Tag Archives: Art

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

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Building Magical Vocabulary

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As has likely been obvious, to at least my regular readers, I’m just coming off a long stretch at work where one major brief, after another, after another, after another, after . . . (you get the picture) has kept me really, really busy. I love my job and these were wonderful, plum projects to get to write, but I am happy to now have some time to return to what I kept promising myself throughput the process would be “a more balanced life.”

Last weekend was the first weekend I’ve had off in months and I spent a large chunk of it beginning to get my home, garden, finances, refrigerator, and laundry back under control (I still have a long ways to go!) and a large chunk of it at the lovely Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, MD, receiving treatments from four wonderful shamans, a very good way to transition from one phase to another.

One of the practices that I promised myself I’d revive is going to see art.

I can’t draw a straight line to save my soul, but I learned, due to Mr. Tucker, a wonderful man who taught art history in my high school (Hecate’s Mother: “You have to take one art course and you can’t draw to save your soul. You’d better take art history.” This is one of the three or four good bits of advice my mother gave me. The others were: “Who cares what other people think?” “If you’re bored or depressed, go clean out a closet.” “You can so give birth. For millennia, billions of women who were stupider than you have given birth and so can you.” “Better to buy a good carpet and throw some pillows on the floor than to buy cheap furniture.” Her most constant advice was: “Get your nose out of that book,” but I ignored that, to my everlasting good.), to appreciate good art. Of all the things I learned in high school, that class has added the most to my life. (PE and Geometry, not so much.)

I think seeing art is good for everyone, but I think it’s especially important for Witches and other magic workers. In my humble experience, working magic is far less about chanting the correct incantation while sprinkling the precise proportions of exactly the right herbs (cut with a white-handled boline, not an athame, and cut at the precisely correct phase of the Moon) over a cauldron passed down from Gerald Gardner than it is about having a good imagination, an imagination with a large visual vocabulary. And seeing art is one of the best ways I know to establish a vital, robust visual vocabulary.

Which is why this afternoon, I headed over to the Sackler Gallery to see two wonderful small exhibits that were made even better by being seen together. The Sackler Gallery is one of the Smithsonian’s newest jewels on the Mall and it keeps getting better and better. It’s paired with the Freer Gallery; both museums showcase Asian art and the Freer also has a large collection of Whistler’s paintings. The Sackler sits on one edge of the spectacular Enid A. Haupt garden: a beautiful, formal Victorian garden in the middle of DC. Just now, the garden is host to the Lost Bird Project, four large, black sculptures of American birds that were driven to extinction by human pressures. The whole time that I was in the garden, a lovely robin stood just atop the black statue of the Great Auk, as if protecting it, as if, in some odd way, it were claiming its heritage.

The Sackler is hosting two exhibits of artists who recorded the evolution of large cities into early modernity: Whistler in London and Kiyochika in Tokyo. The exhibits complement each other wonderfully, as Whistler studied Japanese woodblocks (Kiyochika’s medium) and Kiyochika portrayed Tokyo as Western creations such as telegraph poles, trains, and bricks transformed the city. Whistler painted women in Japanese dress (which had an important influence on late-Edwardian-into-1920s women’s fashion) while one of Kiyochika’s most well-known devices was the silouhette of a man in a Western hat, often juxtaposed with women wearing traditional kimonos.

The Saclker website describes both exhibits:

Living within sight of the river, Whistler recorded the changes wrought by industrialization: changing vistas, new landmarks, even the dense atmosphere of smog mingled with gaslight. Over the years his subject matter, techniques, and compositions evolved with his sites. He sought to convey the essence of the river—the lifeblood of the city—ebbing and flowing before his perceptive eyes and caught by his skillful brush. In the 1870s, after a period of self-imposed artistic re-education that included close study of Japanese woodblock prints, Whistler’s style became more atmospheric, his colors more limited, and his point of view less descriptive.

And:

Beyond describing the odd juxtapositions of traditional and modern, Kiyochika lingers on more subtle shifts in communal sensibility. He shows a population inclined to spectatorship over participation and introduces solitary figures sleepwalking in a new landscape

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In the end, my favorite picture from both exhibits wasn’t so much a cityscape as a picture by Kiyochika of a tiny spot within Tokyo that seems to be outside a city, and one lit by fireflies, perhaps especially because I’ve been sitting outside each night this week after dark, watching fireflies light up my own Bit of Earth and because I love these spots (there are a number of these in DC, not the least of which is TR Island) where one feels deep in nature while deep in a city.

What feeds your magical vocabulary?

Picture found here.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Gaia, the Birth of an End

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Wonderland – ‘Gaia, The Birth Of An End’ – Kirsty Mitchell Photography from FX Films on Vimeo.

(Words here).

/hat tip to Angela, Nine Ravens

Picture found here.

Thursday Evening PotPourri

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* Oh, this would be lovely to listen to on the way to and from work. Most anything by David Whyte is good. Here he is on Rest:

The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving which is the basis and the measure of life itself. We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe. When we give and take in this foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested. To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given.

Excerpt From Readers’ Circle Essay, ‘REST’
©2011 David Whyte

* Yoga can be a lot like ballet.

hat tip: D.

The Sackler Gallery is about to host what looks like a spectacular exhibit on Yoga: The Art of Transformation and the National Gallery of Art is in the final weeks of a brilliant exhibit on the Ballets Russes: When Art Danced with Music. I slipped out at lunch one day this week to see this exhibit and hope I’ll get over to the Sackler for the one on yoga. What art is inspiring you these days?

* Here’s a bit of inspiration for the next time you call the Element of Water.

* You have to read Terri Windling today. Here’s a taste:

“Perhaps we are born knowing the tales, for our grandmothers and all their ancestral kin continually run about in our blood repeating them endlessly, and the shock they give us when we first hear them is not of surprise but of recognition. Things long unknowingly known have suddenly been remembered. Later, like streams, they run underground. For a while they disappear and we lose them. We are busy, instead, with our personal myth in which the real is turned to dream and the dream becomes the real. Sifting this is a long process. It may perhaps take a lifetime and the few who come around to the tales again are those who are in luck.”

The subsequent discussion of Sleeping Beauty reminded me of one of my favorite Dorothy Parker poems:

Godmother

The day that I was christened-
It’s a hundred years, and more!-
A hag came and listened
At the white church door,
A-hearing her that bore me
And all my kith and kin
Considerately, for me,
Renouncing sin.
While some gave me corals,
And some gave me gold,
And porringers, with morals
Agreeably scrolled,
The hag stood, buckled
In a dim gray cloak;
Stood there and chuckled,
Spat, and spoke:
“There’s few enough in life’ll
Be needing my help,
But I’ve got a trifle
For your fine young whelp.
I give her sadness,
And the gift of pain,
The new-moon madness,
And the love of rain.”
And little good to lave me
In their holy silver bowl
After what she gave me-
Rest her soul!

Picture found here.

Rites of Spring

And We Do Not Fear

And We Do Not Fear

100 years ago tonight, Stravisnky’s Le Sacre du printemps, or the Rites of Spring, premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. It nearly caused a riot.

Stravinsky is supposed to have said that the ballet depicted “Pagan Russia unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring.” One of my all-time favorite artists, Nicholas Roerich, designed the sets and costumes.

Even more than the Firebird, this dance changed forever the nature of modern ballet and, some would say, modern symphonic music and modern theatre.

Picture found here.

I Can’t Wait for this Exhibit

Friday Evening Potpourri

Lilies at NGA Cafe Brittania

Lilies at NGA Cafe Brittania

* In the midst of an insane day at work, I ran out at lunch time and saw the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. It was simply spectacular. I really hope to get back a few times before it heads off to Moscow. Thank you, Tate Gallery, thank you. Here are just a few of my very favorite pieces:

This is Ferdinand Lured by Ariel. Ariel is wearing a cape made of “plant bats.” Do I want that cape? Yes, yes I do.

Wikipedia explains that the painting “depicts an episode from Act I, Scene II of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. It illustrates Ferdinand’s lines ‘Where should this music be? i’ the air or the earth?’ He is listening to Ariel singing the lyric ‘Full fathom five thy father lies.’ Ariel is tipping Ferdinand’s hat from his head, while Ferdinand holds on to its string and strains to hear the song. Ferdinand looks straight at Ariel, but the latter is invisible to him.

Ferdinand Lured by Ariel

Ferdinand Lured by Ariel

Here’s Sidonia, by far the more evil of the two women painted, but also the one wearing by far the better dress. Do I want that dress: Yes, yes I do.

Sidonia

Sidonia

And here’s maybe the most intriguing picture from the exhibit, Dantis Amore by Rossetti:

Dantis Amore

Dantis Amore

Painted on one of William Morris’ settles (Would I love to live in a house full of painted furniture from this period? Yes, yes I would.), it depicts the death of Alighieri’s Beatrice. What fascinates me about it is how it begins to bleed back into Blake’s art and forwards into Peter Max.

The entire exhibit is spectacular and spectacularly exhibited and if you can possibly get to DC to see it, you should.

* One of the v smart things that the National Gallery of Art has been doing is to collaborate with local chefs to put together menus that amplify the museum’s important exhibitions. Last summer, when the museum had a sizzling exhibit by Joan Miro, they teamed with Jose Andres from local restaurant minibar to come up with an spectacular menu, including the best gazpacho ever.

For the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit, NGA worked with Cathal Armstrong, chef of local Restaurant Eve to create a Romantic English lunch. The pea salad was the best I’ve ever had and I’ll be making it again and again this Spring (although I may double the mint, but that’s just because I love mint and grow it and have a ready supply).

2 cups fresh English peas, shucked and blanched
1 cup pearl onions, peeled and roasted
2 tablespoons fresh mint, diced
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sour cream
6 tablespoons canola oil
salt and pepper

1. In a bowl whisk together the vinegar, sugar, sour cream, and canola oil. In a separate bowl mix the mint, peas, and pearl onions with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Other recipes here.

* Meanwhile, Stoneart Blog is my new favorite place to browse.

* I remember gathering with local Pagans years ago to do magic for the bees. Looks as if more is needed.

* This gives me hope.

* Watching news about Korea, I think of Robert Cording who, watching cranes, thinks of Camus:

Watching Cranes, I Think of Camus

Tonight, our spoonful of uplift
is red-crowned cranes, wings up,
legs down, floating into the DMZ
on the feel-good spot of the news.

It’s almost a sanctuary, the reporter says,
this open, empty land that runs along
the 38th parallel between North
and South Korea for 160 miles. It’s true,

the cranes have found refuge here,
the land, people-less, littered with mines
and surrounded by troops, left behind
to the birds for the time being.

It’s almost comical how the news report
thinks it needs to shuffle between
an opportunistic nature rushing in
to fill an emptiness, and the vague sense

of some power larger than us
fixing once again what we’ve broken.
I’m no better. I’m dragging up Camus,
who wondered how we could ever be

miserable, so much beauty in the world,
but, also, how we could ever be happy,
so much shit in the world. Yes, Camus
is there, uninvited, in the final montage—

a new day, the morning sun oranging
the snow-dusted marsh, the camera closing in
on a pair of cranes, their necks dipping,
rising, one head bowing to the other until

the pair lift into air as if they are levitating,
then fall, their wings opened like parachutes
as they touch down ever so lightly on the earth
where all that poised firepower waits.

* First serious gardening day of the Spring tomorrow. I may be too sore to post afterwards. Funny, how, sybarite that I am, I turn and long for that soreness. Which, of course, reminds me of my v favorite Mervyn Peake poem:

Out of the Chaos of my Doubt

Out of the chaos of my doubt
And the chaos of my art
I turn to you inevitably
As the needle to the pole
Turns . . . as the cold brain to the soul
Turns in its uncertainty;

So I turn and long for you;
So I long for you, and turn
To the love that through my chaos
Burns a truth,
And lights my path.

May it be so for you.

Photo by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.

Bending Sticks

Went tonight to the Corcoran with Landscape Guy to see this amazing film as part of the city’s Environmental Film Festival. If you ever get a chance to see it, go.

Where It Comes From

The inspiration:

and: the art.

hat tip: Jake Powning.

Woodmen in the Cemetery

Woodmen of the World Gravestone at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA

Woodmen of the World Gravestone at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA


After seeing the Chihuly exhibit, we made an unplanned side trip to Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. (A Druid and a Witch go into a cemetery — there’s got to be a joke in there, somewhere.) Founded in 1849 on the banks of the James River, it’s full of history and that odd genre of sculpture that only appears in cemeteries. Every now and then, we’d come upon markers and tombstones in the shape of a tree trunk.

It turns out that those were placed to mark the graves of members of a fraternal organization known as the Woodmen of the World. The gravestones were originally one of the benefits of membership, although Wikipedia reports that, in 1920, the group abandoned that practice as it was too expensive. More photos can be seen here.

John Michael Greer has done some fascinating research into and writing about America’s fraternal organizations, which, he notes, were often practicing magic in broad daylight without imagining themselves the least bit Pagan. I wonder if he’s heard of Woodmen of the World, which seems to have survived, albeit more as an insurance agency than a provider of tombstones.

Info here on Druids in modern cemeteries.

Photo by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.