Reading response journal Essay

WEEK OF MARCH 23-27, 2009

ORIENTALISM IN 19TH-CENTURY ART

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Read the questions that posted for you, then pick an image - Reading response journal Essay introduction. As you read the article how does those questions apply to the image. The article will give the information you need to answer the questions.

JOURNAL WRITING RESPONSE

This is an exercise in which you extend Linda Nochlin’s arguments to other Orientalist works from the 19th-century European tradition.  To what extent do the artworks listed above show Eastern subjects in a timeless, atemporal world untouched by progress? How does naturalism create a “reality effect”, an almost documentary-like appearance, which may bear little relation to the lived experience of the depicted peoples and cultures?  How do sexuality and eroticism intersect with the imagery?  How do colonial and imperial attitudes regarding the inferiority of the exotic East/superiority of the Westplay into their construction?

ORIENTALISM IN 19TH-CENTURY ART:

A Journal Writing Response

In the painting entitled “Odalisque with a Slave”, the painter, Jean August Dominique Ingres, portrays an odalisque, a concubine to a Muslim male (Zilfi, 2000), taking a nap. At her foot a female servant is playing a stringed instrument, the expression on the servant’s face seems dreary. Behind the two females is a dark servant male, unconcerned of the events happening in the chamber in front of him.

In examining Ingres’ painting, we should take note of several points stated in the assigned reading. Nochlin (1989) defines ‘absences’ that makes the oriental art appealing to Westerners. One is the absence of history; She explains the logic behind this by stating that “… this Oriental world is a world without change, a world of timeless, atemporal, customs and rituals, untouched by historical processeses that were  “afflicting” or “improving”, but at any rate, drastically altering the western societies at the time” (pp. 35-36).In the painting, the whole idea of a concubine and slavery seemed so primitive to the Westerners. Take note that the painting was made in 1842, a time where in the Europeans were gearing towards industrialization, a time of fast growth and development. The fact that the image portrayed seemed so uncivilized, such as the nakedness of the odalisque and the indifference of the male servant to the scene in front of him, contrasted to the ideals of the Western culture appealing.

The second ‘absence’ Nochlin mentions if the absence of art. By this, she means that there is no real creation of a new form; rather it is just a copy of the presented reality. In fact, the Oriental art is so transparent, that the audience forgets that it is art. It was mentioned in the last few pages that Orientalism is an  “illusion of the real”. Analyzing the painting we can ask the questions: Is it real? Are the people real? Does it really depict the reality during the time it was painted? To help us understand the effect of naturalism in the artwork.

The western concept of the Orient is so exotic and erotic, that it makes the interest in this world so profound. In relation to the painting we can see the sexuality and eroticism in the images of the two women. Nochlin mentions that two women, one with a lighter skin tone, the other with a darker one, indicate “sexual naughtiness”. Furthermore, she says that two female bodies “in the guise of mistress and maidservant, has traditionally signified lesbianism”(p. 49).

Those from the west were so fascinated by the culture of those from the Orient that they wanted to subdue it. The west believed that the ‘uncivilized’ Orient needed guidance and direction. Just like in religion, there is already a clash in ideals. The West believing that they were the more superior, diverged into claiming the Orient. Another point to consider is the fact that the Orient was rich in natural resources different from that of the West. Those from the west were very much interested in this. Thus, conquests of the West to the Orients were inevitable.

References:

Ingres, Jean August Dominique (Painter). (1842). Odalisque with a Slave (Oil on canvas]. Baltimore;Walters Art Gallery.

Nochlin, L. (1989). The imaginary Orient. In he politics of vision: Essays on 19th-century art and society (pp. 33-59). New York.

Zilfi, M. (2000). Ottoman slavery and female slaves in the early modern era. In K. Cicek, The great Otttoman-Turkish civilization (Vol. 2, pp. 714-718). Ankara.

 

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