Thursday, September 4, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 3)

Abstract Expressionism, once again, isn't always immediately about self-expression.  Oftentimes accomplishing new techniques for art theory, this kind of art (mainly a 20th century phenomenon) brought emotion specifically into the construction of the painting—the physical construction.  The act of painting itself could communicate emotion and ideology.  In that sense, form is still taken into account, but much of these paintings' aesthetics are completely ignored or given up to abstraction or random layout.  The expression is not in anything concretely visible anymore, like Van Gogh's thick globs of paint or vivid colors.
Willem de Kooning's Woman I demonstrates this stylistic approach to painting (also his Woman III personifies the concept well, but we only need to look at one).  In terms of abstraction, the style of painting has completely contradicted, and therefore counter-acted, the subject matter.  Typically shown in art as regal models or majestic goddesses, the female sex gets presented here in a completely different light.  This is a violent painting.  It features probably the most violent brushstrokes we've looked at so far.  The artist has slashed paint on the canvas with quickness and force, showing very little care to detail and realism.  We can only barely make out the image of a woman in all of this furious anarchy, but it is a grotesque depiction.  Large, fearsome eyes glare out above inflated nostrils and bared teeth.  There are splashes and smears of sickly-pigmented colors all over the canvas.  Clearly, this is an image of women (the unqualified "Woman" of the title bears reference to the sex in general) that has been forged out of, if not emotional expressionism, then a particular abstract, ideological approach to the subject matter.  In other words, if he had painted the woman realistically, we would lose all of the contextual significance received here in the way he has painted her—it would just be a woman.  Similarly, a realistically drawn angry woman would simply be an angry woman, but it is Willem de Kooning's technique that infuses emotion into the unqualified abstract: not of a woman but of Woman, the ideal (and likewise for its non-specific emotionalism).  The artist has an itinerary to convey the abstract of an idea when painting Woman I which won't come out through realistic depiction of subject matter; it will come out stylistically, through how he paints it.  The conceptual elements here bear several implications, alluding to the traditional artistic views of women as in opposition to the rising movement of feminism at this time.  The bosom of the figure here, in Woman I, as well as her short, stout body, reminds us of one of the earliest depictions of women in art history, the Venus of Willendorf.  Her nudity bears reference to Classical statuary, and her gaze at the viewer is reminiscent of Manet's Olympia.  All of these historic traditions of depicting females in art exist here in this painting, but through de Kooning's completely unorthodox style he reverts every one of those traditions, presenting women in an utterly new way that earned him much criticism from the art world and the public alike.

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