Posts Tagged ‘art’

We Welcome Bob Ross to the Ivory Tower

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

We at UPG are thrilled to announce our newest personality: painter, TV host, and Guru of Calm, Bob Ross.

At first glance, Bob Ross might not seem like an obvious choice for The Unemployed Philosophers Guild cannon.

But, actually, if you think about it…

Bob Ross retired after 20 years of in the armed forces to dedicate himself to painting. He became a popular teacher and ended up landing his own television show.

His gentle demeanor and unabashed delight in painting continues to inspire us.

Got a problem with his presentation?

Got a problem with a guy who teaches that anyone can learn to paint.

Got a problem with his subject matter?

After approximately four minutes, you’ll come to the realization that you are a person with problems!

As a drill sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, Bob Ross did his share of yelling. On his show, he speaks to his viewers in gentle tones. In the service, he spent plenty of time harassing recruits to hurry up, do things right, get tough. On his show, he urges us to paint along, to play, to think of mistakes as part of experimentation instead of terrible obstacles to being correct/right/perfect?

Why do we find it so difficult to accept the realness of art if we’re the ones doing it? Why can’t we believe in the goodness of making things for the sheer pleasure of expression? So maybe we won’t paint anything likely to break records at Christie’s – so what?

The act of creation is one of the most essential human experiences, and though we lost Bob Ross many years ago, he continues to bring countless people to that experience.

It this spirit, we present three brand-new Bob Ross items:

Bob Ross Self-Painting Mug

This mug depicts Bob Ross poised in front of a canvas with brush at the ready. Add a hot beverage, and the entire mug transforms into a lovely Bob Ross painting!

Bob Ross The Joy of Painting Sticky Notes

A collection of sticky notes featuring Bob Ross’ art and quotes from the great man, himself. Includes a canvas sticky note for your own tiny works of art!

Bob Ross Happy Little Mints

Delicious peppermints in a lovely tin featuring Ross and his artwork. A little minty inspiration for your day.

Women in Art – Not Just Nudes!

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

March is Women’s History Month, and today we’re posting a little about the history of women in art.

History has preserved the names and work of countless male artists, but it hasn’t been as loyal to women artists.

Of course, women have been making art from the beginning. It’s now believed that it was mainly women who were the cave artists in prehistory.

Although art history chose to highlight a few (mostly male) artists and to “forget” the work of others, countless women (and men) made art at every stage along the way.

Western classical history tends not to list many artists by name, but along with the few men, Pliny the Elder mentions painters Helena of Egypt (4th c BCE), Iaia (1st c BCE), Irene (1st c CE), Aristarete (1st c CE), and Timatete (5th c BCE).

In addition to medieval era monks, nuns were scribes and artists, producing liturgical books as well as beautiful illuminated manuscripts – sometimes collaborating with male scribes.

Hildegard of Bingen, Universal Man, c. 1163-1173

Embroidery was an art dominated by women, in fact, it is almost certain that most famous piece of embroidery, The Bayeux Tapestry, was the work of English seamstresses.

Ever see a self-portrait of an artist at an easel? This tradition began when Caterina van Hemessen painted her self-portrait as an on-the-job action shot in 1548.

Caterina van Hemessen, Self-portrait, 1548

Women worked as professional artists throughout the Renaissance, and Queen Elizabeth I employed the painter Levina Teerlinc at her court.

Portrait of Elizabeth I by Levina Terrlinc, c. 1565

Though it became more difficult in later eras for women to paint professionally – and to attain stature as artists – they continued to create and to influence art. Artemisia Gentileschi, for example, continued the legacy of Caravaggio.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant (1613–14)

Angelika Kauffmann (full disclosure: one of this author’s favorite artists), was a neoclassical painter and one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy of London. She was also friends with Goethe, who said she worked harder and accomplished more than any artist he knew.

Angelika Kauffmann, Self-portrait, 1770-75

Today, let’s remember that women have been at the forefront of the arts, even though history – and the people who write it – have withheld the credit and recognition that is their due.

Winter Gardens: The Garden of Earthly Delights

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

It’s January, when things are grey and dead. Around this time, we long for gardens. So this month we’re posting about gardens!

Today’s post is about The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch.

This incomparable masterwork stands in a world of its own. Wildly imaginative, proto-surrealist, and resisting categorization, this triptych has more going on in it than the entire work of other master artists such as Cézanne (granted, Cézanne was mostly interested in painting fruit).

The Garden of Earthly Delights (a title Bosch never assigned to the painting) shows three images: what is presumed to be the Garden of Eden, a garden where all sorts of depraved people and animals seek pleasure, and then Hell, where, presumably, pleasure-seekers are tormented. And there’s a secret 4th image you can see only when the triptych is closed.

It’s easy to get lost among all the cavorting in Bosch’s garden. This is a painting you can spend hours with and find new things. And, thanks to the internet, it’s gotten even easier. Take a moment or 20 and stroll through this beautiful interactive web experience of the painting.

Or if you’re more musically inclined, listen to this piece of music transcribed from the painting (it’s Music transcribed from the posterior of someone being tortured in the Hell part of the painting.

Art Notes Sticky Notes

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Ever heard of “Picture Superiority Effect” (it’s easier to remember pictures than words)? We’ve been road-testing this idea.4365_l-01

What if your sticky notes had frames on them to encourage you to think in pictures?


Sure, you could tie a string on your finger as a reminder. Or put a puppet on. (We do.) But those are hard to write on.)


The frame around each note makes the everyday into art although Art Notes work even if you’re more of a writer than an artist.Sticky-Note-3

But you know what? Maybe you’re a conceptual artist.


Art Notes are perfect for the everyday art you make. Now you can make art every day!


What have you made today? These are our Art Notes – send us yours!


Winter Wonderland: The Art of John Tenniel

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

We’re posting about Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books this winter, and today’s post is about the artist who gave the books their iconic illustrations.

It’s nearly impossible to think about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland without immediately visualizing the classic illustrations of Carroll’s preferred artist, John Tenniel. They’re essential to the experiencing of the story. How else are you going to imagine what a Cheshire Cat looks like?

But it didn’t start out that way. Carroll did the original illustrations himself, but an engraver friend wisely suggested that he scrap those images and find a professional to do the job instead. Carroll then wisely reached out to John Tenneil.

John Tenneil was an artist and illustrator and at one point, a member of Charles Dickens’ amateur theatrical troupe. As a young man he lost sight in his right eye due to a fencing accident with his father. In stoic British Victorian fashion, Tenniel never told his father how serious the wound was so not to upset him.

Tenniel studied at the Royal Academy of Arts. By the the time Carroll approached him about illustrating his book, he was an acclaimed illustrator and political cartoonist. And not just any cartoonist — Tenniel was the chief cartoonist for Punch, which was pretty much the highest rank a Victorian cartoonist could hope to achieve.

"The Black-and-White Knight", caricature of Tenneil by Linley Sambourne, Punch, June 24, 1893

“The Black-and-White Knight”, caricature of Tenneil by Linley Sambourne, Punch, June 24, 1893

Carroll was a bit of a micromanager when it came to the illustrations, going as far as to describe everything in detail and may even have given Tenniel specific people to model his drawings after. But they had a fruitful collaboration, and Tenniel was given quite a bit of freedom in the end. One little Easter egg: in an homage to his father, a dancing-master, Tenniel worked all 5 positions of classical ballet into the illustrations.

The work Carroll and Tenniel did together was unique. The layout of the text and images was innovative and unusual for the time. Images were inserted into the text or were of atypical dimensions, so the text appears to dance around them.

For a political cartoonist with a relish for the anarchic that lends itself so well to his Wonderland illustrations, it is a little surprising what an establishment figure Tenniel became. He was knighted in 1893 (something Carroll wasn’t) and was had several distinguished commissions, including one to paint a mural in the House of Lords.

March Comes in Like the Chamber of the Felines

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Lions are some of the many Paleolithic predators featured in paintings and etchings found on the walls of the Lascaux caves in France.

The section of the cave known as “The Chamber of the Felines” is both narrow and steep, obliging visitors to get into their crouch in order to view the cats and lions (and other images) on the walls.


The Lascaux caves may have been the ideal place for two particular lions, as they are enjoying an intimate moment. Aside from the damp and visits from the likes of Werner Herzog, caves usually afford the amorous a bit of privacy.



Napoelovember: Napoleon and Art

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Besides being a military leader, a statesman, an Emperor, and a “scientist,” Napoleon was also a patron of the arts.

Or at least, he was an art thief and patron of propaganda.

As for the propaganda, Napoleon employed many artists, including some really great ones, to document his victories and achievements in wildly dramatic and heroic paintings. Neoclassicism was all the rage in Napoleon’s time, in no small part due to the fact that Napoleon was trying to recreate a monumental Empire in the classic sense. Here’s some examples of Napoleonic propaganda art:

Napoleon_at_the_Battle_of_Rivoli Jean-Léon_Gérôme_003 David_-_Napoleon_crossing_the_Alps_-_Malmaison1 Bouchot_-_Le_general_Bonaparte_au_Conseil_des_Cinq-Cents 800px-Napoleon_returned

Quelle dramatique!

In addition, Napoleon expanded the Louvre (renamed the Musée Napoléon during his reign) to hold all of the art he stole during his conquests.

Stole? Yes. Napoleon was the first conqueror of the modern era to make art looting standard practice for a victorious army. Stealing art was a way to make money to support the war effort, and also a way to show the power of the French conquerors to audiences at home and abroad. It made the Louvre home to one of the greatest art collections in the world. Napoleon started his looting in Italy, and continued his work throughout Europe and in Egypt, where he amassed a huge collection of ancient artifacts, including the Rosetta stone, which his archeologists discovered.

Here are just a few of the masterpieces that Napoleon’s forces stole:

Paolo_Veronese_008 Descent_from_the_Cross_(Rembrant) 800px-Horses_of_Basilica_San_Marco_bright 431px-Pompeo_Batoni_003

But turnabout is fair play. When Napoleon lost the war, the British collected his spoils. Rather than finding a home at the Louvre, the majority of Napoleon’s stolen antiquities ended up forming the core of the British Museum in London, where they are to this day.

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!

Happy Birthday, Artemisia Gentileschi!

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

It’s the 8th of July, and you know what that means: time to celebrate Artemisia Gentileschi’s birthday!

Artemisia Gentileschi's "Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting" 1630s

Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting” – 1630s

This early Baroque painter was born in Rome to a painting family (her father was painter Orazio Gentileschi and her brothers painted).

Early in life, she suffered a series of misfortunes: she lost her mother at an early age, her painting was so accomplished she was accused of being helped by her father, art academies would not accept her, then she was assaulted by the man her father hired to tutor her (not to mention the many violations and indignities she withstood in the course of the trial).

After she won her case – that is, her father’s case, given contemporary Italian law – Gentileschi went on to marry another artist and have two daughters (both painters).

She moved to Florence, where she was the first woman accepted to the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, and where she found colleagues among the most renowned artists of her time. Commissions followed, cash followed – she was even pen pals with Galileo!

Unfortunately, her art could not keep her husband in the manner (or the manor) to which he had become accustomed and before long, his spending outpaced her income. After the death of her patron Cosimo II de’ Medici in 1621, Gentileschi had a parting of the ways with her husband and left Florence.

Gentileschi returned to Rome, but the years there were not as rewarding – financially or otherwise. In 1630, she moved to Naples, where her paintings were commissioned for cathedrals and museums and the homes of wealthy patrons. She lived in England from 1638 to 1641 at the court of Charles I (where she assisted her father with a commission to paint Queen Henrietta’s residence), but afterward she returned to Naples, where she died in 1656.

Though her early works were Caravaggesque, Gentileschi developed her own painting style and an unusual (for women painters, anyway) forcefulness of expression.

She was one of the most formidable painters – and most independent women – of her time.

Happy Birthday, Artemisia Gentileschi!

Month of H8: Nearly Forget About It

Friday, June 20th, 2014

June is a big month in the life of Henry VIII. He was born on June 28th, his first wedding was on June 11, and he divorced his fourth wife on June 24th. In his honor we’re publishing blog posts inspired by his life and times.

Hey, did you know that Shakespeare wrote a play about Henry VIII? It’s true! It’s called Henry VIII. It’s not one of his most well-known plays, so if you haven’t heard of it, it’s not necessarily your fault. It’s most notable attribute is having more stage directions than any of Shakespeare’s other plays. If you’re not a theater person or a Shakespeare scholar, you’ll probably forget about that fact.

Henry VIII was the play that burned down the Globe Theater (a cannon used for special effects set the roof on fire), so maybe people just wanted to forget it.

In honor of this nearly-forgotten play by a famous playwright, here are some other nearly-forgotten works of art by great artists. None of them burned down a theater.


Salvador Dali painted an impressionist painting? Why yes, he did. Granted, he was six years old at the time, but it still counts. Ironically, it’s also one of the few paintings of the “modern” period of which no one has ever grumbled “my kid could do that.”


Ludwig van Beethoven is known for his nine great Symphonies, his virtual invention of the Romantic piano sonata, his stirring concertos and string quartets, and even for his one opera Fidelio. But how many of his songs have you heard?

It turns out he wrote dozens. Songs in English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, even Polish. Irish folk songs, German art songs, it appears he tried his hand at all of them. None of them really stuck.


Sure, James Joyce wrote three classic novels and that amazing collection of short stories, but he also wrote a play? That’s right, Joyce’s play The Exiles is occasionally produced, but mostly as an example of why novelists should not write plays. (The plays of Henry James, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens could also serve this purpose.)

How about this: someone should put on a stage production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII with songs by Beethoven and backgrounds by a 6-year old Salvador Dali! (We can leave Joyce out of it.) Then we could forget the whole thing.

Introducing the Color Wheel Watch

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Normally we focus on products dealing with philosophy, literature, art, science, or history. But every once in a while we make a product that strikes out in a new direction. One of our newer products, the Color Wheel Watch, is from this category. It kind of fits in with what we do, but mostly, we just really liked the idea and wanted to make it.

The idea for this watch came from our art director Amanda Spielman. She was trying to come up with a new watch concept when she came across a color wheel on her desk.

04915-1093-front3ww-lAmanda thought about how people don’t use color wheels that much anymore but how designers over 30 would probably have spent some time with one. And a color wheel is, well, wheel-shaped, which makes it a good candidate for a watch.

Besides just using this image as the basis for a watch, Amanda thought it would be great if the watch could actually be a working color wheel. The challenge then became about how to adapt the wheel to be a watch and also do what the color wheel does. Color wheels generally have cut out windows and black arrows and text on a white background. When you slide the outside disc around, different colors are revealed through the windows.


Amanda deconstructed the color wheel a little in order to transform it into a watch face. She kept the triangle shapes for hands, and curved the arrows to go around the watch face. She also reduced the amount of information and made the color more prominent.

We think our Color Wheel watch is a thing of simple colorful beauty. And it’s educational too!