angel

Janalisa and I went to the Angels & Tomboys exhibit at Crystal Bridges, a traveling exhibit showing depictions of girls in art over the past few centuries.

There were quite a few boys as well.

This exhibit is all about the interpretation, though there were some very beautiful works included. We learned about how children were dressed in the 1700s, how conventional symbols were used in the pictures, and how literature and world events affected the image of the girl. We saw, moving chronologically through the exhibit, how the earliest images showed girls as future breeding stock and how later images idealized them and finally allowed them individual character.

A different selection of images would have told a different story, but they did a good job on the story they wanted to tell.

I also liked the pictures of childhood presented: studying, playing, spending time with siblings and friends, imagining the future, bedeviling parents.

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Janalisa and I had lunch in the restaurant. They have a sensibly brief menu of fresh, nicely presented dishes. We had a table by the window, so we were able to enjoy the view as we ate and talked.

Scott Adams said that people either talk about people or about ideas, and those who talk about ideas are boring. I usually talk about ideas. Janalisa and I talked about people, though. Mostly our kids, but sometimes friends or people at church.

We even talked about the people in the paintings as people, not as ideas.

The pouty little girl at right has been “kept in” at recess in this painting from the 1800s. Most of the representations of people of African-Americans in the exhibit were stereotypical and cartoonish, so it was good to see a more natural image, even if it was a rather sad one.

One of my students, in class yesterday morning, gave the thesis of his research paper as, “Colored people can be treated less equally in the U.S. because of the color of their skin.” Once we got past “colored people,” I suggested that the thesis wasn’t arguable. Someone brought up the idiotic racist responses to this year’s Miss America. I mentioned the unequal prison sentences. But there were those who claimed that racism is gone, lingering on only in the minds of a few old people, or that racism is now based more on ethnicity that on skin color. I look forward to a time when an exhibit like Angels & Tomboys will not just allow us to think that we’ve made progress, but perhaps show how people used to think in an unenlightened time.

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Here’s my favorite picture from the exhibit: Charles Courtney Curran’s “Lotus Lilies.”  I love the jungle-like quality of the water lilies and the way they create a rhythmic pattern from which the women emerge.

The workers in the background aren’t clearly visible at this size, but the colors and the jubilant exoticism of the setting are clear. I may look for a print of this one.

It is a portrait of the artist’s wife and her cousin on a stream in Ohio. I am amazed that they grow enormous water lilies in Ohio, especially in such profusion. It’s a favorite example of American impressionism, but I had never seen it before and I’m very glad I had the chance to see it in person, so to speak.

After the museum I came home and wrote some more, but I will have to spend a few hours today writing. It’s nice to be able to make that choice, and to have the opportunity to spend a few hours enjoying art and conversation during the work week.