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kottke.org posts about art school

Why Henry VIII’s Codpiece Is So…Monumental

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2023

Perhaps the most prominent part of the most well-known painting of Henry VIII (a now-lost work by Hans Holbein the Younger) is the giant codpiece poking through the male-heirless king’s tunic. Evan Puschak analyzes the painting and fills us in on what makes this a particularly effective work of 16th-century propaganda.

Puschak had some fun with this one…I lol’d at “triple dick”, which under no circumstances should you google (like I did) at work or really anywhere else. Although, “triple dick art history” did lead me to this interesting piece on “ostentatio genitalium”:

Ostentatio genitalium (the display of the genitals) refers to disparate traditions in Renaissance visual culture of attributing formal, thematic, and theological significance to the penis of Jesus.

This bit got me laughing again:

…these Renaissance images shock us because they are so frequently ithyphallic: Christ has risen, but not in the way we have come to expect.

When Elites Stopped Dominating Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2023

Traditionally, the subjects depicted in Western art were either religious or rich — wealthy patrons paid for paintings of themselves or of their religions. As Evan Puschak explains in this brief video essay, that began to change in the 16th century as revolution, reformation, and the development of a merchant class shifted who was worthy of depiction and who could pay.

A Trove of Video Profiles of Artists

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2023

On their YouTube channel, Art21 hosts a treasure trove of video profiles of artists like Amy Sherald, Olafur Eliasson, Chris Ware, Christian Marclay, Anish Kapoor, Kara Walker, Barbara Kruger, Julie Mehretu, and Sally Mann.

This is excellent — what a resource. (via colossal)

The Impressionish Painter

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2023

I have to admit that as much as I love Evan Puschak’s Nerdwriter videos, I did not have high hopes for his latest video on John Singer Sargent, a painter I didn’t know a lot about and assumed, mostly based on his name (ugh, I know), that he was some fusty 19th-century painter who was not as interesting as the Impressionists. What a pleasant surprise to discover, right from Puschak’s expertly concise show-don’t-tell opening, that I am Sargent’s newest fan.

Everywhere you look in this painting you see his supremely confident looseness, a kind of painting you maybe wouldn’t think to associate with a realistic representation of the world. And yet that’s exactly the final effect — a realism that is somehow more true than finely detailed painting.

Realism through impressionism? Sign me up. Stay curious, friends…you never know what interesting new (or old!) thing you’re going to discover next.

Great Art Explained: Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2023

Say what you will about The Algorithms, but YouTube’s reliably informs this art history lover of every new episode of Great Art Explained and for that I am grateful. This latest episode is about the pointillist masterpiece by Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. I had a chance to see this painting in person last summer at The Art Institute of Chicago — spent quite a bit of time looking at it from all angles and distances — so this episode was the perfect accompaniment to that visit.

The lack of narrative means we really should look to the artist’s obsession with form, technique and theory — which is practically all he wrote about — and not to meaning or subject matter - which he didn’t write about at all. The painting is really his manifesto. His protagonists don’t have faces or body language, neither a history nor individuality. They are reduced to a hat, a corset, or a pet. They are just characters in his frieze. They exist only to give perfect balance to the composition.

Some paintings are designed for the viewer to “empathise with” but Seurat keeps us at arm’s length. We are not invited to “participate” in the promenade, and their psychological distance is clear. Both with their neighbors, and with us. It was ancient art that Seurat looked to — of Egypt and Greece. He once said that he “wanted to make modern people move about as they do on the Parthenon Frieze”, and placed them on canvases organized by harmonies of colour. It is what makes the painting so intriguing.

Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

A Timeline of the Evolution of Western Art Movements

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2022

From Behind the Masterpiece, a whirlwind summary of evolution of Western art movements, from prehistoric art to the Renaissance to Romanticism to Impressionism to Cubism and beyond. 23 minutes seems like the sweet spot for this kind of thing: any shorter and there wouldn’t be time to give the viewer a sense of each movement but if it were 40 minutes, perhaps many fewer people would be enticed to watch. (via open culture)

Claude Monet’s War Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

This is another great episode of James Payne’s Great Art Explained on the work of Claude Monet, specifically the massive water lily canvases he completed before his death, created as “a war memorial to the millions of lives tragically lost in the First World War”.

Claude Monet is often criticised for being overexposed, too easy, too obvious, or worse, a chocolate box artist. His last works, the enormous water lily canvasses are among the most popular art works in the world.

Yet there is nothing tame, traditionalist, or cosy about these last paintings. These are his most radical works of all. They turn the world upside down with their strange, disorientating and immersive vision.

Monet’s water lilies have come to be viewed as simply an aesthetic interpretation of the garden that obsessed him. But they are so much more.

These works were created as a direct response to the most savage and apocalyptic period of modern history. They were in fact conceived as a war memorial to the millions of lives tragically lost in the First World War.

I’ve seen these paintings at the Musée de l’Orangerie — amazing to see them exactly the way in which the artist intended them to be seen.

See also Film of Claude Monet Painting Water Lilies in His Garden (1915) and Monet’s Ultraviolet Vision.

Great Art Cities Explained: Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2022

Great Art Explained is one of my recent favorite YouTube channels (see The Mona Lisa, Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, Michelangelo’s David, and Starry Night, all fascinating) and host James Payne, along with Joanne Shurvell, are now doing a related series on Great Art Cities Explained. They tackled London first and have moved onto Paris, where they feature three of the city’s lesser known museums that were originally art studios: those of Eugène Delacroix, Suzanne Valadon, and Constantin Brancusi.

Great Art Explained: The Mona Lisa (The Extended Cut)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2021

In the most recent episode of the excellent YouTube series Great Art Explained, James Payne expands on an earlier, shorter video on the Mona Lisa with this double-length extended cut.

For Mona Lisa, Leonardo used a thin grain of poplar tree and applied an undercoat of lead white, rather than just a mix of chalk and pigment. He wanted a reflective base. Leonardo painted with semi-transparent glazes that had a very small amount of pigment mixed with the oil, so how dark you wanted your glaze to be depends on how much pigment you use. He used more like a “wash”, which he applied thin — layer by layer. Here you can see two colors of contrast — light and dark. When you apply thin glaze over both of them, you can see it starts to unify the contrast but also brings depth and luminosity. The lead white undercoat reflects the light back through the glazes, giving the picture more depth and in essence, lighting Mona Lisa from within.

This was fascinating, not a wasted moment in the whole thing. I’ve read, watched, and listened to a lot of analysis of the Mona Lisa over the years, but Payne’s detailed explanation both added to my knowledge and clarified what I already knew.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Best Painting (Is Not The Mona Lisa)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2021

For the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak (after briefly introducing his forthcoming book) discusses his favorite Leonardo da Vinci painting, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.

In this way, moving from the apex of the pyramid to its bottom right corner is actually a trip through time, from the past to the present to the future. And that timeline also extends along a three-dimensional axis — the lamb is in front of Jesus, who’s in front of Mary, who’s in front of Anne. But on this axis, it goes even further — behind Anne, we’re launched into the geological past. These mountains, these bones of the Earth, suggest a deep time — so deep that it conflicts with the Christian sense of the age of the world. Now that reflects a larger conflict in the Renaissance between religion and a growing appreciation for natural science, which is embodied in no person more than Leonardo da Vinci, the insatiably curious polymath.

Hilma af Klint, the Life of an Artist

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2021

On his Art History School YouTube channel, Paul Priestley gives a short but thorough overview of the life and work of pioneering abstract artist Hilma af Klint.

Hilma af Klint shared an interest in the spiritual with the other pioneers of abstract art including Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian. And like Hilma af Klint many were drawn to Theosophy, which opened a route towards a new world of spiritual reality, rather than merely depicting visual impressions of the world around them.

Had she not kept her abstract work secret she would surely have held the accolade of producing the world’s first abstract paintings. Instead, Kandinsky’s paintings of 1911 would, until recently, come to be recognised as the first abstract works of art.

(via open culture)

Great Art Explained: van Gogh’s Starry Night

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

Bear with me, I am on a bit of an art kick lately. As I said earlier this week, I’ve been slowly working my way through James Payne’s Great Art Explained video series. But then — bang! — he came out with a new episode on Vincent van Gogh and his masterpiece, Starry Night. Having seen this painting in person for the first time in a few years just days ago at MoMA, I abandoned the back catalog and dug in to this new one immediately.

Van Gogh is one of my favorites — I spent several happy hours at his museum in Amsterdam in 2017 — and Payne does a good job of contextualizing his life and work around the time he painted Starry Night, particularly the emphasis on the influence of Japanese art on his work and his probable incorporation of spiral galaxy imagery into Starry Night. Highly recommended, especially if you’ve seen the painting in person.

Frida Gets Personal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

Evan Puschak looks at how the personal nature, intimacy, and stylistic approachability have given Frida Kahlo’s work enduring and increasing popularity.

Great Art Explained: Michelangelo’s David

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2021

Great Art Explained is one of my favorite newish YouTube channels and I’ve been slowly working my way through their back catalogue. Today’s watch was a 15-minute explanation of one of the signature masterpieces of the Renaissance, Michelangelo’s David. The details related to the carving of the swollen jugular vein and the variable visibility of the veins in the hands is fantastic. (via open culture)

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai, Explained

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

Great Art Explained is a super YouTube series that I am somehow just now learning about that, uh, explains great art. Host James Payne has done about a dozen videos on pieces like Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, and Untitled (Skull) by Jean-Michel Basquiat. His latest is about The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai.

In 1639 Japan closed its borders and cut itself off from the outside world. Foreigners were expelled, Western culture was forbidden, and Entering or leaving Japan was punishable by Death. It would remain that way for over 200 years.

It was under these circumstances that a quintessentially Japanese art developed. Art for the people that was consumed on an unprecedented scale.

Really interesting stuff. Subscribed.

See also several different versions of The Great Wave print and The Art of Traditional Japanese Printmaking. (via open culture)