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Art Movements: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Today I am taking a leaf from another earlier blog post, which featured an artist I admire, Richard Diebenkorn. He painted in an abstract expressionist style with oils, featuring the human figure and landscape. An identifying feature of his artwork was his use of bright colors and shapes in both painting subjects. This style branded his painting style and made his work instantly recognizable. I painted two copies of his paintings to accompany the blog post, of a figure and an abstracted landscape. Since last week, I have been pondering other art movements that I find inspiring to my art practice.

One of these art movements is the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. In particular, I love the color and emotion I see displayed on the faces of the portraits and figures. In a similar way to a play, they are figures on a stage, acting out various dramas. The PRB group was founded in 1848 in England by young art students and they included: Dante Gabriel Rosetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt, who studied at London’s Royal Academy of Art. (ibid, and Smith, 2013)

According to Roe, 2014, author of “The Pre-Raphaelites”, the Pre-Raphaelites were composed of a disparate group of “sculptors, painters, designers,” who were frustrated by the limiting strictures that the London Royal Academy of art imposed on art, such as an emphasis on idealization, and balance. Instead, the Pre-Raphaelites sought inspiration in the work of other artists such as Van Eyck, Memling, and Giotto. (Roe, pg. 2) According to the author, Roberta Smith, who wrote, “Blazing a Trail for Hypnotic Hyper-Realism,” some of the subjects which the PRB enjoyed painting were medieval themes such as King Arthur’s, Guinevere, and Shakespeare’s Ophelia in Hamlet, and stories from the Bible. (Smith, pg. 2)

Smith states that these artists characterized their work by emphasizing painstaking realism and “Technicolor” palettes. (ibid) In addition, Roe, states that the Pre-Raphaelites used a line, and flat perspective and bible stories. In particular, William Holman Hunt’s A Converted British Family, Millais’s Christ in the House of His Parents and Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850) evoked virulent criticism from art critics, who disapproved of the highly realistic treatment of religious figures. ( Roe, pg. 2) However, according to Roberta Smith, (2013), although the Pre-Raphaelites challenged the art establishment of their times and “introduced a new painting style” it does not necessarily follow that these painters were “avant-garde.” Furthermore, Smith states that they did not make radical changes like Manet, Cezanne or Van Goh. In addition, they did not have a strong interest in painting “modern life.” (Smith, pg. 4) Instead of “embracing the people, fashions, and activities of their time, as their French contemporaries did, they escaped into fantasy.” (Smith, pg. 4)

Whatever the case may be, Smith, 2013, states that their work played an important role in influencing other important art movements to come such as “Symbolism, Art Noveau,

and modern design, in children’s literature and Photo Realism, and also contemporary art”. (Smith, pg. 4) For instance, “Tom Uttech’s dreamlike views of wilderness (on view at the Alexandre Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan), Ellen Altfest’s detailed yet painterly realism, Ron Mueck’s disturbingly lifelike sculptures, Mark Greenwold’s intrinsically twisted narratives and the equally finicky if more surreal images of Anj Smith.” (ibid).

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A Day in the Life of an Artist

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was visiting McDonald’s and I noticed an advertisement about artists where the tag line was, “Play like an Artist.” The advertisement featured a picture of a young child with art supplies in its mouth and surrounded by various artwork pieces, wearing, of course, the inevitable beret hat that defines a stereotypical vision of an artist. This advertisement highlights the prevailing beliefs in American culture that one, art is for kids and two that artists just play all day…

And what are some other common artist stereotypes? I did some research online to find out. On one blog called Endpaper, The Paperblanks Blog, the author listed a variety of so-called traits that all artists share in common. For example, all artists are out of touch with reality, perfectionist, a Casanova, moody or flakey.  Source: http://blog.paperblanks.com/2016/04/the-top-20-artist-stereotypes-you-cant-avoid/. Where did these stereotypes come from? My guess is that many of the celebrated artists that we have heard of from books or movies fit this stereotype, like Van Goh, who was mentally ill, or Picasso who was a lady’s man, or Monet who lived an impoverished lifestyle,  (before he was discovered by American art collectors).  And these stereotypes are continually reinforced by popular culture such as the well-known TV sitcom, Friends. For example, in one episode of Friends, the character, Ross, talks to his girlfriend Rachel about baby names and she suggests the name, Rain.  Ross responds with the following comment: “Hi my name is Rain. I have my own kiln and my dress is made of wheat!” Source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/who-art-thou. So if you are an artist, then you must be eccentric seems to be the message.

While there is some truth that art is an important part of child development and education and that there is some element of play in the life of an artist, it is not all fun.  For instance, according to, author, Grace Hwang Lynch, the art classes teaches children a variety of skills such as “fine motor skills, language development, decision making and visual learning.” Source:http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-importance-of-art-in-child-development/.   Also, regarding the element of play in art, there are times when art can be considered fun, like that light bulb moment when I get an inspiration for a new art series and feel excited about getting in the studio and making my vision come to life with paper and pencil or oil paint and canvas. However, it is not called art work for nothing. For example, in the case of a hobbyist artist who is trying to imitate a certain style of painting or get into an art show, or a professional artist who is trying to make a living out of their art, or someone who straddles both worlds as a semi-professional artist, who still works a day job to support them, there are many tasks involved in getting your art work ready to be viewed by the outside world in art shows, art festivals, etc. For example, in addition to juggling everyday demands, the artist must contend with a variety of other things such as: bad days in the studio when the artwork is not going well, difficult art clients, rejections for art shows or grants, working the day job, marketing yourself, perfecting your craft, etc., etc.  And if you want to become a professional artist, there are many, many hats to wear.

According to Art Business Coach, Alyson Stanfield, who is the author of, I’d rather be in the Studio! (2008), if you are trying to sell your artwork “You are no longer only an artist. You’re a businessperson as well.” For example, in my experience as a semi professional artist, I have found that there are many other administrative tasks that do not come under the category of “fun”, like accounting, marketing on social media, setting up online commerce sites such as Etsy or Shopify, writing custom art contracts, keeping time sheets, etc.  And with so many demands on my time, making time to actually do the art can be a real challenge.  I personally have struggled to make time to make art every day, and am currently participating in a 100 faces in 100 days challenge, where I am drawing one celebrity portrait a day, for 15 minutes a day and then posting the results on Instagram. I’m hoping this practice will enable me to be a better portrait artist and that it will help me to build the skills of discipline and time management.

By the way, the BBC has created a documentary tv series entitled, What Do Artists Do All Day?, which features several well known artists , such as Norman Ackroyd, and Michael Craig-Martin, which went live in 2014. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/49j3ZhwyXyPq703lDJzrNfc/what-do-artists-do-all-day. I haven’t seen this series yet, but I am wondering if the series will simply reinforce commonly held stereotypes of artists or hopefully, offer some more balanced insight into all the work that goes into making art.