Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Relevance of Rembrandt - Lessons in Artistry and Sticking to What You Know

Academical Figures of Two Men
Rembrandt van Rijn - 1646, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam  (Netherlands - Amsterdam), Height: 20 cm (7.87 in.), Width: 13 cm (5.12 in.), Etching
Rembrandt van Rijn was, is, and always will be my most favorite artist. There is an openness in his work that makes me feel that I can really see what he was thinking. In many ways, he did not polish or refine the image of humanity, but endeavored to cast a tender light upon its imperfections. He was a man who knew both the joy and sorrow that life has to offer; with success's ecstasy and loss's disillusionment. I was able to study his work a lot as an undergrad, and while I may no longer have the voices of my professors to instruct me, I will always have a teacher in Rembrandt!

Here are some things I have learned about being an artist, and a graphic designer, from his work and history.

The Little Children Being Brought to Jesus ("The 100 Guilder Print")
Completed 1647-49 (150 Kb); Etching and drypoint, 1st state, 27.8 x 38.8 cm; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Lesson 1: Compose your ideas from what inspires you

During the crafting of both etchings above, Rembrandt would have been in his mid- 40s. He was a man who experienced life; who went from being a millers son to one of the most popular artists of the Dutch Golden Age (art's Baroque Period), to a teacher, father, husband... and then widow. Historians have their own ideas about what made Rembrandt great, but as for me, I feel his art holds the answer. His work had become an honest description of humanities fallen state and its need for help and love.

Looking at the etching of the two academic figures, they are used as a reflection of the lightly drawn figures behind them (an elderly women and a child). The men are dressed (or un-dressed!) in the same manner, almost as if to say, 'we are the same, old and young'. Again, while the etching above is called "the little children being brought to Jesus"... both the old and the young are being brought to Him, because we are all someones child, even at 92! This is the light in which an aged Rembrandt now sees the world around him. He infuses it into every subject matter he depicts, whether it is biblical or artistic. Every artist should do the same!
The Artist's Father 1631 Ashmolean Museum - University of Oxford  (United Kingdom - Oxford) Height: 14.5 cm (5.71 in.), Width: 12.9 cm (5.08 in.), Etching
Lesson 2: Don't take the 'mundane' for granted

No matter what field you are in, the finest work you will produce will be that which involves YOU in it. Here is what I mean.
 The portrait etching above is of Rembrandt's father. Out of all of the portraits he made, whether of aristocracy, soldier, and others, only this one could hold the skilled knowledge of a model intimately understood. I'm not saying that he was on best terms with his father (I don't know), but I can see the slight smile hidden beneath his fathers mustache, the quiet demeanor of his expression. He may be dressed in finery, but he is a man who seems to be cut of simpler cloth. These are suttle elements of his character that only Rembrandt could have shown, because it was his everyday knowledge. So there are things that you know that will make you the very best teller of a certain story, or depict-er of a moment, or singer of a song.

Adoration of the Shepherds: A Night Piece
Rembrandt van Rijn - circa 1652,  British Museum  (United Kingdom - London),  Height: 14.9 cm (5.87 in.), Width: 19.8 cm (7.8 in.), Etching and drypoint
I leave you now with the Adoration of the Shepherds, one of my favorite etchings. Who would have know that with so much ink and lines, that the artist could show such luminosity! It is a lush, velvety scene; a quiet moment, as a small explosion of light chases away the darkness from the faces of the shepherds, coming in from the night.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Art of the Plains Indians - Then and Now

It was with great surprise that I found myself visiting the exhibit, The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, at the Metropolitan Museum last month. I have always loved the beauty and mystery surrounding Native American art forms. In the works I have seen, there is a constant striving to capture the voice of history. While animals and nature are strongly used, I have found that if you look close enough, you will see that each work is a story about a people, a hope, a defeat or a victory that is being told using these elements. The Plains Indians were (and are) a people whose world is steeped in symbolism. The greatest thing about this exhibit is that it allows you to visit the pieces of the past before giving you the opportunity to view the artworks made by contemporary Native American artist (which comes at the end). It keeps it in historical perspective. As an artist, I love to use symbolism as a way to compose my work, so I understand and appreciate the way that it is used, whether in embroidering regalia or beading the travel case of a daughter (see below).

I have to give it to the MET curatorial staff. The vast gallery space that the work was placed in allowed the viewer to shift easily between the works without having to be guided by a strict linear direction of movement. I like that a lot. The dim lighting of the gallery, while used for archival reasons (to preserve colors most likely), added to the atmosphere of the space. I felt like I was walking through a chasm of history; where time stood still as life rushed by outside. It was both an enjoyable and relaxing experience and allowed me to take my time among the pieces.

 (left) Probably my favorite piece over all, this is an elaborately decorated infant board.... to carry those adorable little papoos!

With such interesting and thought provoking works of art, I only wish the MET could of held on to this exhibit a little longer. If you are in NYC and would like to view exhibits like this one, you can go to the National Museum of the American Indian! Personally, I could stay there for hours (if only my feet wouldn't 
 give out on me).

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