Art History Hotties: Autumn

Rosalba Carriera, Autumn, 1725

When you think about autumn, you might think about leafs crunching under your feet, the chilly weather, or maybe pumpkin spice lattes. Well, I know one thing you weren't thinking about; grapes. Specifically, grapes being held by a nude nymph who seductively stares into your soul. Interestingly, I can't seem to think of what autumn, grapes, and nymphs have to do with each other, and I'm guessing you might also be confused.

 First, grapes might have religious context as a reference to Jesus and the last supper where he gives his disciples wine resembling his blood. Secondly, they might be a reference to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and religious ecstasy. However, I fail to see what either of these things have to do with autumn. Maybe during autumn, there were massive parties where everyone chugged wine while talking about religion. I somehow doubt it.

Autumn, by Rosalba Carriera, is one of a series of four paintings about the four seasons. Each painting depicts a partially nude nymph with an item that corresponds to their season. Spring gently sniffs a small white flower. Summer is, well, just holding a small white flower. Winter is adorned with a luxurious fur coat, and then there's Autumn, just holding some grapes. 

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Art History Hotties: Laughing Cavalier

Frans Hals, Laughing Cavalier, 1624

Greetings participants of My friends call me The Laughing Cavalier, and I am in desperate need of a loving wife. As you can see from the inscription on the top right corner, I am 26 years old. As I embark on my mid-twenties, I fear death. Therefore, I need to spend the rest of my life living in luxury and vices. On weekends I enjoy shopping for expensive hats, and I always make time to worship the Lord. I spend many hours plucking my eyebrows and curling my hair daily. I need a woman who possesses skin more fair than mine. I desire a Christian women with status and wealth. If you display attraction to my profile pic, have your messenger pigeon hit me up.

I joined to look for my soulmate, and I believe I can find my special lady. I need an adventurous and loyal women. I do not wish to engage with women who only wants to marry me for my wealth. During my free time, I enjoy participating in intimate scandalous activities. The laughing smirk on my face hints at the mysterious yet enjoyable qualities I posses. Laughter in paintings remains rare, as most artists portray more of a serious approach towards their subjects. I think the classic yet serious stares in most portraits are boring, so I decided to spice up the era. I believe my playful laughter makes my profile pic unique. 

The delicate and intricate brushstrokes on my most elegant outfit displays my immense wealth and status. Of course I picked out the most flamboyant outfit I own. I enjoy to flaunt my superiority, like most men in the 17th century. I obviously earn a spot in the top 10 most viewed profiles. My looks capture women’s attention instantly. I spend hours of my day having my servants groom my mustache. My hat collection continues to grow, (it might be bigger than my ego). I urge women of all ages to pick me on this dating site. I am the best candidate because of my suggestive yet innocent smirk, devious eyes, dashing mustache, extravagant apparel, and of course my overflowing bank account. Not to mention I have a rocking body under all these layers of clothes too. I am definitely at least a 10/10.
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Art History Hotties: Danae

Gustav Klimt, Danae, 1907 

The painting, Danae, tells an erotic mythical story by the Greeks. The woman in the painting, Danae, and the ultimate playboy, the mighty Zeus, fell in love, but their affair was stopped by her father because of a prophecy saying a son born of his daughter would in the end be led to kill him. To foil the prophesy, her father locked Danae in a brass chamber. However, Zeus with all his mighty powers transformed himself into golden rain and impregnated Danae with Perseus. This painting captured that moment of intimacy.

If we look closer to the painting, we see Danae in the center of the painting curled up with her eyes shut and lips parted, her hand grabbing her own breast, and the golden rain falling down from above.  In a way, the amount of private sensation in this painting is almost disturbing to the viewers; we see a woman completely exposed, but meanwhile Danae is only paying attention to her pleasure. 

Gustav Klimt was an Austrian artist who mostly painted large scale painting of female bodies. Klimt was highly influenced by Japanese prints, which was fairly popular during his time. We can see the resemblance from the flat color and his use of patterns. In Danae, we can also see his distinctive style of painting: the orange patterns on the black voile hint at the Japanese prints. This painting was created during his "golden period," because of his often use of gold leaf; this technique is also used in Danae in the form of golden rain.
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Mugshot Study

Kehinde Wiley, Mugshot Study, 2006

Kehinde Wiley refuses to be pigeonholed as any one thing. As a black, gay, Yale-educated, California -born, Brooklyn-based portrait artist, Kehinde Wiley finds his identity in this eclectic compilation of attributes. Wiley creates portraits to celebrate the equally complex identities of his African-American peers. 

As Wiley walked down the streets of Harlem, a crumpled piece of paper blew across the sidewalk. Wiley picked it up and discovered the mugshot of the unnamed man in this painting. The dichotomy of the traditional African necklaces and the wife beater stand out against his dark skin. The beautifully crafted highlights on the young man's face are representative of Wiley's classic style. In Mugshot Study, Wiley proposes a critique of the mugshot and its impact on members of the black community. With this painting, Wiley rebukes the mugshot with the ability to say, "I will be seen the way I choose to be seen." 

In his other, more iconic paintings, Wiley pulls subjects off the street in his effort to represent the common black man. When new subjects arrive at his studio, Wiley encourages them to look through various art history books and review classical works. When they've found a painting that resonates with them, he paints them in that pose. His paintings are not depictions of the wealthy, powerful, or influential. Wiley describes his paintings as "chance encounters with those too often prevented from filling those roles." By placing young blacks in the midst of classical portraits, he calls attention to the lack of representation for minorities in the historically great works of art. Wiley creates tension between traditional art history and its neglect of black subjects. His portraits symbolically reassign value to the sitter. 

The surfaces of Wiley's paintings are intentionally flat and thinly painted. This choice calls attention to the subject matter as art, instead of the paint itself. He disliked the visible brushstrokes of the expressionist era. Wiley's work is not about the paint, but the paint at the service of something else. He said, "It is not about gooey, chest-beating, mach '50s abstraction that allows paint to sit up on the surface as subject matter about paint."

Furthermore, Wiley was heavily focused on the idea of "remix culture." His paintings, replicas of various classical compositions, are "remixed" with the insertion of his black subject matter. Wiley is not concerned with being entirely original, nor is he concerned with the idea of cultural appropriation. He contends that, "Nothing is original anymore. Everything comes from something else. Every idea is inspired by something outside of itself." 

Wiley, almost hypocritically, also warned of the danger that art can tell us universal, cultural, or autobiographical truths. He warned against politicizing artwork in a way that limits the viewers perception of the painting. Wiley often points out the limitations created when the viewer expects art to be a political statement, social commentary, or a catalyst for change. However, this notion seems highly hypocritical because Wiley clearly pushes social commentary upon his viewer by transplanting disenfranchised blacks in the place historically powerful whites. 

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 Jean-Michel Basquiat, Scull, 1981

Focusing on topics of 'Suggestive Dichotomies,' young Neo-Expressionism painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat questions the people of 20th century. Touching on sensitive subjects like wealth vs. poverty, and integration vs. segregation, his abstract-like paintings have provoked discussions and grasped the attention of critics and fans. Born in Brooklyn, New York in an African-American household, Basquiat experienced the unpleasant side of life. 

At age 7, Basquiat was involved in a minor car accident that put him into a hospital. From that moment, Basquiat was forever interested in the complexity of the construction of a human body. In the painting Scull, despite the head having teeth, a nose, and eyes the painting shows the decaying of the face, which symbolizes an incomplete human being. Basquiat uses abstract lines and shapes of graffiti to cover the right side of the face giving the illusion of skin being there. By looking at the train-track like lines that could have been based off of the NY subway, he could have presented the world this piece that may represent his struggles of running away from home and exploring the chaotic side of life in New York. He uses bright complimentary colors of blue and orange to simplify the painting and emphasize the focal point, which is the head.
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A Bigger Splash

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967

David Hockney captures the fleeting nature of a splash in this vibrant painting.  The piece represents one of Hockney's signature painting subjects: water. Hockney, enamored by the the perpetual motion of water, centers a splash in the center of an eerily empty California home scene. Hockney studied the movement, transparency, and depiction of water almost obsessively.

As an artist, Hockney relished the preservation of a single moment, like a splash. Hockney once noted the satisfaction he found in spending weeks to preserve a split-second event. His observation of water's qualities played into Hockney's affinity for representation. Hockney's interest in the two-dimensional portray of three dimensions plays out in the water splashing up from the pool's surface.

In this piece, a splash emerges from the surface of the swimming pool, but the source of it cannot be seen. This creates a sense of mystery and an overall eerie tone as this residential scene appears inhabited yet empty. The person (or persons) that must be beneath the surface of the water add an element of intrigue that extends beyond the canvas.

The splash depicts a temporary disruption in the calm evoked by the rest of the painting. Its dynamic shape contrasts with the rigid lines and crisp colors the Hockney employs to depict the house. This California home's stark pool deck illustrates Hockney's view of America's wide open spaces in comparison to his life in London. As a gay man in an English society hostile to the notion of homosexuality, Hockney found solace in the more liberated culture of America in the 1960s.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Whaam!, 1963

Roy Lichtenstein became one of the leading artists in the pop art movement after he started using comic book images in his paintings. One of his most well-known pieces, Whamm!, depicts a dogfight between two planes in which one is being shot down. Lichtenstein scales the comic from a few inches across to almost 14 feet. He simplified the colors and changed the type of planes from the original image. He also removed a speech bubble saying "The enemy has become a flaming star!". The fire and smoke from the rocket creates a strong horizontal line leading the eyes from the left to right emphasizing the explosion. Ben-Day dots are one of Lichtenstein's paintings most recognizable features. The tightly grouped dots create a repetitive and mechanical pattern that tricks the viewer into seeing depth where there is none.

Some people accused Lichtenstein of plagiarism and unoriginality, but the subject of the image wasn't so much what he was interested in. He was intrigued by the way comics could express violent emotions but in a mechanical and detached way. His paintings were not about the subject of the painting, but more the terms of their translation from a mass-produced image to fine art. His paintings call attention to the way that media simplifies events and their emotions. He intentionally uses comics with no recognizable cartoon characters. This draws attention away from who is in the painting, to the simple and straightforward style of the comic. This is again to express the way media can simplify emotions.
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Minidoka Series #2 The Exodus

Roger Shimomura, Minidoka Series #2 The Exodus, 1974


Roger Shimomura conveys his troubling story of his family's relocation to a Japanese internment camp during World War II throughout his works; however Minidika Series #2 directly relates to his experience moving to various camps. Shimomura, a Japanese-American born in Seattle, and his family were moved to Camp Harmony in Puyallup, Washington and then to Minidoka camp in Idaho. Growing up during and experiencing the aftermath of the racial tensions resulting from World War II has greatly influenced his works. 

Shimomura has become famous for conveying his highly political message in his pop art like style. He uses bright vibrant colors and sharp lines to create an ascetically pleasing work. He beautifully adds ionic japanese plant life and architecture such as the Itsukushima Shrine's red gate.

In Minidoka Series #2 The Exodus, Shimomura showcases the chaos that ensued throughout the Japanese-American community when transferring to these internment camps. Shimomura captures a image reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt in the Judeo-Christian bible, through the water splitting the tents just like Moses split the red sea. Similar to Moses, Shimomura attempts to escape a life of prejudice and live life as an American. Conversely, Shimomura uses the shadow to depict the impending dark times for racial minorities in post-war American society. The historical Japanese garb represents the struggle to blend the two cultures: their identities as Americans and Japanese. Shimomura discusses racial prejudice in the United States through his use of symbolic images and pop art style. 

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Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus, Transvestite on A Couch, 1966

Diane Arbus began her career as a fashion photographer and had a husband and two children. However, her dissatisfaction with her work of perfect individuals led to her quitting her job and divorcing. She began photographing those on the margins of society, suc as transgenders, crossdressers, dwarfs, nudists and so on. All of her photos were black and white because of the limited technology in her time, but I believe that she would have still chosen black and white to suppress aspects such as race because of her desire for equality in sex and race. Her photo, Transvestite on A Couch, showcases a "male" who identified as a female. This statement seems common now, but many people were oblivious to the transgender community and she argued for it alone.

Her style often includes a large part of a solid background with the subject centered in a pose. When I first saw this piece, I thought it was just a women casually lounging in her home until I read the title and noticed more. Her titles often claim a name for the subject, changing the viewers opinions. The person in the photo appears very put together with the hair do, makeup, jewelry, and clean house but has relaxed body language. She uses the contrast of the shadowless wall to the subject in addition to the harsh vertical and horizontal lines on the walls that complement the softly curved human body. This photo's context plays a vital role in understanding her artwork as one of the few advocators of this group.
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The American Collection #4: Jo Baker's Bananas

Faith Ringgold, The American Collection #4: Jo Baker's Bananas, 1997

The American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas, by Faith Ringgold, connects art to politics and music. Later in her career, Ringgold transformed her work into storytelling with elaborate fabric. Acrylic on canvas with pieces of fabric on the sides makes this artwork unique. Both Baker and Ringgold made powerful statements of equality. Josephine Baker's banana skirt challenged colonial history through her dance. Her bananas became a statement for beauty and racial equality. In this work Ringgold honors Baker. Ringgold's American collection series transforms American history into her own statement. 

Politically, Ringgold educates whites about black culture. The jungle-like prints in the background reminds Americans about colonization throughout history. Ringgold creates movement and energy by painting Baker in different poses. Ringgold uses bold colors to outline her work. The fabric on the edges compliments the acrylics. Immediately, I am drawn to the intense and intricate designs, giving me an overwhelming sensation of energy and color.

Ringgold displays high-class citizens listening to jazz on the bottom half of her art. Ringgold includes racial diversity. While looking at this artwork, I hear jazz music. Baker’s movement and the jazz players in the background gives me a sensation of jazz tunes. Connecting jazz and art teaches me about culture and American ways of life. Jazz music and dance is an important aspect of black history. Ringgold beautifully pays tribute to Josephine Baker by telling the story of black jazz.
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Untitled Film Still #10

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #10,  1978 

Cindy Sherman is a key figure in the evolution of photography in modern art. During the 1970s Sherman transitioned towards photography instead of realist-style paintings. Her photographs served as a tool to reveal feminine expectations and false portrayals in media. Her pieces contain cinematic moments with extravagant costumes and settings. Sherman's images examine and critique the greedy american culture of consumerism and foolish assumptions. Overall, her roleplaying and bold pictures helped to distinguish herself amongst the usual misogynistic modern artists in the 20th Century.

The image above is one of her 69 other untitled film stills. The torn grocery bag and anger in her eyes reminds viewers of tense moments in Hollywood dramas. Her other pieces share moments of her gazing at something off frame, which conveys deception and a sense of suspense. All of her pieces were created without the aid of anyone else. Her independent nature and work ethic to establish herself serves as an inspiration for women.

The collection of black and white photographs all tackle cliches of women in pop culture, but Sherman also insists that her photographs are left untitled in order to leave her pieces open to other interpretations. She claims that she has an affinity for dressing up in costumes, from movies, pornography and fashion, but it's pretty obvious that she was trying to shut down unrealistic expectations of women in the 20th Century. 

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32 Campbell Soup Cans

Andy Warhol, 32 Campbell Soup Cans, 1961

Iconic. Eccentric. Symbolic. Mechanical. All words to describe the unique being that is Andy Warhol. His obsession with mass-produced consumer goods spurred from years as a commercial artist. He combined his experience with advertising and his love for art to create some of the most iconic pop-art paintings of the twentieth century. He had a devotion to exposing the values of society in a mechanical style. His focus on mass-produced culture became almost an obsession of his. 

32 Campbell Soup Cans is 32 individual canvases (20" x 16") lined in rows and columns. Each canvas depicts a different soup flavor, in order of the year it was produced. Warhol picked an item that's heavily manufactured and that most Americans recognize, so it's easily relatable to the viewer. The production process of this piece started with Warhol practicing the tracing of these soup cans. It's also different from most of Warhol's work because it is a combination of hand-painting work as well as stamped and printed parts. The mimicked repetition of the soup has a sort of mechanical style. The accuracy is visually pleasing which is why most people think of this specific piece when they think of Andy Warhol. After completion, Warhol discovered a new way to make his art. Transferring a photograph or picture from a source, typically a literary source, to a canvas or silkscreen is known as screen-printing. At first, the style was meant for commercial use because it was easy to mass produce, but it became an art form, and Warhol's signature process. 

With this new process, Warhol started to use the help of assistants to make his art. His reliance on others can be seen as lazy or genius. Personally, I think it takes away from Warhol's influence because you know that parts of the work weren't made by him. Knowing that an artist put his blood, sweat, and tears into a piece adds to the work's uniqueness. If others help with making a piece, I think it's important to recognize their dedication in addition to the main artist. 32 Campbell Soup Cans triggered the possibility of making works in a series. He would pick an object or a celebrity (he was obsessed with the glamour of Hollywood) and would slightly change and repeat the artwork. This piece sparked Warhol's recognition in the art world. It solidified his focus on manufactured culture and was the beginning to the pop-art culture he created.
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Marie Antoinette

Judy Chicago, Marie Antoinette from the Great Ladies series, 1973

Judy Chicago, an early feminist artist, challenged the "white-men-only" art world with her art. Chicago legally changed her last name to her hometown name to symbolize her struggle trough identity after becoming a widow when she was only 23-years-old. Her search of identity is also shown in her art works, which aimed to elevate women in society and history. Like her most famous work, The Dinner Party, Marie Antoinette from the Great Ladies series memorizes the contribution of the last Queen of France- Marie Antoinette.

In this piece, Judy Chicago uses spray paint on canvas to make an even texture. She developed the butterfly motif on this painting. In many religions, butterfly is a symbol of the soul after people die. So in Chicago's work, she placed a thought that the great people will live forever in our mind. The use of bright color and the gradual change of color from the center to outside makes the design looks like a sun, which also glorifies Marie Antoinette. On the rim of the painting, Chicago wrote "Marie Antoinette—during her reign women artists enjoyed great success. But the French Revolution --which brought democracy to men-caused women artists to lose their status while the Queen lost her head." Chicago pitied that great woman that raised the status of women artists died so early in which somehow effected the time and difficulty for women to get back in the art party.

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Big Self Portrait

Chuck Close, Big Self-Portrait, 1967-1968
Chuck Close Documentary

Chuck Close is an American-born, Yale-educated, and photorealistic artist born in Monroe, Washington in 1940 and is still alive today. Close didn't officially begin his career until 1965 when he was 25.

Chuck Close is most well-known for doing portraits on a massive scale of close friends and family. For instance, Big Self-Portrait is about 9' X 7'. This specific piece looks like a photo but is actually a drawing using ink and pencil with incredible details. When talking about this piece Close said, "There's no question, I had some attitude about the way I wanted to be perceived." He wanted people to sort of know of his existence as an artist. He later goes on to say, "Now it seems funny wanting to look like this tough guy with a cigarette sticking out of the corner of my mouth, and a big, aggressive image of myself and saying to the viewer, 'Hey, notice my painting, notice me.'...I think I was trying to find out who I was as an artist."

Interestingly enough, this piece was done with only a half teaspoon of black paint thinned down to the same consistency as dirty water and put on the canvas with paintbrushes and an airbrush. The captivating details are created because in doing this he scraped off the paint with razor blades to depict the more rigid areas. In addition, to get the softer tones he connected an eraser to an electric drill.

When talking about details of Big Self-Portrait, Close says, "I don't want the viewer to see the whole head at once and assume that that's the most important aspect of my painting". For viewers to be able to see this as a painting and not a photograph you must stand close. If you look at this from afar you wouldn't be able to tell that it was a painting but would instead think it's a photograph.

Throughout his life, Close suffered from dyslexia and prosopagnosia (the inability to remember faces), but instead of viewing this as a disadvantage, he viewed this as his motivation to become an artist and to get better. When Close was in the process of trying to figure out how he would paint this, he thought that he should use the grid technique so that he could focus on one box at a time rather than becoming overwhelmed by the whole thing. Some would say that the grid process is similar to knitting, in that both of them go row by row. After finally completing this he states, "likeness is an automatic by-product of what I do.....the fact that it ultimately stacks up to build an image which has any relation to reality is mystifying to me."
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Sol Lewitt Chairs

Harry Wei, Sol LeWitt Chairs, 2010


To be very honest with you, I did not like the artist Sol LeWitt very much. I do think some of his ideas of Conceptual Art are very insightful -- such as how the idea itself could be art itself and the content could be entirely interpreted by the audiences -- but not enough for me to appreciate his paintings and drawings.

The only work of his that I found somewhat interesting is a photography piece called Cube Containing an Object of Importance but Little Value. I like that piece for the reason that it is easier for me to dig out the meaning behind the photography. The piece contains nine pictures of a progress of Lewitt digging a hole on the ground, and then buried a little squared box. I found it profoundly interesting, but due to LeWitt's idea of personal interpretation, I think it's up to you to figure out what he's trying to convey through this piece of art. Most of his works are visually pleasing but lack to deeper meaning, or very hard to get a grasp of, for me at least.

When I was doing research on Sol LeWitt, the most interesting piece I found is actually not done by him. It's not even done when he's alive (LeWitt died in 2007, RIP). The Sol LeWitt chair is done by a student called Harry Wei at Waterloo University in 2010. Wei got inspired by a drawing of LeWitt of a chair containing only simple vertical and horizontal lines. The chairs were built without any mechanical fasteners and can also be combined and transformed into a bench.

I personally think that if LeWitt is alive to see this, he would be very pleasef to see that people are converting his ideas into actions. Like he once said, "A blind man can make art if what is in his mind can be passed to another mind in some tangible form."
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Joan Mitchell, Chicago, 1996

Joan Mitchell's Chicago displays her distinct style of vibrant colors against a pale or earthy tone background. She chose to use oil on canvas because she claimed that the paint has a certain sheen and texture unlike any other medium and she used the drips and splatters to her advantage. Joan Mitchell belonged to a clique of popular New York artists and she drew inspiration from de Kooning, a member of the group. However, unlike de Kooning, she desired to portray landscapes in a less emotional and more so peaceful way. This work shows how she often depicted natural landscapes. 

This work is large scale, as she worked on it on the floor. Her work was first disqualified as art because of her sex and people wanted her work to be feminine and pretty. I disagree with this notion, but I also see it as more than that. At first glance, I saw trees with birds flyings out of them in all directions to me representing a sort of chaos. However, whenever I see this, I feel peaceful and more aware. Her focus on certain objects instantly reminded me of my own focus and what one chooses to focus on in their life. This painting, although seemingly busy, represents a calmness within the storm inspiring me to choose happiness and tranquility despite difficulties. 
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Watusi (Hard Edge)

 Alma Thomas, Watusi (Hard Edge), 1963

Watusi, a popularized dance move during the 1960s, became an artistic inspiration for a late bloomer painter Alma Thomas. Thomas, an African-American, sees her world in a simpler form and any distraction is removed during the process of creating her work. Her colors are bold, and bright and resembles the nature in most of her works. Although her debut as an artist was delayed, she received numerous recognitions for her delicate but bold works in the world of modern art.

In order to understand her paintings deeper, the viewers must look at it in a bird's-eye view for most of her works. In Watusi (Hard Edge), she uses vivid and hard edges of shapes to portray the wild movement of the dancers in the center. The blues that surrounds the dancers in the center can be seen as the crowds. The color pallete of her choice for this painting is subtle, calm and pleasing to the eyes, and the use of her negative space gives the painting chances to breathe.

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Untitled (PH-950)

Clyfford Still, Untitled (PH-950), 1950

Clyfford Still described art as "an unqualified act." Although Still endured many years of school at the undergraduate and graduate levels, he felt that art simply was an act of individualism and required no schooling or formal training. Therefore, he felt his pieces needed no explanation and were purely meant to be enjoyed by the observer. This rings true by his transition from representational painting to abstract works in the 1940s. The public knows Still for his jagged lines and expressive brushstrokes. Still used such tactics as the palate knife technique, an approach where the artist uses a sharp knife to scrap off excess paint. This ensures that the piece looks two dimensional in nature rather than appearing realistic.

Clyfford Still captures the picturesque views of a sunrise atop Mount Spokane. The jagged lines and mixture of snowy whites and the dark hues of the mountains are meant to encapsulate the views Still saw daily during his childhood in Spokane, Washington. The various colors that make up the mountain, illustrate the various shades seen in mountain itself. Though Still spoke little about how to interpret his art, he did mention showcases the void in his other works such as No. 2, also known as Red Flash on a Black Field. It can be viewed that Still captured the feeling of being lost in the metaphorical void in the navy and black mixtures in the foreground of the painting. Still's expressive brush strokes and tranquil colors help to illustrate the fond memories he had living in Washington state.The views along side a mountain during sunrise are nothing short of awe inspiring and are a true representation of the ingenious works of Clyfford Still.
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The Golden Wall

Hans Hofmann, The Golden Wall, 1961

Hans Hofmann's most famous work is an abstraction of vibrant colors and shapes that distorts the viewer's idea of dimension. His work takes bold gestures, and Hofmann often uses his past pieces to inspire and perfect his new ones. He says that "a strong picture constantly suggests new ideas; shows up the weakness of others." This idea of constant reconstruction suggests years of trial and error, and his development into a dedicated artist. He was devoted to  teaching and moved his life from Germany to the United States, where he taught at universities and studios. His students learned about Hofmann's opinion on the elasticity of art, and how you shouldn't strive to be known as a naturalist or an expressionist because concepts and techniques change. Instead, he said, simply be known for memorable artwork. 

Derive inspiration from nature. Don't be minimized by an objective. Work directly from life. Hofmann paints with feeling, and not with knowing. In The Golden Wall, he uses the simplicity of shapes to create a collage of emotion. He often expresses the beauty of joining color and structure, playing with dimension. There is a purity in his use of aesthetic elements like color, luminosity, composition, and balance. His theory of push and pull creates this illusion of space, depth, and movement with abstractly using color and shape. I appreciate his opinion on how art shouldn't be created from simply an objective, but rather be created from individual inspiration.

I like The Golden Wall, along with most of Hofmann's later abstract work, because of its challenge for the eye. As a viewer, I appreciate being able to recognize the shapes within the painting, but also have my own interpretation of the undefined strokes of the orange and red. I don't feel overwhelmed by his work, but rather calmed by the combination of color and shape.
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Madame Butterfly

Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly, 2000

Helen Frankenthaler exposes emotions of vulnerability, calmness, and femininity in her Madame Butterfly painting. Frankenthaler used 102 colors, all off which compliment each other. The multiple assortment of colors encourages the mind to intentionally look closer at the thin lines. Frankenthaler, born in 1928, contributed to both 1950s abstract expressionism and 1960s color-field painters. Madame Butterfly displays abstract techniques by using misty colors, leaving the butterfly not completely exposed. During the cold war, structure and order assimilated in United States ideology, and abstract painters were often frowned upon. During the 1960s, Frankenthaler changed her style by using bigger blots of paint, in which she encourages views to focus on the colors. Randomness and color defined Frankenthaler’s paintings.

Frankenthaler used the Japanese technique of separating Madame Butterfly in three separate canvases. The two outside sections compliment each other with a lighter shades, which gives the butterfly a glowing effect. Towards the end of Frankenthaler’s career, her work transformed into acalming sensations. Her stokes display less tension and feel like a connected symphony of thin lines. The darker shade of purple creates mystery and adds layers of drama to the butterfly. 

Besides visual pleasure, Madame Butterfly advocates for femininity. Within its name “Madame” encourages viewers to create a female image. The openness of the butterfly’s wings display outside elegance while exposing the beauty inside the butterfly. Madame butterfly’s wings makes the viewer feel free, while the focus is drawn to the assortment of color inside the butterfly. Overall, the culture, elegance, beauty, and freedom painted in Madame Butterfly gives the viewer a weightless feeling. Almost as if the viewers were the butterfly.
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Stenographic Figure

Jackson Pollock, Stenographic Figure, 1942
Jackson Pollock's most recognized paintings, the "poured paintings," feature deliberately thrown and dripped paint. However, Pollock, like many abstract expressionists, began with representational painting and evolved to works of complete abstraction. Stenographic Figure marks a milestone in Pollock's career. Made five years before Pollock began his "poured paintings," this piece strikes a balance between representational and abstract painting. 

The painting features two figures, though its title suggests just one. Both, while identifiable as humans, are highly distorted and drawn as stick figures. The calligraphic markings that overlay the painting are reminiscent of a stenographer's hurried yet intentional shorthand. The cryptic markings appear to be the forerunners to the choreographed splashes that covered Pollock's later canvasses. 

Pollock gravitated towards dark and somber tones throughout his career. However, Stenographic Figure, painted by Pollock in 1942, features an uncharacteristically bright palette. Many attribute this airiness to the beginning of Pollock's relationship with painter Lee Krasner and a newfound contentment with life. Additionally, this piece lacks the sense of chaos reflected in much of Pollock's work. Though the calligraphic marks clutter the surface, Stenographic Figure's relatively simple composition brings a heightened feeling of serenity in comparison to much of Pollock's other work.

This painting earned Pollock some of his first recognition. New York art patron Peggy Guggenheim displayed it in her gallery Art of this Century, where painter Piet Mondrian saw it and praised Pollock's work: "I have the feeling that this may be the most exciting painting I have seen in a long, long time, here or in Europe." Indeed, many would soon praise Pollock's "exciting" paintings, many of which evolved from the techniques and style seen in Stenographic Figure.
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The Artist and His Mother

Arshile Gorky, The Artist and His Mother, 1926-1936

When Arshile Gorky began painting, many defined him as a flagrant plagiarist. He spent the beginning of his career trying on and disposing of painting styles as casually as one would with assorted pairs of shoes. Even in his personal letters, Gorky was notorious for plagiarizing various authors and artists. However, this piece represents the most painstaking expression of his unique artistic style. The personal subject matter lends itself to such a presentation.

Gorky spent ten years perfecting this portrait of himself with his mother. He was inspired to recreate this childhood photo after his mother died in his arms following the Armenian genocide in 1919. The intention behind Gorky's work is most apparent when the painting is place next to the photo which inspired it.

Gorky's portrait represented his first experiment with flatness and incompleteness. After each layer of paint was added, he used a straight edged razor to scrape off any semblance of texture on the canvas. Gorky did not wish to accurately recreate a memory with this portrait. Instead he intended to immortalize his mother as a work of art with this venture into flatness and abstract expressionism. This style is highly reminiscent of Pablo Picasso's Blue Period.

The painfully negative space and the intentional angling of the artist's feet away from his mother highlights the separation in their relationship. The stark emphasis on the eyes also accentuates the emotional turmoil of this painting. The extension of the rectangle behind his mother's head serves as a sort of cloth of honor that presents her as a Madonna figure.

Though Gorky would later depart from this pseudo-realistic style, he would continue to push his early abstract tendencies that reveal themselves in this painting.  His abstract approach would soon evolve into a self-described combination of nature and reality filtered through memory and feeling.
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Bacchus #3

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978

Bacchus #3 is a painting of Roman wine god Bacchus created by Elaine de Kooning. It is the third painting of de Kooning's Bacchus series. Elaine de Kooning, wife of Willem de Kooning, got inspiration from the sculpture of Bacchus and painted it in her later career.

Elaine de Kooning uses Abstract Expressionism to show energy in the drunk god. Bacchus, a god of wine, is also the god of grape harvest. In this painting, to show Bacchus is related to nature, de Kooning smears blue, green, and yellow in the background. In addition, Bacchus represents the indulgent side of human nature. As seen, there are multiple blue-grey human figures overlapping each other which conveys the sense of carnival, chaos and sex. De Kooning's use of black outlines depicts the body figures and makes it easier for audience to differ the characters. The faceless figures express that the drunk humans are plunged to their dreamland.

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Afro Emblems

Hale Woodruff, Afro Emblems, 1950

Hale Woodruff's life as an African-American painter during a time of racial tension prevented his works from receiving instant appreciation. The elements of African American culture in his pieces all serve to empower and make viewers embrace their heritage. The fluid strokes and fauvist colors promote the beauty of one's culture. The square shapes and symbols within Afro Emblems are a tribute to African gold weights.

The gold weights are a flashback to Ashanti tribes prospering in a world filled with rich culture and art. Prior to slavery, Africa was filled with beauty and Woodruff's style serves to remind viewers of that golden era.
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Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950

Willem de Kooning often painted just on the edge of a style, making it easy to shift to a new look and experiment with his works. Excavation is a prime example of his experimentation of style. He contrasts the ideas of abstraction and figuration through the use of short jumbled lines and recognizable shapes. While Excavation is more on the abstract side of the spectrum, many objects can be found such as mouths, human noses, and other body parts. 

Excavation takes a turn from the abstract figure painting he was doing at the time. In fact, Excavation was painted the same he started one of his most famous paintings, Woman I.  De Kooning used a technique that many other painters used at the time. The process includes building up layers of paint and then scraping them off to achieve a flat, monotone texture. This technique is an intense and time-consuming process that shows De Kooning's attention to detail even in a painting that can seem hectic. 
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Image result for Shellflower
Lee Krasner, Shellflower, 1947


Sadly, Lenore "Lee" Krasner is one of many forgotten female artists of  the 1900s. When Lee Krasner began her career as an artist, many people referred to her solely as Mrs. Jackson Pollock. In the early years of her career, she chose to use oil pastels and charcoal instead of oil paint. Additionally, most of her works were categorized into series' that she painted. However, she did not jump right into abstract expressionism, but instead started off with realism and self-portraits,  and thengradually moving into abstract expressionism. 

This particular piece is part of her "Little Image" series, where she took pieces of her earlier works and combined them into one. Often times when people look at this painting, the first thing that comes to their mind is chaos. The reasoning for this is because there are a plethora of colors and brush strokes going in all directions. 

When I look at this painting, I not only see chaos, but also a reflection of her life. During her time as a young adult, she knew that it would be hard for a woman to become an artist because this is in the midst of The Great Depression, in which wanting becoming an artist presented a surplus of difficulties. Because of this, before her full emersion as an artist, Krasner took jobs as a waitress and model in order to make money. As she got older and time went on, it was not until 1984, the year she died, for her to become truly known as an artist. 

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Untitled (Alabama)

Norman Lewis, Untitled (Alabama), 1967

When I first saw the painting, without knowing anything about the painting nor the painter, I liked it. I like the geometric shapes, the graffiti-like style of painting, and simplicity of the color -- only back and white. Everything about this painting instantly grabbed my attention. As I looked more into it, digging out the stories behind it, knowing more about the artist, Norman Lewis, I fell in love with the painting.

During Lewis' time (and even now), black artists are under-appreciated and underestimated, many of them fell to the bottom of the ocean with their talent. Lewis, however, refused to accept the concept of being "less." He used his paintings to express his rage against racism. The painting shown  above does not have a title, but the theme is the KKK movement. If you look at the white triangular part of the painting, you can see figures of people wearing the cloaks that are symbolic of the group of white male superiority, the KKK. The contrary color of black and white also suggest the intense relationship between black and white community. To me, the black part of the painting appears to be fully black, like a shadow cast by the light shining upon the white, which leaves the other part out of sight. Lewis was trying to communicate is the neglect of the black culture and community. 

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Third Station

Barnett Newman, Third Station, 1960


Newman’s beginning stages as an artist consisted of failure and self-emptiness. Anything he painted early on, he destroyed and continued to destroy until his works matched his expectations. In 1948, he develops a pictorial device called a “zip.” This “zip” was meant to make two sides of a painting look as if a colored bar was separating it. On the contrary, the bar was meant to symbolize the “spark of life” and join the two sides of the canvas together. 

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is by far one of the most important historical events to date. Barnett Newman crafted an entire fourteen-piece series based on this event titled The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani (1958-66). The Third Station was when Jesus fell from the cross the first time after being hung there. Newman’s depiction of this event is supposed to be an abstract painting of Jesus as he hangs helplessly from the cross. Barnett’s famous “zip” he uses in most of his paintings is also used in this one as a method to separate what looks like a colored drop that fell into a glass of water. There are multiple “zips” used in this painting to represent the cry of Jesus. The use of an off white canvas instead of a plain white canvas causes the painting to appear older and more yellowed out than any of his other masterpieces. Through the yellowing of the canvas, it also give the artwork a deeper sense of meaning. Without the difference in color, the painting would look a bit more juvenile with a bunch of black lines splattered onto a pure white canvas.

Through Newman’s use of the “zip” and his abstract surreal technique, his artwork can be seen as a countless amount of subjects. Some may see Jesus Christ crying out for help on a bloody cross, or some might see a bunch of stripes on a dull canvas.
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Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People: The Morning of Our Motherland

F.S. Shurpin, The Morning of Our Motherland, 1948

Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People

This painting is by far the strangest of this whole collection. It’s not often we see Stalin associated with such love and serenity. It’s not often we see Stalin with anything other than absolute abhorrence. Of course the exception to this rule is obviously the late forties into the fifties in the Soviet Union, where paintings like The Morning of Our Motherland were critically acclaimed and coveted. Paintings like this follow a movement in Soviet culture called the Cult of Personality that idealizes Stalin and puts all the original intentions and feelings towards communism on him. He was at this time revered as a hero and pioneer of communism and humanity, foiled by outside influences beyond his control. When Shurpin first produced this painting, it was widely celebrated in the USSR and shortly thereafter became a recipient of the Stalin award, the greatest art honor possible in the Soviet Union at that time.

It’s easy to see why. If you were to look at this painting with no knowledge of Stalin and no context whatsoever, you would see a man, clothed in the white of purity, with a pensive, fatherly air about him, gazing out to the horizon. His figure is massive in comparison to the scene behind him. He looks almost godly in size and demeanor and statuesque in his poise. The sky behind him is soft and lovely, somewhere between white and blue cotton candy. The background frames him in a purple agrarian dream, dappled with tranquil tractors and the silhouettes of power lines, turned pink by the fading horizon. These images, though subtle, allude to some of Stalin’s perceived successes and the hope for an increasingly developed and industrialized Soviet Union. There is nothing about this gorgeous nature scene that would suggest gulags or mass starvation or incredible brutality. I don’t know a single person who would associate a lavender field with Stalin’s legacy. As a result, this painting is probably the most incredibly impressive piece of propaganda I discovered in all my research for this project. Clearly, Shurpin did not see Stalin in the way that we remember him in the West.

But it’s important to remember like all of these paintings, that someone who we would consider to be an indisputable cold-blooded killer is in some places revered as a national hero. It was this painting in fact that made me choose this topic. Whatever you consider to be the purpose and definition of art, it will always showcase the artist’s perspective. Great art will never fail to drop you straight into the mind of the person painting it. In this case, it’s the mind of someone inspired by communism and moved to reverence by someone like Joseph Stalin, who, like it or not, did change the nature of Russian history and government forever. As I depart from my little corner of the world at Barstow and head out into the great blue yonder, I’d do well to remember this power of perspective. If the humanities teach us anything, it’s that there is both light and darkness, beauty and ugliness, in all things. And to understand the world is to acknowledge the imperfection and pain and confusion of it all. The whole world is interpretation and everything you encounter is somewhere in the grey and in a world this confusing, it’s nice to have art to help us make sense of a world that is impossible to fully understand. While I encourage you not to be a lover of all things Stalin, I believe it’s a good thing to force ourselves to see these radical points of view from time to time to help us grow and change and challenge ourselves to be better more understanding people. 

So enjoy this gorgeous, hopeful sunrise over a brutal totalitarian dictator, and remember to think about the “wrong” side of history every once and awhile, because it’s always going to be someone’s hero story. It’s been a pleasure writing for you all.
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Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People: Andrew Jackson

Ralph E.W. Earl, Andrew Jackson, 1836-1837
Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People

For those of you keeping up with current events, you may know that our current President, Mr. Donald Trump, is quite the fan of President Andrew Jackson and recently hung this here portrait of our former President in the Oval Office. Jackson has had a mixed reputation through the years. He’s clearly a love-him-or-hate-him kind of guy. Certainly, Jackson ran as a war hero and a pioneer for the common man and won on the back of that goal, but if you dive a little deeper into this President’s history and legacy, you’ll begin to understand why Andrew Jackson is easily one of my least favorite Presidents of all time and a clear addition to this list of terrible people.

This portrait, by Ralph E. W. Earl, the closest the White House has ever come to a “court painter,” depicts the 7th president of the United States and a member of the early Democratic Party. This party was just about as far from the politically progressive, central government strengthening, anti-war Democrats of today as one can possibly be. The group Jackson ran for was a party of the working class and the rural, an avid supporter of state’s rights and the expansion of slavery out West. Born in Tennessee poverty, he rose up in early American society first as a young successful lawyer, plantation and slave owner, and politician as well as a war hero from the War of 1812. Looking at Jackson’s war record, it’s hard to argue he was anything other than an exceptional soldier and what my grandmother would call a “tough cookie,” receiving several scars on his face at the age of 14 for refusing to clean a British soldier’s boots after being captured. However, as political records go, Jackson’s wartime awesomeness did not translate into Presidential awesomeness. For his efforts, he was elected into the House as the first Tennessee rep and spent a short time in the Senate as well. Although he lost his first race for president against John Quincy Adams, largely due to a last minute rallying of support from Henry Clay, Jackson came back and won in 1928. Jackson was the first frontier president and represented not only a new faction of Americans but ushered in new trends in American politics, trends I would argue have not had the best effect on our history.

“Old Hickory” was strong and uncompromising in his values. His first real action in office was to establish a criminally nepotistic cabinet, filing all the seats he had control over with people from his family and his circle of close friends, despite their obvious lack of qualification for these crucial roles. In his personal life, Jackson began his term as president by throwing a massive non-exclusive party in his new home and allowing average citizens and his guests to get horrifically drunk and literally throw up all over one of our most cherished and respected symbols of our great nation, the White House. Despite being a member of and running on the ticket for the pro-states’ rights party of the time, Jackson quickly established himself as an exceptionally controlling President. Political cartoons at the time came out in droves proclaiming Jackson to be an American tyrant, nicknamed “King Andrew I,” throwing out executive orders left and right and exercising his veto to the greatest extent possible, often times for minor details in bills that he opposed. As a result, he undermined congress and maintained his own near absolute power and upsetting the balance of our democracy. During his term, the charter for the Bank of the United States, which Jackson hated, was set to expire. When congress voted fair and square to recharter the bank, Jackson immediately vetoed it, claiming the bank was supporting the “prostration of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many.” On a more fortunate note for this president, when South Carolina sat on the verge of civil war violence over a national tariff law they wanted not to follow, Jackson was able to insist (through threats) that they back down and preserved the union, a feat for which he received great credit. However for me, this accomplishment was quickly overshadowed by his ignoring a supreme court judicial review protecting Native American rights and subsequently ordering the mass move now deemed the “Trail of Tears” that led to the deaths of 4,000 Native American people.

So yeah. You could say I’m not a Jackson fan. Looking back at these past couple of posts in this series, you may notice a pattern, propaganda. This Earl painting is the same as any other, a beautiful, well-planned image of an unfortunate person. In Earl’s rendition of Jackson, his face in poised and stately, with a pensive positioning of his eyes and eyebrows, as if you’re just catching him deep in thought. The only sign of his legendary raging temper is in the flair of red in his coat draped over his shoulders. Looking at the man in this portrait, you’d never know who exactly he was. As President Trump continues on with his first year in office, he has a lot to learn. Though I have an obvious distaste for Jackson, he is a United States President and therefore someone I must embrace as a part of our country’s complicated history. Unlike “Old Hickory,” here, this is Trump’s first experience with a government position, and while I wish him all the best, I highly encourage he look a little farther into famed figures like Jackson before he jumps to put him on the wall of the highest office in the world. Earl’s exceptional skill as a portrait painter certainly made a regal image of Jackson, and one easy to see the best in. I understand the honorable values that Jackson is often made to represent such as strength, a refusal to give up on what one believes in, and the power of the people, but after more research, perhaps Jackson is not exactly the kind of man I would want our new President to be emulating. Either way, Earl’s portraiture genius has created this masterpiece of a highly complicated man, and that is a skill I can certainly respect.
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Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People: The Death of Marat

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1801-1805
Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People

For this post, the terrible person is twofold. Both Jean-Paul Marat, as the revolutionary martyr pictured here, and Jacques-Louis David, the painter, were intelligent, talented people gone bad. Picture it, just a few years before the French Revolution, the tension is mounting in the wake of the shockingly successful American Revolution due to french support. In Paris, he was just coming into the light of success after a series of acclaimed essays on philosophy, science, and government. January of 1789, the year the revolution began in Paris, Marat was still under the impression the monarchy might still be able to solve their country’s problems. However, by September, Marat’s writing began took a sharp new turn, shifting towards the movement of the revolution that would soon sweep his city as he took on the new role as editor of L’Ami du Peuple, a revolutionary newspaper. Marat grew more and more radical, drifting towards the more dangerous side of the revolution and befriending Maximilien Robespierre along the way while supporting the Jacobin faction of the revolution. With his newspaper he became a leader in inciting propaganda, stirring up the people to a point where he was nearly arrested upwards of three separate times. However, his fame began to grow to the point that it overruled those arrest warrants and, though a rogue, he was able to continue to work and write in paris. He worked particularly hard to bring down the Girondin revolutionary faction and to fuel the fires of violence. He became one of the most dangerous men of the early revolution from his place in the bathtub (he had a skin condition soothed only by hot baths) scrawling out scathing articles. On July 13th, 1793, he agreed to meet with a beautiful young girl, Charlotte Corday, claiming she wished protection from the violence, but upon stepping into the room where he was bathing, Corday pulled out a knife from under her dress, revealed her continued support to the Girondins, and stabbed Marat to death. As blood filled his bathtub, she ran, and without meaning to, his posthumous image as a martyr became an even stronger tally on the side of the Jacobins, who, led by Robespierre, would take this momentum and begin the Reign of Terror, arguably Paris’ most unjust and dangerous time.

But as I said, Marat is not the only one to blame. David, the painter, had taken on a similarly vocal role in the revolution and was a close personal friend to Marat. He, like Marat, rose to success shortly before the revolution began, painting beautiful neoclassical scenes like his famous Oath of the Horatii, which were widely popular in the increasingly revolutionary climate in Paris. When the revolution did break out, David, always the hidden radical, was quick to jump to the side of the Jacobins, entranced by their vision of a utopian Paris. He, too, became a master of propaganda, painting, rather than writing, his incredibly convincing pleas to the people. David himself had visited Marat in that very bathing room the day before his murder, and upon hearing what had happened, knew exactly what had to be done. David immediately jumped in to paint his friend as the martyr for the cause. The Jacobin Christ figure. An image so emotional and haunting it practically fueled the Jacobin rise to power and the subsequent horrors. 

But how could one not be moved by this portrait. The Death of Marat is unquestionably stirring. A man in his most vulnerable state, sitting naked in a bath in his own home, lays draped over the edge, head lolling back, defeated. His pen remains in his right hand while the other clutches the introduction letter from Ms. Corday, now smeared with his blood. A shadow has been cast across that side of the painting, as if to show his final breaths have just left his body. Directly behind his gaunt, quickly paling face, is a crimson pool, giving a horrifying image to represent the violence of his brutal murder. The white linen of purity surrounds Marat, right to his turban-like hat, framing his face almost like a fabric halo. Marat’s round visage and slightly parted lips are childlike and innocent. If you didn’t understand the mechanics of the revolution, you’d see this and come away telling a story of slaughter of the pure and well meaning. Of senseless violence robbing a poor man of his precious life. Of renewed support for the Jacobin side of the revolution. 

That’s what qualifies Marat and David for my list of terrible people. They might not have been the literal hands to drop the guillotine, but the two of them are at least significantly responsible for putting Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety in a position to do so. Their sheer ability to create such moving emotional propaganda through their arts made these two master manipulators. At the time they likely believed they were doing what was best for their country. Don’t we all? The difference is, with a few strongly worded articles and a violent tribute to a lost friend, these two became responsible for the paranoid executions of 1400 people. Clearly a stunning work, it’s easy to get lost in the glowing tenebrism of this painting, just make sure that when all’s said and done, it’s something you can pull yourself out of.
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Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People: Henry VIII

Hans Holbein, Henry VIII, 1537
Beautiful Paintings of Terrible People

It’s fair to say as paintings of Kings go, there are few more blatantly flattering than this famous portrait of King Henry VIII. Hans Holbein the Younger, a painter from a long line of German artists, is most famous for his etchings and portraits of royal dignitaries, especially those of this unsavory ruler and achieved great acclaim for this portraits and ones like it. But how did a German portrait painter end up as the favored artist of one of England’s most infamous kings? It seems a strange choice for such an independent and nationalistic king. Famous for destroying culture and community in his country, cutting England off from the Catholic church, and being so obsessed with having a male heir he went through wives as fast as I go through pairs of cheap earbuds, Henry VIII is far from esteemed as far as British royalty goes. 

For a king as endlessly selfish and insecure as Henry VIII, Hans Holbein blatantly plays into his arrogance and entitlement in this work. In the full portrait, Henry stands tall and immovable, with his wide shoulders and a puffed out chest like Superman, covered in jewels and rich fabrics, with sleeves fluffier than fourth of July marshmallows and a determined expression somehow coinciding with his incredibly beady eyes. Holbein was a genius in the kiss-up category, somehow managing to convey an exact physical likeness in a way that turns a pompous spoiled ruler with the maturity of a child into a noble, yet bullish commander, worthy of respect and leadership. The height of this visual adulation comes at Henry’s waist. His left hand holds a glove in a ringed hand, propped up on his belt, leading down to a rather large and visible codpiece. His other hand highlights the bottom of said piece. Everything from the red color to his stance emphasizes Henry’s (desired) superior virility, despite his famous inability to produce a male heir. This part of the painting is straight nonsense for Henry’s benefit. What's made all the better is that this painting was done when Henry was in his forties, as part of a midlife crisis of sorts. The whole things is absolutely laughable.

And yet it worked. In several accounts by onlookers of this portrait, placed in full view in his grand palace, it was astounding and intimidating to behold. Henry certainly got some bang for his buck with this piece. When you look at this magnificent portrait, it’s easy to forget about his temper tantrum that got him excommunicated by the church. It’s seems like one might be momentarily able to forget the roughly 72,000 people he executed on a brutal whim. One might be able to overlook the absolute dismemberment of the monasteries and cultural organizations that defined the day to day organization of English life. Looking on this magnificent portrait, one does not see Henry the wild narcissist. Instead, he’s replaced with the Henry he wanted to be but never was, triumphant and deserving. This alone shows the power and purpose of court painting, to promote. While people like Caravaggio lead us to think about the complex ethics and humanity of people we see as gods, the remaining paintings in this series will do the opposite. We will see human beings, desperately clawing for legendary and even holy status, like Henry here, who declared himself supreme leader of the English church.

It’s paintings like these that make us think of the point of view of the artist and encourage us to question the information we’re given. Above all else, this painting of Henry VIII shows just how impressive good propaganda can be.
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