Artists sometimes do odd things.
One of my favorite sites on my visit to Prague in winter of 2003 was the John Lennon Wall, where countless fans and tourists had posted layer after layer of tributes and expressions of devotion. It was beautiful and inspiring.
Today I read the news that a group of art students had taken it upon themselves to white out the entire wall! This was supposed to represent the beginning of a new era in honor of the anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution” and the inscription “Wall Is Over” was intended to be “an allusion to the subtitle of Lennon’s song ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’.” However, the act of overpainting the wall inevitably evoked as well the Communist era in Czechoslovakia; during the 1980s, the Lennon wall was repeatedly painted over by Communist authorities in Prague.
The very notion of “starting over” is misguided. We always work with what already exists, for better or worse. All these art students have succeeded in doing is in imposing their own idea of a massive blank canvas over hundreds and thousands of other ideas and messages, layered into a public space that was allowed to belong to everyone. The students acted in an authoritarian way that I find flies in the face of the legacy of the Velvet Revolution they sought to honor.
(Read the article from HyperAllergic here.)
Art is not just stuff. Art is a physical manifestation of the heart, an expression of the human spirit, a bridge linking minds across languages, transcending ideas. Images have power. Art is subversive.
This little video emerged on my Facebook newsfeed this morning, only days after the announcement that a wealthy Chinese businessman had bought a painting by French Impressionist Edouard Manet for a record (for this artist) $65.1 million. China is producing some of the most voracious and deep-pocketed art collectors in the contemporary world, as well as some of the wealthiest artists. China has also produced Ai Weiwei.
I have no need to hang a Manet in my own home. I prefer Ai Weiwei and yellow origami umbrellas.
One of the most distinctive things about human beings is our imagination. We can invent things that never existed before. We can discern relationships between seemingly unrelated things. There would be no scientific hypotheses without a little imagination. With imagination we can make up stories about people who don’t exist and things that never happened. We can even hold things in our mind that are totally untrue or even impossible. And we can draw pictures of them. Although this can be quite entertaining, it can also be dangerous! So sometimes we need to just sit down and shut up and see what reality is like when we are not imagining it into existence.
Watching a group of European Buddhists perform traditional Tibetan dance this past weekend, I was particularly taken with the bearing of one of the men as he danced. Tibetan dance is very different from most classical forms of western dance. I had a few lessons some time back and found it challenging but intriguing.
What struck me about this one dancer last weekend was the way he was fully grounded and yet buoyant in his bearing. Tibetan dance incorporates heavy footfalls and slow turns on one foot followed by light, even placement of the next foot. And yet the head and shoulders must be lifted. It is a tough combination.
I think I might try Tibetan dancing again someday…
The word “original” comes from origin, the source. Today I saw some truly original art In a couple of caves here in France’s Dordogne valley. Thinking about the absorption of these prehistoric artists as they etched images into limestone with sharp flints or applied black and red colors, probably by a technique I used to describe to my anthro students as “spit painting”… I was overwhelmed. Although I cannot know exactly what their motivation was, I can know without a doubt that this was something important.
As someone who struggles with drawing or painting BIG, I was also impressed with the scale of many of the paintings and etched drawings. Of course, they are still far from life size, so maybe these ancient painters actually thought they were painting in miniature…
The image above includes some curious elements that are referred to as “technoformes”. These were new to me, and I found them fascinating. I don’t know what the experts are positing as their significance, but I can’t help seeing them as structures, maybe of wood and other perishable materials. Maybe the first architectural drawings?
Today I saw Miro. The Fundacio Joan Miro is a museum and art center built specifically to house the works of this prolific Catalan artist. He lived from 1893 until1983. One of the few pieces of art I had in my living space as an undergraduate was a framed Miro poster. His art has resonated with me for a very long time.
in a video showing an aging Miro at work in his Mallorca studio, the artist talks about how the initial marks on his paper or canvas are unplanned, and that the painting then develops around this initial figure. I was struck by the similarity to Japanese painting. Zenga is “bold and immediate, and almost always created spontaneously, in a single breath.” On the other hand, in nanga, each brushstroke suggests the next. “New visual tensions are created as the painting develops” (John Daido Loori, “The Zen of Creativity”). Miro traveled to Japan and so this influence is not surprising – only delightful.
Like Picasso, Miro fearlessly experimented with many different artistic media and even spoke of his paintings as poems. Maybe haiku…
Contemplating Catalonian “Modernisme” and how it relates to what I think of as “modern art”, I think a sketch of Gaudi’s signature dragon is appropriate.
I think of Picasso when I think of modern art. He has a strong connection with Barcelona, and I went to the Picasso museum here just a few days ago. But does Picasso show up in the Museu del Modernisme de Catalunya? Not even a mention. Instead there are paintings and statues that look to me more Romantic or Art Nouveau as well as lots of furniture and decorative arts laden with flowers, marquetry portraiture, and stained glass.
Gaudi – a native son of Catalunya- was well represented. Is he modern? Well, he may have adhered to tradition in some ways – his catering to the bourgeoisie and his religious devotion, for example. But I also find that his work resonates with the following statement which some take as an indicator of the postmodern in art.
“It would be better to think of art as a process that is started by the artist. If successful, the work starts to live a life of its own, a work of art starts to work.” — Ibram Lassaw, 1952
The basilica of La Sagrada Familia – another Gaudi masterpiece – was my destination today. I decided it was definitely in walking distance, although my body kept asking, “Are you sure…?” Music was needed, so I pulled out my iPod and turned on “Winds of Devotion” by Carlos Nakai and Ngawang Khechog. By the time La Sagrada Familia loomed into view, Ngawang Khechog was chanting the Prajnaparamita sutra (also know as Heart Sutra) – form is emptiness, emptiness is form… OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SOHA! Wow. The concrete and stone massiveness of La Sagrada towered above me as this sutra surged through my senses.
How could this equation of form and emptiness possibly apply to Gaudi? As I opened my senses a bit more I thought, “You know… I think Gaudi almost got it!” There is an expansiveness in his forms… There is a movement skyward (EVERYBODY in the basilica was looking UP)… And Gaudi’s emulation of nature imbues his work with an almost transparent quality, despite its massive substance.
Okay, there is also a lot of baroque decoration verging on an obsession for filling up every surface. I did say he “almost” got it.
Learning about Antoni Gaudi and immersing myself in his constructions, I have become fascinated by how his observations of natural forms in-formed his architecture. The branching forms of columns, the shell-like undulations of facades… So today as I walked the grounds of Park Guell including the environs (and interior) of the house where Gaudi lived while designing some of his most remarkable buildings, I kept seeing natural things that resonated with Gaudi’s built forms. The pine trees that branch just so. Vines that spiral around themselves. Ripe beans that hang heavily from above. The rough bark of the trees, the blue sky and bluer flowers… It is all there, and he was surrounded by it every day.
Some people may find some of Gaudi’s work a bit gaudy, but I am absolutely enchanted…
Today was all about the Museu Picasso. The current exhibit of self portraits ( Yo Picasso) ended with a set of haunting images of a very self aware old man that almost brought me to tears. Somehow I did the whole exhibit in reverse, starting with these final paintings and gradually working back to the confident presentations of self by a gifted teenager. I think I preferred seeing it this way. Looking back rather than marching forward…
The other highlight was Picasso’s series of more than forty paintings based (loosely but meaningfully) on Diego Velazquez’ single painting called “Las Meninas.” Picasso saw more in Velazquez’ work than he could express in a single painting, so he just kept painting what he saw/experienced in a series of variations. I sketched one of the paintings in order to delve more deeply into it. The photo above is of the drawing I made after returning to the room and my set of colored pencils.
I think what spoke to me most clearly from Picasso’s life work was the way he kept evolving as an artist, totally unafraid to try new things and to abandon (at least for a while) modes he had already mastered.