Category Archives: Art

Recycling for Artists, Musicians and Cooks

recyclematisee

Recycling is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the ages, artists have borrowed ideas, tunes and pictures and have incorporated them into their own art, building something original in the process. Musicians thought nothing of using a famous melody like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (also known as “Ah vous dirai-je maman”) or hymns like “God Save the King” and creating endless variations on them. There is an aria called “La Folia” which appears to have no known origin but was used in many countries by baroque composers to improvise and embroider upon. In his 1812 Overture, Tchaikovsky used two national anthems and a cannon.

The most beautiful quilts incorporate remnants skillfully stitched together into original patterns and transform the materials beyond recognition.

Cooks cleverly use leftovers and repackage them in novel ways. Think of wontons, blintzes, crepes and various soups and casseroles.

We have all seen “installations” in museums which consist of “objets trouves” (found bits and pieces) rearranged and camouflaged into new structures and sculptures.
In costume making you can use leftover material from older creations and you have a new outfit on your hands. Maybe that is the meaning of the saying: There is nothing new under the sun.

The artist Matisse found himself in a wheelchair after undergoing surgery in 1941. As a result he invented a new art form with his cutouts. He would cut out strips of paper, paint them in various hues and shape them into vast arrangements suggesting swimming figures, birds flying or a spray of flowers. He called it: Painting with scissors. He said, “This work constitutes my real self.”

David Hockney mixed digital photographic collages, film and paintings and created a totally original art form. Some of his works include multiple viewpoints so a figure can be seen from various angles. He also used his iPad to edit and rearrange various shots.

I have seen people sitting on a bench in a museum facing his creations totally transfixed by the constantly evolving images which vanish and come back in a different shape. Hockney does not consider himself avant-garde. He says, “In a world without rules it is impossible to be on the cutting edge. Every picture is an account of me looking at something.”

I like the idea of the fluidity of objects reshaping themselves in a kaleidoscopic dance.

The Power of Music

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A news snippet caught my attention…Somewhere in South Africa, baroque music was being played in a vineyard and was credited with stimulating the production and improving the quality of the wine. I had heard of cows giving more milk and hens laying bigger eggs when they were serenaded, but unlike grapes, they have ears. Also why baroque music and not Strauss waltzes or Gregorian Chants? I was puzzled and decided to do a little googling. It turns out that it is not at all unusual to play music in vineyards for better quality wine. It has to do with vibrations and low frequencies. Loudness does not matter but it seems that plants do not like rock .

“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted tree” (William Congreve, 1697). Orpheus, it was said, could charm animals with his singing. The Pied Piper lured children with the magic of his instrument and don’t snake charmers control serpents with their flutes?

In “The Magic Flute” Pamino calls Tamina with his flute and Papageno pacifies wild animals with his glockenspiel. It also summons his bride Papagena to his side.

Do animals make music or feel its effects? Maybe their elaborate courtship rituals are accompanied by some melodic sounds. When we say that birds sing, is that what they really do? When dogs howl together are they performing in a choir? In laboratories it was found that rats did better and were faster after listening to Mozart. Pet owners know that their cats and dogs react to music. It sometimes agitates and sometimes calms them. But they are not really wired to appreciate sounds tailored to human ears. What strikes us as unpleasant or shrill may be music to them.

Researchers have found that music stimulates the brain and some are attempting to ascertain whether music can overcome depression or help people with Alzheimer’s since it can reach areas that words do not penetrate. Some melodies have traveled from so far away and so long ago that when we hear them we sometimes think we recognize them in a sort of ancestral memory.

In Robert Browning’s words: Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once.

Viva Vivaldi!

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A few years ago I read a book by Barbara Quick called “Vivaldi’s Virgins” a historical novel set in 18h century Venice and more specifically at the Ospedale della Pieta with its music director Antonio Vivaldi. The Ospedale was more than a hospital, convent and orphanage. It was a charitable institution that took in abandoned children, especially girls and educated them. Illegitimate or unwanted babies were deposited in a sort of revolving drawer and the mother would ring a bell to insure their quick acceptance. Secrecy was observed. The children were schooled and at age 10 apprenticed and taught a trade that suited their abilities. Girls who showed unusual musical talent were trained either as instrumentalists or singers. Vivaldi, a priest, was their music master. The chorus and orchestra were renowned around the world and the Ospedale della Pieta was the highest ranking school of music in the 18th century. What an enlightened treatment of the poor and disadvantaged that was!

When I was growing up, in the intermission between the two World Wars, playing the piano was one of a girl’s accomplishments. I performed the usual staples of classical music: Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, and Schuman. We also listened to classical music on the radio and were familiar with the baroque masters: Bach, Handel, Corelli and Telemann. But we had never heard of Vivaldi. Nobody knew Vivaldi. He had not been discovered yet. Although Vivaldi was famous and very influential in his day, a great many of his compositions were lost subsequently and he slid into obscurity. It was not until 1926 that many manuscripts and volumes of compositions were discovered in another religious institution.
It took many years to appraise and gather all the works and they ended up in the Turin library. A sponsor was found to finance the reissue of Vivaldi’s works but by then the war had started.

It was not until the Festival of Britain in 1951 that the public rediscovered this Baroque master and Vivaldi was elevated to his present status. The Baroque era without Vivaldi would look like a temple without one of its pillars. What a fortuitous accident that discovery was.

Everybody knows the Four Seasons, that exuberant and ebullient work. I have heard it many times, but until recently had trouble telling which season was which except for Autumn with its recognizable beginning. Then one day I saw a presentation on PBS that made me realize that although this music was so familiar I had never really listened to it properly. The Four Seasons is programmatic music as opposed to Bach’s abstract music. It is onomatopoetic (a fancy word for imitative).
In Spring you can hear finches, cuckoos and turtledoves as well as rain and thunder. Summer suggests languorous heat, cattle peacefully grazing, as well as a summer storm. Winter provides, shivering, feet stamping, slipping on the ice and contentment by the fire. Autumn features a hunt with the violins imitating a horn. This is one thing I wish I had not known because I have a strong aversion to hounding animals to their death. It is a barbaric custom.

Vivaldi was not only an exceptional composer and teacher. He was also a virtuoso, a brilliant bravura violinist. Viva Vivaldi!

writer's block

A Room of One’s Own

In Virginia Woolf’s essay with this title, she reflects on what Shakespeare’s fictitious sister would have written had society not barred her way with obstacles. She concludes that in order to write fiction, a woman must have money and a room of her own.

We know that Jane Austen wrote her novels in the dining parlor and had to put them aside when company came to visit. Would she have written more if she’d had her own room? We also know that her fame was mostly posthumous. In her day, society frowned on women who departed from their assigned roles, and many women chose to write under male pseudonyms: George Sand, George Eliot. Even in today’s permissive climate, women often use initials rather than first names to facilitate acceptance: P.D James, J.K Rowling. Continue reading

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On Art and Artists

I recently read about an interesting ethical dilemma. In an article in the New York Times Magazine someone posed the following question: Should he boycott Woody Allen’s films, based on the allegation by Mia Farrow and her daughter Dylan, that Woody sexually abused the child.

A person is of course totally free to stop watching Manhattan or Hannah and her Sisters or any future films by Woody Allen if his distaste for the author’s conduct interferes with his enjoyment of the movies. Personally I would not react this way. Continue reading