Posts filed under “Art”
Like most organizations today, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has a mission statement:
PAFA promotes the transformative power of art and art making.
It also has a vision statement, because (we must admit) the mission statement is not very specific:
PAFA will inspire the future of American art by creating, challenging, cultivating, and celebrating excellence in the fine arts.
Now here is your challenge: Given the current climate of thought in the art world, try to think of any plan, program, exhibition, or any other activity a museum and art school could engage in that would not satisfy one or both of these statements.
Drunken revelry in the hall of statuary—celebrates excellence in the fine arts and, depending on how drunk people get, may be considerably transformative.
Shooting paintballs at the eighteenth-century collection—challenges excellence in the fine arts and promotes the transformative power of art.
Blowing up three blocks of urban Philadelphia—as transformative as all get out, and there certainly are blocks of Philadelphia that would be rendered more artistically excellent by a giant explosion.
Even hanging old paintings on the wall and letting people look at them could conceivably be justified by both statements, as much as it might be frowned upon by true devotees of Art with a capital R.
No, Dr. Boli cannot think of a single thing the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts could do that could not be justified by its mission statement and vision statement, which he therefore must regard as perfect in their kind. He would be happy, however, if someone else could prove him wrong.
You have seen Le Sang d’un poète; you have perhaps devoured the works of James Whale, Federico Fellini, and Edward D. Wood, Jr.—but what do you know of Nazimova?
Actress, dancer, director, producer, artist, and genuine mystery woman in an age of would-be mystery women, Nazimova (or Alla Nazimova, but she usually went by the one name only) was a big star in 1922. By 1923, she was back to Broadway, having used up all her own money and the patience of her backers producing bizarre art films that no one would go to see—or in the case of this one, even distribute.
Salomé is a silent adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play by the same name. The look of the whole film was inspired by the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, although modern viewers are also likely to think of Dr. Seuss, especially in the costumes, designed by Natacha Rambova (Rudolph Valentino’s wife, but Nazimova’s “constant companion,” as they used to say in the gossip rags). Charles Bryant (Nazimova’s nominal husband) is the listed director, but Nazimova conceived the project, paid for the film, and was well known as the authority on set, director or no director.
What shall we say about this picture? It walks the knife edge between sublime art and risible pretension. If you have never seen it, then you have never seen anything remotely like it. Nothing is naturalistic: the actors move like dancers; the sets are abstract and very much show their derivation from Beardsley’s illustrations; the costumes are cartoonish. A Beardsleyesque moon makes such frequent appearances that it becomes a character itself. Nazimova as Salomé is an unforgettable experience; with stars in her hair, she moves like some unknown species of creature, not quite feline but not quite human. In short, the ideas of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley are filtered through the utter weirdness that was Nazimova. She was as bizarre in real life as she was on film, with a house that was like a set from a German Expressionist horror movie and an embarrassing habit of seducing Hollywood leading men’s wives—embarrassing, that is, to the men, though apparently not at all to Nazimova. You may suspect, on seeing Salomé, that Nazomova was not the only one in the film whose sexual orientation would have been considered unorthodox in 1923.
So if you are ready for five reels of utter strangeness, you can see the film below. Two versions can be found on Archive.org. This one is a reasonably clear print, with original (or restored) tinting, an effective modernist score played by a small orchestra, and German translations of the titles:
Here is another print, lower resolution, but with an interesting original score by Edward Boensnes, who makes a hobby of composing original scores for silent films:
Traditional methods of drawing emphasize creating the illusion of thingness through representation of the irrelevant and distracting details of the thing. Abstract expressionism rejects such artificial illusion and purifies art to its essentials.
It is a mistake, however, to assume that abstract expressionist art is not representational. Nothing could be further from the truth. Abstract expressionism seeks true representation by eliminating the irrelevant, leaving only the essential of the thing represented.
Let us take as an example this drawing of a stagecoach:
In this old-fashioned drawing, the artist has wasted minutes, perhaps even hours, of effort on the various parts of four separate horses, the wheels of the coach, and even individual passengers inside, when it is clear that the essential element of the picture is its horizontality. The properly trained artist therefore reproduces only what is essential in his production:
Stagecoach, by Lambert Bedlam.
On the other hand, in this picture of Anna Karenina, inspired by the heroine of Tolstoy’s novel, the essential element is diagonality.
Here the artist has expended a simply obscene amount of labor on irrelevancies, going so far as to duplicate every wrinkle of each glove. The abstract expressionist, on the other hand, at once recognizes what is essential, and reproduces that alone:
Anna Karenina, by Vitaly Wallaby-Perkins.
Who can doubt that Tolstoy would recognize his heroine at once?
Having once seen the method, we can immediately understand how the painters of the following works have applied it to their chosen subjects:
The American Mail Steamer John L. Stephens Arriving at Liverpool, by Ratchet Dawson III.
Nude Reading the Congressional Record, by Emily Pitchfork.
Frank Julian Sprague Falling Down an Elevator Shaft, by Arnold M. Shoehorn.
Rose Mary Woods Accidentally Erasing 18½ Minutes of Conversation, by Richard M. Nixon.
The arts having progressed considerably since the primitive days of ancient Greece, it is time for a truly up-to-date list of Muses.
Alexis, Muse of Supermarket-Checkout Tabloids.
Madison, Muse of Comic-Book Superhero Franchises.
Olivia, Muse of Telephone Scams.
Kaylee, Muse of First-Person Shooter Games.
Makayla, Muse of Tweets and Facebook Statuses.
Brandy, Muse of 24-Hour News Channels.
Addison, Muse of Acoustic Folk Bands in the Parking Lot of Whole Foods.
Riley, Muse of Installation Art.
Kaitlin, Muse of Texting While Driving.
By the 1960s, Rockwell, whose wife had died, gave up the Saturday Evening Post to develop a different, more political type of illustration. It was partly out of a desire to engage with issues such as desegregation (he was on the side of civil rights out of an old-fashioned belief in equality)…
Here Dr. Boli stops reading, distracted by an intellectual puzzle. He is still puzzling, in fact, because he cannot answer this simple question: What other reason is there for being on the side of civil rights?
Dr. Boli has a confession to make that will probably disappoint many of his readers, which is that Norman Rockwell’s illustrations always give him a vaguely queasy feeling. But the review in the Independent made him want to leap to Rockwell’s defense. Mr. Rockwell and Dr. Boli do at least share an old-fashioned belief in equality; and if it is old-fashioned, then Dr. Boli will take care never to allow his own beliefs to be brought up to date.