December 28, 2020

Words of the Month - Contrastive Reduplication

         Surely everyone has had the conversation in which your friend says they like the new kid, and you ask, “Do you like him, or do you LIKE like him?”  I think of this as the original and most iconic example of contrastive reduplication (aka contrastive focus reduplication), but of course there are all kinds of ways it can be used.  What’s going on here is that the speaker is trying to clarify an ambiguity.  Compare with another classic familiar to all speakers of English, “Do you mean funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?”  The meaning of the word funny is ambiguous, and the speaker is trying to focus on the correct interpretation by doubling the word with a synonym that will clarify the meaning: “funny peculiar” or “funny ha-ha.”  Contrastive reduplication is doing the same thing, except that instead of clarifying with a synonym, a speaker doubles the ambiguous word with the same word, emphasized.  It doesn’t seem like this would gain us much clarity, but in fact it’s a very commonly used strategy.
        The most common instances are when we’re indicating that the word in question is to be interpreted as the most prototypical definition possible.  As in

   No, I don’t want a safety pin; I need a PIN pin.

   He’s bringing tuna salad, so I’ll make a SALAD salad.

   Is that turkey bacon or BACON bacon?

   Is Dr Smith a PhD doctor or a DOCTOR doctor?

        Sometimes contrastive reduplication is used to clarify that a word is meant literally, rather than merely figuratively or as an exaggeration.

   It’s not really a CRIME crime.

   Wait, you mean he’s actually DEAD dead?

   Are you FINE fine, or just I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-my-problems-right-now fine?

        Some words have an ambiguity between a relatively non-specific literal meaning and a particular connotation of more depth or significance.

   Well, we didn’t really TALK talk.

   I am up.  I’m just not UP up.

   I do housework every day when I’m at home, but I have WORK work three days a week.

        Sometimes it’s really just a matter of emphasis, clarifying between a moderate interpretation of the word and a more extreme one.

   We’re rich, but we’re not RICH rich.

   Sure I’m nervous, but not NERVOUS nervous.

   Sometimes they get snow there, but not SNOW snow.

        To circle back to my initial example, LIKE like, contrastive reduplication is often used for euphemistic words to signify whether or not we mean the particular sense with the innuendo.

   But did you KISS kiss?

   Were they TOGETHER together?  or just, you know, they happened to be together?

   When he says a drink, he means a DRINK drink.

   Are you suggesting we GO OUT go out?

        You can see from these examples (or think up your own) that we use contrastive reduplication with pretty much every part of speech, as well as entire phrases, so the structure is quite flexible.  Sometimes the reduplicated version is contrasted with the word by itself, while other times it’s contrasted with the word paired with a different synonym.  In all cases, the reduplication indicates the interpretation of the word that is stronger, more prototypical, and/or more significant.
        However, the interpretation is very context-dependent, so that to hear reduplication in a vacuum, such as, “Do you think Bert is HOT hot?” may not actually give you a specific meaning.  Is Bert heatstroke hot, or gorgeous hot, or warmer-than-lukewarm hot, or horny hot, or having-a-string-of-successes hot, or something else?  Unlike my use of synonyms to specify different definitions of hot, reduplication doesn’t actually tell us anything.  So what the structure really does is to alert others that there is ambiguity here, and that we are trying to pinpoint which shade of meaning is intended.  Those shades of meaning then have to be inferred from context.  It’s an interesting linguistic phenomenon, in the spirit of which, I hope you all had a happy holiday season in which you could get together with friends and family… but not TOGETHER together, of course.  Stay safe as we make our way out of 2020 and into the new year!

[Pictures: Cabbage, Celery, Lettuce, relief-block print by Stephen Alcorn, 2003 (Image from The Alcorn Studio & Gallery);

The Kiss I, woodcut by Edvard Munch, 1897 (Image from Munch Museum).]

December 21, 2020

Guess that Medieval Beast 5

         Today’s beast for you to guess is not from a manuscript, but from a stone carving at the Rock of Cashel in Ireland.  I don’t have information on this carving in particular, but it probably dates from the 12th or 13th century, along with the majority of structures at the site.  It represents a creature that medieval artists loved to portray, some reasonably accurately, and others quite wildly off-base.  To be fair, it is a hard beast to get your head around if you’ve never seen one in real life.  So, make your guess and then…

December 17, 2020

Winter Games

         Today we are enjoying our first proper snowstorm of the season.  It would be a Snow Day, but with kids remote-learning anyway, school has not been cancelled.  (On the other hand, remote learning is never such a full schedule, and my ten-year-old neighbor is outside my window now, fooling around with a snow shovel.)  My daughter hopes to join a friend for snowpeople once the roads are cleared.  So today seems a good day to celebrate playing in the snow — with block prints, of course.
         First is a scene by Werner Drewes (Germany/USA, 1899-1985 - previous post here).  It’s almost reminiscent of something by Breughel in its busyness and humor.  There is sledding, a snowman, and a snowball fight, plus the person who has fallen down; I can’t tell whether he has skis, or whether the snowman is holding a bundle of twigs or something.  One of the more interesting effects is the black sky.  Are all these activities taking place at night?  Or even during an eclipse?
        By contrast, the lone sledder by Wharton Esherick (USA, 1887-1970) is a clean black and white with few details.  The footprints in the snow imply that the person has trudged up that whole distant slope for the pleasure of one long, smooth, uninterrupted swoop.
        Thomas Morrison Marker (USA, 1901-1978) has depicted more social sledders, although this hill, too, is fairly pristine.  All the good sledding hills in our neighborhood quickly become completely criss-crossed and packed to a shine.  One thing I really like about this print is the choice of a textured paper.  The texture of the paper works perfectly as the texture of the snow, adding nuance to all that carved-away whiteness.
        Next up is a snow sport that I have never seen: ski-joring by Lil Tschudi (Switzerland, 1911-2004).  In fact, I’d never heard of it before finding this block print, but it’s basically the snow equivalent of water skiing, in which the skier is pulled, in this print by a horse.  
I love the unusual use of a round composition for an activity that emphasizes speed and would be spread out quite horizontal in the more obvious view.  It’s very dynamic, with its curved lines and energetic poses.
        I conclude with an adorable piece by Boris Artzybasheff (Russia/USA, 1899-1965 - previous post here).  It’s an illustration of “The Story of a Bold Rabbit,” but as I have not yet read the story, I’m taking the image as a simple picture of rabbits gathering on a snowy night.  They look quite frolicsome, and the snowflakes make beautifully detailed stars.  Perhaps the rabbits will soon go sliding down the hill like the people in the other block prints.

[Pictures: Winter, woodcut by Werner Drewes, 1933 (Image from Smithsonian American Art Museum);

Winter Play, wood engraving by Wharton Esherick, 1928 (Image from Wharton Esherick Museum);

Coasters, block print by Thomas Morrison Marker, 1935 (Image from The Annex Galleries);

Ski-Joring, linocut by Lil Tschudi, 1937 (Image from Cleveland Museum of Art);

The Story of a Bold Rabbit with Cock Eyes and a Short Tail, block print by Boris Artzybasheff from Verotchka’s Tales by M. Siberiak, 1922 (Image from Internet Archive).]

December 11, 2020

Hanukkah Greetings

         I thought I’d celebrate Hanukkah by looking through the wood block prints from a couple of seventeenth-century Jewish prayer books.  Of course, since I can’t read Hebrew, I don’t really know what I’m looking at in most cases, but I wanted to share a few that seemed appropriate.
        First is a man lighting a menorah.  I have two illustrations for you, one from 1611 and the other from 1669.  You can see that the iconography is very consistent, and that becomes even clearer if you check back and compare with another menorah-lighting man I shared a couple of years ago.  It’s entirely possible that the second was directly copied from the first, or that they were both copied from an earlier model.  It’s particularly interesting that the man is dressed the same in both, since presumably fashions would have changed in the fifty-eight years between the two illustrations.  On the other hand, there are two differences.  In the first, the man uses two spills, while in the second he uses a single long spill to light the flames.  Also, the second version decides to include a pitcher.  Why?
        Next I have another set of corresponding illustrations from the same two prayer books.  I don’t know what this is actually illustrating, but I imagined perhaps if the woman were cooking oily food, it would be appropriate for Hanukkah!  However, what it really looks like is that a bowl is hanging (or magically floating?) below a lamp, and this must be significant because the woman has interrupted her cooking to raise her hands to it.  Once again the two pictures are extremely similar, except in being reversed, but once again the second artist has decided to include a pitcher.  Perhaps he (or she) just really enjoyed doing pitchers!
        I include one more illustration from the earlier book, depicting God handing the Ten Commandments to Moses on the top of the mountain.  No, it has nothing in particular to do with Hanukkah, but I liked it.  I especially enjoy the touches of beautifully curly smoke(?) rising up from the mountaintop, and the bell of the trumpet poking down from the clouds to herald this divine visitation.
        I wish a very Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating, and may all of us find that the Light in our lives exceeds our fears.

[Pictures: Three wood block prints from Minhagim, 1611 (Images from Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg);

Two wood block prints from Birkat ham-mazon, 1669 (Images from Bayerische StaatsBibliothek).]

December 7, 2020

Guess that Medieval Beast 4

         It’s time for Round 4 of everyone’s favorite game, and this time it’s a creature I’ve discussed in this blog before.  This illumination appears in a bestiary from 1270, from the J. Paul Getty Museum.  It certainly is a beautiful illustration, with its patterned borders and background, multicolored feathers, and touches of gold…  But what is it?  It has the basic body of a dog, wings like a bird, and it’s placed in something that looks more like a sculpture by Dale Chihuly than anything else (but I’ll give you a hint, in case you haven’t guessed: it’s a fire).  This is one of the creatures that is depicted in quite a broad variety of ways in different bestiaries, but this is nevertheless one of the standard visions.  So, what creature do you think this thirteenth century artist was trying to depict?

December 2, 2020

Holiday Shopping

         This time last year I was busily matting, and framing, and making up extra packets of notecards.  Usually in early December I’m smack in the middle of a whole series of shows and sales.  But of course this year is different.  Most of my usual shows have been cancelled, and those that aren’t cancelled have gone on-line, which is not even remotely the same.  For one thing, seeing art in person is just different; you get a better sense of its size, texture, presence.  It’s more likely to grab you and charm you.  And you can buy it on the spot and walk away with it, ready to wrap for giving or hang for your own enjoyment.  Perhaps even more importantly, in-person shows have a buzz.  There are lots of artists and lots of art-viewers.  Everyone’s out and about with the shared holiday spirit of enjoying art and looking for delight.  It’s a lot more exciting than sitting in your house staring at a screen for the tenth straight hour… even if art is more fun to stare at on the screen than yet another zoom meeting.
        On the other hand, the down-side of in-person shows is that you can be in only one place at a time.  There are a number of holiday shows that friends have recommended to me, but I’ve never participated in because they’re the same weekends as other shows I already participate in.  But on-line I can be in lots of places at once, so this year I’ve joined in the virtual versions of a couple of shows I’ve never done before.  Altogether I’m participating in three shows that are all on-going for the entire month.
        Church of the Redeemer Christmas Market - This is a fund-raiser for the church, to whom I will donate a percentage of my sales.  This is not my faith community, but it is the church where my sister-in-law sings in the choir, and we always go to their Christmas Eve service to enjoy the beautiful music and ceremony.  There are a variety of artists participating, but also other fancy businesses with everything from food to fashion.  Find the participating vendors here.
        Medfield Holiday Stroll - In addition to the listings of participating artists, Medfield TV is hosting a gala event on December 4 from 6-8pm, featuring music, Christmas tree lighting, and videos of artists in their studios.  A couple of very nice, professional young women came out to film me earlier this year, and I’m excited to see what they do with the video.  (I’ll probably cringe hideously to see and hear myself, but hopefully it won’t be too embarrassing!)  There’s a nice variety of arts and crafts in Medfield’s line-up, for some excellent gift-shopping possibilities.  See the artists here, as well as a link to view the live broadcast on-line this weekend.
        Gallery Twist “Illumination” - This is the gallery’s annual December show, staged in their beautiful historic building in the center of Lexington.  They can’t hold their usual gala opening reception, of course, but unlike the other shows, the gallery is actually open for in-person visits this month, as long as groups are small and masked.  I do highly recommend it; it’s really fun to see the beautiful and quirky way they’ve arranged the gorgeous and eclectic variety of work.  In addition, they have on-line 360° tours and videos, plus the listings of all the art in the show.  Find all the viewing options and information here.
        My web site - Finally, don’t forget that you can see all my available work on my own web site, and it is easy to purchase directly from me.  Just contact me, whether you want to see some of my pieces in person, or arrange a completely contactless sale.  I’m also happy to answer any questions, of course, so please do let me know.  Visit my web site here.  And you don’t even have to be in eastern Massachusetts to enjoy all my shows this year!
        It’s certainly easier just to do all your holiday shopping on amazon and be done with it, but your purchases mean a lot more to small-time local artists (even on a normal year, but especially in a year when all our shows are cancelled).  Moreover, unique, original, hand-made gifts will mean a lot more to all your beloved friends and family!  Check us out and see what just might be the perfect gifts for ending a far-from-perfect year with a spirit of beauty and joy.

[Pictures: Covid-themed art at Gallery Twist, including All in This Together by AEGN, 2020;

Gallery Twist “Illumination” show, including Pinwheels by AEGN, 2020.]