Bird in Space

Constantin Brâncuși, Bird in Space, 1923
I already dug art when I joined art history my junior year. I had seen contemporary shows at First Fridays, Town Center, the Country Club Plaza, etc. I was fully aware that despite my love for art, I knew absolutely nothing about the masters of the past, save for their names. As I expected, these once unfamiliar masters became beloved friends. Their works brought my life beauty, intrigue, even encouragement in difficult times. By the end of my junior year I believed that I had come to understand art better. I was wrong.

You see, I had created a very narrow definition of art for myself. That is to say I only sought out paintings and drawings. I thought that sculpture was neat, sure, but I never thought that it could move me like paintings did. After all, nearly all sculpture consists of handsome youths traipsing around in the nude, modeling themselves as Greco-Roman deities. That's what I thought at least, until I saw Bird in Space.

When I first lay eyes on Bird in Space my breath caught in my throat. I felt a rush of joy and excitement rush over me as I gazed upon its bronze curvature. Nothing I had learned could account for this feeling. It was just a shape. Just a perfectly sculpted, beautiful, electrifying shape on a base of wood. Nothing more. And yet, I could not ignore the emotions it instilled in me. In that moment, it became my favorite work, for nothing before or since has evoked the same reaction in me. Bird in Space taught me more than the worth of sculpture. It taught me the meaning of art.


  • 7:00 AM

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

I pull frantically at the heavy bronze doors of the Neue Gallerie to escape the rain. A doorman inside notices my distress and, while letting out an audible sigh of frustration, grudgingly allows me to enter the strangest building on Fifth Avenue. Sandwiched between two modern apartment structures, the Louis XIII/Beaux-Arts four-story house looks out of place and imposing. My eyes adjust to the darkened interior. The few raised eyebrows from my unorthodox entrance do little to deter me from my quest, an exhibition of photographs by Heinrich Keuhn, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Steichen. My soaked shoes squeak on the ornate wooden staircase as I climb to the third floor. I drip through the exhibit, neither inspired nor put-off by the small sepia squares. My ambivalence carries me back down the stairs to the second floor for a quick once-over. My initial curiosity turns into rapture as, across the room, I spot the most beautiful painting I have ever seen.

A more accurate statement would be that the painting spotted me. The eyes looking out from Gustav Klimt's Adele Bloch-Bauer I entrance me. I can't look away. The magnetism of the piece overwhelms my field of vision, and I sit down on a soft bench to marvel at its beauty. The afternoon light hits the gold inlay at the perfect angle, bathing the room in a golden glow. Adele Bloch-Bauer's flawless ivory skin radiates magnificence and splendor. Her clasped hands pull the swirling gown closer to her, enveloping her form in a cascade of gold and silver. The flakes of blue and red complement the luminosity of the gold and bring my gaze to her face.

I can't break eye contact with those eyes. Feelings of longing, wistfulness, and quiet enjoyment transfer from her to me. I feel singled out, entrusted with a secret. The background noise of other museum-goers fades as I look into those eyes. Soon, my field of vision starts to swim. The shine from the gold over-saturates my light receptors, and I have to look away.

As my eyes prick with tears, I realize that I finally get it—the reason why some people break down in front of a Rothko or stare transfixed at a David. Sitting there in my soggy shoes, I opened up enough to pour myself into a painting  I must've looked like a fool, smiling like a maniac, chest having with the rush of emotion. Leaving all the judgement and self-consciousness at the heavy bronze doors of the Neue, I was finally able to exchange with a painting a small part of myself. And in return, I received a small part of that painting to keep with me—always.

  • 7:00 AM

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose


Francisco de Zubarán, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose, 1633 

Though undoubtedly there's enough symbolism to go around twice for this painting, that's not the emphasis of this. For me, the Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose by Zurbarán isn't just a beautifully simplistic painting—it's a childhood memory.

The Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose has been in my memory since five. After all, it was printed on my piano book that I practiced with. Through frustrated tears, happy tears, and a vast pool of emotions, I stared hatefully or lovingly at the book. In times of frustration I stared stupidly at the painting, memorizing every crevice and detail, from the tiny wilting part of the pink rose to the shadow on the lemon that seemed to overextend. I had engraved the unknown painting in my memory.

Piano is half of me, and yet I hated it with a passion when I was younger. I hated the book cover, I abhorred the person who painted it, the stupid half-hidden pink rose, and the pure perfection of it. It sat on my piano, mocked me when I struck wrong notes, comforted me when I saw it peeking out of my bag in piano competitions. This book was like a friend that purposefully annoyed me, but I couldn't just toss it aside. It was too precious, in an unspeakable way.

Imagine my influx of emotions when I saw it on the screen in the Art History room. My eyes were wide, and I grinned like an overeager tourist. I had found the painting that's preceded any memory of art. (If you didn't know, I was completely blind-sided by the staggering amount of artists besides Da Vinci and Picasso.)

So, to my old piano book, falling apart at the plastic binding, with torn pages, food stains, and the plastic laminate peeling, hello old friend. I have finally found the painting that graces your old cover.

  • 7:00 AM

The Treachery of Images

Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1929

Speaking of the most impactful painting for me, this one can hardly be qualified. But it's no doubt one of the most unforgettable ones. If I recall correctly, my first encounter with this painting came with an assignment sheet on Candide, the sophomore year summer reading. Back then, I was no better a fool than Candide—didn't know what was going on and spent too much time sitting around idly. I certainly hope this situation has changed, if at all. Sadly, I still have no clue what this painting has to do with Candide. 

But I've always remembered it, and I always find a strange sense of humor in it. A pipe. Not a pipe. And a pipe. And not a pipe. It will mess with their minds, if some kids get a stack of flashcards with this one in it—apple, baby, cat, dog...and not-a-pipe. When Magritte was asked if the painting was a pipe, he suggested them to stuff it with tabaco. Funny. But children ought to stay away from such logic. Otherwise, where is the authority? Do we choose to believe in what we see or what we are told?

Another, more philosophical approach would probably be: where do we draw the line between reality and the the representative of reality? Magritte has brought up such deep questions with a simple object and a single line of text. Powerful. But if you are not a big fan of profoundness, the humor is equally amusing. After all, when Magritte and his friends got together, they didn't just sit down and create esoteric profoundness. So why not just have some good laugh? Everybody loves a joke.

  • 7:00 AM

Large Piece of Turf

Large Piece of Turf (The Great Turf), Albrecht Durer, 1503

When we first viewed Large Piece of Turf in class, I thought that the piece of art was not very interesting and didn't have much to it. When I first saw it, all I saw was grass. Then we discussed the painting more. I realized that the talent that Durer possessed in order to paint the single blades of grass was extraordinary. The realistic aspect of the painting is also quite impressive. Durer's attention to detail and color shows his dedication to the piece and how hard he worked to accomplish this in the painting. 

I also remembered Mr. Luce asking the students who were in the drawing and painting classes, which included myself, if we could paint with that concentration to detail. While I would love to say that I could, my skills cannot compare to Durer's. However, now when I paint or draw I think of this painting, and strive to get as close as my talents will let me to this incredible painting. By trying to practice these techniques that the experts use, my skills as an artist, I feel, have improved. Without this painting and the lessons I have learned from it in class, I might have not felt this inspiration to try and paint better than what I could already paint. 

The last aspect about this painting I realized was that it had a deeper message. Again, I had thought - that's just grass on an overcast day. But that just wasn't right. When we examined it further in class, we talked about the religious aspect of it. How the blades reach up towards the sky as if they are reaching towards heaven. This view was eye-opening to me. Since I had not seen a message behind the painting, I felt like I cheated the artist by not trying to understand what they were painting. I know when people go and see my artwork in the art show, I would want them to feel some kind of emotion from my painting and not just stare at it and decide whether it is good or bad. So I say, thank you Albrecht Durer. 

Editor's Note: The students were assigned to write about the artwork that has impacted them the most. These pieces will run for  about two weeks. 

  • 7:00 AM

Map of Toledo

El Greco Map of Toledo, 1570 

So as we closed out our class of Renaissance Art History this year, we finished with the Counter- Reformation. In this chapter El Greco illustrates for us a prime example of this period and new inventive ideas with painting. Viewers see his growth in his specific style of elongated and heavily outlined objects or bodies from The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind  to his Assumption of the Virgin. We studies his works in class, and going through slides everyone knew what was El Greco without hesitation. There is only one painter who could make scenes this dark and cluttered, and use the technique of shadowing and outlining to create space and guide the eye through the paintings scene.

I was privileged enough to have learned about El Greco previous to the Counter-Reformation chapter, and that is something I canot say about many other artists because like many others, I'm learning as I go. Nonetheless, earlier this year for a post about pretty much whatever we wanted (which I'm not always a fan of because my brain get too cluttered) I was stumped and came across this GIANT poster of Laocoon and his sons on the trusty walls of Mr. Luce's classroom. It wasn't like the Giotto's or Martini's I was learning about then, and getting to work with the piece made me look forward to a year or less crucifixions and more myths or stories.

This Map of Toledo surprised me. I had seen View of Toledo, and I really enjoyed it, but seeing this perspective with the man holding the map and looking out over the town is too cool. El Greco's dark sky hovering over the large city ready to be taken on by this fellow just knocks my socks off. The killer perspective and background use with the detail of the city screams El Greco, as do the the bodies and shadows. I guess this particular piece itself didn't give me a new revelation about art, but El Greco did, and that's pretty cool. That from the beginning of this journey to the last chapter, I can still admire his individualistic style and now with a better eye I can truly marvel at his technique.
Editor's Note: The students were assigned to write about the artwork that has impacted them the most. These pieces will run for  about two weeks.

  • 7:00 AM

Poplars

Claude Monet, Poplars, 1891

I don’t think I've ever taken away more from a class than I have this year. I learned how to appreciate things, how to look at something and see that there is more there than what I think I can simply see. Colors, shapes and composition are just parts of the piece, things everyone can see. But this year has taught me to feel, to place myself into the life of the artist when looking at his or her work. It’s something that I always thought people were joking about, when they said that a piece moved them or how inspirational a piece was. Now I see it.

To me, beauty does not have to be refined to be there - that’s something I learned this year. Impressionism epitomizes this, the artist just giving glimpses of a moment in time, any moment, instead of going into painstaking detail to show only an over-posed one. Short strokes not only allow the viewer to lose themselves in the movement, but also give more feeling than flat canvas. 

Claude Monet’s Poplars are the perfect example of my education, of my moment in time. At first, all I saw here  were bright colors and a lot of little strokes. It was confusing, but pretty. But I didn’t really look too far into it; I didn’t know how. Looking at it now, I see the skill and the magnitude of the work, I understand that the background is an equally important part of the scene. After all, that’s the whole point of what Impressionism was, to make you remember what you feel, to put that lasting impression on canvas for all to see and interpret. 

Kind of funny how much has changed. But this picture took me right back. I’ve never had that happen before - I never had such a strong reaction to a piece.

Editor's Note: The students were assigned to write about the artwork that has impacted them the most. These pieces will run for  about two weeks.

  • 7:00 AM

Undergrowth With Two Figures

Vincent van Gosh, Undergrowth With Two Figures, 1890

This is the final post of my junior year. That is foreign to write, so incomprehensible to think about, but it's here. It's been a vivid, chaotic, painful, brilliant blur of a year, and now it's coming to an end. The seniors are moving on to their futures, to college, to being grown-ups - whatever that means. They leave my class to step up, to become leaders, to wander through the undergrowth and grow into what we want to be. We have big shoes to fill, and even bigger holes in our hearts.

Van Gogh's piece is all too apropos for this bittersweet end. On my first day of Art History, nine months ago, we were asked to scour the library, find a painting we liked, and sketch it. Some people did better than others, artists showing off and others making chicken-scratch on their papers. But it didn't matter. It was all about the feel of the piece, the appreciation of its movement, and about some people's first real introduction to art. I found this in a giant book simply labeled "Impressionism" by accidentally dropping it and it falling open to one page. Van Gogh. The author sort of rambled about van Gogh's developing mental illness and schizophrenia, but all I could see was the journey, the growth of the trees out of the chaotic brush, and the two ghostly figures making their way through. They blend in with the stretched trees and almost disappear into the grass, but they're there, stepping forward.

After sketching at the speed of light and trying to make my drawing barely resemble the piece, my teacher told everyone to stop and began asking people to describe them. When it was finally my turn, my teacher looked to me curiously. I've never tried so hard not to shake in my life, and never failed so badly. I somewhat coherently sputtered out how the trees looked like bars, how harsh they were against the turbulent grass, and was commended on finding a piece he'd never seen. He then moved on casually, leaving me all too relieved and red-faced, intimidated by his gaze and the seniors who'd done this before. 

Things have changed, but that was the beginning of my more mature love of art. This piece changed the way I looked at it. Looking at art used to be private, something one admires in silence and hopes other people think you "get it." But now it's something to talk about, to debate, and something that changed the way I wrote altogether. I was so lucky to get to write about this piece, the one that inspired this mini-epiphany. I guess now it's time to walk out of the undergrowth. Now it's time to make myself a path through the trees and emerge stronger, better... It's time to grow up.

Editor's Note: The students were assigned to write about the artwork that has impacted them the most. These pieces will run for  about two weeks. 

  • 7:00 AM

Office in a Small City

Edward Hopper, Office in a Small City, 1953

At the end of sophomore year, a year ago right about now, I really wasn't familiar with art in any way. I could probably identify the most famous paintings, but I had no appreciation for art. I signed up for art history, and I thought it would probably be a pretty fun class. However, I wasn't really sure what to expect or whether I would ever develop an affinity for paintings in sculpture. Then, when I took the final exam for my English class, I discovered the first painting that I really connected with emotionally.

Hopper's works almost always resonate with me, but this one in particular had a vibe that I could understand. It felt easy to me to put myself in that man's shoes. I could empathize with him for some reason in a way that I rarely ever feel. He sits in the nicest office in his building, and yet he seems only more isolated for it. I love the color scheme--the washed-out beige tones and the faded blue sky seem to suck even more emotion out of the painting. I don't know what it was about that painting. Maybe it was that I saw it in conjunction with Raymond Carver's "Why Don't you Dance?" one of my favorite short stories. Whatever it was, that painting changed my perception of art forever. It made me understand that looking at paintings wasn't something that had to be done in cold, academic sense.

Paintings could be fun and interesting and evoke emotions in a reader that other media could not. In this past year I have seen a lot of art work. I'm not sure I have found one that I enjoy as much as this one. On that day in the middle of the whirlwind of finals, Edward Hopper taught me that art could be cool.

Editor's Note: The students were assigned to write about the artwork that has impacted them the most. These pieces will run for  about two weeks. 

  • 7:00 AM

Mary Magdalene

Donatello, Mary Magdalene, 1453-1455


Donatello’s collection of classical, perfectly proportioned sculptures make his departure from that formula all the more shocking. His Mary Magdalene, grim, unapologetically realistic, sacrifices those niceties to create a grim figure of human suffering and loss, but also of redemption. Wearing only her long, knotted hair, Magdalene looks slightly upwards, her lips parted and hands joined in prayer.

It is possible that Donatello himself - over sixty years old at the time of sculpting - might have suffered a debilitating illness before creating this work, and that his own suffering changed how he treated Mary Magdalene’s penance. Certainly Donatello had never created anything like this stark, emaciated figure. His contemporaries, too, were shocked. The fashion in Florence at the time was smooth, glazed clay statues such as those produced by Luca della Robbia. The public had no idea how to react to this radical new style.

Personally, I find the Penitent Magdalene stunningly beautiful. The emotion in Magdalene’s face and the raw empathy of the piece mean that it still holds meaning today. This piece was one of the first in our Art History course to provoke that emotional reaction, in contrast to those first stiff, fumbling efforts away from the Byzantine style. It has lost none of that impact today.
 Editor's Note: The students were assigned to write about the artwork that has impacted them the most. These pieces will run for  about two weeks. 

  • 7:00 AM

Birth of Venus

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1432

The assignment said three minutes. Three minutes to talk about our assigned painting. You could hope your classmates would ask you-time sucking questions, or that you’d be charming enough that one would need to hold for laughs, and suck up the three minutes that way, but you can never count on it. So I prepared to speak for three minutes. Myth of the characters, symbolism of the colors, and division in the composition all were supposed to take about a minute, with each bullet point to mention carefully selected. So my name was called, and up I went. Not intimidated or nervous, but cautious. Speak too quickly and end to early, or speak too slowly and sound clinical. Three minutes. Go.

I spoke like I read the painting, left to right, pausing to notice quirks and brilliant details. I had hardly reached Venus when I heard the timer sound, but the “keep going” nod of approval was relieving, not intimidating. On I went. I had spent enough time with this work to get not just the bullet points, but the… stuff. The fun stuff. The art stuff. I noticed new things as I went, and it was a thrill to continue. It wasn’t scary anymore, or presentational anymore. It was fun. I learned as I spoke. Myths are fun, art is fun. And when a visitor came, and one person needed to present again for them to observe our class structure, it was fun even a second time. Seeing The Birth of Venus doesn’t fill me with the stress of having to rack my brain for the artist or title, because I know that painting. I have a comfort with it. Now every time I see it I am reminded of three things: the comfort that comes with preparation, the connection one can have with story even if it is not their own, and how convenient Venus’ hair length is. And if that isn’t artistic observation...

Editor's Note: The students were assigned to write about the painting that has impacted them the most. These pieces will run for  about two weeks. 

  • 7:00 AM

Mont Sainte-Victoire


Paul Cézanne, Mont-Sainte Victoire, 1902-1906

In teaching, the logistics tend toward tedium. Papers stack and pens die. Numeric values must be put upon honest craft and summarily entered into electronic grade books that will somehow attest to the relative skill of those involved. Students, because they have been taught such, often place too much emphasis on such markers; and teachers do as well.

In Pangloss’s best of all possible worlds, such finite numbers would be unnecessary. Yet year after year, scores and critiques get scribbled in Pentel EnerGel black (sometimes red) and something feels not right about it.

The students who write this little postage stamp of art on the interwebs have learned in this past year the joys of self-expression. Certainly, they want to perform well in the class, but I hold out hope that having the courage to make their ever-evolving writing available in a public forum helps them understand that content, vision and voice matter – not grades.

Every year, teachers say goodbye to seniors in various ways – the handshake or hug, the silly words in a yearbook, sometimes even a token of appreciation, such as a mix cd or a favorite novel. For this particular group that’s moving on, I proffer a painting.

Parents can be quick to give teachers credit for the accomplishments of their children. Such praise can be as flattering as it can be humbling. However, what neither parents nor students may understand – these kids give us energy, provide us with inspiration, push us to be better. Any success that I have enjoyed as an art history teacher stems directly from the passion and exuberance of the youths who take the class, the ones who drink from that intoxicating elixir we call learning.

The seniors that have now left have delivered insight, handed out laughs, and done phenomenal work that regularly belies their youth. For them, I am thankful.

And for them, I give Cézanne. He was a grumpy old cuss, all locked away from the bustle of Paris in Provence. Fellow Impressionists dogged him, critics lampooned him. His marriage a shambles, his friendship with novelist Emile Zola a victim of what Cézanne saw as a character assassination in Zola’s novel L'Oeuvre. Commercially, he was pretty much a disaster. So he went all Thomas Pynchon and J.D. Salinger. But the further he turned inward, at least to me, the greater his paintings became. And as he aged, Cezanne’s influence spiked.

Pages and pages have been written about how 20th century art starts with Cézanne. Picasso famously claimed of Cézanne, “He was like the father of us all.” Picasso’s rival, Matisse, said, “Cézanne, you see, is a sort of God of painting.” I have made similar claims to students over the years, complete with a litany of formal aspects, theory and, frankly, reductive analysis – much like that numerical value we place on the craft of students.

But the true beauty of Cézanne emerges when standing in front of it. Teaching possesses a similar effect. We watch students blossom intellectually, and they will surprise and inspire us – if we let them.

Several years ago I stood in front of this painting and was moved to tears. I think of these seniors and do the same.


  • 7:00 AM

St. Peter's Baldachin

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter's Baldachin, 1623-34
In 1623 the Basilica of St. Peter was vastly under-decorated. The golden ceilings, tapestries, paintings, murals, sculptures, altars, and carvings were nice to look at, sure, but they didn't give the church the class that the Papacy was looking for. And so it came to pass that Pope Urban VIII, sick of worshipping in such a destitute chapel, ordered Gian Lorenzo Bernini to begin work on a marker for St. Peter's resting place. Something nice and flashy that would pull the room together, like a favorite rug might. So began the plans for St. Peter's Baldachin. 


Detail of St. Peter's Baldachin: columns and canopy 
The first problem that faced Bernini was creating a structure large enough to fill the space under the giant dome of the Basilica. He responded by fighting fire with fire, and built the canopy 95 feet high. In order to build the structure to such a massive height, Bernini and his benefactors were forced to borrow materials - especially bronze - from older, less interesting creations like the Pantheon. So much bronze was scavenged from the city's architecture that the people of Rome began to whisper quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini, or "what the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did." Truly, a reputation worth all the bronze in Europe. But at least the beautiful, twisted, Solomonic columns that called for all of the material were one of Bernini's finer ideas, right? Alas, even the idea was pillaged from an architect by the name of Carlo Maderno, who had drawn up a design of his own not long before Bernini was put on the job.


Detail of St. Peter's Baldachin: coat of arms
While some of what went into the construction of the Baldachin suggested that Bernini and his bosses were devoid of moral fibre, some of it showed a severe deficiency. The Baldachin is credited entirely to Bernini, scholars aren't entirely certain which parts of the structure he actually contributed to. The project marked the first time that Bernini acted as an administrative figure, rather than primary artist, giving way to an age of uncertainty regarding his works and their true authorship. Of course, artists have always had their assistants and apprentices, but its a practice rooted in a brand of ego found only in the department store of fame. And though the Baldachin bears St. Peter's name and marks his grave, Bernini made sure to cover it with the sigil of his very own patron saint, Urban VIII. The base of each of the columns has a carved Barberini coat of arms. What better way to ensure future employment than to memorialize your employer in stone?


And yet, despite all of my griping about the politics surrounding the piece, I cannot bring myself to dismiss it. How could I? Its soaring columns, dramatic statuary, and massive scale command the eye in a building already filled to the brim with beautiful decorum. And whatever kissing up Bernini may have done pales in comparison to the masterful planning and execution that went into the coats of arms. Each represents a stage in childbirth - from conception through delivery - in a tasteful, yet daring show of talent. Sure, the methods may have been questionable, but what the Barberini built, barbaric or not, no one else could have.

  • 7:00 AM

Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino

El Greco, Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino, 1609

Most of El Greco's portraits lack discernable features in the background. It is not unusual that he limits his color palette in Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino to white, black, and brown. And though that left wrist looks mighty odd as it seems not to have an arm attached, it still is not what makes the painting stand apart. The strange thing about Fray Hortensio, a portrait of Hortensio Felix - a poet, friar, and friend of El Greco's - is the way in which Hortensio is portrayed within the context of his chair and robe.

With the exception of his Portrait of a Cardinal and Fray Hortensio, El Greco seems to rely on the face to reveal the personality of his subjects, ignoring or simply excluding the rest of the body. His subjects are poised, proper, and still. Even Portrait of a Cardinal depicts the Cardinal in a pose that reflects his high standing in the church. Hortensio, however, seems on the verge of slouching in his seat, casually lounging as his portrait comes to life, stroke by stroke. His body looks frail and lost in the great sea of his friar's habit. His pose does not suggest his fame or importance.

Yet still he sits, smugly gazing back at the viewer with dark, piercing eyes. His strength lies not in his stature. Rather, he makes himself a giant in the intellectual arena. At his side he clutches two books, likely the Bible and a book of poetry. The larger of the two dwarfs what the viewer can see of Hortensio's physique, but also reflects the power of his mind.

Interestingly enough, Hortensio's powerful mind, though it made him a staunch supporter of most arts, also led him to decry all nudes. He once went so far as to demand that the best of these should be burned for the good of society. The best of these would no doubt have included many of El Greco's most famous works. That's a poor way to repay a friend for painting you.

  • 7:00 AM

Prussian Blue


Thomas Phillips, Prussian Blue, 1816

William Thomas Brande and Michael Faraday Making Prussian Blue, by Thomas Phillips, reflects the experience I had throughout high school. I am greatly thankful and honored to have great teachers.  Their dedication and hard work shapes the students for success.   

Besides the knowledge, our teachers care and want you to succeed with optimism/ strength. Either Mrs. Guldin taking weekends off to help her AP students or Mr. Crumm arriving thirty minutes early to help with Chemistry. I hate to point out just two, but the blog would never end. It is the care and strength the teachers have that made my high school experience unforgettable. 

Thank you to all the teachers for your kind and dedicated sprit. You are an inspiration to every student you had. I cannot express enough of my appreciation. I hope all of you the best.   

  • 7:00 AM

Cupid and Psyche

Jacques Louis David,  Cupid and Psyche, 1817

Girl, would you look at that body? Perhaps Jacques Louis David's funniest painting, Cupid and Psyche depicts the beginning of the couple's tumultuous relationship. "Tumultuous?" you may well ask. "How is this tumultuous? A handsome young man and his fair skinned maiden just waking up from a light night 'tumble,' all seems right to me." And that it should. David has gone out of his way to spice up the allegory from Metamorphoses, and has done so brilliantly. It's nothing too glaring: Just a smug grin on cupid's face, a gentle moving of the lover's arm, an open window and a winged rogue to escape through it. These details are what first made me love this painting.

The story behind the work is a wonder in and of itself: Once, a king and queen raised had three daughters, the youngest by the name of Psyche. Psyche was so beautiful that the people of the kingdom gave offerings to her instead of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Of course, this made Venus pretty upset, and so she asked Cupid to enact some sort of punishment upon the young girl. Cupid, like any good henchman, falls in love with the young girl instead.

 Basically, time goes on, Cupid doesn't do his job, doesn't claim Psyche for himself, and eventually people start to wonder why Psyche hasn't been married. An oracle cries wolf - or rather unholy dragon offspring - and Psyche is whisked away to a mansion in the middle of nowhere where an invisible Cupid seduces her and makes her his wife. All right, all right, let's get to the good parts by doing this middle bit quick: Cupid leaves every morning before sunset (again, note the pleased grin), all goes well until Psyche's sister comes to visit and insists that Psyche look upon her lover. Cupid is so hot that she spills hot lamp oil all over him and he runs away. Smooth.

So while Cupid runs home and sobs into his manicured hands, Psyche wanders the earth looking for him. She tries in vain to call on the help of the goddesses Ceres and Juno, and finally offers her service to Venus herself. Venus gives her three tasks of increasing difficulty, and Psyche finds herself constantly wishing for death, but each time she is saved by an animal or talking object that encourages her to keep going. Finally, after completing these first three trials, Psyche is tasked with traveling to the underworld to borrow some of the queen of the underworld's beauty. She performs her task beautifully until she opens the box and falls into a deep cursed sleep.

"Oh no!" you may say, but fear not! True love wins out in the end as always. Cupid finally nurses his "wounds" and comes to wake Psyche with ambrosia, the drink of immortality. The two are married and give birth to a beautiful daughter. Note: Daughter. Not a scary dragon.

  • 7:00 AM

Over Vitebsk

Marc Chagall, Over Vitebsk, 1915

Marc Chagall's Over Vitebsk is a modernist masterpiece that evokes the powers of simple geometry and complex composition all at once. Its plays on color are stunning, the yellow and blue amongst a world of white and grey. The faceless wanderer floating above the city, sack in hand, not only stands in for Chagall's departure from his home town, but also for the escape of Jews from the oppression of Russian  prejudice. However, all of these things have been said, and said, and said again. Instead of harping on the artistic merit of this particular painting, I believe we'll all have a much better time exploring the theft of the painting that came before it. 

Marc Chagall, Study for Over Vitebsk, 1914
Study for Over Vitebsk, a dark painting no bigger than a sheet of printer paper with an estimated value of $1 million, hung in a temporary collection of Chagall's entitled "Marc Chagall: Early Works from Russian Collections" on June 7th, 2001 when it was stolen straight off the wall. For several days, no clues came up as to the whereabouts of the painting. Finally, a letter was delivered to the museum from an organization calling itself the International Committee for Art and Peace.

 It was a ransom note like no other. The thieves had no intention of profiting from the work. Instead they asked for something straight out of a Miss America pageant: Peace. The thieves promised the Jewish Museum of New York City that the painting would be returned when the Israelis and Palestinians could achieve peace between their nations. A noble cause, to be sure, however, the thieves' plans were not well laid. As it turns out - and this may come as little surprise - museums don't have much sway in international relations, and the Jewish Museum was forced to give up what little hope they had left of ever seeing its painting again. 

That is until it showed up in a post office in Topeka, Kansas, where its packaging was opened after being deemed undeliverable. Following a series of calls to the F.B.I. in my hometown of Kansas City, the painting was promptly returned to its owners in St. Petersburg. Though the painting and its owners had their happy ending, the thieves never got theirs. Theft may not be the most morally sound method of encouraging world peace, but it begs the question: If lives and art are equally threatened by a world at war, what is safe?

  • 7:00 AM

Mars

Diego Velasquez, Mars, 1640

Velasquez's Mars is satire, pure and simple. The powerful god of war isn't slaying foes in battle, or standing with arms akimbo with the wind blowing through his magnificence mustache - he's tired, melancholy  and maybe a little defeated.

So why surround the god of war with such pastel colors? The baby pinks and blues clash with the hard metal of his shield and helmet -- but they certainly add to the ridiculousness. A working theory concerning poor Mars' melancholia is his unrequited love for Venus, who's married to Vulcan. Velasquez painted another work titled Vulcan's Forge where Apollo informs Vulcan of Mars' infatuation with his wife -- while Vulcan works on armor for Mars. Maybe this painting is the follow-up to that meeting. A lover's quarrel or a confrontation could put anyone in a foul mood.

Velasquez strips Mars of his power and strength and makes him look absolutely ridiculous. Is this an allegory about the trappings of love? Or perhaps a comment on the more sensitive soldiers of the Spanish army. It's up to you to decide.

  • 7:00 AM

Two Children Teasing a Cat

Annibale Caracci, Two Children Teasing a Cat, 1590

As artists battled and created in the 16th century, challenges were created from peer to peer to push these talents to their peak. Carracci and fellow painters discussed the impossibility of painting a figure in the act of laughter. From the lines on the face to the position of the features, the task seemed impossible. Harder still, suggested an artist of the time, was to depict a figure in the act of crying. Expression, color of the eyes, and painting of the actual tears themselves would be beyond difficult. Caracci, however, made up for in smarts what he lacked in artistic ability when she painted Two Children Teasing a Cat.

Two figures, most likely a brother and a sister, smugly provoke a cat with scorpions. The result is inevitable. Tease a cat, you will be scratched. Viewers can see the scene play out. The first child to be scratched will cry and wail while the sibling will likely laugh at the other’s misfortune, before being ultimately scratched themselves. There is little room for debate regarding the ultimate outcome. The child will be scratched, the child will cry. So, he did it. Without painting any tears, or laughs, or even teeth, we see the figures in these acts. By painting just one moment in the scene, Carracci has enough to play it display it in its entirety, an incredible artistic and intellectual feat.

  • 7:00 AM

Triton Fountain

Bernini, Triton Fountain, 1642-43
Before Bernini, fountains didn't breathe. The water didn't undulate down the perfectly sculpted forms. Attention was paid more to the figurative and symbolic aspects of the piece, not the artistic. Fountains were meant to be seen, not felt.

Bernini's Triton doesn't stand stoically tall with his name-sake staff, staring off into the middle distance with vacant eyes. It's involved, active, and relatable. Triton guzzles water like it's his life force while four dolphins rear up to support his often-depicted shell. Although Triton isn't standing, he cuts just as formidable of a presence. His torso ripples with muscle and his long beard, saturated with water, glistens in the sun.

Triton is Bernini's first fountain, but he's no novice. Triton embodies what Bernini does best, and only hints at what's to come.

  • 7:00 AM