Thursday, February 15, 2018

Art History: How to Analyze or "Break Down" a work of art or what are the main characteristics of a work of art?

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What are the main characteristics of a work of art?

I think that there are three major themes that a work of art can be analyzed.
The physical or tangible, or formal characteristics which are in physical properties. This includes size, color, texture, what it is made of. In general formal analysis is how it looks and feels.
The second characteristic has to do with the work’s meaning and what it represents. This has to do with the story it tells and how people interpret the meaning of the painting. Some times this is referred to as iconography.
The third category or characteristic has to do with a history, geography, and how it was produced. Who bought it or asked for it to be made? Where was it sold? What was the city or culture like that made it? When in history was it made? The context that surrounds the work.
Formal Analysis
(1) : orderly method of arrangement (as in the presentation of ideas) : manner of coordinating elements (as of an artistic production or course of reasoning)
(2) : a particular kind or instance of such arrangement
c : the structural element, plan, or design of a work of art -- visible and measurable unit defined by a contour : a bounded surface or volume
(3) The literal shape and mass of an object or figure.
(4) More general, the materials used to make a work of art, the ways in which these materials are used utilized in terms of the formal elements (medium, texture, rhythm, tempo, dynamic contrast, melody, line, light/contrast/value structure, color, texture, size and composition.)
Form consists of the physical properties of the work. Whether we look at a sculpture's size, mass, color, and texture or a poem's order of elements and composition, all are part of the work's form. When you are doing a formal analysis, you describe the way that the work looks, feels, and is organized. The next passage is a formal analysis of a work of art; the Augustus of Primaporta is a statue from the first century BCE.
The statue stands six feet eight inches tall and is made of white marble. It depicts a male figure wearing armor and some drapery, with his right arm raised. The figure carries a bronze spear or staff in his left hand. The texture of the hair and skin mimic the texture of real hair and skin. Augustus stands in contrapposto, appearing to be stepping forward with most of his weight resting on his right hip. Attached to his right leg is a small dolphin with a winged baby on its back.
One of the more important elements concerning form is the idea of composition. Composition can include how things are laid out in two dimensional space or how the picture plane is organized.
For example, the top two images in this illustration are asymmetrical. The blue circles are not evenly distributed through out each rectangle.
The bottom two most images are symmetrical. There are balancing elements on each side of the blue sphere in the lower left hand image. Even though one of the objects is a square and the other a circle, they take up about the same amount of space and have the same visual weight.
The boxes on either side of the tall white rectangle are mirror images of each other and this can be referred to as symmetrical too. Since you could draw a vertical line down the center of the center rectangle and on each side of this imaginary line it would be a mirror image, this is called bilateral symmetry.
The "Whirling Logs" textile on the left is arranged in a bilaterally symmetrical fashion because we could draw cut the design in half and the left and right sides are nearly a mirror image of each other. Nevertheless, for all its symmetry, this textile appears kind of flat looking.
Composition also has to do with the creation of the illusion of space. When we look at pictures (as opposed to sculptures as the Augustus above) we often think of the picture as an imaginary window. The front of the window, or the glass, is the picture plane that we look through.
In order to create space artists conceive of the picture plane as having three planes that recede back. In order to create space in the picture plane and the appearance of a foreground, middleground and background we can overlap objects to give this illusion. If there is nothing overlapped then we can say that there is no real illusion of space in the picture.
These two pictures demonstrate this idea. If you look at the one on the left, there is very little overlapping in the picture plane and the figures seem to be pressed against this imaginary window. While the one on the right has some overlapping and we can tell that some figures are in front of others. This overlapping gives us a sense of space.
These two sculptural friezes demonstrate these ideas in a three dimensional form. If you look at the one on the left, there is very little overlapping in the picture plane and the figures seem to be pressed against this imaginary window. While the one on the right has some overlapping and we can tell that some figures are in front of others. This overlapping gives us a sense of space.
Here is an example of a formal analysis of the Greek tragedy The Bacchae written by Euripides in 406 BCE. You can use a similar format of analysis when examining a work of art.
The Bacchae is play written in a chant form called dithyramb. Musical instruments, especially the drum, were used to keep time in the performance of the play. Approximately eighty percent of the play is dialogue while only a small portion is devoted to action on the stage. The order of the narrative is predictable and therefore symmetrical because there is a continuous cycle of basic components that are repeated throughout the play. These components are known as the prologos, parados, episode, stasimon, and exodos. The repeated sections are the three central components of the parados, episode, and stasimon, which are retold in predictable form as many as five times in the typical Greek tragedy.
Another look at schema and correction:
Summary of Gombrich
Renown art historian Ernst Gombrich developed a theory to explain these adaptations and changes and refered to it as schema and correction. If we were to look at the Archaic period's art and architecture as the plan or schema, we can see how the later Classic period might have taken the archaic art as its schema and updated it in order to make the designs more pleasing according to the later tastes. These changes are referred to as the correction.
The next update or correction occurs when the same pose and musculature from the Doryphoros were adopted and adapted for use by the Romans in the portrait of Augustus.
To understand his theory called "schema and naturalization," or "schema and correction." To understand it you basically just need to know the definitions of three words.
  • Schema is the cultural code through which individuals raised in a culture perceive the world. For example, we recognize stick figures to be humans.
  • Correction is where you take that schema and you compare it to what your senses tell you about the world and then you make it more accurate.
  • Mimesis is the process of correcting your schema.
Gombrich's idea can be expanded to looking how later groups can take the earlier work of art and mimic it (mimesis). This is a kind of Darwinian theory kind of like Darwin's theory of the "survival of the fitest."
Read some more stuff by Gombrich if it interests you!
Some interesting ideas that might help you to understand the terms "civilization" and "period" occur when studying the concept of "schema and correction." Both of these works of art come from the Ancient Greek civilization. Even though we use the term "ancient" what we are saying is that the Greek civilization occurred a long time ago. Within the Ancient Greek civilization, is tied to the region of land we now call Greece. The civilization lasted between circa (approximately) 1000 BCE to about 100 BCE but we divide the Greek civilization into various periods that are defined by the style of art they produced. For example, the Kouros from Attica, comes from a period we refer to as the Archaic period, which lasted from around 600-480 BCE. The style associated with this Archaic period is that the sculpture is a bit unrealistic and slightly stylized in a geometric way. This means that the style of the Archaic period was to make the sculptures look kind of "blocky" and unrealistic. A later period that occurred during the Ancient Greek civilization is the "Classic Period" which lasted from circa 500 BCE -350 BCE. The main characteristics are that the sculptures look lifelike or realistic. So both the "periods" belong to the Ancient Greek Civilization. The main difference between period and civilization is that period is a kind of style that is a subset of a civilization. Civilizations go through many periods of development and a civilization is located in one geographic region and spans a longer time.
The next passage is a contextual analysis of the Augustus of Primaporta.
The portrait of Augustus of Primaporta is work of political propaganda. Augustus waged an extremely profitable series of wars and was able to extend the Roman Empire's borders. His ability to control the Senate maintained his status of unchallenged power within the Roman city as well. The unnaturally tall height of the statue is symbolic of the god-like status of Augustus because the average height was around five feet. The statue of Augustus is a correction of an even earlier sculpture called the Aulus Metellus.
Augustus's raised right arm symbolic of his abilities as a master orator and refers and builds on the iconography of Etruscan portrayals of great statesman such as depicted by the Aulus Metellus. The raised arm, a symbol of rhetorical power as a speaker is combined with the bronze staff and armor are references to the abilities that any Roman leader should possess. In some ways, this is the originating idea of our conception of the "Renaissance Man" of the 1500's. The references to the Aulus Metellus statue, the contrapposto pose (invented by the classical Greek culture) and the Cupid (representing Augustus as a descendent of the gods) grant both the Augustus Primaporta, and Augustus himself, an authority based in time honored traditions.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Art Appreciation: What is considered good art, or quality art?

What is considered good art, or quality art?

I got asked this question this morning so I thought I'd post it here.

I am looking at artists like Theodore Bradley or Niclas Castello for example that mimic that idea of Jean Michel Basquiat. What about those two artists is it that people say that they have great art?

I know a lot about Basquiat but I wasn’t aware of the other two artists you mentioned so I googled them. I must say I’m not very impressed with either of them in terms of my own opinion. But it is just an opinion. So let me support my ideas and opinions with my rationale.

What makes Basquiat a very good artist are several things which include the physical form, the ideas in the art, and his placement in the context of the art world in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In terms of his ideas first, Basquiat was working with a lot of art historical notions such as the Gestalt or collective unconscious. He combined words images texts and even a little bit of contemporary culture in his art along with some biographical notions of who he was as a black man living in the United States. Some of the stuff has political overtones some of it is just stream of consciousness. However, the way he introduced his art to the public or the context that surrounds him is one of the things that created his acceptance and popularity in the art world.

When Basquiat came on the art scene he’d already been living in New York for most of his life and was really part of the New York avant-garde. He introduced the majority of his work by making it public art as a form of graffiti that was very different from the other graffiti writers and artists of the same time. He also hung out in New York with people who were already known as important people in the art scene. All of that combined with the physical qualities of his work made him and his work popular.

The physical qualities of his work really tie in with a lot of art historical ideas starting with the abstract expressionists in action painters like Pollock and deKooning. He experimented with found objects and with nontraditional art materials very much like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. He wasn’t interested in traditional drawing skills and he also wasn’t interested in traditional representation in terms of art history from the 19th century and earlier. He embraced his awkward drawing skills and his improvisational use of art materials.

I don’t think that many artists have been able to establish a reputation by a mimicking or emulating other artists without being very unique.Theodore Bradley is really mimicking Basquiat in his personal appearance and some of his content and symbols but they are really not good paintings because he is trying to draw almost realistically but doesn’t have the skill, and also unable to commit to the abstraction that Basquiat did.

Theodore Bradley   Google Search

Niclas Castello Almost seems like he is mimicking Jeff Koons and Jasper Johns. However, I don’t think he is well-known because he’s almost like a third-generation copy of the pop art movement.

Niclas Castello   Google Search

Of course, all of the stuff above is just my opinion based on some things that I know about art history and the art world.

Friday, February 9, 2018

New Arts in Corrections opportunity for arts providers!
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FEBRUARY 09, 2018

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Opportunity: Arts in Corrections RFP

The California Arts Council is now accepting proposals from arts organizations interested in providing arts programming to inmates at state adult correctional facilities. Questions regarding the RFP must be submitted by February 27 at 5:00 p.m. PST. The final deadline for proposals is March 26 at 5:00 p.m. PST. Get the details in our press release.

Don't miss your chance for state arts funding!

CAC grant programs deadlines are just around the corner! Details and deadlines for all of our offerings are here. If you've applied in the past and were not selected for an award, don't be discouraged - refer to your panel notes, speak with our knowledgeable Programs staff, and make use of our online resources.

Smart needs art! File your taxes, keep arts in schools

It's tax time! Be a champion for arts education when filing by making a contribution to the Keep Arts in Schools Fund. 100% of your tax-deductible contribution is applied to arts education programming supported by the California Arts Council. Get the details on how to donate here.

NEA awards $3.4 million to California nonprofits

The National Endowment unveiled its first two major grant announcements for fiscal year 2018 on Wednesday. Awards included $3,363,000 for California organizations for 132 grantees across the state. Read more here.

Introducing the #Instagrantee

We're putting the social media spotlight on the great work of our grantees! Every week on Instagram, we'll post a new pic with the hash tag #Instagrantee. Find us and follow us at @calcartscouncil.

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New Play Tackles 1960s Cold War Fears from a Queer Perspective

Question: Does being trans have an impact on the artistic process?

BK: There’s no way [the production] isn’t coming from a queer perspective.

Will Davis (left) and Basil Kreimendahl   PHOTO: DUSTY SHELDON


“I came out this spring,” I told my parents at the end of that summer, just one week into the school year. I found it easier to report on things I’d done than speak to who I now was. We were in my parents’ hotel room in the Haymarket neighborhood of Lincoln, where I had moved to to study fiction writing, and they were both very surprised, which in turn surprised me. Mom asked most of the questions. Finally, when Dad spoke, he said this: “I’m worried that your life is going to be a lot more difficult now.” I heard the love behind his voice, the concern, but I was a graduate student, I told them, in a humanities department of all places. “It’s not like I’m gonna be a youth pastor,” I said.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Artist: Michail Tsakountis

MCA Explores a Higher Plane with Paul Heyer The MCA's small-but-mighty exhibit explores pop culture, queer life, transformation, and the sublime.

Heyer (born 1982) is a Chicago native and multimedia artist with an MFA from Columbia University whose work examines club life and pop culture through a queer lens. I had to think for a while before I could find the club life, pop culture, or queer references in Heyer’s work—which is to say, the man is no Warhol, and does not paint polemics. But with the helpful guide of the MCA pamphlet, I could parse more. In one work, cursive text (“I am the sky”) on a Taylor Swift–esque cloud background asks us to imagine ourselves as the impossible. Becoming something else is a theme of Heyer’s: He doesn’t paint people but skeletons, saying that he finds them more approachable. Black-stained brooms become a model of the universe. A giant silver comforter is the centerpiece of the exhibit: It asks us to wonder about comfort becoming metal, science fiction becoming comfort, and dreams becoming…something else.

Art History: Prehistory, Chauvet Cave

Prehistory is divided up into several different periods and geographic locations.  This is kind of a problem when you're studying it another classes and art historians have different time periods.  Although these are before the common era.  Let's define the names. 


Pa•leo•lith•ic \"pā-lē-ə-'li-thik, esp Brit "pa-\ adj [ISV] (1865) : of or relating to the earliest period of the Stone Age characterized by rough or chipped stone implements

The word, “prehistoric” just means before the historic era (before we started recording history).  The term paleolithic means paleo (paleo is Latin for old) and lithos or lithic means stone in Latin. Therefore the combination of the two words, Paleolithic translates as old Stone Age. The Old Stone Age dates vary widely. The range of dates for the Old Stone are sometimes 600,000 to 10,000 or 35,000 to 7000 depending on who you're studying with and what geographic region you're looking at. 

Me•so•lith•ic \"me-zə-'li-thik\ adj [ISV] (1866) : of, relating to, or being a transitional period of the Stone Age between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic

They range of dates from 600,000 to 7000 BCE of the Mesolithic era is different depending on where you study it and what region of the globe. In the Near East (Iran and Mesopotamia) the  is from 7000-6000 and the in Europe it goes from 7000-4000.

neo•lith•ic \"nē-ə-'li-thik\ adj (1865)
1 cap: of or relating to the latest period of the Stone Age characterized by polished stone implements
2 : belonging to an earlier age and now outmoded

The word, Neo is like the character’s name from the movie the Matrix, “neo” means “new” and that's the name of the New Stone Age in Europe. goes from about 4000 BCE to about 1500 BCE and the Neolithic era in the Near East (Modern day Turkey, Iraq and Iran) starts a little bit earlier at 6000 BCE.  Neolithic means that they have Stone Age technology they don’t use metal tools they use stone and wood.  Textiles and clothing are made from wool, grass, hemp and straw.  Just keep that in mind when you're studying that this doesn't mean that they were stupid.  It doesn't mean that they were unintelligent.  It doesn't mean that they wouldn't have been able to use the tools that we have or were the stereotypical caveman we see in Geico commercials. 

Need more info?  Would you like it in video form?
For a set of videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit:

Vocabulary You Will Need 

The word “form” is synonymous for this class the word “physical.” Literally it’s a physical description of the object and this can include, size, what it’s made of, color, how it’s put together, lines used in it, weight. When you describe the work of art in terms of its physical form it’s almost like you’re giving the police a physical description of someone who might have mugged you. You don’t know who that person is and you don’t know their name but you sure know what they look like.  A formal description would include how something looks like and would not include anything about the interpretation or meaning of that object or work of art.

For example, we’ll do formal analysis of what is depicted in the photograph above.

This is a painting of several horse heads on a stone wall and painted approximately 5 ½ feet from the floor of the cave. There are other animals also painted and all the animals overlap each other. The horse heads on top are about 12 inches tall and 12 inches across. The rhino located in the left-hand side of the picture is about 15 inches long and about 12 inches high. The animals are painted with outlines and what looks like a little bit of shading or color to describe the hair and light. It’s not clear if the color is used to describe light or just hair.

Another element of formal analysis is to describe what to make it. In this wall painting on stone you would describe what the painting was painted on as the “support” which is actually the surface on which it’s painted. Another example of this is paper is the support that is used for drawing. So stone is the surface or support on which this is painted. Another word for paint is pigment. The paint or pigment used to paint the surface of the rock is also referred to as the medium. A “medium” is actually a mixture of the pigment and binder or glue combined with the support. Sometimes it’s a very familiar phrase to us, for example, most painters paint oil on canvas. Oil paint is made from linseed oil and ground-up minerals.  The minerals colorants are glued to the surface of the canvas with the oil that eventually evaporates and hardens holding the pigment particles in place.

In this case, the paint used by the artist to create these images is probably animal fat or possibly water mixed with some natural earth colors, in this case he would be some sort of charcoal or ocher which is brown, and then apply to the wall with some sort of brush. So the medium here is naturally found pigments applied to the wall with animal fat or water.

Another part of a formal or physical analysis is a description of how the forms or things in the painting are rendered. In these wall paintings all of the animals are rendered in a profile form. This makes it easier to draw as well as recognize the animal. Profiles are an easy diagrammatic way of depicting something in a recognizable way. These animals are rendered or drawn in a fairly realistic or naturalistic way. The artist does have a style and the style to outline forms and then fill in the center with different colors. The lines, something you need to describe in a formal analysis, are often long and flowing and go from thin to thick and often incorporate realistic curves that define the anatomy of the animals. The anatomy of the animals seems proportional and accurate and this is part of formal analysis. They actually look like real animals from profile view.
In the next section were going to be talking about what is represented in the paintings and what they mean. One of the ways in which we give meaning to something is that we have to look at where they were found. Sometimes the location of something, where it was found and where it was made, can add some valuable clues as to the meaning of the paintings. This of course would be combined with the analysis we did above.

An analysis of the history, location, and environment of a work of art is referred to as a “contextual analysis.”  We’re going to look at the context in which these cave paintings were made.

Contextual Analysis

The cave, called Chauvet Cave, is located in southern France in a mountain range and has been preserved for more than 30,000 years. The cave dates from around 30,000 BCE but every 10,000 even 100,000 years later it was visited by subsequent people. It appears that the cave was in use probably up until about 20,000 years ago when a series of geographic events covered the opening of the cave. Archaeologists are fairly certain about the dates because they used radiocarbon dating and they also use modern forensic methods to date as well as figure out the order of creation of the paintings and other decorations inside the cave. There were also bones of various animals such as cave bears and Ibex and to wolves. There are also footprints found as well as handprints in the cave. There were also scratches made by cave bears and the walls that were painted over and handprints found on the walls.  Other animals have been depicted throughout the cave.

Today the cave is sealed and protected and a series of walkways have been installed for scholars to walk through without touching the walls and other artifacts but still have a chance to study. The cave is well documented in a film called “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” You could probably rent this on Netflix or Amazon.

Another major point of evidence or fact is that many caves have been found throughout the world with almost the same exact type or kind of illustrations in them. Some caves are in France and some in Spain these caves all have depictions of horses and bison as well as many of the other things found at Chauvet.