Modern Decadence

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Mesmerising impressions are free to those that can afford it and very expensive to those that can't.

För ett tag sedan såg jag på ett avsnitt av Skavlan där Odd Nerdrum var gäst. För er som inte såg inslaget eller vet något om denne man, är han en norsk framgångsrik kontroversiell konstnär som blivit dömd till två års fängelse på grund av att han inte betalat skatt för konstverken han har sålt. Under programmet där han medverkade dök en amerikansk bankrånare upp och erbjöd sig att sitta av Nerdrums två år. ”Jag vet vad fängelser gör gentemot genier i fängelset. Jag har varit där. Ifall Odd sätts på kåken kommer han förlora sin skaparförmåga. Hans konstsinne kommer att gå förlorat”. 

På Edsvik konstgalleri där Nerdrum ställde ut en vecka därpå släpade jag mina fötter, fick slita mig från det ena konstverket till det andra i byggnaden. Plötsligt fick jag syn på ett porträtt som liknade en av mina egna tavlor som jag påbörjade en vecka tidigare, ett porträtt av polygami-sektledaren Warren Jeffs. Jag kan självklart inte påstå att mitt var lika skickligt målat, men uttrycket var snarlikt. Ögonen som tomma, öppna sår, och med en likgiltig, någorlunda rak hållning, Jag betraktade målningen länge med halvöppen mun.

Jag slogs av att han hade någon mystisk förmåga att få en bit av sig själv att fastna på mig. Jag minns att jag tänkte att det är precis såhär en utställning ska kännas. Som skarpa knivhugg genom kroppen skar målningarna i mig för att därefter lämna mig tom och inspirerad - utanför vokabulärens gränser. Särskilt uttrycksfull är att nämna självporträttet ”Jag som kriminell”, och målningarna av misshandlade djur med löst hängande inälvor utanför kropparna och snaror runt halsen. Det var samma betagna känsla som när jag såg Francis Bacon på Tate Gallery. Konst kan fungera som berusningsmedel. Jag tror vi alla konstsjälar är bekanta med ordet ”Delirium”. Det är sådant man kan uppleva när man jobbar så pass effektivt man kan - går in i sin konst. När man slås undan av allt annat. När man inte tänker på sig själv, när man inte tänker på andra, när man överhuvudtaget inte ens ser vad som försiggår omkring sig. Det är ett oerhört djupt meditativt själstillstånd att sjunka ner i, och som inte kan uppnås självmedvetet. Ibland intalar jag mig själv att det ligger någonting metafysiskt över det hela eftersom tillståndet på något oförklarligt sätt ökar uttryckens kapacitet och låter fantasin eskalera. Det är också då, som resultatet ofta kan visa sig vara häpnadsväckande. Det kan hända vem som helst; författare, journalister, konstnärer, artister, idrottsstjärnor, komiker, bankdirektörer, redaktörer, skådespelare. Sådana som är sina egna chefer helt enkelt, på ett eller annat sätt. Sådana personer som presterar utifrån sina egna förutsättningar, ambitioner och mål. 

Efter besöket på galleriet fick jag ett sms av konstnärsvännen Stina ”Odd Nerdrum stödjer terrorismen!”. Jag märkte att Nerdrum verkade möta hårt motstånd, synnerligen från kulturfolk. Mina bildlärare frågade om utställningen i skolan, och jag var mer än villig att entusiastiskt  berätta om konstverken. Dessvärre hindrade de mig att få prata klart genom att sucka högt, rynka på näsan eller göra andra gester med kroppen som tydde på ogillande. ”Jag gillar inte riktigt honom. Jag tror att det bara är någon slags konstförälskelse du har som ungdom. Om ett tag gillar du honom inte.” Sade en av mina bildlärare. När jag nu fortsätter på denna krönika har det gått ett par år sedan besöket på Edsvik, och jag känner ingen ånger. 

Jag anser fortfarande att han är en ofattbart skicklig konstnär, och har lyckats med sitt kitschiga bildspråk, på samma sätt som psykologiska målarmästaren Munch och många andra anmärkningsvärda och uppskattade konstnärer har lyckats med sina originella bildspråk. Så, med andra ord - Låt Nerdrum få syssla med det han vill, att försöka skapa nya sätt att tänka och måla genom föregångaren Rembrandt. Låt kitschen få leva. 

A study about the British Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), which was formed and productive in London during the mid-to late 19th century

Background, Aim and Purpose

Recently, when I visited the Tate Britain in London I came over an almost frighteningly realistic and beautiful painting entitled Ophelia by the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. It took my breath away, and made me utterly speechless. To me, it was more than a painting - behind it laid an interesting and mystifying story wanting to be told through a detailed oil surface about a young woman who lies in a stream with clothes that keep her floating. After this enthralling experience I could not stop thinking about what I had seen. Questions started to appear. Who was this young woman? Why was Shakespeare and the Pre-raphaelite Millais captivated by the destiny of Ophelia? Why are human destructive acts so inspiring to some artists?

A few hours later I managed to return to my ordinary life, which was and is not dominated by thoughts that revolved about a single piece of art - however, I occasionally still give some of my time to the Pre-raphaelites because it is something absolutely stunning about all their works, and that is why I’ve chosen the Pre-Raphaelites as my subject for this assignment, a written report entitled The Development of Culture. 

The purpose of the project is therefore to learn, discuss and pay attention to an English Art movement that existed in the 19th century. 

The Pre-Raphaelite Art.

Here follow some of the questions I have asked myself, and will give answers to later in the report:

What is it that is so enchanting about the Pre-Raphaelites and their artwork? 

When and how did they live? 

What paintings techniques did they use? 

Finally, the perhaps most important question of them all: 

How have they come to influence contemporary art in the United Kingdom? 

Material and Procedure 

Since I already have made up the questions, I feel compelled to find the correct answers to them. By correct I realize that Wikipedia is an excluded alternative because of its’ untrustworthiness and sometimes, subjective style of writing. Therefore, I went to the local library (Norrköpings Stadsbibliotek) to search for several books about the Pre-Raphaelites. Unfortunately, I did not find any book about them, neither in English or Swedish.

A few days later, in escalating frustration over not having any reliable material to my report, I suddenly seemed to found a glimpse of happiness: In one of the bookshelves in the school’s art studio, to my great surprise, a thick and massive book with the title on its back Essential Pre-Raphaelites, by the author Lucinda Hawksley. 

I also watched the documentary, A passion for the Pre-Raphaelites, which was presented and led by the musical composer, author and director Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

Those two sources: the book and the documentary came to be the only sources to my newfound knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelites. No sites or texts on the Internet seemed to be suitable and reliable to the report whatsoever. 

Presentation of Facts

The year 1848 were the old order in England under threat: February had witnessed revolution in Paris, and in April the Chartists had marched through the streets of London demanding universal suffrage.

In the autumn of that year, a group of seven young and disillusioned male artists; Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his brother William Michael Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, Thomas Woolner, Frederic George Stephens, James Collison and John Everett Millais formed the The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). However, how excited the Pre-Raphaelite brethren were by such events, it was artistic reform rather than political revolution they wanted. 

During this period, the artists were dominated by a feeling that artistic individuality was being lost. All successful artists during the mid 19th century, in their eyes, seemed to be painting the same objects in an unoriginal, rather dark way. The individual, like the society, had been replaced by machines. 

In the summer of 1851, the artists John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt travelled to the countryside and began painting outdoors. They painted everyday except for sunday, usually from 8 in the morning to 7’o’ clock in the evening, 11 hours a day, six days a week. The idea was to rediscover the natural world that was threatened by the industrial revolution in England.

The PRBs stood against the new age of mass productivism. They wanted to make an artistic stand against it. Everything had to be as accurate and detailed as possible, as the art had been before the medieval painter and architect Raphael; Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Pre-Raphael).

Their purpose was to bring back the painting to a stage of greater honesty. They felt that the form of teaching at the British Royal Academy, whose ideal was to be found in the Renaissance Masters, was dishonest.

Having returned to their studios, the Pre-Raphaelite artists developed a style of painting which was new to the art world. A style of painting, in which an intense brilliance was achieved by applying thin layers of oil paint over a white ground. It was in 1849 that the first paintings of them appeared in an acclaimed exhibition. They received a majority of negative response. Among the critics was the author Charles Dickens, who made a satirical attack on the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Religiosity, spirituality and fantasies of old times were recurring romanticized themes of the Pre-Raphaelites, and were combined with studies of nature and environment. The eternal questions of love, passion, mythology, betrayal and death were central in the artists’ work. 

Their paintings contains a huge variety of both motives and themes. Women’s roles were also recurring motives; working-class women, prostitutes and women in social vulnerability. They picked scenes from classical stories and several poems by Dante, Shakespeare and Tennyson. They also painted Christian motives. Such themes that are still relevant to us today. 

However, the group disbanded after a few years, but its’ decorative linear lyrical paintings inspired a great amount of following artists, such as Edward Burne-Jones, John William Waterhouse and William Morris. 

A Selected Work

Ophelia by John Everett Millais 

The oil painting Ophelia is based on Ophelia’s suicide in the fourth act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and depicts the character Ophelia, floating in a stream, singing, before she drowns in it. She is surrounded by flowers and plants with symbolic significance. The poppy, for example, is a symbol of death. The themes that lies in the painting are forsaken love, pain, innocence and death. The painting was modelled by an young and beautiful woman called Elizabeth Siddal, who was married to the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Consequently, she was painted and drawn extensively by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. An interesting fact about the process of the painting Ophelia is that Siddal almost drowned during the sitting. The water she lied in was freezing and she had to be still - a reason for the artist Millais not be able to discover that the water actually for a few minutes made her stop breathing, and had a close to death-experience. 

Ophelia has been estimated to have a market value of around £30 million.

The painting has been widely referenced in both art, film and photography. The video to Nick Cave’s song Where the Wild Roses Grow depicts Kylie Minogue mimicking the pose of the painting. The image of Kirsten Dunst floating down a stream in her wedding dress with a bouquet in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, is also inspired by the destiny of Ophelia.

Architecture 

The Pre-Raphaelite idea of looking back to a Pre-Industrial past extended into all the arts, particularly the Architecture. One of the foremost architects during the 19th century was the church architect William Butterfield, who gave life back to the Gothic architecture. 

Discussion

In an increasingly infantilized world where so much seems to be split into good or bad, correct or incorrect, acceptable of unacceptable, I feel that trends of all kinds come and disappear, almost at the same time. They constantly fight with each other on a stage of current popularity. However, other times, they can also attract and trigger each other. Complex ideas are popular trends today. Perhaps our appetite for the ambiguous, the challenging, the sharp, the untamed, the dirty, the beautiful, the elusive and the unknowable is huge. In other words: our appetite for the complex art is huge, and every little impression can influence us artistically nowadays. 

The Art in the United Kingdom is no exception. The Pre-Raphaelites had their period of greatness in the mid-and late 19th century. After a while, they fell into oblivion in connection with the breakthrough of modernism. Suddenly, the fragile world of beauty and great emotions seemed to be hopelessly old fashioned; as an outdated relic of art which was best to clear out - to make space for empty rooms, light and air.

However, in the 60s, together with the hippie-era craze for decorative floral designs, could the Pre-Raphaelites sail out again, from its’ repressed darkness. Today I believe that we are somewhere between everything with a hunger of unseen and unexplored things. The British contemporary artist Damien Hirst is at the moment exhibiting his glided excrement, while Tracey Emin makes a tent installation with portraits of her bed partners. Are they influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites? I do not think so. 

The Pre-Raphaelites may be unfashionable, they can not be dismissed as lightweight. Even though a majority of the paintings have timeless and classical motives, some of the painters did choose to express themselves in political ways. For example, the artist Holman Hunt addressed contemporary issues directly like the endemic prostitution that fed the appetites of the wealthy in London - there were approximately 80,000 prostitutes working in London in the last quarter of the 19th century, and prostitution, for example, is a relevant subject which many contemporary artists are inspired by.

However, one important question is if we are going to see a similar art movement to the Pre-Raphaelites. Will the detailed and decorative style of painting become popular in the future? Or is it already something that is popular? 

My theory is that some contemporary artists to some extent are inspired by them - but we have do look outside UK. In Norway, for example, you will find the Kitsch painter and professor Odd Nerdrum with his own private academy in the norwegian countryside. His and the students ambition is to learn and take after Renaissance painters and Rembrandt’s techniques in order to maintain and create new but conservative forms of painting.  

Andrew Lloyd Webber claims that he believe that the Pre-Raphaelites will be in the centre of popularity once again - when the art curators have become tired of Damien Hirst and the vast scene of conceptualism. In the ending of his documentary ”A Passion for the Pre-Raphaelites”, he says:  

”There is something about the Pre-Raphaelites that makes them incredibly relevant for today. I do not believe they are a footnote to art - I think they are part of the mainstream. A very British mainstream. I am going to make a bet with you, as we are all living longer now. I bet that in a 100 years time, the Pre-Raphaelites will be around when diamond-encrusted skulls have been consigned to the attic - just like the Pre-Raphaelites were 90 years ago.”

psychedelis:

Ibland känner jag mig såhär

image

(Source: elixs, via prinsdissidens)