Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fine, Fresh, Fierce, We Got It On Lock

We're going to spend the majority of our time talking about this fabulous individual. But first things first, I gotta get this nerdiness out before I explode:

Northern European Renaissance art is SO COOL! Of course I remain in awe of the monumental feats of the Italian Renaissance; the grandiose scale of their accomplishments is unparalleled. And technically speaking, the Italians were much more advanced as far as the mathematics they uncovered for accurate perspective and anatomy. Which is why the contrast of what was going on Up North is so appealing to me. Each artist was a lot more out on their own, feeling their way towards a style they liked, no real over-arcing purpose or message present in their works. It's just all so . . . idiosyncratic. Yes, that's exactly the word I'm looking for. The artist's whims or predilections had so much more room to exhibit themselves in the Burgundian north. See here a detail from Geertgen tot Sint Jans's Nativity:

Just look at the angel in the bottom right corner! Isn't he just the most joyous, overwhelmingly rapturous little guy you ever did see? Especially in comparison to the angels around him, who are so static, so flat, so unmoved by the Christ child's birth. The norm of Northern figures leans much more toward those more complacent figures, but I adore that tot Sint Jans snuck this little dude in there. I was completely distracted during the lecture on this piece, absorbed with the idea of what went through his mind when painting these disparate figures. And then there's my slightly stranger reaction to this detail of Geertgen's The Burning of St John the Baptist's Bones (how could you not love that title!)

Note the guy in brown on the far right, his gaze going off into space. I'm weirdly into to this guy. Ya, I know, sort of a creepy overshare. But this guy and Michelangelo in Raphael's School of Athens? I find them attractive. I can't help it. Maybe in this image it's his nose, I've always had a strange thing for the larger-nosed men--Michael Vartan, James McAvoy, Adrian Brody, Jason Schwartzman, all dreamy. I understand that as an art-historian-in-training I should keep more distance and objectivity with my subject, but my first reaction to this piece was not to examine any of the details that would get me an A on a paper. Instead, I zone in on that guy and say "Dang. Oddly attractive." I'm not going to seek professional help yet, I figure I can keep it under control if it stays at this level.
But nevermind my weird crushes on oil-on-wood characters, back to what makes Renaissance art cool. Item numero three: grisaille, or the art of painting a scene so that it looks like stone. This is Throne of Grace from the outside panel of the Flemalle Altarpiece by Robert Campin. And it is so, so incredibly awe-inspiring. Sculpture is possibly my very favorite medium of art, but by its very nature there is significantly less of it, and what does survive the centuries rarely is in primo condition. Which is why images like this sorta help fill the void. Sluter basically left behind only one enormous well and an intricate tomb, so it's nice to see his contemporaries emulate his style in their paintings. And just when you were about to pass out from the dry scholarly torture-talk, let's refocus again on my favorite gal-pal-in-waiting:
     Katy Perry. Is. The. Bomb-diggity. I, Mary Shurtz, professed rocker-grrrl extraordinaire, have a girl-crush on pop goddess Katy Perry. I know this is inherently problematic. And to start out, I have to say that I owe my devotion to KP completely to my roommate, Cassie. Cassie and Katy have a lot in common, at least in my head. They have an eager, unapologetic love for life, color, and choosing to giggle at all that is ridiculous in life instead of rolling their eyes condescendingly.

Katy is a bit more of an exhibitionist than Cassie is, but that appeals to my own favorite things. And despite the fact that Katy's hits deal with layered subject matter such as regional archetypes, adolescent fantasies and superficial displays of various sexual orientations, she delivers each song with such exuberance and inherent humor that I find I don't mind when I spend a whole day humming about my futuristic lover's cosmic kiss. Ya. Right there, this is why I adore her.  I know some of you now are feeling like I would deserve to have my band posters and rocker-queen status stripped from me right this second, but I must protest with two points: One, what is more rock-n-roll than making the excesses of life a point of celebration and satire all at once? And two, I have no moral issue with biting and kicking to keep my Ramones poster where it belongs. Street rules only.     

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go commune with Katy about how "It's Not Like the Movies."

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'll Be With You When The Stars Start Fallin'

I'm at a heart-rending crossroads, torn between two dreams. I'm entrenched in my indecision, uncertain of which goal I should pursue, desperately crying to the gods to show me my future, to reveal which path will lead to the greatest contentment. Let me break it down for you; show you how impossible the decision to chase one ideal over the other is:

Situation 1: I'm being interviewed by the History Channel as the leading expert in the (fill in the blank liberal arts area) field of study.  They have me seated in front of a minimalist dark background which flatters my tweed jacket piped with red that I wear over a band t-shirt and accent with silver jewelry that, on closer inspection, is comprised of a complex labyrinth of interlocking skulls. Eccentric and unconventional? Yes, but no one at my (fill in respected university, preferably one within driving range of a lighthouse) cares in the slightest, I'm too passionate and brilliant a scholar and teacher to have them be bothered with standards and practices. And the History Channel people just adore it; it's so much more interesting than their usual somewhat dour and owlish guest experts. I'm poised, confident, funny, and engaging, and I get asked back again and again on related projects. Eventually, they find the funding for a complete series around my sizeable collection of published scholarly articles, which conveniently address subjects all over the world, necessitating that I travel to all said places to get shots of me walking in various ruins while discussing opposing interpretations of such and such. In combat boots, fishnets, and the everpresent tweed.

Situation 2: I get to be one of the partial-face black-and-white split-second-shot people in those crazy-ass Levi commercials, the one with old scratchy recordings of stuff like "O Pioneers." Think about it. It'd be epic.

So, you see my conundrum. They sure sound equally rewarding to me. Both have their drawbacks--on one hand, I don't think I'd be really primed for being able to support myself after the commercial (I'd be far too drunk on fame), but on the other hand, what if I get hot in all that tweed? Sigh. This period of my life is just too fraught with the tough decisions.

I've been closely following the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, both to indulge my nerdiness, distract me from work, and for my Middle East class, and I swear, if they just had more people who looked like Omar Sharif in either leadership I think the possibility of gaining sympathy from the global community and really getting things done would increase one hundred fold. Just two minutes of looking into that man's soulful brown eyes and I'd be ready to sign over the Golan Heights and throw in my addiction to Diet Dr Pepper just to demonstrate how much I want him to stick around. Those eyes are the designer hot chocolate that keeps me from freezing straight through when I watch Doctor Zhivago.

I should be doing homework right now. Any moment that I'm not actively committing to memory verbs, rock types, regimes, or theories of global structure, I fall behind. But I knew my public needed me, so this continuing homage to moi is really all for you.

A brief explanation for why I choose bravado over self-deprecation as my mainstay humor style: I feel that false modesty already pervades our culture to an alarming degree, to the point the self-deprecating humor normally falls flat due to people believing that a) you are actually fishing for compliments, or b) you actually believe that you are that terrible at everything. Neither of these options is at all desirable. I find option b particularly troubling, because I consider this society-wide emphasis on never admitting to your genuine strengths and talents to be toxic to one's notion of self-worth. Once you fall into the pattern of brushing aside praise or focusing only on areas in which you stumble, it can become a boa-constrictor like creature that squeezes all potential or ambition out of you.

So, as a general statement on the world and because I think it's funnier to constantly consider myself the cat's meow, I pick bravado every time. Which I know disconcerts any new acquaintance, but I figure the worst that can happen is that a) the occasional casual introduction goes badly, but I can always make up for that in overtime,  b) I fall flat on my face every once in a while, which isn't necessarily at all bad because physical comedy is also underutilized ever since Jack Lemmon went out of style, or c) I could actually convince myself and others that I'm fairly fabulously awesome. Things could be worse.