Representation and abstraction: Millais's Ophelia and Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis Representation & Abstraction: Looking at Millais and Newman John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-2 (Tate Britain) and Barnett Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimus, 1950-51 (MoMA) A conversation with Sal Khan, Beth Harris & Steven Zucker
Representation and abstraction: Millais's Ophelia and Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis
- - My favorite painting is John Everett Millais' "Ophelia," a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
- - What do you mean by Pre-Raphaelite?
- - Well the Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists in the 1850s in England, actually they formed a group in 1848
- and their goal was to challenge the official ideas of art and what it should be.
- - Raphael was a Renaissance artist who really made things
- exact and very technical
- - Raphael was a Renaissance artist who was revered
- in the Victorian era. But by then they were so used
- to looking at Raphael and painting like Raphael
- they so admired him that it had become a kind of formula for painting.
- The Pre-Raphaelites said, "We want to go back to look at the art before Raphael because we have descended
- into a formula and we've lost our real connection
- to looking and observing the world.
- So they painted directly from looking closely at nature.
- They really fit with these ideas that we've been talking about
- of how we value art that challenges the establishment.
- - And I definitely appreciate that. What this piece does it still is aesthetically beautiful in a traditional sense
- and you also look at it and say, well there is definitely skill there
- I can't just show up at a canvas and produce something like that.
- - Yeah, the painting is incredibly absorbing. In person it is
- astoundingly beautiful. The colors are rich and deep,
- you can look at how the artist painted every flower, every blade of grass, every reed. So that idea of technical skill -
- - I think even the choice of subject is very beautiful
- -beautiful. Yeah the subject and the way it's painted are both beautiful
- and the way it's painted shows great technical skill.
- - So for this one I get it on a bunch of different levels.
- It challenged people, it was kind of a pivotal piece of art, and
- it is beautiful and technically sophisticated.
- What are we looking at on the right-hand side?
- - Barnett Newman's "Vir Heroicus Sublimis"
- - This is kind of the classic when people look at it and they say "Well, that looks nice, it might look nice above my sofa,"
- but there's a big difference here where most people would
- look at the left-hand side and say "Gee, that is pivotal, challenging, and very technically beautiful,"
- while on the right-hand side they say, "Oh, I could do that."
- In fact you see on these home improvement shows, people say we need some artwork and literally they produce
- something that looks not too different than that in a little amount of time.
- -Absolutley. So it's not about technical skill at all.
- But for me, what the Newman asks me to do is something that I really value in my experience of art.
- What it does is it concentrates my attention.
- First of all, it's really big. So when you're in its space, you feel really overcome by it.
- You feel it kind of calling out to you so you are kind of drawn to it and you walk up close
- and it almost starts to become your world.
- The color is really intense. What happens to me when I'm in the presence of the painting is that I start to notice the color
- and its effect on me and the way that colors remind me of feelings.
- -I guess the cynical, and there are people who look at that and say
- "I can appreciate that, it's a big aesthetic, red thing with some lines in it.
- But someone else could have done it or someone can do it now."
- So that's not why -- what you just described, you are appreciating the aesthetics of it and it is this huge paiting and I can see that,
- but it's more that he was the first to --
- - It actually is a lot more complicated than it looks. So it draws us into it.
- Then when we start looking at the lines, we notice that they go from the top to the bottom, that he created the lines
- in different ways, that they have different qualities.
- These are hard things to tell when we're looking at the reproduction.
- It draws us in and I find myself paying attention in a way that I don't normally in my everyday world.
- I really appreciate that for that moment in the museum,
- I'm taken out of my everyday world of being distracted and surrounded by a million different things that I hardly notice
- and I'm being asked to really visually focus.
- - I actually appreciate it in a similar way, I've actually never visted it in person but I can somewhat imagine on a larger
- scale, especially if you go up close and you see the detail there.
- There does seem to be a fundamental division between what -- I mean they're both aesthetically captivating and interesting.
- The painting on the left, I think you go cross-culture really almost anytime in history, and you would have gotten some appreciation for it.
- While the painting on the right, they also would say "well that's an interesting way to paint a wall," or something but
- they wouldn't put them in the same category. Is that fair to say?
- - I think that what you're saying is fair. There is a real rupture here.
- The image on the left is still very much a part of history of art making that has to do with representation and depiction.
- I think that what we're looking at on the right it is a fundamental break.
- The painting on the left was a fundamental break in its own day, this Pre-Raphaelite idea.
- - It was more of a break in style though, not really hitting "what is art?"
- -That's right. It is pure abstraction. Barnett Newman was an abstract expressionist.
- He belonged to a group of artists that were thinking about painting in very different ways.
- They were asking whether or not art had to be something other than what it was.
- In other words, if you look at "Ophelia," you see this woman who is drowning, who is submerged in this stream
- and it is beautiful. But in a sense, it's a lie.
- This is color paste on canvas that is trying to represent something that it's not.
- It's a falsehood, it's an illusion.
- The image on the right is saying, "Can we be true to the materiality of our art and still create something that is profound?"
- Think about music for a moment. In music, we do not require a symphony to represent a landscape. It might,
- and certain symphonies will do that, but music is taken on its own
- - Or the human voice, right
- - But music is taken on its own terms. Music is about tone, it's about rhythm, it's about its own internal logic.
- Painting had never been that.
- - And you could say, in fact, that the Millais distracts us.
- from those things that Steven is referring to. To color, to shape, to lines.
- - The paint itself.
- - Yeah, in a way what the Newman is doing is concentrating that.
- Look at it, don't be distracted by all these other things.
- - Yeah, I'm not trying to be a scene out of Shakespeare.
- - But can I still be as profound, can I still be as emotionally powerful?
- Here an artist is saying that a canvas is two-dimensional; I am going to create something that seems at least at first
- blush to be absolutely flat. But then, look at those lines. How do they occupy space?
- Do they begin to create an illusion of space? In a subtle way, Beth mentioned just a moment ago
- that the lines move from the top to the bottom, so they do measure the size of the canvas and in that way, announce the two-dimensionality of the canvas.
- But at the same time, they are different tones and different qualities of density. They recede or they project forward.
- - So let me ask you, do one of those lines move back, does one come forward?
- - It is interesting, there is that, it has this core primitive dimensionality to it
- and you start to see -- I never thought of it that way before.
- You are right, what is on the left is a lie. It's something trying to be something that it's not
- while on the right, it literally is, this is the painting. The painting is what you are trying to see.
- It's not trying to be a TV set for the rest of reality.
- -So there is a kind of fundamental truth to the painting on the right that was up-ending 2,000 years of representation
- -Or longer, probably, I mean cave paintings right?
- -Absolutely. One could say 38,000 years of tradition. How radical is that? How brave is that? How heroic is that?
Be specific, and indicate a time in the video:
At 5:31, how is the moon large enough to block the sun? Isn't the sun way larger?
Have something that's not a question about this content?
This discussion area is not meant for answering homework questions.
Share a tip
When naming a variable, it is okay to use most letters, but some are reserved, like 'e', which represents the value 2.7831...
Thank the author
This is great, I finally understand quadratic functions!
Have something that's not a tip or thanks about this content?
This discussion area is not meant for answering homework questions.
At 2:33, Sal said "single bonds" but meant "covalent bonds."
For general discussions about Khan Academy, visit our Reddit discussion page.
Here are posts to avoid making. If you do encounter them, flag them for attention from our Guardians.
- disrespectful or offensive
- an advertisement
- low quality
- not about the video topic
- soliciting votes or seeking badges
- a homework question
- a duplicate answer
- repeatedly making the same post
- a tip or thanks in Questions
- a question in Tips & Thanks
- an answer that should be its own question