Saturday, May 28, 2022


I’ve previously suggested that cross hatching is rarely the best use of an artist's time. It involves much busy work in the service of an unremarkable artistic goal: achieving a consistent tone (as opposed to using lines descriptively to convey information or mark artistic judgments). A form of human zipatone, cross hatching is the kind of work that might often be delegated to an apprentice or a studio helper.

I’ve previously written about my great admiration for the brilliant draftsmanship of political cartoonist Mike Ramirez. His latest cartoon, after the slaughter of little school children in Texas, questions whether the increase in mass shootings is triggered by access to assault weapons or by problems with American culture:

Ramirez writes:
What is the root cause of these mass shootings? The AR-15 long rifle was developed in the 1950s, first sold commercially by Colt in 1964, and has been around for almost 60 years. Mass killings with AR-type rifles have mostly occurred in just the last 10 years.

Ramirez raises a good point.  What could possibly account for the increase in killings over the past ten years, if not cultural problems?  Well perhaps:  

  • In 2004 Congress eliminated the federal ban on assault weapons (Pub.L. 103-322)
  • In 2005 Congress immunized gun manufacturers from liability for harm caused by guns ( Pub.L. 109-92)
  • In 2008 the Supreme Court newly expanded the rights of gun owners under the second amendment, protecting them from regulation. (District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008))
As I’ve said, crosshatching is not always the best use of an artist's time. Sometimes that time might be better spent thinking through a concept. Or reading a fucking newspaper.


Robert Piepenbrink said...

If you start to do politics, they'll crowd out art and it won't take long. If you want followers interested in illustration art and talking about art, steer clear of politics. I'd decide now if I were you.

Nikki Hicks said...

I was surprised at finding a political issue at this site which I have followed for over ten years. But I think, like David and many others, we have just had enough. It is time ANYONE with a public forum must speak out against this horror. I say "Bravo David" and hope we don't have to do politics here again. But I am with you on this one.

Tororo said...

Please go on, David, posting about artists time management, a topic of interest to all your faithful readers. I feel we are all lucky you are running this blog, and not Robert Piepenbrink.

Anonymous said...

Since when has art ever had nothing to do with politics... Goya, Picasso, etc etc

David Apatoff said...

Robert Piepenbrink-- I'm sure I'm more surprised to find this here than you are. I had no intention of delving into politics, and even more importantly I personally like Mike Ramirez a lot. (We once talked for two hours and I found him to be a bright, articulate, warm, funny, thoughtful guy.) Yet in the words of Martin Luther in 1520, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God."

Mike asks the question, "what is the root cause of these mass shootings?" What else could possibly have occurred in recent years to account for this increase? Well, as a practicing lawyer I'm happy to remind him of just a few of the major changes in the law during this period. I was very restrained, both about the number of changes and about the people responsible for them.

There are two important artistic justifications for this post. First, many artists use the rote work of cross hatching as an escape from some of the more arduous conceptual work they should be doing. Second, beware voices who assert that "culture" is the problem to be fixed, and that first amendment rights (rap music, violent computer games, underground comics) are less important than the second amendment right to fire assault weapons.

Robert Piepenbrink said...

Art is frequently political. But if we judge the art by the political content--well, let's skip over Virgil's verse, since the site is devoted to graphic art and go straight to David drooling over Napoleon, early pro-Bolshevik propaganda posters, pro-Nazi art--a fairly large category in the 30's and 40's--bounce through Maoist stuff and climax with Che Guevara prints. There is much to be done and many artists to be denounced without even starting on defensible regimes.

As for the "artistic justifications" to say that there's something rotten about our culture is not the same thing as saying the First Amendment should be set aside. If someone does say that, perhaps your argument is with that person. And I'd have said the rote work of cross-hatching is a perfect mindless activity to free the brain to think. If you don't care for it as a technique, fine--but you can hardly argue in consumes intellectual energy.

If you'd like to do an installment on the complete lack of imagination--or even thought--in modern political cartooning, I'd be interested. The tragic decline of Gary Trudeau should get a space of its own.

And I have no intention of discussing the law, the constitution and firearms on an art site, just as I try not to do politics on The Miniatures Page. Let the cobbler stick to his last.

Manqueman said...

"As I’ve said, crosshatching is not always the best use of an artist's time. Sometimes that time might be better spent thinking through a concept. Or reading a fucking newspaper."
No joke but that's some elegant of separating art and artist -- and providing a little life advice.
Don't want to get into the politics but for those unable to understand how the slightest gun control can mitigate this s*** -- not the place for politics -- all I'll say is study up on AR-15s, more so the ammo and what it does.

Julia Back said...

Yesterday I watched the fourth episode of NHK's documentary about Hayao Miyazaki. The episode was basically about the making of his last movie (so far), that portrays a Japanese airplane designer, who designed a very "successful" airplane for japan, which was used in WWII. Miyazaki struggled on how to tell this story properly, and then chose his perspective on it. It's very interesting to find your post today. What's art for (or the artists' intelligence) if not to have a say on Life? All aspects of it. Bravo!

Robert Cosgrove said...

Taking your final paragraph in isolation, I have no problem with it. As a criticism of the particular cartoon you've posted, and the cartoonist in question, I think it would be difficult to support the proposition that Ramirez is not a voracious consumer of the news, including newspapers.

I think the question Ramirez poses is well worth asking. [I suspect you would not disagree with that, but are unhappy with what you, probably correctly, perceive as Ramirez's implied minimization of the ready availability of firearms as a causal factor]. You posit some possible answers which merit examining, particularly to the extent they may be tested against the data. But there is more going on in the culture than the law, and those factors are worth examining as well.

Finally, it's worth noting that Ramirez did another cartoon on the subject of the Uvalde shooting, "Mourning Yet Another Senseless Tragedy," showing Uncle Sam, head in hands, saying "No More." As usual with Ramirez, it is beautifully drawn, and the sentiments are absolutely unexceptional, though I would be hard pressed to say that the figure of a crying Uncle Sam shows particular originality.

Anonymous said...

The Ramirez crying uncle Sam is such bullshit. I'm fed up with Republicans who say the only answer is to cry and pray for the innocent little victims. They love their paranoid gun fantasies more than they love their own babies.


Robert Piepenbrink said...

And notice how no one's talking about the art? Told you.

kev ferrara said...

It was surely known long before them, but an important popular contribution of The Nabis group of Symbolists of the 1880s was to realize that every pattern had its own emotional state, and every emotional state could find correspondence in some kind of pattern.

The reason rendering in ink is more than just mindless articulation - is often the opposite of mindless - is because it creates a kind of pattern. Which gives it an aesthetic feeling or mood. Which is to say, there is a sensual meaning manifesting there. (Assuming one is able to feel it; has that particular sensitivity.)

The feeling of any particular patch of rendering may or may not rise to the level of an Aesthetic Emotion in the grand or general sense (as a composition may cause at its ultimate moment) but it certainly can rise to the level of a minor or special effect or a local mood. And it should and usually does contribute to an overall mood... as a component of the style of the particular picture and/or the artist's handwriting.

Look at text handwriting and the point may be more clear; you can feel the difference between a refined gentleman's script and a wide-eyed and well-behaved young girl's. You can tell the difference between the hasty scrawl of a historian and the tight obsessiveness of a madman. Each has its own aesthetic effect, and we can sympathetically localize the bearing or temperament or sensibility of the writer through the experience of their penmanship.

This is why it is a mistake to be so dismissive of Franklin Booth's parallel rendering, or Joseph Clement Coll's crosshatching, or Berni Wrightson's feathering, or Sienkiewicz's electrically-charged scribble, or whatever the hell it is that the great Sergio Toppi does.

David Apatoff said...

Robert Piepenbrink wrote: "There is much to be done and many artists to be denounced without even starting on defensible regimes"

I agree, and we've discussed a great many of them here, from Philipp Rupprecht to Augustus Lukeman. Posts here have denounced cruel repression and artistic censorship by Islamic fundamentalists and US congressmen. We've debated "artists at war" and "political cartoonists." In the present case, Ramirez has invited us to answer his question, "What is the root cause of these mass shootings?" We may not know the answer, but I find his suggestion that only "the culture" has changed to be ridiculous in view of the other changes I listed. To allow such a canard to go uncorrected would, in my opinion, betray the memory of those poor butchered children. As a man said, "Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

Robert Piepenbrink also wrote: "to say that there's something rotten about our culture is not the same thing as saying the First Amendment should be set aside."

I agree, and yet that is where hardcore gun advocates have already gone. In the Heller decision, Justice Scalia wrote that the second amendment right of defense should be put "above all other interests." I've served in my spare time as a trustee on the board of the nonprofit Center for Mental health Law. Over the years, I've heard the arguments that society can avoid gun regulation if only the government will make lists of people with mental disabilities or clinical depression, interrogate their doctors, surveil their library records, etc.

Robert Piepenbrink also wrote: "I'd have said the rote work of cross-hatching is a perfect mindless activity to free the brain to think. If you don't care for it as a technique, fine--but you can hardly argue in consumes intellectual energy."

I don't care for it as a technique to the extent it is a merely repetitive process of drawing straight lines, lines with no sensitivity or character or variety, lines that present no creative challenge. For example, I don't think much of cross hatching with a monotonous rapidograph line, by illustrators such as Murray Tinkelman. But I agree that like most elements of art, cross hatching defies simplistic classification. I've previously praised cross hatching by Richard Thompson.. And the ultimate genius of cross hatching, Rembrandt, brilliantly enlivened the technique. My point is that if Ramirez wants to investigate the reasons for an increase in mass shootings, answers aren't likely to come from "mindless activity that frees his brain to think." It requires evaluation of facts that may be outside the loop of his own internal biases. If he allocated some of his cross hatching time to that, he might have created a more honest cartoon.

Robert Piepenbrink said...

So, cross-hatching is OK, but not if the artist prefers to prioritize an element of the problem you prefer not to prioritize? And the artist is downgrading the First Amendment if someone else you dislike did? In fact, the only important thing about this art is that it fails to take your side in the cause du jour.

Think long and hard before continuing down this road. Art critics are rare, but there is no shortage of people ranting about politics.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I think you are right to take the "cross hatch" debate back to Franklin Booth; even though he rarely (if ever) cross hatched, his technique where he achieves tone by simulating a long, straight engraver's line I do find to be a lesser use of line than say, Austin Briggs' expressive line. I conclude that because, despite its amazing craftsmanship, it seems to me to be a great deal of effort centered around making sure a thin, even line is equidistant from the preceding line. That's an awful lot of time to spend on automatic pilot.

As for Berni Wrightson, I'd draw a distinction between his "feathering"(which I like a lot) and <a href=">his more laborious work with a monotone line.</a>

Joseph Clement Coll... well, of course I think his symphonic use of ink is in a different universe safely far away from the problem of cross hatching.

I know you disagree with my judgment on Booth, but I do agree your point that text handwriting is a useful way to smoke out quality. I would not find Booth's handwritten line to be as aesthetically interesting as Coll's or Sienkiewicz's.

Nikki Hicks-- Yes, "we have just had enough." I believe in being tolerant of another person's need for a mass killing device under his pillow to protect him from commies or EPA bureaucrats, but I believe that after so many splattered babies any civilized society has no choice but to say, "enough."

Robert Piepenbrink-- Sorry, I don't follow your last one. I don't understand why Ramirez is prioritizing an element of a problem I prefer not to prioritize. I have plenty of problems with today's culture, perhaps more than Ramirez has. But he expressly asked viewers a question and I answered it, directly and factually. He never suggested that culture is a more important factor than major recent changes in the law and the courts, he said that the AR-15 has been around for 60 years, so the increase in shootings must surely be caused by cultural problems. An omission on that scale, especially from someone as smart as Ramirez, is tantamount to a lie, and a lie in an area where the stakes are very dangerous and high.

vanderleun said...

David, I don't expect you to know you harbor a fully-colonized mind which is blissfully free of history and presents here a cross-hatched brain. But please stop parading around here waving the bloody shirt. Omission in a cartoon about an issue thousands of years deep.

Stay in your lane. You've got less than zero to say about this and nothing that is not a cliche from cliched thinking.

You've done what you are supposed to do on this issue, now sit. down.

kev ferrara said...


This is David's blog. (Just in case you forgot.)

I can't imagine you have any more expertise in this matter than he does. Are you credentialed in firearms discussions?

MORAN said...

This is no different than Apatoff's posts about artists who made beautiful pictures in support of Nazis or other killers. Ramirez makes propaganda for the NRA. He's saying that laws aren't responsible for these deaths so we shouldn't change laws to prevent them.

David Apatoff said...

Tororo, Anonymous, Manqueman-- Thanks for writing.

Julia Back-- Yes, there are plenty of gray areas for thoughtful people to weigh. A Japanese designer who makes a beautiful plane to wage war. Artists who paint wartime propaganda pictures to rally their country (such as Arthur Szyk's racist paintings of Japanese soldiers). Bob Peak's illustrations for tobacco ads to persuade consumers that cigarettes are healthy, active, glamorous products. D.W. Griffith's brilliant Birth of a Nation that lionized the klan. We look back upon many of these works with a sense of sadness or irony or superiority, but we should always be mindful of the fact that now is not then, and we are not they.

I think we need to be more circumspect about criticizing them than about criticizing instruments of death where the slaughter not only continues unabated, but is increasing.

Robert Piepenbrink said...

Oh. So the quality of the art will retroactively improve once you win the political battle? Are you even listening to yourself?

Didn't see Planned Parenthood propaganda in the "gray areas." I suppose that slaughter is different.

vanderleun said...

In my place I bring you, "Before Discussing School Shootings Any Further… by Morgan Freeberg" Part 1

Let us dispose, I say, of the following bits of sticky persistent nonsense. I can see here there’s work for me to do because I’m seeing lots of people crying out for “new solutions that will work,” and then answering their own plaintive pleas with a lot of garbage that everyone’s heard lots of times before. Into the breach, I bravely step.

1. This is unacceptable! We have no place for this!

Congratulations on the good intentions. Like any decent, not-crazy person, I wish you luck in what you’re trying to do.

But what I see here, is what it is. More of that dreadful mannerism. The indignant, matronly yard-duty teacher talking down to the dimmest third-grader in the class, letting him know she has had plenty enough of his crap. These shootings are overwhelmingly male-centric, and if we’re going to take a look at something to try to make this the last one, we need to be looking at how we get along with the males…which we haven’t been doing. The message to younger, developing males has been one of: Finger-waggling fists-on-hips nanny nanny boo boo stuff. You’re a pain, my approval decides everything, you can do nothing, you’ll never amount to anything. You are ineffectual, or at least, should be. As the profile of the school shooter develops and sharpens, we consistently see it’s a disengaged male who’s been made to feel ineffective, and this is his way of saying back to society at large, “Oh yeah?”

There is also the problem of accuracy. We do have a place for this violence. We’ve been making one. These shootings happen often at places that have strict anti-gun policies, so that shooters know they won’t run into armed resistance. They don’t want anyone shooting back, and we have been accommodating them.

2. What we’ve been doing up until now isn’t working! When are we going to finally do what we all know we have to do?

What we have been doing is cobbling together in each state an unworkable, byzantine briar patch of zany gun laws. Anti gun activists, like our predator President, like to say stuff like this as if they’re only just now being empowered, potentially, to constrain and curtail lawful gun owners. We’ve already been doing that. That’s what isn’t working.

3. We have to make sure people get the mental health services they need.

Such services are provided by practitioners, and practitioners carry with them a variety of different agendas. To say “more services” and then just leave it at that, is irresponsible, especially now when we know the practitioners have been “treating” kids who start out without anything innately wrong with them. “First do no harm,” remember that? It used to be, as they say, “a thing.” Primum non nocere. The fact of the matter is, too many boys-becoming-men are brought to adulthood without any vision of ever being functional or whole, and “get counseling” when there’s nothing wrong with you, just exacerbates the problem. How about…teach young males what we teach young females? That nobody’s perfect, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up, and you have within you already what it takes to make the world better? You’ll notice it’s popular to say that to girls. And grown women rarely shoot up schools.

vanderleun said...

Part 2:

4. Toxic masculinity!

The “Morgan Rule” is my invention: “If I’m gonna be accused, I wanna be guilty.” But let’s be clear, I only invented the words to stitch the ideas, which came along way before I did, together into a coherent statement. Right or wrong, this is how people function, and it has always been how people function. If the verdict is already in on me behaving badly, I have no incentive to behave any better. Anti-masculinity activists, you just got done telling a whole generation of males that they’re monsters just because they’re males. Now you’re wondering why they’re shooting up schools. Hmm.

As noted above, our sadly acquired cumulative wisdom continues to reinforce the observation that these are ungrounded, unattached, disoriented boys-becoming-men. Amid all this talk of “sensible gun laws,” can someone please enlighten me with the complete inventory of our recent efforts to ground, attach and orient growing boys? I’m sure the localized and isolated efforts exist here and there, but that’s clearly not enough. What about the widespread, intensive, sustained efforts to ground them, attach them and orient them?

As noted earlier, there’s a lot of social upward-mobility involved in plying encouraging messages onto the female; hardly anybody ever thinks of doing that with males. Make her feel “powerful”; make sure she “thrives.” Also noted earlier, chicks aren’t shooting up schools, it remains a dude thing. Once again: Hmm.

5. Medication to make his brain work right…

Actually, we saw our current spate of these terrible, violent acts after you amateur chemists got super slap-happy with your faddish psychotropic drugs. Some, like me, have been asking the question of how these drug patients should ever learn how to function in society without a constant dosage year to year, day to day…y’all never did get around to giving us a straight answer. Maybe the shooters have finally given us the answer! It’s not an answer I like too much.

There. Now that I have “fact checked” you, let’s go ahead and have our discussion about what’s broken, and how to fix it. Just don’t go swaggering around Beto Style, like you’re the genius who’s finally going to restore sanity and deliver us to peace, love and harmony, after we empower you to do so at long last…when the reality is, we’ve already been doing things your way.

I can’t put into words how scary it is, watching these rotten old ideas dressed up in new activewear, and paraded around under this phony pretense of “Now let’s do something about it” as if we’ve been sitting on the sidelines for years and years just letting these young men shoot people. And now Sparky here is going to offer up his revolutionary new idea: Make everybody else defenseless. It’s scarier than — an active shooter, barging through the door, crazy as a fox, looking for his next target, making eye contact. Because that guy, at least, would be intentionally shooting things.

These assholes are more like a toddler with a flamethrower who hasn’t quite figured out the connection between the hot bright stuff coming out the muzzle, and the trigger he’s pressing.

I can understand coming up with silly stuff in the immediate aftermath of a terrible event like this, letting the emotions gain the upper hand. It’s an emotionally charged thing.

But I can’t excuse it. That’s different from understanding it. The whole phenomenon carries all the tell-tale signs of a societal problem that’s getting worse because it isn’t being handled the right way. And these local-vocals, whether they realize it or not, are just reciting the wrong-way we’ve been handling it up until now, in a different tone of voice. If we conclude they just don’t know what they’re saying, we conclude as charitably as we possibly can, for the alternative explanation is an intent of harm. But either way, they haven’t got the right idea, and they’re still monopolizing the sound space which is something that doesn’t have to happen. That part reflects poorly on everybody else.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- It looks like my previous answer bungled a link to my example of Berni Wrightson's work. Sorry about that. Perhaps cross hatching is the wrong term for me to use, although I think it's probably the most common example of drawing on automatic pilot. But there are other examples of artists who I'd say have done something distinctive and worthwhile with cross hatching, such as Alan Cober.

Robert Cosgrove-- Thank you for your thoughtful and calm response. You write, "I think it would be difficult to support the proposition that Ramirez is not a voracious consumer of the news, including newspapers." I agree, I'm certain Ramirez is a voracious consumer of the news, and I also agree that the influence of culture on violence remains a question well worth asking. (In the 1950s, conservatives blamed social violence on a culture of EC comics and rock n'roll. True, Fredric Wertham appears to have doctored his tests to support his beliefs, but that doesn't mean we are free to exclude culture as a potential cause.)

Ramirez may read the news, but he comes away with a false dichotomy: if the assault weapon has remained unchanged for 60 years, the recent increase in mass shootings can only be a product of our bad culture. But conservatives have been complaining about bad culture, horrible music lyrics and violent entertainment for longer than we've had assault weapons. Bad culture was the subject of congressional hearings during the Reagan era, long before the recent surge in school shootings. What's different is the three momentous changes I listed loosening the gun laws, and exacerbating the glut of unregulated guns in the hands or reckless, irresponsible and troubled people. I have a good friend who was in Uvalde, Texas ten years ago. He saw a man carrying an assault weapon down the street and became alarmed so he alerted a policeman. The policeman smiled and said, "You're not from around here, are you? That's the way things are here."

Perhaps if Ramirez spent a little less time lovingly cross hatching the details on an assault rifle, and a little more time rethinking the gun culture, he might be able to break out of the bubble.

As for me, why am I taking up this argument here? As a commenter above explained it, "I've just had enough."

David Apatoff said...

vanderleun wrote: "David, I don't expect you to know you harbor a fully-colonized mind which is blissfully free of history and presents here a cross-hatched brain."

I deliberately included the citations for the two statutes and the Supreme Court decision so that anyone who disagreed with me could check them out for themselves. Did you find anything I said about them to be inaccurate?

Anonymous said...

Why not shut up about it?

These shootings have been, for the most part, troubled young men desiring attention and inspired by another recent shooting.

Why did this troubled young man decide to murder children in the way he did?

The fact that anyone one of us can easily recall another mass shooting by another troubled young man using another assault weapon completely overlooks something about a connected society-- we inspire the next shooter.

We obsess over these atrocities while ignoring how our supposed need to speak out motivates the next monster. These monsters want to make others grieve in agony and pain and our addiction to social media shows promise of that victory every time.

Should we be callous to such acts? No. But we should reflect deeply on our frustration to speak out and remind ourselves that it's sometimes better to shut-up.

chris bennett said...

Since when has art ever had nothing to do with politics... Goya, Picasso, etc etc

To keep my answer succinct I'll example Picasso's Guernica.
The only literary 'message' that comes across is 'slaughter is painful'. Just a self evident truism.
Political imagery is nothing more than a badge. So the more art invests in politics the poorer it becomes.

David, on the question of crosshatching:
Michelangelo's scutch chisel produced a similar effect on his sculptures in their becoming and the parallel ridges thereby produced were then erased with the flat chisel and finally the carborundum stone. These processes, far from being 'mindless' were the artist's direct sensual contact with what he was making and thereby engaged the reciprocal attunement between author and the material being shaped. Would you not consider the same to be true for the activity of cross hatching?

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- For me, your Michelangelo example reinforces my view. Cross hatching is mostly used to fill in flat space. The lines aren't moulded to shape the form, they don't curve around the figure, they aren't thicker and thinner to convey light or shadow or to establish priority. Cross hatching is usually just a solid wall of value. But Michelangelo's scutch chisel, as you describe it, pounds shapes out of rock. He has to be aware of form at all times. If he goes too far, he ruins the block of marble. If he doesn't go far enough, he has a lot more hard work with the carborundum stone. In my book, what Michelangelo does surely qualifies as "direct sensual contact with what he was making."

As for politics... I agree a lot of art is deadened and made superficial by politics. Still, I fear you may be taking an overly narrow view of politics. Politics cover war and peace, poverty and starvation, wealth and opulence. Van Gogh's potato eaters, Shakespeare's Henry V, Yeats, the Iliad, Kathe Kollwitz's agricultural revolution series, Daumier, Grosz, Searle, Szyk... there's a lot of politics out there.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...


On cross hatching:- A broad brush describing or implying flat space is innately imaginative whereas a broad brush merely 'used to fill in' flat space is mechanical. If you agree with this, then would you agree this will apply to a pen doing the same two things with cross hatching?

Art 'n' Politics:- I made my statement fully aware of the breadth of politics. And I would define politics as the polemic (in its ideal form) of differing societal problem-solving techniques. Consequently, its propositions and implementations will certainly impinge on manifestations of the human condition as individuals, families and groups right up to nations. But a spanner is not the nut, a car is not the journey, and an ideology is not the truth. So, in view of this I put the question to you: what do you think art is for?

Amanda Bynes said...

I live in a country where normal folks don't have access to guns and there are zero school shootings. Folks like vanderleun can spew copy & pasted nonsense to his heart's content about how it IS the culture and NOT the guns, but it's all moot when you take the guns away.

Besides, it doesn't have to be one or the other. We can support young people and communities better and restrict their gun access.

Anyway, David, I have followed this blog for years and I am ashamed that this is my first comment. You have so many more deserving posts I should have commented on - "one lovely drawing", or "real lines", or literally anything including Noel Sickles.

Thanks so much for running this blog for us all over the world, please don't stop! I have learned so much and it is a constant source of inspiration for my own art. I stop by here just about daily, and continue to find new appreciation even for old posts I have gazed at dozens of times already. Very grateful to have this resource.

Anonymous said...

After some of these mass shootings it turns out the criminal was posting or exhibiting threats and the FBI or Homeland Security did nothing but show up after the crime to tell us they knew of the suspect.
If they knew of a suspect making threats and did nothing, does that make them accessories to the crime?

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- This is one of those conversations that would be so much easier if we were sitting in a room pointing to dozens of examples around us. If we were, I suspect we wouldn't have much difference in our views.

A century ago, patient draftsmen who had no youtube or tiktok to distract them devoted their lives to studying the subtlest qualities of pen and ink techniques. It was not uncommon for them to disparage cross hatching in their books and treatises. One such author wrote, "Much cross hatching in a pen drawing is a sign of bad judgment." (In an interesting comparison of the pen drawings of Norman Lindsay and Edwin Austin Abbey that same author asserted, "It is because of Abbey's inability to determine the strength of a tone, and by his constant use of cross hatching, that his pen work can never be considered great pen work.")

I don't go that far. Personally, I like Abbey's drawing and I never claimed that all cross hatching is bad. Rembrandt's cross hatching in the hundred gilder print creates shimmering effects so brilliant they take my breath away. But most of the cross hatching I've seen-- parallel intersecting lines used by journeymen artists to imply flat gray space-- does not qualify as "innately imaginative," at least not in any consequential sense. Sure, it adds to the range of values in black and white art. Yes, it can create forms important to compositions. But generally I find it to be a safe, gradual shading process where no single line requires courage or plays a significant role. Any mistake is by definition tiny and can be concealed or blended with the next few marks. In this sense, cross hatching seems to me similar to stippling-- another less impressive ink technique. Even stippling permits more freedom because the artist can deviate from that parallel, evenly spaced line to suggest 3 dimensional form.

Circling back to my whole reason for raising cross hatching in this post: as with most drawing, it all boils down to a question of priorities. If an artist who had not mastered anatomy or perspective or design was spending hours making fine line cross hatching in his or her drawings, I'm guessing you would suggest that they re-allocate some of that time to activities that are more central to the quality of a picture. I think that Mike Ramirez's drawing is just fine, but it is premised on a lie about what has changed and what has not. If Ramirez had shaved 15 minutes off his cross hatching, which contributed only marginal value, and spent that time checking basic facts, he might've had a better marriage of form and content-- one that didn't falsely fuel the indignation of unhinged culture warriors at a time when little children have to pay such a terrible price.

Pedro said...

In the 50's children used to take guns to school practice shooting in PE. What changed since then? What happened in the society as a whole to go from that, to having school shootings every other week, and on most weekends spree shootings in a lot of major metropolitan areas, more recently in Chicago and Baltimore. The US went from a majority white country with a homogenous culture to a multicultural hellscape. I'm from Europe, this seems obvious to me. And I'm seeing the same pattern repeat in many european cities in most recent years.

David Apatoff said...

Amanda Bynes-- Thank you for such a kind comment. It arrived at the perfect time.

kev ferrara said...

"It is because of Abbey's inability to determine the strength of a tone, and by his constant use of cross hatching, that his pen work can never be considered great pen work."

Back in the day, a lot of hoary fellows with haughty opinions typed out their petty bitches for public consumption. That doesn't mean they have any value. Your cited Australian Author - the wildly famous important and talented "S.U.S." (I have no idea who this is) - commands your respect as an authority on this matter for what reason?

Having perused a host of original Abbey pen and inks at the Yale library, I will attest that there is enough great pen work in that collection to fill several thick books.

There are ways and ways of laying down tones. Each method has its own aesthetic character, its own aesthetic effect. Some may not be your cup of tea. Especially if you have a few fixed ideas that you can't get over, which get in the way of your eyes. Having said that, while it is generally true that the less that does more tends to be the better poetry, there are some effects, some expressions that less cannot provide.

N.C. Wyeth offers the following: "Simplicity is not meagerness. To cut a sentence down from ten words to five is more apt to be starvation. . . . The desire to be direct in expressing a thought must not descend into frugality. Frugality is tiresome.”

I would say this point - about starvation - applies to a great deal of literal and linear work where the outlines are 'jazzed up' without a narrative predicate.

The Beatles began with the two part harmonies of the Everly Brothers, and then adopted the four part harmonies and vocal counterpoints of The Beach Boys because they simply saw that there was more that could be said with more. Because any study of great artistic complexity reveals that even 'more' can be the less that says more. That is to say, poetry can superimpose, stack, and dovetail, and even reverberate through layers and between relations. Orchestration begins with the big broad poetry, then fills in the gaps with finer and finer poetry, until the whole world is filled out with suggestions.

Which is what one gets with Franklin Booth's poetic density.

The idea that all Booth was doing for his entire career is exactly what he did at the start is, to put it politely, mistaken. His early jejune view of illustration technique and periodical reproduction (which led him to imitate engraving) had an ugly result actually, but gave way soon enough to a mature aesthetics in keeping with the other Golden Age greats. I invite you to compare his earliest published works with those of ten years later, when his evolution away from the callow and shallow and petty becomes inescapable.

To further make the point of where Booth was at artistically, when Walt Reed took classes with him late in the artist’s life, technique was not discussed at all. The entire class was art philosophy and aesthetics; the thoughts behind the lines and forms.

chris bennett said...


Thanks for the link - I can't say I agree with 'BS's' take on the comparison between the two artists re their cross hatching, but you seem to be saying that it, like any artistic means, can be used insensitively. Maybe the thrust of your point is that cross hatching is particularly prone to encouraging artistic defects. If so. I'd somewhat agree, though the modern 'disrupted realism' or 'Kanevskyfication' thing is an example of something in this regard that is far worse IMO.

I notice you have avoided answering the question I posed to you... :)

PS: Among the essays you linked to there was a couple of fine paintings - Julian Ashton; 'The Crevice', McInnes' 'The Plough' and particularly JJ Hilder's 'Dora Creek'.
So thank you for that!

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Congratulations on getting access to Abbey's drawings at the Yale Library. I tried twice-- most recently in March of this year-- but was told that "the sketchbooks are too fragile to show at this time" and that other drawings I wanted were "in off-site storage and unavailable." I asked if Abbey's work in their collection would ever be digitized and they said the fragile condition might prevent digitization. You don't have to sell me on the quality of Abbey's work, I think he's terrific (far superior to Lindsay) and I envy your good fortune.

I ended up quoting an Australian source because Norman Lindsay's biography said Lindsay felt cross hatching was an inferior way to draw. I couldn't put my hands on the book right now so I thought I might find the quote on line. Instead, I came across S.U.S.(?) talking about Lindsay and used that. As I'm sure you know, his opinion was hardly unique. Plenty of 19th and early 20th centuries artists in the US and elsewhere shared that view.

As for Franklin Booth (who, for the most part, had the good sense to avoid cross hatching) I do like his work despite his unnecessarily laborious technique. His reputation was certainly aided by his choice of majestic subject matters, as was Maxfield Parrish's. I don't know enough about his career to understand his growth, but from what I know I personally prefer his mid-career work (from the 1912-1920 era) to his later work in the book of telephone drawings (from the 1930s). Someday we should discuss his watercolor work, which I believe is in a separate category.

It's quite possible that our different assessments of Booth's accomplishments are a reflection of our personal tastes. Simplicity is good but meagerness is bad. Economy is good but frugality is bad. How we determine what art falls into which category is not a totally objective process. I admit to having a personal preference for expressive, sensitive line, which often requires more variety than is found in Booth's work. I think one reason that tastes in illustration grew to place greater value on spontaneity, directness and rawness is that the labor intensive, precise techniques were replicated by new tools. Just as the manual labor of engraving was replaced by photoengraving, the manual labor/skills of mechanical drawing with T square and triangle were replaced by computers and other devices. Technical drawings of straight parallel lines were replaced by zipatone and later by Photoshop.

I understand that's not all of what Franklin Booth does, not by a long shot, but if everyone can simulate part of his dazzling technical facility with a machine, I think it chips away at the public regard for some of what impressed his audiences.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I agree with you about the comparison of Lindsay and Abbey. Putting cross hatching aside, I think Abbey was the superior artist in many respects.

I also agree that cross hatching, "like any artistic means, can be used insensitively." But worse than some other means, cross hatching is seductive because of it cheap technical facility. Cross hatching is a way to show off the fine motor skills to place multiple fine lines in close proximity to each other. For many people that seems to be enough to establish talent.

I think 'disrupted realism' or 'Kanevskyfication' started out as a genuine response to the inadequacies of mere realism in the 20th century. It only became a serious problem when multiple artists thought they could simulate profundity by putting a realistic image through a cuisinart. Still I think artists such as
Phil Hale
have made some admirable paintings with a chopped up image.

You're darn right I didn't answer your question, "what do you think art is for?" For my first 30 years the answer would've been obvious: "to attract girls." As I got older I began to sense that the answer might be a little more complex. However, the increasing years have also gifted me with enough of a self-preservational instinct to be wary of questions that would probably make me sound like a dope.

kev ferrara said...

I asked if Abbey's work in their collection would ever be digitized and they said the fragile condition might prevent digitization.

I miswrote earlier, seeming to imply that I had seen all of what was there at Yale. The actual process was that our merry group (I was there on borrowed clout) was allowed access to a limited cache of originals which I was tasked with selecting a few weeks earlier from their hefty online database. (Which seems to still be online, though recoded/reformatted. Respectable, if small, images abound. Though the inks don't come through at all.)

The selected original work we got to see (placed around a special reading room by the curators) was so stunning, and so very subtle, my only assumption is that all the work that we did not see would also have to have been of similar quality. Thus, there is obviously a load of great E.A. Abbey work, in pen, ink, wash, oil, etc. (I wasn't even aware of the presence of Abbey's notebooks.)

One interesting thing about seeing the ink originals, is that it was quite obvious that J.C. Coll was heavily influenced by Abbey's work. Not just technically, but also compositionally. Of course, like Abbey, Coll crosshatched with abandon whenever he damn well felt like it. (The distilled tears of complainers and naysayers filling the water jars of both.)

Plenty of 19th and early 20th centuries artists in the US and elsewhere shared that view.

And plenty did not. (Making sweeping claims while appealing to the authority of bandwagons full of unnamed experts is easy and fun!)

Nothing is forbidden in art. However quality present equals quality felt. And the same goes for structure.

kev ferrara said...

I wanted to flag up this notion of yours that audiences elevate Booth and Wrightson because they are so dumbstruck (“impressed”) by the linework that they can’t see the deficiencies of the art.

A significant segment of the art appreciating public, it seems to me, has a disconnect between their experiential intuition and their textual or surface-symbol-based intellect. The same demo also seems to have a strong will to form narratives that explain away that which awes them; a kind of reflexive ego defense.

And so we get people who don’t really know how art works. Nor how their own imaginations work. Who yet really really want to show (themselves most of all) that they get how the magic trick is done. No rubes they.

The result is an endless chat-stream of narrative fallacies about art surfaces (thus surface-symbols).* The refrain goes something like, “Oh, this artwork knocked my socks off! And look at the ultra-fancy linework. Wait a minute! I must be blown away because of the fancy linework! Elementary!”

The fanciness of the linework is a peculiar chimera. It is chased understandably. Because there is a hypnotic repetitiousness to it that will fascinate the suggestible, even beyond the actually meaningful suggestions intended. But this local hypnosis is a red herring; a misdirect.

For when attention is drawn to these inspectable and knowable surface marks, it falls away from the actual mystery of art; suggestion; at the heart of which, in each instance, is an interval of void; the bane of the left brain. (Those who talk of mark-making have the tiger by the tail.)

Fans and detractors alike go on about Frazetta’s linework. But “I don’t give a shit about that linework,” Frazetta once said.

So what we have here is a failure to self-communicate; resulting in the aforementioned intellectual fan’s disconnect between actual phenomenal experience and the subsequent explanatory ego-talk.

There were many technical masters of the ink medium during Booth’s era. 99% are justly forgotten. As Dunn said, “There are thousands of artists out there that can draw and paint to beat the band. Nobody has ever heard of them and nobody ever will.”

But we keep hearing about Booth, Wrightson, and Frazetta. (And Lindsay, Abbey, Flagg, Coll, Toppi, Sienkiewicz, etc.)

*Which eventually leads to the intellectual herd demanding artworks that are only surfaces.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

You're darn right I didn't answer your question, "what do you think art is for?" ...the increasing years have also gifted me with enough of a self-preservational instinct to be wary of questions that would probably make me sound like a dope."

My belief is that if anybody was asked this question more than 120 years ago they would not have had any self-consciousness about answering it. They may not have been articulate, but generally there would have been little fear of sounding stupid concerning what they were trying to say. I can't prove this of course, but it is what I believe. To explain why I will give my answer to the question I posed:

Art affords a deeper awareness of the innate meaningfulness of life.

This is why politics, being a tool for manipulating behaviour and not life itself, has nothing to do with the affective content of any work art. And why, after over a century of ever-widening and insistent belief in materialism as an ontological explanation for everything, we are unable to answer such a simple question. Yet an answer lies in our heart, but a culture ruled by propositions rather than wisdom will make us nervous about speaking it.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- yes, I've seen the Abbey work that is available on Yale's web site and it's impressive. Yale implies that the bulk of Abbey's work (especially his sketches and workbooks) is available “By appointment, in the Duffy Study Room” which may be where you saw it. However, these days requesters are told it is "in off-site storage and unavailable." You're lucky to have seen it.

I agree with your point about the many "technical masters of the ink medium." I think the case of Frazetta is actually very instructive. In his early years (say, up through Famous Funnies 211) he used a LOT of cross hatching, but as he got better in the Canaveral era he seems to have put most of that cross hatching aside. He'd occasionally employ it for accents in his loose sketches, but sparingly and beautifully.

Even in the 1950s, Frazetta had a feather light touch with a line that, as you say, "fascinated the suggestible." Hell, I was fascinated. In his Johnny Comet originals, I remember being amazed that such a muscular, athletic artist had such delicate control over his line. The same hands that wielded a baseball bat with such power could perform micro-surgery with a pen or brush. Regardless of the quality of the early work (and I think some of those drawings were mighty weak as art) the part you call the "magic trick" remained dazzling.

chris bennett-- Well, it's valid to think that art is for "a deeper awareness of the innate meaningfulness of life" but of course many people disagree. Existentialist types think art has the opposite purpose, to show the innate meaninglessness of life. Some artists-- such as the surrealists and dadaists-- went beyond "meaningless" and were militantly anti-meaning. Then there are those who would separate art from the question of meaning altogether, claiming art is only a matter of visual beauty devoid of content. Some say art is a matter of skill. Others viewed it as a tool for hunting mastodons, or as a tool for seduction. Some recent entrants into the field of "art" (such as NFTs) suggest that art is a multiverse that continues to expand. You may not approve of many of these interpretations of art, but they are certainly out there.

Way back near the beginning of the human search for wisdom, "physics" was viewed as the catch-all dumping ground for every form of inquiry about nature ("physikos"= Greek for nature). As one segment of knowledge after another developed and began to take shape, they were given their own names (such as chemistry, biology, astronomy, etc.) and gradually withdrawn from the field of physics. There were other "disciplines" that started as part of physics, such as astrology or soothsaying, that never quite received legitimacy. But the point is, physics was a starting category for exploration of lots of things where we just didn't know how they were going to turn out.

I think "art" has become the modern day equivalent of ancient "physics," our universal category for all kinds of disparate activity, including a lot of stray cats and dogs. Some will go somewhere. Others will not. You can respond that art wasn't that way 120 years ago and I'd agree with you, but it isn't that way now. It might be interesting to explore in a post.

Anonymous said...

"Art affords a deeper awareness of the innate meaningfulness of life."

Oh, this is a fun discussion. I'm not disagreeing but I would pose the starting point in the opposite direction:

Art reminds us of the innate meaningless of life.

For example:

1. Does crosshatch reflect any sort of reality? Doesn't appear so.
2. Does it matter? No.
3. Is it useful? Yes.
4. Is it tedious when overdone? Yes.
5. If one doodles an apple with crosshatch, is that enough art to conjour "innate meaningfulness" of life, or just an apple? Doubtful for either but maybe re the apple.
6. Are doodles art? Seems like they are.
7. Do doodles conjour "innate meaningfulness? Marginal maybe.
8. Is crosshatch without a subject a doodle? Maybe a doodle of a doodle.
9. Can crosshatch by itself conjour an "innate meaningfulness"? More like a surd.

So while we are now trained to find art meaningful in a million way, its all natural history, not metaphysics. Art reminds us that reality has no meaning except what we give it.

Are we saying the same thing?

I'd like to know where crosshatch landed in that natural history. What's the evolution of it?

Anonymous said...

You should remove those hate comments by the two gun nuts. We don't need words like assholes and predators and mindless on this blog.

chris bennett said...

...You can respond that art wasn't that way 120 years ago and I'd agree with you, but it isn't that way now.

Because the house is no longer a home.
It has become an amusement arcade, a ghost train ride starting through the Dada-door, along the Surrealist Hall of Mirrors to the Fauvist, Futurist and Constructivist rooms, pausing at the Self-Expressionist Activity Centre before continuing to The Abstract Suite Of Decoration and Chamber of Oceanic Feelings to finally enter the Grand Hall Of Words - an installation still under deconstruction with the Dada-door at the far end...

And so it is with much else in the contemporary world.

A fairground is not a home, it will not sustain you. To believe that it can is the great delusion of our time.

kev ferrara said...

Briefly looking through some comic art images, I'm seeing cross-hatching used at least incidentally (not necessarily often) in the work of: Alex Raymond, Coll, David Wright, Booth, Holdaway, Vess, Nebres, Kinstler, Frazetta, Zaffino, Pitz, Williamson, Prentice, Starr, Coching, Pyle, Flagg, Buscema, Alden McWilliams, Abbey, Longaron, Arthur Adams, Sean Gordon Murphy, Nowlan, Elder, Krigstein, Lindsay, Hal Foster, Stan Drake, Bolland, DeZuniga, Davis, Bernet, Drucker, Breccia, Sienkiewicz, Wyeth, Deodato, Sullivant, Bellamy, Stevens, Kaluta, Jeff Jones, Torres, Toth (I looked at a lot of pieces, and he did use hatching now and again), A.B. Frost, and Neal Adams.

Among those who seem not to use it include: Salinas, Gillon, Toppi, Moebius, Von Schmidt, and Del Castillo.

By the way, did you ever meet Toth?

kev ferrara said...

Art reminds us that reality has no meaning except what we give it.

At the very least, your inescapable physical and mental relationship with experience and reality forces you to believe in meaning. We don't 'will' meaning to happen, because we can't. If we understand, there is meaning. And we cannot help but understand.

Art - meaningful art, not the splattered and fingerpainted bullshit - works through aesthetic effect, which is an adaptation of the 'language of nature.' As Stanley Meltzoff pointed out, the suggestions of art are so strong they are actually commands. The same goes for nature's suggestions to us. (A gloom comes over the formerly sunny lawn you are standing on, a chill wind blows... you look up to the sky, looking for clouds, looking for rain. You think about putting a sweatshirt on or going inside. All meaning.)

Meaninglessness comes when somebody's sensory relationship to experience has been scarred over and/or their senses subjected to an inflammatory process that results in degradation. Crap mitochondria will do it. Addictions. Stress, loneliness, relentless negative emotion, tribalist thinking, and catastrophism (from, for instance, reading fucking newspapers).

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Creatures are wired into their environment and the environment signals a bunch of meanings all the time. But the meaning from reality is never 100% clear. Some things are muddled and so the signal isn't "given". It's suggested. Some suggestions are unmistakeable, like the blazing Sun or the bitter cold, some are hidden (COVID).

Your last paragraph is the most concise I've seen in a long time re how meaningless comes over us (shit happens!), but it implies a Conway Morris - Loren Eiseley view that we are built to receive meaning from the universe. If so, why do we get it wrong so often? it can't just be that there is too much dreck in the world, or can it?

kev ferrara said...

If so, why do we get it wrong so often? it can't just be that there is too much dreck in the world, or can it?

I think Iain McGilchrist's thesis might come in here. That the left hemisphere of the human brain has revolutionized the world in its own image.

And the consequences of that include a decided mass break-up with intuition, synthetic imagination, free play, free thought, wisdom, the aesthetic, the wholesome, the nonlinear, and the unknowable.

And this has resulted in a kind of phenomenological detachment from natural experience that makes so many of us confused and disabled in all the important and meaningful ways. (And obedient, scared, distracted, narcissistic, political, and neurotic.)

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

Creatures are wired into their environment and the environment signals a bunch of meanings all the time.

Indeed. And to add a little to what Kev has just said: It is increasingly believed (the lead coming partly from those involved in quantum physics) that, as I understand them, 'beingness' is not a property of a thing itself but is in essence is the outcome of a coupling between the agent and the arena, awareness and the environment, with each simultaneously giving rise to the other.

And something I hope will be helpful concerning the just mentioned Iain McGilchrist thesis: - Should people be put off enquiring into it by thinking it has something to do with the old, now debunked, view of the functions of the right and left hemisphere's of the brain, it most certainly does not. McGichrist provides a compelling and exhaustively evidenced argument stating that the asymmetry of the two hemispheres is defined by the difference in the way each attends to the world: The left apprehends (focuses, singles out, compartmentalizes, grabs, exploits, recognizes only the explicit), the right comprehends (takes a wide view, connects, synthesizes, accepts, nurtures, recognizes the implicit). Hence his book's title; 'The Master and His Emissary - The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World)'...

It's a long book so here's a link to a podcast interview with him (I came across MsGilchrist through a podcast with Sam Harris, but this, I think, is a better overview of his ideas)

Anonymous said...

The video was helpful.

Anonymous said...

The left side apprehends (fear), focuses, singles out, compartmentalizes, grabs, exploits, recognizes only the explicit (lacks context). The right side comprehends connects, accepts, nurtures, recognizes the implicit, (unselfish, loves). The left side, wisdom, wholesome, (joy), story and metaphor. The right confused, disabled, (a slave to minutiae and a loss of wholesome intention).

Let your right hand not know what the left is doing (for surely it would exploit it).

Anonymous said...

Got that backwards, Let your left hand not know what your right hand is doing.

chris bennett said...

You've got a few things backwards there Anonymous!

The left side, wisdom, wholesome, (joy), story and metaphor.

These are properties recognized and understood by the right hemisphere.

The right... (a slave to minutiae and a loss of wholesome intention).

These belong very definitely to the left hemisphere.
Thigs like 'confused' and 'disabled' are properties of disfunction that can apply to both hemispheres, though tilted more to the common experiences of the left.

A handy way of thinking about this (to use the title of McGilchrist's book) is to see the right hemisphere as the 'Master' who surveys the big picture from 'on high' as an organic, flowing wholeness, and the left hemisphere as his 'Emissary' who attends part by part building a linear map of the world as if it were a machine. The culture we are living in, by way of its nearly wholesale commitment to materialist belief has turned that natural state of affairs on its head.

Anonymous said...

Yes I did get them backwards on the second groupings as well as the quote.
Thanks for the correction. As per the quote, several translations from Aramaic to English, but to free the right hand from the measurements.
Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

The relation between left brain dominance, bias and arrogance is really interesting. Direct line to political fervor and political anger. Explains why political people are such a nightmare to deal with.

chris bennett said...

It also does an excellent job of explaining why our society is increasingly behaving in the bizarre way we are seeing. The pathologies that characterize it are those of a left hemisphere decoupled from the vital, contextualizing, holistic perspective of the right. This can be said to have arisen from an infatuation with the power of technology proportional to its growth and with it the corruption of the Enlightenment beliefs into full blown scientism coupled with ideology. Consequently our view of society is that of a closed mechanism defined and ruled by categories rather than an organism in tune with realities. As Kev said, "The left hemisphere of the human brain has revolutionized the world in its own image."

kev ferrara said...

On bizarre beliefs...

The right brain is understood to be the side that is always investigating the world to correct the current paradigm, or to develop a new, more accurate paradigm to send over the Corpus Callosum to its left partner.

Thus the right brain must exist in belief of an experiential reality by necessity; otherwise it has no purview or function. It must believe in biology, physics, social realities, self-hood and self-determination, the persistence of recurring phenomena (truth), causation and consequence, moral responsibility, ethical necessity, etc. And it absolutely must accept the often harsh corrections the world offers in response to its cherished delusions.

The left brain, on the other hand (literally), seems to always think in rote paradigms and always thinks it is correct in its beliefs and finished with investigatio; that it is already in possession of a final comprehensive answer; one that contains an ultimate rule set for belief and behavior and all the necessary justifications for it. It wants surety above all, direction, a feeling of righteousness, and the ego-satisfaction of status. Even to the point of announcing as Absolute Truth stories and theories with no basis in reality; presumably, in order to assure itself and others that it is smart, wise, and righteous.

And those 'just so stories' can get downright bizarre (as in the case of those with right hemisphere strokes, where correction by reality is no longer possible, or in ludicrous college theory classes, which are also insulated from reality.)

In a sense, the left brain just believes in narratives. Which is exactly what highly mediated, highly political people believe; just the narrative du jour and nothing else that is not the narrative du jour. With no right brain corrective process to engage.

I think there is an awful parallel here with the Postmodern notion that you can 'live any truth you want' and that there is 'no objective reality'. Such a prescription for life is pure narrative-as-reality solipsism.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I think there is an awful parallel here with the Postmodern notion that you can 'live any truth you want' and that there is 'no objective reality'. Such a prescription for life is pure narrative-as-reality solipsism."

I blame postmodernism for an awful lot around here, but the notion that "there is no objective reality" goes back to Biblical days and gained high intellectual credentials with Descartes. The pernicious strain of that notion that most plagues society today comes not from etiolated postmodern dweebs, but from the lumpenproletariat-- uneducated, resentful enemies of empiricism. Chris Bennett refers to "the corruption of the Enlightenment beliefs into full blown scientism," which is of course always a concern, but it seems to be dwarfed today by the far greater risks from ignorant, superstitious foes of science.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

One way I am currently thinking about this is to see the right hemisphere as in touch with patterns within experience nested in a hierarchy of patterns emanating down from the highest, the unknowable. In other words, recognizing the ordering of nature as ‘top-down’ explains the right hemisphere's capacity for insight; the ability to sense the next (higher and therefore currently invisible) level of patterning that is governing the level currently under scrutiny.

The left hemisphere, by its nature, only recognizes the world as a process whereby the higher levels are the product of emergence through bottom-up causality and that the parts are exclusively responsible for forming the whole - The bricks, tiles and timbers are thought to embody the house. The right hemisphere, like the architect, knows it to be the other way around.

Apply this bottom-up mentality to the shaping of society and we merely reach sideways for what already is, so we go about choosing what to keep and what to destroy until we reach what we call Utopia.

But insisting on how the human condition should be assumes a complete, and therefore mechanistic, materialist understanding of what we fundamentally are. Given the nightmare track record of previous impositions on societies under such hubris, is this wise? The ideological policing that has swept through all our institutions and out into the world at large should be a warning, at the very least, that it is not.

kev ferrara said...

the notion that "there is no objective reality" goes back to Biblical days and gained high intellectual credentials with Descartes

What makes you think that Descartes was a real person that existed?

chris bennett said...

The pernicious strain of that notion that most plagues society today comes not from etiolated postmodern dweebs, but from the lumpenproletariat-- uneducated, resentful enemies of empiricism.

I would not be at all too sure of that David. The guys and gals of the 'lumpenproletariat' may be 'uneducated' but they are at least close quarters with 'reality at large' and therefore share something strongly in common with the concerns of all people occupied with the physical, embodied nature of things; the farmers, truck drivers, hospital staff, construction workers, drainage, water and power grid workers, technicians and engineers, shop and warehouse staff, road labourers, mechanics, carers... on and on. And as a consequence of their first hand, practical engagement with reality itself they are far more 'enlightened' about what a society ought to be voting for than those insulated by the ivory towers of their laptops.

Robert Piepenbrink said...

A kind word for the lumpens. They've been mislead a lot by "experts"--sometimes lying "for the greater good," sometimes just wrong, which happens to all of us, or sometimes just flat incompetent. Most people will pay attention to someone who had demonstrated expertise, but many don't regard degrees or position as proof of competence or honesty. I don't myself.

More often the problem is the reverse--not an unjustifiably cynical general population, but a credential-worshipping elite. People any decent intel analyst would label as "unreliable sources" go on getting cited in news and opinion pieces long after they've lost all credibility. The same goes for types of information. I'd say after the first ten experiments on "priming" fail replication, priming has about as much value as astrology. But the 11th such study will still be taken seriously on sociology and psychology web sites--at least as long as it reinforces existing elite beliefs.

Anonymous said...

The Brahmin Left is the target of a great deal of scrutiny these days; but only outside of the institutions that they control.

chris bennett said...

Robert and Anonymous:

I think the 'elite belief' essay linked in the article above is a pretty sound explanation for the persistence of a good deal of the absurdities we are witnessing. It does not however account for the adoption of these beliefs by other demographics such as students and the middling classes which I'd say is, in the former category, down to the young generation's fashionable angst exacerbated by their being historically and experientially uninformed, and in the latter category the good old-fashioned fear of being ostracized.

Vanderwolff said...

I would be foolish to wade into some of the headier arguments here, since brain region laterality function and bias is a topic still very much open to interpretation, and I'll readily yield to those who have studied it more in depth.

I never viewed cross-hatching as strictly "busy work in the service of an unremarkable artistic goal: achieving a consistent tone (as opposed to using lines descriptively to convey information or mark artistic judgments" but it made me rethink my depth of stylistic analysis, which is always a good thing. I've always admired skilled pen and ink work above all--Kev's first comment from 6/03 and the list included of those who did not employ cross-hatching heavily is, on closer inspection, a vital catalogue of nib-and-brush masters who did indeed limn a variety of "hatching" to inspired effect--with the "cross" element generally omitted. Definitions-Schmefinitions, perhaps--but important in a more forensic (and accurate) appraisal of the masters whose work I may have somewhat lazily assumed I knew by heart.

Dale Stephanos said...

This is an impressive conversation. Where else could one find a debate over cross-hatching, free speech and gun violence? I've known Mike for years—haven't communicated with him in quite a while— and I 'm sure that refraining from cross-hatching for any amount of time would have no impact of his point of view. When I saw this cartoon for the first time I was tempted to write in GUN in from of the word "culture", and then remembered that I had some cross-hatching to get to.
Thinking about my early years as an illustrator and my favorite pen slingers, I thought of David Levine, Jack Davis, Nicholas V. Sanchez(!) and others when you dismissed the value of time spent cross-hatching. It reminded me of the scene in Amadeus where Emperor Joseph says there were "too many notes" in Mozart's composition.