Category Archives: Visual art

Hogarth and dance

William Hogarth explicitly positioned his aesthetic theory in opposition to those of his contemporaries.

He disagreed both with philosophical treatments that viewed beauty and taste in moral terms and with art treatises that relied on exemplification and lacked causal explanation; further, he attacked the mystification of the concept of grace in both approaches.

He argued that understanding beauty did not require initiation into a new body of knowledge: It simply involved exercising a natural reflective vision that finds pleasure in the forms of the human body and related designs and ornamentations.

It was natural, therefore, that—unlike other aestheticians of his time—he drew extensively on dance examples in his treatise The analysis of beauty: Dance, particularly in its use in deportment training, belonged to a sphere of relatively everyday polite culture, as opposed to the rarefied and mystifying culture of art appreciation. Anyone open to dance and deportment could learn how to appreciate them, just as anyone open to Hogarth’s theory could apply its illuminations to their everyday lives.

This according to “An aesthetics of performance: Dance in Hogarth’s Analysis of beauty” by Annie Richardson (Dance research: The journal of the Society for Dance Research XX/2 [winter 2002] 38–87; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-11454).

Above, an illustration of a country dance from Hogarth’s treatise (click to enlarge). Below, an English country dance that he might have seen—or participated in!

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Deciphering de Lauze

The 1623 printing of François de Lauze’s Apologie de la danse et la parfaicte méthode de l’enseigner tant aux cavaliers qu’aux dames was not motivated solely by artistic concerns.

Some of the introductory materials—a letter to the author’s patron the Duke of Buckingham (George Villiers, 1592–1628), three curiously attributed dedicatory poems, and a mythologically inspired frontispiece (above)—appear to contain coded messages referring to the political and amatory activities of Buckingham and others; they may even have been tools of espionage.

This according to “Deciphering de Lauze” by Martha Schwieters (Proceedings: Society of Dance History Scholars [Riverside: Society of Dance History Scholars, 1999] pp. 69–78; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-35200).

Below, a gavotte of the type described by de Lauze.

More articles about early dance treatises are here.

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Stravinsky and cubism

 

Stravinsky’s Svadebka/Les noces—an assault of nonsense syllables, snatches of conversation, and ritual fragments—is a cubist reconstruction of a Russian peasant wedding. Despite its invocation of Christian saints, the work might be Neolithic or even Australopithicine, so backward-looking is its range of auditory allusion.

All of the action is accompanied by chatter, out of which a whoop or intelligible phrase may emerge—we hear pet names, silly games, much commentary on the wine and beer, and some veiled sexual talk; it is the auditory equivalent of the strips of newsprint that Picasso glued to some of his canvases.

This according to Stravinsky: The music box and the nightingale by Daniel Albright (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1989; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1989-12654).

Today is Stravinsky’s 140th birthday! Above and below, Bronislava Nijinska’s original choreography for the work.

 

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Répertoire international de la littérature de l’art (RILA)

Plans for the publication of a bibliography of writings concerning art history were announced in the summer of 1974. The project’s vision was born much earlier, in large part influenced by the publication of  RILM Abstracts of Music Literature in early 1967.

RILA (Répertoire International de la Littérature de l’Art) borrowed the model for its name from RILM, as well as the concept of international cooperation first proposed at the conference held in Paris under the auspices of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in 1969 and then confirmed in Washington, D.C., under the sponsorship of the College Art Association of America in October 1971. RILA was conceived to provide substantial abstracts and detailed subject indexes of art-historical scholarship concerning post-classical European art and post-conquest American art published in periodicals, books, Festschriften, congress reports, exhibition and museum catalogues, and dissertations.

The project took off in 1973 as the bibliographic pilot project of the American Council of Learned Societies, with the RILM office at the CUNY Graduate Center initially providing editorial and technological support. RILA was intended to be the first addition to a proposed interdisciplinary group of bibliographies in the humanities, initiated with RILM. In the Demonstration issue (above) , which tested RILM’s bibliographic models applied to art-historical literature, the editor Michael Rinehart wrote “Continued regular publication of RILA will depend on response to this issue, and particularly on two factors essential to its long-range success: the willingness of authors to contribute abstracts of their work, and the extension of international participation through a free exchange of materials among existing and future organizations and publications.”

RILA was initially produced with RILM’s computer program, which ran on the IBM mainframe computer System 360 at the computing center of The City University of New York—the most advanced computing machine at the time. RILM’s founder Barry S. Brook was among the key advisors on the project, and the format of the bibliographic entries, the classification schema, and the indexing practices in RILA echoed those in the printed volumes of RILM. In this form RILA (ISSN: 0145-5982) was published by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute from 1975 through 1989, when it merged with Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA).

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Dürer’s bathing musicians

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Das Männerbad (ca. 1496–97) includes a portrayal of two men playing recorder and rebec in a public bath.

The artist’s meticulous attention to detail shows clearly that the recorder is a flûte à neuf trous (drilled to give the player a choice of left or right little finger, the unused hole to be filled with wax).

In the bath, singing is probably more widely practiced than instrumental playing, and indeed, wooden instruments might not take too kindly to the humidity; some people might be more attracted to drinking while bathing, like the gentleman to the musicians’ left.

This according to “Musical ablutions” by Herbert Hersom (The recorder magazine X/1 [March 1990] 20–21; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1990-30337).

Today is Dürer’s 550th birthday! Below, music by Ludwig Senfl, who worked at the court of Maximillian I around the time that Dürer was employed there.

More posts about iconography are here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance

The female harp

The harp in its winged-maiden form was the standard symbol of Ireland in the eighteenth century, and with the rise of Romantic nationalism the harp was increasingly personified as a female symbol of Ireland and her struggle for political independence.

The iconography of the harp in the context of the United Irishmen of the 1790s formed the basis for the Romanticization of the harp symbol and the female personification of Erin (Ireland) in the poetry of Thomas Moore. While more realistic forms of the Irish harp emerge in nationalist iconography of the nineteenth century, Moore’s imagery inspired paintings and other illustrations of the harp as a woman by artists including Robert Fagan and Daniel Maclise.

This according to “The female harp: The Irish harp in 18th- and early–19th-century Romantic nationalism” By Barra Boydell (RIdIM/RCMI newsletter XX/1 [spring 1995] 10–17; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1995-5656).

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Above, Maclise’s The origin of the harp (1842), inspired by Moore’s poem of the same name. Below, Michelle Mulcahy plays The mountains of Pomeroy, Martin Hardiman’s jig, and The lark on the strand on the Irish harp.

Related article: The female accordion.

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Beethoven and Peanuts

Having once considered himself “one of the staunchest opponents of classical music”, Charles Schultz (1922–2000) discovered the symphonies of Beethoven in 1946 and became an avid fan of classical music with a prodigious record collection. He also created the piano-playing Schroeder, a Beethoven fanatic, for his comic strip Peanuts.

A well-worn 1951 LP in Schultz’s collection by the pianist Friedrich Gulda of the Hammerklavier sonata, op. 106, may have inspired a series of strips from the early 1950s in which Schroeder is seen playing this work. The one reproduced above is the only one in which the piece is named, though it still relies on the reader to read music—and German!—for a full identification. Note Schultz’s imitation of German Fraktur script for both the work title and his signature.

This according to “Michaelis’ Schulz, Schulz’s Beethoven, and the construction of biography” by William Meredith (The Beethoven journal XXV/2 [winter 2008], pp. 79–91; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2008-8914).

Today is Beethoven’s 250th birthday! Below, Svâtoslav Rihter celebrates with the Hammerklavier sonata.

Related articles: Beethoven in Bibliolore

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Morton Feldman and Persian carpets

Repetition and variation are important components of the music of Morton Feldman—components that he extracted from his observation of Persian carpet designs.

Rug design and music are arts that use symbolic language to express certain concepts with a focus on the idea of unity in multiplicity. The designs of some Persian carpets are based on the weaver’s mind map, which resembles Feldman’s musical approach. Key elements of these carpet patterns correspond directly to Feldman’s use of repetition and symmetry in his works.

This according to “A study on the rug patterns and Morton Feldman’s approach” by A.A. Javadi and M. Fujieda (International journal of music science, technology and art II/1 [2020] 48–53; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-3041). Many thanks to Improbable research for bringing this study to our attention!

Above, a comparison of selected carpets with excerpts from Feldman’s Crippled symmetry; below, a performance of the work.

Related post: Morton Feldman’s The viola in my life

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Middle Eastern dance and the West

 

Belly dance is the English-language name for a complex of solo improvised dance styles of Middle Eastern and North African origin whose movements are based on articulations of the torso.

The expression danse du ventre—literally, dance of the belly—was initially popularized in France as an alternate title for the Orientalist artist Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1863 painting La danse de l’almée (detail above) and ultimately became the standard designation for solo, and especially women’s, dances from the Middle East and North Africa.

The translation belly dance was introduced into English in 1889 in international media coverage of the Rue du Caire exhibit at the Parisian Exposition Universelle. A close examination of the historical sources demonstrates that the evolution of this terminology was influenced by contemporary art, commercial considerations, and popular stereotypes about Eastern societies.

This according to “Middle Eastern dance and what we call it” by Ainsley Hawthorn (Dance research XXXVII/1 [summer 2019] pp. 1–17).

Below, the legendary Fifi Abdou (فيفي عبده) in 1986.

Related article: Subversive belly dancing

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Smithsonian Collections Object: Debbie Harry Photography, National Portrait Gallery

Debbie Harry Portrait, 1986 (printed 2004), National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of The Motion Picture Group, Inc., Philadelphia, PA USA.

“Color me your color, darling, I know who you are” –Debbie Harry

In this picture taken by Francesco Scavullo—a fashion photographer well known for his 1972 Cosmo centerfold photo of a hirsute Burt Reynolds splayed across a bearskin rug—Debbie Harry appears in a leather jacket, metal-studded bracelet, heavy raccoon-style eye makeup, and artfully mussed/moussed blonde hair with black roots peeking through.

A promotional shot for Harry’s second solo album, Rockbird (1986), the image is much more stereotypically “punk rock” than most images seen of her before. The juxtaposition is all the most striking given that Rockbird is the most purely pop album of Debbie Harry’s or Blondie’s career (and probably the most dated, for better or worse, given the transparently time-stamped mid-1980s production).

As a photographic subject Debbie Harry has provoked seemingly endless fascination—at least judging by the massive volume of images in circulation—not just for her striking appearance but also, it could be argued, for the intimate, yet equally enigmatic, nature of so many of the photos. Taken together, the images invite comparison to pioneering female photographers ranging from Cindy Sherman to Francesca Woodman—except for the fact that most of the photos are not technically self-portraits.

Debbie Harry has to be one of the most photographed women in rock history (notably, almost every biography of Blondie and Debbie Harry is presented as a “pictorial biography” as well). Her image has long been considered so crucial to the band Blondie, featured on posters and in books and magazines—some of which would notoriously crop the rest of the band out of the original image—that their label Chrysalis Records saw fit to launch a “Blondie Is A Group” marketing blitz in 1978. But the band were hardly dupes in this image-making enterprise.

For one thing, this imagistic breadth reflects the band itself that Harry has fronted for all these years. Nominally a “punk” band who were in the mix of the early CBGB scene, Blondie was ultimately better known for being on the vanguard of multiple musical crossovers and cutting-edge stylistic trends than for their “punk rock” cred—weaving together old and new, mixing elements of punk primitivism with melodic ‘60s pop, Phil Spector studio productions, classic girl groups, Jamaican rocksteady, disco, early rap, and many other genres besides.

In Lester Bangs’ long out-of-print band biography (and extended think-piece-cum-rant) titled Blondie (1980), he quotes drummer Clem Burke who asserts “that music goes hand-in-hand with image.” A somewhat novel sentiment for a rock band in the early MTV era—especially one that emerged from one of the most sacrosanct undergrounds of all time—Debbie Harry and Blondie were just as savvy and creative with their imagery as with their music. Chris Stein, Blondie’s guitarist and most frequently-featured songwriter who also happened to be Debbie Harry’s life partner at the time, was also an avid photographer on the side. His primary subject was, unsurprisingly, Debbie Harry (alongside bandmates and his life as a working musician).

In his book Lester Bangs goes on to criticize the band for its ever-expanding stylistic palette and its alleged inauthenticity as a result. A study in contrasts in his own right, Bangs was known for being in-equal-measures rhapsodic and curmudgeonly. His Blondie book began life as an authorized biography but was ultimately published without the band’s imprimatur. Referring to Debbie Harry’s “Lolita” image in particular, Bangs writes that he would “lay any odds…it sure as hell ain’t the same person as the one called Deborah Harry.” This all seems a strange line of reasoning, however, for a critic who lionized artists such as David Bowie and Lou Reed (who, to be fair, Bangs was also quite critical of at times) known to be similarly “blank” or “kaleidoscopic” in their music and image.

In Blondie Lester Bangs champions this very quality of self-invention when it comes to punk rock in the broader sense. He praises early punk and proto-punk bands, the New York Dolls in particular, for bringing rock ‘n’ roll back to its roots as “the ultimate populist art form, democracy in action,” for which the main quality required is nerve (“If you’ve got the attitude you can do it, no matter what anybody says. Believing that is one of the things punk rock is about.”) By this criteria, given their penchant for constant self-reinvention, it would seem that Blondie were the ultimate punk band of the CBGB scene, even if stylistically they didn’t fit the sound and the look many thought of as punk.

Debbie Harry encapsulates many of these “contradictory” qualities in her image, voice, and stage presence. She’s a Jersey girl who became the ultimate New York City hipster. A disco queen and a punk diva. A woman in her 30s by the time Blondie started scoring hits, Debbie Harry and Blondie created “teenage fun for adults and vice-versa” (Bangs). Debbie is a convincing and powerful singer of oft-sublime songs who at the same time can sound (and look) a little bit detached from it all—which only heightens the dramatic tension in the best of cases, check out “Atomic” for example—contributing lyrics that mix-and-match searing emotion, ironic twists, and occasional surrealism. In the visual realm, Debbie is widely considered to be beyond glamourous. But often with an observable wink, not to mention charmingly awkward at times.

Official video for Blondie’s “Atomic”

For those paying attention the pose may be transparently apparent, just as it’s most likely meant to be. For this reason, perhaps, Debbie Harry has become an icon of queer culture. On an early Blondie demo titled “Platinum Blondie,” Debbie sings in character—“I even tried wearing a wig for a while…but I got some peroxide at the beauty supply”—lyrics that would do most any drag performer proud. To this day she’s a fixture on the New York City LGBTQ scene, attending events like Squeezebox (in the 1990s) and Jackie 60 productions such as Night of a Thousand Stevies up to the present. If, in fact, there are “a thousand Debbies” it is very much by design. The tensions and potentials brought about by this pastiche-driven creative process—a playful overlapping of elements that at first appear to be disparate and incompatible—is hinted at in the image captured by Francesco Scavullo, a photograph that overlaps visual markers of authenticity and obvious stylization which resonate with Debbie Harry’s musical history.

This post was produced through a partnership between Smithsonian Year of Music and RILM with its blog Bibliolore.

Written and compiled by Jason Lee Oakes, Editor, Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM).

Bibliography

Bangs, Lester. Blondie (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1980-18876]

Bayley, Roberta. Blondie: Unseen, 1976–1980 (London: Plexus, 2007). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2007-34941]

Blondie were the most commercially successful band to emerge from the New York punk scene of the mid 1970s, producing a series of number one albums between 1977 and 1982 and selling over 50 million records worldwide. This book features 235 photographs of Debbie Harry and Blondie taken by the famous first-wave punk rock photographer. (publisher)

DeRogatis, Jim. Let it blurt: The life and times of Lester Bangs, America’s greatest rock critic (New York: Broadway Books, 2000). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-5597]

A biography of the gonzo journalist widely considered a romantic visionary of rock criticism. In publications such as Creem, The Village voice, and New York rocker, Bangs agitated during the 1970s for sounds that were harsher, louder, more electric, and more alive, in the course of which he charted and defined the aesthetics of heavy metal and punk. He was treated as a peer by musicians such as Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Captain Beefheart, the Clash, and Debbie Harry. Bangs’s life and writings provide a window on rock criticism and rock culture in their most turbulent and creative years. (publisher)

Harry, Deborah, Chris Stein, and Victor Bockris. Making tracks: The rise of Blondie (Repr. ed.; New York: Da Capo, 1998). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1998-8232]

Harry, Deborah. Face it (New York: Dey Street Books, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-8835]

Musician, actor, activist, and the iconic face of New York City cool, Debbie Harry is the frontwoman of Blondie, a band that forged a new sound that brought together the worlds of rock, punk, disco, reggae, and hip hop to create some of the most beloved pop songs of all time. As a muse, she collaborated with some of the boldest artists of the past four decades. The scope of Debbie Harry’s impact on our culture has been matched only by her reticence to reveal her rich inner life, until now. In a mix of visceral, soulful storytelling and stunning visuals—including photographs, bespoke illustrations, and fan art installations—this book upends the standard music memoir while delivering a truly prismatic portrait. With all the grit, grime, and glory recounted in intimate detail, it re-creates the downtown scene of 1970s New York City, where Blondie played alongside the Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie. Following her path from commercial success to heroin addiction, the near-death of partner Chris Stein, a heart-wrenching bankruptcy, and Blondie’s breakup as a band to her multifaceted acting career in more than 30 films, a solo career, and the triumphant return of her band, and her tireless advocacy for the environment and LGBTQ rights, this is a cinematic story of a woman who made her own path, and set the standard for a generation of artists who followed in her footsteps. (publisher)

Marcus, Greil. “Ripped to shreds”, Ranters & crowd pleasers: Punk in pop music, 1977–92, ed. by Greil Marcus. (New York: Doubleday, 1993) 105–108. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1993-16366]

A discussion of Lester Bangs’s book Blondie, (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1999-32447), published in Rolling stone, 24 July 1980. In the book, Bangs, a quickie-band-bio gun for hire, uses the opportunity to deconstruct the band—as well as the marketing of Deborah Harry as a sexed-up ice-queen bombshell—while lending depth to any analysis or appreciation of Blondie to follow. One of his key points is that the erstwhile punk and new wave band blazed new trails in emotional ambivalence—or, as he eventually argues—total lack of emotional content. Bangs writes that “what emotions do surface occasionally, what obsessions and lusts, are invariably almost immediately gutted by fusillades of irony, sarcasm, camp, what have you, ending up buried”. Bangs’s book is as much a treatise on postmodernist art as a simple band biography. (Jason Lee Oakes)

Metz, Allan, ed. Blondie, from punk to the present: A pictorial history. Musical legacy 1 (Springfield: Musical Legacy, 2002). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2002-12082]

Needs, Kris and Dick Porter. Blondie: Parallel lives (London: Omnibus, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-26761]

Drawing upon extensive new firsthand interview material from Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and many other significant players in the band’s long history, plus a sizable archive of personal materials and unpublished interviews, this book is the definitive eye-witness account of the group’s long and often tumultuous existence. Beginning with the band members’ childhoods, backgrounds, and influences, the book is also an evocative homage to the unique New York scenes of the 1970s—CBGB, punk rock, disco, hip hop—that found their way into Blondie’s music. It charts the development of Blondie to their massive popular success and eventual break up. It also details how Debbie Harry set her career aside to nurse Stein through a debilitating and life-threatening genetic disease. It recounts the group’s 1997 reformation, subsequent renaissance with their No exit album, the controversies surrounding the 2006 induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, ending in the present with the release of Panic of girls. (publisher)

Peraino, Judith A. “‘Rip her to shreds’: Women’s music according to a butch-femme aesthetic”, repercussions 1/1 (spring 1992) 19–47. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1992-4598]

The butch-femme aesthetic allows women to explore traditional gender roles and provides an alternative to the patriarchal basis of previous formulations of women’s music. Phranc, the folk singer, and Deborah Harry, the lead singer of the defunct rock group Blondie, consciously use irony and gender conflation in their performances, but present opposite extremes in musical style and in the portrayal of femininity. (Brian Robison)

Stein, Chris. Negative: Me, Blondie, and the advent of punk (New York: Rizzoli, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-21260]

On the occasion of Blondie’s 40th anniversary, Chris Stein shares his iconic and mostly unpublished photographs of Debbie Harry and the cool creatures of the 1970s and ’80s New York rock scene. While a student at the School of Visual Arts, the author photographed the downtown New York scene of the early ’70s, where he met Deborah Harry and co-founded Blondie. Their blend of punk, dance, and hip hop spawned a totally new sound, and Stein’s photographs helped establish Harry as an international fashion and music icon. In photos and stories, this book provides a snapshot of the period before and during Blondie’s rise, through photos and annotations, by someone who was part of and who helped shape the early punk music scene—at CBGB, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and the early Bowery. Stars such as David Bowie, the Ramones, Joan Jett, and Iggy Pop were part of Stein’s world, as were downtown characters like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Hell, Stephen Sprouse, Anya Phillips, Divine, and others. As captured by one of its central artists and instigators, and designed by Shepard Fairey, this book is a celebration of the new wave and punk scenes, whose influence on music and fashion is just as relevant today as it was four decades ago.

_____. Point of view: Me, New York City, and the punk scene (New York: Rizzoli, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-50487]

A new collection of unseen photographs of New York City’s 1970s punk heyday, by one of the icons of the city’s golden age of music, Blondie’s Chris Stein. For the duration of the 1970s—from his days as a student at the School of Visual Arts through the foundation of the era-defining band Blondie and his subsequent reign as epicenter of punk’s golden age—Chris Stein kept an unrivaled photographic record of the downtown New York City scene. Following in the footsteps of his previous book Negative, this new book presents a more personal and more visceral collection of Stein’s photographs of the era. The images presented here take readers from self-portraits in his run-down East-Village apartment to candid photographs of pop-cultural icons of the time and evocative shots of New York City streetscapes in all their most longed-for romance and dereliction. An eclectic cast of cultural characters—from William Burroughs to Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol to Iggy Pop—appear as they were in the day, juxtaposed with children playing hopscotch on torn-down blocks, riding the graffiti-ridden subway, or cruising the burgeoning clubs of the Bowery. (publisher)

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