Jo's Sing-Along Blog

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Non-Western: The Ishtar Gate

I took these pictures in 2007 at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

I personally consider the Ishtar Gate to be one of the most amazing pieces of architecture in the entire world. I’ve adored it since early childhood, I visited the gate while living in Germany, and I even have a copy of one of the dragons tattooed onto my wrist.

The gate was built around 575 BC by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, one of eight to the inner city of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar II built it in an effort to beautify his capital and as a tribute to the goddess Ishtar. The base of the wall was first excavated by the German archaeologist Robert Koldewey in 1902, and the bricks he uncovered during the excavation have been used to reconstruct the wall in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. The giant blue gate is covered in bas-reliefs (dragons, lions, and aurochs) and opens to the Processional Way—a long road bordered by walls that match the gate—which was used in ceremonies and other important events.

The Ishtar Gate is absolutely amazing to behold! The entire gate almost glows—it’s a brilliant glazed blue with white flowers and amazingly detailed bas-relief creatures. One of the creatures is particularly fascinating to me because of the mystery surrounding it: the sirrush/mushhushshu, or dragon. The significance of the dragon has been debated since before the gate was recovered. In some ancient text, including books which did not make it into the modern Bible, the mushhushshu was actually a living create which Nebuchadnezzar II actually kept and forced his people to worship as a living god. Cryptozoologists are particularly encouraged in this possibility by its depiction among known animals. Other scholars assert that the mushhushshu is merely a symbol of the Babylonian god Marduk and was meant as a symbol of divine protection. One of the most interesting hypotheses asserts that the Babylonians got the idea for the mushhushshu from equatorial Africa. It is said that the Congo is home to a dragon known in the region as Mokele-Mbembe. It is believed by some that the Babylonians not only saw this legendary creature of Africa but also captured one and brought it back to the city of Babylon where it was kept in the temple under the command of Nebuchadnezzar II.

I love everything about this gate. It’s beautiful and imposing and has an absolutely fascinating history!

Works Consulted


November 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Non-Western: Ming Dynasty

Jar, Ming Dynasty, Xuande mark and period (1426-1435) China

The kilns of the Jinagxi Province and Jingdezhen were exceptionally important during the Ming dynasty and much of the pottery of this time period we are familiar with today was produced in these areas. Pottery of this era is particularly fascinating because it represents the fusion of traditional technique with influence from the western regions of Asia. As trade increased between China and the western areas of the continent this relationship became more evident in artistic representation. The use of blue and white colors on pottery is a demonstration of increased contact and influence from the Islamic regions of western Asia. At the same time the brushstrokes and subject matter of Jar remain traditional; including the name of the emperor (a trademark of the time).

I’m fond of this particular piece of Ming Pottery for several reasons. The dragon depicted on the jar is fluid and elegant, and at the same time a very strong and powerful figure. The detail depicted in Jar is amazing and expresses a need for extreme refinement on the part of the artist. Additionally, I’m fascinated by the influence other cultures had on Ming art works and the other cultures in general. This is a great example of our interconnectedness.


November 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Contemporary Virtual Exhibit

Art has often been used to express social criticisms; concerning war and the importance/influences of tradition and many other social aspects. In more recent years social criticisms have come to focus on the development of a corporate society and advances in technology; the extent to which corporations, technology and money influence society have been the subject matter of many artists’ works. These criticisms have been expressed through various forms of artistic medium and can be quite paradoxical–intentionally.

Repo: The Genetic Opera is a twist on several classical styles. It was written and composed by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. The film adaptation incorporates aspects of opera, drama, musical, graphic novel and theatre. The core theme of this modern Goth chic piece is the concept of captivity and longing for freedom. The story follows the lives of several individuals who all experience captivity to some degree and who represent the greater captivity of society to the ominous Gene Co.—a company previously praised for saving humanity after a devastating organ failure epidemic. All the characters are linked to Gene Co. and all of their misfortunes can be linked to the company’s founder. Repo examines the influences massive corporations have on society, from the effects they have on government policy, social norms and even the concepts of aesthetics. Ultimately in Repo the world is at the mercy of this major corporation which dictates all aspects of everyday life and even has the legal authority to kill (Repo men are essentially legal assassins that reclaim organs for the company). The piece invites the audience to examine this hyperbolized reality and to think critically about the current state of affairs. I personally adore this work! The music is brilliant (Sarah Brightman is fabulous in this film), the story is exciting and critical and the visuals are absolutely stunning. The piece in general is very witty and cynical.
Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008)

Gerald Laing was a well known Pop Artist in the 1960s and is now reviving the style in response to the war in Iraq. His piece Repetition, which resides in the Sims Reed Gallery, depicts Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup can image above a field of soldiers. His piece criticizes the capitalistic nature of modern war which views soldiers as assets or commodities as opposed to living individuals.

Gerald Laing Repetition (2005)

Mika is a pop artist known for his extraordinary vocal range. Several of his songs are criticisms of current social trends. “Grace Kelly” is a criticism of the music industry which commonly requires artists to “reinvent” themselves. This results in an identity crafted by the music industry and doesn’t actually portray the artists beliefs/ideas/etc. In this song Mika challenges the conflict between industry and personal identity and encourages the audience to think about the influence such industries have on us in regards to personal thought. Similarly, Mika’s song “Big Girl (You are Beautiful)” challenges the common social perception that glamorizes skinniness. Mika’s music is both thought provoking and easy to listen to. His vocal range is quite impressive and his personal style of blending classical rock and pop music is ingenious!
Mika “Grace Kelly” (2007)
Mika “Big Girl (You are Beautiful)” (2007)

BioArt is a very new style of art combining scientific methodology with artistic representation. It is generally restricted to living creations/manipulations, but can include non-animate subjects. It tends to question the extent to which our society manipulates the living world around us and the ethics of such actions.

Eduardo Kac is a world famous Bio-artist who works mostly with genetics and biotechnology. Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he now lives in Chicago. One of Kac’s most fascinating pieces is entitled Time Capsule. For this piece Kac had a microchip implanted in ankle—the part of the body commonly branded on slaves. This work was meant to encourage people to consider the affiliation they have with technology. Another work which encourages such personal reflection is entitled Teleporting an Unknown State and consists of a plant grown in a dark room with light that has been channeled around the globe through the internet.

Eduardo Kac Teleporting an Unknown State (1994/1996)

Eduardo Kac Time Capsule (1997)


November 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Early Modern: Dorothea Lange

Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937

Dorothea Lange was an amazing photographer who captured both beautifully artistic and journalistically informative photographs. Her photograph Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937 is a prime example. In the picture two migrant workers are depicted hiking to California along a dusty, empty road, alongside which can be seen a billboard with the phrase “Next time try the train. Relax”, above an illustration of a man in a reclining chair (Yahoo! Inc.). She captures the hardships of the Great Depression so artistically and yet realistically in this photograph. The contrast between the two focuses of the photograph—the migrant workers walking all the way to California and the billboard advertising comfort—play off of each other so well. Her photograph is almost satirical in this way; the billboard is almost a sick joke as the men face an empty country still yet to cross on foot in the hope of actually finding some comfort at the end of their journey.

Lange’s photograph Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937 was actually photographed under the employment of the Farm Security Administration in March of 1937 (Yahoo! Inc.). Her intentions were specifically to highlight the misfortunes of migrants and Americans during the Great Depression, in the hope of encouraging others to try and improve the awful conditions of the 1930s (Library of Congress). I think Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937 is wonderfully done and inspiring.

I personally appreciate the somewhat dark humor associated with this photograph because it so effectively gets across the idea of desperation. These people have no option other than to walk to California because things are really that bad. I’m also drawn to this photograph in particular because the scenery reminds me of the stories my grandparents told me about their experiences during the Great Depression and the photographs they took themselves at the time as well. Having heard their stories makes Lange’s picture even more amazing to me.


Library of Congress. (2009). Dorothea Lange.

Yahoo! Inc. (2009). Dorothea Lange: Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937.


November 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Thoughts on Impressionism

I personally am fond of the Impressionist style, and particularly the paintings of nature. I appreciate the vibrant colors and loose brush strokes characteristic of the Impressionist style and their almost-optical-illusion effect. I’m always impressed with painters who can portray water and glass effectively, though in this case water is the main focus. Claude Monet was brilliant at painting water and his Water lilies at Giverny collection is an absolutely stunning example of this. The paintings (they are numerous) were done at his private garden in Giverny, France, and depict various sense of the lily pond there. When you look at the paintings up close they appear simply as smudges of color; however, when you step back you see a beautiful pond. By using such loose brush strokes and abundant color Monet captures the life and spirit of water so profoundly. And while it doesn’t appear as a photographic representation of water it feels like water.

Monet: Water Lilies (1914)

Monet: Water Lilies (The Clouds) (1903)

I also enjoy the pleasant subject matter of Impressionism. Its focus on moments and enjoyable activities makes it easier to understand and relaxing. One of my favorite pieces of Impressionist art that exemplifies this is Renoir’s Dance at Bougival (1883 presumably in Bougival, France). This is such a contrast to previous art styles which tended to focus on more serious and dramatic subject matter such as religious doctrine and classical history, and utilized symbolisms frequently, as for example in Botticelli’s Primavera (1480/82 Florence).

Renoir: Dance at Bougival (1883)

Botticelli: Primavera (1480/82)

I tend to link Romanticism and Impressionism in my mind because of the expression of light in the nature paintings and the moment captured within in them as well. For example, look at Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (1836 USA) and Monet’s Sunset at Lavacourt (1880, France) side by side. Although the techniques used in the two are very different, both emphasize a moment in natural phenomena and use light variation to emphasize it.

Thomas Cole: View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (1836)

Monet: Sunset at Lavacourt (1880)

Ultimately I like Impressionism, although I don’t necessarily favor it above other artistic styles.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Classical Opera

Orfeo ed Euridice (Orpheus and Eurydice), first performed in Vienna, 1762, is one of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s most popular operas and the first in a series of “reform” operas that Gluck composed.

The opera concerns the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, the protagonist, is horribly grieved over the loss of his beloved wife Eurydice. Cupid allows him to journey to the Underworld to retrieve her under the condition that he not look upon her until they have returned to the living earth. Eurydice, who cannot get Orpheus to look at her, is convinced that her husband no longer loves her and elects to stay behind in the Underworld, deciding death is preferable. Orpheus is moved to look at his wife who immediately dies again; he is than convinced that he must kill himself in order to be with Eurydice. Cupid is moved by Orpheus’ love, however, and stops him in addition to returning Eurydice to life.

Gluck’s “reform” operas were meant to reform the rather complicated opera seria style. His operas had significantly simpler plots and musical compositions, making them easier to understand and follow along with. He eliminated confusing subplots and shortened musical pieces. Orfeo ed Euridice expresses a significant connection to the rise of the middle class during the Classical era. While the reforms to the opera seria style expressed in Orfeo ed Euridice would have had a broader public appeal (the middle class demanded opera that they could understand and become involved in), it’s more significant connection to the rise of the middle class is the influence it had on other important composers of the Classical era, such as Mozart and Wagner (Orfeo ed Euridice). Gluck’s “reform” operas inspired other composers to develop more simplified musical compositions and to create the musical pieces that characterize the Classical era and symbolized the rise of the middle class.

The following is a clip of Orpheus’ aria “Che faro senza Euridice?” (“What I will do without Euridice?”) from the third act, wherein Orpheus contemplates his existence without Eurydice and decides to commit suicide. It is commonly sung by women, I should note. This is a particularly beautiful aria, I think. It is simple and short but also very moving. I am fond of this opera for several reasons. The story is interesting and indeed easy to follow along with, even if you don’t speak Italian. There is also considerably more ballet in this opera—another feature of Gluck’s reform efforts—and shorter pieces, which makes the opera more recognizable. The singing talents are also quite amazing.

Orfeo ed Euridice.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Baroque Era Art

Girl with a Pearl Earring was painted by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer circa 1665, presumably in Delft. Apart from being a magnificent specimen of Baroque art in terms of composition, style and subject matter, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is also a wonderful representation of the rise of the merchant class in Holland—and Europe in general. The Baroque ear witnessed a remarkable ascension of the middle/merchant class of Europe. Trade flourished and money poured into the pockets of the merchant public. Eastern furnished products became popular in Holland and all over Europe (Grisham). Silks and Eastern fashion increased in popularity and became integrated into European mode (Janson). This trend is evident in Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring; the young woman depicted is wearing an Eastern style turban in addition to her customary Dutch dress. She has integrated the two cultural styles, prominent of the Baroque ear; a practice made possible by the rise of the merchant class (“Jan Vermeer.”).

I’m particularly fond of this painting because it is incredibly lively and expressive, while at the same time a bit subdued and very calming. Vermeer was very successful—in my opinion—in portraying action in Girl with a Pearl Earring. Whenever I see this painting I feel as though the young woman depicted has actually just turned to look at me. I’m always very impressed when an artist is able to capture such intimate action in oil paint. Additionally, the woman’s facial features look so real—it blows me away. Her lips and eyes actually look shiny and moist, very life like.


Grisham, Kathleen. “Fast Facts.” Dutch Baroque.
Janson, Jonathan. “The Turban.” The Girl with a Pearl Earring.
“Jan Vermeer.” Dutch Baroque.

Picture: (Google image search)

October 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Renaissance Art

Noli me tangere is an absolutely amazing oil painting done by the German Northern Renaissance artist Hans Holbein the Younger between 1532 and 1533.  This piece is particularly fascinating because it is one of the few Protestant depictions of Christ in the visual arts during this time.  This is due majorly to the dawn of the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe during the 16th century.  The Protestant Reformation was a religious movement meant to reform the Catholic Church and is generally considered to have begun with Martin Luther’s publicizing of his 95 Theses in 1517—which was a public criticism of several doctrines of the Church and the sale of indulgences in particular (Protestant Reformation.).  During this time the visual arts experienced a significant shift in style and subject matter.  Iconoclasm was rampant in the northern countries and a general stigma toward religious subject matter in the visual arts developed.  Portraiture became mode and a more naturalistic style of art began to flourish (Naturalism (arts).).  

This new style and public mentality is quite evident in Holbein’s aforementioned piece.  Holbein refrains from using the iconic elements in his depiction of Christ that were common of the Italian Renaissance and a reflection of Catholic doctrine.  For example, his Christ lacks a halo, or a ring of light about the head, which commonly signified the holy nature of an individual in Italian Renaissance art (The Reformation and art.).  Additionally, Noli me tangere is painted in a far more naturalistic manner than humanist (the style popular in Italy).  Much attention is given to detail and the prominent figures of the painting (Christ, on the left, and Mary Magdalene, on the right) are very individualistic (Noli me tangere.).  They’re faces are incredibly expressive and life like.  Holbein’s piece is also quite small—a dramatic difference between Northern and Italian Renaissance art during the time of the Reformation.  Italian Renaissance art tended to be quite massive, covering entire walls and ceilings, whereas visual arts during the Reformation began to decrease in size. 

I am particularly fond of Holbein’s Noli me tangere because of its extraordinary attention to detail and its life-like figures.  If you look closely at the bottom of the oil painting you can see individual blades of grass that Holbein painted into the hill and even Christ’s and Mary Magdalene’s toenails!  Considering the relatively small size of the painting (76.1×95.2 cm), this must have been quite tricky to accomplish.  The figures of Christ and Mary Magdalene are also incredibly life like.  They’re robs actually look soft and their skin looks alive.  One is able to experience the intensity of the moment between these two figures (Mary has just discovered Jesus alive after being crucified) because of this amazing attention to detail on Holbein’s part in painting their expressions.  Mary truly looks shocked, and one can actually see her eyes bulge slightly at the sight of Jesus.     

References Cited:
Naturalism (arts). 2009. 16 Sept. 2009
Noli me tangere. 2009. 16 Sept. 2009
Protestant Reformation. 2009. 16 Sept. 2009
The Reformation and art. 2009. 16 Sept. 2009

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

It begins….

So here it is: my first post on my first ever Blog! 


Jo Chen is one of my absolute favorite graphic novel artists — she has an amazing talent of capturing life and expressing it in pen and ink.  She has been involved in the comic industry since the age of 14 and has worked most notably for D.C. Comics and Dark Horse Comics producing cover art for The Runaways and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I’m particularly fond of Jo Chen because she has a talent of making pen and ink appear as paint, which is a difficult task.  Additionally, her art is always so full of action and movement, even though it’s confined to the second dimension of the page.  She’s a very imaginative women and always produces unique and fun work.  I’m constantly amazed by her ability to perfectly capture the essence of my favorite written characters and express them as images. 

I adore Jo Chen’s cover Art!  She’s brilliant!!!!

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment