Tag Archives: history

The Death of Ancient Art: ISIS Strikes Again

Historical art dignifies our past. It provides a bridge between the wonders of a bygone era and the technological future. Like most people with archaeological training, I look upon carvings and statues from the ancient world with wonder and amazement. The detail and dedication that went into the their creation is always inspiring and visiting a

Garden Buddha
Garden Buddha

museum is paramount to everyone’s education into the arts.

When the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan I was aghast that such wanton violence on another cultures artwork and belief system could still exist today.  It appeared that civilization was always doomed to repeat the stupidities and mistakes of the past.   It was a sad day when they destroyed that significant work of art because of over zealous self-righteousness.

Little did I know that the extremists in ISIS, or ISIL would figure out a way to top it.  These extremists somehow decided the ancient Assyrian art found in Mosul’s Art Museum was offensive to Allah and destroyed them on Feb. 26, 2015.   I say somehow decided because even though according to the NY Times they state on their video why they did it. The answer is not one of some quaint religious or misguided ignorance, but rather that ravager of all nice things, greed. They want money, and if they can’t get money, they want followers and attention that will get them money.

I find it amazingly convenient that the artifacts they destroyed in the museum all appear to be large pieces that could not be openly sold on the black market to fund their particularly self-righteous behavior. According to the National Post and AP they’ve had no qualms about selling other proclaimed immoral artifacts in the past. Nor, do I really feel they will have problems engaging in the black market in the future.

It is strange that I almost wish that they had been able to sell those priceless artifacts on the black market.  At least these treasures would be saved for possible reassignment to the museum after ISIS becomes a bitter historical footnote of civilization.

It’s just sad to think that a statue of a winged bull survived for 2,800 years of war and destruction in one of the most historically violent areas of the world. It survived the, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Mongolians, several Caliphates, Sultans, and Emirates, even the Turks and the Mamluks. It passed into the 20th century as a kingdom and British occupied territory. This statue survived a republic and the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein, and American occupation only to be destroyed by some illiterate thug with a power drill. Really?

 Not a good day for art.

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Museums Get Tough on the Selfie Stick

Walking through museums behind young children scares me. Weird huh? Well, young children have young minds. Those minds have not quite matured enough to figure out that running into the 3000 year old vase swinging your toy is not a good idea.

Children usually lack that bit of common sense and need an adult to guide them through this experimental period of their lives. My years as an educator have taught me that sometimes this common sense passes on to the next generation and sometimes it doesn’t.

In the prehistoric world very few people lived to see 30 years old. Why? Because back then, without medicine and technology, one grand act of stupidity took them out of the human breeding population for good.

But, we’ve moved on. We invented. We, as a species, overcame the chance that doing a stupid thing results in your untimely death. There are no more Wooly Rhinoceroses to play cow tipping with.

Likewise, we now have rules of no running in the museum. Museums hired guards to patrol the art galleries to enforce this rule. Calmness and serenity should descend in the art museum. Unfortunately, human ingenuity is known for creating both chaos and order.

Enter the latest act of social silliness, the selfie stick. According to Molly Shilo of the Observer the MoMA is the latest in a long string of museums including the Frick and the Guggenheim that have seen the potential danger in our latest social craze. In response, they have all outlawed the use of selfie sticks in the museum.

No more can the young carefree mind swing a selfie stick around and carelessly carve up a Caravaggio. No one will accidentally poke a Pollock. That 3,000-year-old vase of the sheer genius and artistic style of a civilization long dead is still viewable to everyone.

In the end, this is a good thing. It’s a sign that the museums are responding to popular outside trends and are trying to save both the world of art history and the youth of today.  It saves the art world from unmitigated disaster and any youths from making a stupid life-changing mistake in the name of a selfie.

The young student of the arts may not understand what the big deal is. They may even rebel at the idea of not being allowed to have this fun. I wish to encourage a sense of patience to these future protectors of human ingenuity. Your selfie is not worth it.

In order to explain this concept, one must understand  that while we have a better chance of surviving the consequences of our actions. If you mutilate a $41.1 million Matisse with your selfie stick you may wish you didn’t survive.   Your allowance sure won’t.

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Modern Art Uncovers The Deceptive Practices of CIA

What if you found that someone used your life’s work, all those endless hours tirelessly sacrificed in the name of your occupation,to represent what it wasn’t originally meant to say? What would you do?   Would you merely shrug your shoulders? Or, protest as loudly as you could?   Worse, what if you never knew it happened?

It has happened. Mark Rothko was an artist in the same way vein as Jackson Pollack and the other great contemporaries. He was an artist in every sense of the world. He once proclaimed:

“I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.” ― Mark Rothko

 

But how bitter would he be today if he learned that his

This image is of a drawing, painting, print, or other two-dimensional work of art. It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of works of art for critical commentary on the work in question, the artistic genre or technique of the work of art or the school to which the artist belongs qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.
Magenta,_Black,_Green_on_Orange’,_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Mark_Rothko,_1947,_Museum_of_Modern_Art

legacy is not the art that he loved creating so much? What if he had learned his art was a weapon of the Cold War?

According to an article in the Independent, in the 1950’s this is exactly what happened to him.   Rothko was a Jewish immigrant from Russia who became an important artist in the primitive style of art. Being a Russian living in America during in the 1950’s era of McCarthyism was not easy. But, being a popular artist made him the perfect target for the CIA.

The CIA created several shadow art foundations and worked with many of the wealthiest elitists in the country to make sure that art from the likes of Jason Pollack and Mark Rothko was not only seen but were to become incredibly famous.   Why? According to Saunders:

 “Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.”

Also,

“Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylized and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.”

In an Saunders’s interview with Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA’s International Organisations Division he said :

“We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.”

 

There is little doubt that painters like Pollack or Rothko would still be famous names even without the help of the CIA.  Help the artists never knew they were receiving. But there is strong sign that perhaps there Abstract Expression style may not have been as popular for as long as it’s been.

Being an artist, this whole subject has me wondering. When I look at my art, What if…?  Nah….

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1951 Dodge: Every Picture has a Story

Dodge is a portrait image of the front of a 1951 Dodge “Job Rated” Pick Up truck. I found it lying in an open field next to some other slowly rusting hulks of America’s automotive past. Indeed the cold and bitter weather of a Taos winter appear to have done quite a bit of damage to what must have been a fabulous paint job back in the 1950’s.

It is unclear just how many long years of toil this “working man’s” truck put in until it finally sat abandoned in this field to rust into history. Unlike it’s competition, the Dodge designed trucks to put looks second and offer a no compromise utilitarian truck that you could specifically buy for the job you needed.

In the 1950’s Dodge introduced it’s Job Rated series Dodgewith larger engines ranging in power from 94 to 154 horsepower. Another feature was an increased electrical system for easier bad weather starting and a moisture resistant ignition system. Dodge also added a twin carburetion and exhaust system for improved power and fuel economy.

The technical abilities of the truck did not end with the engine. Quieter brakes designs and a smaller turning radius than it’s predecessors were also emphasized along with improved shock absorbers advertising a smoother ride.

While the primary purpose of the truck was to have the right truck for the job, style was not totally forgotten.   It’s true these trucks did not sport the flashier front grills of the GM or Ford models but they surpassed their competition in roomier cabs and larger windows designed to cut blind spots. It even had a new instrument panel so the driver could see the gauges easier.

Regardless of this trucks noble start and eventual finish, abandoned in a field rusting away, this truck is definitely a work of art that tells a story. Enjoy it on your wall.

For those of you who are hard-core fans of the trucks of yesteryear, I found a video about this truck from the sales training film made in the 1950’s. The real part of the video starts at 2:13. The first part of the video is an excellent historical lesson in stereotypes of the Hollywood in 1951. (warning: it’s not necessarily politically correct by today’s standards.)

 

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