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Understanding and appreciating a work of art

Why Does It Matter? As a thought experiment, imagine what a society without art would be like? How would buildings look?

  1. The aesthetic response is the thoughts and feelings initiated because of the character of these qualities and the particular ways they are organized and experienced perceptually Silverman.
  2. Drawing local image cultures into the international spaces of modern art has once more shifted the character of art. The first part demonstrated the changing role of the artist and diverse types of art in the medieval and Renaissance periods.
  3. This cosmopolitanism risks underestimating the real forces shaping the world; connection and mobility for some international artists goes hand in hand with uprootedness and the destruction of habitat and ways of life for others.
  4. As a primary source, artists express attitudes, feelings, and sentiments about environments through personal experiences, social interaction, and relationships with the natural world. For sculpture, it entailed arranging or assembling forms in space.

Could any kind of visual communication exist at all? This mirrors the complexity of engaging in the ongoing definition of art. When we discuss contemporary art, we are typically referring to the practice of fine art, but prior to the Renaissance, art was defined within the realm of functional crafts, such as goldsmithing. Studying art leads to a greater understanding of our own cultural values and of the society that produced it.

The figures were often pierced with nails as a symbolic gesture to initiate a desired goal, like protection from an enemy. The invading Europeans often destroyed the nkisi figures, which were sacred objects to the Congo people.

We will return to this example at the end of the module. The focus is on art in medieval and Renaissance Christendom, but this does not imply that Europe was insular during this period. The period witnessed the slow erosion of the crusader states in the Holy Land, finally relinquished in 1291, and of the Greek Byzantine world until Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453. Columbus made his voyage to the Americas in 1492.

Step 2: See

Medieval Christendom was well aware of its neighbors. Trade, diplomacy, and conquest connected Christendom to the wider world, which in turn had an impact on art. Any notion of the humble medieval artist oblivious to anything beyond his own immediate environment must be dispelled. Artists and patrons were well aware of artistic developments in other countries. Artists traveled both within and between countries and on occasion even between continents.

Such mobility was facilitated by the network of European courts, which were instrumental in the rapid spread of Italian Renaissance art. Europe-wide frameworks of philosophical and theological thought, reaching back to antiquity and governing religious art, applied — albeit with regional variations — throughout Europe.

Art Appreciation

Understanding and appreciating a work of art statements of what constituted the arts during the medieval period are rare, particularly in northern Europe, but proliferate in the Renaissance. According to Vasari, several other Italian Renaissance artists are supposed to have trained initially as goldsmiths, including the sculptors Ghiberti 1378—1455 and Verrocchio 1435—88and the painters Botticelli c.

Before 1500 art was primarily part of the persuasive power and cultural identity of the church, ruler, city, institution, or the wealthy patron commissioning the artwork. In this sense, art might be considered alongside ceremonies, for example, as strategies conveying social meaning or magnificence, or as a demonstration of wealth and power by the patron commissioning the artwork to be made. In later centuries art evolves into purely an aesthetic entity, prompting scrutiny for its own sake alone.

The intent of the varied forms of art produced during the medieval and Renaissance period lie outside this definition. Objects were made that invited attentive scrutiny for their ingenuity in design, while at the same time fulfilling a variety of functions. No one in medieval times would have bothered to commission works of art unless they could assume that their contemporaries were vulnerable to their communicative power.

For example, the wealthy lavished money on rich artifacts or dynastic portraits in part because these objects were a way of communicating their exclusiveness and social power to their contemporaries. Those scrutinizing the masterpieces must have had a clear idea of the criteria of quality they were hoping for, even if these criteria were never set down in writing.

The careful selection of artists even from far-flung locations, and the preference for one practitioner above another, shows that patrons too were quite capable of discriminating on the basis of artistic prowess.

A work of art during the medieval and Renaissance period was expected to be of high quality as well as purposeful. The advancement of artistic status is often associated with princely employment, for example by Martin Warnke in his seminal study of the court artist Warnke, 1993, pp.

Given the example of Leonardo da Vinci, this appears to make sense. Maintained on a salary, a court artist was no longer a jobbing craftsman constantly on the lookout for work. Potentially, at least, he had access to projects demanding inventiveness and conferring honor, and time to lavish on his understanding and appreciating a work of art and on study. Equally, however, court artists might be required to undertake mundane and routine work which they could not very well refuse.

Court salaries were also often in arrears or not paid at all. In the same letter in which Leone Leoni described Charles V chatting with him for two to three hours at a time, he complains of his poverty, while carefully qualifying the complaint by claiming he serves the emperor for honor and cares for studying not moneymaking.

The lot of the court artist might appear to fulfill aspirations for artistic status, but it certainly had its drawbacks. Workshop, Guild, and Court Employment The pattern of artistic employment in the medieval period and the Renaissance varied.

Traditionally, craftsmen working on great churches would be employed in workshops on site, albeit often for some length of time; during the course of their career, such craftsmen might move several times from one project to another.

Many other artists moved around in search of new opportunities of employment, even to the extent of accompanying a crusade. Artists working for European courts might travel extensively as well, not just within a country but from country to country and court to court: El Greco 1541—1614 moved between three different countries before finding employment not at the royal court in Spain but in the city of Toledo.

A guild served three main functions: It is the protection from competition that art historians have seen as eliminating artistic freedom, but it is worth pausing to wonder whether this view owes more to modern free-market economics than to the realities of fifteenth-century craft practices.

This concept rests on a distinction between art, on the one hand, and craft, on the other. It assumes that a work of art is to be appreciated and valued for its own sake, whereas other types of artifacts serve a functional purpose. A significant step in this direction was made by a group of painters and sculptors who in 1563 set up an Accademia del Disegno Academy of Design in Florence in order to distinguish themselves from craftsmen organized in guilds.

After 1600, academies of art were founded in cities throughout Europe, including Paris 1648 and London 1768. Most offered training in architecture as well as in painting and sculpture. Other arts, such as landscape gardening, were sometimes included in this category. Architecture was occasionally excluded on the grounds that it was useful as well as beautiful, but the fine arts were usually defined in terms broad enough to encompass it. Such functions continued to play an important role after 1600, especially in the seventeenth century, when academies were rare outside Italy and many artists still belonged to guilds.

The so-called Counter Reformation gave a great boost to Roman Catholic patronage of the arts, as the church sought to renew itself in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. The commitment to spreading the faith that this organization embodied helped to shape art not just in Europe but in every part of the world reached by the Catholic Missions, notably Asia and the Americas, throughout the period explored here.

Even in Catholic countries, however, the religious uses of art slowly declined relative to secular ones. The seventeenth century is the last in western art history in which a major canonical figure like the Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 1571—1610 might still be a primarily religious artist. As in the Renaissance, artists served the needs of rulers by surrounding them with an aura of splendor and glory.

The consolidation of power in the hands of a fairly small number of European monarchs meant that their need for ideological justification was all the greater and so too were the resources they had at their disposal for the purpose.

Every aspect of its design glorified the king, not least by celebrating the military exploits that made France the dominant power in Europe during his reign.

Such art is bourgeois in so far as it owed its existence to the growing importance of trade and industry in Europe since the late medieval period, which gave rise to an increasingly large and influential wealthy middle class. Exemplary in this respect is seventeenth-century Dutch painting, the distinctive features and sheer profusion of which were both made possible by a large population of relatively affluent city-dwellers.

In other countries, the commercialization of society and the urban development that went with it tended to take place more slowly. Britain, however, rapidly caught up with the Netherlands; by 1680, London was being transformed into a modern city characterized by novel uses understanding and appreciating a work of art space as well as by new building types. Here too, artists produced images that were affordable and appealing to a middle-class audience; notable in this respect was William Hogarth 1697—1764who began his career working in the comparatively cheap medium of engraving.

William Hogarth, Marriage A-la-Mode: Work is in the public domain.

How to Really, Truly Appreciate a Work of Art

What this meant in practice is best demonstrated by the case of easel painting, which had become the dominant pictorial form by 1600. Unlike an altarpiece or a fresco, this kind of picture has no fixed place; instead, its frame serves to separate it from its surroundings, allowing it to be hung in almost any setting. In taking the form of a commodity, easel-painting accords with the commercial priorities of bourgeois society, even though what appears within the frame may be far removed from these priorities.

Autonomous art does not promote Christian beliefs and practices, as religious art traditionally did, but rather is treated by art lovers as itself the source of a special kind of experience, a rarefied or even spiritual pleasure. This exalted conception of art consolidated the separation between the artist and the craftsman, which had motivated the foundation of the Florentine Academy some two centuries earlier.

Art historians who employ this kind of approach take account both of the institutional and commercial conditions in which works of art were produced and consumed and of the broader cultural, social, economic and political conditions of the period.

Understanding, Defining, and Appreciating Art and Its History

It is now recognized that artistic practice within a period is invariably more diverse and complex than a style-based art history admits. As in the Renaissance, many artists worked for patrons, who commissioned them to execute works of art in accordance with their requirements.

Patronage played an important role throughout the period, most obviously in the case of large-scale projects for a specific location that could not be undertaken without a commission. Landscape gardening is another case in point. An artist greatly in demand such as the sculptor Antonio Canova 1757—1822 would also tend to work on commission; in his case, the grandest patrons from across Europe sometimes waited for years to receive a statue by the master, even though he maintained as both Bernini and Rubens also did a large workshop to assist him in his labors.

In the event, the resolutely human terms in which the painter depicted the subject and the unidealised treatment of the figures scandalized the monks responsible for the church. Thus a functional religious artifact was transformed into a secular artwork, acclaimed as a masterpiece by a famous artist and sold to a princely collector, for whom the possession of such a work was a matter of personal prestige.

The comparable transformation of courtly art in response to the market can be illustrated by reference to another picture immediately displaced from the location for which it was painted.

ARTH101: Art Appreciation and Techniques

In 1721, the Flemish-born artist Antoine Watteau 1684—1721 painted a large canvas as a shop sign for his friend, the Parisian art dealer Edme Gersaint.

As these two examples demonstrate, more market-oriented structures and practices emerged in countries such as Italy and France from the end of the Renaissance onwards see Haskell, 1980; Pomian, 1990; Posner, 1993; North and Ormrod, 1998.

However, the tendency towards commercialization is even more striking elsewhere: This model of artistic practice went hand in hand with the rise of art dealers and other features of the modern art world, such as public auctions and sale catalogues see Montias, 1982; North, 1997; Montias, 2002.

  • Alternatively, if you love that stuff and hate modern art, go wild;
  • Architecture This unit explores architecture, its history, and its relation to visual art;
  • As in the Renaissance, many artists worked for patrons, who commissioned them to execute works of art in accordance with their requirements.

In important respects, the Dutch case remains idiosyncratic, but nevertheless the genres of painting that dominated in this context — that is, portraiture, landscape, scenes of everyday life and still life — soon became the most popular and successful elsewhere in Europe too.

Exemplary in this respect is the work of Rembrandt; it was thanks above all to his exceptionally broad and hence highly distinctive handling of paint that he came to be generally regarded as the greatest of all post-Renaissance artists by the mid nineteenth century.

As a result of these developments, painting increasingly tended to overshadow other art forms, especially tapestry, which lost its previous high status with the decline of courtly art.

  1. Sculptors began to leave the surface of their works in a rough, seemingly unfinished state; they increasingly created partial figures and abandoned plinths or, alternatively, inflated the scale of their bases.
  2. It might happen while watching a sunset or taking in the view from a mountaintop—the list goes on.
  3. Thus, judgments of art can become linked to judgments of economic, political, or moral value.
  4. Artistic Media Artists find ways to express themselves with almost any resource available. Both perspectives — Primitivism and Futurism — entailed a profound hostility to the world as it had actually developed, and both orientations were rooted in the conditions of an uneven and combined world system.
  5. Course Introduction This course is an exploration of visual art forms and their cultural connections for the student with little experience in the visual arts.

A pioneering role in this respect was played by London as a consequence of the limited power of the monarch, which meant that the court dominated culture much less than it did in France at the same time. Public interest in art grew rapidly during the eighteenth century, aided by an expanding print culture, which allowed the circulation of high-art images to an ever larger audience see Pears, 1988; Clayton, 1997.

In both London and Paris, large audiences also attended the exhibitions that began to be held during the middle decades of the century.

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The first public museums were established around the same time. However, it was a charitable bequest from an art dealer that led to the creation of the first public art museum in Britain; housed in a building designed for the purpose by the architect Sir John Soane 1753—1837Dulwich College Picture Gallery opened to the public in 1817. In a museum, a work of art could be viewed purely for its own sake, without reference to its traditional functions. For present purposes, however, what is important about these two paintings is the way that they depended on the institutions of the public sphere.

Rather than being commissioned by a patron, each was intended first and foremost for display at the official art exhibition in Paris known as the Salon. It should also be noted that such ambitious and challenging works were very much the exception, even in France and much more so in other countries where the state did not support living artists in the same way.