Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Art History 401

   Maybe I’m nuts but…I could spend, and have spent, hours gazing in wonder at various great and historical works of art. For me, it’s not so much about the artist, it more about what may have been going on…behind the scenes when those pieces were created.
   I believe, to fully appreciate art, one must go back to the beginning. Cave art, while lacking perspective and sophistication does tell the viewer a great deal about life at that time. For instance; humor had yet to be invented. Clearly (Even to the most ardent art snob) this is the case as not once have I seen a rock wall masterpiece where one caveman is making bunny ears behind the other.
Perhaps it’s easier for a caveman to buy insurance that to grasp the silliness of bunny ears.
   Ancient Egyptians added a great deal to the world of art. For one thing, they invented the human profile. Until the ancient Egyptians, only animals stood sideways to the artist. These same Egyptians also are to be given full credit for artistic license. They took the liberty to save space by combining the visual aspects of people and animals and created the Sphinx (not to be confused with the Spinks boxing brothers) and presto, a person AND a lion all in one leaving enough room for three pyramids instead of just two. 

   Ancient Egyptians also became quite proficient in the art of carving busts (which served no real purpose until the invention of the piano) and in creating hieroglyphs which they would undoubtedly run passed at great speed (It wasn't until Cecil B. DeMille that we could sit still and watch The 10 Commandments) with a tub of overpriced popcorn.
   The Greeks were great painters back in the day but their subject matter was (shall we say) recreational in nature. The Greek sculptor Alexandros of Antioch (Never to be confused with Alex of Athens who created the Gyro sandwich, a work of art in its own right) gave the world the Venus deMilo. We never heard much of Alexandros of Antioch after that because, glaringly, he was no good at sculpting arms.
   Biblical Jews did relatively little for the world of art until (the night before Christianity was page one news) they commissioned the last supper.
   Now then, the Roman Empire…where art was ascribed to their architecture. While (I’m sure) they were rather proud of it at the time, I simply don’t get it. To me (and my obviously discerning eye) it was very one dimensional. Arches. Arches, arches, arches. All of their buildings had arches. All of their bridges…arches. BORING. Many would point out that they also made a bunch of columns but (don’t be fooled) they stole that idea from the Greeks and we all know it.
   Much of the truly GREAT art we see today came from the Italians in many different forms. One of the most monumental works of Italian art is Michelangelo’s work at the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel was named for Pope Sixtus IV (Which never made much sense, I mean why not Fourtus the IV) and was commissioned by Pope Julius II. It took Michelangelo 4 YEARS (Of course it should be noted he was using a brush instead of a roller) to paint the 12,000 square foot ceiling and even after all these years, one can view it for days on end and not see a single little number under the paint. Amazing really.
It also qualifies as the earliest known depiction of the "pull my finger" joke.
   The Italian renaissance gave the world MANY fine artists including Raphael, Botticelli, Bellini, Donatello and DaVinci. All of these artists were celebrities of their day and were known by one name in much the same way as Cher, Madonna, Bono (Not Sonny) Liberace and Meatloaf.

DaVinci bestowed upon the ages too many great works to count but it is probably the Mona Lisa that is the most well known. DaVince, a wise talent, painted the Mona Lisa and that enigmatic smile, without eyebrows  instead with the unibrow which she sported in real life.
This made Mona very happy.
   It’s a good thing renaissance Italy produced so many great artists as one look at Venice proves civil engineering was NOT their strong suit.
   America too has given much to the world of art through various artists. There’s James McNeil Whistler (Who apparently thought much less of his dad than of his mom) Andrew Wyeth (who, on at least one occasion, let a sleeping dog lie) Norman Rockwell (whose works can be found on both collector’s plates AND glasses) and Ansel Adams (who proved that color is WAY over-rated)
   Art is always in the eye of the beholder and now that you know a little more about the background and history of its creation, it will be easier to appreciate it.
Or…maybe I’m nuts.
I’m Craig Andresen


  1. For some reason, I'm put in mind of comedian Martin Mull, who, during his days as an art student, decided, due to a lack of another venue, to conduct a showing in one of the university's men's rooms. Mull's title for the exhibition? I'll Be Art In A Minute.

  2. Bob...until you brought it up, I had forgotten about Mull's mens room art show, but as I recall, I remember him telling the story on Carson. Thanks for a great flashback!!