Technique Tuesday: Allusion

What is it?

Today’s “Technique Tuesday” post is another good example of the way we’d like to use this series to delve into aspects of fine art that go beyond very literal, physical techniques of applying paint to canvas. While fascinating and important, those only describe a few of the many facets that go into the way that artists visually communicate with the viewer. Just as the use of paint in certain ways (impasto, glazing, multi-loaded brush) adds to the way a painting communicates, so do less physical and more conceptual techniques, like bokeh, atmospheric perspectiveand positive and negative spaceStill further, and perhaps most obviously, the subject matter of the painting often does a great deal of communicating as well. Today’s “technique” is an incredibly prevalent one throughout the history of art: allusion!

Allusion is a term that is typically applied to a literary device which involves a passing reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance, without describing it in detail. Literary allusion draws on a stock of knowledge that the author expects the reader will already have, in order to give a context through which the reader will instantly understand the work more fully. (Some more succinct examples: if an author references someone’s “Achilles heel,” and the reader is familiar with the mythology of Achilles, the reader instantly understands that this is a reference to someone’s one weakness. If someone references a nose growing like Pinocchio’s, the reader instantly understands that this references the telling of lies, as in The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio’s nose grew whenever he told a lie.)

Let’s take a look at the way that allusion has been used as a technique in visual art, as well!

Examples in art history:

Paintings with Biblical Allusions: (left) Rembrandt van Rijn, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee”; (right) Caravaggio, “The Conversion of St. Paul”

Narrative storytelling is one of the oldest purposes of the visual arts. During the Renaissance, this became an especially important function of art, as the Christian Church began to use paintings to educate a largely illiterate public about the stories of the Bible, and commissioned countless religious paintings and frescoes portraying a vast variety of moments from the Bible. As European art continued to develop, allusion began to be used more and more frequently. Whether Biblical allusion, allusion to Greek and Roman mythology, or literary allusions, these references help to deepen the viewer’s understanding of what the painting seeks to communicate.

Paintings with Mythological Allusions: (left) Sandro Botticelli, “Primavera”; (right) Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Persephone”

Paintings with Literary Allusions: John William Waterhouse, (left) “Miranda” referencing Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and (right) “Morgan Le Fay” referencing the legends of King Arthur.

 

Examples from Principle Gallery:

(left to right) Geoffrey Johnson, “Tower of Babel”; Cindy Procious, “Plastic Paradigm III”; Terry Strickland, “The Seamstress”

Now and then, paintings containing allusion will come through the gallery. Sometimes the allusions are Biblical scenes, such as in Geoffrey Johnson’s “Tower of Babel,” and sometimes they’re a reference to something from pop culture, like the Barbie doll in Cindy Procious’s “Plastic Paradigm” series or the Superman logo in Terry Strickland’s “The Seamstress.”

Never before this month, however, has an exhibition here at the gallery been so full of artworks containing allusion! Robert Liberace’s solo exhibition, currently on display, is an amazing collection of paintings and drawings showcasing the artist’s astounding skill at depicting the human form. And, in learning the inspirations and the names of these pieces of artwork, the viewer learns that many of them are mythological and literary allusions! Take, for example, these pieces from Robert’s “Don Quixote” inspired series:

“Visions of Adventure”

“Knight of La Mancha”

“Hidalgo”

How do you think the references to the classic novel change the way the artwork communicates, and the viewer’s understanding of it? Consider the same with these images of mythological figures Atlas and Orpheus:

“Atlas”

“Orpheus”

To view the entirety of Robert Liberace‘s current exhibition and explore all of the allusions contained, stop by the gallery soon or check out our website here!

 

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