Art as a means of Communication

The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch

Let us begin today’s theoretical post by defining a few key concepts: art, communication and the communication process.

Art can be defined as:

The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Whereas Communication can be defined as:

The successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.

Which inevitably brings us to an important question…

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Featured Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Self Portrait (1887) by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist  painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art  for its vivid colors and emotional impact. He suffered from anxiety and increasingly frequent bouts of mental illness throughout his life, and died largely unknown, at the age of 37, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound*.

In the years since his early and tragic self-inflicted death in 1890, Vincent van Gogh has become synonymous with massively distributed art and commercial success. Many of his paintings are featured on the list of most expensive paintings. His art has even inspired an Yves St-Laurent collection. The 2003 Julia Roberts Movie, Mona Lisa Smile, features a storyline greatly dependent upon the irony of van Gogh’s success as an artist.

He is a mythological creature, famous for his ear incident, a romantic ideal of the starving artist. Vincent Van Gogh has come to symbolize passion, vivacity and dedication to one’s art. And dedicated he was: during his short 10 year career, Van Gogh produced nearly 1,000 paintings and quite as many drawings. His best work was produced in a three year period.

You would think that Vincent van Gogh would have been recognized in his time for the genius he truly was. Yet, History dictates otherwise: during his entire life, van Gogh sold exactly one painting.

The Red Vineyard At Arles (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh. This is the only painting van Gogh ever sold and it was purchased for the modern equivalent of 351$.

*wikipedia

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Love in the time of Cholera

How long would you be willing to wait for the person you love?

This is what appears to be the fundamental question asked by Gabriel García Márquez in his epic novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Yet, dig beneath the layers and very different questions will surface.

What one would easily mistake for a love triangle between the three main characters is, in fact, a faithful representation of how stark the contrasts are between between illusions and reality. Streaming half a century, the novel is a whirlwind collision of illusions, dreams and the harshness of a society where expectations and traditions cast in stone. (Pay close attention to García Márquez’s views on Latin America, as they are still of great relevance today.)

The basis for this novel is straightforward: Florentino Ariza meets Fermina Daza and falls head over heels in love with her. She seems to share his love for a while but eventually comes to realize that it is a love based on illusions. To her father’s great joy, Fermina Daza marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, the antithesis to Florentino’s boyish, lustful and aching love. A love triangle ensues where both men are dependent upon Fermina as the source of their happiness but where only one will physically suffer from his love.*

All in all, this novel is one of questions and reassessments. Nothing is exactly as it seems and appearances are treacherous. This is where the genius of Nobel Prize Winning Colombian Author Gabriel García Márquez truly lies: in forcing you to question all you have ever held as true.

*It should be known that “García Márquez’s main notion is that lovesickness is a literal illnes, a disease comparable to cholera” (wiki)

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Madame Bovary

When Flaubert wrote Mme Bovary, it certainly wasn’t with the intention of making his character beloved.

At best, Emma Bovary is naive, spoiled, egocentric and annoying.  However, it is of little importance. Whilst reading of her disillusions, it is impossible not to try and like her. Flaubert writes of her desperate and futile attempts to join the ranks of the aristocratic with such tenderness that you cannot help but feel that perhaps the author felt a certain love  for his antihero.

Emma Bovary is convinced that life has dealt her an unjust card: she believes she is entitled to riches, happiness and a fabulous existence. This arrogance is what causes her to be disliked, both by those who surround her and by the reader. She yearns for an aristocratic lifestyle yet lacks the consideration and gentle touch needed to make social connections. She ruins every opportunity by her childish attitude and fails to realize that happiness cannot be bought.

Madame Bovary is a tragedy, if only because Emma is a tragic character: she has everything to make her life enjoyable, yet she is wretchedly unhappy.

This novel should have been horrible. The main character’s attitude towards life is appalling and the whole novel is centered around her. Nevertheless, there is something magical and beautiful about this classic.

That the tale of a sad, apathetic, suburban wife should have stood the test of time and should be considered one of the best novels of Western Litterature is, quite simply, a testament to the brilliance of Gustave Flaubert and that is reason enough to read this novel.

“Everything immediately surrounding her – boring countryside, inane petty bourgeois, the mediocrity of daily life – seemed to her the exception rather than the rule.  She had been caught in it all by some accident: out beyond, there stretched as far as eye could see the immense territory of rapture and passions.”

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A Tale Of Two Cities

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix

“It was the worst of time. It was the best of times.”

Spectacular is one word that comes to mind when thinking about Charles Dickens’ revered historical novel. Heartbreaking is another.

The French Revolution has been called the most important event in history. Like all history students, I learnt from textbooks. I committed to memory horrifying events yet still struggled to grasp the raw reality of the horror and the terror of the Revolution.

As an aspiring historian, I can tell you: It is one thing to memorize dates. Its is another altogether to have the fury of the French Revolution brought to life through Dickens’ pen. Whatever you will say about the ideals and intentions of the revolutionists, there is one thing that simply cannot be denied: the rage, the blood and the madness was inexplicably gruesome. Behind each death and behind each number is a story, a person and a face.

It is easy to forget how dreadful and dire history truly is. Just as our descendants will be horrified with the wars and genocides our century bore, so Dickens was horrified by the French Revolution* .  His novel is a warning, a severe warning to Aristocratic Britain. I like to think that his warning trancedes time and applies to our century as well.

To learn history is not to justify or make excuses for the horrors that our ancestors have perpetuated. To learn history is to take the first of many steps in understanding our present and applying lessons history yearns to teach us. Greater men and women have failed abundantly and left records of these errors so that we do not have to repeat them. The torch has been passed on, it is our task now to learn from it and bequeath it to what is hopefully a more deserving generation.

In spite of all this, there are things you simply cannot learn in school. When learning about the Revolution, there are sentiments that one simply cannot express in textbooks. That is when I turn to classics. More often than not, its authors express more about human triumph and human agony than a scheduled hour of class time ever will… When it comes to teaching about the human heart, one often learns best from one’s own readings and sentiments.

For these reasons (and many more I cannot reveal without stealing from the plot), I wholeheartedly recommend A Tale Of Two Cities to all. It is a chilling admonition… Lest we forget…

charles dickens

“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind”.

*even though he sympathized with the persecuted poor, having been “forced to work in a factory as a child” (wiki).

If you are interested in learning more about the Revolution, I suggest the History Channel’s documentary, available on YouTube.

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The Little Prince

Once in a lifetime, there comes along a novel that is so touching, so innocently poignant, that just by reading it, you feel your heart shatter and soar at the same time. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Éxupéry is the apotheosis of all such novels.  Published in 1943, it has become one of the bestselling novels of all time, sold more than 80 million copies and been translated into more than 180 languages¹.  Some would classify it as a childish story. Perhaps it is. Yet to categorize it as such would be to deny the fundamental philosophical truths it hides behind the simplicity of the narrative. 

In 2006, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit France. One of my first reactions to the old continent was how deeply engraved The Little Prince was in french culture*.  It seemed the philosophical lessons of this short novel were everywhere, to be read or to be bought.  The Little Prince has morphed into a capitalist’s dream: his notebooks, postcards, bookmarks can be bought everywhere. I should know… I bought a few myself.  

Do not let that stop you. Do not judge this book by how commercially successful it is. There is a reason behind the fervor. Do not reduce it to “children’s literature”. It would be reducing the human heart to a mere muscle. Do not judge it by its cover… Antoine de Saint-Éxupéry has achieved the seemingly impossible: he has illustrated (both linguistically and visually) all that is beautiful about love. 

Reader, whoever you are, I urge you: let the little prince seduce you. He will break your heart in the best way possible.

 

The Little Prince

“What makes the desert beautiful,” says the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well.”

 

¹wikipedia

*Literally; on my first or second day, I saw a carving of the Prince on a sidewalk. 

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The Historian

Dracula…

How one word can inspire so many emotions is the basis for The Historian.  Three different characters in three different yet overlapping time frames explore Eastern Europe in search of the historical Drakulya. This is a novel about how Vlad Tepes (or Vlad the Impaler) and his legend shaped Europe’s history in a frighteningly fascinating way.

Elizabeth Kustova’s debut novel is both tedious and thrilling. Some parts of it seem to advance at a breathless pace. Others are sluggish. I must admit my interest in the novel varied with the tempo… Though I dreaded about 100 of the 656 pages,  in the two or three weeks since I have completed the novel I have found myself curiously missing it. You see, I liked it the novel. Very much. However, as gripping as it was, there were times when I just couldn’t summon the strength to delve  in the annals of Mediaeval History once more.

Overall, it is an excellent debut novel. To keep a reader interested every step of the way requires incredible skill. It is a feat I shouldn’t expect of authors. Because I do, my experience with The Historian was diminished. However, if your expectations about literature are more realistic than mine, by all means, read this book. The truth behind the legend of the vampire will haunt you long after you have read the last sentence.

the-historian

“She reached out and touched the crucifix, at first hesitantly, then took it in her hand.”

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