Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"Red" Glossary

While it isn’t necessary to hit the books before attending SCR’s production of Red, the play does include many passing references to 19th- and 20th-century art, architecture and literature. The following glossary is offered for those who want an introduction or refresher course on some of those references. Names in boldface are referred to in the play. For copyright reasons, we are not able to reproduce the work of artist Mark Rothko. The following links provide access to some of Rothko’s paintings.

The official Mark Rothko website:

The Seagram Murals, displayed at the Tate Modern in London:

20th Century Artistic Movements 

(for more in-depth discussions of these movements and their artists, we suggest visiting the encyclopedic website, www.artstory.org.)

Cubism: an early-20th-century movement, pioneered by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, which revolutionized European painting and sculpture. The term broadly categorizes a wide variety of art produced in Paris during the 1910s and 1920s. In cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form; instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist breaks volumes into fragmented planes, to depict the subject from multiple viewpoints and/or to create a sense of movement and the operation of time. Abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning is said to have been greatly influenced by cubism.

Abstract Expressionism: a post-World War II movement in American painting, developed in New York in the 1940s (hence sometimes called the “New York School”). The movement's name is derived from a combination of the emotional expressivity of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools. Even so, according to artstory.org, “Abstract Expressionist art was championed for being emphatically American in spirit—monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of a rugged individual freedom.” While Absract Expressionism has an image of being rebellious, anarchic and highly idiosyncratic, a hallmark of much of the work was a striving for balance between chaos and control. This was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and it put New York at the center of the western art world. The term is loosely applied to any number of artists who had markedly different styles, and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist. Rothko’s mature work is usually labeled Abstract Expressionism, although he balked at that or any other label. Other principal artists of the movement included Jackson Pollock (known for his action paintings composed of drips and splashes), Willem de Kooning (another practitioner of gestural action painting), Arshile Gorky (who, like Rothko, moved from surrealism to abstract expressionism), Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell (the last two recognized with Rothko as among the preeminent “color field” painters).

Frank Stella came along late in the abstract expressionist period and moved away from that loose, expressive form to a kind of minimalism that emphasized flat surfaces filled with lines and bands of color, pin-stripes and geometric forms, stripped of expressive emotional content.

Pop Art: A movement that emerged in the late ‘50s that used imagery from popular culture, including advertising, comic books and the daily news, often emphasizing banal, kitschy aspects of the culture. The movement arose as a reaction against the then-dominant forms of abstract expressionism, and pop art is sometimes considered an early example of post-modernism. Aiming to blur the boundaries between “high art” and “low culture,” Pop Art restores representationalism (recreation of recognizable images), but replaces the “high-art” interest in morality, mythology, religion or classical history with attention to commonplace objects, every-day imagery and pop-culture icons. Its mode is generally ironic. Best known practitioners include Andy Warhol (Campbell’s soup cans, Marilyn Monroe), Jasper Johns (American flag paintings), Robert Rauschenberg (collage-like “combines” of trash, found objects and images) and Roy Lichtenstein (comic book imagery employing enlarged “Ben-Day” color dots).

Paintings Referred to in the Play

Caravaggio's Conversion of Saul in the Santa Maria del Popolo
Matisse's painting The Red Studio

“Chatterton in his classic Pieta-pose”: Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton
Rembrandt’s Belshazzar's Feast, National Gallery of London


Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library staircase, Florence

Pentimento: an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance.

Seagram Building
Seagram Building: a 38-story skyscraper, located at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd Streets in Midtown Manhattan; completed in 1958. The structure was designed by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe while the lobby and other internal spaces—including The Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants—were designed by Philip Johnson. One of Mies’ most innovative architectural decisions was to set the tower back from the property line to create a forecourt plaza and fountain on Park Avenue. Although the choice was to become widely influential as an urban design feature, Mies had to convince the project’s bankers that a taller tower with significant open (“wasted”) space at ground level would enhance the presence and prestige of the building. Mies’ design included a bronze curtain wall with external mullions that went beyond what was structurally necessary, prompting some detractors to criticize it for having committed the “crime of ornamentation.” But in 1999, Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic of the New York Times, hailed the Seagram Building as “the Millennium's most important building.”

Mies van der Rohe: widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture, along with Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright. Like many of his post-World War I contemporaries, he sought to establish a new architectural style that would represent modern times the way Classical and Gothic did their own eras. Boldly abandoning ornamentation, he sought extreme clarity and simplicity in his designs—with rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure use of color, and the extension of space around and beyond interior walls. Referring to his buildings as "skin and bones" architecture, he strove for structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free-flowing open space. He is often associated with his quotation of the aphorisms, “less is more” and “God is in the details.”

Philip Johnson: American architect who helped pioneer the “International Style,” which introduced European ideas of modern architecture to America and reshaped American architecture in the latter half of the 20th century. Johnson argued that the new modern style maintained three formal principles: 1) an emphasis on architectural volume over mass (planes rather than solidity); 2) a rejection of symmetry; and 3) rejection of applied decoration. He had a lifelong professional relationship with Mies van der Rohe—as collaborator and competitor. Among his many buildings are the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center and the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County.

Moccasin slippers with Neolite soles: Ken, Rothko’s assistant, relates a memory in which “I put on my slippers—they were those Neolite ones that look like moccasins.”

Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy

a brief summary (passages in bold apply most particularly to references in Red)

The Birth of Tragedy is divided into twenty-five chapters and a forward. The first fifteen chapters deal with the nature of Greek Tragedy, which Nietzsche claims was born when the Apollonian worldview met the Dionysian. The last 10 chapters use the Greek model to understand the state of modern culture, both its decline and its possible rebirth. The tone of the text is inspirational. Nietzsche often addresses the reader directly, saying at the end of chapter twenty, “Dare now to be tragic men, for ye shall be redeemed!” Nietzsche forms a very strict definition of art that excludes subjective self-expression. Despite his criticisms of human culture, however, Nietzsche has great faith in the human soul and urges us to drop our Socratic pretenses and accept the culture of Dionysus again.

Nietzsche describes the state of Greek art before the influence of Dionysus as being naive and concerned only with appearances: the observer was never truly united with or immersed in art, instead remaining always in quiet contemplation of it. Apollonian formal control was designed to shield man from the innate suffering of the world, and thus provide some relief and comfort.

Then came Dionysus, whose ecstatic revels shocked the Apollonian spirit of Greek culture. In the end, however, it was only through one's immersion in the Dionysian essence of Primordial Unity that redemption from the suffering of the world could be achieved. In Dionysus, man found that his existence was not limited to his individual experiences alone. As the Dionysian essence is eternal, one who connects with this essence finds a new source of life and hope, and the possibility of transcending the fate of all men, which is death. Nietzsche posits Dionysus as an alternative to the salvation offered by Christianity and its demand that man renounce life on earth altogether and focus only on heaven: in order to achieve salvation through Dionysus, one must immerse oneself in life now.

However, while man can find salvation in Dionysus, he requires Apollo to provide form to the essence of Dionysus. The chorus and actors of tragedy were representations through which the essence of Dionysus was given voice. Through them, man was able to experience the joys of redemption from worldly suffering. These Apollonian appearances also stood as a bulwark against the chaos of Dionysus, so that the viewer would not become completely lost in Dionysian ecstasy. Nietzsche emphasizes that in real tragic art, the elements of Dionysus and Apollo were inextricably entwined.

Because words could never serve to delve into the depths of the Dionysian essence, music was the life of the tragic art form. Music exists in the realm beyond language, and so allows us to rise beyond consciousness and experience our connection to the Primordial Unity. Music is superior to all other arts in that it does not represent outward appearances, but rather expresses the "world will" itself.

In contrast to the typical Enlightenment view of ancient Greek culture as noble, simple, elegant and grandiose, Nietzsche believed the Greeks were grappling with pessimism. The universe in which we live is the product of great interacting forces; but we neither observe nor know these as such. What we put together as our conceptions of the world, Nietzsche thought, never actually addresses the underlying realities. It is human destiny to be controlled by the darkest universal realities and, at the same time, to live life in a human-dreamt world of illusions. The Greek spectator became healthy through direct experience of the Dionysian within the protective spirit-of-tragedy on the Apollonian stage.
This glossary is a companion to an article about John Logan’s Red. Read the full article.

No comments:

Post a Comment