Saturday, January 24, 2009

"You look like a brown popsicle in that picture" -Marie

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman (and, I would add, God). Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.

-The immortal words of Thomas Paine, repeated by Sheri Dew in my roommate's book that I picked up last night and started reading. (Sigh... life in an apartment without a TV requires me to constantly "improve my mind by extensive reading." wahoo.)
I can't think of a better string of words to describe my experiences right now than old T. Paine's. I have had several requests to spin you the story of what it was like to actually BE on the Mall during the Inaguration this week. Well, I'll tell you:

It was the one time in my life where I could really say there were people "as far as the eye could see." Millions! The biggest crowd I've ever run amok in! And most of them were wearing Obama hats and pins and carrying Obama totes and snapping pictures of their man Obama up on the jumbotron screens, and they were all just so... happy. Jubilant, even, to be there to witness such a historic moment. I borrowed this picture from my friend Adrienne's facebook album to illustrate my vantage point of the occasion. Lots and lots of FREEZING people. Oh brr it was so miserably cold. We turned around and booked it home across the river the second that lady stood up to give her horrible poem (I feel bad saying that, being a contemporary art historian, but that really was a load-of-junk poem. Terrible. Especially compared to the melodious sounds of Barack Obama's honey-covered speechifying.)

I normally refuse to talk about politics ever, even among friends, but this is my (shudder) blog (STILL hate that word), so I'll just state my simple, personal opinion now that the whole shebang is over, and be done with it: Obama has a God-given talent for oratory. We can all feel it. By the end of his speech I was even cheering for him (though not as loudly as I did for Bush... everyone else in the crowd boo'd and hissed-- not cool-- and then laughed when the four Mormon girls kept cheering amidst total silence). Everyone really was very generous to us, though, more than I expected. Like I said, they were so happy. Willing, for once, to join in bipartisan celebration. Yes, Obama can talk the talk. But I left his speech with the uneasy feeling that I will trust him about as far as I can throw him. He's acting in the way he thinks is right, though, that's the last thing I'll say.

And now it's time for me and all my other faithful conservative friends to prove our mettle. We will not esteem lightly the blessings of this country's government and freedom, and it is time to commit to not being summer soldiers. To fight the fight.

And now, ON TO THE ART! I'm so excited to show you something:

Sanctuary, 1988

Isn't it GORGEOUS??? The Hirshhorn's own painting by Gerhard Richter, an artist I can't yet seem to wrap my head around. I stumbled across an image of this painting on the Hirshhorn's website, and its harmonious colors, and somber, ridiculously professional control of paint and line just drew me in. I mentioned earlier that certain artworks just exhibit this strange pull over me; well, from the very first glance, Gerhard Richter had me hook, line, and sinker. Finally. I've been worried for two weeks now that contemporary art is not for me. I haven't seen much that I think is beautiful or valuable, and it's been enraging to have to keep reading reviews and essays from intellectuals who take this supremely absurd joy in affirming that EVERYTHING is art. No, people, it's not! Art, whatever them hippies want to call it, is a business. Someone still calls the shots. If I work hard enough, maybe that'll be me.
In my thesis class last winter I kept noticing that I gravitated towards the so-called Marxist theoreticians, meaning that I liked studying not just the paintings but also the nitty gritty history of artworks' and artists' levels of fame across history. I liked learning about the real, hidden reasons why they painted and why certain movements and works shot to stardom (money, patronage, inspiration, intrigue, etc. These help add blockbuster-ness to a work, have you noticed? Or maybe I just like hearing stories, whereas others are content just to see pictures... who knows. I'm new at this.)
Ok, so I'll give you an example of a Marxist reading of a painting. The world's most famous smile. You know it: the Mona Lisa. Why is she famous? It's a simple combination of being a very good painting by a very intruiging artist, and having an equally fantastic life AFTER she was painted. The Mona Lisa came into this world around 1503. She was carried by her maker, Leonardo da Vinci, from Italy to France, which was weird. Despite copious amounts of first-person writings by da Vinci, he never said a word as to why he kept Miss Mona instead of giving her to her commissioner. Like I said, weird. After her brief tenure with Monsieur da Vinci, she bounced from wealthy royal owner to wealthy royal owner, through the line of French leadership. Her actual identity remained an enigma because, as I said, she hadn't gone home with whoever originally bought her (although they now have enough evidence to suggest that Lisa Gherardini, wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, was the lovely subject). The painting has travelled down through the centuries inspiring whispers, wonder, and theories, really reaching acclaim in the second half of the nineteenth century as the Symbolists began to praise her as the ultimate depiction of femininity. Fame continued to grow when she was stolen right out of the Louvre in 1911. She was found two years later hidden in the false bottom of a trunk. And so on and so forth until today, when Mona Lisa is still making waves, starring, as I'm sure you have all read, in Dan Brown's acclaimed book and all of the attendant conspiracy theories since.
Gerhard Richter's paintings are quickly forming the type of story I can get behind. I said he was professional, I could see that before I even knew the name of the artist, in the masterful way he layered (squee-gee'd) lines of paint over and through each other, much like the precise inking process of a printmaker. A painting like Sancutary would take hours and hours, having to know precisely when it would be ok to blend and layer certain colors and not have them turn into a murky wet mush.
By art history's standards, Gerhard Richter is a chameleon, bouncing from ingenious abstraction to grey-toned conceptual canvases to his signature "fuzzy photorealisitc" paintings (see below). I really want to read more on him. So many of his paintings look nothing alike. He's a German artist who grew up as a little Nazi, and has subsequently hated all forms of ideology since he saw what terror and havoc it wreaked on his country. Said he,
"Strange though this may sound, not knowing where one is going, being lost, being a loser, reveals the greatest possible faith and optimism, as against collective security and collective significance. To believe, one must have lost God; to paint, one must have lost art."
That's a perfect illustration of where I'm at today, as I round up week three of my DC adventure. I'm on earth, away from my Maker, trying to pass the test of mortality and come home to him. And I'm lost in a big huge art world. And step by step, finding my way out.
Reading, Gerhard Richter, 1994. (yep, it's an oil painting. Photorealism, baby... I can't believe anyone can paint that well!)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Guess what??

I am a grown-up! The day has arrived. I looked around this past week and realized that everything I’m doing and wearing these days fits under the category of “Grown-up Things to Do and Wear.” Examples:

High heels. Holding a bachelor’s degree. Dress pants. Having my own computer and a big stack of files waiting for me every day. I found myself reading New York Times articles this week, not the comics. J. M. Barrie would be ashamed of me. I’m now all alone all the time. Sigh. Grow-up, grown-up, grown-up. I take solace in the fact that at least I’m still me, even if I am adult me. My work clothes are still colorful, and of my own choosing, and I swap them for sweatpants and t-shirts the second I get home each day. I ate a whole batch of oatmeal cookie dough this week and didn’t work out in penance (can’t catch very many of my adult peers doing that). Lunchtime and my morning and evening commute (and the attendant people-watching) are still my favorite moments of the day- so many people with so many stories hurrying off to lives I will never know.

I feel like the difference between being a kid and being an adult is, now I just keep all of the joy that these moments bring inside of me (and also, small side note, money has become a very worrisome daily nuisance). Being grown-up is all about holding it in, doing your duty, spending your money on unpleasant necessities, and on a positive note, getting wonderful things done. Or at least that’s what I’m shooting for, that’s why I took this job so far away from friends and family. Most of my favorite adults are accomplishing their wonderful works in their homes, with their families. Also, in their service to God and community and work.

I am hoping that my work at the Hirshhorn will help me in my quest to make a career of bringing beauty to people's attention. That’s something that I think will always make me, me. I was born with an attraction to “the finer things of life,” and by that I do NOT mean luxury cars and expensive watches and VIP tickets (although the inaugural ball this week sure would be fun to attend… the mall is CRAZY right now, rows and rows of portapotties and the Secret Service has staked out our roof a couple of times). No, no. I consider the finer things of life those things that “enlarge your soul,” as a wise prophet once said (Alma 32:28). Things that enlighten your mind and are delicious to you, that make you more grateful to be experiencing this fleeting moment that is your mortality. (Feel free to call me a hippie). To me, the finer things in life include beautiful, historical artworks that capture some portion of human existence. They also include songs, adventures, the meeting of interesting people, the feeling of a good hard day's work, and the wonders of nature. I find so much joy in bringing that sensation to others. That’s why I am so attracted to the ideas of teaching and museum-ing and publishing deliciously nerdy art historical papers (my newest goal to accomplish in the next 5 years).

Uncle David, here’s your next piece of art, a particularly fine example of turn-of-the-century Parisian painting. It's a particular favorite of mine, truly a "finer thing of life." It resides in a museum in Philadelphia, which I just visited with my roommates this weekend (brr…. But super fun!)

My final paper of college talked about this 1899 work entitled “The Annunciation.” I know I’m a little late, and it’s no longer Christmas season, but I figured I’d share it with you anyways. It’s by Henry Ossawa Tanner, an African-American painter who trained in Paris at the notorious Academie Julien. He was an anomaly in his day, first because of his race and second because of his beliefs. He was a devout Christian, even amongst the godless Parisians, who were all busily propping up scientific reasoning and secular individualism as the new gods. He stuck to his guns both morally and artistically, very shrewdly picking out popular painting “flavors”, such as Symoblism, Impressionism, and Orientalism, and combined these ism’s with Biblical subject matter. The beautiful results made him very famous and successful both in Paris and back home in Philadelphia. This work is a symbolic representation of the Angel Gabriel (aka the Impressionistic streak of yellow light on the left) announcing to a very Israeli-looking Mary that she will bear the Son of God (Orientalism, incidentally, was the trend of going to Palestine and learning to realistically depict the Holy Land, which Tanner did right before he painted this masterpiece. Notice the bare rocks and authentic woven textiles). I feel like I am slightly stuck, like Henry Ossawa Tanner, in a hostile contemporary art environment, surrounded by dubious morals and sometimes squeamish and depressing art. But like him, I am going to try to pick out the best and most beautiful of today’s flavors and with any luck, and all of the effort my little brain can muster, I will find success bringing my kind of beautiful and faithful into our culture.

Or at least that’s my grown-up plan.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Week One- All By Her Lonesome

Ok, I can’t believe I’m finally doing this. I’m blogging. I swore I never would…. Or at least that I wouldn’t until I was married and we could make that cute little “” blog. My goodness I hate even the sound of the word blog.

Other offensive-sounding words include Munch and Mingle (that’s the name of the forced socializing event I will attend next week in my new ward, with a smile on my face!), and Meade and Glebe. They are the (actually quite quaint) nearest cross streets, here in the cozy new little land of Arlington, VA.

That’s right, folks. I’m here! Lindsey has succumbed to pressure and started a (shudder) blog so that you can keep track of my adventures.

Thus far the vast majority of my adventures go under the “All By Her Lonesome” category. Not that that’s the worst thing in the world. I arrived in DC late last Tuesday night, and spent Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday getting to know the metro system (-slash-getting lost) and walking around the Mall. Oh the Mall. How I love it already. My favorite part of every day has been that minute or so when my subway car pops out of the earth of Virginia and travels along a bridge over the river and I can look out and see the Jefferson Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and even though I can’t see them, I can envision the barely-hidden-from-view White House, Capitol, Reflecting Pool, and the two best buildings in the world: The Hirshhorn Museum and The National Gallery. They’re all speedily approaching me, nestled in the heart of Washington, DC. I am an unpaid intern in the center of American politics and culture, and it is that fact alone that keeps me so delighted to be here.

You see, I left the world’s greatest people behind in Provo and Vegas, and so DC kind of has its work cut out for it in the friends area. I’m sure when I give it time it’ll grow on me, though. Pray for me, k? I anticipate both a lot of work and hopefully some kind of reward in the social and also the missionary aspects of my life here. Great opportunities, I’ve noticed, to let people know they are children of a loving Heavenly Father. I almost shouted it on the subway the other night, I was just so happy to see such an amazing melting pot of people, something I really missed in Provo. “I feel my Savior’s love/in all the world around me!”

Back to the work part. Today was my first day of work. I LOVE my boss. I knew I would. Milena Kalinovska, the Director of Public Programs at the Hirshhorn Museum, is a sweet, heavily-Slavic accented GENIUS. And so kind. And so involved in the arts scene. I feel very much like I am here solely for the purpose of getting a splendid, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work at the Smithsonian Institution. I’m privileged to be working at its contemporary and modern art hub.

Uncle David I know wanted to be able to read about my experiences in the art world, well I’ll close with my first one. I’ll be honest, I was a little mad when I first visited the Hirshhorn last Thursday. I told my mom I felt… blind as I looked at a lot of obtuse, inaccessible art. I adore the magical pull of many other kinds of art, and I was disappointed to only feel small, occasional blips of interest as I went through my first time. Then, I saw him.

Untitled (Big Man)

Yeah, baby. Isn’t he UGLY???????????????? He stands about 8 feet tall, and he is the most REALISTIC piece of art I have EVER seen. I literally just stood there, kind of wavering back and forth, because I seriously felt like he was going to come alive and hoist himself up out of his corner and sit on me with his fat naked butt. I’m not kidding, it was a scary viewing experience. The thing has bulging veins, I’m pretty sure he has stubble, and he even has weird rough scaly dimples on his elbows, which were my favorite part.

The disappointing sculptures I had encountered upstairs were largely abstract shapes, and I had been overwhelmed with the worry, “What if all the art I study is this BORING?” Big Man was the ginormous, even hilarious, answer that this will not be the case.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Explanation of My Blog's Title

"Go, and Embrace Your Liberty."

It's from one of my favorite movies, Little Women (all my life I have identified with Jo's character). I have made it my little slogan for myself as I set out into the unknown clutching my newly-earned bachelor's degree in Art History. I could easily substitute myself and my mother for Jo and Marmee here, we've had many real-life conversations that practically mirrored this scene-

Jo: I love our home, but I'm just so fitful and I can't stand being here! I'm sorry, I'm sorry Marmee. There's just something really wrong with me. I want to change, but I - I can't. And I just know I'll never fit in anywhere.

Marmee: Oh, Jo. Jo, you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life? You're ready to go out and find a good use for your talent. Tho' I don't know what I shall do without my Jo. Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it.