The Physicality of an Artwork Is a Product of Its Time and Place.

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“The physicality of an artwork is a product of its time and place.”

Discuss this statement in relation to one example from this assessment task, 2 artworks from modernism and two contemporary examples you have studied.

Throughout time, the representation of a particular subject matter in art has changed to encompass the values of the time and place or challenge them through art. An artist is influenced by society’s ideologies’ and thus either represent these ideologies’ or challenge them within their artwork as well as being influenced by the events of that time. Through the works ‘Mosaic of Emperor Justinian and his Court’, ‘Olympia’ by Edouard Manet, ‘Le Demoiselles d’Avignon’ by Pablo Picasso, performance artist Orlan and ‘Overstepping’ by Julie Rrap, the physicality of an artwork (the way in which it structurally appears) will be explored by the influenced of time and place.

‘Mosaic of Emperor Justinian and his Court’, (547 AD) is a 6th century mosaic in San Vitale, Ravenna. This mosaic artist is unknown, however during the time the artist was unimportant considered to be a paid workman doing a job. This mosaic (as the title suggests) depicts the Emperor of the time (Justinian) with his court including Archbishop Maximian (on his left), his officials, the priests and his guard. It was designed to act as religious and political propaganda, an artwork showing the power and majesty of the Emperor as well as adding to the prestige of the church itself. This was due to the great influence of the church during the time Emperor Constantine in 313 AD issued an edict of tolerance of all religions. This meant that the previously persecuted Christians could come out of hiding and there was a great revival of art with religious subject or undertones.

This artwork was created during Byzantine art, a movement based on Christianity which is influenced by Eastern practices (both style and materials) hence the use of mosaics. The appearance of the artwork was designed to be decorative instead of realistic thus the two dimensional appearance of the figures. They have however they have been placed in order from most important in the foreground (the Emperor) to least important in the background (the guards) due to the strict hierarchical structure under which the Roman society was built on. The symbols used in the painting is also affect by the time as during the ancient times, royalty alone wore the colour purple (the colour the Emperor is depicted in). Similarly royalty was seen to have a certain holy divinity and thus a halo is depicted around the Emperors head.

During the 6th century, the church and the political leader of the time (the Emperor) were the most influential within the country and thus artworks were mostly commissioned by them. Due to the commission, it meant that artists were told exactly what to create, thus reflecting the values of the most influential people of the time. Art was also considered to be decorative and was only ever expressive of the values of the time, never self expressive of the artists views. These values were then imposed on the rest of society as art was often public and created to be imposing, a constant reminder to society as to what the values of the time were.

During the mid 19th century salons were the centre of art and neo-classical works were exhibited. It was at the end of the 19th century that Realism appeared (after the Industrial Revolution). Artists had previously been commissioned, and relied on this to survive, however the industrial revolution resulted in a smaller gap in the wealth of the rich and the poverty poor. This meant that artists no longer had to be commissioned and were able to paint as a means of self-expression instead of what was required of them by the patrons of the art. The invention of the camera was also around this time, this meant that painters were no longer in high demand for painting portraits and began painting in non-realistic ways that a...
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