Jacque-Louis David Compared to Sandow Birk - Research Paper Example

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Jaques-Louis David and Sandow Birk appear, at first blush, to be nearly as unrelated as it is possible for artists to be. Jaques-Louis David was a French painter who was active from the end of the eighteenth to the first quarter of the nineteenth centuries (Louis-Antoine), while Sandow Birk is an American artist who has been active only in the twenty-first century (Birk)…
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Jacque-Louis David Compared to Sandow Birk
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"Jacque-Louis David Compared to Sandow Birk"

This essay will compare David’s painting, “Leonidas at Thermopylae,” (oil on canvas, 1814, currently held at the Louvre) with Birk’s series of “In Smog and Thunder, The Great War of the Californias,” which invents and depicts a historical war between San Francisco and Los Angeles (Guerera), to show how they both use historicization as a method for commenting on their own chaotic societies. Both David and Birk intentionally eschew being directly innovative in their formal qualities in these works – a main thrust of both works is to use historicization as method for commenting on their current times, so they want to avoid doing anything that would seem overly modern and clutter their message. In David’s painting, the form that is copied is interestingly a renaissance one, which is interesting because the subject matter is obviously much older. This painting contains bright, primary colors, cluttered usage of space and universal lighting that harken back to paintings such as Raphael’s “School of Athens,” while the shadow work and the depiction of skin and muscle, and especially faces seems like the work of some of the Netherlands’ masters from the early modern period (Wolffin, 93). The most obvious historical throwbacks in Birk’s work are the propaganda posters that he produces as part of his fictional war, which mirror almost exactly pieces from the soviets (“The Spirit of Los Angeles”), American World War II posters (“Bomb the Bay!”), or the American Civil war (“The Great Battle of Los Angeles”) (Birk). Both works thus “stick out” of their contexts, looking strange and out of place to contemporary eyes, and draw attention to the fact that they are intentionally copying historical forms. The cultural perspectives and cultural norms that are represented by both of these works focus on the fact that both artists live(d) in stressful, disarrayed times which made one want to look back on the glory days. They both, to a certain extent, indulge this desire to look into the past. In David’s case, he chooses one of the most glorious moments in Western history, the Battle of Thermopylae, where a meager 300 Spartan soldiers held off the most impressive army every arrayed, saving Greece, the great-grand father of all western civilization, from annihilation. Birk’s treatment of this backwards-looking tendency is somewhat more complicated, but also significantly more interesting. Birk’s time, which we are currently living in, is filled with confusing problems. Western civilization is constantly under threat from Islamic terrorists, yet we should love our Muslim neighbors. We recognize that we have no place in Iraq, but now involved have no way of getting out. Birk’s works indulge by harkening back to simpler times, such as the Second World War, or the Cold War, when evil was evil, good was good, and everyone knew where they stand. Both artists consciously copy older forms, and consciously look back to days when times were better, things were simpler, and glory was more prevalent. But they do not do so to endorse this indulgence of backwards looking, but rather they intentionally poke fun at it. David does so by Read More
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