Russian Art, Andrew Michael Graham-Dixon and Me

Reply Mon 30 Apr, 2012 06:39 pm
After watching a TV program about Russian art, I wrote the following. What do you know about Russian art? What would you write if you watched such a program? What do you know about Byzantium? I leave these questions with readers here at this able2know internet site.-Ron Price, Tasmania Australia
RUSSIA AND ME: A Retrospective

On the first day of April 2012, just after April Fools’ Day ended as it does at noon, after I had been retired from the world of jobs for a dozen years, I was able to develop my study of Russia. I had taken an interest in Russia from the 1960s while at university and had even applied for a job there in my first years as a teacher sometime around 1970, before serving as an international pioneer instead---in Australia for the Canadian Baha’i community.

Inevitably, in my role as a student or as a teacher, of history and sociology, literature and psychology, some aspect of Russia came into the curricula over that half-century from, say 1955 to 2005.

On 1 April, a Sunday afternoon, I chanced to watch a BBC Four program entitled The Art of Russia.(1) This series on Russian art was first shown on the BBC in December 2009. Andrew Michael Graham-Dixon(1960--), the British art historian was the presenter. He has been the chief art critic of The Independent newspaper where he remained until 1998 and, as of 2005, has been the chief art critic of The Sunday Telegraph. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)ABC1TV, 3:00-3:55 p.m. 1 April 2012.

Your roots of art were in Byzantium(1)
and your story, like so many stories,
is a long one….Thank you, Michael,
for your TV work since ’92, when I
was beginning to eye my retirement
from more than fifty years of jobs &
student life so that I could spend my
life in places other than classrooms!!

It is programs like this that now enrich
these evening years, these years of late
adulthood(60-80) and old age(80+), if
I last that long. My classroom is now the
world which pours into my study---daily.
I had three children, too, Michael…...but
I don’t live in London…..rather…..at the
ends of the earth in Tasmania…...the last
stop on the way to Antarctica…….if you
take the western-Pacific rim-route…..I
thank you for that incredible story of the
art of Russian: mystery & magnificence!

(1) Very few students in our modern world have any idea where and what Byzantium was. Like so much of knowledge, this field of history and art will not help students negotiate the mine-fields of marriage and jobs, the many tests that come their way from cradle to grave. They will survive without ever knowing anything about Byzantium.

It was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 657 BC and named after their king Byzas. The city was later renamed Nova Roma by Constantine the Great, but popularly called Constantinople and briefly became the imperial residence of the classical Roman Empire. Subsequently, the city was---for more than a thousand years---the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks becoming the capital of their empire, in 1453. The name of the city was officially changed to Istanbul in 1930 following the establishment of modern Turkey.

Ron Price
30 April 2012.
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Reply Mon 30 Apr, 2012 07:26 pm
Im trying to make some sense out of your thread. If its about you, fine, I think I know your bio by now (you let us know at every singke thread you start). I am not, (and I think that others are similarly not) SENILE. I get it, you were born at a very young age, grew up, got stuck in teaching, had kids and retired now you write.
BUT, sailing past that fence, Id say that good art was begun in SPain and france Altamira and Faunt de Gaume respectively. These are some of the earliest graphic arts and airbrush paintings of "afuvist style" that I can conjure up.
By Which Byzantine art periods were you most influenced ?
Reply Wed 16 May, 2012 03:47 am
Belated apologies, farmerman, for not responding to your post. I just saw your post this evening. Let me say, as a former teacher of history and for the sake of those who would benefit from a definition of Byzantine art that: (i) Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Byzantine Empire from about the 5th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; and (ii) the term can also be used for the art of Eastern Orthodox states which were contemporary with the Byzantine Empire and were culturally influenced by it, without actually being part of the Byzantine commonwealth, such as Bulgaria, Serbia, or Russia and also for the art of the Republic of Venice and Kingdom of Sicily, which had close ties to the Byzantine Empire despite being in other respects part of western European culture. Art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire is often called "post-Byzantine." Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, particularly in regard to icon painting and church architecture, are maintained in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia and other Eastern Orthodox countries to the present day.(Wikipedia)
Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople. The building was a mosque from 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. I have always found this building impressive and, not being in any way very knowledgeable about Byzantine art and architecture, it has stood out in my mind's eye.

The Church was dedicated, I am informed, to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia, "Church of the Holy Wisdom of God". Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture." In these years of my retirement I look forward to learning more about Byzantine art and architecture.

It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters. It was designed by the Greek scientists Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician.

In summary, then, I will leave my focus on this building as the greatest influence on my aesthetic sensibility.-Ron
Reply Wed 16 May, 2012 02:32 pm
Since the Byzantine period covers best of a thousand years, there were several stylistic events and turnovers that occured within its aesthetics. I am interested in the palaeologan period of the lkate Byzantine. During this period the developments of such "tricks" of art such as color and geometric perspective were some of the major advances. The art style in painting and sculpture was mannerism and the interest i such thigs as landscapes came forward. This presaged many of the various Rennaissance styles.
(Use of cooler colors in perspective, use of complementary colors as a rule of painting). We do owe much to these guys and I guess, from my art teachers at Uni, Ive been told that
"relax, it would have been discovered in plenty of time for you to use cool backgrouns and warm foregrounds )

However, outside of sculpture and archtiecture, the other decorative arts were still a bit primitive, until several concepts like foreshortening, and multiple point perspective were developed in the Renaissance.

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Reply Thu 9 Jan, 2014 04:30 am
Russian art, Russian architecture and now---Russian literature---some comments.-Ron

Part 1:

Just as I was about to retire from a teaching career of 30 years in classrooms as a teacher and lecturer, another collection of essays by Constantin Ponomareff appeared.(1) In my 50 years in classrooms as a student and teacher, 1949 to 1999, I had neither the time nor the inclination to read Russian literature. I have tried to remedy this in these years of my retirement, but the wide compass of my intellectual and literary interests has thus far kept me away from Russian fiction. I do enjoy essays which analyse this vast tract of modern literature and this book of essays is one example.

In 1979 Ponomareff published his The Silenced Vision. This collection of essays attempted to get a sense of the European literary response to totalitarianism by analysing the works of Hans Erich Nossack, Boris Pasternak, Wolfgang Borchert, Chingiz Aitmatov and Gunter Grass.

In 1987, there was On the Dark Side of Russian Literature: 1710-1910, which surveyed the "moral discomfort and spiritual unease among the major Russian writers" (p. 235), showing the way humanity became increasingly superfluous in the Russian creative imagination from Kantemir and Lomonosov to Bely and Blok. The 1997 collection of twelve essays, as indicated by its subtitle, addressed the problems underlying or belying humanity as evidenced in selected texts of modem literature.

Part 2:

From the 1970s to the 1990s my life and time was fully occupied with responsibilities associated with my job and family, my community life and leisure-time interests, my work in the Baha’i community and my health problems. Those three collections of essays did not stand a chance of getting read, for many reasons, even though I usually got through at least 6 to 10 books a week on average, books related to my teaching work or just personal interest. By the first decade of the 21st century, though, I was able to access reading material in cyberspace that was simply unavailable in previous decades. This review by Susan Ingram in that fine collection of writing The Canadian Slavonic Papers was just one of the new wealth of material which became available to people like me who had retired from the demands and time constraints of: job, family and community.

Ponomareff’s third collection of essays in 1997 was divided into three parts. The first part consisted of two essays devoted to Russian authors. "The Hole in Humankind: Inner and Outer Space in Russian Literature" and "The Impoverished Self in Modern Russian Literature: From Pushkin to Bunin" both documented the "increasing impoverishment of life on the part of Russian literary characters" (p. 18). The first essay took Pushkin's Little Tragedies, Gogol's Dead Souls, Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, as well as Bely's Petersburg and collection of poems Ashes, took them all as examples that demonstrated a general withdrawal from Russian life precipitated by increasing contact with European rationalist culture.

Part 3:

In the second essay, characters from Pushkin's Little Tragedies are again mobilized and followed by Gogol's Akaky Akakievich, Lermontov's Pechorin, Dostoevsky's underground man, Turgenev's Bazarov, Dostoevsky's Raskol'nikov, characters from Chekov's short stories, Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych, and Bunin's gentleman from San Francisco. This depressing parade of individuals was aimed at exposing the inner poverty manifest in the modern age. Ponomareff concluded his presentation with citations from the American existential philosopher William Barrett.

The second section was devoted to Nietzsche. In the first essay, "Nietzsche: Self as History in the Genealogy of Morals," Ponomareff suggested that "Nietzsche may have been reliving in more intellectual terms the physical and physiological ravages of his own disease within" (p. 35) He reads Nietzsche’s work as a "perhaps therapeutic exteriorization or projection of inner self" (p. 35). In the second, "At the Source of the Self: Truth out of Appalling Depths," he moved from syphilis to child-abuse and drew on Alice Miller's The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness as a possible explanation of Nietzsche's destructive tendencies.

In "Nietzsche and Dostoevsky" Ponomareff looked at Nietzsche's attraction to Dostoevsky and recounted their affinities. The last essay, "Nietzsche as Homo Ludens," approached the theme of play in Nietzsche's writing and offered perhaps the best illustration of Ponomoreff's theoretical proclivities. He prefered to link Nietzsche's love of masks with Bakhtin's carnival, carefully bypassing any of the substantial body of deconstructive, feminist and postfeminist works relevant to the topic.

Part 4:

The third section consisted of six essays on "the 20th century," from Blok and Rilke, Mayakovsky and Celan, to Camus, Nabokov and Anne Hebert, with a way station in the form of a survey of canonical, post-war German literature (Boll, Grass, Christa Wolf, et al).

All the essays in this collection offered stenographic yet convincing arguments in support of the overarching thesis that the unifying element in modern writing "is its capacity to reflect spiritual crisis in society and initiate a process of healing" (p. 1).

Ponomareff is a comparatist in the tradition of George Steiner. His respect before the text is palpable, his readings assiduous, and his intent pedagogic, in the communicatively positive sense of the word. Just as the writers whose work he analyses, Ponomareff is able "to exploit his sense of displacement and exile for creative and spiritual survival" (p. 130). Citing Hannah Arendt's contention, he claims that "alienation and rootlessness, if we only understand them aright, make it easier to live in our time" (p. 130). They are the driving-force behind, and the challenge of, modern literature. –Ron Price with thanks to 1 “Spiritual Geography of Modern Writing: Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation and Transcendence,” in The Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 1998, Susan Ingram, and Constantin V. Ponomareff, The Spiritual Geography of Modern Writing: Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation and Transcendence, B. V. Rodopi edition, 1997.

Part 5:

I posted a prose-poem at the beginning of this thread---which I wrote after watching a TV series entitled The Art of Russia. That prose-poem gives, at least for me and, hopefully, for some readers, a degree of personal context for the above commentary on those 3 collections of essays.
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