Neoclassicism: Roman Fever

July 24, 2011

From about 1780 to 1820, Neoclassic art reflected, in the words of Edgar Allan Poe, “the glory that was Greece,/And the grandeur that was Rome.” This revival of austere Classicism in painting, sculpture, architecture, and furniture was a clear reaction against the ornate Rococo style. The eighteenth century had been the Age of Enlightenment, when philosopher preached the gospel of reason and logic. This faith in logic led to orderliness and “ennobling” virtues of Neoclassical art.

The trendsetter was Jacques-Louis David (pronounced Dah VEED; 1748-1825), a French painter and democrat who imitated Greek and Roman art to inspire the new French republic. As the German writer Geothe put it, “the demand now is for heroism and civic virtues.” “Politically correct” art was serious, illustrating tales from ancient history or mythology rather than frivolous Rococo party scenes. As if society had overdosed on sweets, principle replaced pleasure and paintings underscored the moral message of patriotism.

In 1738, archaeology-mania swept Europe, as excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum offered the first glimpse of well-preserved ancient art. The faddish insistence on Greek and Roman role models sometimes became ridiculous, as when David’s followers, the “primitifs,” took the idea of living the Greek way literally. Read the rest of this entry »


Prehistoric Art: The Beginning

July 23, 2011

Although human beings have been walking upright for millions of years, it was not until 25,000 years ago that our forebears invented art. Sometimes during the last glacial epoch, when hunter-gatherers were still living in caves, the Neanderthal tool-making mentality gave way to the Cro-Magnon urge to make images.

The first art objects were created not to adorn the body or decorate the cavern but out of an attempt to control or appease natural forces. These symbols of animals and people had supernatural significance and magic powers.

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The Birth-of Art: Prehistoric Through Medieval

July 23, 2011

Art was born around 25,000 years ago, when the subhuman Neanderthal evolved into our human ancestor, Cro-Magnon man. With greater intelligence came imagination and the ability to create images in both painting and sculpture. Architecture came into being with the construction of ritual monuments.

For thousands of years, as civilization waxed and waned, these three art forms-painting, sculpture and architecture-embodied the ambitions, dreams and values of their cultures.

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July 2, 2011

The Dawn of a New Age

The term renaissance is a French word that means “re-birth” and describes a cultural movement tat began in the 15th century. Te Renaissance was driven by a newly awakened desire to revive the art of Classical Antiquity. Consciously turning away from Gothic ideas, artists and distinguished scholars used the literature and statues of ancient world as models. The movement initiated a far-reaching change in religious ideas-the center of artistic interest as no longer God, the omnipresent being, but rather humanity.

Piero della Francesca: Ideal City, ca. 1470, oil on wood, 60 x 200 cm, Galleria Nazionale Macrche, Urbino

Underlying these changes was an intense striving for a closeness to nature and a renewed desire to depict the beauty of the human figure. During the Renaissance, Artists no longer thought of themselves as anonymous craftsmen providing a labor, but began both being identified and identifying themselves as creative intellectuals. Read the rest of this entry »


May 28, 2011

Learn how to paint. What I mean here, is the part where you have an image either in your head, or in front of you, that you want to get up onto a piece of stretched canvas, or watercolour paper, or whatever, so you dip your brush into the paint, and apply it to the surface. I’m not trying to be a wise guy here, and neither am I putting down ‘modern art’ per se. What I am saying is that after spending most of the 20th century trying to prove otherwise, those factions of the ‘moderns movements’ that claimed that the skill of being able to make your hands produce what your eyes see was unnecessary or even deleterious to a painter’s development, wound up proving just the opposite. The moderns movements made some valid contributions to the fine arts, but some of their experiments were also failures, none, in my opinion, quite as large as the notion that learning how to paint whatever one wanted to paint, was a bad idea, and only served to ‘stifle creativity’. What in fact we wound up with, was several generations of crippled painters, crippled art schools, and eventually a system of crippled modern art museums to house their crippled work… in my opinion, of course. Heh.

Pay attention to everything that your teachers (should you be in a position to have teachers) have to say, but do not believe everything they have to say. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Read the rest of this entry »


May 22, 2011

Pastel is pure pigment, the same pigment used in making all fine art paints. All top quality pastel brands are permanent when applied to conservation ground and properly framed. Pastel that has not been sprayed with fixative contains no liquid binder that may cause other media to darken, yellow, crack or blister with time. Pastels from the 16th century exist today as fresh as the day they were painted.

The pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste with a small amount of gum binder, then rolled into sticks. The infinite variety of colors in pastel range from soft and subtle to strong and brilliant. The word pastel, in this case, does not refer to “pale colors” as it is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion venues. Read the rest of this entry »


May 22, 2011

Charcoal is probably the oldest, or one of the oldest, art materials. It was, after all, what our pre-historic ancestors used while drawing on cave walls! It’s ease of manufacture and use make it an essential tool for all artists. Charcoal is an impure form of elemental carbon made by burning selected woods in anaerobic conditions (little or no oxygen), hence, it is chemically fairly simple and stable over millennia. While other art materials may have greater color saturation than charcoal, few will last as long! Read the rest of this entry »