The Style Of Power

On the effects of the patrons ideals on the artists vision


In order to achieve a greater degree of clarity for my previous essays in this course, I would like to continue to express some views on the role of patronage, economics, philosophy and politics as they pertain to the creation of artistic styles. Due to the fact that this paper is limited in length, and therefore time, I will attempt to focus on the classical period, and the artist Pheidias. I make no claim on being an expert in Greek history, philosophy or politics. However, certain conclusions may be reached by the inferences of current and historical literature. I will put forward my own conclusions in the following hypothesis:

The artists of the classical period in Greece, and throughout history, had very limited input in regards to the style or the content of any artworks produced. This is not to suggest any lack of skill; on the contrary, survival demanded a greater degree of skill in interpreting the desires of the patron. The artist was, after all, an employee of a patron and required money to live.

The patrons of this period were thouroughly acquainted with the power of the visual language, and used this language to legitimise their position. There was knowledge of how to motivate and unite the population under their rule.

The realisation of a style of artwork is much more complex than the skill level of any one artist. The century in which we live may be considered an exception to this general rule. The personal and financial freedom which some of us enjoy today, is the only type of cultural background in which an artist can truly take risks without the permission of a patron. Even this can meet with great opposition if the artwork steps too far out of the boundaries of commonly held values. These values and beliefs relating to the nature of art and its use are generally blind to the aspect of art as a language. Artists speak this language quite well, and unfortunately this language is also spoken, understood, and greatly abused by megalomaniacs throughout history.

Why Pheidias?

This seems to be a straightforward question. However there is disagreement among historians as to when his fame as a great sculptor arose. Was his fame due to the Parthenon project, or was he given the project because he was famous.(1) The statue of the Athena Promachos has been attributed to Pheidias as his first great statue.(2) This statue, made of bronze, stood thirty feet in height, and was placed between the Propylaia and the Erectheion. The commissioning of this statue has been attributed to Cimon.(3) However , with these literary pronouncements in place there is a problem. The statue has also been attributed to Praxiteles the elder.(4) Attribution of a magnificent monument such as this to Pheidias would have made his selection as head sculptor for the Parthenon project make a bit more sense. There is no undisputed evidence to show that Pheidias was a famous sculptor at the time Perikles selected him. It does appear to be known that Pheidias was originally trained as a painter.(5)

With this aspect of the career of Pheidias in mind we can see a beginning of why he would have been chosen. The Greek city-states seemed to have an abundance of sculptors who were at least as talented as Pheidias. For a project as grand in concept as the Parthenon was, a designer and co-ordinator was a much more appropriate choice. The skills of a painter would have been invaluable in producing the volumes of designs needed for such a massive sculptural project. And yet there is no evidence of this, such drawings would have disappeared long ago. We do know how much the great sculptor Michelangelo relied on his drawings.

Manager or Artist

For Pheidias, and the architects Iktinos and Kalikrates, certain problems in planning must have arisen. Decisions had to be made on the co-ordination of the work. When the decision was made as to the type of stone to be used for the building, and the sculpture, plans would then have to be drawn up for it’s transportation.(6) As Pheidias was in charge of the sculptural side of the project, we would have to assume that a great deal of his time would be occupied in this task. He would have the size of the blocks of marble needed for each piece of pedimental sculpture measured out before any trip to the quarry.(7) The total volume of stone needed for the metopes, and the frieze, would similarly be known well ahead of the carving. The erection of a temple began with the colonnade.(8) The interior of the temple would be built at the same time, or soon after, as this was the supporting structure for the roof.(9) The metopes would then be put in place before the roof went up as the entablature; sitting atop the metopes would make it all but impossible to move them. Restrictions of time must have occurred; some metopes had been placed in blank to be carved later, no matter how difficult this process would be.(10) This may explain the discrepancies in the quality of the extant carvings more than the suggestions that it was the skill, or lack of skill, that an artisan may have.

Describing Pheidias as the ‘Great Master’ has brought a great deal of misinterpretation on the nature of what he actually did on the Parthenon project. This is so glaringly obvious with statements from scholars pointing to some of the metope carving as ‘… excellent that it has been attributed to Pheidias himself.’(11) With little direct evidence, statements such as this mislead the classicist and art historian alike, into the belief that the artist was entirely responsible for the quality of the carving. The pressure of time deadlines, and the economics of the entire process must have had an enormous effect on the quality of carving on such a scale. Even without the aspect of artist, Pheidias was a formidable project manager.

Whose work is it?

For thirty years following the defeat of the Persians, in 479 B.C.,(12) very little was undertaken in the way of building. Athens was receiving a great deal of money in the form of tribute from the city-states that did not wish to participate in the naval defence of Greece. In 450B.C.,Perikles proposed the use of 5,000 talents of this wealth to build the Parthenon.(13) In a democracy, a decision such as this would have required a great deal of power and influence.

While there is no doubt that Pheidias was in charge of the Parthenon project,(14) there remains in my mind some disagreement as to the weight of his influence on the style. There has been a suggestion that Pheidias is responsible for holding back the flow of Greek art towards naturalism and realism.(15) For this to be the case he would have to have a great deal more influence outside the field of sculpting. And there is no evidence for this. There is evidence for the connection with Perikles. And with this goes the connection to the intellectual peer group of Perikles. These included Anaxagoras, a scientist, Protagoras, a sophist philosopher and Perikles himself.(16) Perikles arrived in his position as strategoi approximately 455 .C. This was considered a very important position to hold in the democracy of Athens as it involved the protection of the city and all of its citizens.(17) Perikles was re-elected for fifteen years. Another member of this influential group was the philosopher Protagoras. Protagoras was a sophist, otherwise known as an expert. He was responsible for the education of the children of Perikles amongst others.(18) Add to this the scientist Anaxagoras, whose view of the world included ‘visible objects as a clue to invisible ones’(19), and there is quite a formidable gathering of power, influence and intellect. If we regard the visual effect of the classic style, with its sense of idealism, calmness in the face of adversity, we can get a good sense of the nature of these men. The contemporaries of Perikles were impressed by ‘…his serenity, his reserve, his stately calm which they called “Olympian.”’(20) This could almost describe one of Pheidias’ depictions of a god. What was going on in this group of powerful citizens? Pheidias’ alliances to this group holds a great deal more information as to the classic style of sculpture, than a mere declaration of his talent. Philosophy and politics played a very large part in the making of the Parthenon, and of the classical style. Unfortunately for Pheidias, his alliance with power was a double-edged sword that attracted a great deal of animosity, as well as admiration.

The struggle with power.

Powerful people tend to attract the wrong kind of attention. For those close to them life can be hazardous. For Pheidias, the hazards were deadly. One of his first difficulties was brought about by the depictions of himself and of Perikles on the shield of the cult statue Athena Parthenos. The adherents of the Athena cult saw this as sacreligious. (21) Because of this blatant display of ego an attempt was made to bring first Pheidias to trial, in order to test the waters for bringing Perikles to trial. The first attempt on Pheidias was a charge that he had appropriated some of the gold for the statue of Athena Parathions. Weighing the golden parts of the statue, which Perikles had asked Pheidias to design as removable, refuted this charge.(22) This was followed by a charge of impiety relating to the portraits of himself and Perikles on the Amazonomachy.(23) This charge was successful and Pheidias was found guilty. There are differing accounts as to his demise. Some state that he was able to escape for a while into work in Olympia, and was then brought back to die in prison in Athens.(24) Other accounts state that he died at Olympia where his workshop was discovered. In either case his close association to Perikles may have brought him the much coveted prize of the Parthenon project, but it also killed him.

In conclusion I would like to reiterate that I am by no means an expert in Greek politics, history or philosophy. However, some of the points I have raised are worth further study, or debate. The original intention was to create a comparison between Pheidias, Perikles, Lysippos and Alexander. The mountains of information on Pheidias alone were overwhelming. Time and space will not permit an efficient study of the points I wish to make.

Also, there may be a noticeable lack of visual information in this paper. This is deliberate. In consideration of the fact that most of our knowledge of this eras artists is written, and anecdotal, it is difficult for me to justify the use of the Roman copy, or a suspected original. The statement by Anaxagoras: ‘visible objects as a clue to invisible ones’ is a very poignant way to close, the unknown artist may be the real genius.


The Sky Is Blue

The Sky Is Blue

The nurses all chanted in unison ‘Pooosh!’ they sang, Glaswegian is a lyrical language. It must be sung at all times, otherwise its just the same, the words all mean the same thing. There was a loud wet pplooophy slappy pop, breaking the pooosh song, and a shiny red football sized ball shot out and over the doctor’s gloved hands. Straight into the mans stomach, ‘OOOooof!’ they all sang in unison as though the whole room had been winded. The red ball sprang apart arching its back and screaming, like all bairns do, the nurses screamed too because the poor thing was still in mid- air, bouncing off the doctor toward the sharp pointy stainless steel edge of the birthing table. A great blue spark lit the operating theatre, as they where known at that time. The nurses screamed even louder as the baby’s razor sharp horns struck the razor sharp edge of the table. The bairns’s razor sharp tail whipped around and sliced a pimple off the end of the nearest nurses nose.  She stopped screaming instantly. When the baby hit the floor head first, its giant brain was protected by its horns. Unfortunately they shattered on impact causing an even louder ‘whoooompf!’  as assorted gases, available in all surgerys, ignited. The poor doctor was blown backwards out the two way doors, also available in most hospital type settings. The poor baby’s ordinary first wind also ignited. He was full of fiery gas and only 23 seconds old. The nurses ran as the baby spun on the wet floor, wet with blood that is, this is a hospital after all. Another great ‘whoompf!’ as another wind ignites in the fiery air, and propels the poor wee red wet spinning baby through the two way doors. The stainless steel sharp ponty edged doors come together and slice off the poor wet things tail as it crashed through the doors like a cannon shot at short range. Skidding along the tile floor smoke billowing out its behind, umbilicus singed and trailing, the fat bundle bumped into a pair of white shoes. The nurse looked down, her nose dripping a spot of blood. She wiped the spot on the end of her nose, and looked down at the bloody fat baby. It looked back at her with big blue eyes and shouted, at the top of its ear piercing range that only babies can manage. It shouted at me, thought the nurse, her heart melted and she picked it up. She ran to the nurses station and washed the baby in the sink, it was perfect and fat and healthy, not a scratch on him. It was a boy, he screamed. Quickly, she tied the umbilicus in her favourite knot and snipped it with her scissors, much nicer, the doctors always made a mess of it.  She looked up at the clock, 43 seconds past seven o’clock in the morning. Wrapping the baby in a towel, the nurse went looking for the others, where was the teeny weeny mother of this giant baby. The nurse convinced herself she had been gassed again by that stupid anesthesiologist. Yes that must be it, but something had definately caught fire, she could smell the smoke. The air in the surgery had cleared, nothing to burn, and the mother was climbing out of a metal sink full of water. Following the laws of physics, she had shot off the back of the birthing table and landed in a sink full of cold water. At exactly the time of the explosions she had clunked her head on the sink full of water, and was under water when the fireball lit the room. The tiny woman, not much bigger than the baby, stood on the floor and asked ‘wHuttt!’ ‘where’s ma baby?’ Staring in disbelief at this woman, the nurse’s heart melted, she was a good nurse. She took the dignified little person by the hand and led her to the ward farthest from the fire.
‘I’ll carry yer bai<*Rn fer ye’
she sang. ‘wHutt?’ the wee woman looked at the giant white bundle in the nurses hands. ‘Is that mine?’ she asked, surprised and smiling, ‘away we go then, lets go tae ma bed!’ The nurse ran after her surprisingly fast little person. ‘Wait a minute, get in the chair here!’ she plopped the bundle of joy in the woman’s lap and sped off down the hall, to the other side of the hospital.
As she looked out of the tall windows in the empty ward, the nurse thought of the blue of the new baby’s eyes. Like his mother she thought, through the science of refraction and the eyes’ capacity to reflect that colour, interesting anyway. The doctor, psychiatrist indeed, skittered into the large, empty wardroom. The nurse glared as he pulled himself together. Approaching the wee woman he sang in a mid tenor voice ‘ur ‘ye alright then missuss?’ Yer babbbee appears tae be ay healthae!, wHutt?’ The woman snapped around sharply as the doctor jabbed her in her tiny behind. ‘Just some vitamins! Ye’ve just had a babbee ye know! He said and winked. The woman giggled and gazed lovingly at her new boy and drifted to peaceful sleep. The nurse quickly jumped to the side of the bed to catch the baby as the doctor, useless as ever, screamed ‘ don’t let it hit the floor again ….!@#’.
Back in Glasgow the boy sat looking at a massive black lump. A noticeable aroma of tobaccoleatherwood. There is no knowing in his mind of what the mass might be. The familiar sound, the tone of the tenor, not castrati, but domesticated non-the less. The smell, the sounds, something here is unsettling the comfort of being the centre. “I have that shape!” the boy thinkfeels. The view sound come into focus. “Look at him! He’s sittin’ just like that, he’s thinkin’!” Being noticed feels uncomfortable. “It says here, ‘The Thinker by August Rodin’, a bloody frog!” The boy had that distinctly human trait of wishing. Wishing that he were somewhere else. And not just for his own safety, or well being, but for everything that is, everything that ever was and ever will be, present, at the same moment, in the same place. The boys thoughts drift to the
“I should tell someone!”, concept. And then quickly to another human foible, ‘This might be fun! Exciting, yes, wot uther way could it be.’ Well that might be seen as too good to be true, and it was, a nano-second later. Guilt smells bad and feels warm between the legs. And in his crystal sphere hologram, the boy realizes that it might just be fun after all, but he would pay dearly for it. He is just a thought himself, locked away inside an understandably frail organic lump of stuff.
I can feel your heart pitty patting away there. Possibly a deep secret about to be revealed, a reason for the anger that appears from time to time. But I am afraid thats all he knows. Nothing continues for him. He is a loop. Very real, as real as you, years away and miles ago. In Liverpool the boy lays on his back with his legs and feet pointing straight up to the sky. At the tip of his toes, also laying on its back with its toes straight up was a rhinocerous. As he gazed up at the black spotty sky the remainder of the entire animal living mystery lay upwards of each other with pointed toes. He was quite clearly in the back garden. This position in his bed was quite comfortable for him, he had still the chubby short legs familiar to young children.  Possibly five or six years  I would say. He has a torch, or possibly you would know it as a flashlight, or a chocolate laser pointer. Who are you anyway, and why are you still reading this. What do you want to hear… I was saying, this torch had three different colours. Yellowy, reddish and bluite, or so he knew named them with the obviously distorted point of view for any regularly formed boy of the times. He pointed the torch at the stack of life at his feet and with a button he changed the colour. The sky turning blue is the only obvious change, wait, no its daytime now, well that is more than a little bit of change I would say, being the narrator and all. In the garden in his bed during the day with a pile of life on his feet, or maybe he is standing upon them, at the top its a different perspective indeed. The boy wakes in bed in his room, and giggles a bit as his feet are still pointing up. He is alone, and quite happy and content and saying to himself, ‘I had better keep my mouth shut about this!’. And thats exactly what he did all those miles ago. And he is still there too, thinking that exact thought. He has made it this far, this must be the right place.
The boy sat still and watched as his universe slowly began to spin around his centre. Lying on his back on his bed, feet straight up in the air, blankets tented over his little feet, he froze. His torch was in his left hand, his right over the lens cover. The bed-sheets looked like skin, his feet poking a hole through to something, what? The boy was greatly skilled in frightening himself. The hairs on his skin bristled. He felt his toe begin to twist. ‘Ouch!’ he whispered! The boy’s heart began thumping so that even he, fit as only a boy can be, began to notice. He could see it, as a blurry blue pumping, spinning around his upturned toe, like everything else. A ‘BOO’ would have killed him dead, right there on his bed. So the boy turns out his light in sheer terror…
…and finds himself in the garden, on his back, with his feet in the air. Standing beside him you would have seen a tower of animals, back to back, toe to toe and back to toe again, you know what I mean. The boy, however, could only see the back of the hippopotamus spinning around on his big toe.
‘Hmmmm!’ thought the sneaky little bastard.
‘I’m asleep safely in my bed.’ he thought as he looked upward, past the hippopotamus’ fat pimply back. Everything was spinning again. From the boy’s position the tower of beasts turned to a spiral.
‘Where could I go!’ the boy attempts to move, with little success. PANIC is quick on little boys. Although their hearts can take it usually. He jerks his legs flat onto his bed, the sheet of skin goes flying back, and the whole spinning spiraling vortex of life goes splat against his bedroom wall.
‘Ugggghh!’ is the only sound the boy makes as he sits in a room of blood and skin and bone. The smell is overpowering, he wants to vomit but dare not. The boy looks toward the alcove in the wall at the foot of his bed. The alcove should be pitch black, aren’t all alcoves? An odd light shone from the alcove, strange, like daytime peeking into night. Every thump of his heart made the light brighter, from a soft morning light to the harsh glare of the Sahara at noon. A deep yet frail voice spoke from the alcove.
“Help!” it said.
The boy almost jumped out of his skin, out of bed, onto the frigid floor. ‘sshhhh!’ he said, too loudly of course. There is a splat from behind him, something falls off the wall, the voice speaks again,
“Help me!”
“Who are you?” says the boy,
But the door of his tiny room flies open. There is a sea of red, with bone flotsam and skin algae. But the sky was blue.