Archive for the ‘Art and Visual Culture (Master’s Program)’ Category

It’s been over a month since I was in Paris! I need to get back into better habits about my blog! In any case, I am finally going to get these posts up…so here it goes!

My trip to Paris with “Historische Kunst- und Bilddiskurse” was from March 22 to the 27.  The first day we arrived in Paris, via TGV (an express train) was a Sunday, and already fairly late in the day.  We were welcomed by two of our professors and received an introduction to the week at one of their apartments, which included a small introduction to French cheese! I think I liked the cheese a little too much!

Afterward, once we had checked into out hotel and the sun had set, we set out on a introduction to the city of Paris and wondered the dark and mystic streets. Here’s a picture of our exploratory posse:


You can already see in the background of this picture what our next destination was. Actually, it was food…we were looking for a specially tasty falafel stand, but it just happened to be in the direction of the Pompidou!


Here you see the Pompidou lit up by night. It’s the famous art museum with the piping on the outside. There was an exhibit on Alexander Calder there that I would have very much liked to see, but the purpose of our excursion to Paris was to learn more about Symbolism, an art movement that took place at the end of the 19th Century. In the following blog posts I will get more into the details of the movement, the artists involved, and the museums we visited in their reference.

After finding food, we headed in the direction of the Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame is located. The night lighting and the bridges on the way were gorgeous:


We took a short stop outside the Notre Dame, and then a few from the company came up to me to tell me about the wonderful English bookstore on the south bank.  So many knew of it and like it, that we decided to detour over there. So we reached the Rue de la Bucherie:


The Street of the Bookshops! There was a lovely antique bookshop there as well as the English bookshop, where I contemplated purchasing Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray…it seemed befitting; the only novel written by one of  my favorite playwrights as well as a literary work of Symbolism…but in the end I shied away from either antiques or relevant literature, considering the additional weight on my back while traveling. However, as we were leaving the Rue de la Bucherie, I did find something quite close to my heart:


I just love this! It’s like a deja vu of culture…a moment of complete and total juxaposition completely out of left field…in a street in FRANCE…a sign in ENGLISH…selling cheap GERMAN books…wonderful!  I loved the subtlety of it was well, a very inconspicuous and cheap cardboard box!

We then slowly began our saunter back to the hotel…crossing back over the river Seine and catching our first glimpse at the Eiffel Tower. One of us wanted to wander off in that direction, but we decided to save that for a later night. From a bridge, I took two pictures:


Tried from the train ride and walking through the streets of Paris (no knowing what was in store for the next few days) we winding through the maze back to our hotel.  On the way we went through an underground shopping mall, the Forum des Halles (picture below) and then crashed into bed.


My room, which I shared with two other girls, was on the fifth floor of our quaint little youth-hostel like hotel.  The following morning we were surprised by tasty instant coffee in milk and a large baguette with butter and jam…the same breakfast we had the following four mornings, but which never got old! It became the morning fuel for what I’m starting to call “Art History Bootcamp”…but more on that in the following posts!


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About a month ago I went on an excursion with “Historische Kunst- und Bilddiskurse” (my Master’s program) to academically celebrate the end of the semester.  First we had a project seminar in Höchstädt (actually in the palace there!) and then we continued on a overview adventure of Baroque churches in Bavaria, particularly those from Dominikus Zimmerman and his brother Johann Baptist Zimmerman. I don’t think I’ll go into detail about each church (could be a little over the top and most definitely repetitive), so I’ll list them all now, in case you care to google them: Kloster Maria Medingen, the Frauenkirche in Günzberg, Kartause Buxheim, Residenz and Kirche Kempten, Steingaden, Steinhausen (yep, that’s somewhere else!), the Wieskirche (you may have heard of that one…it’s protected by UNESCO), the beautiful library and church in Bad Schussenried, Ottobeuren (a name I’ll never forget), and the Johanneskirche in Landsberg an der Lech.

The thing I liked most about this excursion was the spectrum in which we explored, which allowed me to finally understand the difference between Baroque and Rococo architecture. Apparently the transition mainly took place in none of than the (then) country of Bavaria. I’ll get to that more specifically in just a bit…

Here’s the palace in Höchstädt where we spent about 10 hours a day in a workshop:

hochstadt I have to say, I can’t really complain about the location! We also had a few breaks during the workshop in which we were given tours of the palace, which is partially restored and still undergoing the remaining restorations. In this wing we saw the restored frescoes:

I actually quite liked this restoration, as it did not have the goal of bringing the works back to their original quality by adding what was missing, but instead restored what was there and nothing more. It leaves the frescoes with a very rustic and authentic look. I was also quite amused that this wing of the palace actually housed a chapel for weddings! I was quite appealed myself, until it was pointed out that the frescoes in the chapel portray the Fall from Eden! Yikes! Get married and you’re thrown from Paradise! Actually, come to think of it, maybe the irony is, in fact, a good omen. Sort of a way to ward off those demons from the start.

Since we’re on the subject of the Fall, here’s a picture of some Baroque decorative sculpture from the church in Ottobeuren:


Now that’s some pretty cool decorative sculpture of an angel turning away from a dragon-like serpent trying to give it the apple, the forbidden fruit!  This was one of the cooler things in Ottobeuren that had to do with “cool” meaning interesting, but all in all, Ottobeuren was “cool” in the cold way! As we tried to leave the village in our two Mercedes buses, a blizzard came, and the bus I was in, along with 7 of my fellow students, got stuck in the snow! The bus literally slid off the road! We had to sit in a Thai food restaurant until the blizzard passed and then we took a taxi back to Kempten, where we were staying.  It turned out the bus we had had “all-weather” tires instead of snow tires…and if anyone ever tell you that there isn’t a difference between the two, tell them to talk to us! In an case, the situation seems funnier in hindsight and it was quite a bonding experience for us students!

In our homebase during the excursion, Kempten, we saw the Residenz and Baroque church.  Upon entering the Residenz, we had to wear felt shoes because of the inlay wood floors (also from the period!)…here’s a picture:


The Residenz was one of the prime examples we saw of the distinction between Bandelwerk, signifying Baroque design, and Rocaille, characteristic of Rococo decoration. To put a name to the face, or a guess an image to the Stuck, or plaster with which these ornaments were made:


To the left you see the Bandelwerk, which means ribbon work…very elegant and perhaps more my personal taste.  (I would suggest clicking on the thumbnails to see the larger photos…these things are very detailed!) On the right is the Rocaille, actually a French word describing a type of shell, which is why it has the shell-like and sea-creature form.

The Residenz in Kempten was a restored example of these architectual ornamentations. In this picture you can see a small section that the restoration workers did not restore, as a point of reference/comparison:

restaurierungs-vergleichRestoring to the original colors really shows the artwork’s brilliance! It seems so dull otherwise!

In addition to learning about the architectural/ornamental styles and the relevance of restoration, I also gained some knowledge of Catholic iconography.  (I know, I should know these things…I just never had much connection with religions) For example, each Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) apparently have animal symbols: an angel, eagle, ox, and lion (in the same order).  I also learned the holy monograms, like the IHS for Jesus and this cool one for the mother Mary:


It creates the name “Maria.”

So, I’ve saved the best for last…in Bad Schussenried we visited an old convent, itself quite pretty, but hidden in one of its wings was the most beautiful library I have ever seen!  As an exception to the churches, monasteries, and convents that we had seen elsewhere, this library did not have religious iconography, but iconography from the 18th/19th century of the science and humanities!  Each corner of the library was dedicated to a different discipline: art, sculpture, architecture, and music!  It even had an early for of the scientific classification system portrayed as branches in a tree in the fresco on the ceiling! Here are the pictures:


I love this picture! All of the students are staring up at the fresco…in a way looking to the sky! as Dr. Frangenberg describes the iconography. (He’s the one standing in the back…our Baroque and Rococo expert)

And, of course, a picture of me proudly standing in the spectacle:

me-in-baroque-libraryYay! I’m so happy that I finally have this post done! It took me like, a month! My apologies once more for the delay…coming soon: Unsinniger Donnerstag in Mittenwald and Paris!

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Those of you who know what I’ve been through academically the last year and a half or so will probably be surprised to hear that I’ve picked up Nietzsche again.  And by “pick-up,” I mean really in the relationship sort of since.  I have determined that my relationship with Nietzsche is quite like that of an ex-boyfriend.  I could have sworn I broke up with him a while back, but he just keeps finding his way back into my life!  And I know the guy too damn well.  There’s some corner of my heart that does still like him, but for the most part I find him irritating.  And when I read his works and something comes up that I just knew he would say because it’s just so much “him”…I sigh and say, oh Nietzsche.  We’ll also see how he does as an ex-boyfriend on the embarassment front, because I have to give a report on his work Zur Genealogie der Moral (On the Genealogy of Morality) on Thursday.  I actually should be working on the report right now, but I’ve decided to write a post and vent instead…this should be pretty amusing.

All of my friends in here in Germany who hear about this always ask “what does Nietzsche have to do with Art History?”  Well, directly not much, but since he is a philosopher he’s had his influences…in other words he’s been around the block a few times.  The report is for my class called Growth and Decline. Natural and Cultural Processes in Image and Art Thought of Modern Europe which I find very interesting because we discuss trends of decadence and avant-garde.  The class is also interdisciplinary, with 4 professors from different fields: Art History, Philosophy, Music, and Slavic Studies (we’ll be looking at stuff from Russia later in the semester).  To get a basis for the class, two students have to give reports on Nietzsche at the second meeting, and somehow I got myself into it.  A friend of mine is giving the other report on Nietzsche’s first work Geburt der Tragoedie (The Birth of Tragedy) and I’m doing Nietzsche last work.  But we’re trying to work in some art, and I want to post a bit about that too.

**Ok, so I have written a disjunctive blog post!  I started writing this on before I gave the report/presentation, and now I’ve given it, so I will first let you know how that went…oh my.

So, I went to class last Thursday and my classmate and I were a bit nervous to give our reports as they were the first of the semester.  However, one professor was running a bit late, so we started off with personal introductions (they didn’t want to do them last time because they didn’t know how many of the students present would actually be taking the class).  About an hour in, my classmate gave her presentation, very well thought out with a great outline, and then the four professors talked about Nietzsche’s first work for quite some time, during which I just kept getting more and more nervous!  Finally, in the last hour of class, I gave my presentation, but it lasted about half an hour (which I hadn’t expected…) but I just rambled on the whole time in German, and for some reason I was VERY aware of my accent.  I’d never had 60 eyes stare at me while speaking in German!  Right after I had finished, however, one professor said to me, “you know, you only needed to read the foreword and the first part,” and I had read the entire book!  That’s about 200 pages more than I needed to read!  Needless to say I was quite embarassed…I had inadvertently overachieved, and that was the last first impression I had intented to make!

So, I’ve concluded this is all Nietzsche’s fault.  It’s my Nietzsche charma, and it’s just bit me in the butt.

Anyway, I didn’t have enough time, nor was the computer working, for me to show the two artworks from Gustav Klimt that I wanted to present.  One professor knew about this, so he’s asked me to bring them next and show them!  So I guess I have a mini presentation for the next class.  Oh well, I mean, the art part is what I am actually interested in…maybe my classmates will have interesting things to say…

The two works that I’ll show are both from the Austrian Secession artist Gustav Klimt.  One of them I wrote about in my bachelor’s thesis and the other has direct association with The Birth of Tragedy. In this work, Nietzsche writes a great deal about music (probably from his influences from Richard Wagner) and Klimt’s work has the appropriate title, Musik:


Klimt’s use of symbolism in this painting I admire a great deal (being a fairly symbolic painter myself).  The woman figure is holding a kithera, which is the instrument of the Greek god Apollo, of whom Nietzsche writes, contrasting with Dionysis.  Apollo has to do with rational thought and structure, whereas Dionysis, the Greek god of wine, symbolizes chaos and spontaneity…and music and song.  He even had his own type of songs called Dithyrambs.  To the left of the woman is a Silenus, a follower of Dionysis, and to the right is a Sphinx, symbolizing female beauty.

The other work I want to show is Philosophy from Gustav Klimt.  Technically this has to do with Also sprach Zarathustra (Nietzsche’s work) but it also reminds me of the first work of art we discussed in this seminar, Germination from Odilon Redon.  Here you can compare them for yourself:


The one on the left is Klimt’s and on the right is from Redon.  Both have floating objects in them with stars and figures that seem to be in pain, seem to be longing for something beyond the view of the painting.  I’m very curious to hear what the other students think, and what you think as well, my readers!  Please comment!  More updates coming soon!

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So…if you were to sit me down for a cup of coffee and ask me how my first few weeks of grad school has been, I would tell you the following stories…

The first day was pretty interesting, considering that there are only 13 students and about 7 professors were present! And that wasn’t even all of them! Because the Masters program is set up to be inter-university, we have contact with MANY academics.

Also, in the first meeting we discussed what exactly “discourse” is (since in German the program actually means “Historical Art and Image Discourses”). To understand this better, we read a chapter from the French philosopher Michel Foucault. He stated that a discourse was an exchange of thoughts that were based on a prior knowledge, a priori meaning basic knowledge, the knowledge that all of us have to start with. In other words, anyone is capable of conducting a discourse. Once I realized this (we read the text in German translated from the French) I guess I giggle a bit or something, and one of the professors noticed it! He very politely and eagerly asked “Frau Adams, wollen Sie was sagen?” (if I wanted to say anything…I think he was hoping someone would say SOMETHING…all us students were nervous, I mean, it was the first day!) I then explained that is was kind of funny that all of us were afraid to say anything, were afraid to have a discourse, even though it was right in front of us that anyone could take part in a discourse, there really was nothing wrong that could be said. Maybe a few people laughed inside, but the nervousness apparently made no one else open up quite as much!

Since then, I’ve been to almost all of my classes. Man! Grad school means 3 hour seminars! I never thought they would be so tiring…but I also think I’m starting to condition myself; they aren’t as bad as they used to be! The only problem is that I wish they would be more discussion among the professors and the students. Because the classes are interdisciplinary, we usually have multiple (3-5) professors teaching one class, and it often turns into them discussing and the seminar becoming a lecture. But I also thing that this will change as the students become more confident.

In the second class of my Methods seminar, in which we learn the history of art theory, we read works from Leon Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci and then had to give 5 minute presentations of the sections we were assigned. I thought Alberti was very interesting…he came up with a very technically way of painting a perfectly proportional and perspective painting. You take the main figure, usually a person, and divide it into 3 parts, which become the measuring increments for the painting. From there you can form the perspective grid, which looks something like this:


Alberti also said that the best way to develop the artist skill of proportion and perspective is to paint life-sized. Well, those aspects are exactly what I need to improve in my painting!!! I suppose I need a studio and a couple 6 ft canvases!

Last but not least, I found out that this program incorporates excursions! Yes, I get to go on academic adventures! (Like the one at Schäftlarn!) At the end of the semester we will have a project seminar in Bayreuth, which is famous for being the home of Wagner and his operas. Then we will continue to the Wieskirche, a church protected by UNESCO, and learn about the Bavarian Baroque. A few weeks later, mid March, we are going to Paris to visit art museum and talk about symbolism! The only way that is not perfect for me is that I can’t speak French (yet), but I still can hardly wait!

More on my studies later!….

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I changed a few small things in this post, now that the semester has begun and I’ve learned a bit more myself, so I thought I would re-publish it as well!

Some people have expressed an interest in knowing more about the classes I’ll be taking this Winter semester in “Art and Visual Culture”, so I thought I’d post little summaries of each class.  Every semester the Master’s program chooses a new theme that carries through to all the seminars offered, and at the end of the semester there is a “project seminar” or workshop lasting a few days that brings all the students together to work with the things they have learned.  This semester the theme is nature.

Art History Methods: This class is the introductory class in the subject, teaching the background in the discourse of art and image and history of its development.  I don’t have a literature list yet for the class, but I know that it will deal with these three subjects:

  • Art Theory
  • Art Criticism
  • Philosophical Aesthetics

Nature in Art and Film:  This class is, so far, a two day workshop at the Muenchener Stadtsmuseum (The Munich City Museum) were we get to go behind the scene into the archives and examine photos and films that have to do with the portrayal of nature.  I’m not quite sure yet if this will be limited to European artists/photographers, or if I will be able to incorporate one of my favorites, Ansel Adams, into the course work.   I’m also interested in this class because in my last semester at the University of Nevada, Reno I took an English Lit seminar on Art and the Environment, where we examined works from and about the Amazon…so maybe I can apply a little of what I learned then in this class too!  I think it’s pretty easy to see how this class relates to nature…

Mimesis: I’m really excited about this class! I learned a lot about Mimesis (Greek: μίμησις “imitation”) while writing my Bachelor’s Thesis on the reception of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra in German-speaking culture.  This class will study the philosophical roots of art theory, going all the way back to Plato and Aristotle, but also looking at mimicry in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  I hope in this class to get to develop my own art theories based on Aristotle’s Causalities (will post about that soon!) and also work in ideas I learned from postmodernists about mimicry.  I think the relation to nature lies in the idea of mimicry and how it is something that occurs in nature, but also in a “natural” or effortless way.  I’ll be learning more about that though! 😉

Growth and Decline. Natural and Cultural Processes in Image and Art Thought of Modern Europe: This is also a class I see of lot of my previous studies helping me in!  I’ve taken seminars regarding Decadence and Fin-de-Siecle and the art produced during this period of Europe’s history, but I’m not too familiar with art in the times of growth.  The process of growth and decline in the class will be viewed as a natural cycle.  We’ll be looking at works from Romantic artist, postmodernists, etc.

So, in preparation to my new scholastic direction I’m doing a lot of reading on art history.  I’m currently learning about iconography, which basically is the study of the content of works of art (in other words, not technique or style, but the narrative a work may tell).  It’s apparently different from Erwin Panofsky’s iconology…which later influence W.J.T. Mitchell, who I posted about regarding the iconic turn and his book Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology.  Anyway, I better get back to studying so that later I can write more about that!

Oh! and one last class that’s on an entirely different subject: Latin 🙂

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Unusually, my first contact with the name William Blake I believe was from the movie Dead Man starring Johnny Depp as William Blake, but not the original William Blake.  William Blake was an English poet and artist who lived from 1757 to 1827, and who is currently my source of inspiration!

The second time I had contact with the works of William Blake was in a seminar I took on Medieval Literature.  We read Dante’s Inferno (part of the Divine Comedy) and also looked at the illustrations, or illuminations, that Blake had done for the epic poem.  At the time I found inspiration in his works in as far as them being watercolor, which is one of my preferred mediums.  I then took the political aspects of Dante and the stylist aspects of Blake, mixing in a bit of modern comic-book style, to create the painting I call “El Inferno Moderno.”  Here’s that painting:

Finally, I was reading a book to gain more background on art history when I bumped into William Blake again, this time making me want to learn more.  I read that Blake is considered a Romantic artist, which I found interesting because I know many German artist from the Romanticism period, such as Caspar David Friedrich, but didn’t know much about the English artists.    I also saw a work from Blake that particularly grasp me…his work Newton, seen here:

Now, this work inspires me on many different levels.  First of all, it is a print made from an etching and then colored with watercolors…the exact technique that I am interested in learning!  I also find it interesting because Blake was a religious man who wanted to make the scientist Isaac Newton look a little absurd, hence the unusual posture.  In a way, this was his own political satire.  Lastly, his use of icons, such as Newton, but also more simply the compass and the reoccurring triangular forms in the painting are also similar to symbolic techniques I use in my works.

It seems that Romanticism is just as interdisciplinary as the “radical” definition of art that I will be working with during my Master’s.  William Blake sure has some wonderful poetry!  More on that later… 🙂

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I mentioned that I wanted to write more in depth about Aristotle’s Causality and my own interpretations and theories which have sprung from it. When learning about causality, I discovered a definition along the lines of “the causes of natural phenomena, an inquiry into the nature of things.” This, of course, made me think immediately of the theme of Nature this semester in the Master’s Program “Art and Visual Culture,” so hopefully I can develop some of this even more, but here is what I have so far:

In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, he wrote that many of his predecessors were familiar with at least one of the causes in his system of causality, but they did not know all of them and did not understand the relationship between them. Aristotle claimed that there were 4 causes for the existence or nature of things. They are:

  • The material cause (the substance)
  • The formal cause (the style)
  • The efficient cause (the art)
  • The final cause (the sake)

These explain not only the nature of “things,” but also the nature or production of art.

Now, of course, these few words are not sufficient to describe all four of the causes, as single words are not usually sufficient to describe entire ideas.

The material cause is quite simple, it is the physical composition, or I call it substance, of a work of art.

The formal cause I have called the style, but many have also called the shape. I chose “style” because it allows my ideas to be more interdisciplinary, relating to visual arts as well as written works. It is also a term I used in my Bachelor’s thesis, and I will explain shortly how much of my new theory derives from what I learned while writing that.

The efficient cause is the art, but more generally the knowledge from the artist. “the art” is not meant to mean the work of art here, but rather “the art” of doing something…like in the title Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Art in this context is meant to be more of a skill, but in an artistic sense, and usually not an aquired skill, but more of a talent.

And finally, the final cause is the end product of art, and this can be confusing as well. The final cause it not the finished physical art piece, but the purpose of the work of art. Art is not the final product of the artist, but the wordless communication from the work of art to the viewer (or in literature reader), and this the sake or purpose for which the work of art was made.

I hope I’m not loosing you here! 😉

Now, to show you how my brain works, I want to show you Aristotle’s 4 causes in German. (Like I said, they’re difficult to understand in single words, so multiple languages are advantagous! If you don’t know German…read anyway) They are:

  • Stoff (stuff, material)
  • Form (shape, style)
  • Wirkung (reception)
  • Zweck (purpose)

Those of you who may know a bit about my thesis will recognize Stoff and Form, and possibily even Wirkung. While studying Nietzsche and his work Also Sprach Zarathustra, I examined the material and the style of the work to determine how is was effective (like the efficient cause) on it’s readers. I looked at criticism and praise of the work, but also at works of art that related or alluded to Nietzsche’s work, and came to the conclusion that Nietzsche intent, or his purpose for the book, the sake for which is was written, was for the reception!

At the time I did not know Aristotle’s Causality, but now that I do, I realize that what I was trying to prove was that the efficient cause and the final cause, the Wirkung and the Zweck, of his work were the same thing! The communicative art was made for the sake of the knowledge of art… “l’art pour l’art!”

“Art for Art’s sake” was a slogan for the art movement of Decadence. I even wrote about it in my thesis, but did not realized that Nietzsche himself was supporting a decadent idea. My misconception had been that Nietzsche’s work was “preaching” certain doctorines with a didactic purpose. In truth, he was attempting that his art (the book) be for the sake of art (the artistic reception of his work).

I know that this is hard to grasp unless you’ve read my thesis…so I’ll try to get away from that subject. However, I think the new theory I’ve developed is interesting…

Artist of the Decadence (or Aesthetic) art movement believed in l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake), which meant that, when using the method of Aristotle’s Causality, the final cause was the same as the efficient cause. In other words, the sake or purpose of decadent art is create more knowledge of art and therefore more art itself.

I have a few loose ends…I few questions I need to have answer, by myself or anyone who would like to comment…

  • Can art for art’s sake retain integrity if icons are used? Icons allude to outside knowledge, so does the painting then also have a purpose to tell something other than art?
  • Can art from the Decadence movement be narrative? If it is telling a story, how can it’s sake remain for the sake of art? (I’ll have to try to find a decadent but narrative work of art!)
  • How does all of this work for literature? I still need to try to wrap my head around that…

Of course, I appreciate your comment and thank you for reading!

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