Beyond the Brush of Modern Art – The Human Experience Exposed

The twentieth-century’s most provocative thinkers­—Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Sigmund Freud—changed Western perspective about observation and subjectivity.

Modern Art reimagines aesthetics of the human form to resemble realism and worldliness.

Sigmund Freud studied the rich interior life of ordinary people and exposed layers to self-identity. Artists like Lucien Freud—Sigmund’s grandson—and Picasso have fleshed-out the iceberg-like depth of human experience on canvas.

Freud’s case-studies on the unpredictable nature of the unconscious is depicted in the asymmetrical and menacing figures in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The cluster of tribal figures disrupt the viewer’s want for proportion and symmetry. Picasso depicts a coarse profile of the human psyche through abject human figures unrefined by social conditioning. Although less abstract than Picasso, Lucien Freud impresses vastness and complexity instilled within his subjects as seen in his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II which relies on juxtaposition of vacancy and immensity.

Modern art favors micro perspectives over molds and stereotypes of human behavior.

The way humans may panoramically imagine a borough in New York city composed of traffic and lurid bright lights jostles the immediacy of a person being there amid the cityscape. It is even easier to imagine droves of sharp-looking businessmen namelessly jaunting down Madison avenue. Modern art favors micro perspectives over molds and stereotypes of human behavior.

Automat, 1927 by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper’s the Automat (1927) conveys the Modernist style of eclipsing the macro, such as New York City, with the subjective. The Automat focalizes on a ruminative female sunk in a swath of dusky color while in a diner. Hopper—like Picasso or Lucien Freud—is concerned with nudity, or examining the world unpolished by socially performative roles or paste-board masks.

Where Sigmund Freud employed a cigar and notebook to probe his subjects—Lucien Freud, in the same fashion, was equipped with a canvas and brush. Like Hopper, Freud portrays humans as vibrantly alone, musing in dream-like states.

Meaning of Benefits Supervisor Sleeping by Freud
Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, was sold by Christie’s in 2008 for $33.6 million, making it—at the time—the most expensive painting by a living artist ever to be sold at auction.

Freud’s portrait Benefits Supervisor Sleeping astutely employs the symbol of a couch to convey his attention to studying the inner experience of his subject. Freud is concerned with intimately evoking the emotions of his model, likened to his grandfather’s sessions with patients who lounged on his famous therapy couch.

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping provokes a collision of responses that accentuate both grotesqueness and beauty; apathy and sadness. Lucien Freud fundamentally challenged the pantheon of classical art by subverting the ideal form of beauty.

The heavy-set lady in Benefits Supervisor Sleeping is more naked than the stolid marble statue of David—her swollen flesh bursts with obtuse dimensions. A signature of Lucien’s was to capture his model’s nakedness authentically by causing friction between intimacy and intrusion. Lucien’s models are captured in states that lack awareness of their nakedness or disproportion. Viewing a Lucien Freud portrait irks the spectator to feel embarrassment for the model’s nakedness.

Similar to his grandfather, Lucien employs distance when sketching out his model’s complexion. Lucien reveals friction between introspection and the self-consciousness.

Classical art can appear impenetrable and fixed—like David’s chiseled marble body—where modern art sketches humans as worldly, grotesque, and strangely beautiful.

As an art viewer, perception and meaning-making practices are yours to make.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *