Friday, March 30, 2012

Anna Maria Schurman

I  have never been one to retain historical dates, facts and names very well, and I really don't know  a whole lot about history perhaps due to my right brained thinking, if unless of course, I have a particular interest that I can relate to directly in some way. That said, I do love learning about historical events and people.

Learning about women artists I can relate to throughout history, and what they have contributed has become I'd have to say, a passion for me, more now than ever, upon enrolling in, Women Art and History. It is both exciting, informative and empowering as a woman artist and feminist.

The middle ages and medieval times appeared in some ways less restrictive to women artists , unlike the centuries to follow, particularly in the 18th century. Perhaps because in the middle ages many women entered convents, giving them access to work in guilds and they had opportunities to pursue artistic endeavours without the constraints of family responsibilities that marriage and motherhood demanded.

The 18th century pursuits and promotion of the ideal, found within artwork as subject matter that expressed the theme of, "Beloved Mother " or Happy Mother"
was a kind of propaganda that ultimately oppressed men, women and children setting up hypocrisy and incongruity that did not match reality and was very much about class and male misogyny and dominance. If a woman was married and a mother, she could pursue whatever she wished and her own independence was presupposed, however this was far from reality, and became less and less revered as the ideal or moral value to emulate and aspire to for the higher good of society.

I find it fascinating to learn that in Flanders there was archival documentation of women's names dating as far back to the 15th century, women such as Elisabeth Scepens, Margaretha Van Eyck, Agnes van den Bossche , Hildegard of Bingen, and Christine de Pizan

The artist's guild was the common system in the middle ages were women could practice and become skilled at their art skills, providing an alternative to academy schooling, as women were not privileged or allowed academic enrollment in the academy or university.

University was not denied to Anna Maria Schurman , although she was strategically  hidden behind a screened curtain, so as not to be seen by her fellow male students. Anna Maria was borne German Dutch wealthy family in Cologne Germany, living from 1607- 1678 and was a many faceted and multi-talented woman , who was considered a prodigy as a child. She was by seventeenth century standards, a highly educated and very accomplished  artist, philosopher, musician, poet, lawyer, scholar and linguist, fluent in 7 languages. She became the first woman to attend university in the Netherlands in Utrecht, and  published a dissertation on women's rights to academic education. I think she transcended and challenged the restrictions that existed for so many women, expected to function within the boundaries of specifically defined cultural and societal roles of the historical period such as motherhood, wife or novitiate to a religious order.

"Whatever fills the human mind uncommon and honest delight is fitting for a human woman."
                         Anna Maria Schurman

Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party" includes a place setting of honour for Anna Maria Schurman.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Frida Kahlo


 A very compelling interview Judy Chicago gave at the SF Jewish Contemporary Museum, discussing her newly released book , Frida: Face to Face, coauthored by with art historian, Frances Borzello, was an exciting discovery I recently learned of this past week.

Frida Kahlo is one of my very favourite artists because she painted from her heart and from what she says, is her own reality. " Her 143 paintings, 55 of these being self-portraits,  symbolically depict her physical and psychological wounds. She insisted, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality." The paintings have an honest purity, without any agenda, or formatted style, attached to any particular movement, although many identified her work as surrealist, dadaist, involving gender identity/sexuality concerns and Mexican/Latino/ Amer-Indian  culture. Mainly, her work deals with universal themes that enable the viewer to connect to her paintings. Unfortunately most of the historical focus has been on her biography, not so much on the art she created, as Judy Chicago purports in her book, Frida: Face To Face, and it was for this reason she wanted to write.  She states Frida has been and is seen as exceptional, an anomaly and not within the context of a long and significant historical continuum of women artists, so often whom have gone unrecognized by art historians in the academic milieu.

I relate to Frida Kahlo's art because of her deep, emotional and passionate subject matter, involving illness, disease, and the psychological suffering incurred throughout life and isolation that  often coincides with it.

She once said, " I paint myself  because I am often alone". Isolation whether it be psychologically or physically causes one to either be subsumed by the illness or one gets stronger and not only survives in spite of it, but because of it, which I believe develops a strength of character, a great sense of humour, humility and a love for humanity and nature, all integral characteristics I see in Frida  Kahlo. She found solace, comfort and a kind of healing in her creativity, love and a passion for all of life.

The movie, Frida, portrayed this very well. Based on the book, A Biography of Frida Kahlo, written by, Art Historian, Hayden Herrera, provided  an accurate portrayal of the artist. Cinematographically it was lavish,  and a visual cornucopia, showing her garden residence, her distinctive and decorative Mexican style of dress which was important to her.

The transposing  and juxtaposing of her painting into the film scenes was a brilliant affect, I especially loved  and enjoyed, adding depth and a dimension that brought life into the film.

The Brothers Quay animation at the beginning of the movie, based the celebration of "The Day of The Dead" was so entertaining and remarkable.

Prior to watching this movie, I saw the well done documentary,  Frida Kahlo about her life and work that provided interviews  with her friends, students and with those who knew and loved her. It was very beneficial and insightful to have seen this prior to seeing the Hollywood version, as it gave me factual information to compare and to contrast. The documentary production was very informative and interesting through out, including as well, actual film footage of Frida  which was captivating. 

The Frida Kahlo site , started by Mrs. Isalda P. Kahlo , Frida's niece, is a wonderful source of information, carrying on her aunt's legacy and memory. legacy.

" I would like to be able to do whatever I want to behind the curtain of
 "madness ." In this way: I would arrange flowers all day, I would paint pain, love and tenderness. I would freely laugh at others, but above everything I would laugh at myself. I would build my world that would be mine and theirs as long as I live."

The complete works can be found at this link,

Monday, March 19, 2012

Camille Claudel

The 1988 French film, directed by Bruno Nuytten entitled, Camille Claudel, was about the 19th century sculptor, originally based on the book by Reine-Marie Paris, the grand daughter of Camille Claudel's brother, Paul Claudel , a poet and diplomat.

I was impressed with the film because it was generally factual and historically accurate with a sense of authenticity, that convinced me of the characters whom were very well acted by Isabelle Adjani  portraying Claudel and Gerard Depardieu who was Rodin. The cinematography was excellent as was the costuming.

I had never heard Camille Claudel's  name prior to seeing this film, and so I appreciated learning about what a talented and gifted artist she was, who unfortunately seemed to have been in the shadow of Rodin. Unfortunately due to the historical time period she lived, along with the lack of support from her brother, her mother, along with a society and culture in general, that did not encourage women to become artists.

Being rediscovered  by Rene Marie Paris in the 1980s, Camille Claudel may indeed have gone unrecognized  to this day. It is wonderful to find out about such an artist and it is in many ways bitter sweet  to realize the travesty of being unrecognized for so many centuries, such women as Camille Claudel who seem to have disappeared into the annals of history.

Unfortunately for Camille she came under the tutelage of Rodin at the very young age of 17, becoming not only his student, but model, assistant and lover. Regardless of Rodin's influence, Claudel was considered a talent within her own right and was called by novelist and art critic Octave Mirbeau, as " woman genius".

Claudel's involvement with Rodin was not an egalitarian relationship in that, Rodin was her teacher and employer, 24 years her senior and he was romantically involved with a teenaged and impressionable young woman. This was a disproportionate balance of power and control. It is my opinion the situation created a codependent relationship, proving to ultimately lead to her downfall as an artist and effected her emotional health. In 1888 Rodin and Claudel began working and living together in the rented studio residence of the Clos-Payen-Folie-Neubourg. Camille was 24 and Rodin was 48 years of age.

A related issue I think is often perhaps over looked, but an all to often a concern for women, particularly those of us who choose marriage and children, that being, our careers as artists can take a back seat, not necessarily due to co-dependent relationships but simply our familial relationships and the responsibilities entailed.

One can only assume there must have been a strong element of control imposed upon Camille throughout much of her life, considering she was involuntarily committed to an asylum at the age of 45, by her own mother who refused to approve of her daughters release, in spite of being considered to be in good health. Perhaps because of the fact that Camille's mother's family came from a long line of priests, she was a strict and rigid adherent to Catholicism; this may have contributed to her mother's disapproving and controlling nature.

Camille Claudel was a victim of the historical time period and of the social mores of the 19th century. In spite of her father's support, encouraging his daughter's artistic pursuits, it apparently was not enough to avert her institutionalization due to her supposed mental instability.

The film portrayed Camille's mother as jealous, resentful and hostile toward her daughter's pursuing sculpture as a career choice, although her father was very supportive and encouraging. Perhaps Camille's mother was also very controlling of her husband as well.

Regardless of circumstances Camille's courage, determination and conviction toward her monumental works resonated much feeling and passion that moved and inspired the soul, including that of Rodin's. Her style contrasted emotionally  from Rodin, although thematically perhaps  their sculpture was similar. Rodin's work was more intellectual, as opposed to emoting from his personal life. Claudel's sculpture was lyrically narrative and full of life.
It is very unfortunate much of her work was destroyed by her own hands prior to her hospitalization.

Camille not only competed with the best sculptors of her day, she surpassed many including Rodin I believe, and if she had been alive today would surely have received the recognition she so deserved.

Referenced links

Friday, March 16, 2012

Gustave Klimt

The film about Gustave Klimt, the primary Austrian Art Nouveau painter was written and directed by Raúl Ruiz. "Klimt " was in my opinion one of the most boring, hard to follow, frustrating and uninteresting films I have seen this term in my Art History class.

Perhaps I just didn't get the film for reasons unknown to me. I tired of attempting to figure what the director's objective was in writing this "story"  about Gustave Klimt, it remains rather enigmatic to me. I suspect because it was considered an Art House film being experimental and not intended for a mainstream audience but was seen as an art work in and of itself. 
I did find John Malkovich's performance compelling and convincing and I think this held my interest in spite of my ongoing hope that the film plot would improve, which it did not.

I knew little about Gustave Klimt, and what I did know, I'd forgotten from my earlier studies of art history at NSCAD. I always found his art visually lush and appealing and very different from what was being produced within the academic tradition at this time.

 Beginning his art education in 1879, at the very early of 14 years, over a period of 7 years, at the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, gave him the foundation for his hyper-realistic renderings. He was considered a great talent by his professors and left to work on his own on decorative projects.

Klimt was inspired by Japanese art and the contemporary English painter, Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98) who was greatly involved with the work of William Morris whom had studied architecture and later as a painter under the influence of poet and painter Gabriel Dante Rossetti.

Klimt was responsible for the much of the development and transforming and bridging the traditional toward Modernism and the figurative toward the non-figurative and in particular depicting sexual imagery.

Although Gustave Klimt was in my opinion a great artist, it appears he was most successful as a designer in the applied arts and had been primarily a decorative painter in the late 1800's decorating Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1891, however he dominated the art scene in Vienna and his influence on the Vienna Succession ( 1898) as one of it's founders becoming it's first president. The objectives of this society of artists had as it's primary purpose to allow for the opportunity to young artists to exhibit their work, drawing  the best of foreign artists to Vienna and the publication of their own magazine entitled Ver Sacrum.

His early success was attributed to lucrative commissions from the wealthy industrialist Nikolus Dumba and in 1892 the commissioned work from The Ministry of Culture and Education to decorate the hall of the University. His allegorical panels entitled, Medicine and Jurisprudence, painted for the University Faculty, proved very unpopular, as they were deemed perverse and pornographic.

He quickly came to the realization he would not be able to work within the confines of this kind of institutional restriction that limited his artistic freedom. He had a enormous effect on the Expressionist painter Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka also an Expressionistic painter.
Klimt's paintings are what he is often known for however his drawings were beautiful and exquisitely rendered with precision of contour and gestural line.

I have never had the opportunity to see any of Gustave Klimt's work, but I certainly hope to one day in the future, as he is a remarkable and wonderful artist.

Referenced link
Penguin Reference Books - A Dictionary of Art & Artists,  3rd Edition, Peter and Linda Murray