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This program is designed as a mini-overview on the PERSONAL FUNCTIONS OF ART. The personal functions served by the visual arts include such things as SELF-EXPRESSION, COMMENTARY ON THE RITES OF PASSAGE we all pass through in our lives, SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION, and purely AESTHETIC statements.
SELF-EXPRESSION OF THE ARTIST:
Art performs personal functions when it communicates artists' innermost feelings...about themselves, about their perception of the world around them, about the crises in their lives and their responses to the spiritual and aesthetic.
Van Gogh's Olive Orchard displays the artist's intense approach to life. Quivering with short, thick daubs of paint, the work seems to reveal the artist's nervous energy in every stroke. This is a perfect example of how art functions at a personal level, revealing something of the artist's own psyche.
The British illustrator Louis Wain initially was an amusing and talented graphic artist. After psychological and physical trauma, the style exemplified in Cats with Firehoses was transformed into fragmented, demonic images of cats.
Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian woman painter of the 17th century, devoted much of her energies to depicting scenes in which women dominate and often destroy their male adversaries. These paintings, like Judith, likely reveal Artemisia's sense of violation when her art instructor raped her.
As a German during the era between World War I and World War II, George Grosz saw the world in a darkly pessimistic manner. As he said, he felt a "profound disgust with life," a sentiment which seems starkly revealed in this Portrait of Max Hermann Neisse. The painting is seemingly more revealing of Grosz's personality that of the poet's.
Romare Bearden's Rocket to the Moon suggests the artist's early experiences in Harlem, his love of Blues music, and his ironic view of his country. The work seems to be a commentary that a nation that can send men to the moon ought to be able to constructively deal with the problems of its inner cities.
RITES OF PASSAGE
"Rites of Passage" is an anthropological term referring to the crisis points in a person's life. Artists from time immemorial have given their own views of these crises, from birth to adolescence, love, illness, and death. This small stone figurine (The Venus of Willendorf) was created during the Paleolithic Period more than thirty thousand years ago. Its exaggerated sexual forms suggest man's preoccupation with fertility and birth.
Picasso's Young Woman at a Mirror is the artist's interpretation of the trauma of adolescence and a young woman's fears about her own sexuality, about child birth, and womanhood.
Rodin's The Kiss, in its interplay between the highly polished marble body forms and roughly textured pedestal, embodies the sensuality of love between a woman and a man. The intertwining of the two forms further suggests a merging of the two individuals into a new harmonious whole, a kind of idealization of the male-female relationship.
In another interpretation of love, Marc Chagall, shows a man (himself) "head over heels" in rapture with his beloved counterpart. The Birthday sums up a "romanticized" conception, splendidly imaginative and cheerful.
George Segal, in a sculpture of Two Lovers on a Bed, shows us yet another perspective on love. Here the medium (plaster), the texture (rough and unappealing), and the poses (somewhat awkward and angular) create a scene somewhat less than pleasing to the eye!
Picasso's The Frugal Repast seems both a commentary on a close relationship of love and caring and a study of illness and struggle. Dating from the artist's so-called Blue Period, the figures here are characteristically angular and emaciated in appearance.
Bischof's photograph entitled Hunger in India, like Picasso's print moves us with sympathy for the plight of these individuals. Illness, hunger, and despair are aspects of those rites of passage that test our ability to cope.
Kathe Kollwitz was a German graphic artist of the 20th century. Stylistically an Expressionist, Käthe focused her work on the themes of death and dying. Doubtlessly her husband's profession (he was a physician working in an impoverished urban environment), as well as her own experiences (losing a son and grandson in the world wars), helped give this bleak direction to her life's work.
Spiritual functions in art are expressed in myriad ways...sometimes through overtly religious imagery in a religious setting (as in this Visitation scene in stained glass from a Gothic cathedral), sometimes in less obviously religious works, such as Rouault's paintings of clowns. What makes a work "spiritual" is the degree to which it deals with man's conception of his role in the universe and his relationship to higher powers.
A work of art, in order to be art, must have an aesthetic dimension (that is, it must be intended to engage the mind and/or appeal to the eye). Some works of art seem solely to fulfill this purpose, as is the case with Alexander Calder's Big Red , a hanging mobile which twists and turns in space with the air currents. Art works whose only purpose is aesthetic rightfully may be termed "art for art's sake."