Fine Art 1750-1800 timeline

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The Death of Socrates, David, 1787

The second half of the eighteenth century, known as the Age of Enlightenment, was a period of revolution on multiple fronts. Mysticism gave way to empirical science; aristocracy to democracy; rural, agricultural existence to urban industrial life.

Artists responded with Neoclassic works that emphasized the values of antiquity: logic would advance Western civilization for all who embraced rational thought regardless of their station in life.

Toward the end of the century, Romanticism rebutted by celebrating emotion, intuition, and natural instinct. These two sides of humanity conversed through this period as the modern world was born.

Here is a timeline I created for fine art of 1750-1800:


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Freeing the Body as revisionary art



Sketch inspired by Marina Abramovic’s Freeing the Body, Angela Anderson

In 1976, performance artist Marina Abramovic danced for eight hours until she collapsed.

It was one performance of a three-part conceptual artwork called Freeing the Body, which sought to empty the mind, body and voice of the artist. Although Abramovic has rejected the feminist label, Freeing the Body demonstrated a revisionist spirit that was central to second wave feminism (Baker). Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar write about the dynamic that historically lead women artists into “a battle for self-creation” in The Madwoman in the Attic (1929). Women who dare to write or create in a patriarchal society are forced to revise their own image, they argue. In Freeing the Body, Abramovic stretches the surfaces of her identity—physicality, memory and expression—until they are reduced to a blank slate, which the artist calls freedom. This conscious reduction of self symbolizes the female artist’s “revisionary process” (1929).

In Freeing the Body, Abramovic stretches the surfaces of her identity—physicality, memory and expression—until they are reduced to a blank slate, which the artist calls freedom.

According to Gilbert and Gubar, the woman writer’s struggle “ . . . is not against her (male) precursor’s reading of the world but against his reading of her. In order to define herself as an author she must redefine the terms of her socialization” (1929). In Freeing the Body, Abramovic covers her head and dances naked to an African drum until collapsing. The viewer sees her female form in motion, driven on by the beat until it falls. The faceless body is “freed” through the artist’s command—to dance until it can no longer function. Symbolically, the body represents Hegel’s slave to the mind’s master, which is set free through work (Phenomenology of Spirit). Abramovic has rendered her working female form useless, thereby reaching a state where new purpose can arise. It is a radical demonstration of redefining the self, which Gilbert and Gubar say is essential to creation of a new vision, one that must reach beyond female anatomy.

In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar quote Adrienne Rich on feminist revision: “Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction . . . an act of survival” (1930). In the second part of her artwork, Freeing the Memory, Abramovic sits in a chair with her head tilted back while she speaks a free-flowing stream of words for one and a half hours until her mind goes blank. In this performance, the artist traverses her memories until she bankrupts yet another part of her self. She reaches back in her mind to come to a place where she can “see with fresh eyes” through emptiness.

Women artists on the quest for recreation are the girls in “The Red Shoes” of Anne Sexton’s poem who illustrate the “hidden but crucial tradition of uncontrollable madness” by taking apart their bodies, say Gilbert and Gubar (1935). The third part of Abramovic’s work, Freeing the Voice, the artist lies on her back and screams for three hours until she loses her voice. To the audience, the artist might appear mad, the performance an exorcism of the hysterical female Gilbert and Gubar refer to in their text (1932). Yet, her aim is to exhaust yet another instrument of expression—one that is clearly connected to both mind and body as evident in the physical and mental effort involved as she pushes out each cry.

In Freeing the Body, Abramovic dismantles her own body to reach a point she calls freedom—a freedom of all that has been written in the nerves, muscles and brain tissues of her body. Her art is conceptual, but she uses her own flesh to make her point. The fact that the artist did this performance piece in the 1970s during second wave feminism is significant. She showed the world that a woman with red shoes could dance herself to freedom: She could take control of her own identity—her self—and traverse its realms to find a new place free of their influences.

Works Cited

Abramovic, Marina. “Four Performances 1975-76.” YouTube. July 15, 2013. Web. November 10, 2013.

Baker, Katie J.M. “Marina Abramovic Isn’t a Feminist.” Jezebel. July 30, 2012. Web. November 11, 2013.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. 1923-1938. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. 541-547. Print.


Imagining Akhenaten

AkhenatenThe ancient Egyptian sandstone sculpture Akhenaten represents the notorious pharaoh, formerly named Amenhotep IV, who broke with religious tradition by worshiping the sun god Aten over all others. Created during the New Kingdom period between 1353-1335 B.C.E., the artwork belongs to a style named for a city he founded in Central Egypt for the followers of his monotheistic belief—Akhetaten, or Amarna (Davies 72). Amarna style, like Akhenaten’s new religion, was a brief break from a strict and enduring Egyptian tradition. (Akhenaten’s city was destroyed after his death in 1335 B.C.E.) Janson’s History of Art describes Amarna style of portraiture as “emphasizing naturalism in the body” (72). This post will explore the visual elements of Akhenaten using two styles of visual description—formal analysis and ekphrasis —as explained in Margorie Munsterberg’s Writing About Art. Analyzing and interpreting the visual features of Akhenaten will illuminate its distinct character as an artistic tribute to the controversial king and his religion.

Akhenaten measures 13 feet in height from bottom—the sculpture starts just above his knees—to the tip of his crown. Carved from sandstone, the larger-than-life figure possesses a weighty earthiness, a solid, ample presence for all who stand before its imposing form. However, the block-like angularity typical of Egyptian sculptures has been cast off: Akhenaten emphasizes the king’s character in its striking facial features, soft shoulders and slightly rounded belly. The figure is long, stretched high, yet, curiously curvaceous.

The viewer’s eye falls on three central areas of focus: first, the horizontal gash of belly button in the gentle mound of belly above a belted kilt that smoothly spreads out in lines radiating from the center of the hips; second, the crossed wrists at the solar plexus marked by a thick bracelet that separates the kings two fists, fingers balled to the chest; and finally, the bridge of the long, sloping nose and beard piece framing plump and ever-so-slightly upturned lips. An interplay of angles and curves envelope these three focal points. The top of his crown is shaped like a mound of earth. The lobes of his headpiece spread like a drooping fan around his face. The angle of his shoulders falls to narrowed waist, and the soft belly rides an ample curve of hips. Yet, at the center there is a lean look to the king created by a long face, slender arms and chest accentuated with two crossed sticks held in a way that makes them look like exaggerated, protruding clavicle bones. This symmetrically balanced assemblage of shapes composed of tender body parts and simple costume around a strong vertical axis are striking in the duality they suggest: stretched up and weighted down, linear but round, soft yet strong, massive and still tender.

He is Akhenaten, ruler who took Aten’s name as his own and grew his form to contain the all-encompassing powers of the one god who animates and generates life. The sun radiates from his pelvis in thin lines from his kingly womb—life-giving center imbued with mystical forces of the rising day. He carries two whips crossed at his solar plexus, gathering his strength at the heart of his benevolent yet powerful form. He peers through half-moon eyes framed by high brows and gently smiles at his own good fortune: He is being complete. He is man and woman; he is man and god, stretched high and turned golden by Aten’s own rays. The lip of his crown receives the heaven’s blessed light. His soft belly is all earthly desire. His towering form gathers Aten at his back, casting a shadow upon his great city.

The artist of Akhenaten is not identified, but one can imagine his hands were set free from ancient Egyptian artistic conventions and emboldened by his ruler’s passionate break from religious tradition. The result is a sculpture that captures the monotheistic devotion that the king and his followers brought to the city of Akhetaten, “horizon of Aten” (Davies 72). Akhenaten, with its androgynous form, joins all life forces into one and places it literally and symbolically on the horizon of the earth and the spirit.

Works Cited
Davies, Penelope J.E., et al. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.
Munsterberg, Margorie. Writing About Art., 2008-2009. Web. 18 Jan. 2015