Much can be learned from the environment within which we live. What we see tells a lot about the society in which we live: belief system; politics; economic undertakings; kinship and material culture among others. Through material culture, we can get insight into the world that existed long before us. Culture can be defined as the way of life of people depicting their shared experiences, political and religious beliefs, technology, insights, attitudes, and material objects. (Li & Karakowsky)
The sublime can be defined as the priced greatness or vast intensity in terms of biological, moral, mental, metaphysical, beauty, art or religion. Sublime is experienced over and over. It is embedded in our history, being, values, thoughts, concepts, world views, beliefs, and is responsible for our personalities (Bernadac 2007 p20) Main Body One of America’s renowned artist and sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, managed to capture the American Sublime through her artistic undertaking.
She was born in Paris, France in December 25, 1911 but traveled to America in 1938 to perfect her artistic endeavor. She studied mathematics at the Sorbonne, and painting and sculpture in Ecole du Louvre, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and Art Students League of New York. She worked as an assistant to Fernand Henri Leger- a French sculptor, painter, and film maker. She is popular for her work that depicts spiders, sculptures, drawings and literary work (National Gallery of Canada 2005 p16).
As a way of depicting the society in which she was living, Bourgeois’ work is full of inanimate images of horrifying fear, ghosts, darkness, tortured people, and disabling mental illness to attempt to get at the source of these emotions and to uphold normality even in times of chaos. Her works helped depict the intellectual climate, social and historical conditions that existed then. (Gorovoy et al 2006 pp 27 -28) She captured the effects of the First World War through carving limbless sculptures and detached limbs and had most of his paintings and sculptures painted black to depict death and mourning, (Gorovoy et al 2006 p 24) e. g. the two headless fabric bodies attempting to make love shown below.
She depicts the revolution of the western politics, largely constructivism, through posters that expressed sympathy towards the Russian regime which she displayed in Moscow. The Tate Modern exhibition catalogue indicates her inclination towards Communism. Bourgeois made abstract art pieces that reflected on her childhood experiences showing how relationships within the family were entwined together thus bringing in the aspect of kinship, socialization and acculturation.
This depicts how her art gives us insight to how children were brought up back then. (Lippard 2003 pp 9-10) Her Femme Maison and Fallen woman series introduced the aspect of liberation of women. They depicted a female struggling to outgrow some house like structures within which she is trapped – that is attempting to outgrow the masculinity into which the women were entrapped. She depicts a rebellion against the negative masculinity through her work, The Destruction of a Father, in which rock figures surround a sacrificial slab full of butchered body parts. Thus:
It has been suggested that her sculpture, The Blind Leading the Blind, has a religious connotation. According to Desmond Michael and Lloyd Michael (1870-1970) Bourgeois, inspired by the Cold War, made this sculpture and that the title was picked from the New Testament verse (Matthew 15:14) that describes how a blind man leading another blind man would end up in a ditch. The structure is shown below (Bernadac 2007) Bourgeois’ contribution to the American Sublime is best captured in New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and London’s Tate Modern with their massive collection of her art work.
In conclusion, the American Sublime has been captured through art in poetry, carvings, paintings, songs, books, and which take us back to the origins of the cultures of past American societies. Just like the origins of the American sublime can be traced through studying works of art, similarly, so can we understand much about its revolution from the contemporary art works. Louise Bourgeois has managed to get this through her sculptures, drawings and works of art – reflecting abstract as well as tangible aspects of living that relate to feelings, political standing, material culture, religious inclination, beliefs and kinship.
References Bernadac, M (2007) “Louise Bourgeois” Rizzoli International North America pp 18 – 24 Gorovoy, J. , Carver R. & Read C. (2006) “Louise Bourgeois” Bellport Press University of Michigan pp 21-35 Lippard R (2003) “Overlay: contemporary art and the art of prehistory” Pantheon Books NY pp 7-16 National Gallery of Canada (2005) “Louise Bourgeois Maman” National Gallery Canada press pp 14-17
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