"Inception" Edition - 3 Cool Things (You Might Not Know) About Nijo Castle Wall Paintings

Nijo Hall_Pines

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Samurai warriors meet Leonardi di Caprio in imagery that displays opulence and asserts efforts to retain unstable power.

1. VIP room: To make a long story short, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu dubiously usurped power (and eventually gave rise to a shogunal government lasting 2 centuries). Unsurprisingly, he had a pretty Draconian and paranoid way of ruling. The architecture and imagery of Nijo Castle reinforces his social control. His main audience hall (Great Hall) has different levels - he's raised up on a higher platform to show his higher status. Everyone else is on a lower platform, with people in his inner circle closest to him and betrayers relegated to the back. (Note: That isn't exactly Tokugawa in the image above, he lived from 1543 to 1616.)

2. Staying power: The shimmering gold walls and intricate lacquered ceiling shows Tokugawa's wealth. The pines show longevity - this is a clear message to any haters that Tokugawa's regime was here to stay.

3. Inception: The walls of Saito's quarters at the beginning scenes of the movie Inception bear a striking resemblance to these paintings (see for yourself below!). If you've seen the movie, I'll let you read into this : )

Inception_Leo

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Independence Day Edition - 3 Cool Things (You Might Not Know) About Norman Rockwell

Rockwell_Miss Jones

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Rosie the Riveter meets Steven Spielberg and George Lucas - the idealized images and talented storytelling of Norman Rockwell have inspired millions of Americans.

Rockwell_Freedom from Want1. Embellished: Rockwell depicted an idealized version of America, with wholesome images evoking compassion and caring. In the time of the Great Depression, WWI, and WWII, these images provided Americans with a sense of solidarity and common purpose. Closer look: Rockwell's work was often on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Part of the Four Freedoms series, this image is called Freedom from Want.
Rockwell_Miss Jones2. Tableaux: Rockwell "could tell stories in a single frozen image" (NYT). His talent for visual storytelling influenced both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's filmmaking, through the stylized images within their own films. Both directors are avid Rockwell collectors and currently have a joint exhibit at the Smithsonian. Closer look: Just going off of the title alone Happy Birthday, Miss Jones, the viewer can extrapolate what's going on in this endearing scene.
Rockwell_Self Portrait3. Gone bananas? Rockwell "tried to enlist into the U.S. Navy but was refused entry because, at 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and 140 pounds (64 kg), he was eight pounds underweight. To compensate, he spent one night gorging himself on bananas, liquids and doughnuts, and weighed enough to enlist the next day. However, he was given the role of a military artist and did not see any action during his tour of duty." (Norman Rockwell). Closer look: a whimsical triple self-portrait of Rockwell

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Mother's Day Edition - 3 Cool Things (You Might Not Know) About Monet's Water Lilies

Give the Moms in your life some flowers for Mother's Day...

monet water lilies

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What would you do with the last 25 years of your life? Monet spent those years painting numerous landscapes. These blurry yet vibrant water lilies contributed to revolutionizing the depiction of space.

1. Slightly out of focus: Like other Impressionist paintings, Monet's water lilies have a somewhat unfinished look, brush strokes that seem "in the moment." Impressionists painted what they saw (effects of light and color) instead of what they knew to be there (compare to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa). Monet's cataracts and retinal disease blurred his vision - Stanford Med researchers modeled the effects of this on his paintings. See on the left the how cataract vision has a blurriness similar to that in the paintings.

2. Broadening your horizons: The image on the left has a distinct horizon line, an eye-level line that separates the sky from the land. Monet's painting above doesn't have a horizon. The painting actually skips to the surface of the pond, which reflects the sky and is the setting for the water lilies. Although this doesn't happen in all of Monet's paintings, this seemingly subtle change was pretty revolutionary in changing the way artists depicted space. Old people can indeed be innovative.

Thomas Crown Affair3. Irresistable: One of the paintings stolen in "The Thomas Crown Affair" was a Monet. The title of the movie "Vanilla Sky" comes from the clouds of one of Monet's paintings.

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3 Cool Things (You Might Not Know) About Jackson Pollock's Action Paintings

jackson pollock creating action painting

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Pollock's paintings may remind you of kindergarten finger paints, but there's more to them than meets the eye. The drips are imprints of action and movement, resulting in wave-like images that are full of energy. Pollock went from being a custodian at the Guggenheim to creating the most expensive painting ever sold.

  1. Lights, camera, action: Pollock's works focus on the process of painting rather than the image it depicts. These "action paintings" record a "performance." (The opposite would be a portrait, whose purpose is to convey the likeness of a person - the viewer doesn't care about how the artist actually layered the paint or made it happen, just that it's there and it looks like whomever it's supposed to.) Pollock would put huge canvas on the floor, walk around all 4 sides of it, drip paint with a brush or stick, and sometimes throw stuff like sand or broken glass at it. He even named his paintings by number so people can focus on the process rather than reading into the image. Closer look: Below is a short video of him from 1950 walking around and painting as he demonstrates his process.
  2. Oops: Surprisingly, there is actually a way to mess this up. Interested in psychoanalysis, Pollack attributed his paintings to his unconscious. Pollock needed to be in a state of flow - "It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess." He controlled the thickness of paint and directed where it landed, going through numerous canvases if the paint didn't fall as planned. His work has even been linked to fractals and chaos theory. Closer look: The result looks like an enormous wave, filled with energy. The photo below shows the imposing presence of his work relative to its viewers.
  3. Record-breaking: Being a custodian at the Guggenheim in NY was among Pollock's earlier jobs. Peggy Guggenheim gave him his big break. About 50 years after his tragic death, his work No. 5, 1948 sold at $140 million, currently the most expensive painting ever sold, beating out Van Gogh and Picasso. Closer look: Would you pay $140 million for the painting, seen below?

4 ways to encounter Jackson Pollock:

  1. Get into your own flow: In this TED Talk, expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the science of the state of flow and tips for achieving it in your own work, regardless of profession.
  2. If you're ever walking around LA: Not sure if it's still there, but at La Brea & San Vicente, there's a Pollock-inspired mural.
  3. Best procrastination tool ever: Putting off whatever you need to do? Make your own Pollock!
  4. On TV: Here's Homer Simpson as Jackson Pollock. Pollock has also made several appearances in Family Guy, once mentioned by Stewie in Season 4 "Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High" and referenced in Stewie's music video in Season 7 "Oceans Three and a Half."

jackson pollock autumn rhythm 30

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3 Cool Things (You Might Not Know) About Samurai Armor

Before Iron Man and the Terminator, there was samurai armor. The samurai were Japan's warrior class from the 12th-19th century. Unlike European armor, samurai armor was made of "scales." The design of their armor also changed in response to the introduction of muskets to Japan. The code of the samurai included training in both warfare and culture, as indicated by their extravagant helmets.

  1. Agility: Unlike the big plated armor of medieval European knights, samurai armor is made of small pieces of leather or iron laced together, forming layers like the scales of a fish, thus enabling greater range of movement. Closer look: The blue and black patterns are actually scales (see below). In real life, they would look more like this.
  2. Build a better mousetrap: Around the 16th century, foreigners had introduced muskets and guns, so the samurai had to design armor to better withstand the new weapons. Therefore, those scales were soon made of iron and covered more of the body.
  3. Head gear: The code of the samurai included not only training in warfare but also in culture - "Culture and and arms are like two wings of a bird." One reflection of that is in their elaborate helmets, whose crazy shapes often reflected different themes in Japanese poetry or Buddhism, such as animals or other aspects of nature like waterfalls. These were passed down from generation to generation. Closer look: Crazy horn shapes protruding from helmet (see below). Check out more great pics of crazy helmets in the book embedded below, especially starting from page 35 (by the way I'm not getting paid to endorse any book I mention, I just found this book on Google Scholar).

Some talking points...

  1. Star Wars: It seems that Darth Vader's costume was based on samurai armor.
  2. Next time you're at a Japanese restaurant: The samurai ate dried abalone, a form of jellyfish, rice, and for seasoning had salt and vinegar. Try finding that on the menu of your favorite sushi place...
  3. Next time you're choosing movies: You can suggest "The Last Samurai," starring Tom Cruise. There's also the prehistoric TV series "Shogun," which was way before my time, but I am told that it is good.

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