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Post #830 • July 14, 2006, 11:50 AM • 26 Comments

I have fond memories of Elwood Smith, an illustrator who came to speak to us at RISD almost 20 years ago, on what turned out to be a snow day. He hung around anyway, drew for us, had lunch with us, and generally treated us like gold. And now, he has produced an illustrated musical. Sounds brilliant. (Drawn)

Would that more advertising find inspiration in art: Beloiters doing Seurat, Adidas doing Tiepolo. (Andrew, Kottke) Also via Andrew: Antony Gormley sets the new standard for work ethic in installation art at the Sydney Bienniale. (Okay, he hired people, but still.)

"In this segment Stephen is taken on a helicopter ride over the city of London. After a brief ride, he returns to the ground where, in three hours, he completes a stunningly detailed and remarkably accurate drawing of London from the air which spans four square miles with 12 major landmarks and 200 other buildings drawn to perfect perspective and scale." Dr. Darold Treffert on an autistic savant artist, Stephen Wiltshire. I've long felt that the way we teach drawing is failing to capitalize on a lot of untapped brain power. Anyone who wants to research this, contact me. (Reddit) Also via Reddit, probably not savant.

"Peter Sellars described his first experience of hearing her sing as being 'in the middle of this raging forest fire.' It was a fire she could control with consummate artistry but not put out. One night in Santa Fe, I went with her and her husband, Peter, to a local movie house to see Mystic River. Afterward, outside on the street, she decried what she felt were the 'false notes' of Sean Penn's 'overwrought' performance. As her voice rose and Peter and I tried to calm her down with remarks like 'It's only a movie,' I realized that she was not just raging at what she perceived to be another performer's wrong choices, but talking fiercely to herself about the danger of indulging in histrionics at the expense of truth." Charles Michener on the recently departed mezzosoprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, embodying an important verity. (AJ)

The Renaissance, explained at the library. Jason Pultz's Comic Strip.

"We have examined other apparently turbulent paintings of several artists and find no evidence of Kolmogorov scaling." Jose Luis Aragon, a physicist who has discovered that Van Gogh, uniquely among artists, painted patterns that correspond to one of the foundational equation sets of turbulence modeling. I wonder if the scientists looked at Leonardo's drawings of storms. (Reddit)

Department of Skills: Uh oh - the shirt's coming off. It's speeded up a hair, but less than you think. The Chinese had (okay, have) a lot of hostility against the Japanese since WWII. That sentiment found catharsis in kung fu movies. Jet Li picked up the theme: his Fist of Legend is highly recommended.



Marc Country

July 16, 2006, 5:48 PM

Seems to me Antony Gormley has set the new standard for outsourcing, maybe.

As Gormley says, "The art is not there to be looked at; it is looking at you." Yeah, right.

Actually, the picture attached to this article reminds me, in a very small way, to viewing the exavation site of the terracotta warriors in Xian. Or, the terracotta warriors 'viewing' me, I suppose I should say...


Marc Country

July 16, 2006, 6:05 PM

To add to the roundup:

Pate Metheny on Kenny G.

"Having said that, it has gotten me to thinking lately why so many jazz musicians (myself included, given the right "bait" of a question, as I will explain later) and audiences have gone so far as to say that what he is playing is not even jazz at all. Stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of playing that most reasonably objective listeners WOULD normally quantify as being jazz. It's just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians. So, lately I have been advocating that we go ahead and just include it under the word jazz - since pretty much of the rest of the world OUTSIDE of the jazz community does anyway - and let the chips fall where they may."

A good counter-argument to the old "bad art is non-art" canard.



July 16, 2006, 6:43 PM

In a way, Marc, it's a semantic issue. For practical purposes, it makes no real difference whether something is "not art" or just so bad or weak or undeserving of respect as art that one can't take it seriously as such. It amounts to pretty much the same thing either way, and it simply isn't worth time, energy or bother to debate the issue. It's a moot point.


Marc Country

July 16, 2006, 7:12 PM

True Jack... the only practical purpose served is in discussion, as it just leads to dead-end debates to suggest that something is not art (or music, or whatever) when one really means it's not good.

I used to talk of such things as being 'non-art', and in argument made the analogy that to say everything in a museum MUST be art is like saying that everyone in prison MUST be a criminal... at the time I thought it was pretty good rhetoric, although it's not entirely accurate... that's actually more like saying that everyone in prison MUST be a convict... which is, of course, technically true... but, equally obviously, "convict", like "art", is just a neutral label, which implies certain characteristics (like "quality" or "guilt"), whether or not such positive or negative characteristics are ACTUALLY present.



July 16, 2006, 7:31 PM

Good analogy, Marc.

There are things in museums everywhere screaming "I'm really not art, please, let me out"


Marc Country

July 16, 2006, 7:58 PM




July 16, 2006, 8:02 PM

Marc ought to win some kind of prize for that. Well done!



July 16, 2006, 8:33 PM

Dammit, Marc, i am tired of being your straight man!



July 16, 2006, 10:58 PM

Have you a Vaudeville stage in the works for your Artblog Cafe, Franklin?



July 17, 2006, 1:04 AM

Methany speaks in reference to a genre of music .He's not determining if it's music or not just categorization. Defining something as art or poetry is determined by it's effect, not it's context. I don't have a problem saying something isn't art. If it doesn't do it for me , it's obviously still a painting or sculpture, book etc, but I don't call it art.



July 17, 2006, 1:10 AM

Right, Noah. It is art if you take it as art. It is also "art", practically speaking, if it is ahanging in a museum and everyone calls it art.

Experience is everything. Teminology is just convenience.


Marc Country

July 17, 2006, 1:48 AM

Franklin, please place my new prize on the mantle, next to my Grandma Anna's Trophy.

"Dammit, Marc, i am tired of being your straight man!"

Oldpro?... My straight man? I coulda sworn you were George's...

Noah, in the brief quote excerpted from Pat (not 'Pate' as I wrote earlier) Metheny, he writes "It's just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians."

So, yes, you are right that throughout the article he is discussing jazz specifically, but I think it should be fairly easy to see how the broader point is clearly implied.
Like I said before, I used to call bad art 'non-art', as you do, and can certainly understand the appeal of that argument, as I've made it myself, but in the end, you're left talking about paintings and sculptures that aren't art... this, to me, is a semantic dead end.



July 17, 2006, 2:38 AM

My intention isn't just to play with words ,but I wouldn't call a Zane Grey novel literature. To me the word "art' is specific,meaning it is by it's nature good. The good art /bad art thing doesn't work for me. It's a continuum-not a cliff but at some point something it's no longer art.



July 17, 2006, 8:27 AM

I understand what you are saying, Noah, The problem is a semantic one. Once we accept the use of words which imply value discussion gets bogged down. For example, If we assume that anything called art is necessarily good, then we cannot, strictly speaking, use the phreases "good art" and "bad art", and merely discussing all the flotsam which the world calls "art" would entail the use of awkward terms like "so-called" art.



July 17, 2006, 8:29 AM

I know, Marc. Your comment is cruel (sob) but justified. Jack also gets on my case for falling for George's bait.


Bunny Smedley

July 17, 2006, 8:44 AM

This is an interesting discussion.

Slightly embarassingly, I occupy a sort of 'middle way' position. For me, 'art' means at least two different things.

There's art in the anthropological sense: art is that which, a particular culture, at a particular time, has deemed to be 'art'. Admittedly, the main fun to be had from this definition lies in reminding ourselves how much of what is now considered 'art' wasn't considered 'art' by the individuals who, in different times and different contexts, produced it - and how much more aesthetically successful it is compared with so much now made and marketed as 'art'.

And then, by contrast, there's 'art' in a sort of debased, second-hand Kantian sense. If I were to regard an artefact, any artefact, purely on aesthetic grounds, would it 'work' for me?

In real life, I tend to keep both these definitions running simultaneously, which is why I can admire, up to a point, all the clever triangles in one of David's blood-soaked exercises in revolutionary agit-prop, or enjoy what's being done with the picture-plane in an icon that was meant to be venerated, not scrutinised on points of colour and form.

The big problem comes when an 'artist', whose work is assumed to be 'art' in all sorts of worthy institutions, produces work that fits the first of these definitions, whilst failing to do much about the second.

But on the other hand, there's a lot of stuff I genuinely enjoy for reasons largely extrinsic to aesthetic considerations. What about a little painting of trees in Santa Barbara, California, painted by my grandmother when she was in her late teens, now hanging over my desk? If it echoes a little Auerbach drawing nearby, does that make it better (in sympathy) or (in comparison) worse?

I guess the main point, for me, is this: we might as well be honest about what we like, and why we like it, and then carry on liking it regardless. To me, anyway, that matters more than what does or doesn't scrape under the wire as 'art'.



July 17, 2006, 9:58 AM

I don't think it is necessary or helpful to have to take a position on the "what is art" question, Bunny. Not unless we are actually discussing it as such. In a practical sense we all use the word loosely; we don't have much choice if we are to talk about it, as you indicate. And if we don't make a habit of simply liking what we like, and looking for more to like, the whole point of art is lost anyway.



July 17, 2006, 10:03 AM

Just a postscript - you mention looking at "any artifact" as art. That's an interesting exercise. If you do this you usually find that the artifact in question does not measure up very well as art, but it is almost always better, as art, that most of what we see in the gallerys.

There is nothing in the world more singularly undeserving of existence than bad art.


redneck railroad

July 17, 2006, 12:02 PM

other than your opinions..................


Marc Country

July 17, 2006, 12:58 PM

... another brilliant comment brought to you by fascist freightways.

And now, back to reality.

I almost posted on the previous roundup, to stay on topic, but figure it'd just get lost there, so I thought I'd point out, on this thread instead, Piri's review of "Art Czar", From the Mayor's Doorstep.

(All of you out there who cling to the fantasy that artblog.netters are sexist, may want to imagine that Piri is a man, so as to not pop their bubble of nonsense.)



July 17, 2006, 1:19 PM

Re #17 I know what you're saying . It's not so much making 'a habit of simply liking what we like"it's making a habit of being honest about what hits us as likable. I treasure those people who are independent enough to simply respond.
There are many things in the world more singularly undeserving of existence than bad art.Sometimes it provides the fertilizer for next years crop.



July 17, 2006, 2:01 PM

It 's a back handed and unintentional kind of praise that Greenberg detractors just can't let him go,however few produce criticism of him that is worthy of debate.For all his personnel faults ,which may be fodder for petty gossip mongers, but are none of our business, he was the most honest art critic I've known.



July 17, 2006, 3:49 PM

People who go along with the crowd suffer a double whammy, Noah. They put themselves in a position of weakness and they miss out on what art has for them. And for what?

As for your rejection of my rhetorical overstatement about "underserving of existence", I certainly won't argue with you.



July 17, 2006, 4:59 PM

Probably answering another rhetorical question here,oldpro, but "and for what ?"- for inclusion in the tribe . You're dead on about the cost of "going along with the crowd "but potential isolation is often feared more.The irony is that sometimes need prevents satisfaction. Anyway ,enough I actually didn't intend to tread this tired path.



July 17, 2006, 6:17 PM

There have been times in our history when going along to get along was a matter of life or death, but we now live in a society that is about as free it can be. There is just no good excuse for cowering in fear in front of the art bullies. The only reason people do it, it seems to me, is because they would rather be subjected than in charge.



July 17, 2006, 7:34 PM

There are various reasons, OP, and one of them is that many scenesters are more interested in the scene than in art per se. For many it's mainly a social-image-fashion thing, and if that's the real priority, conformity to prevailing taste is obviously to be expected. If one wants to stand out or move up in that social hierarchy, one has to play by its rules, at least pretend to respect its leaders, and emulate those supposedly most in-the-know or with-it. It's no different from any other social climbing.

In addition, there's a certain glamour or cachet involved, however hollow, which can be a potent lure. It's also a way to look "advanced," "progressive" and "fearless." Some may, in fact, be cowed by the presumed authority figures and/or take the art mags as gospel, for instance, but some know perfectly well they're mostly posturing or posing--they just want to do it as effectively as possible.



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