Hogarth: Place and Progress

I read a very positive review in The Guardian of the exhibition Hogarth: Place and Progress which is at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. This was the first I had heard of the exhibition, but reading that it brought together in one place all of Hogarth’s ‘series’ – paintings and engravings – it seemed too great an opportunity to miss.

I admire Hogarth’s work and the narratives that he tells within his work, his comments on the morality of his time. In a previous photography module (Photography 1 Context and Narrative) for this course I had produced a contemporary version of Hogarth engraving The Politician.

So this was an exceptional opportunity to see all of his series together in the one place.

I had not visited the Sir John Soane’s Museum before. It is in three neighbouring houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The first originally purchased by Sir John Soane as his residence and the other two purchased at a later date to house his growing art collection.

For a museum or gallery, the rooms are really quite small and the exhibition is arranged over three floors. The layout of the museum and exhibition feels somewhat cramped and some of the Hogarth images have a room to themselves whereas others are in with works from the museum’s permanent collection.  As the exhibition is spread over a number of rooms on three floors, it can sometimes feel confusing ti find the next section of the exhibition. Normally this lack of continuity might lessen the impact of an exhibition, but somehow it felt very appropriate for this one. Hogarth’s series are teeming with life, at times seemingly confused, but always with a strong narrative linking the scenes. It seemed a positive bonus to be looking at them in rather cramped rooms with less than optimal lighting and lots of other visitors, it added to the experiencing of London as Hogarth saw it.

Gin Lane; William Hogarth [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Beer Street; William Hogarth [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

 

It was a superb opportunity to see all of the series together, I had seen Marriage a la Mode at the National Gallery and Gin Lane and Beer Street elsewhere, but there were many others that I had only seen in books or online before.

One point of interest was in ‘The Four Steps of Cruelty’ – all 4 scenes were shown in the original engraving, but a different version of scenes 3 and 4 were exhibited in a later woodcut version. Apparently Hogarth requested this to produce plates that were larger, simpler and cheaper  in order to reach a wider audience. While the original was more refined in the lines and drawing, the woodcut gave a rougher, more aggressive feel to what were already very strong and violent images.

In most of the images that Hogarth produced , there was  a complex story of morality and vice, but the narrative of the individual series was usually quite simple – the consequences of following the path of righteousness or not.

The series were very powerful and compelling to see, especially in the unique setting of the Sir John Soane Museum.

Lee Krasner at the Barbican

This was the first major exhibition of Krasner’s work in 50 years. I was interested to see it and to consider the influences on her work and the context under which it was produced.

Some of her influences were shown in the very first exhibition room. It contained a few, very vibrant and colourful, quite small abstract paintings. But one wall of the room simply showed a series of very large scale photos of flowers. The gallery notes explained how, in 1945, Krasner moved to Springs (near East Hampton, NY). Her father’s death, the year before, had ‘left her unable to paint anything but what she affectionately called her grey slabs‘.

Now, surrounded by nature, a ‘new kind of imagery was coming through, she worked on her ‘Little Images – vibrant, jewel-like abstractions, pulsing with an even rhythm’.

The photos on the wall were taken by her friend, Ray Eames who ‘documented the wildlife in Springs that inspire this work’.

 

The curator had, very effectively, displayed the paintings and photos together to express the way  surroundings had influenced the images produced.

A couple of examples of the society in which Krasner operated, were shown later in the exhibition. At the age of 19 she was due to study at the National Academy of Design. She was obviously extremely talented and, in later interviews, would talk of how ‘the Academy had refused to believe her capable’ of a plein-air portrait she had submitted.

She protested about this and was promoted to the life-drawing class, but she did not like the traditional approach of the Academy, which she described as ‘a sterile atmosphere of …. congealed mediocrity’.

Another example of the times in which she was working came after the Wall Street Crash. The depression that followed forced her to leave the National Academy. In 1937 she was awarded a scholarship to attend classes at the Hans Hoffman School. The images in the ‘Life Drawing’ room showed how Krasner made her first venture into abstraction attracting the comment from Hoffman that her work was so good ‘you would not know it was done by a woman’.

Seeing the exhibition and the paintings themselves was a great opportunity, but the curator had also effectively introduced many descriptions of the  influences and contexts under which Krasner produced her work.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Taking advantage of my membership of the British Museum, I made a couple of visits to the Munch exhibition there and also attended two lectures that had been arranged to complement the exhibition. The first talk was by Andrew Graham Dixon, who spoke about The Scream while the second lecture was by Janina Ramirez who spoke about Emotion in Munch’s Art. I then made a second visit to the exhibition which helped to consolidate what I had heard in the talks.

Dixon gave some interesting background to Munch’s influences, how a lack of teaching in Scandinavia resulted in Munch being drawn into the German Circle and tradition.

He said that Munch’s described ambition was “to paint the soul” and he described how The Scream developed. Munch was walking with friends one evening when the sky turned blood red. Munch stopped, feeling exhausted, while his friends walked on. In 1892 Munch wrote “I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature”. Dixon described this as “suddenly the hostility of the universe is engulfing him”. He stated that “The Scream doesn’t seem to grow old”. This he attributed to what the image was portraying

  • Alienation
  • Life in the city where you hardly know anyone

And that as that describes how many people live today can be quite shocking and that may be why The Scream still resonates.

Janina Ramirez spoke about emotion in Munch’s work, and how this tended to get deeper and more despairing as time went on. She spoke particularly about the death of Munch’s sister and how deeply this affected him and his work.

One point she made gave cause for thought, she said that the “need for art to be hyper-realistic ended with the advent of photography. Art moved on to picture the imagined, what is in our dreams, something that photography cannot do”.  I think the important phrase here is that art does not need to be hyper-realistic any more, photorealism as an art form has not disappeared, Richard Estes is a good example of a practitioner in this field. So maybe photography stimulated artists away from realism to a more emotional response.

Munch was clearly a troubled individual, and the intensity of his emotions clearly emerged from the images that he produced. None more so than his portrayal of a dying child. He was, apparently, greatly affected by the death, as a child, of his sister from tuberculosis. The images on display show raw emotion in how they convey the scene.

The exhibition is of Munch’s prints, although some paintings have been borrowed for the duration to complement the display. Prints can sometimes be considered inferior to original paintings. I’m not sure why, perhaps it is something to do with the uniqueness of the painting compared to the fact that a number of copies of the print can be produced. This is certainly the case when considering the value of an image from a monetary rather than an aesthetic point of view. The exhibition, however, t showed to me how prints, in the hands of someone hugely skilled, can still have the same emotional effect as paintings. There was an oil painting of The Sick Child alongside prints he produced of the same subject. To me all three had the same intensity and raw emotional power.

It would be impossible to write about the exhibition without mentioning The Scream. I have mentioned above how the image developed. In fact Munch produced several versions, in paint and pastels , as well as a lithograph stone.

Most people are familiar with the paint or pastel version of the image, but I think that the lithograph displayed in the exhibition has more intensity. The monochrome nature of the print and the way the sky and background has been reproduced with clear, distinct lines, focuses the viewers attention on the face of the subject and what he is experiencing. The paint and pastel versions perhaps leave a different impression, one of the emotional impact of the overall scene rather than the individual experiencing it.

Edvard Munch [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

One aspect that was not so enjoyable was exiting the exhibition via the museum shop. The number of objects displayed for sale that featured an image of The Scream was bewildering. There were so many that I started to list down what you could buy that featured the image:

  • Nail files
  • Tee shirts
  • Tea towels
  • Tote bags
  • Sticky note pads
  • Finger puppets
  • Magnets
  • Travelcard holders
  • Key rings
  • Pencil cases
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Mugs
  • Plates
  • Vases
  • Spatula
  • Notebook
  • Erasers

There were so many I may have missed a few. I know that museums/galleries have these shops after an exhibition to maximise sales and produce income for the institution, but I did find that it detracted somewhat. But then I needn’t have stayed and counted, I could have just walked straight out – but I do think that you can have too much of a good thing!

Reviewing Creative Work

1 How do Research and Body of Work streams interact?

In the Research element I will be looking at images of flowers produced over a century in Japan and the West. In my Body of Work I will be producing my own images of flowers that will be influenced by what I learn from the Research. The following mind map shows the linkages

 

The period 1830-1940 seems appropriate as it encompasses Orientalism, Japonisme and the invention and development of photography. The Research work will drive my Body of Work and the experience of producing my own images will also inform my Research. My Body of Work will also be influenced by the range of current threats that may affect the flora of the world.

 

2. Resources

I have identified a number of resources that will help with both the Research and Body of Work courses.

  • Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures – it has a school of study at the University of East Anglia and presents a monthly series of talks in Norwich.
  • The Lisa Sainsbury Library in Norwich is part of the Sainsbury Institute and holds books, journals, exhibition catalogues, slides, prints, maps and other materials relating to all aspects of Japanese arts and cultures. I have already visited the library.
  • Norwich University of the Arts has an extensive photography collection in its library and I have taken out external membership of the library.
  • The National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum has a huge collection of art books. I have taken out membership of the library and have already visited.
  • The British Museum and the V&A both have print collections of Japanese Art and, at the V&A, photographs which are available to study. I am currently researching what is available.

 

3. What I would like to achieve

I want to develop skills in – creating ways of using different photographic techniques and media to produce compelling, thought provoking final work

I want to consolidate skills in – composing and lighting photographic images of flowers

I want to produce – work that is more than just an attractive image, that conveys a message

I want to promote my work to – myself, I want to be satisfied with the way that I have integrated the Research and Body of Work components.

I want to refine – my own personal voice in the work and images that I produce

I want to explore – work from different art forms and different parts of the world that can influence how I produce my own work

I want to prove that – study of different art forms from around the world can be of considerable benefit to how I approach my own work and that different aspects can be combined to produce a contemporary image

I want to involve – just myself – I want to challenge myself to think differently and produce a set of final images that are unique

I want to integrate – different techniques and media from my research into my everyday work

 

 

Part 1; Tutor Response to Exercises 1-3

I had an excellent discussion with my tutor about my research topic. She raised a number of issues with what I had originally proposed :

  • the need for evidence of what is being considered, particularly if I am stating that certain artists were influenced by other art forms (it needs much more than ‘it looks like it is influenced by’) . What does it actually mean to import something from another culture?
  • the need to narrow down the research topic (e.g. Japanese influence) and refine what is being looked at (e.g. perspective, space, colour, etc)
  • could consider a more cultural comparison rather than influences e.g. representation of flowers across cultures and could look at parallels and different times and contexts.

I found the discussion to be of enormous benefit – highlighting the pitfalls of the approach I was considering and pointing the way forward to a good research proposal.

 

Part 1; Exercises 1-3

This part of the course was unusual in that you undertake the first three exercises of the module and send them off to your tutor before getting too far into the topic chosen for research.

I thought that I was pretty clear on what I wanted to do for my research project and body of work – looking at ancient Chinese paintings and influence on the West, then producing a series of photos in response to what I had learned.

However, going through the different exercises left me a bit less clear. Was the subject too broad? Should I narrow it down to individual photographers?

I found that creating the mind maps helped a lot, trying to work out how the two themes of Art History and Photography would interact and how to keep the whole thing manageable.

A copy of my response to the exercises can be found here. I will have a video tutorial on my submission so I look  forward to getting feedback.