Monday, August 2, 2010

Singerie for August

Good grief, it's AUGUST already!! July went by in a blur of greenhorn Photoshoppery and digging through old stashes of stuff while i build inventory for the next kiln firing. In a basket of dog busts created for my pet portrait promotions a few years back, i found a few more chimps; a mother and two babies, and one of a very few "Bleu Monkeys" that i got a little crazy for after my initial "Imogene Experience."

Now, once upon a time there was a huge demand in 17th century French culture for any kind of dressed up monkey, and they even had a name for it: Singerie. Usually miniature in scale, and dressed in period costume, they were often depicted in clandestined little vignettes doing things naughty, frivolous, and generally human. In fact, i daresay that L. Frank Baum's minions for the Wicked Witch of the West could've flown right through some reference to them before flocking onto the pages of The Wizard of Oz --albeit no longer miniature in scale. They weren't blue in color in the French version; but their "blueness" was of a cultural hue that could've been a subconscious riff in Baum's turn-of-the-century moral psyche... in my humble opinion.

To further complicate matters, i became aware of a fable --perhaps from India or Tibet?-- i'm no longer sure of the provenance of the story, so if someone can illuminate, by all means, dig in! It goes something like this:

There was an old emperor who, in his isolated dotage, married a young bride whom he adored, but who died suddenly and mysteriously, leaving the emperor in a paroxysm of grief. He was inconsolable, and sought the counsel of his most trusted advisor, who simply said to him, "It matters not what you do, sire, as long as you do not pursue the blue monkeys." Astonishment gave way to curiosity, and then to obsession, and the emperor decided that he could not resist the very thought of such enigmatic creatures, and set off on journey after journey, discovering worlds of wonder and making alliances in every culture, in an attempt to learn what he could about the elusive blue monkeys, but no one knew where to find them.

Decades went by, and the now ancient emperor who, in the course of his searching had encountered many great things which enriched the lives of his subjects, finally lay dying, unfulfilled in his quest. Defeated and exhausted, he called his trusted advisor to his side to unburden himself of this final disappointment.

"You were right to advise me not to seek the blue monkeys," he said, "for i have failed most miserably in finding them even though it was my keenest objective over these last many years since my wife died." And the counselor smiled, "Ah, but sire, your disobedience has been my greatest achievement. For i knew you would go seeking them the moment i put the thought of blue monkeys into your head. Forgive me, but it matters not in the least whether or not you found them; i knew that the pursuit of them would save you from the grief that was consuming you when your young bride passed away from this life. --That you had more to accomplish in this world."

"And so you have," the counselor continued, "and so your 'failure' is the boon of your loyal subjects. See how our culture has blossomed in the wake of your diplomacy and courage! See how our children are educated about the worlds beyond our city walls!! See how people smile even at strangers, all because of blue monkeys that you could not find!! Sire, you are the greatest emperor this land has ever known."

But his praise fell on deaf ears: the emperor had slipped away in the midst of the counselor's absolution, to join his patient bride in Heaven, amid a sweeping, whooping crowd of eager blue monkeys.

I love that story. And so my dilemma remains as it was when i left off with these little faces a few years ago, which kind ARE they??? Are they naughty 'monkey tricks' or agents of divine guidance?