The Dog in Art
“ And even compared to cats, dogs have always occupied positions in the animal world that were closest to the affections of human beings… For of all animals, dogs continue to play roles that mirror most closely the activities and needs of the humans they live with. Indeed, many of the canonic masterpieces of modern art include dogs who seem essential to the meaning of the human cast of characters.”
~ Robert Rosenblum
If you know me, you know that the dog holds a very special place in my heart and life. I have a strong connection with them; I foster dogs as well as volunteer with local rescues. For months I had been considering ways in which I could strengthen the narrative qualities in my work. I began to think back and forth about including the dog within my imagery to represent intimacy and companionship, but struggled with how I could do that successfully. It was not until taking “Gender Representation in the visual arts 1500-1900’s” with Melissa Hyde that the opportunity and research revealed itself.
It all began with these paintings which illustrate how dogs were used in portraiture to symbolize fidelity, loyalty, and affection. I knew I would need to make a piece specifically for this course, and considered the possibility of using it as an opportunity to convey the dog in a more structured, historical, and narrative manner.
Cultural depictions of dogs in Western art extend back thousands of years to when dogs were portrayed on the walls of caves. You can track the changes in civilization and everyday life through the use of animals in art and how they were included. Representations of dogs in art became more elaborate as individual breeds evolved and the relationships between human and canine developed. Dogs were depicted to symbolize guidance, protection, loyalty, fidelity, faithfulness, watchfulness, and love.
In Gustave Courbet’s “Female Nude with a Dog” the erotic tone is created by the direct link between the woman and her dog. The affection shown is a metaphor of sensual love for her lover and a symbol of fidelity. Lucian Freud explained his love of working with dogs like this: “I am impressed by their lack of arrogance, their ready eagerness, their animal pragmatism.” Freud had a longing to have his human subjects look as relaxed and natural as his animal ones. I was inspired by this work to use the dog as a proxy for the human and their expression...allowing the dog to be the form of communication.
The history of the dog within art and our own lives provides myself a strong ability to express a diverse range of concepts and communicate the things that I value and have always attempted to convey within my work. A means to talk about the personal and emotional in a universal and diverse manner.
Throughout my time making work I have always portrayed the figure, but by incorporating the dog with the human it provides a means to convey the values that I have as a person as well the ability to communicate subjects such as loyalty, belonging, space, intimacy, and companionship. Or perhaps there is within this an opportunity to tell a story and/or have a sentimental narrative through the metaphor of the dog and human.
During the years I have spent as a ceramic artist I’ve always seen my work as a three dimensional canvas and a surface to decorate and create narrative within. Ceramics has the capacity to physically interact with peoples lives and represent a sense of community, which initially drew me to this beautiful material. If you have ever owned a dog or walked one downtown, you also know that dogs help build community. They provide moments to talk to strangers, make new friends, and form groups with fellow dog lovers. Dogs are their own community. And through the imagery on my work I hope to reflect a sense of belonging through the visual metaphor of human and dog. The sense of home, ultimate loyalty, and the lifetime bond that we find within our canine companions. While they do play a canonic role in the history of art; dogs in present day also play a significant role in our personal lives and the relationships around us.
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