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If you don’t have anything nice to say

The Castle Gardens… don’t say anything at all. My mother always told us to never say anything behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say in front of their face. This was in conjunction with, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Conflict happens all the time in our society. I think it’s pointless to question why, because the why is simply that we are all different. We are as different as snowflakes, and there are no two alike.

So, we have conflict, some days more regularly than others. But, what should we do about it? I believe that as a society, we are constantly evolving. Evolution suggests some sort of improvement over time. So, I believe, as a society that we are constantly on a path towards improvement. Sometimes that improvement is stymied, halted, by our own actions. War, perhaps, being the most dramatic example of societal stagnation and regression (no matter that war technologies constantly improve).

Diagram of mutation and selection in evolution.
Image via Wikipedia

War, for many of us, is far removed from our daily lives regardless of what the papers say or tell us. Our everyday lives, especially in Western Cultures, are largely made up of daily familial, friendly, and business/school relations. Our lives, for the most part, are fairly tame. Yes, tragedy interferes in our lives. Any viewing of the 6 o’clock news shows the terror and horror we can inflict upon each other. But, those extremes aren’t what I’m talking about here. Here, I’m talking about those mundane daily interactions when we simply have to solve the modus operandi of those routines. I’m talking about when we disagree on the basic paths to take and how we react to those (dis)agreements. Yes, these interactions serve as a baseline towards the larger, more dramatic interactions that I’ve sometimes talked about in  other posts.

You are in a group. You are trying to decide the best method, the best course of action, when working with other groups. Your group is similar to others, and while you don’t necessarily compete, there is a base level of competition since you offer similar services. You work with sellers of similar products. Some of these sellers have asked you to keep their pricing confidential. These other groups have helped you prior to your group stabilizing. They built you up. And, now, you are in a conundrum where you have to keep things from these groups or work out some sort of agreement. You and your group decides to ask people to sign confidentiality statements. Then, something is misunderstood and one of the other groups leader’s is offended beyond any repair. What do you do? The contact, thus far, has been with phone messages and emails – no actual conversations where there can be in instant exchange of ideas. What do you do?

I try to keep my head. Offer a hand, like the simple statement, “When you’re ready, let’s talk.” When disagreements happen, I find it’s best not done over technical means (facebook, email, twitter, even phones and phone messages). You need the real contact. You need to be able to see eyebrows raising, stand-off-ish poses, crossed arms, icy glares. You need to have the intuition to feel out the situation because there are some places hard science cannot reach. You need to be able to have the ability to use some finesse and grace. So, what happens then when the other says something like, “I thought we were friends,” and refuses further contact?

I think it’s quite unfortunate. The growing process has been halted, frozen, by an unwillingness to grow. So, others simply have to grow around the stagnate stump of a tree. It is a sad, unfortunate situation, when you cannot credit the giants who’ve given you the tools to grow when they stop wanting to grow themselves. Maybe that’s where evolution really comes in – the ability to learn and grow around the parts that cease to grow.

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All those random thoughts

Every day, all day, I end up with these random thoughts. I will think of something kitschy while I’m doing dishes or talking on the phone tom y mother. But, I don’t write them down. I don’t speak into a tape recorder, and I don’t make notes on my computer. Sometimes it’s like all these gems (what I deem to be gems) just flit away if I don’t capture them soon enough.

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Welfare Irony

There is a facebook group going around that people can join called “make drug testing mandatory to get welfare benefits”. This pisses me off. To no end. A few of my friends joined. One, I wasn’t surprised at all because she has shaken her liberal tendencies from high school and embraced a fiscal conservative point of view once she entered college. Sure, I was disappointed I could no longer relate on many levels since her values changed, but she embraced her decision so there it goes.

But, someone else joined and that did surprise me. Granted, I don’t really know this person anymore, and we’ve gotten to know each other through facebook, and we all know what an empty network that can be. But, it surprised me nonetheless.

Making drug testing mandatory for poor people is just another way to spread the divide between the haves and the have nots. What one notices when studying these anamoloies is that people who are in support of that type of legislation are often quite lax when it comes to what corporations can do. This is ironic on many levels. One, the poor person and their welfare benefits often amount to much less than the waste and horrid things corporations do in the name of greed. Additionally, those folks who support that type of legislation embrace the idea that they can one day be the CEO of said corporation and if they were in those shoes they sure as hell wouldn’t want x, y, and z restrictions getting in their way.

So, the really odd thing about this is that both individuals have been closer to the poor person (from what I know of them now) than the fictional CEO of ABC Corporation. Yet, they, and many others like them, are willing to side with some idea of glory than perhaps their neighbor down the street who may or may not be abusing the system.

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Ingres: Critiques and Line

Michelle Lasley | Art History 481: Prof. Lee Stewart

Born in 1780, Ingres came into a world rife with conflict and revolution. Trained in the school of neo-classicism, Ingres is known for using his own system for the art he created. In addition, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the eldest of seven children1, maintained a childlike hypersensitivity2 that would provide him the motivation to quit the Salon and the French Academy and move to Rome after much criticism over his painting The Martyrdom of St. Symphorien (Image 1). Andrew C. Shelton, in his thorough review, describes how the conflict surrounding St. Symphorien is less about Ingres’ technique and more about the politics of the time. In this paper, I will argue that Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is more concerned with maintaining his style and securing commissions than in fully participating in contemporary politics.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was commissioned to paint The Martyrdom of St. Symphorien in 1824 after his Vow of Louis XIV was shown at the Salon of the same year. Monseigneur Roch-Étienne de Vichy, the Bishop of Autun requested that Ingres paint the martyr at the most dramatic moment preceding his death, outlining seven points in which he required Ingres to follow. Although Ingres hesitated, at first, in the end he followed exactly the Bishop’s recommendations. The painting was to replace Fra Bartolomeo’s The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine in Autun in the Romanesque Cathedral Saint-Lazare. Ingres reworked St. Symphorien several times during the ten years taken to complete the work before it was exhibited, untimely, at the Salon of 1834, during the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. As a result, instead of being viewed as a simple commission completed under specific criteria, many critics at the Salon condemned the piece as warming to a religious monarchy instead of a free republic.3 4

The amateur’s eye sees the Martyrdom of St. Symphorien as a dramatic piece that focuses on the Saint, who stands nearly in the center of the canvas, slightly to the left, with his arms and body making an “X” shape, like he his parting the crowd that surrounds him. The eye is directed up and to the left where we see Augusta, Symphorien’s mother, reaching over the edge of the monumental architecture behind which she stands. She reaches toward her son in a manner reminiscent of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. The eye travels the canvas to the right along the monstrous Roman architecture down to a spired colonnade amidst the crowds, and back to the left where we come full circle to St. Symphorien. The light comes from the right side of the canvas illuminating the saint to emphasize his godly qualities while casting the crowd to the viewer’s left and behind him in shadows. A man directly above the Saint’s right hand, in a diagonal line between the saint and his mother, points to the painting’s right side toward a sign, with illegible text, held by one of the lictors leading Symphorien away.

Ignoring the politics surrounding the piece, one can clearly see how Ingres interpreted the painting in his own style while following, verbatim, the Bishop’s instructions.

The moment chosen is that in which the young Symphorien, dragged outside the gates of the city by the governor’s satellites and executioners, is being conducted to the temple of Berecynthia in order either to sacrifice to the idols there or lose his life. 5

The Bishop’s description clearly explains how Ingres was to visual the piece. The viewer sees Symphorien as the centerpiece of the painting, illuminated in white, forming the diagonals in which the rest of the painting is based. The eye next moves onto the Saint’s mother.

His mother, situated nearby atop the walls of the city, encourages her son to suffer courageously the agony that is before him and reminds him of the immortal rewards that God reserves for him in the afterlife.

The young martyr turns toward his mother in order to bid her a final farewell and to show her that his heart, fortified by faith, was ready to brave torture and death, and that he yearned to confirm with all his blood the Gospels of Jesus Christ. 6

Symphorien’s right hand is extended in a defiant pose, points towards his mother, who reaches down frantically repeating the Saint’s pose, which emphasizes the strife of fighting for religion. Although the proportions of the mother are exaggerated, it fits well within Ingres’ style and only serves to reinforce the bond between mother and son by making her appear nearly the same size as he. The viewer sees the gloriousness of answering to a higher calling, turning towards God and abandoning all worldly possessions for dying for honor of faith. The Saint’s steadfastness is juxtaposed to the mixed reactions of the crowd.

A large crowd of onlookers displays the various sentiments of astonishment and indignation, sadness and pity, that such a spectacle would inspire in a city that was still almost entirely pagan. 7

Cast in shadow, the various onlookers of the crowd, from rich to poor, individuals, and mothers with their children, surround St. Symphorien. All gaze towards him with varied emotions on their faces.
Next, the Bishop outlines the placement of the painting.

The scene takes place just outside the gate that is currently called the Portail Sante-André, which should occupy at least a portion of the background of the painting. It should be rendered faithfully after the drawing that is engraved in the work of M. Delebrode on the monuments of France.

One should perceive a bit further in the distance the colonnade forming the peristyle of the temple of Berecynthia. This last detail is left to the discretion of the artist. 8

Since the city of Autun was under Roman domination at this time, the costumes should be Roman from the time of the Antoinines’ reign.9

The people portrayed are all dressed in the age-appropriate garb, the colonnade forms the diagonal opposite Symphorien’s mother, and the location seems accurate without having visited. Regarding the politics of the time, Shelton with his thorough review points out that of sixty-three reviews, thirty-five are opposed to Ingres’ piece, twenty-five curry favor with the Saint, and three reviews are non-committal.10 Shelton further points out that the negative reviews are often found in political journals and compare Ingres to an aristocratic supporter of despotic regimes, instead of looking at the commissioned instructions. Symphorien’s mother is a strong female character, taking the role of the father figure as portrayed by David’s Brutus, for example, so it can be believed that Ingres tailored his portrayal to the request of his patron, and not to the politics of the time. For example, when painting commissioned works for Napoleon, Ingres and David both portrayed women as weaker to parlay towards Napoleon’s desires and wants for how his painting should look.11

Ingres reworked paintings and subjects for the length of his career. He is known for maintaining a style, ingrisme, which was a blend of classical and romantic intentions, although not juste milieu. He is known for his design interests and consistency. He is also known as a superb draftsman, using hard graphite points on a coated paper12 to achieve the magnificent look of being able to define texture with what appears only a few simple strokes, such as in his Portrait of Paganini. Ingres was guided “by the marvelous functional design of the ideal human body, and … the linear and spatial pictorial design which Raphael perfected.”13 With this style and sure hand, Ingres supported himself and his family by charging for graphite portraits he made for tourists when stipend dollars ran out in Rome.14 To understand Ingres’ method, it is important to look at his own words such as, “Line is drawing. It is everything,” and when instructing, “Draw for a long time before thinking of painting. When one builds on a solid foundation, one sleeps in peace.”15 One can understand better why he reworked pieces several times and exhibited a piece twenty years after its completion to show his consistency, wanting to say, “Look from where I have departed and where I have arrived.”16 He desired to be a safe investment for his patrons, and that too confined him to a particular style and level of production.17

Although Ingres was part of contemporary politics, when it came to satisfying his patrons requests, he focused more on those requests and his design elements rather than creating an overt political piece. By focusing, and refocusing on line and reworking his pieces for years, Ingres created a solid foundation, his system, for establishing his consistent type and stature as an artiste. St. Symphorien serves as a great example of how politics muddied the commissioned intent and Ingres’ interpretation, and it is understandable why the thin-skinned artist gave up the Salon and its hype and retreated to a place where perhaps he would be freer to express himself and his system of art.


  • Boime, Albert. 1985. Declassicizing the academic: A realist view of Ingres. Art History. 8(1)(03):50-65.
  • Brown, Marilyn R., and Rose R. Weil. 1984. Ingres’s pursuit of perfection. Art Journal. 44(2)(06):179.
  • Carrier, David. 2007. Politically incorrect art. Foundation for International Art Criticism.
  • Mitchell, Mark G. 2007. Learning from the masters: Ingres’ miraculous lines. Drawing. 4(12):42-57.
  • Shelton, Andrew Carrington. 2000. Ingres versus Delacroix. Art History. 23(5)(12):726.
  • Shelton, Andrew Carrington. 2001. Art, politics, and the politics of art: Ingres’s Saint Symphorien. Art Bulletin. 83(4)(12):711.
  • Shelton, Andrew Carrington. 2005. Ingres and His Critics. Cambridge University Press: New York, New York. Pp 320.
  • Siegfried, Susan L. 2000. Ingres’s reading – the undoing of narrative. Art History. 23(5)(12):654.
  • Skira, Albert. 1967. Ingres: The Taste of Our Time. The World Publishing Company: Cleveland, Ohio. Pp 131.
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