Thursday, February 24, 2011

Still. Life.

I've woken up to this pretty vase of roses every morning since Valentine's day (it was the parents' wonderful little gift from afar off), and I have really, REALLY enjoyed the act of sitting (er, laying) and contemplating the roses. My thoughts turn to the art of the still-life inevitably, every time. Still-lifes, as we art historians are allowed to misspell them, are a little like landscapes to me. I know I don't give them the time and attention and reverence they deserve, and I am ashamed. But they're notably on the shelf of things to get obsessed with later in my studies. Still-lifes can be just about the most ridiculously beautiful and thought-provoking paintings out there. My prejudice stems from the fact that I am always befuddled when I look at them. The same question always comes up: "Did the artist paint this for him/herself, or for me?"

Paul Cezanne. Still Life with Apples and Peaches. 1905. NGA.
This artist's simple, slightly jarred and blocky still-lifes inspired
modernism as we know it. Can you see the glimmer in there?
The force that changed art forever?
The glory of a still-life is that it captures an object, its contours and colors, in all their mundanity or magnificence, and holds them there for eternity. I always am disturbed by the thought that it must have been ten times more stimulating to create a still life than to look at one. I've seen an artist's studio when it's still-life time. The whole room, every single thing in it, seems to revolve around that simple table with fruit on it, or set of dishes. Lights shine in that direction. Chairs are arranged just so around that central place. And the artist's canvas is invariably located somewhere nearby, propped on an easel, prepped and ready to contain the artist's best efforts to replicate what lies at center stage. A plant, or a banana, or a dead goose. Or a hammer, or a sculputre, or a goldfish. The possibilities for still-life subjects are endless.

Some of the world's most lovely things are to be found all around us, commonplace yet stately. Giorgio Morandi (1890-1960) knew this secret well. Living in Italy during the turn of the last century, a quiet man amidst the raging fascist movement that consumed his country, Morandi spent his time and energy on something so ordinary yet riveting that his works have earned a permanent place in art history. Morandi spent forty+ years painting the same set of familiar bottles and pitchers, rearranged in various positions. Forty years. But oh, how his works shimmer, in their stately greys and pale tans, day after day, painting after painting:

Giorgio Morandi. Still Life. 1955. Oil on canvas.
Giorgio Morandi. Still Life. 1956. Oil on canvas.

It's not only the bottles, their curves and coloring, their shadows (or lack thereof) that is to be contemplated in these works. It's the composition of the paintings, the balance of tall and thin, short and squat, near and far, that we find the artist has deftly manipulated. It's in the sheer magnitude of creativity that the artist could sustain with such a limited set of models. Morandi: in a word, thoughtful. (a second word would be: bottle.)

In case you're wondering, all still-lifes do NOT originate in the artist's peaceful contemplation of their surroundings. Most definitely not. I talked on M.C.'s blog about the potentially unnerving qualities of Wayne Thiebaud's paintings of pies, and here is another example of a still life that is far from peaceful:

Henri Matisse, The Goldfish, oil on canvas, 1912
This is one of my personal favorites paintings, not because of its mysterious aura of calm, but because of it's ENERGY! The thing I probably love most about still-lifes is how they get you to compare paint with real objects. No, that's not real glass up there, but it looks pretty darn close. How did Matisse do that?? Through black lines, placed really close to white lines, can you see them? Carefully observe your drinking glasses today. See if you can see the lines there, too.

If you ever want to sound REALLY artsy, start mentioning Dutch still-lifes. The Dutch artists from the 1600s are art history's premiere still-life geniuses. You just can NOT get better than this, agreed?

Willem Claesz Heda. Banquest Piece with Mince Pie, 1635. NGA.
The pewter pot! The satin sheen! The spiraling orange peel! And it's all an illusory trick of paint on paint! Those Dutch. They were magical. Let's get a little bit bigger image, shall we?

Willem Claesz Heda, Still Life with Oysters, a Silver Tazza, and Glass Ware, 1635. The Met.

That's more like it. Again, magic. Often, Dutch still-lifes have quite a heavy hidden content to convey. The Dutch still-lifes capture things ephemeral and temporary, such as cut flowers, ripe fruit, bubbles, and candles, which are meant to remind viewers that not everything lasts (so you'd better be obedient!). It's a poignant and often sobering thought, that those things which may on canvas appear eternal and valuable, will, in reality, wither away, just as human life will. There's a word for these types of still-lifes: Vanitas. As in, do not be vain like the silly flowers, their value lasts only a day.

400 years later, Ori Gersht, a photographer from Israel, chose to resurrect this concept in his still-lifes. I've talked about Gersht before: he sets up elaborate still-life arrangements (dead goose, cut flowers, ripe fruit, etc., all the classics), but then he rigs them with explosives and detonates them, capturing their untimely destruction with a high speed camera. Voila Ori Gersht:

Ori Gersht. Blow Up: Untitled 4. 2007. 
He also does the same thing in videos (putting the video in a framed flatscreen so it LOOKS like a painting, seen here). His works a beautiful and eerie reminder of what kinds of destruction modern man can wreak upon even his most favorite sources of beauty and comfort.

 Carel Fabritius. The Goldfinch.1654. The Mauritshuis. 
So, I've seen hundreds of still-lifes in my studies. Possibly thousands. I've seen this little guy to the right in its hometown in the Hague. It's an image beloved by an entire nation. This type of painting also has it's own name: Trompe l'oeil, or trick of the eye. It's not that much bigger than the size you see in on your screen, and was intended to trick people into thinking there were seeing a real bird perched on the wall on which the painting was hung. This painting is absolutely beloved by the people of the Netherlands, such is the peculiar lure of the still-life. Why do you think that is? 

There's one final still-life I want to show you, not remarkable so much for its thoughtful portrayal nor its hidden meanings, but rather, the story behind it:

Edouard Manet created Bunch of Asparagus in 1880 for his friend Charles Ephrussi; he sold it to him for 800 francs yet Charles, knowing Manet was rather impoverished, paid him 1,000. Manet, humbled and touched by the gift, sent this little painting:

A single asparagus leaf. As a thank-you to his generous friend :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Probably the most self-indulgent post I'll ever write, but it's Vday. Love me.

I love love.

Everyone does, it's magical, so that's NBD.

I love dating!

Not so many concur with that one.

I really do. Getting dressed up, daydreaming about them before the date and after the date if it goes well, giving someone your full attention, seeing how they put their best foot forward (or don't :), etc. It's all great stuff! Sure, there's the whole three-day-agony when he doesn't respond to your text, and of course, breaking up or being rejected absolutely sucks, but such is life. Dating's so worth it, getting to know someone one-on-one. Such a great thing.

Whenever any downtime occurs, I just tell myself he obviously isn't worth the worry and move my focus elsewhere. Being 25 1/2, almost a decade into my dating career, I've done that quite a few times now, just as I have broken a few hearts, brightened a few boys' weekends, and even gotten to change a few lives, and be changed myself, for the better.

In Institute last week our teacher challenged us to think about all of our best and worst decisions, and what made them so. Both my best and worst decisions involve relationships (and charity and pride, respectively). I can say with confidence, though, that there's only been a single date in the almost TEN years I've been dating that I regret going on. That's a really good track record I think.

It sounds cheesy, but I really do feel like I've learned from each boy/guy/man I've dated, even if none of them have become my true love quite yet. I remember when I was a sophomore in college I made a list of every boy I'd ever been on a date with. There's no way I can recreate that list now, five years later, I can't remember them all... but I do have some highlights. :) The following is a grossly, unfairly, stereotyped survey of select guys I've gone out with, because it's V-day and I'd like to remember that it's not because I haven't given things a shot with a variety of fantastic and not-so-fantastic menfolk. We all nickname our crushes: "Library boy," "volleyball boy," "motorcycle man," etc., please don't judge me for having had this list in such a format in the back of my head. Is your list really any different? (Especially you marrieds??) How do you feel about YOUR list? I hope you can take pride in it, it's a pretty important thing to be content with.

A survey of Lindsey's love interests (Future husband, you get to feel proud that you bested all of the following):

Eldorado HS soccer player (my first date :)
I stayed good friends with all these guys,
I don't think they'll mind being the
visual content of today's post :)

HS prom date who moved into my singles ward 5 years later and announced over the pulpit that I made a great date
The Hobbit (he was 5'5"... and VERY confident, so manly!)
BYU football players 1, 2, and 3
BYU Swimmer
Harvard Tennis Player
Utah Football player
BYU Rugby player (the most gentlemanly of all the athletes)
Guy who got married and became the 1st counselor in my singles ward bishopbric... AWKWARD.
Skiier Boy
Guy who introduced me to Jack Johnson (my very favorite boy of all time... sigh. Win some, lose some.)
Guy who studied Computers at the Y and had zero social skills (worst date EVER)
BYU Mascot ( he didn't know I knew!)
Harvard MBA
Afghanistan EOD Officer, (owner of the most interesting boy award).
Yale JD
Boy who gave me the extra set of keys to his car (schwing!)
Drummer in a jazz band
Future prophet
Princeton Prepster
African do-gooder save-the-world type
Hill staffers 1, 2, and 3
Most beautiful guy I've ever seen (congrats to his new wife :)
Boy who liked techno and wanted to wear a Batman suit the first night of his marriage
Shakespearean actor
Guy who let me drive his dad's Corvette
Rich surfer boy from the OC, sweetest guy ever
Orthopedic surgeon
My second cousin (JK... although my best friend tried to set me up with him once :)
FBI Agent
Dental students 1, 2, and 3 (GO UNLV!!!!!)
Florida boy (I'll always wonder what happened to him...)

I'm still missing a collegiate lacrosse player. They've always topped my list of boys I wanted to date. Well, them, and THE ONE of course, whoever the heck he may turn out to be. I've still got time!

I need to end this post on a less braggy, more V-day appropriate note. My friends and I were recently talking about our "types," and I was surprised to find that the other girls had no idea what their types were; the men they've dated vary too widely. I was surprised because my type has remained consistent since high school, maybe even junior high, when I first began to love boys.

I'm going to tell you what I told these girls, the same thing I told my stake president in 12th grade when he wanted to set me up, the same thing I thought to myself at age 11 when the class clown asked quiet little me about the necklace I was wearing: I love funny men, the kind that can entertain a roomful of people but especially the girls. The ones that like asking girls questions. He can even be a little high maintenance, I like maintaining someone :). Find me one of those, universe, make sure he loves God and family and learning about the big wide world, and we'll be in business. Thank you in advance, so much.

Happy Valentine's Day, my friends. If you have someone to love, do so with all your heart. Such is the sweetest gift life has to offer.

Lord Frederic Leighton. The Painter's Honeymoon. 1864. MFA Boston.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Elie Wiesel

"'Man comes closer to God through the questions he asks Him,' he liked to say. Therein lies true dialogue. Man asks and God replies. but we don't understand His replies. We cannot understand them. Because they dwell in the depths of our souls and remain there until we die. The real answers, Eliezer, you will find only within yourself."

"And why do you pray, Moise?" I asked him.

"I pray to the God within me for the strength to ask Him the real questions."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I cheated on you.

I guest-posted on my friend M.C.'s blog, wrote about art history and baking. Enjoy!

Best picture I could find of M.C. and I:

She's the one in the sunglasses, I am the one rocking bangs, on a wakeboarding trip right before the BYU v. UNLV football game, 2007. Good times :)