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Post #792 • May 19, 2006, 8:19 AM • 22 Comments

"...participants [in a conference entitled 'Thinking/Drawing: Drawing in an Electronic Age'] seem to agree that the emergence of sophisticated graphics software has coincided with a startling decline in the basic drawing skills of university students." (Slashdot)

"How humbling it is to visit a city like Paris; a sculpture on every corner, every bridge adorned, every lamp post and rail embellished, no space wasted." Andrew French for Studiosavant, now an Illuminated Manifesto™.

Trash people sculptures invade Cologne. Also, check out Elton John's German soulmate. (Digg)

Nick Gillespie reviews John Carey's What Good Are the Arts? for Reason.

Fleen: the webcomics blog about webcomics, "written by bitter, haggard wordbeasts." (Kottke)

Jim Woodring, arguably the greatest surrealist since Max Ernst, has a blog. (Waxy)

"Step by patient step, one man is drawing ever closer to the real Da Vinci mystery: tracking down the master's greatest painting, lost for four and a half centuries. And it is hidden, he believes, in a room at the heart of political power since the Middle Ages in Florence." Mark Irving on Maurizio Seracini. (AJ)




May 19, 2006, 10:03 AM

I haven't read the piece on the decline of drawing skills in the age of technology, but my response to these things is always "don't blame the machines".



May 19, 2006, 10:59 AM

Trash people? In Cairo. No bag ladies though.


Marc Country

May 19, 2006, 12:21 PM

The number, and rigid posing and positioning of those garbage figures, and their mottled appearance, makes them seem like an army in landfill camo (especially in those pictures of them at Giza).

I make sculptures of figures out of waste materials too! One difference: mine don't look so much like junk when they're done.



May 19, 2006, 12:59 PM

"mine don't look so much like junk when they're done."

Yours are made from selected scrap metal selected for its visual characteristics and made into unique sculptures to be seen as visual art.

These are, or appear to be, metal items of any sort selected because they look like garbage, compressed into a vaguely human form and lined up in rows to make a rhetorical point about garbage.

it's the art world in a nutshell.



May 19, 2006, 1:12 PM



According to this article in the NYT, some artists don’t depend so much on their drawing skills, etc…They depend on other artists with the right skills.



May 19, 2006, 2:09 PM

Well, then, don't blame the artists with the "right skills" either.



May 20, 2006, 9:08 AM

OT, this is for OldPro

Earlier I had mentioned Brian Green's excellent book, "The Elegant Universe" about string theory. Last week I picked up an interesting book, I think you might be interested in. It's Warped Passages, Unravelling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions by Lisa Randall. She covers a number of topics in the field of quantum thoery, in particular, the ideas surrounding higher spatial dimensions, using analogies that are easy to comprehend and fun to read.

What makes it an interesting topic for an artist is more about the process of how scientific thought develops than the final conclusions themselves. Scientific thinking takes a path from speculation, to theory or mathematical analysis, followed by experiment to validate the concept. As a result, the process itself becomes interesting by analogy to what we might do in the studio. It is easier to read than most philosophical treatises on "art" and sets the mind to thinking.

A good read (I'm about a quarter of the way through it).



May 20, 2006, 12:32 PM

Update on the trash sculpture idea.

If you are not an artist, see what happens if you drink 24 beers a day for 8 years, and save all the cans thinking you'll do something with them some day.

(via Boing-boing)



May 20, 2006, 1:36 PM

George, the beer-drinking story is great. I'm going to forward it to some of my beer-drinking friends.

Scott Fitzgerald used to drink beer by the case like that when he was trying to stay off booze during his time in North Carolina during his "crack-up" time in the late 30s, but I think he had someone throwing the bottles away for him.

Thanks also for the other reference. We have to be grateful for science writers who can explain that stuff to us. I am very interested in science, as I may have mentioned, but because I am such a complete believer in direct experience, this counter-intuitive kind of thing - from relativity on up - always sticks me in a DMZ between recognizing that it is probably "true" and wondering if I should care.

Right now I am corresponsing with Ellen Dissanayake, author of "Homo Estheticus", with the hope of forming a collaboration to get a scientific explanation of what art is all about (not "why good art is good" but what we as a species are doing with it)


Marc Country

May 20, 2006, 4:38 PM

Andy is fuming over your reprinting his entire blog post without permission.
There's literally smoke coming out of his ears!

Oh, no, wait.
False alarm.
He's just set his hair on fire, that's all.

Carry on.



May 20, 2006, 4:44 PM

Damn, forgot to hotlink the images, too. Could have made his head blow up.



May 20, 2006, 6:50 PM

OP, re #9

"Homo Estheticus" was the other book in my package from Amazon. I got it based on the PDF of hers that Franklin linked but I haven't started reading it yet. I like your idea of " ... forming a collaboration to get a scientific explanation of what art is all about (not "why good art is good" but what we as a species are doing with it" I thought she had some interesting ideas about the issue.

"Counter-intuitive" is the term commonly applied to quantum theory, by both Green and Randall. I personally don't find this to be the case. I started reading on this subject years ago with Niels Bohr and decided that counter-intuitive only meant that my "intuitive" world view was incorrect. I have the hunch that young scientists are learning the quantum view, right from the start, they are not trapped in a world view limited by classical mechanics, What interests me most is how this type of thinking develops. The idea of "strings" is a brilliant abstraction of what might actually be occurring, the leap to get there is an amazing example of what this species can do. I read this stuff because I find it interesting and inspiring for my own work. Not that I want to deal with it in the specifically in the work, it just charges me up like seeing a really good painting.

Speaking of which, I just returned from the Chelsea galleries again. I spent over an hour looking again at the Dubufett-Basquiat exhibition at Pace (last time I was rushed). I think the painting by Dubuffet "Mêle Moments" is one of the best paintings I have ever seen. (link's to my blog, first pic) The jpeg does not do it justice, it is a very large painting, 98" x 142" and I honestly believe it would hold its own against any painting made in the last 100 years. I made the second trip partly to take a better look at the Basquiat's, on the first trip I was so blown away by the Dubuffet's I couldn't remember them. As I indicated before, the Basquiat's are good, but I do not think the examples selected, are as good as the Dubufett's. It was a "good art", make that a "great art" experience.

Everything else looked overwrought or like junk.



May 21, 2006, 10:38 AM

Dissanayke is interesting because she seems to have a nonacademic mind and looks at prehistory like a curious kid, going with what she finds. Because of her specialty she is pretty much limited to the "why do we do it" end of things. I would like to trace the evolution of art-making as well as art-reception right to the present day, working on what it is in our heads that makes it - has made it - such a big deal. After all, if an assemblage of wood, fabric, pigment and oil worth $100 can sell for $100 million, something is going on. I have a pretty good idea what it is, something I have worked out over the years and explains why we do what we do, but I need help from a science pro with the right info and methodology and access to publication. This is not something for the art mags.

"counter-intuitive" pretty much means anything we are not used to but it is a useful term. My son was a summa in particle physics and has been accepted to the PhD program at Stanford and I talk about these things with him when I can. It is much more fun than talking about art, at least with most people. Smart people in those fields are very matter-of-fact and sharply aware of exactly where things stand, what they know and do not know, you might say they are hungry for good new ideas just like a real art lover is hungry for good new art. In fact, they more-or-less evaluate ideas is an esthetic way and often use the word "beauty" to describe something that seems to work. They are not "trapped" by classical mechanics, but they are also very aware of the dangers of speculative theory.

For once I will agree with you about reproductions. When I looked at the Dubuffet it didn't look that spectacular, but knowing it is really huge makes a difference and I will have to defer judgement. However I think if you put it up against any of the great large Pollocks it will start looking a little clunky, good as it probably is.


Marc Country

May 21, 2006, 12:15 PM

One difference between art and science... Science has not lost its orientation as regards the importance of RESULTS, so it's almost impossible to get away with pure nonsense.



May 21, 2006, 12:46 PM

OP re: #13, I agree that Dissanayke's ideas about "why do we do it" are interesting. The question of how things get to be a $100 million I suspect is a cat of another breed. Take the person who paid $95 million for the Picasso, why? Well, if he was indeed Russian with a fortune, he just converted $95 million into an object, an object which may or may not hold its value. But, it will certainly hold part of it's value and the same thing cannot be said for the Russian currency, it's transportable and can be stored in a Swiss vault. Or, he is a member of the new Russian wealthy class and just wants to flaunt his wealth. He bought it because he could, maybe not necessarily because it makes any sense. This is part of the human nature behind buying and selling, especially at auction. Whatever, it will be interesting to see if this goes farther.

Good for your son I think it's an interesting field. In reading the stories, it appears that there is as much petty disagreements among physicists as artists, but at least the physicists have something which eventually can actually be tested. "... they are also very aware of the dangers of speculative theory" Yes, there is a big risk in going off on a tangent, the research could take several years and lead nowhere. It is interesting how some speculative ideas appeared, then disappeared, only to resurface later when the mathematical or experimental tools became available. The multi dimensional space concept came up early in the 20th century, lay fallow but was later resurrected in a new form when the mathematics for manifolds (curvy polydimensional surfaces) was developed. I just like how they think.

These Dubuffets were somewhat different than some others I had seen, including a smallish one in another gallery yesterday. The smaller one was painted directly, oil on canvas, as were some of the others I had seen in the past. The paintings at Pace were painted in acrylic on paper and then collaged together. The paste down was perfect, totally flat, without wrinkles, and it was difficult to sometimes tell in what order the sheets were laid down. As a result, the goofy drawing was very spontaneous looking, I suspect if it didn't work, he just tried again. I'm not sure exactly how he made them but I think he just kept moving stiff around until it looked right. Visually they work more or less like a field but slightly more organized. I think they are optically flatter than Pollock, more on the surface but I didn't think about this at the time, I'll have to look again. I actually think they would hold their own against a Pollock, but it's just an hypothetical opinion. The big Conrad Marca-Relli next to the Pollock at the Met looks ok, that surprised me, I think the Dubuffet is better so...

I think the problem in being in an outlying area, even as big as Miami, is that it is really helpful to have access to one or two really great paintings, just so you can recharge the memory of what the experience feel like in front of a really strong work. This exhibition was that kind of experience for me, and unexpected to boot. On a side note, while I was in the gallery, I noticed a couple looking at the paintings very hard, they really spent a lot of time with each one. I struck up a casual conversation with them and it was pleasant to find that not all collectors (an assumption on my part) are sheep, they were really interested in the work. FWIW, I asked the receptionist who curated the exhibition, it was Arnold Glimcher, the Pace gallery director, good for him. Most of the works in the exhibition were borrowed, I think there were only a couple that were actually available for sale, I suspect for oodles but I was afraid to ask.



May 21, 2006, 5:00 PM

I did not mean to posit the Picasso purchase in detail as a phenomena but as an example of a general condition. In other words, we put a high value on art. The question to be answered is "why?"

The Dubuffet was done on separate pieces of paper and then glued together? I don't think so. This would not work with his painting methods.

Marca-Relli is pretty good but i am surprised they put it up at the Met. They have so much and show so little, and in such an eccentric way.

Not having any good art to look at here is certainly a downer, as you say. Starvation diet. it is depressing and debilitating.

No, all collectors are not sheep. And there must be a lot of them, thousands, at least, just to even maintain the amazingly high prices on, say, all the hundreds of paintings de Kooning churned out in his long life. The auctions are full of them, and they are being bought at high prices.

I know some collectors look hard and make considered choices. But very few of them have an eye, and most of them get talked into the same dreary lot of superstars we see all the time at the auction houses, pay through the nose for them and then declare "we only buy what we love".



May 21, 2006, 5:50 PM

OP re#16.

Ok, I misinterpreted what you were inferring about high value. Maybe Dissanayke will have some ideas on what you mean.

I wouldn't have said the Dubuffet's were collaged if in fact they were not, but they were. For example, in "Mêle moments", in the lower right corner of the painting there is a grayish shape with a circle pattern in it. In fact, it is a piece of paper, filled with freehand drawn circles about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, loopy as I recall, they fill the whole area. The shape is cut out and fixed on the surface. All of the elements, which have something of a discrete identity, are made in the same fashion. I paid close attention to this specific aspect because I think it is a difference between the approaches used by the two artists.

Basquiat's paintings have a feral energy, he just lays the marks down, there is not a lot of adjustment and fussing around. When he uses collage, it is as an element, or a background. Dubuffet, was 75 when he made these paintings, at that point in a career you would expect an artist to have a more developed eye, a sense of nuance and everything else which goes with experience. I'm just guessing, but I think what he was doing, while working on the paper sheets, was being spontaneous, or loose, whatever you want to call it, but when he assembled them together he approached it in a more controlled manner. Because his pictorial instincts were more refined, this allowed him to work in a way which made a considered, nuanced, arrangement from what appears to be a spontaneous act.

What it looked like to me was that he used a smooth surfaced paper, like bristol board, a little bit thicker than a matchbook cover, raw with no sizing or priming, and then painted directly on the surface with acrylic, for the most part the "white" areas are the bare paper. In "Panorama," the black and white painting, what is hard to tell from the jpeg is that the white on black drawing, looks like it is white acrylic on black paper. The other areas are black acrylic on white paper and three parts actually use mixed gray. all the edges the different sections are crisp, cut like a knife, It definitely was not taped out and painted, that leaves a particular kind of edge these paintings didn't have.

This is what it looked like to me, if you know something different please tell me because I'm interested.

Unfortunately I don't know enough collectors to form an opinion, I'll take what you say at face value, although talking with this particular couple was interesting.



May 21, 2006, 7:11 PM

We may be talking at cross-purposes with the Dunuffet procedure because I didn't see it.

All I am saying is that I can't see how he would make a painting like that if he painted the paper first and then assembled it, like a large pictorial tile painting with a certain part of the painting on each tile. Maybe that is not how it was made.



May 21, 2006, 7:32 PM

I'm enjoying reading "Homo Aestheticus". So far , it's reinforcing ideas I've had about art being a fundamental human practice and need . The simplicity of the idea "to make special' clears away so much of the bs surrounding art .Some don't like to use the word beauty when describing art as if it's too ill defined a term but regardless of the adjectives one may throw in front of it, humans still crave it ; still need it. When I look at work I really hope to see something I can unreservedly say yes to. Lately, when I go to galleries and I see some one yet again being clever or smug or taking some tiny insect of an idea and trying to magnify it into the fly who ate New York I just come away so damned tired. Good thing I'm an indefatigable optimist



May 21, 2006, 7:42 PM

OP re #18

I looked at this very closely. The exact sequence of his process I don't know but they were definitely painted on separate pieces of paper then stuck down, you can clearly see how one sheet overlaps another. They aren't tiled, some forms have a curvy shape, like the one with the circles, it isn't butted up against its surround, it clearly overlaps it, you can see the edge. On a little work it would be obvious, but on big paintings like these, unless you poke your nose in it like I did, it looks seamless. I was very interested in this process because, coincidentally at the same time, 1973, I had made some paintings in a somewhat similar manner technically (not imagewise), but using 1/4 in plywood scraps to make a surface to paint on and I am reinvestigating this process now.

Compared to the little oil on canvas painting, the ones at Pace had a cleaner fresher look. You know how acrylic goes down on paper because the paper is slightly absorbent and has a very smooth surface the marking has a particular quality that oil paint on canvas can't make (without mega fussing around with the ground)



May 21, 2006, 8:54 PM

Well, I will take your word for it, George, although it is hard for me to imagine how some who painted like that could concoct a painting like that, that way. It seems virtually impossible. But I probably just don't understand it.

Next time you go to a gallery, Noah, you may see "the fly who ate New York". Sounds like a meaningful subject for one of our pomonsters.

I think Dissanayake mentioned to me that she felt that she had moved beyond the "special" idea, and recommended a later book called "Art and Intimacy", which I have not read yet.

Unfortunately, while I certainly have respect for the idea, "making special" persistently reminds me of the Church Lady's sarcastic "Well, isn't that special!" on SNL some yeqars ago.



May 21, 2006, 9:22 PM

I think the problem in being in an outlying area, even as big as Miami, is that it is really helpful to have access to one or two really great paintings, just so you can recharge the memory of what the experience feel like in front of a really strong work.

This is probably the central reason I moved to Boston. I went to the MFA yesterday. If I can get it together we'll be having reports from there all this week.

Noah's #19 is golden.



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