Like Life – The Catalogue: Sculpture Interpreted at the Met Breuer

Like Life was a 2018 sculpture exhibition at New York’s Met Breuer Museum. Its catalogue of the same name not only illustrates many of the exhibits but also presents several analytical essays of a substantial and challenging nature. The catalogue is worthy of recognition in its own right and can be appreciated by anyone interested in art, even those who have not seen the exhibition. It presents a significant contribution to our appreciation of the three-dimensional art which we tend to label “sculpture” and its insights go significantly beyond what may be described as art criticism. The convoluted nature of this description will be understood by anyone who reads this book, because its approach is always to question the received values through which we interpret our experience of art. Indeed, these essays might even challenge our understanding of anything we might see through the lens of prejudice, assumption or merely interpretation. In short, everything. Like Life, the catalogue, thus becomes almost a disturbing experience. We know much more by the end, but only by realizing how little of ourselves and our perception that we actually understand.

Like Life is obviously a pun on life-like. It may also be read as a command, associated with liking life, which would be ironic, since the still life that these forms present is translated in many languages not as still, but dead. One of the threads that binds the discussion is that when sculpture becomes literally like life, it has generally been relegated by critics to artefact, and denied the label art. And at the heart of the discussion is the use of colour.

Modelled on a mis-placed assumption that classical sculpture was expressed via a visual language derived from the unblemished whiteness of marble, the story of sculpture unfolded via this mis-placed desire to reproduce classical values through both purity of whiteness and fineness of finish. Like Life not only reminds us that these classical works were originally polychrome, it also asserts that this false set of values conveniently coincided with the European view that whiteness was always superior, and that anything coloured was, by inspection, inferior. Anything polychrome was thus firmly relegated to the ambit of the artisan, not the artist. And it was this assumption that for centuries effectively separated the worlds of sculpture and painting.

The original Met Breuer exhibition displayed sculpture from the later medieval era up to the present day, but non-chronologically. It juxtaposed items to illustrate themes, contrasts and contradictions in a thoroughly stimulating way. The catalogue of Like Life also does this, but the intellectual arguments within its texts are perhaps even more arresting than the visual punches the exhibition delivered.

Why is it that in painting, an attempt to render flesh flesh-coloured is normal eve laudable,, whereas in sculpture it has for centuries been seen as devaluing the object? Why is it that we expect a sculptor to start with stone, wood or wax and work it into an image of their choice, rather than mould directly from the human form? Why do we still reject realism, when that realism depicts the everyday objects we normally do not associate with art? Why do expect idealised human forms, rather than real people, defects, foibles and all? Why is it that the sculpted naked human form still generally does not depict genitals? Why do we devalue sculpture that is modelled directly from life? What becomes clear quite early on the in this journey through a history of sculpture is that the process it illustrates could be applied to any artistic form in which we are willing to offer opinions. It could be painting, music, theatre, literature, poetry, etc. Upon what basis do we describe value or worth, upon what set of rules do we ascribe artistic value? And what controlling role do our presumptions play in editing what we see, or at least our interpretation of what we see? And, perhaps most important of all, if we are slaves to our presumptions, who or what generated them?

Functionality has always been a consideration. If an object is wholly divorced from use, then it has always been more likely, in our Western mode of thinking, that is, to be regarded as art. Mannequins in shopfronts, just like polychrome inflated cherubs decorating altarpieces, have always been seen as functional rather than artistic. A sculptor who chisels at a block of jasper to model a bust produces art, sometimes, whereas an undertaker who plaster casts a death mask does not. But then, a death mask is not representing life, is it? It shows a form incapable of movement, after all. But then how can we see a still life as art, because that cannot move, can it?

Viewing the exhibition itself and certainly reading the catalogue can literally change the way a person looks at the world. A flea market that used to offer repeated tables of junk, now presents objects that have a reason to exist. What the observer must try to glean is why the maker of the object decided to represent that thing, in that way, in that material and in that colour. Like Life thus leads to complication. What previously was seen, and perhaps largely ignored, becomes objectified, separate, worthy of being looked at actively, rather than received in a passive, even dismissive way. Not many books have this kind of effect on their readers.

Like Life is as much a challenge as it is a presentation. Yes, we are presented with images of sculpture and asked to react. But the commentary often offers such a radically different approach from that which we may assume that it really does challenge us to reinterpret and re-evaluate our presumptions. It is what art is supposed to do, isn’t it?

Great Masters In Painting And Sculpture: Frans Hals by Gerald S. Davies

Artistic taste is forever changing and there is obviously no such thing as a balanced opinion in the arts, where personal judgment and preference are the only currencies. And so styles come and go, bodies of work pass in and out of favour. The works of JS Bach were forgotten until revived a century on by Mendelssohn. Shakespeare was once derided as dense and difficult. And a Dutch painter called Frans Hals thankfully did not witness, a century after his death, his works changing hands for next to nothing. And, since taste continues to change, it is always informative to read the critical opinions of former eras, because it might be possible that critics really did see things differently.

Published in 1904, Frans Hals by Gerald S. Davies was written more than a century on from the low point of the artist’s stature, and the better part of two and a half centuries after the painter’s death in 1666. Copiously illustrated with glossy black and white plates, the book formed part of a series called Great Masters in Painting and Sculpture. We must thus anticipate the text to be of the skimping quality we usually expect when we perhaps reluctantly open up a populist publisher’s ‘Great Artists’ series.

But this 1904 volume is beautifully written. And what really does surprise is the uncluttered, modern style of the prose. There are no great condescending or judgmental passages about the artist or his character. There is considerable fact about his life, about which in reality we know remarkably little. But above all the book contains some inspired writing on and analytical observation of the paintings, some of which, incidentally, have since been reattributed. This adds another aspect to the experience, since it illustrates how our appreciation of the arts is very much conditioned by what we think we might know about the context or source of the object.

Frans Hals, it appears, was something of a rake. He was never rich, was in fact often in debt and, more often than not, close to penniless. He spent much of his time in the pub, where he drank to excess. He married early, and the union endured, but we now next to nothing about his domestic life. And yet, the respectable gentlemen of the St. Joris Shooting Guild regularly employed him to depict the club members in all their proud finery, full face or three-quarter front, depending on how much each sitter had contributed to the funding of the project.

Gerald Davies’s text is especially successful in its identification and description of the detail in the pictures. He identifies and locates elements of the artist’s style that the casual observer would simply not see, and throughout he approaches his subject with an enthusiasm that draws the reader into the discussion and is never didactic. In several sections of the book, the author draws parallels and cites contrasts with Rubens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt, all of whom, of course, achieved significantly more fame in their lifetimes than Hals did in his. Their work, perhaps, never did go out of favour, but that of Frans Hals certainly did. Painted largely in greys and black, the paintings of Frans Hals often appear to be more puritan in spirit even than their strait-laced sitters.

But then, as Davies point out, there is a young man bearing a standard, a coloured sash, an item of still life that adds dramatic statement by introducing contrast. And, of course, there are the chuckling wenches, the singing drunks and the other low life subjects that Hals chose to paint where, with arguably unique skill and talent, he captured an instantaneous expression as if it had been photographed.

Davies also insists that the paintings of Hals need a large viewing space. For the author, close-up viewing is too revealing of a technique that often approaches complete abstraction. And here we do find a difference from today’s critical taste, where such free brushwork would be cited as evidence of an artistic strength. Davies does not criticise it, but his era preferred not to scrutinise it in search of the psychological dimension that is now so completely essential to any critical analysis of an artist’s work.

Tastes may change and artists may come in and out of favour. Frans Hals continues to be seen as one of the greatest of painters and in the intervening years much has been written about him. But great art endures because it summarises the sensibilities of its era, at least those we insist on imposing upon it. Great writing works the same way and let us continue to include in that category critical works such as this Davies book on Hals, purely on its contemporary relevance and not merely because it offers an historical perspective on the work.

Careers in Photography

From exotic locales to magazine covers to newspapers, a career in photography will allow you to unleash your creativity and to choose exactly how you want to pursue it.

What Can Photography Schools Do For You?

These schools essentially help you to develop creative and artistic skills, along with the technical abilities that are necessary for you to become a professional photographer. Students can pursue lucrative and satisfying careers by blending photography and art to fit their specific interests. The courses provided are wide-ranging and technical, and provide training in the use and care of cameras, and in handling the intricacies of film development.

The training includes instructions on conventional cameras and other equipment, digital photos, types of lenses, length of exposures and the various techniques used for developing prints. Several universities and colleges award degrees in photography such as Associate of Arts (AA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA). In addition, some schools provide graduate level courses for certificates in photography with advanced techniques. Students can select photography as either a major or a minor subject, or they can choose special photography classes simply to pursue their interests.

These schools encourage and develop originality, creativity, resourcefulness, personal expression and individual style through their training programs. The curriculum consists of digital and film techniques, lighting, camera basics, portraiture, fine arts, digital imaging software, and composition and darkroom printing techniques.

Many schools also offer courses in illustration, documentary film making techniques, designing, commercial advertising, presentation skills, business skills, photojournalism, and how to set up a studio for aspiring photographers. Photography school graduates can specialize in sports, marketing, news, portraiture and several other professions within the vast field of photography. Bachelor and Associate Degrees provide entry-level positions as artists, technicians, and assistants in commercial photography.

Careers in Photography If you acquire a comprehensive basic education from any school or college, then here are a few of the fields you can specialize in:

o Digital Photography

o Fashion Photography

o Editorial Photography

o Advertising Photography

o Wedding Photography

o Documentary Style Photography

o Photo Technician

For gifted people who are naturally talented, photography as a career can be very lucrative and bring fame. Indeed, many professional photographers have reached the top of this field, and are highly sought after for their services. Here are a few careers in photography that students can pursue:

o Newspaper and Magazine Photographer – Although freelance photography is more lucrative, photographers who are just getting started can make a name for themselves through newspapers and magazines.

o Advertising Agencies – In advertising agencies, photographers make ads for various campaigns. You can grow in this field and even become an art director or a supervisor for operations.

o Fashion Shooting – Working in fashion shoots involves hard work, but is a stimulating experience. Photographers conceptualize and direct the shoots. Many fashion houses employ photographers.

o Event Photographer – Events like weddings and concerts or debuts require photographers to document the function.

o Freelance Photographer – Freelance photography is a challenging but satisfying and exciting career. There are a number of international organizations like the UNICEF that hire professional photographers to make various documentaries in remote areas.

Photography careers are as artistically rewarding as they are profitable. For all those with a creative bent of mind and an artistic eye, a career in photography can open a wide vista of opportunities.