Select Page

PART 1: Discussion: Literary Movements
4ONE PAGE

Required Resources
Read/review the following resources for this activity:
· Textbook: Chapter 7, 8
· Lesson
· Minimum of 1 scholarly source (in addition to the textbook – for historical/political influences)

Initial Post Instructions
Choose one of the literary movements that you read about this week and at least one work from that movement. Movements, authors, and famous works are discussed in the lesson as well. You do not have to choose authors or works discussed in the lesson, but you may. For your initial post, address one of the following:

Option 1: Examine the movement and specific work in relation to historical and political influences of the movement. Include a one paragraph summary of the plot before moving on to the examination of the work in relation to the movement.

Option 2: Examine a specific artwork influenced by a literary work and how the artist captured the subject or story. Here are a few examples, but you are not restricted to this list:
· Asher B. Durand’s Thanatopsis (influenced by William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis”)
· John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott (influenced by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”)
· Sir John Everett Millais’s Ophelia (influenced by Shakespeare’s Ophelia from Hamlet)
· Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne or The Rape of Prosperina (influenced by ancient myths)
· Ancient Greek vase painting (influenced by various ancient myths)

Follow-Up Post Instructions
Respond to at least one peer. Respond to one peer who chose an option different from yours. Further the dialogue by providing more information and clarification.

Writing Requirements

· Minimum of 2 posts (1 initial & 1 follow-up)
· Minimum of 2 sources cited (assigned readings/online lessons and an outside source)
· APA format for in-text citations and list of references

Grading
This activity will be graded using the Discussion Grading Rubric. Please review the following link:
· Link (webpage): 
Discussion Guidelines

PART 2: Assignment: Essay – Play Analysis

Required Resources
Read/review the following resources for this activity:
· Textbook: Chapter 8
· Play from the Internet, YouTube, DVD, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, etc.
· 1 primary source (written version of selected play)

Instructions
Plays are meant to be performed, rather than read. The purpose of dramatic arts often extends far beyond the words written on a page; staging, lighting, costumes intonation, expression, and audience experience are all part of the experience of a theatrical production. To develop your understanding of the cultural role of the dramatic arts, you will view a production of a play this week and write a reflection to explain your viewing experience. Choose a play that you would like to view and find a version online, YouTube, DVD or iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, etc. You can also choose to see a play live if you prefer.
Play Suggestions:
· A Midsummer Night’s Dream

· Romeo and Juliet

· As You Like It

· Taming of the Shrew

· The Tempest

· Much Ado About Nothing

· The Comedy of Errors

· Macbeth

· King Lear

If you have another idea, please ask your instructor to approve it.
Then, select and address one of the following options:

Option 1: Write an analysis of the play that you viewed. Include at least one quote from the play in your essay. In your essay, address the following:
· Identify the performance that you have selected.
· Describe the staging, lighting, costumes, and characters of the performance. How do these match or revise the written version of the play? You do not need to read the entire play, but you should skim the text.
· What type of mood and tone does the performance create? How?
· What parts of the play are easier to understand through performance? What are some details that stood out through performance?
· What are your feelings about this performance? What did you take away from viewing it?

Option 2: Find an adaptation or transformation of a play. Choose an adaptation with some significant differences from the original, such as transposed plots and characters into a variety of different settings and historical contexts. Here are some examples:
· A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999) or A Midsummer Night’s DREAM (2018)

· Romeo and Juliet – Romeo + Juliet (1996) or West Side Story (1961) or Romeo Must Die (2000)

· As You Like It – As You Like It (2006)

· Taming of the Shrew – 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) or Kiss Me, Kate (1948)

· Much Ado About Nothing – Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

· The Comedy of Errors – The Bomb-itty of Errors (2012)

· King Lear – A Thousand Acres (1997)

· Othello – O (2001)

· Hamlet – The Lion King (2019 or 1994) or Hamlet (2000)

· Twelfth Night – She’s the Man (2006)

If you have another idea, please ask your instructor to approve it.
Watch the original version and the adapted version. In your essay, address the following:
· How is the adaptation the same as the original? Discuss plot, characters, theme, conflict, language, etc.
· How does the adaptation differ from the original? Discuss setting, time period, characters, plot, language, etc.
· Does the original story translate well in the adaptation? Why or why not? Did the adaptation work in a different setting, time period, etc. Why or why not?
· Why do you think Shakespeare’s plays are adapted so often?

Writing Requirements (APA format)

· Length: 1.5-2 pages (not including title page or references page)
· 1-inch margins
· Double spaced
· 12-point Times New Roman font
· Title page
· References page (minimum of 1 source)

Grading
This activity will be graded based on the W4 Essay Grading Rubric.

Course Outcomes (CO): 1, 2, 3, 4

THE HUMANITIES
THROUGH THE ARTS

T e n t h E d i t i o n

Lee A. Jacobus
Professor of English Emeritus

University of Connecticut

F. David Martin
Professor of Philosophy Emeritus

Bucknell University

©Universal History Archive/Getty Images

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THE HUMANITIES THROUGH THE ARTS, TENTH EDITION

Published by McGraw-Hill Education, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Copyright © 2019 by
McGraw-Hill Education. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Previous editions ©
2015, 2011, and 2008. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any
means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written consent of McGraw-Hill
Education, including, but not limited to, in any network or other electronic storage or transmission, or
broadcast for distance learning.

Some ancillaries, including electronic and print components, may not be available to customers outside
the United States.

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 LCR 21 20 19 18

Bound:
ISBN 978-1-259-91687-8
MHID 1-259-91687-1

Looseleaf:
ISBN 978-1-260-15418-4
MHID 1-260-15418-1

Portfolio Manager: Sarah Remington
Product Developers: Beth Tripmacher, Bruce Cantley
Content Project Managers: Mary E. Powers (Core), Emily Windelborn (Assessment)
Buyer: Susan K. Culbertson
Design: Tara McDermott
Content Licensing Specialist: Carrie Burger
Compositor: MPS Limited
Cover Image: (background): LACMA – Los Angeles County Museum of Art; (back cover (left) to front cover
(right)); (door): ©Lee A. Jacobus; (wall carving): ©Lee A. Jacobus; (cave painting): ©siloto/Shutterstock RF;
(amphitheater): ©Inu/Shutterstock RF; (Taj Mahal): ©Seb c’est bien/Shutterstock RF; (dancer): ©Fuse/Getty Images
RF; (Shakespeare): ©duncan1890/Getty Images RF; (sculpture): National Gallery of Art, Washington; (graffiti):
©Lee A. Jacobus; (church): National Archives Catalog; (violin): ©Comstock Images/SuperStock RF.

All credits appearing on page or at the end of the book are considered to be an extension of the copyright page.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Martin, F. David, 1920- author. | Jacobus, Lee A., author.
 The humanities through the arts/F. David Martin, Professor of
 Philosophy Emeritus, Bucknell University; Lee A. Jacobus, Professor of
 English Emeritus, University of Connecticut.
 Tenth edition. | New York : McGraw-Hill Education, 2018. | Includes index.
 LCCN 2017051530 | ISBN 9781259916878 (alk. paper)
 LCSH: Arts–Psychological aspects. | Art appreciation.
 LCC NX165 .M37 2018 | DDC 701/.18–dc23 LC record available
 at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017051530

The Internet addresses listed in the text were accurate at the time of publication. The inclusion of a website
does not indicate an endorsement by the authors or McGraw-Hill Education, and McGraw-Hill Education
does not guarantee the accuracy of the information presented at these sites.

mheducation.com/highered

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iii

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Lee A. Jacobus (PhD, Claremont Graduate University) taught at Western Con-
necticut State University and then at the University of Connecticut (Storrs) until
he retired in 2001. He held a Danforth Teachers Grant while earning his doctor-
ate. His publications include Shakespeare and the Dialectic of Certainty (St. Martin’s
Press, 1992); Sudden Apprehension: Aspects of Knowledge in Paradise Lost (Mouton,
1976); John Cleveland: A Critical Study (G. K. Hall, 1975); Aesthetics and the Arts
(McGraw-Hill, 1968); The Bedford Introduction to Drama (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018);
and A World of Ideas (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017).

F. David Martin (PhD, University of Chicago) taught at the University of Chicago
and then at Bucknell University until his retirement in 1983. He was a Fulbright
Research Scholar in Florence and Rome from 1957 through 1959 and received
seven other major research grants during his career, as well as the Christian Lind-
back Award for Distinguished Teaching. Dr. Martin’s publications include Art and
the Religious Experience (Associated University Presses, 1972); Sculpture and the En-
livened Space (The University Press of Kentucky, 1981); and Facing Death: Theme and
Variations (Associated University Presses, 2006). Professor Martin died in 2014.

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We dedicate this study to
teachers and students of the humanities.

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v

BRIEF CONTENTS

PREFACE xi

Part 1 FUNDAMENTALS

1 The Humanities: An Introduction 1
2 What Is a Work of Art? 17

3 Being a Critic of the Arts 42

Part 2 THE ARTS

4 Painting 58
5 Sculpture 91

6 Architecture 121
7 Literature 163
8 Theater 196
9 Music 224

10 Dance 254
11 Photography 276

12 Cinema 299
13 Television and Video Art 330

Part 3 INTERRELATIONSHIPS

14 Is It Art or Something Like It? 352
15 The Interrelationships of the Arts 378

16 The Interrelationships of the Humanities 397

GLOSSARY G-1

INDEX I-1

Source: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest
of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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vi

CONTENTS

Subject Matter and Content 34

EXPERIENCING: Interpretations of the Female Nude 40

Further Thoughts on Artistic Form 41
Summary 41

3 Being a Critic of the Arts 42
You Are Already an Art Critic 42
Participation and Criticism 43
Three Kinds of Criticism 43
Descriptive Criticism 44
Interpretive Criticism 48
Evaluative Criticism 52

EXPERIENCING: The Polish Rider 55
Summary 56

Part 2 THE ARTS

4 Painting 58
Our Visual Powers 58
The Media of Painting 59
Tempera 59
Fresco 61
Oil 62
Watercolor 64
Acrylic 64
Other Media and Mixed Media 65

Elements of Painting 68

PREFACE xi

Part 1 FUNDAMENTALS

1  The Humanities: An
Introduction 1

The Humanities: A Study of Values 1
Art, Commerce, and Taste 4
Responses to Art 5

EXPERIENCING: The Mona Lisa 9

Structure and Artistic Form 10
Perception 11

Abstract Ideas and Concrete Images 12
Summary 16

2 What Is a Work of Art? 17
Identifying Art Conceptually 18
Identifying Art Perceptually 18
Artistic Form 19
Participation 23
Participation and Artistic Form 25
Content 26
Subject Matter 28
Subject Matter and Artistic Form 28
Participation, Artistic Form, and Content 29
Artistic Form: Examples 30

Photo: Kira Perov. Courtesy Bill Viola Studio

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CONTENTS  vii

6 Architecture 121
Centered Space 121
Space and Architecture 122
Chartres 123
Living Space 125
Four Necessities of Architecture 126
Technical Requirements of Architecture 126
Functional Requirements of Architecture 127
Spatial Requirements of Architecture 131
Revelatory Requirements of Architecture 131

Earth-Rooted Architecture 132
Site 132
Gravity 133
Raw Materials 134
Centrality 136

Sky-Oriented Architecture 138
Axis Mundi 141
Defiance of Gravity 142
Integration of Light 143

Earth-Resting Architecture 144
Earth-Dominating Architecture 145
Combinations of Types 146
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and The Taj Mahal 147

EXPERIENCING: The Taj Mahal 149

High-Rises and Skyscrapers 150

FOCUS ON: The Alhambra 155

Urban Planning 157
Summary 161

7 Literature 163
Spoken Language and Literature 163
Literary Structures 167
The Narrative and the Narrator 167
The Episodic Narrative 169
The Organic Narrative 171
The Quest Narrative 176
The Lyric 177

EXPERIENCING: “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” 182

Line 68
Color 72
Texture 73
Composition 73

The Clarity of Painting 75
The “All-at-Onceness” of Painting 77
Abstract Painting 78
Intensity and Restfulness in Abstract Painting 80
Representational Painting 81
Comparison of Five Impressionist Paintings 81

FOCUS ON: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood 86

Frames 88
EXPERIENCING: Frames 89

Summary 90

5 Sculpture 91
Sensory Interconnections 92
Sculpture and Painting Compared 92
Sculpture and Space 94
Sunken-Relief Sculpture 94
Low-Relief Sculpture 95
High-Relief Sculpture 96
Sculpture in the Round 97
Sculpture and Architecture Compared 98
Sensory Space 99
Sculpture and the Human Body 99
Sculpture in the Round and the

Human Body 101
EXPERIENCING: Sculpture and Physical Size 103

Contemporary Sculpture 104
Truth to Materials 104
Protest against Technology 108
Accommodation with Technology 110
Machine Sculpture 112
Earth Sculpture 113

FOCUS ON: African Sculpture 114

Sculpture in Public Places 117
Summary 120

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viii  CONTENTS

Literary Details 183
Image 184
Metaphor 185
Symbol 187
Irony 189
Diction 190

FOCUS ON: Po Chü’i, Poet of the T’ang Dynasty 191
Summary 194

8 Theater 196
Aristotle and the Elements of Drama 197
Dialogue and Soliloquy 198

Archetypal Patterns 200
Genres of Drama: Tragedy 201
The Tragic Stage 202
Stage Scenery and Costumes 202
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet 206

Comedy: Old and New 209
Tragicomedy: The Mixed Genre 211
A Play for Study: Riders to the Sea 211

EXPERIENCING: Riders to the Sea 218

FOCUS ON: Musical Theater: Hamilton 218

Experimental Drama 221
Summary 222

9 Music 224
Hearing and Listening 224
The Elements of Music 225
Tone 225
Consonance 226
Dissonance 226
Rhythm 227
Tempo 227
Melodic Material: Melody, Theme, and Motive 227
Counterpoint 228
Harmony 228
Dynamics 229
Contrast 229

The Subject Matter of Music 229
Feelings 230

EXPERIENCING: Chopin’s Prelude 7 in A Major 231

Two Theories: Formalism and Expressionism 233
Sound 233
Tonal Center 234
Musical Structures 236
Theme and Variations 236
Rondo 236
Fugue 237
Sonata Form 237
Symphony 238

FOCUS ON:  Beethoven’s Symphony in E♭ Major, No. 3, Eroica 243

Blues and Jazz: Popular American Music 248
Rock and Roll and Rap 251
Summary 253

10 Dance 254
Subject Matter of Dance 254

EXPERIENCING: Feeling and Dance 256

Form 257
Dance and Ritual 258
Ritual Dance 258
Social Dance 259
The Court Dance 259

Ballet 260
Swan Lake 262

Modern Dance 265
Alvin Ailey’s Revelations 267
Martha Graham 269
Batsheva Dance Company 270
Pilobolus and Momix Dance Companies 271
Mark Morris Dance Group 272

FOCUS ON: Theater Dance 272

Popular Dance 274
Summary 275

11 Photography 276
Photography and Painting 276

EXPERIENCING: Photography and Art 280

Photography and Painting: The Pictorialists 281

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CONTENTS  ix

Straight Photography 283
The f/64 Group 284

The Documentarists 286
The Modern Eye 292

FOCUS ON: Digital Photography 296
Summary 298

12 Cinema 299
The Subject Matter of Film 299
Directing and Editing 300
The Participative Experience and Film 303
The Film Image 305

EXPERIENCING: Still Frames and Photography 305

Camera Point of View 308
Violence and Film 310
Sound 312
Image and Action 313
Cinematic Structure 315
Cinematic Details 317
The Context of Film History 318
Two Great Films: The Godfather and

Casablanca 319
The Narrative Structure of The Godfather Films 320
Coppola’s Images 321
Coppola’s Use of Sound 321
The Power of The Godfather 322

FOCUS ON: Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca 323

Experimentation 326
Animated Film 327
Summary 329

13 Television and Video Art 330
The Evolution of Television 330
The Subject Matter of Television and

Video Art 331
Commercial Television 332
The Television Series 333
The Structure of the Self-Contained Episode 334

The Television Serial 335
Three Emmy Winners 339

FOCUS ON: The Americans 342

Video Art 344
EXPERIENCING: Jacopo Pontormo and Bill Viola: The

Visitation 348
Summary 351

Part 3 INTERRELATIONSHIPS

14  Is It Art or Something
Like It? 352

Art and Artlike 352
Illustration 354
Realism 354
Folk Art 355
Popular Art 357
Propaganda 362

EXPERIENCING: Propaganda Art 362

FOCUS ON: Kitsch 363

Decoration 365
Idea Art 370
Dada 370
Duchamp and His Legacy 371
Conceptual Art 372

Performance Art 374
Virtual Art 376
Summary 377

15  The Interrelationships
of the Arts 378

Appropriation 378
Interpretation 379
Film Interprets Literature: Howards End 380
Music Interprets Drama: The Marriage of Figaro 382
Painting Interprets Poetry: The Starry Night 385
Sculpture Interprets Poetry: Apollo and Daphne 387

EXPERIENCING: Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne and Ovid’s
The Metamorphoses 389

Drama Interprets Painting 390

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x  CONTENTS

EXPERIENCING: The Humanities and Students
of Medicine 399

Values 400
FOCUS ON:  The Arts and History, the Arts and Philosophy,

the Arts and Theology 402
Summary 406

GLOSSARY G-1

INDEX I-1

FOCUS ON: Photography Interprets Fiction 391

Architecture Interprets Dance: National Nederlanden Building 392
Painting Interprets Dance and Music: The Dance and Music 392

EXPERIENCING: Death in Venice: Three Versions 395
Summary 396

16  The Interrelationships
of the Humanities 397

The Humanities and the Sciences 397
The Arts and the Other Humanities 398

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xi

PREFACE

Overview

The Humanities through the Arts, tenth edition, explores the humanities with an em-
phasis on the arts. Examining the relationship of the humanities to values, objects,
and events important to people is central to this book. We make a distinction between
artists and other humanists: Artists reveal values, while other humanists examine or
reflect on values. We study how values are revealed in the arts while keeping in mind
a basic question: “What is art?” Judging by the existence of ancient artifacts, we see
that artistic expression is one of the most fundamental human activities. It binds us
together as a people by revealing the most important values of our culture.

Our genre-based approach offers students the opportunity to understand the
relationship of the arts to human values by examining, in-depth, each of the major
artistic media. Subject matter, form, and content in each of the arts supply the
framework for careful analysis. Painting and photography focus our eyes on the
visual appearance of things. Sculpture reveals the textures, densities, and shapes
of things. Architecture sharpens our perception of spatial relationships, both in-
side and out. Literature, theater, cinema, and video explore values and make us
more aware of the human condition. Our understanding of feelings is deepened by
music. Our sensitivity to movement, especially of the human body, is enhanced by
dance. The wide range of opportunities for criticism and analysis helps the reader
synthesize the complexities of the arts and their interaction with values of many
kinds. All of this is achieved with an exceptionally vivid and complete illustration
program alongside detailed discussion and interactive responses to the problems
inherent in a close study of the arts and values of our time.

OrganizatiOn

This edition, as with previous editions, is organized into three parts, offering con-
siderable flexibility in the classroom:

Part 1, “Fundamentals,” includes the first three introductory chapters. In Chapter 1,
The Humanities: An Introduction, we distinguish the humanities from the sciences,
and the arts from other humanities. In Chapter 2, What Is a Work of Art?, we raise
the question of definition in art and the ways in which we distinguish art from other
objects and experiences. Chapter 3, Being a Critic of the Arts, introduces the vital role
of criticism in art appreciation and evaluation.

©ArenaPal/Topham/The Image Works

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xii

PREFACE

Part 2, “The Arts,” includes individual chapters on each of the basic arts. The
structure of this section permits complete flexibility: The chapters may be used
in their present order or in any order one wishes. We begin with the individual
chapters Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture; follow with Literature, Theater,
Music, and Dance; and continue with Photography, Cinema, and Television
and Video Art. Instructors may reorder or omit chapters as needed. The chapter Pho-
tography logically precedes the chapters Cinema and Television and Video Art for the
convenience of instructors who prefer to teach the chapters in the order presented.

Part 3, “Interrelationships,” begins with Chapter 14, Is It Art or Something Like It?
We study illustration, folk art, propaganda, and kitsch while raising the question
“What is art?” We also examine the avant-garde as it pushes us to the edge of defi-
nition. Chapter 15, The Interrelationships of the Arts, explores the ways in which the
arts work together, as in how a film interprets E. M. Forster’s novel Howards End,
how literature and a musical interpretation of a Beaumarchais play result in Mo-
zart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, how Walt Whitman’s poetry inspires van Gogh’s
painting The Starry Night, how a passage from Ovid’s epic poem “The Metamorpho-
ses” inspires the Bernini sculpture Apollo and Daphne, and more. Chapter 16, The
Interrelationships of the Humanities, addresses the ways in which the arts reveal val-
ues shared by the other humanities—particularly history, philosophy, and theology.

Key Changes in the tenth editiOn

NEW Expanded Connect course with SmartBook. Connect is a highly reliable,
easy-to-use homework and learning management solution that embeds learning
science and award-winning adaptive tools to improve student results.

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xiii

PREFACE

LearnSmart is an adaptive learning program designed to help students learn faster,
study smarter, and retain more knowledge for greater success. Distinguishing what
students know from what they don’t, and focusing on concepts they are most likely
to forget, LearnSmart continuously adapts to each student’s needs by building
a personalized learning path. An intelligent adaptive study tool, LearnSmart is
proven to strengthen memory recall, keep students in class, and boost grades.

The Humanities Through the Arts now offers two reading experiences for students
and instructors: SmartBook and eBook. Fueled by LearnSmart, SmartBook is the
first and only adaptive reading experience currently available. SmartBook™ creates
a personalized reading experience by highlighting the most impactful concepts a
student needs to learn at that moment in time. The reading experience continu-
ously adapts by highlighting content based on what the student knows and doesn’t
know. Real-time reports quickly identify the concepts that require more attention
from individual students—or the entire class. eBook provides a simple, elegant read-
ing experience, available for offline reading.

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xiv

PREFACE

Updated illustration program and contextual discussions. More than 30 percent
of the images in this edition are new or have been updated to include fresh
classic and contemporary works. New discussions of these works appear near
the illustrations. The 200-plus images throughout the book have been carefully
chosen and reproduced in full color when possible, resulting in a beautifully
illustrated text. Newly added visual artists represented include painters Arte-
misia Gentileschi, Diego Velasquez, Frederic Lord Leighton, Amedeo Modigliani,
Winslow Homer, Morris Louis, Hokusai, Willem de Kooning, Jean-Honore Frag-
onard, Arshile Gorky, Henry Wallis, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Arthur Hughes,
William Holman Hunt, and John Waterhouse; sculptors Edgar Degas, Kara
Walker, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and Naum Gabo; photographers Berenice
Abbott, Nan Goldin, Paul Strand, Bruce Davidson, Carrie Mae Weems, Tina
Barney, Wang Quinsong, and Bill Gekas; and video artists Pipilotti Riist and Bill
Viola. Newly added film and television stills represent Michael Curtiz’s classic
film Casablanca, the popular television shows Game of Thrones and The Americans,
Orson Wells’s The Lady from Shanghai, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the
Lambs, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant,
and more.

Along with the many new illustrations and contextual discussions of the visual
arts, film, and television, new works and images in the literary, dance, theatrical, and
musical arts have been added and contextualized. These include works by Robert
Herrick, John Masefield, Amy Lowell, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Donne, Wang
Chang-Ling, Po Chu’i, John Millington Synge, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Frederic
Chopin, Tupac Shakur, and the Batsheva Dance Company.

Increased focus on non-Western art and art by minority and female artists. This
edition contains numerous new examples, including paintings (Artemesia
Gentileschi’s Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting and Hokusai’s The Wave),
sculpture (Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby and Magdalena
Abakanowicz’s Bronze Crowd), architecture (the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut,
Egypt), literature (Amy Lowell’s “Venus Transiens” and Po Chu’i’s T’ang dynasty
poetry), theater (Lin-Manual Miranda’s Hamilton), dance (the Batsheva Dance
Company), photography (Berenice Abbott, Nan Goldin, Carrie Mae Weems, Tina
Barney, and Wang Quinsong), film (The Revenant), and television and video art
(Pipilotti Riist).

PedagOgiCal Features

Four major pedagogical boxed features enhance student understanding of the
genres and of individual works within the genres: Perception Key, Conception Key,
Experiencing, and Focus On.

• The Perception Key boxes are designed to sharpen readers’ responses to the
arts. These boxes raise important questions about specific works of art in
a way that respects the complexities of the works and of our responses to
them. The questions raised are usually open-ended and thereby avoid any
doctrinaire views or dogmatic opinions. The emphasis is on perception and

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xv

PREFACE

awareness, and how a heightened awareness will produce a fuller and more
meaningful understanding of the work at hand. In a few cases our own in-
terpretations and analyses follow the keys and are offered not as the way to
perceive a given work of art but, rather, as one possible way. Our primary
interest is in exciting our readers to perceive the splendid singularity of the
work of art in question.

PERCEPTION KEY Chartres Cathedral
1. Form and function usually work together in classic architecture. What visible ex-

terior architectural details indicate that Chartres Cathedral functions as a church?
Are there any visible details that conflict with its function as a church?

2. The two spires of the church were built at different times. Should they have been
made symmetrical? What might be some reasons for their not being symmetrical?

3. What seem to be the primary values revealed by the rose window of Chartres?
4. How did the builders satisfy the fourth requirement of architecture: that the build-

ing be revelatory? What values does the exterior of the building reveal?
5. What is implied by the fact that the cathedral dwarfs all the buildings near it?

• We use Conception Key boxes, rather than Perception Key boxes, in certain
instances throughout the book where we focus on thought and conception rather
than observation and perception. Again, these are open-ended questions that
involve reflection and understanding. There is no single way of responding to
these keys, just as there is no simple way to answer the questions.

CONCEPTION KEY Theories
Our theory of art as revelatory, as giving insight into values, may appear to be
mired in a tradition that cannot account for the amazing developments of the
avant-garde. Is the theory inadequate? As you proceed with this chapter, ask your-
self whether the distinction between art and artlike is valid. How about useful? If
not, what theory would you propose? Or would you be inclined to dismiss theories
altogether?

• Each chapter provides an Experiencing box that gives the reader the opportunity
to approach a specific work of art in more detail than the Perception Key boxes.
Analysis of the work begins by answering a few preliminary questions to make it
accessible to students. Follow-up questions ask students to think critically about
the work and guide them to their own interpretations. In every case we raise
major issues concerning the genre of the work, the background of the work, and
the artistic issues that make the work demanding and important.

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PREFACE

• In each chapter of “The Arts” and “Interrelationships” sections of the book, we
include a Focus On box, which provides an opportunity to deal in-depth with a
group of artworks in context, the work of a single artist, or a single work of art.
Many of the Focus On boxes are new to this edition, including those discuss-
ing the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the Alhambra, Chinese poet Po Chu’i, the
popular musical play Hamilton, the classic film Casablanca, and the critically ac-
claimed television series The Americans. Each of these opportunities encourages
in-depth and comparative study.

FOCUS ON The Alhambra
The Alhambra (Figure 6-33) is one of the world’s
most dazzling works of architecture. Its beginnings
in the Middle Ages were modest, a fortress on a hilly
flatland above Granada built by Arab invaders—
Moors—who controlled much of Spain. In time,
the fortress was added to, and by the fourteenth
century the Nasrid dynasty demanded a sumptuous
palace and King Yusuf I (1333–1352) began con-
struction. After his death it was continued by his
son Muhammad V (1353–1391).

While the needs of a fortress were still evident, in-
cluding the plain massive exterior walls, the Nasrids
wanted the interior to be luxurious, magnificent, and
beautiful. The Alhambra is one of the world’s most astounding examples of beautifully
decorated architecture. The builders created a structure that was different from any that
had been built in Islam. But at the same time, they depended on many historical traditions
for interior decoration, such as the Seljuk, Mughal, and Fatimid styles. Because Islam for-
bade the reproduction in art of the human form, we see representations of flowers, plants,
vines, and other natural objects in the midst of elaborate designs, including Arabic script.

The   aerial view (Figure 6-34) reveals the siting of the Alhambra rising above trees
surrounding it. The large square structure was added much later by Charles V, after the
Nasrid dynasty collapsed and the Moors were driven from Spain. 

FIGURE 6-33
The Alhambra, Granada, Spain.
Circa 1370–1380. “Alhambra”
may be translated as red, possibly a
reference to the color of the bricks
of its outer walls. It sits on high
ground above the town.

©Daniel Viñé Garcia/Getty Images RF

EXPERIENCING  Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne and Ovid’s
The Metamorphoses

1. If you had not read Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, what would you believe to be the
subject matter of Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne? Do you believe it is a less interesting
work if you do not know Ovid?

One obvious issue in looking at this sculpture and considering Ovid’s treatment of
Apollo and Daphne is that today very few people will have read Ovid before seeing the
sculpture. In the era in which Bernini created the work, he expected it to be seen pri-
marily by well-educated people, and in the seventeenth century, most educated people
would have been steeped in Ovid from a young age. Consequently, Bernini worked in a
classical tradition that he could easily rely on to inform his audience.

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xvii

PREFACE

suPPOrting resOurCes

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Question Bank

The Humanities through the Arts, tenth edition, includes a number of resources to
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which offers learning objectives, chapter outlines, possible discussion and lecture
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aCKnOwledgments

This book is indebted to more people than we can truly credit. We are deeply grate-
ful to the following survey respondents for their help on this edition:

Micheal Jay Adamek, Ozarks Technical Community College; Larry Atkins, Ozarks
Technical Community College; Michael Bajuk, Western Washington University;
Michael Berberich, Galveston College; Bill Burrows, Lane Community College; Aaron

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xviii

PREFACE

Butler, Warner Pacific College Adult Degree Program; Linda Carpenter, Coastline
Community College; Jordan Chilton, Ozarks Technical Community College; Patricia
Dodd, Houston Community College; Laura Early, Highland Community College;
Kristin Edford, Amarillo College; Jeremy R. Franklin, Colorado Mesa University; Diane
Gaston, Cuyahoga Community College; Donna Graham, Ozarks Technical Community
College; Daniel Hieber, Ozarks Technical Community College; Jennifer Keefe, Valencia
College; Donny Leveston, Houston Community College; Susanna Lundgren, Warner
Pacific College; Jimidene Murphey, Wharton County Junior College; Sven Pearsall,
Alpena Community College; Debbi Richard, Dallas Baptist University; Matthew Scott,
Ozarks Technical Community College; Timothy Soulis, Transylvania University; Peter
C. Surace, Cuyahoga Community College; Normand Theriault, Houston Community
College; Peter Utgaard, Cuyamaca College; Dawn Hamm Walsh, Dallas Baptist
University; and Adrian S. Windsor, Coastline Community College

We also thank the following reviewers for their help shaping previous editions:

Addell Austin Anderson, Wayne County Community College District; David Avalos,
California State University San Marcos; Bruce Bellingham, University of Connecticut;
Eugene Bender, Richard J. Daley College; Michael Berberich, Galveston College;
Barbara Brickman, Howard Community College; Peggy Brown, Collin County Community
College; Lance Brunner, University of Kentucky; Alexandra Burns, Bay Path College;
Bill Burrows, Lane Community College; Glen Bush, Heartland Community College; Sara
Cardona, Richland College; Brandon Cesmat, California State University San Marcos;
Selma Jean Cohen, editor of Dance Perspectives; Karen Conn, Valencia Community
College; Harrison Davis, Brigham Young University; Jim Doan, Nova University; Jill
Domoney, Johnson County Community College; Gerald Eager, Bucknell University;
Kristin Edford, Amarillo College; D. Layne Ehlers, Bacone College; Jane Ferencz,
University of Wisconsin–Whitewater; Roberta Ferrell, SUNY Empire State; Michael
Flanagan, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater; Kathy Ford, Lake Land College; Andy
Friedlander, Skagit Valley College; Harry Garvin, Bucknell University; Susan K. de
Ghizee, University of Denver; Amber Gillis, El Camino College–Compton Center;
Michael Gos, Lee College; M. Scott Grabau, Irvine Valley College; Lee Hartman, Howard
Community College; Jeffrey T. Hopper, Harding University; James Housefield, Texas
State University–San Marcos; Stephen Husarik, University of Arkansas–Fort Smith;
Ramona Ilea, Pacific University Oregon; Joanna Jacobus, choreographer; Lee Jones,
Georgia Perimeter College–Lawrenceville; Deborah Jowitt, Village Voice; Nadene A.
Keene, Indiana University–Kokomo; Marsha Keller, Oklahoma City University; Paul
Kessel, Mohave Community College; Edward Kies,College of DuPage; John Kinkade,
Centre College; Gordon Lee, Lee College; Tracy L. McAfee, North Central State
College; L. Timothy Myers, Butler Community College; Marceau Myers, North Texas
State University; Martha Myers, Connecticut College; William E. Parker, University
of Connecticut; Seamus Pender, Franklin Pierce College; Ellen Rosewall, University
of Wisconsin–Green Bay; Susan Shmeling, Vincennes University; Ed Simone,
St. Bonaventure University; C. Edward Spann, Dallas Baptist University; Mark Stewart,
San Joaquin Delta College; Robert Streeter, University of Chicago; Peter C. Surace,
Cuyahoga Community College; Robert Tynes, University of North Carolina at Asheville;
Walter Wehner, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; and Keith West, Butler
Community College.

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xix

PREFACE

We want to thank the editorial team at McGraw-Hill for their smart and gener-
ous support for this edition. Lead Product Developer Beth Tripmacher, along with
Brand Manager Sarah Remington, oversaw the revision from inception through
production. Product Developer Bruce Cantley guided us carefully through the pro-
cess of establishing a revision plan and incorporating new material into the text.
In all things he was a major sounding board as we thought about how to improve
the book. We also owe thanks to Lead Content Project Manager Mary Powers, who
oversaw the book smoothly through the production process; Tara McDermott, who
oversaw the interior design in both the print and online versions of the text as
well as the cover; Deb DeBord, who was an exceptionally good copyeditor; Content
Licensing Specialist Carrie Burger, who oversaw the permissions process, along
with Julie De Adder and Danny Meldung, who did a wonderful job researching and
obtaining reprint rights for images; and Isabel Saraiva, who likewise did excellent
work researching and clearing the rights for text reprints. All the wonderful people
who worked on this book made our job easier and helped make this book distinc-
tive and artistic.

a nOte FrOm the authOrs

Our own commitment to the arts and the humanities has been lifelong. One pur-
pose of this book is to help instill a love of all the arts in its readers. We have faced
many of the issues and problems that are considered in this book and, to an extent,
we are still undecided about certain important questions concerning the arts and
their relationship to the humanities. Clearly, we grow and change our thinking as
we grow. Our engagement with the arts at any age will reflect our own abilities and
commitments. But as we grow, we deepen our understanding of the arts we love
as well as deepen our understanding of our own nature, our inner selves. We be-
lieve that the arts and the humanities function together to make life more intense,
more significant, and more wonderful. A lifetime of work unrelieved by a deep
commitment to the arts would be stultifying and perhaps destructive to one’s soul.
The arts and humanities make us one with our fellow human beings. They help us
understand each other, just as they help us admire the beauty that is the product of
the human imagination. As the philosopher Susanne K. Langer once said, the arts
are the primary avenues to the education of our emotional lives. By our efforts in
understanding the arts, we are indelibly enriched.

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C h a p t e r 1

THE HUMANITIES:
AN INTRODUCTION

The humaniTies: a sTudy of Values
Today we think of the humanities as those broad areas of human creativity and
study, such as philosophy, history, social sciences, the arts, and literature, that are
distinct from mathematics and the “hard” sciences, mainly because in the human-
ities, strictly objective or scientific standards are not usually dominant.

The current separation between the humanities and the sciences reveals itself
in a number of contemporary controversies. For example, the cloning of animals
has been greeted by many people as a possible benefit for domestic livestock
farmers. Genetically altered wheat, soybeans, and other cereals have been her-
alded by many scientists as a breakthrough that will produce disease-resistant
crops and therefore permit us to continue to increase the world food supply.
On the other hand, some people resist such modifications and purchase food
identified as not being genetically altered. Scientific research into the human

©RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY

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2

CHAPTER 1

genome has identified certain genes for inherited diseases, such as breast cancer
or Alzheimer’s disease, that could be modified to protect individuals or their off-
spring. Genetic research also suggests that in a few years individuals may be able
to “design” their children’s intelligence, body shape, height, general appearance,
and physical ability.

Scientists provide the tools for these choices. Their values are centered in science
in that they value the nature of their research and their capacity to make it work
in a positive way. However, the impact on humanity of such a series of dramatic
changes to life brings to the fore values that clash with one another. For example, is
it a positive social value for couples to decide the sex of their offspring rather than
following nature’s own direction? In this case who should decide if “designing”
one’s offspring is a positive value, the scientist or the humanist?

Even more profound is the question of cloning a human being. Once a sheep
had been cloned successfully, it was clear that this science would lead directly
to the possibility of a cloned human being. Some proponents of cloning support
the process because we could clone a child who has died in infancy or clone a ge-
nius who has given great gifts to the world. For these people, cloning is a positive
value. For others, the very thought of cloning a person is repugnant on the basis
of religious belief. For still others, the idea of human cloning is objectionable be-
cause it echoes the creation of an unnatural monster, and for them it is a negative
value. Because this is a worldwide problem, local laws will have limited effect on
establishing a clear position on the value of cloning of all sorts. The question of
how we decide on such a controversial issue is at the heart of the humanities, and
some observers have pointed to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s famous novel Fran-
kenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus, which in some ways enacts the conflict among
these values.

These examples demonstrate that the discoveries of scientists often have tre-
mendous impact on the values of society. Yet some scientists have declared that
they merely make the discoveries and that others—presumably politicians—must
decide how the discoveries are to be used. It is this last statement that brings
us closest to the importance of the humanities. If many scientists believe they
cannot judge how their discoveries are to be used, then we must try to under-
stand why they give that responsibility to others. This is not to say that scientists
uniformly turn such decisions over to others, for many of them are humanists as
well as scientists. But the fact remains that many governments have made use
of great scientific achievements without pausing to ask the “achievers” if they
approved of the way their discoveries were being used. The questions are, Who
decides how to use such discoveries? On what grounds should their judgments
be based?

Studying the behavior of neutrinos or string theory will not help us get closer
to the answer. Such study is not related to the nature of humankind but to the
nature of nature. What we need is a study that will get us closer to ourselves.
It should be a study that explores the reaches of human feeling in relation to
values—not only our own individual feelings and values but also the feelings and
values of others. We need a study that will increase our sensitivity to ourselves,
others, and the values in our world. To be sensitive is to perceive with insight. To
be sensitive is also to feel and believe that things make a difference. Furthermore,

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3

THE HUMANITIES:
AN INTRODUCTION

it involves an awareness of those aspects of values that cannot be measured by
objective standards. To be sensitive is to respect the humanities, because, among
other reasons, they help develop our sensitivity to values, to what is important to
us as individuals.

There are numerous ways to approach the humanities. The way we have chosen
here is the way of the arts. One of the contentions of this book is that values are clar-
ified in enduring ways in the arts. Human beings have had the impulse to express
their values since the earliest times. Ancient tools recovered from the most recent
Ice Age, for example, have features designed to express an affection for beauty as
well as to provide utility.

The concept of progress in the arts is problematic. Who is to say whether the
cave paintings (Figure 1-1) of 30,000 years ago that were discovered in present-day
France are less excellent than the work of Picasso (Figure 1-4)? Cave paintings were
probably not made as works of art to be contemplated. Getting to them in the caves
is almost always difficult, and they are very hard to see. They seem to have been
made for a practical purpose, such as improving the prospects for the hunt. Yet the
work reveals something about the power, grace, and beauty of all the animals it
portrayed. These cave paintings function now as works of art. From the beginning,
our species instinctively had an interest in making revealing forms.

Among the numerous ways to approach the humanities, we have chosen the way
of the arts because, as we shall try to elucidate, the arts clarify or reveal values. As
we deepen our understanding of the arts, we necessarily deepen our understanding
of values. We will study our experience with works of art as well as the values others

FIGURE 1-1
Cave painting from Chauvet Caves,
France. Discovered in 1994, the
Chauvet Caves have yielded some
of the most astonishing examples of
prehistoric art the world has seen.
These aurochs may have lived as
many as 35,000 years ago, while the
painting itself seems as modern as a
contemporary work.

©Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Source

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CHAPTER 1

associate with them, and in this process we will also educate ourselves about our
own values.

Because a value is something that matters, engagement with art—the illumina-
tion of values—enriches the quality of our lives significantly. Moreover, the subject
matter of art—what it is about—is not limited to the beautiful and the pleasant, the
bright sides of life. Art may also include and help us understand the dark sides—the
ugly, the painful, and the tragic. And when it does and when we get it, we are better
able to come to grips with those dark sides of life.

Art brings us into direct communication with others. As Carlos Fuentes wrote in
The Buried Mirror, “People and their cultures perish in isolation, but they are born
or reborn in contact with other men and women of another culture, another creed,
another race. If we do not recognize our humanity in others, we shall not recognize
it in ourselves.” Art reveals the essence of our existence.

arT, CommerCe, and TasTe
When the great paintings of the Italian Renaissance were being made, their ulti-
mate value hinged on how good they were, how fully they expressed the values—
usually religious but sometimes political—that the culture expected. Michelangelo’s
great, heroic-sized statue of David in Florence was admired for its representation
of the values of self-government by the small city-state as well as for its simple
beauty of proportion. No dollar figure was attached to the great works of this pe-
riod—except for the price paid to the artists. Once these works were in place, no
one expressed admiration for them because they would cost a great deal in the
marketplace.

Today the art world has changed profoundly and is sometimes thought to be art
of an essentially commercial enterprise. Great paintings today change hands for
tens of millions of dollars. Moreover, the taste of the public shifts constantly. Mov-
ies, for example, survive or fail on the basis of the number of people they appeal
to. Therefore, a film is often thought good only if it makes money. As a result, film
producers make every effort to cash in on current popular tastes, often by making
sequels until the public’s taste changes—for example, the Batman series (1989 to
2017). The Star Wars series (1977 to 2019 [projected]) cashed in on the needs of
science-fiction fans whose taste in films is excited by the futuristic details and the
narrative of danger and excitement of space travel. These are good films despite
the emphasis on commercial success. But in some ways they are also limited by the
demands of the marketplace.

Our study of the humanities emphasizes that commercial success is not the
most important guide to excellence in the arts. The long-term success of works of
art depends on their ability to interpret human experience at a level of complex-
ity that warrants examination and reexamination. Many commercially successful
works give us what we think we want rather than what we really need with refer-
ence to insight and understanding. By satisfying us in an immediate and superfi-
cial way, commercial art can dull us to the possibilities of complex, more deeply
satisfying art.

Everyone has limitations as a perceiver of art. Sometimes we assume that we have
developed our taste and that any effort to change it is bad form. The saying “Matters

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5

THE HUMANITIES:
AN INTRODUCTION

of taste are not disputable” can be credited with making many of us feel righteous
about our own taste. What the saying means is that there is no accounting for what
people like in the arts, for beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, there is no use in
trying to educate anyone about the arts. Obviously we disagree. We believe that all of
us can and should be educated about the arts and should learn to respond to as wide
a variety of the arts as possible: from jazz to string quartets, from Charlie Chaplin to
Steven Spielberg, from Lewis Carroll to T. S. Eliot, from folk art to Picasso. Most of
us defend our taste because anyone who challenges it challenges our deep feelings.
Anyone who tries to change our responses to art is really trying to get inside our
minds. If we fail to understand its purpose, this kind of persuasion naturally arouses
resistance.

For us, the study of the arts penetrates beyond facts to the values that evoke our
feelings—the way a succession of Eric Clapton’s guitar chords playing the blues can
be electrifying, or the way song lyrics can give us a chill. In other words, we want
to go beyond the facts about a work of art and get to the values revealed in the
work. How many times have we found ourselves liking something that, months
or years before, we could not stand? And how often do we find ourselves now
disliking what we previously judged a masterpiece? Generally we can say the work
of art remains the same. It is we who change. We learn to recognize the values
illuminated in such works as well as to understand the ways they are expressed.
Such development is the meaning of “education” in the sense in which we have
been using the term.

responses To arT
Our responses to art usually involve processes so complex that they can never be
fully tracked down or analyzed. At first they can only be hinted at when we talk
about them. However, further education in the arts permits us to observe more
closely and thereby respond more intensely to the content of the work. This is true,
we believe, even with “easy” art, such as exceptionally beautiful works—for exam-
ple, those by Giorgione (Figure 2-9), Cézanne (Figure 2-4), and O’Keeffe (Figure
4-12). Such gorgeous works generally are responded to with immediate satisfac-
tion. What more needs to be done? If art were only of the beautiful, textbooks such
as this would never find many users. But we think more needs to be done, even
with the beautiful. We will begin, however, with three works that obviously are not
beautiful.

The Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros’s Echo of a Scream (Figure 1-2) is a
highly emotional painting, in the sense that the work seems to demand a strong
emotional response. What we see is the huge head of a baby crying and, then, as
if issuing from its own mouth, the baby himself. What kinds of emotions do you
find stirring in yourself as you look at this painting? What kinds of emotions do
you feel are expressed in the painting? Your own emotional responses—such as
shock; pity for the child; irritation at a destructive, mechanical society; or any other
nameable emotion—do not sum up the painting. However, they are an important
starting point, since Siqueiros paints in such a way as to evoke emotion, and our
understanding of the painting increases as we examine the means by which this
evocation is achieved.

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CHAPTER 1

FIGURE 1-2
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Mexican,
1896–1974, Echo of a Scream.
1937. Enamel on wood, 48 × 36
inches (121.9 × 91.4 cm). Gift of
Edward M. M. Warburg. Museum of
Modern Art, New York. Siqueiros,
a famous Mexican muralist, fought
during the Mexican Revolution
and possessed a powerful political
sensibility, much of which found its
way into his art. He painted some of
his works in prison, held there for
his political convictions. In the 1930s
he centered his attention on the
Spanish Civil War, represented here.

©2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
York/SOMAAP, Mexico City. Photo:
©The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by
SCALA/Art Resource, NY

PERCEPTION KEY Echo of a Scream
1. What are the important distortions in the painting?
2. What effect does the distortion of the baby’s head have on you?
3. Why is the scream described as an echo?
4. What are the objects on the ground around the baby? How do they relate to the baby?
5. How does the red cloth on the baby intensify your emotional response to the painting?

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7

THE HUMANITIES:
AN INTRODUCTION

Study another work, very close in temperament to Siqueiros’s painting: The Eternal
City by the American painter Peter Blume (Figure 1-3). After attending carefully to the
kinds of responses awakened by The Eternal City, take note of some background infor-
mation about the painting that you may not know. The year of this painting is the same
as that of Echo of a Scream: 1937. The Eternal City is a name reserved for only one city
in the world—Rome. In 1937 the world was on the verge of world war: Fascists were in
power in Italy and the Nazis in Germany. In the center of the painting is the Roman
Forum, close to where Julius Caesar, the alleged tyrant, was murdered by Brutus. But
here we see fascist Blackshirts, the modern tyrants, beating people. In a niche at the left
is a figure of Christ, and beneath him (hard to see) is a crippled beggar woman. Near
her are ruins of Roman statuary. The enlarged and distorted head, wriggling out like
a jack-in-the-box, is that of Mussolini, the man who invented fascism and the Black-
shirts. Study the painting closely again. Has your response to the painting changed?

FIGURE 1-3
Peter Blume, 1906–1992, The Eternal
City. 1934–1937. Dated on painting
1937. Oil on composition board, 34 ×
47⅞ inches. Museum of Modern Art,
New York. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim
Fund. Born in Russia, Blume came
to America when he was six. His
paintings are marked by a strong
interest in what is now known as
magic realism, interleaving time and
place and the dead and the living in an
emotional space that confronts the
viewer as a challenge. He condemned
the tyrant dictators of the first half
of the twentieth century.

Art ©The Education Alliance, Inc./Estate of
Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York,
NY. Photo: ©The Museum of Modern Art/
Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

PERCEPTION KEY Siqueiros and Blume
1. What common ingredients do you find in the Blume and Siqueiros paintings?
2. Is your reaction to the Blume similar to or distinct from your reaction to the

Siqueiros?
3. Is the effect of the distortions similar or different?
4. How are colors used in each painting? Are the colors those of the natural world, or

do they suggest an artificial environment? Are they distorted for effect?
5. With reference to the objects and events represented in each painting, do you

think the paintings are comparable? If so, in what ways?
6. With the Blume, are there any natural objects in the painting that suggest the

vitality of the Eternal City?
7. What political values are revealed in these two paintings?

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8

CHAPTER 1

Before going on to the next painting, which is quite different in character, we
will make some observations about what we have said, however briefly, about the
Blume. With added knowledge about its cultural and political implications—what
we shall call the background of the painting—your responses to The Eternal City may
have changed. Ideally they should have become more focused, intense, and certain.
Why? The painting is surely the same physical object you looked at originally. Noth-
ing has changed in that object. Therefore, something has changed because some-
thing has been added to you, information that the general viewer of the painting
in 1937 would have known and would have responded to more emotionally than
viewers do now. Consider how a Fascist, on the one hand, or an Italian humanist
and lover of Roman culture, on the other hand, would have reacted to this painting
in 1937.

A full experience of this painting is not unidimensional but multidimensional.
Moreover, “knowledge about” a work of art can lead to “knowledge of ” the work of
art, which implies a richer experience. This is important as a basic principle, since
it means that we can be educated about what is in a work of art, such as its shapes,
objects, and structure, as well as what is external to a work, such as its political
references. It means we can learn to respond more completely. It also means that
artists such as Blume sometimes produce works that demand background informa-
tion if we are to appreciate them fully. This is particularly true of art that refers to
historical circumstances and personages. Sometimes we may find ourselves unable
to respond successfully to a work of art because we lack the background knowledge
the artist presupposes.

Picasso’s Guernica (Figure 1-4), one of the most famous paintings of the twentieth
century, is also dated 1937. Its title comes from the name of an old Spanish town
that was bombed during the Spanish Civil War—the first aerial bombing of noncom-
batant civilians in modern warfare. Examine this painting carefully.

FIGURE 1-4
Pablo Picasso, Guernica. 1937.
Oil on canvas, 11 feet 6 inches ×
25 feet 8 inches. Museo Nacional
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid,
Spain. Ordinarily Picasso was not a
political painter. During World War
II he was a citizen of Spain, a neutral
country. But the Spanish Civil War
excited him to create one of the
world’s greatest modern paintings, a
record of the German bombing of a
small Spanish town, Guernica. When
a Nazi officer saw the painting he
said to Picasso, “Did you do this?”
Picasso answered scornfully, “No,
you did.”

©2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York. Photo: ©Erich
Lessing/Art Resource, NY

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PERCEPTION KEY Guernica
1. Distortion is powerfully evident in this painting. How does its function differ from

that of the distortion in Blume’s The Eternal City or Siqueiros’s Echo of a Scream?
2. What are the most prominent objects in the painting? What seems to be the rela-

tionship of the animals to the humans?
3. The figures in the painting are organized by underlying geometric forms. What are

they and how do they focus your attention? Is the formal organization strong or
weak?

4. How does your eye move across the painting? Do you begin at the left, the right,
or the middle? This is a gigantic painting, over twenty-five feet long. How must one
view it to take it all in? Why is it so large?

5. Some viewers have considered the organization of the images to be chaotic. Do
you agree? If so, what would be the function of chaos in this painting?

6. We know from history that Guernica memorializes the Nazi bombing of the town
of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. What is the subject matter of
Guernica—what the work is about: War? Death? Horror? Suffering? Fascism? Or
something else?

7. Which of these paintings by Blume, Siqueiros, and Picasso makes the most power-
ful statement about the human condition?

The next painting (Figure 1-5), featured in “Experiencing: The Mona Lisa,” is
by Leonardo da Vinci, arguably one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renais-
sance. Da Vinci is a household name in part because of this painting. Despite the
lack of a political or historically relevant subject matter, the Mona Lisa, with its
tense pose and enigmatic expression, has become possibly the most famous work
of art in the West.

EXPERIENCING The Mona Lisa

1. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the history of
art. What, in your opinion, makes this painting noteworthy?

2. Because this painting is so familiar, it has sometimes been treated as if it were a
cliché, an overworked image. In several cases it has been treated with satirical scorn.
Why would any artist want to make fun of this painting? Is it a cliché, or are you able
to look at it as if for the first time?

3. Unlike the works of Siqueiros, Blume, and Picasso, this painting has no obvious con-
nections to historical circumstances that might intrude on your responses to its for-
mal qualities. How does a lack of context affect your understanding of the painting?

4. It has been pointed out that the landscape on the left and the landscape on the right
are totally different. If that judgment is correct, why do you think Leonardo made
such a decision? What moods do the landscapes suggest?

5. The woman portrayed may be Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a local busi-
nessman, and the painting has long been known in Italy as La Gioconda. Is it necessary
to our sense of participation that we know who the sitter is, or that we know that
Leonardo kept this painting with him throughout his life and took it wherever he
went?

9

THE HUMANITIES:
AN INTRODUCTION

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Structure and Artistic Form

Your responses to the Mona Lisa are probably different from those you have when
viewing the other paintings in this chapter, but why? You might reply that the Mona
Lisa is hypnotizing, a carefully structured painting depending on a subtle but basic
geometric form, the triangle. Such structures, while operating subconsciously, are

Experiencing a painting as frequently reproduced as Mona Lisa,
which is visited by millions of people every year at the Louvre in
Paris, takes most of us some special effort. Unless we study the
painting as if it were new to us, we will simply see it as an icon of
high culture rather than as a painting with a formal power and a
lasting value. Because it is used in advertisements and on mouse
pads, playing cards, jigsaw puzzles, and a host of other banal
locations, we might see this as a cliché.

However, we are also fortunate in that we see the paint-
ing as itself, apart from any social or historical events, and in
a location that is almost magical or mythical. The landscape
may be unreal, fantastic, and suggestive of a world of mystical
opportunity. Certainly it emphasizes mystery. Whoever this
woman is, she is concentrating in an unusual fashion on the
viewer, whether we imagine it is us or it is Leonardo whom she
contemplates. A study of her expression reminds us that for
generations the “Gioconda smile” has teased authors and crit-
ics with its mystery. Is she making an erotic suggestion in that
smile, or is it a smile of self-satisfaction? Or is it a smile of tol-
erance, suggesting that she is just waiting for this sitting to be
done? Her expression has been the most intriguing of virtually
any portrait subject in any museum in the world. It is no sur-
prise, then, that Leonardo kept this for himself, although we
must wonder whether he was commissioned for the painting
and for some reason did not want to deliver it.

The arresting quality of the painting is in part because of the
enigmatic expression on Mona Lisa’s face, but the form of the
painting is also arresting. Leonardo has posed her so that her
head is the top of an isosceles triangle in which her face glows in
contrast with her dark clothing. Her hands, expressive and radi-
ant, create a strong diagonal, leading to the base of the triangle.
Her shoulders are turned at a significant angle so that her pose
is not really comfortable, not easy to maintain for a long time.
However, her position is visually arresting because it imparts a
tension to the entire painting that contributes to our response
to it as a powerful object.

The most savage satirical treatment of this painting is the
Dadaist Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. (see  Figure 14-15). By

parodying this work, Duchamp thumbed his nose at high culture in 1919, after World
War I, and after the Mona Lisa had assumed its role as an epitome of high art. His work
was an expression of disgust at the middle and upper classes, which had gone so enthu-
siastically into a war of attrition that brought Europe to the verge of self-destruction.

10

FIGURE 1-5
Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa. Circa 1503–1506. Oil on panel,
30¼ × 21 inches. Musée du Louvre, Paris.  Leonardo’s most
personal picture has sometimes been hailed as a psychologically
powerful painting because of the power of Mona Lisa’s gaze,
which virtually rivets the viewer to the spot. The painting is now
protected under glass and, while always surrounded by a crowd
of viewers, its small size proportional to its reputation has
sometimes disappointed viewers because it is so hard to see.
And in a crowd it is impossible to contemplate.

©RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY

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PERCEPTION KEY The Eternal City
1. Sketch the basic geometric shapes of the painting.
2. Do these shapes relate to one another in such a way as to help reveal the obscenity

of fascism? If so, how?

obvious on analysis. Like all structural elements of the artistic form of a painting,
they affect us deeply even when we are not aware of them. We have the capacity
to respond to pure form even in paintings in which objects and events are por-
trayed. Thus, responding to The Eternal City will involve responding not just to an
interpretation of fascism taking hold in Italy but also to the sensuous surface of the
painting. This is certainly true of Echo of a Scream; if you look again at that painting,
you will see not only that its sensuous surface is interesting intrinsically but also
that it deepens your response to what is represented. Because we often respond to
artistic form without being conscious that it is affecting us, the painter must make
the structure interesting. Consider the contrast between the simplicity of the struc-
ture of the Mona Lisa and the urgent complexity of the structures of the Siqueiros
and the Blume.

The composition of any painting can be analyzed because any painting has to be
organized: Parts have to be interrelated. Moreover, it is important to think carefully
about the composition of individual paintings. This is particularly true of paintings
one does not respond to immediately—of “difficult” or apparently uninteresting
paintings. Often the analysis of structure can help us gain access to such paintings
so that they become genuinely exciting.

Artistic form is a composition or structure that makes something—a subject
matter—more meaningful. The Siqueiros, Blume, and Picasso reveal something
about the horrors of war and fascism. But what does the Mona Lisa reveal? Perhaps
just the form and structure? For us, structures or forms that do not give us insight
are not artistic forms. Some critics will argue the point. This major question will be
pursued throughout the text.

Perception

We are not likely to respond sensitively to a work of art that we do not perceive
properly. What is less obvious is what we referred to previously—the fact that we
can often give our attention to a work of art and still not perceive very much. The
reason for this should be clear from our previous discussion. Frequently we need
to know something about the background of a work of art that would aid our per-
ception. Anyone who did not know something about the history of Rome, or who
Christ was, or what fascism was, or what Mussolini meant to the world would have
a difficult time making sense of The Eternal City. But it is also true that anyone who
could not perceive Blume’s composition might have a completely superficial re-
sponse to the painting. Such a person could indeed know all about the background
and understand the symbolic statements made by the painting, but that is only part

11

THE HUMANITIES:
AN INTRODUCTION

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12

CHAPTER 1

of the painting. From seeing what da Vinci can do with form, structure, pose, and
expression, you can understand that the formal qualities of a painting are neither
accidental nor unimportant. In Blume’s painting, the form focuses attention and
organizes our perceptions by establishing the relationships between the parts.

absTraCT ideas and ConCreTe images
Composition is basic in all the arts. Artistic form is essential to the success of any art
object. To perceive any work of art adequately, we must perceive its structure. Ex-
amine the following poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674) and consider the purpose
of its shape. This is one of many shaped poems designed to have a visual formal
structure that somehow illuminates its subject matter.

THE PILLAR OF FAME

Fame’s pillar here at last we set,
Out-during marble, brass or jet;
 Charmed and enchanted so
 As to withstand the blow
  Of    overthrow;
  Nor shall the seas,
  O r     O u t r a g e s
  Of storms, o’erbear
  W h a t w e u p r e a r ;
  Tho’ Kingdoms fall,
 T h i s   p i l l a r   n e v e r   s h a l l
 Decline or waste at all;
But stand forever by his own
Firm and well-fixed foundation.

PERCEPTION KEY “The Pillar of Fame”
1. What is a pillar and in what art form are pillars used?
2. In what sense is fame the subject matter of the poem? 
3. Herrick is using a number of metaphors in this poem. How many can you identify?

What seems to be their purpose?
4. In what sense is the shape of the poem a metaphor? 
5. To whom does the word “his” in the last line refer? 
6. The poem includes abstract ideas and concrete things. What is abstract here? And

what is the function of the concrete references?

Robert Herrick, a seventeenth-century poet, valued both honor and fame. During
the English Civil War he lost his job as a clergyman because he honored his faith
and refused to abandon his king. He hoped to achieve fame as a poet, in imitation of
the great Roman poets. His “outrages” and “storms” refer to the war and the decade
following, in which he stayed in self-exile after the “overthrow” of King Charles I. He
portrayed fame as a pillar because pillars hold up buildings, and when the buildings
become ruins pillars often survive as testimony to greatness. Herrick hoped his poem

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13

THE HUMANITIES:
AN INTRODUCTION

would endure longer than physical objects, such as marble, brass, and jet (a black pre-
cious jewel made of coal), because fame is an abstraction and cannot wear or erode.
Shaping the poem to resemble a pillar with a capital and a stylobate (foundation) is
an example of wit. When he wrote poetry, one of Herrick’s greatest achievements
was the expression of wit, a poetic expression of intelligence and understanding. This
poem achieves the blending of ideas and objects, of the abstract and the concrete,
through its structure. The poem is a concrete expression of an abstract idea.

In Paradise Lost, John Milton describes hell as a place with “Rocks, Caves, Lakes,
Fens, Bogs, Dens, and shades of death.” Now, neither you nor the poet has ever
seen “shades of death,” although the idea is in Psalm 23, “the valley of the shadow
of death.” Milton gets away with describing hell this way because he has linked the
abstract idea of shades of death to so many concrete images in this single line. He
is giving us images that suggest the mood of hell just as much as they describe the
landscape, and we realize that he gives us so many topographic details in order to
get us ready for the last detail—the abstract idea of shades of death.

There is much more to be said about poetry, of course, but on a preliminary
level poetry worked in much the same way in the seventeenth-century England
of Milton as it does in contemporary America. The same principles are at work:
Described objects or events are used as a means of bringing abstract ideas to life.
The descriptions take on a wider and deeper significance—wider in the sense that
the descriptions are connected with the larger scope of abstract ideas, deeper in the
sense that because of these descriptions the abstract ideas become vividly focused
and more meaningful.

The following poem is highly complex: the memory of an older culture (simplic-
ity, in this poem) and the consideration of a newer culture (complexity). It is an
African poem by the contemporary Nigerian poet Gabriel Okara; and knowing that
it is African, we can begin to appreciate the extreme complexity of Okara’s feelings
about the clash of the old and new cultures. He symbolizes the clash in terms of
music, and he opposes two musical instruments: the drum and the piano. They
stand, respectively, for the African and the European cultures. But even beyond the
musical images that abound in this poem, look closely at the images of nature, the
pictures of the panther and leopard, and see how Okara imagines them.

PIANO AND DRUMS

When at break of day at a riverside
I hear jungle drums telegraphing
the mystic rhythm, urgent, raw
like bleeding flesh, speaking of
primal youth and the beginning,
I see the panther ready to pounce,
the leopard snarling about to leap
and the hunters crouch with spears poised;
And my blood ripples, turns torrent,
topples the years and at once I’m
in my mother’s lap a suckling;
at once I’m walking simple
paths with no innovations,
rugged, fashioned with the naked
warmth of hurrying feet and groping hearts

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14

CHAPTER 1

in green leaves and wild flowers pulsing.
Then I hear a wailing piano
solo speaking of complex ways
in tear-furrowed concerto;
of far-away lands
and new horizons with
coaxing diminuendo, counterpoint,
crescendo. But lost in the labyrinth
of its complexities, it ends in the middle
of a phrase at a daggerpoint.
And I lost in the morning mist
of an age at a riverside keep
wandering in the mystic rhythm
of jungle drums and the concerto.

Reproduced from Gabriel Okara: Collected Poems, edited by Brenda Marie Osbey, by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copy-
right 2016 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

PERCEPTION KEY “Piano and Drums”
1. What are the most important physical objects in the poem? What cultural signifi-

cance do they have?
2. Why do you think Okara chose the drum and the piano to help reveal the clash

between the two cultures? Where are his allegiances?

Such a poem speaks directly to legions of the current generation of Africans.
But consider some points in light of what we have said earlier. In order to perceive
the kind of emotional struggle that Okara talks about—the subject matter of the
poem—we need to know something about Africa and the struggle African nations
have in modernizing themselves along the lines of more technologically advanced
nations. We also need to know something of the history of Africa and the fact that
European nations, such as Britain in the case of Nigeria, once controlled much of
Africa. Knowing these things, we know, then, that there is no thought of the “I” of
the poem accepting the “complex ways” of the new culture without qualification.
The “I” does not think of the culture of the piano as manifestly superior to the cul-
ture of the drum. That is why the labyrinth of complexities ends at a “daggerpoint.”
The new culture is a mixed blessing.

We have argued that the perception of a work of art is aided by background infor-
mation and that sensitive perception must be aware of form, at least implicitly. But
we believe there is much more to sensitive perception. Somehow the form of a work
of art is an artistic form that clarifies or reveals values, and our response is intensified
by our awareness of those revealed values. But how does artistic form do this? And
how does this awareness come to us? In the next chapter we shall consider these ques-
tions, and in doing so we will also raise that most important question, What is a work
of art? Once we have examined each of the arts, it will be clear, we hope, that the
principles developed in these opening chapters are equally applicable to all the arts.

Participate, analyze, and participate again with Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday
Morning (Figure 1-6).

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FIGURE 1-6
Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning. 1930. Oil on canvas, 35 × 60 inches. When the Whitney Museum of American Art purchased Early Sunday Morning in
1930, it was their most expensive acquisition. Hopper’s work, centered in New York’s Greenwich Village, revealed the character of city life. His colors—
vibrant, intense—and the early morning light—strong and unyielding—created indelible images of the city during the Great Depression.

©Whitney Museum of American Art/akg-images

PERCEPTION KEY Early Sunday Morning
1. If you did not know the title of the painting, what emotions might it excite in you?
2. How does Hopper’s title, Early Sunday Morning, direct or enrich your emotional

response?
3. What are the concrete objects represented in the painting? Which are most obvi-

ous and visually demanding? Which provide you with the most information about
the scene?

4. What abstract ideas are suggested by the painting?
5. Is this an urban or rural scene? Why is no one present in the painting?
6. Would the painting be any different if it were titled Early Wednesday Morning?
7. What is the subject matter of the painting?

On one level the subject matter is a city street scene. Packed human habitation
is portrayed, but no human being is in sight (incidentally but noteworthy, a human
figure originally placed behind one of the windows was painted out). We seem to be
at the scene alone on New York’s Seventh Avenue. We seem to be strangely located
across the street at about the level of the second-story windows. We see storefronts,

15

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16

CHAPTER 1

concrete examples of business activity. But above the storefronts are windows,
some with curtains, some open, some closed, implying the presence of people in
their homes. The barber pole suggests a particular neighborhood. What is missing is
people to make the street active. Are they at church? Or is the painting portraying
loneliness of the kind that is sometimes associated with living in a city? Loneliness
is usually accompanied by anxiety. And anxiety is expressed by the silent windows,
especially the ominous dark storefronts, the mysterious translucent lighting, and
the strange dark rectangle (what is it?) on the upper right. The street and buildings,
despite their rectilinear format, seem to lean slightly downhill to the left, pushed by
the shadows, especially the unexplainable, weird, flaglike one wrapping over the
second window on the left of the second story. Even the bright barber pole is tilted
to the left, the tilt accentuated by the uprightness of the door and window frames
in the background and the wonderfully painted, toadlike fire hydrant. These subtle
oddities of the scene accent our separateness.

summary
Unlike scientists, humanists generally do not use strictly objective standards. The
arts reveal values; other humanities study values. “Artistic form” refers to the struc-
ture or organization of a work of art. Values are clarified or revealed by a work of
art. Judging from the most ancient efforts to make things, we can assert that the
arts represent one of the most basic human activities. They satisfy a need to explore
and express the values that link us together. By observing our responses to a work
of art and examining the means by which the artist evokes those responses, we can
deepen our understanding of art. Our approach to the humanities is through the
arts, and our taste in art connects with our deep feelings. Yet our taste is continually
improved by experience and education. Background information about a work of
art and increased sensitivity to its artistic form intensify our responses.

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17

©Fine Art Images/Superstock

C h a p t e r 2

WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

No definition for a work of art seems completely adequate, and none is universally accepted. We shall not propose a definition here, therefore, but
rather attempt to clarify some criteria or distinctions that can help us identify
works of art. Since the term “work of art” implies the concept of “making” in two of
its words—“work” and “art” (short for “artifice”)—a work of art is usually said to be
something made by a person. Hence, sunsets, beautiful trees, “found” natural ob-
jects such as grained driftwood, “paintings” by insects or songs by birds, and a host
of other natural phenomena are not considered works of art, despite their beauty.
You may not wish to accept the proposal that a work of art must be of human
origin, but if you do accept it, consider the construction shown in Figure 2-1,
Jim Dine’s Shovel.

Shovel is part of a valuable collection and was first shown at an art gallery in
New York City. Furthermore, Dine is considered an important American art-
ist. However, he did not make the shovel himself. Like most shovels, the one
in his construction, although designed by a person, was mass-produced. Dine
mounted the shovel in front of a painted panel and presented this construc-
tion for serious consideration. The construction is described as “mixed media,”
meaning it consists of several materials: paint, wood, a cord, and metal. Is Shovel
a work of art?

We can hardly discredit the construction as a work of art simply because Dine
did not make the shovel; after all, we often accept objects manufactured to spec-
ification by factories as genuine works of sculpture (see the Calder construction,

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18

CHApTeR 2

Figure 5-10). Collages by picasso and Braque, which include objects such as paper
and nails mounted on a panel, are generally accepted as works of art. Museums
have even accepted objects such as a signed urinal by Marcel Duchamp, one of
the Dadaist artists of the early twentieth century, which in many ways antici-
pated the works of Dine, Warhol, and others in the Pop Art movement of the
1950s and 1960s.

IdentIfyIng Art ConCeptuAlly
Three criteria for determining whether something is a work of art are that (1) the
object or event is made by an artist, (2) the object or event is intended to be a
work of art by its maker, and (3) recognized experts agree that it is a work of art.
Unfortunately, one cannot always determine whether a work meets these criteria
only by perceiving it. In many cases, for instance, we may confront an object such
as Shovel (Figure 2-1) and not know whether Dine constructed the shovel, thus not
satisfying the first criterion that the object be made by an artist; or whether Dine
intended it to be a work of art; or whether experts agree that it is a work of art. In
fact, Dine did not make this particular shovel, but because this fact cannot be estab-
lished by perception, one has to be told.

Identifying art conceptually seems to us as not very useful. Because someone
intends to make a work of art tells us little. It is the made rather than the making that
counts. The third criterion—the judgment of experts—is important but debatable.

IdentIfyIng Art perCeptuAlly
Perception, what we can observe, and conception, what we know or think we know,
are closely related. We often recognize an object because it conforms to our concep-
tion of it. For example, in architecture we recognize churches and office buildings
as distinct because of our conception of what churches and office buildings are sup-
posed to look like. The ways of identifying a work of art mentioned in the previous

FIGURE 2-1
Jim Dine, Shovel. 1962.
Mixed media. Using off-
the-shelf products, Dine
makes a statement about
the possibilities of art.

©2017 Jim Dine/Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York. photo:
Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery

PERCEPTION KEY  Identifying a Work of Art
1. Why not simply identify a work of art as what an artist makes?
2. If Dine actually made the shovel, would Shovel then unquestionably be a work of

art?
3. Suppose Dine made the shovel, and it was absolutely perfect in the sense that it

could not be readily distinguished from a mass-produced shovel. Would that kind
of perfection make the piece more a work of art or less a work of art? Suppose
Dine did not make the shovel but did make the panel and the box. Then would it
seem easier to identify Shovel as a work of art?

4. Find people who hold opposing views about whether Shovel is a work of art. Ask
them to point out what it is about the object itself that qualifies it for or disqualifies
it from being identified as a work of art.

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19

WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

section depend on the conceptions of the artist and experts on art and not enough
on our perceptions of the work itself.

We suggest an approach here that is simple and flexible and that depends largely
on perception. The distinctions of this approach will not lead us necessarily to a
definition of art, but they will offer us a way to examine objects and events with
reference to whether they possess artistically perceivable qualities. And in some
cases at least, it should bring us to reasonable grounds for distinguishing certain
objects or events as art. We will consider four basic terms related primarily to the
perceptual nature of a work of art:

“Artistic form”: the organization of a medium that results in clarifying some sub-
ject matter
“participation”: sustained attention and loss of self-awareness
“Subject matter”: some value expressed in the work of art
“Content”: the interpretation of subject matter

Understanding any one of these terms requires an understanding of the others.
Thus, we will follow what may appear to be an illogical order: artistic form; partic-
ipation; participation and artistic form; content; subject matter; subject matter and
artistic form; and, finally, participation, artistic form, and content.

ArtIstIC form
All objects and events have form. They are bounded by limits of time and space, and
they have parts with distinguishable relationships to one another. Form is the inter-
relationships of part to part and part to whole. To say that some object or event has
form means it has some degree of perceptible unity. To say that something has artis-
tic form, however, usually implies a strong degree of perceptible unity. It is artistic
form that distinguishes a work of art from objects or events that are not works of art.

Artistic form implies that the parts we perceive—for example, line, color, texture,
shape, and space in a painting—have been unified for the most profound effect pos-
sible. That effect is revelatory. Artistic form reveals, clarifies, enlightens, and gives
fresh meaning to something valuable in life, some subject matter. A form that lacks
a significant degree of unity is unlikely to accomplish this. Our daily experiences
usually are characterized more by disunity than by unity. Consider, for instance,
the order of your experiences during a typical day or even a segment of that day.
Compare that order with the order most novelists give to the experiences of their
characters. One impulse for reading novels is to experience the tight unity that
artistic form usually imposes, a unity almost none of us comes close to achieving in
our daily lives. Much the same is true of music. Noises and random tones in every-
day experience lack the order that most composers impose.

Since strong, perceptible unity appears so infrequently in nature, we tend to
value the perceptible unity of artistic form. Works of art differ in the power of their
unity. If that power is weak, then the question arises: Is this a work of art? Consider
Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (Figure 4-10) with reference to its artistic form.
If its parts were not carefully proportioned in the overall structure of the paint-
ing, the tight balance that produces a strong unity would be lost. Mondrian was so

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concerned with this balance that he often measured the areas of lines and rectan-
gles in his works to be sure they had a clear, almost mathematical, relationship to
the totality. Of course, disunity or playing against expectations of unity can also be
artistically useful at times. Some artists realize how strong the impulse toward unity
is in those who have perceived many works of art. For some people, the contempo-
rary attitude toward the loose organization of formal elements is a norm, and the
highly unified work of art is thought of as old-fashioned. However, it seems that the
effects achieved by a lesser degree of unity succeed only because we recognize them
as departures from our well-known, highly organized forms.

Artistic form, we have suggested, is likely to involve a high degree of perceptible
unity. But how do we determine what is a high degree? And if we cannot be clear
about this, how can this distinction be helpful in distinguishing works of art from
things that are not works of art? A very strong unity does not necessarily identify a
work of art. That formal unity must give us insight into something important.

Consider the news photograph—taken on one of the main streets of Saigon in Feb-
ruary 1968 by eddie Adams, an Associated press photographer—showing Brigadier
General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, then South Vietnam’s national police chief, killing a
Vietcong captive (Figure 2-2). Adams stated that his picture was an accident, that his
hand moved the camera reflexively as he saw the general raise the revolver. The lens
of the camera was set in such a way that the background was thrown out of focus.
The blurring of the background helped bring out the drama of the foreground scene.
Does this photograph have a high degree of perceptible unity? Certainly the experi-
ence of the photographer is evident. Not many amateur photographers would have
had enough skill to catch such a fleeting event with such stark clarity. If an amateur

FIGURE 2-2
Eddie Adams, Execution in Saigon.
1968. Silver halide. Adams captured
General Loan’s execution of a
Vietcong captive. He said later, “The
general killed the Vietcong; I killed
the general with my camera. Still
photographs are the most powerful
weapon in the world.”

©eddie Adams/Ap photo

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21

WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

had accomplished this, we would be inclined to believe that it was more luck than
skill. Adams’s skill in catching the scene is even more evident, and he risked his life
to get it. But do we admire this work the way we admire Siqueiros’s Echo of a Scream
(Figure 1-2)? Do we experience these two works in the same basic way?

Compare a painting of a somewhat similar subject matter—Goya’s May 3, 1808
(Figure 2-3). Goya chose the most terrible moment, that split second before the
crash of the guns. There is no doubt that the executions will go on. The desolate
mountain pushing down from the left blocks escape, while from the right the firing
squad relentlessly hunches forward. The soldiers’ thick legs—planted wide apart
and parallel—support like sturdy pillars the blind, pressing wall formed by their
backs. These are men of a military machine. Their rifles, flashing in the bleak light
of the ghastly lantern, thrust out as if they belonged to their bodies. It is unimag-
inable that any of these men would defy the command of their superiors. In the
dead of night, the doomed are backed up against the mountain like animals ready
for slaughter. One man flings up his arms in a gesture of utter despair—or is it de-
fiance? The uncertainty increases the intensity of our attention. Most of the rest of
the men bury their faces, while a few, with eyes staring out of their sockets, glance
out at what they cannot help seeing—the sprawling dead smeared in blood.

With the photograph of the execution in Vietnam, despite its immediate and pow-
erful attraction, it takes only a glance or two to grasp what is presented. Undivided
attention, perhaps, is necessary to become aware of the significance of the event, but
not sustained attention. In fact, to take careful notice of all the details—such as the

FIGURE 2-3
Francisco Goya, May 3, 1808. 1814–
1815. Oil on canvas, 8 feet 9 inches ×
13 feet 4 inches. The Prado, Madrid.
Goya’s painting of Napoleonic
soldiers executing Spanish guerrillas
the day after the Madrid insurrection
portrays the faces of the victims, but
not of the killers.

©Copyright of the image Museo Nacional
del prado/Art Resource, NY

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patterns on the prisoner’s shirt—does not add to our awareness of the significance of
the photograph. If anything, our awareness will be sharper and more productive if
we avoid such detailed examination. Is such the case with the Goya? We believe not.
Indeed, without sustained attention to the details of this work, we would miss most
of what is revealed. For example, block out everything but the dark shadow at the
bottom right. Note how different that shadow appears when it is isolated. We must
see the details individually and collectively, as they work together. Unless we are
aware of their collaboration, we are not going to grasp fully the total form.

Close examination of the Adams photograph reveals several efforts to increase
the unity and thus the power of the print. For example, the flak jacket of General
Loan has been darkened so as to remove distracting details. The buildings in the
background have been “dodged out” (held back in printing so that they are not
fully visible). The shadows of trees on the road have been softened so as to lead the
eye inexorably to the hand that holds the gun. The space around the head of the
victim is also dodged out so that it appears that something like a halo surrounds
the head. All this has been done in the act of printing sometime after the picture
was taken. Careful printing helps achieve the photograph’s artistic formal unity.

Yet we are suggesting that the Goya has a higher degree of perceptible unity
than Adams’s photograph, that perhaps only the Goya has artistic form. We base
these conclusions on what is given for us to perceive: the fact that the part-to-part
and the part-to-whole relationships are much stronger in the Goya. Now, of course,
you may disagree. No judgment about such matters is indisputable. Indeed, that is
part of the fun of talking about whether something is or is not a work of art—we can
learn how to perceive from one another.

PERCEPTION KEY Adams and Goya
1. How is the painting different from Adams’s photograph in the way the details

work together? 
2. Could any detail in the painting be changed or removed without weakening the

unity of the total design? What about the photograph?
3. Does the photograph or the painting more powerfully reveal human barbarity?
4. Do you find yourself participating more with the Adams photograph or the Goya

painting?
5. How does blurring out the buildings in the background of the photograph im-

prove its visual impact? Compare the effect of the looming architecture in the
painting.

6. What do the shadows on the street add to the significance of the photograph?
Compare the shadows on the ground in the painting.

7. Does it make any significant difference that the Vietcong prisoner’s shirt is
checkered? Compare the white shirt on the gesturing man in the painting.

8. Is the expression on the soldier’s face, along the left edge of the photograph,
appropriate to the situation? Compare the facial expressions in the painting.

9. Can these works be fairly compared when one is in black and white and the other
is in full color? Why or why not?

10. What are some basic differences between viewing a photograph of a real man
being killed and viewing a painting of such an event? Does that distinction alone
qualify or disqualify either work as a work of art?

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WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

pArtICIpAtIon
Both Adams’s photograph (Figure 2-2) and the Goya (Figure 2-3) tend to grasp our
attention. Initially for most of us, probably, the photograph has more pulling power
than the painting, especially as the two works are illustrated here. In its setting in
the prado in Madrid, however, the great size of the Goya and its powerful lighting
and color draw the eye like a magnet. But the term “participate” is more accurately
descriptive of what we are likely to be doing in our experience of the painting. With
the Goya, we must not only give but also sustain our undivided attention so that we
lose our self-consciousness—our sense of being separate, of standing apart from the
painting. We participate. And only by means of participation can we come close to
a full awareness of what the painting is about.

Works of art are created, exhibited, and preserved for us to perceive with not
only undivided but also sustained attention. Artists, critics, and philosophers of art
(aestheticians) generally are in agreement about this. Thus, if a work requires our
participation in order to understand and appreciate it fully, we have an indication
that the work is art. Therefore—unless our analyses have been incorrect, and you
should satisfy yourself about this—the Goya would seem to be a work of art. Con-
versely, the photograph is not as obviously a work of art as the painting, and this
is the case despite the fascinating impact of the photograph. Yet these are highly
tentative judgments. We are far from being clear about why the Goya requires our
participation and the photograph may not. Until we are clear about these “whys,”
the grounds for these judgments remain shaky.

Goya’s painting tends to draw us on until, ideally, we become aware of all the de-
tails and their interrelationships. For example, the long, dark shadow at the bottom
right underlines the line of the firing squad, and the line of the firing squad helps
bring out the shadow. Moreover, this shadow is the darkest and most opaque part
of the painting. It has a forbidding, blind, fateful quality, which in turn reinforces
the ominous appearance of the firing squad. The dark shadow on the street just
below the forearm of General Loan seems less powerful. Sustained attention or
participation cannot be achieved by acts of will. The splendid singularity of what we
are attending to must fascinate and control us to the point that we no longer need
to will our attention. We can make up our minds to give our undivided attention to
something. But if that something lacks the pulling power that grasps our attention,
we cannot participate with it.

The ultimate test for recognizing a work of art, then, is how it works in us, what it
does to us. Participative experiences of works of art are communions—experiences
so full and fruitful that they enrich our lives. Such experiences are life-enhancing
not just because of the great satisfaction they may give us at the moment but also
because they make more or less permanent contributions to our future lives. Does
da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (Figure 1-5) heighten your perception of a painting’s under-
lying structure, the power of simplicity of form, and the importance of a figure’s
pose? Does Robert Herrick’s “The pillar of Fame” (Chapter 1) affect your concept
of fame? Do you see shovels differently, perhaps, after experiencing Shovel by Dine
(Figure 2-1)? If not, presumably they are not works of art. But this assumes that we
have really participated with these works, that we have allowed them to work fully
in our experience, so that if the meaning or content were present, it had a chance to
reveal itself to our awareness. Of the four basic distinctions—subject matter, artistic

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form, content, and participation—the most fundamental is participation. We must
not only understand what it means to participate but also be able to participate.
Otherwise, the other basic distinctions, even if they make good theoretical sense,
will not be of much practical help in making art more important in our lives. The
central importance of participation requires further elaboration.

As participators, we do not think of the work of art with reference to catego-
ries applicable to objects—such as what kind of thing it is. We grasp the work of
art directly. When, for example, we participate with Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire
(Figure 2-4), we are not making geographical or geological observations. We are not
thinking of the mountain as an object. If we were, Mont Sainte-Victoire would pale
into a mere instance of the appropriate scientific categories. We might judge that the
mountain is a certain type. But in that process, the vivid impact of Cézanne’s moun-
tain would be lessened as the focus of our attention shifted beyond in the direction
of generality. This is the natural thing to do with mountains if you are a geologist.

When we are participators, our thoughts are dominated so much by something
that we are unaware of our separation from that something. Thus, the artistic form
initiates and controls thought and feeling. We see the Cézanne—name it, identify
its maker, classify its style, recall its background information—but this approach will
not lead us into the Cézanne as a work of art. Of course, such knowledge can be
very helpful, but only when it is under the control of our experience of participating
with the painting. Otherwise, the painting will fade away. Its splendid specificity
will be sacrificed for some generality. Its content or meaning will be missed.

FIGURE 2-4
Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire.
1886–1887. Oil on canvas, 23½ ×
28½ inches. The Phillips Collection,
Washington, D.C. Cézanne painted
Mont Sainte-Victoire in Aix, France,
throughout his life. Local legend is
that the mountain was home to a god
and therefore a holy place.

©painting/Alamy

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WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

These are strong claims, and they may not be convincing. In any case, before
concluding our search for what a work of art is, let us seek further clarification of
our other basic distinctions—artistic form, content, and subject matter. even if you
disagree with the conclusions, clarification helps understanding. And understand-
ing helps appreciation.

pArtICIpAtIon And ArtIstIC form
The participative experience—the undivided and sustained attention to an object or
event that makes us lose our sense of separation from that object or event—is induced
by strong or artistic form. participation is not likely to develop with weak form be-
cause weak form tends to allow our attention to wander. Therefore, one indication
of a strong form is the fact that participation occurs. Another indication of artistic
form is the way it clearly identifies a whole, or totality. In the visual arts, a whole is
a visual field limited by boundaries that separate that field from its surroundings.

Both Adams’s photograph (Figure 2-2) and Goya’s painting (Figure 2-3) have
visual fields with boundaries. No matter what wall these two pictures are placed on,
the Goya will probably stand out more distinctly and sharply from its background.
This is partly because the Goya is in vibrant color and on a large scale—eight feet
nine inches by thirteen feet four inches—whereas the Adams photograph is nor-
mally exhibited as an eight by ten-inch print. However carefully such a photograph
is printed, it will probably include some random details. No detail in the Goya,
though, fails to play a part in the total structure. To take one further instance, notice
how the lines of the soldiers’ sabers and their straps reinforce the ruthless forward
push of the firing squad. The photograph, however, has a relatively weak form be-
cause a large number of details fail to cooperate with other details. For example,
running down the right side of General Loan’s body is a very erratic line that fails
to tie in with anything else in the photograph. If this line were smoother, it would
connect more closely with the lines formed by the Vietcong prisoner’s body. The
connection between killer and killed would be more vividly established.

Artistic form normally is a prerequisite if our attention is to be grasped and held.
Artistic form makes our participation possible. Some philosophers of art, such as
Clive Bell and Roger Fry, even go so far as to claim that the presence of artistic
form—what they call “significant form”—is all that is necessary to identify a work
of art. And by “significant form,” in the case of painting, they mean the interrela-
tionships of elements: line to line, line to color, color to color, color to shape, shape
to shape, shape to texture, and so on. The elements make up the artistic medium,
the “stuff” the form organizes. According to Bell and Fry, any reference of these
elements and their interrelationships to actual objects or events should be basically
irrelevant in our awareness.

According to the proponents of significant form, if we take explicit notice of
the executions as an important part of Goya’s painting, then we are not perceiv-
ing properly. We are experiencing the painting not as a work of art but rather as
an illustration telling a story, thus reducing a painting that is a work of art to the
level of commercial communications. When the lines, colors, and the like pull to-
gether tightly, independently of any objects or events they may represent, there
is a significant form. That is what we should perceive when we are perceiving a

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work of art, not a portrayal of some object or event. Anything that has significant
form is a work of art. If you ignore the objects and events represented in the Goya,
significant form is evident. All the details depend on one another and jell, creating
a strong structure. Therefore, the Goya is a work of art. If you ignore the objects
and events represented in the Adams photograph, significant form is not evident.
The organization of the parts is too loose, creating a weak structure. Therefore, the
photograph, according to Bell and Fry, would not be a work of art. “To appreciate a
work of art,” according to Bell, “we need bring with us nothing from life, no knowl-
edge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotions.”

Does this theory of how to identify a work of art satisfy you? Do you find that
in ignoring the representation of objects and events in the Goya, much of what is
important in that painting is left out? For example, does the line of the firing squad
carry a forbidding quality partly because you recognize that this is a line of men in the
process of killing other men? In turn, does the close relationship of that line with the
line of the long shadow at the bottom right depend to some degree on that forbidding
quality? If you think so, then it follows that the artistic form of this work legitimately
and relevantly refers to objects and events. Somehow artistic form goes beyond itself,
referring to objects and events from the world beyond the form. Artistic form informs
us about things outside itself. These things—as revealed by the artistic form—we shall
call the “content” of a work of art. But how does the artistic form do this?

Content
Let us begin to try to answer the question posed in the previous section by examining
more closely the meanings of the Adams photograph (Figure 2-2) and the Goya paint-
ing (Figure 2-3). Both basically, although oversimply, are about the same abstract
idea—barbarity. In the case of the photograph, we have an example of this barbarity.
Since it is very close to any knowledgeable American’s interests, this instance is likely
to set off a lengthy chain of thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings, fur-
thermore, may seem to lie “beyond” the photograph. Suppose a debate developed
over the meaning of this photograph. The photograph itself would play an important
role primarily as a starting point in a discussion of man’s inhumanity to man.

In the debate about the Goya, every detail and its interrelationships with other de-
tails become relevant. The meaning of the painting may seem to lie “within” the paint-
ing. And yet, paradoxically, this meaning, as in the case of the Adams photograph,
involves ideas and feelings that lie beyond the painting. How can this be? Let us first
consider some background information. On May 2, 1808, guerrilla warfare had flared
up all over Spain. By the following day, Napoleon’s men were completely back in con-
trol in Madrid and the surrounding area. Many of the guerrillas were executed. And,
according to tradition, Goya portrayed the execution of forty-three of these guerrillas
on May 3 near the hill of principe pio just outside Madrid. This background informa-
tion is important if we are to understand and appreciate the painting fully.

The execution in Adams’s photograph was of a man who had just murdered
one of General Loan’s best friends and had then knifed to death his wife and six
children. The general was part of the Vietnamese army fighting with the assistance
of the United States, and this photograph was widely disseminated with a caption
describing the victim as a suspected terrorist. What shocked Americans who saw

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27

WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

the photograph was the summary justice that Loan meted out. It was not until much
later that the details of the victim’s crimes were published.

With the Goya, the background information, although very helpful, is not as es-
sential. Test this for yourself. Would your interest in Adams’s photograph last very
long if you completely lacked background information? In the case of the Goya,
the background information helps us understand the where, when, and why of the
scene. But even without this information, the painting probably would still grasp
and hold the attention of most of us because it would still have significant meaning.
We would still have a powerful image of barbarity, and the artistic form would hold
us on that image. In the prado Museum in Madrid, Goya’s painting continually
draws and holds the attention of innumerable viewers, many of whom know little or
nothing about the rebellion of 1808. Adams’s photograph is also a powerful image,
of course—and probably initially more powerful than the Goya—but the form of the
photograph is not strong enough to hold most of us on that image for very long.

With the Goya, the abstract idea (barbarity) and the concrete image (the firing
squad in the process of killing) are tied tightly together because the form of the paint-
ing is tight. We see the barbarity in the lines, colors, masses, shapes, groupings, and
lights and shadows of the painting itself. The details of the painting keep referring to
other details and to the totality. They keep holding our attention. Thus, the ideas and
feelings that the details and their organization awaken within us keep merging with
the form. We are prevented from separating the meaning or content of the painting
from its form because the form is so fascinating. The form constantly intrudes, how-
ever unobtrusively. It will not let us ignore it. We see the firing squad killing, and
this evokes the idea of barbarity and the feeling of horror. But the lines, colors, mass,
shapes, and shadowings of that firing squad form a pattern that keeps exciting and
guiding our eyes. And then the pattern leads us to the pattern formed by the victims.
Ideas of fatefulness and feelings of pathos are evoked but they, too, are fused with
the form. The form of the Goya is like a powerful magnet that allows nothing within
its range to escape its pull. Artistic form fuses or embodies its meaning with itself.

In addition to participation and artistic form, then, we have come upon another
basic distinction—content. Unless a work has content—meaning that is fused or em-
bodied with its form—we shall say that the work is not art. Content is the meaning
of artistic form. If we are correct (for our view is by no means universally accepted),
artistic form always informs—has meaning, or content. And that content, as we
experience it when we participate, is always ingrained in the artistic form. We do
not perceive an artistic form and then a content. We perceive them as inseparable.
Of course, we can separate them analytically. But when we do so, we are not hav-
ing a participative experience. Moreover, when the form is weak—that is, less than
artistic—we experience the form and its meaning separately.

PERCEPTION KEY Adams and Goya Revisited
We have argued that the painting by Goya is a work of art and the photograph
by Adams is questionable. Even if the three basic distinctions we have made so far—
artistic form, participation, and content—are useful, we may have misapplied them.
Bring out every possible argument against the view that the painting is a work of art
and the photograph may not be a work of art.

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subjeCt mAtter
The content is the meaning of a work of art. The content is embedded in the artistic
form. But what does the content interpret? We shall call it subject matter. Content is
the interpretation—by means of an artistic form—of some subject matter. Thus, subject
matter is the fourth basic distinction that helps identify a work of art. Since every work
of art must have a content, every work of art must have a subject matter, and this may
be any aspect of experience that is of human interest. Anything related to a human
interest is a value. Some values are positive, such as pleasure and health. Other values
are negative, such as pain and ill health. They are values because they are related to
human interests. Negative values are the subject matter of both Adams’s photograph
(Figure 2-2) and Goya’s painting. But the photograph, unlike the painting, has no con-
tent. The less-than-artistic form of the photograph simply presents its subject matter.
The form does not transform the subject matter, does not enrich its significance. In
comparison, the artistic form of the painting enriches or interprets its subject matter,
says something significant about it. In the photograph, the subject matter is directly
given. But the subject matter of the painting is not just there in the painting. It has been
transformed by the form. What is directly given in the painting is the content.

The meaning, or content, of a work of art is what is revealed about a subject mat-
ter. But in that revelation you must infer or imagine the subject matter. If someone
had taken a news photograph of the May 3 executions, that would be a record of
Goya’s subject matter. The content of the Goya is its interpretation of the barbarity
of those executions. Adams’s photograph lacks content because it merely shows us
an example of this barbarity. That is not to disparage the photograph, for its pur-
pose was news, not art. A similar kind of photograph—that is, one lacking artistic
form—of the May 3 executions would also lack content. Now, of course, you may
disagree with these conclusions for very good reasons. You may find more trans-
formation of the subject matter in Adams’s photograph than in Goya’s painting.
For example, you may believe that transforming the visual experience in black and
white distances it from reality while intensifying its content. In any case, such dis-
agreement can help the perception of both parties, provided the debate is focused.
It is hoped that the basic distinctions we are making—subject matter, artistic form,
content, and participation—will aid that focusing.

subjeCt mAtter And ArtIstIC form
Whereas a subject matter is a value—something of importance—that we may per-
ceive before any artistic interpretation, the content is the significantly interpreted
subject matter as revealed by the artistic form. Thus, the subject matter is never di-
rectly presented in a work of art, for the subject matter has been transformed by the
form. Artistic form transforms and, in turn, informs about life. The conscious in-
tentions of the artist may include magical, religious, political, economic, and other
purposes; the conscious intentions may not include the purpose of clarifying values.
Yet underlying the artist’s activity—going back to cavework (Figure 1-1)—is always
the creation of a form that illuminates something from life, some subject matter.

Artistic form draws from the chaotic state of life, which, as van Gogh describes it,
is like “a sketch that didn’t come off ”—a distillation. In our interpretation, a work of
art creates an illusion that illuminates reality. Thus, such paradoxical declarations as

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WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

Delacroix’s are explained: “Those things which are most real are the illusions I create
in my paintings.” Or edward Weston’s “The photographer who is an artist reveals
the essence of what lies before the lens with such clear insight that the beholder
may find the recreated image more real and comprehensible than the actual object.”
Camus: “If the world were clear, art would not exist.” Artistic form is an economy
that produces a lucidity that enables us better to understand and, in turn, manage
our lives. Hence, the informing of a work of art reveals a subject matter with value
dimensions that go beyond the artist’s idiosyncrasies and perversities. Whether or
not Goya had idiosyncrasies and perversities, he did justice to his subject matter:
He revealed it. The art of a period is the revelation of the collective soul of its time.

pArtICIpAtIon, ArtIstIC form, And Content
participation is the necessary condition that makes possible our insightful percep-
tion of artistic form and content. Unless we participate with the Goya (Figure 2-3),
we will fail to see the power of its artistic form. We will fail to see how the details
work together to form a totality. We will also fail to grasp the content fully, for artis-
tic form and content are inseparable. Thus, we will have failed to gain insight into
the subject matter. We will have collected just one more instance of barbarity. The
Goya will have basically the same effect on us as Adams’s photograph except that it
may be less important to us because it happened long ago. But if, on the contrary,
we have participated with the Goya, we probably will never see such things as execu-
tions in quite the same way again. The insight that we have gained will tend to refo-
cus our vision so that we will see similar subject matters with heightened awareness.

Look, for example, at the photograph by Kevin Carter (Figure 2-5), which was
published in the New York Times on March 26, 1993, and which won the pulitzer

FIGURE 2-5
Kevin Carter, Vulture and Child in
Sudan. 1993. Silver halide. Carter
saved this child but became so
depressed by the terrible tragedies
he had recorded in Sudan and South
Africa that he committed suicide a
year after taking this photograph.

©Kevin Carter/Sygma/Getty Images

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prize for photography in 1994. The form isolates two dramatic figures. The closest is
a starving Sudanese child making her way to a feeding center. The other is a plump
vulture waiting for the child to die. This powerful photograph raised a hue and cry,
and the New York Times published a commentary explaining that Carter chased
away the vulture and took the child to the feeding center. Carter committed suicide
in July 1994.

Artistic Form: Examples

Let us examine artistic form in two examples of work by an anonymous cartoon-
ist and Roy Lichtenstein. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lichtenstein became
interested in comic strips as subject matter. The story goes that his two young
boys asked him to paint a Donald Duck “straight,” without the encumbrances
of art. But much more was involved. Born in 1923, Lichtenstein grew up before
the invention of television. By the 1930s the comic strip had become one of the
most important of the mass media. Adventure, romance, sentimentality, and ter-
ror found expression in the stories of Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Superman, Wonder
Woman, Steve Roper, Winnie Winkle, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Batman and
Robin, and the like.

The purpose of the comic strip for its producers is strictly commercial. And be-
cause of the large market, a premium has always been put on making the processes
of production as inexpensive as possible. And so generations of mostly unknown
commercial artists, going far back into the nineteenth century, developed ways of
quick, cheap color printing. They developed a technique that could turn out car-
toons like the products of an assembly line. Moreover, because their market in-
cluded a large number of children, they developed ways of producing images that
were immediately understandable and striking.

Lichtenstein reports that he was attracted to the comic strip by its stark
simplicity—the blatant primary colors, the ungainly black lines that encircle the
shapes, the balloons that isolate the spoken words or thoughts of the characters.

PERCEPTION KEY Adams, Goya, and Carter
1. How does our discussion of the Adams photograph affect your response to Carter’s

photograph?
2. To what extent does Carter’s photograph have artistic form? 
3. Why are your answers to these questions fundamentally important in determining

whether Adams’s photograph, Carter’s photograph, Goya’s painting, or all of them
are works of art?

4. Describe your experience regarding your participation with either Adams’s or
Carter’s photograph or Goya’s painting. Can you measure the intensity of your
participation with each of them? Which work do you reflect upon most when you
relax and are not thinking directly on the subject of art?

5. The intensity of your reactions to the Adams and Carter photographs may well be
stronger than the intensity of your experience with the Goya. If so, should that
back up the assertion that the photographs are works of art?

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WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

He was struck by the apparent inconsistency between the strong emotions of the
stories and the highly impersonal, mechanical style in which they were expressed.
Despite the crudity of the comic strip, Lichtenstein saw power in the directness of
the medium. Somehow the cartoons mirrored something about ourselves. Lichten-
stein set out to clarify what that something was. At first people laughed, as was to
be expected.

However, Lichtenstein saw how adaptable the style was for his work. He pro-
duced a considerable number of large oil paintings that, in some cases, referred
specifically to popular cartoon strips. They were brash in much the same way
cartoons are, and they used brilliant primary colors that were sensational and
visually overwhelming. Much of his early work in this vein involved war planes,
guns, and action scenes. For him the cartoon style permitted him to be serious
in what he portrayed.

examine Figures 2-6 and 2-7. Lichtenstein saw artistic potential for the anony-
mous cartoon panel with a woman tearing up in reaction to an unknown problem.
Because these two representations of a sad woman are detached from the narrative
in which the original cartoon appeared, we are left to respond only to the image we
see. Lichtenstein did not expect that his painting would relate to any missing nar-
rative: It was made to stand alone. However, the anonymous cartoon was created
in greater haste partly because its significance would have been understood in a
dramatic context.

FIGURE 2-7
Roy Lichenstein, Hopeless. 1963. Magna on canvas. 

©estate of Roy Lichtenstein

FIGURE 2-6
Anonymous cartoon panel.

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Hopeless treats an emotional moment that is familiar to everyone who has ever
been involved in the breakup of a love affair. Comparing the two panels, it is
clear that Lichtenstein has simplified the portrayal of the woman by making her
hair light in color, thus changing the focal point of the image. In the cartoon the
hair is the darkest form, taking up the most room and attention in the panel.
Lichtenstein’s revision shifts the viewer’s attention to the face. By smoothing out
the tone of the skin—by removing the mechanical “dots” in the cartoon version—
he makes the face more visually prominent. The addition of the fingers gives the
viewer the sense that the woman is holding on. By placing the balloon (with the
dialogue) close to the woman’s ear and removing the background—very prominent
in the cartoon—Lichtenstein gives the woman’s representation much more space
in the panel. These are subtle differences, and while both panels treat the same
subject matter, it seems to us that the content of the Lichtenstein is greater and
more significant because his control of artistic form informs us more fully of the
circumstances represented in the painting. Compare our analyses of these works.
You may disagree with our view but, if so, make an effort to establish your own
assessment of these two examples in terms of artistic form.

examine Figure 2-8, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting.

PERCEPTION KEY Cartoon Panel and Lichtenstein’s Transformation
1. Begin by establishing which formal elements are similar or the same in both works.

Consider the shape of the face and hair, the features of the woman.
2. Then establish what Lichtenstein removed from the original cartoon. What seems

to you the most important omission? Does it strengthen or weaken the overall
visual force of the work?

3. The power of the line makes cartoons distinct. Compare the strength of the line in
each work. Which is more satisfying? Which is stronger?

4. What has Lichtenstein added to the composition? What has he changed from the
original?

5. Is it fair to say one of these is a work of art and the other is not? Or would you say
they are both works of art? 

6. Is either of these works an example of artistic form? How would you describe ar-
tistic form?

7. Discuss with others who have seen these works what you and they think is their
subject matter. Do they have the same content?

PERCEPTION KEY  Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-portrait as the Allegory
of Painting

1. Compare the painter’s arms. How effective is their contrast in terms of their
movement and their pose?

2. How does the simplicity of the background help clarify the essential form of the
painter? What are the most powerful colors in the compostion?

3. What is the figure actually doing? How does Gentileschi make us aware of her
action?

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WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

FIGURE 2-8
Artemisia Gentileschi, Rome 1593–
Naples 1652, Self-portrait as the
Allegory of Painting (La Pittura). Circa
1638–1639. 

©Fine Art Images/Superstock

4. Place yourself in the same pose as Gentileschi. How would you paint yourself in
that position?

5. What forms in the painting work best to achieve a visual balance? Which forms
best express a sense of energy in the painting?

6. How does Gentileschi achieve artistic form? If you think she does not achieve it,
explain why.

7. The painting is titled Allegory. Allegory is a special kind of symbol; what is this paint-
ing a symbol for? Does it work for you as a symbol? 

8. How does answering these questions affect your sense of participating with the
painting?

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We feel this is a particularly powerful example of artistic form. For one thing,
Gentileschi’s challenge of painting her own portrait likeness in this pose is extraor-
dinary. It has been supposed that she may have needed at least two mirrors to permit
her to position herself. Or her visual memory may have been unusually powerful.
Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the most famous female artists of the seventeenth
century. This painting was done in england for King Charles I and remains in the
Royal Collection. The painting is an allegory, which is to say it represents the classical
idea of the painter, which was expressed as female, pittura. Because no male painter
could do a self-portrait as pittura, Gentileschi’s painting is singular in many respects.
The color of her clothing—silken, radiant—is rich and appropriate to the painter. Her
right arm is strong in terms of its being brilliantly lighted as well as strong in reach-
ing out dramatically in the act of painting. Her clothing and decolletage emphasize
her femininity. Her straggly hair and the necklace containing a mask (a symbol of
imitation) were required by the conventional allegorical representations of the time
describing pittura. The contrasting browns of the background simplify the visual
space and give more power to the figure and the color of her garment. One powerful
aspect of the painting is the light source. Gentileschi is looking directly at her paint-
ing, and the painting—impossibly—seems to be the source of that light.

The subject matter of the painting seems to be, on one level, the idea of painting.
On another level, it is the act of painting by a woman painter. On yet another level,
it is the act of Artemisia Gentileschi painting her self-portrait. The content of the
painting may be simply painting itself. On the other hand, this was an age in which
women rarely achieved professional status as royal painters. The power of the phys-
ical expression of the self-portrait implies a content expressing the power of woman,
both allegorically and in reality. Artemisia is declaring herself as having achieved
what was implied in having the allegory of painting expressed as a female deity.

As in the painting by Goya and the photograph by Adams, the arms are of great
significance in this work. Instead of a representation of barbarity, the painting is
a representation of art itself, and therefore of cultivated society. The richness of
the garment, the beauty of Artemisia, and the vigor of her act of painting imply
great beauty, strength, and power. We are virtually transfixed by the light and the
urgency of the posture. Some viewers find themselves participating so deeply that
they experience a kinesthetic response as they imagine themselves in that pose.

What significance does the artistic form of the painting reveal for you? How
would you describe the content of the painting? Would the content of this painting
be different for a woman than for a man? Would it be different for a painter than for
a non-painter? What content does it have for you?

Subject Matter and Content

While the male nude was a common subject in Western art well into the Renaissance,
images of the female body have since predominated. The variety of treatment of the
female nude is bewildering, ranging from the Greek idealization of erotic love in the
Venus de Milo to the radical reordering of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase,
No. 2. A number of female nude studies follow (Figures 2-9 through 2-18). Consider,
as you look at them, how the form of the work interprets the female body. Does it
reveal it in such a way that you have an increased understanding of and sensitivity
to the female body? In other words, does it have content? Also ask yourself whether
the content is different in the two paintings by women compared with those by men.

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FIGURE 2-9
Giorgione, Sleeping Venus. 1508–
1510. Oil on canvas, 43 × 69 inches.
Gemaldegalerie, Dresden. Giorgione
established a Renaissance ideal in his
painting of the goddess Venus asleep
in the Italian countryside.

©Superstock

FIGURE 2-10
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bather
Arranging Her Hair. 1893. Oil on
canvas, 363⁄8 × 291⁄8 inches. National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,
Chester Dale Collection. Renoir’s
impressionist interpretation of the
nude provides a late-nineteenth-
century idealization of a real-life
figure who is not a goddess.

Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington,
D.C., Chester Dale Collection 35

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CHApTeR 2

FIGURE 2-11
Venus de Milo. Greece. Circa 100 BCE.
Marble, 5 feet 1⁄2 inch. Louvre, Paris.
Since its discovery in 1820 on the
island of Cyclades, the Venus de Milo
has been thought to represent the
Greek ideal in feminine beauty. It was
originally decorated with jewelry and
may have been polychromed.

©DeA picture Library/Art Resource, NY

FIGURE 2-12
Rokeby Venus. Circa 1647–1651. 48 × 49.7 inches (122 × 177 cm). National Gallery, London. Velazquez’s Rokeby
Venus (Toilet of Venus) is an idealized figure of the goddess. Cupid holds a mirror for Venus to admire herself.

©VCG Wilson/Corbis/Getty Images

FIGURE 2-13
Tom Wesselmann, 1931–2004, Study for Great American Nude. 1975. Watercolor and pencil, 19½ × 54 inches.
Private collection. Wesselmann’s study leaves the face blank and emphasizes the telephone as a suggestion of this
nude’s availability in the modern world.

Art: ©estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. photo: ©Connaught Brown, London/Bridgeman Images

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37

FIGURE 2-14
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase,
No. 2. 1912. Oil on canvas, 58 × 35 inches.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Louise and Walter
Arensberg Collection. This painting provoked
a riot in 1913 and made Duchamp famous as
a chief proponent of the distortions of cubism
and modern art at that time.

©Association Marcel Duchamp/ADAGp, paris/
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2017. photo:
©philadelphia Museum of Art, philadelphia/Art
Resource, NY

FIGURE 2-15
Standing Woman. Ivory Coast.
Nineteenth or twentieth century.
Wood and beads, 203⁄8 × 75⁄8 × 53⁄8
inches. Detroit Institute of Arts.
Standing Woman was once owned by
Tristan Tzara, a friend of Picasso.
Sculpture such as this influenced
modern painters and sculptors in
France and elsewhere in the early
part of the twentieth century. It
is marked by a direct simplicity,
carefully modeled and polished.

©Detroit Institute of Arts/Bridgeman Images

FIGURE 2-16
Suzanne Valadon, Reclining Nude.
1928. Oil on canvas, 235⁄8 × 3011⁄16
inches. Photo: Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York. Robert Lehman
Collection, 1975. Valadon interprets
the nude simply, directly. To what
extent is the figure idealized?

Source: Robert Lehman Collection, 1975/
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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CHApTeR 2

FIGURE 2-17
Alice Neel, Margaret Evans Pregnant. 1978. Oil on
canvas, 57¾ × 38 inches. Collection, John McEnroe
Gallery. Neel’s Margaret Evans Pregnant is one of a
series of consciously anti-idealized nude portraits of
pregnant women.

Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London. ©The estate
of Alice Neel

FIGURE 2-18
Philip Pearlstein, Two Female
Models in the Studio. 1967. Oil on
canvas, 501⁄8 × 601⁄4 inches. Gift
of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen B. Booke.
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Pearlstein’s attention to anatomy,
his even lighting, and his unsensuous
surroundings seem to eliminate the
erotic content associated with the
traditional female nude.

Courtesy of the Artist and Betty Cuningham
Gallery. photo: ©The Museum of Modern
Art/Licensed by Scala/Art Resource, NY

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WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

Most of these works are highly valued—some as masterpieces—because they are
powerful interpretations of their subject matter, not just presentations of the human
body as erotic objects. Notice how different the interpretations are. Any important
subject matter has many different facets. That is why shovels and soup cans have lim-
ited utility as subject matter. They have very few facets to offer for interpretation. The
female nude, however, is almost limitless. The next artist interprets something about
the female nude that had never been interpreted before, because the female nude
seems to be inexhaustible as a subject matter, more so perhaps than the male nude.

More precisely, these works all have somewhat different subject matters. All are
about the nude, but the painting by Giorgione is about the nude as idealized, as
a goddess, as Venus. Now there is a great deal that all of us could say in trying to
describe Giorgione’s interpretation. We see not just a nude but an idealization that
presents the nude as Venus, the goddess who the Romans felt best expressed the
ideal of woman. She represents a form of beautiful perfection that humans can only
strive toward. A description of the subject matter can help us perceive the content
if we have missed it. In understanding what the form worked on—that is, the subject
matter—our perceptive apparatus is better prepared to perceive the form-content,
the work of art’s structure and meaning.

The subject matter of Renoir’s painting is the nude more as an earth mother. In
the Venus de Milo, the subject matter is the erotic ideal, the goddess of love. In the Du-
champ, it is a mechanized dissection of the female form in action. In the Wesselmann,
it is the nude as exploited. In the Velazquez, the nude is idealized; however, with Cupid
holding the mirror for Venus to admire herself, we sense a bit of coyness, perhaps a
touch of narcissism. This painting is the only surviving nude by Velazquez. Because the
Spanish Inquisition was in power when he painted, it was dangerous to have and dis-
play this work in Spain. In 1813 it was purchased by an english aristocrat and taken to
Rokeby park. In all eight paintings by men, the subject matter is the female nude—but
qualified in relation to what the artistic form focuses upon and makes lucid.

The two paintings by Suzanne Valadon and Alice Neel treat the female nude
somewhat differently than those painted by men. Neel’s painting emphasizes an
aspect of femaleness that the men usually ignore—pregnancy. Her painting does
not show the alluring female but the female who is beyond allure. Valadon’s nude is
more traditional, but a comparison with Renoir and Giorgione should demonstrate
that she is far from their ideal.

PERCEPTION KEY Ten Female Nudes
1. Which of these nudes is most clearly idealized? What visual qualities contribute

to that idealization?
2. Which of these nudes seem to be aware of being seen? How does their awareness

affect your interpretation of the form of the nude?
3. Nude Descending a Staircase caused a great uproar when it was exhibited in New

York in 1913. Do you feel it is still a controversial painting? How does it interpret
the female nude in comparison with the other paintings in this group? Could the
nude be male? Why not? Suppose the title were Male Descending or Body Descend-
ing. Isn’t the sense of human movement the essential subject matter?
continued

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4. If you were not told that Suzanne Valadon and Alice Neel painted, would you have

known they were painted by women? What are the principal differences in the
treatment of the nude figure on the part of all these artists? Does their work sur-
prise you?

5. Decide whether Standing Woman is the work of a male artist or a female artist. What
criteria do you use in your decision?

EXPERIENCING Interpretations of the Female Nude
1. Is there an obvious difference between the representations of the female nude by

male and female artists?
2. Does distortion of the human figure help distance the viewer from the subject?
3. To what extent does the represented figure become a potential sexual object?

Following are some suggestions for analysis.
First, working backward, we can see that the question of the figure being a

sexual object is to a large extent parodied by Tom Wesselmann’s Study for Great
American Nude. The style and approach to painting are couched in careful design,
including familiar objects—the telephone, the rose, the perfume bottle, the sofa
cushions, the partial portrait—all of which imply the boudoir and the commodifi-
cation of women and sex. The figure’s face is totally anonymous, implying that this
is not a painting of a woman but of the idea of the modern American woman, with
her nipple carefully exposed to accommodate advertising’s breast fetish as a means
of selling goods.

Even Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, a painting whose subject is more sensual than ideal,
is less a sexual object than Wesselmann’s. For one thing, her body is less revealed than
Wesselmann’s, and her face, shown to us in a mirror, is looking at her reflection, sug-
gesting that she is in command of herself and is not to be taken lightly. The colors in the
painting are sumptuous and sensuous—rich red fabrics, an inviting bed, and a delighted
boy-god Cupid. Since Cupid is the archer who causes people to fall in love, could it be
that some of the subject matter is Venus loving herself? What does the form of the
painting reveal to you in terms of its content?

Then, the question of the distortion of the subject is powerfully handled by Du-
champ’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. This painting provoked a riot in 1913 because
it seemed to be a contemptuous portrait of the nude at a time when the nude aesthetic
was still academic in style. Duchamp was taunting the audience for art while also finding
a modern technological representation of the nude on canvas that mimed the cinema
of his time. Philip Pearlstein’s study of two nudes moves toward a de-idealization of the
nude. He asks us to look at the nudes without desire, yet with careful attention to form
and color.

Finally, we may partly answer the question of whether women paint nude females
differently by looking at Suzanne Valadon’s and Alice Neel’s paintings. Neel represents
Margaret Evans in a manner emphasizing her womanness, not her sexual desirability.
Hers is the only pregnant female figure—emphasizing the power of women to create
life. Valadon’s nude makes an effort to cover herself while looking at the viewer. She
is relaxed yet apprehensive. There is no attempt at commodification of either of these
figures, which means we must look at them very differently than the rest of the paint-
ings represented here.

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WHAT IS A WORK OF ART?

Further Thoughts on Artistic Form

Artistic form is an organized structure, a design, but it is also a window opening
on and focusing our world, helping us to perceive and understand what is import-
ant. This is the function of artistic form. The artist uses form as a means to un-
derstanding some subject matter, and in this process the subject matter exerts its
own imperative. A subject matter has, as edmund Husserl puts it, a “structure of
determination,” which to some significant degree is independent of the artist. even
when the ideas of the artist are the subject matter, they challenge and resist, forcing
the artist to discover their significance by discarding irrelevancies.

Subject matter is friendly, for it assists interpretation, but subject matter is also
hostile, for it resists interpretation. Otherwise, there would be no fundamental stim-
ulus or challenge to the creativity of the artist. Only subject matter with interesting
latent or uninterpreted values can challenge the artist, and the artist discovers these
values through form. If the maker of a work takes the line of least resistance by
ignoring the challenge of the subject matter—pushing the subject matter around
for entertaining or escapist effects instead of trying to uncover its significance—the
maker functions as a decorator rather than an artist.

Whereas decorative form merely pleases, artistic form informs about subject mat-
ter embedded in values that to an overwhelming extent are produced independently
of the artist. By revealing those values, the artist helps us understand ourselves and
our world, provided we participate with the work and understand the way artistic
form produces content. The artist reveals the content in the work—the content is
revealed to us through the act of participation and close attention to artistic form.

participation is a flowing experience. One thought, image, or sensation merges
into another, and we don’t know where we are going for certain, except that what
we are feeling is moving and controlling the flow, and clock time is irrelevant.

participation is often interrupted—someone moves in front of the painting, the
telephone call breaks the reading of the poem, someone goes into a coughing fit
at the concert—but as long as we keep coming back to the work as dominant over
distraction, we have something of the wonder of participation.

summAry
A work of art is a form-content. An artistic form is a form-content. An artistic form is
more than just an organization of the elements of an artistic medium, such as the lines
and colors of painting. The artistic form interprets or clarifies some subject matter.
The subject matter, strictly speaking, is not in a work of art. When participating with
a work of art, one can only imagine the subject matter, not perceive it. The subject
matter is only suggested by the work of art. The interpretation of the subject matter
is the content, or meaning, of the work of art. Content is embodied in the form. The
content, unlike the subject matter, is in the work of art, fused with the form. We can
separate content from form only by analysis. The ultimate justification of any analy-
sis is whether it enriches our participation with that work, whether it helps that work
“work” in us. Good analysis or criticism does just that. But, conversely, any analysis
not based on participation is unlikely to be helpful. participation is the only way to
get into direct contact with the form-content, so any analysis that is not based upon
a participative experience inevitably misses the work of art. participation and good
analysis, although necessarily occurring at different times, end up hand in hand.

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42

©2017 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: ©Fine Art Images/agefotostock

C h a p t e r 3

BEING A CRITIC
OF THE ARTS

The goals of responsible criticism aim for the fullest understanding and par-ticipation possible. Being a responsible critic demands being at the height of
awareness while examining a work of art in detail, establishing its context, and
clarifying its achievement. It is not to be confused with popular journalism, which
can sidetrack the critic into being flashy, negative, and cute. The critic aims at a full
understanding of a work of art.

You Are AlreAdY An Art CritiC
On a practical level, everyday criticism is an act of choice. You decide to change
from one program to another on television because you have made a critical
choice. When you find that certain programs please you more than others, that,
too, is a matter of expressing choices. If you decide that Albert Inaurrato’s film
Revenant is better than John Ford’s film The Searchers, you have made a crit-
ical choice. When you stop to admire a powerful piece of architecture while
ignoring a nearby building, you have again made a critical choice. You are ac-
tive every day in art criticism of one kind or another. Most of the time it is
low-level criticism, almost instinctive, establishing your preferences in music,
literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, film, and video art. You have made
such judgments since you were young. The question now is how to move on to

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BEING A CRITIC OF THE ARTS

a higher-level criticism that accounts for the subtlest distinctions in the arts and
therefore the most-complex choices.

What qualifies us to make critical distinctions when we are young and unin-
formed about art? Usually it is a matter of simple pleasure. Art is designed to give
us pleasure, and for most children the most pleasurable art is simple: representa-
tional painting, lyrical and tuneful melodies, recognizable sculpture, light verse,
action stories, and animated videos. It is another thing to move from that pleasur-
able beginning to account for what may be higher-level pleasures, such as those in
Cézanne’s still lifes, Beethoven’s symphonies, Jean Arp’s sculpture Growth, Amy
Lowell’s poem “Venus Transiens,” Sophocles’s tragedy Oedipus Rex, or David Si-
mon’s video triumph The Wire. One of the purposes of this chapter is to point to
the kinds of critical acts that help us expand our repertoire of responses to the arts.

PArtiCiPAtion And CritiCism
Participation with a work of art is complex but also sometimes immediate. Partici-
pation is an essential act that makes art significant in our lives. We have described
it as a loss of self, by which we mean that when contemplating, or experiencing, a
work of art we tend to become one with the experience. As in films such as Citizen
Kane, Thelma and Louise, or Dunkirk, we become one with the narrative and lose a
sense of our physical space. We can also achieve a sense of participation with paint-
ing, music, and the other arts. The question is not so much how we become outside
ourselves in relation to the arts, but why we may not achieve that condition in the
face of art that we know has great power but does not yet speak to us. Developing
critical skills will help bridge that gap and allow participation with art that may not
be immediately appealing. In essence, that is the purpose of an education in the arts.

Patience and perception are the keys to beginning high-level criticism. Using
painting as an example, it is clear that careful perceptions of color, rhythm, line,
form, and balance are useful in understanding the artistic form and its resultant
content. Our discussion of Goya’s May 3, 1808 (Figure 2-3) in terms of the empha-
sis of the line at the bottom of the painting and the power of the lines formed by
the soldiers’ rifles, while in contrast with the white blouse of one of the men being
executed, helps us perceive the painting’s artistic form. Coming to such a huge
and demanding painting with enough patience to stand and perceive the underly-
ing formal structures, while seeing the power of the color and details designed to
heighten our awareness of the significance of the action, makes it possible to achieve
participation. From there it is possible to go back to the Eddie Adams photograph
Execution in Saigon (Figure 2-2) and decide whether the same kind of participation is
possible and whether the formal significance of the photograph is comparable. Any
decision we make in this context is an act of art criticism.

three Kinds of CritiCism
We point to three kinds of criticism that aim toward increasing our ability to partic-
ipate with works of art. In Chapter 2, we argued that a work of art is a form-content
and that good criticism, which involves careful examination and thoughtful analysis,

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CHAPTER 3

will sharpen our perception and deepen our understanding. Descriptive criticism
aims at a careful accounting of the formal elements in the work. As its name implies,
this stage of criticism is marked by an examination of the large formal elements as
well as the details in the composition. Interpretive criticism focuses on the content
of the work, the discovery of which requires reflection on how the formal elements
transform the subject matter. Evaluative criticism, on the other hand, is an effort to
qualify the relative merits of a work.

Descriptive Criticism

Descriptive criticism concentrates on the form of a work of art, describing, some-
times exhaustively, the important characteristics of that form in order to improve
our understanding of the part-to-part and part-to-whole interrelationships. At
first glance this kind of criticism may seem unnecessary. After all, the form is
all there, completely given—all we have to do is observe. Yet we can spend time
attending to a work we are very much interested in and still not perceive all there
is to perceive. We miss things, often things that are right there for us to observe.

Good descriptive critics call our attention to what we otherwise might miss in an
artistic form. And more important, they help us learn how to do their work when
they are not around. We can, if we carefully attend to descriptive criticism, develop
and enhance our own powers of observation. Descriptive criticism, more than any
other type, is most likely to improve our participation with a work of art, for such
criticism turns us directly to the work itself.

Study Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (Figure 3-1), damaged by repeated res-
torations. Leonardo unfortunately experimented with dry fresco, which, as in this
case, deteriorates rapidly. Still, even in its present condition, this painting can be
overwhelming.

CONCEPTION KEY Kinds of Criticism
1. In Chapter 2, which portions of the discussion of Goya’s May 3, 1808 (Figure 2-3)

and Adams’s Execution in Saigon (Figure 2-2) are descriptive criticism? How do they
help you better perceive the formal elements of the works?

2. Comment on the usefulness of the descriptive criticism of Robert Herrick’s poem
“The Pillar of Fame” in Chapter 1. When does that discussion become interpretive
criticism?

3. “Experiencing: Interpretations of the Female Nude” (Figures 2-9 through 2-18) in-
troduces a series of interpretive criticisms of some of the paintings in the chapter.
Which of these interpretations, in your opinion, is most successful in sharpening
your awareness of the content of the painting? What are the most useful interpre-
tive techniques used in the discussion of the paintings of female nudes?

4. Evaluative criticism is used in Chapters 1 and 2. To what extent are you most en-
lightened by this form of criticism in our discussion of the Goya painting and the
Adams photograph? 

5. In what other discussions in this book do you find evaluative criticism? How often
do you practice it on your own while examining the works in this book?

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Leonardo planned the fresco so that the perspectival vanishing point would re-
side in the head of Jesus, the central figure in the painting (Figure 3-2). He also used
the concept of the trinity, in the number 3, as he grouped each of the disciples in
threes, two groups on each side of the painting. Were you to diagram them, you
would see they form the basis of triangles. The three windows in the back wall also
repeat the idea of three. The figure of Jesus is itself a perfect isosceles triangle, while
the red and blue garment centers the eye. In some paintings, this kind of archi-
tectonic organization might be much too static, but because Leonardo gathers the
figures in dramatic poses, with facial expressions that reveal apparent emotions, the
viewer is distracted from the formal organization while being subliminally affected
by its perfection. It seems that perfection—appropriate to his subject matter—was
what Leonardo aimed at in creating the underlying structure of the fresco. Judas,
the disciple who will betray Jesus, is the fourth figure from the left, his face in
shadow, pulling back in shock.

FIGURE 3-1
Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper.
Circa 1495–1498. Oil and tempera
on plaster, 15 feet 11⁄8 inches ×
28 feet 101⁄2 inches. Refectory of
Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
Leonardo’s painting was one of many
on this subject, but his is the first
to represent recognizably human
figures with understandable facial
expressions. This is the dramatic
moment when Jesus tells his disciples
that one of them will betray him.

©Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

45

PERCEPTION KEY Last Supper
Descriptively criticize the Last Supper. Point out every facet of form that seems im-
portant. Look for shapes that relate to each other, including shapes formed by group-
ings of figures. Do any shapes stand out as unique—for example, the shapes of Christ
and Judas, who leans back, fourth from the left? Describe the color relationships.
Describe the symmetry, if any. Describe how the lines tend to meet in the landscape
behind Christ’s head.

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Detail and Structural Relationships When we address a painting we concern our-
selves both with the structural relationships and the detail that control our visual
attention. For example, the dominant structures in the Last Supper are the white
rectangular table cloth contrasting with the high receding white walls that create
the single-point vanishing perspective ending in the head of Jesus. These dynamic
lines of force imply a dramatic moment. As you examine the painting and consider
the following discussion, decide whether the relationship of structural elements or
detail elements is dominant in how you see this painting.

When we talk about details, we are concerned with how the smaller elements
of the work function together. For example, in the Last Supper, we see that the
figure of Jesus at the center is a geometric shape, an isosceles triangle. Within this
painting, this triangle constitutes a detail. Moreover, when examining the paint-
ing for more details, we see that all the apostles are grouped in patterns of three.
However, their triangular shapes are not as perfect as the center triangle. If you
draw the implied triangle for any other group of three, you will see that it is not
isosceles, but somewhat misshapen. Perfection in this painting is reserved for only
one figure.

In examining other details in the painting we see that the three open windows
in the rear are details that replicate the idea of three, echoing the three lines of the
triangle. The four tapestries on each wall act as background, but may refer to the
traditional “perfect” number, eight, which signifies the new beginning. (The eight
white keys on a piano illustrate that idea: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.)

The triangular figure of Jesus, with red and blue garments, in the center of the
Last Supper is a dominant settling force for the eye, but it contrasts immediately
with the other triangular arrangements of the apostles. Among other contrasting
details are the colors of the garments of the apostles. They are paler complementary

FIGURE 3-2
The Last Supper is geometrically
arranged with the single-point
vanishing perspective centered on the
head of Jesus. The basic organizing
form for the figures in the painting
is the triangle. Leonardo aimed at
geometric perfection.

©Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

46

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colors of red, blue, and ochre, competing with the dominant darkness of the rear
wall and the tapestries on the left and right walls. Observing the apostles’s colored
garments and their less than equilateral triangular grouping is important for inter-
preting their relationship to the main figure in the painting and its main dramatic
moment.

In Jackson Pollock’s The Flame (Figure 3-3), the details of the flames, in the brilliant
reds, the orange-whites, and the deep contrasts in the blacks of the composition, are
so vigorous that on first inspection it is difficult to see the forms that begin to appear.
If we did not know the name of the painting, we might have no idea whether some-
thing is being represented or if the painting is an example of abstraction, a style for
which Pollock was usually known. But closer examination shows the formal order in
the center of the painting, creating a triangular structure controlled by the angular
red flames rising to the top center. The central flame in orange-white seems to rise
from two angular forms in white (possibly parts of a skeleton?) that angle down in
the middle, the base for the central flames. All the detailed shapes angle upward, as
we expect fire to do. The subject matter of the painting is flame, but the intensity of
the colors and the power of the contrasts of black, white, and red reveal an energy in
the flame that suggests something dreadful. If this were a painting made in the Mid-
dle Ages, we would assume it an allusion to the pits of hell. However, Pollock was
influenced in 1936 by the work of José Clemente Orozco portraying war in Mexico

47

FIGURE 3-3
Jackson Pollock, The Flame (1934–
1938). Oil on canvas mounted on
fiberboard, 201⁄2 × 30 inches (51.1 ×
76.2 cm). Enid A. Haupt Fund. The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
York, NY.

©2017 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Photo: ©Fine Art Images/agefotostock

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CHAPTER 3

and threats to civilization. Destruction and skeletons figure in much of Orozco’s
work in the 1930s. Could the content of the painting point to an apocalypse?

Picasso’s Guernica (Figure 1-4) is more or less balanced with respect to detail and
structure. The detail relationships are organized into three major regions: the great
triangle—with the apex at the candle and two sides sloping down to the lower cor-
ners—and the two large rectangles, vertically oriented, running down along the left
and right borders. Moreover, these regions are hierarchically ordered. The triangu-
lar region takes precedence in both size and interest, and the left rectangle, mainly
because of the fascination of the impassive bull (what is he doing here?), dominates
the right rectangle, even though both are about the same size. Despite the complex-
ity of the detail relationships in Guernica, we gradually perceive the power of a very
strong, clear structure.

The basic formal element in Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (Figure 1-5) is the isosceles
triangle, but in this portrait the roundness of the three points of the triangle soften
the impact of the form. We are drawn to the hands, which are crossed in such a way
as to create an “upside down” triangle with the elbows and the other points. The
flesh of her neck and bosom creates another triangle, while her oval face dominates
the composition. Naturally her smile has been an enigma because it implies an
understanding between the painter and the model. Its enigmatic quality is echoed
slightly by the strange landscapes in the background—they carefully avoid any sta-
ble geometric figure as a way of contrast. Return to the discussion of this painting in
“Experiencing: The Mona Lisa” in Chapter 1 and consider the descriptive criticism
offered there.

Interpretive Criticism

Interpretive criticism explicates the content of a work of art. It helps us under-
stand how form transforms subject matter into content: what has been revealed
about some subject matter and how that has been accomplished. The content of
any work of art will become clearer when the structure is perceived in relation to
the details and regions. The Le Corbusier and Sullivan examples (Figures 3-4 and
3-5) demonstrate that the same principle holds for architecture as for painting. The
subject matter of a building—or at least an important component of it—is tradition-
ally the practical function the building serves. We have no difficulty telling which
of these buildings was meant to serve as a bank and which was meant to serve as
a church.

PERCEPTION KEY Detail and Structural Dominance
1. In the Last Supper, do you find that detail or structural relationships dominate—or

are equal? Which analysis, of structure or detail, yields the most understanding of
the painting’s content?

2. Whether detail or structural relationships dominate—or are equal—often var-
ies widely from work to work. Compare Pollock’s The Flame, Picasso’s Guernica
(Figure 1-4), and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (Figure 1-5). In which painting or paintings,
if any, do detail relationships dominate? Structural relationships?

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49

BEING A CRITIC OF THE ARTS

Form-Content The interpretive critic’s job is to find out as much about an artistic
form as possible in order to explain its meaning. This is a particularly useful task
for the critic—which is to say, for us as critics—since the forms of numerous works
of art seem important but are not immediately understandable. When we look at
the examples of the bank and the church, we ought to realize that the significance
of these buildings is expressed by means of the form-content. It is true that without
knowing the functions of these buildings we could appreciate them as structures
without special functions, but knowing about their functions deepens our apprecia-
tion. Thus, the lofty arc of Le Corbusier’s roof soars heavenward more mightily when
we recognize the building as a church. The form moves our eyes upward. For a Chris-
tian church, such a reference is perfect. The bank, however, looks like a pile of square
coins or banknotes and moves our eyes downward. Certainly the form “amasses”

FIGURE 3-4
Le Corbusier, Notre Dame-du-Haut,
Ronchamps, France. 1950–1955.
The chapel is built on a hill where
a pilgrimage chapel was destroyed
during the Second World War. Le
Corbusier used soaring lines to lift
the viewer’s eyes to the heavens and
the surrounding horizon, visible on
all four sides.

©F.L.C./ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York 2017. Photo:
©AWBT/Shutterstock RF

FIGURE 3-5
Louis Henry Sullivan, Guaranty
(Prudential) Building, Buffalo, New
York. 1894. Sullivan’s building,
among the first high-rise structures,
was made possible by the use
of mass-produced steel girders
supporting the weight of each floor.

©Buffalo History Museum

PERCEPTION KEY Le Corbusier and Sullivan
1. If you had not been told, would you know that Le Corbusier’s building is a church?

Now, having been told, which structural details help identify it as a church?
2. Which of these buildings better uses its basic structure to suggest solidity? Which

better uses formal patterns to suggest flight and motion?
3. In which of these buildings does detail better complement the overall structure?
4. Comment on how the formal values of these buildings contribute to their content

as serving their established functions as bank and church.
5. One of these buildings is symmetrical and one is not. Symmetry is often praised in

nature as a constituent of beauty. How important is symmetry in evaluating these
buildings?

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CHAPTER 3

something, an appropriate suggestion for a bank. We will not belabor these exam-
ples, since it should be fun for you to do this kind of critical job yourself. Observe how
much more you get out of these examples of architecture when you consider each
form in relation to its meaning—that is, the form as form-content. Furthermore, such
analyses should convince you that interpretive criticism operates in a vacuum unless
it is based on descriptive criticism. Unless we perceive the form with sensitivity—and
this means that we have the basis for good descriptive criticism—we simply cannot
understand the content. In turn, any interpretive criticism will be useless.

Participate with a poem by William Butler Yeats:

THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Source: William Butler Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” The
Collected Works in the Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats,
Volume 8 (of 8). Project Gutenberg.

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is a lyric written from the first person, “I.” Its three
stanzas of four lines each rhyme in simple fashion with full vowel sounds, and as a
result, the poem lends itself to being sung, as indeed it has often been set to music.
The poet portrays himself as a simple person preferring the simple life. The descrip-
tive critic will notice the basic formal qualities of the poem: simple rhyme, steady
meter, the familiar quatrain stanza structure. But the critic will also move further to
talk about the imagery in the poem: the image of the simply built cabin, the small
garden with bean rows, the bee hive, the sounds of the linnet’s wings and the lake
water lapping the shore, the look of noon’s purple glow. The interpretive critic
will address the entire project of the poet, who is standing “on the roadway, or on
the pavements gray,” longing to return to the distant country and the simple life.
The poet “hears” the lake waters “in the deep heart’s core,” which is to say that the

PERCEPTION KEY Yeats’s Poem
1. Offer a brief description of the poem, concentrating on the nature of the rhyme-

words, the contrasting imagery, the rhythms of the lines.
2. What does the poet say he intends to do? Do you think he will actually do it?

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51

BEING A CRITIC OF THE ARTS

simple life is absolutely basic to the poet. The last three words actually repeat the
same idea. The heart is always at the core of a person, and it is always deep in that
core. Such emphasis helps produce in the reader a sense of completion and signif-
icance. In a sense the triangular shape of the heart is replicated in the three words
applied to it, as if the idea of the number 3 were a stabilizing “shape” similar to the
visually stabilizing shape of the triangles in the paintings we have been describing.

Yeats later commented on this poem and said it was the first poem of his career
to have a real sense of music. He also said that the imagery came to him when he
was stepping off a curb near the British Museum in the heart of London and heard
the sound of splashing water. The sounds immediately brought to mind the imagery
of the island, which is in the west of Ireland.

It is important that we grasp the relative nature of explanations about the con-
tent of works of art. Even descriptive critics, who try to tell us about what is really
there, will perceive things in a way that is relative to their own perspective. An
amusing story in Cervantes’s Don Quixote illustrates the point. Sancho Panza had
two cousins who were expert wine tasters. However, on occasion, they disagreed.
One found the wine excellent except for an iron taste; the other found the wine ex-
cellent except for a leather taste. When the barrel of wine was emptied, an iron key
with a leather thong was found. As N. J. Berrill points out in Man’s Emerging Mind,

The statement you often hear that seeing is believing is one of the most misleading ones
a man has ever made, for you are more likely to see what you believe than believe what
you see. To see anything as it really exists is about as hard an exercise of mind and eyes
as it is possible to perform.1

Two descriptive critics can often “see” quite different things in an artistic form.
This is not only to be expected but also desirable; it is one of the reasons great works
of art keep us intrigued for centuries. But even though they may see quite different
aspects when they look independently at a work of art, when they talk it over, the
critics will usually come to some kind of agreement about the aspects each of them
sees. The work being described, after all, has verifiable, objective qualities each of
us can perceive and talk about. But it has subjective qualities as well, in the sense
that the qualities are observed only by “subjects.”

In the case of interpretive criticism, the subjectivity and, in turn, the relativity of
explanations are more obvious than in the case of descriptive criticism. The content
is “there” in the form, and yet, unlike the form, it is not there in a directly perceiv-
able way. It must be interpreted.

Interpretive critics, more than descriptive critics, must be familiar with the sub-
ject matter. Interpretive critics often make the subject matter more explicit for us
at the first stage of their criticism, bringing us closer to the work. Perhaps the best
way initially to get at Picasso’s Guernica (Figure 1-4) is to discover its subject mat-
ter. Is it about a fire in a building or something else? If we are not clear about this,
perception of the painting is obscured. But after the subject matter has been eluci-
dated, good interpretive critics go much further: exploring and discovering mean-
ings about the subject matter as revealed by the form. Now they are concerned with
helping us grasp the content directly, in all of its complexities and subtleties. This
final stage of interpretive criticism is the most demanding of all criticism.

1N. J. Berrill, Man’s Emerging Mind (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1955), p. 147.

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CHAPTER 3

Evaluative Criticism

To evaluate a work of art is to judge its merits. At first this seems to suggest that
evaluative criticism is prescriptive criticism, which prescribes what is good as if
it were a medicine and tells us that this work is superior to that work. However,
our approach is somewhat different. Evaluative criticism functions to establish the
quality and excellence of the work. To some extent, our discussion will include
comparisons that inevitably urge us to make quality decisions. Those decisions are
best made after descriptive and interpretive criticism have taken part in examining
the work of art.

It may be that this kind of evaluative criticism makes you uncomfortable. If so,
we think your reaction is based on good instincts. First, each work of art is unique,
so a relative merit ranking of several of them seems arbitrary. This is especially the
case when the works are in different media and have different subject matters, as in
the second question of the Perception Key. Second, it is not clear how such judging
helps us in our basic critical purpose—to learn from our reflections about works of
art how to participate with these works more intensely and enjoyably.

Nevertheless, evaluative criticism of some kind is generally necessary. As au-
thors, we have been making such judgments continually in this book—in the selec-
tions for illustrations, for example. You make such judgments when, as you enter
a museum, you decide to spend your time with this painting rather than that. Ob-
viously directors of museums must also make evaluative criticisms, because usu-
ally they cannot display every work owned by the museum. If a van Gogh is on
sale—and one of his paintings, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, was bought in 1997 for
$90 million—someone has to decide its worth. Evaluative criticism, then, is always
functioning, at least implicitly.

The problem, then, is how to use evaluative criticism as constructively as pos-
sible. How can we use such criticism to help our participation with works of art?
Whether Giorgione’s painting (Figure 2-9) or Pearlstein’s (Figure 2-18) deserves
first prize seems trivial. But if almost all critics agree that Shakespeare’s poetry is far
superior to Edward Guest’s, and if we have been thinking Guest’s poetry is better,
we should do some reevaluating. Or if we hear a music critic whom we respect state
that the music of Duke Ellington is worth listening to—and up to this time we have
dismissed it—then we should make an effort to listen. Perhaps the basic importance
of evaluative criticism lies in its commendation of works that we might otherwise
dismiss. This may lead us to delightful experiences. Such criticism may also make
us more skeptical about our own judgments.

PERCEPTION KEY Evaluative Criticism
1. Suppose you are a judge of an exhibition of painting, and in Chapter 2 (Figures 2-9

through 2-18) have been placed into competition. You are to award first, second,
and third prizes. What would your decisions be? Why?

2. Suppose, further, that you are asked to judge which is the best work of art from the
following selection: Le Corbusier’s church, Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” and
Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire (Figure 2-4). What would your decision be? Why?

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53

BEING A CRITIC OF THE ARTS

Evaluative criticism presupposes three fundamental standards: perfection, insight,
and inexhaustibility. When the evaluation centers on the form, it usually values a form
highly only if the detail and regional relationships are organically related. If they fail to
cohere with the structure, the result is distracting and thus inhibits participation. An ar-
tistic form in which everything works together may be called perfect. A work may have
perfect organization, however, and still be evaluated as poor unless it satisfies the stan-
dard of insight. If the form fails to inform us about some subject matter—if it just pleases,
interests, or excites us but doesn’t make some significant difference in our lives—then,
for us, that form is not artistic. Such a form may be valued below artistic form because
the participation it evokes, if it evokes any at all, is not lastingly significant. Incidentally,
a work lacking representation of objects and events may possess artistic form. Abstract
art has a definite subject matter—the sensuous. Who is to say that the Pollock is a lesser
work of art because it informs only about the sensuous? The sensuous is with us all the
time, and to be sensitive to it is exceptionally life-enhancing.

Finally, works of art may differ greatly in the breadth and depth of their content.
The subject matter of Pollock’s The Flame—the sensuous—is not as broad as the sub-
ject of Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire (Figure 2-4). Yet it does not follow necessarily
that the Cézanne is a superior work. The stronger the content—that is, the richer the
insight into the subject matter—the more intense our participation, because we have
more to keep us involved in the work. Such works apparently are inexhaustible,
and evaluative critics usually will rate only those kinds of works as masterpieces.

The sensuous was central to the British art show titled Sensation, which showed
controversial works that caused the Royal Academy of Art to restrict entry to those
over age eighteen. Some of the works were perceived as repugnant by some church-
men and politicians in New York. Ron Mueck’s four-foot-long Mask II: Self-portrait
(Figure 3-6) was a sensation because of its hugeness and its hyper-real style. The
Saatchi Gallery commissioned this work for the Sensation show in London.

FIGURE 3-6
Ron Mueck, Mask II. 2001–2002.
Mixed media, 303⁄8 × 461⁄2 × 331⁄2
inches (77.2 × 118.1 × 85.1 cm).
Collection of the Art Supporting
Foundation to the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art. Mueck’s
huge sculptures were part of the
original Sensation show in London.
Their effect on the viewer is one of
surprise and, ultimately, delight.

©MaxPPP/Annie Viannet/Newscom

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CHAPTER 3

Rudolph Giuliani, mayor of New York at the time, did not see the show but was
horrified by complaints from William Donahue, president of the Catholic League,
and cut off funding to the museum. He later restored it, but not until protesters
accused him of censorship. Churchmen and politicians thought the most shock-
ing work of art was by Chris Ofili, a young black painter whose Holy Virgin Mary
(Figure 3-7) alarmed religious New Yorkers because images of naked female bot-
toms and elephant dung were part of the mixed media that went into the painting.

FIGURE 3-7
Chris Ofili, Holy Virgin Mary. 1996. Mixed media,
96 × 72 inches. Victoria Miro Gallery, London. This
is another example of shock art, by Ofili, a British
artist noted for works referencing his African
heritage. Audiences were alarmed when they
discovered one of the media was elephant dung,
a substance common in African art but not easily
accepted by Western audiences.

Courtesy of Chris Ofili/Afroco and David Zwirner

PERCEPTION KEY The Sensation Show
1. David Bowie said Sensation was the most important show since the 1913

New York Armory show in which Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
(Figure 2-14) created a scandal, protest, and intense controversy. Most art that
was once shocking seems tame a few years later. To what extent do any of these
works of art still have shock value?

2. Should politicians, like the mayor of New York, punish major museums for
showing art that the politicians feel is offensive? Does such an act constitute a
legitimate form of evaluative art criticism? Does it constitute art criticism if, like
ex-mayor Giuliani, the politician has not seen and experienced the art?

3. The Sensation show was described as shock art. Ofili’s use of naked female bot-
toms and dung in a portrait of the Madonna shocked many people. Why would it
have been shocking? To what extent is shock an important value in art? Would
you agree with those who said Chris Ofili’s work was not art? What would be the
basis for such a position?

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BEING A CRITIC OF THE ARTS
4. Would Chris Ofili’s painting be shocking if people were unaware that he painted

some of it with elephant dung? Would people be less alarmed if they knew that in
Africa such a practice in art is relatively common? Does any of this matter in mak-
ing a judgment about the painting’s success as a work of art? What matters most
for you in evaluating this painting?

EXPERIENCING The Polish Rider
1. Does knowing The Polish Rider was

probably painted by Willem Drost
instead of Rembrandt van Rijn di-
minish your participation with the
painting? Does the fact that it was
painted by a student negatively af-
fect your evaluation of the painting?

2. Should a work of art be evaluated
completely without reference to its
creator?

3. How should our critical judgment of
the painting be affected by knowing
it was once valued at millions of dol-
lars and is now worth vastly less?

One of the authors, as a young adult,
saw this painting in the Frick Museum
and listened to a discussion of its mer-
its when it was thought to be by Rem-
brandt. Although today the painting is
neglected, it is no less excellent than it
was. 

One school of thought holds that
paintings are to be evaluated wholly
on their own merit without reference
to the artist who created it. The Polish
Rider, for instance, would still be held
in great esteem if it had not been as-
sumed to be by Rembrandt. But an-
other school of thought holds that a

FIGURE 3-8
Willem Drost, The Polish Rider. 1655. Oil on canvas, 46 × 531⁄8 inches. Frick Collection, New York.
Long thought to be a painting by Rembrandt, The Polish Rider is now credited to one of his
gifted students. The Frick removed it from a prominent place after Julius Held determined
that it is probably the work of Willem Drost.

©Fine Art Images/Heritage/The Image Works

The Polish Rider (Figure 3-8), featured in “Experiencing: The Polish Rider,” was
originally attributed to Rembrandt. But in 1982 a group of five scholars, members of
the Rembrandt Research Project, “disattributed” the painting. Studying subtleties
such as brushwork, color transitions, transparency, shadowing, and structuring,
they concluded that Willem Drost, a student of Rembrandt, was probably the artist.
In the Frick Museum in New York City, The Polish Rider no longer draws crowds.
Another work, presumably by Rembrandt, had been expected to sell for at least
$15 million. It, too, was disattributed and was sold for only $800,000!

continued

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summArY
Being a responsible critic demands being at the height of awareness while examin-
ing a work of art in detail, establishing its subject matter, and clarifying its achieve-
ment. There are three main types of criticism: Descriptive criticism focuses on form,
interpretive criticism focuses on content, and evaluative criticism focuses on the
relative merits of a work.

Good critics can help us understand works of art while giving us the means or
techniques that will help us become good critics ourselves. They can teach us about
what kinds of questions to ask. Each of the following chapters on the individual

painting is best evaluated when
seen in the context of other paint-
ings by the same artists, or even
in the context of other paintings
with similar style and subject
matter.

Because in modern times
artworks have sometimes been
investment opportunities for
wealthy people, the question of
value has become a financial ques-
tion even more than an aesthetic
question. The result is that some
works of art have been grossly
overvalued by art critics who are
swayed by the dollar value, not
the artistic value. We believe art
must be valued for its capacity to
provide us with insight and to pro-
mote our participation, not for its
likelihood to be worth a fortune.

4. Which school of thought do
you belong to: those who eval-
uate a painting on its own merits or those who consider the reputation of the artist?

5. Prices for art soared enormously beginning in the 1980s. The highest recent price
paid at auction for a work of art was $170 million for Amedeo Modigliani’s nude,
Nu Couché (Sleeping Nude) (Figure 3-9). How does its money value affect its artistic
value?

This painting surprised the art world by selling for $170 million to a Chinese collec-
tor, a taxi driver who became a billionaire. It took nine minutes to sell this painting via an
international telephone call. Examine this painting in terms of descriptive, interpretive,
and evaluative criticism. How does it compare with the nudes in Chapter 2? Why would
any information regarding its sale or the price paid for it affect our sense of the artistic
value of the painting? What is your judgment of Nu Couché’s artistic value?

FIGURE 3-9
Amedeo Modigliani, Nu Couché (Sleeping Nude). 1917–1918. Via Christies.

©Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images

56

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57

BEING A CRITIC OF THE ARTS

arts is designed to do just that—to give some help about what kinds of questions a
serious viewer should ask in order to come to a clearer perception and deeper un-
derstanding of any specific work. With the arts, unlike many other areas of human
concern, the questions are often more important than the answers. The real lover
of the arts will often not be the person with all the answers but rather the one who
asks the best questions. This is not because the answers are worthless but because
the questions, when properly applied, lead us to a new awareness, a more exalted
consciousness of what works of art have to offer. Then when we get to the last chap-
ter, this preparation will lead to a better understanding of how the arts are related
to other branches of the humanities.

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58

©Universal History Archive/Getty Images

P
a

rt 2

T
H

E
A

R
T

S

C h a p t e r 4

PAINTING

Our Visual POwers
Painting awakens our visual senses so as to make us see color, shape, light, and
form in new ways. Painters such as Siqueiros, Goya, Cézanne, Gentileschi, Neel,
and virtually all the painters illustrated in this book make demands on our sensitiv-
ity to the visual field, rewarding us with challenges and delights that only painting
can provide. But at the same time, we are also often dulled by day-to-day experience
or by distractions of business or study that make it difficult to look with the inten-
sity that great art requires. Therefore, we sometimes need to refresh our awareness
by sharpening our attention to the surfaces of paintings as well as to their overall
power. For example, by referring to the following Perception Key we may prepare
ourselves to look deeply and respond in new ways to some of the paintings we con-
sidered in earlier chapters.

PERCEPTION KEY Our Visual Powers
1. Jackson Pollock, The Flame (Figure 3-3). Identify the three major colors Pollock

uses. How do these colors establish a sense of visual rhythm? Which of the colors
is most intense? Which most surprising?

2. Suzanne Valadon, Reclining Nude (Figure 2-16). Examine the piece of furniture,
the sofa, on which Valadon’s nude reclines. What color is it? Why is it an effective

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59

PAINTING

Our point is that everyday life tends to dull our senses so that we do not observe
our surroundings with the sensitivity that we might. For help we must go to the
artists, especially the painter and the sculptor—those who are most sensitive to the
visual appearances of things. Their works make things and their qualities much
clearer than they usually appear. The artist purges from our sight the films of famil-
iarity. Painting, with its “all-at-onceness,” more than any other art, gives us the time
to allow our vision to focus.

The Media Of PainTing
Throughout this book we will be talking about the basic materials and media in
each of the arts, because a clear understanding of their properties will help us un-
derstand what artists do and how they work. The most prominent media in West-
ern painting—and most painting in the rest of the world—are tempera, fresco, oil,
watercolor, and acrylic. In early paintings the pigment—the actual color—required
a binder such as egg yolk, glue, or casein to keep it in solution and permit it to be
applied to canvas, wood, plaster, and other substances.

Tempera

Tempera is pigment bound by egg yolk and applied to a carefully prepared surface
like the wood panels of Cimabue’s thirteenth-century Madonna and Child Enthroned
with Angels (Figure 4-1). The colors of tempera sometimes look slightly flat and are
difficult to change as the artist works, but the marvelous precision of detail and
the subtlety of linear shaping are extraordinary. The purity of colors, notably in
the lighter range, can be wondrous, as with the tinted white of the inner dress of
Giotto’s Madonna Enthroned (Figure 4-2). In the fourteenth century, Giotto achieves
an astonishing level of detail in the gold ornamentation below and around the Ma-
donna. At the same time, his control of the medium of tempera permitted him to
represent figures with a high degree of individuality and realism, representing a
profound change in the history of art.

contrast to the nude? What are the designs on the sofa? What color are the
lines of the designs? How do they relate to the subject matter of the painting?

3. Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning (Figure 1-6). What are the most important
colors in the painting? How do they balance and complement each other? Why
does Hopper limit the intensity of the colors as he does? What is the visual rhyth-
mic effect of the patterns formed in the windows of the second floor? Are any two
windows the same? How does Hopper use unexpected forms to break the rhythm
of the first level of shops? What emotional qualities are excited by Hopper’s con-
trol of the visual elements in the painting?

4. Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire (Figure 2-4). How many colors does Cézanne
use in this painting? Which color is dominant? Which figure in the painting is most
dominant? How do the most important lines in the painting direct your vision?
Describe the way your eye moves through the painting. How does Cézanne use line
and color to direct your attention?

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CHAPTER 4

FIGURE 4-1
Cimabue, Madonna and Child Enthroned
with Angels. Circa 1285–1290.
Tempera and gold on wood, 12 feet
7¾ inches × 7 feet 4 inches. Uffizi,
Florence. Cimabue’s painting is
typical of Italian altarpieces in the
thirteenth century. The use of
tempera and gold leaf creates a
radiance appropriate to a religious
scene.

©Alinari/Art Resource, NY

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61

PAINTING

The power of these works, when one stands before them in Florence’s Uffizi Gal-
leries, is intense beyond what can be shown in a reproduction. Cimabue’s painting is
more than twelve feet tall and commands the space as few paintings of the period can.
The brilliance of the colors and the detail of the expressions of all the figures in the
painting demand a remarkable level of participation. By comparison, the Giotto, only
a few years later, uses contrasting colors to affect us. But Giotto’s faces are more real-
istic than Cimabue’s, marking an important shift in Renaissance art. Giotto achieves
an illusion of depth and a sense that the figures are distinct, as if they were portraits.

Fresco

Because many churches and other buildings required paintings directly on plaster
walls, artists perfected the use of fresco, pigment dissolved in lime water applied
to wet plaster as it is drying. In the case of wet fresco, the color penetrates to about

FIGURE 4-2
Giotto, Madonna Enthroned. Circa
1310. Tempera and gold on wood,
10 feet 83⁄16 inches × 6 feet 83⁄8
inches. Uffizi, Florence. Giotto,
credited with creating a realistic
portrayal of figures from nature in
religious art, lavishes his Madonna
Enthroned with extraordinary detail
permitted by the use of tempera
and gold leaf. Giotto was one of
Florence’s greatest painters.

©Scala/Art Resource, NY

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62

one-eighth of an inch and is bound into the plaster. There is little room for error
because the plaster dries relatively quickly, and the artist must understand how the
colors will look when embedded in plaster and no longer wet. One advantage of
this medium is that it will last as long as the wall itself. One of the greatest examples
of the use of fresco is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, on the ceiling of which is the
famous Creation of Adam (Figure 4-3).

Oil

Oil painting uses a mixture of pigment, linseed oil, varnish, and turpentine to pro-
duce either a thin or thick consistency, depending on the artist’s desired effect. In
the fifteenth century, oil painting dominated because of its flexibility, the richness
of its colors, and the extraordinary durability and long-lasting qualities. Because
oil paint dries slowly and can be put on in thin layers, it offers the artist remark-
able control over the final product. No medium in painting offers a more flexible
blending of colors or subtle portrayal of light and textures, as in Parmigianino’s The
Madonna with the Long Neck (Figure 4-4). Oil paint can be messy, and it takes some-
times months or years to dry completely, but it has been the dominant medium in
easel painting since the Renaissance.

FIGURE 4-3
Michelangelo, Creation of Adam,
detail. Circa 1508–1512. Fresco.
Michelangelo’s world-famous
frescoes in the Sistine Chapel
have been cleaned to reveal intense,
brilliant colors. This detail from
the ceiling reveals the long-lasting
nature of fresco painting. The
period 1508–1512 marks the High
Renaissance in Italy.

©Killer Stock Inc./Getty Images

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PAINTING

FIGURE 4-4
Parmigianino, The Madonna with the
Long Neck. Circa 1535. Oil on panel,
85 × 52 inches. Uffizi, Florence.
Humanistic values dominate the
painting, with recognizably distinct
faces, young people substituting
for angels, and physical distortions
designed to unsettle a conservative
audience. This style of oil painting,
with unresolved figures and
unanswered questions, is called
Mannerism—painting with an
attitude.

©Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

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Watercolor

The pigments of watercolor are bound in a water-soluble adhesive, such as gum-
arabic, a gummy plant substance. Usually watercolor is slightly translucent so that
the whiteness of the paper shows through. Unlike artists working with tempera
or oil painting, watercolorists work quickly, often with broad strokes and in broad
washes. The color resources of the medium are limited in range, but often striking
in effect. Modern watercolor usually does not aim for precise detail. In his Sketch for
“Hound and Hunter” (Figure 4-5), Winslow Homer delights in the unfinished quality
of the watercolor and uses it to communicate a sense of immediacy. He controls the
range of colors as a way of giving us a sense of atmosphere and weather.

Acrylic

A modern synthetic polymer medium, acrylic is fundamentally a form of plastic
resin that dries very quickly and is flexible for the artist to apply and use. One ad-
vantage of acrylic paints is that they do not fade, darken, or yellow as they age. They
can support luminous colors and look sometimes very close to oil paints in their

FIGURE 4-5
Winslow Homer, Sketch for “Hound
and Hunter.” 1892. Watercolor on
wove paper. 1315⁄16 × 1915⁄16
inches. Gift of Ruth K. Henschel in
memory of her husband, Charles
R. Henschel. Accession No.
1975.92.7. National Gallery of
Art, Washington, D.C. Although a
mixed-media composition, Sketch for
“Hound and Hunter” is dominated by
watercolor. An apparently unfinished
quality imparts a sense of energy,
spontaneity, and intensity, typical of
Homer’s work.

Source: National Gallery of Art,
Washington, D.C.

64

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PAINTING

final effect. Many modern painters use this medium. Morris Louis’s Beta Lamda
(Figure 4-6) is a large abstract painting whose colors suggest a range of intensities
similar to what we see in oil paintings.

The ease of using acrylic shows in the fluidity of the lines of stark colors balanc-
ing a huge open space of uncolored canvas. This painting was done in Louis’s small
dining room, but its size is such that only a few spaces can exhibit it. In viewing,
one is captured by its gigantic presence. The triangular forms that dominate give
the color a power that seems to radiate from the wall. Louis was a colorist exper-
imenting with acrylic up to his death only a year after this painting was finished.

Other Media and Mixed Media

The great Japanese artist Hokusai was prominent in the first half of the nineteenth
century in the medium of woodcuts, using ink for his color. The process is extremely
complex, but he dominated in the Edo period, when many artists produced bril-
liantly colored prints that began to be seen in Europe, especially in France, where
the painters found great inspiration in the brilliance of the work. The Great Wave,
his most famous work (Figure 4-7), is from his project, Thirty-Six Views of Mount
Fuji. Here the mountain is tiny in comparison with the roiling waves threatening
even smaller figures in two boats. The power of nature is the subject matter, and the
respect for nature may be part of its content.

The dominant medium for Chinese artists has been ink, as in Wang Yuanqi’s
Landscape after Wu Zhen (Figure 4-8). Modern painters often employ mixed media,
using duco and aluminum paint, house paint, oils, even grit and sand. Andy Warhol
used acrylic and silk-screen ink in his famous Marilyn Monroe series. Some basic
kinds of prints are produced by methods including woodcut, engraving, linocut,
etching, drypoint, lithography, and aquatint.

FIGURE 4-6
Morris Louis,  Beta Lambda. 1961.
Synthetic polymer paint on
canvas. 8 feet 73⁄8 inches × 13 feet
4¼ inches. National Gallery of Art,
Washington, D.C. Gift of Mrs. Abner
Brenner. Object number 428.1983.
The painting reveals the fluid qualities
of acrylics, essentially sensuous color
permitted to radiate through a range
of tones. Its size, more than 8 by 13
feet, intensifies our reaction to the
shapes the colors take. 

©2017 Maryland Institute College of Art
(MICA), Rights Administered by Artist
Rights Society (ARS), New York, All Rights
Reserved. Photo: ©The Museum of Modern
Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

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FIGURE 4-7
Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849). Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-Six
Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei). Circa 1830–1832. Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper; 101⁄8 × 1415⁄16 inches (25.7 × 37.9
cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.

Source: Robert Lehman Collection, 1975/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

66

PERCEPTION KEY  The Media of Painting
1. Compare the detail of tempera in Giotto’s Madonna Enthroned with the radiance of

color in Parmigianino’s oil painting The Madonna with the Long Neck. What differences
do you see in the quality of detail in each painting and in the quality of the color?

2. Compare the color effects of Hokusai’s The Great Wave woodblock print with the
colors in Winslow Homer’s Sketch for “Hound and Hunter.” What seem to be the dif-
ferences in the treatment of color?

3. Contrast the effect of Homer’s watercolor approach to nature with Wang Yuanqi’s
use of ink. Which communicates a sense of nature more readily? In which is nature
the most evident subject matter? Compare the formal structure of each painting. 

4. Compare the traditional fresco of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam with Leonardo’s
experimental fresco of the Last Supper (Figure 3-1). To what extent does Michel-
angelo’s use of the medium help you imagine what Leonardo’s fresco would have
looked like if he had used Michelangelo’s technique?

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PAINTING

FIGURE 4-8
Wang Yuanqi, Landscape after
Wu Zhen. 1695. Hanging scroll;
ink on paper, 42¾ × 20¼ inches.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest
of John M. Crawford Jr. Typical of
many of the great Chinese landscape
scrolls, Wang Yuanqi uses his
brush and ink prodigiously, finding
a powerful energy in shaping the
rising mountains and their trees.
The presence of tiny houses and
rising pathways to the heights places
humanity in a secondary role in
relation to nature and to the visual
power of the mountain itself.

Source: Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr.,
1988/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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CHAPTER 4

eleMenTs Of PainTing
The elements are the basic building blocks of a medium. For painting they are line,
color, texture, and composition.* Before we discuss the elements of painting, con-
sider the issues raised by the Perception Key associated with Frederic, Lord Leigh-
ton’s painting Flaming June (Figure 4-9).

PERCEPTION KEY Goya, Leighton, and Cézanne
1. Goya used both closed and open lines in his May 3, 1808 (Figure 2-3). Locate these

lines. Why did Goya use both kinds?
2. Does Leighton use both closed and open lines in Flaming June?
3. Identify outlines in Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire (Figure 2-4). There seem to be no

outlines drawn around the small bushes in the foreground. Yet we see these bushes
as separate objects. How can this be?

PERCEPTION KEY Flaming June
The subject matter of this painting is sleep itself. But it is also a painting with intense
sensuous content. We respond to it partly because it is so vivid in color. 
1. What powerful ideas does sleep imply? 
2. What does the painting tell us about the pleasures of watching a beautiful woman

sleeping? How difficult is it for you to imagine this a nymph rather than a living woman?
3. Comment on the color in this painting. In most visions of sleeping figures the tones

are dampened, sometimes dark, as one would expect in a nighttime vision. In what
ways does the astounding contrast between sleep and the brilliance of the color
affect your sense of what the subject matter is? How does it contribute to your
efforts to decide on the content of the painting?

4. How does the clarity of the line in this painting help you understand its significance?
5. Compare Flaming June with the paintings by Giorgione (Figure 2-9), Tom Wessel-

mann (Figure 2-13), and Philip Pearlstein (Figure 2-18). All are slumbering women.
What makes the concerns of Leighton different from those of the other painters?

Line

Line is a continuous marking made by a moving point on a surface. Line outlines
shapes and can contour areas within those outlines. Sometimes contour or inter-
nal lines dominate the outlines, as with the robe of Cimabue’s Madonna (Figure
4-1). Closed line most characteristically is hard and sharp, as in Lichtenstein’s Hope-
less (Figure 2-7). In the Cimabue and in Leighton’s Flaming June, the line is also
closed but somewhat softer. Open line most characteristically is soft and blurry, as
in Renoir’s Bather Arranging Her Hair (Figure 2-10).

*Light, shape, volume, and space are often referred to as elements, but strictly speaking, they are compounds.

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PAINTING

Line can suggest movement. Up-and-down movement may be indicated by the
vertical, as in Parmigianino’s The Madonna with the Long Neck (Figure 4-4). Lateral
movement may be indicated by the horizontal and tends to stress stability, as in
the same Parmigianino. Depending on the context, however, vertical and horizon-
tal lines may appear static, as in Wesselmann’s Study for Great American Nude and
Lichtenstein’s Hopeless. Generally, diagonal lines, as in Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-
Victoire, express more tension and movement than verticals and horizontals. Curving
lines usually appear softer and more flowing, as in Leighton’s Flaming June.

Line in Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (Figure 4-10) can also suggest rhythm
and movement, especially when used with vibrant colors, which in this painting are
intended to echo the neon lights of 1940s Broadway. Mondrian lived and worked
for twenty years in Paris, but in 1938, with Nazis threatening war, he moved to Lon-
don. In 1940, with the war under way, he went to New York. He was particularly
attracted to American jazz music. He arrived in New York when the swing bands
reached their height of popularity and he used his signature grid style in Broadway
Boogie Woogie to interpret jazz visually. The basic structure is a grid of vertical and

FIGURE 4-9
Frederic, Lord Leighton, Flaming
June. Circa 1895. Museo de Arte
Ponce, Puerto Rico. Oil on canvas.
47½ × 47½ inches. Leighton was
near the end of his career when
he did this painting. He was an
admirer of classical figures, such as
Michelangelo’s sculpture of Night in
the Medici Tombs, which inspired the
pose in this painting. He is said to
have compared this figure with the
sleeping naiads and mythic nymphs
of classical literature. He aimed at a
perfection of the figure as well as of
the clothing.

©Universal History Archive/Getty Images

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CHAPTER 4

horizontal yellow lines—and only vertical and horizontal lines. On these lines, and
between these lines, Mondrian places patterns of intense blocks of color to suggest
the powerful jazz rhythms he loved so much. Even the large “silent” blocks of white
imply musical rests.

An axis line is an imaginary line that helps determine the basic visual directions
of a painting. In Goya’s May 3, 1808, for example, two powerful axis lines move
toward and intersect at the white shirt of the man about to be shot: Lines of the
rifles appear to converge and go on, and the line of those to be executed moving
out of the ravine seems to be inexorably continuing. Axis lines are invisible vectors
of visual force. Every visual field is dynamic, a field of forces directing our vision,
some visible and some invisible but controlled by the visible. Only when the invisi-
ble lines are basic to the structuring of the image, as in the Goya, are they axis lines.

Since line is usually the main determinant of shapes, and shapes are usually the
main determinant of detail, regional, and structural relationships, line is usually fun-
damental in the overall composition—Willem de Kooning’s Woman I (Figure 4-11)
is an exception. Here lines and colors seem to perform the same kind of operation
on the canvas.

FIGURE 4-10
Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie
Woogie,1942–1943. Oil on canvas,
50 × 50 inches (127 × 127 cm). Given
anonymously. Museum of Modern
Art, New York.

©The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by
SCALA/Art Resource, NY

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PAINTING

FIGURE 4-11
Willem de Kooning, American,
born in the Netherlands. 1904–
1997. Woman I, 1950–1952. Oil
on canvas, 6 feet 37⁄8 inches by
58 inches (192.7 x 147.3 cm).
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
At more than six feet high, Woman
I has a huge physical impact on the
viewer. De Kooning worked on this
painting for quite a while, beginning
with sketches, then reworking the
canvas again and again. He is said to
have drawn inspiration from female
fertility goddesses as well as images
of dark female figures in literature
and myth. 

©2017 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Photo: ©Peter Horree/Alamy

Examine the lines in de Kooning’s Woman I. Critics have commented on the
vigor with which de Kooning attacked the canvas, suggesting that he was working
out psychological issues that bordered on misogyny. We cannot know if that was
the case, but we can see how the lines—vertical, horizontal, lateral—all intersect to
produce an arresting power, completely opposite of the power of Leighton’s Flam-
ing June.

By way of contrast, Cézanne’s small bushes in Mont Sainte-Victoire are formed
by small, juxtaposed, greenish-blue planes that vary slightly in their tinting. These
planes are hatched by brushstrokes that slightly vary the textures. And from the

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72

CHAPTER 4

center of the planes to the perimeters there is usually a shading from light to dark.
Thus emerges a strong sense of volume with density. We see those small bushes as
somehow distinct objects, and yet we see no separating outlines. Colors and tex-
tures meet and create impressions of line. As with axis lines, the visible suggests the
invisible—we project the outlines.

In the Asian tradition, the expressive power of line is achieved generally in a very
different way from the Western tradition. The stroke—made by flexible brushes of
varying sizes and hairs—is intended to communicate the spirit and feelings of the
artist, directly and spontaneously. The sensitivity of the inked brush is extraordi-
nary. The ink offers a wide range of nuances: texture, shine, depth, pallor, thick-
ness, and wetness. The brush functions as a seismograph of the painter’s mind.

The brushwork in Wang Yuanqi’s painting (Figure 4-8) varies with the tone of the
ink. The rising forms of the mountains are made with a broad brush, almost trans-
lucent ink-tone, with intense, dark dots implying the vegetation defining the top of
each ridge. The manmade structures in the painting are made with a smaller brush,
as in the curved bridge at the lower right of the painting. The rooftops and buildings
in the mid portion of the painting on both the left and right use a small brush with
strong lines, like those of the trees in the mid foreground. The leaves of the nearest
trees and bushes are deep-tone dark ink produced by chopping strokes, sometimes
known as the ax-cut. The painting demands that our eyes begin with the trees in the
foreground, then rise inexorably upward following the rising nearby mountains,
leading us to the smooth, distant higher mountains that have no vegetation.

PERCEPTION KEY Line
1. Which of the paintings in this chapter have the most vigorous line? How does the

line in these paintings interact with color?
2. When does the color in the painting actually constitute line? How can color do the

work of line?
3. Try drawing a copy of one of these paintings using only the line of your pencil or

pen. What do you learn about how the artist used line to clarify his subject matter?
4. Compare the brushwork of Cézanne and Wang Yuanqi with the brushwork of

Frederic Leighton and Willem de Kooning.

Color

Color is composed of three distinct qualities: hue, saturation, and value. Hue is
simply the name of a color. Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors. Their
mixtures produce the secondary colors: green, orange, and purple. Further mix-
ing produces six more, the tertiary colors. Thus, the spectrum of the color wheel
shows twelve hues. Saturation refers to the purity, vividness, or intensity of a hue.
When we speak of the “redness of red,” we mean its highest saturation. Value, or
shading, refers to the lightness or darkness of a hue, the mixture in the hue of white
or black. A high value of a color is obtained by mixing in white, and a low value is
obtained by mixing in black. The highest value of red shows red at its lightest; the
lowest value of red shows red at its darkest. Complementary colors are opposite

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each other—for example, red and green, orange and blue. When two complements
are equally mixed, a neutral gray appears. An addition of a complement to a hue
will lower its saturation. A red will look less red—will have less intensity—by even a
small addition of green. And an addition of either white or black will change both
the value and the saturation of the hue.

Texture

Texture is the surface “feel” of something. When the brushstrokes have been
smoothed out, the surface is seen as smooth, as in Wesselmann’s Study for Great
American Nude. When the brushstrokes have been left rough, the surface is seen as
rough, as in van Gogh’s The Starry Night (Figure 15-4) and Pollock’s The Flame (Fig-
ure 3-3). In these two examples, the textures are real, for if—heaven forbid!—you
were to run your fingers over these paintings, you would feel them as rough.

Distinctive brushstrokes produce distinctive textures. Compare, for example,
the soft hatchings of Valadon’s Reclining Nude (Figure 2-16) with the grainy effect
of most of the brushstrokes in Wang Yuanqi’s painting (Figure 4-8). Sometimes the
textural effect can be so dominant that the specific substance behind the textures is
disguised, as in the background behind the head and shoulders of Renoir’s Bather
Arranging Her Hair.

PERCEPTION KEY Texture
1. In what ways are the renditions of textures an important part in Willem de Koon-

ing’s Woman I? 
2. Suppose the ultra-smooth surfaces of Wesselmann’s nude had been used by Neel.

How would this have significantly changed the content of her picture?

Neel’s nude would be greatly altered, we believe, if she had used textures such
as Wesselmann’s. A tender, vulnerable, motherly appearance would become harsh,
confident, and brazen. With the de Kooning, the vigor of the painting would have
lost power if the texture were smooth. De Kooning’s constant attack at the canvas,
and his overpainting, produces a unique texture.

The medium of a painting may have much to do with textural effects. Tempera
usually has a dry feel. Watercolor naturally lends itself to a fluid feel. Because they
can be built up in heavy layers, oil and acrylic are useful for depicting rough tex-
tures, but of course they can be made smooth. Fresco usually has a grainy, crystal-
line texture.

Composition

In painting or any other art, composition refers to the ordering of relationships:
among details, among regions, among details and regions, and among these and
the total structure. Deliberately or more usually instinctively, artists use organizing
principles to create forms that inform.

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Principles Among the basic principles of traditional painting are balance, grada-
tion, movement and rhythm, proportion, variety, and unity.

• Balance refers to the equilibrium of opposing visual forces. Leonardo’s Last
Supper (Figure 3-1) is an example of symmetrical balance. Details and regions are
arranged on either side of a central axis. Goya’s May 3, 1808 (Figure 2-3) is an
example of asymmetrical balance, for there is no central axis.

• Gradation refers to a continuum of changes in the details and regions, such as the
gradual variations in shape, color value, and shadowing in Siqueiros’s Echo of a
Scream (Figure 1-2).

• Movement and rhythm refers to the way a painting controls the movement and
pace of our vision. For example, in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam (Figure 4-3),
the implied movement of God from right to left establishes a rhythm in contrast
with Adam’s indolence.

• Proportion refers to the emphasis achieved by the scaling of sizes of shapes—for
example, the way the large Madonna in the Cimabue (Figure 4-1) contrasts with
the tiny prophets.

• Unity refers to the togetherness, despite contrasts, of details and regions to the
whole, as in Picasso’s Guernica (Figure 1-4).

• Variety refers to the contrasts of details and regions—for example, the color and
shape oppositions in O’Keeffe’s Rust Red Hills (Figure 4-12).

FIGURE 4-12
Georgia O’Keeffe, 1930. Rust Red Hills, 1930. Oil on canvas, 16 x 30 inches. Sloan Fund Purchase. Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University. O’Keefe
found the American West to be a refreshing environment after living for years in New York. This is a study of hills that fascinated her near her home in
Abiqui, New Mexico, where she painted many landscapes such as this.

©2017 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: ©Fine Art Images/Heritage/The Image Works

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Space and Shapes Perhaps the best way to understand space is to think of it as a
hollow volume available for occupation by shapes. Then that space can be described
by referring to the distribution and relationships of those shapes in that space; for
example, space can be described as crowded or open.

Shapes in painting are areas with distinguishable boundaries, created
by colors, textures, and usually—and especially—lines. A painting is a two-
dimensional surface with breadth and height. But three-dimensional simu-
lation, even in the flattest of paintings, is almost always present, even in de
Kooning’s Woman I. Colors when juxtaposed invariably move forward or back-
ward visually. And when shapes suggest mass—three-dimensional solids—depth
is inevitably seen.

The illusion of depth—perspective—can be made by various techniques, includ-
ing setting a single vanishing point, as in Leonardo’s Last Supper (Figure 3-2), in
which all lines in the painting seem to move toward Jesus’s head. The vanish-
ing point in Figure 4-17, Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, is in the upper
right corner, in which figures seem to recede into darkness. Many techniques,
such as darkening and lightening colors, will help give the illusion of depth to
a painting.

PERCEPTION KEY Principles of Composition
After defining each principle briefly, we listed an example. Go through the color
photographs of paintings in the book and select another example for each
principle.

PERCEPTION KEY Composition
Choose four paintings not discussed so far and answer the following questions:

1. In which painting does color dominate line, or line dominate color?
2. Which painting is most symmetrical? Which most asymmetrical?
3. Which pleases your eye more: symmetry or asymmetry?
4. In which painting is the sense of depth perspective the strongest? How does the

artist achieve this depth?
5. In which painting is proportion most important?
6. Which painting pleases you the most? Explain how its composition pleases

you.

The ClariTy Of PainTing
The Swing (Figure 4-13), Fragonard’s painting of young libertines, seems to be the
picture of innocent pleasures, but the painter and his audience knew that he was
portraying a liberal society that enjoyed riches, station, and erotic opportunity. This
painting has been considered one of the Wallace Collection’s masterpieces.

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FIGURE 4-13
Jean-Honore Fragonard, The
Swing. 1776. Oil on canvas, 35 ×
32 inches. The Wallace Collection,
London. This famous painting
seems at first glance to be a
picture of young people at play,
emulating innocent children. But
the eighteenth-century audience
read this as a libertine and his
mistress. The swing was a code for
the sexual freedom of the privileged
“playmates” in the painting. 

©Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library/
Alamy

PERCEPTION KEY The Swing
1. What are the most contrasting colors in this painting? Which character is most

highlighted by color? What does the color imply?
2. How is nature portrayed in the painting? What colors and contrasts seem most

expressive of nature’s powers?
3. Why is the richness of the garden the best locale for this scene? What do the lovers

have in common with the garden?
4. One of the men on the ground is a clergyman. One is the woman’s lover. Which is

which? How does the use of color clarify the relationship?
5. The bough and leaves above the woman are mysteriously shaped. In what sense

may it be a comment on the relationship of the woman and her lover?

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This painting was commissioned by a French baron who explicitly asked Frag-
onard to paint the woman as a portrait of his mistress. The baron is himself high-
lighted by color at the lower left looking up the skirts of his mistress. The painting
established a clarity of the relationships of the figures to the eighteenth-century
viewer, and of course to the characters portrayed. The figure of the man in the
lower right is a clergyman who may be hopeful that the baron will marry his
mistress.

The small stone sculptures are classical figures, a Cupid on the left and putti in
the lower center. The overabundance of the leaves and trees implies a fruitfulness
and an erotic quotient illustrated by the castoff slipper and the baron’s recumbent
posture.

This painting has a special clarity because it is something of an allegorical rep-
resentation of erotic play. Audiences today would not necessarily be aware of the
specifics of the relationship of the man on the lower left with the woman on the
swing. However, a careful analysis of the details of the painting—the pink dress,
the man looking up her skirt, the overabundance of the vegetation, and the Cupid
with his finger to his lips—and the richness of the coloration point to erotic play and
erotic joy.

The “all-aT-OnCeness” Of PainTing
In addition to revealing the visually perceptible more clearly, paintings give us
time for our vision to focus, hold, and participate. Of course, there are times
when we can hold on a scene in nature. We are resting with no pressing worries
and with time on our hands, and the sunset is so striking that we fix our atten-
tion on its redness. But then darkness descends and the mosquitoes begin to
bite. In front of a painting, however, we find that things stand still, like the red
in Siqueiros’s Echo of a Scream (Figure 1-2). Here the red is peculiarly impervi-
ous and reliable, infallibly fixed and settled in its place. It can be surveyed and
brought out again and again; it can be visualized with closed eyes and checked
with open eyes. There is no hurry, for all of the painting is present, and under
normal conditions it is going to stay present; it is not changing in any significant
perceptual sense.

Moreover, we can hold on any detail or region or the totality as long as we like
and follow any order of details or regions at our own pace. No region of a painting
strictly presupposes another region temporally. The sequence is subject to no abso-
lute constraint. Whereas there is only one route in listening to music, for example,
there is a freedom of routes in seeing paintings. With The Swing (Figure 4-13), for
example, we may focus on the overhanging trees, then on the figure on the lower
left, and finally on the woman in her pink dress. The next time, we may reverse
the order. “Paths are made,” as the painter Paul Klee observed, “for the eye of the
beholder which moves along from patch to patch like an animal grazing.” There is a
“rapt resting” on any part, an unhurried series, one after the other, of “nows,” each
of which has its own temporal spread.

Paintings make it possible for us to stop in the present and enjoy at our lei-
sure the sensations provided by the show of the visible. That is the second reason
paintings can help make our vision whole. They not only clarify our world but also

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may free us from worrying about the future and the past, because paintings are a
framed context in which everything stands still. There is the “here-now” and rela-
tively speaking nothing but the “here-now.” Our vision, for once, has time to let the
qualities of things and the things themselves unfold.

absTraCT PainTing
Abstract, or nonrepresentational, painting may be difficult to appreciate if we are
confused about its subject matter. Since no objects or events are depicted, abstract
painting might seem to have no subject matter: pictures of nothing. But this is not
the case. The subject matter is the sensuous. The sensuous is composed of visual
qualities—line, color, texture, space, shape, light, shadow, volume, and mass. Any
qualities that stimulate our vision are sensa. In representational painting, sensa are
used to portray objects and events. In abstract painting, sensa are freed. They are
depicted for their own sake. Abstract painting reveals sensa, liberating us from our
habits of always identifying these qualities with specific objects and events. They
make it easy for us to focus on sensa themselves, even though we are not artists.
Then the radiant and vivid values of the sensuous are enjoyed for their own sake,
satisfying a fundamental need. Abstractions can help fulfill this need to behold and
treasure the images of the sensuous. Instead of our controlling the sensa, transform-
ing them into signs that represent objects or events, the sensa control us, transform-
ing us into participators.

Moreover, because references to objects and events are eliminated, there is a
peculiar relief from the future and the past. Abstract painting, more than any other
art, gives us an intensified sense of here-now, or presentational immediacy. When
we perceive representational paintings such as Mont Sainte-Victoire (Figure 2-4), we
may think about our chances of getting to southern France sometime in the future.
Or when we perceive May 3, 1808 (Figure 2-3), we may think about similar massa-
cres. These suggestions bring the future and past into our participation, causing the
here-now to be somewhat compromised. But with abstract painting—because there
is no portrayal of objects or events that suggest the past or the future—the sense of
presentational immediacy is more intense.

Although sensa appear everywhere we look, in paintings sensa shine forth. This
is especially true with abstract paintings, because there is nothing to attend to but
the sensa. What you see is what you see. In nature the light usually appears as ex-
ternal to the colors and surface of sensa. The light plays on the colors and surface.
In paintings the light usually appears immanent in the colors and surface, seems to
come—in part at least—through them, even in the flat, polished colors of a Mondrian.

In Arshile Gorky’s Untitled 1943 (Figure 4-14), the light seems to be absorbed
into the colors and surfaces. There is a depth of luminosity about the sensa of
paintings that rivals nature. Generally the colors of nature are more brilliant
than the colors of painting, but usually in nature the sensa are either so glitter-
ing that our squints miss their inner luminosity or so changing that we lack the
time to participate and penetrate. To ignore the allure of the sensa in a painting,
and in turn in nature, is to miss one of the chief glories life provides. It is espe-
cially the abstract painter—the shepherd of sensa—who is most likely to call us
back to our senses.

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Study the Gorky. Then reflect on how you experienced a sense of the rhythms
of your eyes as you moved across and through the painting, aware of the various
shapes and their colors. The rhythmic durations are “spots of time”—ordered
by the relationships between the regions of sensa. Compare your experience of
this painting with listening to music. What music might be “illustrated” by this
painting?

FIGURE 4-14
Arshile Gorky, Untitled, 1943–1948. Oil on canvas, 54½ × 64½ inches. The power of Gorky’s red is dominant in the painting. The interruptions of the
indefinite dark-colored objects offer a contrast that makes the red even more powerful. A close look at the painting shows the levels of color in the
brushstrokes that reveal layers of color beneath the surface. We see yellows and light blues and tints of gray, but they all make us aware of the sensa that
clarify our understanding of Gorky’s red. 

©2017 The Arshile Gorky Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, Contemporary Arts Council Fund

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inTensiTy and resTfulness in absTraCT PainTing
Abstract painting reveals sensa in their primitive but powerful state of inno-
cence. This makes possible an extraordinary intensity of vision, renewing the
spontaneity of our perception and enhancing the tone of our physical existence.
We clothe our visual sensations in positive feelings, living in these sensations
instead of using them as means to ends. And such sensuous activity—sight, for
once minus anxiety and eyestrain—is sheer delight. Abstract painting offers us a
complete rest from practical concerns. Abstract painting is, as Matisse in 1908
was beginning to see,

an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter,
an art which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer, like an ap-
peasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which to rest
from physical fatigue.1

PERCEPTION KEY de Kooning, Gorky, and O’Keeffe
1. De Kooning’s Woman I (Figure 4-11) is, we think, an example of timelessness and

the sensuous. O’Keeffe’s Rust Red Hills (Figure 4-12) also emphasizes the sensuous,
especially the rich reds, browns, and blue. What makes one painting presumably
more timeless?

2. Examine the sensa in the O’Keeffe. Does the fact that the painting represents real
things distract you from enjoying the sensa? How crucial are the sensa to your full
appreciation of the painting?

3. What difference do you perceive in de Kooning’s and Gorky’s treatment of sensa?
4. Look at the Gorky upside down. Is the form weakened or strengthened? Does it

make a difference? If so, what?

Gorky’s Untitled 1943 (Figure 4-14) is characterized by a color field that has been
worked over and over. It is essentially red, but a close look will show that there are
levels of red, layers of red. And the painting seems to have a range of floating ob-
jects that, when taken symbolically, seem to impersonate ideas or messages. All the
symbols have been connected to what the Dallas Museum calls a special language
of Gorky’s own. In this way the expression is not of abstract ideas but of concrete
color, of the sensa that Gorky moves through the painting’s plane. Nothing specific
is represented in this painting, but instead color is itself presented. It is for us to
enjoy and to respond to in a fundamental way without the imposition of meaning
or ideas. Ironically we call this abstract art as a way of contrasting it with represen-
tational art. But abstract art is not abstract—it presents to us the concrete material
of sensory experience. We see concrete color and form, and that may be the most
profound aesthetic purpose of painting.

1Source: Matisse, “Notes of a Painter,” La Grande Revue, December 25, 1908.

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rePresenTaTiOnal PainTing
In the participative experience with representational paintings, the sense of here-
now, so overwhelming in the participative experience with abstractions, is some-
what weakened. Representational paintings situate the sensuous in objects and
events. A representational painting, like an abstraction, is “all there” and “holds
still.” But past and future are more relevant than in our experience of abstract paint-
ings because we are seeing representations of objects and events. Inevitably, we are
at least vaguely aware of place and date; and, in turn, a sense of past and future is
a part of that awareness. Our experience is more ordinary than it is when we feel
the extraordinary isolation from objects and events that occurs in the perception
of abstract paintings. Representational paintings always bring in some suggestion
of “once upon a time.” Moreover, we are kept closer to the experience of every
day, because images that refer to objects and events usually lack something of the
strangeness of the sensuous alone.

Representational painting furnishes the world of the sensuous with objects and
events. The horizon is sketched out more closely and clearly, and the spaces of the
sensuous are filled, more or less, with things. But even when these furnishings (sub-
ject matter) are the same, the interpretation (content) of every painting is always
different.

COMParisOn Of fiVe iMPressiOnisT PainTings
From time to time, painters have grouped themselves into “schools” in which like-
minded artists sometimes worked and exhibited together. The Barbizon school
in France in the 1840s, a group of six or seven painters, attempted to paint out-
doors so that their landscapes would have a natural feel in terms of color and
light, unlike the studio landscapes that were popular at the time. Probably the
most famous school of art of all time is the Impressionist school, which flourished
between 1870 and 1905, especially in France. The Impressionists’ approach to
painting was dominated by a concentration on the impression light made on the
surfaces of things.

PERCEPTION KEY Comparison of Five Impressionist Paintings
1. In which of the following paintings is color most dominant over line? In which is line

most dominant over color? How important does line seem to be for the impres-
sionist painter?

2. In terms of composition, which paintings seem to rely on diagonal lines or diagonal
groups of objects or images?

3. Comment on the impressionist reliance on balance as seen in these paintings.
In which painting is symmetry most effectively used? In which is asymmetry
most effective? How is your response to the paintings affected by symmetry or
asymmetry?

4. If you were to purchase one of these paintings, which would it be? Why?

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Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (Figure 4-15) was shown at the first show of
the impressionist painters in Paris in 1874, and it lent its name to the entire group.
The scene in Sunrise has a spontaneous, sketchy effect, the sunlight breaking on
glimmering water. Boats and ships lack mass and definition. The solidity of things
is subordinated to shimmering surfaces. We sense that only a moment has been
caught. Monet and the Impressionists painted, not so much objects they saw but
the light that played on and around them.

Edouard Manet was considered the leader of the impressionist group. His strik-
ing painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Figure 4-16) is more three-dimensional than
Monet’s, but the emphasis on color and light is similar. In this painting the Im-
pressionists’ preference for everyday scenes with ordinary people and objects is
present. Details abound in this painting—some mysterious, such as the legs of the
trapeze artist in the upper left corner.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s joyful painting (Figure 4-17) also represents an ordinary
scene of people dining on a warm afternoon, all blissfully unaware of the painter.
The scene, like many impressionist scenes, could have been captured by a camera.
The perspective is what we would expect in a photograph, while the cut-off ele-
ments of people and things are familiar from our experience with snapshots. The
use of light tones and reds balances the darker greens and grays in the background.
Again, color dominates in this painting.

Childe Hassam was well known for his cityscapes, particularly for his color-
ful views of New York and Paris. But he also spent summers in the New En-
gland countryside, capturing moments such as Summer Evening (Figure 4-18),

FIGURE 4-15
Claude Monet, Impression,
Sunrise. 1873. Oil on canvas,
19 × 24 inches. Musée Marmottan
Monet, Paris. This painting gave the
name to the French Impressionists
and remains one of the most
identifiable paintings of the age.
Compared with paintings by Ingres
or Giorgione, this seems to be a
sketch, but that is the point. It is an
impression of the way the brilliant
light plays on the waters at sunrise.

©Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

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FIGURE 4-16
Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. 1881–1882. Oil on canvas, 37¾ × 51¼ inches. Courtauld Institute Galleries, London. Typical of impressionist
paintings, this one has for its subject matter ordinary, everyday events. Viewers may also surmise a narrative embedded in the painting, given the character
in the mirror, not to mention the feet of the trapeze artist in the upper left.

©The Samuel Courtauld Trust/The Courtauld Gallery/Art Resource, NY

recollecting an ordinary evening in New Hampshire. The sharp, diagonal figure
of a woman is presented in contrast to the strong, horizontal lines of the window.
Hassam creates a relaxed moment, a sense of the ordinary in life, by avoiding
any studied traditional composition. He seems to depend upon a photographer’s
“trick” called the “rule of thirds,” by placing the figure in the right third of the
composition and placing the lower horizontal of the window one-third of the way
up from the bottom of the canvas. By avoiding traditional centrality of organiza-
tion, Hassam produces a painting that echoes a photograph, as if doing little more
than recording a simple moment.

Mary Cassatt’s sister Lydia is also posed in a sharp diagonal in Autumn (Figure 4-19).
Cassatt’s intense autumn colors create a brilliance almost unexpected. For most

83

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people autumn suggests a duller pallette and a more somber mood. Lydia is dressed
very warmly in a bulky but cheerful coat, with a warm hat and gloves, and while her
expression is calm and perhaps enigmatic, she is restful in the midst of an explosion
of colors. In this painting, line may be less significant in terms of composition than the
vitality of the brushstrokes that seem to attack the canvas. The deep, resonant colors
suggest the ripening of autumn vegetables and fruits characteristic of harvest time.

FIGURE 4-18
Childe Hassam, Summer Evening.
1886. Oil on canvas, 121⁄8 × 203⁄8
inches. Florence Griswold Museum.
The softness of both color and line
implies a muted moment. Childe
Hassam studied and painted in
France and New York, but this
scene commemorates a visit to
New Hampshire. It has some of the
influence of photography—an off-
the-cuff pose, the figure and window
both cut off—a characteristic
of much impressionist painting.
Hassam was considered an American
Impressionist and famously
connected with the Old Lyme,
Connecticut, painters from the
1880s to the 1920s.

Courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum,
Old Lyme, CT

FIGURE 4-17
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon
of the Boating Party. 1881. Oil on
canvas, 51 × 68 inches. The Phillips
Collection, Washington, D.C.
Renoir, one of the greatest of the
Impressionists, portrays ordinary
Parisians in Luncheon of the Boating
Party. Earlier painters would have
seen this as unfit for exhibition
because its subject is not heroic
or mythic. The Impressionists
celebrated the ordinary.

©Album/Art Resource, NY

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FIGURE 4-19
Mary Cassatt, Autumn (Profile of Lydia Cassatt). 1880. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. Mary Cassatt and her sister
Lydia shared an apartment in Paris. Lydia frequently modeled for her. This scene is rich with autumn colors set in
a Parisian garden.

©RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY

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FOCUS ON The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Historically, groups of painters have gathered together
to form a “school” of painting. They are like-minded,
often young and starting out, and usually disliked at
first because they produce a new, unfamiliar style. The
Impressionists in France faced a struggle against pre-
vailing taste but eventually were accepted as innova-
tive and marvelous. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is
such a school. In 1848 in England, Henry Wallis (Figure
4-20), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Figure 4-21), Arthur
Hughes (Figure 4-22), and William Holman Hunt (Fig-
ure 4-23), along with a few other painters, began hav-
ing monthly meetings to discuss their ideas. They felt
that followers of Italian Renaissance painter Raphael
(1483–1520) had moved painting in the wrong direc-
tion, toward a realistic portrayal of life. Instead, they
vowed to return to some of the medieval styles, those
characterized by Giotto’s use of tempera (see  Figure
4-2), although they used oil paint and watercolor.
Much of their subject matter was spiritual and reli-
gious. 1848 was a year of revolutions in Europe, and
the Pre-Raphaelites felt they were revolting against
corruption and immorality in modern life.

The first paintings Rossetti and others exhibited
included the letters “PRB,” signaling their associa-
tion, which at the time was a secret society. Their first

FIGURE 4-20
Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton. 1855–1856. Oil on canvas,
23¼ × 36 inches. Tate Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Charles Gent
Clement 1899. Reference N01685. Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770)
was a romantic figure. At age seventeen he committed suicide after
having been rejected by critics. He had written a book of poems in a
medieval style and passed them off as authentic relics. John Ruskin, a
great writer and critic, praised the painting as “faultless and wonderful.”

©Peter Barritt/Alamy

FIGURE 4-21
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpine. 1874. Oil on canvas, 49.3 × 24
inches. Tate Britain, London. Rossetti painted this many times in
different tonalities. This version was the last he did, for a client, and
soon after Rossetti died. The model was Jane Morris, a favorite of the
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Proserpine was taken to Hades to be
wife to Pluto. Her mother, Ceres, asked Jupiter to let her go and he
agreed as long as she did not eat of the fruit of Hades. But she ate one
pomegranate seed and was lost forever.

©Art Collection/Alamy

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paintings were not well received. Their purposes, how-
ever, were stated clearly by William Michael Rossetti,
who explained the aims of the brotherhood: to have
genuine ideas, to study nature very closely, to respond
deeply to medieval and renaissance art, to produce ex-
cellent pictures.

The result of their efforts is a style that is deeply sen-
suous, with rich color; subject matter connected with re-
ligion, myth, and literature; and careful attention to the
smallest details of nature. Their style is rich with the sensa
that we see in abstract painting, but it includes a narrative
that explores a moral issue.

FIGURE 4-22
Arthur Hughes, April Love. 1855–1856. Oil on canvas, 35 × 19½ inches.
Tate Gallery, London. The rich color of the young woman’s gown
contrasts with the green leaves (ivy?) and the bark of the trees. She
looks down to the fallen petals, and the man behind her seems a vague
presence. The scene is spring and the lovers have found a quiet grotto in
which to talk. Hughes married the model for this painting, and it may be
a tribute to their love. 

©Tate, London/Art Resource, NY

FIGURE 4-23
William Holman Hunt, Awakening Conscience. 1853. Oil on canvas,
30 × 22 inches. Tate Gallery, London. This is another painting like
Fragonard’s The Swing, in that it needs to be “read” by the viewer.
Because the standing woman has no wedding ring, it is clear that she is
the young man’s mistress. The awakening conscience is her becoming
aware that she must change her ways and become “respectable.” She
is inspired by nature as she looks out the window to a brilliant spring
garden—visible in the mirror behind her. The room is full of symbols:
The music on the piano is a Tom Moore melody, “Oft in the Stilly
Night”; the cat is toying with a bird; the man’s tossed off glove on the
floor suggests her future; the tangled skein of wool in the lower right
implies disorder.

©Christophel Fine Art/UIG/Getty Images

continued

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Typical of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s ap-
proach to nature, the details of the leaves and the fallen
petals are extraordinary. But the young woman’s gown
is portrayed with a richness that, in the dark corner
these two have found, radiates so powerfully that it
seems to be a source of illumination. The detail of her
scarf is also notable. Only the young man remains a mys-
tery, although the bright floral opening in the distance
implies a bright future.

These paintings have a wide variety, yet they all pres-
ent a richness of sensa, profound colors that dominate
the composition. Their narratives are romantic and their
attention to detail roots us in the worlds they portray.
They are fascinating in that they are often profoundly
sensuous at the same time that they seem to reject sen-
suality and praise morality. We see this particularly in The

Awakening Conscience. In the case of The Death of Chatterton,
Wallis reminds us how fragile the life of the artist can be
and pictures Chatterton as a victim of a world that did
not appreciate his gifts. We are meant to be moved by
the death of a youth, and most of Wallis’s audience were
indeed moved. In the case of Rossetti’s Proserpine, the col-
ors are deep and dark, suitable for a view of Hades, and
the portrait of Proserpine is haunting.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood began with a small
group of painters in the 1840s, but it left its mark on
painting because its style was modern even as it declared
that it was looking backward to the Renaissance. They
achieved their success in part because of their subject
matter and in part because they produced intense vi-
sions in brilliant color and appealed to our sense of emo-
tional understanding. 

fraMes
Photographs of paintings, as in this book, usually do not include their frames,
the exceptions being Figures 4-1, 4-2, and 4-10. In general, it seems obvious that
a “good” or appropriate frame should harmonize and enhance rather than dom-
inate the picture. For example, the frame of the Cimabue delicately picks up the
colors and lines of the Madonna’s throne. Furthermore, an appropriate frame usu-
ally should separate the picture from its surroundings, as again with the Cimabue.
Sometimes the artist doesn’t bother with a frame.

PERCEPTION KEY The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
1. Which of these paintings is most dominated by detail? How does color control the

detail?
2. In which of the portraits is the facial expression most mysterious?
3. What do these paintings reveal about their subject matter? With which of the

paintings do you find it easiest to participate?
4. In which painting does line play the most important role? In which does color play

the most important role?
5. Which painting has the most complex composition? Which has the simplest?
6. Which painting tells you the most about the painter’s personality? Which is most

psychologically revealing?
7. Which of the paintings has the most original composition?  
8. Using one of these paintings, block out the most important shapes and analyze the

effectiveness of its composition.

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EXPERIENCING Frames

1. What importance does the frame have
for our enjoyment of a painting?

2. Giotto’s frame is plainer than Cimabue’s.
But would a more decorative frame be
appropriate for the Giotto?

3. The fresco on the ceiling of the Som-
maria Chapel in Castel Capuano (Fig-
ure 4-24) is an extreme example of the
domination of frames. What is the rela-
tionship of the frames in this ceiling to
the paintings they support?

4. If the frames in the Sommaria Chapel
ceiling rise to the level of artifacts, what
might be their artistic function? How do
you react to them?

Sometimes a frame overwhelms a painting,
and sometimes paintings have no frames,
as in almost all of Mondrian’s paintings.
The consensus seems to be that a frame is
valuable when it complements the painting,
either by establishing its preciousness—as
in the ordinary gold frame—or by estab-
lishing its shape and purpose, as in the
case of the Giotto and Cimabue frames.
Neither is very ornate; both are sufficient
and useful. Clearly the fact that almost all
the paintings illustrated in this book lack frames tells us something about the frame’s
ultimate worth. Yet all museums include frames for most of the paintings represented
here. Frames stabilize the canvas, establish the period and value of a painting, and set it
off from the wall. They also “finish” the painting—almost like the final chord of a great
symphony or the closing of the final curtain on a play. They say “the end.”

The fresco on the ceiling of the Sommaria Chapel in Naples is an example of frames
that rise to the level of artifacts in themselves. The paintings in the center of the ceiling
portray religious themes, as in the Ascension of Christ in the center. But the paintings
themselves are overwhelmed by the frames. As a result, we look at the ceiling and
respond to the astounding detail in the frames: their intersection and symmetry, their
brilliance and harmony. One comes to the chapel not just to see the paintings, but to
marvel at the decorative elements. The frames take on a value similar to architecture
(of which they are clearly a part). In this case it would not be difficult to imagine the
ceiling with no paintings at all, but merely frames. If that were the case, would we
be correct in describing them as frames—since all they would frame is empty space? Or
would we consider them as sculptural elements?

When you next go to a gallery or museum to see paintings, take time to examine the
frames and decide what their value is to the paintings themselves. Find one example of
a good relationship between painting and frame, and one poor relationship. What makes
you decide one way or the other?

FIGURE 4-24
Fresco on the ceiling of the
Sommaria Chapel, in Castel
Capuano, Naples, Campania, Italy,
16th century.

©DeAgostini/Getty Images

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suMMary
Painting is the art that has most to do with revealing the sensuous and the visual ap-
pearance of objects and events. Painting shows the visually perceptible more clearly.
Because a painting is usually presented to us as an entirety, with an all-at-onceness,
it gives time for our vision to focus, hold, and participate. This makes possible a
vision that is both extraordinarily intense and restful. Sensa are the qualities of
objects or events that stimulate our sense organs. Sensa can be disassociated or
abstracted from the objects or events in which they are usually joined. Sensa and
the sensuous (the color field composed by the sensa) are the primary subject matter
of abstract painting. Objects and events are the primary subject matter of represen-
tational painting.

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©Tate, London/Art Resource, NY

C h a p t e r 5

SCULPTURE

The concept of “all-at-onceness” that usually relates to painting does not relate to sculpture because in most cases sculpture is a mass extending into space inviting
us to walk around and view it from several positions. While some sculpture seems
best viewed from a single position, as in carved reliefs such as the Temple Carving
(see Figure 5-2), most sculpture, such as Michelangelo’s David (see Figure 5-8) or
Rodin’s Danaïde (see Figure 5-9), must be viewed from a number of positions. As
we move around a sculpture, we build in our imagination’s eye the whole, but at no
instant in time can we conceive its wholeness.

Henry Moore, one of the most influential sculptors of the twentieth century, said
that the sculptor “gets the solid shape, as it were, inside his head—he thinks of it,
whatever its size, as if he were holding it completely enclosed in the hollow of his
hand.” Moore continues: The sculptor “mentally visualizes a complex form all round
itself; he knows while he looks at one side what the other side is like; he identifies him-
self with its center of gravity, its mass, its weight; he realizes its volume, as the space
that the shape displaces in the air.”1 In a sense, Moore tells us that sculpture is per-
ceptible not only by sight, as with painting, but by our either real or imagined sense
of touch. The tactile nature of sculpture is important for us to recognize, just as it is
important to recognize imaginatively the density and weight of a piece of sculpture.

1Source: Henry Moore, “Notes on Sculpture,” in Sculpture and Drawings 1921–1948, 4th rev. ed., David
Sylvester ed. (New York: George Wittenborn, 1957), p. xxxiii ff.

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SenSory InterconnectIonS
It is an oversimplification to distinguish the various arts on the basis of which sense
organ is activated—for example, to claim that painting is experienced solely by sight
and sculpture solely by touch. Our nervous systems are far more complicated than
that. Generally no clear separation is made in experience between the faculties of
sight and touch. The sensa of touch, for instance, are normally joined with other
sensa—visual, aural, oral, and olfactory. Even if only one kind of sensum initiates a
perception, a chain reaction triggers other sensations, either by sensory motor con-
nections or by memory associations. We are constantly grasping and handling things
as well as seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling them. And so when we see a thing,
we have a pretty good idea of what its surface would feel like, how it would sound
if struck, how it would taste, and how it would smell if we approached. And if we
grasp or handle a thing in the dark, we have some idea of what its shape looks like.

Sculpture and paIntIng compared
Compare Arshile Gorky’s Untitled 1943 (Figure 4-14) with Arp’s Growth (Figure 5-1).
Both works are abstract, we suggest, for neither has objects or events as its pri-
mary subject matter. Arp’s sculpture has something to do with growth, of course,
as confirmed by the title. But is it human, animal, or vegetable growth? Male or
female? Clear-cut answers do not seem possible. Specificity of reference, just as in
the Gorky, is missing. And yet, if you agree that the subject matter of the Gorky is
the sensuous, would you say the same for the Arp? To affirm this may bother you,
for Arp’s marble is dense material. This substantiality of the marble is very much a
part of its appearance as sculpture. Conversely, Untitled 1943 as a painting—that is,
as a work of art rather than as a physical canvas of such and such a weight—does
not appear as a material thing. The weight of the canvas is irrelevant to our partici-
pation with Untitled 1943 as a work of art.

Gorky has abstracted sensa, especially colors, from objects or things, whereas
Arp has brought out the substantiality of a thing—the density of the marble. Figura-
tion is not “in” Gorky’s painting. Conversely, Arp has made the marble relevant to
his sculpture. This kind of difference is perhaps the underlying reason the term “ab-
stract painting” is used more frequently than the term “abstract sculpture.” There is
an awkwardness about describing as abstract something as material as most sculp-
ture. Still, the distinction between abstract and representational sculpture is worth
making, just as with painting, for being clear about the subject matter of a work of
art is essential to all sensitive participation. It is the key to understanding the con-
tent, for the content is the subject matter interpreted by means of the form.

PERCEPTION KEY Gorky and Arp
1. Which work seems to invite you to touch it? Why?
2. Would you expect either the Gorky or the Arp to feel hot or cold to your touch?
3. Which work seems to require the more careful placement of lighting? Why?

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Most sculpture, whether abstract or representational, returns us to the volumi-
nosity (bulk), density (mass), and tactile quality of things. Thus, sculpture has touch
or tactile appeal. Most sculptures appear resistant, substantial. Hence, the primary
subject matter of most abstract sculpture is the density of sensa. Sculpture is more
than skin deep. Abstract painting can only represent density, whereas sculpture,

FIGURE 5-1
Jean Arp, Growth. 1938. Marble,
39½ inches high. Philadelphia
Museum of Art. Gift of Curt
Valentin. Shown here in marble,
Growth was also cast in bronze.
Arp showed his work with the
Surrealists, who often included
chance in abstract pieces that
suggest organic natural forms.

©2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: ©The
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation/Art
Resource, NY

4. Which of the two works appears to be the more unchangeable in your perception?
5. Why do the authors claim that Untitled 1943 is more abstract than Growth? Can you

think of other reasons—for example, the shapes in the two works?

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whether abstract or representational, presents density. Abstract painters generally
emphasize the surfaces of sensa, as in Untitled 1943. Their interest is in the vast
ranges of color qualities, lines, and the play of light that bring out textural nuances.
Abstract sculptors, on the other hand, generally restrict themselves to a minimal
range of color, line, and textural qualities and emphasize light not only to play
on these qualities but also to bring out the inherence of these qualities in things.
Whereas abstract painters are shepherds of surface sensa, abstract sculptors are
shepherds of depth sensa.

Sculpture and Space
A painting is usually set off by a frame, the painting space being imaginary, sepa-
rate and distinct from real space. Between the painting and us, space is transpar-
ent. With sculpture, the space between is translucent, the space from the material
body of a work of art to the participator we call “the between.” With sculpture,
even if we do not actually touch the material body, we can still sense the solidity
of the material body permeating and animating the surrounding space. Shadows
cast by a sculpture, for example, slant into the space between us and the material
body of the sculpture, charging the between with energy, whereas shadows cast
by the things represented in a painting stay within the painting. The convexities
of a sculpture are actively outgoing into the between, and the between invades
the concavities, whereas the convexities and concavities of a painting stay within
the frame.

With sculpture, however, in our view there is also a direct or physical impact. The
space between us and any three-dimensional thing that we are perceiving comes
forth into our perception, by literally pushing into our bodies. Sculpture transforms
real space, making the between more perceptible and impacting. To put it awk-
wardly but succinctly, sculpture is a “more real world.”

Sunken-relIef Sculpture
The Temple Carving (Figure 5-2) is incised in sandstone, representing the gods
Horus and Hathor. These figures have weathered for millennia, yet they are sharp
and distinct. For the ancient Egyptians they told a familiar story, reassuring them
that the gods are supportive in the next world. Compare this sunken-relief sculpture
with Jackson Pollock’s The Flame (Figure 3-3). While their subject matters are very
different, their surfaces are curiously similar. The Temple Carving does not project
into space, as do most sculptures, but actually projects inward, into the surface of
the stone. Pollock’s painting, although considered essentially flat, is built up and, in
some spots, projects slightly into space.

The light helps clarify the tactile qualities of the Temple Carving by revealing the
sharp edges of the sandstone. The density of the stone is evident. We virtually sense
the weight of the object. Pollock’s work lacks significant tactile appeal despite the
projection of its thick paint. And while the Temple Carving makes us aware of its
material texture and substance—perhaps even revealing essential qualities of the
limestone—the painting remains an essentially two-dimensional image whose im-
pact is much less tactile than visual.

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low-relIef Sculpture
Low-relief sculpture projects relatively slightly from its background plane, and so its
depth dimension is very limited. Medium- and high-relief sculpture project farther
from their backgrounds, their depth dimensions expanded. Sculpture in the round
is freed from any background plane, and so its depth dimension is unrestricted.
Frank Stella’s Giufà, the Moon, the Thieves, and the Guards (Figure 5-3) is, we think,
most usefully classified as sculpture of the medium-relief species. The materiality
of the magnesium, the fiberglass, and especially the aluminum is brought out very
powerfully by their juxtaposition. Unfortunately, this is difficult to perceive from a
photograph. Because of its three-dimensionality, sculpture generally suffers even
more than painting from being seen only in a photograph.

Relief sculpture, except sunken relief, allows its materials to stand out from a
background plane. Thus, relief sculpture in at least one way reveals its materials
simply by showing us—directly—their surface and something of their depth. By
moving to a side of Giufà, the Moon, the Thieves, and the Guards, we can see that

FIGURE 5-2
Temple Carving at the Temple of Edfu.
Wall sculpture of ancient Egypt. The
gods Horus and Hathor greet royalty.

©Lee A. Jacobus

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the materials are of such and such thickness. However, this three-dimensionality
in relief sculpture, this movement out into space, is not allowed to lose its ties to
its background plane. Hence, relief sculpture, like painting, is usually best viewed
from a frontal position.

HIgH-relIef Sculpture
The high-relief sculpture from a thirteenth-century temple in Orissa (Figure 5-4)
was carved during a period of intense temple-building in that part of India. The
tenderness of the two figures is emphasized by the roundness of the bodies as well
as by the rhythms of the lines of the figures and the overarching swoop of the veg-
etation above them. This temple carving was made in a very rough stone, which
emphasizes the bulk and mass of the man and woman, despite their association
with religious practice. Almost a thousand years of weathering have increased its
sense of texture. The happy expression on the faces is consistent with the great
erotic religious sculpture of this period.

FIGURE 5-3
Frank Stella, Giufà, the Moon, the Thieves, and the Guards. 1984. Synthetic polymer paint, oil, urethane enamel,
fluorescent alkyd, and printing ink on canvas, and etched magnesium, aluminum, and fiberglass, 9 feet 7¼ inches ×
16 feet 3¼ inches × 24 inches. Museum of Modern Art. This work was done after Stella spent two years at the
American Academy at Rome. Giufà is a character out of Sicilian folklore, a trickster who gets into amusing
situations. This work refers to a story called “Giufà and the Judge” in which the boy kills a fly on the nose of the
judge, doing great damage to the judge. Stella’s sculpture was influenced by Picasso’s cubist experiments.

©2017 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: ©The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

FIGURE 5-4
Mithuna Couple. Twelfth to thirteenth
century. Orissa, India. Stone, 83
inches high. Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York. Stone, high-relief
sculpture like this, found on Indian
temples built in the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries, represents
figures combining the divine spirit
with the erotic.

Source: Purchase, Florance Waterbury
Bequest, 1970/The Metropolitan Museum
of Art

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Sculpture In tHe round
Edgar Degas’s The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (Figure 5-5), one of several of
his sculptures of dancers, was not universally approved by the critics at its first
showing. A number of critics thought it grotesque and others were mystified by its
subject matter, which they thought rather common. But some commentators saw
immediately that it was one of the most modern of sculptures and its simplicity has
helped it become one of the most admired modern sculptures.

FIGURE 5-5
Edgar Degas, The Little Fourteen-
Year-Old Dancer, 1880, cast 1922.
Bronze, partially tinted, with cotton
skirt and satin hair ribbon; wood
base. H. 38½ × W. 17¼ × D. 143⁄8
inches. Metropolitan Museum of
Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer
Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O.
Havemeyer, 1929 Accession Number:
29.100.370. Degas was better
known as a painter of dancers, but
The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer is his
most famous sculpture. His model
was Marie van Goethem, a young
Belgian dancer in the Paris Opera
Dance School.

©Tate, London/Art Resource, NY

PERCEPTION KEY The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer
1. What details of the posture of the dancer help the sculpture seem to command its

space?
2. What is the subject matter of the sculpture? What does the composition of the

dancer tell us about the subject matter? What do you think the content of the
work is?

3. Is this sculpture in the round? The viewer can walk around this work. But is
The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer in the round in the same way as Arp’s Growth
(Figure 5-1)?

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Despite the fact that the little dancer is not dancing, we sense that she is pre-
pared to move almost immediately. The subject matter on one level is the dancer
herself, and the content points to her capacity to move, even though she is bronze.
Her posture, leg forward, leaning back as if to spring upon the viewer, implies great
energy and power. She is small, and her tutu—which differs in every museum dis-
playing the work—clarifies her talent for dance. As we look at her we see her pose
as only a dancer would pose. For some viewers the subject matter is not only the
fourteen-year-old girl, but dance itself. It is as if Degas had somehow distilled the
essence of dance in this one figure.

Sculpture and arcHItecture compared
Architecture is the art of separating inner from outer space so that the inner space can
be used for practical purposes. Sculpture does not provide a practically usable inner
space. What about the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Cheops (Figure 5-6)? They are the
densest and most substantial of all works. They attract us visually and tactilely. But since
there is no usable space within the Sphinx, it is sculpture. Within the Pyramid, how-
ever, space was provided for the burial of the dead. There is a separation of inner from
outer space for the functional use of the inner space. Yet the use of this inner space is so
limited that the living often have a difficult time finding it. The inner space is functional
only in a restricted sense—is this Pyramid, then, sculpture or architecture? The difficulty
of the question points up an important factor to keep in mind. The distinctions between

FIGURE 5-6
The Sphinx and Pyramid of Cheops,
Egypt. Fourth dynasty. Circa 2850
BCE. Limestone and masonry. Base of
pyramid ca. 13 acres; Sphinx 66 feet
high, 172 feet wide.

©Lee A. Jacobus

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the arts that we have been and will be making are helpful in order to talk about them
intelligibly, but the arts resist neat pigeonholing, and attempts at that are futile.

SenSory Space
The space around a sculpture is sensory rather than empty. Despite its invisibility,
sensory space—like the wind—is felt. Sculptures such as Arp’s Growth (Figure 5-1)
are surrounded by radiating vectors, something like the axis lines of painting. But
with sculpture, our bodies as well as our eyes are directed. Growth is like a magnet
drawing us in and around. With relief sculptures, except for very high relief such
as the Mithuna Couple (Figure 5-4), our bodies tend to get stabilized in one favored
position. The framework of front and sides meeting at sharp angles, as in Giufà, the
Moon, the Thieves, and the Guards (Figure 5-3), limits our movements to 180 degrees
at most. Although we are likely to move around within this limited range for a while,
our movements gradually slow down, as they do when we finally get settled in a
comfortable chair. We are not Cyclops with just one eye, and so we see something
of the three-dimensionality of things even when restricted to one position. But even
low-relief sculpture encourages some movement of the body, because we sense that
different perspectives, however slight, may bring out something we have not directly
perceived, especially something more of the three-dimensionality of the materials.

When one of the authors participated with Arp’s Growth, he had this response:

I find a warm and friendly presence. I find myself reaching toward the statue rather than
keeping my distance.

The Arp seems not only three-dimensional but four-dimensional, because it brings
in the element of time so discernibly—a cumulative drama. In addition to making equal
demands upon my contemplation, at the same time, each aspect is also incomplete, en-
ticing me on to the next for fulfillment. As I move, volumes and masses change, and on
their surfaces points become lines, lines become curves, and curves become shapes. As
each new aspect unrolls, there is a shearing of textures, especially at the lateral borders.
The marble flows. The leading border uncovers a new aspect, and the textures of the old
aspect change. The light flames. The trailing border wipes out the old aspect. The curving
surface continuously reveals the emergence of volumes and masses in front, behind, and
in depth. What is hidden behind the surfaces is still indirectly perceived, for the textures
indicate a mass behind them. As I move, what I have perceived and what I will perceive
stand in defined positions with what I am presently perceiving. My moving body links the
aspects. A continuous metamorphosis evolves, as I remember the aspects that were and
anticipate the aspects to come, the leaping and plunging lights glancing off the surface
helping to blend the changing volumes, shapes, and masses. The remembered and antic-
ipatory images resonate in the present perception. My perception of the Arp is alive with
motion. The sounds in the museum room are caught, more or less, in the rhythm of that
motion. As I return to my starting point, I find it richer, as home seems after a journey.

Sculpture and tHe Human Body
Sculptures generally are more or less a center—the place of most importance that
organizes the places around it—of actual three-dimensional space: “more” in the
case of sculpture in the round, “less” in the case of low relief. That is why sculpture

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in the round is more typically sculpture than is the other species. Other things
being equal, sculpture in the round, because of its three-dimensional centeredness,
brings out the voluminosity and density of things more certainly than does any
other kind of sculpture. First, we can see and perhaps touch all sides. But, more
important, our sense of density has something to do with our awareness of our bod-
ies as three-dimensional centers thrusting out into our surrounding environment.
Philosopher-critic Gaston Bachelard remarks that

immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being which life
curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we be-
come motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense. Indeed,
immensity is the movement of a motionless man.2

Lachaise’s Floating Figure (Figure 5-7), with its ballooning buoyancy emerging
with lonely but powerful internal animation from a graceful ellipse, expresses
not only this feeling but also something of the instinctual longing we have to be-
come one with the world about us. Sculpture in the round, even when it does not

FIGURE 5-7
Gaston Lachaise, Floating Figure.
1927. Bronze (cast in 1979–1980).
135 × 233 × 57 cm. National Gallery
of Australia, Canberra. Purchased
1978. This massive sculpture
appears to be “floating” in a
reflective pool. New York’s Museum
of Modern Art elevates it on a plinth
in its sculpture garden. The National
Gallery of Australia places its Floating
Figure in a reflecting pool.

Courtesy of the National Gallery of
Australia, Canberra and the Lachaise
Foundation

2Source: Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space. Translation 1964, Orion Press.

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portray the human body, often gives us something of an objective image of our
internal bodily awareness as related to its surrounding space. Furthermore, when
the human body is portrayed in the round, we have the most vivid material image
of our internal feelings.

Sculpture In tHe round and tHe Human Body
No object is more important to us than our bodies, which are always with us. Yet
when something is continually present to us, we find great difficulty in focusing
our attention upon it. Thus, we usually are only vaguely aware of our bodies ex-
cept when we feel pain or pleasure. Nevertheless, our bodies are part of our most
intimate selves—we are our bodies—and, since most of us are narcissists to some
degree, most of us have a deep-down driving need to find a satisfactory material
counterpoint for the mental images of our bodies. If that is the case, we are likely to
be lovers of sculpture in the round. All sculpture always evokes our outward sensa-
tions and sometimes our inner sensations. Sculpture in the round often evokes our
inward sensations, for such sculpture often is anthropomorphic in some respect.
And sculpture in the round that has the human body as its subject matter not only
often evokes our inward sensations but also interprets them—as in Michelangelo’s
David (Figure 5-8) and Rodin’s Danaïde (Figure 5-9).

PERCEPTION KEY Exercise in Drawing and Modeling
1. Take a pencil and paper. Close your eyes. Now draw the shape of a human being

but leave off the arms.
2. Take some clay or putty elastic enough to mold easily. Close your eyes. Now model

your material into the shape of a human being, again leaving off the arms.
3. Analyze your two efforts. Which was easier to do? Which produced the more re-

alistic result? Was your drawing process guided by any factor other than your
memory images of the human body? What about your modeling process? Did any
significant factors other than your memory images come into play? Was the feel of
the clay or putty important in your shaping? Did the awareness of your inner bodily
sensations contribute to the shaping? Did you exaggerate any of the functional
parts of the body where movement originates, such as the neck muscles, shoulder
bones, knees, or ankles? Could these exaggerations, if they occurred, have been a
consequence of your inner bodily sensations?

FIGURE 5-8
Michelangelo Buonarroti, David.
1501–1504. Marble, 13 feet high.
Accademia, Florence. The heroic-
size David stood as Florence’s
warning to powers that might
consider attacking the city-state.
It represents Michelangelo’s
idealization of the human form and
remains a Renaissance ideal.

©Lee A. Jacobus

PERCEPTION KEY David and Danaïde
1. Compare Michelangelo’s David with Rodin’s  Danaïıde. How does each sculptor es-

tablish the gender of his figure? Does Rodin achieve more in terms of gender
identity by leaving some of the original marble unfinished? 

2. Research the source of each sculptor’s narrative: the Bible for David, and the
story of the Daughters of Danaos in Greek myth. How well do these works inter-
pret their subject matter?
continued

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Rodin, one of the greatest sculptors of the human body, wrote that

instead of imagining the different parts of the body as surfaces more or less flat, I repre-
sented them as projections of interior volumes. I forced myself to express in each swelling
of the torso or of the limbs the efflorescence of a muscle or a bone which lay beneath the
skin. And so the truth of my figures, instead of being merely superficial, seems to blossom
forth from within to the outside, like life itself.3

David and Danaïde present objective correlatives—images that are objective in the
sense that they are “out there” and yet correlate or are similar to subjective aware-
ness. They clarify inner bodily sensations as well as outward appearance. These are
large, highly speculative claims. You may disagree, of course, but we hope they will
stimulate your thinking.

When we participate with sculpture such as the David and Danaïde, we find
something of our bodily selves confronting us. If we demanded all of our bodily
selves, we would be both disappointed and stupid. Art is always a transformation

3. Apart from myth, how quickly, as a viewer, do you react to each sculpture? With
which work do you most participate?

4. What is the content of each work? How do you interpret these sculptures once you
understand their subject matter?

5. Compare what you feel is the respect Michelangelo and Rodin have for the human
figure. 

FIGURE 5-9
Auguste Rodin, Danaïde. 1885.
Marble, approximately 14 × 28 × 22
inches. Musée Rodin, Paris. Danaïıde is
from a Greek myth in which the fifty
daughters of Danaos were ordered
to kill their fifty husbands, sons of
Argos, on their wedding night. The
gods punished them by forcing them
to fill bottomless barrels with water.
This Danaïde is shown exhausted
and dispirited by the impossibility of
her task.

©Bridgeman-Giraudon/Art Resource, NY

3Source: Auguste Rodin, Art, trans. Romilly Fedden (Boston: Small, 1912), p. 65.

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of reality, never a duplication. Thus, the absence of the rest of Danaïde’s body does
not shock us as it would if we were confronting a real woman. Its lack of finish does
not ruin our perception of its beauty. The work was only a partial image of a female.
But, even so, she is in that partiality exceptionally substantial. The Danaïde is sub-
stantial because the female shape, texture, grace, sensuality, sexuality, and beauty
are interpreted by a form and thus clarified.

The human body is supremely beautiful. To begin with, there is its sensuous
charm. There may be other things in the world as sensuously attractive—for exam-
ple, the full glory of autumn leaves—but the human body also possesses a sexuality
that greatly enhances its sensuousness. Moreover, in the human body, mind is incar-
nate. Feeling, thought, purposefulness—spirit—have taken shape with the Danaïde.

EXPERIENCING Sculpture and Physical Size
1. The sculptor Henry Moore claims

that “sculpture is more affected
by actual size considerations than
painting. A painting is isolated by a
frame from its surroundings (unless
it serves just a decorative purpose)
and so retains more easily its own
imaginary scale.” He makes the fur-
ther claim that the actual physical
size of sculpture has an emotional
meaning. “We relate everything to
our own size, and our emotional re-
sponse to size is controlled by the
fact that men on the average are be-
tween five and six feet high.”4 Now
look at Five Swords, by Alexander
Calder (Figure 5-10), and compare
it to David and the Danaïıde. Does the
fact that Five Swords is much larger
than David, which in turn is larger
than the Danaïıde, make any signifi-
cant difference with respect to your
tactile sensations?

Size in sculpture can be significant for
many reasons. Michelangelo intention-
ally made David large as a political state-
ment in Florence. The great Renaissance sculptor Donatello had created an earlier David
that was slightly smaller than a life-size boy, partly as a way of emphasizing the fact that
the small warrior defeated the large warrior. But Michelangelo’s heroic-size figure was
a warning to other Italian city-states that Florence was not easy pickings at a time when
regional wars were common.

Rodin’s Danaïıde is much smaller than David, but its expressiveness, as Rodin sug-
gests, is considerable despite its size. This sculpture, unlike Calder’s and Michelangelo’s,

FIGURE 5-10
Alexander Calder, Five Swords. 1976. Sheet metal, bolts, paint, 213 × 264 × 348 inches. Calder’s
sculpture implies by its form that the swords have been turned into plowshares, which may be
seen as a monument to the end of the Vietnam War, one of America’s longest wars.

©2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: ©Art Resource, NY

continued
4Moore, “Notes on Sculpture,” p. xxxiv.

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contemporary Sculpture
Developments in sculpture are emerging and changing so rapidly that no attempt
can be made here even to begin to classify them adequately. But adding to the
traditional species (relief sculpture and sculpture in the round), at least five new
species have taken hold: space, protest against technology, accommodation with
technology, machine, and earth sculpture. In much contemporary sculpture, there
is one fairly pervasive characteristic: truth to materials, both in respecting materi-
als and defying them. For some sculptors, for example, one purpose was to reveal
the “stoneness” of the stone, or the “woodness” of the wood. But some sculptors,
including Michelangelo and Rodin, are committed to defying the limits of, say, mar-
ble when depicting the human figure. Some sculptors use nontraditional materials
to explore the questions of space, volume, and density.

trutH to materIalS
In the flamboyant eighteenth-century Baroque and in some of the Romanticism of the
later nineteenth century, respect for materials tended to be ignored. Karl Knappe re-
ferred to a “crisis” in the early twentieth century that “concerns . . . the artistic media”:

An image cannot be created without regard for the laws of nature, and each kind of
material has natural laws of its own. Every block of stone, every piece of wood is subject
to its own rules. Every medium has, so to speak, its own tempo; the tempo of a pencil
or a piece of charcoal is quite different from the tempo of a woodcut. The habit of mind
which creates, for instance, a pen drawing cannot simply be applied mechanically to the
making of a woodcut; to do this would be to deny the validity of the spiritual as well as
the technical tempo.5

is not intended as an outdoor monument. Rather, it is an intimate piece designed to be
close to the viewer, even close enough to tempt the viewer to touch and sense its tactile
repertoire, from smooth to rough.

Five Swords is a gigantic structure, not in marble, but in steel panels painted a brilliant
color. Calder’s work needs to have space around it, which is one reason it is located in a
huge, parklike setting. We are arrested by the sensa of this piece, and its hugeness when
we are near it is an important part of the sensa. Calder’s ideas about size are naturally
influenced by his own practice as a sculptor of monumental works, some of which dom-
inate huge public spaces in major cities. Unfortunately, photographs in this book can
only suggest the differences in size, but if you spend time with sculpture in its own set-
ting, consider how much the size of the work affects your capacity to participate with it.

2. Find and photograph a sculpture whose size seems to contribute importantly to its
impact. In your photograph, try to provide a visual clue that would help a viewer see
whether the object is huge or tiny.

3. To what extent does your respect for size affect your response to the sculpture?

104

5Source: Karl Knappe, quoted in Kurt Herberts, The Complete Book of Artists—Techniques (London:
Thames and Hudson, 1958), p. 16. Published in the United States by Frederick A. Praeger.

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Henry Moore, sculptor of Recumbent Figure (Figure 5-11), has stated that “every
material has its own individual qualities. It is only when the sculptor works direct,
when there is an active relationship with his material, that the material can take its
part in the shaping of an idea. Stone, for example, is hard and concentrated and
should not be falsified to look like soft flesh—it should not be forced beyond its
constructive build to a point of weakness. It should keep its hard tense stoniness.”6

Jeff Koons has made a career by pushing against the idea of truth to materials.
His Balloon Dog (Magenta) (Figure 5-12) is a whimsical piece and amuses young and
old alike. Much of his work seems to be an attempt to call the entire question, What
is art? to the forefront. After looking at Balloon Dog in Versailles, will you see birth-
day-party balloon dogs differently?

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety, or the Marvel-
ous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our
Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the
demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant (Figure 5-13) was constructed in the now-
defunct Diamond Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, New York. The setting is ironic,
and the depiction of a “black Mammy” as a sphinx is a protest aimed at reminding us
that the demand for sugar in the Americas was central to the increased demand for
African slaves to work the sugar plantations in the West Indies. The sculpture was
site-specific and stayed in place from mid-May to mid-July, slowly decaying.

6Quoted by Herbert Read, Henry Moore, Sculptor (London: A. Zwemmer, 1934), p. 29.

FIGURE 5-11
Henry Moore, Recumbent Figure.
1938. Green Hornton stone, 54
inches long. Tate Gallery, London,
Great Britain. Recumbent Figure is one
of an enormous number of similar
sculptures by Moore in both stone
and bronze. This stone piece distorts
the figure in ways reminiscent of
Picasso’s paintings of the same
period.

©The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights
Reserved, DACS 2017/www.henry-moore
.org. Reproduced by permission of The
Henry Moore Foundation. Photo: ©Art
Resource, NY

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FIGURE 5-12
Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Magenta).
1994–2000. Mirror-polished
stainless steel with transparent color
coating. 121 × 143 × 45 inches.
307.3 × 363.2 × 114.3 cm. Balloon
Dog (Magenta), among Koons’s most
popular works, has been exhibited
in the Museum of Modern Art, the
Chateau de Versailles, Venice, and
elsewhere. Several examples exist in
blue, yellow, orange, and magenta.
Koons often works against the
principles of truth to materials.

©Jeff Koons Installation View: Chateau de
Versailles, Jeff Koons Versailles, October 9,
2008 – April 1, 2009, Photo: Laurent Lecat

FIGURE 5-13
Kara Walker, A Subtlety, or the
Marvelous Sugar Baby, 2014. 35 feet
high by 75 feet long.

Photo: Jason Wyche, Artwork ©Kara
Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.,
New York

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As technology has gained more and more ascendancy, reverence toward nat-
ural things has receded. In highly industrialized societies, people tend to revere
artificial things, and the pollution of our environment is one result. Another re-
sult is the flooding of the commercial market with imitations of primitive sculp-
ture, which are easily identified because of the lack of truth to the materials (test
this for yourself). Even contemporary sculptors have lost some of their innocence
toward things simply because they live in a technological age. Many sculptors
still possess something of the natural way of feeling things, and so they find in-
spiration in primitive sculpture. Despite its abstract subject matter, Barbara Hep-
worth’s Pelagos (Figure 5-14), with its reverence to wood, has a close spiritual
affinity to the Maternity Figure (Figure 5-25). Truth to materials sculpture is an
implicit protest against technological ascendancy.

FIGURE 5-14
Barbara Hepworth, ©Bowness,
Hepworth Estate. Pelagos. 1946.
Wood with color and strings, 16
inches in diameter. Tate Gallery,
London, Great Britain. Pelagos was
inspired by a bay on the coastline of
St. Ives in Cornwall, where Barbara
Hepworth lived. The strings, she
said, represent the tension between
“myself and the sea, the wind and
hills.”

©Bowness. Photo: ©Tate, London/Art
Resource, NY

PERCEPTION KEY Truth to Materials
1. Examine the examples of twentieth-century sculpture in the book. Assuming that

these examples are fairly representative, do you find a pervasive tendency to truth
to materials? Do you find exceptions, and, if so, how might these be explained?

2. Does Recumbent Figure illustrate Moore’s point about staying true to materials? If
so, point out specifically how this is done.

3. What is the result of the attitude toward truth to materials in the works of Jeff
Koons and Kara Walker? Is their work more interesting for defying the traditional
views, or does it matter at all? Which of these sculptures most rewards your par-
ticipation? Which of these sculptures would you most want to own? Is their work
more interesting for defying the traditional views, or does it matter at all? Which
of these sculptures most rewards your participation? Which of these sculptures
would you most want to own?

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proteSt agaInSt tecHnology
Explicit social protest is part of the subject matter of the works we will discuss
by Trova, Segal, and Giacometti, although perhaps only in Trova’s Study: Falling
Man (Wheel Man) (Figure 5-15) is that protest unequivocally directed at technology.
Flaccid, faceless, and sexless, this anonymous robot has “grown” spoked wheels
instead of arms. Attached below the hips, these mechanisms produce a sense of
eerie instability, a feeling that this antiseptically cleansed automaton with the slack,
protruding abdomen may tip over from the slightest push. In this inhuman me-
chanical purity, no free will is left to resist. Human value, as articulated in Aldous
Huxley’s Brave New World, has been reduced to human power, functions performed
in the world of goods and services. Since another individual can also perform these
functions, the given person has no special worth. His or her value is a unit that can
easily be replaced by another.

FIGURE 5-15
Ernest Trova, Study: Falling Man
( Wheel Man). 1965. Bronze,
60 × 48 × 2013⁄16 inches. Trova’s
sculpture portrays man as part
of a machine, implying that in the
machine age humans are becoming
less and less human. Consider
the unidealized human figure in
comparison with the Greek ideal.

©Ernest Trova, Study: Falling Man (Wheel
Man), 1965. Collection Walker Art Center,
Minneapolis, Gift of the T.B. Walker
Foundation, 1965.

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The thirty-six larger-than-life figures in Bronze Crowd (Figure 5-16) seem to be
the same until one examines them and sees small differences. The absence of their
heads is a sign of their having been stripped of dignity and individuality. The space
between the figures is sufficient so that a viewer can walk in and around the group
and begin to experience what it might be like to be one of them.

In Bronze Crowd’s emaciated figures, the huge, solidly implanted feet suggest
nostalgia for the earth; the soaring upward of the elongated bodies suggests aspi-
ration for the heavens. The surrounding environment has eaten away at the flesh,
leaving lumpy, irregular surfaces with dark hollows. Each figure is without bodily
or mental contact with anyone. They stand in an utterly alienated space, but, un-
like Falling Man, they are headless and unaware. And whereas the habitat of Falling
Man is the clean, air-conditioned factory or office of Brave New World, the figures in
Bronze Crowd are exposed and organized in soldierly fashion.

Giacometti’s people (Figure 5-17), even when in neat galleries, always seem to be
in the grubby streets of our decaying cities. The cancer of the city has left only the
armatures of bodies stained with pollution and scarred with sickness. There is no
center in this city square or any particular exit, nor can we imagine any communi-
cation among these citizens. Their very grouping in the square gives them, paradox-
ically, an even greater feeling of isolation. Each Giacometti figure separates a spot
of space from the common place. The disease and utter distress of these vulnerable
creatures demand our respectful distance, as if they were lepers to whom help must
come, if at all, from some public agency. To blame technology entirely for the de-
humanization of society interpreted in these sculptures is an oversimplification, of
course. But this kind of work does bring out something of the horror of technology
when it is misused.

FIGURE 5-16
Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bronze
Crowd. 1990–1991. Bronze, 71 ×
23 × 15½ inches. Raymond and
Patsy Nasher Collection, Nasher
Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas.
Magdalena Abakanowicz witnessed
the occupation of Poland, her
native country, by both the Nazi
Germans and the Soviet Russians.
Bronze Crowd portrays the aloneness
that is possible in modern society.
Abakanowicz has said, “A crowd is
the most cruel because it begins to
act like a brainless organism.”

Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection,
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas. Art
©Studio Magdalena Abakanowicz

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accommodatIon wItH tecHnology
Many contemporary sculptors see in technology blessings for humankind. It is true
that sculpture can be accomplished with the most primitive tools (that, incidentally,
is one of the basic reasons sculpture in primitive cultures usually not only precedes
painting but also usually dominates both qualitatively and quantitatively). Never-
theless, sculpture in our day, far more than painting, can take advantage of some
of the most sophisticated advances of technology, surpassed in this respect only by
architecture. Many sculptors today interpret the positive rather than the negative
aspects of technology. This respect for technology is expressed by truth to its mate-
rials and the showing forth of its methodology.

Naum Gabo (Figure 5-18), one of the early adopters of current technology, used a
number of modern materials, such as cardboard, acrylic plastic, and stainless steel,

FIGURE 5-17
Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–
1965, City Square (La Place). 1948.
Bronze, 8½ × 253⁄8 × 17¼ inches
(21.6 × 64.5 × 43.8 cm). Museum of
Modern Art, New York. Purchase. This
is one of a series of sculptures that
became emblematic of the alienation
of modern life in the decade
following the end of World War II.

Art ©2017 Alberto Giacometti Estate/
Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York,
NY. Photo: ©The Museum of Modern Art/
Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

FIGURE 5-18
Naum Gabo, Constructed Head No. 2, 1916 (enlargement 1975).
Stainless steel, 70 × 54¼ × 48 inches. Raymond and Patsy
Nasher Collection, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas.

Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas,
Art ©Tate, London 2017

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for his constructivist sculptures. He was part of the modernist movement in Russia,
and after World War II he moved to the United States, where he used modern engi-
neering techniques for his work.

David Smith’s Cubi X (Figure 5-19) illustrates truth to technological materials.
The stainless steel cylinders of Cubi X support a juggling act of hollow rectangular
and square cubes that barely touch one another as they cantilever out into space.
Delicate buffing modulates the bright planes of steel, giving the illusion of several
atmospheric depths and reflecting light like rippling water. Smith writes,

I like outdoor sculpture and the most practical thing for outdoor sculpture is stainless
steel, and I make them and I polish them in such a way that on a dull day, they take on the
dull blue, or the color of the sky in late afternoon sun, the glow, golden like the rays, the
colors of nature. And in a particular sense, I have used atmosphere in a reflective way on
the surfaces. They are colored by the sky and the surroundings, the green or blue of water.
Some are down by the water and some are by the mountains. They reflect the colors. They
are designed for outdoors.7

But Smith’s steel is not just a mirror, for in the reflections the fluid surfaces and
tensile strength of the steel emerge in a structure that, as Smith puts it, “can face
the sun and hold its own.”

FIGURE 5-19
David Smith, Cubi X. 1963. Stainless steel,
10 feet 13⁄8 inches × 6 feet 6¾ inches × 2 feet
(308.3 × 199.9 × 61 cm), including steel base
27⁄8 × 25 × 23 inches (7.3 × 63.4 × 58.3 cm).
Museum of Modern Art, New York. Robert O.
Lord Fund. Cubi X is Smith’s cubistic experiment
representing a human figure in planes of
polished steel, akin to the cubistic paintings
of Picasso and others. Smith produced a wide
collection of Cubi sculptures.

Art ©The Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA,
New York, NY. Photo: ©The Museum of Modern Art/
Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

7Source: David Smith in Cleve Gray, ed., David Smith (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968), p. 123.

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macHIne Sculpture
Jean Tinguely is dedicated to humanizing the machine. His Homage to New York
(Figure 5-20), exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1960, was not only a
machine sculpture but a onetime sculpture performance. Tinguely introduced a
touch of humor into the world of sculpture as he explored the subject matter of
technology in the arts. For those present it was unforgettable. The mechanical
parts, collected from junk heaps and dismembered from their original machines,
stood out sharply, and yet they were linked by their spatial locations, shapes, and

FIGURE 5-20
Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York.
1960. Mixed media. Exhibited at the
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Homage to New York was exhibited in
the sculpture garden of the Museum
of Modern Art in New York, where
it operated for some twenty-seven
minutes until it destroyed itself. This
was a late Dadaist experiment.

©2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: David Gahr.

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textures, and sometimes by nervelike wires. Only the old player piano was intact.
As the piano played, it was accompanied by howls and other weird sounds in ir-
regular patterns that seemed to be issuing from the wheels, gears, and rods, as if
they were painfully communicating with one another in some form of mechanical
speech. Some of the machinery that runs New York City was exposed as vulnera-
ble, pathetic, and comic, but Tinguely humanized this machinery as he exposed it.
Even death was suggested, for Homage to New York was self-destructing: The piano
was electronically wired for burning, and, in turn, the whole structure collapsed.

eartH Sculpture
Another avant-garde sculpture—earth sculpture—goes so far as to make the earth
itself the medium, the site, and the subject matter. The proper spatial selection
becomes absolutely essential, for the earth usually must be taken where it is found.
Structures are traced in plains, meadows, sand, snow, and the like, in order to help
make us stop and perceive and enjoy the “form site”—the earth transformed to be
more meaningful. Usually nature rapidly breaks up the form and returns the site to
its less ordered state. Accordingly, many earth sculptors have a special need for the
photographer to preserve their art.

Robert Smithson was a pioneer in earthwork sculpture. One of his best-known
works is Spiral Jetty (Figure 5-21), a 1,500-foot-long coil 15 feet wide that spirals out
from a spot on the Great Salt Lake. It is constructed of “mud, precipitated salt crys-
tals, rocks, water,” and colorful algae, all of which are now submerged in the lake.
At times it reemerges when the water level is low. Because the sculpture is usually
hidden, it exists for most viewers only in photographs. This mode of existence offers
some interesting problems for those who question the authenticity of such works.

FIGURE 5-21
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty. 1970.
Great Salt Lake, Utah. Mud, salt
crystals, rocks, water; length 1,500
feet long and 15 feet wide. Reaching
1,500 feet into the Great Salt Lake is
one of the first and most influential
of large earth sculptures. Utah
officials stopped a recent move to
drill for oil nearby.

Collection: DIA Center for the Arts, New
York, Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni, Courtesy
of James Cohan Gallery, New York, Art
©Holt-Smithson Foundation/Licensed by
VAGA, New York, NY

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PERCEPTION KEY Spiral Jetty

1. Does the fact that the sculpture is usually submerged and invisible disqualify it as
a work of art? How important is it for such a work to be photographed artistically?

2. Would you like to see a work of this kind in a lake near you?
3. What would be the best vantage point to observe and participate with Spiral Jetty?
4. How does Smithson’s use of the spiral connect this sculpture with its natural

surroundings?

FOCUS ON African Sculpture
Sub-Saharan African sculpture has exerted an important influ-
ence on Western art since the late eighteenth century, but it
was especially influential on nineteenth- and twentieth-century
artists such as Paul Gauguin, Constantine Brancusi, Amedeo
Modigliani, Henri Matisse, and especially Pablo Picasso, who
developed a large personal collection of African sculpture. Picasso’s
experiments in Cubism owe their origin to the influence of African
sculpture, which had become widely known in Europe in the late
nineteenth century.

Because most African sculpture was carved from wood, much
of the older artistic heritage has been lost to weathering, repeated
use, and even termites. Very little sculpture was made from stone.
In certain periods, cast metal sculpture was created for kings in
important courts, especially in the Benin culture in Nigeria. Benin
cast sculpture, such as Head of an Oba (Figure 5-22), was meant
to celebrate a ruler. The head was displayed in a temple shrine to
connect the next ruler to his predecessor as part of a dynasty,
which, in this case, began in the fourteenth century. While some of
these cast works are profoundly realistic, in general realism is not
the aim of African sculpture. Yet the power of the Head of an Oba
is undeniable. The face has powerful eyes and lips, and a sense of
bulk and density implied in the garment covering the neck as well
as the woven hat and what appears to be hair or fiber held with
beads. One senses an expression of power, respect, and authority
in this work.

The figural distortions common in African sculpture were what
most interested Picasso and other Western artists in the early
twentieth century. The artists’ response to those distortions freed
them in important ways, permitting them to emphasize portions
of a face or figure to intensify its strength and significance. It also
helped Picasso and others create a sense of freedom from being
tied to a realistic representation. It gave them a new way to con-
ceive of proportion, shape, and beauty. But the purpose of distor-
tion in African sculpture is less an artistic value than it is an effort
to respect the life forces these artists perceived in the enlarged

FIGURE 5-22
Head of an Oba, 16th century, Nigeria, Court of Benin, Edo
peoples. Brass. H. 9¼ × W. 85⁄8 × D. 9 inches. Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York. The Michael C. Rockefeller
Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979.
Accession Number: 1979.206.86. This work is an example
of the Benin lost-wax metal sculpture technique. The
original is modeled in bees wax. Casts are formed from clay
applied to the original. The casts are dried in the sun. Then
the casts are fired in a pit in intense heat that both fires the
clay and melts the bees wax. The fired clay casts are then
used to form the bronze sculpture.

Source: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of
Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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eyes, the oversize head, the abdomen, the
prominent genitalia, all of which were sources
of power for their culture. For a contemporary
Western art lover the cultural values are usu-
ally unknown, but the effect of the distortions
is perceived as being emotionally expressive
and visually intensifying.

The Luba Helmet Mask (Figure 5-23) is considered one of the most important holdings
of the Royal Museum for African Art in Belgium. The modeling and finish of the wood
are remarkable, a testament to truth to materials. The powerful nose and deep sculpted
eyes dominate, but the bull horns may suggest that the Luba chief, on whom this mask
may be based, has supernatural powers. Invisible from the front is a bird carved in the
back, also perhaps symbolizing special powers. Originally the lower part of the mask
was covered by about ten inches of grass, making it possible to wear the mask in a cere-
mony. Like the Head of an Oba face, this mask exudes extreme dignity, implying that the
individual is of high station and great value.

One of the most unusual pieces is Queen Mother Pendant Mask (Figure 5-24). It is
remarkable first because female masks of royalty are quite rare. It is carved from
ivory and then decorated with iron and possibly copper details. It dates to the six-
teenth century and was designed as a commemorative mask for the king (Oba) to
memorialize his mother, the queen. The use of white ivory connected the image to
the ocean because the idea of whiteness implied the purity of the god of the sea,
Olokun. Only one other figure of this type is known, a female sculpture in the British
Museum.

FIGURE 5-23
Luba Helmet Mask. Luba people,
southeastern Congo. Circa 1880.
25½ inches high. Royal Museum for
African Art, Tervuren, Belgium. This is a
strongly modeled mask of what may be
an important person. The ram’s horns
and the bird carved on the rear of the
mask may imply supernatural powers.
Many African sculptures refer to
magical powers and the supernatural.

EO.0.0.23470, Collection RMCA Tervuren;
Photo: R. Asselberghs, MRAC Tervuren

FIGURE 5-24
Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century.
Nigeria, Court of Benin. Ivory, iron, copper.
H. 93⁄8 × W. 5 × D. 3¼ inches. Metropolitan
Museum of Art, The Michael C. Rockefeller
Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A.
Rockefeller, 1972. Accession Number:
1978.412.323. Such portrait masks of women
were rare. This was made for Esigie, the king
of Benin, to honor his mother, Idiaby. It is an
idealized representation, but it was a great
honor. There is only one other like this mask,
in the British Museum.

©Peter Horree/Alamy

115

continued

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The Maternity Figure (Figure 5-25) cele-
brates the life force in woman, with a child
held proudly. This work may be viewed from
several positions because it is an example of
sculpture in the round. Its powerful parallel
lines are expressed in stylized breasts, large
arms, and oversized feet, implying stability
and security. Maternity groups are com-
mon in African sculpture and some may have
been influenced by Western images of the
Madonna and child, but the African versions
tend to be more dynamic, as in the case of
this sculpture from Congo.

The Veranda Post: Equestrian Figure and Fe-
male Caryatid (Figure 5-26) is remarkable for
its brilliance in carving and the modeling of the
figures in a highly complex relationship. But it
is even more remarkable for the fact that we
know who the artist was, Olowe of Ise, who may
have carved this functional sculpture in the late
nineteenth or early twentieth century. Like the
female in Maternity Figure, the woman below
has an elongated neck, prominent breasts,
careful scarification, and strong angular lines.
She represents ideals of Yoruba female beauty.
Supporting both the horse and its rider, she is
a symbol of power and influence. Other works
by Olowe are often a tribute to the power and
freedom of the women in the community. This
piece was one of several commissioned by a king for a structure in a Yoruba palace
courtyard. Olowe is considered the greatest of Yoruba scultors.

Olowe of Ise was a master carver whose work has been identified because
of his distinctive style. The figures portrayed in the piece represent ideals of
Yoruba dignity, strength, and beauty. The Dallas Museum of Art purchased a
sculpture by Olowe in 2004 for more than $530,000.

FIGURE 5-26
Olowe of Ise, The Veranda Post: Equestrian
Figure and Female Caryatid, Early 20th
century. Wood. 71 ×
11¼ × 11 inches.

Source: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift,
1996/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

PERCEPTION KEY African Sculpture
1. Which of the paintings in Chapter 2 seem most influenced by the African sculpture

discussed here?
2. To what extent do these African sculptures seem to reveal the psychology of the

figures?
3. Distortion is a powerful device in African sculpture, but it is also powerful in West-

ern art. Comment on the distorted necks of the woman in Veranda Post, the mother
in Maternity Figure, and Parmigianino’s The Madonna with the Long Neck (Figure 4-4).
How does the use of distortion affect your ability to participate with these works?

4. Examine these five African sculptures for their use of space, simplification of form,
and sense of dynamics. Which are most stable? Which are most dynamic?

5. How important is the concept of truth to materials for these sculptors?

116

FIGURE 5-25
Maternity Figure (Bwanga bwa Cibola)
19th-early 20th century. Democratic
Republic of the Congo, Luluwa peoples.
Wood, metal ring, H. 9¾ × W. 3 ×
D. 2½ inches. (24.8 × 7.6 × 6.4 cm).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, The
Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial
Collection, Bequest of Nelson A.
Rockefeller, Accession number:
1979.206.282. African spiritual
pieces such as this inspired modern
European painters in the early
twentieth century.

©The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art
Resource, NY

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SCULPTURE

Sculpture In puBlIc placeS
Sculpture has traditionally shared its location with major buildings, sometimes act-
ing as decoration on the building, as in many churches, or acting as a center point
of interest, as in the original placement of Michelangelo’s David, which was posi-
tioned carefully in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the central building of the Floren-
tine government. It stood as a warning not to underestimate the Florentines. Many
small towns throughout the world have public sculpture that commemorates wars
or other important events.

One of the most popularly successful of contemporary public sculptures has
been Maya Ying Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Figure 5-27) in Washington, D.C.
Because the Vietnam War was both terribly unpopular and a major defeat, there
were fears that any memorial might stir public antagonism. However, the result has
been quite the opposite. The piece is a sloping black granite wall, V-shaped, which
descends ten feet below grade. On the wall are engraved the names of more than
58,000 dead Americans. Visitors walk along its length, absorbing the seemingly
endless list of names. The impact of the memorial grows in part because the list
of names grows with each step down the slope. Visitors respond to the memorial
by touching the names, sometimes taking rubbings away with them, sometimes
simply weeping.

Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial was a controversial public sculpture when
it was first unveiled but has become a most popular attraction both in its place in
Washington, D.C., and as a replica tours around the country. Judy Chicago’s The

FIGURE 5-27
Maya Ying Lin, Vietnam Veterans
Memorial. 1982. Black granite,
V-shaped, 493 feet long, 10 feet
high at center. Washington, D.C. Lin
designed the memorial when she
was an undergraduate. One angle of
the wall points to the Washington
Monument, the other to the Lincoln
Memorial. Its V shape below the
ground was intended to suggest a
wound in the earth. Incised on it are
the names of 58,256 fallen American
warriors.

©David Noble

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CHAPTER 5

Dinner Party (Figure 5-28), in the midst of a powerful wave of feminist activity in the
late 1970s, was celebrated by feminists and denounced by opponents of the move-
ment. Although it is not public sculpture in the sense that it is on view outdoors,
it once toured the country and attracted huge crowds. It is now in the permanent
collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The sculpture includes place settings for
thirty-nine mythic and historical women such as Ishtar, Hatshepsut, Sacagawea,
Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf. Each
place setting has embroidery, napkins, place settings, and a plate with a butterfly
design that alludes to female genitalia—one reason for protest against the work.
Judy Chicago oversaw the project, but it is the work of many women working in
crafts traditionally associated with women, such as sewing and embroidery.

Study (with imagination) Serra’s Sequence (Figure 5-29), four huge torqued Cor-
Ten steel plates installed in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art in summer
2007. We are—as never before—immersed in sculptural space. At both ends we have
the chance of entering through one of two openings—one leads into a containment
center of settled space; the other pulls us into a seemingly endless curvilinear cor-
ridor between two brutal, looming steel walls. Yet strangely, if we wait, we see on
the steel intriguing textures and beautiful orange-rust patterns sculpted by time.
Still we may feel compressed, confused, perhaps even a touch fearful. To go back is
not necessarily an appealing option, for the spaces are narrow, and where are we,
anyhow? Normal spatial perception is undermined. The walls appear to close both
behind and over us. They seem to sway, and so does the floor. At last we come to
the center, overcome with wonder.

FIGURE 5-28
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party.
1979. Mixed media, each side 48
feet. Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for
Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum. The
Dinner Party consists of thirty-nine
place settings for important women
of myth and history. The work was
produced under the direction of Judy
Chicago by a collective of women
sewing, embroidering, and weaving
to complement the elaborately
designed plates.

©2017 Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York. Photo courtesy of Judy
Chicago/Art Resource, NY

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SCULPTURE

PERCEPTION KEY Public Sculpture
1. Public sculpture such as that by Maya Lin, Judy Chicago, and Richard Serra usually

produces tremendous controversy when it is not representative, such as a con-
ventional statue of a man on a horse, a hero holding a rifle and flag, or a person of
local fame. What do you think causes these more abstract works to attract contro-
versy? Do you react negatively or positively to any of these three works?

2. Should artists who plan public sculpture meant to be viewed by a wide-ranging
audience aim at pleasing that audience? Should that be their primary mission, or
should they simply make the best work they are capable of?

3. Which of the three, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Sequence, or The Dinner Party, seems
least like a work of art to you? Try to convince someone who disagrees with you
that it is not a work of art.

4. Choose a public sculpture that is in your community, photograph it, and establish
its credentials, as best you can, for making a claim to being an important work of
art.

5. If we label Chicago’s The Dinner Party a feminist work, is it then to be treated as
political sculpture? Do you think Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a less political
or more political sculpture than Chicago’s work? Could Serra’s Sequence be consid-
ered a political work? Would labeling these works as political render them any less
important as works of art?

FIGURE 5-29
Richard Serra, Sequence. 2006. Cor-Ten steel, 12 feet 9 inches × 40 feet 83⁄8 inches × 65 feet 23⁄16 inches. People
walk around and in this gigantic work, in which the walls are torqued in such a way as to lean toward the viewer.
Critic Ronald Paulson calls Serra the greatest modern sculptor, perhaps the greatest sculptor.

©2017 Richard Serra/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo ©Frederick Charles

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CHAPTER 5

Summary
Sculpture is perceived differently from painting, engaging more acutely our sense
of touch and the feeling of our bodies. Whereas painting is more about the visual
appearance of things, sculpture is more about things as three-dimensional masses.
Whereas painting only represents voluminosity and density, sculpture presents
these qualities. Sculpture in the round, especially, brings out the three-dimensional-
ity of objects. No object is more important to us than our bodies, and their “strange
thickness” is always with us. When the human body is the subject matter, sculp-
ture more than any other art reveals a material counterpoint for our mental images
of our bodies. Traditional sculpture is made by either modeling or carving. Many
contemporary sculptures, however, are made by assembling preformed pieces of
material. New sculptural techniques and materials have opened developments in
avant-garde sculpture that defy classification. Nonetheless, contemporary sculp-
tors, generally, have emphasized truth to materials, respect for the medium that is
organized by their forms. Space, protest against technology, accommodation with
technology, machine, and earth sculpture are five of the most important new spe-
cies. Public sculpture is flourishing.

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121

©kossarev56/Shutterstock RF

C h a p t e r 6

ARCHITECTURE

We can close the novel, shut off the music, refuse to go to a play or dance, sleep through a movie, shut our eyes to a painting or a sculpture. But we cannot
escape from buildings for very long. Fortunately, however, sometimes buildings are
works of art—that is, architecture. They draw us to them rather than push us away
or make us ignore them. They make our living space more livable. Architecture is
the shaping of buildings and space.

Centered SpaCe
Painters do not command real three-dimensional space: They feign it. Sculptors
can mold out into space, but generally they do not enfold an enclosed or inner
space for our movement. Our passage through the inner spaces of architecture is
one of the conditions under which its solids and voids have their effect. In a sense,
architecture is a great hollowed-out sculpture that we perceive by moving about
both outside and inside. Space is the material of the architect, the primeval cutter,*
who carves apart an inner space from an outer space in such a way that both spaces
become more fully perceptible and interesting.

Inner and outer space come together on the earth to form a centered and illumi-
nated context or clearing. Centered space is the arrangement of things around some
paramount thing—the place at which the other things seem to converge. Sometimes

*This meaning is suggested by the Greek architectón.

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CHAPTER 6

this center is a natural site, such as a great mountain, river, canyon, or forest. Some-
times the center is a natural site enhanced by a human-made structure.

Centered space is centripetal, insisting upon drawing us in. There is an in-rush
that is difficult to escape, that overwhelms and makes us acquiescent. We perceive
space not as a receptacle containing things but rather as a context energized by the
positioned interrelationships of things. Centered space has a pulling power that,
even in our most harassed moments, we cannot escape feeling. In the Valley of
the Kings in Egypt (Figure 6-1), we approach the mortuary temple of the female
pharaoh Hatshepsut with a sense of awe. It is, rightly, called the most beautiful of
all the temples in the valley, perhaps in all of early Egypt. We find ourselves in the
presence of a power beyond our control. We feel the sublimity of space, but, at the
same time, the centeredness beckons and welcomes us.

SpaCe and arChiteCture
Architects are the shepherds of space. In turn, the paths around their shelters lead
us away from our ordinary preoccupations demanding the use of space. We come to
rest. Instead of our using up space, space takes possession of us with a ten-fingered
grasp. We have a place to dwell.

Architecture—as opposed to mere engineering—is the creative conservation of
space. Architects perceive the centers of space in nature and build to preserve these
centers and make them more vital. Architects are confronted by centered spaces
that desire to be made, through them, into works. These spaces of nature are not
offspring of architects alone but appearances that step up to them, so to speak,
and demand protection. If an architect succeeds in carrying through these appeals,
the power of the natural space streams forth and the work rises.

The architect typically shelters inner space from outer space in such a way that
we can use the inner space for practical purposes at the same time we perceive both
spaces and their relationships as more interesting, thus evoking participation. The
partitioning of space renders invisible air visible. Inside the building, space is filled
with stresses and pressures. Outside the building, space becomes organized and fo-
cused. Inner space is anchored to the earth. Outer space converges upon inner space.

Architecture generally creates a strengthened hierarchy in the positioned interrela-
tionships of earth and sky and what is in between. Architecture enhances the centered
clearings of nature, accentuating a context in which all our senses can be in harmony
with their surroundings. And even when architecture is not present, our memories

FIGURE 6-1
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut,
Valley of the Kings, Egypt, 15th
century BCE. The temple was
designed by Senmut, an architect
and Hatshepsut’s visier and,
according to legend, her lover.
Hatshepsut (1508–1458 BCE)
was the most successful of Egypt’s
female pharaohs. This is one of the
greatest examples of symmetry in
early architecture.

©Lee A. Jacobus

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ARCHITECTURE

of architecture, especially of great buildings, teach us how to order the sensations of
our natural environment. Aristotle said, “Art completes nature.” Every natural environ-
ment, unless it has been ruined by humans, lends itself to centering and ordering, even
if no architecture is there. The architectural model teaches us how to be more sensitive
to the potential centering and ordering of nature. As a result of such intensified sensitiv-
ity, we have a context—a special place—within which the sounds, smells, temperatures,
breezes, volumes, masses, colors, lines, textures, and constant changes of nature can be
ordered into something more than a blooming, buzzing confusion. That special place
might be sublimely open, as with the spectacle of an ocean, or cozily closed, as with a
bordered brook. In either case, nature is consecrated, and we belong and dwell.

ChartreS
On a hot summer day many years ago, following the path of Henry Adams, who
wrote Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, one of the authors was attempting to drive
from Mont-Saint-Michel to Chartres in time to catch the setting sun through the
western rose window of Chartres Cathedral (Figures 6-2 and 6-3). The following is
an account of this experience:

In my rushing anxiety—I had to be in Paris the following day and I had never been to Char-
tres before—I became oblivious of space except as providing landmarks for my time-clocked
progress. Thus I have no significant memories of the towns and countrysides I hurried
through. Late that afternoon the two spires of Chartres, like two strangely woven strands of
rope let down from the heavens, gradually came into focus. The blue dome of the sky also
became visible for the first time, centering as I approached more and more firmly around

FIGURE 6-2
Chartres Cathedral, Chartres. The
cathedral, built starting in 1140 and
continuing into the fifteenth century,
dominates the cityscape. Chartres
is considered the greatest of the
Gothic cathedrals.

©Alinari Archives/Corbis/Getty Images

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FIGURE 6-3
Chartres Cathedral. The great western rose window. The window casts a powerful light within the cathedral in the later afternoon. Rose windows were
designed to cast a “dim, religious light,” as the poet John Milton said.

©Lee A. Jacobus

*Chartres, like most Gothic churches, is shaped roughly like a recumbent Latin cross: The front—with
its large circular window shaped like a rose and the three vertical windows, or lancets, beneath—faces
west. The apse, or eastern end, of the building contains the high altar. The nave is the central and largest
aisle leading from the central portal to the high altar. But before the altar is reached, the transept crosses
the nave. Both the northern and southern facades of the transept of Chartres contain, like the western
facade, glorious rose windows. (Drawing after R. Sturgis)

the axis of those spires. “In lovely blueness blooms the steeple with metal roof ” (Hölderlin).
The surrounding fields and then the town, coming out now in all their specificity, grew
into tighter unity with the church and sky. I recalled a passage from Aeschylus: “The pure
sky desires to penetrate the earth, and the earth is filled with love so that she longs for
blissful unity with the sky. The rain falling from the sky impregnates the earth, so that she
gives birth to plants and grain for beasts and men.” No one rushed in or out or around the
church. The space around seemed alive and dense with slow currents all ultimately being
pulled to and through the central portal.* Inside, the space, although spacious far beyond
the scale of practical human needs, seemed strangely compressed, full of forces thrusting
and counterthrusting in dynamic interrelations. Slowly, in the cool silence inlaid with stone,

124

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ARCHITECTURE

I was drawn down the long nave, following the stately rhythms of the bays and piers. But
my eyes also followed the vast vertical stretches far up into the shifting shadows of the
vaultings. It was as if I were being borne aloft. Yet I continued down the narrowing tunnel
of the nave, but more and more slowly as the pull of the space above held back the pull of
the space below. At the crossing of the transept, the flaming colors, especially the reds, of
the northern and southern roses transfixed my slowing pace, and then I turned back at last
to the western rose and the three lancets beneath—a delirium of color, dominantly blue, was
pouring through. Earthbound on the crossing, the blaze of the Without was merging with
the Within. Radiant space took complete possession of my senses. In the protective grace of
this sheltering space, even the outer space which I had dismissed in the traffic of my driving
seemed to converge around the center of this crossing. Instead of being alongside things—
the church, the town, the fields, the sky, the sun—I was with them, at one with them. This
housing of holiness made me feel at home in this strange land.

PERCEPTION KEY Chartres Cathedral
1. Form and function usually work together in classic architecture. What visible ex-

terior architectural details indicate that Chartres Cathedral functions as a church?
Are there any visible details that conflict with its function as a church?

2. The two spires of the church were built at different times. Should they have been
made symmetrical? What might be some reasons for their not being symmetrical?

3. What seem to be the primary values revealed by the rose window of Chartres?
4. How did the builders satisfy the fourth requirement of architecture: that the build-

ing be revelatory? What values does the exterior of the building reveal?
5. What is implied by the fact that the cathedral dwarfs all the buildings near it?

PERCEPTION KEY Buildings
1. Select a house in your community that strikes you as ugly. Why?
2. Select a house in your community that strikes you as beautiful. Why?
3. Comment on your own home. Is the space warm, inviting, well situated in its site?

Is your home architecture or engineering?

Living SpaCe
Living space is the feeling of the comfortable positioning of things in the environ-
ment, promoting both liberty of movement and paths as directives. Taking possession
of space is our first gesture as infants, and sensitivity to the position of other things
is a prerequisite of life. Space infiltrates through all our senses, and our sensations of
everything influence our perception of space. A breeze broadens the spaciousness of
a room that opens on a garden. A sound tells us something about the surfaces and
shape of that room. A cozy temperature brings the furniture and walls into intimate
relationships. The smell of books gives that space a personality. With living space,
since all the senses are involved, the whole body is a center. Furthermore, when
we relate to a place of special value, such as the home, a “configurational center” is
formed, a place that is a gathering point around which a field of interest is structured.

continued

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CHAPTER 6

A building that lacks artistic qualities, even if it encloses a convenient void, en-
courages us to ignore it. Normally we will be blind to such a building and its space
as long as it serves its practical purposes. If the roof leaks or a wall breaks down,
however, we will only see the building as a damaged instrument. A well-designed
building, on the other hand, brings us into living space by centering space. We be-
come aware of the power and embrace of space. Such a building strikes a bargain
between what it lets us do and what it makes us do.

Four neCeSSitieS oF arChiteCture
Architecture is a peculiarly public art because buildings generally have a social func-
tion, and many buildings require public funds. More than other artists, architects
must consider the public. If they do not, few of their plans are likely to materialize.
Thus, architects must be psychologists, sociologists, economists, businesspeople,
politicians, and courtiers. They must also be engineers, for they must be able to
design structurally stable buildings. And then they need luck.

Architects have to take into account four basic and closely interrelated neces-
sities: technical requirements, function, spatial relationships, and revelatory re-
quirements. To succeed, their structures must adjust to these necessities. As for
what time will do to their creations, they can only hope and prepare with foresight.
Ultimately every building is susceptible to economic demands and the whims of
future taste.

Technical Requirements of Architecture

Of the four necessities, the technical requirements of a building are the most obvi-
ous. Buildings must stand and withstand. Architects must know the materials and
their potentialities, how to put the materials together, and how the materials will
work on a particular site. But they are something more as well—artists. In solving
their technical problems, they must also make their forms revelatory. Their build-
ings must illuminate something significant that we would otherwise fail to perceive.

Consider, for example, the relationship between the engineering requirements
and artistic qualities of the Parthenon, 447–432 BCE (Figure 6-4). The engineering
was superb, but unfortunately the building was almost destroyed in 1687, when it
was being used as an ammunition dump by the Turks and was hit by a shell from a
Venetian gun. Basically the technique used was post-and-lintel (or post-and-beam)
construction. Set on a base, or stylobate, columns (verticals: the posts) support the
entablature (horizontals: the lintel), which, in turn, supports the pediment (the tri-
angular structure) and roof.

4. Comment on an apartment house, a school building, an office building, a gas sta-
tion, a supermarket—how well do they use space? Is the space inviting?

5. Do you have any buildings that provide a centered space?
6. What are your configurational centers? Which are beautiful? Which are not?

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Functional Requirements of Architecture

Traditionally architects made their buildings stand in such a way that they revealed
their function or use. No one is likely to mistake Chartres Cathedral for an office
building. We have seen the conventional structures of too many churches and office
buildings to be mistaken about this. Nor are we likely to mistake the Seagram Build-
ing (Figure 6-6) for a church. We recognize the functions of these buildings because
they are in the conventional shapes that such buildings so often possess.

FIGURE 6-4
The Parthenon, Athens. 447–432
BCE. The Parthenon was
dedicated to Athena, the patron
of Athens. To give its proportions
a sense of perfection, a number of
imperfections were built into the
columns to accommodate the way
people must look up to the building.

©Lee A. Jacobus

PERCEPTION KEY The Parthenon and Chartres Cathedral
1. Compare the dominant vertical elements of the Parthenon—the Doric columns

and the pediment—with the dominant vertical elements of Chartres Cathedral—
the spires, the strong vertical buttresses, and the round window. Each building is
dedicated to God or gods. What revelatory function do the strong verticals seem
to serve? What might they reveal to those who first saw these buildings?

2. Which building is more dominated by straight lines? What does the emphasis on
straight or rounded lines in these buildings imply in terms of revealing religious
values?

3. Both buildings are temples. Which seems to you more holy? Which seems to put
more trust in God? Compare your views with those of your peers.

4. Examine the elements of the Doric order in Figure 6-5. What values are revealed
by the attention to detail in the stylobate, the shaft, and the segments of the cap-
ital, the necking, echinus, and abacus? Are these details simply decoration, or are
they also functional and revelatory?

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FIGURE 6-5
Elements of the Doric order, the
simplest of the Greek orders and
thus considered most appropriate for
temples.

PERCEPTION KEY Form, Function, Content, and Space
Study Figure 6-2 (Chartres Cathedral) and the Seagram Building Figure 6-6 below.
1. What is the basic function of each of these buildings?
2.  How have the respective forms revealed the functions of their buildings? We would

argue that both works are architecture because the form of the building is revela-
tory of the subject matter—of the tension, anguish, striving, and ultimate concern
of religious faith—whereas the form of the Seagram Building is revelatory of the
stripped-down, uniform efficiency of an American business corporation. Consider
every possible relevant argument against this view.

Study one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last and most famous works, the Solomon
R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City (Figures 6-7 and 6-8), constructed in
1957–1959 but designed in 1943. Wright wrote,

Here for the first time architecture appears plastic, one floor flowing into another (more
like sculpture) instead of the usual superimposition of stratified layers cutting and butt-
ing into each other by way of post-and-beam construction. The whole building, cast in
concrete, is more like an egg shell—in form a great simplicity—rather than like a crisscross
structure. The light concrete flesh is rendered strong enough everywhere to do its work

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FIGURE 6-7
Frank Lloyd Wright, Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum, New York
City. 1957–1959. This was the last
great commission for Wright, whose
cast concrete design was instantly
controversial.

©2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All
Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artists Rights
Society. Photo: ©Leonard Zhukovsky/123rf
.com

FIGURE 6-6
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and
Philip Johnson, architects, the
Seagram Building, New York
City. 1954–1958. An example of
the International style popular
in midcentury, the building was
designed so that the structure
of the building would be visible.
Without decoration, and with
replication of floor upon floor, this
building reveals a clear function for
“doing business.”

©SuperStock

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by embedded filaments of steel either separate or in mesh. The structural calculations
are thus those of cantilever and continuity rather than the post and beam. The net result
of such construction is a greater repose, the atmosphere of the quiet unbroken wave: no
meeting of the eye with abrupt changes of form.1

The term cantilever refers to a structural principle in architecture in which
one end of a horizontal form is fixed—usually in a wall—while the other end
juts out over space. Steel beam construction makes such forms possible; many
modern buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum, have forms extending fluidly
into space.

1Source: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1960, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Hori-
zon Press, New York, p. 16ff.

FIGURE 6-8
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
interior. The floor spirals
continuously upward with art hung
on the walls. A large transparent
skylight is shaped similarly to
cathedral rose windows.

©2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All
Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artists Rights
Society. Photo: ©Atlantide Phototravel/
Getty Images

PERCEPTION KEY Guggenheim Museum
1. How well does the exterior of the building harmonize with the interior?
2. Does the exterior form reveal the building as an art museum?
3. The museum stands near much larger rectangular buildings. What would be the

point of such a sharp contrast with boxlike “post-and-beam” structures? What
would such a contrast reveal about the nature of art?

4. The Guggenheim Museum faces Fifth Avenue in New York City. Originally it was
to have been located in Central Park. How much difference would that have made
to the revelatory qualities of the building?

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Spatial Requirements of Architecture

Wright solved his technical problems (such as cantilevering) and his functional
problems (efficient and commodious exhibition of works of art) with considerable
success. Moreover, the building reveals itself as a museum. What else could it be? In
the 1950s Wright’s design was revolutionary. We think of it now as a museum, but
when it was built it contrasted so sharply with the rectangular boxlike structures
near it that people were shocked. Indeed, this building stands as a work of art partly
because its singular design occupies space as a sculpture would. The Guggenheim
Museum in New York began an architectural era in which the relationship of form
and function began to be called into question.

Revelatory Requirements of Architecture

The function or use of a building is an essential part of the subject matter of that
building, what the architect interprets or gives insight into by means of its form.
The function of the Seagram Building is to house offices. The form of that build-
ing reveals that function. But does this function exhaust the subject matter of this
building? Is only function revealed? Would we, perhaps, be closer to the truth by
claiming that involved with this office function are values closely associated with,
but nevertheless distinguishable from, this function? That somehow other values,
besides functional ones, are interpreted in architecture?

We are claiming that the essential values of contemporary society are a part of
all artists’ subject matter, part of what they must interpret in their work, and this—
because of the public character of architecture—is especially so with architects. Ar-
chitects (and artists generally) are influenced by the values of their society. In the
Middle Ages, religion in the West was supreme and the great buildings of that pe-
riod were churches and cathedrals. Soon after, the great buildings were palaces and
fortresses. Each of these structures reveals the values of the times and the places—in
short, of the societies in which they were built. The church, the royal court, and
the military protection of the communities were dependent on the services of ar-
chitects. In the 1950s, when the Seagram Building was constructed, the rise of cor-
porate capitalism was interpreted clearly and efficiently. That is one reason the
Guggenheim Museum was so shocking.

Every stone of the Parthenon, in the way it was cut and fitted, reveals something
about the values of the Age of Pericles, the fifth century BCE—for example, the em-
phasis on moderation and harmony, the importance of mathematical measurement
and yet its subordination to the eminence of humans and their rationality, as well
as the immanence rather than the transcendence of the sacred.

Chartres Cathedral reveals three principal value areas of that medieval region:
the special importance of Mary, to whom the cathedral is dedicated; the doctrines of
the cathedral school, one of the most important centers of learning in Europe in the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and the value preferences of the main patrons—the
royal family, the lesser nobility, and the local guilds. The windows of the 175 sur-
viving panels and the sculpture, including more than 2,000 carved figures, were a
bible in glass and stone for the illiterate, but they were also a visual encyclopedia for
the literate. From these structures the iconographer—the decipherer of the meaning
of icons or symbols—can trace almost every fundamental value of the society that

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created Chartres Cathedral: the conception of human history from Adam and Eve
to the Last Judgment; church history; ancient lore and contemporary history; the
latest scientific knowledge; the curriculum of the cathedral school as divided into
the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geome-
try, astronomy, and music); the hierarchy of the nobility and the guilds; the code of
chivalry and manners; and the hopes and fears of the time.

PERCEPTION KEY Values and Architecture
1. Enumerate other values in addition to the functional that may be interpreted by

the form of the Seagram Building.
2. Choose another piece of architecture in this chapter and comment on the values

reflected in its structure. 
3. Is there any building that you know of that does not reflect some values of its place

and time? 

earth-rooted arChiteCture
The earth is the securing agency that grounds the place of our existence, our cen-
ter. In many primitive cultures, it is believed that people are born from the earth.
And in many languages, people are the “Earth-born.” In countless myths, Mother
Earth is the bearer of humans from birth to death. Of all things, the expansive earth,
with its mineral resources and vegetative fecundity, most suggests or is symbolic of
security. Moreover, since the solidity of the earth encloses its depth in darkness, the
earth is also suggestive of mystery and death.

The Earth Mother has a mysterious, nocturnal, even funerary aspect—she is also
often a goddess of death. But, as the theologian Mircea Eliade points out, “even in
respect of these negative aspects, one thing that must never be lost sight of, is that
when the Earth becomes a goddess of Death, it is simply because she is felt to be
the universal womb, the inexhaustible source of all creation.”2 Nothing in nature is
more suggestive or symbolic of security and mystery than the earth. Earth-rooted
architecture accentuates this natural symbolism more than any other art.

Site

Architecture that is earth-rooted discloses the earth by drawing our attention to the
site of the building, its submission to gravity, its raw materials, and its centrality in
outer and inner space. Sites whose surrounding environment can be seen from great
distances are especially favorable for helping a building to bring out the earth. The
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut (Figure 6-1) is profoundly earth-rooted. It appears
to be cut out of the stone mountain that cradles it. The site is large and inviting, and
the interior is mysterious and extensive. Few buildings in the world are more clearly
earth-bound. Even the extraordinary symmetry of its parts, with the repeats of vertical

2Source: Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, trans. Philip Mairet (New York: Harper, 1961), p. 188.

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supports and open spaces leading within, reinforces the sense that this building is in
place and will never be elsewhere. The deepest section of the temple, the Chapel of
Amun, is cut from the rock itself and leads deep into the mountain.

Gravity
The Parthenon (Figure 6-4), because it is on the Acropolis, the highest point in Ath-
ens, seems an unlikely candidate for an earth-rooted structure, but as we see it now
in ruin we perceive a remarkable tendency for it to appear profoundly weighty. The
stones that surround the building give us a clue immediately to the density of its
stone columns, and the stones of the support of the original roof imply an inevitable
yielding to gravity. The horizontal rectangularity of the entablature follows evenly
along the plain of the Acropolis with the steady beat of its supporting columns and
quiets their upward thrust. Gravity is accepted and accentuated in this serene sta-
bility—the hold of the earth is secure.

James Gibbs’s Radcliffe Camera (Figure 6-9) cannot be seen from great distances,
although it benefits from a grassy surround that permits us to view it in its entirety.

FIGURE 6-9
James Gibbs, Radcliffe Camera,
Oxford University, Oxfordshire, UK.
1737–1748. A library for Oxford
University, the building does not
have a long vista. It sits amid the
many colleges of the university. It
was inspired by a sixteenth-century
tempietto (little temple) by Donato
Bramante. Like the Radcliffe Camera,
it was enclosed by other buildings.

©Nikreates/Alamy

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It appears to be a temple, but in this case a temple to learning. The classical columns
add a sense of weight that roots the building firmly in place. Standing and account-
ing for its site and its thrust upward, one feels as if it is only the top of a much larger
structure that is somehow invisible in the ground below. It is almost impossible to
avoid participating with its dramatic form. Our first sense is that the building is the
top of a temple and that there is more to come. Yet the dimension—one hundred
feet in diameter—impresses us with a sense of both wonder and satisfaction. When
we consider its classical columns, its renaissance dome, and the perfection of its cir-
cular structure, we begin to understand Gibbs’s revelatory purposes. The building
reveals the significance of learning, resting on the shoulders of Greece, Rome, and
Italian renaissance. It is a symbol of the preservation of civilization through the art
of architecture.

The pueblo buildings (Figure 6-10), the Betakin Cliff Dwellings, in the National
Navajo Monument are also built out of and into the earth. The habitations are com-
munal, protected by their setting, high into the cliffs. The American Southwest is
notable for its adobe structures, adhering tightly to the earth, simple and arrestingly
beautiful in their sites. The Pueblo settlements survive even now in partial ruin,
striking because of their sense of rootedness in their setting.

Raw Materials

When the medium of architecture is made up totally or in large part of unfin-
ished materials furnished by nature, especially when they are from the site, as in
the Betakini Cliff Dwellings, these materials tend to stand forth and help reveal
the earthiness of the earth. In this respect, stone, wood, and clay in a raw or

FIGURE 6-10
Betakin Cliff Dwellings. Ancestral
(Anasazi) Pueblo buildings. Ruins at
the National Navajo Monument in
Arizona.

©Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

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relatively raw state are much more effective than steel, concrete, and glass. If the
Parthenon had been made in concrete rather than in native Pentelic marble—the
quarries can still be seen in the distance—the building would not grow out of
the soil so organically, and some of the feeling of the earth would be dissipated.
Also, if the paint that originally covered much of the Parthenon had remained,
the effect would be considerably less earthy than at present. Note, however, that
the dominant colors were terra-cotta reds, colors of the earth. Wright’s Kaufmann
house (Figure 6-11) is an excellent example of the combined use of manufactured
and raw materials that helps set forth the earth. The concrete and glass bring
out by contrast the textures of stone and wood taken from the site, while the
lacelike flow of the falling water is made even more graceful by its reflection in
the smooth clear flow of concrete and glass. Like a wide-spreading plant, draw-
ing the sunlight and rain to its good earth, this home seems to breathe within its
homeland. The Kaufmann house is an excellent example of the combined use
of manufactured and raw materials that helps set forth the earth. The concrete
and glass bring out by contrast the textures of stone and wood taken from the
site, while the lacelike flow of the falling water is made even more graceful by its
reflection in the smooth clear flow of concrete and glass. Like a wide-spreading
plant, drawing the sunlight and rain to its good earth, this home seems to breathe
within its homeland.

FIGURE 6-11
Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar J.
Kaufmann House, known as
Fallingwater. 1937–1939. Fifty
miles southeast of Pittsburgh, it
was described by Time magazine as
Wright’s “most beautiful job.”

©2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All
Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artist Rights
Society. Photo: ©Arcaid Images/Alamy

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Centrality
A building that is strongly centered, in both its outer and inner space, helps disclose
the earth. Perhaps no building is more centered in its site than the Parthenon, but
the weak centering of its inner space slackens somewhat the significance of the
earth. Unlike Chartres, there is no strong pull into the Parthenon and, when we get
inside, the inner space, as we reconstruct it, is divided in such a way that no certain
center can be felt. There is no place to come to an unequivocal standstill as at Char-
tres. Even Versailles (Figure 6-12), despite its seemingly never-ending partitions of
inner space, brings us eventually to somewhat of a center at the bed in Louis XIV’s
bedroom. Yet this centering is made possible primarily by the view from the room
that focuses both the pivotal position of the room in the building and the placement
of the room on a straight-line axis to Paris in the far distance. Conversely, the inner
space of Chartres, most of which from the crossing can be taken in with a sweep
of the eyes, achieves centrality without this kind of dependence upon outside ori-
entation. Buildings such as the Parthenon and Versailles, which divide the inner

PERCEPTION KEY Architecture and Materials
In his In Praise of Architecture, the Italian architect Giò Ponti writes, “Beautiful materi-
als do not exist. Only the right material exists. . . . Rough plaster in the right place is
the beautiful material for that place. . . . To replace it with a noble material would be
vulgar.”3

1. Do you agree with Ponti?
2. If you agree, refer to examples that corroborate Ponti’s point.
3. If you disagree, refer to examples that do not corroborate.

3Gio Ponte, In Praise of Architecture. New York: F.W. Dodge Corporation, 1960.

FIGURE 6-12
Louis le Vau and Jules Hardouin-
Mansart, Palace of Versailles, France.
1661–1687. France was governed
from this palace from 1682 until
the French Revolution of 1789. Its
immensity was designed to house the
entire Royal Court in a place several
miles from Paris, the official capital
of France.

©Ingram Publishing/SuperStock RF

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space with solid partitions, are weaker in inner centrality than buildings without
such divisions. The endless boxes within boxes of the Seagram Building (Figure 6-6)
negate any possibility of significant inner centering, adding to the unearthiness of
this cage of steel and glass.

Buildings in the round, other things being equal, are the most internally centered
of all. In the Pantheon (Figure 6-13), almost all the inner space can be seen with a
turn of the head, and the grand and clear symmetry of the enclosing shell draws

FIGURE 6-13
Giovanni Paolo Panini, Interior of
the Pantheon, Rome. Circa 1734.
Oil on canvas, 50½ × 39 inches. The
Pantheon dates from the second
century. It is notable for being
one of the only Roman buildings
still in use and still intact as it
originally was. The interior space
is overwhelming in part because it
contrasts dramatically with a very
plain exterior.

Source: Samuel H. Kress Collection/National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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us to the center of the circle, the privileged position, beneath the eye of the dome
opening to a bit of the sky. Few buildings root us more firmly in the earth. The
massive dome with its stony bluntness seems to be drawn down by the funneled
and dimly spreading light falling through the eye. This is a dome of destiny pressing
tightly down. We are driven earthward in this crushing ambience. Even on the out-
side, the Pantheon seems to be forcing down (Figure 6-14). In the circular interior
of Wright’s Guggenheim Museum (Figure 6-8), not all of the inner space can be
seen from the privileged position, but the smoothly curving ramp that comes down
like a whirlpool makes us feel the earth beneath as our only support. Whereas in
buildings such as Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, mass seems to be overcome,
the weight lightened, and the downward motion thwarted, in buildings such as the
Pantheon and the Guggenheim Museum, mass comes out heavily and down.

Sky-oriented arChiteCture
Architecture that is sky-oriented suggests or is symbolic of a world as the generating
agency that enables us to project our possibilities and realize some of them. A hori-
zon, always a necessary part of a world, is symbolic of the limitations placed upon
our possibilities and realizations. The light and heat of the sun are more symbolic
than anything else in nature of generative power. Dante declared, “There is no vis-
ible thing in the world more worthy to serve as symbol of God than the Sun; which

FIGURE 6-14
The Pantheon, Rome, exterior.
117–125 CE. The Greek facade,
eight Egyptian marble Corinthian
pillars, hides the drumlike structure
of the building, which was used as
a Christian church starting in the
seventh century.

©Canali Photobank, Italy

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illuminates with visible life itself first and then all the celestial and mundane bod-
ies.” Total darkness, at least until we can envision a world, is terrifying. That is why,
as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes proclaims, “The light is sweet, and a pleasant thing
it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” Architecture organizes a world, usually more
tightly than nature, by centering that world on the earth by means of a building.
By accentuating the natural symbolism of sunlight, sky, and horizon, sky-oriented
architecture opens up a world that is symbolic of our projections into the future.

Such architecture discloses a world by drawing our attention to the sky bounded
by a horizon. It accomplishes this by means of making a building appear high and
centered within the sky, defying gravity, and tightly integrating the light of outer
with inner space. Negatively, architecture that accents a world de-emphasizes the
features that accent the earth. Thus, the manufactured materials, such as the steel
and glass of the Seagram Building (Figure 6-6), help separate this building from the
earth. Positively, architects can accent a world by turning their structures toward
the sky in such a way that the horizon of the sky forms a spacious context. Architec-
ture is an art of bounding as well as opening.

PERCEPTION KEY Sky-Oriented Architecture
1. Identify the most sky-oriented building in your local community. Photograph that

building from an angle or angles that support your choice.

Stained glass, usually framed within a wall, is activated by penetrating light. Outside,
the great western rose window of Chartres (Figure 6-3) is only of sculptural interest.
Inside, on a sunny day, the cascade of flashing colors, especially blues, is overwhelm-
ing. No photograph can capture the sublimity. There is a “strangeness.” Our sight is
wired to see light falling on objects rather than shining through them.

2. Try to find in your local community any buildings with powerful stained glass. Do
you think stained glass is generally sky-oriented?

3. Do you think stained glass should be classified as an independent art distinct from
painting?

Barcelona’s Antonio Gaudí created one of the most striking modern buildings in
his Sagrada Família (Figures 6-15 to 6-17). Gaudí never lived to see the erection of
the four towers that dominate the facade. The interior space is not yet covered with
a roof, and this emphasizes the sky-orientation of the building. One’s eye is lifted
upward by almost every part of the building. Under construction for over a hundred
years, it may be at least another hundred years before the church is completed.
Work proceeds slowly, guided more or less by Gaudí’s general designs. Gaudí de-
veloped details and structures based on organic forms of nature through irregular
sweeping lines, shapes, and volumes. Geometric designs are subordinated. Tex-
tures vary greatly, often with strong contrasts between smooth and rough; and
sometimes, especially in the towers, brilliantly colored pieces of glass and ceramics
are embedded, sparkling in the sunlight. The effect is both sculptural—dense vol-
umes activating the surrounding space—and organic, as if a forest of plants were
stretching into the sky, searching for sunlight. The earth, despite its necessity, is
superseded. This is a building for heaven.

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FIGURE 6-15
Antonio Gaudí, Sagrada Família
(Church of the Holy Family, interior),
Barcelona. 1883–present. Gaudí
famously relied on organic forms to
create an idiosyncratic style.

©Vanni/Art Resource, NY

FIGURE 6-16
Sagrada Família, interior detail.
Gaudí merged traditional cathedral
details with flowing modern forms.

©Lee A. Jacobus

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Axis Mundi

Early civilizations often express a need for a world by centering themselves in rela-
tion to the sky by means of an axis mundi. Mircea Eliade cites many instances, for
example, among the nomadic Australians, whose economy is based on gathering
food and hunting small game:

According to the traditions of an Arunta tribe, the Achipla, in mythical times the divine
being Numbakula cosmicized their future territory, created their Ancestor, and estab-
lished their institutions. From the trunk of a gum tree Numbakula fashioned the sacred
pole (kauwa-auwa) and, after anointing it with blood, climbed it and disappeared into the
sky. This pole (the axis mundi) represents a cosmic axis, for it is around the sacred pole
that territory becomes habitable, hence is transformed into a world. The sacred pole con-
sequently plays an important role ritually. During their wanderings the Achipla always
carry it with them and choose the direction they are to take by the direction toward which
it bends. This allows them, while being continually on the move, to be always in “their
world” and, at the same time, in communication with the sky into which Numbakula

FIGURE 6-17
Sagrada Família, exterior detail.
Organic forms are clearly visible
on the exterior along with figures
typically found on the exteriors of
Gothic churches.

©Lee A. Jacobus

PERCEPTION KEY Sagrada Família
1. Compare Sagrada Família with Chartres (Figure 6-2). How do their sky-orienta-

tions differ? How are they similar? Compare Sagrada Família with any church well
known to you. What are the differences?

2. Chartres, Sagrada Família, and Notre Dame-du-Haut (Figure 3-4) are all Catholic
churches. Do they each reveal different expressions of religious values?

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vanished. For the pole to be broken denotes catastrophe; it is like “the end of the world,”
reversion to chaos. Spencer and Gillen report that once, when the pole was broken, “the
entire clan were in consternation; they wandered about aimlessly for a time, and finally
lay down on the ground together and waited for death to overtake them.”4

Buildings that stretch up far above the land and nearby structures, such as Char-
tres and Sagrada Família, not only direct our eyes to the sky but also act as a center
that orders the sunlight in such a way that a world with a horizon comes into view.
The sky both opens up and takes on limits. Such buildings reach up like an axis
mundi, and the sky reaches down to meet them in mutual embrace. And we are
blessed with an orienting center, our motion being given direction and limits.

Defiance of Gravity

The stony logic of the press of the flying buttresses of Chartres and the arched roof,
towers, and spires that carry on their upward thrust seem to overcome the binding
of the earth, just as the stone birds on the walls seem about to break their bonds
and fly out into the world. The reach up is full of vital force and finally comes to rest
comfortably and securely in the bosom of the heavens. Mont-Saint-Michel is even
more impressive in this respect, mainly because of the advantages of its site.

Perhaps Brunelleschi’s dome of the Cathedral of Florence (Figure 6-18) is the
most powerful structure ever built in seeming to defy gravity and achieving height
in relation to its site. The eight outside ribs spring up to the cupola with tremen-
dous energy, in part because they repeat the spring of the mountains that encircle

FIGURE 6-18
Filippo Brunelleschi, dome of the
Cathedral of Florence. 1420–1436.
One of the great architectural
achievements of the Renaissance,
the cathedral still dominates the
landscape of modern Florence.

©Douglas Pearson/Getty Images

4Source: Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, Brace,
1959), p. 32ff.

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Florence. The dome, visible from almost everywhere in and around Florence, ap-
pears to be precisely centered in the Arno Valley, precisely as high as it should be
in order to organize its sky. The world of Florence begins and ends at the still point
of this dome of aspiration.

Integration of Light

When the light of outer space suffuses the light of inner space, especially when the light
from the outside seems to dominate or draw the light from the inside, a world is ac-
cented. Inside Chartres, the light through the stained glass is so majestic that we cannot
fail to imagine the light outside that is generating the transfiguration inside. For a me-
dieval man like Abbot Suger, the effect was mystical, separating the earth from heaven:

When the house of God, many colored as the radiance of precious jewels, called me from
the cares of the world, then holy meditation led my mind to thoughts of piety, exalting
my soul from the material to the immaterial, and I seemed to find myself, as it were, in

FIGURE 6-19
Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy
Wisdom of God), Istanbul. 532–537;
restored 558, 975. Isadore and
Anthemius were nonprofessional
architects who used light materials
to create a huge well-lighted interior.

©David Pearson/Alamy

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some strange part of the universe which was neither wholly of the baseness of the earth,
nor wholly of the serenity of heaven, but by the grace of God I seemed lifted in a mystic
manner from this lower toward the upper sphere.

For a contemporary person, the stained glass is likely to be felt more as integrat-
ing rather than as separating us from a world. Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Figure 6-19)
has no stained glass, and its glass areas are completely dominated by the walls and
dome. Yet the subtle placement of the relatively small windows, especially around
the perimeter of the dome, seems to draw the light of the inner space up and out.
Unlike the Pantheon, the great masses of Hagia Sophia seem to rise. The dome
floats gently, despite its diameter of 107 feet, and the great enfolded space beneath
is absorbed into the even greater open space outside. We imagine a world.

Sky-oriented architecture reveals the generative activity of a world. The energy
of the sun is the ultimate source of all life. The light of the sun enables us to see the
physical environment and guides our steps accordingly. “Arise, shine, for thy light
is come” (Isaiah 60:1). The sky with its horizon provides a spacious context for our
progress. The world of nature vaguely suggests the potentialities of the future. Ar-
chitecture, however, tightly centers a world on the earth by means of its structures.
This unification gives us orientation and security.

earth-reSting arChiteCture
Most architecture accents neither earth nor sky but rests on the earth, using the
earth like a platform with the sky as background. Earth-resting buildings relate
more or less harmoniously to the earth. Mies van der Rohe’s residence for Edith
Farnsworth (Figure 6-20) in Plano, Illinois, is an example of a very harmonious

FIGURE 6-20
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe,
Farnsworth Residence, Plano, Illinois.
1950. Mies insisted on building with
the interior structure visible from
all angles.

©Jon Miller/Hedrich Blessing, Chicago

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relationship. Unlike sky-oriented architecture, the earth-resting type does not
strongly organize the sky around itself, as with Chartres (Figure 6-2) or the Cathe-
dral of Florence (Figure 6-18). The sky is involved with earth-resting architecture, of
course, but more as backdrop.

With earth-resting architecture—unlike earth-rooted architecture—the earth
does not appear as an organic part of the building, as in Wright’s Kaufmann
house (Figure 6-11). Rather, the earth appears as a stage. Earth-resting build-
ings, moreover, are usually cubes that avoid cantilevering structures, as in the
Kaufmann house, as well as curving lines, as in the Sagrada Família (Figure 6-15).
Earth-rooted architecture seems to “hug to” the earth, as with the Pantheon (Fig-
ure 6-14), or to grow out of the earth, as with the Kaufmann house. Earth-resting
architecture, on the other hand, seems to “sit on” the earth. Thus, because it does
not relate to its environment quite as strongly as earth-rooted and sky-oriented
architecture, this kind of architecture usually tends to draw to itself more isolated
attention with reference to its shape, articulation of the elements of its walls,
lighting, and so on.

Earth-resting architecture is usually more appropriate than earth-rooted ar-
chitecture when the site is severely bounded by other buildings. Perhaps this is a
basic deficiency of Wright’s Guggenheim Museum (Figure 6-7). In any case, it is
obvious that if buildings were constructed close to the Kaufmann house—especially
earth-resting or sky-oriented buildings—they would destroy much of the glory of
Wright’s creation.

earth-dominating arChiteCture
Unlike an earth-resting building, an earth-dominating building does not sit on but
“rules over” the earth. There is a sense of power and aggression. And unlike earth-
rooted buildings, such as the Pantheon (Figure 6-14) or the Kaufmann house (Fig-
ure 6-11), there is no feeling of an organic relationship between the building and
the earth.

Earth-dominating buildings generally are easily identified. Any work of archi-
tecture solicits attention. But earth-dominating buildings demand attention. Usually
earth-dominating buildings are large and massive, but those features do not nec-
essarily express earth-dominance. For example, Versailles is huge and heavy, but
its vast horizontal spread has, we think, the effect of earth-resting. The earth as a
platform holds its own with the palace. You can sense this much better from the
ground than from an aerial photograph (Figure 6-12). Study the East Wing of the
National Gallery of Art (Figure 6-21). Do you think the building is earth-resting or
earth-dominating? As you think about this, compare it to Sagrada Família (Figure
6-15). In Spain, Sagrada Familia is one of the best examples of earth-dominating
architecture.

You may find it difficult to locate earth-dominating buildings in your com-
munity. Palaces are rare, except in very wealthy communities. Few churches
exert anything close to the power of Chartres. Public buildings such as court-
houses tend to avoid aggressive appearance. They are expected to be traditional
and democratic. And buildings of commerce—from banks to malls—are meant
to invite.

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CombinationS oF typeS

FIGURE 6-21
I. M. Pei, East Wing of the National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1974–1978. The East Wing contains
modern and contemporary art. Pei’s
design features powerful geometric
forms.

©Randy Duchaine/Alamy

PERCEPTION KEY  The National Gallery and the Long Island Federal
Courthouse

1. Compare I. M. Pei’s East Wing addition to the National Gallery with Richard Mei-
er’s Courthouse. Which of these better respects the concept of form following
function?

2. Which of these buildings is more earth-resting? Which is more earth-rooted?
3. I. M. Pei relies heavily on the geometric form of the triangle. How do the many tri-

angles visible in I. M. Pei’s East Wing (Figure 6-21) and the National Gallery of Art
interior (Figure 6-22) express a source of power in the building? In terms of social
values, why are these forms revelatory?

4. Which geometric forms dominate Meier’s Courthouse (Figure 6-23)? In what way
are those forms revelatory of the function of the building? In what way are they
revelatory of social values?

It seems to us that the Courthouse might best be described as a combination of the
earth-resting and the earth-rooted. The earth-resting features, such as the sky as a
backdrop and the platform character of the earth, are fairly obvious. The earth-root-
edness is also there, however, because of the powerful effect of the huge rotunda
that rises at the entrance like a giant tree anchoring the building into the earth. The
Courthouse does not just use the earth but seems to belong to it. Some critics have
described the rotunda as a huge ugly nose that defaces a handsome face. What do
you think? Meier, incidentally, is the architect of the famous Getty Museum in Los
Angeles.

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FIGURE 6-22
National Gallery of Art interior.
The interior space of the walkway
connecting the two wings of the
museum is lighted by the triangular
skylights visible from the exterior.

©B. O’Kane/Alamy

FIGURE 6-23
Richard Meier, Long Island Federal
Courthouse, Central Islip, New York.
2000. A stark white building, it
is one of the largest courthouses
in the nation. It is designed to
accommodate public gatherings as
well as numerous individual courts.

©Robert Polidori

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and The Taj Mahal

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, 1991–1997 (Figures 6-24 to
6-26), was the culminating architectural sensation of the twentieth century, surpass-
ing in interest even Wright’s Guggenheim of 1959. Gehry, like many contemporary
architects, often uses the computer to scan models and flesh out the possibilities

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of his designs. The titanium-swathed structure changes drastically and yet har-
moniously from every view: For example, from across the Nervion River that cuts
through Bilbao the Guggenheim looks something like a whale. The locals say that
from the bridge it looks like a colossal artichoke, from the south a bulging, bloom-
ing flower. The billowing volumes, mainly cylindrical, spiral upward, as if blown by
gently sweeping winds.

Inside, smooth curves dominate perpendiculars and right angles, propelling vis-
itors leisurely from each gallery or room to another with constantly changing per-
spectives, orderly without conventional order.

FIGURE 6-24
Frank O. Gehry, Guggenheim
Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain.
1991–1997. View from across
the river. Gehry’s titanium-clad
free-flowing forms have been made
possible by the computer and have
become his signature style.

©Marco Brivio/Getty Images

FIGURE 6-25
Aerial view of Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao. The view from the air reveals
powerful interrelationships of
geometric forms with the almost
floral organic forms that flow from
rectilinear “stems.”

©agefotostock/Superstock

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FIGURE 6-26
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao,
interior. The sculpture is by Richard
Serra.

©View Pictures/UIG/Getty Images

PERCEPTION KEY Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
1. Is the Guggenheim earth-rooted, earth-resting, earth-dominating, or sky-oriented?

Could it be a combination? It would be helpful if you could examine more photo-
graphs (see, for instance, Frank O. Gehry: The Complete Works, by Francesco Dal Co
and Kurt W. Forster [New York: Monacelli Press, 1998]).

2. Identify a building in your community that is an example of a combination of types.
Photograph that building from the angle or angles that support your choice.

EXPERIENCING The Taj Mahal

1. Would you recognize the function of the building if you did not know its name?
2. Which type does this building fulfill, earth-resting, earth-rooted, or sky-oriented?
3. Compare The Taj Mahal with the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (Figure 6-1). Both

are mortuary monuments to women. Which seems more gender-linked? Which is
most earth-centered?

4. The Taj Mahal (Figure 6-27) has been described as a monument to the love of Shah
Jehan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. What formal qualities suggest that this building
is revelatory of Shah Jehan’s love? Of what else might the form of The Taj Mahal
be considered revelatory? 

5. Because the Pyramid of Cheops (Figure 5-6), the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut,
and The Taj Mahal are all mausoleums, is it possible to think of these buildings as
revelatory of memorials to the dead? Which is more instantly recognizable as func-
tioning as a tomb? What might they reveal about attitudes toward death? continued

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High-Rises and Skyscrapers
Some of the most dramatic examples of the combination of types occur when tradi-
tional architecture is fused with contemporary architecture, as happens quite often
in China and Malaysia. With a population of over 8 million and rapidly growing,
closely crowded around a huge and superb port, Kuala Lumpur had Argentine ar-
chitect Cesar Pelli design the Petronas Towers (Figure 6-28), which was the tallest
building in the world in 1996 and is still the tallest twin towers in the world.

From outside, the buildings of Hong Kong as a conglomerate appear overwhelm-
ingly sky-oriented. Most of the skyscrapers appear to penetrate the heavens, aided in
their thrust by the uplift of the background mountains. Photographs cannot do justice
to this effect. The earthly tops of the Shanghai high-rise type are rare, and the Hong
Kong buildings generally are considerably higher than those of Shanghai. “Skyscraper”
more than “high-rise” more accurately describes these Hong Kong buildings. Some-
times verticality stretches so powerfully that even the diagonal struts of I. M. Pei’s Bank
of China Tower (Figure 6-29)—one of the tallest buildings in Hong Kong—may appear to
stretch imaginatively beyond the top of the roof into vertical straight lines.

The Taj Mahal is one of the most famous buildings in
the world. It was built as a monument to Shah Jehan’s
third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. When
you look at the building, its form is dazzling and com-
pelling, but what is its function? What are the first
thoughts that come to mind? For one thing, the mina-
rets at the corner of the site were designed to be used
for the call to prayer, so it is reasonable to think of the
building as a mosque. There is a separate mosque on
the grounds of The Taj Mahal, but The Taj Mahal itself
is a mausoleum, a tomb that houses Shah Jehan and
his wife Mumtaz Mahal, finished in 1648. The main
level holds two sarcophagi (marble burial vaults) that
are richly decorated with Arabic religious scripts, but
because Islamic law prohibits elaborate decorations on
the actual coffins, both Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mahal
are buried in simpler sarcophagi on a lower level, with
their faces turned toward Mecca.

Shah Jehan constructed many buildings during his
reign over the Mughal Empire in India. The Mughals,
descendants of Mongols living in Turkestan, became
Muslims in the fifteenth century. Notable for their
arts, architecture, and respect for religious freedom,
they dominated India in the sixteenth and seven-
teenth centuries. Their influences were Persian, as illustrated in the “onion” dome of
the building, Islamic as illustrated by the copious script acting as decorative features
throughout, and Indian as illustrated by the arched doors and windows. The majority
population, Hindu citizens, were treated fairly, but the undoing of the great Mughal
Empire came with the rise of Shah Jehan’s son Aurangzeb, who imposed strict Sharia
law on the entire populace and thus doomed the Mughals, whose empire was weak-
ened by revolts and internal decay lasting another century and a half.

FIGURE 6-27
The Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. 1653. Shah Jehan, the Mughal
emperor, built The Taj in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in
1631. One of the most visited buildings in the world, it is in some danger
because of the subsidence of a nearby river. Its architect, Ustad Ahmad
Lahauri, was one of thousands of craftsmen and designers who finished the
primary building in a little more than fifteen years.

©Seb c’est bien/Shutterstock RF

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From inside the city, the architectural impressions of Hong Kong are generally
another story (Figure 6-30). The skyscrapers usually abut, crowd, mirror, and slant
into each other, often from odd angles, blocking a full view, closing and overwhelm-
ing the spaces between. Unlike New York City, where the grid of broad straight
avenues provides breathing room for the skyscraper, the narrow crooked streets
that dominate Hong Kong rarely allow for more than truncated views of the build-
ings. Except on the waterfront, only small patches of the sky are usually visible.
The skyscrapers press down. Gravity is overbearing. Sometimes the atmosphere is

FIGURE 6-28
Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia. Cesar Pelli, 1993–
1996. The tallest twin towers in the
world, these buildings are influenced
by the traditional Buddhist temples
that were common in Southeast
Asia. The influence links temples of
spiritual contemplation with temples
of business.

©lim_atos/123rf.com

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FIGURE 6-29
I. M. Pei, Bank of China Tower, Hong
Kong. 1982–1990. At seventy-
two stories high, this is Hong
Kong’s tallest building. One of Pei’s
challenges was to satisfy the needs
of feng shui, the proper positioning
of the building and its angles.

©QT Luong/terragalleria.com

FIGURE 6-30
Cityscape in Hong Kong. The
crowding of buildings is typical in this
small city.

©Michel Setboun/The Image Bank/Getty
Images

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claustrophobic. Inside Hong Kong the skyscrapers are usually more earth-dominat-
ing than sky-oriented. In New York City there are a few areas of this kind, but even
there, Park Avenue provides an extensive clearing.

PERCEPTION KEY High-Rises in Asia
1. Examine the top structures of the high-rises in Hong Kong. Are these tops hor-

izontally oriented as with the Seagram Building (Figure 6-6), or are they more
vertically oriented as with The Taj Mahal?

2. Are these top structures suggestive of structures normally built on and belonging
to the earth, such as temples, pagodas, restaurants, and porches?

3. The Chinese usually use the term “high-rise” rather than “skyscraper.” Is this sig-
nificant? If so, in what way?

4. A Chinese architect in Shanghai commented to one of the authors, “In our big cities we
build high for practical purposes, just as in the West. But the culture of China is much
more traditional than the culture of the West, especially in its arts. With painting, for
example, it often takes an expert to identify a twentieth- or twenty-first-century work
from earlier centuries. The painter begins by imitating a style and then evolves a style
that never loses its roots. Likewise, the Chinese architect tends to be very sensitive to
the styles of the past, and that past is more reverent to the earth than to the sky.” Is
this comment relevant to the toppings of many of the Asian high-rises?

PERCEPTION KEY The Turning Torso
1. Is the building sky-oriented?
2. Is it earth-oriented?
3. Is it a combination?

It seems to the authors that the Turning Torso is a combination of sky- and earth-
orientation. The horizontal gaps that divide the building disect powerful sweeping verti-
cal edges. The top of the building, unlike the Kuala Lumpur example, has no earthlike
structures. Surely this building, especially with its spatial isolation, is sky-oriented.
And yet the aptly named Turning Torso seems to be twisting fantastically on the earth
as one walks around it. Or from the perspective of our photograph, the building seems
to be striding toward the right. Whatever the view, the Turning Torso is horizontally
kinetic, totally unlike the static Seagram Building. The Turning Torso is an extraordinary
example, we think, of a combination of sky-orientation and earth-domination, unlike
the Hong Kong examples, which are sky-oriented and earth-resting.

Study the photograph of Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower at Eighth Avenue and
Fifty-Seventh Street, New York City (Figure 6-32) . Check the Internet for different

FIGURE 6-31
Santiago Calatrava, “Turning
Torso,” high-rise, Malmö, Sweden.
1999–2000. The twisting design
derived from one of Calatrava’s own
sculptures.

©Johan Furusjo/Alamy

The high-rise in Malmö, Sweden (Figure 6-31)—often described as the “Turning
Torso”—by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, provides splendid views for
most of the 147 apartments. At the core of the building, stairs and elevators pro-
vide internal communication. The service rooms—kitchen, bath, and utilities—are
grouped around that core, freeing the living-room spaces for the outside world. The
tallest building in Scandinavia, the Turning Torso is bound by struts forming trian-
gles, reducing the use of steel by about 20 percent compared to the conventional
box structure such as the Seagram Building.

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FIGURE 6-32
Norman Foster, Hearst Tower, New
York City. 2006. The project was
to build on top of a seventy-eight-
year-old limestone building whose
interior was essentially gutted to
accommodate the tower, which rises
sharply and suddenly above the
conventional lower section.

©Chuck Choi/Arcaid/Getty Images

PERCEPTION KEY Hearst Tower
1. Does the tower strike you as more or less interesting than the two adjoining sky-

scrapers? Why?
2. Would you describe the building as earth-rooted, earth-dominating, sky-oriented,

or some combination? As you think about this, notice how the great triangular
panels of glass reflect the sky (at night, of course, there is the reflection of lights).

3. Compare the Hearst Tower with the two buildings near it. What is revelatory about
the Hearst Tower that is not revelatory about the other buildings?

views. Don’t miss this building if you are in New York City, viewing it from dif-
ferent angles. The six lower floors of the original building were gutted except for
the four facades. Thus, the tower seems to rise from the top of the facades, which
strangely appear to provide a platform.

We suggest that the tower is most accurately described as sky-oriented. The plat-
form’s earth-resting effect is overwhelmed by the great soaring beautiful volumes of

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FOCUS ON The Alhambra
The Alhambra (Figure 6-33) is one of the world’s
most dazzling works of architecture. Its beginnings
in the Middle Ages were modest, a fortress on a hilly
flatland above Granada built by Arab invaders—
Moors—who controlled much of Spain. In time,
the fortress was added to, and by the fourteenth
century the Nasrid dynasty demanded a sumptuous
palace and King Yusuf I (1333–1352) began con-
struction. After his death it was continued by his
son Muhammad V (1353–1391).

While the needs of a fortress were still evident, in-
cluding the plain massive exterior walls, the Nasrids
wanted the interior to be luxurious, magnificent, and
beautiful. The Alhambra is one of the world’s most astounding examples of beautifully
decorated architecture. The builders created a structure that was different from any that
had been built in Islam. But at the same time, they depended on many historical traditions
for interior decoration, such as the Seljuk, Mughal, and Fatimid styles. Because Islam for-
bade the reproduction in art of the human form, we see representations of flowers, plants,
vines, and other natural objects in the midst of elaborate designs, including Arabic script.

The   aerial view (Figure 6-34) reveals the siting of the Alhambra rising above trees
surrounding it. The large square structure was added much later by Charles V, after the
Nasrid dynasty collapsed and the Moors were driven from Spain. 

The Alhambra was a fortress, a palace, and a res-
idence for supportive staff, and it included a harem
and a mosque. The structure of three inner courts
was connected to functional complexes, such as a
court of justice and a hall of welcoming for ambas-
sadors, the largest interior room. The Court of the
Myrtles is a large central space with a pool fed with
water through ingenious management of a nearby
river. The Court of the Lions (Figure 6-35) is the
large reception hall, with doors leading to family
tombs, the mosque, and other rooms. The fountain
is surrounded by twelve lions, and a different lion
spewed water each hour of the day and night.

The delicacy of the slender upright posts sup-
porting Arabic arches is supplemented by the de-
tails of the muqarna—layers of stalagtite-like decorative tiles (Figure 6-36). The
reflecting light illuminates the spaces above the head of the visitor. One of the au-
thors, standing in the court, felt the sublimity of the colors and the lighting in the
open spaces but also evident beneath the overhang leading to the outer rooms. His
sense of participation yielded a revelation of the spiritual connection to the beautiful. 

One of the unexpected delights of visiting the Alhambra is seeing how the architects took
advantage of the very intense spring and summer sunshine in Grenada. The light bathes
every surface, and because almost every surface is decorated with tile or with carvings, one

FIGURE 6-33
The Alhambra, Granada, Spain.
Circa 1370–1380. “Alhambra”
may be translated as red, possibly a
reference to the color of the bricks
of its outer walls. It sits on high
ground above the town.

©Daniel Viñé Garcia/Getty Images RF

FIGURE 6-34
Aerial view of the Alhambra complex.
The large square structure was
added much later and destroyed part
of the original complex. The exterior
of the Alhambra is modest and
typical of some early fortitifications.

©Manuel Hurtado/Shutterstock RF

triangular glass. The tower overwhelms the earth. Its flat topping doesn’t penetrate
the sky, like the two fellow skyscrapers, but,with its reflecting glass mirrors, it merges
with the sky. The tower would seem to be most accurately described as sky-oriented.

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continued

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sees every design with clarity. The incised carvings
on the capitals of each pillar hold a stylized phrase,
such as the Nasrid motto, but the carvings yield to
the light in surprising ways, changing and enriching
the vista through the hours of the day. Today the
Alhambra is lighted electrically, but when it was built
we must imagine a rich firelight designed to warm
the king and his harem. Moreover, the problem of
intense summer heat is solved by the open spaces
and fenestration (Figure 6-37) angled to the advan-
tage of the prevailing breezes on the high ground.

After many generations of struggle, the Chris-
tian Spaniards drove the Moors out of Spain in
1492. Almost immediately, the Alhambra was des-
ecrated and Charles V destroyed part of it to build
a large castle with a circular interior space. People
destroyed many of the things the Moors left be-
hind, and in time the complex was abandoned to
squatters. In the early 1800s English travelers—
during the Romantic period—rediscovered the Al-
hambra and reconstruction and restoration began
in earnest. What we see today is the result of more
than 200 hundred years of careful uncovering and
reclaiming the beauty of the original. Today it is
one of the most visited places in Europe.

FIGURE 6-35
The Court of the Lions, the Alhambra. One of the
largest open courts in the Alhambra, the space was
for large receptions. The fountain was fed through
a hydraulic system, with the lions spewing the
fountain’s water. Today all twelve lions spew water,
but originally each lion took a turn each hour.

©Shaun Egan/Getty Images RF

FIGURE 6-36
Detail of decorations in the columnar supports in the Alhambra. The script is the
motto of the Nasrid dynasty: “There is no victor but Allah.” The motto of the Nasrid
dynasty is repeated hundreds of times carved in stone. But recent examination
of decorations in the lower half of the walls has revealed that some of the script
is poetry, suggesting that inscriptions high on the ceiling—toward heaven—are
drawn from the Qu’ran, while those below are humane.

©Paolo Gallo/Shutterstock RF

FIGURE 6-37
The Queen’s Window, the Alhambra. One of the most outstanding vistas in the
Alhambra, this window is sumptuous in its beauty in part because of the way the
Grenadian light seems to wash every surface. The arch high above both openings
is constructed of repeated muqarnas layered one receding row upon another. The
intensely colored tile decorations on the lower half of the walls are typical of the
Islamic effort to use natural forms for enriching the surfaces of almost every room.

©kossarev56/Shutterstock RF

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urban pLanning
Nowhere has the use of space become more critical in our time than in the city. In
conclusion, therefore, the issues we have been discussing about space and architec-
ture take on special relevance with respect to city planning.

The conglomerate architecture visible in Figure 6-38, surrounding a large church
on Park Avenue, New York, makes us aware that the setting of many interesting

PERCEPTION KEY The Alhambra
1. Comment on the relation of the setting of the Alhambra to the earth below and the

sky above. If it is described as earth-resting on the outside, how might one describe
it on the inside?

2. The Alhambra was a fortress, a palace, and a residence. What does your observa-
tion about the form of the structure—as far as you can observe it—tell you about
its function? How significant is the question of form fitting function to helping you
respond to the building?

3. The Islamic architects and builders lavished attention on detail throughout the Al-
hambra. What does such attention to luxury and beauty reveal about the people
who ruled and lived in the Alhambra? What social values can you divine from what
you have seen of the building?

4. Modern architects have resisted decorating their buildings. In the early decades
of the twentieth century, decoration was almost flamboyant, as in the Art-Deco
Chrysler Building. The Greeks decorated their buildings, as did the Egyptians. What
values may be revealed about a society that favors heavily decorated buildings?

5. Compare your response to The Taj Mahal to your response to the Alhambra.
Which of these buildings would you most like to visit? Which seems the most ex-
otic in architectural terms? Which is more spiritual in its expression? Which is
more worldly? What do you base your judgment on?

FIGURE 6-38
St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park
Avenue, New York City. 1902. Once
a dominant building, it now seems
dwarfed by nearby office buildings.
Bertram Goodhue was the architect,
with the portico done by McKim,
Meade, and White.

©Lee A. Jacobus

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buildings so completely overwhelms them that we hardly know how to respond. An
urban planner might decide to unify styles of buildings or to separate buildings so
as to permit us to participate with them more individually. The scene suggests that
there has been little or no planning. Of course, some people might argue that such
an accidental conglomeration is part of the charm of urban centers. One might feel,
for example, that part of the pleasure of looking at a church is responding to its con-
trast with its surroundings. For some people, a special energy is achieved in such a
grouping. A consensus is unlikely. Other people are likely to find the union of old
and new styles—without first arranging some kind of happy marriage—a travesty.
The dome of a church capped by a skyscraper! The church completely subdued by
business! What do you think? These are the kinds of problems, along with political
and social complications, that city planners must address.

Consider the view along a canal in Amsterdam (Figure 6-39). The regularity of the
buildings implies a form of planning that limits the height and size of each structure.
The scale of the city is measured in terms of an individual person—the city is a friendly
place, small enough to be comprehended, large enough to provide all the services of a
civilized center. In the streets of New York, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, one feels almost
swallowed by the looming towers on all sides. In Amsterdam, with its bicycles and
picturesque canals, one feels a sense of intimacy and welcoming. Because of the canals,
the spaces between rows of buildings are open. Light streams in, even on overcast days.

Figure 6-40 shows the early development of Greenwich Village, New York City.
Simplicity, economy, and symmetry determined the shape of buildings that were
originally held to four- or five-story walk-ups. The buildings were frequently mixed
use, with businesses on the first floor. Obviously the fire escapes, which dominate
such buildings, were an afterthought.

FIGURE 6-39
Amsterdam street scene. Some
of these buildings date back to
the eighteenth century. Five
stories seem to be the limit in this
neighborhood. These are residential
and businesses along the canal. 

©Lee A. Jacobus

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ARCHITECTURE

FIGURE 6-40
A typical facade on an anonymous building in
Greenwich Village, New York City. The design is
rudimentary and the buildings rarely more than
four stories high. This is an earth-centered, humble
structure.

©Lee A. Jacobus

PERCEPTION KEY Urban Views
1. Would you prefer to live in a humble building in Greenwich Village or in one of the

buildings on a canal in Amsterdam?
2. Suppose St. Bartholomew’s Church was no longer being used for religious pur-

poses. As a city planner, would you preserve or destroy it? 
3. Do you find the scene around the church visually attractive? Compare this scene

with the main avenue of Dubai (Figure 6-41), a city audaciously built on the Per-
sian Gulf in a few recent decades. Dubai’s growth was planned and controlled; New
York’s growth was largely unplanned and little controlled. Would you prefer, other
things being more or less equal, to live in a city with architecture like New York or
architecture like Dubai?

Suppose spacious parking lots were located around the fringes of the city, rapid pub-
lic transportation were readily available from those lots into the city, and in the city
only public and emergency transportation—most of it underground—were permitted.
In place of poisonous fumes, screeching noises, and jammed streets, there could be
fresh air, fountains, flowers, sculpture, music, wide-open spaces to walk and talk in
and enjoy, benches, and open theaters. Without the danger of being run over, all the
diversified characters of a city—theaters, opera, concert halls, museums, shops, offices,
restaurants, parks, squares—could take on some spatial unity. Furthermore, we could
get to those various places without nervous prostration and the risk of life and limb.

One of the threats to cities around the world is the rising level of the oceans, a
result of climate change. The Inuit people living near the North Pole are already

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experiencing the subsidence of their old settlements near the edge of ice that has been
secure for ages. People are leaving to move to more southerly areas to avoid calamity.
The threats to island nations in the South Pacific have people worried about their fu-
ture. The disappearance of island nations such as Micronesia—more than 600 islands
spanning a million square miles of the Pacific—is already happening. The Seasteading
project (Figure 6-42) hopes to provide floating islands for parts of French Polynesia,
which is said to be threatened with destruction in less than half a century.

FIGURE 6-41
Main road, Dubai. This nation has
been building high-rises and other
structures in a pristine environment,
making urban planning an absolute
necessity.

©Simeone Huber/Getty Images

CONCEPTION KEY City Planning
1. Do you think the city ought to be saved? Why not just spread out, without the cen-

tralized functions of a city? What advantages does the city alone have? What still
gives glamour to such cities as Florence, Venice, Rome, Paris, Vienna, and London?

2. Suppose you are a city planner for New York City, and assume that funds are avail-
able to implement your plans. What would you propose? How would you preserve
or develop local neighborhoods? Would you start over or build on what exists?

3. Would you allow factories within the city limits? How would you handle transportation
to and within the city? For instance, would you allow expressways to slice through the
city, as in Detroit and Los Angeles? If you banned private cars from the city, what would
you do with the streets? What transportation system would you favor?

4. If floating islands represent a solution to the rising of the oceans, what must they
provide in terms of culture to make them livable? Cities are not just a matter of
buildings. How can a floating island replicate the culture that it would save?

5. If floating islands are required to save a culture as different and widespread as
Micronesia or French Polynesia, who should pay for building the islands? Should
the nations who most contributed to the change in climate pay? Should they be
responsible for designing and constructing the islands?

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Summary
Architecture is the creative conservation of centralized space—the power of the po-
sitioned interrelationships of things. The spatial centers of nature organize things
around them, and architecture enhances these centers. Architects carve apart an
inner space from an outer space in such a way that both spaces become more fully
perceptible, and especially the inner space can be used for practical purposes. A
work of architecture is a configurational center, a place of special value, a place to
dwell. Architects must account for four basic and closely interrelated necessities:
technical requirements, function, spatial relationships, and content. To succeed,
their forms must adjust to these necessities. Because of the public character of archi-
tecture, moreover, the common or shared values of contemporary society usually
are in a direct way a part of architects’ subject matter. Architecture can be classified
into four main types. Earth-rooted architecture brings out with special force the
earth and its symbolisms. Such architecture appears organically related to the site,
its materials, and gravity. Sky-oriented architecture brings out with special force
the sky and its symbolisms. Such architecture discloses a world by drawing our
attention to the sky bounded by a horizon. It accomplishes this positively by means
of making a building high and centered within the sky, defying gravity, and tightly
integrating the light of outer and inner space. Negatively, this kind of architecture
de-emphasizes the features that accent the earth. Earth-resting architecture accents
neither earth nor sky but rests on the earth, using the earth as a platform with
the sky as backdrop. Earth-dominating architecture rules over the earth. There is a

FIGURE 6-42
Seastead floating cities. A non-profit
institute is planning floating cities
for French Polynesia. The illustration
shows a plan for bio-growing bubbles
to supply food in the ocean.

Courtesy of the Seasteading Institute

161

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sense of aggression, and such buildings seem to say that humanity is the measure
of all things. In recent years, more and more combinations of these four types have
been built.

If we have been near the truth, architects are the shepherds of space. And if we
are sensitively aware of their buildings and their relationships, we help, in our hum-
ble way, to preserve their work. Architects can make space a welcoming place. Such
places, like a home, give us a center from which we can orient ourselves to the other
places around us. And then in a way we can feel at home anywhere.

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©Art Collection 2/Alamy

C h a p t e r 7

LITERATURE

Spoken Language and Literature
The basic medium of literature is spoken language. Eons before anyone thought
to write it down, literature was spoken and sung aloud. Homer’s great epics, The
Iliad and The Odyssey, may date from 800 BCE or earlier. They were memorized by
poets, who sang the epics to the plucking of a harplike instrument while entertain-
ing royalty at feasts. The tradition of memorizing and reciting such immense works
survived into the twentieth century.

In the Middle Ages, St. Augustine was surprised to see St. Ambrose reading
without making a sound. Before the printing press was invented, monks copied
books by hand, and they would speak the words softly to themselves as they wrote.
In the fourteenth century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote down his Canterbury Tales for
convenience, more than a century before the invention of the printing press. But
he read his tales out loud to an audience of courtly listeners who were much more
attuned to hearing a good story than to reading it. Today people interested in liter-
ature are usually described as readers, which underscores the dependence we have
developed on the printed word for our literary experiences. Yet words “sound”
even when read silently, and the sound is an essential part of the sense, or meaning,
of the words.

Literature—like music, dance, film, and drama—is a serial art. In order to perceive
it, we must be aware of what is happening now, remember what happened before,
and anticipate what is to come. This is not so obvious with a short lyric poem be-
cause we are in the presence of something akin to a painting: It seems to be all there

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in front of us all at once. But one word follows another: one sentence, one line, or
one stanza after another. There is no way to perceive the all-at-onceness of a literary
work as we sometimes perceive a painting, although short lyrics come close.

Most lyric poetry was intended to be spoken aloud, and few poems invite rec-
itation more than John Masefield’s 1902 poem, “Cargoes.” Masefield, the poet lau-
reate of Great Britain for much of his life, had many opportunities to hear English
schoolchildren recite this poem for him.

CARGOES

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

“Cargoes” is structured into three stanzas representing three historical eras. The first
stanza, with its reference to Nineveh, a city in ancient Assyria older than the Bible,
points to a marvelous age with incredible wealth and beauty. The Spanish galleon is a
reference to the sixteenth century, when gold was brought from the new world to the
kings and queens of Spain. The modern age is represented by a “Dirty British coaster”
sailing in with a cargo of “pig lead” and “cheap tin trays.” Masefield appears to be look-
ing backward to periods of past glory against which the modern age looks tawdry.

The language of the poem is carefully chosen to imply the valuation he gives
to each age, just as the brilliance and beauty of the selected cargo ship reveals the
quality of that age. A Quinquireme is an ancient galley from more than 2000 years
ago. It had three tiers of oars, with five men to each oar. When you say the word
“Quinquireme” aloud you may imagine something of richness and beauty, which is
what Masefield hopes you will see in your mind’s eye. That ship carries cargo that
stimulates and satisfies the senses: ivory, touch; peacocks, sight; sandalwood, smell;
sweet white wine, taste; and the language, sound.

The Spanish galleon evokes pictures of the grandeur of the high seas in South Amer-
ica. It sails from the “Isthmus,” panama, and its cargo evokes images of wealth and roy-
alty: diamonds, precious stones, and “gold moidores.” Just saying the word “moidores”
stimulates one to imagine great trunks of spilling magnificent gleaming gold coins.

The “Dirty British coaster,” besmirched by its “salt-caked smoke stack” is, by
comparison with the first two cargo ships, insignificant and crude. Its cargo may
be important to commerce, but it is vulgar. Masefield chooses language care-
fully. Words like “coal,” “Road-rails, pig-lead,” and “cheap tin trays” do not come

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“trippingly off the tongue.” Say them aloud and then go back and say the words
describing earlier cargo. Masefield makes us feel, through the sound of the words,
the distinction among three great historical eras.

PERCEPTION KEY “Cargoes”
1. Read the poem aloud to someone who has not seen it before. What is his or her

reaction to the sounds of the key words? How does he or she evaluate the three
cargo ships and their cargoes?

2. Which historical era is most successfully represented by Masefield?
3. After reading the poem to a friend and asking for an opinion, explain that quin-

quiremes were rowed by slaves chained to their seats. Explain that the Spanish
galleons were bringing gold stolen from conquered Indians. Then explain to your
friend that the British coaster was bringing cheap goods for a democratic society
and the seamen were free. How do these details affect your friend’s view of the
poem? How does it affect your view of the poem?

4. Is it appropriate to respond to the poem by introducing information that Masefield
may not have intended us to know? What details suggest that Masefield wanted
you to ignore the unpleasant aspects of the social conditions of the ancient eras?

5. How does additional knowledge of the historical references in the poem condition your
understanding of the subject matter of the poem? What is the poem’s subject matter?

6. What do you think is the content of this poem?

Ezra pound once said, “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning
to the utmost possible degree.” The ways in which writers intensify their language
and “charge” it with meaning are many. First, they need to attend to the basic ele-
ments of literature because, like architecture, a work of literature is, in one sense, a
construction of separable elements. The details of a scene, a character or event, or a
group of symbols can be conceived of as the bricks in the wall of a literary structure.
If one of these details is imperfectly perceived, our understanding of the function of
that detail—and, in turn, of the total structure—will be incomplete.

The theme (main idea) of a literary work usually involves a structural decision,
comparable to an architectural decision about the kind of space being enclosed.
Decisions about the sound of the language, the characters, the events, the setting
are comparable to the decisions regarding the materials, size, shape, and landscape
of architecture. It is helpful to think of literature as works composed of elements
that can be discussed individually in order to gain a more thorough perception of
them. And it is equally important to realize that the discussion of these individual
elements leads to a fuller understanding of the whole structure. Details are orga-
nized into parts, and these, in turn, are organized into structure.

Consider Amy Lowell’s 1919 poem:

VENUS TRANSIENS*

Tell me,
Was Venus more beautiful
Than you are,

*Amy Lowell, “Venus Transiens” from Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, ed. Harriet Monroe, April 1915.

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When she topped
The crinkled waves,
Drifting shoreward
On her plaited shell?
Was Botticelli’s vision
Fairer than mine;
And were the painted rosebuds
He tossed his lady,
Of better worth
Than the words I blow about you
To cover your too great loveliness
As with a gauze
Of misted silver?
For me,
You stand poised
In the blue and buoyant air,
Cinctured by bright winds,
Treading the sunlight
And the waves which precede you
Ripple and stir
The sands at my feet.

Amy Lowell was one of the Imagist School of poets. Imagists relied less on the
kind of discourse that John Masefield employed and more on the effort to paint a
picture. The references to “crinkled waves,” “plaited shell,” “painted rosebuds,” and
“a gauze / Of misted silver” all demand visualization on the part of the reader. The
poem begins with three rhetorical questions that the imagery indirectly answers.

The reference in the title is to the Birth of Venus, the Renaissance painting of
Venus, goddess of love, standing on a seashell on the edge of the ocean, by Sandro
Botticelli. Botticelli’s Venus is a nude idealizing beauty. Lowell imagines her lover,
Amy Dwyer Russell, with whom she lived from 1912 to 1925, as Venus.

The power of imagery in “You stand poised / In the blue and buoyant air, /
Cinctured by bright winds / Treading the sunlight” conjures a picture of beauty and
desire, emblematic of the goddess of love and the idealization of the living woman
to whom the poem is addressed.

Our structural emphasis in the following pages will be on the narrative—both
the episodic narrative, in which all or most of the parts are loosely interrelated,
and the organic narrative, in which the parts are tightly interrelated. Once we
have explored some of the basic structures of literature, we will examine some
of the more important details. In everyday language situations, what we say is
usually what we mean. But in a work of literature, language is rarely that simple.
Language has denotation, a literal level where words mean what they obviously
say, and connotation, a subtler level where words mean more than they obviously
say. When we are being denotative, we say the rose is sick and mean nothing
more than that. But if we are using language connotatively, we might mean any
of several things by such a statement. When the poet William Blake says the rose
is sick (see “The Sick Rose” later in this chapter), he is describing a symbolic
rose, something very different from a literal rose. Blake may mean that the rose is
morally sick, spiritually defective, and that in some ways we are like the rose. The
image, metaphor, symbol, irony, and diction (word choices) are the main details

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of literary language that will be examined. All are found in poetry, fiction, drama,
and even the essay.

Literary StructureS

The Narrative and the Narrator

The narrative is a story told to an audience by a teller controlling the order of
events and the emphasis those events receive. Most narratives concentrate upon
the events. But some narratives have little action: They reveal depth of character
through responses to action. Sometimes the narrator is a character in the fiction;
sometimes the narrator pretends an awareness of an audience other than the
reader. However, the author controls the narrator; and the narrator controls the
reader. participate with the following narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

ULYSSES

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,– cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all,–
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–

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Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,– you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

PERCEPTION KEY “Ulysses”
1. Who narrates this poem?
2. What do the events of the poem reveal about the narrator?
3. To whom is the narrator telling this story? Why?
4. Did the narrator have an exciting life? Is having an exciting life important for a full

understanding of the poem?
5. What is the narrator telling us?
6. Where is the narrator while telling this story?

The narrator of “Ulysses” is Ulysses, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Ulysses is
the Roman name for the Greek hero Odysseus. In Homer, Ulysses spends ten

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years at the battle of Troy and another ten years coming home to Ithaca to his
wife, penelope. At the time of Tennyson’s poem, the great hero is an old man, but
he is tired of staying at home and anxious to test his mettle—to see if he can live a
life of adventure. For Ulysses the question is whether he can find a way to make
life worth living. Do you admire Ulysses for demanding that he go off again on
an adventure, or do you think he should stay at home with his wife, who waited
twenty years for him? How do you think Tennyson would have answered that
question?

The Episodic Narrative

An episodic narrative describes one of the oldest kinds of literature, embodied by
epics such as Homer’s Odyssey. We are aware of the overall structure of the story
centering on the adventures of Odysseus, but each adventure is almost a complete
entity in itself. We develop a clear sense of the character of Odysseus as we follow
him in his adventures, but this does not always happen in episodic literature. The
adventures sometimes are not only completely disconnected from one another, but
the thread that is intended to connect everything—the personality of the protago-
nist (the main character)—also may not be strong enough to keep things together.
Sometimes the character may even seem to be a different person from one episode
to the next. This is often the case in oral literature, compositions by people who told
or sang traditional stories rather than by people who wrote their narratives. In oral
literature, the tellers or singers may have gathered adventures from many sources
and joined them in one long narrative. The likelihood of disconnectedness in such
a situation is quite high. But disconnectedness is sometimes desirable. It may offer
compression, speed of pacing, and variety of action that sustains attention. Some of
the most famous episodic narratives are novels: Fielding’s Tom Jones, Defoe’s Moll
Flanders, and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. The following excerpt is
an episode from Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote.

CHApTER VIII. OF THE GOOD FORTUNE WHICH THE VALIANT DON QUIXOTE HAD
IN THE TERRIBLE AND UNDREAMT-OF ADVENTURE OF THE WINDMILLS, WITH
OTHER OCCURRENCES WORTHY TO BE FITLY RECORDED

At this point they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon
as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better
than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho panza, where
thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle
and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous
warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.”
 “What giants?” said Sancho panza.
 “Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have
them nearly two leagues long.”
 “Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills,
and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the
millstone go.”
 “It is easy to see,” replied Don Quixote, “that thou art not used to this business of
adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake
thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat.”

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 So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries his squire
Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they were windmills and not
giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so positive they were giants that he
neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor perceived, near as he was, what they were, but
made at them shouting, “Fly not, cowards and vile beings, for a single knight attacks you.”
 A slight breeze at this moment sprang up, and the great sails began to move, seeing
which Don Quixote exclaimed, “Though ye flourish more arms than the giant Briareus, ye
have to reckon with me.”
 So saying, and commending himself with all his heart to his lady Dulcinea, imploring
her to support him in such a peril, with lance in rest and covered by his buckler, he
charged at Rocinante’s fullest gallop and fell upon the first mill that stood in front of him;
but as he drove his lance-point into the sail the wind whirled it round with such force that
it shivered the lance to pieces, sweeping with it horse and rider, who went rolling over on
the plain, in a sorry condition.
 Sancho hastened to his assistance as fast as his ass could go, and when he came up
found him unable to move, with such a shock had Rocinante fallen with him. “God bless
me!” said Sancho, “did I not tell your worship to mind what you were about, for they
were only windmills? and no one could have made any mistake about it but one who had
something of the same kind in his head.”
 “Hush, friend Sancho,” replied Don Quixote, “the fortunes of war more than any other
are liable to frequent fluctuations; and moreover I think, and it is the truth, that that same
sage Friston who carried off my study and books, has turned these giants into mills in
order to rob me of the glory of vanquishing them, such is the enmity he bears me; but in
the end his wicked arts will avail but little against my good sword.”
 “God order it as he may,” said Sancho panza, and helping him to rise got him up again
on Rocinante, whose shoulder was half out; and then, discussing the late adventure, they
followed the road to puerto Lapice, for there, said Don Quixote, they could not fail to find
adventures in abundance and variety, as it was a great thoroughfare.
 For all that, he was much grieved at the loss of his lance, and saying so to his
squire, he added, “I remember having read how a Spanish knight, Diego perez de
Vargas by name, having broken his sword in battle, tore from an oak a ponderous
bough or branch, and with it did such things that day, and pounded so many Moors,
that he got the surname of Machuca, and he and his descendants from that day forth
were called Vargas y Machuca. I mention this because from the first oak I see I mean
to rend such another branch, large and stout like that, with which I am determined
and resolved to do such deeds that thou mayest deem thyself very fortunate in being
found worthy to come and see them, and be an eyewitness of things that will with
difficulty be believed.”
 “Be that as God will,” said Sancho, “I believe it all as your worship says it; but straighten
yourself a little, for you seem all on one side, may be from the shaking of the fall.”
 “That is the truth,” said Don Quixote, “and if I make no complaint of the pain it is
because knights-errant are not permitted to complain of any wound, even though their
bowels be coming out through it.”
 “If so,” said Sancho, “I have nothing to say; but God knows I would rather your worship
complained when anything ailed you. For my part, I confess I must complain however
small the ache may be; unless this rule about not complaining extends to the squires of
knights-errant also.”
 Don Quixote could not help laughing at his squire’s simplicity, and he assured him he
might complain whenever and however he chose, just as he liked, for, so far, he had never
read of anything to the contrary in the order of knighthood.

—tr. John Ormsby

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Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra called this episode, the seventh in the first book
of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha, “The Terrifying Adventure
of the Windmills.” It is one of more than a hundred episodes in the book, and it
is the most memorable and most famous. The excerpt here is only a small part of
that episode, but it gives a clear indication of the nature of the entire book. Quixote
has driven himself a bit crazy through his reading of the adventures of the old-style
knights and has imagined himself to be one. Therefore, if he is a knight he must
have adventures, so he goes out to seek his fortune and runs into what he thinks are
giants with long arms. Killing them will make him a hero, and he imagines that they
guard a fortune that will pay the way for the rest of their adventures.

Don Quixote rides the aging Rocinante and dreams of his heroine, the “lady Dul-
cinea,” a local girl who hardly knows he is alive. Quixote’s squire, Sancho panza,
is a simple man riding an ass. As the episodes go on he longs more and more for
home but cannot persuade his aging and frail companion to stop looking for more
adventures.

Since Cervantes wrote this book in the seventeenth century (contemporary with
Shakespeare), literature has been drenched with adventurers and their sidekicks.
Hundreds of novels, films, television shows, and radio plays have featured the pat-
tern of the heroic avenger righting wrongs with the aid of a devoted assistant. Sher-
lock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin are
only a few of the incredible number spawned by the genius of Cervantes. The epi-
sodic narrative works best when the character of the protagonist is clearly portrayed
and consistent throughout. Don Quixote is such a character, so clearly portrayed he
has become a part of folklore.

The Organic Narrative

The term organic implies a close relationship of all the details in a narrative. Unlike
episodic narratives, the organic narrative unifies both the events of the narrative
and the nature of the character or characters in it. Everything relates to the center
of the narrative in a meaningful way so that there is a consistency to the story that is
not broken into separable narratives. An organic narrative can be a narrative poem
or a prose narrative of any length, so long as the material in the narrative coheres
and produces a sense of unity.

The following short story, Maxim Gorky’s “Her Lover,” is first-person narration,
in which the narrative is limited to what the unnamed narrator has been told by
a friend, who, essentially, is also an unnamed narrator. The student tells us the

PERCEPTION KEY Episodic Narrative: Don Quixote
1. For which character is this action an adventure?
2. What tells you that there will be more adventures?
3. How well do we know the personality of Quixote? Of Sancho Panza?
4. What is the subject matter of the narrative? What is its content?
5. Determine how much Cervantes is emphasizing the action at the expense of devel-

oping the characters. Is action or psychology more important?

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story he heard about Teresa, an unfortunate woman living alone and friendless in
the same kind of simplicity as the narrator. In the course of the story the narrator
reveals that his sense of class superiority is slowly challenged when he understands
the complete dimension of the circumstances of Teresa’s life and her need for love.
As you read, consider how the characters relate to one another and how Gorky uses
the details of the narrative to build sympathy for Teresa’s situation.

HER LOVER

An acquaintance of mine once told me the following story.
 When I was a student at Moscow I happened to live alongside one of those ladies whose
repute is questionable. She was a pole, and they called her Teresa. She was a tallish,
powerfully-built brunette, with black, bushy eyebrows and a large coarse face as if carved
out by a hatchet—the bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her thick bass voice, her cabman-like
gait and her immense muscular vigour, worthy of a fishwife, inspired me with horror. I
lived on the top flight and her garret was opposite to mine. I never left my door open when I
knew her to be at home. But this, after all, was a very rare occurrence. Sometimes I chanced
to meet her on the staircase or in the yard, and she would smile upon me with a smile which
seemed to me to be sly and cynical. Occasionally, I saw her drunk, with bleary eyes, tousled
hair, and a particularly hideous grin. On such occasions she would speak to me.
 “How d’ye do, Mr. Student!” and her stupid laugh would still further intensify my
loathing of her. I should have liked to have changed my quarters in order to have avoided
such encounters and greetings; but my little chamber was a nice one, and there was such a
wide view from the window, and it was always so quiet in the street below—so I endured.
 And one morning I was sprawling on my couch, trying to find some sort of excuse for
not attending my class, when the door opened, and the bass voice of Teresa the loathsome
resounded from my threshold:
 “Good health to you, Mr. Student!”
 “What do you want?” I said. I saw that her face was confused and supplicatory . . . It was
a very unusual sort of face for her.
 “Sir! I want to beg a favour of you. Will you grant it me?”
 I lay there silent, and thought to myself:
 “Gracious! . . . Courage, my boy!”
 “I want to send a letter home, that’s what it is,” she said; her voice was beseeching,
soft, timid.
 “Deuce take you!” I thought; but up I jumped, sat down at my table, took a sheet of
paper, and said:
 “Come here, sit down, and dictate!”
 She came, sat down very gingerly on a chair, and looked at me with a guilty look.
 “Well, to whom do you want to write?”
 “To Boleslav Kashput, at the town of Svieptziana, on the Warsaw Road . . .”
 “Well, fire away!”
 “My dear Boles . . . my darling . . . my faithful lover. May the Mother of God protect
thee! Thou heart of gold, why hast thou not written for such a long time to thy sorrowing
little dove, Teresa?”
 I very nearly burst out laughing. “A sorrowing little dove!” more than five feet high,
with fists a stone and more in weight, and as black a face as if the little dove had lived all
its life in a chimney, and had never once washed itself! Restraining myself somehow, I
asked:
 “Who is this Bolest?”
 “Boles, Mr. Student,” she said, as if offended with me for blundering over the name,
“he is Boles—my young man.”

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 “Young man!”
 “Why are you so surprised, sir? Cannot I, a girl, have a young man?”
 She? A girl? Well! “Oh, why not?” I said. “All things are possible. And has he been your
young man long?”
 “Six years.”
 “Oh, ho!” I thought. “Well, let us write your letter . . .”
 And I tell you plainly that I would willingly have changed places with this Boles if his
fair correspondent had been not Teresa but something less than she.
 “I thank you most heartily, sir, for your kind services,” said Teresa to me, with a curtsey.
“perhaps I can show you some service, eh?”
 “No, I most humbly thank you all the same.”
 “perhaps, sir, your shirts or your trousers may want a little mending?” I felt that this
mastodon in petticoats had made me grow quite red with shame, and I told her pretty
sharply that I had no need whatever of her services.
 She departed.
 A week or two passed away. It was evening. I was sitting at my window whistling and
thinking of some expedient for enabling me to get away from myself. I was bored; the
weather was dirty. I didn’t want to go out, and out of sheer ennui I began a course of
self-analysis and reflection. This also was dull enough work, but I didn’t care about doing
anything else. Then the door opened. Heaven be praised! Some one came in.
 “Oh, Mr. Student, you have no pressing business, I hope?”
 It was Teresa. Humph!
 “No. What is it?”
 “I was going to ask you, sir, to write me another letter.”
 “Very well! To Boles, eh?”
 “No, this time it is from him.”
 “Wha-at?”
 “Stupid that I am! It is not for me, Mr. Student, I beg your pardon. It is for a friend
of mine, that is to say, not a friend but an acquaintance—a man acquaintance. He has a
sweetheart just like me here, Teresa. That’s how it is. Will you, sir, write a letter to this
Teresa?”
 I looked at her—her face was troubled, her fingers were trembling. I was a bit fogged at
first—and then I guessed how it was.
 “Look here, my lady,” I said, “there are no Boleses or Teresas at all, and you’ve been
telling me a pack of lies. Don’t you come sneaking about me any longer. I have no wish
whatever to cultivate your acquaintance. Do you understand?”
 And suddenly she grew strangely terrified and distraught; she began to shift from foot
to foot without moving from the place, and spluttered comically, as if she wanted to say
something and couldn’t. I waited to see what would come of all this, and I saw and felt
that, apparently, I had made a great mistake in suspecting her of wishing to draw me from
the path of righteousness. It was evidently something very different.
 “Mr. Student!” she began, and suddenly, waving her hand, she turned abruptly towards
the door and went out. I remained with a very unpleasant feeling in my mind. I listened.
Her door was flung violently to—plainly the poor wench was very angry . . . I thought it
over, and resolved to go to her, and, inviting her to come in here, write everything she
wanted.
 I entered her apartment. I looked round. She was sitting at the table, leaning on her
elbows, with her head in her hands.
 “Listen to me,” I said.
 Now, whenever I come to this point in my story, I always feel horribly awkward and
idiotic. Well, well!
 “Listen to me,” I said.

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 She leaped from her seat, came towards me with flashing eyes, and laying her hands on
my shoulders, began to whisper, or rather to hum in her peculiar bass voice:
 ”Look you, now! It’s like this. There’s no Boles at all, and there’s no Teresa either. But
what’s that to you? Is it a hard thing for you to draw your pen over paper? Eh? Ah, and
you, too! Still such a little fair-haired boy! There’s nobody at all, neither Boles, nor Teresa,
only me. There you have it, and much good may it do you!”
 “pardon me!” said I, altogether flabbergasted by such a reception, “what is it all about?
There’s no Boles, you say?”
 “No. So it is.”
 “And no Teresa either?”
 “And no Teresa. I’m Teresa.”
 I didn’t understand it at all. I fixed my eyes upon her, and tried to make out which of us
was taking leave of his or her senses. But she went again to the table, searched about for
something, came back to me, and said in an offended tone:
 “If it was so hard for you to write to Boles, look, there’s your letter, take it! Others will
write for me.”
 I looked. In her hand was my letter to Boles. phew!
 “Listen, Teresa! What is the meaning of all this? Why must you get others to write for
you when I have already written it, and you haven’t sent it?”
 “Sent it where?”
 “Why, to this—Boles.”
 “There’s no such person.”
 I absolutely did not understand it. There was nothing for me but to spit and go. Then
she explained.
 “What is it?” she said, still offended. “There’s no such person, I tell you,” and she
extended her arms as if she herself did not understand why there should be no such
person. “But I wanted him to be . . . Am I then not a human creature like the rest of them?
Yes, yes, I know, I know, of course . . . Yet no harm was done to any one by my writing
to him that I can see . . .”
 “pardon me—to whom?”
 “To Boles, of course.”
 “But he doesn’t exist.”
 “Alas! alas! But what if he doesn’t? He doesn’t exist, but he might! I write to him, and it
looks as if he did exist. And Teresa—that’s me, and he replies to me, and then I write to
him again . . .”
 I understood at last. And I felt so sick, so miserable, so ashamed, somehow.
Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human creature who had nobody in
the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and this human being had invented a
friend for herself!
 “Look, now! you wrote me a letter to Boles, and I gave it to some one else to read it to
me; and when they read it to me I listened and fancied that Boles was there. And I asked
you to write me a letter from Boles to Teresa—that is to me. When they write such a letter
for me, and read it to me, I feel quite sure that Boles is there. And life grows easier for me
in consequence.”
 “Deuce take you for a blockhead!” said I to myself when I heard this.
And from thenceforth, regularly, twice a week, I wrote a letter to Boles, and an answer from
Boles to Teresa. I wrote those answers well . . . She, of course, listened to them, and wept
like anything, roared, I should say, with her bass voice. And in return for my thus moving
her to tears by real letters from the imaginary Boles, she began to mend the holes I had in
my socks, shirts, and other articles of clothing. Subsequently, about three months after this
history began, they put her in prison for something or other. No doubt by this time she is
dead.

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 My acquaintance shook the ash from his cigarette, looked pensively up at the sky, and
thus concluded:
 Well, well, the more a human creature has tasted of bitter things the more it hungers
after the sweet things of life. And we, wrapped round in the rags of our virtues, and
regarding others through the mist of our self-sufficiency, and persuaded of our universal
impeccability, do not understand this.
 And the whole thing turns out pretty stupidly—and very cruelly. The fallen classes, we
say. And who are the fallen classes, I should like to know? They are, first of all, people
with the same bones, flesh, and blood and nerves as ourselves. We have been told this
day after day for ages. And we actually listen—and the devil only knows how hideous the
whole thing is. Or are we completely depraved by the loud sermonising of humanism? In
reality, we also are fallen folks, and, so far as I can see, very deeply fallen into the abyss
of self-sufficiency and the conviction of our own superiority. But enough of this. It is all as
old as the hills—so old that it is a shame to speak of it. Very old indeed—yes, that’s what
it is!

—Anonymous translator

PERCEPTION KEY Narrator in “Her Lover”
1. Who narrates the story?
2. What is the attitude of the student narrator? Why does he hold the social views

that he begins the story with?
3. How does the narrator present Teresa to us? What does he expect our view of

Teresa will be?
4. How many levels of narrative are in this story?
5. Gorky reveals a change in the narrator’s views about Teresa and humanity. When

does that change begin to take place?
6. To what extent do you as a reader find yourself accepting the student’s point of

view in the beginning of the story? What change does this story effect in you?
7. Do you believe that the story itself comes from “an acquaintance,” or is it the pri-

mary narrator’s story?

The first-level narrator is first person, but we do not know who he is. The sec-
ond-level narrator is known only as “Mr. Student,” which tells us that he has had
little interaction with Teresa but that Teresa knows he can write, which she can-
not. The social status of the two characters in the story is established in the first
few words. The young student regards the older woman with some contempt. The
student says she is a “powerfully-built brunette, with black, bushy eyebrows and a
large coarse face as if carved out by a hatchet—the bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her
thick bass voice, her cabman-like gait and her immense muscular vigour, worthy
of a fishwife.” She “inspired me with horror.” The narrator expects his listener to
picture Teresa and agree with his view of her.

Gorky’s use of two levels of narration has the effect of separating the observer
of the original narrative from the narrator who has heard the story and passes it
on to us. Therefore, there is a narrative distance on the part of the unnamed man
who tells us the story—and that permits him to set the story up in a way that helps
us understand better the change that happens to the characters. The unnamed nar-
rator does not judge the story that Mr. Student tells about his response to Teresa’s
requests.

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We learn very quickly that while Mr. Student thinks of himself as superior to Te-
resa, she sees them as both on the same social level. She does not judge him the way
he judges her. She also does not see herself as he sees herself as “a little dove.” When
he reacts in astonishment at her writing a love letter, she says, “Cannot I, a girl, have
a young man?” The narrator then learns that Boles has been her “young man” for six
years. It is at this point that the narrator begins to alter his thinking about her.

Gorky uses many narrative techniques, such as irony, comparison and contrast,
and the revelation of the psychological interior of his character. We are given in-
sight into Mr. Student’s thoughts, into his psychology, which is marked by a sense
of superiority because of his education and Teresa’s lack of education. Mr. Student
also judges Teresa on her appearance and only begins to change his feelings about
her after listening to her expressing her need for love. The letters she writes to Boles
never arrive. The letters she writes as Boles to herself provide her with a sense of
happiness. The very act of writing has made her happy. The act of writing the letters
changed Mr. Student, who said, “I understood at last. And I felt so sick, so misera-
ble, so ashamed, somehow. Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human
creature who had nobody in the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and this
human being had invented a friend for herself!”

The story ends with the narrator reflecting not on Teresa and her “lover” but on
himself and people like him (and us): “We also are fallen folks, and, so far as I can
see, very deeply fallen into the abyss of self-sufficiency and the conviction of our
own superiority.”

The Quest Narrative

The quest narrative is simple enough on the surface: A protagonist sets out in
search of something valuable that must be found at all cost. Such, in simple terms,
is the plot of almost every adventure yarn and adventure film ever written. How-
ever, where most such yarns and films content themselves with erecting impossible
obstacles that the heroes overcome with courage, imagination, and skill, the quest
narrative has other virtues. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the story of Ahab’s deter-
mination to find and kill the white whale that took his leg, is also a quest narrative.
It achieves unity by focusing on the quest and its object. But at the same time, it
explores in great depth the psychology of all those who take part in the adventure.
Ahab becomes a monomaniac, a man who obsessively concentrates on one thing.
The narrator, Ishmael, is like an Old Testament prophet in that he has lived the
experience, has looked into the face of evil, and has come back to tell the story to
anyone who will listen, hoping to impart wisdom and sensibility to those who were
not there. The novel is centered on the question of good and evil. When the novel
begins, those values seem fairly clear and well defined. But as the novel progresses,
the question becomes murkier and murkier because the actions of the novel begin
a reversal of values that is often a hallmark of the quest narrative.

Because most humans feel uncertain about their own nature—where they have
come from, who they are, where they are going—it is natural that writers from all
cultures should invent fictions that string adventures and character development
on the thread of the quest for self-understanding. This quest attracts our imagi-
nations and sustains our attention. Then the author can broaden and deepen the

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meaning of the quest until it engages our concepts of ourselves. As a result, the
reader usually identifies with the protagonist.

The quest structure in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is so deeply rooted in the novel
that the protagonist has no name. We know a great deal about him because he nar-
rates the story and tells us about himself. He is black, Southern, and, as a young
college student, ambitious. His earliest heroes are George Washington Carver and
Booker T. Washington. He craves the dignity and the opportunity he associates with
their lives. But things go wrong. He is dismissed unjustly from his college in the South
and must leave home to seek his fortune. He imagines himself destined for better
things and eagerly pursues his fate, finding a place to live and work up North, begin-
ning to find his identity as a black man. He discovers the sophisticated urban society
of New York City, the political incongruities of communism, the complexities of black
nationalism, and the subtleties of his relationship with white people, to whom he is an
invisible man. Yet he does not hate the whites, and in his own image of himself he re-
mains an invisible man. The novel ends with the protagonist in an underground place
he has found and that he has lighted, by tapping the lines of the electric company,
with almost 1400 electric lightbulbs. Despite this colossal illumination, he still cannot
think of himself as visible. He ends his quest without discovering who he is beyond
this fundamental fact: He is invisible. Black or white, we can identify in many ways
with this quest, for Ellison is showing us that invisibility is in all of us.

PERCEPTION KEY The Quest Narrative
Read a quest narrative. Some suggestions: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Mark Twain, The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; J. D. Salinger, The Catcher
in the Rye; Graham Greene, The Third Man; Franz Kafka, The Castle; Albert Camus, The
Stranger; and Toni Morrison, Beloved. How does the quest help the protagonist get to
know himself or herself better? Does the quest help you understand yourself better?
Is the quest novel you have read basically episodic or organic in structure?

The quest narrative is central to American culture. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry
Finn is one of the most important examples in American literature. But, whereas In-
visible Man is an organic quest narrative, because the details of the novel are closely
interwoven, Huckleberry Finn is an episodic quest narrative. Huck’s travels along
the great Mississippi River qualify as episodic in the same sense that Don Quixote, to
which this novel is closely related, is episodic. Huck is questing for freedom for Jim,
but also for freedom from his own father. Like Don Quixote, Huck comes back from
his quest richer in the knowledge of who he is. One might say Don Quixote’s quest
is for the truth about who he is and was, since he is an old man when he begins. But
Huck is an adolescent, and so his quest is for knowledge of who he is and can be.

The Lyric

The lyric, usually a poem, primarily reveals a limited but deep feeling about some
thing or event. The lyric is often associated with the feelings of the poet, although
it is not uncommon for poets to create narrators distinct from themselves and to
explore hypothetical feelings, as in Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”

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If we participate, we find ourselves caught up in the emotional situation of the
lyric. It is usually revealed to us through a recounting of the circumstances the poet
reflects on. T. S. Eliot speaks of an objective correlative: an object that correlates
with the poet’s feeling and helps express that feeling. Eliot has said that poets must
find the image, situation, object, event, or person that “shall be the formula for
that particular emotion” so that readers can comprehend it. This may be too nar-
row a view of the poet’s creative process, because poets can understand and in-
terpret emotions without necessarily undergoing them. Otherwise, it would seem
that Shakespeare, for example, and even Eliot would have blown up like overcom-
pressed boilers if they had had to experience directly all the feelings they interpreted
in their poems. But, in any case, it seems clear that the lyric has feeling—emotion,
passion, or mood—as basic in its subject matter.

The word “lyric” implies a personal statement by an involved writer who feels
deeply. In a limited sense, lyrics are poems to be sung to music. Most lyrics before
the seventeenth century were set to music—in fact, most medieval and Renaissance
lyrics were written to be sung with musical accompaniment. And the writers who
composed the words were usually the composers of the music—at least until the
seventeenth century, when specialization began to separate those functions.

John Keats (1795–1821), an English poet of the Romantic period, died of tuber-
culosis. The following sonnet is grounded in his awareness of early death:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

PERCEPTION KEY “When I Have Fears . . .”
1. This poem has no setting (environmental context), yet it establishes an atmosphere

of uncertainty and, possibly, of terror. How does Keats create this atmosphere?
2. The poet is dying and knows he is dying—why does he then labor so over the

rhyme and meter of this poem? What does the poem do for the dying narrator?
3. What do the rhyming words do to help clarify the content of the poem?

Keats interprets a terrible personal feeling. He realizes he may die before he can
write his best poems. The epitaph Keats chose for his headstone just before he died,
“Here lies one whose name was writ in water,” is one of the most sorrowful lines of
all poetry. He was wrong in believing that his poems would not be read by poster-
ity. Moreover, his work is so brilliant that we cannot help wondering what else he

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might have done. Had Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, proust, or Joyce died at twen-
ty-six, we might not know their names, for their important work was yet to come.

It is not difficult for us to imagine how Keats must have felt. The lyric mode
usually relies not on narrative but on our ability to respond to the circumstances
described. In this poem, Keats has important resources. One is the fact that since
we all will die, we can sympathize with the thought of death cutting a life’s work
short. The tone Keats establishes in the poem—one of direct speech, honestly said,
not overdone or melodramatic—helps him communicate his feelings. It gives the
poem an immediacy: one human being telling another something straight from the
heart. Keats modulates the tone slightly, slowing things down enough at the end
of the poem for us to sense and share the despairing contemplative mood “to noth-
ingness do sink.”

A different approach is apparent in John Donne’s “Death Be Not proud,” a
seventeenth-century poem by one of England’s greatest churchmen. By personi-
fying Death, Donne is able to comment on its power and the company it keeps.
This is an example of a witty poem—wit being the imaginative power that finds the
comparisons here: of death and sleep, death as a slave to fate, death as yielding to
resurrection.

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

PERCEPTION KEY “Death Be Not Proud”
1. Read the poem aloud to a friend. Where do your emphases fall? Underline the

emphatic words or syllables before you do the actual reading. 
2. By comparison, read aloud any of the other lyrics in this section. How does the line

structure of that poem control the way you read the lines? Where do the empha-
ses fall? Try to characterize the differences between the line structures of the two
poems.

Numerous lyric poems have inspired paintings and pieces of music. John Water-
house’s 1893 painting La Belle Dame Sans Merci (Figure 7-1) is an interpretation of
the famous poem by John Keats. It is more than an illustration. Waterhouse imag-
ines the knight yielding to an irresistible, childlike maiden. In keeping with the
prescriptions of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Waterhouse chooses a medieval
setting and a romantic narrative.

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CHApTER 7

LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI

Ah, what can ail thee, knight at arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

FIGURE 7-1
John Waterhouse, La Belle Dame Sans
Merci. 1893. Oil on Canvas. 43½ x 32
inches. Hessisches Landesmuseum,
Darmstadt, Germany.

©Art Collection 2/Alamy

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LITERATURE

Ah, what can ail thee, knight at arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,

And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheeks a fading rose

Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a fairy’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,

And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,

And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing

A fairy’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,

I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gazed and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes—

With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dreamed, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dreamed

On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La belle Dame sans merci

Hath thee in thrall!”

I saw their starved lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here

On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

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EXPERIENCING “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”

1. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (the beautiful lady without pity) is a ballad. Ballads are
often sung. What qualities would make this poem easy to sing?

2. Where and when does this poem seem to be set?
3. What does John Waterhouse’s painting tell us about how he has interpreted the

poem? 
4. How important is visual imagery in this poem?
5. Comment on the power of repetition—of sounds, words, and stanzas. How

does repetition create what some critics have called the “hypnotic power of this
poem”?

The setting dominates the poem. The vegetation is “withered,” “the harvest’s done,”
and therefore it is cold and wintry. The first three stanzas are spoken by a narrator to
the knight, who is “haggard and woe-begone.” The narrator asks, “What can ail thee?”
which tells us that the knight is not just sad but possibly ill. Keats wrote this poem
sick with tuberculosis and knew he had very little time to live. He loved Fanny Brawne
but could not marry her because of his illness. The imagery in the poem is solemn and
threatening even to a knight. The fairy woman conquers him easily because he has
no defenses. Is she a symbol of death? If so, why is she so appealing, so beautiful, so
irresistible?

The knight, discovered by the narrator, is in shock. He has had an experience with
“the other world” of fairy, a world that suggests the Middle Ages, when this poem
seems to take place. In the early nineteenth century, the age of Romanticism, the idea
of knights and otherworldly spirits was attractive to artists and poets alike. Images
like the “lily on thy brow,” a symbol of funerals and death, were common. The roman-
tic notion of “making love with death” was also common in 1819 when this poem was
written because people often died young. 

The “lady in the meads” is a femme fatalle, dangerous and desirable. The knight can-
not resist her and makes love with her. Medieval lore always warned against connubial
affection with a woman of the spirit world. Usually it resulted in death. But in this
poem the knight survives to tell his story because, ironically, the fairy takes pity on
him after showing him in a dream “pale kings, and princes too, Pale warriors, death
pale were they all.” His vision was of the underworld, and the knight’s own counte-
nance is a mirror of that world in the second line of the poem when he is “alone and
palely loitering.” “Loitering” is a strange word to describe a knight, who is usually on
a quest.

John Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite painting interprets the poem but includes tiny
flowers and a lush spring landscape. The fairy is a lovely young woman luring the
knight, in full armor, by winding her “long” hair around his neck. He is clearly as cap-
tured in the painting as in the poem.

Emily Dickinson lived in her family house for most of her life, never married, and
kept most of her personal romantic interests to herself, so that biographers can only
speculate on the kind of delight and joy that she seems to be describing in “I Taste
a Liquor Never Brewed,” which was originally published in Poems (1890), edited by
Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd. Her method is to be indirect
and not to specify the issues at the heart of her lyric. She uses metaphors, such as
“Inebriate of air am I,” which is both specific and yet completely abstract and untrans-
latable. We have no idea what precise intoxication she is talking about—perhaps the

182

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LITERATURE

joy of finding love, or perhaps the mere joy of loving life itself. She talks about the
headiness of inebriation without having resorted to any liquor known to man. She
shares the same kind of intoxication that is experienced by the “drunken bee” and the
butterfly among flowers. Even when they cease at the end of summer, she will con-
tinue to experience delight. She will continue to feel the delight of life until the angels
(“seraphs”) and the saints come to see her at the end of life.

XX.

I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove’s door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!

Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!

PERCEPTION KEY “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed”
1. Read the poem aloud. To what extent do the open vowels and the rich rhymes give

a “musical” quality to your reading?
2. Listen to someone else read the poem and ask the same question: How musical is

this poem?
3. Set the poem to music. If you are a musician, sing the poem aloud and decide what

kind of emotional quality the poem has when set to music.
4. The imagery and language seem designed to describe an emotional state in the

poet’s or the reader’s experience. Describe as best you can the emotional content
of the poem.

5. Is this poem describing a positive experience or a negative experience? Does the
indirectness of the imagery enhance the effect of the poem or limit it?

6. What do you think Emily Dickinson means by “inns of molten blue” and “debauchee
of dew”? Who is the “little tippler” at the end of the poem?

7. How would you describe Emily Dickinson’s relationship with nature?

Literary detaiLS
So far we have been analyzing literature with reference to structure, the overall
order. But within every structure are details that need close examination in order to
properly perceive the structure.

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CHApTER 7

Language is used in literature in ways that differ from everyday uses. This is not
to say that literature is artificial and unrelated to the language we speak but, rather,
that we sometimes do not see the fullest implications of our speech and rarely take
full advantage of the opportunities language affords us. Literature uses language to
reveal meanings that are usually absent from daily speech.

Our examination of detail will include image, metaphor, symbol, irony, and dic-
tion. They are central to literature of all genres.

Image

An image in language asks us to imagine or “picture” what is referred to or being
described. An image appeals essentially to our sense of sight, but sound, taste, odor,
and touch are sometimes involved. One of the most striking resources of language
is its capacity to help us reconstruct in our imaginations the “reality” of perceptions.
This resource sometimes is as important in prose as in poetry. Consider, for exam-
ple, the following passage from Joseph Conrad’s Youth:

The boats, fast astern, lay in a deep shadow, and all around I could see the circle of
the sea lighted by the fire. A gigantic flame arose forward straight and clear. It flares
fierce, with noises like the whirr of wings, with rumbles as of thunder. There were cracks,
detonations, and from the cone of flame the sparks flew upwards, as man is born to
trouble, to leaky ships, and to ships that burn.

PERCEPTION KEY Conrad’s Youth and Imagery
1. What does Conrad ask us to see in this passage?
2. What does he ask us to hear?
3. What do his images make us feel?
4. Comment on the imageless second half of the last sentence.

In Youth, this scene is fleeting, only an instant in the total structure of the book.
But the entire book is composed of such details, helping to engage the reader’s
participation.

Because of its tendency toward the succinct, poetry usually contains stronger
images than prose, and poetry usually appeals more to our senses (Conrad’s prose
being an obvious exception). Listen to the following poem by T. S. Eliot:

I

pRELUDES

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;

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The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

Source: T.S. Eliot, “preludes,” Poems, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random
House, Inc.

PERCEPTION KEY “Preludes”
1. What happens in the poem? What does the title mean?
2. What senses are imaginatively stimulated?
3. Does the poem appeal to and evoke one particular sense more than the others? If

so, which one and why?
4. Where is the poet? Is he talking to you?

In the early years of the twentieth century the imagist school of poetry devel-
oped, with the intention of writing poems that avoided argument and tried to say
everything only in images. Ezra pound’s poem is one of the best examples of that
approach.

IN A STATION OF THE METRO

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.

The Metro is the subway system in paris, which pound used in 1916 when he
wrote this poem. The poem is in two parts. Ask yourself how they relate to each
other, and at the same time ask yourself which line has the image. How complete
is this poem?

Metaphor

Metaphor helps writers intensify language. Metaphor is a comparison designed
to heighten our perception of the things compared. For example, in the following
poem, Shakespeare compares his age to the autumn of the year and himself to a
glowing fire that consumes its vitality. The structure of this sonnet is marked by
developing one metaphor in each of three quatrains (a group of four rhyming lines)
and a couplet that offers a summation of the entire poem.

SONNET 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

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CHApTER 7

As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

PERCEPTION KEY Shakespeare’s 73rd Sonnet
1. The first metaphor compares the narrator’s age with autumn. How are “yellow

leaves, or none” appropriate for comparison with someone’s age? What is implied
by the comparison? The “bare ruined choirs” are the high place in the church—
what place, physically, would they compare with in a person’s body?

2. The second metaphor is the “sunset” fading “in the west.” What is this compared
with in someone’s life? Why is the imagery of the second quatrain so effective?

3. The third metaphor is the “glowing” fire. What is the point of this metaphor? What
is meant by the fire’s consuming “that which it was nourished by”? What is being
consumed here?

4. Why does the conclusion of the poem, which contains no metaphors, follow logi-
cally from the metaphors developed in the first three quatrains?

The standard definition of the metaphor is that it is a comparison made without
any explicit words to tell us a comparison is being made. The simile is the kind of
comparison that has explicit words: “like,” “as,” “than,” “as if,” and a few others. We
have no trouble recognizing the simile, and we may get so used to reading similes in
literature that we recognize them without any special degree of awareness.

The Chinese poet Wang Chang-Ling (698–756), a major T’ang dynasty poet,
shows the power of the metaphor in a poetic tradition very different from that of
the West.

SO-FEI GATHERING FLOWERS

In a dress of gauzy fabric
Of the ‘Lien’ leaf’s emerald hue
So-fei glides amongst the lilies
Sprinkled with the morning dew.

Rose-hued are the lotus-blossoms,
Rose-hued, too, the maiden’s cheeks;
Is it So-fei’s form I follow,
Or the flowers she seeks?

Now I hear a song arising
From the lotus bowers,
Which distinguishes the maiden
From her sister flowers.

—tr. Charles Budd

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Wang Chang-Ling metaphorizes a beautiful young woman, So-fei, as a flower
in her garden. She wears “gauzy fabric” and does not walk but “glides” among the
lilies. Just as the lotus blossoms are rose hued, So-fei is “rose hued.” The poet is so
taken by the vision of So-fei that when he hears her singing he thinks this is the
only way in which he can distinguish her “from her sister flowers.” Instead of strik-
ing bluntly and immediately, the metaphoric language of Chang’s poem resounds
with such nuance that we are aware of its cumulative impact only after reading and
rereading.

Metaphor pervades poetry, but we do not always realize how extensive the de-
vice is in other kinds of literature. prose fiction, drama, essays, and almost every
other form of writing use metaphors. poetry in general, however, tends to have a
higher metaphoric density than other forms of writing, partly because poetry is
somewhat distilled and condensed to begin with.

Since literature depends so heavily on metaphor, it is essential that we reflect on
its use. One kind of metaphor tends to evoke an image and involves us mainly on
a perceptual level—because we perceive in our imaginations something of what we
would perceive were we there. To see So-fei as sister to the flowers in her garden we
need the description of the blossoms. This kind we shall call a perceptual metaphor.
Another kind of metaphor tends to evoke ideas, gives us information that is mainly
conceptual. This kind of metaphor we shall call a conceptual metaphor. The impli-
cations of seeing So-fei not only as a woman, but as a flower demands an act of cog-
nition. Once we begin to make the comparison, many ideas may be introduced. For
example, as the flower blooms for only a short time, are we to think that the poet is
fearful that So-fei’s beauty may fade quickly? One must be careful with metaphors.

Symbol

The symbol is a further use of metaphor. Being a metaphor, it is a comparison be-
tween two things, but unlike most perceptual and conceptual metaphors, only one
of the things compared is clearly stated. The symbol is clearly stated, but what it is
compared with (sometimes a very broad range of meanings) is only hinted at.

perhaps the most important thing to remember about the symbol is that it im-
plies rather than explicitly states meaning. We sense that we are dealing with a sym-
bol in those linguistic situations in which we believe there is more being said than
meets the eye. Most writers are quite open about their symbols, as William Blake
was in his poetry. He saw God’s handiwork everywhere, but he also saw forces of
destruction everywhere. Thus, his poetry discovers symbols in almost every situa-
tion and/or thing, not just in those situations and things that are usually accepted
as meaningful. The following poem is an example of Blake’s technique. At first the
poem may seem needlessly confusing, because we do not know how to interpret
the symbols. But a second reading begins to clarify their meaning.

THE SICK ROSE

O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

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CHApTER 7

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Source: William Blake, “The Sick Rose,” Songs of Experience, 1794.

PERCEPTION KEY “The Sick Rose”
1. The rose and the worm stand as opposites in this poem, symbolically antagonistic.

In discussion with other readers, explore possible meanings for the rose and the
worm.

2. The bed of crimson joy and the dark secret love are also symbols. What are their
meanings? Consider them closely in relation to the rose and the worm.

3. What is not a symbol in this poem?

Blake used such symbols because he saw a richness of implication in them that
linked him to God. He thus shared in a minor way the creative act with God and
helped others understand the world in terms of symbolic meaningfulness. For most
other writers, the symbol is used more modestly to expand meaning, encompassing
deep ranges of suggestion. The symbol has been compared with a stone dropped
into the still waters of a lake: The stone itself is very small, but the effects radiate
from its center to the edges of the lake. The symbol is dropped into our imagina-
tions, and it, too, radiates with meaning. But the marvelous thing about the symbol
is that it tends to be permanently expansive: Who knows where the meaningfulness
of Blake’s rose ends?

Blake does not tell us that his rose and worm are symbolic, but we readily
realize that the poem says very little worth listening to if we do not begin to go
beyond its literal meaning. The fact that worms kill roses is more important to
gardeners than it is to readers of poetry. But that there is a secret evil that travels
mysteriously to kill beautiful things is not as important to gardeners as to readers
of poetry.

prose fiction has made extensive use of the symbol. In Melville’s Moby-Dick, the
white whale is a symbol, but so, too, is Ahab. The quest for Moby-Dick is itself a
symbolic quest. The albatross in Samuel Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner” is a
symbol, and so is the Ancient Mariner’s stopping one of the wedding guests to
make him hear the entire narrative. In these cases, the symbols operate both struc-
turally, in the entire narrative, and in the details.

In those instances in which there is no evident context to guide us, we should
interpret symbols with extreme care and tentativeness. Symbolic objects usually
have a well-understood range of meaning that authors such as Blake depend on.
For instance, the rose is often thought of in connection with beauty, romance, and
love. The worm is often thought of in connection with death, the grave, and—if we
include the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Blake had read Milton’s Paradise Lost)—
the worm also suggests evil, sin, and perversion. Most of us know these things.
Thus, the act of interpreting the symbol is usually an act of bringing this knowl-
edge to the forefront of our minds so that we can use it in our interpretations.

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Irony

Irony implies contradiction of some kind. It may be a contradiction of expectation
or a contradiction of intention. For example, much sarcasm is ironic. Apparent
compliments are occasionally digs intended to be wickedly amusing. In litera-
ture, irony can be one of the most potent of devices. For example, in Sophocles’s
play Oedipus Rex, the prophecy is that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his
mother. What Oedipus does not know is that he has been adopted and taken to
another country, so when he learns his fate he determines to leave home in order
not to harm his parents. Ironically, he heads to Thebes and unknowingly chal-
lenges his true father, a king, at a crossroads and kills him. He then answers the
riddle of the Sphinx, lifting the curse from the land—apparently a good outcome—
but is then wed to the wife of the man he has killed. That woman is his mother.
These events are part of a pattern of tragic irony, and in narrative literature this
is a powerful device.

Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory” is marked by regular
meter, simple rhyme, and a basic pattern of four four-line stanzas. There is very
little if any imagery in the poem, very little metaphor, and possibly no symbol,
unless Richard Cory is the symbol. What gives the poem its force is the use of
irony.

RICHARD CORY

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Source: Edwing Arlington Robinson, “Richard Cory,” The Children of the Night, 1897.

The irony lies in the contrast between the wealthy, accomplished, polished
Richard Cory, and the struggling efforts of his admirers to keep up with him.
Ultimately the most powerful irony is that the man everyone idolized did not love
himself enough to live. For an admired person to have everything and then “put a
bullet through his head” simply does not seem reasonable. And yet, that is what
happened.

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CHApTER 7

Diction
Diction refers to the choice of words. But because the entire act of writing involves
the choice of words, the term “diction” is usually reserved for literary acts (speech as
well as the written word) that use words chosen especially carefully for their impact.
The diction of a work of literature will sometimes make that work seem inevitable,
as if there were no other way of saying the same thing, as in Hamlet’s “To be or not
to be.” Try saying that in other words.

In Robert Herrick’s poem, we see an interesting example of the poet calculating
the effect of specific words in their context. Most of the words in “Upon Julia’s
Clothes” are single-syllable words, such as “then.” But the few polysyllables—“vibra-
tion” with three syllables and the most unusual four-syllable word “liquefaction”—
lend an air of intensity and special meaning to themselves by means of their syllabic
contrast. There may also be an unusual sense in which those words act out or imi-
tate what they describe.

UpON JULIA’S CLOTHES

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration, each way free,
O, how that glittering taketh me!

Source: Herrick, Robert, “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” Works of Robert Herrick, Alfred Pollard, ed. London: Lawrence & Bullen 1891, pg.77.

PERCEPTION KEY “Upon Julia’s Clothes”
1. The implications of the polysyllabic words in this poem may be quite different for

different people. Read the poem aloud with a few people. Ask for suggestions about
what the polysyllables do for the reader. Does their complexity enhance what is
said about Julia? Their sounds? Their rhythms?

2. Read the poem to some listeners who are not likely to know it beforehand. Do
they notice such words as “liquefaction” and “vibration”? When they talk about the
poem, do they observe the use of these words? Compare their observations with
those of students who have read the poem in this book.

3. Examine other poems in this chapter for the unexpected, unusual, or striking dic-
tion. Is Pound’s use of “apparition” a good example of diction?

We have been giving examples of detailed diction. Structural diction produces
a sense of linguistic inevitability throughout the work. The careful use of structural
diction can sometimes conceal a writer’s immediate intention, making it import-
ant for us to be explicitly aware of the diction until it has made its point. Jonathan
Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal is a classic example. Swift most decorously suggests
that the solution to the poverty-stricken Irish farmer’s desperation is the sale of
his infant children—for the purpose of serving them up as plump, tender roasts for
Christmas dinners in England. The diction is so subtly ironic that it is with some dif-
ficulty that many readers finally realize Swift is writing satire. By the time we reach
the following passage, we should surely understand the irony:

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I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that
a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and
wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it
will equally serve in a fricasee or a ragout.

Many kinds of diction are available to the writer, from the casual and conversa-
tional to the archaic and the formal. Every literary writer is sensitive, consciously
or unconsciously, to the issues of diction, and every piece of writing solves the
problem in its own way. When the choice of words seems so exact and right that
the slightest tampering diminishes the value of the work, then we have literature
of high rank. Then, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove
the poem rides on its own melting.” No writer can tell you exactly how he or she
achieves “inevitability,” but much of it depends upon sound and rhythm as it relates
to sense.

FOCUS ON Po Chü’i, Poet of the T’ang Dynasty
Perhaps the most revered of Chinese poets, Po Chü’i (also known as Bai Juyi) (772–
846) lived during the T’ang dynasty (618–907), a period in which poetry and the arts
flourished and Imperial China recovered from a serious rebellion. Po left as many as
3,500 poems, written while he was also an important governor of several provinces.
His life was guided by Confucian ideals, a commitment to social service and moral
actions. Simplicity, despite his connection with royal courts, was a guide for Po. He
enjoyed a busy life in the city of Chang’an, an important center of government. His
poetry aimed at communicating with ordinary people as well as the elite. He is said to
have shown his poetry to a peasant woman and revising any lines that were not clear
to her.

In China he is well known for satirical poetry designed to stimulate improvement of
society, but he is much admired for his shorter poems that seem often to be observa-
tions on the moments of everyday life that prompt a meditative response. Like many
Chinese poets of the period, Po describes nature and the landscape, often dramatic,
that he sees in travel or in his own garden. He has been described as the most influen-
tial poet of the time, even though the T’ang dynasty produced a number of the great-
est poets in Chinese history. Because these poems are in translation, the question of
diction—word choice—is not relevant to our discussion, but these poems often use
metaphor, imagery, and symbol.

“An Early Rising” describes his travel to a meeting with the emperor, conducted usu-
ally at 6:30 am, and requiring a very early start with many problems along the journey.
He envies Ch’en Chü-shih, the hermit who can stay in bed all morning. Ironically, Po lived
at the end of his life in an abandoned monastery and referred to himself as a hermit.

AN EARLY RISING (Addressed to Ch’en, the Hermit)

At Ch’ang-an—a full foot of snow;
A rising at dawn—to bestow congratulations on the Emperor. 
Just as I was nearing the Gate of the Silver Terrace, 
After I had left the suburb of Hsin-ch’ang 
On the high causeway my horse’s foot slipped;
In the middle of the journey my lantern suddenly went out. 
Ten leagues riding, always facing to the North;

continued

191

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The cold wind almost blew off my ears.
I waited for the bell outside the Five Gates;
I waited for the summons within the Triple Hall.
My hair and beard were frozen and covered with icicles; 
My coat and robe—chilly like water. 
Suddenly I thought of Hsien-yu Valley 
And secretly envied Ch’en Chü-shih, 
In warm bed-socks dozing beneath the rugs 
And not getting up till the sun has mounted the sky.

—tr. Arthur Waley

Like many people close to power, Po was not always praised, and sometimes he was envied. He fell from grace at
one point in his life and was condemned for writing some poems that displeased his enemies. In the following poem he
explains that writing poems can be dangerous.

MADLY SINGING IN THE MOUNTAINS

There is no one among men that has not a special failing: 
And my failing consists in writing verses. 
I have broken away from the thousand ties of life: 
But this infirmity still remains behind. 
Each time that I look at a fine landscape:  
Each time that I meet a loved friend,
I raise my voice and recite a stanza of poetry
And am glad as though a God had crossed my path.
Ever since the day I was banished to Hsün-yang
Half my time I have lived among the hills. 
And often, when I have finished a new poem, 
Alone I climb the road to the Eastern Rock. 
I lean my body on the banks of white stone:
I pull down with my hands a green cassia branch. 
My mad singing startles the valleys and hills: 
The apes and birds all come to peep. 
Fearing to become a laughing-stock to the world, 
I choose a place that is unfrequented by men.

—tr. Arthur Waley

Po, Like many great writers who suffered exile, wrote about the pain of his banishment from the wonderful dynamic
city of Chang’an.

EXILE

Across great plains of yellow sand,
Where the whistling winds are blown,

Over the cloud-topped mountain peaks,
They wend their way alone.

Few are the pilgrims that attain   
Mount Omi’s heights afar;

And the bright gleam of their standard grows 
Faint as the last pale star.  

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Dark the Sezchuan waters loom, 
Dark the Sezchuan hills,    

And day and night the Emperor’s life
An endless sorrow fills.    

The brightness of the foreign moon
Saddens his lonely heart;

And a sound of a bell in the evening rain 
Doth rend his soul apart. 

—tr. L. Cranmer-Byng

Po meditated on the beauty of Lake Shang but saw, too, the significance of this beauty to the meaning of his own
life and its perishability.

LAKE SHANG

Oh! she is like a picture in the spring,  
This lake of Shang, with the wild hills gathering    
Into a winding garden at the base 
Of stormless waters; pines, deep blue, enlace  
The lessening slopes, and broken moonlight

gleams
Across the waves like pearls we thread in

dreams.
Like a woof of jasper strands the corn unfolds,
Field upon field beyond the quiet wolds; 
The late-blown rush flaunts in the dusk serene
Her netted sash and slender skirt of green.
Sadly I turn my prow toward the shore,
The dream behind me and the world before.
O Lake of Shang, his feet may wander far
Whose soul you hold mirrored as a star.

—tr. L. Cranmer-Byng 

In “The Ancient Wind,” a meditation on aging and death, Po compares himself to a single pine tree left alone in the
landscape. All his senses are involved in this poem and the images are direct, simple, and powerful in the manner that
later poets emulate even today.

THE ANCIENT WIND

The peach blooms open on the eastern wall —
I breathe their fragrance, laughing in the glow
Of golden noontide. Suddenly there comes
The revelation of the ancient wind,
Flooding my soul with glory; till I feel
One with the brightness of the first far dawn,
One with the many-colored spring; and all    
The secrets of the scented hearts of flowers
Are whispered through me; till I cry aloud.    
Alas! how grey and scentless is the bloom    
Of mortal life! This — this alone I fear,   

continued

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That from yon twinkling mirror of delight
The unreal flowers may fade; that with the breath
Of the fiery flying Dragon they will fall 
Petal by petal, slowly, yet too soon,      
Into the world’s green sepulchre. Alas!   
My little friends, my lovers, we must part,      
And, like some uncompanioned pine that stands,    
Last of the legions on the southern slopes,      
I too shall stand alone, and hungry winds 
Shall gnaw the lute-strings of my desolate heart.

—tr. L. Cranmer-Byng 

Summary
Our emphasis throughout this chapter has been on literature as the wedding of
sound and sense. Literature is not passive; it does not sit on the page. It is engaged
actively in the lives of those who give it a chance. A reading aloud of some of the
literary samples in this chapter—especially the lyric—illustrates the point.

We have been especially interested in two aspects of literature: its structure and
its details. Any artifact is composed of an overall organization that gathers details
into some kind of unity. It is the same in literature, and before we can understand
how writers reveal the visions they have of their subject matters, we need to be
aware of how details are combined into structures. The use of image, metaphor,
symbol, and diction, as well as other details, determines in an essential sense the
content of a work of literature.

PERCEPTION KEY Po Chü’i, Poet of the T’ang Dynasty
1. Give some thought to examining the imagery in these poems. What does the poet

see? What does he hear? What does he feel? What does he smell?
2. Does “the world’s green sepulchre” in “The Ancient Wind” act as a metaphor or a

symbol, or both? 
3. Are these poems simple enough for most people? What makes them valuable as

poems? Choose any poem and comment on its subject matter and its content. 
4. Po talks often about the weather. Are his examples metaphors, imagery, or none

of those?
5. There may be no images, metaphors, or symbols in “Madly Singing in the Moun-

tains.” If that is true, what gives it the status of poetry and art? What is the subject
matter, and what is the content?

6. Listen to someone read one of these poems aloud—perhaps even try to sing the
poem. In what ways does listening to the poem alter your sense of its significance?

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LITERATURE

Structural strategies, such as the choice between a narrative or a lyric, will de-
termine to a large extent how details are used. There are many kinds of structures
besides the narrative and the lyric, although these two offer convenient polarities
that help indicate the nature of literary structure. It would be useful for any stu-
dent of literature to discover how many kinds of narrative structures—in addition
to the already discussed episodic, organic, and quest structures—can be used. And
it also would be useful to determine how the different structural strategies tend
toward the selection of different subject matters. We have made some suggestions
as starters: pointing out the capacity of the narrative for reaching into a vast range
of experience, especially for revealing psychological truths, and the capacity of the
lyric for revealing feeling.

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196

©Joan Marcus

C h a p t e r 8

THEATER

We sit in the darkened theater with many strangers. We sense an air of anticipa-tion, an awareness of excitement. People cough, rustle about, then suddenly
become still. Slowly the lights on the stage begin to come up, and we see actors
moving before us, apparently unaware of our presence. They are in rooms or spaces
similar to those that we may be in ourselves at the end of the evening. Eventually
they begin speaking to one another much the way we might ourselves, sometimes
saying things so intimate that we are uneasy. They move about the stage, conduct-
ing their lives in total disregard for us, only hinting occasionally that we might be
there in the same space with them.

At first we feel that despite our being in the same building with the actors,
we are in a different world. Then slowly the distance between us and the actors
begins to diminish until, in a good play, our participation erases the distance.
We thrill with the actors, but we also suffer with them. We witness the illusion
of an action that has an emotional impact for us and changes the way we think
about our own lives. Great plays such as Hamlet, Othello, The Misanthrope, Death
of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Long Day’s Journey into Night can have
the power to transform our awareness of ourselves and our circumstances. It is
a mystery common to much art: that the illusion of reality can affect the reality
of our own lives.

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Aristotle And the elements of drAmA
Drama is a collaborative art that represents events and situations, either realistic
and/or symbolic, that we witness happening through the actions of actors in a play
on a stage in front of a live audience. According to the greatest dramatic critic, Ar-
istotle (384–322 BCE), the elements of drama are as follows:

Plot: a series of events leading to disaster for the main characters who undergo
reversals in fortune and understanding but usually ending with a form of enlight-
enment—sometimes of the characters, sometimes of the audience, and some-
times of both
Character: the presentation of a person or persons whose actions and the reason
for them are more or less revealed to the audience
Diction: the language of the drama, which should be appropriate to the action
Thought: the ideas that underlie the plot of the drama, expressed in terms of
dialogue and soliloquy
Spectacle: the places of the action, the costumes, set designs, and visual elements
in the play
Music: in Greek drama, the dialogue was sometimes sung or chanted by a cho-
rus, and often this music was of considerable emotional importance; in modern
drama, music is rarely used in serious plays, but it is of first importance in the
musical theater

Aristotle conceived his theories in the great age of Greek tragedy, and therefore
much of what he has to say applies to tragedies by such dramatists as Aeschylus
(ca. 525–456 BCE), especially his trilogy, Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The
Eumenides. Sophocles (ca. 496–406 BCE) wrote Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Oedipus
at Colonus; and Euripides (ca. 485–406 BCE), the last of the greatest Greek trage-
dians, wrote Andromache, Medea, and The Trojan Women. All of these plays are still
performed around the world, along with comedies by Aristophanes (ca. 448–385
BCE), the greatest Greek writer of comedies. His plays include Lysistrata, The Birds,
The Wasps, and The Frogs. These plays often have a satirical and political purpose
and set a standard for much drama to come.

Plot involves rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. For Aristotle, the
tragic hero quests for truth. The moment of truth—the climax—is called recognition.
When the fortune of the protagonist turns from good to bad, the reversal follows.
The strongest effect of tragedy occurs when recognition and reversal happen at the
same time, as in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex (Figure 8-1).

The protagonist, or leading character, in the most powerful tragedies fails not
only because of fate, which is a powerful force in Greek thought, but also because of
a flaw in character (hamartia), a disregard of human limitations. The protagonist in
the best tragedies ironically brings his misfortune upon himself. In Oedipus Rex, for
example, the impetuous behavior of Oedipus works well for him until he decides
to leave “home.” Then his rash actions bring on disaster. Sophocles shows us that
something of what happens to Oedipus could happen to us. We pity Oedipus and
fear for him. Tragedy, Aristotle tells us, arouses pity and fear and by doing so pro-
duces in us a catharsis, a purging of those feelings, wiping out some of the horror.

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The drama helps us understand the complexities of human nature and the power of
our inescapable destinies.

Dialogue and Soliloquy

The primary dramatic interchanges are achieved by dialogue, the exchange of con-
versation among the characters. In older plays, the individual speech of a character
might be relatively long, and then it is answered by another character in the same
way. In more-modern plays, the dialogue is often extremely short. Sometimes a few
minutes of dialogue will contain a succession of speeches only five or six words in
length. The following is an example of a brief dialogue between Algernon and his
manservant, Lane, from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Algernon: A glass of sherry, Lane.
Lane: Yes, sir.
Algernon: Tomorrow, Lane, I’m going Bunburying.
Lane: Yes, sir.
Algernon: I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can put up my dress

clothes, my smoking jacket, and all the Bunbury suits—

FIGURE 8-1
Oedipus Rex. In the Tyrone Guthrie
Theatre production, 1973, the
shepherd tells Oedipus the truth
about his birth and how he was
prophesied to kill his father and
marry his mother.

Courtesy Guthrie Theater.
Photo: Michael Paul

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THEATER

Lane: Yes, sir. (Handing sherry.)
Algernon: I hope tomorrow will be a fine day, Lane.
Lane: It never is, sir.
Algernon: Lane, you’re a perfect pessimist.
Lane: I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.

In this passage, Algernon plans to visit an imaginary friend, Bunbury, an invention
designed to help him avoid dinners and meetings that he cannot stand. The dia-
logue throughout the play is quick and witty, and the play is generally regarded as
one of the most amusing comedies. As in most plays, the dialogue moves the action
forward by telling us about the importance of the situations in which the actors
speak. This example is interesting because, while brisk, its last line introduces an
amusing irony, revealing the ironic soul of the entire play.

The soliloquy, on the other hand, is designed to give us insight into the character
who speaks the lines. In the best of soliloquies we are given to understand that char-
acters are speaking to themselves, not to the audience—the term “aside” is used to
describe such speeches. Because the character is alone we can trust to the sincerity
of the speech and the truths that it reveals. Hamlet’s soliloquies in Shakespeare’s
play are among the most famous in literature. Here, Hamlet speaks at a moment in
the play when the tension is greatest:

Hamlet: To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. [3.1.57–64]

There is nothing superficial about this speech, nor the many lines that come after it.
Hamlet considers suicide and, once having renounced it, considers what he must
do. The many soliloquies in Hamlet offer us insight into Hamlet’s character, show-
ing us an interiority, or psychological existence, that is rich and deep. In the Greek
tragedies, some of the function of the modern soliloquy was taken by the Chorus, a
group of citizens who commented in philosophic fashion on the action of the drama.

PERCEPTION KEY Soliloquy
A soliloquy occurs when a character alone onstage reveals his or her thoughts. Study
the use of the soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (3.3.73–96, 4.4.32–66) and in Ten-
nessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (Tom’s opening speech, Tom’s long speech in
scene 5, and his opening speech in scene 6). What do these soliloquies accomplish? Is
their purpose different in these two plays? Are soliloquies helpful in all drama? What
are their strengths and weaknesses?

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ArchetypAl pAtterns
Theater originated from ancient rituals that had their roots in religious patterns
such as death and rebirth. One such pattern is the ritual of sacrifice—which implies
that the individual must be sacrificed for the commonweal of society. Such a pat-
tern is archetypal—a basic psychological pattern that people apparently react to on a
more or less subconscious level. These patterns, archetypes, are deep in the myths
that have permeated history. We feel their importance even if we do not recognize
them consciously.

Archetypal drama aims at symbolic or mythic interpretations of experience. For in-
stance, one’s search for personal identity, for self-evaluation, a pattern repeated in all
ages, serves as a primary archetypal structure for drama. This archetype is the driv-
ing force in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, August Wilson’s The Piano
Lesson, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and many more plays—notably, but by no
means exclusively, in tragedies. (As we shall see, comedy also often uses this archetype.)
This archetype is powerful because, while content to watch other people discover their
identities, we may find that we are not the people we want others to think we are.

The power of the archetype derives, in part, from our recognition of a pattern
that has been repeated by the human race throughout history. The psychologist
Carl Jung, whose work spurred critical awareness of archetypal patterns in all the
arts, believed that the greatest power of the archetype lies in its capacity to reveal
through art the “imprinting” of human experience. Maud Bodkin, a critic who de-
veloped Jung’s views, explains the archetype this way:

The special emotional significance going beyond any definite meaning conveyed attri-
butes to the stirring in the reader’s mind, within or beneath his conscious response, of un-
conscious forces which he terms “primordial images” or archetypes. These archetypes he
describes as “psychic residua of numberless experiences of the same type,” experiences
which have happened not to the individual but to his ancestors, and of which the results
are inherited in the structure of the brain.1

The quest narrative (see Chapter 7) is an example of an archetypal structure, one
that recurs in drama frequently. For instance, Hamlet is seeking the truth about his
father’s death (Aristotle’s recognition), but in doing so, he is also trying to discover his
own identity as it relates to his mother. Sophocles’s Oedipus is the story of a man who
kills his father, marries his mother, and suffers a plague on his lands. He discovers the
truth (recognition again), and doom follows (Aristotle’s reversal). He blinds himself
and is ostracized. Freud thought the play so archetypal that he saw in it a profound
human psychological pattern, which he called the “Oedipus complex”: the desire of
a child to get rid of the same-sex parent and to have a sexual union with the parent
of the opposite sex. Not all archetypal patterns are so shocking, but most reveal an
aspect of basic human desires. Drama—because of its immediacy and compression of
presentation—is, perhaps, the most powerful means of expression for such archetypes.

Some of the more important archetypes include those of an older man, usu-
ally a king in ancient times, who is betrayed by a younger man, his trusted
lieutenant, with regard to a woman. This is the theme of Lady Gregory’s Grania.
The loss of innocence, a variation on the Garden of Eden theme, is another

1Maud Bodkin, Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1934), p. 1.

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THEATER

favorite, as in August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and The
Wild Duck. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia combines two archetypes: loss of innocence
and the quest for knowledge. However, no archetype seems to rival the quest
for self-identity. That quest is so common that it is even parodied, as in Wilde’s
The Importance of Being Earnest.

The four seasons set temporal dimensions for the development of archetypes
because the seasons are intertwined with patterns of growth and decay. The ori-
gins of drama, which are obscure beyond recall, may have been linked with rituals
associated with the planting of seed, the reaping of crops, and the entire complex
issue of fertility and death. In Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye associates com-
edy with spring, romance with summer, tragedy with autumn, irony and satire
with winter. His associations suggest that some archetypal drama may be rooted
in connections between human destiny and the rhythms of nature. Such origins
may account for part of the power that archetypal drama has for our imagina-
tions, for the influences that derive from such origins are pervasive in all of us.
These influences may also help explain why tragedy usually involves the death of
a hero—although, sometimes, as in the case of Oedipus, death is withheld—and
why comedy frequently ends with one or more marriages, as in Shakespeare’s As
You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with their
suggestions of fertility.

Genres of drAmA: trAGedy
Carefully structured plots are basic for Aristotle, especially for tragedies. The
action must be probable or plausible, but not necessarily historically accurate.
Although noble protagonists are essential for great tragedies, Aristotle allows
for tragedies with ordinary protagonists. In these, plot is much more the center
of interest than character. Then we have what may be called action dramas,
never, according to Aristotle, as powerful as character dramas, other things
being equal. Action dramas prevail on the popular stage and television. But
when we turn to the great tragedies that most define the genre, we think imme-
diately of great characters: Oedipus, Agamemnon, Prometheus, Hamlet, Mac-
beth, King Lear.

Modern drama tends to avoid traditional tragic structures because modern
concepts of morality, sin, guilt, fate, and death have been greatly altered. Modern

CONCEPTION KEY Archetypes
1. Whether or not you do additional reading, consider the recurrent patterns you

have observed in dramas—include television dramas or television adaptations of
drama. Can you find any of the patterns we have described? Do you see other
patterns showing up? Do the patterns you have observed seem basic to human
experience? For example, do you associate gaiety with spring, love with summer,
death with fall, and bitterness with winter? What season seems most appropriate
for marriage?

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psychology explains character in ways the ancients either would not have un-
derstood or would have disputed. Critics have said that there is no modern
tragedy because there can be no character noble enough to engage our heartfelt
sympathy. Moreover, the acceptance of chance as a force equal to fate in our
lives has also reduced the power of tragedy in modern times. Greek myth—used
by modern playwrights like Eugene O’Neill—has a diminished vitality in mod-
ern tragedy. It may be that the return of a strong integrating myth—a world
vision that sees the actions of humanity as tied into a large scheme of cosmic
or sacred events—is a prerequisite for producing a drama that we can recognize
as truly tragic, at least in the traditional sense. This may be an overstatement.
What do you think?

The Tragic Stage

Our vision of tragedy focuses on two great ages—ancient Greece and Renaissance
England. These two historical periods share certain basic ideas: for instance, that
there is a “divine providence that shapes our ends,” as Hamlet says, and that fate
is immutable, as the Greek tragedies tell us. Both periods were marked by consid-
erable prosperity and public power, and both ages were deeply aware that sudden
reversals in prosperity could change everything. In addition, both ages had some-
what similar ideas about the way a stage should be constructed. The relatively tem-
perate climate of Greece permitted an open amphitheater, with seating on three
sides of the stage. The Greek architects often had the seats carved out of hillside
rock, and their attention to acoustics was so remarkable that even today in some of
the surviving Greek theaters, as at Epidaurus, a whisper on the stage can be heard
in the farthest rows. The Elizabethan stages were roofed wooden structures jut-
ting into open space enclosed by stalls in which the well-to-do sat (the not-so-well-
to-do stood around the stage), providing for sight lines from three sides. Each kind
of theater was similar to a modified theater-in-the-round, such as is used occasion-
ally today. A glance at Figures 8-2 through 8-4 shows that the Greek and Elizabethan
theaters were very different from the standard theater of our time—the proscenium
theater.

The proscenium acts as a transparent “frame” separating the action taking place
on the stage from the audience. The Greek and Elizabethan stages are not so ex-
plicitly framed, thus involving the audience more directly spatially and, in turn,
perhaps, emotionally. In the Greek theater, the action took place in a circle called
the “orchestra.” The absence of a separate stage put the actors on the same level as
those seated at the lowest level of the audience.

Stage Scenery and Costumes

Modern theater depends on the scenery and costumes for much of its effect on the
audience. Aristotle considered these ingredients as part of the spectacle, what we
see when we are in the theater. Greek drama used a basic set, as seen in Figure 8-5,
with an open space, the orchestra, and a building, the skene, against which the
actors played.

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FIGURE 8-2
Theater at Epidaurus, Greece. Circa
350 BCE. The theater, which has
a capacity of more than 10,000
patrons, was used for early Greek
tragedy and is still used for
performances.

©Tuul/Robert Harding World Imagery

FIGURE 8-3
Modern rendering of DeWitt’s
1596 drawing of the interior of
an Elizabethan theater in London.
This is typical of those in which
Shakespeare’s plays were performed.

©Lee A. Jacobus

FIGURE 8-4
The auditorium and proscenium
of the Royal Opera House, Covent
Garden, London. The proscenium
arch is typical of theaters from the
eighteenth century to the present. It
has been compared with the fourth
wall of the drama within.

©Topham/The Image Works

203

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Greek actors wore simple clothing and distinguished their parts by the use of
elaborate masks, some of which included a megaphone to help project the voices.
The paraskenion provided entrances and exits, and the skene usually represented
a home or palace against which the action was set. The presence of the altar indi-
cates the religious nature of the festival of Dionysus, during which plays were pre-
sented. Because the Greeks held their festivals in the daytime, no special lighting
was necessary. Shakespearean and Elizabethan plays were staged in the afternoon
and used little stage scenery. The words of the play established the place and time
of the action.

Elaborate lighting and painted flats to establish the locale of the action became
the norm in the late seventeenth century and after. Candlelight was used inge-
niously in the late seventeenth century, but by the eighteenth century oil lamps
replaced lights in the theater and onstage.

The Drury Lane Theatre in London was the most popular theater of its time.
As seen in Figure 8-6, it made extensive use of artificial lighting, while the
stage was decorated with detailed painted sets simulating the environment in
which the actors moved. Such efforts at realistic staging had become the norm
with impressive speed, and even today we expect the stage to produce a sense
of realism.

In Shakespeare’s time, some of the most impressive and imaginative costumes
were not on the public stage, but in the special entertainments at the courts of
Queen Elizabeth and King James, as shown in Figure 8-7. They were called masques,
entertainments with mythic narratives, elaborate music and costumes, and much
dancing. Masques were very expensive to produce and were usually performed
only once for special celebrations.

FIGURE 8-5
Eretria, Greece. Early Greek theater.
The orchestra was the area for the
chorus to act in, and for the primary
actors. The paraskenion was used for
entrances and exits, and the skene
was a backdrop for the actors.

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THEATER

FIGURE 8-6
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1812.
London’s Drury Lane was the
most popular theater of its time.
Its lighting system was advanced,
and the scenery was painted and
constructed to produce an illusion
of reality.

FIGURE 8-7
Spirit Torchbearer, costume design
by Inigo Jones, 1613. Inigo Jones was
an architect and stage designer for
entertainments at court. His fanciful
Spirit was intended for a royal
masque written by Thomas Campion
to honor the marriage of King James
I’s daughter, Elizabeth.

©Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth/
Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth
Settlement Trustees/Bridgeman Images

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CHAPTER 8

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
For a contemporary audience, Romeo and Juliet is easier to participate with than
most Greek tragedies because, among other reasons, its tragic hero and heroine,
although aristocratic, are not a king and a queen. Their youth and innocence
add to their remarkable appeal. The play presents the archetypal story of lov-
ers whose fate—mainly because of the hatred their families bear each other—is
sealed from the first. The archetype of lovers who are not permitted to love
enacts a basic struggle among forces that lie so deep in our psyches that we
need a drama such as this to help reveal them. It is the struggle between light
and dark, between the world in which we live on the surface of the earth with
its light and openness and the world of darkness, the underworld of the Greeks
and the Romans, and the hell of the Christians. Young lovers represent life, the
promise of fertility, and the continuity of the human race. Few subject matters
could be more potentially tragic than that of young lovers whose promise is
plucked by death.

The play begins with some ominous observations by Montague, Romeo’s father.
He points out that Romeo, through love of a girl named Rosaline (who does not
appear in the play), comes home late in the morning and locks “fair daylight out,”
making for himself an “artificial night.” Montague tells us that Romeo stays up all
night, comes home, pulls down the shades, and converts day into night. These ob-
servations seem innocent enough unless one is already familiar with the plot; then
it seems a clear and tragic irony: that Romeo, by making his day a night, is already
foreshadowing his fate. After Juliet has been introduced, her nurse wafts her off-
stage with an odd bit of advice aimed at persuading her of the wisdom of marrying
Count Paris, the man her mother has chosen. “Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy
days.” At first glance, the advice seems innocent. But with knowledge of the entire
play, it is prophetic, for it echoes the day/night imagery Montague has applied to
Romeo. Shakespeare’s details invariably tie in closely with the structure. Everything
becomes relevant.

When Romeo first speaks with Juliet, not only is it night but they are in Cap-
ulet’s orchard: symbolically a place of fruitfulness and fulfillment. Romeo sees her
and imagines her, not as chaste Diana of the moon, but as his own luminary sun:
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the East, and Juliet
is the sun!” He sees her as his “bright angel.” When she, unaware he is listening
below, asks, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy father
and refuse thy name,” she is touching on profound concerns. She is, without fully
realizing it, asking the impossible: that he not be himself. The denial of identity
often brings great pain, as witness Oedipus, who at first refused to believe he was
his father’s child. When Juliet asks innocently, “What’s in a name? That which
we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” she is asking that he
ignore his heritage. The mythic implications of this are serious and, in this play,
fatal. Denying one’s identity is rather like Romeo’s later attempt to deny day its
sovereignty.

When they finally speak, Juliet explains ironically that she has “night’s cloak to
hide me” and that the “mask of night is upon my face.” We know, as she speaks,
that eternal night will be on that face, and all too soon. Their marriage, which oc-
curs offstage as act 2 ends, is also performed at night in Friar Lawrence’s cell, with

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THEATER

his hoping that the heavens will smile upon “this holy act.” But he is none too
sure. And before act 3 is well under way, the reversals begin. Mercutio, Romeo’s
friend, is slain because of Romeo’s intervention. Then Romeo slays Tybalt, Juliet’s
cousin, and finds himself doomed to exile from both Verona and Juliet. Grieving for
the dead Tybalt and the banished Romeo, Juliet misleads her father into thinking
the only cure for her condition is a quick marriage to Paris, and Romeo comes to
spend their one night of love together before he leaves Verona. Naturally they want
the night to last and last—again an irony we are prepared for—and when daylight
springs, Romeo and Juliet have a playful argument over whether it is the nightingale
or the lark that sings. Juliet wants Romeo to stay, so she defends the nightingale; he
knows he must go, so he points to the lark and the coming light. Then both, finally,
admit the truth. His line is “More light and light—more dark and dark our woes.”

Another strange archetypal pattern, part of the complexity of the subject matter,
has begun here: the union of sex and death as if they were aspects of the same thing.
In Shakespeare’s time, death was a metaphor for making love, and often when a
singer of a love song protested that he was dying, he expected everyone to under-
stand that he was talking about the sexual act. In Romeo and Juliet, sex and death
go together, both literally and symbolically. The first most profound sense of this
appears in Juliet’s pretending death in order to avoid marrying Paris. She takes a
potion from Friar Lawrence—who is himself afraid of a second marriage because of
possible bigamy charges—and she appears, despite all efforts of investigation, quite
dead.

When Romeo hears that Juliet has been placed in the Capulet tomb, he de-
termines to join her in death as he was only briefly able to do in life. The mes-
sage Friar Lawrence had sent by way of another friar explaining the counterfeit
death did not get through to Romeo. And it did not get through because gen-
uine death, in the form of plague, had closed the roads to Friar John. When
Romeo descends underground into the tomb, he unwillingly fights Paris. After
killing Paris, Romeo sees the immobile Juliet. He fills his cup (a female symbol)
with poison and drinks. When Juliet awakes from her potion and sees both
Paris and Romeo dead, she can get no satisfactory answer for these happenings
from Friar Lawrence. His fear is so great that he runs off as the authorities
bear down on the tomb. This leaves Juliet to give Romeo one last kiss on his
still warm lips, then plunge his dagger (a male symbol) into her heart and die
(Figure 8-8).

Earlier, when Capulet thought his daughter was dead, he exclaimed to Paris,
“O son, the night before thy wedding day / Hath Death lain with thy wife. There
she lies, / Flower as she was, deflowered by him. / Death is my son-in-law,
Death is my heir.” At the end of the play, both Juliet and his real son-in-law,
Romeo, are indeed married in death. The linkage of death and sex is ironically
enacted in their final moments, which include the awful misunderstandings that
the audience beholds in sorrow, that make Romeo and Juliet take their own lives
for love of each other. And among the last lines is one that helps clarify one of
the main themes: “A glooming peace this morning with it brings. / The sun for
sorrow will not show his head.” Theatergoers have mourned these deaths for
generations, and the promise that these two families will now finally try to get
along together in a peaceful manner does not seem strong enough to brighten
the ending of the play.

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208

CHAPTER 8

FIGURE 8-8
Romeo and Juliet in the tomb.
Worcester Foothills Theater
production, 2003, directed by Edward
Isser. Juliet awakes to find Romeo’s
body after he has drunk poison. She
will seize his dagger and follow him
to the grave.

©ArenaPal/Topham/The Image Works

PERCEPTION KEY Tragedy
1. While participating with Romeo and Juliet, did you experience pity and fear for the

protagonists? Catharsis (the purging of those emotions)?
2. Our discussion of the play did not treat the question of the tragic flaw (hamartia):

the weakness of character that brings disaster to the main characters. One of Ro-
meo’s flaws may be rashness—the rashness that led him to kill Tybalt and thus
be banished. But he may have other flaws as well. What might they be? What are
Juliet’s tragic flaws, if any?

3. You may not have been able to see Romeo and Juliet, but perhaps other trage-
dies are available. Try to see any of the tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, or
Shakespeare; Ibsen’s Ghosts; John Millington Synge’s Riders to the Sea; Eugene
O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night; Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie;
or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Analyze the issues of tragedy we have
raised. For example, decide whether the play is archetypal. Are there tragic
flaws? Are there reversals and recognitions of the sort Aristotle analyzed? Did
the recognition and reversal occur simultaneously? Are the characters import-
ant enough—if not noble enough—to excite your compassion for their sorrow
and suffering?

4. If you were to write a tragedy, what modern figure could be a proper tragic protag-
onist? What archetypal antagonist would be appropriate for your tragedy? What
tragic flaw or flaws would such a modern antagonist exhibit?

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THEATER

comedy: old And new
Ancient Western comedies were performed at a time associated with wine making,
thus linking the genre with the wine god Bacchus and his relative Comus—from
whom the word “comedy” comes. Comedy, like tragedy, achieved institutional
status in ancient Greece. Some of the earliest comedies, along with satyr plays,
were frankly phallic in nature, and many of the plays of Aristophanes, the master
of Old Comedy, were raucous and coarse. Plutarch was offended by plays such as
The Clouds, The Frogs, The Wasps, and especially Lysistrata, the world’s best-known
phallic play, concerning a situation in which the women of a community withhold
sex until the men agree not to wage any more war. At one point in the play, the
humor centers on the men walking around with enormous erections under their
togas. Obviously Old Comedy is old in name only, since it is still present in the
routines of nightclub comedians and the bawdy entertainment halls of the world.

In contrast, the New Comedy of Menander, with titles such as The Flatterer, The
Lady from Andros, The Suspicious Man, and The Grouch, his only surviving complete
play, concentrated on common situations in the everyday life of the Athenian. It
also avoided the brutal attacks on individuals, such as Socrates, which characterize
much Old Comedy. Historians credit Menander with developing the comedy of
manners, the kind of drama that satirizes the manners of a society as the basic part
of its subject matter.

Old Comedy is associated with our modern farce, burlesque, and the broad
humor and make-believe violence of slapstick. New Comedy tends to be suave and
subtle. Concentrating on manners, New Comedy developed type characters, for
they helped focus upon the foibles of social behavior. Type characters, such as the
gruff and difficult man who turns out to have a heart of gold, the good cop, the
bad cop, the ingenue, the finicky person, or the sloppy person—all these work well
in comedies. Such characters can become stereotypes—with predictable behavior
patterns—although the best dramatists usually make them complex enough so that
they are not completely predictable.

The comic vision celebrates life and fecundity. Typically in comedy, all ends well;
conflicts are resolved; and, as often in Shakespeare’s comedies, the play concludes
with feasting, revelry, and a satisfying distribution of brides to the appropriate suit-
ors. We are encouraged to imagine that they will live happily ever after.

PERCEPTION KEY Type Characters
1. In The Odd Couple, Felix Unger, a finicky opera-loving neatnik, lives with Oscar

Madison, a slob whose life revolves around sports. What is inherently funny about
linking different type characters like them?

2. Type characters exist in all drama. What types are Romeo, Juliet, the Nurse, and
Friar Lawrence? How close do they stay to their types?

3. To what extent is Hamlet a type character? Is it possible that the character of
Hamlet actually created the dark-hued melancholiac as a type that did not exist
before Shakespeare created him?

4. What type characters do you remember from your experiences with drama? What
are the strengths of such characters? What are their limitations?

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Comedy, like tragedy, may use archetypal patterns. A blocking character, per-
sonified by a parent or controlling older person, is often pitted against the younger
characters who wish to be married. The “parent” can be any older person who
blocks the younger people, usually by virtue of controlling their inheritance or their
wealth. The blocking character, for social or mercenary reasons, schemes to stop
the young people from getting together.

Naturally, the blocking character fails. But the younger characters do not merely
win their own struggle. They usually go on to demonstrate the superiority of their
views over those of the blocking character. For example, they may demonstrate that
true love is a better reason for marrying than is merging two neighboring estates.
One common pattern is for two lovers to decide to marry regardless of their social
classes. The male, for instance, may be a soldier or a student but not belong to
the upper class to which the female belongs. But often at the last minute, through
means such as a birthmark (as in The Marriage of Figaro) or the admission of another
character who knew all along, the lower-class character will be shown to be a mem-
ber of the upper class in disguise. Often the character himself will not know the
truth until the last minute in the drama. This is a variant of Aristotle’s recognition
in tragedy, although it does not have the unhappy consequences. In all of this, New
Comedy is usually in tacit agreement with the ostensible standards of the society
it entertains. It only stretches the social standards and is thus evolutionary rather
than revolutionary.

Blocking characters may be misers, for example, whose entire lives are devoted
to mercenary goals, although they may not be able to enjoy the money they heap
up; or malcontents, forever looking on the dark side of humanity; or hypochondri-
acs, whose every move is dictated by their imaginary illnesses. Such characters are
so rigid that their behavior is a form of vice. The effort of the younger characters is
often to reform the older characters, educating them away from their entrenched
and narrow values toward accepting the idealism and hopefulness of the young
people who, after all, are in line to inherit the world that the older people are reluc-
tant to turn over. Few generations give way without a struggle, and this archetypal
struggle on the comic stage may serve to give hope to the young when they most
need it, as well as possibly to help educate the old so as to make the real struggle
less terrible.

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PERCEPTION KEY Old and New Comedy
Studying comedy in the abstract is difficult. It is best for you to test what has been
discussed above by comparing our descriptions and interpretations with your own ob-
servations. If you have a chance to see some live comedy onstage, use that experience,
but if that is impossible, watch some television comedy.

1. Is there criticism of society? If so, is it savage or gentle?
2. Are there blocking characters? If so, do they function somewhat in the ways de-

scribed above? Are there any new twists?
3. See or read at least two comedies. How many type or stereotype characters can

you identify? Is there an example of the braggart tough guy? The big lover? The
poor but honest fellow? The dumb cop? The absentminded professor? Do types or
stereotypes dominate? Which do you find more humorous? Why?

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trAGicomedy: the mixed Genre
On the walls beside many stages, especially the ancient, we find two masks: the
tragic mask with a downturned mouth and the comic mask with an upturned mouth.
If there were a third mask, it would probably have an expression of bewilderment,
as if someone had just asked an unanswerable question. Mixing the genres of trag-
edy and comedy in a drama may give such a feeling. Modern audiences are often
left with many unanswered questions when they leave the theater. They are not
always given resolutions that wrap things up neatly. Instead, tragicomedy tends,
more than either tragedy or comedy, to reveal the ambiguities of the world. It does
not usually end with the finality of death or the promise of a new beginning. It usu-
ally ends somewhere in between.

The reason tragicomedy has taken some time to become established as a genre
may have had something to do with the fact that Aristotle did not provide an anal-
ysis—an extraordinary example of a philosopher having great influence on the arts.
Thus, for a long time, tragicomedy was thought of as a mixing of two pure genres
and consequently inferior in kind. The mixing of tragedy and comedy is surely
justified, if for no other reason than the mixture works so well, as proved by most
of the marvelous plays of Chekhov. This mixed genre is a way of making drama
truer to life. As playwright Sean O’Casey commented to a college student, “As for
the blending ‘Comedy with Tragedy,’ it’s no new practice—hundreds have done it,
including Shakespeare. . . . And, indeed, Life is always doing it, doing it, doing it.
Even when one lies dead, laughter is often heard in the next room. There’s no trag-
edy that isn’t tinged with humour, no comedy that hasn’t its share of tragedy—if one
has eyes to see, ears to hear.” Much of our best modern drama is mixed in genre so
that, as O’Casey points out, it is rare to find a comedy that has no sadness to it or a
tragedy that is unrelieved by laughter.

A plAy for study: RideRs to the sea
Riders to the Sea (1904, see Figure 8-9) was John Millington Synge’s first success
with the famed Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It follows some of the Aristotelian de-
mands for tragedy. It is enacted in one day in the time it takes to play. The pri-
mary character, Maurya, while not royalty, is ennobled and heroic because of her
stoicism. Moreover, the power of fate, a Greek force, seems to be at work in this
modern age, despite the allusions to Christianity in the form of the young priest
who carelessly assures Maurya that God will not let her be left without any men
to look after her. Maurya—whose name is close to the Greek moira, fate—is a pow-
erful figure whose final speeches are among the most lyrical and moving in all
of Irish drama. The setting is on one of the the remote Aran islands, off the west
coast of Ireland in the Atlantic. The passage from the island to the coast is treach-
erous, which is why so many of the men have died trying to make a living on
the water. Even today the islanders use the old-fashioned boats to make the trip,
sometimes towing animals in the water behind them. While it seems that the play
carries the weight of doom throughout, the point Synge makes is that life in the
remote spaces of Ireland demands resourcefulness and a transcendent grace in
the women who survive.

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CHAPTER 8

RIDERS TO THE SEA

FIGURE 8-9
The Druid Synge Production of Riders
to the Sea, 2005, Galway, Ireland.

Image by Keith Pattison, courtesy of Druid

John Millington Synge

Persons in the Play
maurya (an old woman)

bartley (her son)

cathleen (her daughter)

nora (a younger daughter)

men and women

scene: An Island off the West of Ireland.

(Cottage kitchen, with nets, oil-skins, spinning wheel, some new
boards standing by the wall, etc.

Cathleen, a girl of about twenty, finishes kneading cake, and puts
it down in the pot-oven by the fire; then wipes her hands, and
begins to spin at the wheel. NORA, a young girl, puts her head
in at the door.)

nora (In a low voice.): Where is she?

cathleen: She’s lying down, God help her, and may be
sleeping, if she’s able.

(Nora comes in softly, and takes a bundle from under her shawl.)

cathleen (Spinning the wheel rapidly.): What is it you have?

nora: The young priest is after bringing them. It’s a shirt and
a plain stocking were got off a drowned man in Donegal.

(Cathleen stops her wheel with a sudden movement, and leans
out to listen.)

nora: We’re to find out if it’s Michael’s they are, some time
herself will be down looking by the sea.

cathleen: How would they be Michael’s, Nora. How would
he go the length of that way to the far north?

nora: The young priest says he’s known the like of it. “If it’s
Michael’s they are,” says he, “you can tell herself he’s got a
clean burial by the grace of God, and if they’re not his, let no
one say a word about them, for she’ll be getting her death,”
says he, “with crying and lamenting.”

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(The door which Nora half closed is blown open by a gust of wind.)

cathleen (Looking out anxiously.): Did you ask him would he
stop Bartley going this day with the horses to the Galway
fair?

nora: “I won’t stop him,” says he, “but let you not be afraid.
Herself does be saying prayers half through the night,
and the Almighty God won’t leave her destitute,” says he,
“with no son living.”

cathleen: Is the sea bad by the white rocks, Nora?

nora: Middling bad, God help us. There’s a great roaring in
the west, and it’s worse it’ll be getting when the tide’s
turned to the wind. (She goes over to the table with the
bundle.) Shall I open it now?

cathleen: Maybe she’d wake up on us, and come in before
we’d done. (Coming to the table.) It’s a long time we’ll be,
and the two of us crying.

nora (Goes to the inner door and listens.): She’s moving about
on the bed. She’ll be coming in a minute.

cathleen: Give me the ladder, and I’ll put them up in the turf-
loft, the way she won’t know of them at all, and maybe
when the tide turns she’ll be going down to see would he
be floating from the east.

(They put the ladder against the gable of the chimney; Cathleen
goes up a few steps and hides the bundle in the turf-loft.
Maurya comes from the inner room.)

maurya (Looking up at Cathleen and speaking querulously.):
Isn’t it turf enough you have for this day and evening?

cathleen: There’s a cake baking at the fire for a short space.
(Throwing down the turf) and Bartley will want it when the
tide turns if he goes to Connemara.

(nora picks up the turf and puts it round the pot-oven.)

maurya (Sitting down on a stool at the fire.): He won’t go this day
with the wind rising from the south and west. He won’t
go this day, for the young priest will stop him surely.

nora: He’ll not stop him, mother, and I heard Eamon
Simon and Stephen Pheety and Colum Shawn saying he
would go.

maurya: Where is he itself?

nora: He went down to see would there be another boat
sailing in the week, and I’m thinking it won’t be long till
he’s here now, for the tide’s turning at the green head,
and the hooker tacking from the east.

cathleen: I hear some one passing the big stones.

nora (Looking out.): He’s coming now, and he’s in a hurry.

bartley (Comes in and looks round the room. Speaking sadly and
quietly.): Where is the bit of new Rope, Cathleen, was
bought in Connemara?

cathleen (Coming down.): Give it to him, Nora; it’s on a nail
by the white boards. I hung it up this morning, for the pig
with the black feet was eating it.

nora (Giving him a rope.): Is that it, Bartley?

maurya: You’d do right to leave that rope, Bartley, hanging
by the boards (Bartley Takes the rope). It will be wanting
in this place, I’m telling you, if Michael is washed up to-
morrow morning, or the next morning, or any morning
in the week, for it’s a deep grave we’ll make him by the
grace of God.

bartley (Beginning to work with the rope.): I’ve no halter the
way I can ride down on the mare, and I must go now
quickly. This is the one boat going for two weeks or
beyond it, and the fair will be a good fair for horses I
heard them saying below.

maurya: It’s a hard thing they’ll be saying below if the body
is washed up and there’s no man in it to make the coffin,
and I after giving a big price for the finest white boards
you’d find in Connemara.

(She looks round at the boards.)

bartley: How would it be washed up, and we after looking
each day for nine days, and a strong wind blowing a while
back from the west and south?

maurya: If it wasn’t found itself, that wind is raising the sea,
and there was a star up against the moon, and it rising in
the night. If it was a hundred horses, or a thousand horses
you had itself, what is the price of a thousand horses
against a son where there is one son only?

bartley (Working at the halter, to Cathleen.): Let you go down
each day, and see the sheep aren’t jumping in on the rye,
and if the jobber comes you can sell the pig with the black
feet if there is a good price going.

213

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maurya: How would the like of her get a good price for a pig?

bartley (To Cathleen): If the west wind holds with the last bit
of the moon let you and NORA get up weed enough for
another cock for the kelp. It’s hard set we’ll be from this
day with no one in it but one man to work.

maurya: It’s hard set we’ll be surely the day you’re drownd’d
with the rest. What way will I live and the girls with me,
and I an old woman looking for the grave?

(bartley lays down the halter, takes off his old coat, and puts on
a newer one of the same flannel.)

bartley (To Nora.): Is she coming to the pier?

nora (Looking out.): She’s passing the green head and letting
fall her sails.

bartley (Getting his purse and tobacco.): I’ll have half an hour
to go down, and you’ll see me coming again in two days,
or in three days, or maybe in four days if the wind is bad.

maurya (Turning round to the fire, and putting her shawl over
her head.): Isn’t it a hard and cruel man won’t hear a word
from an old woman, and she holding him from the sea?

cathleen: It’s the life of a young man to be going on the sea,
and who would listen to an old woman with one thing
and she saying it over?

bartley: (Taking the halter.) I must go now quickly. I’ll ride
down on the red mare, and the gray pony’ll run behind
me . . . The blessing of God on you. (He goes out.)

maurya (Crying out as he is in the door.): He’s gone now, God
spare us, and we’ll not see him again. He’s gone now, and
when the black night is falling I’ll have no son left me in
the world.

cathleen: Why wouldn’t you give him your blessing and he
looking round in the door? Isn’t it sorrow enough is on
every one in this house without your sending him out with
an unlucky word behind him, and a hard word in his ear?

(maurya takes up the tongs and begins raking the fire aimlessly
without looking round.)

nora (Turning towards her.): You’re taking away the turf from
the cake.

cathleen (Crying out.): The Son of God forgive us, Nora, we’re
after forgetting his bit of bread. (She comes over to the fire.)

nora: And it’s destroyed he’ll be going till dark night, and he
after eating nothing since the sun went up.

cathleen (Turning the cake out of the oven.): It’s destroyed he’ll
be, surely. There’s no sense left on any person in a house
where an old woman will be talking for ever.

(Maurya sways herself on her stool.)

cathleen (Cutting off some of the bread and rolling it in a cloth;
to Maurya.): Let you go down now to the spring well and
give him this and he passing. You’ll see him then and the
dark word will be broken, and you can say “God speed
you,” the way he’ll be easy in his mind.

maurya (Taking the bread.): Will I be in it as soon as himself?

cathleen: If you go now quickly.

maurya (Standing up unsteadily.): It’s hard set I am to walk.

cathleen (Looking at her anxiously.): Give her the stick, Nora,
or maybe she’ll slip on the big stones.

nora: What stick?

cathleen: The stick Michael brought from Connemara.

maurya (Taking a stick Nora gives her.): In the big world the
old people do be leaving things after them for their sons
and children, but in this place it is the young men do be
leaving things behind for them that do be old.

(She goes out slowly. Nora goes over to the ladder.)

cathleen: Wait, Nora, maybe she’d turn back quickly. She’s
that sorry, God help her, you wouldn’t know the thing
she’d do.

nora: Is she gone round by the bush?

cathleen (Looking out.): She’s gone now. Throw it down
quickly, for the Lord knows when she’ll be out of it again.

nora (Getting the bundle from the loft.): The young priest said
he’d be passing to-morrow, and we might go down and
speak to him below if it’s Michael’s they are surely.

cathleen (Taking the bundle.): Did he say what way they were
found?

nora (Coming down.): “There were two men,” says he, “and
they rowing round with poteen before the cocks crowed,

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and the oar of one of them caught the body, and they
passing the black cliffs of the north.”

cathleen (Trying to open the bundle.): Give me a knife, Nora,
the string’s perished with the salt water, and there’s a
black knot on it you wouldn’t loosen in a week.

nora (Giving her a knife.): I’ve heard tell it was a long way to
Donegal.

cathleen (Cutting the string.): It is surely. There was a man in
here a while ago—the man sold us that knife—and he said
if you set off walking from the rocks beyond, it would be
seven days you’d be in Donegal.

nora: And what time would a man take, and he floating?

(Cathleen opens the bundle and takes out a bit of a stocking. They
look at them eagerly.)

cathleen (In a low voice.): The Lord spare us, Nora! Isn’t it a
queer hard thing to say if it’s his they are surely?

nora: I’ll get his shirt off the hook the way we can put the
one flannel on the other (she looks through some clothes
hanging in the corner.) It’s not with them, Cathleen, and
where will it be?

cathleen: I’m thinking Bartley put it on him in the morning,
for his own shirt was heavy with the salt in it (pointing to
the corner). There’s a bit of a sleeve was of the same stuff.
Give me that and it will do.

(Nora brings it to her and they compare the flannel.)

cathleen: It’s the same stuff, Nora but if it is itself aren’t
there great rolls of it in the shops of Galway, and isn’t
it many another man may have a shirt of it as well as
Michael himself?

nora (Who has taken up the stocking and counted the stitches,
crying out.): It’s Michael, Cathleen, it’s Michael; God
spare his soul, and what will herself say when she hears
this story, and Bartley on the sea?

cathleen (Taking the stocking.): It’s a plain stocking.

nora: It’s the second one of the third pair I knitted, and I put
up three score stitches, and I dropped four of them.

cathleen (Counts the stitches.): It’s that number is in it (crying
out.) Ah, Nora, isn’t it a bitter thing to think of him

floating that way to the far north, and no one to keen him
but the black hags that do be flying on the sea?

nora (Swinging herself round, and throwing out her arms on the
clothes.): And isn’t it a pitiful thing when there is nothing
left of a man who was a great rower and fisher, but a bit
of an old shirt and a plain stocking?

cathleen (After an instant.): Tell me is herself coming, Nora? I
hear a little sound on the path.

nora (Looking out.): She is, Cathleen. She’s coming up to the
door.

cathleen: Put these things away before she’ll come in. Maybe
it’s easier she’ll be after giving her blessing to Bartley, and
we won’t let on we’ve heard anything the time he’s on the
sea.

nora (Helping Cathleen to close the bundle.): We’ll put them
here in the corner.

(They put them into a hole in the chimney corner. Cathleen goes
back to the spinning-wheel.)

nora: Will she see it was crying I was?

cathleen: Keep your back to the door the way the light’ll
not be on you. (Nora sits down at the chimney corner, with
her back to the door. Maurya comes in very slowly, without
looking at the girls, and goes over to her stool at the other side
of the fire. The cloth with the bread is still in her hand. The
girls look at each other, and NORA: points to the bundle of
bread.)

cathleen (After spinning for a moment.): You didn’t give him
his bit of bread?

(Maurya begins to keen softly, without turning round.)

cathleen: Did you see him riding down? (Maurya goes on
keening.)

cathleen (A little impatiently.): God forgive you; isn’t it a
better thing to raise your voice and tell what you seen,
than to be making lamentation for a thing that’s done?
Did you see Bartley, I’m saying to you?

maurya (With a weak voice.): My heart’s broken from this day.

cathleen (As before.): Did you see Bartley?

maurya: I seen the fearfulest thing.
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cathleen (Leaves her wheel and looks out.): God forgive you;
he’s riding the mare now over the green head, and the
gray pony behind him.

maurya (Starts, so that her shawl falls back from her head and
shows her white tossed hair. With a frightened voice.): The
gray pony behind him.

cathleen: (Coming to the fire.) What is it ails you, at all?

maurya (Speaking very slowly.): I’ve seen the fearfulest thing
any person has seen, since the day Bride Dara seen the
dead man with the child in his arms.

cathleen: and nora: Uah.

(They crouch down in front of the old woman at the fire.)

nora: Tell us what it is you seen.

maurya: I went down to the spring well, and I stood there
saying a prayer to myself. Then Bartley came along, and
he riding on the red mare with the gray pony behind him
(she puts up her hands, as if to hide something from her eyes.)
The Son of God spare us, Nora!

cathleen: What is it you seen.

maurya: I seen Michael himself.

cathleen (Speaking softly.): You did not, mother; it wasn’t
Michael you seen, for his body is after being found in the
far north, and he’s got a clean burial by the grace of God.

maurya (A little defiantly.): I’m after seeing him this day, and
he riding and galloping. Bartley came first on the red
mare; and I tried to say “God speed you,” but something
choked the words in my throat. He went by quickly; and
“the blessing of God on you,” says he, and I could say
nothing. I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony,
and there was Michael upon it—with fine clothes on him,
and new shoes on his feet.

cathleen (Begins to keen.): It’s destroyed we are from this day.
It’s destroyed, surely.

nora: Didn’t the young priest say the Almighty God wouldn’t
leave her destitute with no son living?

maurya (In a low voice, but clearly.): It’s little the like of him
knows of the sea. . . . Bartley will be lost now, and let you
call in Eamon and make me a good coffin out of the white

boards, for I won’t live after them. I’ve had a husband,
and a husband’s father, and six sons in this house—six
fine men, though it was a hard birth I had with every one
of them and they coming to the world— and some of them
were found and some of them were not found, but they’re
gone now the lot of them . . . There were Stephen, and
Shawn, were lost in the great wind, and found after in the
Bay of Gregory of the Golden Mouth, and carried up the
two of them on the one plank, and in by that door.

(She pauses for a moment, the girls start as if they heard
something through the door that is half open behind them.)

nora (In a whisper.): Did you hear that, Cathleen? Did you
hear a noise in the north-east?

cathleen (In a whisper.): There’s some one after crying out by
the seashore.

maurya (Continues without hearing anything.): There was
Sheamus and his father, and his own father again, were
lost in a dark night, and not a stick or sign was seen of
them when the sun went up. There was Patch after was
drowned out of a curagh that turned over. I was sitting
here with Bartley, and he a baby, lying on my two knees,
and I seen two women, and three women, and four
women coming in, and they crossing themselves, and not
saying a word. I looked out then, and there were men
coming after them, and they holding a thing in the half of
a red sail, and water dripping out of it—it was a dry day,
Nora—and leaving a track to the door.

(She pauses again with her hand stretched out towards the door.
It opens softly and old women begin to come in, crossing
themselves on the threshold, and kneeling down in front of the
stage with red petticoats over their heads.)

maurya (Half in a dream, to Cathleen.): Is it Patch, or Michael,
or what is it at all?

cathleen: Michael is after being found in the far north,
and when he is found there how could he be here in this
place?

maurya: There does be a power of young men floating round
in the sea, and what way would they know if it was
Michael they had, or another man like him, for when a
man is nine days in the sea, and the wind blowing, it’s
hard set his own mother would be to say what man was it.

cathleen: It’s Michael, God spare him, for they’re after
sending us a bit of his clothes from the far north.

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(She reaches out and hands maurya the clothes that belonged to
Michael. Maurya stands up slowly, and takes them into her
hands. nora looks out.)

nora: They’re carrying a thing among them and there’s water
dripping out of it and leaving a track by the big stones.

cathleen (In a whisper to the women who have come in.): Is it
Bartley it is?

one of the women: It is surely, God rest his soul.

(Two younger women come in and pull out the table. Then men
carry in the body of Bartley, laid on a plank, with a bit of a sail
over it, and lay it on the table.)

cathleen (To the women, as they are doing so.): What way was
he drowned?

one of the women: The gray pony knocked him into the sea,
and he was washed out where there is a great surf on the
white rocks.

(Maurya has gone over and knelt down at the head of the table.
The women are keening softly and swaying themselves with a
slow movement. Cathleen and Nora kneel at the other end of
the table. The men kneel near the door.)

maurya (Raising her head and speaking as if she did not see the
people around her.): They’re all gone now, and there isn’t
anything more the sea can do to me. . . . I’ll have no call now
to be up crying and praying when the wind breaks from the
south, and you can hear the surf is in the east, and the surf is
in the west, making a great stir with the two noises, and they
hitting one on the other. I’ll have no call now to be going down
and getting Holy Water in the dark nights after Samhain, and
I won’t care what way the sea is when the other women will
be keening. (To Nora). Give me the Holy Water, Nora, there’s
a small sup still on the dresser. (Nora gives it to her.)

maurya (Drops Michael’s clothes across Bartley’s feet, and
sprinkles the Holy Water over him.): It isn’t that I haven’t
prayed for you, Bartley, to the Almighty God. It isn’t that
I haven’t said prayers in the dark night till you wouldn’t
know what I’ld be saying; but it’s a great rest I’ll have
now, and it’s time surely. It’s a great rest I’ll have now,
and great sleeping in the long nights after Samhain, if it’s
only a bit of wet flour we do have to eat, and maybe a fish
that would be stinking.

(She kneels down again, crossing herself, and saying prayers
under her breath.)

cathleen (To an old man.): Maybe yourself and Eamon would
make a coffin when the sun rises. We have fine white
boards herself bought, God help her, thinking Michael
would be found, and I have a new cake you can eat while
you’ll be working.

the old man (Looking at the boards.): Are there nails with
them?

cathleen: There are not, Colum; we didn’t think of the
nails.

another man: It’s a great wonder she wouldn’t think of the
nails, and all the coffins she’s seen made already.

cathleen: It’s getting old she is, and broken.

(Maurya stands up again very slowly and spreads out the pieces
of Michael’s clothes beside the body, sprinkling them with the
last of the Holy Water.)

nora (In a whisper to Cathleen): She’s quiet now and easy; but
the day Michael was drowned you could hear her crying
out from this to the spring well. It’s fonder she was of
Michael, and would any one have thought that?

cathleen (Slowly and clearly.): An old woman will be soon
tired with anything she will do, and isn’t it nine days
herself is after crying and keening, and making great
sorrow in the house?

maurya (Puts the empty cup mouth downwards on the table,
and lays her hands together on Bartley’s feet.): They’re all
together this time, and the end is come. May the Almighty
God have mercy on Bartley’s soul, and on Michael’s soul,
and on the souls of Sheamus and Patch, and Stephen and
Shawn (bending her head)); and may He have mercy on
my soul, Nora, and on the soul of every one is left living
in the world.

(She pauses, and the keen rises a little more loudly from the
women, then sinks away.)

maurya (Continuing): Michael has a clean burial in the
far north, by the grace of the Almighty God. Bartley
will have a fine coffin out of the white boards, and a
deep grave surely. What more can we want than that?
No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be
satisfied.

(She kneels down again and the curtain falls slowly.)

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218

CHAPTER 8
EXPERIENCING Riders to the Sea

1. Plot: What happens in this drama? Who changes in what way?
2. Ideas: What ideas are important in this drama? Could this be said to be a drama of

ideas rather than a drama of action? 

The plot of Riders to the Sea is virtually a straight line in that the question at the be-
ginning of the play, whether Michael has been found dead, is answered step by step
through the inquiry of the bundle the young priest brings. The shirt and stocking are
ordinary enough, but through the analysis of the stitching Michael’s death is con-
firmed quickly. Then the question is whether Bartley will risk his life now that he is the
only man left in the family. Of course, we feel his sense of need to prove himself and
he becomes the archetype of the reckless youth seeking his identity on the sea. The
plot has a sense of inevitability about it, but that does not make it any less painful to
watch because the result of the action of the drama is the abandonment of the women
who must live on.

If this is a drama of ideas, it is about the idea of fate at work in the modern world.
Here fate takes the form of the wild environment. The Aran islands are harsh and the
poverty of the people who live on them is cruel. To raise a family and to live even for
a short time in this part of Ireland has always been known to be daunting, challenging
even the most dutiful of people. In some ways, too, the play is about the relationships
of men and women. Maurya reels off a litany of the men who have perished, leaving
their women behind them. Synge lived on one of the Aran islands for a time and knew
the characters that he portrayed. He knew the recklessness of the men and the stoic
patience and hopefulness of the women. Riders to the Sea is his hymn to a people for
whom he had great admiration. 
3. Character: Are there type characters in this play? Are the men types? Are the

women type characters? 
4. Setting: Where is the action set? Why is the setting of critical importance to the

ideas in the drama?
5. Genre: What qualifies this play as a tragedy? Is it, for you, a satisfying drama? Does

Maurya qualify as a tragic heroine?

FOCUS ON Musical Theater: Hamilton
Most of the plays discussed so far do not emphasize music, but in The Poetics, Aristotle
includes it as an essential part of the dramatic experience: “a very real factor in the plea-
sure of the drama.” The great Greek tragedies were chanted to musical instruments, and
the music had a significant effect on the audiences. Most of the great Elizabethan plays
included music, some of which came at important moments in the action. Shakespeare’s
plays especially are noted for numerous beautiful and moving songs.

In modern times, the Broadway musical theater represents one of the most important
contributions made by the United States to the stage. The musical plays that have devel-
oped since the early part of the twentieth century have been produced around the globe,
and today they are being written and performed in many nations abroad. The Broadway
musical is now an international drama that is in most cases more popular than standard
drama. In the twenty-first century, musical plays attract much greater audiences over

jac16871_ch08_196-223.indd 218 12/11/17 11:54 AM

longer runs than virtually any straight drama.
The Fantasticks, for example—a simple love story
featuring a blocking character and two young
lovers—ran for forty-two years with a piano ac-
companiment and essentially one hit song, “Try
to Remember That Night in September.”

Unlike most famous musicals, the Pulitzer
Prize musical Hamilton (Figures 8-10, 8-11, and
8-12)  did not derive its narrative from a novel
or play, but from a biography by a historian.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who had written an ear-
lier successful hip-hop musical, In the Heights,
set in the Latino neighborhood of Washington
Heights, New York, read the biography of Ham-
ilton and realized he shared many of his quali-
ties, especially that of having been an outsider. 

Alexander Hamilton, apart from being on
the ten-dollar bill in honor of his having estab-
lished sound banking procedures after the American Revolution, took an important
part in the Revolution itself. He hoped to lead a military contingent in the 1770s, but
George Washington needed him in his camp with him as his aide. He performed great
service to Washington and was rewarded with important responsibilities in the new
government, including helping to shape the relationship between the federal and state
responsibilities. 

Alexander Hamilton’s life was filled with adventure and achievement, so it provided
a thrilling basis for the musical. He was born out of wedlock, with a father who disap-
peared and a mother who died when he was a teenager. He was orphaned in the Brit-
ish West Indies and found his way to New York,
where he became part of the movement for in-
dependence. After the war he was named Secre-
tary of the Treasury and took part in politics. He
opposed Aaron Burr, also a brilliant young man,
when Burr ran against Jefferson for the presi-
dency. Their competition annoyed Burr because
Hamilton succeeded where he failed. Ultimately,
they took part in a duel across the river in New
Jersey. Hamilton fired in the air, but Burr shot
and killed him. 

Miranda took the material of Hamilton’s ex-
traordinarily adventurous and responsible life
and dramatized it in a way that was specifically
novel, using a mixed cast of actors singing and
dancing in a hip-hop style that was thought by
some to be inappropriate for the musical the-
ater. However, Hamilton became an instant hit,
selling out all the seats in the Public Theater and
then doing the same on Broadway. It became a
must-see for all theater goers in its first year on
the stage. Miranda performed some of the songs
at the White House in a special appearance. 

FIGURE 8-10
Hamilton, the Pulitzer Prize–winning
hip-hop musical. Originating in the
Public Theater in New York, it moved
to Broadway in 2015. Lin-Manuel
Miranda, center, plays the title role
in the hip-hop-influenced musical
Hamilton, at the Public Theater.

©Sara Krulwick/The New York Times/Redux

FIGURE 8-11
Phillipa Soo, left, as Eliza Schuyler and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton
in Hamilton. May 10, 2016. Alexander Hamilton, an illegitimate orphan from the
West Indies, marries a member of one of America’s great families. He will eventually
become embroiled in a great scandal and lose his family. 

©Joan Marcus

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What made Hamilton different was the use of
hip-hop lyrics, which depend on music, rapping
dialogue, and intense and surprising rhymes.
A typical passage is this, from the song  “My
Shot”: “If we win our independence / Is that a
guarantee of freedom for our descendants?
/ Or will the blood we shed begin an endless /
Cycle of vengeance and death with no defen-
dants?” Miranda saw that rap was the voice of
his generation and the people he hoped to reach
in his drama. The surprise was that he reached
not only those people but also audiences that
never credited hip-hop and rap as serious art.
Miranda, though he came late to the art, is
known as one of the best freestyle rappers. 

Of course, musical theater has been successful
for years. Cats, based on T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s
Book of Practical Cats, stayed on Broadway for al-
most 7,500 performances, longer than Michael
Bennett’s A Chorus Line, which lasted for 6,137
performances. Other contemporary long-running
musicals are The Phantom of the Opera (8,700 on
Broadway, 9,500 in London), Beauty and the Beast,
Chicago, and The Lion King. A number of musical
plays in addition to Hamilton have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Of Thee I Sing (1932);
South Pacific (1950); A Chorus Line (1976); Sunday in the Park with George (1985); and  Rent
(1996).

Most musicals include extensive choreography, often by celebrated modern dancers,
such as Agnes de Mille in Oklahoma!, Jerome Robbins in The King and I, Gower Champion in
42nd Street, and Bob Fosse in Chicago, Dancin’, and All That Jazz.

The musical theater can be especially rich in spectacle, with massed dance scenes and
popular songs that have a life outside the drama, as in the case of musicals by Cole Por-
ter, Jerome Kern, and Richard Rodgers. But some musicals also treat serious subjects,
as in Jerome Kern’s and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat, which comes closer to being
a drama than a musical in part because of its treatment of slavery in the South. It was
adapted from Edna Ferber’s novel, and partly through the powerful song “Ol’ Man River,”
it has become one of the most moving of musicals. One interesting aspect of Broadway
musicals is that they have often been successfully transformed into excellent films, bring-
ing them to audiences around the world.

FIGURE 8-12
Lin-Manuel Miranda, center, and the company of Hamilton. This Pulitzer Prize–
winning musical play starred Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and lyrics
and directed the production. He devised this drama after reading Ron Chernow’s
historical biography, Alexander Hamilton.

©Joan Marcus

PERCEPTION KEY Musical Theater: Hamilton
1. If possible, see Hamilton on stage or snippits online in video clips. Comment on the

dynamics of the presentation and the language. Comment, too, on the question of
the ideas in the drama. 

2. The American revolution is part of the subject matter of Hamilton, but Miranda uses
the musical to praise immigrants and to argue for justice today. How effective is his
use of ideas in the service of justice?

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221

THEATER

experimentAl drAmA
We have seen exceptional experimentation in modern drama in the Western world.
Samuel Beckett wrote plays with no words at all, as with Acts without Words. One
of his plays, Not I, has an oversized mouth talking with a darkened, hooded fig-
ure, thus reducing character to a minimum. In Waiting for Godot, plot is greatly
reduced in importance. In Endgame (Figure 8-13), two of the characters are immo-
bilized in garbage cans. Beckett’s experiments have demonstrated that even when

FIGURE 8-13
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. Elaine
Stritch, Nell, and Alvin Epstin, Nagg,
in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s
Spring 2008 production. First
produced in 1957, Endgame continues
to be performed worldwide. Nell and
Nagg are parents of Hamm, played by
John Turturro. Ostensibly, the play
suggests the end of the world, with
characters who are unable to move
or change.

©Richard Termine

3. Has Lin-Manuel Miranda discovered a new archetype in the portrayal of the home-
less orphan immigrant who comes to a new country and makes good? Or is this just
the archetype of the American Dream?

4. If you have the chance to see either a live or filmed version of one of the musicals
mentioned above, explain what you feel has been added to the drama by the use of
music and song.

5. If possible, compare Hamilton with its source, Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander
Hamilton.

6. Given that people generally do not communicate with one another in song, how
can we consider musicals as being realistic and true to life? If not, why are musicals
so powerful and popular among audiences? Isn’t realism a chief desirable quality in
drama? Does the hip-hop style make the songs more or less realistic?

7. Try reading the book and lyrics of Hamilton. How effective do you think this work would
be on the stage if there were no music with it? What is missing besides the music?

8. Musical comedy dominates the popular stage. There is no obvious musical tragedy
(Oedipus Rex or Hamlet, for example). However, given that Alexander Hamilton is
killed at the end of Hamilton, does that make it a musical tragedy?

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222

CHAPTER 8

summAry
The subject matter of drama is the human condition as represented by action.
By emphasizing plot and character as the most important elements of drama,
Aristotle helps us understand the priorities of all drama, especially with refer-
ence to its formal elements and their structuring. Aristotle’s theory of tragedy
focuses on the fatal flaw of the protagonist. Tragedy and comedy both have ar-
chetypal patterns that help define them as genres. Some of the archetypes are
related to the natural rhythms of the seasons and focus, in the case of tragedy,

the traditional elements of drama are de-emphasized or removed, it is still possible
for drama to evoke intense participative experiences. Beckett has been the master
of doing away with everything inessential.

Another important thrust of experimental drama has been to assault the audi-
ence. Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” has regarded audiences as comfort-
able, pampered groups of privileged people. Peter Weiss’s play—The Persecution and
Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton under
the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (or Marat/Sade)—obviously was influenced by
Artaud’s radical antiestablishment thinking. Through a depiction of insane inmates
contemplating the audience at a very close range, it sought to break down the tradi-
tional security associated with the proscenium theater. Marat/Sade ideally was per-
formed in a theater-in-the-round with the audience sitting on all sides of the actors
and without the traditional fanfare of lights dimming for the beginning and lighting
up for the ending. The audience is deliberately made to feel uneasy throughout the
play. The depiction of intense cruelty within the drama is there because, according
to Weiss, cruelty underlies all human events, and the play attempts a revelation of
that all-pervasive cruelty. The audience’s own discomfort is a natural function of
this revelation.

Richard Schechner’s Dionysus in ’69 also did away with spatial separation.
The space of the theater was the stage space, with a design by Jerry Rojo that
made players and audience indistinguishable. The play demanded that every-
one become part of the action; in some performances—and in the filmed perfor-
mance—most of the players and audience ended the drama with a modern-day
orgiastic rite. Such experimentation, indeed, seems extreme. But it is analogous
to other dramatic events in other cultures, such as formal religious and celebra-
tory rites.

PERCEPTION KEY Experimental Drama
Should you have the chance to experience a drama produced by any of the directors
or groups mentioned above, try to distinguish its features from those of the more
traditional forms of drama. What observations can you add to those made above?
Consider the kinds of satisfaction you can get as a participant. Is experimental drama
as satisfying as traditional drama? What are the differences? To what extent are the
differences to be found in the details? The structure? Are experimental dramas likely
to be episodic or organic? Why?

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223

THEATER

on the endings of things, such as death (winter) and, in the case of comedy,
on the beginnings of things, such as romance (spring). The subject matter of
tragedy is the tragic—sorrow and suffering. The subject matter of comedy is the
comic—oddball behavior and joy.

Comedy has several distinct genres. Old Comedy revels in broad humor.
New Comedy satirizes the manners of a society; its commentary often depends
on type and stereotype characters. Tragicomedy combines both genres to create
a third genre. The ambiguity implied by tragedy joined with comedy makes
this a particularly flexible genre, suited to a modern world that lives in intense
uncertainty. Musical drama sometimes veers toward social commentary, or
even social satire. The success of musical drama in modern times suggests that
Aristotle was correct in assuming the importance of music in drama on an al-
most equal footing with its other elements. The experiments in modern drama
have broken away from traditional drama, creating fascinating insights into our
time. The human condition shifts from period to period in the history of drama,
but somehow the constancy of human concerns makes all great dramatists our
contemporaries.

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C h a p t e r 9

MUSIC

Music is one of the most powerful of the arts partly because sounds—more than any other sensory stimulus—create in us involuntary reactions, pleasant or
unpleasant. Live concerts, whether of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Wynton
Marsalis at Lincoln Center, or Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on tour,
usually produce delight in their audiences. Yet, in all cases, the people rarely an-
alyze the music. It may seem difficult to connect analysis with the experience of
listening to music, but everyone benefits from an understanding of some of the
fundamentals of music.

Hearing and Listening
Music can be experienced in two basic ways: “hearing” or “listening.” Hearers do
not attempt to perceive accurately either the structure or the details of the form.
They hear a familiar melody such as the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields,” which may
trigger associations with John Lennon, early rock and roll, and perhaps even the
garden in Central Park dedicated to his memory. But aside from the melody, little
else—such as the details of chord progression, movement toward or away from tonic
and dominant—is heard sensitively. The case is much the same with classical music.
Most hearers prefer richly melodic music, such as Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony,
whose second movement especially contains lush melodies that can trigger roman-
tic associations. But when one asks hearers if the melody was repeated exactly or
varied, or whether the melody was moved from one instrumental family to another,

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they cannot say. They are concentrating on the associations evoked by the music
rather than on the details and structure of the music.

A hearer of hard rock is likely to attend as much to the performer as to the sonic
effects. Powerful repetitive rhythms and blasting sounds trigger visceral responses
so strong that dancing or motion—often wild—becomes imperative. Another kind of
hearer is “suffused” or “permeated” by music, bathing in sensuous sounds, as many
people will do with their earphones tuned to soft rock, new age, or easy-listening
sounds. In this nonanalytic but attractive state of mind, the music spreads through
the body rhythmically, soothingly. It feels great, and that is enough.

The listeners, conversely, concentrate their attention upon the form, details as
well as structure. They could answer questions about the structure of Tchaikovsky’s
Fifth Symphony. And a listener, unlike a hearer, would be aware of the details and
structure of works such as the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Listeners
focus on the form that informs, that creates content. Listeners do not just listen:
They listen for something—the content.

tHe eLements of music
Before trying to describe the subject matter of music, we will introduce some of the
important terms and concepts essential to a clear discussion of music. We begin
with some definitions and then analyze the basic musical elements of tone, con-
sonance, dissonance, rhythm, tempo, melody, counterpoint, harmony, dynamics,
and contrast. A common language about music is prerequisite to any intelligible
analysis.

Tone

A sound with one definite frequency or a sound dominated by one definite fre-
quency is a tone. Most music is composed of a succession of tones. We hear musi-
cal patterns because of our ability to hear and remember tones as they are played
in succession. Every musical instrument will produce overtones, called harmonic

PERCEPTION KEY Hearing and Listening
1. Play one of your favorite pieces of music. Describe its overall organization or struc-

ture. Is there a clear melody? Is there more than one melody? If so, are they similar
to one another or do they contrast with one another? Is the melody repeated? Is
it varied or the same? Do different instruments play it? If there are lyrics, are they
repeated?

2. Describe details such as what kind of rhythm is used. Is it varied? If so, how? Is
there harmony? What kind of instruments are played? How do these details fit into
the structure?

3. Play the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the Eroica). Answer the
same questions for this piece as were asked in questions 1 and 2. Later, we will
analyze this movement. You may wish to compare your responses now with those
you have after studying the work.

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partials, that, while sometimes faint, help us identify one instrument from another.
Each of the notes on the piano is a tone whose sound vibrates at a specific number
of cycles per second (hertz, or hz). The note A below middle C vibrates at 220 hz;
middle C vibrates at 262.63 hz; and the G above vibrates at 392. But each note will
also produce overtones that are fainter than the primary tone. For instance, the note
A below middle C produces these tones:

A: 220 hz + 440 hz + 660 hz + 880 hz and possibly 1,100 hz

Each of the overtones will grow fainter than the primary tone, and the exact loud-
ness and quality of the overtones will define for our ears whether we hear a saxo-
phone or a trumpet or a piano. All the blending of instruments will contribute to the
color (metaphorically) of the sounds we hear. Thus, the tonal color of a jazz group
will differ from a heavy metal band, which will differ from a traditional rock-and-
roll group, which in turn will differ greatly from a major orchestra. Each group may
play the same sequence of tones, but we will hear the tones differently because of
the arrangement of instruments and their tonal qualities.

Consonance

When two or more tones are sounded simultaneously and the result is easeful and
pleasing to the ear, the resultant sound is said to be consonant. The phenomenon
of consonance may be qualified by several things. For example, what sounds disso-
nant or produces tension often becomes more consonant after repeated hearings.
Thus, the sounds of the music of a different culture may seem dissonant at first but
consonant after some familiarity develops. Also, there is the influence of context:
A combination of notes or chords may seem dissonant in isolation or within one
set of surrounding notes while consonant within another set. In the C major scale,
the strongest consonances will be the eighth (C + C’) and the fifth (C + G), with
the third (C + E), the fourth (C + F), and the sixth (C + A) being only slightly less
consonant. Use Figure 9-1 if helpful, and sound the preceding chords on a piano.

FIGURE 9-1
Notes of the piano keyboard.

Dissonance

Just as some tones sounding together tend to be stable and pleasant, other tones
sounding together tend to be unstable and unpleasant. This unpleasantness is a
result of wave interference and a phenomenon called “beating,” which accounts

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for the instability we perceive in dissonance. The most powerful dissonance is
achieved when notes close to one another in pitch are sounded simultaneously.
The second (C + D) and the seventh (B + C) are both strongly dissonant. Dis-
sonance is important in building musical tension, since the desire to resolve
dissonance with consonance is strong in almost everyone. There is a story that
Mozart’s wife would retaliate against her husband during or after some quarrel
by striking a dissonant chord on the piano. Wolfgang would be forced to come
from wherever he was and play a resounding consonant chord to relieve the un-
bearable tension.

Rhythm

Rhythm refers to the temporal relationships of sounds. Our perception of rhythm
is controlled by the accent or stress on given notes and their duration. In the waltz,
the accent is heavy on the first note (of three) in each musical measure. In most jazz
music, the stress falls on the second and fourth notes (of four) in each measure.
Marching music, which usually has six notes in each measure, emphasizes the first
and fourth notes.

Tempo

Tempo is the speed at which a composition is played. We perceive tempo in terms
of beats, just as we perceive the tempo of our heartbeat as seventy-two pulses per
minute, approximately. Many tempos have descriptive names indicating the gen-
eral time value. Presto means “very fast”; allegro means “fast”; andante means “at a
walking pace”; moderato means at a “moderate pace”; lento and largo mean “slow.”
Sometimes metronome markings are given in a score, but musicians rarely agree
on any exact time figure. Tension, anticipation, and one’s sense of musical security
are strongly affected by tempo.

Melodic Material: Melody, Theme, and Motive

Melody is usually defined as a group of notes played one after another, having a
perceivable shape or having a perceivable beginning, middle, and end. Usually a
melody is easily recognizable when replayed. Vague as this definition is, we rarely
find ourselves in doubt about what is or is not a melody. We not only recognize
melodies easily but also can say a great deal about them. Some melodies are brief,
others extensive; some slow, others fast; some playful, others somber. A melodic
line is a vague melody, without a clear beginning, middle, and end. A theme is
a melody that undergoes significant modifications in later passages. Thus, in the
first movement of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, the melodic material is more accu-
rately described as themes than melodies. On the other hand, the melodic material
of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (Figure 9-4) is clear and singable. A motive is the
briefest intelligible and self-contained fragment or unit of a theme—for example, the
famous first four notes of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5.

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ChAPTER 9

Counterpoint

In the Middle Ages, the monks composing and performing church music began to
realize that powerful musical effects could be obtained by staggering the melodic
lines. This is called counterpoint—playing one or more themes or melodies or mo-
tives against each other, as in folk songs such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Coun-
terpoint implies an independence of simultaneous melodic lines, each of which can,
at times, be most clearly audible. Their opposition creates tension by virtue of their
competition for our attention.

Harmony

Harmony is the sounding of tones simultaneously. It is the vertical dimension, as
with a chord (Figure 9-2), as opposed to the horizontal dimension, of a melody.
The harmony that most of us hear is basically chordal. A chord is a group of notes
sounded together that has a specific relationship to a given key: The chord C-E-G,
for example, is a major triad in the key of C major. At the end of a composition in
the key of C, the major triad will emphasize the sense of finality—more than any
other technique we know.

FIGURE 9-2
Harmony—the vertical element.

Chords are particularly useful for establishing cadences: progressions to resting
points that release tensions. Cadences move from relatively unstable chords to sta-
ble ones. You can test this on a piano by first playing the notes C-F-A together, then
playing C-E-G (consult Figure 9-1 for the position of these notes on the keyboard).
The result will be obvious. The first chord establishes tension and uncertainty, mak-
ing the chord unstable, while the second chord resolves the tension and uncer-
tainty, bringing the sequence to a stable conclusion. You probably will recognize
this progression as one you have heard in many compositions—for example, the
“Amen’’ that closes most hymns. The progression exists in every key with the same
sense of moving to stability.

harmony is based on apparently universal psychological responses. All humans
seem to perceive the stability of consonance and the instability of dissonance. The
effects may be different due to cultural conditioning, but they are predictable within
a limited range. In the 1940s one anthropologist, when told about a Samoan ritual in
which he was assured he could hear original Samoan music—as it had existed from
early times—hauled his tape recorder to the site of the ceremonies, waited until dawn,
and when he heard the first stirrings turned on his machine and captured the entire
group of Samoans singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” The anthro-
pologist was disappointed, but his experience underscores the universality of music.

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Dynamics

One of the most easily perceived elements of music is dynamics: loudness and soft-
ness. Composers explore dynamics—as they explore keys, tone colors, melodies,
rhythms, and harmonies—to achieve variety, to establish a pattern against which
they can play, to build tension and release it, and to provide the surprise that can
delight an audience. Two terms, piano (“soft”) and forte (“loud”), with variations
such as pianissimo (“very soft”) and fortissimo (“very loud”), are used by composers
to identify the desired dynamics at a given moment in the composition. A gradual
buildup in loudness is called a crescendo, whereas a gradual reduction is called a
decrescendo. Most compositions will have some of each, as well as passages that
sustain a dynamic level.

Contrast

One thing that helps us value dynamics in a given composition is the composer’s
use of contrast. But contrast is of value in other ways. When more than one instru-
ment is involved, the composer can contrast timbres. The brasses, for example,
may be used to offer tonal contrast to a passage that may have been played by the
strings. The percussion section, in turn, can contrast with both those sections, with
high-pitched bells and low-pitched kettledrums covering a wide range of pitch and
timbre. The woodwinds create very distinctive tone colors, and the composer writ-
ing for a large orchestra can use all of the families of instruments in ways designed
to exploit the differences in the sounds of these instruments even when playing the
same notes.

Composers may approach rhythm and tempo with the same attention to con-
trast. Most symphonies begin with a fast movement (usually labeled allegro) in the
major key, followed by a slow movement (usually labeled andante) in a related or
contrasting key, then a third movement with bright speed (usually labeled presto),
and a final movement that resolves to some extent all that has gone before—again
at a fast tempo (molto allegro), although sometimes with some contrasting slow sec-
tions within it, as in Beethoven’s Eroica.

tHe subject matter of music
In music, as in other arts, content is achieved by the form’s transformation of sub-
ject matter. The question of music’s subject matter is dealt with in many ways by
critics. Our approach is to identify two kinds of subject matter: feelings (emotions,
passions, and moods) and sound.

Music cannot easily imitate nature, unless it does so the way bird songs and
clocks sometimes appear in haydn’s symphonies or as Beethoven does in his Pasto-
ral Symphony when he suggests a thunderstorm through his music. Other musicians
sometimes use sirens or other recognizable sounds as part of their composition.

Program music attempts to provide a musical “interpretation” of a literary text,
as in Tchaikovsky’s Overture: Romeo and Juliet, in which the opening clarinet and
oboe passages seem dark and forbidding, as if foreshadowing the tragedy to come.
La Mer, by Claude Debussy, is an interpretation of the sea. his subtitles for sections

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ChAPTER 9

of his work are “From Dawn to Noon at Sea,” “Gambols of the Waves,” and “Dia-
logue between the Wind and the Sea.” For many listeners, the swelling of the music
implies the swelling of the sea, just as the music’s peacefulness suggests the pacific
nature of the ocean.

however, our view is that while a listener who knows the program of La Mer
may experience thoughts about the sea, listeners who do not know the program
will still respond powerfully to the music on another level. It is not the sea, after all,
that is represented in the music, but the feelings Debussy evoked by his experience
of the sea as mediated by his composition. Thus, the swelling moments of the com-
position, along with the more lyrical and quiet moments, are perceived by the lis-
tener in terms of sound, but sound that evokes an emotional response that pleases
both those who know the program and those who do not. This then means there
is no strict relationship between the structures of our feelings and the structures of
music, but there is clearly a general and worthwhile relationship that pleases us.

Feelings

Feelings are composed of sensations, emotions, passions, and moods. Any stimulus
from any art produces a sensation. Emotions are strong sensations felt as related to
a specific stimulus. Passions are emotions elevated to great intensity. Moods some-
times arise from no apparent stimulus, as when we feel melancholy for no apparent
reason. In our experience, all these feelings mix together and can be evoked by
music. No art reaches into our life of feeling more deeply than music.

In some important ways, music is congruent with our feelings and is thus capa-
ble of clarifying and revealing them to us. Nervous-sounding music can make us
feel nervous, while calm, languorous music can relax us. A slow passage in a minor
key, such as a funeral march, will produce a response quite different from that
of a spritely dance. These extremes are obvious, of course, but they only indicate
the profound richness of the emotional resources of music in the hands of a great
composer.

Things get most interesting when music begins to clarify and produce emotional
states that are not nameable. We name only a small number of the emotions we feel:
joy, sorrow, guilt, horror, alarm, fear, calm, and many more. But those that can be
named are only a scant few of those we feel. Music has an uncanny ability to give us
insight into the vast world of emotions we cannot name.

The philosopher Susanne Langer has said that music has the capacity to educate
our emotional life. She can say this because she believes, as we do, that music has
feeling as part of its subject matter. She maintains that

the tonal structures we call “music’’ bear a close logical similarity to the forms of human
feelings—forms of growth and attenuation, flowing and stowing, conflict and resolution,
speed, arrest, terrific excitement, calm, or subtle activation and dreamy lapses—not joy
and sorrow perhaps, but the poignancy of either and both—the greatness and brevity and
eternal passing of everything vitally felt. Such is the pattern, or logical form, of sentience,
and the pattern of music is that same form worked out in pure, measured sound and
silence. Music is a tonal analogue of emotive life.1

1Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form (New York: Scribner’s, 1953), p. 27.

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Roger Scruton, a contemporary philosopher who has considered this problem
extensively, says this about emotion in music:

The use of the term “expression” to describe the content of music reflects a widespread
view that music has meaning because it connects in some way with our states of mind.2

These examples of the close similarity between the structures of music and
feelings are fairly convincing because they are extreme. Most listeners agree that
some music has become associated with gloomy moods, while other music has
become associated with exhilaration. Much of this process of association undoubt-
edly is the result of cultural conventions that we unconsciously accept. But pre-
sumably there is something in the music that is the basis for these associations,
and Langer has made a convincing case that the basis is in the similarity of musical
and emotional structures.

Music creates structures that are something like what we feel during nonmusical
experiences. We perceive outside something of what we usually perceive inside.
When we listen to the anguish of the funeral march in the second movement of
Beethoven’s Eroica, we perceive the structures of anguish but not what evoked the
anguish. Beethoven interprets and, in turn, clarifies those structures, gives us in-
sight into them. Understanding tragic music brings satisfaction, analogous to the
satisfaction that comes from understanding tragic drama. But there is a fundamen-
tal difference: Tragic drama is about what causes painful feelings; tragic music is
about the structure of painful feelings. The subject matter of tragic drama is the
outside world; the subject matter of tragic music is the inside world.

2Roger Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 346.

EXPERIENCING Chopin’s Prelude 7 in A Major
Frederic Chopin (1810–1839) is frequently described as having created the most beau-
tiful solo piano music. He was born in Poland and often used folk melodies and forms,
such as mazurkas and polonaises. He lived a short but privileged life, and while spending
his last years of life in Paris he was heralded as a genius by Robert Schumann, then
one of Europe’s most famous pianists. Chopin met Aurore Dudevant, known in literary
society as George Sand, a scandalous feminist who wore men’s clothes, smoked cigars,
and took lovers as she liked. Chopin was living with her in Majorca in 1838 when he
composed his Preludes, a cycle of twenty-four short pieces, one in each of the major
and minor keys.

We do not know if he intended these pieces to be played as a sequence or if they were
to be played independently, like musical jewels. Like most important Romantic music,
they are often charged with strong feeling. The first prelude is melodic, but agitated.
The second has a melancholic feeling, the third is light-hearted, and later pieces are
stormy, explosive, calm, and expressive. We can see in each of the preludes a different
“feeling,” which we may or may not describe as emotional, or as inviting an emotional
response. Each is also carefully crafted and would satisfy the musical demands of any
formalist critic or technician.

Prelude 7 (Figure 9-3) is the shortest of the preludes, but it is also one of the most
feelingful. Further, it is approachable by an intermediate player. It is in the key of A
major, whose scale has the C, F, and G sharped. The harmonies in the bass clef are

continued

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mostly simple reinforcements of
the main A major chords of the first
and second bars. The harmonies
become complex in bars 12 and 13,
then become simple, aiming at the
final resolution of an A major chord:
A + E in the bass and A + C# + A
in the treble.

The time signature is that of a
waltz, with the first beat stressed,
followed by two unstressed notes.
The first three bars have two
themes, the first an introduction,
the second a rising passage to high
A, indicating a tension needing re-
lease. The following three bars are
lower in the scale and offer some release. But the twelfth and thirteenth bars add un-
expected B# and D# rising to A# and C#—totally unexpected—the highest notes in
the composition. They create novel chords, bright and challenging, and reward us by a
“soft landing” at the end in the major chord of A, releasing the tension and informing us
emotionally in complex meditative ways.

Prelude 7 is to be played very slowly. You can hear several recordings online (search
Chopin Prelude 7). Follow the score as you listen. Each player takes a different ap-
proach, and each player finds a different expressiveness in the composition.
1. After hearing the piece, do you think it has an emotional content? If so, how would

you describe it? 
2. How do different pianists interpret the content of Prelude 7? 
3. If you can play this piece, describe the awareness of your own feelings. Is there a

clear emotional content, or is the piece unemotional? 
4. Is the piece memorable?

FIGURE 9-3
Complete sheet music for
Prelude 7 in A major, Chopin’s
shortest prelude.

PERCEPTION KEY Feelings and Music
1. Listen to a piece of instrumental music by Claude Debussy, such as La Mer, Claire

de Lune, Golliwogg’s Cake Walk, or a piece from Children’s Corner. Determine what, if
any, feelings the music excites in you. Compare your observations with those of
other listeners. Is there a consensus among your peers, or is there a wide variation
in emotional response?

2. Listen to a piece such as Duke Ellington’s Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue,
with Paul Gonsalves on saxophone (YouTube). What range of feelings and emo-
tions seem to be excited in the audience? In you?

3. Listen to a piece of church music, such as Sergey Rachmaninov’s Vespers. Describe
your emotional reaction to the music. Is there such a thing as religious music? If so,
what are its identifying qualities?

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two tHeories: formaLism and expressionism
Music may not only evoke feelings in the listener but also reveal the structures
of those feelings. Presumably, then, the form of An Alpine Symphony by Richard
Strauss not only evokes feelings analogous to the feelings a day climbing in the Alps
would arouse in us but also interprets those feelings and gives us insight into them.
The Formalists of music, such as Eduard hanslick and Edmund Gurney,3 deny any
connection of music with nonmusical situations. For them, the apprehension of the
tonal structures of music is made possible by a unique musical faculty that produces
a unique and wondrous effect, and they refuse to call that effect anything that sug-
gests alliance with everyday feelings. They consider the grasp of the form of music
so intrinsically valuable that any attempt to relate music to anything else is spurious.

As Igor Stravinsky, one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, in-
sisted, “Music is by its very nature essentially powerless to express anything at all.’’4
In other words, the Formalists deny that music has a subject matter, and, in turn,
this means that music has no content, that the form of music has no revelatory
meaning. We think that the theory of the Formalists is plainly inadequate, but it
is an important warning against thinking of music as a springboard for hearing,
for nonmusical associations and sentimentalism. Moreover, much work remains—
building on the work of philosophers of art such as Langer and Scruton—to make
clearer the mechanism of how the form of music evokes feeling and yet at the same
time interprets or gives us insight into those feelings.

Much simpler—and more generally accepted than either the Formalist theory of
hanslick and Gurney or our own theory—is the Expressionist theory: Music evokes
feelings. Composers express or communicate their feelings through their music
to their audiences. We should experience, more or less, the same feelings as the
composer. But Mozart was distraught both psychologically and physically when he
composed the Jupiter Symphony, one of his last and greatest works, and melancholy
was the pervading feeling of his life shortly before his untimely death. Yet where
is the melancholy in that symphony? Certainly there is melancholy in his Requiem,
also one of his last works. But do we simply undergo melancholy in listening to the
Requiem? Is it alone evoked in us and nothing more? Is there not a transformation of
melancholy? Does not the structure of the music—“out there’’—allow us to perceive
the structure of melancholy and thus understand it better? If so, then the undoubted
fact that the Requiem gives extraordinary satisfaction to most listeners is given at
least partial explication by our theory that music reveals as well as evokes emotion.

sound
Apart from feelings, sound might also be thought of as one of the subject matters of
music, because in some music it may be that the form gives us insight into sounds.
This is somewhat similar to the claim that colors may be the subject matter of some
abstract painting. The tone C in a musical composition, for example, has its ana-
logue in natural sounds, as in a bird song, somewhat the way the red in an abstract

3Eduard hanslick, The Beautiful in Music, trans. Gustav Cohen (London: Novello, 1891), and Edmund
Gurney, The Power of Sound (London: Smith, Elder, 1880).
4Igor Stravinsky, an Autobiography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936), p. 83.

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ChAPTER 9

painting has its analogue in natural colors. however, the similarity of a tone in
music to a tone in the nonmusical world is rarely perceived in music that empha-
sizes tonal relationships. In such music, the individual tone usually is so caught up
in its relationships with other tones that any connection with sounds outside the
music seems irrelevant. It would be rare, indeed, for someone to hear the tone C in
a Mozart sonata and associate it with the tone C of some bird song.

Tonal relationships in most music are very different in their context from the
tones of the nonmusical world. Conversely, music that does not emphasize tonal
relationships—such as many of the works of John Cage—can perhaps give us insight
into sounds that are noises rather than tones. Since we are surrounded by noises of
all kinds—humming machines, talking people, screeching cars, and banging garbage
cans, to name a few—we usually turn them off in our conscious minds so as not to
be distracted from more important matters. This is such an effective turnoff that we
may be surprised and sometimes delighted when a composer introduces such noises
into a musical composition. Then, for once, we listen to rather than away from them,
and then we may discover these noises to be intrinsically interesting, at least briefly.

PERCEPTION KEY The Content of Music
1. Select two brief instrumental compositions you enjoy. Choose one that you believe

has recognizable emotions as its primary musical content. Choose another that
you believe has sounds rather than tones as its primary musical content. Listen
to both with a group of people to see if they agree with you. What is the result of
your experiment?

2. Choose one piece of popular music that evokes strong emotion in you. Listen to
it with people older or younger than you and determine whether they have similar
emotional reactions.

3. What piece of music convinces you that the content of music is related to the ex-
pression of feeling? What piece of music convinces you otherwise?

4. Find a piece of music that you and a friend disagree about in terms of its apparent
emotional content. If you think it expresses one kind of emotion, passion, or mood,
and your friend thinks it expresses a totally different kind of emotion, passion, or
mood, would that then call into question the theory that the content of music is
connected to feelings?

5. To what extent do you think the emotional content of a piece of popular music may
result in great differences of opinion among listeners of different generations? Do
you and your parents listen to the same music? Do your parents listen to the same
kind of music their parents listened to?

tonaL center
A composition written mainly in one scale is said to be in the key that bears the
name of the tonic, or tonal center, of that scale. A piece in the key of F major uses
the scale of F major, although in longer, more complex works, such as symphonies,
the piece may use other, related keys in order to achieve variety. The tonal center of
a composition in the key of F major is the tone F. We can usually expect such a com-
position to begin on F, to end on it, and to return to it frequently to establish stabil-
ity. Each return to F builds a sense of security in the listener, while each movement

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away usually builds a sense of insecurity or tension. The listener perceives the tonic
as the basic tone because it establishes itself as the anchor, the point of reference
for all the other tones.

After beginning with A in the familiar melody of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
(Figure 9-4), the melody immediately moves to F as a weighty rest point. The mel-
ody rises no higher than D and falls no lower than C. (For convenience, the notes
are labeled above the notation in the figure.) Most listeners will sense a feeling of
completeness in this brief composition as it comes to its end. But the movement in
the first four bars, from A downward to C, then upward to C, passing through the
tonal center F, does not suggest such completeness; rather, it prepares us to expect
something more. If you sing or whistle the tune, you will see that the long tone, C,
in bar 4 sets up an anticipation that the next four bars attempt to satisfy. In bars 5
through 8, the movement downward from D to C, then upward to A, and finally
to the rest point at F suggests a temporary rest point. When the A sounds in bar 8,
however, we are ready to move on again with a pattern that is similar to the opening
passage: a movement from A to C and then downward through the tonal center, as
in the opening four bars. Bar 13 is structurally repetitious of bar 5, moving from D
downward, establishing firmly the tonal center F in the last note of bar 13 and the
first four tones of bar 14. Again, the melody continues downward to C, but when it
returns in measures 15 and 16 to the tonal center F, we have a sense of almost total
stability. It is as if the melody has taken us on a metaphoric journey: showing us at
the beginning where “home” is, the limits of our movement away from home, and
then the pleasure and security of returning to home.

FIGURE 9-4
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The
song is a Negro spiritual written
by Wallace Willis some time before
the emancipation of the slaves
in America (1862). Willis was a
freedman, a Choctaw, whose music
was recorded by the Jubilee Singers,
students at Fisk University, in 1909.
Both Anton Dvořák and Eric Clapton
are credited with incorporating the
melody in their music.

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ChAPTER 9

The tonal center F is home, and when the lyrics actually join the word “home” in
bar 4 with the tone C, we are a bit unsettled. This is a moment of instability. We do
not become settled until bar 8, and then again in bar 16, where the word “home” falls
on the tonal center F, which we have already understood—simply by listening—as
the real home of the composition. This composition is very simple, but also subtle,
using the resources of tonality to excite our anticipations for instability and stability.

PERCEPTION KEY “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
1. What is the proportion of tonic notes (F) to the rest of the notes in the composi-

tion? Can you make any judgments about the capacity of the piece to produce and
release tension in the listener on the basis of the recurrence of F?

2. Are there any places in the composition where you expect F to be the next note but
it is not? If F is always supplied when it is expected, what does that signify for the
level of tension the piece creates?

3. On the one hand, the ending of this piece produces a strong degree of finality. On
the other hand, in the middle section the sense of finality is not nearly as strong. Is
this difference between the middle section and the ending effective? Explain.

4. Does this music evoke feeling in you? If so, what kind of feeling? Does the music
interpret this feeling, help you understand it? If so, how does the music do this?

5. Would a piece that always produced what is expected be interesting? Or would it
be a musical cliché? What is a musical cliché?

musicaL structures
The most familiar musical structures are based on repetition—especially repetition
of melody, harmony, rhythm, and dynamics. Even the refusal to repeat any of these
may be effective mainly because the listener usually anticipates repetition. Repeti-
tion in music is particularly important because of the serial nature of the medium.
The ear cannot retain sound patterns for very long, and thus it needs repetition to
help it hear the musical relationships.

Theme and Variations

A theme with variations on that theme constitutes a favorite structure for com-
posers, especially since the seventeenth century. We are usually presented with a
clear statement of the theme that is to be varied. The theme is sometimes repeated
so that we have a full understanding, and then modifications of the theme follow.
“A” being the original theme, the structure unfolds as A1-A2-A3-A4-A5 . . . and so on
to the end of the variations. Some marvelous examples of structures built on this
principle are Bach’s Art of Fugue, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, Brahms’s Variations
on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Rondo

The first section or refrain of a rondo will include a melody and perhaps a develop-
ment of that melody. Then, after a contrasting section or episode with a different

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melody, the refrain is repeated. Occasionally early episodes are also repeated, but
usually not so often as the refrain. The structure of the rondo is sometimes in the
pattern A-B-A-C-A—either B or D—and so on, ending with the refrain A. The rondo
may be slow, as in Mozart’s Hafner Serenade, or it may be played with blazing speed,
as in Weber’s Rondo Brillante.

Fugue

The fugue, a specialized structure of counterpoint, was developed in the seven-
teenth and eighteenth centuries and is closely connected with Bach and his Art
of Fugue. Most fugues feature a melody—called the “statement”—which is set forth
clearly at the beginning of the composition, usually with the first note the tonic of
its key. Thus, if the fugue is in C major, the first note of the statement is likely to
be C. Then that same melody more or less—called the “answer”—appears again,
usually beginning with the dominant note (the fifth note) of that same key. The me-
lodic lines of the statements and answers rise to command our attention and then
submerge into the background as episodes of somewhat contrasting material inter-
vene. Study the diagram in Figure 9-5 as a suggestion of how the statement, answer,
and episode at the beginning of a fugue might interact. As the diagram indicates,
the melodic lines often overlap, as in the popular song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Sonata Form

The eighteenth century brought the sonata form to full development, and many
contemporary composers still find it very useful. Its overall structure basically is
A-B-A, with these letters representing the main parts of the composition and not
just melodies. The first A is the exposition, with a statement of the main theme in
the tonic key of the composition and usually a secondary theme or themes in the
dominant key (the key of G, for example, if the tonic key is C). A theme is a melody
that is not merely repeated, as it usually is in the rondo, but is instead developed in
an important way. In the A section, the themes are usually restated but not devel-
oped very far. This full development of the themes occurs in the B, or development,
section, with the themes normally played in closely related keys. The development
section explores contrasting dynamics, timbres, tempos, rhythms, and harmonic
possibilities inherent in the material of the exposition. In the third section, or re-
capitulation, the basic material of the first section, or exposition, is more or less
repeated, usually in the tonic key. After the contrasts of the development section,
this repetition in the home key has the quality of return and closure.

The sonata form is ideal for revealing the resources of melodic material. For in-
stance, when contrasted with a very different second theme, the principal theme of
the exposition may take on a surprisingly new quality, as in the opening movement
of Beethoven’s Eroica.

FIGURE 9-5
The fugue.

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ChAPTER 9

The symphony is usually a four-movement structure, often employing the sonata
form for its opening and closing movements. The middle movement or movements
normally are contrasted with the first and last movements in dynamics, tempos,
timbres, harmonies, and melodies. The listener’s ability to perceive how the sonata
form functions within most symphonies is essential if the total structure of the sym-
phony is to be comprehended.

PERCEPTION KEY Sonata Form
1. Listen to and then examine closely the first movement of a symphony by Haydn

or Mozart. That movement, with few exceptions, will be a sonata form. If a score
is available, it can be helpful. (You do not have to be a musician to read a score.)
Identify the exposition section—which will come first—and the beginning of the
development section. Then identify the end of the development and the beginning
of the recapitulation section. At these points, you should perceive some change in
dynamics, tempo, and movements from home key or tonic to contrasting keys and
back to the tonic. You need not know the names of those keys in order to be aware
of the changes. 

2. Once you have developed the capacity to identify these sections, describe the char-
acteristics that make each of them different. Note the different characteristics of
melody, harmony, timbre, dynamics, rhythm, tempo, and contrapuntal usages.

3. Listen to Haydn’s Symphony no. 104, the London. It is available on YouTube played
by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Listen closely for the A-B-A patterns
within the first movement. Identify the repeated melodic material and consider the
ways in which the orchestra varies the melodies as the piece progresses. How does
watching the orchestra play help you identify theme and variation?

Symphony

The symphony marks one of the highest developments in the history of Western
instrumental music (Figure 9-6). The symphony is so flexible a structure that it has
flourished in every musical era since the Baroque period in the early eighteenth
century. The word “symphony” implies a “sounding together.” From its beginnings,
through its full and marvelous development in the works of haydn, Mozart, Bee-
thoven, and Brahms, the symphony was particularly noted for its development of
harmonic structures. harmony is the sounding together of tones that have an estab-
lished relationship to one another. Because of its complexity, harmony is a subject
most composers must study in great depth during their apprentice years.

Triadic harmony (the sounding of three tones of a specific chord, such as the
basic chord of the key C major, C-E-G, or the basic chord of the key F major, F-A-C)
is common to most symphonies, especially before the twentieth century. Even in
classical symphonies, however, such as Mozart’s, the satisfaction that the listener
has in triadic harmony is often withheld in order to develop musical ideas that will
resolve their tensions only in a full, resounding chordal sequence of triads.

The symphony usually depends on thematic development. All the structures that
we have discussed—theme and variations, rondo, fugue, and sonata form—develop
melodic material, and some or all of them are often included in the symphony.

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In general, as the symphony evolved into its conventional structure in the time
of haydn and Mozart, the four movements were ordered as follows: first move-
ment, sonata form; second movement, A-B-A or rondo; third movement, minuet;
fourth movement, sonata form or rondo. There were exceptions to this order even
in haydn’s and Mozart’s symphonies, and in the Romantic and following periods
the exceptions increased as the concern for conventions decreased.

The relationships between the movements of a symphony are flexible. On the
one hand, the same melodic or key or harmonic or rhythmic approach may not
prevail in all the movements. The sequence of movements may then seem arbitrary.
On the other hand, some symphonies develop similar material through all move-
ments, and then the sequence may seem less, if at all, arbitrary. This commonality
of material is relatively unusual because its use for three or four movements can
rapidly exhaust all but the most sustaining and profound material.

A comparison of the tempo markings of several symphonies by important com-
posers usually shows several similarities: fast opening and closing movements with
at least one slower middle movement. An alteration of tempo can express a pro-
found change in the feeling of a movement. Our ears depend on the predictable
alteration of tempo for finding our way through the whole symphony. In such large

FIGURE 9-6
The BBC Symphony Orchestra.

©ArenaPal/Clive Barda/Topham/The
Image Works

239

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structures, we need all the signposts we can get, since it is easy to lose one’s way
through a piece that may last an hour or more. The following tempo markings in
Figures 9-7 and 9-8 are translated loosely:

haydn, Symphony no. 104 in A Major, the London
1. Adagio, allegro (slowly, fast)
2. Andante (moderately slow)
3. Menuetto and trio: allegro (slow dance, fast)
4. Finale: Spiritoso (ending, lively)

Mozart, Symphony no. 41 in C Major, the Jupiter
1. Allegro vivace (fast and lively)
2. Andante cantabile (slow and songlike)
3. Allegretto (dancelike)
4. Allegro molto (very fast)

The tempo markings, such as andante and allegro, in these and other symphonies,
including those of modern composers, such as Charles Ives and Igor Stravinsky,
suggest that each movement is designed with other movements in mind. That is,
each movement offers a contrast to those that come before or after it. Composers
of symphonies have many means besides tempo by which to achieve contrast, es-
pecially rhythm. The first movement is often written in 4/4 time, which means that
there are four quarter notes in each measure, with the first especially and the third
usually getting accents. The rhythms of the second movement are so varied that no
general pattern is discernible. The third movement, especially in the early period of
the symphony (haydn and Mozart), usually is a dancelike minuet—3/4 time, three
quarter notes to a measure, with the first note receiving the accent. Occasionally in
the second and third movements, march time is used, either 6/8 time or 2/4 time. In
6/8 time, there are six eighth notes to a measure, with the first and fourth receiv-
ing the accent. In 2/4 time, the first of the two quarter notes receives the accent.

FIGURE 9-7
The first theme of movement 1 of
Haydn’s Symphony no. 104. The first
theme of the symphony is played
by the strings alone after a brief
introduction by the entire orchestra.
The top line is played by the first
violins, the second line by the second
violins, the third line by the violas,
and the bottom line by the cellos.
The Bavarian Radio Symphony
Orchestra performs this symphony
on YouTube.

240

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Sometimes this produces the “oom-pah’’ sound we associate with marching bands.
The fourth movement, usually a sonata form or a rondo, normally returns to 4/4 time.

Contrast is also achieved by varying the dynamics, with opposing loud and soft
passages likely to be found in any movement. We might expect the middle move-
ments, which are normally shorter than the first and last, to use less dynamic shifting.
We usually expect the last movement to build to a climax that is smashing and loud.
Variations in the length of movements add to contrast. And since the symphony
is usually played by a large orchestra, the composer has a variety of instrumental
families to depend on for adding contrast of tone colors. A theme, for instance, can
be introduced by the violins, passed on to the woodwinds, then passed on to the

Ó

FIGURE 9-8
Opening bars of Mozart’s Symphony
no. 41 in C Major, the Jupiter. The
opening bars are dynamic, with the
entire orchestra, loud in bars 1,
5, and 9 contrasting soft, simple
passages in bars 2, 3, and 4, and
bars 6, 7, and 8. You can watch
Nikolaus Harnoncourt conduct the
Chamber Orchestra of Europe on
YouTube using an orchestra similar
to Mozart’s.

241

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ChAPTER 9

horns, only to return to the violins. Secondary themes can be introduced by flutes
or piccolos so as to contrast with the primary themes developed by other families of
instruments. A secondary theme is often very different in length, pitch, and rhyth-
mic character from a primary theme, thus achieving further contrast. Sometimes a
theme or a developmental passage is played by a single instrument in a solo passage
and then with all the instruments in that family playing together. Once the theme
has been introduced by a single instrument or a small group, it may be played by the
entire orchestra. These contrasts should hold our attention—for otherwise we miss
much of what is going on—helping us to grasp the melodic material by showing us
how it sounds in different timbres and ranges of pitch (higher in the flutes, lower
in the cellos). The exceptional possibilities for achieving contrast in the symphony
account, in part, for its sustaining success over the centuries.

We readily perceive contrasts in tempo, time signature, dynamics, and instru-
mentation, even if we are not trained and do not have access to the score of the
composition. But there are subtler means of achieving contrast. For one thing, even
within a specific movement, a composer will probably use a number of different
keys. Usually they are closely related keys, such as C major followed by G major,
or F major followed by C major. The dominant tone is the fifth tone, and one of
the most convenient ways of moving from key to key is to follow the cycle of fifths,
confident that each new key will clearly relate to the key that precedes it. Distant
keys, A major to, say, D minor, can produce a sense of incoherence or uncertainty.
Such motions between keys often are used to achieve this effect.

The average listener cannot always tell just by listening that a passage is in a new
key, although practiced musicians can tell immediately. The exploration of keys and
their relationships is one of the more interesting aspects of the development portions
of most symphonies. The very concept of development, which means the explora-
tion of a given material, is sometimes best realized by playing the same or similar
material in different keys, finding new relationships among them. Our awareness
of an especially moving passage is often due to the subtle manipulation of keys that
analysis with a score might help us better understand. For the moment, however, let
us concentrate on what the average listener can detect in the symphony.

PERCEPTION KEY The Symphony
Listen to Haydn’s Symphony no. 104, the London, or to Mozart’s Symphony no. 41,
the Jupiter. Haydn and Mozart established the form. Both symphonies can be heard on
YouTube. Respond to each movement by keeping notes with the following questions
in mind.

1. Is the tempo fast, medium, or slow? Is it the same throughout? How much con-
trast is there in tempo within the movement? Between movements?

2. Can you hear the differences in time signatures—such as the difference between
waltz time and marching time?

3. How much difference in dynamics is there in a given movement? From one move-
ment to the next? Are some movements more uniform in loudness than others?

4. Identify melodic material as treated by single instruments, groups of instruments,
or the entire orchestra.

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MUSIC
5. Are you aware of the melodic material establishing a tonal center, moving away

from it, then returning? (Perhaps only practiced listeners will be able to answer
this in the affirmative.)

6. As a movement is coming to an end, is your expectation of the finale carefully pre-
pared for by the composer? Is the finale sensed as surprising or inevitable?

FOCUS ON  Beethoven’s Symphony
in E♭ Major, No. 3, Eroica

Beethoven’s “heroic’’ symphony is universally acclaimed by musicians and critics as
a symphonic masterpiece. It has some of the most daring innovations for its time,
and it succeeds in powerfully unifying its movements by developing similar material
throughout, especially the melodic and the rhythmic. The symphony, finished in 1804,
was intended to celebrate the greatness of Napoleon, whom Beethoven regarded as a
champion of democracy and the common man. But when Napoleon declared himself
emperor in May 1804, Beethoven, his faith in Napoleon betrayed, was close to de-
stroying the manuscript. However, the surviving manuscript indicates that he simply
tore off the dedication page and substituted the general title Eroica.

The four movements of the symphony follow the tempo markings we would expect
of a classical symphony, but there are a number of important ways in which the Eroica
is unique in the history of musical structures. The first movement, marked allegro con
brio (fast, breezy), is a sonata form with the main theme of the exposition based on
a triadic chord in the key of E♭ major that resoundingly opens the movement. The
development section introduces a number of related keys, and the recapitulation ul-
timately returns to the home key of E♭ major. There is a coda (a section added to the
end of the recapitulation) so extended that it is a second development section as well
as a conclusion. After avoidance of the home key in the development, the E♭ major
finally dominates in the recapitulation and the coda. The movement is at least twice
as long as the usual first movements of earlier symphonies, and no composer before
had used the coda in such a developmental way. Previously the coda was quite short
and repetitive. The size of the movement, along with the tight fusion of themes and
their harmonic development into such a large structure, was very influential on later
composers. The feelings that are evoked and revealed are profound and enigmatic.

The slow second movement is dominated by a funeral march in 2/4 time, with a
very plaintive melody and a painfully slow tempo (in some performances), and an ex-
tremely tragic mood prevails. In contrast with the dramatic and vivid first movement,
the second movement is sobering, diminishing the reaches of power explored in such
depth in the first movement. The second movement uses a fugue in one of its later
sections, even though the tempo of the passage is so slow as to seem to “stretch
time.’’ Despite its exceptional slowness, the fugue, with its competing voices and con-
stant, roiling motion, seems appropriate for suggesting heroic, warlike feelings. The
structure is a rondo: A-B-A′-C-A″-B′-D-A-‴, A being the theme of the funeral march,
the following A′s being variations. The other material, including the fugue in C, offers
some contrast, but because of its close similarity to the march theme, it offers no
resolution.

The relief comes in the third movement, marked scherzo, which is both lively
(scherzo means “joke”) and dancelike. The movement is derivative from the first move-
ment, closely linking the two in an unprecedented way. The time signature is the same

continued

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ChAPTER 9
as a minuet, 3/4, and the melodic material is built on the same triadic chord as in the
first movement. And there is the same rapid distribution from one group of instru-
ments to another. However, the third movement is much briefer than the first, while
only a little briefer than the last.

The finale is marked allegro molto (very fast). A theme and variation movement, it
is a catchall. It includes two short fugues, a dance using a melody similar to the main
theme of the first movement, which is not introduced until after a rather decorative
opening, and a brief march. Fast and slow passages are contrasted in such a fashion as
to give us a sense of a recapitulation of the entire symphony. The movement brings us
triumphantly to a conclusion that is profoundly stable. At this point, we can most fully
appreciate the powerful potentialities of the apparently simple chord-based theme of
the first movement. Every tonal pattern that follows is ultimately derivative, whether
by approximation or by contrast, and at the end of the symphony the last triumphal
chords are characterized by total inevitability and closure. The feelings evoked and
revealed defy description, although there surely is a progression from yearning to
sorrow to joy to triumph.

The following analysis will be of limited value without your listening carefully to the
symphony more than once. If possible, use a score, even if you have no musical train-
ing. Ear and eye can coordinate with practice.

Listening Key: The Symphony

Beethoven, Symphony No. 3, OPUS 55, Eroica
Performed by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Listen to the symphony using the timings of this recording. Before reading the follow-
ing discussion, listen to the symphony. Then, study the analysis and listen again, this
time participatively. Your enjoyment will likely be much greater.

Movement I: Allegro Con Brio. Fast, Breezy.
Sonata form, 3/4 time, E♭ major: Timing: 14:46; Track 1.

The first two chords are powerful, staccato, isolated, and compressed (Figure 9-9).
They are one of the basic chords of the home key of E♭ major: G-E♭-B♭-G. Then at the
third measure (Figure 9-10), the main theme, generated from the opening chord of
the symphony, is introduced. Because it is stated in the cellos, it is low in pitch and
somewhat portentous, although not threatening. Its statement is not quite complete,
for it unexpectedly ends on a C♯ (♯ is the sign for sharp). The horns and clarinets take
the theme at bar 15 (0:19), only to surrender it at bar 20 (0:23) to a group of ascend-
ing tones closely related to the main theme.

FIGURE 9-10
Main theme, cellos (0:04).

FIGURE 9-9
Opening chords in E♭ major (0:01).

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The second theme is in profound contrast to the first. It is a very brief and incom-

plete pattern (and thus could also be described as a motive) of three descending tones
moved from one instrument to another in the woodwinds, beginning with the oboes
at bar 45 (Figure 9-11). This theme is unstable, like a gesture that needs something
to complete its meaning. And the following motive of dotted eighth notes at bars 60
through 64 played by flutes and bassoons (Figure 9-12) is also unstable.

FIGURE 9-11
Second theme, oboes at bar 45 (0:54).

FIGURE 9-12
Flutes and bassoons at bars 60 through 64 (1:14).

This is followed by a rugged rhythmic passage, primarily audible in the violins,
preparing us for a further incomplete thematic statement at bar 83, a very tenta-
tive, delicate interlude. The violin passage that preceded it (Figure 9-13) functions
here and elsewhere as a link in the movement between differing material. Getting
this passage firmly in your memory will help you follow the score, for it returns
dependably.

FIGURE 9-13
Violin passage preceding bar 83 (1:19).

Many passages have unsettling fragments, such as the dark, brooding quality of
the cello and contrabass motive shown in Figure 9-14, which sounds as a kind of warn-
ing, as if it were preparing us for something like the funeral march of the second
movement. It repeats much later in variation at bar 498, acting again as an unsettling
passage. Many other passages also appear to be developing into a finished statement,
only to trail off. Some commentators have described these passages as digressions,
but this is misleading, because they direct us to what is coming.

FIGURE 9-14
Cello and contrabass motive (1:57).

The exposition starts to end at bar 148 (3:03), with a long passage in B♭, the mea-
sures from 148 to 152 hinting at the opening theme, but they actually prepare us
for a dying-down action that joins with the development. In George Szell’s rendition,
as in most recordings, the repeat sign at 156 is ignored. Instead, the second ending

continued

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246

ChAPTER 9
(bars 152 to 159) is played, and this passage tends to stretch and slow down, only to
pick up when the second theme is played again in descending patterns from the flutes
through all the woodwinds (3:16).

The development section is colossal, from bars 156 to 394, beginning at 3:18.
The main theme recurs first at 178 (3:48) in shifting keys in the cellos, then is played
again in B♭ from 186 to 194 (3:55), very slow and drawn out. Contrasting passages
mix in so strongly that we must be especially alert or we will fail to hear the main
theme. The momentum speeds up around bar 200 (4:16), where the main theme is
again played in an extended form in the cellos and the contrabasses. The fragmented
motives contribute to a sense of incompleteness, and we do not have the fullness of
the main theme to hold on to. The fragmentary character of the second theme is
also emphasized, especially between bars 220 and 230 (4:39). When we reach the
crashing discords at bar 275 (5:44), the following quieting down is a welcome relief.
The subsequent passage is very peaceful and almost without direction until we hear
again the main theme in B♭ at bar 300 (6:21), then again at 312 (6:37) in the cellos
and contrabasses. The music builds in loudness and then quiets down, and then the
main theme is stated clearly in the bassoons, preparing for an extended passage that
includes the main theme in the woodwinds building to a mild climax in the strings at
bar 369 (Figure 9-15).

FIGURE 9-15
Strings at bar 369 (7:53).

The remainder of this passage is marvelously mysterious, with the strings main-
taining a steady tremolo and the dynamics brought down almost to a whisper. The
horn enters in bar 394 (8:24), playing the main theme in virtually a solo passage.
Bars 394 and 395 are two of the most significant measures of the movement because
of the way in which they boldly announce the beginning of the recapitulation. The
horns pick up the main theme again at bar 408 (8:32), loud and clear, and begin the
restatement of the exposition section. The recapitulation begins at bar 394 (8:24) and
extends to bar 575 (12:05). It includes a brief development passage, treating the main
theme in several unusual ways, such as the tremolo statement in the violins at bars
559 to 565 (Figure 9-16).

FIGURE 9-16
Violins at bars 559 to 565 (11:50).

The long, slow, quiet passages after bar 575 (12:05) prepare us for the incredible
rush of power that is the coda—the “tail,” or final section, of the movement. The tri-
umphal quality of the coda—which includes extended development, especially of the
main theme—is most perceptible, perhaps, in the juxtaposition of a delightful running
violin passage from bar 631 to bar 639 (13:31), with the main theme and a minimal
variation played in the horns. It is as if Beethoven is telling us that he has perceived
the musical problems that existed with his material, mastered them, and now is cele-
brating with a bit of simple, passionate, and joyous music.

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Before going on to the next Perception Key, give your ear a rest for a brief time.
Then come back to the symphony and listen to it all the way through. Sit back and
enjoy it. Then consider the following questions.

PERCEPTION KEY Movement I of the Eroica
1. Describe the main theme and the second theme. What are their principal qualities

of length, “tunefulness,’’ range of pitch, rhythm, and completeness? Could either be
accurately described as a melody? Which is easier to whistle or hum? Why could the
second theme be plausibly described as a motive? Do the two themes contrast with
each other in such a way that the musical quality of each is enhanced? If so, how?

2. What are the effects of hearing the main theme played in different keys, as in bars
3 to 7 (0:04), bars 184 to 194 (3:55), and bars 198 to 206 (4:16)? All these pas-
sages present the theme in the cellos and contrabasses. What are the effects of the
appearance of the theme in other instrumental families, such as the bassoons at
bar 338 (7:12) in the development section and the horns at bar 408 (8:32) in the
recapitulation section? Does the second theme appear in a new family of instru-
ments in the development section?

3. How clearly perceptible do you find the exposition, development, recapitulation,
and coda sections? Describe, at least roughly, the feeling qualities of each of these
sections.

4. Many symphonies lack a coda. Do you think Beethoven was right in adding a coda,
especially such a long and involved one? If so, what does it add?

5. If possible, record the movement, but begin with the development section; then
follow with the recapitulation, exposition, and coda sections. Does listening to this
“reorganization’’ help clarify the function of each section? Does it offer a better
understanding of the movement as it was originally structured? Does this “reorga-
nization’’ produce significantly different feeling qualities in each section?

PERCEPTION KEY The Eroica
1. In what ways are the four movements tied together? Does a sense of relatedness

develop for you?
2. Is the symphony properly named? If so, what qualities do you perceive in it that

seem “heroic’’?
3. Comment on the use of dynamics throughout the whole work. Comment on vari-

ations in rhythms.
4. Is there a consistency in the thematic material used throughout the symphony?

Are there any inconsistencies?
5. Do you find that fatigue affects your responses to the second movement or any

other portion of the symphony? The act of creative listening can be very tiring.
Could Beethoven have taken that into consideration?

6. Are you aware of a variety of feeling qualities in the music? Does there seem to be
an overall plan to the changes in these qualities as the symphony unfolds?

7. What kind of feelings (emotion, passion, or mood) did the Eroica arouse in you?
Did you make discoveries of your inner life of feeling because of your responses
to the Eroica?

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ChAPTER 9

bLues and jazz: popuLar american music
So far, our emphasis is on classical music because its resources are virtually in-
exhaustible and its development, over many centuries and continuing today, has
reached a pitch of refinement that matches that of painting, architecture, and lit-
erature. But other kinds of music in addition to opera, symphonies, and chamber
music affect modern listeners. The blues, which developed in the African American
communities in the southern United States, has given rise to a wide number of
styles—among them jazz, which has become an international phenomenon, with
players all over the world.

The term “blues” was used early to describe a form of music developed in the
black communities in the South, and it seems to describe a range of feelings, al-
though the blues was never a music implying depression or despair. Rather, it im-
plied a soulful feeling as expressed in the blue notes of the scale and in the lyrics
of the songs. The music that later developed from the blues is characterized by
the enthusiasm of its audiences and the intense emotional involvement that it de-
mands, especially in the great auditoriums and outdoor venues that mark the most
memorable concerts seen by thousands of fans.

The blues evolved into a novel musical form by relying on a slightly different
scale with blue notes: C E♭ F F♯ G B♭ C. Compare that with the standard C major
scale: C D E F G A B C. The standard C scale has no sharps or flats, so the blues scale
has a totally different feel. If you can play these scales, you will hear how different
they are. The structure of the blues is twelve measures with a constant pattern of
chord progressions, which is then repeated for another twelve measures. Out of this
original pattern, jazz developed in the early years of the twentieth century.

Jazz began in New Orleans with the almost mythic figures of Buddy Bolden,
the great trumpet player in Lincoln Park in the first years of 1900, and Jelly Roll
Morton, who claimed to have single-handedly invented jazz. King Oliver’s band
in New Orleans was enormously influential, and when New Orleans was “cleaned
up” by the U.S. Navy in 1917—drugs and prostitution were forced out of town—
jazz moved up the Mississippi River to Chicago, where Louis Armstrong’s powerful
trumpet dominated jazz for more than a dozen years (Figure 9-17). The large, pri-
marily white society bands, such as Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, introduced jazz to
large radio audiences by employing great jazz stars such as Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy
and Tommy Dorsey, hoagy Carmichael, and Jack Teagarden. Fortunately, all these
orchestras recorded widely in the 1920s, and their music can be heard online at any
of a number of sources.

The hot jazz of the time is marked by an extensive use of the blues scale, a power-
ful rhythm emphasizing the second and fourth beats of each measure, and a delight
in counterpoint ensemble playing and dynamic solos that show off the talent of
virtuoso players. The rhythm section was usually drums, piano, and guitar or bass.
The horns, trumpet, clarinet, and trombone played most of the melodic material,
supplying complex harmonic support while individuals were soloing. Some of their
best recorded tunes were “Willie the Weeper,” “Wild Man Blues,” “Twelfth Street
Rag,” and “Chicago Breakdown.” They were an energetic and exciting band playing
the best jazz of the period.

Larger orchestras, such as the swing bands of Benny Goodman, Count Basie,
Jimmy Lunceford, and Duke Ellington, had to rely less on improvisation and

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MUSIC

counterpoint and more on ensemble playing. Their music was smoother, more har-
monically secure, and less exciting except when a soloist stood for his improvised
twelve or twenty-four measures. But even in the big bands, the emphasis on the
weak beats (the second and fourth of each measure) and the use of syncopation and
the anticipation of the beats helped keep a sense of power and movement in the
music, even though it may have been played more or less the same way in concert
after concert. Big band music was originally designed for dancing, and the best of
the jazz groups kept to that concept.

Miles Davis (Figure 9-18) has been compared with Picasso because of his various
stylistic periods, from the early bop of the late 1940s to the cool jazz of the 1950s
and 1960s and then the rock-fusion jazz of the Bitches Brew album in 1970, which
introduced electronic instruments. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, herbie hancock,
Ron Carter, Bill Evans, Lee Konitz, Chick Corea, and many more giants of jazz were
among the members of Davis’s groups, including the late sextet. Sketches of Spain,
1960, arranged by his friend Gil Evans, is an example of Davis’s use of folk melodies
to produce a classical jazz album.

Contemporary jazz musicians, such as Wynton Marsalis (Figure 9-19), Diana
Krall, Cyrus Chesnut, Esperanza Spalding, the late Geri Allen, Keith Jarrett, Joshua
Redman, Christian McBride, Wayne Shorter, and Chuchu Valdés, are all in the
tradition of the great improvisational players of the twentieth century. The essence
of jazz is improvisation and, to an extent, competition. The early jazz bands often
competed with one another in “cutting contests” to see which band was better.
Players of the same instruments, such as the saxophone, have sometimes performed
onstage in intense competition to help raise the excitement level of the music.

FIGURE 9-17
Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven,
the dynamic mid-1920s band that
made some legendary recordings in
1927. Armstrong is in the middle,
playing trumpet. His wife, Lil Hardin,
is at the piano. Johnny St. Cyr
played banjo, Johnny Dodds clarinet,
Baby Dodds drums, John Thomas
trombone, and Pete Briggs tuba.
The group can be heard at www
.redhotjazz.com.

©JP Jazz Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

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250

ChAPTER 9

FIGURE 9-18
Miles Davis.

©David Warner Ellis/Redferns/Getty Images

FIGURE 9-19
Wynton Marsalis opens Jazz
Appreciation Month by performing
and lecturing at the Kimmel Center
for the Performing Arts. The Grammy
Award winner performed with
members of the Jazz at Lincoln
Center Orchestra.

©Ricky Fitchett/Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy

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MUSIC

rock and roLL and rap
Rock and roll has its roots in R&B—rhythm and blues—popular in the 1940s in the
United States primarily among black radio audiences. Joe Turner, an early R&B
man, composed “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” but it did not become a hit until Bill
haley recorded it in 1955. Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five, Bo Diddley, and Muddy
Waters were some of the major predecessors of rock and roll, and Ike Turner may
have had the first true rock-and-roll record in 1951. however, the wide acceptance
of rock and roll began only after white groups and singers began to adopt the
black style. Elvis Presley was the first rock-and-roll star, with hit records begin-
ning in the mid-1950s. Bill haley’s Comets, originally a country-western band,
adopted the new style in “Rock around the Clock,” the first rock tune to be used
in the popular 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, in which rioting students destroy a high
school teacher’s collection of jazz records—obviously symbolic of a period of mu-
sical revolution.

Rock music and jazz are essentially countercultural art forms with codes for sex-
ual behavior, and they usually went unobserved by general audiences. Rock groups
were aided by the invention of the electric guitar in 1931. Les Paul popularized the
Gibson solid-body electric guitar, and by the 1960s almost all rock-and-roll music
was amplified, which made possible the great concerts of Led Zeppelin, the Who,
Cream, Steve Miller Band, the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones,
all of whom began to tour internationally. The Beatles, a small group, were espe-
cially political during the 1960s and 1970s when they condemned the Vietnam War
and popularized Indian mysticism. Some of these groups still appear, and all can be
heard on the Internet and seen on YouTube and other sharing sites.

One of the most enduring of the classic age of rock groups is the Rolling Stones,
whose tune “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” 1965, is still a hit when performed by
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (Figure 9-20). Their band began in 1962, endures
today, and is widely available on Internet sharing sites. The Rolling Stones pre-
sented concerts marked by wild gyrations of Mick Jagger, while the cool and cere-
bral Keith Richards stayed behind, playing complex riffs inspiring the band. Both
Jagger and Richards wrote most of their hits, and, unlike jazz groups, the Rolling
Stones helped establish the pattern of great rock bands writing their own material
rather than “covering” other people’s music.

Styles in popular music evolve almost seamlessly from earlier styles and become
apparent as a distinct form of music only when a major figure has a hit that catches
the attention of a wide audience. hip-hop and rap music have their roots in gospel,
shout, and blues, just as do jazz and rock and roll. The use of amplified instru-
ments, simple chord patterns—often the use of no more than three chords—and
a heavy back beat (great stress on beats two and four) throughout a composition
mark most of rock and later music. The lyrics are often personal, political, and
usually countercultural—aimed at a youthful audience that sees itself as naturally
rebellious.

Rap stars like Tupac Shakur recorded hundreds of tracks about life on the streets
and the violence in the neighborhood. Tupac was killed in Las Vegas after an in-
cident with gangs. Notorious B.I.G. was famous at the same time and feuded with
Tupac. Later rap figures tend to develop the narratives beyond the neighborhood,
like Eminem, Jay Z, Sean Combs, Drake, and Future. however, the music is still

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ChAPTER 9

subversive and often a form of protest. Rap has been called misogynistic and some-
times racist, but it is an evolving form. The driving rhythm of rap remains, but as in
the Pulitzer Prize–winning Hamilton, the resources of rap may be much less limited
than its critics have thought.

Today, popular music includes most styles derived from blues, and most of it is
strictly commercial, designed to make money. But some of it derives from a serious
artistic purpose that has little to do with making money. Serious lovers of popular
music usually look for evidence of sincerity in the music they prefer. It is not always
easy to detect. But all that aside, the elements of popular music are those of all
music: tone, rhythm, tempo, consonance, dissonance, melody, counterpoint, har-
mony, dynamics, and contrast.

FIGURE 9-20
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
of the Rolling Stones, in concert.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
joined Ian Stewart and the original
leader Brian Jones in 1962 with
the Rolling Stones, adding the
drummer Charlie Watts and bassist
Bill Wyman. This band was part of
the “British Invasion” that solidified
the international credentials of rock
and roll.

©Robert Galbraith/Reuters/Alamy

PERCEPTION KEY Popular Music
1. Choose a number of popular pieces, and identify their style (blues, jazz, punk,

rock, rap, country, etc.). Decide whether this music seems to clarify a feeling state
or states for you.

2. Select a piece of popular music that does not satisfy you. Listen to it several times
and then explain what qualities the music has that you feel are insufficient for you
to consider it a successful composition.

3. Listen to a composition by the Rolling Stones or another rock group that interests
you. Comment on the band’s respective use of rhythm, consonance and disso-
nance, melody, and harmony.

4. Select a popular composition and comment on its use of rhythm and tempo. Can
you see connections with the use of rhythm and tempo in classical music?

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summary
We began this chapter by suggesting that feelings and sounds are the primary
subject matters of music. This implies that the content of music is a revelation of
feelings and sounds—that music gives us a more sensitive understanding of them.
however, as we indicated in our opening statements, there is considerable dis-
agreement about the subject matter of music, and so there is disagreement about
the content of music. If music does reveal feelings and sounds, the way it does so is
still one of the most baffling problems in the philosophy of art.

Given the basic theory of art as revelation, as we have been presupposing in this
book, a couple of examples of how that theory might be applied to music are rele-
vant. In the first place, some music apparently clarifies sounds as noises and tones.
Music gives us insight into the resources of tonality in much the way painting gives
us insight into the resources of color and visual sensa.

There seems to be evidence that music gives us insight into our feelings; for
example, the last movement of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony may excite a feeling of
joy. The second movement—the funeral march—of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony
may evoke a feeling of sadness. In fact, “joy” and “sadness” are general terms that
only very crudely describe our feelings. We experience all kinds of different joys
and different sadnesses, and the names language gives to these are often imprecise.

Music, with its capacity to evoke feelings, and with a complexity of detail and
structure that in many ways is greater than that of language, may be able to reveal
or interpret feeling with much more precision than language. Perhaps the form
of the last movement of the Jupiter symphony—with its clear-cut rising melodies,
bright harmonies and timbres, brisk strings, and rapid rhythms—is somehow anal-
ogous to the form of a certain kind of joy. Perhaps the last movement of the Eroica
is somehow analogous to a different kind of joy. And if so, then perhaps we find
revealed in those musical forms clarifications or insights about joy. Such explana-
tions are highly speculative. however, they not only are theoretically interesting
but also may intensify one’s interest in music. There is mystery about music, unique
among the arts; that is part of its fascination. In addition to classical music, modern
popular styles such as blues, jazz, rock and roll, and rap all have capacity to evoke
intense participation resulting from the use of standard musical elements such as
rhythm, tone color, melody, and harmony. They produce feeling states that can be
complex and subtle in proportion to the seriousness and commitment of the artists
and composers.

5. Which of the elements of music is most imaginatively used in the popular compo-
sition that you currently listen to most?

6. Listen to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was written for piano and jazz
band. Is Gershwin’s composition classical in style, or is it jazz? What qualifies it as
belonging to or not belonging to popular music?

7. Do you find structures in popular music like those of classical music—for example,
theme and variations, rondos, fugues, sonatas, and so on? Which structure, if any,
seems to dominate?

8. How closely related are popular music styles to those of classical music? How does
understanding classical music help in appreciating popular music?

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254

©Robbie Jack/Corbis/Getty Images

C h a p t e r 10

DANCE

Dance—moving bodies shaping space—shares common ground with kinetic sculpture. In abstract dance, the center of interest is upon visual patterns,
and thus there is common ground with abstract painting. Dance, however, usually
includes a narrative, performed on a stage with scenic effects, and thus has com-
mon ground with drama. Dance is rhythmic, unfolding in time, and thus has com-
mon ground with music. Most dance is accompanied by music, and dance is often
incorporated in opera. According to the psychologist Havelock Ellis: “Dancing is
the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere
translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself.”1

Subject Matter of Dance
At its most basic level, the subject matter of dance is abstract motion of bodies, but
a much more pervasive subject matter of the dance is feeling. Our ability to identify
with other human bodies is so strong that the perception of feelings exhibited by
the dancer often evokes feelings in ourselves. The choreographer, creator of the
dance, interprets those feelings. And if we participate, we may understand those
feelings and ourselves with greater insight. In Trisha Brown’s dance Present Tense
(2003) (Figure 10-1), the very joy of movement is clearly expressed by the inten-
sity of the dancers. The music was by John Cage and the set by Elizabeth Murray.
Brown was notable for combining her choreography with music and set design by
noted modern artists. Brown’s interpretation of the joy of movement is infectious,
demanding a kinesthetic response from the audience.

1Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1923).

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DANCE

States of mind are a further dimension that may be the subject matter of dance.
Feelings, such as pleasure and pain, are relatively transient, but a state of mind is
a disposition or habit that is not easily superseded. For example, jealousy usually
involves a feeling so strong that it is best described as a passion. Yet jealousy is more
than just a passion, for it is an orientation of mind that is relatively enduring. Thus,
José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane explores the jealousy of Shakespeare’s Othello. In
Limón’s version, Iago and Othello dance around Desdemona and seem to be di-
rectly vying for her affections. The Moor’s Pavane represents an interpretation of the
states of mind Shakespeare dramatized, although it can stand independently of the
play and make its own contribution to our understanding of jealousy.

Since states of mind are felt as enduring, the serial structure of the dance is
an appropriate vehicle for interpreting that endurance. The same can be said of
music, of course, and its serial structure, along with its rhythmic nature, is the fun-
damental reason for the wedding of music with dance. Even silence in some dances
seems to suggest music, since the dancer exhibits visual rhythms, something like
the rhythms of music. But the showing of states of mind is achieved only partly
through the elements dance shares with music. More basic is the body language of
the dancing bodies. Perhaps nothing—not even spoken language—exhibits states of
mind more clearly or strongly.

FIGURE 10-1
Trisha Brown’s company in Present
Tense, at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music, 2016. Trisha Brown’s Set
and Reset, Foray Forêt, Present Tense,
and others have been the most
admired of the postmodern dances,
incorporating music from Laurie
Anderson and set designs from
Robert Rauschenberg.

©Andrea Mohin/The New York
Times/Redux

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256

EXPERIENCING Feeling and Dance
1. The claim that dance can interpret

the inner life of feeling with excep-
tional power implies, perhaps, that
no other art surpasses dance in this
respect. Why would such a claim be
made?

The fact that dance is usually consid-
ered the first art in the cultivation of
culture among all civilizations may have
something to do with the possibility that
dance expresses and refines the emo-
tional life of the dancer. Religious circle
dances seem to be common in all civili-
zations, just as spontaneous movement
on the part of individuals in a social set-
ting will, almost contagiously, attract
participants who would otherwise just
stand around. When one person starts
dancing, usually a great many will follow
suit.

Dances of celebration are associated with weddings around the world, often with
precise movements and precise sections that seem to have an ancient pretext as-
sociated with fertility and the joy of love. Likewise, some dance simply celebrates
the joy of life, as in the Nrityagram performance (Figure 10-2), which reveals an
elevation of spirit that interprets an inner life of sheer delight. See Nrityagram on
YouTube.

Social dances not only interpret the inner life of feeling, but at times they can
both produce an inner life of feeling in us and control that feeling. In ballroom danc-
ing, for example, the prescribed movements are designed to channel our sense of
our body’s motion and thus to help constrain our feelings while we dance. Alterna-
tively, rock and hip-hop dancing involve a high degree of improvisation and some
of the movements will depend on the feeling-state of the dancer at the moment of
the dance.

Other arts may equal dance in this respect, but most of us have had experiences
in which we find ourselves dancing expressively with friends or even alone as a way of
both producing and sustaining a feeling-state that we find desirable and occasionally
overwhelming.

2. Compare dance and music in terms of their power to reveal the inner life of feeling.
3. Represent one of the following states of mind by bodily motion: love, jealousy,

self-confidence, pride. Have others in your group do the same. Do you find such
representations difficult to perceive when others do them?

4. Try to move in such a way as to represent no state of mind at all. Is it possible? Dis-
cuss this with your group.

5. Representing or portraying a state of mind allows one to recognize that state. Inter-
preting a state of mind gives one insight into that state. In any of the experiments
above, did you find any examples that went beyond representation and interpreta-
tion? If so, what made this possible? What does artistic form have to do with this?

FIGURE 10-2
Pavithra Reddy and Bijayini
Satpathy in the Nrityagram Dance
ensemble’s production Sriyah at
the King’s Theatre as part of the
Edinburgh International Festival.

©Robbie Jack-Corbis/Getty Images

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DANCE

forM
The subject matter of dance can be moving visual patterns, feelings, states of
mind, narrative, or various combinations. The form of the dance—its details and
structure—gives us insight into the subject matter. But in dance, the form is not as
clearly perceptible as it usually is in painting, sculpture, and architecture. The vi-
sual arts normally “sit still” long enough for us to reexamine everything. But dance
moves on relentlessly, like literature in recitation, drama, and music, preventing
us from reexamining its details and organization. We can only hope to hold in
memory a detail for comparison with an ensuing detail, and those details as they
help create the structure.

Therefore, one prerequisite for thorough enjoyment of the dance is the develop-
ment of a memory for dance movements. The dance will usually help us in this task
by the use of repetitive movements and variations on them. It can do for us what we
cannot do for ourselves: present once again details for our renewed consideration.
Often the dance builds tension by withholding movements we want to have re-
peated. Sometimes it creates unusual tension by refusing to repeat any movement
at all. Repetition or the lack of it—as in music or any serial art—becomes one of the
most important structural features of the dance.

The dance, furthermore, achieves a number of kinds of balance. In terms of the
entire stage, usually dancers in a company balance themselves across the space
allotted to them, moving forward, backward, left, and right as well as in circles.
Centrality of focus is important in most dances and helps us unify the shapes of the
overall dance. The most important dancers are usually at the center of the stage,
holding our attention while subordinate groups of dancers balance them on the
sides of the stage. Balance is also a structural consideration for both individual
dancers (Figure 10-5) and groups (Figure 10-3).

FIGURE 10-3
Eleonora Abbagnato of the Paris
Opera Ballet performing in Le
Sacre du Printemps by Pina Bausch.
Interpreting the ritual Rite of Spring,
Igor Stravinsky’s dynamic symphonic
piece almost caused riots in 1913.
Bausch interprets the erotic joy
implied in the music and in the rituals
celebrated in ancient Greece.

©Julien Benhamou

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258

CHAPTER 10

The positions of the ballet dancer also imply basic movements for the dancer,
movements that can be maneuvered, interwoven, set in counterpoint, and modified
as the dance progresses. As we experience the dance, we can develop an eye for the
ways in which these movements combine to create the dance. Modern dance devel-
ops a different movement vocabulary of dance, as one can see from the illustrations
in Figures 10-1 and 10-7 to 10-16.

Dance anD ritual
Since the only requirement for dance is a body in motion, dance probably precedes
all other arts. In this sense, dance comes first. And when it comes first, it is usually
connected to a ritual that demands careful execution of movements in precise ways
to achieve a precise goal. The dances of most cultures were originally connected with
either religious or practical hunting or agricultural acts, all often involving magic.

Some dance has sexual origins and often is a ritual of courtship. Since this phe-
nomenon has a correlative in nature—the courtship dances of birds and many other
animals—many cultures occasionally imitated animal dances. Certain movements in
Mandan Indian dances, for instance, can be traced to the leaps and falls of western
jays and mockingbirds that, in finding a place to rest, will stop, leap into the air
while spreading their wings for balance, then fall suddenly, only to rise into the air
again.

Dance of all kinds draws much of its inspiration from the movements and shapes
of nature: the motion of a stalk of wheat in a gentle breeze, the scurrying of a rabbit,
the curling of a contented cat, the soaring of a bird, the falling of leaves, the sway
of waves. These kinds of events have supplied dancers with ideas and examples
for their own movement. A favorite movement pattern for the dance is that of the
spiral nautilus:

The circle is another of the most pervasive shapes of nature. The movements of
planets and stars suggest circular motion, and, more mundanely, so do the rings
working out from a stone dropped in water. In a magical-religious way, circular
dances sometimes have been thought to bring the dancers—and therefore humans
in general—into a significant harmony with divine forces in the universe. The plan-
ets and stars are heavenly objects in circular motion, so it was reasonable for early
dancers to feel that they could align themselves with these divine forces by means
of dance.

Ritual Dance

Tourists can see rain dances in the American Southwest even today. The floor
pattern of the dance is not circular but a modified spiral. The dancers, properly

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259

DANCE

costumed, form a line and are led by a priest, who at specific moments spreads
cornmeal on the ground, symbolizing his wish for the fertility of the ground. The
ritual character of the dance is clearly observable in the pattern of motion, with
dancers beginning by moving toward the north, then turning west, south, east,
north, west, south, and ending toward the east. The gestures of the dancers, like
the gestures in most rituals, have definite meanings and functions. For exam-
ple, the dancers’ loud screams are designed to awaken the gods and arrest their
attention, the drumbeat suggests thunder, and the dancers’ rattles suggest the
sound of rain.

Social Dance

Social dance is not dominated by religious or practical purposes. It is a form of rec-
reation and social enjoyment. Country dance—for example, the eighteenth-century
English Playford dances—is a species of folk dance that has traces of ancient origins,
because country people tended to perform dances in specific relationship to special
periods in the agricultural year, such as planting and harvesting. These were peri-
ods of celebration, when people in villages and farms came together to share good
fellowship and thanksgiving.

Folk dances are the dances of the people—whether ethnic or regional in origin—
and they are often carefully preserved, sometimes with contests designed to keep
the dances alive. The dancers often wear the peasant costumes of the region they
represent. Virtually every nation has its folk dance tradition.

The Court Dance

The court dances of the Middle Ages and Renaissance developed into more styl-
ized and less openly energetic modes than the folk dance, for the court dance was
performed by a different sort of person and served a different purpose. Participat-
ing in court dances signified high social status. Some of the older dances were the
volta, a favorite at Queen Elizabeth’s court in the sixteenth century, with the male
dancer hoisting the female dancer in the air from time to time; the pavane, a stately

PERCEPTION KEY Dance and Contemporary Rituals
1. Contemporary rituals, especially weddings and state funerals, involve motion that

can be considered dance motion. What other contemporary rituals involve dance
motion? Do we need to know the meanings of the ritual gestures in order to appre-
ciate the motion of the ritual?

2. How much common ground do we share with early dancers in trying to give
meaning to our gestures, either in a generally accepted dance situation or out
of it?

3. Are there dances that can be considered as serving functions similar to those of the
dances we have described? Consider, for instance, the dancing  at rock concerts. Is
the dancing at Rave clubs ritual dance? Are there other instances?

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dance popular in the seventeenth century; the minuet, popular in the eighteenth
century, performed by groups of four dancers at a time; and the eighteenth-century
German allemande—a dance performed by couples who held both hands, turning
about one another without letting go. These dances and many others were favor-
ites at courts primarily because they were enjoyable—not because they performed
a religious or practical function. Because the dances were also pleasurable to look
at, it very quickly became commonplace at court to have a group of onlookers as
large as or larger than the group of dancers. Soon professional dancers appeared
at more-significant court functions, such as the Elizabethan and Jacobean masques,
which were mixed-media entertainments in which the audience usually took some
part—particularly in the dance sequences.

ballet
The origins of ballet usually are traced to the early seventeenth century, when danc-
ers performed interludes between scenes of an opera. Eventually the interludes
grew more important, until finally ballets were performed independently.

A considerable repertory of ballets has been built up in the last three centuries.
Some of the ballets many of us are likely to see are Lully’s Giselle; Les Sylphides,
with music by Chopin; Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty;
Coppélia, with music by Delibes; and The Rite of Spring, with music by Stravinsky. All
these ballets—like most ballets—have a pretext, a narrative line or story around which
the ballet is built (Figure 10-4). In this sense, the ballet has as its subject matter a
story that is interpreted by means of stylized movements such as the arabesque, the
bourrée, and the relévé, to name a few. Our understanding of the story is basically
conditioned by our perception of the movements that present the story to us. It is
astounding how, without having to be obvious and without having to resort very
often to everyday gestures, ballet dancers can present a story to us in an intelligible
fashion. Yet it is not the story or the movement that constitutes the ballet: It is the
meld of story and movement.

PERCEPTION KEY Social Dance
1. How would you evaluate rock dancing? Why does rock dancing demand loud

music? Does the performing and watching of spontaneous and powerful muscular
motions account for some of the popularity of rock dancing? If so, why?  Explain
what the viewer and the dancer, respectively, might derive from the experience
of rock dancing. Substitute hip-hop for rock and answer the same questions.

2. Try to see an authentic folk dance. Describe the basic differences between
folk dance and rock dance. Is the basic subject matter of the folk dance visual
patterns, or feelings, or states of mind, or narrative? Or some combination of
these? If so, what is the mix? Answer the same questions for rock dances and
hip-hop.

3. Break and rock dancing for the young, square and ballroom dancing for the old—
why the divided generational appeal? Country dance seems to appeal to both
young and old. 

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PERCEPTION KEY Narrative and Bodily Movement
1. Without training, we cannot perform ballet movements, but all of us can perform

some dance movements. By way of experiment and to increase our understand-
ing of the meld of narrative and movement, try representing a narrative by bodily
motion to a group of onlookers. Choose a narrative poem from our chapter on
literature, or choose a scene from a play that may be familiar to you and your au-
dience. Let your audience know the pretext you are using, since this is the normal
method of most ballets. Avoid movements that rely exclusively on facial expres-
sions or simple mime to communicate story elements. After your presentation, dis-
cuss with your audience their views about your success or failure in presenting the
narrative. Discuss, too, your problems as a dancer, what you felt you wanted your
movement to reveal about the narrative. Have others perform the experiment, and
discuss the same points.

2. Even the most rudimentary movement attempting to reveal a narrative will bring in
interpretations that go beyond the narrative alone. As a viewer, discuss what you
believe the other dancers added to the narrative.

FIGURE 10-4
A scene from George Balanchine’s
Nutcracker, with music by Pyotr
Ilych Tchaikovsky, based on E. T. A.
Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the
Mouse King. Here, Clara has freed
the Prince and journeyed with him
to the world of the fairies as the
Snowflakes gather in a blizzard in the
last scene of act 1 by the New York
City Ballet.

©Paul Kolnik

261

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Swan Lake
One of the most popular ballets of all time is Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (Le Lac des
Cygnes), composed from 1871 to 1877 and first performed in 1894 (act 2) and 1895
(complete). The choreographers were Leon Ivanov and Marius Petipa. Tchaikovsky
originally composed the music for a ballet to be performed for children, but its
fascination has not been restricted to young audiences. With Margot Fonteyn and
Rudolf Nureyev, the reigning dancers in this ballet in modern times, Swan Lake has
been a resounding favorite on television and film, not to mention repeated sellout
performances in dance theaters the world over.

Act 1 opens with the principal male dancer, the young Prince Siegfried, attend-
ing a village celebration. His mother, the Queen, finding Siegfried sporting with the
peasants, decides that it is time for him to marry someone of his own station and
settle into the nobility. After she leaves, a pas de trois—a dance with three danc-
ers, in this instance Siegfried and two maids—is interrupted by the Prince’s slightly
drunk tutor, who tries to take part in some of the dancing but is not quite able.
When a flight of swans is seen overhead, the Prince resolves to go hunting.

The opening scene of act 2 is on a moonlit lake, with the arch magician Rothbart
tending his swans. The swans, led by Odette, are maidens he has enchanted. They
can return to human form only at night. Odette’s movements are imitated by the
entire group of swans, movements that are clearly influenced by the motions of the
swan’s long neck and by the movements we associate with birds—for example, an
undulating motion executed by the dancers’ arms and a fluttering executed by the
legs. Siegfried comes upon the swans and restrains his hunters from shooting at
them. He falls in love with Odette, now in her human form, all of whose motions
are characterized by the softness and grace of a swan (Figure 10-5). Siegfried learns
that Odette is enchanted and that she cannot come to the ball at which the Queen
has planned to arrange his marriage. Siegfried also learns that if he vows his love
to her and keeps his vow, he can free her from the enchantment. She warns him
that Rothbart will do everything to trick him into breaking the vow, but Siegfried is
determined to be steadfast. As dawn arrives, the lovers part and Rothbart retrieves
his swans.

Act 3 commences with the ball the Queen has arranged for presenting to Sieg-
fried a group of princesses from whom he may choose. Each princess, introduced
in lavish native costume with a retinue of dancers and retainers, dances the folk
dance of her country, such as the allemande, the czardas, the tarantella. But sud-
denly Rothbart enters in disguise with his own daughter, Odile, who looks exactly
like Odette. Today most performances require that Odette and Odile be the same
dancer, although the parts were originally written for two dancers. Siegfried and
Odile dance the famous Black Swan pas de deux, a dance notable for its virtuos-
ity. It features almost superhuman leaps on the part of Siegfried, and it involves
thirty-two rapidly executed whipping turns (fouettés) on the part of Odile. Her
movement is considerably different in character from that of Odette. Odile is more
angular, is less delicate, and in her black costume seems much less the picture of
innocence Odette had seemed in her soft white costume. Siegfried’s movements
suggest great joy at being with Odette, for he does not realize that this is really
Odile, the magician’s daughter.

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When the time comes for Siegfried to choose among the princesses for his wife,
he rejects them all and presents Odile to the Queen as his choice. Once Siegfried
has committed himself to her, Rothbart exults and takes Odile from him and makes
her vanish. Siegfried, who has broken his vow to Odette, realizes he has been duped
and ends the act by rushing out to find the real Odette.

Like a number of other sections of the ballet, act 4 has a variety of versions that
interpret what is essentially similar action (Figure 10-6). Siegfried, in finding Odette
by the lake at night, sacrifices himself for her and breaks the spell. They are joined
in death and are beyond the power of the magician. Some versions of the ballet aim
for a happy ending and suggest that though Siegfried sacrifices himself for Odette,
he does not die. In this happy-ending version, Odette, upon realizing that Siegfried
had been tricked, forgives him. Rothbart raises a terrible storm in order to drown all
the swans, but Siegfried carries Odette to a hilltop, where he is willing to die with
her if necessary. This act of love and sacrifice breaks the spell, and the two of them
are together as dawn breaks.

Another version concentrates on spiritual victory and reward after death in a
better life than that which was left behind. Odette and the swans dance slowly and
sorrowfully together, with Odette rising in a stately fashion in their midst. When
Siegfried comes, he begs her to forgive him, but nothing can break the magician’s
spell. Odette and he dance, they embrace, and she bids him farewell and casts her-
self mournfully into the lake, where she perishes. Siegfried, unable to live without
her, follows her into the lake. Then, once the lake vanishes, Odette and Siegfried
are revealed in the distance, moving away together as evidence that the spell was
broken in death.

The story of Swan Lake has archetypal overtones much in keeping with the
Romantic age in which it was conceived. John Keats, who wrote “La Belle Dame

FIGURE 10-5
Matthew Golding as Siegfried and
Natalia Ossipova as Odette in act 2
of Swan Lake with the corps de ballet
of the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden,
London.

©A Pennefather/Royal Opera House/
ArenaPAL/The Image Works

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Sans Merci” fifty years before this ballet was created, was fascinated by the ancient
stories of men who fell in love with supernatural spirits, which is what the swan-
Odette is, once she has been transformed by magic. Likewise, the later Romantics
were fascinated by the possibilities of magic and its implications for dealing with
the forces of good and evil. This interest in magic and the supernatural is coupled
with the Wagnerian interest in heroism and the implications of the sacrifice of the
hero for the thing he loves. But Tchaikovsky—like Wagner, whose hero in the Ring of
the Niebelungs is also a Siegfried, whose end with Brünnhilde is similar to the ending
in Swan Lake—concentrates on the human valor of the Prince and its implication for
transforming evil into good.

FIGURE 10-6
The Royal Ballet rehearses their
production of Swan Lake. Here,
Rothbart’s enchanted swans dance
together in a classic pose.

©Reuters/Alamy

PERCEPTION KEY Swan Lake
1. If you can see a production or video of Swan Lake, focus on a specific act and com-

ment in a discussion with others on the suitability of the bodily movements for the
narrative subject matter of that act. Are feelings or states of mind interpreted as
well as the narrative? If so, when and how?

2. What characteristic bodily motions seem to repeat themselves in the dances per-
formed by Siegfried and Odette?

3. If someone who has had training in ballet is available, you might try to get him or
her to present a small portion of the ballet for your observation and discussion.
What would be the most important kinds of questions to ask such a person?

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MoDern Dance
The origins of modern dance are usually traced to the American dancers Isadora
Duncan and Ruth St. Denis. They rebelled against the stylization of ballet, with bal-
lerinas dancing on their toes and executing the same basic movements in every per-
formance. Duncan insisted on natural movement, often dancing in bare feet with
gossamer drapery that revealed her body and legs in motion (Figure 10-7). She felt
that the emphasis ballet places on the movement of the arms and legs was restric-
tive. Her insistence on placing the center of motion just below the breastbone was
based on her feeling that the torso had been neglected in the development of ballet.
She believed, too, that the early Greek dancers, whom she wished to emulate, had
placed their center of energy at the solar plexus. Her intention was to return to nat-
ural movement in dance, and this was one effective method of doing so.

FIGURE 10-7
Isadora Duncan at the Parthenon,
photographed by Edward Steichen.

©2017 The Estate of Edward Steichen/
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Photo: ©The Museum of Modern Art/Scala/
Art Resource, NY

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The developers of modern dance who followed Duncan (she died in 1927) built
on her legacy. In her insistence on freedom with respect to clothes and conven-
tions, she infused energy into the dance that no one had ever seen before. Although
she was a native Californian, her successes and triumphs were primarily in foreign
lands, particularly in France and Russia. Her performances differed greatly from
the ballet. Instead of developing a dance built on a pretext of the sort that underlies
Swan Lake, Duncan took more-abstract subject matters—especially moods and states
of mind—and expressed her understanding of them.

Duncan’s dances were lyrical, personal, and occasionally extemporaneous.
Since, she insisted, there were no angular shapes in nature, she would permit her-
self to use none. Her movements rarely came to a complete rest. An interesting
example of her dance, one in which she does come to a full rest, is recounted by a
friend. It was performed in a salon for close friends, and its subject matter seems to
be human emergence on the planet:

Isadora was completely covered by a long loose robe with high draped neck and long
loose sleeves in a deep muted red. She crouched on the floor with her face resting on the
carpet. In slow motion with ineffable effort she managed to get up on her knees. Grad-
ually with titanic struggles she rose to her feet. She raised her arms toward heaven in a
gesture of praise and exultation. The mortal had emerged from primeval ooze to achieve
Man, upright, liberated, and triumphant.2

Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, José Limón, Doris Humphrey, and other inno-
vators who followed Duncan developed modern dance in a variety of directions.
Graham created some dances on themes of Greek tragedies, such as Medea. In ad-
dition to his Moor’s Pavane, Limón is well known for his interpretation of Eugene
O’Neill’s play The Emperor Jones, in which a slave escapes to an island only to become
a despised and hunted tyrant. Humphrey, who was a little older than Graham and
Limón, was closer to the original Duncan tradition in such dances as Water Study, Life
of the Bee, and New Dance, a 1930s piece that was very successfully revived in 1972.

PERCEPTION KEY Pretext and Movement
1. Devise a series of movements that will take about one minute to complete and that

you are fairly sure do not tell a story. Then perform these movements for a group
and question them on the apparent pretext of your movement. Do not tell them in
advance that your dance has no story. As a result of this experiment, ask yourself
and the group whether it is possible to create a sequence of movements that will
not suggest a story line to some viewers. What would this mean for dances that try
to avoid pretexts? Can there really be abstract dance?

2. Without explaining that you are not dancing, represent a familiar human situation
to a group by using movements that you believe are not dance movements. Is the
group able to understand what you represented? Do they think you were using
dance movements? Do you believe it possible to have movements that cannot be
included in a dance? Are there, in other words, nondance movements?

2From Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1970, © 1970 Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.
Used by Permission and protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States. The printing, copying,
redistribution, or retransmission of this Content without express written permission is prohibited.

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Alvin Ailey’s Revelations
One of the classics of modern dance is Alvin Ailey’s Revelations (Figure 10-8), based
largely on African American spirituals and experience. It was first performed in Jan-
uary 1960, and hardly a year has gone by since without its having been performed
to highly enthusiastic crowds. Ailey refined Revelations somewhat over the years,
but its impact has brought audiences to their feet for standing ovations at almost
every performance. After Ailey’s untimely death at the age of fifty-eight, the com-
pany was directed by Judith Jamison, one of the great dancers in Ailey’s company.

Some of the success of Revelations stems from Ailey’s choice of the deeply felt
music of the spirituals to which the dancers’ movements are closely attuned. But,
then, this is also one of the most noted qualities of a ballet like Swan Lake, which
has one of the richest orchestral scores in the history of ballet. Music, unless it is
program music, is not, strictly speaking, a pretext for a dance, but there is a percep-
tible connection between, say, the rhythmic characteristics of a given music and a
dance composed in such a way as to take advantage of those characteristics. Thus,
in Revelations the energetic movements of the dancers often appear as visual, bodily
transformations of the rhythmically charged music.

Try to see Revelations. Several sites online present segments of the dance, but
none show it in its entirety. We will point out details and structures, an awareness
of which may prove helpful for refining your experience not only of this dance but
of modern dance in general. Beyond the general pretext of Revelations—that of Afri-
can American experience as related by spirituals—each of its separate sections has
its own pretext. But none of them is as tightly or specifically narrative as is usually
the case in ballet. In Revelations, generalized situations act as pretexts.

The first section of the dance is called “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” with three parts: “I Been
Buked,” danced by the entire company (about twenty dancers, male and female);

FIGURE 10-8
The Alvin Ailey Dance Company in
Revelations, a suite of dances to gospel
music.

©Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy

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“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” danced by only a few dancers; and “Fix Me Jesus,”
danced by one couple. The general pretext is the suffering of African Americans,
who are, like the Israelites of the Old Testament, taking refuge in their faith in the
Lord. The most dramatic moments in this section are in “Didn’t My Lord Deliver
Daniel,” a statement of overwhelming faith characterized by close ensemble work.
The in-line dancers parallel the rhythms of the last word of the hymn: “Dan´-i-el´,”
accenting the first and last syllables with powerful rhythmic movements.

The second section, titled “Take Me to the Water,” is divided into “Processional,”
danced by eight dancers; “Wading in the Water,” danced by six dancers; and “I
Want to Be Ready,” danced by a single male dancer. The whole idea of “Take Me
to the Water” suggests baptism, a ritual that affirms faith in God—the source of en-
ergy of the spirituals. “Wading in the Water” is particularly exciting, with dancers
holding a stage-long bolt of light-colored fabric to represent the water. The dancers
shimmer the fabric to the rhythm of the music, and one dancer after another crosses
over the fabric, symbolizing at least two things: the waters of baptism and the Mo-
saic waters of freedom. It is this episode that originally featured the charismatic
Judith Jamison in a long white gown and holding a huge parasol as she danced.

The third section is called “Move, Members, Move,” with the subsections titled
“Sinner Man,” “The Day Is Past and Gone,” “You May Run Home,” and the finale
“Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” In this last episode, a sense of triumph
over suffering is projected, suggesting the redemption of a people by using the same
kind of Old Testament imagery and musical material that opened the dance. The
entire section takes as its theme the lives of people after they have been received into
the faith, with the possibilities of straying into sin. It ends with a powerful rocking
spiritual that emphasizes forgiveness and the reception of the people (the “members”)
into the bosom of Abraham, according to the prediction of the Bible. This ending
features a large amount of ensemble work and is danced by the entire company, with
rows of male dancers sliding forward on their outspread knees and then rising all in
one sliding gesture, raising their hands high. “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abra-
ham” is powerfully sung again and again until the effect is almost hypnotic.

The subject matter of Revelations is in part that of feelings and states of mind.
But it is also more obviously that of the struggle of a people as told—on one level—by
their music. The dance has the advantage of a powerfully engaging subject matter
even before we witness the interpretation of that subject matter. And the way in
which the movements of the dance are closely attuned to the rhythms of the music
tends to evoke intense participation, since the visual qualities of the dance are pow-
erfully reinforced by the aural qualities of the music.

PERCEPTION KEY Revelations
1. A profitable way of understanding the resources of Revelations is to take a well-

known African American spiritual such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (see Figure
9-4) and supply the movements that it suggests to you. Once you have done so,
ask yourself how difficult it was. Is it natural to move to such music?

2. Instead of spirituals, try the same experiment with popular music such as rock and
rap. What characteristics does such music have that stimulate motion?

3. Is there anything archetypal in the subject matter of Revelations?

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Martha Graham

Quite different from the Ailey approach is the “Graham technique,” taught in Gra-
ham’s own school in New York as well as in colleges and universities across the
country. Like Ailey, Graham was a virtuoso dancer and organized her own com-
pany. After Isadora Duncan, no one has been more influential in modern dance.
Graham’s technique is reminiscent of ballet in its rigor and discipline. Dancers
learn specific kinds of movements and exercises designed to be used as both prepa-
ration for and part of the dance. Graham’s contraction, for example, is one of the
most common movements one is likely to see: It is the sudden pulling in of the dia-
phragm with the resultant relaxation of the rest of the body. This builds on Duncan’s
emphasis on the solar plexus and adds to that emphasis the systolic and diastolic
rhythms of heartbeat and pulse. The movement is very effective visually as well as
being particularly flexible in depicting feelings and states of mind. It is a movement
unknown in ballet, from which Graham always wished to remain distinct.

Graham’s dances at times have been very literal, with narrative pretexts quite
similar to those found in ballet. Night Journey, for instance, is an interpretation
of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. The lines of emotional force linking Jocasta and her
son-husband, Oedipus, are strongly accentuated by the movements of the dance
as well as by certain props onstage, such as ribbons that link the two at times. In
Graham’s interpretation, Jocasta becomes much more important than she is in the
original drama. This is partly because Graham saw the female figures in Greek
drama—such as Phaedra (Figure 10-9)—as much more fully dimensional than we
have normally understood them. By means of dancing their roles, she was able
to reveal the complexities of their characters. In dances such as her El Penitente,
Graham experimented with states of mind as the subject matter. Thus, the featured

FIGURE 10-9
Martha Graham in Phaedra, based on
the Greek myth concerning the love
of Phaedra for Hippolytus, the son
of her husband, Theseus. Graham
performed numerous dances based
on Greek myths because she felt
energized by their passion.

©Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

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male dancer in loose white trousers and tunic, moving in slow circles about the
stage with a large wooden cross, is a powerful interpretation of penitence.

Batsheva Dance Company

The Batsheva Dance Company (Figures 10-10 and 10-11), founded by Martha Graham
and Baroness Batsheva Rothschild in Tel Aviv in 1964, derived from Graham’s per-
forming and teaching in Israel. By the mid-1970s both Graham and Rothschild had
withdrawn to let the company find its own way. Eventually its current director, Ohad
Naharin, who had begun with Graham’s company in New York, took over and re-
shaped Batsheva Dance Company into an internationally respected troupe. Batsheva
has appeared frequently in the United States and throughout Europe. It is respected
for its imaginative dances and the risk taking that has been its trademark.

FIGURE 10-10
The Batsheva Dance Company.

©robbie jack/Corbis/Getty Images

FIGURE 10-11
Batsheva Dance Company, Decadance.
2017.

Photo: Maxim Waratt. Courtesy of Batsheva
Dance Company

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Naharin, because of a personal injury that threatened his spine, developed Gaga
movement, a special way to train and special movements that permitted him to re-
cover and dance again. The Gaga training has been widely used and is now taught
worldwide. Just as Graham developed her style based on the contraction of the
body, Naharin developed his by imagining the spinal column to slither like a snake.
Dancers are sometimes asked to dance like spaghetti in boiling water.

In the 2017 dance Decadance, Naharin sums up the past twenty-five years of the
company by presenting excerpts from its repertory. In one dance set to Passover
music, the dancers, in a circle, systematically take off their jackets, then their shirts,
all the while tossing each in the air to resemble the flight of birds. Some conserva-
tives in Israel protested, but the dance has been popular wherever it has played.

Pilobolus and Momix Dance Companies

The innovative modern dance companies Pilobolus and Momix perform around the
world and throughout the United States. They originated in 1970 at Dartmouth Col-
lege with four male dancers and choreographers Alison Chase and Martha Clarke.
Their specialty involves placing moving bodies in acrobatic positions. Moses Pendle-
ton, principal dancer in Pilobolus and director of the dance company Momix, choreo-
graphed F.L.O.W. (For Love of Women) and had it performed by Diana Vishneva, one
of Russia’s finest Mariinsky ballerinas (Figure 10-12). Vishneva performs on a highly
reflective floor, producing a complex visual dynamic that complements other parts of
the dance. Such intense moments characterize much of the style that Pendleton has
developed with Momix and echoes some of the acrobatics of the Pilobolus company.
Suspended, with dancers Renée Jaworski and Jennifer Macavinta (Figure 10-13),
shows the Pilobolus company’s commitment to the principle that choreography is an
art dependent on the body, not just on music, pretext, or lighting.

FIGURE 10-12
Diana Vishneva, from Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet, dancing in Moses Pendleton’s F.L.O.W. (For the Love of Women) at the
New York City Center in 2008. Pendleton’s emphasis on the body is intensified here by the reflective floor and the
acrobatic position.

©Richard Termine/The New York Times/Redux

FIGURE 10-13
Renée Jaworski and Jennifer
Macavinta in the Pilobolus Dance
Company’s Suspended, emphasizing
the body in space. The Pilobolus
company is known for its highly
experimental and daring dances,
sometimes involving nudity.

©John Kane

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Mark Morris Dance Group

The Mark Morris Dance Group was created—“reluctantly,” he has said—in 1980 be-
cause he found he could not do the dances he wanted with other existing compa-
nies. Morris and his company were a sensation from the first, performing in New
York from 1981 to 1988.

Morris’s first major dance was a theatrical piece with an intricate interpreta-
tion of Handel’s music set to John Milton’s lyric poems: L’Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il
Moderato. The title refers to three moods: happiness, melancholy, and restfulness.
David Dougill commented on the “absolute rightness to moods and themes” with
Milton’s poems and Handel’s music. Morris’s Dido and Aeneas (Figure 10-14) was
first performed in 1989 but continues to be produced because of its importance and
its impact. Based on Virgil’s Aeneid, it focuses on the tragic love affair of a king and
queen in ancient Rome. Morris continues to be one of the most forceful figures in
modern dance throughout the world.

FIGURE 10-14
Amber Star Merkens and Domingo
Estrada Jr. with fellow members of the
Mark Morris Dance Group performing
in Dido and Aeneas as part of Lincoln
Center ’s Mostly Mozart Festival at
the Rose Theater. Set to the music
for Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and
Aeneas, this is considered Morris’s
finest dance.

©Andrea Mohin/The New York
Times/Redux

FOCUS ON Theater Dance
Dance has taken a primary role in many live theater productions throughout the world.
In most cases, dance supports a narrative and shares the stage with spoken actors or,
as in the case of opera and in musicals, with singers and music. In the 1920s the rage
was for revues that showcased dance teams or dance productions, as in the London
revue  Blackbirds, which introduced “The Black Bottom” dance. Lavish revues in the
early 1930s, such as the Ziegfeld Follies, staged lush dance productions, while other
revues like The Great Waltz featured dance in the service of the biography of Johann
Strauss. The dancing was lavish, not original, but the show was enormously successful.

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continued

The great dance piece for the postwar
era was Jerome Robbins’s staging of Leon-
ard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1957
(Figure 10-15). The play was innovative on
many levels, but with the genius of Rob-
bins, who was at home with ballet as well
as modern dance, it was a major moment
in the history of dance on stage. A loose
adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, the play pit-
ted the migrants from Puerto Rico, who
by 1957 had peopled New York’s West
Side from 58th to 85th Street, against the
earlier immigrants, mostly poor Irish, Ital-
ians, African Americans, and Jews. The play
not only told a love story but, at the same
time, introduced a sociological theme. The
dances were central to the story and remain
the most memorable images from that first
production, the following film production,
and the countless revivals of the drama.

In 2000 Susan Stroman introduced an-
other major dance piece at Lincoln Center,
in the very same neighborhood portrayed
by West Side Story. In the 1960s Lincoln
Center replaced the tenement areas that had housed earlier Puerto Rican
migrants. Contact (Figure 10-16) was an almost-pure dance theater piece. It
had no continuous narrative but instead focused on the idea of swing dance.
It was inspired by Stroman’s experience in a late-night New York club, see-
ing a woman in a yellow dress in a group of people dancing to swing music.
The dancing in Contact was set to three rudimentary “stories” centering on
love relationships, but there was no dialogue to carry the narrative along.

The first segment, “Swinging,” featured an eighteenth-century girl on
a real swing being pushed by two men. The sexual emblem of that era was
a swing, and the opening scene reproduced in tableau the famous French
painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard that was understood to symbolize infi-
delity. The second segment, “Did You Move?,” was set in a restaurant with
an abusive husband and an unhappy wife who lives out her sexual fantasies
by dancing with a busboy, the headwaiter, and some diners. The third seg-
ment, “Contact,” featured the girl in the yellow dress choosing from among
a number of men as dancing partners. One of them is a successful advertis-
ing man who has come to an after-hours pool hall nightclub with suicide on
his mind. The girl in the yellow dress enchants him, but as he reaches out for
her, she disappears, then reappears, keeping him suspended and constantly
searching.

Most of the music in Contact was taped contemporary songs, but the last
section of the piece featured the great Benny Goodman version of “Sing, Sing,
Sing” from his Carnegie Hall concert in 1938. The reviews of Contact empha-
sized the sexiness of the entire production. When it came time for Broadway
to give out the Tony Awards in 2000, it was decided that Contact was unique,
partly because it did not use original or live music, and was given a special Tony
as a theatrical dance production, rather than as a standard musical.

FIGURE 10-16
Debra Yates in Susan Stroman’s Contact. 2000.
Susan Stroman conceived this theatrical dance
event after seeing swing dancers in a New York
club. The show won several awards.

©Paul Kolnik

FIGURE 10-15
A scene from the new Broadway revival of West Side Story. 2009. West Side Story, 1957.
Book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim,
choreography by Jerome Robbins.

©Sara Krulwick/The New York Times/Redux

273

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PoPular Dance
Popular styles in dance change rapidly from generation to generation. Early in
the twentieth century, the Charleston was the exciting dance for young people;
then in the 1930s and 1940s, it was swing dancing and jitterbugging. In the 1960s,
rock dancing took over, then disco; and then in the 1980s break dancing led into
the 1990s hip-hop (Figure 10-17). Recently a resurgence in ballroom dancing has
spawned not only competitions at a professional level but also widespread compe-
titions in urban middle schools across the United States.

Street dancing can still be seen on the streets of many cities where young danc-
ers put out the hat for tips. But it is also becoming a mainline form of dance seen on
the stage and television. It is marked by sheer energy and virtuoso moves suggest-
ing the one-time competitiveness of jazz music.

In films, great dancers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as well as Donald
O’Connor, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, and many more, captivated wide audiences.
The Nicholas Brothers (Figure 10-18) were among the most dazzling tap dancers
on film. Stormy Weather (1943) was their favorite film, but one of their best dances
was in Orchestra Wives (1942). Some of Fred Astaire’s great films are Flying Down to
Rio (1933), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance? (1937), and Daddy Long Legs (1955).
Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse are famous for Singin’ in the Rain (1952), one of the
best-loved of all dance films.

Fortunately, dance films are almost universally available on DVD and video, and
as a result it is still possible for us to see the great work of our best dancers, what-
ever their style.

FIGURE 10-17
Hip-hop dancing.

©Chau Doan/LightRocket/Getty Images

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275

DANCE

SuMMary
Through the medium of the moving human body, the form of dance can reveal
visual patterns or feelings or states of mind or narrative or, more probably, some
combination. The first step in learning to participate with the dance is to learn the
nature of its movements. The second is to be aware of its different kinds of subject
matter. The content of dance gives us insights into our inner lives, especially states
of mind, that supplement the insights of music. Dance has the capacity to transform
a pretext, whether it be a story, a state of mind, or a feeling. Our attention should
be drawn into participation with this transformation. The insight we get from the
dance experience depends on our awareness of this transformation.

Note: Many of the dance companies and their dances can be seen in full or in part
in online video-sharing services such as YouTube, Hulu, Veoh, Metacafe, Google
Videos, and others.

FIGURE 10-18
The Nicholas Brothers, Harold and
Fayard, were showstopping dancers
in films such as this, Sun Valley
Serenade, 1941, during a time when
great dance was the staple of movies
throughout the world.

©20th Century-Fox Film Corp. All Rights
Reserved. Courtesy Everett Collection

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276

©Nan Goldin

PhotograPhy and Painting
The first demonstration of photography took place in Paris in 1839, when Louis J. M.
Daguerre (1787–1851) astonished a group of French artists and scientists with the first
Daguerreotypes. The process was almost instantaneous, producing a finely detailed
monochrome image on a silver-coated copper plate. At that demonstration, the noted
French painter Paul Delaroche declared, “From today painting is dead.” An examina-
tion of his famous painting Execution of Lady Jane Grey (Figure 11-1) reveals the source
of his anxiety. Delaroche’s reputation was built on doing what the photograph does
best—reproducing exact detail and exact perspective. However, the camera could not
yet reproduce the large size or the colors that make Delaroche’s painting powerful.

C h a p t e r 11

PHOTOGRAPHY

PERCEPTION KEY Execution of Lady Jane Grey
1. What aspects of Delaroche’s style of painting would have made him think of pho-

tography as a threat? In what ways is this painting similar to a photograph?
2. Why is it surprising to learn that this painting was exhibited five years before Dela-

roche saw a photograph—actually before the invention of photography?
3. Examine Delaroche’s painting for attention to detail. This is a gigantic work, much

larger than any photograph could be at mid-nineteenth century. Every figure is
reproduced with the same sharpness, from foreground to background. To what
extent is that approach to sharpness of focus like or unlike what might have been
achieved by a photograph of this scene?

4. How does color focus our attention in Delaroche’s painting?

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Some early critics of photography complained that the camera does not offer the
control over the subject matter that painting does. But the camera does offer the
capacity to crop and select the area of the final print, the capacity to alter the aper-
ture of the lens and thus control the focus in selective areas, as well as the capacity
to reveal movement in blurred scenes, all of which only suggest the ability of the
instrument to transform visual experience into art.

Many early photographs exhibit the capacity of the camera to capture and control
details in a manner that informs the viewer about the subject matter. For example,
in his portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1857), a great builder of steamships
(Figure 11-2), Robert Howlett exposed the negative for a shorter time and widened
the aperture of his lens (letting in more light), thus controlling the depth of field
(how much is in focus). Brunel’s figure is in focus, but surrounding objects are in soft
focus, rendering them less significant. The pile of anchor chains in the background is

FIGURE 11-1
Paul Delaroche, Execution of Lady
Jane Grey. 1843. Oil on canvas, 97
× 117 inches. National Gallery,
London, Great Britain. Delaroche
witnessed the first demonstration of
photography in 1839 and declared,
“From today painting is dead.” His
enormous painting had great size
and brilliant color, two ways, for the
time being, in which photography
could be superseded.

©HIP/Art Resource, NY

277

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278

CHAPTeR 11

massive, but the soft focus makes them subservient to Brunel. The huge chains make
this image haunting, but if they were in sharp focus, they would have distracted from
Brunel. In Execution of Lady Jane Grey, almost everything is in sharp focus, while the
white of Jane’s dress and the red of the executioner’s leggings focus our attention.

Brunel’s posture is typical of photographs of the mid-nineteenth century. We
have many examples of men lounging with hands in pockets and cigar in mouth,
but few paintings portray men this way. Few photographs of any age show us a face
quite like Brunel’s. It is relaxed, as much as Brunel could relax, but it is also impa-
tient, “bearing with” the photographer. And the eyes are sharp, businessman’s eyes.
The details of the rumpled clothing and jewelry do not compete with the sharply
rendered face and the expression of control and power. Howlett has done, by sim-
ple devices such as varying the focus, what many portrait painters do by much more
complex means—reveal something of the character of the model.

Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of Sir John Herschel (1867) (Figure 11-3) and
Étienne Carjat’s portrait of the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1870) (Figure 11-4)
use a plain studio background. But their approaches are also different from each
other. Cameron, who reported being interested in the way her lens could soften
detail, isolates Herschel’s face and hair. She drapes his shoulders with a black velvet
shawl so that his clothing will not tell us anything about him or distract us from his
face. Cameron catches the stubble on his chin and permits his hair to “burn out,” so
we perceive it as a luminous halo. The huge eyes, soft and bulbous with their deep
curves of surrounding flesh, and the downward curve of the mouth are depicted

FIGURE 11-2
Robert Howlett, Isambard Kingdom
Brunel. 1857. This portrait of a great
English engineer reveals its subject
without flattery, without a sense of
romance, and absolutely without a
moment of sentimentality. Yet the
photograph is a monument to power
and industry.

©Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy

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fully in the harsh lighting. While we do not know what he was thinking, the form of
this photograph reveals him as a thinker of deep ruminations. He was the chemist
who first learned how to permanently fix a silver halide photograph in 1839.

The portrait of Baudelaire, on the other hand, includes simple, severe clothing,
except for the poet’s foulard, tied in a dashing bow. Baudelaire’s intensity creates
the illusion that he is looking at us. Carjat’s lens was set for a depth of field of only
a few inches. Thus, Baudelaire’s face is in focus, but not his shoulders. What Carjat
could not control, except by waiting for the right moment to uncover the lens (at
this time, there was no shutter because there was no “fast” film), was the exact ex-
pression he could catch.

One irony of the Carjat portrait is that Baudelaire, in 1859, had condemned the
influence of photography on art, declaring it “art’s most mortal enemy.” He thought
that photography was adequate for preserving visual records of perishing things but
that it could not reach into “anything whose value depends solely upon the addition
of something of a man’s soul.” Baudelaire was a champion of imagination and an
opponent of realistic art: “each day art further diminishes its self-respect by bowing
down before external reality; each day the painter becomes more and more given to
painting not what he dreams but what he sees.”1

An impressive example of the capacity of the photographic representation is
Timothy O’Sullivan’s masterpiece, Canyon de Chelley, Arizona, made in 1873
(Figure 11-5). Many photographers have gone back to this scene, but none has
treated it quite the way O’Sullivan did. O’Sullivan chose a moment of intense side-
lighting, which falls on the rock wall but not on the nearest group of buildings. One
question you might ask about this photograph is whether it reveals the “stoniness”
of this rock wall in a manner similar to the way Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire (see
Figure 2-4) reveals the “mountainness” of the mountain.

FIGURE 11-4 (right)
Étienne Carjat, Charles Baudelaire.
1870. The irony of this striking
portrait lies in the fact that the
famous French poet was totally
opposed to photography as an art.

Source: The National Gallery of Art

FIGURE 11-3 (left)
Julia Margaret Cameron, Sir John
Herschel. 1867. One of the first truly
notable portrait photographers,
Cameron was given a camera late
in life and began photographing
her friends, most of whom were
prominent in England. After a
few years she gave up the camera
entirely, but she left an indelible
mark on early photography.

©ReX/Shutterstock

1Charles Baudelaire, The Mirror of Art (London: Phaidon, 1955), p. 230.
279

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280

CHAPTeR 11

FIGURE 11-5
Timothy O’Sullivan, Canyon de Chelley,
Arizona. 1873. The American West
lured photographers with unwieldy
equipment to remote locations
such as this. Other photographers
have visited the site, but none has
outdone O’Sullivan, who permitted
the rock to speak for itself.

Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum

EXPERIENCING Photography and Art
1. Do you agree with Baudelaire that photography is “art’s most mortal enemy”?

What reasons might Baudelaire have had for expressing such a view?

For some time, photography was not considered an art. Indeed, some people today
do not see it as an art because they assume the photograph is an exact replica of
what is in front of the camera lens. On the other hand, realism in art had been an
ideal since the earliest times, and sculptures such as David (see Figure 5-8) aimed at
an exact replica of a human body, however idealized. Modern artists such as Andy
Warhol blur the line of art by creating exact replicas of objects such as Campbell’s
soup cans, so the question of replication is not the final question in art. Baudelaire
saw that painters could be out of work—especially portrait painters—if photog-
raphy were widespread. Yet, his own photographic portrait is of powerful artistic
interest today.

For Baudelaire, photographs were usually Daguerreotypes, which means they were
one of a kind. The “print” on silvered copper was the photograph. There was no nega-
tive and no way of altering the tones in the print. Shortly after, when the Daguerreo-
type process was superseded by inventions such as the glass plate negative, it became

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281

PHOTOGRAPHY

The most detailed portions of the photograph are the striations of the rock face,
whose tactile qualities are emphasized by the strong sidelighting. The stone build-
ings in the distance have smoother textures, particularly as they show up against
the blackness of the cave. That the buildings are only twelve to fifteen feet high
is indicated by comparison with the height of the barely visible men standing in
the ruins. Thus, nature dwarfs the work of humans. By framing the canyon wall,
and by waiting for the right light, O’Sullivan has done more than create an ordi-
nary “record” photograph. He has concentrated on the subject matter of the puni-
ness and softness of humans, in contrast with the grandness and hardness of the
canyon. The content centers on the extraordinary sense of stoniness—symbolic of
permanence—as opposed to the transience of humanity, made possible by the ca-
pacity of the camera to transform realistic detail.

PhotograPhy and Painting: the Pictorialists
Pictorialists are photographers who use the achievements of painting, particularly
realistic painting, in their effort to realize the potential of photography as art. The
early pictorialists tried to avoid the head-on directness of Howlett and Carjat, just as
they tried to avoid the amateur’s mistakes in composition, such as inclusion of dis-
tracting details and imbalance. The pictorialists controlled details by subordinating
them to structure. They produced compositions that usually relied on the same un-
derlying structures found in most nineteenth-century paintings until the dominance
of the Impressionists in the 1880s. Normally, the most important part of the subject
matter was centered in the frame. Pictorial lighting, also borrowed from painting,
often was sharp and clearly directed, as in Alfred Stieglitz’s Paula (Figure 11-6).

The pictorialist photograph was usually soft in focus, centrally weighted, and
carefully balanced symmetrically. By relying on the formalist characteristics of

possible to subtly alter details within the photograph much as a painter might alter the
highlights in a landscape or improve the facial details in a portrait. This is a matter of
craft, but it became clear that in careful selection of what is in the photographic print,
along with the attention to manipulating the print, in the fashion of Ansel Adams’s
great photographs of Yosemite, the best photographers became artists. Were Baude-
laire alive to see how photography has evolved, he may well have changed his opinion.
The work of Julia Margaret Cameron, Timothy O’Sullivan, Eugène Atget, Alfred Stieg-
litz, Edward Steichen, and Edward Weston changed the world’s view of whether or not
photography is an art.

2. Baudelaire’s writings suggest that he believed art depended on imagination and
that realistic art was the opponent of imagination. How valid do you feel this view
is? Is it not possible for imagination to have a role in making a photograph?

3. Read a poem from Baudelaire’s most celebrated volume, The Flowers of Evil. You
might choose “Twilight: Evening” from a group he called “Parisian Scenes.” In what
ways is his poem unlike a photograph?

4. Considering his attitude toward photography, why would he have sat for a portrait
such as Carjat’s? Would you classify this portrait as a work of art? What does the
photograph reveal?

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early- and mid-nineteenth-century paintings, pictorialist photographers often
evoked emotions that bordered on the sentimental. Indeed, one of the complaints
modern commentators have about the development of pictorialism is that it was
emotionally shallow.

Rarely criticized for sentimentalism, Alfred Stieglitz was, in his early work, a
master of the pictorial style. His Paula, done in 1889, places his subject at the center
in the act of writing. The top and bottom of the scene are printed in deep black.
The light, streaking through the venetian blind and creating lovely strip patterns,
centers on Paula. Her profile is strong against the dark background partly because
Stieglitz removed, during the printing process, one of the strips that would have
fallen on her lower face. The strong vertical lines of the window frames reinforce
the verticality of the candle and echo the back of the chair.

A specifically photographic touch is present in the illustrations on the wall: photo-
graphs arranged symmetrically in a triangle (use a magnifying glass). Two prints of
the same lake-skyscape are on each side of a woman in a white dress and hat. The
same photograph of this woman is on the writing table in an oval frame. Is it Paula?
The light in the room echoes the light in the oval portrait. The three hearts in the
arrangement of photographs are balanced; one heart touches the portrait of a young
man. We wonder if Paula is writing to him. The cage on the wall has dominant vertical
lines, crossing the light lines cast by the venetian blind. Stieglitz may be suggesting
that Paula, despite the open window, may be in a cage of her own. Stieglitz has kept

FIGURE 11-6
Alfred Stieglitz, Sunrays, Paula. 1889.
Stieglitz photographed Paula in such
a way as to suggest the composition
of a painting, framing her in darkness
while bathing her in window light.

Source: Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division [LC-DIG-ds-00183]

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283

PHOTOGRAPHY

most of the photograph in sharp focus because most of the details have something
to tell us. If this were a painting of the early nineteenth century—for example, one
by Delaroche—we would expect much the same style. We see Paula in a dramatic
moment, with dramatic light, and with an implied narrative suggested by the artifacts
surrounding her. It is up to the viewer to decide what, if anything, the drama implies.

PERCEPTION KEY Pictorialism and Sentimentality
1. Pictorialists are often condemned for their sentimentality. What is sentimentality?

Is it a positive or negative quality in a photograph?
2. Is Paula sentimental? What is its subject matter and what is its content?
3. To what extent is sentimentality present in the work of Cameron or Carjat? Which

photographs in this chapter could be considered sentimental?

Both paintings and photographs, of course, can be sentimental in subject matter.
The severest critics of such works complain about their sentimentality: the falsifying
of feelings by demanding responses that are superficial or easy to come by. Senti-
mentality is usually an oversimplification of complex emotional issues. It also tends
to be mawkish and self-indulgent. The case of photography is special because we are
accustomed to the harshness of the camera. Thus, when the pictorialist finds tender-
ness, romance, and beauty in everyday occurrences, we become suspicious. We may
be more tolerant of painting doing those things, but in fact we should be wary of any
such emotional “coloration” in any medium if it is not restricted to the subject matter.

The pictorialist approach, when not guilty of sentimentalism, has great strengths.
The use of lighting that selectively emphasizes the most important features of the
subject matter often helps in creating meaning. Borrowing from the formal structures
of painting also may help clarify subject matter. Structural harmony of the kind we
generally look for in representational painting is possible in photography. Although
it is not limited to the pictorialist approach, it is clearly fundamental to that approach.

straight PhotograPhy
In his later work, beginning around 1905, Alfred Stieglitz pioneered the movement
of straight photography, a reaction against pictorialism. The f/64 Group, working
in the 1930s, and a second school, the Documentarists, continue the tradition.
Straight photographers took the position that, as Aaron Siskind said in the 1950s,
“Pictorialism is a kind of dead end making everything look beautiful.” The straight
photographer wanted things to look essentially as they do, even if they are ugly.

Straight photography aimed toward excellence in photographic techniques,
independent of painting. Susan Sontag summarizes: “For a brief time—say, from
Stieglitz through the reign of Weston—it appeared that a solid point of view had
been erected with which to evaluate photographs: impeccable lighting, skill of com-
position, clarity of subject, precision of focus, perfection of print quality.”2 Some of
these qualities are shared by pictorialists, but new principles of composition—not

2Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1977), p. 136.

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derived from painting—and new attitudes toward subject matter helped straight
photography reveal the world straight, as it really is.

The f/64 Group

The name of the group derives from the small aperture, f/64, which ensures that
the foreground, middle ground, and background will all be in sharp focus. The
group declared its principles through manifestos and shows by edward Weston,
Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and others. It continued the reaction against
pictorialism, adding the kind of nonsentimental subject matter that interested the
later Stieglitz. edward Weston, whose early work was in the soft-focus school, de-
veloped a special interest in formal organizations. He is famous for his nudes and
his portraits of vegetables, such as artichokes, eggplants, and green peppers. His
nudes rarely show the face, not because of modesty but because the question of the
identity of the model can distract us from contemplating the formal relationships
of the human body.

Weston’s Nude (Figure 11-7) shows many characteristics of work by the f/64
Group. The figure is isolated and presented for its own sake, the sand being equiv-
alent to a photographer’s backdrop. The figure is presented not as a portrait of a
given woman but rather as a formal study. Weston wanted us to see the relationship
between legs and torso, to respond to the rhythms of line in the extended body,
and to appreciate the counterpoint of the round, dark head against the long, light
linearity of the body. Weston enjoys some notoriety for his studies of peppers, be-
cause his approach to vegetables was similar to his approach to nudes. We are to
appreciate the sensual curve, the counterpoints of line, the reflectivity of skin, the
harmonious proportions of parts.

FIGURE 11-7
Edward Weston, Nude. 1936.
Weston’s approach to photography
was to make everything as sharp
as possible and to make the finest
print possible. He was aware he was
making photographs as works of art.

©2017 Center for Creative Photography,
Arizona Board of Regents/Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York. Photo: ©Center
for Creative Photography, The University of
Arizona Foundation/Art Resource, NY

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Weston demanded objectivity in his photographs. “I do not wish to impose my
personality upon nature (any of life’s manifestations), but without prejudice or fal-
sification to become identified with nature, to know things in their very essence, so
that what I record is not an interpretation—my ideas of what nature should be—but a
revelation.”3 One of Weston’s ideals was to capitalize on the capacity of the camera
to be objective and impersonal, an ideal that the pictorialists usually rejected.

The work of Ansel Adams establishes another ideal of the f/64 Group: the fine
print. even some of the best early photographers were relatively casual in the act of
printing their negatives. Adams spent a great deal of energy and skill in producing
the finest print the negative would permit, sometimes spending days to print one
photograph. He developed a special system (the Zone System) to measure tonalities
in specific regions of the negative so as to control the final print, keeping careful re-
cords so that he could duplicate the print at a later time. In even the best of reproduc-
tions, it is difficult to point to the qualities of tonal gradation that constitute the fine
print. Only the original can yield the beauties that gradations of silver or platinum
can produce. His photograph of the church at the Taos Pueblo (Figure 11-8) reveals
the character of the southwest adobe architecture while at the same time making us
feel the gritty texture of the surfaces of the walls. He has found a moment when the
desert light has illuminated the interior and vertical spaces while bathing the walls in
a relieving shade. Like Timothy O’Sullivan before him, Adams has made every effort
to give us a convincing sense of place, and to some extent a sense of time as well.

3The Daybooks of Edward Weston, ed. Nancy Newhall, 2 vols. (New York: Aperture, 1966), vol. 2, p. 241.

FIGURE 11-8
Ansel Adams. Church, Taos Pueblo,
1941.

Source: National Archives Catalog

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the documentarists
Time is critical to the Documentarist, who portrays a world that is disappearing so
quickly we cannot see it go. Henri Cartier-Bresson used the phrase “the decisive
moment” to define that crucial interaction of shapes and spaces, formed by people
and things, that tells him when to snap his shutter. Not all his photographs are
decisive; they do not all catch the action at its most intense point. But those that do
are pure Cartier-Bresson.

Many Documentarists agree with Stieglitz’s description of the effect of shapes
on his own feelings. Few contemporary Documentarists, however, who are often
journalists like Cartier-Bresson, can compose the way Stieglitz could. But the best
develop an instinct—usually nurtured by years of visual education—for the powerful
statement, as one can see in eddie Adams’s Execution in Saigon (Figure 2-2).

eugène Atget spent much of his time photographing in Paris in the early morn-
ing, when no one would bother him. He must have been in love with Paris and its
surroundings because he photographed for many years, starting in the late 1800s and
continuing to his death in 1927. Generally there are no people in his views of Paris, al-
though he did an early series on some street traders, such as organ grinders, peddlers,
and even prostitutes. His photographs of important Parisian monuments, such as his
view of the Petit Trianon (Figure 11-9), are distinctive for their subtle drama. Most
commercial photographs of this building ignore the dramatic reflection in the pond,
and none of them permit the intense saturation of dark tones in the surrounding
trees and in the water reflection. The more one ponders this photograph, the more

FIGURE 11-9
Eugène Atget, Trianon, Paris.
1923–1924. Atget was rediscovered
in the 1960s when it became clear
he was not just making record
photographs but finding ways of
intensifying the visual elements to
make a statement about how we see.

©The Museum of Modern Art/Scala/Art
Resource, NY

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FIGURE 11-10
Paul Strand, Wall Street, New York,
1916. Paul Strand photographed
New York in the early part of
the century, but moved on to
photograph churches in Mexico,
where he moved during the
Depression. He photographed in
small villages in Maine and in Italy.
Later, he also made films. Wall Street,
New York was published in Camera
Work, no. 48, October 1916, plate I.

Source: Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-97529]

one feels a sense of dramatic uncertainty and perhaps even urgency. The many ways
in which Atget balances and contrasts the visual elements at the same time make the
experience of the image intense. Atget’s work did not refer to painting: It created its
own photographic reference. We see a photograph, not just a thing photographed.

Paul Strand (Figure 11-10) takes a somewhat different approach from Atget,
although he worked in the same tradition at approximately the same time. He
used a view camera on a tripod and roamed the streets of New York early in the
morning, just as Atget did. But unlike Atget, Strand photographed people as well
as buildings, and the content of his photographs was, while artful, less abstract.
Yet, like Atget, he looked for strong formal ingredients, as in his remarkable 1915
portrait of workers walking uphill on Wall Street during an economic boom. The
building, the Morgan Trust, with its huge dark recessed panels, dwarfs the men
and women marching past toward work. The Morgan Trust was a symbol of solid-
ity and reliability, and while Strand could hardly have expected the outcome years
later in 1929, all that solidity crumbled in the nation’s most devastating Great
Depression. The country, whose economy depended on Wall Street, was thrown
into unemployment and general poverty for more than ten years. Strand’s photo-
graph contrasts the tiny upright people with the sharp diagonal of their shadows
on the sidewalk, matched by the diagonal light molding of the building. Above
them the powerful upright stone verticals and black panels seem, in retrospect,
almost sinister. Strand began documenting people going to work in the financial
district, but history now sees him as having documented their progress toward
unemployment as a result of the excesses of Wall Street financiers.

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Unlike Atget and Paul Strand, who used large cameras, Cartier-Bresson used
the 35-mm Leica and specialized in photographing people. He preset his camera in
order to work fast and instinctively. His Behind the Gare St. Lazare (Figure 11-11) is a
perfect example of his aim to capture an image at the “decisive moment.” The figure
leaping from the wooden ladder has not quite touched the water, while his reflection
awaits him. The entire image is a tissue of reflection, with the spikes of the fence re-
flecting the angles of the fallen ladder. The circles in the foreground are repeated in
the wheelbarrow’s reflection and the white circles in the poster. Moreover, the fig-
ure in the white poster appears to be a dancer leaping in imitation of the man to the
right. The focus of the entire image is somewhat soft because Cartier-Bresson preset
his camera so that he could take the shot instantly without adjusting the aperture.
The formal relationship of elements in a photograph such as this can produce vari-
ous kinds of significance or apparent lack of significance. The best Documentarists

FIGURE 11-11
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare
St. Lazare. 1932. This photograph
illustrates Bresson’s theories of the
“decisive moment.” This photograph
was made possible in part by the
small, handheld Leica camera that
permitted Bresson to shoot instantly,
without having to set up a large
camera on a tripod.

©Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

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search for the strongest coherency of elements while also searching for the decisive
moment. That moment is the split-second peak of intensity, and it is defined espe-
cially with reference to light, spatial relationships, and expression.

Dorothea Lange and Walker evans were Documentarists who took part in a federal
program to give work to photographers during the Depression of the 1930s. Both cre-
ated careful formal organizations. Lange (Figure 11-12) stresses centrality and balance
by placing the children’s heads next to the mother’s face, which is all the more com-
pelling because the children’s faces do not compete for our attention. The mother’s
arm leads upward to her face, emphasizing the other triangularities of the photograph.
Within ten minutes, Lange took four other photographs of this woman and her chil-
dren, but none could achieve the power of this photograph. Lange caught the exact
moment when the children’s faces turned and the mother’s anxiety came forth with
utter clarity, although the lens mercifully softens its focus on her face, while leaving

FIGURE 11-12
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother.
1936. This is one of the most
poignant records of the Great
Depression in which millions moved
across the nation looking for work.
Lange did a number of photographs
of this family in a very short time.

Source: Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-95653]

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her shabby clothes in sharp focus. This softness helps humanize our relationship with
the woman. Lange gives us an unforgettable image that brutally and yet sympatheti-
cally imparts a deeper understanding of what the Depression was for many.

Berenice Abbott, aiming at a career in sculpture and art, left Ohio State after two se-
mesters and went to Paris. She became an assistant to the photographer Man Ray and
began using a camera, thus finding her calling. She became noted in Paris for her pho-
tographs of distinguished artists and writers, such as James Joyce. Man Ray introduced
her to the work of eugene Atget, whom she photographed, and when he died she gath-
ered as many of his negatives as she could and returned to the United States to publish
a book of his work. Her experience in New York in the 1930s led her to produce her
own photographs, studies of New York City that have become legendary. Like other
good photographers in the Great Depression, she was supported by a federal grant.

The subjects of Blossom Restaurant, one of her most powerful photographs
(Figure 11-13), are the Blossom Restaurant and Jimmy’s Barber Shop, which were
both in the basement of the Boston Hotel at 103–105 Bowery. The Bowery in lower
Manhattan was then a refuge for the down and out. The Boston Hotel, a flophouse,
rented rooms for 30 cents a night. Meals at the restaurant were 15 cents or 30 cents.
The image is alive with strong contrast and a brilliant sense of busyness, indicating
what Abbott interpreted as the extraordinary vigor of the city despite the pain of
the Depression.

Walker evans’s photograph (Figure 11-14) shows us a view of Bethlehem, Pennsyl-
vania, and the off-center white cross reminds us of what has become of the message
of Christ. The vertical lines are accentuated in the cemetery stones and repeated in

FIGURE 11-13
Berenice Abbott, Blossom Restaurant.
October 24, 1935.

©The Museum of the City of New York/Art
Resource, NY

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the telephone lines, the porch posts, and finally the steel-mill smokestacks. The aspi-
rations of the dominating verticals, however, are dampened by the strong horizontals,
which, because of the low angle of the shot, tend to merge from the cross to the roofs.
evans equalizes focus, which helps compress the space so that we see the cemetery on
top of the living space, which is immediately adjacent to the steel mills where some of
the people who live in the tenements work and where some of those now in the cem-
etery died. This compression of space suggests the closeness of life, work, and death.
We see a special kind of sadness in this steel town—and others like it—that we may
never have seen before. evans caught the right moment for the light, which intensifies
the white cross, and he aligned the verticals and horizontals for their best effect.

FIGURE 11-14
Walker Evans, A Graveyard and Steel
Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. 1935.
Evans, like Lange, was part of the
Works Progress Administration
photographic project during the
Great Depression. His subject was
the nation itself.

©Walker evans Archive, The Metropolitan
Museum of Art. Photo: ©The Museum
of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art
Resource, NY

PERCEPTION KEY The Documentary Photographers
1. Are any of these documentary photographs sentimental?
2. Some critics assert that these photographers have made interesting social doc-

uments, but not works of art. What arguments might support their views? What
arguments might contest their views?

3. Contemporary photographers and critics often highly value the work of Atget be-
cause it is “liberated” from the influence of painting. What does it mean to say that
his work is more photographic than it is painterly?

4. What is the subject matter of each photograph? What is the content of each pho-
tograph? Is the “RAILOWSKY” poster in Figure 11-11 a pun?

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the modern eye
Photography has gone in so many directions that classifications tend to be mis-
leading. The snapshot style, however, has become somewhat identifiable, a kind
of rebellion against the earlier movements, especially the pictorial. Janet Malcolm
claims, “Photography went modernist not, as has been supposed, when it began to
imitate modern abstract art but when it began to study snapshots.”4 No school of
photography established a snapshot canon. It seems to be a product of amateurs, a
kind of folk photography. The snapshot appears primitive, spontaneous, and acci-
dental. But the snapshot may not be unplanned and accidental, as is evidenced, for
instance, in the powerful work of Bruce Davidson and Nan Goldin.

Bruce Davidson respected the work of Walker evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson
enough to concentrate on what he thought photography did best: describe the
human scene faithfully. Like Cartier-Bresson, Davidson took advantage of a small
camera—in the case of Opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Figure 11-15), to
produce a square image. Davidson has a long history of association with the Met-
ropolitan Museum of Art, and particularly of photographing visitors and curators.
Opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a fine example of the snapshot aesthetic:
The photograph appears to be totally unplanned and apparently unrefined. As in
so many snapshots, the head of the primary figure—the woman in white—is cut off.
A hand that seems random and incoherent appears above the shiny steel construc-
tion. The construction itself is unidentified and it is impossible to know whether it
is a work of art or part of the air conditioning. The very fact that the viewer may be
confounded by what is shown seems to be part of the point of the photograph. Yet,
when we examine the photograph carefully, studying the forms and the figures,
some of whom hold cocktails, we begin to see how Davidson wanted us to respond
to the image. For one thing, he has chosen a powerful contrast between the strik-
ing steel construction and the people who are nearby. The woman in white seems
amused at the fact that she needs to duck to get past it, while the men who stay
behind are totally unidentifiable and in the dark. All we really see of them is their

FIGURE 11-15
Bruce Davidson, Opening at the Metropolitan Museum of
Art. 1969. Gelatin-silver print. Metropolitan Museum of
Art. Gift of the Hundredth Anniversary Committee, 1974.
Bruce Davidson has caught a moment of what seems to
be fun at the museum. Is the hand in the upper frame
wittily waving goodbye to the woman who steps toward
the photographer? Do the visitors to the museum seem
interested in the art? Is this photograph ironic?

©Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

4Janet Malcolm, Diana and Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetics of Photography (Boston: David Godine, 1980),
p. 113.

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PHOTOGRAPHY

hands. The frame is broken into segments, each of which seems a photographic
statement in itself. Together they have the snapshot virtue of apparent incoherence
while the reality is that the action is totally coherent. What Davidson achieves here
is what all good photographers want to achieve: We are forced to look at the photo-
graph as an object in itself, and not just as the record of an event. This photograph
is made revelatory by virtue of its formal qualities.

At age eleven Nan Goldin suffered the trauma of her older sister’s suicide, even-
tually turning to drugs and leaving home. But a teacher gave her a way of getting
herself together with the gift of a camera, which she responded to immediately.
Influenced by films of Andy Warhol and Federico Fellini, in Boston she lived among
a group of drag queens and photographed them out of respect for their way of life.
“My desire was to show them as a third gender, as another sexual option, a gender
option. And to show them with a lot of respect and love, to kind of glorify them be-
cause I really admire people who can recreate themselves and manifest their fanta-
sies publicly. I think it’s brave.”5 Many of her photographs of the LGBT community
are in her best-known book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Unfortunately, she lost
many of her early subjects to overdose. Some of her later work has been in fashion
photography and in studying family life. Her snapshot style seems effortless, but
she makes her images intense and direct, if not simple and casual.

Nan Goldin’s Bruce in His Red Car (Figure 11-16) shows a man in his blazing
red car, fumbling with the key to the steering wheel lock. It is not clear whether
he is worried about having his car stolen or if he is stealing it. The prominent dice
hanging from the rearview mirror “spell” boxcars, an ironic comment. Is this a so-
ciological statement or a simple record of an event? How is one to interpret the
photographer’s comment on Bruce and his car?

5Stephen Westfall, “Interview with Nan Goldin,” BOMB Magazine 37, Fall 1991.

FIGURE 11-16
Nan Goldin, Bruce in His Red Car.
1981. Goldin adopted the snapshot
style early on. She constantly
photographed those around her,
often marginalized people and
junkies. She regarded them as her
family.

©Nan Goldin

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Untitled (Man smoking) (Figure 11-17) is the second image (of twenty) in Car-
rie Mae Weems’s famous project, The Kitchen Table (1990). Like her contemporary,
Cindy Sherman, this project positions the photographer as the protagonist in a se-
ries of images that contains an implied narrative, a portrait of the artist discovering
who she is in relation to her man, her child, her friends, and herself. each image is a
self-portrait taken from the same angle, including the kitchen table on and around
which much of the life of a woman is lived.

The situation in Untitled (Man smoking) is filled with anticipation. The look on the
woman’s eyes, implying concern, becomes the visual center of the image. The room
is filled with sexual tension and a search for emotional understanding between the
man and woman. The images in the book are accompanied by fourteen text panels.
The panel nearest to Untitled (Man smoking) includes the line “Together they were
falling for that ole black magic.” The visual details, playing cards—the man’s hand
shows two hearts—the snacks, the whisky, and the almost empty glasses, imply that
they have been playing a game. But the expression in the eyes of the woman sug-
gests that she wonders if the game is over. The parallel angles of the arms, hands
both covering their mouths, as well as the repetition of curves in the bowl, glasses,
and chairs intensify the visual field and create a powerful sense of unity.

The poster of Malcolm X on the wall implies that the man and woman are socially
conscious of the movement toward black power. The entire Kitchen Table project
has become a significant statement in contemporary feminism while at the same
time becoming a landmark in photographic art.

Like Nan Goldin, Tina Barney photographs people she knows, people she is
related to, and people who are similar to her in their social milieu. Whereas Goldin
photographs those in the LGBT community, Barney photographs the wealthy and
the entitled both locally in Long Island and New York and in her overseas commu-
nities in europe.

FIGURE 11-17
Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Man
smoking). 1990. Gelatin silver print,
27¼ × 27¼ inches. Museum of
Modern Art.

©Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist
and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

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Because she prints her photographs in large size, four feet by five feet, she
employs a view camera with an 8 × 10 inch negative. This means she uses a tripod
and often “stages” the set and suggests how her subject should pose. The result is
sometimes static, but at the same time her process gives her exceptional detail and
full control over lighting and produces rich color. The Art Institute of Chicago has
said, “Barney was thus one of the first photographers to present color work on a
grand scale that rivaled most twentieth-century paintings.” Many modern photog-
raphers have moved to producing very large photographs to satisfy the needs of
museums as well as collectors.

Barney’s extensive body of work indicates that she is essentially a portraitist who
welcomes unplanned events, such as people deciding to be part of a photograph
at the last minute. She says she takes “a lot of pictures and when I am shooting,
I almost go into a trance. It happens so fast that not until afterwards can I see
whether all of the elements coalesce. It’s like magic.”

The Europeans: The Hands (Figure 11-18) may or may not be social commentary.
Its title, however, seems to help us begin a search for visual similarities and differ-
ences. For one thing, the huge painting behind the man and boy features a hand
grasping the breast of what may be a potential lover (or rape victim). The right hand
on the Oceanic wood sculpture to the left seems to be over its heart, while the left
hand is missing altogether. The sex of the sculpture may seem ambiguous, while the
gender of the other figures is explicit. The crossed arms of the man and boy imply a
sense of security, perhaps withholdingness. The facial expressions of the man and
boy may be interpreted in any of a number of ways.

Unlike a photograph taken in the snapshot style, this photograph is intentional.
The richness of the environment, the steel and glass table, the chairs, the circular
light overhead—as well as the figures—are placed to have an effect.

FIGURE 11-18
The Europeans: The Hands. 2002.
Chromogenic print, 48 × 60 inches.
Tina Barney, like many contemporary
photographers, began with what
she knew. She said, “I don’t feel it’s
social commentary because I am not
judging them; it’s all instinct. For me,
it’s a great visual feast.”

Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery

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FOCUS ON Digital Photography
Traditional photography is very much about cameras, lenses, and shutter
speeds, all of which control what the photographer is likely to capture.
Ansel Adams was important for his contributions about how to produce
a fine-art print, establishing a system that aimed to get the best image
out of a negative. Today most fine-art photography is the result of digital
cameras and digital, chromogenic prints. Because digital images can be
altered almost infinitely, fine-art photographers have largely abandoned
the principles of printing only what the camera sees. In some cases a
single image can be the product of dozens of photographs, all layered
together to produce an image that might be impossible in real life. Even
in the cases in which we see a single image, the photographer can eas-
ily alter the contrast and colors of the original so as to produce an ar-
tistically effective print. The result of all this is to free photographers
from the limitations of the equipment while permitting them to make
prints large enough to compete directly with paintings, as in the case of
Figure 11-19, Cindy Sherman’s eight-foot-high portrait.

Cindy Sherman is one of the few American photographers to have
had a one-woman show at the prestigious Whitney Museum in New
York City. Her work has annoyed, confounded, and alarmed many peo-
ple both ignorant and well informed about photography as an art. Some
of Sherman’s work is condemned because it seems designed to horrify
the audience with images of garbage, offal, vomit, and body parts. For
many years she photographed herself in various costumes, with makeup
and guises that showed her almost limitless capacity to interpret her
personality. Those color photographs often had a snapshot quality
and probably were most interesting when seen as a group rather than
individually.

Untitled #466  is one of a series of imagined wealthy and privileged
modern women. Sherman poses herself as if she were in a painting.
The background, the Cloisters in New York City, was photographed
separately and the two images were layered together.
The contrast between the religious echoes of the Clois-
ters and the sumptuous secular blue caftan, richly dec-
orated, with Sherman’s dangling gold earrings and gold
rings is designed to inform us about the significance
of the image. Because this is such a large photograph,
eight feet high, we can see every detail. The reveal of
the cheap plastic sandal and the low-quality stocking
implies that the surface is not entirely to be trusted.
Sherman has subtly transformed the apparent subject
matter and has produced a form-content that, like
much contemporary photography, is the result of very
careful staging.

One of China’s emerging photographers, Wang Qing-
song (Figure 11-20), uses all the resources of digital ma-
nipulation and collage to make statements that are often
subversive and ironic.

Can I Cooperate with You? is a testament to foreign in-
fluences in modern China. We see the two most familiar

FIGURE 11-19
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #466. 2008. Cindy
Sherman uses herself to create her images. She
chooses interesting locations and changes her
makeup to alter her appearance and create a
mystery about her.

Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures

FIGURE 11-20
Wang Qingsong, Can I Cooperate with You? 2000. Wang Qingsong has
been influenced by standard commercial advertising and propaganda,
but he turns it on its ear by adding subversive touches.

Courtesy of Wang Qingsong

296

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American emblems of McDonald’s and Coca-
Cola, but we also see a European in a
rickshaw pedaled by a Chinese man. Two fig-
ures are half-size, observing the action, and
the swarm of people around the rickshaw
seem involved in acclimating themselves to
change. The figure on the left holds a tiny
Chinese flag as if trying to preserve tradi-
tional Chinese values. The style, with the
seamless backdrop, is obviously a comment
on popular advertising. He has said, “The
countless contradictions I see around me
and the ever-present crisis of moderniza-
tion are what determine my photographic
work.”

Color is also part of the subject matter,
as it is in Bill Gekas’s Plums (Figure 11-21),
and can be appreciated somewhat the way
one appreciates the color of a painting.

Bill Gekas, a photographer from Mel-
bourne, Australia, is a businessman who
sometimes accepted commissions for pho-
tographic portraits. When he began pho-
tographing his five-year-old daughter in
poses and in settings that emulated the
Flemish and Dutch masters of the seven-
teenth century, he drew attention from
around the world. By drawing on the visual
techniques of the old masters, he was able
to expand the role of modern photography. 

Gregory Crewdson sets up his photo-
graphic subject matter in a manner remi-
niscent of preparation for a feature film. At
times, he needs cranes, lights, and as many
as thirty assistants to get the effect he
wants. He spends months on a single image.
The photograph in Figure 11-22 alludes to
the drowning of Ophelia in Hamlet. Crewd-
son’s Ophelia has left her slippers on the
stairs and has apparently entered the water
on purpose, as did Shakespeare’s Ophelia.
To get this effect, Crewdson appears to
have flooded an ordinary living room, po-
sitioned the artificial lights, and captured
the sunlight all at the same time. Ophelia’s
eyes are open, her expression calm, and the
colors of the scene are carefully balanced.
The level of drama in the photograph is
intense, yet the reclined, passive figure of
Ophelia lends an almost peaceful quality to
the image.

FIGURE 11-22
Gregory Crewdson, Untitled. 2001. Like many contemporary art photographers,
Crewdson sometimes spends days or weeks assembling the material for his work. His
use of multiple light sources helps give his work an unsettling quality.

Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery

FIGURE 11-21
Bill Gekas, Plums. 2012. Digital print. Gekas produces a setting with careful control of
the colors and lighting and emulates the old master paintings that inspire him.

©Bill Gekas

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PERCEPTION KEY The Modern Eye

1. Compare the photographic values of Bruce Davidson’s Opening at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art with those of Carrie Weems’s Untitled (Man smoking). In which are the
gradations of tone from light to dark more carefully modulated? In which is the se-
lectivity of the framing more consciously and apparently artistic? In which is the sub-
ject matter more obviously transformed by the photographic image? In which is the
form more fully revealed?

2. Examine the photographs by Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Bruce Da-
vidson. What are the characteristics of the best snapshot photographs? What
have these three images got in common? What are their differences? How do we
react to them in comparison with the carefully staged work of portraitist Tina Bar-
ney? Which do you prefer?

3. Which digital photograph more transforms its subject matter by the use of color?
What is the ultimate effect of that transformation on the viewer?

4. Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson both build sets to make their photographs.
Given that the sets are artificial, and to an extent their subject matter is artificial,
can their work be said to be truly representational? What distinguishes their work
from that of a Documentarist like Ansel Adams or Berenice Abbott?

5. Photocopy any of the color photographs to produce a black-and-white image. What
has been lost in the reproduction? Why is color important to those photographs?

6. Look at some of your own photographs. What school of photography do you be-
long in? Which photographer is closest to your style?

summary
The capacity of photography to record reality faithfully is both a virtue and a fault.
It makes many viewers of photographs concerned only with what is presented (the
subject matter) and leaves them unaware of the way the subject matter has been
represented (the form). Because of its fidelity of presentation, photography seems
to some to have no transformation of subject matter. This did not bother early pho-
tographers, who were delighted at the ease with which they could present their
subject matter. The pictorialists, on the other hand, relied on nineteenth-century
representational painting to guide them in their approach to form. Their carefully
composed images are still valued by many photographers. But the reaction of the
straight photographers, who wished to shake off any dependence on painting and
disdained sentimental subject matter, began a revolution that emphasized the spe-
cial qualities of the medium: especially the tonal range of the silver or platinum
print (and now color print), the impersonality of the sharply defined object (and
consequent lack of sentimentality), spatial compression, and selective framing. The
revolution has not stopped there but has pushed on into unexpected areas, such as
the exploration of the snapshot and the rejection of the technical standards of the
straight photographers. Many contemporary photographers are searching for new
ways of photographic seeing based on the capacity of digital cameras and comput-
ers to transform and manipulate images. They are more intent on altering rather
than recording reality. This is a very interesting prospect.

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299

Source: Warner Brothers

C h a p t e r 1 2

CINEMA

The history of cinema is, to an extent, dominated by technology. The earliest fea-ture films were black and white, usually projected at twenty-four frames per
second, and silent. In the first few years of the twentieth century, they were often
projected outdoors in town squares or indoors in social clubs and general-purpose
public buildings, but soon special theaters appeared with incredible speed around
the world. In 1926 sound permitted both music and dialogue to accompany the vi-
sual images. Some films were in color in the 1920s and 1930s, but color films did not
become standard until the 1940s and 1950s. Improvements in sound and image size,
as well as experiments in 3-D films, followed and continue today. The most dramatic
recent change is the abandonment of celluloid film in favor of digital production and
digital projection. Since 2013 the industry has been almost entirely digital, so the
term “film,” while out of date, is still useful for us in discussing theatrical features.

The SubjecT MaTTer of filM
Except in its most reductionist form, the subject matter of most great films is diffi-
cult to isolate and restate in words. You could say that death is the subject matter of
Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Figure 12-1). But you would also need to observe that
the knight’s sacrifice to save the lives of others—which he accomplishes by playing
chess with Death—is also part of the subject matter of the film. As David Cook ex-
plains in A History of Narrative Film, there is a complexity of subject matter in film
that is rivaled only by literature.

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It may be that the very popularity of film and the ease with which we can access
it lead us to ignore the form and the insights form offers into subject matter. For
example, is it really possible to catch the subtleties of form of a great film in one
viewing? Yet how many of us see a great film more than once? Audiences generally
enjoy, but rarely analyze, films. Some of the analysis that follows may help your
enjoyment as well as your analyses.

Except perhaps for opera, film more than any of the other arts involves collab-
orative effort. Most films are written by a scriptwriter, then planned by a director,
who may make many changes. however, even if the director is also the scriptwriter,
the film needs a producer, camera operators, an editor, designers, researchers, cos-
tumers, actors, and actresses. Auteur criticism regards the director as equivalent to
the auteur, or author, of the film. For most moviegoers, the most important persons
involved with the film will almost surely be not the director but the stars who appear
in the film. George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Julia roberts, Meryl Streep, and Denzel
Washington are more famous than such directors of stature as Ingmar Bergman, Fed-
erico Fellini, Lina Wertmuller, Akira Kurosawa, Jane Campion, or Alfred hitchcock.

DirecTing anD eDiTing
The two dominant figures in early films were directors who did their own editing: D. W.
Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein, unquestionably the great early geniuses of filmmaking.
They managed to gain control over the production of their works so that they could
craft their films into a distinctive art. Some of their films are still considered among
the finest ever made. The Birth of a Nation (1916) and Intolerance (1918) by Griffith, and
Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Ivan the Terrible (1941–1946) by Eisenstein, are still being

FIGURE 12-1
Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal
(1957).The knight plays chess with
Death in order to save the lives of
the traveling citizens in the distance.
The close shot balances the knight
and Death in sharp focus, while
the citizens are in soft focus. In
chess, a knight sacrifice is often a
ploy designed to achieve a stronger
position, as in this film.

©AF archive/Alamy

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shown and are influencing contemporary filmmakers. These men were more than just
directors. With many of their films, they were responsible for almost everything: writ-
ing, casting, choosing locations, handling the camera, directing, editing, and financing.

Directing and editing are probably the most crucial phases of filmmaking. Today
most directors control the acting and supervise the photography, carried out by
skilled technicians who work with such problems as lighting, camera angles, and
focusing, as well as the motion of the camera itself (some sequences use a highly
mobile camera, while others use a fixed camera). Among the resources available
to directors making choices about the use of the camera are the kinds of shots that
may eventually be edited together. A shot is a single exposure of the camera without
a break. Some of the most important kinds of shots follow:

Establishing shot: Usually a distant shot establishes important locations or figures
in the action.
Close-up: An important object, such as the face of a character, fills the screen.
Long shot: The camera is far distant from the most important characters, objects,
or scenes.
Medium shot: What the camera focuses on is neither up close nor far distant.
There can be medium close-ups and medium long shots, too.
Following shot: The camera keeps a moving figure in the frame, usually keeping
pace with the figure.
Point-of-view shot: The camera records what the character must be seeing; when
the camera moves, it implies that the character’s gaze moves.
Tracking shot: A shot in which the camera moves forward, backward, or sidewise.
Crane shot: The camera is on a crane or movable platform and moves upward or
downward.
Handheld shot: The camera is carried, sometimes on a special harness, by the
camera operator.
Recessional shot: The camera focuses on figures and objects moving away, as in
Figure 12-10. A processional shot focuses on figures and objects moving toward
the camera.

When you see films, you probably see all these shots many times. Add to these
specific kinds of shots the variables of camera angles, types of camera lenses, vari-
ations in lighting, and variations in approach to sound, and you can see that the
technical resources of the director are enormous. The addition of script and actors
enriches the director’s range of choices so that they become almost dizzying.

The editor puts the shots in order after the filming is finished. This selective process
is highly complex and of supreme importance, for the structuring of the shots forms
the film. The alternatives are often vast, and if the film is to achieve an artistic goal—
insight into its subject matter—the shot succession must be creatively accomplished.
The editor trims the shots to an appropriate length, then joins them with other shots
to create the final film. Edited sequences sometimes shot far apart in time and place
are organized into a unity. Films are rarely shot sequentially, and only a part of the
total footage is shown in a film. The old saying of the bit-part actor—“I was lost on the
cutting-room floor”—attests to the fact that sometimes interesting footage is omitted.

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In a relatively short time, the choice and editing of shots have become almost a
kind of language. The parents on the left of the medium shot from Yasujiro’s Tokyo
Story (Figure 12-2) seem an essential part of the family because the physical space
is so limited, but the irony is that later shots show them very much separated emo-
tionally and psychologically from their ungrateful, busy children.

It helps to know the resources of the editor, who cuts the film to create the rela-
tionships between takes. The way these cuts are related is at the core of the director’s
distinctive style. Some of the most familiar of the director’s and editor’s choices follow:

Continuity cut: shots edited to produce a sense of narrative continuity, following
the action stage by stage. The editor can also use a discontinuity cut to break up
the narrative continuity for effect.
Jump cut: sometimes just called a “cut”; moves abruptly from one shot to the
next, with no preparation and often with a shock
Cut-in: an immediate move from a wide shot to a very close shot of the same
scene; the editor may “cut out,” as well
Cross-cutting: alternating shots of two or more distinct actions occurring in dif-
ferent places (but often at the same time)
Dissolve: one scene disappearing slowly while the next scene appears as if be-
neath it
Fade: includes fade-in (a dark screen growing brighter to reveal the shot) and
fade-out (the screen darkens, effectively ending the shot)

FIGURE 12-2
Medium interior shot from Tokyo
Story (1953), by Yasujirō Ozu. Ozu is
considered one of the finest Japanese
directors. Tokyo Story tells of older
parents visiting their children in
postwar Tokyo. The older generation
realizes it has no place in the new
Japan, as their children are too busy
to spend time with them.

©Shochiku/Kobal/rEX/Shutterstock

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Wipe: transition between shots, with a line moving across or through the screen
separating one shot from the next
Graphic match: joining two shots that have similar composition, color, or scene
Montage sequence: a sequence of images dramatically connected but physically
disconnected
Shot, reverse shot: a pair of shots in which the first shot shows a character looking
at something; reverse shot shows what the character sees

Our responses to film depend on the choices that directors and editors make
regarding shots and editing almost as much as on the nature of the narrative and
the appeal of the actors. In a relatively short time, film editing has become a kind of
language—a language of imagery with close to universal significance.

When the editing is handled well, it can be profoundly effective, because it is
impossible in real-life experience to achieve what the editor achieves. By eliminating
the irrelevant, good editing accents the relevant. The montage—dramatically con-
nected but physically disconnected images—can be made without a word of dialogue.

PERCEPTION KEY Editing
1. Study a film such as The Bourne Identity and identify at least three kinds of shots

mentioned in the text. Find a point-of-view shot, a tracking shot, or a handheld
shot. Which is most dramatic?

2. In such a film as The Bourne Identity, establish the effect on the viewer of shots that
last a long time as opposed to a rapid succession of very short shots. Which of
these two techniques contributes more to the participative experience of the film?

3. Find at least one jump cut and comment on the editor’s decision to use it. How
shocking or jarring is the cut? Is it effective in context?

4. Which continuity cuts does the editor of the film you have studied contribute most
to your understanding of the film?

The ParTiciPaTive exPerience anD filM
Our participation with film is often virtually involuntary. For one thing, most of us
know exactly what it means to lose our sense of place and time in a movie. This loss
seems to be achieved rapidly in all but the most awkwardly conceived films.

Cinematic realism makes it easy for us to identify with actors who represent our
values (a kind of participation). For instance, in Forrest Gump (1994), Tom hanks plays
what seems to be, on the surface, a mentally defective person. But Gump is more
than that—he is good at heart and positive in his thinking. he is a character in whom
cunning—not just intelligence—has been removed, and in him the viewers see their lost
innocence. It would be very doubtful that anyone in the audience consciously identified
with Gump, but it was clear from the reception of the film that something in him res-
onated with the audience and was, in the final analysis, both appealing and cheering.
Gump is an unlikely hero primarily because he is trusting, innocent, and good-hearted.
When the audience participates with that film, it is in part because the audience mem-
bers see in Gump something of what they would like to see in themselves.

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PERCEPTION KEY Participation and the Film

1. Identify three kinds of film to discuss: an action film, such as Die Hard (1988); a
romantic film, such as When Harry Met Sally (1989); and a dramatic film, such as
Midnight in Paris (2012). Which kind of film most invites you to have a participative
experience?

2. With which character in any recent film you have seen do you most identify? Does
that identification constitute for you a participative experience?

3. If you have seen any of the three films mentioned in question 1, which most
produced a loss of self-awareness and made you feel fully engulfed in the film
experience?

4. What are your critical principles in watching films? Choose a most excellent film.
What are your standards for establishing excellence in films?

It may be that we naturally identify with heroes in films, as we do in books. The
characters played by extremely charismatic actors, like Jennifer Lopez or Matt Damon,
almost always appeal to some aspect of our personalities, even if sometimes that aspect
is frightening. Such may be the source, for instance, of the appeal of hannibal Lecter
in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) (Figure 12-3), in which Anthony hopkins not only
appears as a cannibal but actually gets away with it, identifying his former doctor as
his next victim, whose liver he plans to eat with some “fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

FIGURE 12-3
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter
in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

©Orion/Kobal/rEX/Shutterstock

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There are two kinds of participative experiences with film. One is not princi-
pally filmic in nature and is represented by a kind of self-indulgence that depends
on self-justifying fantasies. We imagine ourselves as James Bond, for example, and
ignore the interrelationship of the major elements of the film. The other kind of
participation evolves from an acute awareness of the details and their interrela-
tionships. This second kind of participative experience means much more to us
ultimately because it is significantly informative: We understand the content by
means of the form.

The filM iMage
The starting point of film is the moving image. Just as still photographs and paint-
ings can move us profoundly by their organization of visual elements, so can
such images when they are set to motion. Indeed, many experts insist that no ar-
tistic medium ever created has the power to move us as deeply as the medium of
moving images. They base their claim not just on the mass audiences who have
been profoundly stirred but also on the fact that the moving images of the film
are similar to the moving images we perceive in life. We rarely perceive static
images, except when viewing such things as paintings or photographs. Watch-
ing a film closely can help us perceive much more intensely the visual worth of
many of the images we experience outside film. Charlie Chaplin is evoked in
someone walking in a jaunty, jumpy fashion with his feet turned out. There is a
very long tracking shot in Weekend (1967), by Jean-Luc Godard, of a road piled
up with wrecked or stalled cars. The camera glides along, nervelessly imaging
the gridlock with fires and smoke and seemingly endless corpses scattered here
and there along the roadsides—unattended. The stalled and living motorists are
obsessed with getting to their vacation resorts. The horns honk and honk. The
unbelievable elongation of the procession and the utter grotesqueness of the
scenes evoke black humor at its extreme. If in reality we have to face anything
even remotely similar, the intensity of our vision inevitably will be heightened if
we have seen Weekend.

EXPERIENCING Still Frames and Photography
Study Figures 12-1 through 12-8. How would you evaluate these stills with reference to
tightness of composition? For example, do the details and parts interrelate so that any
change would disrupt the unity of the totality? Compare with Figure 2-2.

The still from The Lady from Shanghai (1947) in  Figure 12-4  is carefully com-
posed, a classic Hollywood close-up of Rita Hayworth, who plays Elsa Bannister.
Orson Welles directed and acted in what has become a highly regarded example of
film noir (dark film), a genre that usually involves crime and violence and is shot
in sometimes threatening black and white. The emphasis on darkness reflects the
attitude of the characters toward society, which is portrayed as ruthless, deceitful,
and profoundly dangerous. Rita Hayworth is a “trophy wife” of Arthur Bannister,

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Movement in motion pictures is caused by the physiological limitations of the
eye. It cannot perceive the black line between frames when they move rapidly.
All it sees is the succession of frames minus the lines that divide them, for the eye
cannot perceive separate images or frames that move faster than one-thirtieth of
a second. The images are usually projected at a speed of twenty-four frames per
second, and the persistence of vision merges them. This is the “language” of the
camera.

Because of this language, many filmmakers, both early and contemporary, at-
tempt to design each individual frame as carefully as they might a photograph.
(See “photography and painting: The pictorialists” in Chapter 11.) Jean renoir, the
famous French filmmaker and son of painter pierre-Auguste, sometimes composed
frames like a tightly unified painting, as in The Grand Illusion (1936) and The Rules
of the Game (1939). Sergei Eisenstein also framed many of his images especially
carefully, notably in Battleship Potemkin (1925). David Lean, who directed Brief
Encounter (1945), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962, rereleased
1988), Dr. Zhivago (1965), and Ryan’s Daughter (1970), also paid close attention to
the composition of individual frames.

Sam Worthington is Jake Sully in Avatar (Figure 12-5) and, despite being a spy
whose avatar is gathering intel that would find the Na’vi weakness, falls in love
with Neytiri. he ultimately joins the Na’vi and his brain is placed in his avatar
permanently. In the still we see the tenderness in Neytiri and the strength in

a strange, crippled criminal lawyer. His partner, George
Grisby, has apparently concocted a scheme to kill Bannis-
ter while appearing to have been murdered himself. The
complexity of the plot is standard in film noir, and in The
Lady from Shanghai Orson Welles plays Michael O’Hara,
an Irish sailor who, despite his better judgment, signs up
on Bannister’s yacht as an able seaman to pilot the boat
through the Panama Canal to San Francisco. Grisby con-
vinces O’Hara to pretend to murder him but never hints
at his true motives. O’Hara follows through, but the situ-
ation becomes complicated by Grisby’s murder and O’Ha-
ra’s arrest. Because he had signed a confession, he is put
on trial and Bannister defends him, without thinking he
could get him off. O’Hara breaks out of the courthouse
and is followed by Elsa, who hides him in Chinatown.
O’Hara is drugged by Elsa’s Chinese friends and, when he
wakes, realizes that Elsa has killed Grisby and originally intended to murder Ban-
nister and pin the crime on O’Hara. The film ends with a dramatic encounter in a
hall of mirrors funhouse, where nothing is what it seems to be. The 1940s film noir
classics reflect a social unrest and unease in the face of dramatic change. The old
order, so to speak, had given over to a new and unknown reality, all reflected in
stark black and white. The close-up of Elsa reveals both the attraction of beauty
and the potential for evil and destruction.

FIGURE 12-4
The Lady from Shanghai (1947).
This still from the film shows
the use of strong light and dark
shadow to intensify the allure
and potential danger of Elsa
Bannister (Rita Hayworth), who
is the mysterious lady from
Shanghai. This chiaroscuro style
distinguishes the entire film.

Source: Columbia pictures

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Jake’s avatar. Their relationship is emphasized by their overlapping figures and
their isolation from the blurred figures in the background. By contrast, Figure 12-6
from Citizen Kane shows the emptiness of the relationship of Charles Foster Kane
and his wife, Emily, who seem almost unaware of each other. The angle of the
shot emphasizes their separation. The cluttered details in the background are
in sharp focus, reminding us that physical objects are of utmost importance in
Kane’s life.

FIGURE 12-5
Avatar (2009). A close-up shot from
the film, which was written and
directed by James Cameron, with
Zoe Saldana as Neytiri and Sam
Worthington as Jake Sully.

©Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation/
Kobal/rEX/Shutterstock

FIGURE 12-6
Citizen Kane (1941). Kane (Orson
Welles) and his first wife, Emily
(Ruth Warrick), near the end of
their marriage, are seen in a shot
that emphasizes the distance
between them both physically and
emotionally. Placing the camera so
far below the table produced an
unsettling moment in the film.

©rKO/Kobal/rEX/Shutterstock

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Avatar is available as a regular film, but it was heavily advertised and projected in
3-D. Three-dimensional films have been a promise for more than a decade, but very
few have been effective for more than the occasional shock value of objects flying
at the viewer. Avatar, because of its setting in a hyperreal landscape and its flying
mythical creatures, is more effective than most 3-D films. So far, it seems to be the
most successful of such films.

For some directors, the still frames of the film must be as exactly composed as a
painting. The theory is that if the individual moments of the film are each as perfect
as can be, the total film will be a cumulative perfection. This seems to be the case
only for some films. In films that have long, meditative sequences, such as Orson
Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) or Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972), or se-
quences in which characters or images are relatively unmoving for significant peri-
ods of time, such as robert redford’s A River Runs Through It (1994), the carefully
composed still image may be significant. Nevertheless, no matter how powerful,
most stills from fine films will reveal very little of the significance of the entire film
all by themselves: It is their sequential movement that brings out their effectiveness.
however, the still frame and the individual shot are the building blocks of film.
Controlling the techniques that produce and interrelate these blocks is the first job
of the film artist.

caMera PoinT of view
The motion in the motion picture can come from numerous sources. The actors
can move toward, away from, or across the field of camera vision. When something
moves toward the camera, it moves with astonishing speed, as we all know from
watching the images of a moving locomotive (the favorite vehicle for this technique
so far) rush at us and then “catapult over our heads.” The effect of the catapult is
noteworthy because it is a unique characteristic of the film medium.

people move before us the way they move before the camera, but the cam-
era (or cameras) can achieve visual things that the unaided eye cannot: showing
the same moving action from a number of points of view simultaneously, for
instance, or showing it from a camera angle the eye cannot achieve. The realistic
qualities of a film can be threatened, however, by being too sensational, with a
profusion of shots that would be impossible in a real-life situation. Although such
virtuoso effects can dazzle us at first, the feeling of being dazzled can degenerate
into being dazed.

Another way the film portrays motion is by the movement or tracking of the
camera. In a sequence in John huston’s The Misfits (1961), cowboys are round-
ing up wild mustangs to sell for dog food, and some amazing scenes were filmed
with the camera mounted on a pickup truck chasing fast-running horses. The mo-
tion in these scenes is overwhelming because huston combines two kinds of rapid
motion—of trucks and of horses. Moreover, the motion is further increased because
of the narrow focus of the camera and the limited boundary of the screen. The
recorded action excludes vision that might tend to distract or to dilute the motion
we are permitted to see. Much the same effect was achieved in the buffalo run in
Dances with Wolves (1990) thirty years later. The screen in motion pictures always
constrains our vision, even when we imagine the space beyond the screen that we

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do not see, as when a character moves off the filmed space. Eliminating the space
beyond the images recorded by the camera circumscribes and fixes our attention.
And such attention enhances the rapidity and intensity of the moving images.

A final basic way film can achieve motion is by means of the camera lens.
Even when the camera is fixed in place, a lens that affords a much wider, nar-
rower, larger, or smaller field of vision than the eye normally supplies will give
the illusion of motion, since we instinctively feel the urge to be in the physical
position that would supply that field of vision. Zoom lenses, which change their
focal length along a smooth range—thus moving images gradually closer or far-
ther away—are even more effective for suggesting motion. One favorite shot is
that of a figure walking or moving in some fashion, which looks, at first, as if it
were a medium shot but which is actually revealed as a long shot when the zoom
is reversed. Since our own eyes cannot imitate the action of the zoom lens, the
effect can be quite dramatic when used creatively. It is something like the ef-
fect that slow motion or stop motion has on us. It interrupts our perceptions of
something—something that had seemed perfectly natural—in a way that makes us
aware of the film medium itself.

PERCEPTION KEY Camera Vision
1. Directors frequently examine a scene with a viewfinder that “frames” the scene be-

fore their eyes. Make or find a simple frame (or use your hands to create a “frame”)
and examine the visual world about you. To what extent can you frame it to make
it more interesting?

2. Using the frame technique, move your eyes and the frame simultaneously to alter
the field of vision. Can you make any movements that the camera cannot? Do you
become aware of any movements the camera can make that you cannot?

3. If the camera is the principal tool of filmmaking, do directors give up artistic con-
trol when they have cinematographers operate the machines? Does your exper-
imenting in the questions above suggest there may be a camera “language” that
directors should be controlling themselves? Given your experience with film and
cameras, how might camera language be described?

4. Using a video camera, experiment with shooting the same visual information with
the lens wide-angled, and then at different stages of zoom until you reach the end
of your lens’s zoom range. Review the product and comment on the way the cam-
era treats visual space.

Sometimes technique can take over a film by becoming the most interesting
aspect of the cinematic experience. The Academy Award winner 2001: A Space
Odyssey (1968), Star Wars (1977–2017), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), ET
(1982), and the seven Star Trek films of the 1970s and 1980s have similar themes,
concentrating on space, the future, and fantastic situations. All include shots of
marvelous technical achievements, such as the images of the computer-guided
cameras that follow the space vehicles of Luke Skywalker and han Solo in the
dramatic conclusion of the original Star Wars (Figure 12-7). But some critics have
argued that these technical achievements were ends rather than means to artistic
revelation.

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violence anD filM
Because it is so easy to shoot a scene in various ways, a good director is constantly
choosing the shot that he or she hopes has the most meaning within the total struc-
ture of the film. When Luis Buñuel briefly shows us the razoring of a woman’s eyeball
in Un Chien Andalou (1928) (it is really a slaughtered cow’s eyeball), he is counting on
our personal horror at actually seeing such an act, but the scene is artistically justifi-
able because Buñuel carefully integrated the scene into the total structure. Unfortu-
nately, many films show sheer violence without any attempt to inform—for example,
Nightmare on Elm Street (1985) and its many sequels, the Arnold Schwarzenegger
film Predator (1988), and similar films. Kill Bill (2003, 2004), both volumes, as well
as A History of Violence (2005) move in a somewhat different direction, in that they
are not specifically horror films despite their depiction of violence. These have been
nominated for a number of awards in recognition of their seriousness.

A film that was ahead of its time in portraying violence, Reservoir Dogs (1992),
won Quentin Tarantino the respect of movie critics and the movie public. Taran-
tino followed up with Pulp Fiction (1994), three related tales set in Los Angeles and

FIGURE 12-7
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
In the film, George Lucas used a
number of powerful special effects,
as in this threatening attack with a
light saber.

©photo 12/Alamy

PERCEPTION KEY Technique and Film
1. Are the technical triumphs of films such as Star Wars used as means or ends? If they

are the ends, then are they the subject matter? What kind of problem does such a
possibility raise for our appreciation of the film?

2. In Tom Jones (1963), a technique called the “double take” was introduced. After
searching for his wallet everywhere, Tom turns and looks at the audience and asks
whether we have seen his wallet. Is this technique a gimmick or artistically justi-
fiable? Could you make a defensible judgment about this without seeing the film?

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reminiscent of the pulp fiction novels of Dashiell hammett. While somewhat car-
toonish in places, and laced with unexpected comedic moments, the film was nom-
inated for several awards, among them the palme d’Or at Cannes. Django Unchained
(Figure 12-8) continued Tarantino’s commitment to artful violence.

Clever directors can easily shock their audiences. But the more complex re-
sponses, some of which are as difficult to control as they are to attain, are the aim
of the enduring filmmakers. When Ingmar Bergman shows us the rape scene in
The Virgin Spring (1959), he does not saturate us with horror. And the murder of
the rapists by the girl’s father is preceded by an elaborate purification ritual that
relates the violence and horror to profound meaning. In any art, control of audience
response is vital. We can become emotionally saturated just as easily as we can be-
come bored. The result is indifference.

PERCEPTION KEY Violence and Film
1. Many groups condemn violent films of the kind described as slasher films or films

that gratuitously portray torture and gore. Do you agree with these groups? Do
you feel that violent films affect viewers’ behavior? How do they affect you? Is it
possible to participate with a violent film?

2. Critics point to the fact that many of Shakespeare’s plays—and the plays of his
contemporaries—were often bloody and violent. They also say that violence in
Shakespeare’s plays is revelatory because it reveals the significance of the moral-
ity of his age. Do you feel that modern violent films are revelatory of the morality
of our age?

3. Of the violent films you have seen, which one is certainly a work of art? Is violence
the subject matter of that film? In what ways is the film revelatory?

FIGURE 12-8
Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
(2009). Quentin Tarantino has made
violence central to his work. His films
have also been widely praised.

©Columbia/The Weinstein Company/Kobal/
rEX/Shutterstock

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SounD
Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer (1927) introduced sound, although not everyone welcomed
it. Sergei Eisenstein feared, as did many others, that sound might kill the artistic in-
tegrity of film because, with sound, no one would work with the images that create
a film language and film would once again become subservient to drama. Eisenstein
knew that images in motion could sustain the kind of dramatic tension that was once
thought to be limited to the stage. This is a point of consummate importance. First
of all, a film is images in motion. Great filmmakers may exploit sound and other ele-
ments, but they will never make them the basic ingredients of the film.

Sound in film involves much more than the addition of dialogue to the visual
track. Music had long been a supplement of the silent films, and special portfolios
of piano and organ music were available to the accompanist who played in the local
theater while coordinating the music with the film. These portfolios indicated the
kind of feelings that could be produced by merging special music with scenes, such
as chase, love, or suspense. D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation features a “rescue”
charge by the Ku Klux Klan, which was cut to the dynamics of richard Wagner’s
Die Walküre. Francis Ford Coppola may have had that in mind when he made the
incredible helicopter battle scene in Apocalypse Now (1979) to Wagner’s “ride of
the Valkyries.” Apocalypse Now, a film about the Vietnam War, uses sound in excep-
tionally effective ways, especially in scenes such as the skyrocket fireworks battle
deep in the jungle. But perhaps the most powerful cinematic sound produced so far
occurs in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (1998), directed by Steven Spiel-
berg—the storming of the Normandy beach on D-day, June 6, 1944 (Figure 12-9).

Surround sound may intensify our experience of film. Not only do we expect to
hear dialogue, but we also expect to hear the sounds we associate with the action
on screen, whether it is the quiet chirping of crickets in a country scene in Sounder

FIGURE 12-9
Saving Private Ryan (1998). The
opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s
film depicts American soldiers
storming Omaha Beach during
World War II.

©Universal/Kobal/rEX/Shutterstock

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(1972) or the dropping of bombs from a low-flying Japanese Zero in Empire of the
Sun (1987). Subtle uses of sound sometimes prepare us for action that is yet to
come, such as when in Rain Man (1989) we see Dustin hoffman and Tom Cruise
walking toward a convertible, but we hear the dialogue and road sounds from the
next shot, when they are driving down the highway. That editing technique might
have been very unsettling in the 1930s, but filmmakers have had eighty years to get
our sensibilities accustomed to such disjunctions.

A famous disjunction occurs in the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
when, watching images of one tribe of apes warring with another tribe of apes in
prehistoric times, we hear the rich modern harmonies of richard Strauss’s dramatic
tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra. The music suggests one very sophisticated mode
of development inherent in the future of these primates—whom we see in the first
phases of discovering how to use tools. They already show potential for creating
high art. Eventually the sound and imagery coincide when the scene changes to
2001, with scientists on the moon discovering a monolithic structure identical to
one the apes had found on Earth.

PERCEPTION KEY Sight and Sound
1. In the next film you see, compare the power of the visuals with the power of the

sound. Is there a reasonable balance between the two? Which one produces a more
intense experience in you?

2. With Dolby sound systems in many movie houses, the use of sound is sometimes
overwhelming. Which film of those you have recently seen has the most intense
and powerful sound? Does it mesh well with the narrative line of the film? Why?

3. View an important film and turn off its sound for a period of time. Study the im-
ages you see and comment on their ability to hold your attention. Then turn on the
sound and comment on how your experience of the film is altered. Go beyond the
simple addition of dialogue. Try the experiment with a foreign film that has English
subtitles.

4. View the same film and block the visual image by turning your back to it. Concen-
trate on the sound. To what extent is the experience of the film incomplete? How
would you rate the relationship of sound to the visual images?

iMage anD acTion
Most contemporary film is a marriage of sight and sound. Yet we must not forget
that film is a medium in which the moving image—the action—is preeminent, as in
Federico Fellini’s 8½ (1963). The title refers to Fellini’s own career, ostensibly about
himself and his making a new film after seven and a half previous films. 8½ is about
the artistic process. Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni, brings a group of peo-
ple to a location to make a film (Figure 12-10).

The film centers on Guido’s loss of creative direction, his psychological problems
related to religion, sex, and his need to dominate women. As he convalesces from
his breakdown, he brings people together to make a film, but he has no clear sense
of what he wants to do, no coherent story to tell. 8½ seems to mimic Fellini’s situ-
ation so carefully that it is difficult to know whether Fellini planned out the film or

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not. he has said, “I appeared to have it all worked out in my head, but it was not like
that. For three months I continued working on the basis of a complete production,
in the hope that meanwhile my ideas would sort themselves out. Fifty times I nearly
gave up.”1 And yet, most of the film is described in a single letter to Brunello rondi
(a writer of the screenplay), written long before the start of production.

The film is episodic, with memorable dream and nightmare sequences, some of
which are almost hallucinatory. Such scenes focus on the inward quest of the film:
Guido’s search for the cause of his creative block so that he can resolve it. By put-
ting himself in the center of an artistic tempest, he mirrors his own psychological
confusion in order to bring it under control. Indeed, he seems intent on creating
artistic tension by bringing both his wife and his mistress to the location of the film.

The film abandons continuous narrative structure in favor of episodic streams of
consciousness in the sequences that reveal the inner workings of Guido’s mind. In
a way, they may also reveal the inner workings of the creative mind if we assume
that Fellini projected his own anxieties into the film. 8½ is revelatory of the psychic
turmoil of creativity.

The computer has altered the possibilities of action in modern films, from Star
Wars to Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015), which is set in 1823 and is about
a group of white trappers in Indian country in the far west. It is based on a semi-
autobiographical story of hugh Glass, who, surviving the attack by a mother bear and
the abandonment by his hunting team, somehow managed to return to civilization.
The subject matter of the film is in part about the indestructibility of the determined
individual, but it is also about the power of nature in an almost endless landscape.

FIGURE 12-10
Federico Fellini’s 8½ (1963).
Gianni di Venanzo’s extraordinary
recessional shot, showing Guido
(Marcello Mastroianni) meeting his
mistress, Carla (Sandra Milo), at the
spa where he has gone to refresh his
creative spirit.

Courtesy Everett Collection

1John Kobal, The Top 100 Movies (New York: New American Library, 1988).

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The bear attack (Figure 12-11), which is the most memorable scene in the film, pits
the extraordinary power of nature against man’s attempts to tame it. In essence, the
computer manipulation makes it possible to portray that struggle with a sense of
reality—essentially taming it by technology.

cineMaTic STrucTure
Michael Cimino’s portrayal of three hometown men, Mike, Steve, and Nick, who
fight together in Vietnam, The Deer Hunter (1978), has serious structural problems
because the film takes place in three radically different environments, and it is not
always clear how they are related. Yet it won several Academy Awards and has
been proclaimed one of the great antiwar films. Cimino took great risks by dividing
the film into three large sections: sequences of life in Clairton, pennsylvania, with
a russian Orthodox wedding and a last hunting expedition for deer; sequences of
the three men fighting in Vietnam, then as war prisoners playing russian roulette
to the amusement of their guards; and sequences afterward in Clairton, where only
one of the three men, Mike, played by robert DeNiro, is able to live effectively.
he sets out to get Steven, played by John Savage, who lost his legs and an arm, to
return from the wheelchair ward of the VA hospital to his wife. Then he returns
to Vietnam to find his best friend, Nick, played by Christopher Walken, a heroin
addict still in Saigon, playing russian roulette for hardened Vietnamese gamblers.
russian roulette was not an actual part of the Vietnam experience, but Cimino
made it a metaphor for the senselessness of war.

Cimino relied in part on the model of Dante’s Divine Comedy, also divided into
three sections—hell, purgatory, and paradise. In The Deer Hunter, the rivers of
molten metal in the steel mills and, more obviously, the war scenes suggest the
ghastliness of hell. The extensive and ecstatic scenes in the russian Orthodox

FIGURE 12-11
The Revenant (2015). In this powerful
shot from Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s
film, Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di
Caprio) is attacked by a mother
bear. This is an example of modern
technology at work in film. The bear
was enacted by a man in a large
“suit,” which was converted into a
bear by the computer.

Source: 20th Century Fox

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church suggest paradise, while life in Clairton represents an in-between, a kind of
purgatory. In one of the most stirring episodes, when he is back in Saigon during
the American evacuation, looking for Nick, Mike is shown standing up in a small
boat, negotiating his way through the canals. The scene is a visual echo of Eugène
Delacroix’s Dante and Virgil in Hell, a famous nineteenth-century painting. For any-
one who recognizes the allusion to Dante, Cimino’s structural techniques become
clearer, as do his views of war in general and of the Vietnam War in particular.

The function of photography in films such as 8½ and The Deer Hunter is some-
times difficult to assess. If we agree that the power of the moving image is central
to the ultimate meaning of the motion picture, we can see that the most important
structural qualities of any good film develop from the choices made in the editing
stage. Sometimes different versions of a single action will be filmed; then the direc-
tor and the editor decide which will be in the final mix after testing each version in
relation to the overall structure.

The episodic structure of ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991) (Figure 12-12)
lends itself to contrasting the interiors of a seamy Arkansas nightclub and a cheap
motel with the magnificent open road and dramatic landscape of the Southwest.
Louise, played by Susan Sarandon, and Thelma, played by Geena Davis, are on the
run in Louise’s 1956 Thunderbird convertible after Louise shoots and kills harlan,
who attempted to rape Thelma. Knowing their story will not be believed, they head
for Mexico and freedom but never get there. Callie Khouri wrote the script for this
feminist film and cast the women as deeply sympathetic outcasts and desperadoes—
roles traditionally reserved for men. In one memorable scene, a truck driver hauling
a gasoline rig harasses and makes lecherous faces at the women. The cross-cutting
builds considerable tension, which is relieved, at first, when the women pull over as
if they were interested in him. As the driver leaves his truck to walk toward them,

FIGURE 12-12
Thelma & Louise (1991). Susan
Sarandon and Geena Davis star in
Ridley Scott’s road-style film with
a reversal—the people driving the
Thunderbird are women, not men,
racing away from the law.

©pictorial press Ltd/Alamy

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they shoot his rig, and it explodes like an inferno. The editing in this film is quite
conventional, but everyone who has seen it is very likely to remember this scene,
the exceptional power of which depends on the use of cross-cutting.

The editor’s work gives meaning to the film just as surely as the scriptwriter’s and
the photographer’s. Observe, for instance, the final scenes in Eisenstein’s Battleship
Potemkin. The Potemkin is steaming to a confrontation with the russian fleet. Eisen-
stein rapidly cuts from inside the ship to outside: showing a view of powerfully mov-
ing engine pistons, then the ship cutting deeply into the water, then rapidly back and
forth, showing anxiety-ridden faces, all designed to raise the emotional pitch of anyone
watching the movie. This kind of cutting or montage was used by Alfred hitchcock
in the shower murder scene of the 1960 horror thriller Psycho. he demonstrated that
the technique could be used to increase tension and terror, even though no explicit
murderous actions were shown on screen. Ironically, the scene was so powerful that
its star, Janet Leigh, avoided showers as much as possible, always preferring the bath.

cineMaTic DeTailS
We cannot completely translate films into language. We can only approximate
a translation by describing the connections—emotional, narrative, symbolic, or
whatever—implied by the sequence of images. Within the structural segments of
any film, we will see how the details fill out the form of the film. When we watch
the overturning coffin in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), for example, we are
surprised to find that the figure in the coffin has the same face as professor Borg,
the protagonist, who is himself a witness to what we see. Borg is face to face with
his own death. That the details in this scene have special meaning seems clear, yet
we cannot completely articulate their significance. The meaning is embodied in the
moving images. The scene has a strong tension and impact, and yet it is apparent
that the full meaning of this moment depends on the context of the whole film in
which it appears. The relation of detail to structure exists in every art, of course, but
that relation in its nuances often may more easily be missed in our experiences of
the film. For one thing, we are not accustomed to permitting images to build their
own meanings apart from the meanings we already associate with them. Second,
we do not always observe the way one movement, one image, or one gesture will
mean something in one context and an entirely different thing in another context.
Third, moving images generally are more difficult to remember than still images
and thus it is more difficult to become aware of their connections.

The filmmaker must control contexts, especially with reference to detail. In Eric
rohmer’s film Claire’s Knee (1970), a totally absurd gesture—caressing the knee of
an indifferent and relatively insensitive young woman—becomes the fundamental
focus of the film. This gesture is loaded with meaning throughout the entire film,
but loaded only for the main masculine character and us. The young woman is
unaware that her knee holds such power over the man. Although the gesture is
absurd, in a way it is plausible, for such fixations can occur in anyone. But this film
is not concerned solely with plausibility; it is mainly concerned with this detail in
a cinematic structure that reveals what is unclear in real-life experience—the com-
plexities of some kinds of obsessions. And this is done primarily through skillful
photography and editing rather than through spoken narrative.

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A highly successful film functions like any other work of art. To achieve the
status of art, a film must have a structural integrity that, for some narrative films ap-
proaches that of theater or written fiction. The coherence of the structure will reveal
the subject matter and ultimately permit the film, through the development of de-
tails, to transform the subject matter and become revelatory in that it will reveal its
significance. We go to great films to be moved emotionally and to gain insight into
their content. Structure and cinematic details move together to achieve such a state.

PERCEPTION KEY Cinematic Detail
1. Watch a silent film such as the Academy Award–winning The Artist (2011). Enu-

merate the most important details. If a gesture is repeated, does it accumulate
significance? If so, why? Does the absence of dialogue increase the importance of
visual detail?

2. Examine a few recent films for their use of visual details. Do they function in mak-
ing the cinematic structure more coherent? Be specific. Did you find any film in
which detail plays no significant role?

3. Examine a single scene in a recent film. Analyze the use of detail. In a carefully
made film, the details will relate organically to the overall structure. How carefully
made does the scene you have analyzed seem to be?

The conTexT of filM hiSTory
All meanings, linguistic or nonlinguistic, exist within some kind of context. Most
first-rate films exist in many contexts simultaneously, and it is our job as sensitive
viewers to be able to decide which are the most important. Film, like every art, has
a history, and this history is one of the more significant contexts in which every film
takes place. To make that historical context fruitful in our filmic experiences, we
must do more than just read about that history: We must accumulate a historical
sense of film by seeing films that have been important in the development of the
medium. Most of us have a rich personal backlog in film; we have seen a great many
films, some of which are memorable and many of which have been influenced by
landmark films.

Furthermore, film exists in a context that is meaningful for the life work of a
director and, in turn, for us. When we talk about the films of Orson Welles, Ingmar
Bergman, or Federico Fellini, we are talking about the achievements of artists just
as much as when we talk about the achievements of rembrandt, Vermeer, or van
Gogh. Today we watch carefully for films by Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Cop-
pola, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, Joel and Ethan Coen, pedro Almodóvar, Martin
Scorsese, Alejandro Iñárritu, Spike Lee, Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, and
Lina Wertmuller—to name only a few of the most active current directors—because
their work has shown a steady development and because they, in relation to the his-
tory of the film, possess a vision that is transforming the medium. In other words,
these directors are altering the history of film in significant ways. In turn, we should
be interested in knowing what they are doing because they are providing new con-
texts for increasing our understanding of film.

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Our concerns in this book have not been exclusively with one or another kind
of context, although we have assumed that the internal context of a work of art is
necessarily of first importance. But no work can be properly understood without
resorting to external contextual examination. To understand the content of a work
of art, we must understand something about the subject matter, and the subject
matter is always embedded in some external context. Even such a simple act as
a gesture may need explanation. For example, in Greece, to put the palm of your
hand in the face of someone is considered insulting. If we do not know that and are
watching a film involving Greece that includes the gesture, we may be completely
misled. A visual image, a contemporary gesture, even a colloquial expression will
sometimes show up in a film and need explication in order to be fully understood.
Just as we sometimes have to look up a word in a dictionary—which exists outside
a poem, for instance—we sometimes have to look outside a film for explanations.
Even Terence Young’s James Bond thriller movies need such explication, although
we rarely think about that. If we failed to understand the political assumptions un-
derlying such films, we would not fully understand what was going on.

Two greaT filMS: The GodfaTher anD CasablanCa
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (Figure 12-13 ), produced in 1972, is based on
Mario puzo’s novel about Vito Corleone, an Italian immigrant fleeing from Sicilian
Mafia violence. he eventually became a don of a huge crime family in New York City.
The film details the gradual involvement of Michael Corleone, played by Al pacino,

FIGURE 12-13
The Godfather (1972). Marlon
Brando plays Don Vito Corleone, the
Godfather, conferring with a wedding
guest asking for an important favor
at the beginning of Francis Ford
Coppola’s film.

©paramount/Kobal/rEX/Shutterstock

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in his father’s criminal activities during the years from 1945 to 1959. his father, Vito,
played by Marlon Brando, suffers the loss of Sonny, an older son, and barely survives
an assassination attempt. As Michael becomes more and more a central figure in
his family’s “business,” he grows more frightening and more alienated from those
around him until, as Godfather, it seems he becomes totally evil.

Although some critics complained that the film glorified the Mafia, almost all
have praised its technical mastery. A sequel, The Godfather: Part II, was produced
in 1974 and, although not as tightly constructed as the first film, fleshes out the
experience of Michael as he slowly develops into a mob boss. Both films center
on the ambiguities involved in the conversion of the poverty-ridden Vito into a
wealthy and successful gangster and Michael’s conversion from innocence to heart-
less criminality.

The Godfather films both engage our sympathy with Michael and increasingly
horrify us with many of his actions. We admire Michael’s personal valor and his
respect for father, family, and friends. But we also see the corruption and violence
that are the bases of his power. Inevitably we have to work out for ourselves the
ambiguities that Coppola sets out.

The Narrative Structure of The Godfather Films
The narrative structure of most films supplies the framework on which the film-
maker builds the artistry of the shots and sound. An overemphasis on the artistry,
however, can distract a viewer from the narrative, whereas a great film avoids al-
lowing technique to dominate a story. Such is the case with The Godfather and The
Godfather: Part II, we believe, because the artistry produces a cinematic lushness
that helps tell the story.

The first film begins with Michael Corleone, as a returning war hero in 1945,
refusing to be part of his father’s criminal empire. The immediate family enjoys the
spoils of criminal life—big cars, a large house in a guarded compound, family cele-
brations, and lavish weddings. Although Michael’s brothers are active members of
the crime family, they respect his wishes to remain apart.

In a dispute over whether to add drug-running to the business of gambling, pros-
titution, extortion, and labor racketeering, Vito is gunned down, but not killed.
Michael comes to the aid of his father and so begins his career in the Mafia. It takes
him only a short time to rise to the position of Godfather when Vito is too infirm
to continue. When he marries Kay, played by Diane Keaton, Michael explains that
the family will be totally legitimate in five years. She believes him, but the audience
already knows better. It is no surprise that seven years later the family is more pow-
erful and ruthless than ever.

In a disturbing and deeply ironic sequence, Michael acts as godfather in the
church baptism of his nephew at the same time his lieutenants are murdering
the men who head the five rival crime families. Coppola jump-cuts back and
forth from shots of Michael in the church promising to renounce the work of the
devil to shots of his men turning the streets of New York into a bloodbath. This
perversion of the sacrament of baptism illustrates the depths to which Michael
has sunk.

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In the second film, as the family grows in power, Michael moves to Tahoe, gain-
ing control of casino gambling in Nevada. he corrupts a senator, who even while
demanding kickbacks expresses contempt for Italians. When the senator is compro-
mised by killing a prostitute, however, he cooperates fully with the Corleones. The
point is made again and again that without such corrupt officials, the Mafia would
be significantly less powerful.

Michael survives an assassination attempt made possible by his brother Fre-
do’s collusion with another gangster who is Michael’s nemesis. At first, Michael
does nothing but refuse to talk to Fredo, but when their mother dies, he has
Fredo murdered. Meanwhile, Kay has left him, and those who were close to
him, except his stepbrother, Tom hagen (robert Duvall), have been driven away
or murdered. The last images we have of Michael show him alone in his com-
pound, staring into a darkened room. We see how far he has fallen since his early
idealism.

Coppola’s Images

Coppola chooses his frames with great care, and many would make interesting still
photographs. he balances his figures carefully, especially in the quieter scenes, sub-
tly using asymmetry to accent movement. Sometimes he uses harsh lighting that
radiates from the center of the shot, focusing attention and creating tension. he
rarely cuts rapidly from one shot to another but depends on conventional estab-
lishing shots—such as showing a car arriving at a church, a hospital, a home—before
showing us shots of their interiors. This conventionality intensifies our sense of the
period of the 1940s and 1950s, since most films of that period relied on just such
techniques.

Darkness dominates, and interiors often have a tunnel-like quality, suggesting
passages to the underworld. rooms in which Michael and others conduct their busi-
ness usually have only one source of light, and the resulting high contrast is disori-
enting. Bright outdoor scenes are often marked by barren snow or winds driving
fallen leaves. The seasons of fall and winter predominate, suggesting loneliness and
death.

Coppola’s Use of Sound

The music in The Godfather helps Coppola evoke the mood of the time the film
covers. Coppola used his own father, Carmine Coppola, as a composer of some of
the music. There are some snatches of Italian hill music from small villages near
Amalfi, but sentimental dance music from the big band period of the 1940s and
1950s predominates.

An ingenious and effective use of sound occurs in the baptism/murder scene
discussed earlier. Coppola keeps the sounds of the church scene—the priest recit-
ing the Latin liturgy, the organ music, the baby crying—on the soundtrack even
when he cuts to the murders being carried out. This accomplishes two import-
ant functions: It reinforces the idea that these two scenes are actually occurring

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simultaneously, and it underscores the hypocrisy of Michael’s pious behavior in
church. Because such techniques are used sparingly, their usage in this scene works
with great power.

The Power of The Godfather
Those critics who felt the film glorified the Mafia seem not to have taken into ac-
count the fated quality of Michael. he begins like Oedipus—running away from his
fate. he does not want to join the Mafia, but when his father is almost killed, his
instincts push him toward assuming the role of Godfather. The process of self-
destruction consumes him as if it were completely out of his control. Moreover,
despite their power and wealth, Michael and the Corleones seem to have a good time
only at weddings, and even then the Godfather is doing business in the back room.
Everyone in the family suffers. No one can come and go in freedom. Everyone lives
in an armed camp. All the elements of the film reinforce that view. The houses are
opulent, but vulnerable to machine guns. The cars are expensive, but they blow up.
Surely such a life is not a glory.

In shaping the film in a way that helps us see Mafia life as neither glamorous
nor desirable, Coppola forces us to examine our popular culture—one that seems
often to venerate criminals like Bonnie and Clyde, Jesse James, Billy the Kid,
and John Dillinger. At the same time, Coppola’s refusal to treat his characters
as simply loathsome, his acknowledgment that they are in some sense victims
as well as victimizers, creates an ambiguity that makes his films an impressive
achievement.

PERCEPTION KEY The Godfather
1. Watch The Godfather on a large screen if possible. Examine the ways in which the

pleasing quality of the visuals alters depending on what is being filmed. Are the
violent moments treated with any less visual care than the lyrical moments? What
happens on screen when the images are unbalanced or skewed enough to make you
feel uncomfortable?

2. The Godfather is sometimes ironic, as when church music is played while gangsters
are murdered. How many such moments can you find in the film in which irony is
achieved through the musical choices?

3. To what extent does The Godfather “lionize” the criminal enterprise of the Mafia?
Does the film lure the viewer into accepting as positive the values of the mob?
What does the film do to reveal the moral failures of the mob? Why is there so
much reference to religion in the film?

4. The Godfather was produced almost fifty years ago, when the Mafia was a serious
power in the United States. If you take into account the social circumstances sur-
rounding the film, would you say that today—with most organized crime bosses in
prison—our reactions to this film would make it more or less difficult to romanti-
cize the Mafia? Are you tempted to romanticize these criminals?

5. Is the structure of The Godfather episodic, tragic, or comic? Do we experience the
feelings of fear and pity? What feelings are engendered by the film? What revela-
tory experience did you have from watching the film?

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FOCUS ON Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca
Casablanca (1942), a film often cited as an iconic classic, was not ex-
pected to be a great success. Plans for the film began in January 1942,
during World War II. France had surrendered to the Germans after
only a few weeks in 1940; London was being bombed; the entire Brit-
ish Expeditionary Force was stranded on the beaches of Normandy at
Dunkirk and saved by English sailors and citizens powering small boats.
The United States was split between supporting Hitler and decrying
against him. It took the attack by Japan on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor to
bring the United States into the war against Japan and the Nazis. Be-
fore the film was released, the U.S. Army invaded North Africa, which
gave the film more significance and hastened it into theaters. That
is the historical context of Casablanca. It was a time when the United
States had wakened from a political coma and victory was uncertain. 

Before reading any further, view Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) in the currently
available restored print. Once you have done that, consider this analysis.

Rick meets Victor Laszlo and Ilsa Lund, but he is not happy. He had loved Ilsa and is
bitter because she “stood him up” in Paris when the Germans marched in. Ilsa has come
to Casablanca with her husband, Victor, without knowing she would meet Rick (Figure
12-14). Captain Renault shrewdly puzzles out the relationship between them. Renault
is a Vichy-French officer who will not arrest Laszlo—as the Germans wish him to. At
this time, the colony in northern Africa was governed by the so-called Free French, a
limited arrangement the Nazis had set up in return for France’s surrender in June 1940.
The Vichy government collaborated with the Germans, and in Casablanca everyone
must behave carefully. The purpose of the shot is to establish everyone’s relationship in
terms of politics, character, and emotion. 

The artistic context of Casablanca is that of the typical chiar-
oscuro film noir style of black and white with exquisitely framed
and composed shots. But instead of being a film noir murder mys-
tery, it is a film noir political mystery with an exceptionally strong
romantic core. At first, audiences were surprised, possibly because
its genre was mixed. But soon enough it became a major success
and won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.

The political context involves Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart),
a club owner in North Africa in a Free French colony. He begins as
an anti-hero, saying, “I don’t stick my neck out for nobody.” But his
background includes anti-Nazi activity in Ethiopia and Spain. In ad-
dition, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) shows up in Rick’s Place and is
recognized as an international leader of the resistance to Germany.
Laszlo arrives in Casablanca to get letters of transit that will permit
him to fly to neutral Portugal and from there to America.

The context of romance involves Rick and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), who meet in
1940, weeks before the Germans march into Paris. They have an affair and vow to leave
Paris together. But before she fell in love with Rick, Ilsa had been told that her husband,
Victor Laszlo, had died in a German concentration camp. However, when she and Rick
were to leave Paris, she discovered Victor was alive and as a result she left Rick standing
alone at the last train out of Paris, breaking his heart.

More than a year later they meet again in Casablanca. Rick, who was destroyed emo-
tionally by her leaving him, sees her and says, “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all
the world, she walks into mine” (Figure 12-15).

FIGURE 12-14
Rick, Captain Renault, Victor
Laszlo, and Ilsa Lund meet at
Rick’s Place. Rick and Ilsa had
been lovers the year before, and
the scene is tense.

©Moviestore collection Ltd/Alamy

FIGURE 12-15
Rick (Humphrey Bogart), who
stopped drinking when the
Germans marched into Paris, is
heartbroken by seeing Ilsa (Ingrid
Bergman) with her husband. He is
still in love with her and “drowns”
himself with alcohol. The tight
shot is profoundly dark, in tune
with Rick’s feelings.

Source: Warner Brothers

continued

323

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Ilsa has Sam (Dooley Wilson) play her and Rick’s
favorite song, “As Time Goes By” (Figure 12-16), thus
setting up a painful memory, and a flashback portrays
Rick and Ilsa’s short love affair in Paris. Among the many
famous quotations from the film, it is in Paris where Rick
first admires Ilsa and says, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Much of the flashback film footage of German armies on
the move is authentic, showing that as early as January
1942 people in the United States knew what was really
happening in Europe. They also knew about concentra-
tion camps.

The role music plays in Casablanca may be surprising,
but the premise is that Rick is running a nightclub, and
the club has its own orchestra as well as entertainers
who play music, sing songs, and dance. Max Steiner
was the composer for the film, but he based his work on
some of the most memorable music in the club, “As Time
Goes By,” and “La Marseillaise,” the French national
anthem. The background music hints at those melodies
while providing the usual mood changers typical of fea-
ture films.

One of the most powerful and moving moments of
the film is when the German officers enter Rick’s club
and eventually rise to sing a famous German song, “Watch on the Rhine.” Victor Laszlo
cannot sit, listening to it, and rises and tells Rick’s orchestra to play “La Marseillaise”
(Figure 12-17). The leader of the orchestra looks to Rick, who nods his head, and the
entire audience in the club rises to sing the French national anthem, drowning out
the German officers. This scene is the dramatic crisis of the film because the German
commandant, Major Strasser, closes down the club and begins pursuing Victor Laszlo
with a seriousness he has not shown before. The music
is indeed powerful. It has been pointed out that with
only three American major actors in the film (Bogart,
Dooley, and Joy Paige), the rest of the actors were pri-
marily refugees. Many of them stood with the music
playing and cried honest tears for their own circum-
stances. Today, seventy-five years later, the issues of
war, fascism, and tragic romance are as relevant as they
were when Casablanca was made.

The latter part of the film centers on the letters of
transit, taken from two murdered German couriers and
passed on to Rick to keep for Ugarte (Peter Lorre), who
is captured and killed. Soon Victor Laszlo learns that
Rick has the letters, and Ilsa tries to get Rick to give
them to her. He refuses, and in a dramatic scene she
pulls a gun on him but does not shoot. It is left vague
but implied that she breaks down and confesses her love
for him, and they apparently make love one last time.
They agree to give Victor one of the letters of transit
and then they will go off together. 

FIGURE 12-16
Ilsa tells Sam (Dooley Wilson) to play “As Time Goes By.” She says, “Play it,
Sam.” The song brings back the pain Rick felt in Paris. It was “their song.”
Sam knows the pain the song will cause, but he plays it, anyway, because
he cannot refuse Ilsa. This moment is one of the key musical instances in
which the film makes an emotional appeal to the audience.

Source: Warner Brothers

FIGURE 12-17 
Victor Laszlo leads the orchestra in singing “La Marseillaise,” the French
national anthem, drowning out the Nazis singing “ Watch on the Rhine.”

Source: Warner Brothers

324

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Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) appears to
stop Victor from getting on the plane and draws
his gun on Rick after Rick tells him to drop the
phone; Rick shoots Strasser, with Captain Re-
nault (Claude Rains) watching. As Victor and Il-
sa’s plane is in the air on its way to Lisbon and
then to the United States, the French police ar-
rive and Renault, surprisingly, tells them Strasser
has been shot and that they should “round up the
usual suspects” (Figure 12-18). 

Ilsa expects that the deal she made with Rick
would send Victor off alone and that she and
Rick would be together. But at the airport, Rick
changes things. He knows Ilsa belongs with her
husband and that if she stays she will regret it,
“Maybe not now, but much later on” (Figure 12-
19). This scene is almost a cliché, but the point
was that in December of 1942 Germany con-
trolled virtually all of Europe and had millions in concentration camps where genocide
was the protocol. When Casablanca was made, there was absolutely no certainty that the
Nazis would be defeated. Rick’s act of sacrifice and his experience with Victor Lazslo
and Ilsa Lund—giving them the letters of transit—meant that he was no longer a by-
stander in the worldwide struggle against fascism. Rick, who said he would stick his
neck out for no one, ends by having lost his club and risked everything for a cause.
Ultimately, the film establishes its moral center in Rick.

The film ends with Renault and Rick deciding they should leave Casablanca for
Brazzaville, another Free French settlement, until things cooled down. In a film full
of famous quotations, Rick says, walking away with Renault, “Louie, I think this is the
beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

FIGURE 12-18
Captain Renault orders his
policemen “to round up the
usual suspects,” one of the most
memorable lines in Casablanca.

Source: Warner Brothers

FIGURE 12-19 
Rick tells Ilsa that she must go
with her husband. Even though
they both love each other, Rick
sacrifices his love so that she can be
with her husband, doing the work
of the Resistance that will defeat
Germany.

Source: Warner Brothers

325

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ChApTEr 12

exPeriMenTaTion
In the early days of film, complex technical problems were at the forefront—light-
ing, zooming, montage, and the like. Most of these problems now have answers,
thanks especially to early filmmakers such as Griffith and Eisenstein. Today the
problems center on what to do with these answers. For example, Andy Warhol,
primarily a painter and sculptor, did some interesting work in raising questions
about film, especially about the limits of realism, for realism is often praised in
films. But when Warhol put a figure in front of a camera to sleep for a full eight
hours, we got the message: We want a transformation of reality that gives us insight
into reality, not reality itself. The difference is important because it is the difference
between reality and art. Except when unconscious or dreaming, we have reality in
front of us all the time. We have art much less frequently. realistic art is a selection
of elements that convey the illusion of reality. When we see Warhol’s almost direct
transcription of reality on film, we understand that selecting—through directing
and editing—is crucial to film art. The power of most striking films is often their
ability to condense experience—to take a year, for example, and portray it in ninety
minutes. This condensation is what Marcel proust, one of the greatest of novelists,
expected from the novel:

PERCEPTION KEY Focus on Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca
1. Examine the control Curtiz uses over lighting in the film. How does he intensify the

emotional content of specific scenes?
2. Review the historical situation of the early years of World War II. What had hap-

pened in Europe that made this film seem important to an American audience?
3. Film noir was a technique Curtiz had mastered in earlier films, all focused on crime

and the terror it engendered in society. How effective was the film noir technique
in portraying the political circumstances in this film?

4. Comment on the relationships of men and women in this film. What does Curtiz’s
care in developing their characters reveal about how men regard women? Is his
focus limited to the way in which men and women related to each other in the
1940s, or is what he observes true today?

5. The setting of the film is North Africa, in a French colony. The colony was gov-
erned by the Vichy French, not the Germans. Research the Vichy government in
the 1940s. What does the film reveal about how that government functioned?

6. Ilsa accuses Rick—when he is drinking heavily—of feeling sorry for himself. What
does she mean by this, and what is your view? Is he reacting badly?

7. Rick is portrayed as an anti-hero—one who would not act to save others. He will
not “stick his neck out.” What was the U.S. position on joining the war effort
during the time of the film in early 1941, before Pearl Harbor caused the nation to
declare war? Is Rick a symbol?

8. Comment on the artistic quality of the shots in the film. What kinds of shots—
long, short, medium, and so on—seem to be most successful? How does the artis-
tic quality of the shots help reveal the content of the film?

9. Given the seriousness of the world war, does the mix of politics and romance
cheapen the issues and values developed in the film, or does it enrich them?

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327

CINEMA

Every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which this book comes to disturb us as might a
dream, but a dream more lucid, and of a more lasting impression, than those which come
to us in sleep; why, then, for a space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and
sorrows in the world, a few of which, only, we should have to spend years of our actual
life in getting to know, and the keenest, the most intense of which would never have
been revealed to us because the slow course of their development stops our perception of
them. It is the same in life; the heart changes . . . but we learn of it only from reading or
by imagination; in reality its alteration . . . is so gradual that . . . we are spared the actual
sensation of change.2

Some films address the question of the portrayal of reality. Antonioni’s Blow
Up (1966), for example, has the thread of a narrative holding it together: a possi-
ble murder and the efforts of a magazine photographer, through the medium of
his own enlargements, to confirm the reality of that murder. But anyone who saw
the film might assume that the continuity of the narrative was not necessarily the
most important part of the film. Much of the meaning seems to come out of what
were essentially disconnected moments: an odd party, some strange driving around
London, and some extraordinary tennis played without a ball. What seemed most
important, perhaps, was the role of the film itself in suggesting certain realities. In
a sense, the murder was a reality only after the film uncovered it. Is it possible that
Antonioni is saying something similar about the reality that surrounds the very film
he is creating? There is a reality, but where? Is Blow Up more concerned with the
film images as reality than it is with reality outside the film? If you see this fascinat-
ing film, be sure you ask that puzzling question.

Some more-extreme experimenters remove the narrative entirely and simply
present successions of images, almost in the manner of a nightmare or a drug
experience. Sometimes the images are abstract, nothing more than visual pat-
terns, as with abstract painting. Some use familiar images, but modify them with
unexpected time-lapse photography and distortions of color and sound. Among
the more successful films of this kind are Koyaanisqatsi (1983) and Brooklyn
Bridge (1994).

Animated Film

The public generally is convinced that film, like literature and drama, must have
plots and characters. Thus, even filmic cartoons are rarely abstract, although they
are not photographs but drawings. Such animated films as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia
(1940), and Dumbo (1941) have yielded to enormously successful later films such as
The Yellow Submarine (1968), Beauty and the Beast (1993), The Lion King (1994), Toy
Story (1995), Pocahontas (1995), and Shrek (2004).

Computer-generated images have long replaced the hand-drawn figures that
characterized the earliest animations. The computer image permits lifelike move-
ment, facial expression, and stylized figures that speak an international emotional
language. Zootopia (Figure 12-20) not only earned more than a billion dollars in
release but also won the Academy Award for best animated feature film.

2Marcel proust, Swann’s Way, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff (New York: Modern Library, 1928), p. 119.

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ChApTEr 12

It may be unreasonable to consider animated films as experimental, and it is cer-
tainly unreasonable to think of them as children’s films, since adult audiences have
made them successful. What they seem to offer an audience is a realistic approach
to fantasy that has all the elements of the traditional narrative film. This may also be
true of animated films using clay figures and puppets for actors. These have had a
narrower audience than cartoon and computer animations and have been restricted
to film festivals, which is where most experimental films are presented.

FIGURE 12-20
Zootopia (2016).

©photo 12/Alamy

PERCEPTION KEY Make a Film
The easy availability of video recorders makes it possible for you to make a digital film.
With a video camera, you may need to rerecord on a computer, reorganizing your
visual material to take advantage of the various shot and editing techniques.

1. Develop a short narrative plan for your shots. After shooting, edit your shots into
a meaningful sequence.

2. Instead of a narrative plan, choose a musical composition that is especially inter-
esting to you and then fuse moving images with the music.

3. Short of making a film, try some editing by finding and clipping from twenty to
thirty “stills” from magazines, brochures, newspapers, or other sources. Choose
stills you believe may have some coherence and then arrange them in such a way
as to make a meaningful sequence. How are your stills affected by rearrangement?
This project might be more interesting if you use a PowerPoint presentation. Then
add a soundtrack to heighten interest by clarifying the meaning of the sequence.

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CINEMA

SuMMary
Cinema is a complex and challenging art because of the necessary and often difficult
collaboration required among many people, especially the director, scriptwriter, ac-
tors, photographer, and editor. The range of possible subject matters is exception-
ally extensive for cinema. The resources of the director in choosing shots and the
imagination of the editor in joining shots provide the primary control over the mate-
rial. Such choices translate into emotional responses evoked from the audience. The
point of view that can be achieved with the camera is similar to that of the unaided
human eye, but because of technical refinements, such as the wide-angle zoom lens
and moving multiple cameras, the dramatic effect of vision can be greatly intensi-
fied. Because it is easy to block out everything irrelevant to the film in a dark theater,
our participative experiences with cinema tend to be especially strong and much
longer, of course, than with other visual arts. The temptation to identify with a given
actor or situation in a film may distort the participative experience by blocking our
perception of the form of the film, thus causing us to miss the content. The combi-
nation of sound, both dialogue and music (or sound effects), with the moving image
helps engage our participation. Cinema is the most popular of our modern arts.

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330

Photo: Kira Perov. Courtesy Bill Viola Studio

The evoluTion of Television
Television, the most widely used artistic medium in contemporary culture, grew out
of the radio broadcasts of the early decades of the twentieth century and developed
in part from the traditions of drama and film. Because it was a product of a com-
mercial culture, and because the Federal Communications Commission and gov-
ernmental agencies that oversaw its early development insisted on its goals being
devoted more to entertainment than to education, television has been shaped by
the needs of advertisers. This was not inevitable but a decision made by politicians
in the United States. Television developed differently in the United Kingdom and
other nations; but now, more than eighty years after the widespread introduction
of television programming, the model established by the United States has become
the norm.

Television was originally ignored by filmmakers because the inherent limitations
of the medium held them back. Standard-definition television images are projected
at thirty frames per second, instead of twenty-four, in order to overcome the lim-
itations of the low-resolution image itself. The pixels in a video screen do not admit
the range of contrast and the level of detail and resolution that are common to the
continuous imagery of film. The interior of the cathode-ray tube has 525 vertical
by 740 horizontal lines of pixels (a pixel is a group of green, red, and blue light-
emitting phosphors), and because of technical limitations, the actual screen size is
close to 480 by 740 pixels.

Today the use of digital projection and digital cameras has made some of those
limitations less significant. Current television screens are large enough to create

C h a p t e r 13

TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART

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TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART

home theaters. High-definition broadcast standards have closed the gap between
television and film to a considerable extent. High-definition flat screens can contain
1,080 vertical by 1,920 horizontal pixels, permitting vastly improved details from
both broadcast television and DVDs.

331

PERCEPTION KEY  Television and Cinema
1. To what extent does watching a film on television make it more difficult to have a

participatory experience as compared to watching the same film in a theater? Does
the size of the moving image determine or limit your participatory experience? Is
the absence of a large audience a contributing factor?

2. What kinds of shots dominate television programming: close-ups, midrange shots,
long shots? Are there any visual techniques used in television that are not used in
film?

3. The video screen has less tonal range than film and less ability to represent
detail. How do television programs try to accommodate these limitations? How
pronounced are the differences in visual quality between television and film?

The subjecT MaTTer of Television and video arT
The moving image is as much the subject matter of television and video art as it
is of film. The power of the image to excite a viewer, combined with music and
sound, is more and more becoming an intense experience as the technology of the
medium develops. Surround sound, large projection screens and LCDs, and the
development of digital high definition have transformed the “small box” into an
overwhelming and encompassing television experience that can produce almost
the same kind of participation that we experience in a movie theater.

The subject matter of a given television program can range from the social in-
teraction of characters on programs such as Seinfeld (1990–1998), Friends (NBC,
1994–2004), and NCIS (CBS, 2003–present) (Figure 13-1) all the way to the politi-
cal and historical issues revealed in Roots (ABC, 1977) and Holocaust (NBC, 1978).
Programming can be realistic or surrealistic, animated or with living actors, but in
all cases the power of the moving image is as important in television as in cinema.

Video art is, however, the antithesis of commercial entertainment television.
Because broadcast television centers on the needs of advertisers and depends on
reaching specific demographics, it has become slick and predictable. There is little
room for experimentation in commercial television, but the opposite is true for
video art. Artists such as Nam June Paik and Bill Viola are distinct in that their work
has pioneered the use of video terminals, video imagery and sound, and video pro-
jection as fundamental to the purposes of the video artist.

Instead of a single image to arrest our attention, Nam June Paik often uses simul-
taneous multiple video monitors with different images whose intense movement
is rarely linear and sequential, as in conventional broadcast television. His images
appear and disappear rapidly, sometimes so rapidly that it is difficult to know ex-
actly what they are. Paik has inspired numerous contemporary artists who work

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332

CHAPTER 13

with and interact with monitors to achieve various effects. Bill Viola’s work is often
composed of multiple projected images using slow motion and low-volume sound.
His work is hypnotic and so profoundly anticommercial that it forces us to look
at the combination of visual and aural imagery in completely new ways. Video art
surprises us and teaches us patience at the same time.

Just as television programs and films can be experienced on computer screens,
cell phones, and tablets, the same is true for video art because it is an international
movement. The Internet permits us to see the work of a great many leading video
artists from around the world at our convenience.

coMMercial Television
For more than half a century in the United States, a few major networks—National
Broadcasting Corporation, Columbia Broadcasting System, American Broadcasting
Company, Public Broadcasting System, and Fox Entertainment—dominated com-
mercial television. In the United Kingdom, the British Broadcasting Corporation
was the primary source of commercial television. Similar patterns existed in other
nations. Since 2000, however, the spread of cable service has enlarged the sources
of programming and has begun a major shift in the habits of viewers, who now have

FIGURE 13-1
NCIS, Naval Crime Investigation Service.
Set in Washington, D.C., this long-
running series has been popular since
2003.

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS. ©2009 CBS
Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved/Courtesy
of Everett Collection

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333

TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART

a much greater range of choices among hundreds of channels. Today cable service
is threatened by innovation because the habits of viewers are constantly changing.

The Television Series

Studying the content of early situation comedies reveals much about the social struc-
ture of the family and the larger community. Early comedies were often ethnic in
content: The Goldbergs (CBS, 1949–1955) portrayed a caring Jewish family in New
York City. The show ended when the family “moved” to the suburbs. The Life of Riley
(NBC, 1953–1958) starred William Bendix as a riveter in a comedy about an Irish
working-class family in Los Angeles. Amos and Andy (CBS, 1951–1953), which moved
from radio, was set in Harlem, but because of complaints about black stereotypes, it
was soon dropped by the network. Yet it had been a popular program even among
some African Americans. These early shows, including The Honeymooners (NBC, 1952–
1956, specials in 1970), with Jackie Gleason, usually portrayed urban working-class
families facing some of the same everyday problems as did the audience.

All in the Family (1971–1979) (Figure 13-2) was something different from the ethnic
comedies. Archie Bunker was the model of the unaware bigot, prejudiced against
Jews, blacks, and foreigners. At the time, the politically incorrect language was
shocking on mainstream television. But the show was considered one of the most im-
portant comedies of its era. The subjects it tackled—racism, homosexuality, feminism,
the Vietnam War, abortion, rape, impotence, cancer, religion, and more—became
part of the national conversation. Because the Bunkers had their daughter, Gloria,
and her husband, Michael, living with them, the show offered a contrast between the
war years generation and the Baby Boomers, who saw the world with a different lens.

FIGURE 13-2
All in the Family. In a typical scene
from the series, Archie Bunker
(Carroll O’Connor) spars with his
neighbor, George Jefferson (Sherman
Hemsley).

©Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy

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CHAPTER 13

The Structure of the Self-Contained Episode

The early television series programs were self-contained half- or one-hour narra-
tives that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. The episodes of each program
were broken by commercial interruption, so the writers made sure you wanted to
see what happened next by creating cliff-hangers. But each episode was complete
in itself. Because there was no background preparation needed, the viewer could
see the episodes in any order and be fully satisfied. Until late in the 1980s, that was
the standard for a series. In the popular western series Bonanza (NBC, 1959–1973),
the characters generally remained the same, the situations were familiar and ap-
propriate to the locale, and the sense of completion at the end of each episode was
satisfying, as it is, for instance, in most films.

The pattern was constant in most genres of dramas. Recent crime dramas, Law
and Order (NBC, 1990–2010), CSI (CBS, 2000–2015), and each of their “branded”
versions, follow the same pattern. Each of these successful series depends on a
formula. Law and Order, the most successful show of its kind, relies on interpreting
versions of recent crimes (“ripped from the headlines”). There is a clear-cut division
between the police, who investigate a crime, and the prosecutors, who take the
case to court. CSI (Figure 13-3) in its several versions usually follows two separate
killings in each episode and spends a great deal of time in the lab, analyzing finger-
prints and other forensic details. So far, these have held the attention of mass audi-
ences. But the structure of these shows is predictable, and each episode is, for the
most part, complete so that no one who comes to any episode needs to be “brought
up to speed” in order to appreciate the action.

The important thing about the usual series episode on television is that it is
self-contained. It does not need preparation in advance, nor does it need explana-
tion. It is a “one-off” each time the program airs. What do not change—usually—are
the characters, the locale, and the time when the program airs.

PERCEPTION KEY  Early Situation Comedies
Because early comedies are widely available from downloads and on DVD, you may
be able to view a sample episode from one of the series mentioned in the text, as well
as from Leave It to Beaver, Gilligan’s Island, Father Knows Best, Happy Days, I Love Lucy, or
M*A*S*H, in order to respond to the following:

1. How does the structure of the situation comedy differ from that of a standard film?
2. Who are the characters in the comedy you have seen, and what is their social sta-

tus? Is there any awareness of the political environment in which they live?
3. What are the ambitions of the families in any of these situation comedies? What

are they trying to achieve in life? Are you sympathetic to the older characters? The
younger characters?

4. Compare any one of these situation comedies with a comedy currently seen on
TV. What are the obvious differences? Based on your comparison, how has society
changed since the earlier situation comedy? Do any of the changes you note imply
that these comedies have a content that includes a commentary on the social life of
their times?

5. What are the lasting values—if any—revealed in the early situation comedies? If
there are any, which ones seem to have changed profoundly?

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The Television Serial

One type of program with which commercial television has set itself apart from
the standard production film is the serial. Whereas the standard production film is
about 120 minutes long, a television serial production can be open-ended. Soap op-
eras, daytime television’s adaptation of radio’s ongoing series, are broadcast at the
same hour each weekday. Viewers can begin with any episode and be entertained,
even though each episode has only a minor resolution. Early television soap operas
such as Another World (NBC, 1964–1999), The Secret Storm (CBS, 1954–1974), and
Search for Tomorrow (CBS, 1951–1986) were continuing stories focusing on personal
problems involving money, sex, and questionable behavior in settings reflecting the
current community. In Spanish-language programming, telenovelas do the same.

FIGURE 13-3
CSI, Crime Scene Investigation.
Elizabeth Shue and Ted Danson
have “a meeting of the minds” from
an episode of one of the longest-
running police procedural programs.

Photo by Michael Yarish/©CBS/Courtesy
Everett Collection

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CHAPTER 13

In a sense, the structure of the soap opera contributed to television’s develop-
ment of the distinctive serial structure that remains one of the greatest strengths of
the medium. Robert J. Thompson has said, “The series is, indeed, broadcasting’s
unique aesthetic contribution to Western art.”1 The British Broadcasting Corpora-
tion can be said to have begun the development of the serial show with historical
epics such as the hugely popular open-ended Upstairs, Downstairs (BBC, 1971–1975)
and twelve-part I, Claudius (BBC, 1976), both of which are now available from down-
load sources and on DVD.

Roots: The Triumph of an American Family The first important serial program in
the United States was Rich Man, Poor Man (ABC, 1976), a twelve-episode adaptation
of a novel by Irwin Shaw. But the power of the serial was made most evident by the
production of Roots (ABC, 1977), which was seen by 130 million viewers, the largest
audience of any television series (Figure 13-4). More than 85 percent of all television
households were tuned to one or more of the episodes.

The subtitle of the serial, The Triumph of an American Family, focused the pub-
lic’s attention on family and family values. Alex Haley’s novel represented itself
as a search for roots, for the ancestors who shaped himself and his family. Afri-
can American slaves were ripped from their native soil, and the meager records of
their travel to the West did not include information about their families. But Haley
showed how, by his persistence, he was able to press far enough to find his original
progenitor, Kunta Kinte, in Africa.

Roots, which lasted twelve hours, explored the moral issues relative to slavery as
well as racism and the damage it does. The network was uneasy about the production

1Quoted in Glen Creeber, Serial Television (London: British Film Institute, 2004), p. 6.

FIGURE 13-4
Roots. In this scene from Alex Haley’s television
miniseries, the most widely watched drama of its
time, Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) represents Haley’s
ancestor as he is brought in chains from Africa.

Courtesy Everett Collection

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337

TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART

and feared it might not be popular, which is the primary reason the twelve epi-
sodes were shown on successive nights. The opening scenes of the program, not
in Haley’s novel, show white actor Ed Asner, then a popular television figure, as a
conscience-stricken slave boat captain. This was intended to make the unpleasant-
ness of the reality of slavery more tolerable to a white audience. The network ex-
ecutives were, as we know now, wrong to worry, because the series captured the
attention of the mass of American television viewers. Never had so many people
watched one program. Never had so many Americans faced questions related to
the institution of slavery in America and what it meant to those who were enslaved.
Roots changed the way many people thought about African Americans, and it
changed the way most Americans thought about television as merely entertainment.

Home Box Office: The Sopranos From 1999 to 2007, in eighty-six episodes, David
Chase’s epic portrait of Tony Soprano and his family riveted HBO cable viewers.
Unlike all other shows in the gangster style, The Sopranos (Figure 13-5) portrayed
Tony as a fragile, haunted man seeing a psychiatrist. His dysfunctional family at-
tracted much more attention than any normal Mafia activities would ordinarily have
done. Because of the show’s quirkiness, the major networks, ABC, CBS, and Fox, re-
jected the series. Because HBO was a subscription service, and not available on the
airwaves, The Sopranos had the advantage of being able to use language character-
istic of mob characters, an advantage that made the series achieve more credibility.

The Sopranos’s narrative line was extended throughout the six-season run of the
show. The standard episodic self-contained structure was abandoned early on and, as a
result, HBO established new expectations on the part of its audience. The Sopranos was

FIGURE 13-5
The Sopranos. Paulie Walnuts (Tony
Sirico) and Tony Soprano (James
Gandolfini) in front of their meeting
place, Centanni’s Meat Market.
Paulie is getting a suntan.

Source: HBO

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CHAPTER 13

the first major extended serial to change the way in which viewers received their dra-
matic entertainment. In 1999 that was completely new to television, but today it is com-
mon for viewers to wait before watching all the episodes of a given season. The term
“bingeing” was applied to viewers who watched the first thirteen episodes of a Netflix
release of House of Cards, a study of British politics, all at a marathon single sitting.

HBO has produced several extended series since The Sopranos, including Dead-
wood (2004–2006), Boardwalk Empire (2010–2014), and Game of Thrones (2011–
present). None of these, however, rises to the artistic level of its finest production,
The Wire (2002–2008).

Home Box Office: The Wire While The Sopranos portrayed the life of a Mafia
family, another crime drama aimed at portraying the city of Baltimore as a way
of demonstrating that all the segments of a community are interwoven. David
Simon, formerly a reporter for a Baltimore newspaper, and Ed Burns, a former
homicide detective, are responsible for creating the drama, drawing on their per-
sonal experience. The Wire is about the frustrations of a police unit that tries to
use wiretapping to track the progress of street criminals deep in the drug trade
(Figure 13-6). Their successes and failures are the primary material of the drama.

The Wire won many awards over its five seasons, although it never won an Emmy.
Critics have described the drama as perhaps the best ever produced for television.
Its success depended on a gritty realism that often introduced uncomfortable ma-
terial. The drama focused on six segments of the community: the law, with police,
both black and white, using sometimes illegal techniques in response to frustration;
the street drug trade, largely dominated by young black men; the port of Baltimore,
with its illegal immigration schemes and other criminal activity, run essentially by
white union workers; the politicians of the city, all with their own compromises,
both black and white; the public school system, which houses some of the criminals

FIGURE 13-6
The Wire. In this scene from the final
season of the series, Marlo Stanfield
(Jamie Hector) and Felicia “Snoop”
Pearson (Felicia Pearson) are
young drug lords whose irrational
violence alarms their older criminal
counterparts, whose own behavior
was murderous enough.

Source: HBO

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TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART

for a while; and the newspapers, whose news coverage turns out not always to be
honestly produced.

The bleakness of the portrait of the city is a call to action. The real mayor of Baltimore
approved the project and gave considerable support for its production in the face of a
possibly damaging view of the city partly because cities like Baltimore all face the same
range of problems. Seeing these problems for what they are helps to clarify the true
values that all such cities must recognize. A true portrait is a first step in restitution.

Michael K. Williams, who plays Omar Little (Figure 13-7)—a gun-wielding thief
who specializes in robbing criminals, who cannot go to the police—stated in an in-
terview that “what The Wire is, is an American story, an American social problem.
There’s a Wire in every . . . city.” Not every city is willing to face the truth. Omar Little
is gay, dangerous, but living by a rigid code of his own design. He was in many of the
sixty episodes. The NAACP presented him an award for his acting in The Wire.

The drama appeared, like The Sopranos, on Home Box Office. Numerous websites
detail the episodes and provide information on each character in the drama as well as
on the critical reception of the drama. The extent of the drama, which is serial rather
than episodic, is much greater than what could be achieved in a feature film. The
complexity of the issues that face the law, the horror of criminal life in the streets,
and the machinations of high-level politicians facing the same problems most large
American cities face needed an extensive and far-reaching drama perfectly suited to
television.

Three Emmy Winners

In recent years most of the television programs that have won the Primetime
Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series have been serial in nature rather than
self-contained single programs.

FIGURE 13-7
The Wire. Omar Little (Michael
Kenneth Williams), an avenging
spirit, intends to wreak vengeance on
Marlo and Snoop, who have killed his
lover and his close friend.

Source: HBO

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CHAPTER 13

By its third season, the British serial drama Downton Abbey (PBS, 2010–2015)
(Figure 13-8) had become one of the most watched television programs in the
world. Almost the diametrical opposite of The Sopranos and The Wire, it presents a
historical period in England in which the language is formal by comparison and the
manners impeccable. What we see is the upheaval of the lives of the British aristoc-
racy in the wake of historical forces that cannot be ignored or stemmed.

The first season began with a major historical event, the sinking of the Titanic in
1912. Down with the ship went Patrick Crawley, the young heir to Downton Abbey.
The result is that, much to the dismay of the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, the
great house will now go to the Earl of Grantham’s distant cousin, Matthew Crawley, a
person unknown to the family. Young Matthew enters as a middle-class solicitor (law-
yer) with little interest in the ways of the aristocracy. But soon he finds himself in love
with his distant cousin, Lady Mary Crawley, beginning a long and complicated love
interest that becomes one of the major centers of the drama for three seasons. Lord
Grantham and his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham, have three daughters, and there-
fore the question of marriage is as important in this drama as in any Jane Austen novel.

In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and the resul-
tant war in the Middle East, a number of television shows have centered their action
on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Homeland (Showtime, 2011–present) (Figure 13-9),
with Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, both
of the CIA, has been a durable and timely excursion into the Arab world as it has
suffered war and devastation and has brought the threat of terror to Europe and
the West. One of the twists in the show is that Carrie Mathison is bipolar and needs
to be on lithium to function normally. As a result, she sometimes cracks up and
behaves uncontrollably. Some critics have seen this as a reflection of the West’s re-
sponse to the threats of terrorism. The show won the Emmy for best drama in 2012.

Game of Thrones (2011–present) (Figure 13-10) won the Emmy for best drama in
2015 and 2016. The show is based on the book by George R. R. Martin. It is a fan-
tasy historical program that seems to represents medieval society in a northern Eu-
ropean wintry landscape featuring an immense ice wall keeping out the barbarians
and whitewalkers. From the beginning, Game of Thrones features incredible cru-
elty, torture, murders, deceit, sexual depravity, and the kind of vicious world that
only a cable provider like HBO could make available. The story lines are so dense
and complex that there is a discussion and partial synopsis after every episode.

FIGURE 13-8
Downton Abbey. Mr. Carson, the butler,
and Lady Mary Crawley try out their
new gramophone. The introduction
of new technology—electricity, the
telephone, and radio—added to the
appeal of the series.

Nick Briggs/©Carnival Films for Masterpiece/
PBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

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TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART

Yet this show has the dimensions of epic literature and production values that are,
at the minimum, astonishing. “The Battle of the Bastards,” episode 60, is bloody
and immense in scope. Even though it is fantasy, the effort was made to replicate
the destruction of superior Roman troops at the battle of Cannae (216 BCE) by
Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who enclosed the Romans and suffered them
their greatest defeat in a legendary battle. Game of Thrones also alludes to Shake-
speare’s historical plays, which revealed the deception and cunning that attended
the courts of kings. Unlike Shakespeare, however, the show uses dragon eggs that
are a gift in episode 1 and become full-blown flying warriors in episode 60.

FIGURE 13-9
Homeland. Carrie Mathison (Claire
Danes) talks with a contact in season
five. 

©Showtime Networks/Photofest

FIGURE 13-10
Game of Thrones. Cersei, now the
Queen of the Seven Kingdoms,
seated on the Iron Throne at the end
of season six.

Source: HBO

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FOCUS ON The Americans
The Americans (FX, 2013–present) is a sleeper of a
serial drama—in several senses. For one thing, it
took a while for the series to catch on to the pub-
lic and build an audience. But by the second season
critics were calling it the best series on television. It
is a sleeper in another sense: The major characters,
Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Mat-
thew Rhys), are a sleeper cell of Russian spies living
in Washington, D.C., as ordinary Americans   (Fig-
ure 13-11). Such an arrangement might seem im-
probable except for the fact that the series is based
on actual sleeper cells discovered in Massachusetts
in 2005. There may be more.

Both Elizabeth and Philip were trained scrupu-
lously in Russia before being placed in suburban
America. They knew American customs and were
warned never to speak anything but English, even to other Russian agents. As a re-
sult they appear totally ordinary, having dinner with friends and raising two children,
Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Kiedrich Sellati). They have to answer to their con-
trols, Claudia (Margot Martindale) and Gabriel (Frank Langella) (Figure 13-12). But
these controls constantly refer back to a superior power, the Center, which makes
sometimes unreasonable demands on Elizabeth and Philip. In this sense, the char-
acters have a license to kill and a demand to be improvisational, but at root they are
pawns of the system.

From the first episode, Philip finds America remarkable and alluring. When he and
Elizabeth arrive in their first motel room, Philip is astonished to find a working air con-
ditioner. We think for a while that he may have his
head turned, but Elizabeth is staunch and later even
reports to Claudia that Philip may be unreliable. As
a result, in a later episode, Philip is kidnapped and
beaten to make him confess he is a spy. But his
kidnappers are Russian agents testing him, and he
realizes what Elizabeth has done. It shakes their re-
lationship for an episode or two.

Elizabeth and Philip have an arranged marriage
that changes and develops as the series progresses.
They gradually begin to love one another and they
wish well for their children. However, as Paige in
season five begins to realize that her parents are
not just travel agents, but also spies, she becomes
involved and Philip fears for her (Figure 13-13). He
wants her not to be a spy like him, but Gabriel, who
acts as a grandfather figure to them, implies that he
is unable to help him if the Center wishes her to be one of them (Figure 13-14). As it
is, Elizabeth seems eager for Paige to be permitted to follow their path if she wishes.

Such tensions abound through the first five years of the serial. We see problems in
episode one that show up in the fifth season. Allusions to Abraham Lincoln are frequent
early and late, with comparisons to the current president, Ronald Reagan. The time
period is that of the 1980s.

FIGURE 13-11 
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings
and Matthew Rhys as Philip
Jennings. They live in a modest
home with period cars (mostly
Oldsmobiles) and appear to live
a normal life as owners of a travel
agency. Their cover permits them
to travel frequently on their
operations and sometimes stay
over for periods of time.

Source: FX

FIGURE 13-12
Frank Langella as Gabriel and Margot
Martindale as Claudia in a late episode
of The Americans. Just as Gabriel is
concerned and sensitive, Claudia is
hardnosed and determined.

Source: FX

342

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When Ronald Reagan was shot in March
1981, the Russian handlers feared that the
blame would be put on Russia. The Secre-
tary of State, Alexander Haig, without the
actual authority, took over the White House
and seemed to be staging a coup. Gabriel
thought he would order a nuclear strike
against Russia. The tensions among the
Russians led Philip and Elizabeth to unearth
munitions and weapons designed to kill the
Secretary of State—and they came close to
being caught. In that incident Elizabeth shot
a policeman who had stopped their vehicle.
The killings are often done by Elizabeth and
are sometimes almost wanton.

Another source of tension early in the series is the arrival of Stan Beeman (Noah
Emmerich), an FBI man assigned to counterterrorism who moves in next door to Eliz-
abeth and Philip. Throughout the seasons Stan and Philip become friends and the two
families interact with dinners and events. Stan’s son, Will, and Paige become romanti-
cally close, making Philip and Elizabeth so concerned that they forbid her to see him
(Figure 13-15). In season five they explain the risks she would be taking with all of their
futures. Paige also moves slightly apart from her parents by joining a church and being
baptized. This detail in season three has curious developments when Philip uses religion
and prayer to dupe a young girl whom he needs in order to gain access to her father’s
top secret papers. 

Both Elizabeth and Philip are expected to use sex to achieve their ends. Both have
sex with people from whom they seek vital information. Early in the series that is not
a major emotional issue, but as they grow
more and more loving toward each other it
begins to arouse deep feelings, even jeal-
ousy. In the process of their making sexual
connections, Philip and Elizabeth usually
wear disguises that include often fanciful
wigs. In some cases they sustain their extra
relationships over long periods of time.

The abrupt scene shifts from one sex-
ual relationship—which constitutes, in
essence, a specific spying operation—to
another are often jarring and demand con-
tinuing attention from one episode to an-
other. The effect is to keep the viewer off
guard, which is a metaphor for the opera-
tives who keep the FBI off guard.

The style of the show is marked by flashbacks to childhood in Russia, during very
hard times. For example, Philip’s father was a guard in a prison camp, and not a nice
man. Elizabeth remembers a fatherless childhood with a mother who somehow avoided
being the prey of a powerful government figure.

The Americans provides its audience with an introduction to the values and prob-
lems of a recent historical era, the era of the Cold War and its thawing in the 1980s.
The threat of nuclear war was in the air. The changes in Russian government after the

FIGURE 13-13 
Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings. She
is an inquisitive child, very liberal in
her politics, and developing a serious
interest in religion. In season five
she has to cope with the knowledge
that her mother killed someone as
part of her life as a Russian spy. She
listens closely as her parents explain
why they feel they are acting for the
greater good of society.

Source: FX

FIGURE 13-14
Frank Langella as Gabriel, the well-
meaning and sensitive control to
whom Elizabeth and Philip answer.
Gabriel seems to have genuine
feelings for Elizabeth, whom
he knew as a child, and now for
Paige, Elizabeth’s daughter.

Source: FX

343

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death of its leader, Leonid Brezhnev, in late
1982 led to changes in American policies.
Russia was fighting in Afghanistan, and the
United States had recently been defeated in
Vietnam. The Americans explores problems
with Russian actions and, from Philip and
Elizabeth’s point of view, problems with what
American authorities were doing.

The Americans has developed into a kind
of time capsule recording a nervous period
in international affairs, told from the point
of view of people who were operatives on
the ground trying to shape the direction of
history. The Americans is not just an intense
spy story but also a historical analysis that is
revelatory of a period in international politics
that shaped the world as we know it today.

FIGURE 13-15 
Elizabeth and Philip explain to Paige how she might reveal their true identity if she
continues to have Will as her boyfriend. Will is the son of the FBI agent next door.
Elizabeth is giving Paige a way to hold her fingers to help her keep her secret even if
she is in a romantic situation with Will.

Source: FX

PERCEPTION KEY  Focus on The Americans
1. To what extent does The Americans contribute to your education? To what extent is

the appeal of the series linked to what you learn from it about the late years of the
Cold War between Russia and America?

2. A great deal of attention is paid to the composition of individual frames of the
drama. Comment on the quality of individual images and on the nature of the
pacing of the drama. To what audience do you feel this series has the most
appeal?

3. How accurate do you think the portrayal of society is in The Americans? What dra-
matic qualities lead you to think it accurate or inaccurate?

4. Some critics have complained about the sudden violence and cold-blooded killing
on the part of Elizabeth. Do you agree? Do you find that the series deserves the
warnings that begin each segment? 

5. How would you compare The Americans with another historical serial drama such as
Homeland, Mad Men, or Downton Abbey?

344

video arT
Unlike commercial dramatic television, video art avoids a dramatic narrative line of
the kind that involves points of tension, climax, or resolution. In this sense, most
video art is the opposite of commercial dramatic television. Whereas television pro-
gramming is often formulaic, predictable in structure, and designed to please a

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345

TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART

mass audience, video art is more experimental and radical in structure, which often
results in its pleasing its audience in a very different way.

Video art dates from the early 1950s. Its most important early artist is Nam June
Paik (1932–2006), whose work opened many avenues of experimentation and in-
spired an entire generation of video artists. Paik’s Video Flag (1986) is a large in-
stallation approximately six feet high by twelve feet wide, with eighty-four video
monitors with two channels of information constantly changing, at a speed that
makes it difficult to identify the specific images on each monitor. The effect is hyp-
notic and strange, but viewers are usually captured by the imagery and the dy-
namism of the several patterns that alternate in the monitors. Paik experimented
widely with video monitors, combining them, in one case, to produce cello music,
played by Charlotte Moorman, a musician and performance artist. In another in-
stallation, Arc Double Face (1985), he produced a large doorway composed of moni-
tors with three separate video channels showing simultaneously.

Peter Campus (b. 1937) has been a seminal figure in video art. His Three Transi-
tions (1973) at New York’s Museum of Modern Art is a five-minute video of three
transformations of his own image. The first shows himself projected on a paper par-
tition. He stands dressed in a yellow sport coat facing the partition. Slowly we see a
knife coming through from the other side of the partition and sticking out through
his back. Slowly the knife slices down through his back, and then we see the par-
tition sliced apart as his hand seems to reach through both the partition and his
back to make room for his head and body coming through. The effect is uncanny.
The second of the transitions shows him rubbing his face, and as he rubs we see
another face showing through, as if his face were layers and each time he rubs he
shows another layer. In the last transition we see him holding a large photograph
of himself, which he sets afire. The fire takes a long time to eat away at the photo-
graph, eventually but slowly burning his own moving image. Campus specializes in
mysterious video experiences in which his educational background, experimental
psychology, comes into play.

Some of the work of the video artists mentioned here can be viewed on You-
Tube, Vimeo, and other video sites online. For instance, Janine Antoni’s Tear (2008)
(Figure 13-16) can be seen on YouTube. Antoni is a performance artist and sculptor
who walks a tightrope in her video Touch (2002), also viewable online. As in most
modern video art, the pacing and rhythms are very slow, especially compared to the
rapid-cut commercial television programs. Antoni has said that the slow movement
of video art has the purpose of engaging all the senses, but, curiously, the slow pac-
ing sometimes becomes hypnotic so that one participates with the work on a very
different level even as compared with looking at a painting.

The Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist was given the entire New Museum in New York
to mount her latest show, Pixel Forest (2016) (Figure 13-17). Rist has been involved
in video art for some years. Her show Ever Is Over All (1997) was said by Peter
Schjeldahl to blur the boundaries of art and entertainment. It was shown at the Mu-
seum of Modern Art in the atrium, where she projected sharply contrasting videos
on adjacent walls. It can be seen online. In 2016 Pixel Forest filled the second, third,
and fourth floors of the New Museum of New York. In some rooms the museum
provided second-hand (sanitized) beds for those who wished to lie down and feel
surrounded by the videos. For the month of January 2017, Rist’s video Open My
Glade (Flatten) (2000–2017) was shown every evening in Times Square from 11:57

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CHAPTER 13

FIGURE 13-16
Janine Antoni, Tear, 2008. Lead, steel
4,182-pound, 33-inch-diameter
wrecking ball. 11 × 11-foot HD video
projection with surround sound. Janine
Antoni is a sculptor who works in
video. She uses both in Tear.

©Janine Antoni; courtesy of the artist and
Luhring Augustine, New York

FIGURE 13-17
Pipilotti Rist, Pixel Forest. 2016. The
New Museum of New York. For her
second installation in New York, the
Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist had three
floors of the New Museum for her
work. She projected videos on walls,
ceilings, and floors. In several rooms
she had beds for viewers to lie down
as they experienced the show. 

©Leanza/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

jac16871_ch13_330-351.indd 346 12/11/17 12:06 PM

to midnight. For thirty years her work has been influential in forming the video
aesthetic.

Video art is international and growing. The Russian group known as AES+F
Group, composed of four artists, Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich, Evgeny
Svyatsky, and Vladimir Fridkes, formed in 1987 and have shown in several im-
portant exhibitions, such as the Venice Biennale. In 2009 they showed their video
composition The Feast of Trimalchio (Figure 13-18) at the Sydney Biennale in Aus-
tralia. The Feast of Trimalchio figures in a Roman novel by Petronius Arbiter called
The Satyricon and it became a symbol for wasteful opulence and orgiastic enter-
tainment. The AES+F Group have used their imagery to satirize for today what
Petronius satirized for ancient Rome. They set their figures in a modern luxury
hotel on a fantasy island as a protest against the rampant commercialism of mod-
ern Russia.

Doug Aitken mounted a gigantic video projection on the outside walls of the Mu-
seum of Modern Art in New York City in 2007 (Figure 13-19). Sleepwalkers consists
of five thirteen-minute narratives of people of different social classes going to work
at different nighttime jobs. The evening projections were slightly altered with each
presentation. He said about his work,

I wanted to create very separate characters and explore their connections almost through
movement and place. The characters are as diverse as possible and, as these stories come
closer and closer together, you see the shared lines, the connections.2

Aitken has been working in the medium of video for some time and won the
International Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1999 for Electric Earth.

Another remarkable installation that moved from the Getty Museum in Los
Angeles to the National Gallery of Art in London is The Passions (2000–2002), a
study of the uncontrollable human emotions that Viola sees as the passions that

2Quoted in Ellen Wulfhorst, “Sleepwalks” Exhibit Projected on NY’s MOMA, Reuters, January 19, 2007.

FIGURE 13-18
The Feast of Trimalchio (2009–2010),
AES+F Group. Multichannel HD video
installation (9-, 3-, and 1-channel
versions), series of pictures, series
of portfolios with photographs and
drawings.

©2017 AES+F/Artists Rights Society (ARS),
New York

347

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FIGURE 13-19
Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers. Aitken’s projections on the walls of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 2007 attracted a considerable crowd and critical
responses from the media.

©Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times/Redux

EXPERIENCING Jacopo Pontormo and Bill Viola: The Visitation
The most celebrated video artist working today is Bill Viola (b. 1951),
whose work has been exhibited internationally with great acclaim. He is
steeped in the tradition of the old master painters, especially those of the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in northern Europe and Italy. His tech-
niques vary, but one of the most effective is the slow-motion work that
makes it possible to observe every action in great detail. He uses high-
definition video where available and achieves effects that recall great paint-
ings. His work is meditative and deeply thoughtful. The Greeting (1995)
(Figure 13-20) is a projection in heroic size of three women standing
in a cityscape reminiscent of a Renaissance painting. Indeed, the work
was inspired by Jacopo Pontormo’s The Visitation (1578) (Figure 13-21),
a sixteenth-century painting on panel in an Italian Church.

FIGURE 13-20
Bill Viola, The Greeting. 1995. Video/sound installation projected some four times life size. The
movement of the figures, which is very, very slow, is extraordinary to watch in part because we
can examine every moment with the same intensity as our examination of a painting—which The
Greeting in many ways resembles.

Photo: Kira Perov. Courtesy Bill Viola Studio

348

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great artists of the past alluded to in their work. The Quintet of the Astonished
(2000) (Figure 13-22), one of several video installations in the series The Passions,
was projected on a flat-screen monitor, revealing the wide range of emotions that
these figures were capable of. The original footage was shot at 300 frames per
second but then exhibited at the standard television speed of 30 frames per sec-
ond. At times, it looks as if the figures are not moving at all, but eventually the
viewer sees that the expressions on the faces change slowly and the detail by
which they alter is extremely observable, as it would not be at normal speed. The
Passions consists of several different installations, all exploring varieties of emo-
tional expression.

Fire Woman, available online, is an image of a woman standing in front of a wall
of fire (Figure 13-23). Slowly, she falls forward into a deep pool of water, and the
image is revealed to be a reflection. Bill Viola’s work is informed by classical artists
and by his own commitment to a religious sensibility. A practicing Buddhist, he is
deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism. A sense of peace informs his work and his
humanistic spirituality. In his comments about his work, he often observes the re-
ligious impulse as it has been expressed by the artists of the Renaissance whom he
admires, and as it has informed his awareness of spirituality in his own life.

349

The Pontormo is a religious painting. The woman in violet blue in the
center is Mary and the woman in green and orange is her cousin Elizabeth.
They both have halos over their head. Mary tells Elizabeth she is pregnant
(with Jesus) and Elizabeth tells Mary she is pregnant (with John the Bap-
tist). This is a major historic moment (which Pontormo often painted).
Examine the Pontormo for its structure and its organization of colors. The
two figures in the background are witnesses, one very young, one older.
Examine how Viola selects three women and poses them in a similar posi-
tion, but with the young witness in the middle, looking on.

Pontormo’s moment was of great cultural importance in 1578 and
Viola borrows Pontormo to make an important statement as well. We see
it as a greeting of happy women, but with Pontormo’s painting as an echo,
this moment takes on a significant spiritual value. Our age does not see
the same values that the late sixteenth century saw, but we, too, as Viola
reminds us in so much of his work, have moments of spiritual insight and
when one thinks about it, the greeting of any two people resonates spir-
itually as a meeting of minds, a connection of friends, a sense of human
joy.

In The Greeting, the wind blows softly, moving the women’s draped
clothing. Except for the wind, the projection is almost soundless, the
action pointedly slow but ultimately fascinating. The resources of slow-
motion video are greater than we would have thought before seeing these images.
Viola’s techniques produce a totally new means of participation with the images, and our
sense of time and space seems altered in a manner that is revelatory of both the sensa
of the work and the human content of greeting and joy.

After examining these two works, search online for a video of Bill Viola’s The Greeting.
How do you see the relationship between Viola and Pontormo’s work? What has Viola
done to help echo the spiritual significance of Pontormo’s painting? What is different
about your experience of Pontormo’s painting and Viola’s video art?

FIGURE 13-21
Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1556),
The Visitation c. 1528, oil on panel,
79.5 × 61.5 inches. Carmignano,
Pieve di San Michele Arcangelo.

©Remo Bardazzi/Electa/Mondadori
Portfolio/Getty Images

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CHAPTER 13

FIGURE 13-23
Bill Viola, Fire Woman. 2005. Color video
freestanding LCD panel. This installation
is part of a series involving air, earth, fire,
and water, designed for a production of
Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde
performed at the Opéra National de Paris
in 2005.

Photo: Kira Perov. Courtesy Bill Viola Studio

FIGURE 13-22
Bill Viola, The Quintet of the Astonished.
2000. Video/sound installation,
rear projected on a screen mounted
on a wall. The work is a study in the
expression of feelings.

Photo: Kira Perov. Courtesy Bill Viola Studio

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TELEVISION AND VIDEO ART
PERCEPTION KEY  Bill Viola and Other Video Artists

Most of us do not live near an installation by Bill Viola or other video artists, but there
is a great deal of video art online, including some of Viola’s. This Perception Key relies
on your having the opportunity to see some of the important online sites.

1. The James Cohan Gallery website contains a good deal of information about Bill
Viola and his work. It includes video excerpts of him talking about what he does,
and it includes video still samples of his work. Do you find the noncommercial ap-
proach he takes to art satisfying or unsatisfying? What do you feel Viola expects
of his audience?

2. You can see a still from Viola’s installation called City of Man (1989), composed of
three projections, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In this installation,
the images move with speed. The three images are very different and together
form a triptych. Which can you interpret best? Which seems most threatening?
What seems to be the visual message of this installation? How do you think the
alternation of images on and off would affect your concentration on the imagery?

3. Sample video art by going online to the websites of the following artists: Bill Viola,
David Hall, and Tine Louise Kortermand. Which work of art seems most interesting
and most successful? What qualities do you find revealing in the piece you most
admire? In which is the participative experience most intense? In which work is it
easiest to interpret the content?

4. Video art is still in its infancy. If you have access to a video camera and a video mon-
itor, try making a short piece of video art that avoids the techniques and clichés
of commercial television. How do your friends react to it? Describe the techniques
you relied upon to make your work distinct. 

suMMary
Television is the most widely available artistic medium in our culture. The wide-
spread accessibility of video cameras and video monitors has brought television
to a new position as a medium available to numerous artists, both professional
and amateur. Television’s technical limitations, those of resolution and screen size,
have made it distinct from film, but new technical developments are improving the
quality of its imagery and its sound. Commercial television dramas have evolved
their own structures, with episodic programs following a formulaic pattern of crisis
points followed by commercial interruption. The British Broadcasting Corporation
helped begin a novel development that distinguishes television from the commer-
cial film: the open-ended serial, which avoids crisis-point interruption and permits
the medium to explore richer resources of narrative. Video art is, by way of con-
trast, completely anticommercial. It avoids narrative structures and alters our sense
of time and expectation. Because it is in its infancy, the possibilities of video art are
unlike those of any other medium.

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Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1939

Art And Artlike
In Chapter 2, we argued that a work of art is a form-content. The form of a work
of art is more than just an organization of media. Artistic form clarifies, gives us
insight into some subject matter (something important in our world). A work of art
is revelatory of values. Conversely, an artlike work is not revelatory. It has form but
lacks a form-content. But what is revelatory to one person might not be to another.
What is revelatory to one culture might not be to another. As time passes, a work
that was originally not understood as art may become art for both critics and the
public—cave paintings, for example.

It is highly unlikely that the cave painters and their society thought of their works
as art. If one argues that art is entirely in the eye of the beholder, then it is useless
to try to distinguish art from the artlike. But we do not agree that art is entirely in
the eye of the beholder. And we think it is of paramount importance to be able to
distinguish art from the artlike. To fail to do so leaves us in chaotic confusion, with-
out any standards.

It is surely important to keep the boundaries between art and the artlike flexi-
ble, and the artlike should not be blindly disparaged. Undoubtedly, there are many
artlike works—much propaganda, pornography, and shock art, for example—that

C h a p t e r 14

IS IT ART OR
SOMETHING LIKE IT?

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353

may deserve condemnation. But to denigrate the artlike in order to praise art is
critical snobbery. For the most part, the artlike plays a very civilizing role, as does,
for instance, the often marvelous beauty of crafts. To be unaware, however, of the
differences between art and the artlike or to be confused about them weakens our
perceptive abilities. This is especially true in our time, for we are inundated with
myriad works that are labeled art, often on no better grounds than that the maker
says so.

Concepts (beliefs) govern percepts to some extent. Confused concepts lead to
confused perceptions. The fundamental and common feature that is shared by art
and the artlike is the crafting—the skilled structuring of some medium. The fun-
damental feature that separates art from the artlike is the revelatory power of that
crafting, the form-content, the clarification of some subject matter. But we may
disagree about whether a particular work has revelatory power. The borderline be-
tween art and the artlike can be very tenuous. In any case, our judgments should
always be understood as debatable.

We shall classify and briefly describe some of the basic types of the artlike. We
will use examples mainly from the visual field, not only because that field usually
cannot be shut out but also because that field seems to be the most saturated with
what appears to be art. Our classifications will not be exhaustive, for the various
manifestations of the artlike, especially in recent years, appear endless. Nor will
our classifications be exclusive, for many kinds of the artlike mix with others. For
example, folk art may be decoration and usually is a popular art.

We shall briefly analyze five fundamental types of works that often are on or
near the boundary of art: illustration, decoration, idea art, performance art, and
virtual art (see the chart “General Guidelines for Types of ‘Artlike’ Creations”).
This schema omits, especially with respect to the avant-garde, other types and
many species. However, our schema provides a reasonable semblance of orga-
nization to a very broad and confusing range of phenomena that rarely has been

General Guidelines for Types of “Artlike” Creations

Di�erences

Traditional Avant-Garde

I
Illustration
(Realism)

II
Decoration

III
Idea Art

IV
Performance

Art

V
Virtual Art

Folk

Popular

Propaganda

Kitsch

Works closed
Establishment
Craft emphasized
Chance avoided
Makers separate from media
Audience separate from work

Works open
Antiestablishment
Craft de-emphasized
Chance invited
Makers may be part of media
Audience may be part of work

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CHAPTER 14

addressed. The schema, furthermore, highlights the most important issues. The
division between the traditional and the avant-garde points up the powerful shift
in the “new art” trends beginning with Dada during World War I. The avant-garde
seems to exist in every art tradition, but never has it been so radicalized as in our
time. That is one reason the art of our time is so extraordinarily interesting from a
theoretical perspective. We flock to exhibitions and hear, “What is going on here?
This is art? You’ve got to be kidding!” Those who are conservative in approach-
ing the avant-garde should remember this caution by the late Jean Dubuffet, the
painter-sculptor: “The characteristic property of an inventive art is that it bears no
resemblance to art as it is generally recognized and in consequence . . . does not
seem like art at all.”

Avant-garde works can be revelatory—they can be art, of course. But they do it in
different ways from traditional art, as is indicated by the listing under “Differences”
on the chart. The key: Does the work give us insight? This typology is one way of
classifying works that are not revelatory, but that does not mean they cannot have
useful and distinctive functions. The basic function of decoration, for example, is
the enhancement of something else, making it more interesting and pleasing. The
basic function of idea art is to make us think about art. Every work should be judged
by its unique merits. We should be in a much better position now than before the
study of this text to make distinctions, however tentative, between art and the art-
like. It can be a fascinating and illuminating study.

CONCEPTION KEY Theories
Our theory of art as revelatory, as giving insight into values, may appear to be mired
in a tradition that cannot account for the amazing developments of the avant-garde.
Is the theory inadequate? As you proceed with this chapter, ask yourself whether
the distinction between art and artlike is valid. How about useful? If not, what theory
would you propose? Or would you be inclined to dismiss theories altogether?

illustrAtion

Realism

An illustration is almost always realistic; that is, the images closely resemble some
object or event. Because of this sharing of realistic features, the following are
grouped under “Illustration” in the chart: folk art, popular art, propaganda, and
kitsch.

The structure of an illustration portrays, presents, or depicts some object or
event as the subject matter. We have no difficulty recognizing that wax figures in a
museum are meant to represent famous people. But do realistic portrayals give us
something more than presentation? Some significant interpretation? If we are cor-
rect in thinking not, then the forms of these wax figures only present their subject
matter. They do not interpret their subject matter, which is to say they lack content
or artistic meaning. Such forms—providing their portrayals are realistic—produce
illustration. They are not artistic forms. They are not form-content.

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The following experience happened to one of the authors:

On entering a large room in the basement gallery of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in
Cologne, Germany, I noticed a woman standing by a large pillar staring at an abstract
painting by Frank Stella. She seemed to be having an exceptionally intense participative
experience with the Stella. After a few participative experiences of my own with the Stella
and some other paintings in that room, I was amazed to find the lady still entranced. My
curiosity was aroused. Summoning courage, I moved very close to find that the “woman”
was in fact a sculpture—the trompe l’oeil was almost unbelievable, becoming recognizable
only within a few feet. Very few visitors in that gallery made my amusing discovery. And
when they did, they too were amazed and amused, but no one’s attention was held on
this lady very long. Any concentrated attention was given to the technical details of the
figure. Was the hair real? Were those real fingernails? We decided they were. The form of
the sculpture seemed to be less than artistic, apparently revealing nothing about women
or anything else, except for exceptional craftsmanship. The late Duane Hanson’s Woman
with a Purse is so extraordinarily realistic that it is a “substitute,” a duplicate of the real
thing. Is Woman with a Purse an example of art or the artlike? We will return to this ques-
tion later in this chapter.

Folk Art

There is no universally accepted definition of folk art. Most experts agree, however,
that folk art is outside fine art or what we simply have been calling art. Unfortu-
nately, the experts offer little agreement about why.

Folk artists usually are both self-taught and trained to some extent in a nonpro-
fessional tradition. Although not trained by “fine artists,” folk artists sometimes are
directly influenced by the fine-art tradition, as in the case of Henri Rousseau, who
was entranced by the works of Picasso. Folk art is never aristocratic or dictated by
the fashions of the artistic establishment, and it is rarely fostered by patrons. Folk
art is an expression of the folkways of the “plain society,” the average person. Folk
art generally is commonsensical, direct, naive, and earthy. The craft or skill that
produces these things is often of the highest order.

The snapshot aesthetic of photography is, in a sense, folk art because even before
Kodak’s Brownie Camera was introduced in 1900 people had been taking photo-
graphs without any training about composition or balance and content. The snap-
shot is an unmeditated “instant” image valued usually as a record of a person or a
place and not as a work of art. Richard Estes’s Baby Doll Lounge (Figure 14-2) is not
a photograph. This very large oil painting may be a copy of a photograph that, if we
saw it, we would consider a snapshot. It shows a simple street scene with a car close
to its center, but without the Baby Doll Lounge, which, according to the title, is the
subject of the original photo. Estes is not a folk painter. He is highly skilled and well
trained. The photograph is an accurate rendering of the snapshot (therefore also the
scene). Is this painting art or artlike?

355

PERCEPTION KEY Woman with a Purse
Is Figure 14-1 a photograph of a real woman? An illustration? A work of art?

FIGURE 14-1
Duane Hanson, Woman with a Purse.
1974. This is one of a group of
life-size, totally realistic fiberglass
“counterfeits” of real people. They
represent a sculptural trompe l’oeil
that blurs the line between art and
life.

Art: ©Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed
by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: ©AKG
London

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Henri Rousseau painted seriously from age forty-nine, when he retired on a
small pension from the customs house to paint full time. He studied paintings in
French museums and made every effort to paint in the most realistic style of the
day. He was sometimes the butt of ironic comments that overpraised his work,
but instead of taking offense, he seems to have accepted such comments as sin-
cere. Picasso gave a dinner in his honor in 1908, two years before Rousseau died,
and some commentators feel Picasso may have been mildly ironic in his praise.
Rousseau painted animals he had seen only in zoos or in dioramas in natural his-
tory museums, and sometimes he painted animals together that could never have
shared the same space. His sense of perspective was lacking throughout his career,
and his approach to painting was marked by odd habits, such as painting all one
color first, then bringing in the next color, and so on. However, his lack of skill
came at a time in art history when Surrealism was under way, and his particular
unrealities began to seem symbolic and significant in ways that a realistic painting,
such as Estes’s Baby Doll Lounge, could not. This is especially true of The Sleeping
Gypsy (Figure 14-3), which improbably places a strange-looking lion next to a gypsy
whose position is so uncertain as to suggest that he or she may roll out of the paint-
ing. Rousseau’s intention was to make the painting totally realistic, but the result is
more schematic and suggestive than realistic.

FIGURE 14-2
Richard Estes, Baby Doll Lounge. 1978.
Oil on canvas, 3 × 5 feet. Estes, who
painted in oils, created a style that
emulated photography but tried to
outdo it.

©Richard Estes, courtesy Marlborough
Gallery, New York. Photo: ©Christie’s
Images Ltd – Artothek

PERCEPTION KEY Richard Estes and Henry Rousseau
1. Which painting exhibits more skill? Is it skill that determines which of these paint-

ings is more artlike?
2. How important is accuracy of representation to deciding whether a painting is art? 
3. Which painting is more useful as an illustration?

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357

IS IT ART OR SOMETHING
LIKE IT?

Popular Art

Popular art—a very imprecise category—encompasses contemporary works enjoyed
by the masses. The masses love Norman Rockwell, dismiss Mondrian, and are puz-
zled by Picasso. In music Shostakovich and John Cage sometimes mystify the gen-
eral public. But lovers of Beethoven string quartets often find it difficult to love
heavy metal rock bands and rap music. The reverse is true, as well. The distinction
between fine art and popular art does not always hold people back from enjoying
both, but it seems to be rare.

The term “Pop” derives from Richard Hamilton’s painting Just what is it that
makes today’s homes so different so appealing? (1956), of a nude muscle-builder hold-
ing a gigantic lollypop in a cluttered living room with a nude woman on a sofa
wearing a lampshade for a hat. In the 1960s and 1970s, Pop Art was at the edge of
the avant-garde, startling to the masses. But as usually happens, time makes the
avant-garde less controversial, and in this case the style quickly became popular.
The realistic showings of mundane objects were easily comprehended. Here was an

FIGURE 14-3
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy.
1897. Oil on canvas, 51 × 79 inches.
Rousseau was a customs agent
during the day but a painter in his
free time. Although without training
in art, he became one of the most
original figures in modern art.

©The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by
SCALA/Art Resource, NY

4. Does translating a snapshot into an oil painting make a work of art? Does the paint-
ing make the snapshot a work of art? How does this painting affect your valuation
of photography as an art form? 

5. What does Baby Doll Lounge reveal as a painting that it would not reveal as a
photograph?

6. In each painting, decide what the subject matter is. Then decide whether the form
transforms the subject matter and creates content. Which painting has more-in-
teresting content? Why?

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CHAPTER 14

art people could understand without snobbish critics. We see the tomato soup cans
in supermarkets. Andy Warhol helps us look at them as objects worthy of notice
(Figure 14-4), especially their blatant repetitive colors, shapes, stacking, and sim-
plicity. For the masses, we have an art that seems to be revelatory.

FIGURE 14-4
Andy Warhol, 200 Campbell ’s Soup
Cans. 1962. Acrylic on canvas, 72 ×
100 inches.The leader of the Pop Art
movement, Warhol became famous
for signing cans of Campbell’s soup
and fabricating individual cans of
Campbell’s soup. For a time, the soup
can became an identifier of Pop Art.

©2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for
the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York. Photo: ©The Andy
Warhol Foundation Inc./Trademarks,
Campbell Soup Company

PERCEPTION KEY Pop Art
1. Is Warhol’s painting revelatory? If so, about what?
2. Go back to the discussion of Duane Hanson’s work. If you decide that the Warhol

work is art, then can you make a convincing argument that Woman with a Purse helps
us really see ordinary people and thus also is a work of art? These are controversial
questions.

PERCEPTION KEY Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want
Next to Andrew Wyeth, Rockwell is probably the most popular and beloved American
painter. A very modest man, Rockwell always insisted that he was only an illustrator. He
frequently worked from photographs. Does the folksy piety appear sentimental in Free-
dom from Want (Figure 14-5)? Is the scene superficial? Does the scene stir your imagina-
tion? Does the painting make any demand on you? Enhance your sensitivity to anything?
Enlarge your experience? Is Freedom from Want art or illustration? Despite his popularity,
Rockwell is almost universally described as an illustrator by the experts. They claim that
his works are composed of pictorial clichés. Do you agree? Who anoints the experts?

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359

IS IT ART OR SOMETHING
LIKE IT?

Professional work can be much more realistic than folk art. Professional techni-
cal training usually is a prerequisite for achieving the goal of very accurate repre-
sentation, as anyone who has tried pictorial imitation can attest. Professionals who
are realists are better at representation than folk painters, as Richard Estes’s Baby
Doll Lounge demonstrates. Realistic painting done by professionals is one of the
most popular kinds of painting, for it requires little or no training or effort to enjoy.
Often, very realistic paintings are illustrations, examples of the artlike. Sometimes,
however, realistic painters not only imitate objects and events but also interpret
what they imitate, crossing the line from illustration to art.

FIGURE 14-5
Norman Rockwell, Freedom from
Want. 1943. Oil on canvas, 45¾ ×
35½ inches. An iconic representation
of the American family during World
War II, this image was parodied
in the film American Gangster, with
Denzel Washington at the head of
the table.

From the Collection of The Norman Rockwell
Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell
Art Collection Trust. Printed by permission
of the Norman Rockwell Family Agency.
©1943 the Norman Rockwell Family Entities

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Baby Doll Lounge, in our opinion, is a work of art. Estes worked from a series
of photographs, shifting them around in order to portray interesting relationships
of abstract shapes as well as the illusion of realism. Thus, the buildings in the left
background are reflected in the glass in the right foreground, helping—along with
the bright curving line on the dark roof of the building slightly left of center—to tie
the innumerable rectangles together. A geometrical order has been subtly imposed
on a very disorderly scene. Estes has retained so much realistic detail, totally unlike
Mondrian in Broadway Boogie Woogie (see Figure 4-10), that initially we might think
we are looking at a photograph. Yet, with a second look, it becomes apparent that
this cannot be a photograph of an actual scene, for such a complete underlying ge-
ometry does not occur in city scenes. Moreover, people are totally absent, a possible
but unlikely condition. An anxious, pervasive silence emanates from this painting.
Despite the realism, there is a dreamy unreality. Take an early Sunday morning
stroll in a large city, with the dwellers still asleep, and see if you do not perceive
more because of Estes.

The line between realistic painting that is illustration and realistic painting that is
art is particularly difficult to draw with respect to the paintings of Andrew Wyeth,
hailed as the “people’s painter” and arguably the most popular American painter
of all time. His father, N. C. Wyeth, was a gifted professional illustrator, and he
rigorously trained his son in the fundamentals of drawing and painting. Wyeth
was also carefully trained in the use of tempera, his favorite medium, by the pro-
fessional painter Peter Hurd, a brother-in-law. So although a nonacademic and al-
though trained mainly “in the family,” Wyeth’s training was professional. Wyeth is
not a folk painter.

Among the great majority of critics, Wyeth is not highly appreciated, although
there are outstanding exceptions, such as Thomas Hoving, former director of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wyeth is not even mentioned, let alone discussed, in
Mahonri Young’s American Realists. Clement Greenberg, one of the most respected

PERCEPTION KEY Estes and Rockwell
1. Does the sharp-focus realism (known as “photo-realism” because it is based on

photography) of Baby Doll Lounge make it an illustration?
2. Note the reflections in the store windows. Do we ever see reflections quite like

that? If not, then can one reasonably argue that by means of such transformation
Estes heightens our awareness of such “things as they are” in the cityscape?

3. Do you think that Norman Rockwell worked from a photograph to paint Freedom
from Want? Is cutting off the heads on each side of the painting typical of photo-
graphs of scenes such as this? How impressive is Rockwell’s artistic technique?
Does his technique make this a work of art?

4. In terms of realism, how realistic is this portrait of a family sitting down to a happy
Thanksgiving Day meal? Is it possible that this is more of a fantasy than a reality?
Is it possible that this painting might serve as propaganda for family values? How
would that affect its value as a work of art?

5. Compare Richard Estes’s Baby Doll Lounge with Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from
Want. Which seems more representative of the world in which you live? Which
transforms its subject matter more? Which has a richer content?

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critics of recent times, asserted that realistic works such as Wyeth’s are out of
date and “result in second-hand, second-rate paintings.” In 1987 an exhibition of
Wyeth’s work was held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Some
critics demurred: Wyeth makes superficial pictures that look like “the world as
it is,” except tidied up and sentimentalized. They claim that Wyeth is a fine il-
lustrator, like his father, but that the National Gallery of Art should be used for
exhibitions of art, not illustrations. Notice again, incidentally, the relevance of the
question: What is art?

Wyeth’s most beloved and famous painting is Christina’s World (Figure 14-6). He
tells us,

When I painted it in 1948, Christina’s World hung all summer in my house in Maine and
nobody particularly reacted to it. I thought is this one ever a flat tire. Now I get at least a
letter a week from all over the world, usually wanting to know what she’s doing. Actually
there isn’t any definite story. The way this tempera happened, I was in an upstairs room
in the Olson house and saw Christina crawling in the field. Later, I went down on the
road and made a pencil drawing of the house, but I never went down into the field. You
see, my memory was more of a reality than the thing itself. I didn’t put Christina in till the
very end. I worked on the hill for months, that brown grass, and kept thinking about her
in her pink dress like a faded lobster shell I might find on the beach, crumpled. Finally I
got up enough courage to say to her, “Would you mind if I made a drawing of you sitting
outside?” and drew her crippled arms and hands. Finally, I was so shy about posing her,
I got my wife Betsy to pose for her figure. Then it came time to lay in Christina’s figure
against that planet I’d created for all those weeks. I put this pink tone on her shoulder—
and it almost blew me cross the room.1

FIGURE 14-6
Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World.
1948. Tempera on gessoed panel,
32¼ × 47¾ inches. Wyeth was
probably America’s most popular
artist of the second half of the
twentieth century. This is his most
famous painting.

©2017 Andrew Wyeth/Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York. Photo: ©The Museum
of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art
Resource, NY

1Wanda M. Corn, The Art of Andrew Wyeth (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1964), p. 38.

jac16871_ch14_352-377.indd 361 12/9/17 10:31 AM

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CHAPTER 14

Propaganda

The purpose of propaganda art is to persuade us to believe a specific message, not
to have an artistic experience. No species of the artlike is as realistically illustrative
as propaganda because mass persuasion requires the easy access of realism. The
essence of propaganda is to spread political pride in nation, ethnicity, political com-
mitment, or national purpose. Propaganda is created and spread by institutions of
some sort, whether secular, political, or religious. These institutions are bent on
persuading people to their cause by means of their message.

PERCEPTION KEY Christina’s World
1. Does Wyeth’s statement strike you as describing the crafting of an illustrator or

the “crafting-creating” of an artist? But is such a question relevant to distinguishing
illustration from art? Is not what is made the issue, not the making (see Chapter 2)?

2. Would you describe the painting as sentimental (see Chapter 11)? Could it be that
sometimes critics tag works as sentimental because of snobbery?

3. Is this a pretty painting? If so, is such a description derogatory?
4. Is Christina’s World illustration or art? Until you see the original in the museum,

keep your judgment more tentative than usual.

EXPERIENCING Propaganda Art
When we consider a Fascist poster such as Anselmo Ballester’s huge poster A Noi! (To
Us!) (Figure 14-7) we find it easy to resist the appeal, particularly as we know that Fas-
cism resulted in a terrifying war in which upwards of 20 million people died. Once the
historical situation is understood, even as technically good a poster as Ballester’s is not
likely to persuade any of us today. In the case of this poster, the message is “dressed
up” for us with a beautiful young woman who has accepted the propaganda message
and is now trying to get us to join her. The art itself is like the frosting on a cake, but in
this case we know the cake is fatal.

This striking poster portrays a young woman giving the Fascist salute. She is caught
up in what appear to be flowing flaglike billows of cloth. Their designs echo the then
current art nouveau style in green and red, the colors of the Italian Fascist flag refer-