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On "Girl with a Basket of Oranges"
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2005-03-22 19:45:12
Link to this Comment: 13887

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

BMC.Soph.CSEM.essay33

Brittany Pladek

CSEM Essay #3

On "Girl With a Basket of Oranges," Auguste Renoir, 1880

*

Years later, a critic looking at her portrait would explain: "She glows because all of his paintings glow." Not true. All of his paintings glow: true. She glows: also true. Only the causation is faulty. Renoir was a painter---he captured light, not bequeathed it. She glowed, and the world refracted into rainbows around her.

Pretend it is 1880. The artist strolls along the blue-flanked beaches of southern France. He is 39. With the coming of middle age, the Impressionist fire has begun to die out. The world is slowly bleaching: after 1880, he will constrict his palette to only five colors. But not quite yet. Today he has come to the shore seeking inspiration. As we know from a later Irish writer, the muse of Beauty has a weakness for beach-walks. In 1900 she perused the cold white sands near Dublin, her thighs tattooed provocatively with sea-weed. Today her mood is milder. Clad patriotically in a tricolor skirt, she ambles serenely across the dunes, her lambent, languid eyes held skyward, swinging a basket of oranges. She glows.

Prism, n: "A transparent body of this form, often of glass and usually with triangular ends, used for separating white light passed through it into a spectrum or for reflecting beams of light." Any good scientist will tell you that color doesn't really exist. It's a heist on our aesthetic sense carried out by our eyes and the sun. Light touches an object, and its molecules either suck it up or hurl it out. The flung photons enter our eyes, hitting one of three receptors---red, blue, or green---and lighting it up like a bulb on a pinball machine. Prisms are particularly devious players of this game. They capture white light, and, after dicing it neatly into a palette, broadcast it to our hungry eyes. The result is the visible spectrum, a sight so beautiful that even midlife-crisis Renoir, with his five colors and distrust of chrome yellow, could not deny it.

This girl is a prism. The artist catches sight of her just as he's cresting a sand dune. He has to blink at first---she's too bright. Her oranges glow like small suns with molten cores. They confuse the lighting: her shadow, blue and insignificant despite the sun, flits uncertainly behind her, and the folds in her skirt do not fall as they should. They are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The skirt is white. Simultaneously. In the artist's eyes, his receptors are revolting, trying to organize the colors into a palette he understands. They fail: her skirt remains stubbornly iridescent.

She glows.

Like the eye of a wild hurricane of photons, she whips the seascape around her (as the critic pointed out) into "an ethereal fuzz." The area immediately around her hazes, as nowadays rainbow clouds encircle fluorescent lamps. She carries her world with her, eternally imprisoned within a metre-wide bubble of her own self-produced light. (One artist would later define this space as "some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings." Another would simply blur the edges of her portrait). No part of her remains a single color. Each step reveals a different facet, a different fracturing of light. Her cheeks are warm and red, but green too. Her oranges are blue in places. The sand beneath her purples; the sky behind her browns.

This artist's receptors finally just give up. She walks away in beauty, splintering light as she goes. A living, breathing example of the unreality of reality, the impossibility of color. A completely subjective being, a prism, a prison for light which divides as it slides through the bars. Trapped within herself, she can only be defined by those outside, watching her kaleidoscope roll slowly across the beach.

(A digression for the subject's sake: capturing beauty is rewarding work. Being beauty is much harder. Artists don't often realize this. We must give the writer credit for his frankness: "her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance... long, long she suffered his gaze.")

As for Renoir, he simply flies home to paint.

Impressionism, n: "A theory or style of painting originating and developed in France during the 1870s, characterized by concentration on the immediate visual impression produced by a scene and by the use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate actual reflected light." As he scrambles for his brushes, the colors ricochet through his mind. The immediate visual impression is no longer immediate: Beauty has carried her oranges over the hill, and her light sets redly behind the dunes. His fickle photo-receptors have released the colors like bright birds into the caves of his memory, and they fly there, shining---for a while. The moment is gone. The key word is simulate. He fences against the canvas, against time.

But at last he sets down the brushes and there she is: a portrait that, as the critic notes, glows. "Renoir was a genius with pigment," she says, with a fond familiarity that can only come 125 years later. "The rosy hue of his girls' cheeks has never been recreated."

She smiles up at the painting, basking in the light of those cheeks. Though the critic's eyes are in the right place, her causation is still wrong. The prism doesn't come from the pigment. Mixing light (as do prisms) and mixing paint (as do artists) are two vastly different endeavors. Squeeze together two tubes of blue and orange in the hopes of creating luminescent fruit, and all you'll achieve is a rotten banana---at best. The Impressionists understood this. They refused to mix their primaries because nature refuses to mix hers. Light, color, are a thousand tiny photons against the eye, a thousand splintering brush-strokes on a canvas. Every hue is unique, solitary, fractal (n: "A geometric pattern that is repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry. Fractals are used especially in computer modeling of irregular patterns and structures in nature).

Renoir understood prisms. To paint them, you must recreate them. The painting, like the girl, must be a spectral hurricane: a hundred different colors at once, flakes bound so tightly that they give the illusion of unity. Load the eyes with photons until the receptors surrender. Load the canvas with color until itself is a prism, reflecting every possible hue, until itself seems to radiate light. Daub the cheeks with green until roseate. Line the oranges with blue until radiant.

Color the world until it glows.

 

**

Sources utilized:

http://www.artelino.com/articles/auguste_renoir.asp

http://www.chemsoc.org/pdf/LearnNet/rsc/ChemArt_select.pdf

"Prism," "Impressionism," "fractal." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth
Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: The Viking Press, 1972.

Sharon's presentation on color: http://serendipstudio.org/local/scisoc/brownbag/brownbag0304/colorbrownbag.ppt

The comments of a nearby tour guide at the Barnes :)


Reading Renoir's Family
Name: Annabella
Date: 2005-03-23 18:55:07
Link to this Comment: 13942

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


The painting that Renoir did of his family is like a life-sized snapshot of his wife and kids. I can't imagine how long it took him to paint this approx. 5'X4' masterpiece. But that whole time he had to maintain the snapshot in his mind and heart as it poured through his hands onto the canvass.
There is tremendous love from the artist for his family and contentedness, a sense of well-being from his subjects. All of the characters are painted in the full bodied, three dimensional, glowing skin which is so typically Renoir. Also typical but harder to pinpoint is the kindness and respect that his subjects are demonstrating among each other, and with which he depicts them.
His eldest daughter is standing, dressed in a full black skirt and colorful blouse with matching hat. She looks to be about fourteen years old.
Her younger brother, by about a year or two, is dressed in what I'll call a sailor's shirt and long black pants. His arm is hooked through the older sister's arm and both of them have clasped their hands in front of them. Their faces are relaxed and pleasant, and they seem very comfortable with each other.
The son is apparently conversing with his other sister. She seems the youngest of the three, perhaps 10 or 11 years old. She is dressed in a red dress with a wide white collar and blue sash. She is also sporting a light tan straw hat with a matching blue ribbon. Her left hand is throwing back her hair while her right is holding a small beach ball behind her back.
Her body's inclination and the tilt of her head speak of prudishness, perhaps the mock prudishness of a young girl aspiring to sophisticated womanhood. Her attitude is one demonstrated by pubescent girls through the ages.
Though she emanates snobbishness, the love for her on her brother's face bespeaks to the fact that this girl is inherently kind, gentle, loving and loved. She is just exploring new territory with her current actions.
The mother of these children is a very attractive brunette, dressed in a long, black skirt, cream colored blouse and white apron. She is the only one in the painting without a hat. She is bent down at the knees to nearly ground level in order to attend to the center of the painting, her youngest child, a two year old girl.
This toddler is very fair skinned, red-haired, and dressed all in white. She is sporting a wonderful, white bonnet made from wide ribbons, full length white dress and white shoes. She is standing, but appears a little wobbly. Her mother's right arm supports her from behind, while her left hand insures the baby doesn't fall forward. For added security, the girl has grasped onto the material of her mother's blouse sleeve, and is holding on tightly.
It looks like the family is about to embark on an outing for the day, maybe a picnic, or a walk in the country, or maybe even a beach day.
What draws me to this portrait is the conversation portrayed through body language and facial expressions between the characters. These people clearly respect each other, and live in a predominately loving environment.
For instance, they clearly respect the middle daughter's prerogative to mock sophistication. They fully allow that the baby take Mother's full attention, and the mother's trust, in turn, that her elder children don't require her attention. This is respect.
I feel invited into the family as I experience them so many years after the fact. I feel I could be the family member not pictured here, the painter. If I were to walk into the third dimension of this canvas and have it come to life, they would welcome me on their excursion and I would experience first hand their respect and friendship. If I were the painter, I would experience their love, dependence and independence as well.
But by simply observing this two dimensional painting, I experience the feelings of love and respect in my own way. I feel them both from the artist and his family.
As I sit with it over time, I think as I fancy the artist did. I fully love but am a bit concerned about the future of my oldest daughter as she nears the age of splitting off from the family and making her own way in the world.
I love and admire my son, dreaming dreams of grand adventure and accomplishment for him, but more than that I feel a deep gratitude that he is so loving. I pray that no matter what else comes his way, he keeps exercising his deep capacity to love.
I see my middle daughter with a smile on my heart. She is trying so hard to grow up so fast. Little does she know that when she does grow up, she will look at these days with misty longing, wondering where they flew off to.
I look at my baby, already nearly two years old, walking, and getting into everything. She hasn't learned enough yet to accept any limitations or boundaries. The world is hers, and she is the only one of the kids who still knows that.
And my beautiful wife, whose incredible body facilitated God in giving life to these children. Her love is such that it gave me life, too, though not in a literal sense. But she represents the mother of all life, our support, nourishment, and the provider of everything that is good in this world.
My reverie is cut short as a tour comes by, cutting off my view of the family, and I snap back into the Barne's Foundation. I am sitting on a hard wooden bench. The guide is telling the story of the painting, "This is a painting by Renoir of his family. The two younger girls are his daughters, and the lady is his wife. The older girl is the governess and the boy is a neighbor."
"Well," I think, "that changes my story." Or does it? I experienced the painting without any prior knowledge, and gained the wonderful sensations of familial love. I think I will keep it. After all, I get to choose my experience. I enjoyed my time with this painting, and I prefer it over what I would have experienced had I known more about what I was looking at. Sometimes the beauty is in the not knowing.


"Color is the Key": Reading "Le Bonheur de vivre"
Name: Amy Martin
Date: 2005-03-23 21:24:30
Link to this Comment: 13946

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


"Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically."- Wassily Kandinsky


I had first seen the painting in a black and white photo copy in a reading for an art history class last semester. Though I have always loved Matisse, I barely gave the piece passing notice- concentrating on memorizing its title, and date. So on our first visit to the Barnes, out of its Xeroxed banality, "Le Bonheur de vivre" emerged in all its hued beauty. Standing there I am totally and completely absorbed. Like some magnetic field, I can't leave without turning around and looking back to make sure it still exists. Matisse's "Le Bonheur de vivre" (1905-1906) has caught me in its web of beauty and I am truly stuck. The Joy of Life has taken an inanimate form in the vibrant sensuality of the painting. In this pastoral paradisiacal scene, the good in life is boiled down to lounging nudes, nudes frolicking through nature, and nudes who are content to play their instruments in the sun. Yet, to describe the painting just for its actions does it no justice.

What first grabs you are the colors, unjustly reproduced in every reproduction- no slide, postcard, or print can effectively convey the life of the colors. Sherbet oranges, pale frothy sea foam green, a nude skin of pinkish lilac, the crispest red, fresh Kelly green, summer sun and sand yellow- they "set my soul vibrating". Each reaches to the viewer, moving the eye into the pictorial plane- inviting me to the paradise behind the frame. Emanating with energy, in a psychedelic dream the colors meld together, bringing cohesion and coherence to the isolated figures pasted in this paradise.


Just when I think I've soaked in the beauty of the colors, the movement of the line takes me on the journey all over again. The huge green tree on the left of the painting is the anchor, the curtain parted, and each echoed curving line thereafter dances about the painting ad my eye tries to keep up. The whole vibrates with movement and energy, as curving women echo the asymmetrical shapes of sky. Within this wave of shape and color movement, this overall energy and dance- a true song and dance is happening. The circle of dancers stretch and struggle, feeling the gravity, as the flute pipers play in the background. Though in a stuffy institution, a museum in the middle of a suburb, on the landing on a neo-classical staircase, some small iota of me has been swept up in the dancer's dance.


Of course the joy of life is more than dancing and singing. What would life be without love? Matisse has four groupings of dual figures. In their different configurations, each pair is the symbol of interconnectedness. The figures literally melt into, meld into one another. On the leftist side of the painting, the woman with the flowers melds into the squatting figure picking the grass. In their positioning there is gratitude for the gifts of nature. The woman with the flower garland arches her back in the feline way of advertising her fertile body. Matisse's simple, crisp thin red lines exalt the inherent beauty of the female body. Her crouching partner, another song of beauty in the simplicity of form, embodies awe in nature- the beauty in the individual blade of grass. The next coupling is also melded together, becoming one another. Like the flower garland woman, Matisse's red line highlights the grace and elegance of the body's aesthetic. Next, we arrive at the true heart of "Le Bonheur de vivre", two women lounge alongside one another, their bodies becoming shape. Their sensual rest echoes the feeling of the entire piece, as energy flows from them in waves of color. The black haired figure on the right stares at her body- clearly loving herself. The final coupling in the lower right hand corner epitomized the beauty of the interconnected. Rather than two distinct figures, these two have become a shape- a sexual, sensuous blob of body. Although there are four distinct couplings, the dancing circle and the two separate flute players never interact within the painting, oblivious to the other figures existence; in his placement of the figures Matisse has created a compositional harmony that creates the rhythm of the movement of the piece. Coupled with color and line this composition lends to the overall balance and beauty of the piece. Although one can be taken aback by any of the elements of the painting, it is in their supreme equality, the way each factors together to create a masterpiece that Matisse has built a visual beauty. This visual beauty then leads to the emotional and intellectual beauty of the work.


Art historians have theorized that "Le Bonheur de Vivre" is an allegorical piece alluding to classical mythological themes, in particular the idea of Arcadia. They find evidence for this theory in the Pan like figure playing to the goats on the right of the piece, and the lounging naked women as nymphs. Other art historians have found parallels in the work to the contemporary trend of tourists vacationing in Southern France, where Matisse was when he painted the work. They see the women as lounging swimmers, the yellow setting of the foreground as an allusion to sand, and the background as the sea and the sky. Both notions carry ideas of a primordial paradise, a suspension of current existence into a mythic ideal of the idyll. Whatever meaning one makes from the piece, the overarching theme that makes it so beautiful is this idea of paradisiacal freedom - the transport in time to a place that distances itself from the complications and banalities of modern society. In its depiction, the painting was literally escaping artistic conventions of the beginning of the 20th century. Matisse's style was coalescing and the flattened space and vibrant colors that are now commonly associated with Matisse were beginning to appear in his works (as we see here in his trees). Fauvism emerged at this time, with Matisse as one of its prime players. The movement was characterized by vibrancy of color as an emotional source. Through its colors and its simple, sensual vibrancy "Le Bonheur de vivre" exoticizes a fantasy ideal of the good in life. Unlike so many other paintings that seem stuck within their frames, their subjects frozen in their depictions, the life energy of the "Le Bonheur de vivre" radiates. I like to imagine Matisse's loosely defined figures as happily confined to their paradise, stuck in an orgy like sensual state.


The first time I saw the painting up close the sun was streaming through the skylight above it- the colors were alive. I wanted to be there within the painting- naked, rejoicing in my body, dancing and frolicking, free and warmed by Matisse's colors. The beauty of the painting is that captive trance over the viewer – the total experience of energy, movement, color, dance, song, love. The second visit to the Barnes the light filtering in from the skylight was cloudy and murky- "Le Bonheur de vivre" did not grab me into its fantasy realm right away. But I stuck with it, determined to once again find a way into that magical amorphous quality we call beauty. So I waited, and took notes, and found a beauty truer than I had the first time I saw the painting. Here on a second visit, the beauty was in the return. Slowly, the painting became all it had been to me the first time I saw it. As a portal to the joys of life, it removed me from the mundane- reminding me that I don't have to go to the South of France, be on the beach, or in front of a Matisse painting to evoke all the feelings of freedom, sexuality and energy it brought to me. I could find them within myself if I looked hard enough.


This connection to a painting- Matisse's ability to capture the emotions of escape, of longing, of an unobtainable beauty, within line and shape – is the beauty. Though Matisse is long dead, the painting connects with its viewers. I am not the only one to vicariously live within the painting, to find it achingly beautiful. Thus, ultimately the painting has come to represent the most beautiful thing that life offers us- the interconnectedness between ourselves and other humans, the universality of the human condition and how we share that condition with each other. And so a painting can quite accurately tell the story of beauty.


Reading "The Woman at Work"
Name: Kara Rosan
Date: 2005-03-24 12:55:58
Link to this Comment: 13979

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


I have always been a fan of Claude Monet. When I walked into the Barnes Foundation, however, I vowed to be unimpressed by any of his work. Of course, I broke my vow immediately upon seeing a Monet painting rendering a woman sitting in front of a large window working at something on a table in front of her.

The first thought I had while looking at the painting was that the woman seems very content to be doing whatever it was she was doing. With her head down and her hand poised, she is completely focused on her task. She seems very comfortably settled in her high-backed, cushioned chair, with her full dress flowing around her in large, rich folds of fabric.

She sits in a recessed room framed by two long curtains, the nearer of the two in the foreground of the painting. The curtains are open, but still seem to suggest that she is in a private place, her own little world. She is also surrounded by large, leafy plants, which also seem to shelter her from the rest of the world. One might get the feeling that she was imprisoned if it were not for the large, unscreened window that spans the back wall of the room. The window is also the source of light for the scene, which illuminates everything but the foreground. After considering the actual subject matter of the painting, I began to think more about form and technique. I noticed the majority of the painting consisted mostly of greens and blues, with some accents of red and orange. I know from my elementary school art classes that red and green/ blue and orange are complimentary colors, and as such are most eye-catching. I realized that these color combinations, which occur throughout the painting in almost every object, are what initially attracted my attention to it.

The other thing that was so eye-catching about the piece was the style in which it was painted. Monet is an impressionist, so he tends to use simple colors and small strokes to create the overall appearance of what he is painting. The juxtaposition of colors to create one shade of blue in the woman's dress, for example, adds depth and interest to it. The tiny brush strokes used in the leaves of the large plants in the foreground, as well as the apron the woman in wearing, provides a sense of texture that otherwise would not be felt. There is even intricate detail in the colors and patterns of the walls and floor. All of this detail creates a painting which holds the viewer's attention, simply because there is so much to look at.

Another quality that was aesthetically pleasing to me was how symmetrical the painting was. The woman is perfectly framed in the center of the painting as the subject. The curtains on both sides, and the trees above her head, frame her.

The viewer of the painting can make several inferences about the woman just from the details of the painting. For example, the abundant use of green in this painting may be representative of life and vitality, suggesting that this woman possesses these qualities. The way that the room is decorated, as well as the style of the woman's dress, indicates that this is a woman of reasonably high economic status. The vases that the plants are kept in are large and intricately decorated. The mere fact of having plants kept indoors demonstrates the level of luxury that this woman lives in. The fact that she leads such a comfortable life leads one to believe that whatever work she is doing so intently must be voluntary.

The viewer of the painting also feels as though she is intruding; observing a very personal moment that most do not. The woman seems lost in her embroidery, perhaps embracing this craft as an escape from more distressing tasks and thoughts.

The scene is a peaceful one, mostly due to the quiet light in the room. It is not bright enough to be intrusive, but a soft yellow that adds warmth to the scene. One can imagine by looking at the painting how comfortable it must be to sit in its glow. The light comes from the window in the back of the painting, drawing attention to it. Perhaps the viewer is encouraged to think about what the window represents. The window might also be symbolic of the woman's freedom. She is free to do as she pleases. She does this work because she enjoys it, not because she has to.

As I looked at the woman in this beautiful scene, I began to envy her. She leads such a comfortable, privileged life where she does housework simply for her own enjoyment. The title of the painting tells us that she is embroidering, which isn't even a necessary household chore. It is a frivolous way to spend her time, which will result only in making her life a little bit prettier. Not many have the luxury of time to spend making their lives more aesthetically pleasing. Most people work in order to survive, but this woman does not have to worry about such practical things.

As I thought about my jealousy of this woman, I began to realize that my fascination with the painting had a great deal to do with a personal connection I felt with the woman. At the time that I saw this painting, I was feeling completely overwhelmed by everything that was going on in my life. It was my birthday, and I had to somehow manage to get all my homework done that weekend while still having time to celebrate with friends. It was a pleasant problem, but I couldn't help feeling like life was becoming complicated. It was a comfort to me to see this woman, seemingly without a care in the world, completely absorbed in a task that had no real meaning. If she made a mistake on a stitch, she wouldn't be chastised. If it took her a year to complete, no one would complain. The embroidery was for her, and her alone.

I find, as I get older, there are less and less opportunities to do things purely for your own enjoyment. And yet, here is a full-grown woman who seems to have no responsibilities or hardships. She makes me want a small, well-lit room of my own where I can shut out the rest of the world and do what makes me happiest. I know I would most likely be bored or frustrated by such a life, but it's nice to consider every once in a while.

I felt that it was very important to be able to look at this piece with complete objectivity. I can certainly understand why Barnes preferred to show pieces without the titles next to them. As soon as I learned the title of the painting, my entire perspective changed.

The painting I observed was called The Woman at Work (Camille Monet Embroidering. There were two things about this title that surprised me. First of all, I had no idea that the woman in the painting was Monet's wife. The fact that she was painted by her husband, and thus with a great deal of affection, added a whole new dimension to the scene. There is an emotional connection between the subject and the artist that leaves no room for misrepresentation. I no longer saw this woman as mysterious and elusive, but as an open book. She is not hiding from the world in this little room. In fact, she seems to welcome being painted, and is so little disturbed that she doesn't even bother to look up from her stitching.

The second thing about the title that struck me was that the woman was "at work."
To me, she hardly seemed as though she were doing work. She seemed to be enjoying the project in front of her. I wondered if perhaps Monet, from the perspective of a man, simply assumed the task of embroidery would be arduous, and even burdensome. It might not have occurred to him that his wife could be happily occupied with what she was doing. However, if he was right and this really was work to his wife, then I was looking at the woman completely wrong. I may have mistaken her pursed lips for devoted concentration when in fact they were due to frustration. Her slanted posture may have had more to do with the strain in her eyes than an eagerness to make a precise stitch.

Understanding more about some of the factual underpinnings of the painting simply by learning the title, did not ruin the experience for me, nor did it lessen my fondness for the piece. A painting is an inanimate object that comes alive through the viewer's imagination as well as through the artist's projections. I enjoyed the freedom to speculate about the work and to make my own assumptions about the subject matter and significance of the painting, regardless of my new awareness of the fact that the woman was the artist's wife. I was able to appreciate this painting through the lens of my own unique experience and reflections. I saw a reflection of myself in the woman, and thus had a more personal connection with the painting, which was essential for my experience of beauty.


Lilly pads
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-03-24 14:56:23
Link to this Comment: 13983

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


I find "reading" a painting to be an odd concept. It assumes that every painting has a story behind, or with it and although I am not saying that is an incorrect assumption to make, it is odd. It moves the art into a more universal sphere and makes it more dimensional. I wonder how many people go to an art gallery and try to create a story behind the painting without using the artist's story to apply to the painting. A painting is flat. The way the subject is arranged in the painting doesn't make sense. What does the artist or some qualified art critic have to say about this painting? Where is the story? Is there really a story? Can't we just enjoy a painting for what the author says it is and leave it at that? Why mess with abstract forms? How is that art? It doesn't mean anything? This is an idea Barnes plays with. Barnes allows the observer to create her own story around the painting. He attempts to create a setting where each person can develop their own relationship to the paintings. I found a relationship the first day at the Barnes, with an unknown woman who taught me a lot about myself.

I wanted Monet. I adored his paintings and I wanted more. It started in Giverny when I was 17 years old. The interior of his house was glorious; humble and beautiful. His gardens were indescribable. Do they look the way he depicted them in his work? Yes, but they do not feel the same. There is a certain sweet spring smell that floated around the light spring air that I will never forget. The sound of the people around me, speaking more languages than I will ever have the time to learn will rest tucked away in my memory. The way I had to move in a line around Monet's pond, and past a bamboo garden bizarrely, before I could see the Lilly pads and bridge that are subjects of many of his paintings. There is much more than what can be presented on a flat canvas. What is beautiful about Monet's art is that it embodies the impressionist ideal that calls for using light and color to accurately recreate a natural scene on canvas. However, he leaves limited room for the observer to independently relate to his art. My feelings for Monet's art are not personal; they apply to all art of his genre. I feel bound to certain ideas when presented with a Monet, which puts up a barrier in the level of appreciation that is possible when the observer feels no room for interaction with artist's art.

When I walked into the Barnes for the first time, I was not aware of the transition I had made in art appreciation until I stepped before Matisse. His work, Madame Matisse: madras rouge was the first to hit me and the most effective at doing so, to the point that I found myself leaving the room a few times, only to turn around while I was halfway through the door and return to this painting. Something about this painting totally captivated me. It made sense to me; I could feel the presence of the woman it portrayed.
I was not familiar with Mme Matisse before I saw her at the Barnes. I stood before her and stared. My eyes followed the shaded outline of her form, and traced the outlines of the few details the artist added to her form. The lively colors and roughly defined form make her dance off canvas, almost like a cartoon, but her rosy cheeks give her a healthy glow, and the mysterious expression given through her large dark eyes, and red semi smile add a human touch. I wanted to reach across and touch her form, to discover the texture that would enhance my experience but I knew that I was confined by the black line. Not wanting to put Bryn Mawr College to shame, I resisted and imagined what she would be like as a person. The style and color of her dress appeared exotic to me. I imagined her and me, new friends sitting out together for tea, teaching each other about different experiences in different parts of the world. Her look gives her an intelligent, mysterious expression that I can confirm only by talking with her. The exotic colors painting her garb add a tinge of eccentricity to her character because I do believe she is European or American. Her form is not defined, and her character is still developing, as Matisse's usage of color is vibrant detail is limited. She is simple. This woman absorbs her environment, learning not only through what she hears, but through her settings and her feelings. She challenges her surroundings and questions herself and everyone. We're good friends, this woman and I, and I have continued to develop this relationship with her over time but she is very independent. Notice how her arms are sort of folded in front of her, and draped over the chair? She is not quick to disclose her inner workings, and stubbornly stands on her own. This is not to suggest that she is not kind. Her soft skin tone indicates that she is very generous and opens her arms to many, but her trust is not accessible to everyone. How do I know so much about this woman vibrantly painted across this canvas? Could it be true that I see a bit of myself in Mme Matisse?

Monet is a talented artist although his paintings are confining. You cannot dispute the fact that a Lilly pad in one of his Lilly pad paintings is a Lilly pad and that the colors and light are true to what it is like in real life. There is no message to be interpreted, no thinking to be done. A blue/green/white Lilly pad is a blue/green/white Lilly pad. Enough said. This idea is not wrong. This style of art is acceptable but it is very different from Matisse. Throughout childhood, until one leaves the house, and maybe even until one is out of school, financially independent from one's family, there are rules, family rules, school rules, societal rules and expectations all round. This also applies to a certain extent as an adult but I feel in my life, I became most aware of these pressures during the formative years between the ages of 14-17. I was told what to do, how to do it. Free thought and action was acceptable but there was a very fine limit. I wanted to explore more controversial ideas, but did not do so to a great extent, not openly anyway, I worried about how my or my family's image might be compromised, or how my students and teachers might react if I were to propose a more unconventional perspective. The feelings that steamed from this rigidity and stagnancy are my Monet, who was beautiful when he was all I knew, a Lilly pad is a Lilly pad, is a Lilly pad. I held back until I left high school and my home and came to college.

At college I have begun to learn how to think, and explore some controversial, radical, maybe ridiculous ideas that many embrace, the same way Matisse makes an effort not to define his subject too much. He outlines only enough so the observer may vaguely get acquainted with the subject. I am not forced into seeing a certain image the "right" way. His usage of color and detail is not enough so as to be imposing but enough to provide security, assurance in knowing that there is a particular form present. He encourages creativity and free interpretation. Mme Matisse's story has become my own. Matisse has helped define my personal progress toward the willingness to explore more diverse and creative ideas and interests.

Is Mme Matisse really European or American? Has she traveled the world? Is her dress really exotic? What was Matisse really writing about when he created this painting? I don't know. Maybe some day I will explore the detailed story behind this woman's mystery. Today I am satisfied with not knowing.

Mme Matisse: madras rouge can be viewed at the following webpage:

www.moondance.org/1997/spring97/matis8.html


Beauty from all Directions
Name: Rachel Usa
Date: 2005-03-24 23:01:40
Link to this Comment: 13996

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


The paintings "Endymion and his Flock" by Titian and "Vision of St. Hyacinth" by El Greco superficially share nothing. Titian paints a shepherd accompanying his sheep. The landscape is lush with rich foliage, green and blue mountains, a rushing stream, and a distant town. El Greco's theme is the visitation of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child to a Polish priest. The missionary Hyacinth kneels on a polished tiled floor in a chapel: behind him is a statue of a bishop and in front of him is a divine vision in clouded magnificence of the Madonna and Child. Despite the paintings' stark contrasts in subject matter, I experienced similar emotions when viewing them. I struggled to classify my aesthetic experience and discover why such different paintings could elicit complimentary emotions.

"Endymion and his Flock" is a large oil painting on panel. The panel is elongated in the horizontal direction like a panoramic film shot, which immediately struck me. Barnes seems to draw attention to the horizontal nature of the painting too: above the piece is a metal ornament that is horizontal to the floor. Also above "Endymion and his Flock" are two paintings of Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus' horizontally stretched-out arms are the central images in both of these paintings. In Titian's painting, heavy, dark forests surround Endymion on the left and right side and make him seem like part of the landscape. The trees also function as blinders and focus the audience's attention on Endymion in order to make him the central subject of the painting. The shepherd reclines horizontally on the granite and wears a blue shirt and white shorts, which expose his tanned legs. His head is pressed on folded arms that rest on the ground. His arms are not visible. Sheep are grazing in the heavy foliage to his left on the sheet of granite beside him. Mountain peaks and a town with ascending steeples are behind him and to his right. The left side of his face, tilted toward the sheep, is illuminated while the right side of his face, tilted toward the town and the mountains, is shadowed.

The perspective, detail, and lighting of the painting are crafted by Titian in order to draw the reader to the central theme of the work: the shepherd's special relationship with nature and the immediate world around him on a horizontal and earthy level. The sheep and the forest, nature, are on the same plane of the painting as Endymion. This suggests that the flock and the natural world are in the shepherd's mind and heart while the town, which is behind him in the perspective of the painting, is apart and detached from him. The shadowing of Titian's face has the same effect. His lighted face, symbolic of his concentration and devotion, is directed toward his sheep and the natural world, while the side of his face tilted toward the town and mountains is shadowed. He is disinterested in the town and its vertical spires. His shirt is blue, symbolic of serenity, and reflects the contentedness with his labor among the sheep. His legs are bare and vulnerable and indicate that Endymion trusts the natural world around him.

After I interpreted the painting, I researched the character Endymion and discovered he is a figure from mythology. Endymion was a handsome shepherd from Asia Minor who became the lover of the goddess Selene. Selene asked Zeus, king of the gods, to make Endymion immortal so that she could embrace the shepherd forever. Zeus complied by putting Endymion in an eternal sleep (1). This research gave me a new perspective. Perhaps the mountain, maybe Mount Olympus, represents Selene while the town with its vertical spires symbolizes immortality. When Endymion was put to sleep, he became forever detached from Selene and an immortal life because he was unconscious. He became trapped forever in his somnolent grave in the midst of the mountains, nature, and the grazing sheep. His hands are tucked away and hidden because they are no longer of any use to him: he will never again embrace Selene or grasp divinity.

"Vision of St. Hyacinth" by El Greco is a very different painting. It is very large and elongated vertically. Barnes emphasizes the towering effect of the El Greco painting with a metal, vertical ornament that hangs above the picture; it is the same technique he uses to emphasize the horizontal nature of the Titian piece. El Greco paints the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child instructing Hyacinth the missionary to carry away a statue of the Virgin in order to protect it from destruction (2). The setting of the painting is a chapel. The chapel floor is of polished marble or tile and has a rigid rectangular design of browns, blacks, and beige. To the right and behind the kneeling Hyacinth, the wall of the chapel has very angular architecture, and rectangular columns support the ceiling. Hyacinth is central in the piece. He wears a heavy, creased white habit and black cape. His left hand is flung to his left side with one finger curling in toward his palm, and his right hand is drawn in close to his chest with his middle finger pressed to his heart. His face is tilted up toward and illuminated by the divine vision of the Madonna and Child. Mary and Baby Jesus rest on a cloud painted with flowing paint strokes that are distinct from the straight and angular strokes El Greco uses to paint the floor of the chapel. The Madonna's and Child's heads are tilted down toward Hyacinth, and Mary's hand is pressed to the naked Jesus' chest. Behind Mary, Jesus, and Hyacinth a statue of a bishop wearing the ceremonial garb is visible but indistinct.

As in the Titian painting, the perspective, detail, and lighting of the El Greco relate the theme of the work to the audience with crafted precision. The elongation of the painting in the vertical direction stresses the divine theme of the work; the painting stretches toward the ceiling as if reaching towards heaven. The bottom and right of the painting that depicts the chapel has rigid, angular geometry (rectangular tiles and square columns) and illustrates the secular, non-spiritual world. Hyacinth's clothing is large, heavy, and black; he is weighed down and bound to the secular world and forced into a kneeling posture on the artificial, polished marble. Hyacinth presses one hand to his heart, flings another hand to his side submissively, tilts his face up toward the divine vision, and allows the light of heaven to fall upon his face: he is seeking God with his heart and mind. In contrast, the Madonna and Child are resting on a cloud of flowing paint strokes, symbolic of their freedom from the secular, imprisoning world. The Madonna's clothing is serenity blue and loose; the Baby Jesus is naked. Both are free from the stifling wrappings that weigh down mortal beings like Hyacinth. They are above Hyacinth in altitude and righteousness and tilt their heads down because they are seeking Hyacinth as Hyacinth is seeking them. Where Hyacinth's hand is pressed to his heart because he is seeking God, the Virgin's hand is pressed to Jesus' heart because she has found God. The blurry bishop is symbolic of the Catholic Church. The Church is the interface of the spiritual and secular world. Although the statue of the bishop is a part of the architecture of the chapel (and thus belongs to the secular world), it is represented by El Greco with the flowing and free strokes more characteristic of Mary, Jesus, and the cloud because the Church has a spiritual facet.

I found both paintings beautiful. Were my beautiful experiences for each painting beautiful for related reasons? Yes. Despite the different tone and subject matter of the pieces, I found common ground. The size of the paintings and the unusual proportions (one long and the other tall) drew me to them initially. I had the raw, visceral first impression with each piece. The feelings of being immersed in and surrounded by nature when viewing "Endymion" and of being dwarfed by towering divinity when seeing "Vision" were pleasurable, exciting, and similar aesthetic experiences. Only after these first raw emotions did I really study the paintings; I wanted to discover why I felt these powerful first emotions.

The process of interpreting the pieces in a more analytical way was a beautiful experience of a different kind. I created a narrative for each painting about the artists' particular motivations for choosing each symbol, color, lighting, and perspective. The story of the subject matter interested me less. The creative and intellectual exercise of processing the paintings as a reflection of the artist and his character was the beautiful narrative. I wanted to believe the artist was speaking directly to me, and I want to believe I understood what he was telling me. I valued the humanistic side of the painting and the artists' opinions and thoughts. If I were to learn my interpretations of the paintings are not what the artists intended, the beauty of my interactions with the paintings would be lost.

Perhaps what I found most beautiful about the paintings were the invitations offered by the artists to the audience to participate in the passion and intensity of the pieces. The horizontal painting "Endymion and his Flock" embraces the onlookers like a pair of flung wide arms. It invites the audience to experience earthiness as Endymion, trapped in his eternal sleep amongst his sheep and denied a life amongst the gods, must have experienced it. The vertical painting "Vision of Hyacinth" towers over the audience and engages the spectators in a divine, lofty, and humbling visitation with Christ and his mother. "Endymion and his Flock" celebrates the natural, the immediate, the horizontal. "Vision of St. Hyacinth" venerates the spiritual, the unattained, the vertical. The artists expressed their respect for their audience by appealing to experiences that are accessible to human beings. Who has not been captivated by nature or humbled by an ideal greater and outside of themselves?

The beautiful experience with each painting evolved with time. My first reaction was spontaneous and unprocessed: the unusual length of "Endymion and his Flock" and the captivating height of "Vision of Hyacinth" drew me to them before I could become attached to other paintings. My subsequent analytical interpretation was driven by a desire to deepen my understanding of and relationship with the artists. The beautiful experience climaxed when I read meanings and themes into the paintings that I felt I could share with any other human being, including the person standing next to me.

Online resources:
1. http://www.pantheon.org/articles/e/endymion.html
2. http://www.krakow2004.dominikanie.pl/hyacinthmain.php


Back to the Barnes
Name: Lauren Swe
Date: 2005-03-25 08:38:35
Link to this Comment: 14000

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

YOUR TEXT. REMEMBER TO SEPARATE PARAGRAPHS WITH A BLANK LINE (OR WITH

, BUT NOT BOTH). REFERENCES (IF ANY) GO IN A NUMBERED LIST AT THE END (SEE BELOW). TO CITE A REFERENCE IN THE TEXT, USE THE FOLLOWING AT EACH NEEDED LOCATION: (YOUR REFERENCE NUMBER).

References

SUCCESSIVE REFERENCES, LIKE PARAGRAPHS, SHOULD BE SEPARATED BY BLANK LINES (OR WTIH

, BUT NOT BOTH) FOR WEB REFERENCES USE THE FOLLOWING, REPEATING AS NECESSARY REFERENCE NUMBER)NAME OF YOUR FIRST WEB REFERENCE SITE, COMMENTS ABOUT IT FOR NON-WEB REFERENCES USE THE FOLLOWING, REPEATING AS NECESSARY REFERENCE NUMBER) STANDARD PRINT REFERENCE FORMAT Lauren Sweeney March 25, 2005 Professor Dalke and Doctor Burgmayer Beauty: Chemistry and Culture Back to the Barnes When I consider all the times that I have been to the Barnes Foundation, all the pieces that I've seen over the years and all the things that I've learned from dosants, teachers and other students, nothing can tell me why I am drawn to a particular piece or describe the power that it has over me and how it has, though it may seem insignificant, the way in which it has impacted my life. I am thinking of one piece in particular, and true to Dr. Barnes's vision, I know nothing of the piece other than the name of the artist who painted it and how I, personally have experienced and been affected by the piece. I am referring to a painting which is found in one of the second floor galleries of the Barnes. If you walk up the stairs it is the big room on the right, the one with the big Rousseau in the middle flanked by a dark painting of a man with a long grey beard and dressed in black on the left and a very dramatic-looking woman with two doves on the right. The particular painting to which I am referring is not given a position of prominence, nor does it really deserve one when compared with the other pictures in the room. It is utterly unremarkable in any respect and I have never heard anyone make mention of it at any time, even while standing in the room. "My" painting is clearly a Renoir, placed all the way to the right on the main wall, hung slightly below eye-level. I don't know when it was painted and I don't even know the title of the picture. I don't remember anything about the pictures which hang directly beside it, or even what the frame looks like (although I suppose that it is a thick, gold frame, like so many of the others) because everytime I see the painting, all that I can think of is the painted image itself, particularly the contrast of a cerulean blue against bright orange which, as my dad says, "makes the colors really pop." Is it the eye-catching combination of blue and orange which creates a sense of visual dynamism that makes me say that this painting is beautiful? Probably not, but I do think that that is what first caught my attention. I like bright, pure colors, and the particular shade of blue in the piece is especially attractive to me because of its purity. It is, in essensce, a very simple, very Impressionistic rendering of two females in white dresses, wearing very big, typically Edwardian hats, rowing an orange boat by a dock on what appears to be a lake or a river. The dock is visible in the foreground of the painting, in the bottom left corner of the canvas. Standing at the edge of the dock is a very insistent-looking Scottish terrier whom one can almost hear barking at the passing rowboat. The opposite shore is visible in the background behind the figures' heads. This scene is particularly appealing to me strictly on a visual basis, not only because it is aesthetically pleasing to my eyes, but also because the scene appears to be taking place on what I imagine to be a lazy summer afternoon. The brightness of the women's white dresses, the brightness of the orange boat, the brightnesss of the blue water, all indicate that the sun itself was shining brightly that day, a glimmering heat which would be almost too warm were it not for the breeze which undoubtedly blows over the surface of the water. I remember the first time that I noticed this painting, I was on a fieldtrip with the other twenty-five girls in my class during our junior year of highschool. The AP English teacher at our school also worked as a dosant every Thursday at the Barnes Foundation. We had already been to see Dr. Barnes's establishment at least three times during our highschool careers, and by this point, we were all a little fed up with the whole experience. I always felt obligated to keep quiet and internally reprimand the girls who complained aloud for being insolent and rude, but even I had begun to grow weary with being forced to look at the art again. Because we had spent most of our time downstairs, this trip was one of the few times that we were led to the second-floor galleries. I knew that I had been up there before, but it had been at the end of a long day and the only thing that I really remembered was that there was a collection of African art to the left of the stairs. I had no recollection of what lay to the right, though I assumed it was a series of Renoirs and Monets similar to the ones that had bored me on the first floor. We had been required to bring notebooks and pencils (not pens!) on this trip because we were supposed to choose one piece from the collection about which to write for our English class. When we were downstairs, we had been given twenty minutes to write about one of the pieces displayed in the room in which we happened to be sitting. I chose a Degas because I felt that as a dancer, I had some sort of obligation to him as an artist. I wasn't really interested in writing about the piece, so I sketched it instead and then waited the extra few minutes for our sentence to end until we would move on to the next room. When we finally went upstairs and were given the freedom to move into any of the upstairs galleries that we chose, I opted to stay in the gallery with the aforementioned Renoir because I was so taken with it, so much more so than any of the other paintings that I had seen throughout the day. (I didn't give the furniture or pottery a second glance or thought.) It happened that I ended up sitting down on the floor bedside my friend Sara who was writing about one of the painting near the chosen object of my affections. I had known Sara since the first day of kindergarten and we had gotten to be very good friends in gradeschool, but drifted a bit in highschool. We still talked like old friends, just not as frequently as before. As I sat beside Sara and looked at the blue and orange painting, I imagined that we were the two girls in the boat. I thought about how Sara did crew and she would know how to row it, whereas I knew nothing about watercraft. I thought about how hot it must have been to wear one of those white dresses with all of those petticoats and a corset in the midday summer sun. I thought about how Sara and I had spent most of the summer before ninth grade swimming in her new pool and lounging in the lavish garden to which her mother paid such close attention. The pool that her mother (a former competitve swimmer) had finally decided to put in was extremely decadent in my eyes; Olympic regulation length, heated and complete with fountains of water shooting out of the sides of the pool and into the center, and colored by various filaments. Sara's mother also insisted that the pool's inside be painted blue; not the pale aqua typical of most pools, but a deep royal blue, almost exactly the same shade as the water in the painting about which I had begun to write. I remembered how I felt laying in the sun by the pool with my best friend, drinking cokes and eating Double-Stuf Oreos which melted quickly in the sun and became a slippery mess by the end of the afternoon. I thought about how contented and indulgent I felt, and wishing that the sun didn't have to go down on that beautiful day. I took all of these thoughts and created something like a short story out of them. I wrote that the two girls, life-long friends, were vacationing together at the summer home of the taller girl with the straight dark hair, the one who held the oars. I described the scene, the brightness and warmth of the sun, the glittering ultramarine water and the little dog barking in greeting on the dock. In my story, the two girls in the boat had been out on the water all afternoon and were just about to come in for dinner. The dog belonged to the girl rowing the boat and had been walked to the water's edge by her sisters who had come to call the two in for dinner. I loved that little story and was very proud of the way I had written it. I must have felt very confident about it too because I submitted it to the school's literary magazine Chez Nous. I was the art editor of the magazine, but remembered the comments made by the people who rejected my submission. It was too short, there was no plot--very pretty descriptions of the setting, but no real story, just a piece of one. I had to keep my mouth shut because submissions to the magazine were kept anonymous, but I also remained silent because they were absolutely right. There was no reason for me to disagree; I saw all of the faults that they pointed out, but didn't understand why they weren't moved by the scene in the same way that I was. I have since realizes that my experience with this particular painting at the Barnes is not all that uncommon or particular to the ways in which people experience art. This particular piece "spoke to me" on a number of levels, and I am thankful that I was able to have this experience. The creative piece that I had written based on my experience with the painting and of past memories of my friendship with Sara were limited because I could only articulate those things which directly related to what I saw in the painting. My story was confined by the frame so that I only wrote about what was presented and how I interpreted it, but added very little else to the piece to make it my own. It was as if I had rendered a copy of the painting, using words instead of pen-and-ink. When I returned to the Barnes this year, I made a point of looking at this painting again. I still know nothing about it other than what I can guess. On our first visit with this class I remember checking to see if by some chance the picture had changed ir if it had been removed. I was relieved to find it exactly where I had left it two years ago, and that it caught my eye the same way, that I marvelled at the juxtaposition and composition of the colors, and that everything appeared just as I remembered it.


Once upon a time...
Name: Meera Jain
Date: 2005-03-25 09:29:23
Link to this Comment: 14003

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Once upon a time...

The cobblestone streets are busy as drivers make their way through, carrying goods from the local stores; three luxurious dresses made of taffeta silk in sherbet colors, fresh cheese imported from France, an ice-cream churner with butter, milk and vanilla extract, all being taken to 2455 Sherwood Place.

Mary, Alice and Jane are three sisters living in Tuxedo Park, New York in 1904. It is summer and the days are filled with early swims in the backyard pool, afternoon croquet matches against the neighborhood children and evening strolls after a meal of finely cut meat and imported French cheese. The Whitaker sisters are home for the summer after spending their academic year at a private all-women's institution in Pennsylvania. Last year they studied proper dressing techniques, tableside manners, and history of art during the renaissance period combined with French literature.

It was July 3, 1904 and the family was in preparation for their annual July 4th soiree. Prestigious neighboring families and businessmen were coming to celebrate Independence Day with the Whitaker family and to possibly set up their eligible sons with the two single sisters, Mary and Alice.

The oldest of three, Mary age 22, has always been a more of a rebel in the family. She began her schooling one year later than normal after eloping with the milkman's son and had to be enticed to returning home. Although a very caring person, she desires attention and is usually the focus of any conversation. The middle sister, Alice age 20, is very shy and introverted. Her father has never been very attentive to her; she has been in the shadow of her other sisters. Jane is the youngest of three, age 18 who upon first glance is extremely beautiful and friendly. Jane is considered the prize of the family; she has excelled at horseback riding, English and poetry and has a steady boyfriend who attends a famous Ivy League university.

What surprises most about these three young girls is that six years ago they lost their mother and youngest sibling to childbirth complications. The family has had a difficult time coping with the empty feeling and the father never recovered and devotes his time to his law practice, alienating the three daughters. The young daughters have become distant since the incident; all three are dreading the social event that will take place this afternoon. The three are sitting in their room, reminiscing about happier times and outside their large ceiling to floor window, a party is taking place. In the garden, women are laughing, children are running and men are enjoying a cigar. Luckily, the guests cannot see inside because the sisters are sitting undressed and dejected in their dressing room.

No words are exchanged between the three, as there is a heavy feeling in the air as Beethoven is heard from the record player. Clothes are strewn all over the floor, expensive parasols from France lie haphazardly against a cushion. Mary is standing in the center upset and disgusted by her father's idea of throwing a party when her mother is still being mourned while Alice wants to return to her bedroom to finish "The Fountainhead" and Jane wishes to return to her intellectually stimulating environment with her boyfriend.

The sisters have emerged from their baths given by the maidservant Luisa and are taking their time getting dressed in their expensive dresses, their porcelain faces are powdered and rouged, and their curly orange hair is pinned up high on their head. Alice and Jane are seated and hunched over, obviously distressed at this afternoon's party and Mary appears disconcerted and confused. Their room is of an ornate nature; sponge painted lilac walls, rich Persian carpet beneath their feet and Monet prints framed on the wall. The large window has a beautiful view overlooking the garden and fountains, and many afternoons have been spent outside in the garden.

Mary, Alice and Jane are going to face the music and enter the party with smiling faces and ladylike attitudes, how can they not please their father who has been their steady rock since the tragic event? What happened in the past must be forgotten and they have to act as if they are ready to move on and look for love in new places.

While trying to "read the picture" I embarked on an imaginative route and decided that Models by George Seurat can be read like a storybook. The painting has a story-telling nature to it, even though it is just one image. Staring at the painting, and trying to decipher what Seurat wanted the reader to understand, I thought of my own meaning. The three women in the painting are sisters and visibly upset that their father is throwing Independence Day party, when they are still in mourning. Reading this painting is a daunting task, because there are no words, subliminal messages or literary references and I have to create the setting, characters, climax and outcome. However, it is inspiring to create a story that entwines all elements of the painting and can give a detailed description of what is seen.

Whenever I see a painting for a long period of time, my mind starts to wander and question what the artist wanted to describe and I start to fabricate a story about it. I thoroughly believe that "reading" Models can be interpreted in different ways based on each person's experiences and how it relates their life. My story came right to me when I glanced at the painting and I embellished it more as I could see realness. I became more intrigued and imagined the figures becoming alive with motion, like sisters discussing the outfits they would be wearing or actually hearing Beethoven come from the painting. It is a more rich sensual experience that gives the "reader" a hunger to return to the painting.

George Seurat has a pointillism technique because he disliked broad brushstrokes and by painting little "points" of one on the canvas he made the viewer mix the colors visually. In Models, he includes a portion of another one of his famous paintings, A Sunday afternoon on La Grande Jatte, and I "read" that La Jatte was actually a view of the guest in the garden party. What makes this experience so beautiful is that Seurat leaves me to interpret his paintings into words and give another perspective through storytelling. The reason I chose to "read" his painting as a story was because after discussing our beautiful texts and the lengthy discussions that followed I feel pictorial beauty comes alive with the transformation of a visual picture into words.

I feel a closer connection to the artist and his masterpiece because I apply my interests and personality to his characters and help them come out of the one scene mold. It is this way that paintings appeal to my taste, otherwise they are just pieces of paper on a wall and physically appeasing to see but now there is drama, love triangles, twists and happiness which interest my enthusiasm for storytelling. I chose such a detailed scene and gave the sisters descriptive personalities because of their positions in the painting. For example, Mary was deemed conceited and attention seeking because she stands in the center of the painting, where as Alice is cowering in the left-hand corner and is therefore shy. While "reading" such a beautiful painting, I felt the need to intertwine human emotions of love; lust, death, and sacrifice give another "reader" such a powerful experience.

"Reading" his work I was drawn instinctively to the women and could put myself right there and believed my analysis to be the best way to "read" his painting. It seemed such a perfect "reading" of it, each idea ebbed into another and soon I was creating a story. The characters stance and appearance grabbed my attention and resonated a specific emotion, but I also interpreted many things in the room and added them to my "reading" of the painting, the richly colored fabrics mean they are wealthy, and the parasols imported from Europe all tie into a beautiful storybook tale.

I think "reading" a painting occurs after in depth analysis and concentration, although each person might "read" the painting differently, it is the variations that make the painting an even more beautiful experience. However, when I glance at this painting again, the story will come to my head and force me to pause and examine Seurat's work closer and maybe interpret a new meaning, which is the positive result of previously "reading" a painting. It is a more effective way to experience "beauty", because the experience is each person's own and no one has to know how you "read" the painting. Therefore, the beauty of his painting can come to one based on each persons individuality and is left to be interpreted. This is what a beautiful painting should be regarded as, a subjective "reading".


Bathing in the woods
Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2005-03-25 10:00:08
Link to this Comment: 14005

<mytitle>

Beauty,Spring 2005
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During my first visit to the Barnes Foundation's amazing collection of art I found myself drawn to each piece, walking around in a sort of a daze trying to imprint each one into my memory. I knew there was no way I could possibly remember each detail of the intricate paintings, sculptures, metalwork, and drawings. I looked forward to our second visit where I would be able to spend long amounts of time with specific paintings, looking over and analyzing them in my own way in order to understand what they meant. Though there were many paintings I enjoyed it was not as easy as I had hoped to pick just one or two to closely "read". I wandered around the museum for a good while, trying to find a picture that not only grabbed my attention but called me closely, begging me to uncover its secrets. During my searching I found myself again being drawn to many different paintings, so I tried to find a common thread to my interests. It struck me that many of the pieces of art that I enjoyed most featured bathers. I decided that the most interesting in-depth look would focus on these bathers and the different interpretations made by the painters. The two paintings I chose to concentrate my attention on are Bathers in the Forest, a Renoir from 1897 and Nudes in Landscape or Les Grandes Baigneuses by Cezanne, c. 1900. I found it rather interesting that these two paintings of similar subject coming from the same time period could be so very different in style and form.

Renoir's Bathers in the Forest is very calming and looks rather similar to the many other paintings he has done of nudes and of women. In the painting a group of seven women bathe joyously in a bright yellow/green forest. A few light brown, white, and red trees frame the outsides of the painting and have distinct green leaves that flow gently into green bushes and bright green grass. The tree trunks in this picture seem the epitome of old, deeply rooted trees, with massive sturdy trunks and wide firm branches. In the distance is a rose red and blue house on a hill framed by the trees, perhaps the hometown of the sisters from which they've escaped for a day of fun.

The seven girls are arranged, relaxed, around a center pool of deep sapphire water. Probably sisters, they share similar colorings and have a head full of auburn hair. The girls seem to be at ease with each other, generally joyful and excited, yet at ease and relaxed. The first to draw my attention reclines nude on her side, relaxed. She is ever-so-slightly curled up, showing her back to the viewer and concealing her more private areas from view. She watches the rest of the girls with protectiveness, perhaps the eldest sister of the group. She lies on a crisp white sheet with blue shadings while her peach pink dress and flowered straw hat lay folded neatly at her feet. To her right is another girl who is kneeling with a burnt orange and white patterned cloth. Her hands are at her hair as she twists it into a chignon. She appears as if she just climbed out of the water, trying to fix her coif as she sits on the edge of the pond. Her spine curves gently down to the cloth, which hides her genitals. Like her sister she exudes a calm protection for the girls around her. I found it rather interesting that it is the two girls I thought of as the oldest and most responsible were the two who seemed to make a more conscious effort to hide their private selves from the viewer, perhaps adapting a more adult modesty their sisters have not gained.

To the right again sits a third girl whose back seems to rest on the frame of the painting. Her arms are wrapped around upraised knees and she stares off wistfully, preoccupied with other thoughts. She is interestingly separated from the rest of the girls, the farthest away from the pool, not quite fitting into the circle the rest make. She strikes me as perhaps a quiet and shy girl whose sisters dragged off to the bathe in the forest, yet her mind is still at home, perhaps in the book she was forced to abandon. Her curled position reveals a shielded personality different from the modest shielding of her sisters, more of introvertedness and a desire to screen herself from the viewer. This guardedness is enhanced by her position in the painting, off to the side and almost out of view.

Inside the pool are the two most unabashed girls. Facing out of the painting full frontally and brazen they seem almost to pose for a photograph, with arms around each other and faces scrunched together and smiling. The youngest sisters, most likely, they are the adventurous ones already in the pool and excited for their sisters to join in. The rightmost girl dips her hand in the water, prepared to splash two more girls on the shore. One has her hands on the back of the other trying to push her in. The girl flails wildly, arms and legs in the air. She seems like the kind of girl who, when she inevitably falls in, will grab her tormenter and pull her into the water after her.

The colors in the painting are bright and rosy, stereotypical Renoir skin in pinks, reds, and whites. The greenery has flecks of blue in it, echoing the azure of the bathing pool. The girls are young and innocent with rounded shaped bodies and healthy firm breasts. These sisters seem to be in the prime of life, full of joy. Their faces are flushed pink with excitement and each appears to be enjoying herself. The trees framing the picture seem to reach out to each other like the girls do, bringing the happiness and affection the girls feel into the nature in the paining itself.

The Cezanne painting, however, conveys an entirely different feeling. Nudes in Landscape (Les Grandes Baigneuses) c. 1900, appears at first like simply another portrait of bathers in the forest. Eight people stand in a forest, nude, with white cloths draped around a few body parts. Yet the colors are darker than Renoir's, deep browns, greens, oranges, and blues. The painting takes on an almost nightmare-ish tone. The bodies seem to be melting, breasts undefined or hanging droopingly down, bodies very harsh and pointed. The dark brown and black trees frame the picture ruthlessly this time, seeming to cut off the corners of the view. One tree is bare, with only angular branches reaching out, while the other does have leaves, but they are a deep forest green and black. There is a basket of food in the front center, seemingly forgotten by the bathers, full of bread, perhaps, or some other deep brown or orange food. What appears to be either a black cat or perhaps an article of clothing lies in the front center of the frame. No actual bathing pool is seen, but the women are nude and seem to have thick sheets with them to dry themselves. These towels are much thicker than Renoir's and ripple in the wind.

Seven women and another figure sit in the woods. This last character is perhaps a male, with a more angular face shape and what seems to be a moustache, yet the legs are those of a female and the women do not appear to be uncomfortable in his presence. He does not watch the nude women but rather reclines against a tree, arms folded above his head. The faces of the women are indistinct, many lack facial features or simply have circles for eyes and a straight nose. Their skin is quite different than the ladies Renoir portrayed; in a harsh yellow, green and blue these characters display an almost sickly countenance.

The women seem preoccupied and worried, after closer inspection, with looks of alarm on their faces. In the background a white plume of smoke seems to rise from a brown building, looking very much like the result of a fire. It appears to me now that these characters have escaped somehow from this fire, perhaps because they had chosen this afternoon to go bathing. Now that they realize what they have avoided they look back at the village with shock and alarm or seem to retreat within themselves in meditation or prayer.

Unlike the Renoir painting I found it hard to identify any sort of personality in these characters. They all seem to posses the same faces, bodies, and expressions, even between those who feel alarm and those who appear more lost in thought. Even the figure who might be a male appears very similar to the women around him, lacking any sort of sense of self. Perhaps in this painting Cezanne wished to make these characters anonymous, instead wishing to focus on their plight as human beings who have somehow lost their home yet avoided personal experience because they chose instead to spend the day at play.

Something else I find rather interesting I find about this painting is that the English name is Nudes in Landscape yet the French Les Grandes Baigneuses translates to The Large Female Bathers. I do believe that the English translation would fit better with my reading of the painting as I took the painting to not actually be about bathing and made the supposition that one of the characters was a male, who would not fit into the French title. I also wonder about Cezanne's choice of "large," for I did not feel that the women in the painting were at all overweight and were perhaps thinner than the women in Renoir's painting that seem to epitomize youth and vitality.

During this visit to the Barnes I was not expecting to come away with such a different understanding for a painting than what I initially thought. Through close inspection it was so interesting, especially with the Cezanne to discover meanings and motives that are not obvious on first glance. I also enjoyed seeing how these similar subjects were handled by two contemporary painters. This was an amazing experience

http://www.artchive.com/artchive/C/cezanne/brnsbath.jpg.html- Cezanne's Nudes

http://www.barnesfoundation.org/ed_c_vangogh.html - Renoir's Bathers (look for a link that says "place your mouse here to see Renoir's painting" near Van Gogh's Nude Woman Reclining).


Experiencing an Under-Appreciated Painting
Name: Alice Kauf
Date: 2005-03-25 11:49:34
Link to this Comment: 14006

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

The painting I choose is in the corner of a bright, large room with a long connected skylight around the ceiling. There is a very large, very famous Henri Rousseau in the center of the wall my painting is on, and it is clearly designed to be the focal point of the room. It doesn't matter; I knew which painting I will look at before I entered. On the last trip to the Barnes Foundation, my friend and I saw it, and we were both enthralled by it.

The painting first caught my friend's attention because of its subject matter; the subject that the forms of the painting represent, and what Barnes thought we should look beyond. Paintings of mythical dragon slaying were once very much en vogue, she explained. I enjoyed it for the rich, almost childlike blocks of color. For the second visit, and by myself, my first impression of the painting is one of disappointment. Was this the vivid, Crayola colored oil and pastel picture that I had seen before? Why was it now so dull?

I am afraid that my friend had given the painting more life than it posses alone, and that her enthusiasm is what gave it beauty that day. But I study it anyway, thinking that no one else would pick it, and it was very different than the soft, cream colored women with which the Foundation is filled. I find the name of its creator, Odilon Redon, and the title is Saint George and the Dragon. I stand close to it, and shift to the left to not block the doorway leading out of the room.

As I stand there, I realize that while my friend enhanced the experience, my eyes were not deceiving me. The lighting is terrible for it as seen from the benches in the center of the room; Barnes must have not cared about this painting at all. Close to the canvas, I see it with the most light from the overcast sky, and the yellow electric lights in the center of the room contribute little. Because it is near a doorway, the black tape separating the painting and me is very close to the wall; I can stand six inches away from it and not fear the museum guards, as long as I stay out of their way. Near the painting, I see a burning rainbow of color. Even closer, I can see intricate details on the figures that were washed away by the intense color just a step away.

St. George's horse is not very large relative to the canvas, but it is easily the most finely detailed object within the piece. The horse's body is made of peach, pink flesh, brick red, blue, and cream, yet the overall impression is white. The bridle and stirrups fascinate me. They are created with a metallic gold paint, which popped out of the canvas. At first I think that it was a trick of the light, but the small scrapes of paint really are three-dimensional. The scrapes of gold paint are not even connected to each other, but it is clear that these slivers of reflective monochrome form forged and solid iron work. St. George himself is not very realistically proportioned, and it is unclear how he is riding his horse and throwing his lance backwards and down. His spear is not solid, like the other metalwork in the painting. Upon staring at St. George's arms and the parts of the lance that are complete, I realize that he is not only plunging the lance into the dragon at the horse's feet in the direction of the horse's haunches, but he must also be throwing it behind his head. This seems ridiculous, until I realize that Redon has painted St. George throwing the lance across the front of his head, but Redon simply did not paint in it. The lance would clutter St. George's face. At first glance, nothing seems out of place, it is simply a smooth motion of his arm. Everything appears in order, and yet objects are not solid.

The dragon St. George slays is almost invisible from the viewing benches. It is impossible to say what color the dragon is, except that the general impression is dark, with half rings of yellow lined in an arc, forming the scales along the dragon's spine. These marks of yellow are like the gold in the metal on the horse, small scraps of paint that puffs up from the rest of the paint. By outlining the spine, Redon gives his only hints at the position the dragon could be in; it is a swirling tangle of dark sapphire and emerald. It is near death, and therefore does not possessing the strength to be one solid, contained shape.

The title and my description thus far are misleading; St. George, his horse, and his dragon are all in the painting, but they are swamped by a strange, bright sky and sea. The central figure in the painting is really the sun, painted directly in the center. It is a large, slightly nebulous cloud of red, with a big yellow circle in the center. The colors are not blended and shaded together, they simply lay side by side in patches. It reminds me of skies I drew with crayons when I was small, with atypical color choices and very clear shapes. There is a hugging arc of mustardy yellow above and to the left of the round sun, and to the direct right, a muddy deep purple. Hugging the ecru hillside that is the background of the horse is the same dark, muddy purple. Above the mustard and the purple are brilliant white clouds, edged with yellow sunlight. In the right corner still above that, there is light blue sky, which balances the rest of the painting's dark colors. These clouds are incredibly beautiful. It is as if one took a photograph of at sunset filled with billowing cumulus clouds, and yet maintained the roundness and dimensions of the sky. These are the heaven kissed clouds that are painted when an artist needed to show the presence of God, but could not conceive of anything else appropriately awesome and ethereal. After staring for some time I realize that even this aspect of the painting does not make logical sense. The source of light, the sun, is down in the center of the painting; how could it light the opposite edges of the clouds? And yet I feel as though I have seen a sky like it, that sometimes there simply is no logic behind how the sky appears. There is so much reflection and refraction of light that I will never be able to intuit. I'm not sure if mundane, earthly rules of light and shadow can apply. But I feel that if it could look like this, it would be stunning.

The bottom of the sun's roundness and the purple's softness are both cut off slightly by the beginning of a strict horizontal line of teal. Remaining ribbons of red flow horizontally into the water, just as reflections sometimes do. The first wide stripe of the sea is ironically composed of mostly vertical lines, with the same bowing curve of the dragon scales. It is looks as if someone had folded a ribbon lengthwise, making it curve. The effect is that of a rising wave and motion, but it is an unfamiliar sort of wave, without any breaking crest of white foam. There is only dark, rich color. Underneath this straight yet curving strip, the ocean creates another, more uniform horizontal strip, a darker green than the one above it. In spite of the stillness of the brush strokes, this part of the water also has motion. The beige beach that St. George stands on in the bottom left of the painting drops off in the middle of the bottom of the canvas, but before it does, speckles of beige, beach colored paint fly into the water, clearly added after the sea was painted. It is unlike any other stoke on the canvas. For a long time I cannot decide if it is a beach or a cliff side, and I vow to research the story of St. George to find any geographical clues, until I realize: the sandy colored paint was splattered above the bluish green, but the overall feeling it gives is that of a breaking wave at the shoreline, devouring the beach at an uneven rate. The end of the wave cannot even be seen; it is spent well below where Redon has stopped painting.

The overall effect of the great heaps of color can best be seen from the viewing benches, which continue to give the worst light. As the real sun, pitifully hidden by sheets of dull clouds, brightens the room, the place where I sit becomes brighter, while the painting remains in soft half light, making it seem dull and muddied. A tour group comes into the room, and I listen to what the older woman leading the tour group says. She points out the skylight first, saying that on bright days when no one is in the room, she turns off the light, to see the paintings as people first saw them, without electricity–people forget that about the building, it didn't have electrical lights. I'm not sure about the opening of the Foundation and the advent of the light bulb, but I continue to listen.

See how the room is anchored on either side with red, she says. (The Redon does have a good deal of red. A red painting of a bowl of fruit, or possibly flowers, is on the opposite side of the wall.) Notice the obvious color is primarily green, with the large Rousseau in the middle, dominating the wall. It's a very frightening picture, I mean, this is a nightmare I've had, being attacked by large cats. (The Rousseau contains a small woman, being eaten by a tiger, as far as I can tell. What a strange nightmare to have.) And we see these large, waving blades of grass in the foreground, and when you notice how the cat is standing on the large leaves of grass, it becomes even more nightmarish. Rousseau, of course, painted his foliage from a greenhouse...

The large group moves on to the next room. The confusing, bright, contradictory yet satisfying picture is reduced to an 'anchor' by a tour guiding people to certain thoughts. It doesn't matter. My experience has not been erased.


Deceptive Beauty: Feminist Interpretations of Reno
Name: Nancy Evan
Date: 2005-03-25 13:28:00
Link to this Comment: 14009

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Beauty,Spring 2005
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Pierre Renoir was a major figure in the impressionist movement in art history . Widely heralded as one of the most aesthetically pleasing movements impressionist artists played to the senses, paying special attention to the interplay of light and color. Impressionism is characterized by the artistic attempt to accurately and impartially portray reality, as well as an idealization of the female body as a metaphoric representation of ideals such as beauty or purity. According to art historian Tamar Garb, Renoir gained reputation among the impressionists as "above all, the painter of women" (296). Throughout his career Renoir, who is quoted as saying he found the naked male form 'embarrassing', painted countless women; most of whom fall into two categories: images of female nudes and images of motherhood. It is the former that this paper is concerned with, namely the ways in which the Renoir nude cannot be viewed in a vacuum. This paper will explore the notion that, although aesthetically pleasing, the Renoir nude serves as a misogynist tool that undermined women, stripped them of agency, and created essentialist associations of women with nature. The idea of the gaze will be explored, both of the male artist and viewer and, more thoroughly, the implications for feminist viewers whose gaze may be manipulated by the beauty of the Renoir nude so as to make it into something markedly anti-feminist.

Renoir made no secret of his sexist and misogynistic views. According to close friend and fellow artist Georges Riviere, Renoir found the presence of women "disagreeable" and was made to feel as though "part of his independence had been stolen" (298). Renoir believed women were essentially amoral and lived much like children "according to the logic of their instincts" (299). This view of women extended into representations of femininity in his art.
Although Renoir found women so distasteful in his life, he found them the perfect subject for his paintings. Interpretation of Renoir's depiction of women is typically consistent with the analysis of fellow impressionist Theodore Duret: "[Renoir] invested women with a kind of sensuality, an effect that was by no means studied but proceeded simply from his immediate perception" (296). Indeed, Renoir (as quoted by his son) was intent upon creating art that had no subject matter, art that "had no story at all...[but was] something that everybody knows" (294). This is problematic in many ways, namely because it implies that women have no narrative. If Renoir attempted to paint that which has no subject matter and decided upon women as the ideal embodiment of this desire, Renoir creates a paradigm within his artwork that asserts that women have no subject matter, that they are nonexistent other than in the beauty of their form. "My models don't think at all", Renoir is reported to have said. He manifested this belief through the "tiny heads and glazed eyes" characteristic of many of his nudes (302).

Renoir's paintings were constructed not to imply agency of the subject but to convey a recognizable image of the female form. Many times, the nude was surrounded by nature. Take, for example, Study of a Nude , a portrait of a young woman nude from the waist up surrounded by a halo of greenery. According to Garb, "rarely have women been made more available" than in Renoir's nudes, and Study of a Nude is no exception. The young woman's body is contorted so as to give the viewer a frontal view of her breast despite the fact that she is naturally seated in profile. The setting of the painting is unapparent and, by Renoir's measure, unimportant. The woman suffers from the aforementioned Renoir syndrome-- her giant eyes seem out of place on her minute head, which is starkly out of proportion on her luminous body. Her vacant stare reflects the artist's belief that "true women were not intellectually aware" (302).

Indeed, the only purpose of the woman in Study of a Nude is to be aesthetically pleasing and showcase her beauty without any threatening undertones of intellectual presence or thoughtfulness. This is not a conscious choice made by the women represented in Renoir's nudes, but rather a byproduct of the male gaze. In his book Ways of Seeing art critic and theorist John Berger examines the gaze and its affect on women. He postulates that the portrayal of a woman, particularly a naked woman, by a male artist plays into the age-old notion that "men act and women appear" (47). To paint a woman is to turn her into an object, specifically an object to be viewed—a sight. Berger attempts to analyze the male drive to paint female nudes; he addressed the male artist directly saying "you painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure" (51). This is a model for the interpretation of Renoir's nudes: Renoir enjoyed the naked female form so he perpetuated a myth that painting the nude is an artist's attempt to capture a metaphoric, natural beauty. According to Garb, focus on this feminine ideal as "high art" conflates the ideas of the appreciation of beauty (an intrinsic part of art history) with the admiration of the female form (and the objectification and essentialism of women that accompanies it).

Like many of Renoir's nudes, Study of a Nude's placement in nature is important. The style of painting itself—sweeping brush strokes, blending of paint, no definitive lines or borders—creates little distinction between the woman and the surrounding vegetation. Through this process, Renoir invokes the age old dichotomy of women being aligned with nature and men aligned with culture. This notion is similar to Berger's act/appear comparison and allows the female form to operate as an "extension of matter- earth, nature, pigment- so that the rendering of her flesh is seen to be outside of an ideological construction of womanhood and exists rather as a natural will to form" (Garb 294). Renoir uses the myth of female alignment with nature to assert he is a painter of the natural (Garb 297). Indeed, in Study of a Nude, the woman could very well be absorbed into the greenery in the background. Her ruddy cheeks and the free-form draping of the cloth on her body also give a natural impression.

What are the implications of a feminist audience viewing Renoir? Obviously, an observer familiar with both feminist theory and Renoir's attitudes towards women can see how his misogynistic views are transposed into his artwork. However, the connotations for a viewer who merely desires to engage with the painting as nothing more than a representation of something they personally find beautiful are different.

I am thinking of many of the reactions our class had to the Renoir paintings we observed at the Barnes, both formally as represented during discussions and informally in conversations outside class or at the gallery. Many people were struck by the beauty of Renoir's work, myself included. Although we nearly unanimously agreed we were burnt out on Renoir by the third or fourth room full, many among us admired the luminous bodies, natural settings, and beautiful faces of the paintings. As women and as Bryn Mawr students (although not to imply that being a Bryn Mawr student automatically makes one a feminist) should we have read an article such as Garb before viewing Renoir? Do we have a duty to be informed on issues of women's representation in art or do we have a right to allow ourselves to enjoy a beautiful experience? Personally, I found that between the first Barnes visit and the second, not only was Renoir ruined for me (I read Garb in the interim), but also Gauguin (he mythologized and misrepresented Polynesian women for his own artistic and sexual advantages), Degas (his beautiful ballet dancers were in fact glorified prostitutes with male patrons who would sponsor them for sexual favors), and Courbet (he went a step beyond Renoir, representing headless, bodiless female genitalia as the embodiment of beauty).

Many of us also expressed a desire to not have our gallery visit guided. Although we were talking specifically about Barnes' layout of the art with the accompanying accessories, do we want an experience that is just that—a blind interaction not guided by values, morals, or door hinges. And if so, are we merely playing into the objectification of women and the commodification of women's bodies. This is not a dilemma I feel equipped to solve, but from the variations in my two experiences at the Barnes, I prefer the latter, a more enlightened view. This may mean that I am skeptical and mistrustful of my own ability to judge beauty, or that beauty can undermine my feminist beliefs by tempting me with a pleasurable experience, but I think I am okay with that.

References

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London. Penguin, 1977, pp 37-64.

Garb, Tamar. Renoir and the Natural Woman. Oxford Art Journal 8, no 2. (1985).
Pp 3-15


Reading a Painting
Name: Alice Stea
Date: 2005-03-25 14:10:10
Link to this Comment: 14011

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As I reflected on the paintings I enjoyed the most at the Barnes Foundation, I noticed that many of them gave me a sense of nostalgia. It was a strange mixture of the initial wonder at seeing the painting for the first time, and feeling like it was something I knew and already held close to my heart. The pieces that spoke to me especially were images that evoked memories of summer for me. This may have been because it was a cold winter day and all I wanted was summer, but I do not really know why I was so drawn to these types of paintings. Cezanne's work especially felt this way to me; but, there was another piece that I felt even closer to, and it is the piece about which I chose to write this paper.

The painting that I fell in love with the first time I saw it was a piece by Glackens; I knew when I saw it that it was the painting I wanted to write about. It is a painting that could easily be passed by and not noticed; it is placed high on the wall above a doorway, but something drew me to it. It is not a particularly distinguished painting, and it is certainly not very well known. I do not even know anything about the painter Glackens, but it does not seem important at the Barnes Foundation. In fact, I am not entirely sure that Glackens is the artist. But at the Barnes, these labels that seem to matter so much at other museums, do not matter here. It matters how you see the painting. It is for this reason that I did not go research the artist. The picture I chose is very peaceful; it made me want to be inside of it rather than standing in the museum. I think a piece has to be very moving for me to want to enter its world. This feeling does not happen with every painting I love, but this painting evoked that feeling for me.

At first glance, the bright colors stand out, and it has a very serene ambience. It looks like a perfect summer day; there are mothers in their cool, white linen dresses, sitting by the enticing blue water while their children swim and play. One woman sits on the grass a little bit behind in a red dress under a red umbrella and reads a book. There are some boys cooling off in the clear, crisp water; some playing, some swimming on their backs. One boy balances precariously on a row boat, minutes away from taking a plunge into the water. This painting tells us this is not a day for working. Right away, it brings you into that day as if you are no longer in the museum, but one of those boys in the water or women in the sun. Nearby is some freshly done laundry hanging on a line that blows in the soft, warm breeze. Missing from the painting are any men; there are boys, but no men. I think this gives the painting an easiness that might night otherwise be there; at this time, men are reminders of work, and this is not what the painting is about. It is about forgetting all of one's real life for one afternoon. These are my superficial reactions to the painting; I see this story come to life, but the closer I look, the more I am able to move beyond the image and see some more of the compositional elements in the painting.

The forefront of the painting is about curves; the lines are all very soft; the grey barn-like building near the water has a curved roof. The bridge over the stream is curved as well; even the woman sitting in the grass has the umbrella, which also has the same soft, curved lines. This corresponds to the expression of the women and children; the soft, easiness of the lines reflects the relaxation of the people. In the background, however, there are dark houses with sharp lines; these evoke the idea of work and chores, in which this type of easiness is not present. But, the houses are off in the distance, just as the thought of them are in the minds of these bathers.

The next thing that struck me about the painting was the use of the colors. Having taken a drawing class recently, I find that I now appreciate color in a completely different way. Even paintings that I would not have given a second thought before now have become more interesting to me, primarily because I now understand the colors. That is to say, when I look at a painting, and I see skin, for example, I no longer see a solid peach color. I see reds, oranges, and greens that all fuse together to give the skin its beautiful tonality. The same is true for everything else, including buildings, water, the sky, etc. For example, the water in this painting looks to be, at first glance, blue; however as you begin to look closer, the color that becomes most evident is the purple. There is literally more purple in the water than blue; it is a soft purple, with accents of periwinkle. There is, of course, some blue and aquamarine, but it is predominantly purple; this layering of colors gives the water texture. The soft purple also works to contrast nicely with the lime green grass. I also noticed that the womens' white dresses were in fact a light blue, which I did not notice until I got very close to it. Even the grey barn-like building has many shades of grey, and even some forest green. These colors, at least to me the first time I noticed them, are surprising. I was amazed to find so many different colors in things that I thought were just one solid color. The color is also used to juxtapose the foreground and the background; it is the bright, summery colors versus the very dark colors.

Next I noticed the placement of people and objects because of their colors. This is what makes the piece interesting. For example, the red capped swimmer in the water is a nice focal point in the painting, and our attention is drawn to it because of the bright red in contrast to the soft color of the water. The woman with the umbrella in the grass is not wearing a white dress because the contrast between the red of her dress and the green of the grass is much more interesting. These are decisions the artist makes; they are not coincidental.

Part of the reason I enjoyed this painting so much was because it was fun. I do enjoy other paintings that have a more serious tone, but on this day I loved this painting. I connected to it because it showed a story that intrigued me; it was a day that I felt I had already experienced. This is what I mean when I had a sense of nostalgia when I saw the painting. It was the first time I was seeing the painting, but the image was something that I felt like I had already experienced at some point, and Glackens had chosen to capture it.

It is when I see all of the elements I discussed come together that the composition becomes a whole. As my eye sees it from a distance, and then moves around the painting, searching for these things, I begin to understand the painting. Once I see the piece close up, my mind zooms out, and I see all of these details within the larger picture. I see the image first, then just the lines and curves, and then just splotches of colors, until I can again see the entire image. It is a fascinating process that my eye goes through every time I look at a painting. The assignment of "reading" a painting in an apt one, because that is what people do when they look at paintings. "Looking" at a painting is, in some ways, too passive a description of the process. Reading implies a little more analysis of the painting than looking does. When your eyes search the canvas for meaning and compositional elements, it is equivalent of reading a book for these same purposes.


Reading
Name: Eugenia Ch
Date: 2005-03-25 15:07:27
Link to this Comment: 14013

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Beauty,Spring 2005
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Saying that an artwork in a museum is "beautiful" is to say that the artwork has been reduced to just another banal piece of work on canvas. By being merely "beautiful", it is as if the artwork lost its ability to captivate or mesmerize an audience. There is a curious and pseudo-attractive power in artworks that are displayed in museums; the museum itself implies an artistic sanctuary where art becomes omnipotent and everlasting.

It seems plausible then to believe that all artworks in a museum is there for a reason, whether it be to demonstrate an artist's priceless talent, a powerful theme, or just a landscape reminiscing a pre-industrial time. But then again, the collected artworks reflect an individual¡¯s (or a small group of people's) artistic taste or preference; just because an individual finds something beautiful does not necessarily suggest that others will also. In fact, even if others do find the artwork to be beautiful, it may not be in the same manner, or to the same degree.

Art is very subjective discipline. However, under a certain conditions (especially in museums), people tend to forget that art can and should be interpreted in a personal way. And so, they just superficially label all artworks as "beautiful". After all, someone is spending an enormous amount of money to immortalize it. Why would anyone want to preserve something that is not beautiful?

I must admit, when I first walked into the Barnes Foundation, I did not find the majority of the pieces beautiful. But all around me, people were talking about how beautiful piece X was. During our first visit to The Barnes Foundation, a lady working ther asked me what I thought of Van Gogh's, "The Postman". I unconsciously blurted out, "oh, it's just beautiful!" thinking that that answer was enough to be the correct and appropriate thing to say in that setting. The lady just looked at me and gave me an artificial smile before walking away.

Like most people, I am afraid to admit that I dont know or understand something outside of a classroom setting. Since everyone seemed to have reached a general consensus that everything at the Barnes is beautiful, I too, stated the same even though I did not understand the painting enough to respond to it in any way.

It did not occur to me how meaningless the word "beautiful" was in describing art until I returned to my dorm room to a peer-edited draft that said, "NICE! Good job". Saying an artwork is ¡°beautiful¡± does not explain or show in anyway what makes the artwork so. It does not have any more meaning than the words, "nice" or "good job" without a clear explaination. It was like I had been conditioned by textbooks and the media to believe that artwork in a museum equals one adjective, ¡°beautiful¡±. And only that.

That evening, I googled "The Postman" and re-looked at the painting and wondered why anyone would be fond of it. Maybe the brushstrokes? Negative space? Choice of palette? I could not comprehend it. But apparently people found it beautiful since all six versions of "The Postman" were all immortalized somewhere. I just assumed that becaused I was lacking the 'artistic-eye' or the 'analytical-eye' to appreciate Van Gogh's greatness, I would never be able enjoy ¡°The Postman¡±.

On our second trip to The Barnes, I attempted to 'read' Vincent Van Gogh's "The Postman" to the best of my ability yet once again. Not knowing how to start the 'reading', I examined the 1889 Oil on Canvas from background to foreground.

Halfway through the examination of the deep green background, I realized that I forgot to wear my glasses that day; it was no wonder that Van Gogh's work seemed more blurry than I remembered. With my 'impaired' vision, I could not pay close attention to Van Gogh's signature technique where he slabs on generous amounts of paint to create a unique texture. Instead, I was able to see "The Postman" in a more holistic point of view.

Even with my eyesight I noticed how the postman was not symmetrical in anyway. For one reason or another, I had a misconception that all artists painted their model to create a more perfect human being. Van Gogh's portrait was hardly that, there was nothing that made ¡°The Postman¡± exquisitely beautiful.¡±The Postman¡± was just an average Caucasian male laborer. Where most portraits at The Barnes Foundation attempted to bring out the symmetry and perfection of the human form, Van Gogh presented his model as he was¡­ without the 19th century equivalent of airbrushing. The rawness of the portrait brought out the reality of the human form. Even with my limited vision, I saw how much work was put into creating the aura of 'humanness' in ¡°The Postman¡±.

"The Postman", unlike other portraits of people, had an expression that looked back at me to the point where I felt like I was being watched. For me, the eyes provided more 'reading' than any other part of the painting. The eyes seemed to tell a story of a hardworking postman fatigued by his long working hours; his eyes being red and having bags underneath. This piece's purpose is far from trying to praise the elegant lifestyle, or glamour of the elite. ¡°The Postman¡± sharply contrasts Pierre-Auguste's "Bather and Maid" 1900 Oil on Canvas piece that was displayed within close proximity of "The Postman".

I interpreted "The Postman" as a more timeless artwork even though it was painted decades before "Bather and Maid". The fact that Van Gogh decided to create a portrait instead of a scene may have an effect on the timelessness of "The Postman". The portrait¡¯s action, or perhaps the lack of action, fails to give the observer a sense of time. The "Bather and Maid" on the other hand, poses a scene of bathing nude in a pond, a scene that could be easily dated to the earlier part of the 20th century (since a scene like that in the present is more unlikely compared to "The Postman"). Also, it is more a picture of a common man's life and not of an elite family's leisurely activities; in that aspect the portrait concerns the way of life of a larger community.

Maybe it is a stereotype I have, but I associate middle to lower class family as having a richer family bond than an upper class family would. This stereotype is not some random thought; with fewer activities to pursue, it makes sense that the middle and lower class families would have and cherish family time more. As mentioned during a class discussion in at the beginning of the semester, pictures of relationships evoke a pleasant emotion in a person whereas a picture of someone in despair equally evokes a painful emotion in the observer. Like a heart-rending picture, "The Postman" made me think again about the qualities in Van Gogh's work that made it respectable enough to be immortalized at The Barnes Foundation in the first place.

I still do not know how to see the fine techniques that experts claim is the source of the attractiveness in "The Postman"; the idea of looking into brushstrokes, negative space, and palette colors still remains a mystery to me. However, I think that with my blurry more holistic view, I saw more; it was when I could not see clearly that I, ironically, found more meaning in Van Gogh's artwork.

More often than not, I feel that art experts feel the need to seek a "truth" in an artwork. I personally think that the so-called truth can never be obtained, mostly because the truth may be applicable in a certain time period and not in others. Like Mark Lord said in his lecture, art is like a trend, and its meaning may be one thing for a certain generation, and something entirely different for another. The fascinating and almost magical aspect about art is that it is never fixed; its interpretation is subjectivity at its greatest with no boundaries to force anyone to think a certain way. But people tend to forget or not realize that. Art gives everyone a chance to choose what they find appealing, surprising, and sensual. This time, Van Gogh's work enlightened me to celebrate art as something more than just "beautiful".

I do not think that my encounter with Van Gogh caused an artistic emotional awakening in me. I still think I would have trouble in deciphering my secret understanding and interpretation of an artwork at first glance. However, what I learned on that second visit to The Barnes was that sometimes art should not be scrutinized to the finest detailed, instead, it should be looked at with afresh eye in a more holistic perception. This new way of looking at ¡°The Postman¡± has affected me beyond the immediate response of ¡°wow, that is beautiful¡±. Now that I have ¡®read¡¯ the painting and interpreted to my understanding, it been casted into memory as a striking piece because of art because I found a personal meaning to it. No one else would see ¡°The Postman¡±s eyes and be intrigued by its humanness. I did. And for me, THAT is a legitimate reason to why I find the piece to be ¡°beautiful¡±; the humanness of the painting sets apart Van Gogh from Pierre-Auguste. And that makes all the difference.


Dancing Degas
Name: Amanda Gle
Date: 2005-03-25 15:15:41
Link to this Comment: 14014

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip



Walking around the Barnes Foundation, I have been drawn to a number of pictures: Renoir's, Cézanne's, Matisse's, religious. The overall draw of the Foundation is not only the individual artwork, but also the aesthetics of combinations that Dr. Albert Barnes created. While walking through, eyes are drawn from one masterpiece to the next until they are unable to comprehend anymore, and yet still must look. This overwhelming creation allows me to take in fantastic art, and also allows me to personalize it. By doing this, I found two Degas pictures that drew me in.


There are walls arranged by Barnes himself of paintings, hinges, chests, and candlesticks, all blended together making an eye-appealing masterpiece. For example, in Gallery VII, on the South Wall, Barnes played off of the color orange. The hinges mirror the paintings, which include Plaza Auvers-sur-Oise by Cézanne, Washerwoman and Baby by Renoir, and Fruit and Blue Drapery by Cézanne. The orange in the Washerwoman painting brings out the oranges in the other paintings, which are all oil. The museum is a compilation of Impressionism, Realism, Medieval, Oriental, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Americanism. There are Greek and Native American pieces, miniature statues, paintings, and jewelry combined. There are even codexes. It is fascinating to look at the ethnohistorical artifacts mixed with "art." While many would not see the connection between these different genres, Barnes did and introduces it to the viewers.


In Gallery IX, on the South Wall, there is a combination of ten different paintings. They are placed as follows: 1) Girl with Jumping Rope by Renoir, 2) Le Pont de Sèvres by Sisley, 3) Etretat, the Sea by Matisse, 4) Beach at Etretat by Matisse, 5) Head of Two Girls by Renoir, 6) Claude in Arabic Shirt by Renoir, 7) Woman with Hat Reading by Renoir, 8) Summer by Renoir, 9) Girl in Balcony at Cagney by Renoir, and 10) House Boat by Monet.


9 4 2 3 7


10 6 1 5 8

The placement of these pieces was very carefully thought out. Throughout there is a connection of white ripples. Sisley's painting is reminiscent of Cézanne's style. In paintings three and four, the same cliffs are pictured. In pictures five and six, there is a similar red tint just as in paintings seven and nine, there is a pink hue. These combinations are what really make the Barnes Foundation a spectacular place.


My favorite wall had only four pictures, two of which were Degas. The other two pictures, which were above the Degas but separated by wall and windows, were by Louis Marcousis. Above the Marcoursis paintings were mirrored hinges. I stared at the wall for a while and yet would be unable to tell what was pictured in the Marcousis paintings. I was focused on Degas who draws me more than others.


I am not sure if it is my history of dance or that my mother was a ballerina or the style, but Degas's pieces fascinate me. In January of 2004, I visited the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco which was featuring a Degas exhibit. Seeing Degas's sculptures and paintings awed me. Born, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas on July 19, 1834, he was the son of a banker and was supposed to be a lawyer. He was drawn though to art and ended up in art school. He was a realist and impressionist painter who said, "Art is vice. You don't marry it legitimately, you rape it" (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/ authors/e/edgar_degas.html). His love of art ensured that, especially after his death, his popularity would grow.


Degas painted horses, women, and singers, but was most famous for his ballerinas. After 1880, when he began to lose his eyesight, he moved into sculpture and pastels, but nothing would stop his artwork. His work "reflects a concern for the psychology of movement and expression, the harmony of line and continuity of contour" (http://www.discoverfrance.net/France/Art/Degas/Degas.shtml). Degas would sketch from live models (who then were considered prostitutes) in his study and then combine the sketches and poses into rehearsal and performance scenes. His art features natural poses of movement and grace. He believed, "Nothing in art should seem accidental, not even movement" (http://www.artquotes.net/masters/edgar-degas/degas-quotes.htm). His specialties were seen in the two pictures that I greatly admired from the Barnes Foundation.


The first picture, on the left of the wall, is entitled, Group of Dancers. It is a pastel on paper. In it, there are three ballerinas, each with their brown hair in buns. Their skin is pale and pink and their dresses are multi-toned yellow. Their toe-shoes are pink and tied, and the shoulders are bare, reflecting the different tones of the skin. The background has a fire feel. What is unique about this pastel, as well as the other one that I will describe, are the dark lines defining the ballerinas. Degas's paintings are not normally dark, but the dark lines of the women give it a dark tint. The women are huddled together and very intent on something. It appears that they are either getting their slippers on or looking at a soar foot or ankle. They might be chattering, but at this point they are at rest and not dancing. The painting captures Degas's belief. He said, "A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain, you end up boring people" (http://www.artquotes.net/ masters/edgar-degas/degas-quotes.htm). This painting does not spell out what the ballerina's are doing and thus creates "a little mystery."


The second picture is called Three Ballet Dancers, One with Dark Crimson Waist. This was done in 1899 and is pastel on paper. It focuses on one ballerina with two in the background. Again, in this picture, there are dark tones. It is more of a sketch. The colors are haphazardly thrown in, not covering all of the paper, which has a tan tint. The main ballerina has a pink leotard and the facial expressions of all three are only somewhat defined. The gestures of the dancers create a warm flow. The main girl has one arm up and one bent behind her back. The background hints at a green bush.


Both of these pictures draw me through their beautiful artwork. The impressionist and realistic styles are gorgeous. I did sketches of the pictures and in doing so realized that the lines and shapes draw me in more than the colors, which are somewhat lacking. The other Degas that caught my eye at the Barnes Foundation is entitled Dancers with Hair in Braids which is also a pastel. Degas's work reaches out to me and allows me to enjoy it as art and as conductors of memory.


Three Ballet Dancers


The Stories Pictures Do Tell
Name: Katy McGin
Date: 2005-03-25 15:16:56
Link to this Comment: 14015

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Coming across the phrase "reading a picture" as the topic for this paper, I was initially baffled. I felt it was far too vague a description for a 5-page paper; I did not know what it meant, and I had no real idea what to write about. Upon visiting the Barnes Foundation again and reading some of the essays on the Serendip website, however, I have a stronger grasp of the concept now, although it is still very much in the air. Thinking about it, though, it is precisely that it is sort of in the air that has allowed me to greatly enjoy writing this paper. "Reading a picture" means many things to me, but mostly it involves for me the highly subjective, personalized process of creating meaning for an image—be it a photograph or a painting—fixed in time and then experiencing this meaning through the image.


It is only natural that, when one looks at a photograph, she/he is transported to the particular spot at the particular time at which the photo was taken. After all, is this not in all likelihood why this picture was even taken? If the person experiencing the photo was there when the photo was taken and knows all about it, then the story that this person reads in the photo will most likely be the story that actually did take place. However, if someone who was not there happens to view this particular photograph, then that person may read an entirely different story in the photo than the one that actually took place. To illustrate my point more clearly, let us pretend that I am holding a photo that was taken of me, and in this photo I have a scowl on my face. I know exactly why I am scowling in this picture—I was there, obviously, and I know the true story of the photo. I had just arrived at a party and had been taken by surprise when a few boys jumped out of the bushes at me. Upon arriving at the door with the host taking my picture, I gave the host a mock "I'm-pissed-off-at-you-for-being-such-a-poor-host-as-to-allow-this-to-happen" look. It is all in good fun.

Now let us imagine that my photo has somehow made its way to a busy, public space, and a certain individual happens to find my photo and begins to examine it. This person—a complete stranger—knows nothing of the real story behind the picture, so he can only read his own subjective interpretation into it. From the expression on my face in the photo, the stranger may interpret virtually anything he wants—i.e. that I am genuinely angry at the photographer, that I am scared, that I am annoyed over something, etc. While the stranger's reading of the picture is not the real story of what actually was going on with me in the picture, his interpretation of the story is nonetheless real for him. He has the freedom to read whatever he wants into this picture since he knows nothing of the circumstances surrounding its actual taking. Let us suppose further that he shows the photo to one of his friends. The stranger's friend now has the opportunity to read an entirely different story inside the photograph, one that may or may not have anything to do with the stranger's story of the photograph. Because they do not possess the knowledge of what actually transpired in reality when this picture was taken, these two people are free to create stories at will for my photo. We all have unique perspectives of photographs and paintings that allow us to create alternate realities inside of these images. That these alternate realities—these stories—are not the same for any two people does not mean that one story has more legitimacy than another's. Only those who know the TRUE story of the photo (the real-life circumstances in which it was taken), such as the photographer or the one(s) being photographed, have a slight edge over those who must create their own stories. However, even this edge, this advantage, means relatively little. I could inform the two hypothetical strangers of the real story behind the photograph of me at the party, but chances are that their own subjective interpretations of the photo will not be altered (except perhaps only momentarily). Our own subjective readings of images are strong and tend not to change even if we are open to alternative readings from other people.


Equally important is the fact that, while indeed no two individuals experience exactly the same story described by a single photograph, basic similarities nonetheless exist in all stories. Going back to my example of the photo of me at the party, while specific details of the photo's story will be colored differently by each viewer's subjective, individual perspective, the stories will all be united by the fact that all (should) involve me and the expression captured on my face. The details, the mood, the theme...everything will vary among each individual viewer, but because the image of me is so central to this photograph, all of its stories will carry the unifying fact of somehow involving me.


Comparable to the experiencing of photographs is the experiencing of paintings. Indeed, in the pre-camera era many paintings (such as realistic portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes) served purposes that have largely been taken over in this time period by photographs. But perhaps even more so than photos, paintings tell stories. And while the painter usually has his/her own story in mind when making a particular painting, subsequent viewers will consider the painting's story in a manner biased toward their own individual perceptions. I have always read the famous painting "The Scream" to be a story about a poor soul who has been driven to the edge by mental illness and is screaming in horror over the cesspool that his mind—and his world—have become. Whether or not Edvard Munch intended his masterpiece to tell this story is immaterial to me. Much like the photographer has a slight—though ultimately irrelevant—edge over other viewers of a photograph in that the former knows the real story of the photograph while the latter do not, the painter has a distinct edge over viewers in knowing a painting's true story. Still, though, the fact that a viewer is reading a different story in a painting than the one that the painter told does not necessarily jeopardize the viewer's own personal enjoyment of the painting. Of course I am interested in the story that Munch had wanted to tell, as it was his brainchild after all. But it is my own personal version of "The Scream" that endures every time I see it. Another person may view the painting and conjure up a story of a man who has just run out of his home screaming because he believes it is haunted by ghosts. My story and this person's story are different yet similar; they are both subjective interpretations of the same image, and while the content of the two stories are very different (mental illness vs. supernatural horrors), both of these stories involve as the central character a screaming man set against the backdrop of a mysterious and slightly menacing sky. Thus, paintings are like photographs in that they both tell stories, and these stories share some central similarities while simultaneously varying significantly among different viewers.


Thus it does seem to be possible read pictures. It is a highly subjective activity that nevertheless contains similarities across multiple different viewers and their own stories. Whether one is reading the story inherent in a photograph or a painting, the process is basically the same—personalized stories that are different in many respects but still retain a shred of similarity.


Stop Reading and Find the Joy of LIfe
Name: Muska Nass
Date: 2005-03-25 15:22:48
Link to this Comment: 14016

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

In Roald Hoffman's critical essay on the aesthetics of chemistry, he states that people create stories when contemplating beauty. Hoffman says "We do so by structuring a narrative to make up for the lack of simplicity. And then we delight in the telling of the story." The same can be said about contemplating beauty in a work of art. Each work of art evokes a specific narrative which a speculator responds to depending on his/her connection to the story being told. The difference between an artistic narrative and the narrative of a literary text is merely the language being used. Paint strokes and pigment replace words and adjectives—however the story remains the same. The narration then becomes simply a matter of translation. The speculator must look at the piece of art and be able to translate the language of the painting into the language of his/her own internal monologue and language.

I am particularly interested in the narrative quality of paintings, particularly the narrative quality between paintings created by the same artist. Often times I find that two pieces of art, done by the same artist, speak to one another as if in conversation. It is like reading two novels by the same author in which one book extends the themes of the other. While in the Barnes Foundation, I noticed this sort of conversational theme between two Matisse paintings—(1) The Music Lesson and (2) Le Boneheur de Vivre (which can be translated to The Joy of Life). Through an in-depth analysis of my reading of both these paintings, I found that the dialogue between the two paintings was less of a conversation, and more of a debate.

The first painting by Matisse, The Music Lesson struck me immediately because of its warm familial setting. A woman in a white collared blouse sits beside her son in front of a grand piano. In the bottom left hand corner of the painting, a man in a business suit sits in a chair with a book in his lap. In the center is a big window that spans from the ceiling to the floor. The window is open and outside there is a glimpse of a vibrant green garden with a patio. In the patio a young boy sits in front of a statue of a naked woman. The young boy is also reading a book in his lap and paying no attention to the statue or the beautiful garden he is in.

As mentioned before, the painting evokes a strong sense of family. However, upon further analysis I realized that the painting is not representing a particularly warm family. The woman sitting beside her son at the grand piano is not looking at him lovingly, but instead her eyes are cast down at what I suppose is the sheet of music before them. The son does not appear to be excited about his lesson either. The expression on his face—his wide-eyed stare—assumes a more strained, panicked emotion. The business man reading his book is also not talking or engaging in any kind of activity with his family, but is rather minding his own business privately. The boy on the patio is also silently reading his own book.

The other objects in the painting give off the same feeling of disconnection. An idle violin sits on the grand piano, as if begging to be played and appreciated. In the corner, behind the mother and the son playing on the piano, is a portrait of someone stiffly sitting on a chair. The person in the portrait is not active, or portrayed with another person, but instead is alone.
The entire scene appears to be very rigid and forced. The family, although sophisticated and eloquent, is not the same warm family that I had first imagined when I saw the painting. The family appears to be very elite and wealthy. The musical instruments, the formal attire, the grand art pieces and sculptures, the groomed garden—all of these things imply a family that is very refined and well off. However, the refined lifestyle does not give off an aura of freedom. In fact, all the people appear trapped and repressed.

Ironically, it is the naked statue that is shown lying down on her side, which appears to be the most liberated and free character in the entire painting. Unlike the other people, who are "clothed" in both the literal and figurative manner, the statue is outside in the brisk sunlight. She is unapologetic and unashamed of her naked body. Unlike the other people in the painting, who are either absorbed in a book or absorbed in a sheet of music, the statue appears to be looking at herself in awe. She is completely connected to herself, and through her own self-glorification, appears to be connected to the vibrant green grass and bushes around her. The narrative of this story is seen through the paradoxical symbolism between the repressed family and the liberated nude statue. The nude statue seems to be mocking the family by appearing more human than the humans themselves.

Although the statue in The Music Lesson is representative of freedom—it is through the narrative in The Joy of Life that the true debate between freedom versus societal sophistication is expressed. The first thing I noticed about this painting was the way in which human bodies appeared to blend together, as if they were connected. In the bottom right hand corner of the painting, two nude bodies are embracing. The arms, neck and head of the two people are so intertwined that I could not distinguish between the bodies. Then I started to look at the other people in the painting. They are all nude, close, touching and dancing. Music also plays a big role in this painting. There are two flute players who are passionately engaged in their music—either walking around with their flute in hand or reclining in a patch of lilac flowers with their instrument. The people in the far distance are holding hands and dancing in a circle to the music. They are not passively distant to the music—as are the people in The Music Lesson but instead are deeply engaged and participatory in the tunes and melodies.

Everything about this painting is drenched with human connection—whether it is through the physical connection between bodies in the act of making love, or the connection between musicians and dancers, or merely the connection between friends walking through nature together. Everyone is deeply engaged in both the people and the nature around them. They are much like the statue in the first painting in The Music Lesson.
It was only after I realized the connection between the people in The Joy of Life and the statue in The Music Lesson that I came to the conclusion that there was an inter-conversational debate between the two narratives. The first painting tells the story of a repressed, wealthy family and the second painting tells the story of the ideal symbol of human freedom and liberation. The first painting appears to advocate a poised, cultured, intellectual life filled with literature and classical music. The second painting appears to advocate a return to nature, human connectedness and the liberation of love. If the narrative between the two paintings is indeed supposed to be a debate, the artist himself seems to have his own opinion as to which lifestyle is to be strived for. The titles of his paintings reflect the artists own perception. The professional sounding title of The Music Lesson as contrasted to the utopian title The Joy of Life implies that the artist agrees with the message of the second painting.

Both these paintings, however, reflect a common theme of the role of art in society. The first painting represents the institutionalized role of literature, music and sculpture. These art forms are materialized to display the wealth and high societal standing of the family. The music and dance in the second painting is much more lucid and free. The art is not being implemented to express societal standing but instead is an extension of internal, emotional impulses and desires. The art in the first painting is distant and placed on a pedestal, whereas the art in the second painting is integrated into the daily fabric of the characters lives. John Dewey makes this distinction between institutionalized art and primitive art. He states the following:

The collective life that was manifested in war, worship, the forum, knew no division between what was characteristic of these places and operations, and the arts that brought color, grace and dignity, into them. Paintings and sculpture were organically one with architecture, as that was one with the social purpose that buildings served. Music and song were intimate parts of the rites and ceremonies in which the meaning of group life was consummated. Drama was a vital reenactment of the legends and history of group life. Not even in Athens can such arts be torn loose from this setting in direct experience and yet retain their significant character. Athletic sports, as well as drama, celebrated and enforced traditions of race and group, instructing the people, commemorating glories, and strengthening their civic pride.

Therefore, the narratives between these two paintings do much more than merely tell a story, but rather dispel a specific moral argument between societal depictions and uses of art and the authentic origin of art. The Music Lesson and The Joy of Life can better be understood through the analysis of both in context of one another, and therefore can help the speculator come up with his/her own opinion as to how art is best to be implemented into society.


(Hoffman, Roald. Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry. Pg 3.).

(Dewey, John. Art as Experience. Pg 7.).

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On Beauty and Reading Pictures
Name: Alanna Alb
Date: 2005-03-25 15:50:39
Link to this Comment: 14017

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


There are three particular paintings featured at The Barnes Foundation, in Merion, PA, that I chose to help me in my experience of "reading" pictures, and "reading" for beauty in those pictures. Pierre-Auguste Renoir's After the Concert, Pablo Picasso's Composition, and Paul Cézanne's Card Players and Girl were the paintings that my eyes could not resist. A "special, irresistible something" in these paintings made it extremely difficult for me to stop gazing at them. I could have easily sat down and studied those paintings for hours, because they intrigued me with such great intensity. A combination of factors sparked my intrigue – the colors of the painting, its title, the featured characters, the background, and my opportunity to create some type of "story" to explain what might be happening in the painting. On a deeper level, I connected some sort of personal memory or familiarity to each of the paintings. This is in direct contrast to Alfred C. Barnes' perspective on art, which was that sentimentality should not contribute to "reading" the aesthetics in a work of art. Whereas I "read" art much differently than the way in which Barnes did, one truth is clear: everyone has her/his own way of "reading" beauty.

Dark tones of brown, black and gray dominated Renoir's After the Concert. The only bright colors that peeked out from the painting were the light flesh colored tones of people's skin, and the rosy red cheeks and lips of the portrayed women. The painting's title described exactly the scene pictured, in which a group of finely dressed people stand outside to chat after a performance. One of the women carried a rolled up program in her hand as further evidence. The gentle, light brush strokes of the painting created an almost dreamy-like atmosphere that still appeared life-size and realistic. These kinds of surface layer qualities captured my eye when I first spotted the painting.

When my eyes were unable to turn away, I started to "read" more of the painting. My eyes, as well as my thoughts, wanted to slide right underneath the layers of dark paint in an attempt to create a story for the scene that hung before me. I saw two young women standing closely to each other, arm linked in arm. Their facial expressions beamed with the excitement that came from seeing a grand performance. Curiosity and interest also spanned their faces, as they politely conversed with a tall young gentleman. One of the women had a dazed, happy look in her eyes as she looked at the man in front of her. Was she in love, or confused about seeing him? There was no way to know for certain, but it was obvious that she was fond of him. They might have grown up together, or she only just met him at the concert. His expression in response to hers appeared alert and interested, looking directly at her. He did not exhibit the same dreamy look in his eyes, but I assumed that as a "proper" gentleman of the era he was strictly taught never to publicly reveal his emotions towards a woman. The other woman looked on at her friend, with an expression that showed both curiosity and happiness. She was curious about this young man and his relationship to her friend, but at the same time she was happy and excited at the prospect that her friend may possibly become a bride-to-be in the near future. Did she also notice the man hidden behind the first young man? His face was hidden, but he may have been a friend of the young man's. It was likely that he showed a romantic interest in the woman, who was too busy glancing at her friend to notice the attraction.

Upon reading Renoir's painting, I was unable to find much beauty in his color choices. However, the talented way in which he painted life-like expressions on the people's faces brought great beauty to my eyes. Even the people's body language seemed so distinct and realistic that I almost felt as if I could walk right into the painting and participate in the ongoing conversation. I "read" beauty in art that appears "real" because the life-like quality breaks down the barrier between the artwork and me. I am no longer made to feel as if the art is a foreign object that is beyond my understanding, something that has no connection to my life. The realism permits me to interact with the art so that I feel a greater closeness to it. When this connection is made, the painting holds great meaning for me; therefore, I find or "read" beauty in the picture.

Reading Picasso's Composition evoked a somewhat different sense of beauty for me than that of Renoir. Although the painting's title made no sense to me in relation to the picture, I found Picasso's colors to be much more aesthetically pleasing to my eyes than Renoir's color choices. Rich, deep earth tones consisting of browns, reds, orange, and gold spanned the painting. A man and a woman appeared to walk alongside two un-harnessed oxen. The man, who was much bigger than the woman, wore brown cutoffs and a loose white shirt. No shoes adorned his feet, and short dark hair covered his head. His muscular arms and torso carefully balanced a huge basket of flowers and greenery on his back. As he looked off into the distance, his mouth was open. Interestingly enough, the ox positioned closest to him exhibited the same expression on its face, tilting its head in the same direction as that of the man's. The woman, who was much smaller, thinner, and shorter, wore a loose white dress and no shoes. She looked towards me as her head tilted to the side. She gently tugged at her long black curly hair with one hand, and carried a bouquet of red, pink, and orange flowers in the other. Her eyes portrayed prettiness and thoughtfulness. The ox positioned closer to her displayed a facial expression and tilt of the head similar to that of the woman's; for example, its head was tilted down, and its eye gazed towards me. Its mouth was also closed, just like the woman's. While the couple's feet and the oxen's hooves trod in brownish, reddish, and orange earth, the field behind them shone like gold. The sky above them revealed gentle brushstrokes of blue, green, violet, and gray.

Despite "reading" much more beauty in Composition's surface qualities, I surprisingly found myself unable to read much of a story in the picture. The couple (or they could very well be brother and sister) were taking their oxen and flowers to the town market to sell. Or, they were returning from the market, as the darker colors in the sky do suggest dusk. Their facial expressions and body language suggested their strength and able-bodiedness. They seemed eager about their journey, but at the same time hesitant, because they did not know what lay ahead of them on the distant road.

When I read Picasso's painting, I read beauty immediately because of the vibrant colors he used and the smooth, defined lines and contours he applied to its characters. I did not read beauty in the painting's title, probably because I did not understand its meaning in relation to the picture. Upon realizing that the couple and oxen shared similar facial expressions and body language, I found yet another moment of beauty in reading the painting. That part of the picture conveyed to me the intricate relationship between humans, between animals, between humans and animals, and their relationship with the earth. Relationships are a very beautiful part of life, and the portrayal of them in Picasso's work heightened its beauty for me. Additionally, I "read" excitement and adventure in the picture. The couple and the oxen were approaching "the unknown" in their journey, judging by the distant and preoccupied looks in their eyes. Their facial expressions implied their excitement and readiness for their new life adventure, but they also felt hesitant. These feelings of excitement and nervousness reflected my own feelings for what lies ahead in my own life, especially after graduation from Bryn Mawr College. The painting's realistic portrayal of the relationships and feelings we commonly encounter during life inspired me to read more beauty in the picture. The loose white attire the couple wore and the flowers that they carried evoked another personal memory of mine, since these objects were highly reminiscent of Bryn Mawr's traditional May Day celebration.

Cézanne's Card Players and Girl carefully balanced between the dark and bright hues of the color spectrum with its shades of blue, gray, brown, green, and red. Three men sat at a table playing cards, their eyes intently focused downward on the game. One man stood in the background, looking onward with his arms folded and a pipe protruding from his lips. Only three of the four men wore hats and had mustaches. The man in the center of the picture appeared much younger than the others because he wore no hat or mustache. They played cards in someone's living room or side room. As they played, a little girl stood next to the young man, eagerly watching the game. Was she one of the men's daughters, or the young man's sister? Her dark, tightly pulled back hair and thin, pale complexion make her look like a boy rather than a girl. Perhaps her dad or brother was trying to win some money for their struggling family, or attempting to win back a treasured family possession that he lost in a previous card game. They may also just be a group of friends playing their usual Friday night card games.

Just like Picasso's painting, I read beauty immediately upon viewing Card Players and Girl. The colors Cézanne used and the overall ambiance of the picture created a very realistic and distinctive portrait; in addition, it was highly unique since card players are not typically portrayed in works of art. As I sat and continued to study the picture, I sensed tension and anxiety among the card players while each sincerely hoped to win the game. Each man also possessed a sense of hope - hope that winning the game would somehow brighten the outlook of his downtrodden life. I thought it beautiful that the relationship aspect presented itself; for example, the part of the picture where the little girl looked over her dad or brother's shoulder to watch his progress. Her interest might have provided some silent encouragement for her loved one. The portrayal of the men and the girl brought back fun memories of my dad, brothers, and myself sitting around a table at night and playing poker games during the holiday season. The game was never my favorite, but it was wonderful to be able to sit down together and share a few laughs (as well as some sighs) over several rounds of card games.

Unlike me, Barnes was by no means a sentimentalist when he studied his paintings. He firmly believed that the aesthetic appreciation of art must be learned by objective methods (which he designed and taught, I might add). He organized his art collection by recognizing similar shapes, colors, themes, and line contours in a particular group of paintings, and then arranging them together on a wall. It did not matter that the paintings were from different time periods or created by different artists; what mattered to him was the similarities and connections among the pictures themselves. When I read a short excerpt from Barnes' book, The Art In Painting, his descriptions of certain artists and their work never contained any references to his personal preferences for a particular painting. The writing was extremely technical and factual – so much, in fact, that it made my own "readings" of the beauty I saw in some of his paintings seem inferior and amateurish. I do appreciate Barnes' serious insistence that we must look at art from a purely impersonal perspective in order to truly perceive the painting; however, if I were to adopt his philosophy, I fear I would lose all of my interest in the fine arts realm, and avoid any interaction with it altogether.

Renoir, Picasso, and Cézanne each painted works of art that my eyes found irresistible to look at. Not only did they appear unique compared with the rest of the paintings in the room, but they also possessed a sense of familiarity about them that I immediately connected with upon viewing the three paintings. The combination of the painting's surface beauty with the beauty that I read deep below its surface highly appealed to my aesthetic perspective. In contrast, Barnes' stance on aesthetic appreciation was much more technical and wholly unsentimental, focused on the painting's surface quality. His method of reading beauty certainly does not suit my own; however, our differences fully demonstrate that no two people perceive beauty in exactly the same way.


A Beautiful Experience with a Work of Art: A Battl
Name: Jaya Vasud
Date: 2005-03-25 16:32:18
Link to this Comment: 14018

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Jaya Vasudevan
Professor Anne Dalke
English 249- Beauty: Chemistry and Culture

An Experience with a Beautiful Painting: A Battle Between the Known and the New

Upon going to the infamous Barnes Foundation, my mind became filled with a countless number of expectations. After hearing my classmate's general and somewhat bland experiences with the Barnes, I convinced myself that I would have an experience similar to their own- that is, being able to look at the work of the great museum mastered displayed in a very unconventional but methodical way behind a black tape that the viewers were forbidden to cross. With this prior knowledge of the contents and rules of the museum, I explored the pieces initially with the mindset that I would fall in love with a Van Gogh or a Picasso or an El Greco, almost as if it was my duty to have a beautiful experience with a painting by these artists who never failed to awe people with their 'timeless' works. However, after spending two hours at this gallery did I realize that it was a place that was far beyond my imagination and was one that was to break all of my expectations. Surprisingly I found many of Picasso or Renoir's pieces to be dull or lifeless, and despite my deep love for the work of the great Greek/Spanish artist El Greco, which never fail to amaze me (this experience being no different), there were other paintings by artists I've never heard of, especially one painting in particular, that elicited feelings within me that I've never experienced before with a painting or from any work of art. Located at the far left side of the building in a small room with some of the less famous artists (artists that Barnes knew well but were not as famous as the other artists on display) sat on a wall at eye level a painting by Henri Rousseau called La Douanier- a small piece of work which left me almost dumbstruck and fascinated upon first glance of such a bizarre yet strangely magnificent picture. In a lush thick forest with gigantic orange trees and even larger flowers and blades of grass stands a young woman, very tiny, completely alone, and elegantly dressed. The most striking detail that I viewed, however, was that this tiny woman in the painting was giving me the same ridiculous, curious glare that I was giving her, as a tried to figure out why the artist put such a disproportionate, fragile little being in such an odd scenery. As I stared as her expression and then realized that hers mirrored the same expression on my face, I started to laugh in astonishment of this discovery while feeling a bit sheepish for thinking that a figure in the painting was, in a sense, staring me down (and because I also managed to make a small scene by chuckling so loud). As I viewed other works of Rousseau within the museum, I realized that many of his other paintings seemed conventionally normal, making this painting particularly unique. Although it may seem like a completely ludicrous reason to fall in love with a painting, I cannot think of a time when another work of art was able to evoke such an inexplicable feeling within me, and from that point on I knew that my experience with La Douanier was indeed special in its own rite and the most beautiful experience I had with a painting while at the Barnes, despite my fondness for all of the beautiful El Greco paintings that I've seen that day, as much as I try to convince myself otherwise. El Greco's style was arguably far better than many artists, and I couldn't understand how a much less prominent painting could have a much greater effect on me.

Why exactly was the beauty that I saw within the Rousseau different than the beauty that I saw in El Greco's painting? After much brooding I find the answer so simple, and acknowledge that it is one that has been resonating in my mind and throughout this course: my case was an example of an untainted experience with art, as I put my art history background behind me and was able to appreciate the painting for what it was, for once being able to formulate my own personal conclusions as to why the picture was so beautiful. I may have left the Barnes completely blown away by the paintings of El Greco that were displayed, but I started to write this paper I could not even procure and image of even one of the El Greco paintings from the museum in my mind: I can only think of a generic idea, a morbidly haunting painting that usually revolves around a Catholic theme or moment in the Bible. On the other hand, I was able to recollect Rousseau's image almost perfectly, even remembering small intricacies, weeks after my trip to the Barnes. Unfortunately with the paintings of El Greco, I've spent years, whether in Spanish classes or in art classes in high school, learning the meticulous details about his life story and his painting style. Because of this background knowledge, I look at one of his pieces never asking myself the question why I personally thought it was so beautiful; instead, I would point out all of the features- such as the haunting, dreary uses of color, the elongated figures in a state of agony- aspects of his work that I have been told make his works so beautiful. I finally realized that I based my love for his works on other people's ideals of beauty that have been instilled within me, and still remain unable to come up with my own personal ideas of beauty towards El Greco without being biased or influenced by this background knowledge.

When I was presented with the unfamiliar Rousseau, however, I saw a completely new and almost refreshing art style in front of me, and was able to draw my own conclusions about the painting and formulate my own ideal of beauty. Learning about new artists in the museum the way I chose to learn about them was therefore a very beautiful experience in general, and it was wonderful to look at each painting without looking for anything in particular like I have been taught to do with previous classes. With El Greco and other masters, the duty of looking into the piece, being mandated by an invisible instructor to admire their unique style and skill or figuring out what they were trying to convey had been instilled within me at such an early age. With an artist like Rousseau, however, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from his work and therefore the astonishment was greater with his piece than it was with the artists I already knew. This feeling of not having any expectations to fulfill was also in its own way very beautiful. Although it may be a very bold statement to make, I felt and still feel as if ignorance, ignorance towards the style, time period, history of the artist, or any background information in general, truly led me to have a beautiful experience.

For these very reasons, the Rousseau will remain forever beautiful in my mind- that is, as long as my knowledge (or lack thereof) towards the painting remains untainted. A sense of mystery illuminates the picture, and it is almost as if this mysteriousness combined with my unique interaction makes my relationship with the painting more intimate. There is a large difference between acknowledging and understanding the story that the artist was trying to convey in the painting (which comes with having background knowledge on the painting and the painter) and actually creating one's own story to explain the happenings of the work; the latter, in my case, made me more attracted to the painting, far more attracted than I would be with a work of El Greco or a Picasso. Even though the artist may be trying to convey a particular story or message in their work, after visiting the Barnes I firmly believe that it is not the viewer's duty to figure out what that story is. The artist instead serves as a reviver or even a catalyst to a person's imagination, letting the individual create their own view of beauty, forming this intimate relationship between the work of art and the viewer. I remember specifically looking at people with audio tours and almost feeling a sense of complete pity for them, for they paid $7.00 to have an experience that Barnes and all of the artists trying to give to them taken away by the talking machination in their hands.

Is it fair to say that it is alright to remain in a state of ignorance, refusing to learn about this painting or the artist? In this sense is the viewer not doing justice to the painting? It almost seems rather ridiculous or bullheaded to be adamantly ignorant. However, I turn to mark Lord's lecture, words which I took to heart, as he talked about how people put works of art for display in museums once the beauty that the world had once seen in them were almost dead or lifeless. Barnes within the foundation puts up a display of pieces that one would fine to be defined as "dead art," according to Lord, but the innovative was that Barnes displays the pieces- with the lack of captions or explanations- presents the art in a way that it was never seen before, allowing the viewer to look past time periods and artist styles and view the picture the way the viewer wants to see the picture- finding their own beauty within the painting. In this way, the individual, with the stories created by their imaginations, almost breaths a new life back into what would be considered a lifeless painting, as I did for Rousseau's piece. Although I remain completely ignorant as to what the author's real motivations were when painting this piece, I refuse to learn what his motivations where, what his life was like, or what emotions he was trying to convey in La Douanier. The fact that I was able to look at this painting and have so many feelings evoked within me, having given this painting a new aura is an experience that I hold very dear and one that I hope to remain untainted. If I must learn about the painting for whatever reason and have this experience tainted, so let it be; until then, I think of La Douanier with a blissful fondness. In retrospect to my visit, I regret seeing the Barnes get sold to the Art Museum of Philadelphia, as this painting and other paintings would once again become lifeless to most, becoming just another piece of art forever to become a thing of lost beauty within a modern museum.


On Paintings, Human Experience, and Beauty
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-03-25 16:34:44
Link to this Comment: 14019

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Seascape by Van Goven

Muddy, but bright. The landscape was made of two contrasting halves. The top portion, a brilliant blue sky with soft cotton clouds, met with the bottom, a dark, brown landscape that looked like it had been scooped from the bottom of some animal stall on a rainy day. This was what pulled me in, this contrast, bright against dark. Yet the painting only caught my eye initially since it was unique in the room, being the only landscape. I have a fetish for landscapes, in the way that I always notice them when I walk into an art gallery. I did not recognize the name, Van Goven, and the title of bland title of "Seascape" added further to the anonymity of its source, and hence my intrigue. I had no preconceptions as to its greatness, and I could relish it for what it was.

The colors reminded me of a cold New England day. The sky was the shade of bright blue that you see in the winter in Vermont, the clouds rolling grandly as if to foretell of great magnitude surrounding the subject of the painting. I was a bit disappointed when my eye scanned the rest of the artwork, and found nothing particularly pivotal within the confines of the canvas. Indeed, it was a simple scene, with the solid line of horizon only interrupted by the peak of a tower. Or at least, I construed it to be a tower after a moment of pondering, having dismissed my first impression of it being a castle. No doubt the grand labor of the swirling clouds made me think that I was looking at landscape depicting a dramatic Medieval battle. But standing close to the canvas, the castle became a tower as I picked out the fisherfolk dotting the landscape. There were no knights or lords on white horses, no damsels in distress. The only remote resemblance of such a scene was the lone cannon perched on the hill with the tower. However, this cannon seemed a bit rusty.

Wary of my proximity to the canvas, I strayed closer to get a better taste of the scene. On the right hand side different shades of brown formed a countryside, as one might find near a small lake, with the steeple of a church off in the distance. To the left of the tower, muted blues, once again heavy with brown, formed the waves of the sea. In my mind, it was the kind of sea that would be a fine day for fishing, and there was nothing moving about it. On top of the sea, there were a number of small sailboats and schooners, fitting in well with the fishing village atmosphere. In the distance, a line of trees to mark the continuation of the land, while in the foreground one of the boats was just docking. Or at least, I presumed that the crew was tying their sailboat to a 'dock', but it did take me a little while to see how the sliver of brown could be a dock. At first I thought they were just tying the boat up to some more mud.

I didn't allow the overuse of brown to dissuade me, though. I relished the fact that I had to look for pizzaz in the painting. Most of the other paintings that were in the room were upfront about what made them special, particularly the Renoirs with their bright colors and fat-cheeked children. Prior to finding this painting, I was searching for something that spoke to my own personality. When my sixth sense for landscapes alerted me to the presence of the "Seascape", and I went to investigate it, I found it easy to relate to this very earthy, quiet painting. I could stand there, like a child breathing against a candy shop's display window, and bask in the tranquil moment that Van Groven captured. There was always something new for my eye to pick out. For instance, after a few minutes of absorbing the countryside, my eye began to pick out little snippets of color that Van Groven had painstakingly worked into the painting. Over there, a red flag, while just a few inches away a lady was wearing a skirt in the same hue of red. The foliage began to stand out against the brown, and I noticed how artfully the furl of the sail was made. The textures found in the folds of clothing, the shape of the boat, the fluff of a dog's fur, all of these and more brought this little fishing township to life, until I could almost taste the salt on my tongue and hear the slight lap of water off in the distance.

While I reflected on this sensory input, I mused about what really led to this experience. Was it the use of color? It was certainly realistic, drawing from the color pallette I had always associated with my father's New England heritage: natural, earthy, muddy colors that I wanted to roll around in. Or perhaps it was the detail? From the furl of the clouds to the hat on a fisherman, I could pick out all sorts of nuances that added to the nearly photographic quality of the painting. It was, in a sense, a slice of life, a quality I find to be quiet beautiful in art. Nothing is more beautiful to me than the human experience. But was this all that made this painting beautiful?

Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to hunt out another painting to offer as a contrast.


"Interior Scene", artist unknown


The first thing I felt when I saw this painting was culture shock. In this tiny room on the first floor of the Barnes museum, where the walls were covered with crosses and Christian motifs, there was a Chinese silk painting from the Ming dynasty. Staring at the painting, I couldn't even fathom how a painting of four women, muted in both color and emotion, could possibly fit in with the other artwork in the room. Once again my actions were ruled by curiosity, and I ventured forth to give it a careful investigation.

While with the "Seascape" I simply allowed myself to experience the painting, I decided this time to use a more investigative approach. My reasoning, which proved to be true, was that I would be unable to find such an anonymous painting on the internet, and that the bookshop would have nothing that I could use as a reference. Ergo, it was imperative for me to not simply relish the painting, but also systematically describe it. I worked from left to right, cataloguing all of the items that were in the painting. The mundane details would bore you, for I literally took pages of notes on everything from the angle that a face was turned to the texture of of their clothing or the color of a teapot. I found it amazing how much information I could pull out of a painting that, to the casual observer, would seem extremely plain in comparison to the landscape that I had just come from.

The subject matter of the painting is fairly easy to explain. The canvas was brown; not the same muddy brown as Van Goven, but a sort of light, tawny brown. There were very few items on the canvas itself. A table, a bed, a shelving unit, a pair of stools and a chair comprised all of the furniture of this scene. It was only by the presence of furniture that one could deduce that this was, indeed, inside. Everything, from the furniture to the women, seemed to be suspended in the air in a room with no walls. This feature of the painting bothered me, and detracted from the beauty of the scene.

The women themselves were what made the painting beautiful, and not due to me finding them outstandingly beautiful aesthetically. Their faces were paler than snow, and they wore robes that seemed to hang heavily from their shoulders and arms. In fact, it bothered me that the most visible movement, in the classical Western sense of the word, was entirely in the clothing, for the women's bodies and all of the furniture seemed frozen. Also, they seemed to have no feet, their bodies narrowing in tiny little folds of clothing, making me flinch as I remembered that generations of women were victims of foot binding. Yes, indeed, from the Ming dynasty perspective, these women were beyond beautiful from the top of their jet black hair to their white faces, down their heavy robes to their bound feet.

Yet none of this appealed to me. For me, the beauty lay with how I could imagine the social hierarchy in the room, and the conversation that was taking place. The entire scene seemed to be happening within a shop of some variety, with the owner of the shop having tea with a patron at the table. The patron, standing in front of the seated shop owner, was not pleased. You could tell because she had raised a single finger eloquently at the patron. Looking closely at their garments, There was a difference in their clothing and hair that made these two ladies stand out from the others in the painting who. These remaining two were not dressed as richly as the patron and the owner, and had only ponytails and brown robes in contrast to the elaborate buns and colorful clothing that the wealthier women displayed. One of the brown-clad women was standing off to the side, hovering near the shop owner as if to wait for an order. The last was fanning the fire.

I empathized with this last woman. Standing apart from the others, daring to glance over her shoulder to witness the quarrel between the two older women, she seemed to be more isolated then just the physical proximity could account for. Here she was, at the bottom of the social hierarchy, in a decade when women were already inferior to men, waiting on a shopkeeper. She seemed so young, and so simple, with her ponytail and plain robes. I knew from history records that, if she did not die of exhaustion, plague, or a number of other maladies that were rampant in her lifetime, she would be forced into a marriage, and become a servant of her husband. It was a sad existence, a slice of life that both cruel and beautiful at the same instant. Beautiful, because I knew that these women were in the past, and that it was through their struggles that we the freedom we have today.

But I lost the urge to play detective.


Renoir's "The Spring" and "Caryatides"
Name: Krystal Ma
Date: 2005-03-25 16:36:41
Link to this Comment: 14020

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


On my first trip to the Barnes Foundation I was immediately struck by a set of paintings in the first room. These paintings were all by Renoir and seemed to focus on the human form. The moment I laid my eyes on it I had a "Wow!' moment. I was totally taken back by the paintings and even though I saw many other excellent paintings I feel like none compared to the Renoir pieces. Going into the second trip to the Barnes Foundation in order to further study a specific piece of art that was 'beautiful' the three paintings immediately came to mind. Upon first entering the museum I gave the Renoir paintings a glance before walking around the museum to look at other paintings. I was sure that I was exaggerating, in my mind, the beauty of the pieces and that there were far lovelier paintings to behold. Less than twenty minutes later I was chiding myself for not going with my first instinct and I was back where I belonged; in front of Renoir's "The Spring" surrounded by the "Caryatides".

Although it is questionable whether or not the three pieces were to meant to be seen as a set (I have avoided looking at 'authentic' explanations of the paintings) I never saw them any other way. At the Barnes Foundation the paintings, as previously mentioned, are in the first room that visitors typically enter. The center piece, "The Spring," which is rectangular in shape, shows a nude (female of course!) reclining in greenery, in a forest type setting. This piece, which I see as the main panel, is surrounded by two other pieces together labeled as "Caryatides". Each of the pieces, or secondary panels, shows two nudes standing very close together and holding up greenery. The secondary panels are the same except the positions of the nudes are reversed. In the right panel, the auburn haired girl is holding up the overheard greenery with two hands while the brunette uses one hand for the overhead greenery and the other to hold another piece of foliage. The two figures are the main subjects of "Caryatides". They look like they are standing in a marble type recess.

One reason that I think contributes to the beauty of the 'set' of paintings is the symmetry and order (two qualities that I value) that are present. The side panels are of equal size and are the same distance from the main panel. The main panel sits pleasingly between the two panels, placed at the midway point of the length wise edges of the two side panels. The very images are also symmetrical and ordered. In all three pieces the figures are centered. The side panels with the two girls especially show symmetry and balance. The women are of similar heights, weights, and complexions. The side panels, as mentioned before, are almost perfect opposites in terms of the girls' positions. This symmetry breeds order.

The way in which Renoir painted "The Spring" and "Caryatides" also creates order; the strokes are not chaotic but controlled. The strokes also work to create a certain atmosphere in the paintings. The strokes appear to be soft and gentle. The outlines of the figures in the paintings look blurred. These characteristics cause the paintings to have a dreamlike, ethereal tone. This escape into another world, one that is dreamy, one where everything is not so exact or harsh, appeals to the romantic in me. The part that likes to daydream and believe that there is something fantastical about life...that everything is not so ordinary.

The way that the pieces contrast against one another yet produces unity so seamlessly is something that also makes the 'set' more than ordinary. The two side panels contrast against the main panel. The two women in the side panel paintings appear more statue-like and less informal than the woman reclining in the main painting. This could be due in part to the presence of what looks like marble in the side panel paintings. The reclining nude, conversely, is surrounded by a forest. The forest surrounding, in contrast to that of the marble surrounding, is less structured and rigid. The women in the side paintings also seem more structured and rigid than the woman in the center paining. The women in "Caryatides" are working to hold up the greenery. Their hair is also pinned up which is usually taken as a sign of seriousness and 'getting down to business'. The woman in the main painting, however, is resting and in leisure. She has also 'let her hair down', a symbol of her being relaxed. The facial expressions of the three women are also different. The pair of women working to uphold greenery appears content but distracted (by work?). They seem to be focusing on this world; on reality. The reclining nude appears differently. With closed eyes and lips curved into a smile, the nude in the forest looks content and unbothered. She looks like she is not as taken with the world around her as much as she is with another place and the visions that are possibly playing behind her lids. The surroundings that this woman is possibly trying to escape by daydreaming are markedly different from those of the women in the side panels. As it has been mentioned before, these women are surrounded by marble, while the woman in the main panel is surrounded by a forest type setting. The pair of women seems to be more restricted than the woman in the forest. The women who are surrounded by marble also appear as if they are working to insert warmth and a natural type of beauty to their cold surroundings. They are the decorative pieces. The reclining nude blends in with her surroundings. She is a part of the beauty of the setting. Her naked form is not necessary to lend the piece 'natural' beauty nor does she have to hold up greenery.

The individual paintings also have their own unique contrasting qualities. For example, in "Caryatides" the warm color of the women's skin and the roundness of their body are in contrast to the cool, rigid nature of the marble recess in which they stand. In "The Spring" the warm colors, pinks and reds for instance, of the nude's body contrasts to the cooler colors, blues and greens, of her surroundings. There is also a white cloth on which the nude reclines which contrasts with the colors of the forest surrounding. The contrasts in all three pieces, in my opinion, are not too great to cause chaos in the pictures. The contrasts instead work to bring attention to the human forms in the paintings.

While I have mentioned other factors that I think help create the beauty in these three Renoir pieces, I think the way that the human body is depicted is the most beautiful thing about these paintings. Tying in with the earlier mentioned importance of symmetry, the bodies of the nudes are symmetrical and proportional. The bodies are beautiful in all their roundness, curves, and healthy 'peaches and cream' complexion. The mixture of various colors used for the bodies of the nudes gives the bodies a life-like quality or 'glow,' one which may not have come through so successfully if only one color or two colors were used for to paint the bodies. The figures also seem to have a certain grace and fluidity in their movements. This is probably due to all the curved lines and brush strokes. As I sat in front of and studied the three pieces I thought it funny the way that beauty of the human figure is viewed today. Although many people have told me that I have an enviable figure (I'm tall and very slender) I thought the voluptuous curves of the painted nudes much more beautiful and enviable. I tried to imagine the painting with women who have a body type closer to mine and grimaced at how different and less attractive the paintings would be.

The voluptuous shape of the nudes in "The Spring" and "Caryatides" may not be as applauded today as when Renoir painted them, but their bodies are as idealized as the figures that are sought today. The nudes in the paintings are youthful and have lively, healthy complexions. Their bodies are curvy (appealing because indicates the bodies' preparedness to birth children?) and in proportion. Their bodies are also hairless, something which today continues to be viewed as feminine and genteel, and their breasts are perky, another possible indicator of their youth. Their idealized bodies may make it easier to find the paintings beautiful. In regards to other paintings, such as Van Gogh's "Nude Woman, Reclining," the less than romanticized body is not mentioned so much for its beauty as much as its shocking nature or down right ugliness. The woman in Van Gogh's painting does not look youthful like the women in Renoir's set. Her body is missing the rosy complexion seen in "The Spring" and "Caryatides" and her face is less likely to be regarded as pretty. The reclining nude in this piece also looks to be less proportionate than the figures in the Renoir pieces. Added on to these 'faults' are the presence of hair, sagging breasts, and a reclining pose that somehow appears vulgar. Leaving the Barnes foundation I heard more than one person mention the unsightly Van Gogh 'prostitute' painting. It is fortunate that the nudes in the Renoir piece have idealized bodies that are generally still viewed as appropriate lest they be viewed as unsightly prostitutes too.

Renoir's "The Spring" and "Caryatides" struck me the first time I saw them and continue to leave me in awe. Whether looking at the paintings on a completely superficial level or studying them to try to understand what makes the paintings so beautiful, their appeal does not diminish. The dreaminess and romantic nature of the paintings had a rather positive impact on me. I find it interesting how the things that are appreciated in a painting can reveal so much about the viewer.


A Picture Worth a Thousand Words: Experinceing a P
Name: Malorie Ga
Date: 2005-03-25 16:46:21
Link to this Comment: 14021

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


"It's official," I said to Jaya half way though the Barnes Museum "I hate Renoir. I never want to see another one of his plump naked women again!" But as we turned the corner, what did we see, another Renoir painting. I was feeling really upset. I stopped being able to fell anything towards his paintings except annoyance. We had only gone through about half the museum and I was tense. It was a strange feeling to have a in museum. I never thought that I could have such a strong negative emotion towards a piece of art or an artist. I became feed up with the whole museum. Occasionally, there were pictures, Van Gogh's "House and Figure" for example, that I was still able to have a beautiful experience with. Yet at every other picture that I liked, the first thing I would think was "Why aren't there more like this and less Renoir?" The whole experience became almost comical. We would enter a room, and I'd gasp, clutch my heart and say "Oh, Look Jaya! Another Renoir!" Luckily, just when I thought I was going to go crazy, I saw a painting that restored my faith.

The colors was the first thing that I liked about the picture. They were so bright and sharp, not blurred like in a Renoir. Lots of individual dots of color. When I looked at it I just smiled, it made me feel so calm and relaxed. Jaya and I sat down and just starred at it for five minutes, talking about why we thought the picture was so beautiful. One reason was that it was so different from all the other pictures in the museum. It may be possible that this was the only piece by this particular painter, Henri Cross, or it is at least the only one of his in the museum that caught our attention. Even though it is George Seurat esc because of it's dots of color, it was still unique. I found this uniqueness both refreshing and beautiful.

For my second trip to the Barnes, I had a goal. I walked the museum with a purpose: that purpose was to seek out the pieces which I had found beautiful last time. I focused on my favorite pieces, completely ignoring Renoir painting after Renoir painting. I had assumed that I would have a similar experience or reaction to the paintings and that I would still find the paintings just as beautiful as the first time I saw them. Going in, I was sure that I wanted to talk about the Henri Cross piece. But as I reached the second floor and saw the Cross piece, I did not have the same reaction. In hindsight, I realize that it was naïve of me to think that I'd have a similar reaction to the first time I saw it. Although I still found it was beautiful, it's beauty did not resonate with me they way it had the first time.

Seeing it again had made it become less beautiful to me. As I reflect on the picture, I find that what was beautiful about the painting the first time was not so much the painting itself as my reaction to it as well as my reaction to the museum in general. Thus, I could not talk about the painting in and of itself as being a beautiful painting. In my second trip, I was able to ignore the paintings that I had not found beautiful and allow myself to focus on ones that I thought were beautiful. My second viewing of the paintings fostered two different reactions out of me. I would either gain a better appreciation for it's beauty or become indifferent to it, like I did with the Cross piece. And while I can still find my first experience with the Cross piece very beautiful, as a painting itself in general I am not able to talk about it's beauty.

While I was not happy about my second experience with the Cross piece, it did help me focus on which piece I would talk about. On my second trip I realized that there were many pieces that I found beautiful that had not been able to focus on because I was distracted by my strong feelings against the Renoir pieces. I found that there were a set of paintings I found beautiful that where painted by artists that I had known about who had paintings which I had enjoyed before. For example, it was no surprise to me that I found Van Go's "House a Figure" beautiful. I find Van Gos' style very beautiful, especially how he makes swirls with the paint. Yet since I know his style so well as well as others like Seruat, that I was able to pick their pictures out. I still found their pictures beautiful, even though I knew part of the reason I liked them was because of the artist. Yet it was the pictures that caught me by surprise with painters I had never herd of that I have decided to focus on.

As searched out my favorites, I entered a room that held paintings which held piece that I had forgotten how beautiful I had found them to be. Reentering the room, I recalled what I had thought the first time I had entered. As I had looked around the room, I was amazed how many pictures in the room I found beautiful. On closer inspection, I noticed that most of the ones that I found beautiful were done by the same artist- William Glackens. The piece of his that struck me as being particularly beautiful was a picture of what looked to me as a dancing girl. She was wearing a black and white stripped one piece, the top having straps falling of her shoulders and the bottom being short shorts with lace around the edge. There is the edge of another dancer, making you aware that she is only one in a line of girls in matching outfits.

The picture was not particularly colorful nor does it have a particularly unique style, which is why at first blush it felt weird that I found it beautiful. Yet I was immediately drawn to it because of the expression on her face. At first, you would say that she looks content with a smile on her face. The more I looked at it, however, the more I felt that even though she was smiling, she was not happy. Her smile did not reach her eyes. I found her expression very beautiful in a way that I cannot quite explain. While looking at her, I started to think why she would have that expression. I imagined that she was dancing girl in a burlesque house of some sort. She is dancing not because she enjoys it but because she has to. That, for me, is why her smile does not reach her eyes, because it is a forced smile. I was able to relate to that forced smile in some way, and thus I felt that I could relate to the girl in the painting. I felt as though her smile was my smile. It is the smile we all wear to hide what we are really feeling. In that way I felt for me that she represented some greater feeling that all women have. I did not find any physical aspects, line or form, of the painting particularly beautiful, just the look on her face. It is the emotion and feelings that where translated in her smile which caused the picture to be beautiful to me.

The feelings that I had for the painting where only increased by my second trip to the Barnes. I decided that I was going to sit in the room and observe all of the Glackens pieces. I was enjoying just sitting there and looking at the pictures when I noticed that there was a tour group in the room. I had been so absorbed in the paintings that I had not noticed them since it was such a small group. The tour guide talked about Dr. Barnes and how he sent the museum up to teach people how to see line and form through beautiful experiences. She also mentioned that in the museum there were "good" examples and "bad" examples. I could not believe what she said, that Dr. Barnes had actually put piece that he disliked in to show what not to do. It made me upset and even less inclined to want to "see" art the way he did. I had actually blissfully forgot that he wanted us to focus on line and symmetry. I had not appreciated being scaffold into seeing art a certain way. I want to enjoy the art for what it is not because it mirrors the piece next to it. I renewed my conviction to not see what Dr. Barnes wanted me to see.

The tour guide continued by saying that it is because of Dr. Barnes focus on line and form that there where so many of Renoir's pieces in the museum, because Dr. Barnes felt that Renoir was a "good" example. Since I had not seen the beauty in Renoir's pieces, I felt that I was indeed not having the experience Dr. Barnes had wanted. Then the tour guide said that Glackens was another one of Dr. Barnes favorites, and another "good" example. I was crushed. How could I like something that Dr. Barnes wanted me to like? But then as I thought about it, even though I liked Glackens piece and found them to be beautiful, I did not find beautiful in the painting what he wanted me to find beautiful. For me, the line and form of the piece was not what made it beautiful. I was still having my own unique beautiful experience with the painting. In the end, I was still able to take away the same feeling about the girls smile.

Looking back on my experiences with the paintings in the Barnes Museum, I recall something Mark Lords mentioned in class. He said that the first time we see a painting we have a very strong reaction when we find it beautiful. But as we become accustomed to it, it slowly loses it's beauty, the painting "cools" and eventually "dies" for us. He said explained that we have "killed it by loving it" (Mark Lords March 22, 2005). I feel that that is what happened to me at the Barnes Museum with the Cross piece. I loved it so much that I killed the beauty in it for myself. I am not sad that the painting is not beautiful for me anymore. I am glad for the beautiful experience I was able to have with it that one time. I have not yet loved the Glackens piece to death so I can still enjoy it's beauty. Yet, there will be a time when that to no longer will seem beautiful to me. It does not make me sad to think of beauty as a felting thing because I know that there are always knew things that I can see and experience that I will find beautiful. You can never recreate an experience, you can only make new ones. I will always have my beautiful experiences with me, even if I no longer find something as beautiful as I once did. (YOUR REFERENCE NUMBER).


Reading Blue Woman
Name: Megan Mona
Date: 2005-03-25 16:52:32
Link to this Comment: 14022

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Upon first visiting the Barnes Foundation's immense collection of art, I found myself unmoved by so many of the paintings I saw. They all seemed to be the same in the first few rooms I entered and I thought it was going to be a very tedious two hours of staring at works of art that did not inspire anything in me. Everywhere I looked I saw Renoir's paintings and they were all of large naked women bathing or having their hair brushed. They seemed so quaint in my mind. I found the first few very pretty in their ideological representation of women with their soft features and pink skin all painted in a somewhat diffused tone that softened them even more; however, this got tiresome quite quickly. It felt like each painting was exactly the same as the other. No matter how long I stayed and focused in on every detail of the piece I would not have been able to discover more about it or have any revelations about the particular woman being depicted. I felt I had the Renoir's "all figured out" and this was a disappointing realization.
As I continued to browse the works of art I discovered one that entranced me as none of the others did. It was of a woman (as so many of the paintings were) but I would not have called her beautiful at all, in fact, I could not tell it was even a woman upon first glance since her appearance was so androgynous but her eyes were so haunting that I could not turn away. It simply oozed with an otherworldly beauty that transcended all the other paintings I had seen up to that point. The woman was not smiling but neither was she particularly sad either. Her countenance gave away nothing and the mystery of this kept me wanting more.
Eventually I moved on from that painting and as I made my way through the rest of the museum I noticed that all the works by that particular artist, Chaim Sautine, caught my attention and seemed far more interesting that those surrounding them. I was quite surprised by this since I had never even heard of Sautine before but all the other less impressive paintings were by artists I had learned about many times like Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne Van Gough, and Manet. It was very exciting to feel like I had discovered something special that I otherwise would never have been exposed to. It made for a very beautiful experience.
I was so intrigued by this artist that when I returned to my room I looked up Sautine on the internet to try and learn more about his unique brand of painting. I was not surprised to learn that he experienced a troubled youth as the tenth child of a Jewish family living in a Lithuanian ghetto and that he was plagued throughout his life by depression and suicidal impulses. He had an intense passion that drove his artistic endeavors which is quite clear in his works but he would sometimes destroy many paintings in fits of despair. He was also not greatly respected for his talent until right before his death which did not surprise me since his painting is not easily accessible.
I felt like I could clearly see all that torture in his pieces after reflecting on them with my newly obtained information and it lent a whole new dimension to them.
For the second visit to the Barnes Foundation I knew exactly where I was going to spend my time. As soon as I entered the museum I went directly to Sautine's Blue Woman who had entranced me so thoroughly previously. I was somewhat disappointed to find that it did not take my breath away the way it did the first time but I suppose that was to be expected as Elkin's has documented that phenomenon quite thoroughly in "The Ivory Tower of Tearlessnes" and I am certainly not the first nor last who will be subjected to it. I also found that the tour guide tarnished the painting for me because as I was sitting taking notes on it she proceeded to loudly tell her tour group that Blue Woman reminded many people of Michael Jackson. Of course, after this I saw the resemblance to Michael Jackson and it took me a little while to see the painting as I had been before the woman diminished its significance. Though I did not experience the same visceral reaction to the piece that I did initially I believe that I obtained a more cerebral understanding of the painting and was better able to determine what fascinated me about Blue Woman.
While I was first drawn in by the woman's eyes that seemed so full of emotion and yet simultaneously expressionless, I noticed upon further viewing that the subject's hands were quite striking. They almost seemed to be separate from her body and they were grossly disproportionate to her body. They actually overwhelmed the painting when viewing it as a whole but I found I really liked the effect it created. I later noticed that all of Sautine's portraits on display in the Barnes were drawn with the same exaggerated, gnarled hands. They looked almost crippled by something like arthritis and oddly swollen but somehow they fit in the painting's aesthetic like that was exactly how the subject's hands should look.
The coloring of the painting was very dark and had a background of mostly green while her dress was blue. Green and blue were the respective colors in those areas and there was little depth there but the depiction of the woman's skin had so many facets. Her skin seemed very sallow and he has incorporated lots of yellows and greens but there were also definite streaks of browns, pinks, blues, and reds among the others.
The woman's pose also seemed distorted and much like the hands, looked crippled. It was very awkward and seemed horribly uncomfortable for her. It gave her the appearance of looking like a hunchback the way one arm seemed shorter and more deformed than the other. It must have been bent and resting on something but it was very difficult to see if this was the case because that section of the painting was very dark and shadowy. She looked like she had folded herself up in that odd manner for no reason without the clear depiction of an armrest. The shoulder even came up unnaturally high on that side, exaggerating the effect. I decided that this was just the artist's overall style but I was still not entirely sure as to the woman's state of physical heath based just upon this depiction.
The woman's age was also not readily apparent judging from how she looked in this portrait. Due to her odd posture and lack of physical beauty I first thought her to be an old lady but I could tell just by looking at her longer that that was not necessarily true. I then found myself drawn back up to the woman's face and the eyes that had convinced me of her beauty. The asymmetry of them and her entire face in general created the mystery I had first detected and made it difficult for me to "solve" her.
The woman was illusive. As a result of her distorted appearance I felt I could glean nothing about her from the painting except that she was an enigma. I felt like there were so many unanswered questions about this woman. It was so muddled that I could never feel like I was completely finished with the painting. There would always be something hidden from me by the artist and the woman staring back at me. This was what I liked most about the woman and the work of art which she inspired. It was like I was looking at her through water and by not looking as she would have in life she had disguised herself to become another person whom I could never find. While Renoir's works were much cheerier than Sautine's I found I could "see" all the painting held in a single glance. There was nothing to keep me coming back to them. Everything in his pieces everything is as it should be: nothing is out of place and no one is unattractive. This makes for very boring art as it does not seem to express anything that I could not have seen simply by viewing his models and scenes with my own eyes. They did not discover anything new about their subjects or reveal anything untoward and this lacks any emotion. Renoir's pieces seemed so superficial after looking at Sautine's. Sautine's work is far superior in the way that it always seemed to be saying something deeper but it is not necessarily something that I will ever be able to figure out. It will continue to haunt me even after leaving the museum when I have already forgotten all the painting of various pink naked women.


Reading a Painting: Femme se promenant dans une fo
Name: Rebecca Do
Date: 2005-03-25 16:59:04
Link to this Comment: 14023

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

I walked into the center of the room and turned around to see the paintings on the wall behind me. I instantly knew the painting in front of me would be the subject of my paper. This particular painting caught my eye because unlike the numerous Renoir and Manet paintings I had seen that day the colors were bold and the lines were concrete. It looked like it might have come from a child's picture book rather then someone's life experience. It was a picture of a woman in a white dress and hat standing in the middle of a rainforest but what was interesting is that she was not the focal point of the painting. She was tiny and placed near the bottom of the painting surrounded by luscious tropical vegetation. The trees were at least five times bigger than she was and she was partially hidden behind the leaves of plants whose bright blue flowers rose far above her head.

Looking closer at the trees there was a type of orange exotic fruit hanging from the branches. "Do oranges grow in the rainforest?" I questioned and "Are those blue flowers Gerber daisies?" My entire perspective of the picture changed. This woman was not in the rain forest but in an extremely tall grove of orange trees. The painting was like a fantasy in which a woman goes on safari and finds herself in a grove of magical orange trees that perhaps had never been discovered by man. This interpretation went well with the storybook like painting technique the artist had utilized. The objects in the painting appeared flat and their shapes were distinct unlike the objects in the Monet paintings which had softer, blended lines. The colors the artist used were simple. The leaves of the trees and the grasses were only made up of two or three shades of green unlike the greenery in the other paintings that was painted with dozens of colors all blended together.

I sat in front of the painting for a while longer but something about my previous interpretation of the painting was not quite right. The painting did not seem to belong in a storybook after all. It was not that the painting was sad but that it was not cheerful. Then it hit me. The trees were the right size. The woman was tiny. She was maybe six inches tall standing in a garden. She was so small and insignificant in that garden that it made the whole world around her seem enormous. This realization gave me butterflies in my stomach and my heart raced. The artist painted this to illustrate how small he felt.

The connection I felt with this painting was very strong because there are many times I feel like the little woman, so insignificant just peeking out at the world. Almost unnoticeable and glanced over if people aren't looking hard enough. It is almost as though she is hiding behind the leaves of the plant afraid to step out into the foreground of the picture because she is so overwhelmed by her surroundings. As a sophomore in college, it is tempting to run and hide because when looking at the opportunities and possibilities just ahead, the world seems enormous.

This painting is beautiful on many different levels. It is visually beautiful because of its form and color. As previously discussed in class and in the forum it is beautiful things are often because of a mental connection between the object and the viewer. I have connected with this painting because I can relate to this feeling of insignificance. However, the most beautiful part of this painting it the various interpretations it can have even by just one observer. In a matter of a few minutes I experienced this painting three ways until I arrived at the interpretation that I most deeply connected with. Having knowledge of a painting before it is viewed taints the viewer's experience of the painting and can prevent the viewer from connecting with the painting on a personal level. Knowing this I made a point to experience the painting before I researched it. I didn't even look at the name of the painting or the artist until just before I left the Barnes. This painting was done by a nineteenth century French painter named Henri Rousseau. Since he came from a moderate background he never took art classes. Rather he was a working class man who taught himself how to paint on his only day off, Sunday and he did not begin to seriously paint until he retired at the age of forty.

The name of the painting in discussion Femme se promenant dans une foret exotique translated into English as Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest. As it turns out my first interpretation of the painting was closest to Rousseau's intentions. One of Rousseau's favorite places to explore was the Jardin de Plantes. Here he would study the plants that inspired his paintings. He enlarged them and altered them in his paintings to form his idea of what tropical vegetation looked like. This explains why the plants in the painting look like large orange trees and blue daisies and are not plants indigenous to the rainforest (The Imagination...).

In the same room at the Barnes school is another one of his paintings entitled Eclaireur Attaqué par un Tigre or Scout Attacked by a Tiger. This is a similar painting also depicting Rousseau's vision of the rainforest. However, the tone of this painting is dark and ominous and one has to look much closer to see what I is being depicted. In the center of the painting there is a tiger attacking a native man. As in the other painting the scene is small and in the center and surrounded by luscious greenery. What caught my eye in this painting was there is an unrecognizable animal that appears to be what the scout was traveling. It has a saddle and reigns but the body of the animal is very strange. It has a hump as if it were a camel but a head like a bird. Before I researched the painting I thought that is was some sort of mythological creature. Perhaps an animal that the artist had seen in mythology books like a griffin. However, after researching Rousseau's technique I found that his inspiration came from his study of caged animals at the zoo and his daughter's picture books. Like the vegetation, the animals in his paintings were his ideas of what tropical animals looked like (The Imagination...).

Barnes had a very unique idea of how people should experience his art. It was because of his essays that I made sure my experience with the paintings in his gallery was untainted. He wanted people to make their judgment of art based on its form rather than what other people or even society told them. Barnes was very particular about the way in which he displayed his paintings. This was one of his techniques to spurring people to study the form of art. He would place different types of paintings by different artists along side each other.

In the room with the two Rousseau paintings were works by Monet and Renoir. They served as an interesting comparison to Rousseau's works because the forms of the paintings are so different. Monet and Renoir worked to make their paintings as realistic as possible while Rousseau's paintings were storybook like. His works appear somewhat flat. Some objects in his paintings overlap others which is the only indication that some things are closer than others. Monet and Renoir show depth in their paintings by utilizing a large palette of blended colors and working with light and shadows. Rousseau's paintings have fewer, bolder colors and the lines are much sharper. Rousseau's technique for painting was quite interesting. He used wide flat brush strokes and used one color at a time. For example first he would paint the blues and then he would paint the greens and then so on (Biography...). The positioning of the paintings enabled me to see the beauty of both forms by further distinguishing them from one another.

Works Cited

The Imaginary World of Henri Rousseau. 03/24/2005 http://www.nga.gov/education/schoolarts/rousseau.htm

The Dream of Henri Rousseau. 03/24/04 http://perso.wanadoo.fr/le_douanier_rousseau/dream.htm

Biography of Henri Rousseau 03/24/05 http://www.artelino.com/articles/henri_rousseau.asp


Pleasant Surprise
Name: Mo-Gyung R
Date: 2005-03-25 17:05:58
Link to this Comment: 14024

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


How can you read anything—people, emotions, pictures, paintings, or even words with any sense of certainty? How can you extract deeper meanings, sensations, experiences from anything? Should you research beforehand in order to approach the subject in question with a degree of reassurance from having some knowledge and concrete information to bring to the inherently uncertain and morphing task of interpretation or the "reading" of an object? Should research be conducted after the initial exposure, allowing for as much of an initial untainted experience and then being able to apply fact to the shaping or re-shaping of the first quick judgment? Should any research be conducted at all? Does strategizing an experience make it more shallow or watered down? What method can be trusted to maximize an experience? Though there have many philosophers, aestheticians, theorists, thinkers, professors, etc., who have all addressed these questions each with some game plan for that slam dunk experience, walking alone in the Barnes Foundation on a lazy Saturday afternoon and writing alone on an even lazier Friday afternoon is all that I needed to find an answer.

In the Barnes Foundation there is a painting on the second floor by Henri Rousseau, who was a French Post-Impressionist painter who lived from 1844-1910. The painting is one of his later works created in 1901. It is a large painting, approximately 7' in length and 4 ft in width. The painting is oil on canvas. The paintings deep and rich colors are striking to look at among the softer and more muted colors of the surrounding walls and other paintings. There are dark, even strokes that lay beautifully and thickly on the canvas. The depth and the darkened tones of paint make certain sections of the painting blend and merge seamlessly into one another while making other sections more pronounced and set apart from one another. The shapes in the painting are also very noticeable, either in the way that certain shapes and forms are meant to smoothly cloak and cover one another acting almost like camouflage or the distinct, clean lines of shapes that are purposefully painted to be pronounced and noticeable in their definition and certainty of form. But every section of the painting is vivid, bright, and captivating to the eye—from the intense color of greens that remind the viewer of the green leaves on trees only in dreams or the glaring white fangs and claws on a bear that only appear so clearly in nightmares.


Even though the style of the painter in his use of lines, shapes and color add depth, dimension and another layer for analysis, it is the scene portrayed in the painting that really grabs the observer's attention, dragging and pulling their eyes, refusing to let go. The painting is set in some type of jungle or forest area with a small clearing in the center of the painting showing the sun set/rise over a river. The figures in the painting are in the dark shroud of the jungle. There is a naked woman on the right side of the painting standing on some sort of rock formation. A bear is in the center of the painting, rising on its hind legs to rise up to the woman, greeting her before an imminent attack, his teeth bared and his claws unsheathed. In the veil of the dark shadows of the rocks and his cloak and hat, there is a man with a long gun pointed directly at the bear's back. The man is so hidden by the rocks and by his attire only his eyes and hands are visible and at first glance he hides from even the viewer. These observations help to see the painting.


However, all of the features taken in by the initial glance lead to deeper look that allows for an initial reading of the painting. The man's gun, one realizes, has been caught at the moment that it is fired. There in the painting, at the end of the gun, there is a small explosion, but the bullet has not yet reached its target. Like the bullet, the bear is approaching the woman, his claws out, his teeth gleaming, his eyes full of intent, yet he too has not reached his target. The woman, at the end of this chain, raises her eyes to the sky and her hands follow suit in a shrug that says, "Whatever." The woman seems to have surrendered and in her feigned terror, she is mocking the bear and even death as if to say, "Come get me." The woman in the painting refuses to take death so seriously and in his portrayal, Rousseau seems to mock the serious attitudes of other paintings. He seems to be shrugging his shoulders to the world of academic and clinical painting and to the equally academic treatment and analysis of such paintings saying, "Whatever."


The painting is also able to capture the tenseness, the uncertainty, the catch of the breath in the exact moment before everything is about to change. Rousseau captures the moment right before the bullet meets its mark and the moment right before the bear would have his prey. These are moments of action and reaction that are caught in a freeze frame in time as well as a wooden frame hanging on a wall. Rousseau is able to capture emotion and time in his painting with a sense of humor.


I laughed—a deep rumbling, distracting, long, laugh that made other people stare at me and walk away in a huff, in agitation or in complete wonder at what I could possibly find so funny in a museum full of Renoir's and Cézanne's. That is reading a painting.


The painting in the Barnes is void of any information about the painting other than the name of the painter . After coming back to the small world of my dorm and sitting down to open up the wide world web in order to get at least some information about the image and the painter, I decided that perhaps as an experiment, I could do some research and see how that amplified, doused or changed my experience. I had already had my experience and had a good laugh, so what was at stake? A lot apparently.


Henri Rousseau, known as "Le Douanier" Rousseau was a French painter. The nickname "Le Douanier " refers to the job he held with the Paris Customs Office from 1871-1893. Before working for he Customs Office, Rousseau served in the army and later he would claim that his services brought him to Mexico which he said inspired many of his jungle themed paintings. These claims of glory and service in Mexico seem to be a creation of his imagination and there is evidence that many of his paintings were taken from scenes in area zoos, though certainly his imagination must have still been in Mexico or somewhere else to come up with some of his scenes.


Rousseau was untrained and initially took up painting as a hobby, but his own faith in his talents and abilities never faltered and eventually he took up painting as a ful time profession. Though untrained, he tried to paint in an academic manner of traditionalist artists such as Bouguereau and Gérome. His own delusions and his almost oblivious attitude made him a prime target for ridicule and it was eventually his non-academic style that won him some praise from artists such as Pablo Picasso who threw him a banquet, though only half seriously, in his honor. Though Rousseau strived to paint in a more traditional manner, the innocence and charm of his work was the reason for his mild success and praise from the avant-garde towards the end of his life. Most of his real praise and admiration came after his death in 1910 from Surrealists who found his work as a perfect example of success in which an "untaught genius" could see and paint much more meaning and depth than a trained, clinical artist could. Rousseau's' work became heralded for its highly imaginative images and his ability to retain such a precision and clarity in his vivid images even on large-scale canvases.


Rousseau's highest wish was to be able to paint "academically." Did this ruin my whole reading of the painting that Rousseau was a painter who scoffed at academic and clinical "clean" and realistic painting? How could he purposefully, humorously and masterfully paint a mocking portrait that scorned and ridiculed the academic world of artists and critics if he was striving to be a part of that very group. Could it be that I was completely wrong? Was Walker Percy wrong? Do we need to have the framework of information, facts and biographical knowledge in order to "read" something correctly? Is John Dewey correct? Would it have been better for me to know all these little facts before I read the painting the first time? Would I have appreciated it more?

There was one last fact that I needed. The title. "Unpleasant Surprise."

Disregard all of the research. My initial reading was correct, was valid and was accurate. At least to me. The title seemed to fit into my initial reading so well. In a scene as horrifying as almost being eaten by a bear and describing it so blandly with the understated word "unpleasant" seemed to me another "shrug" and another mocking gesture to the seriousness or the overstated-ness of pretension in academic art and criticism.
I laughed again. Even after all of the research and the fact-finding, my initial reading came back and it was satisfying.

However, don't trust me. Disregard everything that you have just read. Trust only what you have seen and what you have experienced. What you have heard means nothing. What you have read means nothing. Trust only yourself. Maybe you will see the painting and weep. Maybe you will be disgusted, unmoved, or walk by without even a second glance. Maybe those are the "right" readings of the painting. Maybe.

The only way to truly read a painting or anything that is up for interpretation and integration into one's own life, heart, and mind is to trust one's own emotions and reactions—to trust one's own tears, one's disgust, one's laughter. Trust me on this. If you want.

(YOUR REFERENCE NUMBER).

References

I found later that there are cards that have the name and date of each painting.


Douanier means Customs Officer

REFERENCE NUMBER)NAME OF YOUR FIRST WEB REFERENCE SITE, COMMENTS ABOUT IT

FOR NON-WEB REFERENCES USE THE FOLLOWING, REPEATING AS NECESSARY

REFERENCE NUMBER) STANDARD PRINT REFERENCE FORMAT


"Re-creating a Work of Art"
Name: Tanya
Date: 2005-03-25 18:08:43
Link to this Comment: 14025

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Initially entering the Barnes, I felt a little apprehensive. Although I had already decided which painting I was going to read, I had no idea how to approach it. I had never really contemplated over a painting; rather, I would leave it immediately after my initial awe and observations. I had very little experience with art growing up in the Marshall Islands, and felt that I had no authority or any qualifications to judge a piece. Despite my ignorance and inexperience, I decided that I would first sit down to reflect on El Greco's "Apparition of the Virgin and Child to Saint Hyacinth," and then compare my personal reflections to that of an art expert or historian. That way I could make up for any of the insecurities in my interpretation.

I was initially drawn to the piece by something I was not able to put my finger on. It was as if the painting embraced me and an intimate bubble formed around us. It was then I realized that I was drawn to it because of familiarity of the style. It hit me and without looking up the name or artist, I knew it had to be the work of El Greco. El Greco is one of the very few artists I am familiar with because I had to research him for my high school Spanish class. I found his style, which uniquely his own, and his religious fervor to be admirable. His work is so expressive, personal, and serious, and his passion for art and religion is made clear in every piece. I have yet to find a piece of his that I do not find esthetically stimulating.

The first thing I noticed was that the piece is clear and defined near the bottom, but becomes more and more distorted and blurred as you move up. The floor tiles background pillar are clearly defined, the robe is realistically and evenly shaded, and Hyacinth's facial features are very detailed. As you ascend beyond the cloud, you notice the statue in the background is dark with unclear features and the image of Mary and Jesus are un-humanly distorted. I interpreted this as a movement from the reality of life on earth to the spiritual medium of heaven. Because one must choose to believe if heaven exists or not and because there is no way of clearly describing it, El Greco does not to attempt to define it for us. He leaves it distorted so that our own perceptions of heaven will not be trounced by his.

His use of light came off to me as religious symbolism as well. The light being emitted from the Virgin Mary and is the main light source in the scene and symbolizes purity, truth, and righteousness. The rest of the room is dark reflecting the darkness of a sinful world. The lighting highlights Hyacinth distinguishing him in a world of darkness. The lighting also adds to the aesthetics of the painting. Too much light and clarity allows for too much scrutiny, but a dim setting seems to keep hidden all blemishes of the scene and promotes comfortableness and complacency.

El Greco also uses this lighting to add form and shape to the objects in an aesthetically realistic manner. The creases in Hyacinth's robe and Mary's garments are so beautifully shaded that I wanted to feel the cloth. The hardness of the floor is easily perceived as well, and lastly the way he depicted the cloud made it seem as though Mary was not weightless, but that the cloud was concrete and holding her up. All of these perceptions were invoked simply by the shading and shapes of the objects.

His figures were probably the most beautiful yet troubling aspect for me. Hyacinth is painted in the El Grecian elongated style. I perceived the elongated fingers, pillars, and faces to be free from gravitational restraint. They seemed graceful, flowing and beautiful. They also came off to me as stretched in a tug-o-war between the spiritual realm and earth. However, what troubled me were the faces and forms of Mary and the baby Jesus. Mary appears exhausted and ghost-like, while the child seems unporportional and demonic. I began to question why El Greco would want to portray these figures in such a way. I came to the conclusion that these figures do not belong on earth and their descending down to earth has morphed their form. It is sort of like in movies when characters go through time or space portals and their bodies are disfigured.

Meditating over the piece, I immediately began to question so many aspects that I had initially overlooked. The piece depicted the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus appearing before St. Hyacinth. I had initially thought this scene to be some depiction of an apparition that actually occurred to Saint Hyacinth. I thought there would be some story behind her appearance similar to the apparitions of Noah's or Moses'. However, as my search prolonged, I discovered that Hyacinth was a pretty nameless saint. He was basically a Polish Dominican disciple who helped spread Catholicism through Poland, and was later named the patron saint of Archdioceses of Krakow (YOUR REFERENCE NUMBER). I could not understand why El Greco would choose to paint such a obscure saint when there are a plethora of more significant religious figures. Then, I realized that he died on August 15th, the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother or what Catholics recognize as the day that Mary "assumes her place in heaven with Jesus Christ" href="2">(YOUR REFERENCE NUMBER). Knowing that both Mary and St. Hyacinth entered heaven on the same day helped to tie together my observations in a way that clarified the meaning of the piece. I came to the conclusion that this painting was to glorify Hyacinth's piety and righteousness by showing that the Virgin Mary personally came down to personally escort him home into heaven. His facial expression and hand positioning seems to show his surprise with the honor and reflect his modesty. He seems to be saying "You're here for me?" At first, I had thought his fear was due to the fact that a spirit was manifested in front of him, but now I feel that he just can't believe such an honor was bestowed upon him. The honor of the Virgin Mary as an escort, the honor of sainthood, and finally the honor of El Greco's painting.

After my analysis, I then decided to verify my claim by finding a trained experts discourse on the piece. However, my efforts to find a publicized interpretation were fruitless, I took a different approach to determining the validity of my reflections. In other words, instead of checking my answers, I decided to figure out the appropriate approach to the problem so that I could get at least partial credit. I began rereading Dewey and Barnes' essays to outline their approaches to art and try to determine if I mimicked them in my own evaluation. However, I discovered something absolutely enlightening. Dewey states, "A work of art no matter how old and classic is actually, not just potentially, a work of art only when it lives in some individualized experience... But as a work of art, it is recreated every time it is esthetically experienced...[and] is universal because it continuously inspire[s] new personal realizations in experience"(108-9). This made me feel a lot more confident in my own interpretation. I began to feel that my experiencing of the piece was like casting a vote in the election deciding whether it qualified as a work of art. However, in this election, anyone can vote, even children. And all it needs to qualify is one vote, so every vote matters.

I also came to realize that an art historian or analyst does not interpret the meaning of a piece to inform the world why the piece is universally considered a work of art; they are merely trying to figure out which features repeatedly invoke personal experiences in others because it is the accumulation of personal experiences that make it universal. It's universality just means it is more likely to invoke such an experience. The art historian cannot dictate our feelings towards a certain piece, but can only try to predict why the piece invokes such sentiments. Therefore, I am perfectly content with my personal feelings and interpretation. I do not need affirmation from the art experts, nor do I need instruction on how to read a painting.

Lastly, I came to some basic conclusions regarding the aesthetic aspects of my experience. Initial stimulation, familiarity, reflection, evoked emotions, and a conclusive interpretation or enlightenment all made the experience beautiful to me. Although I had found the piece beautiful on my first trip to the Barnes, it was not until the second trip that I came to fully indulge in its beauty. To me, there's no such thing as love at first sight. There may be an initial attraction, but it is not until I have come to fully understand the other person do I feel this feeling of love. The same holds true for beauty.


REFERENCE NUMBER)NAME OF YOUR FIRST WEB REFERENCE SITE
REFERENCE NUMBER)NAME OF YOUR FIRST WEB REFERENCE SITE


Happiness of Life
Name: Kat McCorm
Date: 2005-03-27 21:56:00
Link to this Comment: 14070

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Reading a picture: I wonder if there is something in the terminology that I am missing, or if, as usual, IÕm just being overly careful of words. I imagine print over the painting, examining it with eyes like a typewriter. I describe what I see: Upper left corner, start. Paint the puke yellow color of baby food, equally blob-like and varied. Sharp line into true orange, which continues for a quarter of the canvas. Next, a small hiccup of lime green, barely tipping the upper middle of the painting. Pinkish transition to a downward arc of teal, next a lilac hue, cracked by a bleeding streak of the same bluish gray that provides a final cornerstone to that line. Ding! I begin to understand the difference between form and content, as what I originally meant as a lame joke forces me to examine color in horizontal strips, as separate from what I find my mind always to be turning back to: what the painting is ÒofÓ. I discover that only a little more that half of the canvas even has human forms in it- which strikes me as odd, because they were all I could see before. Only a bunch of naked humans, women, having a good frolic under a canopy of trees by a shore. I giggle subversively: Interesting that so many artists of the last century; Matisse, Renoir, Cezanne, have painted on the subject of groups of women all hanging out naked together outside. Matisse calls his work "Le bonheur de vivre" (1)- the happiness (joy) of life. If this is truly the happiness of life, why donÕt we do it more often? WouldnÕt it even be considered illegal today? I imagine cops swarming around the naked revelers, frantically writing citations for indecent exposure. When was the last time you had a good naked frolic with some of your friends? I suspect that I have had this pleasure both more recently and more frequently than most, as skinnydipping is one Bryn Mawr tradition that I actively practice. And even I have never gone in daylight.

Art is, as has frequently been noted, subjective- and I suppose my reading of it and preferences for it must also be. As Barnes himself states, Òhuman beings are so constituted as to have preferences, and behind preferences, in the last analysis, we cannot go.Ó (2) So I wonder if my ÒreadingÓ of this artwork even matters- I must confess that from the start it has been the subject of this piece that has me captivated. It seems to capture in essence my experience of what it is like to be in a community of women which, by their exclusion of men, is suddenly and deliciously free of the self-consciousness that seems to plague women in the outside world. Women today seem to have lost the concept of the body as their own- adolescents, particularly, seem to think of females bodies exclusively in the context of being viewed by men. But the women in MatisseÕs work appear altogether unconscious of any world outside that portrayed, with no hint of shame in their nakedness. They are completely consumed in their own play, and are so freshly lacking that Òputting yourself on displayÓ self-consciousness that many nude paintings (and todayÕs nude photographs) have. My enjoyment of this painting is deeply tied to my own experiences as a student at Bryn Mawr, my enjoyment of which I have always felt was somehow symbolized and amplified by my skinny-dipping experiences. The moonlight scene of the beautiful women, unified by friendship, nakedness, and merrymaking, is so striking. I can think of nothing that so well encompasses what I love about life here. So to me, the title of MatisseÕs painting on a similar subject is remarkably appropriate: The happiness of life.

While for me, content is the dominant concept in determining what I find beautiful, I again try to turn my mind from it in order to further examine the form- or as Barnes terms it, the Òplastic valuesÓ of the painting: Òcolors, lights and shadows, contours, spatial intervalsÓ. (2) I begin to marvel that these trees look nothing like the trees I see outside myself. Their arbors are purple, orange, yellow and red as well as the more traditional shades of green. They have no individual leaves, and seldom have branches. It occurs to me that this kind of painting might not even require any talent: Maybe I can be a painter too! And yet I have singled this painting of MatisseÕs out as among the most beautiful of BarnesÕ considerable collection. The abstractions of trees and colors, and even humans are comparable if not beyond the beauty that such an event would yield in the flesh.

The women in the painting have taken on echoes of the same strange hues that arc the landscape around them. A talking pair on the left side- one woman with her arm circling her companionÕs neck, the other arm gesturing conversationally Ð are a light shade of green. The bodies are actually abstractions of bodies, lacking nipples, and in some cases, faces. A woman towards the foreground is a yellowish tint, which contrasts both with the bright red behind her and the string of deep red flowers that flow between her breasts down to her right hip. Her arms fold around her head, cradling her neck as she stretches unabashedly, eyes closed in the enjoyment of (as I imagine it) the sunlight warm upon her particular skin. A green from the crouched figure in front of her bleeds up her legs- in this way, the two forms are connected not only in sharing space, but also in the blending of color. This contrasts with the impression that each woman is completely absorbed in her own world: one woman stretching, the other digging or planting in the dirt.

Peculiarly, I suddenly notice that the grass in the right hand foreground changes from purple to green where the lovers sit on it. They themselves are a pinkish purple, one woman reclining into the kiss of her lover, her arms embracing the neck of the other figure. Theirs is a private moment, as the face of neither is visible, but the two figures are interestingly juxtaposed insofar as the body language of one is so open, and the other so contained. Their neighbor, the lute player, is a deeper shade of purple. While her face is drawn in great detail, the rest of her is rather shapeless, without even the vague outline of breasts. Her apparent attitude is one of introspection, which the other lute player in the distant background shares. While this figure seems to be playing only for herself, altogether unmindful of her preoccupied neighbors, the lovers; the other lute player seems to be playing for the benefit of a pair of grazing sheep.

Central to the painting are a lounging pair of women, one facing toward the viewers and the other away. Each are outlined on the bottom in tones of red, and on the top in deep blue-green. The woman facing us has that same shut-eyed expression of deep satisfaction that can be seen in the small yellow figure to her left. The woman facing away from the viewers seems to be watching, with removed interest expressed in her posture, the circle of dancing women on the shore. Their forms are vague, but are accentuated by the thick lines of red, purple, and blue which outline each of them and contrast with the yellow and orange grass beneath them. The movement of each is pronounced and distinct, bodies aslant, one leg straight and one bent, poised in action for the next step. These figures, although they are in the background, are what truly seems to be the focus of the painting. They are what keeps me comparing inwardly the tone of this painting to my own abstractions of memories, tying form and content together.

References

1) Matisse, Henri. "Le bonheur de vivre" 1905-1906. The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA.

2) Barnes, Albert. "The Art In Painting." 1925. The Barnes Foundation Press. Merion, PA.


Matisse and Motel Art
Name: Flora Shep
Date: 2005-03-28 11:28:53
Link to this Comment: 14079

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


The last class visit to the Barnes had been my first, and I felt I had to make the most of it. One by one, I concentrated on each piece, memorizing every part of it. I felt I could stand in front of each individual work for hours and still I would not be able to recall the feeling of being in this grand place. However, the second time I walked through the entryway of the Barnes, I felt comfortable. I no longer felt rushed to get through everything or pressured to appreciate the mastery of famous artists. Instead, I began examining the way Barnes chose to display the works and became completely overwhelmed. Symmetry, irony, dissonance...there were just too many patterns and relationships within each wall and between walls and galleries and just all throughout the place. I was hugely drawn to this sense of order. (I suppose Anne would say that this is the scientist in me finding the greater beauty in relations between things than the individual things themselves.) In order to be able to complete the assignment of reading a painting, I had to force myself to think back to my experiences of the first visit.
What specific piece affected me more than all the others? I wandered the mazes of interrelated pictures, seeing nothing but relationships. Then, in a corner on the second floor, I saw it: a Matisse oil painting, Woman at Dressing Table Browsing through the gift shop in the first visit, I learned that I must not be the only person who felt drawn to this particular corner. There were a wide variety of prints of Woman readily available: framed, unframed, postcard-size, printed on envelopes, etc. Being the graduate of a snobby arts high school that I am, my kitsch instinct warned me to pull away from something so mainstream. Wasn't there a underappreciated work in a dark corner somewhere I should be evaluating instead? After all, I read enough about art to know that plenty has already been written about Matisse. What could I say new? But something very deep attracted me to this painting and I wanted to know why.
At first glance, the painting looked very serene. Framed by a window behind her and a large mirror to her left, a young woman in a robe is sitting at her dressing table, reading. Her body is turned toward us, but her face is looking down at the book. Behind her, outside of the window, there is a beach with indistinct human figures and the royal blue ocean. Gray and purple curtains hang around the window. On the table, there are small vials, a filled glass pitcher and an empty glass. All of the colors are pale and all of the lines are curved. Because of Matisse's loose brushstrokes, the whole scene looks a little hazy. Light seems to be everywhere in this scene, but in many different variations: shadow, sunlight, light in glass (window and mirror), light filtered through different curtains, collected in her clothes, reflected on the beach. Like the pattern of the paintings in the Barnes, I did not notice Matisse's genius with light at first, but once I noticed the first detail, I became overwhelmed and saw it everywhere.
This piece first caused feelings of nostalgia in me. Masterpiece or not, I immediately felt that I could have found a print of this painting hanging on the wall of a rural Louisiana motel room. After spending almost all of my childhood summers on the road with my parents' puppet troupe, I feel I am something of an expert on motel art. I can remember my RISD mother making fun of the vague framed shapes that looked more like anthills than anything else and the endless pastoral scenes with pigs that looked as big as the cows next to them. This print would fit more in the category of the generic summer housewife scene. The colors are the same soft pleasing hues seen in the palette of motel art, and motels would definitely want to be associated with themes of domesticity, femininity and idyllic vacations. Of course, since Matisse is formally placed in the category of "high art," I highly doubt that Holiday Inn is about to franchise this, but a similar scene would not surprise me.
But this piece evokes more than recollection of childhood art experiences. The woman portrayed has a traditional Western feminine beauty. Her hair is long and dark, her figure slim and her face smooth and well proportioned. Since she is not fully dressed and appears to be alone in what is probably her bedroom, the scene is very personal. The feel of the scene is very familiar to me. Granted, I haven't had a bedroom in a beach house lately, but the feeling of sitting alone in a room reading while other people are outside enjoying the weather is a familiar one to most Mawters.
Thinking about how natural, calm and almost boring this painting looked caused me to feel a strong surge of anger. After all, why was something so important to me, such as a woman reading in her room, placed in a category of almost benign beauty? Why would a figure of a woman reading in her room be considered pretty and put on stationery? Why weren't there paintings of men framed at their most vulnerable, perhaps looking exhausted, in semi-dress, reading a book in their chambers without looking stately? I couldn't help thinking of how early twentieth century British suffragettes smuggled axes and knives into galleries to ax paintings. What a powerful statement that was! I could understand why someone would want to destroy a painting that depicted a woman almost trapped in her room. Why was she beautiful sitting in this position? What was it about this scene that may have pleased others but so disquieted me?
I have so many unanswered questions about this woman. It is impossible to tell from the context of the piece what she is thinking about or reading. You can see that the pitcher is full, but of water? or something more menacing? Her glass is empty, does that mean she has or has not had anything to drink from the pitcher? And what is in the vials? One could assume due to historical context that the vials contained perfume or some similar domestic substance, but who's to know? I do not know if Matisse intended for the viewer to ask herself these questions, but they are what most affected me, so I include them in my "reading" of the painting.
There is so much unseen. Everything important about this woman: her thoughts, her dreams, and her struggles are not there. You can't see them in this artificial depiction of life. It is just a snapshot that tells you nothing about her but her appearance, and that, I think, is one of the reasons why I found this piece so terrifying. This woman is just reduced to a two-dimensional paper doll. All of the beauty I can see in this painting is aesthetic. The colors and shapes are pleasing, but the deeper issues, the relations between things that I use to make meaning, all of that is not there.. There is no greater message or beauty for me to learn here, no overbearing theory to link everything together: just the image of one woman in one room, alone. And that is not enough for me.
There were many other paintings in the Barnes of women in domestic situations that stayed stuck in the pattern of the museum. Few images stuck with me like Woman. And I think that is because but in this painting I saw myself portrayed as I think others may see me. She is sitting in a corner, looking normal and yet one can only think that because there is nothing to indicate otherwise. There is no proof of her happiness or sanity or worthiness in the world, no relation to any other person. She is completely alone, even though there are others within her reach: by the beach. The reality of this scene, even if it is only captured for a moment in time, is terrifying. I can see this painting as a depiction of life. No one can ever really come inside your head with you just as we cannot enter her room. You see the world through the windows of your senses, just as she could choose to turn and see the beach. But even when if she chose to look through the window, the various curtains on the windows changed the truth of her perspective. The only other place she could turn to was to the mirror, like your memories, but even a mirror can only give distorted images of a world that is not actually in the mirror. No one else can read your thoughts just as no one else can read the book she is reading. Even though she is in a visually pleasing surrounding with physical amenities like a pitcher of water and small vials, she is still very alone. But what terrifies me is not that she is alone. What terrifies me is that she is trapped by the mirror, the window and the book and no one can come inside her room with her.
Matisse either did not see or chose not to portray the horrible sadness of her being alone. And that is why I found this painting to be incredibly terrifying, more so than any crucifixion scene or similarly violent image. The terror in this painting is that you cannot see her grief or even jubilation, you cannot see anything but her. I don't know how one would show inner turmoil or inner anything, for that matter. I am not terrified of thunder clouds and a witch furrowing her brow. to me as the more upsetting, ugly, non human ones. There is more terror in the way that the gray curtains around the only window in the woman's room start to resemble storm clouds.
So, if I could see so much terror in the painting, how is it fair that it also can be classified as a beautiful accent to an entryway? Why isn't this sort of terrifying moment given the weight we give pictures of corpses or portraits of dead generals? Because she looks more appealing? But I guess that is the greater beauty I am also trying to find. This painting bored, baffled, disturbed and viscerally pleased me. It existed as a comforting piece of artifice with calming colors that would fit in nicely with the overall palette of the furnishings in a room. If that room were in a motel in rural Louisiana it could even be the butt of many jokes. But, instead, it is worshipped on the wall of a famous art museum where it can terrify students with its honesty or whatever else they read into it. What is brilliant about this painting is its universality. I am not going to pretend that I can describe Matisse's genius of craft in any more specific than his hazy brushstrokes,
Speaking as someone who rarely finds deep beauty in paintings of flowers or homes or other such commonplace symbols, I found this small painting of a woman sitting in a room not only beautiful, but deep and meaningful. I know that the experience of looking at and thinking about this painting will always stay with me. When people ask me to recall one of my favorite artists, I will say Matisse, and, without thinking, recall my experiences at the Barnes. After spending so much time studying the individual and the patterns within the museum, I finally had an experience of a painting that exists separately from the institution in which it was housed. Dewey would be proud. And, browsing in the gift shop, I decided to come back with my credit card and buy a print for myself. After all, I spend so much time in my own room, it would be nice to be reminded of all that my behavior entails. And the colors will probably match the pattern on my sheets. So, the next time I want to fill a glass from my own pitcher, I will have something besides my own thoughts to look at.


My Ivory Tower
Name: Liz Patere
Date: 2005-03-28 16:02:22
Link to this Comment: 14092

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


A museum showing one man's artistic vision with walls covered in works by some of the most prominent artists in history. Paintings arranged not by chronological convention but with the emphasis on form and style. Only a limited number of guests are allowed as to create as peaceful experience as possible. This is a museum that is seen by the rest of the art world as "reactionary" or "idiosyncratic" (1). Does that sound wonderful to you? It did to me too. Then why did the Barnes fall so short of a beautiful experience for me?

It takes a lot of bravery to be rebel who speaks out against another person who is perceived as going against the grain. Indeed all articles that support the movement of the Barnes, such as New York Times writer Roberta Smith, seemed to lack respect for Barnes' vision (1). My problem is not with Barnes' vision of demonstrating that emotion and feeling are important factors in art; I feel he was not successful in delivering his vision to me (1,3). I wondered why the most prominent moment in my recollect of my trips was a short skinny man in a uniform snarling at me because I stepped over the black line of doom. I wanted to see rebellion from conventions of how to see art. I wanted Barnes to let me see form for myself. Instead I found the same elitist attitude and environment that I feel from conventional art museums.

The first visit my expectations were simply too high. "So many great painters and works of art are represented there" replied one of my housemates to my inquiries about the exhibit. Articles praised Barnes' desire to teach people to think "for themselves" (1,2). I walked into the museum and realized that it really did not feel that different from many other museums. The barrier still existed between viewer and painting. I did not feel that the paintings were different enough from one another to make Barnes' unique style of grouping effective. Most of his paintings were from Europe in the late 1800's into the early 1900's, Picasso, Cézanne, Renoir, and Matisse being some of the artists that I noticed the most (1,2,3). These abstract artists and impressionists seemed to dominate the museum, squeezing out diversity.

My question then became how one can think for him/herself without diversity. If every painting in the museum has great form, how can one know what form is, if they do not see what form is not. Humans often learn through negation. After looking at the 15th Renoir obese nude with pink and purple undertones in her pale skin, I began to feel that I had seen them all. The artists were repeated over and over again and I felt that form had a formula in the mind of Barnes, which he was displaying as the formula that we too should adopt. I wanted freshness or a new perspective. I wanted surrealism or pre-Raphaelite images. My intense dislike for abstract art and much of modern art only festered as there was no escape for my mind from it. However, perhaps having it surrounded by other types of art would have given me the ability to find beauty in it.

The phantom voice of Barnes echoed in my mind telling me that this painting was beautiful because of form, color, line; something he saw that apparently I did not (1,3). I felt a sense of an elitist attitude. He seemed to be saying that this style is good because he chose to represent it in the museum in overwhelming numbers. It made me question how he viewed his own collection. Is the Matisse painting hanging in a dimly lit stairwell somehow a less beautiful use of form than the Matisse's The Dance mural that hangs so prominent over the two story windows? (4) Am I a poor art critic because I don't the beauty of form in either and because I lack any pronounced emotional response to art?

I soon read the article by Barnes, which only magnified my feelings of artistic ignorance. Barnes wrote a large amount about the importance of form. The basic explanation of form was qualities uniting to serve a single effect (3). "Effectiveness, single effect?" I asked myself. I could not think of any way to define it in a concrete way. I could not see how Botticelli lacks form due to his baroque style but Picasso has it in spades (3). It all seemed an elitist mentality to favor one group of artists over another due to some perceived sense of superiority in their work. As has been discussed so much in class, no two people have the exact same experience and no piece ever has the same exact effect on two people. This means that form has no definite meaning.

With this mindset and agitation from reading the article Barnes wrote about his vision, I returned to the Barnes Museum for a second visit. I could not get myself to feel any affinity towards the art. I tried desperately to see what Barnes saw, especially in the works that I despised. I felt like an eight year old trying to learn calculus. I just could not see what he saw. I really wanted to have that emotional experience that Barnes glorifies. Not being an overly emotional person, but rather analytical on a creative vent, perhaps I lack the capacity to see form as Barnes sees. I like art that sparks my intellect whether or not it is emotional. Barnes seemed to discount those experiences, wanting both imagination and feelings to merge and create understanding.

Reading all the praise of Barnes for his uniqueness made me feel that I was not an artistic rebel. I was conflicted, I hate systems and conventions of how art should be seen. How could I not like some one who defies them? Then I realized, instead of Barnes defying convention, he created a new convention. His museum still has lines and barriers and security that the old museum has. There were still impolite security guards. He still showcases certain art styles; showing clear favoritism towards impressionists and modern painters. Out of around 2500 paintings there are 180 Renoirs, 44 pieces by Piccasso, 69 Cezanne pieces and 60 pieces by Matisse, showing that certain artists are clearly showcased(2).

Neither Barnes nor conventional museums provide a window to individual perception of art. Barnes groups art based on form, not "chronological, geographical, or cultural continuities." (1, 3) This grouping is different in that form is not a concrete quality; however, I feel as though Barnes uses this construction as a tool to showcase his perception of form. This makes me think that Barnes wanted people to see form the way he saw it, not individually. If one were to see form individually, it would be better to see a random arrangement of paintings including ones without form to bring in an element of contrast. This would also allow people to see form in art where Barnes does not see it. Barnes' Museum had the goal of making people more emotionally invested in the artwork, whereas art museums seek the more intellectual response. They are designed by the "tearless" art historians (5). However, both still seem to contain the motive of making one see art a "correct" way.

Barnes did not teach me my own way to see form and style in diverse styles of art and so he failed in my purpose for me. He repeated the mistakes of old museum, simply with a new form of elitism. I realized that Barnes' notion of how art should be shown did not represent the way that I enjoy viewing art. I like walls to be a collage of works from different times and places, dominated by no one notion of form or style. Barnes wanted me to find form for myself, yet I still feel as though he wanted to find his definition of form. If I were to find his definition, my experience would no longer be unique and personal. It is the diversity of opinions and perspectives that make the analysis of art so unique and interesting. Art's tearless state is not a good thing, however, neither is the concept that one must feel something when they look at a piece.

Works Cited:
1) The New Criterion: Notes and Commentary January 2005. The Barnes Foundation RIP.
2) Kimball, Roger. The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity. Chicago. Ivan R Dee. © 2003. pp34-45.
3) Barnes, Albert C. The Art in Painting. The Barnes Foundation Press. PA ©1976
4) Sozanski, Edward J. Will These Choices Translate?
5) Elkin, James. The Ivory Tower of Tearlessness. 9 Nov 2001. Chronicle of Higher Education: The Chronicle Review


On Seeing the Beauty in the Paintings of Matisse,
Name: Alix Derme
Date: 2005-03-30 03:38:38
Link to this Comment: 14157

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

I stand before three long-rectangular canvases. Each canvas holds a separate and autonomous image, possessing the ability to physically stand alone while remaining aesthetically engaging and coherent. However these three seemingly separate images exist intrinsically connected to one another, and together they create one pictorial narrative. Collectively, these three canvases compose one work of art entitled "Three Sisters" by Henri Matisse. The "Three Sisters" first grabbed my attention during my first fieldtrip to the Barnes in January. As I explored the museum for the first time, I was bombarded by the hundreds of paintings that adorned the walls. Room after room, the variety of artists and styles overwhelmed me, and it was not long before every Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse began to look the same. Before I stepped into the Barnes from the frigid wind on that January morning, I was already acquainted with museums and art, especially that of the French Impressionist style. I had studied Art History and was exposed to the ideas and theories of the discipline. I suppose, from the viewpoint of Barnes, I was already tainted and would never be able to experience his collection of art the way he intended he students to. I also had a vague knowledge of the backgrounds and biographies of the artists whose art hung on the walls inside the Barnes. I explored each room inside, taking note of those paintings which I found most striking and quickly discovered my preference for Matisse's work. Something about the colors and shapes in his works evoked immediate feelings. Matisse's works seemed most alive to me and ignited some sort of emotion without my conscious analysis. It was that subconscious arousal of emotions, which signified to me that I, in fact, found these particular pieces of art beautiful. As I write these words I am reminded of the article, "The Ivory Tower of Tearlessness" discussed by James Elkins. I was able to personally relate to the article, as I am someone whose emotions are not easily shaken one way or the other by art of any medium – be it a painting, novel, or movie. I do not believe however, that my stoic attitude toward art is any reflection of my appreciation of it. I have always been able to experience and appreciate art, while maintaining a distance between my emotions and the work itself. That being said, I believe this characteristic causes me to have passionate tastes in terms of the arts, as I must strongly like or dislike a particular work of art for my emotions to be rattled in anyway. I therefore acknowledged, during that first visit to the Barnes, that I could not simply dismiss the affinity that developed between me and the art of Matisse. Matisse was conscious of the beautiful images he chose to paint. He is known for his expressive use of color, and some even claim that Matisse created a kind of "paradise world" within his paintings.(Pioch) Matisse was known to be an anxious man who strove to convey a serene and comforting beauty with his paintings.(Pioch) He was once quoted as saying that he viewed each piece of his art "like a good armchair."(Pioch) It is definitely these visions of serenity and paradise, to which I am most attracted in his art. I feel as though his paintings truly transport me to this other more beautiful world he created. Upon my return to the Barnes today, I arrived having yet to decide which painting I would write about. Although I wished to remain open minded about the many possibilities that adorned the walls inside the Barnes, I suspected that whichever painting I chose would most likely be a Matisse. It remained a mystery – even to my subconscious – which specific painting I would ultimately choose. But now, I know, staring at the suitably named "Three Sisters" that this collection of paintings is what I choose to discuss. Its color is the aspect that most immediately attracted me to the "Three Sisters." There is a strong theme of green that runs through the three scenes depicted on each of the three canvases. Admittedly, I cannot say that I have clung to liking only one favorite color over the years; however, I can say that I currently am particularly attracted to any shade of the color green. While green has not always stood out to me among the other colors of the spectrum, it is the color that plucks my attention most at the moment. I would not even say that green is the most prominent color throughout the three images; however it is greenness in the paintings that first attracted me to this Matisse trio. The size and shape of the canvases themselves are the next aspects which intrigued me about the trio. Each rectangular canvas itself is large and spans almost the entire length of the wall; however, each rectangle's width is proportionally narrow, and I am struck by their unconventional dimensions. But since each canvas is not a separate entity but rather a mere part of the larger narrative of the three, I stand back and try to imagine the trio as one painting with one frame enclosing the three separate canvases. Matisse has granted the viewer of this work a certain freedom and has created an almost type of optical game in how one chooses to perceive the three images. The paintings' subject, which I perceive to be both exotic and enchanting, sparks my interest as well. Each separate canvas depicts a posed arrangement of three sisters, though I am unable to tell whether or not they are the same women in each of the three scenes. Thus in the complete trio of canvases live a total of nine female figures. I am conceptually intrigued by the play of the relationship among the woman within each canvas and the possibility of a relationship between the sets of sisters amongst the canvases. I even go on to ponder the relationship among each of complete scenes in the canvases and even the physical canvases themselves. I am left to wonder if perhaps Matisse refers not to the depicted figures within the canvases but to the actual canvases themselves, when he entitles the work "Three Sisters." Perhaps each canvas is a sister – obviously related and similar in creation and appearance, while still able to exist independently from one another. Like the painted sisters, whom Matisse poses and groups in a visually pleasing manner with regards to shape and space inside each canvas, Matisse also arranges and displays the three rectangular-canvas "sisters," paying close attention as well to shape and space along the wall. These are the thoughts and questions, which race through my mind as stand in front of these grand figures. But now I stop pondering for a moment, since I do not find the beauty of art in knowing or understanding the subject and its history. I agree with the part of the Barnes aesthetic that places no value on the background information behind a work of art. I agree that I do not need any prior or outside knowledge in order to appreciate Matisse's "Three Sisters." I found myself attracted to this work of art, but my feelings may not necessarily be enhanced by external historical information. And thus, through my exercise on reading the painting, "The Sisters," by Matisse, I leave the Barnes museum with not only a new appreciation and awareness of various beauties in art, but also a new and applied appreciation for the aesthetic values of Albert Barnes and his museum. Pioch, Nicolas. Matisse, Henri. 19 Aug. 2002. WebMuseum, Paris. 27 Mar. 2005 http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/matisse/ Links to Pictures http://www.join2day.net/abc/M/matisse/matisse9.JPG http://www.join2day.net/abc/M/matisse/matisse10.JPG http://www.join2day.net/abc/M/matisse/matisse11.JPG


Can the Grotesque Be Beautiful?
Name: Beatrice L
Date: 2005-04-03 21:48:25
Link to this Comment: 14256

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip


Scanning the walls of the Barnes Foundation galleries, I eagerly searched for a painting to "read." There were several pieces that I had remembered seeing during our last trip, but nothing seemed to really catch my eye. That is, until I wandered into Gallery V, once again laid my eyes upon the Rabbit by expressionist Chaim Soutine on the North Wall. The first time I had seen it, I was immediately intrigued, and this time was no different.

When I first viewed Soutine's Rabbit, the boldness of the colors was what had drawn me in and caused me to stare in awe. Looking at it a second time, I was able to focus in on the beauty of the rich, heavy strokes of color. The painting seems to be created with a bright red color, but when one takes a closer look, it is evident that many colors have been used to create that brilliant color. It looks as though it had been painted with such intensity.

Perhaps one of the reasons that it stands out from the other paintings which surround it is because of the subject matter. Looking around the Barnes, one can see many portraits of people, landscapes, and other subjects. However, there are few portraits of animals – let alone skinned animals. As I did some brief reading about Soutine's background and looked at some of his other paintings, I learned that he often chose to paint such graphic subjects. He was the tenth child born into a Jewish family living in a Lithuanian ghetto, and had experienced a difficult childhood (1). For that reason, much of his work represents suffering and hardship.

When looking at the Rabbit, the viewer sees how the creature is spread open, revealing what appear to be its insides. It is remarkable how violent and grotesque it appears to be without actually showing anything in great detail. It appears to be laid out in a box or on a table, with some fur still on its legs. Although this all may sound repugnant or vulgar, it is quite a beautiful painting – one of the most beautiful I had see at the Barnes.

Over and over again, I have tried to determine what it is about this particular painting that makes it so beautiful in my eyes. What I have ultimately decided is that its beauty lies in the rawness of the piece (no pun intended), the way it appears to be a simple painting, yet is composed in a somewhat complex manner. As I viewed it, I was inclined to believe that Soutine had not just arbitrarily chosen a skinned rabbit as his subject. As I came to understand after reading about him, his depiction of this subject was symbolic of something more significant in his life – the suffering he experienced growing up. One brief biography stated that "a kind of feverish passion drove him to produce distorted and violently coloured paintings" (1).

Once I knew that I would be writing about Soutine's Rabbit, I began searching the Barnes for any other paintings of animals. I was directed by one of my classmates to the second floor where, above the NorthWall's doorway in Gallery XXIII, hung Henri Rousseau's The Rabbit.

Prior to seeing this piece, I was somewhat familiar with Rousseau's work. However, I suppose that after seeing Soutine's incredible piece, I was surprised at how flat this other painting of a rabbit appeared. Needless to say, there is a huge difference between Soutine's Rabbit and Rousseau's painting.

In the background, one sees a basic brick wall with a small tree and grass in front of it. On a patch of dirt in front of the wall is a live gray rabbit nibbling on a carrot and resting his foot on another carrot. A lettuce leaf is also present in the picture. Quite honestly, this is all the action present in this work. One Rousseau biography explained that "Rousseau's paintings reflect a childlike approach, a sense of absurdity, a dream-like quality, and contextual ambiguity" (2). I strongly agree with this assessment of his art – especially reference to "contextual ambiguity." For example, although I had not been certain about why Soutine had chosen to paint a skinned rabbit, I felt that there must have been a purpose for it. On the other hand, I never got that feeling from Rousseau's painting. It looks very innocent and basic. I found great difficulty in "reading" this painting.

The reason I believe that this painting has a flatter appearance is because perhaps the artist had used smaller, more discreet strokes. It is very likely that colors had been blended together to achieve just the right shade, but, unlike in Soutine's painting, the blending of color is not evident in the strokes. Over all, The Rabbit by Rousseau seems to lack intensity, especially regarding color.

I was amazed that I could find a grisly depiction of a dead creature more beautiful than a pleasant, innocent painting of a living creature. However, I now believe that the intensity of Rabbit by Soutine evokes some sort of emotion from me. At first, I was shocked, then in awe, and then in total admiration. I had not experienced anything remotely close to that as I viewed The Rabbit by Rousseau. This observation leads me back to something I discovered about myself earlier during this course. I find that which makes me feel something to be most beautiful of all. This is a clear explanation for why a painting of something which is dead is more beautiful in my eyes than a painting of something which is alive.

It is also important to note that I probably would not have found Soutine's piece as impressive if he had included great detail – especially when painting the rabbit's innards. By omitting such details, the artist allows for the viewer to perceive the essence of the piece without being distracted by unnecessary details. When looking at Rousseau's painting, one may observe that it does have a certain amount of detail. Therefore, there is not much actual interpretation involved in perceiving this painting. Perhaps this is another reason that I do not find it intriguing.

Frankly, I was disappointed with Rousseau's Rabbit. I found it to be boring and "safe." I was unable to extrapolate any real meaning from it, and perhaps there was none. It did appear that the artist had a "childlike approach", especially as there did not seem to be any depth to the work.

Soutine's skinned rabbit was unlike anything I had ever seen. It took something shocking and usually repulsive and transformed it into something beautiful and captivating. Rousseau's painting of a living rabbit is basically lifeless, in my humble opinion. In conclusion, it is evident that the only thing these two pieces have in common is the fact that they include rabbits (living or dead). Otherwise, they could not have been more different.


References

1) http://www.artcult.com/soutine.htm

2) http://www.nga.gov/education/schoolarts/rousseau.htm





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