Monday, July 28, 2014

The Tate Modern; Old Paintings, New Perspectives

On Monday July 21st after an exciting tour of Shakespeare's Globe Theater our class embarked on a cinetrek to the Tate Modern. What is intriguing to learn is that the museum is housed in what used to be an electrical plant, one that supplied a quarter of the cities power. A few students speculated that the decision to turn the electrical plant into an art museum conveys the message that art represents power, but not power in a controlling or authoritative way, perhaps more like power to understand something different, or the power to see things in a new way, or maybe even the power to bring people together. Whatever the message may (or may not) be, it is certainly compelling to think about.

One of the paintings that spoke to me was non other than Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust 1932. One can instantly see that this is Picasso before reading the description, as he has such a distinct style and use of colors. What drew me to this the most was the contrast between the dark background and the almost luminescent woman in the foreground. Although she is nude, it didn't feel "erotic" to me personally because of the almost cartoonish features and colors. The bust seems to be concerned for her as she is being bound by thick, black lines. There is a sense of a struggle and emotion just within this painting if you look close enough.

Another work of art that was visually appealing, which was not exactly a painting, was a photo from Henry Wessel's collection of photos depicting the human environment, and humans in everyday places like hotels or restaurants. This photo, or any of his photos, did not have descriptors or titles, which at first seemed odd, but perhaps some photos don't need a didactic to tell a person something; in this regard, perhaps the observer can asses the meaning of the photo themselves, rather than blindly accepting whatever information sits on a small card beside it. It seems odd at first, I actually found myself asking the question "how do I feel about this?" which is something I assumed I would instantly know, but I didn't. What was particularly appealing in this photo was the beach, as it is reminiscent of San Diego (it could even be San Diego for all I know). It is hard to discern whehter the man sitting on the bench is calm or tense, because the beach is often regarded as a calm and relaxing place, yet his position on the bench says otherwise. This may be intended, the contrast of moods between the beach and the man, and what exactly is going on.

Lastly, Water Lillies by Monet. This is a painting that is very easily recognized because Monet is the most prolific impressionist when it comes to landscape paintings. With no clear focal point, aside from the few lilies floating about, this painting evokes a sense of tranquility and pleasantness. Upon further research it has been discovered that Monet would often paint the same scene many times in order to capture the differences in light as well as the changing seasons, and lilies were among the scenes in nature that he painted the most.

Overall, the Tate was a unique experience in the sense that so many engaging pieces of art live under one roof. While I was not particularly fond of the surrealist gallery, and found some works to be even quite disturbing, it was an eye opening occurrence. Like literature, art is supposed to make you feel something, to think something, and feeling unsettled lets me know that the artist did his or her job, and I consider that an achievement rather than feeling nothing at all. Surrealism is supposed to do that; depict the surreal, the things we do not see in our daily lives, the things which only exist in the dark corners of our brains. Bringing them to light and hanging it on a wall in a gallery can be quite a shock for those who are not prepared. A professor once told me "good literature doesn't hold your hand" and I find that the exact same thing can be said about art; it's not supposed to coddle you, it's supposed to show you a certain truth. Whether we accept that truth or not is up to us.

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