Thursday, March 23, 2017

Common Expressions And Their Origins, No.15: OK

Meaning: assent, agreement, or acceptance.
History: On  March 23,1839, the initials “O.K.” are first published in The Boston Morning Post. Meant as an abbreviation for “oll korrect,” a popular slang misspelling of “all correct” at the time, OK steadily made its way into the everyday speech of Americans.
During the late 1830s, it was a favorite practice among younger, educated circles to misspell words intentionally, then abbreviate them and use them as slang when talking to one another. Just as teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as “kewl” for “cool” or “DZ” for “these,” the “in crowd” of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included “KY” for “No use” (“know yuse”), “KG” for “No go” (“Know go”), and “OW” for all right (“oll wright”).
Of all the abbreviations used during that time, OK was propelled into the limelight when it was printed in the Boston Morning Post as part of a joke. Its popularity exploded when it was picked up by contemporary politicians. When the incumbent president Martin Van Buren was up for reelection, his Democratic supporters organized a band of thugs to influence voters. This group was formally called the “O.K. Club,” which referred both to Van Buren’s nickname “Old Kinderhook” (based on his hometown of Kinderhook, New York), and to the term recently made popular in the papers. At the same time, the opposing Whig Party made use of “OK” to denigrate Van Buren’s political mentor Andrew Jackson. According to the Whigs, Jackson invented the abbreviation “OK” to cover up his own misspelling of “all correct.”

The man responsible for unraveling the mystery behind “OK” was an American linguist named Allen Walker Read. An English professor at Columbia University, Read dispelled a host of erroneous theories on the origins of “OK,” ranging from the name of a popular Army biscuit (Orrin Kendall) to the name of a Haitian port famed for its rum (Aux Cayes) to the signature of a Choctaw chief named Old Keokuk. Whatever its origins, “OK” has become one of the most ubiquitous terms in the world, and certainly one of America’s greatest lingual exports.

America's First Dangerous and Insane President

After managing to read, pretty much word for word, text written for him by someone else in a speech to a joint session of Congress and managing, briefly, to appear “almost presidential,” Donald J. Trump reverted to his manic self with paranoid Twitter “tweets” claiming former President Barack Obama wiretapped him and got into a pissing contest with Arnold Schwarzenegger over The Apprentice television show.
The pathetic and dangerous insanity of the 45th President continues to dominate his floundering opening of his administration.
Republicans and Democrats alike shook their heads Saturday after reading Trump’s latest Twitter Tsunami and increasingly wonder how much time is left before something will need to be done to remove the man elected to office by the largest minority of voters in American history.
Some see Trump as a modern version of Charles Foster Kane, the title character of Orson Welles great film, Citizen Kane, about a deranged millionaire, modeled on publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
Perhaps Trump hates the media because Kane and Hearst rose to power through newspapers.
Trump remains mired in a growing scandal about his financial ties to Russia, his open admiration for dictatorial and violent rule of Vladimir Putin and questionable and perhaps treasonous contacts by his appointed cabinet members, campaign staff and his former national security aides with Russian officials.
It’s not the only question of honesty, ethics and propriety facing him.
Revelations by The Washington Post show Trump’s sons openly cashing in on contacts made during the 2016 Presidential campaign to lure lucrative building projects around the country, right after taxpayers footed lavish bills for a trip to Dubai to open a new hotel and condo tower.
Trump continues to ignore The Constitution with his flood of “executive orders” even after federal courts stopped his questionable ban on immigrants and promises to issue a new order on immigrants this coming week.
Writes Dan Balz of The Washington Post: Russia has become the slow burn of President Trump’s administration. It is the issue that he and his team cannot get beyond. They cannot get beyond it because they are skittish about accepting what is already known. They cannot get beyond it because they have not been as forthcoming as they could be about what they did. They cannot get beyond it because they don’t know what they don’t know.
Observes Maureen Dowd of The New York Times: Donald Trump is stuck in his own skull. He’s unreachable. “He lives inside his head, where he runs the same continuous loop of conflict with people he turns into enemies for the purposes of his psychodrama,” says Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.
Because Trump holds Thor’s hammer, with its notably short handle, we must keep trying to figure out his strange, perverse, aggrieved style of reasoning. So, we are stuck in Trump’s head with him. And, it is a very cluttered place to be, a fine-tuned machine spewing a torrent of chaos, cruelty, confusion, farce, bigotry, arrogance, stupidity and transfixing craziness. Of course, this is merely the observation of someone who is “the enemy of the American people,” according to our idiot president.

Trump biographer Tim O’Brien explains our President in fewer words:  “He’s the emperor of chaos.”

The Photograhy of Herbert List

Herbert List (October 7, 1903 - April 4, 1975) was a German photographer, who worked for magazines, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Life, and was associated with Magnum Photos. Herbert List was a classically educated artist who combined a love of photography with a fascination for surrealism and classicism.
Herbert List

"The pictures I took spontaneously - with a bliss-like sensation, as if they had long inhabited my unconscious - were often more powerful than those I had painstakingly composed. I grasped their magic as in passing." - Herbert List

Herbert List was a classically educated artist who combined a love of photography with a fascination for surrealism and classicism. Born into a prosperous Hamburg merchant family, List began an apprenticeship at a Heidelberg coffee dealer in 1921 while studying literature and art history at Heidelberg University. During travels for the coffee business between 1924-28, the young List began to take photographs, almost without any pretensions to art.

In 1930, though, his artistic leanings and connections to the European avant-garde brought him together with the photographer Andreas Feininger, who introduced his new friend to the Rolleiflex, a more sophisticated camera that allowed a deliberate composition of images. Under the dual influence of the surrealist movement on the one hand, and of Bauhaus artists on the other, List photographed still life and his friends, developing his own style. He has described his images as "composed visions where [my] arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances.”

After leaving Germany in 1936 for political and personal reasons, he turned his hobby into a profession. Working in Paris and London, he met George Hoyningen-Huene, who referred him to "Harper's Bazaar". Dissastisfied with the challenges of fashion photography, List instead focused on composing still lifes in his studio. The images produced there would later be compared to the paintings of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico, and paved the way for List's role as the most prominent photographer of the Fotografia Metafisica style.

Greece became List's main interest from 1937 to 1939. After his first visit to the antique temples, sculptures and landscapes, his first solo show opened in Paris in the summer of 1937. Publications in "Life", "Photographie", "Verve" and "Harper's Bazaar" followed, and List began work on his first book, Licht Ueber Hellas, which wasn't published until 1953. Working in Athens, List hoped to escape the war but was forced by invading troops to return to Germany in 1941. Because of his Jewish background, he was forbidden to publish or work officially in Germany. Several works, stored in a hotel in Paris, have been lost.

Portraits of Berard, Cocteau, Honegger and Picasso during a short visit to Paris and a series on the Panoptikum in Vienna characterized List's main work before the war ended in 1945. In 1946, he photographed the ruins of post-war Munich and took the job of art editor of "HEUTE", an American magazine for the German public.

In 1951, List met Robert Capa, who convinced him to work as a contributor to Magnum, but he rarely accepted assignments. He turned his interest towards Italy from 1950 to 1961, photographing everything from street scenes to contemplative photo-essays, from architectural views to portraits of international artists living in Italy. In 1953, he discovered the 35mm camera and the telephoto lens. His work became more spontaneous and was influenced by his Magnum colleague Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Italian Neo-Realism film movement.

Over the next few years, he completed several books, including Rom, Caribia, Nigeria and Napoli, this one in collaboration with Vittorio de Sica.

List more or less gave up photography in the early 1960s. Despite his earlier fame throughout Europe, his particular style was no longer fashionable. By the time he died in Munich in 1975, his work had been almost forgotten. Interest has revived recently, though, thanks to a fine monograph published by Monacelli Press, which features 250 of List's photographs divided into five sections: Metaphysical Photography, Ruins and Fragments, Eros and Photography, Portraits, and Moments.

Herbert List died in Munich, April 4th 1975.

Photos by Herbert List

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Art of Thomas Eakins

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins was an American painter who was born on July 25, 1844, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. and died on June 25, 1916, in Philadelphia. He was a painter who carried the tradition of 19th-century American Realism to perhaps its highest achievement. He painted mainly portraits of his friends and scenes of outdoor sports, such as swimming and boating. The work generally acknowledged as his masterpiece, The Gross Clinic (1875), which depicts a surgical operation, was received with distaste by his contemporaries because of its frank and unsentimental nature.

Thomas Eakins (self-portrait)

During his lifetime, except for one extended study trip abroad and a brief trip to the West, virtually his entire life was spent in the city of his birth. From his father, a writing master, Eakins inherited not only the manual dexterity and sense of precision that characterizes his art but also the love of outdoor activity and the commitment to absolute integrity that marked his personal life. He did well in school, especially in science and mathematics.

As his interest in art developed, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Concerned particularly with the human figure, he reinforced his study of the live model at the academy by attending lectures in anatomy at Jefferson Medical College and eventually witnessing and participating in dissections.

Eakins went to France in 1866. He enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts and studied with the leading academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme for over three years. Unaffected by the avant-garde painting of the Impressionists, Eakins absorbed a solid academic tradition with its emphasis on drawing. That period of his life can be explored through his own reports to friends and family in The Paris Letters of Thomas Eakins (2009), edited by William Innes Homer.

After completing his study in Paris, Eakins went to Spain late in 1869, where he was greatly influenced by the 17th-century paintings of Diego Velázquez and José de Ribera. Perhaps reacting against the rigors of his academic training, he preferred artists who used paint and brush boldly to express their sense of life, creating what he called “big work.” In Spain, his student days behind him, Eakins undertook his first independent efforts at oil painting.

Eakins returned to Philadelphia in the summer of 1870. His earliest artistic subjects were his sisters and other members of his family and the family of his fiancée, Katherine Crowell. Redolent with the character of each individual in an intimate and personal domestic setting - pensive young ladies at the piano, children engrossed with toys scattered on the floor, Katherine playing with a kitten in her lap. These rich, warm portraits seem to express in color and mood the essence of what Lewis Mumford  called “the Brown Decades.” Close family ties were important to Eakins, and the intimate harmony of his home life was seriously disrupted and saddened by the death first of his mother and later of Katherine Crowell.

Katherine Crowell

Eakins resumed the vigorous outdoor life of his earlier years - hunting, sailing, fishing, swimming, rowing. These activities, like his family circle, provided him with subject matter for his art. A candid-realist, Eakins simply painted the people and the world that he knew best, choosing his subjects from the life that he lived. Like the poetry of his aged friend Walt Whitman, who lived across the Delaware River in CamdenNew Jersey,

Walt Whitman

Eakins’s art was autobiographical, “a song of himself.” Eakins in fact often included himself as an observer in his own paintings - sculling in the background behind his friend in Max Schmitt in a Single Scull, peering intently at a surgical operation in The Agnew Clinic (1889), or treading water next to his setter dog Harry and watching a group of students swimming in The Swimming Hole (1885). Each of the early outdoor scenes, natural and informal at first glance, was in fact carefully composed on a perspective grid, with each object precisely located in pictorial space. Each image is further informed by Eakins’s personal knowledge of the scene depicted. Thus, color, composition, and the play of lights and darks subtly convey to the viewer a fuller understanding of and feeling for the concentrated energy of a sculler propelling his boat through the water or the taut equilibrium of the moment when a hunter standing in his boat balances himself, sights his target, and slowly squeezes the trigger.

Max Schmitt in a Single Scull

The Agnew Clinic

The Swimming Hole

In 1875 Eakins, who had yet to become well known, decided to paint a major picture for the Centennial Exposition to be held in Philadelphia the following year. He took as his subject a scene that had become familiar to him - Samuel Gross of Jefferson Medical College operating in his clinic before his students. Gross was a magnetic teacher and one of the country’s greatest surgeons. Eakins often selected moments that reveal multiple aspects of a scene and in this picture depicts Gross as both surgeon and teacher. Gross stands in the centre of a somber amphitheatre, starkly top-lighted by a flood of cool daylight cascading down from a skylight above; he is dressed in black street clothes. He has opened an incision in the leg of the  anesthetized male patient stretched out before him. While his assistants probe the wound, the doctor turns, one hand holding a scalpel covered with blood, to tell his students what he has done and what he will do next. At the left a seated woman, perhaps the patient’s mother, flings an arm across her face, shielding her eyes from the scene, her fingers clawing the air in anguish. Her emotion and the note of pain and suffering inherent in the subject contrast strikingly with the cool professionalism of Gross, whose calm features reflect assurance and determination as well as compassion. The painting objectively records a realistic drama of contemporary life, full of feeling but free of sentimentality. The Gross Clinic is generally agreed to be Eakins’s masterpiece.

The Gross Clinic

To Eakins’s dismay, The Gross Clinic was rejected for the art exhibition at the Centennial Exposition, and he had to exhibit it in a medical section. Critics and public alike responded to the painting unfavorably. While they could accept historical scenes of grisly martyrdoms or bloody massacres without qualm, The Gross Clinic represented blood and pain and suffering as immediate facts in Philadelphia. That was offensive and unacceptable. Viewers could not appreciate a picture that was neither entertaining nor ennobling but simply a frank statement of contemporary reality. The rejection of the painting was the first of many rebuffs Eakins was to receive from Victorian contemporaries who shared his world but not his values.

Furthermore, the painting underwent extensive changes under the direction of its then owner, Jefferson Medical College, in the years following Eakins’s death. This “restoration” completely altered Eakins’s painstaking, characteristic tonal concerns. The Gross Clinic was newly cleaned and restored in 2009–10, based on Eakins’s own detailed ink-wash drawing and a photograph made by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From his earliest student days, Eakins had been primarily interested in studying and portraying the human figure. His early sculling scenes displayed the musculature of athletic men, and The Gross Clinic dealt directly with the subject of human anatomy. But Eakins found few subjects in contemporary Philadelphia that afforded opportunities for portraying the undraped human figure, especially females. He circumvented this by painting repeatedly a partly imaginary scene of William Rush, a much earlier Philadelphia sculptor, carving his statue of the Water Nymph and Bittern from a naked female model in the presence of a chaperon, which provided him with a pictorial pretext for portraying a nude woman.

Water Nymph and Bittern

Eakins’s interests ranged widely (sports, anatomy, locomotion, music, sculpture, photography) in directions often reminiscent of his great French contemporary Edgar Degas but without that artist’s innovative stylistic concerns. There is no evidence, however, that Eakins was aware of the work of Degas. Eakins’s art does demand comparison with that of Winslow Homer, the contemporary he most admired and his principal rival claimant to the title of the greatest American artist of the 19th century.
Not until 1916, the year of his death, was one of his paintings acquired by a museum, Pushing for Rail (1874), acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the first major exhibition of his work was held the following year at the same museum. But Eakins’s art had its long-range effect, serving as a model and an impetus for the burst of realism in American painting during the early years of the 20th century.

Pushing for Rail

Paintings by Thomas Eakins