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As Students of Alberti, What is Art? [the great “art” debate]

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1 As Students of Alberti, What is Art? [the great “art” debate]

2 What are the three “parts” of painting? Line: –the art of drawing. Composition: – the organization of the parts of the painting a whole, including their organization in perspectival space. Color and light: –the final overpainting of the preliminary drawing and blocking in of values with color.

3 What tool does Alberti recommend for painters and why might it be useful? The veil or intersection was a ruled transparent fabric positioned between the painter and what he was painting, that allowed him to divide it into sections and more accurately render the different parts. Later, he recommends using a mirror for color correction (p. 83). Albrecht Durer recommends a similar device in his treatise on drawing:

4 linked What is istoria and how is it linked to composition? Alberti introduces the key term of his theory art, istoria, in the context of composition (p. 70). Istoria can be translated as “story,” “history,” “narrative,” “plot.” The istoria is the narrative content of a painting. It is linked to composition because for Alberti, the istoria is supposed to organize all the significant, meaning-bearing elements of the painting so that each body, gesture, movement, and even object supports in some way the story that the painter is trying to tell. Composition is a broader category, not specifically attached to meaning, but still, in Alberti’s opinion, in the service of supporting the narrative content.

5 What are some criteria for appropriateness? Appropropriateness is a key aesthetic value, covalent with the rhetorical idea of decorum, throughout the text. The members of a body must be appropriate to the age, gender, and function of the human figure (young girl, old man, etc). Exterial expressions and gestures should be appropriate to internal feelings, and these feelings should be appropriate to the situation, as dictated by the istoria. Clothing must be appropriate as well.

6 What does Alberti mean by dignity? Alberti defines “dignity” as the overall appropriateness of a figure in relation to the istoria.

7 What does Alberti mean by “copiousness” and “variety”? How are they different? Which is more important? Although copiousness (copia) and variety (varieta) are largely synymous, Alberti draws subtle differences between them. The words are borrowed from classical rhetoric. Copia refers to the sheer abundance of stuff in a picture or description. Variety refers to the articulation of stuff into particular kinds of things. Copia is quantity; variety is quality. Alberti prefers variety to copia because it brings order to abundance and helps link the object world to the human-world of the istoria. For more on rhetorical copia, see and nt_Style nt_Style

8 What is the relation of gesture and pose (“movements of the body”) to emotion (‘movements of the soul” in Alberti’s theory of painting? Gestures, including bodily movements as well as facial expressions, serve to communicate the passions of the soul. Gestures should be “appropriate” to the mental states they are meant to communicate, and those mental states should be appropriate to the narrative situation (istoria).

9 Can a painter go too far in representing emotions? Although gesture is a key element in the narrative painting that Alberti prefers, too much gesture is a problem. Mannerist and Baroque painters would disagree with Alberti’s classical precepts.

10 Now let’s consider… Jackson Pollock What would Alberti say about Pollock’s painting? Would he consider it art? Does it follow any of Alberti’s “rules”? Discuss…


12 Critics in “Favor” of Pollock ”What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The big moment came when it was decided to paint 'just to paint.' The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation from value -political, aesthetic, moral.” -Harold Rosenberg Clement Greenberg supported Pollock's work on formalistic grounds. It fit well with Greenberg's view of art history as being about the progressive purification in form and elimination of historical content. He therefore saw Pollock's work as the best painting of its day and the culmination of the Western tradition going back via Cubism and Cézanne to Monet. The influence of the Native American art is very evident in the work of Jackson Pollock. Pollock and Native artists work using a similar process; Pollock takes direct images from the unconscious mind like images from the natives’ “spirit world”; he uses a primitivist aesthetic; he becomes “part of” the painting, akin to native American sand painters, and he exhibits similarly universalized subject matter to the Native Americans.

13 Against “reading” Pollock’s work as “art” Reynolds News in a 1959 headline said, "This is not art — it's a joke in bad taste." “Certain left wing scholars, most prominently Eva Cockcroft, argue that the U.S. government and wealthy elite embraced Pollock and abstract expressionism in order to place the United States firmly in the forefront of global art and devalue socialist realism. In the words of Cockcroft, Pollock became a 'weapon of the Cold War'.” “[I am] astonished that decorative 'wallpaper', essentially brainless, could gain such a position in art history alongside Giotto, Titian, and Velazquez.” - Craig Brown, artist, critic, & satirist

14 Pollack on Pollock “I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.” – Jackson Pollock

15 Your turn… In groups you will “debate” one of the following four images in light of our Alberti readings. RESOLVED: Based on Alberti’s rules for artistic composition [the image] is art.

16 Jean-Michel Basquiat

17 Roy Lichtenstein

18 Takashi Murakami

19 Archimboldo

20 Grant Wood

21 Citations The critical text and quotations for and against Jackson Pollock were taken from wikipedia. The entire article can be accessed on: ock ock Additionally, the idea for this “debate” was provided by M. Matteau.

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