01 September 2019
Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 54: Grief in Art
Dr Great Art podcast, Episode 54: Grief in Art. A short, yet gloomy, podcast for summer. My mother Ruth Staff Brandl passed away very recently at the age of 87. In this tough, sad time, my mind still approaches the world through art, yet I find it hard to find any comfort therein. In our artworld nowadays, it seems almost ridiculous. Grief, though, like most important and complex human emotions, has been the subject or inspiration for many great works of art. The Podcast link: http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-54-grief-in-art
Dr Great Art Podcast 54
Grief in Art
Hi, this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 54th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today my Artecdote is a short, yet gloomy, one for summer.
My mother Ruth Staff Brandl passed away very recently at the age of 87, just short of 3 weeks ago, after having done a heroic job of battling MDS, myelodysplastic syndrome, and its mutation acute myeloid leukemia, for over 5 years, supported emotionally, physically and medicinally by my wonderful sister Marcia. In this tough, sad time, my mind still approaches the world through art, yet I find it hard to find any comfort therein. Our societies nowadays have very little room and few structures for grief. It helps immensely that my wife and I were able to fly in and be together with my sister and my brother-in-law Ron, and that our mother met the challenge, and the end itself, with her renowned, life-long positivity, sense of humor and wit. But grief still dominates and casts shadows of true value on my perceptions. By the way, I posted her obituary on my article archive blog, http://brandl-art-articles.blogspot.com/.
But how can one turn to art in this? In our artworld nowadays, it seems almost ridiculous.
As remarkable art critic and artist Matthew Collings wrote a year ago,
"I'm not trying to understand the mysteries of the artworld system, but saying it's a boring system, with simple-minded objects, and I'm advising that such a system could be altered and previous systems with their different objects and mediations are where clues about how to do the altering are to be found."
Boring system with simple-minded objects. Indeed. The Postmodernist and Late Modernist artworld seems so empty in the face of death and neo-fascism.
Let me illustrate this: a local, much rewarded, conceptual art duo that has done several good and several silly works, has recently once again shown its "World's Biggest Picnic Blanket" heralded as social art. Yes, that is what it is. That is laughable kitsch. And they ask why so few people take us seriously. With such, they should not.
However, back to the main point of grief. It, like most important and complex human emotions, has been the subject or inspiration for many great works of art. Art has expressed the complex feelings of which grief consists and tried to produce emotional healing in potent images of human woe. "Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it," says Joan Didion. And it is an unfamiliar, terrible place each and every time anew.
What are some artworks that have successfully dealt with grief, at least as far as any human endeavor can? The Pieta sculptures and Lamentation of Christ paintings throughout history, such as that oddly perspectivally-distorted one by Andrea Mantegna. So MANY paintings by Rembrandt, who knew so much familial sorrow in his life, having both his wives and all his children pass away before him. The scumbled, grittily haptic surfaces of his paint, especially on faces and self-portraits, reveal the soul of humans battered by the comet impacts of life. Titian has that too. Tintoretto's fleeting brushstrokes evoke the transitoriness of life. Goya's mature works evoke the horror of grief for all human inhumanity.
Before I Die is a contemporary artwork by Candy Chang. She created a public work centered on the passing of life, after the death of a friend, by painting the words "Before I die I want to" with a blank "_____" on the wall of an abandoned New Orleans building. Within hours, "the wall was filled with personal aspirations, hopes and goals — everything from 'be myself completely' to 'see equality for all.' " As Priscilla Frank records.
The desire to hold on to some form of future hope even when the future is over for someone you loved. I myself was pleased to hear from my sister Marcia that our mother had written a short book of her thoughts when she sat in the library contemplating life, while my sister was in a continuing education class for one semester. I intend to turn it into a published work. Our Mom was artistic, worked originally in visual merchandizing display art, in her rich and varied job life, but most of all loved learning and was a voracious reader; she passed her love of this on to us for which she ever-enriched our lives. One of her goals was to author a book, but as in the lives of many women of her generation, she received little encouragement, in fact active discouragement, in this. We will make it come true as it becomes a collaborative book with me, one way I have of hanging on to her hope and presence
Her obituary is online here: http://brandl-art-articles.blogspot.com/2019/07/ruth-staff-brandl-obituary.html
That was Grief in Art.
Thanks for listening. Podcast number 54. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch, with Performance-Paintings.
You can find or contact me at
book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com (spell)
or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.