Friday, May 30, 2008

Art, or the Colosseum?

UPDATE, thanks to Assistant Village Idiot and Eugene Volokh for the links. If you are here for the first time, please also check out my Art Studio website, Jerub-Baal Studio

Neatoramma posts about German artist Gregor Schneider, who plans to display a person's death as a piece of performance art. A doctor has agreed to help find a volunteer.

Actually, to be fair, Neatorama’s description is not really accurate. The piece would be considered installation art. If I have followed the article trail properly through Google, this interview in the Art Newspaper is where it all started, with a response by the artist to the comments thread here and a further defense by the artist published in the Guardian Further interesting reading on the subject, from a legal angle (US only) can be found at the Volokh Conspiracy (who I might ad, posted an interesting essay on the Aliza Shvarts art-thesis-cum-hoax at Yale, and the legal and ethical issues surrounding Yale’s ending of her project. Read through the comments…. )

I think all of these are good reads before coming to a conclusion about the project.

First or all, Mr. Schneider is taken aback at some of the insults and threats that he has received in response to the publishing of his idea. I can’t say that I blame him. The examples he gives, if they are true (and given the often vituperative nature of on-line commentary, I believe him. He could probably have gone on for several pages… ) Such things are not arguments or discussion, and they do nothing but take away from any rational criticism that could be given to the artist. I sincerely hope for his safety and peace of mind.

That said there are a number of things in the artist’s arguments that appear to me to be flawed. Foremost is his comparison of his art concept with several modern social realities and some art history, as a way of justifying the morality and compassion of his concept.

One of these arguments is that modern entertainment, especially television, regularly portrays death in a degrading way. Well, he will get no argument from me that television is often debasing of its subject matter. However, using this as an argument to validate his motivations or methods as moral and compassionate is highly suspect. This is moral relativism. The unethical, immoral, or distasteful actions of others does not make my actions moral (or immoral, as matter of fact), anymore than Mr. Schneider’s being German makes me an American.

Mr. Schneider’s argument from art history is that, “Michelangelo used to cut up dead people to study their anatomy. Is that not much more shocking than what I am proposing to do?” * Well, obviously, Michelangelo’s subjects were already dead, and were not subject to public scrutiny while he made his studies (that being due more to his fear of the Catholic Church’s authorities than of any moral rectitude on his part). But even in later years, where such dissections were done as a matter of public viewing, it still remains that the subject’s actual passing was not the part on display. The artist's argument would have made more sense had he compared it to public hangings, seen as entertainment by the masses in days gone by. However, I don’t think that comparison would have the effect he hopes.

Mr. Schneider states that, “…I am not proposing that I would bring about someone’s death, or stage it.” ** Or that he would encourage suicide. I believe him. This does leave a scheduling problem. If the point of the exhibit is to show death as a positive experience, then the natural death would have to occur during the operating hours of the museum or gallery, hardly something you could plan out. Would this then mean that the exhibition was a failure, or that the patrons and visitors should get their ticket money back? My understanding of most municipal health code regulations is that leaving a freshly dead and untreated human body lying about in your home or place of business is out of the question. (Heck, I’m not even allowed to bury my cat in the backyard.) This would seem to be a major operational flaw.

Another argument for the moral standing of Md. Schneider’s proposal is that many people die in bleak environments, separated from loved ones and any support. “These days, many die in hospitals, locked away from the public,” and, “Shouldn’t this last journey be the most intimate and personal journey in a person’s life?” *** He is arguing two opposing points here. In one, the public is not allowed to see death (suggesting that the artist believes it should be so allowed), in the other, death should be personal. His proposed art installation would certainly be public. The very act of displaying someone’s death in a gallery environment would remove any vestige of the intimate or personal for the subject. He also complains of the regulations and rules surrounding burial, saying, “In my view, the dying should be able to define the rituals and sites of their funeral themselves.” † But where would this lead? Is the artist then suggesting the possible return of Suttee?

A further justification provided is the support Mr. Schneider has received from a priest. Unfortunately, history shows that the approval of a religious leader is no guarantee of moral strength or purity. (Meaning no disrespect to the gentleman mentioned, who I do not know.)

Finally, I will quote Mr. Schneider one last time. “My feeling is that the church used to provide us with rituals and ceremonies appropriate for death, but in a secular age, don’t we need to create our own?” In a way, this is the whole of the resistance that Mr. Schneider has found himself facing. The lack of a moral framework leaves no standard for decency or any idea of what actually constitutes respect.

This art concept (as a public display) and the arguments underlying it, exemplifies the muddy, self-justifying and often self-centered thinking behind much of the Arts today. In my opinion, such is the result of the amoral atmosphere that exists in the modern Humanities.


* ”There is nothing perverse about a dying person in an art gallery” Gregor Schneider, The Guardian, Saturday April 26, 2008

** ibid,

*** ibid,

† ibid,

(Editing note, corrected paragraph eight, where I mistyped "we" for "he." The pronoun has been corrected)

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Friday Free Ad for Kate

Kate and David Gilmour, live, 18 January 2002, Royal Festival Hall, London -- Comfortably Numb. I didn't know she had ever done anything with Gilmour... quality isn't so hot, but... just wow, what a concept.

With extra bonus, "God Bless the Child" from Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Two great British artists, and a band named from a famous Churchill speech. (ok, that's a stretch to relate the two, ed.)

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Roman Funerary Art at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston


During the late Republican and Augustan periods (about 70 B.C.-A.D. 14), funerary reliefs with portraits of the deceased and members of their families were popular. Almost without exception the portraits are of freed slaves (liberti) and their offspring. The portraits are frequently accompanied by inscriptions that indicate the professions and family relationships of the people in the relief. Occasionally, a slave's former owner was also shown. The reliefs were inserted into the tombs that lined the roads leading out of Rome. This use of funerary portrait reliefs saw a resurgence in the second century A.D.

(from the display card for Funerary Relief of the Publius Gessius Family)

The MFA has many wonderful Roman antiquities. Here are some of the Funerary Portraits, Cinerary Urns, and Sarcophagi that they display.

long post, with complete transcribed display information, just keep scrolling

Funerary Relief of a Mother and Son
Roman, Imperial period, about A.D. 110-120

This panel came from a tomb that, as the inscription records, Petronia Hedone made for herself and her son as well as her fredd slaves and their descendants. The resemblance of Petronia's hair to that of Martiana (died A.D. 112), Emperor Trajan's sister, suggests the relief's date, though the use of drilled holes for the pupils of the eyes rarely occurs before the reign of Hadrian (A.D. 117-138).

Henry Lillie Pierce Fund, 1899 99.348

Petronia Hedone fecit sibi/et L(ucio) Petronio Philemoni filio/et libertis libertabusquae/posterisquae eorum

Petronia Hedone made [this] for herself and for Lucius Petronius Philemon, her son, and for [her] freedmen and freedwomen and their descendants

Sarcophagus with Triumph of Dionysus
Marble (from the island of Proconnesus, Turkey)

Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, was the god of wine and drama. He is one of the most frequently depicted gods in ancient art and is often shown in the company of mythological beings like satyrs, silens, and maenads as well as such animals as lions, panthers, and snakes. The inclusion of an elephant-drawn chariot and a giraffe in the procession identify the scene as the god's triumphal return from spreading his cult to India. Dionysiac imagery frequently occurs in Roman funerary art, and may reflect the beliefs of the deceased.

William Francis Warden Fund, 1972 1972.650

Funerary Relief of the Publius Gessius Family
Roman, late Republican period, about 50-20 B.C.
Marble (probably from Carrara, Italy)

The Latin inscription at the base identifies the central figure as Publius Gessius, a Roman citizen in military costume. He is flanked by Fausta Gessia, a slave whom he had freed, and by their son, R. Gessius Primus, also a freed slave. The inscriptions on the sides indicate that Fausta built the tomb that held this relief with money provided in Primus's will, a common practice in antiquity.

Archibald Cary Coolidge Fund, 1937 37.100

Lower Edge:
Gessia P(ubli) l(iberta) Fausta/P(ublius) Gessius P(ubli) f(ilius) (tribu) Rom(ilia)/P(ublius) Gessius P(ubli) l(ibertus) Primus

Gessia Fausta, freedwoman of Publius/Publius Gessius, son of Publius, of the Romilian tribe/Publius gessius Primus, freedman of Publius

ex testam[ento]/P(ubli) Gessi P(ubli) l(iberti)/Primi

From the testament of Publius Gessius Primus, freedman of Publius

Arbi(tratu)/Gessia[e P(ubli) l(ibertae)]/Fausta[e]

Under the direction of Gessia Fausta, freedwoman of Publius

Cinerary Urn with Offering Scene
Roman, Imperial period, about A.D. 150
Marble (from the island of Proconnesus, Turkey)

In this scene of piety, a man pours an offering of wine over an altar while a woman raises her hands in prayer. A flute player provides music, a frequent component of ancient sacrifices. The side panels show the eagle of Jupiter and the peacock of Juno, each holding a victory wreath. Cinerary urns and sacrophagi were usually produced in workshops near quarries and shipped to urban centers of sale. The faces of this couple were prepared for portraits that were never carved, perhaps due to a sudden death and the need to use the urn immediately.

Museum purchase with funds donated in memory of Emily Townsend Vermeule, 2002 2002.25
(from the display card)

Cinerary Urn of L. Cassius Colonus Colonianus
Roman, late imperial period, about A.D. 200
Marble (from the Greek island of Thasos)

This urn held the ashes of Lucius Cassius Colonus Colonianus, a member of the social class known as the equites (roughly "knights"). The urn is densely covered with figures representing the death of Pentheus, king of Thebes, a story known from Euripides's play 'The Bacchae'. Pentheus opposed the presence of Dionysus in his city and spied upon the women celebrating the god's rites. This scene shows the play's climax, when the women of Thebes, driven into the ecstatic state associated with the worship of Dionysus, tear Pentheus apart. Dionysus, standing on the left, witnesses this scene, accompanied by his thiasos (entourage) of satyrs, silens, and maenads.

Benjamin and Lucy Rowland Fund, 1972 1972.356

D(is) M(anibus) L(uci) Cassi Coloni Coloniani eq(uitis) R(omani)/vixit ann(is) XXXV
To the spirits of the dead of Lucius Cassius Colonus Colonianus, a Roman eques; he lived thirty-five years.

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Website News!

I am happy to note that my studio art website, Jerub-Baal Studio is finally getting a long needed updating, thanks to the tender ministrations of Chris Costello.

Go take a look! More will be coming soon.

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That Potter Kid and the Time Waster of Cosmic Hilarity

I've been meaning to post about Sluggy Freelance and the very funny series of lampoons upon the Harry Potter series that Pete Abrams has done. Well worth your time, if you have time to waste, or need a laugh. CLICK HERE and scroll to the bottom for links to the first three parodies (or check out any of the other plot threads on the page). If you wish to continue after that, the most recent parody begins here. You can also click on the Main Page and scroll down for a news blurb and explanation of the series (but as that is a dated news posting, without a direct link, it will eventually go away).

Go have fun!

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend

army and occupation, marked matt and marsh and me (dad) numbered 5

my Dad and two others, Army of Occupation, Europe

army and occupation, ernie and another med tech

my Uncle and another Med Tech, possibly at West Point

Carl (Lieut) Nelson

a neighbor to my maternal Great Grandfather, Carl "Lieut" Nelson

Carl Johnson and two Merchant Marines c 1917-19

my maternal Grandfather (on the left) with two other Merchant Marines

anders johnson merchant marine

my Great Uncle in his Merchant Marine uniform

On Saturday, the boys and I went with their Boy Scout troop to place flags at the graves of veterans at the local cemetery. On Monday, the Scouts will march in the city Memorial Day Parade.

I get to be an artist, enjoy the religion of my choice and convictions, and have the hope of a safe future for my children because of all those who have served, are serving now, and who will serve in the future to protect our country.

May God bless them and protect those in the field.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Free Ad for Kate

King of the Mountain from her latest album Aerial

Aerial is a good album, not her top (which would be the Sensual World in my opinion) but well worth getting, if you like Kate.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Comparative Myths

Assistant Village Idiot has an excellent and pithy post on the different myths our society argues about, and their comparative impact.

A good quick morning read, go and enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Noah acrylic on canvas, 48 X 72 inches ©2008 MJAndrade all rights reserved

I had previously posted a teaser detail of this project, and now it is finished.

Here is a close-up of the lantern itself, where (hopefully) you can see the figure of 'Noah' and above him, the silhouette of the raven.

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Another New Sketch

the Burden of the Prophets, Modern Theology Series
Watercolor on Paper, 8x10 inches © 2008 MJAndrade

Modern Theology, its critique and its results are turning out to be a fertile ground for painting concepts.

More on this as it comes...

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Or possibly Oi...

... and she includes Ross Perot. I don't think I would have been that blunt, but then again, the time for bluntness has come upon us.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Free Ad for Kate

Aerial as performed by Cirque du Soleil

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

End of Day Mother's-Day Post

My Mom and my youngest daughter!

Happy Mother's Day, and I hope you got to spend time with your family and to enjoy it well.

Friday Free Ad for Kate will return next week. My apologies, this Friday came and went before I could search out and post something...

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

El Greco to Velázquez Art During the Reign of Philip III

at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through July 27, 2008

For any of you who are in striking distance of Boston, I highly recommend this exhibit. It is absolutely wonderful, has several paintings that I am familiar with from years of reading art history, but also many pieces I had never seen in print or otherwise. Much of the work by the two 'headliners,' El Greco and Velázquez, were real revelations in person. Even with modern high-quality reproduction, there is nothing like seeing the original, up close.

For this post, however, I'd like to focus on some of the still life paintings. These didn't seem to get the same attention from the viewers as the bigger and showier religious paintings. Yet these pieces are exquisite, and well worth the time and ticket to see just in themselves.

A few examples:

Felipe Ramírez Still Life with Cardoon, Francolin, Grapes and Irises, 1628
Oil on canvas, 28 X 36 3/16 in. (71 X 92 cm)
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Juan Sáchez Cotán Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, about 1602
Oil on canvas 27 3/8 X 38 in. (69.5 X 96.5 cm)
Varez Fisa Collection, Spain

Juan Sáchez Cotán Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, about 1600
Oil on canvas 27 1/4 X 33 1/2 in. (69.2 X 85.1 cm)
San Diego Museum of Art

Juan Sáchez Cotán Still Life with Game Fowl, about 1600
Oil on canvas 26 11/16 X 34 15/16 in. (67.8 X 88.7 cm)
The Art Institute of Chicago

These pieces and about a dozen other still lifes and domestic paintings by other artists including Alejandro De Loarte, Juan Van Der Hamen Y León, and Velázquez could have held my attention for hours.

Add to that the many portraits, the religions works and mythological works, the previously mention opportunity to see all of these up close, and the exhibit provides an incredible view of art in Spain at the end of the 16th Century on into the 17th.

The show also includes several amazing wooden polychrome sculptures of Saints on loan from Spanish churches, and has a reconstruction of a "treasure room" of glassware, pottery, silver and objects of curiosity (sort of a "Cabinet of Curiosities" of the craftwork of men) originally set up by the Spanish Royalty to impress their visitors.

Again, I can not say enough how highly I recommend seeing this exhibition.

Images from El Greco to Velázquez, Art During the Reign of Philip III by Sarah Schroth and Ronni Baer, with essays by Ronni Baer, Laura R. Bass, Antonio Feros, Rosemarie Mulcahy, and Sarah Schroth MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Published in association with the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. © 2008 ISBN 978-0-87846-726-6 (hardcover) $65.00 (Museum Members get a discount).

I also highly recommend the book, which contains much useful information, and a catalogue of the show, for a total of 162 high quality color illustrations

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Yesterday, my one-year-old baby girl held a paintbrush for the first time.

She was totally fascinated with it.

I not sure if that bodes well or not....

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Free Ad for Kate

The Big Sky

Looking back at all this, from the 80s, it's interesting to see how much video there is from Kate that has a "Steampunk" feel to it. Cloudbusting would be another obvious one.

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The Library of the Mind

The repository that is the human mind is an amazing thing.

”Invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images, that have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory: nothing can come of nothing: he who has laid up no materials can produce no combinations” Reynolds, Discourse II

Our house is full of books. My studio is full of knickknacks. Both overflow so much that many of these things have been packed up into boxes in the attic, for lack of shelf space. Currently I am re-reading The Divine Comedy (Great Books series, Britannica), and reading for the first time Philosophy and Civilization of the Middle Ages (Maurice DeWulf, Dover Publishing) and Against the Idols of the Age (David Stove, Transaction Publishers, Edited by Roger Kimball). Among the books that I continually reference, just for the joy of the images, are The Prisons (Le Carceri) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (out of print), Great Medieval Churches and Cathedrals of Europe (Jules Gailhabaud), Medieval Ornament (Karl Alexander von Heideloff) Sturgis’ Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture and Building (Sturgis et al. in three volumes, all these previously by Dover Publications), The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration (J.G. Heck, Park Lane publishing, out of print) and various atlases, current, historical or antique.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. Luke 6:45

Please don’t get me wrong, I am neither a gifted scholar, nor even a particularly swift reader. Just given a choice between reading a book, and just about anything else, you will find me reading the book. In only the last couple of years I have read about church history, Winston Churchill, the expansion of European maritime empires, the Black Plague, the history of superstition, hieroglyphs, numerous artists, Africa, colonial era tools, the history of church vestments, the symbolic origins of the maze, theories on the inequalities in technology and material wealth between continents, the Black Plague, the condition of the environment, the Lord of the Rings and the life of its author, illuminated manuscripts, the Black Plague, pirates, oh… and did I mention the Black Plaque?

On top of all this, I spend inordinate amounts of time searching the Internet for images and information as references for my art, or simply for the joy of reading about one more thing.

”I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.” Confucius

Every artist I have ever known has their own fascinating history of exploration, reading, scholarship, apprenticeship, collaborations, in short, their own personal library of experience that they can then draw on as they create. Of course, the same principle holds true for any profession. The CPA and the plumber, the mechanic and business manager all must train and thoroughly understand their work. As an artist I have a freedom of exploration that I didn’t have when I worked in the corporate world, as I am unfettered by the necessities of keeping up with a single area of expertise. However, I have to say that I can’t hold a candle to the more brilliant people of my acquaintance, attorneys, psychologists, teachers, salesmen and others, in the scope and breadth of their intellectual seeking. Add to that the experience and wisdom of years (which I can’t yet lay claim to, if I will ever be so able) and the collected memories of an individual become a one-of-a-kind museum, never to be duplicated.

”From the age of six I could draw forms and objects. By 50 I had turned out an infinite number of drawings. But I am not happy about anything I did before 70. Only at 73 did I begin to understand the true form and nature of birds, fish and plants. By 80 I had made a lot of progress. At 90 I will begin to get to the root of it all. By 100 I will have reached a Superior State in art, undefinable, and by 110, every dot and line will be living.” Hokusai, (the 19th century originator of Japanese landscape painting, at age 83)

And so, we have here the joy of knowledge, the adventure of seeking, the amazement of the arcane an unusual, and it all becomes wrapped up and stored inside our own heads. Go to the museum, and dwell upon that painting. Sit back and close your eyes as you escape into that symphony. Seek out and dwell in the stories of your ancestors. Open a book and sit at the feet of the wisest who have walked the world. Build up the Cabinet of Curiosities that is within you.

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." Winston Churchill

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