She learns from Snoopy and his friends

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As I read a daily Snoopy comic strip on my Kindle Fire, I believe the power of pop art that shapes the patterns of our culture and the modes of attitude toward the social customs and conventions. This relatively new modern art genre first emerged in the United States and the United Kingdom in the late 1950s as a counter cultural movement to challenge the orthodox forms and formulas of fine art by using imaginary figures or cultural objects from mass demotic culture, such as comic books and advertising. Its wide appealing to all stratum of society devoid of abstruse textual message or abstract imagery only comprehensible to a select few is elegantly manifested in Peanuts, featuring Charlie Brown, his friends, and of course his very famous resident beagle Snoopy.

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Peanuts is all about being hopeful in the face of hopelessness in living daily life. The round shapes and soft faces of the characters of Peanuts evoke a sense of warmth, innocence, and artlessness with a feeling of secure comfort. What’s more, the simple themes of this affable comic strip are universally translated into the minds of readers all around the world, so much so that in Japan Snoopy and the Peanut Gang have become celebrities in the stationery firmament since their first debut in 1950. Peanuts shows us the incongruity and pain of everyday human condition in the appearance of innocent-faced children and stoical Snoopy. It reveals certain truths of our daily existential dilemma in which we struggle with the meanings of life against our unknown futures. In this regard, Peanuts is a profound comic strip dealing with very adult concerns – that is to say, life is a series of worries and more worries- in disguise.

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Mr. Schultz at work.

The creator of Peanuts, Charles M. Schultz (1922-2000), was in many ways a lot like Charlie Brown. Both of them had that placid, affable smiles, soft facial features that make anyone feel guilty of hollering out their names out of earshot, and relaxed and almost self-effacing comportment that spells out “Humility.” In fact, the shy Schultz found the best medium in a comic strip to express his artistic talent and intelligence and thus created his simple but complex alter ego Charlie Brown. However, Schultz did not purport his creation to be a medium of pontificating about political or social agendas. He did not intend to use Peanuts as a visual aide to contextualize far-fetched psychoanalysis in this comic strip. The triumph of Peanuts over the flight of ages and gaps of cultures lies on Schultz’s keen observation of life per se and his effortless delineation thereof in this quiet but smashing timeless comic strip that deserves of universal recognition across the seas and continents. For this reason, Peanuts is an excellent paradigm of pop art whose excellence is simplicity in character, in style, and in form. Leo Tolstoy said, “There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth.” Peanuts fits all of this.

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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.