This is a good fourth assignment. You have produced some interesting material, showing an effective grasp of concepts, very competent visual skills, and communication of the appropriate historical contexts/ideas.
Try to demonstrate more of your research (especially for your pieces of extended writing) and check that you have provided plenty of evidence of your ability to question or push your enquiries further when synthesising new information. You need to show that you can:
identify other people’s positions, arguments and conclusions
evaluate the evidence for alternative points of view (i.e. weigh up opposing arguments and evidence fairly)
read between the lines, and identify false or unfair assumptions (recognise denoted [literal/explicit] and connoted [additional/latent] meanings)
reflect on issues in an organised way
draw conclusions about whether arguments are valid and justifiable
I understand your aim is to go for the Creative Arts Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, and providing you commit yourself to the course, I suggest that you are likely to be successful in the assessment.
Feedback on assignment
Assignment 4 – Textual option: Freud – Interior in Paddington
This was a strong piece of work. Information was communicated clearly and concisely – your analysis was focused.
Description: In this section you expanded on the artist’s rendering of the human figure, and how he imbues it with a stark and evocative psychological intensity. You commented on the sense of isolation, abandonment and disconnection conveyed in the pose of the crumpled, aggressive Harry Diamond (ref. clenched hand), who stares through an undernourished and equally jaded yucca.
You also mentioned Freud’s avoidance of full, saturated colours, his use of perspective, and details such as the carpet (which was bought especially for the painting, from a junk shop – Freud was particularly proud of the way he painted it) and the view through the window (to the Grand Union Canal and the Little Venice area of London).
Interpretation: In terms of addressing the question of function and meaning, you talked about the effect of compositional devices and the context of the artwork. You recorded how the piece was Freud’s sarcastic offering for the Festival of Britain and the Art Council’s exhibition Sixty Paintings for 51. (The canvas, unusually large for the post war period when canvas was still in short supply, was provided by the Arts Council.)
You included the sitter’s comments (e.g. Diamond’s recollection of having to stand around for months in a room in Paddington and his complaint that Freud had painted his legs too short). It is worth noting that Diamond found the experience of sitting for Freud depleting, saying: “If someone is interested in getting your essence down on canvas, they are also drawing your essence out of you …” Consider how this relates to Freud’s own remarks in Some Thoughts on Painting, in which he describes his process of observation and makes his ultimate goal crystal clear: “The subject must be kept under closest observation: if this is done, day and night, the subject – he, she or it – will eventually reveal the all without which selection itself is not possible: they will reveal it through some and every facet of their lives or lack of life, through movements and attitudes, through every variation one moment from another. It is this very knowledge of life which can give art complete independence from life, an independence that is necessary because the picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own, precisely in order to reflect life…”
Reflect on the impact of other stylistic elements such as the rendering of flat forms with fine sable brushes (ref. the artist’s early tight linearity) and the way in which hyper-realist effects, partly reliant on the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) of German art in the 1920s, can be seen in the work. (Hopkins states that this razor-sharp hallucinatory realism was inherently at odds with left-wing injunctions towards forms of socially committed realism.) A number of commentators have also remarked on how all the details in the painting are given equal weight, suggesting that the democratizing plentitude of photographic vision had some role for Freud. What do you think?
Evaluation: How successful do you think the painting is? Refer to positive and negative responses to the quality of the work and appraise scholarly/critical judgements. Try to locate and evaluate evidence from a wide range of resources.
In relation to artistic choices, you reflected on the influence of artists such as Matisse and Ingres (Herbert Read called Freud “the Ingres of Existentialism” due to the coldness and hint of alienation associated with his paintings). You also appraised parallels with Freud’s Girl in a Dark Jacket, which depicts the artist’s first wife, Kitty Garman. I particularly liked your note on the similarities
between Freud’s painting and the Walker Art Gallery’s portrait of Henry VIII in terms of the strong and authoritative/aggressive pose (described by one expert as a “fantastic amalgam of the static and the swaggering”), and details such as the clenched fists.
Project 1 – Report on a formal portrait: Currie – Three Oncologists
This was a good reading of the image that incorporated the cultural information that can be used to confirm and fill out interpretations of the sitters. The personal dimension to your piece, based on your professional experience in the field of cancer, was very interesting. However, your work would have benefitted from engagement with a broader range of sources, and further references to relevant theoretical ideas and key intersecting values and meanings.
You noted the work was commissioned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and you identified the three sitters as Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane. (Your brief reflection on the link to eighteenth-century portraits of men of science was perceptive.)
You scrutinised the macabre, unnerving spectral gloominess of the composition (evoking something of the issues of liminality and mortality that accompany cancer), and touched on details such as the bloodied gloves, the way in which the painter seems to capture the sitters as if they are in motion (with slightly blurred hands and faces), the luminous, otherworldly or ‘x-ray dimension’, and the curtain.
You made good use of quotes taken from both the sitter (e.g. Sir David Lane’s comment on retrieving people from the darkness of cancer [ref. the positive overtones of the work]) and the artist (e.g. Currie’s observation of two of the men performing surgery and description of the experience as theatrical). (Note that as part of the process of making the painting, Currie took casts/life masks of the sitters’ faces.)
As you stated, the artwork is not a traditional portrait – rather, it is the artist’s own experience of meeting the sitters and his representation of that experience. It is a powerful reflection of his own thoughts and associations. Consequently, you could have talked a bit more about the relationship between representation as idea, symbol and sign, and how this lies at the heart of the production of meaning. Think about the difficulty in interpretation given the ‘gap’ between ‘what is’, and ‘what is experienced’. In what way does the painting of the three professors illustrate how differently this gap might appear and be understood? I.e. For Currie, his story of fear and horror is embedded in his painting as a visual performance. The question is how would Currie’s story be represented by others? How would it be interpreted by others? What do the experiences of the three professors represent? How would they represent themselves? In the light of cultural conventions and our social context, how do we understand experience and how do we put meaning to experience?
Moore – Two Piece Reclining Figure No.2: This was a very detailed annotation, covering the key abstract values of weight, poise, and curvature (decoding the shapes made visible by planes), the effect of light upon the work, and the conflict between the linear elements incised onto the surface of the form (i.e. the scratched lines giving richness, variety and identity to the piece) and irregular volumetric elements. (Moore encourages an almost tactile appreciation of his work.) You noted how, in order to experience the work, one has to move around it and take it in from every direction. You also recorded that it exists in an edition of seven, and incorporated additional notes on Moore’s Lincoln Center sculpture.
You included some good material on Moore’s fusion of human and landscape forms (serving as “a metaphor of the relationship of humanity with the earth”), and his interest in cliffs and caves (ref. Seurat’s Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp, Monet’s The Rocky Cliffs of Étretat, and Courbet’s La grotte de la Loue). I.e. the forms are severed like rock and cliff faces drifting apart, allowing the surrounding landscape to penetrate them visually and physically. The sculptural body ceases to be a self-contained, neatly circumscribed universe – its boundary has become permeable, it is at once both an object and an environment. You expanded on this by referring to the device of the hole/value of negative space. The artist commented on the holes in his sculpture: “The first hole made through a piece of stone is a revelation. The hole connects one side to the other, making it immediately more three-dimensional. A hole can itself have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass.”
Another point to note: For Moore, creating his sculptures was not so much an abstract exercise in looking at the human figure but a personal investigation and violation of the artist’s own body: “When I carve into the chest, I feel as if I were carving into my own.”
Hockney – Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy: You discussed the naturalistic depiction of the figures (Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark), the use of perspective, the cool colours (shades of white predominate – the rug, the lilies, the phone, the cat, the table and the balcony, but primary colours, including the dash of red on Celia’s dress, sing out), and Hockney’s exploration of the contre-jour effects of light (reviving an interest in Hockney’s earlier influence, Sickert, who considered the implications of the device in some of his modern life paintings of London domestic interiors). Note also the scale of the painting (intended to evoke the actual presence of the subjects in the real space of the viewer).
You recorded details such as the curious lamp, the inclusion of the artist’s version of Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, and the cat. (On Ossie’s lap is Blanche, one of the Clarks’ two cats, but Hockney has named it after their other cat, Percy [a slang name for male private parts], who sits upright, staring out of the window, symbolising Ossie’s future infidelity.)
Other points to note:
Hockney’s double portraits have been compared to Annunciations – there is always someone who looks permanent and somebody who is visiting.
Think about how the portrait harks back to traditional models, like Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage or Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews. Gainsborough’s work is a double portrait in two senses: on the one hand it is a painting of a married couple, and on the other it is a portrait of a man and his property (including the woman). Attention is focused on the standing figure of the man and the ‘correct’ place of the woman sitting dutifully at his side. Hockney reversed these conventions. Celia is standing, confidently looking out at the viewer, and Ossie is seated, staring out indolently. Their identity is constructed through clothes and a tasteful interior design.
Proposal for illustrated review (Assignment 5):Analysing representations of the female figure in art
Having shifted the planned focus for your essay, I think your first set of ideas, studying portrayals of the female figure (and how they embody a complex range of impulses, thoughts, and ideals of beauty), is the strongest. However, as I mentioned in my comments on your previous assignment, it is important to focus on a few key pieces that you can research in-depth. Given the word count, my concern with comparing/contrasting a number of artists is that you would be limited to presenting a superficial treatment of each artwork, thereby restricting your ability to demonstrate your visual skills.
Instead of covering Degas, Whistler, Giacometti etc., it might be worth concentrating on one artist. For example, looking at Degas’ portrayal of ballerinas and his fascination with the human body could work well, particularly if you explored the artist’s rejection of the notion of the dancer as an idealised abstraction embodying classical notions of timeless beauty and universal truth. Alternatively, you could think about the variety of self-representative strategies that women artists have used to help shape the history of art by building on your very good material relating to Frida Kahlo and the idea of self-portrait as self-study.
It is worth bearing in mind the question of spectatorship, both male and female, in relationship to representation of women’s bodies. How do women appear in images made by women? See the work of Mary Cassatt and Suzanne Valadon. (Your resource list looks fine – Chadwick, Tinagli and Nead are good places to start.)
Make sure that you spell-check, grammar-check and proofread your document. Your essay should use a standard serif font (12 point). Remember to format your work – check it is properly spaced etc. Use the Harvard Referencing System.
What your essay should ‘do’:
Analyse: consider existing opinions; describe ideas and their inter-relationship; understand the foundations of their arguments
Compare: examine similarities and differences between ideas and interpretations
Define: give clear statements of fact
Discuss: describe different aspects of the subject; relate particular examples to the bigger picture; show how certain elements are related, and others not; develop ideas in relation to underlying premises, evidence, interpretations; work towards a reasoned conclusion
Evaluate: appreciate the distinction between different aspects of the subject and between existing scholarly interpretations; appreciate the difference between facts, interpretations, and opinions
Synthesise: present a concise and accurate overview of a topic based on examination of a range of evidence; draw together different strands of argument and/or interpretation convincingly
Summarise: outline the main points briefly or retrospectively at the end
Learning Logs or Blogs
Reflection against the assessment criteria: It was good to see you record how your understanding is developing (building on your prior knowledge, spotting key trends/recurring themes etc.), and how you are enjoying communicating art historical ideas. As you state, you are working on improving your critical and evaluation skills by getting into the habit of analysing the value of various methodologies and reflecting on your learning. In terms of your research skills, your use of online material is good, but for the purposes of assessment I would recommend that you show more evidence of your familiarity with a range of visual, historical and textual sources.
You had compiled useful information on political cartoonists and caricatures, and included a number of annotations and notes on key research points. You scrutinised an impressive number of portrait sculptures, and your record of your visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (and the BP Portrait Award) was excellent, providing a set of perceptive analyses on pieces such as Byrne’s portrait of Tilda Swinton.
Portraits – an area to explore: Think about the ‘fiction of the pose’. Diderot and his contemporaries were made uneasy by the “inherent theatricality” of portraiture, the conventions of which call for exhibiting a subject, the sitter, to the public gaze. Thus, the presence of the observer is fundamental to the ‘fiction of the pose’: the sitter offers herself or himself as an object of attention, indeed, as an object rewarding attention, and in this respect the pose is theatrical.
Your research point on self-portraits by artists such as Dürer, and the idea of the self-portrait functioning as the artist’s most public form of self-advertisement was good. When studying the self-portraiture of Frida Kahlo think about how the genre allowed her to penetrate and dissect the very core of her being. Look at how Kahlo confronts us: full-faced, matter of fact, take it or leave it. Are her representations synonymous with self-idolatry or are these self-depictions without any narcissism?
Your discussion of the depiction of the female nude in art was competent, and it was helpful to see your responses to this topic. You alluded to the relationship of desire, visual representation and the female body, and the way in which art creates social constructions of gender/the necessity of challenging the notion that there can be a common experience of images across gender divisions. You thought about what it means to look from a woman’s point of view. (See Berger’s Ways of Seeing, in which the author argues that male nudes just show men at their best, but the female nude is always a fantasy, a production, of male desire.)
In looking at representations of the human figure you surveyed artists such as Duccio, Giotto, Mantegna, Caravaggio and Picasso, but it might have been worth concentrating on just one of these artists to form a case study. For example, you could think a bit more about Giotto’s frescoes for the Arena Chapel, and the bulky figures that have volume and mass. Expand on the ways in which the bodies are distinct from painting before Giotto. (The early commentator, Cennino Cennini, said Giotto had “translated the art of painting from Greek into Latin”, i.e. from the flatness of Greek-Byzantine icons to the solidity of Roman statues).
Boggs, J. Sutherland et al. (1988) Degas. (Exh. cat) New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Borzello, F. (1998) Seeing Ourselves: Women’s Self-Portraits. London: Thames and Hudson
Feaver, W. (2007) Lucian Freud. New York: Rizzoli
Hedgecoe, J. (1999) A Monumental Vision: The Sculpture of Henry Moore. London: Collins & Brown
Howgate, S. & Stern Shapiro, B. (2006) David Hockney Portraits. (Exh. cat.) London: National Portrait Gallery Publications
Looking ahead to Assignment 5:
Andrews, M. (1999) Landscape and Western Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Clark, K. (1991) Landscape into Art. London: HarperCollins
Wieseman, M.E., Frantis, W.E. & Chapman, H.P. (2011) Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence. London: Yale University Press
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh – Rocks & Rivers: Masterpieces of Landscape Painting from the Lunde Collection (3 April 2015 – 30 April 2017)
Pointers for the next assignment
Continue to work on your illustrated review, combining and evaluating critical and theoretical perspectives.
As this is your penultimate submission, you should start checking through your work and note down what you have achieved, and what you might have done better (reviewing and reflecting on the course as a whole).
I look forward to seeing your final assignment on the 16th of June.