Friday, October 08, 2010

Sister Wendy

Fridays are art and music days. Oh, did I mention, I'm homeschooling this year?

Cart before horse. Reverse that. Now you're all caught up.

One of the programs I remember seeing in college was part of a series by Sister Wendy. She's a fascinating art lover with a wonderful perspective on the pieces she presents. Orthodontically challenged yet wildly perceptive, the idea of a nun presenting art seems somewhat antithetical. Most stories about nuns include rulers and the rapping of the knuckles of little children. Sister Wendy is nothing like that. She exudes warmth and intelligence, attracting the viewer with her obvious passion and understanding.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has an authentic copy of "The Thinker" from Rodin's studio. In the 1960s as some sort of display, explosives were placed at the sculpture's base (it sits outside the museum building) and the explosion ruined the lower half of the sculpture. The museum decided not to fix it. Sister Wendy thoughtfully considers this:

"If one can draw any benefit from such an act of senseless vandalism, it's this. That here "The Thinker" isn't perched aloft, above human conflict, he's been plunged into it. He's exposed as vulnerable, as subject to the chaos of the world as we are, and that makes him peculiarly and tragically accessible."

-----Sister Wendy

I like this analysis because of the connections she makes between the reality of the world at the time, and the history of the sculpture and its time. Rodin's figure is pulsing with muscles that are tensed, as if thinking with his whole body (Sister Wendy's words). The piece was designed at about 27 inches tall and to sit above the viewer, as part of a large work that was never finished. In Cleveland it is much larger and perches outside the building on a kind of pedestal. Instead of contemplating those curled feet and toes, there is nothing. One must move up the leg and then the sculpture begins. But it isn't as it was meant to be, and that is her point. Isn't that fabulously astute?

Last week, we watched Sister Wendy at the Art Institute of Chicago where Grant Wood's "American Gothic" resides. Yesterday, I bought OC a Chai tea at a coffee shop that uses AG as their stylized logo. Instead of holding a pitchfork the man holds a coffee cup. She recognized it right away, remembering the painting's title and painter's name. A+!

Usually, one is at a loss to teach for lack of examples. Not so with art. It is a subject with an overwhelming plethora of styles, traditions, artists, symbols, elements, modes of expression, meanings, disciplines, forms, genres, and theories.

Still Life with Two Lemons, Pieter Claesz, 1629.

Queen Isabella of Spain's illuminated prayerbook, Ghent, c. 1497.

Standing Bodhisattva, 1st - 2nd century AD, or CE, Pakistan.

"[Still life] was considered the lowest form, the foot soldiers of the army of art, mean of spirit, who only painted things instead of people and events. And yet what hypocrisy, because everybody loved it, and we still love it."

----- Sister Wendy

1 comment:

L. Ottaviano said...

I saw Sister Wendy for the first time in my 20's on PBS and loved it immediately. Thanks for reminding me about her and her orthodontic challenges. I wonder if they have any of her programs at the Deschutes library?