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Post #989 • April 13, 2007, 10:07 AM • 29 Comments

Kurt Vonnegut, R.I.P. I recommend Bluebeard.

Art bots! Also: Keepon gettin' down to Spoon.

Cat and Girl: Some kid holding a head. The author comments: Cat's favorite Caravaggio paintings include Some Kid Holding a Head, He Had Twelve Jello Shots Where's the Student Medical Center, I'll Put It On My Credit Card and You Can Give Me Cash, and We're Going To Home Depot Whether You Like It Or Not.

Dear God, Make Art Thievery Die. Amen. (DF)

Ken Johnson: This show looks too much like an effort to please the museum's most valuable supporters. With the ICA's expansion, the museum may be trying to cultivate donors who could be a continued source of funding. We've come to expect if not appreciate the Museum of Fine Arts' frequent cozying up to private collectors to the detriment of its intellectual mission. It's sad to see the ICA already going down that road. Fine, I'm not going to the mat over a Bourgeois show. But this issue comes up frequently enough for Johnson, including one instance that was a flat out bad call, that it's time to wonder about the degree to which his reaction is a reflexive one.

Why do you hire illustrators? So this doesn't happen to you. (Reddit)

Jason Kottke: The No One Belongs Here More Than You site is a lesson for web designers: the point is not to make sites that follow all the rules but to make sites that will best accomplish the primary objectives of the site.

Tomer Hanuka is donating all proceeds from the sale of this print to the ICMC, a charity that assists Iraqi refugees.

The suits had me install a firewall on your imagination.

Department of Skills: Noodles. (Kottke)




April 13, 2007, 8:23 PM

Kurt Vonnegut on Fresh Air now.



April 13, 2007, 10:44 PM

not to go on & on about thievery but, street art is constantly ripped off. its a juicy topic becuase technically a street artist cant really try and recieve royalties because his work is still considered vandalism and is done anonymously, big time graffiti artists cant afford to have there identities expsed (with certain exceptions i.e bansky,os gemeos, obeygiant and such). when a graphic designer takes a photo and uses it for design , the photo becomes property of the designer. a lot of street art shows ups in the mainstream with absolutely no credit being given to the original artist. but at least they can make interesting blogs about it



April 13, 2007, 10:56 PM

I've always thought that all of the google image participants are brilliant - they document images that are composed, structured, informative, and relative - I am much lesser because I rip all of them off as I see fit to my own creative needs and this makes for pictures that are composites. What have you made; can I rip of some of your images ?



April 14, 2007, 2:25 AM

Hello Opie I just re-re-re-read Artbroken: What Art Is and How We Stopped Making It and I have a few questions. I want to say I understood most of it. I'm hoping to not sound intellectually lazy by asking you for a few clarifications. I tried to put into my own words what I thought I read, can you help? Thank you.

So we use the principles of nature whether we discover them or not, all day, all night, all life and beyond and art(making)mimicks this, hence the sentance "Art is condensed life" right? I am not exactly sure what is meant by "transitory utility".

So we are connected by nature(that is what is meant by "deeper[?] and codification) and why its pretty damn hard to explain our art(?). So then art and life are mysterious?

And great art is what comes closest to communicating or transcending this connection? I am sorry but I just don't understand this sentance-"Furthermore, art in the viewing comes acoss through the singular effect of the living whole, not the identifiable elements nor the intellectually derived implications of the recognizable parts." Is this in a way a critique on realism as a mode of painting?

O.k. I understood that to have and make great art the art must come from that deeper shared (and stubbornly mysterious) nature, but in order to make it, it must come from training which is inherently not as deep as the nature itself but a way in which we can symbolize or like an Algebra problem make an equation that stands for this said"deep"ness? But how, in painting, does one symbolize with paint this inherent nature? Heck I can understand a narrative painting done by Bouguereau because it is literally giving me the what x and y mean, but I just can't find those in say a Pollack,except, maybe in that idea of mystery, because I have no clue what the f... he is trying to say or transcend. This is not a shot toward AbEx, I sincerely am searching for an answer.

And I agree that what may be happening today in our schools is not helping in our connections to our Natur(al) selves. Again except in teaching "mystery" ? Because God knows I haven't a clue as to what the hell they are teaching in the foundations across some schools. (There are very few exceptions, such as JM and Franklin(sorry you left))

Art then is like a math equation and like math is a way inwhich we can understand aspects of nature as human qua human. We developed concept formations, language, math, trade, money, markets, and art bags this all up and shows us as a whole what it all means in the order that the artist personally and intamtely understands this all to mean. Now, the artist has to learn a way in which to show this, hence the foundations courses, such as design, drawing, painting. Which I understand them to be based on hundreds of years of coming to understand how the artist can in fact finally do this. Then pray tell what the hell happened in the 20th century? Why does it seem to have been an amazing jolt to the progress that was made up till that point? What am I missing?



April 14, 2007, 8:40 AM

JS, it is always good to rephrase and clarify and having questions like yours can be very helpful when trying to make a difficult subject more straightforward and understandable.

You write that you don't understand this sentence "Furthermore, art in the viewing comes acoss through the singular effect of the living whole, not the identifiable elements nor the intellectually derived implications of the recognizable parts."

"The living whole" and "condensed life" are unsatisfactory phrases which are meant to convey the overall effect a great work of art has on a person sensitive to it. This effect, or whatever is "in" the work that provides it, is the fundamental "guts" of the work, the thing that makes it valuable for us. We can name it, but we cannot pin it down in words.

"Transitory utility", "intellectually derived implications" etc. are merely the recognizeable and specifiable elements that the artists use to create this "deeper" effect, which is, admittedly vaguely, compared to "life".

In other words, if you look at a self portrait by Rembrandt and get a thrill from it, that thrill is the thrill of recognizing and feeling of "life" in, or from, the picture. The paint and canvas used and the fact that this is a self-portrait of the artist and that there is strong raking light and that he looks a bit haggard by 1661 are all demonstrable facts which are obviously important components of the whole but are only just that: components. The "mysterious" part is that we cannot specify how in the world these things which, in themselves, are only marginally interesting, become something so precious and so available to feeling and wonder when put together by an artist like Rembrandt.

You write: "Heck I can understand a narrative painting done by Bouguereau because it is literally giving me the what x and y mean, but I just can't find those in say a Pollack,except, maybe in that idea of mystery, because I have no clue what the f... he is trying to say or transcend."

When you "understand" a painting in this way you are saying you comprehend the the things and the activity depicted in the painting, not that you are getting that "life thrill" (these terms really are inadequate!) such as described above in the Rembrandt. If you look at a Pollock this way you will of course not "understand" it, because abstract artists did away with subject matter. This is not a better or worse way to make art, it is just the way they did it.

Because we are so habituated to seeing pictures that depict something, there is a strong tendency, even among people who purport to "get" artists like Pollock, to read "understandable" elements in his pictures - the wide open spaces of the American west, for example - in attempts to make them more familiar and acceptable. Notwithstanding all this, the "life" in the Pollock and the "life" in the Rembrandt are fundamentally the same thing: a "magical" effect of "life" created from completely different materials by a great artist.

The fact that this can happen, and that it can happen from stringing sounds or words together, just demonstrates that it really does not matter what art is made of or what it depicts. What matters is that "deeper" and much more difficult-to-specify thing the great artist gets across to us. "Life" is a laughably general term for it, but what to do?



April 14, 2007, 10:52 AM

I thought it [WDB] was a good essay. I have a few observations I might add to the discussion.

… the overall effect a great work of art has on a person sensitive to it.
Perception is an incredibly complex process which involves more than making a ‘copy’ in the mind, in fact it appears no such copy is made. [see O’Regan link below] What does seem to occur is that the brain responds to a visual stimulus in several locations, with different ‘filters’ applied to the input, and combines them somehow as the perceptual experience. All this could be a moot point, we know what we see, don’t we? I suspect more is happening than we expect and in the process of ‘seeing’ we take into account our own life experience as well as the raw biological sensory input.

And great art is what comes closest to communicating or transcending this connection? [JS#4]
Furthermore, art in the viewing comes across through the singular effect of the living whole, not the identifiable elements nor the intellectually derived implications of the recognizable parts. These are only materials, musical notes or words or oil paint or more complex configurations and embodiments. Art as such resides not in specifiable content but as a reflection of a series of judgements the artist made about content while consulting that core experience. [WDB]

I think I disagree slightly with the idea of the ‘whole’, but only in the sense that I believe we assemble the ‘whole’ as part of the process that constitutes our visual experience. Where I think WDB is onto something is where he is suggesting the experience of ‘art’ is a result of something other than just decoding the ‘identifiable elements’ of the artwork. While technical mastery of the medium may make an artwork impressive or pleasing on first impression, it is only one of the factors which separates great art from the rest.

In trying to unravel what great art is trying to ‘express’, I keep coming back to the idea that it has something to do with the artists intentionality. This viewpoint would encompass WDB’s; "reflection of a series of judgements" idea. The series of judgements propagates from the artists’ intentionality, consciously or not.

For example, if a painter has the intent to faithfully render a scene, this would describe one level of intentionality. How the painter accomplishes this intent, describes another. If the painter focuses on rendering all the tiny little details, this intent becomes part of the experience of the work. While one ‘intent’ may be as good an another, I think that in the working process the result of the ‘series of judgements’, must express the artist, not just the subject.

For example, at the Guggenheim’s recent Spanish painting exhibition, Velasquez and Goya stood out, not because they were capable of ‘rendering’ the subject faithfully, but because in the process they made paintings that were ‘paintings’, an expression of their vision and intent about painting and not just the subject.

Both artists work with a controlled directness that not only renders the subject but also expresses a psychological aspect of the artist. It comes across as a joy for painting and for life; in this sense, these artists could also say "I am nature". [Pollock] By contrast, the lesser works, while technically accomplished, reveal an intent to make the painting a certain way. I’m speculating it might be ‘correctly’ or ‘accurately’, whatever, the focus of intent points towards the technique rather than the artist, and part of the life is drained from the work.

Velasquez is particularly adept at laying down direct simple marks, which from a slight distance convey the subject, but on closer inspection is just ‘painting’ done with extreme confidence. It is this confidence and directness, which I believe a ‘sensitive’ viewer experiences. It is what gives these works their power.

Footnote: of a number of papers on perception I have read recently, I found this one by Kevin O'Regan & Alva Noë made a lot of sense.
A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness



April 14, 2007, 11:32 AM


1. I think perception is incredibly complex too, but it is another matter. What we need to observe if we are going to make sense of what art "is" is the collective reaction to art. I have been trying to correspond with Semir Zeki but he seems to be so completely wound up in this "complexity of perception" that he misses the art. We don't want to go there.

2. Everything there in the art is part of the ultimate experience, but nothing there in the art can be demonstrated in words to be necessary for the ultimate experience.

3. I think using the word "express" is misleading, because we tend to take it back to something literal. Whenever we say "express something" we have that deceptively satisfying "something". And it is never "something", it is how all the "somethings" were put together. That's why it is advisable, in my opinion, to keep it vague ("life") until we can really grab ahold of it.

4. Intentionality is a can of worms. If Monet intends to "faithfully render a scene" and Kinkade intends to "faithfully render a scene" the Monet will be a good landscape and the Kinkade will be dreck. Furthermore how can you ever pin it down? How can "intentions" be specified and believed? I always intend to paint a good painting. I don't always do it. In my opinion the concept of intentions should be wholly excluded from a discussion of this type.

Velasquez was simply fortunate enough to have his hand and eye and whatever it is that jumps out on the canvas ("life" again) well connected. Like Mozart, there just weren't many obstacles and short circuits. It just poured out. Lucky for human civilization, but depressing to us strugglers.

I will check out the papers you referred to. Thanks.



April 14, 2007, 1:44 PM

When it sort of takes your breath away and causes you to stop moving, then your clicker has been clicked and you can be sure you saw something real.



April 14, 2007, 2:03 PM

One of the problems talking about this kind of thing, catfish, is that I really do believe that a good number of the people involved in art have never rally experienced that sensation. Because that "click" is the basis and reference point of any serious investigation of art, this makes it impossible to really be understood. Kind of a catch-22.



April 14, 2007, 2:58 PM

Opie: "a good number of the people involved in art have never rally experienced that sensation"

I'm sure you are right about this opie. That's why so many prefer to "understand" art. Which has led to art that is understandable rather than the real stuff. The well heeled amongst the art audience are happy enough with understandable to fork over many monies to have it, as Jack loves to point out from time to time. I call it the Triumph of the Conversation Piece.



April 14, 2007, 10:38 PM

OP, judging by the contents of some very major collections I have seen, not to mention any number of shows at major venues, these people either have no clicker or they've got one made in Taiwan with cheap materials by underpaid temporary help during a power shortage. What you and Catfish are talking about has little or nothing to do with their motivation or mindset.



April 14, 2007, 11:45 PM

I like to stroll in the grass. Sometimes I flip over with my hands going down first, my head next, and the body after that. I try to land on my feet but it doesn't allways go that way. Oh well, as long as it was fun !


Marc Country

April 15, 2007, 12:38 AM

Is there a lesson in the last comment? Somehow, I think one was intended...


pine cones

April 15, 2007, 2:40 AM

[...not an unfettered venue for random impulses. - F.]



April 15, 2007, 11:50 AM

This refers to recent threads about the Weng collection of Chinese art and calligraphy now on show at the Boston MFA. I suppose it's unfair, but I can't help comparing that to a rather aggressively promoted show now at the Bass Museum in Miami of what appear to be relatively mundane jade objects. Their owner is one Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam (the former version, one presumes), who strikes me as something along the lines of a socialite celebrity type.

I don't know how many e-mails I've gotten about the thing (I'm on the Bass mailing list), mostly related to social stuff like "The Imperial Banquet" at the museum with, uh, her Imperial Highness in attendance. Frankly, I find this rather embarrassing, not to say annoying. Of course, I'm hardly socialite material, but really, leave me out of this.



April 15, 2007, 7:28 PM

ah yes... the click. having stood in front of a few paintings in my day i agree that, A, the 'click' exists, and, B, it happens with some pieces and not others. Also, it happens more with paintings by particular artists than with others. I wonder if having actually picked up a brush and made a few efforts at painting , myself, has anything to do with these judgements. what about the 'mystique' factor. when i see the goya do i not already know that it is superior? have i not already been told?
sure, there's a click, but where does it really come from?



April 15, 2007, 8:01 PM

"where does it really come from?"

That's a tough one. It happens as a result of your intereaction with the painting, and it has something to do with what the artist did. That much we can probably rely on.

Given that, I would venture that it "comes from" the brain of the artist, but there are so many other intertwined and hard to pin fown factors that it might be best not to get more particular than that, at least for now.

And of course if you try painting you will be more sensitve to it. I have long advised dealers and others involved commercially with paintings (and art historians!) to paint. They always report that it has helped them, and they are often, inexplicably, surprised.



April 15, 2007, 8:34 PM

"where does it come from?"

The art work. How it got into the artwork could be the mind of the artist, or more likely, the mind and a lot more of the artist. But the immediate source is the art work. That's what experience teaches.

It does NOT come from the "culture", "indoctrination", "bias", or similar popular entities. Nor is it caused by "subjectivity" though it takes a subject with a clicker before there can be any clicking. The subject who has such a clicker is said to have "good taste". You gotta have that taste but taste isn't what does the clicking - it is simply the clicker itself.

Art is what makes it happen. Physical, palpable ART. Preferably, damn good art.



April 15, 2007, 9:10 PM

I’ve referred to this thing before as a surge. And, it only happens when, well it just happens. There it is, hundreds of years of history in a little snap, dollop, etc. And, simultaneously you can’t put your historical finger on it, because you would possibly need far too many. A painter could only look at it with certainty, as one cannot forget what they know. I have listened to improve (electro and acoustic) musicians speak about this in the same way.



April 15, 2007, 10:31 PM

Surge is good.



April 16, 2007, 8:36 AM

dang it... i'm trying to find the discussion from a few years ago of the development at 5th and Alton (including a partially publicly-funded garage and a britto sculpture), but google site search is coming up short.

possibly i'm just not feeding it the right terms, but i think the problem may be that the {"click here to see the 50 most recent posts" "ok, now click to see the next 50 most recent posts" etc.} system just isn't very googlebot-friendly for older posts?



April 16, 2007, 8:39 AM

Trying to guess how Google works is an exercise in madness.

Try this.



April 16, 2007, 10:16 AM

Madness is your friend. Use to search only this site, e.g., britto alton



April 16, 2007, 11:26 AM


Actually, I thought that's what I was doing . . . maybe I just didn't recognize the post in my haste -- Britto doesn't come up until the comments.



April 16, 2007, 1:00 PM

I saw a photo of the Britto thing on your site, Alesh. It's quite hideous, though I suppose it wouldn't be entirely out of place in a cheesy Burdine's-type setting. How anyone of even average mental capacity could take such schlock as real art is beyond me, though it obviously happens.



April 16, 2007, 5:31 PM

ok sure, i conceed that the artist, or what the artists does, is a part of it. i would even agree that the artist's decisions are the crux of the matter. it is the artist that provides the "perfect" outcome at the site of the work itself. but, isn't that pruduct merely the first variable in an equation which unfolds over time through factors like distribution, citation by artists and critics, and other legitimations?



April 16, 2007, 6:02 PM

"legitimaions" have nothing to do with the experience or art. They are anotther matter altogether, important on other ways, but different.



April 16, 2007, 6:03 PM

I meant experience OF art. Sorry.



April 16, 2007, 8:35 PM

Jack~ I thought it was an "artist's rendering" when i first saw the image. it was only after re-reading the NT article that I realized it was probably dangerously close to what the finished product will be. Holy shit. The craziest part is in the article, the developer getting all self-righteous about his appreciation of Britto's work.



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