Sunday, June 20, 2010

ARTISTS IN LOVE, part 16

In 1863, artist Albert Bierstadt and writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow left New York on an expedition into the great American wilderness. Bierstadt dreamed of painting spectacular western landscapes while Ludlow planned to write about them.

The two men also had something to work out between them: Bierstadt was in love with Ludlow's wife, Rosalie.



The men traveled together for nearly nine months. They picked up fresh supplies in Kansas and followed the Overland Trail, working their way through Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and into what would one day become Yosemite National Park.

Nobody knows for sure what the two men discussed around the campfire at night, but things must have gotten a little testy in Colorado when they discovered a beautiful 14,000 foot mountain and Bierstadt named it after Ludlow's wife.

Bierstadt is reputed to be the first man ever to climb Mount Rosalie.

The travelers reached the west coast before winter. They found a steamer ship in San Francisco that returned them to New York, where Rosalie waited apprehensively.

Both men returned home steadfastly in love with Rosalie. Unfortunately for Ludlow, he also loved hashish (his most famous book was the classic account, The Hasheesh Eater). As drugs took an increasing toll on Ludlow's life, Rosalie turned to Bierstadt for comfort. Ludlow's cousin wrote at the time,

[Ludlow] is a pretty fellow to be cursing poor Rose. Whatever she may have done is no excuse for him and if he had done as he should she never would have been so fond of the attentions of other men. I don't entirely excuse her, but I will stand up for her against him. I have no patience with him.
Ludlow continued to work on his book about their expedition while Bierstadt worked on immense paintings of the landscapes he had witnessed. His masterpiece was, "Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie."



In 1866, the year that Bierstadt unveiled his painting of her mountain, Rosalie divorced Ludlow and married Bierstadt. The embittered Ludlow removed every reference to Bierstadt's name from the manuscript of his book.

Bierstadt and Rosalie went on to lead a happy life together. They traveled the world and the successful painter opened studios in London, Paris and Rome. Years later, Bierstadt took Rosalie back to California on the newly built railroad, returning over some of the same ground he had traversed on horseback and by foot as a young artist.

If you look for Mount Rosalie today, you won't find anything resembling Bierstadt's painting. For one thing, after Rosalie died the Colorado state legislature renamed the mountain for the governor of Colorado, John Evans. (As surely as rain erodes mountains, bureaucrats and politicians will follow in the wake of lovers and pioneers, eroding all romantic gestures and leveling all artistic achievements).

But apart from that, you won't find the mountain because Bierstadt's landscape was largely imagined. He painted accurate studies on site, but then exaggerated and romanticized them back in his studio. He combined waterfalls from one location with cliffs from a second and mountains from a third. For added drama he sometimes inserted fog, mist or dark storm clouds.

In Bierstadt's famous painting, you can see that he envisioned Mount Rosalie as a radiant heaven beckoning from beyond the clouds in the the upper left hand corner of the picture:



But a photograph of Mt. Evans today conveys a different feeling:



Geologists could tell that Bierstadt's paintings were composites, and art critics faulted him for concocting landscapes in his studio rather than capturing reality on the trail.

It's true that the farther an artist gets from his subject (whether the subject is a mountain or a girl) the harder it becomes to retain all the facts about the subject.  Details begin to drop out, to be replaced by imagination and thoughts and feelings. This digestive process is what helps us find the larger poetry in our subjects. It's what makes relationships a shared reality.

After the first three or four months on the trail thinking about Rosalie (imagine-- no letters, no skype, no sexting!) it's not surprising that Bierstadt began to see her in the mountains, or in the wildflowers or in the moon. I'd wager that both Bierstadt and Ludlow were baying at that moon before their trip was through.

How important are the factual details about the artist's subject? Bierstadt painted Mt. Rosalie more with his heart than his eyes, but that doesn't mean the result was less accurate than the photographs of Rosalie or Mount Evans. Bierstadt's idealized image of Rosalie as a pristine white land of flowing waterfalls may have been more real than the facts about her that have dropped away with time. It may have been more true than Rosalie's own views of her sins from her first marriage.

Contrary to the art critics who faulted Bierstadt for painting landscapes back in his studio, I think the most important part of his Mt. Rosalie painting-- the part that he painted with his heart-- was created during those long nights on the trail thinking about Rosalie.

121 Comments:

Blogger etc, etc said...

With Bierstadt and Millais, looks like the artist, when competing with the writer, always gets the (married) girl. Provided the athlete or tycoon does not want her, of course.

6/22/2010 2:09 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

....or rock star....

Poor writers.
It's like the joke about the clueless starlett who, to further her career, mistakenly sleeps with the writer.

6/22/2010 2:13 PM  
Anonymous Salmon said...

Now wait a second!

http://blog.timesunion.com/tablehopping/files/2007/07/padma-salman1.jpg

6/22/2010 2:47 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

I take back what I said.
Aparently, if you're a bada$$ writer who's survived a fatwa....you can get any woman you want.

6/22/2010 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Bierstadt seems to me like american equivalent of french Bouguereau, a painter of kitsch that plays on national fantasies. I dont have a problem with the fact that he didnt paint facts, what I dont like about him is this sugary, disney-like sentimentalization that stimulates kitsch values. It proves to be useful for advertising purposes(Bierstadt was playing his part in advertising the american west), while artistically its just big and loud like a bad opera. Kinkade comes to mind, although Kinkades kitschy sentimentalization is way more irritating and unbearable for me.

6/22/2010 5:42 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Knowing the critics, one should look askance their comments regarding a mountain in the clouds.

6/22/2010 5:42 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Lipov, your opinion is incorrect.

Bierstadt is not kitsch, it is Art.

Some people, for whatever reason, seem to have an obsession with declaring stuff kitsch so they can stomp it out politically/economically. (Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.)

I particularly enjoy the use of "sugary" as a piece of rhetoric.

Sugary = anything that pleases?

Entertainment pleases.

Ergo, Entertainment = kitsch?

That wouldn't be any fun... if nobody was allowed to enjoy anything without some Lipovian coming along to snap off a load of "that's kitsch" on top of it.

"Kitsch Values" is a new one to me, though. I'd love to hear what that is, so I can use it to describe whatever values Lipov holds.

6/22/2010 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Sugary - I used it to describe what I percieve as overly sentimental, not simply "anything that pleases". Entertainment is not sugary, certain products of entertainment industry can be sugary. Like excessively, cloyingly sweet compliments, its not speaking alone that is sugary, its the structure of the sentences and the use of specific words that is formed in a sugary way. Kinkade makes me feel like I have ten giant Chupa Chups bubble gums in my mouth. yuck

Kitsch Values - I used it to describe the standards that are being satisfied by the lowest, most vulgar, cheap, generic commodity, if kitsch exists with no archetypes, it does not posses its own identity, if its just a repetition, a reproduction (not only physically, but in a sense of its whole metaphysical entity), it has a power of liking tied to a unclear ideal of beauty that is a directional factor for middle class when it comes to consumption of aesthetics. And when someone likes a superficial, kitschy object, it means, that the way he is looking at that object is also kitchified. Even if the object itself isnt kitschy, he will comprehend it like if it is. Because he wants to experience things in the same way that kitsch would present them to him. Thats why I said "stimulated kitsch values".

6/22/2010 6:46 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

That's fine Lipov.

How any of that relates to this beautiful painting http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_zMsg9U8UoyM/TBjUEaArafI/AAAAAAAAEUM/uO-U3h8lxxQ/s1600/Bierstadt++Mt.+Rosalie.jpg I do not know.

You are entitled to your opinion of course. Just as I am entitled to think your opinion is obviously wrong.

6/22/2010 7:00 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Nearly forgot...

Lipov...

Your reference to the "the middle class" as having an unclear idea of beauty, which makes them susceptible to kitsch, has no basis in fact whatsoever. The lower or upper classes are just as likely to enjoy something you would consider kitsch. And you may enjoy something I consider kitsch.

Kitsch is just an opinion, and opinions are just the atom of politics.

Also the idea that "the middle class man" comprehends objects in a kitschy way is completely tendentious. An assertion without a shred of evidence.

There is also no evidence whatsoever that a person who enjoys kitsch is necessarily wanting to experience the world as kitsch. Some people just like a kind of silly light fantasy around them for entertainment.

A little more epistemology, a little less dogma, my friend.

6/22/2010 7:13 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Lipov,
First of all the Hudson River School, unlike Kinkade, were focused on the sublime, not the sugary. The HRS are specifically mentioned in the Grove Dictionary of Art entry for "sublime". Big difference.


Second, cheap and poor technical quality is a key characterisation of kitsch, and only an idiot would bring that accusation against Bierstadt or Bouguereau.

6/22/2010 7:26 PM  
Blogger Smurfswacker said...

This story touches on a subject that's long fascinated me: the way technology has changed the relationship between a painter and his/her “original.” By original I mean the original subject of inspiration, whether life or another's painting. That Bierstadt romanticized his subjects is irrelevant in this case: the fact is the only reference he had for the original scenes was in his sketchbook or in his head. He might have carted along a lot of equipment and taken some black-and-white photos, but that's it.

Consider that before the mid-19th century, studio artists could turn only to their own notes, or perhaps to line engravings, for reference. Unless they'd made painted notes of the classic paintings they viewed during their Grand Tour, painters inspired by them worked from their memories of the pieces, memories which changed and faded with the years. Along came photography, photo-engraving, color printing and photography, mass-produced art books, scanners, digital imagery, the Internet. Now almost any artist can refer to an “original” scene or work of art through archived photos.

Of course even a super-high-definition color reproduction isn't the same as the original. The point is that now someone wanting inspiration from a Frazetta painting can look the painting up and work directly from it. A hundred years ago he'd have had to work from a memory of a painting he'd seen once twenty years ago. I wonder how the decreasing need to work from memory has affected the finished products of present-day illustrators. Not that there's any way of finding out.

6/22/2010 7:29 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Etc, Etc - what some school was focused on doest really matter, what matters are the results, the actual artworks. The history is full of intentions, but the results may not always reflect that. Isnt every art school focused on "the sublime, not the sugary"? I had plenty of art teachers and none of them told to paint sugary, not the sublime. There is no art school or edicational system to teach how to paint subtlety. Subtley comes from artists ability to feel its subjects. What art schools teach are formulas and techniques.

And regarding kitsch - no, cheap and poor technical quality is not a key characterisation of kitsch because kitsch is not only physical. As I said, a definition of kitsch is an existance without archetypes, its a repetition, not only physically, but in a sense of its whole metaphysical entity. The essence of kitsch is its ability to be repeated infinitely, while any other "true" object that possesses at least some minimal characteristics unique to itself, retains its individuality. A paradoxical thing about kitschy object is that its individuality could be described only by its absence of any differences. Technical quality has nothing to do with a definition of kitsch.

6/22/2010 8:25 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Kev, yes, some people just like a kind of silly light fantasy around them for entertainment. I sometimes use silly light fantasy products (like computer games) for entertainment. But thats all it is, a silly light fantasy, i dont call it great art. Bierstadt was a great craftsman, I still have a huge coffetable book full of full page reproductions. But those paintings dont do anything for me anymore, sadly I dont find any important meaningful or emotional stimulus, inspiration or aesthetical pleasure. Its a nicely crafted kitschy fantasy art. It doesnt go beyond that for me, sadly.

6/22/2010 8:44 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Lipov said...
"As I said, a definition of kitsch is..."

No thank you. I will not play that game. Good day.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kitsch

6/22/2010 8:47 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Merriam webster dictionary? Are you kidding me?

6/22/2010 8:56 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Along with the Grove Dictionary of Art; and what, other than Lipov, are your references?

6/22/2010 9:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Lipov, Calling Bierdstadt a "great craftsman" means you can't see how much of what he is doing is poetry. You've somehow been blinded to his art. It sounds like the problem is you've looked at Beirstadt too much, and you can no longer see his better works with fresh eyes. That happens sometimes. You may find you can see it again in a few years time.

I'd like to hear you explain your definition of kitsch as "an existence without archetypes." I'm struggling to understand that phrase.

It sounds like you are defining Kitsch as an expression that is overly derivative and lacking in truth observed first hand, like a cliché or an object that has been overly stylized.

6/22/2010 9:20 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

It's probably the "kitsch is non avant-garde" definition.

6/22/2010 9:30 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"It's like the joke about the clueless starlett who, to further her career, mistakenly sleeps with the writer."

Right, like Monroe who married Arthur Miller and then DIED.

6/22/2010 10:21 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"It's probably the 'kitsch is non avant-garde' definition."

Well, I think with anyone there is a point when a quantity of epic/sublime effects can feel cheesy. This guy just has less of a tolerance than y'all do.

His Opera analogy I think is telling -- there are quite a lot of people who take the near whole of Opera very seriously, there are quite a few who think all Opera is ridiculous.

I see both Opera and this kind of art in similar ways and that is somewhere in the middle of these two mindsets; I'm aware that they are in many ways ridiculous and kitschy, and yet I can enjoy it all the same, sometimes with a sense of irony but, also, often an honest delight derived by that selfsame effect.

Is it really so much to ask that we have it both ways?

Cannot sublimeness and kitsch coexist happily -- nay even create, support, uphold, depend, and follow one another?

6/22/2010 10:36 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/22/2010 10:44 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

David,

I think you misrepresented what Mt.Evans really looks like. I mean, c'mon you could at least choose a picture with some atmosphere. :D

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6/22/2010 11:01 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sublime is not the same as Epic/Operatic.

Epic/Operatic expression can be overly melodramatic if it is done without sufficient motivation or honesty or heart.

I would say it is sublimity that elevates the Epic and Operatic into the realm of transcendent Art... the very thing that prevents it from becoming buffoonish in its grandeur and ambition. Sublimity is the result of artfulness.

6/22/2010 11:35 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Lipov, it seems to me that the question of how to respond to idealized, saccharine images is an issue central to this post and to illustration more broadly. I am obviously a big fan of illustration, but I am not blind to the fact that a great deal of illustration is uninteresting because it looks pretty but is as insubstantial as cotton candy. Art in the service of a product or a story, like art in the service of religion, sometimes resorts to easy manipulation of stereotypes without doing the hard work of art.

That mountain peak of Rosalie looks like it is right out of central casting, with all of the lighting effects and celestial clouds and angles that you might later expect to see in an MGM backdrop. But don't end your analysis there.

I don't mean to get too heavy handed about the nexus between art and love in these little vignettes but it seems to me that the juxtaposition of the two can be illuminating.

I think there is an important distinction, in both art and in love, between "idealized" on the one hand and "inaccurate" or "false" on the other. If Bierstadt believed that Rosalie was perfection on earth and wanted to name his heavenly mountain after her, perhaps he really saw her that way. I think it is a fascinating and important truth that a flawed and mortal source of inspiration can nevertheless give an artist (or a lover) access to feelings of perfection and absolute values which are far more exhilarating than any drug in Ludlow's pharmacy bag.

Of course, if Bierstadt was a cynical flatterer then we can agree that he was inaccurate or false. But all it takes for his assessment to be true is for him to believe it. The fact that the rest of the world does not agree that Rosalie qualifies as a Helen of Troy or that the mountain really looks like that doesn't make Bierstadt's idealized reaction any less valid.

The element of... errr... inspiration or creativity in the perception of a loved one does not make the feelings (or the relationship) an illusion. Rosalie would be a fool not to accept Bierstadt's google eyed tribute just because she thinks that Bierstadt doesn't really see her for what she is, or that he is in love with some abstract ideal that burned into his brain when he was out on the trail too long without female companionship. It is a great role for Rosalie to serve as Bierstadt's path to something more absolute and perfect than Rosalie herself. It makes Rosalie something more than Rosalie. She may be fallible and mortal but she becomes the catalyst, the muse by which the broader truths and the higher status is reached.

You can say this is "Disney-like sentimentalization" and you could probably say the same thing about Dante's treatment of Beatrice, or about a lot of paintings of Jesus. If the art is strong, I have a lot of patience for the extreme ways that people deal with the vehicles of their desire for absolutes. For me it is "Topic A-- always interesting."

6/23/2010 5:54 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "I think you misrepresented what Mt.Evans really looks like. I mean, c'mon you could at least choose a picture with some atmosphere."

Richard, I found some lovely photos of Mt. Evans, but mostly they seemed to be posted by hikers /photography buffs who took great pride in their work and even signed their photographs in the image. I didn't want this to turn into a competition between Bierstadt and an "art photographer" so I used a photograph in the public domain from the U.S. government. Pretty but accurate. I didn't mean to stack the deck against poor Mt. Evans.

Etc, etc, Norm, and Salmon-- in the contest between artists and writers, mother nature will tell you that the bird with the brightest plumage prevails.

6/23/2010 6:08 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David Apatoff said...
"Etc, etc, Norm, and Salmon-- in the contest between artists and writers, mother nature will tell you that the bird with the brightest plumage prevails."

And I'll agree with mother nature, if she means brightest plumage to be the equivalent of personal property, monetary savings, and capital wealth.

6/23/2010 10:46 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Thanks for the fascinating story of romantic rivals, David.

My favorite is of Eadward Muybridge, a man who understood that revenge is a dish best served cold...very cold. His wife had been carrying on an affair with an Army officer who was transferred west after impregnating her.

Muybridge took the train to California, certainly long enough to consider his actions. He encountered the officer and, as was the custom of the day "produced" a pistol and shot him to death. He then calmly boarded the train and returned east, where he was tried and found...not guilty.

The errant missus declined either from pining or the vapours (two fatal afflictions of hopeless romantics) and expired, leaving a gleeful Muybridge to raise the captain's bastard son.

Few tales of romantic revenge can match that. Of course, this will now unleash the local experts to hold forth to display a knowledge of photography equal to that of art. All that artsy-fartsy stuff aside, nothing can diminish the tale of Muybridge, the vengeful husband and his magnificent trans-continental triple-revenge. Kinda makes you want to say...bwahahahaha!

6/23/2010 10:49 AM  
Anonymous norm said...

Richard,
Salmon's post already blew a hole in my theory....but, maybe if Monroe had married a producer, she'd still be alive today.

David (and everyone else)
I wonder about Kitsch and soppy, overly sweet stuff.
Is there a particularly American aversion to this?
Are we kind of afraid to open up and be a little goofy/vulnerable?
Are Europeans more able to let themselves be ok with their sentimental side?
...or is that just a skewed impression I get?
Assuming an equal level of skill, Sappy stuff still makes me cringe, but is that because it's really wrong in some objective sense, or just because that's how I've learned to see things?

6/23/2010 1:17 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Let's say art communicates something of the "human condition"
So...what about the part where you fall in love and act kind of stupid, or the part where you get all warm inside looking at cute puppies and babies?

They're just as valid as the horrors of war and disease aren't they?

Or, would you say there are better ways to communicate those feelings than blatant cheezy-ness?

6/23/2010 1:31 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

I admit I'm sort of playing Devil's advocate here.
But I figure it's worth questioning.
are romance novels (and Lifetime movies) bad because they're badly written/made or because of their subject matter?
Maybe they're all just porn in a way.
Romance porn, Violence porn (blow-em-up movies) Special FX porn....etc.
Just cheap shots of the stuff you want, without any "art"

6/23/2010 1:41 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Norm...

I think American Cynicism has its roots in big cities, most notably in the newspaper offices. You can see the roots of a distaste for the pompous, sanctimonious, pretentious, and pandering in the work of, among many others, Ben Hecht, H.L. Mencken, Ambrose Bierce, and the wits of the Algonquin round table, (who straddled the line between print media and theater and movies. You can see the Algonquin spirit at work in the Marx Brothers, for instance.)

This kind of big city cynicism is not the same as the knee jerk "cool" cynicism decried on this board recently. The cynicism of these reporters was earned by experience with politicians, crooks, and all manner of other charlatans, including other journalists, trying to put one over on the public.

It is the role of Journalism, not art, to show us the human condition as it exists... whether that be the facts of war, poverty, or the facts of life. When we see a funny video of little kitty sleeping on a puzzled family dog, even though this is cute and funny, its also journalism. Journalism has nothing to do with poetic art. Art gives us a fiction that tells a larger truth and creates its own facts to suit that expression.

I've always liked Joseph Campbell's definition of porn as some representation that acts as a substitute for the real thing.

This is why good art is about the transcendental, (ideas, metaphors, spirituality, aesthetic emotions) rather than the factual... and why "aesthetic distance" is a necessity.

The lack of any transcendental value or aesthetic distance is also why it is easy for photojournalism to shade over into voyeurism and exploitation. (see 99% of the streaming video on the internet, for example.)

6/23/2010 2:17 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Kev,
The journalist/artist distinction is interesting.
What do you think of Harvey Pekar?
I never got into his stuff, so I might be a bad judge.

6/23/2010 2:40 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"I wonder about Kitsch and soppy, overly sweet stuff.
Is there a particularly American aversion to this?
Are we kind of afraid to open up and be a little goofy/vulnerable?
Are Europeans more able to let themselves be ok with their sentimental side?"


Norm, as an Englishman (and therefore a European) i can tell you that the reverse is true. American sentimentality is second to none. see anything made by Disney for starters.

6/23/2010 2:47 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Laurence,
Good point, though Disney has always been ripped for that here too....even though they are successful as can be.
And their films make plenty of money over seas.
I also think my "European" distinction was too broad...lumping Spain Italy, England and France all together...

6/23/2010 3:04 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Norm,

Pekar may be raw, but he's still an artist. If you actually had a journalist documenting his life, I seriously doubt it would resemble his own take on things. His sensibility filters everything.

I know some people don't like "confessional" art, the albert brooks, woody allen, larry david, phillip roth, type stuff, but I think it's undeniable as art. As each of them has said, what they portray in their work is an exaggeration, or what they would have liked to have said at dinner, or imagined disastrous social situations. They're making it up or ginning it up, but their imaginations are so keenly attuned to reality, it feels like we're getting confessions.

Some people have such strong personalities that no matter what they say, it comes out art. And others are so dry, everything they say sounds like a news feed.

Laurence, that's such a broad brush stroke you couldn't even draw cartoons with it.

6/23/2010 3:04 PM  
Blogger K.G. said...

I won't wade into the artistic shoving match going on here. I'll just say that was a fine read, David. Really well written.

6/23/2010 3:10 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Richard,
Salmon's post already blew a hole in my theory....but, maybe if Monroe had married a producer, she'd still be alive today."

Huh? Arthur Miller is a writer, and Monroe *did* die.

6/23/2010 3:43 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, of course it's a generalization. i was simply pointing out to Norm that as a generalization he had got it the wrong way around.

6/23/2010 4:02 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Richard,
I know my sense of humor can be "off"...but....if she'd married a producer (instead of a lowly writer like Miller) She'd most likely still be alive today (instead of dead...which I agree she is)
Then again, if she'd stayed married to DiMaggio she would have probably finished her career with 500+ home runs (instead of her 16 doubles, 3 tripples and an inside the park homerun that she got when her top fell off )

6/23/2010 4:21 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

laurence,
If Americans think Europeans are more sentimental...and vice versa....maybe it's a wash.

6/23/2010 4:22 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Richard,
Sorry....I'm just arbitrarily picking on writers here, for no good reason other than to keep the anti-writer slant of the first couple posts going.
Some of my best friends are writers, in spite of their heavy drinking and annoying habit of using words I don't understand.
And I'm sure Monroe's sad end (I'm not making light of that) wasn't due to marriage choices.

6/23/2010 4:32 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Laurence John said, "Norm, as an Englishman (and therefore a European) i can tell you that the reverse is true. American sentimentality is second to none. see anything made by Disney for starters."

Have you ever seen Bavarian Christmas music videos? While the Germans are not generally known for sentimentality, when they do it, they do it to the extreme (kinda' like everything else they do). It takes kitch to a level barely imaginable.

6/23/2010 5:38 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Artists are the best lovers anyway.

6/23/2010 6:32 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन -- every once in a while I try to think about the types of word searches that could possibly have led you to videos such as the one linked to "the critics." It makes me nervous.

I was not aware that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did such work, but I watched several in the collection on youtube. Wow.

Kev and etc, etc-- I have long suspected that "kitsch" and "camp" were terms invented to admonish people not to like the kind of art to which they were instinctively attracted for the "wrong reasons." Therefore, before I got too deeply enmeshed in struggles over the genealogy of such terms or their proper place in my lexicon, I usually tried to understand what those "wrong reasons" were, to see if the effort was going to be worthwhile. Often, their motives were disappointingly pretentious. They offend even the sensibilities of someone tasteless enough to enjoy the cheap thrills of kitsch and camp art.

People who argue that, for example, the crudely painted covers of Spicy Detective pulp magazines provide cheap thrills are correct, but that doesn't begin to make a point. The real question is the value of being thrilled in a cheap way. Sure it is a different form of titillation in your repertoire, to be enjoyed with some sense of perspective, but will it coarsen you or dull your standards? Will it undermine your interpersonal relationships or jeopardize your immortal soul? Lately I would wager not nearly so much as the fine art racket does.

I may like a picture or I may not, but I am unlikely to be influenced very much by whether it can be placed under the heading of kitsch.

6/23/2010 8:33 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Smurfswacker-- an interesting point. The ready access to photographic of artistic reference (or "inspiration") in digital form is astonishingly convenient, but I sometimes wonder whether it eliminates some of that important gap that historically had to be filled by imagination and personality.

There is kind of a quaint "in between" period when Life Magazine was supplying the photographic reference for a generation of artists. If you look through Life from the 1940s and 1950s you will find photos that were clearly swiped by giants such as Frazetta and Robert Fawcett and incorporated in theior work.

Rob Howard-- I had never heard the Muybridge story before, so I looked it up and found two strikingly different versions. One said that Muybridge was a mean and tyrannical old goat who married a young assistant half his age, abandoned her for long periods, was perpetually suspicious, killed her alleged lover with a shotgun, turned a cold shoulder when his wife soon died and cast her infant baby into an orphanage. He escaped punishment by persuading a San Francisco jury (even back then!) that his mind had been affected by a blow to the head. The conclusion of this version of the story was that the boy grew up to look just like Muybridge.

The other version is as you relate it, with the added anecdote that Muybridge's young wife had foolishly written something on the back of a photograph of the baby that indicated that your army officer was the father.

Both good stories, and both seem to have many proponents. Any thoughts?

6/23/2010 8:51 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

K.G. and Erin-- Ahhhhhh. Nice to hear from people who respond to the El Romancio of this story.

6/23/2010 8:55 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Norm, as an Englishman (and therefore a European) i can tell you that the reverse is true. American sentimentality is second to none.<<<

Spot on, Laurence. That's why Yanks are such a soft touch for charities and helping countries without any thought of colonizing, putting pictures of our king and queen on their money and forcing them to speak Americanese.

Being more of a cosmopolitan than my fellow Yanks, I avoid kitsch by adopting the less sentimental and soppy approach of allowing people to bleed in the street, walking past starving children and generally ignoring the hoi polloi. I think this is a sign of better breeding. I am now learning to arch an eyebrow and snigger up my sleeve too.

6/23/2010 9:19 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Both good stories, and both seem to have many proponents. Any thoughts?<<<

During the 60's, a trend emerged of tearing down heroes...Lincoln was gay, Washington slept around...you know, the usual display of soiled undergarments that passes for investigative (read, titillating) journalism. So, in keeping with that fifty-year old fashion, every story will have one that denigrates the subject and shows him to be as mean as the writer.

I suspect that, like so many excellent artists, Muybridge was driven and tyrannical and didn't treat everyone like an obsequious waiter angling for a big tip (by waiting until your mouth is full before inquiring if the meal is good). These days, those obsequies pass for good manners and I doubt that Muybridge had any of them.

The really cool part of the story is that Muybridge raised the boy and named him after his biological father (there are records of that), proving that he was a vengeful sonofabitch. There are also records of the captain being dispatched with a pistol at close range. Although very effective, shotguns are bulky and make you stand out in a crowd.

6/23/2010 9:33 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

""every once in a while I try to think about the types of word searches that could possibly have led you to videos such as the one linked to "the critics."""
~ The search couldn't have been more mundane; dudley, cook, peter, moore, critics

""I was not aware that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did such work, but I watched several in the collection on youtube. Wow.""
~ Now you know, some of their best material is certificate X.

6/23/2010 11:23 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I always liked what Pauline Kael said about the movies.... "they're so rarely great art, that if you can't appreciate great trash, you shouldn't bother going."

I have collections of pulps, 50s pre-code horror comics, and early sci-fi paperbacks... and the only reason I have any of them is for the wild covers. I also adore Plan 9, Robot Monster, and MST3K.

I think what I like about the particular kind of camp I like, is that it was done earnestly and innocently. I have genuine affection for anybody who pulls out all the stops to create a complete piece of trash. The heart always comes through.

I used to watch the 60s Batman show in reruns when I was a kid, and now I find it lacks heart because it has a kind of cynicism behind it. (Adam West, however, still makes me laugh.)

I also love the defiant, yet authentic, bad taste of a Mel Brooks or Basil Wolverton. Its like a breath of foul air in these politically correct times. But I find the bad taste of Jeff Koons to be almost mannered, if that makes any sense, and no fun at all. Same with Lady Gaga, Liberace, Grace Jones, and Dennis Rodman.

I accidentally stumbled upon an image today, somewhat related, that I wasn't sure about. Maybe others want to share some opinions on it. I honestly can't tell if this is camp, kitsch, trash, bad taste, utter stupidity, or all of the above:

http://image.lyricspond.com/image/b/artist-boney-m/album-love-for-sale/cd-cover.jpg

6/24/2010 12:19 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Kev said~ ""I honestly can't tell if this is camp, kitsch, trash, bad taste, utter stupidity, or all of the above:""

I'll say all of the above, if when combined they form the word Awesome, but what the hell do I know?!

Kal Ho Naa Ho

6/24/2010 1:47 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This (album cover's) aesthetic is a bit of a predecessor to that which created Lady Gaga I suppose. Irony is now taken for granted, whether it's meant to be there or not. It is now a false dichotomy -- irony and sincerity that is.

Excuse me while I quote Jesse Thorn of Public Radio International:

"The great irony of all this is that the pundits and prognosticators who declared irony dead three years ago were absolutely right. Irony is dead. Their account of it's death, however, was greatly flawed. Irony died not in a fiery explosion, but slowly, quietly, of old age. And it wasn't replaced by a return of the old guard. This time around, there's a new cultural paradigm, itching to get in the ballgame.

It's called: The New Sincerity.

What is The New Sincerity? Think of it as irony and sincerity combined like Voltron, to form a new movement of astonishing power. Or think of it as the absence of irony and sincerity, where less is (obviously) more. If those strain the brain, just think of Evel Knievel.

Let's be frank. There's no way to appreciate Evel Knievel literally. Evel is the kind of man who defies even fiction, because the reality is too over the top. Here is a man in a red-white-and-blue leather jumpsuit, driving some kind of rocket car. A man who achieved fame and fortune jumping over things. Here is a real man who feels at home as Spidey on the cover of a comic book. Simply put, Evel Knievel boggles the mind.

But by the same token, he isn't to be taken ironically, either. The fact of the matter is that Evel is, in a word, awesome. His jumpsuit looks great. His stunts were amazing. As he once said of his own life: "I've had every airplane, every ship, every yacht, every racehorse, every diamond, and probably, with the exception of two or three, every woman I wanted in my lifetime. I've lived a better life than any king or prince or president." And as patently ridiculous as those words are, they're pretty much true.

So now, dear reader, you're in on the Next Big Thing. Something more Hedwig than Rocky Horror; more Princess Bride than Last Unicorn; more Bruce Lee than Chuck Norris. Something new, and beautiful. So join us.

Our greeting: a double thumbs-up. Our credo: "Be More Awesome." Our lifestyle: "Maximum Fun." "


So, it's not really lucid to take Lady Gaga as serious or ironic, on a side note you may want to take a look at her here before she donned her meta-character, this is her being "serious".

I say meta-character because she no longer plays at a single persona, but instead plays at pop itself. She isn't just Madonna, she isn't just Marilyn Manson. Her character is that she doesn't play a single character, but instead is playing at the gamut of pop personas as a whole.

This isn't kitsch, this isn't camp. It's something else entirely. It is that New Sincerity that Jesse Thorn was talking about. This isn't tongue in cheek, but this isn't merely poor taste. The polarity has died. Sincerity had given way to Irony. Now Irony has passed away but not by merely returning to an anachronistic classicism. Irony and seriousness are now both foundational. There is no longer irony and seriousness in the old sense.

Take a look at the original three Star Wars flicks, they are not appreciated as merely camp or kitsch. They are in many ways very silly, but when we watch them we don't take them in that way. The ridiculousness doesn't make us laugh. Irony is no longer operating critically. The films are silly and yet we can still manage to watch them in all seriousness, attached to the characters, the exaggerated plot, the cliches, the force. We take it all in and often love it.

The difference here is that the 60s Batman was meant to be silly, ironic.

Lady Gaga doesn't mean to be silly or serious.

6/24/2010 2:32 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

अर्जुन said...
"Kev said~ ""I honestly can't tell if this is camp, kitsch, trash, bad taste, utter stupidity, or all of the above:""

I'll say all of the above, if when combined they form the word Awesome, but what the hell do I know?!"

Well, all of the above or none of the above. I agree that Awesome! seems to be the most fitting description.

6/24/2010 2:34 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh, also, when combining seriousness and irony the sum is greater than the parts. (at least in my experience)

6/24/2010 2:39 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I think there's a difference between the two album covers. The Dschinghis Khan is outright hilarious, like Laverne & Shirley meets Flash Gordon. Everybody in the picture is enjoying themselves and are completely earnest in their goofiness. None of them seem to have the slightest sense of the absurdity of what they're doing. They actually think they're cool. The result is pure camp.

But look at the bored expression on the left-most girl on the Boney M. album cover. She's looks actually sad, she isn't acting. And the idea behind the cover is no laughing matter, (slavery), and the title "love for sale" sounds like these girls are going from slavery to prostitution. This is not a goofy subject. Only the little guy in the background (presumably Boney M. himself) is actually comical. And nobody seems to be having fun. I think this is a case of authentic bad taste.

I don't think "new sincerity" has anything to do with why Star Wars works, any more than vivid imagination, good storytelling, and committed acting are an invention born out of 9/11.

6/24/2010 10:45 AM  
Anonymous norm said...

Kev,
I agree with your take on that cover....It's not just in bad taste aesthetically, but socially too.
But, putting this cover aside, the idea of "great trash" or guilty pleasures or saying you like something "ironically" when you really just like it is kind of an odd thing.
Maybe we have to wallow around in this more than most because we make comic books and video games for a living.
I find myself trying to defend comics and the like...pointing to true high points like Maus... or the incredible skill with which even most of the crap is executed.
But sometimes, I just think monsters and space babes are cool.
I enjoy a little Sartre and Miles Davis...but I also like Rob Zombie and Frazetta.
It's kind of funny the mental and linguistic gymnastics I find myself going through to justify some of the stuff I like when I should "know better"
And I'm still an arbitrary snob...proclaiming certain trash less valid than the trash I like.
....and then trying to find a plausable reason why my choices are right.
It's nice though when you're among friends and you can debate the relative merits of Simon Bisley as compared to Richard Corben...and not have to justify caring about such a thing.

6/24/2010 1:49 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Kev said… "look at the bored expression on the left-most girl on the Boney M. album cover. She's looks actually sad, she isn't acting. And the idea behind the cover is no laughing matter, (slavery), and the title "love for sale" sounds like these girls are going from slavery to prostitution."

Perhaps her expression underscores the irony of the title, that this is the automaton whose "love" is for sale. Or, more controversially, as Boney M.'s "slaves" they have prostituted themselves… an overdub has no choice.

Ray said… "the Germans… take_ kitch(sic) to a level barely imaginable." ~~see Dschinghis Khan, Boney M., and origin of the word kitsch

Richard, it makes sense to me, the apex of irony having been collectively reached, it has become the new base line.

p.s. For more automatons, slaves and Germans note Metropolis has been restored (again).

6/24/2010 1:56 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"And I'm still an arbitrary snob...proclaiming certain trash less valid than the trash I like.
....and then trying to find a plausable reason why my choices are right."

Yeah, I catch myself doing this constantly, and the worst part is after a months pass and I find myself thinking the thing is great.

Take the American TV series "The Office". I had long sworn off television, and any value that it could possibly have -- along with most of American Pop Culture, thinking that this would somehow raise me to the ranks of an educated wellbred person. When all my friends, even the better read members, started saying that the show was great and I ought to check it out I laughed in their faces. "Oh look at you poor Americans with your stupid television shows!" The unfortunate irony of the situation was that I just didn't get the humour. Now that I finally "understand" it I feel like a real fool for all the times I gave them such shit.

In the last year I've also realized this with music, art, fashion, movies, etc.

I guess this was my returning-to-pop year.

I even started eating Cheese Burgers!

Now when I talk to my friends who smoke Dunhills, and drink their overpriced Indian Pale Ale, and talk about really boring overly theoretical texts, and watch Godard films, and live in Brooklyn I just laugh to myself. If they wake up from their arbitrary elitism, as you put it so well, they're going to feel like such assholes.

6/24/2010 2:32 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh so while I am on the subject of not understanding why people like something... what's with people and reading fiction?

6/24/2010 2:45 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

To अर्जुन,

Are you just acting as the community spell-check or was there some other reason for pointing out my typo? Yup, I am aware that "kitsch" a German word.

6/24/2010 3:03 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

And that "Dee D. Jackson - Automatic Lover" video certainly was horrid, but I just couldn't stop watching it.

6/24/2010 3:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Norm,

I no longer enjoy space babes and monsters as elements on their own merits. There's nothing more effective than a bad drawing of a supposedly hot female to depress the soul. And there's no better argument for the idea that fantasy is a genre for dorks than watching the average fantasy film. I like anything done brilliantly or hilariously. I can't stand much in between, bouncing babes or not.

So, in general, I'd rather watch something directed by a Mike Nichols, David Mamet, or Nora Ephron, and look at a painting by Fechin, Brangwyn, or Sorolla.

If a great imaginative film comes along, however, I'll be eatin' popcorn and enjoying it to pieces.

There's no reason space babes and monsters can't be great art. I have no hesitation in saying that a number of Frazetta's paintings and ink drawing are great art.

Subject matter is meaningless as far as I see it and people who marginalize certain subject matters tend not to notice that what they like is genre also. ("Oh, but Jane Austen has puffy dresses, stifled lovers, and exquisite manners!" says the PBS'er.)

But the more seemingly "genre" a subject matter, the better the artist must be to convince us of its poetry and human relevance. (Peckinpaugh's Wild Bunch revitalized a completely played out genre that had been reduced to stylized farce by that point.)

I do think that something that's purely entertainment with nothing else to say, can't be great art. Elvgren's work, for instance, really is just entertainment, as much as I admire the sweet craftsmanship.

6/24/2010 3:42 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Are you just acting as the community spell-check or was there some other reason for pointing out my typo? Yup, I am aware that 'kitsch' a German word."

I think he was trying to point out that it makes sense that Germans would take kitsch to a whole new level, as they invented the term -- is that right?

"I do think that something that's purely entertainment with nothing else to say, can't be great art. Elvgren's work, for instance, really is just entertainment, as much as I admire the sweet craftsmanship."
So when you say it can't be 'great art' do you mean to say that it can't be great, or that it can't be art?

6/24/2010 3:53 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

That is to say, would you maintain that while it can't be great art it can be bad art and great entertainment?

6/24/2010 3:54 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh, and on the subject of German's and their taking kitsch to the next level I would like to present to you DÖF

6/24/2010 4:15 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I mean to say that a work of art can be excellent entertainment without being great as art.

Elvgren's work is clearly art, not great as art, but which is great entertainment as far as the cheesecake genre goes. It has nothing to say except, "hey big boy, my dress has accidentally caught on the (whatever prop it happens to be)."

6/24/2010 4:48 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Clearly Plan 9 From Outer Space is excellent entertainment yet terrible art.

6/24/2010 4:50 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Richard said, "Oh, and on the subject of German's and their taking kitsch to the next level I would like to present to you DÖF."

Yes...kitsch and slightly unsettling.

6/24/2010 5:11 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Kev,
I completely agree that subject matter should be taken out of the equation....and I agree that a thing well done is better than a thing poorly done.
But, I guess what I'm getting at (definitions of "art" aside) is why would a Birstadt painting of a beautiful landscape be nobler than an Elvgren painting of a pretty girl?
Why do people feel embarassed when they honestly enjoy something they know is simple or obvious or, even sometimes imperfectly executed?
I guess there's a fear that it exposes a lack of education or "culture"
But, if you can tell the difference between a black velvet bullfighter painting and a Velázquez...and you just really like bullfighters on velvet, that may be odd, but so what.
And what if you are ignorant?
That kind of thing isn't irreversable. No one's born knowing who Michaelangelo is.
From the viewer's side of things, I'd say "whatever floats your boat" We may not have much in common...and I might even find your tastes offensive (a hypothetical "you"....not Kev)
But it's not a crime ....at least I hope not...(with some people's taste, you never know)
From the creator's side of things, it gets tougher because they do have to worry about quality and value and what "good" is. They hate it when their stuff sucks and they try to figure out how to do it better.
So, they spend a lot of time analyzing and comparing and picking on stuff......

Hm....actually, I just thought the viewer might be as invested in this as the creator. A lot of times the viewer is kind of creating his/her image of themselves based on the stuff they surround themselves with. To an extant that's true...so, I suppose people don't want to say "I'm a low brow idiot" to the world.
So...are we arguing what "art" is because it's a fun mental exercise, or out of genuine curiosity or so we can keep from looking like idiots....or so we can be sure we don't produce crap ourselves?
Or...maybe we're trying to figure out who we are in relation to each other, by how we each define art.

6/24/2010 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Kev,
I scribbled my last comment out and then got caught in a meeting before I posted it....so it's kind of out of synch with your more current comments

6/24/2010 5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ananymous being me.....

6/24/2010 5:27 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. "

6/24/2010 5:29 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Geez....let me try that again.
I'm the last two anonymouses

6/24/2010 5:32 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"subject matter should be taken out of the equation..."

I couldn't possibly disagree more. Subject matter is paramount.

If we were to make it law that you may only paint pictures of Dear Leader do you really think the art in that context (all other factors aside) could be the equal to art when there is a freedom of subject matter/storytelling and all the rest (again, all other factors aside)?

6/24/2010 5:39 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Norm,

The reason I got into all this stuff was because I was sick of all the propaganda against illustration and realist art that was being taught to and used by postmodernists as a political tool. What I kept hearing sounded like nonsensical dogma, but I had no way of combating it. So I dove in to the philosophy to arm myself.

I only came to realize just how much aesthetic philosophy there was, how closely argued it was, and how extensively it could apply to my own artwork long after I began.

On the Bierdstadt versus Elvgren point: That's actually a really good question and one that I think about often. The basic gist of it, as I see it, is the difference between art that offers transcendence and art that offers titillation.

Titillation is a substitute for something else, or a prelude to something else. Titillation is a real emotion, it is obvious how titillation causes its effects. It does not engage the higher mind and offers no sustenance to it.

Transcendence, on the other hand, is complete in itself as an end. Transcendent ideas communicated through art give the viewer the experience of Aesthetic Emotion, which is contemplative, arresting, and refreshing to the soul... yet the mechanism by which transcendence affects us remains mysterious. It's a kind of magic only available to art.

Hope that explains it a little better.

There's no reason Dear Leader can't be a subject of a great work of art, just like Genghis Kahn or Ivan the Terrible can be the subject of a great work.

6/24/2010 6:37 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Richard,
I think those are restrictions instead of subject matter. I think a gifted artist could do a painting of "Dear Leader" that's the equal of any other subject matter....given a free hand.
And sometimes, an artist can even say something profound in spite of the restrictions (I'm thinking of some of the films made in Hollywood when the restrictions were the tightest)

6/24/2010 6:37 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

the subject matter of Elvgren's art (girls flashing their stockings) is clearly what is holding the art back from being high-minded/sublime/transcendent, not his painterly technique. therefore subject matter can't be irrelevant.

6/24/2010 6:54 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Why is a flash of montain top more high minded than a flash of thigh?

6/24/2010 7:09 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

....or maybe I should say, what's so hot about being high minded?

6/24/2010 7:12 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

...or, would you say a Lucian Freud nude is more high minded than Elvgren?
Why?
Subject matter or technique?

...or just the thought behind the work?

6/24/2010 7:17 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

... the motivation.

6/24/2010 7:19 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Fair enough....but why?
I'm not trying to be difficult, and in a sense I'm arguing against the way I see things myself, but why is Freud's motivation better?

6/24/2010 7:22 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The evidence for the motivation must be in the work itself. An artist can say his motivation is anything.

There can only be one core to a work, one motive. If the motive is to titillate you, why not just go find some porn. Or a girl. Clearly there are more effective ways to titillate than through art.

Great Art alone provides aesthetic emotion, though. Thus, it would seem, that is Art's function and its purity.

But art is a kind of religion (or ideology). If you don't believe in the higher value of aesthetic emotion or imaginative transcendence, or you can't experience these phenomena, there's really nothing more to say... you will not differentiate aesthetic emotion from pornography on a scale of "spiritual" values. (I'm not talking supernaturality here, but the moral life of the mind.)

6/24/2010 7:49 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Kev,
I think I get your point, that a painting of a mountain that adds nothing, is just a poor substitute for a real mountain. But, a painting that does add something (either through technique or context or something else) has transcended nature porn....and has become art.
That seems reasonable.

6/24/2010 8:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Norm,

You have it exactly.

6/24/2010 9:35 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

"Nature porn." Hahaha...that's a word that would raise eyebrows out of context.

Kev,

I really like your line of thought here. You've mentioned the term, "aesthetic emotion," a number of times. I have a sense of it, but could you define exactly (if that's possible) what you mean by that?

6/24/2010 10:13 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Ray,

If you've ever looked a work of art and, without knowing how or why, it utterly dazzled your mind (in a beautiful way), you already know what aesthetic emotion is.

Rumi called it “a freshness in the center of the chest.”

Nabokov’s character Humbert refers to it as “…that flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition.”

How this effect is achieved, I'm not qualified to answer.

6/24/2010 11:19 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/25/2010 5:35 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Norm: "Why is a flash of montain top more high minded than a flash of thigh?


this sounds like a riddle along the lines of 'why is a raven like a writing desk?'

the beyond, the sublime, the transcendent (as Kev prefers) all point to the edge of our understanding.the area where human knowledge falls away and immateriality (spirituality if you like) takes over.when we gaze up at a distant mountain peak it stands quite simply, for the beyond. the fact that it is up in the clouds where God is usually pictorially placed only adds to the symbolism. the fact that the mountain is huge and looks almost impossible to conquer adds to the effect still further. when people stand on the beach and look out at the distant horizon it's the same thing. the vastness and visual emptiness is likely to bring on contemplation of loftier things in a way that looking at girl's stocking tops never will. not that there's anything wrong with lustful fantasy, but such things keep you trapped at the physical level and don't encourage the mind to wander further afield. i think music is better at suggesting the sublime than the visual arts because it already has lack of corporeality on its side and is therefore much closer to the ethereal realm of pure thought and emotion. i can't think of anything much more sublime than the 3rd movement of Beethoven's string quartet number 132.


Norm: "...would you say a Lucian Freud nude is more high minded than Elvgren?"


yes, for a simple reason; Freud's paintings emphasize the fragility of the human form and with that comes reminders of mortality. death is used again and again in art as a pointer to the sublime.

6/25/2010 5:41 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Norm: "....or maybe I should say, what's so hot about being high minded?"


this is a different question all together and is along the lines of "why can't i eat cheese burgers* all the time?"

well, you can but it won't be very healthy for you.



*i hope you're taking note Richard.

6/25/2010 5:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..at One with the Universe..
one year ago today,
Flying Free,
Michael Joseph Jackson
Art Personified

D.H.

6/25/2010 9:36 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob Howard wrote: "The really cool part of the story is that Muybridge raised the boy and named him after his biological father (there are records of that), proving that he was a vengeful sonofabitch."

I agree the Muybridge story is cool, but not without its moral ambiguities. Who would you say Muybridge was being vengeful toward by naming the boy after his biological father? The faithless wife? The father of the boy? I would hate to think it was the boy, who as far as I can tell was the only blameless party. On the larger scale, ever since OJ Simpson I've thought that murder was a pretty impotent response to being cuckolded. Sure, you obliterate lives whose existence is an affront to you, and perhaps inflict some pain along the way, but that doesn't change the fact that you were inadequate to inspire the continued love and loyalty of your mate. Instead, it kind of freezes that unpleasant reality in time forever. You have eliminated the possibility of any volitional act to come after and make things better (or worse). It seems more an act of weakness than an act of strength.


Laurence John wrote: Norm: "....or maybe I should say, what's so hot about being high minded?"

This is a different question all together and is along the lines of "why can't i eat cheese burgers all the time?"

Laurence, I think you are overstating Norm's case. The closer analogy is, "why can't I enjoy cheeseburgers more than pheasant under glass from time to time?" You don't have to eat cheeseburgers "all the time" to share Norm's concern; you just need a palate that recognizes occasions when the cheap thrill of a cheeseburger is preferable to more "high minded" fare.

I am not saying that Norm is necessarily in such a relationship, but I read somewhere that sometimes even "high minded," happily married, monogamous couples experience Kevin's "aesthetic emotion" when the wife gets tarted up with heavy rouge and outfits from Frederick's of Hollywood. When those couples ask you, as Norm did, "what's so hot about being high minded?" I think you'll have to come up with a better answer than your cheeseburger analogy if you hope to persuade them.

6/25/2010 10:56 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "i think music is better at suggesting the sublime than the visual arts because it already has lack of corporeality on its side and is therefore much closer to the ethereal realm of pure thought and emotion. i can't think of anything much more sublime than the 3rd movement of Beethoven's string quartet number 132."

This subject fascinates me, and should be the basis for a dozen separate posts. One of the arguments in favor of abstract art is that it is much closer to the "lack of corporeality" that we love in music. Do you have thoughts on this?

There is also the argument, of course, that just as you cannot have a politically neutral or narrative-free work of abstract art, music unavoidably has external reference points as well (Beethoven's "pastoral" or Grieg's "Morning Mood" being two obvious examples.)

PS-- I love that string quartet, although these days I prefer the piano concertos. As you say, "sublime."

6/25/2010 11:08 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Great Art alone provides aesthetic emotion, though. Thus, it would seem, that is Art's function and its purity."

Kev, you have some thoughtful and reasonable things to say about how art works, but my view remains that the "purity" of art is an illusion; as I see it, art is a hybrid bastard half breed offspring of group sex between an angel, an alien from another planet, a half-human creature living in a cave on the outskirts of town, Captain Ahab, Lady Chatterly's gardener and an old carnival barker named Pete. (To make art's genealogy even harder to diagram, at least two of the participants in that long ago orgy were rumored to be on mind-expanding hallucinogenics at the time, which altered their chromosomes.) Those who try to explain art and articulate an internally consistent "system" complete with definitions can do interesting and sometimes illuminating and important work but I suspect they are always doomed to be thwarted by strains of art that pop up inconveniently outside the system they construct. (It has been my experience that art doesn't like being tied to definitions, and will come back at you with a vengeance if you even try.)

For example, you say above, "Great Art alone provides aesthetic emotion." This quickly takes you back to our differences about a dividing line between the aesthetics of art and the aesthetics of nature, from the previous post. You're going to have to explain to me how a viewer's reaction to the color, design and shape of a flower is qualitatively different from a viewer's reaction to the color, design and shape of a painting. Don't both viewers bring similar aesthetic faculties to bear? How is the creativity with which a painter views nature different from the creativity with which a critic views the painting of nature?

You may assert that Great Art alone provides aesthetic emotion, but I think you quickly run into definitional problems at the boundaries between "Great Art" and cheap art, or between Great Art and nature. In the last post, you disqualified the Lightning Field from the domain of genuine art. If you think that the feelings created by the Lightning Field don't qualify as "aesthetic emotion" because it has too high a percentage of nature, how do you categorize the feelings created by Stonehenge? What is the difference between megaliths in the middle of a field and metal poles in the middle of a field?

You are a brave man to say things like "that is art's function" or "There can only be one core to a work, one motive." You say them in interesting ways, but it seems to me that there are so many of strains of art-related activity that don't fall easily into your you categories, you will inevitably get peeled back by endless contrary examples. (Surely "King Lear" does not have just one core or motive?) As far as I can tell, those who fight for a unified field theory of art usually end up getting pushed back to increasingly narrower, more exclusionary definitions of art. Eventually, the price of a logical explanation for art seems to be the loss of the kind of living, breathing force that art needs to be to continue.

6/25/2010 11:33 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

Kev said, "Ray,

If you've ever looked a work of art and, without knowing how or why, it utterly dazzled your mind (in a beautiful way), you already know what aesthetic emotion is.

Rumi called it “a freshness in the center of the chest.”

Nabokov’s character Humbert refers to it as “…that flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition.”

How this effect is achieved, I'm not qualified to answer."

Yes, indeed. It's probably not achieved equally among different people by the same thing. I think perhaps that the greater the work of art, the greater its ability to inspire this in more people.

Certainly, I've also had that experience with a piece of music and even when seeing a particularly beautiful woman for the first time—which is not to be confused with seeing a really hot chick wearing very little for the first time...if you get my distinction. One is elevating and the other is debasing.

6/25/2010 11:37 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Hah... no, no, no "tarting up" causes real emotion, David. We have to get this straight. (no pun intended)

And no, "aesthetic emotion" is certainly not "mine".

On cuckolds... I've been propositioned by more married women and girlfriends of good friends than you can shake twelve sticks at. Either there are a heck of a lot of weak men out there, or a heck of a lot of women have no concept of loyalty whatsoever. (Why this is so would be a long, highly politically incorrect conversation.)

I hardly think of the story of Bierdstadt's triangle as a romantic story. Single girls meeting single guys is romantic. Otherwise the situation is complicated and somebody is getting hurt or embarrassed. (People who enjoy the added frisson of danger that complication affords are people that are looking to wreck their lives.)

One of the great things about modern women is that they have jobs and can move out and become single and independent... reducing the complexity considerably, and allowing room for unfettered romance.

6/25/2010 11:52 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

"music unavoidably has external reference points as well (Beethoven's "pastoral" or Grieg's "Morning Mood" being two obvious examples.)"

I don't know that I follow. They are iconic pieces and thus...? They're heavily referenced?

6/25/2010 11:59 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

"even when seeing a particularly beautiful woman for the first time—which is not to be confused with seeing a really hot chick wearing very little for the first time...if you get my distinction. One is elevating and the other is debasing."

Hot chick |= beautiful woman?

Isn't the difference just how much they let on that they enjoy having intercourse?

6/25/2010 12:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard, I just meant that even musical notes are not purely abstract or incorporeal because they tell a story. You can't listen to the Beethoven or the Grieg I mentioned without thinking about the sun coming up in a beautiful country landscape. You can't listen to "Night on Bald Mountain" or for that matter, random notes in a minor key, without it suggesting a different scenario. In that sense, music doesn't quite achieve the purity Laurence describes when he writes that its "lack of corporeality [makes it] much closer to the ethereal realm of pure thought." Its connnotations can still leave us "trapped at the physical level." But I do agree with Laurence's general point.

6/25/2010 12:09 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Single girls meeting single guys is romantic."
You don't find it romantic when married Indian girl falls in love with kindly European man, thus escaping the trap of organized marriage and falling in love for herself for the first time?


"Otherwise the situation is complicated and somebody is getting hurt or embarrassed."
Does someone getting hurt and embarrassed really mean it isn't romantic? I mean, no matter what single woman you are falling for chances are there is a geezer out there who wishes he still had her and there will be a number of geezers in the future who wish they could have her; your getting together will invariably cause some people torment, that doesn't make the relationship your in feels any less romantic.

"People who enjoy the added frisson of danger that complication affords are people that are looking to wreck their lives."
Just because they've fallen in love outside of their relationship they are looking to wreck their lives? Isn't it possible that they just happened to find someone whos a better fit outside of the orthodox monogamous relationship that they were duped into?

6/25/2010 12:13 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Richard, I just meant that even musical notes are not purely abstract or incorporeal because they tell a story."

Well, yes, mostly. I guess almost always if you are listening to strictly 12tet Western music -- we're just too oversaturated with this overly simple system of music. It's caused us to hear the same song 10,000 times before with 10,000 different names.

If however you break out of our 7 note pieces, or even the slightly higher complexity of chromaticism, and move away from strict systems of tonality that gives music a lot more of a chance to move towards abstraction/ethereality.

I mean, if we only painted abstract expressionist pieces with 7 pure colours you could see how quickly those paintings would fall into genre/icons.

6/25/2010 12:23 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

"Lack of corporeality," the best artist know there is nothing behind form, that's why they can do so much with it. Abstract painters tend to be the most literary and literal of painters.

Signs generated thought. Better to see the relations between things.

6/25/2010 12:56 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

David,
Thanks, I think you stated my point pretty clearly.
I feel like at some point here I should say,how I really feel, instead of my hypothetical arguments.
Sexy art when it really gets me going kind of makes me uneasy. Milo Manara stuff is too effective for my taste.
My speed is more like the Sparrow art book of John Watkiss' paintings. Beautiful nudes...but they don't press "those" buttons.
I also get a little creeped out by guys at comic conventions asking other guys to draw Wonder Woman naked, or guys who's art collections are nothing but a lot of beaver shots.
I was asking the questions I asked here, pretty much to myself as much as anyone else.
I think Claire Wendling may walk the line better than most. Her Aphrodite stuff is sensual as heck and does press "those" buttons...but the artistry isn't overwhelmed.....at least for me.
But, I'm still arbitrary. I like Bill Ward stuff a lot....and Little Annie Fanny.
So...who knows....

As for all the "What Is Art" stuff here, I'm ok with Kev's definition working for Kev...and I can sure see his point. My definition is more along the lines of communicating through a particular disipline. I think a cartoon can be just as valid as a symphony or a comic book or a novel. It just all depends on how well it's done and how much value I place on the ideas communicated.
I don't feel the need to have that definition work for anyone else, but it's pretty close to a description of what works for me.
And I think it's fun to talk to other people about how they define art.
I think it says something about them more than art itself.

6/25/2010 1:35 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, :)

I get it. You are constitutionally against the idea of aesthetic philosophy that reaches any conclusions about basic principles of Art. You want space for the free creativity of human beings to make what they will to express themselves without being burdened by old standards and crusty judgments.

I think, in a sense, because you will not stoop to defining Art, you take the word Art to be a kind of honorific, a bit of praise, a salutation. Or maybe a meaningless advertising word and nothing more.

All that is fine. We are only sharing opinions here. I have sympathy with all that as a humanist... I love a lot of the work that gets made that has literally no use or sense to it... just a bit of silliness, a splash of color, a strange shape, a fun and unexpected combination of elements, a circular pile of stones.... all great.

But there really are distinctions to be drawn between something great, (like King Lear), and something minor, (like people with television sets for heads bumping into each other on a stage until, after a half an hour, a man in a bright red suit comes on to announce that the audience are stupid consumers of mindless shows.) If such a distinction matters to you, investigating the distinction is not simply an exercise, but an effort to come up with some answers.

(I should insert here, that I hope it is understood that everything I say is open for argument. However, if I prefaced every single thing I write with "in my opinion..." there wouldn't be much use in writing at all.)

So, on your protests...

Stonehenge: I don't need to categorize the feeling one gets from seeing stonehenge because nobody is calling it art. Its just an attraction.

The difference between the aesthetics of nature and the aesthetics of a human created work, is that humans make organized marks for a reason... it is understood that we are imparting information. When we look at nature, we may be overcome by a feeling of peace or terror, but there's no symbolic content to this experience. We can't contemplate terror when we are terrified. The experience has not been distilled for consumption.

King Lear: I agree the play is unweildy. But I've always thought the core of it was a fairly straightforward theme, as played out by Lear: The wise placement of trust versus the foolish placement of trust. Lear, in a moment of weakness, places his trust in the flattering words of knaves, rather than his favorite daughter, who will not flatter. Everything else spirals out from there. This theme is echoed, with variation, in the secondary story about the nobleman. The crusty old principle involved is that the core of a narrative is the theme.

6/25/2010 2:00 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard,

Your Indian girl scenario is a romantic story. But the complexity of such a thing in real life, not the cliff notes-storybook version, leads me back to the idea that, in real life, the most pure romance is between two unattached people. Without attachments, the freedom is greatest and there is the least likelihood that others are being harmed/tormented by the romance. Call me crazy, but I believe harming others in the process of pursuing our desires, taints the joy of pursuing and fulfilling those desires.

I didn't say that "because they've fallen in love outside of their relationship they are looking to wreck their lives." What I actually wrote was regarding people who pursue infidelity because it is thrilling... those people are self-destructive.

6/25/2010 2:13 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Also...for the sake of full disclosure, years and years ago I did a couple stories for a "stroke" comic called "One Fisted Tales" But...I still couldn't help trying to get all political with them.....like my story "The Nipples of Satan" where a kid accidentaly sees nipples on TV and goes on a crazed rampage. Because that's what nipples would do, and why we must hide them away from decent folks.

So, if I haven't "titillated" too....it's only because my drawings weren't good enough.

6/25/2010 2:16 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"We can't contemplate terror when we are terrified. The experience has not been distilled for consumption."
When I see a wasp slowly laying it's eggs in the back of a big squishy caterpillar I can definitly contemplate terror without personally being scared for my own wellbeing.

"What I actually wrote was regarding people who pursue infidelity because it is thrilling... those people are self-destructive."
But why welse would you pursue infidelity, or any relationship for that matter. Sex is fun! If we look at pre-Westernized Japan it was highly accepted for both the man and woman to take lovers as long as you take care of the brats. They were having infidelitous relationships because those relationships were exciting. Were they self-destructive? No!

Infidelity is often the only thing you can do to keep sane in a poor pairing, but with kids in the mix.

Also, if we didn't live in this world with its awful monogamy morals it wouldn't ever be a destructive thing, there wouldn't be anything to lose.

"Art can show us these subtle distinctions: in American movies, having an affair usually means you’re the villain, while in French films, it more often means you’re the protagonist. I found, while travelling the world to research a book on the subject, that simple conversation can also whittle out the emotional rules. In Japan, a married woman was confused when I asked if she felt guilty about having a lover; the thought hadn’t occurred to her, as she was otherwise meeting her obligations to her family.

In Moscow, a family psychologist perked up when I brought up the subject of adultery. “It’s obligatory,” she said. Surely I had misunderstood her? “No,” she insisted, “I think it’s wise,” and went on to explain that she had enjoyed a number of extramarital affairs during her own 15-year marriage - although lately she had cut back because she was so busy at work. Then she wrote her name in my notebook to make sure I got the spelling right."

God, I hate monogamy.

6/25/2010 3:15 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard,

1. Your first example isn't the experience of terror, but the experience of revulsion and horror. And that experience tells you nothing except that you are squeamish. Contemplation isn't just looking and feeling grossed out.

2. In your second example, I wasn't talking about "open relationships."

3. Sex may be fun, but betrayal isn't. In my examples, I was talking about a situation where there is a mutual understanding that there is a commitment, and therefore there is the possibility of betrayal.

4. Of course infidelity keeps some sane. True. Long term relationships can be difficult. But, as you may recall, I was talking about "what is romantic", not "shit happens and I gotta screw somebody else or I'll go mad."

A society of people acting like animals on the sly has nothing to do with romance. You seem to think romance means humping. So a society that is, uh, petering itself out, is a more romantic society.

My experience of romance is really about ever increasing intimacy, physically and psychically. The anonymity of sex wherever and whenever seems the opposite of that.

6/25/2010 3:56 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"And that experience tells you nothing except that you are squeamish. Contemplation isn't just looking and feeling grossed out."

Theres more than squeamishness when you watch something like that. There is the end of a life, the futility of the struggle, the cold hard truth. Do you see this as much different than that painting of the lions approaching the praying christians in Rome?

"You seem to think romance means humping."
Well, if not synonymous they're certainly related.

6/25/2010 4:05 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Rich,

I guess "contemplation" was a bad word choice as it is associated with conscious deliberation, which isn't part of an aesthetic emotional experience.

There is a difference between conscious philosophizing and epiphany.

If you recall how your experience went, you will see that your horror and revulsion gave way to morbid fascination and then philosophizing. You were never horrified at the same time as you were consciously philosophizing. There was a transition that happened after you became acclimated to the horror. This separation of event and understanding is the hallmark of an experience.

Aesthetic Emotion is based on aesthetic epiphany, where event and understanding are united.

(Even though I used a quote from Robert McKee last time on this point, it was Joyce who first began using the word epiphany in this context, and he was translating from the german idealists)

From what you write about Romance, I wonder if you've ever been in love. You seem to deny that possessiveness plays any part in matters of the heart. Or is it that you think humans should get beyond possessiveness?

6/25/2010 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So where's the illustration? That's what distinguished this place from every other asshole/artsy bookstore philosophical...hey-look-at-my-writing-but-I-can't-draw blog. Now it's about more friggin' painters, not illustration.

6/25/2010 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So where's the illustration? That's what distinguished this place from every other asshole/artsy bookstore philosophical...hey-look-at-my-writing-but-I-can't-draw blog. Now it's about more friggin' painters, not illustration.

6/25/2010 9:42 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I also prefer the posts on illustration more than posts on fine art but I like these posts about sex most of all. I'd like to see a whole blog of this Artists in Love series. I like the unusual way he discusses pictures and fucking.

6/26/2010 7:49 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

"You seem to deny that possessiveness plays any part in matters of the heart. Or is it that you think humans should get beyond possessiveness?"

It sure does, but that insecurity doesn't need to be played to. Some of the happiest relationships I've ever seen were polyamorous, and that's not in spite of the insecurity but often because of it. It can really go a long way towards bringing two people together ironically enough.

6/26/2010 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about discussing the bathroom habits of the mistresses of well known artists. That will keep everyone typing. After all, not many can talk about illustration past saying what they like and the occasional Frazatta story

Yeah, girlfriends in the loo. That should drive up the readership.

6/26/2010 7:54 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

What sort of bathroom habits were you thinking of?

6/27/2010 9:30 PM  
Blogger Leah Waichulis said...

Really interesting, thanks for posting!

6/28/2010 10:16 AM  
Blogger Joyce said...

Much as I love Bierstadt's small trail studies, these larger compositions remind us that artists tend to masticate their subject until it is rendered as their vision. For example, Bouguereau's beautys usually have dirty feet; and Bierstadt's majestic western landscapes were the equilvalent of a made for TV vision of the pristine prelapsarian west. If you want to know what something looks like in reality, you need to go and see it for yourself. Even photographs can be manipulated to tell what the artist has in mind for you to see. As always David, thanks for the thoughtful prodding as to what makes it art.

6/28/2010 1:58 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous said: "Now it's about more friggin' painters, not illustration."

Anonymous, I have always had trouble distinguishing between friggin' painters and friggin' illustrators. There are some obvious cases at the extreme ends of the spectrum, but mostly a huge gray area in the middle. Do you have a definition you'd like to propose?

(Another?) Anonymous wrote: "How about discussing the bathroom habits of the mistresses of well known artists."

Anonymous, I have written on Bonnard's famous series on his mistress Marthe in the bath. Does that count?

Leah-- thanks very much! I appreciate hearing from you.

Joyce-- "prelapsarian"? Oooh, I like that!

6/29/2010 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rosalie's dress is lovely.

7/09/2010 11:58 AM  

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