Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Nude in Western Art: Part Three

In Part One we saw nude sculpture by Michelangelo.  In Part Two we saw a sculpted Renoir nude.  But the master of nude sculpture in my opinion was Auguste Rodin, who was a contemporary of Renoir.  Rodin is the father of modern sculpture.  His work is exquisite as Jennifer and I got to witness at the National Gallery of Art last summer.  There are many Rodin nudes and there are many Rodin sketches of an erotic nature.  This post mostly features Rodin nudes collected in my Art Authority app.
The Age of Bronze.  1876.  This was a controversial work at that time.  Not for being a nude but for artistic reasons.  Rodin was bucking art tradition in his work and the orthodox did not care for him.
St. John the Baptist Preaching.  1878-1880.  You are unlikely to see this subject depicted in this way anywhere else in art. Perhaps inspired by Michelangelo's David.
The Thinker.  Rodin cast many of these after his initial sculpture was completed in 1880.  The casts run through 1902. Rodin made many versions of most of the pieces in this post. Some depicted in both marbles and bronzes. This sculpture is obviously one of the most famous pieces in Western Art. It is easy to overlook that The Thinker is a nude.
Eve.  1881.  A large bronze.
The Kiss.  1882.  A delicate, beautiful marble on display in Paris.
Eternal Springtime.  1884.  One of my favorites, there is erotic energy for me here.
The Old Courtesan.  1885.  An honest elderly nude.
Love Fleeing (Fugit Amor). c. 1887-1900.  I am partial to this design.  Love is a provocatively posed female nude just escaping the grasp of a desirous male nude falling backwards, turned the wrong way to hold on to the female.  There are bronze versions of this work as well. 
Eternal Spring. 1906-1907.  A great variation on Eternal Springtime above.
Poet and Muse. c. 1905.  Perhaps my favorite Rodin nude.  This strikes me as a more romantic than erotic work.
Psyche (Pomona).  c. 1905.  A wonderful marble sculpture.
1905.  Romeo and Juliet.  Sensuous.   
An amazing nude in watercolor, pencil, and paper.  Date unknown.  Seated nude bending over.  As mentioned in the introduction to this post, Rodin sketched many erotic nudes, including nudes having sex; though he never actually sculpted any of these ideas that I am aware of.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Nude in Western Art: Part Two

Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted about 1800 works during his lifetime.  I don’t know the exact number but probably around 150 of them were various kinds of nudes.  He is referred to by at least one art historian as “the painter of women" and the feminine form (nude or otherwise) represented a significant portion of his work.  

He actually drifted more toward painting nudes later in his life.  Particularly in the final three decades of his life, Renoir seemed to surround himself with female “bathers”.  How splendid to be in his old age surrounded by femininity in often sensuously playful banter and contemplative repose! Things could be worse, right?

Many of his nudes with life-sized on huge canvases. But whether the paintings were large or small Renoir captured a sensual and distinctively feminine character in these fascinating master works.  As I said in Part One of this series, I do not find the vast majority of these paintings to be erotic. More often than not, Renoir’s taste in female symmetry does not match my own.  Yet, he remains my favorite painter and his nudes are a subject of interest to me.  So much so that I am devoting a full post to him alone.  Partly that is because the nude form seems to have played a greater part in his overall body of work than most other impressionist painter. But mostly it is because viewing almost any Renoir painting makes me happy.

He did create one great and rather mysterious erotic nude, however.  And we will begin with that somewhat provocative work.
The Boy with the Cat.  1868.  Why the radically pale flesh?  Why the lazy, comfortable pose?  Why is he looking at us somewhat seductively? Why is he so wrapped up in the cat adding to the seduction? There are no fixed answers. As the other paintings posted here will show, Renoir never created another work like this. It has a slightly disturbing quality. Nevertheless, I consider this Renoir's most erotic nude painting.  From his pre-impressionist days.
Above: 1870.  Bather with a Griffon Dog.  This painting is currently hanging in a major museum in Brazil.  This model is the same woman who posed for Renoir in Woman from Algiers which Jennifer and I saw in DC last summer.  Secondly: A feature in my Art Authority App allows you to view the size of the painting compared with average height youth.
Nude in the Sunlight.  1875-1876.  A marvelous example of Renoir's impressionistic transformation.  A rich, beautiful painting.  One of my favorites though, as I have said, I do not find the girl particularly attractive.
The Bathers.  1887.  Another transformation with four nudes, two youthful, the others in robust fullness.  This is another very large canvas painting.
Bather Seated on a Rock. 1892.  A small canvas for this one.
Nude in a Straw Hat.  Also from 1892, perhaps in a related location with the previous painting.  Different girl though. Technically, not a nude (though the title makes it admissible) since she is wearing a wonderful straw hat decorated with red flowers.  Renoir was at his best painting details in the flowers here and in many other non-nude paintings.
Bathers in the Forest.  1897.  A playful innocent moment.
Bather Sleeping.  1897.  A sultry yet dreamy pose. 
Large Nude.  1907.  I saw this large Renoir (among one or two others here) at an exhibit in Atlanta before I started this blog around 2007.
Caryatids. 1910.
Nude.  1910.  Playing with the energy of symmetry.
Venus Victrix. 1913.  Late in his life, Renoir broadened his exploration of the nude into sculpture and statues.  The subject is classically inspired by Greek myth. This form is about the same size as the Large Nude painting above. 
Femme a la Poitrine, Nue Endormie, 1919.  This is one of Renoir's last paintings.
The Bathers.  1918-1919.  Another huge canvas painting, perhaps his final large painting.  Also one of his most famous nudes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pono Will Save the Sound of Music

The Pono portable music player.  This one is signed by Neil.
We had one of the great sound experiences of our life.  I mean it was just absolutely amazing.  And you could feel, you know, what kind of an impact it could make in terms of addressing so many of the problems that exist in today's record industry. The sound is absolutely amazing and we were transformed by listening in this fashion, it was fabulous.

-  Mo Ostin, Chairman Emeritus, Warner Brothers Records

That's the best sound I have ever heard in a car in my life. As a matter of fact, it might be the best sound I've ever heard.

- David Crosby 

That music made me feel good.  Much better than I've felt in a long time listening to music.

- Norah Jones

This gives it to you as good as you can get it.

- Tom Petty

It blew me away.  It was like being in a recording studio.  It was like you were listening to Bob Dylan and you could hear him playing harmonica right next to you.  You could hear the drums and the backing vocals in Respect by Aretha.  I haven't heard a sound like that since vinyl and it's so impressive and so brilliant to hear.

- Elton John

It creates a warm analog sound that takes even your digital records and gives them a certain sort of bottom, a certain sort of glue, but more than anything else a closeness, an intimacy that digital recording can lose very easily.

- Bruce Springsteen

The sound and energy of it was so much richer and fuller and warmer and fatter and yummier.

- Sarah McLachlan

I have mentioned before that Neil Young is out to save the sound of music.  Even though I have labelled myself as "an MP3 man" instead of "an iTunes man" all these years, it was really a choice between two bottom dwellers.  CDs are not much better, frankly, even though it was cool experiencing them when they first arrived on the scene.  No scratches or pops and they last "forever".

DVD and Blu-ray are clearly superior audio formats, not just a step up in terms of video.  But those formats are not widely available for music. SACD tried to ramp-up the CD sound, but was ultimately a failure as a format.

So now comes Pono, riding to the rescue. Pono is something Neil has been working on for many years.  Saving the sound of music is not exactly what you might think.  It is bringing back something that used to be there.  It is an example of how technology can degrade stuff as well as enhance stuff. As the Pono home page puts it: "We're not changing music. We're letting music change you."

That remains to be seen (or heard in this case).  I trust Neil. I believe sound matters to Neil and I believe he gets it right. But, still, there are plenty of detractors out there.  None of them seem to be actually in the recording industry, however, as the above sampling of quotes might indicate.  One of my friends poo-pooed it flatly with: "Yeah, they're trying to cut out music privacy."  OK.  That don't make it sound bad does it?

The buzz has generated plenty of excitement with those who care about music quality.  Neil launched Pono yesterday on Kickstarter and met his goal of $800,000 in a few hours. The portable player promises to provide "30 times better" sound than your iPod (or iPhone, does anyone actually use iPods anymore?). Appropriately, Pono means "righteous" in Hawaiian. 

I am watching all this with a certain enthusiasm.  I did not participate in the Kickstarter scheme.  If I'm going to shell out $400 for a player with just a couple of pre-loaded tunes I'll probably wait until closer to the Christmas gift-giving season.  I have questions.  Does it sound that great on my existing stereo? Or am I limited to the ear buds that come with it? Anything special need to be added to my car audio besides the player? Will there be any bugs from mass production?  What about support issues? 

I'm thinking I will get one of these things eventually, but still I wonder how much the high-quality (and huge) audio files are going to cost? Will I be able to listen to Dark Side of the Moon in this format? That used to be the ultimate test for analog stereo systems back in my college days. Everybody had a copy of that record to show off the quality of their sound.  Maybe I'll get to experience that again. Will that make me young again? Even for a moment? The money is cheap for that kind of feeling. We'll see.  Go Neil. Go "righteous." Go Pono.

Neil explained why he was driven to create and market Pono at SXSW on Tuesday.  His speech was posted on the All Things Considered blog.  Listen to it here.

Late Note:  Pono pledges on kickstarter surpassed $5 million before the end of the month. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Nude in Western Art: Part One

During some gathering in the not so distant past Brian and I discussed the relationship between physical attraction and symmetry.  Brian seemed to adhere to some Platonic Idea that certain angles and shapes and forms are inherently more appealing than others.  He is an architect so he should know such things.  I can certainly relate.  I wrote about St. Augustine's view of Beauty awhile back.  Nevertheless Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Beauty is not absolute, but there is evidence that many appreciations of Beauty can be reduced to symmetry; it is just when you get down to the parts of things, there seems to be a wide variation in appreciated symmetry.

My interest in art is well-known on this blog.  Art is humankind's most inspired expression. Religion and science and technology are of greater karmic force perhaps but the expert manifestation of human creativity tops every human articulation, in my opinion.  Arthur Schopenhauer called "music, philosophy, painting, or poetry...the flower or net profit of existence." (II, page 388). Further: "Not merely philosophy but also the fine arts work at bottom towards the solution of the problem of existence....every artistic, apprehension of things is an expression more of the true nature of life and of existence, more an answer to the question, 'What is life?" (II, page 406)

The nude figure, its symmetry, is a central theme throughout the long history of Art.  Glorified and degraded, the human figure is a source of beauty and lust, of adoration and necessity.  The nude can be sensual and/or erotic depending upon the intent of the artist and the taste of the aficionado. As in most things, diversity is an advantage to survival, and what makes a given nude erotic ultimately and intimately lies within the preferences of the objectifying Lifeworld.  Whether or not a nude is erotic may or may not have anything to do with the artist's conception. Eros is not the tyrant of human nudity.  The naked body can be sexy flesh or simply honest flesh.  And certainly things can be erotic without nudity at all. My favorite painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, preferred more rotund nudes than I personally find erotic.  So, while I admire many of his nude paintings as sensual, I do not find them arousing.

But other artists do arouse me, again their intent might have nothing to do with such reactions. Nevertheless, I would submit that Eros is an underlying aspect of the Nude in Art; it is a perpetual (though not exclusive) subject of artistic inspiration.  From the ancient graphic depictions of the Kama Sutra to the honesty of Eve in the vast alter of a Medieval cathedral, the nude has been painted and sculpted for cause and effect.  I am devoting the next few posts to the Nude as a classic art form.  Some of what is offered here might be considered offensive or obscene by certain readers. Sorry, y'all best go read something else.  For true Adults only.  I think all of this is wonderful Art.

What follows is my chronology of Western Artistic Nudes beginning with the 15th century. This is simply my representative sampling and I do mot pretend that what follows is complete by any means.  The subject of the Nude in Art is vast. This post will very broadly cover the Nude as Art up to the time of Renoir.  A following post will deal with Renoir's nudes and we will see how things evolve after that. Most of this art in these next few posts is taken from my wonderful Art Authority App.  A few works were taken from other sources online.

We begin with Jan van Eyck.  This is Eve as represented in a part of The Ghent Altarpiece, a gigantic work of art painted between 1425-1429.  This is the nude as represented inside the Catholic Church.  It is a sacred piece and is based upon a rather typical nude female symmetry of that time, pear shaped with stomach larger than the hips.  The Church controlled most artistic expression at this time. 
Here we have a detail of The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Painted in 1485. The only other "publicly" acceptable exploration of the nude at this time outside of a specific Biblical connection required a "classical" connection to the myths of Ancient Greece. 
David by Michelangelo Buonarroti.  1501-1504.  Featured here in a view we don't normally get to admire of this masterpiece of sculpted art.  This is truly one of the greatest works in Western Art and, obviously, a nude.
Provocative for its time, we have Loth (Lot) and His Daughters by Albrecht Altdorfer.  Again this was not considered obscene only because it depicted a Biblical story.  Nevertheless, we have a father lying down with one of his daughters with intent to have drunken sex with her.  The other daughter is waiting in the distance.  Beyond that we see the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah which makes the whole thing possible to display. Such sin is represented as resulting ultimate hellfire and damnation.  Still, rather racy stuff for 1537.
Francois Boucher as a great painter of the Rococo period.  His Girl Reclining from 1753 captures this artistic style.  This is an important painting because it represents a shift of the nude away from Biblical or Classical connotation toward presenting the nude in everyday private life.
Jacques-Louis David painted Patroclus in 1780.  I find this to be a wonderful work of art.  It is an interesting pose and possesses an energetic flow moving from left to right.  I would classify this work as semi-erotic.  This is a great example of the Neoclassical style.
This color-printed relief etching by William Blake features three nudes, one of which is a child, which is a rare thing for 1794. It has the rather extended title of Los at the forge with Enitharmon and Orc, showing Los' jealousy of Orc, his child, resulting in the tightening of the girdle around his neck.  It is an illustration by Blake from The Book of Urizen.  As such, this is contemporary (for that time) nudity in an original story, another stage of the evolution of the artistic nude.
In contrast to the previous work, this a delightful nude, drifting in water, by William Blake, also from The Book of Urizen.  1794. A naked man with a floating white beard.  This is another etching, touched up with watercolor. 
This magnificent nude is by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes from 1800.  The Nude Maja is one of the first great "secular" frontal female nudes and represents the further liberation that the Enlightenment gave to art from the confines the Church or classic mythology.
Here we have another very strangely titled work.  Female nude, Killed from Behind. 1827 by Eugene Delacroix.  This is pastel, red and white chalk on paper.  It resides in the Louvre in Paris. Now we are solidly in the Romantic period of art.
La Bacchante.  A dreamy, semi-erotic pose painted by Gustave Courbet, completed in 1847.  This soft, fleshy voluptuous figure is a potent precursor to bolder nudes in the future.   
When Edouard Manet painted Luncheon in the Grass in 1863 he caused quite an uproar.  Polite Parisian society did not know quite how to relate to this work featuring a nude woman picnicking completely out of context with two gentlemen.  The overturned basket with fruit and other delicacies suggests a decadent quality.  Another woman bathes in the background. It was considered scandalous but it only served to further Manet's brilliant and financially successful career. Today it is considered a masterpiece. 
Another Manet.  Another scandal.  Another masterpiece from 1863.  Olympia shocked Paris again with a rather straightforward presentation of a prostitute looking directly at You, the viewer.  You are forced to relate to her and you know what she has in mind.  A very erotic work for its time.
But even the scandalous Manet nudes were nothing compared with this.  The Origin of the World painted by Courbet in 1866. This could be a Penthouse Magazine photograph but it is a highly provocative oil painting roughly a century and half old. It still causes controversy today and is censored in some areas. This takes the Nude as an Art form to its extreme up to the time Renoir, who we shall examine next.