The Great Fraud, How Postmodernism Abuses Art

Michelangelo, Study of Haman for the Sistine Chapel, 1511, red chalk.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs

Tufts University is running a protest against ICE–in the guise of being art. Everyone involved in this project may be well intentioned, but what does this have to do with art? The message of the protest has nothing to do with art, but as art it’s one I am disgusted by: the anti-conceptual degradation of art.

Art has a very special aura of the sublime, the ultimate, and the universality of a higher nature. The best in art is evolutionary. It elevates our knowledge, expands our emotional capabilities, and enriches our senses. For instance, Monet furthering our knowledge of colors of shadows and natural light. Michelangelo showed us what a fearless stance against huge obstacles looks like (The David), and he did so with his revolutionary means of transcribing touch to sight. And Polyclitus showed us how the science of beauty works through proportions. These artists and many more, both in history and contemporary times, amongst whom I am proud to count myself, contribute towards giving art profound meaning.

The Tufts project by Jenny Polak does two things that are now-classic postmodern sabotage. They use the esteemed status of art, made possible by great artists, to elevate a protest to a grander status. And by dedicating their reputation, resources, and their art department to juvenile protest posters scattered around the campus they suck the life out of aesthetic innovation, advancement, and the soul of art.

Michael Newberry
Idyllwild, July 20, 2019

Below is from the Tufts University website.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs
Weems Atrium / SMFA, Media Wall / Aidekman
Various Locations throughout Medford Campus

JENNY POLAK: ICE Escape Signs is the 2018-2019 Tufts PUBLIC project, a program of yearlong, temporary public art projects designed for spaces outside the Art Galleries and throughout the school’s Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses.

Jenny Polak makes site and community responsive art that reframes immigrant-citizen relations, amplifying demands for social justice. Originally from England, her work draws on her background in architecture and socially engaged projects, as well as her own family history of migration. She focuses on detention centers, racial profiling, and strategies for surviving hostile authorities. As an exhibiting artist in the upcoming exhibition Walls Turned Sides: Artists Confront the Justice System (coming to TUAG Spring 2020), Polak will work with the Tufts community to create a series of site-respondent signs throughout campus beginning in the fall as part of her ongoing series – ICE Escape Signs. A decentered public art project, ICE Escape Signs are designed for specific floorplans and draw attention to the fact that people are living in daily fear of being caught in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Polyclitus’ Canon of Proportions

 

Doryphoros or The Canon, Polyclitus, Roman copy in marble of bronze original, c. 450-440 B.C.
Doryphoros or The Canon, Polyclitus, Roman copy in marble of bronze original, c. 450-440 B.C.

The 5th Century B.C. sculptor, Polyclitus, wrote the famous treatise about what methods make the beautiful (to kallos)  and good (to eu) in art, unfortunately now lost. We know something of it through historians such as Pliny and Plutarch. Often mentioned is Polyclitus’ belief in measurements of one finger joint with the next, then the fingers to metacarpus (base of the hand), and it to the wrist, and all of these to the forearm, the forearm to the arm, and so on.

Polyclitus, in his treatise, also dealt with issues other than proportions such as the organic balance of tension and relaxation of body parts.

Polyclitus called this sculpture, The Canon. I think it is wonderful that he wrote a treatise on art and “put his money where is mouth is” by showing what he meant as well.

Notice in the sculpture that he emphasized the man’s little finger, a little like an exclamation mark.

Polyclitus was working the proportions of the natural forms. For example, his fingers look natural, as do other parts of the body, and as does the whole of the body.  The forms weren’t generic shapes of measurements.

King Khafre seated Fourth Dynasty, reign of Khafre Graywacke Height: 120 cm (47 1/4 in) Egyptian Museum, Cairo
King Khafre seated Fourth Dynasty, reign of Khafre Graywacke Height: 120 cm (47 1/4 in) Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Contrast The Canon with this Egyptian sculpture, in which the rudimentary proportion of the overall figure is balanced. However,  when we take a detailed look the forms they remain generic and unnatural–as if they are rounded blocks.

Charles Laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame
Charles Laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame

It is also important to note that beauty is connected with pleasing proportions. The antithesis is that ugliness is unbalanced proportions. Think of an hunchback with a hump on one side of his back and topped off by a malformed and unsymmetrical head.

I hope you enjoyed seeing math in art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, March 6, 2007

Of Nudes and Knowledge

oil painting of the back view of Eve from Adam and Eve.

First published by The Atlas Society.

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.

marlene dietrich the song of songs   studio2
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.

Continue reading “Of Nudes and Knowledge”

Figure the Future, 66 min

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.

0:17 Introduction by Robert Bidinotto

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

44:18 Nazis and the Heroic Nude

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.