Monday, May 22 Blog Post

By Aaron Schwartz

Women in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer


Brusati’s method of interacting with art is intertwined with literal viewing perspectives, and how these perspectives, both created by the viewer as well as those put in place by the artist influence the interpretation of the art. As a result, Brusati puts method before meaning in viewing the artwork. Instead of the literal image being analyzed for symbolism and portrayal at first glance, Brusati focuses on how the artist molds the viewer into looking at their art a certain way.  Brusati’s method contrasts from my own method of looking at art, as it seems to only be one of many aspects to consider when viewing art. For myself, the perspective can at times come second to other aspects of the art, such as the emotions it elicits or its thematic resonance. Berger’s methods of analysis differ from Brusati’s in many ways. Instead of focusing on aspects of “experimentation” as Brusati writes, Berger seems to analyze the artwork with his train of thought as his eyes moves across the art, emphasized by his first person writing narrative. I can understand Berger’s thought process and his style of art analysis. His style seems to ask questions that no one save the artist can answer for sure, for instance, asking why one portrayed women is “carrying a dead chicken and not a dead eagle?”. Questions without answers force Berger to analyze the artwork for meaning and detailed symbolism, and lead to a deeper understanding of the art.

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7 thoughts on “Monday, May 22 Blog Post

  1. I think you have a very solid base for the essay. I agree with Professor Troutman and think that the analogy you drew between Berger and Brusati’s methods is very interesting. Maybe for the essay you can expand on these ideas and add more about what you think about the Protschky article. It would also be interesting to see how all of these articles have inspired you and given you new ways to look at art.

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  2. Great way to draw out an analogy between Berger and Brusati’s methods–but perhaps this is an accidental analogy? (I like it anyway.): That both of them emphasize the idea of the wandering eye of the viewer, Brusati through explicit framework drawing on techniques he sees artists as making consciously, and Berger through first-person narrative. I wonder how much they would actually agree on this?

    On where meaning lies: Do you think Brusati comes close to finding artists’ intentions? She sees these as meta-pictures–pictures that are *about* the act of looking and seeing. So, do you take that as their intended purpose? And if so, what meanings come out of that? What does it *mean* for Vermeer to have us wondering what’s just outside that doorway out of view?

    And Berger, as you say, asks many questions he can’t answer. Does it matter that only the artist could answer them? Do we have to always care about what the artists’ answer would be? Is art also about the relationship between the viewer and the art itself? And does it always have to be about meaning? Can art also be about feeling, about aesthetic, about the way something looks or what it reminds us of?

    And I’m wondering more about how you see these ideas playing out in Protschky and either of the other two. (Maybe you haven’t written that post yet….) And can you show us how any of this might apply to a given piece of art? What piece did you take notes on from the Rijksmuseum?

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  3. Looking over your comments as well as the readings for today, I agree that at times the conclusions drawn by Berger’s methods can lead to an incorrect assumption about the arts meaning. However, looking through Protschky’s reading, their argument is structured similarly to a thesis, where they can never be certain that the conclusion they have drawn are correct, but still intend to back it up with as much evidence as possible. I have almost no experience in art analysis, but I agree that without input from the artist, no matter the technique of viewing the art, no one can fully understand the full picture. The only thing that a viewer can know for sure when they look at a piece of art is the emotion it elicits. Unlike other fields of analysis, it’s much more difficult in art analysis to prove another interpretation of an piece of art “wrong” than those of a scientific analytic nature. I can conclude only that there is no best method, as only the artist can tell you what the art is meant to mean.

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    1. The piece I took notes on from the museum was Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer. I chose the piece specifically because I felt that there was an argument on both sides for their field of art analysis. I noted that as opposed to the other pieces of art on the site, this piece from Vermeer seemed more abstract than others with degraded colors and the flatness of the image as a whole. Thus, it would be harder to associate it with any specific analysis method. One of the things I found most significant was the woman’s face. Due to the color of the background matching the subject’s skin tone, the woman’s face seems to meld into the map(?) behind her, making it difficult for me to gain a realist perspective of the painting as a whole. In order to analyze this through the method adopted by Carol Zemel in her analysis of Van Gogh’s work, I would need to research and delve into the background of Vermeer to see if I can find anything that can help to explain this contrast between this flat image and his others, where the subjects are more drawn from their backgrounds. If I were to analyze this painting through Protchky’s historical art examination method he used for Dutch still lifes, I would need to look at paintings of women from this time period as a whole, in order to search for commonalities that can help identify the significance in the lack of depth of this painting.

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    2. I realize I may be contradicting my previous comment, but another important question that comes up is the original intention of a piece it’s only true meaning? Or does what the viewer brings and interprets equally valuable? If we can never truly get to the artists meaning with out their direct words what’s the point of art history? Michelangelo (in)famously destroyed his preparatory work so only the final piece would remain yet he is one of the most renowned artists in the western world. Purposely destroying what could be used to see his true meaning he left that up to the viewer.

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  4. “Questions without answers force Berger to analyze the artwork for meaning and detailed symbolism, and lead to a deeper understanding of the art.”

    but if the questions truly don’t have answers is Berger “grasping at straws” (overly strong word use I now) through his analysis. And if the understanding is deeper is it correct? I do generally agree with you, its just a thought.

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  5. I agree with a lot of what you said, particularly how “the perspective can at times come second to other aspects of the art, such as the emotions it elicits or its thematic resonance.” Personally, I think it depends on what type of art I am viewing and that often times decides how I look at art. For Dutch art in particular perspective is defiantly something that I take note of but it is not one of the first things I look at. I also really like how you say Berger tends to ask a lot of questions that no one but the artist can answer. I agree with what you say in regards to this, “Questions without answers force Berger to analyze the artwork for meaning and detailed symbolism, and lead to a deeper understanding of the art.” When viewing art I also tend to ask unanswerable questions but I do believe that it forces me to looking for answers within the art and untimely leaves me with a greater understanding for the art. I really enjoyed what you had to say about these readings!

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