Thursday, 5 June 2008

What have been the changing roles and representations of the fool in art?

This was the title of my essay. Here are some extracts and images from this essay.


What is the definition of a fool? The Collins dictionary defines the fool as 1. Silly, empty-headed person 2. Dupe 3. Simpleton or 4. Jester, clown. The fool is a rich and complex archetype and draws on all these definitions. This label, like the sign in semiology has many variations and lives in the collective imagination or unconscious.
One variation of this title is the fool as a symbol, used to represent the follies of mankind.

To conclude and to sum up the role of jester, I have drawn on the following quote;
JESTER, An officer formerly attached to a king's household, whose business it was to amuse the court by ludicrous actions and utterances, the absurdity being attested by his motley costume. The king himself being attired with dignity, it took the world some centuries to discover that his own conduct and decrees were sufficiently ridiculous for the amusement not only of his court but of all mankind. The jester was commonly called a fool, but the poets and romancers have ever delighted to represent him as a singularly wise and witty person. In the circus of to-day the melancholy ghost of the court fool effects the dejection of humbler audiences with the same jests wherewith in life he gloomed the marble hall, panged the patrician sense of humour and tapped the tank of royal tears“.-Ambrose Bierce, Devil's Dictionary quotes
To discover what are the changing roles and representations of the fool in art I have looked at the following artists and examples of their work The Ship of Fools by Bosch The dwarf Sebastian De Morra by Velázquez, Beggarman, blind man, thief by Donovan, Liberty brothers permanent daily circus by Charles, these five images ranging from the 15th century to the present day. Examining the fools costume and it’s symbolism in images, that has developed from a contemporary dress in the 15th century of the fool performer in art, to its historical referencing in contemporary art. Also the fools depiction in images as a symbol for the follies of mankind, drawn on by artists from the popular satire of immorality from the poem; Das Narrenschiff. The historical, religious and political context of the fool is his place in the hierarchy of the court structure and his outsider status. The categories of fool are innocent, clever, trickster and performer personalities, all these categories add to the rich symbolism and associations we have of the fool. Artworks reference the fool as a character with qualities associated with the various types. The fool archetype seems to belong to the male gender and raises the question, Why are women not associated with the fool character? And is this because of gender differences? or something in the unconscious?
The representations of the fool has not changed much over time the man in society can become a fool if his actions and activities are unacceptable and therefore can be amusing and stand for the folly of men that seems to about respectability, hierarchy status and power. Although there may be expectations to the rule, a man can refer and believe a man to be a fool while you would rarely hear a woman be referred to as a fool, especially by a man. It is also rare to see a woman performing a fool.
The role and representations of the fool has been through men to show weakness in the character of mankind, to entertain and amuse and to speak unpalatable truths. He exists on many levels recognisable in art by his dress and conduct as any sort of behaviour that is not respected. A fool is “A male person commonly known in America as a "crowned head," although he never wears a crown and has usually no head to speak of“.-Ambrose Bierce, Devil's Dictionary quotes


Anonymous said...

Check out the British artist Cecil Collins - lots of images of the Fool. Also Jung said some interesting things about fools - one of the Archetypes.

Anonymous said...

Great writing! Maybe you could do a follow up to this topic?!?

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Van Gogh portraits

Sz Icon

Sz Icon

St Dymhna as shaman

St Dymhna as shaman

A story by Izzy

Live Forever

Once upon a time, in a place far far away, there lived a beautiful and spirited woman, who was like a wild flower.

Her hair contained the most incredible dreams and wonderful magic spells, from the most beautiful parts of the earth and from the edges of the solar system.

The wind of the East fell deeply in love with her and played through her lovely locks, it became such that she could command the weather.

One day the wind spoke to the smoke of her cigarette and told it to cling to each and every strand of her beautiful hair.
The cigarette smoke obeyed the wind and saturated through everyone of the golden threads and began to decay from within.

The bright sunshine of her days began to grow dimmer and colder and she was dragged deep under ground and was sent to Whitchurch Castle in the clouds.

Here she battled tooth and nail with demons and dragons. Spoke with angels and had untold adventures with good and evil.

The beautiful dreams that dwelt in her hair, turned into terrifying nightmares.

She went to the well to wash her hair, but the water would not cleanse or renew it. The sun refused to shine upon it and the saddest of all, the wind no longer wanted to play with it.

So the young woman by this time, had become a princess, scraped back her beloved hair into a ponytail and the gold sunshine began to grow out, taking her dreams and magic spells with it.

The Castle keepers were worried about her and so gave her a magic potion to rid the evil smoke that had claim of her hair.
An eternity came and went and she grew older.

One clear day the smoke had finally gone once and for all.

She was banished from the kingdom of Whitchurch and was now expected to toil the fields with the good men and women of the outside world.

She was now mortal and pined for the Easterly wind to play with her again, but he no longer loved her.

One cold morning, she had an idea to attract him back to her, so she sat at her mirror and plaited her hair into strands and put coloured ribbon on the ends to bind them.
Would he notice her again?

With her hair plaited, he would see a string of golden tears that she cried over missing him so much.

Now she lives in a little hut in the village and has worn her hair in plaits for 2,000 years.

One day she hopes it will be unravelled, when he remembers where he left his sunny days and warm nights with her on the moon.
The End

Illustration for story Live Forever

Illustration for story Live Forever
This is a drawing of the character in a story I wrote for a digital story telling course with the Four Winds

Bay Girls

Bay Girls
This is a drawing of two of my neighbours

Zippo face warmers

Zippo face warmers