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Visual Argument of Art

Famous art works of modern and post modern times are most often argued as just an art or have deeper meanings. I do believe than in an artwork lies a deeper meaning, mostly of those which do not often see in one artist. Infact, Berger in “Ways of Seeing” often challenge ways of looking at art and other images that ignore the status of works of art as commodities. He completely re-shifts the readers understanding of art. It is about art philosophy, but much more than that, how we understand the nature of art, and how it relates to our cultures and societies.

We not only live in a capitalistic society, but one in which virtually all its inhabitants are consumers. Consumers purchase commodities. Berger wants to raise the consciousness of viewers of these paintings that they are not merely “masterpieces,” but commodities. Or, in the case of oil painting, visual representations of commodities. One painting of Andrew Wyeth entitled “Christina’s World” describe exactly the invisible which is made visible through his artwork.

Looking at the painting, you’ll get the feeling of sadness when first seeing and knowing the story behind how this painting came about and I liked it, simply because it is an honest painting. This painting lives the feeling of nostalgic loneliness. It reminds me a bit of the painting made by James Whistler; Harmony in Blue and Silver. The painting is set on a countryside farmland on clear skied autumn day. There are no visible trees and the field is covered with what looks like drying grass. There is a visible division on the grasses that tells where it has been grazed or not.

A frail looking girl, Christina, wearing a pale pink dress, is sitting almost sprawled in the grass facing the vast field. We can see that she seems to be gazing at an old farmhouse from afar. An old barn stands not far from the farm house and what looks like remnants of old picket posts can be seen near the farm house. However, if we see Christina in the painting as an unhappy youth, looking her house from afar, truth is, she was already 55 years old, and had an undiagnosed muscular deterioration which paralyzes half of her body.

Christina is already crippled, yet, the painter attaches Christina’s thin frail hand to the body of his 30 year old wife, which he used as his model in this painting. (The Olsen House, 2004) As Wyeth had painted Christina facing backward, showing her very thin hands and legs as she crawled her way towards the house or merely looking at her world from a distance, it doesn’t show her true emotions, whether she is happy, sad, crying or struggling. Upon analyzing the colors, the artist used the dull and weak types of palettes.

There is no visible bright, strong or vivid palette in this painting. The colors in the painting are dominantly tertiary colors. The colors used most in this painting are earth toned colors. Given that the dominant colors are tertiary and that there is visible lighting or shadowing in the painting, it can be said that the painter definitely did not apply the colors flat on his canvas and that mixing of colors was done. With these tones and colors being applied, viewers can immediately feel a sense of loneliness and isolation, a feeling of saying goodbye to some world she loved so much.

The light is coming from the upper right front of the painting, sensibly coming from the horizon. The noticeable shadows in the painting are shadows of the farmhouse, the barn, the little outhouse, the Christina’s arms, hair and lower body. The shadows of the objects consistently fall on the lower left of the object; this coincides with the source of light coming from the upper right portion of the painting. There is a wide range of tonal contrast for this painting.

Very light highlights can be seen on the grass details and the dark shadows are seen on the shadows of the farmhouse, barn and the details of the Christina’s body. The artist has used tempera as his media. The painting definitely looks still and peaceful. The artist achieved this stillness by making the painting almost barren except for the girl and the structures afar. The only hint of movement in the painting is the wisps of the girl’s hair which seem to be moving because of a soft breeze. In addition, the girl seems to be moving her body because her left hand looks like it’s about to touch the ground.

The center of interest in the composition is not the scenery of the landscape but the frail girl. The artist has drawn the attention to the girl by making the presence of other objects almost unnoticed. Christina stood out in her pale pink dress in the midst of an almost repetitive color of the fields. He placed the girl in the center of the composition and the way the girl is positioned is not natural. It appears as though she is having a hard time moving her body because of the disheveled hair. The girl’s frailty is very noticeable in her bony arms and shin.

I think the artist wanted people to be curious on whom the girl is and if she was modeled from a real person. What was she doing on the middle of the field in what looks like in the middle of the day. Looking at the painting, I think the artist wanted to convey a sense of reflective solitude. To convey this mood he used earth toned colors and somber tones of pink and blue. In addition, to stress the nostalgic atmosphere, he made the landscape almost bare and treeless. Christina’s character in this painting has aimless and seemingly idle and lonely life due to her illness.

Through the eyes of Wyeth as the painter of the Christina’s home, which he once used as his studio, we are able to see how he sees his friend Christina in the aftermath of her paralysis as he literally saw her dragging her self in the grass to collect flowers. In all his hidden worries and trouble, he sees Christina Olsen as his inspiration. A cure to his hungry artistic hands and imagination. I think the artist wants to convey the world of people who live with limitations. What lies beyond the horizons of the landscape in the painting pertains to the enormous possibilities of what we can experience in this world.

Notice that, here, the painter has positioned Christina as though she was gazing and moving towards the farmhouse. To Christina, this is her world. Not because she wanted to, but because this is what was installed for her. Wyeth wanted to depict the real Christina in his paintings. He wanted people to see that Christina embraced her disability. Ignoring her difficulties, she still goes out unto the field to see the landscape and experience the world even if what she can see and experience is just a minute fraction of what other people can.

In Christina’s awkward posture in the painting, I see the longing to live and not the pain of living. The main theme behind this piece is the real meaning of living. Living is not necessarily a one way path because a person can be both poignant and contented no matter what is fated for him. In solitude there is happiness. Yet, it is in those captivating times when viewers get to experience what the character feel with more depth and understanding on the underlying factors that surround the conflict.

According to Salter (1999), Christina Olsen was a master of dressmaking and was very loving to her brothers children. When she was taken to the doctor while she was young, she stomped her feet in great indignation and by the age 53, she was no longer able to stand. She had stopped trying to walk, and refused to use a wheelchair even if her own father had used a wheelchair since 1922. She resorted to crawling instead and would crawl to visit a dear friend living 800 feet away. She would crawl a distance of 800 feet in less than an hour even if she arrived to her destination quite fatigued.

To appreciate this kind of art, one has to look beyond the bleakness of the portrait and delve into the artist’s symbolism. This composition was not made to satisfy the visual senses of its viewers but to remind them of nostalgic memories. It is understandable that Wyeth made the painting so still so that the focus of the painting would be on Christina. With the artistic license vested on him, Wyeth separated the barn from the house which omitted a stand of pine trees. This placed Christina in a setting and position that doesn’t correspond to the precise lay of the land.

It would have been a more cheerful image if there were a couple of trees on the painting or if the grass were taller and that they were swaying with a gentle breeze where Christina could feel much more alive in her world in Maine, and thinks that these mountains can offer her much more security, believing that everything grows with accordance to signs that are set by the rules of heaven. But then, what makes this painting honest is that Wyeth did not attempt to make it picturesque but instead expressed Christina’s world as he sees it.

Another painting, La Persistencia De La Memoria, better known around the world as The Persistence Of Memory, was painted by Salvador Dali in 1931 had also supported the argument that artworks make the invisible visible. Here, five major themes discussed in The Persistence Of Memory by Dali, which are time, personal memories, and decay. Dali was a Spanish painter, designer, sculptor, film-maker and graphic artist. He is most well known for his work for the Surrealist movement that he joined in 1929, although his earlier works also include explorations in Cubism, Futurism, and Metaphysical painting.

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