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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Master's Discussion Feb. 2018 - Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World"

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minniev
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Monthly Master's Discussion Feb. 2018 - Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World"

Post by minniev » Thu Feb 01, 2018 11:35 am

Introduction
This month we will look at “Christina’s World” by American painter Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth's art has long been controversial. He developed technically beautiful works, had a large following and was honored with many awards in the US and Europe. Yet there have been conflicting views by critics, curators and historians about the importance of his work. Art historian Robert Rosenblum was asked in 1977 to identify the "most overrated and underrated" artists of the 20th century. He provided one name for both categories: Andrew Wyeth.

Background
Wyeth lived and worked in a fairly restricted manner, painting only the area around his home, his family and neighbors in rural Maine. The woman in the painting is Christina Olson, a neighbor of Wyeth’s. Olson was paralyzed due to a genetic disease. Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when he saw her crawling across a field while he was watching from a window in the house.  Although Olson was the inspiration and subject of the painting, she was not the primary model—Wyeth's wife Betsy posed as the torso of the painting. The house depicted in the painting is known as the Olson House, is open to the public and is operated by the Farnsworth Art Museum.  In the painting, Wyeth separated the house from its barn and changed the lay of the land.

Christina's World was first exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan in 1948. Although it received little attention from critics at the time, the painting was quickly bought by the founding director of MoMA, who promoted the painting at MoMA and it gradually grew in popularity over the years. Today, it is considered an icon of American art and is rarely loaned out by the museum.

Questions to Consider
There are linked materials below to further your study if you wish. Please share what you think about Christina's World. Here are some questions you may consider in your thinking. Respond to any that interest you:
1. What is the strength of the composition? Could composition be improved? How?
2. What is your general thought about portraits without faces? Many consider faces to be requisite for images of people, whether they are considered portraits or not. Do you think this painting would have been improved or weakened by including a view of her face or part of it?
3. What do you think about Wyeth’s decision to add more separation between the barn and house? Would you feel differently about his decisions to change the space between house and barn, and alter the land, if this were a photograph instead of a painting?
4. What do you think of the muted color palette? How does it add to or detract from the image? What are your thoughts about altering natural colors in a photograph to imply a certain mood?
5. What is your final impression of Christina’s World? Does it have impact? Would you want this on your wall? Why or why not?
6. Have you taken portraits without faces? If you have one you are pleased with, feel free to link or share in the thread, but explain why you are pleased with it, and describe any characteristics you think it has in common with Christina’s World.


Links for Further Study
https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out ... nas-world/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina%27s_World
https://www.thoughtco.com/christinas-wo ... eth-183007
http://mentalfloss.com/article/64001/15 ... inas-world
https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-edi ... s-painting
http://bigthink.com/Picture-This/the-wo ... inas-world
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/17/arts/ ... 7deba.html
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesig ... eorge-bush
Attachments
criostinas world.jpg
fair use - https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78455
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Charles Haacker » Thu Feb 01, 2018 3:39 pm

I have long loved this painting, but I would not care to own it since it makes me sad, probably because I've known its backstory for almost as long as I've loved it. For me it has maximum impact! But it's so sad. The muted, thin-overcast look of the light seems to bear on what I perceive as an overall slightly gloomy atmosphere.

I think the composition is, well, perfect. Bear in mind that I have no formal training in art or criticism, but I see a long, powerful lower-left-to-upper-right line through Christina's body to the house, owing to her pushing herself as upright as she can to gaze in that direction, the direction of home, to which she must now drag her useless legs painfully uphill. Separating the barn sets up a secondary triangle. I try to imagine the barn closer to the house and don't feel it works as well (and incidentally here again is an advantage the painter has over the photographer, although now Photoshop would allow us to duplicate the picture by simply content-aware dragging and dropping the barn where we want it).

I question whether it is in fact a "portrait." I am not a big fan of "faceless portraits," but there are some that work, such as Karsh's "potrait" of Pablo Casals from the back. You know it's Casals because of his well-known figure and (mostly) the cello. I've never seen Christina's World as a portrait, but neither is it strictly speaking a landscape either, although that seems to be how MoMA classifies it. But if I mentally remove Christina from the picture, it's a nice enough, deceptively simple landscape, very trompe-l'œil, but Christina in the foreground is what makes the whole picture, the reason why it remains so powerful, and powerfully controversial.
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Post by Psjunkie » Thu Feb 01, 2018 4:21 pm

All way over my head minniev but want you to know I enjoy your monthly masters and will just sit back and take it all in......

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Post by minniev » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:37 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 3:39 pm
I have long loved this painting, but I would not care to own it since it makes me sad, probably because I've known its backstory for almost as long as I've loved it. For me it has maximum impact! But it's so sad. The muted, thin-overcast look of the light seems to bear on what I perceive as an overall slightly gloomy atmosphere.

I think the composition is, well, perfect. Bear in mind that I have no formal training in art or criticism, but I see a long, powerful lower-left-to-upper-right line through Christina's body to the house, owing to her pushing herself as upright as she can to gaze in that direction, the direction of home, to which she must now drag her useless legs painfully uphill. Separating the barn sets up a secondary triangle. I try to imagine the barn closer to the house and don't feel it works as well (and incidentally here again is an advantage the painter has over the photographer, although now Photoshop would allow us to duplicate the picture by simply content-aware dragging and dropping the barn where we want it).

I question whether it is in fact a "portrait." I am not a big fan of "faceless portraits," but there are some that work, such as Karsh's "potrait" of Pablo Casals from the back. You know it's Casals because of his well-known figure and (mostly) the cello. I've never seen Christina's World as a portrait, but neither is it strictly speaking a landscape either, although that seems to be how MoMA classifies it. But if I mentally remove Christina from the picture, it's a nice enough, deceptively simple landscape, very trompe-l'œil, but Christina in the foreground is what makes the whole picture, the reason why it remains so powerful, and powerfully controversial.
Thank you for a thoughtful response. I agree with you on the strength of the composition. I doubted too, whether this would ever be considered a portrait, but some critics pan any picture of a human without the human looking straight at the viewer. And I don't think it's a landscape either. The farm does not look like the subject to me. Without Christina, the painting lacks a subject. Perhaps the subject is her experience of the landscape, but she's essential.

I too have long loved this image and others of Wyeths, they are part of what drew me to Maine and then to Monhegan Island where he vacationed and painted, and then I got hooked on it. His son still lives there, but he isn't the painter his father was.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by minniev » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:38 pm

Psjunkie wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 4:21 pm
All way over my head minniev but want you to know I enjoy your monthly masters and will just sit back and take it all in......
Thank you for dropping in, but I have way more faith than you do in your artistic taste. :)
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by St3v3M » Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:05 am

I'm fairly ignorant when it comes to art, and I mean that in the right way, neither having an education or really taking the time to understand them, so while I've seen this image before I didn't know who painted it or it's backstory. For me it could have just as easily been a girl sitting in the grass playing a game of hide-and-seek with her friends up at the house. I mention this more to instruct that I have no personal interest in this image and yet like it all the same. I'm not really sure why I like it, and yet I don't think I'd want it in my house but only because it doesn't fit in the theme of who I am at this time.

I'd like to look at this analytically starting with the lack of space above the house. I may not be a master photographer, but I couldn't imagine letting that go to print so I have to wonder if there was a reason for that, tension maybe? I'm also confused about that light spot south of the barn where it looks like they've cut the field. It's purposeful for a documentary style image but I have to wonder again if there some hidden purpose other than to pull the eye away from the girl?

What I like about this is the triangle it sets up, her looking at the house, the house in line with the barn, and back to her. The road is interesting but does little to distract, and interestingly in its muted form I see a touch of red in her dress, always a touch of red! The color pallet is good with it golds and blues, and it was smart to keep the barn the same color as the house so as not to draw the eye. The fine brushwork in the foreground grass is amazing and masterfully blended in her dress. The fence is a smart edition and reminds me of so many of Linda's landscapes as do the birds leaving the barn.

The color and position of her right hand are disturbing, but now that I know the backstory it makes sense and works with the scene. I have to wonder though, why was Christina crawling across the field and how did she get out there in the first place?

And for something a little different, I see this. S-
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Post by minniev » Wed Feb 21, 2018 2:44 pm

St3v3M wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:05 am
I'm fairly ignorant when it comes to art, and I mean that in the right way, neither having an education or really taking the time to understand them, so while I've seen this image before I didn't know who painted it or it's backstory. For me it could have just as easily been a girl sitting in the grass playing a game of hide-and-seek with her friends up at the house. I mention this more to instruct that I have no personal interest in this image and yet like it all the same. I'm not really sure why I like it, and yet I don't think I'd want it in my house but only because it doesn't fit in the theme of who I am at this time.

I'd like to look at this analytically starting with the lack of space above the house. I may not be a master photographer, but I couldn't imagine letting that go to print so I have to wonder if there was a reason for that, tension maybe? I'm also confused about that light spot south of the barn where it looks like they've cut the field. It's purposeful for a documentary style image but I have to wonder again if there some hidden purpose other than to pull the eye away from the girl?

What I like about this is the triangle it sets up, her looking at the house, the house in line with the barn, and back to her. The road is interesting but does little to distract, and interestingly in its muted form I see a touch of red in her dress, always a touch of red! The color pallet is good with it golds and blues, and it was smart to keep the barn the same color as the house so as not to draw the eye. The fine brushwork in the foreground grass is amazing and masterfully blended in her dress. The fence is a smart edition and reminds me of so many of Linda's landscapes as do the birds leaving the barn.

The color and position of her right hand are disturbing, but now that I know the backstory it makes sense and works with the scene. I have to wonder though, why was Christina crawling across the field and how did she get out there in the first place?

And for something a little different, I see this. S-
Thank you Steve, for a detailed response. I wondered the same about the proximity of the edge to the top of the house. I have no theory about it, so yours about tension works for me. You pointed out the fine detail which is something the artist was both criticized and revered for.

I too find it a little disturbing, more troubling than most of his works.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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