Friday, June 14, 2013

Introduction to Art: Week 2 ~ Sexy Bananas!

In week two of my Introduction to Art course we tackled the Fantastic art movement of the early 20th century. We started with a general overview of the genre, its history, discussions of Dadaism and Surrealism, and then we moved on to specific artists. 

This genre is rather bizarre, and I often find myself wondering why an item is considered art.  "I don't get it" is my most frequent response to artwork from this era. Thankfully, we started gently with Rousseau and Chagall. I quite enjoyed their colourful paintings of items I could identify. The examples used in the video lectures were generally cheerful and playful. My kind of art. 

Then we moved on to De Chirico. The paintings we discussed were colourful, and they included items that I could identify, but the mood changed. His work was dark, sombre and desolate.  Odd combinations of objects added to the overall strangeness of the paintings. I found them somewhat disturbing. Still, considering the time and place of their creation, I understood De Chirico's intent. Or at least I thought I did. 

Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure) - Giorgio de Chirico
The Melancholy of Departure by Georgio de Chirico
Image "borrowed" from
I was happily following the lecture, feeling like I might actually be "getting" art for the first time in my life. Then we got to "The Melancholy of Departure". My illusions of comprehension crumbled when the narrator shared this delightful analysis:
This painting was created after De Chirico moved from Paris to Italy in order to serve in World War one. The melancholy of his emotional state is conveyed through this artwork. Implictily sexual, the juxtaposition of the bananas in the foreground, and the miniscule train the background, once again show the bizarre imagination of De Chirico...The bananas in the foreground are the focal point of this painting, capturing our immediate attention.
Ummmmm. Implicitly sexual? Really? I didn't find anything about the painting sexual - implicit or otherwise. And the bananas are the focal point? I hadn't noticed the bananas until the narrator mentioned them. So much for understanding art!

There was much discussion in the forums amongst us beginners. Few of us thought the bananas were all that sexy. Odd in that particular environment? Definitely. Lonely? Yep. Strange? For sure. Sexy? I don't get it.  To me, it felt like a painting of an abandoned city; a place struck by disaster; a place where people fled in terror leaving everything, including the bananas, frozen in time for later explorers to discover. It was sad and desolate, but not sexual. I was beginning to think that "art" was synonymous for "ridiculous hoax".

Our assignment for this unit was to "choose an Independent, Dada, or Surrealist artist that inspires you and utilize his style or concept as sources of inspiration to create your personal Fantastic artwork...Think about what Fantasy means to you and how you can express yourself through Fantastic Art.  Have fun with this artwork while you examine your own dreams and subconscious thoughts.

I had originally wanted to do a "sexy banana" parody. I clipped symbolically phallic images (cigars, hot dogs, neck ties) from magazines. (I found the phallic symbols in men's magazines and parenting magazines. Insert your opinion here.) My thought was to create an abandoned-looking industrial building with a "sexy banana" image in each window. I envisioned a combination of original work and collage. 

Sadly, my artistic skills are limited, so my imagined artwork never came to be. It was probably just as well. I wasn't sure my parody would be understood or appreciated, and I didn't want my mark to suffer because of my attitude.

Instead, as the assignment directions suggested, I chose to examine and illustrate a dream. I was careful when selecting my dream. My art work would be evaluated by randomly-selected classmates, and given the huge variety of students taking the class, I wanted something that wasn't too controversial. (Actually, I rarely have controversial, or even memorable, dreams.)

Fortunately, a recent dream had been so bizarre that I woke laughing. It seemed like a safe bet for my project. In the dream, I lived in Neil Gaiman's  bathtub for a year in order to scrape baked-on cheese from a bicycle. I kid you not. I'd like to say you can't make this shit up, but obviously I can, or at least my sub-conscious can. I'm sure this dream could lead to all kinds of interesting analysis, but I'm convinced it was a result of bedtime reading materials combined with ill-timed snacks.

The project was more challenging and time-consuming than I thought. Through it I discovered that I don't clearly visualize my end product. I have ideas, but nothing firm. I also came to see that I often don't have the technique or the skill to carry out the ideas I do have. My work is very much a process. The assignment piece evolved over time, and I didn't know what the end result was going to be until I was done.  Overall it was a rewarding, though sometimes frustrating and nerve-wracking experience. 

Writing the artist statement, on the other hand, was pure fun. Because I regularly couldn't see what the artist intended in the pieces we studied, I felt that I could be pretty free in the meaning I assigned to my work. Seriously, if De Chirico's bananas were sexy, my crumpled, stained calendar could represent the passage of a year. 

Here's what I submitted for my assignment:

Like many of the artists of the Fantastic art genre, I chose to explore dream in the creation of my work.  In this particular dream, a year was spent in Neil Gaiman’s bathtub scraping cheese from a bicycle.

Although my piece contains none of the abstract and biomorphic shapes Jean Arp employed in his art, I was inspired by his use of chance and collage in his work. 
The elements of my collage are mounted on 8”1/4 x 11”3/4 drawing paper. The background is composed of tea-stained pages torn from a day planner that were then dry brushed with watercolour paint. The remaining elements were cut from a variety of magazines.

The magazines were purchased from a library discard table. I had no control over the selection of magazines available for sale, nor did I have control over the images I would find in those magazines. Thus I had to rely on chance when looking for images to illustrate the dream.

Because  of this reliance on chance, the resulting collage is not a direct depiction of the dream. Still, the overall feeling is the same, and all the elements are represented in some way.

The bicycles, cheese and bathtubs are self explanatory.  The hand tools were selected to represent the scraping involved in removing the cheese from the bicycle. Clocks were employed to represent the passage of time and to pay homage to the work of Dali. Time is also illustrated by the stained and crumpled calendar pages in the background.

The shadowy silhouette of Morpheus rising from the bathtub in the centre of the collage serves to subtly bring Neil Gaiman into the work. This depiction of dream is an interpretation of Gaiman’s creation in the Sandman graphic novels. That the character is Dream further emphasizes that the piece was inspired by the subconscious.  

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