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Worth Watching
  • Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    A fascinating and highly entertaining look at one of the most important families of the Renaissance era--the Medici.
  • Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)
    Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)

    “Sister Wendy Beckett has transformed public appreciation of art through her astonishing knowledge, insight and passion for painting and painters.” This set includes Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Sister Wendy's Odyssey, and Sister Wendy's Grand Tour. Simultaneously delightful and scholarly--this is a must have for anyone interested in art history.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    When British stencil artist Banksy traveled to Los Angeles to work, he came across obscure French filmmaker Thierry Guetta and his badly organized collection of videotapes involving the activities of graffiti artists. Inspired, Banksy assembled them with new footage to create this talked-about documentary, and the result is a mind-boggling and odd film (so strange as to be thought a hoax by some) about outsider artists and the definition of art itself.
  • The Impressionists
    The Impressionists
    A dramatization of the Impressionist movement as seen through the eyes of Claude Monet. Highly entertaining and informative.
  • The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    A very personal and revealing look at the personalities that created Impressionism.

Quote of the Day

“The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.” - Lucian Freud


Medieval Design: Striking Patterns of Symmetry and Color

Byzantine Egypt - Coptic - Fragment of Wall Hanging with confronted cocks and running dogs - 4th-6th century - Woven wool and linen - 12 13/16 x 24 5/16 in. - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (click photo for larger image)Medieval approaches to design tended to be quite symmetrical—and the results are colorful and rich in imagery and flourishes. Animals, both real and fantastic, occupied an important place in medieval art and thought. Artists readily employed animal motifs, along with foliate designs, as part of their decorative vocabulary. Animal forms appear in the jewelry, Bibles, and gospel books of the Middle Ages—and in utilitarian objects, as well. 

Animals carried a rich variety of symbolic associations often drawn from the past. The lamb, for example, served as an important sacrificial animal in ancient Near Eastern religious rites, including those of the Israelites. Christians adopted the lamb as a symbol of Christ, emphasizing his sacrifice for humanity. The griffin, regarded in antiquity as an attendant of Apollo and a keeper of light, retained its role as a guardian figure for the dead even in later Christian contexts.

In the fragment featured here, a pair of boldly colored cocks with red crests, heart-shaped wattles and wings, and colorful feathers face one another over a pyramid of grape clusters. All of this is set into a deep blue background. The feet of the cocks interrupt a series of grape leaves and vine tendrils. “Behind the birds two hunting dogs charge toward one another. The attention given to the roosters' claws and spurs and the inclusion of hunting dogs suggest that the birds are sporting animals, a subject entirely appropriate for a domestic textile. In the early Byzantine period, images of prosperity were favored themes for furnishings in the homes of the elite and the aspiring.”

We know the names of very few artists and designers from the Middle Ages. Artists were considered to be lowly craftspeople, and most of the work was completed in workshop environments—with many artisans participating in the completion of a single work.


Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel - Adieu - 1996 - Oil and resin on canvas - 96 x 96 in. - Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.Julian Schnabel (born 1951) was one of the artists who worked to restore painting to its pre-abstraction status. He and other of his contemporaries “balanced technical concerns with emotional resonance”. Contradicting the highly intellectualized movements of Minimalism and Conceptual Art—Schnabel’s art is filled (in some cases to excess) with both emotion and materials. He first became known for his paintings on velvet and for canvases whose surfaces were built up of shattered crockery and other found materials. He is one of the rare artists who enjoyed instant  international success with his work, in part because he emerged during a time when aggressive marketing and attention was being paid to the business of selling art. 

Schnabel's work frequently features religious imagery— particularly Catholic iconography and themes. Living in Texas with his family placed him close to the Mexican border, and he became very familiar with Mexican and Meso-American cultural and religious practices. These influences, along with references to pop culture, are reflected in his art.

"When you make art, people try to stop you from doing it, and everything's sort of designed to stop you from doing it. So the fact that it exists is a wonderful thing.” - Julian Schnabel


Did You Know?

The Proto-Renaissance Florentine master painter, Giotto, was also an accomplished architect. In 1334, Giotto's architectural skills were employed when he was put in charge of the building operations of Florence Cathedral, for which he also painted several panel pieces.


Eric Fischl: Neo-Expressionism’s Bad Boy

Erich Fischl - The Sheer Weight of History - 1982 - Oil on canvas - 60 x 60 in. (click photo for larger image)Like its predecessor (Expressionism) Neo-Expressionism was a broad and diverse movement. Dominating the art market during the early and mid-1980s, its practitioners were reacting against the remote and highly abstract artistic production of the 1970s—introducing such elements as recognizable objects and the human figure back into the artistic vocabulary. They did reject traditional standards of composition and design—and their work is characterized by a brittle emotional tone that reflected the urban life and values of the day. 

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Eric Fischl (born 1948) became particularly noted as Neo-Expressionism's “bad boy with his psychologically charged depictions of American suburbia”. Fischl’s mother suffered severe bouts of alcoholism and depression. These became a key influence on his work. Fischl was compelled to break through societal facades—focusing on issues of family dynamics, human vulnerability and a range of taboo subjects. He is also well-known as a premiere figurative painter.

Neo-Expressionism was the perfect vehicle for an artist exploring internal conflicts—and Fischl rendered them uncomfortably universal. "I vowed that I would never let the unspeakable also be unshowable. I would paint what could not be said.” - Eric Fischl