Each week in Art Vocabulary we take a letter and explain a few art terms that begin with it, sharing with you the meaning of those words, giving examples and interesting case stories. If you like to discover the art world from A to Z, feel free to join us.
S is the third popular letter of the English alphabet along with A, I, N and O. It’s hardly possible to explain all the words starting with S in one article, so find the most interesting ones below!
Self-portrait — a representation of oneself, usually in a painting, sculpture and photography, mostly done by an artist. You probably know Leonardo Da Vinci’s Turin Self-Portrait, though it has not been proved, whether Da Vinci depicted himself on that painting. However that may be, it wasn’t until the 15th century that artists started creating self-portraits. Albrecht Dürer is considered to be the first prolific self-portraitist, while the second wave of self-depiction fell on the 17th century and the prevailing Flemish and Dutch artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. A more recent and widely-known self-portraitist was Vincent Van Gogh, but hardly anyone can beat Mexican female painter Frida Kahlo who became an absolute champion in depicting her own appearance.
Surrealism — cultural movement, philosophical, literature and artistic at once, that emerged in the 1920s. Surrealists rejected a rational vision of life, unclothing secrets of our unconscious and asserting its value. Obviously, Surrealism was seen as a revolutionary movement, developed out of the ridiculous Dada. French avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire is believed to have suggested this definition instead of supernaturalism formed first while writing his program notes for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Parade in May 1917. However, it’s Andre Breton who is deemed to be the founding father of Surrealism. Breton became the leader of the movement and the author of Surrealist Manifesto 1924. One of the most outstanding and best-known surrealists ever is Salvador Dali. Admire his fabulous “The Persistence of Memory”, “Dream caused by the Flight”, “Young Virgin” and other paintings all over the world.
Secondary colours — colours created by mixing each two primary colours. First things first, though, have you heard of a colour circle? Yes, it’s an illustrative organization of colour hues that shows relationships between different shades. Primary colours — Red, Yellow and Blue — can’t be produced by mixing other paints that’s why they are called primary, actually. Secondary colours are always a mixture but necessarily of a couple of the primary colours. Red + Yellow, Yellow + Blue, Blue + Red — not a rocket science at all! However, there are some difficulties, for example, with tints and tones. Not only grey colour has its 50 shades, paraphrasing the name of the famous book — having mixed Cadmium Red + Ultramarine Blue, you might be surprised to see Brown instead of the expected Purple. So if you are an artist, enjoy using a colour circle but don’t take it for mantra, colours form a multifaceted issue in every sense of the word.
Egon Schiele — remarkable Austrian expressionist, figurative painter whose works are mainly devoted to human corporeality and sexuality. A protégé of Gustav Klimt, Schiele looked up to his mentor and another famous expressionist Oskar Kokoschka and was highly influenced by Art Nouveau in his early years of artistic career. Schiele’s first experiments in drawing nudes in 1910 paved a way to a discovery of his own independent manner. Broken corporeal lines and bright irregular colours create a vision of raw sexuality and vulnerability of naked bodies. Having lived a short life of just 28 years, Egon Schiele also managed to create a number of self-portraits.
Susan Sontag — amazing American who became famous as a writer, philosopher, teacher and political activist. Since we are here to speak of art, let’s look about Susan from a position of art criticism. Her famous collection of essays Against Interpretation published in 1966 discussed difference in approaches to art evaluation — spiritual and intellectual, quite criticising the latter. Sontag names critics’ obsession to interpret all the aspects of works as “the intellect’s revenge upon art». Susan believes that perception of art objects should be sensuous as well so that the spiritual importance of art, the energy it gives won’t be taken for granted. Due to her active lifestyle and openness for expression, Susan Sontag became a role-model for many feminists in the 1960-1970ss. By the way, her life partner was a no less important figure — American portrait photographer Anna-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz.
Text /Julia Kryshevich/