Archive | June, 2011

REFLECTION 1: Shooting Picture

16 Jun

I looked at Niki de Saint Phalle’s Shooting Picture (1961). The painting, if that is the correct term, is made of plaster, paint, string, polythene and wire on wood and is 1430 x 780 x 81 mm. I was first introduced to Saint Phalle in the modern art museum in Nice, France and instantly recognized this piece as one of hers when I visited the Tate Moderne in London. It’s easy to be attracted to her work because of the bright colors and interesting patterns.  The primary colors used in this piece seemed to attract not only myself but other museum visitors as well. In addition, the piece focuses on texture. The canvas isn’t smooth. It’s made mountainous by plaster.  It’s important to note that Saint Phalle did not paint this piece; it’s a shooting picture. Saint Phalle is known for “filling polythene bags with paint and enclosing them within layers of plaster.”  She then shot the bags or had other people shoot them. This action released the paint and created the design we see. For her, the act of shooting the paint and the random nature in which the design occurs is as important as the finished work.  Some people wouldn’t call this art.  As I looked at the painting, I remembered a teacher from high school who described Saint Phalle’s method and laughed saying, “Anyone can do that, it’s isn’t art.” In a way, it’s true. Anyone could produce work like Saint Phalle. Does she deserve merit just because she did it first or just because she popularized the method? When I look at this piece I begin to question these very notions. However, I’m also drawn to imagine the moment of impact. The tension of observers who watched the bags explode and held their breath as the paint leak down the canvas.  The randomness of the design is not unlike the randomness we find in life. Do we look at the unplanned streaks and call them beautiful or chaotic? In my opinion the chaos produced in this photo is beautiful, though beauty is hardly the point.  The point, I believe, is to make the observer imagine the reckless moment in which the painting was created.  I look at the painting and see a parody of our lives in which each action we take opens a balloon and its effects bleed through our memories and into our future.  Of course, I’m not sure if this is what Saint Phalle intended, but it is my subjective viewpoint.


REFLECTION 2: Les Nymphéas

15 Jun

While still in Paris, I looked at Monet’s cycle of paintings at the Orangerie. They are called Nymphéas (water lilies in English) and were painted between 1914 and 1926. They are two meters high and 100 meters in length presented in two elliptically shaped rooms with natural ceiling lighting. Monet himself designed the rooms. It is hard for me, as a beginning art student, to analyze Monet. He is one of the artists I’ve known about since childhood and revered like Santa Claus; only this white bearded man was real and his magic is known as impressionism. The Orangerie is awe inducing. I sat on the bench in the center of the room for quite a period of time. Each brush stroke was planned and coordinated, but as I walk towards the painting, they become sporadic colors and blur themselves into nothing. I wondered how it is possible to paint like this. Did Monet sit meters away from the canvas with long brushes and dab at his canvas? Of course not, but I would never have the vision to create an impressionist painting. I particularly liked the panel you see above this post. While the scene is obviously portraying night, Monet incorporates color instead of just darkness. The bright blues in the water pop. At first I wondered if this was actually the color of water, but after a few nights at Ponte Neuf with the lights reflecting off of the Seine, I understood how water can take on color. It just takes a certain eye to be able to capture this in art. The bright pink lilies lighten the painting. They draw the viewer into the scene. They are one of the most aesthetically beautiful things I have ever seen. The whole painting works to portray beauty and nature. It also speaks to the paintings around it, creating a fantasy world for the observers at the Orangerie. Besides the sheer beauty of Monet’s lilies, I considered his impart on the art world. I thought of Monet’s predecessors and began to realize how influential his work for impressionism was. His use of color seemed to open a gateway for other artists. For the first time, reality was not portrayed in a picturesque matter. Instead, we have an impression of reality. This genius is as beautiful as the paintings.

REFLECTION 3: The Raft of Medusa

14 Jun

The Raft of the Medusa was painted by Théodore Géricault between 1818 and 1819 with oil on canvas. It stands at 16′ x 23′ and can be seen at the Louvre. This was one of the first romantic paintings that I’ve been able to view and understand. Let me clarify. Growing up in Midwest America, learning about the arts (of any kind) has never been part of my education. Yes, I had to fulfill an art requirement for my high school; it was under-water basket weaving and the final was identifying round reed and square reed. The arts take a back seat to almost every other aspect of American culture. As evidence, Kansas governor Sam Brownback recently eliminated ALL arts funding for the Kansas Arts Commission. He defended his actions as “a cost-saving move that allows the state to focus on ‘core’ functions, such as education, social services and public safety.” Even the arts friendly Democratic Party has cut the National Endowment for the Arts by 13%. While these are just a few examples, let me quote Andrea Stone of the USA Today, “The philosophical divide between those who see the arts as frivolous and those who see its value is as old as the nation.” During a time of economic recession something that could be unnecessary is easily eliminated. Because of this, I arrived in Paris shamefully uneducated about any kind of art. It wasn’t until the ULIP class that I learned the difference between neo-classic and romantic artists, maybe. Lucy’s long explanation of The Raft of the Medusa was eye opening. Neo-classic and romantic art isn’t the forerunner of the camera. Its interpretation can act as a political critique. The Raft of the Medusa is a political attack that criticizes classism and shows the results: cannibalism, murder, violence, and death. In addition, hearing how Gericault studied dead bodies and interviewed survivors increased my respect for this painting. It was in this moment at the Louvre that I became aware of my ignorance for art and became determined to change it.


REFLECTION 4: On the Beach at Trouville

13 Jun

On the Beach at Trouville

I looked at Claude Monet’s On the Beach at Trouville (1870). The painting is oil on canvas and hangs at the Musée Marmottan in Paris, France. While most of my fellow classmates hurried over to Monet’s Water Lilies, Japanese Bridge, or the infamous Sun Rising (is this the real one?!), I caught myself standing in front of this painting and unable to walk away. For some reason or another, the women on the beach remind me of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Although the woman’s face is quite simple, the direction she looks gives me the feeling that she is engulfed in thought. While the other people on the beach seem preoccupied with the normal attractions of the beach, this woman is different. I picture her dreaming of independence and feeling the constraint of society. Like Edna, the woman isn’t focused on her child or a man. She is alone and confident and unamused by society around her. The ocean looms in the background. While the woman’s back is turned away from the waves, I imagine that she could hear their crashing against the sand like freedom. I’ve always read the end of The Awakening as a triumphant suicide, almost like Antigone.  The waves in Monet’s painting are in the background, but their presence is unforgettable. The woman is constantly thinking of them. However, she is unable to decide if that is where her fate lies and so she turns her back trying to ignore their call until a decision is made. As this ran through my head, I took out my camera to take a picture. I hoped that finding a picture of the painting in my iphoto collection would remind me of my little story even once I returned to the states. Instead, it attracted the security guard and I ended up embarrassing myself.  Typical tourist, right?


REFLECTION 5: The Apparition

12 Jun

The Apparition

I looked at Gustave Moreau’s The Apparition. It is a watercolor and hangs at the Musee D’Orsay. However, I thought I saw this painting at the Moreau museum. It was possibly an earlier sketch or a different version.  In learning The Apparition, I was introduced to the myth of Salome and the femme fatale. While I’m familiar with the image of a powerful female seductress, I didn’t realize that this image was rooted in the biological aspects of STD’s, which can be transmitted through female sexuality. This doesn’t justify the sexist ideologies that followed, but it makes it somewhat more understandable. This also parallels the junk science that justified racism by “proving” African-Americans to be more “primitive” and the incorrect assumptions of associating HIV with homosexuality. I then began to wonder what Moreau’s stance on these topics would be. Without researching the topic, I analyzed the painting. While Salome has been called “evil” her white skin makes her look innocent against a brown background. The head of John the Baptist appears before her. The head seems to be radiating divine light, but Salome doesn’t appear to wither from it as a devil with holy water. Instead, she seems curious. I would like to think that Moreau does not blame Salome for the murder because she appears innocent. If this is the case, I would like to see his depiction of Salome’s mother. After a little basic research on Salome, I was unfortunately unsurprised by the absence of interpretation that blame Herod.  Instead, Salome becomes more and more deceptive as time goes on and Oscar Wilde’s play doesn’t even include her mother. The angry feminist in me came out and I started thinking of the Guerrilla Girls art at the Tate Modern in London. 

Turning my cynicism toward optimism, I’m excited to the future where (hopefully) we begin to see more female voices and therefore new perspectives on even ancient myths. Until then, I picked one author, John Keats, who used the femme fatale to show the power of women and romanticism. Thus, instead of writing 10 pages on the myth of the femme fatale, I wrote an essay on his three narrative poems Lamia, Isabella, and the Eve of St. Agnes.

Keats: Love never dies, but lives

11 Jun

I started working on the femme fatale essay, but I got a little carried away discussing Keats. I decided to go with it and ended up with the essay below. I hope this isn’t a problem. All the pages of my essays still add up to 25 and since the Impressionism essay was longer than expected, I didn’t think it necessary to write another essay on the femme fatale; it would just be more to write and more for you to read with no purpose. 

Keats: Love never dies, but lives

            Keats’ narrative poems depict traditional tales of men and women in love. However, in Lamia, Isabella, and The Eve of St. Agnes, the women are non-traditionally in control of their relationships. As the narratives progress, the enamored men try to regain power over their female counterparts, but continually fail to take the upper hand. While each love story ends uniquely, all three poems work to portray a larger theme of romantic love overpowering reason. The women come to represent romance and men their reasonable opposites.  Thus, Keats’ narrative poems embody his belief that romantic love will triumph over logic. 

            The first example of this ideology can be seen within Lamia. While there are two relationships within Lamia, the predominate is that of Lamia and Lycius.  From the first moment Lamia and Lycius meet, it is apparent that Lamia is in control, as Lycius is “afraid / Lest she should vanish ere his lip had paid / Due adoration,” (253-254).  This sets the tone for their relationship.  They are not equals; Lamia immediately has control over Lycius, but two begin fighting for power. Lamia’s initial call to Lycius, “And will you leave me on the hills alone? / Lycius, look back! And be some pity show,” is a form of manipulation.  She becomes a femme fatale by pretending to be powerless and using her femininiy to gain his attraction.  Her tactics work and Lamia is fully aware of her power as “Her soft looks growing coy, she saw his chain so sure:” (266).  Through these descriptions, the reader is aware of Lamia’s power over Lycius, and a woman’s power over men.  While Lamia’s ways of gaining control are devious and deceptive, she does represent romance.  It is here that her methods differ from the femme fatale prototype. Lamia does not hope to gain power or riches. Her manipulation stems from an uncontrollable desire for Lycius.  Her love for Lycius is not based on reason. Instead, on first sight Lamia “fell into a swooning love of him” (219).  Keats gives no explanation of why the love began, which further illustrates love devoid of reason.   Thus Keats makes philosophy a slave to romance through Lycius’ devotion to Lamia. Lycius attempts to change shift the dynamic of their relationship by marrying Lamia in front of his peers and against her wishes.  Consequently, Apollonius discovers Lamia’s secret, which indirectly kills Lycius and Lamia disappears because “Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings” (234) or rather, reason cannot destroy romance. While Apolonius, who represents philosophy, purges the town of Lamia’s romantic love, he does not win.  Rather, he creates tragedy by killing Lycius. Moreover, although Lamia has gone, she is not dead. Keats never describes love as disappearing; it is simply lost when reason interrupts.  On the other hand, the young philosopher simply dies. It is easy to extinguish his flame. The outcome is not surprising as Keats is emphasizing the immortality of love and its power over reason.

            While the ending of Lamia and Lycius’ story shows the meek survival of romance, the love of Hermes and the nymph depicts the ideal romance.  Where Lamia gained control through deception, the love of Hermes and the nymph is purely romantic and devoid of a femme fatale.  Hermes does not search for control. Instead, he acts on his irrational jealousies.  “The ever-smitten Hermes empty left / His golden throne, bent warm on  amorous theft” giving everything to pursue his romantic desires and completely ignoring reason (7-8). The effect of this choice is passionate eroticism as they couple flees “Into the green-recessed woods they flew; / Nor grew they pale, as mortal lovers do.” This unadulterated romance is rewarded by immortality.  Their relationship is a direct contrast to the tragedy that ends Lamia and Lycius love.  In fact, within all three narrative poems, this is the only relationship that is not contrasted with death or tragedy. Therefore, Keats depicts the perfect relationship as one where the woman is clearly in control with no opposition and love is allowed to freely dominate reason. 

            In Isabella, love is unable to dominate common sense and the effect is catastrophic and tragic. Isabella begins with the description of love between Isabella and Lorenzo.  While their mutual admiration is not tainted by jealousies, or deception, Isabella’s three brothers mar their romance. Not surprisingly, the three brothers represent common sense. During Keats’ era, it is only logical that a beautiful maid like Isabella marry for money and status. It is illogical for Isabella to devote herself to a poor man, despite their perfect love. Keats devotes an entire section of the poem to criticizing the three brothers.  He writes, “Why were they proud? Again we ask aloud, / Why in the name of Glory were they proud?” to emphasize the emptiness of their accomplishments (127-128). Unlike Hermes and the nymph, Isabella and Lorenzo do not escape to paradise.  The three brothers kill Lorenzo.  In this action, reason attempts to destroy love, which is symbolized by men foiling their sister’s amorous wishes to marry Lorenzo.  Keats writes, “There was Lorenzo slain and buried in, / There in that forest did his great love cease…each rich by his being a murder” (217-224).  In accordance with Keats’ theme, the narrative quickly foils the brothers’ victory to show the triumph of love over reason and woman over man.  Visited by Lorenzo’s ghost, Isabella finds Lorenzo’s body, cuts off of his head and plants it in a pot of basil. Correspondingly, Isabella overcomes her brothers. She does not marry a rich man and the brothers don’t get their money.  Isabella, though mad, is in control and Keats theme could not be more prevalent.  

            Additionally, Isabella conveys the outcomes of reason trying to overtake love.  After Lorenzo is killed, Keats warns the reader “…at the old tale take a glance, For here, in truth, it doth not well belong / To speak: –O turn thee to the very tale, / And taste the music of that vision pale,” (389-393). This statement is followed by graphic description of Isabella tending to Lorenzo’s rotting head. The reader is barely able to continue with the gruesome story that doesn’t spare a “mouldering” detail (430).  This dark turn appears only after men (logic) try to trump women (love). The grisly images of Lorenzo’s head and the insanity of Isabella’s last cry for her basil-pot only highlights the perversion of following the three brother’s logic.  And although Lorenzo is killed–a seemingly ultimate act—love still triumphs.  Keats writes “Love never dies, but lives, immortal Lord: / If Love impersonate was ever dead, / Pales Isabella kiss’d it, and low moan’d, / ‘Twas love; cold,–dead indeed, but not dethroned” (397). Thus, their love is as immortal as that of Hermes and the nymph’s.  However, Isabella and Lorenzo’s fate is more similar to that of  Lamia and Lycius.  Their relationship was destroyed by reason, but Lamia lived on, like Isabella’s love, even after death. In this sense, romantic love cannot be destroyed and any objections will lead to insanity much like Isabella’s.

            The final narrative within The Eve of St. Agnes further confirms the dominance of women over men and love over reason.  It is easy to look at Madeline and Porphyro as equals who escape together.  However, Porphyro would not have been able to enter the castle without Angela’s help. Additionally, Porphyro desires to “gaze and worship all unseen; / Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss—in sooth such things have been,” and assume subservience to Madeleine (80-81).  Like Hermes, he does not try to gain control.  Porphyro ignores the logic of their feuding families and is rewarded when the couple escapes to paradise. Their love is also described as immortal when Keat’s depict Madeline “so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.”  It is important to notices the circumstances of Keats’ happy endings. It is only when the man does not seek to gain control and when reason is ignored that immortality and happiness is granted to the couple. Therefore, Keats gives romantic myths priority over the rational. Also, the narrative poem retells the myth of a female saint (Saint Agnes) and it is she who initiates the magic within the tale.  Angela describes the conflict between man and woman (reason and myth) when she says  “St. Agnes! Ah! it is St. Agnes’ Eve—  /  “Yet men will murder upon holy days,” (118-119).  However, the two families do not come to war and the lovers escape. The fulfillment of St. Agnes’ myth as opposed to male conflict shows female dominance in accordance with the philosophy of love over reason.  

            It is through these three romantic narratives that Keats depicts the triumph of women over men and thus romanticism over logic. The three tales remain unique, but it is within their subtleties that Keats’ message becomes clear.  Given the choice between logic and romanticism, one is often pushed in the direction of the first.  However, the outcomes of the logic choice are destructive. Thus, one looks to the second option, romanticism. Through this decision one finds blissful immortality as “love never dies, but lives,” (Lamia 397).


Keats, John. “Lamia, Isabella, The eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820)” Keats’s Poetry and Prose. Ed. Jeffrey N. Cox. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 409-495