it’s high time we all suck it up

“Life is not a problem to be solved,
but a reality to be experienced.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

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(medival painting of St Christopher and the Christ Child / artist unknown but it looks like a Bosch contemporary if you ask me / Adare Manor, County Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The painting above, along with it’s beautiful ornate frame,
is really quite lovely is it not?

It is a piece that belongs to a private country manor estate in Ireland…
an estate that has been turned into an exquisite hotel and golf resort.

I, the average guest, would not have been able to enjoy seeing the piece had the hotel
thought to place the painting in storage,
hide it in some backroom office…
or carte it off to the attic as it depicts the image of
St Christopher carrying the Christ Child.

There is debate as to whether or not St Christopher ever existed.
There are even some circles that have decided to “un” saint this said Christopher…
Add to that, that here is a display of an image of the Christ child–
would we want non-believing guests to be offended by its presence?

So perhaps St Christopher’s painting should be altogether removed……

But before you begin to cry foul,
we will return to that thought in a minute…
However… let’s first chat about a little current event article shall we….

The following article, which I read yesterday on Fox News, got this art teacher’s knickers in a huge twist.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/08/11/historic-paintings-moved-to-controlled-campus-rooms-after-university-finds-them-harmful.html

In a nutshell, the article tells the tale about a college in Wisconsin that has been home to several paintings, 80 years old or older, that depict white fur traders / trappers (most likely French Canadian trappers) alongside a group of Native American Indians.

These paintings are indicative of a time in which the northern regions of this country, all along the Canadian border, were rife with white European fur traders, trapping, buying and selling furs as they encountered both hostile and hospitable Indian tribes who happened to call that area home.

It seems that a student diversity group has taken offense to the paintings…
paintings that have hung rather ambiguously on display at this college for many decades.
The issue being…
that the paintings show the Native American Indians in a subservient role to the white trappers.

“The controversy over the artwork began when the school’s Diversity Leadership Team complained the paintings were offensive to Native American students and promoted acts of “domination and oppression.”

They have demanded that the paintings be removed.

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME??????!!!!!!

The College President, doing the dance of all things politically correct thinks he’s struck
a win / win by removing the pictures from public view, moving them to a private office
while noting that anyone wishing to see the paintings, may make an appointment.

Again, Are You Freaking Kidding Me????!!!!

How would one know to make an appointment if one did not know the paintings existed in the first place?

Hence why we hang art….
to share with the public.

I would think a public institution can and should hang its art publicly for the tax paying public to enjoy…..

Sigh…

This is about the most asinine thing I thing I think I’ve finally read, heard and seen in this on-going madness of our overtly PC now loving world.

We have birthed a nation of now the thinnest skinned people on the planet.

Our Millennials and Generation X kids need to learn to suck it up.

Just as we, the older generations, need to do the same by putting our collective feet down to say—
“hold up there…
You wait just one minute now before you have a temper tantrum over things you consider
to be poor taste…
as that’s not poor taste…
that is simply put, history…

As in…
that was then,
that’s how it was…

Like it or not.

You need to get over it…
Take it for what it was…
Learn from it…
And see it for what it was…
NOT for what it is through your current lenses of today…

As in…
That’s what and how it was in that particular time and place…
Let’s look rather at how far we’ve come!…
How far we’ve come to today,
THIS time and place….
Rejoice that we have come this far…
So far that we now have the descendants of those “subservient Native American’s”
currently enrolled in school, right alongside you!…”

History, our history as a people, is as fabulous as it is sinister.
There is both good and bad.
And that is that.

And just because we have what some wish to consider to be a most open minded society…
one that is all about all things tolerant…
on the flip side of that overt tolerance is the fact that we can’t seem to tolerate our less then stellar moments of the past.

How’s that for your 21st century ying and yang?

If you want to get mad about how Native American Indians have been treated as a whole by this great Nation of ours, you may just want to read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
That 1970 published tale that explores the systematic decline of Native Americans at the hands of a growing nation comprised of white European settlers alongside their black African slaves…

As it actually starts with the germ warfare introduced by Christopher Columbus and company…

But oh, forgive me, let me be correct…. Christopher Columbus is his anglicized name,
since he was Italian we should us his Italian name, Cristoforo Colombo…
but since he sailed under the Spanish flag, then maybe we should use his Spanish pronunciation
as we do wish to be oh so correct….Cristóbal Colón

See how stupid this can all become….???

And we just keep letting it get more and more stupid by the minute.

Rather than turn from our history, those parts that can make our modern learned skin crawl,
or turn our history into some watered down bland and benign mush,
we need to see it for what it is, what it was—a time of then..
not a time of now.

I’ve said this before, our 21st century lenses cannot wipe away those events,
those times and moments that would not and could not happen today
because we now consider ourselves too smart,
too educated,
too tolerant to have ever allowed such to take place….

We cannot ignore what happened,
what was wrong,
what should not have been…
For we cannot strike it from our past by ignoring it,
hiding it,
removing it,
pretending that it has nothing to do with us…
because that’s exactly what it was…
It was us!

That was us then…
it is not us now….

We cannot hide what we were.
Because what we were, has made us who were are today..
And we have learned to be better by our grievous mistakes and injustices.

We learn by our past.
If you sterilize your past,
white wash it,
sugar coat it,
distance yourself so far from it—
you are opening a vacuum for repetition.
Mark my words…

So, back to the painting of St Christopher ….
Or should we say, Ágios Christóforos which is the Greek wording…
as debates rage at to where St Christopher, or Christ Bearer as Christopher means in Latin,
was born–some say it was Canaan, but he is first mentioned as being in Greece and assumed Grecian…
but some say he was originally known as Reprobus…
He was martyred by either one of the Roman Emperors Decius or Maximus II Dacian…
And he may actually be the martyred Egyptian Saint Menas…
…confused yet?

The story of whoever Christopher may or may not have been is not the important issue…
The important component is that he had an encounter with Christ and from that moment,
he was never the same…
just as others who encounter Christ are never the same…
It was from that encounter that he then traveled to minister those who were being martyred
for their faith—bringing encouragement and comfort…
as he too would be eventually martyred…

And so we have history–
martyrs of faith then
and
martyrs of faith now…
History we can’t seem to easily erase away

History on a continum…
both good and bad…
and the question is, are we learning…

What’s wrong with this picture?

“We don’t adore icons,
we us them to adore God”

Fr John Sexton

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( Vasari’s Annunciation / The Louvre / Julie Cook / 2011)

Over the course of this past weekend, an interesting story made its way into the news, which just so happened to catch the eye of this old art teacher.

Now you should know that I was a little more than bothered, as well as troubled, by this story as I have already touched on this sort of subject before and like any decent teacher whose students fail to comprehend the key components of a well delivered lesson, my feathers became just a bit ruffled…yet if the truth be known, this individual “student” had obviously totally skipped class altogether that day.

It seems that someone out there has decided to not only take issue with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York but has decided to go so far as to file a law suit—

“For what?”…. I’m hearing you ask…

Well it seems that upon a recent visit to the Met, as this individual was viewing some paintings of the museum’s collection of several Renaissance and Baroque masters depicting Jesus Christ, this said individual suffered “personal stress” as the images contained, typical of the time, images of a “white” Jesus. This individual is now claiming that these images of a white Jesus are racist and should be removed.

I can feel my blood pressure rising as I type.
Imagine that, white Renaissance Northern Europeans painting images of a Jesus which looked just like them!
Shocking??
Not a bit…
But rather indicative of the time, the culture, the history, and the existing knowledge of the world—let us consider the audience of these white Northern European Christian artists…other white Northern European Christian type individuals.

I almost came unglued right then and there as I read, then later watched, the story.
A huge collective “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” should be reverberating as we all read of such lunacy.

If I had a ruler in hand, I would knock this said student upside the head as this is probably the most idiotic thing I have ever heard. But then given this day and age I would be fired as well as sued over such…sigh

First may I just say that this country has so many more glaring issues and concerns and so many more truly needful cases trying to work their way through our already dysfunctional legal system that a suit as frivolous and as ridiculous as this is a shameful waste of both time and money.

Do I feel “personal stress” when I view an exhibit of African Art, Asian Art, Hispanic Art, Native American Art, Muslim Art (although Muslims do not depict images of individuals), etc…
No, of course not.
Can I and do I understand and appreciate that art collections are more often than not, mere representations of various time periods and or cultures?
Of course I can and I do—

This entire story has me shaking my head.

It seems that a case such as this has found its little loopholes of merit as the museum receives federal monies, lots and lots of monies—so this individual and his legal eagles have thought that perhaps there is not only a little issue of separation of Church and state but also a throw back to a 1964 civil rights ruling…that a white painting of Jesus in a federally funded museum violates a civil rights act….

Which in my mind rivals with a giant exasperated “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

It’s one thing that someone out there looks at a painting of Jesus depicted as white and cries foul as that’s not exactly historically accurate. As he wasn’t white–he was a middle eastern Jew. I somehow think that our atheist brethren out there would / could and may have take / taken issue with the whole historical accuracy of all of this as to them, Jesus may or may not have even existed in the first place… and if they agree he did exist as mere mortal, then that whole crucified, dead, buried and risen depiction would and most likely might send them running to lawyer up as it were…

Has this politically correctness business of ours not yet gone too far people??!!!

Stories like this give me a headache because I am incensed that there are people out there who waste precious energies over things that are so trivial and meaningless when we have innocent people dying around this globe due to radical extremist ISIS nuts out there who want us all dead…. and we’re going to waste our time worrying about stress caused when someone looks at a 500 year old painting of a white Jesus in a museum!!!!

What part of any of this story sounds right, rational or makes any sort of logical sense??????

I’m pulling a snippet of that previous lesson I was talking about earlier with a link to the original lesson on an icon….

I don’t want to give an in-depth mini history lesson today regarding icons, or of this particular image, as there is so very much out there in the form of books or on the web for the curious to discover. I simply want to share with you something that is very meaningful to me. I think it is important to share with others the things that significantly impact our own lives as those are the things that make us who we are.

As a person who grew up with Western Christianity, or that of the Roman or Latin branch of Christianity, I was always accustomed, as no doubt you were, to what typically is considered to be images of Jesus. Benevolent images of a young man of fair skin complexion, soft brown hair and beard who most often had blue eyes. But the problem with that stereotypical image is that Jesus was not European. He was a Middle Eastern Jew. Therefore that meant he most likely had a more dark or olive skin tone, with a thicker head of very dark hair. He was an orthodox, meaning devout, Jew, so it is theorized that he most probably wore the hair ringlets as do the modern day Hasidic Jews. His features were not as close to ours in the West but rather he was closer in appearance to those currently living in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, etc.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/pantocrator-2/

Historically rich are what our museums are and very well they should be.

Museums are places which thankfully exist around this globe, making available to us the wonders, marvels and lives of those from the past…allowing us to share in our collective history as humans.
And Lord know, the Renaissance was such a rich time in our history as developing human beings!

Who isn’t intrigued by the art work, scientific discoveries, architectural triumphs and sheer wonders of the Renaissance…a pivotal turning point in the history moving man from earthly dark to light…

Woe to this individual who can’t relish in the freedom he has been afforded, along with the readily available access and ability, to be able to go see these historical and beautiful bits and pieces—there are other places, other nations, around this world where there is not the freedom nor ability afforded to see or share in such…how dare he now complain that viewing such has caused him stress—you want stress—go visit the families who lost their children and loved ones 3 years ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as we sorrowfully mark that sad anniversary this week….
Or go to Paris and Belgium and feel the weight of sadness, anger, frustration and worry in the loss of life as the world is still reeling from those horrific attacks as we now mark the one month anniversary to that tragedy.

You don’t like a painting?

Move on from said painting, finding one you do like…it’s that simple.

My hope for this country—and that list is gravely long, is that we can get our act together as a Nation, to truly see what it is that is most important to us as a whole—and that is that we take care of the elderly, the infirmed, the young, the homeless, the hungry, the less fortunate, our environment, the dying and the needy….
That we can stop for just one day from being so utterly self absorbed and self obsessed, that we can reach out beyond our own wants, our incessant need to tweet, post and the taking of one more self absorbed selfie…tossing all of that nonsense and worthlessness aside as we reach outwards, far away from self, outward to those around us who are in desperate need both physically as well as emotionally and more important spiritually….

God have mercy on us all….

Holy Week, Fra Angelico and The Convent of San Marco

As we solemnly enter into this most sacred of weeks of our liturgical calendar, I am reminded that this is not only one of the most holy of times for Christians, but with the observance of Passover beginning at sundown this evening, I am aware of the significance that this week has for many of us throughout the world.

As an art teacher and as a person who has spent a great deal of time looking at the relationship that art, in particular painting, has with the surrounding world, I suppose it just makes sense that I should spend this week, this most solemn of weeks, Holy week, looking through that same lens—the lens of art.

I’ve made mention before, in my little “about me” section, that I have a love of Renaissance art, with the emphasis being on the early end of the Renaissance spectrum. Whereas the works of the great masters such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Botticelli—–the larger than life Italian masters I love so much— are indeed beautiful to behold with their use of dark and light– chiaroscuro, the use of extreme perspective in relationship to foreshortening, the beautiful depiction of the human body with emphasis on tone and muscle mass, the beautiful layering and translucent application of color—striking and stunning to those of us who view their works today–for me, however, it is the Medieval works of the Middle Ages that best captures my appreciation as well as imagination.

I don’t know if it is because of the strikingly simplistic style, the often austere subject matter or the mere fact that these artists and artisans were doing the best they knew how to do with the limited knowledge of building, perspective, science, travel and medicine of their day. From the precision of the illuminated manuscript to the muraled frescos of a monastery’s wall, my attention is most captivated by this most mysterious time of our human history.

We are discovering that the Dark Ages, as this time is most often referred, is not so dark after all. I think our oh so modern minds feel compelled to consider those who went before us always as “less than.” They are “less than” in their overall wealth of knowledge. We must not be so arrogant in our thinking as it will be, at some unknown point in the future, that another generation will look upon us and our limited knowledge as just that, “less than.” Therefore categorizing us as lacking, limited, ignorant and simple.

There is beauty in the simple as well as in the complex. It is just a matter of how one chooses to “see” what it is one is viewing. If one chooses arrogance for the manner in which to view previous generations, using the current world as the be all to end all gauge, then anything and everything other than the immediate will be “less than. That is unfortunate. The current generation is what it is, in large part, due to the myriad of previous generations. The building of knowledge is scaffolding and layering of first learned, with next learned, continuing on to a continuum of learning.

We have a tendency of looking back on previous generations and their accomplishments with a prejudice based on our current knowledge. That is often a shame as it prevents one from a deep appreciation for the wonders discovered and practiced in such public forums. What appears flat, static and “immature” to us, the modern viewer, was once considered new, vibrant and complicated. It’s all a matter of one’s perspective. It is my hope that as we take this limited look back, and it is important that we do look back, that we will empty our thoughts of our prejudices based on our current knowledge and allow the due appreciation and joy these early builders, painters, sculptors—artists and artisans deserve.

When studying art history most of us have a very small and limited exposure to the actual art we are exploring. So often our exposure is limited to a picture in a textbook, a reproduced poster, a pixilated digital image on a tablet, computer screen, smart board, or television screen. These are basically two-dimensional images of a two dimensional subject. The connection between viewer and, in this case, the artwork, is seemingly one-dimensional—meaning limited. It is all flat and most often the emotion involved is flat.

Every once in a while it is a picture that we view, usually as a child or impressionable learner, which captures the imagination. Perhaps it was an illustration by N.C. Wyeth from the story Treasure Island that drove us on a lifelong quest to one day seek out a tropical beach or to explore the wooden ships of days gone by. Perhaps it was the illustrations of Gustave Doré in Dante’s Inferno, which gave us our most tangible view of Heaven and Hell. For the most part, however, we do not make the emotional connection when viewing a piece of art in such a limited capacity such as that of a book or screen.

I think one of the regrets I have for the way in which we live, often isolated and too busy to know or care otherwise, is that so many of us never have the opportunity of seeing “famous” art work face to face. I can remember standing outside of the Uffizi in Florence just wishing I could have all of my students with me. I thought that if they could just be here, seeing this in real life, it would make a difference. It would affect them, they would be the better for it, it would all make sense, it would move them and they would now understand. They would be the better for it all just as I was for standing there myself—

Art, real art, good art, historical art—it is this which gives us our humanity. Now I know some of you are about to jump in, arguing about art—art for art’s sake, what makes good art good?? This is not that debate—there is no debate here, this is a precursor to looking back. And that is through the eyes of one of the most prolific times of creating art.

And so this was my mindset when I was visiting Florence.

Fienze, as it is known in Italian, is the seat of modern thinking and doing.
Of course some may argue that would actually be Rome, but I’ll argue any day that it is Florence. The birth of the great time period known simply as the Renaissance seems to have sprung forth from the very volcanic ground of the Italian peninsula, which birthed the snakelike Apennine mountains range, the Italian backbone, as well as the headwaters of the Arno River. The irregular and non-navigational Arno, which flows through this enlightened city with its very own fickled Italian ways and its own buried secrets. From the business and banking magnates of the de’ Medici dynasty which helped to create an economically rich location drawing people to this fast growing powerhouse of cities, to the religious and political reformer Girolama Savonarola and his bon fires of the vanities, Florence’s history is a rich as it’s gifts.

And so it was on my 2nd trip to Florence when I was enveloped in just a small thread of the rich tapestry that is known as Florence. There is a small Museum that sits on the northern end of the city. This museum is within walking distance of the famed Academia Gallery, home to Michelangelo’s massive and beautiful David, as well as the Uffizi– albeit a bit of a haul down to this most famous of Florence’s museum located near the Piazza della Signoria. However it is this particular small and unassuming museum which was first a convent/ monastery, home to a group of Dominican monks, that draws my attention. The Museum of San Marco.

It’s setting is still that of a monastery/convent—two interchangeable words for a cloistered religious group of either monks or nuns—San Marco is quiet and lacking the throngs of tourists that flood the more well known museums in this city of museums. There is a peace that prevails the grounds of this once holy site. The area in front of the museum is semi-park like with benches and shade trees. Upon entering the simple, unadorned museum/monastery, if it is summer, one is greeted with a sudden change in temperature. There is a welcomed coolness in the air. Florence, in the summer months can be a humid sauna where just the mere act of breathing becomes difficult. Couple that with the influx of thousands of tourists, jostling for space and air, a place like San Marco is a required respite.

There is a reverence felt within San Marco. I suppose that is because when entering you are suddenly transported to the time when this was a cloistered convent. The monks entered and most likely never left the grounds until their death. I don’t think much has changed to this cloistered edifice since it first became a Dominican convent in 1438. My understanding is that there have been some structural changes and modifications over the years—the opening of ceilings and windows, but over all, it remains as a simple and honest claim to its inception.

The “Glory” which brings one to visit San Marco is not it’s historical presence in this historical city. It is not the simplistic beauty, which calls one to come detoxify from the drowning seas of tourists or the sweltering heat. It is, however, the beauty of what enriches the otherwise barren walls of this convent, which draws the curious, art patron and pilgrim a like.

When I travel, I like to consider myself more of a pilgrim rather than a tourist. I travel seeking the reasons for the beginnings, the reasons of importance, always with an eye gleaned toward the sacred and the holy to wherever it is I may be wandering. I travel with a sense of purpose—to understand, to appreciate. I hope to be made better by the journey. I still may take pictures, head to the big sites, eat the good food, but it is the hidden that I constantly seek. I have never lived my life on the mere surface. I sink down. There comes responsibility and a heavy graveness to living so deeply—it can be burdensome and overwhelming, at times depressing, but it is a life worth living as it provides glimpses of the Divine in an otherwise overt secular world.

Upon entering the “museum” there is a small enclosed garden. Guests will see a small chapel area on their left with the first of what visitors come to see—the frescoed paintings of Fra Angelico. Fra Angelico translates to “angelic brother.” This is a name that he was given most likely after his death as an honor to the type of life he lived. He is also known as Beato Angelico or “blessed angel.” He has long been called Blessed but it was in 1984 when Pope John Paul II officially recognized Angelico as “Blessed”—meaning he could be venerated or recognized as truly virtuous. The name he chose, however, when he took his vows and was consecrated to his order and to his faith was Giovanni.

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Fra Angelico was born, in what historians believe to be, 1390 in an area north of Florence. His given name was Guido di Pietro. He was an artist but also a Dominican friar. He most likely began his artist endeavors as a young apprentice working along side his brother, also an artist and monk.

Vasari, a renowned artist in his own right, but best known for his biographies of the Italian Renaissance Artists, wrote that Fra Angelico was “a simple but most holy man.” He stated that it was Fra Angelico’s belief that one could not paint Christ unless the artist was, himself, Christ like. Before beginning each painting, Fra Angelico would devote himself to prayer.

Visitors to San Marco’s enter the main building where the “cells” of the individual monks are located as well as the sacristy, dinning hall, and library. There is a small area also dedicated to illuminated manuscripts, which are on display under protective glass.

As I climbed the steps up to the 2nd level, where the monk’s cells are located, I was immediately reminded that it was the middle of summer in Florence, Italy. The air was almost stagnant. Suddenly I stop climbing the stairs as I see something that I have seen numerous times before. It is large, larger than I imagined, the colors are soft yet very strong. A sheet of glass protects it. Her body is that of a shy demure girl. The angel who stands before her, Gods’ messenger, kneels before who he knows to be that of the future mother of God.

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The Painting of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico greets all those who climb the stairs to the 2nd floor just as it did hundreds of years ago when the monks would climb these same stairs in order to retire to their individual cells. Mary and the angel, Gabriel, are positioned in a garden and logia–an area that looks strangely familiar. It is the grounds of San Marco.

As I make my way around the hall there are approximately 45 cells—some cells are along the exterior walls and the others make up the interior wall. The cells are small rooms; some have windows, the cells along the inside wall do not. I can only imagine the bitter winter cold, as the summer heat is proving unbearable. It is however what is painted on a single wall within each cell that draws the visitor to imagine a monk’s time spent in the lonely spartan cell.

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There are paintings of the Crucifixion, the mocking of Christ, the Deposition, the Resurrection, as well as the Nativity, along with the Baptism of Jesus. Various saints, such as Saints Augustine, and Dominic are depicted in many of the paintings. Mary the Magdalene, Mary, Jesus’ mother and Martha are also present in many of the frescos. The frescos were to provide a focus of meditation and reflection, as well as for a bit of comfort, for each monk. The often windowless “cell”, with most likely only a small mat for sleeping, has no other distraction or comfort. A monk’s primary task is that of prayer, contemplation and reflection of the Divine.

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Fra Angelico did eventually venture out from this monastery, painting other significant works with one of those being located within the cavernous Vatican. In the small private chapel for Pope Nicholas V, frescos of the lives of Saints Stephen and Lawrence, adorn the walls. Whereas the message is a bit different from those frescos found on the walls at San Marco, there is no denying the quiet beauty and style of the mystical artist Fra Angelico.

I wish that it was possible for all of us to travel, at will, visiting the places scattered throughout the world where the treasures and masterpieces, as well as the forgotten or the private, pieces of art lurk and dwell. To behold an altarpiece, a painting, a fresco, a statue face to face, eyeball to eyeball, verses a mere printed image in a book or elsewhere—is, for some, life changing, for others, inspirational—only leading to even greater visions.

On this particular day, in a place a world away from my own life, I am confronted with a historical moment captured in time, on a wall, in a convent that was originally intended as a reminder for a simple monk. It is on this day that I become that simple monk, as I am reminded of a brief encounter that would change the world and would also change me, forever.

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Make ripples on the water

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“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”
Mother Teresa

I pray that on this Monday you will not be afraid to cast a stone upon the waters before you, helping to create the necessary ripples of change. Change for the positive and betterment of those near to, as well as, far from you. Great power can come in very small packages as was witnessed in the life and actions of this tiny Albanian woman known to us as Mother Teresa. God has given us all gifts, I pray that we, you and I, discover how best to us them.
(painting by Julie Cook)