Change is Good: Three Artists Who Pivoted

What a wild week! We’re celebrating (wrong word!) the one-year anniversary of our world shutting down, gearing up for Pi Day, planning our Grammy parties, obsessing over Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan, and… celebrating (right word!) Nice and Easel’s snappy new look! I hope you like it. It was time for a change, and I don’t mean the daylight savings kind (this Saturday, FYI!).

Since we’re doing a whole new look here, I thought it would be fun to look at a few artists who have changed direction, reinvented themselves. Like Madonna, but with visual art. Like Michael Jordan, but with visual art. Like Chloe Kardashian, but- well, you get the point.

First up is Spanish painter Joan Miro. Miro put himself on the artsy map in 1919 when he painted Village and Church. He was only 24 and was supposed to be training to take over the family’s goldsmith business, but couldn’t resist painting. After Miro nearly died from typhoid, his dad relented and let his son paint in earnest. (I do this with my kids when they break a bone. “Now is the time to ask for that pony!”) I’m glad Miro Sr. caved, because Miro created Village and Church, then developed his work, expanded his genres, and by the end of his career was creating things like The Singing Fish. It is less detailed than Village and Church and decidedly wilder, but I love them equally.

And how about Rene Magritte? He began his career as a failure, before knocking it out of the park with clever, world-renowned paintings like, The Treachery of Images (or “This is Not a Pipe,” which is what I call it.) Before he hit it big, his art received thumbs down from all the artsy VIPs. He made them eat surreal crow though, years later. In between, failure and fame he experimented with Impressionism, Realism, and Cubism to name a few, before really finding his groove in Surrealism. Compare these paintings. Both bizarre, but in totally different ways.

Finally, we have to discuss Pablo Picasso if we’re talking about pivoting creative styles. This guy changed styles in the same way Miley Cyrus moved from Disney to twerking. Sudden and surprising. Take the examples below. Picasso painted the scene on the left at the ripe age of fifteen. If I saw this in a museum, I would never guess it was a Picasso. Everyone’s features are where they belong! Later, Picasso famously went through his Blue and Rose Periods before settling into Cubism, which of course he is most well-known for these days.

If we’ve learned nothing else this past year, it’s that things change! I’m happy we have these artists and The Jonas Brothers to prove that change can be very, very good.

Fashion Is As Fashion Does

A sad but true fact of life: I want to be fancy and fashionable, but I’m not. Case in point. Last weekend I went to a birthday part for my friend Kate. Before I left the house, my nine-year-old asked what I was planning to wear. (The answer was, “Um, this?”) She covered very politely by stammering, “Oh! Oh, good. I was hoping that’s what you were wearing because you look great.” Lies. 

Anyway, Kate arrived looking like a movie star (not because it was her birthday, but because she always looks like a movie star.) Meanwhile, I excused myself to go to the restroom, where I noticed my leggings were on backwards. Sigh. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change clothes?” Oh well. Maybe fashion will make an appearance later in my life. Maybe it’s still coming for me. When it does, I hope I exude this incredible vibe:
Portrait of Mnonja by Mikalene Thomas

It’s so hard to take my eyes off the model that at first I didn’t even notice the leopard/tiger/big cat under her feet roaring its approval. It’s hard to see on a screen, but the medium here is mostly acrylic, with rhinestones! How glamorous is that? I’m certain Kate would approve. 

I saw a video blurb with the artist, Mikalene Thomas, who said she began buying rhinestones, glitter, felt, etc. from Michaels because it was so much cheaper than paint. The medium stuck, thank goodness, because who doesn’t love sparkly art? Only monsters. You can see the video of Mikalene Thomas here: Portrait of Mnonja | Smithsonian American Art Museum ( 

Here is another piece of her work that I die over. 
Dim All the Lights

I could never pull off this look. This painting (again with acrylic and rhinestones) commemorates her late mother. If I’m so privileged to be commemorated someday, I hope I’m at least depicted with my pants on right.

Much Much Dutch!

My daughters have a few days off from school this week so we spent yesterday in darling Holland, Michigan! They just finished planting tulip bulbs for next year’s Tulip Festival, prompting me to say “We should plant tulips this year!” Which prompted my girls to answer, “You say that every year!” We visited the whimsical Wizard of Oz sculptures, walked the Window by the Waterfront park, with its view of an authentic windmill, scoped out Hope College, did some Christmas shopping (wooden shoes for everyone!), marveled at how tall Dutch people are, and laughed at ourselves as we tried to pronounce their last names (Huizenga and Beenhouwer, for instance). It was a super fun day and inspired me to dig into some Dutch art!

I’ve written about the biggies several times: Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer… but throughout the ages, the Netherlands has proven to be a bottomless vat of talented painters. Let’s look at some that don’t have the same star power as say- Pieter Brueghel, but that definitely deserve more attention!

The painting below caught my eye because of the title, then I loved the painting, and finally, I was delighted to see it was painted by a woman!

Painted by Judith Leyster. I’m thinking of being that boy for Halloween. Thoughts?

I love that the boy and girl are showing some personality, unlike most portraits where the subject isn’t smiling or giving bunny ears to the person beside them, or throwing a peace sign. These kids are mischievous and I happen to love it. Is he about to drop that eel down his sister’s dress? Is she about to yank that cat’s tail? We can only imagine! Some scholars think the painting refers to a Dutch proverb: “To hold an eel by the tail” which means you don’t get to hold onto something just because you have it. Others point out eels were often fed to cats because nobody else would eat them. I don’t know, but I love those rosy cheeks and the cat’s panicked expression.

Pieter de Hooch is a Golden Age big-wig, with paintings in Windsor Castle and the London Gallery, but I’m including him in my post about lesser known Dutch artists because I’ve never heard of him before.  And I love the lighting in his paintings. Oh, and his last name is funny. 

Wait no, maybe I’ll be that feathery hat guy instead.

How hard was it to get the light coming in from the door and windows just right? It seems impossible, but Hooch nailed it. Like A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel, the subjects are having fun, but in a less mischievous manner. If they were in Holland, Michigan they’d be playing Euchre. Amiright, Michiganders? 

Finally, I’m highlighting Jan Steen’s Peasants Making Merry in Front of a Tavern. Making merry, indeed! It looks like the beginning of a good, ole-fashion saturnalia and it’s still daylight! Not even baby’s bedtime! Everyone is having a good time. As far as we know, no fights have broken out yet. Maybe they’re celebrating the summer solstice? Or christening that boat that’s about to tip over? Maybe it was baby’s baptism (ha!) or maybe it was just Happy Hour on Friday. Whatever the circumstances, I am all about the detail, the color, and the fun Steen puts in this painting. Apparently, it was on-brand for him to paint slightly chaotic scenes. This resulted in a Dutch saying, “It looks like Jan Steen’s house” when referring to a messy room or house. I can relate! I’m so bringing this saying to the States!

Augh! Okay, I’ll be the woman dancing. Final answer.

I’m off to plant my tulips now! Lie. Okay, I’m off to clean my Jan Steen-esque house now! Lie. For real, I’m off to binge-watch The Good Place now! Truth.

A Visit to Eli Broad

Last week my friend Carla and I went to the Eli Broad Museum in East Lansing. She had a photograph in one of the exhibits there (yes, not only do I love art, but I love the people who make it!) so we wanted to see it on display. It was lovely of course, (I only hobnob with the best of the best.) and so was all the other artwork on display*.

An artist by the name of Emily Somoskey had six mixed media pieces on display. She is from Akron, OH but earned her MFA at Michigan State (Go Green! Go White!) For you locals, she also did the mural on the wall outside the Division St. parking garage. 

Of the six at Eli Broad, the 2D piece below was my favorite. Carla chose a different favorite. We are still friends because you can have different opinions and still be friends (take note, social media! Politicians! Yankees and Red Sox! Lovers of ebooks and people who only read “real” books!)

I loved the colors in this and the fun, scattery vibe.

Carla’s favorite. More great colors!

Let me take this opportunity to put a plug in for art museums all over. We were the only guests at the Eli Broad and the employees looked really happy to see us. Plus, the artists have been waiting for their displays to be up and open to the public for several months (or maybe their entire lives!) If you’re missing art, go visit! It’s safe, it’s fun, it’s beautiful! Or it’s video. But you might have a nice time anyway.


 *Except the video art. I never, ever like the video art.

A Crazy Love Story

The last few days I’ve been watching the Oscar-winning movie, Frida, featuring Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo. First things first, don’t watch this with your kids. Don’t even watch this with your kids in the general vicinity of your house.

Diego: I always had a soft spot for him because of the mural he did in my beloved home state. But he was actually horrible. The movie makes him a little sympathetic, but I won’t be fooled. He was a Communist, adulterer (he had an affair with Frida’s sister, which is even worse than your sister borrowing your favorite shirt without asking), and there’s a rumor he dabbled in cannibalism. He claimed to enjoy human brain. Even if that’s a lie, it’s a weird thing to lie about. Nonetheless, he was an artist and this is a blog about all kinds of art. Even that which is done by a Trotsky-adoring weasel. (I did not know who Trotsky was. He was Stalin’s rival, but they were two sides of the same coin.)

So here is a Rivera mural. It was in Rockefeller Center for juuuuuust a moment before they scraped it off. It wasn’t what the Rockefellers and Rivera agreed upon, but the Rockefellers were willing to concede, if only Rivera would remove Stalin from the painting. Rivera refused and all his hard work was scraped into the dumpster. (I’m shrugging as I type, like “what did you expect, buddy?”)

Can you spot the Commie?

Later, Rivera repainted the mural in Mexico. I can only liken this to the time my puppy unraveled the baby blanket I was knitting. I vowed I would not reknit it, but then, when enough time had passed and my wounds were healed, I did. Same sort of thing, I think.

Frida: Let’s talk Frida, who in life wasn’t as well-known as her nutty husband, but now is way more famous. I don’t know how exact the depiction was in the movie, but from what I’ve read, it was quite accurate. Even if it was just a pinch truthful? That girl was a firecracker. And forgiving. So very forgiving of Rivera. Maybe because she was having her own affairs with… Trotsky! Rivera’s beloved Trotsky! This is the stuff telenovela’s are made of.

Kahlo did not have an easy life. She suffered crippling pain almost her entire life from a bus accident in her teenage years, she married a jerk, she couldn’t have the children she desperately wanted, and she lost her leg to gangrene. Yet. She was funny (serious people do not take ownership of their facial hair the way Kahlo did), talented, and vivacious. She is quoted as saying, “Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.” And she seemed to laugh as much as she cried.

Frida was a pro at self-portraits. She painted 55 of them over her career. Here are two of the most famous. The one she gave to Trotsky is my favorite. 

Trotsky’s wife made him leave this gift from Frida behind when they moved.

Rivera gave her the monkey on her shoulder as a gift. Literally and figuratively.

If you’re looking for an entertaining, informative biography, I recommend Frida (it’s on Netflix) the next time your kids are far, far away.

Re-Openings Galore!

Good news! New York City’s museums are opening up this week, for the first time since March! Welcome back, Met! Welcome back, MoMA! You too, Guggenheim! Whitney! Frick! Isn’t it grand? I think we all tried some of the virtual tours these museums offered during lockdown, but (shocker!) it just wasn’t the same. Of the museums listed, I’ve only been to the Met. But I’ve done extensive research (lie) and I’m going to feature the most famous piece of art at each of these in celebration of their grand re-openings.

First up, the Mack Daddy of NYC museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Remembering all the incredible art here makes me immediately regret committing to “the most famous piece” as promised in the last paragraph. Impossible. So, I’m picking my favorite of the most famous pieces. Here’s a little painting that may look familiar- it’s only Degas’ MASTERPIECE, Dance Class.

Degas’ paintings are en pointe.

I love the subject (sometimes I have to talk myself down from the “Was Degas a pervert?” cliff, but once I do I just love his art so much.) The colors in this one are particularly beautiful, I think. The girls’ postures are incredible too. I love that he didn’t just paint them dancing, or at their very best, most poised selves. Instead, they’re tired, bored, maybe cursing out the girl who got the lead in Swan Lake, or contemplating the last episode of “Dance Moms.” I love it all.

Next, we have MoMA, where “modern” is a pretty relative term, if you ask me. The obvious choice here, is The Starry Night by our boy VVG. But I’m going to buttonhook you and go with The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau.

This was painted in 1897, btw. See what I mean about “modern?”

When I remember Rousseau was mostly self-taught, I want to put my fist through a wall. That is an unfair amount of talent. I love the colors in this one too, the detail, but also the simplicity. Also, what a bizarre subject choice. I’d love to have café au lait with Henri and ask, “Now the gypsy with the lion. Were you drawing from life experience, or….?”

The Guggenheim has the most fun name of the NYC art museums (rivaled only by Frick, in my opinion) and some super fun art to boot. The most viewed piece there is Kandinsky’s Composition 8, which was also the first Kandinsky Solomon Guggenheim acquired. When we were locked down, we had an art recreation competition and my daughter drew a similar Kandinsky (confession: they all kind of look the same to me.) and it won first place and a high five from me! I also must must must encourage you to Google “Puppy” at the Guggenheim because it’s another super fun piece.


Gertrude Whitney opened her museum after the Met refused her donation of 700 pieces of art. What the heck, Met? Bad form. The Whitney is now home to beautiful art, and gets to boast that Jackie O. came to the opening. Did she go to the Met’s opening? No, she did not. Because she wasn’t born.

I hemmed and hawed over a piece of art to pick from the Whitney, but in the end, the sunset behind this Cape Cod won. Game, set, match, if you will. Edward Hopper vacationed in Cape Cod and sunsets are always prettier on vacation. I think he nailed this one.

My grass is that same color right now. We need rain.

Frick is not just an ersatz for a bad swear word, it also boasts some of the best art in the world, including two of the sixteen known Vermeers! A fun fact about Vermeer is that he was well-respected with cartographers (aka “Map Scientists”) for his fantastic depictions of globes and maps, as seen on the wall in this painting.

Why did cuffs like his ever go out of style?

I love Officer and a Laughing Girl because… well, it features a laughing girl. Happy subjects were few and far between back in the day. Obviously, she and the officer ran away together shortly after this painting was complete. (I hope.) Don’t you think they have a sexy Wendy and Captain Hook thing going on? No? Are you frickin’ kidding me? (Couldn’t resist.)

If you live in NYC, you should visit an art museum this week because you can. Also, because “museum” sounds like “you see ‘em.” And that is something to be celebrated.

Netflix to the Rescue!

I don’t think I’m the only one who binge watched many shows during quarantine, am I? Frankly, Netflix was one of the brightest spots in my life. You know, besides my husband and kids. So, I feel the need to pay some respect to the shows that saw me through those long hard days of nothingness. My quarantine was also sponsored by Wine and Ice Cream.

That last paragraph read really pitifully, but I refuse to make apologies.

Cheer: My brother recommended this to me at the very beginning of quarantine. As if we needed more proof that he knows me really really well- I loved it! I watched it every day on the treadmill and got in amazing shape (just kidding. But I was SUPER excited to run every day!) Then my whole family watched it and I received great texts like, “Dad legit just flipped down the hall and into his office.” Cheer brought us Jerry, whose bright smile and mat talk dragged my bored, stagnant body through quarantine.

I couldn’t think of any cheerleading themed art off-hand, but I knew just who to Google. And guess what? Norman Rockwell did not disappoint. Here are two great illustrations he made of cheerleaders. Honestly, I think both exemplify our nation’s emotional state during the pandemic pretty well. Amiright?

I can feel all these emotions in a ten-minute time frame on a normal day.

But quarantine had me like….

Tiger King: “Hey all you cool cats and kittens!” Tiger King holds a special place in my heart because Jim and I watched it together, and there aren’t many things we agree on Netflix-wise. But this bizarre docuseries had it all: ridiculous haircuts for Jim to enjoy and sexy men for me to enjoy. Haha. It gave us something to talk about when we normally would have discussed what the other did that day, or the kids’ activities, or whatever boring facts we thought were interesting before Joe Exotic entered our tigerless lives. Even now that there are finally things to talk about, we might casually mention Carol Baskin, just to spice things up a little.

In honor of the tigers, who undoubtedly got the short end of the stick in that Netflix original, here is Henri Rousseau’s, “Tiger in a Tropical Storm” or “Surprised!”

Covid was a Big Cat-astrophe.

Incidentally, if Rousseau and his friend Matisse were to star in a docuseries, I would totally watch.

Schitt’s Creek: At our very last hockey game before the world shut down, I asked my friend (a prolific Netflixer) what I should be watching. She mentioned a few things that were so-so, then said, “You’ve watched Schitt’s Creek, right?” When I said she hadn’t, she exploded. “WATCH IT IMMEDIATELY.” So I did. Over and over and over. Because it is the best thing on television, if you ask me. And, as it turns out, “fold in the cheese” is an appropriate catchphrase for all situations in the world.

Painters know a thing or two about living in destitution. We would be here all day if we listed all the artists who lost everything in Rose family fashion. Instead, I’d like to pay homage to the beloved motel into which the Rose family is outcast.

Western Motel by Edward Hopper. Notice the lack of poison oak on the nightstand.

Can’t you just see Alexis and David fighting in this room over whose turn it is to get murdered first? Or Moira sitting on the bed saying, “Oh, I’d kill for a good coma right now.”

There you go- three shows I loved so much that I would have watched even without a pandemic lockdown! Thanks Netflix!

Set Sail on the Friendship!

The world is opening back up! I don’t want to brag, but last week I had dinner IN A RESTAURANT! Mexican, obviously. I ate my free chips and salsa and enjoyed my Diet Coke refills until my food came and I had to take it home because I was already stuffed. It was glorious. In addition to enjoying food in a restaurant, I also watched my kids skate for the first time since March, kissed my nephew’s fat baby cheeks blatantly, and without a mask, and we’ve been seeing friends! Friends friends friends! And not over FaceTime, but IRL!

It is so great to see people again. My beloved L.M. Montgomery said, “True friends are always together in spirit.” And she’s not wrong…. but it’s REALLY great to be together in person too! All this friendship inspired me to look at some famous artists who were BFFs. Or at least BFFAW (Best Friends For A While). 
1. Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin. Everyone knows about these two. They were dear friends, until they weren’t. They had a row (more modernly called “a fight”) and Vincent expressed his fury by cutting his own ear off. I know I’ve talked my friends ears off about this or that, but all cutlery has remained in the knife block.
“The Chair” Van Gogh made this as a sort of portrait of Gaugin. Pre-ear situation.
2. Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. How much would you give for these two to have a reality show together? They pushed the boundaries of mentorship to full-blown friendship. They collaborated on over 200 pieces of art. Jean-Michel using his graffiti skills and Warhol contributing his trademark brand name silk screen magic.
“GE Short Line & Reading”

3. Picasso and Matisse. Surprise! Maybe you thought they hated each other since sometimes it seems like they did. But everything I read says they actually held each other in very high regard and used their competitive spirits to challenge each other. They both had some pretty “out there” (some might say “ugly”) paintings, but together they modernized art. They may have had a lot of back and forth, but at the end of their lives, both had complimentary things to say about the other. Matisse relayed, “Only one person has the right to criticize me. It’s Picasso.” and Picasso quipped, “All things considered, there is only Matisse.”
Here are some honorable friend mentions:
~ Camille Pissaro and Paul Cezanne (actually, Cezanne seemed to have friendly connections with everyone in the world.)
~ Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning (but then Jackson couldn’t stop pronouncing his name “William” and they parted ways. I’m assuming.)
~ Degas and Manet (I’m team Degas. I can’t shake the feeling Manet is just a Monet wannabe.)
Enjoy your friends this week, friends!

Capturing the Wild West

I don’t know what’s taken me so long, but after spending last week out west, visiting some national parks, and driving through the incredible western scenery, it occurred to me. We need to talk about Ansel freakin’ Adams.

First off, here are some fun facts about one of the most famous photographers in the world:

  • 1.   First off, his name is hot: Ansel Easton Adams. He was going to be successful no matter what he did, amiright?
  • 2.   Secondly, he contracted the Spanish flu and survived! Yay, pandemic survivors!!
  • 3.   Adams was a gifted piano player; his initial plan was to make a living being a pianist… then he got a camera.
  • 4.  It’s thanks to Ansel that there is a photography section at MoMA.
  • 5.  His first and favorite national park to photograph was Yosemite. In his day, there were only 28 national parks, and he photographed 27 of them. He never did make it down to the Everglades.

But what about his art? 

I think you have to be half-crazy to scale this thing.

His most famous photo, I think, is Monolith, the Face of Half-Dome. It’s also one of his earliest works. He had one shot left and took a risk, using a glass plate that altered the tone of the picture. It worked. He claimed, “I had been able to realize a desired image: not the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me…”

Here is another photograph you may have seen: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. 

My moon pictures NEVER look like this.

How stunning is this photograph? And he just took it from the shoulder of the road, all nonchalant. My pictures from the car are blurry and crooked, but it’s fine. Totally fine. If you zoom in a little you can see the church and little white crosses of the graveyard giving the whole photo an eerie feel.

Finally, one I love, because it’s one of my favorite places to visit:

That river curves in all the right places.

It looks angry and majestic. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the river was superimposed. How could a river be so perfectly winding? And the clouds? Did he have those brought in for the photo shoot? They’re so perfect. If you’re interested, this photo is for sale for a Grand (Te)ton of money: $775,000.

Otherwise, feel free to enjoy my crappy picture for free:

Learning to Love Still Life

I’m just going to rip this band-aid off: I think still life paintings are boring. Always have. Even the genre name incites an image of somebody sadly throwing up their arms, disappointed in another day, and moaning, “Still. Life.” But these paintings of fruits and flowers can’t be ignored. All the greats have done a still life at some point, and I figured maybe I just didn’t know enough about them. My mom used to quote Lincoln at us all the time: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better!” So I thought maybe the same rang true for still lifes.

A while back somebody gave me some notecards with Van Gogh’s sunflowers on them. I still have them. I suppose I could send one out with my electrical bill or something- but they aren’t appropriate to send to a friend for any occasion at all. Despite the yellow, which is usually so cheery, VVG manages to make them sad:
This was basically how I felt when it rained all day Monday.
The yellow he used was a brand new pigment at the time, and to say Van Gogh was a fan is an understatement. He went nuts for the yellow! And his buddy Gaugin was nuts for the paintings. VVG gave him a couple as a gift (not on notecards), and Gaugin tried to claim another one as payment for some work he left with VVG. That ruffled some feathers, but they seemed to move past it eventually. 

Here is another still life I sort of like. Not as much as his painting of John the Baptist’s beheading, but that just says more about me as a person than anything else. I give you, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit:

At first I wasn’t exactly sure why I liked this better than other still lifes, but I’ve got it now. It’s the light background. Part of my problem with other still life paintings is that they’re often so dark I can hardly make out what’s what. Leave it to Caravaggio to do something cool with light. Also, in true Caravaggio fashion, his fruit is beginning to spoil. There is some conversation about whether he was just using whatever fruit was available, or intentionally used bad fruit. I set up camp in the latter group.

This next one gets a place on my list of good still lifes because there is so much to look at! For a still life, it is really entertaining. 
You might have to zoom in on this to get the full effect.
For one thing, there aren’t any fruits or flowers! Already very different. Pieter Claesz was famous for his still lifes, or (here’s a new word for me) vanitas, still life paintings that include symbols of life and death. See? Interesting! He adds a twist to this vanita by capturing a self-portrait of himself at the easel. Look in the crystal ball- there’s Claesz! I love it when artists hide little surprises. I also appreciate that he lightened the whole painting up with the violin. 

Tom Wessellmann was a more contemporary still life painter. Maybe I like his still lifes because they’re more relatable? Or because they’re brighter? Whatever the reason, I think all 3 million of them are a blast (just kidding about the 3 million number, but he did paint a lot of them.) 
Don’t you just want to sneak one of those Cokes right off the canvas?
Okay, okay, I’m warming up to still life paintings a little bit! I may always prefer a portrait or landscape painting over a bowl of fruit, but it turns out many still lifes have a lot to offer! Agree? Disagree? Do you have a favorite still life painting?