LAUREN MITCHELL, Imagination on an Island, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas, 16″ X 24,” $300

LAUREN MITCHELL, Imagination on an Island, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas, 16″ X 24,” $300

What did you come up with?  In response to our last post, let’s think about your group discussion questions in depth.

1.  What is the purpose of art?  That is, how is art used?  Be sure to come up with at least three examples.

Anthropologists suggest that art first appeared because man had capabilities for great intelligence and needed to create.  It started with looking at his surroundings and seeing art within them.  (Think about how as a kid you saw pictures in the clouds.) Keep in mind, however, that art always has a purpose, even if it’s something as simple as being entertaining or providing an outlet for the artist.

In any case, art adapted for various functions.  It was, and still is, used as a teaching tool.  Consider the early Christian cathedrals and their stained glass windows.  They depicted scenes from Christ’s life and suffering, since most of the population couldn’t read.  It illustrated the Bible.

Art also functions as a warning.  For example, early Romans used to depict scenes of Roman soldiers trampling “barbarians.”  Such images often appeared on triumphal arches and faced the outskirts of the Roman empire.  It served as a warning for foreigners who were entering Rome to be on their best behavior.

Art also existed to commemorate important events.  (This was the only way prior to photography.)  Such works included coronations of kings, royal marriages, and success in battle.  These types of works are referred to as history paintings.  It seems significant to note that such paintings proved the most expensive and, therefore, further functioned by displaying one’s wealth and status.

Dissemination of information exists as another function of art.  Think of early prints.  Prints were cheaply made and became available to a broad audience.  Political cartoons and the like often appeared as prints and made the populace aware of political issues and abuses.

These are just a few of art’s many functions.  It can also be used to entertain, used as therapy (that’s how Jackson Pollock started), and used to advertise.  What answers did you come up with?

ERIN BERRETT, Side Car

ERIN BERRETT, Side Car

2.  Think of all the formal elements that create meaning within an artwork.  List at least three examples, and address various media.

Art includes many formal elements, including line, color, texture, use of shading, symmetry or asymmetry, use of positive or negative space, and choice of media.  Speaking of media, their differences also render unique formal elements.  Consider sculpture, for example.  Placement of the work and use of space (is it in a crowded foyer or alone in a corner?) all create meaning.  Size also becomes an important element.  Did your answers coincide, or did you think of different examples?

3.  Think how famous art from the past has become in-grained within our popular culture.  Where do some images from the old masters appear?  (You might want to think about Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Monet, to name a few.)  Give at least three examples.

Images from the old masters bombard our current culture.  We see Rembrandt’s portrait grace everything from packages of Dutch cheese to whitening toothpaste.  (Too bad the real Rembrandt had rotting teeth back in the day; not exactly the poster child for toothpaste.)  We also see famous art in modern movies.  (Did anyone watch Girl with a Pearl Earring?)  Their works also appear on t-shirts, handbags, jewelry, mugs, and screensavers.  Monet proves particularly popular in the accessory department with his water lilies.

4.  Do you think this incorporation of past art into our popular culture is corrupting or modernizing?  Why?

There are various camps to consider with this response.  Some feel that incorporating works from the old masters into common everyday items demean their original intention. Keep in mind, their works were designed for a particular function relevant to their context.  One wonders if Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello would mind being ninja turtles now.  However, many argue that incorporation of the old masters’ works into our modern culture help them retain relevancy.  It’s better to be aware of their works, even if it’s on a coffee mug, than to be ignorant of them.  Where did you stand on this issue?

ELLEN MCCONNELL, Green Tri, "Eight Squared Series," 48"x48," $750

ELLEN MCCONNELL, Green Tri, “Eight Squared Series,” 48″x48,” $750

Welcome back from holiday break!  What better way to start the new year than to think about art’s inherent function in our lives.  We often take it for granted, but it appears everywhere.  Art isn’t just paint on canvas; it exists in animated movies, on billboards, even in household items like wheel-thrown mugs.  Many people take art for granted, so it’s important to address its presence and use.

Discussion Questions:  (Feel free to answer individually or in groups.)  We will include numerous answers in our next post to supplement your responses.

1.  What is the purpose of art?  That is, how is art used?  Be sure to come up with at least three examples.

2.  Think of all the formal elements that create meaning within an artwork.  List at least three examples, and address various media.

3.  Think how famous art from the past has become in-grained within our popular culture.  Where do some images from the old masters appear?  (You might want to think about Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Monet, to name a few.)  Give at least three examples.

4.  Do you think this incorporation of past art into our popular culture is corrupting or modernizing?  Why?

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 24 x 20," oil on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 24 x 20,” oil on panel, 2014

What does it mean to be “off the trail, on the path?”  I guess in its simplest terms, this quote from Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild, refers to being a nonconformist and diverging from the well-traveled trail.  Yet, one can remain a nonconformist and still follow destiny– a unique path that leads toward self discovery.

TRENT ALVEY, Finch Lane 2, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 32 x 60," oil and collage on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Finch Lane 2, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 32 x 60,” oil and collage on panel, 2014

This concept of journey and discovery fascinates local artist, Trent Alvey.  It seems all her works represent an aspect of a journey, whether an image of her many travels to Africa or a representation of the ever-changing role of women.  Alvey’s latest paintings document the artist’s recent struggle with breast cancer and document her recovery by depicting her many walks in Emigration Canyon.  Alvey revealed her rebirth and the benefit of her walks among nature, fresh air, and changing weather.

The series “Off the Trail, On the Path,” initially started as non-representational but developed into landscapes.  What better way to depict a journey than through landscape, waiting to be traversed?  Landscape possesses a universality that can speak to us as viewers more so than portraits or multi-figured scenes.  As viewers, we can imagine our own journeys.  We can all relate to suffering, triumph, nature, beauty, power.  More importantly, Alvey’s series reminds us that no matter what attempts to set us back, we can find our way “off the trail, on the path.”

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration IV, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 24 x 20," oil on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration IV, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 24 x 20,” oil on panel, 2014

More About Trent Alvey:

Trent Alvey exists as one of Utah’s most well-known and successful artists.  One of her works, Toaster Worship, even appears at the University of Utah in the Utah Museum of Fine Art’s permanent collection.  She serves as a trustee for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and has received innumerable awards and grants, including the Mayor’s Award for Fine Art.  Teaching and traveling to Africa for humanitarian causes also occupies Alvey’s time.  To learn more about Alvey, please refer to her website at: www.trentalvey.com.

Within his prints and paperworks, local artist Bret Hanson creates a map of his experiences.  Diagrams, maps, architecture, and religion provide the inspiration for Hanson’s works.  By using various printing techniques, the artist creates a collage effect.  The result is a highly dynamic work that invites viewers to contemplate various dimensions and symbolic meanings and to experience his artistic journey.

BRET HANSON, PIranesi’s Dream, 2007, 25″x32″, Callograph and cyanotype, mounted on birch panel

Now is the opportunity to create a map of your own experience.  Consider using various media and/or techniques.  Include aspects of inspiration from your life.  Is there a particular person or place that has influenced you?  What other factors have contributed to your artistic development?

Tell us about your classroom experience with this project.  Leave a comment below.

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from "Off the Trail, On the Path" Series, 24 x 20," oil on panel, 2014

TRENT ALVEY, Emigration V, from “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series, 24 x 20,” oil on panel, 2014

In looking out the window of your apartment or house, what strikes you most about the view? Is it comforting and familiar? Stark and distant? In any case, our sense of place often influences our mood and sense of self. Where we come from can define us in positive and negative ways. Are you as serene as the mountain scene, or stifled and ready to move along?

Local artist, Trent Alvey, explores this sense of place and its influence on our identity in her “Off the Trail, On the Path” Series. Scenes from this series started as nonrepresentational works and developed into landscapes of Emigration Canyon by the artist’s house. The title of the series proves significant and derives from Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild.  One of the works from this series, Emigration V, depicts a hillside.  Splashes of color and impacted strokes give movement and tangibility to the painting.

This series has special significance and represents Alvey’s journey and success toward recovery from breast cancer.  In talking with her, she revealed the liberation of living in the moment and revealed the importance of her canyon walks to restore her vitality.  These works show the power of place, particularly in the artist’s case, to restore and heal.

For Art History and Humanities Students:

1.  Landscapes offer a unique glimpse into artistic meaning.  Consider landscapes from various periods of art and be sure to research and understand their specific context.  What do the landscapes reveal about the artist and his/her time and place?  How do landscapes differ from other works of the time-period, including portraits and history paintings?  Do you think it easier or harder to creating meaning in landscape?

For Studio Art Students:

1.  Create a landscape with paints of your choice.  Be sure to choose a landscape that is familiar to you.  Attempt to paint a nonrepresentational scene without the strictures of portraying an exact view.  Share your work with a classmate.  Can he/she determine the landscape’s meaning to you?  Is it liberating or frustrating?  Calm or wild?

When we think of sculpture, we think of bronze or marble.  The word painting evinces images of canvas and globs of pigment.  Architecture suggests bricks and mortar.  Yet, what proves more modern than breaking preconceived expectations and creating a work with a nontraditional medium?  Contemporary artists push the envelope.  Consider the Dadaists at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Marcel Duchamp shocked viewers by modifying “readymades” into art objects, including a urinal that he dubbed, Fountain.  Jean Dubuffet created Art Brut by using chicken dung, asphalt, mud, and even banana peels on his canvases.

STEVE PLEWE, Critter, 1995

This modern interest in using unconventional media continues in the works of local artist Steve Plewe.  He loves to use driftwood and construction materials, particularly concrete.  Plewe’s creations breathe new life into such media and force us to question our expectations for art and tradition.  In looking at his works, how do your expectations for meaning change?  What does the use of construction materials add to your experience of his art?

STEVE PLEWE, Bent Rebar

Class Project:

As an individual or class, create a sculpture, painting, or model building with an unconventional medium or media.  Imagine what nontraditional materials you could use.  Do you envision a sculpture in paper cups?  A painting with stains of food?  A model building constructed in bottle caps?  What connotations does your medium inspire?  How does this complicate your expectations for a work of art?

Share images and your experiences with us!  Leave a comment below.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Carceri Series Plate XIV, 1745, etching

In the spirit of Halloween, it only seems fitting to present an etching by the master of ominous prison scenes– Piranesi.  Piranesi was born in Venice, and his diverse interests included archaeology, stage design, construction, architecture, and printmaking.  Antiquity and ruins fascinated him and often proved the subject of his works.  This image represents his focus in the 1740s, fantasy and prison interiors.  Such scenes became appealing to the Romantic movement of the late 18th century.  Does it remind you of any modern movie sets?

For Art History and Humanities Students:

Briefly research the 18th-century British philosopher, Edmund Burke, particularly his definition of the sublime.  In what way does Piranesi’s prison scene represent Burke’s view of the “sublime?”

For Visual Art Students:

Create a spooky setting without the use of figures.  Feel free to use any medium, including, but not limited to, paint, photography, architectural model, sculpture, etc.  Since there are no people, what elements render it frightening?  Use of shadow?  Color?  Architecture?