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Art in today’s society is merely defined by the concept and meaning behind the piece and more or less left up to the imagination of the individual which means the audience take a more active role as interpreter. It is in our human nature to try and solve, and art offers us that factor of problem solving, piecing together the meaning behind what the artist is trying to portray. However, allegorical, historical paintings mainly are about the symbolism and the story behind it, which contrasts with the modern day art, which rebels against that form of art. Throughout this essay I will be looking at the change from allegorical art to more conceptual art and how that transition has been effected by society and has it gone from reality based piece to more abstract pieces, realism to surrealism. The Ambassadors are a painting created in the 1533 by Hans Holbein the younger. This double Renaissance portrait is filled with symbolism both known and unknown. The artist Holbein was originally from Germany and moved to England after the Protestant Reformation to work as a portrait artist. Holbein eventually became a royal court portraitist for King Henry VIII and painted many members of the Tudor court. Hidden away, where it is difficult to spot is the presence of the crucified Christ. It is behind the curtains in the upper left hand corner. This raises the portrait to a higher level, as does the skull: despite their status and intellectual activities these men remain sinful and mortal human beings, and answerable to God One factor captured by most viewers in the ambassador painting is that Holbein has listed the age of each of his subjects, de Dinteville, 29 on the cover of his dagger and de Selve, 25 on the pages of the book his elbow rests upon. This somewhat symbolizes the tie into the idea of de Dintevilla as a man of action and maybe violence and De sleeve as one, which is leading the more introspection life. The shelves in middle are filled with symbolism that shows both men were well educated in a variety of ways. The objects in the upper shelf include a globe, a polyhedral sundial, a cylinder sundial a quadrant and a medieval astronomical instrument along with Peter Apian’s arithmetic book. The most striking symbol however is the disembodied skull, which has been highly distorted with the use of anamorphosis a form of extreme foreshortening which makes it seem like a strange smear when viewing the paint front ways. Only if viewed from a sharp angle its true appearance become evident. The skull is somewhat a reminder that all things on earth are temporary, including the people and objects in this painting. When we do position ourselves in a way we can see the skull as a skull, the other supposedly realistic objects are in turn distorted. The symbolism of the skull somewhat portrays that death is everywhere, but we do not recognize it. However, when we do finally make out its shape, life in turn becomes misshaped and blurred. Looking closer to the objects the lute, an instrument that would be considered to be harmonious the strings have been broken, therefore an instrument that would be considered as harmonious is now a symbol of discord. This could somewhat reflect the discord in England at the time between England and the Roman Catholic. Symbolism in the painting created during 17th century


somewhat incorporated the social and political goings on during the time. Supporting the idea that art produced throughout the years somewhat reflects the era in which it was made, art is a representation of our times, and war was a massive influence on the art. Whilst there have always been wars throughout human history, and art has always mirrored this fact, the past century has certainly been the most destructive and corrupt.

An example that supports my point by Pablo Picasso painting 'Guernica' was certainly a powerful political statement and somewhat demonstrated escapism. Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work gained a monumental status, becoming a lasting reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. Interpretations of Guernica vary widely and contradict one another. This extends, for example, to the two dominant elements: the bull and the horse. Art historian Patricia Failing said, "The bull and the horse are important characters in Spanish culture. Picasso himself certainly used these characters to play many different roles over time. This has made the task of interpreting the specific meaning of the bull and the horse very tough. Their relationship is a kind of ballet that was conceived in a variety of ways throughout Picasso's career." Picasso brought about a big change in art as through that painting he portray the escapism and that was directly influenced by World War II, through to works by Pablo Picasso portraying Nazi-occupied France, war certainly had an impact on art. Probably Picasso's most famous work, Guernica is certainly his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi's devastating


casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War, evoking all this through symbolism, he had an assertive meaning and assertive outcome for the viewer to comprehend, the meaning to take from when they view this painting, it particularly their to inform make a statement, it tells you, you are not given an option in terms of its message. Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. However, in this instance the bull probably represents the onslaught of Fascism. Picasso said it meant brutality and darkness, presumably reminiscent of his prophetic. He also stated that the horse represented the people of Guernica. Our shifting attitudes to things like the role of women, homosexuality, and racial discrimination have been represented in the art of the past century.

However in this day and age modern art has changed dramatically from allegorical to conceptual, it is more about the meaning behind the piece and this somewhat reflects the change in time and when the piece is produced, it can be interpreted in many ways by the viewer, it now has more of a personal feel to it; viewers take what they see from the painting in comparison to the ambassador painting, Holbein places specific symbolism to be read and observed by the viewer, its informative just like Picasso painting it reflects the time it was made. Is it all about minimalism now, evolving imaginations, does that mean it is now left to the imagination of the viewer instead of having the whole story and meaning presented to you on canvas. For example the work of artist Bob Law, with his work in particular the canvas painting called ‘Nothing to be afraid of V’ dated 22.8.69, only containing a drawn border around the edges with a black maker pen and dated, Law has it is being put down for auction for over 60,000. Artist Bob Law did nothing to the minimalist work other than draw a border around


the edge with a black marker pen and date it. The spare emptiness projects an experience of a presence of calmness. The idea of nothing to be afraid of, somewhat indicates to the viewer a type of mystery to the piece, they have nothing to be afraid of because the piece doesn’t pose a threat of overwhelming symbolism, it solely connects with the viewer, taking them into a refuge. However this does contradict the view of modern paintings being minimalistic due to the date in which this painted was created, however you could say that the reason as to why the painting is being sold at such high cost is that audiences in the modern era are more appreciative to minimalism and a prone to conceptual pieces, and coming up with their own individual reasons behind the piece because it is all about the freedom to express in any shape or form.


An example of this is the new art show called ‘The Exhibition To Be Constructed in Your Head’ is relying on the power of the imagination to create its artworks. The 2,500 sq ft gallery in Birmingham's Custard Factory houses 60 imaginary exhibits, says the art group Proto-Mu. Proto-Mu, a self-funded West Midlands-based art group, says that the bare walls house 60 pieces by 28 artists, although three of the works are mounted on plinths. This weeklong show the audience is faced with white washed walls and asked to come up with images from written description. Some critiques of this exhibition outlined that this is all ‘out of chance’ and ‘doesn’t mean a thing’ however coming up with this concept of allowing the viewer just like Bob Law piece, it allows the viewer to sum up, and imagine. They too contribute to the meaning, they make meaning, they personalise the art piece because they have been given the freedom to express freely which somewhat presents todays post modernist era, we have become more about self expression and individualism. The way in which it states ‘ to be constructed in your head’ it straight away involved the viewer, with contemporary art you can take what you like from a piece, you can invent new meaning behind certain things, it conveys this idea that there is no right from wrong, you’re the inventor, this exhibition puts trust upon the viewer and audience. Overall todays modernised art movement characterized by the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts looking into the more modernised painting they express feelings, idea, fantasies and dreams instead of the visual world we otherwise see, conceptual art contains abstract features that display the surreal rather than representing what is real and requires the viewer to take more of a active role as interpreter. Each viewer must observe carefully and get about the artists intentions and environment before forming judgements, convey this liberal approach to asserting meaning to a piece on a personal level and is somewhat more about the concept of the piece rather then the actual finished piece. With pieces like Bob Law it adds mystery which to many if not understood could get taken for granted as ‘not being art’ however the ways of creating art has changed significantly through out the years due to the technology and communication has changed the way we express art. It’s the journey the viewer goes on in that discovery of the piece of art is what makes the piece what it is. Art theory changed over time- as people started asking, "why are we doing this and what is important about it? What do we want to communicate", styles and theories changed and so did the visual product


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