Monday, January 25, 2016

AUSTIN BRIGGS' OPINIONS


We're always hearing that artists require freedom to express their opinions. 

Artists need freedom to express political opinions, or to show explicit content.  Artistic opinions might offer a social conscience, or point out ironies in our culture.   The outrageous perspectives of underground cartoonists unsettle the status quo.

This focus on the artist's opinions is why advertising art is held in such low regard: the corporate advertiser, not the artist, controls the content.

But making art involves all kinds of opinions, not just opinions about content.  It involves opinions about  how to describe form, opinions about abstraction,  opinions about design.  Visual opinions such as these are equally present in advertising art and museum art.

Here is an advertisement drawing by Austin Briggs with a real point of view:



It has no political or social content but man, what an opinion!   To me, it makes much of today's "social commentary" art look spineless.

 Here is a series of drawings by Briggs for newspaper ads in the 1950s. The social commentary is nonexistent but look at his powerful choices and robust lines describing form:


 




Briggs had opinions about where to apply emphasis.  He had opinions on how to convey vitality.  He had opinions on how to depict folds in heavy cloth:





I like Briggs' opinion on how to abstract a little girl's dress:



Here is a sample of one of Briggs' original sketches for this series of ads so you can see how he worked:




We've come to believe, for reasons that escape me, that an artist's political and social opinions are more significant than their visual opinions.  Starting at least as early as the pop artists,  unremarkable ads, labels or comic books were transformed by artists such as Warhol and Lichtenstein into fine art.  The physical image might be almost identical, but what mattered was the artist's commentary on mass media, commercial printing and the ironies of modern culture.

I agree that in some cases, this type of commentary can be a higher form of art than the visual choices in a good drawing.  But I've also listened patiently to lectures by artists such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin in which they discuss the opinions underlying their art.  They may be eloquent,  but I often find their social commentary simple minded and their politics juvenile.

When I decide where to spend my time,  I weigh those social opinions against the opinions about form manifest in really good drawing.  Often, I find that plain good drawing--  even with no ironic content-- is more enriching.  Of course, that's just an opinion. 


138 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, and some fantastic drawings here--Briggs could DRAW!

I think though there is a danger both sides of this. I think art can have political messages in it, and that it can be strengthened by having a clear message. But in my opinion it would be naive to say that making statements like that is the primary purpose of painting, and in fact I would place it low on a list of what I consider important in painting. On the other side of things, to focus on purely technical visual things is a bit naive too. I'm the first to start analyzing the technique and admiring the design in paintings, but I think it is important to remember that technique in of itself is only a part of what makes a painting great. You've presented a bit of a false dichotomy here I think. To me, the important things in art would be capturing a feeling or emotion, or telling an effective story or scene. This can usually be done best through expert technique and design (but I'm sure we can all think of exceptions to this). The point I'm making though is that the technique is only useful in how it support those grander things the image represents. Pyle and Dunn have spoken about this a fair bit, and I find myself in agreement with them quite a lot. I think Henri has also spoken of it but it's been a while since I've read through his stuff.

I'm reminded Andrew Wyeth saying: "To be interested solely in technique would be a very superficial thing to me."

Quite frankly I blame this placement of technique at the top of the totem pole for the reason modern academic/atelier art is so sterile and poor when compared to people in the past. That's not to say that these Briggs have only technique going for them, some of them do have a bit of story and interaction. But they come across as insincere. And the diver one would seem a very different drawing without the text.

I do though agree with your conclusion that an empty but good drawing often wins out over a drawing with a statement very poorly executed. Actually rereading both your post and mine we probably are in agreement overall and I'm just babbling here about other things...

-AS

MORAN said...

The little girl's dress is excellent.

Sean Farrell said...

David, I agree with everything you're saying and the way you feel about this selection of drawings by Briggs. I wouldn't call what we're looking at technique, but a true feeling for form and shape as captured primarily by line and accents.

What I find striking is that the drawings are done with such excitement and fluency that they are almost sketches or studies. Looking at the drawing “Home Sweet Home”, we see him marking off the segments of the mother's fingers and the accents and shadows in and under a swath of her hair for example are drawn in a manner where the first concern is form. He is drawing the underlying form and identifying where each thing is in space as much as if not more so than the way he is treating the mother's teeth and eyes which are not given the level of care one might expect in a commercial image of this type. It almost stretches the boundaries of what he is doing as an illustrator, though it is effective nonetheless.
Such a feat can only be accomplished by someone who draws constantly and joyfully, with an excellent understanding of what is under the skin, the clothing and how it all fits into space.

The drawing of the young mom stepping onto the train just sizzles and I've had a xeroxed copy of this image hanging next to my drawing table since the last time it appeared, I think on this blog. Even the mother's left arm is twisting and turning with beautiful physicality until the grips the handle. A nutty head jammed between Mom's right arm and the girl's hat doesn't even bother the drawing. It's not just his love of the female form which moves so convincingly, but all over the place, shapes are coming and going, twisting and turning or sitting suspended in space, claiming their place as is the shape of the little girl's jacket, her shoe, mother's glove. The drawings are each treasures of the love of drawing.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- Well, you taught me a lesson. I only had access to one original Briggs drawing from that NY Railroad ad series. I was reluctant to use it because I'd used it once before but I decided, "what the hell-- I used it four years ago. Nobody will remember it; they forgot all about it a week after I used it." I'm really delighted it stuck with you and I'll be more careful about repetition in the future.

Thanks for your keen observations about the these drawings.

AS-- I agree there is a danger at both ends of the spectrum. I don't care for the highly polished atelier paintings that worship technique just as I don't care for "idea" art that focuses on concepts and social commentary at the expense of visual form. I think both extremes have an unattractive tendency to be smug. But I think for the past 50 years, history and momentum have been on the side of the "idea" side. Often the "technique" side seems to be smug out of defensiveness. I think good drawing is under appreciated these days, and that the concepts underlying modern art are often overrated. Much of what passes for intellectually profound today seems pretty superficial in comparison to the efforts of earlier generations.

MORAN-- Yes, isn't that little dress nice?

Anonymous said...

Briggs really knows how to direct the viewer's eyes. The feet of the parents are pointing towards the girl and the girl is pointing at the button. The girl's hands are drawn in a careful manner. The girl's reaching hand seems to be formed in a childish way. It's a very thoughtful drawing.

kev ferrara said...

Its amazing how much information Briggs encodes into his lines. The world of commercial art has seemed to abandoned this approach entirely, migrating to the opposite pole of insensitive slickness. (So many forces are subtly and blatantly dulling us, its horrifying.)

Stuggling with the idea of these lines as opinions. The purpose of having a work of art built of aesthetic forces is for it to manifest its own reality, to take on its own existence outside of any respect for its referents. This was the basic idea the moderns took away from the Romantics/Symbolists/Imagists. To transpose this to fashion; A girl wears a dress that, in her opinion, will flatter her figure, match her spirit, and attract attention. But the dress itself on her body is not an opinion, but an aesthetic event; a performance, not a thought. And so witnesses to the event of her splendor are not experiencing her conjecture, but rather her reality.

In contrast, a verbal or textual opinion, while having some modicum of existence as shared symbolic code, remains purely referential; it has no aesthetic manifestation, no transfiguration to a state beyond mere conjecture.

Sean Farrell said...

David, This scan appears to be a better one and the accents of the mother and daughter getting on the train are stronger than the one I have on file. This is a fantastic drawing for its strengths and curiosities and well worth revisiting. I'm glad you did. Thank you for doing so.

Kev, I agree wholeheartedly that the computer line is painful. The cintique or stylus line has no tooth and neither does its surface. Everything filtered through the computer has to survive a light behind it and so gravitates to clean hard graphic edges it seems. Toothy lines and surfaces are foreign to the world of the computer, television, scanners and cell phones and also to clients and public with which the sanitized look tests well.

I found your comment on aesthetic performance interesting, but somehow also confusing. The artist's chosen point of view is expressing something about the subject as a reality, which is understood visually. The vigor or delicacy of his line is saying something too about the reality of the subject. It's a life discovered in the process of doing the drawing itself and saying something in a visual way while also possessing something of the artist's choices. There's an honesty in these drawings precisely because he isn't interested in bringing home a pre-determined statement of a groups of well dressed smiling faces as the objective of the advertisement. The drawings themselves, being drawn in so comfortable a manner are saying, we're comfortable here. Do you see what I'm getting at? Is that not a visual statement, the artist's point of view, possibly a decision of the artist? I'm asking because if so then I'm not sure how such doesn't qualify as an artistic decision/opinion, spoken visually.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

In my opinion, your use of the words "say" and "speak" is confusing things.

Maybe a clearer way to put it is to point out that opinions have no reality. They are simply a provisional mental model shared through whatever symbols are ready to hand. Symbols, by their nature, are text like and readable. As signs they point away from themselves. When art expresses form aesthetically, there is no need to refer, to point - the reference becomes redundant because the aesthetic expression of form becomes its own experience of that form idea. (Harvey Dunn would say "Don't paint a picture of a man. Paint a man!) At that point of transfiguration, nothing is being said in reference to the subject, because the saying and the subject are the same thing. This is a different level of communication than a sign, (of which a symbol is but one type).

Donald Pittenger said...

When I was young (sigh ...) Briggs and a number of other gifted illustrators were populating print advertisements and editorial material with excellently-drawn images such as the ones in this post. Nowadays the domain of advertising has shifted strongly in the direction of video. What remains of print strikes me as an illustration wasteland, if those Taschen and other compendia are valid reports. Dirty shame.

Agreed that a point of view by the artist is important, and your focus on the conscious act of creation was interesting. In some ways, it's probably the safest approach for an artist interested in eating and paying the rent on a regular basis. To the extent that the subject matter becomes the focus of opinion, danger arises. My rule of thumb is: the more politicized the subject, the worse the art.

Yes, it's easy to find a few famous exceptions. But the archetype of opinion-oriented art is the political cartoon, with political poster art a strong second. Politicized paintings are usually weak imitations of these -- so why bother? ... why not do the real thing?

I'm all for free speech, but the artist needing food and rent needs to be aware that social/political art is likely to alienate a share of his potential market. Sort of like entertainers who intersperse their concert numbers with statements reviling their political enemies. If one is hugely popular with a strong fan base, the intensity of support will outweigh any losses from disgusted viewers. But that's not the case for many artists. What is the benefit of self-sabotaging one's career?

Sean Farrell said...

Thanks Kev, I do understand what you're sharing regarding the verbal symbol verses that which comes from the form and process itself and it is an important point. It's a drawing of a woman and her daughter, but it's a drawing by Briggs and not Bob Peak or some other artist. As a result, the woman and daughter are something different than if they were drawn by someone else. The artist had his relationship with drawing and other artists had theirs and as a result they saw and felt the same things differently resulting in different expressions of what they were drawing.

In these drawings, a few are multi-figure compositions and require certain kinds of problem solving. Briggs is leaving areas in them which one might describe as confusing, suffocating, unresolved, not very clear, or congested almost beyond toleration and yet he's working the drawings very much the way a painter would, using sometimes unresolved points of confusion to be offset by more articulated accents of darks or surrounding space to help define where something is. Such can be referred to as a statement about where something is, just as hitting a symbol is a statement, though neither are actual statements in the verbal sense. The way he's doing this is very unique for advertising art in general and very different for the 1950s where figures were often traced and simplified into flatter forms. As Briggs is not tracing or projecting but really drawing the daylights out of these figures, he's also encountering compositional challenges, even if many of his decisions had been worked out in thumbnails.

There are some obvious passages such as the the handoff of the doll to the girl and the mentioned man behind her hat, but also the area behind the the girl's legs and Mom's is quite unclear to what is exactly going on as lines from the ground are left in place under what looks like another suitcase. Now it might be a figure of speech to say that Briggs was expressing something about drawing itself in these drawings, how he valued spontaneity for example, or the vigor of the line. I don't think there's much doubt that Briggs had very strong feelings and ideas about drawing because these drawings are very strong and advanced. To use the term opinions might be technically incorrect, but I wouldn't dare say to a man like Briggs that his drawing wasn't saying something. I might be just as cautious to say his opinions had no reality either. But yes, I understand what you are saying, the drawing itself is not an actual opinion, but a drawing.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I think you are completely mistaking what I wrote if you think I meant that Briggs was drawing without meaning. His work here is full of meaning. But they aren't merely symbolic visual statements of those meanings, which would equate to opinions. Rather his works, in whole and part, are meanings transfigured into aesthetic forces.

It is as simple as pointing out that living entities are not opinions. They are phenomena. They only are or do.

Sean Farrell said...

I understand you know his work has meaning and we know the drawings are not just symbolic statements. David was commenting on those who do make art as symbolic statements. It's fair enough when talking about a drawing to allow a certain latitude regarding descriptions because we are crossing mediums, from drawing to language and language to drawing. We are talking... about drawings. I didn't say they were “merely” anything, nor did I believe you thought they were so and I don't think David implied that were merely symbols either. Okay, not opinions as symbol but David was was commenting on a certain swagger and attitude which is yes, a performance. A great performance is a kind one may refer to as an event and with a certain liberty, a statement, like a cymbal in a symphony, but not as a symbol. In other words, they are fantastic drawings, but not symbols. Yes, you made that point clear and I acknowledged it earlier as an important point.

Certain solutions to problems in a drawing don't always find their answer in the subjects being drawn, but require understandings which come by way of learning and often the hard way. Line drawing as Briggs used line to create form comes with certain troubles that are difficult to solve without using tone or simplifications which may compromise the form for the benefit of unity.

Briggs isn't just playing empty space off busy areas as design on a surface, nor are these things left alone due to a deadline, but rather they are suffocating linear log jams found in the action of the subjects and he managed to use them to create a tremendous sense of space. By whatever manner these relationships arose in the drawing(s), their solutions were not that of an amateur, but a master who left them to us to enjoy and to be schooled. They are not only phenomena, but phenomenal.

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome discussion. I did not know about Brigs.

JSL

Anonymous said...

Kev - you seem to have a mighty intellect..is it enough though...an advantage or hindrance?
These are only signs and symbols if you think that way - all they are are marks on a surface.We read 'meaning' into everything..

Roger

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Your point that a drawing or painting is the substance on the paper and not verbal and that it is through such depicted in the drawing or painting that one communicates. Yes, a visual language, which is not a verbal language, not made of verbal symbols, words. I do marvel at the nature of the observation and it's a fascinating thing to contemplate.

To that point and returning to the drawing, Briggs makes adjustments to a bend that at the top of the mother's thigh. The line indicating the bend formed at the hip and thigh by such an angle is blended into a group of lines forming a smoother transition from pelvis to thigh. And in the background a series of later 1940s and early 1950s cars sit in a parking lot, the heaviest cars ever made, but because they're in the background, they loose substance as do tones fading into a background, but here, Briggs using only line, looses the weight and substance by treating them with light lyrical lines of a cartoon. Yes, the drawing is phenomena, not a verbal opinion, that is I agree with you, but such are examples of knowing what one is doing and such is thought, thoughtfulness, born out of the understanding of what is going on pictorially, rather than always depicting what is physically true about the substance of a thing. There are no heavy shadows under the cars or sense of weight at all and that's also because Briggs understood they were at the top of the picture plane, where gravity is less. He even left an escape from the picture between the cars and though this may have been there in reference, it's not a wild statement to suspect that Briggs may have desired an escape there. They are leaving their car behind and there sits a car facing away. The escape between the cars is not as obvious as the transition at the pelvis and thigh, one might argue, but it's there. It adds distance and space to the picture as well, increasing the concept of travel. It appears to have been a decision and to make a decision one has to employ thought in the process of discerning what feels right.

Sean Farrell said...

Is it fair to say that recognition may be the larger part of thought?

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I would point out that as you analyze and discuss the way Briggs drew and composed his pieces, you are breaking apart his work, severing the suggestive relations that hold it together into its own aesthetic reality, and then re-translating the yield of that lossy disassembly into verbal opinions - which allows you to write them in this forum. But let's not mistake our analysis of a work of art for our experience of it. If we feel sensations when looking at a work of art, in what sense are those feelings conjectures?

I'll transpose again, this time to stage magic. A magician thinks he can make you believe a dove has appeared out of thin air by doing x, y and z. (loading the dove in his sleeve, waving around a white handkerchief, other physical and verbal misdirections, etc.) In watching the magician, you have fallen into a belief state, you have become receptive to his act. You see him produce a dove out of nothing and it is miraculous. Now was that successful effect he produced, which you experienced, in any sense a conjecture?

kev ferrara said...

Roger,

I am fascinated with the way our intellects fool and misinform us. I believe this has practical application. "Reading meaning into anything" is only part of the problem. The more pernicious issue is how we heedlessly fracture experience into symbols and think we learn something by naming the components. So I try to distinguish the way we experience art versus the way we think about it. It is in the thinking about art (or anything, really), overdetermined as we are to analyzing anything solely to the extent of our education, that we usually go wrong.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
Someone cuts flowers from their garden and places them in a vase and the beauty of the flowers enhance the vase and the room they are placed in. It's a civilized act which is a much cherished activity in say France or England, yet in our American culture, such indulgences are largely absent across America's farmland and I don't intend to get into the reason, but...it is an example of something appearing regularly in French and English art. The French and English recognize something in the grace of the flowers as good and beautiful. In America they talk of random acts of kindness hoping they will multiply, but in other places, it's known that the natural graces of thoughtfulness when contemplated upon, move towards deeper levels of thoughtfulness and such is the desired movement, not simply a lateral multiplication of random acts. The two examples are different forms of seeing and understanding something. One is novel and the other steeped in tradition. Which one impedes movement to the deeper relationship and which the other is presumptuous and a practical intellectualization of an idea?

Before we can discover depth we have to recognize that there is a deeper relationship to discover and experience and one can't get there trying to do so from presumption. The civilized act of embracing beauty isn't an act of fractured identifications, but of choosing a civil and enhancing one over say, a room without flowers. It is unitive in experience though made up of parts. It is not a fracturing of experience. The parts are united by a spirit of beauty of the flowers as good.

Studying the components of the Briggs drawing greatly increases appreciation of what distinguishes line drawing as a pictorial solution, from tonal drawings with their soft edges and unifying tones and also paintings where we find color. Recognition and understanding enhance our relationship with the world around us. They are unitive, not fractious. Your presumption that the emotional meaning and narrative of this commercial picture isn't obvious enough is quite incredible. Yes, of course I'm talking about some of the more curious parts of the drawing because this is a site for people interested in illustration and also drawing. I'm talking about form because Briggs was one of the best and last illustrators to so concentrate on form through line drawing. I've demonstrated that form was as important to Briggs as the commercial emotionalism of the image. Stop pretending that a dog doesn't function by recognition, or that human thought is entirely divorced from its recognitions, or that avoiding particulars somehow deepens your relationship with reality.

Sean Farrell said...

“Now was that successful effect he produced, which you experienced, in any sense a conjecture?”

The spirit of a thing can exceed itself. It's something called radiance and it comes from a deeply focused meditation on that which is good and beautiful. I think there is something good and edifying in Brigg's mastery of drawing and complexities and to me yes, it radiates. It has power over cynicism, is edifying and an affirmation of hard earned human skill..

That pantheistic rattle you keep shaking has become a real drag.

Mark said...

Isn't David using "opinion" here to refer to the inner principles that make up an artist's "style"? "Artistic choices" are like "opinions", no?

Briggs' abstraction of the girl's dress is his choice out of an infinity of choices. In his opinion, it's the approach for that piece. It's such a striking, odd choice that it must have been a considered one. "Opinion" is used here in an innovative way; maybe a technically inaccurate way (though, I wonder about that). It seems clear enough to me this is a meaningful notion, allowing that art may be seen as full of opinions. For if, as an artist, I am "influenced" by Briggs and others sense his work in mine-- what have I done if not agree with some of his opinions?

What I get from David's post here is an attempt to throw us into Briggs' mind a bit. And, by extension, to direct us momentarily to compare an aspect of style with the kinds of "opinions" that entirely define some "high art" pieces. If we call artistic choices "opinions", then we can run with the metaphor and see how Briggs' work contains far more thought than many simpler works that are famous for representing more literal "opinions".

So thanks, David, for a new notion (at least to me). And thanks for any excuse to look at Briggs' work!

kev ferrara said...

That pantheistic rattle you keep shaking has become a real drag.

I have no idea what you are talking about. I haven't the slightest interest in pantheism or theistic anything.

In the context of this discussion, all I'm trying to do is get at the difference between actual aesthetic experience, which we appreciate phenomenally rather than symbolically, versus opinion and the post facto appreciation of analyzed artistic decisions as opinions, both of which are surfaced symbol dependent.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
Areas of pictures are sometimes trouble to the whole and have to be resolved as parts to the whole. The reason the woman and daughter drawing is so interesting is because it is not resolved where the trouble is, but by the use of adjacent areas as painter's work, but not generally illustrators. This is really sophisticated and beautiful stuff and more than noteworthy.

The pantheism expresses itself in a belief you repeat over and over that a designation isn't a real thing or rather, that words as designations aren't real and thus are severed from their designations because they are symbols. Such severs one from their designations too because memories and thoughts function well in relationships. Even animals acknowledge or recognize identifiable sounds and words as sounds, which is language and memory based even if there isn't the linear capacity to process identifications through reason. It's really impossible that such identifications or recognitions are not being made as a person views something because recognition seeks corresponding memory and thus nothing of the mind is the “real thing” and that includes in a real sense what we see which is based on memories as identifications. The notion that there is some true aesthetic experience apart from memory based recognitions which form our ability to make sense even of simple shapes is illogical and an illusion. Even movements in the earliest stages of life are experienced and recorded as muscle memories somewhere. It's a pantheistic belief that only the non verbal represents a true emotional relationship with reality or the whole, or put another way, that thought interferes with reality or a true experience. Because recognitions can't be sheered from reality without loosing one's ability to recognize and process even on the simplest levels what's going on.

The belief that the whole can be arrived at through a dismissal of its parts is also very common pantheistic belief today. More to the truth is that all of it is an approximation which can be experienced as wonder and that wonder includes observations and designations we call words and what we know are in some way memories. All recognitions are in fact real in their own right and mental activity verifies such. However immaterial thought appears to be, its significance as recognition is without question a type of event having a real effect on a person, thus in some sense is very real. It is real even when an identification is in error and far off base. Yes, it's true that knowledge as identification can never contain the existential dimensional reality of what it identifies. That was my point of going into the business with the relationship with flowers which were enhanced by a cultural or values-based relationship and then comparing it to a culture which had no historical, cultural or religious relationship with flowers and has more recently severed its relationship with values such as goodness and therefore beauty.

kev ferrara said...

The notion that there is some true aesthetic experience apart from memory based recognitions which form our ability to make sense even of simple shapes is illogical and an illusion.

Ah, here we finally get to the root of the issue. Which is that you make no distinction between aesthetic experience and "memory based recognitions." In other words, you haven't looked at how the brain processes visual information. And therefore haven't understood that the experience of plasticity and sensation per se are evolutionarily/biologically the same thing. Nor, therefore, have you understood that sensation is the core of meaning. And therefore the experience of plasticity and the understanding of phenomena as physical meaning requires neither consciousness nor memory. This is the whole reason that the understanding of form, in the large sense, continues to be the foundation of Aesthetics; the science of what is sensed and imagined.

So your pigeon-holing attempt is a bust. This has nothing whatever to do with "pantheism" or this idea that I think that words "aren't real" and thus are "severed from their designations because they are symbols", that memories and recognition play no part in visual understanding, that thoughts and memories have no reality, etc, etc. All that, as far as I can tell, is you funneling what I say down some paradigm that bedevils you. Its completely divorced from anything I've said or believe.

Liezl Calotes said...

WOW! I love your style...

Sean Farrell said...

The brain expands at amazing rates in its earliest development, creating identifications which allow the child to experience itself and the world around it in space, through itself. You just think that such isn't functioning in the interpretation of your experiences. This is what I'm referring to as memory based identifications. The understandings of shape, form, volume, etc. in their earliest stages, pre-verbal development. That's why I spoke of the animals. Now go back and give what I said a chance.

The point of the flower story is that as one departs from a simple relationship based cultural identifications, they also depart from multiple related realities. Americans had no historical relationship with flowers. Yes, it's true identities can't designate the fullness of reality, that's quite obvious, but less obvious is that without such identities, our relationship with reality and beauty itself and its goodness also withers.

“And therefore the experience of plasticity and the understanding of phenomena as physical meaning requires neither consciousness nor memory.”

Is there anything you would like to say about the Austin Briggs drawings which might benefit or be interesting to others?

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, You are referring to states known as objective, indifferent, passive, submissive, inert and unconscious or asleep and I will add humble, though humble is usually in relation to something beyond sense, such as wonder, let's say the universe exploding from a spec smaller than an atom. All the mentioned states are associated with religion and have a place within religion, yes even inertia.

As their own end, the mentioned states are in a sense a religion without a religion and that's the pantheism, or naturalism as it is called by many names. It is also part of modernism in a way not many understand.

The state of being whereby we relate to things outside ourselves is more challenging and is an active state where we function with directives, direction, identities and shared cultural meanings and here meaning is what happens between one and others, (to keep it simple).
Take care, Sean

Sean Farrell said...

Receptive is another state that would fit into the first group.

Laurence John said...

Mark: "If we call artistic choices "opinions", then we can run with the metaphor and see how Briggs' work contains far more thought than many simpler works that are famous for representing more literal "opinions""

it's not consistent though. if we're criticising underground / conceptual art based on the ideas rather than the technique, then we should be also be criticising the Briggs drawings on the content and meaning of the whole image.

what David has highlighted in this post are (for me) 'choices' not 'opinions'.

Tom said...

Laurence John

Aren't techniques a product of one's ideas? Lack of technique is a value isn't it. "Technique doesn't matter only the idea matters," a conceptual artist might say. Isn't that an opinion a view point a outlook?

One's choices of technique are a result of opinions or analogies. Choices are not infinite once a drawing begins they are more often forced.

As Delacroix said the drawing is determined from the first line.

Unrelated, but pretty funny, Rackstraw Downes on how knowing what elements constitute a great poem helps one produce a great poem.

https://youtu.be/0QUKNqI814k?t=3m35s

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Your posts are wildly discursive, long and disorganized. I never know if you're done with any particular thought. And you have irritatingly assigned me a bunch of beliefs and ignorances which I don't hold, which you presumptuously continue to insist on. So I think I should be forgiven for misunderstanding aspects of your responses, as I am usually trying to figure out not only what you are struggling to say, but its relevance; the lack of the latter often making it impossible to do the former.

We are much closer on the biology than it seemed. Fine, good. I think it is relevant to note that the source of that confusion is less scientific or terminological, and more due to what I just mentioned above; the disconnect between your soliloquies and the actual point I had made; which I cannot help but presume was the predicate for your interjection. Namely, the question of whether an artistic expression, its aesthetic forces believed by the viewer as constituting a visual reality, is the same as an opinion.

I asked you directly earlier whether an illusory event, an analog to a work of art that at first sight is believed, was in any sense a conjecture from the perspective of the audience member; a conjecture being, as I understand it, an anodyne symbolic statement requiring a parsing of its terms in order to apprehend the mental model on offer, as a prelude to considering its fidelity to experience, fitness to some problem, and/or its emotional import.

Or is it more correct to say that such an illusion-event is taken in as sensation rather than sign, and understood in its essentials instantaneously through a much lower order of mental processing? And only later does intentional analysis take place which fragments that event into its component decisions, motivations, signals, associations, or what have you.

Paul Sullivan said...

When I was 19 years old I visited the famous Artists School. Having been a student for years and about to begin my career, it was a great experience. The drawings were for an ad that was running at that time, executed in the black crayon style featured in this article. Each of the sheets contained a portion of the illustration that Briggs had started only to abandon and begin again. It was obvious that he was after. This was Briggs at his best—never settling for anything but his best. He was searching for a spontaneous look that had a life of its own and he went through a stack of paper to find it.

If I'm correct, Briggs originally developed this technique for newspaper reproduction. However, the technique was so effective it was used in magazines. I recall an extensive series he did for TV Guide magazine that appeared in Advertising Age during the early 60s. I remember many hours studying those illustrations—and later using my version of the technique. Austin Briggs was a true master.

It was Austin Briggs who the young Bernie Fuchs strived to emulate.

Sean Farrell said...

Thank you for your response. Aside from a pile of typing errors and botched edits, I stand by every word I've ever said to you or anyone on this blog. When you are spot on or I'm off base I have credited such. I'm not in a contest with anyone here and I'm grateful to everyone who leave comments because I've learned much from all.

Of course I clarified the comment because of your statement. I previously mentioned the dog (which is a sentient creature) and thought such was apparent that in fact a dog can't have an aesthetic experience in the human sense of it. I was talking about things in the Briggs drawings which exist as points of interest to someone such as myself who has had the drawing hanging on my wall for four years enjoying it, wondering about it, marveling at it. The drawing took me as someone whose main interest is drawing, something I love as its own end. The other drawings were no less filled with performance to use your word. Yes I was exploring the artistry of it and things I mentioned were things I wondered about over the four years. Why did he do this curious or that curious thing? No one attains such a level of skill without an enormous amount of cerebral understanding of what is happening in the event, the performance of drawing. Yet parts of the drawing were found in the experience of drawing it. I'm not arguing otherwise, yes, in the performance of drawing.

Yes, for goodness sake, I understand the difference between a verbal symbol from the experience of looking at the fantastic woman and her daughter brimming with beauty and life. And yes, of course you got under my skin with your persistent concerns for pointing out the difference between what one says as opinion, in comparison to an aesthetic experience. But the reality is that artists have to contend with problems and make choices. Hence, a liberty was taken by David. Everyone took it as a liberty...

Many people can also discern with some approximation the interior experiential reality from an active intellectual one. Where this becomes most interesting is where exactly is the line between the sentient and the human reality and there is no clear answer, because it is part of being human that we are also part of nature. So for the sake of civilization, where people encounter more complex problems, we learn that the line is in how we treat others. That medium is called culture. Yes, that is also part of the aesthetic experience of the Briggs drawings. Okay Kev, thanks again.

Sean Farrell said...

Paul Sullivan,
Your comment was very helpful and explains a lot.
Thanks, Sean

kev ferrara said...

I previously mentioned the dog (which is a sentient creature) and thought such was apparent that in fact a dog can't have an aesthetic experience in the human sense of it.

There are many anecdotes of dogs responding to images on televisions. Dogs do respond to all sorts of illusions and the predicate of all aesthetic phenomena is illusion. So I wouldn't be hasty concluding that dogs lack that capacity, though clearly they would not be as utterly susceptible to illusory beliefs as humans.

Anyway, to test the issue of how we understand at the basic level, my mind went not to dogs, who seem to have some level of reasoning, memory and plan-modeling, but to mollusks and insects and fish who manage to get through their days without much higher function at all. Which is just why it must be so that sensation is the first order of meaning. Because nothing can survive without an accurate-enough interpretation of its environment to discern food from foe and shelter from nakedness. Not surprisingly we have about a third of our genes in common with fruit flies and twice that many in common with fish.

Hence, a liberty was taken by David. Everyone took it as a liberty...

Once you cool down, it might be worth appreciating that the fitness of the analogy is a more interesting point of debate than whether political opinions (odious as a general matter) found in art might, in general, be less culturally worthwhile than the evocative linework of a master draftsman. Which is perhaps why I wasn't the only one who questioned the analogy instead of hear-hearing David's rhetorical question. I am also unavailable to cosign a declaration that the sun is warmer than the moon.

Paul Sullivan said...


What ever happened to simply enjoying the excellent work of a master like Austin Briggs. Powerful visual communication is a very special art. Excellent advertising illustration—art for persuasion—is unique in itself.

Advertising illustration was dead once Ogilvy started taking surveys and learned that most people "believed" photographs. It didn't take television gobbling up ad budgets to hasten its demise.

The world of Leyendecker, Briggs and Fuchs is gone. Now we can simply marvel at the artistry and craftsmanship of ad art without judging the work as art or illustration. Most likely we will never see anything like the line art of Austin Briggs again in print media. Briggs learned the art of line illustration when he was young doing work for cheap pulp publications. In the 30s, 40s and early 50s the bulk of advertising was in black and white. Newspapers couldn't print anything finer than a 65 line screen. Then Ogilvy surveyed again and learned that an ad in color would have double the readership.

Amen.


kev ferrara said...

Paul, I think we are all in agreement here about all that.

What kind of illustration work did you do? Were you based out of NYC?

Paul Sullivan said...

Kev—

Thanks for asking. I was never a hot shot illustrator and I never worked in NYC. I did a lot of national business-to-business illustration and ad design during the first 20 years of my career. During the second 20 years I did illustration and art direction for Motorola Defense and Space Systems in Arizona—which is now part of General Dynamics. From the beginning of my career it was obvious that there was less and less illustration work. Luckily I had been trained as an ad designer also and eventually became an art director.

I remember in about 1968 I had a calendar from Owens Corning Fiberglass to get out in less than a month. I talked to a friend in Detroit about some help. He laughed and said half of the illustrators he knew became photographers and the other half left town.

I enjoyed a long ad art career and now I paint watercolors:
http://www.paulsullivanstudio.com

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, What we're talking about regarding dogs and mollusks is an exciting subject because it's about life, the meaning of life as you are putting it, at the sensory level. I am in agreement with you on this, but as a meditation on life as mystery, its balm, rather than conclusion. The meditative contemplation on this sensory reality in civility and humanity begets deeper meditations and is part of life, even if unfortunately not apart of culture or art anymore. Your views on language, picture making and how you relate to them are your views, which make up you. You do realize that not everyone is obliged to agree with them.

kev ferrara said...

Paul,

Thanks for sharing that. I really enjoyed looking at your site and your expert artwork. Best of luck going forward!

That story about all those illustrators "getting out of dodge" so to speak, is one of the clearest anecdotes I've ever heard about the dire state of the business in the late 1960s. Thanks for sharing it.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I'm not a solipsist. I believe we all share the same world. We're all humans, with more or less the same capacities, but with varying sensitivities. If there is, for want of a better term, a "science" to any of this - and I, personally, am certain there is - then the experience of poetry, in any form, must be a shared one to a great extent.

Since we have barely scratched the veneer of the subject of aesthetics on this blog, particularly the practical matter of how the theory becomes practice through composition and expression, it would be impossible for you have enough information to decide that what I am saying or believe is merely subjective opinion, brutally insufficient, or flat out wrong. Also, understandably, with so much verbiage spilled over so long a time, it is hard to keep track of things, hard to make connections between discussions distributed through years.

Just as one example, your belief that I "pantheistically" think of mental states such as "indifference" or "submissiveness" as "ends in themselves" is a wild misread. I have opined on this blog many times that it is in the emphasis on mere sensation that modernism/postmodernism have inexorably fallen away from "the beautiful splendor of truth" (and the social benefit of the same) towards a sassy, punk nihilism, which I abhor.

Equally, any notion that I disbelieve that art resonates into and out from actual life experience, that I think reference and associations called up by representations of certain personages or objects have no place in the discussion of art, is also baseless.

I am, however, against most academic or activist protocols for such interpretation. Particularly as such torrents of dogma usually mask the utter lack of any actual aesthetic understanding or practical experience.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
Things are getting mixed up here and I apologize. There is a fine line between pantheism and the descriptions I mentioned which meditate upon the same things but in wonder, looking outward. The key is if something goes beyond itself, or does it get stuck, as sense or reason can get stuck in themselves. A pantheist is in conflict with himself, not because as they are looking for truth, but because they get stuck and build a wall around themselves. For example. Einstein marveled at the “knowableness” of things, the universe, etc. In this he was not stuck, but open. Of course in a complex world where people depend on language they can't do without it nor can they fully know the entirety of things, but they can know a lot more than without it. So to harp on the point that we are given to error which is a given when our medium here is language and by its nature is limited even when verifiable

I threw discursive topics to develop some different angles. The sparing of unnecessary details of composition in the early 20th century was part of a huge global iconoclastic sweep on unnecessary cultural details. There was American Pragmatism, Futurism, Communism, Constructionism, the brutalism of modern architecture, Picasso, later Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimalism and ever darker iconoclasm. In the midst of this, individuals did different things which were no less aware of their surroundings. In France, Matisse was painting domestic tranquility and leisure in unapologetic indulgence with flowers, opened windows to its domesticated world outside, goldfish in a glass bowl, patterns, Algerian influence while using basic and simple design motifs, transition, pattern, opposition, etc.. He had to have been aware of the anti-culture and anti-history raging around in the intellectual circles and the wars and the French history of the previous century. So his art was an affirmation of domestic leisure and civilized gratitude for interior life that was French culture. It was so in light of the world around him even if by chance he had no such clue. Likewise Norman Rockwell was doing an American version with the ongoing war effort. Such chatter may not be part of the actual aesthetic experience, but it's often part of the expression in the art.

The last several visits I came to share something in the joy of the “knowableness” of aspects of drawings.They were observations that were at least to me of interest and I found myself discussing some issues that had seemingly nothing to do with the drawings. Repetition was one subject wrestled to the ground and defined as discreet, yet it isn't just a design but subject in Matisse, it's part of the message of the painting, the story. Kev, you are always interesting even when you come from unfamiliar territory, but you back things into corners which from another point of view may point joyously outwards with possibility. You have been in general more than worth these frustrations as even in disagreement you stimulate various ideas and for that I am grateful as it is a rare thing.

Sean Farrell said...

Rather as discrete. I took that to mean it was restrained to itself, only as an element of design.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Obviously, I have no interest in hearing about your "frustrations" with me. So when you voice them, I presume you are saying them so that other people will hear them. Think about your motivation for doing that.

Such chatter may not be part of the actual aesthetic experience, but it's often part of the expression in the art.

Of course. We all long ago got the idea that Art can resonate with the cultural moment it is made in. And also that any aspect of art that communicates to us - whether aesthetic, referential, or symbolic - is part of the meaning of that effort.

But with years of thought on the matter, I have come to the opinion that there is a great problem with any attempt to assert that all visual communication is Art. I now view this compaction as short-sighted; part of the dogma of modernism and its commercial allies in the world of editorial graphics. Because, in the long run, anything in a work of art that relies on a timely cultural definition for its expression will lose both expressive power and meaning; such creative work will weaken with the years. Its signal, so to speak, will fade.

The more culturally-specific a work, the more it will only have long-term "artistic" value to aficianados and historians of decorative styles and dated art techniques. Whereas the timelessness of aesthetic force or profound human truth, these qualities retain their power, meaning, and value; preserving intact the original vision of a work of Art through epochs of famine, flood and war.

I would argue, actually, that timeless aesthetic products act as a beacon of hope during times of famine, flood and war, and so help us see our way through such trials. Whereas nobody, when their mother is dying of cancer, goes to the library to look up cleverly nasty exchanges between long dead politicians as solace for their grief.

To put all this very simply; cultural reference depreciates.

I realize that the permissive view holds sway in this "anything goes as long as it looks nice and communicates the idea" cultural era. But what will it all be for, such culturally dependent creativity... except for visual creatives to have a bit of fun, make a bit of cash, and to pretend to educate people who like to pretend they are being educated?

Are any of us looking at Brigg's art as Art because he was attempting to romanticize travel by airplane or train? Clearly not, because there are ten thousand ads that do the same thing that nobody's looking at except historians, nostalgics and ironicists.

Which is, all to say, why I would also argue that it is false to say that itemizing the cultural indicators of a lost civilization or vanished epoch through art is part of some effort to better understand the meaning of the art. Deciphering those aspects will help decode the communication. Which is not the same thing as understanding the meaning of the artfulness.

you back things into corners which from another point of view may point joyously outwards with possibility.

I have found that when one backs an artistic notion into a corner, with prolonged effort, if it has any validity, it may be split it into its component principles through a single epiphany. And in the purity of those deeper principles is true possibility, an infinitude of practical application, unconstrained by the linear compass direction of any particular subjectivity.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I'm not voicing frustration for others to read. This issue is simple. You can bring up a discussion on aesthetics if you want to and nobody is stopping you. You can talk and people will listen and can engage you. I am very much interested in listening. I'm referring here to when I discuss something in an image that is mainly drawing stuff in the technical area which an artist did. If the two discussions are related in some way fine, if they're not, if one is practical and the other of a deeper aesthetic principle, then let it be so.

My point in bringing up a cultural reality is not to diminish such, but to show that Americanism and French culture did not share the same universals, nor the same relationship with various objects of beauty. I was making a comparison to the concept of eliminating unnecessary details in composition of the early 20th century which was an ideological cultural goal across the developed globe and a different culture where such would have been nearly unspeakable. That's what is at issue with the iconoclasm of modernity and the spread of its universal modern pragmatism. There are aesthetic principles peddled in this cause from less is more buildings to less is more compositional principles. It is the advancement of the iconoclasm or modern culture as a new universal principle over pre-existing cultures of subsidiarity, be they rural, isolated, religious, remote, etc., to create a new universality to replace all existing orders. Americans have no clue how deeply different such can be. There are distinct differences in the way people view every kind of thing, here an event is an accident, there destiny, in another place an omen. In one work is good, another labor is frowned upon in another leisure is highly cherished for contemplation while another do so for its physical pleasures. There are distinct differences in the way people view space, housing, animals, family, ancestors, children, sons, daughters, strangers, luck, pleasures, obstacles, tradition, invention and the unknowable. All such differences are being washed away into a superimposed and individual existentialism which somehow houses the universal aesthetic reality. Even it has a watered down golden rule, a fib to sell the model. It's attempting to remake the way people stand, walk, touch an object, even look at one another and to redefine what principles will universalize it all into a new package and product to be sold as a replacement to human troubles. I just demonstrated to you how one continent of people viewed flowers as a non-factor compared to that of another country which viewed them as an event bringing a focal point beauty of nature and symbol of domestication and order in life and home. Thanks.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I have a lot of respect for someone like yourself looking for beauty, form, unity, truth and to even mention purity is a metaphysical reality most don't believe is accessible for one reason or another. For years I found myself struggling to be at ease with big projects so I asked a friend, how do you handle such massive projects without getting all uptight and he said, I take some time to lay it all out in front of me and then ask, now how can I have fun with this! It might be different than a fine artists' search for perfection, purity, unity in form and composition, but joy is the end result of such a search and being a unifying force in itself, it's proven to be its own perfection.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

It seems to me that if two peoples don't share the same universals, either we aren't actually talking about universals, or one or both peoples are being influenced by forces larger than themselves into unnatural trained reactions and subscribing to fleeting surface fashions.

"Less is more" is just such a fleeting surface fashion. A reductive bumper sticker version of a real aesthetic principle that is so easy to say and so lazy to implement that it spread like a virus through lesser modernist culture, dumbing down everything in its path. Cultural history is replete with such ideas with no record of when, just exactly, they vanished back into the void from whence they came. But they all, to a dogma, vanish.

Unnatural trained reactions are a bit more pernicious because they can be both more destructive and also harder to dislodge. But such politics, too, die away.

All to say, some measure of mass mind control seems a constancy in all tribes and all civilizations; the acculturation into the reigning cults, the peer pressure to bow to the "Idols of the Age" as David Stove put it. Yet still, representations of human and natural beauty, the longing for meaning and truth, archetypes of thought, and aesthetic form reverberate through the ages unchanged in essence. And, it is these unchanging essences that philosophy keeps reminding us is the true nature of anything. I accept this premise as a profound truth. Which is why I think one may observe the artistic symbols and cultural idiosyncrasies of a hundred different cultures and not learn a single usable or universal thing about Art.

Yet, none of us have equal sensitivity to, or tolerance for even the universals.

But variations in our sensitivities and tolerances, the idiosyncrasies of the current cultural reign, the fashionable forces of the zeitgeist, the peer pressures - none of this stuff can be controlled for. They're all moving targets. The only still targets, by and by, are the essences. And only those essences will carry anything we make forward amid the endless tempests of immediacy. Such is the criteria that occupies my interest.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I was not being glib in bringing up joy. One can only perform anatomy on a dead body as obviously the dissection destroys the form of the whole which includes of course its spirit, life. The point being that in analysis one loses the spirit of the whole. This is a fair criticism of what I've done on this site. The same thing happens in science when it looses its wonder, despite obvious benefits.

Western painting has a long lineage and art inherited the great notion of indifferentism, of seeing without want. It also inherited the notion of spirit verses analysis, of not trying to understand knowledge without its spirit, which comes from its body as a whole. Your mentioning the mollusk, the unconscious sentience is most life affirming and this too is part of the whole which includes our social and creative relationship with life, which is why it's so fascinating, at least to me. Yet when things are extracted from their context, they also loose part of their meaning and attempt to do very different things. Less is more, is an example of an idea becoming a mantra of joyless revolution and destruction.
The essence and its unity, the struggle for perfection, purity, its life, is incomplete without its spirit which is ultimately joy, delight and wonder. Without these mankind becomes a menace.

The flowers placed in a vase and upon a table is not simply fashion, but a civilized and cultural act affirming life. It is a global tragedy that the forces of pragmatism don't understand the difference.

I'll leave you with the last word.
Thank you

David Apatoff said...

Paul Sullivan-- How great to hear that you worked for Motorola Defense and Space Systems in Arizona. Motorola was one of my largest clients for many years and I helped with the sale to General Dynamics. I spent a lot of time with the electrical engineers in the satellite and radar divisions in Arizona working on government contracting disputes and claims, and then on the Iridium satellite network, although much of my time was spent over at the Semiconductor Sector.

I"m sorry I never ran into you while I was working down there; I would've enjoyed talking with someone-- anyone-- about the illustration biz. I'm not sure I even knew Motorola had staff artists.

Is there any chance you worked on the C-130 aft fuselage radome project? The DoD Anti-submarine Warfare System office which tested the radar had some pretty impressive paintings on the wall.

Donald Pittenger-- I agree with much of what you say about the path that led us to the era of "opinion-oriented art" (meaning, of course, opinions regarding content, not opinions about line, form and presentation). I do think, however, that there continue to be several gems out there in what you call the "illustration wasteland" of print.

It seems to me that TV and photography were already nibbling away at the volume of work for illustrators when Robert Weaver trumpeted his notion that illustrators should be hybrid artists/journalists, expressing their opinions and values in their work. I don't know if he was looking for a market niche for illustrators where photography couldn't go, or if he felt he was not getting enough credit for his intellectual side and wanted to put out front that illustrators are smart too, and have valid opinions. Of course, from what I've read it's possible he was motivated by self-loathing and was looking for way to insult what he called the "candy box" illustrators up in Westport. Regardless, we might look at Weaver as a starting point for our current predicament, but at least Weaver was a mighty fine draftsman.

Kev Ferrara and Sean Farrell-- you've said a lot, and I have a lot to say about what you've said, but this has been a rough week for me. (Perhaps it was smart for me to hold off until you had both expended much of your ammunition.) I'll be jumping back in today as soon as I can find the right footholds.


kev ferrara said...

Sean,

You keep veering into discussions of culture instead of art. What I say about one is not necessarily what I feel is true about the other.

Putting flowers on a table is culture, not art. But it would not be something I consider merely shallow fashion. Rather the opposite; another instance of the timeless human appreciation for nature. (which is why I put "representations of nature" on the list of essential features of art through time) The vase may change, the table may change, the house may change, the venue may change... those are fashions and variables. But the human appreciation of the flower iterates through the ages.

And yes, maybe this is so because there is a longing for many people to be saturated in beauty, finding joy or solace in it. Some people find sadness in beauty, however, and so might prefer clutter, or minimalism. Some people are so disturbed that they prefer to live in a state of edginess which reflects their inner turmoil. These are lifestyle questions. And art comes into the picture in such cases as an adjunct to the lifestyle, not as works unto themselves. As adjunct to lifestyle, art is at its most decorative; meant to contribute and harmonize with the spirit of a room. Whereas great Art, I would argue, takes its own space and forms its own world, in spiritual harmony only with itself and those timeless essences I've enumerated.

I think most people long for uplifting culture because of its ambient effect on their environment. Powerful, self-contained Art has the capacity and courage to go anywhere and express anything, in utter disregard of decor, propriety, or fashion. But great Art is uplifting all the same, not for its content or decorousness, but for its artistry. It is through the concision and organization of poetry that thought is transformed into music and melody, awe and beauty, sonata and song. Harvey Dunn put it that "Even if you are painting a grotesque or tragic subject, the painting should still be singing when you take it off the easel."

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Art that has the courage to go anywhere, is still in relation to beauty.
A funeral is beautiful in how it is relating to a loss of life. Paintings of the Crucifixion
can be beautiful in the sense that they capture humanity's envy of beauty. A man lifting a huge object
can be beautiful without being effete. People hunger for an uplifting culture because such is desire and thus the fulfillment of human effort, joy. A vital piece of order is some form of joy and Dunn's statement appears to verify it.

In line drawing though there is another element, because of its limitations and the Briggs drawing
is a good example. In it, the movement of the line itself is part of the life in the image. I suspect there is something to this in the love of Impressionism and expressionistic painting. It becomes part of the painting of the subject.

The point I'm trying to make about the flowers, is that the image is a cultivated reality, humanity as part of nature relating creatively to nature. Since only humans can paint, painting itself is part of this relationship and is a cultural thing, not fashion, nor part of “nature”. It is human interaction with reality. There are no houses, fishing boats, buildings, sewing, knitting or any number of the thousands of things humans do which are not part of nature without culture. So how much subject is left? Our relations with each other are cultivated.



kev ferrara said...

Very sorry to hear about your bad week, David. Best wishes, always.

Sean,

I am struggling, as usual, to understand the underlying argument of your latest fugue poem, as well as how it relates to anything I have written. For the sake of everybody's sanity, I'll ignore the word choices that perplex me.

I, of course, agree that painting is something cultivated, so it is a part of culture. And I agree that the act of cultivation alone is an attempt to make experience more palatable through, at the very least, the manifestation of some level of decorative order. Indeed, there is a strong component of decorative order to the rituals we impose upon our most difficult life threshold-crossings; balancing the attendant stresses by synthesizing them with a stepwise journey through an idealized symbol schemata/scenario. (Boy, could hospitals use a dose of this!) But I wouldn't call these ritualistic orders vital. I think the stress is vital enough, and the role of the ritual is to impose physical order to encourage psychic order, with the point of the idealizations and symbol systems being to promote a sense of unreality - a mild aesthetic narcotic mixed with some Brechtian alienation - to get the subjects through the day by dint of a bit of beautiful bafflement.

I see it as crucial to distinguish orders, rather than mix them up. Some orders anchor some are vital, some are simple or complex in structure, some are decorative or narrative, some are necessary some are arbitrary, etc. Or, we can throw it all in the same bin and say its all culture, which attaches us to each other, life and the land. And if we really understand the nature and purpose of culture, maybe that will tell us the ways in which ritual, fashion, gardening, and a painting by Tiepolo are all the same. But that is such an easy task, it is done almost as soon as the question is formed. Whereas, a single Tiepolo masterpiece can withstand analysis for decades.

Paul Sullivan said...


David Apatoff— I wish I'd had a chance to meet you when you were out here in Arizona contacting Motorola Defense and Space Systems Group. I can only testify that it was a wonderful, exciting place to work. Most people are not aware of it but from the very beginning, every NASA liftoff had Motorola equipment on board. All of our images of space were sent to Earth via Motorola technology. You mentioned that you didn't recall Motorola having staff artists. There were a lot more than staff artists. Since everything the Group was producing and developing was classified, all of our advertising, art, photography, writing and even much of the printing had to be done inside the corporation under secure conditions.

However, completed products and systems had to be advertised for expanded application and to publicize the corporation's ability in producing cutting edge technology. That's where people like myself got involved. You asked if I was familiar with the C-130 project. Off hand, I don't recall it but many times identifications would change from the development to full production stage. Through the 80s and early 90s, I worked closely with our inside advertising agency designing and producing magazine ads. This was right down my alley. It involved everything from initial concept to final production—at times even writing headlines.

You mentioned the Iridium saga. I believe the Iridium story should be taught as part of every MBA program. It is a tragic story of a gigantic undertaking played out across the heavens—with billions at stake.

Great to hear of your contact with the old Bat Wing!

Tom said...

Now Tiepolo, there was a great painter!

Sean Farrell said...

Kev,
Culture is a bridge between human beings which facilitates orderly relations between people and serves our functional needs. But a most important purpose is it builds bridges for spirit. The mediums of language, art, music each come with their own character, sensory limits, pitfalls and required development.

A brilliant man who thinks he knows everything shares something ugly with a dumb man who thinks he knows everything. A brilliant man who understands he will never know everything shares something beautiful with a limited person who knows they don't know everything. Such is called spirit. It is neither body nor simply mind, because the second pair share an openness which brings harmony to mind, the body and the spirit and yes, that order is sentient, felt as well. In truth, people aren't fixed and can be at times arrogant or thoughtful.

A man stands waiting for a thirty something year old woman to make his milkshake. Whatever natural graces in beauty she may have had seems lost possibly on worry, one can't be sure. Perhaps she has kids the man wonders and working this job is a reflection of her disappointments. She turns to hand him his shake and he gives her a big smile in understanding and appreciation, she lights up in beauty. It is spirit.

The Dean Cornwell which David featured of the woman crying when hearing her beloved English for the first in a long time involved culture. All pictures involving horseman, mariners, eating or drinking, religion, ancient archetypes, goddesses all involve cultural subjects and as cultural subjects involve mind, body and spirit or some reflection thereof. The neurological insights into sentience are phenomenal and valuable to the discussion and there is meaning in the senses in its own right but more importantly within harmony of mind, body and spirit.

There's nothing wrong with seeking and believing one's found truth in a certain area, everyone does it, but to dismiss a conversation because of unshared universals or because ideas are introduced which one rejects is the end of the discussion. I've run into such several times regarding such. When mind and spirit are mixed into sentience without acknowledging the reality of each, we have ourselves something called pantheism.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, As I have come to understand your theme is one of meaning in sentience and the aesthetic experience and your general gripe with the world of art and perhaps at large is that it isn't aware of the beautiful order in sentience and in the aesthetic experience. That's fair enough. Then a secondary theme veers into the fallacies in language as a vehicle of communication possessing many flaws and that's fair enough too, because in language such exists, but in the same process there has been the dismissal due to the unreliability of history. And there is certainly some truth here too. Then mathematics is tossed into the poetic, which is in some manner dismissed as well. Then there is the dismissal or relativity of culture as fashion and this too is a form of dismissal and of course, religions as a subject of humanity's search for meaning in relation to the existential mysteries is also dismissed as fallacious as if you had personally discussed the matter with Hans Urs von Balthasar and determined it to be foolishness. (That would be beauty in science and art as a testament of body, mind and spirit.) As these things are ticking off in my head it is taking shape that I'm listening to a modernist, complain about modernism, from a modernist perspective.

The qualification of beauty as decoration (/verbal relationship I should assume), from a society that wants to feel better is another dismissive way of looking at all those who share not, what is starting to sound like a cultist's exclusive claim to insight and experience. No I don't claim to know Howard Pyle's total approach to picture making, but the concept of unity and totality is not new.



David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara and Sean Farrell-- trying to join meaningfully into your thoughtful dialogue at this point is like dipping a toe into Heraclitus' stream. Your earlier points have been superseded or clarified by your later points. Rather than attempt to deal with the totality of your discussion, let me make some observations about specific points along the way.

First, it is gratifying that you both share my view about the qualities of Briggs' drawings (or as Sean wrote, "Briggs is drawing the daylights out of these figures.") My assessment about the state of current advertising art isn't quite as bleak as Kev's ("Its amazing how much information Briggs encodes into his lines. The world of commercial art has seemed to abandoned this approach entirely, migrating to the opposite pole of insensitive slickness.") but I'm pretty darn close. That's the primary reason for this post: I thought it was striking that once upon a time an art director would turn loose an artist with an expressive drawing tool and some elbow room, expecting that a popular audience would appreciate the results and that a client would pay for it. This is such a different kind of commercial art from anything we see today; I don't know if the audience would "get it," and even if they did, I don't know a commercial illustrator today who could do this.

On the question of whether we are dealing with "opinions" here, my attempted point was that artistic choices can only come from opinions; Briggs had strong opinions about what would look right, about how much detail would be suitable, about how hard he should press for a darker line, about how angular or curved his marks should be. (They are only opinions because there is no one correct answer.) If we agree that every purposeful deviation from an objective, photographic image reflects a choice, I'd say that these are a fairly opinionated set of drawings.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "The more culturally-specific a work, the more it will only have long-term "artistic" value to aficianados and historians of decorative styles and dated art techniques. Whereas the timelessness of aesthetic force or profound human truth, these qualities retain their power, meaning, and value; preserving intact the original vision of a work of Art through epochs of famine, flood and war."

Kev, while there is a lot of truth in what you say, I think time has a way of cleansing culturally specific elements from art. Ancient Egyptian art had very specific cultural and religious references which few people understand today, yet the aesthetic elements that remain are breathtaking. When Dante wrote The Inferno, he put all of his personal enemies in the lower circles of hell. Time erased their identities for everyone but a few scholars, but we enjoy the art left behind. And I think one reason that Sotheby's and its patrons finally accept Norman Rockwell's advertising art as "legit" is that the products he was advertising, along with the magazines that carried those ads, have all gone out of business and dispelled the stigma of commercialism. So sometimes these things have a way of taking care of themselves.


Sean Farrell-- You've added a new and cool word to my vocabulary, “Indifferentism.” Thanks! In investigating it, I learned that it can be, as you say, "the great notion of indifferentism, of seeing without want" which brings to mind the western traditions of objectivity and empiricism. But it also refers to a cardinal sin in the Catholic church, the wicked view that "it does not matter what religion a man professes, he can be saved nonetheless." I think that disparity between the benign and pernicious applications of the same word is at the heart of some of the differences between you and Kev on this issue: either position, taken to its extreme, becomes untenable. This is the familiar tension between scylla and charybdis that has come up on this blog more than once. I share your view about the role of "joy" over dull scholasticism in art (and you know who else did? Austin Briggs. I am in the midst of writing a book on Briggs and have enjoyed several long discussions with Briggs' son, a retired professor of literature and scholar on James Joyce. He says that Briggs did not think much of art critics who attempted those dissections of art.) At the same time, in an era of obtundent dumbnicity, I think we can all agree that joy by itself, uninformed and thoughtless, provides little comfort as a standard. Even as we talk about universals and absolutes, I see no solution except steering a course between scylla and charybdis, tacking first left then right.

Sean Farrell said...

David, Thank you for your thoughts. A true peacemaker.

I've read the paint from Tiepolo's paintings weren't even dry before his subject matter was dismissed by the elites. Things began to go seriously wrong when instead of seeking harmony between body (sentience), mind and spirit, nature began being viewed as an evil to be overcome and inventiveness became “transcendence”. This began in the middle of the 19th century and saw it's linguistic separation of culture from humanity in the second part of the 20th century. There was a distinct goal of decoupling people from subject matter or its cultural identifications to unveil a sentient egalitarianism, a new world.

Good luck with the book on Briggs. It sounds like a gem. Thanks.

Tom said...

Sean
Just questions, not in a bad way.

Who are the elites? And what do they want? Didn't the elites commission Tiepolo's paintings? But I don't think Tiepolo cared. Who remembers the Rothchild's?

And what is subject matter? All subjects are impermanent. All objects are impermanent. So what does art really point too? Anyone can write a history. We have lost or way. Maybe? We are gaining our freedom. Maybe? Why believe your narrative?

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

You are doing it again. Your interest in finding an enemy in me - a kind of symbol for all that you find wrong in the world is bloody baffling and is leading you into a bunch of weird assumptions. Just because I understand things through practical analysis?

Well, yes, in that sense I am a pragmatist, of a sort. I do subscribe to C.S. Peirce's advice on clarification of concepts and I have taken to heart his notion of meaning. But this has led me all over the place. At no point have I have I ever taken analysis to be superior to synthetic thought. (Whether synthetic thought is equivalent to holistic thought would be a huge philosophical discussion.)

I'm completely fine with the idea of spirit. I think it's a beautiful and useful word. I use it often. Although, again, I think we would have an interesting discussion about its precise meaning. I have the same attitude with Soul, Truth, Virtue, and a whole host of other notions that were banned from sophisticated educational circles as vague metaphysical mumbo jumbo by presumptuous super-intellectual meat-heads.

I have no problem if you are religious or spiritual and that your understanding of Spirit, Soul, Truth, and all the rest of it may rest on a bedrock of supernatural belief. Personally, I was raised in a artsy "Modernist" household, and so not only was I raised in ignorance of religiousness, ritual and holistic thinking, but was encouraged to have antipathy toward it. Fifteen years ago I would have attacked. But I'm changed. My philosophical program, if I can call it that, has come to the point that I see enormous value in rescuing the metaphysical arguments. Not as facts about the world, but as investigation into how we think, which I consider, as I've indicated many times, just as valid as scientific ways of understanding. Maybe more valid. In other words, I believe there are two separate philosophical traditions: one is about how the mind thinks, which tells us about spirit, poetry and myth. And the other is pure materialist physics. And neither should take precedence over the other because both are necessary and amazing.

Yet, I do not grant your standard of vagueness as somehow preferable to rigor on either branch. If you knew me in real life, you would know, despite the clinical precision of my online posts, that I am full of joy and wonder and spirit. But that doesn't stop me from smashing joy, wonder, and spirit with every mental tool I have at my disposal to see if there are deeper component truths behind these very delicate, special and valuable human feelings. Especially if they are useful truth to the understanding and making of the beautiful and the meaningful.

There's an old saying in art, that if good artistic training destroys a talent, that talent wasn't worth much to begin with. I assure you, there is nothing I can do that could possibly wound, let alone eradicate, any of the glorious conditions of the soul I've listed above. The poetry of human consciousness isn't going anywhere; not now, not ever.



Sean Farrell said...


Tom, The subject matter that was passe by the time Tiepolo finished his paintings was the supernatural. The elites were the wealthiest, worldly and best educated people at the time, who turned their attention to philosophy, science and ideas of government.

All your questions make a lot of sense but I don't have any answers for them. I don't see good work as out of date, rather it keeps getting stronger the better able I am to appreciate it. I know that's no help but it's something that keeps me going. That and a sense of obligation to make good of my life.

Sean Farrell said...

Thank you Kev. The sentient is enlivened and beautiful in humans, in the harmony of mind, body and spirit, rather than in itself, which a fantasy and preoccupation of modernists and a very easy place to get very stuck. The modernist sentient fantasy is related to the destruction of subject matter.

Subject matter is a shrinking reality because our physical relationship, not as sport but as a matter of survival in the world has all but disappeared. Making matters worse, subject matter has been deconstructed to mean nothing more than cultural symbols. Harmony went out the window when the belief in harmonizing with nature changed to a transcendent anti-nature position. The whole point of deconstructing reality and art was to dissect its symbols, detaching them from reality in order to destroy them and this has been more than successful. People are even afraid to paint subject matter because it is time bound, transient and so on, but that's not what dates bad artwork from good artwork, rather it is dated by what is missing and often that is an imagination of the viewer or some superficiality in the work itself.

“The poetry of human consciousness isn't going anywhere; not now, not ever.” Then what's all the complaining about? The poetry of human consciousness is related to our external relationship with the world, to our shrinking subject matter and an openness to that which is beyond the limitations and containers of our knowledge, the mysteries and improbabilities of everything. I know you're a good guy Kev. Take care.

Paul Sullivan said...

I'm sure Austin would be amazed that a modest posting of a few of his drawings could generate this much hot air. There is enough here to heat Upper Sandusky. I suppose it's a sign that illustration is reaching the status of "art".

County Mayo, God help us.

Laurence John said...

David: "This is such a different kind of commercial art from anything we see today"

yes, but that's just the way styles change constantly to look new and modern. illustration has drifted over to the graphic / conceptual side of things in recent (digital) times, but illustrators with painterly skill are still plentiful.

David: "...and even if they did, I don't know a commercial illustrator today who could do this."

i don't believe for one moment that there aren't illustrators around today capable of doing something equivalent to Briggs in these drawings.

illustrators don't compose pictures in that 'filmic / whole snapshot of a scene' way very much anymore, but that doesn't mean they couldn't. the reason they don't is because it would instantly be seen as a limited-appeal 'retro' style only appropriate for a retro subject matter (say an alcohol brand that deliberately wanted to evoke mid 20th century 'Mad Men' chic or similar).

kev ferrara said...

Paul,

The internet is vast and not all conversations are for everybody. I'm quite interested in your experiences in the field and I'm sure others are as well. Please feel free to share your experiences and to talk about what interests you, simply disregarding other threads of conversation that hold no value for you.

Sean,

I think it is widely agreed that the impetus to create narratives comes out of the human need to understand. And I've pointed out elsewhere that this need becomes particularly acute where a great and mysterious frontier comes into the view of some tribe or society. So I would translate your complaint about subject matter falling by the wayside as an assertion that there are no more frontiers to understand or that artists are no longer interested in frontiers because they've all been enslaved by technology and the mechanistic ethos. And I can't agree with that. Even Modernism was investigating a frontier.

Subject matter has always been a veneer over moral (in the wide sense) teaching. There is no narrative of any kind that rises to the level of art that doesn't have something metaphysical to teach undergirding its facade of entertainment. And by metaphysical, I mean a thematic discussion in the abstract; an abstract in the true sense of that word; lossless poetic summaries developed through inventive concision. The deeper content of art has always been developed out of such. (Some may call this aspect spirit.) Scenario, plot, realism, reference; that's the topsoil.

So there are, not one, but two fundamental aspects of Art that were dumped by Modernism. One is a dumping of referential subject matter. And the other is the dumping of referential abstraction. In other words, they dumped meaning.

Paul Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

"So there are, not one, but two fundamental aspects of Art that were dumped by Modernism. One is a dumping of referential subject matter. And the other is the dumping of referential abstraction. In other words, they dumped meaning."

Kev

Maybe the subject of modern art is looking and experiencing the joy of the brush? Maybe that is the "meaning." Maybe that is way everyone responds so well to Brigg's drawings. There is a joy and freedom in how they were made and people immediately sense that spirit. The subject of a painting is not in the objects represented. The real subject is in the spirit that animates the artist hand and mind and that can never be dumped from any picture.

Paul Sullivan said...

Kev,
Thanks for a very gracious response to my "hot air" comment, which was a bit rude. Actually I enjoy following the volleys between you and Sean.

Laurence / David,
I agree that there is talent out there today that could produce excellent illustration on a par with the better illustrators of the 60s and before.

However, most of the top ad illustrators who were producing powerful compositions within a "square-cut" format learned their craft doing editorial illustration. When photography started to dominate the advertising market, illustration reacted by trying to look less photographic and more like art. You can see this played out in the work of Bernie Fuchs. Fuchs hit the scene from Detroit with a style that resembled our man Austin Briggs. Before long, Fuchs was reacting to the demands of the market and producing work that was more and more "painterly"—arty looking. The market loved it. It didn't look like photography. It was something a photo couldn't match.

The hard fact remained that the average reader would be more inclined to believe a photo than an illustration. And looking back at that era, much of the excellent illustration during the later 60s and 70s was editorial art rather than advertising art. (I'm sure I'll be challenged on that.)

Personally, I believe an ad series employing the Briggs "black crayon" style would be very successful right today. For one reason, there hasn't been anything like it for some time. The look has impact. And there are illustrators around who could produce a contemporary version of a similar technique. The drawings Briggs made using this technique were made with the aid of an overhead projector. I don't mean to take anything away from the skill and life Briggs injected into his work. His drawings are so good because he was capable of working without a projector. He was able to modify, enhance and compose as he was working.

kev ferrara said...

Maybe the subject of modern art is looking and experiencing the joy of the brush? Maybe that is the "meaning." Maybe that is way everyone responds so well to Brigg's drawings. There is a joy and freedom in how they were made and people immediately sense that spirit. The subject of a painting is not in the objects represented. The real subject is in the spirit that animates the artist hand and mind and that can never be dumped from any picture.

Tom,

That was the point I was getting at. That the frontier being examined by modern art was the very substance of expression; plasticity as its own virtue, language as language without regard to content.

A typographer will greek type in a particular font in order to look at the expression the font generates without its coded content. Such typographic qualities would be analagous to Brigg's animated edginess of line. There is undoubtably meaning there. But such meaning is very surface, a detectable sensation in symbolic form; which is just why we can read it so easily. I would argue there is a great chasm between that kind of surface meaning and a picture's structural meaning. The latter being deeper in any sense of the word you care to name.

chris bennett said...

Here’s my two-pennyworth on what I think David was getting at by using the term ‘opinion’ to describe the plastic means of the Briggs drawings.

The traditional rules of how things look tend to hide experience, hide the view so–to-speak. So the artist makes his own rules usually borrowed from someone else and modified to suit his purpose; because rules or procedures are necessary to get anything to read at all. These personal rules are forged in an ongoing attempt to facilitate the fluency by which an artist thinks in plastic terms; his meta-opinion of the world if you will. The ways in which they are used form the particular opinions, from picture to picture, from structure to structure within the pictures, right down to the connections between the marks that build those structures.

Sean Farrell said...

The standard bearer for line drawing may be Holbein's exquisitely sensitive drawings for the Court of Henry the Eighth. The careful treatment capturing the form is a deeply respectful meditation upon the subject, a human being and in relationship with the drawing itself. One could call Holbein's drawings copying and they would be in one sense completely correct, but they would be missing something which distinguishes them from most other drawings.

Is line drawing by its nature analogous to a solo compared to a symphony? A study verses its destined completion? Is line drawing analogous to erotic sensations compared to a matured understanding of love, or shall it be compared to a beatific love, a love drowned in sensation but beyond all self interest and beyond all approach by mental faculties? Is a drawing which doesn't or perhaps can't by its limited nature approach the beauty if the structure of meaning to be compared with such? Or is doing so it like chronicling a car crash? Is a drawing by Briggs a solo or sensations of such limited meaning, that it is foolish to make too much of his skills? Or is the drawing a search for the figures and what they are doing by their forms as interpreted with a pencil? Are Holbein's drawings merely decoration? Can line drawing itself be distinguished from mere sentient relations with the plasticity of its medium? The obvious answer is yes, but by what quality? I think Dunn referred to the beauty of Holbein's drawings. Is the genius of beauty that it can manifest in all forms, both the extraordinary and in that with dramatic limitations, in a manner which the viewer has little choice but to say yes?

Sean Farrell said...

Sorry about that, corrected sentence.

Is a drawing which doesn't or perhaps can't by its limited nature approach the beauty of the structure of meaning be compared with such? Or is doing so like chronicling a car crash?

Paul Sullivan said...

I apologize for what I said earlier. This isn't Hot Air. This is Baloney.

chris bennett said...

Care to offer something a little more constructive then Paul?

kev ferrara said...

I apologize for what I said earlier. This isn't Hot Air. This is Baloney.

Are you waffling?

Sean,

I don't know why we're talking about Briggs as if it were just line work. It isn't. There's spots of dark, there's tone, and there's little bits of descriptive detail that he's using as, if I may, percussion. And no, if we were to take the musical analogy seriously; this is not a solo performance. A single line meandering, intermittently through a composition would be a solo. What we have here, in each drawing, is a whole string section playing in line. Plus a bass cello for the dark lines, a baritone horn to play the incidental dark shapes, a white noise machine to play the grays, and some incidental percussion to pattern and clang things up now and again.

I adore Holbein's drawings. I can't imagine anybody would talk about them as copying. They are abstracted to an extreme degree, and very complex. They also are more about evoking character than Brigg's work; a different kettle of fish. With respect to theoretical musings; I will point out that we know none of these people. To the extent that they live at all, it is in Holbein's depictions of them. The images are their own realities; they refer to nobody.

Sean Farrell said...

Paul, Thank you. Please visit David's statement on the top of the front page of the blog. The subject of structural meaning is a most intriguing one and I'm interested in what Kev is saying, trying to say and has been trying to say about it for some time.

Beauty in small things can be subordinated to a greater whole, but to define beauty as elemental, or as decoration ignores its pervading presence and power. In other words, beauty is permeating in nature and human ingenuity as well as on many levels of understanding. In concert and in varying forms such as visual narration beauty can reveal itself in unsuspected surprises and as wonderful experience. Bashing things which lack “structural meaning” or what it isn't, isn't helping me understand what it is... and I'm eager to learn. Neither does it seem honest to things which are beautiful in some simple ways, such as Holbein's drawings. Perhaps there's a more direct route to addressing that which is visually narrative and important regarding structural meaning, because going backwards into it, often feels like chronicling a car crash with its victims strewn all over the place. Beauty defined as decoration being its latest roadkill.

I can't tell someone how to go about what they're trying to do, but I can express where I'm having difficulty and why I'm having difficulties with it. Such can get awfully confusing when bouncing from linguistics, to esoteric statements, to neurological comments to proclamations of the extraordinary. I'm coming from an entirely different set of reference points and have been tossing in analogies which I hope are showing that humanity is inescapably a cultural creature. To this end, visual narrative is a fascinating subject because today people are painting around our human nature as cultural creatures, hoping to create timeless masterpieces, or are painting beauty in nature as an avoidance of fashionable (art) thoughts as if such were possible. And then there are the post moderns who are anti-culturalists, mocking and destroying our social bridges to each other, including art itself. Yes, it's all a big mess, but here and there a thought registers and the whole thing becomes worth it.

Sean Farrell said...

Yes Kev, All true regarding the Briggs and that the line itself moves as in that is how line is applied. It is not a tonal rendition of the scenes which move as areas, or as light illuminates tonal images. His interest is predominantly line drawing, yes with limited accents and when he went to finish, the carving and shaping of his lines was even more deliberate. Yes, we see Holbein's drawings, not the actual people, but they were actual people and the drawings do capture these historical figures at a time in their lives. Lives which in greater and lesser degrees according to their place in the court, shaped a direction for the next five hundred years for western man. But the drawings themselves are admired for their beautiful line rendering and what you spoke. Yes, well ahead of its time and the drawings possess a freshness to them even today.

kev ferrara said...

Yes, we see Holbein's drawings, not the actual people, but they were actual people and the drawings do capture these historical figures at a time in their lives.

This is your assumption. You cannot know this to be true.

All we know is that Holbein's portraits as works of art have their own inner vivacity and so we believe these images to be real people. Yet we cannot locate them as real people anywhere else but in the images in which they appear. Their visages do refer however, but not at the descriptive level. Rather, they are in reference, at the abstract level, to the archetypes of human physiognomy we have modeled in our minds.

In my opinion, the best way to begin a foray into this vast question of structural meaning is to read up on how it is understood to function in music. Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard Meyer is a tiny first door to walk through as a start.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev,

Yes, there are people today discussing Holbein's drawings as traced from a camera obscura. As I contemplate the thought of reading Meyer's book, assuming a person named Meyer really wrote the book and that it wasn't ghost written by someone on LSD from the Project MK Ultra mind control experiments of the 1950s, now a secret caller on Coast to Coast, you never can be sure what one is reading, I will ask myself, am I ready to walk through that first tiny door? Am I ready? ...First tiny door?

Thanks, I'm sure it will be excellent and I'm looking forward to it.




kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Anyone who thinks Holbein did those drawings through a camera obscura is a clueless, fragile, superficial, pretentious lemming. But there are a lot of those around, and more popping online every day.

Whether Meyer's book was ghostwritten or not is completely immaterial. Whether he was a scholar or a layman is immaterial. All that matters is the content of the book and whether you can understand it and appreciate its application enough to wrestle and argue with the ideas.

You seem to be insulted that I called it "a tiny door" into the subject. I said that because the book is wildly insufficient. I would argue with most of it too, having gone through the rabbit hole. But it was essential for me to start on the subject. At the very least it made me realize that I was just the next customer in a very long and ancient line of humans that had become fascinated with the mechanisms of Art. (I would also recommend S.I. Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action, if you haven't already read that one. I'm assuming that you have, though.)

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, No, I was only kidding around due to the flow of the descriptions,
“This is your assumption”,“Cannot know this to be true”, “so we believe these images to be real people”, “first step”, “tiny door”, and to repeat as my own thoughts, can't be sure, may not have been real people, first step, tiny door.
Throwing in the camera obscura bit was just another bit of mysteriousness.
I thought you might find the string of references funny, but it didn't work. Sorry.
(Yes, there are people claiming the drawings were copied.)

The title, Language in Thought and Action, is appreciated as well.
Looking forward to them. Thanks.


kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Sorry to pop in again, but Story by Robert McKee is equally as strong Meyer on structural meaning, but from a different angle. One of the all time great books every written about any artform, in my opinion.

Language in Thought and Action, I just realized, probably contains a lot of information you already know, like levels of abstraction, how word choice affects meaning, and basic epistemology. And only a small amount of it can be said to be about structural meaning. I reflexively recommend it, but would actually retract it as relevant to what we've been discussing.

Aleš said...

Thanks for those books, Kev.

Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev, I think people who read your notes here honestly want to know what you're talking about. Story and structural meaning is another world for me that I'm sure I will enjoy exploring.
Thank you for Story as well.

Just a note on the Holbein drawings. We know they were drawings of real people, because no one could have drawn them from their head and we know that because we draw. What I always found interesting was Holbein's accent on the line between the lips. An awful lot is being said with that pensive accent, but I can't be sure it was meant that way.

My interest in beauty is in the moment that comes unexpectedly, not by will, nor by receptivity alone, but by some other. The line between the lips is something that I would also categorize as a surprise for myself. I'm not sure how such accents or experiences that come upon one are subject to epistemology anymore than birth or death are subject to epistemology. Epistemology should not be an inhibition to explore possibility and I don't think it does at its best, but it is a dog on a chain when people presume what is not knowable by what is known, or knowable. It can close as many minds as it opens.

kev ferrara said...

Just a note on the Holbein drawings. We know they were drawings of real people, because no one could have drawn them from their head and we know that because we draw.

Completely disagree. There are a great many artists who are very, very gifted at drawing things from imagination. Artists and laypeople who don't have that brand or extent of talent generally can't imagines such imaginative abilities exist. But this is a failure of appreciation; a failure to appreciate that not all talents are equal and some are pretty damn unequal. Similarly, as a kid I couldn't fathom that someone could dunk a basketball. Until I saw somebody shorter than me do it, seeming to fly through the air.

And, just to be clear, I am not disputing that Holbein drew these portraits from life with the express purpose of capturing both likeness and character. My point is that not only can't we verify that Holbein nailed the likeness or the character, their souls, if you will, but those people, the subjects, no longer exist in any sense. They are dust. Nothing is left of them. So there actually is no subject for those drawings to refer to. Those historical figures have the same reality at this point in time as myths, their only reality is as figments of our imagination. That Holbein evokes these vanished humans as aesthetic realities with such success that we think, even for a moment, that we are studying flesh and blood humans is a testament to his greatness and achievement. Particularly when his medium is almost wholly line.

The artistic question is never the accuracy, but whether we believe in the evocation. Two different matters.

My interest in beauty is in the moment that comes unexpectedly, not by will, nor by receptivity alone, but by some other.

But, my dear fellow, this is the heart of the matter. This is the reason Aesthetics exists as a philosophy; that magical moment of aesthetic arrest, the sensation of an order beyond, the shudder of emotion that seems to come out of nowhere. (The best sweeping view of the field I've found is Kate Gordon's 1909 Esthetics, which is on google books. She goes over the competing explanations.)

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, The Holbein drawings exhibit an accuracy and characteristics not seen in drawings from memory.

Artists who have fantastic capacities to draw out of their heads don't draw as accurately in comparison to when they draw from life because it's an entirely different way of moving the pencil, an entirely different way of observing. It may get very close but even the best of them draw better from life and it clearly makes sense why as remarkable as some artists are at working from their heads. The Holbein drawings exhibit none of under structure of someone who relies on drawing from memory. The flatter, more modern, or graphic style is born from direct observation and not from drawing from memory, or even a mixing of the two processes and this was part of what separated the northern artists from southern Europe.

To your second comment, the ideas and analysis regarding the other order may always compete. But experience doesn't always require a shudder of emotion, because that's a reaction or response. Holbein's accent on the lips evoke emotion, but observing the line as accent is not an emotional observation, but a separate analytical observation. We live in an order greater than our analysis and that can be a normal everyday understanding, a humbling understanding, even one a person is at peace with, like welcoming a good friend. The experiences, responses and especially conclusions do vary.

Thanks for the reference to Kate Gordon's book.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I certainly agree that Holbein is drawing so well that it seems unlikely that he drew entirely from his imagination. But that doesn't mean he nailed his subjects. I paint from the model twice a week, and often draw from the model on another night, and I've seen thousands of examples of beautiful, sensitive, soulful pictures of the model that didn't actually look like the model. Beyond that, a model can never stay in the same state for longer than a few minutes. Models are human and constantly move and change mental and physical attitude. And where drawing is really sensitive, just the slightest movement of the model can throw off the drawing if it is meant to capture in some absolute way, the model's physiognomy, let alone some phase of their personality. So every practiced artist knows that at some point one must "own the drawing" and damn the torpedoes. One must choose the brief moment of a marriage between features and a phase of character that becomes the object of the process and hold to it, even as it almost immediately slips away in reality. Which means that the model is really only a source of anatomic reference for the imaginative memory drawing of that one brief telling instant. (The better the drawing is, the more what I have just said holds to be true.)

Either way, Holbein's subjects don't exist. They are dust. Dead and gone. Merely myths at this point. All that remains is the evocation.

But experience doesn't always require a shudder of emotion, because that's a reaction or response.

Never said it did.

Holbein's accent on the lips evoke emotion, but observing the line as accent is not an emotional observation, but a separate analytical observation.

Well, yes. Though, observing the line between lips as an accent is a design analysis, not an aesthetic analysis. Aesthetically, you have mentioned that the accented line between the lips seems to be functioning in some way to prompt some kind of emotional response. But you haven't actually analyzed the matter to the point where you understand why. So your assertion that "an awful lot is being said" by those lips is actually just the labeling of an intuition you've had. I'm not in any way being high handed about this when I say it took me two decades to get from such hunches to anything resembling an accurate analysis of such phenomena.

(Whether Holbein intended to cause aesthetic emotion or just happened to cause it isn't actually relevant to an accurate analysis of the aesthetic moment. No more than than whether a house fire was deliberately or accidentally set in understanding how it came to be ashes.)

We live in an order greater than our analysis and that can be a normal everyday understanding, a humbling understanding, even one a person is at peace with, like welcoming a good friend. The experiences, responses and especially conclusions do vary.

Being at peace with a belief, including a belief in solipsism, doesn't make it so. Relativism and solipsism go hand in hand; in argument, either are often a masquerade for an underlying habit of mind that has no value except as psychic security. As I've said, I am sure there are orders we cannot understand, but to assert the uncrackability of anything before actually trying the lock is either laziness, fear, exhaustion, stubbornness, or religious dogma at work.

David Apatoff said...

Mark said: "Isn't David using "opinion" here to refer to the inner principles that make up an artist's "style"? "Artistic choices" are like "opinions", no?"

Yes! Thank you!

Laurence John wrote: "it's not consistent though. if we're criticising underground / conceptual art based on the ideas rather than the technique, then we should be also be criticising the Briggs drawings on the content and meaning of the whole image."

Laurence, I assume we are judging pictures on the quality of the artist's ambitions and then on the artist's success in achieving them. We can't really fault conceptual artists for poor technique when they explicitly disavow technique, just as we can't fault Briggs for his lack of profound content when his content was dictated by the NY Railroad. Still, I don't think that prevents us from "criticising the Briggs drawings on the content and meaning of the whole image."

In fact, I think we should be fearless in resisting categories designed to protect artists from an assessment of "the content and meaning of the whole image." So many contemporary artists and museum curators think they can herd us like goats into a cul de sac by setting the rules for judging their work. I don't give these Briggs drawings high marks for brilliant content, but that weakness is more than offset for me by their visual brilliance-- the way they are staged, the choices/opinions expressed, the skill with which those choices/opinions are rendered-- that is more than enough for an enjoyable work of art for me, criticizing (as you say)"the content and meaning of the whole image." Similarly, I can forgive weak technique if it is teamed with a brilliant concept (think of James Thurber, for example).

What drives me bats about much of contemporary work is that both form and content are feeble. Artists say, "Well, I can't do what Austin Briggs did but that kind of work is no longer relevant-- I specialize in concepts." When I judge their concept I find it thin and puerile. Such artists don't understand the quality or importance of the skills they have traded away, and they vastly overestimate the quality of the concept for which they have sacrificed technique. It seems to have little to redeem it except the ability to make money while avoiding thinking too hard.

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- I agree that " choices of technique are a result of opinions" (assuming you haven't chosen the technique of scratching on walls because you are serving a life sentence and have no access to conventional art supplies.

Thanks for the link to Rackstraw Downes, I enjoyed it.

Paul Sullivan wrote: "It was Austin Briggs who the young Bernie Fuchs strived to emulate."

I can see you know your mid-century illustrators. There are some great stories about when Fuchs showed up in Westport, a skinny young pup, and met the two old war horses Briggs and Fawcett. Fuchs and Briggs became close friends and they traveled together on vacation.

Those TV Guide illustrations won a lot of awards-- I almost used them for this post, instead of the NY railroad ads, but I thought these would be less familiar.

Re Motorola Defense and Space Systems Group, I agree with you about those wonderful space projects-- it was Motorola's radio technology that sent Neal Armstrong's first words back from the moon and it was Motorola's technology that the White House used to keep the President in touch with the nuclear defense system. I worked on those White House contracts back when I had my security clearance. (If the government knew I was interested in comic and illustration art, they probably never would've issued me my clearance.) You may teach the Iridium saga as part of every MBA program, but I would teach it in literature classes on Shakespearean tragedies. I had a lot of friends in that division-- someday we should compare notes, although I suspect you didn't have many dealings with the law department.

chris bennett said...

Kev wrote: "So every practiced artist knows that at some point one must "own the drawing" and damn the torpedoes.

That's very good, I like that. The moment between humility and hubris; the decision to make something out of the innocent surprise.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, your quote, “But, my dear fellow, this is the heart of the matter. This is the reason Aesthetics exists as a philosophy; that magical moment of aesthetic arrest, the sensation of an order beyond, the shudder of emotion that seems to come out of nowhere. ”

I think that's a great quote. At peace with an order, like welcoming a good friend. An order is like a good friend because it's not of chaos.

Holbein's subjects did exist and they were part of a reality that spans mankind's history of trying to understand the aesthetic experience, which goes back thousands of years and people of his era wrote about it too. This is a key point in trying to understand the phenomenal age we live in where major disciplines are converging once again upon aesthetics.

Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate in Physics said, “You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” This is an aesthetic statement. He also said something to the effect that if even if there are experiments which work for a theory, if the theory isn't beautiful, he throws it out.

Then there was agnostic NASA astronomer Robert Jastow's statement: "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

He has some other ones on Wikipedia regarding our reality: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jastrow

Godel's incompletness theorem, is another.

The issue from here is will people acknowledge an aesthetic order, (or orders), that is order, beyond the boundaries of analytic power? If so, then the era of the chaotic universe is fading into new scientific discoveries.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I am too suspicious of our human predilection to funnel everything into the paradigms we are familiar with to make any declarations about ontology; It might be so that we live in both an order and a disorder greater than us. But we can only pick out the order. Or we can only pick out the order we can pick up on and other orders remain invisible to us. Or maybe all the orders are within us, the result of consciousness. Or maybe our ability to distinguish order from disorder is some kind of poetic glitch in our consciousness that has severed the continuity between order and disorder, essentially causing the differentiation between the two. None of this necessarily entails supernaturality, except in the sense that there might be nature beyond what we consider natural. And it leaves open the question of why hidden orders in nature seem to always be things of beauty. A notion of truth from antiquity leaves aside the question of beauty entirely, or whether truth only refers to nature, or whether it is timeless or fleeting; defining truth as merely, "that which is hidden."

I am a great admirer of Feynman, and would merely point to one of his famous quotes in reference to what you said he said about beauty, "It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong."

Tom said...



'It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong."



Ok Kev I have to repost this video clip after that quote!

Rackstraw Downes on how knowing what elements constitute a great poem does help one produce a great poem.

https://youtu.be/0QUKNqI814k?t=3m35s

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, It's happening whether anyone likes it or not.

Thanks for the Feynman quote. Plus your own.

“And it leaves open the question of why hidden orders in nature seem to always be things of beauty.”

Very nice line. Thanks.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Here's another Nobel laureate: Paul Dirac;

“It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit equations.”

Tom said...

Kev said

"defining truth as merely, "that which is hidden." "

That is so true about classical architecture the more you discover the structure or pattern the richer and richer the experience of the orders become, the more you sense the relation of things.

It has been my experience in drawing and in painting also, the more one is able to discover or create a structure or scaffolding to carry the finished picture things seem to fall into place.

That is why I included the word "mind" when I wrote earlier, "The real subject is in the spirit that animates the artist hand and mind and that can never be dumped from any picture."

To draw with such vigor and freedom like Briggs does or to paint with such apparent freedom as Tiepolo does, these artist must have design a hidden structure that channels that freedom to land in just the right spot of the drawing or painting. Creating such a structure is the demanding mental part of the art work.

kev ferrara said...

Tom,

Thanks. That was a very enjoyable video to watch. Too much said in it to really get into in depth here because pretty much everything he said is worth ten conversations. He's also so very of his time and place. His art is like the 11th hour, like Lucian Freud and the lot of hyperrealists, just sixty minutes shy of 1890. Like how some people become so sarcastic and subversive of ordinary emotion that, with one mental slip, they actually slide over into earnestness.

I agree with your last post too. Except that sometimes the order of a work of art finds itself, just ends up there on the paper or canvas born effortlessly out of the inspirational fire that propelled the unconscious making. All good art theory, I believe, should be about assisting the unconscious making, because that is the least conscious process. And the least conscious process tends to result in the most seamless Art.

Sean,

I knew that Dirac believed that. I've mentioned this before; a mathematician friend of mine was quite sure that the ranks of great mathematicians and scientists were filled with "sneaking Platonists."

Tom said...

Kev said
"And the least conscious process tends to result in the most seamless Art.'

Exactly. It has been my experience that the more solid the form or the hidden structure is in the work, the unconscious becomes more and more free to express itself. It will even take over the work.

As Degas said, "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things."

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Certainly Platonists, but even more with statements affirming evidence for an anthropic universe as “absolutely convincing”, Henry Margenau (an assistant to Einstein) and R.B. McCabe as “an event of zero probability”, meaning it's not merely improbable, but impossible by chance. It's not a mistake to address the event as beyond-knowable, beyond us, therefore super-natural. For anyone interested, a book called The New Story of Science (1984) by Robert Augros and George Stanciu outlines the developments of the post-Cartesian science and it's supposed to be a decent read.

Perception and the unconscious differ. We perceive the world consciously, not unconsciously. We may perceive a dream, which is unconscious, but the external world we perceive through our senses. Eyes and ears and hands don't know how to draw or paint, so it is all a function of an interacting between perception and some level of training, even if trusting the training to function in an abandonment to perception, in as much as is possible.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

Too much to argue with in your last post. I'm out.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara, Sean Farrell, and Tom-- I'm enjoying your discussion of a lot of fancy topics about which, one must say, a lot has already been written by a lot of fancy intellects. I'm not suggesting that this rich and crowded record should discourage fresh dialogue but it does make me wary of certitude, especially on the topics of aesthetic order, control vs. intuition, and the artist as a conduit for a higher reality than he or she is capable of planning consciously.

Personally I'm willing to adopt (temporarily) the archetype at either end of the spectrum in these debates, just because I enjoy the poetry that results from brave talk about these extremes in their purest, undiluted condition. However, I don't delude myself that truth resides at the extremes or that the poetry I enjoy is anything other than temporary. Right now, long term truths seem to be an artifact of the Newtonian universe of art, while we are definitely two giant steps into the quantum universe of art.

Kev, you write: "it leaves open the question of why hidden orders in nature seem to always be things of beauty." I know you're a student of Hegel; wouldn't Hegel say that we acquire our notion of beauty from the orders in nature? In other words, that there is no other starting point except nature for what we conceive of as beauty? If so, nature has already shot her arrow into the tree when we come along and draw a bullseye around it, calling it "beauty."

And while you guys are borrowing the wisdom of the physicists for your understanding of artistic order, one of my favorites, which I've quoted here before, is from Bertrand Russell: "Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover." So before we conclude, "the hidden orders in nature seem to always be things of beauty," perhaps we might consider that the only orders we are capable of recognizing in nature are the ones that conform to what we call beauty.

Sean Farrel wrote: "The issue from here is will people acknowledge an aesthetic order, (or orders), that is order, beyond the boundaries of analytic power? If so, then the era of the chaotic universe is fading into new scientific discoveries."

If we do acknowledge such an order (as I and Bertrand Russell suspect), unless we find an analytical tool (whether math or beauty or something else) to recognize and interact with it, I don't know how that will make the universe any less chaotic (although it's a lovely idea). I've always suspected that our biological affection for aesthetic coherence in form stems from our instinctive dread of entropy, and the path to the absence of all coherence, which will ultimately dissipate the universe into a place no longer capable of sustaining life. Even if that's true, it still won't aid us in preventing the universe from fading into chaos.


Also, I had to smile at Kev's notion that "All good art theory, I believe, should be about assisting the unconscious making, because that is the least conscious process." All of the unconscious makings with which I've been acquainted would smile in doubt at the idea that our art theories are helping it out. You may forgive the ineffable for declining our gift of eloquence.

kev ferrara said...

David,

I don't presume that art can be made without the influence of, and concession to its era and tribe. But what will take any work beyond tribe and era, it seems to me, must be those aspects of it which are beyond tribe and era.

So before we conclude, "the hidden orders in nature seem to always be things of beauty," perhaps we might consider that the only orders we are capable of recognizing in nature are the ones that conform to what we call beauty.

I agree that is an open question. Almost any order we can understand seems to be, by nature, a kind of idealization. I was trying to get at that point here: 2/04/2016 5:39 PM.

I know you're a student of Hegel; wouldn't Hegel say that we acquire our notion of beauty from the orders in nature? In other words, that there is no other starting point except nature for what we conceive of as beauty? If so, nature has already shot her arrow into the tree when we come along and draw a bullseye around it, calling it "beauty."

If we extend this idea to the human mind and its organization, emotions, understandings, conceptions, and the like, only then would I agree. Art is replete with orders that we impose; structures symbolic of our understandings which do not correspond with nature as it is. And these orders, if true for humankind, and presented poetically, are as beautiful, I would say, as those orders we think we find in nature.

I think great art uses Nature mostly for the communication of the artist's internal experience (which includes, I would say, narrative, mythic, or religious thoughts), and only incidentally is anything expressed in art about nature. (Pyle put it succinctly: "Nature is already expressed.")

If, instead, the assertion is that only Nature outside us tells us what beauty is, then I would say that Nature may be our only textbook, but its not our only workbook. We obviously have an imaginative capacity that takes us beyond our experience of nature. It may, in fact, divorce us from it in ways all but invisible to us.

(It was Mr. Etc, Etc., incidentally, who was the resident Hegelian. If I were to call myself anything it would be an Imagist. I'm only really interested in the practical application of Aesthetics. I am agnostic on all philosophies and theories that can't be tested practically. And there are a whole bunch of philosophies that I accept as having practical value, without buying their predicates.)

Sean Farrell said...

Thank you David.

Kev has established the beauty of sentience in the smallest living creatures and this is an incredible thing to contemplate. His statement on hidden beauty was also outstanding. And he has established for us a basic direction and books for understanding what structural meaning is about.

Throughout the 20th century, humanists argued against scientific pragmatists using beauty and feelings as their evidence and this argument is now over. My point in bringing in the quotes on beauty by scientists is to establish that scientists themselves now use beauty as a tool in their work. That the world is passing away only increases the mysteries of beauty and of our existence which is by statistical probability, confounding. It is as mind boggling as the notion that all came from a single point as small as a proton.

Science is acknowledging an objective beauty, and the sentient subconscious establishes our motivations of desire and apprehensions as they surface to the point of perception, where the inside meets the outside. What exactly it is which travels through us from inside to out and outside in, requires beauty to understand because yes, it too possesses beauty. Yes, it's a heady conversation and I used quotes which I hope will encourage others to consider updating their version of reality and to find some joy and optimism in the change in our previous world view and beauty.

Tom's point that Tiepolo used an underlying architecture to work on a huge scale is something we can't discard no matter how much we “find” paintings on the scale of easel painting. The same finding of a painting took place on a preliminary level in the age of magazine illustrations and prior through elaborate studies preceded going to finish. The notion of a painting finding itself is a popular concept today in painting and our external understandings of design are not popular today in art, but the fuel efficiency of a hummingbird or the aerodynamics of a moth is being recognized as beauty in science. I didn't see this discussion as an argument of extremes, but a discussion on a growing awareness of the ubiquity of beauty as a way of understanding life.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I can't agree with this idea that somehow the future of science is being led around by notions of beauty. The main problem here is just what I mentioned to David above; that humans create orders that are not natural, but which are beautiful to them. Physics cannot be filtered on such a basis. (See Wolfram's New Kind of Science - the height of this kind of folly. But all the competing T.O.E.s are beautiful in their own way, and they are certainly not all correct. Rather, odds are quite good that all of them are wrong.)

The best way to understand beauty, I feel, is as a side effect of the clarification of truthful relations using poetic languages (like math or plastic form.) Beauty is not a tool, and it's not even an intrinsic quality. It is just a name for a particular human reaction to the sensation of an underlying ideal order; which says nothing about the correspondence of that order to anything existent.

kev ferrara said...

Kev has established the beauty of sentience in the smallest living creatures and this is an incredible thing to contemplate.

Wait, wait, wait, wait. What I pointed out was the reality of sentience in very primitive sensation-based organisms. This is based on the idea that an organism cannot survive without an accurate understanding of their environment. Which is just one part of the argument for the idea that sensation is the essential, basic building block of understanding.

The Xenoturbella, recently in the news, is pretty much the poster child for primitive, wholly-sensation-based survival. And I find it the most horrifying creature.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Thanks. Camouflage is an example of what you're talking about. The beauty of some of these things is in the wonder they evoke, the mystery, even their strangeness.

The battle across the 20th century was one of pragmatism dismissing aesthetics in its many manifestations. The arguments from artists and writers were regarded as of the old order and art became a commodity of the powers that be. This may continue for some time, but aesthetics is on the rise from where it's been. Beauty is what you describe, but it is also reality as harmony, not the reaction but experienced as sentience and intelligence in harmony, being. Some of its medieval influences, Duns Scotus, John Poinsot and Aquinas will be dragged out of obscurity.

I understand there's a distinction between the forms, wonder and things created of poetry, but this whole area has been omitted from education.

kev ferrara said...

The battle across the 20th century was one of pragmatism dismissing aesthetics in its many manifestations.

Kate Gordon, who I mentioned earlier, (author of: Esthetics, 1909; A Study of Aesthetic Judgments, 1923) was a Pragmatist. She was a student of John Dewey, a major figure in the Pragmatist movement, who wrote Art As Experience, 1934, one of the great modern books on Aesthetics.

Paul Sullivan said...

David—
You mentioned the Motorola corporate law department. As it happens I worked on several large design projects with them during the late 90s. One was a real marathon effort, something like designing the first edition of the Old Testament. Every time it was completed, they rewrote it. It has been a while so I don't remember their names but they were great guys to work with.

A Few Thoughts on Briggs, the NYCentral ads and the TV Guide Campaign:

These ads ran over 50 years ago and they have as much impact today as they did then. The NYCentral ads were designed like they were "concept ads" of a few years later. They were designed around one message with the visual and copy working together as a single unit. The black line art looked like it belonged with the black type, sharing a common field of white space. It had the power to accomplish the first order of business, stopping a reader flipping through a newspaper.

My guess is that the illustrations were probably shot as a type of highlight half tone rather than straight line art. The lines of the illustration retain the soft feel of crayon on paper and there is sensitivity to the lighter strokes. In the final ads, a 15% mechanical screen was applied to some areas. Chances are the screen would not have been used a few years later—and the spot illustration may have been eliminated.

I think some of the Briggs line art available on the Internet is actually preliminary work. You can definitely see that in what look like studies of a tall fashionable woman. On one study you can see position indications for what look like additional figures. Personally I enjoy studying preliminary work. You can almost catch something of the artist's thinking during the creative process.

Much can be learned by comparing the work of Briggs and his friend Fawcett. They are both masters of of line art—Briggs learning its power from his Flash Gordon days and before. Briggs was able to imply volume with very little variation in the width of his line. At least in the NYCentral series. he saved his heaviest line weights for the focal point. Yet at the same time he could create the illusion of depth. Consider the depth in the Illustration of the woman boarding the train.

The TV Guide series for Advertising Age had tremendous impact. I remember the first one the ads that I saw. The ad was almost wall to wall illustration. At tabloid size it was a stopper! I believe at one point Austin said he wanted to be "honest" about the people he was drawing in the ads. Actually he had no choice. He was making illustrations of advertising people that were aimed at advertising people. This series carried a bit more shading effects and some limited tone. My guess is that the tone was an acrylic wash. The wash has something of the "acrylic grit" look.

One last thing, as a young artist, I marveled at how Briggs could draw an ad man's polished Allen Edmonds with a couple of crayon marks. I still marvel at it.

Joshua Jacobo said...

David, is possible to reach you via email?

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I mentioned Duns Scotus and John Poinsot because they were influences on the 19th century. Key people influence the world and it takes a long time for these things to sort out. Cosmology had a huge impact on world view in the handful of centuries leading up and through the 20th century and it still does and that's why it will going forward.

The aesthetic experience, that which was at the heart of the matter mentioned earlier, existed long before the 19th century, but I am interested in what your talking about in the structure of meaning. Thanks for all the references you shared.





Aleš said...

Sean - Perception and the unconscious differ. We perceive the world consciously, not unconsciously. We may perceive a dream, which is unconscious, but the external world we perceive through our senses.

I hope I don't misunderstand you, but how does preattentive processing fit into your idea of conscious perception of the external world? Visual intelligence comprises of early vision too which is the first one there who scans the field of view intuitively and provides you with general impression. You have probably used in your work many of the principles that operate like that, from colors and orientations to popup effects or when we comprehend elements that are close together as one perceptual unit. Studies on illusions proved that when it comes to perceptions our brains subconsciously try to make sense of these inputs. These most basic impulses are, just like primitive needs in life, the source of attachment to objects and these instinctive impulses give a core to conscious focus.

How about when coffee tastes better in well designed restaurant when it is served with a smile, or a tensive frame of mind when you're not aware that the sound of computer disk is bothering you while watching a movie, or epiphanic moment when solution presents itself, or those rare moments of greater awareness, where you feel like presence of everything is emphasized and you feel connected to the vitality of existence. How about experience of sensory information in a way that is influenced by repressed events in the past, or when blind spots in the patient's visual field gets filled with false data by the brain, or blindsighted people who perceive things with subcortical visual system.

Since the concept of consciousness can mean various types of awareness maybe you have a specific meaning of perception/unconscious in your mind. But if our perceptions are neural reconstructions performed by our brains, it seems natural to me that unconsciousness plays a part in forming our perceptions.

Aleš said...

Sean - Eyes and ears and hands don't know how to draw or paint, so it is all a function of an interacting between perception and some level of training, even if trusting the training to function in an abandonment to perception, in as much as is possible.

When training it also becomes most useful when knowledge enters the blood stream, into the structure of seeing and creating, when it works through your finger tips unawarely. We all strive for that while practicing because it frees that limited capacity of working memory. So since subconsciousness as the background of our minds has a nice ability to simultaneously process all kinds of things, it must play an important part in forming deeper meaningfulness in our work. Even when casually sketching a tree outside, perceiving through your senses while drawing channels all kinds of experiential information that you are not consciously aware of because you are focused on only a few specific things, but there is a certain state of mind where you sense whether the flow of all information between the tree, yourself and paper feels right or not.

Sean Farrell said...

Ales, I don't disagree with anything you are saying. The mind struggles to figure out ambiguities, but much visual phenomena is understood through the preverbal processes in childhood. Even prenatal realities such as experiencing the opening of a hand, is a form of experience and so learning. We don't have to tell ourselves to walk one foot after the next, or how to hold a pencil, yet walking and holding a pencil are actions learned in the outer world. Unless an artist is some version of Edgar Cayce, then they are drawing at the point of perception. This doesn't mean that memories, desires, trust or fears don't influence one at the point of perception, or that environment doesn't effect our experiences, nor does it mean that all is lost to a well trained action. We can step back and take a different look at a developing piece of art which might be developing with very little interference from preconceived notions. And yet, the things we find in an image, we discover through perception. Yes, I agree with you that the brain and memory are involved in interpreting the world outside of us, but there is a point where the inside meets the outside and I'm referring to this point as perception.

We interact through perception also with our internal world. We can develop a harmonious relationship between feeling and thoughtfulness and we do so consciously with thoughtfulness and perception. We may employ habit in this pursuit, but harmony is more than oneness with sentience, as agreeable as it may be.

Equally mysterious is how Michelangelo captured great beauty, emotion and visual integration between two figures in a process that had to be at some point, consciously resolved to the finest details in order to sculpt The Pieta.
New theories on consciousness are coming from science because nobody really has it all figured out. Thank you.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I didn't really address the humanists verses pragmatists in the 20th century. The humanists were arguing for reason and the traditions of leisure and contemplation as the basis of civilization. The pragmatists were redefining reality through their own lens, in terms of function, function as motive, culture as function, etc. Pragmatism was asserting itself at a time when people were replacing their ties and customs which had been functional with non-functional pleasure oriented relationships. Almost every belief and school of thought has been eclipsed by the massive success of economic hedonism. Even the notion of work itself is being challenged by robotics.

kev ferrara said...

We perceive the world consciously, not unconsciously.

We perceive both consciously and unconsciously all our waking hours, and with each of our senses.

Since illusion is the foundation of all aesthetic effect, and the whole success of illusion depends on a misdirected and ignorant consciousness, it stands to reason (as well as research and practice) that the unconscious mind is both the audience for and prime wellspring of Art.


Sean Farell said...

Kev, I brought in the statements of the scientists because they were aesthetic statements which resulted by understanding and seeing formulations derived from nature, but not nature in any sentient sense.

There is an unknowingness in all of this which is part of the larger subject of aesthetics and it involves the impractical reality of trust. We jump out of the way of an oncoming car instinctively and this act is involuntary. The seashell changes colors to fit its environment and in some way it is aware, but unknowing in the conscious sense of it. Likewise, the fly is so evasive from the swatter because it is aware of the swatter and reacts by a process which is involuntary. It can't say, no, I'm not going to move.

The beauty of the story involves sentience and unkowingness, personal memories included. A memory of an innocent and simple nature can make a grown man instantly cry. But for human beings to experience unity with mind, body and heart, they must learn to trust, which is civilized, but often impractical.

A unity in sentience is a desired aesthetic experience, but there is also an awareness, perception, which is why people almost involuntarily seek to grasp and hold it. The nature of the experience is not control, but a unity in the unknowingness of beauty. The experience itself is a unity with something, yes individual, but with something.

Any reasonable person will recognize some unity with sentience in a thoughtfulness towards another. Because people assume a certain decency in themselves, they are not foreign to the idea nor the experience. It is accessible by reason then to posit that a person who practiced thoughtfulness on a continual basis would experience a more delicate unity with sentience. And it is just as accessible from that point to understand why historically, the aesthetics, (monks and saints) denied certain motivations and attachments in order to cultivate their relationship with unity.

That people can be fooled into believing illusion has nothing to do with people being able to identify on some level a unity of mind, heart and body and its resulting sentient beauty. A good piece of art, theater, or music does so because people are able, by experience and reason, to identify with and experience unity or at least some part of it.

kev ferrara said...

That people can be fooled into believing illusion has nothing to do with people being able to identify on some level a unity of mind, heart and body and its resulting sentient beauty. A good piece of art, theater, or music does so because people are able, by experience and reason, to identify with and experience unity or at least some part of it.

Illusion is a much deeper and more complex subject than you seem to appreciate. The simplest way into what I'm talking about is to ponder how and why it is that a movie goer comes to identify with the lead character of a film. Or how a sports fan comes to think that what is happening to "his" team, is actually happening to him.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Yes, I understand. Everyone knew ET was make-believe. He was a concoction of a new age guru with magic powers and a cartoon Christ figure with his pulsating heart, who reached out for the piece of candy, a powerless victim of unfeeling scientists as hope seemed to dwindle in his fading heart. He evoked a deep desire in the children to do justice and return him to his spaceship, even at the cost of the deep love in themselves, because they wanted to do otherwise and keep him. One could say all these things are cultural or literary themes and they would be right, but it is also true that despite the absurdity and the ugliness of the little creature, his physical unbelievability, people fell in love with him.

Another little masterpiece is Children of Heaven, a story of a boy who hungers to make good on losing his sister's shoes. The adult-like conversation at the well between the two children is something people identify from their own memories as children, but it is hardly that of an involuntary act such as a fly avoiding a fly swatter. The reason we come to identify with these stories is because we allow ourselves to trust them and we identify with themes which we know involve ourselves through reason, attempting to come into compliance with unity or harmony in heart, mind, body and with others.


We live in a new century, one where evolutionary gradualism has been left behind for a new punctuated evolutionary theory. The leap of faith that beheld the gradual part no longer exists. I don't know how punctuated evolution is going to affect us going forward, but like cosmology, gradualism was very influential on the thinking and art of the 20th century. That is now behind us.

kev ferrara said...

Yes, I understand.

Clearly you didn't. Think I'll leave this drudgery to Meyer and McKee.

Sean Farrell said...

Yes, I'm sure I will learn much from the recommended texts.
The reason I mentioned the two movies is because each involved “inferred” meanings, something you rejected in a comment to David earlier. The presence of conscience is often contrary to feelings and desires and the movie Children of Heaven infers so by its title. A large part of the purpose of “inferred meaning” is to counter impulses to pragmatism. That is, much of the aesthetic reality lies in such areas outside of pragmatism.

The movies Bad Lieutenant and Central Station are two others that are senseless without the concepts of conscience, mercy, redemption, life and death.

Epistemology may spare one from the humility of one's own fallibility, but it does so at the cost of reductionism, reducing the the unknown to something of self and reducing the scope of emotion to itself. An example is Simone De Beauvoir who found her own approaching death confounding and couldn't accept that everything she had ever done was just going to stop.

Mark said...

Kev said: "Illusion is a much deeper and more complex subject than you seem to appreciate. The simplest way into what I'm talking about is to ponder how and why it is that a movie goer comes to identify with the lead character of a film. "

**

When a movie goer comes to identify with the lead character of a film, it is a mechanism for finding meaning in a narrative. Calling this an "illusion" and then using this to compare it to what happens in any other "illusion" is to warp what actually happens when we digest a story and try to make it fit some other context.

The way we comprehend actual stories is worlds apart from how we interpret images which are not connected to any set narrative.

Aleš said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aleš said...

Mark, to imagine being engaged in a narrative imagery with emotional and conceptual continuity triggers parts of our brains that lead to heightened physiological reactivity, we are moved to plan and execute action. We always found meaning in narratives, you can see that from bronze age reliefs to text illustrations from all cultures. I think Pyle wrote that while painting some civil war scene he had to go outside and clean his lungs of the imagined gunpowder smoke. Mental impression of being experientially present in the artistic representation of an idea enables "that magical moment of aesthetic arrest" as Kev said, so what he implies with a make-believe state of illusion makes sense to me. To "identify with the lead character" (isn't usually a side participant stance, Kev?) means psychological process of immersing oneself to the artist's idea through the narrative, rhythmic, metaphorical, etc expressive use of visual language and the sensory information from characters, their intentions and desires, simulation of events, our emphatic responses, etc.

Sean Farrell said...

If one can perceive something, then it becomes part of the subject of perception and in some way aesthetics. It's a huge subject, but conscience is apart of it as well, because we can perceive conscience from a lack of it, which is why I mentioned the Bad Lieutenant, Central Station, Children of Heaven and even the climactic moment in ET. Conscience is discovered in the mentioned stories and it is discovered in life, it doesn't come as an automatic part of nature. If it did we wouldn't be so good at losing it. That's why there is an attempt to cultivate it, because thoughtfulness is its fruit.

A wild horse is beautiful, but so is a well trained horse.

They are both perceivable, so we don't toss one out as not part of aesthetic experience. Much modern thinking, which became what we now call postmodern thinking is based on the notion that the well trained horse is less a horse, not truly free, not fully experiential, not fully experiencing itself and so on. Conscience doesn't negate the emotional relationships between things in a picture, movie, or novel. There's a reason Norman Rockwell's favorite was Rembrandt's, The Prodigal Son.

Aleš said...

Conscience doesn't negate the emotional relationships between things in a picture, movie, or novel.

I do agree that consciousness and thoughtfulness are parts of experience. But... well, I don't have Kev's knowledge to explain this constructively, but when I look as Sargent's watercolor the mental experiential impression feels involuntary and uncontrollable. The vitality of forms, energy of existence, the sense of physical truths, the feeling of being in a presence of nature, a sight where the experience of a narrative is captured in a still image like an elixir of life in a bottle, all communicated through the use of visual language. It would take a conscious effort to disbelieve (I think that's one of the aspects in Kev's stage magic example), the awareness that a painted scenario is not happening for real is probably being maintained by latent rational distance in the background. But evoked emotions, simulation of sensory perceptions and the ability to be sensitively immersed feel intuitive. The ending of a state of being immersed in a painting or music feels a bit like being woken up from a dream, which you said "is unconscious".

Sean Farrell said...

Ales, Thank you. Yes, I also agree that sentience can be intoxicating while still in harmony with heart and mind and yes, at the biological level is processed within the human being. No argument there at all. And certainly emotions can be discovered through and in artistic forms and also created by artistic formulas, intention.

Conscience is largely overlooked in the process of falling in love with the intoxications of sentience, or sometimes as a matter of routine. But conscience was also dismissed as a matter of philosophy where it was described as perhaps functional, but denigrated as a thing of time, the past and so on. The dismissal of conscience came as an assault from all corners upon western culture. It came in the form of motivational speakers, eastern philosophy, aesthetics, novel approaches in education, an assault on values, as comedy and mockery, by interpretations relegating conscience but to guilt, novel interpretations of language, even as new forms of partying, listening to mind numbing disco, drugs and the rest of it. Immersion replaced reflection and all of this happened not in an organic way, but as a distinct philosophical shift, a belief that crashing of opposites created a new synthesis, a new person of higher intelligence and social fluidity, less uptight, etc.

Listening to Norman Rockwell mention the way the father placed his hands on the son in Rembrandt's painting, one could tell he had looked at the painting quite a bit, that he was touched by the painting. There's great delicacy and tenderness in the touch of the father in the painting. Rockwell was a throwback to a different era, a soulful man. I don't know that much about him, but he was visual and thoughtful.

Sean Farrell said...

Ales, I didn't want to leave the impression that I was averse to the concept of immersion. Being immersed in life is very real. I just think modernity forgot that conscience also shapes how we approach the present and our own future and all which is immersed in it, whether recklessly or with regard, gratitude, humility, etc. All the great allusions to eternity, mystery, infinity, unknowingness, the still small voice of conscience, the deep still waters, a great silence, etc. are also images of immersion. Thanks.

Aleš said...

Sean, I think I know the kind of people who pursue immersion without the reflection of a critical thought and I can agree that when arguing with them I can sense that they are actually (sometimes unknowingly) defending larger philosophical, sociopolitical views that you probably have in mind with "distinct philosophical shift". But I don't think I'm doing anything like that, It's just that the partial unconscious, intuitive state feels like a necessary state for the aesthetic communication to get its full impact. Anyway, I'll take a rain check here, I'll think about all that and read a book or two to get a clearer view on the concepts at work. Thanks Sean, you guys had an interesting debate.

kev ferrara said...

When a movie goer comes to identify with the lead character of a film, it is a mechanism for finding meaning in a narrative. Calling this an "illusion" and then using this to compare it to what happens in any other "illusion" is to warp what actually happens when we digest a story and try to make it fit some other context. The way we comprehend actual stories is worlds apart from how we interpret images which are not connected to any set narrative.

There are illusions for their own sake, as in magic acts. And then there are illusions with an ulterior purpose, as in Art.

Mark said...

There are illusions for their own sake, as in magic acts. And then there are illusions with an ulterior purpose, as in Art.

And then there is the experience of identifying with the lead character of a story which has nothing to do with "illusions".

So your use of this narrative phenomenon as an example of why someone else doesn't appreciate the depths of "illusion" the way you do is just the same as saying "I use the word 'illusion' to mean a lot of stuff it doesn't really apply to and that's why it means so much more to me than it does to you".

kev ferrara said...

The lead character of a story is itself an illusion, Mark. Why and how we come to believe and identify with that illusion or any other illusion of art is what is so fascinating in all this.

Mark said...

The lead character of a story is itself an illusion, Mark. Why and how we come to believe and identify with that illusion or any other illusion of art is what is so fascinating in all this.

**

If the lead character is an "illusion", then the entire story is an "illusion". Words are "illusion". That way lies meaninglessness.

You're stamping the label "illusion" on unrelated things and using that label to group them together. Illusions are tricks, by products of senses being fooled into experiencing something they are not ordinarily meant to. "Identifying" with the lead character is deciphering the construct of a story. It is an act of comprehension, like reading sentences built from words. It's not a trick of the eye, the ear, the mind or anything else.




Mark said...

Ales: "To "identify with the lead character" (isn't usually a side participant stance, Kev?) means psychological process of immersing oneself to the artist's idea through the narrative, rhythmic, metaphorical, etc expressive use of visual language and the sensory information from characters, their intentions and desires, simulation of events, our emphatic responses, etc. "

**

Fine. More simply, it means positioning yourself vis-a-vis the story being told so that the information comes through properly.

If a story is written with a lead character and you do not identify with this character, then you cannot understand the story. A story might trick you into misunderstanding the main character or pull other literary tricks-- then we enter the realm of illusion.

But if you were watching a man walk along the street, saw him trip and recover, and "identified" with that experience-- what "illusion" has been triggered? Whatever the answer, that's how we identify with lead characters in movies. And if that's "illusion", then what kind of human interaction is NOT illusion?

kev ferrara said...

If the lead character is an "illusion", then the entire story is an "illusion". Words are "illusion". That way lies meaninglessness.

You're giving yourself over to hyperbole and hysteria here, instead of considering the inherent technicalities of the issue. Words are not illusions, they are sign symbols, "call numbers", in a sense, for particular ideas or references. We obviously aren't fooled into thinking that the word "Duck" is actually a duck. So the word duck is neither an illusion nor an "illusion" and nobody said it was.

We are fooled, when watching a movie, however, into thinking that the words we hear are coming out of the mouths of the characters who look like they are speaking, rather than out of a speaker system that could be located anywhere in the theater. We are fooled into thinking that a bunch of photographic close ups of an actress that are speeding by in sequential order at 24 frames a second are actually listening to a recording made of an actor's voice done on a sound stage twelve years ago.

I was going to start listing all the illusions we believe when watching a movie, but that would literally take days. Suffice it to say that, we are dealing with a repletion of illusion almost beyond comprehension.

A great story sweeps us up in its aesthetic forces, and we are oblivious during that telling to the extent to which we are experiencing illusion upon illusion upon illusion. But if we only consider illusion to be a meaningless "trick", as you seem to, then we are cut off from appreciating the intense layering of meaningful illusions that goes into the making of Art. And as Joseph Pennell once wrote, "Art is the hiding of art by art."

"Identifying" with the lead character is deciphering the construct of a story. It is an act of comprehension, like reading sentences built from words. It's not a trick of the eye, the ear, the mind or anything else.

Leaving aside your use of the word "trick" (see above)... Aesthetic experience is not a conscious deciphering process. Art gets its force from Aesthetic effect. Part of the intensity of watching a film with dialogue and diagram (Intellectual rather than aesthetic elements) is that in order to experience the film aesthetically, we are constantly trying to digest any information given through language or symbol into "mentalese" (into aesthetically-viable form) as quickly as possible so that it can be part of the aesthetic experience.

Related to something else you said, it should be pointed out that we don't understand words, and we don't comprehend structures built of words. We understand the meanings of words and the structured relationships between those meanings. So the decoding process of language is only the prelude to understanding. Because, as mentioned earlier, meaning is built of sensation. Which is to say, that all experience of meaning is Aesthetic, including story structure. (There is a kind of rote understanding of meaning, like "dead metaphors," which seems anesthetic by comparison, but is really just the mind trodding a well-worn path of sensations; resulting in a boring mental experience without new insight, and thus no substantial neurotransmitter reward.)

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