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Current Issue: Volume 23, No. 15, Week of May 1, 2005

Bill Traylor's "Female Drinker"
Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges
Metropolitan Museum of Art; Robert M. Greenberg
From Review Article by Roberta Smith
in the New York Times, Friday, April 29, 2005.
Background modified slightly by jeanne to resemble print edition.

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Created: April 29, 2005
Latest Update: April 29, 2005

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Topic of the Week:

Bill Traylor's "Female Drinker": Labels and Privileges

Last week we spoke of the devastating miscommunication and unwillingness to talk in in the Catholic Church over theological orthodoxy as expressed by the Pope and concern for a church that returns to social justice and good faith listening to the poor, exploited, and underpriviliged. Pope Benedict XVI claims that he will reach out to the poor. But his concept of orthodoxy fails to grasp the context of the poor and of the Third World. Perhaps he will make the effort to change. Perhaps he will reach out to Europe's colonized remnants as well as to Europe itself. We can hope.

Meanwhile, this wonderful painting that I did not know, by a painter I did not know, appeared this morning in the New York Times at p. B 29, in a review, "Altered Views in the House of Modernism," by Roberta Smith of a new show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Female Drinker so clearly represents drinking by the flask, without even a glance to the title. It represents joyous movement, and it clearly represents a female body by the shape. Roberta Smith says the catalog for the show describes Bill Traylor's work as "flat, antic, weathervane-like figures. . ." The flatness reminds me of the flatness we have seen in the Japanese neopop movement of childlike figures that represent the darker side of Japan's social development.

The antic suggestion of movement reminds me of the joy that I see in the historical celebration of dance and movement in Africa and in the Far East. Remember the Whirling Dervishes? of Islamic Sufi fame? Consider how the painting and the performance photo demonstrate movement and spirituality.

Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges Image of whirling dervish from on April 29, 2005. jeanne's first version of feeling the motion.

Another image that comes to mind is that of the Far Eastern Shadow Puppets. Wayang Kulit is a kind of story telling (recall the importance we place on narrative as a means of answerability) known in the Far East, particularly in Java and Bali. The Ledermuseum offers four shadow puppet pictures which come from d several parts of the world and over centuries.

Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges Dorsono, a wayang kulit shadow puppet from Java.
Bill Traylor's Female Drinker and Dorsono, a wayang kulit shadow puppet from Java.

Look at the detail and history caught up in the shadow puppets, and then notice the simplification that suggests a modern approach to art. Notice the freedom that subordinates traditional representive forms to the feeling the artist seeks to transmit.Can you imagine a Picasso like this? Look at the newspaper cutout on the index of the Picasso site. Compare to Bill Traylor's image to

Bill Traylor's <i>Female Drinker</i>: Labels and Privileges Thumbnail of Picasso poster of the Acrobat.
Bill Taylor's "Female Drinker and Picasso's Acrobat, poster of, for sale

I was particularly intrigued by Roberta Smith's report of the catalog interpretation of Bill Traylor's place in the world of art: "In the catalog at least, the exhibition examines the simplified forms of their work as proto-modern, placing it within the context of American modernism and the nascent New York art world of the late 1930's and early 40's, when both artists had brushes with official recognition and were then forgotten." (Backup of Altered Views in the House of Modernism)

Perhaps this seems a little far from religion as a present social issue, but art is one of the means by which we express our spirituality. That explains in part why "primitive" art has such power for us. Most all of our great twentieth centuryartists have at one time or another explored the power of children's art, of outsider art, of the art that sometimes expresses madness, of primitive art, meaning art by those who have not been touched by modern Western culture. Bill Traylor explored the meaning of religion as a present social issue in his Black Jesus.

Bill Traylor's "Black Jesus" (1939-1942)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Now I'd like you to compare Traylor's Black Jesus to this later work by Jean-Michel Basquiat. This is one of the works highlighted at the Brooklyn Museum exhibit of Basquiat's work which will be coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles when it closes in June in New York. Notice that Basquiat's inclusion of the words "crown of thorns" leave no question that he was conscious of and had much to say about religion as a present social issue. "An interviewer asked Basquiat in 1983 if there was anger in his work. “It’s about 80% anger,” he replied. The interviewer continued, “But there’s also humor.” To which Basquiat answered, “People laugh when you fall on your ass. What’s humor?” (Brooklyn Museum Website)

And finally, can you see any parallels in the photo of Basquiat taken by Lizzie Himmel? Notice the black figure and the halo like object. Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio, 1985. Photograph © Lizzie Himmel. On the Brooklyn Museum Website

Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio, 1985.
Photograph © Lizzie Himmel

"The crown and the halo—the abstract symbols of honor—are all that are really necessary. Basquiat’s use of the halo, however, cannot help but remind us that in the modern world, art is no longer primarily dedicated to the service of religious worship." (Brooklyn Museum Basquiat Exhibit.

NEWS, Announcements, and

Current Discussion Topics:

  • Learning Records for Spring 2005 Not yet back to putting up grade information. Still trying to get files and e-mail straight. Sorry for delay. This will take a while, but if you'll send me your messages numbers, it will help me get it up faster. Please be patient with me. I'm retired this semester. And Pat and I will be in on Wednesday, April 27. I'll post times once I know them.jeanne

  • Learning Records with Grades for Spring 2005 A record sheet that will let you know that I have adequate material on learning records to justify your grade. If I put up a B that may just mean I need more material, not that there was something wrong with what you submitted. I'm including brief comments. If you've got a message on transform_dom that would you would like me to use for grade evidence, just send me the message no. at jeanne. Otherwise, I'll just keep going through the transform_dom discussions in reverse chronological order. jeanne

  • Instructions page for joining transform_dom and transspan

    Famous People and Concepts We Should Have Heard Of, But Often Haven't.


    • Oliver Herring - contemporary artist to whom time and motion are important. He uses unusual materials, like mylar tape and plastic bags to knit his works, and he sometimes includes performance in which he sits at the exhibition knitting in the background. Stitches in time.

    • Gesture as Image By Nathan Kernan. - contemporary artist who works in glass. His work is often on sale in the Los Angeles County Art Museum. Gesture as Image By Nathan Kernan. This essay is on Chihuly's official website.


    • time - Oliver Herring chose knitting as a medium for his expression because "he wanted a process that would reflect the passage of time." Stitches in time Art in America, Jan, 2003 by Janet Koplos. At Find Articles." Backup Here is an artist's attempt to express the sociological concept of time as a factor in the process of social construction. Because context is so important to interpretation, time, as a major component of that context is something we are increasingly, as a people, learning to take into account. Consider the changing role of the elderly in our society.

      Caren Canier's time and motion exhibit at University of New Hampshire Art Gallery in 2002:

      Caren Canier's time and motion exhibit at University of New Hampshire Art Gallery in 2002

    • postminimalism - response to minimalism with inclusion of more in the sense that one cannot simplify the complexity of the visual reality the artist wants to express with eliminating so much from the social context. Now the postminimalist is likely to say instead of the "less is more" of minimalism that "more is better," perhaps because it offers so much more complex a set of perspectives. Chihuly, with the profusion of glass flowers he heaps together, would be a postminimalist.

      Application to social theory: Minimalism tends to focus in on a given perspective the author wishes to create. Postminimalism is more reflective of "there is no single 'right' answer", and so we recognize many alternative perspectives as valid. Fundamentalism would, for example, focus on the minimalist "basic belief system" and insist upon its being "the right one." Eclecticism would, however, focus on the complexity of belief systems, which are shaped by the social structural context in which they flourish, and recognize many as valid, without the emphasis on one socially embedded system being "the right one."

    Jeanne's Lectures for Spring 2005

    Visual Sociology: Some Black Painters

    • Link to Bag Bed site. The Bag Bed Recycling Plastic Bags into a Bed the kids can lie in on the grass in the backyard (or the front yard) or that you can make available for homeless people (as long as you caution that smoking would be dangerous since the bags burn) and with which you can make all your friends and neighbors conscious of recycling as essential to the health of the earth. Remember that visual and musical reminders often get through when words do not. jeanne Add Tuesday, May 3, 2005.

    • Crocheting Plastic Grocery Bags into Tote Bags These instructions by Amelie Redman, Bethel, AK from Solid Solutions. (To get a copy of Solid Solutions contact the EPA Tribal Program, 271-6323). I shared a couple of bags I had started from my New York Times Plastic Covers and from the Los Angeles Times Plastic Covers. These are different from mine. But the idea is to make people aware of recycling and saving the earth by doing crazy things like this with the plastic bags that proliferate our world. jeanne

    • And then serious art, knitting with unusual materials: Oliver Herring's knitted robe:

      Oliver Herring's Untitled. Robe. at AskArt site.
      An example of work by Oliver Herring. Untitled. Robe.
      (All artwork is copyright of the respective owner or artist.)
      On auction at AskArt site.
      ". . . Herring's method of making is central to the meaning. . . . He took up knitting for the work that first brought him widespread attention, A Flower for Ethyl Eichelberger (1991), a tribute to the performance artist of that name who had committed suicide after he was diagnosed with AIDS. Herring chose the technique because it is a traditionally female activity and because he wanted a process that would reflect the passage of time. For his material he chose not yarn with its plethora of colors but plastic tape of noncommittal transparency. For this extended project, Herring knitted coats and blankets, constructing these protective, comforting, consoling forms in this cool, contemporary, visually ethereal material. Appropriately, there was a performance aspect to the Eichelberger works. When they were shown at New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1993, for example, Herring sat in the shadowy gallery, knitting. (1) His presence emphasized Eichelberger's absence. And garments are always surrogates for a person. . . .

      "Increments of motion have engaged Herring in every phase of his work. Although videotape and knitting tape are both linear, there is one sharp contrast between his two bodies of work. The sculptures are motionless, their bits of time always in the past. In the videos, the increments of movement are forever in present tense. Yet the halted differentiation of each moment in the stop-motion process only makes their brevity more poignant."

      From: Stitches in time: "Oliver Herring's knitted sculptures and his stop-motion videos and photos might seem unrelated. In fact, the author argues, all result from cumulative processes in which stitches or frames mark time - "Split Reverse" video exhibition at Palm Beach ICA. Art in America, Jan, 2003 by Janet Koplos. At Find Articles." Backup

      Roberta Smith's A Bread-Crumb Trail to the Spirit of the Times Her articles on art criticism appear occasionally in the New York Times. In this 2003 article she writes of the young undergrund New York scene, which includes Oliver Herring and his knitted work, Curtain.

      Gesture as Image By Nathan Kernan. This essay on Chihuly's glass works appears on Chihuly's official site. Notice that Oliver Herring's work is mentioned here. Notice also the "postminimalist" term.

      "Chihuly is a postminimalist in more than just name: his work takes an active and aggressive stance against the idea of minimalism; "more is more" might be a central tenet of his aesthetic. His art, and its extension in his life, is filled with things in quantity. One object has a different meaning from a group of like objects. Sculptor Louise Bourgeois speaks of the importance of repetition for her work, saying, "Repetition gives a physical reality to experience."[16] Or again, "I have to repeat, and repeat, and repeat. It is that important to me."[17] For her it is connected to the power of art to exorcise the interior demons that trouble her, which must be placated over and over again. In many of the craftlike techniques that Bourgeois and other artists employ (such as Liza Lou and her beading, or Oliver Herring and his knitting), a somewhat mindless repetitive act is intrinsic to the realization of the built-up form. It can imply humility and patience, as well as the marking of time."

      Consider how stitches represent time for Herring, and how the materials he uses also represent time and ephemeral qualities. Consider the relationship to culture in the 21st Century. Notice how he uses his "presence" in performance to denote the Other's absence. jeanne

    • Jean-Michel Basquiat for sale at Gallery Brown

      Linda Lumpkin Basquiat and War Paint.

      On Jean-Michel Basquiat by Louis Armand. More on this later. jeanne

    • Mary Whitfield. Gail Andrews Trechsel looks at a story of African-American life in the Deep South. In Raw Vision No. 49.

      Day Is Done by Mary Whitfield
      Image taken from Raw Vision No. 49.

    • N.F.Karlins on Bill Traylor in Raw Vision Good essay on Bill Traylor's work and importance. In Raw Vision No. 15.

    • "Outsider" Art Raw Vision "When French painter Jean Dubuffet first originated the concept of Art Brut in the 1940s, the art of the untrained visionary was very much a minority interest. From its almost secret and clandestine beginnings, Outsider Art has gradually become a major interest in today's contemporary art scene. . . . "RAW VISION is now attracting not only the attention of the most visually sophisticated of art followers but also of a whole group previously untouched by contemporary art. Outsider Art has become the fastest growing area of interest in contemporary art." Because many of these "outsider" artists had no opportunity to participate in the elite art world, museums wer not open to them. Today we are beginning to see access to other kinds of display ad distribution, and the recognition of other levels and kinds of art that fit more closely in some contemporary cultures.

    Academic Support

    Using Academic Language Effectively

    Merriam-Webster Dictionary Search:

    and Careers

    • Resumes:

    • Letters of Recommendation:

      • Letters of Recommendation: How to get me to respond to your request. Many of you need letters. If you will follow this format, I can do them quickly and make them good.
      • Dog Letters If you do not give me adequate information, but do manage to get my attention, you may end up with a dog letter. That is a letter that says that you work well with people, that you are enthusiastic, that you persist at getting things done, and that everyone likes you. Of course, my dog gets along well with people, brings his ball to them, is enthusiastic, and persists at getting them to take his ball. Everyone likes my dog. That's a dog letter. It's so general it could be about my dog. jeanne

    • Career Options You Might Not Have Considered

      • visual media and their interdependence with other means of knowing to understand that we are not totally rational creatures deciding things apart from our feelings and values. Wolfowitz (new President of the World Bank to aid developing countries AND principle advocate of the Iraq War) might feel very differently when he is exposed to visual and aural images of the poor developing countries that have not before been his primary concern. So we want to know how best to present those developing countries visually. And we might find that we can have a career doing that sort of thing, so it does reflect on us as individuals. Added April 2, 2005.

    That Was Fun! Sneaky Strokes and Flying Good Dogs

    Flying Dog is also a painting by Zhang Kai. Best I've every come across to illustrate our site with magic numbers and unicorns and whipped cream cats and now, flying dogs:

    Flying Good Dogs: Whenever something happens in class that works out well, that inspires you, that helps in studying, whatever, take a few minutes to send us an e-mail. We'll post it where all of us can learn from it, including other teachers.

    You can also send an email to the Who to Take Site: