Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Student art

I have been extremely busy with school, but I want to try to keep things at least somewhat lively here on my blog. I was grading some art from my 2d Art I class last night-- the assignment was to do an illustration for a Christmas/holiday card. Some of them came out quite nicely, so I thought hey-- why not put a few on my blog?

2D Art I is made up largely of 9th grade students, but I also have a few seniors that are just taking the class as an elective. Three of the pieces below are by 9th grade students; one is by a senior. Just for fun, can you tell which one is by the senior?






Friday, November 23, 2007

The Art of Illusion

Just a quick post today on something fun...

Julian Beever is an English artist who creates amazingly convincing Trompe-l'œil chalk drawings on paved surfaces such as sidewalks. His works are created using a process called amamorphosis, and create the illusion of three dimensions when viewed from the correct angle. I have received copies of his work via e-mail on more than one occasion-- I suspect that this is another one of those things that makes its way around the internet on a somewhat regular basis. That being said, I really enjoy his work. Sometimes you have to look carefully for a few moments to see what is real and what is part of the art. Typically Beever includes himself as part of the art. Some of his pieces are pretty spectacular-- I think this stuff is really fun to look at.

Dig the skeleton on the dungeon floor.

You could swear that he's actually standing on a diving board.

I received the photo below in an e-mail the other day, and it made me think of Beever's work.

This piece was created in 1918; it took 18,000 U.S. soldiers to make. I thought that this would make an interesting comparison to Beever's work. For more information on this image and how it was made, click here.

For information on the history of Trompe-l'œil, click here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Modern Art: a Re-Assessment

Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist I, 1950
Among people that are involved or interested in visual art, there is, for the most part, a general acceptance of what is typically referred to as “modern art”. We have been taught, frequently in college-level art history courses, and even in K-12 art classes that modern art is good—that it is important, and oftentimes philosophically deep. We may even feel that we are in sort of an exclusive “club”—we can look at a painting by Jackson Pollock, and know that we understand it, whereas others—the “average person” (not in the club) just don’t have a clue.

Barnett Newman, Onement I, 1948

Although there has always been some modern art that I just didn’t buy into (Barnett Newman, for example), in general, I never had any real questions in my mind as to the over-all validity (or lack thereof) of modern art. However, a number of years ago (more than I care to admit!) I started reading some of the philosophical writings of Ayn Rand. Rand is perhaps most known as the author of the novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead; however, she was mainly a philosopher. She created the philosophy known as Objectivism, which, in terms of metaphysics, focuses on objective reality. This is an art blog, so I don’t want to spend too much time discussing Rand’s work as a whole, but one of the things that I found interesting was her outright rejection of modern art (and modern music as well). This was the first time that I had heard of anyone really challenging the concept of modern art. It really made me stop and think… once again using Pollock as an example, I pondered about his work… was he really as great as we have been led to believe? Ultimately, after some time, I decided hey—I do like a lot of modern art, and modern music as well. (As a musician, I found Rand’s rejection of modern jazz to be just plain unacceptable—still, as with art, it did make me think about it.) Although I tend to agree with Rand on some other issues (individual rights vs. the rights of the “collective”, for example), I simply cannot accept her position on art and music. Yet this did open the door to looking at modernism in a somewhat different light.

Pharoah Sanders

As a commercial artist, I never had to worry much about philosophical issues such as “the meaning of art”, particularly in regards to my own work. I did artwork to make a living, doing illustration work for various clients—they were the ones that were determining the subject matter of my work. Work that I did on my own was largely geared towards creating “samples” to generate more work…

Then, after twenty years of commercial art, I left that field and became a high school art teacher, teaching drawing and painting—not commercial art. I had to go back to school to get my teacher certification. During my course of studies, I took a class called “Art Trends and Art Education”. The basic premise was to examine contemporary art to see what we could bring into the classroom. This premise is sound in and of itself. However, much of the focus of this course was on art that was largely conceptual or minimalist in nature. When we look at modern art over the last one hundred years or so, we can see that in most cases there is a demonstration by the artist of at least a certain amount of technical skill. Of course, this is not always the case—again, I would refer to Barnett Newman, for example. However, moving into the postmodern era, in many cases skill has become a non-issue. It has become, in some people’s minds, totally irrelevant. In the extreme, some have even moved beyond the “art object” altogether, into the realm of pure concept. Much of this work exists largely to promote a political or societal point of view, generally on the left side of the political/social spectrum.

Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998

I had some real “issues” with much of what we were looking at in the Art Trends class. Much of this work seemed to me to be old and tired, no longer avant-garde, cutting edge or what have you. Installation and minimalist art has been around for decades. Let’s move on already.

I started to do some research on other forms of and issues pertaining to contemporary art. I discovered a number of interesting things. Here are a few examples:

1. Tom Wolfe’s book The Painted Word. This book gives an excellent account of what much of modern art is really about (according to Wolfe, obviously). Wolfe is a brilliant satirist, and extremely funny as well. I highly recommend this book. Wolfe does not totally reject modern art, but he really puts a lot of it in its place.

2. The work of art critic / art historian Donald Kuspit. Kuspit has a book titled The End of Art, which is also worth looking at. Actually, I find that some of his articles are good deal more succinct and basically make the same point: much of contemporary art has gotten so far removed from what many would traditionally consider art to be, the he refers to it as non-art. Kuspit asks: what does the avant-garde look like when it is old?
Kuspit: So what lies ahead for art? Are there any signs in the current decadence of new artistic -- even esthetic -- life? Ironically, yes. What I call the New Old Masterism or New Objectivism -- to name names, the artists I have in mind, among others, are Odd Nerdrum, Vincent Desiderio, James Valerio, Jenny Saville, Paula Rego, Brenda Zlamany, Julie Heffernan and Eric Fischl (in his recent portraits) -- is an alternative to labored and lame duck avant-gardism. (from his excellent article “Going, Going Gone”)

Odd Nerdrum, The Water Protectors, 1985

3. The Art Renewal Center. This is a non-profit organization that exists to revive the standards of craftsmanship and excellence of the old masters. They see modern art as restricting and in fact debilitating excellence in art. The ARC promotes masters past and present, and also provides information and links to an increasing number of art schools and ateliers that promote traditional skills in art.
Although I do not reject modern art, as the ARC does, I am very encouraged to see what appears to be an upswing in terms of a return to the importance of skill in art.

Christopher Pugliese, Ulysses and the Sirens, 2003

4. Not all “postmodern” art is necessarily in the conceptualist/minimalist camp. Kuspit’s New Old Masters would have to be considered to be postmodern; the same is true of the art that is referred to as Lowbrow Art, Contemporary Pop, or Pop Surrealism. (The term “Lowbrow Art” was coined by artist Robert Williams, as a satirical comment on the “highbrow art” that is so loved by the “art intelligensia”.) Many of the Lowbrow artists come from an illustration background, and are highly skilled. Interestingly, the origins of this style of work come from things like California hot rod culture, underground comics, cartoons, etc. Incidentally, the magazine Juxtapoz, which features a lot of this art, is now the second-best selling art magazine in America, outselling the long-established Art in America, self-styled arbiter of all that is essential in contemporary art.

Todd Schorr, The Spectre of Cartoon Appeal, 2000

So where does all of this leave us? While modern art is still very much in vogue, there appears to be an increasing number of people that are yearning for something else. Whether it is a return to academic painting, as promoted by the ARC, New Old Masterism, or Lowbrow Art, it would appear that modern art has become old.

Basically, at this point, pretty much anything goes in art. Although this may be a source of confusion as to what constitutes “good art” (or even art itself) at this point in time, I find the extremely wide range of work that is being done today to be tremendously exciting, and I for one, am also very happy to see a renewed interest in art that is based in traditional art skills.

(For more of my thoughts on this, see some of my previous posts.)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cthulhu fhtagn!

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn". Translated (from the Necronomicon), this means "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming"... it continues... "yet He shall rise and His kingdom shall cover the Earth."

Cthulhu is a fictional being created by horror/science fiction/fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Also a Lovecraft creation, the Necronomicon has become so ubiquitous in horror fiction, film, and mythology, that many people believe it actually exists. Various versions of it have been published; you can even find it at Barnes and Noble or Borders.

I would like to feature three paintings of the great Cthulhu. The first, by illustrator Raymond Bayliss, is from the dustjacket of the hardcover version of Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror and Others, published by Arkham House. Notice the way that Cthulhu is nonchalantly dropping an unfortunate soul from his left hand, and the tiny figures in the foreground fleeing in horror!

(As usual, click on images to zoom in.)

The next two paintings are by illustrator Michael Komarck.

Lovecraft's fiction was very atmospheric, and has been particularly difficult to translate into film; a number of really bad movies based on Lovecraft stories have been made. A couple of them, Re-Animator and From Beyond are kind of cool in a cheesy sort of way, but Lovecraft's stories tend to work better and be more horrific when you just picture things in your mind as opposed to seeing them on screen. Really, I think, the same often goes for artwork of Lovecraftian entities such as Cthulhu. In other words, this is a is a pretty good example of the notion of "less is more". That being said, these paintings are pretty darn cool!

You may have gathered that I am something of a Lovecraft fan. Let me put it this way: in 1990, temporarily low on cash, I sold one of my guitars to finance a trip to Providence, Rhode Island to attend the H. P. Lovecraft Centennial Conference-- I have never regretted it for a minute!

Cthulhu fhtagn!