Category Archives: Other Readings

#occupymuseums

As a young, liberal-minded person, I’ve been generally following the #occupy movement. While appreciating the sentiment, I feel the movement mostly leaves the actual action of the activism to a  body that is made up of the same breed of rich, white, male-bodied people whom the movement is protesting against. So while not participating directly because of the lack of organization and generally the method of activism, I do hope, someday, that taxes will make more sense, even if that means that I, as an upper middle person, will be taxed more.

That aside, what really caught my attention this week was an article on the Washington Post’s website about the #occupymuseums movement.

The idea is that museums perpetuate “cultural elitism.” And yes, they do. But I don’t think the tagline of the #occupy movement applies to art museums. That one percent of the world is represented in those museums and the ninety-nine percent isn’t. Whether we like it or not, “museum art” is a part of our Western cultural consciousness and the story we tell about ourselves. I am very pro-museum institution. But I am also very pro-art outside of museums. There are art and artists who actively break down museums in their work, whether they are participating in the museum system or not.

I originally saw a mention of this movement on my tumblr (my favorite micro-blogging platform). It was paired with a Barbara Kruger piece “You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece.” Kruger is an example of an artist who breaks down the cultural elitism of museums by working in the museum system.

"You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece," Barbara Kruger, 1982, MoMA

I believe museums are less culturally elite than the prospect of these pieces of art being in the private homes of the true 1%. Maybe art is elitist because there is such a thing as art and Art, and I believe that good art exists. I believe in the canon, as much as I believe in breaking open the canon. Like I said in my post about the Barnes Foundation (An Opinion: The Barnes Foundation), the absolute most important thing to me is that people have access to art. Large, urban museums provide that. Anyone can walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and see a large portion of art history. And I think that the more pressing issue which the #occupymuseums movement may be missing is that art exists outside museums. By protesting the institution, they are giving power to the institutions, by legitimatizing the notion that because museums are elitist and rich, they monopolize the best art. But there is among the best art outside of museums as well.  As an extremely canonical person (I want to study Renaissance art and Victorian literature, for God’s sake), I do tend to prioritize art that is in museums. But I also actively seek out art outside of the museum system, and I think encouraging that would help break down the elitism more.

You can’t change the institution by being angry at it; you can change it by providing it with competition. Let great art exists in museums, make great art outside of museums and provide access to everyone. That’s how you make the art world equal opportunity.

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Book Review: Sargent’s Daughters

Sargent's Daughters: A Biography of a Painting by Erica E. Hirschler

I picked up this book at the Agnes Scott Library after feeling a hole in my life that can only be filled by John Singer Sargent. My love of the expatriate is no secret. One of my first art history related posts was about The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Two of his paintings are among my top ten favorite pieces of art. I have a weakness for figural representations and society portraits. I love knowing the stories of models and the distinction between someone posing as something else and a portrait.

I’ve read a book about one of Sargent’s paintings before-Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis. That book was a wonderfully engaging story about a woman whose reputation and notoriety had been eclipsed by the man who painted her. I would recommend that book to any one interested in the subject, however the same does not go for Sargent’s Daughters.

I enjoyed the book a lot and learned quite a bit. But in an effort to be completely inclusive in the history of the Boit family through at least three generations, John Singer Sargent, the Gilded Age in Boston, London and Paris, and the art surrounding this time period, while containing the tome to little over 200 pages, the pace comes off as manic. Also, lots of names are thrown about and within a background in understanding of the art, it is hard to find a grasp on the context because the other context provided is society names. Also the art discussed is not the stuff of intro level survey, or even upper level classes in most undergraduate programs. John Singer Sargent is the stand out of Victorian and Edwardian art who firmly was not any of the avant-garde styles surging through Paris. So the other names mentioned are not commonly discussed outside of this circle of expatriates not participating in the avant-garde.

However, once the author establishes context and then dives into the lives of the Boits and Sargent and the life of the painting after its patrons and painter, the pace calms and the book becomes much more interesting.

I also enjoyed the very feminist historical approach at the sisters’ lives after the painting. Long as it been remarked on  “how sad” it is that none of the sisters ever married. But Hirschler looks at their lives, as well as the lives of many unmarried women in the Boston age, and determined that they were not doomed to unfulfilled lives simply for their lack of marriage, especially since their fortunes allowed them to live with the pressure to be married.

Overall, I would recommend this book to someone who knows a little bit about expatriates from the Gilded Age (read any Edith Wharton or Henry James) and has an interest in Sargent. It made me appreciate both him and this painting even more.

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A Leisurely Read

My ability to leisurely read a book has been severely limited since I’ve gone to college. The last fiction book I read for leisure was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and that was my traditional every other month read of that. (It is so underrated as a novel).

Before that, it was probably either a short story collection by Garcia Marquez or Incredibly Close and Extreme Loud by Johnathan Safran Foer. Both were wonderful. Both were read in the spring of 2010.

Over the summer I had all these lofty goals to read so much fiction and enjoy myself. But honestly, two 300 level literature classes, one of them where we read eight novels, kind of burnt me out. So I recharged by watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cheering on the Phillies and rereading all of Jane Austen’s works.

However, non-fiction is another story. Art History has given an unexpected outlet for leisurely  reading. I’ve talked about how much I love non-fiction, cultural microcosm books, favorite ever being Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe. They are just wonderful. Over the summer I read Strapless about my all-time favorite painting Madame X, which was equal parts scandal, art history and fashion. I also read Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture inspired by my general love of the Medici family.

Since I’ve been doing research on Baroque Rome you think my discovery of my next leisurely read would have come from that. But actually I found a review of this book in a contemporary art journal I was looking at for my contemporary class.

So it is called Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in Florence by Robert Clark. And it is basically combines three of my favorite things: Florence, Art, and Disaster.

The first half of the book is about the history of Florence, and how floods of the Arno correspond and related to the Florentines. The second half is specifically about the 1966 flood, covered by Life magazine, and how the destruction and near-destruction of the epicenter of the Renaissance brought art lovers together from around the world to try and preserve the city.

It is phenomenal. I’m not completely done yet, but I would still recommend it to anyone interested in Florence. The history is pretty comprehensive of at least the politics of the Florence, which you don’t always get in Art History classes, as well as Dante’s interactions with the City.

Very wonderful.

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new book purchases

I love summer. I always feel like I buy a lot of books during the summer. Especially paper back books that feel like they have a powder on the cover that never rubs off, opposed to the shiny ones. It is hard to explain, but those are the books I like to read in the summer. So today I got two books: Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal of the Conflict between Faith and Reason by Russell Shorto and Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King. Possessive nouns and titular colonicity FTW?

My mom picked by the Descartes book, and I was interested in it primarily because of my obsessive relationship with the Fox shows Bones, which is super smart and features a Deschanel sister and the gorgeous David Boreanaz, what’s not to love? But it is on summer hiatus, so my need of anthropological studies of bones is not being fulfilled. I read the preface of the book today and it seems to be going in the direction of the art and literature books I wrote about liked, where authors look at one painting, one book, or in this case one skeletal system, track its history and figure out something about the outreaching influence of that one object.

The second book is about something is much more clearly influential. Brunelleschi INVENTED linear perspective. But that isn’t even the coolest thing he ever did. He made the largest brick dome in history…without concrete. I mean that is just cool. Plus I love the Florentines! If the Medicis love you, I love you. And Brunelleschi had the cutest Florentine nose.

The Duomo of Florence, and Brunelleschi's Dome

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a review and comments on things

I originally thought this review would stray from the original purpose of my blog, a journey as an English major in college, but being an English major is being a writer and writers have opinions and right now I have an opinion.

I guess around a year ago my younger sister was clamoring for a book call “How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World” a sort of guide to class and elegance for the tween set and I didn’t think much of it other than that my sis wanting the book so badly to the point of annoyance to the rest of the family didn’t seem so classy. But hey, she’s eleven, we’ll forgive. I mean I love Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday is one of my favorite movies and Katharine Hepburn is beautiful and one of the most empowered women of all time.

Then I read the book. The first thing I noticed was how regressive it was. Jordan Christy, the author, divides all women into “stupid girls” and “classy women,” which to me doesn’t seem so far from the way men are accused of dividing women to categories sex object or marriage candidates. “Stupid girls” include Ms. Hilton, Ms. Lohan and Ms. Richie who often make headlines for their classless actions. Instead women and girls should strive to be like Audrey Hepburn (Kate is only mentioned in passing). This is where Christy’s argument really breaks down. 1. Her concept of who Audrey Hepburn was is severely flawed. 2. Her concept of an empowered woman is just as flawed.

Yes, Audrey Hepburn did not go around flashing people and doing lines off her dashboard. But she did have severe body issues, marriages rumored to be abusive,  a definitely abusive relationship with already married William Holden, as well as an affair during her first marriage. Hell, Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic character, Holly Golightly, whose outfit is replicated on the cover, is a high-class call girl who needs a high class gigolo is save her from herself. Sure she does it in a not-too-revealing dress but does that make her a role model? The other examples are contrary as well. Scarlett O’Hara is oft-cited as Christy’s favorite literary character. HELLO, that woman screams “USING SEX AS A WEAPON TO GET WHAT I WANT.” Sorry for the all caps, but if Scarlett was modern day, she would not be someone that Christy was defending.

I am not saying any of these sexual relationships tarnish Hepburn’s classiness or Scarlett’s. I still think both is wonderful. But they are in direct conflict with the idea of womanhood that Christy is positing. One that follows “The Rules” of dating and relies on being coy with men.

This book is a testament to failures of feminism in this society. If Christy wanted to change things, she would suggest that society should learn to accept sexually realized women. These role models are not necessarily the Hollywood types, who appear to use sex as an attention grabber. Those women are more on parallel with Christy’s view of “classy women” who are coy because both types are using sex as a lure/trap/game in which men are allowed to objectify women. She wants women to have “real women with brains, beauty and self-respect.” I’d like to think that a woman can have self-respect and be sexually realized. If not, what was the point of Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence or Margaret Sanger (say what you will about her less-than-savory views on races–birth control is a good thing and improves the quality of life)? Applying pseudo-Victorian standards to the way you live your life does not make you classy. It makes you antiquated and misunderstanding. How can we take social tips from people who were so hypocritical to begin with?

One more comment. Maybe this is because I’ve been exposed to so many LGBT students at Agnes,  but I couldn’t help but notice the subtle judgments Christy makes on the gay community. In the chapter about snagging a man, Christy makes a snide comment about LiLohan’s potential bisexuality “We’ve seen Lindsay Lohan making out with a different guy (or girl) in some pool every week.” By adding the parentheses, Christy first marginalizes Lohan’s sexual identity and also assumes that no one reading the book could possibly identify with someone who is  struggling with her sexual identity.  So it isn’t classy to call a guy first, but it is classy to judge someone for their private sex lives, which are made public by society’s over-fascination with them? mmkthx for the great advice.

In my googling on Christy, I found two reviews/sections of comments I approved of. One is a response to a interview from the Vanderbilt Newspaper and the comments section on a review at Jezebel.com. I’m linking to both and I will leave you with some sound advice I found in one of the responses “Do: Fist Pump, Don’t: Judge.”

What a Vandy Girl is: In defense of the “Party Girls” This article is Vanderbilt-centric, but it points out that partying does not mean lack of class, necessarily.

Jezebel review and comments (read the comments, they are my favorite part and very smart)

So just saying, I’d rather be sassy than “classy” any day.

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the wonders of a library card

John Singer Sargent's Madame X

I just got a library card from my local library. My first check out was Strapless: John Singer Sargent and The Fall of Madame X, and it was so wonderful. Whatever this genre is, it is just about my favorite to read, outside of novels. That genre being books that look at the art/literature of the time and then explicate the lives of the people surrounding it. Like in Strapless you don’t just get a description of the painting and people’s reactions to them, but you also get a biography of Sargent, Gautreau (Madame X), and other subjects of Sargent’s work, as well his friends and peer artists of Belle Epoque Paris.

I really do just love Sargent. And I love this painting so much, but still it isn’t even my favorite. I prefer Sargent’s painting of multiple people, usually women in one family like The Daughters of Edward Darley  Boit, which I have raved and ooohed over before, or a picture of a mother and daughter in white and red which I cannot find right now. Still Madame X is a gorgeous painting, and I cannot wait until I get to the go to the Met again and see it.

Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

Another example of the genre I was talking about is Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe, which looks at married, committed, and adulterous couples in people associated with, and around the Bloomsbury group. My dad got me this book The Bolter about Idina Sackville, cousin of Vita Sackville-West, seems to be of a straight biography but I do love all Sackvilles/Edwardian people.

I also checked out Adam Bede by George Eliot, and I loved Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss was checked out. So that will be next on my summer reading list. Whoo!

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