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Gothic Pilgrimage, visiting the great French cathedrals.

                                Grandeur of composition, nobility of silhouette, perfection of proportion, wealth of detail, infinitely...

May 26, 2012

For The Troops

On Memorial Day let us wander among the interred veterans of all the wars Of The Republic.

And then, let us remember Abraham Lincoln’s peroration of his magnificent Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

After Lincoln's murder, the spirit of his remarks took hold in curious ways. On May 1, 1865, freed black slaves gathered to honor the Union prisoners who'd been buried in unmarked graves at the Charleston Race Course in South Carolina. Elsewhere, in the South, what was first known as Decoration Day became essential to the Lost Cause mythology that became so destructive to the descendants of those freedmen who'd honored the Union dead in Charleston. 

Supporting The Troops always has been a more complicated business than applauding at the ballpark.

May 4, 2012

The Art of self-presentation

Or packaging, for maximum exposure is hardly a new phenomenon. More than two thousand years after Augustus the possibilities for getting one’s picture shown in public have dominated the mainstream.

In today’s media society, television fare like Entourage, American Idol, Project Runway, Bethenny Getting Married?, and the always effortlessly cool Mad Men fill the airwaves, glorifying fame and all its accompanying excesses. Today, one needs to go no further for a bit of recognition and renown than to the Internets’ own über publicist, the infamous Facebook, a gathering of one hundred and fifty million plus strangers, who are ready to befriend, share and exchange the most banal of pleasantries and intimate of secrets, launching even the lowest of us to the digital Walk of Fame.

Never before have we consumed so much. Photo ops, press kits, fashion layouts, publicity tours, media interviews, behind-the-scenes stagings where highly customized presentations are carefully choreographed and rigidly controlled to create a favorable impression in anointing the next great celebrity wonder.

With literally hundreds of different media outlets competing for the attention of viewers, readers and listeners, a great deal of importance is attached to presenting oneself in the best possible light, no matter how distant the truth. Those who know how to present themselves, after all, get noticed, and a whole raft of consultants, posses, coaches, stylists and publicists make sure that their protégé and, by association, themselves, garner a spot at the celebrated top.

For a bit of fanciful fun and angling for fame and immortality, I have chosen as my avatar a man from the Middle Ages, a nobleman, bien sûr.  Although the printing press was introduced in 1440, shifting forever the power of the few to the many, it was the portrait paintings of that time that primarily memorialized and publicized the rich, the powerful and subsequently, the middle class.

Those looking for fame sought out the expert brush strokes of master artisans to transform the unknown and ordinary into a veritable superstar. One of the preeminent and official court painters of his day, the Medici appointed Angiolo Torri Bronzino (1503-1572) usually known as Il Bronzino, was celebrated as the master magician of the brush. His portrait figures—often read as static, elegant, and stylish exemplars of unemotional haughtiness and assurance—influenced the course of European court portraiture for a century.

Who better than Il Bronzino to wave his magic brush and usher in instant celebrity? In a Portrait of a Young Man, the viewer is accosted by the arresting and imperious gaze of an unidentified young Florentine. The overweening pomposity is perfectly captured in the all consuming self-important stare, not to the viewer, who is surely beneath the nobleman’s station, but to that private place where only the truly anointed brood. He stands between an elaborately decorated table and chair within an architectural setting meant to suggest a Florentine palace. Naturally.  One simple painting by the esteemed Il Bronzino was enough to catapult the young Florentine into the exalted courts of his own exaggerated imagination.  The portrait and carefully staged presentation elevated the subject to the heights of his choosing. 

In my avatar I superimposed this image with that of Kermit, to lessen the impact of my own self-importance.