Art & Society Journal & Reflection

—This is for a module assignment—

Art & Society Final Journal and Reflection

 

19 Mar - Courtauld Gallery
A Bar at the Foiles-Bergere by Edouard Manet, Courtauld Gallery, http://http://www.courtauldimages.com

A Bar at the Foiles-Bergere by Edouard Manet, Courtauld Gallery, http://www.courtauldimages.com

Autumn effect on Argenteuil, Claudé Monet, Courtauld Gallery, http://http://www.courtauldimages.com

Autumn effect on Argenteuil by Claudé Monet, Courtauld Gallery, http://www.courtauldimages.com

Today we visited Courtauld Gallery at the Somerset House. This gallery has an exquisite collection of Impressionist artwork. We began our visit by looking at Peter Paul Ruben’s Landscape by Moonlight. This work is fairly flat and is surrounded by other traditional artworks. Going back to looking at artworks like this was a bit hard at first, as our last exhibition was Martin Creed at the Hayward Gallery. Rubens painted Landscape by Moonlight with very muted colors and explores little light throughout. The artwork is coated in a varnish which only flattens and mutes the work further. We moved on to look at Paul Cézanne’s Lac D’Annecy from 1896. This impressionist work explores ideas far from Rubens. The color palette is not limited and the color is applied directly to the canvas without prior mixing, unlike Rubens. The colors are intended to work together from a distance. The palette includes many natural tones as impressionists enjoyed capturing the quick changing quality of the natural world. The light here is extremely important in capturing the scene. The pink and orange tones make sunset seem inevitable on this town surrounded completely by the Alps in the background. The entire setting is incredibly calm and still as the lake can be seen without ripples. The reflections are almost perpendicular lines in comparison to the horizon. Because of the location, being nestled into the mountains, one can feel a sense of comfort and cosiness.

Les Meules by Paul Gauguin, Courtauld Gallery, http://http://www.courtauldimages.com

Les Meules by Paul Gauguin, Courtauld Gallery, http://www.courtauldimages.com

Lac d'Annecy by Paul Cézanne, Courtauld Gallery, http://http://www.courtauldimages.com

Lac d’Annecy by Paul Cézanne, Courtauld Gallery, http://www.courtauldimages.com

The next art piece viewed was Autumn Effect at Argentueil by Claude Monet in 1873. This piece is similar to Cézanne’s in that the impressionistic style is explored, but to a greater extent. The colors are, again, not mixed on the palette, but applied liberally to the canvas. The colors are warm and clearly indicate Autumn, yet the city being framed within the leaves is a stark white/grey, making reference to the industrial revolution and growth evident in Paris at this time. The central architectural feature is a tall building, also a reference to the growth of the time period, but even greater, making a statement against the church poised adjacent. The church, with its spire reaching high to the heavens has been surpassed by this skyscraper, creating a narrative about the departure of religion during this time period. The texture present in this piece greatly attributes to the emotions felt by the viewer. One can feel the visibly crunchy leaves as they are dying out. Cézanne was extremely successful in capturing the light in its fleeting state.

Courtauld Gallery is famously known for A Bar at the Folies-Bergére by Édouard Manet from 1882. The piece is larger than I had imagined and withholds even more detail than I first thought. The piece is impressionistic, but in a more controlled fashion than works we had previously seen today. Without knowing the theory behind the painting, the woman portrayed seems to have a look of concern, worry and tiredness in her eyes. She can be seen pushing away from the bar and seemingly ready to go home. The background contains many properly dressed, high class folks, one of which seems to stand out more so than the others, creating a comparison between the two lifestyles. It is said that the man at the bar is inquiring about prostitution, which explains the look upon the woman’s face. The mirror in the background shows the woman as engaged in serving the man, yet the front-on view shows the woman as submissive. The point of view for the viewer is interesting in that it seems as though the viewer may be the man inquiring as we are placed head-on with the centrally located woman. This work brings up a lot of questions.

The final images we looked at were by Paul Gauguin. Gauguin was a posh man who thought he’d take a swing at art. His trip to Tahiti produced Les Meules and Nevermore, both of which can be seen at Courtald. Les Meules poses a shot from above of women in tradition attire working within a hay field and a man with a mule. This work is post-impressionistic so more outlines and deliberate lines can be seen. Because of the elevation of the painting, I would have to imagine that Gauguin was aware of his social status when he chose to portray himself above the workers. He escaped to Tahiti to get away from Paris, yet found himself unhappy with the similarities between the two. In Nevermore, he presents a local woman who seems unhappy and abused. The age of the woman is astonishingly young and creates a bit of disgust in most viewers.

We were required to watch these three videos this week: The Argenteuil Bridge by MonetPoplars by MonetMoulin de la Galette by Renoir (Harris & Zucker, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c). These films all analyze impressionistic paintings from the deliberate brush strokes to the focus on light and landscapes, while this Impressionism article from Smart History discusses the logistics of the movement (Smarthistory.khanacademy.org., n.d.). This time of industrial growth and change in values can be seen throughout this time period and it is heavily reflected in the artwork seen. As I discussed about with Cezanné, I believe these readings and videos were vital to the lesson as the artwork truly reflected the era.

 

 

12 Mar - Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre
Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space (1998), Martin Creed, Hayward Gallery, http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space (1998) by Martin Creed, Hayward Gallery,
http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Work No. 1092 MOTHERS (2011), Martin Creed, Hayward Gallery http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Work No. 1092 MOTHERS (2011) by Martin Creed, Hayward Gallery
http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Today we visited the Hayward Gallery to see Martin Creed’s exhibit What’s the Point of it? Martin Creed is a contemporary artist who still lives and creates today. He does not refer to himself as an artist and does not believe that the work he creates is actually art. Creed is very interested in the process of creating art and what it takes for him to get his ideas across through different mediums. The exhibition includes everything from a room full of balloons to brick walls to film and interactive piano displays. Upon entering the gallery, one is immediately met with an iron beam hurling itself around the room with the word MOTHERS blazing on top. The initial thought is to duck as the beam comes towards your head, nearly chopping it off. The 6’7” height is enough to startle anyone. The thought of a mother being overbearing, being a constant overhead radar and nearly chopping off your head is a concept close to some people’s personal memories. The room also contains many metronomes which are each set to a different pace. With the striped wall, the lights and the sounds, it is easy to feel overloaded. I found myself having to stand against the wall to take it all in for a moment. The gallery exhibits a crumpled ball of paper, stacked wood and boxes as if saying something about the nature of art. It seems as though anyone could have created these items. I believe Creed is purely trying to say something about the process of creating the art though. The frustration linked to a balled up piece of paper (Paper) is more important than the ball of paper itself. I also do not tend to do well with cinematic videos in galleries and this one is no different. Creed looped together videos of projectile vomit and shitting that was utterly disgusting and revolting. I have trouble understanding where his thought process was behind this one. There is a projection of dogs running around that is intended to represent ‘thinking’ and there is a lego construction that resembles one any child would have made. There’s an abundance of neon lights and a projection of a penis being raised and lowered. All together, the exhibit is put together very well and I found my mood to be generally enhanced upon being in the gallery space. There were aspects that reminded me of childhood and aspects that piqued by design interests, but I had a hard time conversing about the works. I was taught that anything created by man is indeed art and for Martin Creed to disagree that a video of shit is not in fact art, is hard for me to grasp. I do see him as an artist, I just imagine that he is approaching art in a very different style than most of us are use to. Contemporary art is funny in that way. I find it to be more about the emotions felt than the art designed.

Here is a video of a presentation by Martin Creed (Sawyer, 2010). I find myself struggling to watch this as I just do not understand him. It’s irritating really. But I suppose that’s the nature of contemporary art sometimes. The mimicry drives me insane and I cannot seem to understand why it is happening. I have a love/hate relationship with this style.

Paper, Martin Creed, Hayward Gallery, http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Paper, Martin Creed,
Hayward Gallery, http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk

 

 

5 Mar - Museum of London

Today’s visit was to the Museum of London. This gallery is much different from the previous galleries as we are exploring the history of London in a very timely fashion. The gallery begins with early historical facts and artefacts and continues on through wars, fires and growth. I enjoyed seeing the ways London life changed over time and it all makes a bit more sense when you can interact with each piece. At one point downstairs there is an area that has been created to seem like a street in London prior to the World Wars. There is a pub and a few shops, the lighting is low and the space is eerily quiet. This re-creation is specific to the exhibit and you would not find it elsewhere. It reminded me of theme parks and how they recreate villages or towns. We looked at a room full of maps depicting crime in London and played with interactive fountains. I focused on a WWII exhibit that featured suitcases. At first glance, the suitcases had a frosted lid and did not seem to say much. There were holes in the walls to listen to personal accounts and objects on top of the suitcases, like toy planes and gas masks. When you would touch the object, the frosted screen would reveal the contents of the suitcase. This contained a letter written by a young student in school and the contents of his or her suitcase upon packing for war. There was terror in their writing and it seemed so personal. That is what was particularly appealing about this gallery–the interaction. If you do not touch the pieces, you would not know what exists underneath. I believe the gallery attempts to reach all different age levels and does so very well.

 

 

26 Feb - Tate Modern
Trip Hammer 1988 by Richard Serra, Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

Trip Hammer 1988 by Richard Serra, Tate Modern,
http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

Yellow Islands 1952 by Jackson Pollock 1912-1956, Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

Yellow Islands 1952 by Jackson Pollock 1912-1956, Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

This week we spent time at Tate Modern. We began by looking at Jackson Pollock’s Yellow Islands. This pure abstraction was new for us and I think we all struggled with analyzing it. I had previous knowledge about Pollock’s method of painting and I do believe that each of his drips and strokes are intentional. You can tell by the balance present in the art. The colours he chose are rather dark in this piece and it seems as though he was feeling a bit of anguish while painting.

We chose to look at Mark Rothko’s Black on Maroon next, a painting in a series that was rejected by a restaurant commission. These now find home at the Tate Modern. This series is very geometric, repetitive and creates a particular ambiance. I felt a sense of comfort and relaxation while roaming the room. This feeling is similar to one created by meditation or practicing zen. Rothko uses no imagery here to give that feeling, but relies on juxtaposition of color to create this emotion.

We looked at Richard Serra’s Trip Hammer created in 1988. This piece sits precariously in the corner. The great thing about this piece is the simplicity and the material used. This material is inherently heavy and strong. We use this steel to construct building, yet here is Serra, presenting a piece that seems unstable and precarious. One would not imagine this quality from steel. It makes you a bit uneasy standing close, a reason why Tate Modern has probably chosen to restrict access to it. I would personally love to walk under the piece as I think it would only reinforce the ideas that Serra is going for, especially as he is known for creating giant metal structures that viewers can interact with. Some of his pieces are site specific and buildings are created surrounding his sculptures. There is no visible support structure which is vital to his work.

Lobby 1984 by Richard Hamilton, Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

Lobby 1984 by Richard Hamilton, Tate Modern,
http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

We came to Tate Modern to see Richard Hamilton’s exhibition. This exhibition is dedicated to displaying decades of his life, from his early years to his last pieces. I found this gallery to be extremely rewarding, not only because of the impeccable layout by Tate Modern, but because the growth and exploration evident in Hamilton’s work is more than prevalent. Hamilton began with exploring life forms and ended with polaroids and nude photographs that he transformed with different mediums. I enjoyed Fun House, his exploration with collage and his use of architecture in Lobby, later in life. I didn’t focus on any artwork particularly, but rather looked at the progression.

This week’s research began with a video by John Berger. There’s a bit where artworks are shown on the video for a period of time where absolutely no sound exists. Though this is interesting, I don’t find it to be like my experiences in galleries; there is almost always background noise in public spaces. Berger also talks about the difference of seeing a work in person versus in a textbook or on screen (John Berger, 2012). I am finding that my education up until now has consisted of photographs of art, but being in London and taking this course is letting me experience the piece in a different way by getting close and personal with the works. This is extremely beneficial to my learning.

Black on Maroon 1959 by Mark Rothko, Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

Black on Maroon 1959 by Mark Rothko, Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

 

 

12 Feb - Royal Academy of the Arts
Grafton Architects, Royal Academy of the Arts Sensing Spaces, http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Grafton Architects, Royal Academy of the Arts Sensing Spaces, http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Royal Academy of the Arts Sensing Spaces, http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Royal Academy of the Arts Sensing Spaces, http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Kengo Kuma, Royal Academy of the Arts Sensing Spaces, http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Kengo Kuma, Royal Academy of the Arts Sensing Spaces, http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Today we visited the Royal Academy of Arts for the Sensing Spaces Architectural exhibit. I was assigned to look into Grafton Architecture’s exhibit. There were two gallery rooms outfitted by this group from Ireland. The first room was dark. Large, thick grey concrete walls began from the tall ceiling and were cut off about 3 meters from the floor. The space was very angular, however it was the light that accented the space. Small spaces from above cast light on particular surfaces. At first, I noticed myself moving throughout these individual “rooms” that were created by the barriers hanging from the ceiling. Then I noticed that the light actually demarcated these spaces that I found myself between. The surface seemed cold, but not uninviting. The second room was visible from this room, a nice juxtaposition. This room was white. The walls extended from the ceiling again, but this time, they were very repetitive. These thinner walls were white and textured, but the lighting was natural. The walls replicated the framing of the windows above which only strengthened the direction of light. This room was more inviting to sit in. This reminded me of a Martin’s creeds Lights going on and off display at Tate Britain. Although, having the ability to choose the lighting was more enjoyable here.

The other exhibits included a bamboo and light exhibit, a straw and clear plastic tunnel, a wooden maze with a zen garden and a wooden treehouse that amplified the current structures of the building. This is interesting and relates to the TEDTalks about focusing on what is already in the building. The same could be said with the concrete arch exhibit that were replicative of the arches in the gallery.

This week’s reading included a video by Alastair Parvin from TED Talks. Here he discusses who architecture is created for. He introduces his WikiHouse project that  is essentially a printable home that can easily be constructed for those who will utilize the space (TED Talks, 2013).

Also viewed was a TED Talks by Thomas Heatherwick (TED Talks, 2011a) We are introduced to five of his recent projects, including the Seed Cathedral. He states that this is the one building that looks better in person then in renderings. He is completely interested with how people will interact with his buildings and this can be directly translated to  the Royal Academy of the Arts exhibit. There is a display where straws can be inserted into the structure, making the viewer part of the architecture. Not only is this thrilling for those in the gallery, but the collaborative effect is a positive step for architecture (TED Talks, 2011a)

 

5 Feb - Tate Britain
Sisyphus circa 1870 by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

Sisyphus circa 1870 bySir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

The Great Day of His Wrath 1851-3 by John Martin, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

The Great Day of His Wrath 1851-3 by John Martin, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

A Bigger Splash 1967 by David Hockney, Tate Britain,  http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

A Bigger Splash 1967 by David Hockney, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

Preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

Preserve ‘beauty’ 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

A Line Made by Walking 1967 by Richard Long born 1945, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

A Line Made by Walking 1967 by Richard Long born 1945, Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

We went to the Tate Britain today and looked at an 1800’s piece about the last judgement to do a formal analysis. The colors and sci-fi feel of this was very different from other paintings of this time period. It seems futuristic. The painting has good movement and a strange perspective. Your eye is taken counterclockwise around the painting and the impending doom on the humans creates a strong emotion. We then looked at Sisyphus by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, who had to push a boulder up a hill as punishment. We talked a lot about the emotions created; exhaustion was evident in the painting. It was small, circular, monotoned and included a lot of line work. Each of these elements helped to contribute to the emotions felt. This abstract artwork carries a lot of information though the depiction itself is not realistic. Then we saw Martin Creed’s display of lights (Lights going on and off from 2001). Every 5 seconds the lights turned on and off. I thought this was rather obnoxious for the entire time I was standing in the gallery space. It reminded me of negative things and it hurt a bit to stand there. However, when I closed my eyes, I felt something completely different. There was a warmth that came with the light and a pleasant coldness that came with the dark. It was much softer and the change created an emotion that was more welcomed. This form of abstract art is contemporary and does not truly have any content. It is almost a form of pure abstraction. We then looked at A Bigger Splash by David Hockney. No one real liked the painting, except myself. The vibes were very “Palm Springs” and posh-like. I loved the color scheme and the simple lines, yet the detail in the splash was great to feast on. This abstract piece tones down the unnecessary and causes the viewer to focus on the splashing water. We then looked at an environmental piece by Richard Long titled A Line Made by Walking from 1967. The ephemeral quality was quite nice and the message was simple. This was one of his first pieces of work from his years studying in school. I tend to enjoy ephemeral art, especially Robert Smithson who appeared in this week’s reading. Next was Ayna Gallaccio’s flower installation preserve ‘beauty’. She put together 2,000 Gerbera daisies for this display. Most people were quite repulsed by the mold, but I found it to be beautiful. Preserved ‘beauty’ allowed the flowers to dissolve naturally, which was a completely different process for each flower. The patterns created were beautiful. I love that the piece has been in the gallery for so long and left untouched. There is also a lot of irony since the flower is supposed to be a symbol for beauty. It is a great work in my opinion. The emotions created throughout todays visits were so strong, yet they were translated in very different ways and in very different methods.

 

27 Jan - National Gallery
Bathers at Asnieres Georges Seurat, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Bathers at Asnieres Georges Seurat, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey Paul Delaroche, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey Paul Delaroche, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Today’s class took us to the National Gallery. We began class by looking formally at three different pieces of art or adverts which was successful because it got my brain flowing for what to look into at the museum. The first things to consider included scale, color, marks, lighting, medium, size, etc. These are all decisions made by the artist. Then to dive in deeper, you study the piece contextually, focusing on the history of the artist or the time period, what the artist is trying to tell us, etc. This is very much related to the “society” aspect of this module.

We spent some time looking at An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby. This painting was massive in size and I stood there for fifteen minutes taking in the little nuances. The painting was so detailed and rendered with such care that I couldn’t stop looking. From a distance, the use of chiaroscuro really caught my attention, but the details brought me in really close. We talked about our initial thoughts of the painting, never going into their contextual background, which has left me with some questions. Why were some people seemingly so worried? Why was this scientist in the house? What does the experiment entail? Does it take place at night because of its legality? We moved onto Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus by Joeseph Mallord William Turner. We studied the texture of this painting more closely, noticing the scratch marks. We dove into the artist’s story, learning of his tendency to blend the canvas with his hands and finger nails. I enjoyed knowing this about the painting, it made me enjoy what I was looking at more. My group chose to look at The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. We first began talking about our initial impressions, discussing the presence of the stage, the viewpoint at which we were viewing the act of beheading, the focal point (her dress) and the emotional expressions. We read the plaque to understand why she was being beheaded which led us to create other assumptions. Lastly, we viewed Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres by Seurat. This impressionistic painting was gorgeous and larger than I had imagined. I appreciate getting up close and seeing how our eye merges the separate colors from a distance. The way this was rendered was fascinating. We discussed the lack of eyes, the haziness, the color scheme and the presence of the factory in the background.

I ended up going back to the National Gallery the next day because the small dose of Seurat from Wednesday left me wanting more. I ended up exploring the entire gallery, sifting through some of Picasso’s works and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. There were also a few Rembrandt pieces tucked into the back of the building and I enjoyed.

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, Joseph Wright of Derby, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, Joseph Wright of Derby, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Ulysses deriding Polyphemus, Joseph Mallord William Turner, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Ulysses deriding Polyphemus, Joseph Mallord William Turner, National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

 

20 Jan - St. Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, http://www.stpauls.co.uk

St Paul’s Cathedral, http://www.stpauls.co.uk

We explored St. Paul’s Cathedral today, to my surprise. I had never planned on paying the entrance fee, but I’m so glad I got to go inside. I would recommend it to anyone. The lecture was successful for me because I enjoy hearing the background and cultural significance of an artefact or architectural structure before I explore the piece visually.

The culture surround St. Paul’s is intriguing. The building and/or plot of land has withstood fire, wars, protests and weather. St. Paul’s is an iconic site in the United Kingdom. I had heard of St. Paul’s from growing up in the church, but I never imagined what it would have felt like to be inside.

The crypt was an interesting space to explore, though looking into the prime minister’s, generals and Horatio Nelson’s resting spaces was a bit chilling. The Whispering Gallery was acoustically great, but the stone Saint statues and frescos adorning the dome were exquisite. I climbed to the top of the Stone and Golden Galleries to see the beauty surrounding London, something that is much a part of the history of the building itself. St. Paul’s stands for many things in London. I stayed for the Eucharist at 1230 and did confession and took communion. The decorations were so intricate that it would take me months to fully explore the church. I found Henry Moore’s Mother and Child contemporary piece to be surprisingly welcomed in the church. Contemporary art is not usually associated with the church and to find a piece in one of the most English Baroque churches is unexpected. Religion is something that seems very traditional to me and less convinced to change or adapt to new societal trends. However, this piece was different from anything else to be found in the area, giving way to the church’s progression. Since the piece is also from a major British sculptor, it shows the local ties and support the church has for the community. It was refreshing to see tradition juxtaposed alongside the contemporary. The church also had a chapel area dedicated to the US Armed Forces who died in battle during the second World War. The church is dedicated to the world surrounding it which adds to the grandeur of the church itself.

 

15 Jan - British Museum
Benin, Edo peoples, British Museum from https://www.britishmuseum.org

Benin, Edo peoples, British Museum from https://www.britishmuseum.org

Our tutor had us split into smaller groups and spend fifteen minutes in the Egyptian gallery to get a sense of what the British Museum was trying to do. I found the Egyptian room to display many of the works on pedestals. Everything seemed monumental and powerful because of its raised position and grandeur size. It was not intimidating standing in front of Semuset, but it was not welcoming either. I wanted to admire the work from a far which I think is beneficial because not only does the British Museum allow that distance to exist, but it is true to how the pieces would have been seen thousands of years ago.

Throne of Weapons, Cristovao Canhavato, British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org

Throne of Weapons, Cristovao Canhavato, British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org

Egyptian, British Museum https://www.britishmuseum.org

Egyptian, British Museum https://www.britishmuseum.org

We explored a bit of the African gallery at the end. I found the Benin castings to be quite beautiful, however I was specifically drawn to the pottery. After taking a ceramics course last semester, I take great interest clay pots. The African gallery had a great cascading display for the water vessels. We discussed how the African gallery is very general–not using a timeline or geography to display the artefacts. The gallery seems to skip over a lot of important information. The selectiveness gives only a general idea of Africa, though I found the addition of contemporary artworks to be very interesting as Africa is still a developing region. Since the African exhibit was not as monumental as the Egyptian gallery, I felt like I could interact with the artefacts more.

This article in Time Out London interviewing Neil MacGregor perfectly explains the ideals behind the British Museum. “It’s the only museum in Europe where it’s all under one roof. It’s also different from the other great world museums in that it has always collected contemporary things. The Louvre stopped buying paintings in 1848, and neither the Metropolitan nor the Hermitage acquire contemporary material. They are museums of art but we’re a museum of societies,” states MacGregor (Ward, 2008). This is completely evident while wandering throughout the British Museum, one can really get the feel of a cultural presence and not just a display of artefacts. I have been to the British Museum six times and there are still rooms I have yet to make it to.

In this TED Talk of Neil MacGregor states “The British Museum is not just a collection of objects, it is also a arena where meaning and identity are being debated and contested on a global scale. All museums rest on the hope – the belief – that the study of things can lead to a truer understanding of the world” (TED Talks, 2011b). He is discussing the 2,600 year old clay cylinder that contains text. This piece is controversial today as the meaning is still being debated.

This gallery organises the exhibitions by culture and usually further reduces those categories. The focus on society and culture was a great way to start the class.

 

 

Reflection

In the Spring of 2014, I enrolled in Art & Society at the University of Westminster. This is my final journal depicting my experiences and thoughts on the semester’s lectures, readings and site visits. Over the semester, we visited eleven different galleries, exhibitions and sites to get first hand experience with art and its connection to society. We began very simply, by asking ourselves ‘what is art?’ and wandered through the British Museum like flopping fish. Our first mission was to just walk around and see how the British Museum does what they do. I had never thought about the layout or how the wayfinding and plaques aid or tarnish my experience in a museum, but to have this understanding helps in navigating the museum. I found that I need to spend ample amount of time with each piece at the British Museum, reading the detailed history and description of each piece—which is why I have spent six mornings at the museum over the last couple months. Each exhibition requires something of the viewer, like the Royal Academy of Arts which begs for interaction with straws and rocks or the London Museum which requires your touch for information to be revealed. Yet then there is St. Paul’s Cathedral which doesn’t require too much of the viewer, but rather one’s presence in the space is enough. The sessions also built as we learned new techniques for analyzing art, from formal analysis at the National Gallery to critical/contextual analysis at the Tate Britain. We began by just looking at what the artist chose (i.e., colors, composition, content) and then moving to understanding why the artist chose to make those decisions. At Tate Britain, we emphasize the emotions that those choices affected and I found this to be helpful for the rest of the visits, as we moved onto contemporary and impressionist art. These styles tend to be more difficult for me to analyze, but having this information was helpful. With each session, we were able to have stronger discussions about works and in turn, enjoy the visits more.

The readings were an integral part of the class. Each week we would be assigned a few texts and sometimes a TED Talk or accompanying video. This provided us with the necessary information to be prepared for each weeks discussion as well. Peter would give a short presentation before each visit, requiring us to think more abstractly about the readings and providing some background or history on the day’s visit. Together, these helped consolidate the ideas needed to understand the visit better. The readings provided me with a refresher on the concepts of modern, abstract, contemporary and impressionist art, while sometimes throwing in some history and present day ideas. My appreciation for the module was guided by these readings and I think they are a vital part of the learning process.

‘What is art’ and ‘what makes art, art’ became a reoccurring question throughout the module. I was particularly challenged by the contemporary exhibition at the Hayward Gallery as I found Martin Creed’s work to be difficult to express in words. I tend to see art as anything that is created by a human and for Creed to not label his works as art or to consider himself as an artist, was a difficult concept for me to understand. Art can be said to reflect society, but I do think that in some cases, art can create society. Viewing Creed’s work created ideas (like how is this balled up piece of paper, art?) that otherwise wouldn’t have existed from society. Art makes us think differently and thus helps us evolve. I struggled with viewing society’s connection to the artwork throughout the semester because that doesn’t tend to be my initial reaction. I had never considered how the environment or time period tends to affect the artist or how the artist affected society, until this module. These ideas were amplified at the end of the module as we looked into the Wallace Collection and the Portrait Gallery. There is much to be said and felt about the relationship between the artist and their model. These contextual clues are vital in understanding the art.

To further understand how society plays this role within art, I found myself having to do research and having to revisit museums. Often, it seemed as though we raced through museums, missing so much that I had to go back. I did a little more research into how art makes one view the rest of the world because this started to intrigue me. I think art is a means and not an end to seeing the rest of the world. An important figure to look at is Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who makes many sacrifices to create art. In his TEDTalk, Ai Weiwei detained, Weiwei speaks of the lack of freedom in his home country and the progress China is making (Anderson, 2011). Ai Weiwei often has to break laws, such as submitting this video, but his work is highly influential to the many communities. Weiwei says that “it is very hard to find individual expression in media or in any public territories, so to help the change, to help China become a more Democratic society, you need people who can act, who can give out their opinions and who can talk to young people and trying to find a way to encourage people to be involved” in his speech (Anderson, 2011). Weiwei’s work holds an immense amount of power, a power that the country is more than aware of, but this power gives Weiwei the ability to spread change and give movement to art. I also became interested in how contemporary art has been accepted by the world today and how it has changed art as we know it. I found myself to be deterred from viewing contemporary art in the past because I could never fully engage through analyzation. With Martin Creed’s exhibition, I was opened up to the possibilities and felt slightly more comfortable exploring the ideas his art invoked. I found this article in The Guardian titled Martin Creed: ‘People know what’s fake and what’s not’ and became interested when Creed described his work as his introductory ‘hello’ to a viewer (Sawyer, 2010). He is just trying to bridge some gap that exists between the artist and the viewer. If I think about the What’s the point of it? exhibition in the Hayward Gallery, I can almost immediately begin to understand this introduction. His lego tower reaching up seems so elementary, yet maybe he is just trying to introduce a very small, very basic idea. It is quite strange that as a viewer, we can pull these elaborate explanations and have such academic reasoning for traditional artwork in a time period that is not our own, yet with the forms that Creed uses (i.e., legos, wood, boxes, chairs), we struggle to understand. These forms are more relatable to our generation than most historical battles, biblical stories, and other traditional depictions, yet we struggle to analyze contemporary art. There’s something fundamentally odd about that, but that is also what makes contemporary art so intriguing and enjoyable to some.

References

Anderson, C. 2011. Ai Weiwei detained. Here is his TED film. Available at: http://blog.ted.com/2011/04/04/ai-weiwei-detained-here-is-his-ted-film/ [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

Harris & Zucker, B. &. S. 2012. Monet, Poplars. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-history/art-history-1848-1907-industrial-revolution-ii/impressionism/v/claude-monet–poplars–1891 [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

Harris & Zucker, B. &. S. 2012. Renoir, Moulin de la Galette. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-history/art-history-1848-1907-industrial-revolution-ii/impressionism/v/renoir–moulin-de-la-galette–1876 [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

Harris & Zucker, B. &. S. 2012. Monet, The Argenteuil Bridge. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-history/art-history-1848-1907-industrial-revolution-ii/impressionism/v/monet–the-argenteuil-bridge–1874 [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

John Berger / Ways of Seeing, Episode 1 (1972). 2012. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

MCA Chicago. 2012. Meet Martin Creed. [image online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdWSOL7x3LA [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

Sawyer, M. 2010. Martin Creed: ‘People know what’s fake and what’s not’. [online] 17 Jul. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/jul/18/martin-creed-interview-miranda-sawyer [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

Smarthistory.khanacademy.org. n.d. Impressionism – Smarthistory. [online] Available at: http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/impressionism-france.html [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

TED Talks. 2013. Alastair Parvin: Architecture for the people by the people. Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/alastair_parvin_architecture_for_the_people_by_the_people [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

TED Talks. 2011a. Thomas Heatherwick: Building the Seed Cathedral. Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_heatherwick [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

TED Talks. 2011b. Neil MacGregor: 2600 years of history in one object. Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_macgregor_2600_years_of_history_in_one_object [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

Ward, O. 2008. Neil MacGregor: Interview. [online] 1 Apr. Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/attractions/neil-macgregor-interview [Accessed: 4 Apr 2014].

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