So I’ve Become a Bookseller

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I got into the History of Art field to teach. Teaching, it turned out was just the tip of the iceberg in academia. Most academics spend their careers publishing (so as not to perish,) attending conferences to present their research, and seeking out projects to co-author. Along with this comes sitting on committees, seeking chairs, and reaching the holy grail of tenure. I. Just. Want. To. Teach.

There is also the exploitative practise of paying lecturers next to nothing. A lot of professors in America are finding that they have to work multiple jobs to stay in academia. Soooooo, after I graduated with my Masters in the History of Art, Art Theory, And Curational Studies, I looked at PhDs, interned/volunteered at tons of galleries, worked at a pub and then landed a job at a bookshop as the art buyer.

I love shopping. I don’t want to go anywhere unless I can shop there. Yeah, this forest is nice, does it have a gift shop? I love figuring out how a shop is set up. I love seeing different buying styles, I love merchandising, and how furniture can suddenly be a way to sell soap, or books, or camisoles. I also love soaking up what larger concept a shop is selling to me.

As the art buyer, I was also in charge of non-book stock like cards and gifts, which makes no sense, but I took it on. I was so fricking good at buying cards. It took me a while to get my bearings on the book front. I figured it out, but art books just aren’t profitable in a post-Amazon world. An art book buyer has to hit a happy medium of buyable, impulse books with books that are actually good.

I had the help of someone who was co-running the art section with me. George was Scottish and had an American mum. He was a breath of fresh air. infinitely open to any type of interaction, endlessly interested in all things, and confidently, untouched my others’ influences. He was one of the very few people you get to meet in a lifetime who genuinely change how you view the world. He helped me approach all things with a nuetral eye so I could take my time and really think about them. Instead of jumping into an opinion about something, I could see all facets of it, consider it in and out of context, and look at it without being swayed by popular opinion. I think that type of thinking is what could save the world.

I once ran into George one morning and we got coffee and talked about:

-How hard life is when someone is conventionally beautiful, and how glad we were that we were not devastatingly gorgeous.

-The Japanese fetish of wanting to become flat.

-How non-verbal kinesics and the cadence of the person’s speech you are talking to somehow ends up how you start speaking to them.

-Adult braces.

While working with George, he met a fellow bookseller and they started dating. His girlfriend is and was one of my favourite people on the planet. She’s the type of person who is not only fashionable, but overhwelmingly smart, quick witted, and hilarious. George passed away in 2014. I think he lived about 6 people’s lives in his short time here.

I am so glad I got the art buyer job so I could meet George and his girlfriend. After working there for a few years, a position came up in a Contemporary Art Gallery. They needed someone to run their arts bookshop. I wanted it so bad. I stressed myself out so much over the application, I got ill. When I got the interview, I studied every question they could ask me. I made a presentation based off of their archived program, and consulted everyone I knew who might be able to help me. I got it.

So I became an arts bookseller. My degrees have helped me navigate the nuances of buying for a shop that caters to exhibition goers. I revel in making the art theory section good. I love finding books no other shop will stock that my customer base will love. I also have thoroughly enjoyed building up a super groovy non-book section from suppliers I have found all over the world. My job is shopping for stuff, you guys. But shopping for art stuff.

Working at the gallery has further taught me the importance of standing your ground when you know something is good. It has also taught me to stop caring about what other people think. I’ve learned about how much more you can get done by walking into a space confidently and how reassuring it is to everyone else. And lastly, I have learned how important it is to always be genuine in any interaction. It puts people at ease, and it makes everything so much smoother.

I still want to teach. I think after my kids are grown up, I might go back into academia. It will match my plans of dressing Like Iris Apfel, and calling everyone ‘darling.’ Though I don’t think anything really ever goes to plan. I’m a bookseller now, afterall.

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Apologies

I’m really apologising to myself. I’m sorry I haven’t written a blog post for a long time. I’ve not found anything to write about. But really, I’ve just felt lazy. I’ve also felt pretty pregnant. Being tired and nauseas makes everything about 100 times harder. Props to all of the pregnant ladies getting stuff done in the world (and the ones who got stuff done in history) they should all be heroes.

While at a midwife appointment at the hospital a few weeks ago, Tom (the husband) and I spent a long time on http://uglyrenaissancebabies.tumblr.com/. While maybe it isn’t the best Obstetric Ward fodder, it is darn hilarious. Which led me to start thinking about babies in Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance and Mannerist Art. A lot of them are weird. A lot of painters had a seemingly bizarre disconnect with the oeuvre of a tiny baby. They were painting what one looked like, but not really how a wriggly baby moves. A lot of pictures show what I like to call ‘man babies’.  Weird infants gesturing at stuff and holding things like an adult might. Sure, most of the time the baby is either Jesus or a saint; which clearly explains why they acted like adults at 9 months old, perfect logic, but what might man babies also speak to?

worm man baby

While I’m discussing weird man babies, I’d like to address the bizarre ‘globe’ or ‘button boob’ as well. Like, Mary’s breasts were just pasted on like a blow-up doll. I believe that man babies and button boobs are largely connected. It all goes back to the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity. Rome had stolen everything cool about the places it conquered, especially Greece’s art. But as the Empire progressed and eventually collapsed, Christian imagery trickled in and then eventually, like a tidal wave, crushed most things non-Christian. Though, on a side note, A LOT of stuff was just stolen! Jesus’ Halo was Apollo’s — straight up stole it off of a Roman God. And the Easter bunny? You’re celebrating a pagan ritual.  Someone who maybe doesn’t know a lot about art might describe the shift in styles as a ‘regression’ as the images start to become more stylised and less based on nature, but it was not a moving backwards or erasing of knowledge, it was instead a preferred means of representation. By the word representation I mean precisely that. Artists were not creating a mirror image of a man or a woman, but the representation of one. Which brings me to one of my favourite words; Didacticism.

Creepy Baby

Christianity’s Empire, like most empires, was built and maintained by war and art (or as some might call it, propaganda). Educating/freaking out masses of people who either don’t read or don’t speak your language is easily done with didacticism.   You visually tell a story, and no one will be left out! So you can tell them things liiiike: demons will eat you a lot if you don’t listen. Oooooor, a flying man in a vagina shaped thing will float over everyone some day. Or even, a lady with her boob hanging out holding a  weird man baby sure makes a lot of friends who like to stand by her chair. As Christianity moves on from Byzantium and starts to spread across Europe and the Romanesque and Gothic periods take place, thousands of legends about saints start to pop up and you get even better picture stories. Some even have dragons in them. If you fancy reading some of these stories I highly recommend The Golden Legend, a book about all of the saints and their wacky stories. Fun fact: I love saint stories. They’re just about the weirdest and most wonderful pieces of nonsensical craziness out there. If you like the surreal, or impossible, read about San Genarro flying over Mt. Vesuvius, or Sts. Kosmas and Damian who basically glued a black man’s leg onto an ill deacon in need of a new one.  Right? It’s mental.

St. Cosmas and Damien

Essentially, ugly babies in Christian Art were lovingly created representations of babies. And button boobs were symbols of plenitude. Christian Art for a long time, was almost a language of symbology. Saints could be identified by their props, St. Margaret by the platter holding her chopped off breasts, St. Jerome by his sad lion and red hat, Mary Magdalene by her cosmetic pots. The Virgin Mary could always be identified by her solemn and sad expression, often exposed breast, the baby she sometimes held and the cast of saints that often surrounded her. But if this is how art worked before the Renaissance, a time that saw the casting away of representational art and the birth of nature-based likenings, then why were there still ugly babies? The big hitters like Michelangelo and Leonardo etc drew beautiful babies, where were the ugly ones coming from? Who drew the Ugly Renaissance babies?!

Giant Baby

The answer is a lot of people. A lot of people painted and drew ugly Renaissance babies. Local painters, a lot of Northern Renaissance artists (who frankly, created some creepy images), and basically any artist who maybe never received formal training, or favoured specific styles because of regional preferences/socio-cultural trends. Which means there are a lot of fantastically ugly Renaissance babies out there for you to enjoy! Exciting!

©Allison Everett 2013

Why You should Give More Time to Art in Your Life

This is really just a reminder to myself. I get so busy with work and then three months go by without properly visiting a gallery or going through an exhibition. You (I) should.

Going to a museum or a gallery is a good way to remind yourself how to revel and how to think critically. I know that sounds stupid. But we go to work, go home and maybe have a hobby or two, but mainly, a lot of people do the same sorts of things day in and day out. Art is like a fancy break for your brain. Except its not a break, its more of a new way to look at something and think about it.

Conceptual art, art that is based in theory and concept rather than the medium like, say painting is like ultra extra work out time for your brain. But lovely oil paintings are great too. Just go take a look at Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights for a few minutes and think about what drugs he might have been on.

The Garden of Earthly Delights

 

Then go to an actual gallery and use your brain for something other than facebook and e-mails.

The Art of Being an Ex-Pat

Yesterday I was officially granted permanent stay in the UK. I’ve been here for a few years and enjoyed living a sort of prolonged anthropological field study. I’ve learnt the art of making the perfect tea, the supreme joy of eating cheese chips drunk at 2am and a full breakfast the next morning ; and most importantly, I ‘ve been thoroughly versed in the British concept of modesty, understatement and stoicism. These three pillars of ‘Britishness’ shaped the history of British art quite significantly.

Hangover cure
Hangover cure

And yes there are a lot of British people who maybe lack those three qualities a lot, but every country has its duds, America is known for them!  I guess it because we have a lot of people, so a lot of duds maybe…

US-Tourist

British art from the long 18th century was primarily portraiture and historical pictures.  On the continent, painting was crazytown. The Reformation and the later Counter Reformation created a war fought in religious propagandistic paintings (and other stuff).  But basically paintings of saints, martyrs, prophets and angels being extra dramatic was the main theme.

Dramaculus
Dramaculus

Britain had resolved mainly to avoid ‘Pope-ish’ imagery. After that whole Henry VIII telling the Pope to take a hike so he could do what he liked; and the Church of England was founded; and they all decided that the opposite side was the worst, England resolved to culturally separate itself from the rest of the Christian world.

But they could have gone in any direction, but their Britishness sent their aesthetic into one that valued bravery, intelligence, and stoicism. Yes there are some pretty fantastically awful and egocentric disasters, but they make going to the gallery hilarious!

      Haha

Haha

And while the British identity is changing and has definitely changed quite a lot in the last few centuries, I love the exquisite art of the cheesy pun, the straight-faced delivery of jokes and the self-depricating knee-jerk reaction to a compliment. Oh, and apologising for everything. Sorry, if this was a bit short.

New Caravaggios, ey?

According to Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz Guerrieri, artistic director for the Brescia Museum Foundation in Milan and his colleague Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, over 100 pieces completed by Michelangelo da Merisi or as most of the art world calls him, Caravaggio, have been discovered in Sforzesco castle. The troubled Italian artist studied with the Mannerist painter Simone Peterzano from 1584-1588.

The art historians collected a veritable vocabulary of Caravaggio’s figures in Rome, Malta and Nales and compared them to his supposed work in Milan. The researchers claim that the works they viewed and studied showed “the faces, bodies and scenes the young Caravaggio would use in later years”.

While this makes perfect sense and is logical and sounds like they know what they’re doing. My first gut reaction to this claim was ‘This sounds a little far-fetched and like a very clever plan to make money’. And secondly “I bet they’re not, and if they are, why would Caravaggio have left so called ”works” most likely drawings behind if he went to Rome afterwards to seek his fortune?’ And Lastly ‘Caravaggio’s later works were quite slap-dash. He was famous for using people he met as models, painting without planning, frequent pentimenti and he painted a flipping dead prostitute! What “figures” are we talking about then?’

Someone like Rubens had what most art historians believe to be a cast of figures. No one knows whether he had a filing system of stock figures, or he just had hundreds and hundreds of drawings strewn about his workshop. Either way, he certainly had a basis for all of his figures. While he did run a workshop, which would benefit greatly from having a foundation or a set of standard and stock figures to create a strong consistency in pieces that were drafted and/or completed by people other than the artist; a lot of artists in the Baroque period, the Renaissance and the Mannerist period completed their studies an as apprentice  with a distinct set of figures they had worked with and used them quite frequently. Caravaggio’s work, was largely based on painting what he saw and certainly not what he studied.

Caravaggio’s figures change so dramatically throughout his career, that I find it hard to believe that they could so confidently assign early drawings to his later work. His early work in Rome is golden, big and voluptuous. He paints figures displaying a side of their exposed neck with such sensuality; you can feel his youthful lust in the rich and delicious palette he uses. After that his colours go dark, dramatic and extreme. He innovates the chiaroscuro technique and paints dynamic, dirty, gritty and suspenseful pieces shrouded in sentiment, love and devotion. After he flees Rome because he murders man for what some art historians believe as a love triangle gone wrong, others, a hand ball game debt, his figures become smaller and smaller; weighed down by the empty space in the canvas. His last pieces, before he is believed to have perished on a beach from exposure, were steeped in overwhelming regret and remorse. His picture of David holding the head of Goliath, a portrait of the painter from Merisi, looks back at viewer tired and sorry.  I suppose I would need more evidence to be persuaded of these early drawings being Caravaggio’s.

The art world is still having trouble attributing the Narcissus picture in Palazzo Barberini to Caravaggio. How will it grapple with these drawings? How curious.

I think, I would like to see these pictures. And I also believe that my sentiment is quite what the people who discovered them would hope the public would want to do.

Dads and Art

My father made me love art. My mother is the artist. My mother is art. She has the coolness of a Matisse painting. The confidence of a Picasso and the wit of a Duchamp. My father doesn’t know much about art. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a gallery with him. I’ve surfed with him in the choppy pacific where he told me about being out to sea on a fishing boat and seeing the moon through a wave. I’ve biked with him and while we rode down a hill he told me about hitchhiking across America and sleeping in fields of sunflowers. He lives in a quiet house near the beach. The fridge is empty except for some cold watermelon in a bowl and a plate with chicken on it.  His furniture is unremarkable. It stands sturdy, useful and uncluttered.

He fills the space with presence. He sits mainly in silence, reading, watching tv, eating at the kitchen table. When I think about my father I see the way he holds his jaw tightly and looks through his water blue eyes.  His gaze is calm and strong, its the same gaze he has when he looks over the sea while surfing; the same gaze he had while competing in bike racing; the same gaze he employs when someone speaks to him.

I was looking through my history of art textbook. I was studying Ancient Greece. I came to the Hellenistic period and  they had made a statue of my father. The Seated Boxer, a piece presumably about an Ancient Greek boxer who has just lost a match and is contemplating his next action, is my father. He doesn’t have the statue’s cauliflower ears or flattened nose, or even his elaborate curls, but the way he looks up to the viewer, the way he sits and fills the space, quiet and present, calm and strong, is my dad.

Image

The seated boxer was my key into how to view art. I loved this piece just as I love my father. I was immediately able to relate to the boxer. I felt sad, overwhelmed and elated that I was able to so effectively connect to a piece of art. From this statue, I was granted a way to feel overwhelmed and lost in a painting, sculpture frieze or fresco. I had discovered a way to feel lost in art, enveloped in a notion.

David Sedaris (not art)

So you know when you have not real friendships with people you’ve never met? Yeah, I totally have one with David Sedaris. You know how you think you’d be great friends if you met? Yeah, that’s how I feel about David (we’re on a first name basis in my not real friendship with him). So the thing is, I actually have met him. I met him last week.

I went to his reading for the Edinburgh Festival and it was magical. The whole room was belly laughing through the whole show. Sedaris’ wit was sharp and poignant, just like his books. After his reading, everyone queued up to have him sign our books. I held my copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day and imagined a world where we were best ex-pat pals, and went shopping for wax anatomical models and human skeletons together. I hoped we could have dinner parties and discuss openly how much he spent on each tchotchke in the amazing Sedaris household dining room room.

As I approached David, I became more and more nervous. What should I say? How will we become best friends! When I get nervous, historically, I go into boring, dumb version of me mode. I become, quite possibly, the most bland and polite person ever. I resolved to not be that person! So when I got up to the folding table with the lovely Mr. Sedaris, pen in hand, looking up at me with his knowing eyes all I said was ‘I work at a book shop and i insisted they buy in copies of all of your books’ how tacky is that!?

I meant to say that I wanted more people in Scotland to love his books as much as I do; and that I meant it as an expression of my admiration. We ended up chatting briefly about laptops and computers. I came off as boring and bland and frankly, forgettable.

He handed me my book back. I felt a pang of sadness. Like I had incurred a loss. He smiled, his greying hair and warm smile made me melancholy.  I had met him in person. I wanted to say ‘I’ve been listening to, and reading your work for years! But I thanked him and left. As I was walking away, I opened my book. He had drawn a cat and written ‘Thanks for making me rich!’ underneath it.

I should have said ‘You’re my favourite’ and left it at that. But I didn’t. So, David, in our not real friendship, thank you for my wonderful cat drawing. And also, thank you for putting up with boring nervous me.

Love, Allie  xx

(Yes I did put a picture of myself on here. Just in case.)

Dirty Words

Traditional art history will have you believe in masterpieces, artistic geniuses and beautiful paintings. The kind of art history that has two or three movements like the Renaissance and Impressionism and maybe even ‘Picasso’ ’cause that’s a movement.

Its fun to believe in Masterpieces like its fun to believe in Romance novels. They are a sugary romanticisation of what art is or can be. Its like how art can be ‘beautiful’ in a ‘Pre-Raphaelite, Alphonse Mucha, you totally hung that in your room when you were sixteen’ kind of way.

The words ‘Masterpiece’, ‘good’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘artistic genius’ are dirty words in the contemporary art world. And as we see painting becoming a minority in the plethora of mediums in the art world; we also see a reduction in the number of artists who are producing pieces that instill timeless praise.

There are a few reasons for this  of course. If we compare the art market and environment with others in different (pretty much all pre 1950s) time periods we’ll notice one glaringly obvious difference: television, and later the internet. We can mainly blame it aalll on the interwebs though.  Art movements, trends, notions, ideas, or anything, can be transmitted instantly. Art movements have gone from hundreds of years long, to weeks long.

Another good reason would be that evolution of art from a technical standpoint such as academy paintings in 19th century fluffly, big butt, everything is pink styles to the avant garde ‘I just paint light’ style to a consistent and very well documented constant pushing of boundaries until Post-Expressionism where conceptual art was born. Conceptual art has killed the artistic genius, murdered the masterpiece and redefined the permanence and validity of a lasting and timeless piece.

I’m not knockin’ Conceptual Art though. I think it’s just great. BUT, it has redefined how artists work, how the world views it, and why we look at art.  Artists seek out unique directions to take concepts and explore each aspect through research, media and the tortured reworking of an over-critted piece. The public is met with galleries full of cerebral winks  and aesthetic in-jokes.  All the while saleability looms over each piece and the viewers can feel it, like the weight of what is cool and now. But that’s exactly it, the contemporary art world has redefined how we look at the history of art.

I think though, that viewing ALL of art history, through a nowish lens is pretty uselss. Artists did have masterpieces in the Renaissance. Some art is clearly beautiful (yes I know beauty is a judgment value, and yes I’ve read aalll about it). So, there are not three art movements; there are lots and lots of precise changes in the history of art due to complex socio-political happenings and economic fluctuations etc.. But, there is such a thing as a Masterpiece and all of those other dirty words.

© Allison Everett 2011

 

Sparkly Jesuses

      

     

I used to be able to name almost every major period in art history along with a piece from that period. I’d start with Paleolithic Cave Art and Venus of Willendorf and and go on from there. Art History for me, was a promise of a future full of beautiful things. If I studied art, then my life and career would be exciting, changing and constantly filled with lovely and curious things.

I think that’s why I love Tchotchke so much. Knick knacks are a visual plethora of colour and beauty (in a deliciously unforgivable cheesy and terrible manner, I know). Putting a sparkly Jesus next to a Japanese wood block print and a marble replica of Nike of Samothrace is like a pile of beautiful clutter. I want a life like that. I want my daily life to be as exciting as a sparkly Jesus.