book review

The Timeless Art of Jean Francois Millet: Book Review on Jean Francois Millet by Estelle M. Hurll

Jean Francois MilletJean Francois Millet by Estelle M. Hurll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was 13 years old when I first saw “The Gleaners” reprinted on a small tin plate as a complementary bonus to a carton of vanilla ice cream my mom had bought for me and my little brother. The painting had a peculiar charm that diverted me from the love of my favorite ice cream; its serene but picturesque impression of the three working women and the pastoral scene produced in me a peace of mind and a sense of comfort. Since that time, the painter of “The Gleaners, ” Jean Francois Millet, has become my favorite painters of all. So when I came upon this book by Hurll published in 1900 on Kindle Bookstand, I was already downloading it on my kindle with a kind of same delight I felt when I was 13 years old.

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“The Gleaners” By Jean Francois Millet courtesy of wikipedia

Jean Francois Millet (1814-1875) was born into a hardworking and caring peasant family who had been residing in the old province of Normandy, France through the generations. The rustic, chaste beauty of the pastoral scenery and the coarse but artless and diligent village people who toiled to grow life out of land and tended flocks of livestock for living were imprinted on the senses and sensibilities of Millet. His subject matters were already indelibly marked in his nature. It is in fact, this natural beauty that became his muse and the epitome of his aesthetic beliefs. He spurned the artificial beauty of the forced setting. He believed, “The beauty is the fitting,” which links to what Saint Augustine explained in his “De Pulchra et Apte,” meaning “The Beauty and The Fitting,” in which two kinds of beauty: beauty inherent in the thing itself, and beauty by virtue of thing’s use were explained. In this regard, Millet’s tranquil beauty pertains to the latter as shown in his paintings of the pastoral life and its inhabitants.

What’s special about Millet’s paintings are distinctive features of his art. To illustrates, in “The Angulus,” “The Gleaners,” and “The Shepherdess,” the landscapes cease to be a mere setting or background in figure pictures and become “organic” parts of the compositions, focusing on the human sides in the expressiveness of the figures, and thus make both figures and the landscapes interdependent, fitting together in a perfect unity. Millet also mastered in the effects of changing the light during different hours of the day, which creates the ambience of the normal and the quiet in the paintings.

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“The Shepherdess” by Jean Francois Millet courtesy of 1000 museums.com

Although it was “The Gleaners” that allured me into the world of Millet’s paintings, my favorite is “The Shepherdess” completed in 1862. There is a young shepherdess knitting like she is transfixed, while her flock of sheep and her assistant black little dog are following slowly their pensive guardian. The expression of her face begets many thoughts on the sacredness of work and its worker that strikes into your heart with a sense of respectfulness, which is stretched to the far distance in the scene where men working on piles of hay and their carts to carry them over. This painting gives an impression of a suspended action captured in the eyes of the painter as if it were photographed that would proceed to move in any moment soon. Also, it renders the 3rd dimension of space with the figure of the shepherdess having a solid, tangible appearance and the space that seems so infinite, so boundless, and so eternal with the quality of surrounding light of space composition evocative of religious serenity.

This book does not contain a biography of Millet but rather serves as a reference book of his paintings to get readers acquainted with the artistic world of Millet in a short period of time. One of the reasons I chose this book is its year of publication. It was published in 1900, only 25 years after the death of Millet. Therefore, Hurll could glean information on Millet’s life from surviving friends of his, which is all the more authentic and factual, devoid of myths, legends, and fables that are so prevalent in the books on the famous who were long gone.

For these reasons, Millet is one of the fine artists whose intense love of human nature and expression thereof is the chief element of beauty. In his paintings, nothing is ignored in the landscapes as well as the figures. He was indeed a master of the arts who could use the seemingly commonplace with the feeling of sublime that gave to art its true meanings. Many years might have passed since the first time I saw “The Gleaners,” but the kind of mysterious delight of peaceful awe I felt at that time still remains with me after all those years. Millet was right: the true beauty knows no boundary of time and place.

book review

The Classic Wisdom on Food and Drink

Food and Drink: A Book of QuotationsFood and Drink: A Book of Quotations edited by Susan L. Rattiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but it is most well conveyed in quotations from famous writers, thinkers, artists, and many well-known figures in the matters of positive thoughts, great advice and ideas on human existence and humanity. As Oscar Wilde said, “Quotations are serviceable substitutes for wit,” inspirational quotations stimulate our minds to fresh endeavor, gives us a new viewpoint upon our existential matters, and enable us to get a fresh hold upon ourselves and things that are necessary for our human existence, such as elegantly compiled in this charming book of quotations about food and drink.

The cover of the book showing Renoir’s beautiful painting of “A Luncheon Of The Boating Party,” imparts lightheartedness of the subject matters of the book encompassing the festivity of celebrating them both as a pleasure and a necessity. The quotations in this lovely little book, which readers can finish at one setting, comprehends all the aspects of food and drink -ranging from a necessity of our existence to an object of pleasure, from a means to measure our temperance to a touchstone of inculcating etiquette to achieve our self-respect and dignity- with insights, thoughts, and witticism from writers, thinkers, and proverbs. Included in this review are selected quotations from my personal reading of the book.

Food is sacred, a victual for the nourishment of the body and the mind. Therefore, it should be taken in a peaceful, civil manner, as to appreciate its values both physically and ethically. In this regard, Rudyard Kipling seems to disfavor the American way of fast food as we can hear him saying that Americans had a habit of “stuffing for ten minutes thrice a day.” And who says eating alone invokes a sight of pity when Charles Lamb glorifies “Oh, the pleasure of eating my dinner alone!” Aesop also agrees to the importance of eating food with peace of mind as follows: “A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” Mark Twain’s aphorism of “To eat is human, to digest divine” can become a mantra to reconstitute insalubrious eating habits.

A host of the notable emphasizes on the power of coffee as a tonic to awaken our sleepy senses. Take Johann Sebastian Bach’s humorous claim that without his routine morning coffee, he is just “like a dried up piece of roast goat.” Honore De Balzac concurs with Bach metaphysically because he trusts a cup of coffee to be his Muse by confessing “Coffee falls into the stomach [and] ideas begin to move… [and] the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooter, smiles arrive, the paper is covered with ink.” Accordingly, President Teddy Roosevelt’s immortal approval of good coffee as being “good to the last drop.” still reverberates in radios and televisions.

However, there is also the other side of food when it is indulged beyond the pale, as Ludwig Von Beethoven cautions against gluttony by which man “sinks almost to the level of an animal when eating becomes his chief pleasure.” The Talmud tells us how to eat in moderation as follows: “In eating, a third of the stomach should be filled with food, a third with drink, and the rest let empty.” Desiderilis Erasmus attests to the moderate way of eating by testifying, “When I got a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.”

In fact, moderate eating has been a matter of importance throughout the human history from the ancient time until now. For instance, Ovid counsel for the universal topic does not sound new to readers at all: “Stop short of your appetite; eat less than you are able.” The American Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin gives readers gives readers more detailed advice on the exercising and moderation of eating as follows: “If, after exercise, we feed sparingly, the digestion will be easy and good, the body lightsome, the temper cheerful, and all the animal functions performed agreeable. Eat to live, and not live to eat.” To cap it all, the simplest way of calorie expense is given by the Jewish proverb: “He that eats till he’s sick must fast till he’s well.”

As illustrated above, these witty and reflective quotations about food and drink (mostly about coffee) from the great minds who lived before us are universal in their appeal and still applicable to our ways of life in terms of the manners of understanding the nature and values of eating and drinking as a pleasure as well as a necessity. In this delightful, light-volume of book, readers will enjoy more quotations without a need of contextual interpretation or psychological analysis of the words of motivation, reflection, and humor. This book will make a good companion at a coffee-shop when you wait for someone, rest yourself before heading in to work, or just enjoy your solitary comfort.

Miscellany · Novellas

Bluebird Interview

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She was born when Saturn and Uranus were housed in the Aquarius. That says pretty much about her. The Aquarian are known for their independent spirits, compassionate and caring nature, and unquenchable wants of knowledge, all enveloped in mysterious estrangement even among the crowds. Yet, Stephanie, the writer and the editor of her two-year old Web log, “The Stylus,” (formally known as “Offbeat) is generally quite approachable and genial although she is never too loquacious at a first meeting. In fact, you might find her quite interesting to talk to, especially when you strike up a conversation with her about books written by classical writers or about history, dogs, or cultures. And if any of these appertains to one of her writings published on her digital log, “The Stylus,” you will see her soul being elevated to the ether with her eyes sparkling like stars on the Persian night sky. On Monday morning at a cozy cafe in Avonlea, Bluebird had the pleasure sitting down  with a cup of warm hazelnut coffee to talk with her about her blog, from the inception, the purpose, and the future thereof.

BD: Hi, Stephanie. As Oscar Wilde has said that a woman who would reveal her age would tell anything about her, I won’t ask you how old you are because I suspect that you will not anyhow.

Stephanie: I appreciate your judiciousness. (Smile) And yes, you are right in saying that I won’t tell you my age. (Smile) But I am neither teen-aged nor maturely aged, single, like one of those 10 vestals in the ancient Roman Empire. (Smile)

BD: Okay, then let’s start talk about your Web log. What was the idea behind the creation of this log of yours? Did it occur to you all of sudden that you wanted to have yours like everyone else?

Stephanie: Well, I first started thinking about having my writing log about 2 years ago. I had always wanted to write things about what I liked and to convey it in written letters because I think writing revels one’s soul in his/her genuine self without worrying about the physical appearance and how to present the self externally in public. In that regard, writing is non-discriminating of all social and biological differences. And I always thought that in people’s writings I could see the intelligence and nature of the writers because people would tell about their innermost feelings by means of writing rather than by speaking, which I think, sometimes seems a bit pompous and artful.

BD: So, is this why you came to create your blog to write about what you think and feel that cannot be shared by speaking in public?

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Stephanie: Partly so. And partly it’s because writing seems easier to communicate than speaking, which requires of me instantaneous faculty with dialogue that necessitates breaking from shyness. You see, English is not my mother tongue. Being a native Korean, the language differences between the two languages are as wide and deep as the Pacific Ocean: The English belongs to the Indo-European lingual family, while the Korean to the Ural-Altai to which the Japanese, the Turkish, the Finnish, and the Hungarian also belong. The syntax and the grammar are of course very different. So, it will be much different from, say, someone from any Western European country speaking and writing English because Western European languages belong to the same family as the English. Nevertheless, I want to break from such syntactical, grammatical, and literary inhibitions to craft the art of writing, just as Jack Kerouac felt the same about it.

BD: That’s a sublime motivation to create your blog. Then how about the name of your blog? It has recently gone through some changes…

Stephanie: Yes, indeed. But for the good reasons. First, it was started as “Offbeat” because one of the teachers at the language school I currently work at told me that my blog seemed to carry this offbeat vibes, a sort of New York feel, the independence, the avant-garde spirit that knew no boundary of subject matters of writing. So I thought it was a cool name for my blog and kept it until the last week. But suddenly I came to think that it needed name changing just for a change of scenery; you know the kind of moment when you want to reinvent your image with a new haircut.

BD: Alright! It sounds like a legit reason. But why did you name your blog “The Stylus”? What does it mean and where does the inspiration come from?

Stephanie: Well, I was shortly keeping the name “Swing of Things” which is a title of a song written by A-Ha, a Norwegian pop group, because it deemed fit the background picture of my blog. But then while I was reading Edgar Allen Poe’s 30 best short stories and poems, I found out that he was the editor of a literary magazine called “The Stylus,” which I thought a great name for my blog. Hence I set it as my blog name. So please dear my readers and subscribers, do not be alarmed by this new name appearing on the readers because it’s the formerly known as “Offbeat”. (Wink)

BD: Okay, Stephanie. That’s a nice way of introducing your new blog name to your readers. By the way, what are your readers like? Do you have many followers?

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Stephanie: To be honest with you, I am more concerned about the qualitative likes I get for what I write from fellow bloggers who also love writing and publish qualitative posts by which I mean the writings, such as musings, creative stories, poems, and/or book reviews. The reason I say this is that recently there has been someone who creates several unsolicited blogs that only contain commercial stuff, copied works of others, or nothing just to get to my blog. And I tell you that I only appreciate the likes from those qualitative bloggers. And I also tell you that I don’t appreciate those of illegitimate ones’ likes. How do I know they are illegitimate? Well, can you like my writing as soon as I publish? That means that person does not bother to read my writing, which I take it as an offense.

BD: Who is that one plaguing your blog with empty likes? Have you done something about it?

Stephanie: First, that one appeared in my spam comment section. He said he liked my blog and asked for some advice of writing. I think I was too naive to even reply to him, thinking that he was going to have his meaningful blog filled with writings, but no… I should have never done that…. This is my character flaw; that I bring trouble and pain on myself through pity and compassion… In that respect, I sympathize with Katherine Cookson, who said the same thing in her memoir Before I go, about which I have also written.

BD: You must be really frustrated with that person… Sorry to hear that.

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Stephanie: I even contacted an engineer at wordpress. about this issue in effort of stopping him from visiting my blog, but was told that because it’s in a public domain, there’s no way I could do that… And you know it’s really disheartening to see it happening in my blog because it is a sheer form of sabotage to my blog because my blog is not an object of popularity… Although my current followers are 52, what I care about is my works being duly appreciated by fellow writers, amateur or professional. Nevertheless, I don’t want to canvass for liking my writings. It’s just not me. But if you like any of my writings in terms of the contents regardless of any grammatical errors, that makes me feel fulfilled. And any comment is always welcome.

Don’t be shy to comment on any of my posts because I am a human being, too! (Smile)

BD: Stephanie, I understand how you care about your blog and your love of writing in this interview. Any word to your readers?

Stephanie: I just want my readers to know that I write because I like to portray what I feel about things in my heart in poetry and what I think about books I read in my mind in belief that taste and reason is universal in all human creatures regarding principles of judgment and of sentiment common to all mankind, as Edmund Burke averred in his essay On Taste. So Many Thanks to You, Dear Readers with My Whole Heart.

BD: Thank you, Stephanie. I hope your writings will have a wide range of loyal noble readership.

Stephanie: Thanks! Have a lovely day!

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