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The skeleton of a young girl: This is the first thing to seize my eye as I enter the cemetery of the Capuchin monastery in Rome. Mounted at the vault’s center and framed by four elliptical rings of vertebrae, she holds in her right hand a scythe made of tibias and pelvic fragments; in her left hand, she holds a balance, also made of human bones. The shadowed hollows of her eye sockets, rather than conveying blindness, ceaselessly drink the late-morning sunlight that pours through the windows.

It is some time before I notice the other two child skeletons on the back wall, perched, legs dangling, on a mantle of scapulae. They are bookended by two hourglasses: counterpoised coccyx, their holes giving from a distance the impression of mottled sand. Each hourglass has a pair of scapula wings, as does the disembodied skull floating between the children.

I see these things and I do not see them. To focus on any one object takes considerable effort. My eyes are always being drawn to some new detail — a femur that seems a darker umber than the hundreds of others stacked along the walls, the wooden crosses that mark graves in the crypt’s dirt floor, the distinctive “cappuccino” brown of a monk’s habit, that same monk’s mummified flesh, his collapsed nostrils, his curled parchment lips — and to the overpowering sum of all details, this precise chaos that tempts me to close my eyes, rinse them in darkness. More… “Graffiti These Bones”

Justin Lee teaches in the Composition Department at UC Irvine, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing in 2014. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Vice, First Things, the Los Angeles Review of Books, ABC’s Religion and Ethics, Amazon’s Day One, FLAUNT Magazine, Juked, Gargoyle Magazine, Arc Digital, and elsewhere. In 2016, he received an Emerging Writers Grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Their generosity enabled him to complete his first novel, Lightless Lands, which is currently seeking a home.
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Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942) is known, if known at all, as a quiet, conservative painter — a portraitist of the wealthy and well connected in late 19th- and early 20th-century America. Neglected for most of the last century, she has received a modicum of recognition in recent years, with a number of monographs and a comprehensive exhibition of her work in 2007-2008. Contemporary critics have characterized her, much as those of her own day did, as a very good painter, technically proficient, and dedicated to her art.

But this assessment doesn’t begin to do her justice. It seems time for Beaux to be viewed afresh, not just revived. For she is more than a conventional realist, more than a realist with Impressionist tendencies, more even than a portraitist. She is, I would argue, a great original, for whom labels of school, method, and genre fall short. She deserves comparison with her great predecessor, Édouard Manet. Manet was brash and revolutionary; Beaux, restrained and insinuating — but she repays attention with insights as profound. More… “Beaux Monde”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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Ralph Eugene Meatyard is a marginal figure in the history of post-World War II photography. He took up the practice in the early 1950s, maturing his creative vision until his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 47. This marginal status is due in part to the kind of photographs he made, which are difficult to categorize or to make sense of. “I will never make an accidental photograph,” he once said, noting his distance from documentary photography, the more respected genre of his day. His images are always staged compositions of family and friends or of simple objects. He presents haunting images that sit somewhere between realism and imagination. Meatyard positioned his subjects in stark interiors, lush forests, abandoned homes, and overgrown cemeteries, settings he went searching for around his home in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s small show of a little more than 40 works… More…

Wherever you go, it’s the same song.

Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday, dear (name) Happy birthday to you!

Today has the possibility to be many things: a day of triumph, a day of mourning, a judgment day, a holiday. But we know with certainty that, for all the things today is, it is also a birthday. Which means that today is an occasion for the Happy Birthday song. You may, and likely will, hear it, today. In a bar after work: the Happy Birthday song. At the zoo: the Birthday Song. At school: Birthday. In prison: Birthday song. In the English-speaking world, we sing “Happy Birthday to You” more than any other song. It has also been translated into Finnish, French, Cantonese, Arabic — “Happy Birthday to You” is an international hit. It may be the modern world’s greatest hit. Maybe the greatest hit ever;… More…

Sol LeWitt was fond of cubes. Sometimes, he would make sculptures that were nothing but cubes, cubes within cubes upon cubes. In the early 1970s, LeWitt produced works like “Cube Structures Based on Five Modules.” The title captures the essence of the work. LeWitt took a bunch of open cubes made of wood, painted them white, and arranged them in various geometric structures. He just liked the cubiness of cubes.

“Dead or Alive.” Through October 24. Museum of Art and Design, New York.

This led a number of critics to think of LeWitt as a formalist. All the geometry spoke for itself. This was an artist of Cartesian spaces and strict rationalism. LeWitt was showing us something about the austere beauty of form. His white lattices were supposed to be an abstract representation of Mind… More…

An old Chinese man went to Yosemite and it blew his mind. To explain why, we have to go back a few thousand years. Chinese people have an old civilization. Older, perhaps, than anybody else’s civilization. That depends on how you define “civilization,” but who has the time to fight about these things? Point is, it’s old. Chinese art thus has a lot of tradition. Chinese artists predictably spend a lot of time coming to terms with that tradition. You study the old masters, you reject the old masters, you copy the old masters, you desperately try to ignore the old masters, you become the old masters.

“Mastering the Art of Chinese Painting: Xie Zhiliu (1910–1997)” Through August 1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Xie Zhiliu was born in 1910 and he died in 1997…. More…

 

“Mannerism” sounds stupid. One immediately associates it with manners. And “manners” are not in the highest regard these days. Mannerism would seem to be a movement of affected and empty gestures, of style over substance.

That’s what many do mean when they use the term. Mannerism has come to refer, primarily, to the group of Italian artists working just after the close of the High Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci died in May 1519; you could say, then, that Mannerism started in early June of that same year. The Mannerists, left with nowhere to go by the transcendent greatness of the High Renaissance artists, had no choice but to become decadent and unhinged.

Mannerist artists like Jacopo da Pontormo thus wasted little time in screwing up the Renaissance. Pontormo painted his figures in crazy contorted poses that would have… More…

 

The letters of famous persons generally disappoint. Letters, unless specifically written for the public, are personal in essence. It is one human being in contact with another, sharing things that, often, only the two can fully understand. The letters of great persons are no different. At best, they provide a glimpse into secrets, a chance to hear the unguarded thoughts of public figures. There is the potential excitement of revelation. Occasionally, our desires are satisfied and then some. We come across, for instance, James Joyce writing his wife Nora: “Some night when we are somewhere in the dark and talking dirty and you feel your shite ready to fall put your arms round my neck in shame and shit it down softly.”

In such moments of intimacy, dirty or less so, the aura of fame is stripped away… More…

 

There was nothing nice about Bauhaus. The Bauhaus artists were in love with death and destruction. Sure, they wanted to build. But they wanted to build from a fresh pallet, a tabula rasa. They were militants when it came to art. Art, for them, wasn’t simply about beauty, or function, or form. Art was about everything. They would make art life and life art. And all of it would have clean lines and sharp angles. The whole world would be glass and steel. They would smash the universe into a better version of itself.

If nothing else, the audacity is to be admired. Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school, once wrote in a manifesto:

Let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let… More…