July 10, 2016

Collage and You!

Collage is a technique I have loved doing myself and with the high school students I taught at La Guardia High School using the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. From one point of view it is so simple—all that is needed is paper and glue—yet the artist Robert Motherwell described collage as “the twentieth century’s greatest creative innovation.”

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque explored the possibilities of this folk craft once used mainly for scrapbooks, and brought it into the realm of high art. Matisse is among the artists who have shown that collage is more than just gluing paper. He said that each piece of paper had to be “augmented,” “given life,” and just last year people waited in long lines at the Museum of Modern Art to see how Matisse gave life to paper in his beautiful and dynamic cut-outs.

Why have people, including students in art classrooms at all levels, loved doing collage? All art, I learned, has an important message for the life of every person. That message is in this principle, stated by the 20th century educator and founder of Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel:

“All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

Opposites at the heart of collage are manyness and oneness, separation and junction. Many disparate, individual pieces of paper—diverse shapes, colors, images, textures—are arranged and fixed with glue into a single composition. To introduce collage to my students I showed them several individual pieces of paper—white, brown, blue, a newspaper clipping, and a sample of wallpaper—and asked: Would a composition created by gluing just one of these pieces of paper onto a background, be interesting? As a means of exploring this question, we looked at Picasso’s Guitar of 1913.


Created from pieces of paper similar to the ones I had shown, this work is described in Collage, Personalities, Concepts, Techniques, by authors Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh, as a “virtuoso demonstration of the...possibilities of collage.” My students and I studied the way Picasso cut, organized and combined different pieces of paper to indicate, for example, the shape of a guitar, and how he used light and dark paper as light and shadow. I asked the class: Does the newspaper clipping add something to the shape of the guitar? Does the blue background add something to the wallpaper pattern? We saw that these single pieces of paper did add something to each other. I am fortunate to be able to tell the young people I teach that the beauty of a collage depends on its composition—how its many parts, with all their drama of likeness and contrast, work well together.   

In his great 1949 lecture titled Poetry and Unity, Eli Siegel explained: “The purpose of composition is to show that through bringing something together with other things, it will have something which it would not have had alone.” As we studied Picasso’s collage, my students were excited to see how each piece he added to the composition, had something it didn’t have alone. For example, the blue background brought serenity to the wallpaper and the wallpaper pattern added a rich liveliness to the blue background.  

A mistake that I have made, as many students have, is feeling that our relation to other people and things makes us less, not more. This is an aspect of contempt, which Aesthetic Realism describes as the desire to get an “addition to self through the lessening of something else.” All art, I have learned, opposes contempt. This is definitely true of collage.

As my students worked on collage compositions they were excited and thoughtful as they considered how individual shapes and colors of paper added to each other. They liked learning that collage comes from the French word, coller, meaning to glue; and that pieces of paper could be cut, papier collé, or torn, déchiré. As one cuts and pastes, separates and joins, collage answers yes to these questions that are central to life: How can all the many parts and aspects of our lives work together? Are we more ourselves through seeing our relation to the world, including people, in all their manyness and diversity? The technique of collage is loved because it represents a large hope in the life of every student and teacher. 

*Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) Guitar. Céret, March 31, 1913, or later Cut-and-pasted newspaper, wallpaper, paper, ink, chalk, charcoal, and pencil on colored paper 26 1/8 x 19 1/2" (66.4 x 49.6 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

January 10, 2015

Does the Keystone Arch Meet a Hope of Ours?--or, Strength and Grace Can Be One!

I taught Art History at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan for many years, using the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. It is based on the education founded by Eli Siegel, the 20th century poet, and critic. I’ve seen this method work in my classroom with thousands of students. For a teacher to know what I’m fortunate to have learned—that the purpose of education and life itself is to like the world on an honest basis—is an absolute necessity! Aesthetic Realism also explains the biggest interference with learning: the desire in a person to have contempt, to get an “addition to self through the lessening of something else."
In teaching the unit on the art of ancient Rome, my class studied how the keystone arch was central to its great architectural structures. There is the Pont du Gard, a powerfully-built aqueduct consisting of a series of graceful keystone arches, built in the 1st century BC in Nimes, France. What makes this structure beautiful—and also made my students change, and want to learn—is in this principle stated by Eli Siegel: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."
This aqueduct with its repeating curves and strong vertical supports, carried 100 gallons of water per day over a distance of 30 miles for each city resident, making possible the fountains and public water works. "Clearly this is powerful, but does it have something else?" I asked. “Is it also ever so graceful, with those curves?” I’ve seen that students—including the toughest young men—long to be both strong and graceful, or gentle, and suffer because they feel they can’t be both. They think if they have gentleness they'll be weak and people will take advantage of them. My class began to see that this aqueduct does something they were hoping to do: it puts opposites together.
One student, David, wanted to know how the aqueduct worked, and we learned that the power of gravity is what made the water flow. Built on an exquisitely calculated decline, from the water's source high in the mountains, the water flowed downward to the city fountains. Rafael was amazed to learn that this aqueduct was designed to withstand the strength of flooding river currents and has remained standing for 2000 years even as more modern bridges in the area have washed out in heavy flooding! "Wow, that's strong!" he said. “What did this strength come from?” I asked. The strength actually depends on that curved, graceful thing—the arch. As we read from our textbook, Gardner’s Art through the Ages, this description of the Pont Du Gard, there was a sense of awe:
 "Each large arch spans some 82 feet and is constructed of uncemented blocks weighing up to two tons each."
The class saw the amazing relation of solidity and lightness in this structure. Vocabulary words for the lesson were keystone and voussoir. The voussoirs, I explained, are the wedge-shaped stones fitted around the sides of the arch, and the keystone is the topmost voussoir. The keystone, the last stone placed at the highest point in the arch, locks all the other stones or voussoirs into place. The downward pressure it exerts gives the arch its strength. The other voussoirs, in turn, send a counter pressure upwards on both sides, holding the keystone in place. The strength of an arch, we learned, depends on something that has amazing delicacy—the precision with which the voussoirs are fitted together—and all done without any cement!
The class was thrilled to see that the keystone which is at the center—the thing upon which all that power depends—seems to be the lightest, even the most vulnerable thing, with nothing but space underneath it! George, who rarely showed any emotion, was excited, "That's really cool," he said.
I read sentences from a historic class titled "Architecture Is Ourselves," taught by Ellen Reiss, the Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, in which she explained that the arch is a very elemental thing, and one of the big achievements of the human mind:
"The crown of the arch seems unsupported from below: matter is making for this tremendous lightness. The grand moment in arch construction is when the keystone … is inserted: it seems it would fall, but it's the thing that holds the two sides together."
In this arch massiveness is the same as lightness—strength is the same as delicacy or grace. Seeing these opposites as one in a structure that has joined earth, sky, and water for thousands of years, my students had more hope for themselves.
For more information about Aesthetic Realism and Architecture visit Architecture & You

November 14, 2014

Hokusai and the Energy We Most Want in Our Lives

One of the most noted series of woodblock prints is by Katsushika Hokusai, the great 19th century Japanese printmaker. His 36 Views of Mount Fuji have a compelling sense of energy. In each print, a mere 10 x 15 inches, he depicts the sacred mountain, Fuji-yama, home of the gods from almost every possible point of observation. 

Hokusai sees how Mt. Fuji is changed by weather and light. He sees it in relation to city streets, the wilds of nature, and the daily activities of people: gathering clams, cleaning rice, stacking lumber.

The artist does not tire of giving his attention. And “how much attention one can give”, explains Eli Siegel in his lecture Art As Energy, “is a problem of energy.” How much attention I could give was a problem I had growing up in Springfield, Missouri. I was not like Hokusai!  Often I had a “self-centered” way of seeing and yet even as I wanted to be a sculptor, I felt nothing held my attention in a sustained way. I had no idea that the way I saw the whole world had anything to do with my lethargy. I learned from Aesthetic Realism that the more value I gave to things outside myself, the more energetic and keener I would be!

“It takes energy to find energy,” said Eli Siegel, and Hokusai had that energy. Traveling across Japan with brush and paper he explored and recorded nature and the human figure in all their variety. He said:
“I have drawn things since I was six. All that I have made before the age of sixty-five is not   worth counting. At seventy-three I began to understand the true construction of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes, and insects. At ninety I will enter into the secret of things. At a hundred I shall certainly have reached a magnificent level; and when I am a hundred and ten, everything—every dot, every dash—will live.”
 Hokusai left the world over 10,000 woodcut prints and some 30,000 to 40,000 drawings.  

Under the Wave off Kanagawa, or The Great Wave is one of the most loved and reproduced works of art the world over because of the way it puts together force and accuracy, immense freedom and precision. Eli Siegel described it as having “neat frenzy,” and “the wild as shapely.” Like every person, I have wanted to feel swept by the meaning of things and also be orderly, in control. The Great Wave encourages this feeling.

A mighty tsunami rises from a tumultuous sea. As it crests upward, its massive curve rolling forward, it breaks into spiky fingerlets of water, then drops of foamy spray. 

In the foreground are three yellow boats with pointed bows: one carried upon the wave, another plunging through water, as the third is about to be engulfed. 

Hokusai’s dots and dashes do live as they precisely define the wave in all its power and delicacy. With economy of color—dark, middle, light blues, white, yellow and tan; and simplicity of line Hokusai sees it as exuberant force and graceful curve.  

Everything in the composition brings our eye to the actual subject—Mt Fuji—rising calmly in the distance. The great wave seems to bow its frenzied crest to the mountain as its white foam appears to become snow falling upon the white capped peak of Fuji. The smaller wave’s triangular form in the foreground, is like that of the distant mountain, moving our eye from tumultuous waves to reposeful mountain, whose delicate peak lovingly meets all time and space.

Hokusai shows us that the energy we most want in our lives is the courageous and lovingly keen attention to reality that is in art. In Art As Energy, Eli Siegel explains:
"The artist says, I must see what this is; a person not as artist says, I must use this or protect myself from this. The energy that insists on a thing’s having more meaning is deeply the true kind."

November 3, 2014

What can Van Gogh's great painting "Starry Night" teach us about ourselves?  Miriam Mondlin asks and answers a question that is so pertinent to both art and life: "Can We Be Expansive & Contained Like Van Gogh's Starry Night?"  Read her full article. 

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

October 5, 2005

What Art Can Show Us About Our Lives?

Today I post examples illustrating how the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism founded by Eli Siegel, American poet, educator and critic, show that art has the answers to some of the biggest matters in our lives. As you will see in the links below, the great art of the world can teach us about our very selves!!!

John Singer Sargent
Sargent's "Madame X"; Or, Assertion and Retreat in Women
by Lynette Abel

Jan Vermeer
Vermeer's "Young Woman With a Water Jug"--and What Men and Women Are Hoping For in Marriage
by Julie and Robert Jensen

Diego Velazquez
What Will Make Us Truly Proud of Ourselves? A Study in the Art of Diego Velazquez
by Dorothy Koppelman

Pablo Picasso
Picasso's Dora Maar Seated--or, Full Face and Profile: How Do They Show the Self?
by Meryl Simon

Vincent Van Gogh Can We Be Expansive and Contained Like Van Gogh's Starry Night?
by Miriam Mondlin

Robert Indiana
What Are You Looking For In Love, Robert Indiana's "Love"
by Ken Kimmelman

Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollack's Number One 1948; or, How Can We Be Abandoned and Accurate at the Same Time?
by Lore Elbel-Bruce

Claude Monet
Our Selves Are Aesthetic! Monet's "Autumn Effect at Argenteuil"
by Ruth Oron

Dorothea Lange
What Does a Person Deserve? The Answer Found in a Great Photograph of Dorothe Lange
by David Bernstein

Paul Cezanne
Art Opposes Injustice; or, Cezanne's "Still life With Onions"
by Nancy Huntting

Pieter Bruegal
How Can We Be Composed?: Bruegel's Hunters In The Snow
by Nancy Huntting

September 24, 2005

Art and Love

As I have said in other places on this blog, Aesthetic Realism shows that art has the answers to questions every person has in life, including about love! Here are some examples I invite you to read.

"Simplicity and Complexity: Roy Lichtenstein's "Stepping Out" by Steven Weiner who a computer specialist and labor union official.

"What Are You Looking For In Love? Robert Indiana's "Love" by Ken Kimmelman who is an Emmy award winning filmmaker and Aesthetic Realism Consultant.

January 11, 2005

Aesthetic Realism; or, Why I Love Teaching Art

I taught art history and studio art in New York City high schools for over 24 years using the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. My love for art and teaching continues to increase as I'm able to see how art is related to one's life and the whole world. The means is in this great principle of Aesthetic Realism stated by it's founder and the 20th century educator, Eli Siegel:
The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.
Find out more about the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method.