Friday, December 05, 2008

What Can a Painting Do? A Response

Thanks to Clair Dunn I got to listen in on what sounds like a fascinating conversation she had with Dana Wigdor and Susan Abbott while they were all up at the webinar in Montpelier. Apparently they discussed the question: what can a painting do. I highly recommend reading Clair's post before continuing with this one: Vermont Directions

Back? Okay. Here is my contribution to the conversation.

I have become addicted to a site that displays a picture from the Hubble telescope every day from now until Christmas as a kind of virtual Advent calendar. Disclaimer: I am deeply troubled by the weird linkage between Christian practice and hard science. However, the images are astounding and the "image a day" concept just works, however it is packaged.

Looking at the images this morning I became completely mesmerized. When I returned to earth (so to speak) I realized that my visual and imaginative journey into space had stretched and shifted my consciousness: my sense of the proportions of existence was different - permanently and profoundly altered. And I realized immediately that this how a great painting acts on the mind and what it can do - it takes you to a different place and brings you back a different person with a new perspective.


jeff f said...

Good question.
Historically painting was the media of its day. In the Renaissance it was used to communicate the bible and the power of the church. Artist such as Michelangelo also designed the buildings and bridges. So the social relationship was closer than it is today.

Art does have power, I just watched an interesting documentary on the looting of Art by the Nazis during WW2. Hitler had special units with lists of what steel. The Louvre emptied almost the entire museum within a few weeks. They hid the art all over the country.

The Germans knew where a lot of it was but decided not to go after as they thought it would create to much unrest in the civilian population.

Paintings speak to culture and culture one way to define who we are.

Of course now painting is up against pop culture and an increasing lack of intellectual curiosity among a large part of the population.

Here is an interesting note, there is this Italian painter, Luca Battini who is doing the first fresco in Pisa since the Renaissance. He is auditioning the locals and involving the mayor and the clergy as it was done in the Renaissance. I find this amazing that this artist has been able to do this and that the city has embraced this idea of a project of this size.

Some links on the painter and his project.

Elizabeth Torak said...

Thanks, that's very interesting - I'm guessing Battini is from the Anigone school?

jeff f said...

I think he is by way of Michael John Angel. Battini studied with him.

Angle used to have a school with the guy who started the Florence Academy.

The documentary on WW2 and art was very interesting and I forgot to mention how the Hermitage museum staff lived in the basement for two years while the city was under siege.

They spent every day cleaning up and scraping ice off the floors.
Even though they were starving. It an amazing story.

Most of the art was removed to safer storage.

It is interesting how art played a role in ideology during this time.
How art came to represent national identities and so on.

One of the Americans (who's name escapes me) who headed up a unit tasked to find and return the looted art the Nazis had later became the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Art, painting and sculpture for the most part had more of an importance.

Part of the reason for Luca Battini getting this commission was that the original fresco was destroyed in WW2 after a allied bombing raid that went wrong.

The Americans sent in a special unit to gather up all the salvageable parts and it is still being restored to this day.

If you look at the aftermath of the Iraq war our government did not protect any of the art in the Iraqi museums. Interesting to juxtapose the attitude of the two times.

The government in WW2 had high level cabinet meetings on meaning of culture and saving as much of it as possible as it represented so much to our civilization.

Now we don't even post a platoon to guard the art from the cradle of our civilization.

Clair said...

Thanks for the Hubble link Elizabeth. I can never get enough of those images. Before I got involved in high tech jobs in the '90s that then took all my time, I used to drive my truck out into the field in back of my house, armed with a sketch pad and my binoculars and lose myself in the stars. I think, unless you have a Palomar-type telescope in your back yard, THE way to look at the night sky is with binoculars. The Pleiades will take your breath away.

And, yes, the Hubble images give us worlds we never had.