Sunday, June 12, 2016

The National Gallery: Effective use of Space

The most important aspect of art to me is its clarity, and ability to convey a message. Whether it be abstract squares, a photorealistic portrait, or an artful representation of the emotion of bashfulness there needs to be an artist’s intent and a result that can be construed to be successful result of their efforts. I do not like Joseph Mallord William Turner’s "Rain Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway"(1844). They make me very angry in that they simply do not look like how refined I believe they should look. “Rain, Steam and Speed" is supposedly a steam engine advancing “across a bridge in the rain” with a hare running for cover. The plaque displayed next to the painting praises the picture for its “ability to capture atmospheric effects in paint”. I think it captures the dreary atmosphere, but it doesn’t do much else. Part of me wonders if it was intended that half of the dreary atmosphere comes from its seemingly unfinished state. I found this painting succeeding in a hall after I found another that had me so taken, the Artist is now a source of new inspiration for me.

               Canaletto creates beautiful sharpened, crisp, detailed pieces that are exactly contrary to the works of Turner. “Venice: a Regatta on the Grand Canal” (1740) is so mesmerizing. One can look at the well-defined heads and waves for hours prior to noticing the sharp background fade into perspective is still as beautifully realistic and defined as the foreground. The mathematical convergence of the buildings in perspective, to the proportional windows that sit on the faces of these complex building shapes, everything feels real because of the artist’s correct measurement to make a seemingly realistic space. From personal experience, effectively correct two-point perspective is one of the most difficult things for an artist to do because of the detachment from how an object is to how an object appears. It is visually appealing to me from its refined appearance and mathematical precision giving it effective realism. “Rain, Steam and Speed” does not convey space well, you can tell it has 1 point perspective because the sides of the bridges converge at a point behind the train but nothing else in the painting effectively shows the convergence of space which results in the painting losing depth. “Rain, Steam and Speed” also relies on the deep color of the bridge and train to draw the viewer’s eye to the focal point, rather than detail or shapeliness of the train. Something coming out of the fog or confusion should visually have more definition as it nears the foreground of the painting.
               There is a painting called “Weymouth Bay: Bowleaze Cove and Jordon Hill”(1860) by John Constable which I think effectively represents what “Rain Steam and Speed” should be like. It is in the same room as Turner’s works and only a doorway separates them. They both effectively “capture atmospheric effects in paint” but the dissimilarity is that Weymouth Bay is so refined, crisp, and makes you feel as if you’re standing there on the beach. “Rain, Steam and Speed” does not give you a dark stormy night with a contrasting steam train like something out of the polar express. “Rain Steam and Speed” does not display a traumatic experience of the hare, or a refined foreground and background. “Rain Steam and Speed” claims to have a hare but I can’t seem to find it, it boasts the atmosphere but is really just using fog as a means to abstain from proper refining on an artwork. The only real distinction I can make in this work is that there is a train, it’s on a bridge, there is another more faded bridge to the left and they’re seemingly over water. “Weymouth Bay” beautifully captures a shoreline and grassy hills in a cloudy atmosphere and it isn’t even finished, it has visible canvas as the brown of the sand. Yet, even with less finality, the refined shoreline and the green hills are refined as if one was standing there themselves on honeymoon just like John Constable was. Turner’s art lacks a finished quality that can be found even in the unfinished work of John Constable.
               “Venice” beautifully relays space, “Weymouth Bay” adequately relays an atmosphere despite its flaws, but “Rain, Steam and Speed” does not do anything for me. Turner’s lack of small detail and defined shapes leaves me with a disparity between what it supposedly portrays and what I perceive from it. The painting succeeds in its ability to create a foggy atmosphere and draw the viewer’s eye towards the moving steam train. Everything else in “Rain Steam and Speed” is blurred out into submission and it is jarring to me to find it placed alongside other more refined works that the National Gallery has to offer.

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