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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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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). Their mediums often differ greatly, and they obviously come from vastly different worlds. One thing they have in common, however, is that they both lived in worlds full of turmoil. In David’s case, this turmoil came from the American Revolution, the French Revolution that followed it, and the eventual supremacy and war-mongering of Napoleon I, and for Birk, this turmoil comes from being part of the post-911 world where warfare and conflict permeate nearly every aspect of world understanding. 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 not portraying the glorious moment of the Battle of Thermopylae exactly, but rather portraying the moment right before it, with the Greek soldiers sitting around, not really doing anything (some adjust their sandals, others sit and wait, while some throw wreathes for climbing competitions). Furthermore, a central image of the work is an old man fondling a young boy, something that would have been looked down upon in David’s time. So he shows that looking back on this time is useless, that people were just people, doing ordinary things, even in that era, and that sometimes they were even worse than people in the modern day, for instance pointing out the ancient Greek’s love for Pederasty (Percy, 19). Birk does essentially the same thing by contrasting archaic styles, such as a style of “The Great Battle of Los Angeles,” which recalls the civil war, with modern intrusions, such as a skate-board featured prominently in that work (Birk). This reminds the viewer that a backwards-looking orientation is useless, that we are not in olden days, and that life is complicated, nuanced, and there is nothing we can do about it. Both David and Birk use historical styles to create a sense of indulgence in a backwards-looking, historicizing tendency, along with aspects of their work that disrupt this tendency, and demonstrate how foolish or useless it is. Birk, Sandow. "The Great War of the Californias : Sandow Birk." Upcoming Exhibitions : Sandow Birk. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. . Guerera, Daniel. "In Smog and Thunder, The Great War of the Californias – SF vs LA « Burrito Justice." Burrito Justice. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .Wolfflin, Heinrich. Classic Art; an Introduction to the Italian Renaissance. New York: Phaidon; Distributed by Garden City, 1952. Print. Louise-Antoine, Prat. "Leonidas at Thermopylae." Louvre.fr. The Louvre. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. Percy, William A. Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1996. Print. Wolfflin, Heinrich. Classic Art; an Introduction to the Italian Renaissance. New York: Phaidon; Distributed by Garden City, 1952. Print. Read More
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