EN3246 Literature and the Other Arts: Poetry and Painting
Lecture 1 Reading Paintings: Summary
1 Images and Art objects: Images can be Graphic, Optical, Perceptual, Mental, Verbal. (We here focus on images as graphic art-objects & on verbal representations.)
2 The painting as an art-object: Artifacts in society: utility; symbolization; the contexts of magic/religion; the context of aesthetics.
3 C. S. Peirce on Icon, Index and Symbol:
Icon=resemblance between object/image; Index=real connection between object/image; Symbol= conventional association between object/image.
Example of Iconic sign: any representational image like a portrait, a landscape or a still-life.
Example of Indexical sign: the hands of a clock, and the veering
of a weathercock.
4 Reading Paintings
4.1 The Extrinsic Approach: Period, Movement, Convention, Genre, Motif, Style.
4.2 Related methods of reading pictures: Iconography, Iconology: Representing objects/events; themes/concepts.
4.3 The Intrinsic Approach: Mary Acton: Composition (Unity, Balance, Emphasis, Directionality, Contrast, Repetition, Proportion), Space, Form, Tone, Colour.
4.4 The Intrinsic Approach: Other related descriptions: Line, Shape, Mass, Light, Texture.
1 Images and Art objects
1.1 Image-making as an activity precedes art as a concept.
1.2 Image-making as an art-practice operates within a broad framework of relations that is similar for all art-media. This framework can be represented in the form of a diagram, such as the following:
The diagram enables one to map the "primary" and "secondary" discourses that can be generated about any art-object or aesthetic experience. Primary relations Axis 1: The relation between artist and artwork Axis 2: The relation between artwork and audience Axis 3: The relation between artwork and the world of shared reality Axis 4: The relation between the artwork and art as a set of practices, conventions, traditions Secondary relations Axis 5: The artist’s relation to the world of shared reality Axis 6: The audience’s relation to the world of shared reality Axis 7: The artist’s relation to art as a set of practices, conventions, traditions Axis 8: The audience’s relation to art as a set of practices, conventions, traditions
1.3 Image-making may be representational, symbolic, abstract, or some combination of the three.
1.4 An image may be representational-symbolic in a context that precedes the idea of art as we now understand it.
Ex. 2 Paleolithic cave painting
The Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc (France): Hillaire Chamber - Panel of the Engraved Horse Link: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/chauvet/en/ Image source: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/chauvet/ic/pt/pt14.gif
1.5 An image-object may be representational-symbolic in a context that subsumes the idea of art in another context, such as that of religious ritual or worship.
Ex. 3 Religious icon
The Virgin Mary – Icon Icon with metal cover Image source: http://www.artelino.com/articles/collecting_icons.asp
1.6 An image-object may be representational-symbolic in a context that is primarily functional or informative. In the early stages of human adaptation to various natural environments iconic representation may have been part of practical magic (as when an image is believed to give one some form of control over its referent, as in hunting). In subsequent ages, images function as signs with specific associations.
Ex. 4 Contemporary sign
Ex. 5 Ironic variations on contemporary signs
Smarties Here No Smarties Today 20% Drunk Source for captions: Dr. Susan Ang
Note that the joke depends on the interaction between caption & image, not on the image alone
Ex. 6 Contemporary photograph
Helix Staircase Image source: http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/W.html
1.7 An image-object may be representational-symbolic in a context that is primarily aesthetic: it is this kind of image that we are interested in for this module. This type of image motivates a poet to write in a manner that is in some sense based on, derived from, dependent on, inspired by, or a reaction to the image. The object of the module is to examine specific examples of such relations between the visual arts and poetry for what they reveal of the relation between the visual and the verbal in aesthetic creativity. For practical purposes the module will confine itself to examples from 20th century poetry in English, but students are welcome to explore the nexus between painting and poetry from other periods and cultures.
Ex. 7 Painting (abstract, non-representational)
Mark Rothko, Light Red Over Black, 1957 (Acton, Plate 17)
Ex. 8 Painting (representational)
Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia (1851-2) (Benton, p. 68)
Ex. 9 Painting (representational?)
Charles Demuth, I Saw the Number 5 in Gold, 1928 (Benton, p. 36)
In what sense is an image or a painting “representational”?
What does a sign, picture or a painting “refer to” when it is not “representational”?
2 The painting as an art-object
There are two dimensions to this idea. The first implies that production and reception function within the framework of shared or negotiable assumptions about art as concept, practice and institution in society. The second underscores the facticity of the artifact as an object in space and time, distinguishing the object-hood of the artifact from its reproducibility as an image. This distinction generates ideas such as the uniqueness or authenticity of the art-object. Also, as technology interacts with art practices, the possibilities opened by photography (and subsequent developments such as digital imagery) blur the distinction between the primary art-object and its virtual copies or simulacra.
· Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility” (CL sources: PN514 Ben 1999; BJ46 Gol; TR15 Pho; PN1994 Mas, etc.).
· Jean Baudrillard, “Aesthetic Illusion and Virtual Reality” (CL sources: TR640 Jea; B105 Ima.R).
Question: Enumerate the ways in which a photograph resembles a painting, and the ways in which it differs from a painting.
3 C. S. Peirce on Icon, Index and Symbol
One way of looking at visual media is to treat them as signs, which refer to things (persons, objects) or to ideas connected with things. The American philosopher C. S. Peirce offers a useful distinction between the functions served by signs.
“the most frequently useful division of signs is by trichotomy into firstly Likenesses, or, as I prefer to say, Icons, which serve to represent their objects only in so far as they resemble them in themselves; secondly, Indices, which represent their objects independently of any resemblance to them, only by virtue of real connections with them, and thirdly Symbols, which represent their objects, independently alike of any resemblance or any real connection, because dispositions or factitious habits of their interpreters insure their being so understood.”
"Index. A sign, or representation, which refers to its object not so much because of any similarity or analogy with it, nor because it is associated with general characters which that object happens to possess, as because it is in dynamical (including spatial) connection both with the individual object, on the one hand, and with the senses or memory of the person for whom it serves as a sign, on the other hand.”
“I call a sign which stands for something merely because it resembles it, an icon.”
"A symbol is defined as a sign which becomes such by virtue of the fact that it is interpreted as such.”
Source: Peirce Dictionary - Index: http://www.helsinki.fi/science/commens/terms/index2.html]
Question: How might we apply Peirce’s distinctions to painting?
4.1 Reading Paintings - The Extrinsic Approach
4 Reading Paintings
Before we examine the approach taken to specific painters and paintings by poets, it is useful to outline a general method of interpreting visual art media. The method I recommend for our present purposes is synthesized from several current approaches to art criticism. The method comprises two parts: the intrinsic approach and the extrinsic approach. Ideally, the two should work together in building up an articulate response to the visual artifact.
4.1 The Extrinsic Approach
The extrinsic approach interprets paintings by creating contexts for the painting in terms of the life, culture and artistic beliefs and institutions of the artist and his (or her) times. Specific features of such contexts that provide a frame of reference within which a painting can be “read” include:
· Style “a consistent and characteristic handling of media, elements of form, and principles of design that make a work of art identifiable as the product of a particular culture, period, region, group, or person” (Preble, 2004: 91).
These, and related concepts, provide a vocabulary that links paintings, painters, and the historicity of beliefs and practices concerning the arts and the very idea of the aesthetic faculty and its place in the life of the individual and of society.
One example of how an extrinsic factor might have a bearing on a specific painting (as “read” by a specific poet) can be illustrated from Derek Walcott's long poem Tiepolo's Hound (from which a short extract is given below):
Ex. 10 Paul Veronese, Feast in the House of Levi (1573), Venice
Note: 1573 Paolo Caliari, called Veronese (1528–1588), executes a Last Supper for the refectory of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice. In it he includes animals, clowns, and a host of other lively characters in colorful contemporary dress. For this he is summoned before the Inquisition and charged with heresy, but is excused and made only to retitle the work after a less sacred biblical event, the Feast in the House of Levi.
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/08/eustn/ht08eustn.htm
Walcott’s text:I remember stairs in couplets. The Metropolitan’s marble authority, I remember being stunned as I studied the exact expanse of a Renaissance feast, the art of seeing. Then I caught a slash of pink on the inner thigh of a white hound entering the cave of a table, so exact is the lucency at The Feast of Levi, I felt my heart halt. Nothing, not the babble of the unheard roar that rose from the rich pearl-lights embroidered on ballooning sleeves, sharp beards, and gaping goblets, matched the bitch nosing a forest of hose. So a miracle leaves its frame, and one epiphanic detail illuminates an entire epoch… (Tiepolo’s Hound, 7-8)
Questions:How does the “Renaissance” figure in Walcott’s poem? What has Walcott isolated as the key feature, for him, from the painting? How does the notion of the Renaissance get qualified by that choice? Why is the glimpse of the dog under the table an epiphanic moment for the poet? In what sense does it illuminate an entire epoch? What has Walcott isolated as the key feature, for him, from the painting? How does the notion of the Renaissance get qualified by that choice? How does the modern art museum figure as an institution in Walcott’s text?
Ex. 11 The Metropolitan Museum, New York (Home Page image)
Image source: http://www.metmuseum.org/
Compare the self-portrait by Gauguin below with that by Walcott (Tiepolo’s Hound, p. 21), and comment on the nature of the “intertextual allusion” by Walcott to Gauguin.
Ex. 11 & 12 Self-portrait and Allusion
Paul Gauguin, Self-portrait with Halo, 1889 (Washington) / Walcott, p. 21 Image source: http://www.artchive.com/artchive/G/gauguin/gauguin_halo.jpg.html
Mary Acton, in Learning to Look at Paintings (1997) discusses what we have referred to above as the extrinsic approach in terms of Subject-matter (specifically, in terms of whether a painting represents scenes of everyday life, literary subject-matter or subjects drawn from history, mythology or religion).
4.2 Related methods of reading pictures: Iconography, Iconology
The idea of the extrinsic approach, as developed here, is adapted, in part, from a Western tradition in art history, which uses the notions of Iconography (“branch of the history of art which concerns itself with the subject matter or meaning of works of art, as opposed to their form”, Panofsky, 1955: 26) and iconology (“an iconography turned interpretive”, Panofsky 1955: 32) to study art-objects as cultural artifacts embedded in the historicity of art practices. Erwin Panofsky, in an influential essay titled “Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the study of Renaissance Art” (CL N7445.2 Pan), summarizes the stages of this method in a table, of which a simplified version is given below.
Ex. 14 Panofsky Table
(Panofsky 1955: 40-41)
A more recent, and fairly ambitious approach, as developed in several books by W. J. T. Mitchell, places the activity of “:reading” pictures in the broader context of visual culture. Its focus is less on a painting as an art-object than on the image as a form of visual sign which has many manifestations, and complex relations to language as a form of abstract sign-system: “the whole relation between the visible and the readable” (Mitchell 1995: 211).
Ex. 15 Mitchell Diagram
(Source: Mitchell 1986:10)
Mitchell’s approach addresses a set of questions, of which some will figure (some more directly than others) in our module: What is an image? How do images function in consciousness, in memory, fantasy, and perception? What is the relation between visual images and visuality in general? What is a visual medium? How do images communicate and signify? What is the relation between art and visual culture in general? How do technologies of visual reproduction affect visual culture? (1995: 211). In our module, we shall address such questions not in the broad context of the anthropology of visual cultures, but in the specific context of the complex relation between the poem as text and the pictorial image as a visual “text”.
Recommended Reading:Mitchell, W. J. T., Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. Mitchell, W. J. T., Picture Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. Mitchell, W. J. T., “What is Visual Culture?”, Meaning in the Visual Arts, ed. Irving Lavin. Princeton: Institute for Advanced Study, 1995, 207-224. Panofsky, Erwin, Meaning in the Visual Arts. New York: Doubleday, 1955.
4.3 Reading Paintings - The Intrinsic approach
Mary Acton’s Learning to Look at Paintings (1997), among many other similar works, develops what we describe here as the intrinsic approach in terms of the following elements of a painting: Composition, Space, Form, Tone, and Colour.
Composition: `the artist's method of organising a subject, of deciding what to put in and what to leave out in order to make an effective picture”, “a way of relating different parts … together so that it forms a coherent whole” (1). Composition entails preparatory work on a painting, and is also affected by the size of the picture, the scale of the painting.
Types of composition: horizontals and verticals; harmony and balance; rhythm and the spaces between objects; curves and diagonals; colour; asymmetry; apparently random composition; collage (where found objects or photographs, are arranged on a flat surface to form what is called a composite image’, 22).
Ex. 16 Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive II, 1964 (Acton, 23)
Space: “The effect of space in a painting is primarily the creation of the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. It is concerned with the width and depth, and with the interval and distance surrounding solid objects” (25).
Ex. 17 Alberti's Construction
Image Source: Brunelleschi’s Peepshow and the origins of Perspective Also check: Richard Talbot on Linear Perspective And: The History & Theory of Perspective
Under Space, the topics that come up for recognition are: imaginative space and illusionism; aerial perspective; space to walk about in, as in landscape; spatial distortion; multiple-viewpoint perspective; space in front of the picture; and spatial disorientation.
Form: "the feeling of volume in a painting .... the artist trying to convey a sense of solidity on a flat surface" (51). Ideas about form include: sculptural form in the human figure; chiaroscuro and sfumato; form made tangible; the disintegration of form; the rebuilding of form; form created with colour; and closing the gap between painting and sculpture.
Tone: “Tone is the use of the contrast between light and dark in a painting” (81). The topic can be discussed in terms of: tone used to create drama; tone and the expression of emotion; tone and the realization of form and space; tone used to create atmosphere; and tone and the reconstruction of form.
Colour: can be used to express emotion; to enhance the power of suggestion; to disturb the emotions; to express emotions without a figurative subject; to express a sense of scale, texture, and as light.
Ex. 18 The colour wheel
Image source: http://www.sustland.umn.edu/design/colortechniques.html
Ex. 18 Victor Vasarely, Vega-Nor, 1969
Image source: http://www.albrightknox.org/ArtStart/Vasarely.html
4.4 The Intrinsic approach: Other related methods
Reading: D. & S. Preble,
(2004, 7th edn.,
Text & CDROM: CL N7430 Dis 2003.
(7th edn, 2004) Text
& CD-ROM: CL N7430.5 Fic 2004.
Web Links:Art, Design & Visual Thinking: http://char.txa.cornell.edu/language/element/element.htm Notebook: http://www.noteaccess.com/ELEMENTS/index.htm Digital Web Magazine-Elements of Design: http://www.digital-web.com/articles/elements_of_design/ Digital Web Magazine-Principles of Design: http://www.digital-web.com/articles/principles_of_design/
Most introductions to the elements of visual art adopt an approach similar to Acton’s. Some of their basic distinctions are given below.
Line: “our basic means for recording and symbolizing ideas, observations, and feelings” (Preble 41).
Properties: length, width. Types: actual, implied. Functions: to outline & shape; to create depth & texture; to suggest direction & movement (Fichner-Rathus).
Ex. 19 Different kinds of lines
Image source: Elements of Design http://valeciaia.tripod.com/elements.html
Ex. 20 Variations on a line
Image source: http://char.txa.cornell.edu/language/element/element.htm
Shape: “the expanse within the outline of a two-dimensional area” (Preble 44).
Shape: Types: geometric (rectilinear, curvilinear), organic, amorphous.
Figure-ground reversals: “Gestalt scientists have noted that shapes can be ambiguous, so as to encourage figure-ground reversals” (Fichner-Rathus 43).
Ex. 21 Figure-ground reversal: A Rubin vase
Image source: http://esa.ackleyshack.com/ndb/museum.html
Mass: “the physical bulk of a solid body of material” (Preble 46).
Space: “The visual arts are sometimes referred to as spatial arts, because in most of these arts, forms are organized in space” (Preble 49.
Perspective: “any means of representing the appearance of 3-dimensional objects in space on a 2-dimensional surface” (Preble 51). “The linear perspective system was developed during the Italian Renaissance” (51). “Recognition of eye level–the height of the viewer’s eyes above the ground plane–is basic to the ability to see and draw objects and spaces in terms of linear perspective” (Preble 3rd edn., 66).
Ex. 22 Linear Perspective
Time & Motion: “Although time itself is invisible, it can be made perceptible in art” (Preble 56).
Implied motion: “the viewer infers that motion is occurring or has occurred” (Fichner-Rathus 64).
Ex. 23 Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912
Image source: http://surrealists.classifieds4u.co.uk/viewPicture/73/
Light: “Colour, direction, quantity, and intensity of light…” (Preble 61).
Local colour is defined as the hue of an object as created by the colours its surface reflects under normal lighting conditions. Optical colour is defined as our perceptions of colour, which can vary markedly with lighting conditions (Fichner-Rathus 52).
Colour: “varies in 3 basic ways: hue (wavelength of spectrum), value (relative lightness or darkness), and intensity” or saturation (Preble 3rd edn, 85).
Ex. 24 Hue, Value, Saturation
Image source: http://www.digital-web.com/articles/elements_of_design/
Primary hues: red, yellow, blue. Secondary hues: orange, green, violet. Intermediate hues: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet (Preble 65).
Pointillism: “When dots of pure colour are placed together … they blend in the mind, creating the appearance of other hues” (Preble 3rd edn, 88).
Common colour schemes: monochromatic (single hue, varying values & intensities); analogous (colour-wheel neighbours); complementary (colour-wheel opposites); polychromatic (many hues).
Ex. 25 Analogous colours
Texture: “refers to the tactile qualities of surfaces or to the visual representation of such qualities” (Preble 69).
Texture refers to the surface characteristic of materials as experienced primarily through the sense of touch (or its visual equivalents). “Actual texture is tactile … Simulated texture in a work of art is referred to as visual texture … Subversive texture compels the viewer to look again at an object (or an image) and to think about it more deeply” (Fichner-Rathus 55-57).
Ex. 26 Meret Oppenheim, Object , 1936
PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN (COMPOSITION)
Unity & Variety: “Unity is the appearance or condition of oneness, variety provides diversity” (Preble 72).
Balance: “the achievement of equilibrium, the condition in which acting influences are held in check by opposing forces” (Preble 75).
Emphasis & Subordination: “Emphasis is used to draw our attention to an area or areas… Through subordination, an artist creates neutral areas of lesser interest” (Preble 80).
Directional Forces: “paths for the eye to follow provided by actual or implied lines” (Preble 80).
Contrast: “is the juxtaposition of strongly dissimilar elements” (Preble 82). Contrast can be employed in relation to several elements such as hues, shapes, and brushstrokes.
Repetition & Rhythm: “The repetition of visual elements gives a composition unity, continuity, flow, and emphasis … Rhythm refers to any kind of movement or structure of dominant and subordinate elements in sequence” (Preble 82).
Scale & Proportion: “Scale is the size relation of one thing to another. Proportion is the size relationship of parts to a whole” (Preble 84).
Last Updated 16 January 2012