Saturday, December 14, 2013

British Library engravings... CAN'T GET ENOUGH!

Did you know? The British Library just released ONE MILLION image scans of book illustrations from its 17th, 18th, and 19th century collections onto Flickr. I spent an hour scratching the surface of this treasure trove this morning, here are a select few of my favorites (and I do mean select; guys, I cannot stop downloading images! This is incredible!).

The visual inspiration for Frozen's Kristoff?? Look at his hat!!
Bebe! Pull my heartstrings!

Anyone else excited to go home for Christmas??
Winter always makes me want to go snowmobiling in Yellowstone, especially after seeing/getting obsessed with Frozen.

Now go find your own!
PS I saw TONS of illustrations from old French and German art history texts like this^. Made me miss research. I always checked out the oldest possible books on whatever I was researching because those books help you get a sense of the initial perception of an artwork. Then you move forward in time and research and start to sense how society changed its thinking about an object's significance and meaning over the centuries. One of my favorite shifts was the old 19th century penchant of Germans to "scientifically" document (aka own) every aesthetic type (and every ethnographic type, but that's a different story). Thus they produced a lot of tight-fisted, pseudo-scientific, occasionally racist illustrations of items. Around the same time, the French realized, in part thanks to Victor Hugo, that they had a majority share in the worlds' collection of Gothic architecture, and likewise began recording all aspects of the built environment (like the example you see above). 

Around that same time, the early American cultural leaders were informed by their Puritain heritage and the idea of Manifest Destiny. They thought good art should encapsulate history, morality, and the natural sciences. Great art would be painted with a "magesterial gaze." An example of an artist who they thought did this superbly? Frederic Edwin Church. See his Twilight in the Wilderness, from 1860 (The Cleveland Museum of Art):

I'm getting a bit nostalgic. Three years ago I spent every waking moment of my December on a final research project on this artist. Can you see how he would have been lauded back in the day for incorporating something of the divine in his paintings? As well as the scientific? (That atmosphere!) Today, a more modern avenue of study taken with Church's works to identify which pigments Frederic Edwin Church used. According to William Talbot, formerly of the Research Library of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Church was experimenting with both organic and synthetic pigments on his canvases. These pigments included (in case you want to know) lead white, vermilion, red lead, strontium yellow, chrome yellow, cadmium yellow, chrome green, green earth, earth colors, umber, artificial ultramarine, and Prussian blue. Art Historian John Howat argues that this mix of traditional and modern pigments illustrates the artist’s penchant for following the latest achievements in chemistry and science, but I still think there's a trace of symbolic, even alchemical manipulation in the artist's choice of pigments (Vermilion? Hello!).

Happy Saturday!

PPS Do you like my new blog layout? First time I've touched my template in four years! Obviously, I couldn't stand to stray too far...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nietzsche snippets that correspond to Thanksgiving photos

While home in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving I found a treasure from my college years that I thought I'd lost forever: a creative inspiration notebook I'd kept from 2004 to 2008. In it, I jotted down poems, phrases, and lyrics, I pasted photos... really I collected anything that inspired me. It was my pre-blog blog. During my last five years in DC I've thought of it often and mourned its disappearance. How gleeful I was to come back to my old bedroom in my parents' house, newly cleaned by my mom, and see it on a shelf, good as new!

Perusing it while waiting for my red-eye flight to finish last night, I was especially struck by a page devoted to Friedrich Nietzsche. I remembered HE was the author of one of my favorite quotes:

"What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences other than we do?"

That has been the surprising discovery I have made during the last year with Monsieur Boyfriend. He certainly does understand differently than I do at times! But I have been delighted to find that real love is so much more interesting, challenging, and exciting than any of the dream scenarios with Monsieur Perfect I've had in my head for the last two decades. We're still taking things slow, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at building a good relationship, but it's so fun.

A few more gems from Sir Nietzsche (for some reason, they resonate fantastically during this Thanksgiving season), and a few corresponding Thanksgiving iPhone gems:

"The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time."

So basically, if we forget all the stunts we saw in the Zarkana Cirque du Soleil show, we must see it again!

"Sleeping is no mean art; for its sake, one must stay awake all day."

Or sometimes, you give in to sleep an hour after you finished scarfing down your Thanksgiving feast.

"Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent."

Marie and I DID make Russell participate in the traditional nose-waxing stunt special to the Christensen household.

"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."

I have lots of whys!

Why brothers!

Why hot dogs!

Why Bellagio!

More pics to come, see facebook...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Last Supper Lecture Part 1

A few weeks ago my friend Rachel invited me to teach part of her Institute class on the sacrament as a memorial ordinance. She has long been inspired by this -> contemporary painting that she found in the Ensign during her mission. My directive was to discuss other famous artistic depictions of the last supper and to illuminate different facets of that sacred moment that are transmitted through the art. I had a great time sharing my thoughts (I need to get back to teaching!!!) and I am going to recreate my lecture here on this blog for you in several posts.

"I will never be alone, because of what he did, alone." - comment from a student in my class

"To start off my lesson," I explained "most importantly tonight, I want everyone to learn not any one particular fact, bur rather, I want you to get into the habit of looking through art for encoded ideas. One of the most wonderful things about religious art is, in my opinion, our opportunity to sound out faithful motivation in every brushstroke, every detail, every lighting choice and spatial arrangement. Pictures really do speak a thousand words.

Before class I roamed through various art history books and museum websites in search of suitable works, and I was impressed by two ideas:

1. Artists over time have conceptualized of the first sacrament very, very differently, and
2. Those artistic differences connote the differences in people's understanding of Jesus Christ over time.

I hope as you consider each artwork, you will get a sense of the universality of Christ, of his ability to inspire men and women from all societies with his wisdom, love, bravery, and sacrifice. I hope to convey a little bit of my personal testimony of him, too.

First, the McPherson piece that Rachel loved:

Benjamin McPherson. And It Was Night. Oil on canvas. 2006. From here.

How do you think this artist thought about Christ? What is his personality in this moment? What clues in the painting make you think that? Rachel loves that his face is serene, focused inward, despite the clamor around him. She imagines this is right after the moment when he announced that one would betray him, and his disciples almost look silly, out of place, reacting with fear in such a stupendous moment. She likes to remember that now, as then, he knows all, has overcome all, and that instead of panicking, we ought to keep our peace and trust in him. 

My second example of the last supper is eponymous with the event itself: Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper. Tempura on gesso. 1494-1498. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.

The Da Vinci Code beat this painting like a dead horse, so I don't have too much to say about it. Ok, no, I'll give you a brief background:

In the Renaissance, artists utilized geometric concepts like symmetry, the square, the triangle, and the circle to signified wholeness. To them, geometric precision imitated God's perfect creative process. The Italians fervently believed that man will one day attain this celestial ability, and they celebrated their potential in art by creating precise, orderly, calm paintings of glorious moments in the Bible.

Note that Christ, with his arms outstretched, is roughly the shape of a triangle. His outline and the angled lines of the room and the ceiling all serve to draw our eye towards his face and imagine his composure, his thought process and his feelings, during his last dinner on earth. Has anyone had any deep experiences with this painting, or has it changed how they view the sacrament?

Do you happen to know where this painting is located? It's on the wall of a monastery, in a room that was basically the fifteenth-century version of a cafeteria. Can you imagine sitting down to eat every day and looking up at this painting, being reminded that we are to partake of the bread of Christ, that we eat with Christ on a daily basis?

My third piece came from the OTHER master of the Renaissance, the German visionary Albrecht Durer. He was perhaps more famous that da Vinci in his day because he was a virtuoso in printmaking, thus his works were easily distributed among masses. 

Albrecht Durer. The Last Supper. Ca. 1509-1510. Woodcut. Rosenwald Collection, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
This is one of three different depictions by Durer of the last supper, from the archives of my favorite hometown museum, the National Gallery of Art. It is the earliest of Durer's last supper engravings. Notice how he uses a very different spatial arrangement than the last two paintings. Da Vinci's Last Supper features a long table stretched out horizontally across the canvas, with Christ in the center and the apostles fanning out to the right and the left. This arrangement spawned many, many similar paintings (including And It Was Night, even in 2006!), so I found it interesting that Durer chose to depict his last supper table vertically, with Christ at the top of the painting instead of the center.  Also notice that Durer relies on the shape of a triangle, drawn from the top of Christ's head down to the two benches the apostles sit on. For me, this layout connotes stability, unity, and power, where the horizontal format of Da Vinci connotes primarily formality.

Does this piece connote a different view of Christ?

Durer sympathized with Lutherans, and didn't like the Catholic belief in transubstantiation, wherein the bread and wine is thought to actually turn into blood and flesh after we have swallowed it. Durer instead believed that the sacrament was commemorative, as Latter-Day Saints do today.For some reason, I was really struck by the fact that the plates are all blank, commemorative of the real "meal" of Christ, the fact that his sacrifice has occurred already and we have the opportunity to partake of it, as his disciples have done.

Do you see anything else new in this work? I feel a better sense of Christ's relationships with his apostles. Part of it is because of the circular table; everyone is basically hugging each other! John is leaned on Christ's breast, and Christ's arms are active. One embraces his beloved disciple, one is raised in benediction. Different, and cool.

Durer's vertical spatial arrangement is similar to this sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Just beautiful! Fine details! The folds of the drapery! The movement! I really have no words for this piece, except that I admire it so much. I spent probably 20 minutes marveling at its details on the Met site. It probably was set into a wall above an altar at a church in Germany or the Netherlands, and it was created around the same time as Durer's print. Do you think they could have been an influence on each other? Which one could have come first?"

Next week I'll continue recapping my lecture and show you how the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries have conceptualized this sacred moment... See you then!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

R-rated conversations with 4-year-olds

I laughed hysterically today at the following conversation I had with Cobb, and I needed to share it with some grown-ups:

Cobb: Andy and me and dad are boys. You are a girl. 
Me: That's right! I'm a girl! (He's never really understood boys/girls difference before)
Cobb: You have giants in your pants
Me: Giants?
Cobb: In your underwear. You have giants in your underwear. Like mom!
Me: What?? Giants?
Cobb: Me and Andy and Dad have penis in our pants. You and mom have giants.
Me: Oooooooooh... Yes, I have a vagina in my pants, like your mom.
Cobb: It's a store!
Me: Whaaaat????
Cobb: Our store is a giant!
Me: ................................... Oh. Yes. The grocery story we go to is called Giant. 
Cobb: We go to Giant today?!?!?!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


"[My son] has taught me that children do not exist to honor their parents; their parents exist to honor them. My time with Ronan has been shot through with light, laughter, and, above all, a love that has stripped me to the bone. Along the way, I've learned the bittersweet truth of parenting's ultimate goal: to love our children wholly and truly, without conditions or strings, while learning to let them go."

Having been a pseudo-parent (nanny) for two and a half years now, I was incredibly moved and saddened by the excerpt from Emily Rapp's book about losing her son to Tay-Sachs disease at age 3 (in this past March's Vogue). I thought this quote was a gem, something all of us should take in to ourselves whether we are parents, proud aunts and uncles, or just a friend to the beautiful little people in our lives.
My two little friends!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monster landscapes

This was too fun and too Halloween-y to not share. From the blog Twisted Sifter:

You know how thrift stores often have a load of outdated, sometimes decrepit landscape paintings for sale? A few artists thought they would breathe new life into them by painting in monsters (which, if you'll notice, they did smartly-- matching each painting's original brush stroke style, general color palatte, etc). If only I had inherited my mother's painterly skills....

 My personal favorite:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

I've been busy...

Watching general conference with sickie Russell... I offered him tampons to stave off the runny nose, but he opted for manly TP.

Russell's sweet parents Gary and Carla took us to see the world's biggest movable radio telescope! It's in a valley in West Virginia, and the the whole town has no wireless devices or cell phones or anything of that nature because the dish would pick it up!!!

Imagine Dragons concert!!!

BYU v. UVA game. This was the only pleasant memory from that game. If you were there, or tried to watch it on tv, you know why.

Sunday afternoon trip to the Botanical Gardens! My favorite picture of us :)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Faith and Doubt

There have been two excellent articles recently published about the entrance of doubt into the hearts of Mormons when historical information-- not all of it factual and much of it bereft of its context-- comes to light over the internet. I myself have fought that fight. I know the feeling. For me, that doubt has actually improved my faith, tempered it, made solid my foundation in God and Christ, and not in man.

Dr. Terryl Givens describes these trials of faith, or rather trials of doubt, saying, “Most of the impetus for disaffection does not come from new information per se [...] It comes from feelings of betrayal when church curricular materials are found to have presented an incomplete account of the Mormon past.” Once upon a time I wrote about my trial of faith here on this blog. I described it in this way:

I felt like a canyon had opened up in my heart, I walked like a zombie through church, hearing the same words I had heard before but just letting them all drop into the giant crevice. I am happy to report, though, that, through counselling and a good bishop and sheer force of mind, that rift healed over. It did not disappear. I keep the scar hidden, but I know I will have to show it to others some day who also struggled. I accepted the idea of having a shelf to put my questions on. I found answers or at least balm, little by little, which was most certainly extended to me in answer to sweet prayers uttered on my behalf by loving family members, and maybe a little in response to my own strangled prayers. Most importantly, I stomped down on feelings of guilt about certain choices I had made and refused to ever let them spring up again. I go to church and, the much more effective spiritual act for me, I go to the temple. That is my point of rest. 

And it still is. I go there and speak to God, and he listens. Just this past week he listened.

I found it interesting how closely my experience of doubt mirrored that described by Hans Mattson, a Swedish LDS leader, in the New York Times: “I felt like I had an earthquake under my feet, [...] Everything I’d been taught, everything I’d been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance.” A friend of mine posted Mattson's story on facebook with his own thoughts, which eloquently sum up my own feelings about it, too: 

I appreciated this look into some of the more questionable sides of my church. I'm saddened by many cover-ups that my church has performed; but I am uplifted by a more open honesty I see coming out of church leadership. The new introduction to the Second Official Declaration was just the opening of a floodgate. The more honest we are with our history, including the darkest chapters that have been destroyed or glossed over in the archives of the church's history department, the more we truly understand the nature of man, and how to become better followers of Christ.

To me, there is no such thing as blind faith, and we do ourselves and His chosen servants a disservice when we don't personally seek truth. There is not one thing I have faith in that does not have a personal physical manifestation or experience to support it. My faith is founded in my experiences and my personal connection to God, not to anyone else.

Sometimes, men are wrong, and there are countless examples in this dispensation of God's prophets and apostles being wrong. Does that mean we're excused from listening to them? Sustaining them? Does this mean we can pick and choose the commandments we're to obey? Absolutely not. But we are commanded to seek out truth in our own mind, to create a personal testimony. The spirit is the ultimate guide, and if we are truly in line with God's will, we will know for ourselves through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to face doubt and work through it. The pain of that experience was real, and excruciating. But miraculously, I cannot feel it anymore. I believe that my Father in Heaven pushed a giant delete key in my heart, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and allowed me to return to peace and faith. Pioneer Day happened recently, and as members retold the many famous, tragic, and beautiful stories of physical hardship that those saints of the 19th century endured for their faith, I felt comforted and proud, knowing that my own way has had rocks thrown up, in the form of historical facts that cause doubt. I am proud to report that I have pushed hard and overcome and am still striving towards Zion, and that God still attends me on my journey.

One last thought: I found it interesting that Dr. Richard L. Bushman, probably the most famous and fair Mormon historian (not employed by the church, but in academia), opined that, “you could [not] prove there is more disaffection from Mormonism now than before.” I've had several friends point to the perceived rise in dissatisfaction among church members, and a concurrent silence from church leadership, as examples of the church's faultiness. To me, the presence of the Mormon blogosphere, the publishing of the Joseph Smith papers, the recent review of the scriptures' introductions and references, Michael Otterson's magnificent columns, the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) and the Sunstone symposia all point to an active and faith-sustaining conversation rising among members. I also believe we are witnessing an improved and honest effort by church leaders to make bare past leaders' faults and yet affirm that this church, full of flawed members at all times, nevertheless contains God-given principles designed to bring the ultimate peace and happiness to man. 

"Doubt can be the beginning of deeper understanding, as it was for Mormonism’s founder," Terryl Givens reminded us. “It is true that more information has been the cause of the current controversies, but more information is also the answer,” said Richard Bushman. “We need to know everything we can about disturbing events and then put them in a broader perspective. Usually people can see that there is more than one way of understanding what occurred.” In last April's General Conference, Elder Holland asked, “Be kind regarding human frailty — your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of his only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to him, but he deals with it. So should we.”

In the words of historian Don Bradley, whose trial of faith took him out of membership of the church and back into it, “The central claim of Mormonism is not that God spoke to a fallible human being in 1820, the central claim is that God can and will talk to fallible human beings today. When we reach out to him, we will find his hand reaching out toward us, waiting.” I know this to be true. I'm headed to church today to affirm my belief in God and to ask for his help navigating the days and years. I love Him, I love His Son, and I am grateful for their patience and kindness, it makes the difference in my life.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

iPhoto Blitz

In April, my darling boss gave me her old iPhone 4. I have put its camera to good use. In case you've wanted to know how my spring and summer have gone:

USA. Tailgating with a fuzzy patriot.

Some random lady gave me and three friends her pit passes, so we got to inspect the Richmond Intnl Speedway before the race started!

Turns out NAScars go through a lot of tires in one night.

Cobb gets cheesy in Botswana on Embassy Day.

Cobb refused to eat the Bostswanan grub offered to us (on fork). I had to do the deed myself.

Kathleen, my triathlon training partner! At the Lake Anna Half-Ironman.

My Half-Ironman relay team. Kirsti run, me swim, Ray bike.

The two Mo relay teams working it out after the race.

Mom and pops flew out for my graduation from GW! I'm finally DONE!!!!

Mom and I @ Chrissy's wedding in Fayetteville, NC.

Duck beach!! Pine Island!!!

Happy birthday Spencie!!

I love Corolla, NC. So much. My home away from home.

Driving back by my lonesome at 5 in the morning.

One Million Bones project out on the Mall.

Nannying baby Andy has devolved my sense of humor. I probably laughed at this for at least 15 minutes and  I'm not exaggerating. Hehe. Ipood!

Finally framed and hung all my art in my room!

I host So You Think You Can Dance parties every week and most the time it's me and a bunch of dudes.

The atrium of the Guggenhemin, as sculpted by artist James Turrell.

Everyone in the Gugg atrium looking up at the light installation.

This is Russell. He came to NYC with me on my birthday. We went on a walk down to the Highline Park in Chelsea.

And we looked good.

Smokeline BBQ on the Highline- possibly the best BBQ I will ever eat. PERFECT golden birthday dinner!!!!

We also saw Spiderman! (I give it a C- though. Lots of opinions to share but not here)

I came home to a beautiful bday surprise from Best Friend!!!!!!!!!!!!

Walking over the 14th St. bridge on the 4th of July. The fleet of boats waiting to watch fireworks was almost as picturesque as the fireworks themselves! 

... Almost.


I made him do it.
Tiny boyfriend and baby boyfriend and I at lunch. We are a happy group!!
Tiny boyfriend and I swimming at the club, our favorite thing :)