Modern Art?




What’s this?

It looks like some sort of modern art sculpture. Maybe something from the early 20th century? It’s a very abstracted figure of a woman, very stylish in the way it’s done. They certainly didn’t make stuff like this in the old days, did they?

Well, in fact, they did! This is a Cycladic figurine from a mere 4500 years ago. 

Yes, it seems there really is nothing new under the sun. When tattoos became popular over the last decades it seemed “new” to many people, but folks have been tattooing themselves for thousands of years, and they’ve been making abstract art for just as long.

• What, When, Who, Where:

Female Cycladic Figurine (2800 – 2300 BC)
From the Cyclades (a Greek island group)
Height: 39.1 cm (15.4 in).
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

• What’s Cool About It:

I think this is a wonderfully stylized figure. She has an elegant long and angular shape. The Cycladic artists almost always used the minimal head shape you see here. There’s no real consensus on the meaning behind such sculptures – there are no written records. Some think they represent a goddess of nature (yes, mother nature). Others have variously interpreted them as idols of the gods, images of death, fertility symbols, children’s dolls, and other things. All the same, I’d love one on my mantle. Christie’s has one here… I might be short $16,882,000.

• Behind the Scenes:

It seems likely that Cycladic figurine design and carving were based on strict rules and a strict system of proportions (dictated by who, I wonder…). This would have required precise measurements and considerable skill. There were probably specialized craftsmen who passed on their knowledge to apprentices. Therefore, it was most likely the work of specialized craftsmen, who probably passed on their knowledge to younger artisans only after the latter had spend a long period of time working as apprentices.

• Fun Fact:

Jean Arp. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Amadeo Modigliani. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Contantin Brancusi. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Many 20th century artists were influence by Cycladic sculpture. These included Picasso, Jean Arp, Modigliani and Brancusi.




One Response to Modern Art?

  1. First of all – $16,882,000! Holy crap! I would put it on my x-mss list, but doubt I would get it as a gift.

    Second – I am drawn to the simplicity of this piece. I have done a bit of sculpting myself and found myself molding human like forms with very little sharp delineation. It was very pleasing to play with clay free from constraints of reproducing a carbon copy of the body.

    Third – I found myself falling into the “Stop viewing cuz I don’t like it” place in my mind because the immediate response to my eyes was “That creeps me out” for Brancusi, “I’m uncomfortable” with Modigilani, and “I don’t like the sharp edges” with Jean Arp. I gave it a second go, and still wanted to be away from Brancusi, felt more warmth as I let the colors come to me in Modigilina, but remained shut off with Jean Arp. THEN I stepped back and realized that every piece didn’t have to elicit warm fuzzy emotions. The fact that emotions came to the surface, regardless of what type, was a level of thinking I had not pondered. And I’m okay with that. I’m at an age where I don’t feel I have to read all types of literature to be well rounded. Rather, I pick and choose what I want to read based on writing style and content, thus reading stuff that allows me to take a vacation from reality, an occasionally escape most of us want given life is a tough cookie much of the time. I guess art can be that way too. Observe, observe again, maybe yet again, and then gravitate towards that allows you to embrace the visual, then emotional moment which can lead you into feeling part of whole of humanity. For me, that moment right now in my life is a need to be in a comfortable and safe zone. For others, the moment may be the release of intense emotions that need to come to surface and released such as anger or despair. As you said at the start, the rule is there are no rules!

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