The Mitchell Gallery

The Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery

The Skeleton in the Closet

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Not Preparing for Death, Albrecht Dürer, Woodblock Print on Paper, 1492

There is a lot to be said about Albrecht Dürer as an artist and a printmaker, and how he brought those two titles together. However, I’m not going to say any of that right now. I’d like to talk not about the artist, but the art, and more importantly, art in general. This Fall marks the beginning of my fourth year working at the Mitchell Gallery, and I have grown to know and love every inch of it, from it’s beautiful high ceilings to it’s one creaky floorboard. Yet I see one thing again and again that makes me very sad, and I’ve seen it often this exhibit. Visitors often come into the gallery, spend a very long time reading each and every plaque, but only glance at the actual piece of artwork for a few seconds before moving on. I understand this impulse. The world of art seems dense and impenetrable, full of technical terms and categorized by specific movements. We look to plaques and brochures and audio tours and docents as a resource, as fearless guides through the winding forest of art history. These resources are invaluable, but it breaks my heart when I hear people say that they lean on these things because they “don’t get art” without them. But here is a secret- the only thing you need to “get” art is a bit of patience and a soul. Anyone can gain something just from looking at art.

My suggestion for overcoming this fear of art for arts sake? When you look at art, start with just the title and the medium and then look back to the art itself. Find things you think are beautiful or unsightly, think about the subject, and if there’s a clear “message” the work is trying to portray. Just experience the visual, either for a minute or five or ten. Then, if you’re still curious, read the plaque to gain more information – but don’t use it as your starting point.

To prove this method will give anyone something valuable, I’ve done the same thing with a work that is in the Mitchell Gallery right now which I have not read the plaque for, “Not Preparing for Death.” It’s an almost comical image. The man seems a little scared, but mostly annoyed by the skeleton hassling him. The skeleton is surprisingly expressive, both patience and persistence on his face. The background is also detailed, there are even little buildings on the hill in the background. The metaphor in the print is clear but layered – this man is too busy to die. He refuses to prepare and is instead hustling away to go on with his life. Yet there’s the other layer, that of course we will all die one day, that you can’t run away from death. The small size and detail of the lines add to the sense of catching a snippet of someone else’s life.

All of that, and no biographical information, no technical knowledge, no familiarity with art movements necessary. Anyone can look at art and see something valuable, and walk away richer for the experience. Galleries should be places for all people to see the beauty of art, and to feel connected to it. Next time you are in our gallery, or any museum, take a moment to ignore the plaques and experience the art for yourself. You might learn more than you would expect.

 

—Kelsey Cumiskey, SJC Student, A19

 

Albrecht Dürer: Master Prints is organized by the Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania. Exhibition support provided by Rex and Katharine Pingle, Cynthia and Ed Shumaker, and Joan Vinson.
 
Gifts in kind: Art Things, Inc., Graul’s Market, Kathleen McSherry, Up.St.ART, and Merrifield Graphics and Publishing Service.
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How many lines are in a good face?

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Albrecht Dürer, (German, 1471 – 1528), Christ Shown to the People from the Large Passion, c. 1497-1500. Woodblock print. Museum Purchase.  Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania.

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Albrecht Dürer, (German, 1471 – 1528), Portrait of Philipp Melanchton, 1526. Engraving. Gift, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Goodman, Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania.

figuration/representation: Two words tangled in common speech, how to untangle them? How to find the proper scope for each? Perhaps through one question: how many lines make up a face?

Dürer, as master printmaker and master sellout, is the image of the master functional artist. The product of this genus of artist is always “the art for” something. The art which supplements, or is necessary for, some other activity: the icon for worship, the illustration in the didactic book. The first view is to look for what forms are best for what: more figuration when illustration, more representative accuracy in portraiture. Then the anxiety: if we call the artist sellout (and Dürer was certainly working for money), is it right to take pleasure in these functional artworks? Let’s not answer the question directly, but find the pleasure in faces, (perhaps) negating the question.

How many faces are in the work? The tapestry of many faces, a scene, may work for what might be called figuration. Figuration being only (so to speak) the art working within a stock of images (gestures, expressions, etc.). What matters is that relationship, the play, between the one “person” and the other. The man on Christ’s left gestures to the crowd, Jesus looks downsadly, and the people look up to him with angry faces. There’s no need here for a “dense” face containing many lines. What is satisfactory in the form is the few certain lines, outlining emotion.

Now look on a portrait. It has the function of dedication, preserving, and “capturing” (“representing”) likeness. For Dürer this is the face of the heavy series of lines, creating the contours of the face, the physical realism of a moment which is both empty and, classically, the best way to capture the likeness of the body. This is the pleasure of meaning (in the most philosophical sense) in art. The answer in painting to the what/who is… question.

—Will Harrington, SJC Student (A, 20)

Albrecht Dürer: Master Prints is organized by the Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania. Exhibition support provided by Rex and Katharine Pingle, Cynthia and Ed Shumaker, and Joan Vinson.
 
Gifts in kind: Art Things, Inc., Graul’s Market, Kathleen McSherry, Up.St.ART, and Merrifield Graphics and Publishing Service.

Realism in Allegory

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Pietro da Cortona, Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power, Fresco, 1639; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome, Italy

 

Realism in allegory, looking up from the floor of the Palazzo Barberini— No form is more helpful to those who want to place truth in art, than the allegorical artwork. On timelines we place abstracted allegory at the beginning of history of art, as the origins of art—such as finding the foundation of Homer in myths which belonged to all Greeks, or the illustrations in Egyptian works which preserves that culture’s vision of the afterlife. These early works are so closely connected to language that the image of some thing—such as some animal—becomes a kind of stand-in for just one word: the lion is strength. From this origin arises a system of speaking about art on a historical timeline, standing in which, artworks, as they exist historically, are seen as playing with representations of some phrase. This ceiling from the Palazzo Barberini may be summarized as: The Barberini pope has been (or, was) crowned in a perfect moment presided over and ordained by divine providence.

Who are the Barberini to the person standing on the floor of the palazzo they used to own and looking up at this ceiling? I am too far removed from the language of this painting; but the realism in this piece is an interaction beyond that language. This Barberini family (no longer existent among the powers of Italy, Europe, or the World, and almost totally unfamiliar to most people) is, to the one standing, today, under the ceiling, a glorified symbol out of the past. A glorious family in this painting, one honored by the painter and the people. For, in the painting, the family is crowned in a frozen moment. It is the smallest of moments: the lighting is present among all the other characters, but even those characters are in a moment of frozen motion in which we can see the figures of the painting have aligned. For our day and view, this is still only historical for we have lost the language so present to the day this was painted.

 

—Will Harrington, SJC Student in Rome

Donatello’s Baptistry

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The Feast of Herod. Donatello. 1427. From the Baptistry in the Duomo of Siena, Italy. 

The Baptistry of the Cathedral of Siena; inside, the baptismal fountain, and on it the relief bronze of the presentation of St. John the Baptists’s head, by Donatello — Once the christians figured they should depict, visually, a familiar story by placing what happened first farthest to the left and what happened last furthest to the right; later Michelangelo would paint The Last Judgement as a complete scene, but a still where what occurs on the left or bottom is at the same time as what is right or top. In-between these two cultural moments there is this relief by Donatello. Like the earlier Christian artists, Donatello wants to compress time into one static image; within this relief we get not only the presentation of the head, but in the background The Baptist is being beheaded. But I am not interested in this phrase “compressing time into one static image” (what it seems the two paintings share), rather the relationship between earlier and the later.

To a modern viewer, this relationship probably seems like a kind of playfulness. Those older Christian works, being read from left to right, immediately lends itself to be compared to a book, or the written words, which are similarly read left to right. Donatello plays on this by creating a kind of play on words (in the English language) between past, present and background, foreground, where it is required to actively look to remember the past (as you must strain to see the background) but the present is almost totally, easily available to the sight. This image of Donatello’s arrives, historically, in the middle of the revolution of perspective in the Western visual arts. Donatello uses this new science in the depiction, perhaps as a way to fit that same narrative element into the new realism in the arts. The effect of this is the surprise that comes when the viewer sees, first The Baptist’s head in the foreground, and then, in a kind of looking back into time, seeing the same man having his head removed. In non-realistic painting (those which do not attempt to recreate what the world looks like to us in the day-to-day) we may not be surprised this left-to-right narrative within the work, but if we turned a corner and at once saw the same man dead in front of us and picking an apple a little farther off, then time, for us, we be broken.

—William Harrington, SJC Student, Abroad in Roma

Pleasures of the Pantheon

 

 

 

I wrote the following letter for a very different kind of audience. One could call it more academic, though I wouldn’t claim that. But I thought the question of please was deserving of a blog like this.

A work of architecture can be thought of as the creation of an artificial space within a natural space—with very large works of architecture this is more easily seen. The architect chooses a location, a part of the city, and that space, once formed by nature, is then reformed for the architect’s vision. In the Pantheon, this vision forms a representation of the natural space as seen through the intellect of man. The first sign that we are viewing some representation of the heavens is from the immensity of the dome which makes up the pantheon—like the night sky it is impossible to take all of it in at once. One must move their eyes constantly to see the whole thing. The second sign is the oculus, it’s design, that let’s the light in with precision so that every year on a specific day and hour the sun will strike some one of the coffers; and on the spring equinox the light shines through the doors into the portico. Standing inside the pantheon, there is a playfulness which can be felt when we see these two signs mixed into the architecture. The architect would model the heavens in his rotunda, yet show that one may understand the motion and appearance even when one cannot see all at once. This seems, on a personal note, to be the origin of the beauty of the Pantheon: the mixture between the vastness of construction, and signifying of accuracy in the representation of the heavens.

On a side-note, which I have not tried to fit into the paragraph:

I call this mixture “intellectual” mainly in contrast to the Primavera Bedroom we saw at the Palazzo Massimo. There the representation and aesthetic style is rooted in the accuracy of technique to create an illusionistic painting, I assume the goal being to make nature and that painting indistinguishable.

 

—Will Harrington, SJC Student (A20)

Interview with Sofe Cote

 

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Sofe Cote, Self Portrait

 

I’m a big fan of Sofe Cote’s work and thoughts on Art-work; and we regularly talk about art (when we do talk at all). This interview was a way to get both of those on display. Unfortunately the exhibit where her two pieces were displayed has ended, but I found the conversation worthwhile enough to still post it—to show what kind of artistic talent we have here at St. John’s.

 

So how did you get started in Visual Art?

When I was young my mom thought that art was a big part of what people should learn, or what is a good skill to have—that it’s an important way to express oneself. So I was basically drawing forever; and we did a lot of those really sweet pieces where you wet watercolor paper and then you can just can go to town, and no matter what you do it just comes out beautiful. So I did a lot of that as a child. Then later on I did some summer art programs for myself. I wasn’t really into it to the extent that I wanted to go to school for it or pursue it as a career but its always been something that I love very dearly.

So it’s more of a passion for you

Yeah; I don’t really think about commodifying any of my passions or any of the things that I pursue—that’s just not something that really occurs to me.

I guess I’m thinking that some people can start out in art—like where I was going to school painting was emphasized as an important part of education—but there was a point where I just realized that that wasn’t for me. So how did it happen that you started doing it regularly? Did you just start so young that it became second nature to you?

Well I think that that would be placing it in the realm of something that I just do for the sake of doing it. But that’s not how I view it. I think it is something that’s still valuable to me as a method of creating things, or expressing what or how I’m feeling, or making concrete a period of my life through visual representation. I was really bad at writing when I was a kid so I would just draw—it was a lot easier for me—and even now when I journal half of it is drawing, because I find visual representations of things easier to portray than written or spoken.

So you have these two pieces in the gallery—and it’s hard for me even to understand visual arts (I’m much more of a literature person). So the thing I noticed about them (and I’m sorry I’m going to talk to an artist about their art in this way, it feels wrong)—

No, go crazy

Alright—well it feels like the pieces are very sparse in this way—you know it’s just a figure with very nice colors on this white paper—but what is the process of going from the personal to creating that object with that form?

Are you asking what my process is for those particular pieces?

I guess. I think I’m trying to ask more about your experience. What is it like to visualize a personal experience?

Well those are both self-portraits. And for those I felt–I guess lonely, isolated, to an unhealthy extent when I was making them. And I felt something like a lone figure in a corner of a page, with the white not simply as empty space but something that’s overwhelmingly empty, overbearingly empty—it felt to me like it was in some way capturing how I felt. As for the colors; I’ve always been really interested in colors, and for those I was experimenting a lot with emphasizing the natural shades and colors of shadow and highlight that are, I guess, not usually noticed, but trying to bring out that contrast. I kind of locked myself in my bedroom to make those, which I guess is also funny in terms of isolation.

It’s interesting because it sounds like you have a lot more emphasis on seeing that art as a kind of experience to be had. So the white isn’t really representational but you’re supposed to see the figure in isolation on the page.

Well I think the white— it’s at least important to me to understand that the empty space can still be a fundamental part of something. Or how a lack of something is still a something I guess. So having an empty white space not only draws you down to where the figure is but also conveys a lack. I think that was intentional. So I think something like white space can be very powerful in art.

Well there’s this idea— Do you know the poet Wallace Stevens?

Not really.

Well there’s this idea in one of his poems, Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction, where he describes any poem as being a fictional world into itself, separate from any other poem the poet has written, completely contained within itself. (And I guess I just keep wanting to talk about effects). So I could ask: when you see these things do you have to sit there and think about it or does it come to you like a dream would?

Well, I guess that in the same way that a story, when you’re writing it, seems to progress even when you don’t have the whole thing laid out, and I feel like a visual piece can be the telling of a story like that. You create as the work goes, and it’s easier to see what the effect might be once you see it in a state of semi-completion. Then you can make decisions and place intention in the, say, lack of background, even if you weren’t going to originally. And I think one thing naturally follows the other when you’re working. I don’t have full plans laid out. And even when I attempt to do something like that it never works for me; so I try to make it unravel in a more natural way.

I guess the only other thing we ever talk about it colors. So what is with the colors; I don’t remember what you say about them, but I remember that there’s a certain effect with colors that you talk about, which is actually why I wanted to interview you today. What is your relationship to colors?

Oh! Color is my best friend. So for the two I had in the gallery, there is a natural law that Goethe talked about in his Theory of Colors, which I’ve been reading recently, and it was something that I had never really thought about very much or very deeply, which was that for whatever color the light is, the shadow will be that complementary color, and that shadows are never gray or black. I guess I was thinking about that and it didn’t seem real for a little while; but the more I tried to play around with it and emphasize that distinction I realized it was very—not only very real, but interesting and could create a powerful effect. Some of the colors of shadows seem very counterintuitive but I think that it’s an interesting observation to make. I don’t feel like people really think about shadows as having colors to the extent that they should. I was even looking at a Matisse where half the woman’s body was green based on the light. And it seemed very natural the way he painted it, but to look at it up close it didn’t feel like a real skin or a real person. Even so, I think it conveyed a more natural effect of complimenting the light.

I didn’t expect you to talk about colors like that, because I remember in the past when we’ve talked you would talk about

How it feels?

Yeah, you have the emotional aspect.

Well I think that that’s also a very important aspect. AS you know I’ve been doing some studies on Orange recently. I thinks it’s really interesting to see how the color makes people feel in isolation (versus the color in context)—and a lot of what I do when I’m searching for the emotions related to a color is try to find them in isolation, because I think that it’s a lot weirder to look at a color by its lonesome. Something like those drawings—the colors there compliment each other in a way that seems natural. But a color is isolation never seems natural. And I think that’s why it can have such a powerful effect on people and the way that they feel about it. In those drawings I tried to create a lot of depth with the darker colors— which pulls the eye towards a specific part of the page. I think it’s a lot harder to place emotional emphasis on colors when they’re in conjunction.

Yeah, I know certain artists—like Munch—had whole systems for colors where each related to a concept. I think I get caught up in that because it feels unnatural, but not in the way you’d say a piece of art is unnatural. Rather that it doesn’t have an eye towards effect, even if it works sometimes.

I’m reading this really good book right now called Color and the Soul. It talks about various effects colors have, and how they relate to various emotions. I think the author referenced Munch in that. But I guess I don’t really feel like I have a full enough grasp to say “I’ve placed these colors in this relation to get this effect.” Partially because the effect that any piece of work has on a viewer, especially in terms of color, is personal because people have such personal relationships with colors. Like a very red background could have vastly different effects or emotions for different people. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that I placed the colors with a view to make people feel some kind of way.

Is there a way though that you could draw out those emotions through the effects of different colors in conjunction? I mean, the white background is a good example because it is literally isolates the colors in the absence of color. So there might be a kind of artistry which can draw out emotions through this kind of joining and relating.

Yeah through the joining. I mean, you can create very dissonant effects through colors I think. I also think tonality and intensity of colors, not necessarily correlating specific colors to specific emotions, but how those colors manifest themselves can have a kind of equally powerful effect on people. Like pairing a pastel with something that’s incredibly bright, or something incredibly vivid, can have a certain effect no matter what the color is. So something like tone and value is a fundamental way that we view color.

 

—Will Harrington (only in part), St. John’s Student

Two Views of Art

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Robert Indiana, ART—White/Red/Blue, 2017, Silkscreen in colors on triple primed canvas, Edition: III/III

This basic design of this piece was originally used for a sign commissioned for the New York World’s Fair. It was an electric sign, with flashing lights. People mistook it for a sign for a diner, and they crowded about it to find something to eat. If we take that same image but replace the word on the sign with “ART”,  does the whole idea transfer, and Robert Indiana is trying to advertise art? And if we agree, what do we make of art—is it something commodified? That view would almost diminish art by making it a commodity. Yet this is out of the spirit of Indiana’s work. So what happens when we advertise art?

***

In what spirit did this gallery decide to set up poets with typewriters around Annapolis, allowing anyone off the street to commission their own poem? Like the Indiana piece at the World’s Fair, we were advertising art. The one station I stopped at, the poets were swamped, and the people were crowding. Did they crowd for novelty? Not every man gets to be a patron of the arts—and this was in a way that opportunity. But to commission a poet is to bring custom beauty into your life. On some theme you give, you are represented in the art of the poet. That is in the spirit of Indiana’s work.

—Will Harrington, SJC Student

 

This exhibition is generously supported by Annapolis Subaru.

Additional support provided by Mark Baganz and Laura Salladin, Deborah Bowerman Coons and Jana Bowerman Sample, Anna E. Greenberg,Tara Balfe Clifford/ Cliftara Bed ’n Breakfast, and an Anonymous Donor.

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs.

We thank the following for their continuous funding and support: Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Chesapeake Medical Imaging, City of Annapolis, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

Gifts in kind: Annapolis Home, Art Things, Inc., Kathleen McSherry, Up.St.Art Annapolis, and What’s Up? Media.

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