In an attempt to understand classical art as a form in itself and not as a specific time period, one must determine the most important characteristics belonging to this genre. Perhaps the most important trait is the visualization of the ideal in relation to a mundane life. Taking the ordinary and creating something extraordinary is the quintessential mark of classicism. Symmetry within the work and the use of parallel lines are also dependent qualities of classical art. “Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue” by Jo Baer presents a simple representation of classical work that incorporates these three requirements. Through the simple application of paint on canvas, this minimalist painter captures the elegant style of classicism.
Upon first look at Baer’s work, an initial indifference sets in; as with much of minimalist art, the meaning can be overshadowed by the simplicity of the composition. This is art? Anyone can do this! However, with some time to ponder upon the installation of the three panels, the connection to the classical becomes apparent and the importance of the artist’s vision is shown. The ideal is portrayed through the use of color. Though just a small strip of color around the border, the three primary light colors are displayed indicating the importance they play in one’s ability to visualize anything. Red, green, and blue combine in various ways to bring the visual world to life. The three large canvases also hold a symmetrical balance in their composition. Rather than viewing the three pieces as individual works of art, they are brought together in one piece that has no intersecting lines. The use of parallel lines creates a balance similar to many classical works. Finally, the three canvases give the appearance of columns through the use of these parallel lines. Arranged in a horizontal fashion, they become a representation of three columns that provide support to an important roof of the visual spectrum.
Similar to the Parthenon, Baer’s works creates an illusion of openness while maintaining distinct boundaries. The Parthenon with its rows of columns and interior walls portrayed the openness needed to worship, and communicate with, Athena while also setting limits of where the common man could not go. “Primary Light Group” also keeps this balance; the openness of the white canvas allows the imagination to fill in the gap and create new pictures, but the borders are clearly marked by each of the primary colors and black frame—keeping the viewer within certain limits.
Both the Parthenon and “Primary Light Group” attempt to capture the ideal through less than perfect mediums. The Parthenon was built as a house to the goddess Athena. The inherent irony is that common earthly material could be used to create a home for a celestial god exists within its design. Baer’s work is plagued with this same irony; she used pigment based paints of oil and synthetic polymer to capture the image of light. Can light be captured, and can a celestial power be housed on earth? Light and deity as the ideal are attempted to be portrayed in the best forms available to the artists. Despite the imperfections in their portrayals, the Parthenon and “Primary Light Group” both elevate the ideal through simple expression. The concept of “nude but not naked” can be used to describe the white canvas and the sculptures of the meotopes on the Parthenon friezes. While Baer’s canvas may be white, it is not blank. The beauty is found through the portrayal of the ideal form.
The obvious difference between these two classical pieces is that one is a work done on canvas, and the other is an architectural and historical artifact. Comparing the two on this basis alone is an unfair look at classical art since both come from different eras and cultures, but the themes they both present are harmonious. In keeping with one of the main themes, both subjects display great symmetry. Oddly enough, the Parthenon only appears symmetrical through the use of creative design in which there are slight curves in the structure to undo the natural perception of asymmetry that occurs with large scale buildings. The symmetry of the “Primary Light Group” is real and repeated. Each of the three colors has its own canvas that is presented as a square on the wall. This repetition of frames adds to the symmetry of the paintings. Each border becomes a part of the continuous horizontal line while the vertical borders also balance the work.
Not only do the pieces resemble columns, but they also recreate the triglyphs found on the Parthenon’s friezes. Creating a break from the initial understanding of the work, the natural separation between the canvases allows for the viewer to look at the art in a separate way just as the triglyph separated one meotope from another. With precision spacing, Baer’s work becomes a cycle of viewing; just as one could walk around the Parthenon and understand the story told through different angles, “Primary Light Group” also allows for many interpretations. If the three paintings were too close together the individual canvases would blur into one, and if they were spaced too far apart, the sense of connection would be lost.
Although classical art may be seen as an ancient genre, modern artists are still influenced by the core themes that have transcended time. Through an elevation of the ideal, the use of parallel lines, and the symmetrical composition of her work, Jo Baer’s “Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue” stands as a great example of classical art in the modern age.