Why America Needs a No Gun Diet

Just days ago we watched President Obama and Mitt Romney duke it out in what was arguably one of the most exciting presidential debates we’ve seen in a long time. It was a welcome awakening from the seemingly sleep president, and as for America’s favorite Republican, as lively as he was, I don’t think America was able to keep up with the number of lies he continued to spin. One topic that isn’t usually brought up in debates because of its highly controversial nature, is the hotly contested Second Amendment. And if you’re not quite sure what that is, for our Canadian readers, the Second Amendment is the right for an individual to bear arms. Thankfully, this is not a law that Canadians enjoy, and would probably explain why our murder by gun per capita is significantly lower than our gun-slinging neighbors to the south. And while both the Obama and Romney agree that the Second Amendment is a piece of legislature that is worth preserving, perhaps the two might want to rethink their positions on the matter after the tragic events that occurred in a Florida beauty salon today.

A man walked into a hair salon, opened fire on the employees inside, killed three women, and then left to drive down the road to take his own life. A fourth victim, and the sole survivor of the brutal shooting is currently in hospital. The man was later identified as 36-year-old Bradford Baumet. Police have stated that at least one of those women was in fact a customer at the salon, and the other two women were employees. There were two other women in the salon at the time that managed to escape the gunman by slipping out the back door. The victim taken to hospital was Marcia Santiago, and was an employee o the Las Dominicanas M&M hair salon in the Orlando suburb of Casselbury.

Two of the women shot, salon employee Noelia Gonzalez-Brito, 28, of Kissimee, and customer Gladys Cabrera, 52, of Orlando. It is alleged at this point that Noelia Gonzalez-Brito was five months pregnant. The motive for the shooting stems from a legal dispute between Marcia Santiago and Baumet. Santiago had asked him to stay away from her, and went as far as to take out a restraining order against Baumet. He had threatened to kill her in the past, which is why Marcia hadn’t reported it to the police earlier. Santiago was set to see a judge the day after the shooting to seek a permanent injunction for domestic violence so Baumet could never gain access to her. Instead, Baumet shot her and her coworkers in a fit of rage and ended his own misery.

If this isn’t an endorsement to take a good, long hard look at the state of gun legislation in the United States of America, nothing is. On the heels of the Colorado massacre and a plethora of other gun related crimes, there is no better time to make a change in Congress than now. But with that sort of rhetoric absent from both presidential candidates, it appears that American gun laws are safe and sound, at least for another term. And while that may be  a relief to the gun-slinging, red-blooded Americans that believe in personal security by way of weaponry, it certainly doesn’t bring justice to those families who have lost loved ones to a politically charged bullet.


Retired Cop Claims Canada is Unsafe

Canada is no saint. In fact, I will be the first one to admit that we regularly make mistakes whether it’s with our immigration policies, our lackadaisical attitude towards international politics, and any other number of offensive things that we do on the regular. And our government? Don’t even get me started. The Harper administration is the worst thing that has ever happened to this country, so at this very moment, I’m not the most proud Canadian at the moment, but there are things that I do love about this country. One of those things is that Canada is not a gun-slinging wild, wild west like the United States of America. It is not acceptable to be packing while you shop for organic milk at the grocery store. You don’t have to worry about some maniac running you off the road with an assault rifle. And most importantly, there are strict gun licensing laws that prevent Joe Blow from walking into a Walmart to pick up enough ammo to shoot up a movie theater with enough left over to blow up their own apartment building. I’m not saying that Canada hasn’t had its fair share of gun tragedies (the shooting at Polytechnique in Quebec), but our statistics are nothing compared to our neighbors to the south.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with Canada’s attitude towards guns. In early August, a retired police officer from the State of Michigan was vacationing in Alberta with his wife. The cop and his wife were enjoying Nose Hill Park just outside of Calgary when they were approached by two young men. The young men asked Wait Wawra, the cop, if he had been to the Calgary Stampede yet. Wawra ignored the two young men, and they asked their question again. In a scathing letter to the Calgary Herald, Wawra wrote  “I quickly moved between these two and my wife, replying, ‘Gentlemen, I have no need to talk with you, goodbye.’” He further wrote that he felt that the men were being ‘menacing’ and “thanked the Lord Jesus Christ they did not pull a weapon of some sort.”

Yes, this actually happened, you are not reading an episode of Punk’d. Naturally officer Wawra’s letter was met with significant wrath, and rightly so. Wait Wawra represents everything that is wrong with gun laws in the United States, they’re far to lax. What’s even more frightening, is that this letter was written long after the shooting in Colorado. How you can look at that horrendous tragedy and say that he should have the right to pack heat? I’m sorry, but listen up America, you’ve got some serious homework to do. And you certainly don’t have a right to come up into my country, blow a perfectly harmless situation into something more than it was. Can you imagine if officer Wawra was an actual on-duty police officer and he had the opportunity to take his weapon out of his holster? Would we have two dead men on our hands?

This whole notion of the ‘right to bear arms’ is absurd. I’m not a politician, but I am a concerned citizen, and if the laws were to change in this country, and my government decided that every Tom, Dick and Harry could now carry a handgun, I’d be packing my bags. Canada is no angel, and we have our fair share of problems with guns. We definitely have some work to do, but I do walk the streets feeling much safer than if I were to walk down the street in some American city. So no, Mr. Wawra, you completely misread a situation, and if you don’t like our anti-gun laws, than stay home!

Update:This website is running under the cheap shared web hosting plan with the low cost in the world.

The Great Wave of North American Violence

This has been a devastating week in the news. In Toronto, just a couple of days ago, at a peaceful family block party, gang warfare broke out and two innocent bystanders were shot to death, and twelve others were injured, including an infant. When police officers went around to interview witnesses, they all just sort of stood there, shell shocked. One mother had rounded up her children at one point in the evening because the party had grown from a manageable forty some odd neighbors to an overwhelming one hundred and something. She felt that it was getting a bit too hectic for her and her children, so they left and went home. Only a few hours later, gunfire rang in the air, and violence ensued.

A couple of days later, a young man dressed up in combat gear walks into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, hurls some gas canisters of unknown gas into the crown and opens fire in dark movie theater. The twenty-four year old murders twelve innocent people and injures fifty nine others. The suspect was a twenty-four year old neuroscience student. When the FBI were investigating whether or not the suspect had acted alone, they discovered that his apartment had been booby trapped. Ironically, the neighbor that lived below the suspect said that all of a sudden, loud, blaring techno music came on that was so disruptive, it was shaking her entire apartment. She had gone upstairs to confront the suspect and ask him to turn his music down, but there was no answer when she tried to open the door. What investigators realized later was that the music had been timed to come on at the same time as the shootings at the movie theater. Can you imagine what would have happened if she opened the door? One more senseless death.

The common thread here is guns. Why is it so damn easy for everyone and anyone to get their hands on a gun. In the United States, the answer is simple, everyone there has the right to bear arms. But in Canada, the gun laws are slightly more strict, in that you can’t just stroll around town with a pistol in your purse, and if you do, the sentencing is pretty hefty if you ever get caught. But still, that doesn’t seem to discourage youth from purchasing illegal firearms off the street, and using them to gun down innocent bystanders. The really sad part about all of this, is that one of the victims from the Denver shooting, Jessica Ghawi, narrowly missed being gunned down in the recent Eaton Centre shooting in Toronto. She was a talented sports writer who had been in Toronto visiting her hockey player boyfriend, and just happened to be at the mall that day. It’s a cruel twist of fate that she was gunned down in her own town, after just dodging fate.

Something has to change. Gun laws in both countries are absurd, and they’re not doing their part to ensure that our streets are safe. Why should I have to worry that the next time I go to a movie theatre that someone is going to step out from the shadows and gun me down, just for the sake of anarchy? The laws aren’t good enough, the police don’t have enough resources, and meanwhile, innocent people lose their lives before they’ve even begun.

The Pitfalls of Political Parenthood

Like every morning, I rolled out of bed at around 7am this morning, sauntered off to the kitchen to throw on a pot of tea, and I flipped open my laptop (which I got for free BTW) to see what the latest BBC headlines were. I scanned through the usual stories, Europe in the grips of an economic crisis, Syria still under the thumb of a vicious and callous ruler and in the midst of civil war, and finally a story that I while I wouldn’t expect to make headlines, there it was; British PM Leaves Daughter at a Pub. The story wasn’t so gripping that I abandoned my whistling kettle, but it was intriguing enough for me not to click to another page. So after I had made myself a proper cup of Earl Grey and slathered my toast with way too much grape jelly, I finally sat down and scanned through the most ridiculous non-story I’ve read this week.

Apparently British Minister David Cameron had unknowingly abandoned his eight year old daughter in a country pub after the family had enjoyed a Sunday brunch. Nancy, Cameron’s eight year old, tottered off to the WC while the rest of the gang was outside busy piling into the family car. Apparently, Cameron was in one car with his army of armed guards and he assumed that his daughter was in the other car with the rest of the family. It wasn’t until the family arrived home that the little girl was missing. Don’t worry, the story has a happy ending! Once Cameron and his wife realized they were down one kidlet, they rang up the pub, and low and behold, little Nancy was there waiting for mum and dad. The whole ordeal lasted a total of fifteen minutes, which I’m sure will only equate into about two months of therapy for abandonment for the little tyke. Hopefully the Cameron’s take a stiff upper lift on this one, and treat it as a non-issue.

The thing is, this actually happened months ago? So why break the story now? Well, obviously Cameron has lost a few popularity points in the polls and nothing makes a politician look worse than painting them as a poor father figure. Like you’ve never left your kid somewhere and forgotten about them?!  C’mon! I can think back to a handful of times my parents forgot about me in the supermarket aisle, lost me at an amusement park, or had forgotten to come pick me up at school. I remember once when my dad was supposed to come snag me from the airport when I was about thirteen years old after I had returned home from a high school seniors field trip. I waited at the airport for five hours before he realized that there was something he had forgotten to check off on his list!

Parents are busy, they’re human and they get preoccupied. Is it really necessary that the newspapers produce a nothing story about a political figure leaving his kid at a pub for less than half an hour? Of course it is! It’s brilliant really, isn’t it? The masses will read it, and David Cameron gets painted with a whole new brush. Okay, so maybe he won’t be getting any father-of-the year awards, but I just don’t think it’s really that big of a deal, and neither should the British public. Parenthood is difficult for everyone, even for high powered politicians with armies of child minders at their beck and call. Let’s stick to stories that really matter.

The Great Abortion Debate

Being a woman, naturally, this debate is something that is very close to my heart. I have always revelled in the fact that I live in a country where I am free to practice or not practice whatever religion I choose, free to vote, free to come and go as I please, and when the time comes, free to decide whether or not I wanted to bring a life into this world if I were to become pregnant. The freedom of choice is something that an alarming number of women around the world are not privy too, but since a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 stated, that “The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state”, Canadian women have enjoyed the freedom of making decisions for her own womb.

But here we are in 2012, and Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth has decided that the issue has not been appropriately concluded, and wants to suggest that there is life in the womb upon conception, and wants an independent review on the section of the Criminal Code that states that a fetus is human once it is fully emerged from the birth canal. There are countless controversies surrounding the the exact definition of life in the womb, but the issue in Canada has been a quiet one for years, and re-opening this debate, even when our Conservative Prime Minister is stating that he won’t touch it with a ten foot pole, surely can’t be doing any favours for the Conservative party.

But let’s get down to brass tacks here. I always find it both fascinating and appalling that  it is most often a man who feels the need to start making decisions of the female womb. The last time I checked, men were incapable of bearing children, so what is it exactly, that gives them the right to dream up laws and regulations that would strip a woman of a basic human right; To bring life into the world, or not to. When a man is racked with worrying about the risks of carrying a baby, the possibility of not having the right resources for yourself and your baby, and then of course all of the economic ramifications that come afterward, then perhaps they can step forward and give their two cents. But as far as dictating to a woman how the conversation should go with her doctor when she’s making decisions about her own reproductive system, it’s an abomination.

I can’t imagine that Canada would ever send women’s rights reeling back thirty some odd years, but it’s still unnerving to know that there are still individuals in this country, people in positions of power, that believe they have the right to make decisions on such a personal issue. I think back to a close friend of mine in high school who had an abortion in the eleventh grade because she had made a mistake. If she had the baby, she would have had to sacrifice a full scholarship to the top University in the country, and she probably wouldn’t be the successful lawyer that she is today. Why should those who are carrying the baby make the decisions about their own body? Perhaps I’m making the issue a little too black and white, but as an atheist, strong, free Canadian woman, there is no debate.

Missy Jones is a guest author for this blog, and loves to write about anything and everything. She writes for blogs such as Hot-Scholarships.com and Ehow.com. Check out the latter sites if you would like to see more of her work.

The Birth of Modernism: Fauvism

History is full of “avaunt-grade” movements in art and literature. Last week we discussed the entire modernist period, which lasted for nearly half a century, and for the next few weeks we will be discussing the various styles that were developed during the Modernist period. The movement began with the development of “Fauvism” which featured a shocking display of vivid, usually unnaturally exuberant colors. The style first appeared in France and was led by such artists as Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh. Fauvism was expressionistic in essence and featured a great deal of distortion. The artists who were practicing the style originally took the name after an art critic derided the fact that their art was like a faun among the wild beasts after it had been placed with some renaissance style sculpture.

The movement, like most new art trends, was greeted by the art world with revulsion, hence the negative comment by the art critic. It did not take long however for wealthy art collectors like Gertrude Stein to recognize the genius of the new style and prices began to raise. The movement was able to stage several exhibitions between 1901 and 1906, although the first real full exhibition was not recognized until their appearance at the Salon d´Automne in 1905. The great van Gogh, unappreciated during his life, summed it up best when he said, “Instead of trying to render what I see before me, I use color in a completely arbitrary way to express myself powerfully”. These artists used vivid colors to shock their viewers out of their complacency and bringing art down to Earth with their rough, clumsy style.

Fauvism was not extremely long lived and by 1908 most of the artists had moved on to cubism, which we will address next week. When the originator of the style, Matisse, died (1869-1954), Fauvism soon followed. When the movement moved away from Fauvism and into Cubism they moved from using color to using shape to convey emotions and ideas. But while it existed this style gave us some of the world´s most extraordinary art. When Vlaminck gave us The River we were treated to an ostensibly peaceful scene but his free use of colors gives us the sense of an impending storm on the horizon.

A Deluge of New Styles

During the last few decades of the 19th Century and first decade the world had changed more than it had during the previous 100 years or more. The rapid industrialization of the Western world had changed nearly every aspect of most peoples lives. The camera, less than 50 years old, had already begun to develop and the movie camera would not be far behind. Telephone and telegraph lines were beginning to dominate the landscape and with the invention of the electric motor, diesel engine and automobile had begun to shrink the world and these changes had to change the art world as well. The engineers, from civil to construction to eventually software engineers, were changing the way we viewed the world and even the way we viewed reality. Until this period the world had never really gotten over the Greeks obsession with depicting real life images, viewing the real world. While they might have blurred images or painted them slightly out of proportion, we always saw life.

The rapid mechanism of the world led to an artistic fascination with shapes developed into the Modernist period. Modernism is actually a group of related but visually different styles, such as Fauvism, German Expressionism, Constructivism, Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. The first Modernist was the French master,Edouard Manet, and the first American Modernist was Theodore Robinson. This period was one of the longest in recent art history, lasting in all more than a century. The style had actually begun to develop, although slowly in the mid 1860′s, or the beginning of the Industrial Age, and did not finally expire until the 1970´s. As new inventions abounded and science delved deeper and deeper into the very nature of reality, the art world developed new experimental forms and media to express some of these new ideas and to suggest even more possibilities. They used the ideas of Darwin, Freud, Watson and Crick, quantum physics, chemistry, all are explored by modernist art. Modernists felt that depicting what you saw was easy. Mere mimicry. But to use intuition instead of intellect when you were trying to understand reality was a different proposition.

The multiplicity of “isms” such as Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Futurism, Fauvism and all the rest was mostly an American phenomenon. Artists from Theodore Robinson (1852-1896) to Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), used the porous boundaries between the styles and developed a new era of experimentation. Basically these artists blended philosophy with modern art in an effort to literally get them to explain each other. One American, Alfred Henry Maurer (1868-1932) was responsible for introducing the modernist ideas of Matisse and Picasso to American painters and sculptors. Maurer´s father was an artist as well, a Currier & Ives illustrator, and Maurer committed suicide after his death, guilt wracked over his fathers hatred of the the art that he loved so much.

The Pendulum Swings

Art, like many other aspects of human civilization, moves in cycles. Just like Impressionism replaced Realism, post-Impressionism would replace Impressionism. The movement is called “post” Impressionism because many of the features of Impressionism were still present in the new style. Impressionist artists, like Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin, loved the broad, bright Impressionism palate but deplored the spontaneous chaos of felling used by Impressionism. By adding formal structure to the bright colors Georges Seurat was able to create “divisionism” and Van Gogh was able to develop his unique brush strokes, that gave his work such an illusory quality. The new techniques have art a new abstract look,in some cases even ghostly, but always slightly out of focus. These new techniques were amount the most influential when the Modernist movement began do develop during the first half of the 20th Century.

The first Post-Impressionistic are turned up in France in 1886 but had moved to Britain within a few years. The term was actually given to this group of artists by British are criticRoger Fry. Many art historians argue about whether post-Impressionism strengthened or weakened impressionism but the fact is that art styles change and grow. Post-Impressionism opened a doorway to the styles we now enjoy and without its move to more abstract visions , using unnatural colors and distorted images, the art world would be in a far different place today. When Fray named the movement he made his reasons very clear and had no intention of saying the Impressionism was being replaced. He rendered the name as a means of identifying a part of the Impressionist movement, a time marker if you will. Some art historians actually maintain that post-Impressionism is actually part of the Modernist style and others refer to the movement as Symbolism. Symbolism really applied to the French version and came into wide spread use in the literature of the period long before the art world grasped the concept.

One of the interesting historical notes about post-Impressionism s that it officially starts just after the death of Manet, which was shortly after the very beginning of Impressionism. This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that post-Impressionism really was only the growth of Impressionism. Artists like Vincent Van Gogh merely changed some essential lines and used different colors to bring out a different side to an image, blending Expression and Impressionism to create the grand child of both.

Impressionism Makes an Impression

The invention of the photograph during the last half of the 19th Century put painters in a challenging position, essentially destroyed the Realism movement in the art world simply because in a realistic sense a painter could not compete with a camera. But at the same time, and because of early photography´s inability to add color and deal with lighting issues, a new paradigm in the art world began to grow:Impressionism. The impressionist appellation actually came from a derogatory nickname given to the movement by a Conservative art critic after Claude Monet produced his classic, “Impression: Sunrise” and, much to the critics chagrin the movement embraced the name and developed the motto that the human eye, working with the human spirit, could render a much more accurate picture. Impressionists recognized that while improved cameras would be able to capture much more physical detail, no matter how advanced the technology became it could not match the human eye in capturing the spirit of the moment. The blending of light, movement and feeling were at the core of Impressionistic art and artists attempted to capture their personal visual sensations of an object, while sometimes ignoring the actual image of the object in front of them.

Impressionists artists believe that details would be best rendered by doing a very fast oil painting and that this style would best remove any intellectual preconceptions that the artist had, giving the art a nearly childlike innocence and naivete that was absent in all other styles, but especially in the naturalistic and realistic styles of painting. Some of the most well-known artists in history came from this period. In France Eduard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre Auguste Renoir, led the movement and in the United States it wasJohn Singer Sargent, Francis Coates Jones, and Mary Cassatt. The style became so popular that even now, nearly a century and a half after its conception, organizations are offering scholarships, such as the CGC Scholarships offered by the New York Botanical Gardens and which is based on the work of Monet.

The original Impressionist movement had only just begun however when Georges-Pierre Seurat and Henry Edmund Cross began to reconsider some of its fundamentals. Their objections were mostly based on the lack of permanence in their art. But while this led to what became known as Neo-Impressionism and made a fundamental shift in the direction of the art, it only differed in two basic aspects. Figures in these paintings were much better defined the the entire composition was much more conservative. Rapid rejection and reform, became known as pointillism or confetti-ism and was founded on the idea that touches of color side by side was the best way to present an image. The artists understood, well before the twin aspects of our brain were understood by science, that the human brain would automatically blend the colors in order to make sense of the image. Other artists, such as Paul Signac, Theodoor van Rysselberghe, Georges-Pierre Seurat and Henry Edmond Cross quickly joined the new movement.

The Reality of Realism

Like most periods of art, the Romantic period ended with a whimper rather than a bang. By the beginning of the 20th century however, the Age of Realism in art had begun in earnest and Romanticism had been soundly rejected for this new and exciting style. While the Greeks had dabbled with realism nearly three-thousand years before, they had worked exclusively with perfecting the human form. Modern Realism on the other hand seeks to bring the observable world into clear and uncluttered focus. The world was in the beginnings of one of the largest and fastest development periods in human history and art became sweep up into the scientific wave as had much of the rest of the Western world.

Realism never tried to idealize. Instead of copying past methods it sought to simply capture the image, render a completely accurate picture of the models, whether human or still. The hard of a Realist thought that both Classicism and Romanticism were far too artificial, too staged to appeal to the essential human spirit and that Baroque and Neoclassicism were obscene.

Realism in art can almost exclusively seen in paintings. Very little sculpting and no architecture came from the period, all the work then being done in older styles of art. The form started just after the French Revolution in mid century but grew in both France and England with equal fervor. The French were experiencing their first years of Democracy and the English had had enough of Victorian Imperialism. In France Realism was led by artists such as John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins and Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas. This group was highly focused on the different aspects of life and regularly threw centuries old rules of artistic design out the window in the search for realistic portrayals of real life. The Barbizon School, which taught French landscape painters from 1840-1850 was based on the art of these masters and was attended by such art luminaries as Jean-Francois Millet and Camille Corot. The School was actually a retreat used by French artists and because of the natural surroundings, quickly became sought after by Realists.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, opened in 1848 and not ended until the 1890´s was the first real “avant-garde” movement in art history. This group wanted to move back in time, instead of forward, and apply modern principles when depicting the natural world. They wanted pureness in representation and contested that post Raphael art allowed to much of the artists own ideals of what the image looked like instead of its reality. The group had two interesting traits. The first is that they required intense accuracy in their art. They used real, instead of remembered or imagined, landscapes for models and concentrated in being very precise in attention to color and every minute detail. At the same time the English movement adhered faithfully to a tradition established by Hogarth years before of taking a high moral approach to their work.

Romanticism Defines an Age

The first American school of landscape painting was the Hudson River School and although the school was only active for 35 years, (1835-1870), it was attended by some of the most prominent artists of the period, like George Innes, George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Moran and Martin Johnson Heade. But besides being the Alma Mater of such luminaries, the Hudson River School also acted as one of the focal points of a new period in Art: The Romantic period. Romanticism was the perfect choice for an age in which new freedoms were just being discovered. Not only freedoms in politics but also freedom to make many more personal decisions. There are many in the United States that claim that the country is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by Christian leaders. But the fact is that those leaders were almost exclusively secularists who had no problem with religion but distrusted the Church and who made their feelings clear in all of their writings. America was not the first nation to experiment with democracy, the Greeks had practiced it more than 3,000 years ago. They were the first nation in nearly 1,500 years to begin to separate government and religion.

Romanticism gave artists the freedom to speak of matters of the heart in their paintings and sculptures. The art for promoted such unusual ideas as individualism, irrationalism, subjectivism, raw emotion and vivid imagination, emotions that take control and sweet the artist away. The style refused definition for a long time because it favored the blending of many different styles in order to create a completely new style. In much the same way that Renaissance artists were fascinated by nature but in a much more revolutionary. Much like the social movement toward individual freedom, Romanticism was immediately against the established order, both social and religious. Much more interested in human nature than human form, Romantic artists presented images depicting ethnic cultures, remote and mysterious places, even occult subjects were for the first time appearing in Western Art. The life styles of artists changed somewhat however. Previously being a good artist was on of the best jobs to have. But the new age, disappearance of “nobility” and lessening influence of the Church, the first “starving artists” were born. But now, in some of the finer shops, tattoo artists are using styles from both the Romantic and Gothic periods to create some truly beautiful artwork.

The term “Romanticism” was first coined by the poets and critics August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, from Germany, They originally used the term to describe the entire social movement sweeping the Western world but it soon became applied exclusively to the new style of art. These two mistakenly believed that his movement was essentially a Christian one, despite its clearly secular nature and the fact that the Church fought each of these social changes. They might have been correct however if they thought that the movement was inspired, not because of a return to Christian principles, but from a flight away from Christian intolerance.

Neoclassical Art: Abandoning Opulence

Last week we talked about the beginnings of the movement away from the showiness of the ostentatious Baroque and decorative Rococo periods and the move away from exclusively religious art that began in the Lowlands of Europe, Belgium and the Netherlands. This trend began to spread across Europe and into the Americas from the mid-eighteenth and lasted until the early nineteenth centuries and is known as the Neoclassical period. One of the main reasons was the general public´s reaction to the opulence championed by Royalty on the Continent during the mass movements toward democratic societies. Another reason was the rediscovery of ruins at Herculaneum and Pompeii in the mid 1700´s and the publication of Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works of Art by art historian Johann Winckelmann. These factors led to a powerful revival of Classical Antiquity that lasted nearly two centuries.

The earlier, but previously unrecognized art of such men as Nicolas Poussin, who specialized in classical history paintings and Claude Lorrain´s famous landscapes, became the inspiration for a new wave in realism for artists long after these artists deaths. The movement actually began as an architectural movement because of the plethora of Classical Roman buildings in Rome. This fact placed the real beginnings of the movement back into the heart of Italy, the home of the original Renaissance. There is really no particular year or event that can be clearly seen as the defining beginning of the Romantic and Neoclassical periods.

The movement developed a much more serious and unemotional flavor than had ever been seen in the art world. Reflecting the heroic styles from the Greeks and Republican Romans, using plain and somber colors instead of bright pastel colors, with only a few highlights was the general theme of this artistic style. The art tried to promote the ethical “superiority” of antique art, which celebrated moral narratives like self-sacrifice and self-denial. Both sculpture and paintings dropped the theatrical and whimsical earlier styles and was a great deal more organized, emphasizing theme and linear design rather than the effects of light, which by this time were much better understood, color and atmosphere. Simply comparing the art of Masters like sculptor John Flaxman, Henry Fuseli and William Blake with the works of Homer, Aeschylus, Dante Alighieri and others will demonstrate the huge influence artists from the Classical Period had on this period.

The Dutch Golden Age: A New Renaissance

The 16th Century saw the opening of one of the longest continuous wars in human history, the Dutch 80 Year War, which was a revolt against Spanish Control over the Low Countries. It was toward the end of this interminable war that the Dutch Golden Age of Painting began and because of the influence of Dutch painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer the art world began its next important period. The Dutch Golden Age began during the Middle of the Baroque period. The reasons for the Dutch dominance in art during this period are many. The break with the traditional conservative and very Catholic Spanish control, especially since the Spanish Inquisition was still going on in some locations, led to a complete restructuring of Dutch society and Dutch art was one of the first areas to feel the changes. There are a number of easy scholarships that allow students to study the period in depth.

Dutch art of the period is considered Baroque but in reality many of the aspects of the Baroque style, such as the love of splendor and idealization, are missing, making this style part of the Baroque period but separate from it, being fascinated more with realism that with pomp and grandeur. This mini-period lasted from about 1628 until the French invaded the Low Lands in 1672 and it was during this period that the concept of “genres”.

The Calvinists took over the religious aspects of Dutch life during this period and, unlike the Vatican, banned religious painting inside the Churches. While religious paintings were permitted in homes the fact was the most people could not afford them and very few religious paintings were produced during this period, the artists preferring to concentrate on scenes from real life, landscapes, peasant life, animals, flowers, and maritime paintings. This was also the period when the “Hierarchy of Genres”, which held that some styles were better than others and this drove painters to want to produce work that would last through the ages. Keep in mind that the greats like Da Vinci, who only painted for money to finance is inventions, and Michelangelo, who painted out of piety, were not concerned as much about money and fame in art as they were about mechanics and religion.

With one notable exception, The Young Bull (Paulus Potter 1647), which was huge ( Nearly 10 foot wide) most paintings of the period were relatively small, and the only really large paintings were usually family group portraits. Wall painting had been common for literally thousands, of not tens of thousands of years, but during this period the practice essentially ended in Europe. Walls were decorated with hanging paintings, which were painted on either canvas or wooden panels and some artists even painted over many surviving Golden Age paintings with new subjects, a practice which began because new frames and canvases were expensive. There was also very little sculpture done during this period and was usually only commissioned for tomb monuments or for decoration of public buildings or areas.

The “Misshapen Pearl”: Studies in Baroque (Pt. 1)

Mannerism was followed in the late 16th Century by the Baroque period. The word Baroque is a French word for “misshapen pearl” and was applied to the period because of the garish beauty of its art and architecture. The style began in Northern Italy during around 1580 and lasted until the early 1700´s, which makes it one of the longer periods. The period reflected the brewing battle between the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic establishment.

The battle began when the Catholic Church announced a “counter” Reformation in the late 1550´s and began to use art to influence people´s opinion of the Church. The commissioned many pieces that were biblically correct and visually stunning, reaching people on a nearly visceral level. The Church used Masters like Bernini and Rubens to create dramatic paintings using revolutionary techniques like casting certain figures, who are standing in deep shadow, in bright but soft illumination. While Renaissance art was highly stylized, Baroque was much earthier and realistic. For the first time artists painted about live on the streets instead of in the palaces and the masses flocked to this art. Artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer ruled the art world in northeastern Europe and Caravaggio ruled the south. New scientific discoveries, brought on by the Renaissance and the work of men like Da Vinci and Galileo were rapidly changing the way people looked at the world. Dozens of new trade routes, with both Asia and the newly discovered Americas, with thriving colonies, had produced an entirely new form of art.

Art was only purchased by the privileged monied classes for most of history. But now that the economy had begun to create a thriving middle class, more careers in education, eventually leading up to medical advances until we now have jobs like astronauts and careers in software engineering opened up as more people could pay for school and educational levels increased, artists began to produce on a much faster scale and Baroque went through many changes through the years.

The Baroque Style, which we will study for the next several articles, is an “absolutist” style. Baroque is all about exaggeration, colossal sculptures, movement and a great deal of emotion. Like the misshapen pearl it is both more and less than it should be. We can see the influence of this period in other periods, like Gothic, surrealism, Art Deco, and many others. But the period was torn by war and religious conflict, each event which had its own influence on the period and we will explore each of these events and discuss how they changed what might have been.

Mannerism: The Renaissance Realized

The last several articles have concentrated on the art of the High Renaissance, with emphasis on Da Vinci and Michelangelo. While we must move on to the next stage, Mannerism, we continue to welcome questions about any of our previous articles. The term “mannerism” has been used in many different contexts in the art world, the most common is when it is applied to the art that flowed out of Italy and much of Europe in the nearly 60 years following the High Renaissance. The style is said to have started around 1520, when many of the great Masters, like Michelangelo and Da Vinci were still alive, and lasted until about 1580, or the beginning of the Baroque Period. While the main branch of Mannerism, which originated in Florence and Rome, was over by 1580 the style continued well into the 17th century in the rest of Europe, especially in Germany, where it finally fizzled out in favor of Gothic art in the early 1800´s. A teaching career in art history specializing in this period can be fascinating.

The term “mannerism” can be traced to the Italian word maniera and loosely means manner or style. The word however can be used as a noun or adjective, as in “he has style”. But the flexibility of the word causes some confusion when it is used to describe an entire period in art history. Some people use the term to describe the lifestyle of the artist and some use it to describe their work style. When we are talking about Mannerism however we are talking about the style of art, not a specific artist. There are a number of artists who contributed heavily to the Age of Mannerism whoever and we will address each in later articles.

The style of mannerism features, when compared to the Renaissance, many art concepts that were quite revolutionary. The style uses things like a collapsed perspective or precariously balanced poses to put the viewer off balance and elongated forms and irrational settings to keep them there. While classic styles evoked expressions of wonder, art done in a mannerist style evoked shock and adventure, a mystery that few could resist. A more recent example of this phenomenon can be seen with the development of rock music in the late 1950´s and 1960´s, replacing the use of the orchestra and adding electronics to create a sense of excitement overload.

Many of the early mannerist artists were students of students of the Masters, like Michelangelo and Raphael and Da Vinci. These students had the temerity to add style techniques from pre classical times and Hellenistic styles to the classical techniques developed by the Masters. Originally these artists were referred to as anti-classical. The contrasts continued of course. Classical art featured the natural and mannerist favored the artificial and extreme.

But the term “la maniera” was not meant to be a complement. Artists of the time were seen to be rebels and their art was seen by many writers of the time as offensive to the masterpieces of men like Da Vinci and Raphael. But while they were using the term to describe particular artists, the term has been used to describe the period for over a century.

The “Other” Renaissance Man: Michelangelo

The title of Renaissance Man is usually attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo most certainly shared that pedestal with him. In our last article we mentioned that Da Vinci, while being responsible for some of history´s greatest works of art, was not an artist of passion. Da Vinci created works of art so that he would have money to fund his real passions: Science and engineering. Michelangelo on the other hand, was a man of deep passions and was an artist to his soul. He was an engineer and innovator as well, but only in ways that related to his heart. His inspiring St. Peter´s Basilica for instance was merely a decorative housing for his artwork, as his work in the Sistine Chapel´s Alter Wall and ceiling demonstrates. His fresco work is was especially prized by the Church in Rome and the Vatican still holds a great amount of this one artists work.

While the largest part of his work was inspired by Christian images there were a number of pieces, even some ordered by Church Cardinals, such as the statues Hercules and Bacchus. Even his most famous work in marble, David, was not produced to glorify the Church or Christianity but was instead meant to symbolize the freedom of Florence after the oppressive rule of Girolamo Savonarola, a monk sent by Rome to try to squash the Renaissance. But it was Michelangelo´s work on the Sistine Chapel that shines down on us from history and many people do not know that this entire job was created as a way to embarrass the great man.

Michelangelo had been invited to Rome by Pope Julius III in order to design the Popes Tomb. But the great artist Raphael had already been working in the city for some years and did most of his work for the Church. Michelangelo´s presence was seen as a threat by Raphael, who was seen as the master of fresco painting, and he wanted Michelangelo to fail in a spectacular way. Michelangelo was quite unfamiliar with fresco painting and Raphael lobbied to have him do the ceiling and alter wall in the chapel. But Michelangelo would not be humiliated. The original order was for a scene featuring the Apostles but the Master decided that this was not good enough, instead painting not only the creation scene, in three parts, but the genealogy of Christ, upon which the entire Christian Church was founded.

A pharmacy technician from Idaho or bank clerk from Miami, vacationing in Rome and visiting the Vatican, cannot possibly understand the vicious political in-fighting among the many artists and Michelangelo himself found many of his works being called being called “sacrilegious”, simply because he featured a great deal of nudity. There are a few left handed scholarships that will allow students of history to study the politics of the time and allow them to get a better understanding of when these great works were created.

Many of the artists of the time were either homosexual or bi sexual and much of Michelangelo´s work reflects that this was very probably the case with him as well. The problem with identifying the Master´s sexual orientation is that his personal habits probably drove away any potential lovers, male or female. Completely obsessed with his art, Michelangelo´s personal habits were atrocious and he was seen my many in Rome and Florence as an obscene man. But the fact is that this artist, by working extensively for the Vatican, ensured that both his work and his writings would survive for study today.

Leonardo Da Vinci the Artist

While there are may online colleges that have classes studying the art of Da Vinci, anyone who wants to understand Leonardo Da Vinci the artist must first understand the times in which this most intelligent of men lived in. Born in 1452 in the tiny village of Da Vinci, Leonardo was handed the prospect of a future of servitude. While he was the son of a wealthy merchant, he was also illegitimate and in Catholic controlled Italy of the 15th Century his father simply was forbade from claiming him. The times were always perilous because the Italian peninsula was in a state of constant warfare. The young Leonardo was possessed by an enormous curiosity and wandered the countryside as a child studying nature. One story tells of the boy buying small birds in the local marketplace to study and then releasing them because he felt bad about depriving them of their freedom.

Da Vinci may have released the birds but before he did he sketched them all and studied the drawings. Da Vinci, during his entire life, was much more fascinated by mechanics than he was by art. He practiced his art at first to have drawings of objects and actions for study and later in life to earn a living, not out of love for art. But mechanics at the time were not respected and certainly not the mechanical efforts of a young boy. His drawings and natural artistic talent were respected however and he soon found himself sponsored to enter the prestigious studio of Andrea Verochio and it was not long before the Master recognized the enormous talent of the 14 year old Da Vinci. His first major collaborations were on the Baptism of Christ and the Annunciation and it was during this period that observers noticed how well he could paint expressions. In all of his paintings you can see the feelings of the models and this was something that no other artist up to that period. There are a few grad school scholarships for history that will allow students of the Renaissance to study his early years in much more detail.

We must remember that this was a time well before artists like Rembrandt and Picasso, both of whom had the lessons of Da Vinci to build on. Da Vinci´s innovations in painting made the art we have today possible. His figures were soft and not abruptly drawn as all of the previous figures and when he had backgrounds he developed the technique of “Sfumattoo”, which allowed the artist to slightly blur the background as a contrast to the figure. His studies in human anatomy made the highly lifelike figures to take on a life of their own and still have a natural look, a problem that had plagued the ancient Greeks for centuries.