Pastorally Ghoulish

Hat tip A New Hype. Click image for the original post.

Horror can often be heightened when juxtaposed with the wholesome and innocent.  That’s one of the reasons why toys and children in horror movies can be particularly terrifying.  That’s what makes these figurines by Jessica Harrison so disturbing.  Traditionally such pastoral figures are soothing, safe.  By subverting that with gore (the heart here…other images include the brain, intestines, and even the face) the corrupted image shows us that we are not safe, and that what soothed us is a mirage.  Interestingly, it is at least implied that the women portrayed mutilated themselves.  They are not innocent victims, but rather perverse actors.  Very creepy.



When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to take an intro drawing class.  I had always loved art and drawing, and had filled many sketchbooks as a kid, mostly with cats.  I thought taking a class would be fun.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I arrived on the first day of class with my required sketchpads and pencils and charcoals, not knowing what to expect but excited to get started.  There was a circle of easels in the studio, and we were told to pick one and set up with newsprint and a pencil.  I was just about ready when a stout man walked into the room, barefoot and wearing a powder blue bathrobe.  He strolled to the center of the circle, and with a complete lack of reservation shed the bathrobe, revealing that he was entirely naked underneath.  He placed a fist on one hip and held out his other arm, his hand dangling limply from his wrist.

Everyone started drawing.

Everyone but me.

I was shocked, and felt stupid for being shocked.  The course description had mentioned exploring the human form, but for some reason I didn’t realize that meant nudes.  I couldn’t look straight at the man.  I was fighting the urge to dissolve into nervous laughter, and felt stupid for that, too.  What was I, twelve?  No one else was laughing.

Then the door opened, and two students came in.  They saw the naked guy and their eyes went wide.  “OH MY GOD!” one of them gasped, and they turned tail and rushed out, the door slamming behind them.

Several of us laughed. The tension was broken, and I was able to actually start drawing.  Granted, I was still pretty uncomfortable.  And I still wasn’t able to draw anything below the waist of our model…that took a couple sessions.  But at least I wasn’t afraid I was just going to start giggling uncontrollably.

Down to the bones

Artist Maskull Lasserre takes pre-existing generic wooden sculptures and “recarves” them to display the anatomy beneath the surface.  I find these works very profound.  Beneath the surface of everything we see is a complex reality.  The best writing is able to crack the world open and let us see the innards in all its messy glory.


At Chicago’s Art Institute



Fair warning: I’m going to brag about my kids.

We spent the last week in Chicago (hence my radio silence) so that my husband Pete could spend time with his ailing father and work through some of his legal issues.  While he was dealing with all that, I took the kids on outings around the city.  On Monday we went to Chicago’s famed Art Institute.  I love the museum.  We’d been there a number of times while we were living in Chicago.  We visited when the kids were little and I was still pushing Josie around in a stroller and taking breaks to breastfeed while Pete did his best to wrangle a three year old Kolbe.  The kids and I went during the summer before our move to Alabama, when Pete was spending all his time working on finishing his dissertation.  And Pete and I have made the Art Institute a part of our anniversary celebration on two occasions, once in conjunction with the awesome Taste of Chicago, and once as part of our 10th anniversary, which included time at the museum along with high tea at the nearby Russian Tea House, a trip to the top of the Sears Tower (Willis who?) and an amazing fondue dinner at Geja’s.

I didn’t know what to expect from the kids on this visit.  The last time they visited the museum was two years ago, when Josie was five and Kolbe seven.  They were fairly well behaved, but very impatient, and not really interested in the art.  This time we had a little over four hours to fill, and I was worried that they would only be able to take two before they were bored out of their skulls and letting me (and everyone in our proximity) know it.

What actually happened makes me so proud of my kids.

We started in the Renaissance, and from the very beginning both kids were deeply interested.  We went painting by painting, and I pointed out symbolism, told them the bible stories depicted (when applicable), and did my best to talk art theory.  (At one point I was using a painting of the ruins of a Greek temple to explain perspective, and a woman came up to tell me she was impressed that I was teaching perspective to kids so young.) Kolbe and Josie excitedly pointed out paintings and objects that they liked, and wherever there was a bench, my daughter asked if we could stop and draw in the sketchbooks I had brought for them.  Kolbe wasn’t as interested in drawing, but he was willing to sit quietly and look at the art while Josie and I sketched our favorite pieces.  I am very rusty at drawing; I used to draw a lot in college, but haven’t really put pencil to paper at all in the past five or so years.  Sketching alongside my daughter was amazing, and I’m in awe of her talent.

When we got around to the Impressionists, we talked about Van Gogh’s brush strokes, Degas’ ballerinas, Seurat’s pointillism, Monet’s landscapes in different light, Rodin’s sculptures with the mold seams left in place.  Kolbe and Josie were attentive and eager to make observations, about how Van Gogh’s brushstrokes made the scenes look like they were moving, or how one of Monet’s haystacks must have been at sunrise while the other was at sunset (supposedly it was the other way around).

I had been afraid that the kids wouldn’t last the entire four plus hours, but as closing time grew near, we unfortunately had to rush through the American contemporary collection, with Nighthawks and American Gothic, and we didn’t get to the modern wing at all.  It is definitely worth another trip the next time we’re in Chicago (which looks like it may be sooner rather than later, as Pete’s dad’s condition is rapidly declining).

Admission to the Art Institute is $23 for adults, but free for children.  Appropriate, since Kolbe and Josie’s experience was priceless.