Tag Archives: Art

Manuscript is in production!

3 Jun

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Coffee drinking women, painting, 1907

While I am exhausted from despair and anxiety because of “current events,” as it used to be called in my high school days, I just cannot bring myself to comment on this blog about these dismaying incidents about which I have ranted on Facebook. But I did feel I needed to post something new here, so this is my report: I submitted the manuscript of “Three German Women” to the publishers last week! Despite the pandemic lockdown, the first proofs should be here in a few weeks. In the meantime, I have agonized over the choice of a cover image for the book. I scoured all the free sites, such as Wikimedia, I considered several possibilities, every one of which ended up requiring expensive permission fees, or was somehow unsuitable. My search terms had something to do with three German women, active 1910-1950, preferably a cafe scene, something not Weimar-era Flapper-like, or frilly, but not too serious either. Ideally I wanted a woman artist, but nothing I found seemed to resonate appropriately. I had several people recommend graphic designers who would, I am sure, have created something original and pertinent, but given the small size of this book (it’s A5 format), I really didn’t want to waste their obvious talents on such a meager space. Here are three of the possible images I considered:

I really wanted to use the Beckmann, because it was the right period, a little edgy- Germanic, but it would have required searching for copyright permission (the work appears a gillion times on Pinterest, but nowhere could I find who owned it), and it probably would have cost a fortune to reproduce. The photograph of the little girls would have been available, but my Facebook critics determined that it might lead prospective readers to assume the themes of the book were of a younger milieu than the text was focussing on. And the final image by Lotte Laserstein (a new and welcome discovery for me) was deemed too busy for a small cover (and probably would have required elaborate permissions as well).

Finally, after days of online perusal, I found a stock photo site that included images free of royalty rights or permissions. And there was the bright yellow painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of three women drinking coffee! I could have the image for $70. While it is, at 1907, a bit early for the actual events of the book (one of my women is not born until 1919), the image was so striking and so German that I felt it captured the right mood. So I have submitted it to the publishers, who will now determine whether it’s usable or not. Fingers crossed! I think it will make a very striking impression.

If nothing else, all of these pictorial excursions and decisions have diverted my attention from the chaos and violence being stoked into frenzy by the highest levels of the American government, and in the midst of a global pandemic that already warrants extreme levels of vigilance and anxiety for everyone. We can do very little but try to continue to live civilized, humane lives. As I say in my book–one of the themes of which is that most Germans under Nazi rule were neither Nazis nor radicals–individual human beings will have to negotiate their own moral and ethical behavior in light of these atrocities: “In our present political climate, dictatorial impulses around the globe are, bafflingly, upending many of the gains made since that last world war, erasing for some the lessons we should have learned from the tumultuous history these women had to face. While we do not have to stand by in complete helplessness as these events out of our control occur, it is perhaps beneficial to be reminded that ordinary people should not necessarily be painted as traitors or heroes to a cause, as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ if they are simply living their lives with as much grace and perseverance as they can.”





30 Apr

As we are all sitting in our living rooms or working in our kitchens, essentially under house arrest, I have been fascinated to see all the people, famous and not at all famous–from the Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Rolling Stones to my anonymous friends in AA–being broadcast from their most private spaces, at home. I find myself looking at their books, their lamps in the background, their art on the walls. My favorite YouTubes have been the fantastic mashups of people all over the world playing instruments or singing together, performing in their home situations.

So let me wax professorial for a minute. In studying art history, and cultural history for that matter, we learn that one of the most important aspects of the transition to modernity was the breakdown of the rigid distinctions between private and public life. These distinctions had, of course, been most rigidly maintained for women, many of them being kept so tightly confined to domestic life and private worlds that they might as well have been in a sultan’s harem. While men in the nineteenth century defined public spaces and were free to become flaneurs and artists of the street, even women who had the means and the support by family to create art did so for the most part within the confines of their private spaces. Just think of those hauntingly beautiful images by Clementina Hawarden, photographs in the 1860s within her well-to-do household, or the famous close-ups by Julia Margaret Cameron. Private spaces–the home–were the venue of women. These photographic tableaux may have been carefully staged, but they were still an expression of the artist’s daily world.

It often seems that now, in the 21st century, all those divisions between private and public spheres have been obliterated, that the complaints are rife about no one having privacy in the age of social media, and cameras are everywhere, capturing every moment of everyone’s daily comings and goings. But this time of “social distancing,” in which all of our performative, public spaces have been closed down temporarily, has demonstrated that there was after all one last bastion of privacy left, even for public figures: our homes. Personally, I have found the experience of seeing performers and celebrities in their own domestic environments absolutely exhilirating, as they shed some of their public personas just by being in their own living rooms, as they sing to us, or tell jokes while their cat or dog or kid walks by. I find myself examining their lamps, for example, or what’s on their kitchen counters that is also on my kitchen counter. It makes their performances, to me, more authentic, and thereby more impressive. The other night I watched the “virtual” presentation of a tribute to Stephen Sondheim, in which all the performers were singing in their living rooms or, in at least one case, in her bathroom next to the tub. Bernadette Peters sang a capella, no make up, standing in her kitchen against a tiled diamond-designed wall with crooked candlesticks and a lamp visible in the background. It was like seeing a Raphael out of its frame and off the museum wall, being able to appreciate fully the immediacy of the artist’s craft. bernadette peters_Schulman-SondheimBirthday

End of ruminations! In my Zoom meetings–another perceptual experience altogether–I also spend a lot of time examining where people are sitting and what’s behind them. In some cases, people choose completely neutral backgrounds, or position themselves so you can’t see much of their material belongings, while others–inadvertently or not–display their aesthetic in the art behind them. Again, I read these images to glean information about my anonymous friends’ lives. This at home experience has equalized us all in what I see as a good thing: we all have private spaces where we feel at home.

And rejoice when we see a cat enter the at-home weatherman’s report!


So I’ve succeeded in ending again with a cat!

Pattern & Decoration @ MOCA

20 Feb


When I first started teaching art history in the early 1980s, the whole modernist canon as laid down in the 1950s by such champions of masculinist purity as Clement Greenberg and Ad Reinhardt was teetering on the brink of relevance and relegation to history. We started to talk about post-modernism and feminist directions, but the textbooks for the teaching of Introduction to Art History classes were still pretty party line. I remember that the newest editions of Janson and Arnason ended with brief and tentative descriptions of “Pattern and Decoration” artists, and gave a bit of lip service to feminist artists’ works that had been created throughout the 1970s. Some of the older art historians I knew were skeptical, and sniffed at these attempts to champion craft, colorfulness, popular culture, “anonymous was a woman” efforts as–gasp!–DECORATIVE, and therefore unworthy of inclusion in the discussions of “real” and important art. The High Art/Low Art divide may have started to be breached by Pop Artists as early as the 1960s, but “the canon” was still firmly ensconced in most of the halls of academe.

On the other hand, my artist friends, and especially the women, were already moving away from all that heroic purity and were painting and constructing in brilliant colors, incorporating craft, non-Western creativity and artisanry into their efforts, and bringing some fun, intimacy, and even messiness back into their work. (Thank you, JoAnne Carson, Marilyn Lanfear, and Wendy Edwards!) We became aware of  Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” and the objects produced by the artists of The Woman’s House. As a dutiful product of academe, still trying to understand how to teach and afraid of my own opinions, I toed a thin line between Old School and new ideas. But as someone whose personal aesthetic veered toward a fascination with the decorative, ornament, and construction, I was intrigued by this embrace of craft and the art of the “ornamental other.”

So now, after all those years of changing aesthetics, movements of post-modernism and post-colonialism–all that artistic water under the bridge–it was absolutely thrilling to see this magnificent exhibition of the best of the artists associated with the Pattern & Decoration movement, now on at MOCA, in the Grand Avenue venue in Los Angeles. Not only were the famous pieces there–Miriam Schapiro’s quilts, Joyce Kozloff’s tiles and textiles–but some of the groundbreaking moments associated with those 1970s feminists were on view as well. It was especially wonderful to see included Kozloff’s fantastic counter-manifesto to Ad Reinhardt’s purist aphorisms of negativity (one of the most severe declarations of abstract minimalism): “anti-pretentious, anti-pompous, anti-patriarchal, anti-heroic, anti-genius, anti-master.” Tell him, Joyce!  Women like Schapiro and Kozloff had studied art in schools run by these men, and began their careers more or less compelled to mimic monumental abstraction. Their embrace of the decorative and the crafts associated with “women’s work” was part and parcel of their feminist rejection of a modernism determined by male artists. (There are many good male artists involved in the P & D movement, too, usually exhibiting an interest in non-Western ornamentation–lots of their works in this exhibition as well.)


I was particularly excited to see “in the flesh,” so to speak, Sylvia Sleigh’s Turkish Bath, her riposte to centuries of female nudes painted by men. I always asked my students to ponder the fact that until VERY recently, we had no images of naked men painted by women–women weren’t allowed to study anatomy at the academies, but why didn’t they have their lovers and husbands pose for them? Sylvia Sleigh was a great slide to show to engender discussion about this topic–and she includes ornamental rugs, too! A different take on Orientalism….

The rooms of the exhibition are divided thoughtfully into various themes, beginning with quilts, and ending with 1980s gaudiness. George was so excited by this show, emboldened to follow his own ornamental predilections; seeing this work of folded paper and acrylic paint was a revelation for him.

Finally, for my animal-loving friends, a wonderful painted piece inspired by medieval/Renaissance tapestries: Rabbit and Hounds!


The exhibit is on until May, and MOCA is now FREE!  If you have a chance, be sure to visit–it will make you happy!