Tag Archives: art

Dancing for COVID

Hans Holbein’s “The Lady,” part of his “Danse Macabre” series, c. 1526

From illness and tragedy, art always seems to bloom to place ourselves and our world into a grand perspective.  After the “Black Death” rampaged through Eurasia and North Africa in the 14th century, the “danse macabre”, or dance of death, became an artistic representation of how death is the ultimate equalizer.  Beginning in Western Europe and gaining popularity in the Middle Ages, it was a literary or pictorial representation of both living and dead figures – from pope to hermit – leading their lives as normal, before entering a grave.

Recently some pallbearers in Ghana envisioned the dance for contemporary deaths and the ensuing funerals.  As many Africans tend to do, they celebrate death as the next stage of life – mournful and often tragic, for certain.  Singing and dancing, they honor the deceased for the life they led on Earth and the glorious new life they should have in the next realm.

It’s how I view death.  My paternal grandfather said he respected death more than any other aspect of the world because it’s not prejudiced or bigoted.  It simply spares no one.  I felt some measure of glee when I watch the ending of the 1997 movie “Titanic”, as the ship sank and the plethora of furnishings and luxurious items shattered.  Not because I love seeing things destroyed!  But because all of the vainglorious possessions of the vessel’s wealthiest patrons could not save them.  They may have been rescued because of their wealth, as many of them entered the smattering of lifeboats first.  But, whether dead at that moment or dead later, they would never be able to take those items with them.

We all come into this world naked and screaming, clutching nothing but our souls in our hands.  We leave with the same.

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Saltarello by Arte Factum


Miracle of the True Cross at the Bridge of S. Lorenzo, oil painting by Gentile Bellini, 1500; in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.

The current COVID-19 crisis has been compared to the “Black Plague”, which ravaged much of Eurasia in the middle of the 14th century C.E.  Historians and scientists now believe the scourge first appeared in Western Asia in the 1330s, before storming into India and the Middle East via the legendary “Silk Road” and then into Europe and Northern Africa.  It even reached the Danish outpost of Iceland.  It’s a wonder, I believe, it didn’t make it to North America, as Viking explorers had already reached what is now Newfoundland.  Europe was the hardest hit region, with some 50 million estimated fatalities.  Overall, it killed roughly 350- 375 million people.  But, since they had no accurate population counting system at the time, the death rate very well could have been several times worst.

There are some chilling similarities to the COVID-19 debacle.  It began in Asia and seems to have struck Italy first.  Back then religious leaders convinced their ignorant, illiterate followers that the pestilence was God’s condemnation for whatever sins they’d committed.  On top of that, national commanders initially didn’t realize the severity of the pandemic and concocted whatever excuses sounded plausible.

Politics aside, one other element remains relatively unchanged: the love of music and dance.  We’ve seen people across the globe cope with isolation and mandatory quarantines by singing and dancing; playing music on their doorsteps or balconies for neighbors to hear; connecting with family and friends through cyberspace to share melodies.  Again, there are similarities with the “Black Plague”.

Medieval Europeans also often used music and song to celebrate life’s various events.  I find music from this time and place beautifully intriguing and even somewhat familiar to current musical trends.  As usual, Italians always rose to the occasion; creating a number of songs and dances to express the beauty of life.  The saltarello is a perfect example.  An Italian dance style dating to the 14th century, it involved leaping and skipping and was performed to music done in a triple meter tempo; usually accompanied by tambourines, guitars, and singing.  Saltarello survived into the 18th century and, by then, had become a popular folk dance.  Saltarello rhythm and energy bears similarities to tarantella; another popular Italian folk dance also often performed at weddings and dating to medieval times.  A well-known contemporary model appears in the final movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ symphony.

Featured performance: Arte Factum

Image: SCALA/Art Resource, New York

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Tomás Sánchez – Landscapes of Isolation

“The interior spaces that I experience in meditation are converted into the landscapes of my paintings; the restlessness of my mind transformed into landfills.  When I paint, I experience meditative states; through meditation, I achieve a union with nature, and nature, in turn, leads me to meditation.”

– Tomás Sánchez

If one word can best describe the world we’re living in now, surrealism has no equal.  Seeing the empty roads and highways of the Dallas /Fort Worth-area that I’ve known my entire life is one of the most uncanny experiences I’ve ever had.  I’m still trying to comprehend this slow-motion cataclysm and all of the chaos around it.

Tomás Sánchez seems to understand the concept of a surrealistic existence.  His paintings truly exhibit that sense of isolation; something we introverts love, but that even we realize is not always perfect.  Yet, in those moments of solitude, titanic waterfalls and endless canopies of treetops often embrace (almost swallow) a tiny nondescript figure with its natural beauty.  The latter aspect is reminiscent of dramatic sunsets and massive ocean waves I’ve encountered; elements of the world that should render the most egocentric among us as humble.

Aislarse (Isolate)”, 2001

Orilla y cielo gris (Shore and gray sky)”, 1995

Autorretrato en tarde Rosa (Self-portrait in pink afternoon)”, 1994

Llegada del caminante a la laguna (Arrival of the walker to the lagoon)

Meditación y sonido de aguas (Meditation and sound of waters)”, 1993

Atardecer (Sunset)

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Lunar Souls

Artist, writer, photographer and fellow blogger Art Browne has a unique – and sometimes twisted – view of our universe.  Which is why I know, without a doubt, that he is my long-lost twin brother!  When not tormenting spiders or ridiculing helpless cats on his blog, “Pouring My Art Out”, Brother Art captures some truly fascinating visions of the natural world.  In a recent series of simple cell phone shots, he photographed the moon in various stages and from various angles over San Diego, California.  A few of them are presented below.

I have to concede these lunar photos make me feel incredibly sentimental.  Every time I look up at the sky and see that glorious moon, I – sniff – always get homesick.

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Screaming Match

Curators at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia have developed a new app called “Heartmatch” where visitors can learn what historical painting best represents them.  I thought, what the hell; it looks like good fun.  So, I tried it and got this:

Now I know why I didn’t get my first computer until May of 2000 and my first cell phone until October of 2001.  BECAUSE ME AND TECHNOLOGY NEVER HAVE BEEN SYMBIOTIC!

I guess I’ll just resort to finding my “heart match” the old-fashioned way: bars, truck stops and porn videos.

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Booth Blooms

Well, at long last, someone has found a good use for old phone booths*. Botanical designer Lewis Miller ambushed the streets of New York City recently to adorn an otherwise ordinary corner in swaths of floral color and energy.  A few years ago Miller transformed the notoriously banal empty garbage cans into vases of sumptuous flowers.  In this most recent endeavor to make a gritty urban area appear palatable – a project he dubs “Flower Flash” – Miller and his crew filled a Manhattan telephone booth with a plethora of flowers and greenery.

“What initially began as a Lewis Miller design experiment to reinvigorate and reconnect us to our craft, turned into a beautiful shared experience in a city of millions,” the group stated.  The “reactions to our flower flashes emphasizes the basic goodness in all people and prioritizes compassion”.

The results are more than a little impressive, and I feel we need more of Lewis Miller’s works in our increasingly crowded and convoluted world.

*To the under-30 crowd, phone booths are tall glass structures where people would have to make phone calls if they weren’t at home, at work or in jail.  You’d put a quarter into a little slot towards the bottom of the actual phone; wipe the receiver as best you could so you wouldn’t catch germs like herpes or gingivitis; and press little buttons on said phone to make the call.

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Barring Trump

Donald Trump’s star on Hollywood’s legendary “Walk of Fame” has been vandalized too many times to count in the nearly two years since the cantankerous business tycoon was selected by the former Soviet Union to be our president.  The City of Hollywood – trying to perform its civic duty – has been willing to consider any reasonable idea of how to protect “The Donald’s” star.

A street artist known as “Plastic Jesus” has devised an ingenious idea: put the star behind bars.  Literally!

“There have been calls to jail Trump since the day he was elected, and today he was certainly put behind bars – or at least his now infamous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was caged,” PJ wrote in a recent email to Artnet News.

The London-born Los Angeles resident has become known for ambushing the public – and specifically, public figures – with graffiti-style street art combining humor and irony to express his criticism of current affairs.  In other words, he’s a true artist who tackles weighty subjects in order to piss off people who believe everything is just fine with the world.  In this case, the pissed off would be Trump supporters, as well as those who merely shrug at the sight of Trump’s star on the “Walk of Fame”.  It’s obvious (to those of us not been enamored with celebrity) that Trump’s placement in the White House is the most blatant act of fraud since Bill Cosby was labeled “America’s Dad”.

“Artists are able to connect and convey opinion in a universal way,” PJ notes.  “So I think it’s important for artists to speak out.  I think art encourages dialogue and debate like no other media.”

My advice?  Keep pissing people off, brother!

Just another typical day on the “Walk of Fame” in Hollywood, California.

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