While visiting the KALEID Gallery in San Jose, CA. I saw the works of art by Rosa Younessi, the featured artist for April, 2016 (her show was titled “Colors of Dreams”). Several of her oil paintings caught my attention, but “London Fog” and “San Francisco Fog II” did so particularly well. At first glance, they didn’t seem to have the real shape of what was painted. When I took a closer look, however, I could make out the shapes of buildings, as well as other parts of the city, such as the boats floating near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. These paintings showed London and San Francisco, but the paintings weren’t clear, as if there was heavy fog in the city. Being able to see the cities in this state was interesting because I wouldn’t have thought that a foggy setting would be good for a work of art, but the artist portrayed the cities in such a way that it changed my mind. There were clearly layers of painting used to blur the lines between the buildings. These layers helped to blend the colors together to give the foggy appearance that the two works have.
I don’t believe that the artist was trying to say anything through these paintings, but wanted to share images of London and San Francisco. Having lived near San Francisco for most of my life, I have seen the morning fog that settles into the city. Seeing Younessi’s painting reminded me of how San Francisco looks during these times. Although I have never been to London, I have always heard of the fog and rain that are common in England, and can imagine what it’s like in “London Fog.” Oil was a good choice for these works because oil paints can be blended together to give the foggy look the artist was aiming for.
These works provide a good aesthetic experience on multiple levels. They are able to catch the viewer’s eye at first glance, but upon closer inspection the viewer is able to see a detailed and intriguing painting. Even if somebody saw the painting but wasn’t paying close attention to it, they could still enjoy the pleasing combination of shapes and colors. Taking a closer look at the paintings, however, the viewer is able to see finer details. This includes not only the bigger items like the buildings in the paintings, but also smaller aspects, such as the streaks in “London Fog” that appear to connect the two halves of the painting. Although the paintings didn’t hold much value outside of their aesthetic qualities, and there were no deeper connections or emotions evoked, I do not consider this to take away from the quality of the work. A work of art does not need to have a deeper meaning to be a good work of art, although such meaning can help make a work better.
Although works of art can be strengthened by involving emotions that aren’t directly connected to the work, these emotions aren’t a requirement for a good work of art. Like Clive Bell (author of Art, 1914), I believe that significant form is the primary qualifier for works of art, and significant form is something that both “London Fog” and “San Francisco Fog II” have. These two paintings provide an aesthetic experience that is memorable through the relations of lines and colors they have. If Younessi had tried to include emotions that draw on other experiences, the works would have been weakened. It would be difficult to include those emotions without feeling as if these are forced, while still maintaining the original idea behind the paintings.
Bell would likely agree that these paintings are good works of art because they both have significant form. The two works are based on the relations between the lines and colors. True, they both need the relation between the different aspects of the city’s landscape to be able to create a realistic feel. The colors, however, are the strength of the paintings. The colors are what create the foggy look the artist aimed for. These colors are able to blur the lines between each shape in the painting, but keep everything differentiated so that the viewer can see every detail. Bell didn’t believe that we need to go into the artist’s thoughts when they were creating the works of art, because good art is able to aesthetically please us without the involvement of such emotions. Although some people may feel an emotional connection to these paintings, such as someone who grew up in either London or San Francisco, and long for the foggy days portrayed, many will enjoy the art for its aesthetic qualities, without looking into a deeper meaning.
Rosa Younessi’s “London Fog” and “San Francisco Fog II” would be considered art by Clive Bell because they have significant form. More than that however, they are good works of art because of the aesthetic experience they provide. The paintings rely on lines to portray the scenery in the cities, but the colors pull the paintings together by creating the foggy image the artist wants. There are no real emotions or lessons to be learned from these paintings, but that doesn’t detract from their strength. The works are strong enough on their own and the aesthetic emotions that the viewer feels allows him or her to fully appreciate what the artist created.
Comment from Thomas Leddy
Although Bell's formalism has been attacked many times since it was originally put forth in 1914 it is still often a powerful way to understand some contemporary art.