Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate with a little art history lesson. Sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis was a pioneering advocate for social justice. Her subject matter was inspired by her African American and Native American heritage. Orphaned at an early age, she was guided in her education and mentored by leading abolitionists who later became her subjects and patrons. While studying art in Boston, she sculpted a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the first all Black Civil War regiment. The sales of plaster casts enabled her to travel to Rome to study classical art and hone her skills sculpting in marble. There she created “Forever Free.”
Sculpted in 1867 to commemorate the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States, “Forever Free” is distinctive for its time. It is crafted in the neoclassical and romantic tradition, but imbued with Lewis’ sensibilities as a Black female artist and activist for women’s suffrage. The sculpture depicts two figures, a standing male and kneeling female, both in broken chains. The male figure is standing on a discarded ball and chain, symbolic of his emancipation. The kneeling female figure is more enigmatic, and it has been suggested by scholars that she embodies the plea for freedom through women’s suffrage. Universal suffrage remained a divisive issue amongst post Civil War Black activists until the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
Art history is a dynamic field of study, seen through an ever-changing cultural perspective. While Edmonia Lewis defied the limitations of a 19th century Black woman artist in her choice of subject matter, today her stylistic choices, largely Eurocentric, have fallen out of favor. Now, in the Time of Coronavirus and the Time of Black Lives Matter, it continues to be the role of the Black artist to disrupt the accepted conventions of the time to boldly produce art that is reflective of the time. As museums and galleries reopen with new and dynamic expressions of Black voices, we must all engage in the conversation, to listen and to learn. With open hearts and open minds we break down barriers and build community through art. Gail Phinney, Education Director
“Double America, 2012,” neon and paint, is the second “America” piece by Ligon, created in response to the dual climate of optimism and conflict following the election of the first African American president. The top row of letters is painted black and turned toward the wall so the viewer looks at the back of the illuminated letters. The bottom row depicts the word upside down with the outward-facing sides painted black. A white neon light is reflected off the wall. Ligon was inspired by “A Tale of Two Cities;” a novel about the French Revolution by Charles Dickens. It opens with the words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Ligon’s “Double America” is the perfect metaphor for A Tale of Two Americas in The Time of Coronavirus. It is a Time of Pandemic and a Time of Protest; it is a Time of Isolation and a Time of Revolution. It is a time to shed light on a Double America that turned its back on many, while privileging the few. It is a Time for Radical Change. Dickens wrote, “we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” This is the moment we can choose, and history will judge us for our choices. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate with a little art history lesson. Photographer, writer, film director, and composer, Gordon Parks (1912 – 2006) rose from childhood poverty to become a Renaissance man. While gaining recognition as a fashion photographer for Vogue, he began to do freelance work chronicling the Black experience in America. In 1948, he became the first Black photojournalist at Life magazine where his poetic photo essays on segregation and the struggle for social justice put a face on race relations and captured pivotal moments of the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement that followed.
“Untitled, Washington, D.C.” (1963), is one of a series of images Parks captured on assignment during the historic March on Washington where over 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. give his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In the introduction to his 1968 story about racism and poverty for Life, Parks said, “What I want. What I am. What you force me to be is what you are. For I am you, staring back from a mirror of poverty and despair, of revolt and freedom.”
Now, in the Time of Coronavirus, this image is being replicated and documented by photographers around the globe. In this Time of Protest, a new generation is on the march against bigotry and injustice. Let this be the defining moment when we gather together as one people, united in our commitment to lasting social change. Maybe then we can get to Dr. King’s Promised Land and be free at last to realize the dream of liberty and justice for all. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate with a little art history lesson. American Ed Ruscha is one of the Ferus Gallery group of artists who brought their own distinctive style of Pop Art to the contemporary Los Angeles art scene in the 1960s. With graphic design training from Chouinard, Ruscha took his inspiration from Southern California car culture and the cinema. He is best known for his series of word paintings, as well as paintings, prints and photography inspired by Los Angeles and its architecture. One of his most ambitious works about the city is “The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire,” 1965-68.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), designed by architect William Pereira, opened to the public in 1965. That same year Ruscha began a highly representational painting of the three-building complex in flames. In this work Ruscha speaks truth to power in his message to mainstream cultural institutions, represented by LACMA, that were denying a voice to the artists of his generation. When it was exhibited, he sent a telegram to the gallery stating that the fire marshal would be on hand to see, “the most controversial painting to be shown in Los Angeles in our time.” It was installed behind a velvet rope as if to keep angry protesters at a distance.
While Ruscha’s painting was a statement on the Los Angeles of his time, now, in the Time of Coronavirus, it seems prophetic. Today, as the Pereira-designed campus is being demolished, Los Angeles is burning, sparked by racial violence. What seemed like a surrealistic vision of the city fifty years ago is now our reality. Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Once again, we are called upon to extinguish hate, find common ground, and do the hard work necessary to effect real and lasting change. How and when this ends is up to us. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate with a little art history lesson. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s “Interpretations of Dreams,” the Symbolists were a group of artists that wanted to express a reality far deeper than what could be observed on the surface. No one did so with greater flair than Viennese painter Gustav Klimt. Inspired by Byzantine mosaics, Klimt’s work is recognizable for its highly decorative style, including the use of gold leaf. The sensual subject matter and opulent execution epitomized the fin-de-siècle sensibilities of European culture at the end of the 19th century.
Completed in 1908, “The Kiss” is considered to be Klimt’s masterpiece. It depicts two intertwined figures, the man’s face turned away from the viewer as he caresses his lover’s head in anticipation of a kiss. Kneeling on a flowerbed, they are wrapped in shimmering gold garments, the patterns of which are symbolic of their genders, his geometric and hers organic. Vines and flowers encircle their heads, like classical lovers in mythology. They are timeless.
As we begin to emerge from isolation and search for meaning in the Time of Coronavirus, we reflect on the lessons we have learned about what is truly important in life. “The Kiss” reminds us that our lives are defined by the golden moments we connect with others. If we are lucky, we have a great love or an abiding friendship that makes us feel the totality of our existence in a single embrace. It is then that we remember what it is to be human . . . and we cleave to one another so we won’t forget. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. John Singer Sargent was a highly sought-after society portrait painter of the Edwardian period. Born to American parents in Italy, Sargent was educated in Paris and lived most of his life as an expatriate in Europe. By the turn of the 20th century, Sargent was one of the most celebrated painters of his time, recognized in the United States and Europe for his portraits as well as his murals at the Boston Public Library and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In 1918, the artist was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information to create a large-scale painting commemorating joint efforts between American and British forces during World War I. The result is the 1919 oil on canvas, “Gassed,” an epic work that vividly illustrates the horror of war on a massive scale.
For this commission, Sargent traveled to the Western Front where he spent four months in France and Belgium observing the devastating effects of chemical warfare. Moved by the vision, Sargent abandoned the theme of his commission, and, instead, used sketches he drew en plein air to create a monumental painting illustrating the aftermath of a mustard gas attack. In “Gassed,” the artist portrays a group of young soldiers being led to medical treatment, each man holding on to the shoulder of the man in front, their eyes bandaged as a result of exposure to the gas. A similar scene is repeated off in the background, and all around lay the bodies of more men. The sheer number of wounded is staggering.
While the magnitude of suffering and loss in the Great War was unprecedented, the death toll on the battlefield was eclipsed by the worldwide loss of life due to the 1918 Spanish Flu. 100 years later, in the Time of Coronavirus, we once again wage battle against a pandemic. Brave first responders and medical workers are called to fight on the front lines every day. Many have fallen as the virus continues to take its toll. On this Memorial Day, we remember all the valiant soldiers, in all the wars, that put themselves in harm’s way for our safety. To honor their sacrifice, let us join forces in this global fight, and bring all our collective resources and knowledge to the cause of healing humanity, making this truly the war to end all wars. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. “Girl with Balloon” is the most recognizable work by the graffiti artist who may be the most enigmatic figure of our time, Banksy. Replicated in several locations and in many iterations, the 2002 spray painted stencil mural located at Waterloo Bridge, South Bank, London is the original. The image is accompanied by the words, “There is always hope.” There has been much speculation as to the artist’s intentions behind this simple image of the girl with the heart-shaped balloon. Is it a message about loss or is it about hope? It is up to the viewer to decide.
The work shows a young girl standing with her dress and hair blowing in the wind. It is unclear whether the red heart-shaped balloon has slipped from her hands and is flying out of reach, or is descending to her from above. The image has been replicated in both graffiti and print versions and repurposed by the artist for political messaging over the years. In 2018, a 2006 framed print of “Girl with Balloon” was auctioned at Sotheby’s London for a record high price of £1,043,0004. After the closing bid, the artwork began to shred itself, and it was later discovered that Banksy had hidden a shredder in the frame, thereby turning the event into a performance piece where everyone “got Banksy-ed.”
Like “Girl with Balloon,” Life in the Time of Coronavirus can be about both loss and hope. For many of us, life as we knew it is floating away like a lost balloon, and it leaves us feeling helpless and small. While it may be difficult, Banksy reminds us, “There is always hope.” We have the option to lean into the winds of change, reach up and grab onto the hope that a better tomorrow is coming our way. The choice is ours. 🎈 Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. A native of Pennsylvania who lived as an expatriate in Paris, Mary Cassatt distinguished herself as one of the three great women of Impressionism. Educated at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, Cassatt went to Europe to study the great masters, eventually settling in Paris. There she was befriended by Edgar Degas and invited to exhibit with the French Impressionists. As a woman artist Cassatt was not as free to engage in society as her male counterparts. As a result, she derived her subject matter from what she knew best, the private lives of women, whom she portrayed with dignity and genuine sentiment. Perhaps no other artist is more identified with capturing intimate moments between women and their children than Mary Cassatt.
In her 1880 pastel on paper, “Mother and Child (The Goodnight Hug),” Cassatt demonstrates her mastery of pastel on paper. Introduced to the medium by Degas, the artist achieves all the spontaneity and luminosity that is the hallmark of the Impressionists, yet the bold, loose approach to mark-making is inventive and fresh. Filled with pattern and movement, the drawing is vibrant and alive. It is as if the child has just been swept up in its mother’s arms. The tenderness with which they embrace, their faces pressed against each other, we feel their bond. They are one.
On this Mother’s Day during the Time of Coronavirus, the bond between mother and child seems all the more cherished. Many of us are nostalgic for the comfort we felt in our mother’s arms, or the simple pleasure of a goodnight hug with children who may be grown and far away. As people, we are different in countless ways, but we are bound together by one essential truth – each of us is some mother’s son or daughter. There is no greater love. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. If there was ever an artist for this time, it would be American Edward Hopper. No one depicts isolation better than the “artist of empty spaces.” Hopper’s most iconic works, including “Nighthawks,” painted in 1942, speak to the alienation of urban life, where people are together, but feel alone. After years of struggle as an artist and illustrator, Hopper had his breakthrough during the Great Depression, when his straightforward style of realism brilliantly coalesced with his un-sentimentalized subject matter to capture the essence of Depression-era life. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in his 1930 oil on canvas, “Early Sunday Morning.”
“Early Sunday Morning” depicts just that, a row of closed shops on Seventh Avenue in New York shortly after sunrise on a Sunday morning. Completely devoid of people, the sharp geometry of the buildings, coupled with the long shadows, make the street look stark and desolate. There is a voyeuristic quality to Hopper’s work that invites the viewer to construct the narrative. And while some interpret this painting as a commentary on the Great Depression, Hopper himself preferred not to ascribe meaning to his images, instead saying, “I was more interested in the sunlight on the buildings and on the figures than any symbolism.”
During The Great Isolation, this scene of shuttered shops on an abandoned street has become a common sight in communities everywhere. Experts are likening the economic impact on small businesses to The Great Depression. Now is the time to support the businesses and institutions run by our friends and neighbors that strengthen the social fabric of our community. As shelter-at-home restrictions lift and businesses begin to reopen, whenever you have the choice, choose local. When we invest in our communities, together we thrive. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. The Age of Impressionism that corresponds with the last quarter of the nineteenth century marked the coming of age for the city of Paris. The old medieval city had recently undergone a massive renovation by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann and Paris was suddenly a vibrant and modern city. A new class of Bourgeoisie, nouveaux riches who benefited from the economic boom, emerged, and with them an interest in bourgeois leisure pursuits of art, culture and café society. French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s masterful oil on canvas, “Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876,” captures the joie de vivre of the period using a painting technique invented to reflect the rapidly changing nature of modern life.
Impressionist painters were interested in spontaneity. They were attempting to capture a moment in time, a candid snapshot of life not unlike those popularized by the recently invented camera. In order to achieve this their paintings were produced quickly on site, en plein air, using short, unblended strokes of color. For the Impressionists, rapid painting was both their subject and their style, whether they were painting scenes of Paris life or the French countryside. “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” depicts a popular Parisian dance hall. Some people crowd the tables and chatter, while others dance. The atmosphere is so lively you can almost hear the sounds of music, laughter, and tinkling glasses. The painter bathed the scene in dappled sunlight and shade to produce the effect of fleeting light the Impressionists so artfully cultivated.
Renoir reflected on this work by saying, “The world knew how to laugh in those days!” Now, in the Time of Coronavirus, when we are isolated from each other, it feels as if those days are gone forever. We find ourselves longing for conviviality and camaraderie. But we must believe that when the time is right, it will return, and the world will open up to us slowly but surely, shimmering like the sunlight through the trees. And when it does, it will be that much sweeter knowing we will never take these fleeting moments for granted again. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes rose to prominence as official court painter to Charles IV of Spain. Dissatisfaction with the aristocracy increased during Goya’s tenure, and what was believed to be an alliance with France to overthrow the Spanish King resulted in a bloody battle for Spanish independence. Later, Goya would document the atrocities in his most famous painting, “Third of May, 1808.” Increasingly disillusioned with humanity, Goya produced a satirical series of dark prints from 1797-1798 called, “Los Caprichos” (meaning caprices or follies). The artist used these 80 aquatints and etchings to critique contemporary Spanish society. The most iconic of these prints is No. 43, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Earth Day was established on April 22, 1970 to bring awareness to world-wide environmental concerns. American artist Robert Rauschenberg was commissioned to design the first Earth Day poster to benefit the American Environment Foundation in Washington, D.C. Rauschenberg was a well-established artist in the Post-War New York School of Abstract Expressionists, known for his paintings, sculptures and Combines that merged the two mediums. An outspoken social, political and environmental advocate, Rauschenberg had a prolific output of prints and posters that enabled him to reach a wider audience and raise support for his various causes.
For the design of his first Earth Day poster, the artist placed the Bald Eagle, the national symbol of the United States, at the center of the composition, in effect, positioning our country in the middle of the global crisis. Imagery of pollution, contamination, deforestation and endangered species surround the eagle. An edition of 10,000 off-set lithographs were published by Caselli Graphics in New York. A larger format lithograph, based on the original design, was produced in a limited edition of 50 by Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles.
This Earth Day, 50 years later, we have the unique opportunity to reflect on our individual roles as environmental stewards. We’ve seen how quickly nature has renewed itself in the period since we began shelter-in-place. It’s up to us to determine how measures to control pollution, slow climate change, minimize our carbon footprint and support a healthy planet continue after The Great Isolation is over. Let us come together as good global citizens. Our collective future on the planet depends on it. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Derived from the Portuguese “barroco,” meaning irregularly shaped pearl, the term Baroque is attributed to the dynamic and theatrical art that emerged in Europe during the 1600s. A major contributor to the period was the influential artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio whose use of tenebrism, a style of painting incorporating dramatic contrasts of light and dark, was emulated by future generations of artists known as “Caravaggisti.” A controversial character in his own right, Caravaggio’s outspoken disdain for the classical masters drew criticism from those who regarded him as the “anti-Christ” of painting. In “Saint Jerome Writing, 1605–06,” Caravaggio uses a combination of tenebrism and symbolism to cast the figure of Saint Jerome in a spiritual light.
Fluent in Greek and Hebrew, Saint Jerome is credited with his translation of the bible into Latin. As a result, he is always portrayed in his study with the attributes of a scholar. Breaking with tradition, Caravaggio presents us with a naturalistic, unidealized depiction of the aged saint, immersed in his work, draped in the simple cloth of an ascetic removed from the outside world. The room is dark and spartan, but he is bathed in divine light. The painting includes a skull, the seat of knowledge, and symbol of the death of the physical body now reborn at a higher, spiritual level.
During this period of isolation, removed from the distractions of the outside world, we finally have time for self-reflection. Each of us has the unique opportunity to look inside and find our light. Let us emerge with a renewed sense of purpose, resolved to be the best version of ourselves for our family, our friends, and our community. When our spirits shine bright, we light the way for others.
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. The cinematic arts deserve equal time, so today I give you a 3-minute excerpt from Christian Marclay’s, 2010 masterpiece, “The Clock.” Described as a moving collage, “The Clock” is a 24-hour long montage of thousands of film clips that depict clocks or reference time. It took three years for the work to be compiled. “The Clock” is screened in real time, so it is, itself, a timepiece, each clip synchronized with the actual time it is being viewed.
“The Clock” is a meditation on time. A temporal art form, “The Clock” examines how the elements of time, plot and duration are depicted in film. It includes clips from many of the great cinematic masterworks of the last century, paying homage to the medium. At the same time, it plays with the conventions that construct meaning in narrative, thereby undermining any sense of chronological coherence for the viewer. The artist has described “The Clock” as a memento mori, an artwork about the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. While viewing “The Clock,” we are continuously reminded about the passage of time; how much time we’ve spent and how much time we have left.
Life in the Time of Coronavirus has disrupted all sense of time. Without our regular daily routines, it is easy to lose track of the hours and the days. We seem to be in an endless holding pattern, waiting for the clock to restart and our lives to go back to normal. But the future is uncertain, and we can’t relive the past, so we need to focus on the here and now, because there is no time like the present to start living. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. The Barbizon School were a group of French landscape artists painting in the Forest of Fountainebleau surrounding the village of Barbizon. Their work is regarded as the strongest movement of purely landscape painting in 19th century France. They were also pioneers in painting en plein air, directly from nature, paving the way for the Impressionists. A founder of this group, Jean-François Millet took on the plight of the rural poor as his subject matter. Now considered a masterpiece of the genre, Millet’s 1857 oil on canvas, “The Gleaners,” was poorly received in its day by the upper class who took exception to its commentary on social inequity.
In “The Gleaners,” Millet presents three peasant women performing the tedious task of gleaning; collecting the wheat scraps left in the field after the harvest. The job was backbreaking, but made an important contribution to the rural workers’ diet. Millet understood this. In an attempt to dignify the subjects and draw attention to their harsh labor, Millet placed his figures in the foreground, against a broad sky, their monumental forms dominating the canvas. The symbolic contrast between abundance and scarcity, and between light and shadow, further serves to emphasize the class divide. This sensibility established the artist as a champion of social justice for the poorest of the peasant class.
For some of us, shelter-at-home is an opportunity to slow the pace and leisurely engage in domestic activities that give us pleasure. But for others, this period of isolation represents a real and present economic hardship and a commitment to long hours of strenuous labor. Illness, loss of work, even the inability to purchase necessities has put a strain on our friends and neighbors. Essential workers in the fields of healthcare and food distribution toil tirelessly for our benefit. Now is the time to summon the better angels of our nature and embrace our common humanity. However and whenever possible, share your bounty. Engage in random acts of kindness. We rise by lifting others. Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Following independence from Spain in the 17th century, the Dutch Republic quickly gained economic prominence owing to their lucrative trade routes, centralized banking system, and robust flower market driven by the tulip. A new class of wealthy merchants and art patrons rose to power, and thus began the Dutch Golden Age. Whereas the Catholic Church favored religious subject matter, Calvinist teachings rejected religious iconography, so still life painting, previously considered a lowly art form, blossomed in popularity with the Dutch Reformed merchant class. One of the most accomplished practitioners of the genre was a woman, Rachel Ruysch. The daughter of a botany professor, Ruysch developed an international reputation for her highly accurate, yet naturalistic compositions, all the while raising 10 children. “Still Life with Flowers on a Marble Tabletop, 1716” is an excellent example of an ornamental still life imbued with complex religious symbolism.
Still lifes are idealized compositions of perfect specimens that bloom at different times of the year. For the Baroque era viewer, the symbolism of each flower would be easily understood. In “Still Life with Flowers on a Marble Tabletop” Ruysch organizes her flowers into a specific hierarchy relating to the life of Christ, topped by the iris with its groupings of three petals, symbolic of the Holy Trinity. At the center of the arrangement, side by side, are the white poppy, symbol of death and the crucifixion, and the blue morning glory that opens to the light, symbolizing the resurrection. Closer inspection reveals insects feeding on the flowers, signifying the transient nature of life.
Like the Story of Easter reflected in this work by Rachel Ruysch, Life in the Time of Coronavirus is a complex narrative composed of human suffering and transcendence. It reminds us that life is like a delicate blossom, fragile and fleeting. But with the arrival of spring, we remain confident in the knowledge that the cycle of life will move us out of the darkness and into the light, and life will triumph over death, because hope springs eternal.🌷Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Today I give you “The Signs on the Door,” a watercolor by French artist James (Jacques) Joseph Tissot, c. 1896-1902. This painting is one in a large series depicting the life of Moses and the story of Exodus executed by the artist from 1896-1900. A successful society portraitist of the period, Tissot is best known for his paintings of well-dressed women and their fashionable lifestyles. Like his contemporary Édouard Manet, Tissot was a self-proclaimed Realist and painter of modern life. He declined to participate in the 1874 exhibition that gave the French Impressionists their name. In the last years of his life, Tissot turned his attention to biblical subject matter, in particular the Old Testament.
“The Signs on the Door,” depicts a moment in the Book of Exodus when God rains ten plagues down upon the Pharaoh and commands Moses to free the enslaved Israelites and take them out of Egypt. Before the final plague, the killing of the first born, the Israelites mark their doors with lamb’s blood as a sign that the Angel of Death will pass over them. The image is rendered in Tissot’s characteristic illustrative style.
Jews around the world have begun the observance of Passover, an eight-day commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt that takes its name from this event. It is a story of liberation from slavery, followed by an arduous journey of revelation, that ends in a celebration of homecoming. As we collectively search for meaning in the Time of Coronavirus, it is a testament to the unwavering belief that despite our travails, sooner or later we will all find our way home.
– Gail Phinney, Education Director
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. The late 18th century Age of Revolution marked an end to absolute monarchy throughout Continental Europe and the Americas. The desire for freedom, not only political freedom, but also freedom of thought, feeling, and the expression of these ideas, is the hallmark of the period known as Romanticism. Nature, in all her awe-inspiring vastness, emerged as a favorite subject matter, exemplifying the aesthetic concept of the sublime. Among the artists best known for their transcendental landscape paintings is Germany’s Caspar David Friedrich with his masterpiece, “Wanderer above a Sea of Mist,” 1817-1818.
In “Wanderer above a Sea of Mist,” a solitary climber stands on a rocky promontory and leans on his cane. The figure surveys a vast panorama of clouds and mountains through a thick mist. The archetypal man, depicted from behind, is at once master of all he sees, and at the same time, dwarfed by the enormity of the vision and the uncertainty of the journey that lays ahead. Nature as both transcendent and fearsome is the perfect expression of the sublime.
As human beings, we tend to go about our daily lives with a false sense of superiority, believing we’re impervious to the forces of nature. But the Coronavirus pandemic has left us devastated in its wake. The escalating number of cases has us feeling helpless, and the mounting death toll reminds us of our human frailty. It is a fearful time. While we are learning every day how to battle the virus and move towards treatment and a cure, humility in the presence of nature’s greatness may well be the most lasting lesson.
Artful Daze – Sharing a beautiful work of art to contemplate each day with a little art history lesson. Women engaged in the daily routine of bathing and grooming has been a ubiquitous subject throughout the history of Western Art. Georges Seurat’s “Young Woman Powdering Herself,” 1888-90, a portrait of his model and mistress Madeleine Knobloch, presents a late 19th-century depiction of a woman at her toilette, similar to those popularized by other French artists of the period, including Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. What sets this work apart is the distinctive pointillist style in which it is rendered.
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 habits 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