Marcel Meys – Leda and the Swan (1920)
I have a very long list of scholarly essays I have half a mind to write. I know I’ll never write them but I think the concept is vital enough that someone should write about it–even if it’s not me.
One such essay has to do with understanding the mechanics or artistic influence using figurative painting as a microcosm. I think it’s interesting that it starts out as a system of patronage–artists accept assignments to depict certain stories and thereby practice their craft.
If you’ve ever spent any time studying 13th through 18th century painting–or spent an afternoon ambling drunkenly around the Gemäldegalerie (have done; plan to do again)–you know that regardless of historical merit, a fair portion of it is BORING AS FUCK.
Then there’s those that add not only staggering craft but who also manage to strip away any sort of superfluous decoration and get to the dynamic core of the image. That’s abstract… think of it this way given the established trope the artist finds a means of not only presenting the subject in a new, dynamic way but they do so in cuh a way that the render the title unnecessary. You look at the image and you know down in your bones, the story behind it.
But there’s also work that alludes to mythology in order to clarify or enrich itself. I had an example that was a painting but as I’ve been writing this I may have been drinking rye whiskey and now I’m just blasted enough that the only example I’m able to summon to mind is the fact that Ellen Page’s (who is fucking incredible, by-the-by) character in Inception is named Ariadne.
As with this example, the majority of such efforts end up knee jerkily hipster. But there’s the further complication when we are dealing with analog photographic or digital imaging processes. Joel Sternfeld did a a great project called On This Site: Landscape in Memorium that commented on how text informs images and images inform text.
I find this image to be an example of this last kind of image. I’m not the title necessarily detracts from the work… if you know anything about the history of the depictions of the story of Leda and the Swan then you can appreciate it’s cleverness.
My trouble is that I think the harkening of the title back to mythology diminishes the fact that this image is more than ninety years old but still looks as if some analog fetishist Tumblr photographer collaborated with an up and comping Tumblr model to make it.