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Computers in Art & Open-Source Copyrights

 The artistic movements that we studied this year that most directly relate to my art would probably be Dada. Dada was one of the first artistic movements that was initiated by the artists themselves, rather than art historians classifying artists in one movement or the other. My artwork is heavily influenced by, and I consider myself a part of, the open-source community (which is a self-created movement). I guess I should start out by explaining what open-source is (means).

When a software company writes a piece of software, there are thousands of lines of code that go into creating the final product. Closed-source (or proprietary) software, such as anything written by Microsoft/Apple, releases the program and keeps the code secret. They will continue maintaining the program, adding new features, but the idea is that they are the only ones who can see or edit the code (and if anyone’s code is close to theirs, chances are they will come after you with litigation). Open-source software does the opposite. The software is released with the underlying code for the public to see, modify, and release. This creates an environment where interested parties can add/clean-up existing code, or, take code that’s out there and use it as a starting point for a new project.

Once just in the realm of software and electronics, the open-source ideology has spread to the art world. I manipulate and synthesize audio as a large part of my art, and all the software I use is open-source. If I have a question about the software, I can hop online and ask the people who wrote the software, and even more, with a little computer-knowledge (which I have) I can manipulate the program to fit my needs. Taking it a step-further, once I’ve created my piece of “audio art”, I release the program free of copyright to the public. Anyone that likes the sounds it creates can download all the programs I use (free of charge, free of copyright restriction), open up my program and see how I created the sounds, and use that information to create their own pieces of work. I think this movement has many similarities to Dada’s tendency to create art for artists. Also, the amount of collaboration that happens in the open-source community is in line with the Dadaists’ collaboration.

A piece I’m working on now is a pseudo-scientific radio titled “Radio Therapy for a Hyper-Sensitive Ear”. I’ve dissected an optical mouse and mounted it upside-down underneath a wheel (mechanically similar to Duchamp’s ready-made). The spinning of the wheel changes the “frequency” of the radio tuning so that “stations” can be dialed in via the wheel. Apart from the obvious “Bicycle Wheel” reference, I was influenced by Duchamp’s “Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors”. Duchamp’s lengthy writings detailing the pseudo-scientific mechanism in the piece influenced me to create this world where a “hyper-sensitive” ear is an ailment. With all the electronics in this world, silence is never really silence. For those with the “hyper-sensitive” ear, silence reveals all sorts of electrical buzzings, refrigerators clicking, computer fans whirring… there is literally no way to escape the noise of the 21st century. The “stations” of the radio then (that seek to cure this ailment) are computer generated noises, far from what we consider music, that aide in a sort of guided meditation. Rather than being driven mad by the subtle buzzing of silence, the listener is forced to indulge in various “stations” of hyperactive noises and high frequencies.

When Duchamp started doing ready-mades, he was challenging the art world in regards to craft and what materials can be utilized in high-art. I think this debate is still happening, though now I think it revolves around computers and their place in art. The most obvious argument is the Photoshop artist vs. the painter/drawer/traditional artist. I am not really a visual artist in that sense, so I steer clear of that debate, but I do feel that computers and electronics are going to be seen increasingly more in art and I welcome it. Just as the Industrial Revolution introduced new tools for artists to utilize, the Computer Age is allowing us new opportunities: interactivity in installations, audio production, 3D imaging/sketching for use in architecture/sculpture, etc. Some would say that computers have no place in art, but yet they grovel at a Koons’ piece that 80 years ago wouldn’t even be considered art (at least by the general public).



Dada & Surrealism

Dada and Surrealism were two art movements that both sought to reexamine the artist/viewer’s relationship to art. Modern art at the time was geared more towards bourgeoisie modern tastes and modernity, and the Dadaists believed the modern bourgeoisie to be largely at fault for the war/poverty-torn state of Europe. So what Dada tried to do was destroy the art world (along with its conventions for what constitutes visual aesthetic) that catered to the status quo.

The German Dada were a very politicized group. The First International Dada Fair of 1920 included slogans on the wall (“Down With Art! Down With Bourgeoisie Spirituality!” for example), crude oil paintings with overtly political statements, and a mannequin of a German officer with a pig’s head. There were also non-political pieces, but even these pieces challenged artistic standards with photomontages (not high-art at this time at all) and chance works. The Dadaists were challenging the viewers (and modern artists outside of Dada) to contemplate just who the artist is creating work for. With the Impressionists/Expressionists, were they not creating items of luxury for the bourgeoisie? And even if an artist claims to be making artwork as some sort of artistic creative pursuit, who is he pursuing this for? Himself? Dadaists saw a crossover between the avant-garde modern theory on “spiritually/artistically” endowed artists and the individualistic drive of Capitalism. The Dadaists wanted an artwork that was for the proletariat, often created in a collective manner.

While German Dadaists were steeped in changing political/cultural norms, Marcel Duchamp focused primarily on challenging modern art theory. With his Bottlerack in 1914, Duchamp presents a manufactured object to be critiqued with the same criteria of visual aesthetic as high art. As modern art became more and more abstract, Duchamp challenged that the Idea behind the artwork and how we talk about that object as art gives more significance than the visual aesthetic of the object. Critics and artists simply choose what objects to discuss as art, typically under constraints of standards and conventions, but there is no universal judgement as to what is and isn’t art. The same discussions on form and visual elements that apply to a Bernini can apply to a urinal, as in Fountain (another Ducahmp readymade), if you make the decision to. This echoes what the Surrealists did as well, relying on the subconscious mind to make strange and awkward connections in the creative process.

Paul Gaugin’s The Yellow Christ

 Griselda Pollock argued that for avant-garde art to be successful, or for an avant-garde/modern artist to more successfully stand-out, a three-fold path be followed: reference, deference, and difference. The gist of Pollock’s ideology is that an artist needs to be aware of the norm, utilize techniques of the ‘other’ (the norm’s opposition), and finally use that information to produce works of art that are different, and embody/celebrate that difference. There are a couple of ways that Gauguin’s Yellow Christ achieves this.

Yellow Christ is an avant-garde piece that uses subject matter familiar to the academic art world: landscape and religious themes (more specifically, Crucifixion). That’s not to say that this work is in the academic style. The avant-garde Impressionists sought to elevate the concept of an artist expressing original ideas and original thought, and here the face of Christ is thought to be a self-likeness of Gauguin himself. Here then, the symbol of Christ is not meant to evoke an image of self-sacrifice for human salvation, but rather a man being persecuted for revolutionary or original thought going against the majority of society. Gaugin, and other avant-garde artists of the time, felt persecuted (or at least shunned) by the bourgeoisie academic art world. By using subject matter familiar to his audience (the art community) he is “referencing” what he stands against: academic art institution. Next, he alludes to the current opposition (opposition of academic art) by utilizing the abstract (non-naturalistic) and expressive style of the current avant-garde. The large blocks of color create a flattened space much-like Bernard or Antequin (who exhibited with Gauguin) as do the bold outlines on the figures. I think that by using familiar subject matter, the differences between the academic and the avant-garde are more highlighted; like Marie Camille’s idea, the artist is providing an ideal future for the art world, kind of like “Look, this is how it should be done”.

Gauguin was also captivated by the concept of the primitive, and this piece is no exception in pointing that out. The scene takes place in a rural setting (Brittany) and features women dressed in traditional clothing. To Gauguin, the people and town of Brittany were primitive. Seen outside of Gauguin’s self-indulgent, modern male artist lenses, the town of Brittany was not an especially primitive place, but nevertheless, he became fascinated with this town. For him, Brittany represented the opposite of the academic Impressionist’s Paris. This fascination with primitivism fits in with Pollock’s ideas. The Post-Impressionist’s identify the academic patrons of Paris’ Impressionism as the bourgeois, and in their attempt to seperate themselves from the demands and expectations of bourgeois patrons they seek refugee in rural, “primitive” locations. Whether done consciously or unconsciously, it is easy to see this black and white relationship the Post-Impressionists have with the academic Impressionists. 



Mother and Child

The piece I will analyzing is Mary Cassat’s Mother and Child.


For someone who is relatively unfamiliar with the Impressionist style of painting (or at least has a limited, Monet-driven exposure to the genre), the Realism of Cassat’s Mother and Child is what catches me the most. The duality of realist and impressionist in this painting is powerful, and it communicates to me the closeness of the mother/child relationship, and also the calm, comfortable state of a household drifting into naptime.


The focal point of this piece is obviously the interaction between mother and child (and perhaps within that, the child’s face/expression). For one, the figures are centered in the piece. Within the more general focus of both the mother and child, the mother is looking down at her child. This, along with the mother’s eyes being closed (or obscured by looking down) and almost loosely painted, suggests that the focal point is the child’s eyes and expression. Also, Cassat’s brushwork becomes more refined as we move into the realm above the mother’s arm and below her head. Drawing from the rubenistes view on esquisses (preliminary sketches), the less refined strokes on the outskirts imply that Cassat is more concerned with the faces and merely “filling in” the composition in haste to give the focal point context so she can maintain her focus on what is important (as a portrait sketcher may loosely sketch a background in order to hastily (and more meticulously) sketch the portrait). Even the degree to which Cassat’s loose brushstrokes appear scattered shifts, with the areas directly surrounding the faces with less refinement then the center, yet more refined than then very outskirts of the piece. This gives the piece a very strong feeling of radiation from the center.


The colors of this piece also add to the comfortable, warm feeling, with the color value being well balanced. At the center is our brightest white. In the background, the colors move in a flowing diagonal manner from the top-left to the bottom-right. Starting with the light blue vase in the top-left, we can follow the light blues to the wall/cupboard on the right just above the woman’s dress. The pattern of her dress follow this same flow, as do the darker colors of the wall/cupboard on the left moving down to the center-bottom of the woman’s dress. Perhaps this is an inference to the sinking, exhausted feeling the child appears to have in her eyes (and conveys with her weighted posture, leaning into her mother for support).




Marie-Camille’s Idealist Avant-Garde

The first piece I will examining is Jean-Francois Millet’s The Gleaners. Though Marie-Camille believed artwork should reveal the sufferings of the poor, in her critiques and selections she seemed to have placed more importance on a work’s statement for the future. It is this distinction that leads me to believe she would not have received Millet’s Gleaners too positively.

The Gleaner’s depicts three women gleaning a freshly harvested wheat field. In contrast to the large piles of cut wheat in the background, the three women pick meager scraps from the field in a heavy, fatigued pace. Though this piece clearly outlines a life of poverty and destitution, which could certainly be taken as a criticism of capitalist society, there is no positive resolve in this work. The viewer is left with the assumption that these womens’ lives and class will remain the same. Nothing suggests momentum in society’s upheaval of the ideologies that put these women in the fields gleaning. The same can be said of Gustave Courbet’s The Stone Breakers. The poverty that consumes the older man and the child is depicted as an eternal truth, something that has been with civilization from the beginning, and will be there in the end. This is further suggested with the reference to the cycle of life with the young adult and the old man representing the reality that working class laborers were stuck there for life.

I’m not exactly sure if either of these paintings could be modified to fit Marie-Camille’s views more closely. The large size of Courbet’s Stone Breakers elevates the status of subjects to that of heroes perhaps, but it still lacks any vision of the future. I struggled to find images in either book that I thought would satisfy Marie-Camille’s tastes, and as Gen Doy states in her case study, “Material differences: the early avant-garde in France”, Marie-Camille’s choice of the Martyrdom of St. Symphorian “probably represents her least worst option rather than a statement of her ideal avant-garde painting.” Perhaps she would have been more sympathetic to Stone Breakers than she was to Courbet’s Burial for its depiction of the proleteriat rather than Burial’‘s depiction of the petite bourgeoisie and the subservient, almost pathetic, depiction of mourning women seperate from the males running the show.

However, Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People: July 28, 1830 is one image that could have passed the Marie-Camille test. The mob of people following Liberty’s lead are clearly meant to be of the lower-class, yet none of their faces are weary with their struggles (rather, they are full of excitement and passion for social justice). Also, the focal point of the piece is a strong, female figure leading a proleteriat revolution, not a woman stuck in the gender and economic roles assumed of her. Here she is equal, if not greater, than her male counterparts; a definite contrast to Courbet’s gender divided burial. I think that if I investigated Marie-Camille more, I would find that the works she positively critiqued would be more Romantic than Realist. Her idealist thoughts and expectations of art don’t lend themselves very well for receiving Realist depictions of struggle.

Francisco Goya and Art As Self-Expression

Considering I have not yet written on early 19th Century, and it was among the most interesting periods we have studied this quarter to me, this is the time period I will be writing on.

The work of Francisco Goya was particularly interesting to me for a number of reasons. I appreciate an artist whose work embodies their personal life, or at the very least, an artist sensitive enough to allow their personal life to impart some amount of narrative on their body of work. In the textbook, Goya’s three selections (Sleep of Reason, Family of Charles IV, and Third of May 1808) show the evolution of a man struggling with the moral implications of hypocrisy in his life.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is one etching of a series that promoted Enlightenment ideals, opposing the views held by the royalty for whom Goya worked. Four years later, Goya painted a family portraiture for Charles IV that subtly mocks the royal family. Subtlety is the key here, as there is nothing blatantly offensive about the painting (unless it was expected of an artist to hide the double chin of a Queen). However, the expressions of Charles the IV’s family are either disconnected or distracted, as if nobody but the King really wants to be there and they are merely humoring him with compliance (as his cheating wife and dissenting court painter were humoring him). In 1808, the French overtook Spain and in that same year French troops massacred revolting Spaniards in an event that served as inspiration for Goya’s Third of May, 1808. The painting is painted in a Romantic style, with loose brush strokes and intense depiction of emotion. The focal point is a Spaniard in a brightly contrasting white shirt in a Christ-like pose, pleading for mercy before a row of French troops. Goya lets his frustrated and confused emotions dictate the style of the piece, and imparts his emotions on the bewildered figure that is the focal point (Goya initially welcomed the more liberal French occupiers). Goya explicitly gave his intention for painting the piece: “To warn men never to do it again”. For me, I have a very hard time separating my judgments of an artist from my judgments of their art (ideally I would not judge either, but it would be narcissistic to deny that I do). Considering this, I am drawn to an artist that exhibits positive personal qualities in their art, such as Goya’s obvious feelings of compassion and empathy displayed in Third of May, 1808 or Goya’s demonstration of rebellion in the Los Caprichos series.

Artists allowing their work to be an expression of themselves is not a practice confined to late 18th/early 19th century periods; as long as humans have been creating art, certain artists and artistic periods have placed emphasis on self-expression. From Albrecht Durer’s Protestant/humanist driven work in the 16th century to the Egyptian Armana period and its’ references to a culture/tradition getting turned upside-down, artwork that shows the character and eccentricities of the humans and cultures that produced that art are the ones I find most interesting.


The Michelangelo Lamp


The work I researched for this blog is known as the “Michelangelo Lamp”, produced by Josiah Wedgwood around 1780. Wedgwood was a revolutionary of ceramic mixtures, creating the popular, colored pottery “jasperware”, as well as the more utilitarian earthenware that introduced low-cost, easily produced ceramics. He had a keen interest in High Renaissance and Classical styles (his and the “Michelangelo Lamp” is a perfect example of that.

The lamp’s composition can be broken up into two main sections (not including the shade): three figures arranged in a pyramidal form at the base, and a bowl being supported (lifted) by the three figures. At the top of the bowl is a palm tree where three women sit in the shade, and beneath them three shells rest on a ledge. The most obvious nod to Renaissance art is this use of pyramidal layout (and the unit three in general) as well as the figures. Considering Renaissance artists’ interest in Classical art (and the influence it had on the period’s visual style), it is expected that 18th century Neoclassical artists had the same interest.

The most interesting thing I encountered when researching this piece, is the amount of copying that occurred in the production of this piece. We’ve learned throughout this class that casts were often taken and pieces reproduced by workshops and guilds due to lack of copyright laws. The bowl that the three figures support was taken from a Hellenistic era bronze lamp dated around 400 BC. In fact, Wedgwood used this same bowl in many other tripod lamps he produced. The figures at the base were also copied from a silver-gilt crucifix by Antonio Gentile de Faenza produced in the late 16th century. Demonstrating just how wide-spread the practice of copying/replication used to be in the arts, Antonia Gentile de Faenza as well used casts from other artists and had models of Michelangelo’s in his workshop (which is why this piece is thought to have originally been referred to as the ”Michelangelo Lamp”).

If the majority of this lamp (and nearly all of Wedgwood’s pottery) is strictly the assembling of other artists’ design components, then why did Josiah Wedgwood gain so much recognition? As I learned from my research, Wedgwood even had a group of artists stationed in Rome that would send designs back to the pottery factor in England (this group may have been responsible for the design of this lamp in fact). What brought Wedgwood his success was his acceptance of the changing market for decorative pottery/ceramics. He was an accomplished chemist, and crafted mixtures that were low-cost and efficient. He arranged his workshop into separate, specialized factions that increased efficiency and all-around designed pottery to be mass produced. It was his attention to the business and production-side of the trade that allowed him to grow prosperously.


Sources Used


A Renaissance Work Copied by Wedgwood

Jennifer Montagu

Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes , Vol. 17, No. 3/4 (1954), pp. 380-381

Published by: The Warburg Institute

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