Art Term: Pointillism

 Lets all shout ‘yay’ for the second art term post— YAY! The topic for this one is: Pointillism. “Yay pointillism!”

George Seurat, “A Sunny Day on La Jatte.” 1884-1888

Pointillism is a technique and style of painting invented by the  French painters Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac in 1886. The objective of pointillism is to create the illusion of your subject/solid space by using dots, only dots, and nothing but dots, of any pure color or size. This technique relies optics, utilizing both the art’s and the viewer’s perceptive ability of eye and mind to optically blend the color spots into a fuller range of tones. This is similar to the four-color CMYK printing process used by some color printers and large presses that place dots of Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow, and Key (black). Televisions and computer monitors use a similar technique to depict images using red, green, and blue (RGB) colors. Today artists can achieve this effect with a variety of tools, such as a pen, pencil or tiny paint brush; but the image must be rendered through the application of pure pigment with small distinctive dots (points).  As you can imagine this is a very time consuming and meticulous process requiring patience and discipline.

Seurat made pointillism famous when he debuted his painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte(1884-1888) at the eighth annual and final Impressionist exhibition in 1886. It took two years of painstaking dot application for Seurat to finish the painting, which immediately changed the course of vanguard painting by initiating a departure from Impressionism that came to known as “Neo-Impressionism” and later inspired Divisionism. (But in general discussion you can refer to Pointillist painters as post-Impressionsits, remember from that other post?)

However, Seurat’s painting received a withering reception within Impressionist circles. Seurat’s innovation was a deliberate challenge to Impressionism’s first practitioners, such as Renoir and Monet.  Impressionist critics and artists disliked Pointillism because the technique was a flagrant departure from traditional methods of blending pigments on a palette. Impressionism was all about creating images with a variety of brushstrokes, and Pointillism removed brushstrokes all together thus eliminating texture and the ever venerated “hand of the artist.” Art critics even intended the name “Pointillism” to ridicule these paintings— though it no longer carries that earlier mocking connotation.

Signac became Seurat’s faithful supporter, friend, and successor by embracing Pointillism to develop his own color theory. Signac’s color theory became the foundation for his more technical adaptation, Divisionism. They differ in that Pointillism is concerned about the mechanics of dot-work used to apply the paint, not necessarily the science of color separation. Divisionism is concerned specifically with the science of color separation and  juxtaposition of small dots of pure color.  Either way, both are concerned with the additive aspect of light and color, much like the RBG image you are staring at on your screen right now.

Paul Signac, “Portrait de Felix Feneon.” 1890

Pointillism continued to evolve through the experiments of later artists like Van Gogh, Jean MetzingerRobert Delaunay, Warhol and to some extent in Pop Art with Roy Lichtenstein‘s exploration of print media. Oh! And of course Yayoi Katsuma, remember? The technique is still used today, and even I did a dot drawing with ink in high school. Though with pointillism, the artist sacrifices depth and texture, the variety and richness of colors achieved after much diligence is simply stunning.

Van Gogh, “Self Portrait with Felt Hat.” 1887

Jean Metzinger, “La Dance (Bacchante).” 1906

Roy Lichtenstein “Drowning Girl.” 1963

Robert DeLaunay, “L’honne a la Tulip.” 1906

Henri-Edmund Cross “Madame Hector France.” 1901

Henri-Edmund Cross “La fuite des nymphes.” 1906

Joe aka Casa-nova, This pointilism portrait by artist Joe aka Casa-nova took over 50 hours to complete, 2010

Sakura Chrno “Sun.” contemporary

Claire Ellis, “untitled” contemporary

*Bonus: Pointillism is also a kind of music that developed in the mid to late 20th-century. Different musical notes are made in seclusion, rather than in a linear sequence, giving a sound texture similar to pointillism.  This type of music is also known as punctualism or klangfarbenmelodie.

  1.  “Pointillism.” Artcyclopedia. Artists by Movement. John Malyon/Artcyclopedia, 2007. Web.
  2. Ruhrberg, Karl. “Seurat and the Neo-Impressionists”. Art of the 20th Century, Vol. 2. Koln: Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1998. ISBN 3822840890.
  3.  Nathan, Solon. “Pointillism Materials.” Web. 9 Feb 2010.
  4. Britannica – The Online Encyclopedia

American Girl 2014

I did not grow up as a fan of the American Girl dolls, I was rather indifferent to them I suppose. So while you couldn’t say I had any expectations for the debut of the 2014 Girl of the Year doll, I was notably disappointed and sadden by the bland choice for this year. Her name is Isabelle, she has hazel eyes, blonde hair with an attachable pink hair streak, and her outfit is also pink. Oh, and she is into dance. This is very cliche American isn’t it? A cookie straight from mother Dixie’s oven. I had always thought that the dolls were about moments in history, so I looked it up.

I started thinking that if I  knew more about previous dolls maybe it would help understand why Mattel chose to have a blonde girl in pink that is into ballet represent 2014, instead of a Hispanic girl whose family is struggling to get legal status, learn English, and fit in in a Texas neighborhood (cause immigration reform issues would have been a great topic to mark the year right?)

Mattel has owned the American Girl brand for 15 years, buying it up in 1998 from Pleasant Company. After the Mattel takeover American Girl under went incremental, but forgettable, changes. The company debuted a line of contemporary 18-inch dolls and accessories that has since evolved into the new My American Girl. The first really notable change was in 2008, when Mattel decide to archive the original dolls and rename them “Historical Characters.” This means that dolls with stories that illuminated on controversial and important moments in history- like Samantha, Kirsten, and the headstrong colonial girl Felicity,- that made up the core of the “The American Girls Collection” are no longer sold by American Girl. The archiving of Historical dolls freed up funds to market the customizable My American Girl and the annual Girl of the Year dolls. These product lines feature blander avatars to little girls, reflecting only the present time period and appearance of “contemporary girls.” This is right off their website: “The My American Girl product line lets every girl create a truly special doll that’s just right for her, then bring her doll to life in a safe, enriching online world that promotes learning and helps girls to be their best.”  Really? A truly special girl, just like her, that promotes learning in a safe online world. How can a doll that is “just like her” really challenge your daughter to explore ideas and topics outside of her awareness?

The historic dolls represented more than just the origins of an iconic brand, they allowed girls to see themselves in the thick of the action. They were doing rather sitting on the sidelines. The systematic archiving demonstrates a lost sensibility about teaching girls to understand complex historical controversies AND how use that understanding to become builders of a continually progressing social and political consciousness. When compared to the historical dolls, the contemporary dolls lack dimension, interest, and dynamism. These are qualities that help children understand that they have the potential to do more than be a part of their small part of the world- they can reshape it.

Take Saige, McKenna, and Lanie. These are three previous Girl of the Year Dolls, that are nothing more than recycled attributes plus or minus a superficial element. All three are white; upper-middle-class. Saige is a dancer, McKenna a gymnast, and Lanie is an amateur gardener and butterfly enthusiast. In their attempts to encourage spunky and active girlhoods, Mattel approaches problem solving in a highly local way. One has a bake sale to help save the school arts program, Lanie persuades one neighbor to stop using pesticides and Isabella balances school work with her dance lessons (I think McKenna learned the same lesson about time management but with gymnastics instead). They also undergo emotion development by overcoming jealousy, insecurity, and bullying. Great. But none of these girls faced situations that brought them into contact with real social issues or physical and emotional hardship.

Before the rebranding, American Girl characters faced real social real controversy and the girl’s solution had meaningful, resounding impact. The very first American girl doll was Samantha, an orphan raised by her grandmother during the Edwardian period. Themes in Samantha’s books include women’s suffrage, child labor, and classism that were dealt with through her friendship with and rescuing of a serving girl. Molly McIntire is a young girl of Scottish descent,  living in Jefferson, Illinois during the latter years of World War II. Her father is doctor stationed in England caring for wounded soldiers, and Molly must cope with changes that war has brought. She realizes that she can do something to aid soldiers and she and her family host an English girl immigrating from the war zone. Kirsten Larson is a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory with her extended family. She faces actual physical risk posed by the challenges of settling a wide territory and adaptations necessary to adjust to life in America- like ya know learning to speak English. These earlier dolls deal with immigration, displacement, women and children’s’ exploitation, and hard work. These girls grow from their situation.

Compare that to Isabelle who enters a dance competition but then starts to do poorly in math (she’s poor at math! why math? why can’t she be bad at home ec?). She is just like Marisol, another dancer, plus a bit from Lanie or Kailey, or both who can tell?, with a different outfit. Sure, her story might inspire some little girl to be the next greatest dancer or choreographer, but more than likely most parents will find that they have wasted their money on lessons their daughter quit after a few weeks.

*sigh* Ok on the real, there’s nothing wrong with young girls learning about good time management early on, but seriously, how does Isabelle’s story make her different in some way from the “average” girl reading her book? How is this young reader compelled, motivated, or enlighten? She’ll learn about bullying and dedication to accomplish goals, but did she learn about immigration reform or LGBT rights? Gun violence in school?  Or let’s talk about creationism vs evolution in schools! Or even about freaking global warming?!!!!!

Those are things that real American girls do face every day. Where’s the girl who as two dads or a mentally ill sibling?

But this is just a harmless marketing move, right? Nothing more that a strategic way to target collections toward buyers willing to cash out the big bucks for costly dolls, right? Just like Spanos said, its a marketing strategy. She also says that “[Mattel] still considers the historical characters to be the heart of the brand.” 

The current catalogue leads off with the My American Girl offerings, followed by “Dress Like Your Doll” 2013 Doll of The Year,’ and ‘Books and Magazines.’ Only when you get to the fifth section, on page 38, do “Historical Characters” make an appearance. And on the website the homepage features matching doll outfits, dresses for girls so they match their doll, the current product line, and the online game for our 2014 Girl of the Year, Isabelle. Essentially, historical dolls are afterthoughts.

 “[American Girl] still considers the historical characters to be the heart of the brand.”— Spanos

So why doesn’t Mattel feature a doll who has a parent, maybe a mother, fighting in Iraq? Or just a girl whose not white? (there’s only been two black  character dolls—one a slave girl!— and NO Asians, Ivy doesn’t count cause she’s Julie’s BF, not a main character with her stuff), and for the contemporary lines there’s not much to cater to girls with darker skin either. 

Oh what look at this:

The dolls retail at American Girl stores nationwide for $110 each, and accessories cost extra.”—ABC News

In the end, the dolls are  $110-$200. Mattell knows who they are marketing to, and its not to every American girl. Heck after reading the comments its not even to girls, it looks like its mostly old ladies buying them up.

Check this quote for a buyer”

“”I purcahsed these two dolls for my girls as a Christmas present. Although they have not seen them yet I LOVE them. Their accessories and outfits are so nice.”

(the caps are not my formatting)

Also, does no one else think dolls are just plain creepy?

She has the devil’s eyes!

Freya Jobbins

Ohhhhhh my gosh just look at these dolls sculpture portraits! In this latest series, Freya Jobbins, born in Johannesburg, South Africa and raised in West Sydney, uses dismembered plastic parts from old dolls and  toys to create these unsettling portraits of people and pop culture icons. The result is polarizing to be sure,— you either loved the sculptures or hated them— but regardless they are the byproducts of an  incredible amount of labor and time. Each anatomical amalgamation requires an intense observation of form and color.

But seriously, TOYS. How can you not appreciate the whimsy of toy sculpture? Oh the nostalgia…

For this series, Jobbins drew influence from Guiseppe Archimboldo’s fruit and vegetable paintings as well as Ron Mueck’s oversized humans. The immaculate execution of her work belies Jobbins first love, printmaking; which she prefers and considers to be her true “voice.” She majored in printmaking, receiving her diploma in Fine Arts from South West Sydney Institute of TAFE. Currently she is continuing her studies in printmaking at NAS and Wollongong TAFE while balancing her work with plastic toy sculptures.

You can see more freaky faces in her online gallery and on Facebook.


Short Bit: Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is a conceptual artist living and working in New York. The main objective of her oeuvre is to make narrative or commentary an implicit part of visual objects. Essentially, her medium are words. Belonging to a generation of feminist artists from the 80’s, though her work began in the 1970s with the New York City posters. Her first experiments with projecting anonymous messages resulted in her Truisms (1977–9), which she printed onto broadsheets in black italic script on white paper and wheat-pasted to buildings, walls, and fences in and around Manhattan. These one-liners are extractions from a scholarly reading list from the Whitney Independent Study Program, where Holzer was a student. Recently, Holzer’s light projections on architecture and landscape challenge ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, satire, and moral courage.

Projections (1996-2011)

In 1981, Holzer began printing on aluminum and bronze plaques, the presentation format used by medical and government buildings, and dubbed the series  “Living.” The following year, Holzer installed the first large electronic sign on the Spectacolor board at Times Square, New York thanks to a sponsorship from the Public Art Fund program.  Using L.E.D. (light emitting diode) allowed Holzer to communicate to a much larger audience. The texts in her subsequent Survival series (1983-85) comment on the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society. In her 1986 exhibition at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, Holzer revealed the maturity of her concept when she introduced her first total environment, where viewers were confronted with the relentless visual buzz of a horizontal LED sign and stone benches leading up to an electronic altar. This practice culminated in the installation at the Guggenheim Museum in 1989 of a 163 meter-long sign, forming a continuous circle spiraling up the parapet wall.

The third phase of Holzer’s For the City, projected on the Fifth Avenue side of the New York Public Library, October 6–9, 2005

For more than thirty years, Holzer boldly displayed her astringent ideas, arguments, pleasures, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions; including 7 World Trade Center, the Reichstag, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Whether formulated as a T-shirt, as a plaque, or as an LED sign, public display and reception are integral to the concept of her work. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990 and the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum in 1996. She holds honorary degrees from Ohio University, Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College. She received the Barnard Medal of Distinction in 2011.

Installation in lobby at 7 WTC

Art Terms: Chiaroscuro

The Matchmaker by Gerrit van Honthorst, I just like this one so I thought it should be first. Anyway, interesting innovation of figure highlighting with chiaroscuro -type techniques.

Chiaroscuro, chi·a·ro·scu·ro  (kē-är′ə-sko͝or′ō, -skyo͝or′ō)

n. pl. chi·a·ro·scu·ros In all senses also called claire-obscure.

1. The technique of using light and shade in pictorial representation.
2. The arrangement of light and dark elements in a pictorial work of art.
3. a. A woodcut technique in which several blocks are used to print different shades of a color.

    b. A woodcut print made by this technique.

Today in art, chiaroscuro refers to the use of strong contrasts between light and dark. The bold contrasts affect a whole composition by adding drama, navigating the viewer’s eye’s, highlighting important figures, etc. Chiaroscuro also is a technical term used by artists and art historians for using contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modeling three-dimensional objects, such as the human body. Photography and cinema also have adopted the term, so similar effects in the lighting in film or in a photo can also be described as chiaroscuro.

The more technical use of the term chiaroscuro is the effect of light modeling in painting, drawing, printmaking, and photography and film, where three-dimensional volume is suggested by the value gradation of colour and the analytical division of light and shadow shapes—or just shading. Chiaroscuro can be achieved through a variety of techniques. In drawings and prints, artist can use hatching (shading by parallel lines) washes, stipple (dotting effects), and surface tone (texture) for the desired modeling chiaroscuro. In photographs, the photographer can adjust lighting to creat shadows, or on a computer he/she can tweak contrast and other levels in a photo editor.

But the history of the effect vs the word was much more complex than I could have imagined.

Chiaroscuro woodcut of the Virgin and Child by Bartolommeo Coriolano, created between 1630 and 1655

Actual use of the term dates back to the Renaissance when “chiaroscuro” described either colored woodcuts printed with different colored blocks or a specificform of drawing on colored paper with a dark medium and white highlighting. The “chiaroscuro woodcuts” feature different color rather than strong contrasts of light and dark.  In some German two-block prints, the keyblock (or “line block”) was printed in black and the tone block or blocks had flat areas of color. They were first invented by Lucas Cranach in Germany in 1507, and first made in Italy by Ugo da Carpi sometime around 1516. Other printmakers using this technique include CranachHans WechtlinHans Baldung Grien, and Parmigianino and in Germany this technique achieved its greatest popularity around 1520. It became popular in Italy during the later half of the sixteenth century. In Italy, chiaroscuro woodcuts were produced without key blocks and produced a very different effect. They resembled the style of wash drawings and also came to be known as chiaroscuro. So when discussing Italian art chiaroscuro can be used to describe any painted image in monochrome or two colors (In English and French the equivalent is grisaille). Early on the term was broad, covering all descriptions of strong contrasts in illumination between light and dark areas in art, which is now the primary meaning.

Though the word chiaroscuro was not used until the 1500’s, the invention of the effects of contrast was well before. The famous Athenian painter of the 5th century BC, Apollodoros, made skiagraphia, or “shadow-paintings” to the Ancient Greeks.  Although virtually no Ancient Greek painting survives, their understanding of the effect of light modeling can be observed the mosaics of Pella, Macedonia, in particular the Stag Hunt Mosaic, in the House of the Abduction of Helen, from around the late 4th century BC.

The technique also survived in a standardized form in Byzantine art but was rather curve. During the the Middle Ages contrasting effects were further refined in painting and manuscript illumination in Italy and Flanders, and then spread to all Western art. The Raphael painting illustrates the effects of lighting demonstrating how delicate modeling chiaroscuro gives volume a figure, and how strong chiaroscuro uses contrast to distinguish hierarchy between subjects; in the painting the main subject is the the well-lit model and the very dark background of foliage recedes to the background. But chiaroscuro was still not used to describe this kind of modeling at the time.

Giovanni Baglione. Sacred and Profane Love. 1602–1603, showing dramatic compositional chiaroscuro

Strong chiaroscuro became a popular effect during the  Mannerism and Baroque periods in the 16th century. The effect used light to suggest divinity and usually consisted of dark subjects dramatically lit by a shaft of light from a single constricted and often unseen source. Early developers of this compositional device were Ugo da Carpi (c. 1455-c. 1523), Giovanni Baglione (1566–1643), and Caravaggio (1573–1610), the last of whom was crucial in developing the style of tenebrism, where dramatic chiaroscuro becomes a dominant stylistic device. Tenebrism was especially practiced in Spain by Jusepe de Ribera and his followers. Illumination was also employed in compositions by TintorettoVeronese, and their many followers.

Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610), a German artist living in Rome, produced several night scenes lit mainly by fire, and sometimes moonlight. Unlike Caravaggio, his dark areas contain very subtle detail and interest.  Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) was also a follower of Caravaggio and demonstrated outstanding works of tenebrism and chiaroscuro.  Another follower of Caravaggio was Peter Paul Rubens, who exploited Carvaggio’s respective approaches to chiaroscuro for dramatic effect in his paintings.

Nativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, c. 1490, after a composition by Hugo van der Goes of c. 1470; sources of light are the infant Jesus, the shepherds’ fire on the hill behind, and the angel who appears to them

A particular genre that developed from explorations of chiaroscuro was the nocturnal scene lit by candlelight, which looked back to earlier northern artists and more immediately, to the innovations of Caravaggio and Elsheimer. This theme played out in the early seventeenth century by artists in the Low Countries, such as Gerrit van Honthorst and Dirck van Baburen, and with FLemish Baroque painters, such as Jacob Jordaens (later referred to as the Utrecht Caravaggisti). Rembrandt‘s early works from the 1620’s also adopted the single-candle light source. The nocturnal candle-lit scene re-emerged in the Dutch Republic during the mid-17th century on a smaller scale in the works by Gerrit Dou and Gottfried Schalken among others. Outside the Low Countries, artists such as Georges de La Tour and Trophime Bigot in France and Joseph Wright of Derby in England, carried on with such strong, butgraduated, candlelight chiaroscuro. Watteau used a gentle chiaroscuro in the leafy backgrounds of his fêtes galantes, and this was continued in paintings by many French artists. At the end of the century, artist used a heavier chiaroscuro for romantic effect.

And finally, the French use of the term, clair-obscur, was introduced by 17th century art-critic Roger de Pilas in the course of a famous argument (Débat sur le coloris), on the relative merits of drawing and colour in painting. The term is less frequently used after the late nineteenth century, although the Expressionist and other modern movements make great use of the effect.

The central panel of Peter Paul Rubens’s The Elevation of the Cross (1610-1611) is modeled with dynamic chiaroscuro