Monday, 30 March 2015

Gothic Art in Spotlight: Disturbing portraits of kids from the National Gallery of Art

Last weekend I met once again with Goth Gardener. We went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and saw an animation movie, which Goth Gardener has written a marvelous post about, check it here! Before the movie started we had some time to browse through some of the exhibition rooms.

We had a splendid time trying to figure out the stories behind portraits or just making them up. This magnificent portrait of Lady Elizabeth Delmé and her children by British Sir Joshua Reynolds was intriguing to the both of us. Lady Elizabeth has a strong gaze and her pose is relaxed but clearly she is awere of her position and the power she has. We were quite certain she had a very interesting life with a few secret lovers! Her daughter seems like she is a little minx too, certainly going to cause some trouble. ;)

Since this is a post about art that is appealing to goths, I shall now introduce three paintings I found disturbing and funny at the same time. There were actually three paintings by three different artists in one room. They all have some similarities in style and they all depict children in a creepy and a bit distorted way.

Little Girl in Lavender was painted by American John Bradley circa 1840. That little kitty in the lower corner looks like it died and is actually a taxidermy. For some reason this painting also reminds me of Frida Kahlo and some of her works. Kahlo's paintings are not at all similar with this, though maybe this connection spurts into my mind because both have a slightly 2D look with a lot of symbolic connotations.

The Hobby Horse by American Robert Peckham was painted circa 1840 too. Even though some aspects of this painting are close to photo realistic, everything seems a bit off. The portions are not right and the dimensions are twisted like in some illustrations in Alice's adventures in Wonderland. The child on the horse has a some sort of a children's version of a bullwhip and the one behind looks like he/she is about to throw the other one off the horse. Not disturbing at all...

I am not familiar with this mode of painting from that era, but it is clear it was some sort of a fashionable way at that time. It reminds me of the art from 14th to 16th century. Especially the art that had baby Jesus or some royal infant. During the Middle Ages children were depicted as miniature adults because childlike features would have signified that the person was retarded, or a fool. Have you seen those paintings of Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus, who has a face of an adult? Those are really creepy!

Unfortunately the photo I took of the third one was out of focus. I guess it was just too disturbing for my camera! This painting is called The Westwood Children and it was painted by American Joshua Johnson circa 1807. All Westwood children have disturbing facial expressions and weird overalls.

From a close-up you can see the family's dog has smeared its lips in blood.

I think creepy portraits like these are quite gothic. If you think about films where there are haunted houses or gothic mansions, they are always filled with distorted and disturbing portraits and other pictures of creepy relatives. Appalling and sinister family pictures are a gothic motive in literature and in films.

Thanks for reading, my next post is most likely going to be a Creepy Reads Review!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

What I think about the word Feminism

A little while ago N. Finsternis told that she would like to read more about what I have to say about feminism. This post is inspired by her and answers the question what I think about feminism, especially as a term and why it is still relevant. On Sunday it is Gothic Art in Spotlight time!

Many people I've talked with ask why I or somebody else insists on using the terms feminism and feminist instead of talking about wanting equality between sexes. There are a couple of reasons.

First of all a word in itself has no meaning. People make that meaning in different contexts. Feminism is a term created in a place and time where a woman had no right to vote, she could not work or if she was allowed to do that, she would have to give the money she earned to her husband or male relative. This was less than 200 years ago. I think it should not be forgotten and a term feminism reminds how new a thing equality among sexes is and that in many cultures the gender equality is not in a good state.  Even in Finland, which is one of the most gender equal countries in the world, a woman could not go to a restaurant by herself in the 1960’s! Some restaurants would not even allow them to come and have lunch and this was just 60 years ago! It was not against the law to rape your wife in Finland till 1994. There had to be signs of physical violence so that the raping spouse could be prosecuted of something.

It worries me that the word feminism always has and still gets negative connotations attached to it. During this term's short existence it has been marginalized and filled with negative connotations instead of pointing out why this word was used in the first place and calmly reflect why it is still used. If you google “anti-suffrage posters”, you are going to see some disturbing propaganda made by some men to keep women from equal rights. Nowadays some people I know have told me, that they think feminism is trying to rise women to a better position than men. Well, that has never been on any agenda of any big or significant group of feminists. Of course there are extremists in every field of human existence, but those are usually a very small minority. Let’s compare this to other things: most Christians are quite normal but then there are small cults and branches of religion that have this need to convert everyone else to their own religion and babble that the others are going to eternal damnation unless they succumb. Terrorist attacks in a name of a god by a group of extremist individuals damages the whole population that peacefully practices their religion. But nobody is insisting that Muslims or Christians should start to call themselves with some other name because their current name is contaminated! Why are they then insisting that on feminists? I am repeating but I want to emphasize this: people make the meanings of a word.

Feminism is about equality and that means no one is better than the other one just because they might have been born with certain genitalia. Studies show that better equality between sexes improves the economy of a country, because then 50% of the population is not forced to stay home and be baby machines and instead they can work. The same thing when both women and men have the access to education. Feminism was a boosting power for gender studies and those have revealed injustice and violence men encounter but are by this day forced to not talk about it. The amount of men who are victims of sexual violence has been a taboo, because “oh, but a man is strong, he can’t be violated like that”. An individual never benefits, if the social structures and gender roles are strict. Nobody fits into narrow categories 100%.

I was watching The Munsters again because I visited the starring actor’s grave last week with Goth Gardener and in the fort episode of the first season Herman Munster eavesdrops and misunderstands that he and his wife are going to have a baby. He gets excited and asks from Grandpa, the other eavesdropper, “What do you think, is it a boy or a girl?” Grandpa answers; “Probably.” I think it is sad that that is the first question every time. That the sex of an infant is the most important thing, before asking is it healthy for example. I love Grandpa’s answer, it is a really sensible one.

Have you noticed that even today things that are labeled as “masculine” are somehow more approved than things that are “feminine”? A simple example of this is that in a Western society a female can wear pants but if a male wears a mid-length or even a short skirt, most people feel the need to comment on that or they get disturbed by it. Also it seems that a boy who is interested of cars is more acceptable than a boy who likes to play with Bratz dolls. The other reason I want to use the terms feminism and feminist is because I want to question this bizarre idea that “feminine” and “female” things are things that are not suitable for men and are somehow of lesser value. As if only masculine things can be neutral and feminine is always the Other (see Freud for example). I believe that a word that is derived from a word female instead of the word man is just as ok to be used when talking about all humans and equality. The italics probably show you how twisted English is when it comes to deriving words…

In conclusion; my personal opinion is that for some reason people are unnecessarily fixated with what may or may not hang in the groins of other people and themselves. And I think it is a high time we get over it.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Goth bloggers visiting the grave of Fred Gwynne aka Herman Munster

On Thursday I and Goth Gardener visited Carroll County, Maryland. She had spring break and I had a day off, so we decided to make a goth pilgrimage to a nearby cemetery and the grave of Fred Gwynne, who is well known for his role as Herman Munster in The Munsters TV show from the sixties. It was a heartwarming satire of both the old monster movies and the everyday American family. The Family of Munsters was rather dysfunctional sometimes and Herman and Lily Munster were the first ever fictive married couple in American television to be shown in bed together. Of course they were not doing anything more upsetting than talking.

Goth Gardener drove to DC and we met at the campus of the university she teaches at. We took off and drove about an hour to reach the cemetery in Maryland. We had bought flowers in order to pay our respect for an astonishing actor (he was also in the film version of Stephen King’s Pet Cemetary!) who for some reason is buried in an unmarked grave. The Goth Gardener said she is going to try to find out why it is so, so I am not going to do any research on that. So go check her post!

It was a pleasant drive and we chatted away the whole time. My partner in crime had searched out the place of the grave and I had searched other activities for us for the afternoon. The place Mr. Gwynne is buried is a small and silent graveyard. When we got there, a murder of crows flew past, it was beautiful but it passed so quickly one could not even try to reach a camera. We just stood and watched.

The Place was surrounded by fields. And there were suspiciously many graves of people called Caple. SOme of the stones were beautifully worn, like this one.

It was lovely and sunny, so bright we could not manage without sunglasses. So we looked even more suspicious and unsettling, laying flowers to an unmarked grave.

I did not know before this trip that Fred Gwynne also wrote children’s books. I am determined to read some of them, or as many as I can get my hands on.

After the visit of Fred Gwynne we got into the car and drove to a shop that sold antiques and other oddities. Some vintage jewelry was beautiful but nothing on the selves screamed at me take me, take me! Though there were many a peculiar objects.

There were a surprising amount of things related to the Wizard of Oz, the books and the movie. There were a lot of collectibles of all kinds, from Betty Boops to Barbie dolls and traffic signs. Here I am pointing at the OZ poster with a quote "Now, you don't have to be a genius to look brilliant."

I guess we spent nearly an hour ogling all curiosities and finally decided it was time to eat. We drove to the center of the nearby town and found this lovely place called CUP Tea Bar & Cafe. The atmosphere was tranquil, the waiters were super nice, their iced tea was delicious and food was excellent. If you ever find yourselves in Carroll County, Maryland, do visit this place!

I do not normally take pictures of things I am about to eat but here is the delicious salad I had. Goth Gardener made me take a photo! And I really like to show how delicious it looks like and thus emphasize my review of CUP.

I do not know if you are familiar with the concept Women laughing alone with salad but what I am doing in the next photo is pretty borderline.

The gravy is not well seen but it is blood red raspberry sauce. Since I am a bit dorky with macabre sense of humor, I joked that if I smear the sauce on my lips, I am a vampire, if on the nostril I look like I have a cocaine addiction and if I smudge it by my ear I might have a brain tumor. Did not try it though, it was too delicious! Goth Gardener bravely laughed at me (or with me). ;)

After our late lunch we strolled to the local museum but their shop was closed. Too bad since in their internet page they mention they sell books about haunted houses in Maryland! Next door was the tourist information and boldly we entered. We found a leaflet of a Haunted House tour in the town! So, off we went and naturally we would snicker and giggle and read out loud the texts from the brochure with ominous voices.

As you can see from the photos, we are really mature individuals.  In the photos we are in front of The Acension Church, where an evil Legh Master is buried. According to the brochure Legh was a cruel and awful individual and is said to be haunting the area as an evil spirit. Some of the sights had tabloid journalism kind of headlines, like Headless Jailbird. In 1844 Christmas Eve a horrid criminal Big Tom slit his throat in jail. The staff summoned a doctor Zollickhoffer, who was very into Phrenology. That is the study of bumps on the head in comparison to character and mental disorders. He got very excited of Big Tom's head and asked if he could take it with him, without the rest of the body, which at its decomposing state was of no use to Dr. Zollickhoffer. The staff of the jail agreed and today people claim to have seen a headless figure roaming around in the vicinity of the old jail. Could that be Big Tom they've seen?? as they asked in the leaflet.

On our escapade in Carroll County we saw an advertisement of “Peep Show”in the local Art Center. Now, I did not know Americans call these little marzipan Easter candy as Peeps so I assumed it was some sort of an Easter striptease show and I was amused, until Goth Gardener revealed the true meaning. Here is her post straightening it all! ;)  After that we both laughed at my misapprehension! It was not even on the day we were there and according to a brochure there were Disney character statues made out of Peeps. I guess I was a little disappointed. :D

We spend another day together on this week too, so next week I'll be posting about the things we did in DC on the Spring Equinox!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Flashing my personality. And my Instagram.

A fair warning: Instead of usual posts about art or books this is a more personal post, about me and should I change my blog's name.

I just added an Instagram widget to my blog. I had an Instagram account for some time now but for some reason I had kept it separate from all other social media accounts I have. I have never been so much into different aliases and I was sort of fascinated by the anonymity of an Instagram account, when I kept it in its own little bubble. Sort of like an alter ego or something.

All photos are from my Instagram
I found it peculiar to make public posts about random things that were meaningless, when considering the big picture and the massive amount of posts and information that is created in Instagram (or any other social media) every second. But then I got tired of it. It started to be indeed too meaningless. I changed my Instagram accounts name to mach this blog, and while doing that I started to wonder if I should rename my blog.

There are three reasons why I named my blog to be Daughter of the Jaded Era. First of all I am or at least was a sucker for a cheesy pun with words and my real name being Jade I thought it was amusing in a dry humor sort of way. The second reason is that sometimes I feel pretty jaded myself. I guess that does not show in this blog almost at all, since my posts are mostly about objects of culture and things that I like. People are seldom very jaded about things they find important. The third reason is that I find this era we live to be pretty jaded most of the time and I am a product of the time and the culture I live in.

Now I am seriously pondering, if I would like to change my blog's name. And if I would, what would it be? I've had this blog for three years now and this in not (at least I am not aware that it would be) an identity crisis. I have this possibly delusional impression that I nowadays know myself quite well. I might be biased on how much about me and my personal life I would want to show in this blog. After all this blog has evolved more into reviews about art and books.

What do you think, you lovely people I've met through blogs, what name would suit this blog?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Creepy Reads Review: Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories

The first post in March is a Creepy Reads Review. It is about Tim Burton's collection of stories called The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories. Some of the stories are just one sentence and every story is with illustrations. Almost all stories are in a form of a poem, with rhymes and cute yet disturbing contents. Tim Burton has both written and illustrated the book. It was first published in UK year 1998 but my edition is a paperback printed 2005. I got it from a friend since I have such twisted sense of humor and such motherly instincts. ;)

Cute meets creepy in about all Burton's productions, as you probably know. He has made many many movies that goths hold dear, like Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas and so on. I do some research on the authors and illustrators whose work I present in my reviews but I do not want to write their biography or anything. I wish to concentrate on the actual book. This is partly because even though a work that is reviewed is creepy and goth-y, the author of it might not be that goth-y and their other works might not be goth-y at all.

When I started to read the collection my first thought was "oh my, these stories are quite grotesque!" PI guess this partly happened because I am writing my master's thesis of grotesque and for the last four months I have have been reading research on the subject. Someone might say that I see grotesque in places it should not be! Even though I might be extra well tuned for grotesque, I still regard my perception reliable and that this book of Burton is grotesque in a most delightful way. The grotesqueness is the biggest reason why I think this collection of stories is suitable for Creepy Reads Review.

Some of the poems in Burton's collection of stories are really sad yet there is a hint of humor that corrupts the poem and makes it rather grotesque, like in the previous photo a story of a boy with nails in his eyes. The illustration has more gore than most of the pictures but it still provokes to laugh.

Instead of being that funny, some of the stories are just disturbingly bizarre, like "The Girl Who Turned into a Bed". Unmentioned narrating voice tells about a girl who starts to turn into a bed after picking some plants, her head swells and her organs became a mattress. Best of all is the last comment on the tragic metamorphosis:
It was so terribly strange 
that I started to weep. 
But at least after that
I had a nice place to sleep.
The narrating voice and the whole event gets really grotesque thanks to this practical and heartless comment. It takes the whole story over the top, making it extreme.

The title poem of the little Oyster Boy reflects well the rest of the collection. Oyster Boy is just a victim, a boy who was born being half oyster, half human. His parents resent him, their sex life dies and in the end his father eats him since this was proposed by a doctor:
The doctor diagnosed,
"I can't be sure,
but the cause of the problem may also be the cure.
They say oysters improve your sexual powers.
Perhaps eating your son
would help you do it for hours!"
Then there is a scene of burial that is banalized by the parents and the narrator. The parents hardly grief in front of the remains of their child and decide they'll try to get another, hopefully normal child.

Most of the characters, or should I say subjects of the poems, are sad little kids who are shun by others. Of coarse almost equal amount of the kids are someway twisted, a bit devilish children. They too often encounter a pathetic demise.

I personally think that "Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy" is the most heart-breaking tale in Burton's collection, though at the same time it brought a little distressed smirk on my face when I read it. That is typical for grotesque stories, they make people laugh unwillingly, little disoriented. I believe the reason why Jimmy makes me smile awkwardly is because it is in the same collection with the more humoristic poems. I get this horizon of expectation, I anticipate it to be funny but it turns out to be just sad and disturbing. The most awful thing about it is that the poor little Jimmy does not even get a proper rhyme!
Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy
"My name is Jimmy,
but my friends just call me
'the hideous penguin boy.'"
That's it, the whole poem! And beside it is this really depressing picture of little Jimmy. Need I say that I love this story? It gets a strong reaction and shows how reading starts to mold the readers expectations.

Another one of my favorites is "Mummy Boy", which is one of the longest poems. It tells the story of a boy who is a mummy, although his parents are normal people. He is not that nice to other people and is therefore shunned out but in the end he finds a mummy dog to be his friend. Unfortunately on a walk with the dog Mummy Boy is mistaken as a piñata with tragic consequences.

As I have mentioned in the beginning, I have done research on grotesque and I can say with some conviction that this collection of stories in the form of poetry is grotesque. The collection is quick to read but still very entertaining. Grotesque has a tendency to crawl under reader's skin, making the reading experience delightful yet disturbing.

There are 23 stories in The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories and I have referred to only five so there are plenty of stories to be discovered, if you get your hands on a paperback like mine or another edition!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Gothic Art in Spotlight: Will o' the Wisp by Harriet Hosmer

I have been in DC over a month now and I must say I simply love the Smithsonian museums! They are free, they have such a variety of different museums and they all are relatively close to each other. Of the museums in DC my favorite is probably the National Gallery of Art, even though they are currently renovating their East Building that has all the contemporary art. Lucky for me, their collection of European art from the 19th and 20th centuries is of great quality.

A tiny disclaimer before I proceed: I have not yet seen here any art that is "super goth", but I do not want to bury my art posts completely, so I am posting about art that has at least some intriguing nuances towards the aesthetics of goth subculture.

Even though I just praised the National Gallery of Art, the sculpture I am going to feature in this post is not from there. It can be seen in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The name of this marble statue is Will o' the Wisp and it was sculpted by Harriet Hosmer 1858. I had not encountered Hosmer's work before, or at least I do not remember if I have. I have this feeling that Europeans do not tend to see that much American art that is over 100 years old. Contemporary artists are much better known on the other side of Atlantic Ocean. I must add, that Hosmer was not solely based in the United States, she spend a considerable amount of time in Italy, learning sculpting and making her career, so I think I really should have known more about her and her work.

I am sad to say I do not know much about this statue. I searched information about it and apparently Harriet Hosmer made a series of whimsical sculptures and that series itself is called Will o' the Wisp. The statues present little creatures with notions to mythology.

I remember hearing a long time ago one definition of goth subculture and it was that "goth is longing for a time and place that never was nor has yet been." Not accurate, sure, but it does highlight the fact that goth aesthetics do not belong, that they differ from the mainstream. Mythological statues too are a bridge to time and place that never really was. It might be just my constrained point of view on goth people, but I have this feeling that most goths are interested of supernatural, fantasy and sci-fi and unexplained disturbing horror. The way I see it, imagination has an important role in this subculture.

The statue made by Hosmer is intriguing because the little humanoid character has wings like a bat. That is something rarely done. In paintings you see much more devilish characters lurking with bat-wings but they are seldom made out of marble. The sculpture is an unsettled merge of childhood's innocence and falling out of grace with those nasty wings. (I personally think bat-wings are adorable of coarse, but you know what I mean!)

The little bird on top of the head of this humanoid looks to me as if it is a little owl. Owls were associated with Athene (Pallas Athena), the goddess of knowledge and tactical war in Ancient Greece. Harriet Hosmer made many statues inspired of the Ancient mythology. Some of her most famous sculptures are of Medusa, but alas, I did not spot any statues of women with snake hair in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

It seems that on the head of the statue is some kind of helmet. You can hardly see the helmet from front, since the curly hair of this slightly demonic child hide it. Another symbolic object is the torch. It could symbol a great many things, it could be a homage to the Olympics, or to Prometheus who saved humans by stealing the secret of fire from the gods. Most likely it is pointing towards Athene too, since fire is also seen as a symbol of knowledge. I do not know what the bat-wings are referring to, so if any of you have an idea and can tell if they too have something to do with Athene, please let me know!

Hosmer was born 1830 and she died 1908. She was one of the best known women artists of her time. Her father was supportive and Hosmer was very athletic, had the chance to study sculpting and she even developed some new techniques for statue making, like how to convert ordinary limestone into marble.

I love making these extra inquiries after seeing some lovely artwork. I do hope you enjoyed my post too!