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Who do you talk to when facing an existential crisis?

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

In ART YARD Advanced Studio this week Teaching Artist Ed Rath presented an erudite, inspiring and timely session which posits the question:Who do you talk to when facing an existential crisis?

Ed explains: “In our session Monday we looked at works by four artists who created scenes of contemplation. We also listened to Christopher Lee's reading of Edgar Allan Poe's masterpiece, The Raven, in which a bereaved man, looking for answers as to why his beloved Lenore died, carries on a conversation with a Bust of Pallas Athena, representing Logic and the Rational Mind, and a Raven, a messenger from beyond who repeatedly tells the man that Lenore is never coming back. As the man grapples with the reality of the situation, he becomes enraged with the raven for insisting that the reality of death is final.

Imagery: First, we looked at a panel from Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece, entitled, The Meeting of St. Anthony Abbot and St. Paul the Hermit in the Wilderness. In this scene a raven is bringing bread (manna from heaven) to the two hermits. In Christianity bread symbolizes the Body of Christ, thus symbolizing Spiritual Sustenance. Ravens appear in the Bible as messengers of God and as the bird searching for dry land after the flood in the story of Noah's Ark. This rich literary history gave Poe a potent symbol with which to voice the harsh reality of the finality of death.

Next we looked at Rembrandt's famous painting, Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer, in which the great philosopher, dressed as a wealthy Dutch aristocrat, gazes longingly at a Bust of Homer in search of poetic enlightenment.

Rembrand and Rath: Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer

We then studied three versions of The Magdalen Contemplating Death by George de La Tour and discussed how the artist experimented with a few simple elements (candles, mirrors, a skull, red fabric, and black deep space) to create a scenes of introspection and contemplation.

Lastly we looked at several late paintings by Giorgio De Chirico, which feature mannequins staring off into space, looking out the window, or looking a painting. These figures, surrounded by architectural iconography and still life objects, seem stuck in eternity, contemplating the classical ideals of a world that no longer exists, except in one's mind.

During the one hour work session we created scenes inspired by the images shown and Poe's poem.

Kevin drew a scene of a man looking at doors which represent choices we have to make in life.

Kevin Anderson shares his working sketch during critique (on Zoom)
Kevin Anderson, In Contemplation

Sarah drew a scene with a figure looking happy in one view, and overcome with sadness in another, affirming the complexity of our emotional lives.

Sarah Gumgumji, In Contemplation

Marilyn and Karla both used puzzle imagery to represent the unsolvable, existential questions we all face.

Marilyn August, In Contemplation

Karla writes: "The lesson was so inspiring! My materials: cut paper, architectural drawings, and colored pencil. The center of the work features a self-portrait placed in a spiraling energy of life’s challenges (unsolved crossword puzzle). Raven/person duos are positioned around this constant circle…facing one another contemplating solutions to issues, problems, or life in general! Ravens remember faces and utilize cooperative techniques. Yellow/white circles represent the full moon which keeps me awake and draws me to the solitude of working crosswords. Architectural drawing pieces also symbolize challenges. Scattered puzzle pieces represent both the resolved and unresolved of life’s questions, ups and downs! “Answer” pieces are symbolic of seeking outside ourselves for solutions when we don’t have all the answers."

Karla Prickett, In Contemplation

Pat created a comical dream scenario showing Sisyphus pushing rocks and a Covid-19 ball into a faculty meeting, complete with a glorious chandelier in the meeting room.

Pat Larash, In Contemplation

Jacob did a self-portrait looking in the mirror with a poster of his favorite singer, creating a three way conversation of contemplation.

Jacob Rath, In Contemplation

Robin's drawing, Generation Gap, expressed with humor the age old problem of how the new meets the old.

Robin Grant, In Contemplation, Generation Gap

Zeke, inspired by the De Chirico images, created two amazing drawings of a person in isolation, contemplating the world outside himself.

Zeke Brokaw, In Contemplation 1
Zeke Brokaw, In Contemplation 2

And Meridith created a beautiful scene of a crowded theater, explaining, "In my piece, the actors, dancers, and audience are all contemplating the same thing together.”

Meridith McNeal, In Contemplation

Ed sketched a scene inspired by the imagery in The Raven in which he conceives of the narrative as a dream.

Ed Rath, In Contemplation, The Raven

Robin writes: “I enjoyed the lesson very much! I appreciated his presentation! I learned about the value of using symbolism in art! Also, I thought it was a great way to bridge together art and literature! I have enjoyed the last few lessons! I have learned a lot!”

Pat adds: “I really enjoyed Ed’s lesson! I particularly liked the way he drew our attention to the use of light, darkness, and mirrors in the model artworks (including his own). I particularly appreciated Ed’s discussion of De Chirico—he really opened up that artist for me. I liked the chance to reflect (ha!) on the theme of "contemplation" and how it might be represented visually.”

Marilyn recounts: "Ed laid out the lesson so well with the images and the objectives. The added bonus was the recording he played of "The Raven”. I listened to it again after class. For the first time, I think I “got it” with respect to the imagery and symbolism, thanks to Ed’s examples and commentary. Everybody’s work, as always, was inspiring."

The lesson's focus on the use of symbolism to convey a narrative resonated well with our group, as evidenced by the work produced.


Ready for unveiling on the last day of the school year, Dennis and Vera worked very hard to create a video manifestation for ART YARD Art Matters at PS 6 exhibition of student works.

Dennis worked closely with 5th grade teacher Maria Tolentino to train an amazing team of 4th and 5th grade docents. These articulate youngsters made video and audio recordings which Ms. Tolentino took charge of getting to ART YARD in a timely manner. She and Dennis worked together with the students to help edit down the presentations to fit the time constraints. Vera once again worked her magic to pull together vast amounts of images, audio, and video to create a single cohesive piece which she then uploaded to the ART YARD YouTube station where it now lives to be enjoyed by all.

The school posted a link to their intra-school Facebook page. Dennis is working with Assistant Principal Lauren Bernero to include individual docent presentations on the Facebook page in the near future. Maria Tolentino emailed to say: “The virtual art show was very nice! I posted on my classroom feed and in the Class Dojo! I’m sure my students and parents will enjoy them!”


ART YARD Summer Session begins next week!

The first 2 weeks of ART YARD Summer Session will take place on Zoom 4-6pm, Tuesday – Friday July 6, 7, 8, 9 and July 13, 14, 15, 16. Our 3rd week will take place in Person in Crown Heights, Brooklyn 10:30am-3:30pm, July 20, 21, 22, 23 at Salon on Kingston, 105 Kingston Avenue and July 24 at FiveMyles Gallery 558 St. Johns Place, followed by celebratory lunch Aita Trattoria, 798A Franklin Avenue

Peter Doig, Country-Rock (Wing Mirror), 1999 will inspire some of our work in this session.

Teaching Artist Reg Lewis will lead this exciting three-week studio art course as we kick off the ART YARD Year to HEAL and RESTORE. Participating artists will deepen and expand upon their own artistic style as they make art which will be included in our exhibition The Way We See It at FiveMyles Gallery September 18 – October 10, 2021 and in a printed book available through Amazon.


We are pleased to announce that ART YARD BKLYN has registered as an Arts Collective with STAR - Storefront Arts Recovery Initiative. This exciting program might lead to ART YARD Artists creating and showing work to activate vacant storefronts and enliven our streets as New York City recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Congratulations to ART YARD Artist Maraya Lopez (aka Berdscarnival) who will be participating in the Six Foot Platform project in DUMBO, Soundtrack in collaboration with Harvey "Ras(X)" Lackey. What: Visit my strategy, No Color Game

When: Sunday, July 4, 2021, 12PM-9PM

Where: Washington St. & Water St., DUMBO, NY (Rain location: In the tunnel under the Manhattan Bridge)


You can check out my work in Lumiere Review!


Please join ART YARD Artists Marie Roberts, Candy Heiland, Maraya Lopez, and me on Saturday July 10th 1-6pm for the Grand Opening of The Art of Coney Island at Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, 481 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Adam Realman will be performing 2 short sets of sideshow demos at 4 & 5:30. Gary Dreyfus and his team from Coney Island USA will be floating about doing magic tricks. Chris Spinelli’s “Luna” Sing for Hope piano will be on hand with multiple performers as well as Jehan and her merman/mermaid assistants. Libations including a special Coney Island cocktail, beer, wine and of course hot dogs and popcorn will be available at our cash bar. Step Right Up!!


Looking forward to seeing many of you next week as we begin Summer Session 2021!


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