Tag: core curriculum

During my Crisis, before watching Güeros, I watched Parks and Recreation…Like, all of it. All seven seasons. Before that, I watched the first five seasons of Futurama. Before that, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Love, and every Best Picture winner since 1939 (minus a few bad eggs, not the least of which includes 2005’s Crash—c’mon, give me some credit!).

For all my talk of the “primordial power of cinema” in my last column, I would be remiss—and indeed, quite hypocritical—in failing to acknowledge cinema’s second primary function, borne out of its alluring spectacle quality: cinema as a medium for entertainment.

Indeed, cinema has always possessed a two-fold functionality—as emotional therapy and as spectacle—which was made apparent immediately following film’s inception in the late 1890s. This dichotomy is most obvious among the two towering French pioneers of this early era: Auguste and Louis Lumière (the “Lumière” brothers) and Georges Méliès. Today, these two are widely considered to be the “founding fathers” of cinema, though their bodies of work could not be more antithetical.

For Siegfried Kracauer, one of the most prominent figures in film theory, this opposition highlights what he famously coined as the two “tendencies” of the cinema: the realistic and formative tendencies.

The realistic tendency was first exemplified through the Lumière brothers’ archival films. Their most famous work, titled Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon, takes footage of exactly what the title suggests—within the span of a then-whopping forty-six seconds. The Lumière brothers were interested in, above all, capturing “everyday life after the manner of photographs.” In other words, the realistic tendency strives to capture (or replicate, through staging) the “nakedness” of life, in the style of, say, a documentary.

By contrast, the formative tendency aims to go beyond the replication of physical reality, which, to accomplish, requires emphasis on cinema-specific techniques (special effects). Méliès employed these techniques more adventurously and innovatively than any other filmmaker of his time. The popularization of universally known modern editing strategies such as “time-lapse photography,” “dissolves,” and “hand-painting,” among others, can all be attributed to Méliès. His legacy as the founder of cinema as a “fantastical art” continues today, where he is most recognizably referenced in allusion to his iconic, anthropomorphic moon from A Trip to the Moon.

Although it is clear that most of cinema displays an overlap between these two tendencies, Kracauer’s teachings have nevertheless continued to serve as a useful starting point for many a timid freshman entering the daunting realm of film theory for the first time. All subsequent cases for a “purpose of cinema” tend to exist within Kracauer’s rough outline of these two core functions: cinema as verisimilitude, and cinema as spectacle.

Modern audiences would tend to agree that the best works of cinema employ a harmonious balance between these two. Films on either end of the spectrum do not hold the attention of mass audiences for very long. If anything, a quick look at any recent “highest-grossing films” list within the last few years will show the People’s obvious predilection for spectacle. Films like Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story all feature fantastical worlds narratively rooted and motivated by traditional, realist plots—realist insofar as they thematically mirror the plights of our own modern world, whether at the level of the individual, community, or, as in Civil War’s case, nations. Such films succeed in achieving both awe-inspiring and emotional satisfaction. On the flip-side, this clear predilection for spectacle means studios will blatantly abandon substance by backing up projects that rely on the spectacle element alone (Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, The Legend of Tarzan, etc.).

(Note: the ongoing success of this era’s Golden Age of Television indicates an audience leaning towards verisimilitude, seemingly contradicting my observations thus far. However, one must take into account the different nature of the TV show, which is fundamentally distinct from that which be accurately deemed “cinematic”—but all this for a later time.)

Although it’s safe to say that the average Columbian is more cultured than the average person, outside of film majors and cinephiles, it’s also probably safe to say that the average Columbian isn’t as well-versed in film as they are in, say, literature, art, or music. The reason for this is obvious: much of the Columbian’s expansive cultural lore can be attributed to our beloved Core Curriculum, which sadly does not include a “Film Humanities” course.

Attempting to coin a term like “Film Humanities” might seem preposterous and naïve on the outset, but such a negative reaction is unwarranted as it is probably based on one of two (or both) fallacious assumptions:

  1. Film is predominantly a “spectacle-based” art, unqualified for the kind of rich and complex analyses other arts tend to incite.
  2. Film is too young an art form and lacks the historical breadth necessary for making any substantial claims about the human condition that are worth investigating in a scholarly fashion.

To the first, we have already discussed film’s two-fold capacity for realism and spectacle, which implies that there exists a whole canon of films predominantly concerned with verisimilitude, with dealing with subject-matters relevant to the human experience. The “spectacle-based” argument illustrates a biased account of cinematic history, whereby at the turn of the millennium the Digital Age pretty much ensured that film as a “fantastical art” would be the way of the future, rendering all previous cinematic periods obsolete in the public eye.

I would also add that to reject “spectacle” point-blank as an element abolishing any degree of humanities-based discourse in an absolute sense is also erroneous, for it fails to take into account the vast and rich spectrum of variations of genre within the real and fantastical (i.e. Ontological Realism, Psychological Realism, Aesthetic Realism; see Bazin’s “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema”)—a spectrum evident in literature as well. Consider, for example, the tremendous difference, from a genre standpoint, between Homer’s The Iliad and Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, both of which are required readings for Literature Humanities.

I will counter the second point in a later column, it being deserving of its own thorough investigation.

For now, I encourage all Columbians—especially those for whom “cinema” is tantamount to “that which is relevant to the current cultural zeitgeist”—to voluntarily explore the history of cinema with the same level of seriousness with which the Core bestows the other, more “noble” arts.

To begin with, this will require a “survey of the greats,” for which I urge you to temporarily put your beloved Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Video TV show on hold and direct yourself to filmstruck.com, where you can subscribe for a two-week trial. This should be enough time to at least begin exploring the following list I have curated for you below. (And if it’s not, you can use this website to see what other platforms offer these films.) All of the following works share a “crossover” (to “artsy” films) appeal that I hope to instill in all you soon-to-be-cinephiles.

  1. The Red Balloon (1956), Albert Lamorisse.
  2. Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Alfonso Cuarón.
  3. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), Abdellatif Kechiche.
  4. In the Mood for Love (2000), Wong Kar-wai.
  5. A Woman Under the Influence (1974), John Cassavetes.
  6. Aguirre, the Wrath of God, (1972), Werner Herzog.
  7. Three Colors: Red (1994), Krzysztof Kieślowski.
  8. The Great Beauty (2013), Paolo Sorrentino.
  9. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973),Víctor Erice.
  10. Seven Samurai (1954), Akira Kurosawa.

Enjoy.

P.S. Here is my favorite reference to Méliès, from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011).

Netherlandish Proverbs by  Brugel

Getting ready for an Art Humanities final? To help you study, we’re sharing notes written by Colin Howard, CC ’17 that will make sure you’re ready to ace the exam.

Overview & Agenda

  • Exams will cover different material depending on the instructor. For example, Knox’s section does not cover Frank Lloyd Wright or Corbu, so this session will not focus on those, and her final is not cumulative.
  • The point of Art Hum is to help students learn visual literacy; in others worrds, how to read a work of art: its formal aspects, functions, expressive content, and aesthetic merits.
  • Understanding the different media, tools, and methods used to create a work is also important
  • This class traces the evolution of mimesis, illusion, and representation in Western art. That’s why we start with Greece – the human form represented in the way it appears to us in “reality.” This review session will follow that evolution.

Important Questions

  • What is art?
  • Why do we look at art? What are we looking for? (Hint: art wants you to understand different things in different eras.)
  • Who collects and commissions art? What’s the purpose of art from their perspective?
  • What is a masterpiece and does that matter?
  • What do the visual arts share with literature? With music?
  • Why do we make art? What purpose does it serve? Some examples:
    • Religion
    • Politics
    • Economic (status, wealth)
    • Social (identity)
    • Awareness of the Human Body
    • Beauty
  • How does a work of art comment on:
    • the personal life of the artist?
    • the historical context of the work?
    • the subject? (e.g. portraiture)
    • gender?
    • how we engage with space?
  • How do we respond to art:
    • physically?
    • conceptually?
    • spiritually?
    • emotionally?
    • sexually?
  • Does art have a history? It may help us to track the evolution of various genres:
    • history painting (or “grand narrative” painting),
    • portraiture and self-portraiture,
    • the nude,
    • landscape (which really arises after Bruegel), and
    • still life (which Knox’s section didn’t focus on too much).

Key Terms

  • Mimesis – the imitation or representation of aspects of the sensible world
  • Representation – causing a work of art to replicate an aspect of “reality,” insofar as it is possible
  • Illusion – how a work of art appears to be something it is not (e.g., when a painting appears three-dimensional)
  • Medium – the physical materials used to create a particular work
  • Composition – how materials are used to create order in a particular work
  • Naturalism – an attempt to reconcile art with the reality we perceive
  • Abstraction – working with art on a higher level, removed from reality (cf. naturalism)
  • Modernism – a philosophical and artistic movement interested in re-examining inherited truths and artistic methods, and finding truth and beauty in everyday life

The First Half of the Course

  • The Parthenon & Greek Sculpture
    • Order – as in the various orders of columns used in the Parthenon. The construction of structures is regulated as much as possible for ease of replication.
    • Proportion – harmony, as in using the proportions of the human body in architecture.
    • Contrapposto – one approach to representing an understanding of how the human body turns and is most comfortable.
    • Naturalism – an interest in presenting the human body that looks appropriate, rather than awkward (e.g. the sculptural program at the Amiens cathedral) or abstract (e.g. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon).
    • Mimesis – as before.
  • The Gothic and Amiens Cathedral
    • Vaulting – upward-gesturing vaults, as opposed to rectangles in Greek architecture and semicircular arches in Roman architecture, increase the space available.
    • Houses of Worship – French Gothic architecture in cathedrals focuses less on housing the gods, and more on housing the worshippers.
    • Light – opening up a building for a sense of the spiritual.
    • Transparency – a structure is both decorative and structural at the same time.
    • Hieratic Scale – the positioning and relative size in figures in sculpture meant to emphasize their relative importance or existence in the order of things.
    • Being vs. Becoming – the spiritual (being, as in the statue of Jesus on the door jamb) versus the temporal (becoming, as in the spear-holder of ancient Greece).
    • Anagogical Form – a medieval form that seeks to speak to the mystical and miraculous. Art doesn’t have to appear real but does have to speak to a higher form to see God (e.g., stained-glass windows).
  • Early Renaissance Painting
    • Linear perspective – a system that allows artists to think about placing figures in space based on a vanishing point (becomes essentially canonical for four centuries).
    • Alberti – codifies this and many other parts of this system in representational art.
    • Chiaroscuro – the use of heavy contrast between light and dark.
    • Humanism – the centering of the individual using secular Greek and Roman texts.
  • Raphael and the Human Figure (portaits and the Stanza della Segnatura)
    • Julius II – sponsor of many works of religious art, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Stanza della Segnatura, and many other works by Raphael (and Michelangelo).
    • High Renaissance – pinnacle of the systems described by Alberti.
    • Portraiture – for the first time in the Renaissance, artists were not just painting the aristocracy but the merchant class as well.
    • Iconography – the practice of understanding symbolic meaning on multiple levels.
    • Rebirth of Classical Antiquity
  • Michelangelo
    • Sculptural Theory of Subtraction – when the removal of material from a larger whole is the central aspect to creating a work of art.
    • Concetto – the idea leading to a work of art.
    • Neoplatonism – a religion and philosophical school of thought that sought to combine Platonic philosophy with Christian dogma. Michelangelo was a strong adherent.
  • Bernini
    • Baroque – the period of art subsequent and responding to Renaissance ideas. Emphasized passion, drama, and psychology.
    • Pictorialism – using material to tell a story.
    • Paragone – is painting or sculpture or literature better? Bernini and other Baroque artists are explicitly responding to this question.
    • Spectacle – when a work is designed for public attention and consumption.
    • Gesamtkunstwerk – the total work of art (e.g. the Passion of St. Theresa).

The Second Half of the Course

  • Northern Renaissance Painting
    • Empirical Perspective and Intense Observation – van Eyck and Bosch aren’t aware of the scientific perspective work done by their Italian counterparts, so they use intense observation to closely replicate a scene. This is called “empirical perspective” because it arrives at, rather than starts from, first principles.
    • Oil Paint – a new material allows for greater control of form.
    • Panorama – larger landscapes come to greater fruition when Bruegel tackles them.
    • Intricate Allegory and Irony – painting starts to incorporate narrative and parable.
    • Merchant Class – quickly becomes a large part of artists’ patronage.
    • Distribution – prints and the printing press change the way art is consumed and by whom it is consumed.
  • Bruegel
    • Protestant Reformation – the needs of the church are different (no more decorative objects in churches, because that’s worship of false idols!), so painting becomes much more secular.
    • Rise of the Merchant Class – again, who is purchasing the art changes its subject.
    • Urbanism – art begins centering not around cities where the church is powerful but around cities that have a strong mercantile economy.
    • Allegory – when artists are aware of what’s happening in literature (Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly) and respond to it.
    • Humanism – Bruegel’s work expresses a common humanity – everyone can relate to these images!
    • Landscape – Bruegel becomes the first master of the landscape genre, in which there is little-to-no emphasis on human life
    • Peasantry and Stereotype – the peasant class is the topic of much of Bruegel’s work – is he celebrating them or mocking them?
  • Rembrandt (cf. Bernini and the Baroque)
    • Wolfflinian terms – linear to painterly, plane to recession, closed to open, multiplicity to unity, absolute clarity to relative clarity.
    • Realism – images of “real life;” Rembrandt dresses up and paints the local populace to practice and show off his skills.
    • Theatricality – there’s an element of performance to Rembrandt’s work, his portraiture especially.
    • Portraiture – there’s a lot we can get out of Rembrandt’s very deliberate portraiture – self, duo, and group. Hands and facial expressions are a great place to start.
    • The Nude – Berger’s dichotomy between naked and nude.
    • Etching, Engraving, and Printing – objects Rembrandt creates and replicates are widely distributed, each with small changes that reflect the artist’s hand and his experimentation with form.
  • Goya
    • The Enlightenment and Romanticism – Goya is often seen as the painter of the Enlightenment, but a more accurate characterization of him would be as the painter who bridges the gap between the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and questions both.
    • Spanish Cultural Moment – crucial to understanding Goya’s work. Look at the difference between his court portraits of the royal family and his history paintings (also commissioned by the Spanish government).
    • Satire and Irony – incorporated into Los Caprichos, but mostly absent from The Disasters of War.
    • Printing and Reproduction – Los Caprichos, later shut down by the Inquisition, sought to poke fun at many aspects of society
    • Fantasy and Imagination – the first time (apart from Bosch) a major artist incorporates these elements into his body of work. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a key example of this.
    • History Painting – many aspects of the historical moment, as well as a focus on emotional happenings, are incorporated into the Second of May and the Third of May – in short as electricity as well as emotion.
    • Pueblo/Illustrado/Maha – Goya and the Spanish court adopt many aspects of lower-class culture (including fashion) in an attempt to appear connected with the people.
  • Manet
    • The Academy & the Salon – quasi-public forces that dominated French art for decades, requiring strict adherence to what were believed to be high standards.
    • Haussmanization and the Second Empire – the demolishment and rebuilding of Paris under Napoleon III and Haussman allowed for the rise of cafe culture, spectacle, and the mixing of the classes.
    • Flaneur – a stroller, someone who would walk around Paris simply to see and be seen, with a sense of alienation.
    • Positivism – a philosophical system that believes that technological innovation results, in the end, in progress for the betterment of the human condition.
    • Optical Consumption – the understanding of what we see as spectacle, sponsoring an awareness of the world around us as foreign and other.
  • Early Monet
    • The Impressionist Eye – the goal of painting what we actually see as opposed to what we believe we should see. Also worth noting: Charles Baudelaire calls artists to “paint modern life.”
    • Optical – two-dimensional rejection/unlearning of what are understood as the three-dimensional tricks of the trade. The subject of the painting is still recognizable, but the shift towards the optical means we see paintings (and reality) as a two-dimensional sphere, not as mirrors reflecting a three-dimensional world.
    • Leisure and the Bourgeois – part of the modern moment, in which generally middle-class Parisians would leave the city and enjoy otium in the countryside.
    • Photography – because the invention of the camera could make the absent present, previously thought to be the purpose of painting, painting needed to do something different.
    • Japonisme – Japanese prints believed by French and other modern artists to be a new way of understanding the world, as the Eastern tradition developed without the representational techniques of the Western canon.
  • Late Monet
    • Quasi Scientific Series – playing with atmosphere, light, time of day (these, not necessarily the scene itself, are the subject of the painting).
    • Neo-Impressionism – Seurat and others have a new color theory, and they use tension between colors to implement a visual and emotional response to the painting itself (as opposed to its content).
    • Dematerialization – moving further away from capturing the subject matter, to dematerializing forms as seen visually.
    • Abstraction – in art, abstraction is the opposite of the mimetic, because its project is not to represent. It attempts to convey something that can’t simply be copied because it’s wholly in the artist’s mind.
  • Picasso
    • The Gisante – in the Demoiselles d’Avignon, the gisante is lying down, not standing – Steinberg gets this because he looks at how the painting evolves over several drafts
    • Sexuality and Self-Discovery – originally called the “Brothel of Avignon,” this work and others by Picasso respond to and incorporate Freudian psychoanalysis, attempting to understand sex as a means towards self-discovery and self-actualization.
    • Modernism – modernization is advancements in technology. Modernity is an era characterized by a questioning of norms and practices, especially in the arts – but which happens at the same time as industrialization, urbanization, secularization, individualism, and positivism. Modernism is a philosophical and artistic system that sought to find truth in the everyday and other sources commonly overlooked in the pre-Enlightenment and pre-Romantic era.
    • Fauve – literally a “wild beast,” a fauve was a member of the “fauvist” movement, headed by Matisse and Braque, at the beginning of the 20th century, in which color and form became one.
    • Form and Content – form is the style, techniques, media, and design elements in a work of art; its content is what is being depicted and how that and the form are interpreted.
    • Cubism and Deconstruction – both analytic and synthetic, cubism was a short-lived artistic movement that sought to deconstruct and reconstruct visual forms and structures in an abstract way.
    • Re-Presenting vs. Representing – the idea of representing physical reality versus presenting a work completely anew.
    • Anti-Imitation – Picasso and others avoided imitating
    • Spatial Relativity
    • Primitivism
    • Freedom of Exploration
    • Psychological Investigation
    • Surrealism
    • Political Commentary
  • Pollock and Warhol
    • Gestural Automatism – psychological state induced by allowing the body to involved with releasing inner demons (from Jungian psychoanalysis, which Pollock underwent) – essentially a stream of consciousness in physical form.
    • Action Painting – moving around a canvas (notably, on the floor – not on an easel) and using a variety of techniques while in the process of painting it.
    • Abstract Expressionism – in abstract expressionism, the act (of expressing) more important than the work (the end result of that act) itself.
    • Clement Greenberg – an art critic who loved Pollock and disliked Warhol.
    • Pop Art – an artistic movement interested in incorporating elements of popular culture into works of art, challenging traditional standards of what constitutes fine art.
    • Mechanical Reproduction – the reproduction of images in and from sources going into art, the reproduction of images in the process of making that art (silk screen printing), and the subsequent reproduction of those works of art.
    • Commodity Culture – a culture in which everything (up to and including intangibles like beauty, happiness, and love) is bought or sold and has a monetary value. Mocked/celebrated by artists who believed commodification had proceeded in Western culture to the point of absurdity.
    • Celebrity Obsession – a culture in which individuals and society are intrigued by, enamored with, and obsessed with celebrity figures (sometimes for no discernible reason), often proceeding to the point of commodification. Marilyn Monroe can be bought or sold just like cans of tomato soup.
    • Labels, Logos, Advertising, Consumerism – the incorporation of these elements into works is a key characteristic of pop art.
    • Death and Violence – the use of death and violence as compelling spectacle (car crashes, assassinations, suicides, capital punishment, etc.) for the viewer.
    • Appropriation – the act of reusing or re-presenting the artistic and/or cultural characteristics of the other with little-to-no transformation or original additions, and (problematically) often without due credit or acknowledgement.

Have a study guide of your own that you want to share? Email it to us at submissions@columbialion.com.

Recently, the Columbia community has been introduced to two new terms: “woke,” and “colonized.” It seems that some people of color are “colonized”—their honest convictions and beliefs are simply evidence of assimilation to a white supremacist power structure. On the other hand, those who hold a “sufficiently racially conscious” set of beliefs are “woke.” This is more than a matter of semantics; rather it has the potential for a dangerous form of identity policing amongst people of color when casually used in an academic context.

As a person of color I find this infuriating, offensive, and when used in this context, ludicrous. This is something that has to be stopped immediately and decisively before it becomes part of our discourse. Each of us holds differing ideas for why we believe what we do and why others may see the world differently. But none of us have the right to broadly deride those who think differently as illegitimate members of their identities. To do so is to patronizingly turn “People of Color” into an exclusive moniker for those who think in a specific, narrow way. This robs all of us of our inherent right to be part of our identities and communities. No one should accept the use of this kind of language in public discourse anymore than they would any serious microaggression.

All of us, people of color and allies alike, have to draw a line in the sand at basic respect for each other. Passing personal judgments on one another says far more about us and our shortcomings than it does about others. Discourse in our community is plagued by serious structural issues. Individuals of color denouncing each other or their professors of color as “colonized,” not to mention white “allies” doing the same, would be more than enough to deal a fatal blow. If you’re comparing yourself to others please don’t refer to yourself as “woke,” and do not refer to anyone else in our community as “colonized.”

 

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