Rediscovering my love of art through Vincent van Gogh

It’s been over four months since I have posted anything to this blog. Actually, it’s closer to five. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write; indeed, I’ve started about 10 posts, half of which are still saved in my Drafts folder, but I (obviously) never finished any of them. There are a few factors that have contributed to my absence from the blogosphere: over the summer, I took on a second temporary job (in addition to my regular 32-hour-a-week job) for the CU Museum of Natural History in which I created a prototype mini-exhibition program called Exhibits in the Dorms; I got engaged in June and have been doing some moderate wedding planning ever since; and August saw the beginning of the Fall semester (though I am thankfully only taking one graduate class). Furthermore, my 94-page thesis sucked the will to write for educational recreation right out of me.

Aside from being busy, I have a confession I must make: there are many days where I’m not sure if I even like art anymore. Perhaps even hate it. I still see a lot of art (mainly contemporary), most of which I am thoroughly unimpressed by because of poor craftspersonship and the current market. When I look at a lot of art these days, I see capitalism at work (as art can be a good, unregulated place to invest money and the wealthy can determine who everyone should think is “good”). I see intellectual pissing matches in my graduate classes, where everyone is trying to prove that they are the smartest or that they have the most shocking and important things to say. I see the notes in the margins of my thesis from my advisor, tearing my words and ideas apart.

There’s no point in beating around the bush: I’m bitter. Plain and simple.

I have occasional moments where I am impressed by art, especially if it’s Modern or older. I suppose I can be considered something of a traditionalist when I say that I love meticulousness, a skilled hand, and a strong attention to detail, which, in terms of contemporary art, can be seen in the works of Ben JackelFred Tomaselli or Barbara Takenaga. I also like artists who acknowledge art historical predecessors in their work (albeit in an often humorous or derogatory sense), like Ged Quinn or Kent Monkman. And I love art that pokes fun at the market surrounding it, such as Banksy’s recent stunt in Central Park in which he was selling his own canvases for $60, but since they were so cheap, few people believed it was him or that the works were “valuable.” However, it is Modern master Vincent van Gogh who has managed to move me to tears in recent months and remind me that, yes, I really do love art.

Vincent van Gogh, “First Steps, after Millet,” 1890, oil on canvas. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Source)

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… And I’m still ambivalent to contemporary art

Before the artsy masses jump down my throat, let me clarify the title of my post: I do like SOME contemporary art, but not much of it, even though I tend to see a lot of contemporary art these days. There seems to be an attitude about art that if you don’t like it (which tends to preemptively assume “don’t get it”), you clearly are not an art person. Sure, people can have artists that they like and dislike, but if one targets a general period like contemporary, a certain amount of ignorance is presumed to be a factor. I admit that I am at least partially biased because I majored in modern art for my Master’s degree (perhaps for obvious reasons); furthermore, much of my professional experience weighs heavily in my mind when looking at art in general. My issues with contemporary art can be largely attributed to three major factors: construction, the art market, and classism. Continue reading

Revisited: On studying Art History (seriously– is it a useless degree??)

It appears that the most popular post on this blog is On studying Art History (a useless degree?). In fact, one of the most common search terms I get is some derivative of “Is an art history degree useless?” Unsurprisingly, I saw a pronounced spike in this type of search around college application time. My previous post discussed what one can do with an Art History degree at a rather broad level, as I am sure that there are other things one can do with such a degree that I haven’t thought of. However, I did get one search phrase once– “is studying art history hard”– that I would like to delve into a bit more, as well as more real world analysis of what it is like to study and work in the arts.

Brilliant man, Einstein.

Let’s start with the inspiring question of “Is studying Art History hard?” Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but so are most areas of study. Everything requires work whether you are good at it or not, and what it really comes down to is if you care about it. Things can seem especially difficult if your mind does not operate along the lines dictated by your chosen discipline. Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

For Art History, there are different skills that one needs to acquire and cultivate, including (but not limited to): memorization, which is necessary pretty much anywhere but in terms of Art History means remembering scholars’ arguments, specific artworks, events, dates, etc; analysis, or being able to look at an artwork and scrutinize how it is made, what it means, and so on; critical thinking, which is tied to analysis and basically means reading between the lines and questioning an argument or artwork; efficient communication, both in terms of writing and speaking so that one can make an effective argument. When I started grad school, I had spent most of my academic and professional careers thinking in more practical terms (and I mean practical in the “practice” sense of the word): in art conservation and collections management, there are set ways in which one handles or takes care of an object, like not touching an antique silver teapot with your bare hands. Granted, many rules in the various academic disciplines are made to be questioned, as questioning and reformulating ideas are what drives knowledge forward (and since conservation is a very scientific field, it is as open to evolving ideas as chemistry is). However, unless someone develops a better glove than nitrile, I doubt that anyone will be changing how they handle silver any time soon. Continue reading

Back in the crafty saddle again (sort of)

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Invincibility Star Hat
(Pattern modified from April Draven Designs)

So, it’s been a long time since I posted anything about crocheting. And I mean a really long time. I’m fairly certain the last time I posted anything I was currently working on was in August 2012. I will admit that I have had to put my crocheting largely on the backburner because of school, though I have actually been rather busy with it in recent weeks despite my needing to also work on my thesis. I am increasingly finding that crocheting is becoming the best way for me to combat school- and work-related stress, and I think it is largely because I am intending to donate my work to feel-good causes.  Continue reading

How the Disintegration of Naples’ Cultural Heritage Affects You

Remnants of unfinished restoration work in Santa Maria delle Grazie in Naples, Italy
(Source)

Naples, Italy has been considered a UNESCO World Heritage site for 17 years, yet the local and national government have spent years mismanaging funds and neglecting much of its cultural heritage: approximately 200 churches and other historic sites have fallen into disrepair, stripped of their furnishings (including art) and/or left to rot due to lack of funds for conservation. Recent stories about the neglect and degradation of the city’s cultural sites have been spreading across the Internet, first with the report in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and then with the English-translated rehash in The Art Newspaper. Another story in The Guardian, also published in January, discussed the arrests of two additional people in connection with the “‘premeditated, organized and brutal’ sacking” of the 16th c. Girolamini Library. It is estimated that as many as 4,000 historic documents and books have been stolen, though we may never know the full extent, as much of the library’s holdings were never properly catalogued. A petition has been initiated to strip Naples of its UNESCO status, as it is believed that the city is doing nothing to protect its heritage (though it should be noted that it is suspected that the Mafia may have some involvement, as they were behind the 2008 waste management crisis amongst many other crime issues in the area). The pillaging of the Girolamini Library prompted the director of the Vatican Museums to declare that the cultural heritage of Italy at large is vanishing, particularly in smaller institutions which do not have adequate security, and that “the cultural fabric of the country is coming apart.”

It can be easy for one to feel a detached sadness in this crisis, especially if one is separated from it by an ocean (and even more so if one is not generally engrossed by issues of cultural heritage and preservation). Indeed, The Art Newspaper‘s story in particular has a sort of “ruin porn”-air about it, with its beautiful pictures of hollowed out cathedrals and exclamation that one had better book a ticket to Naples now to see it before it completely falls apart. However, the disintegration of the cultural heritage of Naples and Italy at large is a catastrophe, not only to the Italians– to whom I can attest take extraordinary pride in their history, having witnessed it personally during my semester abroad in 2006– but to the world.  Continue reading

Illuminating Blogger Award!

A big thanks to Maria at Preservation and Place for awarding me the Illuminating Blogger Award! This award comes from Food Stories and is given to those who contribute illuminating and informative content to the blogosphere.

As per the requirements of receiving of this award, here is a random fact about myself: I absolutely have to listen to audiobooks when I sleep at night because silence freaks me out and music is too audibly exciting. My favorites are all of the Harry Potter books.

And here are my nominees!

Keeping History Alive

The Arts and Cats Movement

Ancientfoods

Daydream Tourist

Bricks + Mortar

If you are nominated then you have been awarded the Illuminating Blogger Award. Just follow the steps below:

  1. The nominee should visit the award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/) and leave a comment indicating that they have been nominated and by whom. (This step is so important because it’s the only way that we can create a blogroll of award winners).
  2. The Nominee should thank the person that nominated them by posting & including a link to their blog.
  3. The Nominee should include a courtesy link back to the official award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/) in their blog post.
  4. Share one random thing about yourself in your blog post.
  5. Select at least five other bloggers that you enjoy reading their illuminating, informative posts and nominate them for the award. Many people indicate that they wish they could nominate more so please feel free to nominate all your favorites.
  6. Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog, including a link to the award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/).

Book review: Roaring Camp by Susan Lee Johnson

J.D. Borthwick, “Monte in the Mines” (c. 1851)
(Source)

Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush by Susan Lee Johnson is an extraordinary contribution to scholarship on the California Gold Rush.  The title of the book is a play on the title of the short story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte and is intended to evoke ideas of the myths tied to the Gold Rush. However, the book is anything but playful: it is an account of a period that was so full of potential for redefining ideas of class, gender, and cultural tolerance, yet the opportunity was lost. The Northern Mines of California are the site of more widely acknowledged Gold Rush narratives; Johnson, however, focuses on the Southern Mines, which were a site of conflicted gender roles due to the mixing of multiple ethnicities and glasses and are comparatively outside of the major history of the Gold Rush. A highly deserving winner of the 2001 Bancroft Prize, Johnson utilizes her position as a New Western historian to persuasively coerce the reader to rethink not only what is acknowledged about the Gold Rush, but also how ethnicity, class and gender influenced notions of social roles even before the advent of postmodernism.  Continue reading