Friday, February 27, 2009

Abject through Zeitgeist

Just in case there are any serene, unruffle-able people out there who have no idea what last week's experience of fury/pounding the pavement feels like, here is something I guarantee will at least make your pulse quicken... cuz it sure makes MY blood boil! :) So, I spend lots of hours each week reading scholarly articles: art reviews, biographies, art theory, museum theory, political arguments, but mostly art reviews. Sooooo many smart people delivering their well-crafted, fanciful-sounding opinions. When I'm in a good mood (and when they're my style of writer), I enjoy their words, and credit this fraction of my week to "Improving My Education." Sometimes, though, when I'm in a bad mood or they are just outrageous writers, I get a little angry. And sometimes, I'm pretty sure I am just reading pages and pages whose main purpose in life is to ooze the subliminal statement, "BEHOLD! I AM SMARTER THAN YOU."

A particular way this happens is through vocabulary. Now, I consider myself an intelligent girl, maybe even above average intelligence. But I've already been humbled once this year by the GRE's staggering amount of multisyllabic words and mathematical trickery (for all those that wanted to know, my score was not what I hoped for, but it'll have to do. Man was that a bum way to spend Valentine's Day. But at least it was memorable! ) No, but it's very irritating to have to stop at least three times an article and hit up in order to understand a sentence and keep mental track of the author's intent.

On my work computer is a little secret notepad document of all the words I have to look up. The following is that list... and it's only three weeks old. This is the language of the world I work in- tell me you don't feel slightly belittled and maybe even a tad angry after reading this list. (And for all you wordy people out there that recognize a large percentage of these words, please pat yourself on the back and skip ahead. And any SANE person who knows NONE of these words, tell me about it. I'll send you a prize. You and me both, man.) PS The ones with definitions are the ones I saw more than once and had forgotten the first time. PPS After three weeks of fury, I've decided that the most fun to get out of these words, besides using them later to impress people, is trying to pronounce them. "Jalousied" feels like kissing but without another person... Ahem...

Ad hoc
Afflatus: an impelling mental force acting from within
Anxiety of influence- poets having to deal with predecessors
Apotropaic- intended to ward off evil
Belligerent- war-like, bellicose, hostile

Bricolage- construction made of whatever diverse materials are at hand
Concatenation- connection, as through a chain
Consignment- Profit model for mainstream art dealers
Cupidity- greed, avarice, excessive desire
Deadpan- expressing no emotion while delivering humor
Demur- Make an objection
Fete (verb)- to entertain at or honor with a party
Fey- fated to die, unnaturally high spirits (as before death), whimsical, otherworldly
Gestalt- a unified whole

Labile- apt or likely to change
Memento mori- object kept to remind one of death, i.e. a skull

NOPE KEEP GOING.... That's right. ALL of these I came across in my everyday readings...

Mordant- caustic, sarcastic, corrosive, dyeing

Penumbra- shadowy, marginal area
Plumb (verb)
Pneumatic (adj.)
Sadist- gratification through causing pain to others- compare to masochist (pain to self)
Solipsism- the theory that only the self exists, egoistic self-absorption
Torsade- an ornamental twist, as of velvet
In train
Work over

There are 51 of them at this time. 13 of them are highlighted as spelling errors by the spell-checker. My favorite is Chthonian (it means pertaining to the spirits under the earth.) I've decided that I might be able to give the intellectuals a tiny break; after all, their livelihoods-- and probably a few of their identities as human beings-- hinge on their ability to describe art and life better than anyone else in the business. Naturally, they are highly proficient verbal acrobats.

Enough vocab. I have had probably the busiest week and a half of my life these past 10 days, and I STILL haven't gotten a chance to recoup the lost hours of sleep. But I'm at work now and have no time to do my adventures their full justice. You'll have to check back later on in the week, but I promise I'll write them. Otherwise my mom's head might explode :) These adventures include the opening of the Bourgeois exhibit, with one or two major surprises attached, a blast from the BYU past, a little vignette of the American democratic system.... through the eyes of a blind citizen, and plenty of other delightful encounters with this crazy city and its bizarre, unpredictable populace. I'll be back.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fury and Joy

Man, what a week, for apparently a lot of us! I have talked to let's, two, three, four, five, SIX friends who, for whatever reasons, are currently enraged about life as they know it. And I have to say that I belonged in that boat for a few scattered hours in the course of this week, too. It's an interesting and rare experience, this fury at the lack or excess of knowledge, money, love, opportunity, decisions, or patience. I told one of them I felt a little cheated by Primary teachers for not warning us how hard adult life is. Stupid dreams. But I wised up in my conversation with another. "Focusing on what you don't have never makes you happy, so you have to choose to look for adventure and beauty in the life God gives you. You'll be ok wherever you go."

Often whenever I read about people who accomplished amazing things against impossible odds it makes me get down on myself; have you ever had that experience? Joseph Hirshhorn, the original and most extensive patron after whom my museum is named, was the twelfth of thirteen children born to dirt-poor Latvian immigrants in the United States. He started work on Wall Street at age thirteen, delivering newspapers, and by the time he was 28 he had formed his own investment group, furthering his wealth into astronomical amounts with a well-timed and ingenious investment in uranium mines in Canada (this being in the middle of the cold war). 28 is 4 and a half years away for me. I have a BA and half an internship to show for myself, hmm :)

It makes me feel better, however, when I look back to the example of the Savior instead of any other. Jesus Christ made his every choice perfectly, and did so with the hope in the back of his mind that his choices, his words, and ultimately his sacrifice would impel all others, every precious person who he helped create, to follow his spotless, sweet example. He did so without money or schooling, but with the help of friends, disciples, and a very holy family. This week, in the middle of considering-- and at some points, raging about-- the adventures of my year #23, I thought about his counsel where he asks me simply, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

He's pretty neat.

So this week I'm dedicating my post to my enraged friends. To those that are steadfastly crawling towards the semi-visible future they will not abandon. To those who must feebly conjure up a new vision of life, as their current dreams and plans have lead them to the foot of yet another daunting mountain or maybe even a dead end. To my friends who are pounding the pavement, up a creek, banging their head, pushing a boulder up a hill, or lost at sea. You know what the real trick of it all is? I don't think life ever gets perfect! This is as good as it gets!!! Trials and blessings are really two sides of the same coin, which God lent us in the hopes that we will spend it wisely. And with the promise that our Savior will make up the difference when and if we default (oh if only the American banking industry had such a competent benefactor...)

A year or so ago, I had the idea to email the following picture to my little sister, Wee, sans explanation, during a time when she was raging over something or other (methinks it was a boy, or two, that was irking her):

It's lovely, isn't it? I was just going to end the post there, but the art historian in me has gotten a lot more verbose over the last year, so I can't leave it, or you, just hanging. This was painted in 1911, by Franz Marc, roughly contemporary to but I can't remember if he actually was acquainted with Henri Matisse, whose bright green portrait of his wife I showed you last week, down below. They had a similar idea going on in their brains when they painted: use colors less to show reality, more to show emotion. All I get from his colors in The Yellow Cow is joy. Pure, sweet, effulgent JOY! which is why I sent it to Marie (and I think she got the message).

I first came across this image when I was learning how to analyze artworks formally, meaning through the separate forms within a work: line, color, balance, brushstroke energy, etc. I learned that The Yellow Cow is not only arranged so that its colors emulate happiness, but EVERY formal quality of the work is positioned to do so! The brushstroke energy is not paintstakingly realistic, but vibrant, blocky, and slightly childlike (purposefully done, of course, that's why he's called a modern master). The balance of the canvas is irreverent and patterned, like little zigzags. Your eye doesn't come to rest anywhere on the canvas like it would with, say, a peacefully-balanced still life.

Thanks to The Yellow Cow I first conecptualized how an artist could make me look and feel a certain way through his or her artwork. I feel happy looking at The Yellow Cow first because of its colors, but then-- more importantly-- because of the flowing, jaunty curve of the cow's body from tail tip to nose. It's literally a roller coaster for your eyes. Mmm. Delightful. And that big, striking curve is superimposed over energetic, bounding little shapes and lines: pointed mountains, stoid black tree trunks, and a curious white egg thing fitted snugly beneath the cow's leaping hindquarters, which adds an era of danger and fragility to it. PS did you notice the two or three boring cows behind his back feet? Hee hee I want to know why they're not jumping. I think it's because they know they're boring brown, not yellow and violet. And maybe because they're hungry.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Somehow... love is still about studying.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Lovers in the Snow, Roy Moyer, 1980, American Art Museum. While perusing the other Smithsonian art museum's online collection, I was brought to a standstill by this contemporary painting. Always a sucker for unusal compositions, I was captivated by the yawning yet inviting circle of white. I enjoyed the "hunt" my eye had to go on to find the small, innocuous couple in love blending into trees on the side. Why do you think the artist would place them there, instead of in the middle of the painting? Perhaps as if to say,"Keep passing by!...But if you happen to catch a little bit of our tenderness on your way out, we won't care. We've got each other."

Painter's Honeymoon, Lord Frederic Leighton. ca. 1864. Sigh. It's GORGEOUS!

One of my all-time favorite Victorian paintings! While meandering through the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last spring, I fell in love at first sight with this scene. Apparently, to THIS artist, love quite literally equated with art. Oh what a life he must have lead. Notice the amazing details of her silks, and how her curving body just leads your eye right into their touching cheeks and back down to their clasped hands. LOVE!

The Green Stripe, Henri Matisse, 1905. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark. You may be wondering why this fierce-looking image earned a place on my blog during the love post, well I'll tell you. This is actually one of my favorite legends in art history (I heard it in my Intro to Humanities class, where I was first enchanted by art history's powerful emotions). The Green Stripe is a picture of the artist's wife. How would you like to be rendered that way by your honey? Well, we don't think she minded. See, Henri Matisse was a Fauvist, meaning a "wild beast" of an artist. He was given that name by a critic because of the crazy way he used his colors. He pioneered the use of colors not as they are found in nature, but rather, as symbols of his own personal feelings. Green, as it turns out, was Matisse's color for love! He painted his wifey with a green line down her face because he wanted to show that he loved her. (Incidentally, the Oriental-looking bun and kimono outfit were just a fad. Japan had just recently opened up to Western traders, and French women were crazy about "Japonisme" fashion at the turn of the century). Green's my favorite color, too, Matisse (well, green and grey). I was actually bent on getting an emerald engagement ring for like a year after hearing this story- emeralds, carat for carat, are actually more valuable than diamonds, did you know that?

Happy Single Awareness Day (Happy SAD Day??)

Untitled, Clyfford Still, 1935, The Hirshhorn Museum. Sad indeed. 'Nuff said. Thought I'd throw it in :) I want to know what that slightly anthropomorphic stick on the right side of the canvas is... a memory? A demon? A hat stand?

Indian Love Call, Hassel Smith, 1961, Hirshhorn Museum. I really have no idea what this one's about but it's grey and about Indian love, so I figured I'd throw it in the SAD category. Once a week I go and eat at the Mitisam Native Foods Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian (the newest Smithsonian museum) and it is just delightful to see all of these different cooking methods and weird types of food (today I had bean succotash, last week I got delicious pumpkin and butternut squash soup with hazelnuts). Apparently their love calls are just as unique as their foods are.

Girl in Satin Dress with Roses, Gelatin Silver Print (aka a very old, senstive photograph) by Gertrude Kasebier. No Date. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I decided she's me this season. Real, all dolled up, and waiting patiently.

As you can see, I sat and amused myself today at work by doing a little impromptu research on how artists have depicted love over the ages, since this Saturday is the day I take the GRE and we all know how much I looooooove studying my brains out even after I've graduated college. JK, Saturday's Valentine's Day. AND GRE day. Which means that after I flog my guts out on a $175 test of DEATH, I get to come home to a big, fat, heart-shaped box of chocolates. Also, there is a distinct possibility of me setting my GRE study book and fatty stack of flash cards on fire that evening. Chocolate by firelight. Ah it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside to think about it. If I were an artist, and had to illustrate what I feel love is to me today, it would be a glowing, golden orb spray painted on a subway train: fleeting, but happy and warm, wherever it is. (Obviously, I am on the right side of the museum business. Much better at critiquing others' work than doing my own) Happy V-day, yalls. If you're reading this, chances are you're someone I love.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tu me manques (French for "I Miss You")

Ok, I had a moment of calm in my ongoing war with Louise Bourgeois. I found a work of hers whose philosophical/aesthetic meaning I can understand, even empathize with (a true first). It was early in her career (as in, the 1940's). She had married her brilliant, Harvard-bred, up-and-coming art historian husband, Robert Goldwater, a few years previously. He had uprooted her from her native France and her (as we shall discover decades later) traumatic family life therein. They lived in New York with three sons and she was developing sculpture as an outlet from the trials of motherhood and baby-boomer-era feminine oppression, as much as she could, being poor and living in a little apartment. Now, I'm going to tell you a hunch I have about Louise Bourgeois, that most of the people running around my museum would disagree with: I think she's famous because she provides a playground for art history's intellectually-ravenous minds. Truly, the professionals consume ideas about her like normal people down their favorite TV shows. I'm mystified when I read artists (normally the most serious and dedicated characters) turn out writing like this whenever they come before the throne of Bourgeois: "My mouth was saying one set of words but my mind was completely thinking another. I show her pictures of my cat Docket. I love my cat. He's my soul mate. I explain this to Louise but she appears to get a little bit gruff... As I left Louise's I wondered if one day someone would visit her and would see a film of me, laughing. I left Louise Bourgeois knowing there was so much more to know."

.... ok, whatever. When I met Twitch (a famous hip hop dancer from So You Think You Can Dance) the only words that came out of my mouth were "Twitch...I love you!" So I guess I can't judge too harshly. Back to the story. During the 40's and also during pretty much every other decade of her life, Louise Bourgeois happened to rub shoulders with some of the greatest minds and most influential artists of the era. Granted, most of the time she hated these people, and her art was a radical departure from their formal norms and their avant-garde ideas (Surrealism was the haven of misogynists, she thought. And Abstract Expressionism was too removed from reality.) As such, she was never famous alongside them. I think the thing that all these fanatical, pH.D.-holding fans of hers today adore so much is how she makes a fascinating case study of one person-- a marginalized housewife squeezed into the very eye of last century's stylistic storm-- developing her own independant style, her own flavor (kind of like Henry Ossawa Tanner, in his Annunciation). What's even more remarkable about her is the way she seems to have anticipated the next decade's artistic developments. She provides a veritable encyclopedia of references to all of the different movements of last century in her morphing, erratic oeuvre (that means her entire list of works). She was always changing her art, in a manner different than everyone around her, and multiple times her work ended up looking a lot like art that would get popular 20 years later! Everyone always wants to know how she did it, and so they dig into her crazy mounds of diaries and start reading about her emotionally abusive dad and her dealings with anxiety and then everybody gets all excited when they match those stories up with sculptures she made later of, oh, say, a knife cutting through the middle of a woman with the torse of a mattress (read into all of that on your own, I'm avoiding the whole 60's era of her work. Shudder.)

Ah I'm starting to sound like THEM. Ok, back to the story. There she is. New York. She carves these large, crude, "personage" sculptures out of 2x4's (when you're in New York, that's what's available I guess). She made them all different because each one represented someone she missed back in France. These life-sized Personages represent her own personal iconography. She wanted to put her memories out into the exterior world as a reminder of people elsewhere, and so made these simple sculptures as a symbol of each person's characteristics as she remembered them. We do the same thing today. For instance, in my cell phone, many of my favorite people's names are not actually listed. Rather, there's Best Bud, JBro, Sarasian, Davey Cuz, HQ, Zmoosy, Racey, Auntie J, and Wee. I create names that only I will remember and understand, usually because it makes me smile, and makes me remember why I love them when they pop up on my caller id.

I missed my friends a lot this week. I'm not yet to the point where I would carve out their effigies and plunge them into my floor and sit among them like batty Bourgeois did above^, but I missed them nevertheless (Thank heaven for cell phones).
Adventure Recount: I went to duPont Circle this week with my boss Milena. It's this way old cute part of DC, and it's where a lot of embassies are. Countires have bought up all the old beautiful buildings and made them their headquarter.. I'll try and go and get pictures next time. It reminded me of Back Bay in Boston, which reminds me of London. Milena and I got to go into this old skinny row-house gallery and preview a show before it opened. I love being her little stooge. Afterwards she directed me to a cute bookstore and told me to go have fun and see the sights. So I went and mingled with the Indie crowd for a while, pretending to be interested in books about Al Gore, Zen, organic cooking, and poetry. That was my biggest adventure of the week.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Please. Not Louise!

Hmm... What art shall I share with you this week?

Well, Maybe I'll just share with you a particular quandry I'm having that I haven't quite thought my way out of just yet.

What, to you, belongs in an art museum? What does it look like? What if I say "sculpture" in particular? What would you would look at and go, "Yea, I could see that in a museum!" Would you conjure up something like this, perhaps?:

Constantin Brancusi's Sleeping Muse I, 1910.
Or, could you stretch your imagination enough to include this in your mind's museum:

Karin Sander's Ostrich Egg, 2005.
And how about this bizarre little arrangement (the artist is the woman in the background):

Louis Bourgeois in front of a sculpture of hers I can't quite remember, sometime in the 60's...

You guessed it. All three reside (or will soon reside) in my museum. The first two are examples I've used in a little educational packet I'm putting together for teachers about all the "magical media," or fantastic things that art can be made of. Brancusi's austere, abstracted Sleeping Muse is made of marble; she was my example of a traditional medium (as of course, you know, marble sculptures date back to the ancient times, all those crazy naked Greeks...). The 2005 work Ostrich Egg is made of... an ostrich egg! Cooked and polished and probably very well looked after by our conservation staff. It sits right next to the Brancusi Muse in the galleries. I think the curators wanted visitors to have to think about the juxtaposition between the two similarly shaped and colored, but expressively different, works.

The third photo is another marble sculpture by a famous, eccentric artist named Louise Bourgeois, now in her 97th year, and still producing expansive, acclaimed works. If literature's archetypes were suddenly real today, Louise would be the perfect candidate for the crazy old witch position. A massive retrospective of her work is coming to the Hirshhorn later this month, taking up the entire 2nd floor until next winter. I'm being trained currently to become an "interpretive guide," basically an undercover tour guide who walks the galleries and slips pieces of art historical information in among the various conversations going on around her. And my only responsibility is the Louise Bourgeois exhibit.

I hate Louise Bourgeios. I'm going to say that flat out. You will probably hear more of why I hate her later, as she is going to be like the guardian demon watching over my internship: always there, always unpleasant. Truly, that marble up there is about as serene and unoffensive as she gets. So why is she in the museum? I'm constantly asking myself that. Why do so many of the art historians and contemporary art buffs--the people I'm looking towards to guide my career and my intellectual development-- adore this old bat? Take a moment to consider her work (keep in mind that the various anatomical parts that come to mind when you look at that marble are EXACTLY what she wanted you to see) and if you have ideas, fire them at me. I'm still trying to come up with my own answer.

Ok, that's it for the art. Onto my life.

First, I can see why people become attatched to these blog things- look at the kind compliments I've gotten:

"U have a... Mark Twain kinda vibe to ur prose. easy and enjoyable line to line. i never feel like I want to read ahead cuz the current sentence is so nice to be with. and dood... seriously...i don't hand out compliments like that just for sh*%$ and giggles." -Johnny Jam is the man. And also, as if you couldn't tell, a great writer himself.

And then there's a certain aunt who writes me to inquire, "So... does Big Man have a brother??" :)

But of course, the winner is still my little sister Marie, who just had this to say: "You look like a brown popsicle in that picture with your coat, Lindsey." hahaha I laugh because it is TRUE.

Well, I feel like I don't have as much to write this time, mostly because it's been less of a get-out-and-explore-the-territory week. I've adopted an ok-I'm-learning-my-way-around-I-think-I-got-this type of attitude. Walking with my chin up, like Obama as he walked underneath the Capitol on his way to the inaguration platform (the black guys I stood in front of were totally inspired when he did that. They loved it.)

I'm still smiling to myself at least once a day out here, as I pass by the most interesting people in the world in downtown DC. There was the Latino prophet on the street corner, reminding me that "hey-soos" was coming. I smiled and thought to myself, "I know. And I'm doing the best I can to be ready for him!" There was the bum who I've seen come into the Hirshhorn every friday to listen to the "gallery talks" we have, which is where the curator or an educator leads a discussion about a work to the gathered public. The bum is very dirty but very respectful and has very thoughtful questions for the speaker. Always stands in the background, or sits up against the wall. I love him.

Then there are my roommates, who are just as kind a duo as I could ask for. Very good at inviting me to things with them, and so I have finally made a couple new friends, and participated in a lot of courageous forays into the DC singles scene, which is... no, I won't say suffocating. That has a negative connotation. Massive? Well, at any rate, it's a lot to take in, just a little fyi for anyone who wants to know what it's like out here for the average LDS single girl. There are what feels like HUNDREDS of wonderful, talented people who every weekend congregate together at homes and restaurants and finally, the grand-daddy of the "see and be scene," the Colonial ward sacrament meetings. There's always a birthday party or scone party or something to go to, where you may chat and find out where people are from, why they're out here, and smile and laugh. It's a new experience to feel so welcomed and so much a stranger at the same time. The people here are very genial, though. And, I might add, extremely garrulous. Even to the point of being obstreperous.

....Oh yea, news. The perspicacious among you may have already guessed: I signed up to take the GRE in two weeks, on Valentine's Day. (the GRE is basically the SAT test for graduate school... only like 100x as hard, with HUNDREDS of vocab words and tricky math questions). Please, please, pray for me. I'm studying my heart out every night for it. My stack of vocab flash cards is an inch high and I have only been through a fourth of the exercises. I'm hoping my good old test taking skills haven't absconded me yet.

And I have work in the morning so away I go. I'm already tired of this grown-up gig. haha! C'est la vie. E hai una buona settimana!