Monday, January 14, 2008

Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you...

In case you were wondering who she really is, check out the latest.

I shocked my art students last year when I confessed that I don't particularly care for this painting. When I started analyzing it I realized that portraiture isn't my favorite type of painting; I prefer storytelling and allegory pieces and landscapes. Here's a favorite by Raphael, called Allegory, The Knight's Dream.

This painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, by Paul Delaroche, was a favorite in art class this year. The "Mona Lisa incident" led to a great discussion about how we can separate opinion from objectively looking at art. In other words the Mona Lisa is a great painting because of Leonardo's incredible techniques of sfumato and chiaroscuro, and not because everyone likes it. Truthfully, to try to label a piece of art as a great piece or a masterpiece simply as a reflection of our taste is kind of dangerous. What if I'm a critic with a newspaper column and I don't like yellow? Does that suddenly mean that Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie should be dismissed? Or van Gogh's Night at the Cafe (either version)? In labelling great art we need to rise above the level of opinion and talk in terms of composition, meaning, style, color, etc. Or, if we do want to dwell in the realm of opinion, to recognize it and talk in that vein.

And in that vein, we also talked about developing their own likes and dislikes in art, and how those tastes may differ from their teacher--none of which affects whether or not the Mona Lisa is a great painting. So, if you like something that the critics don't, it doesn't mean you're in the wrong. It's okay to like 19th-Century French Academic art and the Impressionists at the same time. I think it's a good idea, though, to give it a little thought and discover what it is you like about each--it makes art more interesting. On our last test I asked the students to tell me their favorite painting that we've looked at this year and to explain why, which was fun. (Side note: be aware that clicking on the art links may lead to images that contain some painted nudity--art is that way. I try to always keep this a family-friendly blog, but it's hard to monitor every image that will come up when clicking on a clearinghouse sort-of database for these artists, so I'm giving you a heads-up.)

And here's another tidbit. Technically it's not correct to call Leonardo da Vinci by just "da Vinci". That part refers to where he is from. I don't call my friend in Canada "of Hamilton." Instead I call her Dianne, and we should refer to Leonardo as (are you ready for this) Leonardo. (Especially posted for William Kloss.) Of course, then there's Caravaggio, who did go by a name that refers to where he is from because his real name was Michelangelo Merisi and he presumably didn't want to be confused with the other fellow, Michelangelo Buonarroti--you know, the Sistine Chapel fellow. Isn't art fun. :-)

No comments: