Nose Job.

Steve the Miracle Cat, my feral “pet”, who disappeared in a terrible blizzard that hit Long Island last week, wants to thank all the wonderful Commenters who stopped by this blog and left good wishes for his safe return, and then welcomed him back when he finally moseyed back home. And immediately after thanking all of you kind readers, he wants breakfast.

And he wants it now.

Steve gets a bowl of dry food and a bowl of wet food in the morning, served on a mat because that bluestone gets really cold on a cat’s little feet:

Steve is a Manx, so he only has a little bunny butt instead of a tail which is one of the reason that I cannot resist him.

After getting his fill of breakfast, all Steve has to do for the rest of the day is to take up position and wait for dinner:

It’s been punishingly cold for most of the past week here on the north shore of Long Island. I mean painfully, brutal, bitter cold. I am still fretful about Steve being outside in all this so I check on him hourly, and it always does my heart good to see him tucked into his heated nest behind his plexiglass wind break:

Our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, got caught in our house when the blizzard hit last week and he was with us for three days. His people would have liked to have him home, but Dennis was quite content to be our uninvited guest and didn’t seem all that eager to budge from the comfy pile of Adirondack seat cushions that he found in the basement:

On Saturday night I was finally able to catch him, and I picked him up and carried him next door and delivered him to his people. Between Steve and Dennis, I wonder what I would do with my free time if I didn’t have to herd cats.

Whenever I leave the house these days  I am still wearing a small band-aid on my healing nose. My husband and friends have assured me that it’s barely noticeable. I suspect they are lying.

So I was in Lowe’s the other day, buying bird seed, and ahead of me at the checkout was a little boy who was horsing around with the shopping cart while his mother was paying for some traffic cones. (Yes, traffic cones. Makes you wonder.)

The little boy, who was tiny — maybe three years old? — spun around at one point and something about me caught his attention. He pointed his tiny little finger at his tiny little nose and looked at me and said, “Booboo?”

So, Ha!! I knew that “barely noticeable” thing was a  big fat lie. When you go out in the world with a band-aid on your nose, no matter how “small” (the band-aid), everyone notices, even three-year-olds.

Back to the little boy’s question: Of course I wasn’t going to tell a tiny child about skin cancer. So I made up a story about playing with my cats and one scratched me on the nose, instantly regretting that I was giving cats a bad rap.

So if you haven’t seen me around lately, it’s because I greatly dislike going out in the world with a band-aid on my nose.

So I’m staying in my house even more than usual, reading the paper. Here’s a headline that caught my attention while I was reading the New York Times on Sunday (Jan. 7). It went:

From Artisan to Artist

To quote: Betty Woodman, a sculptor who took an audacious turn when she began to transform traditional pottery, her usual medium, into innovative multimedia art, moving her work from kitchen cupboard shelves to museum walls, died on January 2, 2018 in Manhattan. She was 87.

Overlooking the fact of that very ungraceful lead sentence, I read on. Mrs. Woodman, I learned, spent many years happily making clay pots, cups, saucers, and bowls in her house, selling them at yearly yard sales in Boulder, Colorado. However, in 1981, her 22-year old daughter killed herself and Mrs. Woodman, in the words of her son, “emotionally fell apart.”

In the months after her daughter’s death, Mrs. Woodman began to make non-functional pottery (such as pillow-shaped pitchers). And then, according to the obituary, “Mrs. Woodman’s evolution from artisan to fine artist culminated in a retrospective in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its first for a living female artist.”

This is one of her fine art pottery pieces, called Aeolian Pyramid:

Aeolian Pyramid is an installation of 44 pedestal-mounted vase shapes that gradually tiers upward in a dramatic, pyramidal design. An art critic praised this piece in The New Yorker, writing:

Her aim is to charge negative space—the air around her pieces—with active presence. … the dynamic is miraculous in “Aeolian Pyramid,” a stepped array of thirty-five [sic?] big, slab-presenting vases of abstracted Greek design in black, yellow, and pale terra cotta. The composite keeps squeezing out real space, which keeps muscling back in. The result is a visual “Hallelujah” Chorus.

So this article about Mrs. Woodman, which happened to be an obituary, skipped over the part about how, exactly, this artisan pot-thrower become an artist. The unwritten assumption is that Mrs. Woodman’s career trajectory, taking her from a maker of pots to someone who installs bits of pottery in museums, was one that advanced her esthetics and creativity from the mundane to the ethereal.

So, OK, even though I don’t get the pots (see: Aeolian Pyramid, above) or the hallelujah chorus, OK, for now I’ll roll with this theory that making pots is of a lesser order of artistry than making bits of pots and arranging them in a triangle.

The least you can say is, her installation is original. The idea is hers alone. Nobody else (that I know of, but I don’t track these things) has thought of that before. So, that’s something.

Here’s a piece that Mrs. Woodman called The Ming Sisters:

The Ming Sisters is a triptych of cylindrical vases that features paintings of Asian women in gowns on one side and paintings of vases on the other.

The New York Times noted that “Mrs. Woodman’s vividly colored ceramics drew on innumerable influences, including Greek and Etruscan sculpture, Italian Baroque architecture, Tang dynasty glaze techniques, Egyptian art and Islamic tiles. They also evoked paintings by Picasso, Bonnard and Matisse.”

So here’s the thing about art vs. artisan: If what you make is art, your stuff can “draw on” and “evoke” other more famous people’s work. But if you’re just an artisan, your stuff that resembles other people’s stuff is “derivative” Also, if you want to elevate your stuff to art, it helps if your stuff is decorated very badly.

I haven’t seen Mrs. Woodman’s art in person, but I’m not impressed. Just saying.

But what do I know? I’m a hack. Remember last week when I showed you this painting of mine (work in progress) of the Japanese bridge in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny?

It is still unfinished, by the way. But this week I happened to be looking through an old book that my sister bought way back in 1984, when she went to see Monet’s garden for the first time, and I found this photo:

I promise you, Dear Readers, that I will try to be more original next week, when we meet back here next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay warm, or, if you’re in Australia, stay cool. Put out water bowls for thirsty critters, whether it’s 9 or 116 degrees outside.


37 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan

    Ow lovely cats, thank you. Interesting pottery, I LOVE to hear ‘art people’ wax lyrical about art. It’s so fabulous how do they come up with these descriptions, it’s fantastic! Stinking hot and dry here in Aus… until tonight when there was a magnificent light show and loud thunder. Clive went from sitting on the arm of the lounge checking out the sky to being under the dining room table and then back to the big french doors, watching fascinated. I think we got a useable amount of rain, might put an end to the thousands of dollars we’ve been spending on water. Hope you have a nice cosy weekend, I wouldn’t mind being stuck in the house with Dennis he is cute. You just have to love a ginge don’t you. Take car keep warm and safe all of you two and four legged people.

    • Vivian

      The weather reports from Australia are science fiction! I didn’t think about the cost of water — at the moment, we have an excess of it coming down from the sky and I am not pleased. I’m keeping an eye on Steve’s eat but I think I’ll be hauling out wet hay and off-loading dry hay in and out of it soon.

    • Vivian

      Leslie, I must clarify: the Times runs its own editorial obituaries, but they also have two pages of paid obituaries. I wrote a paid obituary, but the obit for Mary Woodman was editorial; that is, the editorial board decided that she was a figure who is/was relevant to the American culture and deserved a free, “editorial” obit. I guess she’s the only fine art potterer making her kind of art, so she’s in.

      • Leslie

        Thank you for the info Vivian. I wonder about the wedding announcements as well. For example, there was a full page plus about Al Sharpton’s daughter’s wedding. So important? No doubt that I am more cynical than others. I do agree with your observations about the pottery and the reviews.. That’s the reason I decided not to go to graduate school for art history….so I would not have to create such bloated verbiage. The weather here in Florida is at the peak of perfection. Eight butterflies hatched in our garden this week! Best regards to you and all your cats, Leslie

    • Vivian

      I keep hoping that Steve will see the error of his ways, but he’s ornery. It’s maddening, but he knows that he calls the shots.

  2. Your love affair with Steve shows the best in all love affairs. You accept him unconditionally just as he is: stubborn and stand-offish.

    Love, love the wisteria. If this is hacking, it’s a level of craft to which I aspire.

    Craft or art, I don’t care what labels others put on me. I care that I’m wrestling with the essential elements of life creating beauty, exploring truth. Life and art, seem best, imho, to accept them as they come to us.

  3. Some decades ago, having earned a B.A. in art history, and about to enter a Master’s program, I decided to look at the theses which the grad students were writing. When the * most* interesting title I found turned out to be “The Significance of Tree Stumps in Early American Landscape Painting”, I chose to do something else with my life.

    So, while I do think art critics frequently expel a blimp’s worth of hot air, I also feel a bit sorry for them, knowing how much they must have suffered while striving to find something, *anything*, fun to do in grad school.

    I’m so glad Steve returned. You are doing so much for him, it’s so heartwarming. Hope the weather improves there soon!

    • Vivian

      THAT is funny. That’s also scraping the bottom of the barrel, when you have to earn a MFA by looking at tree stumps. In the end, I think an MFA is a way to keep MFAs in jobs, teaching other MFAs how to get an MFA. Good for you, to have pushed past the intellectual conformity of academia. THAT’s a sign of a true artist.

  4. Casey

    I was going to write something about how cute Steve’s nose is, but I’m still laughing at Alex’s comment. “The Importance of Tree Stumps” sounds very much like a Money Python skit, one of those philosophical talk shows where very learned men smoke cigarettes and discuss life and death issues. Just proves that real life is funnier than anything you can make up.

    So funny about finding your illustration’s photographic twin. How does that happen? Probably because there are only so many ways to stand in Monet’s garden and look at his bridge. No wonder Monet painted the same view over and over.

    I’ve heard that it’s so hot in Australia that bats are dropping dead from the heat. Although I am not a fan of winter I think it’s easier to tolerate this extreme cold than it is to tolerate extreme heat.

    About the pottery, I have to agree that the critics are responding to the originality of the work more than its content. But I’d have to see the work in person to be a good judge. I will be on the lookout for Betty Woodman retrospective in my neighborhood and then we’ll get together and discuss over a pot of tea. I’d like that!

    • Vivian

      I like that: the life and death importance of tree stumps. Even the words “tree stumps” is funny. I hope the paper was a hoot. Tea is essential in any deep discussion of life and death matters, or Monty Python. I’m there.

  5. I am at a loss to understand art critics. Or modern art, for instance. I remember once visiting an exhibit of some of James Michener’s art collection in Austin, Texas. They were mainly abstracts and a couple were blank canvases painted from edge to edge in one color. Then they had some made-up name on them like “Manifestation of a Metaphor.” As Queen Vic used to say “we are not amused.” Good on you for your treatment of the cats.

  6. Buffy

    To Casey:
    “So funny about finding your illustration’s photographic twin. How does that happen?”

    Vivian’s sister here, the one who went to Monet’s garden in May 1984 and gave her the book with a photo of shadows on the bridge she wants to paint. And I’m her twin. That’s how things like this happen.

  7. Sometimes, art critics are a bit too heady for me. Woodman’s art loses me pretty quickly. Steve’s return home is such a relief. He clearly knows where to go for his meals and his cozy heated nest. The question is, why does he choose to disappear, especially when it is sub-zero temps? Silly boy.

  8. Dennis cracks me up. Not only is he at home in his away-from-home port-in-a-storm, he doesn’t want the vacation to end. I love that you had to catch him to return him.

    So, now I love Steve more than ever. That photo of him peering in the door, little white feet on the window frame!

    The thing about a bandage on the nose is that it makes you ultra “visible” in public. At my age, it is fun to change up things to see what creates interest. I generally do this with scarves and necklaces, etc. But on a recent trip, my daughter made up my eyebrows…just like hers. For about a half hour – until I got to a place to clean them off – I got so much attention! It was fun to watch people struggle with how to react. I was no longer “invisible,” presumably because I looked like some of the tarty old women I saw on the streets in Rome.

    I have grown twin daughters and they can attest to the twin phenomenon. Most recently – sadly – it was root canals on the same tooth. Photos and paintings are a much better way of expressing twin-ness.

    I love the painting of the bridge!

    Art critique lingo makes me laugh. Alex Casey, and Catalyst said it so well!

    • Vivian

      I need eyebrows. Mine are getting fainter every year, thanks to the same ultra-fair-skin genes that have given me skin cancer four times. in art critic-speak, my face lacks a certain artful chiaroscuro.

      Dennis is a real cutie and as much as Steve wants to steer clear of any commitment in our relationship. Dennis pines for it. He’s at the back door every day and I have to shoo him away because my other six cats have voted him off the island.

  9. Carol

    You made me laugh out loud:
    After getting his fill of breakfast, all Steve has to do for the rest of the day is to take up position and wait for dinner:
    What a witty woman you are!

  10. Well, I missed the addendum on Steve’s return and I’m so grateful. I hope wherever he went he realized that life just isn’t as good as it is at Chez Vivian! Loved the photo of Steve waiting for dinner. You’ll get him yet. And Dennis. I just love a drop-in! Especially an orange one.

    Can’t say Mrs. Woodman’s art is knocking my socks off (although those three Matissy-looking things remind me of something — possibly my seventh grade ceramics class. I was thinking of that Friday when I saw the piece in the NYTimes about the woman who made forensic science models of murder scenes and I thought, “I really like that so much better because at least I understand it.” The all-white painting comment above reminded me of this book I’m reading, “The Art Thief,” where two all-white paintings are stolen and I’m thinking, “I don’t care how much they would be worth. Why would ANYONE steal that!” Kind of makes it hard to finish the book but I’m over half through and the detection part is interesting. They need a forensic model of the crime!

    Sorry about your nose. At least you can put a bandage on it. Couldn’t do that with the lip. Trust a kid to tell you like it really is. Well, with the weather being as it is, I think it is a fine time to be huddled in the house — with art, paints and a book with appropriate shadows!

    Yay, Steve!

    • Vivian

      Yes! I read that same article about the miniature crime scenes. Frances Gleaner Lee was in er 60s in the 1940s She’s my new hero. when she STARTED making these tableaux, which I think is awesome. I ave until Jan. 27 to decide if I’ll schlepp to D.C. to see the exhibit. Once in a lifetime chance and all — how can I pass it up?

      I think your lip treatment must have been so much more painful than my nose tragedy. You’re right, though. January is a swell time to be a hermit, even without a medical excuse to do so.

      • Oh, if you go to DC to see it, you’ll have to post! I’d love to see that one. And yeah, don’t you love that she was a late bloomer? I could just sit and look at those and make up stories!

  11. I suppose the newness, the originality, of Ms. Woodman’s designs and the execution of the inventive pottery shapes is what elevates her work to art vs. artisanship. But who knows. It’s bewildering and somewhat arbitrary what becomes “art” in our society, and according to whom.

    That IS a terrible lead sentence on that obituary. Good Lord.

    Good for you for giving shelter to Dennis and Steve!

    • Vivian

      Too many commas can break a sentence, and it’s an absolute crime to put that many in a lead sentence. Someone should have edited it into two separate morsels. That’s why I’m going to write my own obit, which will have an outstanding lead, even if I have to lie to make it irresistable.

  12. Becky

    I missed where Steve went missing and I’m so glad I did. I would have been so worried. We too are having terrible weather….ice, sleet, snow and frigid temperatures……I would have been frantic just as you were. I am so happy that he came back. He knows he has a great home. Love the picture of him with him in the window as If to say hey I’m here…where’s my food. And that Dennis….what a scamp! So hilarious that he was nestled in and you had to catch him to send him home.
    I love the wisteria on the Japanese Bridge….the colors are so soft, and I love the hint of blue.
    My sister and I have done similar things, and we are not twins, and it is freaky. We have bought the same gifts for baby showers…the same cards for occasions and even the same gifts for each other. It is so weird when it happens…we either have the same good taste or really bad taste…HA HA HA
    Stay warm…spring can’t be far off.

    • Vivian

      The same gifts for each other? That is freaky! Were they very specific gifts, such as a set of drinking glasses from the 1964 World’s Fair, or were they rather more general gifts, along the lines of a gift certificate for Home Goods (who wouldn’t want a gift certificate from Home Goods??)? I’m only asking because I might want to steal your answer for a novel that I might write some day, and I have so little imagination that I need to life facts from other people’s more interesting lives. (I will be sure to thank you in the Acknowledgements, though.)

      BTW, I think a set of drinking glasses from the 1964 World’s Fair is the height of good taste.

      • Becky

        No drinking glasses from the World ‘s Fair….but we did give each other the same necklace…..right down to the Same color and style …..for Christmas! The funny thing is we had never discussed the necklace.
        Also. For our Dad’s birthday we gave him the exact same card…..again we did not go shopping together or discussed the card. This happens often…freaky huh?
        Cool about being in the acknowledgements ?

  13. So glad your booboo is improving. I can get you some decorative bandaids if you need them.
    When you are back to beautiful we can lunch together.
    Yes, it is hideously cold.
    So glad your cats are safe at least – and well fed and cheerful. Still too dan cold her for me.
    As regards the potter -rather odd stuff but if she enjoyed making it and managed to market it…. all power to her.
    I’m making needlepoint cushions of Moroccan chicken signs.
    See what the world has driven me to!….

    • Vivian

      I LOVE Moroccan chicken signs! I put one in my book about gardens — I will immediately run over to your blog and hope you are posting your design!

  14. Kirra

    Just catching up on Steve’s escapade, good to hear he was back safe demanding dinner!

    I’ve been sweltering in Sydney the last week, luckily it’s cooler now. However your snow storms and cold temperatures have been impressive! Hope you’re all okay.

    I don’t really get the writing on this ceramic art, it is sometimes surprising to see what is popular in the art world. At least she found something to do that hopefully helped her after her daughter died.

    Being a twin I know how awesome they are and cool things like finding the scene in the book from 1984 just happen. I still like your painting of it Vivian.

    I hope your nose recovers soon, I was talking to a parent at school in December who also had a nose bandage and had to come to school every day to to drop off and pick up her children, she’s very nice and I did think it must be hard to do (surrounded by all the people at school!). Staying inside is a much better plan.

    • Vivian

      I didn’t know you were a twin! How did that not come up in conversation?

      In a sunny land such as Australia with such a large population of easily sunburnt English people, nose boo-boos must be a common sight. Hugh Jackman has had a few such boo-boos recently and it was good to see that his nose — and his face and his bod and his everything — looks just as fabulous as ever. Still, it IS hard to go out and about with a bandaid on your hooter, and I’m no Hugh Jackman.

      • Kirra

        Hey Vivian, I think it’s because I usually say ‘my sister’ rather than ‘my twin sister’. Yes we’re definutely the country for skin cancer unfortunately! Stay safe everyone and put on suncream, cover up, seek shade, etc if needed!

  15. Hope your nose is healing up very well and the bandaid is soon gone. No more “booboo’s” allowed.
    I wandered into an art gallery just on Saturday and wondered about some piles of clay. I actually asked the gallery owner where you would put something like that. She laughed. Good luck with your Monet’s bridge.

  16. Megan

    Casey is correct flying fox or fruit bats die if the weather gets hotter than about 35C and it’s been a lot hotter. Sadly these beautiful creatures have died in their thousands. They are very important in our land as they pollinate the forest, not bees here but flying fox. Strangely we had a little one in our silver birch today, it was worrying as they normally return to the colony to sleep during the day. He left mid afternoon and I pray that he is okay in the coming days as it is set to be over 40C for the next four days. I also had to take a crimson rosella to the vet today as it had been left for dead on the footpath. It sadly had to be euthanised. Hope the coming week brings more happy anecdotes.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *