Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ankles, Elbows, and the Human Body in general

I had a really weird dream on Friday that is still so vivid that it's going to take over my post this week. (I'll spin it into an art discussion soon enough, don't worry). In the dream, while out and about with friends, I suddenly looked down and saw that I must have gone and gotten MASSIVE tattoos on my legs! Two 1.5-inch stripes of gothic red-and-black checker patterns ringed (rung? rang?) around my ankle bones, and above them unfurled beautiful, lacy, abstracted black and blue fairy-wing patterns. These graceful arabesques overlapped each other and covered entirely the lower parts of my legs, all the way to my upper calves. I was at first entranced by my boldness in getting these tattoos, since I belong to a religion that generally disdains them (although, small side note, I absolutely love them on other people! Asking about tattoos is always fun, they are almost always very special and symbolic to their owners).

In the dream, after overcoming my surprise, I ran around for a bit, literally kicking up my heels and enjoying the flash of blue and black that ensued. I became horrified, though, when I realized my tats obstructed and distracted the eye from my legs, which, as all those who know me well know, are a source of shameless and unhealthy pride for me. (But, hey, I always make sure and give full credit to my mom and my Nike's!). Anywho, I was FURTHER horrified as this thought scrolled across my brain: blue is the hardest ink color to remove. Semi-repentant as I now was, I knew I faced a long, painful restoration process if I ever wanted my calves back to their original whiteyness. At the same time, I looked down at the insides of my arms and found similar wing designs extending out from the crooks of my elbows!!!! Apparently I'd gone tattoo crazy!

When I woke up, I checked my elbows before crawling out of bed and it turns out, I'm clean. But the whole dream, the vivid dark patterns on my skin, and the keen feelings I experienced about my tattoos really made me think about my human body, and the human body in general this weekend. It gets treated so differently by different people. In my religion, we believe our bodies are our first and most sacred gift from God, something we have been sent to Earth to learn how to operate and control. These precious gifts, the only thing we really possess, come with a full, wonderful range of sensations and passions that can either help us or possess us, depending on what we do with them. Gordon B. Hinckeley, former president of our church, had this to say about the human body in 1992:

"Have you ever contemplated the wonder of yourself, the eyes with which you see, the ears with which you hear, the voice with which you speak? No camera ever built can compare with the human eye. No method of communication ever devised can compare with the voice and the ear. No pump ever built will run as long or as efficiently as the human heart. What a remarkable thing each of us is. We can think by day and dream by night. We can speak and hear, smell and feel.

Look at your finger. The most skillful attempt to reproduce it mechanically has brought only a crude approximation. The next time you use your finger, look at it and sense the wonder of it. While sitting in Symphony Hall in Salt Lake listening to a concert, I was in a position to see the fingers of the performers in the orchestra. Whether playing the strings, the percussion instruments, the brass, the woodwinds--all involved the use of fingers. One does not have to use one's fingers to sing or whistle, but beyond that, there would be little of musical harmony without the deft action of trained fingers.
George Gallup once observed, "I could prove God statistically. Take the human body alone--the chance that all the functions of the individual would just happen is a statistical monstrosity" . Our bodies were designed by our Eternal Father to be the tabernacles of our eternal spirits." Whole talk found here.

Such I also believe. In addition, I believe it is very important to take care of our bodies, to keep them clean, to not show off every part of them to the world (DOWN WITH CLEAVAGE MONSTERS!), and to practice habits that make them function well for us. Regular exercise (doesn't have to be strenuous, peeps), a natural and balanced diet, and abstinence from anything that would lead to addiction-- yes, I include caffeine, alcohol, and white sugar here-- really help us in every aspect of our lives: emotional, social, mental, etc. Bonus: as a temple, the body really is a place that God may visit with his peace if we keep ourselves worthy of Him.

Elsewhere in the world I have observed people with very different opinions of their bodies. Not all of them are bad exactly, just... different: A prison. A sketchbook. A billboard. An adrenaline machine. Some people don't think much of their bodies at all, don't hardly use them. How sad. One thing I learned from being a lifeguard this summer and observing pool visitors is that God sure is some kind of sculptor. Truly. Everyone is built differently, and everyone is beautiful.

That is essentially the reason why people have for millenia sought to re-represent the human form in art. Portraits, history paintings, family photos, you name it. We as a species sure like to look at ourselves. With, ahem, good reason. Sometimes...

Special topic for the day: The nude. The nude is one of art's most prestigious (and snicker-evoking) subjects. It presents countless surfaces, expressions, and shapes for contemplation. The nude is considered by generations of artisans as the highest praise that their craft can render to God. To all the people I attend museums with: the naked statues standing around frozen will be most valuable to you if you simply try to imagine them as odes to God's creative powers. As man's attempt to emulate Him. As artistic explorations of one of the most riddling and enigmatic things that ever walked the earth, or took a breath, or made a sound. What about the body do you think is most fascinating? What would you try and recreate in art?

My best friend Jessica is funny, very opposite of me in the things she will geek out about. As opposed to museums and art, she will sometimes explode with great and brilliant things to say about, what else? The human body. (Science nerd!) I especially remember sitting around her room once, reading or listening to music or something, just chilling out, when I suddenly found myself struggling in vain to worm my way out of watching open heart surgeries on Youtube with her! Apparently, that's quality, uplifting entertainment for you (which I'm sure it is... when you have taken anatomy classes that prepped you to see something other than bloody goo on the screen). It sure is fun to have friends with different views of the world than you. I think I'll keep the science people around. There's a whole 'nother way of valuing the human body...

Because I couldn't escape this blog without including one small proof that my legs are awesome, er that me and Jess are BFF and that there are all sorts of different and beautiful body shapes in the world:

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Memory: It's A Mystery

Morris Louis, Doubt, 1959, Acrylic resin on canvas, 105 x 83 in., Courtesy Riva Yares Gallery Santa Fe, NM, Scottsdale, AZ.

The above painting is actually really big. When I used to look at it, hanging above me on the gallery wall, I always inexplicably imagined how fun it would be to cut it out of its frame and turn it into a queen-sized comforter cover. "Mmm... How glorious," I thought to myself, "to sleep under a marvelous (and heisted!) masterwork of one of America's most important modern painters."

Doubt came to the Brigham Young University Museum of Art in Fall 2008 on loan from a private gallery for the show Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and the Rebirth of Meaning in American Art (now that's an attractive title if I ever saw one... pbbbt). I had worked on this show as a curatorial intern for six months previous to that day, from January to June 2008. I had carted home massively heavy tomes about Morris Louis, wikipedia'd him and other artists til my mind was saturated with images like Louis' stately moneymaker from the Met (on the left) and Yayoi Kusama's psychedelic installation piece (on the right). I had bravely called snooty gallery after snooty gallery in an attempt to locate a Morris Louis big enough and attractive enough to get a place in our thoughtful and elegant show. Doubt was eventually secured not by me but by our fabulous contemporary curator from a wonderful gallery, and it ended up being one of my particularly favorite pieces. Working as a docent for Turning Point for the next several months, I attempted to explain to patrons of all ages and interest levels how Morris Louis removed the practice of painting even further from its traditional definition into the realm of modernism. He did not even touch the paint itself anymore! He held up the canvases and let the paints slide down them, shifting or bending them as his artistic sensibilities demanded in order to create aesthetically pleasing patterns . The results are lovely, and yes, cranky patron, your seven-year old could have done it. But he didn't, Morris did, and now we move into the conceptual art gallery. Now as I was telling you before....

...At this point, a year into making this blog, I have something to confess: I am not giving you a thorough investigation of modern art. Or even art history in general. You are instead getting a smattering of my own memories of art: the images and stories that glow in my mind and heart weeks, months, or even years later, for myriad random reasons. These are the images that compell me forward into laborious reading lists and occasionally mind-boggling seminar discussions. (It's one week into my second semester of grad school and I am already tired, can you tell? And is that a very bad sign? ... And IS anyone reading this besides my mom and Auntie J?) At some points, I still feel like a child of two worlds: I am equally at home in a cabin with my family, playing facecards and talking religion, as I am in the large and spectacular museum world, embodied so beautifully for me right now in the impassive, cylindrical Hirshhorn, the awe-inspiring National Building Museum, and 20+ other lovely historical institutions here in Washington, DC. I don't know what that means and sometimes I don't think my two comfort zones can coexist within myself forever. What I'm getting at is that I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that every time I explain to a new acquaintance that I eventually want to work either in art museums or teach at the university level, Morris Louis' Doubt floats up to center stage in my brain. Somehow, someway, someday, I will be content showing people simple but beautiful pictures like that and causing some kind of pleasant or stimulating thoughts to occur on their end. That's what I would like. Everything else about the path ahead of me is currently a mystery. And time ticks on...

The massive doors to the National Archives- yet another landmark site that I have yet to visit in this city. Sooo many of those... I'm such a bum. :) That reminds me. In March last year I posted my list of things I must do before I left DC; I just checked, and I'm currently 9 for 19. I'll let you speculate which have been done and which haven't. To that list I'm adding Move to a house, Visit the Corcoran Gallery, See the Nats win a game at home, Get a great summer internship, Go canoeing or sailing, Find a good Pho/Vietnamese restaurant and most importantly of all... KAMFLTTM.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lindsey's 2010 Goals in 10 words (because after that we all stop caring, let's be honest).



Ambition Balanced With Acceptance





PS. A year ago today I arrived in Virginia. Suprises indeed.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Railway

Edouard Manet's The Railway (alternative titles: Gare Saint-Lazare or Le Chemin de Fer). 1872-1873. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (I visit her on a regular basis :)

I STILL don't even know where to begin with this piece. Since the last time I mentioned her, I've logged more than 150 hours of research and writing time on its behalf, and wagered half of a class' grade on a 26-page paper about her (Update: B-. Totally Satisfied). Oddly, when I first I started to talk about this painting here on my blog in November, I referred to it as a him. During the course of our time together this work must have imbibed a bit of myself-- my passion and interest-- because it changed gender in my mind. Whatever. This bad boy is now a bad girl, at least to me.

And still, after three blissful weeks of theory-less, art-less Christmas holidays, I am overwhelmed by complicated art theory ideas whenever I start to think about The Railway.

OK, this is how we'll do it. If you'll recall, last time I asked you to make up a story about what is happening in this picture (If you didn't do it last time, take 15 seconds and do it now). I got a pretty creative smattering of responses back in November, ranging from a mother and child watching a father leave to a bubble-bath-less nanny about to quit. I call this painting a bad girl because, in actuality, she represents none of these stories. There is no story behind this work, per the artist himself!! In art history fancy-speak, this painting arrived into the art historical canon without an identifiable narrative. This was a deliberate, infuriating habit of the artist, Edouard Manet (who is a different person than the Impressionist artist Claude Monet, fyi).

Here are some of Manet's other most famous works. There are a few thematic and stylistic patterns to pick up between them: can you see any similarities?

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere. 1882.
Olympia. 1863.
Luncheon on the Grass. 1863.

Here are a few I can pick out:
  • All have women models with odd, half-bored looks on their faces.
  • There are no identifiable narratives going on-- in fact, in most of them you kind of have no idea what's supposed to be happening.
  • None of them are very strictly painted to look like reality; the artist has used a "sketchy" brushstroke instead of a careful, tedious, realistic one .
  • Yes indeed, there's some nudity present. Have your laugh now, so we can get back to business.
  • None of them are legendary scenes. No Greek gods here, nor biblical heroes. These are all scenes of late 19th-century Paris, Manet's own time and place.
These patterns apply to The Railway, too, can you see that? All these patterns, these artistic contrivances of Manet's, are why he is called the father of modernism: a very, VERY BIG title. Modernism, in this case, is a somewhat muddled term. For the sake of clarity, we'll just say that all art you would call modern displays, in some way, a focus on the act of making art. A modern artwork peels back the curtain on itself a little bit. It is focused on the modern time, it's own place in history.

In effect (and I'm grossly generalizing here), Manet was the first to say to himself, "Well, obviously I'm using a model, so I think I'll just paint her looking bored, because she is. I mean, I'm making her sit there for hours for heaven's sakes!" Manet also said, "Well, all the pretty art has been done. Let's loosen up the brush strokes like the 16th century Spanish painters did, add in a few nudes like the Frenchies, and just to throw everyone for a REAL loop, let's make the people in my paintings real-life Parisians, just going about their daily business." Manet took away the storyline in his paintings-- the easiest source of grandeur-- and the audience in his day and age HATED him for it. However, they eventually realized how cool it was that he was at least doing something different. "Lady and baby??" they cried, "Come one. That's not new. They're EVERYWHERE!... but they sure are pretty in this painting."

There are literally millions of articles written about Manet: his accomplishments, his scandals, and his story. It was a little daunting to try and add something to this pile of knowledge (and admittedly, I don't think I did a great job of it... got a lot to learn while in graduate school!). Funny story: when I first met with my university librarian to get started researching this painting, she laughed at me and said, "Manet, huh? It's all done. There's nothing left to write!" &!%$#..... like I'd let that stop me. Haha.

For Auntie J and those with an insatiable desire to know more, here are some of the things I said in my paper about The Railway, boiled down as much as I could get them. In bullet point form, my fav. :) For those with dwindling attention spans, just know that The Railway is a little slice of life, no more, no less, but its beautiful lines, all of its luscious contrasting spaces that go tripping across the canvas, make it no less fine of an artwork:

  • It is interesting to note that neither Clark nor Fried discuss The Railway in terms of its potential symbolist meaning, something Harry Rand does in depth in Manet’s Contemplation at the Gare Saint-Lazare. Meyer Schapiro has previously addressed Manet’s symbolic content in a broad sense, stating that Manet’s subjects were not chosen on the basis of pure aesthetic appeal, but rather, because they related symbolically to the outlook of Manet himself (Schapiro 1954). Rand pushes this idea much further within the context of The Railway. His argument is that Manet was depicting his five senses.
  • Rand traces this painting’s psychological effect back to Velazquez’ Los Borrochos (1628). The Velazquez image displays a compendium of the various psychological reactions to alcohol in its various figures. Rand’s link to The Railway is the grapes (aka wine) in the corner of the canvas.
  • I feel that Rand’s interpretation stretches credible iconography. The Railway’s intriguing subject matter better fits Fried’s idea about instantaneousness. The way that the older female looks up at the viewer casually, finger marking the page in her book, signifies the tiny moment of time in which a viewer might behold this same scene in reality. The bars in the background and the obtrusive steam cut off further imagination about any potential significance for this depicted moment.
  • The model’s cool and detached look signifies her presence as a model. All access to the meaning of this painting will pass through her, and she is rather cavalier in this duty.
  • The Railway shows that Manet is still capable of quoting, although it was executed later than the 1860s. Instead of Old Masters, he now quotes his contemporaries: Puvis de Chavannes and Berthe Morisot’s 1872 post-war paintings (images below, Morisot on top, Puvis on bottom).
  • Clark’s extant writing on this work starts with the note that Manet employs the controversial face of model/prostitute Victorine Meurent once again, although he renders her as benign (and as dressed) as she will ever be. Clark focuses on the modern life depicted in this image. The billowing clouds of immaterial steam and the identifiable piers on the right side of the canvas place this scene at the Gare St. Lazare railroad station, a place of transition and change that often appears in the Impressionist canvases of the same time period. He thus connects this work to the fleeting, absorptive milieu of modern Paris. I would further Clark’s Marxist reading by asking why the little girl gazes into the steam. No doubt Manet turned her little back to the viewer as a way to provoke him or her into contemplating her relation, and their own, to the Parisian spectacle of art and technology.