25 May 2006

Art History: Problematic situation #6

This is part of an ongoing series discussing Art History's issues.

It has been ages since I wrote about Art history's problems. Some of my posts have been relevant, but its time to really speak to the point.

Art is (and as far as I can tell) and has always been self-referential. Among other things, art quotes art. When I wrote about identity, I commented on the long tradition in art of eye-candy-cuties. The Bouguereau I used as an example echoes so many others like it--maybe it even references predecessors. I don't actually know.

But I do know that artists continue to rummage through the past for ideas, and sometimes they even simulate the past. The thing is, though, that the past was the present at one time. The ruins of ancient civilizations weren't ruins when they were new. Sure, that's obvious. But often, what artists pick up is not the original "new" look of the art of the past. Rather, they copy the aged appearance that the thing has in the present.

This is Auguste Rodin's 1900 sculpture called Walking Man. Put simply, it is without arms and head because lots of sculptural antiquities are missing a limb here or there. Not that they were originally made without arms, heads, or both feet. They were. But the way we see them today, more often than not, something is missing.

Rodin's work was a century ago, but there is still at least some hearkening to the look of age, even in a new work of art. I think Sally Mann's antique camera and process fall into this category. Some of her more recent images from Deep South and What Remains look like they have barely survived from a much earlier period. In this case, new looks really old, referencing things that look old only because they are old.


katperkins said...

I noticed that about Mann's work too when I looked up some things as reference for that project I did. I really like the work she did from Deep South, it looks so mysterious and old. Some of the pictures I saw from What Remains look like 100 year old crime scene photos.

Matthew said...

Did the neoclassicals recreate their stuff with or without limbs?

Mary Ann said...

Neoclassical was a very limbs-included period.

Vatti said...

I can't tell--do the arms and head look like they are broken off? I guess the walking man's absence of arms and head does draw attention to his legs.

Dad said...

Just a comment from an outsider to the artistic culture. I understand how the statues can end up without their arms but how do so many heads get knocked off? Teenager vandalism???? Conquering armies coming through town??? Natural defects in artistic construction technique?? Did any classes ever comment on the practical matter of things???

Mary Ann said...

Kat, I agree that the corpse shots have a very "accidental" look to them. I know of no culture that deliberately leaves their dead out in the open, or that enjoys images of half-decomposed gore. In any case, they are an oddity at the least.

Dan, of course some of those ancient sculptures were damaged in wars, but exposure to the elements can also be a problem.