Monday, November 30, 2009

Down with Chipmunks!

I'm gonna pull another Hermione and start a club for a very underrepresented portion of society. You may now address me as Lindsey, the President of SPARCL: The Society for the Protection of Anxiety-Ridden Christmas Listeners.

The following was going to be my Facebook status for this week, but it was too long to fit, so I'm shuffling it over to the blog, because I feel this is a VERY important minority opinion that too few appreciate:

Lindsey Ann C_________ is one of those Grinches who HATES listening to Christmas music before the 22nd of December. Before you protest, check it: Christmas is a two-day holiday stretched into a month-and-a-half long music and marketing marathon... and y'all know it. Now, I certainly believe in the reason for the season, but I'd rather focus musically on him on his birthday, and maybe on the eve of his birthday, by singing hymns around a piano with loved ones. I'd rather not be subjected to Mariah and Archuletta and the Chipmunks warbling about nothing but cheer for weeks beforehand.The same fifteen songs get remixed over and over again by a galaxy of pop stars hoping to turn another million dollar iTunes profit, and it is TORTURE for us Grinches! Have mercy on us! The radios on my bus started playing carols on the 20th of freaking November this year, for crying out loud!!! I had to take midterms with Paul McCartney's truly galling "Wonderful Christmastime" rolling around in my brain!!! November 20th is far enough back into autumn territory to turn anyone into a Grinch, if they hadn't been already. I have a life. And other emotions to stoke via my music selection. Thank you. PS this rant is not directed at you, cheery Christmas lovers. I hope you know that. It's at the marketing machine and the retailers who tricked us all into thinking nothing except "Snow+Buy presents" since November 20th.

Oh man she's cute. Replace the bulb she's holding with this one and you'll get a perfect illustration of how I feel right now:
Well, insert "Music" underneath "Christmas" right here^ aaaaand there you go. Welcome to my world. It's not such a bad place, you know. It has a lot of different music playing all the time. Very enjoyable.

Auntie J, I promise the story behind Manet's The Railway is coming soon. And it will not be what you expect. Get excited!

Monday, November 23, 2009

This is the first Ben Shahn painting I ever saw... Always loved it.

They totally have little personalities, don't they??

Happy Thanksgiving! And while we're at it, Happy Black Friday, to all my cart-pushing, credit-card-swiping, shopaholic friends. :) I'll be in New York City and New Jersey this weekend, living the life. Adios.

..... NOT adios. My mom caught me- I did indeed once replicate the artwork above, in color, for an art class. The assignment was to combine the painting techniques of two different artists into a single, original work. I decided to combine the blackboard-like scratchy lines and vivid colors of Paul Klee's The Golden Fish, 1925 (at left) with the delightful little anthropomorphic carts depicted by Ben Shahn in Supermarket, 1950 (aka the one above. Like I said, loved it at first sight). Welcome to pretty much my only foray into the art world:

Lindsey C_______. The Golden Shopping Cart. 2007. Oil on paper.

Monday, November 16, 2009


That's quite the loaded title, huh? I guess I've always known I would have to unpack my thoughts about that subject (slash methodology) sometime, and, for several reasons you are about to understand, today is that day. The writer's fire is burning me up, and it's burning pink. :)

I am not a feminist. Not really. It feels so wrong to write that down, but it's important to start off there. This morning, when I glanced at the mobile I have hanging in my room-- a little contraption of coat hangers, string, photos, and postcards I collected on my European study abroad-- a strange pattern jumped out at me. Of the ten pictures I've got spinning around in little orbits, seven of them feature women. 70%. I had seven women gazing out at me this morning. I hung them there two years ago upon my return from my glorious art history study abroad in Europe. Obviously, though I might not have been cognizant of it, the idea of womanhood meant something to me.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with Pearl Earring

Matthias Grunewald, The Concert of Angels and The Nativity

Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars

Nicolas de Stael, Portrait d'Anne (Can you see her in there??)

Postcard of Marie Antionette from Versailles

Photo of the sculptor Camille Claudel, who has one of the most tragic and epic stories in all of art history- I fell in love with her story way back in my freshman Humanities class.

Alfred Stevens, Mary Magdalene

I'm refraining from completing the second half of my post about Manet's The Railway this week in order to talk about feminism. Tiny juicy piece of gossip, though: the model Manet uses in The Railway (the model of the older girl) was a famous mid-19th-century socialite and prostitute named Victorine Meurant. She also happened to be the mistress of Alfred Stevens, who painted the hauntingly beautiful picture of Mary Magdalene above. Fun connections!!!

If you caught me offguard and asked me my opinion about feminists, I'd no doubt respond in the same tongue-in-cheek way that the Marxist art historian T. J. Clark did: to me, they're "shrill" characters. And sometimes I think their energy is mis-focused and borders on greed,

Then... if you prod me further, and make me think about it, I'll remember and admit that my field, art history, actually owes a huge debt to feminists. Their work, their determination, changed the way we look at art. They pointed out to the unconscious public that it set WAAAAAY too much store in artwork made by "geniuses," who all turned out to be men. White, rich men that all knew each other. (Tangent: in my opinion, genius is not even a real trait. You've got skill, both inborn and developed, and then there's usually luck involved... and showmanship and business acumen and pure passion and tenacity. THOSE things are responsible for the world's great art. Not some mystically-instilled germ of genius that infects only a sliver of the population. Such a notion is purely the construct of a romanticized history.)

Feminists were the first people to point out that there are other things, other people with unique stories, that are worth studying. What about the daughter of an artist who was denied the ability to study like men but managed to slip her art into her father's fray anyways? (Her name was Artemisia Gentileschi). What about slaves who did not have access to training or museum collections at all, but focused their creative energy and skills on quilt-making, the only media they had at their disposal?

Feminists were the first group of intellectuals to call attention to the fact that our society carries a viral amount of institutional biases. They highlighted very interesting flaws in academia's working vocabulary and tools of analysis. The landmark feminist art text is titled Old Mistresses... which in and of itself points out an immediate, unfortunate difference in society's perception of the two genders. How far the gap is between "Old Master" and "Old Mistress"!! Do you see what they're driving at yet? :) If you get nothing else from feminism, let it be this lesson: there's so much more out there to see and do and understand and appreciate than society and history currently advocates!

But I've been talking about feminism in art history. Feminism in general is an overarching study of how being female impacts your life and the world, and I can't think of a time in history where there is a bigger need for such research. Everything vital to our gender is currently under intense scrutiny and even assault by the world at large: Family structure. Integrity. Chastity. Lady-like grace (see every image of Lindsay Lohan ever published for bad examples). Love. Safety. Independence. Motherhood.

The main reason for this post today was my discovery that my alma mater, Brigham Young University, is severely cutting back (and potentially disbanding) its Women's Research Institute. By doing so, as a colleague on facebook noted, my school is essentially confirming the institutional bias that Accounting and MFHD are the only true lifepaths worth pursuing. PSH. I'm really disappointed with BYU for this decision (although I'm sure there are at least a few legit reasons for it, including lack of budget, interest, and/or qualified professors.) But I can't help but think of the times I've succeeded at that school, how good I felt when I worked hard, and how many girls all over the world lack that same feeling of confidence and hope. I have always been so proud of my school for their international educational focus, for the seriousness with which the faculty and staff takes the mandate to bring light to the world. (There's a link to petition for you to sign if you agree with me at the bottom of this post, in the pink box).

I don't judge or hate men for doing what they're doing, and I firmly believe that gender, and gender differences, are God-given and should be celebrated. Most importantly, I feel that the best and purest achievements of humanity only come when all the disparate parts of our race-- the different sexes, education levels, ethnicities, languages, interests, temperaments, etc.-- work together, something even the field of feminism, colorful though it may be, is very, very right about advocating. (Ps Baby-making! The perfect example of us working togeter to achieve great things! hee hee hee :) People only find their deepest, most satisfying peace when honestly, diligently pursuing the path God has laid out for them. I am grateful for that knowledge, though it comes with great responsibility.
I want to close with a story, one I wish BYU understood better. This is the story of one of the most aha! moments of my entire internship at the Hirshhorn. It is within this story that I hope you will see the need for the research and ideas that organizations like the Women's Research Institute puts forward:

I participated in a 6-week training course to be an Interpretive Guide while at the Hirshhorn (remember how I used to stroll the galleries 12 hours a week and talk to strangers about the art? Yea. That.) Me, four other college students, four older (aka age 55-75) long-time docents (all women, and all hilarious!), and two full-time education staffers all congregated every Monday to discuss the Louise Bourgeois exhibition, and the different methodologies we could use to encourage people to think about her art. The most interesting conversation we as a group ever had, hands down, was when we looked at Louise Bourgeois' art through feminism. The conversation turned to feminism itself, and it was soon discovered that all five of the younger participants were reluctant to claim any adherence to feminism as a belief system. Like I said, it's shrill.

The older ladies were AGHAST. They truly could not believe we eschewed advocacy for womens' rights. "You don't understand," explained the eldest docent, "when I was a newly divorced mother I had to undergo birth control and pregnancy tests before they would even consider me for my house loan!!!" (Can you believe that?? Such an appalling invasion of privacy!!) It was such an interesting dynamic in that classroom; a really tense atmosphere for quite a while, as us the young and they the old poked and prodded each others' stands regarding activism, propriety, and womanhood. Eventually I could see the other ladies start to form this contemptuous assumption in their minds: "Oh. They aren't feminists yet because they haven't NEEDED to be."

I decided to be the brave young one to attempt a reconciliation, especially since the topic was veering towards a veneration of Roe v. Wade as the supreme moment of liberation and triumph for feminism, something I disagree with. "You know," I started, "I think there are various types of feminism today, and our younger generation works within those, without realizing it. I can totally recognize that we build upon the achievements of your generation and we are so thankful for that! I belong to the largest women's organization in the world, and it's called the Relief Society, it's part of my church. Its members meet together weekly all over the world to teach one another about family skills and avoiding domestic abuse. It's also where we make friends and celebrate God, who loves his daughters." Silence reigned for a few seconds. I couldn't believe I'd just said that. I usually let my religion lie low in my art circles, because Mormonism has way too many stereotypes that I don't like people judging me by (it's always a fun moment when art friends find out I'm Mormon LATER, after getting to know ME. I can see their eyes widen as they realize actual Mormons don't conform to stereotypes). Tangent.

The older ladies grudgingly assented to my olive branch of sorts. I swallowed my surprise that the first time I "came out" about my religion was related to feminism of all things. And that moment became the turning point in the day's discussion. Feminism, it was agreed, can analyze and celebrate many different aspects of womanhood. In my final opinion (phew! I've given you a lot today!), its greatest moment of success is when the little people, the regular participants of every-day life, open their minds a little bit and discover their innate ability to stand up for themselves and move forward and do something great, all thanks to that knowledge and confidence they gained from considering gender differences, qualities, and achievements.

This is hilarious, and a fitting final image:

Congrats if you made it through this. You are the few, the brave, the enlightened, and, for lack of a better word, the SEXY!!! Hahahahahaha. Also, it begs to be stated: feminism is not for the ladies alone. I am so appreciative of the many men in my life who take the time to respect women and all the unique things we are capable of. Like I said, we work better when we work together!!

Update: after reading over a lot of the official BYU press releases on this decision, I've come to the conclusion that this move is simply bad taste on the part of the administration, who sees the WRI as a derelict flagship. Time and again they assure the public that funds for research will be more widely available, and I sure hope that will really be the case! Good luck to them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Check out this bad boy...


Is it weird that I refer to this work in masculine terms when it in fact depicts two females? No, I don't think so. No, I don't understand why I just did that. I just know you may officially refer to "him"-- or it, if you prefer me to be more gender-sensitive-- as Edouard Manet's career-changing painting The Railway (1872-73), located at this moment downtown in the National Gallery of Art, two blocks from my work at the NBM.

Take 30 seconds and spin me a story about this scene. Tell me in a few words your interpretation of what is going on within, according to your eyes. (Pleeeeease!)

I'm not gonna tell you what I know about it this week. I'm more interested in what y'all can come up with. See, this guy is what currently occupies all my time, talents, and thoughts (well, not ALL my thoughts... sometimes I eat. And teach. And do other fun stuff :) He is the subject of my massive historiography paper/presentation and basically my entire final grade rests upon the types of new ideas I can find within its smokey, colorful contours. I am currently busy surveying what all the smart people have to say about it, in aaaaaall the long decades since its creation. Somehow I've got to find something they've missed and expound upon it (sooooo much reading required to do so... I love reading. I love reading, I swear I do!). It continually amazes me how many cool socio-historical facts the big-league art historians can come up with to make you see deeper and deeper into a work like this. It also amazes me just where these professionals have to dig in order to come up with said facts. I have so much to learn about researching.

But in the meantime, we're just gonna enjoy the beauties of a very important work of art, which is an experience we should always start with, anyways! Take another few looks at this amazing work:

Think about it. I sure am.

All I know is, I'm quickly becoming obsessed with Monsieur Manet. SO fabulous. I'll tell you about him soon! Have a great week!

Monday, November 2, 2009

On Being an American Explorer.

Post #50! I just want to point that out. Neat.
Somewhere, some time ago, I read a study that concluded, in more scientific terms than I can remember now, that basically it's no wonder we as a nation suffer from a plague of Attention Deficit Disorder; it's in our blood!!* Just look at our ancestors- the crazy people, three and four centuries ago now, that felt compelled to hop on a ship, cross an ocean believed to have been filled with monsters, land on a coastline whose exact terrain no one had mapped out yet, and start setting up shop in a dangerous, unknown landscape. Yep, I'll bet being an early American Explorer required something like severe ADD in order to cope. What other mental anomaly could seriously get people excited to spend their entire lives in constant surprise, forming a community in a strange land, far away from society as they knew it?? I love imagining how the pilgrims and other 17th, 18th, and 19th century settlers must have felt when every step westward took them further into a realm of new and wild animals, scary natives, trees and mountains and rivers unnamed, and craziest of all- no rules!!!!

How delicious that life must have been. "When I grow up, I want to be an explorer, like the Great Magellan." (What movie??)

I've really been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be an American Explorer, both for pioneers past and adventurers present. I really feel connected to the identity of an explorer; it's something I picked up in my early school years I think. For the first time in my life, I'm waking up to an environment of fall foliage and heading out to work in buildings of historical significance every day! All the history books I have ever read depict pilgrims smack in the middle of an idyllic fall landscape, and I've just realized I reside only a few hours away from the original Jamestown settlement. Thus the attitudes and lifestyle of early American Explorers have definitely held my mind captive lately. I'll spare you my usual bright-eyed and bushy-tailed paragraph about how I am on an adventure and see new things every day and find myself in a state of constant surprise (even though that paragraph would be totally true). Instead I'll show you how, in art, we have a lot of modern-day brothers and sisters who likewise found themselves explorers of the American landscape. Except these artists liked to paint what they saw, not just look around and sigh and take pictures with their digital cameras (like me). Thus they became contributors to the ephemeral, hopefully eternal ideal of Being an American Explorer, which I hope everyone gets a taste of once in a while, if not every day. Because it's our heritage. It is in our blood. And it's a great life to live.

I brought along with me a few images to help get you in the mindset of being an American Explorer. You might not get the connection at first, but just wait. Over the past three weeks, I've seen three particular images in my graduate studies that really resound with the drama and allure of Being an American Explorer. One does so through its artist's story, the other two through their subject matter. First things first:

Ben Shahn. Lithuanian/American. Resources of America Mural at the Bronx General Post Office. 1938. Tempera.

Now, I know the teacher on The Truman Show pulls down her pansy little map of the world and tells us, "Aww, you're too late! There's nothing left to explore!" and I know that many people, myself and Truman included, occasionally fall into the trap of feeling like there's nothing new to discover in our day and age. But it can be done! In fact, it was imperative for Ben Shahn, the artist behind this first image, to be an explorer in order to even come up with the idea behind this mural panel. Mr. Shahn makes for a really devilishly fascinating character study; I just completed a fatty paper on him, so I can't pass up the chance to tell you just a bit more about him. Born in 1898 in Lithuania, Shahn emigrated with his parents to New York City in early childhood (American explorer trait #1- stranger in a strange land). He trained in lithography and other art styles at a trio of art schools in New York, and was actively involved early in his career in the New Deal's WPA program for artists during the Great Depression (American explorer trait #2- get involved in history as it unfolds around you). He flirted with NY communist groups but never really was one of them, saw a mural he worked on with Diego Rivera at Rockefeller Center destroyed for its portrait of Lenin, and most importantly for the above image's sake, Shahn travelled as a documentary photographer for the federal governmentfrom 1932-1937. For five years, his sole assignment was to take pictures of workers in America (like the one at right). Strange lands, strange people, and crazy tough times. That's what he found out there.

This adventure was faaaaar different from anything he had ever seen in his claustrophobic New York world. His travels inspired him during his design process in a mural competition back home in New York. His design for the walls of the Bronx General Post Office featured twelve panels of gargantuan figures doing various distinctly American labors. It won, and it was a very prestigious commission! The mural image above is his depiction of a Southern cotton-picker in that mural program (one of the twelve American laborers). Benevolent Mr. Shahn so loved seeing different people's lives and labors out in the American countryside during his five year stint that he took it upon himself to educate the Bronx public about the big wide world. In mural form. Haha, it didn't work so well- one funny anecdote I came across in my research tells of a Bronxian native asking Shahn why the lady was making snowballs! He responded by telling her what his figure was actually holding, to which she replied, "Oh. I thought that stuff growed on trees."

Nevertheless, Shahn tried. He "went out into the world, and came back in," (what song??) and thus his images, although a little too tawny-toned and generalized for me, still speak a little bit about the artist's amazing journey, and his desire to share with others the marvelous things he encountered during the Great Depression.

And now, image #2 & 3

Cândido Portinari. Brasilian. Discovery of the Lands & Teaching of the Indians. In the Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress. 1941. Tempera.

These were from a classmate's presentation, and the way she described these images just really caught my attention. They are by the Brasilian artist Cândido Portinari, who was asked by Washington to design the four large murals in the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress (which is THE most beautiful building I think I've ever been inside! I need to get some major pictures of that place, it's gorgeous!!!). Portinari drew upon his Latin American heritage for inspiration for this work. He selected as his subject the discovery, exploration, and colonization of America.

Now, these images caught my attention for a few reasons: first, because I pay special attention whenever I hear anything about Latin American art, because it is really gaining strides in the contemporary art scene. Second, because I'm quickly seeing that American mural art owes a LOT to Latin American precedence. This is because Latin American artists-- particularly Mexicans like Diego Rivera and Brasilians like Portinari-- really embraced and enhanced the medium of mural work because of its ability to appeal to their countrymen and convey a sense of heritage, via a distinctly Latino style. Look at these images. You wouldn't say they were made by Italians, would you? You probably wouldn't say they are American, either. They are something else entirely, and that something is Latin American cultural insight and style: the wavy outlines, the patterned surfaces (like the checkered shirt on the center figure in the second image-LOVE!), and the flattened picture plane (notice how the ocean is ABOVE the heads of the central figures in both images- definitely not realistic, huh?). But I'm getting into nerdy, only-interesting-to-art-historians territory here.

The thing that I love most about these images is the almost-innocent view they take on American colonization. For once, neither side of history is demonized--neither the explorers nor the natives. For once, the artist just simply.... looks at the people who were alive in those epochs. By doing so, he shows us what he thinks about Being an American Explorer. Portinari depicts the discovery of the continent from the everyday sailors' point of view, not Columbus'. I liken that to the fact that being an American Explorer doesn't take some superior genius; it can be done through your basic hard work and perseverance. Portinari also chose to depict the Jesuit conversion of the natives to Christianity (second image). He said he believed that that was one of the greatest, most positive events to come out of colonization. American Explorers have historically trusted in the idea that their new world is the handiwork of God, and that they in it are also made by Him. Me likey this idea as well.

Thus concludes my art explique for the moment. It's been such a busy fall season, and I've seen and explored and written so much lately that I don't feel like I can add much more to what I've got. For all those who would like an update on how I myself have recently gone about being an American Explorer, here's a few images I've taken (off Flickr and off my camera... I'll never say which ones are which!). Welcome to the surprising new worlds and new scenes I've stumbled upon lately. Enjoy exploring.

* On a completely unrelated note, at my teacher training at the NBM recently I found out that the socio-psychological powers-that-be have officially stopped using the phrase "Attention-Deficit-Disorder." It officially no longer exists. We have Asperger's and ADHD, but that ADD, that's a thing of the past. I have no idea why, but my guess is a desire to be more politically correct and to discourage the over-diagnosis of ADD that has occurred in the public school system. Haha, I wonder what will happen to the Pilgrim-ADD study now. Is it considered debunked? Bad scholarship? Unimportant? Ah modern academia. Never a dull moment.