The Kiss (Lovers), oil and gold leaf on canvas, 1907–1908 Gustav Klimt (popular for its gilt)
The Gilded Age, circa 1870-1900, was a period of rapid economic and social growth characterized by the emergence of a wealthy middle class, excess and embellishment in architecture, art and fashion, fueled by mechanization, transportation, major inventions and the growth of cities. Under the surface however lay significant social tensions- corruption in politics, collusion in business and poverty among unskilled industrial workers, child labor and discrimination.The term “Gilded Age” comes from the satirical novel co-authored by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner and published in 1873 (the process of gilding, applied a thin veneer of gold to a baser material such as pewter or tin to make the artifact appear more valuable, had recently been introduced). Twain likened it to an era of serious social problems masked by thin gold gilding.
The Gilded Age is also the setting for my upcoming novel THE UNFORGETTABLE MISS BALDWIN, Book 1 in the the Baldwin Family Series. It follows the lives and loves of the Baldwin siblings: Adam, Allie, Mia, Emma and Ava and their parents, newspaper magnate Joseph Baldwin and his charity-minded wife Clara who oversees a children’s hospital. Since I also LOVE the classic Hollywood romantic comedies of Catherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, I wanted to weave that element into my books. Along with my love of design and architecture of course. Can’t wait for you all to read it!
Washington Square, NY Childe Hassam, 1895
Madame X 1894 John Singer Sargent
For the purposes of this blog, I chose to point out the visual arts of the era when American painters emerged: Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sergeant, Childe Hassam and others. Art of the romanticized West by Albert Bierstadt, Charles Remington et al. Are we in a new Gilded Age? Which artists, in any creative field, will become associated with this era?
This post comes from Painter’s Keys, Robert and daughter Sara Genn (Sara has been carrying on since her Dad passed), these letters are awesome. I have been subscribed since 1997. Each letter is informative, intellectual, and encouraging to artists and writers alike. Anyone can subscribe. See link below.
The quiet town of Jokkmokk (pop. 8000) in Swedish Lapland has been the subject of considerable study. It seems that most of the schoolgirls there are smart and most of the schoolboys are not. Experts have taken a look at the gene pool, relative brain capacities, corpus callosum deviations, family dynamics, even teaching methods in the schools. Things seem about the same as most other Swedish towns. But for several generations now the girls get the marks and the boys drop out.
oil painting by Swedish painter
Emma Ekwall (1838-1925)
What’s going on? Hunting, fishing and forestry are Jokkmokk’s main industries. Young men have traditionally made their living in the bush or on the water. Young women, perhaps responding to some faintly understood genetic need, or just realizing that they need to get out of the place, use good grades to gain their exit. The girls work harder. The boys goof off.
It’s called The Jokkmokk Effect when one group or another moves away to the big city, travels abroad and “makes something of themselves.” Jokkmokk girls have rocked the world by becoming scientists, financiers and artists. Albert Einstein said, “One of the strongest motives that lead to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness.” It’s all about desire. “Desire,” said Benedict Spinoza, “is the very essence of man.” Desire and the intention to do something are more important than brains, wisdom, or even talent. In IQ tests, Jokkmokk boys are just as smart as Jokkmokk girls. Georges Braque said, “The only thing that counts is intention. What counts is what one wants to do.”
oil painting by Emma Ekwall
In many cultures The Jokkmokk Effect applies more to men than to women. Men move away to seek their fortune, find work, and find their way in the world. Women, on the other hand, by biology or by choice, keep the home fires and raise the kids. Through all of this there’s the precarious balance of self-realization and social obligation. Artists of both sexes — particularly these days when the free-self has become such a popular goal — feel the tug from both sides. Back in Jokkmokk there’s a shortage of women and the population is in decline. One wonders how happy they are. The boys are out in the boats. Mark Twain noted, “If you want to be happy, learn to fish.” When you think of it, fishing is a lot like art. “Some days there ain’t no fish.”
oil painting by Emma Ekwall
PS: “There is one big thing — desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.” (Willa Cather) “Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.” (George Bernard Shaw)
Esoterica: “Brain drain” and “talent drain” are part of the phenomena of globalization. One thinks of the magnetic appeal and opportunities of Paris or New York. Theoretically, we visual artists need not be tempted. Jokkmokk might be quite a good place for creativity. The instrument you now see before you is a window to the world. Through its keyboard you can learn, teach, grow, play, buy and sell. It can be an instrument of your desire.
This letter was originally published as “The Jokkmokk Effect” on March 22, 2005.
Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.
“Motivation is in the world around us. We have an infinite amount of material at our disposal, in the lives of those we meet, in what we see and feel, in what we discuss and from the passion of every woman.” (Pablo Picasso)