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Dylan Thomas and the hero’s quest

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 11.01.27 PMIn “The Archetypes of Literature,” Northrop Frye proposes that the central myth of art is the hero’s quest, which can be characterized as man’s superhuman crusade against the disintegrating forces of nature. The poet Dylan Thomas has been described as a champion of nature and the cycles of life: “He has been called a pagan, a mystic, and a humanistic agnostic” (Kershner). Yet, one of Thomas’ most celebrated poems, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” calls on man to defy the power of nature even as it recognizes his ultimate impotence against death. The poem relies on the psychic undercurrent of the hero myth to demonstrate man’s place in nature and his irrational, yet irrefutable, desire to overcome his mortality.

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” operates in the tension between the recognition of nature’s forces, it’s unstoppable cycles, and the human desire to be free—the hero’s quest.

Frye argues for a centralized theory of literature based on archetypes drawn from “pre-literary categories” or “literary anthropology” (1308). In his survey of archetypes that inform literature on a grand scale, he concludes: “the central myth of art must be the vision of the end of social effort, the innocent world of fulfilled desires, the free human society” (1314). He calls this the hero’s quest, which is the “mingling of the sun and the hero, the realizing of a world in which the inner desire and the outward circumstance coincides” (1313). It is the soul’s quest for perpetual spring and the defeat of winter (Frye 1311).

Thomas wrote “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” about his own dying father, but the poem addresses the broad subject of man’s life in relation to the forces of life and death symbolized by light and darkness, day and night. In each of the central stanzas Thomas describes the smallness of man’s life and dreams: The wise man knows “night is right,” but his words were never bright as lightening; the good man’s “frail deeds” are only waves in a green bay; and the grave man approaching death can suddenly “see with blinding sight” and be gay. Yet, the overriding message of the poem is that “old age should burn and rave at close of day,” and Thomas uses the villanelle form to repeat his call: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Thomas poets.org).

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” operates in the tension between the recognition of nature’s forces, it’s unstoppable cycles, and the human desire to be free—the hero’s quest. Thomas pays tribute to the first—after all the night is “good”—and calls to the second: “Do not go gentle”—do not surrender to the darkness while there is still light. The poem was written late in Thomas’ career and was clearly motivated by his personal experience with his own father’s death:

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. (Thomas poets.org).

However, the poem’s message reaches deep into the core of literary archetype described by Frye. Ultimately, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” celebrates the spirit and folly of man’s desire to overcome nature, which Frye describes as the pivotal myth of all art: “. . .the vision of innocence which sees the world in terms of total human intelligibility” (1314). Mankind is blessed and cursed by the fierce tears of its own desire, as day gives way to night.

Works Cited

Frye, Northrop. “The Archetypes of Literature.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. 1301-1315.

Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Poets.org 1997-2013. The Academy of American Poets. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Kershner, R.B., Jr. Dylan Thomas: The Poet and His Critics. Chicago: American Library Association, 1976. Print.

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Art and aesthetic character

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Isadora Duncan (Wikimedia Commons)

Art is popularly conceived of as a finished work: the art object. People look at a painting or sculpture, read a poem or hear a piece of music and call it art. The products of artistic activities are indeed valuable independent entities in the spirit of Friedrich Schiller’s “art for art’s sake.” However, in order to understand and appreciate art broadly, one must go beyond the art object to consider the process of artistic creation that brought the artwork into being. In “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Martin Heidegger argues that the artwork conveys the world from which it was born. That world—the inspiration, passion, hopes, and fears of a particular time, place, and condition—provides the emotional kindling for aesthetic activity, which is a distinct enterprise requiring certain qualities in order to engage in it. The world is constantly offering up inspiration, but human capacity to interact aesthetically with it varies from one person to the next and one moment to the next. What is the nature of this interaction between woman or man and the world that engenders art? By looking at the aesthetic character—the dispositions or ways of being that foster the pursuit of aesthetic activities—one can more fully understand the nature of art. Three key aesthetic qualities are openness and seeking, dedication, and expressiveness.

Art defines humanity broadly to include the mysterious, lush interior life, the unspeakable, the illusive, and the forbidden.

Many philosophers have defined art as a medium through which man is connected to a higher truth. In Enneads, Plotinus characterizes beauty as the soul recognizing the “higher realm of being” in earthly forms. Clive Bell describes the state that art arouses as “aesthetic emotion,” an ecstatic response that is unearthly and sublime. Leo Tolstoy, who argues for moral aesthetic judgment, insists that art originates in honest inspiration, new and “dimly-perceived feelings,” which are directly connected to the artist’s heart. Whatever the source of aesthetic insight—the soul, truth, love, or genius—people must be open, receptive and seeking in order to connect to it.

The first dispositions required in the process of art are perceptiveness and reflectiveness, through which the artist or the viewer of art must search for something beyond the material, the obvious, and the everyday. Art often results from a momentary lucidness—an answer to a question of the soul. The open and seeking aesthetic character finds something in the world that resonates, often in a frequency that is beyond logic or reason. Plotinus describes how “sense-perception … gathers into one that which appears dispersed and brings it back and takes it in, now without parts, to the soul’s interior.” Man’s aesthetic eyes, heart, and lungs must be open, beating, and breathing in order to “gather” inspiration from the world.

The second challenge of art then follows: The artist takes that tenuous insight and makes with it something real. Therein lies the next important aesthetic disposition—dedication. In Art as Experience, John Dewey asserts that aesthetic value is directly correlated to the magnitude of vitality with which any object is made. In her autobiography, Isadora Duncan, one of the founders of modern dance, describes how she stood in an empty and silent dance studio with her eyes closed, perfectly still, waiting for an answer to the question: What moves me? When the answer came, she didn’t stop questioning. She worked for years to find, sculpt, and perfect her own dance facing down significant obstacles. Every artist acquires the skills of his trade, and he goes to work each day to turn inspiration into substance, to make the intangible tangible. Artworks may be described as divine, but they do not drop from the heavens. They are the result of human work done creatively and passionately. R. G. Collingwood argues that art lives in complete form in the mind, but art is never realized without physical effort. Art is a process and product of the mind, soul and body working in the material world—using matter to bridge the immaterial world of thought, emotion, and being. Art may well be connected to the higher-self—the soul—but it is more than prayer; it is creation.

To truly appreciate art, the art enthusiast must also invest her time and attention in a manner that requires devotion. She, too, must have an open, seeking mind and heart to embrace the worlds that art open to her—and while many people are content to appreciate art in the manner of Kant’s “free play,” making the effort to contemplate the artwork over time and learn about the artist, culture, and time period it was created in gives the beholder of art a deeper understanding and a richer experience. In “Of the Standard of Taste,” David Hume expresses the importance of exercise in the art experience: “In a word, the same address and dexterity, which practice gives to the execution of any work, is also acquired by the same means in the judging of it.” It is one thing to fall in love with an artwork and another to do the hard work of seeking understanding and discovering unseen nuances in the familiar.

What begins inside the artist’s heart, mind, and soul and develops in her studio is ultimately meant to be shared. The final aim of artistic creation is communication. Therefore, the third essential disposition of aesthetic character is expressiveness. Only through expression is the artist able to fully realize her work. Tolstoy frames the creative act of art as a struggle in which the artist attempts to build a bridge of understanding to his fellow man. For Tolstoy, successful art reveals the artist’s inner awakening sufficiently enough to bring about a similar feeling in all who receive his message. In Poetics, Aristotle proposes that drama serves man in his efforts to learn through affinity with tragedy, which imitates life. Art is essentially a cycle of giving and receiving: The artist gains insight through receptivity; he gives his time, talent, and effort to creation; he presents his work to his fellow man; the viewer receives and interacts with the work; and the artist gains new knowledge through the synergy. Without expression, the circle of art is broken.

Through receptivity, engagement and interaction with the world, aesthetic character facilitates perpetual discovery, development, and achievement. Heidegger argues that by bringing to light the constancy of being surrounding and inherent in substance, art illuminates the world in the entire context of its being. Art has the power to reveal truth, even the mutating truth of changing constants, because it is a creative act. Knowledge is a constant process of building understanding and letting go of old ideas to make room for new.

Art is a human activity and occupation. It demands certain human qualities. Art defines humanity broadly to include the mysterious, lush interior life, the unspeakable, the illusive, and the forbidden. It struggles to bring knowledge from the murky depths of being to the surface, so that man can understand himself and others. The fact that artists and art enthusiasts exist and share a common aesthetic character demonstrates that human beings are intrigued, impassioned and propelled by self-examination. Through art man learns about his spirit and its connection to the material world.

In his Berlin lectures published in Introduction to Aesthetics, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel emphasizes that self-reflection is the essence of the human spirit. Art philosophy approaches man’s contemporary sacred needs and allows art to maintain its spiritual relevance, he argues. Through self-reflection, aesthetic experience provides what Aristotle refers to as catharsis: feeling, sensing, but also knowing about the self and the world. By understanding and nurturing aesthetic character, man can secure and augment the important endeavor of art, the value of artworks, and the interactions of art maker and viewer—a worthy conversation toward understanding and appreciation of the precious subtleties of life.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. S.H. Butcher. Liberty Online. Jawaid Bazyar. 1995-1999. Web. 20 January 2013. http://libertyonline.hypermall.com/Aristotle/Poetics.htm.

Bell, Clive. “The Aesthetic Hypothesis.” Art. New York: Chatto & Windus, 1981. 15-34.

Collingwood, Robin George. The Principles of Art. Chap. 7. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1938. 125-152.

Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Perigree, 1980. Chap. 1-2. 3-27.

Duncan, Isadora. My Life. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1927.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Chapters 1-3.” Introduction to Aesthetics (Berlin Aesthetics Lectures of 1820s). Trans. T. M. Knox. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. 1-14.

Heidegger, Martin. ”The Origin of the Work of Art.” Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. A. Hofstader. Lectures 1 & 2. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. 32-48.

Hume, David. “Of the Standard of Taste.” Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965. 231-255.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Aesthetic Judgement. Trans. J. C. Meredith. Sections 1-14, 16, 23-24, 28. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.

Plotinus. Enneads. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Vol. I. Section 6. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1996. 229-263.

Schiller, Friedrich. “Letters.” On the Aesthetic Education of Man. 26-27. Trans. E. Wilkinson & L. Willoughby. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967. 191-219.

Tolstoy, Leo. “On Art.” What is Art? and Essays on Art. Trans. A. Maude. London: Oxford University Press, 1930. 46-61.

 


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‘Shiny Happy People’ as postmodern placebo

In “The Precession of Simulacra,” sociologist Jean Baudrillard argues for the “murderous capacity of images” (1560). In our postmodern culture, images have killed and replaced reality, he proposes. Just as the symptoms of the hypochondriac are neither real nor unreal, the therapies used to treat our cultural lack of reality also “float on either side” (1558). Postmodernity is a world in which the only cure is a placebo: Happiness must now be constructed in a Disney-like, “hyperreal” realm of “illusions and phantasms” (1564).

The 2009 music video “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M. comments on the illusory two-dimensionality of postmodern joy. People dance, clap and sing about happiness on a stage while a crudely painted backdrop with scenes of people in in life rolls behind them. The tune is upbeat and everyone is smiling. The viewer can be swept up in the illusion and enjoy three and a half minutes of bliss.

As Baudrillard suggests, when images detach completely from reality it results in a Godless era where yearning for the real is so strong that society is compelled to manufacture it.

However, unlike Disneyland, which displays its “Happiest Place on Earth” slogan in all earnestness, “Shiny Happy People” gives an artistic wink to the absurdity of produced happiness through it’s self-conscious simulation: the moves are a little too choreographed, the costumes cartoonish and the smiles a bit too wide. Yet, even more revealing of its self-imposed hyperreality, is the way it depicts itself as a production.

Baudrillard criticizes science for placing reality in a museum. “We have all become living specimens under the spectral light of ethnology,” he writes (1562). This idea is reflected in R.E.M.’s video through the staging and construction of the scenes. The video opens with a shot of two mechanical monkeys with symbols on a shelf. The viewer sees an old man’s hand put a coffee cup on a saucer and mount a stationary bicycle. The bicycle cranks the rolling backdrop, and the camera follows it to the other side of the stage where the band performs. The viewer sees that the performance is produced by the man backstage who dwells among his nostalgic furnishings: He has created his own “museum” of shiny, happy people.

Baudrillard suggests that our simulations serve to “save the reality principle” by concealing the fact that society has made all of reality into an amusement park (1565). There are a few moments when R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” would seem to imply that the image can be an effective placebo—the unreal can become real if one claps along with the band. At the end of the video the stage fills with a crowd of real young people, as if they were conjured from the backdrop, and they all dance in unison. As they jump around the stage, the camera turns to the old man’s face. He has stepped around the corner to watch the spectacle, and it’s impossible to judge whether he approves or disdains it from the look on his face as he bites down on his pipe. He is the grandfather of the illusion created for generations to come. If there is no greater good, the character seems to suggest, then let them simulate it—give them the two-dimensional cure because it’s the only “happiness” they have left.

The problem with his conclusion is that the absurdity of the song lyrics, the dance moves, the costumes, and props suggest that the young people know the score. The production within a production serves to emphasize that it’s all just a show. It’s the same problem with the placebo—once the patient knows what it is, it doesn’t work. As Baudrillard suggests, when images detach completely from reality it results in a Godless era where yearning for the real is so strong that society is compelled to manufacture it (1561). R.E.M.’s video reveals that a production of joy is nothing more than a sugar pill.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. 1556-1566. Print.

R.E.M. “Shiny Happy People.” Warner Bros. Records. YouTube. 2005. Web. November 17, 2013.

Fine Art 1750-1800 timeline

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David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates

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:

http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/580624


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Freeing the Body as revisionary art

 

freeingbodysketch

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.


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Anna Karenina and the deception of courtly love

black-heart

“Atheist in Love,” from Rapture, a collection of poems and forms, Angela Anderson 

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is one of the most famous love stories of all time. Yet, the tale is a tragedy. At the heart of its woeful ethos is the deceptive promise of courtly love, as explained by Slavoj Zizek in his 1994 essay “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing.” The “Lady,” or the beloved, is unattainable, Zizek proposes, because she is not real—she is a culturally constructed mechanism that paradoxically precludes authentic love. The romantic notion of spiritual love is narcissistically projected onto the vacant Other (2408). The lover can never truly see the beloved, and the result is perpetual separation (2413). In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy presents two stories as possible outcomes of love, but the “fantasy matrix” of courtly love leaves all parties—the lover, the loved, the faithful and the betrayed—ultimately and sorrowfully alone (Zizek 2426).

The lover can never truly see the beloved, and the result is perpetual separation.

According to Zizek, courtly love is not an earnest pursuit of relationship, but rather “a social game of ‘as-if’” based on the masochistic dynamic of man as the victim and woman as the master (2409). “It is the victim (the servant in the masochistic relationship) who initiates a contract with the Master (woman), authorizing her to humiliate him. . .” (2409). In Anna Karenina, Count Vronsky pursues Anna, the wife of an esteemed politician, after an exchange of passionate glances and a night of dancing. He follows her; she tells him to forget her, all the while yearning for his advances. “I beg for only one thing,” he tells her in the novel. “I beg for the right to hope, to be tormented, as I am now” (Tolstoy 140). Vronsky plays the role of the victim to the object of his passions. He convinces Anna to run away with him, and when they are finally together, and she is his, he becomes restless for the life he used to lead.

“The Object, therefore, is literally something that is created—whose place is encircled—through a network of detours, approximations and near-misses,” Zizek writes. The obstacles elevate the value of the unattainable Other, which Zizek describes as the “’black hole’ around which the subject’s desire is structured (2412). In a parallel love story in the novel, the character Levin, initially rejected by Kitty, retreats to his work in the country but cannot forget her. After being abandoned by Vronsky for Anna, Kitty realizes that Levin was the one who truly loved her. They marry, have children and live his ideal country life. But Levin finds his soul still yearning. He becomes obsessed with the meaning of life surrounded by all that he desired: “And, happy in his family life, a healthy man, Levin was several times so close to suicide that he hid a rope lest he hang himself. . .” (Tolstoy 789) The promise of his great love was an illusion: Once the obstacles are removed he still finds himself, as always, alone with his doubts.

Zizek argues that the object of courtly love does not represent the metaphysical good, but rather symbolizes evil—a sense of perversion which compels wrongdoing because it’s wrong (2417). But the masochistic play of courtly love never reaches full-blown violence (2410). In Tolstoy’s novel, Anna crosses that boundary, taking courtly love to its ultimate tragic end. Feeling her love slip away—the love she sacrificed everything for—she throws herself under a train. But she leaves behind a whole society that lives on in the theater of the “as if.” Levin, aware of the emptiness at the end of the rainbow, continues to live a tortured but steady life. Regardless of the outcomes, the result is the same, Tolstoy seems to imply: We are all alone in our narcissism. This is what Anna realizes on the eve of her suicide: “Aren’t we all thrown into the world only in order to hate each other and so to torment ourselves and others,” she thinks (746). In Anna Karenin, suicide symbolizes the effect wrought on the lovers by courtly love: The very device used ostensibly to bring intimacy and union ends in irrevocable separation—end of game.

Works Cited

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 2000. Print.

Zizek, Slavoj. “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. 2407-2427. Print.


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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. writingaboutart.org, 2008-2009. Web. 18 Jan. 2015