Bartók, Béla (1881-1945)


Bela Bartok using a gramaphone to record folk songs sung by Czech peasants.

Where do artists go for new ideas?

I was reminded of the Hungarian composer Bartok while listening to jazz pianist Chick Corea–the influence is obvious in Corea’s piano improvisations.

If you’ve never listened to Bartok, he combined folk music with modern music. As I was reading the Wikipedia article about Bartok, I was struck by a couple of his quotes:

The question is, what are the ways in which peasant music is taken over and becomes transmuted into modern music? We may, for instance, take over a peasant melody unchanged or only slightly varied, write an accompaniment to it and possibly some opening and concluding phrases. This kind of work would show a certain analogy with Bach’s treatment of chorales. … Another method … is the following: the composer does not make use of a real peasant melody but invents his own imitation of such melodies. There is no true difference between this method and the one described above. … There is yet a third way … Neither peasant melodies nor imitations of peasant melodies can be found in his music, but it is pervaded by the atmosphere of peasant music. In this case we may say, he has completely absorbed the idiom of peasant music which has become his musical mother tongue.

I was reminded of how many artists have found inspiration in folk art, such as Picasso (African folk art), Paul Simon (African music), and the Brothers Grimm and their successors (German folk tales). For the artist seeking inspiration, Bartok suggests 3 ways to go beyond simply experiencing folk art and hoping for new ideas to come unbidden.  First, one could take a folk concept and simply add to it.  Second, one could imitate a folk concept.  Finally, one could experience so much folk art that it gets absorbed into one’s subconscious and is later expressed in ways that may even seem mysterious to the artist.

Here’s some fun for the comment section.  Take an example (say, an African mask or whatever the subject matter of your artistic expertise is) and describe how you would add to it, imitate it or absorb it.  I’d love to see the creative process in action.

Another approach to idea invention comes from another Bartok quote:

Debussy’s great service to music was to reawaken among all musicians an awareness of harmony and its possibilities. In that, he was just as important as Beethoven, who revealed to us the possibilities of progressive form, or as Bach, who showed us the transcendent significance of counterpoint. Now, what I am always asking myself is this: is it possible to make a synthesis of these three great masters, a living synthesis that will be valid for our time?

In other words, you could ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are the 3 greatest artists in my field?
  2. What is the essential contribution of each one?
  3. Can these essential contributions be combined in a composition of my own?



Source: Wikipedia (“Bela Bartok”) for photo and quotes.  The end of the article has some interesting samples of his music.




Detail of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” (Sistine Chapel). Saint Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin. The face of the skin is Michelangelo’s.

Bartholomew is one of the more mysterious of the 12 Apostles.

Apart from the mentions of him in four of the Apostle lists (Mark 3:18, Matt. 10:3, Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13), nothing is known about him from the New Testament (EB).

The mystery is that Bartholomew is mentioned in the Apostle lists, but Nathanael is not, even though Nathanael’s call to be an apostle is described by John (“Jesus said, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!'”). One solution to this mystery is a 9th-century tradition that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person, whose full name was Nathanael bar Tolmai (“Bartholomew”)(EB).

Legend has it that Bartholomew spread the Gospel to India and Armenia, among other places (EB).

Wikipedia (“Bartholomew the Apostle”) notes the following about his death:

Christian tradition has three stories about Bartholomew’s death: ‘One speaks of his being kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and cast into the sea to drown. Another account states that he was crucified upside down, and another says that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Albac or Albanopolis’, near Başkale, Turkey.

The account of Bartholomew being skinned alive is the most represented in works of art, and consequently Bartholomew is often shown with a large knife, holding his own skin (as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment), or both.

Thus Bartholomew joins many of the other disciples in tremendous suffering or death (Peter, crucified upside down; Paul, beheaded; Stephen, stoned; John, doused in boiling oil and exiled).

Josh McDowell uses their martyrdom to make an interesting argument in his book A Ready Defense.

If the story of Christ’s resurrection were untrue, why were the disciples so willing to suffer torture and even death?

Being contemporaries of Christ, each disciple was easily in a position to find evidence for the “legend” of Christ’s resurrection being a lie.

The Bible claims that there were over 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ:

I Corinthians 15:6 “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep [i.e., died].”(NIV)

If being a Christian put my life at risk (as it did in ancient Rome), I would have certainly questioned very carefully some of those eyewitnesses, and these martyrs could have done the same.

These early Christians went to their deaths for the belief that God forgives sinners who turn away from their sins and that He will someday raise them from the dead, as He did Christ, and take them to heaven.

Were they right?





Barrault, Jean-Louis (1910-1994)

Typical mime positions inspired by Etienne Decroux’s technique. Decroux was the teacher of Barrault.

If you’re like me, you probably admired mimes as a child, then saw too many parodies, which turned them into a joke.

For French actor, director and mime artist Jean-Louis Barrault, however, pantomiming was no joke.

He adapted William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying as a mime play.

He also created Baptiste, a pantomime ballet.

What’s next, a pantomimed Shakespearean play?

Photo source:

Information from Wikipedia, “Jean-Louis Barrault”


“Stanislas Kostka on His Deathbed” 1702-03 by Pierre Le Gros the Younger

Baroque is is an artistic style of the 17th and 18th centuries.

I don’t have anything interesting to say about such a broad artistic movement, but I am absolutely enthralled by this example of Baroque sculpture by Pierre Le Gros the Younger, which can be found in Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, Rome (

According to the Web Gallery of Art,

Here Le Gros’work looks back to the tradition of ecstatic or dying saints created by Bernini and Caffa, but instead of a white marble figure set off by coloured marbles, colour forms an integral part of Le Gros’ work: black touchstone for the Jesuit habit, Sicilian jasper and yellow marble for the bedding, and gilt bronze for the fringe. The saint’s hands, feet and head are carved from white Carrara marble, with the hair left rough and unpolished and the nails and eyes delicately incised (

I remember reading somewhere that ancient Greek sculptures were painted:



However, I am intrigued by the idea of a sculpture with colors that come from the materials themselves.

Here’s a closeup of this amazing work of art, where even the folds of his clothes are detailed and convincing:



There are stories of people entering this room being startled, thinking that this is a real person.  Such a sculpture takes the trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) movement in painting to another medium in a fascinating way.

Photo sources:


Barbizon School

The Gleaners (1857) by Jean-François Millet

Should selfies be paintings rather than photos?

According to the Barbizon School, a mid-19th-century French school of painting, the answer might be yes.

Barbizon painters were the first to paint landscape in realistic terms and for its own sake (EB). Natural scenes became the subjects of their paintings rather than mere backdrops to dramatic events (Wikipedia, “Barbizon School”).

According to EB:

All of these artists, in spite of their Romantic inspiration, emphasized the simple and ordinary rather than the terrifying and monumental aspects of nature. Unlike their English contemporaries, they had little interest in the surface effects of light and colour or in atmospheric variations. Instead, they emphasized permanent features, painting solid, detailed forms in a limited range of colours. They were also concerned with mood, and they altered physical appearances to express what they saw as the objective “character” of the landscape.

It is this last sentence that caught my eye.  I have heard similar thing about portait painters–that their job is not to capture your likeness exactly, as a photograph would, but to portray your character.  To me, that’s a fascinating idea.

Finally, Wikipedia (“Barbizon School”) points out that

Jean-François Millet extended the idea from landscape to figures — peasant figures, scenes of peasant life, and work in the fields. In The Gleaners (1857), for example, Millet shifted the focus and the subject matter from the rich and prominent to those at the bottom of the social ladders.

And so we see Realism applied to painting, which reminds me of another question I had when reading a poem by Walt Whitman about compost:  Is there any subject that is simply not appropriate for art?

I’ve also noticed that big movements in art tend to come from these causes:

  1. A reaction to dogmatic critical theories, such as those of Plato/Aristotle.  Platonic critics thought that it is more skillful to portray the Ideal than the Real, which meant that Barbizon landscapes were considered less skillful than landscapes that were backdrops for historical scenes.
  2. A reaction to church doctrines (e.g., iconoclastic art).
  3. A cross-fertilization with current cultural trends, particularly in science (e.g., surrealism arose from applying Freud to art).
  4. A cross-fertilization within the arts (e.g., drama and music resulting in opera).

Photo credit:

Bargello work


Bargello 08

It’s the 17th-century Italian idea that never goes out of style.

Bargello needlework, also called Florentine canvas work, “is a kind of embroidery exemplified in the upholstery of a set of 17th-century Italian chairs at the Bargello in Florence (EB).”  The picture above is a modern version, but a more typical pattern from the era, often called a flame stitch, is the following:


This type of work requires a painstaking precision.

Here are some other modern examples:


Bargello 02

Bargello 03

Bargello 05

Even one that is relatively monotone has its charms:

Bargello 06

They often have a 3D effect:

Jonathan Adler Bargello Diamonds Pillow in Bargello_thumb[1]

Photo credits:


Barlach, Ernst (1870-1938)

Ernst Barlach_The Avenger_64
The Avenger by Ernst Barlach

Barlach was an expressionist sculptor, printmaker and writer.

Schwebender Engel (“Hovering Angel”) by Ernst Barlach

I’m not sure why, but these sculptures appeal to me.  EB describes his work as “modern Gothic,” and says that he features “heavy, massive figures in rigid drapery, animated by a single, forceful movement.”  He “emulated the blocky, rough-hewn quality of wood sculpture to achieve a more brutal effect.”

Since Barlach was an Expressionist, I wanted to know what that movement was. According to Wikipedia (“Expressionism”),  artists sought to express the meaning of emotional experience rather than physical reality.  They  present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas.  Here is a clear example of this:

The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)

It is so rare to get a clear definition of an artistic movement–I usually get lost by a long series of abstractions–so thanks, Wikipedia!

Barlach’s Hovering Angel made me wonder how I’d sculpt an angel.  Should he be heavy, reflecting the power of God, or light and graceful?  Should he be frightening, since every Biblical character but Mary was frightened out of their wits by an angel’s appearance?  I would definitely dispense with the wings, not only because they are a cliche, but also because most moderns don’t realize that they were simply a medieval symbol for the speed of God’s messenger.

How would you sculpt an angel?

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