Charles+Rennie+Mackintosh=More than apple…

May 2, 2013

Charles Rennie Mackintosh came into the turn of the century art world with ideas of simplified lines…both straight and curved. It was almost as if he was saying to the Victorians, “Enough already!” In addition there was a lot going on culturally and politically in Scotland. Women were told to stay home and take care of husbands and children. Women could not own property, nor vote. Some women became activists for the cause of women’s rights, and some like Kate [Catherine] Cranston worked to evoke change in a different sort of way.

Kate had an idea. Since it was considered shameful for a woman to be in public unless on the arm of a man, she set about to provide places for women to gather for conversation and tea. She created The Willow Tearoom. Tired of the Victorian excesses, she commissioned talented designer Mackintosh to design the spaces including wall panels, chairs, tables…even the menus. Eventually there would be four tearooms in Glasgow all designed by Mackintosh and his artisans. Out of this style came the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau and The Glasgow School. The world seemed ready for these simplified designs. Germans had Bauhaus. New York had its Chrysler Building.

The original façade of The Willow Tearoom is on the historical record in Glasgow and furniture designed by Mackintosh is currently on permanent display in art museums in several countries. Kate’s vision for women met Mackintosh’s vision for a sophisticated gathering place. Not many can say they have impacted history by giving public space for the artisan to design. Few are able to describe their vision and see it through to completion. Open the tearoom and they will come. And they did.

Though Kate was not known to put paper to pencil, nor brush to canvas she was graced with the eye of the artist. Both she and Mackintosh were able to recognize and interpret the culture…that’s what artists do. Lots of people can tell you what they are against and there are few that can tell you what they are for. She had hopes for women. She witnessed the collision of Victorian culture and turn of the century values. Kate knew what she was for and knew what she was against…her life reflected both. She was for goodness and beauty. .. a life well-lived and I am also glad to call her my Grand Aunt Kate.

What are you living for?

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No Adverbs!

March 23, 2012

Looking for direction in life?  Avoid adverbs or at least use them sparingly.  Example?  Once an apsiring author received the gift of a recently published novel by Dean Koontz.  Inside the cover was written, “Perseverence Counts” (signed) Dean Koontz.

Rembrandt’s Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver

January 7, 2010

What’s on Your Palatte?

January 7, 2010

Towering over all Dutch Baroque painters is Rembrandt van Rijn. Like many of his 15th Century contemporaries, Rembrandt painted portraits, landscapes and genre scenes.  He refused to specialize in painting and succeeded in all.  By masterfully blending light and darkness on his canvasses, created the essential drama of the characters and objects he was painting.  In so doing, he revealed a depth of intensity and a deep understanding of the subject’s character.

Rembrandt painted for his own pleasure as well as for commissions from individual patrons. Though he painted Biblical scenes, as a rule, he did not accept commissions from the Church.  One example is Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver. In this painting a distraught Judas is shown with the Temple rulers after his betrayal of Jesus.  He has just hurled the silver coins at them.  All six subjects seem to be caught in mid-action as if in a movie still.  Judas’ face receives more light than the other five, but immediately your eye is drawn to the most brightly lit object which is the open Torah.  From there, the light in the painting seems to climb the cloak of one ruler and then creep around the faces and the shoulders of the other subjects in the group. This circular pattern of light leads the eye once again to the Torah. 

What palatte, or group of colors did Rembrandt use in this painting?  The paint tubes would have come with names such as burnt sienna, burnt umber, lamp black, gold ochre, ultramarine blue, and deep violet.  Rembrandt’s body of work consisted of canvases of mostly brown and blacks, with other subdued hues for emphasis.  Rembrandt used color to reveal light and darkness in a most controlled manner.  He brought emphasis to his canvases by the use of light and color.

Contrast this palatte and style of painting with the 19th Century Impressionists. Impressionists were said to be intoxicated with light. The Impressionist movement began with Claude Monet’s Impression-Sunrise.  Monet demonstrated that it was not the rising sun that he was painting, but rather the impression it had left on him.  The brush stokes on the canvas are visible and appear spontaneous.  Most Impressionist paintings are vividly colored landscapes, some interiors, and genre scenes.  Color is often used unconventionally.  For example, a still life might show violet shadows cast by a group of oranges on a white tablecloth. The palatte consisted of paint with names like cadmium orange, veridian green, thalo blue, and lead white. Browns and blacks would be there too, but they played a lesser role in the background. Other times black was placed in juxtaposition to contrast  the strong primary hues.

Baroque painters and Impressionist painters both reveal the power of light to the beholder, but in radically distinct ways.  Both painted to reveal the power of light.  Both painted not so much what is seen, but how it is seen by the artist.  Both say with an entirely different palatte, “Isn’t light wonderful?” See what light reveals!

So reader, what do you have to work with?  Each of us has certain gifts, abilities and talents.  As for me, my father was musically gifted and very unathletic. In contrast, my mother was very athletic and couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket”….in other words, she was tone deaf!  I inherited two characteristics…gifts from each of them.  Let me help you guess as I tell you that I was always the last one to be picked for the softball games at school and in order not to offend those around me I sing quietly in a group setting. I have just described my gifts in the way that most of us have come to see our gifts; I have told you what gifts I do not have, rather than the talents and gifts I actually possess.

Madeliene L’Engle said in Walking on Water,(p.148) ,”All artists must listen, but not all hear great symphonies, see wide canvases, conceive complex character-filled novels, and it is an act of faith.” This is true of life as well, for the degree of talent is immaterial when it comes to living artful, creative lives.  Lending an ear and listening are not the same.  Looking requires less of us than seeing.  Effort is required.  I think you know the difference.

Today, what are you seeing and hearing? What is on your palatte? “Great artists carry on with their work on the lines God has laid out for them, quite unaffected by the esthetic worked out for them by philosophers” according to  Dorothy Sayers.  What are you working on?  What will you do with it? Do what you can with what you have. What “beauty” will come of your efforts?

Claude Monet’s Impression-Sunrise

January 7, 2010

Art and Beauty a Luxury?

December 22, 2009

Art and beauty cannot be brushed aside as luxury.  Some avoid it altogether and some are even frightened by art.   And sadly for many, the  mere mention of art conjures up descriptions such as, “unessential” or even “frivolous.”  In education we keep the sciences and emphasize math, but arts are usually the first to go with the cuts.    

If there is an element of truth in art and beauty and I think there is, then neither can be brushed aside, nor neglected.  So, can I make art, beauty, or even love my goal?  Never.  Seeking to be artful or beautiful is a lot like seeking to be loved.  M. Scott Peck in A Road Less Traveled said, “If being loved is your goal, you will fail to do it.” Our primary goal must not be to be loved or to be beautiful, but to seek a life that reveals the components of balance, form, harmony, rhythm, unity, emphasis, and repetition.

What would the observer see when they look at me? Beauty brings glory to God.  So does art.  We all know that love does too. Therefore, I must not be satisfied with the mediocre in any aspect of my life.  Life is art. Love life.

Art is Life

December 20, 2009

The same theme ran through my university studies in art, design and humanities.  No matter what the medium, all works of art have common principles that are inherently a part of each work.  It matters not whether the work is a painting, a sculpture, a musical composition, a play, a novel, or a short story.  The principles are the same. 

 St. Thomas Aquinas said that works of art have these principles, no matter what the format.  He said, “Each must have, “integrity [wholeness], symmetry and radiance.” Most critics of the arts have agreed that in order to be “a work of art”, each individual piece must have a combination of balance, repetition, harmony, unity and emphasis.  If the piece described is a work of art, it implies beauty inherent in its constitution.  If we allow for differences in culture, art has always been an expression of, or an emotional response to beauty.  So I thought, what would happen if these principles were held as a framework for my own life? If these principles of balance, repetition, unity and so forth were held up by me for my own life, would beauty be evident?  How would these principles apply to me as I made my daily choices?  Would the body of my works be thought of as “good” to those who observed me in action?

Some of you might already be thinking how this might be lived out in the flesh.  It needn’t be grandiose.  I know of a young lady who thought it might be nice it would be to buy her mother who lived in Florida a book of citrus recipes since she had just planted citrus trees.  Now this was not as simple as it sounds, for she could not find one in stock in her community, so she went to the next town and ordered one.  Now I cannot tell you how delighted her mother was to (eventually) receive this gift, but perhaps you will begin to understand as I tell you that the mother in turn searched her mid-size Florida town and eventually went on to the next city and searched until she found what she deemed a fitting thank you card of a watercolor print card of a citrus tree on which she wrote a personal note of thanks which began, “Dearest…”.

Beauty begets beauty.  It took vision, not just seeing, on the first woman’s part, and then in-kind action followed by the inspired recipient. For both it took a little more time to see the creative connection between the planting of the citrus tree, the cookbook purchase, and the resultant watercolor thank you card. Both parties were willing to go beyond the ordinary and the results were extraordinarily lovely.

Hello world!

December 19, 2009

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