Tag Archives: Pablo Picasso

Liberty Leading the People: Art Reflects History

Aberlemno Stone #2: The Battle of Nechtansmere, reverse of Pictish carved stone, Aberlemno kirkyard, Scotland photograph ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

Aberlemno Stone #2: The Battle of Nechtansmere
reverse of Pictish carved stone, Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland
photograph ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

As the world watched, there certainly seemed to be no room for a grey area reaction to this November’s US presidential election. It is no secret that this nation finds itself tremendously polarized, resulting in a cycle as pockets of violence born of fear create yet more fear.

In her post-election article, “Dear Artists: We Need You More Than Ever,” Katherine Brooks, Senior Arts and Culture Editor for the Huffington Post, quoted writer Toni Morrison:1

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work.”

Of course, artists have been a mirror for society for centuries, documenting and satirizing historic events. The famed Pictish carved stone from Aberlemno, Scotland shown above depicts a battle, most commonly believed to be the famous Battle of Nechtansmere, an important Pictish victory fought in 685 CE.

Certain dissident artists, including Ai Weiwei from China, are well known for work that is steeped in social activism or political commentary. One look at Guernica, Picasso’s mammoth monochromatic painting from 1937 in which he depicted the brutal bombing of a northern Spanish village, can show just how powerful the voice of an artist can be.

According to legend, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, Picasso’s apartment was raided. After seeing a photograph of Guernica, an officer asked the artist, “Did you do that?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.”

“If I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.”

— Eugène Delacroix

In 1830, the French Romantic artist Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People. His masterpiece was apparently considered so politically revolutionary that it was placed in storage for years after being purchased by the French government. 2

In sharp contrast to the sequestering of the Delacroix work, Picasso’s Guernica went on tour to raise international awareness for the Spanish Civil War. The artist decreed that the painting could not enter Spain, however, until the country enjoyed “public liberties and democratic institutions.”3

Both Delacroix and Francisco Goya are frequently cited as influences on Picasso as he planned Guernica. In Goya’s stirring work completed in 1814, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, the artist shows an emotional event: French troops systematically massacring Spanish freedom fighters.

In juxtaposition to such dramatic imagery of specific historic events, even the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers based certain works on social themes, including the plight of the Victorian woman.4 Through allegory and symbol, these British artists reacted against what they perceived as the societal ills brought about by the Industrial Age.

Art reflects history and preserves it for the future like a time capsule. Art is a catalyst for change, growth, and self-awareness. If you are a fellow artist moved by current events, think about how your visual voice can make a difference.

One of my friends in New York City, artist and photographer Gina Fuentes Walker, told me about the Subway Therapy project, a wall at the Union Square subway station now overflowing with primarily uplifting messages written on sticky notes by passers-by. Artist Matthew Chaves (who goes by Levee) started the community project to give people a place to express their feelings about current events. 5

“I was quite moved by the project because in addition to participating in a collaborative art installation, it was a moment to gather and come together as neighbors and residents of the city,” Gina said. Participants were respectful during their visit to the Subway Therapy wall, she added. “Occasionally the adhesive gave way and a message floated to the floor. Someone always picked it up and reattached the note to the wall.” This is a perfect example of how a simple idea can have powerful results and how art has the potential to make a difference in people’s lives whether they directly participate or are moved by the messages of others.

“Art is one of the most positive reaffirming things we can do in the face of adversity,” says Camille Seaman, who affects change with her stunning photographs of the melting Polar Regions.6 A champion for the issue of Climate Change, her recent works include portraits of the First Nations water protectors at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

What is happening now politically has made me examine my own body of work, and what I aim to say through my imagery about the significance of the landscape and human condition.

However you may have voted, we can all make a difference. In my opinion, subjects that benefit everyone like the environment and the arts should be non-partisan. Such things that nurture the soul should be safeguarded.

If you are an art appreciator, now is the perfect time to be a patron for your favorite creatives who give voice to your shared points of view.

If you are a fellow artist, let’s roll up our sleeves now and get to work.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Detail of Aberlemno Stone #2: the Battle of Nechtansmere Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012, All Rights Reserved

Detail of Aberlemno Stone #2: the Battle of Nechtansmere
Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland
photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012, All Rights Reserved


1 Katherine Brooks, “Dear Artists: We Need You More Than Ever – A Trump Presidency Requires Artists Get Political,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com, November 10, 2016
 
2 Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, speakers. “Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People,” Video, Khan Academy, accessed November 28, 2016, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/romanticism/romanticism-in-france/v/delacroix-liberty-leading-the-people-1830

PBS.org. “Guernica: Testimony of War,” accessed November 30, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/guernica_nav/main_guerfrm.html 
 
4 Christopher Wood, The Pre-Raphaelites (New Jersey: Crescent Books, 1994) 12
 
Malcolm Warner, The Victorians: British Painting, 1837-1901 (Catalog for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc., 1996)

5 “Subway therapy: Artist creates an outlet for postelection venting in NYC,” Yahoo News, November 11, 2016, https://www.yahoo.com/news/subway-therapy-artist-creates-outlet-174618305.html 
 
Michelle Young, “Governor Andrew Cuomo Adds Post-It Note to Union Square Subway Therapy Project,” Untapped Cities.com, November 15, 2016, http://untappedcities.com/2016/11/15/governor-andrew-cuomo-adds-post-it-note-to-union-square-subway-therapy-project/
 
Check out #SubwayTherapy to view examples and learn more about this project. You can find Gina on Twitter @gfuenteswalker and check out her work by visiting www.ginafuenteswalker.com.

6 Currently Camille is seeking sponsorship through a GoFundMe campaign, “Into the Ice: Return to Antarctica.” (https://www.gofundme.com/returntoantarctica) You can discover her haunting iceberg photographs and other works on her website, www.camilleseaman.com. 

 

Posted in Current Events, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Art’s Purpose

The Wishing Tree mixed media interactive installation © 2012, Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

The Wishing Tree
mixed media interactive installation
© 2012 Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle

I often engage in fruitful philosophical discussions about art with my sister, poet Julie Funderburk. During the course of one recent conversation, she wrote:

“Art’s most important purpose isn’t about permanence, is it?

Depending on environmental conditions and the techniques or materials used, the ravages of time can take its toll on even the greatest of the Old Masters. Examples like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper illustrate this all too well. Painted in the late 15th century, unfortunately the mural has suffered extensive deterioration – yet it remains one of the world’s most iconic works of art.

“A beautiful body perishes, but a work of art dies not.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Perhaps in unfortunate cases like The Last Supper, we can consider the ephemeral “beautiful body” that da Vinci speaks of to be fragile substrate and pigment, while the true work of art is the artist’s surviving conceptual idea.

I could list several other cautionary tales of artists whose works typically suffer from deterioration. Mark Rothko used unbound pigments to create luminosity in his oils. Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings, due to the artist’s careless use of his materials, are notoriously unstable.

“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism.” – Mark Rothko

Rembrandt, on the other hand, is considered a conservator’s hero. It was long assumed that he must have used a complex painting medium to achieve his effects. As it turns out, his secrets were simply linseed oil and great technique.1

How does one balance an artist’s drive for creativity and innovation with doing one’s best to foster longevity via the materials and methods employed?

I think the first answer to this question may lie in the intention for the work.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy masterfully uses natural materials such as stone, leaves, and ice, but the way time and elemental forces evolve or disintegrate his elegant works is just as important an element in his creations as the physical components.2

Tibetan Buddhist monks fashion intricate sculptures out of butter as offerings. Their colorful sand mandalas are created and then ritually destroyed.

The purpose of creating the sand mandala is to engender healing and enlightenment. Through its ritualized destruction, the monks then illustrate the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

As an artist who cherishes the ideal of greatest longevity for my work, I purposefully explored the liberating idea of impermanence during the creation of The Wishing Tree installation. Though my team and I coated the pieces of bark with wood preserver, I know the materials will eventually biodegrade. From the inception of the project, I planned to burn the wishes that visitors tie to the removable branches. The ultimate purpose of the installation is community interaction.

Yet despite my initial impulse to explore impermanence, once I had the idea to use the resulting charcoal and ash as a drawing medium to illustrate the participants’ wish categories, I tested the materials for durability prior to making a mark on the first drawing.

I was delighted to find that, once sprayed with a workable fixative, the homemade charcoal and ash seem much more permanent than traditional vine or compressed charcoal.

While artists cannot control future environmental conditions or how a buyer may handle one of our works, if we do due diligence by researching, networking, and experimenting before using new materials, we are doing the best we can to insure longevity.3

If you agree with my sister’s point that art’s most important purpose is not about permanence, however, what do you feel is the primary raison d’etre of my field?

When I asked Julie, she replied:

“Art affects and reflects what is human.”

When she said this, I immediately thought of the title of an old art book: Man Creates Art Creates Man. Despite the gender-specific title, the concept expressed is the same as my sister’s statement.

“Art, like life itself, does not have to be defined or understood to be enjoyed. It must simply be received,” author Duane Preble states.4 “Above all, works of art reflect us.”5

I agree with Julie’s definition. Artists reflect what we – or sometimes our patrons – consider important. We chronicle our environment and what is happening around us in society, politics, or religion.

As Pablo Picasso said,

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”

and

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

How would you answer the question, “What is art’s most important purpose?”


Julie Funderburk is the recipient of a 2015 North Carolina Arts Council fellowship. LSU Press will publish her first book, The Door That Always Opens, in December of this year. Her poems appear in 32 Poems, The Cincinnati Review, and Ploughshares. Her chapbook Thoughts to Fold into Birds is available from Unicorn Press. She teaches at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.


1. Virgil Elliott, Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007), 98.

In this book, Elliott includes a thorough and enlightening section on Rembrandt’s painting techniques.

2. Andy Goldsworthy, Time. (New York: Abrams, 2000)

3. There are a lot of resources available to artists if you have questions about your art materials, though you may find conflicting information. Art making is sometimes subjective like art itself.

Start by contacting the manufacturer of your materials for one of the very best sources of information. Leading manufacturers conduct rigorous testing of their products. The various technical support representatives with whom I have spoken have all been very thorough and helpful. Networking with other artists who use the same materials is also invaluable.

New technology and conservation discoveries are expanding our field rapidly, so even certain information published a few years ago could now stand to be updated. As a good starting point, however, I highly recommend the following book:

Mark David Gottsegen, The Painter’s Handbook. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006)

Additionally, an invaluable resource is a forum hosted by the University of Delaware: Materials, Information, and Technical Resources for Artists (MITRA). Look through their copious extant information, or post a question of your own. I highly recommend this website.

4. Duane Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man. (McCutchan Publishing Corporation, 1973) 5.

5. Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man, 7.

Posted in Artists' Materials and Resources, Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques Also tagged , , , , , , |

It’s OK to Make Some Ugly Paintings: the Importance of Artistic Exploration

Originally published in my November 2015 issue of Off the Easel

If you’ve been a reader for awhile, you may have noticed that I have been branching out lately by experimenting with new media and approaches.

From recent works such as the charcoal rubbing drawing Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone to the as-yet-untitled triptych of found aged cedar inspired by votive coin trees, I have been exploring new ways to express my ideas.

Yet how does an artist balance an innate creativity and desire to discover new working methods with the need to keep a focus in his or her artwork? As fellow artists have surely heard, everyone from grantors to curators are usually looking for a cohesive, committed body of work. Such devotion best illustrates the artist’s point of view and gives a sense of dedication to his or her craft.

Another way of saying it? A focused body of work looks like the same artist did it all.

Yet, take two artists who worked in a variety of media — Picasso and Gauguin. An influence on Picasso, Gauguin painted, carved wood, did ceramics, and worked in various forms of printmaking, including woodcuts. But despite this variety, each work, undoubtedly, looks like a Gauguin. This artist who notoriously booked a ticket to Tahiti summed up his philosophy on creativity in a very succinct, polarized manner:

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”

Picasso was not only a trained painter, but also an accomplished self-taught sculptor, as evidenced by the current exhibit of his three dimensional work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And don’t forget his collage work with Georges Braque. But you can always tell, no matter the media he chose as the vehicle for his self-expression, that each piece is a Picasso.

You can look to style, subject matter, and intention to thematically connect works executed in various media. To compare Picasso’s Blue Period to Cubism, however, you must look for the developmental stepping stones in between. You must look for the element of artistic expansion.

One of my Twitter followers, Carrie Brummer, creator of Artist Think,recently asked in a thought-provoking tweet:

“Does art have to be important to be worth creating?”

Seeing this tweet was quite timely for me, because I had already been meditating on this notion. Since my previous technique of indirect oil application 2 was quite time consuming, I had already recognized that I had fallen into the trap of feeling that every piece had to be, to use Carrie’s word, “important.”

Stepping away from oil for just a bit to explore media in which I might work a little faster, like a charcoal rubbing, or materials where I can just explore new concepts and play, such as found aged wood, felt like freedom to me. The first step to working faster is to prove to yourself that you can, no matter what the media.

This month, I am looking quite forward to something I have not done in ages — taking a workshop! I am taking two, actually, from among a veritable buffet of choices held in conjunction with an artists’ trade show. I chose topics that I felt would directly speak to certain painting projects I have planned, and one workshop is even in acrylic. What better way to pick up the painting pace than with a media that dries so quickly?

In such an environment where the fostered atmosphere is to learn new techniques and approaches, you go with an open heart and mind with an expectation of growth. You open yourself to the possibility of artistic expansion.

Just think: if Picasso had never experimented, Cubism would never have been born. So to stay fresh and to reinvigorate your creative practice, fellow artists, remember to play.

Another artist who worked in wildly diverse art forms, including film and fashion, was Salvador Dali. He said:

“Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.”

Wondering what my response was to Carrie’s tweet?  I replied:

Every piece teaches and leads to the next. Break free of the “every piece has to be a masterpiece” mindset — experiment and play! As they say, you have to break a few eggs to make a cake. Studies or “ugly paintings” feed into the “masterpiece.” Thus, all art is important, even the studies, experiments, and flops that help you to get where you are going.

This is how we artists grow from our own version of the Blue Period to our personal Cubism. It’s OK to make some ugly paintings along the way.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1 Indirect painting is the wet-on-dry technique of using layers. Each paint layer must dry before the subsequent one is applied. After employing the first layer, called an underpainting, the artist uses thin transparent layers called glazes to achieve luminosity on top of an opaque layer. Direct painting, on the other hand, is also known as wet-in-wet painting, or alla prima.

2 Be sure to check out Carrie Brummer’s fabulous website on creativity, Artist Think. On her About page, Carrie writes: “I’m here to help unleash your inner artist: our world is a better place because of your creativity.”

Posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists Also tagged , , |