Free «Exam I: "Venus of Urbino" by Titian and "Olympia" by Manet» Essay

Exam I:

Part I

A. The comparison of two works which are representatives of the nude of European tradition by Manet and Titian is a challenging task. The key reason is connected with the tremendous impact of Titian upon Manet’s painting as well as serious critique of Manet’s masterpiece Olympia in terms of the nude presentation in the picture composition.

Both pictures are the embodiment of the concept of nudity. The European tradition of oil painting has such focal traits as: a) presentation of nudity, not nakedness; b) portraying a woman as the main object of the whole picture; c) the portrayed woman knows that she is looked at and adored, therefore, conceitedness and vanity appear in her facial expression, gestures, and posture (Berger, 2008). Moreover, the European oil painting has an authentic and specific feature, namely the pose of the woman that is portrayed is passive or supine. This aspect forms a stark contrast of the aforementioned painting approach to other approaches, such as the art of India, Persia, and Africa, where women are painted in the active pose and, as a rule, with their lovers, absolutely absorbed in the Act of Love (Berger, 2008). Furthermore, the objects of painting are usually pictured in frontal position and it is obligatory to preserve stark nakedness of the object of sexual appeal of both the painter and the viewer. The comparison and analysis of the works by Titian and Manet will be conducted on the basis of the above-presented criteria of European art tradition.

Titian’s painting, Venus of Urbino, is a vivid and significant representative of the European oil works. The central object of the painting is a woman. She is completely nude, and looks in the direction of the painter, i.e. at the potential viewer. There are two maids in the background of the picture, but they serve for the creation of the context for the woman’s perception. She lies on the bed, with a little dog sleeping nearby. The overall atmosphere of the room she rests in is intimate and luxurious. The picture is painted in profound and warm colors.

It is also crucial that Venus is depicted in supine pose: her arms lay languidly to highlight her seductive beauty. She is well aware of the fact that she is being looked at and even more – the viewer enjoys and adores what he sees. The viewer is presumably a man since it is a backstage rule of the European oil paintings. Therefore, the woman’s eyes look at the viewer directly with vanity and conceitedness. This egotism is female and natural, whereas Manet’s Olympia looks at the viewer coldly, prudently and judgingly. The woman on Manet’s masterpiece is a vivid example of the contemporary to the artist’s epoch courtesan, hard-headed and even insidious. The stark difference is not only in the pose of women and level of their nakedness contrasted to the level of nudity, but first of all, in the way they look at the spectator. Venus expresses her vanity, but it is unconstrained and artificial, whereas conceit in the eyes of Olympia is unnatural and determined. The Titian’s painting is serene, whereas Manet’s work is provocative.

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Nonetheless, regardless of the aforementioned violation of the conventions of the nude in the European painting, the work by Manet is considered to represent this direction in art. However, it represents the European oil painting tradition with considerable challenges concerning the basic principles and values. For instance, the overall atmosphere of the paintings is contrasting since Titian depicts a bride, whereas a woman on Manet’s masterpiece is apparently a prostitute. The conclusion that Venus is a bride is drawn from many aspects of the painting, for example the activity and averted gaze of the maids indicates the process of preparation for the special ceremony, whereas the gaze of the servant on Manet’s picture is directed at the woman. Moreover, the bridal bed and awareness of belonging to the particular man is reflected in the look of Titian’s woman. She is willing to be possessed, but will be possessed only by the one she will belong to after marriage. Even animalistic aspect of the painting is meaningful in the given context. Titian delineates a little sleeping puppy that may be interpreted as a symbol of future happy marriage awaiting this bride, whereas Manet portrays a woman with a black cat. Such an approach immediately instills the feeling of enigma, mystery, and dark power. Furthermore, Manet also pictures an Afro-American slave behind the woman in contrast to the shy and obedient maids of Titian’s bride. This detail positions Olympia as an odalisque. This theme aligns with the topic of the odalisque pictured in the works by Ingres. The reality depicted by Manet is prosaic and trivial, whereas Titian presents to the spectators romantic and beautiful scene with Venus as a focal element.

 
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Manet uses a strong and uncompromising technique. Nevertheless, the picture is obviously the profanation of the idealized nude that is considered to be the crucial foundation of the European oil painting tradition. Thus, Titian’s Venus is an unambiguous representation of the idealized nudity, whereas Manet’s Olympia is a challenging one with significant implication of nakedness included in the overall scene.

Part II

A. Art is primarily subjective since spectators need to interpret an artist’s ideas of every particular work in order to comprehend the key essence that is conveyed by means of images, sounds or words. The scope of painting operates in terms of images, shades, colors and contours. Understanding of art is largely a responsibility of art experts that instill certain interpretation combining the background data of the artist, his or her conceptions and key aspects of art ideology as well as art direction, tradition and intended audience. Berger appears to be one of the first ideological analysts who specified in visual culture.

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Howells and Negreiros (2012) critique, analyze and discuss Berger’s approach to the perception of art, its understanding and interpretation. Nevertheless, there are certain points which are endorsed by the authors.

Berger (2008) states, “Seeing comes before words.” This claim is not only huge, as Nowells and Negreiros (2012) underline, but also rather controversial and multidimensional. It is sufficiently grounded to state that visual images form our comprehension of reality and even the reality itself to certain extent. We see, we experience, we understand. Nonetheless, Berger (2008) goes much further in his ideological analysis of visual arts conception and interpretation:

Berger claims that our ability to see (or to read or to interpret) these important images clearly has been adversely affected by all manner of assumptions about art. These are assumptions that no longer tie in with the world as it is; rather than revealing the past, they obscure it: ‘They mystify rather than clarify. (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 84)

The role of the aforementioned assumptions and conventions which usually result from them is crucial for comprehension of the art and its relation to the contemporary world. The threat of such artificial obscurity of the art, namely paintings of the past epochs, is dubious since it not only interferes with proper understanding of the past in terms of both historical perspective and art dimension, but also endangers adequate comprehension of the present. Howells and Negrerios (2012) support Berger’s stance on the issue in question and even illustrate it with a vivid contemporary example in order to highlight that the dilemma is topical in the current course of time.

Berger (2008) obviously gravitates to Marxist theories in terms of his ideological analysis. Actually, the theories which are incorporated in his stance on visual culture and arts history primarily deal with the opposition between different strata of society, namely, the working and the ruling classes. The authors agree that the art is significantly connected with the ruling class, and it is a tendency that may be related to any period of time. Art requires followers, support and promotion, and the ruling classes can provide it. Moreover, Howells and Negrerios (2012) tend to support the claim about potential harm to the art comprehension that is projected on the wrong conception of the world and contemporary reality. People often regard art pieces as so-called holy relics; they identify the art as the embodiment and representation of central tendencies the society of that period faces. Therefore, humble interpretation leads to poor perception of the past with consequent miscomprehension of the present as well as inadequate building of the future since the present is always predetermined by the preliminary historical record (Berger, 2008).

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Notwithstanding Howells and Negreiros’s (2012) agreement and endorsement concerning the key aspects of Berger’s art theories, there are serious critique patterns to be taken into consideration in the given context. For example, the scholars highlight the uncertain position Berger’s art theories have as a result of relying on Marxism and its class theories. They emphasize that in case Marxian theoretical heritage is proved to be inconsistent and wrongfully presented, the ideological analysis of the visual culture will immediately become rather questionable and inapplicable. Taking into consideration that Marxian theories are tremendously unpopular nowadays, Howells and Negreiros (2012) relevantly state that modern people are also reluctant to connect and align art pieces with politics and class struggle. They prefer to differentiate these two domains, and the exception may be made only in terms of historical theme of paintings where the past plays crucial role.

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Furthermore, the critique outlines the most essential controversy of the Berger’s stance on the understanding of visual culture. This course of sustainable critique is based on the interpretation of two masterpieces of the Dutch painter Frans Hals. The art pieces analyzed are the Regents of the Old Men’s Alms House and the Regentesses of the Old Men’s Alms House. The controversy has been demonstrated in the course of opposition between Fuller and Berger. The critiques of Berger’s theories highlight that “a political approach to visual culture is one that can both reveal and obscure the meaning of a work of art … On the other hand, it could also be argued that it was a way of seeing in which Berger saw exactly (and only) what he wanted to see himself” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 95). Nevertheless, the authors of critique do not deny the significant meaning of the Berger’s initiative and his way of seeing visual culture. The aforementioned polemics and personal analysis of the chosen paintings let Howells and Negreiros (2012) conclude that Berger used the technique of provocative exaggeration in order to focus on key aspects of visual culture comprehension and underline the hazards of potential profanation of the initial meaning and significance of the art works.

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D. Howells and Negreiros (2012) state that “With the fine arts, people struggled long and hard to achieve the illusion of reality. With photography, the illusion is guaranteed by the process” (p. 183). The phenomenon of photography is perceived as an accurate record of the reality, and at the same time it is considered to be a subjective reflection of reality since there is a photographer between the object of depiction and the viewer. Photography is a relatively new development as both an art form and a technological achievement since its history began approximately 150 years ago. Moreover, photography is considered to be a new medium due to which people acquire alternative opportunity to see the world. Actually, this type of art has a significant authenticity that paintings apparently lack. Nonetheless, the status of the photography as an art form is considerably questionable even as time passes by. To be more precise, one of the counter-arguments concerning this position of photography is directly connected with the aforementioned aspects of authenticity. It aims to persuade that photography is an easy process that basically does not require special skills or talents unlike painting or singing. It is considered that the success of photographs primarily relies on mechanical process and depends on technically advanced camera. According to conservative outlook, as far as it is not complicated and does not require a talent – there is no reason to entitle it as an art form.

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Furthermore, the next counter-argument presented in the work by Howells and Negreiros (2012) is connected with the “photography’s umbilical relationship with its subject- matter … It is like a photocopying machine or a security camera, which simply duplicate that which is already in front of us or point a reprographic finger at something that is already out there” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 190). Actually, it is not the photograph we respond to, perceive and enjoy as the art should be treated, but the object on it that exists in reality, but in other time dimension. Hence, such argumentation presupposes that photography may be regarded as a medium that helps us see the beauty and diversity of the world regardless of time constraints, distance and other objective obstacles. The rivals of those who consider photography as an authentic type of art highlight that drama is created in reality, and therefore, a photographer does not “transcend the subject-matter” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 191), but just pictures it. Photographers are also regarded as allegedly static and passive in the process of creation of an art piece since they are not capable of altering the object, making it more beautiful, attractive, or, in other words, of turning black into white. The stance of Roger Scruton, a British theorist and philosopher, is relevant in the given context of counter-arguments: “If one finds a photograph beautiful, it is because one finds something beautiful in its subject. A painting may be beautiful, on the other hand, even when it represents an ugly thing” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 192). The counter-arguments are quite articulate and sophisticated though they have certain drawbacks and flaws.

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First, photography is definitely a science that has certain rules, principles, data that should be comprehended, learnt, and consequently implemented in practice. Hence, it requires knowledge and skills. Moreover, photography also requires a talent as only a gifted artist can turn photo material into an art piece.

Second, the object to be photographed is chosen by the artist like the painter chooses the scene to be depicted. The same approach is incorporated by the photographer who chooses light, angle, and perspective for the shoot which the painter uses for selection of colors and shades. The photographer sees the result of his work a priori, namely the way it looks and the effect it will make upon spectators. Furthermore, the true artist is capable of observing, remarking and highlighting the focal essence in the object. In such a way he or she can convey the major idea of the whole work. Actually, it is one of the main tasks of the artist – to create the image, word or sound that will reveal the hidden sense and the spectator will comprehend it properly. Therefore, photography is obviously an art form since it expresses and conveys the ideas and incorporates a creative approach to achieve its aim.

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Moreover, the painter adds more subjectivity to the imaginary scene or to the scene in reality while depicting real objects, whereas the photographer makes the real object authentic and at the same time frames it with subjectivity in terms of context, colors, motion and accentuation. Therefore, the stance of Scruton is obviously questionable as the scope of photography as an art form has been significantly broadened recently, and the objects chosen for the scene are diverse - ugly and beautiful. The task of the photographer is to present the reality with all its pros and cons. Thus, the beauty of a photograph may be found in the subject-matter, in color, in focus, in zoom, in accentuation or perspective – the photography is evidently an art since it conveys ideas, preserves authenticity and is fueled by creativity.

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