Helen Levitt and Jacob Riis: Two Documentary Photographers

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Helen Levitt and Jacob Riis: Two Documentary Photographers
      Helen Levitt and Jacob Riis, two 20th century documentary photographers, captured photographs of the living conditions and everyday life struggles of immigrants and lower class families in New York City. Living in New York, they became fascinated with the everyday lifestyles of people around them, both having similar but different objectives.
      Jacob Riis was born on May 3, 1849, to Niels Edward, a Latin teacher in Ribe, Denmark. [1] Riis was best known as a journalist and social reformer. He immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1870, and arrived in America at the age of 21 with only $40 in his pocket. Born into poverty, Riis strived to improve the lives of those less fortunate. He knew what it was like to be homeless, hungry, and out of work. Riis became immersed in the crime-infested world, sleeping on cold filthy floors, and more than once he considered committing suicide. Riis also slept in railroad cars and graveyards with Danish immigrants. He struggled with poverty and homelessness. After years of extreme poverty and hardship he finally found employment as a police reporter for the New York Tribune in 1877. [6]
      Riis spent the next ten years exploring the slums of the lower East Side. He was eager for fresh news in the slums, and saw how difficult life was for the people, so he exposed it to the rest of New York. Riis began by publishing magazine articles to inform the world of what he had seen, but they made no impression. In the 1880s his work gravitated towards reform and he worked with other New York reformers, fighting for better living conditions for the thousands of immigrants flocking to New York in search of new opportunities. [1] His first article was published in the New York newspaper, The Sun on February 12, 1888. He had a unique view of New York City that he wanted everyone to see. So, he started using the method of photography, hoping that it would make more of an impact than his articles did. [6] He was an immigrant, so he self identified himself with people in poverty at the time and knew no other way to reveal it other than photography.
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(Figure 1)
   Through his photography, he raised awareness and made a call to reform living conditions in the tenements. He wanted to take pictures of the living conditions inside of the tenements, but it was too dark inside the buildings to make successful photos. A few years later, magnesium flash powder was invented, which enabled him to capture details in any lighting condition. [6] The images Riis took, brought wealthy and middle class New Yorkers face to face with the reality most citizens tried to avoid. He went everywhere with his camera, capturing pictures of and revealing the dark, painful exterior of the lower east side such the people laying in the hallways in (figure 3). He was especially moved emotionally by the conditions of the young, who sold newspapers by day and slept in alleys by night as pictured below in (figure 2). Riis’ narrative work inspired many other photographers to explore documentary photography. His photography revealed the everyday horror and hardships the immigrants faced. [1]
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 (Figure 2)
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(Figure 3)
      Riis’ 1890 photograph titled, A Little Mother, (Figure 4), depicts a small girl sitting in the doorway of an old tenement building, holding a sleeping female toddler. The small girl, who appears to be 8 or 9 years of age, is grasping tightly onto the toddler, as she lays her head on her young sister’s. The older girl who is holding the baby, is making eye contact with the viewer, which allows the viewer to develop an idea of the stressful hopelessness and experience of the children. The use of eye contact forcefully draws the viewer deeper into the composition, revealing small hints of what the children’s lives may have consisted of, and the hardships faced everyday. The older girl has parted dark hair down the center, formed into two ponytails with white ribbons.
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(A Little Mother, Figure 4)
      She is also wearing a dress, white stockings, and black-laced boots. The toddler who is resting on her lap, in an upright position, is also wearing a plaid dress, with a white apron. The toddler’s arm is slouched over her sister’s arm, which is grasping her. The title suggests that the two children may be orphans, and the older girl may be raising her sister as her own. The photograph appears to be sentimental and disturbing. However, there seems to be part of a woman’s arm in the photograph, wearing a white dress. Judging by the dirty building and doors, and the fact that she is sitting on the cement, portrays the idea of poverty as well. Riis emphasizes the emotions of the children by allowing the light source to shine directly on them, defining their facial features and details in their clothing.
      There are also other emotional photographs that Riis captured, such as his 1890 “In the Home of an Italian Rag-picker, Jersey Street” (figure 5). The photograph portrays a middle aged Italian woman holding her baby, which is wrapped in a blanket on her lap. The mother is sitting against a wall in her tenement house, wearing a white dress, surrounded by sacks, barrels, and buckets, assumed to belong to other families living there. Her head is slightly tilted to the right, as she stares off into space. The blank expression on her face, reveals that she may be fatigued and stressed as a single mother. The filthiness on the floor and walls makes the photograph disturbing and depressing, revealing evidence of the health hazards in their everyday living environment.
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 (Figure 5)
      Riis’ photographs reveal the realistic side of society, capturing the imperfections of everyday life. Riis believed that moral citizens, regardless of their economic status, should be given a chance to improve their lives. Like Riis himself, given that chance, many could rise out of poverty and into the position of the middle class. In his photographs, Riis portrayed that every detail and subject should be captured, their abodes were dirty, and neighborhood streets had an increase in crime. [6] He searched for images that had a strong effect on his viewers, such as dirty children on the streets (figure 6) and men living in dumps and cellars. Riis’s photographs also challenged Victorian notions of mothers and children. [6]
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(Figure 6)
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(Figure 7)
      Riis’ “On the Roof of the Mott Street Barracks”, depicts a mother with her five young children standing on a rooftop of a tenement. The woman is standing to the far left side of the photo, as her left arm leans against the wall. She is holding her young nude son on her right hip, as an older male child is standing nude in front of her. The child standing in front of her has his hands behind his back as he provides the viewer with a mannerly gesture. The mother’s other three children are standing on the far right side, dressed in clothing. The eldest son is standing with his hands down in front of him, dressed in overalls and a collar shirt. The remaining two daughters are standing behind the eldest, as the youngest daughter focuses her attention on the mother. None of the children are wearing shoes. The fact that two of the children are nude, and the other three are dressed, suggests an idea of division.
      In others, children played out on the streets unattended as pictured below in (figure 8). Riis’s photographs also challenged lifestyle within the home. In one photograph, a tenement family makes cigars at the table. In another, a man sits down to a solitary meal in a coal cellar. Riis often de-emphasized the individual in favor of the total setting. Accordingly, he photographed many of his subjects at a distance to show them in their squalid surroundings. It was not Riis’s custom to provide the names of his subjects. Such commentary revealed Riis’s own ambivalence to his subject matter. Riis’s lack of experience as a photographer sometimes worked to his advantage. His blurred, half-lit images, such as figure 10, both fascinated and frightened his audiences. [1]
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(Figure 8)
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(Figure 9)
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(Figure 10)
      New York City, one of the wealthiest in the world, had become home to more than a million over worked and under nourished people, living in unspeakable conditions of horror. According to Riis, “one half of the world did not know how the other half lived. It didn’t want to know because it didn’t care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those underneath.” He believed that the system stripped the immigrants of their rights and tried to make prices of food and living higher, in order to keep them in the lower class. The economically challenging beginning of the 19th century caused an increase of three fourths of New York’s people to live in tenements. The 15,000 tenement houses that were the despair of the sanitarian, increased to 37,000. More than 1,200,000 people called them home. [6]
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(Figure 11)
      In addition to the living conditions, workers were held captive by poverty, and New York wage earners had nowhere else to live. There was no way out, and the system was the cause of public neglect. The government was greedy, and gave the immigrants no chance at striving in life. They had nothing, and were forced to make the best out of a bad bargain. The tenements were very old buildings, with crowded rooms, filthy yards, dark damp basements, leaking garrets, out houses, and stables converted into dwellings. A tenement is defined as a house occupied by three or more families living independently and doing their cooking on the premises. A picture of the tenements is displayed below in (figure 12). There were more than two families on a floor, so living and cooking were common in halls, stairways, yards, etc. There were also liquor stores and bars inside of the tenements, which had side doors for inmates to easily come and go. [6]
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 (Figure 12)
      Usually, at least four families occupied each floor, and privacy consisted of two dark closets used as bedrooms. The living rooms were 10×12. Staircases were also dark in the center of the house, with no direct ventilation or sunlight. Each family was separated from others by partitions. There was also dirt and rain in the hallways. There were dark alleys shut in by high brick walls, and remained as cheerless as the lives they sheltered shown below in figure 13. [6] It was often cold in the winter, and children slept in boxes. Riis stated, “I took my camera and went up in the watershed photographing my evidence wherever I found it. Populous towns’ garbage sewered directly into our drinking water. I went to the doctors and asked how many days a vigorous cholera bacillus may live and multiply in running water. About seven, said they. My case was made.” [1]
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(Figure 13)
      In the summer, the heat was unbearable because they had no air. People were crowded into one room, as depicted below in (figure 15). There were houses in which eight children died in five months, mothers walked around in the streets attempting to give their children air. There was improper nutrition, and children along with their families worked at home sewing, or making cigars shown above in (figure 9). Child laborers worked seven days a week in factories and sweatshops. There were thousands of abandoned orphan children left to fend for themselves. There were no laws governing the tenement housing conditions. Tenements were life threatening, and there weren’t many bathrooms or plumbing, which made people more prone to diseases, sickness, and death. The gap between rich and poor increased. Inspired by the social distance between rich and poor, he started movements that changed living requirements, such as the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901 (86). [6]
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(Figure 14)
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(Figure 15)
      The New York State Tenement House Act banned the construction of dark, poorly ventilated tenement buildings in the state of New York. The law required that new buildings must be built with outward-facing windows in every room, an open courtyard, indoor toilets and fire safeguards, as presented in figure 14 (Riis). His book, How the other Half Lives, depicted many needed reforms and made him famous. Jacob Riis’s photography helped him document the lifestyle of the poor, and made him an important figure in the history of documentary photography. He truly showed how the other half lied and died. [6]
   During the time of the Gilded Age, there was a huge disparity of wealth, and far more had less than those who had. Riis explored the lives of New York leagues during the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age seemed lovely and successful, but there were many problems of infrastructure, poverty, and politics within society. He was very successful in raising awareness of the Gilded Age and the problem of poverty through his photographs and writing techniques. His book, How The Other Half Lives, inspired him to discontinue his career as a police reporter and pursue a life consisted of writing and lecturing. [1] There was a relationship between poverty, living conditions, and social behavior. He took a stand against social norms, and exposed the problem. Unlike Riis’s intention to expose the treatment and living conditions of children and their families, Levitt exposed another side of society.
      Helen Levitt was an American documentary photographer, born on August 31,1913 in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Ray, was a Russian-Jewish immigrant, and her mother, May, was a bookkeeper. Levitt decided to drop out of high school in her senior year, to pursue art. At the time, she was indecisive as to what she wanted to pursue specifically, considering that she wasn’t very skilled in drawing. After weighing her options, she turned to photography as an alternative. Her first experiences with photography arose as she began to work for J. Florian Mitchell, a commercial portrait photographer in the Bronx, who was also an associate of her mother’s. [5]
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 (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Figure 16)
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 (Walker Evans, Figure 17)
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 (Ben Shahn, Figure 18)
      While Levitt worked for Mitchell, assisting with darkroom printing and development for six dollars a week, she acquired a serious interest for photography. Levitt first discovered her subject interest when she used a Voigtlander camera to photograph her mother’s friends. [5] Working for Mitchell also exposed to her to a variety of documentary photographers of the Film and Photo League, Henri Cartier-Bresson (Father of street photography), Walker Evans and Ben Shahn (Shown in figures 16-18). In 1935, Cartier-Bresson visited New York, and Levitt had the opportunity to meet him personally. From there, she began studying composition in paintings when visiting museums and galleries. In 1936, she bought a secondhand Leica, the same camera used by Cartier-Bresson. Two years after exploring with the Leica camera, she decided to show Evans her photographs of children playing in the streets and creating graffiti. [4]
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(Figure 19)
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(Figure 20)
      After sharing her photographs with Evans, she assisted him with making prints for his exhibition and book, “American Photographs”. Evans and Cartier-Bresson both inspired Levitt, and their work contributed to her interest in capturing everyday life and action within the familiar environment of New York. Her work was first published by Fortune Magazine in July 1939. In 1940, her Halloween picture was accepted in the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art’s department. In 1943, she also had her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. A few years after working as a film editor, she was then hired to edit Luis Bunuel’s pro-American propaganda films. By 1949, Levitt was a full-time film editor and director. [5]
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(Figure 21)
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(Figure 22)
      Levitt, along with her friends Edward Agee and Ms. Loeb, began filming “In The Street” in the mid 40s, which was released in 1952.  “In The Street” was a 14-minute documentary about Spanish Harlem, related to her photographs of the everyday lives of children. In 1959, Levitt became known as one of the first photographers to work with color photography. However, in the 1960s, her apartment was burglarized, which resulted in a significant loss of her color photographs. After the burglary, Levitt decided to return to black and white photography. She returned to black and white photography after discovering that prints made at labs didn’t reveal the same quality as the previous ones. In the 1990s, Levitt discontinued producing her own black and white prints, due to sciatica, a condition caused by injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve in the leg. [4]
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(Figure  23)
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(Figure 24)
      Sciatica made it difficult for Helen to stand for long periods of time and carry the Leica camera. As a result of being unable to carry her Leica, Levitt began working with a small automatic Contax. The Contax enabled easy transporting and allowed her to take photos of her subjects from a variety of different angles. The gradual change of lifestyle in New York neighborhoods impacted her photographs, and she often depicted subjects performing everyday activities. Levitt spent a majority of her career, photographing children who occupied the streets of Harlem and the Lower East Side during World War II. Even though her images were still, the interaction between the models created a sense of movement and drama. [5]
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(Figure 25)
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(Figure 26)
      Helen Levitt’s photographs were not meant to tell a story. She took pictures in poor neighborhoods because the people in the streets were fully sociable and visually interesting. Levitt’s photos did not consist of bizarre events. Most of them revealed the games and excitement of children, the everyday conversations of the working class, and the observant waiting of elders. Levitt also focused on the roles each group played in society. In addition to the roles, Levitt also photographed the inner lifestyle of children, and how they played a role in society and interacted. [3] Levitt wanted to also expose the society as a whole, and how people of all nationalities and social classes could come together as one, portrayed in (figure 21). What is extraordinary about the photographs is that the events that were being captured, were normal activities.
      However, Levitt always found a way to take the everyday activities out of their original context, turning them into dramatic presentations. For example, in (figure 23), Levitt captured a young girl approaching a door, while holding a flower. The evil expression presented to the viewers, is somewhat opposing the innocence that the flower may symbolize. The opposition of the girl’s angry expression and sweet flower, reveals Levitt’s perspective of children as being innocent but possessing a certain level of mischief. The same interpretation can be made in Riis’s photograph, (figure 8), as boys stand on the sidewalk next to a dead horse. The eldest boy in the photograph laughs, as he pokes the horse with a stick. The photograph portrays a haunting like quality, because he is laughing in a situation of death, and continues to torture the horse laying lifeless. In one of Helen Levitt’s most well known pictures, “Kids With Masks”, (figure 28), three suitably dressed children get ready to go trick-or-treating on Halloween in 1939. The children are standing on a stoop outside their house and are excited about the holiday.
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(Figure 27)
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(Figure 28)
      The little girl on the top step is putting on her mask. The boy near her has his mask in place and is taking a graceful step down, while another boy, who is also masked, lounges on a lower step, waiting for the upcoming fun. Another one of Levitt’s photograph titled “New York”, pictured in (figure 29), captures a man who seems to be dancing in the New York City streets. The photo displays movement by the man’s positioning of one leg crossing over the other, and bending over towards the ground. He seems to be soulful and happy, even though he is alone and the only subject of the photo. The rule of thirds is used, as the man is placed on the third line vertically. The curving diagonal lines on the pavement also make the composition of the photograph strong and inviting.
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(Figure 29)
      Levitt invites the viewer to the back of the photo, capturing the movement with the inclusion of pedestrians walking and cars driving by. The photo depicts a lot of emotion and a bit of the vast amount of culture, which can be found in New York City. The accomplishment without the use of color, allows for a simplistic yet powerful nature of black and white. The fact that the man is to the side of the composition, rather than the center, gives the viewer a better understanding of what is happening in the foreground and the background. The choice of having the dancing man on the side, disables him from overpowering the rest of the subjects in the photograph.
       Many of her pictures focused on action or gesture. In a few, for instance her balletic basketball players (figure 30), this is obvious; in most, she indicates a sense of graceful dancers by presenting us with what appears to be a choreographed moment. [2] She was very familiar with the neighborhoods she photographed, and appeared to have a real affection for the places and the people in her pictures. The use of natural lighting and individual personalities of her subjects gave her photos a naturalistic feeling. In addition to the naturalistic quality of her photos, Levitt’s photos also portray the evolution from child to adult.
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(Figure 30)
      Helen Levitt and Jacob Riis were two very talented and inspirational documentary photographers during the 19th and 20th centuries. Both had a fascination with the lives of people within their New York community, which they wanted to capture and share with the rest of the world. Although both portrayed different emotions in their photographs, they never failed to capture the sentimental emotions through their chosen subjects. While Levitt’s subjects communicated graceful, dramatic, and content moods, Riis’s subjects held a feeling of depression and hopelessness. For example, Riis’s photo, (figure 6), which portrays a little boy squatting in an alley while holding a baby. Comparatively, Levitt photographed her subjects by revealing their individual personalities, as Riis focused more on the corrupting aspect of the children. Despite their differences in emotion and intentions, both photographers displayed powerful statements.
      Riis had the intention of exposing the living conditions of families living in tenement houses, and the harsh labor of children in order to enforce a positive change. Levitt captured her surroundings, showing pride in her neighborhood, capturing memories of the everyday lives that would soon change. Riis’s work represents the earlier lifestyles of New York, depicting a change he wanted to happen. While Riis exposed the harsh lifestyle and communicated his demand for change, Levitt’s photographs represented the change Riis dreamed of.
Footnotes:
     1. Cross, Robert D. Riis, Jacob August. American National Biography Online.  American Council of Learned Societies. Feb. 2000.
     2. Handy, Ellen. Childhood as Performance, City as Theater. The Lion and the Unicorn. Apr. 2001 Vol. 25 No. 2
     3. Levitt, Helen; Agee, James. A Way of Seeing: Third Edition. Duke University Press. 1989.
     4. Levitt, Helen; Evans, Walker. Helen Levitt. PowerHouse Books. March  2008.
     5. Loke, Margarett. Who Froze New York Street Life on Film, Is Dead at 95. New York Times. 30 Mar. 2009.
     6. Riis, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890.
     7. Siegel, Robert. Shedding Light on NYC’s ‘Other Half’. NPR Books. 30 June. 2008.
Bibliography
Cross, Robert D., “Riis, Jacob August, American National Biography Online”.
      American Council of Learned Societies. Feb. 2000.
Handy, Ellen, Childhood as Performance, City as Theater, The Lion and the
      Unicorn. Apr. 2001 Vol. 25 No. 2
Levitt, Helen; Agee, James. A Way of Seeing: Third Edition, Duke
      University Press. 1989.
Levitt, Helen; Evans, Walker. Helen Levitt, PowerHouse Books. March
      2008.
Loke, Margarett. “Who Froze New York Street Life on Film, Is Dead at 95, New
     York Times”. 30 Mar. 2009.
Riis, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
     1890.
Siegel, Robert. Shedding Light on NYC’s ‘Other Half’, NPR Books. 30 June.
     2008.

Response on Truth and Photography

“…but their complete success in aligning so much precise observation with such a wide and intellectually appropriate range of critical thought makes them unique in the entire literature on photography, at least as far as I am acquainted with it.” – Jerry L. Thompson
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   In response to the article, “Truth and Photography”, I believe that pictures made by a lens are connected to the real world, because the camera captures every movement and imperfection. Over the years, the development of the camera and film has changed, in order for it to become more convenient and accessible to everyone of all social classes. For example in the film, Wizard of photography, it revealed how photographers used glass plates, and poured a light sensitive chemical on top of it. They could only take one photo at a time, and the glass was usually heavy. So a filmstrip was later developed, which allowed photographers to take 100 photos at a time. A smaller camera was also developed and since the camera was inexpensive, and accessible to everyone, the use of the camera began to cause issues such as invasion of privacy.
   Photographers would then take their film to be developed and printed on postcards. In the article, Talbot described his view of capturing a sculpture, and Thompson stated that when a picture is taken, it is only as the object appears, and not what it truly is. I agree because a picture is just a basic idea and two-dimensional version of what is perceived by our eye, and is then revealed through the lens. It doesn’t thoroughly give a full analysis or detail behind the actual object we come in contact with in the true three-dimensional world.
   Our society revolves around the idea of perfection, and satisfying others with their perception of beauty or what’s right. They want it to be “right”. However, when giving photographers the opportunity to be free and expressive, they don’t have to think so hard or try so much to impress, the emotions conveyed will be real. They would be real to the artist’s eye at least. I don’t think the same rules of photography or capturing a great photo should apply to each photographer, because each person has their own perception of a subject. It shouldn’t be forceful, or lead the viewers to think our society and everything it in is perfect or should be. The truth is, our society isn’t perfect; there are many distortions and blemishes that we see with the naked eye.

Formal Analysis: Queen Charlotte With Prince George and Prince Frederick

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   Queen Charlotte With Prince George and Prince Frederick is an 18th century, 249×162 cm oil painting on canvas, that hangs on the wall of the Baltimore Museum of Art, in their European art collection. Mrs. P.B. Key Daingerfield gave the painting to the Baltimore Museum of Art, in memory of her parents General and Mrs. Felix Agnus; also in the grand opening of the BMA (BMA The European art Collection). The Queen Charlotte With Prince George and Prince Frederick includes many elements that help to create a well-rounded composition.

   The Queen Charlotte With Prince George and Prince Frederick painting was created in the studio of Scottish artist, Allan Ramsey (BMA The European art Collection). “Allan Ramsey was appointed painter, by King George III, husband of Queen Charlotte” (BMA The European art Collection). The process of the painting lasted from 1765-1767 and is enclosed by a gold elegant embellished frame. As dim lights spotlighted the painting, it displayed Queen Charlotte sitting in a pink dress, along with her two sons: Prince Frederick (right) and Prince George Augustus Frederick of Wales, later known as King George IV (left) (BMA The European art Collection). The painting was eye catching because it held a significant status of royalty, and the way it was presented with such class and importance.

 

      Aside from the presentation of wooded flooring, and various spotlights, the picture itself held some significance. While observing the composition, it portrayed a calm mood and setting with the dull neutral colors and content expressions on the figures’ faces, as they gazed forward. The smooth, rich brushstrokes also created a tranquil composition, which allowed the viewer to seek deeper meaning into the artist’s mind. The painting displayed a great use of space and depth. For example, in the foreground there was significant detail in the clothing and fabrics, while the background appeared to have neutral, less vibrant colors and details. The folds in the clothing were greatly emphasized, and displayed high contrast. Even though the figures in the foreground were emphasized by a strong light source, the background also unified the composition.

 

      Directional line was also portrayed in the piece, which kept the viewer’s eye wandering throughout the composition. The poles in the background, and dividers on the wall created imaginary vertical and horizontal lines across the canvas. The rich bold colors also brought attention to the composition, in addition to the tints and strong cast shadows being overlapped by the figures. The figures seemed well adapted to the environment as well. Knowing that artists often emphasize certain objects to convey a message, the careful attention given to the figures’ clothing may have portrayed the royal fashion as well. The quality of the painting, and craftsmanship allowed the artwork to be appreciated. Each detail was carefully painted and observed; making certain that each element was achieved and proportioned. Great use of contour line was also incorporated, revealing the smooth folding texture of the green curtains and clothing.

 

      Beautiful form was portrayed, creating strong structures, as if having the ability to reach into the canvas and pulling the objects out of the painting.  The artist also experimented with a variety of levels, such as the queen’s foot propped on the stool, and the baby on her lap. Filling the negative space, and positioning of the figures created balance and unity because the models were depending on each other for support. The choice of poses and lighting brought a warm feeling to the painting. For example, the children were being supported by the mother, depending on her body for comfort, and protection. As Prince George Augustus Frederick held the bow and arrow in his hand, it displayed hints of preparing for war, royal duties, and maturing in order to protect his family. Queen Charlotte’s dress wrapped around her two sons, as if symbolizing a nest protecting them from harm.

 

      The family portrait brought a natural state to the painting, and their actions of everyday life. The models weren’t displayed as simply posing for a picture, which gave the composition deeper concept. The symbolic nature of the painting, and choice of subject, demonstrated that Queen Charlotte valued her family, as she grasped her youngest son with both hands. The repetition of colors, such as the soft pinks and warm yellows also formed balance and unity. The colors somewhat created an analogous color scheme and they worked well together. The beautiful embroidered clothing also represented high stature and wealth.

 

   A variety of vanishing points were also incorporated in this composition, which allowed the eye to gradually move from the foreground, and fade into the darkness of the background. The workbasket and book, that sat undisturbed on the piano, portrayed isolation. The objects on the piano, and the drum in the background, also set a time period; perhaps the renaissance. During the renaissance, artists captured exact proportions and often painted significant figures of high status. They also focused on form and identified light versus dark, using a rich bold palette, and exaggerated facial features. In the painting, the figures’ eyes were somewhat exaggerated. The viewer’s eyes are immediately drawn to the eyes of the figures, allowing the viewer to feel the emotion of the subjects. Then, the attention is slowly drawn to the figures’ surrounding environment.

 

    There were also a variety of angles incorporated into the painting, specifically in the walls. The angles created imaginary lines, which provoked a continued interest, and persuasive message in the painting. The formalistic approach produced an aesthetic, representational work of art, which is rarely used in the modern society. Therefore, it made the artwork stand out, because of the different technique, and amount of attention given to the subjects. Queen Charlotte With Prince George and Prince Frederick was also a rhetoric piece. The extravagant detail and realistic forms made the painting convincing.

 

      The detailed contour lines, formed interesting shapes, wrapping around the bodies of the figures. Even though the figures wore loose clothing, there was still an idea of the anatomy. For example, on Queen Charlotte’s propped leg, there was a strong contour line, which displayed the form of the bended knee. A great use of line weight was also demonstrated in the painting. The use of contour lines collaborated to create a flowing rhythm. The spatial decision of placing the baby on the mother’s lap, helped when it came to unity and balance. The baby’s arm hung to the right, breaking the concentration of the figures being placed in the center of the page. As well as the tip of the mother’s dress protruding to the bottom left. The decision kept the eye moving back and forth across the composition, enabling the entire work of art to be enjoyed.

 

      The artwork appeared to be authentic, judging by the worn, yet admirable quality of the canvas. The wood frame behind the stretched canvas, seemed to create several dents through the painting due to aging. Yet, the lines gave the painting more value, and evidence that it was very fragile. The accents worked well with the overall painting. As well as the smoothness of the brushstrokes, which brought peace and serenity to the art. The paint was not applied on thick to create rough textures, but included numerous thin layers and lines to achieve texture. The objects in the painting could not be physically touched, but the use of highlights, painting technique helped to differentiate one material from another.

 

     The piano for example, included highlights on the legs and keys, as well as rough lines to imitate the grain texture of wood. The stool in the foreground appeared to be made out of metal, due to the smooth brushstrokes, gold color, and reflections. The boy’s light blue clothing was identified as lace because of the transparent effect and tints. Queen Charlotte’s dress was revealed to be a shiny material such as silk, because it seems to easily flow and attract the light source coming from the left of the page.

 

     Allan Ramsey appeared to be very dedicated to the painting, and displayed so many elements to define the overall concept of the piece. The warmth, and delicate nature of the composition made Charlotte With Prince George and Prince Frederick, a wonderful piece of art to appreciate and seek the true meaning behind it. The painting was too beautiful to simply take a picture, it gave the viewer more reason to actually stop and admire every brushstroke.

Human Connection with Nature

 Nature-Fights-Back2

   For centuries, humans have dominated the earth, gradually altering the naturalistic aspect of nature, therefore forming a materialistic and artificialized society.

   What is this thing we call a society? Is it made to change our perception of how we should truly live life freely as humans? The society that we have created is nothing compared to what God has provided for us. We tend to think that God created life for the benefit of humans. We think of everything else in life as our environment, there to serve us. However, in biblical stories, God called creation “good”, even before humans were created. Genesis 1:1-31 states that “After the third day, God called plants and trees “good.” After the fourth day, God called the sun and the moon “good.” After the fifth day and sixth days, God called the animal creatures of air, sea, and land “good.” Finally, “God saw everything that God had made and, indeed, it was good.”11

 

   Nature embodies a certain level of spirituality and knowledge, one that no mankind can possibly compare to. Nature possesses an immortal soul that triggers the human mind, enabling us to self reflect, become inspired, create an adventure, and escape from this materialized world that humans have made over centuries. An example of this transition from human connection with nature to modern society can be seen in the two photos below. The first photo is a painting by Albert Bierstadt depicting St. Anthony Falls in 1880. The second photo is a photographic depiction of St. Anthony Falls in modern time.

 

   Notice how different the two images are. The painting by Bierstadt depicts nature full of life and serving as a manifestation of the mind. The wild nature of the waterfalls captured, and the warm sunset gleaming on the water, indicate the connection between the creator of the painting, and what the creator is experiencing. Even though it is painting, it still holds a powerful inspiring quality. The painting is a representation of nature taking its course and moving freely undisturbed. The painting welcomes the viewer to experience the beauty and serenity nature has to offer.

 

   The inclusion of the figure standing on the cliff is also persuasive, illustrating the peaceful serene sensation one will experience if visited. The painting mocks the idea of a paradise land, undisturbed by humans, capturing the perfection of the free-spirited, untamed landscape. Because it is painted and not photographed, also reveals a connection and the need for humans to mimic and document the full sensation and life of the landscape. Documenting nature through the landscape genre was used to create a memory for what would one day be destroyed.

 

   The second photograph is a modern view of St. Anthony Falls. It is quite obvious that St. Anthony has changed drastically since the 19th century. The photograph depicts a manmade waterfall, covered by a bridge in the background. A city is also present in the background. The inclusion of human ingenuity takes away the natural sensation that can be provided by nature. The inclusion of human ingenuity also creates a disconnection between humans and nature, encouraging a world of artificiality ruled by technology and other human inventions. Human inventions such as the waterfall, bridge, and skyscrapers in the background take the awe away from the original landscape, making it less intriguing. The idea of capturing the waterfalls with a camera, also adds to the presence of human ingenuity. It is ironic that years ago nature was viewed as destructive and dangerous to man. Often it is still viewed from the same perspective. Now, the human species is one of the most destructive and violent species that ever walked the face of the earth.

the-falls-of-st-anthony

 “The Falls of St. Anthony”, Bierstadt

imag0417

Modern view of “St. Anthony Falls”, Photographer Unknown

 

   Who are we to destroy what the Great Creator has provided? He’s provided nature for us to enjoy, to be free, become inspired, and shaped internally. Adam Sedgwick, one of the founders of modern geology, stated that, “landscape and land is the closest you can get to God.”10 Nature nurtures. We take the natural elements from nature, relying heavily on it as if it were a mother, taking what it’s provided for us, manipulating and changing it into something artificial, something materialistic that will one day grow old and decay. Albert Bierstadt’s painting, “In the Foothills” (Figure 1) portrays in the foreground, an old cottage with a roof covered by grass and dirt. The cottage appears to be decaying suggested by the pieces of board falling from the door, the broken fence in the middle ground, and boarded windows and walls on the sides.

 

   The grass growing on the cottage illustrates that nature and humans struggle for dominance. The path is emerging from the bottom of the page, and exiting on the left of the painting. On the path, are two women riding in a horse carriage, guided by a man on the left side of the carriage. On the outside of the cottage, is a man sitting, as his body leans forward with his arms crossed on his lap. There are also chickens standing in the foreground near the cottage. Farther behind the cottage in the background, a man is seen working in the field. This is an indicator of how Bierstadt documented the everyday lives of people around him. In the background, there is also another cottage hidden by foliage and bushes. The decaying nature of the cottage shows a connection, in relationship to the large trees behind it.

 

in-the-foothills-1861

  (Figure 1)

 

   The detailed grass on the cottage relates to the foliage on the trees, creating the idea that the house is becoming a part of the earth. Materialized things decay like the human body, which emphasizes the question: why do we feel we are dominant over nature? Joanne Vining, a writer from Research in Human Ecology stated, “The Enlightenment brought with it feelings of domination over nature. Descartes of 1637 advanced the philosophy that human minds and bodies were separate. Other forces in play made it a relatively short logical link to the idea that humans were separate from nature and dominant over it.”7 “Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media on Helping Others”, is an article which talks about how the creation of human ingenuity such as violent video games and TV shows that have conditioned humans to become less emotionally connected and sympathetic towards other humans and nature.1 Many times for example, when a traumatic event is announced on the news, humans respond in a less alarming way, feeling a slight sympathy and quickly moving on with life.

 

   The ways in which we react to nature, results in our need for territorial advantage. Why do we feel like we are dominant over the earth? The earth is believed to be something that humans will one day become a part of. The human flesh is only temporary. We’re born, we live, we die, and our bodies are then buried into the ground, in which they slowly decay, becoming a part of the earth’s surface once again. Psalm 49:8-10 reads, “The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever
and not see decay. For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others.”11 Our souls will rise and will become a part of nature.

 

   What is our purpose here on earth? Is our purpose to serve nature as nature has served us? Is it to enjoy it? Our values and meaning for life on earth, are the complete opposite of what we’re meant to do, what we’re created for. Perhaps nature can feel the pain we’ve caused it. I suppose it can. Maybe it talks. But we’re too immersed with the realistic world, too blinded to see, and listen to what nature has to say. Maybe nature speaks through the birds chirping, the crashing waves on the shore, or the wind. Maybe it shows its frustration through the thunder and lightening, which some humans regard to as dangerous. Rather, it’s the defenseless nature that we destroy.

 

   What is landscape? Landscape was first used in the Dutch Netherlands, and means “The land that never was.” By going out in nature and simply observing our surroundings, we are creating a snapshot. A landscape can be recreational, aesthetic, or spiritual. Landscapes are more than just “places of delight” or aesthetically pleasing images.10 They embody and express our most deeply seated myths, our values, and our noblest aspirations. Every landscape we create is a human construct and tells a story of ourselves. According to J. Donald Hughes’ “light on theory”, the study of the cultural dimensions of landscape is a lens towards understanding the history of humankind’s relationship to nature. The three dimensions consist of nature and culture, history and science, and scale. When landscape is viewed culturally, it renews the concrete space in what surrounds us, and masks the land.10

 

   Charles Darwin had a scientific way of explaining humans and nature. He believed that beauty and nature made people want to be better. Nature begins with the inside, and shapes us. The anti-industrialists were people who believed that the industrial revolution was an enemy to humans and the machine was dishonest, while the human hand was honest.10 In a Life Science article, “Humans Losing Touch with Nature”, Peter Kahn, a psychologist from the University of Washington argued, “We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives.”5

 

   Peter Fuller, a British art critic, emphasized the question of “Who can look at nature, and not see God?”10 Landscape is seen as a place of ownership, history, and power. Through landscape, we can express our desires and find truth within ourselves. We should spend more time thinking about how the landscape moves us. He argued whether nature or humans came first, and stressed the idea of humans making more of an effort to preserve the land and natural resources. Fuller contemplated when a division happened between nature and God, as well as when humans began dominating it. As time went on, something happened to our faith.10

 

   John Ruskin, an English art critic of the Victorian era, believed that there was a connection between nature and God, and when you come face to face with nature, you are looking into the eyes of God. Darwin’s 1859 Theory of Evolution stated that human technology today is perceived as more powerful than God and there is a relationship between humans and nature.10 Nature can be used for the benefits of humans. Human hands have made in nature, what it is not. As a result of humans making nature what it is not, they created an idea of a perfect place where they could go to when they died, known as paradise. Paradise is based off of the idea that the world we live in is imperfect, so therefore we create in our minds a world that we desire to live in.10

 

   The concept of paradise was fashioned in many different ways. In class, we clarified two aspects of paradise: that it’s unobtainable, and derives from the imagination. Paradise is a place that we’ve lost and a place we can return to when we die.10 Revelation reads, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”11 Paradise is described as having abundant fruits, flowing rivers, green trees and grass, butterflies, chirping birds, sunshine, and flowers that never die. Nature is a part of paradise. Paradise is an ancient Trojan word that comes from the word,”pairidaeza”.10

 

   In the Muslim idea of paradise, there was an erotic aspect of nature and gendered as a woman. Gardens were created to mimic the idea of paradise, in an attempt to recreate and experience what has been lost. For example, there was usually a water source such as a fountain centered in the middle, forming into 4 paths resembling the 4 flowing rivers. There were also planted flowers and trees, which attracted birds. The temple, centered at the end of the garden, was made to symbolize the house of God. The gardens were usually opened or closed. However, closed gardens, represented The Paradise of Eden, and the Virgin Mary, untainted by the sin of the outside realistic world (in figure below).10

 

c61473d581a67177f8deaf2e30b5a983--madonna-and-child-arbor

“Madonna and Child in Garden” 1490, Unknown

 

   During the medieval period, landscape painters were seen as being subject to visions, and through painting landscapes, one could gain enhanced views of the world and strengthen their faith in God. During the 16th century, landscape would often be associated with humans in portraiture. Landscape was believed to embellish the portrait and tell a visual narrative of the person’s character.10 Landscape was and still is used as an expressive protagonist as depicted in Albert Bierstadt’s painting, “Campfire Site, Yosemite” (Figure 2). Bierstadt’s “Campfire Site, Yosemite”, depicts a group of expediters sitting around a campfire next to a large hill. The trees on the hill are slightly leaning over the campers, as the bright orange light illuminates onto the rocks and trees.

 

   Bierstadt depicted relatively large sized trees to emphasize the idea of man being such a small creature in relation to nature (also seen in Figure 3, “The Oregon Trail”). The brushstrokes used to depict the leaves on the trees give them life in comparison to the lifeless humans. However, some of his brushwork is seen as repetitive creating the sense of falsification. His painting technique was inspired by the traditional way of painting, and indicated the use of impasto (thick application of paint).6 His paintings demonstrate a poetic and artistic aspect of landscape.

 

   Philosophers and poets of the century also wrote about American landscape, in an effort to better understand it and create a visual sense in order to experience nature in a spiritual way.3 Jacob Bronowski, a British historian of science once said, “Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. This is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast over nature.” Nature is a fundamental element, and we are a product of our surroundings.10

 

 campfire-site-yosemite

 (Figure 2)

d0621be62d

 (Figure 3)

 

   Humans are consciously and unconsciously inspired by nature, feeling the desire to imitate it through a painting, or art in general. We attempt to mimic the beauty, the sensational feeling that nature provides for us. Artists have the desire to mimic what is lost. Albert Bierstadt was a landscape painter during the 19th century who deeply captured the beauty of nature, untouched by humans, untainted by the non-believers. He captured beautiful, dramatic, and intense light, a light that was reflected from the sky, creating an opening in the atmosphere. It suggested another world of paradise in which we all desire to live. For example, in his painting of “Estes Park, Colorado”(Figure 4), Bierstadt captured the natural quality of nature, untouched by humans.

 

   He depicted a realistic view of a lake, protruding from the left side of the canvas, leading the eye back into space as it emerges into the sunlight. Bierstadt also captures the reflection of the trees in the water, which are placed on the other side. He displays a great sense of depth and perspective, as the trees and dull painted mountains in the background grow smaller. Bierstadt also captures a strong sense of light on the trees and grass on the right side, giving the painting a powerful radiant glow. The light protruding from the sky at the top of the canvas also portrays a spiritual feeling, as if heaven were opening. If you look closely, you can also see how the dark clouds are slowly dispersing as they move to the sides of the canvas, revealing the delicacy nature has to offer.

 

   Bierstadt painted the landscape in a delicate way, revealing a smooth surface, especially in the water. The water is free of brushstrokes, which provides an uninterrupted flow serving a serene mood. The rays of light fall from the sky, as they bounce off of the water and foliage of the trees, creating a dramatic sensation. The painting is free of human intervention and interaction, revealing the idea of nature being in control. Bierstadt incorporated many neutral earth tones, and yellowish golds to depict the landscape realistically. The carefully painted texture of the foliage on the trees suggests the free-spirited character of nature. He also captured the various movements within nature. For example, the smoothness of the lake provides the idea of a peaceful flow, while one could imagine the leaves on the trees blowing in the wind. The smooth application of the paint in the clouds also suggests a gradual maneuvering.

estes-park-colorado-1869

(Figure 4)

 

   Albert Bierstadt’s paintings fell into the category of luminism and romanticism due to the strong capturing of light. Bierstadt’s goal when painting, was to increase the viewer’s emotional reaction.2 His paintings of the American West were described as “dreamlike landscapes”, portraying the landscapes he saw as paradise and a private place that many people were unable to see in person.2 While visiting the American West, he also studied the lives of American Indians, in addition to collecting native artifacts, tools, and garments for painting references. Duncan described Bierstadt’s paintings as “full exquisite detail”. Many art critics questioned whether his landscape paintings actually existed.2

 

   The striking beauty and perfection of the paintings made it hard to believe that such places existed in real life. The paintings are prominent at first glance, but they demonstrate an artificial quality as well, considering the usual disorganized nature of landscape.3 Duncan wrote, “Few Americans had witnessed anything like the sights of the Pacific Northwest, and the power of Bierstadt’s work filled them with wonder, awe, and perhaps fright over the sheer immensity and wilderness of the frontier.”2

 

   A study conducted by Elizabeth K. Nisbet and John M. Zelenski of Carleton University, helped to better reveal the disconnection of the human experience in nature. They found that outdoor walks positively effected participants more than indoor walks. This study emphasized the fact that the increasing technological inventions, and modern society have gradually created a disconnection between humans and nature. Because of this, people have grown more reliable on the artificialized aspect of society, rather than spending time in nature.8 Nisbet also mentioned that the well-being of humans and the environment would most likely suffer and eventually worsen. Nisbet also stated that when the participants experienced the sensation of nature, it created a stronger connection. When humans feel a sense of connection with nature, and spend more time with it, they will then begin to understand and develop a need to protect and care for it rather than underestimating and destroying nature.8

 

   Nisbet stated, “Avoiding contact with nature may also contribute to environmental destruction: People who do not feel related to nature are unmotivated to protect it.” 8 Psychologists also believe that nature can improve ones concentration, aid in progressive recovery from illness, and reduce stress. 8 However, as time goes on, each generation will be conditioned to believe that the environment we live in, is normal. The article, “Humans Losing Touch with Nature” read, “This concept of amnesia proposes that people believe the natural environment they encounter during childhood is the norm, against which they measure environmental degradation later in their life. The problem with this is that each generation takes that degraded condition as a non-degraded baseline and is generally oblivious of changes and damages inflicted by previous generations.”5

 

  Humanly formed ideas and inventions have created a disconnection internally, allowing humans to become conditioned to show little or no interest in nature. The gradual changes taking place in society, have made it harder for humans to communicate and express emotions and sympathy in regards to other life forms. Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, created a biophilia hypothesis in 1984 indicating, “Because humans evolved in natural environments and have lived separate from nature only relatively recently to their evolutionary history, people possess an innate need to affiliate with other living things.” 8

 

   Humans have a need to connect and develop close relationships with other living things rather than strictly human-to-human contact. For example, visiting the zoo, gardening, and pet ownership.8 However, society takes a great effort in attempting to change that aspect. For example, the invention of robot and virtual pets are being used to replace the ideal realistic pet for children.12 As discussed in ART 262, Schama believed that humans have a connection to the land, and landscapes are snapshots tied to memory.10

 

   Albert Bierstadt for example, decided to paint landscapes in an attempt to create a memory for himself of what would soon be destroyed due to the industrial revolution. Kim O’Connell, the author of “Measuring the War’s Impact Through Landscape Painting”, wrote “This isn’t just a striking painting of the American continent, it’s the landscape equivalent of Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom”—a land of peace, potential and wonder, unspoiled by the devastating conflict that the painter and his fellow Americans had just endured.”9

 

   Duncan from American Artist: ArtistDaily stated, “The landscapes Bierstadt saw and re-created in his work provided the artist and the audience with a sense of pride and identity, something much needed in the shadow of the Civil War.”2 Nature can be a place of solitude and reflection, as depicted in Bierstadt’s “Estes Park, Colorado”. Nature provides for the necessities of humans, and contains many elements that humans need in order to survive. Humans couldn’t possibly survive without nature and the flesh of animals. Animals therefore, couldn’t survive without nature, which provides for us a circle of life. In a study conducted by the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Environment and Society, they asked a number of people whether they perceived themselves as a part of nature or separate. A majority of the participants stated that they saw themselves as a part of nature (76.9%).7  There was a high percentage of people who regarded to themselves as a part of nature, but yet nature is constantly devalued by many humans.

 

   We don’t think of ourselves as being dominated by nature, but dominating nature. We only destroy and use nature, taking away the natural elements and adding it to our modernized society. We then turn it into something unnatural, making it acceptable and suitable to our own standards of our idealized lifestyle. In an effort to restore our world, as well as finding our purpose as humans, we must first inhabit a desire to understand nature and other life forms that exist.

Endnotes

1 Bushman, Brad J. “Desensitizing Effects of Violent media on Helping Others.”

      Psychological Science. 7 Jul. 2008. Web.

2 Duncan, James. “Albert Bierstadt: Visions of the West.” pp. 1-34. American Artist:

     ArtistDaily, Oct. 2011. Web.

3 Fine, Richard A. “Albert Bierstadt, Fritz Hugh Ludlow and the American Western

     Landscape.” Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 91-99. American Studies: Mid-America American

     Studies Association, Fall 1974. Journal.

4 Hendricks, Gordon. Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West. New York: H.N.

     Abrams, 1974. Print.

5 “Humans Losing Touch With Nature.” Live Science 1 Apr. 2009. Web.

6 Mayer, Lance, and Gay Meyers. “Bierstadt and Other 19th Century American

      Painters in Context.” Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 55-67. Journal of the American Institute for

     Conservation: Maney Publishing, Spring 1999. Journal.

7 Merrick, Melinda S., Emily Price, and Joanne Vining. “The Distinction Between

     Humans and Nature: Human Perceptions of Connectedness to Nature and

     Elements of the Natural and Unnatural.” Vol. 15, No. 1. Human Ecology Review:

     Society for Human Ecology. 2008. Journal.

8 Nisbet, Elizabeth K., and John M. Zelenski. “Underestimating Nearby Nature:

     Affective Forecasting Errors Obscure the Happy Path to Sustainability.” Vol. 22,

     No. 9, pp. 1101-1106. Psychological Science: Sage Publications, Inc., Sep. 2011.

     Journal.

9 O’Connell, Kim A. “Measuring the War’s Impact Through Landscape Painting.” Civil

     War Times. Vol. 52, Issue 2. 2013. Database.

10 Oettinger, A. “Nature into Art: The Cultural Dimensions of Landscape.” Lecture/Class.

      Goucher College. 2013. Unpublished.

11 The Holy Bible: New International Version. Biblica, 1973, 1978, 1984.

12 Vieru, Tudor. “Experts say Humans and Nature Should Remain Connected.”

     Softpedia. 2 Apr. 2009. Web.

Illustrating a Narrative: My Analysis

Luke 1:35 – And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Fra_Filippo_Lippi_-_Madonna_with_the_Child_and_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_St_Anne_(detail)_-_WGA13238

                                               Fra Filippo Lippi- “Virgin and Child”

Here is my analysis below, to Fra Filippo Lippi’s Virgin and Child and Alvise Vivarini’s “Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints – Sacra Conversazione”. Enjoy!

     Fra Filippo Lippi’s Virgin and Child and Alvise Vivarini’s “Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints – Sacra Conversazione”, both portray scenes of the life of Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, enthroned. The paintings refer to Luke 1:27-35, “To a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” The presentation and narrative are somewhat similar, but are conveyed in different ways. Both paintings are rich in narrative, and perceived differently by each artist.

      Fra Filippo Lippi’s Virgin and Child (See Above) is a fresco painting, which portrays scenes from the life of Virgin Mary. In the foreground, Virgin Mary is holding baby Jesus in the foreground, on her lap. The painting shows the three main characteristics of Renaissance art: classical balance, harmony, and restraint. Through these characteristics, individualism, humanism, and secularism emerge as the most important values of the Renaissance era. Virgin and Child portrays classical balance through the symmetry of the piece.  For example, six people stand to the right of Mary and Jesus, and exactly six people are situated to the left of the Mary and Child.  Secondly, every face in the painting maintains a symmetrical balance.  For instance, as the mother of God, Mary is extremely beautiful, flawless, absorbed, contemplative, and reflective. Lastly, the piece is set in “tondo” or circular form, which is the best example of a symmetric shape.  Many artists of the Renaissance often placed saints in a circular form to reveal the importance of the figure.

      The harmony of the piece is also evident.  The familiar, domestic environment unifies each of the piece’s scenes. For example, to the left of the Mary and Jesus, Saint Anne has just given birth to Saint Mary. To the right of the Mary and Jesus, a pregnant woman is accompanied by a playful child, grabbing onto her robe, and on the stairs of the piece Saint Anne greets her husband Joachim. Lippi shows restraint on the walls in the background, which provides evidence of a typical house during that time period, along with spiritual presence. Lippi demonstrates personality and movement through the postures and facial expressions of his characters by incorporating interaction, which allows the viewer to interpret each scene carefully.  Every person’s posture is relaxed and graceful.

      The baby Jesus’ face seems sweet and lively, as he stares up at Mary, whereas his mother’s face contains sorrow.  It has been said that her sorrow is an indication that foretells Jesus’ suffering. The artist emphasized Mary by placing her in the foreground, enlarged, overlapping the smaller scenes. By placing her in the foreground, it helps the viewer get an idea of who or what the painting is about, and slowly leads the eye to each scene. Even her clothing stands out from the rest of the figures portrayed. Mary is wearing a green robe with gold embellishments, along with a red dress. Both of the rich pigments work well together, forming a complimentary color scheme. The richness and quality of her clothing, as well as the embellished throne she’s sitting on, suggests that she was wealthy or of high stature.

      Another piece of evidence is that artists in the 13th century often incorporated gold embellishments in the clothing of the most significant figures in the narrative. Filippo also included transparent haloes over Mary and Jesus’ head. On the right, appears to be servants, aiding St. Anne, judging by the bowl being carried on the servant’s head. The rich color and contour lines included in the clothing provide form and volume to the figures. Lippi was also successful in capturing the facial expressions and personalities of the figures. For example, Saint Anne’s expression after giving birth to the baby Mary.  Saint Anne appears exhausted, but has delivered to the world the best mortal woman, the Virgin Mary.

      Lippi also portrays the perfection of the bodies by producing a symmetric, gentle, and beautiful disposition. This painting appeals to the human eye because the saints have human-like characteristics. Fra Filippo was talented at capturing the richness and detail of human character in the story, combining opulence of scale with intimacy of feeling, unique in their time. The architecture in the painting displays Renaissance and Roman approach, judging by the Renaissance high ceilings, pointing towards the heavens, and the Roman arches located under the stairs. The social class and/or wealthy depiction of Renaissance society is shown through the pleated robes, and bonnets the women wear, the heavy drapes in the background, the designs on the floor, and the expensive pomegranate seeds Jesus holds.  The daily life of the citizens presents itself in the graceful, playful attitude of the piece; no one appears stiff or solemn.  Everyone is smiling, laughing, and stand in relaxed positions.

       Alvise Vivarini’s “Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints – Sacra Conversazione” (See Below), is a tempera painting on wood which portrays the Virgin Mary enthroned with baby Jesus. However, Baby Jesus is standing on her lap. The Virgin Mary and Jesus are placed in the center to create emphasis. Mary’s embellished robe and peach colored dress, also draw attention to her, and she is giving eye contact to the viewer. The decision to paint the Virgin Mary giving eye contact to the viewer, also draws attention to her and baby Jesus, because facial expressions of the figures help to establish an idea of their mood or thoughts. In this painting, Mary is presented with a slight smile, revealing a typical mother’s gentle touch and care. Her feet are also covered, to show that she shares the spirituality of God and reveals her purity. Mary pictured on a throne, in a silk embellished robe, in the center of the composition, illustrate importance and a sign of wealth. On her lap, baby Jesus is standing, in a classical contra-posto gesture, suggesting a sense of power and control.

Alvise_Vivarini,_sacra_conversazione

 Alvise Vivarini- “Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints – Sacra Conversazione”

      There are also two groups of three saints standing on each side of her, which consist of: Louis of Toulouse, Anthony of Padua and Anne on the left and Joachim, Bernardino and Francesco Gioacchino on the right, face inwards towards the enthroned Virgin. Anthony of Padua is also holding the closed book of acquired wisdom and the stem of Jesse. The inclusion of the figures and repetition of the colors create symmetry and balance. Their gestures are enhanced by the delicate light, which comes from the top left-hand corner. The captured light and contour lines in the clothing, create three-dimensional figures, and reveal the bodily forms under the robes. The light source also contributes a dramatic effect to the painting.

      The throne in the center of the composition is constructed of cylinders and parallelepipeds, the curtain in the background, falls heavily excluding from sight all natural elements apart from two small fragments of a cold, clouded sky. The dull color of the sky creates atmospheric perspective, distinguishing the foreground from the background. Cast shadows of the figures are formed on the floor, which establish a geometrical relationship between space and figures, while the clear line defines areas of pure enamel-like color. The amount of open space in the foreground, allows the eye to travel gradually throughout the painting, and appreciate the details in the clothing and throne, as well as develop an idea of the concept portrayed. The warm lighting also provides a romantic, delicate feeling. The lighting captured on the figures’ faces also enhances the features, and brings emphasis to their expressions.

      After analyzing both of the paintings, it appears as though neither of the paintings included scenes of the angels talking to Mary. However, Alvise Vivarini’s “Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints – Sacra Conversazione” is more successful in conveying the sense of the narrative and emotions. The painting was somewhat easier to interpret than Lippi’s, because Lippi incorporated other scenes into the painting, such as Anne giving birth to Mary, which made it a bit confusing. The faces were also hard to make out in the background, and it was hard to determine whether or not Mary was seated on a throne. Lippi also doesn’t include a landscape, and there’s so much to concentrate on in the painting, that it makes it difficult to interpret the narrative; especially if you are unfamiliar with the story or important figures.

      In Vivarini’s painting, he clearly depicts Mary seated in the center of the composition on a high throne, and makes it evident that Jesus is enthroned. He does this by painting baby Jesus is a classical pose, suggesting bravery and high stature. Mary also seems confident in the composition, as she is presenting a slight smile, and giving the viewer eye contact, drawing them further into the painting, enabling them to feel the same emotions. The clouds in the background of the painting, also remind me of the heavens or angels approaching her. Including the clouds on the exterior, gives a great sense of space and reveals part of another mysterious world. I also enjoy how some of the figures’ eyes are attached to Mary and Jesus, while others are staring at the floor, which creates a natural mood.

 

The Question of Privacy: Sally Mann Response

“I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by experience but the last time you recalled it.” – Sally Mann
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I’m quite sure that there are a lot of photography lovers out there. Not only artists can see the intimacy and stories that they portray, but pretty much anyone can. I believe that’s the beauty of art. Anyone can have their own perception of it and make of it whatever their imaginations create when they view the work. You don’t have to be an artist to understand it. It just takes a human being. I studied some of Sally Mann’s photographs and wrote my own perceptions of what I gained from it.
Sally Mann is a talented photographer, who focused primarily on the subject matter of her children and growth over the years. Her photographs capture a side of human beings and life forms, which display the beauty and transformation of life and death. This was evident in many of her landscape photographs. Her work is very intriguing. With that being said, she has a way of capturing flaws that are often denied or rejected by society’s standards, and turning them into something beautiful and accepting. Here are some of my questions and answers while viewing the movie, “What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann”.
You can find the link to the preview of the movie here: What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann
Why have the lines changed between public and private changed in the last century?
1. I think the lines between public and private have changed in the last century because people have perceived certain subjects, such as photographs of nude models as indecent, and have also developed different intentions and ways of looking at such things. Today’s society isn’t as free-spirited, and instead of living in a society of freeness, we are living in a society that is constrained, forcing people to hide what is natural or bare truth. The idea of truth and natural have been denied to a certain extent in this new culture and generation that has been created.
Why and how have these ideas, discoveries, and technological advances contributed to these changes?
2. Ideas, discoveries, and technological advances have contributed to these changes because technology, music, fashion, in addition to other things have influenced people to expose only what is decent or comfortable to the public, therefore hiding the truth. Technology and discoveries have in a way, taken away the natural aspect from our culture, therefore falsifying and hiding the true beauty that can be seen through natural images.
When do you see the most obvious changes?
3. I see the most obvious changes when it comes to things such as nude models, or real life situations that are seen as a discomfort to the public. I feel like the public understands photos like these, but they don’t want to accept it because they haven’t experienced it themselves, therefore they perceive it based off of judgment and the idea of what is right and wrong.
How do facts separate themselves from opinions?
4. Facts separate themselves from opinions because facts are things that are exposed clearly, and tell the true story. Opinions are simply how one perceives or judges a subject through their own eyes without allowing the photograph to speak the truth for itself.
What do you think the difference between revelation and exposure is?
5. The difference between revelation and exposure is that revelation is something being innocently revealed, while exposure tends to be a subject that is presented in a way that is based off of truth or a straightforward idea, and helps one to recognize the difference between “fact and fiction”.
Example of revelation?
6. An example of revelation is a photograph of a small girl doing ballet, while exposure would be a picture of a starving homeless little girl gazing at the viewer.
Do you think American novelist and photographer Wright Morris might place Sally Mann on the side of exposure or revelation?
7. I think Wright Morris might place Sally Mann on the side of exposure, as she documented things such as her nude children, and exposed the bare truth and everyday lives of her children to the public in an “indecent” manner as perceived by society.
What do you think is the difference between private and invisible?
8. The difference between private and invisible is that private is something being hidden from the public, and something that is not visible or exposed. Invisible is something that is present to the public or viewer, but not immediately visible or noticed.
How do you make the invisible visible?
9. You make the invisible visible by presenting the subject in a way that is emphasized, and providing small details and clues which give the photograph a more conceptual meaning, without throwing it directly at the viewer.

Welcome to the Art Prodigy Blog!

Hello readers! Welcome to my blog, thanks for stopping by. All is appreciated! So, after many years of practicing fine and visual arts, putting much time, money, and energy into a 4 year bachelor’s degree, switching from job to job to find that “right” job to make my aspirations come true, doing random projects on my off time, keeping up social media sites and my online portfolios and websites, refining my craft, adding another craft to my craft….. I finally decided to create a legit blog.

I’ve gone back and forth on what I’d like this blog to be about, and I figured, “Hey, why not make it about my experiences as an up and coming artist, inspiration, tips, updates on my work, and sharing all of the crafts and random projects I spend my time doing?” So with that said, thanks again for visiting my blog. I hope you enjoy and are inspired.

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