Listen Up: Heart versus Brain

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“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” Leonardo da Vinci

What is political art and what isn’t?  The Tate’s new exhibition, “Art Turning Left” exhibits the art of left-leaning political artists like the Guerrilla Girls.  Undoubtedly, the Guerrrilla Girls made a splash with their bold political statements turning up in odd and surprising places but always with a point to be made.  And they made no bones about the purpose of their art.  The Guerrilla Girls wanted to be heard and they were screaming in the face of as many people as possible.

The Tate’s exhibit would tend to surmise that political art was entirely a product of the left.  The truth is both right and left have always used art as a means of getting their message out.  Hitler was to known to frequently use art for his political purpose.  But is it art or is it propaganda?  Do artists become artists to make political statements or to pull something out of the heart to bring enlightenment to the world?

The answer would seem to lie in the designation of importance of either goal.  Is my art about informing others of a political injustice?  Or is my art about expressing something in my heart that must get out for others to see?  Creating art solely to make a point would seem to be the dividing line.  If you did not have a point to make politically or socially, would you be making art?  The fact that what is in the artist’s heart may be expressed as a political message is a different thing than making a judgment to use art as the vehicle for getting a political statement into the public arena.  One is a calculated brain decision.  The other is the expression of the heart.  The difficulty for the viewer  is to tell which is which.  The feelings of the heart can override the calculations of the brain as long as the ears are listening.

For an entertaining look at art purely for political gain go to the blog: Standing Ovation, Seated.

Colorful Friday’s–Rich Man’s Blue

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 9.15.03 AMWhen the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness, also.” Paul Cezanne (from The Painter’s Keys)

From King Tut’s tomb to 14th century illuminated manuscripts to the luxurious robes of the Byzantine Madonnas, ultramarine blue has been used illustrate the importance of the person or object depicted. Ultramarine blue earned this place in art from the high cost of its chief ingredient, lapis lazuli.  The introduction of the semi-precious mineral into Europe likely came from Marco Polo through Venice, say some accounts.

According to the website of The University of Hull (UK), Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) painted only with true ultramarine.  Vermeer’s pure whites were achieved by the mixing of ultramarine with lead white.  Hull reports that due to the high cost of ultramarine blue most artists had chosen to use a less expensive blue made with azurite.  However, this did not have the brilliance of the true ultramarine.  Vermeer chose only the pure form.  And his “Woman with a Water Pitcher” beautifully exemplifies this choice in the woman’s white head covering and her rich blue gown.  Hull’s in-depth description of ultramarine is a fascinating read.

Another website, EssentialVermeer.com has a more in-depth description of the process Vermeer utilized in the painting, “Woman with a Water Pitcher” and others.  Essential Vermeer has detailed and enlarged portions of Vermeer’s paintings where the artist has used ultramarine in the shadows of pure white objects to maintain the luminosity of object.  The more famous Vermeer painting, “Woman with a Pearl Earring,” also had the characteristic use of ultramarine.

Gamblin states ultramarine is a great glazing color and calls it one of the few mineral colors to be “completely transparent.”  Golden Paints gives ultramarine blue an excellent permanency rating and a lightfastness of one (very lightfast). Synthetic ultramarine is what is now produced by both companies, as well as most other art suppliers.

Synthetic versions of ultramarine didn’t arrive until the early 1900’s when the cost came down markedly.  If you want to make your own ultramarine blue, the pure pigment can be purchased from the Dutch company, Kremer Pigmente.  Kremer specializes in reproducing, as close to exact as possible, pigments of the original Old Master’s paint formulas.  Kremer’s pigments are widely used in the restoration process of Old Master’s paintings.  A word of warning though, if you are planning to purchase original formula Ultramarine Blue pigment, you will quickly see why it is the rich man’s blue.

Purchase Kremer pigments here

The painting “Woman with a Water Pitcher” is in the original collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.