Friday, June 27, 2008

The Art of Surprise

Here's an interesting article titled The Art of Surprise. He talks mostly about stories, since he is a film expert, but he does mention Vermeer. For the author, the art of surprise comes about when you have such complex characters that you can't pigeonhole them or say they are representing this or that. Other than Vermeer, is there any other visual artists of surprise? What would such a visual art look like? What could it look like?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Shallow End

I got to thinking, if in our current age is so shallow, has there been other shallow periods in time? Well that answer is a resounding, YES. The Roman Empire had several period of great shallowness. The French Rococo period was shallow city. One of the great painters of the Rococo, the Jeff Koons of his age, is Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) made plenty of paintings with a wink and a nudge. The French Rococo was all about giving what the collectors wanted, i.e. sex, powerful portraits, and more sex. Don't get me wrong, the work is beautiful and not Everything that came out of that period reflects those ideas, but a Lot of the work was tailor made for the idol rich. Shallow customers = shallow art.
So, if the problem is the tastes of the collectors driving the tastes of the museums, then how do we create non-shallow collectors? You have to appeal to their non-shallow side, because I can assure you everyone has that side. For example, the Neo-Classical art romanticized about Republics, Democracy and Egalitarianism. (Two out of three is not bad). Those collectors believed in something greater than themselves and it reflected in what they bought and the artists they promoted. How do you appeal to the non-shallow side of the current collectors? I don't have an answer, but I am willing to listen to some ideas.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Postcards From Nowhere/Power Station

I just read an article called Postcards From Nowhere on contemporary art and contemporary art museums that should thoroughly annoy Todd. If even the Lefties at New Republic are annoyed with contemporary art, that's really saying something about it. Takashi Murakami's work My Lonesome Cowboy, "a sculpture of a skinny naked boy with flying yellow hair, an erect penis, and an ejaculation so powerful that the thing becomes a twirling lasso, circling his head," is in my opinion a fine representation of what too many contemporary artists -- especially the ones the author is complaining about -- are actually doing when making their "art." Here's the problem: if anything can be art, then art is nothing, and it's time to shut down the museums and close the art schools.

And now, because I don't want this to be just a forum to complain about all the garbage that is out there, let me show an interesting piece called Power Station. The image seems to vibrate with the power of the power station and we see below the building an image that feels electric. It's simultaneously dreary and full of energy -- more ambiguous, perhaps, than the artist intended? Perhaps. But in doing so, the artist allows the viewer to interpret the work for him/her-self. The tyranny of expertise is avoided, meaning an expert on the piece would only contribute to helping make meaning from the work, but would never be the sole contributor of meaning to it.

Monday, June 16, 2008


With Thomas Spencer permission, I have posted his Manifesto here for discussion. I thought it was an interesting take on realism. In a pluralistic period that we find ourselves, realism has been on the upswing since Pop art was born, just in various incarnations. So, here is a possible new movement in realism. Here is his site:

The Experiential Realist:

Uses their skill to recreate the actuality of what the eyes can see.
Renders everyday places, characters, situations, dilemmas, and objects, all in verisimilitude, as being of interest and importance.

Finds and depicts beauty (and ugliness) through their own experience.

Allows their awareness of the situation and circumstances of the subject to influence their perceptions and the way that they express them.

Experiential Realism is not a label to be put on just any painting based on observation.

Specifically, it is used to declare that the painting is important and relevant as a documentation of a place and situation. It lays claim to a particular form of “truth” as having been recorded and declares it as having value.

Of these, it is the first two that make a direct connection with traditional Realism. However, I think that it is the stress of the next two which marks the difference between Realism and Experiential Realism. In some ways it, nudges Realism (just a little) towards Expressionism.The earlier forms of Realism, Social Realism, etc, made a form of political (with small “p”) statement. For example, one major point behind the original Realist Art Movement was to say that great art was not necessarily about “major” people or events. It claimed that a great painting did not have to depict a king or noble lord or even people of wealth and influence (for example, Courbet’s, “Burial at Ornans”. In other words, Realism was a reaction against the prevailing art of the time. From this, I reason that, if Experiential Realism is to have any real importance, it must also be seen in the context of being a reaction to the prevailing art of our time.There is presently a dichotomy in the important means of visual communication. The most pervasive form of visual communication is through photography in all its forms. But, because the images are almost infinitely reproducible (especially now that most photography is digital), whilst the image may be highly esteemed, the means of reproduction has almost none. Films can win Academy Awards and can make the owners of the reproduction rights rich, but the individual video or DVD copy of the film has negligible value. It is only the experience of watching the film that is considered to be important. The DVD or video artefact is merely a convenient form of enabling this experience. On the other side of the split is the fine art object, a painting or sculpture. The experience of viewing the object may be highly valued, but the experience can normally only be gained by visiting the one example of the work and, because of this, the object itself may become worth a great deal of money. Hence a Vincent Van Gogh painting of sunflowers becomes worth millions of pounds in the present day art market.In 1812 Jacques-Louis David painted the Emperor Napoleon, one of the top celebrities of his day, in his study. If it ever came on the market, the painting would now be worth a great deal of money. Present day celebrities, are recorded in film, usually shown on TV, and in photographs, usually published in magazines. A photograph cut from a magazine is worth very little. If a celebrity hired an artist to paint their portrait, the portrait would be worth rather more but would probably only be seen by a very few people. The fine art object which becomes worth a great deal of money does not normally now rely on portraying a celebrity, rather it relies on providing a unique primary experience which can be gained only by visiting the object (and/or a vicarious second-hand experience which can be got from the popular media, usually discussing how ridiculous it is that the object is valued/cost such a great deal of money, e.g., the crack in the floor of the Tate Modern or Damian Hurst's diamond-coated skull).I would see Experiential Realism as closing this gap. It does not mean that other forms of art are “wrong” or worthless, but it is art about normal, average places and people. And it is for normal, average people. To appreciate it, a specialized art education is not required, just some visual sensitivity and awareness. It cannot be produced cheaply, because it is time and skill intensive, but neither is it unaffordable. Hopefully, it will also be of such a quality that the viewer will return to it again and again and still discover new aspects of the work – for that is what differentiates it from a mass produced image where only the straight-forward perception of the image is important.Experiential Realism is also a “Modern” art – and will continue to be so. The Modernism comes from the fact that the artist will always be an artist of their own time, painting the things of their own time. In its own way, each painting is an historical document, because, working within the strengths and weaknesses of the medium, it records the truth of a place and situation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Competing Arcs

I just learned about this monstrosity in Paris, La Grande Arche de La Defense. It is a giant, almost featureless cube. The wikipedia entry says that it was supposed "to be a 20th Century version of the Arc de Triomphe: a monument to humanity and and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories." If that is what it's supposed to be, then please explain to me why the Arc de Triiomphe is a far more magnificent, beautiful work than is this dehumanizing block.

Seriously, look at the Arc de Triomph. This is a work which has meaning. You don't have to know a thing about the French Revolution to gain meaning from it. Meaning is built into the work itself, and can be gained by anyone looking at it. The Grande Arche is a stark, bare, meaningless cube -- unless you are told what the meaning behind it is by an elite cadre of intellectuals who designed it and get to write on it endlessly, of course. And that, of course, is the problem with it. There is a tyranny of meaning in the Grande Arche -- we have to be told what it means to get any meaning from it. We are reliant on others to tell us what it means, and we have to rely on their expertise. With the Arc de Triomph, however, the meaning is inherent to the work itself. There is no tyranny of meaning. Further, it and the Grande Arche are equally impressive, but the latter has the oppressive architecture found in many fascist works of architecture -- designed to make the person feel small and insignificant next to the great power of the state. Is this not, after all, what Mitterand was after in commissioning this piece? If you look at the second picture I posted, you can see what people look like in relation to it. What other purpose could there have been, but to create this dehumanizing effect? This is no monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals -- it's a monument to socialism and other dehumanizing, anti-humanitarian ideals.