Saturday, December 31, 2011

People in Pieces

My sister, inspired by my love of art history, decided to write her midterm for her humanities class at University of Chicago on comparing and contrasting a Picasso with a poem by T.S. Eliot. She does this very successfully, and with her permission, I am sharing it with the world.

People in Pieces
One may first connect Pablo Picasso’s “The Red Armchair” to T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” by recognizing the distinct similarities in form of the two works; while “The Red Armchair” is a fragmented image, “The Waste Land” is a fragmented literary piece—a poem composed of disconnected stories. However, while this connection is important, it is the differing outcomes of the fragmentation that makes comparing these works of art meaningful. Whereas the fragments of the woman in Picasso’s “The Red Armchair” create a greater whole of a three-dimensional, lively being, the fragments of the people in Eliot’s “The Waste Land” demonstrate the decay of human beings.
In both “The Red Armchair” and “The Waste Land” the juxtaposition of opposite elements emphasizes the fragmentation of the work. However, while Picasso’s method of doing this through opposite colors and lines demonstrates the three-dimensional feminine shape of the woman the piece depicts, Eliot’s method of combining the contrasting ideas of machinery and humanity conveys humans to be emotionally-flat and nearly robotic. The juxtaposition of pairs of opposite colors emphasizes the shapes that fragment “The Red Armchair” by how the colors stand out against each other when in the same vicinity. Green and red shapes contrast against each other in the foreground of the painting while purple and yellow shapes make up the background. The differing color schemes of the foreground and the background make the woman sitting in the armchair stand out against the background, conveying her importance.
 Moreover, the curved shapes that form the woman in “The Red Armchair” contrast with the straight-edged shapes of the armchair and walls, emphasizing the woman’s human existence in contrast to the nonliving things around her. Picasso uses curved fragments to form the woman and highlight her femininity, conveying the three-dimensional curvy figure of her greater whole—the woman the painting depicts. The contrast between the curved shapes that make up the woman’s form and the straight-edged shapes that compose the walls further differentiate between the living and nonliving. Because, while perfectly straight lines exist among the man-made, they do not exist as a part of the living. The straight lines that outline the walls and compose the stripes of the chair recognize these as nonliving things and suggest that the woman, composed solely of curved shapes in the painting, is alive.
And while contrasting fragments highlight the femininity and liveliness of the woman in “The Red Armchair,” the composition of contrasting parts in “The Wasteland” demonstrates the diminished femininity of women and the decay of the human condition. Using the metaphor of machinery for people, Eliot combines two contrasting ideas into one being, demonstrating how machinery is fragmenting the living. Eliot describes, “At the violet hour…/…when the human engine waits/like a taxi throbbing waiting” (12, lines 215-17). Eliot conveys the apathy people have for life by comparing humans to emotionless machines. Through his metaphor for the human as a taxi, Eliot suggests that people wait, empty of emotion and direction, and then go, automatically, in a direction not of their choosing and about which they feel indifferent.
Likewise, Eliot represents the typist as a metaphor for the taxi, conveying her diminished femininity. Eliot demonstrates the connection between the taxi and the typist through the repetition of the phrase “at the violet hour” before the introduction of each and through the instances in the typist’s story (12, line 215, 13, line 220).  The typist waits for the “expected guest” to arrive, like a taxi awaiting a customer (13, line 230). When the said guest does arrive, he forces himself upon the typist, directing her like a taxi customer does a taxi (13, line 237-42). The typist reacts like a machine, unemotional and indifferent: “Hardly aware of her departed lover;/Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:/‘Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over” (13, lines 250-52). The two defining qualities that differentiate humans from machinery, the ability to think and to feel emotion, are distorted in the case of the typist. By describing the typist’s thought as “half-formed,” a technical and exact way of characterizing an abstract concept, Eliot conveys her thoughts to be more like the automatic output of a machine than qualities unique to the human condition. Additionally, the typist’s indifference toward her lover and his actions toward her further emphasizes her similarities to a machine; while her interaction with him is far more intimate than that between a taxi and its customer, she feels just as apathetic about the experience. Through the metaphor of the typist as a taxi, Eliot demonstrates her diminished femininity, emphasizing how she is unable to enjoy the experience of being female and instead is just a machine for a man to do with what he wants.
Whereas the typist’s part human and part mechanical characteristics convey her diminished freedom, especially in terms of men, the woman’s fragmented face in “The Red Armchair” conveys her freedom and how she takes advantage of it with men. The placard next to the painting at the Art Institute of Chicago states that “The Red Armchair” was the first in a “series of paintings [that Picasso painted] of his mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter …Perhaps acknowledging the double life they were leading, Picasso invented a new motif—a face encompassing both frontal and profile views” (Picasso, The Red Armchair). The fact that the woman in the painting, Marie-Thérèse Walter, was Picasso’s lover demonstrates that her fragmented face in the artwork hints at the freedom she exercises with her love affair. Her divided face displays two perspectives with differing expressions, perhaps conveying Walter’s multifaceted personality and life due to her ongoing affair with a married man. The fragmented face in “The Red Armchair” demonstrates the freedom that Walter exercises and the complexity her life exhibits, contrasting with that of the automatic, mechanical characters in “The Waste Land.”
            Additionally, while the fragmented background of “The Red Armchair” leads the viewer’s eye to the focal point of the painting—the woman’s face—demonstrating her importance, the fragmented stories in “The Waste Land” result in a lack of focus on a certain character or characters, conveying people’s lack of importance. In “The Red Armchair” a strip of color runs horizontally on the wall in the background, leading right up to the woman’s face on both sides. Furthermore, the wall is divided vertically right above the woman’s head so that the thin black line which outlines where the purple side of the wall ends and the yellow side begins leads right to the center of her head. The fragmentation of the wall causes the woman’s face to have straight lines leading to it in many directions, making her face the focal point of the painting. In this way, the fragmentation emphasizes the importance of the woman as a person, leading viewers to see the woman’s face first; like how, in real life, the face of a person is what others are drawn to see first.
In “The Waste Land” however, fragmentation has the opposite effect, resulting in a lack of focus on a certain character or characters, demonstrating the lack of importance of people and bringing focus to the only things continual and consistent in the poem: time and death. The fact that the fragmented stories emphasize not certain people but instead the general theme of the ending of people, demonstrates a cruel message about humanity: humans and society are decaying. In section one of “The Waste Land,” in the stanza about fortuneteller Madame Sosostris, Eliot writes, “Fear death by water./I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring./Thank you” (7, lines 55-57). This seems to be a conversation between the fortuneteller and the narrator where Madame Sosostris tells the narrator’s fortune. But after the narrator’s “Thank you” there is no mention of the fortuneteller or clear explanation of the fortune in the rest of the poem. After the abrupt finish of that stanza, a new stanza begins, “Unreal City,/Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,/A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/ I had not thought death had undone so many./…/And each man fixed his eyes before his feet” (7, lines  60-65). There is no connection between the characters of these two consecutive stanzas (it is not clear if the narrator is the same person) and so no importance is placed on the characters, demonstrating people’s lack of importance. The lack of clear connection between the characters and occurrences in “The Waste Land” lead the reader to find connection and an overlying story in the ideas and phrases that repeat throughout the piece.
Through the repeating idea of crowds of people getting nowhere in these stanzas, Eliot conveys the significance of the decay of humanity and the insignificance of human individuality. While the people and instances in these stanzas are not mentioned or referred to again in the poem, Eliot does repeat certain phrases of these stanzas—“death by water” and “Unreal City”—phrases referencing the death of humans and decay of their creations (7, lines 55, 60; 12, line 20; 16). These phrases connect section one of the poem with the sections that follow; Eliot titles section four “Death By Water” and mentions, “Unreal City/Under the brown fog of a winter noon” in section three (12, line 20). The repetition of these phrases demonstrates that as time passes, death and decay continues. The fragmentation of “The Waste Land” through its discontinuous storyline emphasizes death and decay over human individuality in the way that phrases and instances of these themes, instead of characters and their stories, give continuity to the poem.
The differing effects of fragmentation in Picasso’s “The Red Armchair” and Eliot’s “The Waste Land” demonstrate how fragments can enliven humanity and enrich life, conveying new perspectives and possibly new combinations; and in other circumstances, how they can emphasize devastation, indicating the missing pieces and destruction of the whole that once existed. Moreover, the disjointedness of these two works highlights that fragments are more than just the result when something is broken; they are part of a process with a past, present, and future. By looking at the past wholes the fragments were a part of and the present forms they exist in, one can speculate where and what they will be in the future.

Works Cited
Eliot, T. S. “The Waste Land.” The Waste Land. Ed. Michael North. New York: W. W. Norton
& Company, 2001.
Picasso, Pablo. The Red Armchair. 1931. Oil and Ripolin on panel. Chicago, United States.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Francoise Gilot

Probably the majority of kids my age either want to meet Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga...or maybe some athlete. Well the person that I meet in my dreams is Francoise Gilot, Picasso's fifth prominent lover, and the only one to still be alive (and to leave Picasso). Meeting such a large figure in Picasso's life would be almost a window into his aura, and I would be afraid to be to show too much interest into Picasso, rather then into Gilot herself. This would be doing Gilot a major disservice, not just because she has led an extraordinary life, but because she is also an artist. After leaving Picasso, Gilot married another significant individual in history, Jonas Salk, who found the polio vaccine. As the son of two doctors, Gilot's relationships bridge not only my passion, but also those of my parent's.
Upon finding out that my family was traveling to Paris and New York, two places that Francoise resides in, I decided to email her and see if we could meet. Either she thought I was a stalker, or she does not check her email (probably the latter) because Ms. Gilot never replied to my genuine email. The opportunity to get in contact with her presented itself again, this time through an article featured in the New York Times. It discussed the show juxtaposing Gilot and Picasso's work at the Gargosian Gallery.
...And i thought: "One of the relatives in my extended my family that I am closest to, my Aunt Marcy, lives in New York, she could go as a representative of me to the opening show and perhaps arrange a meeting with Francoise and I." Alas, I was too shy and too busy to contact my aunt about this, and the opportunity burnt into flames.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Carlos Slim and The Museo Soumaya

The Museo Soumaya, the newest art museum in Mexico City, has received varied reviews by art critics, citizens, and humanitarians alike. The institution is the work of Carlos Slim, reportedly the richest man in the world, in tribute to his deceased wife. Public figures like Larry King dub the museum as a tourist attraction and a way to provide accessible art to citizens of Latin American countries. The opposing viewpoint declares that "money can't buy taste" and that Slim should be donating his wealth to charity, rather then financing his lofty ego.
I would like to start out by saying that insulting the art in the museum is fine, but it is a little inconsiderate when one remembers that much of the art in the museum was bought by Slim's deceased wife. He credits what he knows about art to her, and although critics should express their opinion, the many articles about his "second rate collection" are a tad rude. Now that that is off my chest, my thoughts shall be heard. My opinion is floating in between the two viewpoints.
First, to those that declare, "Slim should donate his money to charity rather then spending it on an ego booster": I flat out disagree with these people. The museum that he has erected will educate the public, and attract tourism for the rest of Mexico's existence. Furthermore, Slim has already donated much of his fortune to countless charities. I do believe that he should donate billions more, but he can donate while also making a museum.
The argument against the museum that I agree with: that the museum contains second rate art (or "quantity and not quality") is an argument that I agree with. Although I haven't been to the museum so I do not know the quality of the works there, two facts makes the intentions of the museum suspect. The fact that it has "66,000 works of art" seems absurd. Anyone that truly collected art for the correct purposes, would not collect such a bountiful amount of art. The museum can only display a fraction of this massive collection, which makes me wonder why Slim didn't collect better works, in lesser quantity. Though the quality of a work is opinionated, opinions about the importance and brilliance of a work are usually fairly similar across the board. The other action Slim did wrong, was when he hired his son-in-law to do the architecture for the building. Although most would agree it is stunning, giving a family member such preference for a building of such importance is flat out wrong.
 The last problem I have with the museum is a trivial and petty problem. It is that The Museo Soumaya  holds Slim's massive Rodin collection (the largest outside of France, which is a fact that perplexed me, who thought that Stanford University had the largest collection of his work outside of France). The Rodin's mildly horrifies me because Rodin does nothing for me. This is an obsolete fact when considering the museums collection, because my opinion holds no importance. Slim collected Rodin intensely because Rodin was Slim wife's favorite artist. Good reason for collection work of an artist, I guess...
My overall opinion is that the museum is a wonderful addition to the country, but that it would have been wonderful if someone with better taste (and love of art) had the money to choose the collection. It is wonderful that Slim loves art, and that he can finance this love (even if he loves things that I don't).


Fun Fact: Slim is worth 5 percent of Mexico.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Connoisseurship and Recent Discoveries

The recent discoveries of the Salvator Mundi and the new Diego Velázquez makes my soul tingle. I have endless fantasies, some of my exploits and success as an artist, and being inducted into huge museums next to Picasso's and my favorite artists. I have others about owning my favorite art and creating a whimsical underground museum. Although the asking price is two hundred million dollars for the Salvator Mundi, I find this exquisite work more than worthy of this only monetary expense. If I were a millionaire with exactly 201 million dollars, I would spend the 200 million on the Salvator, and the last million on a condo where I'd spend my days staring lovingly at the Da Vinci. For any millionaire or billionaire yearning to erect the next great art institution, a Da Vinci is the work to own. So few exist in the world (only one in the United States) that a Da Vinci of any caliber would put most museums on the map. In my eyes, this work ranks high on my list of favorite Da Vinci's (definitely in the top three). What's mind blowing about this fact is that I usually hate depictions of Jesus Christ, not only because I am Jewish, but also because the way most artists of the time painted him plainly creeps me out. Da Vinci presents Jesus spot on. Maybe it is the sfumato that lets ones head wrap around Jesus's divinity or maybe it is only that Da Vinci is the only one to present such a brilliant subject to the human eye. Whatever it is, I love the painting. My thoughts on the Diego Velázquez are a bit different. It is a fine painting, but nothing extraordinary. Still, I would love to have it in my fantasy museum.This all presents the question about connoisseurship. Many people get into a tizzy and declare, "The art market is a fraud. Why has the price of the painting gone up by five million dollars with just the naming its a new author. This is absurd!" I look down upon these absurd folk, and respond by telling them that there are many reasons why the price escalates when a painting is found to be created by a master. To begin with, these paintings can help reveal what the thought process behind other paintings, and the dialogue between many works he painted during an allotted amount of time. Also, there is  a profound happiness that can be achieved through owning a painting made by a genius that painted fabulous work (even if a particular painting isn't his best work. Finally, in response to claim that "these prices are astronomical...why would people pay such money for this", I counter, "People pay much more money yacht's, houses and other plain shit, paintings are much better things to buy if one has that money.

So this is my first post. I am a 16 year old male trying to educate both adults, children, and my own age group about the wonders of art and art history. Future posts will be about upcoming auctions, my art preference, and museum reviews.