Dec 21, 2011

74 Years Ago Today


I know that Christmas is right around the corner, but I just saw on a different blog that today is the 74th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I only just saw the film in its entirety this past year, and it was quite an experience. Now, it's true, the story is cheesy and saccharine, a lot of the animation is rotoscoped, and there are some really slow parts. However, the modern eye should overlook those seeming faults and be able to recognize how big of a deal Snow White really was. The only slight analogy we have today is Toy Story--a film that many people doubted would be successful. "No one will watch 3D characters for a full 90 minutes on screen!" For Walt Disney, it was even more extreme; animation as a medium had never been tested outside of goofy shorts. Even more so, it had never been used to tell a dramatic story.

However, Disney went with his gut, and the film became a massive, massive success. My grandpa told me a few months ago about going to see it when he was a kid. He mentioned how his Uncle George (my great-great uncle) absolutely loved it. Funny how it's considered now to be not just a kids' movie, but a little girls' movie. Back then, it was for all ages. The film cost about $1.5 million to make and grossed almost $67 million, showing the world that animated films could compete and giving Walt Disney the capital to build an entire new studio. The current Walt Disney Studios, while substantially renovated since that time, are at that same location today.

Neil Gabler, in his excellent biography "Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination," goes to great length in describing the idea, production process, and release of Snow White. I'd definitely recommend either going to your local library or buying a copy.

I love Walt Disney and his philosophy of film for a similar reason that I love Jim Henson. Both felt that they could utilize their chosen mediums to influence people--especially children--in a positive way. I leave you then with statements from both men, saying effectively the same thing, and showing, at least to some extent, why their works still affect us the way that they do:

Disney:
“Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood."


Henson:
"At some point in my life I decided, rightly or wrongly, that there are many situations in this life that I can't do much about - acts of terrorism, feelings of nationalistic prejudice, cold war, etc. - so what I should do is concentrate on the situations that my energy can affect. I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way."

Dec 5, 2011

I Live On Sesame Street

Emily and I went to go see "The Muppets" last week (it's a fun movie; you should see it) at a local movie theater in the neighborhood where we now live. It's a totally community-oriented place and is reasonably priced to boot, so we were pretty excited. Emily has been saying for weeks that we live on Sesame Street, but without eight-foot-tall, yellow, preschool-aged birds walking around, I couldn't fully agree.

Imagine, then, my ecstasy when ahead of us in the line we made out what appeared to be that very same felt frog that made Jason Segel cry and makes America's collective heart flutter.


Sure enough, it was Kermit! He was chatting with fans as they bought their tickets. We got ours and had a few words with him. I didn't know what to say; I was starstruck.


We were a little late to the movie, and, worrying that there would be a lot of people there and no seats (everyone ahead of us had bought tickets to the same movie), I went to get popcorn while she grabbed a spot in the theater. The concessions were right by the tickets, so as I waited, I watched other people interact with Kermit. Some just ignored him, but most had kind of a cute little interaction. Then a little a girl walked up to him.

"Kermin! Kermin!" she yelled (adorably mispronouncing his name). He looked down and said hello.

"What's your name?"

"Angela" she said shyly. They spoke for a minute or two--her telling him about her school and her family--and then her mom started to pull her away.


"Bye, Kermin!" she hollered, "Bye!"

"Bye, Angela!" he responded.


Then she got really serious and looked right at him. "I love you."

Without missing a beat, Kermit said "I love you too, Angela."

That's when my heart melted.


Emily is totally right. We do live on Sesame Street.

Nov 28, 2011

Thanksgiving!

So, happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone! This year was the first as a married couple, so Emily got to experience and endure the ten hour marathon that is the Sauerman family Thanksgiving.

Highlights of the day included:

Uncle Don--who is still flammable--and his pants falling down,



my cousin's suicidally terrified cat (I didn't see this one; only heard about it),



My cousin's grandpa's now racist terms during Scattergories (it's not 1952 anymore!),



and me getting BOTH the drumsticks. No one else wanted them!



Hope you all had a fun, delicious, tryptophan-stupor-inducing Thanksgiving!

And yes, I wore a sweater vest.

Nov 7, 2011

I'm Back, With Another Big Cat! And other stuff!

Of course I am. Sorry, I've been gone for a while. Been busy getting married and stuff. Yay for that. Maybe I'll do a little illustratin' later about it

Here's a snow leopard that I did on real paper instead of on the new-fangled computer gizmo that's all the rage with the kids these days.


I've also been somewhat religiously listening to Nickel Creek, and loving their song "The Fox." I decided to do a few illustrations for it in my notebook (watercolor!):


Also, just working on either a zebra or a quagga. Not sure, which is why it isn't finished. I was thinking it would be an angel quagga looking at an angel dodo. Poor extinct animals...

Oct 5, 2011

How About A Little Motivation?

I get pretty cynical about motivational quotes and posters and things, mostly because I don't think the person who expresses the sentiment has any idea of the context of it. For example, I recently saw someone use a quote from Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame about love. It was a nice little statement, but I doubt that the friend has any idea that (spoiler!) in the book, Quasimodo, the hunchback, dies (starvation), as does the love interest, Esmerelda (hanged), and the villain, Frollo (thrown from the top of the cathedral). It's a tragic story of unrequited love in the face of physical deformity, Church law, and different ethnicities. Using a quote from it for your marriage isn't bad, per se, but it seems somehow...unadvised?

Here, on the other hand is a good motivational poster that made me laugh, courtesy of S.T. Lewis:

Sep 29, 2011

Prohibition

I love Ken Burns and his documentaries. Ever since I was a kid and watched The Civil War with my dad, I've been hooked. As many critics say, he has the ability to take otherwise complex and inaccessible history and turn it into something fascinating. Some say he makes things seem too simplistic. Well, that's a critique that can be leveled against any documentarian. You only have so much time that an audience will grant you. With the time that he has, Ken Burns makes people who don't like history absolutely love it.

That's why I can't wait for his new documentary, which will be showing on PBS starting this Sunday. It's on that great American experiment, Prohibition. So, go grab a tumbler, make yourself an Old Fashioned, and enjoy the featurette with great anticipation:

Sep 26, 2011

Pardon the Changes

Apologies for the drastic changes to my blog. I've been battling Blogger's new interface for the last few days, and thus far, I seem to be losing. Hopefully it'll have more of a semblance of something readable soon.

Sep 23, 2011

Jim Henson's Birthday

Tomorrow, I learned from Google, is the 75th birthday of the great Jim Henson.



Of course, I've written before about how inspiring Jim Henson has been to me. It's amazing to think that he'd only be 75 tomorrow. The last twenty years could've really been something for the Muppets. Maybe, however, it was his time. Maybe he left at the top of his game. I don't know. That's a bit too metaphysical for me.

Henson is such an inspiration because of his wild creativity. He never stood still, he never stopped imagining new creatures, new sketches, new characters. He continued to grow in his craft (go check out The Dark Crystal to see how advanced his puppetry had become by the end of his career). He also continued to explore other crafts--surrealism, animation, painting. Puppetry was only part of the big world of art, and the Muppets were only a part of the big world of puppetry.

I saw a video recently (I think through Drawn!, the illustration blog) about the collaboration between Jim Henson and Frank Oz. It doesn't have any narration, only interviews with Jim, Frank, and others, and clips from the various projects they worked on together. Though Frank seems to always try to give Jim sole credit for everything, the two really were one of those incredible corroborations that will be remembered for a long time to come, on the order of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, or Gilbert and Sullivan. Kermit wouldn't be complete without Miss Piggy. Ernie wouldn't be complete without Bert, and the Swedish Chef wouldn't be complete without...uh...hands. Here it is, in memory of Jim Henson, whose Muppets continue to entertain us on the silver screen, on YouTube, at Walt Disney World, and in innumerable other places.

Happy Birthday, Jim!

Sep 22, 2011

Lion Drawing

I promise that at some point I will stop drawing big cats.  I promise I have more to my repertoire.  They're just so fun.

I spent the day at the zoo, sketching animals.  The gorillas were having a good time, so I might do something with one of them.  Or maybe a rhinoceros or a giraffe.  Or, maybe a leopard becau--doh!  No, not a leopard.

Well, maybe a leopard.



Sep 15, 2011

Yet Another Cheetah Drawing

Been working on some drawings. They're of cheetahs, which is a surprise to no one.  I've been once again practicing light and shadow, so here's an example.  I also had a little fun with depth-of-field in the background.  I need more work on that kind of thing, but there you go.


Cheetah Run!

So, I've basically been rotoscoping a clip of a young cheetah hunting a gazelle. It's a really fascinating way to see how these animals move when they are running.

Here are the two clips:


video

video

Sep 7, 2011

Finally!

So, I try not to blog much these days about anything beyond animation and puppets and whatever, because those are things that I actually enjoy and that don't stress me out, but sometimes things come along that deserve a mention. I've whined about how much opposition responses to presidential addresses peeve me off before. Now, apparently, the Republicans in Congress have decided not to give one for President Obama's jobs speech tomorrow. Finally! But Nancy Pelosi isn't happy, because according to her, it more demeans the office of the President not to give a petulant rebuttal than to let him have the floor and exercise a traditional role of the office. Sheesh. Can't win for losing...

Aug 23, 2011

Another Thing Dealing With Animation and Big Cats

Just downloaded the trial version of DigiCel Flipbook. Kinda fun. I made a lion jump (though, as you can see, ran out of room on the landing!). The timing is a little fast, but I'm still working on figuring out the product. Now, if I could only find out how to add frames...


video

Aug 13, 2011

They're Coming



OK, all you right-handed yokels. Today is the day that you will all regret being 90% of the population. Today is the day that you'll regret being less prone to accident-related injuries. Today is the day that we, the lefties of the world, celebrate our sinistrality, for today, August 13, is International Left-Handers Day.

We will not cease. We will not relent. We will spread, and grow. We already have the leader of the free world. We also have the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and will soon have the leader of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms. We lurk among you, so beware.

Lefties of the world--UNITE!

Aug 2, 2011

Did You Know That Kermit and Mickey Mouse Are BFFs?

I had heard of the 1990 TV Special "The Muppets at Walt Disney World" before, but I had never seen it, until today. It has classic Muppetisms (Charles Grodin to Rizzo: "You know, you're smarter than the average rat." Rizzo to Charles Grodin: "Well, that's good, because you're dumber than the average human.") and the wonder of Disney COMBINED. Look out for a cameo from Raven-Symone (popular as a kid in The Cosby Show at the time) and for Stadtler and Waldorf serenading an old grandma while riding a trolley through the Magic Kingdom.

Those who know anything about Disney World will notice that they break into MGM Studios but manage to get themselves all over the different parks and hotels. Miss Piggy and Beauregard go looking for the Disney remake of Grauman's Chinese Theater in MGM but find themselves inexplicably in the Magic Kingdom instead.











Aug 1, 2011

Random Sketches!

While cleaning out some old notebooks from work, I discovered a bunch of sketches that I had done during meetings and trials, a few of which I share here:

Cheetah and gazelle

Hyena

Shakespeare

Zombie elf

Gorillas

Furry and unicorn, inspired by the Bristol Renaissance Faire last summer. Even unicorns would be freaked out by people who get their kicks by dressing up as anthropomorphized animals, right?

Jesus, from an early sketch for a Bible study my aunt was publishing.

Jul 10, 2011

Shere Khan

So, Milt Kahl was one of the most awesome animators ever, part of the famed Nine Old Men of Disney lore. Today, he's known both for being an incredible draftsman (many of the most famous Disney animated films' characters bear his marks--Robin Hood, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians) and for having been a sometimes difficult character to have worked with. He had high standards and expected a lot from his colleagues. So, good for him.

I've copied a lot of stuff from him before, but mostly by individual drawings. For example, he's famous for having been able to draw uber-expressive hands:

My favorite Milt Kahl character, by far, is Shere Khan, the villainous tiger of The Jungle Book. Of course, I'm biased in favor of big cats simply because I think they're so cool. But Shere Khan, in character, in design, and in animation, is brilliantly done. He's a consummate gentleman, though twisted and vengeful. He's graceful but strong, evil but controlled. When my roommate saw a video clip of the tiger he said "He's so gentrified!"

It's true. I mean, who else could so brilliantly handle Kaa, the python:



Or give Mowgli a 'sporting chance' before being devoured:



I decided to try to do a little pencil test, totally robbing a series of images from Frank and Ollie's "The Illusion of Life" (p356-357). Like I said before, using others' art for education and inspiration is great. Copy, copy, copy!


video

Jul 7, 2011

History of English in Ten Minutes

So, English is really cool, right? I mean, I also hated doing worksheet after worksheet on gerunds and participles and non-dangling modifiers, but when push comes to shove, English has a wicked awesome story. It's like someone took a bunch of disparate items--a peach, a radiator, and Gary Coleman, say--and discovered that they actually go really well together.*

Here's a series of animations on the history of the English language (worth watching the playlist in its entirety!).





















*I actually don't think those three things would go well together, but neither would I think Old Norse, French, Latin, Shakespeare, and a bunch of other crap would result in a cool language.

Jul 6, 2011

I'm Back, With Math Jokes

Hello, blogosphere. I haven't seen you in a while. I've been cavorting around these United States for the past few weeks. Maybe I'll update on that, if I remember/have time? The first post after a while is always awkward, because you feel like you need to write something totally epic.

I'm not even going to try.

Instead, I will post an email chain that I exchanged with a friend of mine:

From: [Friend]
To: [Me]
Subject: I want your address

You will hand it over or I will send a waveform of hyperbolic ninjas at you.
______________________________

From: [Me]
To: [Friend]
Subject: Re: I want your address. OK!

I have one house in the real plane (\mathbb{R}^3) and one on the Riemann Sphere, but the directions to that one might be a little complex.

The real-valued address is:

Grand Marquis Joshua Sauerman KG, GCMG, LVO, KStJ
[address withheld]

Oh, wait. That's the imaginary-valued name. The real one should just read "Josh Sauerman". I'd lose my head if it weren't screwed on.
______________________________

From: [Friend]
To: [Me]
Subject: Re: I want your address. OK!

Thank you, Grand Marquis Sauerman.

You are too funny, let's be friends. Some people collect bottle caps. I collect bipedal humor spigots.
______________________________

From: [Me]
To: [Friend]
Subject: Re: I want your address. OK!

Friends it is! Keep me around and your spigot will gush forth milk and honey at a rate of  v = - \frac{1}{4 \eta} \frac{\Delta P}{\Delta x} (R^2 - r^2) .

______________________________

From: [Friend]
To: [Me]
Subject: Re: I want your address. OK!

You make me want to remember how math works.

Jun 8, 2011

In Which I Ruminate Upon Copying Other Artists And Finding Nemo

Plagiarism is a bad thing. I shouldn't have to say it, but some people in our society apparently don't understand that.

However, utilizing another's work for educational purposes is a great idea. Some don't think that's the case (well, he's kind of against the selling of copied art, which I agree with), but in art, at least, copying others has long been one of the best ways to learn things yourself. In fact, since 1793

[The Louvre] has allowed, even encouraged, artists to hone their skills by copying the masterpieces in its collections. Thousands have done so, including great classical painters from Turner to Ingres, Impressionists from Manet to Degas, and modernists like Chagall and Giacometti. “You have to copy and recopy the masters,” Degas insisted, “and it’s only after having proved oneself as a good copyist that you can reasonably try to do a still life of a radish.”

Of course, once you copy other peoples' stuff, you shouldn't go around selling it. Sometimes people will notice and sue you, and that's bad. It's also unethical. So, don't do it.

I have always loved looking at others' work. I love copying it from time to time, especially when I think it'll help me learn something valuable. I did that recently, from one of my favorite "Art of" books, "The Art of Finding Nemo."


I've mentioned before
how much I love the artistic choices that went into Finding Nemo, primarily the way the color of the water was used to indicate the mood of the scene (and therefore, usually, the mood of Marlin, the father character). The concept art for the movie's color scripts were done in chalk pastel by Ralph Eggleston, who is awesome. I decided to practice my color and composition by copying some of them. Mine (of course) aren't perfect, but they accomplished their purposes by teaching me some new things about light and color.

For example, Marlin's translucence as a fish means that when light is shining through him, his fins, which are thin, will be lightened, while his body, which is thick, will be darkened. The blueness of the water and the orangeness of his body will turn his body into a nice, deep purple. Fascinating!


On the other hand, when trapped inside the whale, the light is no longer the bright sun shining through clear water. Instead, it is a low yellow, tempered by the blues of the baleen. What's the neatest to me, though, is the light reflection off of the whale's tongue onto Marlin's back fin. Also, the brightness of the outlines of Marlin and Dory, showing off their 'shininess' when they are in the air instead of the water.


The last one I did was mostly for color and composition. The murky green palette does a couple things. First, it's somewhat dank and dreary. No one likes green water, because it reminds you of the scummy, polluted, industrial water of cities and mucky ponds. You don't think of vitality there. Second, it emphasizes how far the tropical fish have come. Dory's bright blue and Nemo's bright orange stand in stark contrast to the green. They don't blend or match their surroundings. They are in a foreign place. The crab, on the other hand, is also a muted yellowy color, which shows that he's right at home where he is. Third, it diffuses the light in a neat way. Because they are swimming above/standing on a metal pipe, the light is reflecting slightly off of it, but only if you are close enough. That's why Dory gets a little bit of that reflection and the crab gets a lot. Nemo, however, doesn't get any. He's too far away for that reflected light to reach him.


So, go and copy! Copy, copy, and copy! Maybe you'll learn something, and then you'll create your own stuff that other people will copy, and copy, and copy!

Jun 1, 2011

Some Various Things!

Haven't posted for a little while. Here are some things that have happened!

New Muppet Trailer!


Based on the one for The Hangover II.



First Rendered Still from Brave!


It matches well with the concept art, too:


On a similar note, an interview with Brenda Chapman, former director of Brave.

Wear a Helmet! (Even If You Look Stupid)

Wear a helmet

May 25, 2011

My Morning

This was basically my morning, except replace "school" with "work" and "Tuesdays" with "Wednesdays."

May 24, 2011

Muppet-Related Emissions

AAAAAHHH!

Muppet poster: released!

Muppet teaser trailer: released!

Contents of my bladder due to my excitement: released!*






*

May 18, 2011

A New Site!

Hello, people. I'm now a contributor to an Animation Mentor student sketch site, Spike's Sketch Squad. You should check it out! My first drawing is pasted below:

Chimpanzee: "Orang you glad I didn't say banana again?!"

May 9, 2011

A Little Animation

Today I was able to listen to a live question and answer session with two animators from Rio. It was really informative, especially when they discussed how they went about animating birds and how they keep animation from shot to shot consistent. During the discussion, I animated a lion yawning (because it's an interesting movement, not because I was bored...):


May 5, 2011

Wrong Incentive Much?

Seriously? This is supposed to stop me from using this urinal?


On a related note, Happy Belated Star Wars Day!

h/t Geekologie

The Father of Imbibing


Everyone already knows that George Washington is the man, what with telling the truth about chopping down that cherry tree, defeating the British, being made of radiation, and killing zombies. Apparently, that's not all. Our nation's first president was also a connoisseur of that fine early malt tradition. In his "Notebook as a Virginia Colonel" in 1757, the crazy hooligan added a recipe for "small beer." Described as "roasty" and with an aura of "coffee," the founder's brew is easy to make, so long as you know when the temperature is "Blood warm."

Anyone up for some celebratory brewing? Start now and it might be ready by the Fourth of July.

The recipe:


To make Small Beer
Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste. - Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a Cooler, put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler & strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold, cover it over with a Blanket & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours. Then put it into the Cask - leave the Bung openhole open till it is almost done working - Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.

Last WWI Combat Vet Dies


Wow--it truly is the end of an era. The last combat veteran of World War I, Claude Choules, has died in Australia. How crazy, to see something like that happen. I remember an estimate that there were 65 million combatants in World War I. Someone had to be the last to survive. Mr. Choules was it.


Reflecting on his 108-year life back in 2009, Mr. Choules told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that "I had a pretty poor start. But I had a good finish."



And, as expected, the Great War, which began with the shots heard around the world, has passed with barely a whisper.



Apr 22, 2011

Good Friday

Crucifixion, Thomas Eakins

On this Good Friday, I'll let G.K. Chesterton do my talking, from The Everlasting Man:

Every attempt to amplify [the Passion] has diminished it. The task has been attempted by many men of real genius and eloquence as well as by only too many vulgar sentimentalists and self-conscious rhetoricians. The tale has been retold with patronizing pathos by elegant skeptics and with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous best-sellers. It will not be retold here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of millstones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of wordpainting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? 'Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not.' Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall? 'Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children!'

As the High Priest asked what further need he had of witnesses, we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter in a panic repudiated him: 'and immediately the cock crew; and Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.' Has anyone any further remarks to offer? Just before the murder he prayed for all the murderous race of men saying 'They know not what they do'; is there anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, 'This night shalt thou be with me in Paradise'? Is there anything to put after that but a full-stop? Or is anyone prepared to answer adequately that farewell gesture to all flesh which created for his Mother a new Son?

It is more within my powers, and here more immediately to my purpose, to point out that in that scene were symbolically gathered all the human forces that have been vaguely sketched in this story. As kings and philosophers and the popular element had been symbolically present at his birth, so they were more practically concerned in his death; and with that we come face to face with the essential fact to be realized. All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest, it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilization. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask, 'What is truth?' So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility . Yet he stands forever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical bad become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgment-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world. There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was behind all the mythologies like the sky behind the clouds. It was the most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the world. Perhaps there is something overpowering in pure personal theism; like seeing the sun and moon and sky come together to form one staring face. Perhaps the truth is too tremendous when not broken by some intermediaries divine or human; perhaps it is merely too pure and far away.

Anyhow it could not save the world; it could not even convert the world. There were philosophers who held it in its highest and noblest form; but they not only could not convert the world, but they never tried. You could no more fight the jungle of popular mythology with a private opinion than you could clear away a forest with a pocket-knife. The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle. They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind. Since that day their representatives have been like blind men in broad daylight, striking to right and left with their staffs, and cursing the darkness. But there has been that in their monumental monotheism that it has at least remained like a monument, the last thing of its kind, and in a sense motionless in the more restless world which it cannot satisfy. For it is certain that for some reason it cannot satisfy.

Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world; since the rumor that God had left his heavens to set it right.

And as it was with these powers that were good, or at least had once been good, so it was with the element which was perhaps the best, or which Christ himself seems certainly to have felt as the best. The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society. The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumor. just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative. Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. In all this we recognize the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops. But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned. It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, 'It is well that one man die for the people! Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had so been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honored forever. It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing. The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; orin any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God bad been forsaken of God.

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepluchre and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

Apr 21, 2011

Portraiture, Triduum, and Bears, oh, my!


Today marks the beginning of what the liturgical calendar calls the Easter Triduum, or "Three Days," consisting of Maundy Thursday (today), Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday.*

*Wait, Josh! That's four days! Excellent point. The time is counted from the night of Maundy Thursday ("the Mass of the Last Supper") until the night of Easter Sunday, for a total of three days.

Maundy Thursday is one of the most important days in the Christian year, because it was on that night that Jesus held the Last Supper, instructed the disciples on Communion, predicted Peter's denial, washed the disciples' feet, prayed in Gethsemane, and was betrayed and arrested.

The story of this night has always been very significant to me for two reasons: the institution of the Eucharist and the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane.

The Eucharist is a deeply mystical event. 'This is my body. This is my blood. Take, eat and drink.' With this act, the faithful enter into specific communion with God in physical form through consumption of his very flesh and blood (or representations thereof). Through it, we thank all the persons of God for the sacrifices: becoming flesh, dying as an atonement for sin, and indwelling on the Earth. I can't comprehend what any of this really means, but I understand the depth of its meaning. I guess that's what makes it mystical.

Anyway, I've been wanting to practice oil painting for some time, and portraiture in particular. And the effects of dramatic lighting. So, I decided to combine all these things. It being Holy Week and all, I decided to do a portrait of Jesus. I both am happy to have done it because of the long history of beautiful Christian art and totally disgusted with myself for having potentially joined the legions of terrible Christian kitsch. Whatever.

It's a portrait (unfinished!) of Jesus breaking the bread.


So, there you go.

_______________________________


The other fascination of Maundy Thursday for me is in Gethsemane, and Christ's prayer in the garden. I'll let C.S. Lewis do my speaking:

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don't agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ. For the beginning of the Passion--the first move, so to speak--is in Gethsemane. In Gethsemane a very strange and significant thing seems to have happened.

It is clear from many of His sayings that Our Lord had long foreseen His death. He knew what conduct such as His, in a world such as we have made of this, must inevitably lead to. But it is clear that this knowledge must somehow have been withdrawn from Him before He prayed in Gethsemane. He could not, with whatever reservation about the Father's will, have prayed that the cup might pass and simultaneously known that it would not. That is both a logical and a psychological impossibility. You see what this involves? Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope--of suspense, anxiety--were at the last moment loosed upon Him--the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror. There was precedent. Isaac had been spared: he too at the last moment, he also against all apparent probability. It was not quite impossible...and doubtless He had seen other men crucified...a sight very unlike most of our religious pictures and images.

But for this last (and erroneous) hope against hope, and the consequent tumult of the soul, the sweat of blood, perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.

....

We all try to accept with some sort of submission our afflictions when they actually arrive. But the prayer in Gethsemane shows that the preceding anxiety is equally God's will and equally part of our human destiny. The perfect Man experienced it. And the servant is not greater than the master. We are Christians, not Stoics.

....

As for the last dereliction of all, how can we either understand or endure it? Is it that God Himself cannot be Man unless God seems to vanish at His greatest need? And if so, why? I sometimes wonder if we have even begun to understand what is involved in the very concept of creation. If God will create, He will make something to be, and yet to be not Himself. To be created is, in some sense, to be ejected or separated. Can it be that the more perfect the creature is, the further this separation must at some point be pushed? It is saints, not common people, who experience the 'dark night.' It is men and angels, not beasts, who rebel. Inanimate matter sleeps in the bosom of the Father. The 'hiddenness' of God perhaps presses most painfully on those who are in another way nearest to Him, and therefore God Himself, made man, will of all men be by God most forsaken?

-Letters to Malcom, 1964

Apr 17, 2011

Egge Homo


Κατὰ Ἰωάννην 19.5
"...ἐξῆλθεν
οὖν [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς ἔξω, φορῶν τὸν ἀκάνθινον στέφανον καὶ τὸ πορφυροῦν ἱμάτιον. καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος.'"

Ioannes 19:5
"...ut cognoscatis quia in eo nullam causam invenio et purpureum vestimentum et dicit eis ecce homo."

John 19:5 (ESV)
"So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, 'Behold the man!'"

Ecce Homo, the Latin phrase for 'Behold the man' (or 'Look upon the man'), was recorded by the author of the Gospel of John as what Pontius Pilate said as he displayed the thorn-crowned, purple-robed Christ to the crowd in Jerusalem before sending him to be crucified. Actually, the gospel author recorded Pilate as saying Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος (meaning, unsurprisingly, 'Behold the man'). However, the popularity in the West of the Latin Vulgate meant that Ecce Homo is the line that gained renown. Across the centuries, it has become synonymous with the trial of Jesus and the symbolism surrounding it. Artist after artist has depicted it.

My favorite piece, by far, and possibly my favorite painting, is Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri. It is not a stranger to this blog. The image of a thoroughly flogged and humiliated Christ, still standing, while the power of Rome, the Jewish hierarchy, and the Jerusalem mob all coalesce against him, is deeply moving. Ciseri's picture brings it all together, from the viewpoint of someone within the Roman governor's palace, looking out upon the scene of the trial. It is a similar view to the one that I imagine the apostle Peter having when he sneaked into the trial of Jesus before Caiaphas.

Ecce Homo, Antonio Ciseri

On this Palm Sunday, some friends and I blew eggs and painted them with different pictures and designs. I, feeling festive, decided to make mine Ciseri's Ecce Homo. I portray Christ and Pilate (and a column to complete the circle, since you may notice the two are framed by two columns in the painting).

Happy Palm Sunday!