When you look at Rodney Smith‘s photographs you may think of René Magritte, the Belgian Surrealist artist known for his visual puns and, generally speaking, thought-provoking, “conceptual” images. Surrealist art, in general, combines the best of both worlds: a “realistic” representation of objects, which requires talent and technical skill, and a fantastic imagination that takes us past the threshold of the rational and the knowable, so we can explore the mysteries of the subconscious.
photo by Rodney Smith
Surrealism offers an escape from the real world yet also probes the depths of a perhaps truer and deeper reality: the reality of human desire; of our dreams and nightmares; of our hopes and fears; of our collective past and a visionary future we can barely imagine. Surrealism can also be playful: at least in the hands of an artist like Miró as well as in Magritte‘s linguistic imagination, whose paintings are filled with visual puns and paradoxes.
photo by Rodney Smith
Rodney Smith’s education and professional route is somewhat unusual for an artist. He earned a Master of Divinity in Theology in 1973 from Yale University, where he also studied photography with Walker Evans and developed a love for this field. Far from being stuck in the Ivory Tower, however, his highly successful photography has been commissioned by mainstream businesses such as American Express, I.B.M., Merril Lynch, the New York Stock Exchange and VISA (among many others).
photo by Rodney Smith
To call Rodney Smith’s Surrealism “eclectic,” as I do in the title of this introduction, may seem somewhat redundant. After all, Surrealist art is usually eclectic. Yet Rodney Smith adds so much Romantic flavor to many of his images–as well as playing with optical illusions, surprises and visual puns–that “eclectic” is the best term I found to describe his art.
photo by Rodney Smith
In fact, this is a term Rodney Smith uses to describe himself. Although art isn’t exactly autobiographical, I think that, in this case, there’s no better introduction to Rodney Smith’s quirky and eclectic Surrealist photography–which is filled with personality–than reading the witty and revealing description the artist provides about himself and his art on his website:
Daniel Gerhartz: The Beauty of Representational Art
by Claudia Moscovici, author of “Romanticism and Postromanticism” (2007) and co-founder of the postromantic art movement
The American painter Daniel Gerhartz is a contemporary master of representational art. Drawn to painting since adolescence, he studied at the prestigious American Academy of Art in Chicago. Gerhartz states that he learned a lot about painting techniques by studying the works of John Singer Sargent, Alphonse Mucha, Nicolai Fechin and Joaquin Sorolla. Gerhartz also goes on to say on his website, http://danielgerhartz.com, that he is particularly inspired by modern Russian art of Nicolai Fechin, Isaac Levitan and Ilya Repin because “their paintings are completely loose yet deliberate and faithful, not at all flashy.”
by Daniel Gerhartz
Although Gerhartz paints a variety of subjects, most of his works focus on the female figure, in diverse settings, ranging from the realistic and contemporary to idyllic pastoral and romantic. Going far beyond realistic representation or the celebration of feminine beauty, his paintings evoke emotion and represent important aspects of the human condition (such as love, loss, nostalgia, and mourning).
by Daniel Gerhartz
Although often inspired by contemporary life, Daniel Gerhartz’s art clearly continues, for our times, the legacy of the Romantic and Symbolist movements, in two main ways: 1) a technique that emphasizes verisimilitude as well as, quite often, 2) the depiction of idealized figures and settings. In what follows, I’d like to explore why this continuation of the Romantic and Realist traditions are important currents in ART TODAY. They not only add diversity to the wide range of artistic movements we can enjoy, but also preserve valuable artistic techniques that shouldn’t be dispensed with.
by Daniel Gerhartz
The aesthetic revolution that occurred during the twentieth-century is unprecedented in the history of Western art. Even the invention of one-point perspective and the soft shading that gives the illusion of depth (chiaroscuro) during the Renaissance didn’t change aesthetic standards as radically as the creation of non-representational, or what has also been called “conceptual” art. Since Marcel Duchamp we have come to believe that a latrine, if placed in a museum, is a work of art. Since Andy Warhol we have come to accept that brillo boxes and other ordinary household objects, if placed in a museum, are objets d’art. And since Jackson Pollock and the New York School of abstract expressionism we have come to realize that what may appear to be randomly spilled paint, globs and other kinds of smudges are not only artistic, but also considered by many to be the deepest expressions of human talent, thought and feeling.
Once art took a conceptual turn, it also became philosophical. As Arthur Danto argues in representational art what constituted “art” was more or less obvious. The only question that was always difficult to determine was: is it good art? By way of contrast, Danto explains, conceptual art compels viewers to think about the very nature of art. The postmodern answer to this question is not only philosophical–namely, that art is a concept because it cannot be identified visually, just by looking at it–but also sociological. Art is, as Danto himself declares, whatever the viewing public and especially the community that has the power to consecrate it–by exhibiting it in galleries and museums, buying it, writing books about it, critiquing and reviewing it, etc– says it is.
A priori, art can be anything. A brillo box, a toilet seat. But it isn’t everything for the simple reason that not everything is consecrated as art. What may seem, by older standards, to be art—such as contemporary Impressionist-style paintings–may not be considered art (but only cheap imitation) by the public or critics, while, conversely, what doesn’t seem to be art—a brillo box—can be perceived as the highest manifestation of artistic genius.
As noted, what makes twentieth- and twenty-first century art conceptual is the fact that what makes it be “art” can no longer be seen with the eye. We can’t see the aesthetic difference between the brillo boxes we discard and Warhol’s brillo boxes. Yet one is called trash and the other pop art. Clearly, it’s not the physical qualities of the object, but rather the assumptions of a community that determine what is (good) art. I cannot dispute this argument—made in different ways by Pierre Bourdieu and Arthur Danto–because, given everything I observe is being called art, I see it as the most compelling explanation of the term “art” as it’s being used today. Having conceded the artistic nature and value of nonrepresentational art, however, postromantic aesthetics argues that just because nonrepresentational art is valued doesn’t mean that contemporary representational art should be dismissed.
To explain the conceptual revolution that occurred in art at the end of the nineteenth-century and the beginning of the twentieth century, some art historians claim that photography eliminated the need for representational art, or the kind of art that tries to imitate “nature” by depicting faithfully what the eye can see. We can add in parentheses, as E. H. Gombrich observes in The Story of Art, that the notion of the representation of what the eye can see has changed throughout the history of art. Needless to say, it too is shaped by social assumptions. Nonetheless, the difference between a kind of art that aims at faithful visual imitation of the three-dimensional qualities of physical objects and one that doesn’t remains relatively easy to discern.
For instance, even without reading the descriptive title of the painting, it’s clear to tell by just looking at Renoir’s Girl Bathing (1892) that it features a nude girl bathing. Without its explanatory (or deceptive) title, however, it would be impossible to know what Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1 (1911) is supposed to represent The last thing that might occur to those who look at it–if it were not for the title–is that it shows a nude.
The invention of photography had a lot to do with the move away from visual representation. To say that photography eliminated the need for representational art, however, is an overstatement. Undoubtedly, the invention of the camera encouraged artists to experiment with other means of representation in the same way that the invention of machines displaced hand-made crafts. The camera probably did for painting what the industrial revolution did for artisanship. But that doesn’t mean that artisanship–or hand-made beautiful objects–are no longer valuable. For what the human imagination, sensibility, eye and hand can create will always be somewhat different from what can be made with the aid of machines. The texture, sense of color and vision that are captured by painters are not identical to those that photography can produce, even though photography can bring us closer to visual reality and even though photography can be artistic.
Verisimilitude, or the true-to-life physical representation of objects, already existed in classical Greek, Hellenistic and Roman art, all of which rendered the beauty, movement and sinuosity of the human body especially palpable in their breath-taking sculptures. In classical Greek and Hellenistic art in particular, the human body conveyed (what was perceived as) the essence of beauty: the glorification of divine powers and aesthetic ideals were embodied in the human form. While Greek paintings and especially sculptures showed knowledge of human anatomy, movement and foreshortening, it’s Renaissance artists who discovered the two other key components of verisimilitude in painting: one point-perspective and shading, which give the illusion of three-dimensionality to two-dimensional painted forms. Gombrich and other art historians credit the architect Filipo Brunelleschi with the invention of one-point perspective as it was enthusiastically adopted by Italian Renaissance painters. Perspective entailed the application of geometrical principles to convey in painting the relative size of objects in terms of their distance from one another and from the viewer. (The Story of Art, 228-9).
The most famous Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci, added another dimension to making the objects represented in art seem almost real. His most famous painting Mona Lisa is said to deceive the viewers into believing that the woman’s eyes move, returning and even following their gaze with her eyes. Likewise, many have speculated about the meaning of Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile, whose lips have a mobility that renders her at once impenetrable and expressive. Leonardo was able to achieve these complex visual and psychological effects through the technique called sfumato, or the smoky blurring the contours of the object depicted—especially the corners of Mona Lisa’s eyes and mouth—to leave their outline and expression more open to interpretation.
The study and representation of human anatomy and of nature, foreshortening, capturing human movement and expression, one-point perspective and the creation of soft shadows which give the illusion of three-dimensionality to painted forms — all these techniques which took centuries to develop–have the magical effect of making objects represented by art come to life before our eyes. This kind of naturalistic art is not necessarily “realistic” in the sense of capturing human life as it actually is. For instance, some of the paintings of the surrealists were realistic in their anatomically accurate and three-dimensional representation of the human body, but fantastic in their rendition of reality.
Romanticism and Postromanticism by Claudia Moscovici
In its preference for visual resemblance (as opposed to realism or plausibility), my own art and aesthetics movement, POSTROMANTICISM, which I co-founded with the sculptor Leonardo Pereznieto in 2002, argues that the artistic techniques that give a sense of three-dimensionality and life-like quality to art are difficult skills that require both patience and technical talent and that are worth preserving and appreciating in art today. There’s no reason to discard the masterful qualities that made art artistic for five hundred years. Nor do such techniques have only a purely historical value. In an artistic world that prides itself upon pluralism, openness and variety, artists who desire to continue the legacy of realistic representation should be able to coexist with those that have rejected it.
by Daniel Gerhartz
The postromantic movement–and representational art in general, of which the work of Daniel Gerhartz is a prime example–represents not a rival, but an alternative to modern and postmodern conceptual art. For in a world of such diverse tastes and sensibilities, there’s certainly room for both.
Given his background, it’s not that surprising that Vadim Stein’s photography has a sculptural–even monumental–look to it. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Stein studied sculpture restoration. He also worked as an actor and lighting designer, fields which play a significant role in his sculptures, in which carefully chosen lighting helps create the folds and shapes of the the people he photographs, often in staged and dramatic positions.
photo by Vadim Stein
Of course, “people” may not be the right word to describe the beautiful women, often nude and partially wrapped in stretched out fabrics, that Stein usually photographs. Each of them has a perfect, dancer’s body. Their sinuous forms and muscular shapes can be detected even underneath the cloth that envelops them. There’s a classical perfection in the figurative photography of Vadim Stein. That too is no accident, since classical aesthetics has influenced this philosophical photographer.
photo by Vadim Stein
As we recall, for Plato beauty and ethics were inseparable. The philosopher draws the connection between these fields most famously in The Symposium, his best-known dialogue about beauty, ethics and love. According to the prophetess Diotima, aesthetic beauty was one of the main ways human beings could learn about the perfection of Forms. By appreciating first the concrete beauty of a human being (or artistic object), then the more abstract beauty of all human forms, then beautiful objects and so on, one could eventually arrive at the even more abstract notion of Beauty itself. Thus Plato sets up his famous idealist ladder from aesthetics to ethics, which leads from physical sensation to pure form; from the particular to the universal; from the individual to the most important form, which he calls the Good.
photo by Vadim Stein
In his images, Stein establishes a similar connection between aesthetic beauty and ethics, one which is as far removed as possible from any moralism, however: “Solving the aesthetic problem,” Stein states, “I also reveal many ethical questions. For me, such things as love and death are revealed through the aesthetic category, beauty – the predecessor of ethics.” (http://500px.com/stein) Almost all of Stein’s photographs have not only a sculptural look, but also an abstract feel to them. The nude bodies he photographs are displayed on a pedestal and wrapped in fabrics that partly hide the (usually) female form and renders its sensual beauty and erotic appeal more subtle and abstract.
photo by Vadim Stein
I find that many of Stein’s images are also inspired by the field of topology. This relatively new branch of mathematics, derived from the Greek roots “topos” or “place” and “logos” or “word” and “study of,” analyzes the properties of objects that remain the same even when objects are deformed or stretched. According to my father, the mathematician Henri Moscovici (who works in the field of topology), topology can be explained as follows: “Two “objects” (topological spaces) are considered identical if they are homeomorphic, ie there is such a continuous function with continuous inverse between them. For example, a perfect sphere and the surface of potato or a tomato, are homeomorphic.”
Stein constantly creates such homeomorphisms, experimenting via lighting, fabrics and dramatic positions to change properties of the human form. In so doing, he creates, through his sculptural (and philosophical) photography, an homage to the perfection of femininity and to the ethical beauty of form.
Lately, Vadim Stein has collaborated with composer Petr Dmitriev and several professional dancers and musicians on a series of spectacular art videos that unite the beauty of artistic film and photography, music and dance.
It’s not easy to stand out in the genres of fashion, beauty and erotic photography, fields where the competition is tough and in which hundreds of artists thrive. Yet the Polish-born, Brussels-based photographer Radoslaw Pujan distinguishes himself in all of these highly competitive genres. Recently, his photography was awarded (by Playboy) the Fotoerotica contest. He was also finalist in the prestigious Hasselblad Masters 2014.
photo by Radoslaw Pujan
Although reminiscent of the elegance and sensuality of Jeanloup Sieff, Pujan’s images are nonetheless very contemporary in feel. His signature touch is a subtle theatricality and emotion, as apparent in the image above of the beautiful model, Iga Rakoczy. Many of his images, in fact, remind us of shoots from a drama that leaves the plot up to the viewer’s imagination.
photo by Radoslaw Pujan
Many of his sensual images play upon the notion of voyeurism, staging a play of glances between the watcher and the watched. But what is perhaps most impressive about Radoslaw Pujan’s photography is its versatility. His images cover the gama of life and human experience, from erotic, to fashion, to beauty, to historical, to nature scenes. The conventions of one genre spill over into another, enriching it.
photo by Radoslaw Pujan
Radoslaw Pujan’s erotic photos, for instance, are full of elegance, beauty and style, characteristic of fashion shoots. Analogously, his fashion images are very sensual and dramatic, as erotic photography tends to be. And his beauty shots find inspiration in nature photography. In Radoslaw Pujan’s artwork you will encounter a feast for the senses and a wealth of inspiration for the imagination.
Somewhere on the boundary between fantasy, science fiction, and surrealism, you will find the imaginative photography of Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik. Their images are narrative in style. Each of them tells us a story: but we have to use our imagination, to help co-create the plot. Crossing the line between reality and imagination, this fantastic photography helps us see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik’s images tend to play with the notion of gender. They often feature a young couple, juxtaposed or intermingled in images that seem right out of fairy tales or science fiction scenes. The maiden in distress; the meeting of two lovers from completely separate realms and ways of life; the desolate yet majestic tower: the motifs of fantasy and fairy tale are seamlessly integrated with contemporary elements of our every-day lives to create a fresh and original digital photography.
Yet the emotions these images evoke are far from other-worldly. They’re relevant and touching precisely because they’re the normal emotions we all feel: longing, love, grief, sadness, hope. Transposed unto a different realm–the objects of our dreams or visions–these photographs gain depth without losing their relevance. We can still relate to them–and apply them to our ordinary lives–even though we see them as part of a completely different world, the realm of fantasy.
On their website, http://anshulesik.com/, Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik describe the manner in which they create: “We take pictures, travel, work with magazines, make up unusual designs. We’re constantly seeking and experimenting; always on the move… Art, of course, has to be relevant. We want to create such a deep meaning for each picture that it will not lose its relevance for many years…. In the ordinary, we find the extraordinary.”
Playing with gender stereotypes yet also androgynous, fantasy-based yet also real; theatrical yet not over-the-top; expressive yet open-ended to many interpretations; emotional yet understated; poetic yet mythical: to my mind, the imaginative photography of Andrew Shushvalyuk and Iren Lesik represents the best of contemporary digital photography. Those who have not seen it yet can take a look at the treasure of images on their website: http://anshulesik.com/
(Note: this essay is dedicated to my father, the mathematician Henri Moscovici)
It’s only relatively recently in cultural history—during the past hundred years or so–that the disciplines became so highly specialized (and advanced) that it’s nearly impossible for anyone to be “cutting edge” in both the arts/humanities and science/mathematics. But the fields of human knowledge did not used to be so sharply delineated. Plato, for instance, was not only a great writer of dialogues and one of the greatest philosophers of all time, but also an outstanding mathematician. The school he founded in 387 BC, the Academy of Athens, was inspired by Pythagoras and emphasized mathematics as the foundation for all the other fields of inquiry. Likewise, his student, Aristotle, was considered a founder of several empirical branches of science, including physics, astronomy and biology (or natural science, as it was called until the nineteenth century).
Philosopher by Edson Campos
Even as late as the Enlightenment, the French philosophes—particularly Condorcet, Condillac and Buffon–could hope to be at the forefront of scientific discoveries and be well-versed in literature, art and philosophy. One of my personal favorites, the salonnière Emilie (Marquise) du Châtelet, was not only highly cultivated, but also a world-class mathematician and physicist who conducted her own scientific experiments—such as suspending wooden spheres from rafters–to test Newton’s theories.
This confluence of the disciplines—like the ideal of the “Renaissance man” (or woman) who masters all fields–has become only a distant memory in intellectual history. But sometimes there are resonances and intersections between the arts and the sciences even today. Like art and poetry, mathematical innovations are the result of an intuitive process that depends upon inspiration. As Bertrand Russell eloquently stated in his essay, “The Study of Mathematics” (1919):
“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.”
Just as mathematics is, in some ways, an art form, so the arts and humanities borrow some of their standards of value (and proof) from math and science. In my estimation, the best writing in the humanities and social sciences abides by the standards of logical rigor, valid or plausible premises and “elegant proof” that are upheld in the sciences. An elegant argument in the humanities, as in mathematics, is one that:
a) uses a minimum of additional assumptions
b) is “simple” or succinct
c) is original, in arriving at new and surprising conclusions
d) is based on defensible premises
e) its conclusions are generalizable, in that they can be applied to similar problems
But there are even closer resonances between art and science. If mathematics is, in some respects, an art form—at least in its creative process–the opposite can be said as well: art can be mathematical. Even in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, when the push for the specialization of the disciplines has reached an extreme, there are artists who illustrate the elegance, beauty and abstraction of mathematics.
Three of the most notable examples that I’d like to discuss here are M. C. Escher—an artist who achieved enormous fame during his own lifetime and remains very popular to this day—Constantin Brancusi and a Romanian-born contemporary artist with whom I’ve had the pleasure of communicating by email, Cristian Todie, whose works are highly appreciated in his host country, France. In a way, this warm reception is not surprising, since France has been an ideal cultural environment for many Romanian writers and artists, including Constantin Brancusi, the sculptor whom Todie cites as his main influence. So let’s begin with a brief discussion of Brancusi’s works in relation to mathematics and philosophy.
Brancusi’s sculptures are mathematical in their geometric designs and their elegance (understood in the scientific and philosophical sense of the term). His first major work is The Prayer (1907), a minimalist sculpture that reflects the artist’s unique and eclectic mixture of influences: Romanian folkloric peasant carvings, classical sculpture, African figurines and Egyptian art. A very talented craftsman and woodcarver, Brancusi also innovated a new method of creating sculptures: carving them from wood or stone as opposed to modeling them from clay or plaster, as his mentor Auguste Rodin and many of his followers were doing at the time. Most likely deliberately named after Rodin’s The Kiss (1908), Brancusi’s second major sculpture (by the same name) effaces the realism of the lovers, as they embrace to form one rounded, harmonious monolith: quite literally, a monument to love. Years later, in Bird in Space (1928), the artist conveyed movement, altitude, aerodynamics and flight rather than the external features of the bird itself. The pinnacle of his career and the logical conclusion of capturing feelings and concepts through essential forms, Endless Column (1938) represents the soaring spirit and heroism of the WWI Romanian civilians who fought against the German invasion.
One of the most innovative aspects of Brancusi’s art is that his sculptures capture the essence rather than the form of objects. Relying upon the Platonic and Aristotelian definitions of forms, the artist distinguished his minimalism from abstraction. Brancusi protested: “There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things.” For Plato, Forms are the original, essential perfect models—such as goodness, virtue or humanity–for concepts and objects. Aristotle transformed this Platonic notion of Forms, distinguishing between the essential and the contingent, or essence and accident. The essence of the object defines what it is no matter how much it changes its appearance or state. Relying upon this Aristotelian concept, Brancusi was one of the first and best known Modernist artists who sought to capture the essence of the emotions and objects he conveyed: be it love and sensuality or heroism and courage.
M. C. Escher
Escher—the artist I consider, in both content and style, to be the closest precursor to Cristian Todie–remains one of the most popular twentieth century artists, internationally. Recently, the Escher exhibition in Brazil became, according to Blouin Art Info, “the world’s most popular art show,” drawing tens of thousands of viewers. (Blouin Art Info, April 13, 2012) Part of Escher’s continuing popularity can be explained in terms of the universal appeal of his art, which attracts those who love art and those who love mathematics or science alike. Like Picasso and Brancusi, in many respects Escher was an autodidact. He had little formal training in mathematics.
M. C. Escher
In fact, he discovered his passion for geometry, topology and visual paradoxes almost by accident, thanks to his travels to Alhambra, Spain. Escher was fascinated by the intricate, mathematical designs—or tessellations–he saw in the architecture of Alhambra, whose interlocking repetitive patterns of design would inspire much of his artwork.
M. C. Escher tessellation
The word “tessellation” comes from the Latin term “tessera” or small stone cube. “Tessellata” were the mosaic geometric designs of mosques (in which the representation of people or “idols” was strictly forbidden) as well as of Roman floors and buildings in general. Escher’s designs would “interlock” many objects–including his famous representations of fish and various critters–in fascinating patterns that create the magic of optical illusion.
M. C. Escher
Escher’s keen interest in geometric patterns led him to study non-Euclidian geometry. Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry differ in their representation of parallel lines. Euclid’s fifth postulate states: “Within a two-dimensional plane, for any given line X and a point A, which is not on X, there is exactly one line through A that does not intersect X.” Simply put, in Euclidian geometry two parallel lines will never meet. They will remain at the same distance from one another, to infinity. In non-Euclidean geometry, however, parallel lines can meet, curving towards each other and eventually intersecting. In many of his lithographs, drawings, sculptures and paintings, Escher creates optical illusions that give us a representation of non-Euclidean space. One of his most famous and interesting works, Ascending and Descending, depicts lines of people climbing up and down an infinite loop. This construction is impossible in reality but can be created through playing with perspective.
Escher was also intrigued by topology. This relatively new branch of mathematics, derived from the Greek roots “topos” or “place” and “logos” or “word” and “study of,” analyzes the properties of objects that remain the same even when objects are deformed or stretched. According to my father, Henri Moscovici (who works in the field of topology), topology can be explained as follows: “Two “objects” (topological spaces) are considered identical if they are homeomorphic, ie there is such a continuous function with continuous inverse between them. For example, a perfect sphere and the surface of potato or a tomato, are homeomorphic.”
In fact, of particular interest to both Escher and Todie are such “homeomorphisms.” One doesn’t have to know much about mathematics, however, to appreciate Waterfall Up and Down, which includes the irregular perspective we find in the Moebius strip. Escher’s art represents the best of both worlds. For those who love math and science, Escher is one of the rare artists that gives these fields an artistic form. For those of us who don’t, Escher shows us that mathematics can be fun and ingenious.
Today, Cristian Todie enjoys a similar universal appeal, intriguing those who appreciate math and the arts and humanities alike. Born in 1954 in Constanta, Romania and living in France for many years, Todie creates non-Euclidian sculptures and designs that catch the eye and fascinate viewers. He sees himself as perpetuating, for our times, the “minimalist” sculpture of Brancusi, particularly in its geometric designs and (Aristotelian) emphasis upon capturing the inner essence of objects rather than their changing, accidental properties.
If you take a look at his website, called Art Théorique, you’ll also see that, as for Escher, mathematics lies at the basis of Todie’s art: in an intuitive and visual manner that any viewer can enjoy, without needing advanced mathematical training.
In Todie’s digital photography, however, you’ll also detect a strong Dadaist influence. This is somewhat surprising, since historically this art movement set itself against math and science. Founded by a Romanian poet, Tristan Tzara, Dada was born in the wake of the bloodshed and devastation of WWI. Many of the writers and artists associated with this movement rejected “logic” and “reason,” blaming them for the technological breakthroughs that made the ravages of war possible. Like Surrealism, the art movement that grew out of it, Dadaism is whimsical, free and imaginative. It’s defined not as much positively, in terms of what it is, as negatively, in terms of what it is not. As Hugo Ball famously stated, “For us, art is not an end in itself… but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”
In the online exhibit called One Man Show, many of Todie’s images congruously combine a fascination with topology, optical illusions of non-Euclidean geometry with Dadaist absurd or whimsical images that transpose our daily, familiar reality into the domain of playfulness and imagination.
Todie’s innovative topological art confirms Henry David Thoreau’s famous saying: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” And part of what you’ll see in Todie’s sculptures and photographs—much like in the works of his precursors, Brancusi and Escher–is a world where the sharply separated and largely parallel domains of mathematics and art intersect in the imaginative shapes of non-Euclidian space.
Like his magnificent statues, for Romanians, the artist Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) is a national monument. To extend the metaphor, he’s also one of the pillars of Modernism. A favorite in his host country, France, he even has, like his mentor Auguste Rodin, his own museum in Paris. Like many art lovers, I’m a big fan of Brancusi’s sculpture and, like many native Romanians, I also take a certain pride that one of my compatriots has made such a big impact on art and culture. It seems obvious why so many people appreciate Brancusi. But as an art critic and aesthetic philosopher, I’m tempted to examine in greater detail answers to the question: Why do we love Brancusi?
1) He’s got Fame
This question of why we love Brancusi might not even come up if people didn’t know about the sculptor and weren’t exposed to his art in museums, galleries, and books about Modernism and the history of art. One of the most famous Romanians—up there with Mircea Eliade,Emil Cioran (in philosophy and the history of ideas) and Eugen Ionesco (in drama), Constantin Brancusi is well known and much appreciated internationally. Almost every major museum in the world exhibits his art nowadays. But Brancusi achieved both fame and notoriety during his own lifetime.
He studied with the legendary sculptor Auguste Rodin but was smart enough to leave his famous teacher after only two months to seek recognition in his own right, famously stating: “Nothing can grow under big trees.” Soon he became one of the “big trees” himself, becoming known throughout the world for his sculptures The Kiss (1908), variations of Bird in Space (1928) and, of course, his chef d’oeuvre in Tirgu-Jiu, Endless Column (1938). Wealthy investors, including John Quinn, bought his sculptures. He exhibited his works in prestigious places, including the Salon des Indépendants in Paris and the Armory Show in New York.
One of the premier Modernist artists and a bohemian at heart, Brancusi kept company with some of the most influential artists, poets and writers of his time, including Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Amedeo Modigliani, Ezra Pound, Guillaume Appollinaire, Henri Rousseau and Fernand Lèger. His list of acquaintances and friends reads like a Who’s Who of famous Modernist artists, poets and writers.
2) He’s got Personality
The artists that make it big often do so not only through their artistic accomplishments, but also through their magnetic personas and promotional antics. It’s difficult to say if Pablo Picasso would have had such an impact without being able to manipulate art deals and shape the public taste or if the Surrealist movement would have become so prominent without Salvador Dali’s zany antics, which weren’t completely random. For instance, to underscore the lobster motif in his art, Dali gave a talk in New York City with his foot in a bucket and a lobster on his head.
Similarly, Brancusi stood out from the crowd through his quirky combination of bohemianism (his free-spirited thirst for life, women and parties) and severe asceticism. The apparent contrast between his simple, Romanian peasant roots and his sophisticated tastes and wide-ranging intellectual curiosity (he was interested in mythology, art, craftsmanship, music and transcendental philosophy) also drew attention. Furthermore, sometimes retreating at the pinnacle of your success can be a good career move. After creating the monumental Endless Column—which marked the apex of his artistic career—the artist became reclusive and created very few works of art.
While prolific and sociable up to then, during the next 19 years of his life Brancusi created fewer than 20 works of art, all of them variations upon his previous works. The former bohemian socialite also retreated from public view, while, paradoxically, his fame continued to grow. In an article in Life Magazine (1956), the artist is described as an eccentric hermit: “Wearing white pajamas and a yellow gnomelike cap, Brancusi today hobbles about his studio tenderly caring for and communicating with the silent host of fish, birds, heads, and endless columns which he created.”
Years earlier, Brancusi also attracted attention through the shocking novelty of his art: particularly his sculpture called Princess X (1920), a phallic sculpture representing Princess Marie Bonaparte, which created such an uproar at the Salon of 1920 that it was eventually removed from the exhibit. In a clever and rather accurate pun, the art critic Anna Chave even suggested that it should have been named “Princess Sex” rather than “Princess X”.
Brancusi found himself again in the limelight in 1926, when he shipped a version of Bird in Space to the American photographer Edward Steichen. Not viewing the sculpture as a work of art, which would be duty-free, the customs officials imposed taxes upon the piece for its raw materials. Although both of these incidents got Brancusi international attention—or notoriety, depending upon your perspective–artistic magnetism goes beyond mere shock value or even publicity stunts.
Such magnetism is perhaps best described by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche when he urges every person to live his or her life as a work of art: “For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.” Artistic fame happens when both the artist and the art are able to intoxicate us, as Brancusi clearly does. A peasant and an erudite artist and intellectual; a bohemian and an almost saintly aesthete; a socialite circulating in Paris’s most elite artistic circles and a recluse, Brancusi’s paradoxical and enigmatic personality attracted almost as much attention as his truly innovative art. Which brings us to the next—and most important– factor: Brancusi’s talent.
3. He’s got Talent: Brancusi’s Originality, Exemplarity and Inimitability
a) Brancusi is Original.
Although this doesn’t always happen in the history of art, I’m not alone in believing that Brancusi’s fame is very well deserved and that he’s a very talented artist. However, it’s tough to dissect or explain talent philosophically: usually people say they know it when they see it. Sometimes we need to appeal to aesthetic philosophy to understand more closely the reasons behind something that seems obvious or intuitive. In this case, I believe that Immanuel Kant’s second aesthetic criterion from The Critique of Judgment (1790): namely, his definition of artistic “genius” (or what we would call today, somewhat more modestly, “talent”), offers us helpful ways of evaluating the merit of Constantin Brancusi’s art. This brief digression into Kant’s aesthetic philosophy will help us understand why Brancusi’s art is original, exemplary and inimitable or, simply put, why he’s got talent.
Kant defines artistic talent as “the innate mental aptitude through which nature gives the rule to art.” (The Critique of Judgment, 225) In other words, talent is partly innate, not just acquired by training and practice. Moreover, producing a work of art is an inherently creative endeavor that requires talent. It’s never just generating a mirror image of reality, but rather a creative interpretation of that reality (or what he calls “nature”). Furthermore, Kant maintains, not all artistic creations are equal. Some stand head and shoulders above the rest, even generating new artistic movements. He offers three main criteria that distinguish artistic talent. First of all, for a work of art to show real talent, “originality must be its primary property” (The Critique of Judgment, 225).
Brancusi is, without a doubt, original. His first major work is The Prayer (1907), a minimalist sculpture that reflects the artist’s unique and eclectic mixture of influences: Romanian folkloric peasant carvings, classical sculpture, African figurines and Egyptian art. A very talented craftsman and woodcarver, Brancusi also innovates a new method of creating sculptures: carving them from wood or stone as opposed to modeling them from clay or plaster, as his mentor Auguste Rodin and many of his followers were doing at the time. Most likely deliberately named after Rodin’s The Kiss (1908), Brancusi’s second major sculpture (by the same name) effaces the realism of the lovers, as they embrace to form one rounded, harmonious monolith: quite literally, a monument to love. Years later, in Bird in Space (1928), the artist conveys movement, altitude, aerodynamics and flight rather than the external features of the bird itself. The pinnacle of his career and the logical conclusion of capturing feelings and concepts through essential forms, Endless Column (1938) represents the soaring spirit and heroism of the WWI Romanian civilians who fought against the German invasion. It’s a monument for which, incidentally, Brancusi refused to accept payment.
One of the most innovative aspects of Brancusi’s art is that his sculptures capture the essence rather than the form of objects. Relying upon the Platonic and Aristotelian definitions of forms, the artist distinguishes his minimalism from abstraction. Brancusi protests: “There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things.” For Plato, Forms are the original, essential perfect models—such as goodness, virtue or humanity–for concepts and objects. Aristotle transformed this Platonic notion of Forms, distinguishing between the essential and the contingent, or essence and accident. The essence of the object defines what it is no matter how much it changes its appearance or state. Relying upon this Aristotelian concept, Brancusi was one of the first and best known Modernist artists who sought to capture the essence of the emotions and objects he conveyed: be it love and sensuality or heroism and courage.
b) Brancusi is Exemplary
But originality–in the sense of producing an artifact without imitating other artifacts and without learning how to produce art–does not suffice to qualify an artist as a genius (or talented). An artist may create, as Kant puts it, “original nonsense” that nobody cares about or likes. Taking this possibility into consideration, Kant argues that, secondly, artistic objects must also be “exemplary; and, consequently, though not themselves be derived from imitation, they must serve that purpose for others, i.e. as a standard or rule of estimating.” (The Critique of Judgment, 225) When one produces truly innovative works of art, other artists tend to follow suit. Brancusi set the standard for Modernist sculpture, influencing tens of thousands—if not millions–of artists, many of whom continue his tradition today.
c)Brancusi is Inimitable
Yet there is only one Brancusi. As an anonymous art critic writing for the art website Brain-Juice.com aptly states: “The sculptures of Constantin Brancusi blend simplicity and sophistication in such a unique way that they seem to defy imitation. Yet it is impossible to think of an artist who has been more influential in the twentieth century. Almost single-handedly, Brancusi revolutionized sculpture, invented modernism, and shaped the forms and concepts of industrial design as we know it today.” (Brain-Juice.com on Brancusi) This brings me to the third criterion of aesthetic value that Kant offers to explain artistic talent: inimitability. Although good art is exemplary—in motivating other artists to imitate it—it is also difficult to copy because each talented artist has his own unique style. Brancusi has a signature style that many may emulate, but nobody can replicate.
His host country, France, has long recognized his genius and set up an Atelier Brancusi at the Centre Georges Pompidou. Many of us who love Brancusi’s monumental art are eagerly awaiting a Brancusi Museum in his native country, Romania, as well. In the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy the Brancusi exhibits throughout the world and his newly restored Endless Column in Tirgu-Jiu.
March 11th, 2012 Claudia Moscovici is an American Romanian Novelist, non-fiction author and art critic. Her latest novel “The Seducer” is a psychological story of a married woman trapped in the love of an unassuming psychopath. Claudia is the author of “Velvet Totalitarianism,” a critically acclaimed novel about a Romanian family’s survival in an oppressive communist regime due to the strength of their love. CelebrityDialogue: What is the basic plot of your latest novel “The Seducer”?
Claudia: “The Seducer,” my new psychological thriller, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. This novel traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” my novel shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions. CelebrityDialogue: What inspired you to write this novel?
Claudia: I have always been a big fan of nineteenth-century fiction that focuses on the theme of seduction: I’m thinking of classic novels like Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”. I also read with great interest the libertine novel tradition of the eighteenth-century: my favorite in this genre being Laclos’ epistolary novel, “Dangerous Liaisons”. I think in his depiction of Valmont, Laclos gets the seducer profile exactly right: he is a dangerous psychopath—essentially a social predator who plays games with the lives of others, having malicious fun at their expense– rather than a libertine maverick (as in Casanova) or a tragic romantic hero (as in Tolstoy). I did four years of psychology research of the most dangerous personality disorders—psychopathy and narcissism—to create a realistic and up-to-date psychological profile of the seducer in my new novel by the same name. CelebrityDialogue: Would you like to introduce our readers to a non-fiction book, “Dangerous Liaisons”, that you wrote in 2011?
Claudia: Although the theme of psychopathy comes up mostly when we hear about (psychopathic) serial killers, it is actually much more commonplace and pervasive, in both fact and fiction. What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the incapacity to love. In other words, these men are psychopaths. Unfortunately, most psychopaths don’t advertise themselves as heartless social predators. They come across as charming, intelligent, friendly, generous, romantic and kind. Through their believable “mask of sanity,” they lure many of us into their dangerous nets. My nonfiction book, “Dangerous Liaisons,” explains clearly, for a general audience, what psychopaths are, why they act the way they do, how they attract us and whom they tend to target. Above all, this book helps victims find the strength to end their toxic relationships with psychopaths and move on, stronger and wiser, with the rest of their lives.
CelebrityDialogue: What exactly is psychopathic seduction?
Claudia: Psychopathic seduction happens when someone is seduced (targeted, lured with false promises or under false premises, deceived, manipulated, isolated and brainwashed) by a psychopathic social predator. Psychopaths are far more common than one thinks. Experts estimate that between 1 and 4 percent of the population is psychopathic. This means that there are millions of psychopaths in the United States alone. The influence of these very dangerous individuals extends far beyond this percentage however. Psychopaths are generally very sociable, highly promiscuous and con countless people: sexually, emotionally and/or financially. They poison tens of millions of lives in this country and far more, of course, internationally.
CelebrityDialogue: Your novel “Velvet Totalitarianism” is about a Romanian family’s survival against communist regime. Since you have Romanian roots, did any true life events prompt you to write this novel?
Claudia: “Velvet Totalitarianism”, which was recently launched in Romanian translation (“Intre Doua Lumi,” Curtea Veche Publishing, 2011), is inspired in part by events in Romanian history as well as by elements from my life and my parents’ lives: including my father’s defection to the U.S., our dealings with the Securitate and our immigration. Nevertheless, I fictionalized both the historical and the biographical elements to give the novel a tighter and more dramatic structure. CelebrityDialogue: You must have felt proud when this novel was published in Romanian language?
Claudia: I was delighted that “Velvet Totalitarianism” was published in Romania, both because it was written about the history and struggles of the Romanian people and because I have a sentimental attachment and cultural ties to my native country. I was especially happy to see how well-received the novel in translation (“Intre Doua Lumi”) was by the mainstream media in Romania, where it was featured not only in literary and culture magazines such as Scrisul Romanesc and Viata Romaneasca, but also in Forbes.ro, women’s glossy magazines (such as Revista Avantaje), and general interest blogs like Catchy.ro and VIP.net. Since I aspire to being a public writer and intellectual, I wish to reach a wide community of readers, internationally. CelebrityDialogue: Which are your other major published works?
Claudia: I have published several scholarly books, but I’d consider “major” works only those books that I wrote for a general audience. These include my art criticism book “Romanticism and Postromanticism”, on the Romantic tradition in art and literature and its postromantic survival; my novels “Velvet Totalitarianism” and “The Seducer”, and my psychology book about psychopaths and dangerous relationships, “Dangerous Liaisons”. CelebrityDialogue: You are the co-founder of” Postromanticism”. For those who may not know, please shed some light on this movement.
Claudia: I believe that art movements are not only diachronic, emerging one after the other, as they tend to be taught in art history, but also synchronic, in that each new art movement borrows from many aesthetic traditions of the past. Postromanticism, the international art movement I co-launched in 2002 with the Mexican sculptor Leonardo Pereznieto, is no exception. It is inspired by several traditions in art history, including Neoclassicism, Romanticism and art nouveau. Postromanticism places emphasis upon beauty, sensuality and passion in contemporary art. You can see samples of postromantic art on my website, http://postromanticism.com. CelebrityDialogue: Since you write about love, beauty and passion, what does love mean to you in real life? Were you able to find love in your life?
Claudia: Being a novelist and art/literary critic, for many years I looked mostly at fantasy—since, after all, that’s what art and fiction are–to describe love as a romantic ideal rather than as a daily lived reality. But for the past few years, particularly after studying personality disorders, I have come to appreciate much more the pragmatic and ethical dimensions of real love. To me, love implies mutual commitment, supporting one another through thick and thin, fidelity and caring about one another: everything that the wedding vows promise and that my wonderful and supportive husband, Dan Troyka, has offered me in real life for over 20 years, since we met and fell in love in college. CelebrityDialogue: What are you working on these days?
Claudia: Since my interests are in several fields—fiction, art and psychology—I always work at several projects simultaneously. This “multitasking” keeps me from becoming bored with any one subject or stuck in a rut creatively. Right now I’m researching the psychology of cults, which will be the subject of my third novel, “The Cult”. Since cult leaders are often charismatic psychopaths, this novel will incorporate a lot of the research I’ve already done to write “The Seducer” and “Dangerous Liaisons”. In addition, I have just finished writing the preface for an exciting new science fiction novel called “The Cube”, written in the tradition of Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984”, which will be published by my publisher in a few months. At the same time, I’m working closely with the Romanian-born movie producer Bernard Salzman, whom you’ve already interviewed in Celebrity Dialogue, on the screenplay for my first novel, “Velvet Totalitarianism”. Hopefully this will be an American-Romanian production, since a large part of the plot takes place in Romania. I also continue with my art criticism and am preparing for the launch of “Romanticism and Postromanticism”, translated by the writer and critic Dumitru Radu Popa, in Romania next fall. It’s a Latin country so I’m hoping for a warm reception of postromanticism, the art of passion! CelebrityDialogue: Thank you so much Claudia. It was a pleasure.
Claudia: Thank you for this interview, the pleasure was mine.
By chance, I was fortunate enough to come across the photography of Alin Mocanu, whose wedding pictures stand out in their capacity to evoke the poetry of commitment. Alin Mocanu’s images are synecdoches (small yet significant fragments) in picture form that capture the hope, the innocence and the beauty of our dreams of love when we first embark upon a lifelong commitment and promise to love and cherish each other for life. Alin’s photography, which you can view on his website below, brought out the poet in me.
Italian photographer Luigi Fieni brings us the best in photojournalism. Although Luigi began his career as an aeronautical engineer, since 1999 he has chosen a different, artistic, path. For nearly fifteen years, he has been a master conservationist of wall paintings, wood carvings and sculptures in Nepal. He also passes on his craft by leading a training program in Lomanthang, the capital of Mutang.
Versatile and international, Fieni also restores some of the most majestic monuments in Europe. He has helped restore Basilica dei Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso, Church of San Pietro Apostolo in Poli, Church of Santo Stefano in Poli, and the Civic Archaeological Museum of Albano Laziale among others.
The deep knowledge and respect for cultures throughout the ages and across the globe that Fieni exhibits in his restoration projects also shines through in his breathtaking photojournalism. A poet with images, Luigi also has a way with words. The presentation of photography, restoration projects and background on his website, below, is in itself a work of art, combining beautiful images, soothing music and his own poetic eloquence.
Like the Impressionists, Luigi explores the relation between light, meaning and meditation. He states on his website, “Using cameras, in all their forms, fascinates me. Mesmerized by the noise of the shutter I am granted sorcery… I am enthralled by the diversity and am always looking to capture a moment rather than an image.”
Fieni experiments artistically with the format, focus and angle of the camera to produce images that capture motion, beauty, emotion, energy and yet, somehow, also remain faithful to the scenery or people they portray. There’s a sense of reverence that pervades Fieni’s images that may have something to do with his years of experience with the restoration of cultural artifacts. But it has even more to do with his modesty and appreciation for world cultures and, above all, for his fellow human beings.
“In a way,” Luigi explains, “the light entering through the lens does not just alter some silver grains or some pixels but it carries all the vibrations, all the emotions in one evocative moment.” In our regular lives, filled with the routines of work, familial responsibilities, or even mindless diversions, it’s easy to bypass a deeper, almost spiritual, appreciation for life in all its kaleidoscope of emotions, forms and colors. Luigi Fieni’s spectacular photorealism represents not only the best of this arform, but also a form of meditation through art.