Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Way of Seeing An Experiment On A Bird In the Air Pump

         Joseph Wright of Derby's 1768 oil on canvas painting “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” appears to be a portrayal of the industrial revolution that was happening at the time, and societies various reactions to the change. The expression on the figures faces varies from amusement, to horror, to extreme interest. The little girl on the right looks up at the bird, her eyebrows furrowed, with a concerned, almost tormented look on her face. Whilst her sister has to hide her face completely so as not to watch the bird be suffocated. The frightened girl's father puts a consoling arm around her shoulders, and gestures up to the bird, as though he is trying to explain to her that what is happening is amazing because of the mechanics behind the air pump. This relationship is reminiscent the innovators attempting to ease society into a new, more efficient way of life, and societies reluctance in the beginning to embrace new and different ways of doing things. As your gaze moves around the table, you see a man with his eyes intently diverted towards the glass jar containing a scull and his hands folded as though in prayer. The scull can be interpreted as a symbol of inevitable death. He clearly knows that he is going to witness the death of a living creature, and like the girls, does not seem very comfortable with the experiment. However, the young man next to him seems to be watching what is happening very intently, appearing extremely interested in the outcome. His body is leaning in towards the table, and his arm is propped up on his knee in a thinking position. His is representative of the front runners of the industrial revolution and their ability to understand the miraculous significance of how this type of discovery could chance peoples lives. The slightly younger boy next to him looks on the scene with pure excitement of getting to see the death of a bird. It appears that even though he does not know the mechanics behind the air pump, he can still see the impact that this type of contraption could make. The couple sitting next to him do not appear to even notice what is taking place on the dining table because they are so consumed by their emotions. Their relationship is reminiscent of the many people in the early part of the revolution that seemed to be so caught up in their every day lives that they did not even notice what was happening around them. Lastly, in the center of the painting is the scientist that is conducting the experiment. Wright appears to have put the most detail into his face, as though to emphasize the significant role he plays within the painting. Half of his face is hidden in shadow, giving him an ominous, eerie look. Moreover, he is the only person looking straight out of the paining, and gesturing with his hand towards the audience, as though to invite them to view the experiment as well. It is as though he is the leader of the industrial revolution and is becoming for everyone to join in.
          Within the portrait, the atmosphere is one of mystery and suspense. There is a light source that is not visible, but is reflected through the glass jar containing the scull. This aspect of the painting highlights the reoccurring theme of death, but also creates another element of mystery, causing the viewer to wonder what and where the light source was coming from. Moreover, it is apparent that the bird is still alive, so the viewer never really knows its outcome. The texture of the oil paint on the canvas was very smooth. It has an almost 3-D look to it, almost as if the scientist is going to reach out of the canvas and pull you into their world. Yet, by looking at our advancements in technology, he already has...

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