Thursday, August 30, 2007

More Venus...

Kostenki Limestone Venus Photo: P. Bahn

"Venus" of Cussac

From: National Geographic, August 2001 Photo: Yanik Le Guillou Painting in Chauvet Cave with human female legs, hips and pubic triangle but with the head and torso of a bison. It is referred to as "the sorcerer". (Venus?)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

In class today, I spoke about the “Woman from Willendorf” (which has recently been sited in England). While most of the specific history of this artifact is lost to us today, it has been imbued with a new history that is wrapped up in a name. Originally, this small statuette was referred to as the “Venus from Willendorf”.

This object is relatively small (4 3/8 inches) and could have been easily transported by its owner(s). It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a site near Willendorf. Today we know that the statuette was not created in the same area in which it was found, but we really know little else about what is now considered one of the best examples of Paleolithic artwork.

Taking a closer look at the figurine, we see that this is not a realistic depiction of a female but rather an abstraction. Shapes are reduced to simple forms such as circles and ovals. Certain parts of her body have been emphasized by their size/roundness. Her face is absent of recognizable facial features, yet we see a repeating pattern that resembles braided or curled hair. Her arms seem to disappear beyond the elbows (or are very small). Her legs taper down to nothing near the ankles; she has very small feet. (This reminds me of today’s Barbie doll proportions!)

Is the “Venus” from Willendorf pregnant? Is she obese? Is she a portrait of a particular Paleolithic woman? Is she a fertility figurine? Is she a goddess? Is she portable pornography? A charm? Did a man or a woman carve her? Is there a problem with using the word “Venus” to title this object?

The “Woman from Willendorf” is not the only piece of Paleolithic sculpture to be uncovered. To date archeologists have found many different female figurines (and a few males) of different shapes a sizes. Here are some examples of other “Venus” figures: The Savignano Venus and Venus de Sireil

But, Venus? What do you think of when you hear the word “Venus”? This name carries with it many associations, the most obvious being a religious connection with the Roman goddess of love (or the Greek Aphrodite). I find Venus to be a problematic title (obviously I’m not the only one, since they changed it) because it refers to the ideal woman; one who has been portrayed throughout the history of art as an icon of sorts. Despite the change in the title of the piece found near Willendorf, the figurines as a group are still referred to as the “Venus figures”. Take a look at these other images of Venus: Capitoline Venus (Capitoline Museum, Rome) and Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, c. 1482

And consider this:
“The name "Venus" had first been used, in a tone of mocking irony, in 1864 by the Marquis Paul de Vibraye who described a headless, armless, footless ivory statuette he discovered at Laugerie-Basse in the Vèzère valley in the Dordogne as a "Vénus impudique" or "immodest Venus".
The Marquis, of course, was playfully reversing the appellation of "Venus pudica" ("modest Venus") that is used to describe a statue type of the Classical Venus which shows, in the Capitoline Venus for example, the goddess attempting to conceal her breasts and pubic area from view. The inference the Marquis makes is that this prehistoric Venus makes no attempt to hide her sexuality.” source

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Hello guinea pigs.

Welcome to ARH 101: Survey of Art and Culture I.

My hope with this blog is that all students build a better understanding about art by supplementing in-class lectures with out-of-class web discussions.

Topics we will always be concerned with in this course:
1. Why is art important?
2. What can be considered art?
3. How do you decide what's "good" art?
4. How to describe and evaluate a work of art.
5. How to figure out what a work "means".
6. Context, context, context.
7. The purpose of art.
8. The role of the artist.

*Remember, email me the name you will be posting under by 8/24!