20 October 2009

Art Explorations: Rodin and Schiele

Truth and Beauty: Variations on a Theme

In this interim period between now and the year's end, I hope to spend some time with varying aspects of art, such as drawing on paper with a pencil or a piece of charcoal, to explore the human body and faces and hands -- those very basic elements of humanity. In preparing for this period of exploration, I spent some time at my favorite art store buying papers, graphite pencils and a few books. These were not expensive art books; rather those little Dover editions that we see scattered around libraries and bookshops from time to time, most costing under $10. However, they do capture some wonderful works in a simple format, many of which are reprinted editions that have fallen by the wayside.

Auguste Rodin:

One book I bought was on Auguste Rodin and is a reprint of an extended interview he gave back around 1911. The discussions between the two men are enlightening on how Rodin's mind worked, how he physically worked, such as in the following description, which I am loosely paraphrasing:

. . . throughout his studio nudes walk, stroll, recline, chat, moving around the room in a natural manner, bending to pick up a book, to eat an apple or some grapes. All the time Rodin watches, reaching for a piece of clay and quickly beginning to shape a small figurine. These are his studies for larger works. There is constant movement of the human body here, no posing on pedestals, no artificial posturing -- just movement . . .

Rodin's intense belief in respecting the natural movement of the human body -- how it bends, sways, tilts, stretches, aches -- enabled him to render powerful depictions through his hands and fingers, through his arms and shoulders that leaned into the creating process, pushing and shoving pieces of earth and stone. To throw oneself into the creative process so wholly, to "see" and to honor so thoroughly was and is an amazing feat!

* * *

Egon Schiele:

Written in 1819, Ode on a Grecian Urn contains probably the two most discussed lines in all of John Keats's poetry -

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
that is all Ye know on earth,
and all ye need to know.

Very comforting. And yet what is Beauty? Who defines it? Does it change from culture to culture, from epoch to epoch? Yes, there is no denying that it does and, left to the marketing forces of today, the concept is exchangeable with each new fashion season -- easy come, easy go.

The second book I purchased was Egon Schiele: 44 Drawings. I have seen Schiele's paintings throughout the years, but these black & white drawings are stark in their depictions of women and men in early 1900s Vienna. They are disturbing in their grim, realistic portrayal of human bodies on the brink of starvation, deprivation, often degradation.

How different from a Rubens nude, where the plump bodies nearly fall off the page in their sumptuousness, where muscular torsos command the space they inhabit! Here we see pain, anger, hunger, despair -- and yet -- a strange kind of beauty in Schiele's dark sinuous lines of ink and charcoal. These bodies appear to be fighting the contained space they are in, trapped and contorted as in life.

You cannot take your eyes away from the drawings. They haunt you. There is nothing between you and these figures, nothing to shield you from the reality, the truth of what one is seeing. In this moment of truth we discover, or uncover, a strange beauty because of Schiele's vision of truth.

So, is Truth beautiful? Is Beauty truthful? Both artists created varying manifestations of Beauty and Truth. Who is to say which is the better, the more truthful.

Artistic expression is not only in the eye of the beholder, but also in the eye of the artist.

Food for thought . . .


Four Seasons in a Life said...

I was musing over my own small collection of Dover publications, especially one book I have had since 1967 and one that to has fallen aside. Yet this one book I have felt should be required reading in all art classes, even though it is a book on mathematical dynamics.

Your own contemplations on beauty and truth reminds me of the possible parallels to the question if the artist should create art to satisfy their own personal needs or do they have a responsibility to society.

Enjoy the week

Kelly M. said...

A difficult conundrum -- perhaps it emerges whether the intent was there or not? Thank you for stopping by and your comments!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly, I have always liked Egon Schiele's drawings - He puts something of himself into his work. Rather disturbing but fascinating at the same time.

Kelly M. said...

Hi, Carolann -- yes, quite disturbing and yet riveting in a cutting edge sort of way --

chrome3d said...

That is one strong drawing by Schiele. The body and the pose is very personal and it can´t be mistaken for somebody elses work.

Kelly M. said...

It is very personel! Perhaps that is the difference between public art and what is perhaps a more private art?