Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ad astra

The phrase ad astra, Latin for "to the stars", has several sources, but I know it from Seneca the Younger's per aspera ad astra (through difficulties to the stars), which pretty much sums up the hopes behind almost any creative endeavor--or any one I've ever taken up, anyway.

Manfred has written the first ever review of my first ever movie, and I am over the moon, so heading in the right direction, anyway. It's such a pleasure to have someone notice details you've labored over--and to catch references too. Thank you, fellow blogger!

Speaking of references, The Finnish Friend alerts me (thank you, F.F.!) to the reference source of the photo of Aino I posted a few posts back: the painting, below, right, "Ad Astra" (1907), by Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

He painted the young woman in a Christ-like pose--in a different version, even with stigmata on her hands--but many people interpret her as Aino. She is the young woman in the Finnish epic Kalevala, who escapes a repulsive suitor by turning into a fish (and later resumes her human form).
These stories all look alike: fish live in water, like souls live in spirit.

But, really, I'd say this is all about the hair.

The Kalevala was Gallen-Kallela's main source of inspiration, and he illustrated some of it (died before completion)---here's a page in progress, left, with a wonderful swirl of the universe in it.

G-K said:
"Art and religion are very close to each other. I feel that there has been some kind of higher idea, a mystery, that has resided in the souls of men…. for which only art could give form.”

(Which is related to what I touched on in "The Making of Orestes and the Fly, when I said "art saves us.")

All that aside, I don't actually care for G-K's paintings, or for the pre-Raphaelites' Arthurian paintings, or the work of other romantic nationalists.
I admire their gorgeous, rich colors; but I find them disturbing. I think because they are not the myths of my age; I suspect they no longer read the way the artists intended in their time and place.
There's no rewind button on history, eh? and I just can't look at them and set aside my knowledge of What Comes Next. Out of the hero myth and ideals of glorious battle comes the slaughter of World War I--or, the war that shaped my childhood, Vietnam--and there was no "ad astra" out of those hardships. But then, war is not a creative endeavor.

The 19th century's intensely beautiful portraits of romantic tragic heroes bring to my 21st century mind--or to my guts, rather--a different Latin tag: Horace's Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country), which Wilfred Owen calls "the old lie" in his famous World War I poem "Dulce et Decorum Est".

Visual art reflects the myths of its time. Was anybody in Europe painting this kind of romantic-hero by the mid-20th century? (Under Stalin's orders, maybe? morphed into "The Heroic Tractor Driver".)

What I like best is G-K's abstract designs. This one, called "Flame". right, is a pattern for a rug G-K produced in 1899.
These are some of the roots of Scandinavian Modernism, which I'm supposed to be writing about this morning, at a 7th-grade level.

I found this image on a blog full of images of *wonderful* stuff, the sort you want to eat all up: The Textile Blog.
The blogger, John Hopper, writes:
"I try to approach textiles by seeing it in a broad culturally diverse manner, including contemporary and historical articles from across the globe."


ArtSparker said...

The Pre-Raphaelites are quite decadent...The art had to do with ...what?...monkeying around with the medieval thing in a very mannered way. I suspect that there is a lack of honesty in this kind of work which does not chime with you.

Fresca said...

Oh, well put!
"A lack of honesty," yes.
Because the Pre-R's art never sat well with me, (and I never even heard of G-K until yesterday), I don't know much about it, and so I can't offer an informed critique, but yes, that phrase resonates with me.
Thank you.
I must study more...

momo said...

That IS a disturbing painting--the upturned eyes---what is she looking at? the medusa-like hair--what suspicious energy is she tapping into, one might ask? is this an image of power or of metamorphosis (escaping a repulsive lover?) the bloody water she's in up to her pudendum--having her period? the pose is almost like "hands up!" because of her gaze, but also as if she's about to cast a spell. It's a very dynamic image, in contrast to the symmetrical lying down hands-down image of the red-haired woman in the other post.
OK, now I have to click on all your links, but first I have to grade papers!

Fresca said...

Yes, I *want* to see it as a wonderful image of transformation--how powerful to cast a young girl as the Christ figure; but instead I keep getting the creeps.
I don't know...

Anonymous said...

I like it.

northshorewoman said...

Finnish mythology and fairy tales often have an eerie foreboding 'creepiness' to them. The Aino painting looks like a dead child I saw laying in a wooden coffin, open, on the cover of a Finnish book I was given as a gift. Death to the Finns was not like death is thought of today. I think G-K's painting hints at that. There was a realm of people/spirits who were neither dead nor alive. They were trapped there because their relatives did not perform the obligatory and precisely laid out and timed mourning rituals.

Baraka, an Islamic concept, also repeats G-K's idea of art and religion as bedfellows of the Beloved.

Fresca said...

Thanks for the good insights, Northshore Woman!

I especially like "art and religion as bedfellows of the Beloved," which is somewhat how I see it too.

jdferry said...

There is much much more going on with these paintings and stories of the Kalevala than ill informed idle speculation provides. Finnish tradition and folklore goes back 40,000 years to a time when the Finns lived just north of the Dravidians, perhaps even earlier. It is one of the richest collections of oral tradition in the world. 86,800 songs in Kalevala metre; 129,400 rhymed folk-songs; 52,400 incantations; 336,000 spells, beliefs and omens; 187,400 games; 9,300 nonsense verse and laments; 96,000 fairy tales; 1,600 religious legends; 103,200 supernatural tales and memorates; 77,800 historical and local tales; 7,700 aetiological stories and myths; 766,500 proverbs (complemented by 1,425,000 proverb variants in the collections of Helsinki University); 117,300 riddles; 23,200 folk tunes; and 54,000 ethnographic descriptions. Perhaps 38,000 years older than christianity, it is a vast and wonderful realm of its own identity.

Your simplistic descriptions are not correct. It is a vast cosmos of meanings, not a comic book. These stories are of the people that live in nature, not go to a park to "view" it. People who's art lives in them, not dead and hanging on a museum morgue wall. It is a living breathing human work. It is not meant to be dissected by scholars that cannot tell the difference between an oak and a birch and have never lived beyond the sidewalks of citified imagination.

Fresca said...

JDFERRY: Thanks for sharing your passion!