Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Tondo Frame

I recently had a conversation with some fellow graduate students on how the process of choosing, researching, and writing a paper resembles dating. First you play the field, meaning that you do some preliminary research try and find a paper topic. We agreed that choosing a topic is rather stressful, much like committing to a significant other. Then comes the really fun part, the sex, when you're doing your research. But eventually you have to actually produce something, which, like having kids, is supposedly rewarding but also involves a lot or work and anxiety. What if it turns out to be ugly or inarticulate?

In my introductory graduate seminar, we had to pick an object to write about throughout the semester. This forced us to commit to something early, but does somewhat relieve the stress of birthing your paper all at once at the end of the semester. My object is a frame. I picked it because it's large and elaborate and threatens to visually overwhelm the work of art it was supposedly designed to enhance.

The piece inside the frame is a marble bas-relief sculpture, in a round format known as a tondo, which dates from the 1490s and depicts Madonna & Child. The frame is definitely twentieth century, it was probably made in 1951 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, when the tondo was being exhibited there. Yet it turns out that the frame uses a lot of Renaissance framing designs and techniques, so it seems to have been done in a self-consciously neo-Renaissance style.

I've been reading Derrida's essay on the "Parergon" (that which surrounds the work=the frame) which deconstructs the importance of the frame to modern aesthetics (since Kant). Basically the frame is essential in separating the space of Art from the space of everyday life, and this separation is the foundation for many of our assumptions about art. Because the frame belongs at once to both spaces and neither space, it is systematically disavowed and relegated to the status of vulgar sensual ornament, much like the decorative arts in general, it seems to me.

Let me know if you have any thoughts, after all, raising kids takes a village :)

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