Eretat is a really beautiful place, and I hope to make it there some day. Until then, I’ll have to enjoy these lovely paintings by Monet.
The Cliffs at Etretat by Claude Monet, 1885. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eretat is a really beautiful place, and I hope to make it there some day. Until then, I’ll have to enjoy these lovely paintings by Monet.
The Cliffs at Etretat by Claude Monet, 1885. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
It’s been one of those weeks. You know, the kind of week when your to-do list is a mile long and you’re running on fumes. I’ve been juggling multiple projects, commuting, and grading for the end of the term. After carefully finishing all my requirements, I needed some time for myself. Having quiet time is really essential for me to stay balanced. So what did I do?
Earlier in the week, I found this great vintage illustrated dictionary. It was the first volume in a set of six, and covers A to Ch. There was something so compelling about the illustrations that I had to buy it. There were so many wonderful pictures that I knew would inspire me to draw.
The catalpa is a tree with heart-shaped leaves. I’ve seen trees like this before, and marveled at them. A tree full of hearts! What a perfect plant for me. But I’d never know the name. Of course I was inspired and made this little drawing:
The illustration that really made me purchase the book was of a bluff along the sea. It has a little sailboat hugging the shoreline. I thought it was really darling, and reminded me of Monet’s seascapes. (Maybe I will post about those paintings tomorrow!)
I changed the color of the sails to purple, but kept the passenger.
Then, a chestnut tree caught my attention:
I’m not sure if I liked how this one came out, but it was still fun to do!
Every page I turned brought more inspiring images. I sketched a few more things, but was most happy with this canyon.
I could easily entertain myself this way for much longer. I only wish I had the entire volume of this dictionary! There must be so much more to see.
(Like my drawings? I used a thin tip Sharpie marker and Crayola Twistable crayons. I highly recommend these items!)
William Morris. Windrush, 1883-4. Image courtesy of The Textile Blog
Tapestries were created with a similar method. The sketches for a tapestry are called cartoons. They must be drawn to size, and placed underneath the loom so that the weavers can follow the patterns.
Drawing for block-printed fabric Tulip and Willow by William Morris, 1873. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Morris died at age 62, of what some believed to be exhaustion. He was so prolific, and worked tirelessly on his many passions. Morris really believed in what he did. He so beautifully stated:
“My work is the embodiment of dreams.”
The Matisse show at the Met definitely was not what I was expecting. Entitled In Search of a True Painting, the galleries are full of studies and series of paintings based around the same subjects. After seeing the impressive paintings on George Bellows, it was a real contrast to see an artist’s studies and struggles with the canvas.
The truth is, Matisse really struggled with painting. He never felt his work was complete, and wanted to push every painting to the next level. This was really a surprise to me. I’ve always considered Henri Matisse (1869″“1954) one of the geniuses of the twentieth century. I love his painting, Acanthus, which I am happy to report was at the Met.
The curators at the Met go on to explain:
Unbeknownst to many, painting had rarely come easily to Matisse. Throughout his career, he questioned, repainted, and reevaluated his work. He used his completed canvases as tools, repeating compositions in order to compare effects, gauge his progress, and, as he put it, “push further and deeper into true painting.”
The show didn’t really make much of an impact on me until I got home to paint. I sort of do the same thing with my own art. Trees are really my favorite subject. I spend a lot of time outdoors. I love to photograph, draw, and paint the beautiful trees I see while on my walks. A few weeks prior to seeing the Matisse show, I’d done a few studies of the same tree:
I mostly like to paint on the floor. Standing at an easel at my studio doesn’t really give me the range of motion I like. But when I paint with David Ohlerking, it’s especially helpful to have an easel. The way he mixes his paints is so different – they’re sort of runny. So the paint sort of drips down. I love painting with him because of this! It’s an entirely different experience. I always learn so much. If you paint, I really suggest venturing out of solitude once in a while. Painting with someone else can really help you learn new techniques and ways to express yourself.
When I paint by myself, I try all sorts of things. Sometimes I mix the paint directly on the canvas. Other times, I use a palette to mix colors or revisit something I’ve mixed before. (Oil paint never really dries!) I’ll push it around with palette knives, brushes, and bits of cardboard. My brushes are usually really dry. I probably don’t get all of the paint off and it hardens. So every time I use a brush, it manipulates the paint in a different way. I didn’t get to finish yet, but here is what I have so far:
My post, Sunshine on a Cloudy Day, was about the paintings of Israeli artist Yadid Rubin. Sadly, Mr. Rubin passed away shortly after the post. The Chelouche Gallery for Contemporary Art and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art had an evening in memory of Yadid Rubin. My friend and extraordinary artist, Daniel Beaudoin, attended the event and wrote this guest post.
As an artist, Beaudoin felt an affinity for the of Yadid Rubin. Rubin painted spiritual landscapes. In a similar way, Beaudoin paints political and social landscapes in his art. Beaudoin says:
My art deals with social and political issues; and tries to give expression to existential dilemmas. I use everyday objects and a variety of materials, with which I texture and construct my canvases. This approach is exhilarating, and I often feel like a mason at work on a construction site. I am then free to present in my paintings the moral dilemmas of the social and political issues I am currently engaged with.
Yesterday evening, 29 February 2012, I attended an event to commemorate the passing away of Yadid Rubin (74), an Israeli painter that dared to defy and challenge the institutional dictates and rules set by the self appointed gatekeepers of Israeli art.
Yadid Rubin, born 1938, lived and worked in Kibbutz (a collective farm) Givat Haim. Rubin’s paintings remarkably and beautifully express the meaning of the allusive term Israeli: the landscape of the kibbutz, vast plowed fields, plantations filled with fruitful trees, columns of cypresses, warehouses and tractors.
Rubin, at the beginning of his career, was intimidated by color, and painted carefully, including self portraits and more minimal depictions of kibbutz life. He was afraid to “tamper with God”, as he put it to me one day when I had the unexpected luck of running into him at the Chelouche Gallery, which was his artistic home for more than two decades. Eventually, he decided to touch the face of the divine, and began to paint in an exhilarating and explosive display of color: hues of yellow, ochre, red, blue, browns and so many layers of paint applied straight from the tube.
I always wanted to get up real close and smell his paintings, maybe even take a small bite out of one of the plowed fields. The gooey bright texture, for some reason, reminds me of treacle and toffee, consumable landscapes of Israel. Unfortunately, on the many occasions that I went to see his work, including in the landmark exhibition he held at the Tel Aviv Museum for Modern Art (with a record six month showing), I was unable to escape the museum guards; I never had the chance to stick my face to the canvas and taken a good sniff and taste.
The repetitive motive of his work recall prayer mantras: again and again the emotional rendition of childhood scenes and adulthood spent in the fields and agricultural activity surrounding him. These landscapes, he said, reflect my soul, and that is why he preferred to paint from memory, and from within a windowless room, which was an old chicken coop. But the windows of his soul were very wide open, and they invite us to participate in the divine experience of his sensual orgy of color, texture and naÃ¯ve dreams of how simple and beautiful life can really be.
Very shortly before his death, for real estate purposes, the kibbutz decided to level the fields and cypress trees which surrounded his studio. The thought still haunts me that maybe the disappearance of the so familiar landscape had traumatized him so much that it actually caused his demise. I am not sure, but I know that whenever I travel through the country and see a red tractor plowing line after line of deep brown fields, or the row of pines along the horizon, floating in a mist of ochre brilliance, I too feel as if I were close to the divine.
Thank you, Yadid.
Fashion is such an integral part of my life that I find my outfit selections reflect whatever is happening to me. A few weeks ago, I went to an art gallery. Since I was somewhere “artsy”, I decided to dress that way. My pick was this cotton sheath dress in a conversational print, with a matching chiffon peplum.
Conversational prints are simply fabrics with designs that can start a conversation. While the idea is as old as designing fabrics, there was a surge in popularity during the 1950s. The fabric used for this dress also mirrors the trend in art for Abstract Expressionism, which appears after WWII. Abstract Expressionism is non-representational (ie: it doesn’t look like anything) and emphasizes a subconscious, spontaneous application of paint. Abstract Expressionist work is quite varied, but generally the focus is on color. (For more on the issue of color, you might want to read my previous posts, Synesthesia in Art and Fashion and Color Semiotics.)
My outfit did spark a conversation, and the gallery owner told me all about an artist named Leonard Nelson. He showed me this painting, Les Competiteurs by Nelson, which uses colors very similar to my dress.
Leonard Nelson (1912-1993) was exhibiting work with famous American Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He has been obscured from art history because of his choice to work in Philadelphia, and not New York. Les Competiteurs is one of Nelson’s earlier works, and a bit derivative of Picasso. After a bit of research, I’m admittedly a fanatic of his later works – fields of color.
I found it a bit funny that Nelson is classified as an Abstract Expressionist. To me, his work seems so realistic. The fields of color look like framed views of nature. Colorfield (N9A) looks a lot like dandelions in a meadow.
Nelson was inspired by nature and its beauty. His ability to capture the natural landscape in an abstract form was poetic. Even when he spoke about the act of creating, it sounds transcendental:
My paintings must be exciting, and they must be beautiful. I am very, very definitely involved in the creation of beauty. I like to think I work in isolation, but I don’t. I don’t take my easel and go out and paint the scene . . . the scene gets inside of me.
So by painting landscapes, the landscapes become part of the soul. I feel that way when I look at his paintings, anyway. Alma Night certainly looks like water during sunset:
The most interesting thing happened to me after I learned about Leonard Nelson. While I was walking my dog, I looked down into the stream. The pebbles in the water looked a lot like one of his paintings. Isn’t it interesting that looking at art can change the way you perceive the world?
But the real hedonist in me became apparent after I saw this painting. I immediately saw it and thought:
This would make the perfect dress!
Who could blame me? What I wear reflects what interests me at the time. And often, it starts a conversation.
The fall season always ushers in grey, rainy days. Baring a tempest, I enjoy these days quite a bit. The reason rainy days are so interesting to me is observing the change in my environment. Everyday, I pass by the HSBC tower and look at a painting called Hefer Valley by Yadid Rubin.
It’s a massive canvas depicting the sun shining down on a field being plowed. I always enjoy walking by this painting. The bold colors are rhythmically applied, and almost seem to vibrate off the canvas, out of the lobby, and onto the street. Undoubtedly, Hefer Valley is an impressive piece. Yet it seemed absolutely transcendental as I passed by in the rain.
The absence of natural sunlight allowed me to see the luminosity of the colors in the painting in a different way. Luminosity is the measurement of brightness and radiance. When ambient lighting changes, our eyes adjust and perceive luminosity differently.
Most days, I will look and smile as I walk by. But yesterday, I just had to cross the street and enter the building to take a closer look.
The way that Rubin applies paint to the canvas reminds me of the way textiles are woven together. He doesn’t just use one color, but layers bold, impasto hues next to one another to create depth and harmony. From a distance, the eye can blend these areas together to create an image. Up-close, the experience of viewing the work is much different. Woven textiles are similar in this way. Many different color threads and yarns can create a rich combination. A great example of this is Harris Tweed. The Vintage Traveler recently discussed the richness of Harris Tweed- it uses four yarns for a single color. It’s this blending of these that creates a beautiful textile
Viewing Hefer Valley made me curious. I’d never heard of Yadid Rubin before. After a little research, I learned that Rubin (1938) is a prominent Israeli landscape artist that paints in his closed, windowless studio. Now this fact resonated with me. Rubin controls the amount of ambient light while he paints. This must be why my reaction to the painting was so different in the rain”“ this was the way Rubin observed his canvas while creating.
Rubin explained why he works in a closed, windowless studio:
I paint the landscape of the kibutz [a collective farm or settlement owned by its members in Isreal], but in fact these are the landscapes of the soul. I don’t paint out of plain observation, but out of the accumulation of sensations and reactions to different conditions of nature.
So it is possible to have sunshine on a cloudy day.
For more of Rubin’s work, please visit chelouchgallery.com
As a fashion lover and professor of fashion history, it’s no surprise that I have a passion for vintage. It’s a logical progression that since my working hours are dedicated to looking at art, fashion, and interiors from past eras that my enthusiasm for history often spills over into my free time. I’m an avid eBay shopper. American Pickers is my favorite show. Digging through flea markets and thrift stores is my idea of a modern-day treasure hunt. So recently, when I came across The Vintage Traveler, I was delighted to find someone as interested in vintage as I am!
Creator Lizzie Bramlett is a former teacher and long-time collector of vintage clothing. Her blog chronically the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of vintage. Lizzie takes us on her trips across the country to find the most amazing pieces. Think of it like American Pickers for fashion historians.
In addition to seeing Lizzie’s drool-worthy finds, The Vintage Traveler shares obscure fashion history facts. Expect to see vintage photographs, reviews of fashion books and films, hints for identifying and collecting historic fashion, and a bi-weekly round-up of fashion history news from around the internet.
A site dedicated to gorgeous, one-of-a-kind fashions that teaches us to be vintage connoisseurs – what’s not to like?
A few weeks ago, I participated on a conference on color. Kaleidoscope: New Perspectives on the Humanities explored how color is interdisciplinary. Color is used not only in artistic practices, but is a common theme in literature, design, politics, and communication. While there, I met Maryam Mohammadzadeh Darrodi, an expert and PhD candidate in color semiotics. Having studied literature, I was familiar with the concept of semiotics.
Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols as elements of communicative behavior – including language, gestures, and fashion. But I had never really considered that colors have encoded, semiotic meanings. Maryam is conducting a fascinating study on how we respond to color. She graciously allowed me to interview her on color semiotics and her study. (Please take 30 seconds to participate in Maryam’s study. Visit Colour Semiotics)
Q) What is color semiotics?
I have to say using the word “colour semiotics” is just a more efficient way of describing colour emotions. As semiotics includes the concept of symbolization. Colour has certain properties, which I would like to categories as colour preference, colour harmony and colour semiotics. So it is clear that colour semiotics is not about liking a colour or not (colour preference), and not about finding its combination pleasant or not (colour harmony), but rather; how we feel about it. Do we feel that the certain colour is heavy or light, soft or hard and etc.
Nature has been the first to teach us about colour semiotics: we know that a green tomato is not as ripe as a red one. So instantly, different meanings are communicated through colours. Nowadays, successful marketing has a crucial role in selling goods, on the other hand people make decisions about purchasing a product in less than 90 seconds which 60% of their decision is based upon colour. So there we go, it is very important to be able to build the right impression through colour semiotics.
Q) Is color and the ways we respond to colors constructed by culture and society? Or is it innate to the human experience?
Unfortunately it is both and even more, gender, age, culture, geographical location, season and many more parameters which are directly involved in the human psychology affect individual’s decisions about colour. This makes it more and more challenging for colour researchers which is why they often try to restrict the parameters to one or two.
Well, I have a statistical background! In the lectures they use to say that statistics is a science which has the ability to work in “All aspects”. I use to wonder how I can challenge my statistical skills towards a notion that nobody has ever done before. Of course, with all the interest I had in colour, I thought colour semiotics, which is all about emotions; can be the best to become my subject or in other words a weapon for my battle with statistics. And I must admit, up to now statistics has truly proved its effectiveness to me, by building a beautiful model that relates colours and emotions together.
Q) Tell us about your survey – what is it, what are you hoping to achieve?
So for my research, I am carrying out an experiment which I wana see how all parameters effect the human response to colour semiotics. But the thing is all the experiments up to now have been carried out in controlled conditions with few people but this experiment is novel in the sense that it involves all possible conditions which can be effective, such as cultural, age and gender differences. People around the world communicate and understand their emotions in different terms so that’s why I have also made this survey multi-lingual so people can be more comfortable.
The survey takes about 30 seconds to complete. It will ask your primary language, age, gender, and a few other questions. You will then be giving a color and asked to respond. Screen shots of the survey are below. Please take a few moments to participate.
Synesthesia has been on my mind a lot lately. The first time I was introduced to the concept, I was reading A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The novel is deliciously written, exploring colors, shapes and the theme of art for art’s sake. A particular passage always stuck with me:
One should absorb the colors of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.
And that, in part, is what synesthesia is. Synesthesia is a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory pathway. Synesthetes, those that have synesthesia, will see colors when they hear sound or touch objects.
Several Circles by Wassily Kandinsky, 1926. Image courtesy of WassilyKandinsky.net
Every case of synesthesia is different. Some people see colors while tasting food. Others hear sounds from the smell of fragrances. Some can taste sounds and images. The most commonly reported phenomenon is people hearing and seeing letters and numbers in colors. Each color has a specific color. No synesthete sees the same color for letters.
When thinking about this, I imagine listening to my favorite music and watching a myriad of brilliant, color-saturated shapes and lines performing before my eyes. What a beautiful way to experience life! It is difficult to say how many people have synesthesia. First of all, they experience this blending of the senses since birth. They do not see it as a “condition”, but as a regular way of living. Secondly, while research has been conducted on synesthesia since the 1880s, findings have not been widely distributed. Today, it’s estimated that as many as 1 per every 100 person possesses this magical gift.
This video, An Eyeful of Sound, tries to show you the experience of synesthesia:
There is good news. To a certain degree, we all experience synesthesia. Stoop interference tests illustrate this. These tests use the word green written in a a different color of ink. You are asked to identify the word, and ignore the color – tricky, eh?
The early researchers were Heinrich Kluver (1897-1979) and Georg Anschutz (1886-1953), both of which worked independently. Frustrated by romanticized, poetic, and vague descriptions of what synethetes were seeing, they conduced rigorous studies with the collaboration of synesthetes to peer inside their minds, and produce a classification of the experience. These studies included the synethetes creating artwork. Here are images produced from the studies:
My interest in synesthesia led me to an exhibition catalog for the show Synesthesia: Art and the Mind, a show produced by McMaster Museum of Art in Ontario, Canada. (I highly recommend this catalog!) Much to my delight, the catalog explained synesthesia in crystal clear detail, while divulging that many of my favorite artists and musicians were in fact synethetes. The list includes: Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Charles Burchfield, Joan Mitchell, and Duke Ellington. Wow, this explains a lot. . .
Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was an American watercolor painter. Based in Ohio, his main works explored nature and the effects of Industrialism on small towns. His work includes unusual color combinations, rhythmic use of lines and shapes, as well as ordinate objects enveloped in auras of color. These are typical signatures of a synesthetic artist.
Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), also American, was an Abstract Expressionist. Her paintings are expansive, often covering two separate panels. Mitchell was also primarily influenced by landscapes, and drawn to works by Van Gogh and Kandinsky. (Makes me wonder if synethetes are are drawn to each other like magnets.) Her paintings contain scribbles, scratches, and drips of paint that have a sense of movement. Some of the paintings seem like they will drip off of the canvas and disappear. Others look like the hues would blow away with a gust of wind, like crisp autumn leaves.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was Russian, and is credited as having been the first real abstract artist. His earlier works echo in the vein of synesthesia: bold, unusual color combinations, dashes of color, and soft lines.
As he began to experiment with his work, he claimed to have discovered abstraction by accident: he looked at one of his paintings upside-down. His abstract work has unexpected and unique rhythms, and are mostly named after musical compositions.
Schwabing with the Church of St. Ursula by Kandinsky, 1908.
Composition W by Kandinsky, 1939.
We are lucky to even read a little of Kandinsky’s synesthetic experience. He described a trip back to Moscow below:
The sun melts all of Moscow down to a single spot that, like a mad tuba, starts all of the heart and all of the soul vibrating. But no, this uniformity of red is not the most beautiful hour. It is only the final chord of a symphony that takes every colour to the zenith of life that, like the fortissimo of a great orchestra, is both compelled and allowed by Moscow to ring out. – Kandinsky
Looking at all these synethetic artists, I can’t help but wonder if artist and fashion designer Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) had synesthesia, too. Sonia, along with her husband Robert, developed a color theory called simultaneity – the sensation of movement when contrasting colors are placed side by side. She also referred to her garments from the 1920s as robe poemes, or dress poems. I’ll let you be the judge:
(FYI: Tissu is french for fabric)
For more information on:
This week, I’ve revisited one of my favorite readings. It’s a chapter from Lars Svendsen’s book FASHION: A PHILOSOPHY. The chapter is simply called FASHION & ART. There is a huge philosophical debate on whether or not fashion is an art form and where the bad rap comes from. Fashion forefathers Charles Fredrick Worth and Paul Poiret are quoted, clearly bellowing that they are more than dressmakers – they are artists.
Some critics say that fashion could never be considered art. It has no body of criticism; it is too associated with the market and consumers; the value of the work is lost in mass production.
But then I wonder, are the critics contradicting themselves? There is a body of criticism – those that say fashion is not art. Art is also associated with the market and consumers, more so now than ever before. Art is reproduced at an alarming rate, and yet nothing compares to seeing a painting in person. The best advice I received from this reading is the following:
Rather than asking whether something is art, we ought to ask the question as to what extent it is GOOD or RELEVANT art.
In conversation, I find that many people are repulsed by post-modern art. Abstract art is difficult to comprehend. Is it good? How can you tell if it’s well done – it’s just paint splattered everywhere. But there is something so compelling about abstract art. The color, the power of the brush strokes, the unusual geometry. Somehow, I seem to related everything back to fashion. Couldn’t this painting make an interesting textile print? Of maybe the color pallet can inspire my new summer wardrobe.
Art, in it’s best capacity, moves us to incorporate it into our daily lives – even when we don’t fully understand it.
Art improves the quality of life. Enjoy it, wherever you find it.
All this body paint has inspired me to talk about Veruschka and her collaboration with photographer Holger Trulzsch on a series of photographs called Oxydationen.
So who is Verushchka?
Verushchka was a fashion icon in the 60s and 70s. Born in Germany, her family was minor royalty – she’s actually a countess (and her real name is Vera von Lehndorff). Her father was executed for trying to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Pretty crazy! Since the von Lehndorff’s were considered traitors to the Reich, they were sentenced to work in labor camps until the end of WWII.
With the turmoil behind her, Vera studied art in Florence. While there, she was discovered by a photographer. At 6’1″, she’s pretty hard to miss. She had tried to model before, but had some due to her towering height. This is when the persona of Verushchka came into being. As an exotic foreigner, everyone wanted to work with her.
At the age of 20, she was signed with Ford Modeling Agency. You might recognize her from in the famous YSL safari dress.
A true artist at heart, Veruschka left the fashion scene when she felt her artistic idealism was being compromised. Oxydationen was a way for Vera to deconstruct her fashion identity of Veruschka. reaction to this. The series documents her constant questions: who am I? What is my relationship to my surroundings? Is identity real or perceived?
The images were taken from 1970 to 1986 – from locations all around the world. Vera was covered in body paint that obscured her identity and made her blend into her surroundings. Some of the images are clear. Here we seen Vera as a huntress, at one with nature. (Some of these photos may have been taken by Peter Beard . . . see the video at the end of the article)
Some are more abstract: Is she energy itself? What would the personification of electricity be? What about lightening?
My favorites are the obtuse. Where is Vera? Is she even there? How did she do that? Is she a textile? (Hey, this reminds me of Where’s Waldo!) It can become very difficult to find her in some of the photographs. . .
These are the primary images for the Oxydationen series. So amazing . . .
While researching these images, I found article entitled Model Image by Robin Rice that critiqued the exhibition of Vera’s work. A particularly eloquent statement by Rice was noteworthy:
We see Lehndorff in body paint gingerly stalking toward her designated context, then meticulously orienting her limbs so that painted details integrate with the background. She tucks her head to match shadows and, at last, closes her eyes, surrendering to her disappearance into an object.
So you might be wondering – just how did the transformation take place? Well, I certainly did. So I found some videos showing just how the transformations took place. Enjoy!
My grandmother died a year ago, and at times I still have difficulty dealing with her loss. We were very close. She was lucky enough to have died a very peaceful death. She was not ill, she was in her home, and she had lived a long, rich life. These facts made her unexpected death both sad – “But she was in great health! What happened?” – and a relief “She wasn’t suffering, and she was in her own home“. That was the way she wanted to go. She would have hated a nursing home.
To use the old cliche, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. I don’t believe that death is the end, it’s just a transformation into an unknown realm. What this realm is, well, that is debatable. Religions address it, atheists deny it, and there are a whole lot of other ideas in between.
Intellectually, I accepted her death and transformation to this other place. Yet emotionally I was very sad. She’s not here anymore! Talk about confusing the senses.
I came to realize that, like many people, I never formed a solid idea about death, dying, and the meaning of life. It was simply too frightening. I just knew I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want anyone I love to die. End of story.
So, in an attempt to come to terms with death, I looked for a book. Lo and behold, I come across Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. This book immediately made me smile just looking at the cover. The premise? To use philosophy and jokes to explore the meaning of death, life, and the afterlife.
I am a firm believer in humor. Give me a comedy any day. Written in seven parts, Cathcart and Klein address the anxiety and delusion of death (Dead! Whatcha gonna do about it?); a definition of eternity (Eternity when you least expect it); immortality (Immortality the old-fashioned way on the soul train); near-death experiences (Post mortem life: postcards from the other side), suicide (Death as a lifestyle choice); and scientific breakthroughs (Biotechnology: Stop the presses!).
The authors explored philosophical movements, theology, and anthropology to talk about why we avoid dealing with death and our own mortality while weaving in jokes and humor to defuse our anxiety.
What I took away:
The idea of immortality was discussed. Since earth can only support a certain population, we would need to stop giving birth to more humans. This means that at a certain point, there would never be any children, no first loves, no real new ideas. And living forever has another downside: once you do everything, there will never be another new experience. Thus, resulting in an eternity of ennui (boredom).
Cloning and passing on your genetic information in other ways was taken into consideration, but ultimately that’s not really you either. Why? Well, the natural human clones “identical twins” are genetically the same, but are very different. This is because they experience life in a different way. Nature vs. nurture comes into play, making them two very different people.
I felt I had a better lease on life and death after this book. And I had a bunch of good jokes.
Well, all this talk about death reminded me of a documentary series I watched a few months ago called How Art Made the World. It’s a 5 disk collaboration between the BBC and Cambridge University.
The final DVD? To Death and Back. For centuries, artists have been creating images of death. These images are terrifying and, paradoxically, reassuring. These images remind us of our mortality help us to deal with the great unknown and the fact that the world will go on when we are no longer alive.
Pictures of ancestors and of generations gone by help us to overcome the idea of our own death. This is a unique issue. Human beings are the only life form that realizes mortality. Through art, we try to come to grips with our own death. Art takes the natural world and lets us have control over it. The psychological impetus for art is to bridge the gap between this knowledge and fear, and lets us feel comfortable with it.
To prove this theory, 2 psychologists, Solomon and Greenberg, conducted an experiment on 2 groups of students. They flashed a series of words: rose, sneaker, fajita, and flower. The catch? One group of students received these same words, but with the word dead flashed in between the transitions. Dead only appeared for a fraction of a second, but it was long enough to speak to the subconscious mind of the group members.
After the words were flashed on the screen, a series of images was presented to the student of prominent dead figures. Examples: Marilyn Monroe, George Washington. The students were able to look at these images freely. They could spend as much time looking at the images as they wanted. Each student was timed. The students who received the message with dead interspersed looked at the images for significantly longer amounts of time.
Interested? Watch the video here: How Art Made the World: To Death and Back
You can skip to minute 15 to see the interview – or you can watch the entire clip, too! :)
I also found another study by the same psychologists based on death and supporting people with similar values.
I’d like to conclude with a quote:
Through experimentation, psychologists discovered that groups of subjects who had been made to think about death wanted to look at pictures of the dead far longer than groups who hadn’t. It was as though seeing pictures of people who had died reassured them that they, in turn, would one day be remembered too. -How Art Made the World: To Death and Back
Hmm, maybe all along I have been dealing with death . . . and maybe all of us interested in art and design are coping the only way we know how.