Thursday, November 20, 2008

What is the First Work of Art You Remember?

The Art Newspaper’s Digital edition has started a video series entitled “The first work of art I remember”. In the short video, viewers are introduced to the sculptor Anthony Caro, photographer David La Chapelle, and Harry Blaine, and the works of art that inspired them as children. No matter who we are, we've been influenced by art at an early age, even if we are not fortunate enough to be exposed to works of art in great museums and cathedrals throughout the globe. Children are introduced to folk art, prints or paintings their parents or mentors love, and often even the illustrations in a book will serve to inspire the young.

This morning, after watching the video I had to think about my earliest memory of art, as I lived in a home infused with the humanities. What piece in particular could I recall as the earliest inspirational piece? Much to my surprise, it was a print that hung in my grandparent’s dining room. The art is what I’ll term a “period piece” of kitsch, but it still engaged my imagination and lurked in my memory long after the passing of time. I won’t go so far as to say that it inspired me to become an artist, for it didn’t. Yet when I was a child, it captivated me entirely and on many an occasion when I have viewed the print in other locations, I have looked on it with fondness. It is more than sentimental journeying that holds my interest now, it is a recognition that the artist achieved his intended message in this work.

Today as I reflected back on the painting, I realized that I didn’t even know the name of the artist or the painting…..although I could describe it in graphic detail. After significant research, I discovered the painting was actually a photograph taken in 1918 by Eric Enstrom; it is entitled “Grace.” I encourage you to read the full story about the picture’s origin: http://www.gracebyenstrom.com/history.html It’s a short read, but quite inspiring.

During the 1920’s , Enstrom’s iconic image could be purchased in several versions, as a black and white photograph, as a sepia-toned photo, or as a photograph that would be over-painted in oils by Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg. In fact, she would oil paint them to order, changing the color of the old man’s shirt according to the wishes of the individual who commissioned the painting.

It is interesting to note the difference between the photograph and the painting, as the sepia photo doesn’t include the light streaming. This artistic technique aids in directing the eye towards the model’s hands, and only later does the eye then travel to the items placed on the table. I do not intend to enter into a dialogue about Enstrom’s talents as a photographer, but I do believe that the work was substantially enhanced by his daughter’s coloration.

What first work of art do you remember? How did it impact you? How did it inspire you? How do you relate to it today? Perhaps there is a story awaiting you, too!

8 comments:

Dave King said...

Interesting question. I had to think, though not for long. For me it was Holman Hunt's The Light of the World. I can't actually recall where I saw it, it wasn't at home, and it was well before I started school or going to church or Sunday School. I was fascinated by it. It does not mean much to me now, except as a very early memory with which I had lost contact.

S. A. Hart said...

Dave, It's interesting that your 1st recollection is also a piece that was widely distributed. I wonder how these images actually impact us at a subliminal level? The video attempted to imply that early exposure to art inspires us to become artists. I'm less confident of their position than I am that exposure to art, music, poetry and literature contributes to a more compassionate, creative and cultivated society.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Van Gogh---Starry Night

Matthew S. Urdan said...

or maybe Dali, Persistence of Memory....one of the two, now that you've got me thinking about it.

Sweetwater Designs said...

what a beautiful painting and an example of how the artists eye can relay details that a casual observer has missed or have only been in the eye of the artist. I love the painting..

attygnorris said...

It's weird, but the picture I remember staring at most as a child was "The Scream" by Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. I don't even know why.

Davida

Ritchiela Anyi said...

I like your post...

Eliza Winters said...

That's a very good question. I think I would have to say that mine would be American Gothic. I think that's one that I will always remember from elementary school. Since then, I have actually had a fascination with folk art. My home is decorated exclusively with folk art prints. Thanks for the great question, it comes with lots of great memories.