The beauty of Amanda Gorman’s poetry and inspirational reading match her unique beauty. The slant of her eyes, the angle of her chin complement her strong character. They’re reminiscent of a beautiful Egyptian queen, Queen Tiye, the grandmother of King Tut. Queen Tiye may have been Nubian (corresponding to modern Sudan).
The comparison is daunting. However, the downturned lips of Queen Tiye reflect the fact that she was older when most images of her were made. She was middle-aged at the height of her power and probably died in her 50s. Queen Tiye was also the mother of the iconoclastic pharoah, Akhenaten, who changed the capital of Egypt, the style of art and the religion during his reign. Egypt was conservative, and so course, changing the country’s art and religion wouldn’t last.
As for running for president in 2036, Amanda Gorman should realize that poets are infinitely more inspiring than politicians. Stick to poetry and that is where you’ll have the most influence. Artists are more valuable to the world than politicians. They bring people together while politicians divide. Read a good blog about Queen Tiye (source of the picture) She lived from about 1398 – 1338 BCE. The words to Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb” are in The Hill.
|Heironymous Bosch, The Tree Man, pen and ink, The Albertina, Vienna|
My last post of 2017 shows why ART is a better form of escapism than Star Wars. Bosch’s Tree Man has body of a crab held up by tree trunk legs riding in boats. The world is not as it expected. The many who made this fantasy portrait more than 500 years ago still gets more viewers than nearly any other other artist of any time period. Why? Because he is so much fun.
Two exhibitions last year celebrated the 500th anniversary of Heironymus Bosch’s death. One million people were expected to visit two different exhibits, first in the Netherlands, then in Spain. The Prado exhibition was so popular that the museum extended it an extra two weeks and kept the doors open until 10 p.m. The other exhibition had been held earlier that year in Bosch’s birthplace, s-Hergotenbosch.
Currently, The National Gallery of Art in Washington has a show of “Dutch Drawings from Bosch to Bloemaert.” They come from the Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen in Rotterdam. There are superb drawings by Pieter Bruegel, followers of Jan Van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, Lucas van Leyden and lesser known artists such as Roelant Savery. An examination of the two drawings by Bosch shows how well he was attune to the realism in nature. The Owl’s Nest puts Bosch close to the same category as Leonardo and Albrecht Durer, when to his keen understanding and observation of nature.
|The Owl’s Nest, pen and ink, 1500-1505, Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen, Rotterdam|
Bosch repeated most of the Tree Man, top, in his most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The metamorphosing figure is generally considered to be a self-portrait. The Owl’s Nest is not an idea or a study for any of Bosch’s surviving paintings. The faces, wings and nest are realistic. There’s a lightness and delicacy that goes with Bosch’s style, without falling into his usual diversion — fantasy. Strokes are very precise of various sizes and lengths.
|Fox and Rooster, pen and ink|
The Owl’s Nest was probably always planned to be a finished drawing. Bosch painted owls in nearly all his paintings. According to dailyartdaily, “There’s a lot of speculation about what his owls mean, and how they should be read.” Multiple and contradictory meanings are associated with owls. Sometimes they might signify wisdom. “But it seems around 1500, the owls were generally associated with menace and death and had an emblematic, moralistic significance.”
|Two Women, pen and ink,|
The other drawing by Bosch from the Boijmans Van Beuningen has two scenes. The scene that is Fox and Rooster. Presumably, the Fox is ready to pounce upon the rooster, but you really need a magnifying glass to see it. Once again, it’s a dark side of nature, with something ominous as in The Owl’s Nest. However, the Fox and Rooster have a rich folklore tradition, as part of Aesop’s Fables, and in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Of the two drawings on the same piece of paper, this one is considered to be of a later date. It is tentative and sketchy compared to The Owl’s Nest and Tree Man, drawings meant to appear finished.
A picture on the drawing on the other side of the paper, also a pen and ink, is believed to be the very first drawing by Bosch. Two Women, has an elderly woman on the right and a woman holding a spindle on the left. These figures variously interpreted as old women, or witches. They could relate to Netherlandish proverbs or folktales. Was there some significance attached to the spinning, as if spinning some devious fate?
Although one drawing is early from his career, and one from a later period, both have the type of reference to proverbs and/or folk life we come to expect with Bosch. When I say Bosch’s figures are frail, I mean it in two ways. They convey human weakness (or foolishness), and they lack the monumentality and weight that contemporary Italian artists gave their figures. One might argue that Italians were humanists, while the Dutch painters were still medieval in outlook. Even the Italian that is superficially most like Bosch, Piero di Cosimo, portrays monsters who are satyrs who seem to be descended from antiquity.
|Grotesque Walking head and small toad monster|
Grotesque walking head and small toad monster, a drawing from the Prado exhibition that is permanently in Berlin, presents what we expect from Bosch and why he fascinates. As one website says, “He externalizes the ugliness within, so that his misshapen demons have an effect beyond curiosity. We feel a kinship with them.” This is the essence of the Bosch fascination.
Bosch’s dates (c.1450-1516) are roughly the same as Leonardo da Vinci’s, who was born in 1452 and died in 1519. Da Vinci paintings have science, nature, perfection and a noble humanity while Bosch, painted a fantastical mixture of a frail humanity, along with demons and monsters. However, closer examinations shows that Bosch an equally gifted draftsman and a keen observer of both the nature world and human nature.
|The wood has ears, the field has eyes, pen and ink.|
While Leonardo also saw the greatest meaning in the extremes of beauty and ugliness in humans, we always remember him by the portrayal of perfection. He himself seems to gaze down on us humans as an all-knowing power. But if we think about it, so did Hieronymus Bosch. One of his drawings (not in the drawings exhibit) give us much insight into his way of thinking. It’s an ominous finished drawing called The wood has ears, the field eyes. Many eyes lie in a field and two ears are listening by the trees.There’s the owl, again, right in the center. It makes me wonder, is the world really as it always seems? Or is he just reminding us that God is always watching? We could imagine Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte interpreting a landscape this way, perhaps without the owl.
Bosch reveals hidden truths from a mind much deeper than our own. He’s just as wise as Leonardo, and he’s looking forward to the Surrealist artists of the 20th century.
The best artists of any time period speak to future generations nearly as well as they reflect the collective mindset of their time and place. So Bosch continues to be so popular today.
|The vineyards surrounding San Patrignano, in the province of Rimini, Romagna|
I recently had the pleasure of experiencing a drug rehabilitation community in Italy, a very special place called San Patrignano. Founded in 1978, it’s a few miles off the eastern coast of Italy, near Rimini, in the Romagna region. The tiny country of San Marino can be seen in the distance. And while it may seem strange that I’d write about this on an art blog, there are reasons I feel drug prevention connects to the world of art.
|Youth congregating for “WeFree” October 10-11|
San Patrignano is also committed to drug prevention. Specifically I was there to participate on a panel for parents, policymakers during the “WeFree” days, on “Educate by leaving a positive sign.” The program brought about 3,000 teens from Emilia-Romagna and throughout Italy on October 10-11. The teens had two days of activities which concentrated on teaching joyful experiences without the need for drugs. There’s art, music and dance.
|WeFree days events. Theme color – orange – much like Halloween|
Groups from other countries were invited to share their programs too. Throughout the year approximately 50,000 students, roughly ages 13-18, will actually come visit the community and participate in programs. San Patrignano is well-known throughout the world and has many foreign residents, including Americans.
|Fun and games to celebrate freedom from substance use|
There’s much we can learn about drug rehabilitation from San Patrignano. Those who come here have lost a lot of hope, have been through other programs and failed. A small percentage, perhaps 10%, is referred by the courts. They commit to coming for at least three years, which sounds horrible to most people. The residents’ recovery rate is around 72% which is very high for a rehab center and remarkable considering how large it is.
|Making a mural on the the theme, “The world we want depends on us”|
Going to rehab at San Patrignano is not a life sentence, but, rather, a life-affirming experience. There are 1300 people living in San Patrignano, at least 1000 of them men. Cocaine is the most common drug of addiction amongst the residents. (I was told drug use was generally not so common among females in Italy, but that is changing. Also, the average age used to be older, in the 30s, but now the average age for a resident is around 26.) At least 100 Americans have been through the program, and there are Americans and Canadians there now. For Americans, however, it is not easy to get the Visa that allows them to get into the program.
|Dorm housing for the residents of San Patrignano|
Although I never saw small children, there is a pre-school. I was told that mothers who are in drug treatment have their children living with them and the center provides them with a school. Such a program is so much more enlightened than ones that separate small children from their moms, as American prisons do. (They punish the children, as well as the mothers.) I asked if romance was possible in the community. It’s not so easy. People come there to work on their own recovery, not by coupling. If there is a couple interested in romance, they will not be allowed to see each other for a waiting period. After time passes and they still have the desire, they may develop a relationship.
Amazingly, no one pays for their treatment and the Italian government does not contribute either. Private donations provide about 50% of the cost, while the community raises the rest of the money to sustain itself. Everyone who lives at San Patrignano has the opportunity to learn a trade, so that he or she may enter back into society in a positive way. Some are involved in agriculture, the grapes and the olive trees, of course. There’s also a cheesemaking center, farm animals and a well-regarded bakery.
|Designer wallpaper printed in the workshops|
The chef’s school is a very popular training for future chefs of Italy. Others learn woodworking, leather working, wallpaper design, printing. San Patrignano sells its baked goods and furniture, but it also fulfills contracts for name brand leather designers. If you buy a beautiful, designer bag made it Italy, it’s possible that the craftspeople of San Patrignano made it. The furniture makers showed me their catalogue. They carve designs from old oak wine barrels no longer in use. The results are very interesting and creative.
|another handmade wallpaper|
I spent a good deal of time with the medical director who was at one time a resident of San Patrignano, in his 20s. A sensitive and intelligent man, I was surprised to find out he had been a
|Fine purse in the leather making rooms|
heroin addict in his 20s. He went to medical school later, which speaks well for how San Patrignano inspires and prepares its residents. In fact, many of the staff members were former rehab residents, and they believe very strongly in what the community does for people.
Antonio Boschini, the doctor, specialized in infectious diseases, because he got out of school at the time of the AIDs crisis. A few residents with AIDs remain, but it is not a major need. Medical emphasis is on therapy and counseling more than on giving drugs to get the patients off of drugs.
I learned about Vincenzo Muccioli, the infamous founder of the community. A wealthy man who owned a hotel in Rimini, he was concerned about the large number of homeless people addicted to drugs in the late 1970s. He had a second home in the mountains and invited these homeless to live there as long as they agreed to work. He was determined to help them and give their lives meaning. Well that was the beginning of San Patrignano, and now it’s an exemplary model of the international community.
|A mural at San Patrignano|
The dining hall is huge and I can’t tell you how pleased that the day I ate lunch there they served my favorite Italian dish, Saltimbocca alla Romana, and some pasta of course. There’s a real sense of family, community, peace. The closest analogy I could think of was the monastic communities of the Middle Ages which the sense of fellowship.
The staff gave me some of their materials with the 3x the letter R, standing for Rehabilitation for Recovery and Reinsertion. The three booklets included are a handbook on justice interventions in place of incarceration, a manual on rehabilitation and recovery and a handbook on social integration of recovered drug users. It is a program that should be imitated, but can anyone else do it so well?
|An actress, Elisabetta, former resident, dramatizes her biographical story of how she became involved
in drugs, for the students. It’s a story of innocence to despair.
|“Cézanne et Moi.” L- Guillaume Canet as Emile Zola, R-Guillaume Gallienne as Cézanne|
The French film, “Cézanne and I” or “Cézanne et Moi,” is excellent, but will be of most interest to those who know the story of Cézanne’s lifelong friendship with Émile Zola. Guillaume Gallienne, an actor of the Comédie Francaise gives an outstanding performance which zeroes in on his character as well as possible. As Émile Zola, Guillaume Canet is also very believable. The film direction and production tells the story extremely well, but also captures the colors and aesthetics well enough to make the viewer feel to almost be there.
|A studio that Cezanne kept within the
Cézanne was the very first artist who really interested me–probably because of his colors. The most influential 20th century artist, Picasso, said he owed everything to Cézanne. Matisse claimed “he’s kind of a god of painting.” His popularity is similar to that of Van Gogh, who also was not appreciated in his lifetime. As for Émile Zola, many of the French claim him as their favorite novelist. So to think that these two giants of late 19th-century French culture were classmates and best of friends growing up is just amazing. It’s also tribute to the school in Aix-en-Provence which nurtured two extraordinary geniuses.
Fortunately, the movie takes you through some of the beautiful scenery they roamed through in childhood, such as the trails around the Bibémus Quarry and Mont Saint-Victoire. There’s a glimpse at the richness of color which he portrayed so well in his paintings, with that perfect balance of warm and cool colors. The movie didn’t show the beautiful house he eventually inherited from his parents.
The film “Cézanne and I” explores Cézanne’s character through the friendship and his relationship with others–wife, mother, father and others, and relates it to his art. Director Daniele Thompson picks up on the many mysteries of this relationship, the character of the artist and the personality of the man. Most of the film portrays Zola as less complicated and a little easier to understand as a person. Many people will want to see it to experience the landscape of Aix, which is beautiful. Criticism of the film comes from those who don’t understand the dialogue, but again it helps to have some knowledge on the history of the friendship.
|Mont Saint-Victoire from Bibémus Quarry at the Baltimore Museum of Art|
In high school, I was given the assignment to choose an artist to study and try to paint in his style. I chose Cézanne and it was difficult. In grad school, I was required to read Émile Zola’s novels, Nana and The Masterpiece. (The class was on Manet and Degas.) The Masterpiece is about an obsessive and frustrated artist who is also a bit of a failure. When it was published in the 1886, Cézanne interpreted it to be entirely about himself. The descriptions of their childhood wanderings together were true to life. I don’t remember the book so well, but remember it reminding me more of Degas. Zola was a rip roaring success as a novelist by the time he wrote it, and very prolific. The Masterpiece must have seemed like a slap in the face to Cezanne who was just as talented and worked as hard. Cézanne was 47 years old, but only knew rejection at that time. His recognition as an artist did not come until 10 years later — when in his late 50s.
In reality, I had understood that Cézanne was so offended by the portrayal (parts of it are read in the film) that he would never speak to Zola again. In the movie, they are in contact again. From the film, I actually sympathize a great deal with both Cézanne and Zola. Zola claimed that Lantier, the artist in the novel, was a composite of artists he had known. It doesn’t help that he describes their childhood friendship pretty much as it was. In Zola’s novel, Lantier ends up killing himself, which certainly must have suggested to Cezanne the worthlessness of his artistic endeavors. However, the ending is consistent with Zola’s style of naturalism which exposes the brutalities of life. As far as I know, none of the painters Zola knew actually took their own lives. In truth, Cezanne was never that satisfied with his own painting, even after he received some recognition.
|Bibémus Quarry, near Aix-en-Provence, one of the many landmarks the artist painted|
The time period was great for artists and writers mutually supporting each other, hanging out the cafes together, a tradition that continued through the 1920s. Both Zola and Cézanne went to cafes and on social excursions with Manet and the Impressionists. However, Cézanne was frequently opinionated and offensive and, at the same time, more withdrawn than the others. After a few years, Cézanne retreated back to his native Provence while Zola stayed in Paris.
|The trails near Bibemus Quarry|
The move flashes between childhood, early adulthood and various events in their lives. There is a third friend named Baptistin who became an engineer, but also was a part of their threesome. Zola’s father died when he was young and his mother struggled to support him. Cézanne had a difficult relationship with his banker father who wasn’t supportive of his chosen profession. As an adult, he was consciously rebelling against his father whom he considered a social climber. As might be expected, Zola became the perfect bourgeois and played the part of worldly success quite well. Cézanne rejected many of the social graces, and was considered uncouth and boorish by some. Certainly many artists also fit the stereotype of being sloppy, such as the great Michelangelo and the great Masaccio whose nickname means “grubby Tom.”
Cézanne was temperamental, as artists often are. It comes with the territory of obsessiveness. Hefrequently tore up his paintings. It’s the frustration that is expressed well about Lantier, the artist in Zola’s novel. Cézanne actually died of pneumonia in 1906 — on a mountaintop while painting. He stuck to his goals until the very end, but was never satisfied with his painting. He was 67.
Cézanne got along well with Camille Pissarro, the oldest of the Impressionists and somewhat of a mentor for all artists in the group. They had a strong rapport and mutual respect. Cézanne and Édouard Manet (my other favorite artist from the period) did not like each other. This lack of compatibility is curious to me because some of their artistic goals (the way they see form and structure) appear somewhat similar. Each is important for redefining the structure of painting through innovative means of composition that rejected traditional foreground, middleground and background. Both artists were from well-to-do backgrounds, but the elegant Manet, is known to have thought of Cézanne as ill-mannered and coarse. Both artists received much public derision and criticism, but the younger artists of the avant-garde loved Manet.
|A scene near Aix-en-Provence|
The movie even puts Cézanne next to the gorgeous Berthe Morisot, known for her refinement and close relationship to Manet. My personal impression is that Cézanne suffered from jealousy of Manet on many levels, especially since Manet was so admired by his fellow artists. His good friend Zola had written a well-known an important article in defense of Manet. Zola also defended Cézanne and the other artists who were Impressionists through his essays. However, the novel, The Masterpiece expressed less respect for their style than one might expect.
|Cézanne, Mme Cézanne in Yellow Armchair
Art Institute of Chicago
Cézanne’s portraits of his wife have always amazed me for their detachment and lack of feeling. Was he at all in love with her. According to the movie, he loved her because she could sit hours without moving. Her rigid stillness was important to an artist who was trying to instill stability and geometry while using colors the way Impressionists did. None of his portraits of her show love or any feeling at all, and Thompson explores why. The filmmaker also suggests that Cezanne Zola’s wife had at one time been involved — before she married his friend. I’m not sure if that’s the truth or just the filmmaker’s conjecture.
Most of Cezanne’s portraits are all about the structure and composition of the painting. Generally, they avoid feeling. The love and feeling we find in Cézanne is in his portrayal of nature particularly of portraits of the mountain he idolized, Mont Saint-Victoire.
There is feeling in the self-portraits — the feeling of intensity and determination in his eyes. I think his self-portraits are excellent because they capture the strong shapes with contrasts of color. From these we can trace the formal properties that lead to the Cubist style of Picasso and Braque.
Quality films about artists help us to understand how an artist’s mind works. This film helps us understand the artist more through his relationships rather than through the art itself. (I personally have a hard time teaching Cézanne.) The theme of denying his feelings and not showing that he cared for others comes up again and again. It’s a selfishness that is in pursuit of art, and/or, ego. Yet, if had been only about ego, Cézanne would have given up years earlier. He is an artist who died painting.
|Self-portrait, Winterthur Collection, Switzerland|
In 2011, I went to his home in Aix-en-Provence, his studio and Bibemus Quarry where he did so many paintings. I will never forget the excellent tour guide at Bibemus Quarry, which thrilled Cézanne so much. The colors of those rocks really are the rich yellow ochres and reds that we see in Cézanne’s paintings. The quarry had been used for buildings since Roman times, but the rocks had become too salty and sandy and it was abandoned in the1800s. You can really understand how the quarry’s strong, virile presence inspired Cezanne. I realized that Mont Saint-Victoire and Bibémus Quarry are much further away from each other than in the impression from Cézanne’s painting in Baltimore, shown above. Photographer Phil Haber’s blog of Cezanne really captures the beauty of his scenery today. However, Phil had to put together a composite of two photos to get the view in Baltimore. So we really do know that Cézanne’s compositions broke up and rearranged the reality that he saw.
As for the writer’s style, Zola is not closely akin to the Impressionists. Zola’s writing is naturalism and he is important for describing things and the social classes with a gritty truth of lower class life. Impressionists were more inclined to overlook the brutal side of life. Renoir painted the working class of Montmartre, but idealized them–turning them into angels. Zola has more in common with Courbet and early Manet.
|Maxfield Parrish, Daybreak, 1922|
An Object of Beauty, is a surprising novel by a man of many talents, Steve Martin. Last year, in the Spring, I had seen a musical by him in New York and was then surprised to get this book as a Mother’s Day present. Not only is it an original novel, but it shows that Steve Martin is a gifted interpreter of both art and the art world. The novel exposes the mystique and glamor of the art world, together with its sleaze.
To be honest, valuing art primarily for its monetary or investment value really offends me. I briefly worked in the 80s at the art gallery considered one of Chicago’s leading contemporary galleries at the time. It was surprising to go from a show of DeKooning’s latest works (painted with mayonnaise) to one of photographs of Racquel Welch (by an important photographer). Although these exhibitions generated a ton of publicity, they actually sold very little — just one DeKooning and none of the Racquel Welch photographs. (sh….that was an art world secret.)
Martin understands that the glitter of the art world which is hiding beyond a multitude of facades. The narrator is an art critic with a curiosity about, or a crush, on a fellow art history major he knew from college. Her name is Lacey. The story winds through the years, beginning with the author’s idealization of Lacey through various stages of recognizing and figuring out what makes her tick. Lacey lands a minor, low-paying working for Sotheby’s in New York and ends up owning a gallery in edgy Chelsea. Most of the men (and women for that matter) in her life are expendable and she plays them well. Others are into the game, but don’t play it as well as she does. Through clever gamesmanship and some fraudulent moves, she makes financial gains. At one time she was fired from Sotheby’s, but it was just an easy road to the next, better-paying job.
Lacey’s character and the situations she is in revealed to me, once again, why I’m glad to have not gone down that career path. Sometimes the situations are humorous, even the names of an artist, such as Pilot Mouse (a pseudonym) or the collectors. But, as Steve Martin explains, “The theory of relativity applies to art: just as gravity distorts space, an important collector distorts aesthetics. The difference is that gravity distorts space eternally, and a collector distorts aesthetics only a few years.”
Martin also describes the galleries of Chelsea which distinguished themselves with art that was “difficult” — “art that made you feel they possessed the cabalistic code that unlocked the inner secrets of art.”
Martin humorously nails the art critics: “‘In dialogue’ was a new phrase that art writers could no longer live without. It meant that hanging two works next to or opposite each other produced a third thing, a dialogue….It also hilariously implied that wen the room was empty of viewers, the two works were still chatting. I was tolerant when he said ‘in dialogue’ because I can get it, but when he said ‘line-space matrix,’ I wanted to puke.” He was describing Art Basel in Miami.
The economy has boomed a lot since I worked at a gallery and the ups and downs of the market have been much more dramatic. Some paintings, the objects of beauty, go from being greatly undervalued to overvalued. To the same is true of Lacey, whom the author seems to regard as the ultimate “object of beauty.” The centerpiece painting of the novel is by Maxfield Parrish, well-known in the 1920s but not appreciated as much today. Much suspense goes on in the novel and at one point I thought the dealer she worked for had been involved with the famous art heist of 1990. The twists and turns of the novel are crafted well. At the conclusion, the economy crashes as it did at the end of the 2000s. Lacey was brought back down to earth, but so was the author.
Finally, I appreciate his descriptions of Pop Art ……….and Andy Warhol. “It was easy to give Pop critical status–there were lots of sophisticated things to say about it–but it was tougher to justify the idea that repetitive silk screens were rivals of great masters.”
In the course of the novel, Lacey buys a Warhol print in the early 90s and then sells it when she’s starting the art gallery, after it had really gone up in value. “If Cubism was speaking from the psyche, then Pop was speaking from the unbrain, and just to drive home the point, its leader Warhol closely resembled a zombie.”
Steve Martin is witty and wise. Other artists he describes include Milton Avery (gifted 20th century American), Rockwell Kent, trompe l’oiel artists Peto and Hartnett, and DeKooning. He’s really a Renaissance Man.