The Monuments Men: “No Biff, you leave that art alone.”

I am one of those people who understands history through art. Partly for the classic idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, but also because the concept of “this artist made this during this time while these things were happening” just somehow clicks with me. To me, art IS history, so I am always a bit baffled when I hear other people snicker or gripe at stories that come out about people who make heroic efforts to save a piece of artwork as if the idea that a person would put themselves in danger to save history is somehow silly. I am also one of those people who understands things by relating them to movies made in the 1980’s. And thanks to the Back to the Future Trilogy, those of us living in the twenty-first century should all now be fully aware of how saving history will also save our future.

But alas, earwax! The Back to the Future Trilogy did not exist during World War II! Can you imagine telling a Superior Officer in the military (who has no IDEA what Jan Van Eyck painted, nor what song Marty McFly sang after his parents’ first kiss) that he needs to set free a recently captured group of German Soldiers because a German Monk told you that they are the only men trained to keep a historical church from catching on fire from the bombs the Allies are still blasting at the city? Yeah, he may not take it that well…

Luckily, the small group of men and women assigned to the MFAA, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Division, understood the importance of their job even when others did not, and were able to save the history (and thus, the culture, spirit and future) of Europe from total destruction. Their story, after being forgotten for many years, is finally receiving worldwide attention thanks to the wonderful book by Robert M. Edsel (with Bret Witter), The Monuments Men : Allied heroes, Nazi thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History and the new movie based on Edsel’s book, Monuments Men, directed by and starring George Clooney.

Led by George Stout, an art conservation pioneer from Iowa (and who Clooney based his fictional film character on–Learn more about George Stout here: http://bit.ly/MeLsKn), the MFAA members managed to protect historical world sites from unnecessary bombings, repair sites damaged due to necessary bombings, protect priceless cultural items from looting by both the Nazis and Allies, and track down and conduct emergency conservation efforts on millions of items stolen by the Nazis and return them to their rightful countries and owners, including those owned by Germany. And here is the super amazing part, although the MFAA would eventually include hundreds of members (still a very small amount compared to the millions who served during WWII), the Monuments Men numbered UNDER TEN MEMBERS during their most critical period to save all of the art in NORTHERN EUROPE (and unlike in the film, they were mostly working ALONE). As the brilliant Dr. Emmett Brown would say, “Great Scott!”

Robert Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men, as well as his companion books and the related documentary, The Rape of Europa, are must-sees for those interested in Art History, World History and Military History as well as anyone who likes a good treasure hunt around Europe.

No Excuses Art Journaling by Gina Rossi Armfield

no excusesKiss those excuses goodbye! “I don’t have time.” “I don’t know what to journal about.” “I can’t keep the momentum going.” Sound familiar? What are your excuses for not spending time with your art journal? Get ready to cast those excuses aside because Gina Rossi Armfield’s No Excuses Art Journaling offers a no-fail approach to art journaling.

Using a day planner as your art journal, you’ll find daily, weekly and monthly prompts that you can adapt to fit your real-life, busy schedule. Along the way, you’ll learn fun and convenient techniques to add sketching, watercolor painting, collage and more into your journal, all while setting goals, creating art and chronicling your unique life. Inside you’ll find more than 20 mixed-media art journaling techniques demonstrated step-by-step so you can add color, style and life ephemera to your journal, 6 pages of journaling prompts and tips for every month of the year, dozens of inspirational art journal pages by Gina and 12 guest artists to show how you can make the No Excuses program decidedly yours.

Grab your journal and pen, and kick your excuses to the curb! (description from publisher)

The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti

world atlas of street artPainted murals first appeared in Latin America in the early 20th century; in the 1950s, spray-can graffiti associated with Latino gangs followed, notably the “cholo” graffiti of Los Angeles. Today, street art has traveled to nearly every corner of the globe, evolving into a highly complex and ornate art form.

The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti is the definitive survey of international street art, focusing on the world’s most influential urban artists and artworks. Since the lives and works of urban artists are inextricably linked to specific streets and places, this beautifully illustrated volume features specially commissioned “city artworks” that provide an intimate understanding of these metropolitan landscapes. Organized geographically by country and city, more than 100 of today’s most important street artists – including Espo in New York, Shepard Fairey in Los Angeles, Os Gêmeos in Brazil, and Anthony Lister in Australia – are profiled alongside key examples of their work. The evolution of street art and graffiti within each region is also chronicled, providing essential historical context. With contributions by the foremost authorities on street art and graffiti, this landmark publication provides a nuanced understanding of a widespread contemporary art practice.

 The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti emphasizes urban art’s powerful commitment to a spontaneous creativity that is inherently connected to the architecture of the metropolis. (description from publisher)

Oliver, Anna, Miss Moore and Rabbit: not just for kids

If you think children’s literature isn’t worthy of discussion, pick up one of these books and prepare to eat your words. These books are not just beautiful, simple, cute stories for children: they have big ideas, big hearts, and important messages to teach readers of all ages. Whether you have a little one to share them with or not, I highly recommend all of them.

oliverOliver by Birgitta Sif: gorgeous, rich, layered illustrations in muted earth tones and fluid character lines that suggest life and movement – brava. So beautifully done, and each page has so much going on; you can follow the unwritten story of the mouse on each page, and careful readers will see that many characters turn up over and over (besides Oliver, of course). Olivia is there all along, living her life parallel to Oliver’s; you can see that they will become best friends. So precious and wonderful.

 

anna the bookbinderAnna the Bookbinder, by Andrea Cheng and Ted Rand: A fantastic picture book! Anna’s father is a bookbinder; she’s helped him in the shop her whole life, and she knows the process very well. When her father is called away from work, Anna steps in to complete an important order. It’s odd to see these historical books where children and parents are coworkers as well as family members, since it’s so unusual now. Despite this book’s happy ending, I found myself wondering if Anna would be able to go to school, to travel, to marry for love – or if her father’s need of help in the bookshop would keep her tied to home forever. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much. 

miss mooreMiss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough and Debby Atwell: Oh Anne Carroll Moore! How I wish I were you. This book – the story of how Miss Moore created the Children’s Library space as we know it today – will make you thankful for children’s libraries. Miss Moore blazes her own trail, she has agency and verve and it’s just so satisfying reading about her successes! Since this is a children’s book, it is biased towards the positive, which made me wonder what Anne’s life was really like, and whether she ever wanted to give up, and what she dreamed of doing but couldn’t finish, and who were the intractable powers-that-be that she overthrew to make her dreams a reality for children everywhere? (It also really, really made me want to time-travel to the opening of the NYPL. Where’s my tardis?)

Rabbityness by Jo Empson: because neon paint splatters. And because of the word ‘rabbityness.’ And because this is a book that doesn’t pretend bad things don’t happen, it’s one that acknowledges that good & bad and old & new change in relation to each other all the time; and one person (or rabbit) can have a big impact.
Rabbityness

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Family_Fang-Kevin_WilsonIt is hard enough to be well-adjusted while raised under typical circumstances, but Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B) spent their childhood as players in their parent’s mischief disguised as art (or is it art disguised as mischief?).  They have spent their adult years attempting to distance themselves from their famous artist parents, but when their new lives start to fall apart, they find themselves back under their parent’s roof.

In his debut novel, The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson introduces us to the Fang family. With disdain for traditional art forms, Caleb and Camille Fang choose unexpected public performance art as their medium and have included their children in all of their greatest pieces. When their children return home, Caleb and Camille plan one final performance, and Annie and Buster are participants whether they want to be or not.  The quirky story (think Wes Anderson meets Arrested Development) is bolstered by flash-back chapters that help the reader better understand the character’s motives and gives clues to the final outcome.  Exceptionally written and a fun read, this book should please fans of Zadie Smith and Karen Russell.

Sketchbook Challenge by Sue Bleiweiss

sketchbook challengeHave you ever bought a new sketchbook, opened to the first page, and thought, “Now what do I do?” Sue Bleiweiss and the talented minds behind The Sketchbook Challenge are here to help. Imagine a supportive community of artists sharing the innermost pages of their sketchbooks and offering you tips and techniques for overcoming creative blocks. That’s what The Sketchbook Challenge is all about, and the popular blog of the same name has already inspired thousands.

Inside this book, you’ll find: · Themes that will motivate you to start your sketchbook–and, more important, keep at it · Tutorials spotlighting such mixed-media techniques as thread sketching, painted papers for collage, digital printing, and much more · Strategies to get off the sketchbook page and start creating inspired art–whether you’re into painting, collage, fiber art, or beyond. · In-depth profiles of artists who have taken the Sketchbook Challenge and used it as a launching pad for their own meaningful artwork. (description from publisher)

Van Gogh: Up Close

This sumptuously illustrated book offers a completely new way of looking at the art of Vincent van Gogh, by exploring the artist’s approach to nature through his innovative use of the close-up view.

Focusing on the last years of the artist’s career–from 1886 until his death in July 1890–an international team of leading scholars in the field examines Van Gogh’s radical approach to the close-up and sets it in the context of contemporary and historical references, such as his hitherto unrecognized use of photography and his fascination with the Old Masters and with Japanese art and culture. One hundred key paintings dating from his arrival in Paris in 1886 to the end of his career show how Van Gogh experimented with unusual visual angles and the decorative use of color, cropping, and the flattening of his compositions. In some paintings he zoomed in on a tuft of grass or a single budding iris, while depicting shifting views of a field or garden in others.

Van Gogh: Up Close not only reveals how these paintings became the most radical and innovative in the artist’s body of work but also demonstrates that, far from being a spontaneous or undisciplined artist, Van Gogh was well aware of the history of art and was highly conscious of his efforts to break new ground with his work. (description from publisher)

The Discerning Palette #2

One of the most difficult things an artist can face is finding an audience that is interested in her/his work.  Saatchi Gallery in London, UK is attempting to remedy this millenium-long problem.  Using the internet, Saatchi Gallery created Saatchi Online, providing both artists and art lovers with access to people around the globe.  Artists can register with Saatchi Online to display their work, and curators working for Saatchi Gallery create online galleries by topic, medium, and more.

These curated online galleries highlight the value of diverse art chosen well with the added benefit of mass access.  Viewers can purchase original works or prints of works, or simply troll the beautiful, shocking, unusual, and fantastical galleries that are free for visitors.  Once you click on a piece of art, thumbnails of other works by the same artist appear on the side of your screen, giving you the option of viewing even more.  Visitors can also create their own online galleries by selecting their favorite works.  To participate further, viewers can vote in the Saatchi Online Showdown.  Works by submitted artists are randomly paired, and viewers vote in the first round.  Winners in the second and third rounds are decided by a jury and judge respectively.  Lovers of all types of art will find something to appreciate in Saatchi Online, and a visit to this British internet creation can be an excellent way to kill an afternoon.

The Discerning Palette #1

This post brought to you by Liza, our newest blogger!

Welcome to the first installment of the The Discerning Palette, a new blog series about the online art world. In the news this week is the art of Tony Bennett. Yes, that Tony Bennett. When he’s not crooning, Mr. Bennett enjoys painting watercolors. His art can be viewed and purchased through his website, Benedetto Arts. Benedetto is Mr. Bennett’s original family name and how he signs his paintings. Mr. Bennett has done commission pieces for the Kentucky Derby and the United Nations and has works in the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery. He has also lectured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This week Mr. Bennett’s art is in the news due to a photo shoot with Lady Gaga and famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Gaga and Leibovitz were shooting for an upcoming Vanity Fair issue and Mr. Bennett was invited to sketch Lady Gaga. The charcoal sketch of Lady Gaga is being auctioned off for Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and Bennett’s Exploring the Arts charity. For other Bennett/Gaga collaborations, check out their duet of “The Lady is a Tramp”from the Rogers and Hart musical “Babes in Arms” which is featured on Bennett’s new Duets II CD.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasure by Robert Wittman

Seriously, why hasn’t this book been made into a movie already? (although you’ll certainly be reminded of scenes from several popular movies and tv shows) Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career, offering a real-life international thriller in Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasure.

The son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career going undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid. Wittman tells the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: the golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king, the Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement, the rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments. The art thieves and scammers he caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners. Wittman has saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities, but he considers them all equally priceless.

Told with a true storyteller’s gift, Priceless is intense and fun and personal – Wittman feels passionate about preserving art and he’ll make you fell passionate about it too.