Yearning for Wonderland
Self-portraits have a long and storied history in art. (Attention: Art Nerd alert)
Artists sometimes used self-portraits to show their status and their political connections, such as this self-portrait by the Spanish painter Diego Velasquez.
This portrait is part of a larger masterwork, Las Meninas, which shows him painting the Infanta.
Sometimes the artist is also an actor, dressed in costumes, to appear a particular way or reference artists who have come before. Rembrandt was famous for this in his youth.
Later on, he was far more interested in recording his authentic self, even when it was less flattering.
There are no real rules for self-portraits and those that did exist were spoofed centuries ago by artists defying those who came before and expressing themselves as they liked. Generally, the artist engages with the viewer, making eye contact.
The above self-portrait by Gustave Courbet is a little more playful, depicting the artist as a desperate creative in his smock.
Artists will also use symbolism, often with encoded meanings that are personal to themselves, such as most of Frieda Kahlo’s self-portraits.
Sometimes an artist does many self-portraits in their career and you can see their faces and moods evolve. This is especially true of the self-portraits of Van Gogh.
As photography evolved, it became a way to set up self-portraits in a far more elaborate setting, such as the work of Cindy Sherman. In much of her work, the line between artist and actor disappears and she creates a persona that deliberate challenges our notions of identity.
And, of course, today the self-portrait has evolved into digital selfies. Through Instagram, we can all be artists and select the kind of face we want to show the world. While selfies get a bad rap as the refuge of the egotistical and self-absorbed, I really enjoyed looking back through my self-portraits. When I was very little, my father used to hold me up so we could make faces in the bathroom mirror – now I can capture them!
As an actress, it’s fascinating to me because my face is one aspect of my instrument and controlling your face and your image is part of the talent. For me, it’s not so much to show off a haircut or an outfit as it is to capture a moment, a fleeting face of yourself. Many times it’s not even a particularly flattering face, but I remember how I felt and so it’s like a postcard mailed to yourself from the past.
In order to share two years worth of selfies in a short space, I created a Flipagram, which is a free app that allows you to set a slideshow to music. It’s only 30 seconds so I encourage you to watch it and enjoy.
When do you take selfies? And why? Do you see them as a way to express yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Tonight, I think of my Muse.
When I first saw her in the gallery, I was startled; she was so…throat-catchingly beautiful. I had seen photographs, but nothing had prepared me for the sight. It was like being struck. I was walking and I had to stop. I felt a tear slip down my cheek. She was me and yet not me. She was the me I wanted to be – serene, graceful, and entirely still…poised for the next moment.
I told myself for weeks that I couldn’t have her and grew more and more miserable as she continued to sell, moved to grace the homes and lives of others. So few and slipping away. I looked at the massive price on her and thought it a bargain, knew I would pay twice that (I, who could not afford once that).
Still, I didn’t allow myself even to hope. Every time I passed her in the gallery, I stroked a cool bronze cheek, traced the fine grooves of her hair. It became a running joke how I would hug her as I walked by. It was irresistible; I couldn’t help it. I was in love. I was Pygmalion, with a Galatea that did not have to become real to be loved, but who would very shortly not even be within sight.
And then only two weeks later, in Paris of all places (because all beautiful and solemn events happen in Paris), I am walking down the Boulevard de Picpus with my father on a sunny late June morning. We walk aimlessly, stroll past the boulangerie, the patisserie, fish and croissants and fruit so lush and gorgeous that you want to stop and take a picture of it. I spoke effusively of my Muse, for I already thought of her as “my” sculpture…for twenty minutes. When I finally paused to take a breath, my father turned to me and said, “Well, then I think you should get it.”
Words are words, but my father is good for his word. He did not buy it for me, nor would I have wanted him to do so. Instead, he helped me get the financing, allowed me to acquire her for my own. My parents have always encouraged me to believe in the impossible, to find ways to accomplish that which I never would think I could do.
Already, she inspires me. I think of her and become radiant.
– Frederick Hart
|John William Waterhouse, The Soul of the Rose|
Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!
Honestly, I didn’t think I was doing so little on my blog until I looked at the post listings and realized I had -one- post for August so far, on the 6th. At my best, I was averaging a post every day and a half. To go a week with only one…
There’s a multitude of reasons, but they may all point to the same thing. My darn Muse has departed for climes less balmy. (It has been agitatingly, soul-sucking hot for the last few weeks: the kind of heat that leaves you languidly lolling about on the veranda, fanning yourself limpidly as the linen sticks to your back.) So my Muse has left for a quick jaunt around the countryside and I am left here staring at my computer screen with the following options: 1) watch an episode of The Tudors, 2) read any of the stack of lovely new books on my bedside table, 3) play Plants vs. Zombies, that blessed time-suck.
It isn’t from lack of time off (just finished 3 days off, which may be one culprit). I have lots of projects vying for my attention: Super Secret Spy Girl, rehearsals for The Laramie Project, Blogcritic reviews, etc, etc.
My brain is a bit parched and it has nothing to do with the heat. It’s rather too many wonderful ideas crowding in, trying to fight their way to the fore; it’s not so much time management as it is time muddlement.
|Thalia, Muse of Comedy|
So today I present the Muses, since mine is not present: Clio (History), Calliope (Epic Poetry), Urania (Astronomy), Euterpe (Song & Elegiac Poetry), Erato (Love Poetry), Melpomene (Tragedy), Thalia (Comedy), Terpsichore (Dance), Polyhymnia (Hymns). Not to be confused with the Graces, the Muses were a little more workaday and useful. Nine muses, nine arts, all the root of the word “museum” and “amuse” and “musing” and other muse-like words.
|Oliver Rhys, A Seated Muse|
Ever noticed that Muses tend to be young, beautiful ladies? Fickle as well, apparently. That comes with Muse-hood. I’m fairly certain that my Muse tends to the plainer side, with milkish skin, but can look otherworldly at the right angle. She definitely has freckles and likely a penchant for ribbons.
|Jan Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting (Detail – Clio)|
Muses are generally invoked at the beginning of epic poetry, a convention followed by writers for centuries:
- O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
- Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
- To ryme wel this book til I haue do;
- Me nedeth here noon othere art to vse.
- ffor-whi to euery louere I me excuse
- That of no sentement I this endite,
- But out of Latyn in my tonge it write. – Chaucer
Muses are also a convenient scapegoat, as I illustrated at the beginning of the post. No writing? No muse. No performing? No muse. No singing? No muse. It’s even more dangerous when flesh and blood women are elevated to Muse status, as in Jane Morris for Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelites.
Jane’s marriage to William Morris was jeopardized by her affairs with Rossetti, who married his other muse, Elizabeth Siddal (who later overdosed on laudanum). Read more in Francine Prose’s excellent study of real-life muses: Lives of the Muses.
|Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blue Silk Dress (Model: Jane Morris)|
|Jane Morris (photo) and Jane (painting) – Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood|
So, Muse, any time you would like to return…you know where my door can be found. What do you do to invoke your muse? And what do you do when she does not appear?
Article first published as DVD Review: Trimpin: The Sound of Invention on Blogcritics.
Have you ever wondered what magic sounds like? It might sound a little like the music of Trimpin: cacophonic clicks and wheezes and zoops intermingled with ethereal angel tones, sonorous shimmers in unexpected audio combinations.
“I didn’t want to be a technician or an engineer or just a musician or a composer. The interest was laying in between,” says Trimpin in the opening lines of this enchanting documentary, Trimpin: The Sound of Invention.
Trimpin, who goes by only his last name, does not look like the popular conception of an artist, more like the eccentric, fae-touched inventor in a German folktale. He favors cardigans and plaid shirts and is balding, bearded and bespectacled, with a heavily German-accented voice. He has no cell phone or website. He does not use social media. Despite no agent or gallery representation, his work is seen in museums and public spaces around the world. He is like Mozart crossed with Doc Brown from Back to the Future.
Trimpin’s studio is a combination of Wonderland, Oz and a junk heap. Nothing is quite as it seems; everything is repurposed. Rusty bits and bobs and Elvis posters pile up alongside a typewriter that plays like a piano. His creations source found objects to manifest magic. A room full of hanging wooden Dutch shoes (“Klompen”) becomes a clattering, clicking fusillade of rhythmic moments.
|“Klompen” by Trimpin|
With little editorializing, director Peter Esmonde allows Trimpin to tell his story. Trimpin explains he left Germany in search of affordable junk…which led him to America, the land of the disposable. Trimpin talks of his childhood experimentation in the Black Forest, land of cuckoo clocks, “as a kid I was always exposed to these kind of gadgets that could make music and move.”
Much of Trimpin: The Sound of Invention follows a collaborative project with famed contemporary classical music group, The Kronos Quartet. There’s much fun in watching these seasoned musicians face instruments built out of disemboweled cellos and plastic guitars. Trimpin’s graphical scores, magnificent colored graph and composition paper, look more like architectural plans than a musical staff.
Trimpin was not always a critical darling. During the documentary, he pulls out file folders full of rejection letters. Ultimately, he was a recipient of MacArthur Genius Grant, a tribute to his persistence when the world had no use for his art.
Trimpin himself is endearingly whimsical, riding a giant tricycle and playing a one-man accordian band. He is unselfconsciously playful, much like the children who interact with his sculptures and inventions. One little boy dances to Trimpin’s music the way we all should dance – like no one is watching.
Trimpin: The Sound of Invention culminates with the collaborative concert with The Kronos Quartet, a melange of music, mayhem and magnificence that deconstructs the idea of performance art and then reassembles it. Just like Trimpin would do.
Release date: 8/30/11