Degas

Another Beautiful Art Form by Jeannine Cook

Circuses and high-flying trapeze artists are part of every child's education, I suspect. Those moments of delighted amazement that accompany feats of grace and daring on slender ropes and bars high above the ground are the stuff of circus legend. Circuses have long been the subject of artists too - think of Toulouse-Lautrec's penetrating and ultimately sad and solitary depictions of circus performers, Chagall's vibrant versions of circus life and of course, Pablo Picasso's Rose Period paintings of circus harlequins.

Au cirque Fernando, l'écuyère, 1888,  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Au cirque Fernando, l'écuyère, 1888,  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Circus Horse, 1964, Marc Chagall

Circus Horse, 1964, Marc Chagall

Circus Family, the Tumblers, 1905, oil, Pablo Picasso

Circus Family, the Tumblers, 1905, oil, Pablo Picasso

James Tissot, an accomplished French painter from Nantes, who lived from 1836-1902. painted Women of Paris, the Circus Lover,  showing the fascination audiences had with the high bars. Below, too, is the famous - but unfinished - Georges Seurat pointillist painting from 1890-91, The Circus.

Women of Paris, the Circus Lover , James Tissot, 1883-85, (Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Women of Paris, the Circus Lover, James Tissot, 1883-85, (Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The Circus,   1890-91,  Georges Seurat,  ( image courtesy of the Museé d'Orsay)

The Circus,  1890-91,  Georges Seurat, (image courtesy of the Museé d'Orsay)

Perhaps one of the most wonderful images of circus grace and skill is Edgar Degas' Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, a mastery of draftsmanship. This oil painting, in the National Gallery, London, was painted in 1879 from four preparatory drawings Degas did at the Circus.

Cirque Painting - Miss Lala At The Cirque Fernando, Edgar Degas, 1889, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London)

Cirque Painting - Miss Lala At The Cirque Fernando, Edgar Degas, 1889, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London)

Other artists have painted dramatic pictures of the circus.  It is astonishing to find how many artists have been attracted by the subjects of clowns and circuses!

The Circus, 1917, watercolour and graphite, Charles Demuth, (Image courtesy of the Columbus Museum of Art)

The Circus, 1917, watercolour and graphite, Charles Demuth, (Image courtesy of the Columbus Museum of Art)

The Clown, Wassily Kandinsky

The Clown, Wassily Kandinsky

The Horse, the Rider and the Clown, in the Jazz  series, 1943,  Henri Matisse

The Horse, the Rider and the Clown, in the Jazz  series, 1943,  Henri Matisse

The same sense of wonder at seemingly effortless soaring and beauty, high above one, was what I experienced last night at a performance of Canopy Studio at the Ashantilly Center in Darien, GA. As the sun set and the swallows called high above the wide lawn in the evening sky, the lights came up slowly beneath an ancient, graceful live oak. Rigged carefully from its limbs were different harnesses, scarlet "ropes" and other lines.

These were for a performance of the "Royal Sequined Aerial Circus", with solo and duo aerial ballets that were diverse and beautiful. A wide selection of music allowed the young, beautifully trained women (and one delicious small girl) to move in ways that were true ballet, yet ballet that almost defied gravity. Against the backdrop of the mighty oak tree, it was magical.

I kept feeling that I should be trying to draw all the flowing, elegant movements, but the other half of me just wanted to sit there and savour of the pure beauty.

Trapeze Artists, pl 20 from portfolio Le Cirque, Pablo Roig Cisa, 1911, colour lithograph (Image courtesy of Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco)

Trapeze Artists, pl 20 from portfolio Le Cirque, Pablo Roig Cisa, 1911, colour lithograph (Image courtesy of Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco)

It did make me all the more aware of those 19th century artists who, long before cell phone cameras or other means of capturing images instantly, caught the essence of the aerial ballets they watched under circus tops.

 

Art and Music by Jeannine Cook

I think that every artist is very aware of how necessary music is to his or creativity. Listening to music, classical, jazz or anything else, can help get the juices flowing, inspire and mesh with painting, drawing or any other creative activity. Most life drawing groups, for instance, that I have ever been part of have music playing in the background as a helpful adjunct to the drawing process.

It was thus with no surprise but considerable fascination that I read recently in the August 14th, 2010 edition of Science News about the latest research about "A Mind for Music", an entire section devoted to music, its effects on the human brain and thus its role in societies. One of the most interesting aspects was how far back our connections with music have been tangibly shown to reach. Vulture bone flutes, dating from 35,000-40,000 years ago, have been found in the famous HohleFels cave, near Ulm, Germany.

35,000 year old bone flutes from Hohle Fels

35,000 year old bone flutes from Hohle Fels

Nine thousand years ago, wing bones from red-crowned cranes in Jiahu, China, were fashioned into flutes with five to eight finger holes. Five thousand years ago, harps were played in ancient Mesopotamia. Before all these instruments, there were most probably percussive stones, bones or sticks being played. How many of the early musical sounds were inspired by nature is of course open to speculation, but it puts me in mind of Lord Byron's verse: "There's music in the in the sighing of a reed;/There's music in the gushing of a rill;/ There's music in all things, if men had ears:/ Their earth is but an echo of the spheres."

The noted neuroscientist, Daniel J. Levitin, who is a specialist in matters neuro-musical as well as being a consultant in the music industry, once remarked, " Music may be the activity that prepared our pre-human ancestors for speech communication and for the very cognitive representational flexibility necessary to become human." Since we now know that almost all the areas of the brain are affected in some fashion when we listen to music, his theory makes eminent sense. It is also interesting that visual art also shows up so early in the early records of human beings, as another form of communication and celebration of life. (See my earlier blog about evidence of art-making 164,000 years ago.) Vital roots that enrich us all today, so many thousands of years later.

There are countless examples of artists who weave music into their creative lives - not only in paintings and drawing, but in videos, installation art, and beyond. One interesting example of the role of music in art is Edgar Degas: his paintings and drawings not only address the playing of music but the movement of dancers to music and opera scenes. He apparently was friends with many of his contemporary French composers and musicians, and had had a musical childhood with family members singing and playing the organ. The close links between his art and music were explored in an 2009 exhibition, Degas and Music, at the Hyde Collection in New York's Lake George region. A good description of the exhibition and Degas' deep love for music which ran through all his art can be gleaned from David Brickman's blog. It makes one regret not having seen the exhibition.

Other artists use the music itself as inspiration for art. Paul Klee and Kandinsky come readily to mind, but many of the early 20th century artists turned to jazz and other current forms of music to act as a springboard to art creation - Gino Severini in Italy, August Mackeand fellow German Abstract Expressionist Franz Marc, and Russian KazimirMalevich.

I find myself sometimes moved to create a piece inspired by music. This silverpoint, Spem in Allium, is inspired by Thomas Tallis' music of the same name.

Spem in Allium , silverpoint and acrylic, Jeannine Cook artist. Private collection

Spem in Allium, silverpoint and acrylic, Jeannine Cook artist. Private collection

We are all heirs of those early flute and harp players who knew that "music is the poetry of the air", as Jean Paul Richter observed some two centuries ago.