May 10, 2011

Bougeureau x 2 Week - "Meditation" and "The Bather"

On this Day in the History of Art: Nazi's and students express their intellectual impotence by burning the books they don't like (1933)

This week I'm going to post two images per day of Bouguereau’s work--one piece that I don’t like and one that I do.

Nationality: French
Born-Died: 1825-1905

Creation Date: 1885
Size: 34.06 x 52 in. (86.5 x 132 cm)
Media: Oil on canvas
Location: Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, USA

What I find extremely annoying about this painting is the title. There is no good reason for it--there is no necessary connection between the idea of meditation and this image. A terrible reason to give this image this title, which I suspect was the actual reason, is that Bouguereau believed his audience would be impressed by it—that it would be a quick and easy way to lend a sense of loftiness or a higher purpose to what was for all intents and purposes an image of a pretty girl. This painting could have been just as appropriately entitled Bored or Pretty Model Dressed Up as a Peasant.

When looking at Bouguereau’s work I often come across this particular annoyance. If a painting does not embody an idea such as “virtue” or “meditation” than using the word as a title isn’t going to do the job either. Everyone likes to have a laugh at absurd titles by many Modernists who attach lofty titles to works that hardly live up to them* …

(A scene from Dan Clowes' hilarious comic Art School Confidential)

…but I equally have to laugh at absurd titles from Non-Modernist that fall into the same trap.

Okay, next up...

The Bather
Creation Date: 1870
Size: 37.4" x 6' 3") in. (95 x 190.5)
Media: Oil on canvas
Location: Gala-Salvador DalĂ­ Foundation, Spain

Not only is this a nice painting, but the title is more appropriate to the subject. It does seem to be a depiction of a bather and this gives a justification for her nudity and location. This painting is simple, to the point, and good. The pose is considered, expressive and the overall composition of the image serves its purpose nicely. I would not like this painting more if it were called Venus or Temperance.

Unfortunately, too many artists don't seem to think a metaphysical view of man and his relationship to reality is enough for a great work of art, but it is. In fact, it is the loftiest subject possible in art. Everything else that is popularly referred to as a lofty issue--the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece, animal rights issues, opinions on a war, homosexual interpretations of art history vs heterosexual interpretations, the plight of the proletariat, advocating wind turbines, the Tories vs. Labor, oil addiction, hatred of George W. Bush, the relationships between form and color, issues of gender identity, naked vs. nude, the audience as subject, the physicality of the paint, the process of creating the work or whether the painting is a gallery object or an illusion**--all of these issues are extremely small in comparison.

* I would just like to mention that I have seen far too many non-representational paintings entitled Equinox for some reason. Also, I've always thought that many of Pollock’s titles such as Autumn Mist, Enchanted Forest, and Ocean Greyness are exactly the kind of new-age names I would expect to see on cheap incense.

** These are ideas I do not necessarily hold, but are not at all rare in the arts industry today.

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