St. Georgia, Maker of Art, Pray for Us

St. Georgia (Wikipedia).

Here in the city whose patron is St. Francis (more about that later), I keep thinking that the new pope of the same name might as well go ahead and canonize — or at least beatify —  Georgia O’Keeffe.

Yes, there are some obstacles. For one, she was not Roman Catholic, not particularly Christian at all. But what a move to bring more of the bourgeois bohemians into the fold it would be!

Consider the devotion that she inspires.

Walking down Grant Street the other day, I could see little flocks of pilgrims (mostly female, mostly of a certain age) streaming off the streets around the plaza, headed for her shrine.

That shrine, meanwhile, is merely part of an entire O’Keeffe complex, where the pilgrim may enrich her life with programs and lectures on memoir-writing,  “art & leadership for adults,” plein-air pastel drawing, “O’Keefe’s language of forms,”  and many other sacred subjects.

Advanced initiates might seek a stipend in American modernism.

Many single women move to the little town of Aibquiu, a Santa Fe acquaintance tells me, where one may for a fee tour just part of O’Keeffe’s home there: the living room, kitchen, and pantry only, I am told. Have any of them experienced miracles? That would help the sainthood application clear a major hurdle.

Her other home, Ghost Ranch, has functioned as a spiritual retreat center for many years.  (It is owned by Protestants, which could be a problem. But no matter.)

Her followers look to her for lessons on the art of living and even study her rather plain menus for guidance on how an artist eats.

While her cultus already provides an economic lift to the old provincial capital, beatification or canonization would certainly increase that even more.

Just tell the bishops to keep their distance. Otherwise, it’s a win-win situation. Are you listening, Holy Father?

A Quick Encounter between Fire and Thunder

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Jekabs Bine (1895–1955) “Perkons (Thunder),” 1941. Oil on canvas, 53 x 65 cm.
The Janis Rozentals Saldus History and Art Museum, Latvia.

The next issue of The Pomegranate will include a special section on the revival of Paganism in Latvia, a revival that blossomed in that Baltic nation’s first period of independence, 1917–1940, or between the Russian Revolution, which released Latvia from the old empire, and the beginnings of World War II, when the small nation was scooped up first Soviet Union, then by the Third Reich and then by the Soviet Union again, a crushing embrace that lasted until 1991.

I was partway through layout on an article by the Latvian art historian Kristine Ogle on Pagan themes in Latvian art before World War II, when M. came in from the veranda, saying that she could hear the emergency siren from down the valley.

Drop editor persona, assume volunteer firefighter persona.  Over my clothes I put on my “wildland interface” jacket and pants, since the sheriff’s dispatcher was saying this was a report of smoke, not a structure fire. I grabbed pack, radio, helmet, and was off, soon to be driving one of our brush trucks (wildland engines) up a county road that might lead to the site. But nothing.

Eventually we ended up with another firefighter and me in the brush truck, two more following in personal vehicles, a sheriff’s deputy, and an engine from the Bureau of Land Management. We split up to investigate different muddy ranch roads — still nothing. So after an hour, we called it off.

It had already hailed briefly in the morning, and soon after I came home, another little thunderstorm went through. So it seemed reasonable not to worry too much, not this week. People are still jumpy after the fire last October that took out 15 houses near mine—a wisp of low-hanging cloud might have looked like smoke.

Back at my computer, I continued where I had left off on the article. I had been just about to place a graphic in the file, and you can see it up above — the god of thunder.

Thunder has been much in evidence today here in the Wet Mountains, but given the painting’s date, you have to wonder if the dark clouds over the peaceful Latvian farmstead were more than thunderheads.

Some Items of Interest

Some Pagan, occult, and academic news items of interest:

• I did not know that any of the “Group of Seven” were Theosophists — plus other influential Canadian Pagans and occultists in one list.

• “Unintended Consequences of the Affordable Health Care Act” for part-time college and university faculty. In other words, schools are reacting to Obamacare by cutting the hours of adjunct professors.

• I have been saying for ten years (!) that we need more Pagan biography and autobiography. So I was glad to read in The Wild Hunt that Deborah Lipp has written one.

• The Hopi tribal government is upset over an upcoming French auction selling some of their sacred masks. NAGPRA is no help internationally.

Historians say many Hopi artifacts were taken long ago by people who found them unattended in shrines and on altars along the mesas of the Southwest

Because if a shrine does not have a full-time caretaker, it must be “abandoned.” The “vanishing Indian” and all that.

This is interesting too; the American government will help foreign countries recover their artifacts here, but does not protect ours over there:

When a nation like Italy or Cambodia claims ownership of an object in the United States, it typically invokes international accords that require American officials to take up the cases. The Justice Department, for example, recently sent two lawyers to Cambodia as part of an effort to help that country seize an ancient statue that Sotheby’s planned to auction in New York.

The United States does not have similar accords that it could cite in support of the Hopi claim on the Paris auction items. Several experts and activists said the United States had never viewed its own cultural patrimony as a priority because the country is relatively young, has long embraced the concept of free trade and has not historically focused on the cultural heritage issues of American Indians.

Read the rest. Continue reading

The Young Woman Who Personified Everything

Back when it was a print zine and not an (all too irregular) blog, John Yohalem’s Enchanté had some articles on “gods of the city”—architectural and sculptural representations of the Olympian deities and other Neoclassical figures.

Somewhere in there, perhaps, were sculptures based on a young woman named Audrey Munson.

Dreamy and pale, slender and softly curved, Audrey played muse to a generation of New York City sculptors at the turn of the 20th century. Her undraped figure still graces Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum and the Municipal Building. Though she tried to translate her beauty to the new medium of film, her career ended suddenly as Modernism — and her 30s — arrived. . . .

Audrey Munson

Audrey Munson

She was asked to personify, among other notions, memory, peace, abundance, mourning, industry, beauty, and America. Her statues still dot her city, from the Firemen’s Memorial in Riverside Park to the Brooklyn Museum. Daniel Chester French, sculptor of “Memory” and later of Lincoln for the president’s Washington, D.C., memorial, called her ethereal. For fame’s sake, Audrey withstood sucking air through a tube while being cast in plaster, dousings with cold water for a piece called “Waterfall,” and endless hours of painful posing. But she seemed at ease unclothed. And despite spending so many hours naked in the company of men, she was often portrayed in news stories as a simple girl-next-door who lived with her mother, a beguiling naïf who said things like, “Why clothes anyhow?”

The rest of her life was not so good.

 

Abstract Expressionism, Cool Jazz, and the CIA

No. 5, 1948, by Jackson Pollock

No. 5, 1948, by Jackson Pollock (Wikipedia)

This is not a new topic, but many people still do not realize how much the Central Intelligence Agency, through various fronts (cooperative or fake foundations, for example), influenced the artistic movements during the peak of the Cold War years—the 1950s and 1960s.

For example, Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock got huge boosts  through important exhibitions and other patronage.

Why? The Soviet Union, like Nazi Germany before it, officially disapproved of non-representational art. In that government’s view, non-representational art was morally degenerate—in other words, insufficiently propagandistic.

But we in the freedom-loving United States championed Abstract Expressionism and made it almost official in our towers of government and commerce, to the point where even people who did not like the style knew that it was High Art and above criticism.

Likewise jazz. There was no point in competing with the Soviet Union in the realm of classical music—their system identified talented musicians and ballet dancers young and trained them rigorously. They sent the best of the best on international tours, and the only problem was that sometimes the talent ran away (see, e.g., Mikhail Baryshnikov).

Soviet dissidents listened to jazz, so it was programmed on the Voice of America. And sending top American jazz musicians on world tours showed that we valued free artistic expression, etc. etc. and also, incidentally, that not all American Negroes were oppressed, an accusation frequently made by Soviet critics. We did also play up composers whom the Soviets did not like, such as Shostakovich.

It’s not exactly The Da Vinci Code, but sometimes there are indeed conspiracies behind world events.

It has always seemed to me that modern jazz began to lose its coolness cachet in the 1980s, and I cannot but think that such a loss was connected to the “winning” of the Cold War and the loss of secret funding. Abstract Expressionism has faded too, although whether the loss of secret support matters as much as the faddishness of the art world, I cannot say.

The City Dionysia in Colorado Springs.

“Just when you thought you knew what Colorado Springs was all about,” commented a poster on one of the Colorado Pagan email lists.

It was the City Dionysia festival, complete with a performance of Euripides’ The Bacchae.

There is, of course, a Facebook page, where you can see some photos.

I missed it by going camping, an homage to a different god. Maybe next year.

You have to admit that this event nicely counters the usual “Fort God” image that is commonly encountered.

Magical Women

A series of portraits by British Columbia artist Linda Macfarlane, some of individuals in the Western occult tradition (e.g. Maud Gonne), others of representative types. (The Wikipedia entry, however, skips over Gonne’s involvement with ceremonial magic.)

Via The Galloway Chronicles.

UPDATE: As discussed in the comments, Geocities is gone, and so is this site.

Fundie art and sex

I knew Jeff Sharlet from Killing the Buddha and his great Harper’s piece on New Life Church in Colorado Springs. It turns out that he has a quirky personal blog too: Call Me Ishmael.

Check out his comments on Christian fundamentalist art.

My tentative theory: As religious art traditionally uses eroticism to channel worldly desires toward spiritual concerns, contemporary fundamentalist art uses eroticism to channel sex — the visual currency of power in an advertising culture — away from women and toward men. Either that, or it’s a vast gay conspiracy.

The Rehabilitation of Rosaleen Norton

Back in the 1950s, the artist and occultist Rosaleen Norton was the witchcraft scene in Australia, at least according to some of the older books I have read. Her relationship with Sir Eugene Goosens, conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, was a scandal, as were her paintings, some of which were confiscated as indecent.

Now that scandal has achieved folkloric status, and Norton’s memory is a local tourist attraction, as you may read here (scroll to the bottom).

Things have changed a little.

Goosens, incidentally, worked hard for a new classical-music venue in Sydney; now the Sydney Opera House with its white “sails” is the tourism-poster icon of Australia. I think that it will be a while before there is a Rosaleen Norton retrospective exhibit in the lobby, but think of the connection.