A 17th Century Selfie Documentary

These days, the ubiquitous selfie has become the a common form of self-expression, easily created and shared with online “friends” or made public on social media. While taking excessive selfies can seem narcissistic and self-absorbed, selfies construct personal identity and document life experiences over time, contributing to greater self-awareness. For instance, Hugo Cornellier (2014) and Christophe Rehage (2009) created time-lapse videos of selfies spanning several years of their life to document important experiences.

Although technology has certainly contributed to our obsession with public self-promotion, the idea of self-documentation is not a modern invention. Take Rembrandt van Rijn, a Dutch master from the 1600s, as an example. In addition to his exquisite paintings, etchings, engravings, and drawings, Rembrandt produced almost 100 self-portraits throughout the course of his life. With a little bit of biographical context, these works trace the timeline of his life and his art.

Early Beginnings:

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait of 1629

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A Lack of Color

So last time we scratched the surface of the realm of color and how much meaning it can give to a work of art. But a great deal of art is produced with little to no color at all, such as sculpture, drawings, and prints among others. Let’s take a look at a few beautiful works and see how much emotion and power can be conveyed in pure grayscale…

  • Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936

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Colorful Flights of Fancy

In a previous post, we looked at the powerful role of lines, both obvious and implied, in shaping the mood of a work of art. This time, let’s take a look at the effects of color.

As you probably know, solid, simple colors are associated with many basic emotions and can take on symbolic meaning. For instance, red is considered the color of passion, anger, or love, while blue is the color of calm, trustworthiness, and security. At the same time, colors can be associated with elements of nature, such as fire (red and orange), water (blue), and earth (brown). [More details on color symbolism can be found here.]

Color is thus one of the most crucial conveyors of meaning in art, often functioning at a subconscious level. Let’s look through a few examples to see how we react to artists’ choices of color in various styles and time periods…

  • Jan Van Eyck –  Arnolfini Portrait
Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Wedding, 1434

Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Wedding, 1434

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Duty Walks a Straight Line

Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii,1784, oil on canvas

Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784, oil on canvas

Today we are going to focus specifically on form and its components. Among the many components of an artist’s formal toolbox, line is one of the most subtle yet versatile characteristics that can define a work of art. From the confusion of indiscernible lines to the purity of line by itself and every compromise in between, lines both obvious and unseen can really shape the mood of a piece and manipulate the way you look at a work (read more information here).

A powerful example of the importance of line can be seen in Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii Continue reading

Cracking the Code: A Series

Hi everyone! In the spirit of introductions, I am going to start off my blog with a series of exploratory posts, meant to work through how you can approach a work of art. On this blog, I am adopting an approach that looks at three major characteristics of a work of art: form, content, and context, which I have outlined on my page “Cracking the Code.” Each post will focus on a different element and show how useful it can be to understanding a particular work…or I may integrate all three to show you how they create a bigger story behind each piece. This is as much a learning experience for me as for you, so feel free to comment and critique!

Update: Here is the series as it stands… I hope to add to this theme over time.

1. Form:

2. Content:

3. Context:

Samuel van Hoogstraten, View of a Corridor, 1658