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Andrew East

a combination of an art blog, which examines themes displayed in the Modern Art era, and another dedicated to the IB Theory of Knowledge

Taking on the Role of Teacher: A Reflection

A week and a half ago, me and four friends taught our IB Theory of Knowledge class as apart of the Ways of Knowing unit. We were assigned the topic of sense perception and thus, went into deep research on the five senses- hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. Our PowerPoint included extended notes with little videos in between so that the information we wished to convey was fully grasped by our intended audience- the class. Teaching almost twenty kids for 90 minutes seemed like a chance for catastrophe. After all, we are teenagers and lecturing children seems like a job reserved only for adults. Despite my initial dread when walking through the door of Mr. Brewer’s room that afternoon, I came to realize how prepared and effective we were in presenting our W.O.K. project.

The curiosity that was expressed by the other IB Diploma students encouraged us to be more confident and thus, the rest of the class period went by with ease. Our demonstrations of how the senses are necessary to obtain knowledge but can also deceive us provoked many class discussions, especially when we listened to the several examples of auditory illusions and mentioned the power of other senses when one is impaired. These brought up first-hand experiences from kids, which developed into higher-level questions in the spirit of the Theory of Knowledge. Even though the class would sometimes talk out of turn or rampant ideas were being thrown across the room at once, it was fantastic for me to witness the wheels start to turn in everyone’s minds.

Some parts of the lesson which we didn’t expect to stimulate interest did, like the socio-geographic affects on people’s sense perception. And others we were certain would succeed did not, such as our evaluation of empiricist philosophy. This was a new experience for us in expecting the unexpected. I believe that tying all of the senses together in a conclusion could’ve helped the students to reflect upon what they learned from our presentation. However, I don’t think that our discussion questions at the end were bad either because it conveyed a general sense of ambiguity for sense perception. These were just experiments that were to be done through trial-and-error because we now know what is and isn’t effective for our audience.

Communication was a key factor in making this experience successful. What I believe diminishes education in a classroom environment is the lack of interaction between teachers and students. After every lesson in our PowerPoint, we sought out to clarify any misunderstandings and make sure that everyone was on their feet. And because we are all the same age, there was not a difference in power dynamics and we were able to listen relate with each other on the same level of authority. This entire ordeal was valuable for me because teaching the class improved my confidence, strive to educate others, and my view of how important teamwork can be.

 

 

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This I Believe

As an American teenager, I’ve succumbed to the consumer culture of feverishly buying something and disposing of it just as fast when I believe it’s broken and worthless. I was walking to my car with a friend a few weeks ago and after our feet collided, the stitching on one of my flip-flops snapped. They were only $30 and had been worn for a year so my immediate instinct was to throw the shoes away. Coming from a middle-class household with good stability, I’m privileged enough to have other pairs of shoes to wear throughout my high school year. I left the broken sandals on the stairs when I got home. Maybe it was the memories I had with them over the previous summer which stopped me from sacrificing them to the trash bin. But the next day, my grandfather came by and offered to stitch and reattach the straps.

I remember a story he told me about living in Pennsylvania as a young boy. My grandfather’s family was predominantly German-Italian and lived in tiny row houses in South Philly. They, like other families in the city, were dependent on their local tailor and shoemaker. If one of them were to rip the zipper on the pants worn for Sunday mass, they could simply walk across the street to a tailor who’d repair it and they were able to wear them again. In that lifestyle without many options and without much money, you didn’t give up on the things you had because of a small rip or tear. You learned to appreciate what you were given and customize it in times of struggle.

There is a useful message to be taught from this- one we should use to approach our behavior on the things (and people) we view as unfixable… We can make an effort to practice patience, leniency, and optimism- even if this means you are taking a risk by funneling hope into something that isn’t secure. For me, this is a struggle I’ve never noticed. I am often too quick or too confident in marking things and people as incompetent for their faults; by me and others not showing the compassion they may rightfully deserve, we abandon their potential to improve and thus, everything that could be done for society is incomplete. Because of our indifference.

My grandfather fixed my shoes and left them in my room, which I found upon arriving home from school last week. I saw the new adjustments yet they seemed like new. I may not trust them enough to wear to school again but my sandals, like people, have limits but they also proper value for certain circumstances. By being productive and accepting of the “unacceptable”, you may refrain from making an irreversible decision that’s manageable. This could benefit our relations with one another and also minimize our materialistic behaviors which are detrimental to us and the environment.

Thus, I believe in the power of customizing the world around me with what I’ve been given. I believe in the capability of broken shoes and flat tires and old tablecloths; and in the inner-integrity of drug addicts and the homeless. And I believe in forgiving people without reason; for what kind of world is one that cannot be proactive?

 

The Theory of Knowing What We Know

We as humans are life-forms who have become quite skilled at surviving on a rock in the middle of nowhere for thousands and thousands of years. Thus, the philosophers of generations before us have collected many questions- most of which were solved through rationality and the pursuit of science. Others still remain unexplained today, such as identifying what swims in the deepest abysses of our oceans and pinpointing who or what created the universe. And what if all the concepts we currently believe with steadfast confidence are simply illusions? This ambiguity abandons us in a grey-area of the mind that is both frustrating and is able to spark much interest.

To say that I “think” something doesn’t necessarily guarantee my credibility. Knowing something with 100% certainty is to successfully defend it as being a reliable and unquestionable doctrine. At one time, ancient mythology was known to mankind as an accepted reasoning for what caused the weather and creation. This means there is a fine, fine line between believing and knowing information, and we often argue our theory as the truth, despite its legitimacy. It may sound ridiculous for you to distrust what seems definite like questioning whether the sun will rise tomorrow from the east. However, to acquire a broad insight into knowledge and our world, you must seek out the relatively impossible- or what we deem as impossible…

Everything that is “known” can be debated with far-fetched, alternative possibilities, which may make you feel sometimes like you’re in “Inception” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Obviously, humans came to exist by natural child birth, the world wasn’t invented five minutes go, and a falling tree in the woods will most definitely make a sound. But there is strength and there is beauty in admitting we do not (and cannot) know the answers to everything, no matter how much effort we put forth into discovering them. Only through open-mindedness, flexibility, and resilience can humans thrive in a setting like our world, which exists off of pure mystery.

A true inquirer accepts his or her short-comings, but they flourish each day with their attentive awareness of the people, societies, and all other elements around them. Because even though information is fickle and humans are limited, we must accept that for what it is. Even Albert Einstein, arguably the smartest man who ever lived and the inventor of the theory of relativity, once said “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Delville (1867-1953)

Beauty is one of the manifestations of the Absolute Being. Emanating from the harmonious rays of the Divine plan, it crosses the intellectual plane to shine once again across the natural plane, where it darkens into matter.

A powerful but rare characteristic of modern artists is to adapt their own fundamentals into art forms, and so well that observers are dazzled by the creations, for it’s coherent that they’re motivated by a deep, spiritual connection. Belgian theosophist Jean Delville’s work is very symbolic in the way that his paintings are a reflection of stories from the New Testament and Greco-Roman mythology. Like a series of visual oratorios, dozens of these paintings were produced in his lifespan during the Idealist movement. The theory of idealism emphasizes that humans are limited in their perception of reality because reality is fictitious in itself. Knowing the dogma behind Delville, his artwork becomes an exploration of the central cosmos and entities outside of humanity as they are harmonized with themes of divinity and the ethereal.

The two depictions above of Heaven (in “L’homme-dieu”) and Hell (in “Les trésors de satan”) are relatively similar in placement but are contrasting in every other element. Because of how Jesus and Satan are formatted at the same coordinates on the paintings, one can make a clear analysis with Biblical knowledge that both are mirror images of each other yet take on opposite ambiances of character. Delville is playing the role of God in how he has set up Christ and the Devil to be authoritarian roles in the paintings but both divide into two paths like in the stories: Lucifer yearning for the possession of power and Jesus in the quest to sacrifice his strength for God. It is a yin-yang connection and this is visible by the artist’s manipulation of color. Pale shades of eggshell and cyan are indicated for holiness. Embers of green and mahogany in the coral-reef/oceanic setting formulate Hell’s ruin. Followers in the first are lying in mercy for humility and the damned of the second are in a frenzy of lust and immorality. Could these individuals below them be symbolic for the contradictory themes connected to Jesus Christ and the Devil?

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Another iconic depiction of symbolism is in his painting, entitled “Prometheus”. This refers to a tale in ancient Greek mythology where Prometheus was a god who created mankind out of clay and then stole the fire of Mount Olympus to provide for the mortals. In the painting above, his figure is shown dashing with the light of creation. Similar to Jean Delville, Prometheus represents the spirit of an inventor and is productive yet prideful of his creations.

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However, while there is creation, there must be the presence of death in everything and the artist is very raw in his representation of it. In the painting “La Mort”, a personified entity of death is seen cloaked with blood-stained rags and the face of a vampire. A clock reigns over It’s head like a crown as to say that Death is the ultimate emperor of time. This piece of art is destined to give me nightmares tonight.

Otto Dix (1891-1969)

I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths for life for myself; it’s for that reason that I went to war, and for that reason I volunteered.

The painter Otto Dix stands out in the art world through his enrollment in fighting for the Central Powers of World War I. From his legacy, Dix’s works were intended to reflect a grotesque, macabre version of society in the 1900’s German Empire. With an intent to contradict the general preference of people that art should be “pretty” and “appealing” (perhaps to balance out the time’s gloomy atmosphere), he exposes the ugly side of life, where beauty is commonly artificial. 

 

Above are three separate paintings which include ghastly characters expressed through his artistic lens. These images of normal people are twisted so that the sailor becomes diabolically sinister, make-up on the women inflames their skin, bones are visibly weak, and the figures’ eyes show the extent of their cynical demeanors and disfigurement. All characters that appear in his work are shown to be similarly unflattering except for one painting, which is a portrait of his wife (shown below).bf08ecb9602db53cf41636607a9239ee (1)

 

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Above is a portrait from Otto Dix entitled “Kriegsverletzter”, or “war-wounded”, which shows a man who’s face is half-destroyed. What leads me to an analysis of this painting is the title itself. We all know that war doesn’t just cause physical damage but harms the human psyche as well and steals a part of that person. Maybe “Kriegsverletzter” is showing the emotional erosion of a man after battle. Or it displays the face of a friend who later is killed and haunts the painter with his moribund state. 


In this, a soldier lies in painful agony- hand clenched at his heart, arm twisted, and eyes of shock- in a trench of some sort. As we are already told, Dix saw many things in the span of his enlistment and though we don’t know for sure if “Die Kunst des Krieges” (“The Art of War”) was a glimpse of what horror he witnessed, we can imagine. 

Though we weren’t in Dix’s position, the drawings he produced are enough to transport us back into the wastelands of WWI and the seedy ports of Germany. And it is the mystery of their backgrounds that make them even more haunting. 

Kara Walker (1969-present)

I want to make my work where the viewer wouldn’t walk away, he’d get pulled into history, into fiction, into something totally demeaning, and possibly very beautiful.

This is exactly what I did the first time that I saw her artwork when it premiered at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta two years ago. Most of the other displays in the 21st century exhibit were “abstract” and lacked depth, vision, and talent. For example, a painting on the other side of the room was a white canvas with three stripes of flashy, assorted colors and worth about $2,000. In the contrary, Mrs. Walker’s work was actually art and its boldness brought me to a standstill, though I wouldn’t say it was “beautiful” in the sense that we know.

Her nightmarish paper silhouette tableaux is shocking and quite explicit. They convey scenes of barbarity in the times of American Colonialism with African-American slaves that are least likely to appear in our history books. This features the violent abuse of black women and children from white slave owners,  high officials, army men, and southern women. Its style resembling a children’s pop-up book make the tone even more haunting. How Walker makes the distinction between race is through modeling black people with exaggerated features such as big lips, nappy hair, and busty curviness while nude; whites are portrayed being plump, taller, and pointier with haughty pin coats and lavish frocks.

Warning: the following artwork is very graphic and are not for the eyes of children. 

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The above comic is set up of five instances, and is thus branded the name, A Shadow Drama in Five Acts. A black servant on the first slide acts as a wet nurse to a white boy. His aid from the woman’s breast milk shows how her responsibility extends to caring not just for her own but for children of a different race- the same race of which has carried a tradition of hate for black ethnicity. What can be said from this image is the way that society in the past was very dependent on the role of the black woman. From the cradle, white infants were pampered, primped, and catered for by servants, and they in turn grew up to rebuke the black hands that fed them. A duty was shifted onto African-American women for many years to be the one whom people depended on for advice and nourishment. She wasn’t supposed to have concerns of her own but instead absorb the issues of her employers and their families. Next to this, a young white girl holds her arms in desire or attention for the servant while hoisted on a dog that jolts towards an approaching black lady, possibly a laundress or another maid, who turns in fear. On the right slide, a snobbish, white man violently chokes a young black girl when another, in water perhaps, looks on and pleads in mercy. This exhibit is very confusing and heinous but compelling. The fragile frame of the girl with the sturdy shape of the cruel man highlights the scene’s gut-wrenching display.

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Enslaved people were used as resources and commodities for the southern agriculture industry. In the illustration above, a black girl is dehumanized to a horse by a jockey, who holds a carrot in one hand and a whip in the other. A rabbit nearby shoots off a gun to signal the start of the race towards a goal of the burning, directional sign post. Symbolism manifests in this simple image- the carrot, the jockey, and the inflamed street sign. Sharecropping in post-slavery era was destined to bring about obtaining the American Dream but was an ultimate scam. Profiting off of this business was various people who sold the vegetation for money while the sharecroppers could barely get by from the money they obtained and then trapped in a cycle of poverty. The black girl represents the entire black population who was given false hope and promise so that they could dutifully perform to advance whites. A promised, future destination or reward for blacks through their strenuous labor was simply a mirage that, in a quick second, was to be eroded by flames and gone.

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These derive from Walker’s “The Emancipation Approximation”. The title is clever in the way that it explains how deficient the abolition law was, replacing ‘proclamation’ with ‘approximation’ as to show how not all servants were granted freedom and oppression was still alive. On the left, a vulgar but sad display of a George Washington-type silhouette forcing a lower-level servant to perform a degrading act for him while perched on another worker who is struggling to lift under his weight. On the right, a presumably black woman holds up a white woman in a large gown and style. Both illustrate the degradation that blacks faced with the either gender and the class inequality dynamic.

To learn more about Kara Walker and her art exhibits, you can visit this link: https://art21.org/artist/kara-walker/

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Francis Picabia (1879-1953)

Pain has its reasons, pleasure is totally indifferent.

As an avant-garde virtuoso with a history of rubbing shoulders with various subcategories of art, the man known as Francis Picabia was a heretic of all artistic conformities. This disposition caused him to abandon and then switch styles faster than the Earth’s seasonal patterns. In Picabia’s lifetime, the artwork he produced paralleled with Surrealism, Impressionism, CubismDadaism, and other forms that end with -ism. But I feel a singular theme of mythical, invisible forces is subjective to all of Picabia’s most famous transparencies and drawings. Interconnection between souls and spirituality linger upon the surface of his distorted, mirror-image take on reality.

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This painting above depicts a cynically feminine face with upturned eyes and full lips that, similar to a Russian nesting doll, possesses a fragment of another woman inside except this one has a far more organic expression. The outer shell is cracking down the middle to reveal the inner figuration of the woman- who is conveyed as the central consciousness and personality. Her character is morally tired, sacrificing her true nature for her fake, outer demeanor- which is a mere masque in attempt for conformity and thus, acceptance. This speaks on a feminist issue of idealism when it comes to representation in front of others, and an internal conflict that the woman in the painting has is unfortunately reminiscent of what many girls experience.

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Ecstasy is the primary component of Francis Picabia’s raw drawings that shimmer with just one or two color tones. Pictured above, for example, is a nude woman with an overlay of a closer snapshot- both with give off demeanors of glory or enlightenment. The giant hands curl through the image and softly pinch the nose of one frame and the breast of the other, leaving viewers with a confusing yet soft atmosphere.

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In this portrait, two lovers engulf themselves in an intimate embrace while it’s as if their eyes gaze into another world of some kind. Partial interdependence from the couple only strengthen the image’s warmth. There is such a strong partnership between these people that their spirits are inclined to conjoin almost in an out-of-body experience, such as astral projection. Despite whatever circumstance this scene is erected from, their souls yearn to be connected in balanced harmony.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Whoever wants to know something about me – as an artist which alone is significant – they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognise what I am and what I want.

Whether you are an art historian or skim the surface on the topic of modern art icons, there is a fat chance you have seen Klimt’s “The Kiss” at least once or twice. In my opinion, he captures a moment of ethereal beauty, exaggerates the intensity of the scene, and constructs his own aura of reverie. His use of authentic gold fragments and intricate ornamentation on murals once attracted philanthropists from every corner in Central Europe. As well as aesthetic, Sir. Gustav imbedded larger themes into his craft, weaving in symbols such as time, insanity, sexuality, vice, and the creation (and death) of man via paint and oil.

 

b2a2931a4bb963990766e252bef2ddb7.jpgKlimt, though highly controversial at that time period, attracted a handful of protégés and models alike who wanted to be included in his artistic stature. One of these people was Fritza Riedler. In this portrait he constructed of her, you can see how design is everywhere. However, the piece of furniture upon which she is seated is popping with shell-like shapes. According to her outfit, the woman he portrayed in the picture is of a high class ranking and thus, I began to view the decorated shapes as eyes instead- whether or not Klimt intended to hint that as symbolic. As an aristocrat of the pre-World War I era, criticism and judgement must have been placed onto her from other socialites and women of the time. It was a harsh society, in which you could easily be shunned from a social circle if a scandal happened to be leaked.

 

unnamedAn example of an allegorical scenario from Klimt is “Tod und Leben”, or “Death and Life”. A human octet of various colors and expressions, ranging from euphoria to anguish, are engulfed in waves of flower yet a figure of Death-a hallowed corpse decked in indigo crucifixes-lingers on the left with a sinister grin of eager delight. The face of the top-left is female and displays utter madness as she (literally) looks into the face of Death with her back turned away from the rest of the other life forms. This may allude to how our lives on Earth, at whatever stage, is limited. We all shall die and eventually be reaped from our comfortable, close proximity with one another.

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One half of “Beethoven Frieze” references to Greek mythology yet includes attendees who act as masks for much deeper meanings. The monster Typhon is shown at the center of the mural as a hairy beast with nude yet distorted specters by his side. These are the symbols of insanity, plague, lust, etc. hinted at by the frail bodies and expressions that borderline demonic. A flamboyantly pregnant lady stands firmly to the side and studies the chaos with interest. She has her hair pinned up to a bun, an indication of maternal authority, despite everyone else in the image having hair that falls freely past their shoulders. This signifies how she is a giver of life or possibly even God. With the mountains and streams of the Earth also came great horrors such as plague and disorder. Likewise, maybe it is that the characters of this portrait all came from the fruit of the woman’s womb and in reflection, she gazes upon what has sprung from her creation.

 

 

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

I paint my own reality. 

From Coyoacán, Frida Kahlo was a self-taught artist famously known for her unibrow, which she wore with pride. Her life, and art, was anything but ordinary after a trolley accident happened when she was 18 and from which Frida was immobilized for almost a year. Her paintings are very wild, fluid, and avant-garde style yet there are primary motifs of Mexican homage- Aztec figures, skeleton masks representing the Day of the Dead, tropical vegetation, flags, etc.. This was something Kahlo was honored to represent as well. Through the paintings, you are able to see into her state of mind.

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Diego Rivera- her husband, fellow artist and Communist- was known to indulge in countless affairs with women at the expense of Kahlo’s exuberance. In spite of this, she became not as committed either and, in fact, she was known to have dalliances with both men and women. In this portrait, “Diego y Yo” (or “Diego and I“), the image crops around a tearful Frida looking into the capture point with a gaze of sorrow, and Rivera’s face sits on her forehead, except it has three eyes. The clever placement of her husband in the painting reflects on how he is stuck on her mind and in her thoughts. The third eye, maybe an allusion to Eastern religion, is commonly symbolic of perception into matters beyond your physical vision. Maybe it is that as Frida weeps in pain from Diego’s infidelity and betrayal, Rivera, too, can suspect her of similar deceit.

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This piece is known as “Girl with Death Mask“, referencing to the masks that the Mexican people demonstrate in public places on the annual Day of the Dead holiday. Held in her hand is the tagete blossom that one culturally puts on a grave or shrine of a loved one who has passed on. However, if you notice the background of the image, there aren’t any gravesites and judging from the limited illustration, she is about seven or eight years old. For me, the scene signifies the girl’s remembrance of something lost, or “dead”, such as her childlike immaturity and utter innocence. The mask of the fiend at her feet represents a new guise awaiting to be worn after her change in mental development takes in a grief of the adulthood yet to come.

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Roots” (shown above) depicts a self-portrait except she is laying on her side over a rigid region of leaves and soil. The green branches of the plant actually extend from inside her into the ground thus creating a bondage of vines between them. It is a common metaphor to relate roots to one’s racial, cultural, and ethnic background. By including the metaphorical but literal illustration of the roots and hence the name, Kahlo expresses herself in a deep and individual image of her as the land of Mexico (her home country), which is full of low, coastal plains like the ones in the painting.

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