Salvador Dali and More at UNLV’s Barrick Museum

The Marjorie Barrick Museum at UNLV is celebrating its 50th anniversary with three cool new exhibits. Since I walk past it all the time and it’s free, I figured I should check them out. The most interesting one to me is the collection of Salvador Dali illustrations of classic literature.


I knew right away I’d like this room! Tangential anecdote: back in my 2nd or 3rd year teaching, I thought it would be funny to put a sign with this quote over my classroom door. My principal disagreed and made me take it down.

The illustrations are to each volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as Boccaccio’s Decameron. Each display gets turned to new pages twice weekly, so I suppose I’ll drop back in each time I’m on campus the rest of this semester. Go a minute out of my way to see more original Dali work up close? Yes, please.


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Rococo No-Go

I enjoy most schools of art that I’ve ever studied, with one big exception so far. Rococo, the 18th-century style characterized by intricately ornate decoration, just leaves me cold. In painting or in architecture, most examples of this movement strike me as a celebration of shallowness: too light, too insipid, with nothing to really say. The examples shown here look like little more than the work of a comfortably elite society wallowing in its own idleness and excess.

Actually, I’m surprised rococo hasn’t come back into fashion yet.



The Hudson River School

In my studies of art, I’ve noticed that a lot of my favorite paintings tend to come from a single time and place: the Hudson River School.  I guess I’m a sucker for dramatic, sentimental landscapes.

Two representative examples are below: first, Thomas Cole‘s The Oxbow, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, from 1836; second, Albert Bierstadt‘s Sierra Nevada, 1871-1873.

Bierstadt may be my favorite painter these days, but I still really love the video at the bottom, for Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida,” which someone, in a spark of thematic brilliance, set to Cole’s series Course of Empire.












Klavan On Immortal Art

I haven’t read much by Andrew Klavan in a while, but today I got blown away by a quick appreciation he wrote of one of my favorite people in the world: the superhumanly brilliant Mark Steyn. 

In the comments, one woman writes that when she told Steyn that his book America Alone made her laugh hysterically and then get very, very scared, Steyn wrote back, “Excellent.  That’s exactly what I wanted.”

But here’s Klavan’s money quote:

The dying of things—of art forms and civilizations as well as people—seems to me the inevitable and steady state of the world: a point of view that leaves me prone more to melancholy than to panic. What I really care about now is the immortal parts of mortal enterprise. I want to get at the spirit of human business: the wisdom and vitality of a culture’s Great Moment preserved in the artifacts it leaves behind. The irrelevant—the stuff that doesn’t matter but is simply beautiful—the music, the poetry, the pictures and storytelling—the arts—that’s where all the joy is, and it’s the joy that seems more urgent to me as the years pass.


Picasso’s Painting Guernica Animated in 3D

Interesting video below by the German artist Lena Gieseke; part of a project she did for a master’s thesis in computer animation, it’s a tour of Picasso’s painting Guernica, rendered in 3D. 

Here’s the original painting:


I like the video as it serves as a neat introduction to the work, helping the viewer to understand and appreciate some basics of a complicated masterpiece.  Also, it looks really cool, doesn’t it?

Trivia: Gieseke dated filmmaker Tim Burton during the years he made Batman and Batman Returns

Art Quiz

Which of the following pictures is of a painting by experimental German artist Paul Klee (1879-1940), which is a painting by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), and which is something one of my kids made while playing around on Microsoft Paint? 






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Spring Self-Improvement Report

Last year, I started breaking down my list of lifetime goals into smaller steps and making those my resolutions.  Instead of just starting at New Year’s, though, I split the calendar up into the three major divisions that my life as a father and teacher naturally fall into: a Spring semester, summer, and a Fall semester.  To keep my summer at a useful three months, I schedule those goals to be done in the three months before I report back to school for the new year, which means that this year my “summer” is defined as May 22-August 24 (even though I still have two weeks left this school year). 

That also means that my Spring semester for self-improvement–January 1 through May 21–just ended.  I had set ten goals for myself to achieve during this time, each correlated to the larger “bucket list,” and it went surprisingly well.  For comparison, out of the ten goals I set for last Fall, I only accomplished…two.  A poor, piddling, puny little two.  This time around, out of these first ten goals for 2010 (including the eight I rolled over from last year), I finished seven.  Not bad. 

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Reviewed: Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces

Upon recently finishing my long project of reading Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpeices, I could only think of that line from Robert Louis Stevenson, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”  I’ve previously written about the first third of this book (covering artists with last names A-D), and an incredible story that I learned about from it more recently, but that’s all still the tip of the iceberg. 

On each page, I was very conscious that I was being given a quick, cursory survey of what the history of art had to offer; these thousand images, with their brief explications, were just the tiniest glimmer of what was out there, a mere sampling.  I felt overwhelmed, but in a good way: it’s exciting to be reminded just how inexhaustible the good things of the world are.

The variety in the book was astonishing, covering hundreds of years (and a few even going back thousands), dozens of nationalities, and every conceivable kind of painting.  Seeing so much perfection in so many forms was undeniably humbling.  The alphabetical organization of artists created surreal but sublime juxtapositions: medieval Nativity art on the left page was often paired with experimental 20th century social protest art on the right.  The only downside of this arrangement was that artists of the same nationality often have similar names, so the hyper variety of the book was frequently interrupted by more tedious periods where you would only see Dutch or Italian or Spanish painters for four or five pages.  Still, that’s hardly boring.  The plus side here, again, is that this also allowed the several father/son legacies in art history to be shown together, which was interesting. 

Not only was I impressed with the works themselves, but the stories they covered opened up another whole new vista to me.  Many of these paintings were inspired by the same stories, which had been unfamiliar or completely unknown to me before–either they tend to be the favorites of countless artists, or just Sister Wendy, since she picked them for her book.  At any rate, just from the fragmentary comments throughout the book when illustrations of these stories came up, I now know pretty well the narratives of Judith and Holfernes, Raphael and Tobias (and his dog), and St. George and the dragon.  After seeing a dozen variations on the image in paintings, I’ll probably never be able to look at a spoked wheel again without thinking of St. Catherine

Here are my favorite paintings from the book, from artists with last names E-Z:

  • Fetti, Melancholy
  • Fragonard, Young Girl Reading (pictured)
  • Goyen, Windmill By a River
  • Hammershoi, Study of a Woman
  • La Hyre, Allegorical Figure of Grammar
  • Landseer, Monarch of the Glen (pictured)
  • Lagilliere, Elizabeth Throckmorton
  • Magritte, Empire of Lights
  • Ostade, Rustic Concert
  • Potter, Watchdog
  • Poussin, Landscape With the Ashes of Phocin
  • Pynacker, Bridge at Grancheville
  • Raeburn, Reverend Robert Walker Skating
  • Redon, Anemones and Lilacs In a Blue Vase
  • Ribera, Archimedes
  • Robert, Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie In Ruins
  • Roslin, Woman With a Veil
  • Ruisdael, Extensive Landscape With Ruins
  • Sandby, Rocky Coast By Moonlight (pictured)
  • Turner, Norham Castle, Sunrise
  • Vernet, Storm On the Coast
  • Vuillard, Portrait of Theodore Duret
  • Wyeth, Drifter (pictured)


Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces is, sadly, out of print.  Though it carries a cover price of $40, most copies available online are going for far more.  Though it’s certainly worth whatever sellers are asking, two of the copies for sale on Ebay right now are going for only $15 and $25.  I’m thinking about it…

Final Grade: A+

Recommended Listening: Schubert’s Piano Quintet In A Major

I recently picked this at random from my list of classical pieces to hear and study, downloading a copy from the library district to listen to at work, and listening to it on YouTube at home.  This is great music.

This piano quintet, also called the “Trout” quintet, for some reason, immediately struck me as having a special balance: it follows a typical pattern of varying speeds throughout, but achieves a unique niche within that structure, namely, that the fast movements are still pleasantly peaceful (almost subdued to the point of tranquility at points), and the slower movements still have substantial energy to them, while each part is still distinctly a discrete unit.  All of this exists while the music itself communicates an organically original theme. 

I realize how mundane this commentary must be to those with the language and background to understand great music far better than I can, but while my adoration of this piece is shallow, it is sincere.  (Which, I suppose, could also apply to more than one of my youthful relationships, alas.)  Actually, it is music like this that makes me want to learn more about classical music, for while I truly enjoy it as I am now, I am without doubt that a deeper education on my part, a more profound literacy in the language of music, would enable me to unlock and appreciate this work at a level that I currently don’t even know exists.

I feel that constantly while listening to it.  Like many of my favorite things–landscape art, the Bible, The Simpsons–it’s easy to love for its powerful beauty and originality, qualities so in abundance that they’re apparent to even the most untrained layman, but if one cares to delve further into the endless treasure chests they hide at nearly infinite levels, one finds a heaven eager to reward and always full of happy surprises. 

Such is my relative illiteracy in music, though, that I can only understand my positive attraction to it, much less describe it to you, by comparing it to literature and cartoons.  I stand in need of a new lexicon.  Hopefully, as I continue to surround my soul with things like Schubert’s piano quintet, my vocabulary will grow. 

Recommended for:

  • road trips in a northwesterly or a southeastern direction
  • lunch dates
  • eating candy after yoga
  • blogging, with love and squalor
  • fishing, apparently

Beautiful Photography Resource

I was recently made aware that a colleague of mine is a very talented professional photographer.  If anyone has any interest in this art, please check out her web site here to see a variety of excellent examples of her work.  I looked at these and was supremely impressed.  It is definitely worth your time to enjoy these terrific pieces.

The Raft of the Medusa

A black stain on the otherwise spotless history of French courage

Last night I learned about what might well be the most amazing historical story I’ve ever heard.  I’ve been reading Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces which, among other things, has been teaching me a lot about the great stories of history that inspired many artists (such as the fascinating story of Judith and Holofernes, which I’d also never heard before, but which was the basis for several of the paintings I’ve seen so far). 

By far the best story I’ve come across in this book is the one behind Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa (pictured at left).  After seeing this brilliant but disturbing work and reading Sister Wendy’s background text, I looked up some more of the facts behind it.  It’s…shocking.  Breathtaking.  Scary.  Unbelievable.  Straight from the pages of history, it’s a better story than Titanic and Apollo 13 combined.  It reminds me a little of the tragedy of the Russian submarine Kursk, but this one is far worse. 

I’ve blogged before about my favorite historical stories (here and here); ladies and gentlmen, we have a new champion. 

Here’s the basic story, cut down from Wikipedia.  Wow.  Just…wow. 

On 17 June 1816, a convoy under the command of De Chaumareys on Méduse departed Rochefort…. The Méduse, armed en flûte, carried passengers, including the appointed French governor of Senegal, Colonel Julien-Désire Schmaltz, and his wife Reine Schmaltz. The Méduse’s complement totaled 400, including 160 crew. She reached Madeira on 27 June.


Chaumareys had decided to involve one of the passengers, Richefort, in the navigation of the frigate. Richefort was a philosopher and a member of the Philanthropic Society of Cape Verde, but had no qualification to guide ships….

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Skills of An Artist

The title here is a Homestar Runner reference.  Brownie points if you get it. 

While camping this weekend, I wanted to practice something I love but that I haven’t worked on in a long time: pencil sketching.  I wish I’d put more time into this; I think I could be pretty decent if I did.  As it is…well, the kids were impressed. 

Here’s a sketch I did of a scene from our campsite: some pine and evergreen branches in the foreground, a mountain face in the background, and a cloud.  I never know how to do something as detailed as the mountain face without making it look too “busy.”  True story: in a fourth grade art class, we had an hour to draw a scene.  At the end, I still had a mostly blank sheet of paper because I insisted on drawing each individual blade of grass at the bottom of the page.  So I’ve gotten over that. 

Still, my work strikes me as clumsy and sentimental (much like my writing).  The shading I use to indicate the late afternoon is desperate.  All that being said, though, I actually like this–the only really bad part is the branches coming in from the left side, which look like they could have been drawn by Napoleon Dynamite.  But it made me happy to do it, and I enjoy the rough, impressionistic style I’m developing (this would be more evident if you could see my jagged lines closer up).  When I opened the sketch book I use, which I hadn’t seen for over a year, and flipped through the other pages, I was delighted to see some pleasant other work I’ve done.  Now I think I should do some work in charcoal. 


Sunday Afternoons With Bach

I’ve listened to several works of classical music this summer that are new to me, but I don’t think I’ve liked any of them more than I have these two pieces by Bach, his St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor.  They’re quite long and I’ve only heard each once, so I can’t write about them in any meaningful detail; all I can say is that I like how they sound.

What’s struck me the most about them is their pervasive, ubiquitous piety.  These two major works by one of music’s great masters are also artifacts of pure faith, resonating with reverence in every note.  Like his contemporary Handel’s Messiah (a couple of individual pieces from which are familiar to everybody), both of these are suffused with the sublime and elevate praise to that refined plane of existence known as art.  Truly moving.  In fact, the first time I listened to St. Matthew Passion, one of my main impressions was, I should listen to this on Sunday afternoons

I’ve also learned this summer what  a great classical music tool YouTube can be.  Not just private interpretations, but frequently entire concerts, in full orchestra, are archived there, in versions of exquisitely professional quality.  Not only that, but longer works such as these two are usually available for viewing on a playlist, where the bite-sized clips apparently required by YouTube can be strung together in a continuous order for nearly seamless enjoyment.  Press “play all” and enjoy your night at the symphony, or your pleasant Sabbath afternoon.

Blogjet d’art

The infancy of the electronic age has been accompanied by instant and ubiquitous prognosticating about the inevitable advent of online art.  What I wonder is this: when will the first great work of literature first appear online?  When scholars and schools of the future look back on the 21st century and study our contribution to the canon, will the early works of earthshattering, breathtaking prose have been things that appeared self-published online, or in an e-zine, or even, dare I wonder, on a blog?

When will a generation of writers break new ground in marrying the form of the medium to its content as, say, Dickens did with his serialized works, or Cervantes did when he wrote a second part to Don Quixote responding to unauthorized “sequels,” or Joyce did by integrating news headlines into Ulysses?  What will it look like when someone starts finding the perfect marriage of the World Wide Web’s visual layout and the untapped abilities of text that it might uncover?  When will we see a powerful vision of HTML and prosody commingled?  Will it be a cheap novelty at first?  Will it be scorned–or ignored–by the establishment, only to be appreciated by our grandchildren? 

Is it already out there?  Or will it somehow never be?  No, sooner or later, the Great American Blog will surface.  (Perhaps the Great American Text Message?  Or even the Great American Tweet?  OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) 

I’ve seen some wonderful writing online, but nothing that wouldn’t work just as well, or even better, on the printed page.  I don’t know exactly what I’m wishing for, but it’s more than just text in a fancy font or with some jazzy animation or backgrounds.  I guess that’s the thing about watershed events: you just can’t predict them until some genius has actually done it.  If you could, then it would already be done. 

So I’ll continue to wade through the Slough of Des-blog, seeking a great new work of literary achievement.  Until then, I can always read Shakespeare.

1000 Masterpieces, A-D

I need to take Sister Wendy’s 1000 Matserpieces back to the library tomorrow.  I’ve renewed it three times, and they won’t let me do it again.  Serves me right.  In two whole months, I’ve only made it through about a third of the massive 500-page tome, or to put it another way, the artists with last names starting with A-D. 

Sister Wendy–an ascetic, reclusive nun who looks like a kindly if somewhat backward extra from Sister Act–makes an unusual art guide, but her credentials are bona fide.  I highly recommend her books and PBS specials (especially since she decided several years ago that her vocation just isn’t consistent with making any more–what we’ve got now is all we’re gonna get). 

On each page, she gives us a beautifully reproduced image of a classic of Western art, arranged alphabetically by artist, so you might have a simple medieval Nativity on a page facing an excruciatingly abstract postmodern experiment on the next.  Cool.

Wendy is a wonderful teacher, and a gifted writer.  After giving us some background on Caillebotte’s Rue de Paris, Wet Weather, she tells us that he “convinces us that this is what it was like on that particular afternoon in 1877, at a certain time of day, on a certain street in Paris, when the light was cool and bright, the streets were quiet, and the rain fell in a fine drizzle.”  This prose is clean and simple, as a utilitarian didactic text should be, but still fresh enough to interest us. 

My only complain is that, while she constantly highlights aspects of paintings that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise and can now see are clearly critical truths that she has observed about the works, she sometimes seems to slip into a bit of psychic psychologizing that reaches too far.  Sometimes she’ll even admit that her interpretations are speculative but, even though they’re easy to see and ignore if we’re so inclined, they can be distracting. 

For example, commenting on two works by David Cox, she writes, “This blind courage, doomed and noble, may well have a personal significance for Cox,” and then, “it is impossible not to believe that Cox dashed out this watercolor there and then.”  These guesses may well be true, but is it necessary to include such guesses in educational commentaries that are limited to a single paragraph per masterpiece? 

Still, this work is comprehensive, breathtakingly outlined, and, for the most part, engagingly elucidated.  Oh yes, I will check this out again soon and finish it.

I’ve learned a lot and been introduced to some deeply stunning paintings with this book–enough to convince me that I’ve only scratched the surface.  Here are my favorite works so far, some of the ones I’ve really connected with:

  • Federico Barocci, The Birth
  • Frederic Bazille, Self-Portrait (pictured–I love a good, dramatic portrait)
  • Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in the Wilderness
  • Gerrit Berkheyde, The Market Place
  • Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley (I love this artist’s body of work)
  • Arnold Bocklin, The Isle of the Dead (pictured–this could have been a scene from Lord of the Rings!)
  • Gustave Caillebotte, Rue de Paris, Wet Weather
  • Theodore Chasseriau, Pere Lacordaire
  • Giogio de Chirico, Melancholy and Mystery of a Street
  • Frederick Edwin Church, Cotopaxi
  • John Constable, Weymouth Bay (pictured–clearly, I have a thing for evocative landscapes)
  • Lovis Corinth, Samson Blinded
  • John Robert Cozens, Sepulchral Remains in the Campagna
  • John Crome, Norwich River: Afternoon
  • Honore Daumier, The Print Collector (pictured–this could be me…*sigh*)
  • Edgar Degas, The Tub