Posts Tagged ‘spain’

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The Symbolic Function of Color in the Art of Joan Miró

June 8, 2011

The symbolic vocabulary of color has many different languages. These languages allow the voyeur to understand their experience of art and the world within a variety of contexts. Color is a vocabulary of communication as well as a process of creating. It can be understood through techniques of degree, but also articulated as modes of emotion in the lexicon of psychology. The relationship between color and symbol is particularly strong in the work of Joan Miró.

The question of how to interpret art, literature, music, politics, and basically everything is one that has been postulated, revised, and argued for millennia. Strategies focusing on form, content, source, and context are all relevant and successful methods for extrapolating meaning from experience and creation. There is interpretation that happens on a personal level and works within the context of an individual’s unique world of perspective, and then there is interpretation that is formulated in an aesthetic vocabulary that interacts with critical conversations taking place within a larger community. Though different in their origin, both personal and critical processes begin from a point of engaged response. The piece of art must create a unique experience. How this experience is interpreted within a given context becomes the grand debate.

The discussion of art on a personal level is directly connected to the therapeutic arts and may often be a guided strategy. The inner world of the individual is projected onto an external object to reveal metaphors that are challenging the development or health of the psyche. Once externalized the collective symbology of the art may be researched, concretizing internal abstract concepts into a visual vocabulary. While this description is brief and reductionary, the process is intended to be organic and address both personal experiences and archetypal dynamics. Symbols contain both personal and collective meaning, or relevance.

In contrast, a critical or aesthetic discussion of art focuses on an understanding of that those participating in the conversation have an understanding of what has been said in the past, how it has been said, and why it was or is no longer relevant. Critical interpretation accesses jargon specific to the medium, within the realms of both technique and content. Symbolism that is found in archetypes, geometry, color, and numerology all play a role within formal interpretations. In his book, Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary, Terry Bennett summarizes the principles of interpretation. These principles our listed below, however central to the action of interpretation is that the piece of art demands an interpretation and that feelings are the guide. Whether the feelings are understood as a collective or personal analytical process depends on the forum.

This relationship between feeling, interpretation, and symbolism is particularly visible in the art of Catalan artist Joan Miró. Born in 1893 Barcelona, Miró was a part of the surrealist and Spanish Civil War Parisian ex-patriot communities. However, while his work has often been interpreted as Surrealism, he resisted being defined as a Surrealist artist. His objective was to “assassinate art” or to break from the historical interpretation of what art is, or should be. Being labeled as a Surrealist would work would limit his ability to explore new territory, methods, and forms of expression.

While Miró resists categorical interpretation, throughout his work he asks questions. These questions take the form of color and technique and meditate on what the symbol has to say within a set amount of space. Specifically, Miró worked with strategies such as automatic drawing (where the hand is allowed to move freely as an extension of the unconscious), Surrealism (which philosophically strove to reveal authentic thought through juxtaposing unexpected symbols and forms), Expressionism (which applies emotional subjectivity to evoke moods or ideas), and Color Field Painting (that meditated on combinations, and or fields of color symbology). While each of these methods is accompanied and motivated by methods of critical thought, Miró’s resistance to one mode of exposition is consistent.

Which leads us to ask, just how does Miró want his body of art to be understood?

If we take away interpretation, what is left? Experience. What is the experience of viewing Miró’s art? Does this experience change? How can this experience remain active? How does one assassinate this historical concept of art? By striving to avoid classification, and by engaging the imagination.

Personnage EtoileFor example, what is the experience of viewing his 1978 painting “Personnage Etoile”? In English the title is translated as Star Person, or Star Character. On an abstract textured field of bright sky blue, minimalistic symbols work together and disjointedly to engage the imagination. Circle, star, curve, red, yellow, what is the message? Is the blue the color of the Madonna? Does it relate to Haitian Santeria, or is it inspired by the expansive Mediterranean beyond the walls of Miró’s studio? In his theory of Deconstruction, Derrida argues that the experience of deconstruction is as if, while following the inward curve of a fixed point toward a center, we suddenly find that the center has moved elsewhere. The spiral is destabilized and the interpretation is disoriented. Likewise, the experience of Miró’s “Personnage Etoile” provides just enough information to stimulate the process of interpretation, but the same stimulation resists conclusions and continues to evoke questions.

Through the interpretive resistance of Miró’s artwork we are better able to witness our own processes of interpretation for what they are, reflections and projections of who we are—internally and as a community. And what we find is that who we are is just as unresolved as the image that we meditate upon.

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Barrett’s Principles of Interpretation:

  • Artworks have “aboutness” and demand interpretation.
  • Interpretations are persuasive arguments.
  • Some interpretations are better than others.
  • Good interpretations of art tell about the critic.
  • Feelings are guides to interpretations.
  • There can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same work.
  • Interpretations are often based on a worldview.
  • Interpretations are not so much absolutely right, but more or less reasonable, convincing, enlightening, and informative.
  • Interpretations can be judged by coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness.
  • An artwork is not necessarily about what the artist wanted it to be about.
  • A critic ought not to be the spokesperson for the artist.
  • Interpretations ought to present the work in its best rather than its weakest light.
  • The objects of interpretation are artworks, not artists.
  • All art is in part about the world in which it emerged.
  • All art is in part about other art.
  • No single interpretation is exhaustive of the meaning of an artwork.
  • The meanings of an artwork may be different from its significance to the viewer.
  • Interpretation is ultimately a communal endeavor, and the community is ultimately self-corrective.
  • Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to continue on our own.

Barrett, T. (1994). Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company

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La Luz y El Campanero: Symbolism in 1925 Burgos, Spain

June 7, 2011

 “ In the fields with which we are concerned,

knowledge comes only in lightning flashes.

The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.”

[On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]

Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project

The above photograph was taken from the bell tower in Burgos, Spain in 1925. This photo was included in a photo retrospective on Castilla Leon, published in the Spanish periodical El Pais, June 7, 2011 . In Spanish the bell tower is called el campenar and the bell-ringer is el campanero. Throughout Spain, bell towers are found in the central part of each town and city. While graphically striking, this photo also has strong symbolic meaning.

In the picture you see the inside of the bell tower. A man is actively ringing one of the bells and gazing into what is being illuminated beyond the interior walls of the tower. An additional bell makes up part of the window frame directly facing the photographer. Through this window the outline of the grand gothic cathedral of Burgos is clearly visible.

Traditionally, a tower is a symbol of hope and freedom. Throughout history, the tallest building within a community is also the most important. Originally, the church, or spiritual house, held this position. Then the government, or political power, strategically moved higher. Now, the economic skyscrapers reign from on high. One can easily imagine how hope and freedom has been executed and disillusioned by each institution. Ranging from existentialism, to corruption, and the sustainability challenges of consumerism that now define capitalism.

However, in this photograph, we find that the church is still the central tower within the community. Symbolically a tower represents high hopes and aspiration. It strives to connect the earthly with the heavens. The individual who is looking out from the tower prevails over the environment below with a sense of superiority. However, in this image, the environment within the tower is dirty and broken, the face of El Campanero is not turned downward, rather outward, suggesting an alternative reading. To hear a bell, which is certainly a signified by the picture, represents a warning, or a call to order. It can also be the beginning of something new, both literally and figuratively as a method of the unconscious to prepare for the future. Finally, the symbolism of seeing the outside of a church denotes sacredness and spiritual nourishment. The church is equated with the things you revere and your value system.

While the initial instinctual response to viewing this photograph is positive, understanding the symbolic relationships reinforces this impression. Inside the tower of hope and freedom and man rings the bells as a call of attention to the future. El Campanero does not look downward in superiority, rather his face is fully illuminated and looks outward, slightly smiling into the intensity of the light. The church in the background reinforces the overwhelming feeling of optimism. However, the hope that is being discovered in the sound, light, and squalor of the bell tower is directly juxtaposition with the distanced splendor of the church. In this image, the light that captivates the ringer of the bells asserts a greater authority.

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Book Review: The Borgias and their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert

April 12, 2010

Christopher Hibbert writes like an experienced academic–self conscious, solid and consistent prose, unadorned by rhetorical bouquets and ready to get the job done. While his skills are respectfully utilized, it is not his writing that keeps the reader engaged.

Rodrigo Borgia, patriarch of the Borgia dynasty and also known as Pope Alexander VI, is the source from which interest in this book is propagated.  Between his own history and that of his progeny, the audience is simply wowed with the extent to which ambition can soar when opportunity is abundant. I would first like to raise some conceptually provocative questions about the importance of the Borgia dynasty in relation to the contemporary church, and then will  provide a short summary of their influence on history.

Currently, the Catholic Church is being faced with a barrage of sex scandals. For years, it has been clear that there is an association between repressed sexuality and sexual abuse. However, it was unclear whether this was a cultural (as in “American”) problem or something universal.

Now, it is clear that sex abuse is a universal problem. Naturally, these scandals have led many people to question their faith: how can I belong to a church that harbors such atrocities? However, the fact is that the Church has always been corrupt.Not that this fact should be celebrated, but it leads us to wonder why this corruption is less tolerable right now. No, there is no excuse for what has been committed, but crimes such as these (and even worse) have been going on for centuries.

So why are these crimes being publicly acknowledged now? And, is the light of the Catholic faith stronger than the crimes of it’s representatives? Questions such as these accompanied my reading of  Christopher Hibbert’s book, The Borgias and their Enemies.

During the Italian Renaissance the power of the city lay with the Pope and the Pope was not necessarily Italian. This is true in the case of Rodrigo Borgia, originally from Valencia, Spain (Borja in Catalan), who became Pope Alexander VI and ruled from January 1, 1492-August 18, 1503. One might note that this also the period in which Ferdinand and Isabella united Spain into one country and sponsored Christopher Columbus’ explorations (approximately 1492). Nepotism, bribery, and untold amounts of manipulation landed Rodrigo the position of Pope.

Despite his vows, Rodrigo did not hesitate in acknowledging his numerous children. He is famous for his ambitious match making that united his family with the royalty of Europe. His oldest son Cesare entered the papacy and later left to pursue the more lucrative and politically powerful positions available through marriage. Though handsome in his youth, through his uninhibited sexual exploits Cesare contracted syphilis that eventually led to terrible facial scarring and, what some would consider, madness. Cesare would eventually go beyond the influence of his father in his aspiration for power. Cesare is most widely familiar as one of the principle models for Machiavelli’s book The Prince.

While Rodrigo had several children, the second most famous is his daughter Lucrezia. Married, divorced, and with several lovers Lucrezia remained staunchly loyal to her family–despite her brother murdering her favored husband. She was scandalous in her affairs and at times rumored to be a lover to both her father and brother. It is also speculated that she was a murderess and had poisoned numerous individuals. However, in the later part of her life she also put much energy into redeeming her reputation. Because of her scandalous affairs, multiple marriages, and ambitious family she has been the inspiration for many films and books.

Though the Borgia family were able to maintain the powerful hold on Italy, parts of France and Spain while Rodrigo was alive, Cesare lost the protection of the Pope when his father passed away.  Cesare had been a Cardinal, Bishop, Captain General, Confalone, Lord, Count, Prince and Duke. However, after the death of his father he lost his holdings, was exiled, and died. Throughout the years the Borgia family had inspired the enemies through their repressive rule. The Borgia dynasty dissipated rapidly and little remains. In Spain, the Borja palace can still be visited in Gandia, Valencia and the neighboring countryside is reminiscent of its ducal history.

Armas de Borja

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Volver: A Return to Memory

May 23, 2009

 

 

Volver

Director Pedro Almodóvar portrays a pantheon of archetypal female persona in his 2006 film, Volver. From Spanish, volver means ‘to return’ and can be used in both literal and figurative contexts—the physical return to a place, or a metaphoric return to experience. Located in modern day Spain, the film shares its time frame between suburban Madrid and a rural village of the La Mancha region. La Mancha is famously recognized from Miguel de Cervantes’ classic tale, Don Quixote. Though chronologically centered in modern times, the reality of the La Manchan village is immediately identified as being a liminal, or threshold between what is present and what has passed. It is important to clarify, that though Almodóvar uses cinematic and narrative techniques to convey the innate ‘otherness’ of the village, he did so not as a false construction, but as an amplification of what is already present in rural Spain. Specifically, La Mancha is characterized as being a place of fantasy and insanity, the film elaborating on the strong winds that bring fire and lunacy. In contrast, life on the edges of Madrid is characterized by stark urbanization and the necessity of hard work. In both locations, loneliness is a familiar neighbor. The film centers around the relationship of five women and their challenge to return to memories that they prefer to keep repressed. Central to their struggles is the relationship to the Mother and to Death: the womb and the tomb.

The various layers of mystery, memory, and wounding present in the film are more clearly understood through the perspective of psychological structures and persona described in Archetypal Psychology, specifically through the personification of Athena, Hera, and Demeter. Personification “implies a human being who creates Gods in human likeness much as an author creates characters out of his own personality. These Gods depict his own needs; they are his projections” (Hillman 12). Hillman compares the process of creating God-images to the authorial process of character development. In both instances, the personification is a projection of the author. Understanding that personification reflects aspects of a personality and is also a creative process is important. In Virginia Apperson and Jon Beebe’s upcoming book The Presence of the Feminine in Film, the authors describe the relationship between cinema and analyst in the following way: “The film director’s job is to tell a compelling, captivating and credible tale. The Jungian analyst’s job is to tap into the archetypal possibilities that lie within their analysands’ dreams and neurotic symptoms, helping them discover that which blocks them and that which will lead them into a more meaningful existence.” The tool of both the cinematographer and the analyst are found in archetypes. Apperson and Beebe explain:

With a shared reverence for image, the movie director and Jungian analyst carry a confidence that this instrument that they most rely upon, the archetypal image, ‘is a living, organic entity which acts as a releaser and transformer of psychic energy’ (Edinger 1972, 109). Without the symbolic possibilities found in the many layers behind the image, neither could do their job. Without the vitality of the symbolic, there would be no growth, no dynamism, no effective movement, no transformation, and no redemption. (Apperson and Beebe, Publishers Preface)

Archetype becomes the metaphoric palette for both the artist and the healer. As with any creation, it is important to clarify from the beginning of this analysis that the intention of the exploration is not to reduce the plot to a single argument; rather, it is to acknowledge that the very nature of femininity is to resist absolute definitions, to allow for each woman hold her own pantheon of goddess within her psyche, and to inspire future explorations. [Excerpt from Larger Piece]

© 2009 Cerena Ceaser