Wednesday, February 2, 2011

meet lindsey

I had asked a few friends to write posts for my blog while we were out of town last week.  I have really awesome friends and I thought it would be fun to feature some of them on here. Unfortunately, I didn't get all of the writing before I left and we only had wi-fi for a few brief moments on the trip (while we were trying to sort out a last minute change to our trip). That's what I get for trying to be tech-savvy and sneaky while I'm away. Oh well! The posts are still just as entertaining now.

This pretty girl is Lindsey. She is pretty much living the dream right now. She was my upstairs neighbor for a couple semesters in college and she would always come down to hang out and chat. She was always so passionate about life and school. She's still passionate, but now she is living in DC studying for her Masters in Art History and working at a bakery. You should meander over to her blog Embrace Your Liberty for some interesting reads.

Lindsey Christensen reporting, happy and honored to be here on M.C.'s blog today. I met M.C. in 2006, shortly after I moved into the apartment on top of hers in Provo. M.C. is kind and genuine to everyone she meets (M.C. don't you dare delete this part, I will be watching for it), she throws picture perfect parties, and has the most fabulous laugh, which I'm sure you all know. I got to witness the entirety of her and Nate's courtship, which was, to say the least, WAY cute. My favorite memory of them together was when they were not actually together; she and I were attending our friend Katie's bridal shower one night, and we were playing that game where Katie had to guess what her fiancé Colby would say during a videotaped interview. Nate, Colby's BFF, was the one taping and asking the questions, and during one point in the interview (probably knowing his own darling fiancée M.C. would be watching), Nate turned the camera around to grin into it and say something cute about his friend's good fortune. When he appeared, I turned to look at M.C., and sure enough, she was smiling sweetly, even blushing, if I recall, at her new fiancé's grinning visage, probably knowing that all too soon it would be her turn to play this game. It was adorable.

But enough reminiscing. M.C. asked me to write something about my own life right now. In December 2008, after saying good-bye to the world's most fabulous people in Provo, I moved to Washington, DC, first to intern for the Smithsonian Institution and then to attend George Washington University. I am currently halfway through a graduate degree in art history there, and on top of that, I run a bakery, whose cute name I am not allowed to publish on a personal blog, per a legal piece of paper I signed when I came on with the company. BUT, I can tell you, it's very cute, VERY delicious, very popular in NYC, and REALLY hard work. Life out here has taught me a lot about patience, fortitude, faith, and friendship, as detailed in my blog.

M.C. suggested I write about art history or baking or both. The following image was the first thing that popped into my head when I read that stipulation:

It was followed shortly by this image:

Both have personal and professional meaning to me. Both are by the American Pop artist Wayne Thiebaud; the first is entitled Pies, Pies, Pies (Oil on Canvas, 1961, Crocker Museum) and the second, Cakes (Oil on Canvas, 1963, National Gallery of Art, which is a short 15 minute metro ride away for me! Yay!). Obviously, these are still-lifes of the confectionery variety. (We art historians delight in running wild with grammatical and spelling errors: still-lifes, Orientalism, Ælfgyva... My spellchecker absolutely LOATHES me come paper-writing season, I tell him to "Ignore All" every other word). 

I love these two paintings, first, because they are quite the apt visual reflection of the glorious sugar I see every day at work, and second, because, as you would see if you stood before them, the artist painstakingly-- even fastidiously-- uses his paint just as a baker would, in great, smeared swaths, reminiscent of the act of icing a real, edible cake. There are simply GOBS of white, pink, and chocolatey colored oil paints knifed and piped across the canvas. I wish I could show you a view of Cakes from the side, the paint seriously juts off the canvas to the point where you want to stick your finger out and swipe an iced flower right off one of his cakes. Oh, thank you, Flickr, you always provide me with close-ups when I most want one. This isn't from the NGA's Cakes, but a similar Thiebaud:

You get the idea. 

Now, on to Wayne's story. Though he protested the label of "Pop artist" that was more prominently applied to his contemporary Andy Warhol, Thiebaud's works exhibit the same type of concern with commercial products and pop culture (do these remind anyone of Warhol's obsession with Campbell's soup cans and Marilyn Monroe?). Thiebaud, like Warhol, was slightly disturbed by rise of mass-produced goods and consumerism in the 1950s and 60s , and in response, he chose to paint those items which, in their very mundanity and simplicity, could both exemplify and subvert the materialistic mania that he saw rampant in the world around him (or at least that's the line of analysis that mainstream art history commonly uses). Pies. Cakes. Gumball machines. Lipstick. All portrayed quietly, colorfully, semi-realistically, in still life.

Do you believe these paintings have anything subversive to say? I didn't, when I first encountered them back in undergrad. What did I see then? Bright colors, simplified planes of paint (not a lot of gradations of color) and, let's face it: happy, perky subject matter. Take a closer look at Pies, Pies, Pies:

See that shadow? In almost all Theibaud's works, the subjects are rendered in weird, glaring, almost surgical white light, which casts dark shadows.  Notice how, in both paintings, the objects are placed up against blank walls, on blank counters or floors, onto which the shadows are projected, still and ominous. The backgrounds in Thiebaud's paintings are unusually bereft of decoration or location.  If these treats were in MY store, they would be surrounded by quaint doilies, silver platters, striped gift boxes, and little decorated labels. I'm always struck by the disks of shadow underneath the cakes in Cakes especially. Opposition in all things, I guess.

This is where my favorite part of being a trained art historian comes in. I am wonderfully free to protest, in writing, against the idea that formal inclusions like harsh light and vivid shadows necessarily mean that Thiebaud's paintings inherently reflect the artist's dissatisfaction. I can see what other art historians are talking about, but I just can't buy it. Such is the glory of good art; you make your own meaning of it.

Maybe I'm too much of happy person; I see cakes and pies on a plain background, but this, to me, means that the artist was a very painstaking and interested artist, overly concerned with shapes and color. Perhaps he just wanted them to pop off the canvas, away from their shadows. Perhaps he, like me, found the juxtaposition of object and its shadow fascinating.  Dissatisfaction? That's for each person who comes into contact with these works to decide. What did you think was the overall effect of these paintings when you saw it? What do you think now, after you've had time to take a closer look and consider what others see in it?

To me, the only sad thing about the work is what is NOT in it: humans. Believe me, a cake that no one eats is one of the saddest sights in the world. I HATE throwing away cakes, but it happens, quite often, at the end of a long work day. Sigh. Such a waste.

And there you have it. That is, roughly, what I think about when I think about baking and art history together. Beauty, simplicity, hard work, bright, exciting colors, and the challenge of answering mainstream art history's smart but questionable assumptions. I remember taking issue with a similarly laughable idea that Alexander Calder's whimsical mobiles-- one of my most favorite forms of modern sculpture-- are a reflection of post-WWII jitters.

This is one of Calder's largest works, hanging in the NGA East building's atrium. Before becoming an artist, Calder used to create flea circuses for kids, then, he translated his sculpting dexterity into massive, balanced, twirling sculptures! The effect, to me, is joyful... not jittery. But that's a soapbox and a research paper for another day.

This is what I love about art and cupcakes. They bring joy into people's lives. You've got to pause and smile, think and then move forward. 

... and this is what I love about Wikipedia- it brings further light and knowledge into my life. Thiebaud, I've just learned, was born to Mormon parents in Mesa, Arizona! Just like me! He's officially my muse during this small section of my life. To my friends in Utah, DC, and everywhere else, I invite you look at shadows today. Consider the sugar. Lindsey, signing out.



Margaret said...

You have some awesome friends, M.C.! I would have loved to have studied art history for more than one class. I'm so glad that she focused on pie and cake. That always makes me happy. (Speaking of which, I HAVE to know where she works so that I can go to the back and eat all of those leftover cakes! Is it Georgetown Cupcake? I could eat those by the pound!)

Thanks for these great posts. It's nice to see the variety of voices on your blog. I wouldn't have stumbled upon them otherwise.

Jayci said...

Go Lindsey, go!!! :) Hi M.C.!