Finals Season Gives Me Comps Flashbacks.

Watching my classes take their exams gives me a sense of panic. I know how they feel! Sick with worry. Brain bursting with information, mind racing to keep it organized and coherent. Heart hoping that there would be no meltdown.

Or maybe that isn't quite how my students were feeling...
Still, the air is palpable with anxiety.

After finishing my first year of graduate school, that summer was spent studying Art History from beginning to end in preparation for the Comprehensive Examinations that would take place in early September. Not only did this entail careful reading of the 1,000 page primary textbook, meeting twice a week as a group to present our individual lessons (I spent two weeks writing mine on Latin American art which was not represented in the textbook), but also doing intensive specialized reading in order to answer two field questions and one methods essay. I had never even taken a survey class before, eek! The great news is that I learned a ton of stuff and it felt amazing, but at the time it felt like preparing for the Apocalypse.

Here and here are some earlier accounts of those traumatizing days.

Check out some of the twenty or so images we were shown on the exam (these are just the ones that I remember/answered). They look so friendly now. 

Ancient: Dura Europos Synagogue (detail of interior fresco, Torah niche), Damascus, Syria, 3rd c., Jewish.

Byzantine: The Annunciation, Echmiadzin Gospels, 6th c., Armenian.

Traditional African: Ife (Yoruba) Female Portrait Head 12th c., Nigerian.

Ancient Latin America: Jade Mask, 10th-6th c. BCE, Olmec (Mexican).

Medieval: Stavelot Triptych, True Cross Reliquary, 12th c., Mosan (modern Belgium).

Islamic: Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, 691.

Italian Renaissance: Ecstasy of St. Francis, Bellini, 15th c., Venetian.

Modern Japanese: The Tale of Genji, 12th c. 

Modern European: The Meeting, Fragonard, 1773, French.

Modern Latin American: Black Kites, Gabriel Orozco, 1997, Mexican.

Modern African: El Anatsui, 20th c.

 Modern Latin American: El Abrazo Amoroso, Frida Kahlo, 1945, Mexican.
*conceptually features Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of creation and destruction

Modern European: Rest on the Flight Into Egypt, Luc Olivier Merson, 1879, French.
*Orientalist Genre

Latest Material Acquisitions.

The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images.

I picked this book up at the Met, the bookstore there drives to me into a frenzy. This is a special one! With 800 images from a diverse assortment of times and places, cultures and religions, each page discusses one symbol. I have included here an example. On this page a detail from Bosch's 16th c. The Garden of Earthly Delights and a 16th c. Japanese Buddhist hanging scroll (Kobo Daishi, Kukai, as a Boy, artist unknown) are used to inspire an essay about the possibilities that may be found in bubble imagery. A passage from the Tao Te Ching is used to describe the concept of oneness, completion, and spiritual perfection in terms of the weightless, translucent bubble: infinite and eternal. I love these kinds of comparison books. They are incredibly effective at not only getting you to think about issues in a global way, but I think the juxtaposition of two images from entirely different contexts is incredibly stimulating in a visual sense. I like to look through this before bed. Instead of novels on my nightstand I keep art history books. 

A few years ago I became fixated on the idea of patent leather yellow everything, well mostly accessories. It all started with a perforated belt I randomly found in a vintage store in Philadelphia. It seemed to improve everything in the world around it. A skinny belt, to be worn on the waist, I wore it until it felt apart. Each hole in the belt length would break off a piece and I would tighten it to the next hole until I just couldn't breathe anymore. I probably still have it for nostalgia or inspiration. Since I knew that belt was not long for this life I was always on the hunt for a replacement, on this hunt I expanded into shoe territory. It must have been winter and I was probably desperate for color and the promise that I would again be able to shed socks and see sunlight. So my new obsession turned to yellow patent leather flats. This was before the concept of internet research or online shopping had really formulated in my mind. I didn't even own a laptop or spend much time on the computer at all. All natural hunt, eyes constantly scanning. 
One day, in Texas, I stumbled upon exactly what I had been envisioning. They were even better than I had imagined. Loeffler Randall: wrap around ankle strap, perfect shade of yellow, beautifully crafted in Italy, and 90% off. AND: The only pair was My Size! 

Apparently I'm still always looking because I ran into these J. Crew flats over the weekend and couldn't resist. They aren't patent, but were similarly reduced in price and are much more neon in person, which I love. I'm already craving sunshine and it's only December. 

My record collection is very small. I don't feel moved to increase its size. There are many reasons for this: some practical, some emotional. However, there are a few good record stores in the neighborhood and it is fun to bring home something new to listen to. I only buy used records and I usually only look in the international section. Except I did buy a Halloween sounds record that is truly disturbing. 

Somerville Grooves opened up in Union Square this summer. I finally went in and ended up leaving with two records that are fantastic. The best was only a dollar. It's actually a record by a local group of women who call themselves collectively, Libana (translated from Arabic this means "to nurture from the breast"). I guess you could categorize it as Female World Folk or something. But really, when I put it on I just feel transcendant. This one is called Handed Down (it was recorded in 1984 right here in Somerville!). It features women's vocal and instrumental dance music from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The songs on it range from Turkish Armenia, Persian Armenia, Syria, Bulgaria, Hungary and it includes two pieces by Béla Bartók

I also picked this up: Afghanistan, Music from the Crossroads of Asia. It was recorded in Kabul, 1968, by members of the Radio Afghanistan Orchestra. I love this kind of music, from places I may never get to visit.* Hearing it on vinyl makes the experience even more magical and close.

 Halfmoon, Bahman Ghobadi, 2006. Kurdish.

*Well, maybe I will get to Hungary ;)


Early Medieval + Islamic = Beatus' Commentary on the Apocalypse.

Follow this map.

In the center (top to bottom):

Early Medieval Migration period Sutton Hoo clasp (portable pagan art), early 7th c.

Great Mosque at Cordoba, Spain (horseshoe arch: reappropriated from Visigothic architecture in Spain to become emblematic of Islamic architecture, color blocked mosaic mihrab), 8th c.

Early Medieval Book of Durrow, St. Matthew the Evangelist (early example of pagan imagery in Christian books), 7th c.

Combine these three and then...

On either side (left to right):

Beato de Távara (see the scribes working away in a monastic scriptorium)
Heavenly Jerusalem, Morgan Beatus, both 10th c.

These are manuscript illustrations from the Book of Revelation by St. John the Evangelist, the fourth Gospel book, which discusses the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. The original pages were painted by Beatus in Spain around 725. During the 8th century, Christian Spain was occupied by Muslims and Cordoba became the Islamic capital of the West soon after. 

Despite the commentary of the manuscripts possibly serving as an allied rebellion against religious persecution (in this case Christian practices were limited by the Muslims), the style of the illuminations may have been inspired or influenced by Islamic art and architecture found in Spain, which refers back to the Early Medieval art of the Migration period and early Christian works on paper. 


Recent Museum Adventures: Art of the Arab Lands at the Met.

After about eight years of renovations, the Met opened fifteen !! new galleries all dedicated to art of the Arab lands. They are divided according to time and place. I've been waiting since last winter for this occasion and it did not disappoint.

15 permanent galleries
19,000 square feet of space
13 centuries represented
1,200 objects on view (and all of them are on the Met's website!)
10% of the entire museum collection

Alex and I, with about five hundred other people, had such a fun time wandering through all of these rooms. The energy was just fantastic, like Christmas morning anticipation. I didn't even mind that it was so crowded. I was just happy that everyone was so appreciative, interested, and excited. Anyway, it would be impossible to really get to know all of these works of art in one, or even two or three visits. Knowing this, we took our time breathing in the rich atmosphere instead of pushing through trying to reach each piece. Every few minutes one of us would stumble upon something extraordinary for sharing. I was surprised that I was so into the rug collections. Especially the one pictured below. The colors and ornamental compositions are breathtaking and it goes on for miles!

 Spanish Ceiling and a selection of rugs in Gallery 459.

Detail of the inlaid wood ceiling.

 Gallery 456 Moroccan Court, hand built by a team of artists from Fez.

Admiring the Zoomorphic Incense Burner, Iran, Seljuk Period, 1040-1196, pierced and engraved Bronze.

Persian Tombstone with Mihrab, 12th c., Marble.

18th c. Damascus Room with fountain in the forefront, Syria.
Gallery 463 Mughal South Asia (16th-19th centuries)

Fruit Bat Painter attributed to circle of Bhwani Das India, Calcutta, ca. 1777-82 Pencil, ink, and opaque watercolor on paper.

Before we left the museum we walked through some of the Asian galleries since I had been teaching Eastern art for the last few weeks. I don't think I'd ever really spent any time in those galleries before, so I'm glad I finally made it. We also breezed through Ancient Greece where I nearly fell over when I saw this. 

 Dipylon Vase Dipylon Master, from Dipylon Cemetery, c.750 BCE. AKA Funerary Krater.

This vessel, from the Geometric Period of Ancient Greece, shows a cremation ritual and the response of the attendants. The top register, center, features a lone horizontal figure framed by a checkerboard pattern burial shroud. This is the deceased on their funeral pyre. On either side are mourners raising their arms in agony. Though the figures are abstract, comprised of geometric shapes hence the name of the period, the tone of the krater is clear. This work of art is important because it marks a period of transition in the treatment and expression of death in culture. Prior to this time period focus was on the needs of the deceased, art was made to please them in the afterlife and show how wonderful they were while alive. But now we see the perspective of those still alive; the experience of the mourners.

I don't know why seeing this moved me the way it did. There are dozens of Greek vessels and I've never been especially drawn to them, but for some reason this one is special. More than the others it presents a very honest and personal moment. I think the abstract quality even enhances that, because it's as though the artist wasn't sure how to express the feeling, but felt compelled to do so in whatever possible way. It's larger than I expected. The repetition of the raised arms succeeds in commanding attention. 

Anticipating my hunger schedule and museum fatigue, Alex had put together a taste of the Upper East Side. We had poppyseed pastries at a Hungarian cafe, impeccable tuna semplici at a seriously delicious Italian cafe full of energy, good looking Europeans and fancy UES ladies. I swear I saw Joan Rivers there! We made eye contact and I nearly tripped. Finally we sampled the best Madeleines around at Daniel Boulud's posh Bar Pleiades. Long gone are the days when, starving and impecunious, I dined exclusively at my 8th Avenue deli for deeply satisfying and ridiculously cheap (vegetarian) bagel sandwiches. 


Best Lesson Plan Ever: Early Medieval and Romanesque Art.

I learned recently that you should not present your "best lesson plan ever" to your students on the day before any kind of holiday break. Ah, my Romanesque presentation. You were beautiful, even if only 70% of my students saw it.

Since there are so many elements of Early Medieval art in both Romanesque and Gothic art, it is necessary to first look at the genesis. The art of the Early Middle Ages was made by pagan migratory tribes throughout modern Europe and Scandinavia.

EARLY MEDIEVAL: Shoulder clasp from Sutton Hoo, found in a ship burial site in England, 7th c. 
Detail: Cloisonné with garnet and animal interlace. 

The pagan art of the migratory tribes was later assimilated into Christian art in various and interesting ways.

Stave Church, Borgund, Norway, 12th c.
Painted Reproduction of the medieval Jelling Rune Stones, Copenhagen.
Carpet Page, Lindisfarne Gospel Book, 7th or 8th c.

As part of our discussion on Romanesque art, I was able to visually explain why I missed an entire week in September. It was wonderful to be able to talk, even briefly, about my particular area of interest. The students that were in class were very interested and had lots to say. It's a rare treat to discuss one particular style and region at length. And I got to show them Ripoll. Hooray!

One of my many wondrous experiences in Spain included the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona. Sadly, we arrived just before closing time, but we did get a chance to run wild in the Romanesque section for about thirty minutes. It was glorious! Full of frescoes that had been removed from at risk church walls and lovingly placed inside the museum. These are all from eleventh and twelfth century.

ROMANESQUE: Frescos from the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, SP.

Apse of Santa Maria d'Àneu: Seraphim.

Apse of Sant Climent de Taüll.

"This is one of the masterpieces of the European Romanesque. Its genius lies in the way it combines elements from different Biblical visions (Revelation, Isaiah and Ezekiel) to present the Christ of the Day of Judgement. Christ appears from the background causing a movement outwards from the centre of the composition, which is presided by the ornamental sense of the outlines and the skillful use of colour to create volume. The exceptional nature of this work by the Master of Taüll and its pictorial strength have reached out to modernity and fascinated twentieth-century avant-garde artists like Picasso and Francis Picabia." (MNAC website)

Christ in Majesty.
Ripoll, SP, 12th c. Notice the similarity between the painted Christ in Majesty and the stone one.

To close the discussion on Romanesque art, I shared select clips from the Pillars of the Earth. Especially the scenes that talk about relics, pilgrimage, Abbot Suger, and new technology in the shift from Romanesque architecture to Gothic architecture. Of course these bits are little gems found in the company of bloody violence, sex, intrigue, torture, and other kinds of HBO material. Oh religion.