Friday, August 5, 2011

The joys of office life

Boring offices jobs – everybody’s had one, even writers. Joshua Ferris made the most of his experience and created a hysterical collection of stories from the office.  I first read this novel during a horrible summer internship in which I was stuck behind a desk in a mundane cubicle for eight hours. Each night I would go home, read a few chapters, and laugh out loud at his examples of the abominable place that is the quintessential American office space.

  "There was so much unpleasantness in the work day world. The last thing you ever wanted to do at night was go home and do the dishes. And just the idea that part of the weekend had to be dedicated to getting the oil changed and doing the laundry was enough to make those of us still full from lunch want to lie down in the hallway and force anyone dumb enough to remain committed to walk around us. It might not be so bad. They could drop food down to us, or if that was not possible, crumbs from their PowerBars and bags of microwave popcorn surely would end up within an arm's length sooner or later. The cleaning crews, needing to vacuum, would inevitably turn us on our sides, preventing bedsores, and we would make little toys out of runs in the carpet, which, in moments of extreme regression, we might suck on for comfort."

No one gets at boredom in the office quite like Edward Hopper. And look at this guy – dude is probably bored out of his mind. He’s sitting in an office, staring out the window.  Clearly he isn’t thinking about his work. Maybe he’s thinking about how much he wants out of this room. Whatever it is that’s on his mind, it doesn’t involve the office.  This guy could be Ferris.

Speaking of boredom, there is also tons of wasting time in Then We Came To The End. The characters often look to each other for entertainment, but sometimes it ended badly…

"We told him to get on with it. We liked wasting time, but almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on."

Surprisingly enough, lots of artists create scenes of wasting time. Think about it –before office jobs and technology, how did people fill up their day? By sitting around staring into space. Or sitting around in a gown staring into space in your gorgeous chair if you’re a Victorian woman like John Singer Sargeant paints here: 

Do you know of any other awesome paintings that depict boredom/loneliness/wasting time?

Beauty, Beauty

I adore Zadie Smith – absolutely ADORE her. On Beauty was the first book by her that I read, and it’s been a love affair with her writing ever since. In this book, she flawlessly weaves together the lives of numerous characters and asks so many huge questions: What is beauty? What is intelligence? What is family?

One of my favorite characters in the novel, Jerome, falls head-over-heels in love with Victoria, a Trinidadian beauty.  Victoria is unique and exotic, and Jerome as well as his father, Howard, get totally sucked into her. 

“The first thing to note were two spots of radiant highlights on her face – maybe the result of the same cocoa butter Kiki used in the winter. A pool of moonlight on her smooth forehead, and another on the tip of her nose; the kind of highlights, it occurred to Howard, that would be impossible to paint without distorting, without misrepresenting, the solid darkness of her true complexion. And her hair had changed again: now it was wormy dreadlocks going every which way, although none was longer than two inches.”

In reading this, I think about Paul Gauguin and his many paintings of tropical women.  This painting is of two Tahitian women.  Gauguin seems to paint these women in the same manner that Howard describes Victoria.  The exotic beauty of both jumps off the page.

Ideas of beauty are all over the place in this novel.  At one point, thias conversation happens:
"- You look fine.
- Right. I look fine. Except I don't, said Zora, tugging sadly at her man's nightshirt. This was why Kiki had dreaded having girls: she knew she wouldn't be able to protect them from self-disgust. "

What is beauty? Some think it’s a Raphael painting: 

She is gorgeous, and Raphael highlighted body and face for us. Howeverm, others have different ideas that have nothing to do with what’s on the outside. What do you think makes someone beautiful?


Shockingly, I just read Jane Eyre for the first time at the age of 24. Crazy, right? I’ve been obsessed with English culture ever since I studied abroad in London. The grass is painfully green and the sky is remarkably blue. As I read through the novel, I put images in my own head, and these images often came  from 19th century paintings of the women and the landscapes of Jane Eyre’s time.  This post isn’t terribly deep, so bear with me. Instead, I was inspired by the beauty of Jane’s surroundings. 

Jane, who is not the most beautiful girl, falls for Rochester and wants to marry him even after his face has been destroyed in a fire. Jane is not shallow at all – she loves him regardless. She states:

“Most true is it that 'beauty is in the eye of the gazer.’”

Thomas Gainsborough seems to fit here. Gainsborough creates magnificent portraits of women. They are dreamy and romantic and the women are dressed in their fanciest attire. I can picture a triumphant Jane at the end of the novel in one of these portraits. Rochester would definitely commission one of these to painted because he also saw beyond Jane’s plainness. Aren’t they wonderful and oh-so-British?

Here’s a fantastic description I found of the countryside:

"A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay a frozen shroud: lanes which last night blushed full of flowers, to-day were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and flagrant as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway."

It’s like Bronte was staring at this painting when she wrote those words:

This painting by Turner is not of Jane’s backyard – it’s at sea. But I think the energy of the snowstorm that Turner captures works with Jane’s words.  The swirly mess that Turner paints is like the “wintry Norway” that Bronte describes.

What do you think about my choices? Do you know of any other paintings that connect to Jane Eyre?

The Giver

The Giver has always been one of my favorite books because it was one of the few books that really got me thinking as a kid and really allowed me to question everything. And guess what? The same thing happened when I re-read it as an adult! Lois Lowry is a mastermind of creating a science fiction novel that raises questions but let’s you answer them.

Jonas, the main character, lives in a community of Sameness run by the elders.  All creativity is stripped from these people, so much so that they can’t even see color. This is insanely frustrating to me. How can a society progress without creativity? This lack of color brought to mind a Rothko painting…

Rothko creates huge canvases that he paints with a few simple colors. These paintings stop me in my tracks and I become immersed in the color that spreads before me. Jonas seems to have a similar reaction when he sees color for the first time.  He cannot let go of the experience he had when seeing the color, and so he wants to see more.  He gets angry when he can’t see color, stating, “It isn’t fair that nothing has color!”  (97) With his knack for emotional reactions, I can only imagine what Jonas would think standing before this gorgeous Rothko painting.

The concept of sameness really irks me too. The community is completely regimented and the people are like robots.  Everyone is the same and no one thinks for themselves.

“How could someone not fit in? The community was so meticulously ordered, the choices so carefully made.” (48)

When thinking about this concept, Andy Warhol comes to mind. He created prints that incorporate a common object such as a Campbell’s soup can. Add the repeated pattern of the soup can to a canvas, and Voila! you have complete and utter sameness.

Are there other pieces of art that question the idea of sameness and lack of creativity in a society?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

a little Dave Eggers...

I am currently reading Dave Eggers' memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and wow! am I blown away.  His bold, in-your-face style breaks so many rules but is brilliant nonetheless.  I love it when writers take huge risks, and in this case, Eggers has pulled it off. Congrats my friend!

One aspect of Eggers’ style that I love is his strange obsession with death and blood. Eggers’ is his little brother Toph’s guardian, and when he leaves Toph with a babysitter, his mind goes crazy with things that could go wrong.

“I will come home and the door will be open, wide. The babysitter will be gone and there will be silence. And at once I will know. There will be the smell of everything being perfectly wrong. At the steps up to Toph’s room there will be blood. Blood on the walls, handprints soaked in blood. A note to me, from Stephen, taunting; maybe a videotape of everyth—I will be to blame. His little body, bent, blue” (126).

I think this image represents Eggers’ mindset pretty well…

Chaime Soutine, the painter of this work, was also obsessed with blood and gore. He used to paint dead animal carcasses all the time. His use of vivid reds, oranges, and yellows really throw gore in your face. Don’t you think?

Here’s another work that relates to Eggers’ book...

This is a work by Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp was a boundary pusher just like Eggers. He loved to poke fun at the system and do his own thing. He was a real revolutionary, just like Eggers, who was all about pursuing his dreams through Might Magazine.

“Of course, we, and our magazine, can’t let on that we’re part of this scene, or any scene. We begin to perfect a balance between being close to where things are happening, knowing the people involved and their patterns, while keeping our distance, an outsider’s mentality, even among other outsiders. Ridiculing other magazines, especially Wired upstairs” (172).

Isn’t it crazy how artists from completely different time periods and places can match up so well? Are there any other paintings that deal with blood and gore or 20-something ambition on a similar level that you think Eggers would appreciate? Leave me a comment!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

my first post!

hi friends! i'm so excited to get things cranking with this blog. my plan is to write about art and literature - two things i love dearly. i hope you enjoy reading my musings! expect my first post soon.