Renewing the floors–the hard way

The Artdog Image of Interest

Note: due to events beyond my control, we missed the Image of Interest last weekend. Therefore, this week, we get two!

The Floor Scrapers, by Gustave Caillebotte (1875), currently in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.

Today’s Image of Interest is Gustave Caillebotte‘s The Floor Scrapers (1875), regarded by some scholars as “one of the greatest genre paintings of the 19th Century,” and also a masterful realist work.  Genre paintings, in contrast to paintings of classical or heroic subjects, sought to portray scenes from everyday life.

Rejected by the Salon for its “vulgar subject,” this painting moved Caillebotte more firmly into the Impressionist school, and placed a spotlight on the urban working class, just as Gustave Courbet‘s The Stone Breakers (1849) and a host of others had focused on rural workers a generation earlier.

Some commentators have made a point of linking the nude torsos of the workers, the sensuous lighting, and the speculation that the artist himself was homosexual. This may indeed have been a factor, but as many others have pointed out, the dynamic approach to a previously unattended subject, the use of light, and the sympathy demonstrated for the workers and their labor all deserve recognition.

IMAGE: Many thanks to “Art and Labor in the Nineteenth Century,” by Alice J. Walkiewicz, edited by Amy Raffel for this image.

Diego Rivera says it with flowers

The Artdog Image of Interest

The Flower Carrier, by Diego Rivera

Throughout time, artists have often turned to workers in various industries for inspiration. I’ve been spotlighting a few examples this month, in honor of Labor DayHokusai’s rice farmers and the bakers and brewers immortalized by the ancient Egyptian modeler for the Tomb of Meketre all worked with grain, to produce an indispensable staple for their societies.

But not every trade focuses on society’s most basic needs. Today’s artist, Diego Rivera, was a prominent painter and muralist in the first half of the 20th Century. He was trained in Mexico and Europeworked in Paris, was a great friend of Amodeo Modigliani and other members of the artists’ group at Montparnasse, and explored cubism at roughly the same time as PicassoBraque, and Gris. His mature style also drew upon the imagery of the Mayan stelae of his native Mexico.

Rivera also was a dedicated atheist, socialist and supporter of communism. Many of his murals and paintings celebrate the common working person. The Flower Carrier, painted in oil and tempera on Masonite in 1935 (original title: Cargador de Flores) is one of several works Rivera created, focused on workers in the Mexican cut flower trade. It was a recurrent theme, often featuring calla lilies and female workers. This painting is currently in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Other Rivera paintings that feature flowers and the workers who collected, carried, and sold them include Flower Day (1925), The Flower Seller (1941), The Flower Vendor (1949), and another Flower Carrier (1953).

Khan Academy has collected many of these flower paintings in a short video. I discovered it after I’d written most of this article, but the writer of the Khan Academy piece and I are definitely on the same page about the message of these paintings. Rivera has used the beauty of the flowers to call attention to the arduous lives of the workers.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Diego Rivera website, for this image.

Ancient Egyptian Bakers and Brewers

The Artdog Image of Interest 

Model bakery and brewery from the Tomb of Meketre (public domain; The Met)

Our celebration of labor through art history continues, this week with a fascinating glimpse of two important allied culinary arts: baking bread and brewing beer in ancient Egypt.

This model, created during the Middle Kingdom period (1981-1975 BCE) was one of several fascinating models discovered in 1920 in the High Steward’s tomb, showing various types of work, including livestock-tending in a cattle stable and a cattle-count being performed, a granary complete with inventory-taking scribes, a traveling boat being rowed, a fishing scene, a weavers’ workshop, a carpentry shop, and a porch and garden. Tomb wall paintings from many different eras also depict subjects such as buildinghunting, and harvesting.

For more information about the models in the Tomb of Meketre, you may enjoy this PDF from Brown University.

IMAGE: Many thanks to The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City) for this image of the model. There’s a whole collection of photos, not only more views of this model, but of other models from the same tomb, online. Cool stuff. Check it out!

Hokusai’s rice farmers

The Artdog Image of Interest 

Throughout September, the Artdog Images of Interest will highlight pieces of artwork by respected masters from around the world, that highlight the value of labor.

This woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai dates to about 1835-6, and is the first of an incomplete series based on the poems collected in a famous anthology, A Hundred Poems by a Hundred Poets, collected by Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. 

The poem that inspired the print is attributed to Emperor Tenchi Tenno, in which he “expresses empathy for his hard-working subjects.”

One might debate how much empathy an emperor could have for a rice farmer, but the value of the farmers’ labor to the Japanese economy and culture, both in Tenchi’s time and later, is hard to overestimate. They not only fed his empire; in the Emperor’s role as a Shinto priest, many of his duties “revolved around rice-growing.” To this day, rice is still Japan’s staple grain.

IMAGE: The best image I could find online of this work is from MUZÉO. Many thanks to them, for publishing such a fine image. You can buy an open-edition copy that’s even better quality from them, if you like it. I also am indebted to Scholten Japanese Art, for the story behind the print.

Universally understood

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

I’ve heard it said that mathematics is a universal language–but only if you’ve been taught how to decode it. With the arts–especially music, dance, and visual art–no translation is required for the human heart and mind to respond. 

We’ve explored the value of the arts in education during this back-to-school season in my home country, the USA.

But I would submit that no matter when your school term starts, where you live, or how, where, or from whom you learn, if your education is untouched by the arts, it embodies only a pale shadow of the fascination, depth and lifelong relevance it could hold.

IMAGE: Many thanks once again to designer Lonnie King, for enriching this important thought from Richard Kamler with an evocative design.

To the very core

The Artdog Quote of the Week  

The educator’s struggle is often a struggle to demonstrate relevance–but nothing is more relevant to life than the parts that are too deep for words.

That’s why participation in the arts at school–be it band, choir, orchestra, art, theater, creative writing, or dance, is linked with greater student resiliency and engagement, better grades, and better attendance.

As with athletic programs that engage students in whole-body activities and help bond them with groups, school arts programs may seem like “frills,” but that is wrong.

They speak to the very core of what it is to be human, and open paths for greater, deeper learning.

IMAGE: Many thanks to designer Lonnie King for this perceptive quote, rendered as a memorable image.

Valuing Creativity

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

Finding a way to value creativity in education, in the workplace, and in life, tends to ignite joy wherever it is found. Keep searching for new ways!

IMAGE:  Many thanks to Looney Math Consulting for sharing this image. It’s one of several in their excellent article, “Honoring Creativity in the Classroom.”