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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Art & Architecture, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 66
1. Creativity and mental health

I am constantly perplexed by the recurring tendency in western history to connect creativity with mental disability and illness. It cannot be denied that a number of well-known creative people, primarily in the arts, have been mentally ill—for example, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Robert Schumann, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath.

The post Creativity and mental health appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Why we like to blame buildings

On October 27, 2005, two French youths of Tunisian and Malian descent died of electrocution in a local power station in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Police had been patrolling their neighborhood, responding to a reported break-in, and scared that they might be subject to an arbitrary interrogation, the youngsters decided to hide in the nearest available building. Riots immediately broke out in the high-rise suburbs of Paris and in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country.

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3. Redefining beauty in the suburbs of Victorian London

The British Museum’s current blockbuster show, Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art, amasses a remarkable collection of classical sculpture focusing on the human body. The most intriguing part of the show for me was the second room, “Body colour,” which displays plaster casts of several Greek sculptures brightly painted in green, blue, yellow, red and pink. The press has not known what to make of “Body colour.” It has been met with surprise, sneers, or been entirely ignored in otherwise glowing reviews.

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4. Six people who helped make ancient Naples great

The city that we now call Naples began life in the seventh century BC, when Euboean colonists from the town of Cumae founded a small settlement on the rocky headland of Pizzofalcone. This settlement was christened 'Parthenope' after the mythical siren whose corpse had supposedly been discovered there, but it soon became known as Palaepolis ('Old City'), after a Neapolis ('New City') was founded close by.

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5. The criminal enterprise of stealing history

After illegal drugs, illicit arms and human trafficking, art theft is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. According to the FBI Art Crime Team (ACT), stolen art is a lucrative billion dollar industry. The team has already made 11,800 recoveries totaling $160 million in losses.

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6. Down the doughnut hole: fried dough in art

Fried dough has been enjoyed for centuries in various forms, from the celebratory zeppole of St. Joseph’s Day to the doughnuts the Salvation Army distributed to soldiers during World War I. So important were doughnuts for boosting troop morale that when World War II came around, the Red Cross followed closely behind the US Army as it advanced across Europe, offering doughnuts from trucks specially outfitted with vats for deep-frying.

The post Down the doughnut hole: fried dough in art appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. How I stopped worrying and learned to love concrete

Every campus has one, and sometimes more than more: the often unlovely and usually unloved concrete building put up at some point in the 1960s. Generally neglected and occasionally even unfinished, with steel reinforcing rods still poking out of it, the sixties building might be a hall of residence or a laboratory, a library or lecture room. It rarely features in prospectuses and is never – never ever – used to house the vice chancellor’s office.

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8. Leaving New York

In the 1940s and early ’50s, the avant-garde art world of New York was a small, clubby place, similar in many ways to the tight (and equally contentious) circle of the New York intelligentsia. Many artists rented cheap downtown Manhattan industrial loft spaces with rudimentary plumbing and heat.

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9. Women in Philosophy: A reading list

To celebrate Women in Philosophy as part of Women’s History Month, we have created a reading list of books, journals, and online resources that explore significant female philosophers and feminist philosophy in general. Recommendations range from general interest books to biographies to advanced reader books and more.

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10. Animal Mother, Mother of Animals, Guardian of the Road to the Land of the Dead

We were working in Baga Oigor II when I heard my husband yelling from above, “Esther, get up here, fast!” Thinking he had seen some wild animal on a high ridge, I scrambled up the slope. There, at the back of a protected terrace marked by old stone mounds was a huge boulder covered with hundreds of images. Within that maze of elements I could distinguish a hunting scene and several square patterns suggesting the outlines of dwellings.

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11. Who was Leonardo da Vinci? [quiz]

On 15 April, nations around the globe will be celebrating World Art Day, which is also Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. A creative mastermind and one of the top pioneers of the Italian Renaissance period, his artistic visions fused science and nature producing most notably the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

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12. The final years of Fanny Cornforth

Family historians know the sensation of discovery when some longstanding ‘brick wall’ in their search for an elusive ancestor is breached. Crowds at the recent ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ exhibition at Birmingham explored the new resources available to assist their researches, and millions worldwide subscribe to online genealogical sites, hosting ever-growing volumes of digitized historical records, in the hope of tracking down their family roots.

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13. The destruction of an Assyrian palace

Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud (Assyrian Kalḫu) was constructed around 865 BCE during a period in which Assyria was slowly becoming the empire that would come to rule most of the Middle East two centuries later. Ashurnasirpal’s palace is among the few Assyrian palaces to have been excavated (more or less) in its entirety. Measuring at least 2 hectares, it must have been one of the largest and most monumental buildings of its time.

The post The destruction of an Assyrian palace appeared first on OUPblog.

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14. A picture of violence and degradation

It is absolutely essential to take a critical view of source material when it comes to violent images and war photographs. Photos taken by perpetrators are always an expression of a relationship that is characterized by an imbalance of power between photographers and their subjects.

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15. What good is photography?

We’re bombarded with images today as never before. Whether you’re an avid mealtime Instagrammer, snapchatting your risqué images, being photobombed by your pets, capturing appealing colour schemes for your Pinterest moodboard, or simply contributing to the 250,000 or so images added to Facebook every minute, chances are you have a camera about your person most of the time, and use it almost without thinking to document your day.

Images have great social currency online, keeping visitors on a page longer, and increasing the shareability of your content. The old adage that “a picture’s worth a thousand words” comes into its own in an environment where we’re all bombarded with more information than we can consume, where there’s a constant downward pressure on your wordcount, and where you need to be eye-catching and tell a story within 140 characters or fewer. Lives have been changed, public opinion shifted, history made by a single picture. Think of an iconic image, and odds are that many spring straight to your mind, from the powerful – Kim Phuc running from a napalm attack in Vietnam, ‘Tank Man’ facing down the military in Tiananmen Square – to the stage-managed – those construction workers lunching on a skyscraper beam above Manhattan or Doisneau’s ‘Kiss by the Hotel du Ville’ — and many more.

From Reflexionen Eins. © 2014 Matthew Heiderich. All rights reserved.
From Reflexionen Eins. © 2014 Matthew Heiderich. All rights reserved.

Consider just the last few weeks: the violent protests following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, encapsulated in a single image of heavily armed policemen training their weapons on a lone man with his hands in the air; the images pouring out of Gaza, so at odds with the formal tweets of the IDF; or American photojournalist James Foley – a man who dedicated his life to ensuring such images streamed into our front rooms, into our news feeds, into our consciousness – kneeling next to the man who was about to become his killer. Wherever time and space are at a premium, wherever narrative matters, an image gets the story across in the most direct and powerful way.

Here in Oxford, a new international photography festival seeks to look at just these questions around the power and the purpose of photography, opening up debate about the many issues which surround it in the current climate, aiming to bring world-class work to a new audience and to elevate awareness and appreciation of the form to a level long-since enjoyed by painting, sculpture, and the other visual arts. On Sunday 14 September, colleges, museums, art galleries, and even a giant safe, will welcome visitors into more than 20 free exhibitions showing the work of internationally-renowned photographers, alongside a film programme mixing documentaries and feature films which have images and their use at heart, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

The exhibitions range widely, from powerful photojournalism such as Laura El-Tantawy’s images of a post-Mubarak Egypt, Robin Hammond’s work inside Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and the Document Scotland collective’s recording of this truly decisive moment in Scottish history, to Yann Layma’s stunning macros of butterfly wings and Mark Laita’s vibrant images of brightly-coloured snakes; from Susanna Majuri’s elaborate photographic fictions, hovering somewhere between dream and reality, to the vibrant architectural images of Matthias Heiderich; and from Mariana Cook’s portrait series of those who risk their lives for justice to Paddy Summerfield’s moving documentation of the final years of his parents’ 60-year marriage. The UK debut of this year’s World Press Photo award features prominently, alongside French photographer Bernard Plossu’s first-ever British show, and a showcase of work from members of the Helsinki school, including the eminent Pentti Sammallahti and Arno Minkkinen.

Mouth of the River Fosters Pond 2014. © Arno Minkkinen. All rights reserved.
Mouth of the River Fosters Pond 2014. © Arno Minkkinen. All rights reserved.

The festival brings us shows documenting the NGO use of images in campaigns across the decades, or looking at photos which trick us, whether deliberately or inadvertently; a moving exhibition on photography and healing; and one exploring how different artists use photography – digitally, printed on surfaces such as ceramics or metals, or using Victorian techniques. Yet other exhibitions feature powerful portraits of the famous buildings of Oxford and their custodians, of the descendants of some of the world’s most famous historical figures, and Vermeer-inspired portraits of female domesticity from Maisie Broadhead.

Meanwhile the talks and debates include the BBC’s David Shukman on photography and climate change, celebrated landscape photographer Charlie Waite talking about the challenges and joys of landscape photography, and Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden chairing a discussion on Henry Fox Talbot. Panels cover the role of photojournalism in the Northern Ireland peace process, the role of the critic in photography, images and the business world, and the merits and challenges of shooting photographic stories in areas close to home rather than travelling to far flung exotic locations.

Red. © 2012 Susanna Majuri. All rights reserved.
Red. © 2012 Susanna Majuri. All rights reserved.

The festival will draw to a close on Sunday 5 October, with ‘The Tim Hetherington Debate: What Good is Photography’, looking at the importance of photography in the twenty-first century, and a screening of Sebastian Junger’s Which Way is the Front Line from Here, a documentary about the photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington, killed in 2011 by mortar fire in Misrata, Libya, where he had been covering the civil war.

As festival founder and director Robin Laurance, himself an acclaimed photojournalist, concludes: “It’s time to celebrate the city’s links with the beginnings of an art form that has become ever-present in all our lives. We intend Oxford to be the place where photography is not only celebrated, but where it is debated, examined and challenged. Our aim is to open people’s minds as well as their eyes to photography.”

 

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16. The divine colour blue

In Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, all three figures have blue in their clothing: a bright azure blue which stands out from the predominant warm golden yellows.

Commentaries on the icon refer to this as the blue of the sky, representing divinity. Investigating the correlation of blue with divinity takes us down some surprising and intriguing avenues.

In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit discusses ‘the blue of distance’. As she explains, the sky is blue because light at the blue end of the spectrum is scattered by air molecules as it travels from the sun to us.

It is the ‘light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost’ which ‘gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue’. She continues:

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.

Blue, therefore, would seem to be a particularly apt colour with which to represent divinity.

The association of divinity with blue goes back much further than Rublev and fifteenth century Russia.

Over a thousand years earlier, the fourth century monk Evagrius of Pontus (an intellectual who fled Constantinople for the solitude of the desert after falling in love with a married woman) wrote of prayer: ‘Prayer is a state of the mind that arises under the influence of the unique light of the Holy Trinity’ (Reflections 27).

Rublev
Rublev’s famous icon showing the three Angels being hosted by Abraham at Mamre. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

He specified the colour of that light:

When the mind has put off the old self and shall put on the one born of grace, then it will see its own state in the time of prayer resembling sapphire or the colour of heaven; this state scripture calls the place of God that was seen by the elders on Mount Sinai. (On Thoughts 39)

If someone should want to behold the state of his mind, let him deprive himself of all mental representations, and then he shall behold himself resembling sapphire or the colour of heaven. (Reflections 2)

The light of the Trinity, which suffuses the mind in the highest forms of prayer, is sapphire blue, the colour of heaven. Evagrius did not reach this conclusion as a result of abstract thought, but on the basis of a particular biblical verse: Exodus 24:10.

In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint) with which he will have been familiar, it reads: ‘And they saw the place, there where the God of Israel stood, and that which was beneath his feet, like something made from sapphire brick and like the appearance of the firmament of heaven in purity.’

At this point in Exodus, the Ten Commandments have already been given, and Moses has been commanded to ascend Mount Sinai once more, along with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders.

In the Hebrew Bible they see the God of Israel; but the Greek translation is more circumspect, and there they only see the place where the God of Israel stands. Either way, beneath the feet of God is a pavement of sapphire blue.

Lapis Lazuli Beads
Lapis Lazuli Beads. Photo by cobalt123. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

This ‘sapphire’ (Greek sappheiros, Hebrew sappir) is not the transparent gemstone, but lapis lazuli, a stone prized for its intense deep blue. The word ‘Lazuli’, along with the adjective ‘azure’, derives from the Persian name for the stone. Rublev will have used lapis lazuli as the pigment for his blue.

The Hebrew version of Exodus 24:10 says that lapis lazuli is ‘like the very heavens for clearness’. The stone often includes minute golden pyrite crystals, which shimmer like stars in the night sky.

The Greek translation brings in the word ‘firmament’, which sends us back to Genesis 1:6, where God says, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters’. The firmament was imagined as a solid dome, separating the waters above (the heavens) from the waters below (the sea).

When the prophet Ezekiel has his terrifying vision of the heavenly chariot, he sees four angelic ‘living beings’ (with four faces, and four wings) carrying a crystalline firmament over their heads, upon which is a sapphire (i.e. lapis lazuli) throne.

On the throne is ‘the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord’ (Ezekiel 1:28). In other words, Ezekiel has a vision of God at three removes: a fiery being on a blue throne.

In the biblical descriptions of Genesis, Exodus and Ezekiel, physical and spiritual heavens are intertwined. The blue of the sky merges with the throne of God. Evagrius begins a process of interiorising these descriptions, just as Rebecca Solnit interiorises the physics of scattered blue light.

For Evagrius, Mount Sinai becomes a landmark in the geography of the soul. And the colour blue symbolises the internal state of the mind at prayer. An internal state no doubt Rublev aimed to foster with his use of divine azure blue.

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17. The history of Christian art and architecture

Although basilisks, griffins, and phoenixes summon ideas of myth and lore, they are three of several fantastic beings displayed in a Christian context. From the anti-Christian Roman emperor Diocletian to the legendary Knights of the Templar, a variety of unexpected subjects, movements, themes, and artists emerge in the history of Christian art and architecture. To get an idea of its scope, we mined The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture for information to test your knowledge.

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Headline image credit: St Peter’s facade. Photo by Livioandronico2013. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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18. A conversation with Dr. Steven Nelson, Grove Art Online guest editor

Grove Art Online recently updated with new content on African art and architecture. We sat down with Dr. Steven Nelson, who supervised this update, to learn more about his background and the field of African art history.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

As an undergraduate at Yale, after flirting with theater, music, and sociology, I majored in studio art and focused on bookmaking, graphic design, printmaking, and photography. Majors were required to take three art history classes. By the end of my college career, I had taken eight and had seriously thought about changing my major. Within art history, I was most attracted to modern and Japanese art, and studying the two fields had profound effects on art making. After a six-year-long stint in newspaper design, I went to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in modern art. After coursework in myriad fields, serving on a search committee for a new faculty member in African art (the search resulted in the hiring Suzanne Preston Blier), and a trip to Kenya to study medieval Swahili architecture, I changed my field to African art. My dissertation is a study of Mousgoum architecture (one of the fields covered in Grove Art Online’s African update) in Cameroon. The thesis became my first book, entitled From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa (University of Chicago Press, 2007). Having been an artist has had a profound effect on how I encounter art objects and the built environment.

You recently served as editor for the Grove Art Online African art update. What was your favorite part about this experience?

My favorite part of serving as editor for the Grove Art Online African art update was the opportunity to have a widely used and respected resource as a platform to reassess and to reshape the canon of African art. More to the point, Grove provided a unique opportunity to rearticulate the field’s various methods, to acknowledge shifts in scholarly focus, and to expand the subjects we consider when hearing the very term “African art.” As someone who has served at various points as an editor, I also enjoyed working with authors to produce essays that are both rich in content and accessible to a broad audience. I’m also very pleased that the authors included in the update range from very eminent art historians to graduate students with whom I closely worked.

2048px--Igbo_and_His_People-_-_NARA_-_558801
Igbo and His People. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

What is your favorite work of art of all time, and why?

My favorite work of art of all time changes day-by-day. Right now Malick Sidibé’s party photographs of the 1960s, which explore a burgeoning, international youth culture in Bamako on the heels of independence, hold this title.

Which recently added African art article(s) stand out to you, and why?

While I am really happy with all of the new content, the material on African film and the essay on African modern art are particular importance for me. In African art history, broadly speaking, film has received very little attention (in full disclosure, I write on it myself). However, it is critical in understanding the complexity of modern and contemporary African art. The essay on modern African art is important in that it marks an important expansion of the field, one in which scholars are insisting on understanding modernity and how African artists engage with it with more nuance and precision.

How has your field changed in the past 20 years?

The past 20 years have witnessed a groundswell in studies of modern and contemporary African art. Alongside of this development, the past 20 years have also seen a lot of energy (for better or worse) spent on understanding the relationship between modern and contemporary and “traditional” or “classical” African art. On the one hand, some feel that the two should be considered as separate fields, with the former being a kind of offshoot of global contemporary art. On the other, some feel that the two can inform each other in exciting ways. Having done research on topics ranging from medieval Swahili architecture to contemporary art in Africa and its diasporas, I personally ascribe to the latter view. Methodologically, much has changed as well. Africanist art historians have become much more willing to incorporate poststructuralist and post-colonial scholarship into their studies, and the results have enriched how we understand the subjects of our endeavors. There has also been much welcome attention paid to the important intersections of African art and Islam as well as African art and Christianity.

How do you envision art history research being done in 20 years?

Digital humanities will no doubt have an enormous impact research on art history research. Digital tools allow for quick aggregation, and this can add rich dimensions to our research. One of the challenges, however, will be to see how — or if — the digital realm provides the means for new questions and new art historical knowledge. I helped facilitate a digital art history workshop at UCLA this past summer, and that question, one that really strikes at the place of the digital as we move forward, is one that I engage with both optimism and a healthy skepticism.

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19. Rita Angus, Grove Art Online

We invite you to explore the biography of New Zealand painter Rita Angus, as it is presented in Grove Art Online.

New Zealand painter. Angus studied at the Canterbury School of Art, Christchurch (1927–33). In 1930 she married the artist Alfred Cook (1907–70) and used the signature Rita Cook until 1946; they had separated in 1934. Her painting Cass (1936; Christchurch, NZ, A.G.) is representative of the regionalist school that emerged in Canterbury during the late 1920s, with the small railway station visualizing both the isolation and the sense of human progress in rural New Zealand. The impact of North American Regionalism is evident in Angus’s work of the 1930s and 1940s. However, Angus was a highly personal painter, not easily affiliated to specific movements or styles. Her style involved a simplified but fastidious rendering of form, with firm contours and seamless tonal gradations (e.g. Central Otago). Her paintings were invested with symbolic overtones, often enigmatic and individual in nature. The portrait of Betty Curnow (1942; Auckland, A.G.) has generated a range of interpretations relating both to the sitter, wife of the poet Allen Curnow, and its social context.

In her self-portraits, Angus pictured a complex array of often contradictory identities. In Self-portrait (1936–7; Dunedin, NZ, Pub. A.G.) she played the part of the urban, sophisticated and assertive ‘New Woman’. Amongst her most candid works are a series of nude self-portrait pencil drawings, while her watercolours also constitute an important body of work, ranging from portraits and landscapes to painstaking but striking botanical studies such as Passionflower (1943; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa). The watercolourTree (1943; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa) carries a sense of mystery, with its surreal stillness and emptiness. Angus’s ‘Goddess’ paintings are equally mysterious. A Goddess of Mercy (1945–7; Christchurch, NZ, A.G.) is an image of peace and harmony. Angus was a pacifist and a conscientious objector during World War II. In Rutu (1951; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa), she modelled the goddess on her own features, but created a composite figure, half Maori, half European, which suggests an ideal condition of bicultural harmony. The lotus flower held by Rutu reflects Angus’s interest in Buddhism. She thought the Goddess paintings were her most important, and it is on the basis of these works that Angus was hailed as a feminist by subsequent artists and writers.

Cass Station, Canturbury, which inspired Rita Angus's painting, Cass. Photo by Phillip Capper. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
Cass Station, Canturbury, which inspired Rita Angus’s painting, Cass. Photo by Phillip Capper. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Angus aimed to evoke transcendental states of being, or a vision beyond mundane reality. In this respect her work connects to European modernism, more so than on the basis of any stylistic affinities. Nonetheless, Angus absorbed some of modernism’s formal innovations, notably degrees of simplification and flattening of form. Towards the end of her career, while she retained motifs based on observation, these were schematic and assembled into composite images, such as Flight(1968–9; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa). Her Fog, Hawke’s Bay (1966–8; Auckland, A.G.) manifests elements of the faceting and multiple viewpoints of Cubism. Angus’s hard-edged style influenced a younger generation of New Zealand painters, including Don Binney (b 1940) and Robin White.

Bibliography

  • Docking: Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Painting(Wellington, 1970), p. 146
  • Rita Angus (exh. cat. by J. Paul and others, Wellington, NZ, N.A.G., 1982)
  • Rita Angus (exh. cat., ed. L. Bieringa; Wellington, N.A.G., 1983)
  • Rita Angus: Live to Paint, Paint to Live (exh. cat. by V. Cochran and J. Trevvelyan; Auckland, C.A.G., 2001)
  • V. Cochran and J. Trevelyan: Rita Angus: Live to Paint, Paint to Live(Auckland, 2001)
  • M. Dunn: New Zealand Painting: A Concise History(Auckland, 2003), pp. 85–8
  • P. Simpson: ‘Here’s Looking At You: The Cambridge Terrace Years of of Leo Bensemann and Rita Angus’,Journal of New Zealand Art History, xxv (2004), pp. 23–32
  • J. Trevelyan: Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life(Wellington, 2008)
  • Rita Angus: Life and Vision (exh. cat., ed. W. McAloon and J. Trevelyan; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008)

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20. A composer’s thoughts on re-presentation and transformation

My father, Paul Bullard, was a landscape and portrait painter, and on family holidays he would sit and sketch, sometimes with me by his side, filling my music manuscript paper. As a child, I used to think that his task was easier than mine: all he had to do was to put on paper what he could see in front of him, whereas on the other hand I had to imagine a whole sound world, hearing music in my head, and then put it down on paper. Of course that wasn’t really correct: what I didn’t realize was that his task was to re-present the view in front of him in pen and ink, or oils, and not merely copy it. In other words it was an equally creative process to composing.

Paul Bullard: Suffolk Garden’ courtesy of Alan Bullard
‘Paul Bullard: Suffolk Garden’ courtesy of Alan Bullard

So what my father was doing, I suppose, was looking at an existing object from a different angle, ‘arranging’ it for pen and ink, and that just got me thinking about the way that composers often do that too. At the moment I’m reading John Eliot Gardiner’s book Music in the Castle of Heaven and guided by that I’ve been listening to some of J. S. Bach’s cantatas. In most of these, Bach takes a well-known melody and re-presents it, embroidering the material in a myriad of ways. It wasn’t a new idea of course: composers had been doing it for hundreds of years, but Bach’s skill and variety in transforming the ‘known’ material, both in his choral works and his organ Preludes, is breathtaking. And ever since, many composers have loved to re-present the old with the new in the same way.

And so when I came to write my recent Advent cantata, I found myself using the traditional hymn ‘O come, o come Emmanuel’ as a starting point. I turn its phrase shapes into recitatives, and use it as a slowly moving melody in some voices against more decorative singing in the others, so that although the hymn is never sung in its complete form, it permeates the whole work and, I hope, gives the listener a sense of security and comfort. In a similar way, my Christmas cantata, A light in the stable uses the ancient hymn ‘Of our Maker’s love begotten’ as a melodic basis throughout, as well as using a number of Christmas carols, concealed in the background as well as in the foreground.

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21. Big state or small state?

As we head towards another General Election in 2015, once again politicians from the Right and Left will battle it out, hoping to persuade the electorate that either a big state or small state will best address the challenges facing our society. For 40 years, Germans living behind the Iron Curtain in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) had first-hand experience of a big state, with near-full employment and heavily subsidized rent and basic necessities. Then, when the Berlin Wall fell, and East Germany was effectively taken over by West Germany in the reunification process, they were plunged into a new capitalist reality. The whole fabric of daily life changed, from the way people voted, to the brand of butter they bought, to the newspapers that they read. Circumstances forced East Germans to swap Communism for Capitalism, and their feelings about this change remain quite diverse.

Initially, East Germans flooded across the border, bursting with excitement and curiosity to see what the West was like – a ‘West’ that most had only known through watching Western television. For some, sampling a McDonald’s hamburger – the ultimate symbol of Western capitalism – was high on the to-do list, for others it was access to Levi’s jeans or exotic fruit that was particularly novel.

Berlin Wall, November, 1989, by gavinandrewstewart. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Going over the Berlin Wall, November, 1989, by gavinandrewstewart. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

At the same time as delighting in consumer improvements however, many East Germans felt ambivalent about the wider changes. Decades of state propaganda that painted Western societies as unjust places where homelessness, drugs and unemployment were rife, had left its mark, and many East Germans felt unsure and slightly fearful of what was to come.

From a position of full employment in 1989, 3 years after reunification 15% of East Germans were out of work. For those who struggled to put bread on the table after reunification, the advantages of having a wider range of goods to buy remained a largely theoretical gain. For others however, reunification led to greater freedom to pursue individual career choices that were not dictated by the state’s needs.

The end of East Germany’s ‘big state’ model led to the disbanding of its Secret Police, the Stasi, which had rooted out opposition to the State’s dictates. In the 1980s, 91, 000 people worked for the Stasi full time and a further 173, 000 acted as informers. To enforce socialism, they tapped people’s phones, wired their houses, trailed suspects and even collected smell samples in jars, so that sniffer dogs could track their movements.

For those who were made to feel vulnerable and afraid by a regime that watched, trailed and threatened to imprison them, such as political opponents, Christians, environmental activists or other non-conformists, the fall of the Wall and the end of the GDR most often brought relief: the Western set-up allowed for greater freedom of expression and greater freedom of movement.

berlin wall juggling
Juggling on the Berlin Wall, by Yann Forget. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

For the majority of East Germany though, this was not how they felt: since many say they had no idea of the extent to which the Stasi was intertwined with daily life, the end of the GDR did not bring with it a sense of relief. In fact, many East Germans felt that there were many things the West could learn from the GDR, and were resentful at the lack of openness to incorporating any East German policies or practices in the reunification process.

Leaving a Communist society behind and joining an existing Capitalist one brought concrete advantages for East Germans, but it simultaneously threw up a whole new set of challenges. For East Germans, unfamiliar cultural norms in reunited Germany, and also the absence of their usual way of life was profoundly unsettling. As one East German woman put it in a diary entry from December 1989:

“Everywhere is becoming like a foreign land. I have long wished to travel to foreign parts, but I have always wanted to be able to come home … The landscapes remain the same, the towns and villages have the same names, but everything here is becoming increasingly unfamiliar.”

This view was echoed my many East Germans, who were conscious that they, for example, dressed differently from their Western compatriots, didn’t know how to pronounce items on the McDonalds menu when they were ordering and didn’t know how to work coin-operated supermarket trolleys in the West. With the fall of the Wall, a whole way of life evaporated. The certainties on which day to day routines had been built ceased to exist.

Swapping Communism for Capitalism has prompted diverse reactions from East Germans. Few would wish to return to the GDR, even if it were possible. However while many delight in having greater individual choice about what they eat, where they go, what they do and what they say, they often also have a wistful nostalgia for life before reunification, where the disparity between rich and poor was smaller and the solidarity between citizens seemed to be greater.

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22. College Arts Association 2015 Annual Meeting Conference Guide

The Oxford University Press staff is happy that the College Arts Association 2015 Annual Conference (11-14 February 2015) will be held in our backyard: New York City! So we gathered together to discuss what we’re interested in seeing at this year’s conference, as well as some suggestions for those visiting our city.

Alodie Larson, Editorial:
I look forward to CAA. I love having the opportunity to meet authors, see old friends, and get together with the outstanding group of scholars who make up the Editorial Board for Grove Art. The years that New York hosts CAA are low-key for me, as I don’t need to travel. 

I recommend heading to MoMA to hold meetings over coffee and snacks in their cafes. If you need a break from the din of the conference and/or architectural inspiration, slip over to Cram and Goodhue’s beautiful St. Thomas Church 5th Avenue for a moment of quiet reflection.

Joy Mizan, Marketing:
This will be my first time attending CAA with OUP. I’m excited to help set up our booth and display our latest books and online products in Art, but I’m really excited to meet our authors, board members, and academics to learn more about their interest in Art. (It’s always great to meet in person after only interacting over email or the phone.)

Need a place to eat? There’s a great food cart called Platters right outside the hotel, so I definitely suggest attendees try it out while in NYC. It opens at 7:00 p.m. though!

Sarah Pirovitz, Editorial:
I’m thrilled to be attending CAA this year as an acquiring editor for monographs and trade titles. I look forward to hearing about interesting new projects and connecting with scholars and friends in the field.

Mohamed Sesay, Marketing:
I’m delighted to attend my first CAA conference with Oxford University Press. This conference will be a great opportunity to meet authors in person, and to get to know some of our Art consumers.

If you’re looking for a great place to eat in New York City I suggest Landmarc in Columbus Circle. The restaurant has great food and it’s right next to Central Park.

Here are just a few of the sessions that caught our eyes:

  • The Trends in Art Book Publishing, on 10 February at 6:00 p.m. in the New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium (Yes, we work in publishing!)
  • Original Copies: Art and the Practice of Copying, on 11 February at 9:30 a.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Sutton Parlor South
  • Building a Multiracial American Past (Association for Critical Race Art History), on 11 February at 12:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Sutton Parlor Center
  • Making Sense of Digital Images Workshop, on 11 February at 2:30 p.m.
  • CAA Convocation and Awards Presentation, including Dave Hickey’s Keynote Address, on 11 February at 5:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 3rd Floor, East Ballroom
  • Chelsea Gallery District Walking Tour, on 12 February at 12:00 p.m.
  • Presenting a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts (CAA Committee on Intellectual Property), on 13 February at 12:30 p.m.
  • New York 1880: Art, Architecture, and the Establishment of a Cultural Capital on 13 February at 2:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Beekman Parlor
  • Art Lovers and Literaturewallahs: Communities of Image and Text in South and Southeast Asia (American Council for Southern Asian Art), on 14 February at 9:30 am in the Hilton New York, 3rd Floor, Rendezvous Trianon
  • The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press – that’s us!) on 14 February at 12:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Sutton Parlor Center

Of course, we hope to see you at Oxford University Press booth 1215. We’ll be offering the chance to:

  • Check out which books we’re featuring.
  • Browse and buy our new and bestselling titles on display at a 20% conference discount.
  • Get free trial access to our suite of online products.
  • Pick up sample copies of our latest art journals.
  • Enter our raffle for free OUP books.
  • Meet all of us!

And don’t forget to learn more about the conference on the official website, or follow along on social media with the #CAA2015 hashtag.

Featured Image: Reflection / Kolonihavehus by Tom Fruin and CoreAct @ DUMBO Arts Festival, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC by Axel Taferner. CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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23. Does the MOOC spell the end for universities?

The seemingly unassailable rise of the MOOC – the Massive Open On-Line Course – has many universities worried. Offering access to millions of potential students, it seems like the solution to so many of the problems that beset higher education. Fees are low, or even non-existent; anyone can sign up; staff time is strictly limited as even grading is done by peers or automated multiple-choice questionnaires. In an era of ever-rising tuition fees and of concerns about the barriers that stop the less well-off from applying to good universities, the MOOC can seem like a panacea.

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24. The two faces of Leo Tolstoy

Imagine that your local pub had a weekly, book themed quiz, consisting of questions like this: ‘Which writer concerned himself with religious toleration, explored vegetarianism, was fascinated (and sometimes repelled by) sexuality, and fretted over widening social inequalities, experienced urban poverty first hand while at the same time understanding the causes of man made famine?’

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25. Visualizing same-sex desire

History is surfeited with examples of the interactions between society and individual sexuality. Same-sex desire in particular has been, up until the present moment, a topic largely shrouded in shame, secrecy, and silence. As a result, it is often visualized through the image of 'the closet,' conveying notions of entrapment, protection, and liberation. Dominic Janes, author of Picturing the Closet: Male Secrecy and Homosexual Visibility in Britain, recently sat down with us to talk about visualization of same-sex desire in eighteenth-century Britain to the present.

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