Baroque and The Three Musketeers Nov09

Baroque and The Three Musketeers...

If you are a big fan of The Three Musketeers, whether through various movie adaptations or because you’ve read the works of Alexandre Dumas, then you’ve certainly remarked that unmistakable flair in costume and setting that comes with the novel’s particular genre. The Three Musketeers is an action and adventure story set during the reign of King Louis XIII and set in the middle of the French Period of Baroque art. In short, we revisit the seventeenth century as we dash around a pastoral French countryside sporting royal blue and fighting with crimson red. During this century, art took on a much more lively form, or a style, that brought about a kind of drama and opulence rarely seen in art before. A good analogy would be to compare art before the Baroque period to a high school choir, and art during the Baroque period to going to your first operatic performance of Wagner in a grand theater. It’s big and it’s showy like a fantastic opera. The Baroque style of art was just beginning in Louis’ father’s final years, around the start of 1600. It’s useful to know that Louis’ father, Henry IV was a protestant in a Catholic country during the Protestant Reformation, and later converted to Catholicism in order to keep his state. The personal tale of a King and his future son threads into the larger story of a Catholic Church which had decreed during the Council of Trent that art should express religious themes with grandeur and more dramatic tension in order to evoke strong emotion. In other words, they wanted people to have the feels. Parisian architecture was not exempt from this and there are entire books devoted to the subject of Henry IV’s architecture and urbanism before...

Approachable Art: The Nature Journal Nov09

Approachable Art: The Nature Journal...

I first discovered the concept of a serious, nature journal after reading through Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The beautiful thing about keeping a nature journal is that your subject of study is both model and still life at the same time. A model is an organic shape which has an individual nature that you can readily identify and that may offer similarities of structure to other models. For example, a tree limb is unique and will be like no other tree limb in existence while still providing a possible similarity in design to the human arm. In this way if you practice drawing an organic form like a tree limb, you are simultaneously building skills to later draw a human limb because it’s also organic and some of the same foundational principles will apply. For example, the human limb is also prone to irregularities and is unique to all individuals. At the same time the journal provides the student with organic models, it is providing a still life. The value of having a still life is that it’s still. It’s not going anywhere. Unlike a squirrel, or a human being, it doesn’t get cranky or fussy with you for taking your time. But again, like the squirrel or human being it is organic so the principles are close enough for transferring skills to a new study of life models. Another perk of the still life is that it looks good when you’re finished. Most of us think of art and we think immediately of the framed still life as the primary example. During the sixteenth century the primary form of artistic expression was the still...

Tools of the Trade: Editing tools for writers...

Let’s discuss what writers need beyond a pen and paper or that all essential keyboard especially when it comes to making revisions.  The best tools are an exceptional dictionary, a handbook guide to grammar, a thesaurus and/or rhyming dictionary, a set of resources for naming your characters, tool bars and a search engine ready to look up not just information but to confirm quotations and facts, and personally I never leave a desk devoid of a stack of chocolate. The Dictionary Why is it necessary? Today we have spell-check everywhere. Except the more you write the more you realize that spell-check is not a highly functioning tool. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used a relatively obscure word that a spell-checker embedded into major software has not been able to clear and identify. I have these Twilight Zone moments when I race over to an online dictionary like Merriam-Webster.com and console myself that I’ve spelled the obscure word correctly. When I am correct, I’m sure to add the word to the spell-check dictionary by right-clicking on the word in whatever program I’m using to add it in. But imagine if you’re sometimes using a small program like Notepad, or in two or three various email apps or web browsers, or you’re using Word. You’ll never want to stop and take the time to open every single place you have spell-check software to correct it. Not when you’re on a writing deadline. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So get a good dictionary, even if you only go online to Merriam-Webster Online and use it. Merriam-Webster Online is free and if you add it to your bookmarks toolbar, it’s right at your fingertips. Enter the word into the search box and it will...

Sculpture: In the round – what a relief! Apr06

Sculpture: In the round – what a relief!...

Throughout history, sculpture has been used primarily as a monument art form. The earliest sculptures were thought to be made to supply “magic” to help hunters in their quests. Later, as civilization unfolded, sculpture took the form of gods or ancient kings; likenesses carved to honor greatness. In 15th C. Italy, sculpture of biblical heroes adorned the streets. Military victories were depicted by the ancient Sumerian sculptors. Even today, great writers or politicians are honored with likenesses in parks or government buildings.  It’s all around, but what do we really know about the art form? Sculpture is a branch of visual arts depicted in three-dimension. It is the carving (removal of) or modeling (addition of) of material to depict an image or scene. Typical materials used include stone, metal, ceramics, wood, glass and in more recent times, other materials, since Modernism took the sculptural process to an almost complete freedom of material use and process. Where sculptors used to carve or model, now they can cast or weld together found objects or materials that were not available in ancient times. The sky’s the limit in today’s sculptural world. There are two basic types of sculpture. Sculpture in the round; a free-standing sculpture that is not connected to anything except at the base, and relief sculpture; sculpture which is attached to a background and can’t be viewed from all angles. Relief sculpture is typically classified by the amount of projection it has from the wall; bas-relief, mid-relief, and high-relief. Bas-relief having the lowest depth of carving and then moving up to high-relief or that which is carved more deeply into the object. Much of relief sculpture is seen on architecture or decorating objects such as pottery. The term sculpture also includes many types of smaller...

Album Review: The Buachaills’ At Your Call...

It’s a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: A second album of Celtic music for your enjoyment! It certainly was for mine. This week we’re looking at the debut release from the Celtic folk/rock band The Buachaills (pronounced bo’-quels, approximately). Their debut single is due out tomorrow, with the rest of the album due out in May. You can pre-order it on Amazon, and probably a few other places. The album is called At Your Call, and is an enjoyable collection of Irish influenced music. If the High Kings’ album we looked at last week was a little light on the Celtic influences for your tastes, this one should be right up your alley. Still using the electric bass (James Fleming) and drum set (Chris Carey), The Buachaills also have Eoin Murphy on guitar and mandolin and Aaron Dolan on whistles and Uillean pipes. Carey, Dolan, and Murphy all take turns on the vocals. The album starts with a short instrumental introduction, beginning with Dolan’s pipes and immediately moving into a lively reel. This is followed by the title track “At Your Call” which is catchy alternative rock style with a solid Irish feel to the accompaniment. Next is the song that is to be tomorrow’s debut single, a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”. The famous sax solo is replaced very capably with Dolan’s pipes. It works much better than you might imagine. Following this is “You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time”. This is a lively Irish reel style pop song. It’s an infectious tune with a strong hook. Next is the instrumental “King of the Fairies”. It starts slowly and mournfully, and then moves into a nice minor key jig that highlights Dolan’s pipes and a fine, restrained drum performance by Carey....

Album Review: The High Kings’ Friends for Life...

A week from Monday, we see the return of St. Patrick’s Day, the day that everyone gets to either celebrate their Irish heritage, or pretend they have one. What St. Pat’s Day celebration would be complete without some rousing Irish music to go along with it? Sure, the Celtic Woman recordings have been popular, but let’s be honest. Their music just doesn’t have that Irish pub feel that the occasion calls for. So as an alternative, we bring you The High Kings, and their latest album Friends for Life. The High Kings is a talented quartet of Irish musicians with a healthy dose of contemporary influences added. Their stated motto: “Folk ’n Roll”. Friends for Life is their fourth album since their 2008 inception; and their third studio album. Released last September, it is a collection of original music combined with a few traditional songs spiced with their special arrangement skills. The opening track is “Oh Maggie”, an original song about a man on hard times and trying to do better so he can return to the woman he loves. It’s traditional sounding, but with electric guitars and a drum set added to update the sound. Following is a strong departure; “Gucci”. This is a borderline stream of conscience song with Paul Simon-esque metaphors. “All Around the World” takes us back to more familiar territory, with an upbeat feel-good dance song. It is, admittedly, the least Irish sounding song on the album; it almost sounds Cajun. It’s not surprising, then, that they follow it up with the first traditional Irish song on the album, “Johnny Leave Her”. This is an a capella arrangement, with each of the quartet featured on the verses, and harmony on the chorus. “Health to the Company” is another traditional...

Mosaics – Pieces of Art Feb16

Mosaics – Pieces of Art...

Mosaic art uses small pieces of material, placed together to form a pattern or image. These pieces are called tessera and usually consist of glass, stone, ceramics, mirror, or shells. The space (or interstices) between the tesserae are then filled with grout to solidify the artwork. There are several different techniques used to create mosaic art: Opus regulatum: the tesserae create a grid where the pieces align both horizontally and vertically. Opus tessellatum: the tesserae created a horizontal or a vertical alignment, but not both. Opus vermiculatum: the tesserae follow the edge of a particular shape highlighting the shape. Opus musivum: similar to Opus vermiculatum but extends throughout the entire background. Opus palladianum: the tesserae are irregular shaped and unevenly placed. Opus sectile: a single tessera creates a major shape. Opus classicum: a combination of vermiculatum, tessellatum and regulatum. Opus circumactum: the tesserae are set up in semicircle or fan shapes that overlap. Micromosaic: the tesserae are extremely small, used in jewelry or Italian panels. There are three main techniques to laying mosaics. The Direct method, used where surfaces have a three-dimensional quality, is when the tesserae are glued directly to a support piece and then grouted. The Indirect method, which is mainly used for larger or vertical surfaces, is when the tesserae are placed upside-down on an adhesive-backed paper and then transferred to the structure. The Double Indirect method is used when seeing the design is important. The tesserae are placed face-up on an adhesive or sticky surface, then after the design is complete, another adhesive surface is placed on the facing-side and then carefully removing the one below. This is the most difficult of the three techniques. The history of Mosaic art is rich and examples from various cultures can be found...

Album Review: Marissa Nadler’s July...

Singer/Songwriter Marissa Nadler released July, her sixth studio album last week, and it looks to be a cold month. Nadler’s style is often categorized as “dream pop”, a sub-genre of alternative rock that features atmospheric music and ethereal vocals. Her mezzo-soprano voice is reminiscent of Norah Jones, and she frequently overdubs herself for harmonization. The music is almost totally percussion-less, relying on her acoustic guitar skills to provide the rhythm with flowing arpeggios. Layered on this is a bed of synthesizer chords and sometimes slow electric guitar notes. The effect is almost the acoustic equivalent to a Rothko painting, with large blocks of dark colors evoking a moody, hazy atmosphere. Musically, it’s actually quite challenging. Miss Nadler has no fear of dissonance; the layers of sound sometimes clashing and resolving in waves of anticipation of resolutions that almost arrives, but not never quite completely. Its effect is intentionally unsettling. Unfortunately, the lyrics do not quite deliver on the evocation that the music promises. Apparently this album is about a painful breakup she had; that much is apparent from the tales she spins in this collection of songs. The lyrics are very, very personal; perhaps too personal. We are offered images and ideas that obviously mean a lot to her, but we’re left a bit in the dark. It’s like someone posted on Facebook, “Well it looks like I’m single again. I should have made that paper airplane after all. I don’t want to talk about it,” and we’re thinking, “Paper airplane? What’s that about?” In effect, she’s wearing her heart on her sleeve, but she’s got her shirt turned inside-out and we can’t quite figure out what that stitching is supposed to be. July is a masterful and unusual album musically. It stretches the...

Writers Journey: The Fine Art of Criticism part 3...

Before a writer gets into final revisions, there is usually a process of peer review.  Some writers will join a critique group.  Others will have mentors who are professionals in the field or perhaps they are on staff in some academic facility.  The first external review of a work is often the hardest part of the process.  The manuscript is not in its final stage and the people that the author invites to read it must be sensitive to that understanding. Many fledgling writers are pulled into the allure of the critique group.  It’s my opinion that a good critique group builds a solid writer for a few years, but sooner or later, the dynamic begins to shift when a writer starts coming in to their own professionally and takes on a strong professional voice and begins to kick the training wheels off their bike and ride with the pros.  Eventually you will want to find readers rather than writers when you’re looking for feedback as you evolve as an author because at the end of the day your work will be primarily in the hands of readers, not writers, and there is a distinction. There is a difficulty in navigating most critique groups in that everyone in that circle with you is not only another writer, but also usually a direct competitor.  This is an implicit dynamic that no one likes to acknowledge openly but it’s imperative that you understand this when going in to a group of other writers.  They have agendas and so do you.  The point is to push past this to give and receive a meaningful critique.  There are many good critique groups out there that get it right and most of them have rules and guidelines that help...

Cubism: The Birth of Modern Art Feb02

Cubism: The Birth of Modern Art...

One of the most recognized art styles of the early 20th century, Cubism rejected the concept that art should copy nature and instead highlighted 2-dimensional, geometric forms in their art work. The subject matter (often recognizable), was fractured into multiple facets, and then reassembled to convey the same thing, but often times from different perspective views. The term Cubism was coined when Braque’s landscape art, L’Estaque (right), was first viewed by French art critic Louis Vauxcelles, calling the work “cubes”. But landscape painting was rare in Cubist art. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, perhaps the fathers of this creative, abstract  style, were best known for their representation of motifs such as bottles, musical instruments, playing cards and the human figure. Picasso’s Still Live with a Bottle of Rum (left), is a prime example of Analytic Cubism with his abstract view of a bottle of rum. Exhausted with the traditions of Western art, Cubists were drawn to other cultures and drew much inspiration from the expressive nature of African art. Gaining insight from Paul Gauguin’s indigenous Tahitian themes, Picasso often used the traditional head masks of African art as reference for his work. When the new technique of collage, pasting colored or printed paper into artwork became vogue, Synthetic Cubism evolved, removing any representational aspect of the piece and letting the cut-out shape allude to the subject matter. Picasso’s Still Life with Mandolin and Guitar (right) embraced this collage-style artwork. Cubism revolutionized traditional art form, creating an avant-garde movement contending with the innovative technology of photography. It spread across most of Europe, planting the seeds for other emerging modern art styles such as Futurism, Constructivism and Expressionism. Although it has been argued that Cubism is not an actual style or movement, it is considered to...

Ensembles: The Big Band Jan26

Ensembles: The Big Band...

In the 1920s, as recorded music became more common, there arose the beginnings of an ensemble constructed to appeal to a popular music audience. These groups contained trumpets, trombones and saxophones; supported by a rhythm section, and joined with a group of string instruments for a more orchestral quality. Such groups performed popular tunes and acted as accompaniment for vocalists. The jazz influence was minimal, with little improvisation; however, many period jazz musicians supplemented their incomes as members of such groups. Probably the best known example of groups of this type for contemporary listeners was Lawrence Welk’s orchestra which remained active for many decades. It wasn’t until the late 20s that we begin to see the big band really come into its own. Growing primarily out of New York, Chicago, and Kansas City, these bands dropped the string players, and adopted a musical style that allowed for much more improvisation. With a few exceptions (like Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer), these groups were primarily formed of black musicians and aimed at black audiences. The recordings were euphemistically referred to as “race records”, and were routinely dismissed as low quality. Still, talent will inevitably rise to the surface, and these groups began gaining larger audiences while crossing the race barriers. Black band leaders became household names and gained the respect of the musical community as a whole. The greatest of these would doubtlessly be Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club orchestra. Also, notable for this period is the fact that improvising soloists became nearly as famous as the band leaders themselves, many of whom would go on to form their own bands. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman were just a few who came from this background. As the 1930s approached, the big band...

Writers Journey: The Fine Art of Criticism, part two...

Research is a must when you are getting into your structure and working on the writing of scene after scene.  If you do your research before or during your writing you will save yourself the pain of finding contrary discoveries later when the editor or copy editor gets hold of your words later in the process.  It’s important to be as critical of your own work as possible now, rather than experience an extensive period of rewriting later. In some ways you can’t avoid certain aspects of rewriting even if you’re a careful researcher or editor on your side of the work.  When books are written largely for target market audiences today, you will find that more often than not, people will ask you to make amendments to what you’re putting on the shelf.  Particularly with large publishers, they do have target demographics out there and they do research on what will and won’t sell according to those demographics.  This can be a trying process for a writer in general as you wrestle with your vision in the waters of a market place that can feel fickle and faddish. The best thing you can do is make sure that your work is well-edited either way.  The most important thing is to hone your voice within the work and to essentially be yourself.  People will often still be drawn to an author’s style or tone.  Authors are like friends to the reader; they will come to read what you have to say the way a good friend opens your emails every day.  So once you’re pushing through structural edits, you need to settle in to what makes the work sound like it comes from you and no other author. One writer, Julia Cameron, suggested that...

Romanticism: A Matter of Emotion Jan19

Romanticism: A Matter of Emotion...

As a reaction to the restrictions of urban sprawl and industrialism, and a growing disillusion with the Enlightenment era values, Romanticism (or the Romantic era) began in the latter part of the 18th century. A crusade against the aristocratic social and political norms of the times; Romantics embraced the strong emotions and authenticity that embodied the movement. Art took on a much greater emotional quality, emphasizing terror, dread, elation and awe; often embracing the exotic or unfamiliar and giving the imagination greater control. Romanticism was first demonstrated in landscape paintings. Artists like David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner turned the typical landscape painting into an historical narrative of life. The emotional subject matter seen in their work, often expressed a human struggle or victorious feat, adding much more meaning than what you would expect to see in a landscape-style painting. Eugène Delacroix created passionate war scenes reflecting current events or haunting images from historical atrocities. His Liberty Leading the People (1830) is probably one of the best known works of Romantic art. It portrays a woman (representing Liberty) carrying the French Revolution flag in one hand and a bayonet in the other, leading the French troops into battle. His statement, “And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her”, suggests his emotional struggle with not being able to participate in the fight to free his country. Francisco Goya, probably the greatest painter of the Romantic era, exemplified the Romantic era values in his paintings using gruesome subject matter taken from his imaginative visions of the Peninsula War between Spain and France (1808 – 1814). His The Third of May 1808 (1814) painting, with its frightening depiction of the hazards of war and his use of thick, impasto brushstrokes...

Writers Journey: The Fine Art of Criticism...

We’ll be looking at criticism for the next few weeks and I’ll be reviewing the steps within the author’s editing process, then the whole process of editorial review at and before the publishing level, as well as what happens when the critics finally assess your story or novel. The fine art of criticism begins with the author and continues in many stages through to the editorial phase of any work. There are many pitfalls along the way, and some of them are natural and occur because it is impossible to be perfectly objective about one’s own work. The closest you can get to being truly objective is to put something away long enough to absolutely forgot that you’d written it in the first place. When you pull out the manuscript and wonder what had compelled you to write this or that detail, or what possessed you to add this or that scene, then you have a good grasp on what it’s like to be on the other side as the reading audience or the editor looking over your work for the first time. This is why a lot of authors have taken years to perfect a work of art. Some, like E.M. Forster, sat on manuscripts for up to forty years and sometimes it was not by choice. But the time to perfect the manuscript, to age with your piece, is nevertheless valuable. What a writer looks for in tightening up a draft is manifold really. At the start, the most important factor in your drafts is to take the large view and work to the small view. This is why it’s vital to just keep putting down pages daily and building up the material you have to work with. As a writer, we’re one...

The Evolution of an Instrument: The Drum Kit Jan12

The Evolution of an Instrument: The Drum Kit...

We’ve all seen them or heard them, whether we listen to Rock music, Jazz, Country, and increasingly Classical: the drum kit. Sometimes referred to as a drum set, or “trap” set, this is the collection of percussion instruments collected onto a rack system so that they can be played by a single individual. When you hear some child saying he wants to play drums, this is usually what they mean. The earliest forms of the drum set date to the late nineteenth century, in particular in connection with Vaudeville and other small performance venues. These arrangements of percussion instruments were imperative to having the benefit of a full percussion section using the minimum of space. A bass drum would be set on its side on the floor where it could be played by the foot, thus giving it the name “kick drum” which is still used today. A concert snare drum (a flatter version of the field drums military bands used which had catgut or wire strands stretched across the bottom head which vibrate sympathetically to the top head being struck) would typically be placed to the left of the bass drum between the legs. Usually a floor tom (a larger, un-snared drum) would be placed to the right of the bass drum. In addition, other auxiliary percussion instruments would be mounted or placed close at hand, such as cymbals, whistles, cowbells, and anything else the music called for. The whole set up was colloquially called a “contraption”, which appears to have been the origin for calling a drum set a “trap” set. Another possible reason for the term was that early kits had a bass drum with a trap door in the shell to use it as a box for transporting smaller percussion...