Best known for his monumental work, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” 1884, George Seurat was a leader in the Neo-Impressionist movement and influential in the development of divisionism. Based on optical theory, divisionism is a calculated system of colored dots arranged on the surface of the canvas in a manner that allows the viewer’s eye to blend the colors from a distance. Unlike the French Impressionists who used rapid painting techniques to capture the fleeting effects of light with such spontaneity, there is nothing spontaneous about the work of Seurat.
As we shelter at home and work remotely, our daily routine can fall by the wayside. Our motivation to carry on with regular grooming rituals so tied to our self-esteem starts to wane. It’s easy to lose pride in our appearance, and every glimpse in the mirror adds to our depression. Sometimes the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle. But it’s important to try. Today I rallied. Today I showered. Today I dressed and fixed my hair. Today I’m winning. I hope you are, too. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. And now for something completely different – I give you Sandy Skoglund’s 1980 Cibachrome print, “Radioactive Cats.” Creating at the nexus of sculpture, installation art, and photography, American Sandy Skoglund turns everyday domestic scenes into surreal, dreamlike environments. Rather than relying on digital methods, the artist hand-crafts elaborate installations using her own sculptures along with sourced objects, while incorporating friends and family members as subjects, all in an effort to comment on the human condition.
“Radioactive Cats” features two elderly figures in a stark interior invaded by an over-abundance of neon-green felines. While the evocative image is open for interpretation, Skoglund communicates a heightened psychological experience by contrasting the monochromatic interior with brightly painted animals who appear to have been irradiated, while the drably dressed inhabitants are seemingly non-plussed.
The threat of contracting and spreading the Coronavirus has us living in an altered reality, one where we don veritable hazmat suits to leave our homes and engage in elaborate sanitizing rituals when we return. For those of us Boomers, It’s a new Atomic Age where everything we touch outside our door feels threatening. This is the new, almost, but not quite, for the moment, normal. As surreal as it may seem, we have to learn to live with it. Like Skoglund’s clowder of radioactive cats, the virus has invaded all our lives. We can’t be in denial any more. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. One of the most iconic artworks in the Western canon, “The Scream,” is an 1893 tempera and pastel on cardboard by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. The image has become synonymous with the angst of modern psychic life, and the general malaise often associated with the end of the century. The original title of the work was “Despair.”
Munch described his inspiration for the piece in this way, “I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun was setting. I felt a breath of melancholy – suddenly the sky turned blood-red. I stopped, and leaned against the railing, deathly tired – looking out across the flaming clouds that hung like blood and a sword over the blue-black fjord and town. My friends walked on – I stood there trembling with fear. And I sensed a great, infinite scream pass through nature.” The artist conveys his sensibilities, and the central figure’s inner life, through the exaggerated use of line, garish color and distorted shape. It haunts us.
Life in the Time of Coronavirus is filled with uncertainty. How long will the pandemic last? What changes are coming? Will things ever be the same? Sometimes the fear and anxiety washes over us like a great tsunami. Sometimes we feel so frustrated we want to scream. Sometimes we just break down and cry. But this I know, every morning the sun will rise again, and with each new day comes a new start, and some way, somehow, we will find the strength to walk on. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. “Waiting,” a pastel on paper completed by Edgar Degas over the period 1879-1882 is one of 200 works depicting classical ballet dancers at the Paris Opéra. Although Degas exhibited with the French Impressionists, he did not share their interest in painting en plein air, or outdoors, instead considering himself a Realist.
A member of the Bourgeoisie, Degas turned his attentions to depicting the demi-monde, a group that existed outside the accepted social structure and included his favorite subject matter – ballerinas, cafe singers and jockeys. Degas’ fascination with Japanese prints called ukiyo-e is evident in both the voyeuristic depiction of this world and in the flattened, diagonal composition. In “Waiting” he uses a raked composition with sparse detail to heighten the emotion in this behind the scenes glimpse of the life of a ballerina, bent over holding her ankle, next to her a figure dressed in street clothes, perhaps her chaperone, both exhibiting a similar sense of exhaustion and anxiety in their posture and demeanor.
I can’t think of a more appropriate work to convey the struggle many of us feel as we wait. . . wait for stranded loved ones to return from far away locations, wait for signs and symptoms of the virus to appear, wait for news of a treatment or a vaccine, wait for the panic to subside, wait to be out of isolation and back in society. The waiting seems interminable, but we have no choice but to be patient, find our inner peace and believe in our hearts that this too shall pass. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Thomas Eakins was one of the foremost American Realist painters of the late nineteenth century. Academically trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, his subject matter was largely drawn from the people and places of his beloved Philadelphia. “The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), 1871,” one of the first in a series depicting the sport of sculling, was painted after his return from Europe.
The painting commemorates the victory of amateur rower, Max Schmitt, in a race on the Schuylkill River in October 1870. A sports enthusiast and avid rower, Eakins added himself to the composition behind the oars of the scull in the near distance. Eakins is best known for his fascination with the human figure and was a longtime life drawing instructor at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. His early photographic experiments with capturing the human body in motion pioneered the development of motion pictures.
While many of us find enjoyment in outdoor activities, we must continue to practice responsible social distancing. Be respectful of the earth and one another. As we collectively heal, so will nature if we tread lightly on her. You need go no further than your own backyard or open your windows to enjoy a gentle breeze, listen to the birds sing and marvel at the beauty of the world around us. Like us, nature is both fragile and resilient. Let’s nurture her as she has nurtured us. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Along with philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau, some French Enlightenment era artists rejected the frivolity and corruption of society under the monarchy, and, instead, exalted the simplicity and honesty of peasant life. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and his 1740 oil on canvas, “Saying Grace,” exemplifies this in a quiet scene of domestic interaction between a mother and her two young daughters saying grace before a modest meal. It is so heartfelt and charming, you can feel the love between the family members, as well as the affection held for them by the artist.
In genre paintings like this, as well as his masterful still lifes, Chardin celebrated everyday life a world away from the aristocracy at play depicted in the popular Rococo art of the time. His work had wide appeal, even with the nobility, in fact, “Saying Grace” was once owned by King Louis XV.
As we shelter-in-place we have the opportunity for many such moments to quietly connect with our families, whether homeschooling or informally instructing our children as we go through the rituals of the day. And though some of us are separated from the ones we love right now, we have the technology to reach out and touch them remotely. Take a minute to look around you, find grace in the simple gift of life, and if you haven’t already done so, tell someone you love them. ❤️ Gail Phinney, Education Director
The most famous of these works, “Oath of the Horatii,” illustrates a story in Roman history. The leaders of the warring cities of Rome and Alba decided to resolve their conflicts in a series of encounters waged by three representatives from each side. The Romans chose as their champions the three Horatii brothers, who had to face the three sons of the Curiatii family from Alba. In cinematic style, David’s painting depicts an intimate moment in the story, as the Horatii sons swear on their swords, held high by their father, to win or die for Rome. The painting is encoded with symbolism of patriotism, self-sacrifice and civic duty, along with the obligatory weepy women.
Times of crisis require sacrificing the interests of the individual “me” for the benefit of the collective “we.” Until the virus passes, everyone must do their part for their community, even if it means isolating from it for a time. Be a warrior, be brave, do whatever it takes, we’re all in this fight together. ⚔️ Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson to keep yours truly actively engaged in the work I love. We begin with William Adolphe Bouguereau’s, “L’Amour et Psyché, enfants” an oil on canvas painted in 1890. Cupid and Psyche, young lovers in Greek and Roman mythology, are depicted as innocents in their first embrace, he with angel wings and she with butterfly wings that both represent her name in Greek, and are a symbol of metamorphosis, as in the story she transforms from mortal to immortal in pursuit of her lover.
Bouguereau was a regular contributor to the French Salon and painted in the highly representational Academic Style, depicting mostly classical themes, as was the accepted practice of the time. After the rise of the French Impressionists his work fell out of favor, but has since been rediscovered and appreciated for its beauty and skillful rendering of the face and figure.
I chose this work because, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I cannot help but think about Love in the Time of Coronavirus, and fast forward nine months from the end of isolation to our collective embrace and the resulting birth of all the beautiful babies in the world. Because despite what befalls us, love finds a way, and like Cupid and Psyche, we will find our way back to each other in the end. ❤️ Gail Phinney, Education Director