Thursday, March 19, 2009

Things Not to Give Up in a Recession: Art!

Have you ever read a promising new author who tells how literature saved his or her young, confused life through the redemptive value of J.D. Salinger or Shakespeare?  Or maybe this happened to you?   

For me it was Euripides.  I was haunted by Medea; and, later, by the heroes of John Steinbeck.  The more tortured the moral predicament, the deeper I dove in. 


“Medea,” Rebecca Parker,

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages would-be artists to expose ourselves to all manner of human creative expression.  Poet Kathleen Norris wrote in The Cloister Walk that literature was her first form of religion.  Art feeds art—whether one’s art is a perfect cake or an original piece of choreography.

I live across the street from a university with a good reputation in the arts.  There are dozens of arts opportunities every year that I can absorb—many of them free or nearly so. 

For instance, last summer my husband and I took our daughter to an exhibit of Rembrandt’s “Beggar Etchings.”  When have we ever had Rembrandts—or many other things this old—in our little town?  These etchings are almost painfully realistic; not even sympathetic necessarily.  It was exciting just to be in the room with something the artist worked on. 


“Beggar Seated Warming His Hands at a Chafing Dish,” Rembrandt van Rijn 

Then there was the snowy night I went to a faculty recital by soprano Anne Basinski, who was being accompanied by my friend Lee Heuermann.  I went to support Lee, and didn’t really want to be there because I was in the throes of an icky cold.  But when Anne and Lee sang Lakme’s Flower Duet, I shut my eyes and I was transported (you can click on the link and listen). 

This week I’m going to see a new exhibit of paintings by Montana artist Fra Dana, an American Impressionist.  Dana was a cattleman’s wife torn between her ranch duties and love of art.  In 1897, the year after her marriage, she began to study at the Chicago Art Institute with William Merritt Chase.  Chase’s other students included Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Stella (and his “Girl in a Blue Kimono” is coincidentally up there on my page).  A prenuptial agreement allowed Fra (pronounced “Fray”) Dana to study in New York and Paris with some of the most important American Impressionist artists.  Here’s one of her paintings:

breakfastbyfradana   “Breakfast,” by Fra Dana

…and here’s a portrait of Dana by William Merritt Chase—also part of the exhibit on campus:

Portrait_of_Fra_Dana_by_William_Merritt_Chase_1897  “Portrait of Fra Dana,” William Merritt Chase

She doesn’t look very happy, and I don’t think she was.  After trying for several years to mix her art and traveling with the life of a ranch woman, Dana gave up her painting dreams.  Near the end of her life she wrote that she could fight the world and win, but could not fight both the world and her husband and win. 

I’ve enjoyed many musical and dance events in this town,  including Emmylou Harris, Elton John, and the Ailey II Dance Company (below). 


When the Rolling Stones played Missoula a couple years ago, though, my dislike of crowds won out.  I stayed home, and listened to the thumping of the concert from our house.     

The Stones don’t exactly qualify as belonging to “the arts” in my mind, though “Sympathy for the Devil” has some of my favorite lyrics, and “Angie” will always break my heart.  And even Sir Reginald—a favorite since grade school—isn’t really “fine art.” 

But while we’re on the subject of what could be called popular art, let’s not forget the summer day my daughter came home and said casually, “Oh did you know the prince of Russia is in town talking about Shrinky Dinks?” 

Say what? 

It took a long time to believe her, but she was right:  it was Prince Andrew Romanov (yes, that Romanov) at the Missoula Art Museum showing his collection of Shrinky-draw-on-plastic-and-bake-it-Dinks.  On these shrunken pieces of plastic he’s depicted his colorful and singular life.  Apparently the old gentleman has a great sense of humor.   

Who but the grand-nephew of the last tsar could achieve international fame as an artist in this medium?  But look at this example: 


Balmoral Castle,” Prince Andrew Romanov

I love it!  Who’s “A” and “K” in here?  Is it Andrew and the King? 

And here’s the 80-something prince himself, photographed here in Missoula: 


What a fantastic face, to say nothing of his neckerchief and mustache.  I wish we’d met him that day.  By the time we heard about it (and believed it), the event was over.  Andrew has a book about his life called The Boy Who Would Be Tsar.  It’s illustrated with his…um…images. 

We’re not in New York or Paris here, or even Boise, Idaho.  But:  I love being able to skip across the street after dinner and take in something beautiful or fascinating that elevates me above the mundane.  And there is beauty, and fascination, and passionate creation by highly talented people.  How I appreciate what they give us.   

So for now, I’m looking forward to more of the same in my town.  Next month the university is presenting “Medea,” and I’m going to be first in line.  Because we’re in a recession and I need the arts more than ever, and because it’s Euripides, who’s been with me for a long time now.   


Anonymous said...

Hi SalMan, It must be pretty late where you are. Or do you schedule your posts? LOVE HRH Andrew!!! A real find! Will be scouring Google today for more about him. I'm a bit of a Romanov fanatic having once made a short film about a woman who thought she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the last tsar.

Zuzana said...

You have a great knowledge and interest in art; this was a wonderful post. I have never heard of Fra Dana before now, but from the pictures you post here, I am already a fan.;))

Stephanie N. said...

What you have said here made me really happy this morning. Thank you for that. And thanks for introducing me to the Rembrandt etchings. I have adored all of his paintings that I have seen, but I was not familiar with his etchings. The line quality in that etching is so rich, so alive.

Duchesse said...

This is why free days at museums and "pay what you can" for the performing arts are so important. When I worked in London, there was always a lower price for seniors and unemployed for concerts, ballet, etc. Mega-rich bands like the Stones could certainly offer that. (There are ways to check.)

Ingrid Mida said...

I loved this post. You said it perfectly. Art has the power to lift our spirits, especially in difficult times. For me, beauty is joy.

Lucy said...

Such an interesting post, thanks:) I really love the Fra Dana paintings, beautiful.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

So true - art is important as it lifts us from our daily troubles to another world.

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Wonderful. Inspiring. Passionate. True. Thank you

A Woman Of No Importance said...

This is such an interesting post - I even liked the shrinky-dinks! Who would have thought? He looks like such a character.

I adore the depiction of Medea - such a complex character. I love the art you have chosen and who is to say these days what is, and what is not, high art, given the popularity of such as Damien Hurst et al? Dana and Chase appear very talented to me. Thank you for showcasing these artworks.

Unknown said...

fantastic post! I agree, the more we go to see the arts, listen to the arts, the more we will appreciate and realize our need for the arts. thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Maria Killam said...

Thank you for this lesson in art. I agree art is like flowers, as Jeffrey Billhuber says, if you have $1.00 spend 50 cents on bread and the other on flowers (or in this case, art).

Seeker said...

You said it all dear!!!!
Great post, art is indeed priceless and not to give up.

Have a great weekend


Anna said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog a bit ago.

Oh, I love your sentiments in this post. I read a book purchased for a few of us by our school district that basically says the time of the artist has come. Technology and left-brained pursuits have been traded out to cheaper labor overseas and we face a new era where our product is form, art, and meaning. I welcome this age, as I am a lover of art, photography, music, and lietrature.

I look forward to exploring more of your blog.

drollgirl said...

i hope that exhibition is fantastic. it is sad, tho, to read her quote. hmmm. but very interesting.

and shrinky dinks! boy, i was thinking about those about a month ago and it was funny to see them mentioned here.

hope you have a great weekend -- and that you see some special stuff!

sallymandy said...

Hi everyone, and thanks for the great feedback and your own thoughts about the importance of the arts.

ProSup: It would be great to see something about your film about "Anastasia."

Ms Lucy and Protege: I love the Fra Dana as well. The second one is a portrait OF her but not by her--it's by W.M. Chase. She apparently could have been a great painter if she'd been able to devote more of her life to it.

Stephanie: I'm glad you liked it!

Duchesse: "Art Saves Lives," right?

Ingrid, Imogen, Doreen, Seeker, Colour Me Happy, and Lola: I agree with all of you!

Woman of NI: Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. Yes, the shrinky dinks are really something. That kind of quirkiness really draws me in, because there MUST be a quirky person behind it!

Anna: Thank you for stopping by, too. I'd love to know what book you read that says the artists' time is coming. I'm sure we need it.

Droll: Yes, I read some even sadder stuff that she wrote but it was hard to go right into Mick Jagger and then the shrinky dinks from too much of that...know what I mean?

I missed going to the Fra Dana exhibit this week, but it will be there for a while. Tonight saw a community theatre production of Bye Bye Birdie. It was so-so, and boy is it political incorrect.

ceecee said...

This is one of the best posts I've ever read. I've been sittin' here going back and forth and back and forth and thinking, "What in the world?" This is for real?! First the story of Rembrandt's etchings, then the soprano, then the beautiful paintings by the American Impressionist (the CATTLEMAN'S wife for god's sake!),then Alvin Ailey Company, and THEN the Rolling STONES, and then this TSAR man!!! I'm packing my bags and moving to Missoula. And another thing I may have forgotten to mention in the past - Martin Dressler!!! I LOVE Steven Milhauser! And when I was 19 I read EVERY book by Willa Cather. You live too far away!
Have a wonderful weekend,

Gal Friday said...

Thanks for opening my eyes and heart(I think I am in love with a prince!)to all these artists and reminding me how important it is to get out and be enriched by all the art, music and theater the world has to offer! I live in an area which is also enriched by having the state university in it's midst(as well as a thriving arts community) and going to a play or exhibit or to hear music from another part of the country or world has always changed my day and outlook and reminded me that there is a world away from the confines of TV and movies and the ordnary.

I would love to see some Fra Dana paintings in an exhibit!! And I am so intrigued by her, I am going to see if I can find a book about her life.

And that Shrinky Dinks art...I just love the whole idea of it!! I am an artist who draws things small who is always encouraged to go "bigger", and this Romanav draws larger and shrinks the drawings down!

sallymandy said...

Catherine: you're so kind, and your words mean a lot to me. I love that we connect over things like this, and from all corners of the world. You know, I've never met anyone else who read Martin Dressler. !

Gal: Yes, I'm in love with that prince too. Isn't he the best! And dinner with the King and Queen as rendered in Shrinky Dink. What could be better?

I'm afraid I may have been too liberal in saying that Fra Dana was an American Impressionist...I mean, she studied with them, painted in that style; but I don't think you will find her listed in an anthology of American Impressionists because I believe the general conclusion is, she stopped painting before her talent was fully realized. So...maybe I overstated her stature in the established art world? I don't know, but in any case, there's no doubt in my mind she's a fascinating figure and deserves a biography, if one's not writtten.

Also just a reminder, it's kind of easy to misinterpret my post but she only painted one of the pieces in the post. The second one is her portrait by W.M. Chase.

Thanks all for the GREAT feedback on this post.

Relyn Lawson said...

Why is it that so many talented women have entirely subjugated their own talent to support their man's? I think of Camille Claudel and a few of Picasso's lovers. Oh, there are many more. It seems that the world is only just now beginning to make a place for a woman to be an artist and something else. I wonder how much talent our world lost through the years?

Gal Friday said...

I still am fascinated by Fra Dana's story and what little I saw(the woman drinking from the cup) shows that whe was indeed talented.
A few years ago I went to a huge show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts of American Impressionism and I wonder even if one of her paintings might have been in that exhibit and I didn't even know it....