Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thoughts on Traditional European Art vs. Modern Art. Diary entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

Left: Presentation of the Ring to the Doge of Venice by Paris Bordone.  By permission of Web Gallery of Art
Right: Polaris Venice by Ludovico De Luigi.  By permission of Galleria Ravagnan

“I intend to make a study of the lesser known artists of the school of Paul Veronese and of Paris Bordone…”

So reads the second line of the first diary entry in this book.  I thought this can be an opportunity to share some ideas on the comparison of Traditional European Art with Modern Art; something which has been in my mind for some time.  Traditional European paintings are reflective of a culmination of many things including a study of perspective, color, light, and composition, and on top of it all they communicate a story relevant to those for whom the painting was meant to be viewed, be it religious, mythical, legendary, or historic.  Modern paintings are often about the artist’s perspective on things, and are about them expressing the world inside of themselves, or their views on the world around them.  Of course this may not always be the case but it seems to be what I have seen more of.  While perhaps not always requiring the same technical mastery of skill, modern paintings also have more freedom in terms of the artist’s choice of subject matter and content. 

A closer look into the paintings shown

I thought it would be interesting to discuss paintings by artists from each style, which use Venice as their subject.  The first painting is by Paris Bordone, who is mentioned in the book.  The above painting, titled Presentation of the Ring to the Doge of Venice, is a depiction of a legend related to Venice as described in W.B. Scott’s Pictures of Venetian Painters, as referenced in A Catalogue of the Accademia delle Belle Arti at Venice.  The legend is of a fisherman who hesitantly transports three figures across the Venetian lagoon despite a harsh storm.  It turns out that the three figures are St. Mark, St. George, and St. Nicholas and they all soon come upon a floating ship.  There, they see forces of evil which are on their way to sink the city of Venice.  By forming a cross, the three saints are able to destroy these evil forces.  St. Mark then gives his ring to the fisherman and tells him to present it to the Doge of Venice, to get his reward.

After Midnight by Ludovico De Luigi.  By permission of Galleria Ravagnan
Surrealist Carnival by Ludovico De Luigi.  By permission of Galleria Ravagnan

The second set of three paintings are by a contemporary Venetian painter Ludovico De Luigi, shown above and at the top of the post.  All of the paintings use an accurate representation of Venice contrasted with surreal imagery, as is most striking in the Polaris Venice depicting a submarine entering Piazza San Marco.   In Surrealist Carnival, in the foreground we see three people in traditional garb gathered around a table.  The other figures seem to have a more progressive sense to them and some even appear alien like.  The figures on the extreme right and left have removed their masks, with rays of light falling upon them, seeming to suggest the concept of truth.  The eyes in the background that appear to look not quite at the viewer but slightly away, are perhaps a reference to this place as being elusive.  

What do I make of all this imagery? 

Regarding the Paris Bordone painting, there are some interesting implications including the reference to forces of good and evil and Venice being a city thus representative of pure goodness and also of the ordinary Venetian being a part of the process by which the city is saved from sinking. 

Regarding Ludovico De Luigi’s paintings, based upon my own experiences and thoughts on Venice, the two paintings above seem to suggest in part that Venice is timeless.  It has a past that is unchanged, and in the future the world around it may change, people may change, but its beauty will remain.  The ghost like figures in After Midnight suggest that the space is always alive, even when it is not occupied.  The contrast of real and imaginary imagery in all three of the paintings, and references to truth and elusiveness are perhaps reflective of the contradictions in mannerisms among Venetians, as are mentioned in John Berendt’s prologue to The City of Falling Angels.

A possible link between writing poetry and painting

I recently attended a poetry workshop given by Alice Osborn, and she had mentioned something interesting that seemed to be contradictory at first.  She said that the more specific we are and the more of ourselves we put into our writings, the more universal the language becomes.  I wonder if the same can be said of the language of painting.

I look at Ludovico De Luigi’s paintings which appear to stem from his own interpretations and thoughts on the city rather than a given story meant to be appreciated by a particular group of people.  I am free to choose my own interpretation of the meaning behind the painting which will undoubtedly stem from my background, interests and predilection towards the city.  Another individual may look at it and have a completely different interpretation.  The painting is universal in its ability to allow each individual viewer to project themselves onto it and that interpretation is valid enough for the one who owns it.

The Paris Bordone painting might not have the same set of values for everyone as it did for those for whom the painting was meant to be viewed.  Does this make it a less valid or appreciated art form?  I would say, not so.  Although I might not follow the beliefs that are represented in a certain religiously charged painting, I can certainly appreciate it for the talent and skill involved in its execution and for the strength of its message.   

Both styles of painting emerged from different environments, (the traditional being mostly commissioned), different times, and a different set of values about what art is or should be.  So, maybe it is not about comparing one to the other as they both can be appreciated for their own unique qualities.

A recent experiment in group painting 

I recently participated in an group painting experiment at the LabourLove Gallery in downtown Durham.  The idea was to offer a blank canvas to the public as a surface for spontaneous group painting.  The results are shown here, as the canvas was when I had left it on its first night, being the work of five individuals including myself.  

A few weeks ago, I read a post on Diana Baur’s website, A Certain Simplicity, where she discussed the importance for all creative people to inspire and be generous in sharing their work.  In response to it, I had written:

I imagine a world where this would be followed and picture each individual person’s creative energies merging into one larger creative force that everyone can be inspired by.”

Although when I wrote the comment I did not mean it literally, rather as a way of thinking and more about a generous attitude, here I am with images of a painting that exemplifies the principle quite literally and perhaps when it is complete, somewhere, someone might find something of an inspiration from it.  Peace.

What are your thoughts on Traditional European Art and/or Modern Art?  Which do you prefer?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Beginning of a Journey. Diary entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

One day while browsing a list of ebooks on Venice, I came upon a book published in 1892, titled “A Daughter of Venice” by John Seymour Wood, now among the free downloadable books available online.  I wondered who would be so fortunate as to be named the “daughter” of such a magical city whose beauty I reminisce often; the place where I found and reveled in the peace one finds in solitude and the thrill one finds in navigating a new and unfamiliar place.  And so I downloaded the book and read the first sentence, which reads:

I resume my diary-neglected for so many months-for the reason, sufficiently satisfactory to myself, that here, in Venice, those who come after me, and who may see fit to peruse it, will find written less of myself  and more of what I note in this strange, sad old city.”  

These humble words further sparked my interest.  I browsed online for some information on the book or the author and came up empty handed.  This added to the sense of mystery around the book.  I soon came up with the idea of dedicating a blog to my thoughts and discoveries on the book as I try and unravel the meaning behind the title, the meaning behind this diary entry, and simply read through the diary to see what the narrator “notes” in Venice and why this sense of sadness.  I don’t believe this to be a place to summarize the book, but one that perhaps is a starting point for other thoughts on Venice, maybe even unrelated to Venice, but acting as a point of departure and inspiration for something else.  What that will be will uncover as I read through these diary entries and I hope you will join me on this journey.   Welcome.

Note: The illustration above by Francis Thayer is taken from the first diary entry in the book.