Art suggests and indicates many things to a perceptive viewer. We believe it can also be the perfect ‘influencer’ when it comes to current trends, lifestyles, and activities. The many changes we have had to face since the arrival of COVID-19 might feel daunting at times because everything that we are used to has been altered in one way or another. However, we cheerfully invite you not to be discouraged and hope you have a fun and entertaining summer 2020! Here is a list of ten ways to spend your summer, inspired by art.
1. Go for a walk
We open our fine list of inspiring images with this bright and airy oil-on-canvas painting called Summer, naturally. The American artist Frank Weston Benson portrayed his daughters and wife sitting on a hill in 1909, among dry grass and white flowers. They are all beautifully dressed in white, and a hat and other belongings are strewn here and there. They chit-chat and admire the blue of the sea of Penobscot Bay, Maine, from their property, Wooster Farm. We can imagine they walked through the extensive grounds and reached this scenic spot, and decided it was well worth a contemplative stop. It must have been a pleasure for Benson to paint the subjects en plein air, in full Impressionist style, given how lovely the weather and surroundings look.
Sadly, we don’t all have our own private estates where we can have a stroll with our relatives. Our destinations might not look as ultramarine blue, nor the loop around the block to the shops or the local park as bucolic. While there are several restrictions in place nowadays, the subjects of the painting didn’t have to worry about anything like that. Going out to see a part of the world we are still allowed to see, wherever we are, seems vital for our wellbeing. May Summer by F.W. Benson encourage you to go for a walk and look for hidden gems we have yet to find—within a permitted distance!
2. Have fun on the beach
The four images above are all by the same artist, Jack Vettriano, a contemporary painter who is probably self-isolating somewhere like the rest of us. He was born in Methil, an eastern coastal town in Scotland in 1951 to rather meager origins. But he had the beach, which was priceless amusement for young Jack. The seaside (probably not exactly the Scottish one he knew from childhood) features in many of his paintings.
The selected ones all seem to represent a summer day: from the recent past in Jive, from a century ago in Mad Dogs and Good Days’ Sunshine, or even a summer day out of time, like in The Singing Butler. Dense pastel colors and all the realism this artist could muster make the paintings look like postcards his bathers sent. They are like slides of holiday memories.
If you don’t live too far from the coast, the most obvious, yet evergreen, way of spending summer would be to go to the sea. There are so many things to do there according to Vettriano’s paintings. You can even dress up and dance the tango through the shades cast on the sand by dark-colored umbrellas held by your trustworthy servants while they sing to you.
3. Pick flowers and fruit
You might have to look at this painting twice. Yes, it is indeed a whole man constructed entirely out of summer flowers, fruit, and vegetables. Seated Figure of Summer is an oil-on-canvas work in full Mannerism style. Mannerism, aka ‘strike a pose and make it full of rotations.’ This amazing display of Mother Earth’s creation assembled together with the features of a man partly made of grapes, who is eating grapes, was invented by Milan born artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
He very much liked this trick of the eye and produced several more trompe-l’oeil (optical illusion) paintings in his career. Arcimboldo embellished this one with an artfully painted background. It also has beautiful, textbook perspective and other natural elements. Arcimboldo painted cycles of the four seasons and the four elements as they all had symbolic meaning. Man and nature intertwine and connect, woven in the same fabric.
There are many ways this painting can inspire our summer plans. Despite the difficult times we are living in, nature carries on. When spring arrived, the outdoors bloomed. Now that summer is just around the corner, we can bet that soon it will be growing and giving, as usual. The more we look at the man’s turnip-toes and fingers, at his corn-calves and the flower bed on his head, the more we feel we should go out and enjoy nature on our doorstep. Also, I might start growing tomatoes.
4. Ride a horse
Here comes our fourth outdoor suggestion of ways to spend summer 2020: horse riding! Now, as you can see, this equestrian scene is rather majestic. Jacques Louis David painted it in 1801 to celebrate Napoleon Bonaparte’s victory, when he crossed the Alps to win Italian territory back from the Austrians in May 1800.
The artist asked Napoleon to sit and pose so that he could capture his features in detail but Napoleon didn’t fancy being still for long. So, David used a dated existing reproduction. As a result, the great French conqueror looks much younger than he would have been in reality. David, already quite experienced with epic scenes, went the extra mile and produced a triumph of a painting. The horse is prancing, nostrils, and teeth out, neighing away. Its mane and tail’s curls whipped by the mountain wind. It certainly looks like the horse was indispensable to the crossing of the Alps! Moreso when we notice the privates in the background doing the same. But on foot. Pulling cannons.
If you have never ridden a horse before, let me tell you, it’s great. It involves exercise and being in touch with nature and fresh air, especially during summer, when the weather’s nice and the sky is piercing blue. You would think that a regular horse ride could not possibly look this monumental, and you’d be right. Unless you have an orange-gold cloak and a taco-shaped hat to wear, like Napoleon.
5. Organize a picnic
Is there anything more summery than a picnic? Here in Dejeuner sur l’herbe painted by Manet, we have all the elements needed for a successful one: people, nature, and food. This specific picnic did not get the public’s approval in 1863, however. The composition and the cheekiness of the naked woman staring at the viewer with a side glance confused and shocked viewers.
In the painting, the woman waits for her skin to dry and chooses a spot next to two fully dressed men. She uses her clothes as a towel to sit on, so it seems she left home in the morning a bit unprepared. The two men, lost in conversation, pay no attention to her. Nor does the second woman in the background, too busy paddling in the pond. So it would seem the impropriety of this scene was only left to Manet’s contemporary public to acknowledge. The official Paris Salon rejected the painting (of rather large dimensions). Thankfully, the Salon des Refuses exhibited it and the public gave it the attention it deserved.
Good people, good food, and good weather is the best cocktail! Just pick a fairly isolated spot and you won’t encounter any problems. If you fancy a cheeky naked dip in a public pond, just make sure you bring a towel.
6. Sail through blue waters
Edward Hopper was an American painter born in Nyack, on the Hudson river, who faced several decades of movements and techniques, always being true to himself and his own style. If you think this painting of a boat called Sailing reminds you of the condensed coloring in Vettriano’s works (no. 2 above), you are right! Hopper heavily influenced the Scottish painter from Methil. And, in his years as a student, Manet, and Degas, then Rembrandt affected Hopper. The realism the aforementioned painters used to portray their vision of the world captured Hopper’s attention and imagination and it suited him well. He packed his urban scenes and nautical paintings with color, light, and shades.
Just like horse riding, this might not be everybody’s cup of tea. A boat doesn’t make it in the ‘quarantine essentials’ list. Besides the cost, sailing can be a very liberating summer activity. There are rules at sea one must follow, but it screams freedom and adventure! Alternatively, you could rent a pedal boat. Those are loads of fun, too!
7. Go to concerts and events
Now, we present our first indoor scene, A Concert by Botero, a Colombian sculpturist and painter. We can see two of his famously spherical figures, a woman and a man, occupying space on a bed. She is naked, he is dressed. We could imagine it represents a summer evening and guess that the hot season is extra hot in Colombia. The colors are vivid and bright, but they face a titanic battle to win over our attention, given the peculiarity of Botero’s human bodies.
Detectable is also a vague lack of intentions and feelings. He is playing the guitar, mouth wide open, so he’s singing too. She seems to be listening. The dog sitting by the bed is listening. A man in the background, in the street, stops in front of the open window. He is listening too. But, is anybody enjoying what is happening? It is hard to say. One would think that a private concert would move at least one of the parties depicted. This emotional detachment is one of Botero’s painting traits.
Playing an instrument might not be your forte. I know I’ve tried to learn one or two in vain. We could identify with the lady, instead. If a close relative plays and sings for you, I can only recommend you try hard to look more interested and pleased than Botero’s subject! Our homes, gardens, and terraces have become the place to be these days. We could turn them into our theatres, clubs, playgrounds. Maybe you participated in one of the fun flash mobs organized daily around the world, from your window. Let me know in the comments if you did!
8. Ride a bike
In 2010 George Town in Penang, Malaysia, inaugurated the first edition of the annual art and culture event, the George Town Festival, which celebrated its inception as a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a summer event that sparked collaborations with various artists to re-qualify its urban face and make the city a captivating destination.
Children on Bicycle is a public mural piece by Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian-born artist. Zacharevic painted the two children, while the vehicle is a real bike leaning against the wall. A fun, interesting fusion of media. Street Art removes the restriction of the usual boundaries between the viewer and the artwork. You could be at a fish market, turn your head distractedly, and by chance, eye one of these compelling stencils, murals, or paintings.
Speaking of summer activities, bike-riding is definitely needed on our list of 10. It can satisfy your desire for speed, or it can gently take you wherever you want to be. It gets extra value when it comes to children. The joy on these kids’ faces, depicted in the act of riding, looks like a genuine and truthful representation.
The Travelling Companions is an oil-on-canvas painting by Augustus Leopold Egg from 1862. The scene represents two female mirroring figures in a train carriage. One woman sleeps, the other reads. Besides the gloves (one woman has them on and the other does not) and a few other details, their appearances are very much alike. So much so that there are two possible interpretations: they are related to one another and have little imagination when it comes to clothes, or they represent two sides of the same person, idleness and industry.
In the background, through the window, we admire a sunny day. The coastline is a stretch of the French Riviera, a place where the artist spent many summer days, trying to alleviate his asthma symptoms.
Whether you like reading or snoozing while traveling, we invite you to keep doing it. The discovery of new places, far or near, keeps the mind and spirit in good shape. My friends from the UK quit their jobs and went on a sabbatical with their two kids. They were supposed to see Indonesia, Cambodia, Australia but they had to rearrange that, of course, and are now in Devon, on the south coast of Britain having the best time.
10. Work the couch
This is naked lady number three of our list. However, an artist painted this particular woman way before the other two. It is a Renaissance masterpiece created by Italian artist Titian in 1538 and represents a young maiden waiting to get dressed to attend the ‘toccamano’ ritual. This was a non-religious event where, by touching hands with a suitor, she would give consent to marry.
In the finely painted background we can see two maids prepping the garments for the occasion. The noble girl’s figure, the gesture of hiding her bits (well, some of them), and the direct, allusive glance is influenced by the ancient iconography of the ‘Prude Venus’. So she waits, in all her naked pink splendor on the beautifully rendered fabric of her furnishing. It is probably a bed, rather than a couch. Potato – potato.
Our last activity at the end of this journey just had to be laying on the couch. This piece of furniture, central in each home, provided with its own gravitational pull, has acquired even more power during this period. Maybe you discovered your lifestyle was called ‘quarantine’ and you didn’t know it. In any event, we hope you have found inspiration in the list we provided and that your summer 2020 will be fun and worth remembering!
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