ROBERT MILLS AND CARL BLAIR

Years ago, coming to South Carolina to teach at Columbia College was the beginning of my education about the American South in all respects.   My image of it at that point was fairly close to the old “Andy Griffith Show”.  Never had been to the South, and had only been to a beach in various big Japanese cities.  No Atlantic.

I had a lot to learn, and it was pretty much based on the political philosophy of the South:  State’s Rights.  The place looked inward, and this view was very different for me.  School children had to memorize all the counties in the state.  They knew a lot about “honor” and called women something between Ms and Miss.  With new acquaintances, one would verbally search around until you found common kin.  It was an interesting ballet to a foreigner like me.

And since the natives knew so much about their native sons, they kind of generalized that proposition.  I was a wet behind the ears new college instructor, wondering all the time about what I did not know,  so I was always punting.

Robert Mills was the first guy that the proud students knew more about.  He designed the Washington Monument, the White House and many other federal style buildings in DC.  He was a big fish locally being educated in Charleston.  But unless as a student (outside of SC) of American architecture, one does not run into him all that much in survey courses.  It is Thomas Jefferson who set the style and who is studied, not the (dare I say?) followers, although Robert Mills may have been the first American-made architect and worked under seven Presidents.

mills house

Credit: © Katherine J. Trimnal, Columbia, South Carolina

What is called “The Robert Mills House” sits in the heart of Columbia.  It is associated with him by name, not the owner because the man died before it was finished.

white-house-1024x617

Photo: AgnosticPreachersKid

Above is the White House.  Notice the similarities.  And you can find many expressions of this style in county buildings all over the state and in DC.

And then there was Carl Blair.  A generation older than me, he had taught in at least three major institutions in South Carolina.  He is a favorite native son, a very unassuming man.  Associated mostly with Bob Jones University which has a collection of art well beyond its otherwise influence, he helped to forge the profile of the arts in this state.  His brilliant oils and acrylics are like visual poetry.  He speaks in a well-honed language.

blair

blair 2

I re-met Carl again last weekend at The Manor House   http://www.manorhousebb.com  in Greenville.  We have been in at least one exhibition together:  “A Hundred Years, a Hundred Artists”, mounted by the State Museum in Columbia, I don’t know how many years ago.

Carl “hangs with” the beautiful and brilliant owner of the bed and breakfast.  It was a treat to talk with him, and to be in an environment that features exquisite art eclectically mixed.   He wears a ball cap that says “Koren War Veteran”.   He makes a quiet statement simply in that gesture.  He has done us all proud!

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MARTA’S OTHER MOTHER

Due to popular demand, here is our recently identified odalisque.  Marta sent it to me after reading the first post about her mother.  She assumed this image, done in 1946, was probably of the cheesecake variety.

1-barbara's mother

Oh no!  The position of Marta’s mom is purely art historical, absent some shape in the upper right to draw the viewer’s eye away, but briefly, from the figure.  The line of red fringe on the pillow in the center of the image helps some.

odalisque-courtat gold

The oriental rug and brass pitcher above suggest the “East”, and that the woman may be part of a harem (when artists began to use this motif as an excuse to paint a nude woman, it was understood that the woman was of low morals).  This work has a nice opposition element in the upper left of a musician, which fills the compositional need but also suggests low morals as we all know what music does to people!

layraud-odalisque_couchc3a9e_1866-03

Simply with the head wrap, the artist suggests that this woman is a member of a harem.  Notice that the counterpoint to the strong line of the figure here is a window lightening up the composition and subtly drawing the eye away from the left side.  Any kind of shape can do this balancing act for a composition.  The single red rose may symbolize love, as it did in Roman times.

1-carole w no crop

Moving into the Twentieth century, consider the envelope being pushed!  If this is a “reclining nude” enough for your definition, we see my outlaw, clothing symbolizing pure sex, with a counterpoint of the ironing board at the upper left.  This makes me think of an episode of “Mad Men” we viewed last night.  Jackie during the day, Marilyn at night!

Gracie looking over shoulder

Walking further into the bizarro world, we see Gracie, the late love of another outlaw, displaying what she knows about the motif of the odalisque.  Her seductive stare is so memorable.

odalisque_1843 corot

Corot’s odalisque above is more simply rendered, like that of Marta’s mom.  And her position is close to Gracie’s.  I find it interesting that he felt the need to fill that empty space that usually has a correspondent with words—Marietta____Roma.  It works!

SOMEBODY’S OTHER MOTHER

Marta had something to spill, you could tell that.  She walked up to me fairly bursting.  She lately has been doing lots of renovation on her fine two story log house.  They love wood, all kinds.  Inside and out, the contrasting grains of wall, old furniture and objects creates a frenzy of lemoned earthiness.  Thought she wanted to tell me about her latest wood project.

I found a painting, Marta said.  In my mother’s attic.  It’s going in the bedroom; the finishing touch for the area after adding the new (woody) bath in there.

It is of a nude, she said.  Stretched out, you know, in the “Titanic position” .  And it is my MOTHER, in her twenties, no doubt about it.  Nobody even knew it existed.  We recently found it in her attic.  Marta’s mom has been gone for a while now.

I was blown away.  What a story.  Jealous. Realized that better writers than I could take this gem of a little experience and run like a marathoner with it.  It is a perfect notion around which one could build a classic read.  German war bride comes to the US, later mother of twin girls, with an unknown history.

It could teach a lesson.  Mothers are not just mothers.  They are people.  Children can be selfish enough not to want to know that.  What a bind for a whole person, being a mother.  Or perhaps the best ones are the best jugglers, until, you know, the old painting in the “Titanic position” shows up.

la grande odilesque

As an artist and teacher, I was equally thrilled about Marta’s story in the way she described her newly found painting.

olympia

Both of the images above are what we call “odalisque”.  A reclining nude.  And this is what Marta meant in her description of her mother.  I was so interested in this.  As a teacher of art history, and always collecting contemporary facts or events which highlight  the old stuff I asked my students to learn, that iconic scene in the movie presented a teachable moment.   “Titanic”, was a pop culture moment of the time for sure.  Everybody had seen it, and knowing this, suddenly and for a short time, art history was contemporary pop culture.  Loved that connection for my students.

gauguin

Viewing the three above, you can see what the tradition of this kind of image is.  Ingres, Manet, Gauguin:  all created in this old art motif.  Stretched out lady, on a bed, countered by something in the far corner, a maid servant, a curtain, a voo-doo figure.  That is the compositional history.

The history of painting the image of a nude lady is far more complex.  It simply wasn’t done for a while.  Did the Greeks, Romans sculpt nude women?   No.  The nude male was the symbol of perfection, and that was used all the time.  No unclothed women were done.

Always pushing the envelope, artists DID want to depict the female figure.  How did they bully into this idea?  They painted harlots, concubines, prostitutes.  Women of low morals.  You could not see a naked lady in those days without a moral judgement attached.  Oh women have suffered so throughout history!  This idea makes me almost nauseous:  men have the sexual response, but we will blame it on the women.

The public was appalled when Manet painted his odalisque, the middle image above.  It shocked all of Paris when shown in the salon of  1865 (it was finished in 1863).  Think of this as our civil war time.  A prostitute stares out at the viewer, showing no shame, and in her work venue as well.  The john who just left sends flowers back with the maid.  The public was shocked, but the breech had been crossed.  That is how we move forward.  The public and art critics of the time were equally shocked at the way the odalisque was rendered.  The paint was flat and the planes of the body merged into description only as you moved away from the image, mounted on the wall.  The critics were wrong about their “take” here as well.

Beware, beware if the old fogies of art  like your work too much.

I’M GONE

After today, I have two more college art appreciation classes to teach.  Impossible as it is to believe, retirement from this job is my future, and with a monthly payment!  I cannot believe age has “got” me, and I cannot believe that finally the students/administration have done the same.

I have loved teaching the uninitiated about art; the explaining of odd connections, the idea that beauty is not the first consideration in understanding the work, the concept that to look at art is to comfort your humanity and help you feel not so alone.  We are currently having a fight in this state as our governor eliminates our arts commission with every new budget, each year. Then the art community roars up, demonstrates, and the veto is overridden by the legislature.  Someone posted on Facebook yesterday a comment made by Winston Churchill during the panic of WWII.  This bureaucrat wanted to eliminate funding for the arts so the same money could be spent on war needs.  Churchill said NO, what would we be fighting for without the arts??  What a guy.

My students come into my class at the beginning of the semester and think we will spend great chunks of time talking about the color red, or the color blue.  They are sure they will not have to study, and do not.  They believe that one has to write and think concurrently only in English class.  Some think all they have to do is attend class to earn a C, because that is the way it was in high school. Their passivity to my stupid theatrics in trying to teach is stunning.

Sometimes I think that adjunct professors are the only ones strong enough to say that the emperor has no clothes.  Others are afraid for their jobs.  Some want to implement every new learning tool when the majority of our students do not read well, because at some conference or another the existence of this tool at our school will make the school look good.  Students are advised to take classes on line when they cannot use a computer.  We call teachers “leaders” and use teachers less and less in remedial classes.  People who cannot read or write sit at a computer and do gawd knows what while teachers troll around and make sure students are working.  New teaching ideas are implemented because we can get a grant for them.  We lost our “writing center” after a number of years when the grant was gone.  With it, the one tool that I could suggest for students to help with written work and to accomplish what should have been in grade school, was gone.  No grant money.

My daughter recently graduated from Davidson College.  During her time there, no on line classes were offered.  Last month, the president of UVA, Teresa Sullivan,  went through the horrible trauma of being fired and then reinstated,  one reason being that  she was perceived to be slow in adopting new learning methods.  These two institutions are simply giving students a quality education.  Students cannot teach themselves for the most part.  They need an authority figure, a person present to answer questions and to stimulate thinking.  In the case of two year associates degree colleges, people attend who have no idea what college is.  Their parents did not attend.  They need human beings in the front of the class to model the middle class values necessary to succeed in this middle class institution.  My students are not getting this.

I am tired of being the part time person who has to give the message to a student in his last semester that he cannot read well enough, cannot make a sentence, or has no idea about critical thinking.  It is not fair that a person who is not a “real” member of the faculty to have to do these difficult jobs.  I am not paid enough to have to do this and worry all semester about the fact that I have to.  Additionally, an adjunct has no power to put in place any solution to these particular problems.

It is true this blog has never strayed from the idea that things can be done on the cheap if you are willing to work.  I would like to say this to our administration, and our students, but it would be like spitting in a hurricane.  From now on, I am going to take my work ethic and apply it elsewhere.  “Waste as a Way of Life” does not mean what they think it does!