Conceptual Art Essay

Pages: 4 (1277 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

¶ … art analysis: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel

In conceptual art, the aesthetic value of the artistic work is subordinate to the meaning of the work. "Exponents of Conceptual Art said that artistic production should serve artistic knowledge and that the art object is not an end in itself" (Delahunt 2010). Conceptual art is often linked to a text or other mode of culturally-embedded meaning, such as a myth. The movement was first articulated during the 1960s, but its philosophy has been applied retroactively to a number of works of the historical past, such as Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel. The myth of Icarus, the boy who grew drunk on his man-made power of flight that approximated the power of the gods and flew too close to the sun has been a frequent subject of both visual and verbal representation. One of the most famous retellings of Icarus is the poem by the great American poet William Carlos Williams, also entitled "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus." With his spare prose, Williams attempts to create a similar effect as the great Old Master Brueghel.

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The most notable feature of Pieter Brueghel's work is what is absent: there is no titanic representation of Icarus and his father Daedalus flying across the sea, in defiance of the terrestrial nature of Man. Instead, in the foreground of the Brueghel painting, a peasant plowing his field follows behind an old nag of a horse. The peasant is wholly absorbed in his task, and does not look at either the viewer or Icarus in the water. The subject of Icarus might go unnoticed even by the painting's gazer, were it not for Brueghel's pointed and ironic title.

Essay on Conceptual Art Assignment

As the title indicates, the landscape is what is first noticed by the viewer because of the dominance of the peasant in the foreground. The presence of Icarus is manifest in a small, insignificant figure of a drowning man -- and the beautiful, blinding presence of the sun in the distance. However, the dominant colors of the work, other than the sun, are earth tones. The peasant life is what is lasting and important, and the higher aims of Icarus mean little. Of course, in the actual myth, Icarus was merely attempting to escape Crete and the rule of the evil Minos who had imprisoned him and his father. But the death of Icarus has been frequently used as a metaphor for those who attempt to transcend the bounds of humanity. Breughel's painting suggests that most people do not care about such efforts.

The painting is a comment upon the artistic project itself, on art in general. Art and artists are on the periphery of the rest of society. Most people are concerned with obtaining food, plowing the earth, fishing on the sea, herding sheep, or preparing for a spring festival. The boats doing significant work completely overwhelm the small figure of the helpless, foolish, splashing Icarus. As the poet William Carlos Williams wrote in his poem about the painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus":

According to Brueghel

when Icarus fell it was spring a farmer was ploughing his field

The preparations for the harvest of the field are seems important in the grand scheme of things, not Icarus. However, there is also an apparent paradox: although the painting makes an argument for the insignificance of the boy who flies too high and burns the wax on his wings, the artist himself is engaged in a godlike act of creation. And the ordinary individuals depicted by Breughel are engaged in their own manmade acts of imposition upon the world, whether by forcing the field to conform to a plough or creating great ships to skim upon the sea. The artful contours of the plough that seem… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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