"Newberry's work speaks to the senses, the intellect, and the passions of those who do not need the judgment of history to tell them what is great, but who can themselves make the judgment of history today." Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy
Celebrating a little bit tonight, lol, with a cup of coffee. I finished Part One of my inaugural attempt at a book. Already been copy edited, thumps up. Finished are the Intro plus 6 chapters, and 17,000 words. Some of the ground will be familiar to artists and art historians, but I hope it will make deep inroads in the psychology of art and give sense of these artists being alive and transcending time.
This is one of the paragraphs from the 3rd Chapter, Trepidation, Art is Not Tangible and Yet …
The early artist would have been shifting valuable efforts away from life-sustaining work towards the abstract pursuit of art. All animals engage in life-sustaining action, but it would appear as if the artist was rejecting this. Visual art, then as now, has no utilitarian purpose, none whatsoever. Art could not mend things, carve arrows, and build fires. It was not a tool. It did not give warmth, shelter, food, or security. In practical terms it was useless. Diverting resources for such an senseless art adventure would be perceived as a psychosis, the artist having a partial or total break with reality.
I hope everyone is doing okay in these early stages of quarantining. Heartbreaking. Around the start of it I came up with the concept to write this book on aesthetics. I am dividing my time painting, writing the book, and, it seems, washing dishes.
I am writing my first book: Evolution Through Art. I have written the Introduction, and the first two chapters, about 4,000 words. Good early reports back from my copy editor who is a rhetorician! It is a story of how art plays the leading role in our evolution. It is a journey of profound respect and gratitude to the evolutionary artists that had the minds, substance, and courage to follow their truth. Often they fought against tremendous opposition from practical reality, their own arguments, peer pressure, philosophies, religions, and psychologically-impotent sadistic authorities!
Newberry, Venus 3: Reaching for the High Note, oil on linen, 46 x 26 inches.
First they came for black and removed it from our spectrum. Next to go were the colors of light and shadow. They said that color was a power in its own right, not to be used as a slave to luminosity. The real, they said, was freedom from restrictions.
They came for form, claiming that the canvas was flat. Next to go were proportion and spatial depth. They said that painting projected the outside world, like looking through a window was a lie. The real, they said, was that paint was paint and it shouldn’t look like something it is not.
In the last decade of the 18th century Beethoven composed his 1st and 2nd piano concertos, Goya etched the series Los Caprichos, Jacques-Louis David painted The Death of Marat, and Mozart composed the Requiem in D Minor and the great Jupiter Symphony. These works coincided with the French Revolution, and together they guided European culture away from the extravagant art of Rococo exemplified by the sweetly-colored paintings of Boucher and Tiepolo, with their floating florid nymphs, cupids, silks, and princesses.
Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat, 1793. The period of the French Revolution marked a new period of art with more gravitas.
This was a paradigm shift from the superficial to gut wrenching passion, as if Western art was going back to its roots in the dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides; answering the big questions of what is the good and what is important while at the same time elevating the creative process by innovation and superlative skill. This wasn’t for the faint of heart. The artists would have to face inner turmoil and outer rejection as they attempted to get patrons to sponsor wildly dramatic depictions of death, war, and executions, which didn’t lend themselves to the decorative palace dining room. Risking their livelihoods the artists bore down in this new direction. With this revolutionary spirit we can see the need for a new aesthetic to champion and reflect an Age of Enlightenment.
The Sublime the Absolutely Great
The year 1790, when Beethoven was 20, also marked the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. It famously compares and contrasts the aesthetic values of Beauty with that of the Sublime. The treatise identifies Beauty representing the lighter more sensual pleasing side and the Sublime addressing what is the “absolutely great beyond all comparison.” Kant wanted to free the Sublime from the constraints of art and launch it into the world of the mind unfettered by perception, form, or realization. Continue reading “Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime”
One of the more poetic events in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is when the protagonist, Howard Roark comes to watch Dominique posing naked for Mallory’s marble sculpture. The sculpture is of the human spirit destined for the Stoddard Temple. The three of them experience a perfect synergy of admiration, creativity, and beauty.
Further plot events see the destruction of the Stoddard Temple, one of the many painful obstacles Roark needs to overcome to continue his unique and innovative vision of architecture.
Stills from Song of Songs starring Marlene Dietrich and Brian Aherne
In a way, we can look at art history and see some patterns similar to The Fountainhead that include the beautiful nude, innovations, and the power of the creative artist.
Figure the Future
By Michael Newberry
Presented by The Atlas Society, 2008
The premise of this talk is that the heroic and beautiful nude is contemporaneously linked with human evolutionary advancements.
The great nudes witnessed the development of individuals rights in politics, with reason replacing superstition in the humanities, and with authenticity of the human spirit rather than the status symbols of the ruled and rulers. It also was widely appreciated prior to the dawn of democracy and Greek developments of science, philosophy, and aesthetics; prior to the birth of art history, artist’s anatomy (under penalty of death if discovered doing autopsies in Michelangelo’s time); and prior to the replacement of monarchies with democracy.
3:03 The Nude as the Personification of the Individual The Status of Clothed Figures Ramasus, Queen Elizabeth 1, Ingres, Millet, Whistler, Wyeth, Pearlstein, and Richter.
15:12 Individuality Expressed Through the Nude Courbet, Durer, Bellini, Boucher, Manet, and Renoir.
23:26 The Best Within-Many humans want a balance of happiness, beauty, wealth, health, and good relationships. One device artists developed was proportions of the human figure, a very hard-won technical milestone, to give us not a lesson but what a successful human stance looks like. First Artists to Sign Works, Polyclitus, Praxiteles, Humans as godlike.
27:39 Nude as Inspiration Michelangelo, Galileo, Joseph Dauben, Capuletti.
30:05 The Nude Adjacent to Moving Humanity Forward: Interesting Cultural Developments — Bridging Ancient Greece to the Renaissance – Orbit of Individuals Solon, Democracy, Aristophanes, Botticelli, Translation of Aristotle, Vasari (First Art Historian), Madame de Pompadour, Diderot, Manet’s Olympia, Hugo, Bizet, Copley, American Revolution, Mercy Otis Warren, Rossetti, Eakins, Walt Whitman, Emerson.
42:53 An Aside: Turning Leaves of Grass to Trash to Postmodern Art
45:43 Cultural Conflict — Sabotaging the State The Last Judgment, Heroic Nudes Create Conflict with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Religions.
47:50 Where We Are Today Lucian Freud, Schipperheyn, Collins, and Feldman.
51:19 Q & A Roman Copies, Nudes Convey Individuality of Traits, Erotic Elements, Postmodernists are Grumpy People, Heroic Nude Helped to Defeat the Nazis? Humanism vs Christianity reflected in Renaissance Art, Courageous Figurative Artists, Nudes as Dangerous to Status Quo Cultures, Obscenity, Michelangelo’s Popular Appeal, Propaganda, and Appropriation of Great Art.
Michael Newberry lives in Idyllwild, California with his dog Frida. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. He shows at the White Cloud Gallery in Washington D.C. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.