Mirror Image

In my experiences modeling for figure drawing classes I’ve seen teachers instruct a class to try drawing with their non-dominant hands. Obviously the resulting drawings are not – nor are they intended to be – artistic masterpieces. It’s just an exercise. But the looks of puzzlement on the artists’ faces afterward is amusing to see. I can relate though, as I have not an ounce of ambidexterity in me. I’m right-handed and anything I write with my left hand is barely legible. I’m right-dominant even beyond writing. I balance better on my right leg than on my left. When performing workout exercises, such as lunges and reverse lunges, side planks, etc, I feel more stable doing them on my right side than on my left. I can’t hammer a nail in the wall with my left hand, can’t throw a frisbee with my left hand. The list goes on.

They say that a mere 1% of people are fully and naturally ambidextrous. That’s quite an exclusive club! It’s all about our brain hemispheres and the degree of symmetry between the right and left sides of the brain. Michelangelo was ambidextrous, as was Benjamin Franklin, Nikola Tesla, and Albert Einstein. NBA superstar LeBron James is ambidextrous, along with some other famous athletes who display ambidexterity in their respective sports, such as tennis player Maria Sharapova and soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.

Perhaps the most famous ambidextrous figure in history is the original “Renaissance Man”; the one and only Leonardo da Vinci. And as if his genius and ambidexterity weren’t impressive enough, da Vinci took it a step further. He was adept at the skill of “mirror writing”. Mirror writing is writing that is backwards – from right to left – and can’t easily be read on the page, but appears normal when reflected in a mirror. I remember, as a young child, not understanding why the word “AMBULANCE” was written backwards on the front of the emergency vehicle. My dad explained to me that it was so the word could be read in the rear view mirrors of drivers on the road. That’s an example of mirror writing in the world around us.

In this page from his notebooks exploring the anatomy of the arm, Da Vinci’s notes are done in mirror writing:

davinci_studies_of_the_arm_showing_the_movements_made_by_the_biceps

So the question is, why did da Vinci do mirror writing? The answer is we don’t know for sure. It remains a mystery although speculations have been offered. One theory is that he wanted to retain some degree of secrecy with regard to his studies and discoveries. Let’s say some idiot troublemaker broke into Leonardo’s studio and stole his notebooks. He’d later look through them, thinking he got his hands on the genius’s precious work, and ask, “What the hell is this? Dammit!”. Another theory is that the mirror writing provided better neatness. da Vinci painted with both his left and right hands, but he wrote with his left hand, and as you southpaws out there can attest, smudges and smears can be a nuisance when writing right-to-left. Yet another theory – my favorite – is that da Vinci simply enjoyed mirror writing and found that it fueled his creativity and intellect. He’s Leonardo da Vinci, after all, so why the hell not? 🙂

You’ve all seen this iconic study of human proportions. It’s da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”, c. 1490, again with notes written in mirror writing:

Vitruvian Man c. 1492.

So because I felt inspired by a brilliant polymath like Leonardo da Vinci, I decided to do my own mirror writing. I did it with my right hand … and it still sucks! Thought I was running out of space and got jammed. I took a picture of it in reflection. For what it’s worth, I actually have pretty nice handwriting when it’s done normally. Now if only I can come up with some engineering inventions, timeless portraiture, and detailed anatomical studies, then I’ll be on my way to greatness. Watch out, Leo! 😆

photo-on-2-8-17-at-11-42-pm

Joe’s Violin

We are now in the midst of “awards season”, and for those of us who didn’t get to the movies at all last year, we have no preference to root for “La La Land” or “Manchester by the Sea” or any of the nominated feature films or actors’ performances. But I will have something to root for during the Academy Awards broadcast on February 26th; a nominated film in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. “Joe’s Violin” is an extraordinary story of survival, hope, and music’s capacity to provide comfort during hardship. Directed by Kahane Cooperman, the film tells the story of Joe Feingold, a 91 year-old Holocaust survivor and how he came to form a bond with Brianna Perez, a 12 year-old schoolgirl from the South Bronx.

I am an avid listener of WQXR, New York’s classical music station. For the past couple of years they’ve been organizing an instrument drive, in which people donate used musical instruments to be distributed to music and arts programs at under-resourced schools in the area. Joe Feingold donated a violin to the program – a 70 year-old violin that he came across while living in a displaced persons camp in Germany. He acquired it by trading for a carton of cigarettes. Through the instrument drive, Joe’s violin ended up in the hands of Brianna Perez, who lives in one of the poorest congressional districts in America.

I don’t usually post lengthy videos on the blog, but I’ve made an exception in this case because the story, and the filmmakers’ deeply-felt telling of the story, is poignant and remarkable. If you have 24 minutes to spare, watch the movie in full here, for our Music Monday:

Countenances

Helllooooooooooo friends!! How is everyone? 2017 is barely two weeks old and I’ve already had my bout with the flu! Ugh. I was in bed for a few days feeling pretty lousy, but I’m recovered now (mostly) and ready to return to work. First booking on my schedule is the two week Drawing Marathon at the New York Studio School again. I modeled for it at the start of the fall 2016 semester – posted here – and am honored to have been asked back.

Also, an update about the “Portraits and Pets” Museworthy Art Show. I’ve decided that it will happen in the spring – either late March or early April. So anyone who has not yet submitted something and would like to, you still have plenty of time! I encourage you to do so. Skill level is totally unimportant. All that matters is sharing, expression, and participation 🙂

Speaking of portraits, I’ve been looking at them a lot lately. More than nudes even. Something about the varied countenances and bearings of individuals, and how artists manage to capture those distinct airs through portraiture, is fascinating to me. Two in particular made an impression on me recently and I decided to share on the blog. Interestingly, both of them were painted by artists who are well-known mostly for their landscapes. The two men were not contemporaries (born 60 years apart), hailed from different parts of Europe and were raised in different socio-economic backgrounds. One was reared in a comfortable, middle class Parisian lifestyle, the other in a poverty-stricken, rootless existence in northern Italy.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, the Parisian, painted this work, The Greek Girl, in 1870. The girl is not Greek at all. She is Emma Dobigny, a popular French artist’s model at the time and a particular favorite of Edgar Degas. The warm, honeyed tones and harmonious palette work extremely well, as does the composition. She is dainty and winsome. We look at her, but her gaze and attention are directed elsewhere. I also see the vertical shape of her long jacket contrasting with the roundness of her cherubic face.

corot-greekgirl

The next portrait is by the the Italian painter Giovanni Segantini who, as a young boy, was homeless for a time, living in the streets of Milan and placed in a reform school. I’ve always found him to be a very interesting artist. The bulk of Segantini’s work are scenes of Alpine pastoral life – sheep herders and peasant folk in the Swiss mountains. This is his 1881 portrait of Leopoldina Grubicy who I’m assuming was probably the wife of Vittore Grubicy, an art gallery owner, painter, friend and supporter of Segantini. Again, marvelous shapes. A mature woman. Luminosity on the skin, the fluffy white collar, and the gold hair clip are details which draw the eye.

segantini-portraitleopoldina

Dark Matter

A few weeks from now, we can send a cruise missile to retroactively blow up 2016, right? That’s doable? I hope so because, good grief, if there was a single year in the past decade or so that deserves to wiped out of collective human memory 2016 is it. Odd though, because I always thought “2016” sounds good spoken and looks good written. Twenty-sixteen. Should have been a winner but, alas, it wasn’t.

So when I sat down with my laptop to compose this end-of-year blog post, I went back, out of curiosity, to see what I had published as the first Museworthy post of 2016. It was Rough Beasts on January 2nd; a discussion of William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, with a dash of my own struggle with depression thrown in. Now, at the end of this year, it feels like things have come full circle. And Yeats’ portentous poetical expressions about the centre not holding, darkness dropping, and the falcon not hearing the falconer, carry even more foreboding weight than ever it seems.

Solitude by Jean-Jacques Henner:

henner-solitude

How can we describe 2016? I see it as having been a queasy concoction of harrowing human tragedy with a “bread and circuses” spectacle. From Orlando to Aleppo, Brexit and Brussels, floods and earthquakes, airstrikes and debate stages, cries of war and rebellions, sacred lands and murdered gorillas and divided nations, propaganda and venal bureaucrats, and a disturbing amount of people brazenly, shamelessly lusting for power. Power; the most effective corrupter of souls known to man. Sometimes I think we’re just going through one of the innumerable rough patches that the arc of history inflicts upon us, that feels more dire than it actually is. And that could very well be the case. But then other times I think we’re witnessing the the Book of Revelation coming to life. Or the movie “Idiocracy”. Not sure which one is more terrifying at this point.

But thank god for the Chicago Cubs, yes? Their World Series triumph was a genuine, albeit fleeting, moment of jubilation, not just for their long-suffering fans but for anyone who has a soft spot for underdogs and was receptive to a much-needed bright spot in this difficult year. Well done, Cubbies! You are “lovable losers” no more.

If only heartwarming baseball stories had a lasting effect on our mood and outlook. But they don’t unfortunately. And the undercurrents of anxiety, tension, and uncertainty that are in the air cannot be brushed away.

Weary Moon, Edward Robert Hughes:

hughes-wearymoon

Is 2016 literally the “WORST YEAR EVER!!” as hysterical social media exclamations would have us believe? Well of course not literally in the entire course of human history. That’s just silly. But we are engaged in the present. We are consumed with the present. We are emotionally invested in the present. We assess present circumstances as predictors of our future and our children’s futures.

A Soul Brought to Heaven, 1878, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau:

soul-carried-to-heaven-jpglarge

For sure, 2016 did take from us many beloved and prominent figures – Prince, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, Elie Wiesel, Nancy Reagan just to name a few. And for us classical music fans, the passing of Sir Neville Marriner was a great loss. Among this latest spate of deaths in December, which has included George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, was a remarkable and accomplished woman whose passing on Christmas Day at the age of 88 seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Vera Rubin was the American astrophysicist whose tireless research confirmed the existence of “dark matter” in the universe. Hey that’s big! Quite an amazing and brilliant woman who took on the dual challenges of making discoveries in the galaxies and confronting obstacles for women in science. She was never awarded the Nobel Prize, which should be baffling but sadly isn’t when we consider that out of 203 Nobels awarded for physics only two in history have gone to women. Still, her enormous contributions remain, as do her wise words: “Don’t shoot for the stars, we already know what’s there. Shoot for the space in between because that’s where the real mystery lies.”

Vera Rubin as an undergraduate at Vassar:

verarubin

I’m going to hand over this final Museworthy post of 2016 to the man whose untimely death back in January seems to have set the tone for this crummy year. (An alternate interpretation is that he was really prescient and decided to bail early on 2016 before this shitshow kicked into high gear). Now he’s dancing among the stars and celestial bodies, and escorting Vera Rubin through the dark matter. Neither he nor the song needs any further introduction from me, except to say that it will give you chills.

I’ll see you in 2017, friends. God bless you all ……
Claudia xoxo

Love Divine

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

— Christina Rossetti

Salvador Dali, Maria conferens in corde suo, watercolor and gouache, 1964:

http://art-dali.com

A merry Museworthy Christmas to all, and Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice, and blessings of all kinds to all people. Sing a song of joy, and remember that a light glows for you, illuminating the darkness, guiding you toward grace and truth . . .

Peace, friends.

Claudia
xoxo

Songs of the Season

Well it’s that time of year for Christmas music in every department store, market, and boutique. And by Christmas music, I mean the good, the bad, and everything in between. I think I’ve already heard the Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas is You”  about 20 times. And dare I mention Paul McCartney’s vapid “Wonderful Christmastime”? I wonder if he’s aware of how despised that song is. One hears it and asks, how could this be same man who wrote “Yesterday”? But for every McCartney dud there is a Nat King Cole perfection. Anyway, it’s all just a matter of personal taste. I might be in the minority when I say I actually enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. It’s fun, it’s jocular, and totally ‘Jersey’. In a word, it’s Bruce.

On this Music Monday, I’d love to hear from my readers their likes/dislikes of holiday season songs. So feel free to share in the comments! It will be our Museworthy ‘Christmas party’ 🙂

And I’ll share a Christmas song recording here. A few years ago I posted Bob Dylan’s “Little Drummer Boy” and let’s just say not everyone was pleased! 😆 But hey he’s a Nobel Prize winner now, so maybe we should reconsider? (Just kidding). Instead, here’s the great, great, great Otis Redding singing “Merry Christmas Baby”:

Life in Detail

Friday morning. I walk down tree-lined blocks in my neighborhood toward the train station. Have to catch the 8:14 to Manhattan. Suddenly, from overhead, that distinct harsh screech of a red-tailed hawk; “keeeee-aarr!!”. I look up and there he is. Circling effortlessly above the Duane Reade and Queens rooftops. Good morning you beautiful wild raptor. Seeing me off to work, are you? 🙂

25 minutes later, Penn Station, morning rush hour. A woman begins to struggle getting her stroller with a toddler up the stairs to the C subway platform. I bend down and pick up the front. Together she and I make easy work carrying the stroller for the ascent. “Gracias”, she says to me. “Muchas gracias”.

Downtown, 15 minutes before drawing session starts. At the overpriced hipster coffee shop, a pleasant exchange with the barista about the deliciousness of almond milk. He tells me to “have a great day!”.

At Minerva’s studio, I’m introduced to a man from Naples. A math professor who enjoys drawing in his spare time. He pronounces my name “CLOU – dia”.

Morning session, long pose. Afternoon session, gestures and short poses. I’m the model for both. Bang my shin. Can’t find my favorite hair clip. Feeling flexible. And creative. Finished at 4:00. Man who had been drawing comes over to me, presses a $10 bill into my palm. “Oh gosh, thank you so much!” I say. “No, thank YOU” he replies. “Great poses”. A rare modeling tip.

C train back uptown. Muscly hardhat guy gives up his seat for an elderly lady. My Blackberry beeps out a text message; a modeling gig inquiry for January. Group of tourists consulting a NYC subway map.

Penn Station again. Rush hour again. Homeless trumpeter is playing a plaintive “Silent Night”. His horn reverberates throughout the Eight Avenue concourse. I drop some singles in his instrument case. He nods at me without moving the trumpet mouthpiece from his lips.

Back on the railroad, track 21, the 4:46 back to Queens. Seat at the window. Man, mid-thirties, dark complexion, sits next to me. Takes out a leather bound Bible. Reads Corinthians for the entire ride. I put in my iPod earbuds. Scroll for music. Schubert’s piano Impromptus. Sit back. Finish my box of raisins.

Home in Queens. Jessie the cat rubs lovingly against my legs. Purring … “rrrrrr”. The ball of fur missed me. Can of salmon for her. Glass of wine for me. Day of blessings. Day of grace. Day of reminders, reinforcements, interactions, and taking nothing for granted.

From that day, my one minute gesture poses sketched by Bob Palevitz … in detail:

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