I’m taking part in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s “Hangout with Art” online course. Unlike other MOOCs I have participated in (e.g., MoMA’s “Art and Inquiry” on Coursera), this one relies on Twitter and Google+ for sharing and discussion. I felt like I needed more space for my assignments and a “home” for them . . . hence this blog post. I will be updating this page as I complete tasks in the 10 week course. Let me know if you’re participating in the course too.
Introduce yourself through a work of art.
I chose “Self-Portrait” by Alice Neel (1980) not because I am an aging artist but because it depicts a somewhat unflattering reality in an empathetic way. She does not hide her sagging flesh but instead reveals a woman who has accepted the life her body has lived. As a new mom, I connect with this experience of a body/being that is at once my own, something to be proud of, a body that has DONE THINGS, and yet one that feels foreign, has been stretched to new limits, and rendered weak in places most people would prefer to keep undercover. I also really dig her use of color in the face: blushing cheeks, piercing blue eyes, and then a strange green upper lip and blue-green chin. It’s bananas and I love it. Same thing with the flexed calf of her left leg and the pointed toe on her right. For some reason this tension feels particularly poignant when juxtaposed with two mismatched nipples at the ends of her dangling, hefty breasts. Alice Neel’s self-depiction, to me, screams “WOMAN” and also “GET OFF MY LAWN!” Ultimately, I suppose, I’ve chosen this work to introduce myself because I’m feeling feisty (and tired, all at once).
Alice Neel, “Self-Portrait,” 1980, oil on canvas
© Estate of Alice Neel,1980
National Portrait Gallery
Say It With Art
“Give” a work of art as a virtual gift.
The man in Winslow Homer’s “The Fog Warning” is so close to shore and he’s won a big fat hard-won prize in the form of a fish. But the skies are dark and the seas are choppy and we don’t know what will become of him. This fisherman on the brink of success or disaster reminds me of a few friends facing challenging times in their lives. I like the way Homer has depicted him looking out at the sky. He doesn’t seem afraid nor recklessly determined. He seems to be contemplating his options or perhaps riding it out. Either way, I think we can find inspiration in the story depicted here and I hope my friends do too.
Winslow Homer, “The Fog Warning,” 1885, oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Find a Work of Art That…
The random prompt generator said: Find an image of a person with whom you would like to have a conversation.
This woman doesn’t look particularly friendly at first glance but she certainly looks like she’d have a few good stories to tell. I’m struck by how quiet this work feels compared to Toulouse-Lautrec’s other depictions of women, seen kicking up their skirts while the harsh theater lights ignite garish makeup that both intrigues and repels. In comparison, this woman seems rather reserved. It’s hard for me to tell how old she is. I’m bad at that, in general, but the soft-focus effect (achieved through peinture à l’essence technique, says the Van Gogh Museum) means the viewer is missing clues like wrinkles or sunspots. The title tells me that she’s young but who gave the work this title? She seems wide-eyed and yet bored or perhaps even a bit angry. Don’t you want to ask her what’s going on?
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Young woman at a table, ‘Poudre de riz’,” 1887, oil on canvas
Van Gogh Museum
Living with Art / Art Confrontation
Practice “long looking” with a work of art that you don’t like.
I’ve picked the following work of art to live with for a week (which should be easy since I walk past it every work day!) I’ll be back in a few days to share my reflections on this task…stay tuned.
Max Ernst, “Capricorn,” model 1948, cast 1975
National Gallery of Art
The first thing I did to “live” with this work of art was to spend a few minutes with it in person, walking around it, and snapping a quick photo with my smartphone.
Next, I took advantage of the fact that I work in a museum and I went to visit the curatorial staff in the Modern and Contemporary Art department. It turns out they had produced a 2-sided handout about the sculpture (the work is displayed directly behind the information desk, in close proximity to the art information volunteers.) I printed out the sheet (which features a large image of the work) and taped it beside my computer workstation.
On another day, I spent the evening Googling “Max Ernst Capricorn” and unearthed the following interesting information:
- People engaged with the work of art: I enjoyed seeing the sculpture come alive through the interactions people had with it. See this quirky sketch by a travel blogger, a photo from LIFE Magazine of the artist and his wife (artist Dorothea Tanning) posing with/on a version of the work at their home in Sedona, a 2007 powder-coated aluminum homage that I think of as “flat Capricorn,” and a fantastical (read: Photoshopped) image of the sculpture on a beach.
- The sculpture on exhibition in various contexts: Because there are multiple versions of this work and it seems popular in traveling exhibitions, I found photos of it on display in many different contexts. See: an outdoor installation at the de Menil House (featured in an artsy photoshoot Tilda Swinton did for W Magazine), an installation in the courtyard of the Deutsche Bank in Dusseldorf in which the sculpture appears to be surrounded by water (maybe that fantasy beach photo is not so fantastical?), on a terrace at the Centre Pompidou, at the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, at the Kunsthalle Mannheim, outdoors at the PepsiCo Gardens (AKA, Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens), at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, and (of course) at the Max Ernst Museum in his home town of Brühl.
- Quotes and other intriguing descriptors: When Ernst created the original work in his backyard he apparently said: “A king and queen in cement and scrap iron–Regal Guardians for our home!” The sculpture (which various sources cite as his “most important”) also incorporated pieces of trash, such as milk bottles, about which Ernst purportedly said: “I’ve always said that to create the fantastic, you must use the banal.” In a very brief “365 Days of Art” feature, the Nelson-Atkins Museum says: “This sculpture includes as whimsical dog, with pipe eyes and a trowel tongue.”
All of this information collectively has provided a richer sense of the sculpture for me. As with anything you spend your time and attention on, I now feel more affinity for the work than I did when I came to it without much context. This exercise has given me the opportunity to talk with friends and colleagues about the work of art (and the MOOC), which has given it a bit more meaning for me as well. It still isn’t my favorite work of art but I like that now I have a more interesting associations in my mind whenever I see it.