UA1-WA:P2-p3 Reflections

The course notes ask me to reflect on whether, given modern education, mythological themes in painting have become irrelevant. That could be answered from the perspective of the artist or the viewer.

For the artist, it would depend on why they paint. Is it to communicate, to express her/his inner self, to create an emotional bond, to make a political comment, to create beauty, because they must, to explore a theoretical concept, to make money…? If they know of a myth, through classical education or general reading or because they saw it in an earlier work or what-ever, and their purpose is personal or internal or not intended for ease of consumption, then surely they can select any starting point that works for them. When researching for Arachne (8-July-2013) I came across Yasumasa Morimura’s A requiem: spinning a thread between the light and the earth/1946, India (2010) (see the photograph at www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/290.2010/). I commented then “Morimura’s photograph references earlier artworks, including Velázquez’s The Fable of Arachne. The text information on the gallery website suggests that Morimura, like Arachne, is challenging the gods.” For this artist both the myth and its place in art history were relevant in his contemporary context.

From my side as a viewer it seems one aspect of a more general question. If I don’t share the same background, culture, time period etc of the artist, does their work become irrelevant or impossible for me to appreciate? Is it pointless to watch Shakespeare if I don’t understand precisely what is meant about a character who was “groping for trout in a peculiar river”?

Nicolas Régnier Hero and Leander (c. 1625-1626) Image provided by NGV http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/col/work/4289

Nicolas Régnier
Hero and Leander
(c. 1625-1626)
Image provided by NGV
http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/col/work/4289

Thinking of myths in particular, I didn’t know the story of Hero and Leander before I started researching Régnier’s work at NGV (see post 23-Jul-2013).

Looking at the image again, I would say that the drama shown is timeless. A woman mourns her dead lover. She looks to the sky and asks “Why?”. Myths are stories told that help people to understand their world and themselves, based in the nature of humanity. You don’t need to know the particular details to recognise the emotion shown. Even myths like Arachne where a capricious god punishes anyone who dares challenge them could have modern parallels in the arrogant use and abuse of power.

That isn’t to say that putting some time and effort into entering the world of the artwork is irrelevant. I feel I see and understand more having learnt about the myth, just as my appreciation has been enhanced by learning about the background of the battle at Rorke’s Drift (see 24-Oct-2013).

Ghost net crocodile

Ghost net crocodile
GhostNets Australia (2011)

Art has helped me learn more about my own time and country, for example this work seen at last year’s Sculpture by the Sea (see post 2-Nov-2012). Seeing the work led me to read up on the problem of ghost nets. NT_saltwatercrocMy more recent experience in the Northern Territory (29-Aug-2013) has added another layer of appreciation of the work.

One relevant side question for me is the place of Art History. In my limited experience so far Art History can turn an artwork into a puzzle to be solved, with a risk of by-passing emotion and honest reaction. I think it adds so much more, and I particularly enjoy making links between different works (my brief visit to the Art Gallery of South Australia was particularly thrilling in that way – see 5-May-2013). Still, I am conscious of the need for a balance.

This provides a nice segue into a brief reflection on the course so far. With this post I complete the work for Project 3 of Part 2. I am enjoying the course enormously and feel that both my knowledge and my appreciation of art are expanding at a phenomenal rate. The biggest issue remains time management. I have tried to be more strict about getting things done, drawing a line under a topic because the deadline (personally set) is up. This continues to be difficult, but after all I’m not going to stop looking at and learning about art when the course is finished, so I think I can afford a few loose ends!

UA1-WA:P2-p3 Reflections
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project three: Depicting history – neo-classicism, Romanicism and realism
Reflection: Mythological themes and progress to date

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Germination II
In Basketry NSW Transformation exhibition Sunday 2 July. More info fibresofbeing.wordpress.com

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