Dürer's Melencolia I is one of three large prints of 1513 and 1514 known as his Meisterstiche (master engravings). The other two are Knight, Death, and the Devil (43.106.2) and Saint Jerome in His Study (19.73.68). The three are in no way a series, but they do correspond to the three kinds of virtue in medieval scholasticism--moral, theological, and intellectual--and they embody the complexity of Dürer's thought and that of his age.
Melencolia I is a depiction of the intellectual situation of the artist and is thus, by extension, a spiritual self-portrait of Dürer. In medieval philosophy each individual was thought to be dominated by one of the four humors; melancholy, associated with glack gall, was the least desirable of the four, and melancholics were considered the most likely to succumb to insanity. Renaissance thought, however, also linked melancholy with creative genius; thus, at the same time that this idea changed the status of this humor, it made the self-conscious artist aware that his gift came with terrible risks.
The winged personification of Melancholy, seated dejectedly with her head reasting on her hand, holds a caliper and is surrounded by other tools associated with geometry, the one of the seven liberal arts that underlies artistic creation--and the one through which Dürer, probably more than most artists, hoped to approach perfection in his own work. An influential treatise, the De Occulta Philosophia of Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, almost certainly known to Dürer, probably holds the explanation for the number I in the title: creativity in the arts was the realm of the imagination, considered the first and lowest in the hierarchy of the three categories of genius. The next was the realm of reason, and the highest the realm of spirit. It is ironic that this image of the artist paralyzed and powerless exemplifies Dürer's own artistic power at its superlative height.
via The MET.
Jeremy Deller is an English conceptual, video and installation artist. Much of Deller's work is collaborative; it has a strong political aspect, in the subjects dealt with and also the devaluation of artistic ego through the involvement of other people in the creative process (Wikipedia).
Click the image above for a video.
TIBETAN SAND MANDALA
JOHN BALDESSARI “The Cremation Project” 1970
California conceptual artist John Baldessari is known for plastering the faces of his subjects with colorful dots — an artistic choice that arose out of annoyance. “I just got so tired of looking at these faces [of people at civic events],” Baldessari told NPR. In 1970, the artist had a creative dry spell and no buyers. He took everything he painted from 1953 through 1966 to a morgue and burned it. “And so I said, ‘Well, I’m just going to stop. I have them in my head. I don’t really need them. So I decided I’ll just destroy them,” he explained. He viewed the pyre as an artistic rebirth, and turned to photography and the appropriated pop culture images he’s known for today.
JANINE ANTONI “Lick and Lather” 1993
Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather saw the artist sculpting several busts of herself out of chocolate and soap. She licked the sweet sculpture to re-mold her image and took the soap bust to the bathtub with her until the water erased its features. “I think it’s a funny thing when you think about the creative process and what we go through when we’re making a work. A lot of times, there’s this element of destruction, that we have to kind of unmake in order to make, and that interests me very much.”
JEAN TINGUELY “Homage to New York” 1960
In 1960, Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (with the help of other artists and engineers like Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg) created a 27-foot-high, self-destructive machine that ruined itself — at MoMA’s sculpture garden and the Las Vegas desert. “An hour and a half later, the suicide-fated machine started flaming and sawing at its mixed-up insides, turned balky despite several judiciously aimed kicks from its creator, got doused betimes by an anxious fireman, and had to be finished… ” Time wrote of the MoMA performance. Viewers were invited to take the remnants of Homage to New York as souvenirs.
MICHAEL LANDY, "Breakdown" 2001
For his 2001 installation Break Down, Young British Artists figure Michael Landy went through the extensive process of cataloguing all his possessions (all 7,227 of them) and then destroyed everything in a vacant London department store. This included his car, clothing, works of art that he created, and works of art by others — including pieces by one very pissed off Tracey Emin. The performance “was an examination of society’s romance with consumerism,” but also “reflect[ed] an emotional break down.” Watch this video.
Jaimie Warren & Matt Roche are contemporary artists who re-imagine the variety show as a collaborative, community-based performance. They came to Utah in May, 2018 and worked with a small group of high school students from the area (including two of mine, Brinley Cummings and Savannah McKenzie)! It was a bizarre, beautiful experience. Special thanks to Jethro Gillespie for making the magic happen. We used the ARTcetera gallery in the Prove Towne Centre mall, which James Rees graciously provided.
Here are some of my pedagogical musings, dabblings, wonderings and wanderings.