Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and "Learning to Fly"

Pieter Bruegel, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, 1555-58

A fatal attraction is holding me fast,
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Icarus, son of the craftsman Daedalus, could not keep his eyes from the circling skies. Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, Icarus lost all rationality when his father fashioned him a pair of wings out of feathers and wax.  Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too far from the ground, but, once he took flight and found himself above the planet on a wing and a prayer, Icarus’s excitement replaced his reason, and he lost track of his distance from Earth. When Icarus noticed the feathers loosening from the melting wax of his wings, he realized that he had flown too close to the sun and remembered all of the unheeded warnings as he plummeted back to Earth.

Like many of his other works, Pieter Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus has its subject in the background. Bruegel’s paintings are also distinguished by their incorporation of common folk, as exhibited by the worker in the foreground. While comical, the apparent insignificance of Icarus’s downfall symbolizes the lessened emphasis of such religious tales in an evolving society. Laborers replace religious figures, and the mix of secular and spiritual themes in painting characterize the Northern Renaissance.

Into the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back.

  • 8:03 PM

Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Durer Self-Portrait

Albrecht Durer, Self-Portrait, 1500

Using only two chords, a down beat looped on an 8-bit computerized MIDI sequencer, the introduction to Tears for Fears's song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is the kind of intro that elicits prolific head nodding and side to side body movements; resting somewhere in the interim between standing still and dancing like a maniac. 

"Welcome to your life," the song begins, "There's no turning back," everyone receives a life, a purpose- no returns, trade-ins or refunds. "It's my own design, it's my own remorse," everybody has control over the way their lives play out ; any grief or regrets that result from a bad decision, is purely our own. The line "Help me make the most of freedom, and of pleasure," one's ambition to live up to their potential, and the whole song builds up to the simple phrase "Ev-ery-bo-dy-wants-to-rule-the-world". At first one thinks "Well everyone may want to rule the world, but not everyone can rule the world, it's impossible," But I think Durer and Tears for Fears offer an interesting solution. Simply, the idea of "ruling the world" is subjective. Wealth and power aren't the only ways one can rule. 

For Durer, he rules his world by becoming the all-mighty Jesus Christ. In his painting Self-Portrait in a Fur Cloak, Durer does everything to appear more jesus-esque from changing the colour of his hair and creating a more triangular composition, to imitating Jesus' hand positing. Unfortunately, Durer does not realize ambition often houses ramifications of its own. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" warns that, "nothing ever lasts forever." After one desire is satisfied, another one takes its place, anything thought to bring "freedom and pleasure." It's a never-ending cycle leading to nowhere, and I see this quite often in Durer's works.  

I've never particularly liked Durer. His paintings make me uncomfortable in an unsettling sort of way. It wasn't until I listened to "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" for the 114th time that I realized how absolutely heartbroken Durer looks as Jesus Christ. It's not immediately noticeable, but in each one of his paintings (his self-portraits or otherwise) a tiny sprinkling of melancholy dims the intensity just a tad. Durer's portrait is powerful. No doubt about that, but when I gaze into Durer's eyes, when I look closely at the tension on his temples or the uncertainty in his lips-- there's a certain, almost wistful, heavy heartedness.

 I feel Tears for Fears captures this same haunting feeling almost perfectly in "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."It's lighthearted, playful, and indicative of a good time. Yet the lyrics and tone in which they are sung still send chills down my back. It's not a song I can listen to only once, and Durer's Self-Portrait in a Fur Cloak is not a painting you can glance at only once.

  • 7:00 AM

The Banker and his Wife and Evil Woman

Quentin Matsys, The Banker and his Wife, 1504

“You made a fool of me,
But them broken dreams have got to end.”

Oh, evil women. In the scheme of female characters across the arts, they are not far and few between. Yes, lest we forget: they’re susceptible to sin. In fact, that disgraceful, unholy woman could be right in front of you. Quentin Matsys’s The Banker and his Wife reminds us that we can’t hide our bad points, no matter how hard we try.

“Rolled in from another town,
Hit some gold, too hard to settle down.”

Though this couple initially seems compatible due to their peculiar taste in headwear, in reality their relationship seems to be based on more than personal attraction. The woman absently flips through the pages of her holy book, her attention stuck to the valuables her husband counts next to her. A single glance carries into substantial interest and she leans in, destroying her devotion in favor of avarice. This business of temptation ties back to Eve’s original sin, hinted at by the fruit that sits in the back shelf behind them. Those darn, greedy women.

“Ha, ha, woman, what you gonna do,
You destroyed all the virtues that the Lord gave you.”

I can’t help but think of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Evil Woman” while looking at this pieces. Besides the fact that it’s an excessively catchy song, the lyrics are quite fitting. Though this woman may not be hopping from guy to guy, she certainly has her eyes on her man’s material wealth before all else in her life.
  • 7:00 AM

Garden of Earthly Delights and Losing My Religion

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, 1510

In the wise words of art historian Mathew Collings: "What the hell is that?"

Hell. That's precisely what Hieronymus Bosch intended for his Garden of Earthly Delights to encompass.

Bosch illustrates three panels, the left being the Garden of Eden, the central being an extension of the garden, and the right being Hell. However, the Northern Renaissance artist depicts the salvation of humanity through the central and right panels, in which the Garden of Eden is corrupted as a result of human temptation to sin, and they are inevitably damned to hell. The garden teems with female and male nudes, an allusion to lust, among a variety of animals, plants, and fruits. Moreover, the human figures revel in innocent, self-absorbed joy as some cavort in the meadows with various animals and others play in the Lake of Venus subconsciously. And in reaction to the humans who have succumbed to temptations, Bosch creates heinously graphic torments to depict their internal damnation to a world of unknown atrocities and misconceptions of reality.

And if isn't depressing enough that Bosch basically claims that all of humanity will end up in Hell and constructs a scene of indecipherable madness, the artist also touches on the notion of an inescapably tainted world and questions whether God, having made this world and bestowed on man the opportunity for liberty, should destroy his creation in the face of human failure. In fact, as society has only worsens with time, Bosch's very questioning of God and the corruption of humanity becomes prevalent in modern day society.

"That's me in the corner, that's me in the spot light, losing my religion, trying to keep up with you, and I don't know if I can do it."

Oddly enough, R.E.M's "Losing My Religion" touches not on the specificity of religion itself, but on the loss of hope in the singer's love life because of the human temptation and corruption that has risen over time. In the south, the expression "losing my religion" referred to being at the end of one's rope, that moment when civility gives way to anger. Here, R.E.M's somber language depicts the hopeless of humanity and a loss of an ideology (the end of one's rope) through the omnipresence of human indulgence. The song allows us to question the purpose of civilization if the act of sin, be it lust or anger, interrupts the ability to be content and as Bosch would say, sends you straight to hell.

"Consider this, the hint of the century. Consider this, the slip, that brought me to my knees, failed. What if all these fantasies come flailing around? But that was just a dream, try, cry, why try. That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream, dream."

The song concludes with the illusion of the singer's sin himself, as he acknowledges that that his lover's joy was "just a dream", and now he has awoken to his own Hell, as he loses himself in the free will God has given him and contemplates his purpose on Earth if he has lost his religion.

  • 7:00 AM

Fluorescent Adolescent and Allegory of Vanity

Gregor Erhart, Allegory of Vanity, c.1500

"Where did you go? Woah."

Age does seem to hurt some more than others. Gregor Erhart's Allegory of Vanity embodies the omnipresent fear of death apparent throughout the Northern Renaissance. The old woman's overall sagginess and wrinkles deeply contrast the beauty of the youth beside her, inflicting a stark fear of aging, or at the very least a small gag. Similarly, the Arctic Monkeys set up young and old in a sexual manner, "You use to only get it in your fishnets, now you only get it in your night dress."

The natural act of growing old leaves a bad impression, hence the seemingly unattractive face of the old lass above. However, it isn't the ugliness of old age that leaves a bitter taste, but the loss of physical beauty, after all, "Nothing seems as pretty as the past." The reluctance of the older woman in "Fluorescent Adolescent" derives from the loss of dreams, when she realizes past dreams were "not as daft as they seem when she dreamed them up." What does she do once the dreams that once drove her no longer can? Making new dreams is a step everyone takes, however the unknown of it all still strikes fear. For the woman in "Fluorescent Adolescent", the unknown takes form of the obvious sexual change from fishnets to night dresses, territory she had yet to explore. As for the woman in Allegory of Vanity, a sexual component may be prevalent. Her contrasting deep wrinkles, though, foreshadow her upcoming death.

Although not quite in the fishnet or sagginess stage, I too have glorified the past. If we are consumed by the nostalgia, much can go unappreciated in the present. It is necessary to understand that the wrinkly woman is not just the decaying body, but also the smooth woman beside her. Just because the dreams and physical appearance of a may person change, the experience does not. Although you can imagine, never again can you experience the joy of the split-moment you stacked one triangle block onto a large rectangle block as a toddler. But you can revel in those present joys.

Nonetheless, whether you switch from fishnets to a night dress, or you acquire wrinkles the size of the Grand Canyon, acceptance is necessary for "You're not coming back again."

  • 7:00 AM

Peasant Wedding and Drunk in Love

Pieter Bruegel, Peasant Wedding, 1567

Here we have a classic work of Bruegel where the title is barely present in the painting. The viewer can assume the festivities occurring is the reception of a wedding, as the title suggests. But where are the bride and groom? A necessity that a wedding needs to occur. You can presume that in the top left corner where a crowd of people are gathered is where the wedding occurred, and the tables with all the food and merriness is where the celebration takes place.

Drunk in Love, by the incredible queen herself, is a great connection to Peasant Wedding. Although Beyonce is known for being the queen and having nothing to do with a lonely peasant, I believe she and Bruegel could be good friends. They both were famous of their times and put out fantastic works that made the viewers and listeners wanting more and more.

Drunk In Love by Beyonce connects with Pieter Bruegel's Peasant Wedding in many ways. First Beyonce talks about being in love. That is what is pictured in this painting. Although the love is not being shown you can assume there is love in the air, or why else would there be a wedding occurring. Also in Beyonce's Drunk in Love we can find out from the title people are drinking and being merry. Just like the people in Peasant Wedding drinking and celebrating the recent wedding festivities.

Editor's Note: While we love Queen Bey, we also know that the video for said song runs towards the racy (if not raunchy). Thus, if you so desire to listen to a clean know what to do.

  • 7:00 AM

Peasant Wedding and Latinoamerica

Pieter Bruegel, Peasant Wedding, 1567

Both the song “Latinoamerica” and Bruegel’s Peasant Wedding unify groups of people together into one unit. Calle 13, a band from Puerto Rico, wrote the song to combine all of Central and South America into a singular group. Albeit in Spanish, “Latinoamerica” describes many of the challenges many countries endured separately but they come together in hardship. Argentina fought over the Falkland Islands with England in 1982, but England won. In the 1986 World Cup, Argentina and Mexico faced off in the quarter-finals. Diego Maradona scored both of Argentina’s goals, the “Hand of God” and “Goal of the Century”, but the “Hand of God” was a handball disguised as a header. This represented Argentine vengeance against England for the Falklands War. The World Cup provided an even playing field for the two countries to compete on because in naval battle England’s navy far surpassed that of Argentina. That was only one example of a country’s hardship. Several countries throughout Latin America have undergone similar afflictions, but this has united them together as one. "Latinoamerica" sings of conflict but as well as shared cultural aspects. In may ways Breugel’s Peasant Wedding creates a visual representation of “Latinoamerica."

The painting epitomizes Bruegel's typical pieces, a scene of low-class workers at a random point in their lives where the subject is unidentifiable. This piece shows many impoverished people coming together to enjoy a meal, ignoring whatever differences they may have. "Latinoamerica" mirrors that as Calle 13 unites the 20 countries in Latin America and sends the message: Despite how different we all are, we are one.

  • 7:00 AM

Triumph of Death and The Future

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Triumph of Death, 1562

Who doesn’t love a good reminder of their own mortality?

Bruegel, in his Triumph of Death, illustrates humanity’s ever-present fear of death. We hold it off as long as we can but we inevitably succumb to its clutches. In this painting, death comes as an army of skeletons, as hellfire, as disease. It comes as human suffering, debauchery, and pain. The colors are sickly and striking. I can almost hear a dirge in the back of my mind.

Our lives go by too fast/ Nobody lives to see the future

I see destruction everywhere. Houses are being burned, fields slashed, lives lost. What little shreds of humanity were left are being carried away by a wagon of skulls. A choir of corpses sends the living off to Hell. Other than the crosses that are being carried or painted on coffins, there is a surprising lack of religious imagery. While religion still dominates the arts at this point, Bruegel has chosen to explore a different perspective. Unlike an altarpiece or religious painting, Bruegel’s work focuses on regular 15th century folks doing regular 15th century stuff. So although the Church may have influenced some of the most famous art of this time, Bruegel’s work can be thought of as a more honest representation of the lives and outlooks of the peasants.

Ain't got much faith in God or modern-day mythology/The lies and fables, fate, and luck directing everything
During this time, ideas about death and salvation were becoming very different. This explains why a painting by Bosch signifying death would look (and mean) nothing like a work by van der Weyden. The struggle to understand death and its purpose haunts this painting. No Christly figure has come down to save the condemned from their fates. Even Heaven is eclipsed by smoke and blackness. Why did these people deserve to perish in damnation? Did they live in corruption, reject religion, and surrender to evil? Maybe. But perhaps this painting isn’t just a narrative of the annihilation some base village. I see a materialization of fear -- Bruegel’s fear of dying inflicted upon innocent villagers. Although this manifestation of the unknown is far from comforting, at least Bruegel didn’t sugarcoat his fear of death and the unknown.

No heaven in the sky, no pearly gates on clouds and stuff.

I’ve often been asked why I like the song “The Future” by The Limousines. It’s not exactly enlightening or catchy. But it comforts me somehow; much like this painting probably comforted Bruegel. To put your fear on canvas and to let others view what has been haunting your mind in hopes that it resonates with them is therapeutic. That is not to say that looking at The Triumph of Death brings me inner peace, but it does provide an outlet for my own fears. Not a lot has changed in the past few centuries with regard to death and the “afterlife.” There is still no concise answer to the plethora of questions surrounding this topic.

But that’s okay.
  • 7:00 AM

Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Fur Coat with Fur Collar and Jesus Don't Me for a Sunbeam

Albrecht Durer, Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Fur Coat with Fur Collar, 1500

Powerful eyes, an essence of absolute control, this self-portrait has all the dominating features you could ever hope for. All I can say is, “Don’t expect me to cry”

“Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” was original written by The Vaselines in 1987. In tribute to their song, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana decided to cover the song in his 1992 MTV Unplugged event. His rendition with an acoustic guitar became far more well-known than the real song. Had it not been for Kurt saying The Vaselines originally wrote the song, I would have attributed the song to Nirvana. The song was originally a church choir ballad, but The Vaselines added some electric guitar and it became more of a rock and roll song.

Albrecht Durer originally heard the song in… never, the song was written in 1987, pay attention. The simple verse in the song goes perfectly with the nonchalant expression of Durer in this painting. He could argue that “Sunbeams are never made me.” The painting makes me feel serene as if Durer was Jesus. He wouldn’t cry, and he wouldn’t die. Although he says don’t expect me to die for thee, his expression and posture gives the idea that he will give his life if you so ask.

  • 7:00 AM

Parrot in Three Positions

Albrecht Durer, Parrot in Three Positions, 1503

Durer's Parrot in Three Positions, achieves a scientific view in which the subject, the parrot, appears specimen-like. Although standing there in a matter in which it may seem the parrot has some sort of free will, it does not, for it is frozen. The same parrot being shown in three different positions indicates further the scientific value of the portrait. Durer once again grasps every detail of the bird as he had done with The Little Owl and the Young Hare, his attention brings out the livelihood of every animal pictured.

The value of life has been a struggle constantly dealt with in both the world of science and political conflict. Throughout these events, humans have also been treated like simple specimens, making them of no more value than the bird depicted by Durer. The lack of value also represents a helplessness, an inability to change the fate, such as the birds of a simple jungle camp of DOTA 2 waiting to be massacred by a whirling axe of an oncoming hero.

Although the painting displays a bird that seems to be alive, a hint of death remains through the dark tones used as well as the stillness felt from the parrot. Overall the value of the Parrot and the significance of its positions may teach a valuable lesson of life.

  • 7:00 AM