Sunday, June 26, 2022

improvisation on stage / unrehearsed adjustment

Mary Garden
Maurice Browne, Too Late to Lament: An autobiography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956, p. 155—

We were thrilled [having been given tickets to attend a performance of Le Jongleur, an opera starring the famous soprano Mary Garden]…we had never seen it, longed to do so, had not been able to afford seats. The performance outstripped even our expectation; Mary Garden was an exceptionally skilled actress as well as an exceptionally fine singer. She was also a first-rate “trooper.” The market scene came to an end; the stage was being cleared for her entrance, the crowd dispersing; suddenly in the very center of the stage a donkey refused to budge, straddled his legs and performed an act which had been rehearsed. The audience grasped, then rocked with laughter; the donkey, satisfied, made an effective exit. Mary Garden entered upstage center, seemed not even to glance at the spot where she would otherwise have stood, crossed down a little to the left of it and began to sing. In one second there was not a sound from that crowded house.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

a report of naiveté in assessing works of art

Cavern [detail] © Roy R. Behrens 2021
Abel Warshawsky, The memories of an American Impressionist. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1980, p. 62—

[In Paris] The "cult of the naive" at all costs became a rage…

A group of painters in Montmartre decided to exploit this hysteria and have some fun with the critics. Procuring a donkey, they tied a large paintbrush to his tail, first dipping the brush into an assortment of colors. Then a canvas was set up within striking distance of the donkey's tail, which in its gyrations soon covered the canvas with a weird conglomeration of colors—quite a stunning study in the new style, as the spectators all agreed. Witnesses and a notary, who had been invited to attend, attested to the manner in which the work had been done. This canvas was framed and sent to the Salon des Independants. It bore as title, if I remember rightly, Sunset on the Red Sea. After several well-known critics had remarked it and written about it as a work of extraordinary interest, the story with the signatures of the witnesses was published, and the laugh was on the "new art" critics.

Also see Art by Animals video, Desmond Morris, and pandemic montages.

Friday, June 24, 2022

adrift in milan / never too late for the last supper

Wind Instrument [detail] © Roy R. Behrens
Abel Warshawsky, The memories of an American Impressionist. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1980, pp. 86-87—

In connection with the Last Supper, a friend of mine, Samuel Cahan, a well-known newspaper artist who had been with the New York World for thirty years, told me of an amusing incident which occured when he and his wife visited Milan a few years ago. Speaking no Italian, they had asked their hotel porter to procure an English-speaking cabby to take them about. To the latter my friend very carefully explained that they wished to see the Last Supper. "Last supper?" replied the cabby, "yes , yes. Me understand!" Whereupon he started driving them round the town and finally into the country.

After the drive had extended for several miles, my friend, fearing that there must be some mistake, repeated his instructions to the driver. "Last supper?" he yelled back, "Sure! Me understand!" and continued to drive. Late that evening the two Americans were finally brought back to the city in a state approaching nervous exhaustion. Drawing up his carriage in front of a brilliantly lit edifice, the vetturino opened the cab and ushered his fares into a fashionable restaurant, proudly giving them to understand that he had brought them back in good time for the desired "late supper."

Thursday, June 23, 2022

democratic privilege and the queen's bladder

Above © Roy R. Behrens, Revisiting Thomas Eakins [detail], 2021.


Muriel Spark, Momento Mori. New York: Penguin Books, 1961—

The real rise of democracy in the British Isles occurred in Scotland by means of Queen Victoria’s bladder…When she went to stay at Balmoral in her latter years a number of privies were caused to be built at the backs of little cottages, which had not previously possessed privies. This was to enable the Queen to go on her morning drive round the countryside in comfort, and to descend from her carriage from time to time, ostensibly to visit the humble cottagers in their dwellings. Eventually, word went round that Queen Victoria was exceedingly democratic. Of course it was due to her little weakness. But everyone copied the Queen and the idea spread, and now you see we have a great democracy.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

online course on the history of design / 2022

Course Introduction Video
Above This is a brief film overview of a four-week course I will be teaching (online), beginning in the first week in October, titled A History of Design: Graphic, Industrial, and Architectural Design in Europe and the US Since 1850. This is Part Two of a series of four. It is one of the fall semester offerings through OLLI at Drake (Oster Lifelong Learning Institute at Drake University). Registration will open during August at <>.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Coming Soon / Graphic Design Symposium

Reproduced above is a sampling of on-site photographs (courtesy Taekyeom Lee) from an on-going exhibition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, titled EVOLVING GRAPHIC DESIGN. The exhibition (which includes the work of twenty-three graphic design professionals and design educators from across the nation) continues for the next twelve days, ending on June 24. 

The concluding highlight of the exhibition will be a two-day symposium, to be held on June 23 and 24, in the Art Loft Conference Room, Art Lofts Building, in the Department of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison at 111 North Frances Street, in Madison. Some participants are attending in-person, while others (worldwide) are registering online for free tickets, and, since it is a hybrid event, they will participate online as speakers, panelists and observers. 

Please note, although participation is free, you must register at this link in advance

Iowa Insect Series (stages animated)

Included in the exhibition is a series of ten large-scale digital montages, called the Iowa Insect Series, that were made in 2012-2013 in collaboration with design colleague and friend David M. Versluis. At the time, he was a Professor of Art and Design at Dordt College in Iowa, while I was then on the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. 

Also on exhibit are thirteen design-related images that are part of my long-term, continuing research (as a design historian) of World War I Allied naval camouflage. The theme uniting these artifacts is high difference or disruptive ship camouflage, which was referred to at the time as dazzle painting or dazzle camouflage. Among the items exhibited are restored government photographs from the time period, full-color reproductions of diagrams of the camouflage patterns, and my own recent hypothetical camouflage schemes, derived from historical works of art.

Iowa Insect Series

Friday, June 10, 2022

exhibition viewing tour at Jester Nature Center

Thanks to Lisa Cooper, above is a photograph of participants in a Drake University OLLI class, which this week traveled to the Jester Nature Center, near Granger IA, to view my exhibition of National Park and Monuments posters, including Mesa Verde (below). The exhibition, which is open to the public, will continue to be on view through August 28. 

The OLLI course exhibit tour was supplemented by in-person presentations about national parks and comparable locations by Jester Center staff members Lewis Major and Patrice Petersen-Keys. All posters in the exhibition can also be viewed online in this short video.

Mesa Verde Poster © Roy R. Behrens


Monday, June 6, 2022

pachydermatitis: there's an elephant on the hill

There is an elephant in the room. It is said he resides on Capitol Hill. He is as old as an elephant’s ears, with a voice that stumbles through his trunk as if he were constantly drinking. He is said to have enormous sway. But in truth he has no power, because he built that illusion by cowering at the most critical times. He snivels as the poisons drift, as nitrates flood the rivers, as storms foretell the climate shift. With a sinister sense of achievement, he buries his constituents in ditches of denial, in return for once again voting for him. He is the darling of cancerous sprays, of implicit gun support, of threatened insurrections, of crafty wasteful substitute fuels, of reluctance to address a plague, of refusing to act when it matters. His disservice is equivalent to addiction, scorn, and shameless stealth. Faced with faceless children’s remains (their tiny futures slaughtered by enabled weapons of war in our homes) he is once again bereft of words. His thick tongue is a stumbling block. His persuasive powers are drained by drought. He is a fossil who’s run out of fuel. Not born yesterday, this elephant seems not to realize that his perfect attendance Sunday School pin will melt in Hell when he arrives.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Going with the Grains / Andrew Clemens' Art

Just out, in the June issue of The Iowa Source (Fairfield IA), is this illustrated article on Iowa-born artist Andrew Clemens, and his extraordinary, highly-detailed paintings made of grains of sand. Near McGregor (where Clemens lived), there is a region of sandstone, called Pictured Rocks, where the sand has been naturally colored by the slow, moist seepage of iron and other minerals. That was the source of the colored sand which Clemens used to build his intricate pictures—on the insides of chemists’ bottles. more>>>