Tag Archives: Norma Smith

Embodied Meaning in a painting.

Guernica 1937. Picasso.

In the 1930s,, Franco in Spain was waging war against Spanish civilians. With help from Hitler, he chose to bomb the Basque town of Guernica. To quote Picasso ‘ The war in Spain is the battle of reaction against the people, against liberty.’
Picasso had a horror of the military caste, which plunged Spain into a sea of suffering and death. He was making a political stand when he worked on Guernica. He portrayed a mirror-image of a world of atrocity and bestiality – ‘ from which it is man’s duty to emerge.’
The symbols he uses are powerful, the noble horse is struck down, the bull represents a brutal force of darkness. Faces were distorted with pain, light comes from an electric light bulb, not the sun, there is no divine power to relieve them. As work progressed, photographs were taken of each stage, to reveal Picasso’s thinking processes.
In order to understand Picasso, it helps to ‘grasp his idea and hold it.’ It is an historical painting, painted to remember their own history. We are asked to accept Picasso’s idea and images, or we cannot understand his work.
Picasso was aware of the poem by Eluard,
La Victoire de Guernica. 1936:-
Watch the builders at work
They are rich, patient, disciplined, black and stupid
But they do their best to be the only ones on earth
They are on the edges of humanity and heap it over with ordure
They flatten mindless palaces to ground level.
I think of Ground Zero.
Picasso also wrote a poem called The Dream and Lie of Franco.

Mural of "Guernica" by Picasso
Mural of “Guernica” by Picasso

Quotes and thoughts on the embodied mind, with painters in mind!

Over recent decades, a great deal of new research has been done on the brain and how it functions. ‘The embodied mind emphasises that the body helps to shape the way we think, feel and behave, it is an embodied and relational process, that regulates energy and information flow.’ With the Cartesian paradigm -body and mind – ‘we have logical, linear, sequential meaning,’ but this leaves out ’emotions, intuition, creativity and a capacity to dare to try different solutions.’ In the Cartesin paradigm, ‘Taking advantage of the benefits brought about by the right hemisphere of the brain, such as creative imagination, serenity, a global view and a capacity of synthesis are not considered. In Antonio Damasio’s book,’Descarte’s Mistake’ he writes ‘the vision of the human being as a whole, is the key to the global development of the being.’

Meaning comes out of experience.

The writer, James Joyce wrote, ‘Our creativity has propelled human evolution.’
Classical styles of Chinese landscapes developed from the desire to leave the problems of society behind and look towards Nature, ‘men sought permanence within the natural world, it showed the inner landscape of the artist’s heart and mind.’
Impressionist painters, such as Claude Monet, worked outdoors and rapidly, in order to catch the fleeting sun light on the scenes they painted. Art critics at the time, scorned their work, but these painters were ‘in the moment’ when they painted.
Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906) wrote, ‘The landscape thinks itself in me and I am in its (the landscape). He also had a great respect for Nature, he would look at a mountain, for example, seeing the changing light as he worked, building up the scene in geometric shapes. In his still life paintings of apples, he used soft colours, with certain areas highlighted by stronger colour in small patches. ‘An artist builds up an internal tension of some kind, then comes a need to start work.’ Cezanne called it his ‘petit sensation’ he saw it as a secret key to art, an intimate and private experience. ‘It is like an internal energy or ’emotion’ that needs to be used, ‘it brings about an emotional relationship with the art when it is completed.’ I have painted canvases which result in the same experience, I look at the painting and can relive the feeling I had when I painted it, always remembering of course, that memories are constantly revised.
Some aesthetic quality, such as balance and harmony is required, otherwise it is ‘an expression of mess’ another quote I picked up on!
Howard Hodgkin, whose works are not among my favourites, but I know someone who finds them meaningful,
writes, ‘art has the capacity to recreate a strong effective charge within certain colours and shapes, a way in which his, the artist’s memories, are recovered. Colour, texture and line are ways the painter makes his/her marks. I like to work with colour most of all. He also said ‘we come to a place when we get back something from the painting’ and then the painting may give back a similar experience to the viewer.
Paul Klee took a line for a walk, a wonderful way to express creativity, not a doodle, because his line drawings are simple yet beautiful.
I would recommend that it’s better to look at a painting for a while, before reading about the painter’s life or the message he or she is hoping to convey, study can follow later.

Adreinne Degerick Chaplin, in her book Art and Embodiment…. Biological and Phenomenological Contributions to Understanding Beauty and Aesthetic writes, ‘Art, both as a practice and as an experience, belongs as it were, to the hardware of human nature.’ In her book she refers to the work of three philosophers, Ellen Dissanayake, Susanne K Lnger and Merleau-Ponty.
E. Dissanayake ‘draws on anthropological research to develop an evolutionary based philosophy, based on the notion of ‘making special’.
S K Langer and Merleau-Ponty draw on empirical science, in order to develop a theory of art and embodiment, that takes the body seriously, they each reach conclusions in their own way.
S Langer draws on ‘geology, physics and biology, she has developed a biologically based cognitive philosophy of art and mind, rooted in the notion of ‘symbolism’.
Merleau-Ponty ‘drew on medical science and empirical psychology in order to develop a theory of art.’
I am grateful to the internet for providing so much information, only a tiny fraction of which I have used. I am in awe of the work that goes into research, to help us understand more.

The MWS Podcast: Episode 2, Norma Smith

Norma SmithIn the first of a series of member profiles, retired art teacher Norma Smith talks to Barry Daniel about her life, why she became a member of the society, the middle way, the importance of art in her life, agnosticism, and the power of metaphor. With regard to the latter, she was especially enthusiastic about the work of George Lakoff. Please see link to a youtube talk he gave on metaphors as embodied meaning below.

George Lakoff: Frameworks, Empathy and sustainability

There is also a slide show version of the podcast available on Youtube.