Perception is the single most important thing that differentiates us from everyone else in the world. Every living being has a unique mental ability and this ability leads to their perception of things. One of life’s facets where it plays an important role is art.
It is often times debated whether the perception of a piece of art should in fact be left up to an observer or should be left top an artist. This has been a heated topic of discussion for art critics like Corn and Berger, Berger believing that lack of perception defies the basis of art itself, and Corn being under the impression that the wrong perception could be detrimental to the work. The topic in fact has been more of a debate between the critiques rather than the artists’ themselves. The two art historians which will be discussed in the following paragraphs are Wanda.M.Corn and John Berger. The essay will be a comparative analysis of their respective articles “The birth of a national icon” and “The changing view of a man in a portrait.”
John Berger’s article “The changing view of a man in a portrait” was a critical comparison of the historic art of portraiture and the developing art of photography. He described how portraits were basically a measure of a person’s social significance through out history and did not provide an insight into the personality as believed by most. Photographs, according to Berger are accurate and accessible, and portraits were reserved to the elite. Portraits do in fact present a sense of unity and were less arbitrary. However they only showed one viewpoint. Overall, he claims that portraits lack individuality that is important for a renewal of it’s credibility in the modern world of art. His analysis is a clear example of the comparison he based most of his works on-modern against ancient art.
Although commonly known as a novelist and an art historian, Berger, was an artist himself, in both his ways and his teachings. He attended the London School of Art as well as the Chelsea School of Art in London, becoming an art critic while teaching drawing later. His rigid views about modern art led to his controversial persona that became more imminent with his exceedingly Marxist views and criticism of the government. Being very critical of even his home town, London, he stated, “London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens.” His artistic romanticism caused him to go into a voluntary exile to small city in France, where he is spending his life right now.
Ironically enough, this is a testimony of the importance he gives to the artists’ perspective. Even if the object is real life the artist can adopt it to his ideal and it will be apparent in the final piece, to everyone, and not just the artist himself. For instant, if the artist was painting a portrait which would be preserved as a piece of historic art-he would be sure to paint the figure as a grand and enigmatic one. Portraits of people like Voltaire, Kaiser Ferdinand and Christopher Columbus would have to make so that they looked powerful and majestic- a blatantly real portrayal maybe would have not been as impressive and imposing. Thus if we view these portraits, our opinion will be based on something that is already opinionated-hence making ours a secondary opinion, not to mention a not too precise one. On the other hand, photographs might be able to make something seem like it isn’t through differences in lights and pictures captured in abrupt moments, but they still offer a better perspective. They leave more up to an observer than a portrait does. Corn, however, would disagree.
That is exactly what she talks about in her essay “The birth of a national icon”. It is an analysis of Wood’s unusual depiction of the Mid-western culture through his works of art. The main focus of the essay is on the “American Gothic”, initially characterized as a curt depiction of Wood’s mid-western childhood and his European influence, which became a symbol of treasuring the American history. The Victorian paintings, with their symmetry and simplicity, are ironic in the sense that they are general to the viewer but specific to the artist’s history. The author basically claims that Wood caused a revival of the Mid-western history through his different style of painting, his works remaining an icon for generations to come. She greatly stresses on the point that wrong perception of this work of art caused people to believe it is a satire instead of what she really believed it was- a depiction of the mid-western culture in the true sense, basically a national icon. Her essay was also very well researched as shown by her credentials that follow.
She is a significantly famous art historian and a recent art professor in Stanford University. Her area of interest has been in the field of American art, cultural traditionalism and revival of art lost through wrong perception. Wood has been one the artists that she has widely analyzed, mainly because of her patriotic nature.
For Berger, his views on the importance of perspective aren’t his thesis-but he makes it obvious throughout his essay. The essay shows his apparent approval of photography over portraiture-merely because portraiture leaves too much power in the hands of the artist. For instance he says “If the portraitist’s intention is to flatter or idealize, he will be able to do so far more convincingly with a painting than with a photograph.”(61, Berger) This clearly leads to the conclusion that a portrait is based on the artist; it is the vision of the artist that impresses us not the subject. Photographs on the other hand have “the interpretative role of the photographer” (60, Berger) while leaving enough room for the observer to think on their own.
Wanda.M.Corn argues in favor of the artists’ perspective throughout her essay. She talks about two basic wrong perceptions about the American Gothic; first “the painting’s most important sources are European” (81, Corn) and the second being that “the work is satirical” (82, Corn). She goes on to clearly explain the style of painting that Wood used to prove her point that the work was indeed a representation of the mid western culture-a much worked upon national icon. She talks about how the wrong perception would have lead people to ridicule this piece-taking it as a joke, and hence its essence would have been lost forever. Wood, however has no problems with the people’s different perspectives about his paintings-it is as if he got his share of satisfaction out of just creating those pieces of art. Corn is much more passionate and believes that the artist is also responsible for pursuing his or her work to see it holds its original essence while being judged or viewed.
The artist under consideration here is Grant Wood. Corn basically shows an in depth knowledge of his work and history. Wood, initially thought to be influenced by the European culture, was in fact celebrating the Mid-Western history through the American Gothic. He was influenced by a Victorian style house that he had seen in western America. Then he got his dentist and his sister to dress up in the appropriate mid-western clothes and pose as father and daughter. Here again, Corn’s idea comes into play. The artist had intended to portray the two as father and daughter but people ended up perceiving them as husband and wife. This perception has stuck thereon. However, Wood made no effort to correct people. It was those who analyzed him, like Corn that went into the details and figured out the reality. Wood would have been appreciated by Berger. Berger believes an artist should leave room for others to form a view point about his artwork, which is exactly what Wood does in this case.
This also leads us into a discussion of art forms and how certain art forms are more susceptible to perception than others. For instance if a person draws a simple object like a ball, there really isn’t a wide spread case of perception that would be linked to it. A ball is a ball after all. But if an artist draws a ball amongst a pattern of lines or scenery in the background, observers might be able to form an idea about what the artist was trying to portray. Therefore, modern and contemporary art is more likely to draw different conclusions than figure drawing or fine arts. Berger appears to be more in favor of modern or conclusion-drawing art. He even takes portraiture, which is an elaborate form of real life drawing, and explains how everyone is supposed to draw the same conclusion from it. Artists try to include their own perspective in it but they make sure that the result is much unified so that the conclusion obtained would be very much the same. That is why Berger is against portraiture and more in favor of photography-a more modern form of art. Corn on the other hand, would be against modern art because it would allow the observers to massacre the artist’s painting by forming an idea completely different to that intended by the artist.
Perception is very important-and it is lack of insight that leads to loss of individuality. After all if everyone thought about everything in the same way, there really would be no need for the population that the world supports today. This is what Berger makes apparent. Portraits, although great works of art, did not truly leave a sense of perception to the viewer. They were very conclusive from the artists’ point of view. Corn’s point with American Gothic, though well proved, is very subjective. It works in a way for the American Gothic, but not for most other pieces of art. Plus the lack of interest that Wood has in this claim leads me to believe that maybe even artists believe that the perception should be left up to the viewer. After their work of art is complete, they have accomplished their task. The rest is up to the one who looks at it. After all if we weren’t making art for the observer and his perspective, who would, we be making it for? Then again some might “perceive” art to have no purpose at all!
“Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.” —- Miyamoto Musashi