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In our latest lecture, we looked in great detail at the symbol of the wolf in literature, in particular the well known bloodthirsty villain of Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf has been used as a motif throughout history – in Native American culture the wolf is a symbol of courage, strength, loyalty and intelligence. However, in modern narratives I have observed that the wolf has come to represent the outcast, or outsider.

The book series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, by Michelle Paver, explores the many different facets in the wolf’s nature. The series is set in a Prehistoric world, following the story of a boy, Torak, and a wolf. The society is made up of many different clans named after animals indigenous to their own regions, and each values the characteristics of its ‘clan creature’ above all else.

Torak, originally of the wolf clan, has lived separate from them for most of his life, up until the death of his father. As a baby he was left for a month in the den of a she-wolf and as a result is naturally able to communicate with wolves. He rescues Wolf, an orphaned cub who sees Torak as his pack brother. As children, both are made outsiders by the death of their parents, and must learn to survive on their own. As adults, Torak is cast out by the other clans as a result of his coveted abilities and the actions of his father, but Wolf chooses to remain with him rather than join a true wolf pack.

The Wolf Clan live alongside the rest of the clans, but separate. They seek to understand and think as the wolf does, even using plants to turns the whites of their eyes yellow. However they remain separate from wolves, unlike Torak, and are envious of his bond with Wolf. While not cruel, they are ruthless, with strict rules.

The wolf is often seen as a bloodthirsty creature that follows its base instincts. Werewolves, for instance, see humans changing from a man to a beast during a full moon, a gruesome phenomenon transmitted through infection from a bite. As a mythical creature in a world where science is king, they have to keep it a secret, which alienates them from society. In the Harry Potter series, the character Remus Lupin was a werewolf and as a result he was alienated from normal society. J K Rowling herself said that she created Lupin and the stigma surrounding his condition based upon the current stigma of HIV sufferers. In the series, Lupin due to the invention of a medicine, his condition was stable, and he was rendered harmless in wolf form, but society continued to turn their backs on him. It was only recently that I was reading about Rowling’s thought processes behind many features of the story and I commend her for dealing with a very sensitive subject with compassion.


During the 1930s the Nazi Regime had a stranglehold on Germany. Hitler’s obsession with the classic straightforward style, later on led him to despise Modern Art. The problem was, as he resolutely clung to the past, Avant-Garde taking Europe by storm, with new ideas, energy and dynamic shapes and colours. As these movements took off, Hitler’s own art was left behind.

When he finally had absolute power, Hitler banned all Modern Art from Germany. His men confiscated thousands of Avant-Garde works and many artists such as Max Beckman and Wassily Kandinsky fled Germany to go to Europe and America. One artist, Emil Nolde, who had previously been a supporter of the regime, had over a thousand pieces taken, and was banned from buying art supplies or working at the university. However, he chose to stay in Germany and paint in secret, swapping his oil paints for watercolours so the police would not smell them – he called these ‘unpainted pictures’.

Hitler ordered two exhibitions to be arranged. The first would show ‘degenerate’ art, specifically the banned Avant-Garde pieces, to educate people that this was improper and vulgar. The sculptures and paintings were messily hung up around the room and shoved into corners, with messages painted on the walls.

Image Degenerate Exhibition

The second would show what he considered to be excellent upstanding examples of art that were straightforward and traditional. Unsurprisingly, this did not work as well as he planned. The Degenerate Exhibition took in at least three times as much as the Classical exhibition.

However, Hitler did manage to use some modern art to his own advantage. He recruited Leni Riefenstahl to create nationalistic films from the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany. Her pro-propaganda films became internationally famous. They were very powerful films, returning to the idealised form of the Roman and Greek physique. They glorified death, strength and power. Even the company Hugo Boss produced the uniforms for the SS, based on the traditional uniforms.


This week’s lecture was on The Rise of the Avant-Garde, which appeared around the end of the 1800s and flourished during the 20th century. Before this lecture, I knew very little about Modern Art, but after last week’s lecture on what came before; I was very interested in what would happen next. I believe that after so long of painting in very realistic styles that the world needed this blast of change that came with the appearance of a new, easier way of living, made so by the development of new technology. People needed to open their eyes and realise that there are so many different ways to look at the world and so many places within to look at, so that there could finally be a complete freedom of expression in art.

At this time, many different movements started around Europe. Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism were inspired by painters of the previous century, but much more experimental and dynamic. Constructivism, Suprematism, Futurism and Vorticism were inspired by the new fast-paced technology; its followers loved the speed and noise of the modern industry., and  Dadaism was in protest of the direction in which modern society was moving. I believe the Avant-Garde movement was founded around the idea of looking beyond the immense detail and structure of biology, breaking it down to its most basic visual components. El Lissitzky was a Russian Suprematist, who was well-known for his painting, photography and architecture. He claimed “Our time demands designs that have their origins in elementary forms.” This belief is further studied in his much of his work.

Image Beat the Whites with Red Wedge

Dadaism, in particular, I believe was a huge step forward in art history. Today, artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst could be considered contemporary Dadaists. However, when it first came about, it broke through the restrictions of what society considers art to be. Dadaism began in Zurich, Switzerland, and artists from all over Europe living there became part of it. They created ‘non-art’ by changing the context of everyday objects. Duchamp’s Foundation is of the one of the most famous examples, by presenting a urinal out of its usual context and confusing a crowd normally transfixed by gallery work. The fact that a lot of Avant-Garde pieces were refused by galleries meant that Dadaists had to find other outlets to present their work, such as magazines and private viewings. 

ImageFountain, Marcel Duchamp

Lorenzo and Isabella, 1849 by Millais (1829-1896)- Isabella, John Everett Millais

The 19th century brought with it the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which is often described as the first modern art movement. This was due to the fact that they sought to rebel against the mechanic, step by step way art was taught in academies. Artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo were held up as perfect examples of what art should be, and pupils were taught to mimic their technique and composition styles. As a result, the Brotherhood formed and decided to look back before these artists (hence the name Pre-Raphaelite) to allow them to move forward. The Pre-Raphaelites returned to bright colour and detail, and painted from writers such as Keats, Tennyson and Shakespeare.

The agenda of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood consisted of four main points, drawn up by Dante Rosetti in 1895:

“1. To have genuine ideas to express;

2. To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;

3. To sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learnt by rote; and

4. Most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.”



One of my favourite paintings from the 17th century is Olympia, by Edouard Manet.  Manet paints Olympia as confident and bold in her nakedness, which was a change from the submissive, pleasing Venuses of previous works.

ImageOlympia, Edouard Manet

For instance, Venus Asleep by Giorgione, shows the vulnerable nude, asleep and innocent. She is unaware of the artist, and surrounded by beautiful trees and mountains

ImageVenus Asleep, Giorgione

. A later example, Reclining Venus by Ingres, shows a more Queen-like Venus. She is in a palace, her two handmaids are in the background, and she wears several pieces of jewellery. More importantly, she gazes at the view from the corner of her eye, inviting the artist in, and like the first her hand is draped across her hips to preserve her modesty.

ImageReclining Venus, Ingres

Olympia, however sits more upright, and stares boldly out at the viewer, confidently, almost confrontational. Her hand is not carefully draped like the other Venuses, but placed deliberately, confidently, claiming her own body. She is not at the mercy of the viewer, as with the others, but in total control. She is also decorated with jewellery, and her servant brings her a bouquet of flowers from an admirer. The story of this painting is that Olympia was a famous Parisian prostitute, hence the black cat, the flowers and the jewellery, all symbols of sexuality. The truth in the painting comes from the fact that he did not romanticise her, or attempt to transform her with artistic license into Greek goddess. The harsh brushstrokes and strong light also serve this purpose, and as a result was hated by many of the gallery viewers.

Our most recent lecture, Visuality through the Centuries, spoke about the beginnings of Renaissance Humanism. Artists took much more interest in the details of real life, such as the styles of fashion, flowers and architecture. They also looked into movement and tone, as well as branching into ancient myths and legends, despite the powerful influence of the church. In addition, portraiture became incredibly popular among the upper classes, as it became a symbol of wealth and status. This lecture covered a very long period of time and therefore a lot of information, so I decided to look at some of my favourite moments.

The 15th to 16th centuries saw the practice of famous artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Albrecht Durer. They each studied the human form in great detail, and the attention to movement and tone in their paintings had rarely been seen before. Da Vinci’s technique of Stumato (smokiness) was a new way of conveying tone and blending colour in a painting.

ImageLady with an Ermine, Leonardo Da Vinci

In contrast, Hieronymus Bosch, another painter working around this period, was creating surreal images depicting religious scenes. His most famous work known as The Garden of Earthly Delights, explores the concept of the tree of life, with the three levels of Heaven, Earth and Hell. Bosch was fixated with temptation and obsession with sin, and this remains a theme throughout his work. Many people describe Bosch as the first Surrealist, as his work features terrifying dreamlike scenarios, impossibilities, uncertainties.

ImageThe Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch

During the 17th century, the style began to change again. A classic example is Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The style is slightly looser, less like the perfectly sculpted forms of Da Vinci and Michelangelo. The edges are slightly blurred, and the lighting soft. The tiny white highlights in her eyes, lips and earring just where they catch the light make her seem warmer and more alive, compared to Michelangelo’s marble-like forms. An interesting feature of the 17th century was that artists strove to represent the subject accurately, rather than idealising it as in previous times.

Image Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer


Today, handwriting is beginning to be viewed as a dying artform. Computers, which barely 30 years ago were seen as an optional luxury, are now everywhere. Everyone has laptops and mobile phones, which means that fast accurate typing is understood to be a more useful ability. Certainly communication through the hand-written word has almost vanished. Personal letters are few and far between, replaced by text messages, instant messaging, phone calls and Skype – the only ‘snail mail’ I receive is computer generated and impersonal, and sent to many other people that are in the same age range and probably lead a very similar lifestyle (student deals, takeaway menus, club nights).

Leaflets, bill board posters, business cards, packaging, legal records, books – everything is typed using a computer. In fact, it is widely believed that in the future humans will have no use for handwriting.

I believe that learning to write by hand is very important for a number of reasons. First of all, it is the easiest most spontaneous way of expressing yourself through words. It doesn’t matter if it’s an essay, a story, a poem or even a blog post, I always have to hand write notes and a first draft before I type it up and make final adjustments to it. For me, ideas flow better when I put pen to paper. When I type without writing it down first, I think it sounds emotionless and robotic, like it could have been written by anyone. In addition, studies have shown that a person’s handwriting can reveal as many as 5000 personality traits. Furthermore, if you ever wish to further your drawing education, learning to write the alphabet neatly and clearly is essentially your first lesson in refining your technique and developing your fine motor control. It is something you will continue to do over many years, until you are happy with it.