Friday, October 15, 2010

Artistic Observation, Representation, And Narrative

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) is the presumed inventor of scientific perspective, around 1425. Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468) invented (European) movable type around 1450.

Marshall McLuhan connected print technology and perspective in art. He seems to have believed that perspective derives from print, but their order of appearance -- a generation apart -- would have them merely coincidental, or deriving from third source. McLuhan wrote:

The Renaissance Legacy.

The Vanishing Point=Self Effacement.
The Detached Observer.
No Involvement!

The viewer of Renaissance art is systematically placed outside the frame of experience. A piazza for everything, and everything in its piazza.

The instantaneous world of electric  informational media  involves all of us, all at once. No detachment of frame is possible.

The first example is a modern child's drawing, taken from Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The drawing tells us what the artist thinks we need to know: People have a cap of hair, eyelashes, pairs of arms and legs; clothes have edges, and houses have doors and windows; smoke comes out of chimneys; there is a man in the moon. There's a narrative, given the unusual circumstance of a child's being outdoors alone at night, or of the moon's being visible by day (not an unusual event, but something a seven year-old might have only just noticed). Things are sized hierarchically. (This drawing is by an unusual child, or an adult, given the signature, written in confident, non-standard cursive.)

The second example is an etching by Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer. Durer, using scientific perspective, is illustrating a gadget for drawing objects in a cold-blooded way. McLuhan would have said the picture also illustrated his point.

The third example is a portrait of Ambrose Vollard by Pablo Picasso, done in 1910. The artist and his subject would have known electric lights, telegraphs, telephones, phonograph records, and cinema, but not radio. The artist has deconstructed Vollard's image, and put it back together, in a cloud of impressions, forming something new. We get to share various moments of perception, recalled or invented by Picasso.

The fourth example is a page from Saul Steinberg's The Passport, published in 1954.  This may be one drawing, or it may be two, fortuitously combined for the book. In any case, we have a narrative, as we did with the child's drawing: These are men sleeping on a night flight, not noticing as their airplane passes over a desert town.

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