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Posts Tagged ‘art history

“A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults”*…

 

cards

Bumblepuppist

Definition – a bad whist player

Every so often you need a specific insult, and bumblepuppist is about as specific as they get. We will grant you that the game of whist is not as popular as it once was, having been edged out by newfangled card games such as euchre and canasta, but once upon a time whist was the most deucedly popular card game in the land. This ranks pretty high on the list of words which are likely inapplicable in your life, but imagine how excited you will be if you do meet someone who not only plays whist, but is bad at it, and you have the appropriate descriptor.

Bumblepuppist is also sometimes rendered as bumblepupper, and the word for “whist played poorly or without regard for rules” is bumblepuppy (from bumble and puppy).

“Bumblepuppy,” as defined by a renowned authority upon whist, is a game played by people who imagine that they are playing whist, but who in reality know nothing of that intricate game.
— The New York Times, 1 Jul. 1883

Just one in a collection of put-downs bigger than the sum of their parts: “8 Insults Made Up of a Noun and a Verb.”

* Louis Nizer

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As we test the limits of civility, we might send fascinating birthday greetings to Fernando Arrabal Terán; he was born on this date in 1932.  A playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet, the New York Times’ Mel Gussow has called him the last survivor among the “three avatars of modernism.”  In 1962, Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, inspired by the god Pan.  In 1990 he was elected Transcendent Satrap of The Collège de ‘Pataphysique, a “society committed to learned and inutilious research” (“inutilious” = “useless”).  Forty other Transcendent Satraps have been elected over the past half-century, including Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco, and Jean Baudrillard.  Arrabal spent three years as a member of André Breton’s surrealist group and was a friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara.  A chess fanatic (a passion he shared with Duchamp), Arrabal wrote a chess column for the French weekly L’Express for over thirty years.

200px-Fernando_Arrabal,_2012 source

 

Written by LW

August 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary”*…

 

ernst_ludwig_kirchner_-_czardas_dancers_-_google_art_project

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, CZARDAS DANCERS, 1908

 

Ugliness has never been the subject of much scrutiny. For the most part, artists and thinkers have treated ugliness as an immutable category, filled with things they simply didn’t like. These included dangerous landscapes, people with disabilities, and objects that showed signs of too much use. When survival was a number one priority, people viewed anything potentially threatening as ugly. And for the most part, ugly works, particularly pieces that were unintentionally ugly, were forgotten to history.

As a result, the most significant ugly works created before the nineteenth century were intentionally ugly, created by technically skilled painters who decided, for whatever reason, to depict an ugly subject. Often, ugly art was created as a warning. There but for the grace of God go I, screams the gargoyle clinging to a medieval facade. To contemporary eyes, the art of the Dark Ages looks ugly as a whole (consider this great Vox explainer about ugly babies in medieval paintings.) At the time, however, people didn’t consider the malformed dogs or awkward hat-wearing crows to be ugly, though they did know that doom paintings, which depict the worst-case afterlife scenarios, were hideous. Doom paintings highlight the difference between heaven and hell in order to strike fear into the heart of viewers and thus discourage them from, say, coveting their neighbor’s hot spouse or lying when the tax official came around to collect coins. Sometimes these paintings function like the medieval version of Jonathan Edward’s hellfire-and-brimstone sermons: they actually make the afterlife look interesting, stimulating, and perhaps even a little bit appealing…

A consideration of the less-than-beautiful in Western art through the ages: “Ugliness Is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings.”

* “Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary, and there is no question but that every ardent imagination prefers in lubricity, the extraordinary to the commonplace”  -Marquis de Sade

(Echoed by Umberto Eco: “Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.”)

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As we agonize over aesthetics, we might spare a thought for Lucas van Leyden; he died on this date in 1533.  A seminal Dutch artist, he was among the first Dutch exponents of genre painting and is generally regarded as a very accomplished engraver.

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A portrait of Lucas van Leyden by Albrecht Dürer, June 1521

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Written by LW

August 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Life swarms with innocent monsters”*…

 

MS H.8, Fol. 191 verso, St. Martha taming the tarasque. St. Martha preaching (margin), and initial O, “Hours of Henry VIII”MS H.8, "Hours of Henry VIII,” book of hours, France, Tours, ca. 1500

“The Taming the Tarasque,” from Hours of Henry VIII, France, Tours, ca. 1500

 

From dragons and unicorns to mandrakes and griffins, monsters and medieval times are inseparable in the popular imagination. But medieval depictions of monsters—the subject of a fascinating new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan [which includes the image above]—weren’t designed simply to scare their viewers: They had many purposes, and provoked many reactions. They terrified, but they also taught. They enforced prejudices and social hierarchies, but they also inspired unlikely moments of empathy. They were medieval European propaganda, science, art, theology, and ethics all at once…

Finding the meaning in monsters: “The Symbols of Prejudice Hidden in Medieval Art.”

* Charles Baudelaire

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As we decode dragons, we might recall that it was on this date in 1542, with Pope Paul III’s papal bull Licet ab initio, that the Roman Inquisition formally began.  In the tradition of the medieval inquisitions, and “inspired” by the Spanish Inquisition, the Roman Inquisition gave six cardinals six cardinals the power to arrest and imprison anyone suspected of heresy, to confiscate their property, and to put them to death.

While not so much in the prudish spirit of Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,”  the Roman Inquisition– which lasted in the 18th century– was ruthless in rooting out what it considered dangerous deviations from orthodoxy.  Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Cesare Cremonini were all persecuted.  While only Bruno was executed, the others were effectively (or actually) banished, and in the cases of Copernicus and Galileo, their works were placed on  the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books).

inquisition source

 

Written by LW

July 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”*…

 

Mason Williams recalls…

CLASSICAL GAS was written in August, 1967; recorded for THE MASON WILLIAMS PHONOGRAPH RECORD album in November, 1967; released as a single in February, 1968, and became a hit six months later in the Summer of 1968. It was also one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos.

During the time that CLASSICAL GAS was a hit I was also the head writer for THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR on CBS. I had seen a film titled “GOD IS DOG SPELLED BACKWARDS” at The Encore, an off beat movie house in L.A. The film was a collection of approximately 2500 classical works of art, mostly paintings, that flashed by in three minutes. Each image lasted only two film frames, or twelve images a second! At the end of the film the viewer was pronounced “cultural” since they had just covered “3000 years of art in 3 minutes!”

The film was the work of a UCLA film student named Dan McLaughlin. I contacted Dan and told him that I was interested in the idea of using his film as a visual for CLASSICAL GAS to air on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR. (His original sound track had been Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.) THE COMEDY HOUR offered him the money to finance a new film he wanted to make in exchange for the right to change the original soundtrack from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to CLASSICAL GAS and air it on the show. As a “music video” it was first shown on THE SUMMER BROTHERS SMOTHERS SHOW (Glen Campbell was the host) in the summer of 1968.

The impact of the film on television opened the door to realizations that the viewer’s mind could absorb this intense level of visual input. It was a double shot of a hundred proof music and video that polished the history of art off in three minutes! It was also the beginning of the fast images concept now called kinestasis (a rapidly-moving montage technique set to music) that has over the years been exploited so effectively by television commercials, documentaries, etc. As a result of the response to the CLASSICAL GAS music video, in September of 1968 I wrote up a piece for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, projecting the idea that someday VJ’s would be playing hit tapes on TV, (as well as DJ’s hit records on radio), a prophesy of what was, 13 years later, to become MTV…

[Dan McLaughlin went on to become head of UCLA’s animation program.]

* Edgar Degas

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As we bathe in beauty, we might spare a thought for Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell; he died on this date in 1985.  A bandleader, songwriter, arranger, and record producer,  he was probably most impactful in his work overseeing the early hits of Little Richard, as well as in grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams, and Sly and the Family Stone at the starts of their recording careers.

Blackwell, seated, with Rich Hall (of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals) and Little Richard

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Written by LW

March 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang”*…

 

On this most bizarre of days, an alternative: hours of fun at The New Yorker‘s “Cartoons at Random.”

*  “The Witch Doctor

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As we fight the urge to bury our heads, we might spare a thought for John Ruskin; he died on this date in 1900.  Best remembered as the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, he was also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker, and a philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany, and political economy, and in styles and literary forms equally varied: Ruskin penned essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale.

Ruskin was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century, and up to the First World War. After a period of relative decline, his reputation has steadily improved since the 1960s with the publication of numerous academic studies of his work.  Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognized as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability, and craft.

You may either win your peace, or buy it:—win it, by resistance to evil;—buy it, by compromise with evil.

– Ruskin, The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy. Lecture at Tunbridge Wells, February 16, 1858

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Written by LW

January 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

“You cannot get a grip on blue… blue is sly, slick, it slides into the room sideways, a slippery trickster”*…

 

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665

Michelangelo couldn’t afford ultramarine. His painting The Entombment, the story goes, was left unfinished as the result of his failure to procure the prized pigment. Rafael reserved ultramarine for his final coat, preferring for his base layers a common azurite; Vermeer was less parsimonious in his application and proceeded to mire his family in debt. Ultramarine: the quality of the shade is embodied in its name. This is the superlative blue, the end-all blue, the blue to which all other hues quietly aspire. The name means “beyond the sea”—a dreamy ode to its distant origins, as romantic as it is imprecise…

The whole fascinating story at “True Blue- a brief history of ultramarine.”

* Christopher Moore, Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art

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As we dip our brushes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that a gift from France was formally received in the U.S.: it was on this date that year that “Liberty Enlightening the World”– a token of friendship from the French to the U.S. better known as the Statue of Liberty– was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland.

Designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor, it was built by Gustave Eiffel (his Eiffel Tower served as the statue’s armature), who had it shipped from France encased in more than 200 crates, then reassembled it and placed on its pedestal on (what was then known as) Bedloe’s Island, where Cleveland took her in.

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Written by LW

October 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness”*…

 

A new Instagram account by Australian artist Damien Rudd, @sadtopographies, is collecting Google Map screenshots of the world’s grimmest-sounding places, which makes for an excellent collection of weird travel destinations.

Read more at “This Instagram account collects the saddest-sounding places on Earth“; then take the tour on Rudd’s Instagram feed.

* Carl Jung

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As we pack extra tissues, we might spare a thought for Lucas Cranach the Elder; he dies on this date in 1553.  A German Renaissance painter and printmaker, he was court painter to the Electors of Saxony and is known for his portraits, both of German princes and those of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation (including his close friend, Martin Luther)…. though, as evidenced below, he treated more secular subjects as well.  The most successful German artist of his time, he operated a large workshop, which continued after his death under the guidance of his sone, son Lucas Cranach the Younger.

Cranach’s “The Ill-Matched Couple”

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Written by LW

October 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

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