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The Differences Between a Formal, Social, and Psychoanalytic Reading of Art

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, March 27, 2017

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith beheading Holofernes, 1611-12, oil on canvas, (Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples)

There are several different ways to read a painting. The perspective of the reader adds a new insight to the history behind the art. For the purpose of this article, I have selected Judith beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi to demonstrate three different ways to read a painting because this work can be read various ways.

A formalist reading would first point out the tools used to create this art: Oil paint on canvas. A chiaroscuro technique of dark shading has been used. Chiaroscuro originated in the late Renaissance and carried over into the Baroque period because of its popularity. The main colors in the painting are blue and red.

A social approach would point out the empowered female subject matter may be directly related to the fact that the artist is also a female. Artemisia Gentileschi is one of the most known female painters from the Baroque period at a time that it was difficult for women to get recognition in the arts. Judith is wearing blue, which may be significant because it is comparing her to the Virgin Mary. The subject matter in the painting is found in the Old Testament, which shows the impact religion had on Europe art in the early 1600s.

The psychoanalytic approach developed after Sigmund Freud introduced his theory of psychoanalysis in the early 1900s. In this case study of the painting of Judith and Holofernes, the focus shifts toward the sword in Judith's hand. The act of beheading can be seen as a type of castration showing the dominance the woman has over the man.

All three readings are related to the artwork, they are just seen from different perspectives. An interesting exercise to try out the next time you read through a comic's archive would be to see how it can be read through a formal, social, or psychoanalytic method.

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PaulEberhardt at 4:16PM, March 29, 2017

I've never been that much into psychoanalytic approaches, but sometimes they do make sense. Kind of. In a sppoky way, sometimes. But this post is a great example of art analysis in a nurshell, and I like the suggestion about applying it to webcomics. I'm thinking of how often I caught myself doing exactly that - to everyone who doesn't: give it a try! And no, I'm not going to talk about a historic context approach, although I find it's often a great dimension to add. It works even with comics that are just a year old, it really does.

bravo1102 at 3:11PM, March 27, 2017

It looks like they're butchering a pig and the painter just happened to paint a person in there instead.

ozoneocean at 6:41AM, March 27, 2017

The pic always makes me think of Agamemnon and Clytemnaestra - she beheaded him in his bath. This was a popular subject for paintings and sculpture at one stage- not Agamemnon, but Judith and Holofernes. Noce reading with the different perspectives Kawaii!

KimLuster at 5:00AM, March 27, 2017

Woohoo... Artistic Analysis! I used to have to do this sort of thing all the time in school, mostly with literature, but sometimes with art! I would attempt a Jungian analysis but... I'm tired haha

MOrgan at 4:47AM, March 27, 2017

"The act of beheading can be seen as a type of castration"... 8-/ Talk about missing the point. It's murder. Now I can see an argument for using that as a reason why the artist may have painted it, but sometimes a beheading is just a beheading.

cdmalcolm1 at 4:31AM, March 27, 2017

The fact that the 2 women are doing something so graphic with just a simple expression on their faces makes me wonder....have they done this before?

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