Yearning for Maud

Am I too late for Saint Patrick’s Day? Not according to my clock. It’s almost 9PM New York City time so I’m right in there! Would have posted earlier today but I was busy taking Mom to the doctor’s. I’m sure the patron saint of Ireland would understand :-)

I will seize any occasion to post poetry by William Butler Yeats – a longtime favorite of mine – and this day of celebrating all things Irish will do just fine. The maestro of symbolism and verse had me hooked since the first time I read the sea voyage of “Sailing to Byzantium” and its “no country for old men”, “tattered coat upon a stick”, “singing-masters of my soul”, monuments, mosaics, and “Grecian goldsmiths”. The Dublin-born Yeats is also responsible for what is probably my favorite short lyrical poem ever, “Cloths of Heaven”. I memorized it many years ago and it continues to move me … “tread softly”.

The inspiration behind that poem was Maud Gonne, Yeats’ muse and love of his life – a love that was unrequited. He proposed marriage four times .. and was rejected four times. Though she was born in England in 1866, Maud became an active revolutionary and fervent supporter of the Irish Nationalist movement, having been spurred on by the Land War and the attending civil unrest. She was also an actress and organizer of feminist causes. Of the tumultuous political climate in which she lived Maud wrote, “it is the English who are forcing war on us”.

Photo of Maud Gonne:

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The intuitive Yeats sensed right away that Maud was a force to be reckoned with, and described the moment he first met her as the day “the troubling of my life began”. Gonne, a convert to Catholicism, and Yeats, a Protestant, shared an intensely strong emotional bond and had a common fascination with the occult. But Maud simply could not conceive of marrying the moody poet. Instead, she married fellow Irish Nationalist John MacBride. Yeats was crushed. The union, however, was unhappy and acrimonious. Maud and John had one son, Sean MacBride born 1904, who became a prominent figure in the IRA and later a founding member of Amnesty International.

For decades, Yeats carried a torch for Maud and agonized over her involvements with other men. His continued pain over her having escaped him is manifest in his poetry. But Maud had his number and expressed this alternate view about their relationship:

“You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.”

Maud telling it like it is! Damn girl. She certainly has point. Here’s an example of that beautiful, lovelorn-inspired poetry Yeats composed from of his heartache over Maud. We may not like to admit it, but loss, regret, and grief really do inspire poignant and powerful artistic expressions.

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Charcoal drawing of W.B. Yeats by John Singer Sargent, 1908:

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Hearing the Heart

What happens when doctors and musicologists join forces and embark on a research project? Some interesting, albeit speculative, theories are born. A couple of weeks ago, a article on the Internet grabbed my attention and, for a brief moment, set my heart aflutter <– I’m cute and clever for choosing that phrase as you will soon see. A medical journal published the article in which is it theorized that the distinctly dramatic, sometimes volatile and erratic tempos found in Beethoven’s music were caused by the composer having had a cardiac arrhythmia. My own damaged aortic valve and I became excited at the thought that the great Beethoven was a fellow member of the heart abnormalities club. It’s all I’d ever have in common with my musical hero that’s for sure. I’ll never compose brilliant music and I’ll never be German :P

But alas, none of it amounted to some newly discovered provable truth about Beethoven. As the cardiologist involved with the paper said himself, “This is entirely speculative”. Well, phooey then.

Anatomical drawing of the heart by Leonardo da Vinci:

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Putting aside my childish desire to have heart issues in common with the greatest composer who ever lived (yes I’m weird), the study raises some compelling questions about the intersection of creativity and science, or artistic abilities and human biology if you will. I have nothing against scientific research and new ideas, conjectural though they often are. Much of it is quite fascinating. On the other hand, the tendency to pathologize the reasons behind artistic expression is as disillusioning as it is intriguing. It falls into the category of things that are over-analyzed to death, investigated and studied and pulled apart to no real illuminating end or purpose. And that indescribable realm in which artistic gifts take flight is a realm that science can never explain or elucidate no matter how hard it may try.

We know that Beethoven was deaf, and hardly the only deaf person who ever lived. We also know he suffered from lead poising, which was not uncommon in Beethoven’s era. And yet Beethoven was the only lead-poisoned deaf person to compose the 5th Symphony. Physical ailments, of which Beethoven had many, don’t define us exclusively. Isn’t it just possible that Beethoven’s soaring melodies, fierce tempo shifts, and complex harmonies were the result of him being, well, a musical genius? Isn’t it possible his music is “heartfelt” not due to “atrial tachycardia” but to the man’s profoundly intimate understanding of the human soul? To attribute the emotional weightiness of Beethoven’s String Quartets to a bout of “angina” strikes me as a bit unseemly.

I will, however, point out what I think is the most convincing postulation of the study. The researchers claim that because Beethoven was deaf he would have been more aware of his heartbeat. That is genuinely interesting and makes you think. Unlike the 188 years-late diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat, Beethoven’s deafness was real and without question impacted the nature of his composing as it progressed throughout his life; middle register and lower frequency notes are more perceivable in the inner ear before complete deafness sets in. High notes go first, and Beethoven began to complain about that as early as age 30.

Beethoven’s hearing aids, known as “ear trumpets”:

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Oddities, illnesses, and abnormalities may or may not affect creativity. I posted previously about the alleged shrapnel lodged in the brain of Shostakovich. But the art and music survive, and how lucky we are for that. Let’s conclude this Music Monday with a video of Beethoven’s hand-written music manuscripts. They’re incredible to see, smudges, smears, erasures and all. His heart is clearly beating throughout:

Snowy Salutations

Hellooo friends! A warm thank you to those who emailed me concerned that I, and my fellow New Yorkers, would be buried under four feet of snow. Fortunately we’re not, although our friends in New England are having a much tougher time. I could wish Bostonians and their neighbors good luck in dealing with the first big blizzard of 2015 but I know they don’t need it. They’ve dealt with rigorous weather conditions many times and know the drill all too well. So hit the pubs guys! And lob a snowball or two on your walk home :-)

After a cancelled Tuesday for the storm, my final week posing at Grand Central Academy resumes Wednesday. It’s been a positive experience all around. January has also brought new sessions of private work with my friend Daniel Maidman. Art modeling, since last September, has been roaring with activity and I’m eternally grateful for this windfall period of work opportunities. Fellow freelancers know exactly what I’m talking about.

Daniel is starting a new painting of me. At our first session Daniel, as always, knew exactly what he wanted; for this piece, leaning slightly forward and to one side. And I did it for him. This is his drawing preparation:

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I will return to more frequent blog postings in the weeks ahead. My brain is percolating with ideas! Let’s meet up here again on Monday for a new music post, shall we? In the meantime, be safe, be warm, and rejoice in the joys, kindnesses, and wonders of each new day.

Love, Claudia
xoxo

Atelier Days

Hellooo helloooooo!! Museworthy friends, I apologize for the terribly long absence! A Verizon FIOS outage kept me off of my beloved blog for a few days. Phone, TV, and Internet were down since last week but thankfully it was all restored over the weekend. Sunday night I felt too tired to post, Monday I worked a long day of modeling and schlepped around town in raw, rainy weather, and today I’m a touch sick with the usual cold/flu season symptoms. Got the old sandpaper throat. Sandpaper throat stinks, doesn’t it? I’m popping Ricola lemon lozenges like candy :lol:

Anyway, let’s get caught up. First, an official Happy New Year to you all now that we’re two weeks into 2015. Hugs and kisses all around! For me, the new year kicks off with a month-long modeling assignment at Grand Central Atelier. When I last posed there, in the spring, the school was in their original location in midtown Manhattan. Over the summer they moved into their spacious new digs in Long Island City, Queens. And I do mean spacious. Studios everywhere, skylights, plenty of room for artists, models, casts, supplies, storage, and a lovely gallery.

I am the January model for Jacob Collins’ figure class and we’re off to a splendid start. One pose for the month, every morning Monday – Friday. Grand Central is a rigorous four-year program that concentrates on classical training. In just the past week and a half I’ve seen firsthand the discipline and concentration of these dedicated students. It’s quite impressive.

On my first day before we set up the pose, I was handed a black binder that the students thought would be useful. In it was a compendium of images that represent classical art poses typically employed for academic art training. What a nifty reference. Now experienced art models like myself don’t necessarily need such a book, but I enjoyed looking through it. I instantly recognized David, Ingres, and Prud’Hon among others. This kind of compilation is certainly helpful for a newer model in search of ideas and it serves as a handy anthology of the academy tradition. I photographed some pages in the book to share:

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All art modeling is not the same. I’ve probably stated this a hundred times on the blog! But it’s true. To some degree, yes, a pose is a pose is a pose. But the settings and environments can be vastly different, which means a professional, experienced art model has to take into consideration what the artists are trying to achieve, what they expect, and how long the pose will be. Some artists really need to see and meticulously render the model’s sternocleidomastoid (yeah, Google that!), while others do not. Showing up at Spring Studio for a Wednesday night short pose session, doing active gestures one after another, is a far different gig from what’s happening this month at Grand Central. This is formal training, and the class is a mixture of 2nd year, 3rd year, and even 4th year students. Some are sticking with drawing for the duration, others are beginning to paint grisaille, while others may do painting with color. One thing is constant: the model’s pose. I posted it on Twitter if you’d like to have a look.

Before I go I’d like to share a deeply heartfelt column written by my good friend Daniel Maidman on the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris last week. Daniel, like me, is a free speech absolutist. I think this is worth a read. On the Huffington Post, this is “Guardians”.

2014 Send-off

I’m sure I’m not alone in my view that 2014 was a less-than-stellar year in many, many ways. Ebola, missing airplanes, kidnappings, beheadings, shootings, politicians being worthless and incompetent. Well, that last one could apply to any given year. Reading the news is always a dispiriting experience, but 2014 took it to whole new levels of misery and wretchedness. Good lord :(

As for me personally, 2014 was a stew of tumult, leavened occasionally with some bright spots. In February my house was burglarized, which sucked, and not long after that the family strife began, which sucked even more. But then, on the night before Easter, I was born-again. And then came a crisis of confidence in my art modeling career, which was happily healed come September when schools opened again and brought a slew of work, with both reliable mainstays and brand new connections. I was “in demand” once again. Whew! What a relief. And of course my mother’s art show was another notable high point of 2014.

Museworthy had a fine year in blogging, with over 180,000 views, 69 new posts, 148 new subscribers, and visitors from 170 countries with the United States, the UK, France, and Canada leading the pack. I’m honored to blog for each and every one of you, wherever you are around the globe.

We’ll bid farewell to 2014 with two gouache drawings of yours truly by Robert Fontanelli, created at Spring Studio this year. I’m a pink lady and I appreciate Rob making me so glammed up! Thanks for the images, Robert. And thanks to all of you out there. Bring on 2015! Happy New Year, dear friends. See you soon :-)

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Crimes and Misdemeanors

If for nothing else, social media interactions can spur discoveries and offer interesting shares that one might have been unfamiliar with. Block out the irritations of the Internet and some cool stuff can come your way. The Ashmolean Museum recently posted an image to Twitter that caught my attention. It was this self-portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the celebrated sculptor of the Baroque era. I’ve seen most of his self-portraits – he did quite a few – but I’d never seen this one before. He created it in black, red, and white chalk, circa 1635:

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The drawing has a strange intimacy to it that intrigues me. His gaze is hard to pinpoint. Oddly, it is direct but a little preoccupied. Engaged but a little jaded. Cool but a little confused. I honestly can’t decide if he’s saying “You lookin’ at me, pal?” or “Whatever, dude”. His overall appearance is informal, with unkempt hair and a five o’clock shadow. He could almost be a young hipster barista making cappuccinos at a coffee bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn instead of the 17th century artistic wunderkind.

Bernini, the uniquely gifted sculptor who could turn marble into flesh and render stone creations with stunning action and theatricality, is a compelling and charismatic figure in art history. One cannot imagine a survey of Western art without his Ecstasy of St Teresa or Apollo and Daphne. The man himself possessed a personality which matched the intensity of his art. His notoriously hot temper was offset by his gregarious, outgoing disposition, well-roundedness (he was also an architect, poet, writer, and stage designer) and dedicated work ethic. It’s been said that he would chatter up a storm while he worked, telling jokes and sharing gossip with his assistants as he chiseled away in his studio. Like many sculptors he was physically strong and agile. And because his astonishing talents were evident to all, Bernini enjoyed a largely easy ride in terms of his career. He was showered with praise and recognition from his early years and it never waned. This, as I’m sure you all know, can be both a blessing and a curse.

Bernini was neither a sweetheart nor a monster. At only one point in his life did he go completely batshit crazy. And that one time sure was a doozy. A disturbing, mad, jealousy-infused doozy. Are you ready for the twisted soap opera? Fasten your seat belts.

In 1636 Bernini began an affair with Costanza Bonarelli, the wife of Bernini’s assistant Matteo Bonarelli. To describe it as “hot and heavy” would be an understatement. Bernini’s sculpture of her will tell us everything we need to know. She is tousled. She is lusty. She seems to be in some ravished stage of pre or post coitus. Her lips are parted, her blouse is undone. She is fleshy and earthy. She is not a proper aristocratic lady sitting decorously for a commissioned sculpture bust. She is, quite clearly, Bernini’s lover and object of his infatuation.

Bernini-Costanza

At the height of the torrid affair, Bernini was tipped off that Costanza was possibly sleeping with another man – not her husband but yet another lover. The lady got around apparently. The other man turned out to be none other than Bernini’s brother Luigi who was a rather unsavory character. Bernini, in the throes of unhinged jealousy, went ballistic. He spied on Costanza to confirm the rumor and, sure enough, spotted his brother emerging from her house. What ensued was pure madness. Bernini chased down Luigi and attacked him with an iron crowbar, breaking his ribs. He chased him again, this time with a sword, threatening to kill him. When his brother sought refuge in a church, the raging Bernini attempted to kick down the doors. But he wasn’t done with his vengeful impulses. Bernini ordered one of his servants to go to Costanza’s house and slash her face, which the man did, with a razor blade.

As for the fallout of this gruesome incident, Luigi fled to Bologna, fearing for his safety. Costanza, disfigured for life, was imprisoned for adultery. The servant who did the slashing was also sent to prison. And Bernini was issued a fine – a fine – which was eventually waived by his benefactor Pope Urban VIII, under the agreement that Bernini would marry, get his shit together, and live a respectable life. It pays to have friends in high places.

Another Bernini self-portrait:

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So Bernini went unpunished for his behavior, and Costanza paid the criminal price for adultery which the men eluded. This was, of course, 17th century Europe and a society structured in ways that baffle us. On the other hand, it’s not so baffling in that some aspects remain constant and are unlikely to ever change. Esteemed and advantaged people, like Bernini was then, receive special treatment, much like they do today. But for what it’s worth, Bernini did go on to marry, father eleven children, and live a pious life as a devout Catholic attending mass regularly. It appears he learned his lesson. Bernini suffered a stroke in his elderly years and died at the age of 82.

Figure al Fresco

It was an unseasonably warm day – at first – until the gusty autumn winds began to blow, temperatures began to drop, and a blanket of rain clouds drifted ominously across the harbor, threatening to strike. None of it would thwart our two hours of drawing outdoors at the water’s edge in lower Manhattan. The Battery Park City Parks Conservancy hosts free drawing sessions in the South Cove called “Figure al Fresco”. A clothed model takes five, ten, and twenty minute poses, and the Parks Conservancy provides drawing materials and instruction for anyone who needs it.

I posed for this group over the summer and was delighted to pose for them again last week on the final session of the season before it goes on winter hiatus. The number of attendees is larger than you might expect. I counted thirty artists at one point, all of whom were in remarkably cheerful spirits. They initiated conversations with me on breaks, complimented my modeling, and expressed concern that I might be too cold.  Actually I was a little chilly, but I never told them that ;-)

Taking pictures on my breaks took my mind off the blustery winds. I fell in love with these glowing blue lanterns along the promenade:

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Outdoor modeling naturally brings a special set of circumstances and observations, such as curious passersby, some of whom stop to watch for a few minutes. Those who popped out their phones in an attempt to take a picture were politely admonished by a Parks Conservancy staff member. There’s also sashaying pigeons, darting squirrels, youngsters on scooters and skateboards, bicyclists, and fitness freaks running by, tuned out from their surroundings with iPod earbuds securely in place.

My modeling spot at the base of the steps. Cushiony gym mats, bench, and my well-worn purple modeling bag that I’ve had forever. The trees, displaying gorgeous fall gold color, sent down a flurry of  leaves with the winds. I held steady in my pose as they fell around me .. and on me!

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A pair of ducks, just relaxing and listening to the lapping water, not interested in my poses at all. How dare they ignore me! :lol:

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Getting up to stretch on a break:

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I began my posing wearing shorts and a tank top, wanting to give them as much “figure” as possible for the Figure al Fresco. It was a valiant effort for the first two sets, but then the nippy air won out and I put on leggings. I brought a colorful shawl which also provided some warmth and serves as a nice modeling accessory that adds more shapes and lines.

More of those great blue lanterns, and New Jersey across the river:

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And some more beautiful fall color:

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For now, I bid farewell to Battery Park and Figure al Fresco. I look forward to modeling again for this lovely group and working with the terrific staff, come springtime.

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