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Leaver explores smoke imagery

Associate Professor of Art History Jon Leaver spoke about “Smoke Imagery and Contemporary Art in Los Angeles” at the faculty lecture Monday. Leaver looked at smoking in historic and contemporary painting in Los Angeles throughout his studies. / photo by Kelly Maggiulli

Danielle Hunt
Staff Writer

Monday’s faculty lecture in the President’s Dining Room focused on the effects of smoke in contemporary art especially here in the Los Angeles area.

The lecture was titled “Smoke Imagery and Contemp­orary Art in Los Angeles” and presented by Associate Professor of Art History Jon Leaver, who studied the subject extensively.

“I really got curious why so many paintings, cartoons and other art forms had so many pipes and cigars in their pictures, so I began exploring the thought process behind it and why so many artists had them in their art,” Leaver said.

Before jumping into contemporary art, Leaver had to first find the root of the issue with smoking and art.

He started his research with the 19th century.

Leaver found a study done in the 1840s that said the most important indicator of success for an artist was not his education or his technique but whether he was a smoker.

Through more research on the artists, Leaver came to understand that smoking actually helped the artists with their work because smoking gave them time to contemplate their art and think of their next moves.

The study he referred to also found that smoking is an emblem, and with all the pipes and cigars in the various art forms it became a public image for artists.

They branded themselves as rough, yet rural working class, Leaver said.

“I know I have always thought of painters as working class people who just enjoyed their job, but through Leaver’s study I was able to find reasons of why I thought that,” junior biology major Bethie Ross said.

“Subconsciously I was seeing items such as these cigars and pipes, and it really does make you associate them with the working class artists.”

Once this understanding was established Leaver moved toward the idea of Los Angeles and came to the conclusion that one of the defining qualities of Los Angeles was that it was seen as a mysterious place that was both morally ambiguous and transient.

Leaver then found that most of the contemporary art of Los Angeles followed suit.

Some of these characteristics of smoke vary, whether the overall picture simply had a smoky look or there was an actual pipe or cigar in the work of art.

Leaver ended the lecture with a video that showed some of the art going on in Los Angeles now.

One artist decided to make an art exhibit by using dry ice which, once out of the bag and container, continues to smoke until it is completely gone.

Once all of the dry ice was placed correctly, according to the artist, she then lit all sparks along the dry ice to ignite flames everywhere.

The dry ice was smoky itself and then with the flames it added extra smoke yet was still very well acclaimed by viewers for its artistic traits.

“I know that when I think of artists I think of them as very skilled individuals and it is very interesting to see the other side and just associate them with smoking and nothing more,” sophomore English major Sarah Barthel said.

“The ending video really brought the lecture full circle,” junior political science major Ava Jahanvash said.

“(It) let us see how much the smoke contributes to a piece and see how far smoking and the traits they possess have come in art since the 19th century.”

Danielle Hunt can be reached at danielle.hunt@laverne.edu.

Kelley Maggiulli

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