by looking at these images and documentary footage about how Frida Kahlo represented herself in terms of her health and relationships?
Chuck Close - Big Self-Portrait (1967-68)
Photorealism - A style that emerged in the late 1960s, when artists began to make hyper-realistic work based not in real life, but on images of real life. Chuck Close  (b. 1940) is perhaps the most-well known artist of this group. Over the course of many years, he has made monumental portraits of himself and his friends. These artworks raise questions about the nature of representation and the self, appearing realistic from a distance, but dissolving into abstract marks on closer inspection.

Chuck Close Interview on CBS

Vincent Valdez (b. 1977) is a San Antonio artist who focuses on creating drawings of Latino life and culture in the southwest United States. His images of boxers, soldiers, protestors and riot police, and lynched figures are both shocking and beautiful in their social/political content.
Vincent Valdez - America's Finest 5 (2011)
  • What do the drawings of Chuck Close and Vincent Valdez tell us about self-image and identity on a personal and collective level?
Kitagara Utamaro - The Courtesan Ichikawa (1796-99)
Japanese Woodblock Prints: Kitagara Utamaro (1753-1806) was a Japanese artist associated with themes of a genre known as Ukiyo-e, which means "pictures of the floating world", the pleasure lifestyles of social life: kabuki theatre, geisha courtesans, etc. He created delicate prints from multi-color woodblock plates of a stylized and delicate nature.
Shepard Fairey - Revolution Girl, 2006
American Screenprinter: Shepard Fairey (b. 1970) is an American street artist who rose to fame with his graphic inspired stickers and posters known as "Obey Giant". His (sometimes legal) street work is based on an early 20th century Russian style known as agitprop, graphic artworks with an explicitly political message. Posters and stickers by Shepard Fairey are commonly seen across the country in major cities and he has also gained recognition in museums and as the designer of the Obama campaign "Hope" poster. Fairey's work deals with the idea of propaganda and promotion of an image through branding.

Shepard Fairey - Printmaking Process
  • What are some similarities and differences in the printmaking of Kitagara Utamaro and Shepard Fairey? How do they approach their subject matter? Are they intimate and personal with regard to their subjects, or do they view them more as images or icons?
Identity - Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953) is a contemporary photographer whose work makes use of conceptual strategies of appropriation, the re-contextualization of existing images, in order to critique the ways in which African-Americans, and in particular women of color, have been represented in American history.

Carrie Mae Weems - From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried series (1995)
As she says, "I use my own constructed image as a vehicle for questioning ideas about the role of tradition, the nature of family, monogamy, polygamy, relationships between men and women, between women and their children, and between women and other women—underscoring the critical problems and the possible resolves."
Carrie Mae Weems - The Kitchen Table series (1990)
Some of her series of work use historical appropriated imagery with overlaid critical text, and others use a documentary approach, set within her own domestic environment.
Feminism - Contemporary photographer Cindy Sherman addresses feminist analysis in her self-portraits. "Sherman has explained that the images are not about her, but are about the representations of the women being shown, and the ways that each viewer interprets them." (p. 571)
Cindy Sherman - Untitled Film Still #35 (1979)
Her portrayals range from confident to submissive, from menacing to unflattering. Thus, the images are meant to be viewed critically, as much about how we look at images of women as they are about any true characters. As such, she has expanded the notion of how women are portrayed, and how they portray themselves, in art.

Performing Beauty: Historical Portraits of Cindy Sherman

  • What are some interesting similarities and differences in the ways in which Carrie Mae Weems and Cindy Sherman approach the genre of portraiture. Do these approaches say anything about how they view or explore identity and self-portraiture?

The self has been explored through image making since the beginning of art. Over the centuries, the methods used to create images of the self have evolved, both in terms of techniques used, and as important, in the differing ways in which we look at and understand ourselves.

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