Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If I Die Young

An anonymous poster pointed out to me that the video for the country music group The Band Perry's "If I Die Young" features imagery from Tennyson's Lady of Shalott. I wouldn't have caught the reference, but the poster pointed out the book of Tennyson she is holding while floating on the water.

Normally I am not at all a modern country music fan, but I do like Appalachian/bluegrass, so I enjoy the song itself as well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Burne-Jones and Synesthesia

Two years ago, I did a post on a comment Edward Burne-Jones had made about how he saw the days of the week as different colors, except for Sunday which was "wet, ever since I was tiny, though I don't know why." At the time, an anonymous poster mentioned that there was a term for this condition, Synesthesia, but I didn't do much follow up on the idea, I'm sorry now to admit. Then, the other day, while perusing a totally unrelated blog that was talking about animating inanimate objects as another symptom of synesthesia, the subject came to my attention again, and I read the Wikipedia article about the condition.

According to the article, Synesthesia is "a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway." Burne-Jones' admission that the days of the week represent different colors is probably an example of grapheme ---> color synesthesia, in which "letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored."

Also according to the article, "Although synesthesia was the topic of intensive scientific investigation in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was largely abandoned by scientific research in the mid-20th century, and has only recently been rediscovered by modern research." If the condition was discussed in the late 1800s, it makes me wonder if Burne-Jones was aware of it. I would love to find out how people with synesthesia were regarded in the late Victorian era. Was it considered just a quirk, or was it a symptom of a more serious mental condition to them?

Quite a few synesthetes end up in artistic careers. "Many people with synesthesia use their experiences to aid in their creative process, and many non-synesthetes have attempted to create works of art that may capture what it is like to experience synesthesia." Or, as another wonderful article on the topic states, "There are elements of synethesia in almost any creative endeavor. It is no wonder that so many artists were self-proclaimed synesthetes. The ability to create metaphors, tying together seemingly unrelated things has been responsible for some of the most beautiful poetry and prose created by human kind. It is this connection between senses, this cross-linkage that allows us to easily comprehend such abstract concepts as "the bitter wind" or such descriptions as "Juliet is the sun."

Not everyone with synesthesia, even the same type, see the world the same. "Some grapheme ? color synesthetes report that the colors seem to be "projected" out into the world (called "projectors"), while most report that the colors are experienced in their "mind's eye" (called "associators")." This calls to mind for me the frequent references in Burne-Jones' writings to wanting to "go on always in that strange land that is more true than real" or that he "lived inside the pictures and from the inside of them looked out upon a world less real than they." Perhaps if Burne-Jones had synesthesia of the "minds eye" variety, the conflict between his inner and outer reality would have been even more deep and pronounced, explaining in part his desire for the inner landscape.

In the Wikipedia article section on famous people with synesthesia, it says "Determining synesthesia from the historical record is fraught with error unless (auto)biographical sources explicitly give convincing details." Because of this, we can't guarantee that Burne-Jones had synesthesia, although I would love to now re-read The Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones by his widow, Georgiana, with this idea in mind. The particular example that sparked this exploration, the colors of the weekdays, is especially fascinating to me, because six out of the seven days are marked by a color, but the seventh day is marked by a different sense, feeling "wet." Perhaps someone with more knowledge of Synesthesia could tell us what this might mean.

In the conclusion to a fascinating article on the evolutionary function of Synesthesia, Alexandra Mnuskin writes "The extraordinary experience of synesthesia has opened the door to some of the most complicated and as yet uncharted functions of the brain. We all experience a certain amount of cross wiring, and it is this which defines us as human beings. Researchers have shown cases where color-blind synesthetes were actually able to perceive colors in numbers without ever having seen those colors before [2]. To me, this discovery is really the culmination of everything I have been learning about the brain. All on its own, the human mind can create something we have never experienced such as an abstract concept of color. It can produce a subtle and poetic language to tell stories about things we have never seen with our eyes. This one mass of cells can encompass our entire reality." If Burne-Jones had Synesthesia, perhaps the image in his mind's eye wasn't so much an escape from reality, but another way of perceiving things that truly are, on some level, real. This was part of his genius, and why his art still seems to carry us away into another "strange land."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Useful & Beautiful Conference

I'm not going to be able to make it to this, but it looks amazing! If someone does, please give a report.


7-9 October 2010

"Useful & Beautiful: The Transatlantic Arts of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites" will be the subject of a conference and related exhibitions to be held 7-9 October 2010 at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) and at the Delaware Art Museum and the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (Wilmington, DE). Organized with the assistance of the William Morris Society in the United States, "Useful & Beautiful" will highlight the strengths of the University of Delaware's rare books, art, and manuscripts collections; Winterthur's important holdings in American decorative arts; and the Delaware Art Museum's superlative Pre-Raphaelite collection (the largest outside Britain). All events will focus on the multitude of transatlantic exchanges that involved Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic movements of the late nineteenth century.

In addition to sessions featuring internationally-known scholars and experts, there will be a keynote lecture by noted biographer, Fred Kaplan; demonstrations by leading practitioners who make and design Arts and Crafts objects; special exhibitions; and a performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by the University of Delaware's critically acclaimed Resident Ensemble Players.

Registration fee: $150, $75 for students. No charge for University of Delaware faculty, students, and staff, but we ask them to register.

For more information and a registration form go to www.udel.edu/conferences/uandb
or contact Mark Samuels Lasner, Senior Research Fellow, University of Delaware Library, http://us.mc1135.mail.yahoo.com/mc/compose?to=marksl@udel.edu, (302) 831-3250.

"Useful & Beautiful" is supported by Delaware Art Museum; Winterthur Museum & Country Estate; Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts; William Morris Society in the United States; William Morris Society (UK); University of Delaware Library Associates; Faculty Senate Committee on Cultural Activities and Public Events; the following University of Delaware units, departments and programs: College of Arts and Sciences, University of Delaware, University of Delaware Library, Art, Art Conservation, Art History, English, History, Institute for Global Studies, Frank and Yetta Chailken Center for Jewish Studies, Center for Material Culture Studies, Office of Equity and Inclusion, Resident Ensemble Players/Professional Theatre Training Program, University Museums, and Women’s Studies; Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau. Illustration: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Water Willow, 1871. Oil on canvas, glued to wood. Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Me Without You

Last night, my husband and I watched the British film Me Without You, starring Michelle Williams and a pre-Pushing Daisies Anna Friel. I was delighted to see a copy of Arthur Hughes' Ophelia in the bedroom of Michelle Williams' character at the beginning of the movie. Little did I know that this would begin a 1 1/2 hour search through every scene where her rooms were featured to find picture after picture of the Pre-Raphaelites. Seriously...they were plastered everywhere in the backgrounds! Rossetti, Waterhouse, Burne-Jones, Hughes...and more!

(and btw...I have this nagging feeling someone has told me about this movie before, so I apologize for no credit if someone did)

There's also a gorgeous scene where her character imagines her beloved lying with her in bed, with her coverered in wet flowers and river weeds, which taken in context of the Ophelia imagery everywhere else in her life, is clearly a nod to Ophelia.

You can see the Burne-Jones in the background of this screencap:

Thanks to Robert H for identifying the left painting as William Blake's Newton.

Hughes' Ophelia, and many many more images. It was a delight to play "Where's Waldo" throughout the movie. Especially once her character has an apartment of her own in post-college years. Her kitchen cabinets are plastered with images, and I just sat there and went "that's a photo of one of the Brotherhood! I can't quite tell who...there's Jane again! There's a Burne-Jones!!"