MA MTEL Visual Art Essay 1

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Tomb of Nakht
Tomb of Nakht
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This work is from ancient Egypt, a culture that was concentrated along the Nile River in the northeast corner of Africa. It is a wall painting from the tomb wall of a nobleman. The use of scale is characteristic of ancient Egyptian figure representation: the nobleman commands the viewer’s attention due to his enormous size, which symbolizes his higher social status relative to the other figures. This wall painting also features some kind of commentary or quotation in the form of hieroglyphs, an early Egyptian writing system. Another striking pictorial characteristic of ancient Egyptian art seen in this work are the figures presented in two-dimensional \”twisted\” poses. For example, the nobleman’s arms, legs, and feet are in profile, but his torso faces forward. Similarly, his head is turned to the right, but the eye is painted in full view, as if the head were facing forward. While much royal tomb decoration served funereal purposes, it was also common to include paintings that depicted activities from daily life. In this scene, the nobleman hunts in the Nile marshes with his family. Birds fly above and fish swim below the reed boat that carries the nobleman and his family. Crops are being harvested. The scene is one of abundance, a celebration of life as experienced by a noble and his family.
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Panel 18 from the Migration Series.
Panel 18 from the Migration Series.
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In this painting, Lawrence combines the image of masses of people coming together with a strong sense of movement to depict the momentum mentioned in the title. The painting uses implied line to represent the migrants’ physical move in an upward direction. The group of figures that extend from the bottom of the composition diagonally up toward the top right are the most prominent visually. These figures are depicted from behind (moving away from the viewer) and there is a repetition of dynamic poses: most figures lean obviously forward with right legs striding purposefully ahead. Their opaque shapes cut against the horizontal brushstrokes that depict the terrain. The strong, stark roots and branches of the tree in the lower left point in the same direction in which they are traveling, reinforcing the sense of upward movement. The group of travelers in the upper left corner is obviously connected to the group in the foreground. They have the same striding postures and are aligned with the pointing tree and the horizontal landscape in such a way that it is obvious to the viewer that the two groups will converge and continue moving upward together. Lawrence’s use of the same colors—orange, yellow, and green—and angled shapes in both groups emphasizes the idea that the migrants are unified. The visual commonalities between the two groups suggest that the act of migration, the experience itself, is shared by many who have similar goals and are heading in a similar direction, literally and figuratively. As a group, they are moving away from the past and \”up\” to (perhaps) a better future. The momentum depicted here suggests hope on the part of the migrants.
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African Mask
African Mask
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African art is not easy to characterize because the country is so large and culturally diverse. While the continent’s art reflects that diversity, there are several broad characteristics that can be attributed to African art. Some of these characteristics are evident in this mask. The symmetrical balance of this mask strongly suggests that it is of African origin. Elements on one half of the mask are mirrored in the other half in a neat compositional division. This division not only balances visual weight but creates a powerful sense of rhythm and harmony. Abstraction also identifies this mask as African. For example, the nose is much longer and narrower than an actual human nose. The heavy-lidded eyes, which are characteristic of masks from some Ivory Coast cultures, are not realistically portrayed either. Though there are notable examples of naturalistic representation in African art, such as in the portrait sculptures of kings in the Yoruba culture of Nigeria, African artists often represent an abstract idea or the essence of their subject matter. Finally, the two materials–wood and brass–are commonly used in the creation of West African masks.
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Stone City, Iowa
Stone City, Iowa
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Grant Wood’s most famous painting is probably the often-parodied work American Gothic, a faintly ironic portrait of a farming couple standing in front of a simple American farmhouse. Wood, however, was also a painter of landscapes, particularly of his native Iowa. Stone City, Iowa is a typical example. Landscape painting as a genre was developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although landscapes had appeared in paintings of earlier eras, they were primarily used as backgrounds to the main subjects of the works–for example in many religious paintings of the Renaissance. As classicism was rejected and nature and nationalism were embraced, landscape painting, devoid of narrative content and often lacking human figures except as indicators of scale, grew in importance. Painters from van Ruisdael through the Impressionists depicted landscapes. In the United States, landscape painting flourished especially in the early nineteenth century, with painters such as Thomas Cole and other members of the Hudson River School. These painters celebrated and idealized the natural beauty of America, an important factor in the growing identity of the new country. By the 1930s, however, the United States was a much more urbanized nation, one which had experienced a world war and was now caught up in a terrible economic depression. In a somewhat nostalgic response to these conditions and also in rejection of the international wave of abstract art, Wood and a number of other painters such as Thomas Hart Benton became concerned with regional subjects, including for Wood regional landscapes. Wood’s paintings partake of certain elements of folk painting, in terms of his use of stylization and of simple, even decorative, forms. In Stone City, Iowa, his rounded, modeled hills roll into the distance, creating a three-dimensional effect through their receding contours. Small buildings articulate both linear and aerial perspective; the viewer is looking down and also across the landscape. The rows of crops, particularly in the foreground, converge as the hill on which they are planted rolls down into a recess, partially obscuring a farm building. This layering implies depths that extend beyond the visible surface of the painting. In addition, the dimensionality of the painting is created through progressively diminishing scale and detail. For example, plants in the foreground, both crops and trees, have branches and textures, while plants in the upper, distant reaches of the painting are shown primarily by contours. Much of landscape painting is either romanticized or imbued with awe of nature. Wood’s depiction of Stone City is neither. This landscape is succumbing to human will. Yet the nearly toy- like forms of the houses and trees could be seen as implying a longing for a simplicity that is in danger of vanishing in the United States of Wood’s time. The ordered composition of the painting contributes to the peacefulness of this rural landscape; yet its unreality indicates that this is a landscape that does not truly exist. Grant’s vision is at once traditional and contemporary. While the painting celebrates the rural way of life, it also recognizes–in the railroad running through town–the industrial bonds that have linked rural America with the cities that increasingly dominate the national culture.

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