Comparing 19th century art

Choose 2 works of art, and compare them.


–Go to the museum and choose two works of art. Remember that the 19th century is the very beginning of the urban technological society that we live in now. A lot of experiences of this time had no precedent in history: seeing the world from a speeding train or car; talking instantly across continents, the ocean, or the world by telegraph and telephone; no one ever experienced global economics or politics before. The rate of change accelerated as the 19th century moved on. A central concern of the art of this particular century is how to be true to the experience of living in a new unprecedented world. How do different artists address that question? You will see that some artists enthusiastically paint or sculpt subject matter from this new world of factories, railroads, and cities, and others do the complete opposite, painting subject matter from the distant past or from imagination. You will probably notice that there is a lot of landscape painting from this period. The way that artists looked at and painted landscape changed dramatically as the 19th century progressed (compare a small landscape by Caspar David Friedrich from the first half of the century with a painting by Claude Monet from the second half).

As the century progressed, you will notice that artists become less and less interested in imitating the way things look, and more interested in letting things like colors and shapes speak for themselves.


Pick 2 works of art by 2 different artists and compare them. Consider what they choose to paint or sculpt and how they make their art.


–Copy the labels for each work of art. Don’t photograph them, copy the labels out by hand.


–Look carefully at each work. Draw a sketch of each work of art. If you are not confident about your drawing ability, don’t worry about it. The point of doing the drawing is to help you to look.


–If you are looking at sculpture, look at things like size, material, and especially point of view. Did the sculptor intend us to look at one particular side of the sculpture, or to move around it? How can you tell? What role, if any, does material or color play in the sculpture?


–If you are looking at painting, look at how the paint is applied. Did the artist use visible brushstrokes, or did the artist polish them out? Does the artist lay on the paint thickly, or brush on thin washes of paint? How does the artist use color? Does the artist use bright or subtle colors? Are the colors naturalistic or not? Does the artist use line, and if so, how? Does the artist use it to outline and describe shapes, or for some other purpose? Size and material matter in painting, just as they do in sculpture. If the painting is large or small, what effect does size have?


–In both sculpture and painting, the artist arranges all the parts to create an effect. That arrangement is called “composition.” How is each of the 2 works of art composed, and to what purpose? How can you tell?


–Write a paper, at least 3 pages minimum (and not 2 ½ pages or 2 ¼ pages), comparing these 2 works of art. The paper must be typed double-spaced.

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