How To Talk About Art History

It's easier than it seems.

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Artist Feature: Who is Xiao Lu?

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Xiao Lu. Image from http://www.liveaction.se/

Note: This Artist Feature is part of an ongoing series to document the female artists whose articles were added or improved on Wikipedia during the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon I co-organised in March 2016.

Movement/Style: Contemporary performance, installation and video art.

Country: China.

Years: 1962 – still alive!

Well, who is she?

Xiao Lu (肖鲁) is a Chinese artist who rose to worldwide fame when she participated in the 1989 China Avant-garde Exhibition with her work, Dialogue. Two hours into the exhibition, she shot her own work with a pellet gun and caused the exhibition to immediately shut down. Her actions were seen as a threat to the Chinese government and she was instantly detained. Four months later, when the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred, her gunshots were dubbed “the first gunshots of Tiananmen”.

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Art History 101: The Difference Between “Genres” and “Genre Painting”

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The hunters at rest (Охотники на привале) (1871), a genre painting by Russian artist Vasily Perov

Ok, so this might get confusing. First of all, there’s a traditional hierarchy of genres in Western art history, and genre painting is actually one of those genres, even though it’s called “genre painting” which kind of makes no sense. Wait, let me back up: genres, a.k.a. categories, in Western art history are not styles (like Impressionism, Pop Art, Realism) but are instead about the types of scenes that are being painted (portrait, landscape, still life). Let me back up again: a “genre painting” is not, as you might think, a painting that fits into any one of these genres; instead, a genre painting is a type of scene and is therefore “a genre” in itself.

Let’s see if we can make sense of this.

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A Brief History of Hairless Vulvas in Art (NSFW)

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Object (Le déjeuner en fourrure), 1936, Méret Oppenheim. A Surrealist sculpture often interpreted as a visual pun referencing a hairy vagina, as the tea set is traditionally feminine.

Reader question: “I loved your post about penises, but what about vaginas? We think hairless vaginas started with porn, but I’ve definitely seen paintings in museums with hairless vaginas. What’s the deal? When did it all start?”

Aah, nudity in art, a subject dear to my heart. Vaginas and vulvas (with vulva referring specifically to the external genital region) in art have a quite different history than penises do, ranging from being symbols of fertility and life to being symbols of shame and impurity. As I wrote in my post on the Female Nude, hairless vulvas have been around in art for a long time. How long? At least 2,000 – 3,000 years, and maybe even since the beginning of art as we know it.

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Artist Feature: Who is Tracey Moffatt?

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Self Portrait, 1999. Image from the Roslyn Oxley 9 gallery, Sydney. www.roslynoxley9.com.au/artists/26/Tracey_Moffatt

Note: This Artist Feature is part of an ongoing series to document the female artists whose articles were added or improved on Wikipedia during the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon I co-organised in March 2016.

Movement/Style: Contemporary photography and video art.

Country: Australia.

Years: 1960 – still alive!

Well, who is she?

Tracey Moffatt is one of Australia’s most famous and internationally renowned artists. She works with both film and photography and her work is very cinematic and theatrical. She’s especially famous for her dramatically staged narrative photographs.

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Site Update: “Art + Feminism” Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

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Tonight, I co-hosted the Bangkok edition of the global ‘Art + Feminism’ Wikipedia campaign.

Nine people total came together in a Bangkok café to learn about Wikipedia, to find out about art and to add/edit/translate articles about woman-identified artists to improve coverage of women-identified artists across the world. At the end of the night, these were our accomplishments:

– Creation of article about Chinese artist Xiao Lu.
– Creation of article about Bengali artist Pratima Devi.
– Translation of article about Indigenous Australian artist Tracey Moffatt into Italian.
– Translation of article about Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook into Thai.
– Translation of article about Chinese artist Bu Hua into English.
– Addition of Xiao Lu’s participation into article about the China Avant-garde Exhibition 1989.
– Addition of the following quote into article about French artist Marie Bracquemond: “The severity of Monsieur Ingres frightened me… because he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting… He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes.”

Over the next few months, I will be creating Artist Features about each of these artists on this blog.

Thank you to everyone who participated, and to everyone who will continue researching, writing and learning about women-identified artists!

Western Art History and Non-Western Art

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Bangladesh Liberation War (1971) by Bangladeshi artist Zainul Abudin, who helped form the Faculty of Fine Arts at Dhaka University.

Reader Question: “I come from Bangladesh and find that Western art history doesn’t do much to help understand the artistic traditions where I’m from – how is this addressed in your study of Art History? Is it addressed at all?”

Western art history – or at least mainstream Western art history – really does very little to address the artistic traditions of non-Western countries. Many people find this perfectly acceptable, arguing that Western art history is about Western countries and shouldn’t have to address anything beyond that. For me, there are three problems with this point of view that should push us towards a more inclusive art historical mainstream.

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“Do you know anything about silver gelatine photography?”

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Migrant Mother (1936) by Dorothea Lange is one of the most famous silver gelatine photographs, and exemplifies the photojournalistic, realistic style that ended up defining the process.

I sure do! Silver gelatin photography, or the “dry plate” process, was actually the main form of photography used from around the 1880s up until the introduction of instant colour photography in the 1960s. It was especially popular in photojournalism, linking a technical process to an aesthetic imbued with meanings of authenticity. Since your question is quite general, I’ll do a quick overview of this method, starting with its history and technical process and then looking at its cultural impact.

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Artist Feature: Who was Kamal ud-Din Behzad?

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The construction of castle Khavarnaq in al-Hira, c. 1494 – 1495

Movement/Style: Islamic Miniature

Country: Persia (modern-day Iran and Afghanistan)

Years: c. 1450 – c. 1535

Well, who was he?

Kamal ud-din Behzad (کمال‌الدین بهزاد) is perhaps the most famous historical painter of Persian miniatures. Like most artists in the 1400s and 1500s, however, it’s important to remember that for much of his career he didn’t work alone but was the leader of a workshop (in this case a Persian scriptorium, a kitabkhāna) producing artworks under his stylistic direction.

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“2D Op Art makes you feel like it’s 3D. So how do you create 3D Op Art?” – The Art of Optical Illusions

 

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Movement in Squares, 1961, by Bridget Riley.

Reader question: “2D Op Art makes you feel like it’s 3D. So how do you create 3D Op Art?”

I received this question from a jewelry designer interested in creating jewelry inspired by Op Art, but did not know how to recreate the effect in a more sculptural form. It’s true that most Op Art is created on a 2D surface – creating the effect that it seems to be jumping off the page – but, as I will go through in this post, there were actually a few sculptors even in the original Op Art movement.

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Art History 101: The Female Nude (NSFW)

Art in Island's reimagined version of Francois Boucher's Nude on a Sofa, complete with two young boys sneaking a peek at her butt to truly emphasize that

Art in Island‘s reimagined version of Francois Boucher’s Nude on a Sofa, complete with two children sneaking a peek at her butt. Photo by me.

I recently visited the interactive art museum Art In Island in Manila, where visitors are encouraged to take photographs with large murals painted on the walls. Some of these murals are inspired by famous works of art, and some are inspired by famous works of art featuring naked women. Seeing the way that these female bodies had been recontextualised, into a space where visitors were encouraged to interact with them, made me realize something: it’s time to talk about the Female Nude in art history.

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