Category: American Art

Tom Friedman, Untitled (A Curse)Here’s somethi…

Tom Friedman, Untitled (A Curse)

Here’s something I’ve been researching for my homework that I thought you might all have an interesting opinion on. This work, created in 1992, is by artist Tom Friedman. It presents the viewer with a simple plinth upon which – it appears – nothing rests. However, this is not the case once you know the context and history of the artwork. Right about the “empty” plinth, the artist hired a professional witch to curse the space. This begs the question of each individual person that views the work: Do you believe that the space is cursed – and therefore not really empty at all? Or are you not at all superstitious, but admire the response many would have to this invisible artwork?

The idea of stressing the importance of context of a piece of work is an idea that reminds me of a few traditional paintings. The painting Salomé (1909), by Paul Antoine de la Boulaye (1849-1926), comes to mind. That painting doesn’t at all portray “an icon of dangerous female seductiveness” until you learn the context behind it. Although the artworks couldn’t be more different, I think that idea resonates quite a bit with Untitled (A Curse) – that what you see is not exactly what you expect. That once you know the history behind what is being portrayed, it can completely turn your view of it around.

“At the time I was thinking about how one’s knowledge of the history behind something affects one’s thinking about that thing.”

This also asks the question, does art have to be visible to be appreciated? Does art have to be made of a material object at all, or can art can be expressed purely as a thought or as an action? Even the most visually beautiful artworks often are made with the idea to portray a thought or feeling, and all artwork is made to get some sort of response. While invisible, this work is actually a very loaded space for some.

Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail, 1896-1901, by …

Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail, 1896-1901, by Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911)

Reverie I, and Reverie II, by Alessandra Maria…

Reverie I, and Reverie II, by Alessandra Maria (1989- )

Works by American artist Gerald Brom (1965- )

Works by American artist Gerald Brom (1965- )

Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948), Rosa Collage (Pink…

Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948), Rosa Collage (Pink Collage), 1940. Collage, paper and tissue on cardboard.

Old Man’s Afternoon, 1947, and Father and Parrot, 1948, by…

Old Man’s Afternoon, 1947, and Father and Parrot, 1948, by Will Barnet (1911-2012)

Famous Works by Norman RockwellNorman Rockwell (1894-1978) was…

Famous Works by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was an American illustrator whose works were known for their comments on American society. Here’s some background information on a few of his most famous and recognisable works.

  • Breaking Home Ties

Rockwell originally created this piece for the cover of 1954 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine he worked for, for almost 50 years.

Once looking at the small details of the painting, it’s easy to tell the context. The young man looks eagerly while awaiting his train. The college pennant, his clean suit, and the books placed on his suitcase indicate that his is on his way to university. His father sits slumped beside him, dressed in his worn work clothes, ready to watch his son go off to a better life. It may be difficult to really view the feelings of the father but you can gather his emotions with the way he holds boy his own and his son’s hat firmly in his hands. The atmosphere is further reinforced through the positioning of the dog. The dog’s head lays on the boy’s knee in a way of saying goodbye.

A paper conservator named Jim Canary described the atmosphere of the painting quite well, stating:
“The collie was laying its head on the young boy’s knee, and that just told everything. That was the sadness of leaving, of sort of breaking those ties. And then there are so many other things that start to come up out of the work. You see the wrinkled brow, the hard sort of working life that his father had lived. Then the bright sunny face of his son, looking upward with hope and wonderment, a new world coming ahead of him.”

While the original work was bought for $900 by a friend of the artist in the 60’s, this piece ended up selling for over $15 million in 2006.

  • Saying Grace

Another creation for The Saturday Evening Post, this painting dates before that of Breaking Home Ties, having been painting in 1951. It depicts a wholesome and simple scene. A mother and her young son sit amongst onlookers in a busy restaurant, as they bow their heads and pray. It is perfectly fitting for the Thanksgiving magazine issue it was created for.

If $15 million for the previous Rockwell painting was surprising, you’ll be shocked to hear that Saying Grace sold for $46 million in 2013.

  • The Problem We All Live With

This painting is very different from Rockwell’s others. It does not depict a wholesome family in a clever or comfortable way. This piece was created by Rockwell in order to voice a political statement in a society that had very loud and hateful audiences. As a result, Rockwell lost some support from fans and he was named many hateful things for drawing attention to desegregation. Now, the painting The Problem We All Live With, is seen as an iconic image in support of the Civil Rights Movement that occurred in the United States.
The painting shows the well-known Ruby Bridges (1954- ), who was just six years old when she became the first African American student to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School. The year was 1960 when this happened, and desegregation was a scary subject for many, to say the least. Especially since this was during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis.
The painting reflects her walk into the school, where she had to be escorted and kept away from the violent people around her. There are some difference between the actual scene and that of the painting – such as Bridges dress and how Rockwell added the graffiti on the wall. It does, however, show a small part of what many African American students had to endure.
The painting was published in an issue of Look, in 1964. Published at a time still filled with hateful people fighting for segregation.

The painting was eventually installed in the White House, during Barack Obama’s presidency. Here’s a video where Ruby Bridges came to see the painting in person, with Obama (Ruby Bridges Visits with the President and Her Portrait).

Woman and Child, 1950, by Selma Burke (1900-1995)

Woman and Child, 1950, by Selma Burke (1900-1995)

Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children, 1896, by John Singer Sargent…

Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children, 1896, by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

illinoisrbml: To celebrate Banned Book Week 2017, we’re looking…


To celebrate Banned Book Week 2017, we’re looking at
Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool”. Written in 1959 and published in Gwendolyn
Brooks’ 1960 book The Bean Eaters,
“We Real Cool” was banned from schools in Mississippi, Nebraska, and West
Virginia during the 1970s. Schools argued that the word “Jazz” and the phrase
“Jazz June” had a sexual connotation. Brooks herself believed that while every
person is entitled to their interpretation of a poem, this was not her original
intention when writing “We Real Cool”. She was quoted in Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks (ed. Gloria Wade Gayles, 2003)
as saying:

“I didn’t mean that at all. I meant that these
young men would have wanted to challenge anything that was accepted by ‘proper’
people, so I thought of something that is accepted by almost everybody, and
that is summertime, the month of June. So these pool players, instead of paying
the customary respect to the loveliness of June—the flowers, blue sky, honeyed
weather—wanted instead to derange it, to scratch their hands in it as if it
were a head of hair. This is what went through my head; that is what I meant.

a space can be permitted for a sexual interpretation. Talking about different
interpretations gives me a chance to say something I firmly believe—that poetry
is for personal use. When you read a poem, you may not get out of it all that
the poet put into it, but you are different from the poet. You’re different
from everybody else who is going to read the poem, so you should take from it
what you need. Use it personally.”

Banned Books Week celebrates our freedom to read by
highlighting books, poems, and other publications that have been challenged for
their content, authorship, or other reasons. “We Real Cool” is just one example
of a censored item in the RBML’s collection. Learn more about Banned Books Week

Cledie Taylor, “We Real Cool” broadside proof.
Detroit, Michigan: Broadside Press, 1966. MS00086 Gwendolyn Brooks papers.