Van Gogh Goes Hipster: What Messages Photoshopped Art Sends Us

Mona Lisa used to be a makeover darling for many an artist. I was caught off guard by postcards of La Gioconda in sunglasses, with punk make-up on a stand opposite the Louvres in Paris. They looked weird because a stone-throw away was the real Gioconda. However, the image and all surrounding mysteries were so well-known that have become a commonplace, a household name, so some kind of rebellion against such omnipresence was almost welcome, also giving a fresh perspective.

Recently I’ve rediscovered Pinterest, and there I came across a few images that suggest that Vincent Van Gogh, the troubled Impressionist painter known for his haunting Sunflowers and self-mutilation, is the new Mona Lisa. In one photo he’s partying with Frida Kahlo and the famous Girl with the Pearl Earring. In another, La Gioconda consoles him. And in others he’s paired with the mentioned Vermeer’s model. Admittedly, they make a good couple: one cannot help remembering paparazzi images of Johnny Depp and Kate Moss.

Mona Lisa and Vincent
Vincent Van Gogh partying with Vermeer’s Girl and Frida Cahlo

What I always wonder about, thinking of these images, is their purpose. With Mona Lisa it was quite obvious: she was SO famous one couldn’t help trying to bring her down. Different, especially satirical takes on La Gioconda were the acts of rebellion against classical art, the Old Masters, as well as against the popular fascination thereof. It was so easy to love and copy the classics without ever asking what makes them good, important, etc. So, the funny images of Mona Lisa served the purpose of shaking the pedestal beneath the Old Masters. In this, they continued the tradition of revolts against classical art that started in the 19th century.

Mona Lisa takes to the streets with Vincent

Hence, the hipster images of Van Gogh seemingly run in the same vein. Except for one thing: it’s not the modernity that alters the portrait of the artist. We see something different: an artist’s head leaves the body and takes to the modern-day streets. Whereas we instantly recognise Mona Lisa, whatever the makeover, the gingerhaired dude is likely to be familiar only to those who know his art. To others, he’s a guy-next-door, evidently a regular at all the city bars, sporting the fashionable five-o-clock beard and wearing an ethereal girlfriend on his arm.

I’m prompted to see these images as an attempt of contemporary artists to show how difficult it’s become to embed oneself in history. Perhaps, they don’t regard their work as such, but their opinion doesn’t change the fact: if you do something publicly, you want it to be noticed. And there’s a lot to be noticed and contemplated. For instance, why precisely it is Van Gogh who’s become the new Raphael and his art is both famous and yet common. Monet’s Waterlilies are too simple yet pretentious for today’s interiors, Degas is too complex, Picasso and Dali are too famous, and Vincent’s contemporary, the ravishing Gauguin, is probably too daring for the otherwise tolerant society.

Or, why it is Van Gogh who’s been chosen by the new generation of “creative people” who’ve got the misfortune of living in the shadow of both the classics and the better known contemporaries, when self-mutilation suddenly becomes a publicity act to illustrate the artist’s impotence. Not to mention his mental state, the work of Van Gogh lacked the languid tenderness of Monet or Gauguin’s exotic vitality. Van Gogh is halfway between these two emotions, and again this may be what makes him so popular today. Artists and the public want to enjoy the steady bourgeois life but the thirst for change and the ennui (as a by-product of that very steadiness) push them far and wide. They settle on Van Gogh as a troubled soul with peculiar landscape paintings, starry skies, potato-eaters, sunflowers and irises, who’s quite exotic and simple and thus doesn’t challenge the status quo. So contemporary art doesn’t challenge the capitalist status quo. There seems to be a truce between capitalism and art today: art can criticise capitalism as long as it doesn’t attempt to erode its basis. Van Gogh serves better purpose here, as he’s never left the capitalist, bourgeois setting, unlike Gauguin.

Finally, as a society we’re still fascinated with the troubled genii who didn’t live to see the fame that befell their work. And this is again where Van Gogh fits so well. This fame and success thing belongs to the same class of unattainable values, as, say, money. It is argued that money is everywhere, yet why so few people get comfortably well-off? There are many reasons, from poor thinking to some objective factors, like the time and place of living, yet ultimately they all serve the purpose to explain why you’ve not got money now AND give you hope that one day you may be a rich man, too. Today artists are subjected to such fierce competition that you’ve got to be inspired by someone who remained faithful to his path and eventually received his delayed gratification. Van Gogh is an excellent example: not too notorious, not too political, a typical shy genius.

So when Vincent takes to the streets in those images there are several messages we receive. This may be a homage the contemporary art and indeed life itself pay the bygone times by bringing them into the 21st century. I mean, do you see similar takes on the work of David, Ingres, Degas, Gauguin? Nothing instantly springs to mind, which means that incorporating Van Gogh into modern-day discourse is a sign that he belongs here and now.

This may be an attempt of contemporary art to trace itself back to some period in Art History with which it’d like to be associated. Regardless of artistic value of Van Gogh’s work (which I don’t dispute), the reason contemporary artists may wish to be close to Van Gogh is a peculiar combination of avant-garde and mainstream in his work, which is neither too challenging, nor boring.

Finally, contemporary life itself wants to find a historical setting to which it belongs — or, alternatively, to destroy the value of any historical tradition. Lost in between capitalism and socialism, today’s “young adults” are very much like the troubled Vincent. They need to know that there’s hope, that the past has preserved the images of people both similar and familiar to them. Van Gogh lived at the time when the notion of art was only beginning to undergo revision. I guess he’d be completely lost today when your local graffiti, a dead shark and Leonardo are all considered “art”. So his hipster images are a link between the fin-de-siecle and the first half of the 21st century. And it’s kind of good, except for the sinister side. Van Gogh serves to justify the artistic impotence, the second-hand artistic practice and spending life in a fleeting hope for fame and success. Nobody cares for his mental state nor views on art. His distorted face is placed in all sorts of settings, from bars to film posters, to make him as common as Mona Lisa has become. This devaluation works very cleverly, equalling a great artist to his unfortunate paragons and further distorting the notion of art, which in the end isn’t about Beauty but about Labour of Love for Beauty.

Five Habits I Wish I Had Not Lost

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One of my favourite pairs of shoes

Over the years I’ve waved goodbye to a few habits that I now wish I hadn’t lost. I cannot say the loss causes too much pain; however, it’d be better if I could regain the skills and renew the routines. So, as I’m sharing my trouble with you, will you please also let me know if you ever had a similar problem and what you did.

1.Wearing high-heels

I became very wary about heels after I’d hurt my ankle in 2008. Then in 2010 I worked in direct sales, we had to walk fast, so high-heels were not fit for purpose. I resumed wearing heels between late 2010 and 2013, but then I changed jobs. I started teaching, and in all four years of my working for a local community centre I had to walk and run once again, and flat footwear was best. I do love high-heels, and I’d love to get back into habit of wearing them regularly, but I’ve also got used to moving fast or philandering lazily, and 8cm heels are just no good for that.

2.Keeping abreast of all things social

Can you believe I used to be an SMM manager for nearly 4 years? Or that I used to run a very socmed friendly blog and, generally, was very active on many social channels? Some of them, like Klout, have since stopped existing; I still have accounts with others, but I’m not quite active there at all. I’m getting reaccustomed to the pleasure of sharing things on Reddit, Pinterest and Facebook, as much as reading up on SocMed trends. However, as my interests have firmly shifted to my own literary endeavours and teaching, every bit of new industry info feels like a huge overload.

3.Travelling far and wide

Whatever happened to those itchy feet? Admittedly, I needed some rest from my peregrinations. On the other hand, it now feels like an act of heroism to get myself out of the house and out and about. The main reason for my being sort of tied down is time: I can only go on day trips, and Russia is not England. There you can travel from Manchester to Edinburgh in 3 hours, and Scotland is almost like a different country (or so it may become after Brexit). Here in Russia you can only travel to smaller cities and towns, like Kaluga, Yaroslavl, Podolsk, Ivanovo and Tver, and, regardless of certain differences, it’s the same Central Russia as most people know it. It will take you 5 hours to get to St. Petersburg by train, and if you wish to travel to Kazan, Novgorod, Arkhangelsk, Yekaterinburg or Vladivostok, it’ll take you even more. I read and view travelogs, but it’s not the same as going somewhere.

4.Cooking at home

This is a difficult one. Living in Russia was not good for my kitchen abilities because my granny and especially my mother both used to be great cooks. A small kitchen space didn’t help, either. I started cooking in England where I could have the whole kitchen to myself. Back in Moscow, I only cook now and again, and I do wish I could do it more often. Each time I gaze at the mouth-watering food photos on Pinterest I wish I could bake, fry and grill every single dish. Sadly, when we were redoing the kitchen following a terrible flood, we chose not to have an oven. But perhaps I can do something about it.

5.Spending time online

I agree with those who say we need a break from the Internet. There are paper books to read, and someone like me is much better at writing on paper than using a typewriter or computer. Still, we need to be online, as life is happening there, too. There are things to which I don’t want to react, but there are others that certainly require my attention.

So, here are my 5 habits that I want to regain. What about you? Have you lost any good or useful habits? Have you regained them or decided to part with them for good? Share your story in comments!

Happy New Year 2020

Contrary to the tradition of previous years, I’ve decided to wish you a happy new year 2020 on January 1st. In the early years of my blogging I used to write longreads with resolutions on December 31st (see 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), but the pace of life often stopped me from making half of them happen. So even though I continued making plans, I stopped sharing them on the blog.

Instead I’m happy to tell you about what happened in 2019. I published 3 books, 2 electronic where I’m the author, and 1 illustrated paperback where I’m the translator and literary editor. I travelled to a few interesting places and took lots of photos. I had a nomination for a literary award. My photo was published in a local newspaper. Between 2013 and 2017 I won several awards as a translator, a poet and a singer, so I have something to build upon. Altogether, these events have provided me with some ideas that I’m going to explore in 2020.

At the moment, at least 3 books have already been scheduled for 2020, so I may eventually outdo my own publishing plan. Most importantly, I’m thinking about the concept for LCJ. Since it started, it has been growing far and wide because its author is a very expansive Sagittarian. It’s become such a beautiful tree that it’d hurt me to cut off any of the branches, especially because they all serve their own purpose. So, I guess I’ve almost found the way to mould all them into a nice composition around the LCJ stem.

Last but not least, while we’re on this topic, I’m going to ask you to spread the word about this blog. It’s been going non-stop from 2006 till 2014, earned a Google Blog of Note nod, but then from 2015 till 2017 it was put in hybernating mode. I need your help in getting it up and running again. I’ve got some ideas, but the word-of-mouth still does its magick. Also, if there are topics you’d like me to write about, drop me a comment.

To get back to the date, on the first day of New Year I wish us all happiness, health, love, wellbeing and peace. The year of the Mouse always initiates a new Chinese calendar cycle, so it is a good omen for all our great beginnings.

Source: Pinterest

To the wonderful, successful, loving 2020! Cheers!

My Sunset Photo Is Published in a Local Newspaper

Hyperlocal news has taken off in Moscow in the last couple of years. And so this week I’m a contributor to My Neighbourhood newspaper with my photo of the sunset seen from my window. I’ve said previously that I’ve always watched breathtaking sunsets in Moscow. This was something that I terribly missed, while in England. It’s all the more pleasing that the local news paid attention to one of these splendid captures and has made it available to everyone to see.

Sketches to Portraits by Terentiy Travnik

sketches-to-portraits-terentiy-travnik
Terentiy Travnik and Darya Khanedany’an, Sketches to Portraits. Translated into English, Spanish and French by Julia Shuvalova and Patrick Jackson.

One of the milestone events of this year for me is a publication of a book Sketches to Portraits with the aphorisms by Terentiy Travnik and illustrations by Darya Khanedany’an.

Terentiy Travnik is a poet, artist and musician, a native Muscovite. Darya Khanedanyan was also born in Moscow into a family of artists, however her own creative career started in Spain. I took part in making the book as a literary editor, an editor of the English translation of aphorisms, and a translator into French. I also translated the opening article into English.

The pronounced Iberian facial traits is obviously a hommage to Spain; Travnik’s aphorisms retain their Russian heritage in form as in the intellectual depth. A harmonious combination of words and images is therefore all the more striking, strengthened by artistic editing by Travnik himself. The vibrant colours, ethnic rhythms and avant-garde stylisation all bring out a truly cosmic dimension in Sketches to Portraits.

The aphorisms by Terentiy Travnik deserve a special mention. One of his best-known books, A Splinter, that has seen 4 editions since it was first published in 1990s, is a collection of aphorisms that embrace practically all spheres of human life. One can note here a loyalty to the tradition of La Bruyère, Schopenhauer and other philosophers who found endless creative possibilities in the concise and succinct form of an aphorism. Ever after A Splinter Travnik’s work has been marked by the mentioned qualities (e.g. Tabulas, 49 Tabulas etc.).

Sketches to Portraits by Terentiy Travnik includes 41 aphorisms translated into English, Spanish and French languages. Great happiness matures slowly; There is a lot of grass in the field, but we can only remember the flower; Time does everything on the go; Touch the roots, and the crown will blossom; To do a foolish thing and to make a mistake are two different things; Wisdom does not take money; Education is the path from authority to truth; Treat the fatigue of the body with rest and the fatigue of the soul with work. This is but a little part of what the author invites the reader to think about. Perhaps, this openness to the dialogue is the most remarkable trait of these aphorisms. Nowadays the Internet is saturated with many an interesting and deep quote, but the most popular are those presented in a mentoring or affirmative voice. Do this; don’t do that; the meaning of that is this. Terentiy Travnik’s aphorisms, while speaking directly to the reader, don’t insist on their ultimate truth. Their deceptive simplicity disguises some really deep reflections.

Terentiy Travnik’s website

Other posts in Julia Shuvalova: Poetry and Prose archives

How to Pass any Exam in Flying Colours

I’ve recently written an article for one portal detailing the tips for sitting in any exam. These tips are based entirely on my personal experience of going through an examination, but especially Foreign Language exams. Whether it is a GSCE, an A-Level exam, TOEFL/IELTS or any other international language exam, I am sure this advice will help you pass your exam in flying colours.

children-sitting-in-exam
An exam is an important and therefore stressful experience but you can cope with it

Whatever exam we have to pass, and no matter how old we are, this is always a stressful experience, especially if the stakes are high. On the day of your exam you are stressed, either bouncing or frustrated, so you need something solid to stand on. Not only did these tips help me in the past, they have been helping my students for the last seven years to achieve excellent results in any exam they had to sit in.

1.A journey to the top mark begins with the first correct answer

If you want to do something well, do well in every aspect of it. Exams, like everything else in life, has got room for improvisation, but the core remains the same: you have to answer each and every question calmly and methodically.

2.If you can’t do it, leave it

“I’m in a block”, “don’t remember anything” etc. is normal. You are overly conscious of how high the stakes are. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths – and move on to another task. Don’t waste time on that which causes panick and insecurity.

3.Take breaks

Listen to yourself. Once you’ve noticed fatigue, put your pen away. Instead of looking at the exam paper, look at the window. Whatever is the season, there will be something nice to see. Especially so if you pass your exam in spring or summer. Breaks + positive thinking = success.

4.Think about yourself

This sounds selfish, but an exam is one’s own business. Every man for himself. If your friend believes it is good to be at her wits’ end before the exam, good for her. You don’t need to help her and wind yourself up. Think about yourself.

5.An exam is you

It is usually thought that an exam checks the knowledge in a discipline. However, it is also a check on our personal qualities. Composure, accuracy, time management are just as important as knowing the difference between Passe Compose and Passe Simple.

6.Be calm!

Dont’ worry about what you cannot change. Strange noises, an unpleasant interlocutor, the wrong kind of weather outside – are all of these really more important that your exam result? These things are beyond your influence. Therefore look into your exam paper and do the tasks.

7.Focus is king

Imagine that you are a racehorse. You’re got blinders on your eyes, and the finishing line somewhere ahead. You can take your blinders off when you did all tasks, checked them, transferred onto the exam paper, submitted it and closed the door behind you. Only then can you breathe out. But while you are in the room, the focus is on the exam.

8.Trust your intuition

There are forces that move in mysterious ways, and whatever you personally think of it, these forces exist and are ready to help. Colloquially we call them the sixth sense, or intuition. So if in the exam you stumble into a question you don’t know, ask these forces to help you. It’s quite likely that you will get a correct answer.

9.Choose your order

The main thing is a good result. Foreign Language exams usually start with Listening Paper, but you are free to choose the order of the papers that follow. Same goes for any other exam. Therefore, if, upon looking through the paper, you notice some very easy tasks, do them first. Accumulate the positives.

10.Think positive

Positive thinking finds opportunities, negative thinking sees problems. For some reason not all recognise this. This year, as you pass your exams, make a point of consciously noticing every positive aspect or moment. You’ll see for youself: an exam will go smoothly, and your mark will be higher than the one you expected.

Some useful advice

1.Aim higher

If you want, say, 100 points, prepare like you need to get 120. If you are ready exactly for 100 points, the chance is, your mark will be lower.

2.Prepare in advance.

There are situations in life when last-minute preparation isn’t going to work wonders. An exam is one of these situations.

3.Know thy subject.

The best way to pass an exam in flying colours is to know the subject, rather than do various tests. If you have to write an essay in History, for example, it’s easier to memorise the History course than to cram 20 essay samples.

And finally…

Listen to yourself

If someone tells your passing an exam in this or that subject is unrealistic, remember: this person talks about his or her ability in this subject. Believe in yourself, love your subject, and you will succeed!

A Retired Easy-Rider

The English pensioners sometimes drive these motorised wheelchairs. They are quite expensive, so are more rarely seen compared to a usual wheelchair. This photo was taken in Stockport, England, but I recall narrowly avoiding a collision in Salford. I was slowly walking to a shop when suddenly I thought something was moving behind me. You know, a kind of a thriller movie scene when you feel someone breathing you in the neck. I looked across my shoulder and barely managed to jump to the left, to a fence of someone’s house. A typical English lady, complete with a pastel fleece zip jacket and permed lilac hair, confidently drove past me at a pretty high speed, without any warning. It took me time to come to terms with the fact that she nearly ran me over…

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