Calling all art fans!
October 12, 2009 9:27 PM   Subscribe

I need ideas for a piece of artwork to write about.

Okay, I'm definitely not in tune with art. I'm taking a class (basically it's Art History 101). I have to write a paper over the next few weeks on a piece of art. Really, this is a very simple paper. I would just like to find a piece of art that I enjoy and my internet search is so broad right now that I'm just bombarded with...too much. I'm not finding anything I want to commit 5-10 pages to. And I can't seem to come up with any names at the moment either. I just know the mefites can help!

The parameters of the paper: Any painting or sculpture made between 1 AD and 1700 AD. That's it!

So, art fans, who should I be looking at? What pieces make you stare in awe? I know everyone has different tastes but I'd really like a launching pad here. Some names or at least a great page on artists of an era. Thanks so much!
posted by smeater44 to Media & Arts (20 answers total)
Why not flip through your textbook for pieces or artists that catch your eye, and then go from there?
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:31 PM on October 12, 2009

The other caveat. It has to be something not from the book. I'm supposed to compare it to something else in the book.
posted by smeater44 at 9:37 PM on October 12, 2009

If it were me, I'd be annoyed at being limited to the Roman Imperial period through to the European Renaissance. The quick and easy way to mess with those parameters is to pick something accessible yet non-European, like a Giant Buddha.

However, a lot of that art is very cool once you get a chance to see it in person. Visiting the the Louvre is a radically different experience than experiencing its works in a book or on a computer screen. MOMA's works area also much better in person, but I find them to be far more effective in print and electronic format than the much older works in the Louvre.

If at all possible, pick an object that you can visit in person. Research it before you visit it, then go for the visit. Bring a notebook with you. Talk about how the experience compared with your expectations.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:44 PM on October 12, 2009

Assuming you're in Chicago, I'm running with b1tr0t's idea of a piece of art you can visit. Here's a Caravaggio, painted in 1601.
posted by b33j at 9:52 PM on October 12, 2009

Oooh, and check this out: 17th Century (hence 1600s) Chinese art.
posted by b33j at 9:53 PM on October 12, 2009

Shigaraki-ware Jar, 16th century.

Prized for use during tea gatherings for centuries, most often as water jars or flower vases, older Shigaraki-wares only came to be seen as collectible works of art after World War II. The medium continues to appeal to contemporary artists who feel compelled to produce their own examples of Shigaraki ware, albeit in accord with a more modern aesthetic, as demonstrated by the 20th-century works on display here.

Ah heck, just go to the Art Institute of Chicago. I would if I could.
posted by b33j at 9:56 PM on October 12, 2009

That is an awesome Caravaggio b33j linked. If you're comparing, maybe restrict yourself to one aspect, like lighting, or foreshortening. The foreshortening in that Caravaggio must have blown people away back in the day. It's like the canvas disappears and you're looking into another room.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:04 PM on October 12, 2009

smarthistory was linked from this post. You can sort through time, style, artist, and theme. A little western-oriented though. I'm guessing this is a survey course, and art history isn't your major? One way to approach this is to relate something that grabs you in your major to a work of art in that period. Science, architecture, human relations, myth, religion, nature, the human form...what do you like?

And I really dig ukiyo-e (early prints are pre-1700).

I also like anything to do with Our Lady of Guadalupe, since it reminds me of the 6 foot tall Virgin Mary statue at church that used to scare me as a kid.
posted by shinyshiny at 10:35 PM on October 12, 2009

WOW I didn't read your question carefully enough at first so I ignored the 1AD-1700AD limit and compiled the bits in the next paragraph. Hop over it for the actual relevant things.

Maybe the easiest thing to do would be to pick pieces of vastly different styles and periods. Classic greco-roman-inspired sculpture vs. contemporary sculpture or somesuch. Like compare anything by Ron Mueck with anything you'd find in the Louvre. Or compare the Venus of Willendorf with Niki de Saint Phalle's Nanas (similar thematics!). Or compare her work with that of her husband Jean Tinguely (they did some pieces together). Compare Jeff Koons's sculptures to Andy Warhol's. Or compare Koons's Rabbit with Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate. Or compare how Kapoor uses pigment with how Yves Klein uses pigment.

Also easy would be to compare early- to high- renaissance. Like compare Giotto's work in the Scrovegni Chapel to Raphael's work in the Vatican (both religious themes, frescos, in italy). Or compare high renaissance painters (Raphael, Michaelangelo) with the Mannerists who followed. Or compare early perspective works, like Perugino's Delivery of the Keys with later ones, like anything by one of the Flemish church-interior painters such as Peeter Neeffs the Elder.

I think the newer works are more interesting, but they're unfortunately outside your time period.
posted by beerbajay at 10:35 PM on October 12, 2009

Wow, great stuff you guys. Thanks so much!
Yeah, this is one of those classes I have to take and I've just never had to write about painting nor did I ever take much of an interest in it on my own. I'm trying though. It was just really hard finding a starting point so I thank you guys for that.
posted by smeater44 at 10:55 PM on October 12, 2009

The Bayeux Tapestry
posted by philip-random at 11:16 PM on October 12, 2009

What pieces make you stare in awe?

Pick something by Hans Holbein the Younger. I'd recommend "The Ambassadors," a painting unparalleled in it's complexity which is also just a really great portrait. Not just of two men, but of the anxieties and passions of the age. If you're really interested there is a 400+ page book all about the messages Holbein is conveying in this one painting, but you needn't do that much research. There is enough reading on the net to give you a decent overview and more than enough meat for your essay. It also has a really cool skull in it.

If you want a list of interesting painters to choose from, within your time frame, try this or this. There should be plenty of interest there, and you will find lots of supplementary material on most of these people online.
posted by fire&wings at 4:23 AM on October 13, 2009

I suggest you choose something that meets these criteria:

- Is close enough to visit in-person.
- Is featured in enough books to easily source material for your paper.

Then once you've identified something that's pragmatically satisfactory, use your paper as an excuse to become interested in the piece. This approach gives you the best chance of submitting a good paper and frees you of the burden of having to find a piece that speaks to your soul - allowing you to engage the work in an open-minded and accepting way.
posted by SebastianKnight at 4:33 AM on October 13, 2009

When I attended the traveling "El Greco to Valazquez" exhibit, I was captivated by this image for its passion and its interesting use of Christian imagery. The linked article offers an explanation for what some considered a mysterious aspect of the painting.

"Saint Francis Embracing the Crucified Christ" by Francisco Ribalta.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:44 AM on October 13, 2009

smeater44 said: I would just like to find a piece of art that I enjoy....

Assuming you enjoy what I enjoy then anything by Guiseppe Archimboldo is mandatory.
posted by JJ86 at 6:39 AM on October 13, 2009

Just thought of something else...

Sometime, maybe not right now, read John Berger's The Shape of a Pocket. The depth of feeling and urgency of his writing about paintings is astounding. It's also very suitable to reading just a chapter at a time - I kept a copy in my car for months as I worked through it.
posted by SebastianKnight at 6:44 AM on October 13, 2009

What have you been covering in the class so far? If it's been a straight European survey starting with Roman sarcophagi and moving directly into the Renaissance, than I would advise against dipping into Asian art (although I personally love it dearly and love the subversive nature of the suggestions above, still, you're doing this for a grade and sometimes you just have to give the Man what he wants.) Since you can, let me nth the idea of just going to the Chicago Art Institute and walk around their European galleries.starting here and ending here. Note that I have never been there and envy you already. Write about the first piece that really knocks you over. Medieval altarpieces float my boat, so do other liturgical objects like reliquaries. Now that's a fascinating piece: there's a tooth of St. John in there and the interior is a recycled ancient work, which is totally cool and a lovely metaphor for the early Christian approach to pagan religions in general. I also like paintings like this; look at that color! This guy spent some time with some Dutch painters; note the light, note that wide background landscape. But you see, that's me. You go wander around the museum and see what knocks you flat.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2009

You're in Chicago. The way to do this is to go to the Art Institute, use your student discount, and walk slowly through the galleries that have work from 1 AD through 1700. If it were me, I'd say that you could likely skip everything up until High Renaissance, just to narrow it down (Mannerism is particularly easy to get into). Take your book with you and a notebook. I find it also helps me to sketch the works while I think about them, as it makes it easier for me to break down compositions and organize what I'd talk about. But you don't have to.

Then, once you're done with that, you can go stare at some Rothkos and obliterate your mind with gorgeous fields of color.
posted by klangklangston at 10:33 AM on October 13, 2009

Looks like I'm going to the Art Institue! I did check out everyone's links and I feel like I've already learned more right here than I have in class. I definitely found some paintings that I like, so if I don't find something at the Art Institute to love (which I doubt) I've got some backups. Thanks again, everyone!
posted by smeater44 at 11:42 AM on October 13, 2009

Hieronymus Bosch. Man if you can't find something to say about that mans work....
posted by Redhush at 5:22 PM on October 13, 2009

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