Archive for August, 2009

Gem from Pope

Posted in Literature, Poetry, Pop-culture with tags , , , , , on 31 August, 2009 by endlessslug

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives, some rock’s vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.

–From, An Essay on Criticism, 1711
Alexander Pope

Are you open-minded?

Posted in Art, Contemorary Art, Criticism, Literature, Music, Pop-culture, Social Science on 25 August, 2009 by endlessslug

Everyone should see this:

Thanks to Mad Aardvark for finding this gem!

In my professional life as an anthropologist and an artist, and thus a scientist, there is a constant struggle to maintain reason with explanation and data support.  My concern of the state of fine art today is partially based on a series of observations leading me to a conclusion that contemporary amateurism in all the fine arts is a waste of people ‘s time and might even damage the human condition.  This short video helps to defend my point.

I hate “self-trained” artists

Posted in Art, Artists, Contemorary Art, Pop-culture, Social Science, Technique, Technology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 17 August, 2009 by endlessslug

At some point in aesthetic history, some idiot decided it would be not only “ok” but encouraged to collect art from the effectively non-establishment, non-elite, untrained artist.  There was supposedly a “freshness” to the art that was not possible before, even from the naive artists.  While this freshness does indeed exist (I really can’t argue that), it does not make up for poorly thought out, over-emotive, ultimately pointless work.  Maybe this is the “art” that I am missing.  This is not so much a problem to me really, as the more contemporary explosion of internet-based untrained artists spewing into site after site of limitless crap.  It sounds hypocritical of me, I know, since I too solicit work on such sites, but it should be apparent who the trained vs. untrained artists are and I do receive a number of great critical emails about such things weekly.  But I find more and more that artists are begin taught how to market as opposed to how to actually make real, quality art.  Instead, we have an overabundance of philosophies suggesting that over time, you will naturally improve.  Well, obviously.  But, you could improve much, much faster by actually learning from another painter how to use such things as proper binder, oil, ground pigment, proper varnishes, knowledge of how layers of paint refract light and create a very special sort of surface inherent in all works of master art.  The ones that have come before are not outdated in the painting world, although sure we have some new materials that are probably better for us, the paintings, and the environment.  New technologies can certainly alter the way we do things, but painting has not changed that much except how we, as a contemporary post-modern culture, decide how we want to approach it.  So, although there are still many painters out there who work with layers and proper materials (yes, there are such things as “proper” and “improper” materials), there are many times more painters who do not and who subsequently alter the market, availability, and general knowledge of the materials they use.  And this is why the self-trained artist is a problem.  Most, certainly not all, self-trained artists placate the market for crap materials which they go with because they know no better.  They may learn over time, but I will claim that this is not good enough when there are many institutions, universities, and academies out there who do offer real, affordable training.   Do it.  There really are “rights” and “wrongs” in all aesthetic endeavors.  The more artists let the “do as you will” attitude win, the more art and thus culture suffers and loses.

Wisdom from the ancients

Posted in Artists, Gallery Talk with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 15 August, 2009 by endlessslug

Here’s a quote from one of my favorite figure painters, Fritz Willis:

“Everybody’s a critic.  Some criticism is based on personal taste, some on knowledge, some on ignorance.  Some is constructive, some destructive.  Welcome it all, accept what you wish, reject what you wish.  After all, it’s your painting.  Never be disheartened by adverse criticism.  The worst thing you can say about an artist’s work is, ‘His paintings wouldn’t offend anyone.'”  -The Nude, pg. 30.

One thing, I feel, is often left out of these sorts of quotes on criticism:  know what the criticism means before you reject or accept it.  Criticism comes to you for a reason.  You might not know as much as you think you know, or you could be enlightened unexpectedly or even intentionally.  All too often, the new student is assaulted with this philosophy of ‘throw out what you don’t agree with’ making the student feel somehow superior to the long tradition of artists that came before.  This sort of artistic arrogance is damaging to artists.  How will you learn anything if you only accept the thing you “want” to accept?  Whatever happened to “needing” to accept things?  The point really, is to be intelligent about the criticism you receive.  Part of this knowledge means knowing what you were trying to communicate with the work in the first place.  If you fall into the asinine “the work means what you, the viewer, thinks it measn” mantra, you’ve lost the point of fine art entirely.

Of course, you do have the freedom, usually, to claim that the viewer – your critic – obviously missed the point entirely.  If this happens too frequently, however, be assured that there is something wrong with your work, not the public.  Well, there might be a ‘big-picture’ sort of problem with the public, but nothing that you will probably be able to repair.  But what exactly didn’t work? What did work? Listen to people, learn from people – we as artists are only as successful as the clarity of communication to the public as a whole.

I miss the critiques when we were required to make someone cry by the time the class ended.  Good times.

Painting Like the Old Masters

Posted in Art, Artists, Studio Work, Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 13 August, 2009 by endlessslug

This weekend, assuming I catch the FedEx guy, I will re-begin a painting project which I had started about ten years ago.  I was lucky in some respects to be trained as a painter by some instructors who actually knew something of the craft of real painting – not this post-modernist ‘whatever-ness’ we keep seeing in university programs these days.  Unfortunately, these instructors of mine were all retiring when I was in school, so their interest in actually teaching was very limited.  I ended up getting mostly wisdom about what art and painting is and was, and what they will be, as opposed to knowing how to handle paints, mediums, canvas, and the like.  There has been such a movement away from the materials, it’s really very sad, especially more sad the more that one learns how to actually handle the paint.  A number of those Sunday-painter type websites out there have mantras whereby they tell new artists to paint every day and eventually they will learn the craft.  This is insanity.  They may learn something, sure, maybe how to see better – but they will most likely not learn much from what the old masters were to pass down.  When knowledge like craft in painting is lost, it is always a dismal thing.  This recent movement toward expression being the focus of a work of art is also defeating to those of us few that know something more about aesthetic and how a powerful work s made.  But we do have to make a careful, yet distinct, separation between the trade painters and the artists out there – something like a literati vs. an intelligentsia in the fine arts. I know there is already a distinction, but by knowing how to handle the mediums, we can further separate this group to understand why they might be separate.

I’m off the point again.  This weekend, I will begin some direct work with a mass variety of mediums and medium recipes, which all artists should some day do.  I’d been using stuff I had to pick up through crap art supply chains, I won’t list them here, but these materials from chains are so useless to a painter.  The materials are ok for students, but if I were instructing again, I would make my students grind their own paints and know what it means to be the painter in control of the work.

So, Saturday sometime, we shall begin a new painting with some oil of turpentine, Venice turp., and work in the upper layers of another painting with some fabulous Nut oil.  Very exciting!

Bar Bar Broke

Posted in Artists, Social Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12 August, 2009 by endlessslug

One of the worst things you can do when you’re a very, very broke artist, is agree to go to a casino.  Even if the buffet is free, even if you get a handful of cash to start your day off, even if it’s a special day for the one whom asked you – do not go.  Now, I’m bad luck to begin with so it was to nobody’s surprise that I would fail so badly, but there was a much larger price: creative energy.  Casinos, like strip-clubs, drain just about all sense of creativity and life from the artist, especially when the artist loses.  Casinos are not a place of life, they are anti-life.  This is not to suggest the obvious polar opposite of “death”.  Anti-life is not a state, it is a resisting force.  Once, a literature professor told me that all art is hope.  I disagreed.  I suggested that all art has an aspect of security within it, which is often interpreted as hope.  Casino’s and strip clubs were my examples.  Hope drips from every crevasse in both establishments, but it is a hope divorced from security – in fact, security is completely non-existent, except maybe in that one can always come back again.  Of course, I cannot make some sort of reverse proof where hope or security is art, these states exist mutually exclusively from the aesthetic communication which is art.   But we have a stagnation in aesthetic development while one wastes away at these places.  There is little beautiful in these places, merely immediate gratification of sort in which the business specializes in.

This is not a plea to boycott these establishments.  This is a warning to artists, writers, poets, dancers, puppetteers, and so on, to think twice about these places.  The casino today just extinguished any sense of creativity I was slowing building over time.  I’m not even sure when I’ll get back into the studio again.  There was so much anti-life, so little socialization, so much greed, so much hurt (watching others watch others win) – that no art can come of it.

But I did make $100.

Modigliani and iCarly (gets punched in the face)

Posted in Art, Artists, Pop-culture, Social Science, Studio Work with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 9 August, 2009 by endlessslug

Yesterday, I received my new Modigliani book in the mail.  You really cannot beat an 80 cent art book from Amazon.  For those of you reading along, the book is Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures, edited by Werner Schmalenbach, Prestel Press 2005.  This is a little coffee-table sorta book but since I was lacking both finances and an in-house book on Modigliani, I could not pass it up for the price.  It is a cute little book though, full of good photos, good interviews – including a very entertaining appendix where a number of famous people explain their relationships with the artist.  The early portion of the book includes a number of essays on Modigliani and a number of photos of work by his influences – something I wish I would see more of in some of these books.  As a younger art student, it would have been very helpful to have some influential reference work right in the volume.  Now that I am professionally versed in many of the worlds artists over the last few thousand years, I no longer need references.  However, still always something is new.  Through this book I discovered a new favorite painter whose work will one day be another blog post – once I can afford one of his many $400 books…  Until then, he shall remain my secret.


I study many things – too many things according to most who know me.  One of my areas of concern is television and other media directed at certain demographics, namely young adults and children.  As I age, I get more and more concerned with the nature of this entertainment as people who used to make this sort of programming because they wanted to give way to people doing it because they’re paid to – and paid to fit certain requirements.  A quick example, since this all has little to do with my blog as it is, would be the Dora the Explorer show.  It recently came to my attention that this terrible disaster of children’s programming was in fact created after paying some show designers to make a new show.  There were no previous ideas, no preliminaries, nothing – just “here’s some money, make us a hit”.  Once I head this, I wanted to go huddle around Fred Rogers’ grave.  Point being, there are few very authentic-feeling shows that really know what kids need to learn these days replaced by what I see as mindless placating of behavior kids say they want.  Most of the quality and refined-ness of things in the world today are being slowly pecked away by the need to bring the consumer directly in line with the producer.  But what do consumers know? They consume anything.  Some of us consumers are more aware than others, but I still do not usually make my own clothes, kill my own cow when I’m hungry, or create my own livingroom dramas.  Actually, I have done a number all of those things, but not regularly.  We live in a society where we believe we have input on the things around us – which, to some degree we do.  I believe we have this extensive input at the sacrifice of developmental refinement and quality.  Where are our standards?  Dora just keeps looking at me and yelling things in other languages… it’s so weird.  What happened to my cigarette-smoking tom-cat and his trickster mouse?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the ‘new’, I just wish it didn’t suck so much.

I constantly research.  There’s no point in criticizing something when you haven’t experienced it or have some sort of data that might suggest a certain idea about what you’re criticizing.  After complaining about kids’ TV lately, some folks suggested that I check out iCarly on Nickelodeon as it seems to have some sort of “pulse” of the youth.  I watched one episode and barely got through it.  On the plus side, the show is hip.  The use of internet publishing and video-streaming is very innovative and cutting-edge, while maintaining a certain connection to an occasionally viewing young adult audience.  The language is contemporary and seems like the dialog is actually written by folks that either are younger or have some kids in high school, or at least did some field research.  On the downside, the humor is lame, in the way Saved by the Bell was lame, although I’d prefer to watch iCarly still.  The show writers hint at, frequently, some very good lessons or ideas to get across to the upcoming youth population.  Upcoming meaning, soon-to-be-adults.  There does seem to be a certain sense of responsibility with this show, and that I commend as well – but again, it’s just stupid overall.  The show reflects a reality, I believe few kids can relate to, but I might be out of my element in that claim.  I did notice a high number of code-switched phrases and idioms.  For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomena of linguistics, a code-switch is simply the use of a word as a direct replacement for another word but unlike a metaphor or simile, the words switched have exactly the same implied meaning, not a relative one.  The code-switching, I believe is part of the show’s success.  The language sounds legit, and it is, but it’s spoken the same way that kids speak around or near their parents or other disapproving adults.  So, that illegal substance or sex reference you made as a kid is hidden in a reference to another word with no known symbolic shared reference except contextually in that moment.  “We are going to get naked tonight” encodes to “we are going to get silly tonight,” for example.  There is a sense of metaphor, but we really have a simple replacement.  From the couple episodes of iCarly I’ve now seen, it seems to excel at this behavior.

The point of everything: iCarly got punched in the face!

I will probably never watch this crap show again.  However, I did have to watch the episode last night where the leading character gets punched in the face, twice!  I was skimming through the post-modern essays in my Modigliani book when I heard the fight sounds from the episode.  I was put into an already delightful state of intellectual bliss with a couple of Modigliani’s nudes, when I look up to see Carly all hyper and happy, jumping with her friends in a mindlessly manga-style way, right before a fight she thinks is fake.  She gleefully hops into the ring, puts her little mouth-piece in, smiles, and then the handy-cam shot of a fist comes hurtling into her mouth.  Carly is wide-eyed and shocked, when BOOM, fist #2 impacts her face.  This event of Modigliani’s nudes coupled with a crap kids’ TV star’s face-punch was a moment of artistic catharsis pour moi.  Back to the studio I go.

Now, if only I could make Spongebob’s sun explode…