The Beggarstaffs, advertising and light

I've been helping Trevor write his final paper for his History of Graphic Design class on the Beggarstaff Brothers (1890-1900) whose work you see above. My husband and siblings still in school benefit from an eager wife/sister who will read/edit/write anything. I need the mental exercise! Anyway, writing about advertising is almost completely different than writing about art. I was really struggling and it took me a while to realize why. It boils down to the fact that you can't apply many methodologies when discussing a work of art whose express purpose is advertising. You can't really delve into semiotics or iconography, the historiography, or any of that. In our case I could practically only approach the pieces formalistically, meaning to only consider the visual aspects of a work, which has always been a struggle for me. I never successfully did in in graduate school, it was just too tempting to talk about the meaning of a work. In the process of working on this paper, I thought of a good way to answer students when one of them inevitably asks, "What if the artist wasn't thinking about anything at all when they made this piece?" or "What is there is no meaning, and this is just an artist's random creation?" One way to answer it would be to point to advertising. Does it possess artistic qualities? Yes. Does it require an artist to make it? Yes. Are there innumerable outside pressures influencing the work? Yes. But is it exactly what it appears to be? YES. An advertisement has an express purpose of selling a product. A work of art, while it typically is created with a patron's agenda, is never exactly what it appears to be. Does that make sense?

I've also been reading Umberto Eco's A History of Beauty, and one of the authors brought up a point about medieval art that struck me. Medieval art is infused with its own inner light. There isn't a light source, rarely chiaroscuro or even modeling, but instead the artists used such effulgent colors and pigments that the objects create their own light. He talked about how this relates to the writings of Dionysus the Pseudo-Areopagite, and how by creating radiant figures the artist is representing how God is in all things in the form of light. He then compared it to the dramatic lighting of the Baroque period and beyond. A totally good read, and whenever someone stands up for the beauty of medieval art I want to shout Hoorah! 

1 comment:

  1. That is really intriguing, the light in the medieval art. I like it. :)