Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seeing vs. Feeling Venice. Diary Entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

Making reference to tourists pointing with umbrellas at Palazzo Mocinego, the narrator states:

“It assists more than the flaming advertisements of the curiosity shops in making of Venice an exhibition, a something to be seen, not felt.”

What is the difference between something that is seen and something that is felt?  In this context, ‘seeing’ a place implies judgment, whether good or bad; a reaction caused solely by using one’s eyes or outer faculties.  Approaching a place by ‘seeing’ it will limit that experience to either criticism or compliments. ‘Feeling’ implies introspection to get to what one is in fact feeling upon approaching a place.  Approaching a place by ‘feeling’ it will open up possibilities for other thoughts. In this way, the space becomes a springboard or means of inspiration to get to something else, perhaps something about oneself.

I remember quite well the very first time I visited Venice and how I became aware of different parts of who I am, and what I value and enjoy.  Perhaps this is what is meant by feeling Venice.

I am also reminded of the beginning of the movie Summertime in which Katharine Hepburn speaks to the owner of the hotel she will be staying in:  

"I met a girl on the boat coming over…….[who] was coming to Europe to find something…..past seeing things and getting some culture….way back, way, way back in the back of her mind, was something she was looking for."

I am wondering if this difference between seeing and feeling Venice is something that will also be explored later in the book.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Venice as a "Leafless City." Diary entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

The sun makes the season in this leafless city; it bathes the golden dome of St. Mark’s in radiant summer light.”

My mind rested after reading this sentence.    

The rhythm of changing seasons is made picturesque with leaves turning warm shades of yellow, red, and orange.  The leaves then fall from their ‘roots,’ shrivel, and are eventually gathered.  They make way for new growth in the future.   

In Venice however, this montage of autumnal colors does not exist.  Yes, the change in weather and start of high tide mark the season’s cycles.  But, what is more evident here is the contrast of light and dark: the radiance of the sun contrasted with the darkness of shadows cast onto facades pealing or well preserved,  sun filled piazzas contrasted with narrow calle that escape its blaze, or a dark moment passing beneath a bridge upon a gleaming canal. 

Here, the constant montage of light and dark is more prevalent than a visual change in seasons.  The reminder of time passing by is the rising and setting of the sun.  This renders Venice almost as if a place outside of time as understood elsewhere; a place in which the lives of those living within and those passing by are what endow it with the passage of time.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Finding Repose in Venice. Diary Entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

The narrator continues to compliment Venice:

“[Venice] gives one, more than nature, deep calm, sincere repose.  I am not required to have any opinions-to take sides.”

What is it about a place that would make one not have to take sides or have opinions?  For one, there would not be an immense amount of advertisements encouraging purchases or endorsements.  Another would be a slower pace to life, as mentioned in the previous post.  The narrator goes on to state:

“So for three days I have sat about idly, or swung in the tender, cradle-like movement of a gondola.  It seems sometimes as though I were tasting eternity here, among these environments of age.”

When we find ourselves in a place where the demands of everyday life diminish, we dig deeper into ourselves.   Perhaps more than finding our distinct and unique views on things, we emerge not with that which needs to be defended or separates us from others as opinions might do.  But, with that which connects us to others the way wisdom and universal truths do.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

The “Hopelessness” of Venice. Diary entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

San Marco and campanile from Palazzo Ducale

After mentioning being dissatisfied with Venice, the narrator explains that they eventually came to appreciate the city, contrasting it with American civilization:

“….when, indeed, I tired of the continuous rush and roar of our courser, noisier, material civilization,-I turned to Venice again-this time as a lover.  Its hopelessness fascinated me.”

The way I interpret this is that in Venice, “hopelessness” is the city’s love for what it already possesses, without the yearning for something more than it is.  This is quite a contrast to American civilization which constantly has its eye on the future and towards improvement.  In Venice, there is no trying to become or striving for something better.  Its glory lies in its past and the present is an appreciation of its past. 

When we find ourselves in a place like this, we are humbled by the expanse of time before us.  Things are not so immediate.  Things are not so rushed.  The pace of life is slower.   We are but a moment in the vast terrain of time. 

It would be interesting to see if this contrast between two places and ways of thinking and living might play itself out in the novel. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

First Impressions of Venice and Florence. Diary Entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

Venice: view across a canal
The narrator now makes mention of having been disappointed during their first visit to Venice.  Deteriorating palazzi, odors coming from canals, and dark calle are described, although with admitted feelings of shame towards this first impression.  Like it is said in the opening scene of the classic movie Summertime, people either find Venice too quiet or too noisy, or find it very beautiful.  Just as Jane, played by Katharine Hepburn, insists on her way there, I myself will stick to being among the later.  When I first visited Italy during a summer study abroad program, we landed in Milan and the first city we moved on to stay in was Venice.  I was absolutely breath taken, even overwhelmed with all the beauty around me.  There is a sense of romance that comes from being in a place that has existed for hundreds of years.  But here was something unique that I did not find in the other Italian cities I had then visited; a feeling almost as if you are not inside the city, but rather that the city contains you in its mazelike arms making you lose your direction often indeed, yet that never being a misfortune.  Every turn and bend and rise and descent is and leads to something that is welcoming, invites you, and makes you feel you have arrived somewhere. 

I can, however, somewhat associate with the narrators first impressions of Venice, with my first impressions of Florence, which we visited afterwards.  Florence is a beautiful city.  However, that impression revealed itself to me only after my initial feelings of ambivalence with it had slowly faded.  I would not say that Florence is a mysterious place, the way I would of Venice.  Here everything is out in the open, so to speak.  The architecture of the cathedral, churches, piazzas, and palaces are all very strong and bold reflections of the social and political history of the city at the time that they were built.  It is acceptable here to have statues depicting Perseus beheading Medusa and of the rape of a Sabine woman in one of its most public spaces, the Piazza della Signoria; a space where public executions were even held.  

It is not only the monumental structures and piazzas that have this strong sense to them.  The facade of the church of San Lorenzo has  remained unfinished since it was built, and one can still see the bare, rough structural stonework which was meant to support a decorative facade. Walking down an ordinary street, one can see that the rusticated stones that made up much of the buildings facing the streets are still very much visible even through modern interventions.  I believe there is even a local ordinance that requires that some of the historic stones be visible if the structure is being faced with a new material, as can be seen in the pictures below.  These reminders of the past add a sense of solidarity and permanence to the city, and to find yourself in the backdrop of all this can be quite captivating.  

The cathedral of Florence conveys a sense of dramatic and powerful growth, with the dome above the cathedral culminating from a series of forms below it and the shape of the piazza surrounding the cathedral taking its shape from the floor plan of the cathedral, as if a result of the force of its thrust onto the cityscape.  This can be overwhelming at first, but also dramatic, magnificent, and, when seen from a distance, awe-inspiring.

Santa Maria del Fiore: the cathedral of Florence
The cathedral of Florence and surrounding buildings
The cathedral of Florence seen from a distance
When I had first visited Italy, Florence may not have given me the same romantic first impressions as Venice did, but as I had learned, beauty can reveal itself in places perhaps hidden until sought after with an open eye and mind.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thoughts on Traditional European Art vs. Modern Art. Diary entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

Left: Presentation of the Ring to the Doge of Venice by Paris Bordone.  By permission of Web Gallery of Art
Right: Polaris Venice by Ludovico De Luigi.  By permission of Galleria Ravagnan

“I intend to make a study of the lesser known artists of the school of Paul Veronese and of Paris Bordone…”

So reads the second line of the first diary entry in this book.  I thought this can be an opportunity to share some ideas on the comparison of Traditional European Art with Modern Art; something which has been in my mind for some time.  Traditional European paintings are reflective of a culmination of many things including a study of perspective, color, light, and composition, and on top of it all they communicate a story relevant to those for whom the painting was meant to be viewed, be it religious, mythical, legendary, or historic.  Modern paintings are often about the artist’s perspective on things, and are about them expressing the world inside of themselves, or their views on the world around them.  Of course this may not always be the case but it seems to be what I have seen more of.  While perhaps not always requiring the same technical mastery of skill, modern paintings also have more freedom in terms of the artist’s choice of subject matter and content. 

A closer look into the paintings shown

I thought it would be interesting to discuss paintings by artists from each style, which use Venice as their subject.  The first painting is by Paris Bordone, who is mentioned in the book.  The above painting, titled Presentation of the Ring to the Doge of Venice, is a depiction of a legend related to Venice as described in W.B. Scott’s Pictures of Venetian Painters, as referenced in A Catalogue of the Accademia delle Belle Arti at Venice.  The legend is of a fisherman who hesitantly transports three figures across the Venetian lagoon despite a harsh storm.  It turns out that the three figures are St. Mark, St. George, and St. Nicholas and they all soon come upon a floating ship.  There, they see forces of evil which are on their way to sink the city of Venice.  By forming a cross, the three saints are able to destroy these evil forces.  St. Mark then gives his ring to the fisherman and tells him to present it to the Doge of Venice, to get his reward.

After Midnight by Ludovico De Luigi.  By permission of Galleria Ravagnan
Surrealist Carnival by Ludovico De Luigi.  By permission of Galleria Ravagnan

The second set of three paintings are by a contemporary Venetian painter Ludovico De Luigi, shown above and at the top of the post.  All of the paintings use an accurate representation of Venice contrasted with surreal imagery, as is most striking in the Polaris Venice depicting a submarine entering Piazza San Marco.   In Surrealist Carnival, in the foreground we see three people in traditional garb gathered around a table.  The other figures seem to have a more progressive sense to them and some even appear alien like.  The figures on the extreme right and left have removed their masks, with rays of light falling upon them, seeming to suggest the concept of truth.  The eyes in the background that appear to look not quite at the viewer but slightly away, are perhaps a reference to this place as being elusive.  

What do I make of all this imagery? 

Regarding the Paris Bordone painting, there are some interesting implications including the reference to forces of good and evil and Venice being a city thus representative of pure goodness and also of the ordinary Venetian being a part of the process by which the city is saved from sinking. 

Regarding Ludovico De Luigi’s paintings, based upon my own experiences and thoughts on Venice, the two paintings above seem to suggest in part that Venice is timeless.  It has a past that is unchanged, and in the future the world around it may change, people may change, but its beauty will remain.  The ghost like figures in After Midnight suggest that the space is always alive, even when it is not occupied.  The contrast of real and imaginary imagery in all three of the paintings, and references to truth and elusiveness are perhaps reflective of the contradictions in mannerisms among Venetians, as are mentioned in John Berendt’s prologue to The City of Falling Angels.

A possible link between writing poetry and painting

I recently attended a poetry workshop given by Alice Osborn, and she had mentioned something interesting that seemed to be contradictory at first.  She said that the more specific we are and the more of ourselves we put into our writings, the more universal the language becomes.  I wonder if the same can be said of the language of painting.

I look at Ludovico De Luigi’s paintings which appear to stem from his own interpretations and thoughts on the city rather than a given story meant to be appreciated by a particular group of people.  I am free to choose my own interpretation of the meaning behind the painting which will undoubtedly stem from my background, interests and predilection towards the city.  Another individual may look at it and have a completely different interpretation.  The painting is universal in its ability to allow each individual viewer to project themselves onto it and that interpretation is valid enough for the one who owns it.

The Paris Bordone painting might not have the same set of values for everyone as it did for those for whom the painting was meant to be viewed.  Does this make it a less valid or appreciated art form?  I would say, not so.  Although I might not follow the beliefs that are represented in a certain religiously charged painting, I can certainly appreciate it for the talent and skill involved in its execution and for the strength of its message.   

Both styles of painting emerged from different environments, (the traditional being mostly commissioned), different times, and a different set of values about what art is or should be.  So, maybe it is not about comparing one to the other as they both can be appreciated for their own unique qualities.

A recent experiment in group painting 

I recently participated in an group painting experiment at the LabourLove Gallery in downtown Durham.  The idea was to offer a blank canvas to the public as a surface for spontaneous group painting.  The results are shown here, as the canvas was when I had left it on its first night, being the work of five individuals including myself.  

A few weeks ago, I read a post on Diana Baur’s website, A Certain Simplicity, where she discussed the importance for all creative people to inspire and be generous in sharing their work.  In response to it, I had written:

I imagine a world where this would be followed and picture each individual person’s creative energies merging into one larger creative force that everyone can be inspired by.”

Although when I wrote the comment I did not mean it literally, rather as a way of thinking and more about a generous attitude, here I am with images of a painting that exemplifies the principle quite literally and perhaps when it is complete, somewhere, someone might find something of an inspiration from it.  Peace.

What are your thoughts on Traditional European Art and/or Modern Art?  Which do you prefer?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Beginning of a Journey. Diary entry: Venice, Nov. 4th

One day while browsing a list of ebooks on Venice, I came upon a book published in 1892, titled “A Daughter of Venice” by John Seymour Wood, now among the free downloadable books available online.  I wondered who would be so fortunate as to be named the “daughter” of such a magical city whose beauty I reminisce often; the place where I found and reveled in the peace one finds in solitude and the thrill one finds in navigating a new and unfamiliar place.  And so I downloaded the book and read the first sentence, which reads:

I resume my diary-neglected for so many months-for the reason, sufficiently satisfactory to myself, that here, in Venice, those who come after me, and who may see fit to peruse it, will find written less of myself  and more of what I note in this strange, sad old city.”  

These humble words further sparked my interest.  I browsed online for some information on the book or the author and came up empty handed.  This added to the sense of mystery around the book.  I soon came up with the idea of dedicating a blog to my thoughts and discoveries on the book as I try and unravel the meaning behind the title, the meaning behind this diary entry, and simply read through the diary to see what the narrator “notes” in Venice and why this sense of sadness.  I don’t believe this to be a place to summarize the book, but one that perhaps is a starting point for other thoughts on Venice, maybe even unrelated to Venice, but acting as a point of departure and inspiration for something else.  What that will be will uncover as I read through these diary entries and I hope you will join me on this journey.   Welcome.

Note: The illustration above by Francis Thayer is taken from the first diary entry in the book.