Unit 1 - Activity 2 – Style, Form, and Content
Comparing and Contrasting the three works of art: Totem Pole, Giotto Crucifix, and Minoan Snake Goddess
I would categorize each of the three works as Fine Art but with each having a distinct objective and cultural purpose. Their styles and appearance differ, but all seem to convey somewhat naturalistic attributes. The Giotto Crucifix is perhaps the most naturalistic of the three, as it depicts a human being – Christ – as its central figure. The other two seem to represent deity figures with recognizable and fairly discernible attributes.
All three works are similar in that they seem to convey a higher power. All three figures have elevated arms for which at least two of them – Totem Pole and Minoan Snake Goddess – convey a sense of power and/or authority. All three offer a similar meaning in that the subject must be respected and revered. While all three subjects have something over their heads, the Totem Pole and Snake Goddess subjects both depict an animal; this could signify that such animals are above or more important than the human figures represented. Similarly, the halo above Christ’s head also signifies a higher realm of importance. As for differences, two of them have distinct genders while the Totem Pole’s subject can be male, female, or another gender altogether. In addition, only the Totem Pole work is placed in context (a natural background environment) while the other two have no backgrounds whatsoever; this offers the viewer some assistance or clues in ascertaining the meaning of Totem Pole (assuming of course the viewer has no knowledge of either subject). Finally, the colors for each work differs: Totem Pole mostly has shades of gray while the other two have a much larger palette of colors for the viewer to both appreciate and analyze. Finally, all three figures have distinct facial expressions. In brief, all three works have similarities but their meanings should be interpreted individually, as they must all come from different and perhaps very distinct cultures.
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these three works in order to further explore their cultural, religious, and aesthetic attributes.
The deity or figure represented in this work is most likely related to nature or the natural environment, as its context shows a rich forest and long grass. Moreover, the bird-like figure on the head of the main figure could convey a sense of harmony between man, nature, the animal kingdom, and perhaps even the spiritual realm. The patterns on both the animal and “human” figure can easily suggest ones that are representative of some kind of aboriginal peoples. As with most aboriginal tribes or peoples, deities related to the natural environment such as animals are often respected and revered. The closed eyes, open mouth and arms of the central figure can represent warmth, openness, and a welcoming sentiment to those willing to worship it. Furthermore, the animal figure on the top conveys a message of harmony between the followers and the natural environment and animal world in which both cohabit.
Similar to the Totem Pole, one could argue that this work also has two figures. The obvious one is Christ while the less obvious one is the cross which is a powerful religious symbol in itself. You could also add a third if you wanted – the halo. In Christianity the halo represents a saintly figure or a divine or spiritual light. All of these elements combine as a powerful religious force in which its worshippers will revere in spiritual and devout fashion. From a cultural perspective, the crucifixion of Christ on the cross signifies the ultimate price one can offer in order to help and guide humanity to greater harmony. Aesthetically, soft shades and tones coupled with fine drawing strokes sharply distinguish the human figure – Christ – from that of the more “rough” object on which he lays. Perhaps this is meant to signify that Christ himself and his sacrifice is the more important aspect or meaning this work attempts to convey.
Minoan Snake Goddess
From my perspective, this work offers the most aesthetic and artistic properties, not to mention more distinct colors. Although the work comes from ancient Minoan (Greek) civilization, it seems to share the same tri-color attributes or tones that we often see in the famous sancai (three color) ceramics from the Tang Dynasty era of Chinese civilization. Both dark blues and oranges (two sancai colors) are strongly present in this work and could also convey a special meaning within this culture. The figures attire (dress and hat) also must represent some aspects of the Minoan culture. I am unsure about the patterns which appear on the front side of her dress as well as the shape of her hat, but they must likely have some cultural and/or religious connotation. The Goddess holding the two snakes also conveys a strong sense of power which could have been significant to the people in the Minoan civilization. It is not clear what animal or thing lies on her head but it is possible that she is protecting it from the dangers of snake bites. So, perhaps this could signify that she is a deity in which the followers must respect and pray for safety during their dangerous life journeys.
In conclusion, it is always advantageous to look for both similarities and differences in different works of art (no matter how different they are), as it will give you a greater probability of interpreting the true meaning of each work. Moreover, one must always take into account the context, culture, religious, and aesthetic attributes in all works of art in order to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning as well as a greater appreciation of its uniqueness.
Dan Fournier, 2015-09-24