Saturday, August 08, 2009

...AND IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, GOD CREATED THE LINE



Nobody knows for sure why Rembrandt drew this errant line beneath his signature in his famous picture of Adam and Eve:



The line seems so incongruous, some print collectors who preferred "tidy" art trimmed Rembrandt's line off the bottom of their print. Apparently they thought they were doing Rembrandt a favor.

Me, I adore this line. It's the only line in the entire picture not employed in the service of content. Instead, Rembrandt turned it loose in all its abstract glory, as naked as the day God invented lines.

We see it separated from the picture of Eden as the tool Rembrandt uses to perceive the world. It is the means by which he performs miracles. It underscores his signature, but for me it tells us more about Rembrandt's identity than his name does.



Abstract expressionist Barnett Newman was famous for painting wall-sized canvases, blank except for a single bold line. A friend who was trying to educate me about how to understand Newman's work raved, "When he painted that stripe his balls must have weighed 20 pounds apiece."


"Eve" by Barnett Newman


Well, I understood what he was trying to say.

You'll find echoes of Rembrandt's line in some of his other drawings. For example, in the following two pictures, after Rembrandt completed the careful, controlled portion of the picture he scraped a bold, powerful, almost abstract line across the bottom of the page.





The line in Rembrandt's tiny drawings seems more powerful to me than Newman's ten foot stripe. A line doesn't need to be physically large to be compelling, and it is not necessarily diluted by sharing the page with a subject matter. Note how Rembrandt's eyes sought out the strongest most fundamental line in those landscapes, distilled it to its purest and simplest form, and recorded it on paper as the exultant mark you see above.

111 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

On the first picture it seems like he's almost underlining his name,as if to say " I just spent hours drawing this, there it's done". Also I hadn't noticed the elephant in the corner of the picture before.

Anyway, I think a sprinkling of disorder is good for art work, but it has to be controlled like all other elements in a composition.

8/09/2009 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This picture is famous? He was probably checking his point.

8/09/2009 1:28 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Mark, I agree-- there is something of a triumphant, "take that!" in the way he underscores his name. That's the kind of observation I would expect to get from an artist who knows what it is like to push himself back from the drawing board, satisfied by what he has done. By the way, Rembrandt loved to draw elephants ever since he saw his first (and possibly only) elephant, a beast named "Hansken" that was transported across Europe and put on display in the early 17th century. He did several pictures of her.

Anonymous, you raise a good point. This picture was famous for centuries but in our generation it may no longer qualify, as it has not appeared on American Idol or in People Magazine. As for your theory about "checking his point," it would be a more likely explanation if Rembrandt was using a brush or a pen where the point might vary. In this case, remember he was just using an etching needle. Besides, Rembrandt printed over 50 copies of this image with the line in it. It would have been easy to burnish it out or trim the plate if he didn't want it there.

8/09/2009 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The balance of that second Rembrandt drawing is perfect. Artists rave (and want to duplicate) about the genius of his impasto whites but I think his real artistic genius glows in his drawings - so modern, so timeless.

8/09/2009 2:13 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I bet that Signature bothered Rembrandt because it threw off the design, hanging off the bottom of the picture plane causing a tension that pulled against the image contained within. By underlining it with a line that harmonized with many of the lower lines in the composition, the signature becomes integrated into the overall composition. Essentially, he made the signature into a kind of bit of lower frame or extension of the picture.

Barnett Newman: It just makes me sad to think about such hogwash and the credulous people who elevate such non-achievements. I mean, really.

My new rule is, anything you can design in Adobe Illustrator in less than a minute, wasn't worth turning into a painting in the first place. Eventually people will realize that modern art was a graphic design movement. As Burt Silverman said, most modern art was just rudimentary experiments in design.

8/09/2009 5:55 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

Kev, do you know how Rembrandt signed his other drawings? I've seen plenty of his drawings in reproductions, but not many of the reproductions contain his signature. I now suspect (after this post by David, but don't blame David if my suspicions are mistaken) that he signed them outside the drawing, and they have been lopped of in the reproduction. It would be a good way to strengthen your theory though.

David, I am always amazed when I see a Rembrandt drawing or painting. Thanks for the post.

8/10/2009 2:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About five years ago the Art Institute of Chicago had a rather large Rembrandt exhibition. There were about 200 works, and other than maybe a dozen or so paintings, they were etchings and ink sketches. (Now that I think about it, it may have been called 'Works on Paper.') The majority of them were about the size of a postcard, and some were as small as a postage stamp. You could even rent magnifying glasses to view them; they really were that small! They were absolutely exquisite. Your last sentence says it perfectly. I think it's the best exhibit I've ever seen.

~ Peggasus

8/10/2009 10:11 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, you could be right. For me, the interesting part of your explanation is that Rembrandt would have corrected the "look" of the etching by adding a line whose sole criterion was that it "feels right." He drew that line off center, he made some parts of it stronger than others, he added a wave to it and he made some parts overlap or touch his signature. There's no logic that compels any of those choices; you can't compare his line to some counterpart in the real world such as a tree, to see if Rembrandt drew the line properly. In fact, there's no guidance beyond what "feels right" to the artist (and when the artist is Rembrandt, that's pretty damn cool.)

8/10/2009 10:52 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Matthew, Rembrandt did not always sign his etchings but when he did, the vast majority of them were signed in the drawing itself, often blended into the background. I only know of one or two other etchings like Adam & Eve, where Rembrandt created a whole separate space to show off his signature. I have to believe he did it here because he was especially proud of what he did, and wanted the world to know who was responsible.

Usually, collectors in the centuries after Rembrandt's death trimmed his etchings right up to the plate line. It would be very unusual to eliminate his signature or any other line that Rembrandt added. You would not believe the difference in price between a print of this etching with the line at the bottom and a print with the line trimmed off. That could be one of the most expensive lines in the history of art.

8/10/2009 11:05 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Peggasus, you are absolutely right, these etchings are all very small, like precious jewels. The larger version you see by clicking on the jpg in my post is easily twice as big as the original. It sounds like you got a lot out of the Rembrandt show at the Art Institute. I'm sorry it didn't travel to my town.

8/10/2009 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TftT

re: Barnett Newman- it probably didn't take any balls, mask it and slop the paint on with a house brush.

re: Rembrandt- its fantastic how through line quality he creates atmospheric recession in those landscapes. The bottom one displays the more masterful hand.

kev
re: Burt Silverman- modern realism sadly is: open studio paintings of angry, bored, and often ugly models or painful renderings of somebodies lunch. Proven by the products of the small schools (aye tell yeahs), when their private work consists of the same posed model, the same still-life set-up, and the same landscape location. Which may get us closer to the answer of "How many realist does it take to come up with an idea?"

re: Your new rule- "God performs all His works, whether within Himself or outside of HImself, in a flash. Do not imagine that God, when He made heaven and earth and all things, made one thing one day and another the next. Moses describes it like that, but he really knew better: he did so for the sake of people who could not conceive or grasp it any other way. All God did was this: He willed, He spoke, and they were! " -Meister Eckhart


That we may attain to this, may God help us. Amen.

8/10/2009 12:19 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

In defense of Barnett Newman (who is not my favorite artist by any means) there are right places and wrong places to locate a stripe on a blank canvas. Just like Rembrandt's line, there are solutions that would work and solutions that would be disastrous. Before painting a solitary line down a ten foot canvas, I think you need to have a long zen moment. The sheer scale makes it harder to view the surface as a unified whole. It also makes the line physically harder to execute. But most of all your screw ups-- a few inches off, to the right or the left-- become expensive, epic screw ups, uncamouflaged by the distractions of subject matter, message, etc.

Also in fairness to Newman, many of his more successful paintings have a line that is rougher and reflects a human hand. I just chose this one because I was tickled that Newman had his own abstract version of Adam and Eve.

8/10/2009 12:41 PM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

You must be the only one that can see consequence and meaning, discuss with profoundity, and initiate a 'line of discussion'...on a simple line that no one else would notice, at least, not the majority. The question is, would anyone have noticed such a line, if the artist were some other than Rembrandt?

I had to smile too, as usual :-)
have a good day, Beth

8/10/2009 1:55 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

The thing that catches my eye in the Eden etching is not the poorly hung couple (too much like that John and Yoko photo) but the line work in the tree trunk. Man, is that good. Also, it's apparent to those who have etched copper that there are at least three states on that one section (there's obviously more on the figures).

Knowing the print sellers and agents of the time, I suspect the reason for signing the plate was economic. Understand that he was doing it mirror image. Let's not forget, Rembrandt was very big into making lots of money and spending it in the most ostentatious manner. If signing the plate guaranteed more sales, you can bet your pearl earring, gold salvers and stash of fine claret that he'd do it.

It's funny how we try to read non-commercial motives into one of the most commercially driven artists of his day.

8/10/2009 3:55 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Beth, before one of my readers who is truly knowledgeable about this stuff steps in to make the point in less charitable language, I should hasten to acknowledge that I am just a mutt (one of many) who likes to share random pictures that titillate him. Still, that awareness doesn't stop me from recognizing and being grateful for a kind word from a generous stranger. Many thanks.

As for whether this line would merit attention from a lesser artist, for me it's a matter of context. One might find a physically similar line scrawled on a wall as graffiti and it wouldn't carry as much weight with me. Here, the artist has just earned that line by completing an astonishing tour de force of dazzling, controlled linework. In that context, letting loose with a long, sinuous purposeless line curled around the base of his signature means something completely different.

It reminds me of the last line of that marvelous poem by Walt Whitman from "Song of Myself," where Whitman describes how the whole history of the world has led up to his life and to this very moment: "Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul!" If you drew like Rembrandt, you could even believe something like that.

8/10/2009 4:12 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, I am with you on that tree. Also, the serpent (before he lost his legs for leading Adam & Eve astray). However, you and I differ when it comes to Eve. I think that face is exquisite (and as you note, drawn in mirror image-- incredible). Her belly and thighs are also astonishing-- compare that to what Durer (or any other graphic artist in the history of the world ) was doing before Rembrandt.

I'm not sure I would say that Rembrandt was "commercially driven" as much as that he was a materialist in the best sense of the word. He appreciated fine material things-- props, hats, swords, rugs and especially the artwork of other artists of his day. He got in over his head with a beautiful house which, combined with his family medical and legal burdens, kept him always on he verge of bankruptcy. But on the other hand, he often forgot to cash checks from his clients, stashing them in stray cabinets and cupboards and ignoring them until they were worthless. Ultimately he made some courageous artistic decisions that cost him commercially.

As you know, I am not one of those who gets weak in the knees about commercial origins for art. Lots of great artists were motivated to keep producing because they spent like drunken sailors. I just think that Rembrandt's motivation was a sadder, richer, more complex one than being commercially driven, especially in his later years.

PS-- since we're talking about the Garden of Eden and commercialism, I don't know if you've read Mark Twain's fabulous "Eve's Diary" but Twain located the Garden of Eden in Niagara Falls because he was paid a commission on the side by the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce to promote tourist traffic. Great!

8/10/2009 4:41 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Au contraire, David... in an abstract composition, there is no wrong place to put a line. One graphic relation is just as good as another... there is no requirement for placement because there is no requirement for significance, nothing to accord with in experience, nothing to portray or explain, nothing to mean. A line here, a triangle there... sure, why not. It is only in the context of narrative illusion that placement here or there is of significance.

Anon (TftT)... "Modern Realism" is just getting started, just shaking off the irony left over from pomo and struggling to get a handle on the idea that there is more to art than memesis.

And whether a model is bored or unattractive to you or not shouldn't matter the least. The attuned artist is painting his own feelings, and the spirit of the model, not the model itself. And spirit is ALWAYS beautiful.

Fechin's Boris Karloff for instanct: http://images.npg.org.uk/790_500/5/3/mw07553.jpg
Or... Here's a new Carl Dobsky that really captures something: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=744028&stc=1&d=1249519091

8/10/2009 6:15 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, you write: "in an abstract composition, there is no wrong place to put a line. One graphic relation is just as good as another."

Surely you're not suggesting that there is no difference between good and bad abstract art? It seems to me that absolutely everything depends on where you put that line, or how big you make that circle, or the value of that green. That's all there is. I assume you would say that a representational painting can have a good design or a bad design. Why is abstract art any different?

8/10/2009 7:11 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>in an abstract composition, there is no wrong place to put a line.<<<

Surely you are quoting some philosopher or silver-tongued art writer you find to be admirable because no sighted person would ever say such a thing.

I hesitate to say that's complete nonsense spoken just to hear your head roar, but in the world of real art it speaks to a total lack of understanding of what comprises abstract design. Just because you write that stuff with conviction does not make it any less nonsensical.

Then again, I could be wrong. Perhaps you can show me some examples of your work in which these novel principles are employed.

8/10/2009 7:36 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Show me an example of an incorrectly placed line in an abstract composition, and I will show you an example of the vagaries of taste defining the word "incorrect."

8/10/2009 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TftT

Kev
Yes the spirit, the variety of the individual, and the re-creation through the filter of the artist (intelligent, perceptive, skillful). Agreed. But......

Without being rude, your choices hurt your cause. I'm afraid if your eyes can't "taste" the difference between these works, words will not awaken you. Fechin's paintings during his mature years in Taos are near abstractions (unfortunately they look like they were painted with coloured bird droppings). Furthermore much of his work was done from photographs, despite denial and cover-up by his daughter and pseudo followers (with whom he would be persona non grata if they were to admit the fact). These two points and his time span 1881-1955 should exclude him from the modern realist label.

re: Dobsky- Hasn't this been done before but infinitely better. Velasquez, Moroni, Lievensz, Ingres, Duveneck, Decamp, J. Carroll Beckwith, an unidentified follower of Titian. The C+ quality aside what is this paintings sell. That it was painted from life? though it easily could have been done from a photo and look no different. I kind of prefer to think of it as kitsch, because it seems like it was done from a photo taken from the faculty section of a yearbook.

Wake up! Aim high.

palate cleanser found here-

http://media.metmuseum.org/mgen/metzoom/zoom3.ms?img=DT1376.jpg&wrapperid=11&outputx=4800&outputy=6060.6890012642225&level=1&x=0&y=0&backcolor=0x000000

8/10/2009 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you can't see the full address for the palate cleanser click "...And in the garden of eden, god created the line" at the top of the page

8/10/2009 8:16 PM  
Blogger Jim Linderman said...

Hey David? I have several things to share with you...your email to me por favor?

Jim Linderman


DULL TOOL DIM BULB

Centerpiece of the Jim Linderman blog network. A blog about surface, wear, form and authenticity in art, antiques, design and photography. Dull tool and dim bulb were the only swear words his father ever used. Items from the Jim Linderman collection of vernacular photography, folk art, ephemera and curiosities. Weird, wonderful, wicked and smart.
http://dulltooldimbulb.blogspot.com/

8/10/2009 8:33 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, some time ago I offered up some examples of abstract art that I thought was good enough to make a person yodel. (http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2006/10/art-to-make-you-yodel.html)

If you want to move a line, how about taking the red line in that Miro and centering it? Make it perpendicular to the black dots, with an equal number to the right and left, and you've just made "one graphic relation [far worse than} another." Same thing with that delectable Gottlieb or the other Miro. Remove any significant compositional element and odds are you've made them dramatically worse.

8/10/2009 8:47 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jim, you can reach me at David.Apatoff@gmail.com.

8/10/2009 8:49 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, you said there are "right" and "wrong" places to put a line on a blank canvas. That is different than "better" or "worse" places to put a line, but not that much different. Because "ugly" is an aesthetic effect that may be desireable. An "incorrect" line is one that does not serve the artist's intention. It has nothing to do with whether you find that line beautiful or not. The rule set that governs the rightness of any line in an abstraction is purely subjective and stems solely from the artist's whim. If you don't agree with that whim, so what? There may be somebody else who does. The same cannot be said for a line that describes, say, a thigh muscle that makes the one leg look twice the size of the other in an otherwise realistic picture.

Anon, "wake up", "aim high"? Is that the level of discourse you want here? (I'm awake and shooting for the stars, fyi.)

Your famous example was very nice and shiny, but in my opinion, shallow. And your extrapolation about Fechin's photo use is an induction wayyy too far.

Incidentally, I wasn't holding out those two examples I gave as the be all end all, they were just two quick examples to counter your previous assertions. However, I obviously disagree with your dismissals of those two works. There probably isn't much more to say on the topic.

8/10/2009 9:25 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev-- whoa... when it comes to the metaphysics of art, I've been accused of playing hopscotch on loose gravel at the edge of the cliff, but even I would think twice before jumping into the ol' "the rightness of any line in an abstraction is purely subjective" quagmire. You're a brave man.

Let's see if there is an interim stopping place where the ground is a little firmer:

The Famous Artists School used to have an aptitude test where they took a painting of charging Indians by Harold Von Schmidt and showed it twice, with the dominating figure in two different locations. In one location, the composition was crowded together on one side and the picture looked lopsided and awkward. In the other location, the composition was nicely balanced and harmonious. The Famous Artists School then asked you which composition was right and which was wrong. And if you picked the ungainly, awkward, lopsided version, they didn't say "ah well, all taste is all subjective." They said "you idiot! We tried to make this test obvious so we wouldn't have to turn away any paying students. What kind of a chuckle head are you?"

How is that test of the rightness or wrongness of a composition any different from what we are discussing for abstract art?

8/10/2009 9:53 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Show me an example of an incorrectly placed line in an abstract composition, and I will show you an example of the vagaries of taste defining the word "incorrect."<<<

Nicely played, Kev. Once again you manage to avoid showing examples of your work to back up whoever it is that you are quoting. I admire your dexterity and the sheer athleticism of your rejoinders...kinda reminds me of those graceful slow motion bullet dodging manoeuvres Keanu Reeves did in Matrix. Like many in the audience, I was left wonderings if Reeves successes were simply part of an ongoing fantasy or dream he was having whilst plugged into the matrix...more idle philosophic meandering to puzzle over.

8/10/2009 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I in no way dismissed Fechin, he is a draughtsman at the highest level one could dream to attain.

"And your extrapolation about Fechin's photo use is an induction wayyy too far." kev! your one of them! That attitude is exactly why they hide the truth. An obsession on photo/no photo distracts from the goal (a work of art) and focuses on the Tao... err the way.

Rob-spot on, John & Yoko, yuk!

-TftT (Troll for the Truth)

8/10/2009 10:06 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>How is that test of the rightness or wrongness of a composition any different from what we are discussing for abstract art?<<<

This bears on my prime reason for competitive shooting...it's far past that 1950's Beatnik subjectivity. If you miss the 10 ring and end up off the paper, you are less than convincing when you say..."well like, man, I meant to miss the target because, it's like personal expression, man."

Every profession has rules. Hobbies like onanism and mud pies don't have rules.

8/10/2009 10:17 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, that wasn't a test of abstract design, but narrative design. Big difference. This is my point.

Rob, I relay my own considerations based upon my own investigations. I don't idly repeat anything, and if I do quote somebody else, I usually do so with credit attached. You are two hyperlink clicks away from an 18 page thread that should demonstrate that while I am not an abstractionist, design is a great part of what I do. (This should satisfy your curiosity about one aspect of my working life, even if the work is not to your taste.)

Anon, I really don't care if sometimes Fechin used a photo for a drawing. Again, you have made an inference too far.

8/10/2009 10:40 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

lol. I took that Famous Artists School test. Got the answer right, too.

8/10/2009 11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kev-

"I really don't care if sometimes Fechin used a photo for a drawing." Good, now your gettin' somewhere.

"that wasn't a test of abstract design, but narrative design." Wrong, the underlying abstraction is the structure upon which every bit hangs. Every artist that composes a picture (opposed to the canvas verite crowd) does so via abstract thumbnails, the best of which is chosen as the base to build upon. Are none of them the best?

√Člisabeth-Louise Vig√©e-Le Brun is shiny and shallow?

-TftT

8/10/2009 11:21 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, the Von Schmidt test was really a test of abstract design in that it didn't matter whether the form was a human, a tree or a blob. The story and the role of the individual were irrelevant to the question being asked. The Famous Artists School was solely concerned with whether a picture looked better with all of the forms bunched together on one side, or divided up in more interesting configurations. And we don't have to base our discussion on a test you've never seen. Make up your own test; wouldn't it be simple to test whether a picture of your choice looks better or worse with the figures bunched together or strategically placed around the canvas? And wouldn't the vast majority of people with taste opt for the same alternative?

Rob: "competitive shooting"? I kind of figured you for "The Most Dangerous Game."

8/10/2009 11:28 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, you are pre-assuming the rules of the game, regarding abstract art. And the rules matter.

While for you and I and probably Rob, balance and "interesting" are prerequisites, I have seen much Modern art where balance and interesting were avoided deliberately.

Sure, in 50s magazine illustration you are trying to attract eyeballs, and part of the training for what was then the illustration field should of course consider the attractive arrangement of the purely abstract disposition of elements. (If this were the point of the lesson, then it would not be a question of narrative balance, as I had mentioned earlier.)

But my point is that there is an assumption behind your understanding of the disposition of elements which is not sacrosanct, not a given... it is simply not a truism that all abstract art must be in balance or have a commercially attractive abstract disposition of elements. And if attractiveness or balance is not a rule, then there is no such thing an incorrect line in that context.

8/11/2009 12:04 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

Hmmm, now all his friends are gonna be saying "What is that mysterious David up to, what strange and wonderous website is David browsing that he wishes to keep secret from us?"

8/11/2009 12:09 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Sorry, Matthew, I have already deleted the spam from sexyladies.com. As you know, I never delete any comment except spam, so I have to wait through a lot of unnecessarily mean and intemperate comments before I finally come across one I can zap. When the moment finally comes, I do so with relish.

8/11/2009 2:33 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, you are correct that I have "an assumption behind [my] understanding of the disposition of elements [of abstract design]."

{Sigh. Here goes:} You, on the other hand, assume that you or anything else in the whole blinkin' world really exist. You certainly can't prove that, any more than I can prove that certain compositional choices are right or and wrong. Perhaps we are all shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. I'm not invoking late-night-dorm-room-speech #47a to be flippant, only to remind you that if you spend enough time with post-Cartesian philosophers, you will conclude that you can't even be certain of your own existence, as "cogito ergo sum" contains some logical inconsistencies. They (and you) are both right; there are epistemological limits. The real question is: what are you going to do about it?

If you want to challenge what we can truly "know" about art (which is an honorable exercise to go through at least once or twice, if only because it keeps us humble) then any place you choose to stop on the long downward slide is likely to be a purely arbitrary stopping point. In my experience, the point where you choose to pull out of the epistemological tailspin will be based largely on when you run out of patience, not on when you find Truth.

If you are looking for a principled excuse to pull out, here is a reason that I believe to be as good as any other: people who claim that "all taste is subjective" and "there are no fixed rules" usually do so with the best of intentions. They want to keep grumpy old arbiters of culture from squelching creativity from iconoclastic new artists with radical visions. Sounds pretty good so far: an affirmation of individual creativity. The problem is that when standards become purely subjective, people become mere objects. If you and I don't have at least some common frame of reference, some shared perceptions, some agreed upon standards, then how am I any different to you from a rock or a tree? I have my mode of perception, you have yours, and there is no shared consciousness between us. So a philosophy that starts out with the intention of creating the widest possible zone of freedom for human creativity becomes the ultimate dehumanizing philosophy. I don't see how that view is helpful. The downside of my alternative is that when someone says, "you can't prove that my art is bad," even though they are technically correct, you and the rest of the world just have to step around them and continue forward.

I think that's a compromise that most people who choose to pass judgment on art must ultimately make.

8/11/2009 4:18 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob: "competitive shooting"? I kind of figured you for "The Most Dangerous Game."<<<

Hardly. My most dangerous quarry is the paper target, although I have been known to make a dent in the native clay pigeon population and have developed a recipe for braised skeet.

Precision shooting is the most Zen thing I can imagine. It also has many of the same aspects as making art...intent, content and developing the techniques that allow one to better their chances of success. Like art, each mistake comes packaged with a guide toward correction.

8/11/2009 4:43 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, making art that pisses people off is clearly a significant part of the grand arc of modernism. Therefore a line that annoys is clearly legitimate as an expression within that game. And therefore cannot be incorrect.

Just like watching a cricket match... the plays may be alien to you, but its their game and their rules.

Which is not to argue against having standards. By all means have them. But it seems silly to cry "no ball" from the cricket stands just because you don't like the way some batsmen runs the pitch. There's nothing on the books against pirouetting, skipping or limping from wicket to wicket.

kev

P.S. I am a logical postivist, even if we are a hologram.

8/11/2009 10:50 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev-- perhaps not so much like cricket as Calvinball?

8/11/2009 1:22 PM  
Blogger tipota said...

that line does tell about the energy behind what is served in creating the image, enjoyed seeing and reading this, wonderful unique perspective throughout, thank you

8/12/2009 12:20 AM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

re: ...a kind word from a generous stranger. Many thanks.
You're welcome indeed, it is my pleasure to have found you.

re: Here, the artist has just earned that line by completing an astonishing tour de force of dazzling, controlled linework.
Yes, now I am clear.

8/12/2009 1:32 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>the artist has just earned that line by completing an astonishing tour de force of dazzling, controlled linework.
<<<

There's far more to it than just dazzling line work. Most people have no idea of what goes into etching a copper plate. It's not like drawing with pen and ink. The planning absorbs every ounce of your being because, you are working in a mirror image of the final proof. SCraping through an etching ground is nothing like drawing on paper. Lightness, darkness and thickness can be manipulated with the acid or mordant. Then the ground is removed and the first state proof is made. The ground is reapplied and the process begins anew, drawing the tool over the previously incised lines. The tendency for angled cross hatching to go skittering off is very high. Then comes the second, third and umpteenth prrof, with burnish and scraping to relieve the line.

Al the time, a real master of the craft, like Rembrandt, manages to hide the technical difficulties and make it appear easy, fressh and flowing. This piece is a monument to his enormous skill with the medium. It's much, much more tyhan good linework...it's fighting the gods and the demons and prevailing.

8/12/2009 3:47 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Well said, Rob. Etching is an entirely different species of mark making, and as far as I am concerned nobody before Rembrandt ever took advantage of the possibilities of the medium as well as he did (even if, as you indicated earlier, his primary purpose was to have multiple images that he could sell for increased profit).

I think his innovations left Durer and everybody else in the dust-- perhaps not so much with etchings such as Adam & Eve (which is brilliant enough), but that marvelous velvety effect he achieved on the 100 guilder print--who the hell knew you could do that with an intaglio print?

8/13/2009 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Preston said...

I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog. I absolutely love the simpler pieces. They speak volumes.

8/13/2009 9:45 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

you americans are obsessed with technique.

8/14/2009 6:17 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"My new rule is, anything you can design in Adobe Illustrator in less than a minute, wasn't worth turning into a painting in the first place"

...except that when you take the time and effort to do something large on canvas (however minimal) and place it in a gallery context, it changes the purpose entirely.

"in an abstract composition, there is no wrong place to put a line..."

i agree absolutely.

8/14/2009 6:27 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David, what if those near-abstract lines of Rembrandt's you praise existed in empty white voids, removed from their nearby descriptive cousins ?

would you be so quick to sing their praises ?

8/14/2009 6:41 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>you americans are obsessed with technique.<<<

That's so true, Laurence. We Yanks are a very insecure lot but once we have the proper self-regard based on nothing other than what our ancestors did, I am certain that we will evolve into appropriately acceptable artists. Until then, we'll just be crude, uneducated cowboys driving cattle down Madison Avenue right onto the prairies of Wall Street.

Give us another five hundred years of other people's accomplishments and we might then have our own yabbos traveling to other countries to beat the piss out of foreign sports fans. Seeing that we've already imported the two great Brit literary classics, The Enquire and The Sun, we might reach that goal even faster. I suppose we could also speed our way toward that cultural Valhalla if we stopped our another of our obsessions...dental hygeine. We really are a bit overboard on hygeine, don't you agree?

8/14/2009 7:54 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

re being obsessed with technique - im not an american, but do see some differentiation here.

i dont think rob and david (both of you, correct me if im wrong) meant to ascertain higher pictorial value to the etching with their praise and description of the technique and its own hardships. the pictures worth is rated by the picture alone, no matter how many manhours were put into it, what adverse method was used etcetera... if those played any part, there would be a difference in value between an exact pencil copy of a b/w photo and the original photo, just because of the hours and sweat involved. no, one can applaud the patience of the worker in that stunt, but the value of the picture is decided on the pictures terms alone.

what i saw in their writing about technique was to foster an appreciation for the manual skill that is needed to pull that picture off in that medium. as rob said: its not just putting nice and flowy lines on paper, its manipulating something that becomes more and more adverse to flowy lines the more you work it.

no overabundant obsession here, just appreciation of skill. its that kind of obsession (sane people call this knowledge) with technique you have to have if youre interested in applying such techniques.

re the argument of "no wrong lines in abstract art" - i dont see the point in saying that abstract art could willfully strive for dysharmony and ugly, thus there are no wrong lines. holds true 1:1 for representative art... what yure doing is hiding a premise that representative art always be concerned with one goal which has to be best possible representation. abstract art, on the other hand, is regarded as completely free of all and everything. but the same kind of freedom you ascertain for abstract art is within representational art as well: there is no one perfect representational line of the human elbow in half-flexion. is searles line any better or worse than raffaels (not mine!)?
yikes, there is no right or wrong way to put lines in representational art as well! dammit! - or there just is a very right and wrong way to put lines in everything, depending on what you want to achieve and what your context is. expressing dysharmony? there absolutely are right or wrong ways to put lines.

8/15/2009 8:44 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael, I had considered that point. Which is why I made the point about the line that draws a leg so badly that it destroys the illusion of a relatable reality. The style and scenario of the illusion form a context by which to judge any particular line. Even Steadman (hardly a realist) never used a line that would destroy the reader's ability to read the scenario, right? Meaning, the readability of the scenario, in a picture that establishes one, is sacrosanct enough that even in a Steadman drawing there can be an incorrect line... one that ruins the readability of the scenario.

The more a painting realizes, the more clear its strictures become. So the more a painting looks like a Vermeer, say, the greater the clarity of the illusion of reality, the more specific and narrow the color and tonal range, the more clear the scenario, the more evident the geometric scaffolding, the more clear and clean the graphic design, the more integrated the symbolism, etc. The more a picture is Vermeerified, the more an appreciable correctness in a variety of areas, (relatable to the experience of life and human logic), manifests, thus becoming the benchmark by which to judge further additions, line, colors, figures, etc.

Since an abstract work has no such relatability, its benchmarks are self generating... Tautological. But the strange thing about tautological systems is, the addition of any disharmonious information (i.e. an "incorrect" line) merely reforms the composition's prior rule set for unity to include the incorrect line.

Without outside referent, anything goes. But the more recognizable an illusion, the more experience causes graphic expectation. (This is not just a matter of lines of course, but applies to every graphic gesture available to the artist.)

kev

8/15/2009 10:55 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"We really are a bit overboard on hygeine, don't you agree?"

i've only visited New York and must confess that i have no lasting impression of the quality of dental work among the populace.


most of my favourite painters are american by the way. i don't know what brought on your anti-brit tirade. i wasn't making an anti-american comment. just an observation about the way most american illustrators seem to turn making (illustration) art into a rugged guy's sport kind of thing with lots of tough sounding terminology. at least around these testosterone fueled quarters.

8/15/2009 3:39 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/15/2009 6:44 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Gosh, Laurence, if your comment wasn't anti-American, I suppose the subtlety of the anti-American quality of "i wasn't making an anti-american comment. just an observation about the way most american illustrators seem to turn making (illustration) art into a rugged guy's sport kind of thing with lots of tough sounding terminology. at least around these testosterone fueled quarters," escaped you entirely. With that sort of sensitivity, remind me to be far away when you back out of the driveway, run of a child and say "oops" before going on your way.

The reason for the dental hygiene mot was to get your attention and have you not say "oops." There was a story about a man who bought a beautiful but recalcitrant mule. He tried everything to get the mules attention but failed. Finally he called in the Famous Georgia Mule Trainer who proceed to lay a heavy bat right between the mule's eyes, staggering him. The owner protested but the Famous Georgia Mule Trainer replied..."first we have to get his attention."

Occasionally I will apply the timber to the insensitive. It's as when Socrates counseled..."a staff for the obdurate," he was not referring to a secretarial staff.

8/15/2009 6:44 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Gosh, Laurence, if your comment wasn't anti-American, I suppose the subtlety of the anti-American quality of "i wasn't making an anti-american comment. just an observation about the way most american illustrators seem to turn making (illustration) art into a rugged guy's sport kind of thing with lots of tough sounding terminology. at least around these testosterone fueled quarters," escaped you as insulting. Do that with a testosterone fueled Muslin and your head comes off. With that sort of sensitivity, remind me to be far away when you back out of the driveway, run over a child and say "oops" before going on your way.

The reason for the dental hygiene mot was to get your attention and have you not say "oops."

There was a story about a man who bought a beautiful but recalcitrant mule. He tried everything to get the mule's attention but failed. Finally he called in the Famous Georgia Mule Trainer who proceeded to lay a heavy bat right between the mule's eyes, staggering him. The owner protested but the Famous Georgia Mule Trainer replied..."first we have to get his attention."

Occasionally I will apply the timber to tenderize the insensitive. When Socrates counseled..."a staff for the obdurate," he was not referring to adding a secretarial staff.

8/15/2009 6:49 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

There seems to be a complete lack of understanding about the underlying structures and aims of "abstract" art. From what I gather, it's the same suburbanite "I have a three-year old kid who can do that" mentality. The reality is that yes you can make a bad line or place a shape in the wrong place. To explain would take too long and that's something which should properly have been learned in art school or community college or wherever the writer gained his knowledge of art.

Simon Schama had a well-produced and informative TV series called The Power of Art. There a site online featuring some of Schama's insights as well as sort teaser videos. The teaser on Picasso had a delightful sequence where he was painting in his Paris studio during the occupation and was being hectored by the Gestapo. On one such visit, an SS officer spied some postcards of "Guernica" and asked, "did you do this?" To which Picasso supposedly replied, "No. You did. Keep it as a souvenir." Gotta love it.

More to the point is Schama speaking about Rothko. Perhaps that will give the more open-minded in the group pause to think in a new way.

What you are suggesting with that attitude is that an entire century of people who were intelligent enough to espy visionary technologies suddenly had their brains fall out when it came to art. That all these otherwise intelligent people had their minds taken over is the grist of The Invasion of The Body Snatchers. How else can we explain away ARC's ante-diluvian thinking about the vast underground conspiracy of the unnamed "them" who have hijacked the world of true art in to promote stuff my three-year old could do?

Making abstracted art is every bit as difficult and deep as making realist art. Quality varies within both genres and no single genre has the lock-up on quality.

Take time to study other aspects of art besides the traditional warhorses of The Old Masters (TM) (whoever they were).

8/15/2009 7:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Rob, you have gathered wrong. I am not of the view that any old 3 year old can create a strong work of abstract art, any more than a 3 year old can write the average New York Times story or create the Beetle Bailey daily strip. Creating strong, fresh abstract design requires considerable consideration, education, practice and abilities.

(Nor do I bow before tedious realism, fyi.)

8/15/2009 7:54 PM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

Laurence, do not be afraid when exposed to one of Rob's verbal tirades which as often as they are full of fun and revealing info (ie the technique of etching a copper plate), are as fine-edged, incisive and sharply-directed as a rapier. I thought your description of the local quarters being testosterone fueled was hilarious! Rob's phrase "Until then, we'll just be crude, uneducated cowboys driving cattle down Madison Avenue right onto the prairies of Wall Street" was equally fabulous. When Rob is provoked, and not pedanting, is when he is at his best.

8/15/2009 8:24 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

kev: yeah, i tend to agree in so far that the element of "recognizing things i know" can work as a kind of judging ruleset "external" to line (space, value, color...) itself. we indeed look for consistency and would wonder at a searle face appear in a shot of the simpsons, a schiele line in a mucha, etcetera...

considering abstract art, indeed, it is a kind of unleashing the tools (line et al.) - but that does not mean that abstract art is nothing but forms free of their duty to ressemble things.
we all accept the right/wrong thing in respect to message/storytelling/impact when were talking illustration - the example david gave, or when discussing placement of elements like trees, animals or whatever - were they placed right or wrong to imply urgency, a sense of movement, a sense of calmness... thats not talk about how much the forms ressemble stuff, its talk about what the shapes do to storytelling. of course, what the shapes ressemble is another big part of storytelling - having things look like wild horses, cowboys and indians goes a long way selling the wild west setting.

sure, placing an element in abstract art differently will change context instead of destroying the illusion of coherent visual representation. but it also will change the impact of the piece. something calm looking may look calm-except-blahblah. or something like calm, but this line sticks out like a sore thumb.
i simply doubt its as easy to change a line and have one well-orchestrated impact transform into another just as well-orchestrated impact - i much more think its going to turn into something that looks like something went askew, something without coherency, just the way a wrong line would destroy the coherency of a visual representation.

i sure think were talking about different rights and wrongs when comparing representation and abstract impact, but by knowing how important the underlying abstract shapes in a representational piece are to selling a story, i think we answered the question of there being rights and wrongs to abstract art as well. (maybe, if enough wrong lines happen, they may turn into good lines for a whole new cause, but i think this needs a lot of skillfull placing of wrong lines)

also, i remember a challenge rob placed upon us years ago on his forum, that made me realize the hard way how hard it is to convey something in abstract shapes. believe me, there were loads of wrongs, despite being told to work in greyscale and simple shapes only...

8/15/2009 10:06 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

the example which started this 'wrong line' discussion isn't particularly helpful anyway as the stripe in the Barnett Newman isn't really a line at all, not in the sense of a line you could produce with one movement of the wrist. it is really a large band of colour.

it might be more helpful to compare the Rembrandt line to those in the work of artists such as Cy Twombly or Willem de Kooning, both of whom have produced work full of multiple gestural lines/marks, not so far removed from the marks in a fully representational work.

i would then ask anyone to study their works and pick out the 'bad lines' or 'wrongly placed shapes' and see how you get on.

8/16/2009 6:39 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/16/2009 6:50 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

just a cheeky bit of cross-atlantic provocation Rob, no need to act mock-offended. you're the king of insults and i'll never forget that.

8/16/2009 6:59 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael, you are assuming there are objective standards for a subjective art form, which there are not. The more a piece becomes abstract (in the modern sense) the more irrelevant the idea of standards.

Mr. John... De Kooning is a very good example of an artist who destroys the very notion of bad lines, awkward graphics, inaccurate drawing, or the like. It would be the same thing as walking into a blast zone with tweezers and a baggie to pull out examples of awkwardly placed shrapnel. (Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of De Kooning's lushly painted Steadman-esque cartoons.)

8/16/2009 9:58 AM  
Anonymous raphael said...

kev:
indeed, id not agree that any art form is purely subjective, abstract or representational. (but id be reluctant to call the rules "objective", for epistemological reasons)

8/16/2009 11:15 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael,since language becomes meaningless if there is no common experience by which to appreciate its meaning, our very communication, effective as it is, using language, assumes the existence of an objective world. To argue otherwise is hypocritical academic sophistry.

If you actually think there is no such thing as objective experience, i.e. The Matrix Scenario, why bother writing anything? Why not stop eating until you croak?
Which is to say, the idea of the lack of objective experience cannot even rise to the level of a theory because it is untestable as a hypothesis. Thus it is, according to scientific judgement, "not even wrong." Thus objectivity, as used in relatable communication, by human beings who, until proven otherwise, are experiencing a shared world as separate entities, is real.

Since artwork is also language, the "standard" of objective experience also holds where common experience is referenced.

Realistic artwork falls along the vast continuum of aesthetic interpretations of objective phenomena. What constitutes any particular aesthetic is a subjective decision. On that much we can agree.

kev

8/16/2009 12:26 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

kev, the term objective also implies independence from the perceiving subject, which, although it is common assumption, does not exist. call it sophistry or whatever you want: the correct description of having world at all is: "its there only in co-dependence to a perceiving subject. its perceived as being independent." there is no experience at all that, while it relates to something as independent to the subject, actually IS independent of the subject - by the very fact that we are talking about experience, an experiencing aubject is necessarily involved.
experience of objects is something entirely different from objective experience. one is a day-to-day phenomenon, the other is a contradiction in itself.

because the term carries this ambiguity, i dislike it somewhat, especially with out current zeitgeist of elevanting the empiric scientific method to a metaphysical holy grail of true knowledge.

you actually implied a more accurate alternative in your wording: common experience - im okay with "intersubjective", especially because it implies a kind of (democratic) randomness.

we can indeed agree that there is a lot of subjective stuff involved into the whole artwork thing:
as you mentioned, choices of particular aesthetics are subjective.
to perceive an artwork, obviously, a subject has to be involved (duh)

but we are also talking constants of perception itself. and those are not subjective in the way we talk about subjective aesthetic preference.

8/16/2009 2:42 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>What constitutes any particular aesthetic is a subjective decision.<<<

Hmm, must be a difference of definition. What with partially educated people thinking that notoriety is fame and lubricity is lubrication, I can see where a branch of Hegelian system philosophy can have any meany we ascribe to it. But Aesthetics ain't personal taste, it's a carefully codefied, dry and oft-times boring branch of a philosophical system, much as Phenomenology is. It's a real study, not something you're born with or pick up along the way.

As with all systems, there's very little flexibility or subjectiveness to it. Aesthetics is what it is...a fait accompli.

8/16/2009 4:17 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>you're the king of insults and i'll never forget that.<<<

Oh dear, I'd always fancied myself as no more than the Duke of Insults. I can see where I'll have to have my card reprinted

8/16/2009 4:19 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Rob, pure abstractionists who are well schooled in philosophy, (0.2% of the total, in all probability) -- do not agree that grammar is merely a vessel for truth. Rather they believe grammar is truth itself. Hegel would not have agreed, so I don't see how you reconcile what you are saying.

And beyond that, aesthetic thought didn't end in 1820.

kev

8/16/2009 6:56 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Kev, you raise incomprehensibility and prolix to unexpected heights. Reading your responses is like trying to view a scene through one of those mirrored disco balls. The thoughts become shattered and fragmented and bear no relationship with the original thought. That is, I suppose an illustration of how you view artistic abstraction.

8/16/2009 10:10 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

other than that id describe aesthetics as a philosophical discipline rather than a distinct branch of a philosophical system, im with rob ;)

and anyone who believes that grammar is truth has a rather pronuonced dent in his logics.
at least from a logical point of view, which is a quite justified one to take when art is considered language, grammar (the system of forming statements) is categorically different from truth (a quality a grammatically formed statement can have or not have).
if grammar is truth, an engine is motion.

8/16/2009 11:38 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Come now, Rob. Just because you don't understand what I am saying, does not mean what I am saying is not sensible. (Although I liked your extended simile about the Disco ball.) The answer to your question, btw, is related to the corruption of the word abstraction by the late Moderns and their minions.

Not wanting to get too deep into all this, I'll put it simply to try to get the conversation back on track... Do you think Pollock, Newman, Still, or Eatherton were actually following Hegelian precepts? And if they weren't, were they capable of putting down an incorrect line?

8/17/2009 12:21 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"But Aesthetics ain't personal taste, it's a carefully codefied, dry and oft-times boring branch of a philosophical system..."

if aesthetics was so cut and dried then conversations like this wouldn't get started in the first place. we would all agree that Jeff Koons is 'beautiful' and go home early. in reality we are all made up of a mixture of aesthetic ideals absorbed from the ever evolving and shifting (and often contradictory) cultural miasma known as 'taste'.

8/17/2009 9:09 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Do you think Pollock, Newman, Still, or Eatherton were actually following Hegelian precepts?<<<

No. Hegelian principles follow their art. Aesthetics is not a guiding precept, it is an analytical tool (albeit a fairly blunt one). To get a good feeling of how dry it is, go to http://www.philosophy.sas.ac.uk/content.php?id=33&pid=12 Ghastly, pedantic stuff about how many pins are stuck in the angels dancing on the head of a pin. Lots of wind and not a single useful conclusion that can be applied to the production of art.

8/17/2009 10:40 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>if aesthetics was so cut and dried then conversations like this wouldn't get started in the first place. we would all agree that Jeff Koons is 'beautiful' and go home early.<<<

You are confusing Aesthetics with taste. Go to that deadly dull website I posted in the previous message. To apply the idea of taste to anything they discuss is like applying the question of elvated taste to the movement of sub-atomic particles.

Some levels of taste are regional, some are universal. Countries with gamelan music also have western-style symphony orchestras. Those symphony archestras are universal accross the world. Gamelan orchestras are not. Shakespeare is read and enjoyed world-wide because he hits a universality that goes beyond the strictures of regional preferences. Petronius Arbiter was an exemplar of elevated taste. I doubt that he ever had a thought approaching Aesthetics.

8/17/2009 10:47 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob's verbal tirades which as often as they are full of fun and revealing info <<<

Ah, you've penetrated the formidable Wizard of Oz bluster to discover the eternal 8-year old boy to whom nothing is that serious and to whom, all people attempting to sound like grown-ups are seriously removed from the joys of living.

I refuse to grown up and become bald.

8/17/2009 10:52 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence:

"we would all agree that Jeff Koons is 'beautiful' and go home early."

It seems to me that a lot of extreme and improbable statements have been made, but sir-- you go too far!

8/17/2009 12:49 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Rob, I've read quite enough Hegel already, thanks. (The link didn't work for me anyhow)

An essential precept of Hegel's theories of beauty are that the production of a work of transcendental truth is an act of designing an idea. If you don't design the truthful idea into the work, it won't be there.

The Modern idea (well, one of them anyway) is that if the work looks abstractly beautiful it proffers truth, essentially working in reverse. But... the difference is Hegel proceeds from an idea of truth to a form, while Moderns proceed from form and assume form, de facto, will house an idea of truth (the assumption being that all form is significant, and thus any design at all will "say something.")

But while every form states a relation and causes an emotion, relations and emotions don't necessarily carry an idea. That is, form can demonstrate relative relationships without saying anything. (Just like grammar doesn't function without actual subjects, verbs, and objects to plug into the sentence.) So the Moderns missed the essential role the idea plays in the production of beauty. Hegel considered the idea of truth the starting point. Thus, I submit, the modernist method, which believes there can be truth without ideas, is anti-Hegelian.

8/17/2009 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kev: Stop clinging to your archaic philosophies, for they are as driftwood at sea; derelict and fruitless.

Re: Koons
His "Hulk", "Popeye", "Elvis Girl", "Betty Page", and "Celebration" series' are all fantastic, but hey one wouldn't want paintings to be visually exciting or fun, right?

-TftT

8/17/2009 5:32 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Anonymous, your opinion is kind of a waste of time. Why bother offering it to me?

Thanks for at least making the effort to contribute, however.

8/17/2009 5:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- aw, man, don't even go there with Koons or you will force me to deviate from my usual sunny disposition and devote an entire post to self-aggrandizing and over-inflated blowhards.

Until the day I weaken and succumb to that temptation, Sotheby's inadvertently does almost as good a job at damning Koons with their own fawning promotion of his painting "Cheeky" to rich morons:

"It is a puzzling image, bizarre in its collage of kitsch and the everyday with a certain Rococo flair for exacting precision. The images in Cheeky are a metaphor for the bombarding stimuli of modern life.... Yet Koons thwarts their complete apprehension through fragmentation, shifts in scale and odd juxtapositions. The intense and almost hallucinatory atmosphere in this painting is the conjoining of the world of computer imagery and the weighty tradition of oil painting as Koons both looks towards the future and keeps a strong hold on the past.

For paintings in this series, Koons sourced images from glossy magazines and personal photographs and then used the computer to combine them in a deliriously optimistic reshuffle, shifting both context and scale. There are surprising and complex layers of meaning here, including the temptations of consumerist products and everyday consumerist objects. In an interview with David Sylvester, Koons states, "I love Pop art, and I really want to play with aspects of Pop."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

PS-- For those in need of something to fertilize larger sized gardens, the whole glorious essay can be found at http://www.sothebys.com/app/live/lot/LotDetail.jsp?lot_id=159493581

8/17/2009 6:11 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"You are confusing Aesthetics with taste."

true, i was using the dictionary definition of the word 'aesthetic', not referring to the philosophy. i never quote philosophies that i don't understand (all of them).

arguments get so unwieldy (and pretentious) very quickly when people start throwing Kant and Hegel in there. can't we use our own perceptions and experience to debate an issue without wheeling on those tedious old duffers ?

i thought the 'wrong line' argument was going somewhere for a minute.

8/18/2009 2:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

D.A.-
Sure its hot air, its a sales pitch. Though the phrases are not much different than Koons', looking past them and standing before a painting like Play-Doh is a powerful visual experience that transcends words.


http://www.jeffkoons.com/site/images/cel29_sm.j
pg


I didn't mention Easyfun-Etheral (love the name, don't particularly care for the paintings).-TftT

8/18/2009 6:11 AM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

re:I refuse to grow up and become bald.

dear Rob! one last note here, & perhaps since David has already a new post there is no lookin back...
But seriously, if you refuse to grow old etc, can't you change your picture?

8/18/2009 12:08 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, its kind of narcissistic of you to assume just because you don't understand what we're saying that we're being pretentious (i.e. pretending to make sense.) We ain't pretending.

If you don't understand our arguments, either ask for clarification, go research it yourself, talk about something else, or wait to respond to something else. No need to try to insult or play politics on here if you are feeling insecure.

8/18/2009 3:31 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

kev, your comments are much more interesting when you leave out the references to philosophers and give voice to your OWN opinions. i'm not insecure about it, i just don't view art as an academic subject. reading Hegel won't help you paint any better.

8/18/2009 5:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, that WAS my opinion, which took me a hell of a lot of personal research time to get to. You just didn't understand HOW it was my opinion because you aren't familiar with the topic.

And you are VERY WRONG about Hegel being irrelevant for painting.

Again, you are assuming because YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON, THAT THERE IS NOTHING GOING ON.

Point. Blank. Wrong.

Now please stop trying to control my conversation to suit you. Its really annoying.

8/18/2009 8:47 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

David Apatoff: "You, on the other hand, assume that you or anything else in the whole blinkin' world really exist. You certainly can't prove that"

That is the easiest thing in the world to prove and without resorting to assumptions. If I define "exist" as "to appear" then it's blatantly obvious to me and any sane person that I or any other object exists. But the real question is what you mean by "really exist". People who use your argument are always conveniently vague on what it means to "really exist". By not really defining that, you trick yourselves into thinking you have a coherent argument. I don't know if you're a religious person, but Christians and other religious wackos use the same strategy when they try to show that their God "really exists".

"Perhaps we are all shadows on the wall of Plato's cave."

If we appear to ourselves as being shadows on the wall of Plato's cave then we exist as shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. What has more existence than what appears to us? What would it mean to exist in a way that is more than just appearance?

"If you and I don't have at least some common frame of reference, some shared perceptions, some agreed upon standards, then how am I any different to you from a rock or a tree?"

Why do you want to be different from a rock or a tree? A person, a rock or a tree can be crushed out of existence at any time and the Universe will go on fine without any of them. It doesn't matter if they shared any perceptions or not. It looks like you're using standards in art as some kind of religious dogma to unite people. That's not quite as offensive and ridiculous as being a religious nut but it still has no validity at all.

"So a philosophy that starts out with the intention of creating the widest possible zone of freedom for human creativity becomes the ultimate dehumanizing philosophy"

This is nonsense. First of all, no one is going to take advantage of the widest possible zone of freedom. An artist always sets an arbitrary limit on himself when creating a work whether he realizes it or not. It's impossible to fit all potential choices you could make into a work of art simply because the choices are infinite. The best you could do is have a constantly evolving "unfinishable" work of art and if that is considered art then everything can be considered art, which makes the term "art" meaningless. Secondly, since no one can take advantage of the widest possible zone of freedom there will naturally be artists who set similar limitations on themselves and share some kind of standard. This always happens anyway, artists form communities and alliances and they don't really care about anything that contradicts their agreed upon standards. Many times they aren't even aware that they share a particular standard, it's just part of their natural way of getting along with others. There is no evidence that accepting the truth of the subjectivity of taste leads to a dehumanizing philosophy. In fact, believing in universal standards of taste is dehumanizing because it is irrational and dogmatic.

"I think that's a compromise that most people who choose to pass judgment on art must ultimately make."

I don't try to prove that anyone's art is bad so I don't need to make that compromise. I either like something or I don't and that's as far as my judgment goes. Why would I feel compelled to be able to prove to someone else that they should share the same taste as me? That's ridiculous. Someone who does that appears to need validation for their personal taste; the art alone is not enough for them. Not that art should ever be "enough" but I suggest looking elsewhere for whatever it is you feel you lack and quit dirtying the pool with your dogmatic assertions and compromises. Why do you need to believe that something outside of you will validate your personal opinions on good and bad? That's a really immature mentality to have.

8/19/2009 2:43 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Rob Howard: "Some levels of taste are regional, some are universal. Countries with gamelan music also have western-style symphony orchestras. Those symphony archestras are universal accross the world. Gamelan orchestras are not."

But the world becomes just as regional in the context of the totality of existence, so your universality is merely a pipe dream after all.

8/19/2009 2:44 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"And you are VERY WRONG about Hegel being irrelevant for painting"

Hegel's 'dynamic figure drawing' was always out on loan when i was at art college. and i bet you've just stolen whole passages from his 'abstract colour composition' series, you big cheat.

8/19/2009 2:55 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence said:

"Hegel's 'dynamic figure drawing' was always out on loan when i was at art college. and i bet you've just stolen whole passages from his 'abstract colour composition' series, you big cheat."


Laurence,

That wasn't art college you went to. That was "A bunch of amateur art fan boys, in retreat from a marketplace for which they are ill equipped, will gladly take your money so they can eat. Here's the brochure."

8/19/2009 10:26 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous:

You write "Sure its hot air, its a sales pitch. Though the phrases are not much different than Koons', looking past them and standing before a painting like Play-Doh is a powerful visual experience that transcends words."

Anonymous, in my view an artist can't have it both ways-- he can't hold himself above the sales pitch, winking to the world that he really understands it is all humbug, while at the same time pocketing the emoluments and warming himelf with the kudos. I think Koons is the beneficiary of a fraud upon the tasteless, which by itself is fine with me, but I do resent that so many superior artists "combined high and low art" earlier, better and with more sincerity, but starved for want of Koons' marketing machine.

I think there is an interesting issue in your point that "a painting like Play-Doh is a powerful visual experience, " which I do not dispute. I believe that, on the theory that you can see "infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour," you can also turn almost any sight into a "powerful visual experience" with enough patience and good will. I could, for example, sit and stare into Koons' "Hanging Heart" and go for a deep dive, hypnotizing myself the way I might by staring for a long time into the depths of a Rothko painting (or looking at a grain of sand, for that matter). I agree that with Koons the "powerful visual experience" is real, the colors are bright and strong and the reflective material creates interesting effects, but how much of that experience is self-induced by the viewer putting himself or herself in a meditative state? And correspondingly, how much of the credit are you willing to give the artist? Or the grain of sand? I view this as a long term interesting question about the nature of art and it is not limited to Koons by any means.

8/19/2009 5:48 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Theory of Me-- I am truly tickled that a single line by Rembrandt has inspired such an erudite discussion in which Hegel, Descartes and Plato all play a role, so I hate to cheapen the discourse. Nevertheless, when you write, "What has more existence than what appears to us?" I cannot resist invoking the wisdom of Gilbert & Sullivan: "Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream."

8/19/2009 6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about what 20# balls have to do with the painting...I mean, I am a girl, er, woman, so what do I know from balls? But I do know the Newman painting has a similar impact on me as Rothko's work. It's the glow. Have you seen it in person David? Does it have layers of color to make it seem so luminous and full of depth moving from one shade of red near the top to another further down? I really like the narrow band on the right edge. Doesn't look like "paint slop" to me at all (re anonymous TftT)
~cp

8/19/2009 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

theory_of_me-
Re: "...Christians and other religious wackos..." -but its 0.K. to be an anti-Christ-ian wacko? ...waiting for your theory to be come reality. All hail Satan!


Kev- An iron bull is not bothered by flies, why do you swat?
Re: "...in retreat from a marketplace for which they are ill equipped, will gladly take your money so they can eat. Here's the brochure." -as opposed to every college that will gladly do the same for their philosophy majors.
Re: "your opinion is kind of a waste of time. Why bother offering it to me?" -Christian charity or cosmic trickster, you choose.

Rob-
Re: "..have western-style symphony orchestras. Those symphony archestras are universal accross the world. Gamelan orchestras are not." -far more have western-style pop-rock outfits than either of these.

Anonymous Bitch- "mask it and slop the paint on with a house brush." points to a technique that would not require nerve, i.e., "balls". Not derision.

D.A- you have to meet the artist half-way (arbitrary %) the work exists because of that person. The: idea, subject, colors, tonal relationship, lighting, background, composing/cropping, medium, dimension, funding are all his, kudos deserved. The grain of sand is just one of so many, some art/artist stand out while the rest fill decorative hour glasses. The Koons marketing machine gives him the much striven for and talked about artistic freedom, for those that have failed in the past and shall do so in the future- "Let us pray to our Lord that we may come to that understanding that is wholly without mode and without measure. May God help us to this. Amen" -Meister Eckhart

TftT

8/20/2009 1:43 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous/cp-- like you, I am only working with half the information (biologically speaking) so I am not in a good postion to say how the female equivalent of Barnett Newman's "20 lb." experience might be described.

However, your point inspires an analogy for Kev, theory of me, and others who have been commenting about whether there can be a uniform set of objective standards or whether we are all necessarily confined to our subjective taste.

Just as there can never be a completely objective way to perceive art, there can never be 100% overlap between male and female perception of experience. We are either one or the other, and no one over the age of 8 would claim there is a common objective language. However, just as with art, that lack of a common frame of reference does not relegate men and women to their subjective corners. To the contrary, the hopeless quest for a common understanding is both educational and enobling, and even the approximations and near misses are what make the world go round.

8/20/2009 10:28 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Troll, my interest in aesthetics was generated by my interest in creating stronger work.

It is my general opinion that the entire schooling apparatus is a way to civilize children and keep them off the street, the side benefit being, a lot of average people can get employment as guards. Since guards have egos, an incredible artifice of importance has grown up around these institutions which has no basis whatsoever in reality. Of course, righteous self-aggrandizement may just be a method of militarizing the union so they can keep on getting raises as they fail miserably at their one assigned task.

Real schooling, in my opinion, is the learning of engineering, applied math, science, logic, and aesthetics. The fact that in all four of those categories, our schools are utter failures, proves my point.

Big animals use their tails to swat parasites. If they were made of metal, they wouldn't be nimble enough to catch food or swat flies.

8/20/2009 4:35 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Anonymous TftT: "but its 0.K. to be an anti-Christ-ian wacko?"

It's ok to be anti-Christian but not ok to be a wacko. A person could be anti-Christian for perfectly stupid reasons. For example, they could just be a member of another religion.

David Apatoff: "Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream."

We can never be absolutely certain that what appears to us won't suddenly appear to be something else in the next instant but we can never doubt that we experience "something". The brute fact of a thing's appearance is always certain. In order to form coherent thoughts about the nature of existence you need to limit yourself to this strict definition of what it means to exist. Otherwise you are stuck with assumptions that have the potential to be proven wrong at any moment.

"there can never be 100% overlap between male and female perception of experience. We are either one or the other"

There may not be a 100% overlap but there is plenty of overlap. First of all, they experience themselves as things existing in time and space. They feel pain and have emotions. There are many examples of females with more masculine physical and psychological characeristics and vice versa. Males produce estrogen and females produce testosterone, although obviously to different levels. If you define masculine as "active" and feminine as "passive" as I do for philosophical purposes, you'll find that both sexes show qualities of both to different degrees. If you ask me, it appears that most females are roughly 95% feminine and 5% masculine while most males are about 75% feminine and 25% masculine. I have never met anyone who is 100% of either.
So if you look past the particular set of genitalia a person has you'll see that males and females share a lot more than is apparent on a superficial level. This explains why males and females have similar reactions to art and anything else and can also do a lot to explain their perplexing differences as well.

8/20/2009 6:34 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Theory of Me, in my experience the best way to make a woman anything-but-passive is to start saying things like "I define masculine as 'active' and feminine as 'passive.'"

You are a wise man to conceal your identity.

8/20/2009 6:42 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

That's great David because in my opinion, the world needs a lot less passivity from both sexes.

By the way, I have indeed said that to a few women but only because they displayed slightly more masculine psychological characteristics than the average person.

And I don't always conceal my identity. Here's my facebook page, I have nothing to hide:

http://tinyurl.com/mz7gum

:)

8/20/2009 7:29 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

David Apatoff: "but how much of that experience is self-induced by the viewer putting himself or herself in a meditative state? And correspondingly, how much of the credit are you willing to give the artist?"

Meditative states are not always self-induced. A person can be quite unsuspectingly hypnotized and made to do and believe things they normally wouldn't. When it comes to art, a person has spent their entire life intuitively selecting and absorbing aesthetic information that conditions them to react in a certain way to particular works of art. Most of this conditioning happens unconsciously so that when they see something new that caters to their conditioning they will experience what seems to be an automatic aesthetic revelation. It only seems to be spontaneous and automatic because most of the causes that lead to it are hidden from consciousness.

In the absolute sense, you can't really give the artist any credit. Beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholders, or more accurately, in their mind. I remember going to the Metropolitan Museum a few years ago and being astonished by a Soutine that I had probably just walked by without noticing before. I literally couldn't take my eyes away from it. It spoke to me on a level that nothing else had til then. I was not expecting to have such a powerful experience; it took me totally by surprise. A couple of days later, I went back to have another look at it and could not repeat the experience. Instead of feeling despair over not having the same reaction, I asked myself how the heck I was going to explain it. It turns out that at that time in my life, I was feeling somewhat bored, confused and directionless in my own artistic endeavors and the Soutine appeared to perfectly resolve some of the issues I was struggling with in my painting. When I look at the Soutine now, I see the same things, not a brushstroke seems to have changed but it just doesn't blow my mind anymore. There is no sense of loss in this for me. The painting ended up being the catalyst for some extremely valuable self-knowledge that Soutine probably had no intention of invoking.

8/20/2009 7:53 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Tom, your experience is not surprising. Revelatory information is only revelatory once. As you learn the information you become accustomed to it, and then after a while you are acclimated to it and while you may continue to love it, but you can't be blown away by it again. (Unless there is a verrrrrry long deconditioning period.) This goes for any artwork that has that initial power to knock one off their shoes. All the other artworks which do not blow one away, are offering stale information, which one is already acclimated to.

It takes a whole lot of conditioning not to respond like everyone else does to a great work of art. One's own time and culture can only pull you away from greatness, it can't lead you to it. That is to say, greatness is timeless because human beings don't change.

8/20/2009 9:47 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

kev ferrara: "while you may continue to love it, but you can't be blown away by it again."

My point was that I don't love it anymore. I still "like" Soutine but looking at his paintings doesn't come close to invoking a religious experience like it did that day. Just like whenever David posts a Noel Sickles drawing, I say to myself, "Yup, that guy was really, really good at what he did"; there is definitely mental stimulation going on, but it's not emotional in nature anymore. It's not love, it's something else. Love clouds our perceptions of things and compels us to wrap our fantasies in ego-driven artifacts in order to keep them aloft. It makes people say some cockamamy things like: "Taste is universal, not subjective", and who knows what else....

"human beings don't change."

I agree. But while it may keep our ideas of greatness more or less consistent, a species not capable of change will likely go extinct sooner rather than later, like 99.9% of every species to have lived on this planet already has.

This is why I think it's so important to dispel myths like universal standards of taste and so on. Ideas like that keep people complacent and produce only sterile thinkers.

8/21/2009 1:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

"This is why I think it's so important to dispel myths like universal standards of taste and so on. Ideas like that keep people complacent and produce only sterile thinkers."

Since there are some universal standards, it would be a mistake to dispel those, just because you are under the spell of dispelling.

For instance, there is an innate appreciation toward the beauty that comes from streamlined functionality, a unity of purpose with all the frills trimmed away. Waste not, want not. The same understandable adaptation that make the beauty of utility a human appreciation, prompted Aristotle to rightly discuss the same law of conservation in art. (Put only that which is necessary and not one jot more, is a truism of art. Of course, if your artistic point is wretched excess, this would not apply, but that's an exception that doesn't change the general rule.)

Opinions about standards and absolutes should be dwelled up before pulling up the garbage truck. Often there is more there than meets the young eye.

The young eye will also respond to obvious symbolic stimuli much more readily than the experienced viewer who can read it intellectually like a piece of text. Which is why most children graduate from soft squishy cartoons, assuming they graduate from childhood, to either something more refined, or no art at all, i.e. direct experience.

8/21/2009 5:36 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

" Put only that which is necessary and not one jot more, is a truism of art. Of course, if your artistic point is wretched excess, this would not apply, but that's an exception that doesn't change the general rule."


excess doesn't have to be wretched. vast scale/magnitude/quantity are all frequently used in different forms of art to invoke awe.

8/22/2009 10:28 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

I agree with Laurence, there are many examples of art that focus on the excessive without being considered wretched. Just look at Baroque art. And even if an excess does cross into "wretchedness", the fact that it can still be appreciated aesthetically belies the notion of universal standards in taste. You could say that people who like such things may not be right in the head but what measure would you use to make such a claim? It couldn't be a standard of taste, it would have to come from outside the realm of art.

When it comes to the "young eye" and the "experienced viewer", in both cases it is a matter of interpretation. In art, you can never validly say that someone's interpretation is wrong. You can only say that you don't share it. Wildly different interpretations can result in equally valid appreciations of the same artwork. This is why art is so appealing and influential. It's not pure logic or philosophy, it doesn't deal with reality in a direct way, something people generally can't tolerate for very long.

8/22/2009 1:48 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"it's not pure logic or philosophy..."




thank you for that timely reminder.

8/22/2009 3:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

"excess doesn't have to be wretched. vast scale/magnitude/quantity are all frequently used in different forms of art to invoke awe."

Two points...

1.) Awe is caused by a significant difference in scale between the subject and object, not an excessive one. A statement doesn't need to be excessive to be significant.

But more importantly...

2.) I did NOT write, "EXCESS MUST BE WRETCHED!"

Did I?

Nope.

Reading comprehension would be nice.

8/22/2009 4:48 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

the hostile arrogant tone really suits you kev.

if a 'significant difference' (however you measure that) can cause awe, think what an excessive one can cause !!!

what you call excess, another fella calls superabundance.

but this semantics stuff isn't my thing.

8/22/2009 7:46 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I was responding to your incessant nitpicking which had an arrogant tone of its own, fyi. If you spend the time to try to nitpick, at least read what had been written.

8/22/2009 8:37 PM  

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