MSB brainstorming

18 May 2017

Dr Great Art Episode 6: Genius in Small Things: Chiaroscuro

Jan 3, 2017
A short Artecdote illustrating how important innovation often arises in apparently unpretentious discoveries. This is exemplified by chiaroscuro, the technique in paintings of using radical light-and-dark.

Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements when recording).
Dr Great Art Podcast Six
"Genius in Small Things, Chiaroscuro."

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the sixth "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today we have a short Artecdote illustrating how important innovation often arises in apparently unpretentious discoveries. "Genius in Small Things, Chiaroscuro." This will be exemplified by Chiaroscuro, the technique in paintings of using radical light-and-dark. Yet it can be seen in MANY such discoveries, from Contrapposto to Perspective and the relativistic anti-perspective of Cubism.

Let me begin with the Renaissance and its ending in Mannerism. 'Mannerism' is the term for the transition period around 1550/1580 between the Renaissance and the Baroque. Mannerists endlessly “sampled” and combined aspects of Michelangelo’s work. As summed up so well by famed art historian Walter Friedlaender, Mannerist art’s traits tended to be stretched proportions, capriciously patterned rhythm, broken symmetry, willful dissonance, unreal and unresolved space, overly fashionable (although not intellectual) theorizing, coldly calculated style, exaggeration of borrowed forms --- in short, confused over-refinement. Where Mannerism had sometimes-great artists such as Rosso Fiorentino or El Greco, it also included Alessandro Allori "who flooded all Tuscany with his insipid pictures," as stated by Friedlaender (in Mannerism and Anti-Mannerism in Italian Painting, originally published in 1925).

However weak, historical Mannerism was not merely a bewildered conjunction between the Renaissance and the Baroque. It was a necessary and meaningful passage, allowing the development of that less bizarre and more natural successor to the Renaissance, the Baroque. Some things simply must be worked through.

In this vein, we have required Postmodernism in art and culture at large in our time. Nevertheless, we have dragged out the learning phase far too long, for various commercial and sophistically careerist reasons. At the symbolically important time of the New Year when I am doing this, let us beghin to do the hard work of getting OUT of the malaise of our art-time and the rightwing backlash of our political time. But more about that in another podcast.

Back to Mannerism and Baroque. Mannerism transmuted into the Baroque by achieving an aggressive purposefulness, healthiness, a vigorousness that was the reverse of the Renaissance in technique (painterly as opposed to linear, spiral compositions in place of stable triangles, etc.), yet similar temperamentally. At least in strength!

Certain artists made Mannerist dissonance more practical, more individual, seemingly natural, less abstruse, more corporeal, more playful. They were able to accept influence without being driven into pastiche.

The way was shown by Cigoli, Cerano, the Carracci and most importantly Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. These artists believed they were returning to a more classical form, when in fact they were integrating and uniting Mannerist traits into a new whole and thus transcending it by subsuming it.

Caravaggio gave density back to hue, brought forthright vision back through reference to everyday life, and replaced clutter with dynamic effect. His tools importantly included naturalistic reference and chiaroscuro — that amazing effect of radically strong light and dark which allowed him to plastically retain distortion by transforming it into theatrical space.

The realistic portrayal of a pre-framed, mediated yet real event, the stage. His simple breakthrough was astounding in its implications, empowering such later masters as Rembrandt, Rubens, Artemisia --- Artists calling themselves "Caravaggisti," who rallied to Caravaggio's art, even though the major art historian of his day, Giovanni Baglione and others, attempted to erase him from the record, hating him for his wild, rebellious lifestyle. And chiaroscuro has continued through to our day in Hollywood films and comics.

Art critic, art historian and psychologist Donald Kuspit has formulated three vital necessities for rejuvenating art in our postmodern times, when "the avant-garde [has died] from entropic pursuit of novelty." These requirements are: to find the heart of creativity in desire, to embrace idiosyncrasy, and to nourish one's yearning for healthiness. I see this as a desire to develop art which encourages unconventionality and manifests a desire for maturation on the part of the creator. Even if that maturity itself is not reached, the desire and will to achieve it is drive enough. The struggle to mature is a synecdoche of the will to reach psychological healthiness. A playful maturity, replacing a deadly solemn immaturity.

Caravaggio's simple 2 point solution to achieving a new maturity (in his work, if not in his life), one advancing beyond Mannerism was: 1) observational details and most of all 2) chiaroscuro. This shows how great genius, useful progress, often lies in what after-the-fact appears to be a simple discovery! An uncomplicated, visual invention yielding grand innovation and solutions to problems then troubling all artists. Radical light-and dark! This did not require massive tsunamis of textual theory or permission from any academicists.

I believe similar brilliant, metaphor(m)al breakthroughs can be found when analyzing the development out of any transitional period into a strong one. They appear almost effortless in hindsight, yet in truth required intense effort, making and studying, looking. Visual thinking.

Genius and Breakthroughs are often in the in Small Things: Chiaroscuro

Thanks for listening. That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 6. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.

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