Tag Archives: arts

A League of Their Own

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Reading a section featuring a small, pleasant Q&A type of interview with a writer in The New York Times Book Review on restful weekends gives me a kind of voyeuristic fillip to be privy to the life of the writer; moreover, the usual question of whom to invite for dinner is the gist of such small pleasure. I’ve found it quite stimulating to think about my own list of people to have dinner with. Therefore, I have herein drawn up my own list of invitees to confabulate with, though not at dinnertime but at lunchtime, which I think more convenient and favorable to enjoy the Californian sun and the beautiful scenery in daylight. Here’s my list of guests:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt: The paragon of the First Lady of the United States with Intelligence that ministered to her moral character. She put her philosophy into action by actively participating in social services. Besides, Mrs. Roosevelt possessed a polished but common sense of humor and wits communicative to people of all social strata with her timeless adage: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
  • Joan of Arc: The Virgin of Lorraine, The Patron Saint of France… Such are the epithets of this patriotic French maiden who was burned alive on the counts of witchery and treason, which was of course conspiracy concocted by the French ecclesiastical dignitaries collaborating with the English against whom Joan of Arc fiercely and courageously fought to victory. She was neither a religious fanatic, nor a hallucinated mooncalf, nor a certifiable schizophrenic. She might be a simple peasant woman but a courageous, headstrong, and smart woman of faith who did not even protect her face during battles with the English amid the attacks of sharp arrows, axes, and lances. No wonder did Mark Twain praise the Virgin Knight forthwith: “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, an there you will find it.” Besides, her simplicity of faith excelled the pomposity of ecclesiastical knowledge by saying thus: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing, and we should not complicate the matter.” I can learn many things from Joan as a True Model Woman who embodied Intelligence, Femininity, Courage, and Faith.
  • Marilyn Monroe: Born as Norma Jean Baker, she was not a blonde bimbo whose physical attractiveness belied her ceaseless pursuit of  knowledge concomitant with her pursuit of meaning of life she desperately wanted to ascertain. Monroe enrolled in evening college courses in the New York City when she had no schedules during the daytime. Behind her pretty persona of movie star, there was a profound shadow of existentialist. Also, Monroe’s down-to-earth personality and kind nature would make her a lovely company striking up a convivial conversation at the table full of strangers.
  • Jane Birkin: Her bohemian look – that effortlessly sensual but charmingly delightful facade with simple French Chic style is always timeless and boundless, appealing to Womankind imbuing with a sense of emulation of the style. In fact, such qualities of Birkin had one time convinced me that she was French. She seems to wear sexuality like she’s wearing her favorite set of perfumes, which is never vulgar nor degrading. Once a shy English girl is now a sensuous cosmopolitan woman demonstrating admixture of art and individuality in the most fashionable way. She will be a delightful addition to my lunchtime table.

In view of the above, my guests of honors are an eclectic company of women, past or present, surprisingly and strictly non-professional authors who make a living by writing only, although I did not intend it to be that way. Or maybe my preconception of professional authors – especially women – as highly volatile artists with inflated egos, dazzling intelligence, divine beauty, and impressive achievements might have played a vital role in excluding unconsciously any of them from my circle of companions. But so did Michelangelo; he was never befriended with his contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci, who in fact lambasted his untidiness as a sculptor in comparison with a baker. Nor did Michelangelo make friends with other famous artists. Instead,  he was a friend of some obscure artisan who helped around various artists by doing sorts of drudgery. It all boils down to the fact that having a good company of kindred spirits can do a favorable service to your soul, making you feel charitable and magnanimous, so much so that you can- to quote the swashbuckling Oscar Wilde- “forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”

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The Beautiful World of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Moulin Rouge La Goulue 1891by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

On my desk now, I have a lovely little music box made out of a replica of Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge La Goulue 1891 that pleasingly plays “French Can Can” when I wind up a handle attached aside to the box. The sweet melody played from the vivacious four-color lithograph affords a delightful digression during my study, which sparks off the subsequent musings on the artist and the arts, self-proclaimed, would-be,and aspiring artists and the act of creation itself.

A creator of the arts is a solipsistic benefactor of humanity whose congenitally proud egotism is a grand collective reflection of his cultivated trauma, sadness, frustration, anguish, and anger. With this in mind, an artist is endowed with a certain kind of poetic license to be freely and respectfully egoistical because an act of creation – or sometimes referred to as “intellectual drudgery” – demands of an unusual degree of courage, imagination, imaginativeness, knowledge, confidence and patience, all in a frenzy of his imago already existing or incipiently forming, by pouring out everything that is in him unsparingly, furiously into his creation. In fact, creative originality of standing quality often reflects high resources of courage, especially when the artist will not yield to his formidable foe in the form of biological determinism. Such was a noble spirit of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), a French painter and illustrator who sublimated his existential cross into his glorious laurel through the medium of art, the creation of his own reality of the world as he saw and felt in his mind’s eye.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Anyone who is interested in the Post-Impressionist paintings by Cezanne, Gogh, and Gauguin, might have come across Lautrec’s bold but gorgeous posters of actresses and dancers of Paris cabarets and theaters during the Belle Epoch period (1870-1914). Lautrec’s inherited disabilities as a result of his aristocratic familial consanguinity blighted him with grotesque physical deformities and congenital weakness: a midget taking a feral resemblance to a cross between a bull frog and a monkey. If you think that this physical misfortune alone merits his artistry or self-inflicting sybaritic lifestyle, you are probably not seeing the forest for trees. True, that he was often too ill to paint any and frequently visited the brothel to dispel his existential loneliness due to his pronounced external features. However, it was his preservation of a sense of purpose in life and tenacious grasp on his artistic existence, his recognition of the values he possessed and talent to express them to mark his standing in the world. The wisely chosen attitude toward things that he could not change but accept speaks to our world of post truths, grand fustian narratives, fake news, and fleeting ambitions that demerits  courage and patience, which are the handmaids of genuine confidence as a reservoir of creativeness.

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Le Rire Les Grans Concerts De L Opera 1897  by Henri Toulouse Lautrec

Being an admirer of the works of this amazingly daring and talented artist, I believe anyone struggling to better the self can relate to a prodigy of courage and effort demonstrated by Lautrec at the darkest hours of his life, when in fact it was the most creative time of his artistic career as a highly sought-after illustrator of French entertainment industry that provided visionary artists and technicians the substantial grist for the mill of their subsistence. Into this dazzling new luminous conflation of art and technology staged Lautrec, lord of the blank space and the bold line, to claim his dominance as the bell epoch’s master of artistic poster designer not only of his time but also of our time. The capital difference between Lautrec and his contemporaries was his daring characterization of the models and ambience he portrayed; the individuality was in the expression of the colors, lines, and perspectives, making the subjects into work of new creation, elevating their planes and milieus into the artistic ether of exquisite beauty and peculiar charm, giving unforgettable impressions on the minds of the beholders.

Lautrec proves to be a human testament to triumph of will over biological/social inhibitions during difficult times. His decision to work through his sadness by painting comes closer to serving as a sovereign remedy to the existential ills than any other semblance to solution thereof. In light of the above, it occurs to me that to practice any form of art, however good or bad, is not a prerogative of a professional or publicly recognized artist with more than hundreds of followers. The actualization of ideation, i.e., an expression of yourself in writing or painting, is a noble act of claiming your sovereignty, your own intractably unique self that attests to your existence, a sense of purpose in life. A life is not fully realized unless you actually live through it by unlocking what’s inside you. Be it ever called a cathartic effect or solipsistic satisfaction through the medium of creative act, just as Aristotle defined the primary function of the Arts as an imitation of natural beauty. That is why I write, and so should you.

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From PBS Masterpiece Theater – Mr. Selfridge

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This Masterpiece Theater Mini-Series of “Mr. Selfridge” produced by ITV is a tour de force of excellent performances of the actors, the finesse of drama scripts, gorgeous costumes, and classically elegant settings coordinated as truthfully as possible. It chronicles Harry Gordon Selfridge’s business adventures from the onset of establishing Selfridges & Co in 1908 until his farewell to his labor of love twenty years afterwards.

 From Episode I of Series 1 to Episode 10 of Series 4 (Final Season), we get to see a man named Harry Gordon Selfridge (1958-1947) who was something of a Napoleon Bonaparte knowing no word in his dictionary for “Impossible.” We see the man build a one-of-a-kind department store in London’s Oxford Street as an adventurous American tradesman against the British aristocratic chauvinism. Selfridge was a man who set a standard of modern department store; by placing the cosmetic/perfume counters on the lobby, Selfridge intended to sweeten the atmosphere of the floor in attempt to use it as a magnet for passers-by, especially women. In effect, Selfridge broke down the class-stratified fashion wall guarded by the rich/privileged by democratizing the luxurious items and making them accessible to common people as well.

Moreover, the ace portrayal of Selfridge would/could not be possible were it not for the fine acting of Jeremy Piven whose quintessential American accent doubled with inescapable American can-do attitudes triumphs over the transatlantic cultural differences in working with the British peers. The viewer will be left with a feeling of heartfulness of the characters upon finishing all of the episodes in this series and cannot help but applaud to Mr. Selfridge for his entrepreneurial effervescence and Mr. Piven for portraying the man in a stellar performance that evokes both pathos and respect.