Thursday, December 2, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 7.

For this final reading comprehension, my group was instructed to visit the Weatherspoon Art Museum and select a painting from the "abstraction : form + progress" section of the GREENSBORO COLLECTS show. Also, we were to include in our discussion a bit about another piece of artwork from the same theme. The first painting I chose was Dismembered Disk (1949) by American artist George L. K. Morris. The medium is oil on canvas. Here is the diagram I came up with for this piece:

The painting consists of many intersecting lines creating dynamic shapes, highlighted by a rich color palette of yellow, red, green, and blue, as well as black and white. It has a fractured and chaotic quality about it which creates a sense of movement. It almost looks like it is supposed to resemble something - perhaps a person. In the upper portion of the painting, there is a small black circle that seems to me like it should be an eye.

The second painting I chose was Harlequin (1947) by American artist Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974). The medium is oil on canvas mounted on a board. This painting is opposite from Dismembered Disk in that it appears rather static and grid-like. I chose to make a diagram for this piece as well, to demonstrate how it is different from the first piece of art.

Harlequin has a sense of orderliness in that everything seems to keep its place, without overlap. Within the grid-like structure are various abstract shapes. There appear to be a few abstracted human figures, as well as an eye, diamond shapes, triangles, circles, etc. The predominant color is a deep turquoise, supplemented by black, gold, and a hint of red.

Although these art pieces are quite different from one another, there are ways in which they are similar. Both are abstract, colorful, and were painted in the same medium around the same time by American artists. One would very likely refer to both of these paintings as works of "modern" art.

Indeed, these art pieces can be compared to the architectural modernism of the 20th century. Besides Harlequin's abstract allusion to a snippet of the medieval past, the two paintings are free of historical references. Harwood explains, "For the most part, Modernism strives to design for the present and eliminate most traditions, forms, and elements of the past" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 613).

The abstraction of shapes seen in these paintings is another aspect that connects them to the modern movement. Speaking of the design aesthetic of the Bauhaus school, Harwood says, "Parts are arranged in a series of geometric shapes and forms usually with linear elements" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 592). The International Style of modernism, spawned by the Bauhaus school, excelled in this clear abstraction of elements. Practitioners rejected ornamentation, insisting that function be the sole determinant of form. It is in this way that modern art differs sharply from the modernism of Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and others. The goal of paintings like Dismembered Disk and Harlequin is to express an idea or a feeling (although that idea or feeling is often up to interpretation). A complaint against International Modernism is that it ignores a human need for beauty and expression beyond that produced by function alone. Speaking of architectural critic Lewis Mumford, Roth says, "In his 1949 essay 'Monumentality, Symbolism, and Style,' he argued that is [sic] was not enough for a contemporary building simply 'to be something and do something; it must also say something'" (Roth, 539).

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