Movement: Dada




'Dada means nothing. We want to change the world with nothing.'



With the first major retrospective of Dada artist Kurt Schwitters opening at Tate Britain today, I thought I would delve into a movement that, in my eyes, defined everything that came before, during and after it... By being a load of nonsense. Glorious nonsense.

The Dada movement came as a reaction to the horrors of the First World War. The artists, having seen and experienced uncontrollable madness on a global scale, used their trade to display their anti-war politics.

They did this by rejecting all of the assumed rules in the arts in what is often called ‘anti-art’. The idea was to create ‘non-art’, as art is a reflection of society and society had grown meaningless.

For instance, Dada poetry isn’t written with agenda or definition. Tristan Tzara, who pioneered Dada poetry, would cut up a printed article, put all the words in a bag, shake it up and take out the words one-by-one. This poem would be a direct reflection of the poet.

Dada wasn’t just a reflection of a world without meaning, though. A lot of the artists were tired of tradition and its limitations, definitions and boundaries; so they attacked all that came before them. Marcel Duchamp, for example, painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa. He went on to create the ‘readymade’ artwork, which basically means to take an existing object, sign it, and call it art. His most famous readymade was Fountain, 1917; an upturned urinal signed with a name that wasn’t even his own. To me, this is the first time the question ‘What is art?’ was really asked.

As you might expect, the public were not exactly keen on this but (again, as you might expect) the Dadaists thrived off their repulsion. Essentially, Dada wanted to jerk art away from everything it had once been, and to allow it to grow in a new way.

They shook the shackles of tradition and paved the way for movements like Suprematism, which is a movement that basically used blankcanvases to say “We’ve painted everything there is to paint. Art is dead.” Only by killing art were artists able to breathe new life into it. Then came the many movements of the twentieth century – Pop Art, Surrealism and art as we know it. And that’s how Dada redefined the future of art.

So in summation, I am well excited for Kurt Schwitters at the weekend.

'Art is dead. Long live Dada.'

Artwork: Emsley's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge


Title: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
What: Oil on canvas
Who: Paul Emsley
When: 2012
Where: National Portrait Gallery



It’s not been a great year for immortalisations of the Duchess of Cambridge, with those topless photos and that panned portrait (see above). Not exactly quick-off-the-draw, I’m going to take a look at Paul Emsley’s depiction of Kate, which was revealed at my favourite place in the world – the National Portrait Gallery – a fortnight ago.

Yesterday, Emsley was licking his wounds all over the British media; saying he is the victim of a witch hunt (aw) and reminding us that Kate L-O-V-Es it (double aw).

To summarise the mob’s problems with the picture:
  • ·         He has aged her by about a decade.
  • ·         He has given her hamster cheeks (is she eating something?).
  • ·         It’s a little dark, a little dismal.
  • ·         Her eyes are dead; they bore into the viewer. Kinda like we’re prey. Bit scary, Paul.
  • ·         And, to quote Charlotte Higgins, she has been flattened into a curious Vaseline-smeared, soft-focus dullness.


All valid accusations, I’d say, after having looked at it for long enough. But we’ve gotta keep a couple of things in mind:

The subject
Come on, Kate is the ultimate national treasure and the media is never going to think anything is good enough for their girl.

The style
Emsley’s paintings are hyper-realistic, a style resembling a hi-res photo.  By employing this style he immediately opens the painting up to vulnerability because essentially, he’s trying to do what a camera can do – but better.

In asking whether the painting ‘looks exactly like Kate’, we are not only making damn sure that the painting is a failure, but also missing the whole point of a portrait. Do we ever want a reproduction of reality? No, we have real life for that. Portraits are painted to capture the essence of the sitter, not their exact appearance. In this respect, arguments that it doesn’t look like Kate are defunct. Arguments that he hasn’t captured Kate properly, however, are valid.

And to think, this is only the first of her royal portraits...

Exhibition: Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of the Landscape


If you went to the Royal Academy's current exhibition of three of the great British landscape painters, I'd forgive you for thinking it was a bit of a snoozefest. I'm not usually one to badmouth the RA (their Degas exhibition last year was one of the best I've seen) but it takes something of a genius to jazz up a landscape exhibition.

So the current Constable, Gainsborough, Turner show at the RA falls a little flat for those who aren't already well-acquainted with the artists' talents. These three artists pulled landscapes into popularity by employing interesting themes. Constable's depiction of people is the theme that intrigues me most.

Here's a website with a couple of Constable's landscapes. If you look at the (few and far between) people he painted, they're always the labouring poor. No nobility, no gentry. Consider his own political leanings: he held old tory values and attributed England's social and economic stability to a flourishing agriculture. There's a social comment there.

There's a lot of talk about why his figures are so commonly indistinctive. Personally, I think a reluctance to give a figure personality, individualism or definition in any artwork is a sign that the artist is using a lone figure to represent an entire group. In this case, the indistinctive labourer is a symbol for the necessity of hard work on the physical soils of England for the benefit of the country's social, economic and political standing.



There's a lot more to landscapes than some guy who's pretty good with a paintbrush looking out of his window and painting the first thing he sees. Exhibitions like John Martin: Apocalypse (see above) at Tate Britain in 2011 prove this well; it's just a shame that Constable, whose landscapes have interestingly nationalist connotations when considered in light of himself, comes across as, well, a bit dull at the RA. Call me basic, but I like a good old blockbuster landscape to liven up an otherwise quiet exhibition.



Psst... Constable's most prominent work is The Hay Wain (read a bite-sized article on it here) and can be seen at the National Gallery, for those of you who want to see his work the way it should be hung :)

Artwork: Monet's Haystacks



Title: Haystacks (series)
What: Oil on canvas
Who: Claude Monet
When: 1890-91
Where: There are loads - 25 or 30, I think - and they hang in galleries and private collections all over the world



















One of the things you'll notice is how much I like light in artworks. Plentiful, scarce or absent; it sets off the subject and, for me, is often the thing that makes the painting.

One of Monet's well-known works is the Haystacks series. He spent the end of summer through to the following spring painting the same thing over and over, focussing on how the light changed and fell differently, transforming the subject. 

He was part of the Impressionist movement - the group of painters who responded to the immediate impression given off by their subject, rejecting previous notions of artistry. They used a lot of primary colours, small strokes and studied light meticulously. The term comes from his 1872 work: Impression, soleil levant (ok, I admit I had to look that one up).






You can see a continuation of that style in the Haystacks paintings.

Anyway, Monet used his Haystack series to explore how a subject can change at different times of the harvest, and different times of the day. For the first half hour he'd work on one canvas, then move onto the second one, then the third. He'd return to them each day, building them up over time. 

One of the things I like about the paintings is the intimacy the artist gives to the viewer. Looking through the series (thanks Google, as I've never seen them in real life) it's nice to imagine the artist just watching the world go by from Summer to Spring.

Hello!

Hello! Thanks for checking out Artwork Wednesdays. And don't worry, it's only two days until the weekend :)

You can pretty much figure out what this blog intends to do from the little 'About Me' section over there <--. To expand, I bloody love all things art - but I think there's something missing. It's not as if the established art institutions are doing it wrong per se; they're just only doing it right for a certain type of person.

Some of my friends told me they thought they'd find going to a gallery boring, alienating or intimidating. Then, when I went along with them and we chatted about it, they realise that yeah, there's a stereotype that you have to 'understand' an artwork on another level to fully appreciate it. And yeah, that stereotype (like most) is a load of crap.

It's fine to see an artwork and just like how it looks. And if you want to look into it any further, or from a different angle, that's fine too.

So every week, I'm going to look at an artist, artwork, exhibition, gallery, issue, technique, medium... or whatever. Sometimes it'll be widely known, other times it'll be a little more niche.

First up: Monet's Haystacks...
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