Art & Context: Monet's Cliff Walk at Pourville and Malevich's White on White Art & Context: Monet's Cliff Walk at Pourville & Malevich's Suprematist Composition: White on White A conversation with Sal Khan, Steven Zucker & Beth Harris
Art & Context: Monet's Cliff Walk at Pourville and Malevich's White on White
⇐ Use this menu to view and help create subtitles for this video in many different languages. You'll probably want to hide YouTube's captions if using these subtitles.
- So one theme that I´m starting to appreciate more is that there´s been some pieces where you just look at it,
- you just experience it and I think this Monet is kind of like that. Even if no one knew this was a great work of art
- or they just saw it for the first time in their life and they knew nothing about Monet, they´d say "Well that's pretty. That's interesting and it really captures something nice."
- And then you have pieces like this which are clearly abstract and, not that one can't appreciate it,
- I think one can, but it feels that the piece of art by itself - you're like "OK, that's nice, it's white on white. Which is it's name.
- It's a square at an angle inside of another square." I can see how that might look aesthetically nice above my sofa or something
- but there's not quite that same, at least at a superficial level, of appreciation.
- Here you can appreciate all the brush strokes not even knowing this was Monet.
- I think you're absolutely right. I think that now for us in the early 21st century, it is in some ways much easier to get a quick meaning
- that can feel satisfying when we look at the Monet. What's ironic though, is when Monet first painted Impressionism,
- people didn't feel that way. In fact this kind of art broke rules and boundries.
- It challenged people in ways that I think we have a very hard time understanding. Critics made terrible fun of this.
- They called it unfinished. In fact, the very word "Impressionism" comes from criticism in a newspaper
- that was making fun of Monet; saying this isn't real painting, this is a mere impression.
- Something you dashed off quickly, huh?
- Yeah, because back then a "real painting" you'd carefully -
- every brush stroke you are trying to mimic reality. This clearly looks quicker.
- But Monet was trying to do something that he felt was really important which was to register on the canvas
- not what his mind knew an umbrella or a woman on a cliff looked like, but rather what light actually looked like at that moment.
- And so we have the sense of the wind, we have the sense of the flickering of color and the way it might change a second later or a second before.
- What I'm hearing is is that Monet kind of did both. When we really cite these great moments in art
- he was able to do something that was a huge transition and influential of things that came after him.
- I suspect that he wasn't saying "I'm going to be Avant-Garde and I'm going to break all the rules,"
- he just wanted to do something that he thought would be compelling.
- I think that that's right.
- He wanted to capture a certain emotive state or a certain way of perceiving the world.
- And that he felt was visually true.
- And that's why someone like me, not an expert, connects with it not even knowing the historical context.
- I would argue that we connect with it because we live in very much the same culture that Monet lived in.
- Middle class culture, one of leisure, one where you work and then when you don't work you take a vacation
- and you go to a vacation by the seaside and you spend time with your family. I think our world is his world
- so it's an easy painting for us to relate to. But when we get to something like the Malevich,
- we go into a world that's very different from our world - a world of Russia during the revolution.
- When I see a painting like that, if you didn't tell me anything I would say this was done in the '50s or '60s. When was this done?
- So this is done in 1918 and it was done in Russia by Kasimir Malevich.
- Think about what was happening in Russia at this moment. This was the Bolshevik Revolution.
- So these are very close together in time. Thirty-six years, which is nothing, it's a generation. I guess one thing that pops out at me
- when I see this is that it's 1918. I mean, we've looked at other modern pieces that at least on a superficial level look
- similar; they are abstract, they are not trying to show something in reality. The painting is itself, it's not trying to show
- a scene of people at a cliff having a nice picnic or whatever like that. So one thing is when I see this,
- I start to think that all these other folks in the 50s and 60s are a bit derivative. I mean, he did this in 1918!
- Well yes, but this had a very different kind of meaning. Malevich understood this kind of abstraction, what he called "Supremitism,"
- actually having an important political, almost spiritual message actually.
- Let me see if I can give you some sense of really what he was after.
- Did he make up that word "Supremitism?"
- He did.
- Is that a word now in the English language, or the Russian language?
- Well it's a word that refers to an art movment that he led.
- I see, "Suprematist."
- Exactly. Malevich was absolutely for the Russian Revolution. Russia was this deeply corrupt culture that had had a tzar.
- There was a terribly destabilized society, desperate poverty, so there was real need for change. The idea that Russia could produce a
- kind of new utopia was something that he was absolutely swept up by. He tried to create
- an art that would express that. In fact, that wouldn't just express that but would help make that happen.
- So I want to go back to the experience of seeing these two paintings in the museum.
- You walk up, you see the Monet, and you get it, and you love it and you are right there with it.
- But you get to the Malevich and it's coming from a different world and you need all this art history.
- You need history to get it.
- That's right because if you just went up to the Malevich at the museum you would say, "That's nice,"
- I mean after some of our conversations I think I'm already starting to appreciate it more than I would have in the past,
- and I would have started thinking about "Oh, this is abstract, it's just white." But you are right, you appreciate it
- much more when you think about it. My brain keeps going back and forth as to "Is this good?"
- Should the art be able to stand on its own? Which is how I've personally traditionally viewed art.
- The art should stand on its own and how I react to it is what matters. That's what I'm taught, too. Just what you think,
- that's right versus all the context. It is true that all the context does make it far more interesting and gives a lot more
- texture and understanding to what the piece is but then I feel like the piece itself isn't necessarily the focal point.
- I think we maybe too much want the artist to be a hero. We want the artist to have succeeded in some way.
- Maybe the artist is, to a large extent, an accumulation of a culture at a particular moment
- and giving voice and vision to that culture.
- That's actually a fascinating way of thinking about it. Any student of history might look at a newspaper clipping from 1918
- or might read a book and have to capture a little bit of how people are thinking at that time,
- or what their fears or their hopes are. What I'm appreciating more is that a piece of art like this
- gives you a core subjective feeling of how, at least what some people in the artistic community were feeling.
- It gets worse though.
- It gets worse?
- It does get worse. Take a look at this. You called it white-on-white but in fact it's this cool, internal square
- and this warmer white square outside it. Notice that he has not aligned those squares. So the smaller square-
- It's like titanium-on-off-white or something.
- Exactly. So he's tipped that inner square a bit. That's not arbitrary, he spent a lot of time thinking about that.
- There is a reason for this. At first when we look at this canvas, it couldn't be more flat. It couldn't be more two-dimensional, could it?
- You have a square against a square. What could be less volumetric? But then, those are two different whites.
- Maybe we're actually seeing that darker, cooler white as deeper in space. Or maybe it's in front of that
- warmer white. So all the sudden now we have a three-demensional relationship.
- How much is that reading into it?
- Well he actually wrote about this. He wrote a good deal about it and he taught. He was really interested
- in art as a way to push society forward, that is, art itself had agency. It could have political power.
- This is interesting because - and I'm appreciating this more because once again, we saw this work in 1918
- in someone's grandpa's garage, and you asked the grandpa "What is this?" he's like,
- "Well I had some titanium paint and some off-white paint and I felt like painting a square inside of another square,"
- not so interesting. But all the sudden when you have someone who, to some degree, has a voice in their time
- and is able to articulate this, it's interesting not because of it's technical sophistication or anything like that
- but because society at that point in time thought it was important and gave him a voice.
- He was trying to voice what he thought was important.
- That's why it transcends just this aesthetic or its technical.
- I think it does. Although I think he would be disappointed if he heard you say that. Because interestingly,
- I think he wanted it to stand up by itself. Here was the Russian Revolution. He wanted to separate himself from
- Bourgeois culture of the 19th century. He did not want to do what Monet was doing because that was a culture of privilege and of wealth.
- Instead he wanted to create a kind of art that was so essential, that had worn down to its pure roots, so that anybody,
- no matter how little education they had, could actually understand it and be moved by it.
- We might say it failed. But nevertheless, that was very much part of his intent.
- One question- I asked this about the Picasso as well, and even Malevich - he lived in a time that was fairly modern.
- It sounds like his intentions were really to get to this purity and not this overly intellectual - or I guess he
- was trying to raise people up - but why did he chose this medium? Why didn't he do it as a big titanium sculpture?
- Why didn't he put radio waves in it? Why didn't he do something else with it?
- Well certain artists that were at that moment actually tried to do that. You might think of people like Tatlin - constructivists.
- Malevich really did stick with painting but this was a period in Russia which was quite poor and they didn't
- have the money to pull this off. They could create models, but there was a terrible civil war in Russia right after
- the revolution right after the First World War and the country was deeply impoverished.
- I get the sense that some artists would have done that if they could have -
- Malevich definitely would have. I mean, he was interested in technology.
- Deeply interested, absolutely. He was in love with the airplane, he was in love with the idea of movement, of speed,
- of that new technology. He was trying to find a language that he felt was as utopian and as pure as the world he was hoping to create.
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...
Have something that's not a tip or feedback about this content?
This discussion area is not meant for answering homework questions.
Discuss the site
For general discussions about Khan Academy, visit our Reddit discussion page.
Flag inappropriate posts
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 feedback in Questions
- a question in Tips & Feedback
- an answer that should be its own question
about the site