Month: January 2018

Happy Australia Day (I guess)

Calendars are wonderful for letting you know about holidays that–no offense to anyone–you don’t really care about. Today is Australia Day I found out from my calendar. Yesterday’s masterpiece was a sword hilt I could not see that well, so we’ll just skip it.

What a busy time it’s been. I can’t believe I’m done with school. Actually, I’m probably not–but I’m done for now, and I’m done with that school. I am much more proud to be an alumna than I was to be a student (except perhaps for the first two weeks or so after I was admitted).

My husband and I were really trying to start the next chapter of our life in a different city, but a couple of weeks ago I was looking at the student/alumni career site and saw an opportunity in San Diego that looked really good. It looked so good I decided I would apply to it despite it being here! They emailed me a few days later… and I interviewed a few days after that… and the next day they made me an offer!

I can’t believe how anxious I felt. I have only ever had one panic attack, and thankfully it was brief and I was able to appear pretty normal on the outside (it was at the dentist’s office)… but when I was in that moment of actually making the decision of taking a job/choosing a city for at least the next year/giving up the other opportunities I have/cancelling other interviews/ starting work Monday/etc., I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t panic, but I did have some anxiety tears. In my defense, I only had a day to respond before the offer expired; some positions I would have turned down on principle for that, but like I said, this was such a good opportunity…

So I took it. I start working Monday. But I also have to move Wednesday! Did I mention that?

It’s all okay. There are benefits to staying in this area, such as working on network connections I’ve already made, never needing winter tires, and continuing to eat amazing Mexican food on the regular. The more substantial benefit is the high concentration of excellent schools here, since my husband will be going to college now, and since I will most likely continue my education as well. Still. Someday we’ve gotta move north.

Anyway, today’s masterpiece:

Landscape with Cattle (detail) by Jacob van Strij, oil on wood, ca. 1800.

***I’ll update later—was just gently reminded by husband that it’s time to go visit a place we might rent!! ***

Another Impressionist

Clearly I will not be writing daily! That’s alright. I have been busy with job applications, job interviews, more Netflix than is best, and my 5th wedding anniversary! Besides, the masterpieces du jour over the last few ‘jours’ haven’t been incredibly appealing to me. I’m working AND moving next week, so I have a lot to do–I’ll just get to today’s painting:

The Palace of Westminster (detail) by André Derain, oil on canvas, 1906-7.

I had to do some reading about this artist to understand better the painting. Derain led an interesting life during which he produced art in a variety of styles. This particular painting one might initially identify as Impressionist or neo-Impressionist based on the subject matter and emphasis on light. However, looking at the date of the painting as well as the brilliant and often contrasting colors used–there is little of the Monet softness here–I think the painting is better described as Fauvist, the style with which Derain is most closely associated. Fauvism comes from the French word for ‘wild beasts,’ and one intuitively understands the term after looking at a few fauvist paintings. It isn’t my favorite movement, but it is interesting to look at in historical context. Perhaps it is no surprise that when Derain returned to art after a few years of service in WWI, his style also returned to his training; that is to say he returned to more muted colors and overall classical style. From my cursory reading on his life, it seems he may have died in some disrepute after having visited Nazi Germany and afterwards being labeled a collaborator (thought I am not sure he was one). He is probably one of the few people in the world who have abandoned an education/career in engineering to pursue art, and had it work out for them financially!


That’s all for today.

Greek gods, Buddha (maybe), and Paul Cézanne

I have, believe it not, thought to write daily. Unfortunately I have been bogged down with ‘the job search.’ It is a bitter subject! So here are the masterpieces for 16-18 January:

Bacchus and Ariadne (detail) by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. Oil on canvas, 1720s.

At first I had difficulty with this painting. My heart said Renaissance, but my mind said, “1720s?” It turns out Pellegrini did paint in a partly Renaissance style, though he did not live during the Renaissance period. Being able to make such distinctions is one of the goals here, so I’m fine with having felt a bit confused! So first, the content–what’s happening? Often when we see Bacchus (aka Dionysus), he is easy to identify by symbols bunches of grapes, wine chalices, or simply a ruddy, drunken-looking face. Not so here. Here, he looks rather young, rather ordinary, and despite the unrealistic pose, is simply presenting a ring to the fair-skinned, blushing Ariadne.

The story as far as I know is that Bacchus found Ariadne abandoned by her father on an island, and eventually married her. I suppose the sky devoid of a city line and also what I believe is the horizon over open ocean indicates their location.

What made me think Renaissance? Firstly, the subject matter. Renaissance art was full of Greco-Roman mythology and the Bible. Maybe some patrons, but that was most of it. Secondly, the relatively low drama. Sure, Ariadne has somewhat of an expression and is blushing, but overall, there is not a lot of emotion on either face; the subject matter itself is rather mundane (I mean, compared to such popular Baroque subjects such as the beheading of Goliath, Holofernes, and John the Baptist); the soft lines and colors, lack of contrast, and treatment of fabric; and the ideal aspects of the figures’ appearances.

What, besides the date, made me say, No… not Renaissance? Firstly, the composition. Renaissance art is typically quite balanced and can be outlined by a triangle, maybe there is some clear perspective added. Think of Michelangelo’s David or Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper. But Pellegrini’s painting is built from a strong diagonal from the upper right down to the lower left corner of the piece, a common characteristic of Baroque art which adds a sense of action, drama, and sometimes a “snapshot” quality to the image. In fact, this is a snapshot, a moment in time, the offering of an engagement ring (though I do not know if the tradition of engagement rings goes so far back).

Anyway, there is really a mix of the Renaissance and Baroque styles in this painting, mainly with respect to composition and subject matter. For instance, though Pellegrini chooses to depict Classical figures, at the same time, he doesn’t choose to paint them symbolizing or enacting some virtue, as you might expect from a Renaissance painter. Rather, he chooses something emotional, perhaps even passionate (a characteristic of the Baroque): a marriage proposal. It is not my favorite painting, but it is good for showing that art does not always fit neatly into the styles and periods taught in school, but is something that grows and evolves and depends on the individual artist, too.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Water Moon Form (Shuiyue Guanyin). Chinese, Liao dynasty, Willow with traces of pigment, 11th Century.

Man, I do not know a lot about Asian art! I’ll say what I do know: This is a very old and beautiful sculpture, around four feet high, made of wood. I do not know about Chinese art, but I do know the Japanese historically favor natural materials like this, which makes sense considering Eastern spiritual views. If I were to see this sculpture, I would identify the figure as Buddha by the outstretched ear lobes, which represent wisdom–or perhaps an authority figure being portrayed as wise by using a symbol of the Buddha (just as Western patrons have had themselves depicted with symbols of wisdom from the Bible or Greco-Roman mythology).

I remember the word “bodhisattva” from a lecture a long time ago, but had to look it up. A bodhisattva is indeed not the Buddha, but has wisdom like him. Here’s what it means: someone who has reached Enlightenment, but delays Nirvana in order to help others reach Enlightenment. Actually a really beautiful concept and someone worthy of immortalizing in sculpture, I’d say. An analogy would be like if The Virgin Mary would have had the option not to ascend into Heaven, but to stay on Earth for a while to help lead others to Heaven (or maybe she did, I don’t know).

I can’t say much more because I know practically zero about Chinese history or art. The composition is rather serene and balanced, slightly stylized, perhaps representative of physical ideals  of beauty in China at the time (maybe now as well). More information is available via the link above. I’ll have to check it out myself.

Ah, time has flown by pretty quickly actually. I’ll go read a bit more about the piece above, and delve into Cézanne and tomorrow’s masterpiece, well, tomorrow.

A masterpiece a day

… makes you a better art historian.

For the first winter in a while, no one sent me a calendar as a gift, and so this year I chose my own. Because I was in high spirits from having finished school (for now), I went all out. I purchased a daily calendar which is mostly decorative, a wall calendar which is far more useful, and a datebook which I use to log my exercise.

The datebook cost about five dollars and has as its cover the now famous almond tree painting of Van Gogh. Some might say Vincent would have disliked his work being turned into “merch,” but I say that he wanted poor people to have beauty in their homes. I am not poor, but I’m not in a position to be buying legitimate art, nor am I able to create my own. I think he wouldn’t mind.

The wall calendar was also inexpensive, and each month presents a new painting by Sandro Botticelli. I like Early Renaissance painting, it is that simple. I will say of Botticelli that the more I learn, the more I imagine him as sort of a stereotypical macho, sensual Italian man. I will never forget visiting Italy in 2007–at least as recently as that, it was still common and acceptable to quite obviously and vigorously cat call and whistle at women! It isn’t like in the US, or it wasn’t. It was intense. I imagine Botticelli doing this, drinking wine copiously, telling sex jokes to Giuliano de Medici or someone.

Ah, but the point–the real treat–the part that serves no practical purpose–the daily calendar. I might’ve been tempted to get a calendar that tells a joke each day, or maybe a word a day… but over the last four years I have sorely missed reading and writing about art, having been too busy trying to understand the methods of such black magic as thermodynamics and reaction mechanisms. My hearts pounds as I recall it!

So I’ve got a daily calendar, and as often as I can (and as often as I remember and also am not lazy), I will come here and write some notes on the piece of the day. I haven’t written critically about art in a while, so my standards won’t be high at least at first. I need to work on recalling information and analyzing the works before I can move onto creating and supporting any theses. Please read or don’t read, for your own pleasure, but I do recommend any of the links I include! On to it for today then! The cool part is that all the works are at the Met in NY, so I should be able to post links for curious readers to click. Now on to it!

Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly (detail) by Mary Cassatt, oil on canvas, 1880.

It is always interesting to see a work by Cassatt instead of by her male contemporaries. She was, of course, a great Impressionist painter. Born in Pennsylvania, she spent time training, studying, and living in Italy, Germany, and France. She was a colleague of other Greats such as Manet, Monet, and Degas; and her work was shown in four out of eight Impressionist exhibitions at Paris’ famous Salons. An important aspect of Impressionist work is its presentation of light, which brings the viewer’s focus to the subject herself rather than intricate physical details (e.g. detailed, naturalistic representation of lace in a Baroque painting). Indeed, one perceives the brightly shining sun in this painting, though the sun itself is not depicted. An atmosphere is created from color and light, soft lines, and choice of subject matter–and here I have come to what differentiated Cassatt from her contemporaries. While Degas was painting voyeuristic bath scenes and young ballet dancers, Monet was painting series of the same subject under different lighting conditions (lily ponds, rivers, buildings), and Manet was painting risque images of women looking at you (waitresses, prostitutes, etc.), Cassatt was painting Lydia–Cassatt’s own sister. Mary Cassatt painted domestic scenes, and became particularly famous for her warm scenes of mothers and children. She was educated and privileged, and she was acquainted with the avant-garde; but her scenes of women in private are not titillating or invasive–instead they are respectful, comforting, and lovely. One does not become fascinated or curious or shocked (or even disgusted) looking at Lydia, as one might looking at Manet’s Olympia. Instead, one feels at home. We see Lydia like our own sister. We may appreciate her beauty, the elegance of her clothing and manners, sure, but not the way a suitor or a peeping tom might. She goes about her business, and she must be aware of our view because we can see her face. But she does not look at us in order to make a bold statement… or to make any statement at all. We are just family.