Archive for December, 2016

Connecting Art

2 Dec

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘…with a nod towards…’, ‘…heavily influenced by…’ or ‘…has borrowed from…’? We hear this in galleries and when reading about Art and Design but how are these connections formed and why? The process of connecting is inevitable because Art surrounds and influences us in our daily lives through what we see. The girls in school use similarities and differences between artists and designers as starting points for their investigations. As a teacher, it is interesting to see how this process unfolds in the classroom and through independent study.

 

Graphics and Advertising are perfect examples of how ideas interrelate and share characteristics. Consider the Warhol influence in a Marmite poster where the famous jar is repeated four times, mirroring the classic compositional device used by the Pop artist in his ‘Elvis’ series below. U4N and U4H girls are currently using Pop Art devices in their ‘Animals’ project with Mr Laubscher.
marmiteelvis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can also use Christian Dior as an example where a perfume advertisement for ‘Dune’ borrows ideas and dual meanings from the photographer Bill Brandt, both using the female form to signify the curves of pebbles, features or sand dunes on a beach. Dior’s woman is an abstraction of the coastal landscape. A surreal image is created, as the eyebrow and lash are the only clues we have to identify it as essentially feminine. The scent is evocative of a dune, signifying open air and freshness. As a viewer and potential consumer we are lured into this world of persuasion that plays on our daydreams, offering us an improved alternative to what we signify in life. Our desire makes us momentarily envy and fantasise about an improved self-image; it is precisely this process that motivates consumerism. Dior and Brandt investigate form and shape and their ambiguities. Additionally, both play on the Surrealism of Dali who also used human forms to play tricks on the viewer.

 

christian-dior bill-brandt-beach-los-angeles-1959 bill-brandt-interlaced-fingers

 

Artists frequently rely on what has come before them and, whether working as solitary practitioners or grouping with contemporaries to form Movements, we see these connections through subject matter, techniques or concept.

Monet and Renoir worked alongside each other harmoniously and were prominent Impressionists. They both painted scenes of Parisian life, for example at La Grenouillere, where their visible brushwork on the surface of the canvas is seen now to be an accepted style but was rejected by critics at the time. Whilst we can celebrate the similar approach in technique by these two friends, a marked difference between them is their choice of palette. Renoir was the only Impressionist who favoured the use of pure black.

 

‘La Grenouillere’ 1869

pierre-auguste-renoir-la-grenouillere-1869-oil-on-canvas  claude-monet-la-grenouillere-1869-oil-on-canvas

Pierre Auguste Renoir                                                 Claude Monet

 

I remember an exhibition at the Tate Modern which played beautifully on the idea of similarities, and influence. Despite some work in the rooms having no obvious connection, upon closer inspection relationships emerged. ‘Waterfall Line’ was exhibited in a room entitled ‘Richard Long and Claude Monet’ in the ‘Landscape/Matter/Environment’ display. I liked the fact that the audience were invited to search and explore connections between subject matter, materials and processes. It made me think about some works that I had seen hung differently in the past (previously in different galleries) that were now playing with or against each other in the same space. The two pieces which illustrated this point for me personally were one of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ 1916 and Richard Long’s ‘Waterfall Line’ 2000.

 

claude-monet-waterlilies-oils-on-canvas-after-1916

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Claude Monet ‘Waterlilies’ Oils on Canvas after 1916

 

‘Filling the canvas, the pond becomes a world in itself, inspiring a sense of immersion in nature. At times verging on abstraction…’ (Tate Modern on Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’).

 

richard-long-waterfall-line-2000-river-mud-on-emulsion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Long ‘Waterfall Line’ 2000 River Mud on Emulsion

 

‘…the artist slung white river mud, scrubbing and wiping it with his gloved hands to create a swirling, striped pattern resembling the trace left by an enlarged and simplified paintbrush…allowing the mud to splatter down the broader strip of black background below… A line of solid white expanding into millions of tiny dots at the very base of the work…resembles the intense spray at the base of a waterfall, where liquid hits a surface of strong resistance and is shot back upwards.’ (Tate Modern).

Both are huge pieces that consume you but nearly one hundred years separate them. Both share nature as subject matter but palette choice, application speed and style reveal their position in Art History and yet I felt their connection through their dimensions and the expressive semi abstraction which dominate both compositions. You get lost in the mark making. It was thrilling and underlined the fact that you cannot appreciate Art fully unless you view it in the flesh.

Film also plays a part in this game of influence and one of my favourite examples is the Design connection between two unlikely relatives. Fritz Lang’s ‘the False Maria’ futuristic robot in his 1927 film ‘Metropolis’ and George Lucas’ C-3PO in ‘Star Wars’.

 

maria-from-metropolis-1927

george-lucas-c-3po-from-a-new-hope-1977

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Maria’ From ‘Metropolis’ 1927       George Lucas’ C-3PO from ‘A New Hope’ 1977

 

Bringing this back to school life, the girls at Northampton High School frequently connect their work to historical and contemporary sources, the Edexcel assessment objectives demand it at GCSE and A Level. Many of our painters who connect with Francis Bacon are asked to research Eisenstein’s woman screaming in ‘Battleship Potemkin.’ 1925.

 

battleship-potemkin-and-study-for-the-nurse

Left: Still from “Battleship Potemkin,” directed by S.M. Eisenstein, 1925. Right: Study for the Nurse (detail), Francis Bacon, 1957

 

The nurse shot in the face with broken spectacles from the Odessa Steps sequence in the film inspired Francis Bacon as above but also influenced his ‘Pope Innocent X’ in 1953, which in turn derives from Velázquez just over 300 years earlier.

 

pope-innocent-x-francis-bacon-1953

portrait-of-innocent-x-diego-velazquez-c-1650

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Innocent X, Francis Bacon, 1953     Portrait of Innocent X, Diego Velázquez, c 1650

 

Erin Barton included the C-3PO/Metropolis connection in her GCSE examination book and Julia Wardley-Kershaw is currently connecting Kraftwerk stage shows with lines and shapes in dance, architecture, nature and sculpture. This is what makes the Arts so exciting. We play around with relationships and enjoy the process of looking for new paths whilst not forgetting the origins and influences of the older, well-trodden routes.

 

 

Mel Beacroft. Head of Arts Faculty

Challenging the shift to gated communities of the mind

2 Dec

p1250697croppedWould you spot a large, potentially life-threatening animal standing in front of a shop window as you walked along the high street?  If this sounds like a foolish question, think again.  Researchers have found (and I owe this insight to Kenneth Tharp, our excellent guest speaker on Awards Evening) that the majority of people who walk down the street talking into their mobile phones fail to notice an actor in a gorilla suit standing in plain sight as they pass by and have estimated that the walker’s perception of the outside world in such a situation is reduced by 90%.

 

 

gorillaShould we be concerned by this? It might be argued on the other side of the coin that, while reducing our appreciation of the world around us, we are actually giving our proper attention to the world the mobile is beckoning us into – a world which may well be more congenial than the one we find ourselves in physically.  Perhaps the sound of a friendly voice, the sight of a welcoming face or simply the influx of information from Google or Outlook does more to help us to negotiate the next stage of the day than the sights and sounds of the street.  Surely, too, the likelihood of encountering a real killer primate in the high street may be safely discounted (though the chance of meeting a life-threatening large mammal in the shape of a mugger may not, of course).

 

I wonder.

 

donald-trumpReflecting on the turbulent events in the news recently, including of course the outcome of the US presidential election, I have been struck by the evidence of increasing fragmentation in the societies we know well in the West.  The power of Mr Trump’s campaign sprang, in large part, from the force of his unreasoned attacks on his political opponents in what he characterised as a complacent political elite.  His self-professed virtues as a politician were his identity as an outsider, with no attachment to what he presented as outdated liberal views, and his very unwillingness to engage in conventional debate.  These traits have incensed his liberal critics.

 

melanie-phillipsOn the other hand, Melanie Philips, in a deliberately provocative article in ‘The Times’ in the immediate aftermath of Mr Trump’s shock victory, argued that the opponents of the Republican president-elect, by vocally despairing of a democracy which allows such a candidate to gain power by placing voting power in the hands of the uneducated and unfit, were showing themselves to be as bigoted and illiberal as the man they were criticising.

 

 

A liberal democracy, such as that of the USA or Britain, depends for its health and strength on two things which are currently being undermined:

 

– an absolute belief in the importance of one-person-one-vote, even if this means allowing people with unpalatable views an equal say in the electoral process with people with whom one happens to agree, and even if this means losing to them in an election.

 

– an equally absolute belief in the power of reasoned argument and debate to overcome false, flawed and wicked ideas with reason and truth.

 

 

If, as citizens and voters, we arrange our lives in such a way that we only ever encounter people who are like us and agree with us, people whom we are happy to like and be liked by on social media, whose shopping and leisure tastes and interests resemble our own, we will quickly lose our appreciation of the value of genuine diversity.  Moreover, the application of algorithms to our searches and preferences online quickly reinforces the synapses of our tight social networks.  Pretty soon, we will find ourselves inhabiting a self-referencing echo chamber and calling it the world.  From here it is a short step to losing our faith in the power of reasoned argument – and, with it, our attachment to democracy itself.

 

T S Eliot remarked that ‘humankind cannot bear very much reality’ and it is often true that the real world – what Ken Robinson has described as ‘the world that exists whether or not you exist’ – with its crises and conflicts, its brutality and banality can often seem too ugly to engage with.  Yet, by filtering out the real world – whether literally by staring at our mobiles (ear plugs in) as we walk down the street or metaphorically by limiting ourselves to associating only with people who don’t challenge us –  we risk losing 90% of the grandeur and excitement to be found in the world too.  We may prefer not to engage with that stranger standing on the street corner but, in acting on that instinct, we lose the chance to hear and appreciate the busker’s voice and we are deaf to the lyrics of her poetic protest song.

 

‘Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing either your temper or your self-confidence.’  As Robert Frost’s aphorism reminds us, our purpose in school is to challenge the creation of what I call the gated communities of the mind.  The events of 2016 have shown that our mission is more important and urgent than ever before.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

 

Sources

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/but-did-you-see-the-gorilla-the-problem-with-inattentional-blindness-17339778/

 

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/trumps-opponents-are-the-bigots-and-