Thursday, March 13, 2014

CLARIFICATIONS



Last week's series on the importance of good drawing prompted the following observations from other web sites:
"Apatoff is always infuriating...."

"He seems to have a real bug up his behind.... "

"[F]or fuck’s sake."

"You don’t understand comics."
 

"cartooning isn’t drawing,"

"[Y]ou invariably write nonsense."
 

"Chris Ware’s comics... do not employ drawing.... "
Others might rest on their laurels at this point, but I have three additional clarifications to offer on the subject of good drawing:

1.  I do not equate good drawing with 1950s photo-realism.   Compare this excellent drawing by Picasso


with this terrible drawing from the Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Stories


Both drawings show distorted figures locked in an embrace.  Both employ bold, loose, rapid lines.  But in the first example, the distortions are compelled by expressive necessity while in the second, they result from technical ignorance.  Too many artists today think their technical ignorance is concealed simply because drawings are no longer expected to be realistic.  But viewers can still tell the difference.


2.  Technical skill can empower, not diminish,  imagination.  Look at John Cuneo's splendid drawing of an alligator excited by the arrival of his goldfish martini:


The subject matter is anything but realistic, yet it is obvious from special touches such as the alligator's excited little hands or his smiling eyes that Cuneo is a brilliant draftsman. 
 

 Last week I wrote about how Leonard Starr's ability to draw hands provided a separate stream of information, parallel to the text, which enhanced the expressive quality of the picture.  Cuneo's alligator hands won't be found in any anatomy book, yet note the great precision with which they were rendered.  A few fingers in different directions or a few of those seemingly casual lines moved to the left or the right would make the hands less perfect.

I think Cuneo is just about the most psychologically complex illustrator working today.  Look at the following detail from a different picture of an alligator, this one lolling with snakes and empty wine bottles on a living room floor. 


For those who argued last week that drawing is less important than the "emotional resonance" of the subject matter, consider how Cuneo's dark  imaginative content would be diminished if it were not accompanied by his great drawing skill.


3.  A drawing should not be excused from excellence merely because it is one panel in the service of a larger narrative.  Disney animator Preston Blair drew a hippo dancing in a ballet tutu for the movie Fantasia.  His sketches are not "realistic"--  you'll never find photo reference to show how the rolls of fat would hang from a hippo  prancing on her toes-- yet they are persuasive to us because Blair's drawing ability and his understanding of forms enabled him to project how a dancing hippo might operate in real life.  




These sketches are another wonderful example of how imagination is empowered by technical skill.

A number of commenters explained to me last week that the drawings inside those little panels in graphic novels should not be evaluated as "drawings" because they are merely in the service of some story.  It is the "larger narrative" I should be concerned about, not the qualities of some component.  But take another look at Blair's loving drawings of that hippo, which make up a far smaller part of Fantasia's narrative than a panel in a graphic novel.  Rather than impede the flow of the narrative, they insure that every ingredient contributes its own holistic excellence. If Blair had told his boss Walt Disney, "these individual drawings don't need to look good because they are in the service of a larger narrative," Disney would have fired his ass, and he would have been right to do so.   



202 Comments:

Blogger Excessit said...

I think readers may have misunderstood you because you only picked Starr's drawings (which display a specific style) and put them against heavily styilized drawings from Ware etc.

The best example you made is the "squishing a bug" panel in part one. If you cover the lettering in Starr's panels you can still make out what's going on in the panel and there's very little to misunderstand in the drawing and what mood it's trying to convey. The composition is amazing. At the same time the Lapp drawing becomes very ambiguous without the caption, and although these choices still belong to the skillset of a draftsman, it's easy to misunderstand the whole argument as by-the-book realism vs. stylized drawings.

The point (unless I'm mistaken) of the of importance of clarity, composition, gesture et cetera would be better exemplified if you included panels from different authors say Jeff Smith or Carl Barks (who don't draw realistically but make powerful choices in gesture and / or composition) and put them against - say - the hyperdetailed and horribly cluttered superhero stuff from part 3.

I agree with the criticism from other users that Starr is theatrical, but is that really bad? Comics can make good use of the exaggeration to deliver a clearer, better message. I see it like the practice of squashing / stretching or breaking models in animation. It's technically unrealistic but it paradoxically looks flat otherwise. But then again you have outstanding artists like Moebius, Gibbons, Guarnido etc. who deliver it perfectly (and then you have taste).

One last note: the title of the series sounds a little biased which might be why people got uppity. It's a very interesting article though!

3/13/2014 1:52 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Ah, critics...

Well, take heart. Those cranks can nitpick you til the cows come home. But in this roiling cesspool we call the internet, your blog is still one of the few bidets.

Cheers.

3/13/2014 4:07 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

Picasso Cuneo and Blair are all good reasons to visit this blog.

3/13/2014 4:10 PM  
Blogger The Jerk said...

this isn't to negate any of your points, but a mildly corrective footnote to the comment that "His sketches are not "realistic"-- you'll never find photo reference to show how the rolls of fat would hang from a hippo prancing on her toes"

while that's technically true, there was reference shot of a large woman to study in order to sharpen the artist's understanding of the weight and balance and body mechanics involved:
http://www.cartoonbrew.com/disney/hattie-noel-as-hyacinth-hippo-5115.html

If anything, though, this fact should only strengthen your argument that an artist should have sharp observational skills that are used in his drawings.

3/13/2014 4:27 PM  
Blogger rob said...

You are so correct!

3/13/2014 7:39 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Excessit-- That's a fair point. I used Starr for a consistent baseline because I think On Stage provides a sophisticated, elegant example of how these visual tools can be used. (Also because I think On Stage is under appreciated today, and I was able to show scans from the originals.) But you're right, if I mixed in a broader range of art, such as the work of some of the artists you suggest, some commenters might have been less concerned that I was advocating a return to 1950s soap opera strips.

Kev Ferrara-- when you put it that way, it sounds downright poetic.

MORAN-- Well, it is an unusual combination, but all of them have in common that they do mighty fine work.

3/13/2014 10:56 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

The Jerk-- Isn't that fascinating! Thanks for sharing. As you say, Blair still had some imaginative work to do, but it's interesting how Disney chose to get its artists as close as it could.

rob-- You're very kind, thanks for writing.

3/13/2014 11:19 PM  
Anonymous kristen said...

What makes the Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Stories illustration so bad?
I'm just curious. I'm not challenging you.
As a beginner, I'm not sure I can see what you can see in that illustration.

3/14/2014 7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to know what websites those quotes are from. I think they must make for some really hillarious reading. I certainly enjoyed "Cartooning is not drawing"! Hahahaha! Did you also know that chewing is not eating?

3/14/2014 9:15 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
What exactly is excellent in that Picasso drawing?

3/15/2014 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cuneo is a wierd dude but that aligator is sweet. IMO he is the best drawing illustrator now. I wish we could see more of his stuff. He did a famous New Yorker cover.

JSL

3/15/2014 9:53 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kristen-- I don't mean to single out the Smithsonian book for abuse. In my opinion there seems to be a broad trend among "prestigious" hardbound books and accompanying museum exhibitions (for example, the "Masters of American Comics" museum exhibition and its coffee table hardbound catalog, or the hardbound Best American Comics series, or the super deluxe two volume collection of Gary Panter's work) to embrace badly drawn comics because of the "mature" writing (usually of a woeful, alienated nature). This may be because the gatekeepers of cultural status seem to be either literary, cerebral types who have no apparent taste in visual art, or "fine" art experts who aren't sure what to make of comics and are afraid of appearing "uncool."

For me, it is a mistake to pin the new found legitimacy of comics on the writing portion, while giving the art a pass. I don't think the writing is that good, and I think it demeans the contribution of past comic artists such as Winsor McCay or George Herriman to say (as the Masters of American Comic Artists does) that their modern counterparts are Spiegelman, Panter and Ware. That's just my personal opinion.

Anonymous-- I think those exchanges are highly amusing. They ricocheted around a number of web sites but you can find some links at http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/index/go_read_david_apatoff_and_robert_fiore_discuss_comics/

3/16/2014 2:01 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc-- My initial reaction to your question was that I'd be a dope to try to explain a Picasso drawing about sex. I have no education or training about Picasso (the most studied artist of the 20th century) and sex is a thin ice topic for everyone except John Cuneo. Perhaps your question would be better directed to him.

But the heart of this blog is the philosophy that we should not allow ourselves to become lazy and thoughtless about pictures, that we should, with humility about the limits of reason, use our minds to explore why certain images are attractive to us. In that spirit I will offer my very personal reactions to that drawing.

S.J. Perelman famously said that "love is not the dying moan of a distant violin, it's the triumphant twang of a bed spring." Picasso's drawing, with the limbs all discombobulated and flying apart, the bodies scrambled the way that sometimes happens during The Act, makes it pretty clear which kind of experience he is describing. In fact, think about Walt Whitman's poem about the two eagles having sex as they tumbled through the air:

"...the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling...."

This is not an experience that calls for details like eyelashes and fingernails, or for the precise muscle structure of an "erotic" drawing by Boris or Olivia. Picasso's distortions seem necessary. And look at the marvelous way that he went about it: the big square shoulders and the small brain of the prototypical male ravishing the female, his lumpy arms clasping her in ways that Picasso newly invented; his desperate fingers like clubs. At the same time, the female figure reminds me of Yeats' poem about Leda and the Swan:

"How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?"

Look at her outstretched hand, more of an open tulip cup on an undulating stem than a limb from Vesalius. Or my god, look at those flailing disconnected legs receiving him.

These strange lines by Picasso are no coincidence. I wouldn't claim they were all consciously planned in advance-- with Picasso, odds are that they were largely intuitive (based of course on his extensive knowledge of academic and classical drawing). But they are insightful lines, worlds away from the random bullshit squiggly lines that populate so many graphic novels.

I like Picasso's treatment of her belly and breasts-- crucial ingredients for even the most sparse depiction of a female, going back to the Venus of Willendorf. I like those comic book shock lines flying out from the bodies (reminiscent of ythe opening lines of Leda). I even like the way the man's feet are backstopped by the edge of the picture for maximum traction and thrust. And despite the virility of this embrace I think there is tenderness and sensitivity and a kind of botanical inevitability in these simple, child-like lines.

So that's pretty much it. Picasso experts would undoubtedly ridicule my reaction, and I'm sure they'd be correct, but I don't pretend that this as anything more than my thinking out loud about why I personally find this drawing artistically titillating.

3/16/2014 4:56 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David,

Show me the Picasso experts and I'll show you the real dopes.

My problem is I see in this drawing everything I dislike about Picasso's work (see Guernica, Demoiselles d'Avignon, Three Musicians, etc): frenetic, staccato shapes of roughly equal size that bear no real relation to each other and have no or little overall design, other than by virtue of being crammed into the rectangle of the canvas like a strange jigsaw puzzle. His formula is, once recognized, hardly daring or innovative, but rather crude in a bland and dull way.

3/17/2014 12:50 AM  
Anonymous Jaylat said...

Thanks again for the wonderful commentary. Your comment on Best American Comics and the clueless gatekeepers is spot on. There's a real dearth of craft in comics, and most up-and-coming artists don't rate the ability to draw high up on their list of priorities.

The same also applies to current music, literature and art, but that just seems too depressing to point out.

3/17/2014 2:16 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David,

from that link you provided above: Jonathan Barli's (March 7) critique of your critique echoes much of my own comments over the past few posts, particularly on the point of seeing what is in a work rather than what isn't.

by continually comparing someone like Ware to someone like Starr or Cuneo you're missing what is unique about Ware, and how Starr or Cuneo's particular 'technical skill' serves precisely the content they're drawing.
to put it another way: if Ware drew more like Cuneo he wouldn't be Ware anymore. however much you like Cuneo's work, his version of Jimmy Corrigan (if he had drawn it) would be a completely different thing than Ware's.
(i'm sure you would prefer the Cuneo version).

i would never say though (as Jonathan does) that 'cartooning isn't drawing'... it's a simplified, stylised, more graphic way of drawing, but it's still drawing. even Ware - in the McSweeney's intro i mentioned previously - is careful to say that 'cartooning isn't REALLY drawing'. that 'really' says quite a lot.

3/17/2014 8:18 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

David,

I've absolutely loved this latest series of entries and have been showing them to my illustration students—-who often neglect the finer points that add in conveying a concept or enhance greatly the storytelling.

I haven't commented in a couple years, but I've still been visiting your blog in the meantime. I always find a kindred spirit in much of your writing, and a lot of really good stuff to chew on in the disagreements from those who post comments.

The vitriol contained in some of the negative comments from detractors you posted here should be an encouragement that your doing something right--as illustrated in your thoughtful rebuttal to them.

3/17/2014 1:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc-- We will have to disagree about Picasso. I do believe his work was erratic; there are periods that I love and periods that leave me cold. But I don't think he followed one formula, I think he roamed far and wide. I give him extra points for mastering classical drawing before he went exploring and I also give him points for continuing to explore rather than sticking with his initial successes. Perhaps those factors helped to persuade me that he was worth the steep learning curve, but personally I'm glad I invested time in looking at his work. (Someday I want to study him, but there is so much material where do you start?) I don't find the drawing I've posted "crude in a bland and dull way." I think it's difficult to do this type of drawing well, although I'm not sure how I might explain it beyond my previous feeble effort. I will say that once we have left behind the more objective criteria, we have to work harder to distinguish good drawing from bad. There is a lot of subjectivity, and even more bullshit, in this area.

Jaylat-- Thanks for writing. There are a lot of very intelligent people who seem so caught up in the taste and value of our particular moment in culture, and who seem so ignorant of the larger landscape, that they appear to develop a kind of myopia. I don't begrudge them their enthusiasm for their favorites of the moment, until they start trying to boost them by comparing them to the true greats. In Masters of American Comics, Dave Eggers (who is generally a talented writer) compares today's ragtag graphic novelists with Mozart, Bach and Nabokov. In my view, he just makes himself look silly.

3/17/2014 2:07 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>"Cartooning is not drawing."

I agree with the sentiment behind that one.

The ideograms of modern Chinese evolved from (primitive) representational drawings, and evolved into nearly-pure abstracted symbol.

Cartoons are a type of communication that lie on a comparable continuum -- between representation in combination with text, to an alien language neither icon or symbol, but both simultaneously, an abstract strange language that I don't think exists yet.

To call cartooning drawing then is like calling the marking of early Chinese ideograms "drawing".

Cartooning is drawing, in part, but it's also something much more, and to lump it in with pure-drawing is misleading at best.

3/17/2014 2:24 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I thought that Jonathan Barli made some very sensible points, although I did not respond because he joined the fray after I had already bowed out. I share your view of his argument that "cartooning isn't drawing" but it seems that the difference between his position and yours is only a matter of degree. Both of you are making excuses (to one extent or another) for what I view as some pretty mediocre drawing inside those panels. My point in offering up the example of those Preston Blair drawings is that animation isn't REALLY drawing any more than graphic novels are, but that didn't stop Blair from being true to the calling.

I am trying desperately to get out of the business of criticizing Chris Ware. I think he does good work-- and I have zero desire to see Leonard Starr or Pablo Picasso or John Cuneo illustrate Jimmy Corrigan. Ware keeps coming up because people continue to insist to me that he is like Mozart or Bach, so I end up repeating why I disagree.

When I compare a Starr to a Ware, it's not because I am "missing what is unique about Ware," it's only to draw attention to the disparate treatment of different forms of excellence in comics, and to question that difference. There are a lot of excellent artists behind us who never received recognition for their work because pretentious, clueless art critics couldn't imagine anything respectable coming out of the comic pages (or any other aspect of popular culture for that matter.) Ultimately that old barrier was broken down as artists like Roy Lichtenstein borrowed comic images and put them in big gold frames. ("Ahhhh..." said the art critics, "now I can see that these drawings are really art.") Today, working in this previously disrespected medium is no barrier to getting a museum show or winning a Pulitzer prize. My gripe is that despite today's professed open mindedness, many talented artists who spent their lives doing excellent work are still dismissed as "the low end" of the art spectrum because many critics are still blinded by class distinctions and ignore good drawing because it is not from a worthy source or about a worthy subject. It turns out that to earn respect at the "high end," you can draw like shit as long as your subject is the psychological maladies of our age.

I am underwhelmed by the profundity of their themes regarding the psychological maladies of our age; when it comes to content, I think they offer the equivalent of the Classics Comics version of Kafka or Ionesco or O'Neill. Why don't we read the original versions?

Today's critics who ootz over Panter and company strike me as just the modern version of those old pretentious critics. They may pride themselves on being unpretentious and open to alternative views but they still don't get it. I don't accept their rationalizations for poor draftsmanship, I think they are ignorant about the importance and the difficulty of good draftsmanship. I feel insulted when they tell me that Spiegelman is our Michelangelo, and that's the only reason I opened my mouth on this whole issue to begin with. If I didn't have to defend Michelangelo and the under rated cartoonists of the 20th century, I would never have raised a peep against Spiegelman or Panter or Ware or anyone else.



3/17/2014 2:32 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>To call cartooning drawing then is like calling the marking of early Chinese ideograms "drawing".

And what's more, to hold up cartooning to the same standards we hold up drawing would be similarly inane as to critique the representational drafting abilities of early ideogram markers.

"Your drawing of an eye (目), is terrible, it's sideways and eyes are not rectangular!"

3/17/2014 2:33 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

This isn't drawing anymore, it's something else entirely.

3/17/2014 2:46 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "To call cartooning drawing then is like calling the marking of early Chinese ideograms "drawing". Cartooning is drawing, in part, but it's also something much more, and to lump it in with pure-drawing is misleading at best.

Well, I tend to view drawing as a mongrel pursuit-- there may be a "pure drawing" out there, but I've seen a lot of good drawings combined with letters or words, drawings with symbols, pictographs before they become ideograms, etc. I've seen ideograms with all the abstract beauty of a zen ink brush painting or a Franz Kline abstract expressionist canvas. If the individual panels in graphic novels retained the artistic integrity of an Egyptian hieroglyph, then I wouldn't complain.

Richard, I raised this question earlier but no one responded. You seem pretty fearless: why is it that fans of artists who have boldly crossed the boundary lines between comics and novels, between drawing and design, between words and pictures, suddenly become so dainty about preserving the boundaries between drawing and cartooning, or pictograms and ideograms? Isn't it like a little kid trying to make sure that his peas and mashed potatoes don't touch on his plate?

Ray-- Thanks very much. If we can get past the battles over nomenclature, I really believe there are some worthwhile issues lurking here for students and illustrators to puzzle through. I'm not saying that every artist should be staging pictures the way that Leonard Starr did-- the Picasso and the Cuneo drawings are both excellent examples of drawings with clear distortions and abnormalities, just as Chris Ware's or Gary Panter's are. The decision regarding when those distortions work and when they don't (and the ability to articulate your criteria, at least to yourself)... that's the real end game for me.

3/17/2014 2:57 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>>I've seen ideograms with all the abstract beauty of a zen ink brush painting or a Franz Kline abstract expressionist canvas. If the individual panels in graphic novels retained the artistic integrity of an Egyptian hieroglyph, then I wouldn't complain.

But how long did it take for Egyptian hieroglyphs to evolve to that point? We can't say for sure, but examples of the earliest stages in the evolution of pictographic systems suggests it was a very long time. e.g. A, B

It probably won't take the language that is evolving from 'cartoons' 20,000 years to make a similar movement into maturity, but it will take a damned long time, and I'm not sure we're in a very good position to try to critique the earliest caveman scrawlings of this new medium.



>>dainty about preserving the boundaries between drawing and cartooning [...] Isn't it like a little kid trying to make sure that his peas and mashed potatoes don't touch on his plate?

From the cartooning side, because we're constantly fighting for legitimacy, and to have legitimacy it's important for us to know who we are, what we're doing, and that requires some artificial boundaries.

From the Art side, because they're worried about the impending collapse of western civilization, the realization of the book of Revelations, and President Camacho outlawing the 'real' art.

3/17/2014 3:34 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

David said, "If we can get past the battles over nomenclature, I really believe there are some worthwhile issues lurking here for students and illustrators to puzzle through....The decision regarding when those distortions work and when they don't (and the ability to articulate your criteria, at least to yourself)... that's the real end game for me."

Agreed. I advised my students to not only read what you had written, but also to spend some time reading the comments because they served to provide some interesting push-back that often added clarity to the central issues being discussed...as well as providing additional critical considerations.

Starr DID employ a technique that was often very theatrical and overly dramatized (to our contemporary eyes). Some might immediately dismiss him for that because of these modern sensibilities. But, if one looks past the popular stylistic language of his time (if that indeed is a hurdle to overcome), one can see the fundamental grasp on visual language and the sensitivities that can be employed in a variety of situations—-including our contemporary one.

It is interesting that with the increased legitimacy of comics comes an almost inverse sensitivity (i.e. insensitivity) to the things that make comics such a compelling means of storytelling. However, I think that culture at large is become less sensitive to nuance and subtlety because of the lessening of our attention spans and the reduction in our vocabulary (both visual and written) which, in turn, simplifies the ability to think and express--not to mention linger over something and really engage with it.

3/17/2014 3:52 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard, just to cut to the chase here, cartooning is a form of symbolic writing. But so is drawing. And so is all art. What distinguishes the manga you present from great art is just how lacking in sublimity the manga is. The writing is baldly stated, so kids can lift right up off the surface with their conscious minds and get the idea. Words are the same way. Both can be written in stickers, and are.

Whereas with great art, the sublimity is so suffusing, that the mystery of the communication is retained. So the information can only be experienced, not read.

3/17/2014 4:07 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>>"Richard, just to cut to the chase here, cartooning is a form of symbolic writing. But so is drawing. And so is all art."

Drawings and cartoons are both signs, but drawings don't significantly rely on symbol. Rather, drawings rely on representation, and as a result it is very difficult for them to display contents which are not inherently visual. Cartooning, on the other hand, can utilize pure-symbol to make meanings known which are not easily told by representation alone.

Those manga expressions are instructive not as good drawings, but because they show clearly the current extremes of abstraction that cartooning can take to express a complex emotion (that in pure-Art wouldn't be possible).

The subtlety of the 83 emotion, for example, is not possible to show by representation alone. The sigh puff (or fart puff) is a completely abstracted shorthand of an invisible action. The blank face pushes that emotion to an extreme, and makes it visually readable where it otherwise could be confused for a merely neutral face.

(In the west our comics symbolia consists basically of lightbulbs for ideas, dotted lines for lines of sight, and stars for dizziness; we're behind.)

All of those subtleties make it so that manga narratives read naturally when compared to the staged, and stilted interactions of main-stream western comic book characters.

Again, cartooning is in its earliest stages, so the dictionary of symbols is still slim, but it is constantly growing, and the uses are becoming clearer by the minute.

>>>"kids can lift right up off the surface with their conscious minds and get the idea. Words are the same way. Both can be written in stickers, and are."

That's a strength. It's the entire reason as a species that we use writing.

>>>" just how lacking in sublimity the manga is"

The sublimity in manga comes generally from the narrative, not the images. I don't see that as a weakness, merely a difference.

3/17/2014 5:01 PM  
Blogger Chris James said...

Even elitist film critics are more open minded than Art Critics, who only seem to value looking inward and the meagerness that often results, or "innovation" for the sake of it, even though most everything done can be tied to an earlier movement or form of cultural expression.

But I will be bold and say that probably very few people's inner worlds or conflicts are so interesting or grand that they make for interesting or profound art. Certainly not most of the artists revered for exploring this inner terrain.

And the disdain for anything approaching representation or narrative is insanity. Who among their champions are equal to Bruegel or Goya, in craft or expression? Not many, I would say.

3/17/2014 5:11 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

But I don't think he followed one formula, I think he roamed far and wide.

I was addressing the formal qualities of what is Picasso's most characteristic style. Yes he indeed roamed far and wide. But that is the hallmark of a con man, not a great artist.

3/17/2014 5:17 PM  
Blogger Chris James said...

Kev,

The funny thing about that image is, if someone is at all familiar with manga or anime, those facial expressions don't need to be labeled. Facial expressions are codified in manga for the purpose of being instantly recognizable.

Then again, that's not a real manga artist who made that image.

3/17/2014 6:40 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Drawings and cartoons are both signs, but drawings don't significantly rely on symbol. Rather, drawings rely on representation, and as a result it is very difficult for them to display contents which are not inherently visual.

I've spent a lot of time down this rabbit hole. What I've learned is that there is nothing we can understand that isn't built of sensations. And there is no sensation that lacks a representation, or defies representation. Because our whole experience of mind is actually one long effort to correlate, categorize, and appreciate experience in terms. We can think of a great portion of our brains as simply a collection of symbol imprints and the clay used to allow more symbol imprints. Which is to say, our prime directive to acquire useful knowledge is an effort to accrue symbols of experience by which further experience may be navigated.

The natural form of this knowledge currency is distinct from the symbols on your keyboard. The dollar sign or asterisk, for instance, are pure symbols, in that their meanings share no natural aesthetic relation to their form. But the symbols of art, like the natural symbols we gather through the experience of life, are full up with form relation to their aesthetic nature, which is just why art is such a natural activity of man. (the principle "form follows function" is derived from natural experience, because organisms of any kind are only a collection of parts that function wholly due to their forms in functional formation. So to understand forms in their formation is to understand function. Which is also why humans invented the microscope.)

All to say, the distinction often drawn in semiotics between icon (representation) and symbol (call sign) becomes more of a continuum in the natural languages. Just like there is no cut off point when green becomes blue in color space (color being a natural language as well.)

Furthermore, there is no sensation we can feel that isn't also an index to a fact or a truth. The reason icons function to represent is because they are circumstantial evidence of presence. They are not themselves present except as experience which is merely the sensation of a fact, not the fact itself. And since all sensation only becomes knowledge by our brains rendering it as symbol to the mind, all indexes, too, are representations.

Thus the whole Piercian Icon-Index-Symbol distinction is one that works for text language in the a la carte way the taxonomy is presented, (particularly where poetic usage is avoided) but in the natural languages only as ingredients in a roux, if you get my meaning. Which means the entire category of signs is more like color space, a continuum, than a set with distinct members.

So when I say it is all symbols, I can also say it is all icons, or indexes. It is probably best to just call it all signs, but, as I have argued, these are distinctions with only academic differences.

3/17/2014 6:43 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Picasso is a wonderful cartoonist. Too bad that monetary, political, and institutional investments in modernism can not allow that obvious thought to be commonly recognized as so.

3/17/2014 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Fraser said...

My favourite Blog. I'm quite happy not to be 'with it' and cool if that means thinking that semi cloned panels and garbage drawing are good. Just looked at Peter deSevre's blog - some gorgeous sketches done on the subway - observation indeed. Keep up the good work! I love this blog.

3/18/2014 3:41 AM  
Blogger Excessit said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/18/2014 5:29 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Richard: "Rather, drawings rely on representation, and as a result it is very difficult for them to display contents which are not inherently visual."

i get your point, but lots of recent representational painters are exploring this territory by adding cartoony symbols, abstract shapes and / or abstract gestural marks to otherwise 'realistically' painted areas of the work. see Neo Rauch, or some of Kent William's recent work.
it seems to be all the rage. whether the non-representational stuff adds anything 'meaningful' or is simply decoration is open to debate.

3/18/2014 5:51 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

>lots of recent representational painters are exploring this territory by adding cartoony symbols, abstract shapes and / or abstract gestural marks to otherwise 'realistically' painted areas of the work. see Neo Rauch, or some of Kent William's recent work.
it seems to be all the rage. whether the non-representational stuff adds anything 'meaningful' or is simply decoration is open to debate.


Adding simple abstracted forms to a representational piece doesn't add anything if those simple abstracted forms don't mean anything. They may add a feeling, I'm not convinced it's a valuable feeling in the case of Williams or Rauch, rather I'm talking about actual symbols with very clear meaning to those who 'speak the language'.

Like Chris said "The funny thing about that image is, if someone is at all familiar with manga or anime, those facial expressions don't need to be labeled." They mean what they mean, despite having very little relation to an actual face any longer. They become clear symbols for abstract ideas. Cartooning can do that, nay, rather, cartooning is that.

3/18/2014 8:35 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard, you are only appreciating the matter of Symbols from the cartoonist's perspective. I don't know whether this is because of Scott McCloud's influence - him being a cartoonist as well, fixated on the issues from his particular skill set - or what, but it is leading you to a belief state that is wildly myopic. Understand that there was an entire movement called Symbolism that emerged from Romanticism which McCloud is clueless about.

You can't expect to understand the matter if you only understand cartoons.

3/18/2014 10:02 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

i hear you Richard, but i agree with Kev that it's all a continuum rather than a clear divide.

3/18/2014 10:05 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/18/2014 10:41 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/18/2014 10:44 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/18/2014 10:45 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>All to say, the distinction often drawn in semiotics between icon (representation) and symbol (call sign) becomes more of a continuum in the natural languages.


Kev, somehow I missed your post where you had argued against the Pierce-ian system.

I am aware of how a symbol can evolve from an icon, but I don't see there being a really functional continuum, just an evolutionary one. The symbol of text is functionally different from an icon.

>>But the symbols of art, like the natural symbols we gather through the experience of life, are full up with form relation to their aesthetic nature, which is just why art is such a natural activity of man.

If you had said "the symbols of Art", I would agree with you. My point is that in cartooning we are evolving symbols which are not representationally related to their final referents, nor are they representationally related to objects which refer by narrative device. If you ignore that point then everything I am saying is moot.

3/18/2014 11:02 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Richard, it wasn't intended to show 'symbols', but rather the continuum from realism to cartoony via varying degrees of abstraction from reality, to illustrate that there isn't a clear divide between the two poles.

3/18/2014 11:05 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Laurence, that continuum is from representational icon to abstract icon. Not one of those images is a symbol in that they stand for what they depict. A symbol stands for what it does not depict.

The symbol "cat" in no way depicts a cat, it merely refers to one by pure-abstraction. The strength of cartooning is when it can use that same ability of symbol to refer without depicting. This is how it is evolving into a new language -- Art does not, and as far as I can tell, will never do that.

3/18/2014 11:06 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Sorry about that Laurence, I was deleting the posts from before I saw kevs.

>>Richard, it wasn't intended to show 'symbols', but rather the continuum from realism to cartoony via varying degrees of abstraction from reality, to illustrate that there isn't a clear divide between the two poles.

"Cartoony" doesn't mean anything but drawn abstractly. Cartoons as a medium are more than just abstract drawings, they are the evolution of a new medium that combines pure symbolic reference and iconological reference. I'm starting to feel like I am repeating myself! XD (See what I did there?)

3/18/2014 11:09 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Richard, you'll have to provide some examples of this new medium (unless you're just talking about text emoticons such as this :-0 )

the one you linked above called 'this isn't drawing anymore...' is still abstract drawing.

3/18/2014 11:35 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard, you are simply insisting on defining "symbol" too narrowly. (I too am starting to feel like I am repeating myself.)

Cartooning came to mean the overt use of symbols long ago. But there are many, many ways of writing with symbols that are less obvious. All the arts are writing by use of symbols, if you get deep into the aesthetics of it all. But it is the depth and sensitivity of the artist that defines the richness of the symbol system, not the reverse.

Essentially you are doing the very common "intellectual" thing where the language you know becomes the paradigm for how all languages function. And this leads to an inability to recognize languages that use different methods. (As Craig Mullins once said, "Be careful what rules you unconcsiously learn!") This is what is leading you astray. You keep defining symbol as a codified sign that has no aesthetic relation to its referent. But that isn't the historical definition of symbol, for fuck's sake™. It is only the meaning of "pure symbol" in formalized language systems predicated on overt writing.

Fyi, you just read the post where I critiqued the Piercean semiotics system. That doesn't mean it has no use.

My point is that in cartooning we are evolving symbols which are not representationally related to their final referents, nor are they representationally related to objects which refer by narrative device. If you ignore that point then everything I am saying is moot.

That may be true to a very minor extent, but the vast majority of cartooning is still representational. (This leaves aside your cartoon-centric understanding of the meaning of symbol.)

3/18/2014 12:05 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>"Richard, you'll have to provide some examples of this new medium (unless you're just talking about text emoticons such as this :-0 )
the one you linked above called 'this isn't drawing anymore...' is still abstract drawing."


A number of those elements in my link were no longer representational, as, for example, the "XD" that I used.

There is no longer any representational relation in the use of an X for the eyes in that expression. From what I can tell, it came by way of the X eyes used to denote death in older comics, which was itself a symbol to denote the stitching closed of the eyes (from what I've heard), but it no longer means that. That face is not seen in the way that drawings are, it's "read" in the way that cartoons are.

To expand upon that usage, why does X___o get read as someone peaking while pretending to be dead? That's not representational. It's the combination of icon and pure symbol. It's that thing that only cartoons do.

That element, the X, has become divorced entirely from its original representational effect, whether or not the entire picture has. Much like the pictograph evolves into an ideogram, piece by piece, they evolve from icon to "pure symbol".

3/18/2014 1:17 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Or to make that same point with an even more obvious case -- "hearts" for eyes. That is not in any sense representational at all.

3/18/2014 1:25 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Richard,

you're right, those 'hearts' are abstract symbols, but in your example they're still placed over the eyes of a cartoon drawing of a face... so that it has the required meaning.

the drawing is still present. it's just had a symbol placed over it to make a blunt point about what the person is thinking.

hardly a 'new medium'.

3/18/2014 1:50 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc wrote: " that is the hallmark of a con man, not a great artist."

Ah, and how many times have those two categories overlapped on the great Venn diagram of art?

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Picasso is a wonderful cartoonist. Too bad that monetary, political, and institutional investments in modernism can not allow that obvious thought to be commonly recognized as so"

I never thought of it that way, but I agree with your point wholeheartedly. Mine may be a minority view but I hardly consider that a demotion for Picasso.

Richard-- Your answer about President Camacho is so hilarious that it totally excuses your being so wrong on the underlying substance. I do fear that your insistence on keeping the peas and mashed potatoes separate is going to create conceptual problems for you in future exchanges (I haven't finished reading all the comments yet). You may be able to draw a bright line between an icon and a symbol, or a pictogram and an ideogram, or distinguish between evolutionary and functional continuum, but I'm not sure anyone has shared your rule book with the millions of mark making human beings out there.

You can say, "a symbol stands for what it does not depict," but what about those illustrations of Adam in Eden that are supposed to stand for all men? Or cats that stand for all cats? The viewer understands that the prototype is to be construed generically, but wouldn't you say the image depicts what it symbolizes?

Or to offer another example where I think you may have trouble mantaining your bright line, what's your view of the narrowing game between these two categories (the symbol and what it depicts) in religious art through the centuries-- artists have long flirted with depicting gods that the clergy have insisted should not be depicted, except as a symbol. In Islamic art, in Russian icons, even in some western traditions, the view has been that it demeans a deity to be reduced to some mortal's limited vision in paint. Artists say that their depictions are mere symbols (hence Russian icons are two dimensional and flattened out with silver) because they don't want to be beheaded, but it seems pretty clear in some of those instances that the threat is the only reason "a symbol stands for what it does not depict."

3/18/2014 2:18 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Not an entirely new medium yet, think of it more like a pidgin.

It's a process I'm talking about here, I think I made that clear when I said to David:
>> "It probably won't take the language that is evolving from 'cartoons' 20,000 years to make a similar movement into maturity, but it will take a damned long time, and I'm not sure we're in a very good position to try to critique the earliest caveman scrawlings of this new medium."

3/18/2014 2:20 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>You may be able to draw a bright line between an icon and a symbol, or a pictogram and an ideogram, or distinguish between evolutionary and functional continuum, but I'm not sure anyone has shared your rule book with the millions of mark making human beings out there.

I don't need them to share it, per se, as I don't have any artistic prescriptions for them.

Noticing this evolution is conceptually valuable in seeing what is to come, and in thinking about where we are, but I wouldn't begin to assign aesthetic judgements as a result. My line of arguing here is only in the service of answering the question, why some people might see cartoons and drawing as separate aims, and to plead my case for why I think it is premature to debase cartoons by applying to them the old standards of drawing. It's too soon -- all pidgins at first look merely like poor renditions of their constituent parts, and that is no different in this case.

>>"[..] but what about those illustrations of Adam in Eden that are supposed to stand for all men? Or cats that stand for all cats? The viewer understands that the prototype is to be construed generically, but wouldn't you say the image depicts what it symbolizes?
[..] what's your view of the narrowing game between these two categories in religious art through the centuries"

This is merely a problem of semantics. I was talking about the Pierce-ian symbol. As Kev would call it, the "pure symbol". I don't disagree in the examples you're giving that those are symbols, if one does not mean symbols in a pure semiotician's sense.

3/18/2014 3:04 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Ah, and how many times have those two categories overlapped on the great Venn diagram of art?

You do not hesitate to appeal to every romanticized, clichéd caricature of artists in the book, do you? The true geniuses of art and music achieve one fundamentally identifiable style early in their development. The Picasso mythos of artistic metamorphosis is pure 20th century art marketing.

3/18/2014 4:21 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The X in XD is a formalized representation of what happens to your eyes (crinkling up) when you laugh a lot. Just as the capital D represents the mouth.


Those hearts also represent, but in a more abstract way (it seems obvious to me) a synthesis or amalgamation of female lips and buttocks. This, I would guess, is the reason the symbol has caught on as a symbol of romantic love... because of that aesthetic connection to the real deal.

So both examples you are giving of "pure symbols" aren't. Which was exactly my point earlier. It is really difficult for a visual language to purify itself of representation.

Even sound effects in comics must have a representational aspect. Which is just why SFX aren't written in times new roman and screams aren't written small and usually work better in a ragged style.

3/18/2014 4:47 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Which is why I gave the example of pictographs becoming ideograms -- to underline that it is a process of abstraction.

They will never be divorced entirely from their origins, as 木 still looks something vaguely like a tree, but it becomes functionally divorced from that representational origin. When some undefinable limit is reached a sign operates more like a pure symbol than an icon. 爱 doesn't look or feel anything like a butt or tits.

3/18/2014 9:32 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Which is why I gave the example of pictographs becoming ideograms

Again, you are presuming that there is some cut and dried line where a pictograph becomes an ideogram. There ain't. A symbol can be both at once. (I see many errors on this point when googling for either.)

When some undefinable limit is reached a sign operates more like a pure symbol than an icon.

Nobody is arguing against this point. The question has always been "at what point does this happen?" And the criteria for nailing that down is this: If somebody can "get" the visual symbol, or even some aspect of it, without being given its definition, it is not a pure symbol. It is at least partially a natural one.

The symbol for tree you show is a pure symbol because to a first-time user it looks more like a squashed gnat or cat flying overhead than a tree. With the XD symbol, I got it the first time I looked at, which means I already knew what it meant. Which means it read enough like a face to me to be an icon rather than a pure symbol. (I will agree, however, that the XD symbol is nearing the line between representation symbol and pure symbol. I happened to have first seen this symbol in a font where it looked more like a face than the font I am typing in now.)

But let's move on to this other wrench in the works; when a sign operates as a pure symbol, where it must be defined extrinsically in order to be understood, we are talking about a kind of word. And words comprise the lexicon of text languages; not natural languages, like art or dance. So when I say that art is a natural representational symbol system, it is definitionally so that word-like "pure" symbols are alien to it. (When you draw pure symbols you are either doing Typography or Graphic Design.)

Interestingly, something like a speech balloon is not a pure symbol, because there is a large aspect of it that just makes sense based on our experience of sound coming out of people's heads. (Representation comes in many guises, including metaphoric, whereupon sound or temperature or smell might be represented visually.) I never had to be told how a speech balloon works. I just got it. (The words in the balloons, however, are mostly all pure symbols, obviously.)

Another thing; you seem to be assuming that the process of abstraction always leads to pure symbol. This is not true, particularly if we understand what it actually means to abstract something. This word abstraction has had the crap kicked out of it over the past century by designers who want to be thought of as artists. Its actual definition means to summarize some communication without losing the crucial elements of the original. So that in consulting the abstraction, the original is still apprehended to a sufficient degree.

This is not what you are describing. What you are on about is actually stylization. And stylization is a lossy process, not a truly abstractive one. It is more of a filtration of a subject through a schemata, than a summary of the original subject.

So when Frank Lloyd Wright created his earliest stained glass windows, he understood what he was doing was not just abstracting various natural forms, but also stylizing them through geometric filters. And these works were understood as decorative by he and everyone else at the time. Not as works of art.

Not long after, when Mondrian did Broadway Boogie Woogie, he was doing the same exact thing as Wright, abstracting a little and stylizing a lot. To the point that, unless somebody tells you what broadway boogie woogie represents, you won't know. The difference in Mondrian's case is that he had a bunch of Modernist Critics in his corner to declare his decorative work "art." And soon after this cultural moment, everybody's brains seem to fall out.

3/18/2014 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Gobs of interesting things continued to be brought up by the series on Starr and the contrasting anti-drawing or anti-hero styles. Though apples and oranges, the comparison reveal many legitimate points.

The audience for Starr's comics were more pedestrian and less pretentious than today's audience. Each strip had its own level of readership in the daily paper, but the strips were meant to amuse but to a certain extent, over a cup of coffee before or after work. The daily strips entertained less than the Sunday counterparts and most people worked a 40 hour week, not 60, 80 or 100 hour weeks and so their appetites for gripping entertainment was less. People were watching Lassie back then and enjoying it. Everything about the audience was less pretentious and the very purpose of the strips was different than that of a modern comics audience, or of collector comic artists showboating their talents for a select audience in an overcrowded market.

Some comic strips required more realistic drawing to take one to a certain place and make the experience believable and that believability was part of the adventure, however dull it may seem today. It's hard to remember that comics were read by a very young or mildly interested audience.

The repetitive process of working over years, with an artist editing and adding different visual knickknacks to their visual world reveals in time not simply a style, or chops or a formula, but the artist's hand, their personality, or so it should and this is some of what is revealed in the comparison as well.

That sophisticated fine art critics are pretentious or even presumptuous in their lopsided appreciation of the literary nature of comics at the expense of good drawing in comics is even more to the point considering that part of the beauty of older comics was that the artists understood and could relate to their less pretentious audience. The smart audience of Lichtenstein never actually understand or accepted the audience which read comic strips as a matter of their workday, just as the sophisticates who hopped on the Kerouac bandwagon never really understood Kerouac's love of the good he saw in simple America.

3/19/2014 12:38 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Stylization is a lossy process, agreed, but so was the evolution from pictograph to ideogram, and that lossy process facilitates a change in internal grammars of said form of communication. As it is, cartooning is primarily a lossy process, I don't deny this, but my prediction is that this loss of visual sublimity will eventually lead to a change in the medium's grammars. We can already see the earliest evidence of that change in the use of the hearts for eyes.

There is not a cut and dried line between pictograph and ideogram divorced from the mind of the viewer -- rather, only a functional line where a specific viewer no longer recognizes the icon as such, and experiences it as a pure symbol (for the simple fact that they no longer recognize its representational origins). That is as hard as a line as I would draw, and it is obviously person-by-person.

My primary argument requires then only the assumption that cartoons will hit a point where a significant quantity of the graphical elements are no longer experienced in tandem with their representational origins, as is the case with the "X" eyes of the dead. The utilization of this invented line has typological value in exploration of the phenomena of the modern cartoon, and its evolving visual grammars.

You agree that the "XD" is approaching the limits of representation, and that is near about enough for me to feel my point generally made, if not bought.

My additional positions then only require that this process will continue (and there is sufficient inertia to support that claim), and that this process will result in an alternative grammar, allowing for visual communications closer to that of text. Those are, namely, long abstract statements and narratives about changing emotional states. I say changing emotional states, because Art deals very well with capturing an emotional state in stasis, but does not handle chains of evolving emotions (e.g. the bildungsroman) as naturally. It is obvious then that comics, being a fundamentally temporal art-form, would push their visual art towards abstraction closer to text, and text's differing communicative strengths.

3/19/2014 1:23 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard and Kev Ferrara-- I am no expert on semiotics or Pierce (although I resolved to spend some time getting to understand Pierce after Kev began invoking him around here last year) but I am enjoying your efforts to test Richard's theory about purely nonrepresentational, non iconic symbols. My sense from your exchanges is that the approach toward Richard's "undefinable limit [where] a sign operates more like a pure symbol than an icon" is an asymptote; you might get closer and closer with increasingly strained examples but the curve will never cross the line. It's hard enough to find a symbol completely purged of its representational connotations, especially because what the symbol maker intends and what the viewer perceives both create the potential for representational associations. (For a twist on your discussion about associations with a heart shape, see Klimt's symbols at http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2008/03/artists-in-love-part-13.html ). But mostly, it seems to me that by the time the curve touches the line, the symbol has converted into the equivalent of a word. Or, as Kev put it, "when a sign operates as a pure symbol, where it must be defined extrinsically in order to be understood, we are talking about a kind of word. And words comprise the lexicon of text languages; not natural languages, like art or dance."



etc, etc-- If you think Picasso's drawing is "crude," what do you think about the Cuneo drawing? The legs of the woman are stylistically similar to the limbs of Picasso's figure and her hair is the same kind of loose scribble. And yet, when you focus on specific features such as the alligator's fingers or the way his eyes crinkle up, you can tell that far from being crude, Cuneo is an artist of great subtlety, with the fine motor skills of a brain surgeon. I offered Cuneo as kind of a middle ground between Picasso and an artist with more traditional drawing skills.

3/19/2014 1:30 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard,

Nobody has argued against there being a point where representation ceases. My point was that once representation ceases, you are writing in text-symbols, graphic designing, or acting as a typographer. At that point you are not really creating art per se. Hieroglyphs are, it seems obvious, a form of typographic writing. Writing has a linear flow, with a linear sequential grammar, generally, which links together its word-symbols. Art is nonlinear, it is first taken in as a gestalt, with multiple visual flows possible, then once the viewer recedes from the totality, the visual flow can go in any direction, its symbols can be ordered any way you can imagine, to be read sequentially or in superposition according to the interest of the eye. Internalize this.

And the grammars for both natural languages like art or dance, and codified symbolic languages with pre-set word-symbols are as old as time, all grammars derived from the natural relations experienced in life between conceptualizable elements. It all depends upon the arrangement of the symbols and the interest of the eye/mind of the viewer.

This idea that somehow the hearts in the eyes is a new development is ahistorical in the extreme. The eyes have been used metaphorically since the dawn of art and literature. The eyes have been replaced with hot lumps of coal, dollar signs, crescent moons, light bulbs, clouds, rain, and anything else you can think of, in art, in cartooning and in graphic design. The eyes have been said to be the windows to the soul, lamps of the body, pools, wells, suns, portals, etc. The eyes have been swapped out for just about any other meaninging-producing element you can think of. And so has every other part of the body, and every other part of the world in all probability.

And if you think that turning comics into ideographs or hieroglyphs is an evolution, that just makes you a primitivist. Not some soothsayer of symbolism. And, as far as I'm concerned, it pretty well demonstrates that you have no idea of the symbolic/metaphoric complexity of deeper works of art, which would utterly blow your mind compared to the simplicity of the cartoons you keep citing.

You are new to the discipline, and you are excited by it. And I understand what you are going through. Sometimes, when you are in love with a newly apprehended, really exciting and profound idea, it makes you starstruck for a while. Eventually you come down when you realize just how much more there is to learn, how much more gold there is when you keep following the vein.

3/19/2014 2:32 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

what do you think about the Cuneo drawing?

I'm not a cartoon guy. I don't care for political or sexual humor/satire. But Cuneo's skill is apparent and I like his work for that reason. Not so Picasso.

3/19/2014 2:47 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>>But mostly, it seems to me that by the time the curve touches the line, the symbol has converted into the equivalent of a word. Or, as Kev put it, "when a sign operates as a pure symbol, where it must be defined extrinsically in order to be understood, we are talking about a kind of word. And words comprise the lexicon of text languages; not natural languages, like art or dance."

I deny this only insofar as I think that what we mean by word is overly limited, and ignores the possibility of a valuable fusion between "natural languages" and text.

"Writing has a linear flow, with a linear sequential grammar, generally"

Generally being the key word here. That pure-symbols have often worked linearly does not mean that they have to. See: Egyptian textual are, or pure-symbol elements in Art.

"The eyes have been swapped out for just about any other meaninging-producing element you can think of. And so has every other part of the body, and every other part of the world in all probability."

That's fantastic, it means cartoons will have a vast dictionary to draw from.

"My point was that once representation ceases, you are writing in text-symbols, graphic designing, or acting as a typographer."

Representation won't cease. Representation will merely reach a point of fusion with pure symbolism, so that the two work in perfect concert.

"And if you think that turning comics into ideographs or hieroglyphs is an evolution, that just makes you a primitivist. Not some soothsayer of symbolism."

I've not at any point stated that the evolution of cartoons is a new development. Elements of Egyptian hieroglyphic art (not the hieroglyphic text) are, I believe, an obvious predecessor of our own cartoons. I would mark that as the first major development of cartoons, which, unfortunately, died out with the culture of classical Egypt. Cartoonists today are just restarting that same project, to produce a similar, but much larger, medium -- and a greater medium in that we've already got text, art, and symbolia (with all of their internal knowledge, e.g. perspective) with which to work to build our own sort of system of modern hieroglyphics.

3/19/2014 3:08 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Generally being the key word here. That pure-symbols have often worked linearly does not mean that they have to. See: Egyptian textual are, or pure-symbol elements in Art."

Should have read "See: Arabic textual art"

3/19/2014 3:10 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Typographic designs aren't what you are talking about.

Representation has already reached a point of fusion with pure symbolism. It happened in 5000 B.C.E. And ever since, thousands of artists have treaded the path back and forth.

But you aren't saying it didn't happen before, right, or even many times before. You're saying its happening now with cartoons. Yet cartoonists today are doing very little qualitatively different than what was done between 90 years ago during the first cartoon boom and during the heyday of EC comics leading into the silver age and underground comix movement. So whatever evolution you see coming is only small potatoes compared to the evolution that has already taken place before you were born.

Bye.



3/19/2014 4:09 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

" Technical skill can empower, not diminish,  imagination"
I like that David, but I might take it one step further, and say technical power, which is really understanding,allows an artist to conceive what he could not of thought/imagination before he had such power.

3/19/2014 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

One of the pillars of modernists is their belief that they are the standard bearers of justice against the repressions of the past. Such has allowed modernists to dismiss the life of being as inferior to that of their superior moral and intellectual compass. Yet slavery was condemned in 1537 and had been fought locally where it appeared going back long before that, but no one listened and the temporal power was absent to enforce the edict. Going back to Aquinas, the concern was more against serfdom than slavery, which reemerged as a throwback in the era of exploration, exploding commerce and emerging selfism.

The delusion of superiority replaces the sense of being one enjoys in art, dance, music and also in writing, storytelling and numerous other social exchanges. The modernist fantasy of moral exclusivity and superiority has to be suspect if not rejected before art can once again find its reality and moral purpose in humility, being and a deeper respect.

David enjoys and shares the skills of drawing and his Starr series made sense and captured the curious intellectual drift away from drawing in comics heralded by the mentioned art critics and also the same dismissal of drawing as expressed in the era of the daily newspaper comic strip in mockery by pop art. The critics of the series listed at the beginning of the post speaking on other blogs entirely missed such key points.

3/20/2014 12:27 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

PS: David, I failed to address your comment on homosexual suffering and I wanted to add that I certainly am very grateful for the deepening of respect for all people. There are however issues coasting in along in tangent which are concerning, such as the institutionalization of surrogate motherhood, a growing call for anti-maleness, genetic polygamy and other issues which are going to demand a discernment between respect for one and a new racism against others. I think recent articles by Camille Paglia bring some common sense to these new concerns. Thanks.

3/20/2014 1:30 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Recent mentioned articles:

http://ideas.time.com/2013/12/16/its-a-mans-world-and-it-always-will-be/

http://time.com/23054/camille-paglia-put-the-sex-back-in-sex-ed/

3/20/2014 9:47 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>Representation has already reached a point of fusion with pure symbolism.

You're not adequately engaging your imagination if you cannot see how representation could be more fused with symbolism.

3/20/2014 11:15 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

But that should be no surprise. For someone who talks so much about the value of the image, you seem to live exclusively in your "left brain". You are the very embodiment of the textual mind, blind to beauty that you so regularly rail against. It's sad only in that you so desperately want to be an artist, and can't see that, at base, you are a writer.

3/20/2014 11:19 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

And if I've lost this debate, I don't feel so bad --

It's honest to win a debate in text with a man who lives so fully in the language area of his mind.

Anyway, I'll step out. I'm going to go enjoy some cartoons and photographs -- works your heart is blind to.

3/20/2014 11:27 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

And I'll say one more thing while I'm going off --

You think you're on this site for the art? You're mad. David has a pretty good eye, but it's not that good. Not to warrant the amount of people that spend time in these comment sections. We're here because David is an incredible writer and an absolutely brilliant thinker. That's why he is a lawyer.

You, me, and I'd wager the vast majority of visitors -- we're here because we're all text-lovers in denial, but you're the worst offender of us all kev, because you're the furthest in denial.

I understand being precocious, and wishing that one of your favourite precociousnesses was your true calling. It's tough. I've been there. But the majority of us accept it. You don't seem to be able to, and that, that is pathetic.

To love that which you are precocious in is natural. To live an entire life in denial, speaking constantly against the very thing which is your true eudaimonia, that's sad.

3/20/2014 11:48 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "David has a pretty good eye, but it's not that good."

Hey!

3/20/2014 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Richard, You did very well and introduced some interesting things to the discussion which I and I'm sure others appreciated. You got a little tangled up in definitions, but the area was still very interesting. Even the tangle was worth listening to. Thanks.

I recently bought a book called WWD Illustrated: 1960s to 1990s. I was hoping to revisit a good many drawings by Robert Young and Charles Boone, two illustrators who did fantastic stuff with line variation. In the book they were described as “traditional” in the line of Kenneth Paul Block and there were far fewer of their samples than I was hoping for. The author seemed to have a liking for drawings done with a thin uniform line as was used in the 1920s, 30s but became somehow I guess, less traditional in the 1980s.

The book went on attempting to connect fashion to high art movements and post modernism, with images of fine art next to fashion illustrations. Fair enough, but in the end the triumph of the book was the stunning work of the illustrators themselves, especially Kenneth Paul Block whose elegance transcended time. It's for the same reason this blog will continue to draw many interested viewers.

3/20/2014 1:21 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard, I write too. I'm not just an artist. I enjoy having discussions here, particularly when they are well fought where my ideas are tested by other smart readers, or I learn something, as I often do. I don't enjoy exchanges here when they become tendentious, petulant, stubborn, uninformed, confused, personal, bad faith, immature, or like buckshot. Having a tête–à–tête with you is often well fought, but is also, usually, all the other stuff too. Thank you for the good parts of the discussion we've had.

I wanted to mention one more thing. Having seen so many different comics, toons, illustrations, infographics, graphic arts annuals, magazines, websites, portfolios, etc over the years, there simply isn't much I think I haven't seen in terms of the comic/cartoon/graphic language. I have a closet full of such material. I've seen whole strips drawn in emoticons, math signs, hieroglyphs, and pictographs, drawn only with parts of images, only with colors, scribble, babble, and sound effects. I've seen strips that read in every different direction, including inward, outward, spiraling, and in the "viewer's choice" of direction. I've seen Steinberg, Dave Berg, Bergman adapted, Bird Man, bird men, and the Bard done with bird droppings. I've seen mad symbolic jumbles, puzzles made of riddles, pictures to be decoded, illusions, surrealism, dada, lady gaga, and ali baba. Heads inside of heads inside of heads, I've seen symbols for every idea imaginable concatenated into meaningful and semi-meaningful constructions of every sort, or placed into figures for poetic purpose. I've seen topography as anatomy, photography as an anime, and typography turned into animals and vice versa. I've seen a million logotypes, I've collected fonts like a loon. I've seen panels melt, fragment, evaporate, and burn. I've seen word balloons fight, a shoe fly, a Magic Johnson, and a porno Miss Peach. (I could go on and bloody on with this, too.)

At the end of all this creativity, one realizes that the history of any particular language is not much different from another. Languages don't evolve once they get going. They just build out from the original lexicon and grammar. And at some point all the additions are just window dressing. Cartoons have already been proven to be so flexible, that even the wildest ideas you can come up with are just more of the same. I hope that explains things.

3/20/2014 7:01 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>Richard wrote: "David has a pretty good eye, but it's not that good."

>>Hey!

Sorry!


Kev, exciting paragraph about the strength of cartoons, let me repeat it back to you, but start it with "And look what cartoons have become in only the last 150 years..."

>> there simply isn't much I think I haven't seen in terms of the comic/cartoon/graphic language. I have a closet full of such material. I've seen whole strips drawn in emoticons, math signs, hieroglyphs, and pictographs, drawn only with parts of images, only with colors, scribble, babble, and sound effects. I've seen strips that read in every different direction, including inward, outward, spiraling, and in the "viewer's choice" of direction. I've seen Steinberg, Dave Berg, Bergman adapted, Bird Man, bird men, and the Bard done with bird droppings. I've seen mad symbolic jumbles, puzzles made of riddles, pictures to be decoded, illusions, surrealism, dada, lady gaga, and ali baba. Heads inside of heads inside of heads, I've seen symbols for every idea imaginable concatenated into meaningful and semi-meaningful constructions of every sort, or placed into figures for poetic purpose. I've seen topography as anatomy, photography as an anime, and typography turned into animals and vice versa. I've seen a million logotypes, I've collected fonts like a loon. I've seen panels melt, fragment, evaporate, and burn. I've seen word balloons fight, a shoe fly, a Magic Johnson, and a porno Miss Peach. (I could go on and bloody on with this, too.)

3/21/2014 11:22 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

.



Richard.

Please stop scanning what I write for the sole purpose of developing a zingy riposte as quickly as possible. It invariably seems like you haven't actually absorbed the sense of what I've written or how it fits into the overall discussion.



.

3/21/2014 12:42 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The delusion of superiority replaces the sense of being one enjoys in art, dance, music and also in writing, storytelling and numerous other social exchanges. The modernist fantasy of moral exclusivity and superiority has to be suspect if not rejected before art can once again find its reality and moral purpose in humility, being and a deeper respect.

I agree with you, but it is an interesting problem due to how much institutional power "modernists" (in the wide sense) have accrued.

A further problem is that academics, politicos, and scientists continually claim to be on the side of art, but really are not at all. Art is just a tool for each of them to use in their own way to bolster their credentials as purveyors of the deeper truth of things. Art is relegated the status of artifact, and its long history as a valuable investigative tool to find the truth of things is never mentioned except scornfully and quickly.

That each group named above share control of the information diet most seekers dine on, only compounds the problem. As media consumers are trained in how to think by the media they consume. And media is an organism that exists mostly to continue its own life and keep its organs in fresh blood and nutrients.

The problem is always the gatekeepers. Always.

3/21/2014 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Yes Kev, it is ubiquitous and you have described it accurately. I wouldn't have suspected a literary gate on the likes of the Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Stories, but it's so pervasive it just works out that way it seems, as if it could be no other way.
Who could possibly think differently?

Those who drew and read the comic strips in the day were later rendered into comic strips themselves, while those who painted a comic panel were exposing the construct; its not a comic panel but a painting of a panel, not a flag but a painting of a flag, etc. They knew and saw in ways others didn't and were sharing the secrets of life. Give your alms to us, because we will free you from all. And alms they were given to the vast degree you described.

These are just people like everyone else and their weakness is a need to have exclusivity on some higher purpose as mentioned. It must be an exclusive righteousness, not something attainable or understandable by ordinary people, such as a Norman Rockwell, good manners, good intentions and acts, which are threatening, held in contempt and tolerated only if one is on board whichever holy cause is happening from one hour to the next.

Facts which should jar narratives don't, because this isn't of reason but a massive cult like thing wrapped in human desires and as such it is a force. If a presumptive world were existentially and suddenly challenged, a return to senses would take place. Until then, regular breaks are helpful because being ignored is very painful to this unusual phenomenon, whatever exactly it is and also, it is good for oneself.

3/21/2014 11:30 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

These are just people like everyone else and their weakness is a need to have exclusivity on some higher purpose

This is a very canny formulation of the mentality.

It must be an exclusive righteousness, not something attainable or understandable by ordinary people, such as a Norman Rockwell, good manners, good intentions and acts, which are threatening, held in contempt

I think the hatred of the ordinary, the simple, the pleasant, the homespun, the beautiful, the effortless healthy, and the contented is a very complex phenomena. Ultimately, I think, it must be jealousy at core, (the hatred masking a deeper longing), and its corollary, self-hatred. But filtered through so much rationalization and ideology that it comes out as some kind of righteous crusade.

The more I see this mentality at work, the more I understand the ancient wisdom that promoted honor, discipline, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, stoicism, self-respect, and virtue. All of which are faiths.


3/22/2014 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

As I wrote the second line you highlighted, I was thinking of something similar, the age of chivalry.

The modernist movement is emotional at heart, a desire and belief that by brow beating people they will fundamentally change. It's an authoritative love emboldened and twisted by an expanded sense of self importance, a need to fix others but more dangerously so, to fix the whole thing once and for all. So modernism is messianic and yet very uncomfortable with its own insecurity, so there is this element of control in it, on top of the self hatred you well identify. It also fits very nicely into economic models; let us help you.

Have men become less dopey in the last 40 years? Then what does that say about the women who believed they were changing them? But as you pointed out, this arrogance is now institutional in power, corporate, etc. with prying eyes, enhancing the A-team, B-team mentality. The B-team being the uninitiated.

As I collected old illustrations, scrap sheets and visited this and other illustration blogs over the years, I wondered if I was just struggling with sentimentality, clinging to the pangs of an old flame. The thought eventually passed and a certain power or truth as you have described revealed itself again and again in all kinds of drawings and paintings. The power of the drawings wasn't sentimentality as I had suspected, but something that called to humanity and to the heart.

There is truth even in a bad drawing which is drawn honestly and that is amazing in a world of empire sized construction projects and swarming technologies. Your last two lines are wonderful and encouraging. Thanks.

3/22/2014 4:04 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean,

You seem to be equating the Modernist movement with a political belief system (progressivism?). Not sure if I would go so far. A lot of Modernists were not materialist. And a lot of the causes of the rampant selfishness, shallowness, and sensation-seeking that has overtaken the culture has as much to do with advertising, marketing, sharp business practice, economic distress, and wars as to do with the emotional antipathy we have been discussing.

I agree with you that loving good art is not sentimental in the sense of nostalgic. It does however have the power to affect the sentiments. Which is just why it is worth recovering.

3/23/2014 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

It's true that the entire modernist movement had distinguishing elements, but in more recent times, as in postmodernism, it is entwined with political and economic movements.

It would be very difficult to separate corporate endowments and ethical positions in college science departments. A student critical of GMO corn or corporate farming for example, would find very little support for their work in many colleges, while at the same time, philosophies breaking down ethical positions opposing the same purposes would find a warm welcome. In this manner, a generally values-neutral or amoral philosophy serves economics well. Indeed this is the official foreign policy of the US at this time.

A Whitney Biennial sometime in the 80s, (I think it was '82) required visitors to wear a pin which identified them as a white racist pig. Postmodernism is that chunk of time which failed to produce any important artists, but served the progressives well and some postmodern artists were progressives. Of course the corporations and institutions are patrons of the same galleries which promote art in the museums. Oddly enough, they often donate the same art to the museums as well as maintain their own collections, each promoting the economic and thus social value of their art.

The inference one could draw is quite simple, that money talks. Philosophies of liberal capitalism (lassez faire), liberal ethics and personal behaviors are agreeable the introduction of new technologies, concepts and global strategies which might otherwise meet with objections. Thus, modern philosophies equate with big money.

Our times are sometimes referred to as post-humanism and people who enjoy art from preceding eras, including illustration, may wonder if they are indulging in sentimentality, the melancholy or wistfulness of passing time. It wouldn't surprise me that in time such people find themselves called sentimentalists or resistors. Yet the illustrations we love on this site evoke deeper human sentiment, are at least made with human hands and I think that's what keeps talking to people and I know you agreed with this, I was just clarifying the point because I didn't write it out very clearly before. Human sentiment and feelings are not neutral by their nature, but are held in value and so are in the philosophical way of the truly values-neutral world envisioned by business interests.

This doesn't explain everything and I agree with your note and especially the effects of the fatigue of war.

3/23/2014 3:04 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

I agree with etc, etc's opinions of Picasso. I suspect the pleasure David and others derive from Picasso's work owes more to their own ability to find beauty than to Picasso's ability to create it.

For example, in the drawing above, the ill-considered anatomical rendering and crowded composition suggest to me that the man's foot braced against the edge of the page was simply a happy accident, rather than a clever choice. The artist ran out of paper and made do, and if we're charmed by that, it's no credit to him. (Notice he fails to credibly ground the other foot in such a way, suggesting accident rather than design.) Had the drawing run off the edge of the page, his fans could as easily muse that the portrayed act was too vigorous to be contained by mere paper. Their enthusiasm for his work ensures that Picasso wins out in any case.

A good contrast to Picasso's drawings is the art of Gerhard Marcks. (Such as here and here.) Marcks's drawings have the same loose, primitive, caricatural qualities fans admire in Picasso, but with the added benefit of sound anatomy and design. What Cuneo is to Panter, I feel Marcks (and others) are to Picasso.

3/23/2014 8:06 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Hi Sean,

Very interesting post.

I would agree with you that Postmodernism is very political and very sneering in equal measure, and is probably what we both were talking about (rather than, say, a Modernist like Kandinsky, who was a mystic through and through). However, the nastiness did creep in earlier than what is considered the postmodernist era, certainly before abstract expressionism. But it didn't really get into the bloodstream of the culture until the 1960s. And for many reasons, obviously.

The marriage of institutionalized postmodernism and corporate interest is philosophically bizarre on its face, until you cancel out the talk and just follow the money. Then again, the postmodern movement is just another influential political player bought off for ready corporate money. And believing in nothing is only one step away from taking a bribe, stealing, or turning tricks. Also, Satre's got nothing on a guy working 50 hours a week in a cubicle, who never sees daylight.

Growing up, I used to say, half jokingly, that I had nostalgia for other people's childhoods. Now I realize what I was looking for was that combination of beauty and meaning that exemplified the arts prior to Modernism. Robert Langbaum put it that epiphany was the "Romantic substitute for religion." And the destruction of Romantic influence has consequently ripped meaning from the "high" art movements.

Or as NC Wyeth wrote to his son Andrew in 1944, "There is little doubt that the modern mind is opposed to the romantic mind. The modern mind is mainly content to ask and seek causes and consequences - whereas the romantic mind seeks the significance of things. The romantic mind must be restored to its necessary place of leadership. If things have no significance, things are hollow!"

3/23/2014 8:31 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Jesse,
Notice the lower right corner of Guernica as well. Picasso was a compositional dunce. Of course, as you alluded to, after a century or so of cultural indoctrination that has the Pavlovian dogs (no offense to David) trained to salivate on cue, it's an argument that can't be won.

3/23/2014 8:48 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Jesse, I think your drawings are a better version of what Marcks is doing than what Marcks himself does.

I agree with your view of the absurd deification of Picasso.

We should never forget that marketing is no different than brainwashing. And the selling of Picasso was smartly tied to a whole host of other matters that only bad people were against. Thereby Picasso was marketed by morality, not quality. Putting down Picasso and Matisse will often bring out the idiot who cries "degeneracy" in order to associate you with Nazism and themselves with heroism... The cheap thrill of feeling righteous being addictive to losers.

3/23/2014 9:11 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hasn't corporate money/marketing  (but who controls the money?) created both the Picasso myth and the Norman Rockwell myth?  And why do things need  NC's " significance"?  Significant, insignificant, thought always brings its opposite, it even creates and needs it's opposite to have  meaning and definition.

3/24/2014 8:46 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

An illustrator is hired to help sell the magazine, not the reverse.

The world of Norman Rockwell, of childhood crushes, kindly aunts, goofy workmen, and loving parents appealed to a large audience and still does. And it is constantly criticized. I have enjoyed Norman Rockwell in the face of constant put-downs of him and his world. Which is to say, like any great illustrator, Rockwell's work sells itself in the face of stiff competition; Great illustration is at once a fine art, a marketing plan, and an advertisement.

Because of this feature of Rockwell's work, it has been repackaged again by smart businesspeople who know a cash cow when they see it. But, again, it is Rockwell's work selling the otherwise blank paper and ceramics of the businesspeople, not the marketing of these items selling the work.

And why do things need NC's " significance"? Significant, insignificant, thought always brings its opposite, it even creates and needs it's opposite to have meaning and definition.

I'm not quite sure which tradition promotes the ideas you have written, but they wildly underestimate the complexity of the issue. Bear in mind that the sciences have yet to form an agreed-upon theory of meaning, truth, mind, or cognition. And saussure's semiotics, which is what influenced so much European thought on signs, is a joke compared to C.S. Pierce's, and C.S. Pierce's is just now being rescued from 100 years of neglect. So we are just in the beginning stages of solving the problem of thought.

What NC is referring to is the idea that, while science works by breaking things and events apart through analysis, human thought doesn't function that way, and can't function that way. And shouldn't function that way because analytical methods are actually quite linear and stupid compared with the nonlinear and imagistic ways in which human beings process experience. But you won't hear this viewpoint, because it has been marginalized by the religion of materialism.

3/24/2014 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
Thanks for your excellent note. The line on other nostalgia for other people's childhoods was great.
Also NC Wyeth.

I imagine many modern artists were oblivious to the larger project called modernism, which held contempt for parts of society looked upon as not productive enough or economically with it, such as family and religion with its own behavioral habits, local customs, contemplative hours, processions, easter eggs, collective times of penance, weekly lowering of heads and numerous holy days. It was not only too cohesive and intimate, but too parochial, exclusive and indifferent perhaps to their longer visions. It was also too much associated with the age of Kings and Queens and Mazzini's letter on the subject is still chilling. Napoleon III, (1848-Les Miserable) and Bismark were no less obvious regarding the same.

So notions of shattering, breaking through and exploding into the future weren't just technology stimulated ideas as we associate them today but were driven in the hearts of some by a hatred of the existing social order. Romanticism was part of that existing social order and you have made me want to know much more about it. The concepts of complementariness as they existed across western society were also casualties of it all.

When the isms ran out with minimalism, a revival of realistic painting began filling galleries until political philosophy entered as art in the mentioned show and overwhelmed it. The term postmodern was a later tagged to give continuity to the spontaneous mix and match cannibalizing of visual elements from different categories and cultural sources and discovered artists who previously had no categorization. Eventually art was made order.

For all the efforts at destruction, it might have been the habit of watching too much television that most transformed society. Now that they have to sell all these mobile devises, we must all become mobile and active and require new gadgets to manage our new exciting and rootless existence, (short term employment).

If I may defend David, the Picasso looks drawn out of his head and is about figures drawn at different moments of movement into a single passionate image. As if drawing a model that won't sit still and just keeping all the different positions from different moments. It was an application of the cubist idea for which he's given a lot of credit.

3/24/2014 1:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I agree with most of what you wrote, but I'm not sure about your first paragraph, Sean.

I think that almost every modern artist was more aware of the rebellion and excitement of Modernism, the bold cartoon surface of it, than the aesthetics behind it. Which is just why there is so much wretched modernist work.

In turn, the low quality of so much of Modernism, rather than being a drawback, is actually one of its best marketing tools. Because low quality equals inclusivity and means anybody can join in. If something looks like anybody can do it, anybody might try it. If something looks like it was made by a man-god, most artists are just going to back away from it, like Picasso backed away from Sorolla.

In terms of learning more about Romanticism, that's a tough road. It is sort of like somebody hearing about atoms and saying "that's interesting, I think I'll go learn about science." The reading is deep, long, disorganized, tribal, difficult, often contradictory, and mostly passed on in incomplete bits. Also, just about every academic jot written about Romanticism is clueless. The most ignorant theorists are the most understood by the academics, and therefore are the most cited. And the cycle of ignorance is thereby perpetuated. Generally, online philosophy sites' pages on Romanticism are their worst by a long margin.

the Picasso looks drawn out of his head and is about figures drawn at different moments of movement into a single passionate image. As if drawing a model that won't sit still and just keeping all the different positions from different moments. It was an application of the cubist idea for which he's given a lot of credit.

That idea is about as old as art. You can read Rodin talking about it, for instance, in regard to his own and classical sculptures. The difference is; the cubists made it obvious, they made it into a graphic design or cartoon. So even the intellectuals could see it.

3/24/2014 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Well, with those warnings and encouragement I think I will begin.

Going back to 1789, the most radical revolutionaries made no secret of their goal to de-Christianize France, but nothing was a straight line and neither was developing the nation states and untangling the troubles caused by industrialization. The systematic closings of churches flowed right through the 1960s, 70s and 80s under Glasnost and that too was part of the modern project, as entirely primitive and brutal as it was.

I hadn't considered that the coming Romanticism was going to get run over as part of the same traffic. So this entire area is very interesting for lots of reasons.

So even the intellectuals could see it. Very funny.

3/24/2014 5:04 PM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

Funny enough I was indoctrinated *not* to like Picasso, and in later years found myself liking him more and more, rather in spite of myself.

The room next to where Guernica hangs had a lot of sketches of his preliminary ideas, and I could see an imaginative, playful, vigorous man going about his business.

Watching him shamelessly putting on a show in the famous documentary "Le Mystère Picasso", you can see a caricaturist in action, often starting from concrete drawings and pulling them apart, endlessly searching for an abstraction. Rather unlike many students today who think they can pull abstractions out of their asses by copying the end results they see hanging on museums. They're doing the artistic version of "derivatives" :)

Above all he seems to me a guy that never stood still, never sat on an endless lifelong repetition of the same style. Always kept alive the sense of play, and the libido - alive from the neck up and the belt down, which are things more interrelated than they seem. I like the guy.

Sure he should not be "deified". But not even gods should be deified. :)

ps: I cannot see the supposed catastrophic composition errors in guernica, but I'm no expert on composition. I know I like the drawing of the figures themselves, for instance the one on the left, with the child. That's wonderful cartooning, and just beautiful scribbling.

3/24/2014 5:37 PM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

>analytical methods are actually >quite linear and stupid compared >with the nonlinear and imagistic >ways in which human beings process >experience. But you won't hear this >viewpoint, because it has been >marginalized by the religion of >materialism.

I don't know where the church of materialism is located (I suspect it lives in some philosophy of science department rather than among working scientists or engineers)or what is silenced there, but I am glad that apparently it doesn't include computer scientists who know very well the limitations of linear analytic methods.

Not only do they not silence these matters but they study - since the 40s - artificial neural networks (ANNs), which are highly concurrent and non-linear: in fact ANNs vs classical algorithms is a very nice computational metaphor for holistic vs analytic thought processes, or, as some put it, "right" vs "left" brain thinking.

You can train (you *train* it by example, not program it) an ANN to do stuff that is very hard to describe in a classical algorithm with explicit rules. Stuff like recognizing handwriting. What you get in the end is a machine that does the job but cannot explain how it does it. Rather like a human. It is not that there isn't an algorithm, but the network *is* the algorithm. The map is the territory.

More than a dualism of opposition (dicotomania is a curse) I see holistic vs analytic thought processes as complementary, and artificial neural networks confirm this in a very clear way: in fact, the network, once obtained, can in fact be translated into a linear algorithm, but it is so complex that it would be very inefficient to run it that way, and it would consist of so many steps, each one in itself so meaningless, that a human being would learn nothing by inspecting the code. Like "right brain" thought processes, the algorithm implicit in the network is "experienced" in action rather than "frozen" and "dissected" sequentially. And yet, it is still an algorithm. There is no contradiction.

Thinking is both analytic and holistic, and in a well working brain the two processes feed each other mutually. With holistic thought only, you know how to walk (for instance) but you have no awareness of how you do it. With analytic thought only, you have elaborate explanations of how you walk but all you can do is stumble clumsily. A purely holistic machine is an animal that has no introspection - a beast of pure action with instant responses, with "thoughts" that are "lived" rather than analysed. A purely analytic beast is a dead calculator that doesn't live in the world and yet reflects endlessly on its inner world of abstractions. To see these two as being in opposition is already to lose the game (some people claim that this is in fact the characteristic desiase of the left brain).

The proper question is how to connect them fruitfully so that each supports the other.

3/24/2014 8:36 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Antonio,

Of course I agree with you about how analytical and holistic thinking supports one another. But let's leave that aside for a bit, and get to whether that belief is actually operating in the computer labs as you suggest.

ANNs are a very interesting case study in the whole matter. What ANNs do is kind of what the whole analytical philosophy project was about. Which was to get rid of fallible human methods of wholistic thinking by proving that all holistic thinking could actually be done through analytical means. Another way of saying it is to get rid of induction by finding a way to make every problem solvable through deduction.

This has worked beautifully... in computers. With computer technology.

But, of course, computer technology was already predicated on the principle. The philosophy embedded in computer technology is, and always has been, the analytical tradition. (Going back to Leibnitz's first thoughts on the issue.)

Not surprisingly, ANNs are subject to all the restrictions of both computers and the analytical tradition. Namely, that only the quantifiable and the computable, only data in data format can be brought into that mill for milling.

Yes, we are finding more and more ways to convert experience into data. We've seen a robot catch a curveball, after all. But experience can only be broken down so far before it evaporates as experience. Truth when translated into data becomes mere trivia. And once it is trivia, it can't be resuscitated or reconstituted as life. Humans are a unit. We are integrated, even if only in mind. And what gives us that unitary sense of being is the one mental process that absolutely cannot be translated into deduction; imaginative synthesis.

True synthetic thought (as opposed to the way Amazon pinpoints that you might like 300 if you already purchased Spartacus and Sin City) is a complete alien notion to the analytic tradition. It hasn't even been fathomed yet. Because true synthesis can't be translated into anything mathematical, logical, or discrete. It is anti-analytical.

Without true synthetic operations; without idealism, without intuition about nature and people, without an ability to think of symbols or conceptions as if they were real, to build with them in the mind, without an ability to notice and aesthetically appreciate hidden potentials, or to intuit as-yet-unknown needs, without an ability to imagine bold new paradigms, to detect and appreciate the philosophies hidden in objects, there is scant evidence that ANNs or something like it will actually replace much of the necessary wholistic/inductive thinking done by humans.

Why this is so, it seems to me, is this: the very qualities of mind deliberately denied and circumvented by the program of the analytic tradition are just those things necessary to be a brilliantly creative and adaptive human.

When inventors start pushing toward technologies that process at their cores symbols, concepts, potentials, and ideals instead of 0s and 1s, only then will I believe that the analytic philosophical tradition, the religion of materialism, has been successfully shed from our cultural life.

3/24/2014 10:12 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Antonio,
The video you posted, "Le Mystère Picasso" was phenomenal. I very much appreciated that.

Each may have their own take on Picasso's world and his unusual and vast vocabulary, but nobody commonly referred to as a cartoonist can resolve pictures like that. No, that's simply not the way it is.

Picasso had a massive ego and I think he once said he could draw like Raphael at five, so at least in his mind, he wasn't intimidated by anyone.

I was going to suggest that there is beauty in a couple of the illustrations for Lysistrata, but it also may not matter.

But if anyone cares to take a look, this is at least a good site for some classic book illustrations if they aren't yet familiar with it.

http://book-graphics.blogspot.com/2013/08/lysistrata-illustrated-by-pablo-picasso.html

3/24/2014 10:32 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Kev expressed that beautifully. Though Captain Kirk never put it exactly that way, I wish he had.

One step back from how the mind operates, one can know in being and be known in being even without symbols, concepts, potentials and ideals. It can happen between mother and unborn child, also with newborn child.

3/25/2014 1:29 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

kev,

one deviation, first, because one thing keeps confusing me. Aren't symbols precisely the very realm of the analytic mind ("left brain", whatever)? You keep putting them on the opposite camp.

There is a book called "the master & his emissary" that deals with much that has been discussed here. I'm ambivalent about it, but you'd agree with a lot that is in there, I think. It rails against what it sees as the culture's domination by "left brain" analytical thinking, and claims the romantics as a beacon against that imbalance. Pretty much your claim. I don't agree with the catastrophic, persecution mindset, but I can ignore that part and appreciate the rest.

Yet the same guy very much lays classical philosophy (word-juggling philosophy, as I like to put it), and not only "analytical philosophy", squarely in the left bank. Poetry, art and metaphor e puts in the right one. Curiously, a part of mathematics is in the right side too - the practice of mathematics in the mind before you write it down and it becomes a set of dead symbols aligned in a proof. This corresponds to my personal experience of the dual nature of maths at any level beyond the textbook stuff.

Anyway, this because you say that we'd only leave the analytical realm if we start processing symbols directly, and I would think the opposite is true. If you are processing symbols then you are in the analytical realm of abstractions. Classical AI tries to process symbols and abstractions. By opposition, ANNs process raw impulses, just like our brains do at the hardware level. You get impulses on your retina, they cause a cascade of neuronal firings, and "magic" happens, "magic" being processing that is inherently hard to translate into a linear algorithm that can be read. ANNs are at least a metaphor for that: no symbols, no deduction, just reactions to being poked (they learn by experience, not by deduction, and they do it in an integrated, holistic way - see the back-propagation algorithm). Yes, they do work with 1s and 0s. Ideally they would work with continuous currents, like real neurons. In practice, because manufacture of analog parallel computers is in its infancy we have to simulate the networks in ordinary digital computers, but those 1 and 0s are simulating impulses, like we simulate other physical processes to as much precision as we need. Anyway that part is solvable because we do know how to make analog parallel computers, it is just very expensive and non-standard and it is cheaper to simulate them. And currents in neurons are also not that continuous anyway, there is a finite precision in that machinery too.

The point being, both the brain and ANNs work by pushing electrons around, and symbols are emergent from that. They aren't stored somewhere and pushed around, currents are. Symbols, when they arise, come up implicit from those storms of electrons, somehow. ANNs work in the same basic way, no symbols are explicit there, but you can "see them" implicit in the very patterns that arise in their responses to "poking". If you feed an ANN enough representation of the calligraphic letters A and B then it will start firing one way for A and one way for B. The different patterns of firing codify the symbol. Symbols are isomorphic to certain partitions of the space of all possible configurations of the network/firing patterns.

3/25/2014 7:25 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

ps: Tellingly, ANNs have no problems with such left brain "paradoxes" as "one grain doesn't make a pile, so how many grains do? 5? 20?"

Classical "analytic" systems gets all bothered by this, because it is a language based paradox, but both your right brain and an ANN have no problem at all with it. The network gets trained to recognize "piles" in the clear cases, and in the dubious cases its configuration of synapses either fires or not with no consideration to philosophical word problems.

You can even get two ANNs connected together, one that fires for "it is a pile" and the other for "it isn't pile", and decisions are made according to which fires harder, but both do fire. Holding two opposite thoughts in one's head is a classical example of right-brain thinking. Left brain thinking insist on true-or-false conclusions. So this leads me to think that ANNs are a pretty good model of the non-analytical. That they are simulated on top of classical computers that run "analytical" languages just charms me immensely because it shows that the two concepts are not in opposition but rather coexist and entangle with each other.

3/25/2014 7:26 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/25/2014 7:37 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

Sean,
>nobody commonly referred to as a >cartoonist can resolve pictures >like that.

I'd never call him a *common* cartoonist/caricaturist :)

>Picasso had a massive ego and I >think he once said he could draw >like Raphael at five

Something to the effect that he could draw like Raphael at 5 but took him his whole life to learn to draw like a child. :p

The Raphael bit is too much of an ego trip, but his academic drawings as a student make clear that he had no problems with classical drawing. So we know he wasn't scribbling wildly for lack of basic skills, at least.

Thanks for the Lysistrata. It is very telling that a guy commented on that page something of the sort "I don't usually like Picasso but this is great.". There are enough Picassos to charm many different people, that's a testimony to how wide his spectrum was. I suppose you know his brush drawings of the bullfighting series? Those are very charming drawings.

3/25/2014 7:38 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

In spite of being by Picasso, I quite like the Lysistrata illustrations also. Even a compositional dunce like Picasso can benefit from looking at Greek red figure vases.

3/25/2014 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

An artist has to first be observant and unless one knows exactly what they're looking for ahead of time, observation is a kind of inaction. Other common things requiring a certain inaction include patience, stoicism, love, thoughtfulness, prudence, temperance, chastity, diplomacy and peace. One could sum it up as self control, but that comes short of considering them individually and self control implies an absence of peace to begin with.

What is a temptation to people who have everything in great quantities? The very concept can get lost because peace is replaced with endless physical satiation and a sense of personal satisfaction.

Modernity has abandoned, destroyed, or replaced the vehicles which educated people in and of the virtues and ideals, but ultimately what it destroyed is the ability to be at home with oneself. Individual actions may result in a loss of peace, but what kind of social order negates the very concepts of being and peace? And they have been destroyed and replaced with endless becoming and all its anxieties.

The ability to be observant, the ability to engage in any of the mentioned virtues, requires a sense of being at home with oneself. Joy also requires it.

Antonio,
Sorry, I wasn't referring to the comment as yours. Many have called Picasso the world's greatest cartoonist, a cartoonist, etc.

Picasso didn't let one precious, interesting or well done thing dominate his exploration or process. He was willing to throw away the best parts and that was very interesting.

3/25/2014 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

PS: Antonio,
I like a lot of individual things Picasso did, but what I meant by it might not matter was that Picasso also did so much work that is visually impossible to live with, that I respect the very strong views of all people regarding him.

3/25/2014 10:50 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Intelligent and challenging posts as usual, Antonio...

Aren't symbols precisely the very realm of the analytic mind

I think the analytical mind uses a certain class of symbols*. Symbols which are anaesthetic, denuded of experiential or emotional content, and more or less codified and discrete. I think the definition of the intellect are those small portions of the brain that use such codified symbols to call for specific kinds of thought processing about specific ideas referenced by the symbols. The processing used being discrete, and of the mathematical, logical, or linear-grammatical kind.

The other symbols the brain uses, which I believe to be the vast majority, are far more sensual in nature, and fluid. And I believe the operations by which these sensual symbols are processed are also sensual and fluid and exist as a continuum of operations, rather than a set of operations. (Classical AI doesn't even get in the ballpark on any of this. This continuum takes in a great many more brain processes than we have codified in text languages. The discrete processes of the analytical mind, I believe, are just types of processing we've recognized which are located within this more comprehensive gamut or continuum of all possible processes.)

The ability of ANNs to recognize As and Bs after being imprinted by them is a brute-force deductive simulation of the tiniest aspect of cognition. But ultimately, I believe the organic, sensual engineering of the brain gives it qualities by which to organically and sensually process organic and sensual symbols, gestalts and narrative sweeps, paradigms and continua, which will not be replicable by discrete methods of computing.

Lastly, I was listening to a podcast last night where a brain researcher from Harvard was quoted as saying the brain is like a giant gob of toothpaste and will never be figured out. I don't know if I'd be that pessimistic, but I can't say I'm optimistic that our current paradigm for understanding the brain, the computer, will get us that much farther down the road of inquiry.

I may, of course, be wrong in all this. But at the moment, these are my most reasoned beliefs on the matter.

*(Or signs, if you prefer. I've made the case that signs and symbols are essentially indistinguishable concepts in natural languages. But in codified text languages, sign and symbol are distinguishable.)



3/25/2014 11:07 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

> just types of processing we've >recognized which are located within >this more comprehensive gamut or >continuum of all possible processes

That may actually be a thing. Ordinary computers are all equivalent to Turing machines, but there are other theoretical types of computation (super-Turing computation). I once considered working for a guy that was hugely into the fact that a ANN with a single real-valued neuron (rather than rational-valued) would be super-Turing. Also, I am told Penrose thought that this was relevant in the case of the brain (but I haven't read that personally). On the other hand I hear that most people think super-Turing computation is not physically implementable.

I must confess to almost complete ignorance on the details of these super-Turing matters (hence the repeated "I hear"s).

>brain is like a giant gob of toothpaste

ANNs too start becoming more and more like that as they get more complex. Some guy said they were "useless for scientific understanding" precisely because as they get complex enough to be models for stuff we'd like to understand they start becoming just as opaque to us as the very thing we wish to model. Again, the map becomes the territory. That is, as we build closer to a "brain", we stop understanding the thing we are building. Shades of a sort of Godel's theorem here.

But I think the guy who said that was a perfect example of left-brain imbalance. The very act of building is a type of understanding. He considered "understanding" to be "describing in detailed, linear, sequential terms" only.

Also, if we build tiny, stupid brains, we get a metaphoric understanding of the big ones.

Maybe the simple problem is that a human brain may not be "spacious" enough to "contain" a model of itself(this is all very vague, I'm sorry). Perhaps its smallest description is not that much smaller than the thing itself. Plot for a silly sci-fi story: it turns out that the only thing that can understand a human brain is a super-brained AI that we can build (but not understand). :) But then the super-brained AI realizes it can understand our puny brains but it cannot figure out its own brain. But it's ok, it can build a super-duper AI that can...and so on. Each brain understanding the one of its maker, but being unable to explain it in terms simple enough to be understood by its owner. Each brain just as unable to understand itself as its own maker was. :)

Sean, I'll try to get back to you tomorrow. Now my puny human brain needs some sleep. :)

3/25/2014 8:05 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Antonio: "Plot for a silly sci-fi story:"

that's pretty much what Ray Kurzweill (director of engineering at Google) thinks will happen in his 'technological singularity' prediction. amazingly, he sees no possible danger in this scenario, only some sort of trans-human utopia. fortunately, i think it's pure sci-fi fantasy.

3/26/2014 4:53 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The argument I've heard on this is Wolfram-based, not from Kurzweil: In order to truly understand a computation you must duplicate it. Reality unfolds due to a vast computational process which is physical in nature. The only computer powerful enough to actually run the computation of reality is the universe itself. Which means our low grade, low rez simulations just don't cut it and never will. (I've heard this said of the brain and thought, the climate and weather, the big bang and the universe.)

Wolfram also thinks vast complexity starts with a really simple recursive rule set that just keeps on iterating. So, like your example of ANNs, it starts off with some simple directive, starts running the program, and then by the time it gets close to looking like reality, we can no longer fathom its complexity.

As I see it, this view sounds logical, until you actually try to figure out what the core rule is. Then it starts to look silly. Cellular automata, like ANNs, feel clunky and brute and absurdly reductive. This goes back to the discreteness versus continua thing. Even if the universe is a simple computation gone vast, the idea that the universe is computing itself the same way a brain computes a reasoning is still tendentious.

My sense is that heavyweight geeks like Wolfram and Kurzweil have found so much success with discrete thinking that they presume that everything is discrete and functions through discrete processes which can be codified into diagrams, later to be turned into circuitry. In a sense this is the presumption of all the hard sciences. And I think the frustration of applying this model to the mind is the reason why we have scientists fishing in the quantum realm to land consciousness in their boat; to get away from toothpaste and get back into math.





3/26/2014 10:19 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

>>The only computer powerful enough to actually run the computation of reality is the universe itself.

That ignores lossless compression techniques, and assumes that there is an information limit inherent in reality, which I don't think has shown itself to be true -- new pieces of information can be created ad infinitum.



>>And I think the frustration of applying this model to the mind is the reason why we have scientists fishing in the quantum realm to land consciousness in their boat

No serious scientists are attempting to explain cognition by quantum mechanics. We don't need quantum mechanics to explain it -- the reactions are all chemical and Newtonian as far as we can tell.

3/26/2014 1:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

That ignores lossless compression techniques, and assumes that there is an information limit inherent in reality, which I don't think has shown itself to be true -- new pieces of information can be created ad infinitum.

No. There's another necessary insight you haven't apprehended. And its throwing you off the trail.

What you have written implies computers are computing with finer information bits than reality, when the opposite is actually true, by a long, long way. Electronics and code is fat computing.

Whereas reality may be computing in (something like) one dimensional strings flossing tangled tunnels of spacetime. Which is so very, very thin, it has no existence we can understand. And thus isn't subject to the speed of light like anything having mass does, (i.e. an electron moving through electronics, natch?)

The only way to more lossily model reality than using a computer simulation is to use a box of crayons.

No serious scientists are attempting to explain cognition by quantum mechanics.

Roger Penrose isn't a serious scientist? Sorry, I'm not buying that at all. I think he's a bloody genius. (See his twistor formalism and his mathematics of tiling.)

3/26/2014 6:20 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi Kev

I was not addressing the "idea"  NC was referring too. I was pointing too the nature or structure of thought itself, not the content of thought.  To me it is amazing how easy it is to interchange the content of thought without affecting the structure of thought.
    And agreed upon "meaning of thought," will always leave something out, any meaning the mind forms will generate an opposing thought. Either in the thinkers own mind or in the mind of another.  What happens to meaning and ideas when you are not thinking?  Does reality become inadequate without thought?   Solving the "problem of thought," is like saying thought will understand thought. 


Who is to say how the  human mind should function, it obviously functions in an analytic way. It is one aspect of it's nature.  But to say one aspect is right and one is wrong is just the dichotomy of thought. Doesn't linear/analytic thought organized narratives, whether they be a story, a history or an event that then allows us experience our" imagistic nature.". And isn't creating such a hierarchy a product of analytic thought? 

Things are defined in relations, that is the nature of thought isn't?

3/27/2014 12:05 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

Sean,
having just got hit with an unexpected deadline, I completely sympathize with your preoccupation with modern anxieties. :) But to me it seems that a worldview that cherishes statis can be just as anxiety-ridden as one that pushes you to constant change.

I am reminded of those Greeks around the time of Pericles. Ancient texts always praise the moral stability of the spartans vs the constant turmoil of the athenians, but those ancient sources are almost all written by aristocrats who were themselves anxious at seeing all those rowers suddenly voting like only hoplites should. :) In fact the spartan society was a pit of constant anxiety, built on fear of change (and helot knives in the night), and of dubious morality. Being given to both motion and tragedy, those young athenians couldn't wait to break themselves against the walls of Sicilly, but those spartans, more than braking, faded away, by becoming so exclusive about who was a citizen that soon enough there were almost none to go around. They grayed away, a whole people becoming senescent by trying to stand still in history (the Athenians, by contrast, went more like a young movie star crashing a fast car. And appropriately, Athens later became quite the shrine for roman tourists :)). Both broke, like all breaks, but looking at the inheritance they left us I find the Athenians to be the more admirable by far.

My point being: perhaps it should be possible to have a "constant becoming" that is anxiety-free. Not based on trying to become the "special little snowflake" that everyone else admires, but simply to change and grow naturally with a sense of play, of fun, of openness to the world and possibilities.

That's how I look at science, for instance. I think we don't "grok" science until we realize that the main thing is that all of today's "truths" are almost certainly temporary, and that the way forward is by joyfully throwing away our best ideas of today, as you said of Picasso. But doing that in honest curiosity, not in the mad rush to "publish or perish". I find it curious that at each age one can stand on a more or less firm body of scientific "truth", yet knowing from past example that most of this "body" will be a corpse in a few years. Yet not a useless one - like dead leaves from last season, the fecund ground for the next.

A center must surely hold. But perhaps that center can be just the simple inner calm and curiosity at all the pretty moving things. Someone said that meditation in the silence of the temple is good, but meditation in the roar of the battlefield is the real thing. :)

I wonder if Picasso's constant change was an example of that playful "constant becoming" or if it was the anxiety-filled change of one who fears being forgotten?*Fear* of stagnation or *pleasure* in pursuit? That's a question for the biographer. :)

3/27/2014 7:53 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

kev, Laurence,
all I'm gonna say about the rapture...oops, the singularity...is that futurists are fun to have around, but I'm still waiting on my flying car. :)

On the perils vs benefits, tough, I think the whole thing went out of control with agriculture already :) I am pretty sure I would have been just as satisfied with a life of picking berries, making love, and drawing on cave walls with burn sticks, but since that mistake is done, I am of the camp that feels like going the whole way, perils and all (as carefully as possible, but no more). In terms of a single lifetime, it is more interesting that way, and in terms of the species, I take into consideration that we are always just one asteroid hit from global extinction. Either we learn to be both tech-savvy and wise or we are done for anyway. On the long run, species either become space-faring or extinct (on the even longer run, all become extinct anyway, but I am all in favor of prolonging existencial pain :))

kev, Richard: I'd make a distinction between "serious" and "brilliant". :) Penrose is certainly brilliant, and he has an intuition, so he should chase it, but QM being relevant for brain function isn't really forced by any hard evidence (big a.f.a.i.k. here). That is ok, scientists chase their intuitions all the time out of Occam's razor territory, but when they do, they should accept the burden of proof rests with them. I always remember that the guy who proved Fermat's last theorem did it in secret and on his own time, since he knew the work was in crackpot territory unless it suceeded, as it did, and then it was genius :) (personally, on the same note, I have the intuition that a Bohm-type "realist" QM is possible, but I accept this is borderline crackpot and I don't pass it around as more than a possibility that attracts me personally and is perhaps not totally unreasonable).
I know very little about Penrose's theory but I gather it is of the "it comes from the secret juice" type rather than the "it comes from the connections" type. Currently, most people and most evidence favors the connectivist view, but only time will tell.

I am big into bayesian probability, and that is an example of a theory that refused to die and eventually came up on top. So it is possible. But one also has to consider that in most cases, the most bona fide heavyweight is indeed the winner, boring as that is. (I personally don't consider the connectivist view boring, but that's just personal taste.)

I'll probably have to leave the thread for a few days, as far as posting goes, but I'll keep reading as much as possible. Thanks for the interesting chat.

3/27/2014 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Thank you Antonio,
I wasn't actually commenting on science when I referred to the anxiety of becoming. Science is a subject. As a subject it grows but it isn't the life of the subject itself. There's movement in its growth but only the scientists themselves are alive, though the subject grows at a pace that is certainly active, exciting and lively and may be referred to as alive.

The modern person is damaged because they don't know the difference between what is alive and what is simply moving. I did enjoy the history you shared on the Spartans and Athenians. If I may add, the Athenians didn't have peace, but they did understand what being was.

Making a living in a specialized world may involve a lot of anxiety, but it is greatly reduced if being is a familiar understanding. My point was that being was central to the previous world view and so people understood themselves as (human/ fallible) beings.

It's one of the peculiarities of thought that we can easily be swallowed by it and consumed. Yet thought tends to subjugate everything. So we may be subjugating ourselves as we are swallowed by it. People can get very caught up in the largeness and loftiness of their subject and confuse it with themselves. A regular practice and worldview of being can mitigate such distortions and may also reduce the tendency to various distorted appetites which attempt to compensate for the absence of life, or well being.

A vibrating string isn't music, nor is a chemical reaction a thought and there are many examples of the same whereby a larger good is dependent on things that may be separated and in such a state not actually be alive, but only be moving.

The damage I was referring to was in getting lost in all of it, losing one's self, the loss of being at home with oneself. The damage is evident in how many people are comfortable with ideas and practices, now perceived to be human rights, yet were advocated by the Nazis. By the same line of thinking, genetic perfection will also become a human right. The notion of life as a fallible being would be helpful.

3/27/2014 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Picasso came into his own as drawings were coming into their own. It was with Degas that the human figure came out of its confined outlines and was presented as a finished drawing in a unique way. In the study of Mme. Hertel, the intimate gesture, line variation and passage are different than in previous sketch as sketch, or study as study drawings. The difference may seem subtle, but I think it's there. The very way it's cropped and signed says this drawing is to be taken seriously.

Though Degas was possibly the most deliberate of artists, his finish was often deliberately unfinished and his sketchy strokes quite deliberately drawn to be sketchy. As per his finish, he was making a statement about when something unfinished looking was finished.

Rembrandt's very loosest sketches also belie his extraordinary drawing skills. The Lysistrata illustrations are another type of example of terrific drawing skills working in a one-off mode of mastery. Not all is at it appears.

In the movie, Picasso was throwing together incongruous elements as if twisted steel and flowers, flatness with three dimensionally rendered things and yet he was able to make them work, even though sometimes through very uncomfortable or suffocating solutions. He destroyed layer after layer leaving traces of previous layers causing a kind of textural integration that was from another world. The cartoon departure points were very weird, but there's still stuff to be had for a watchful eye.

Antonio, a person can be engaged and passionate without the anxiety of becoming, perhaps more so in comfort in their being.
Also, thanks for introducing your points with Kev. That entire exchange was great.

3/27/2014 1:35 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi Sean

The rough allows the delicate to shine in Degas's drawing. Vigor and sensitivity go hand and hand. One is not more "finished" then another. The extremes, like a crocodile holding it's offspring in it's mouth.

Since everyone is talking about Picasso, I believe he once said,"A finished painting is a dead painting,"

3/28/2014 10:34 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/28/2014 3:13 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Penrose is interesting, most mathematicians are, but way out of his league in both quantum physics and biology. He has had no major quantum physics discoveries, nor biological ones. His system of the quantum mind has never made a valuable prediction, and even if it had, he at no point says that quantum physics is necessary for consciousness at large, but only for abstract mathematical proofing. Funny we'd evolve a system just to do mathematical proofs. Its much more likely that Godel's incompleteness theorum is itself incomplete.

The idea is just more quantum-physics masturbation, but it has been inappropriately lionized across the board. The simple idea that the brain would, in a few million years, evolve a system to utilize quantum mechanics when we can barely effect quantum entanglements, let alone commune with his magical-thinking platonic realm of embedded spacetime geometry is bonkers.

It's not a coincidence his theory relies on indole to function because it's complete shit. ; )

3/28/2014 3:17 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard,

My guess is that your Physics lectures tend to be sparsely attended. Even when you do them on the sidewalk in front of the Indian deli-mart near the subway entrance during rush hour.

Gödel-ay-ee-ooo. (Math yodeling)

3/28/2014 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Tom,
Interesting point on Degas. Degas also found his finished pieces wanting an adjustment. The delicacy of the alligator with its young is a great image. Thanks

3/29/2014 4:02 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Picasso could at five "draw like Raphael" …yet his copy after a 'Bargue,' done at 13, is heavy handed and completely overstates the subtle undulation of the contour. Asshats.

3/30/2014 5:57 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Dilettantes and the ignorant are always led into misconceptions from the early academic work by Picasso, Matisse, and their ilk, who were simply beneficiaries of a highly efficient academic art training curriculum. So efficient, in fact, that it brought about its own demise by making well trained academic artists a dime a dozen, as anyone who is familiar with Christie's and Sotheby's catalogues well knows.

3/30/2014 9:45 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Maybe the defects you see in Picasso's art are the defects of the academy.  Was Rapheal trained to draw from the "flat?"

"The plates in the three-part Cours include sculpture (anatomical parts and whole-figure classical masterpieces), contemporary renditions of Old Master drawings, and Bargue's own studies of male nudes from life. Apart from the life studies the Cours was mainly intended for commercial artists, and this might serve as justification for Bargue's simplistic, pseudo-classical pedagogy...By the time he was in his early teens, Picasso was copying Bargue plates including the Theseus from the Parthenon (one of the pedimental figures in the British Museum), the Belvedere Torso, and an unidentified male "Torse Antique" showing the torso's rear. In doing so Picasso internalised Bargue's treatment of the figure as the byproduct of reflected light." Catesby Leigh

Here is the whole article he wrote on the Rapheal Picasso comparison. 
http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/4499/full

3/31/2014 12:04 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

In doing so Picasso internalised Bargue's treatment of the figure as the byproduct of reflected light.

Panegyric nonsense. Even in his classically imitative work Picasso used reflected light minimally.

3/31/2014 12:43 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

etc, etc, Right you are…twice. Otherwise ~

Tom, excellent article, I had not read it, thanks for the link.

""Whereas Ingres was schooled in the old academic tradition, a tradition whose formal content was grounded in the geometric rigour of classical sculpture, Picasso's latter-day schooling was very different. This isn't just a matter of the increasingly pervasive naturalism that set in after the French Revolution. It is more specifically a matter of the influence of photography depriving the academic tradition of that formal rigour after it burst on to the scene around 1840.""
~ Exactly.

"pervasive naturalism"…"influence of photography"
~ Still winning.

""Bargue's Torse Antique, which Picasso copied (see my link above) very faithfully, is a particularly flagrant example of this degradation of classical form. The clearly outlined, extensively shadowed figure is reduced to a sort of diagrammatic, chiaroscuro collage — remarkably abstract and inorganic.""
~ The plates vary in quality, it would be wiser to use them as an aid in drawing one of the sculptures from a high quality photograph (B&W, same angle,) or a cast from life, same angle and lighting.

""Photography, then, did not just infect Picasso's ersatz classical training; its anti-classical ramifications, particularly evident in the Torse Antique plate, were born out in his Modernist work."" …&… "Simplistic shapes (think of the dumbed-down shoulder in the Ilissus study), generic or schematic outlines and tonal gradation remained central to Picasso's draughtsmanship after he forsook the academy. These core components of Bargue's E-Z Method he routinely combined with graphic pyrotechnics of one kind or another. It is not an exaggeration to say that Picasso made a Modernist virtue of the defects in his academic training." …last but not least… "Picasso's training also appears to have set the stage for his cubist work."" ~

~ ""Kendall insisted that I make the contours of my cast-drawing with straight lines only and also translate the shadows and half tones into flat planes intersecting at sharply defined angles bounded by straight lines. He told me to use the white of the paper for the lights, a gray for the half tones and a charcoal-black for the shadows, all flat tones without variation. In other words I was to draw these realistic casts of heads. hands and feet to look as though they had been merely blocked out. An accomplished painter, Kendall told me, when rendering the curved planes of the human body remained constantly aware of the underlying flat planes composing the curves. If he failed to do this, Kendall asserted, his drawing would lack character. And he kept me to this kind of draftsmanship for an entire summer.

Now the esthetic principle involved is not in question. A feeling for underlying flat planes undeniably gives character to the expression of form. It has appealed to some painters more than to others. Among the great masters Hals carried the principle farthest while Ingres leaned the most in the opposite direction. Pushed to the extreme of absurdity it became the basic justification of Cubism. But it is at least doubtful whether beginners should be subjected to this kind of discipline. After a lifetime of painting I find myself still uncertain whether such training at an early stage is valuable or whether it is positively harmful to the pupil.

Where did Sergeant Kendall pick up this system? In Paris he had been a pupil of Luc Olivier Merson (1846-1920) but Merson's own elegant and curvilinear drawings in no way suggest that he preached or practiced this method. If Eakins (Kendall's first teacher at the Brooklyn Art Guild) did so he did not get the idea from Gerome, for I had it from Paxton that no hint of such a tradition came into the master's teaching."" ~ R. H. Ives Gammell (Oddly…he's to blame for many things.)

3/31/2014 3:51 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

अर्जुन,

Simplistic shapes (think of the dumbed-down shoulder in the Ilissus study)....routinely combined with graphic pyrotechnics of one kind or another

Ah, now there is some worthwhile formal analysis of Picasso, not the typical panegyrics and poetry one gets when the Picasso admirer is challenged to explain what he/she likes about his work. From my perspective, the unpardonable sin of Picasso was the systematic failure to comprehend the importance of establishing major and minor shapes, i.e. a failure to comprehend the profundity of contrast in art and its aesthetic/perceptual significance (as well as an apparent inability to organize and unite shapes beyond cramming them into the picture frame), a sin made all the more grievous by someone claiming to be devoted to abstraction. In that regard, Mondrian's grid paintings are far more palatable to me than the typical Picasso.

Fascinating to consider that a polygonal, straight line paradigm exemplified by the Bargue plates led to cubism.

Thank you.

3/31/2014 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Thanks Tom for the terrific interesting and insightful article. The comments below the article were also good.

There are many reasons the twentieth century was one where drawing stepped forth on its own, but two of them, for better or worse, were Picasso and Matisse.

A common trait of figurative artists married to their draughtsmanship is their inability to sacrifice any part of their figures for the better of their images. Often not a blade of grass is permitted to interrupt a well drawn figure and this is instinctive, since one holds to what one values and a figurative artist will value the same.

A drawing teacher named Barbara Carr of Pratt, now deceased, took a group to Brazil. Her premise was that people working commercially became stiff and it took the better part of the two week class to understand what she was saying. We learned it not simply from her approach to drawing and unrealistic coloration, but from the culture of Rio de Janeiro itself, its music, the sounds of its insects, its vegetation, the gestures and body language of the people, ease in being, movement and nearness to others, in a woman in a thonged bikini riding by on a Japanese motorcycle, homeless kids and neglected corners; the complexity and spirit of the place, but it wasn't found in any particular light or shadow of form, nor any unique coloration of its own. It wasn't simply a tropical place to vacate.

Upon returning to NYC the people by comparison looked hopelessly wooden. It would be nearly impossible for a highly structural draughtsman to capture what was experienced in Brazil because what differentiated the place wasn't structural. That is, an expressive approach was truly inspired and the teacher brought forth something well worth consideration.

It's amusing to watch an artist who has so much to say about those who work loosely try it themselves, because they invariably have no clue where to go and what to do without their well practiced habits and such is only natural. The same is often true of artists whose post commercial careers fall flat when they fail to find equally engaging subject matter. Art can be very humbling because our perspective is glued what we can't see as well as what we do.

The article is a very valuable one, but of course an artist like Picasso or Matisse are to be judged by something other than their anatomical structure since it had very little to do with what they were doing. To think that such was the product entirely of not having any structural understanding is also to be missing something.

3/31/2014 12:01 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Blaming Bargue for Picasso is like blaming the White Album for Charles Manson.

3/31/2014 2:03 PM  
Blogger Olivia Kiernan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/31/2014 7:50 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

"In doing so Picasso internalised Bargue's treatment of the figure as the byproduct of reflected light"

When referring "reflected light," ii think Leigh's means how light is reflected back to eye from the things we see, like a camera which records only the values of light. Not reflected light as a secondary light source in a picture. But he says it better,

"A photograph, after all, is produced by reflected light, and in recording visual phenomena through gradations of light, shade and shadow it typically fails to capture nature's geometric depth and complexity, not least where human anatomy is concerned....As the byproduct of reflected light, rather than an entity whose geometric structure logically antecedes and transcends the realm of optical phenomena, the human figure loses its classical content, not only in the Bargue primer but in the entire programme of late-academic instruction in which Picasso so conspicuously excelled"

4/01/2014 12:16 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Tom, I think you said it very well. I'll try and distill it further.

In photography, an improper exposure of light may cause the flattening of graduated shadows into a single dark shape.

For Picasso, drawing and seeing this way became a habit.

If the claim were so, he might have developed a style similar to 1960s commercial art (psychedelic). Secondly, Tiepolo rendered the nuances of a man's back with nothing but lines.

What Leigh was saying was that Picasso's training lacked a thorough understanding of anatomy which would have compensated for the
photographic limitations in the Bargue and late-academic training.

Leigh then goes on to claim that Cubism developed out of such training and cites a quote by Picasso which was also interesting, but less convincing because the process of examining visual elements in isolation, unmoored, unintegrated or in disintegration, had already begun with people like Pissaro trying to create space using color without tone and Seurat's color with pointillism, Gauguin's unleashed color and pattern, Vuillard with pattern, etc.

In time there will be a reevaluation of Picasso and the era, but before Picasso is thrown overboard, it's worth remembering that much of the credibility of drawing as a stand alone form of art belongs to Matisse and Picasso along with Degas. Their experimentation with materials, techniques and especially line weight made its way into the work of Noel Sickles, Austin Briggs and Robert Fawcett either directly or indirectly through others like David Stone Martin and Ben Shahn. Countless children's books, graphics and typography were influenced in the same spirit of anything goes experimentation initiated by Picasso and Matisse. People loved or hated Picasso and for multiple decades his art caused passionate arguments. Dali believed he was created to save the world from modern art, which may have meant Picasso. Yet, Picasso himself lamented the loss of the representational in the 1950s.

Picasso captured beauty in some unconventional ways which will hang tough for a long long time. His cross hatched Mother and Child is one example and part of that style was a plaster cast sense of space freed from anatomical bearings. But if anyone remains unconvinced that he had any beneficial influence, think of how wonderful a painter Norman Rockwell was and how uninteresting were his pencil drawings, then think of how interesting drawing was across the 20th century.

4/01/2014 11:34 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Tom,

1. "Reflected light" in artist's parlance has a specific meaning that I'm not willing to concede because some author of an internet article demonstrates a fuzzy understanding of it, as evidenced by....

2. The Bargue plates use exaggerated and perhaps even invented reflected light to intensify the vividness of the illusion of three dimensional form. That amplified vividness of form does not equate to or correspond to photographic or visual reality, and the author mistakenly believes it does, and that leads to his fuzzy understanding and use of the terminology.

3. Just because Picasso or anyone else copies one or more of the plates does not mean they have assimilated the pedagogical theory behind the plates, and one of the proofs the author offers that Picasso did in fact absorb the theory, Picasso's painting "Two women sitting at a bar", is laughable.

4/01/2014 11:43 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Must agree with etc, etc here.

Claims mostly laughable. Total ignorance of aesthetic form, its history (goes back to Greeks), its practice, and how postimpressionist modernists thought primitively about it after pastiching theory of it from Romantics/symbolists and impressionists.

Also, deep misunderstanding about photography... it is much more influential in practice of art, not in theory, except among philosophical boobs. Breadth/notan validated by photography becomes theoretical justification for modernism/cartoons in artists who don't understand aesthetic form and/or have too much ADD to actually draw patiently.

Problem with Picasso is he has a flat imagination. He doesn't seem to aesthetically penetrate space or feel form in his mind. Mostly he just gets line and the flat shape of things. Thus he is a natural graphic artist/cartoonist. His father's work shows the same problem, lack of real feeling for form and depth. Fundamentally, it's a talent problem. Picasso had no choice but to find another way.

Reading about Picasso's beginnings, it is obvious that the Picasso-hype machine was revving its engines right from the start. His politics were probably just another method of getting good press. Because he obviously didn't give a crap about anybody he actually knew in real life. He could only pretend to be moral in the abstract.

4/01/2014 12:34 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Problem with Picasso is he has a flat imagination. He doesn't seem to aesthetically penetrate space or feel form in his mind. Mostly he just gets line and the flat shape of things. Thus he is a natural graphic artist/cartoonist.... Fundamentally, it's a talent problem."

Kev, I have two concerns with your perspective. First, when you say Picasso has a flat imagination, I agree with you that he worked flat, but if cubism shows us anything it's that Picasso made a willful departure from the western tradition of "aesthetically penetrating space or feeling form." I like Holland Cotter's description of the impact of cubism: "The day of pure optical pleasure was over; art had to be approached with caution and figured out. It wasn't organic, beneficent, transporting, it was a thing of cracks and sutures, odors and stings, like life... it didn't ease your path; it tripped you up." Picasso was audacious and fought like hell to shatter the illusion of three dimensionality that you say he lacked the talent to pull off.

You may believe that cubism is inferior to Ingres' "ancien regime realism"-- even Picasso tired of cubism and abandoned it around 1913 after he had made his point-- but it would be expecting an awful lot to think he should retreat all the way back to Chardin or Poussin. Picasso had already made it quite clear what he thought about your "aesthetically penetrating space or feeling form" and probably would be unconcerned by any attempts to measure him by that yardstick.

My other concern is that you characterize a flat imagination as a "talent problem." I think Steinberg was one of the most imaginative artists of the 20th century, yet he worked flat. In fact, all kinds of great art has been made with symbols, words and pictograms; all kinds of graphic designs are visually as powerful and memorable as those oil paintings that "feel form." I previously agreed with you when you said that Picasso was a great graphic artist / cartoonist. Perhaps the difference is that I (being a fan of drawing) don't view that as a second class occupation. In fact, if an artist harnesses the right kinds of concepts with a flat line (as I think Picasso did) it can be very much a first class occupation.

4/01/2014 2:37 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

If one attempts to penetrate space and feel form with the mind, and one cannot, the cause is a limitation of that particular talent. (One can attempt to train the faculty, but like any human ability, you can't get blood from a stone, and some people will just never be able to dunk a basketball.)

Cubism is a graphic design innovation. And the graphic creativity to develop it is to be applauded. Like most graphic designs, the cubist idea is sitting there on the surface, so the intellect gets it really easy. Which makes it easy to notice, pontificate about, and hype. However, to the degree it is aesthetic, Cubism is using older ideas.

I don't much care for Ingres's work or "ancien regime realism." I don't think acknowledging Picasso's limitations and his natural calling sets me up as in some opposing camp. There are many camps around the fire.

Steinberg is a wonderful cartoonist and I love his imagination. But the flatness of it makes it more like writing. And ultimately you only read words to get the idea. Words can extentd out to farthest expanses of life or thought in the batting of an eyelash, but you can't live in them like in a great painting, because there simply isn't enough room to swim. There's no life there to live. There isn't air to breathe. (Unless you are talking about putting together enough words to create the image of a reality in the mind, as in a story.)

Ultimately, I think cartoons really are trifles. No matter how brilliant, clever or funny. No matter how correct morally or ethically. It will still lack substance, definitionally. Yet a really good cartoon can sure brighten one's day. No arguing that.

4/01/2014 3:18 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

The article was still interesting for its contentions and comments above. I learned several things.

What about Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs, whose work moved steadily towards more graphically compatible compositions from the late 1950s, through the 1960s, 70s and 80s? The same influences were affecting Al Parker, Austin Briggs, Coby Whitmore and many other beloved mid century illustrators.

All the influences coming into illustration were graphic in nature arising from Degas, other impressionists, post impressionists and early 20th century artists including Picasso and Matisse.
The reason was quite simple, the graphic nature of the influences was most compatible with the text which shared space with the illustrations.

That such was part of a longer history and just chunked off from previous understandings overlooks eastern art and the excitement being generated by its recent influences.

There is also a misconception that good drawing must be done slowly, when certain artists moved rather quickly through some very complicated things. Bob Peak is just one example of an artist who drew quickly, so said Walter Reed who saw him draw on actual jobs. Michelangelo is said to have drawn and painted his Sistine Chapel figures in just twenty minutes each since fresco dried in twenty minutes.

4/01/2014 7:18 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I understand how your personal preferences, fueled by your distinctive nerve endings and processed through your individual neocortex, might conclude that one can't live in flat symbols the way one can live in a great painting, "because there simply isn't enough room to swim." But is that a fair generalization for the larger world of art? The Zen enso (which is nothing more than a black circle) serves as a focal point for deep contemplation of eternity, enlightenment and the void. And a sizable percentage of people on the planet believe that the pretensions of representational painting are blasphemy because the best that an artist can do falls so far short of the profundity and divinity of the world that artists should not even try to emulate the gods by going there. For them, simpler designs and symbols are less of a worldly distraction and a better focal point for deep swimming.

Cromagnon artists used to walk for a mile into dark caves filled with predators in order to carve sacred symbols onto just the right magical spot. Their only source of light was flickering pine torches. I think if you told them that the marks they were making contained no room to swim or air to breathe, they might feed you to the cave bears.

4/01/2014 9:44 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean,

The flatness of the picture plane is the same, whether you are talking about a painting hung on a wall, a mural, or the page of a book. So the issue has always been compatibility of the image with its surface.

The problem of compatibility with text is solved if the earlier issue is first solved. So let's not put the cart before the horse.

It just so happened that Artists were on the trail of the first problem for about 500 years prior to the magazine boom. So the problem had enough able men on the job over time to get solved well in advance of the golden age of illustration.

And yes, I agree that some drawing can be done fast. I guess what I meant is that good drawing requires concentration and a reaching out for meaningfulness. The ADD of modernists prevents such invested drawing, as I see it.

4/01/2014 9:48 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

There is a distinction to be drawn between zoning out in front of a visual mantra (and falling into yourself thereby), versus falling into the imagined world created by an artist through poetic means.

The fact that different cultures have different dogmas or stigmas about representation doesn't change what it means for an artist to create his own poetic world. Our art doesn't disappear, and our aesthetics and philosophy along with it, just because some other culture out there has some religious dogma that already peed on the territory. (Shall I cite the Taliban here, or do you concede the point?)

4/01/2014 10:13 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Like everyone else, I thought the article comparing Picasso and Raphael was excellent and chock full of insights. Thank you for sharing it. Picasso's brag that he could draw better than Raphael was born of ignorance (Just as Julian Schnabel's subsequent brag that he was the "closest thing to Picasso" was born of ignorance.)

But in some ways I think Leigh protesteth too much. He did a great job of identifying the anatomical blunders in Picasso's drawing of Vollard, but if he turned that same sharp eye on Ingres' "Grande Odalisque" he would find equally egregious inaccuracies.

It seems to me that a number of artists in the 20th century concluded that there was a time to go to Walden and a time to leave Walden. They had to spend long enough there to understand what they were leaving, and I think the good ones did. (Hence I think that Rodin, Picasso and Matisse do a better job than many of today's artists at drawing boneless, distorted figures because those artists drew well enough to know what they were leaving behind). If an artist makes a principled decision that in the 20th century it is no longer worth the candle to draw like Raphael, it's difficult to fault the artist for not spending a lifetime acquiring the craft he or she is giving up. I think artists are obligated only to get close enough to reconnoiter, and that's what I think Picasso did.

4/01/2014 10:42 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Actually, the taliban and similar religious factions were exactly what I had in mind. In 815 CE, if you tried to paint a naturalistic Christian icon (instead of a flat, idealized one) the troops of Leo the Armenian would come along and thump you on the head. But there were (and are) a lot of cultures like that, and if you do the math it turns out to be a huge segment of humanity. Sure, some of them are acting under the oppression of autocratic religions and some of them "zone out" rather than meditate over zen art, but I don't see any way you can apply that flaw to dismiss hundreds of millions of art viewers.

Would you say that African totemic symbols, where survival of crops or victory in battle hangs in the balance, involves less of an emotional or intellectual commitment? Or those flat cycladic sculptures?

And speaking of flat, where would you assign Japanese woodblock prints, which came to the west in the 19th century and started much of the trouble in modern art?

4/01/2014 11:37 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
The picture plane moves according to where the horizon line is placed, whether we are looking up from, or down from or directly at the horizon line. Degas was keenly aware of the effect of the horizon line and its influence on the direction of the image. It may seem like nothing special today, but the Japanese image or hanging effect was very exciting at the time and later became a conscious part of illustration in the mid century. The popularity of flat or graphic shapes also grew in from the same influence.

Text reads from top to bottom and designs from the mid century adapted the graphic design of top to bottom movement. I'm thinking 1957 and onward. Peak had to consider text in his movie posters and both Peak and Fuchs could resolve images which moved from bottom to top and top to bottom in a graphic manner.

In previous centuries the larger amount of imagery moved into the picture, towards the horizon line, rather than predominantly up or down. Yes there were radically upward moving images on ceilings and placement does also effect the movement of an image. I'm just suggesting that the top to bottom image was a favorite of the 20th century and placement of images in magazines did lend themselves to the adaption of a design which moved in union with text and had already been well demonstrated and popular in the fine arts.
Thanks.

4/01/2014 11:44 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

I guess I would not dismiss what Leigh is saying because you don't like his definition of reflected light. He explains himself quite clearly.  Value is that part of visual impression we receive from things which is not attributable to color or form. The impressionist attitude of getting the value right  is the same as getting the drawing right. Some artist chose the effect, others choice the solidity of tangible objects.

The Brague plates are flat which seems to be the whole point of the article.  Which only encourages the artist to mimic tones and outlines it does not make one think in terms of dimensional or as Leigh says geometrically. I think that is one of his major points, comprehending space requires thinking, or is much more rigorous  that duplicating total values.  (that does not mean estimating and arranging values in a picture is not difficult.)

The " pedagogy"  of the academy by Picasso's time is it's weakness, drawing from the flat.  He uses Ingres as his example because he was taught to think dimensional, the geometry of space, learning from the volume of sculpture  To define form, not mimic tones.  This is the difference between the true classical mind and the modern mind.  Hence Picasso fails to describe space or the anatomy in his portrait because he fails dimensionally.  

Leigh totally comprehends aesthetic form.  That's the point of the whole article.  The power of Michelangelo is his ability to comprehend and define space, to define what he is drawing, which Picasso fails to do in his portrait of  Vulliard.  Picasso like most moderns has totally come under the influence of  the retinal image or as Leigh calls it reflected light.

Leigh doesn't describe anatomical blunders he describes spatial blunders.  The failure to give definition to experience. It is not the "anatomy," it is the artist ability to define a given part of human form, leave out  human and just say form.  Different artist will come to their own conclusion of form, they will create their own emphasis, but too choose no emphasis but a mimicking of tonal values is a failure to define space.   What Leigh is describing is the difference between the classical mind and the modern mind.  He doesn't denigrate Picasso he is just saying don't mistake Picasso's achievements for Raphael's.

As he concludes "And his achievement is more likely to be gauged in the light of personal sensibility rather than objective achievement. For many educated people, Picasso and his decidedly eclectic, often humorous art are emblematic of an idea of modernity and its ambiguous relationship to the past — and that is all the justification he needs."

4/02/2014 12:37 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

But in some ways I think Leigh protesteth too much. He did a great job of identifying the anatomical blunders in Picasso's drawing of Vollard, but if he turned that same sharp eye on Ingres' "Grande Odalisque" he would find equally egregious inaccuracies."

David , I don't think he is writing about correct anatomy, he is saying Ingres defined, Picasso avoided.

4/02/2014 12:46 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Leigh says of Picasso's drawing, "as a study of the human form it would have Ingres raising his eyebrow. For starters, Vollard just isn't put together quite right. Most problematically, he appears to be missing a goodly portion of his jawbone....the structure of the side of his head and its engagement with the neck is badly resolved.... the back of the outer hand, like the wrist of the partly covered hand, is a lumpen mass and not the articulated anatomical form it should be. Picasso also failed to draw Vollard's rump properly." My point was that Leigh could just as easily have said, "As a study of the human form, Ingres' Odalisque makes us raise an eyebrow. For starters, unlike the normal 33 human vertebrae, the Odalisque seems to have about 40...."

I understand that Leigh goes further and draws a distinction between defining form and mimicking tones, but Leigh does not have a monopoly on the proper way to define form. For example, he criticizes Picasso for what he calls "a violation of one of the most elementary canons of classical draftsmanship: that lines should 'follow the form' and in doing so indicate its depth." Illustrator Robert Fawcett had a strictly traditional art education at the Slade school in England, spending years drawing from the figure, and long after he became a renowned draftsman he continued life drawing every week for the rest of his life. Yet, he often deliberately violated Leigh's elementary cannon of "following the form." He admired what modern art had to offer and was close friends with artists such as Henry Moore. Fawcett would draw a cylinder, but rather than making curved lines which followed the form, he employed wild drybrush swirls going against the grain to achieve a highly realistic but less stodgy effect. I have never heard anyone suggest that Fawcett didn't understand how to define form.

But to the extent that Leigh "doesn't denigrate Picasso he is just saying don't mistake Picasso's achievements for Raphael's," I heartily agree with him. As I said, I enjoyed the article very much.

4/02/2014 2:49 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell, António Araújo, etc, etc, Jesse Hamm, अर्जुन, Kev Ferrara--
For those of you concerned about the deification of Picasso, and who suspect that his market status has been artificially inflated by the tasteless wealthy, remember that nearly 600 years ago Vasari was refering to Raphael as "the divine Raffaello." Robert Hughes wrote that Raphael's stock is so high because "he appealed to the streak of sentimentality in every king and pope, no matter how ferocious, with the sweetness of his madonnas and bambini, whilst confirming the authoritarian bent of connoisseurs by his invention of the Grand Manner."

I agree that we all need to resist the phony deification of artists by agents with ulterior motives (and I do think Picasso's reputation has been inflated beyond his talent). However, we should be able to accomplish that without overlooking the artist's genuine talents and significant. One way to strive for that is to understand your type and challenge yourself to think against it. As Will Durant said, we have to be wary of being communists because we are poor, or capitalists because we are rich.

4/02/2014 4:16 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

But there were (and are) a lot of cultures like that, and if you do the math it turns out to be a huge segment of humanity.

My view of humanity is fairly grim with a few bright spots here and there. Bandwagons have no weight with me.

Would you say that African totemic symbols, where survival of crops or victory in battle hangs in the balance, involves less of an emotional or intellectual commitment? Or those flat cycladic sculptures?

When I was a little kid I had a storybook that captivated me thoroughly about monsters on a strange and unknown island. One particular picture, of an alligator-like monster walking in front of an erupting volcano so thoroughly swayed me, I was filled up with a sense of wondrousness and awe whenever I looked at it.

Years later, I found the book again and was startled to find that the pictures had all gone completely dead. I had no imaginative response to them at all. They were crudely drawn, with crude colors and crude shapes, simplistic compositions, and weren't particularly well designed into the pages. Not a hint of the wondrousness that had formerly swirled out from this book was left.

The great secret to this mystery, I have come to understand, is that the imagination is there to fill in gaps... imaginative closure, I think it is called. The wider the gaps, the more the imagination is required to do, the more wondrous the leap when we reach the other side. We swoosh the interval with a rush of emotion.

This is, apparently, why jokes make us laugh. Because they set up some semantic scenario, and then take us on a surprise mental long jump to closure/payoff. Our laugh is the joy of surmounting the interval in one bound.

Anyhow, as we mature, we realize that some gaps don't actually make sense. And we are often tricked into filling in a gap with what we wish to be there, rather than what actually is, or might be. Sometimes this is called, rather clinically, and charitably, an induction fallacy. Sometimes it is better to call it, simply, foolishness, inexperience, or credulity.

This is just how confidence men gain people's trust: They control how they are perceived to the utmost extent, putting a few shiny feet forward and letting a few expensive baubles dangle in front of your eyes. And then they leave the rest to the imagination of their mark. The mark then fills in the wide information gap with all their dreams and ambitions. And the trickster then plays them for all they are worth, subsequently.

So the same fantasy that allows people to believe some politician is a superhero also allows them to believe that the cartoon designs they are looking at have enough information to induce a world. The same loophole in thought is also just how billions of people can believe nonsense if their information diet is controlled. Or selected according to comfort.

All to say, I am still addicted to wondrous gap leaping; imaginative closure. But I have a pretty thoroughly internalized education in it now, in theory and experience. So I'm less likely to leap the tempting gaps left by ignorance, laziness, bold claims, bald symbols, or the manipulative use of half-truths.





4/02/2014 8:43 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

""Total ignorance of aesthetic form"" ~ Yup.

Now it's clear; Picasso mastered Classical drawing …but he didn't, Picasso mastered Neo-Classical drawing …but he didn't, Picasso mastered Academic drawing …but he didn't, Picasso was a master of forms and planes …but he wasn't. So, just what did he master?…Scribbling.

Re: Pratt & Travelling for local colour ~ Mead Schaeffer graduated from Pratt in 1920.

4/02/2014 9:17 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

The " pedagogy" of the academy by Picasso's time is it's weakness, drawing from the flat.

According to Boime's The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century (generally regarded as the foremost authority in the English language), the academic curriculum consisted of first acquiring facility from drawing from prints, then drawing from sculpture, then the live model. Again, Leigh's knowledge is questionable.

David,
Every artist that I like I am able to articulate something objective, especially in terms of formalism, why I like them. If someone doesn't like them, I'm ok with that. Now neither of these appear to be true with regard to your defense of Picasso. Maybe you are the one who should know your type and challenge yourself to think against it?

4/02/2014 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

David,
I very much appreciate your last paragraph. We can learn what is from what is not, if we turn it over enough times.

It is going to be difficult to rediscover dimension after a century where everything was flattened out. Being became existence and unknowingness became nothingness and imagination also became non dimensional, the antidote to which seems to be endless obliteration. So there is a lot of frustration out there as per reestablishing a more dimensional relationship with life and art. Nevertheless, good things come from mixing it up and turning things over, even it everything doesn't come jumping out at once.

अर्जुन, thanks for the Mead Schaefer link. A funny line there about the non existing town. When I first went looking for work, an older illustrator made a point of letting me know that not every illustrator is right for every assignment. Barbara Carr was onto something and everyone discovered some things they were previously unaware they were capable of.

4/02/2014 11:03 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

>So, just what did he master?…>Scribbling.

Hey! Are you dissin' scribbling? :)

4/03/2014 4:25 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc wrote: "Maybe you are the one who should know your type and challenge yourself to think against it?"

That's how I came to like Picasso, and look at all the good it does me here.

अर्जुन -- When we approach new kinds of work, how do we figure out which differences are attributable to "total ignorance" or lack of talent or sloth, and which differences just require more figuring out, or a different set of standards? If Picasso was merely an untalented scribbler, there were a thousand easier paths to follow than Les Demoiselles D'avignon or cubism. He chose a difficult, outrageous path in an era when (unlike today) there was no mindless presumption that "new and different" = better. His hard work along a difficult path is hardly a guarantee that his inventions should prevail but to me at least, it is a strong indication that he merits sustained attention to see if I can figure out what he is up to. (And by "sustained attention," I don't mean listing the ways that he is not as good as Sargent or Sorolla on their playing field.) In the words of the great Seneca, "If you judge, investigate."

Thanks for the Schaeffer reference; I am always amazed by your ability to ferret out historical information re illustrators.

António Araújo-- Yes, I am always a fan of good scribbling and an enemy of bad scribbling.

4/03/2014 7:10 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

"My point was that Leigh could just as easily have said, "As a study of the human form, Ingres' Odalisque makes us raise an eyebrow. For starters, unlike the normal 33 human vertebrae, the Odalisque seems to have about 40...." 


I agree David, but I still don't quite think that is the point.  A lumpy vague form of a hand and failure to " draw/define" the jaw is the problem, Ingres may have drawn too many vertebra, but he was able to defined/draw them so clearly   you can count them and recognize them as individuals.  The classical mind brings clarity to everything it draws seems to be Leigh's point.

Wow, I like the Seneca quote. Things are rarely what them appear.

etc,etc
"Again, Leigh's knowledge is questionable"
Depends upon what knowledge is more vital,
"When one copies, the way of doing the thing, of transcribing from nature, is already pointed out by the master. Very often the most difficult points to tackle are elucidated by his genius in such a natural and easy way that the copyists passes over them without ever realizing that the difficulty existed in presence of the model. " Vernon Blake

4/03/2014 10:32 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Picasso was in the middle of last century's war. It involved humanism and positivism and positivism won. Picasso's expressionism went off into some bizarre and hideous places, but it was expressionism. To throw out Picasso, would be to throw out his stylistic influences which went straight through mid century illustration.

By comparison, our current world is characterized by overwhelming amounts of knowledge with no human content.

I'm glad the Picasso was posted. It triggered many interesting comments and angles.

4/03/2014 11:09 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell wrote: "To throw out Picasso, would be to throw out his stylistic influences which went straight through mid century illustration."

I think that's an important point. The illustrator William Steig did stolid cartoons in the 1930s, but he later fell in love with Picasso's drawings and it set him free. You can see Steig experimenting in the 1950s, trying to figure out what to do with that freedom, and in the 1960s blossoming into some really loose, free, superb drawing. For another example, look at the Cuneo drawing posted here-- the distorted legs and head, the exaggerations and the primitive line-- would Cuneo have had the freedom to do that if Picasso hadn't preceded him, catching arrows for him? Would we even understand how to read a drawing like that if Picasso hadn't expanded our vocabulary?

(By the way, a number of the artists you flagged in your earlier comment-- Peak, Fuchs, Parker-- were certainly influenced and freed by abstract expressionism and action painting).

Tom-- Let me emphasize again that I really liked Leigh's insightful article and felt that I learned from it. But I'm not sure how much mileage we can get out of a distinction between a drawing that defines form inaccurately (too many vertebrae) and a drawing that defines form vaguely (failure to define the jaw). In either case the artist might have deviated from anatomical fact for valid reasons (Perhaps Ingres liked extruded figures the way McGinnis and El Greco did; perhaps Picasso didn't think it was worth connecting the jaw bone and muscles because he was interested in bigger game). Of course, if either artist was striving for complete anatomical accuracy, then these deviations were in fact failures. If I fault Leigh for anything, I think that underneath he had kind of a persnickety notion that there is one preferred way to draw that requires a certain minimal level of clarity and resolution. Hard to say what he would think about the drawings of Rodin, Thurber, Herriman, etc.

4/03/2014 11:56 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Master Scribbler, greatest artist of the 20th century, a cartoonist…makes no difference to me. The real question is, why do Picasso supporters feel the need to tie him to various traditions and make egregious claims re his mastery of said, only to evade the truth of his works when judged accordingly‽

4/03/2014 12:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

For another example, look at the Cuneo drawing posted here-- the distorted legs and head, the exaggerations and the primitive line-- would Cuneo have had the freedom to do that if Picasso hadn't preceded him, catching arrows for him? Would we even understand how to read a drawing like that if Picasso hadn't expanded our vocabulary?

Daumier, Gillray, Sullivant, and Kley all preceded Picasso.

4/03/2014 1:26 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you that quality in art is not a matter that should be left to majority vote, but I think we differ on the role of imagination in art. Sure, it helps to fill gaps but it also creates gaps where none existed before, extends boundaries and even changes the complexion of the concrete elements of a picture. Far from "imaginative closure," that's "imaginative opening."

Furthermore, I'm guessing that you would agree that implicit is frequently better than explicit. An economical suggestion of a drawing is often superior to a high definition movie which left no room for imagination.

Finally, I think I understand your point about children filling in the world with their imaginations, but I also think we should be careful about the notion that the artistic perspective of "advanced," mature societies is preferable to the artistic perspective of Cromagnon dreamers or undeveloped tribes. The art of the former often turns out to be thin blooded and meaningless, a cultural plaything with little relevance to our daily existence, while the art of the latter is often a matter of life and death. In some ways that's a cause for envy, not disdain. Is the difference in the reaction to art because, like your story of the children's book, less developed, superstitious people are making it all up? Perhaps in part, but there was a reason that Picasso turned to tribal art as a source of power.

अर्जुन-- Well of course people do things for all kinds of reasons, from shameless marketing to blind hero worship. The tough question for you, in the words of Pilate, is what do you mean by truth?

4/03/2014 2:05 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Daumier, Gillray, Sullivant, and Kley all preceded Picasso."

I should have been more precise. I recognize that Cuneo's alligator is from that tradition, but none of the artists you mention would have drawn the legs or head of the woman the way Cuneo did. That permission came from Picasso.

I included the Cuneo drawing as a bridge to Picasso because I think Cuneo used some of Picasso's freedom in a more accessible form. Perhaps it would be more helpful to compare the Picasso with the crappy drawing directly under it. Look at those terrible, squiggly lines that make up her rib cage, her awful hip, the fumbling repetition of lines as the artist struggled for the right place, the comical misapplication of bold and thin lines. That kind of drawing is your true enemy. Now compare it to Picasso-- no fumbling, no uncertainty, its obvious speed of execution contrasts so beautifully with the heavy handed execution of the bottom drawing. And none of Picasso's distortions work against the form, the way those stupid ribs do in the bottom drawing.

4/03/2014 2:24 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Picasso was building forms out of primitive gestural marks. the crude, graphic, gestural mark always seems to be the guiding principal.
he was effectively saying "get me, i'm a modern primitive" and i guess that would have seemed pretty exciting for the time.

Cuneo's work isn't about crude gestural mark making. it's a rather delicate, tremulous line, modelling form traditionally, but with an in-built slippage.
the joy of Cuneo's work is seeing (relatively) realistic form gently shift and slide as if seen through rippled glass.

4/03/2014 3:11 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I agree that Picasso is fast and bold, while Cuneo is delicate and tremulous. Two different approaches: Picasso's world is brash and arrogant, Cuneo's is intensely conscious and kinda scary. But if you compare the legs of Cuneo's woman with the arms of Picasso's man, they both look like flat, distorted stumps. (Compare the woman's tiny,stunted feet with the man's grotesquely thick fingers). I find both drawings smart and sensitive. That "false start" to the right of the woman's leg in Cuneo's drawing is no accident; it's the kind of line you pray for, and might even hope you could replicate in a future version of the drawing.

4/03/2014 3:51 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I never felt Picasso's work was "my enemy". I think he's a fine and innovative cartoonist who was, smartly, an early appropriator of primitive African influences. Which turned out to be even more disruptive than Japanese and Egyptian influences on the graphic arts.

The problem has always been the hype and how disruptive modernist philosophical gibberish (Cezanne and Picasso-centric, most of it) has been to real aesthetic discussion; The nonsense leading to the rise of the Arthur Dantos of the world, who smugly legitimize soup cans, dead sharks, and the use of trash and human excretions to make "statements" only disturbed and petulant egg-heads find life-enriching.

(Which reminds me. Your tracing of that Cuneo head and legs to Picasso's influence is, to any objective observer of the arts, a reasoning so disastrously stupefying it's like Donald Trump taking a flying shit on Aristotle during a train wreck.)

Extending the boundaries of a vocabulary is fine. But it really helps if we distinguish just which language is being expanded. The natural languages are based on form. And I think the ancient wisdom is sound on this point; that form is not something humans develop. It is something we notice, come to recognize and understand, and then create with. (Like scientific principles.) Which is just why there isn't a single shape, color, design scheme, or pattern developed by man that you can't tease out of nature somewhere.

Fyi, you don't have to explain to me why that crap drawing under the Picasso is crappy compared to Picasso. It is equally crappy compared to Mort Walker, isn't it?

The art of the former often turns out to be thin blooded and meaningless, a cultural plaything with little relevance to our daily existence, while the art of the latter is often a matter of life and death.

I guess a starving artist desperate for a sale in order to eat is always better than a successful commercial hack, then, eh?

Oh, wait. What a silly argument.

You want to equate a Wagner Opera with a drum circle, go ahead. You want to compare a Sorolla mural to tribal totem, knock yourself out. Maybe a space station is the same as a wooden fruit-cart too. Wait. Maybe the fruit-cart is superior, because it brings sustenance.

Whatever rosary bead of non-judgmentalism you want to fondle, you go right ahead. But don't expect me to pay attention.

4/03/2014 4:24 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I like the Cuneo more.

4/03/2014 5:01 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara -- it turns out that many years ago, when this blog was new, I wrote something about "art that matters" (http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2006/06/art-that-matters.html) in which I claimed that art had lost some of its original vitality and relevance as it became less integrated into our lives and more a trophy for wealthy collectors and pretentious curators. That doesn't mean that a drum circle is the same thing as Wagner opera, but it does mean that we might find more passion, urgency and sincerity in a medieval religious painting or an African tribal mask than in all the video art in MOMA.

As for the relationship between Cuneo and Picasso: I have no idea whether Cuneo was influenced by Picasso (Steig said that Picasso was his favorite artist and gave Picasso credit for transforming his style, so perhaps I would have been safer to go with a Steig drawing). I do think that Picasso (and Matisse and Rodin) freed up drawing so that it became easier for artists such as Cuneo and Steig to take the liberties that they took. I think Cuneo's work would have been incomprehensible to an audience before Picasso (and in fact would never have found an audience because it would never have been published). Today it has a wide audience, even among the proletariat, and is accepted and (at least partially) understood by readers of Esquire Magazine. How did that happen? There were other besides Picasso who helped change those standards, but he was among the earliest and the biggest. You may view that as a fault.

Because Cuneo seems to combine some of Picasso's freedom with the influence of Kley and other more accessible artists, I thought he might provide a useful stepping stone for people who balked at Picasso. As for the crap drawing beneath the Picasso, I offered it as a stepping stone in the opposite direction: for people who thought that Picasso's distortions were the result of "total ignorance," I wanted to say, "On the contrary, this crap drawing is what total ignorance looks like. Place the two drawings side by side-- the same subject matter, the same medium, the same loose style-- and don't you see how different they look? One looks so confused and befuddled and amateurish, the other looks powerful and smart."

A Mort Walker drawing would not have worked for the comparison because Beetle Bailey never embraced a naked girl to my knowledge, and Walker's style was never as loose as Picasso's. I was trying to eliminate as many artificial differences as possible to create laboratory conditions for a comparison of random squiggles, to figure out why some worked and some didn't. Apparently it didn't work.

You may ultimately need to help me with "like Donald Trump taking a flying shit on Aristotle during a train wreck." But just like Picasso you have earned the benefit of the doubt, so I am assuming that sustained attention to words that seem cryptic on their face will be rewarded.

MORAN-- On some days, I do too.

4/03/2014 5:47 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

That doesn't mean that a drum circle is the same thing as Wagner opera, but it does mean that we might find more passion, urgency and sincerity in a medieval religious painting or an African tribal mask than in all the video art in MOMA.

I certainly wasn't arguing that point. You know what I think of "video art". Which is why I chose true greatness to discuss. Sorolla, for instance. By switching the question to garbage postmodernism, you are avoiding the point.

I was trying to get you to admit that there are hierarchies of quality which may fly in the face of Politically Correct non-judgmentalism.

To that effect, I note that you only allow that "a drum circle isn't the same thing as a Wagner Opera" but you don't actually state outright your belief in an a hierarchy of quality where the Wagner Opera is understood as superior. Because that would open up the barn doors on everything else you are arguing.

Regarding Cuneo/Picasso... I would agree that Picasso is part of the general cultural landscape that expanded the range of expressionist distortion. I don't accept that he's any more important in Cuneo's style than quite a lot of others.

"like Donald Trump taking a flying shit on Aristotle during a train wreck."

You can't explain comedic Jazz. Either it swings funny or it don't.

4/03/2014 6:28 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Your point about form and grammar was an excellent one and beautifully stated. Plenty of art satisfies such without actually forming a larger story. Some superbly drawn and structurally sound images can put one to sleep while others energetically executed can lack service to any larger human, or art interest, even an engaging style.

Preferring Rockwell's, Breaking Home Ties to any particular Sorolla might be an opinion, but execution and mastery of form isn't all there is to an image. I only point this out as a reminder since I know you already know this.

Breaking forms and inventing forms was a preoccupation of the 20th century in the short story, poetry, novels, lyrics, painting, drawing, mixed media, music, theater and movies. Then there was a category of etc.

Those unfortunate forms of art which lacked form itself and were just vehicles for transferring ideas or process; video, the word as art and art criticism as integral to the art itself. Creativity is often a wasteful process and much of that process is called wasteful for a reason. In previous centuries, the masters threw out their drawings, presumably to protect their process from others. In the 20th century, we may have been better off if more did as the process became the art in many cases, but a bigger problem has arisen in its place and you and David are on it.

I think your point about non-judgmentalism and David's excellent series on drawing without any fundamental knowledge of drawing share a common but important complaint.

It's a complaint which reflects on our current problem, people are losing their ability to distinguish things.

4/04/2014 11:35 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Dean Cornwell lectured at the Art Students League that, "illustration is chiefly concerned with form." My belief is that, the better an illustration, the more fully it is form that is doing the business, not the facts and faces. Brandywine teaching emphasizes that all details are incidental. It is the whole that speaks, or the picture fails. I think most people have no idea to what degree Rockwell's work is form-driven, falling in line with these Brandywine beliefs. I think people keep falling for his faces and hands.

With respect to this point, I think you are also getting caught up in Rockwell's references, missing the fact that in even his worst imitator, you will find all the same references, surface symbols and stereotypes of emotion and character he uses. So it isn't these things that make Rockwell Rockwell.

Point being; storytelling is chiefly a matter of form. The better the form tells the story, the better the storytelling. Everything else is exposition, and artistically weak.

Think on this.

4/04/2014 5:47 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi Kev
I am curious about what you mean by form. Do you mean thinking in terms of volumes, or volumes controlling the viewer's pathway through a picture?  As Cornwell and Rockwell seem to have very different conceptions on how to create the objects and people of their pictures. Or are you talking about composition?

4/05/2014 10:57 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David: -- Peak, Fuchs, Parker-- were certainly influenced and freed by abstract expressionism and action painting.

Whistler's 'Nocturne in Black and Gold' (1874) not only precedes abstract expressionism by about 70 years, but resembles many passages from Fuchs' paintings.

4/05/2014 2:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

am curious about what you mean by form. Do you mean thinking in terms of volumes, or volumes controlling the viewer's pathway through a picture? Or are you talking about composition?

Hi Tom,

No, I'm citing the much wider philosophical definition. The colloquial definition of form tends to be shape or volume. Formal tends to mean symmetrical or geometrical. But the wider philosophical definition is much deeper and more profound. My version of this broader definition of form is something like: Any quality of sufficient plasticity that it can be manipulated to articulate, express, or suggest a significance. This broader definition becomes terribly important when one becomes interested in composition and aesthetics.

4/05/2014 3:54 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I'll gladly admit that there are hierarchies of quality; (it's a little late to deny it now, since I have been taking heat for defending hierarchies of quality for many years (http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2006/08/standards_31.html)

I hope that you, in turn,will admit that there is no hierarchy of quality based upon the percentage of imagination required to respond to an image. Say what you will about your children's book, We are both familiar with bad pictures that leave nothing to the imagine and good pictures that leave the most important parts implied.

Sure, I stacked the deck with my examples (African mask vs. MOMA video art) just as you stacked the deck at the opposite extreme with your examples (Wagner vs. drum circle, or space station vs. fruit cart). My view is that we can only extrapolate so far from those extremes. In that important middle range, there is plenty of room for art that is passionate and meaningful but unsophisticated to trump virtuosity on the hierarchy of quality.

I have personally seen a dozen cave paintings that I place higher on the hierarchy of quality than a mural by Sorolla. And I would agree, yes, my imagination does more of the work with the cave painting than the Sorolla-- the cave painting seems to be more of a springboard-- but I don't think that necessarily decreases the aesthetic experience.

4/05/2014 4:41 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Thanks Kev that helps.

"the cave painting seems to be more of a springboard-"

I like your description David.  Is it a springboard for what; thought, a revery, or is like following the flight of a bird into the vastness of the sky?

4/05/2014 7:48 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

I was exaggerating in my examples to make a point. I guess that came through roud and crear.

I have personally seen a dozen cave paintings that I place higher on the hierarchy of quality than a mural by Sorolla.

I'll hold my fire on this comment, as I think this is a fine idea for a post.

And I would agree, yes, my imagination does more of the work with the cave painting than the Sorolla-- the cave painting seems to be more of a springboard-- but I don't think that necessarily decreases the aesthetic experience.

I was once hypnotized and had a wonderful, colorful dream based upon the suggestions of the hypnotist. He only said a few simple words to describe the scene, but each word led me to imagine all sorts of stuff. I credit him with fine hypnotizing, but I don't think his storytelling art was much to speak of.

Which is to say, the issue is not the aesthetic experience. But the aesthetic experience of the artwork. I think it is necessary to distinguish the extrinsic from intrinsic factors.

4/05/2014 8:23 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I agree. In fact, Fuchs said that his favorite artist toward the end of his life was Degas. Whether it's Whistler, Degas or the abstract expressionists, at some point artists before Fuchs fought the academy and created work that seemed strange and hard to digest at first, but which people have come to understand and love. That gave Fuchs more elbow room when it came his turn to paint.

Tom-- On more than one occasion I have applauded Lionello Venturi's standard: "What ultimately matters in art is not the canvas, the hue of oil or tempera, the anatomical structure and all the other measurable items, but its contribution to our life, its suggestions to our sensations, feeling and imagination." I think many of the works of art that are most successful at this leave the best part untold.

I do agree with Kev that the viewer can't just make everything up out of whole cloth, but as long as art is essentially a communicative process between a maker and a viewer, I suspect that the artist who implies more than he or she says (and thereby stimulates the imagination of launches the thinking of the viewer, rather than giving the viewer a script to read) will usually make the bigger, more successful art.

4/06/2014 4:33 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

I don't think you've yet come to grips with just how much is being suggested in those Sorolla murals.

I think you keep getting snookered by the mastery into thinking you aren't filling in any of the blanks. But the actual amount of suggestion and evocation going on is staggering.

4/06/2014 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
Thanks for explaining a difficult point in form as storytelling.

What was in question was Picasso as draughtsman and artist. You broadened the conversation with your point on form as storytelling, taking it in an interesting direction.

I know you understood what I was saying regarding well executed art that adds up to little. Even Sargent's portraits were criticized for such, so it really wasn't a novel point. And of course there were several paintings by Rockwell which transcended Americana, the Saturday Evening editorial point of view and sentimentalism.

The way most have learned art history, the influences from the east changed the way images were made and such changes in pictorial form, composition, liberation of color and pattern, materials and expressionism were largely responsible for what followed.

Lawrence John's mentioning of the Whistler painting and Fuchs is on point as per the way people have learned art history, as following a path of contributions and developments in understanding visual art and the mechanics of visual art. David's point on action painting and expressionism as an influence on Peak (7-up ads) and Fuchs is another example in the same vein and one that I hadn't thought of and much appreciated.

The 20th century remains interesting as history. There really is no point wrestling with this historical view since it's not by any malice that it exists as such. Neither do other types of art insight negate this particular historical view. Rather, any new or revived insight as criteria is most welcome. Your efforts in explaining esoteric stuff like Pierce is much appreciated. Form as story telling is also very interesting point and I hope you develop and introduce specific things in the future as with the Sorolla examples. Thanks.

4/06/2014 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Kev,

David's comment that Fuch's favorite artist was Degas was not a surprise given the nature of Fuch's work. Degas was also a big influence on Robert Weaver's compositions and Al Parker mentioned earlier by Lawrence John, (whose comment on action painting I mistakingly credited to David, sorry) and numerous other artists directly or indirectly.

Degas wasn't putting the horse before the cart, nor was Fuchs. What Fuchs and other leading illustrators had was an array of go-to compositional and picture making solutions as part of their tool box to use when appropriate. Fuchs made plenty of use of Degas' insights into the picture plane and horizon line. The same frenzied era of illustration also revived medieval letter compositions which had been largely forgotten.

With simple images, Degas brought additional structure to them afterwards, first using croppers and then other pictorial devises to integrate the figure into a larger architecture. The gesture and figure was enhanced, not subordinate to the structural devices used, though such was a criticism of his picture making. The persons, places and things and especially gestures and postures of Paris were major themes of Degas' work and were integrated and enhanced by his extraordinary understanding and inventiveness with structural devices. Degas' use of abstract devices enhanced his images and there's nothing anyone can do to change it, nor does anyone argue that there is less beauty in his work as a result.

Art history categorized by inventiveness is very helpful as it allows people to share a common understanding accordingly. It doesn't serve any purpose to jump over the same wave every time a technical subject is brought forth.

What happened in the 20th century to the negative was that the technical elements of pictorial understanding became largely separated from human content.

What I'm trying to say is that what you are arguing for is by far more interesting than what you are arguing against, which has already been established as possessing merit.

4/07/2014 11:51 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Sean,

it was David who cited abstract expressionism as a freeing influence on Fuchs ... i neglected to put the comment in quotes.
my apologies for the confusion.

i think Whistler was way ahead of the curve actually, not only predating the looseness of Fuchs etc, but also some of his nocturnal river scenes are almost Rothko like.

4/07/2014 12:27 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean, there are another 50 comments I could make just on your last two posts. I'm not even sure how what you are saying is responding to what I've said. I've never said a word about Degas, whose work I love. I also think Fuchs is pretty special. I've never denied the value of innovation or humanity in art. I will, however, call out cheap tricks when they are passed off, by hook or crook, as important aesthetic innovations.

To analyze Degas' work on a compositional level would be way beyond the scope of this comment section. I also think that Vuillard must be discussed if Fuchs is. And what about John LaGatta? And there's a work by Ernest L. Blumenschein called Paris Apartment that... etc.

4/07/2014 12:48 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev: "I think you keep getting snookered by the mastery into thinking you aren't filling in any of the blanks"

in that Sorolla example the amount of 'blanks' left to fill in is really quite minimal.

4/07/2014 1:08 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Nope.

4/07/2014 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Lawrence, No my mistake, I looked for but missed where David said it. Yes, Fuchs shared Rothko's thin application of paint much like underpainting, along with the graphic nature of their images. The nocturnal image by Whistler seems to have the same quality. I had never considered the connection between the three artists before.
Thanks.

Kev, I spoke of Degas because he influenced and was a favorite of Fuchs. I don't think Degas would have appreciated your comment regarding the picture plane as having always been the same and many competent artists having already covered it.

You mentioned that I might have been getting caught up in Rockwell's faces and hands, which was a fascinating subject you raised, it just had nothing to do with my point which was that form in the 20th century was being messed with and by implication, along with the practice of non-judgmentalism, led to a wider inability to distinguish things. I was also suggesting that it led to the idea that bad drawing as okay too.

Your enthusiasm for what you love bursts forth in your writing and with the same, your generosity is obvious.

4/08/2014 10:15 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I don't think Degas would have appreciated your comment regarding the picture plane as having always been the same and many competent artists having already covered it.

Sean,

I don't think I said that. Regarding what I did actually say, I guess the timing of the start of the "golden age of illustration" can be disputed and that may be confusing. I think it starts in the mid 1890s and ends with the depression, personally. Which would allow plenty of time for Degas' advancements to have their effect on illustration, which is exactly what happened.

my point which was that form in the 20th century was being messed with and by implication, along with the practice of non-judgmentalism, led to a wider inability to distinguish things.

I think those are two different kettles of fish. I have nothing against expressive distortion in art at all. I do have something against the destruction of categories (that are predicated on sound aesthetic philosophy) in order to equate expressionist cartoons, or abstract decorations or craftwork with fully composed paintings. Just like some dude noodling on the guitar, coming up with riffs, shouldn't be compared to Beethoven's sobby 6th symphony.

4/08/2014 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev,
Yes well I can see how I read the post at 4/01/2014 9:48 PM to be dismissing the picture plane in regard to Fuchs and Peak, whose dominant careers drew heavily from Degas, the horizon line in Japanese graphics, etc. at 4/01/2014 7:18 PM. The examples of LaGatta and Blumenschein, were interesting.

On your second point, I was implying that a breakdown of forms led to the breakdown of drawing and also a breakdown in certain kinds of thinking, but it's too large a statement to make in a definitive and sweeping way, though I think you and David were sharing something which for whatever reason aren't coincidental in how they landed in the same place at the same time.

In your way you hold the century responsible for the current mess as I do in my own way. You are a great lover of the Brandywine school and romantics and in that light the 20th century must be a hard thing to view.

Now we have new problems, people attuned to the jarring graphic edges of high definition TV, motion capture, only seeing the types of work compatible with high definition, etc. loss of paper publishing markets, etc.

I do appreciate what you do here. Thanks.

4/08/2014 8:32 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean, the breakdown in thinking you cite is a very complex issue. The 19th century, as far as I can tell, was the most revolutionary century in the history of human kind, in thought and innovation and much else. Yet for all its wonders, it was equally troubling. In fact, I can't think of a single bad or good thing that happened in the 20th century that I can't trace backwards into the 19th.

Ultimately the problem with culture is that it has come to be dominated by politics, media, and science, all of which are culturally ignorant.

Regarding the picture plane discussion, exhibit A for me is Verocchio's Tobias and The Angel.

4/08/2014 9:31 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Oh, and one more thing on Fuchs.

This painting was done by Frank Brangwyn in 1877

My guess is that Fuchs never saw this painting even though it looks just like his work. My point is that it is the information, the philosophy, the thinking behind the work that makes it what it is. And the late 19th century was a very good era for such thought; a fire that has been smoldering ever since.

4/09/2014 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev, Yes, the state of things is very complicated. That's why I used the word implied.

On the point of the picture plane, the Verocchio is flat yes, but the horizon line is not a driving force in the picture. The action is not emanating from the horizon line up or down in the picture, or even towards or away from it. It isn't really a factor.

The Brangwyn is very beautiful. He would have been 20 years old in 1887. Yes, the tones and lighting appear almost identical to Fuchs. A very beautiful painting.

The La Gattas move up and down through the beautiful figures and his images are often flat, but are not driven by the horizon either. In the famous one at the Society in NYC, there's no indication of the horizon line though the eye does cross it. His women were so attractive, the viewer moves up and down voluntarily.

In the image Haystack Taos Valley, 1927 by Blumenschein the picture builds upon itself toward the vanishing point at the top of the mountain. We do return to the figures towards the downward vanishing point. As with the Brangwyn, the multiple vanishing points do drive the picture and in an interesting way to the split destinations of an upper and lower vanishing point. Gauguin used a similar multiple vanishing point view down on a hill to a sea in Above the Abyss, 1888 and he was influenced heavily by Degas, yet these split arrangements are a little different than Degas.

Degas used the horizon line as the initiating or primary driving directional force upon which other movements and counter movements were in concert. That is, he chose vantage points with such in mind. Degas sometimes created a false horizon, a stage for example as if it were a horizon when it wasn't, while the actual horizon may have been below or above it. In doing so he would reverse direction from an image that moved up to one that moved back down. What Degas did with the hanging picture (Japanese) had great influence on almost everything he did and also what followed him.

4/09/2014 4:15 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Where are you getting your compositional analysis of Degas from?

I see a tremendous variety of ingenious compositional effects in his work. And a lot of depth of thought, beautiful drawing, sense of harmony, proportion, etc. Each of his pictures, it seems to me, works in unique ways, and looks unique, although still with his hand evident. Sorry, but any discussion of how Degas uses the horizon would be way down my list in any analytical attempt to understand his work.

Just my opinion, of course.

4/09/2014 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev,
But I just explained why the other offerings you sent were not the same picture plane, not the same flatness. The placement of the horizon line changes the requirements of the picture plane.

It is not surprising then that all that followed Degas seemed so empty to you and yet it followed like a stampeding herd of steer. It's like saying this issue mattered nothing to Fuchs and I'll add Peak, both of whom knew how to handle the hanging picture with terrific skill.

Of course there is a ton to talk about Degas, but this use of the horizon line was an animating force in his work and the development of graphics in the early 20th century and it was all the rage in illustration in the 1950s, 60s, 70s out until about 1986/87 when the same illustrators finally lost their markets and their long illustration careers came suddenly to an end through forces beyond them. A whole host of illustrators had ridden the wave across the same decades and they all closed down their NYC studios during a few years in the late 1980s. But it was a long ride and the hanging image and Degas' insights into it was a major part of it all. I wasn't surprised that Degas was the favorite artist of Fuchs. That just made a ton of sense.

4/09/2014 8:41 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean,

It seems to me that, just because Degas was influenced by Japenese art - the patterns, the stripes, the subject matter - does not mean suddenly the picture plane is different for him. Nor does his use of the camera, which certainly gave his pictures a lot more naturalistic clustering about the horizon line, as well as an emphasis on shape values, change the fundamental nature of the flatness of the picture plane.

This notion that the horizon line "driving the picture" causes some different kind of flatness is strange to me. What I think you refer to is the idea of using the horizontal as a springboard for the rhythms of the composition, (which is an old idea.)

Also, it is true that the Verocchio figures are alienated in their rhythms from the horizon line. So in that sense, it is not composed rhythmically like many famous Degas pictures. But Verocchio's picture has no less a flat pattern than any of the pictures or artists you cite. \

This fixation on the horizon line, its location, or its compositional use, as some how altering the planar surface of the canvas makes no sense to me. But if there is some reading material out there you might recommend, I'd be willing to challenge my beliefs on the matter.

4/09/2014 10:31 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, i'm sure Sean is referring to this type of thing, which Fuchs did a lot of, as you know.

the high horizon line, figures and objects stacked vertically, the amount of negative space (often foreground front,but not in this example) plus the way he treats the negative space with rough paint handling or sometimes leaving it empty contributes to a 'flattening' of the picture plane.

its as if the picture says 'i'm not trying to fool you that i have illusory deep space. i'm just a flat surface and i'm going to draw attention to that fact'.

4/10/2014 10:47 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

and here's Degas doing Fuchs.

again, no attempt to try and make the grass look as if it's receding; the flatness is emphasised by vertical strokes, something which Fuchs took to an extreme in his later work.

4/10/2014 11:50 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Thank you Laurence. That's a beautiful Degas.

I did understand what Sean meant by flatness and the Japanese influence.

But using verticals to flatten space on purpose was a very common aesthetic effect. So was keeping to a single tone throughout a silhouette, which also flattens. This hasn't changed.

What did change was the greater emphasis on these techniques to push the flatness-versus-realism duality to the forefront of the viewing experience. It's an expressionist idea which comes out of symbolist interests. But it begins way early.

Once form starts being broken up more for poetic purposes, which is thought to begin with Delacroix' striping of gradients into scales, suggestive looseness/expressionist effects begin the march into both Degas and Fuchs' work.

No technique however has fundamentally changed the understanding of the picture plane. Although quite a number of bad artists, far outweighing the good ones, made work that tried to defy the flatness of the surface utterly, because they didn't grasp the graphic nature of art, resulting in over-modelled over-noodled work lacking in tectonic force.

4/10/2014 12:39 PM  
Anonymous sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev and Lawrence,
Sorry I have to work on some things and can't pursue this too much. Unfortunately, there is no reading material on it, you have to venture on your own, but you will be well rewarded if you do. The finer points of Fuchs and Peak also require studying the horizon line in the upper portion of the image.

It wasn't simply a dropping picture as the Japanese image dropped and and sometimes used a tiered perspective. Actually the Japanese images rose as people looked at them from the floor, but Degas resolved them his own way, for lack of a better way to say it, with western solutions. He made them more sophisticated. In other words, Degas didn't necessarily flatten the image when the horizon line was above or near the top. But a horizon line at the top does drive the image from top to bottom as the initial movement, unless one is looking upward at a pitched angle. Of course Degas did a famous one of these too. But his use of the horizon line as a conscious point of initiating movement had a tremendous effect on picture making thereafter. Also his return movements were ingenious. The Tub is one to take a long look at for how he used the drop down movement. There are many, but The Tub is an education.

Degas also brought the same insight to the purpose of the horizon line when it was near the center. He understood what is was for, what it could do and its possibilities as no one else quite did. A few of the best illustrators after the mid 1950s started showing they shared his interest.

4/11/2014 12:18 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

PS: The Japanese effect isn't simply a flattening of the image. It's a reversal of expectations. Normally the bottom is the area with the weight, force, gravity, or impact and the upper half is the atmospheric area which recedes back into space.

When the horizon line is in the upper area, the relationship reverses and the gravity, weight and impact is in the upper area while the lower level takes on the weightless characteristic of atmosphere, but in reverse, coming forward instead of receding.

Specific adjustments have to be made for the effect and at such Degas was the master. The understanding of the reversed effect heightens the understanding of the purpose of the horizon line in general.

Many artists simply choose an angle for interest, but Degas saw the horizon line as part of the event. An example in illustration is Peak's movie poster for Superman. Compare it to the other posters which followed.

For Fuchs see his golf tournament imagery from the late 70s and 80s. The sample Lawrence provided also had a unique insight in how the car was tucked under or cropped to keep the lower or bottom from popping forward. It was done intentionally. He was saying something.

There are many such treasures in forgotten work by both Peak and Fuchs and of course Degas is a wonderland of extraordinary understandings regarding the same.

4/11/2014 6:59 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Thanks for your reply. I agree there is a lot to learn from Degas and Fuchs' composing. But, then again, there is a lot to learn from any artist who is really good. The more I learn, the more difficult it is for me to assign any particular compositional effect to any particular artist. Certainly, the effects you are talking about with respect to Degas and Fuchs precede them. One can find versions of many of these effects in Titian, for example. Fuchs wasn't the first artist to bury a car, or any object, at the bottom of the picture plane, or beneath a tier. Etc. Yes it has a symbolic meaning. Etc.

Very few artists really add to the toolkit. What makes an artist great is how they use the toolkit that has been passed down to them through the ages and what they ultimately say with it. Sadly, Modernism spurned the toolkit, and it fell out of use as a language except in a few safe zones. Recovering this language isquite a task, for me ongoing, and I am glad to see that you have some interest in it as well, as demonstrated by your recent posts. I would warn however, that Art's grammar is so finely woven that, with almost any analysis, induction fallacies lurk behind every corner. It has made me quite friendly with epistemology.

Best wishes,
kev



4/11/2014 8:42 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
I didn't catch it at first, but the Fuchs which Lawrence John presented was reversing the reverse effect, if what I said in the previous note made sense.

In case I wasn't clear about the Superman poster, I meant that the movie posters which followed Peak's lacked his ability and knowledge.

Titian's upward view is one I referenced regarding the Degas. The tension of Miss La La hanging from her teeth accentuates the misplaced weight. Titian's figures in the upper area remained weightless or in defiance of gravity just as that area of the picture plane ordinarily represents weightlessness. Neither is the reversal of expectations when the horizon line is placed at or near the top of the image. I was just saying that Degas' understanding of the reversal made his ventures into the ordinary more powerful.

Yes, the grammar is finely woven, but some of what took place within Degas was new to western art as a conscious act. I think such has been pretty clearly established, just as one point perspective was once a decisive and new device and understanding.

What's exciting is not making such claims, but discovering and enjoying how Degas and later Fuchs and Peak (and others) played with a language which most could only imitate and yet it captured amazing beauty and purpose.

Thank you and a pleasure,
Sean

4/11/2014 9:59 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean, I agree it was new in design, but not new in principle.

Best wishes

4/11/2014 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Vanderwolff said...

David—after missing out on some of your more recent posts, I am glad to see that you are still masterfully denouncing the emperor's state of undress to both the culturally under-informed and the cognoscenti alike. Your examples and striking contrasts between nuance, effective communication and skill in real illustration (as exemplified by the Leonard Starr samples) and the stilted tableaux that often pass for modern sequential narrative is brutally tragic. It is not because these art styles cannot co-exist, but because they no longer do; the type of skills you correctly present as having greater expressiveness are rarely attempted, supplanted by amateurish scrawling half-hatched in a Petri dish of puerile graphic and expository musings.
In many artistic circles, whether academic, technical or communal, there is an accepted non-emphasis on life drawing and the correct use of photo-reference in mastering gesture and movement, as well as limited exposure to reading material other than a favorite graphic novel.
Thank you for being anarchic enough to defend the hard work and intelligence behind the many styles that some decry as irrelevant traditionalism, which too often means that the loudest critics could not, or would not, take the time to develop centuries-tested foundational drawing skills.

4/11/2014 1:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home