Art for the Heart

In case you didn’t get enough romance on Valentine’s Day (I, for one, had dinner with my mom, sister, and sister-in-law. Lovely, but the opposite of romantic.) let me help! Things are about to get steamy at Nice and Easel. If you are a blusher, hold on to your Victorian-style hand fan and get ready to cool yourself, because we’re looking at romantic pieces of art today.

Rodin’s marble sculpture: “The Kiss” Their love was solid.

Before there were soap operas, there were scandalous sculptures. Auguste Rodin wasn’t impressed with his sculpture. He called it a “knick-knack following the usual formula.” The Kiss features a marble Francesa da Rimini, having an affair with her brother-in-law. Rodin was commissioned to create bronze doors for a new museum in Paris. The Kiss was going to be part of the cast, but Rodin decided against it. Instead the sculpture sat half-done for a decade in his studio. When he did release it, people went nuts because it’s hot. Less hot: da Rimini and her BIL were murdered by her husband when he found out about their affair. Dante meets them in the second circle of hell. You might say it’s one hell of a sculpture.

I wonder how many couples have gotten engaged here? Love it!

I know you know this one. Robert Indiana did an entire series of LOVE sculptures that have become iconic. He created about fifty of them around the world in different variations, but always with that Indiana flavor. In the same way Rodin wasn’t enamored with The Kiss, Indiana didn’t “love” the LOVE series. I mean, he was probably just sick of making it over and over, right? Plus, he became known as a bit of a one-hit wonder. He lived out his last years as a recluse on an island off the coast of Maine.

By artist Antonio Canova. Hot name. Hot sculpture.

Last week my eight-year-old came home from school and confessed she and her friend got hushed by the teacher because they couldn’t stop saying “stupid cupid” and they were cracking themselves up. Of course I played Mandy Moore’s song for her right away. Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss is one of my favorite romantic pieces of art. It’s so soft and dreamy and tender. Cupid is saving Psyche’s life (she stupidly opened a flask from Venus despite warnings) with a kiss. Later the gods give permission for the two to marry, making Psyche the goddess of Soul. Sigh. 

I hope your Valentine’s Day was less scandalous than da Rimini’s inter-family affair, fun as Indiana’s LOVE icon, and romantic as Cupid’s kiss. XOXO

The Light and Dark Side of Magic Realism

Over the weekend I enjoyed a little stage art. My daughter and I saw The Illusionists, a Broadway show featuring six different magicians specializing in different types of magic- we saw The Daredevil, who did Houdini-esque stunts, The Elusive (now you see it, now you don’t!), The Sleight of Hand guy (he had a fancier name), etc. My favorite was the Mentalist, and not just because he wore suspenders and a bow tie. With tons of practice I could at least understand the other magicians, but he left me totally confounded. The only explanation is that he really was magic!

Magic realism was never my favorite kind of art, but now I’m torn, like a girl sawed in half. It is often such dark art, like this self-portrait by Ivan Albright (ages ago I posted about his painting in the Chicago Institute of Art, That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do):

I admire it. There’s no denying Albright’s talent, but his stuff is a little dark for me. Most magical realism is. But then I see something like this by Canadian artist Rob Gonsalves, and I swing like a hypnotist’s watch and LOVE magical realism!

This (tree)tops all.

Wikipedia cites Matthew Stretcher defining magical realism as, “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.” Like the time I saw a guy give a pufferfish CPR and it came back to life, maybe? Have you ever experienced anything too strange to believe? What about the Spanish magician who announced he was going to disappear? “Uno!” he exclaimed, “Dos!” And then he vanished!!! Without a tres.  

Avocadon’t You Love Superbowl Ads?!

Before there was Nice and Easel there was AdBits, my first blog. Yes, my love for art extends to the creative art that is media in the form of commercials. Now we only have Netflix, so I never get to see commercials anymore, but Superbowl Sunday? Is a happy day for me. Here were my favorite commercials in no particular order:

    Turbo Tax (all people are tax people)
    Snickers (the world needs a Snickers)
    Avocado Baby Gear

Honorable mention goes to the Google ad with Loretta. It lost points for making me face mortality.

Let’s talk about number three. Avocados are having their moment, aren’t they? At Christmas we had to buy some secret Santa gifts for my kid’s teammate and she was like, “Oh, just get her anything avocado.” My daughter herself received an avocado heating pad and shirt that says “Avo Great Day!” My other daughter has a shirt that reads, “Just a Girl Who Loves Hockey and Avocados!” Then Molly Ringwald (I heard they paid her a lot of avocadough for this roll) comes along with a killer commercial for this amazing fruit, that we sort of think is a vegetable, but really not that either.

I never realized how often avocados show up in the most famous pieces of art, until I really started looking. Take these for example:

Avocados are amazing time after time.

Avocados rock!

The Birth of Venus’ love for avocados.

And just in case you came here, really trying to learn something serious today, let me offer you this: There is no famous avocado art. But here are some avocado fun facts that really guac! Er… rock!

    People in South Central America have been eating avocados for 10,000 years!
    Americans haver been eating it for about 50 (and we think we’re trendy- ha!)
    Avocados have had some other names throughout history: Fertility Fruit, Alligator Pear, Butter 
   Avocados have a long-standing reputation as an aphrodisiac. FYI. (Valentine’s Day is coming up! 
       Maybe a nice bouquet of avocados for your sweetheart?)

I promise next week I’ll be back to talking about art. I just couldn’t resist that funky fruit! I know- my lack of discipline is PITiful.

Merry Merry Christmas!

This year, more than others, I am seeing so much stress and sadness surrounding Christmas. It is heartbreaking, but understandable. This time of year seems to magnify all our emotions, good and bad. I’ve been lifting so many friends up in prayer, that they would get through this season with minimal pain, but it’s harder to pray for strangers. The other day my friend, who is lovely and friendly and joyful said “hello” to a stranger while out shopping and the woman sarcastically called her a jolly elf and swore at her. What?!
I knew immediately what piece of Jesus artwork I wanted to feature today. It’s the most joyful Jesus picture I can think of:
Jesus Laughing
This painting was hanging in my elementary school growing up. Jesus isn’t often depicted as smiling, let alone laughing- but more and more are being created, which I love. No doubt Jesus laughed a lot in his short life. The guys in my family take a fishing trip every other year and they come back with hilarious stories, so I know Jesus and his disciples had a blast on their fishing boats. Not to mention gauging reactions to miracles and schooling Pharisees.
There isn’t much information about this painting, but we know it was done by Willis Wheatley, a Canadian artist, in 1973. It was originally titled Jesus Christ Liberator. When Wheatley passed away, the United Church of Canada acquired rights to it, and they allowed some priests in San Francisco to mass produce it (the priests changed the title to The Laughing Christ). An artist in northern Michigan (holler!!) added color and really began mass producing (giving it one final name change: Jesus Laughing); now there are over 1 million copies floating around, including the one at Faith Lutheran elementary.
I hope the rest of your holiday season, and the rest of your year (decade!) is spent with a smile on your face and the joy of Jesus in your heart. May you laugh your way through Christmas and smile your way into the New Year. May nobody swear at you. May you have no need to swear at anybody else. In this season, I hope we will remember the baby Jesus from our nativity scenes grows into a joyful, laughing adult. And that is no joke.

Why Did the Turkey Cross the Road?

To prove he wasn’t a chicken!

Happy Thanksgiving Eve! I am hosting my first Thanksgiving tomorrow with a whopping three additional people bringing our grand total to 8 turkey-eaters. Needless to say, my stress level is at a minimum. In fact, it’s been fun pulling out the dishes and platters and cooking utensils that never get used on non-holiday days!

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a famous turkey paintings, but all Google wants to pull up are famous Turkish artists. Maybe we’ll explore them next Thanksgiving. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to highlight John James: bird painter and turkey enthusiast.

Though John James sounds like a super American name, he was actually born in France as Jean Rabin. His dad was a ship commander and fought for America in the American Revolution (thank you!) Little Jean lived in the Caribbean while a bunch of political stuff happened, then went back to France with his dad. When he was eighteen, he set off for the U.S. and legally changed his name to John James Audubon. Yes, that Audubon!

Here is what you need to know about John James: He. Loved. Birds. Loved them. Lots of artists love art and then might become obsessed with a subject (see Monet, lily pads or Van Gogh, sunflowers), but Audubon loved birds first and simply wanted a more accurate representation of them to exist, so he began painting them. He is the first known bander in North America and discovered 25 new species of birds. His home was a virtual museum of eggs, and animals he taxidermized himself. Then, at age 41, he began publishing The Birds of America, in which he drew 435 birds.

Friends, I give you the image he chose to be the first in his giant book…. Wild Turkey:

I’d also like to lay to rest a rumor that James John Audubon was arrested. He actually had no part in “fowl play.” He did, however, kick his smoking habit “cold turkey.” Really though, he captured many unique birds. How do you catch a unique bird? Unique up on it, of course!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The DIA’s Creepiest Exhibit

Remember a few weeks ago I promised a creepy Halloween post? Let’s get right to it because I’ve been saving this picture on my phone for a few weeks and whenever I see it I get the heebie-jeebies. And worse than that, it makes me say things like “heebie-jeebies.”

Chucky’s got NOTHING on this trio!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!! How scared are you on a scale of 1-10? Ten? Me too. Happy Halloween!

These beastly puppets were on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Carla and I almost missed them, but they’re positioned next to the bathroom in the basement as not to scare the field trip kids, I’m sure. The proximity to the bathroom is handy in case you need to throw up after seeing them, or put a wet paper towel on your forehead lest you faint.

Punch and Judy have deep roots. The first Mr. Punch dates back to 1662! The marionettes’ show stuck around for years and even George Washington reportedly went to a show or two. Eventually the characters became hand puppets (less creepy than marionettes? Or more-so? Discuss.) Punch and Judy were the staple characters of course, but the supporting characters were quite diverse. There was a crocodile, clown, hangman, skeleton, and lawyer. (Insert lawyer joke of your choice here.) The Devil (seen above) was a popular character who often came to battle Mr. Punch and threaten the audience (in real life, and then I’m sure later, as they tried to sleep.)

As if this weren’t bizarre enough, common plotlines include the hangman showing up for Mr. Punch only to be tricked into putting his own head in a noose. Fun for the whole family, right? Apparently in the 21st century they finally did away with the hitting of the baby, but before that the DIA info board explains, “In one storyline, Punch accidentally kills his baby, then attempts to conceal the deed by killing Judy and others.” Are you also wondering how we moved from this kind of entertainment to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?

As you can see, Punch often carried a stick for beating pretty much everyone, which is where the term “slapstick” comes from. The puppets’ features are bright and exaggerated so they can be seen on stage from far away. The DIA did not post the artist’s name who made these particular puppets. My guess is they simply rose from the ashes one Halloween night.

Go Fourth and Celebrate!

Happy Independence Day Eve! Or, if you’re Canadian, Happy belated Independence Day! You are no doubt heading somewhere fun to celebrate. (Maybe on a lake! Maybe to a spectacular fireworks show! Maybe to put new flooring in, which is what we plan to do.)

I could never have a favorite war. That is ridiculous. But that Revolutionary War sure was a Big Win, and I’m eternally grateful for it. Below are a few of the Americans (I bet that term was music to their ears) you probably recognize from history class, or a two dollar bill!

Robert Livingston helped write the DoI, but didn’t sign it! He thought it was too soon to declare independence. 

I haven’t seen one of these babies in a looooong time!

Some people think it looks like Thomas Jefferson is stepping on John Adams’ foot, representing their political differences, but experts agree the feet are actually just very close. I wish politics today were as respectful as these gentlemen were. But that’s a soapbox for another day! 

I admit, I couldn’t remember the other two chaps who helped write the Declaration of Independence. You probably paid better attention in history class, but just in case it’s on Jeopardy next time you’re watching, they were Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. 

However you’re celebrating your independence tomorrow, I hope you are happy, safe, and exercising your right to the pursuit of happiness!

Talking Goth

As promised, I did not forget about the beloved Notre Dame! I trust in the last couple weeks you’ve seen more pictures of the world’s most famous cathedral than you can shake an aspergillum at, so I won’t post more pictures here. No doubt, we also know that Notre Dame was touted as the loveliest, most famous example of French Gothic architecture in the world. I’m just going to say something here and risk the backlash. 

French Gothic architecture is… not my favorite. Am I devastated that this incredible, ancient house of God burned? Completely. I’m just saying. Gargoyles? Not pretty. 

Why do they want to scare the parishioners?

In addition to my disdain toward gargoyles, I also don’t love the thin, elongated, often distorted figures characteristic of Gothic art. BUT(tress), I do appreciate its grandeur. Plus, religion is at the core of all French Gothic art, which I always find fascinating. We also have the French Gothic artists to thank for making stain-glass so popular. So, I admit, though it isn’t my favorite art period, it certainly has plenty of merit.

Take Enguerrand Quarton’s Pietà of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, for instance.

It’s unique as a pieta in that Quarton included other figures besides Jesus and Mother Mary. John is holding Jesus’ head, and Mary Magdalene weeps on the far right. It’s lovely. Jesus’ mom looks peaceful, which is characteristic of most pietas. It implies she has known from the beginning the fate of her first-born, that He isn’t gone for good. 

Zoom in to see the halos around John, Mary, and Mary’s heads.

I wish the other guy wasn’t in it. Apparently, that is Jean de Montagnac, the fellow who commissioned the painting. Is he really contributing to the scene? I would argue not. But it was a different time; if you paid for a painting, you could also be featured in the painting, and that was that.

Another difference between then and now: if a church was built today with the grandiose of Notre Dame, it would face all kinds of scrutiny, and rightly so! We don’t need swanky churches; we need to use our resources more wisely (and humanely) than that. Which is why there will never be another Notre Dame. They’ll repair that one of course, but it will never be the same. Huge chunks of the greatest example of French Gothic architecture are just gone forever. And that is enough to make even the most gargoyle-fearing girl cry.

Holy Week Art

Please don’t think because I am not blogging about the Notre Dame fire, it wasn’t on the short list for today’s post. I want to write about that very, very soon. But it is Holy Wednesday, after all, and (French people, don’t hate me!) Resurrection still trumps disastrous fire. I think Notre Dame would agree.

Holy Wednesday (also called Spy Wednesday, which is what FBI agents call every Wednesday, so I’m sticking with Holy Wednesday) is the day Jesus went to Simon the Leper’s house and Mary Magdalene poured that super pricey oil on his feet, while Martha tidied up (it would be hard not to worry about dust bunnies when the Savior of the world is sitting in your living room, right?!) Of all the anointing pictures I found, this is my favorite.

I’m not sure who the artist is. I found it on James Woodward’s website, but it’s unclear if he’s the artist. If you know, tell me! Isn’t it lovely? Mary’s anguish is practically tangible. And Jesus, as always, is acting as Comforter even though we all know He’s the one deserving of comfort here. It’s just so Jesus. And that hand! It communicates strength, protection, and love, rather than fear, nerves, and judgement. There’s a lot of feeling portrayed in that hand.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also take this opportunity to post my favorite painting of all time: The Last Supper. I don’t care if that is cliché. My second favorite is Mona Lisa (just kidding.) There is just SO MUCH SYMBOLISM in The Last Supper! I eat it right up. Ha. A little Maundy Thursday humor for you. Truly, I could read interpretations of this painting all day. Da Vinci really brought his A-game with this one. Though he picked a heck of a project to start experimenting with tempera and oil. Epic fail.

My favorite part of this painting is… well, Jesus. He’s always my favorite. But my second favorite is Thomas. He’s often depicted in paintings as pointing or waving his index finger around. That’s a nod to when Jesus returns and Thomas insisted on putting his finger in Jesus’ wounds. Isn’t that brilliant? There’s much conversation about whether Leonardo meant to portray Jesus with a natural sort of halo from the daylight, or that’s just conincidence. I think it was intentional, because it was just the style to do so in the Renaissance, introduced by none other than our man, Da Vinci. What do you think?

I hope you all have a blessed week of reverence. I hope you get to hear a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.” I hope your church is jam packed and that you cry tears of joy throughout the service. I hope you eat good food with people you love. That you don’t stress about the dust bunnies! That you delight in little girls and boys in their Easter outfits. And most of all, that your Easter Sunday is lovely, meaningful, and sacred.

Jamaican Good Art!

Hump Day has never felt so good! Reality didn’t hold back at all in slapping me in the face after Spring Break last week. Jim and I went to Jamaica, where it was all sleeping in and mint mojitos. My alarm sure did go off early on Monday. We’re slowly getting back into the swing of things, but every now and then I still taste a mix of mint and sunscreen and it takes me back to this time last week when winning a friendly shuffleboard bet* was my biggest stressor. 

We enjoyed a lot of the country’s musical art, but didn’t see much in the way of the visual arts. I did some research to find some Jamaican art to share!

Barrington Watson is the big wig in Jamaican art. He attended the Royal College of Art in the UK (to start with; if I listed his whole resume, we’d be here all day!) and painted scenes like this one, that I love so much!

Does this capture motherhood, or what? Except the laying down part.

Ken Spencer had less prestigious training (that is, he went to all the most famous museums in Europe and taught himself the best techniques), but is still described as Jamaica’s most “prolific” artist. His art is much more Impressionistic than Watson’s, but I love the bright colors he uses!

I met a fisherman in Jamaica, and he really did look like this!

Spring Break might be over, but never mind me; I’m just going to gaze at these paintings and try not to spill this mojito on my keyboard.

*Are you curious about the bet? If I won, Jim had to stop rehashing the Michigan State basketball game; if he won, I couldn’t keep trying to make an itinerary while we were on vacation. He won by ONE POINT! It was “Izzo this and Ward that” the rest of the week!