All posts by John Lauer

The Art Shack

Episode 1:

In the first episode of Art Shack, we give an overview of different forms of expression in art. Art is fundamentally that, an expression, and it can be shown in many ways. We introduce this topic and give some examples of famous pieces of art from history.

Episode 2: Chuck Close

Chuck Close was an extraordinarily accomplished and highly talented artist. He created so many notable works in his time and has inspired so many. Despite some controversy both at the beginning and end of his career, he is undeniably an art legend. Upon his recent death, I found covering him on the show appropriate.

Episode 3: Art in Secondary Education

As a high schooler who finds art important, this was a necessary topic to cover. Art is something, that in recent times, has been overlooked at this level of education. But it is one of the most enriching subjects for students of all ages and throughout his episode I express that and give examples.

The Art Shack was designed, created, and produced by John Lauer.

John is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.

From ceramics to K-pop, how Korea’s art has evolved

Korea has a long history of art and poetry. There are numerous surrounding nations and cultures for the Korean people over the ages to draw from. Between their neighboring countries, religion, naturalism, and personal expression in one of the most repressive nations in history, there is a lot to express and also many cultural mediums to express that through.

For the understanding of Korean art, there is a level of knowledge of Korean culture that many in the west do not have. This is not surprising as one of the defining characteristics of Korean culture is reclusiveness and suppression. This sounds brutal, and perhaps sometimes it is. The people of the Korean peninsula have been reclusive to their nation and repressed individually.

To a modern American, this may sound awful. This created as many obvious issues as one could imagine. But it also made the most harmonious and peaceful society ever. As well as this, for most of modern Korean history, there was a highly encouraging outlet for these pent-up emotions, questions, or perspectives. Art and poetry. The number of built-up emotions, thoughts on society, and questions about the world, that were just inside of every Korean, allowed for a great deal of beautiful and culturally rich art and poetry.

For as long as Korea has had art and Buddhism, they have mixed. There is an excellent heft of Korean Buddhist art. Though the defining philosophy of Korea for some time has been Confucianism, because of how pervasive in all aspects of society it is, it often works hand in hand with Buddhism, Christianity, folk religion, or any religion/philosophy. We see this now with western capitalism being very firmly rooted in South Korea and other western ideas. However, Confucist and traditional Cofucist Korean practices are still in place.

Pensive bodhisattva, Gilt bronze, Korea
Pensive bodhisattva, a Korean Buddhist statue from the Three Kingdoms period (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Korean art follows a few main phases. But these are based on the influence on the peninsula. These influences can be broken down into a few main eras. First, the Three Kingdoms period from 57B.C.-668A.D. The Three Kingdoms period was when the Korean Peninsula was separated into three main kingdoms Goguryeo in the north, Baekje in the southwest, and Silla in the southeast. There was also a tiny kingdom Kaya in the south, and part of the north was controlled by Chinese dynasties. This was the time when Buddhism was first introduced to Korea. This affected the artworks of the time to have more Chinese style incorporated in their works. However, Korean culture remained united through their art and culture, separate from Chinese influences.

Just from the length of this period in history, you can see many changes over time. When it comes to Chinese influences, you will see that the Buddhist aspect of East Asian culture is more prominent at specific points. The level of harmony and peace in Korean society and culture also contributes to how long these phases of Korean history last, not only in the Three Kingdoms Period but with their next major steps in the Korean timeline.

After the Three Kingdoms, Korea did go through a lot of turmoil due to the constantly changing hands of the political systems of the peninsula. There are numerous rules of Korea separated up into different kingdoms until in 918A.D. The law falls into the hands of the Kingdom of Goryeo.

Goryeo continues to rule the entirety of what we know to this day as Korea until 1392A.D. We saw the introduction of Buddhism from India via China in the Three Kingdoms. We see the Golden Age of Korean Buddhism with the Goryeo kingdom. The most notable example of this is the Tripitaka Koreana. This is one of the most famous pieces of art ever made. This is a collection of 80,000 pages of Korean Buddhist canon printed using woodblocks. The woodblocks are a national treasure of Korea and are in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Embed from Getty Images

Also, at this time, ceramics, porcelain structures, and other craftwork was flourishing. Especially the Jinsa strategy using copper oxide. This was so successful it was later exported to the Yuan dynasty in China.

Immediately following Goryeo, the longest-reigning Kingdom to have control of Korea came to power. This was the well-known Joseon dynasty. The Joseon dynasty ruled until the Japanese stomped them out. They led from 1392A.D. to 1897A.D., over 500 years, and the Kingdom underwent changing societal influences multiple times. However, through these events, like becoming a tributary state of the Qing dynasty in China, there were many notable and independent aspects of Joseon when it comes to culture and art.

Embed from Getty Images

Confucianism became the principal ideology of Korea throughout this period. This meant that people were becoming even more adapted to the reclusive aspects of Korean culture. Related to these cultural changes, the art scene also had a lot of developments both concerning Confucianism and changes independent of ideology. Korean art throughout this time separated from the Chinese despite sharing Confucian values. Koreans did this by increasing realism in their art, which became a distinct feature of Korean art but not Chinese. Ceramics also flourished throughout this period, predominantly white and blue ceramics using cobalt pigment.

Jar decorated with flowers and insects, Porcelain with cobalt-blue design, Korea
Jar decorated with flowers and insects from the 18th century (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The fall of Joseon came from increasing conflict with the outside world. That eventually culminated in a short-lived “Korean Empire” that was soon annexed to Japan after its founding. This rule under Japan lasted until 1945. This period was tragic for Korea and its people. Koreans were treated without respect and were highly suppressed by the Japanese. Unfortunately, there is not much to show from this period.

After this Japanese rule fell, Korea, unfortunately, suffered once more. Korea fell into a civil war that never truly ended. There was a ceasefire in 1953, which created a mostly peaceful Korean peninsula. While the tension is not gone, there have been no regime shifts since the ceasefire, and Korea is split into two parts. A democratic republic, modeled after and supported by the United States in the south. This is the Republic of Korea or South Korea as most know it. In the northern half, the people have been living under an authoritarian communist dictatorship backed by China and for some time the Soviet Union, this is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea.

North Korea has continued down a road of isolation to become the most isolated country in the world. They also have very poor human development and human rights. Due to these, there is next to no art produced by the free will of artists. There is almost no art that is not a tool of the dictatorship. In the south, there has been an entirely different story. South Korea has become increasingly intertwined with western and, specifically, American culture. There are some negatives and positives to this. However, for the most part, Koreans have been able to hold onto their traditional culture while also adapting aspects of the far more liberal western and American culture that amplifies and idealizes self-expression. This has led to a much more diverse pool of art coming from Korea. Everything from realism, western styles like impressionism, and much more.

Within this advancement and change in Korean art, there are other aspects besides just the painted art that have been majorly influential. There is a large amount of South Korean artistic media growing in popularity throughout Korea and the world, particularly Japan, The United States, and China. This is known as the Korean Wave. The Korean Wave takes on many forms of visual and musical art and media.

Embed from Getty Images

The most popular of these in the world today is Korean pop music or K-pop. K-pop has become vastly popular worldwide mostly with groups of young performers such as GFRIEND, Stray Kids, and BTS. These groups mix catchy music with impressive choreography that has taken the world by storm. The pop music industry in Korea has faced scrutiny recently due to the treatment of its performers. While many performers in the industry are seemingly paid less than they deserve for their work due to the contracts they have with the label companies that own their work, there are few cases where companies have done anything illegal to take advantage of performers in Korea. It is primarily a moral concern that is hard to judge from the outside.

Art and culture are directly correlated. As the culture in Korea continues to change, so will the art and media. We have seen Korea go through so many different stages, politically and culturally. And we have seen these stages have their effect through art. Korea has one of the most beautiful and rich artistic histories that spans everything from early ceramics to the K-pop of the modern day.

John Lauer is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class

Johannes Vermeer: Catholic Art and the Dutch Golden Age

In the Netherlands, the 17th Century was one of the all-time highs. Philosophy, art, science – reformations in all levels of society were making a better Netherlands. The economy was flourishing; however, one of the significant changes to Dutch society was the Protestant reformation. The Protestant Reformation, which, by the time of famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, had converted most of his native Netherlands. This also brought the Calvinist sect to the forefront of the country, becoming the state religion of the Dutch Republic. It is known as the Dutch Golden Age. 

Vermeer himself strode against the general direction of Dutch society at the time. Vermeer was suspected to be a Catholic convert. This was a dangerous move; after all, public Catholic worship was illegal. He was baptized as a Protestant, but something must have compelled a middle-class man with so much mobility to willingly put a handicap on himself. This motivation could have just been his wife, but it must have been more through his apparent whole-hearted dedication to the Church.

His dedication to his wife proved exceptional not only by his suspected conversion to the Catholic faith but also by his marriage in a Catholic Church outside of his home city of Delft. The start of this suspicion and conversion was his marriage to a Catholic woman, Catharina Bolnes. However, the public practice of Catholicism put himself at risk.

Johannes Vermeer, Allegory of the Catholic Faith, c. 1671–74 or c. 1670–72

In time, his faith grew more, to where he developed a theology of his own. He, with pushes from his wife and mother-in-law, became strongly related to the faith. To the point that he was even denied opportunities. But he did not compromise. He named his children Catholic names such as Franciscus and Elisabeth. He was deeply involved with his Jesuit sect of Catholicism, naming his youngest known son Ignatius after the sect’s founder. You can even see how much of his faith is reflected directly in his paintings.

The denying of Catholicism in Vermeer’s work is a Protestant lie. To a degree, it can be seen as Christian symbolism, which would have been popular with the whole of the Netherlands at the time. But in many instances, his work is distinctly Catholic. Using symbols and motifs shunned by the Calvinist tyrants. Creating work suspected to have been commissioned by local Catholics and local secret Catholic Churches. 

The most famous of his explicitly spiritual and religious paintings is his “The Allegory of Faith,” sometimes known as “Allegory of the Catholic Faith,” painted in 1670-72. 

This work depicts a woman at a makeshift altar. Around her, there are many symbols of the Catholic faith. The first of which is the stone crushing the snake. Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone of the Catholic Church. The general interpretation of this is Jesus crushing the snake, which is the destruction and triumph of Jesus over Satan and the triumph of the Church as a whole. 

The woman herself represents the Church. Depicting the Church as a woman is not exclusive to this work. Other artists have used a woman to represent the alive entity of the Church. This is because the Church is wholly human. As well as this, using a woman gives maternal symbolism. 

She is surrounded by symbols that represent the entity of the Church and her people and how they relate to sin. First is the apple that lay in front of her. This is the apple, the forbidden fruit, that is to Catholics, symbolic of all human sin and our drive as humans to sin. To balance this, in the background, there is a Crucifixion scene from Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens. This counters the apple; the Crucifixion is our redemption. The human God is suffering for us. From this suffering, the forgiveness of and the ability to go against our sins. 

Every part of this piece has a direct correlation to the Church or the Catholic Faith. 

Another famous female representation of the greater Catholic Faith is “Woman Holding Balance,” which Vermeer painted between 1662 and 1664. 

Johannes Vermeer Woman Holding Balance, c. 1662–63 or c. 1663–64

The Catholic interpretation of this work is that the woman is God herself. She is judging humanity at the end of days. The balance could be her judging humanity as a whole or her judging an individual.

The similarities between this work and The Allegory of Faith continue. Along with the woman representing more significant themes in the Church, there is also the painting in the background. In this case painting of Jesus shows the second coming. This is used to show that the setting of this is not only a woman in a room but that it is the second coming or the judgment day. 

Vermeer’s paintings can be looked at together or just as easily as complete works on their own. However, it is worth looking at how he uses the paintings in the background to set the tone and the theme. He uses paintings of Jesus at different stages to create different meanings and atmospheres. Almost all of Vermeer’s known paintings use either another painting, a mirror, or a tapestry in the background. In the two examples I have gone over, it is to set the tone and symbolic setting, but depending on the painting, he can be using it in any number of different tactics. 

Away from Vermeer’s symbolic representations of the Church and God, he used his painting as a way to represent his faith even more. The next painting to be covered is “Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary,” painted between 1654 and 1656. 

Johannes Vermeer, Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary, c. 1654–55
or c. 1654–56 or c. 1655

Though this painting has less analysis needed to find Catholicism present, there is still something to unpack. This shows Vermeer’s dedication to the Church. His parents and his wife’s parents were upset when they married because of their respective family religions. That is a suspected motivation for the creation of this work. Vermeer may have painted this just to show his dedication to Catholicism. 

Vermeer was an artist dedicated to his faith. The level of devotion Vermeer had as a convert is something most people can learn from today. This devotion played a serious role in his art and life. 

John Lauer is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.

Youth and reading: Can we revive the world of literature?

The fatal flaw of the current generation of high school and college-aged males is that hardly anyone is reading. Most young male students do not care enough, do not see the value, or do not have the time to read literature. Despite this, reading has significant benefits: it helps your critical thinking, improves your writing skills, and gives you a serious advantage on the SAT. But for most students, that is not enough. It should be enough! Still, a portion of students do have that drive to study literature, but nothing can convince most students to read instead of playing video games or pick up literature instead of another club.

Reading is a female-dominated habit. Even with audiobooks being a popular alternative for men, a Norwegian study finds that women dominate the audiobook market in Norway, with almost 1.5 times as many female listeners as males. Even so, many do not consider audiobooks a whole replacement for printed books. Most people who read audiobooks like to do something else, which takes away part of their attention. 70 percent of audiobook listeners in Norway say they prefer to do something else while listening. However, when listening to audiobooks with your full attention, brain activity is almost the same as reading print books, and most of the benefits of reading print books are experienced.

Embed from Getty Images

In the UK, US, and Canada, men only account for 20 percent of fiction readers. This comes down to a gap in the sexes and a gap of empathy. Females are consistently shown to have an at least noticeable difference in empathy, which can help them be more invested in fictional literature.

This is not cut and dry. Levels of attraction to fiction could be a natural difference between males and females. However, most boys do not need much of a shove to propel them into fiction – it can usually be a good book series or a good school teacher. An astonishing 61 percent of boys asked by the publisher Scholastic agreed that it was after reading the Harry Potter series when they started reading for fun. When asked on the subject, Mount Theology teacher Mr. Brian Shearer, also an MSJ alumnus from the class of 2014, said it only took one class. “Sophomore year of high school at Mount Saint Joe…we had to read more than a handful of novels from American literature…take detailed notes on them, have in-depth discussions on them and rigorous testing on them.” This is what it took to fall in love with reading.

So how can we push students, especially males, to take that first step or get them to actually read, which will spark that interest? English teacher Mrs. Kirsten Nilsen has the goal of “helping them find personal connections,” which allows her to make sure that her students are reading and help actually engage them. She has to get the “at grade level” students, who usually will stay as far from a book as possible, to read and analyze the literature. This is a difficult position, and because of how vital literature is, critical and rewarding.

Mrs. Nilsen also clarifies that the current accessibility of visual media is one of the main things taking away from the print book’s dominance. When asked about reading participation, she stated that over the past ten years, she has realized that reading is not an activity that kids love right away.

To help with this new issue, there seems to be a two-fold answer: Making kids less dependent on visual media and making reading more appealing to their modern taste. It will be impossible for teachers or parents, or anyone in a position of authority to get their kids to read unless they can do both of those. The previously mentioned audiobooks are one way that kids, especially high school students who have phones and other electronic devices, can easily listen to books and engage with literature. Instead of putting on music, teens might want to actually listen to an audiobook when walking to a friend’s house or while shooting basketball.

Audiobooks are a great start, especially for teens that have been accustomed to not reading most of their lives. It addresses the one issue of having literature appeal to the modern palette, but ignores the issue of fixing the contemporary palette.

This goal of fixing the modern palette may be impossible on a large scale. What is not impossible is having children reading at a young age, which will give them the interest and long-term capability to read literature. However, this is just as hard of a task as getting high schoolers to read. It takes a lot of time and effort to get children the exposure to literature required to get this interest.

Feeding children literature that matches their interest, and getting them to read it, will almost certainly result in long-term engagement. But this takes time, money, and effort – time, money, and effort that most parents, caregivers, and teachers cannot afford. For this, some options and methods might take the load off these individuals. Parents can make a point to visit the library weekly or biweekly. As well as having a minimum amount of reading for their children between visits. This will get kids used to the sometimes hard action of reading. It will help teach them how to take care of books, and trips to the library can be quick, easy, and free for most people living in metropolitan areas. There are even programs at many libraries to try to build interest in literature for youth. This past year in Baltimore, the citywide Enoch Pratt Free Library hosted Summer Break Baltimore, a library program for children with thousands of participants. This program involved library activities as well as reading books.

Embed from Getty Images

As previously mentioned, there are ways for teachers to help students actually read and make connections, which is the best way to generate a pro-literature mindset. For younger students, this can be as simple as silent reading time, rewards for reading, or making books easily accessible in the school library. According to the guidelines from Scholastic, the ideal independent reading time is as little as 45 minutes for second grade and up. And most schools already have libraries for students to use. Programs can help usage, as well as teachers using the library for lessons.

Now that we have gotten the very important “how” out of the way, it is also necessary to bring it back up and go into greater detail with the “why.”

When interviewing Ms. Nilsen, I found that one of the reasons it is so important for children or anyone to read is how it uses our imagination. To break down this idea: reading has us use our creativity to the fullest where visual, and even some auditory media just spoon-feeds us how to see everything. But reading engages the mind so much more and allows for a more personal or in-depth relationship with the media.

Empathy. For Mr. Shearer, a Theology teacher, he wants students to use literature to understand: understanding the world, concepts, and, most importantly, understanding other people. Mr. Shearer uses books and articles to help students better understand the world and its people and use texts that are merely advice, factual, or relate to the course.

The literate citizenry is an invaluable asset to, and a long-rooted part of, our society as it has developed. It is a way to gain knowledge and experience. A way to build empathy and understanding. It works our imaginations more and in a different way than anything else. This trend of other informative and entertainment mediums growing their market share will not likely subside anytime soon. However, we can always do our part and do what is best for us and those in our lives.

John Lawrence Lauer is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class

The Olympics matter more than just the medals

The year 2020 came and went without the Olympic Games held in Tokyo. But if you care about America’s international position, then you should be most grateful that the Japanese government and the Olympic Committee allowed the games in 2021. In Tokyo, August of 2021, we showed the world and ourselves that the United States is what she always was, the leader of the world. These were the most important Olympic Games since 1936 in Berlin. A bigger show of the strength of the individual standing up to communism than the Miracle on Ice in 1980. Because the games did come a year late. And that was just on time. Right now, there are a lot of doubts in our nation, from her people and otherwise.

Embed from Getty Images

In recent years it has not been rare that the United States comes second: second in economic growth, second in roadway system length, second in manufacturing, and we all know who was coming first. To the international community as a whole, there has been a red threat creeping up since the 1970s.

China was always a population center of the world. But due to the suffering brought by imperialism from Japan and Britain, a stronger than usual sense of pride in their traditions, lack of unification, and constant warfare in East Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries, they were still a minor player in everything except for manpower for a long time. Economic growth started after the Communist Party took power in the 1950s. It was evident by the end of the Nixon administration that China’s new economic reform would push them to the world stage, not helped by Nixon’s 1972 visit to the cities of China. This is referred to by many as “The week that changed the world,” and I say that is almost an understatement.

Embed from Getty Images

The Communist Party is now the recognized leader of the largest country on the planet, and now the whole world is open to doing business with the already growing economy. It is important to remember that before this visit, the Republic of China (Taiwan) was deemed the legitimate government of all China and the Communist Party was but an insurgence that no one wanted to do business with.

But now, they are open to the world. They are our largest trade partner. Japan’s largest trade partner. The European Union’s largest trade partner. The number one exporter in the world – communist China. This has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. Raised the life expectancy in China by decades. Almost doubled the Chinese literacy rate. And put more Chinese people through college than any other country in the world. These are all great things, and any reasonable person knows it is good to see the life expectancy grow in the country with over 10% of the world’s population.

But there is a darkness lurking behind this economic growth, healthcare development, and educational growth. That comes back to the communists in charge. The Communist Party in China, founded by Mao Zedong and headed by Xi Jinping, has had a history of ruthlessness that continues to this day. Cultural genocide, brutal individual oppression, overarching government control of every aspect of life, and a Machiavellian ideology that has persisted since the Chinese Communist Party took power. This is the dark side of communist China.

Embed from Getty Images

To break down the severity of what people in China deal with, I will give a popular modern example, the communist control of the internet. China’s government has taken complete control of the internet and media. Here in the United States, we take it for granted that if we look something up on our web browser, we will find something unbiased; though that may not be true anymore, we still have little to no government control over our internet use. We are allowed to visit any website that follows common law. In China, the Communist Party claims the power to be able to ban anything they deem harmful.

I can only highlight so much about the crimes against humanity in China. But the most severe of what has occurred recently is a cultural genocide on the Muslim Uyghur people of Eastern China. The Chinese government has been systematically removing Uyghur culture and people from the East Turkestan province of China. By giving no protection to the Uyghurs of the region, their share of the population is now less than half. And the Chinese government has arrested and “reeducated” thousands of Uyghurs every year of the 21st century.

Though there are many fields where the People’s Republic may be passing the established leading nations, sports has also sprung about recently. Five years ago, in the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, the US swept the games. Winning with almost twice as many gold medals as China. China was still starting to show signs of rising in athletic prestige but lacked the overall strength of the established Olympic leaders, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Embed from Getty Images

But this past year, even just in qualifications, we could see that China was a rising threat in the Olympic Games. China qualified with more athletes than ever before, and they wanted to show that they could beat America. Throughout the beginning of the Olympic Games, China and Japan were juggling being on top of the gold medals. But throughout the last few days, America pulled through and finished the Olympics in Tokyo with the most gold medals and the most medals total.

The Olympics were a bit of a media failure in the United States this year. Most people only checked in occasionally. But this is a mistake. The Olympic Games project power and dominance on a global scale, and these Olympic Games showed us and the world that communist China, while gaining in power and prestige, still cannot defeat the United States of America.

John Lauer is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.