Listen to part of a lecture in an Art History class.
All right, so today we are moving on to Alice Neel, N-E-E-L.
Um... Alice Neel painted portraits, she was born in Pennsylvania, and she lived from 1900 to 1984.
And I guess you might say, she experienced difficulties as an artist.
She was in her 70s, before she had her first major solo exhibition.
Um, and this is due at least in part to eh... or... because of photography.
After photography became regarded as an art form, portrait painting became less prestigious, less respected as an art form.
And, well, art photography kind of took its place, so you can imagine that a portrait artist, would have had a hard time finding acceptance.
Eh, but the real reason I want to look at Neel, is that I really find her style... eh, she had interesting ways of portraying people.
She combined some elements of realism.
What's realism, Alison?
It's like painting something exactly how it is, so an artist would try to make it as accurate, um... and objective as possible.
Painting stuff just how it appears on the surface.
So Neel combined realism with, well, actually, with expressionism.
And that is? We, we just covered this.
Um... It's into emotion, like artists are trying to, well, express themselves through the painting, right?
Yep. The artist is depicting subjective emotions, showing the inner reality as interpreted by the artist rather than the outward form.
So the image itself might be distorted or exaggerated in some way.
The expression overrides objective representation.
Ok, so, Alice Neel combined these two styles... Yes?
Em... How is that even possible?
How can your portray something exactly as it is and at the same time distort it with emotions?
I don't get it.
All right, good question.
It is actually a good lead-in to some of the techniques that Neel used, that she employed to bridge that contradiction.
In a minute, I'll show you some of her portraits, and I'll want you to notice a few things about them.
First, Neel's use of bold color.
All right? You'll see she uses color to convey emotion and feeling, like the subjects' clothing for instance, it appears brighter than it really is.
And the subjects, the people being portrayed, Neel paid special attention to faces.
The way she paints the eyes and how the faces are portrayed, these are quite realistic, like the realists' work.
But another thing Neel did was use elongated, sort of stretchy figures.
But didn't a lot of expressionist painters do that?
So really you're saying that Neel's techniques were similar to what other artists were doing.
What was it that she did, that was like all her own?
Ok, well, I think it has to do partly with the way she combined these techniques.
So, for example, those realistic faces and eyes, but bright, distorted figures.
It is a mix.
You'll see that her portraits do reflect reality, the people that were actually sitting there.
Realism was important in the sense that she wanted to show people as they really were, much like a photographer would.
But Neel wasn't satisfied with photo-like realism, she went beyond that.
And this is where expressionism comes in.
She believed in capturing the whole person, not just what was on the surface, that's where the expressionists' distortion is important, in an attempt to reveal the subjects' character or personality.
But Neel's paintings are distinctive for her time in part because they are portraits.
Remember I said that photography and art photography had largely taken the place of portraiture, to the extent that some critics had declared the genre of portraiture to be dead.
But Neel felt that painting should reflect reality, a real realist's stance you could say.
And to her, individuals, people best reflect the reality of their time, of the age that they lived in, so she painted portraits.
And if you look at her work, we are talking in the vicinity of three thousand paintings.
If your looked at them, it is like this gallery of the whole century, an enormous range of subjects: families, women, children, artists, people in poverty - these paintings really span class, age and gender.
It is like she transformed the genre, it is not just formal depictions of presidents and ancestors any more.
But keep in mind that she was doing this when abstract art dominated the art scene.
Representations of people weren't fashionable in the art world.
And it wasn't until fairly late in the century that critics recognized the power of what she did.