art of love
by Paul Wynter -LondonArt
the article Natasa
Radovic exhibits in London (The
Art of Love) by Milka
Sculac Sennett (PDF
article in Croatian) NOVI LIST, 8 February 2004.
sculpture of Rodin's Kiss from the opening night
Londonart call for artists attracted over 300 artists. Artists
were invited to submit works on the theme of LOVE for an exhibition
at the Arndean Gallery in Cork Street, London, from the 9th-14th
February. Our selection panel will select around 100 works for
show in the exhibition; all submissions can be viewed on our website
on the link above, along with an introduction to the history of
love in art...
'Love is a canvas, furnished by nature and
embroidered by imagination.'
Art has been an expression of human thoughts and feelings for almost
as long as they have been felt. Through the centuries, artists have
turned to love as their inspiration, in literature and in poetry
as well as the visual arts. The classical myths of ancient Greece
and Rome provided ample instances of love stories and figures of
love for them to draw on. The Renaissance in Italy was a time when
artists looked back to these tales; depictions often were centred
around Venus, goddess of Love. Both aesthetically and intellectually,
the classical stories provided a perfect subject matter. Aesthetically
the female nude suggested the sensual nature of love, a timeless
ideal form, whilst a knowledge of the classical stories complemented
a desire to emulate a by-gone age. Venus appears in many scenes,
more often than not as a reclining nude, ideal in both beauty and
connotations of love. If love existed in an ideal world, then this
is what it would look like. A combination of female beauty and immortal
dedication to the pursuit and championing of love.
IDEAL LOVE, REAL LOVE
But even though artists were depicting love as an ideal based on
classical myths, their inspiration could often be based in the real
world. Botticelli's 'Primavera' has the central figure of Venus looking
out at us. The painting was commissioned by Lorenzo de' Medici, who
was a leading figure in Florentine humanist culture and poetry, and
who was in love with a woman called Lucrezia Donati. The figure of
Venus was as such a portrait of the woman he loved, the imagined
portrait of the goddess of love is emancipated in the real presence
of Lorenzo's actual object of affection. A portrait of a loved one
represents private hopes and experience, the portrayal of love, a
LOVE IN AN UNIDEAL WORLD
Just as the Renaissance saw love as existing pictorially in an ideal
world of beauty and immortality, Manet's 'Olympia' of 1884 went and
turned the tables on these classical references. A modern day reclining
Venus, she signified a shift in the approach of the artist towards
conventional ideas and inspiration. This Venus is actually a prostitute
in her boudoir, a signature black ribbon around her neck. The female
nude no longer was an innocent and pure vision of love - realism
brought along with it the desire of artists to react and incorporate
in their work, social issues to do with the world around them. They
didn't want to look back to Arcadian times of the past; they wanted
to show real people doing real life situations. And so began the
desire of the artist to use art as a vehicle to express their own
personal response to the social issues they felt were important.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
'In our life there is a single colour, as on an artist's palette,
which provides the meaning of life in art. It is the colour of love.'
Marc Chagall. Twentieth century artist.
Chagall lived through both world wars, a Jewish refugee who fled
to America during the occupation of the Second World War. Most artists
at one time or another experienced war in their lives, especially
in the last century as communication and warfare became so advanced
that war reached global scale twice. Artists have the power to draw
massive attention to issues prevalent in the world around us, and
many see art as one of the most powerful mediums to express social
Chris Ofili, a young British artist, incorporates racial issues beautifully
and humorously into his paintings. In 2000 he started his 'Afromantics'
series of three paintings depicting the love story of a black couple.
Ofili is drawing on what he saw as the old-fashioned values of Afro
love that still existed, his inspiration coming form an illustration
he saw on the back of a dry cleaning sign in the Caribbean. All three
paintings have the same colour scheme - the colours of the pan-African
flag. Green for the lost kingdom, black for the fallen and red for
the blood that was shed. Ofili is on the surface presenting a traditional
tale of boy meets girl, but seeping into it an underlying message
of Afro culture and awareness. How many other young British artists
have raised the profile of racial issues in art so wittily and peacefully?
LOVE IN ART TODAY: MESSAGE OF PEACE
Art has the capacity to bring attention to imperfections in society
and provoke reactions that can help change the way people think.
The conscience of the artists is powerful and far-reaching. In the
past where love was depicted as an ideal in an ideal world, for gods
and beautiful people, nowadays, love is conveyed in art through the
way it can fight prejudices and stand for freedom of expression.
In the Western world, freedom of expression is what is constantly
challenging and driving artists, but where there is no freedom, the
existence of art itself becomes a symbol of oppression. Freedom is
a form of love in society, where art struggles to exist it shows
the love in society trying to overcome its oppressor.
Until recently in Afghanistan, the Taliban would forbid paintings
depicting living figures, as they thought it highly blasphemous for
a human to attempt to re-create a living object. But portraits of
loved ones that had died were a tradition that was very important
to many and so artists would receive commissions in secret. One of
the countries leading artists, Mohammed Yousef Asefi, who was also
a doctor, was among them. He defied the Taliban one step further
when he heard that many figure paintings in the National Art Gallery
were to be destroyed and decided to intervene and save them. The
Taliban were told that he was to perform restoration work on the
paintings, but instead watercolour was used to paint over figures
in the oil paintings. With the Taliban gone, a damp sponge was all
that needed to be used to reveal the original saved paintings beneath.
He saved around 80 works, the Taliban destroyed 400. Such brave defiance
for the sake of paintings is a symbol of inspiring loyalty towards
art. Many aspects of art the Taliban dictated - the destruction of
old works, the censor of much-loved portraits of dead loved ones,
even artists prevented from teaching anything more than calligraphy.
Now artists are free to paint figures and everyone can enjoy painting
once again. Lack of freedom and harsh punishment associated with
the Taliban have now been replaced by hope and freedom for artists
to create what they wish. This is not about love between two people,
but love as a symbol of freedom and a metaphor for hope for a better
VALENTINE: THE ORIGINIAL CHAMPION OF LOVE
Nowadays love can be anywhere where a prejudice is overcome or some
positive warmth of humanity is felt. The saint associated directly
with love is St Valentine, but the original story behind the commercially
pushed day in February, is entirely rooted in a combination of a
fight for freedom and the human right to love. Valentine was a priest
in third century AD Rome. The Emperor Claudius II decided that single
men made better soldiers because they were not distracted by thoughts
of home and the one they loved. He therefore made it illegal for
young men to marry, in the hope that he would start winning more
battles. Valentine however continued to marry young lovers in secret.
When he was discovered he was put to death, on February 14th, the
day now traditionally associated with love.
Hannah Watson - LondonArt