Robert Arneson Term Paper

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¶ … ceramic artist Robert Arneson, an artist noted for his whimsical and distinctive ceramic pieces. Robert Arneson changed the way many people look at ceramics and sculpture, and his works helped create a new dimension in ceramic design. He made art history because he was different, he did not accept the established rules of different art forms, and he never conformed to what others thought about his work.

Robert Arneson was born in Benicia, California in 1930, and was interested in art from a young age. His father encouraged him to draw, and later he became interested in ceramics. He studied art after high school and received an advanced degree in the arts, as well. One biographer notes, "Arneson became head of the ceramics department at the University of California at Davis in 1962 and became a full professor of art in 1973" ("The Art"). His view of ceramics was different, and he saw ceramics as a way to influence art, rather than just make cups and saucers and such. He had studied the expressionists as part of his art education and he enjoyed bringing new elements into his ceramic sculptures. The Editors continue, "Arneson was part of the dynamic group of irreverent California Pop artists whose work has come to be known as 'Funk Art'" ("The Art"). The artist died of liver cancer in 1992, but his work lives on in many art forms today.

Arneson was incredibly influential in the art world because of his use of ceramics as a sculptural medium. Before he began working with clay, ceramics was largely seen as a hobby or craft, not an art form. A reporter notes, "When Arneson came to campus in 1962, ceramic art forms were mainly 'art' versions of traditional pottery shapes -- pots, vases, plates and tiles" (Sintetos). Arneson saw ceramics as more than a hobby art form, he saw it as a serious and major art form and from the beginning, his work was much more that just "traditional pottery shapes." In fact, many artists recognize him as one of the "founding fathers" of ceramic sculpture (Natsoulas). Although he did create traditional ceramic works, such as teapots and cookie jars, they were always uniquely styled and different, just like all of Arneson's works. In "Funk Art," which Arneson helped originate, some of the images were offensive or controversial, and Arneson wanted it that way. One group of his first images involved toilets, and others included everyday objects like soda bottles. He wanted his work to be unique, and it was, but it was also record breaking, in that to took ceramics in very different directions, and opened up ceramics as a whole new art form for artists to explore.

It is also quite important to note that Arneson was very versatile in his creativity. His major medium was sculpture, but he also used pen and ink, watercolors, and other mediums, as well. He loved ceramics, but sometimes he needed a different medium to get his message across. That is also important to note - most of his works did have some message, whether it was obvious or not, and that set him apart from many other ceramic artists of the day, as well.

One friend said of him, "I saw Bob emerge from an artist reviewed in craft magazines because he was working in ceramics to an artist who could work in whatever idiom he wished. He was capable of amusement and humor in art, and that is rare. Bob would be ever so pleased if a person burst out laughing when they saw a piece of his'" ("The Art"). His work was often controversial as well, something not usually associated with ceramic art. For example, he was commissioned to create a piece honoring the late George Moscone, the mayor of San Francisco that was murdered in 1978. The piece was meant to adorn the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, but when the city's Art Commission saw the piece, they rejected it, because they did not think it was appropriate or remembered Moscone in a good light. Like all of Arneson's sculptures, it was lighthearted and amusing, and the commissioners did not like that.

When viewing Arneson's works, it is difficult to believe they are actually ceramic. Many are glazed and painted to resemble bronze or marble, and many look like they could be crafted from many other materials, such as ivory or even glass or fabric. His ideas were very different, and so were his subjects. For example, one sculpture marries the busts of Mona Lisa and George Washington in an amusing parody of Mt. Rushmore, and it is both funny and enlightening to look at it and see the resemblance between these two very different people. Many of Arneson's works were funny like this, and many people have called them whimsical or humorous. It is clear Arneson did not take himself too seriously, and that came through in much of his artwork.

That does not mean that he did not tackle important or societal issues with his work. In fact, after he was diagnosed with cancer in 1984, his work continually took on very important political themes, such as the possibility of nuclear holocaust and many of these were quite disturbing to view. Arneson wanted his sculpture to say something to the viewer, and when he expressed views like this, his meaning was very clear. Thus, he influenced ceramics not only by how he sculpted with it and used it for portraits, he also used it to protest things he did not believe in, and that made some of his works very political and inflammatory, as well. He is remembered for the caliber of his work, but also for the social commentary, it often contained. In addition, Arneson believed that art should be a part of everyday life, and so he liked to place his sculptures in public places where the most people could enjoy them.

Arneson also influenced art and art history by wanting as many people as possible to enjoy his artwork. Another friend notes, "Bob Arneson believed that art should interact with everyday life. He wanted art that regular people would understand and enjoy. Maybe that's why the Eggheads are the most photographed objects on campus'" ("Eggheads"). One of the last public projects he completed was this "Egghead" project that highlights several different pieces on the campus of the University of California at Davis. The project includes seven different "Eggheads" in different poses that are placed around the campus in different areas.

Arneson, as a teacher, influenced many of his students in the importance of art and art history, as well. He taught for over 40 years, and he taught art history and appreciation as well as ceramics (Sintetos). Another writer notes, "The gifted Robert Arneson [...] went to teach at the University of California at Davis in 1962, and a group of his followers became leaders -- Robert Brady (b. 1946) and David Gilhooly (b. 1943) to name two (Peterson 116). Gilhooly is probably one of the most well-known modern artists today, and his work has branched out even more today, where his art decorates many galleries, but also adorns many gardens and other outdoor public places. Thus, Arneson influenced art during his time, but because of his teaching, he still influences art today in many ways, especially ceramic art and how it is viewed by the public and other artists.

It is important to note that Arneson never stopped creating and trying new things in his medium. Two authors note, "Arneson continued to explore this new freedom, influenced by a broad range of artists in different media, including Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Edvard Munch, and Pablo Picasso. In the 1970s he turned to portraiture and self-portraiture" (Lauria, and Adkins 167). All of this intense study continued to influence others in the art world, and enhanced Arneson's reputation for cutting-edge art that was both social commentary and just plain funky in some cases. It also helped create a larger than life career that lives on today, even more than a decade after the artist's death. That indicates just how important his work was, and still is, to the art community, and what a real contribution he made to art history.

Arneson rebelled against the traditional functionality of ceramics, and so his works sometimes do serve a functional purpose, but for the most part, they are intended strictly for decoration and enjoyment. He brought ceramics "out of the closet" so to speak, and showed that ceramics had a place in art galleries, private collections, and public places. They function as decoration, rather than something concrete and usable, and yet, they are extremely moving and spiritual in some cases. While function was not an ideal for Arneson and his work, raising eyebrows clearly was. Many of his sculptures were considered "naughty" in the 60s when he created them, and it is clear he created some, such as his toilets, largely for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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