Nov 14, 2019 in Art
Art history cases analysis

The history of art is an important element of art education if an art student is supposed to comprehend art as a whole. It is for this reason that several writers have touched on the roots of modern art. The current paper analyzes four art history cases when trying to understand art. In the first story, the paper examines how critics unfairly viewed the artworks of Georgia O’Keeffe and provide justifications for its support of O’Keeffe. In the second story, the paper summarizes how Diego Rivera used his radio city mural to celebrate and, at the same time, to criticize American society. In the third story, the paper identifies three of Griselda Pollock’s early influences on art and the way certain influences helped shape her understanding of modern art. Finally, the paper strongly defends Oscar Howe and the fact that the judges unjustly discarded his mural that he had entered for the Philbrook Annual Indian Competition.

Interpretation of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Artwork by Critics

Critics used to view O’Keeffe’s art as too illicit and potentially censurable. One of the above-mentioned critics is Michael Brenson. According to Brenson, O’Keeffe depended on closeness and touch in creating her work. Brenson believed that in as much as O’Keeffe tried to be an artist, more so, a painter all her art was the same. In all her pictures, she emphasized the same theme, which is sexuality. The same style has betrayed an artist and, therefore, O’Keeffe became limited in her artistic growth. She was unable to grow to other levels, expected of real and genuine artists. The only form of art that the critic saw in Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings was the way in which she expertly created and somehow encompassed theatrical decoration to her murals. He believed that her fixation and obsession with exploiting the female body, especially hers, was a limitation in O’Keeffe’s growth as a painter and an artist, in general.

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Another main critic of Georgia O’Keeffe’s murals who also believed in the concept of her works being commentaries on her womanhood and were meant to showcase her primal nature was McBride. In O’Keeffe’s painting ‘The Dark Iris’, of an innocent flower, McBride criticized her work. He believed that O’Keeffe had destroyed the innocence of a flower by sexualizing it and presenting it into a gulf of blackness that any person who was shy and conservative would not dare to look at the flower. O’Keeffe took offense of the McBride’s criticism. She insisted that her work was purely meant to exercise feminism and not sexualism. However, McBride in a later review of O’Keeffe’s artworks, including the flower painting, maintained his stance that O’Keeffe destroyed the innocence of the flower. Another art critic Klaus Theweleit also viewed O’Keeffe’s work from the same perspective. He believed that O’Keeffe’s artworks were a form of extenuating the oppression of women. According to him, in her murals, the females had no names and were just being used as sexual creatures that were inferior to men and we're there to fulfill the sexual needs and desires of men. He even joked that doctors would recommend that sick and disabled men visit art galleries featuring O’Keeffe’s artwork in order to heal.

These critics were not justified in their view and analysis of Georgia O’Keeffe’s artworks. The three critics are among many art critics, and most of them men, who chose to see Georgia O’Keeffe as an object of desire, rather than a unique personality, capable of creating great and beautiful art based on the expression of a woman. One way of the proper interpretation of O’Keeffe’s works is by taking the perspective that she portrays, that of the naked woman always being an allegorical representation of the truth in society. When using this angle, critics can see that O’Keeffe uses her artworks to expose the truths about societal issues. Art critics’ opinions were not justified because they chose to be biased when judging O’Keeffe’s work. Sometime earlier in her life, naked photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, had been exposed to the public domain. Therefore, in every painting that O’Keeffe later launched, all the critics saw were the memories of the woman from the photographs instead of being focused on the fascination of O’Keeffe’s artworks. It is also clear that Georgia O’Keeffe was a literate and self-possessed woman. She knew that during her time, women had very few opportunities to speak up their views. She, therefore, saw art as a means of expressing these views.

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Diego Rivera’s Mural for the Rockefeller Center in New York City

The mural on the radio city had a central section that showed a large hand holding a sphere, emerging from an ambiguous machine. These features explore the major theme of art, the interrelationship between the biological and physical world. The mural also depicts a clear bolt of lightning, being captured by electrical equipment. These images have a common source in the mass culture history of real scientific experiments. The features in the mural were based on the story of Nikolai Tesla’s work on the global transmission of energy. Just like in Tesla’s work, the painting signified a brand new American society, where free unlimited energy would be drawn from the air. The power would transform the world. The mural also depicted the decentralization of the economy and, consequently, the breakup of the existing power structures.

Rivera’s radio city painting also represented technology as an evolutionary force in human history. The worker holding the controls at the center of the composition is noticeably bigger than other figures in the mural. It represents the rise of the American working class, which because of the technology revolution, is now successful. However, it should be noted that Diego Rivera has always considered himself as a Leninist. His mural was, therefore, supposed to showcase his socialist Lenin ideologies. In 1920, at the Eighth Congress of Soviets, Lenin had affirmed that communism meant electrification of the entire country. In Rivera’s mural, the picture of an electrified cosmos was his pronouncement of endorsement of the Leninist facts in technological and social change. Rivera, just like Lenin, believed in a socialist utopia. He was not supporting the idea of centralized planning and industrialization in the American capitalistic society. He believed that the American industrial concerns were a buildup of social capital and socialist labor on such a large magnitude that they represented the transitional stages towards an inevitable socialist society. In Rivera’s mural, the sphere moves in different directions instead of only one direction. The field is interpreted as the roots of a plant. The pulse of the sphere draws towards the center and discharges outwards. It is symbolic and is meant to explain how the roots and progress of the evolution of dominance are shaping up. Even with the domination, Rivera still envisioned a utopia in American society, where humanity was in control of its own destiny.

Rivera’s radio city mural also depicted his criticism of American society. He believed in a socialistic utopia. However, he was also aware of the fact that socialism could not solve the problem of power in America. Rivera felt that people in American society were hungry for power, an example being the Rockefellers. His depiction of a microphone as the instrument of centralized control and only one-way communication in his mural implied that power-hungry people aimed to turn America into a capitalist state with only a few individuals holding power. Rockefeller Foundation removed Rivera’s mural and left the sculpture on ‘God the Geometer’ circumscribing boundaries of the universe with an inscription on the importance of stability. Stability is considered the highest corporate and capitalistic value and this clearly showed their stance. The Rockefellers were capitalists and Rivera opposed this type of economy. Rivera was a socialist who envisioned a future where technological progress combines with social change. His views that he let be known on the mural were unacceptable to the Rockefellers who wanted to exploit technology to create capitalism.

Pollock’s Artwork Influences in Understanding Modern Art

One of the earliest influences that Griselda Pollock had were two impressionist women artists - Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot. These women were participants with the art exhibits of Paris in the early 19th century. One of the reasons why these women influenced Pollock in her art was in the way women beat odds in their creative world. It should be remembered that the topographies of artistic practice are structured in gender power relations. The ladies helped to refute the notion of a lack of female artists during the period. They both practiced feminist analysis in their artworks that undermined the bias of patriarchal power. Pollock was influenced by the way an impressionist, Mary Cassatt used forms of labor, such as childcare in her artworks. It helped to showcase the visible aspect of working-class women’s work within the typical bourgeois society. She incorporated themes, commonly considered as minute field works of art in her work because they emphasized the domestic social life. She made these issues important aspects of her paintings.

The two artists also impressed Pollock with the way they addressed dimensions in their art. Spatial spacing was considered one of the defining features of early modernist paintings. It includes the use of acute angles of vision, varying viewpoints, and cryptic framing tools. Berthe Morisot was an expert in creating dimensional space in her artworks. She depicted a modern society that challenged the supremacy of men, using a remarkable attribute of contrast on a single canvas of two spatial systems. She used her murals to expose the differences between males and females in the Parisian society and the way the two received different kinds of treatment. Both ladies also symbolized these views of female empowerment. Just as it is expected of contemporary females and painters, these two ladies were refuting the social system, based on fixed castes and orders of rank and permanent figures of men as the dominant gender in the Parisian society.

Mr. Baudelaire was another person who Pollock looked up to in the art world. In his famous work about the life of a painter, Baudelaire uses the demeanor of Guy, an art artist in Paris to explain the showcasing of society’s form of contemporary murals. Using Baudelaire’s essay, Pollock maps a description of Paris as the city of men. However, women in Paris attempt to defy this dominance by men and are on a sexualized journey, just like that portrayed by the impressionist artists Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot. Baudelaire’s essay helps Pollock to learn of the male-dominated Parisian. Baudelaire depicts the flaneur as an artist who is inspired by the Parisian nature and streets in his creation of modern art. However, Pollock notices that there were no female flaneurs in the Baudelaire’s Parisian society. She quotes Janet Wolfe, arguing that if a woman artist wanted to perform art, she had to come out in the streets dressed as a man. It is against Baudelaire’s depiction of a male-dominated Parisian creative society that Pollock argues rises the modern female artist who is willing to resist the typically enforced nature of Parisian women. Pollock gains her inspiration and influence from these women in her creation of modern art. Pollock concludes that the works of Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, and Charles Baudelaire are essential in modern art, as they developed the feminist analyzes of the founding moments of modernity and expose how women artists developed alternative models for negotiating modernity through their art.

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The Rejection of Oscar Howe’s Painting

Oscar Howe’s paintings were not the usual traditional pictures that were expected of paintings of the Native Americans. His paintings were mostly based on his Sioux tribes’ traditional dances and functions. His art was of a modernist style of painting that showcased figures of Sioux dancers and riders from traditional stories in a picture plane fractured into numerous facets. Upon entering the Philbrook Indian Annual competition, the jurors rejected his painting. They cited the reason to be that Howe’s picture did not depict the sedated practicability expected of Native arts during the period. They claimed that for a painting to be eligible for the competition, it had to be the traditional non-abstract art. The jurors were clearly not justified in their rejection of art. Oscar Howe complained to the museum’s curator about this discrimination. He insisted that the conventional mode of paintings by the jurors at the competition lacked individualism and were merely cute and stylized pictures. It was unfair that the jurors would not allow the diversity of art and painters only had to agree to paint what was they were told by the white patrons who had no knowledge of the Indian culture.

The jurors had also chosen to focus on their patrons, the Rockefellers' definition of Indian paintings instead of focusing on the real Indian storyline and inspirations behind the paintings. The sponsors determined the value of paintings and works of art based on their corporate criteria instead of on the artist’s criteria. The jurors, in essence, only expected the artists to enter paintings that were conservative and had romanticized images painted in simple and decorative styles that were popular during the early 20th century. These, according to the jurors and patrons perception, were considered the epitome of modern Indian art. These expectations went against the faithful illusionistic expression of forms in art. Contrary to the jurors’ beliefs, not all forms of Indian art are supposed to focus on the flatness of the surface of the art objects. Art was meant to depict the artist’s expressionism and abstraction. By going against these fundamental principles of art, the jurors were infringing on the principle of art as a form of expressing oneself and against the individual freedom of self-expression.

The jurors were also not justified in the rejection of Oscar Howe’s painting because that would imply that for his painting to qualify for the competition, Howe had to go against his Sioux art ancestry traditions that were always full of expressionism and vigor. The jurors’ expectations can be classified more as western-influenced, compared to being Indian influenced. It would then be an irony, considering that this competition was supposed to lead to a form of an art exhibition, showcasing Indian artworks. Oscar Howe’s painting was a real version of authentic Indian artwork, as it showed the Indian traditions throughout history and mythical stories. The jurors were more interested in their patrons’ view of commoditization of Indian artworks. The paintings had to be a representation of the white man’s opinions and depiction of Indian art. They had to express indigenous, cultural and aesthetic features, but, more importantly, the paintings were to be comprehensible to the non-Native and precisely the white man. Oscar Howe’s vocal stand later made the Philbrook Museum of Art change its views and adopt the inclusion of expressionism and abstractness in paintings for the annual competitions.

 

The paper has clearly shown how important history is to the development of modern art. In the early 20th century, artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe were attacked for embracing feminism through their art. The same situation is depicted in the 19th-century Parisian society, where women are expected to take care of kids instead of practicing art. However, women like Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot venture into art and become successful. Oscar Howe, on his part, helped in making diversity, expressionism, and abstractness of art to be appreciated. Throughout history, we all learn how Diego Rivera used his mural to advocate for socialism in America. Unfortunately, the commissioners of the painting, the Rockefellers were capitalists and, therefore, the mural was removed from their building.

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