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Free «Art History» Essay Sample

As the history of art shows us, the phenomenon of art comes in different forms and styles, but what is common to all its manifestations is the fact of the intended meaning that the artist wanted to convey from the beginning. What is more, such a way of presentation of one’s thought and intention as we see in art is both quite original and challenging. It is interesting to let the art speak to you in an open-minded manner and, at the same time, it is sometimes hard to appreciate all the peculiarities of the given style. It happens because each style, such as, for example, suprematism, expressionism, symbolism and cubism, dealt with further in the discussion on the given works, represent their own vision of reality. As a rule, this vision tends to focus on some particular side of reality and then tries to present it in the form peculiar to this or that artistic style. For example, suprematism sees the world through geometrical objects like squares, circles, rectangles, triangles etc. and uses them to construct objects of reality, thus producing its own suprematist reality. Expressionism emphasizes the emotional expression and is not concentrated on the mathematical representation of reality. Cubism set its focus on representing the reality from different perspectives, using lines not only for the sake of their mere use, but for constructing the reality that combines a number of perspectives in one whole work of art. Symbolism, on the other hand, did not much focus on the physical content, but on the emotional content of the reality, taking advantage of colors and forms to evoke a response, based on an individual inner experience,   that could correlate to the images presented in the painting. What should be mentioned is that some styles, like, for example, symbolism or suprematism, did not include only painting, but also literature (e.g. Baudelaire )  or photography (e.g.Lissitskiy). It all proves that art can take different forms and find its expression through different means, but what is more important is how it can change us as personalities, enabling us to see the word from various perspectives and appreciate its many remarkable details.         

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Mackintosh and Denvir about Art

If one thinks that Mackintosh’s chapter on “Symbolism and Art Nouveau” jumps on the historic and scholarly description of the mentioned artistic styles, he is totally wrong. The chapter has a very lengthy introduction which deals with many subjects that have only an indirect connection to art as a whole, let alone the styles under discussion. Mackintosh speaks about drug-taking, promotion, dealership of artworks and other subjects. He tries to draw a broad picture of some phenomena in the art, contemporary to his time. When the author finally begins to deal with Symbolism and Art Nouveau directly, he starts this discussion immediately with examining their relation and interconnection. It would have been much more useful in terms of the logical presentation of the material to make a better structure with firstly discussing one style, than the other, and only afterwards to direct the reader’s attention to the similarities and differences of the two styles. Thus, it could be assumed that the author’s objective was to write for a reader with a previously formed background in art history. The whole piece is more of an article of a scholarly discussion rather than a textbook guide on the two styles.  At the same time the Chapter is very successful in demonstrating how the respective style was connected to the art of some specific painters like Paul Gaugin or others.

Denvir’s “Fauvism and Expressionism” is different in that it shows a step-by-step focus on one style, than the other and only then the more specific peculiarities and connections of the styles are discussed. Denvir seems to make arguments about the styles in the structured beginning and then prove them on the basis of the paintings he later discusses. Mackintosh, on the other hand, seems to begin with a prolonged discussion with many issues touched upon and his arguments come implicitly only when he gets down to the details of particular painters.

 El Lissitzky’s The Constructor and with Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

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Both of the works of art feature a human being in a certain position. With The Constructor the artist presented his self-portrait in a very peculiar way by making a photomontage. The photograph consists of two photographs - one imposed on the other. Thus, they  make up a combined picture with a certain meaningful representation of several body parts. The photograph includes a head and a hand, both belonging to the artist himelf, El Lissitsky. In the case of the Vitruvian man we see, however, a full picture of the human being with an interesting superimposition of the two positions the person takes – one with hands on the same level as the head, legs put together, all fitting into a square, and the other with hands raised to the line of the top of the person’s head, touching the circle, with legs set apart on the curve of the circle as well. By the way the works place the human body at the very center of the given space, it can be argued that they place humanity at the core of the universe as a proportionate part of the cosmos, adhering to the humanist vision of the world. 

We see the hand with a compass in The Constructor perfectly placed in such a way that the right eye of the person looks exactly through the right palm. The compass is the symbol of precision, just as the XYZ letters stand for the accuracy of a mathematical coordinate system –which is another vivid indicator that Lissitkiy was a follower of suprematism. The same adoration of proportion is perfectly represented in the Vitruvian man with two different positions ideally fitting into two geometrical figures - a square and a circle. Thus, it could be assumed that even though there are centuries setting apart these two works of art, and many artistic styles turning up between their appearance, the message remains the same – a human body is by itself a work of art, worth representing in various manners. It takes a proportionate and an appropriate place in the micro-level universe, being the relationship of the man and the nature, just like our planet takes the similar place in cosmos- the macro-level universe.   

Stravinsky’s Music and the Images

Listening to the music and watching the images in the video made me think that I was traveling through some sort of a universe, made of miscellaneous geometrical figures. The figures took all kinds of forms – squares, circles, rectangles, half-circles, triangles etc. However, what made the visual presentation more impressive was that the geometrical figures, representing the artistic style of suprematism, were in constant motion – turning, flying from one side to the other, flying away into the far distance and coming close. They were in motion demonstrated in three dimensions. What is interesting is that from to time the figures were put together, mixed to generate new multi-lateral figures which could symbolize various objects in real life. For example, some circles and revolving rectangles put together seemed to represent some kind of a ticking clock. The culmination of such geometric combination was the picture of Petrouchka, presumably a Russian toy, presented in the form of a collection of geometric figures making up his body parts.  It is obvious that the music was the power behind the moving objects. They turned, moved, appeared and vanished following the tune driving this whole geometrical spectacle to the point where the music composition by Igor Stravinskiy, called “Petrouchka”(1947), and the suprematist visualization of the music came to one and the same finale – the suprematist picture of “Petrouchka”(2005) right at the end of the music composition. Thus, it could be suggested that the author of the video attempted to create a kind of a music video clip for Stravinkiy music piece, putting together a whole set of ideas – the beginning and end are intrinsically the same in meaning, but different in form; geometrical objects make up our life and are one of the ways to see and represent the world around us; music is the driving force of life; and music along with art are part of one whole – the human multi-lateral creative talent.

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Picasso’s Head of a Woman and Kokoschka’s Self Portrait as Warrior

Both of the sculptures represent a human head produced according to the artistic styles they represented. Picasso’s work follows the style of the cubist movement that he represents and Kokoschka’s one is done according to the postulates of expressionism. What is similar between the two works is that they both seem to be meant for a three-dimensional observation. The front, the back as well as the lateral parts were all constructed to communicate some details which were meaningful for the respective sculpting style. Picasso produced the head in such a manner that it could be representative of a number of different angles that the sculpture could be observed from. If we take a look at the sculpture at any angle, we intuitively see that there are more angles that could be chosen to appreciate the sculpture fully.  It could be suggested that Picasso analyzed the woman’s head, dissembled its parts in his mind according to what was important for him to point out and then put them together in an abstracted expression. What easily attracts our attention is the composition of the protruding blobs of hair and the overemphasized facial parts like the chin, cheekbones, the nose, the sides of the forehead and other parts. They were meant to project forward in more or less sharp forms, expressing the author’s inclination to draw the viewers’ attention to the three-dimensional perspective of art. What is interesting is that the head is tilted a little bit, and there is a curve just beneath it, all contributing to the artist’ intention to produce an appearance of the turning head, or the head in movement.  The same sort of movement can be traced in Kokoschka’s head, since it is turned right and seems to be likewise tilted, but for a different reason- a stressed emotional expression. The expressionist form of the sculpture is seen in how presents the head in a distorted manner with special emphasis on the exposure of nerves and raw flesh, communicating well enough the emotional effect of suffering. Thus, it could be said that both of the sculptures attempted to present the abstracted view of reality, yet Picasso focused on the physical reality and   Kokoschka on the emotional one. 

Baudelaire’s poem and one Symbolist painting

In Baudelaire’s poem colors, sounds and scents are put together to produce mental images. He even expresses this concept directly in his line “Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond”. There is a number of comparisons in the poem presented in the form of similes such as “perfumes as cool as the flesh of children”  or “Vast as the dark of night”. The nature is explicitly stated to be a “forest of symbols” that communicate something what words cannot.  The nature communicates by means of its own tools, such as the above mentioned sounds, colors and scents, but in a harmonic way. At the same time, such communication happens in infinitely different manners. The poem beautifully concludes that the correspondence of the smells, colors and sounds of nature are symbolic ways to express “the ecstasy of the soul and senses”. As one reads this poem, he cannot but experience the evoking of some feelings or inner mental pictures that carry the sense of smelling, for example, the scent or seeing the landscape the poet tries to create through his poetic means.  The same kind of re-creation of senses and sounds is seen in the world-famous “The Scream” (1893) by the Norwegian symbolist painter Edvard Munch. The combination of dark and red colors, predominantly presented in curved lines creates an ominous atmosphere of a very unpleasant circumstance that the person in the front has found himself in. The way the face is painted with an open mouth and the eyes wide with terrible fear makes us hear this scream somewhere within ourselves and co-experience the dreadful condition of the person drawn. The two people going away in the perspective produce the experience of the situation hopelessly slipping out of control with some fearful circumstances looming over the person because of the dark colors around the person. Thus, it could be suggested that both of the works utilized symbols to convey an emotional content, the poem taking advantage of the literary means expressed through words and the painting using the power of form and color.


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