The Art and Mystery of Masks

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THE ART & MYSTERY OF MASKS
By Victoria Chick, contemporary figurative artist and early 19th & 20th century print collector

Masks are the most usual way of changing our appearance and, historically, the most universal. Masks have been used around the world since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have found mask images in Neolithic petroglyphs and as artifacts from ancient civilizations. The oldest masks still extant are death masks like the famous Egyptian mask of Tutankhamen or the gold Mycenean mask that was thought to be Agamemnon.

Many masks have been based on animistic religious beliefs; some represent archetypes and have a tradition of theatrical use. The Greek masks of comedy and tragedy are examples, as are the Noh masks of Japan, and the masks of the Commedia del Arte’ that became popular beginning in the 16th century in Italy. Even today, there are theatrical troupes that carry on the tradition of using masks for performance. Both religious and theatrical masks are not truly understood without the music, singing, dancing, or ritual that should accompany their wearing.

  • 1908 Lovis Corinth (German Painter, 1858-1925)  Charlotte Berend-Corinth  in a Black Mask
    1908 Lovis Corinth (German Painter, 1858-1925) Charlotte Berend-Corinth in a Black Mask

But, when we look at these masks today we often see them merely as art objects and, certainly, the craftsmanship involved in their making shows a high degree of artistry and imagination.

In the late nineteenth century, the raw emotion elicited by three dimensional masks was adapted to painting and printmaking by various European expressive artists as subject matter for their two dimensional works. Norwegian artist Emile Nolde and James Ensor of Belgium both painted masks or figures wearing masks. Even a Realist painter like Corot painted a figure wearing a mask.

Part of the interest in masks in the 19th century was due to the influence of the developing field of psychology. The idea of a mask representing a persona different from the one an individual has in public became widespread. By the time of WWI, we can see that war on a large scale created a feeling of depersonalization represented by the gas masks seen in many paintings and woodcuts by the German Expressionists.

 

Today, we may find the anonymity provided by masks encourages choosing Halloween costumes that represent a personality diametrically opposite from the way we normally present ourselves.

 

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com

Artist Victoria Chick
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About the Author:

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio.

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