Much like we like to take pictures and make sculptures of each other, the Egyptians tried to portray the human figure in sculpture and paint. See this example below, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, AKA the Met. She is tall and slim, with great posture and huge eyes.
QUESTION: What words would you use to tell me about this picture?
FOLLOW-UPS TO GET THE IDEA OUT: How does the picture feel? What do you notice about the figure?
WORDS WE EXPECT: Stiff, uptight, bored, regal, upset, tense, a little weird
The Ancient Egyptians were trying to figure out a bunch of stuff all at once: how to carve stone, and other technical ideas; how to observe the world around them; and how to make the images they created fit into a symbolic belief system. The textures on the dress are very stylized as is her pose.
The Ancient Egyptians made art because they had a very complex religious system and these images served a variety of purposes in that system. That is why the figure is stylized. But there is more going on here. This figure is made of wood and is around 4,000 years old. It survived because it was buried with it’s master and preserved in a hot dry environment underground. A pyramid or other burial location. She represents a member of the estate of the person who was buried.
This next figure was Greek and it is (only) 2200 years old. Let’s look at some similarities and differences between the two. We will look at the stylistic as well as the
Ok, let’s talk about this one. It is The Nike of Samothrace. She is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
QUESTION: What words would you use to describe it, just like we did for the first image?
(SAME Follow-up if needed)
WORDS WE EXPECT: cool, relaxed, natural… etc.
PUT PRINT OUTS OF BOTH IMAGES.
OK, so let’s look at how these images are the same and different.
(SAME: subject is a woman, shifting her weight from one foot to the other)
(DIFFERENT: Aesthetic stuff, Time period if they know, color painted, incidentally the Greek statues were probably painted but being kept above ground instead of in hermetically sealed pyramids, the paint has long since peeled. Some have traces though. The Egyptian Statue is wood, the Greek is stone)
DRAW IN THE HIP and SHOULDER lines… THEN THE S CURVE for the body.
The Egyptian figure has almost perfectly horizontal hips and shoulders even though her foot is forward, so the lines on the hip and shoulder end up making a sideways “H.” The Greek Figure the shoulders and hips are very slanted. When you connect the dots and trace the legs, you end up with what we call an S curve.
It’s more a more natural pose because when we put a foot forward, we actually shift our weight from one foot to the other. But it is harder to balance an asymmetrical figure when you are carving a stationary object because once you take away or reduce stone or wood from a block, you cannot put it back, so if you take away too much from someplace the whole thing falls over and you could lose hours and hours of work.
The fluidity of the style and the reason the Classical statue looks more “cool” is because of the way the artists figured out how to balance that shifting of weight that we do naturally with our moving bodies. The S curve creates movement because some of the body is relaxed and some of it is tensed to support the weight.
Shift your weight from right foot to left.
Try to pose like the Ancient Egyptian figure
Try to pose like the Nike of Samothrace
Then move your left foot and feel which parts of your body shift.
How far can you lean over and what parts of your body move to keep your balance when you do that?
Which muscles are relaxed while you balance and which ones are tense (the ones you are using)?
Finally, stand against the wall and lean forward as far as you can. How far can you go without moving your arms away from your sides?
Can you imagine doing this out of stone?
One thing to remember, if any of you are dancers, this will make sense: For your center of gravity to hold you up, your weight bearing ankle is almost always directly under your neck. Also generally speaking, the part of your body that is bearing the load of your motion is the part that is stiff.
So the Ancient Egyptians and Classical Greeks came up with a couple different solutions. In part because of the different purposes for these statues. First, aesthetically, both design solutions were related to the religious and spiritual needs of their society. Second as you have seen by paying attention to your body, balance is
The Egyptians had a very compartmentalized religion in which the Pharaoh was the only go-between and protector of the people on their journey through life and death. So the Egyptians wanted a very stylized image, which is apparent in the way it’s painted and carved, and its very graphic nature. The Greeks, well, you only have to read a few ancient tales to know that the Ancient Greeks had a much more human relationship to their gods. So the Nike of Samothrace is very dynamic. The folds of cloth give extra movement to her body, she is very real and very lifelike. The Egyptian dress was also pleated, but the pleats are contained and very straight, looking almost like scales in this image.
The second reason that the two ancient cultures had different solutions was technical. The Ancient Egyptians had not quite figured out how to balance a statue the way people balance, and a few centuries later, working off the knowledge from Egypt and other neighboring cultures, the Greeks had progressed in their technical ability.
Much like you guys know how to do stuff to computers that didn’t even exist when I was your age. Without the people who built the computers who are my age and older, you would not be able to do those things, but we may not be able to figure out the way to do it as quickly as you!
Lastly, most of the sculptures we have shared with you are far far away, but we have some statues of dancers that are at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and at the DIA that you can go and look at. (I have not verified that they are on display, but the Degas (or a very similar one) is almost always out at the DIA, and the Rodin sculptures were there last time I was at UMMA).
These works are cast bronze, which is very different than stone, and has different material properties. To make casts in bronze, one usually first makes an image out of wax and other softer easier to mold materials, then follows a bunch of different steps to cast it into bronze.
Using what we have experienced with our senses is the artist’s way of figuring out how to make things balance. Knowing weights and textures and feeling the structural strength with our hands, but in the engineering design process there are other ways to measure that using Mathematics and Physics.
For more images pertaining to contrapposto, I’ve compiled a pinboard on Pinterest with additional images. The images above are women, because this was written to support the Art of Engineering for Girls at FLY Children’s Art Center. But the images on the pinboard are of both genders.
Today was the first day of our Saturday morning series. Christine did Triangles with Art Play (a class designed for pre-school) from 9:00am to 10:00, and then I came in to do M. C. Escher, patterns and tesselations.
We re-named Mad Science to Creative Universe since we look at the universality of Art to help us understand a variety of things. This time the theme for the series is Pattern, and in the fall we plan on doing Animals.
Anyway, today we did some sketches on paper with letters to talk about how things are reflected (like a mirror), rotated (or turned around), or translated (moved down a line) to create patterns. Then I explained how we could use what we talked about to create a pattern on graph paper. After it was clear everyone understood the general idea, we moved on to cutting out stamps from Scrap Box rubber pads.
We took our stamps and made patterns with them by translation, and rotation. To do reflection you need to cut a separate stamp that faces the opposite way. A p will rotate to become a d, but no matter how you turn it, it doesn’t become a b or a q which would be the reflection.
After some focused stamping and repeating, I opened it up and had them do some really fast stamping with geometric right before clean-up. One student took her line and rotated the stamp while applying pressure, creating a pattern of scumbled monotypes that look like LP records. Scumbling is dragging paint across a surface, usually with a large palette knife or ruler, and a monotype is a kind of print made from a block that is re-inked in an irregular way.
What do you think of kinetic art? Does it sound complicated and hard? It’s not, it is just a fancy way of saying “Art that moves.”
This last week at Mad Science Saturday we explored motion and balance looking at the kinetic art of Alexander Calder.
To make this project, our young renaissance artists danced to some music and drew pictures of each other.They were not allowed to look at their pictures while they drew.
We cut and scored their paper sketches along curves. The resulting forms do unexpected things. They curve around themselves and stick out at weird angles. They really look like dancers in motion!
Once we had our forms, we began the mobile portion of the exercise. Dancing again, this time in slow motion, I showed them how the center of their body always remained in a vertical line from their neck down. They applied this sensation to their mobiles, and the mobiles turned out balanced.
A few weeks ago, FLY teachers were honored to be invited to a seminar with Matt Shlian, a local artist and one of a very few Paper Engineers in the country. He told us about various aspects of his work, including the curved score method of paper-folding.
We were excited that we’d have an opportunity to share this technique with the kids so soon. This project was already scheduled, but hearing how grown-up scientists and engineers apply techniques that our young artists can learn is really inspiring.
One of my other recent projects was at the same school where we did Charlie Brown, but with the “Upper School” students (Grades 9-12). It was the play by Bertholt Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. It takes place in the Caucuses region in what is present day Georgia. It is not about “white” people, though if one did it as a period piece, set in the 1940’s and the 1920’s, I suppose people in that part of Western Asia are white.
The play is a parable based somewhat upon Solomon’s Judgement, but also focusing on the political situations in Russia and Germany at the time. That is, the Historical framework upon which the play sits is that of the Bolshevik Revolution in the late 1910’s, the ensuing chaos, and political drama.
The director, Emily Wilson-Tobin chose to use the current influence of The Hunger Games as a lens to help the students relate to the sideways angles of Brechtian drama, and make the underlying unfamiliar history relatable. The costumes in The Hunger Games, by Judianna Madkovsky have crazy lines, beautiful high-end construction, and a finish that in 9 weeks with 2 plays going at once weren’t going to be possible.
To solve this quandary from the beginning, we planned to use non-traditional materials which don’t need to be hemmed, can be glued rather than sewn, and theoretically are cheaper than fabrics, since many of them can be got for free. For example, the Balloon Dress above, or the wild pink-ribboned farthingale.
The Balloon Dress was actually one of the more expensive pieces because it went through several iterations and in order to allow the actress practice time with it, we had to re-inflate and add balloons at a few points. We made it modular rather than all taped together so that this would be possible.
First, looking at the costumes in The Hunger Games, I realized there was some relationship to the costumes in Fritz Lang movies, and in a Russian Film, Aelita, Queen of Mars, a film which drew my gaze while browsing in Paris at a DVD shop because it holds my namesake, and held my attention because it had such wonderful sets and costumes. It is a silent film, made in 1923.
So in the costumes for Greenhills’ production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, as well as the set, we were most influenced by Russian and German Avant-Garde Cinema and Constructivist painting between the Wars than by the real clothes people in the region would have worn.
It was fun to work with students, and many of them helped with the design process, or just came to help out a little here and there. They learned a little about how we would do things in a larger scale professional production, about how to make design choices, and how some things are good on paper but less so on the proverbial boards.
For those who were interested, I also talked a little about my own family’s history and experiences at that time in Karelia, on the other side of Russia; the social connotations of dress and how to manipulate the audience’s perceptions; and how the history and social connotations of clothing and fashion are still present today, though in a different form.
Director: Emily Wilson-Tobin
Music Director and Composer: Benjamin Cohen
Tech Director: Laura Bird with assistance from Tim Ebeling
Assistant Costumers: Sarah Ceccio, Luena Maillard
Assistant Makeup Designer: Cat Bonner
(All Photos except Natella Abashwili and her Towering Shadow, are by Gabe Linderman, Greenhills student)