Sherlock and Nighthawks

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

(This post refers to the clip from 22:57, where the video should start, to 27:13).

BBC's Sherlock is only one of countless adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 19th-century mystery stories.  But the British channel remodels Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's adventures and situates them in present-day London, fundamentally changing each mystery with the advent of cell phones, fast transport, and the internet. Each episode echoes one of Doyle's works -- "A Study in Scarlet" becomes "A Study in Pink," "The Sign of Four" turns into "The Sign of Three," and so on.  But despite the evolved stories, the aspect of the show that has been most altered is the characters.  Sherlock Holmes' most well-known quality, in both the books and the television series, is his power of deduction, by which he can surmise most peoples' life stories at a glance. He becomes a self-proclaimed "consulting detective," solving crimes with New Scotland Yard with the help of new colleague Dr. John Watson. He lives for intellectual stimulation by solving crimes and suffers from an otherwise constant state of manic-depressive boredom, conducting science experiments and shooting holes in the walls of his ill-kept flat.

The central figure of "Nighthawks" sits alone at the bar, evidently isolated but also trapped in the exit-less building, staring at either the social interaction across the room or maybe his drink. A similarly dressed man with his white mug in the same position as the central figure's sits next to the woman in red, so the figure might even envision himself by her side, a surrogate of himself caught up in the alien banter. The man with the turned back, in any case, does not seem quite content in his solitude.

The clip above comes from the newest season and shows Sherlock's slow evolution into a sympathetic character. At the beginning of the scene, John has just asked a dumbstruck Sherlock to be his best man, and the video transitions to Sherlock's best man speech at John's wedding. While his written words are eloquent, he cannot quite seem to understand his audience's reactions and is uncomprehending when they get teary and need him to pause. He, ironically, has acute powers of perception but cannot comprehend others' emotions.  Sherlock is Hopper's man with the turned back, observing from afar but never quite in touch with others.  It is no wonder that he leaves the wedding early and alone. Other characters speculate on Holmes' mental condition and seeming inability to empathize, labeling him a psychopath (to which he counters, "high-functioning sociopath"). Sherlock wears his self-diagnosed mental illnesses like a shield against emotion and acknowledging his loneliness.

The figure in the painting could also be John Watson, a recently returned and psychologically average Afghanistan veteran who becomes Sherlock's flatmate. Sherlock recruits him on his adventures for his skills as an army doctor, and Watson eagerly follows along. He allegedly seeks a normal life and relationship away from government and criminal intrigue despite his continual involvement in it. Sherlock asserts that John has an addiction to a dangerous lifestyle, as many of the people around him that he has befriended turn out to be psychopaths with shady histories (but no spoilers). The dismayed Watson refuses to accept this part of himself but also will not turn away from the people he has welcomed into his life.

The innovation of BBC's adaptation comes from the binary character study and the evolution from two lonely people, as in "Nighthawks," into a tentative and unique friendship.

  • 7:00 AM

There's Always Money in the Banana (Stand)

Andy Warhol, Banana, 1966

The line, “There is always money in the banana stand,” is repeated throughout the entirety of the show Arrested Development. It becomes a staple, a repeatable tagline of the show. The saying is plastered on merchandise for adoring fans - heck, even I have a banana stand shirt. People associate the imagery with the show, just like the familiar Andy Warhol imagery of soup cans and celebrities. Warhol considered these images iconic in 20th century America, and now his images have become iconic themselves. That’s the thing about icons: they sell. Just like my Bluth’s Frozen Banana shirt, people ate up Warhol’s diptychs of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup (no pun intended).

In terms of monetary value, Warhol had an incredibly successful career making prints of these iconic American figures. People loved him, and he consistently had buyers and museums pining after his work. However, in his later work, critics called him “superficial” and “commercial.” They found no significance in his art other than his desire to sell the pieces.

Despite the criticism, Warhol didn’t exactly sell out. He started out producing holistically American art, and his life mirrored the fundamental American values that we still see today: money is everything. That’s probably why Warhol replicated the dollar sign over 100 times in a series. And he wasn’t shy about his love of money, having had both the experience of coming from a poor family and being propelled into a fabulously rich lifestyle. This was the America that Warhol lived - poor industrial families and plastic Hollywood superstars, soup cans and magazine covers.

Andy Warhol will always be remembered as the artist of American pop culture. He has become iconic in ways Lindsay Bluth can only dream of.

  • 7:00 AM

The Dream and "King Worm"

Salvador Dali, The Dream, 1931

Salvador Dali’s intense, bizarre imagery makes his work instantly recognizable. He captures perfectly the surreal feelings of disassociation, helplessness, and sensory deprivation that accompany dreams. The central figure of The Dream is a pale woman with her hair flowing strangely into almost baroque contortions, with her eyes swollen and sealed shut. Ants crawl over where her mouth should be. Tiny, naked figures in the background pose in strange contortions or embrace. By combining his contemporary Freud’s theories of psychology with his own flair for the surreal and discomforting, Dali has created an intensely vivid and personal piece.

The cartoon Adventure Time’s loose and simplistic style of animation and the bizarre nature of the land of Ooo have the potential for plenty of surreal horror. In “King Worm,” hero Finn the Human finds himself trapped in a Dali-esque dream world, forced to confront his subconscious fears in order to escape. The logic of his dreams is surreal and inconsistent, full of strange images and foreshadowing of later episodes. In particular, a ghostly woman seen momentarily during the fear sequence reminds me of the central figure here in The Dream, with her billowing hair and greenish hue. Finn's dreams include confrontations with his love interest and his close friends; eventually, he learns to control the dreamscape to some extent, but locations still change unpredictably, melt, and change in very Dali-esque ways.
Adventure Time, "King Worm"

Dali experiments with trying to capture the helplessness and muted sensations of dreams, using the dark palette, crawling ants, and sealed facial features. The seated man in the background holding his bloody face may be Oedipus, a strong Freudian symbol, and the bust growing out of his back represents the father. Two men embrace each other, one holding what might be a golden key, and a third attempts to push his way into a red wall, symbolizing a search for meaning or escape. The strange, nonsensical actions reinforce the theme of dreaming. Dali considered this painting a strong enough representative of his work that he insisted it represent him at the First International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936.
  • 7:00 AM

Revenge and Judith and Holofernes

Caravaggio Judith and Holofernes 1598-1599

Since the story of Judith and Holofernes is more widely known, I will start with the plot line of Revenge. This show involves a complex revenge scheme that a broken-hearted Emily Thorne has thought up. With the help of her "true love," Aidan, and her best friend, Nolan the three of them plan to destroy the family that framed her father for a terrorist act on the country and killed him while he was in prison when Emily was a young girl. Obviously this family is extremely powerful and the highest of the high in social standings, so Emily climbs the ladder by taking a new identity and a new boyfriend, the eldest son of the family, Daniel. This is a difficult pill for her real man to swallow, watching his girl all over the enemy, so much so that he falls for Emily's trick and right into her trap by proposing to her. What better way to burn a family to the ground than form the inside out?

Judith is seeking revenge of her own after hearing about the attacks planned on her family's village. She, like Emily Thorne, uses her beauty to seduce the enemy and get Holofernes right where she wants him: to drunk to function. Once in this state she and her maid take the fine opportunity to go ahead and take his head for the road, which leaves his plans to destroy her village foiled, obviously.

Clearly, these women are bad ass and not to be messed with, especially in terms of their family. I guess its the perfect example of blood running thicker than water despite what family you marry into and no matter how dirty the deed. I love how powerful they are, kicking butt and taking names. In Emily's case,  she literally takes her enemy's name when she marries into the family. My only hope for them is that it is worth it. I see the reward in Judith taking her revenge before the event takes place; but for Emily, doing these things and destroying this family won't bring her dad back. I guess I'll just have to keep watching Revenge and see.

  • 7:00 AM

Brattata and Archer

Roy Lichtenstein, Brattata, 1962

When I first saw this Lichtenstein, I immediately thought of Archer. The show's just returned for its new season, changing the entire plot and introducing a whole new point of the show: sell an actual ton of drugs and retire for life.

Of course, there wouldn't be an entire season devoted to that if the plan actually worked.

The thing I love about this piece is the written caption on it along with the written, worded sound of missile fire. Instead of being even anxious or afraid of the additional fire aimed at him, the pilot talks about getting more planes to aim at and how he wants to shoot down a certain number for bragging rights. At least for me, I can't imagine that level of comfort in that sort of area, especially with my life on the line. But I think Lichtenstein is trying to evoke that sort of shock with this piece, with the nonchalance of the pilot hitting just as hard as his missiles.

Archer does the same thing. Through the entire show, the shooting and violence and complete mayhem combine into something that is absolutely hysterical, though little of it should be. One of the actual workers in ISIS is shot in every single battle there is on site, actually (spoiler) being killed off in the first episode of this new season. Mixed with witty banter and hot female spies, the show could be a complete mess. Instead, exemplified by Archer himself, it becomes a smart show, opening a whole different world than other spy shows. I'm not saying it's enlightening, but there is something in its dark comedy that says quite a lot about its viewers and what they are interested in seeing: chaos.

  • 7:00 AM

Game of Thrones and Pallas Athene

Gustav Klimt, Pallas Athene, 1898

She's so fabulous. 

Daenerys Targaryen is the last of her family, House Targaryen. In the first season, Daenerys is portrayed as a soft spoken and timid girl. Two seasons later, and look how far she's come. Daenerys, using her three pint sized dragons, has managed to conquer several slave cities in the continent of Essos. She searches for an army, one that will help her take the Iron Throne. 

For those who aren't as completely obsessed with Game of Thrones as I am, here's a brief synopsis. The House of Targaryen was the former royal family of Westeros. They had come from Valaryia, a once great city in Essos. The Valaryians were able to tame dragons and were masters of magic until the volcanoes that surrounded their civilization erupted in what was later called "The Doom." The Targaryen's were the only surviving Valaryians. They managed to save three dragons from the Doom, thus their house sigil: a three headed dragon. Aegon Targaryen and his sisters conquered Westeros with their dragons, eliminating the former warring kingdoms and uniting them, with Aegon as their king.

In order to "keep the bloodline pure," the Targaryen's would often marry relatives, even sisters to brothers if necessary. This caused, as can be expected, some incestuous consequences. "Every child knows that the Targaryens have always danced too close to madness." It is said that when a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin; on one side madness, on the other greatness. The last Targaryen king of Westeros, Aerys Targaryen was known as the Mad King, and, towards the end of his rule, became obsessed with burning his enemies alive. He was overthrown, killed by his own Kingsguard, and the rest of the Targaryen family was killed. Daenerys plans to take back her rightful throne with, "fire and blood."

That same madness mixed with greatness harbors in Pallas Athene. While both Daenerys and the goddess Athena evoke strength, they walk a fine line. Athena's golden eyes are terrifying; metallic like her armor. Her posture conveys a power beyond royalty, instead it's god-like, as it should be. But no matter how imperious Athena seems, her eyes still bother me, like a painting who watches you as you cross a room. I have no doubt that, at any moment, Athena could turn from greatness into madness. Daenerys holds the burden of her family's past on her shoulders, her closest of kin serving as a reminder of what power can do to those with fragile minds. But Daenerys is anything but fragile. These two women remind me that I am just as powerful, that I could lead great armies into battle. Or, more realistically, I can feel like I could as I listen to a really awesome song and walk down a hallway. In the words of Nicki Minaj (yes, I am quoting her), "You can be the king, but watch the queen conquer."

  • 7:00 AM

Ossian Receiving the Ghosts of the French Heroes

Anne Louis Girodet,Ossian Receiving the Ghosts of the French Heroes,1802

Originally crafted for a small palace intended for Napoleon, this piece by Anne-Louis Girodet and its counterpart, Ossian Evoking Ghosts on the Edge of the Lora, by Francois Gerard were the only pieces in the entire palace Napoleon praised. There was something rare and unique surrounding these works. Both of the pieces focus on the work of the Gaelic poet Ossian, who Napoleon adored at the time. Ossian’s epics caused a sensation, not only because its subject matter fueled the new Romantic movement, but because of the ambiguity surrounding its origins - even its existence.

This particular piece shows brave soldiers prepared for battle and surrounding the poet Ossian; a piece perfect for Napoleon, who was in the middle of a revolution of his own. This snapshot from the battle is told by the narrator Fingal at the edge of battle. In the valley of Valhalla, these men are ready for battle and they look beyond the poet, seeing the inner radiance of their slain brethren. The entire piece feels almost sacred, with the left side clustered with floating maidens promising glory in death.

This piece is busy, crowded, almost ready to spill onto the floor. Despite its compositional weight, I can’t help but love it. Peering into the emotion of these men, observing the earth beneath them wash away, this ominous cloud perpetuates the spirituality and warmth of the piece. The only real disappointment with this piece lies with the backstory of the poet it glorifies. Turns out, the great tales Ossian wrote, that towns were named after and that Napoleon himself carried into battle, were actually forgeries. The originator of the tales, James Macpherson, actually wrote these from fragments sliced from sagas. Even though the context of the piece is a letdown, Girodet’s work is surely not. It glows just as brightly as the people within it.

  • 7:00 AM

Breaking Bad and Pollock's Sea Change

Jackson Pollock, Sea Change, 1947
Click Here For Video

*Spoiler Alert – if you have not watched past season 3 episode 13, “Full Measure,” do not read this post or watch the video.

We make decisions every day. Most are rather trivial – what should I eat for breakfast, which parking spot do I take – but some decisions stand out from the rest. These are the decisions that drastically change the path of your future. These are the decisions that you never forget, sometimes no matter how you try. For Jesse in Breaking Bad this decision arrived with a phone call.

“It’s gonna have to be you… They’re going to kill me…Jesse, do it now, do it! Do it fast. Do it, Jesse! Do it!”

Jesse immediately reacts, grabbing his gun, jumping to his feet, racing to Gale’s house, only to discover that when the door opens, it's decision time. Jesse has to decide the course of his future, something that, in my opinion, reveals more about his character than any other moment in the series. Breaking Bad reveals as much about Jesse as Walter - his parents that have kicked him out, his girlfriend for whose death he blames himself, his struggle with drugs  – but this moment shows Jesse’s true inner turmoil, his struggle with not only the decision he currently has to make, but all the decisions that led him to that point.

Jesse’s life, similar to Pollock’s painting, consists of layer upon layer of choices and actions, each one overlapping the last, covering or building upon a previous decision. No stroke of color in this painting can be undone, rather, it has to be covered by another color – another action. Pollock couldn’t splatter one color and then remove it; he just had to add a new layer, adding to the composition and individuality of each piece. Jesse’s decisions overlap each other, each one leading to the next. But Jesse never predicted this moment. Standing in the doorway with a gun pointed at a begging man, tears beginning to accumulate in his eyes as he pleads, “you don’t have to do this.

But, in those last moments, immediately before Jesse pulls the trigger, as his eyes fill with tears, he understands that his decision has already been made for him. He does have to do this. His tears come from his realization that he doesn’t have a choice; he has to kill Gale. All of his past decisions have led to this, and he can’t back down now. He understands that he can’t turn back from this decision, and the ones that have led him to this culminating point; he can’t let Gale, Walter, and himself live. One has to go. And at that last moment, Jesse accepts that all his past decisions will be covered and built upon by this one action, as a single color will cover the canvas, and he will never be able to completely cover it up by another layer. 

  • 7:00 AM

Campbell's Soup and Power

Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup, 1962

Click here for song

Say what you will about Kanye West; it’s undeniable that he’s an icon of music. In 2009, he suffered the climax of a disaster largely of his own creation. Still rattled by his mother’s death over a year before, Kanye believed somewhere in his mind that it was a good idea to interrupt a 19-year-old Taylor Swift accepting her award for Best Music Video at the VMAs. The horrifying scene that played out on the stage made for great television, and Kanye appeared to have finally lost it.

He disappeared from the world stage, hiding out in Europe and Hawaii for over a year. Then, 18 months after the incident that turned him into a villain in America’s eyes, Kanye came out with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a disturbing, virtuosic album that fully lived up to its name. The initial single, representing Kanye’s return from the brink, was "Power." I remember first hearing this song, listening to him explain his absence and introduce the album that would throw him back on top, I was amazed at the shift in his career. This song, and more generally the album, represent a diatribe against the very consumerism that has vaulted him into celebrity. Kanye West admits that fame taxed his skills, saying, “I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts/Had treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault.” His sample of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” encapsulates his album’s stance on celebrity and consumption—the schizoid man is one of contradictions, controlled by consumption and yet at the same time relishing what he is able to consume. Much like Warhol, Kanye muses on the nature of fame and the destiny of a man like himself in the modern world. Kanye may have lost himself four years ago, but with this album, he was found.

  • 7:00 AM

Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne and Pale Blue Eyes

Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, 1918

If there were a song to describe the relationship of Modigliani and his dearest lover Jeanne Hebuterne, it would be Pale Blue Eyes by the Velvet Underground.

Born in Italy in 1884, Amedeo Modigliani was stricken by illness throughout his life. Since pleurisy and typhoid had made it impossible for him to go to school, by the age of fifteen, Amedeo Modigliani was studying painting in Guglielmo Micheli's studio. Modigliani left for Paris in 1906, and joined a circle of artists like Picasso and Gino Severini. But instead of Cubism or Futurism, Modigliani took his inspiration from works of early Renaissance, such as that of Duccio and Simone Martini, and other oriental cultures. In 1917, he met the love of his life, then 19-year-old Jeanne Hebuterne. For the next two years, he seemed never get tired of painting her. And he would carry on if wasn't struck down by illness. In 1920, tubercular meningitis took his life. Jeanne committed suicide the next day, nine months pregnant with their second child.

Finding a painting to go with a piece of good music is not easy when you are little short on knowledge about either music or painting. But it all becomes very easy when the mild tune of Pale Blue Eyes finds the lazy, curving lines of Modigliani's portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne. A certain gentleness flows along the soft lines of her almond-shaped face, through the sloping shoulder and slender arm, to be picked up by her gently pressing left hand. A similar gentleness can be heard with every touch of the string and every line of the lyrics in the song. And I find myself "lingering on her pale blue eyes."

As the lyrics progresses, the song seems to be at even more resonation with the story of Modigliani's and Jeanne. Born in a Catholic family, Jeanne was renounced by her family for her relationship with the painter. It did not stop her from falling in love with him. After Modigliani's unsuccessful exhibition in Paris, they moved to Nice, where they had their first child. The sad tone of both the song the their story gives the whole thing an undercurrent of inevitable loss and tragic beauty. As Lou Reed sings, "It was good what we did yesterday, and I'd do it once again." I wonder if Jeanne Hebuterne thought the same when she threw herself out of the balcony. And I really hope she did.

  • 7:00 AM

Death of Marat and Monster

Picasso, Death of Marat, 1931

Click here to watch video

Picasso's Death of Marat gave me nightmares...once I figured out which limbs belonged to who. He paints Charlotte Corday towering over the tiny headed Marat as she gruesomely stabs him in the chest. This piece reminded me of "Monster" by Eminem because of the way he paints Corday. I see her losing her mind here, like the hatred she has for Marat takes over as she looks like she is about to take his head off. The story I know, that Corday meticulously planned her assassination of Marat. She thought through the whole process and here, Picasso takes the scene and makes it a passionate murder. Not one of trying to save her people, but a rage-fueled strike. Giving me the feeling that she is "friends with the voices inside of [her] head."

All of Eminem's verses talk about his struggle finding fame, his voice, and fighting with the "monsters" in his head. Though Corday appears to be the monster here, Marat gained his fame during the French Revolution sentencing any potential threat to death by simply writing them off. Clearly, the monster took over for him and he made a name for himself that Corday could not stomach. The actions that Marat took throughout the French Revolution may have been what he thought was right for the new republic, but "trying to save" the people didn't work as well as he had hoped. The terror is a good example of the monster taking over what once was a good idea (overthrowing the king that is).

I guess my point is that I see both Corday and Marat as the monster here. I see Corday as a monster because of how viciously Picasso painted her here, and I think it plays well with the song to say that the monster took over when she murdered Marat, even if it was a preconceived action. Not so much from this painting in particular, but I do see Marat as a monster for The Terror and though he may look small and weak in his bathtub here, his "monster inside of [his] head" caused much larger problems than Corday's act of vengeance.
  • 7:00 AM

Wishbone and Don't Cry

Nikolaos Gyzis, Wishbone, 1878

It’s extraordinary how paintings and music employ only one of our basic senses (sight and hearing, respectively) and yet release so much power. At first I wasn’t sure what about Wishbone by Nikolaos Gyzis reminded me so much of Guns N’ Roses until I saw the Chinese Democracy poster. The brick red background and black clothing are almost the exact shade, and the despair on the woman’s face echoes with the theme of "Don’t Cry," one of my favorites of the band.

"Don’t Crystarts in an extremely calm manner, quiet, serene, as if a whisper in your ear, telling you don’t take it too hard. The lyrics say, “Don’t you cry tonight/ There is a heaven above you baby/ And don’t you cry tonight.” It's a story of sorrow. Axl Rose said in an interview, “The song was [about] a girl that Izzy had gone out with, and I was really attracted to her, and they split up, and we wrote the song.” When I first heard this song, I discovered that a blues balled by a hard rock band brings a whole new level of impact, even the heavy chords, which I used to associate with anger and aggressiveness, hit like a persistent melancholy. Axl’s brilliant ending note seems to go on forever, like a deep sigh, or a desperate plea that ends with the singer’s last breath. 

I came across Wishbone purely by accident. Without knowing anything about the artist or the painting, I searched for any evidence of the circumstances in which the painting was made. But nothing. Then I look at the woman’s eyes, red and puffy, clearly resulted from hours of crying, and I could feel for her loss and misery without knowing her story. Gyzis painted in such realistic style, with his bold choice of color in the background that gives a surprisingly touching quality. Rather than the conventional blues and cool tones when depicting sorrow, Gyzis opted for a dark red that conveys entirely different emotions, much heavier than the blues. The tension between red and black seems to bring the woman’s inner turmoil directly onto the canvas. 

I couldn’t say exactly what connects the painting and the song, but it seems like the two senses complement each other, and suddenly when I listen to "Don’t Cry" while looking at the painting, what I hear is what I see. I believe I have found my perfect Guns N’ Roses girl. 

  • 8:52 PM

Le Jockey Perdu III and Wild Horses.

Rene Magritte, Le Jockey Perdu III, Unknown

"I conceive of the art of painting as the science of juxtaposing colours in such a way that their actual appearance disappears and lets a poetic image emerge. . . . There are no 'subjects,' no 'themes' in my painting. It is a matter of imagining images whose poetry restores to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable." - Rene Magritte

Rene Magritte, influenced greatly by the works of Giorgio Chirico, sought to incorporate seemingly unrelated items into groups. The combination of items not only pleased the viewer, but challenged their perception and thought. Magritte’s Le Jockey Perdu III embodies the passion of his mentor: providing a subject an unrelated setting. Le Jockey Perdu III depicts a lone racer withdrawn from the track, where he should be, and placed in the desert.

While on the road, the Rolling Stones wanted nothing more at times than to just be where they needed to be, instead of constantly in flux. The lyrics, "wild horses couldn't drag me away" give the listener a sense of futility, as if no matter how hard they try to stay, they have to go. "Wild Horses" was written to cope with the stress of touring across the nation, to pay homage to what was thought to be an easily grasped theme. Instead, the song remained a mystery. The fluidity and movement within the lyric and rhythm give so much freedom to the listener, both in how they listen to the song and how they interpret it.

The element of movement is masked within Magritte’s work, the viewer taking a stagnant position from within a rocky outcrop observing a misplaced racer. As I viewed this piece I could not help but compare it to a Rothko. Mark Rothko exercised a visual tension in his artwork, a constant imbalance and movement. Le Jockey Perdu III for me is very much the same, the viewer forced to grapple with the speed and ferocity of the horse slicing through the environment - leaving dust in his wake. This piece is not merely pleasurable to view, but also to contemplate. The contrast and tension in this piece makes it seem almost simple, something it is proves not to be at all.
  • 7:00 AM

Landscape with Figures and Sprawl II

George Tooker, Landscape With Figures, 1966

Arcade Fire's music is innovative at best, but there is something downright unsettling about "Sprawl II"(Mountains Beyond Mountains).  The band filled the song's 2010 album The Suburbs with discontented themes, but none of the other tracks are set to such thematically incongruous, catchy dance music.  At the surface, everything is joyously glossed over.  Underneath are real hurt and loneliness.

"Sprawl II" retains a clear moral throughout.  As the intro goes, "They heard me singing and they told me to stop/Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock," a clear plea for individuality in a conformist world.  The singer goes on to lament about how the "dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains," the further scars that society has left upon the physical world.  The first verse describes a city beckoning to the narrator to find her niche in society, but when she persists in her quest toward her own identity up to the second verse, the community rejects her.  In the third verse, the subject changes to the plural -- even through the oppression, the singer has found a group of her own.

It is difficult to tell whether "Sprawl II "has a happy ending.  A personal struggle has no solution but only spreads to other people, a purgatory where no goals are realized.  The song's music grows to match its despairing lyrics when the ghostly-sounding bridge kicks in, but the dance beat persists and picks up before the third verse with renewed vigor and a key change.  Listeners can interpret the music's meaning differently with each replay.

I stumbled across this equally disturbing image, Landscape With Figures by mid-twentieth century artist George Tooker.  The eerie sprawl of figures in cubicles parodies an office building, but the unearthly red light evokes purgatory or hell.  The figures, with their resolutely unhappy faces, are damned in their oppression.  The image reflects the state of corporate America from the early fifties to mid-sixties.  It shows a country regrouping from the chaos of another world war and marching towards structured conformity, its people frightened into strict social norms after the Red Scare.  The front man's face displays complex emotions, from fear to doubt, and defiance to some grim kind of resolve.

"Sprawl II" perpetuates the timeless theme of the search for identity, and the painting shows the same philosophical struggle, even though it comes from a different time period.  Despite their initial aesthetic appeal, both pieces of art are haunting upon closer inspection, suspended in idealistic longing without any progress.

  • 7:00 AM

Slave Ship and The Mariner's Revenge Song

J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship, 1840

Every time I hear this song, I burst into a one woman musical, singing as loudly as possible while everyone within a one mile radius cover their ears. I love this song, the creepy solo the mother has, the slightly concerning amount of detail The Decemberists went into while describing how the boy should avenge his mother. Lovely, isn't it? Then again, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the dark and creepy. 

But really what I love most about this song is the story it tells. The story of a con man who takes advantage of a young boy's single mother, seducing her then taking all that they have. The son never forgave the man, especially when his mother later dies of illness. In her last moments, she beckons him to seek revenge, a raw and hate-filled revenge for what that man had done to them. He spends many years, looking and sulking, but eventually locates the man as the captain of a ship while overhearing a sailor giving confession at the church the boy works at. Immediately, he takes to sea with a privateer, his mother's voice whispering to him a reminder of what he must do in the wind. When the ship is finally located, a giant whale attacks, swallowing and demolishing both ships. Coincidentally, the boy and his target are the only two left alive, alone in the belly of a whale. Hence my favorite line, "But oh what providence! What divine intelligence! That you should survive as well as me!" Then, the lyrics stop, and you're only left with an increasing instrumental tempo, but you know exactly what's happening.

That same turbulent, treacherous noise can be found in Turner's Slave Ship. Rather than the story of a young man's revenge, Turner retells how the cruel captain of a slave ship  threw slaves he suspected of being diseased into the sea, chained and alive. His reason? Money. The captain would not have been paid if slaves showed up dead, but would be given something if his human cargo had been "lost at sea." Thus, when disease inevitably broke out, he decided that it would be more fiscally responsible to throw anyone with sniffles overboard. Turner added some more monsters to the painting. What I can only assume are piranhas gnaw at a chained leg, while fish-monsters like the ones in the song close in on the abandoned slaves. It's gut wrenching and horrible, but that was the point. To capture your attention and tie your stomach into a knot so that you would never forget what true evil looks like. Turner was an abolitionist later in his life, and painted Slave Ship as a protest to such a monstrous institution. No one was ever convicted for the crime, and while the ghosts of the slaves the captain had thrown over board never met him in dark alley or the belly of a whale, I like to think that this is Turner's own form of revenge. A dish best served cold and covered in paint.

  • 7:00 AM

The Church at Auvers and Eleanor Rigby

Vincent van Gogh, The Church at Auvers, 1890

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The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and van Gogh's The Church at Auvers have one thing in common; they were created by some of the greatest artists of all time, yet aren't necessarily the artists' most famous works. Both the song and the painting have characteristics of their more famous siblings, yet commonly disappear amongst the greatness. The song "Eleanor Rigby" embodies this sense of insignificance and brought together the lonely listeners of a generation.

This painting resonated with me because it brought together the feeling of loneliness that the song represents, and can be a visual representation of the line in the song that says, "Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name, Nobody came, Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, No one was saved.".I see the man walking back towards the church as Father Mckenzie, who only comes to Eleanor Rigby's funeral because it's his job. The brushstrokes of the path leads one's eyes toward the large, powerful church. To contrast it's size, the man is insignificant, and faceless. The facelessness adds to the feeling of loneliness and gives the impression that anyone could be that person.

  • 7:00 AM

House with the Cracked Walls and To Build a Home

Paul Cezanne, The House with the Cracked Walls, 1892-1894

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Home is something familiar, comforting, static. For children, home takes on the literal meaning of the house that they return to each night. But then children grow up. They find other homes. They find comfort in other realms of life. Home is essential. Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere, like they are not alone in life. That they can always have somewhere to go back to. Home can be a place, or a person, even a feeling. But, as the song suggests, nothing quite feels like home like an old house laden with memories and dust and lingering piano chords.

For Cezanne, the house with the dust and the wooden floors may have been this house in the Bibémus Quarries, where he painted many of his paintings in the latter part of his life. When I travelled to Aix-En-Provence this past summer, I took a trip to the Bibémus Quarries and Mont St-Victoire. The place itself was eerie – eroded rock surfaces and an abandoned cabin and a crumbling stone wall, all against the backdrop of Mont Sainte-Victoire. It looked exactly like Cezanne’s paintings, yet it also looked completely different, almost too realistic even. Cezanne’s work is beautiful, but it did more than capture the beauty of the place. This is not a painting of a simple house or a simple place. It must have felt like home to Cezanne, who painted there for more than ten years, often spending nights in the little stone cabin nestled in the woods on the outskirts of the quarries. Now the cabin’s walls are even more cracked, and layers of dust catch the sunlight when you peek through the window. He painted here, a more than a century ago, just Cezanne and his mountain, and I can’t imagine anything more peaceful.

  • 7:00 AM

Mujeres Riendo and How to Fight Loneliness

Goya, Mujeres Riendo, 1819-1823
There's this moment in every senior's life, whether at the very end of high school or just throughout the year, where they realize the finality of everything they do. From the last first day of high school and picking your last new locker to the last class with your favorite teacher and turning in your very last exam, it all seems so... incomplete.

Maybe what I'm trying to get at is that high school - and life afterwards - isn't going to be wrapped up with a ribbon and put away nicely. Things aren't going to be simple. Not every single person in my class is going to know their exact plan for the next four years of their life. I know I won't... and that's scary. We go through our day to day lives, counting the months until graduation while simultaneously wishing we could just go back to kindergarten and not have to take this next step.

Goya's Black Paintings have always been significant for me. Saturn Devouring His Son was the first one I ever saw, and I did not like it. But there is just something about these specific pieces that I attach to. Maybe it's morbid curiosity, but I've never felt more in awe of or more intimate with an artist than when looking at these pieces. Which is something truly special for an onlooker. 

Matching the creepiest smiles I've ever seen with "How to Fight Loneliness" just seemed right. The words about having to "smile all the time" just fit so well in this period of change - sometimes the smile is genuine, other times just something that you have to do to keep going.

  • 7:00 AM