Monday, June 7, 2010

Still Life

Still -         devoid of or abstaining from motion
                 quiet, subdued, muted, calm, tranquil

Life -        1. a principle or force that is considered to underlie               the distinctive quality of animate beings
                  2. one or more aspects of the process of living

Still Life -  a picture consisting predominantly of inanimate objects

Still.     Life.     It's easy to understand the combination of the two words to mean still -- there's life. Or life that seems not to move -- such as a motionless praying mantis or sloth. But it seemed incongrous that a painting of inanimate objects should be called still life. Then I read that in ancient Egypt, it was believed food and other objects depicted in paintings adorning the tombs would become real in the afterlife.

Here is a list of titles of a few famous paintings:

Still Life with Bowl of Citrons  by Giovanna Garzoni
Vase of Flowers with a Curtain by Jacques de Gheyn II
Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber by Juan Sánchez Cotán
Still Life with Pie, Silver Ewer and Crab by Willem Claeszoon Heda
Still Life with Fruit, Flowers, Glasses and Lobster by Jan Davidsz. de Heem
Still-Life with Apples and Grapes by Claude Monet
Irises by Vincent Van Gogh
Apples, Peaches, Pears and Grapes by Paul Cezanne

Such ordinary things! Perhaps objects in your home could be the subject of a still life -- a candlestick on a sideboard, a stack of books by a rocking chair, tomatoes and a bottle of olive oil. What would Cezanne or Van Gogh or Monet see if they came to our houses? What do we overlook every day?

I like the editorial review of The Magic of Things:

The Magic of Things

Of painting's enduring genres, it may be the still life that offers the most brazen opportunities for virtuoso flourish, and that most closely approximates painting itself, as an art of arrangement of color, texture and light. Glistening dew drops on flower petals, contorted reflections of light on glass goblets and silver dishes, candied sweets heaped up in Chinese porcelain, the textures of fur, cloth, metal and bone--the rendering of such objects demands of an artist not only skill but an instinct for the thingness of things.

But how often do we really see the vase of flowers or the bowl of fruit, or a cabbage or a cucumber? I would like to pay attention the way the artist must. I would like to notice how light and shadows play with color. I would like to notice the dew drops glisten. I would like to open my eyes.

For your viewing pleasure, click here for  Google Images of Still Life Paintings
And may we all see as the artist sees, and all discover the magic of things.

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