Orpheus or Philosophy

Orpheus’ Death, Jean Delville, 1893

 

XI

 

“The story of Orpheus, which though so well known has not yet been in all points perfectly well interpreted, seems meant for a representation of universal Philosophy. For Orpheus himself,—a man admirable and truly divine, who being master of all harmony subdued and drew all things after him by sweet and gentle measures,—may pass by an easy metaphor for philosophy personified. For as the works of wisdom surpass in dignity and power the works of strength, so the labours of Orpheus surpass the labours of Hercules.

Orpheus, moved by affection for his wife who had been snatched from him by an untimely death, resolved to go down to Hell and beg her back again of the Infernal Powers; trusting to his lyre. Nor was he disappointed. For so soothed and charmed were the infernal powers by the sweetness of his singing and playing, that they gave him leave to take her away with him; but upon one condition; she was to follow behind him, and he was not to look back until they had reached the confines of light. From this however in the impatience of love and anxiety he could not refrain. Before he had quite reached the point of safety, he looked back; and so the covenant was broken, and she suddenly fell away from him and was hurried back into Hell. From that time Orpheus betook himself to solitary places, a melancholy man and averse from the sight of women; where by the same sweetness of his song and lyre he drew to him all kinds of wild beasts, in such manner that putting off their several natures, forgetting all their quarrels and ferocity, no longer driven by the stings and furies of lust, no longer caring to satisfy their hunger or to hunt their prey, they all stood about him gently and sociably, as in a theatre, listening only to the concords of his lyre. Nor was that all: for so great was the power of his music that it moved the woods and the very stones to shift themselves and take their stations decently and orderly about him. And all this went on for some time with happy success and great admiration; till at last certain Thracian women, under the stimulation and excitement of Bacchus, came where he was; and first they blew such a hoarse and hideous blast upon, a horn that the sound of his music could no longer be heard for the din: whereupon, the charm being broken that had been the bond of that order and good fellowship, confusion began again; the beasts returned each to his several nature and preyed one upon the other as before; the stones and woods stayed no longer in their places: while Orpheus himself was torn to pieces by the women in their fury, and his limbs scattered about the fields: at whose death, Helicon (river sacred to the Muses) in grief and indignation buried his waters under the earth, to reappear elsewhere.

The meaning of the fable appears to be this. The singing of Orpheus is of two kinds: one to propitiate the infernal powers, the other to draw the wild beasts and the woods. The former may be best understood as referring to natural philosophy; the latter to philosophy moral and civil. For natural philosophy proposes to itself, as its noblest work of all, nothing less than the restitution and renovation of things corruptible, and (what is indeed the same thing in a lower degree) the conservation of bodies in the state in which they are, and the retardation of dissolution and putrefaction. Now certainly if this can be effected at all, it cannot be otherwise than by due and exquisite attempering and adjustment of parts in nature, as by the harmony and perfect modulation of a lyre. And yet being a thing of all others the most difficult, it commonly fails of effect; and fails (it may be) from no cause more than from curious and premature meddling and impatience. Then Philosophy finding that her great work is too much for her, in sorrowful mood, as well becomes her, turns to human affairs; and applying her powers of persuasion and eloquence to insinuate into men’s minds the love of virtue and equity and peace, teaches the peoples to assemble and unite and take upon them the yoke of laws and submit to authority, and forget their ungoverned appetites, in listening and conforming to precepts and discipline; whereupon soon follows the building of houses, the founding of cities, the planting of fields and gardens with trees; insomuch that the stones and the woods are not unfitly said to leave their places and come about her. And this application of Philosophy to civil affairs is properly represented, and according to the true order of things, as subsequent to the diligent trial and final frustration of the experiment of restoring the dead body to life. For true it is that the clearer recognition of the inevitable necessity of death sets men upon seeking immortality by merit and renown. Also it is wisely added in the story, that Orpheus was averse from women and from marriage; for the sweets of marriage and the dearness of children commonly draw men away from performing great and lofty services to the commonwealth; being content to be perpetuated in their race and stock, and not in their deeds.

But howsoever the works of wisdom are among human things the most excellent, yet they too have their periods and closes. For so it is that after kingdoms and commonwealths have flourished for a time, there arise perturbations and seditions and wars; amid the uproars of which, first the laws are put to silence, and then men return to the depraved conditions of their nature, and desolation is seen in the fields and cities. And if such troubles last, it is not long before letters also and philosophy are so torn in pieces that no traces of them can be found but a few fragments, scattered here and there like planks from a shipwreck; and then a season of barbarism sets in, the waters of Helicon being sunk under the ground, until, according to the appointed vicissitude of things, they break out and issue forth again, perhaps among other nations, and not in the places where they were before.”

Francis Bacon
Of the Wisdom of the Ancients
1857

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Closer Contact with Classical Sources

Apollo and the Artist, Cy Towmbly, 1975

 

Cy Twombly‘s move to Gaeta in Southern Italy in 1957 gave him closer contact with classical sources. From 1961 to 1963 mythological motifs appear with increasing insistence: Leda and the Swan, Venus, Apollo, Achilles. This line of investigation culminated in 1963 with a series of works called Nine Discourses on Commodus, an obscure portrait of the megalomaniacal Roman emperor conceived while Twombly was reading the French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet and looking at the paintings of Francis Bacon. These works were shown at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964, to a New York art world which had by then turned to Pop and Minimalism. Following this exhibition, Twombly’s American enthusiasm ebbed for a number of years. The situation was quite different in Europe, where his work remained a critical success. Nevertheless, the Commodus exhibition represents a crucial moment of rupture in the artist’s career, for, as he commented, it made him ‘the happiest painter around for a couple of years: no one gave a damn what I did’.

Giving Birth to a New Race

“The nexus of Born This Way and the soul of the record reside in this idea that you were not necessarily born in one moment. You have your entire life to birth yourself into becoming the ultimate potential vision that you see for you. Who you are when you come out of your mother’s womb is not necessarily who you will become. Born This Way says your birth is not finite, your birth is infinite.”

Lady Gaga
(talking about the meaning of Born This Way)

 
 

 
 

The first song written and recorded for the album was the title track itself which she wrote in Liverpool and Manchester, England, described by Lady Gaga as a “magical message” song. She wrote it in ten minutes and compared the process to an Immaculate Conception.

“I want to write my this-is-who-the-fuck-I-am anthem, but I don’t want it to be hidden in poetic wizardry and metaphors. I want it to be an attack, an assault on the issue because I think, especially in today’s music, everything gets kind of washy sometimes and the message gets hidden in the lyrical play. Hankering back to the early ’90s, when Madonna, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and TLC were making very empowering music for women and the gay community and all kind of disenfranchised communities, the lyrics and the melodies were very poignant and very gospel and very spiritual and I said, ‘That’s the kind of record I need to make. That’s the record that’s going to shake up the industry.’ It’s not about the track. It’s not about the production. It’s about the song. Anyone could sing Born This Way. It could’ve been anyone.”

Nick Knight directed the accompanying music video, which was inspired by painters like Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon and their surrealistic images. Gaga is depicted as giving birth to a new race during a prologue. A series of dance sequences later, the video concludes with the view of a city populated by this race. Critics noted cultural references to the work of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Björk, late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, as well as to Greek mythology, magical realism and surrealism.

Laurieann Gibson explained the inspiration behind the video to MTV News:
“When she played it for me, it took me a while to find out the visual interpretation that I could give back to her. And so I woke up one night and I got it, and I said, ‘I got it: We have to birth a new race.’ From the gate, Gaga was like, ‘I want Nick Knight for this video. I want a visual.’ She was always birthing something visual in her head, and Nick Knight is just, well, he’s prolific but he’s so genius. It was about pushing the bar of what a music video should be and can be. […] It’s a different time; it’s a different era; there are no limits. It is a viral message. I think that there’s something in there for everyone, and that’s what’s so amazing about the video and so specific about the message.”

Released on Monday, February 28, 2011, the video begins with a brief shot of a unicorn’s silhouette in a steam-filled alley, inside a pink triangle frame. The triangle transitions to a shot of Gaga, with two opposite facing heads, inspired by Janus, the Roman god of transition and beginnings, sitting in an ornate glass throne amidst a star-filled space. As Bernard Herrmann‘s prelude to the movie Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) plays, Gaga tells the story of the creation of an extraterrestrial race that “bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom.” Gaga sits in the throne, giving birth to a “new race within the race of humanity.” She explains that this was followed by the birth of evil, due to which Gaga splits into two opposing forces of good and evil. Her new half gives birth to a machine gun and fires it. The prologue concludes with Gaga questioning, “How can I protect something so perfect, without evil?”

 
 

 
 

The video featured full-bodied tattooed model Rick Genest (Rico), better known by his stage name Zombie Boy. Gaga painted her face in a similar way to Genest, in one of the main series of sequences. She said that the sequences displayed the fact that she would not allow society or critics to dictate her sense of beauty. “I tell you what I think is beauty, and hence the scene was of me and Rico defining ourselves in artistic way and not relying on society to dictate it,” she added. The costumes for the video were designed by Nicola Formichetti, who blogged about the various designer pieces shown in it. In the opening sequence of the video, Gaga wore a head accessory by Alexis Bittar, a diamond neckpiece by Erickson Beamon with earrings by Pamela Love, and a stained-glass dress by Petra Storrs. Finger rings were provided by Erickson Beamon and chiffon clothes by Thierry Mugler. For the skeletons sequences, both she and Rico wore tuxedos by Mugler while the slime during the orgy scenes were courtesy of Bart Hess. For her Michael Jackson impression in the alley at the video’s end, Gaga wore shirt and pants by Haus of Gaga, shoes by Natacha Marro, a Billykirk belt and LaCrasia gloves.

The Artistic Side of Death

View of a Skull, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1489

 
 

Saint Francis in Meditation, Caravaggio, 1605

 
 

Skull, Albrecht Dürer, 1521

 
 

La Calavera Catrina (Dapper Skeleton or Elegant Skull), José Guadalupe Posada, 1910-1913.

Much memento mori art is associated with the Mexican festival Day of the Dead, including skull-shaped candies and bread loaves adorned with bread “bones.”

 
 

Self-portrait With Death Playing the Fiddle, Arnold Böcklin, 1872

 
 

Engraving by M.C. Escher, 1919

 
 

Untitled-Death Outside the Head-Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, 1933

 
 

Head with Broken Pot, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1942

 
 

Sin esperanza (Without Hope), Frida Kahlo, 1945

 
 

Detail of Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, Diego Rivera, 1946-1947

 
 

Three Study Portraits of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon

 
 

Artwork by Sergio Toppi

 
 

Drawings by Edward Gorey

 
 

Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, Robert Colescott, 1986

 
 

Riding with Death, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

 
 

Black Kites, Gabriel Orozco, 1997

 
 

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst, 1997

 
 

The Orientalist, Walton Ford, 1999

 
 

Painting by Pascal Vilcollet

 
 

Confetti Death, Typoe, 2010

The Many Faces of Pascal Vilcollet

Born in Paris, 1979, Pascal Vilcollet studied graphic design and taught himself to paint at age 16. “Fortunately, there was not much to do in my suburb. I discovered very early, museum galleries; it is there that I knew I would be painting later”.
 
He paints mostly for his own satisfaction. Portrait is his favorite motif, “it can be my obsession”. He doesn’t look for creating an effect; he said he paints to lighten a weight. He’s not interested in realism, pure figuration or hyper realism, rather than the border between reality and abstraction.
 
Vilcollet claims to have very eclectic tastes. He appreciates enormously Pierre Soulage and respects the artists that, in his opinion, represented their era: Caravaggio, Diego Velázquez, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko or contemporaries like Lucien Freud, Murakami, Justin Mortimer or Jenny Saville.
 
He spoke about his icons, mostly characters he feels fascination for because he either admires them. Taking advantage of real graphic representations, he fragments them and then reconstructs them, giving us a new insight into a psychological portrait. Pascal Vilcollet’s brush is the dynamic extension of his body while he is in action.

 
 

Pablo Picasso

 
 

Andy Warhol

 
 

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

 
 

Takashi Murakami

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Karl Lagerfeld

 
 

John Lennon

 
 

Mick Jagger

 
 

Bruce Lee

 
 

Al Pacino (as Michael Corleone)

 
 

Woody Allen

 
 

David Lynch

 
 

Steve McQueen

 
 

Grace Kelly

 
 

Elizabeth Taylor

 
 

Jane Birkin

 
 

Nicole Kidman

 
 

Natalie Portman

 
 

Kate Moss

 
 

Angelina Jolie

 
 

Monica Bellucci