This past Sunday, after the usual coffee-and-cookie outing at Calabria, Kelly and I hit the Vancouver Art Gallery to see The Modern Woman: Drawings by Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Other Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
It wasn’t quite a hit and run visit, but we didn’t linger either. The point of having a VAG membership, for me, is to go often and to leave as soon as my brain fills up or my feet get sore. I’d say we took the first two-thirds of the exhibit in at a leisurely pace and the remainder at a brisk walk.
I had been prepared to be underwhelmed: travelling exhibits are a mixed bag, and the fact that this one was all drawings suggested, to me, wall after wall of tiny scribblings and little else. I want variety, and I like big stuff, with lots of color. I’m glad to report that I was wrong-so-wrong on this apprehension. There were sketches aplenty, of course, and some of them were indeed miniscule. But there were glorious big pastel pieces too, colorful, rich and satisfying. The overall mix had a good deal of variety.
As is often true, wherever you go, the most interest was to be had from the people. Early on, we came into a good-sized room and confronted the word NUDE, emblazoned on the wall, in letters one and a half feet high. NUDE was accompanied by a short paragraph which discussed how artists had moved from depicting their nude models as idealized Greek goddesses (and other babes of the Classics) to doing portraits of real women, with flesh and wrinkles and fat rolls. These subjects were, increasingly, engaged in bathing and dressing and other types of private, thoroughly unethereal activity.
The walls, of course, were covered in nude sketches. And about ten steps behind me, half-a-room ahead of their adult escort, were an eight and ten year old girl.
They were visibly discomfited to be standing in a big room full of adults–maybe six men and eight women–all in contemplation of womanly nakedness. They also seemed to know it wasn’t cool to be uncomfortable. So instead of shrieking with laughter and running for the door, they kind of gabbled inarticulately. Then they gravitated, all in a rush, to an image by Paul Albert Besnard, of a woman with a peacock feather fan. Her back is to the viewer, with no breast exposed, and the fan itself covers her butt crack. Very demure. Very lovely, too, by the way–I liked it.
“This one’s okay,” the older girl said; she seemed relieved.
sketch by Paul Albert Besnard
Right next to the Besnard was a sketch of a girl of seven or eight years, face on to the viewer. I’d been stopped by that one. Images of older-than-infant kids without their clothes on aren’t something I encounter much. My assumption is that today’s artists aren’t making many these days, especially if they need models, for fear of getting arrested for making porn. (Is that so? I don’t actually know.)
So I was processing this and waiting to see what the girls made of it, this image of a girl essentially their age, staring at the viewer, starkers. Then their adult turned up and swept them on to an image of a woman with a robe over her chest. End scene.
Two galleries on, a six-ish boy asked his male adult, “Where’s the Mona Lisa?”
“Not here,” was all the reply he got.
So… kids in museums. Eavesdropping on the girls left me with that sand in my oyster shell feeling, that tickle of Hmmm, what, exactly?
I am certainly not one to think kids shouldn’t be exposed to nudes in art, or that museums should rate shows–PG, PG13, R, can you imagine it! I would argue it’s impossible to ensure a young person won’t experience any number of moments of alienation from or disconnection with the adult world throughout their growing years. You can probably all remember times when you bumped up against realities that were inexplicably adult and alien, whether they were from the sexual realm or elsewhere.
But I felt for this particular pair of girls as they coped with that awkward moment.
The exhibit being all about women, the whole thing felt eerily meta, too. Here we had two young proto-women, taking in what a bunch of mostly male Euro-painters thought femininity was, a couple centuries ago. Meanwhile, a feminist blogger was spying on them.
I didn’t reach any useful conclusions. I’ll go back and look at the room again, and peoplewatch some more. At some point, maybe, the oyster-itch will find its way into a story or book. That’s part of how it works for me. In the meantime, I’d welcome your thoughts.
Speaking of VAG, localfolk, they are in the process of trying to get a new space–it has room to display a trifling 3% of its collection, and no lecture space. They have a site explaining the issues here, which goes on to say how we-all can support the move to the old bus parkade at Georgia and Cambie.
On Saturday I finished up Adam Nicolson‘s SEIZE THE FIRE: HEROISM, DUTY, AND NELSON’S BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR. It is not at all a minute-by-minute account of the battle–about which I knew beans and still know almost nothing–and more an analysis of the cultural, economic and emotional context in which it took place.
Nicolson talks about the forces that shaped Navy culture in this century–the long tradition of deep aggression and violence embedded within British culture, the profit motive (many of the officers, particularly, were in the racket to make fortunes that would let them buy homes in the country and live the gentleman lifestyle), the disciplined maintenance rituals that kept the ships in good shape and the immense amounts of money borrowed by Parliament to keep them so. The spending supported the navy in both a direct and an indirect manner: they bought up so much of the world’s available supply of ship materiel that other countries were hard pressed to get their hands on things like wood, canvas and hemp.
His prose is precise and lovely to read aloud. Here, he uses Jane Austen to illustrate how the idea of masculinity had evolved between the 18th and 19th centuries:
By 1805, the femininity of the mid-18th century was being left behind. Exaggerated sensibility had started to look absurd. Clothes, for both men and women, had become sober and simple…. one can see dramatised the shift in values between the 18th and 19th centuries arranged around the two potential heroes of [Pride and Prejudice]: Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley is 18th-century man: handsome, young, agreeable, delightful, fond of dancing, gentlemanlike, pleasant, easy, unaffected and not entirely in control of his destiny. Darcy is fine, tall, handsome, noble, proud, forbidding, disagreeable, and subject to no control but his own. It is a strikingly schematic division. Darcy is like a craggy black mountainside–Mrs. Bennet calls him ‘horrid’, the word used to describe the pleasure to be derived from a harsh and sublime landscape; Mr. Bingley is a verdant park with bubbling rills. Darcy is 19th century man, manliness itself, uncompromising, dark and sexy.
SEIZE THE FIRE isn’t light reading, obviously, but it’s also not dense or in any way a grind. It’s mostly about emotion–how people felt about war, their attitude toward battle, the vital cultural differences between the British and French-Spanish fleets that led to the victory at Trafalgar, and the way the ideas of heroism and honor were shaped before the battle and, afterwards, by it. Nicolson’s analysis is intriguing but never ethereal. He’s writing about a slaughter, and you never forget that; this is a humane book, and a really interesting one. Not only do I recommend it, but I expect I’ll pick up his book about the translation of the King James bible, GOD’S SECRETARIES, in the not too distant.
Barb and I hit Burnaby Lake on Friday in pursuit of birds and had a five mile ramble along the northern path to Piper Spit and, from there, to the Cariboo dam. It was middling warm and cloudy. Glorious cartoony clouds: they made the light for bird chasing a little challenging, at times, but check this out:
Light or no light, we had some good birder sightings: a downy woodpecker, cedar waxwings, this little common yellowthroat, singing his guts out in the not-actually-this-lightless gloom:
I think my best score photographically, was a… song sparrow? Maybe a Lincoln’s sparrow? Anyway, he’s got bling. I know Wildlife Rescue has their shelter on the edge of the park; I shall have to ask Fearless if they tag all their rescuees before releasing them. It seems as though a lot of the animals at the lake have bracelets.
Kelly and I have been watching Daria, Daria and more Daria ever since we got the box set, and have been delighted to discover that not only does it hold up nicely, but there was an entire season we missed. Yesterday, though, we broke pattern, watching first the Merlin pilot and then, later, a movie.
We have a long enough list of wanna-see films at Zip that by the time something actually arrives at our house, we’ve often forgotten which of us wanted to see it and who it was recommended it. So it was with Five Across the Eyes, whose production values were so incredibly low that we gave it less time than we spent watching the previews (for Anamorph and Pathology, both of which got added to the queue. If they are appalling, let us know!)
I had been in the mood for some horror, but the other thing we had in hand was Christmas in Connecticut. By chance I do remember when I zipped this: it was in 2007, just before Kelly went to Taos Toolbox, and it was something Connie Willis had recommended in pre-workshop e-mails, or some interview she’d given at around that time.
We threw it in. It’s a 1945 romantic comedy, with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan–neither of whom I remember seeing before in anything–and thoroughly delightful. There’s some interesting gender stuff–the male love object is quite passive, almost demure, and Barbara is an independent career woman who’s chasing him, in an adorable way, from the moment he wanders into her field of vision. By the end, of course, Dennis does get to prove he’s got some manly initiative, but it’s not a big reversal, or in any way a diminishing of Barbara’s awesome. The cast has a collective chuckle over her lack of traditional girl skills, she’s in no way crushed, and we end with love.
Definitely a better way to spend the night than watching five badly-shot teenaged girls getting (one assumes) dismembered.
Last Saturday Kelly and I climbed out of bed at the appalling-to-most hour of five in the morning and vroomed via rental car to Seattle for the Locus Awards. It was a leisurely drive; we stopped at the Rustic Cafe in Fairhaven because I remembered they had tasty, small biscotti. Wireless, too! Alas, the coffee was only so-so. We hit a Fred Meyer for Luna Bars and still reached the hotel, a Marriott of some order or another, in time for the first panel at ten.
This was my first Locus Awards, and I gather they used to be quite small affairs, but what they have evolved into lately is a delightfully intimate little one-day con. The vibe was World Fantasy-esque, very pleasant and low key, with lots of shop talk. The first panel was about research and had Connie Willis, Walter John Williams, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Nancy Kress on it; the second was called “Ten Mistakes a Writer Should Not Make” and featured editors Gardner Dozois, Eileen Gunn, Beth Meacham and Jeremy Lassen. Both were moderated by Gary K. Wolfe, who reviews for the mag (as I myself did at one time, actually. It seems like a long time ago, now.)
Ursula K. Le Guin, pondering research:
There was an autograph session and then the awards banquet itself. I always enjoy it when Connie Willis hosts, and she was hilarious as usual… except, of course, when talking about Charles Brown being gone. This was the first awards ceremony since he’s died; it hadn’t sunk in, really. Ouch.
I saw so many people. Some I’ve known for years, some I know slightly (and now know better) and, of course, people I consider friends whom I’ve only ever met online. I tried to tell calendula-witch I was sure we’d hung out, only to realize I had seen her pic, many times, on Jay’s blog. I got to have a nice long convo with Michael Bishop, who reprinted my “Cooking Creole” last year in Passing for Human; we’d met before, but only glancingly. I hereby nominate him for the Best Smile in the History of Ever Award:
There was some precious stolen time with Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge, and a few minutes with Eileen Gunn. I got to tell Nancy Kress, who I’ve long admired, what it’s like to teach “To Cuddle Amy” in my UCLA class “Creating Universes, Building Worlds.”
Two big highlights were meeting some of the folks from this year’s Clarion West class, who were in attendance after a week with Michael. They’re keen, bright-eyed, engaged, visibly bonded and entirely adorable! Second, Kelly and I lured Maureen McHugh out to a slow, pleasant and thoroughly delicious meal at Serafina.
Maureen is close to Snuffy. I’ve read her blog, off and on, for years. I reviewed Mission Child for SciFi, back when it first came out in hardcover, and we’ve Tweeted at each other once or twice. When we invited her out my thoughts, essentially, were: Look! Fellow writer! Who knows Snuffy and seems really nice! And then we were sitting by Lake Union, taking in the sun and the boats while waiting for the restaurant to open, and it sank in: by the holy Bleeding Elvis, I am out for dinner with the author of China Mountain Zhang! I’m so a fan of hers! Even though I was too tired and hungry to make sense of the Serafina menu, or to count to four on my fingers, I knew bits of trivia about her life and family, and babbled worshipfully about the dirt on the Mission Child planet. (No, seriously. Extremely cool dirt.) And she didn’t even run screaming into the day yelling, “Eeek, stalker!”
We get to hang with our gods in this subculture; it’s so gratifying.