Tuesday, October 11, 2022

CRIMES AGAINST ART, part 1: SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA

 The Australian artist Norman Lindsay may have been the most randy illustrator of the 20th century.  







His hundreds of drawings of nymphs and satyrs frolicking in bacchanalian orgies repeatedly got him in trouble with church officials.




During World War II Lindsay traveled from Australia to the United States with his wife (and model) Rose.

Norman and Rose Lindsay

Fearful that they would never return to Australia, Rose brought all of her prized possessions with her, including 20 years worth of Norman's best work.  Her daughter Jane recalled, "Large crates were specially made and into them she packed everything which she cherished as beautiful and valuable-- hundreds of exquisite watercolours, pen drawings, etchings...."    

The couple docked in California and made their way across the country by train.  The crates with art were loaded onto a wooden freight car immediately behind the engine.  When the train reached Pennsylvania the freight car caught fire.  The train pulled off into the small town of Scranton where the good citizens helped put out the fire and saved as much of the art as they could on the train platform.  

However, when they saw the scandalous pictures they had saved, the citizens became so upset that they piled up the artwork and and set it back on fire again "before corruption could set."

Lindsay's artwork survived a world war and a fire, but it couldn't survive the morality of the citizens of Scranton.









83 comments:

al mcluckie said...

Maddening to think of the loss . The images remind me of how his work went through Krenkel's and Frazetta's filter .

Li-An said...

So he choose USA because Australia was too conservative ?

Anonymous said...

In the fourth picture, I'm really struggling to work out which head is supposed to belong to the woman being felt up.

Jason Chatfield said...

Fun fact: MY predecessor on Ginger Meggs, James Kemsley, had the biggest Norman Lindsay collection the the world. His entire library in the front room of his house was crammed to the brim with books, artwork, sketches, framed art — he spent his entire life collecting.

When he was president of the Australian Cartoonists’ Association, we held our Stanley Awards welcome party at the Norman Lindsay gallery. There were many blushing faces.

When he died in 2007, his widow had it assessed and indexed, and it was eventually auctioned off. (She had three boys to send through school.)

The entire collection catalogue can be seen at the Sydney Rare Books website here:
https://ilab.org/assets/catalogues/catalogs_files_526_jameskemsleynormanlindsaycollection.pdf

The only recorded interview that I could find about James Kemsley talking about Norman Lindsay, in particular his most famous creation –the iconic Magic Pudding– is here:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/giepaqopd6voh9k/magicpud_pr.mp4?dl=0

Thank you for featuring Norman. He’s one of Australia’s greatest artists.

Jason Chatfield said...

You’d be surprised how conservative Australia really is. Always has been.

Li-An said...

@Jason Chatfield : I have some idea about this - thanks to movies. But I’m quite surprised Lindsay hoped to receive a warm welcome in the USA. I supposed he had no real choice.

David Apatoff said...

al mcluckie-- Agreed. What a waste. And the odds are pretty disheartening when you consider how rare Lindsay's talent was, but how easy it was for any moron to light a match to destroy it.

Li-Ann-- Actually, he chose the US because he'd done a number of anti-Hitler political drawings and he was afraid that if Australia was invaded he would be jailed or killed.

Anonymous-- I see your point. The answer is the middle head. Part of the problem is that this series of drawings (for Lysistrata) were done with stippling, and dots aren't nearly as good as line when it comes to delineating the borders of form. Also, the pose is a little awkward; I think the head is supposed to be a little taken aback, while the breasts are still intended to project forward.

David Apatoff said...

Jason Chatfield-- What in the world is in the drinking water in Australia? Two of my favorite Australian artists, Lindsay and Ivor Hele, are world renown for their indefatigable portrayals of nude women.

Li-An said...

@David Apatoff : thanks for the information. It makes sense.

kev ferrara said...

It seems to always be the case that the great artist breaks down the barriers, and then the talentless rush in after to exploit the freedom without justifying it culturally or artistically.

I guess special dispensation needs to made for the great in order to prevent the inevitable race to the bottom of the barrel by the not-so-great.

Richard said...

When you choose to work in a way that's significantly at odds with the norms of society, you're knowingly accepting risk. It's exciting to prioritize your own feelings over what society says is acceptable, but it's also stupid. When you live in a monkey tribe that teaches its monkeys that Orange is the best color for triangles, and you insist on painting them Green instead, don't be surprised if things don't turn out well for you or your triangles.

Are our monkey rules silly and artificial? Yes. Other animals don't wear pants, administer justice on their own before presenting evidence in court, lick their own genitalia in public, take liberties with the backsides of the opposite sex, and they don't say yes ma'am or please. Our absurd human constructs can feel like being trapped in a Samuel Beckett play, but that's just the way things are.

And just because Lindsay's Green triangles are in charge now, that doesn't make him any more right than the Orange triangle guys were. And it certainly doesn't make him more right than the Red/Yellow/Purple triangle guys who haven't come yet.

There are now underground artists getting significant followings by making pictures of anthropomorphized hermaphrodite horses with three-foot-long shlongs and Triple F Sized breasts wearing diapers, simultaneously squirting each other with breast milk and ejaculate, with captions about incest rape. If you dropped a stack of those drawings in Manhattan today, I shouldn't be surprised if the friendly passersby decide to trash them, no matter how well or poetically they were executed. In 75 years when that sort of thing is normalized, our Manhattanites will look quaint too.

Robin Cave said...

Great Post.

It's also one of my favourite and heartbreaking Lindsay stories about the burning of his best work at a train station in the US by some helpful "critics".

He always railed against "The Wowsers"

It is also worth looking into the rest of his family. His sister in law wrote "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and 5 of the 9 Lindsay siblings went on to become important artists and writers.

Especially have a look at Lionel Lindsay and his exquisite prints. No one does a gum tree or a bird woodcut better!

kev ferrara said...

I shouldn't be surprised if the friendly passersby decide to trash them, no matter how well or poetically they were executed.

Once the communication becomes explicit, you are not being implicit. Poetry is inherently based on implication. That is the nature of suggestion. When the fire of the work comes from the subject matter alone or dominantly, it cannot be good poetry.

The more a work has Limbic Fire in the subject, the more difficult it is to justify it as poetry. Only supreme artists can justify strong eroticism, violence and weirdness to the point that it becomes high art. And some subject matter is so extreme that nothing can rescue it.

(The solution to the extreme subject problem as formulated by Howard Pyle was something like; the wilder or weirder the subject, the more it is to be hidden from view. So something of an extreme nature should only have the tiniest glimpses visible to suggest what is going on or what it is.)

Just by looking at this selection of Lindsay works, you can see where the pictures veer into erotic entertainment versus where they are contemplative and evocative. (Though, even when Lindsay fails to artistically justify his ribaldry artistically, he still has the saving grace of humor.)

When you live in a monkey tribe that teaches its monkeys that Orange is the best color for triangles, and you insist on painting them Green instead, don't be surprised if things don't turn out well for you or your triangles.

This is an excuse for cultural vandalism, terrorism, and censorship.

Just yesterday, smug 'green' narcissists (Just Stop Oil™) threw a can of tomato soup over Van Gogh's Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London.

If we're just political cult-monkeys, we might as well take a match to everything. If we're more than political cult-monkeys, we need to depoliticize the culture in a hurry. And string up the exploitative catastrophists who rule by media, fear, lysenkoism, and slander.

kev ferrara said...

That the Van Gogh was not significantly harmed - only the frame - is beside the point.

P.S. David, the last post of mine - to which the above refers - has disappeared, possible in the moderation bin?

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I've searched the moderation bin and everywhere else I can think of, but I don't see another post from you. As you know, I never censor or moderate anything here except obvious spam. Did your post appear in the comments and then disappear? The only comments I remember seeing from you are the two that are currently in place. Sorry.

kev ferrara said...

Ah, well. No worries. (Those theoretical physicists who say information cannot be destroyed are pikers!)

It was in reaction to Richard's defense of the Goon Veto in the arts. Also in relation to the Tomato Souping of the Van Gogh at the National Gallery in London two days ago.

And then some technical yammering about the difficulty of poeticizing the extreme subject matter he listed in the latter part of his post.

Richard said...

> technical yammering about the difficulty of poeticizing the extreme subject matter he listed

It is probably impossible for someone to poeticize a subject that they experience as extreme. The sensation of the extreme is caused by the subject matter triggering primal brain functions -- such as disgust, desire, and fear. But that sensation is the result of our inexperience.

Nowadays, American artists wouldn't have as much trouble poeticizing the nude figure in the large, but they might struggle with more intimate body parts such as the folded skin of the vagina or testicles. An artist/obstetrician would have no such difficulty with the labia.

I do nude figure drawing every weekend, and non-artist friends are often confused about how I can draw boobs for four hours in a detached non-sexual way. In prior centuries, public breastfeeding was considered normal, so people should have had less difficulty poeticizing breasts. However, they would have found it difficult to create poetry of a woman's bare bottom.

A few years back, when women first started walking around the grocery store in Lulu Lemon tights, I was scandalized by their butts and nervously diverted my eyes. Now, I scarcely notice them. A buddy of mine used to make a living drawing hentai, and he reported not experiencing any of the pictures as overtly sexual anymore, despite often graphic subject matter.

Lindsay's artwork was hardcore in its time. Today it's mildly tantalizing. Tomorrow it will look silly, like those Victorian pictures of women flashing their ankles. And for a generation growing up on hardcore immersive hyperrealistic virtual reality hentai, that drawing of a hermaphrodite horse won't look like much of anything -- they'll be perfectly free to poeticize, without exciting any primal instincts.

And I'm not trying to excuse the goons. I'm just saying if you walk around Iran in the nude today, you're accepting some responsibility for the results of that decision.

kev ferrara said...

But that sensation is the result of our inexperience.

A surgeon's experience is unnatural. They become profoundly desensitized to what is naturally - with good reason - sensed as abhorrent and grotesque. For those who are not surgeons, desensitization to blood and gore and viscera is not the road to happiness. But the road to the opposite.

In terms of culture, there is a threshold for normal sensation and then there is the addictive kind of stuff that goes over that normal threshold - where desensitization happens. This is where the image becomes a substitute for the real, and the real becomes too tame to bother with - the caged test rat keeps slurping the cocaine thinking it is getting energy for life; but the slurping becomes life - and in there lurks depression and the spiral of self-hatred.

It is another multipolar trap situation that happens with all empty sensations that rouse a strong limbic response. Once somebody uses that trick to get eyeballs, the competition must keep up. And then go one better. And pretty soon the whole market is full of creeps and sleaze.

It happened with violence, horror and sex throughout the 1960s and 1970s. It was always more more more. A race to the bottom.

And then more recently it became some weird hyperreal autistic version of violence, horror and sex with the advent of virtual graphics. Now one can be immersed in these fake worlds of extreme sensation without nourishment; divorced from reality, family, friends, love, fresh air, sunshine, physical achievements, and everything else rightly understood as making life worth living.

This is a dead end. A horrible mass nightmare of escapism, addiction, and depression waiting to devastate a generation.

And for a generation growing up on hardcore immersive hyperrealistic virtual reality hentai, that drawing of a hermaphrodite horse won't look like much of anything -- they'll be perfectly free to poeticize, without exciting any primal instincts.

Poetry is based on suggestion, which is implicit. Thus the explicit never makes good poetry.

The explicit is hyperfocused on subject, on the thing, the act, the anatomic. It is obsessional by its very nature. Which means it exists in ignorance or defiance of the gestalt and life-meaning, which is to say without reference to composition and truth. Which means it cannot be good poetry.

Lindsay's work is ribald, but it also full of artistry, full of poetry and composed with a great deal of care, attention, and joy. And it has its own level of taste and a natural eroticism that, with the help of a sense of humor, never descends to the fetishistic myopia - the frenzied freak fixation - of the kind of dreck you've described.

Those allowing children to be exposed to such freakish sexuality and hardcore pornography are straight up evil.

The great problem of not having a definition of Art that takes in the nature of poetry, is that it allows the creeps and frauds to run that public race to the bottom that they always win.

kev ferrara said...

David, another post has gone missing. This one definitely posted to the page. Just came back to check in and found it gone.

Anonymous said...

These aren't green triangles. Nude pictures like these have been common for thousands of years. Jerkwater prudes like those in Scranton are recent.

JSL

Richard said...

Where we hear about historical libertinism, it is mostly fabrication and exaggeration by later Christian scholars. This is the case in Ancient Rome, for example. Christian scholars wrote about their loose morals, but when we go back to the source texts, we see that they would kick men out of the senate for merely kissing their wife in public (as with Cato the Elder and Manilius), and that during intercourse it was considered appropriate for the woman to stay clothed to avoid the obscenity of her naked body. Where we see hedonism among the Romans it was among the wealthy minority and mostly done in secret, to avoid angering the prudish public who resented debauchery as a foreign influence.

kev ferrara said...

Don't forget that the Library at Alexandria was burned to the ground on three separate occasions. The vast majority of information about the ancient world is lost. Greece was sacked. Rome was sacked. The vast majority of ancient works: writing, history, poetry, painting, etc... are gone.

Clearly neither prudishness nor lasciviousness is new. Nor are the battles between censorship and freedom of expression, propriety and boorishness, gestalt and fetishism, the ideal and the real, naturalism and degeneracy, asceticism and hedonism, and so on.

Most of what is new is driven by technology. The printing press and the internet can spread smut to the far corners of the world. But it took the camera to make pornography creation a pushbutton operation. And it is photography that substitutes for the real almost constantly in our modern world.

Sean Farrell said...

David, I very much enjoy how you choose one subject in relation that the of the previous post and I think in this one there’s a relationship to the despair and deep feelings of the post on Bundy. I can’t pretend to understand how they flow into one another in real life, but there is this tendency.

Sean Farrell said...

PS: I meant, between this post and the Bundy post, not in relation to morality as discussed above, but the relationship between lust and despair.

Sean Farrell said...

It is odd that men see lust in terms of morality verses freedom while seeing sex in terms of power has been all the rage for the last 50 years and has become a political movement, but sex as despair is maybe a bit too close to home to openly consider. It is the domain of maybe a quieter crowd, especially women who have suffered a major loss. I guess that’s not as romantic as a good vs: bad slugfest. After WWII when people were fleeing the eastern front sex was had openly in the trains, so strange the seriousness of war must have been.

Maybe too far a stretch for some but I thought the bounce from Bundy to Norman was a curious one as despair has a curious relationship to abandonment.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- I don't claim to be an expert on historical libertinism but my sense of the history is very different from yours. My sense is that for 95% of human history, and over most of the world, sex and genitals have played an open, central role in art and religion, more compatible with Lindsay's green triangles.

35,000 years ago vulvae and phalluses were scratched into cave ceilings, painted on walls and carved into mastodon teeth. Nude fertility figures were prevalent. In ancient Greece phallic sculptures adorned public spaces (such as the virile sculptures on Delos.) and phallic drawings adorned kraters. The erotic murals preserved on the walls of Pompeii, and daily life in Rome was overflowing with fascina, ithyphallic sculptures, and oil lamps with sexual themes. These were mirrored in large Inca fertility sculptures, Moche ceramics, and huge temples in India-- all open to the public. In medieval Europe there were hundreds of publicly displayed sheela na gigs. In Japan, pillow books and shunga art were everywhere. Michelangelo's David was as flagrantly nude as Lindsay's drawings, and presumably would have been put to the flames by the good citizens of Scranton if they'd had the opportunity. It was only later that the Vatican began knocking the penises off sculptures and affixing metal fig leaves.

From our small window of time, we may see the pendulum swinging back from Victorian culture, so Lindsay's drawings have gone from "hardcore" to "mildly tantalizing" but if we stretch for a 35,000 year perspective the landscape may look a little different.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "The printing press and the internet can spread smut to the far corners of the world. But it took the camera to make pornography creation a pushbutton operation."

Agreed. We and others have discussed and debated the ways in which artists have been dispossessed by the camera. Many artists now wander in the darkness looking for a new home, wondering "where to? what next?" But I've never seen anyone discuss the terrible impact of artists losing their monopoly on dirty pictures. It used to be that whenever a guy wanted pictures such as Courbet's L'Origine du monde (and every guy did) they had no choice but to find an artist. When the polaroid camera was invented, it stripped away a vital aspect of image making, central to the artist's historical role. But nobody in polite circles seems to want to acknowledge it.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- I hadn't thought about it, but you're right, these are two posts about how eros and thanatos come together. In the case of Bundy, an artist who was acutely sensitive to the beauty of female flesh encountered death in its most raw and horrific form. In the case of Lindsay, a satyr's bountiful celebration of the life force was defeated by the perishability of all things physical. I believe it was Nietzsche who wrote, "Love and death-- these have rhymed for ages."

Time to put up another post, I think.

Sean Farrell said...

David,
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. The offended sensibilities of Scranton and the proscriptions of morality aside, I think we’re all glad to try and understand today's challenges.

One of the pleasures of a pet is that it knows its place in a hierarchy defined by its limitations and simple form of approval. We have to cope with multiple authorities, such as the critical expert, the demands of the crowd, the authority of a pretty face and how one scampers hurriedly for approval. Lindsay’s dalliances are a long cry from the brutality commonplace in pornography today. This era of social media with its terrified conformity and its complex training through different social orders puts the hunt for love and approval on shaky ground, leaving few places to act in a confident manner without some dismissive qualified correction, and this too is a type of disorientation and in its own way, a sexual training. A healthy person must breath their own confidence and a public platform isn’t by its nature that place. Such might explain why even accomplished experts accept bribes and gratuities for even they need to feel particularly special.

The sense of being loved can be so simple yet allusive, while eroticism can torture itself through many turns searching for it and in those many efforts the object of the search annihilates the searching self. The mystery of sin as it used to be called is indeed a mysterious and mesmerizing subject. Strangely, annihilation in the search for love isn't always bad. Yet, despair in that search and different kinds of death are apart of it. A very complex subject and much appreciated posts.

kev ferrara said...

But I've never seen anyone discuss the terrible impact of artists losing their monopoly on dirty pictures. It used to be that whenever a guy wanted pictures such as Courbet's L'Origine du monde (and every guy did) they had no choice but to find an artist. When the polaroid camera was invented, it stripped away a vital aspect of image making, central to the artist's historical role. But nobody in polite circles seems to want to acknowledge it.

I'm glad you found something edifying in my post. However, I had no idea I was arguing any such thing. If "every guy" wanted a picture like "L'Origine du monde" there would be a lot more of such works. But there aren't.

The reason drug peddlers give out free samples is because they know (not in these terms of course) the Fresh New High breaks through the normal threshold for sensitivity in the neural pathway. The lack of any nutritive value to the stimulus coupled with the stronger than normal sensation of it (which creates the newly blasted-open mind-path) is the way of addiction. So 'free samples' of addictive sensations exist to create a 'want' where there was none before.

With photographic pornography, the cost to entry is practically zero for producing product. So free samples of pornography can scale wide, and are sent to the far corners of the world, into every pocket with an iphone, or bookbag. To degrade minds en masse.

My point was that the spread of pornography - a cultural, emotional, societal disaster - owes at least as much to the invention of photography - its ease even for the inept - as it does to the invention of speedy modes of mass distribution.

Richard said...

The erotic murals preserved on the walls of Pompeii, and daily life in Rome was overflowing with fascina, ithyphallic sculptures, and oil lamps with sexual themes.

In Pompeii, there were two types of nude art. On one hand, legitimately erotic frescoes, and on the other, fascina.

The frescoes were relegated to Pompeii's many brothels, for which the city was famous. It is worth noting that during WWII, Pennsylvania also had a number of similar establishments. I would not be surprised if their walls also contained offensive pictures.

On the fascinus and related phallic objects, if we take a closer look at the primary sources, we discover that their magical function is due to the shame of nudity --
The Romans were deeply concerned about an evil female spirit called invidia, or the evil eye. Invidia would cause misery and misfortune to whichever man or boy it passed over. To protect themselves from this wicked female spirit, men would adorn themselves with objects which would disgrace and embarrass the evil eye if it looked at them. Hence, the phalluses. A woman's inability to look upon a representation of a phallus, because of the socially conservative nature of Roman culture, gave the fascinus its magical power. Rather than supporting your narrative, I believe fascina do the opposite.



In ancient Greece phallic sculptures adorned public spaces (such as the virile sculptures on Delos.) and phallic drawings adorned kraters.

The Bacchus phalluses on Delos are a stretch. Delos is a remote religious sanctuary which would have been quite a journey to get to from mainland Greece. Further, Bacchic rites were famously at odds with mainstream Greek culture. For example, the Bacchic priests of Boetia were famous for annually abducting and murdering a young woman with a sword in an orgiastic ritual.

I hardly think that either the abduction or the Delos sculptures can be used to extrapolate normative Greek culture or attitudes. Looking at the history of obscure Catholic orders over the centuries, a number of them worshipped the apparent foreskin of Jesus. From this, can we extrapolate that Catholic culture as a whole has normalized foreskins?


Nude fertility figures were prevalent.

The purpose of prehistoric "fertility figures" is unknown, and we can only speculate about their function within paleolithic culture. Did they illustrate a culture of nudity acceptance? Possible.

It's also possible that they were objects of pornography like the frescoes or served a more specific purpose within mystery rites conducted by a select caste like the Phalluses of Delos. I don't think anyone knows for sure.

What we do know, is that going back to the earliest cave paintings in existence we can make out the silhouette of a species of Great Ape who has discovered some sense of shame and so has covered their genitalia with grass skirts.

Richard said...

Unfortunately, I just lost a long post also. It appeared to post, but when I reloaded the page it was gone.

A few sparknotes, for posterity:
- The fascina and other related Roman phalluses existed specifically because women were too shamed to look upon them, that's how they were able to ward off the evil feminine spirit invidia, or the evil eye.
- The erotic frescoes of pompeii were in brothels, which also existed in WW2-era PA
- Delos was a religious sanctuary island in the middle of nowhere, and Bacchus rituals were famously the opposite of normative greek culture
- The Holy Prepuce tells us nothing about how normalized foreskins are in Catholic churches
- If cave people were so enlightened about nudity, why did they cover their junk with grass skirts and leaves?

I'm going to have to tap out for now, I don't feel like losing another one. That hurts!

Richard said...

My posts are disappearing now too. I’m going to tap out

David Apatoff said...

Richard, your news is quite alarming, especially because I view the discussions to be the life's blood of this blog. I've asked the blogger support desk for help on this following Kev Ferrara's problem, but but so far they've come up with nothing useful. Everything that gets caught in blogger's "questionable" filter is supposed to be preserved in their "awaiting moderation" bin. As of today that bin contained spam from companies in India and China but nothing from you or Kev.

I'll ask you the same question they had me ask Kev; did your post appear before it disappeared, or did it just not show up at all?

I see that your post alerting me to the problem arrived and stayed, so I cannot imagine why your earlier post did not.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- My comment wasn't intended to celebrate the spread of pornography, which I agree has coarsened and in some ways debased sex for global audiences, often inappropriately young. My comment was instead intended to say that the images Lindsay (and other artists) have created have been with us always, that visualization of these themes is more central to human amatory experience than any of the other senses except for touch. (Certainly more central than the auditory or olfactory enhancements.) There is a reason why the ancient Egyptian craftsmen who labored on beautiful tomb paintings made graffiti of hastily scribbled charcoal drawings of erotic themes: it's just a fact that people-- especially guys-- like to visualize that side of human experience, and for millennia the only way to get a satisfactory visualization was to call upon an artist.

As you say, photographic pornography has now reduced "the cost to entry [to] practically zero for producing product," and that has likely resulted in what you call the "societal disaster" of photographic pornography, but the people who could afford to hire artists for such work throughout history may have had a wider and more mature cultural base.

I don't know how many versions of "L'Origine du monde" were commissioned by wealthy patrons for private enjoyment. I suspect that much of that art was destroyed, just as JMW Turner's explicit drawings from brothels were destroyed by Ruskin, Toulouse Lautrec's explicit drawings were destroyed by his mother, and many of Degas' brothel drawings were destroyed or hidden away by "friends" eager to protect his reputation. By the time Picasso came along, more of this art started to survive. Regardless, there remains a huge amount of this art, such as the miniatures commissioned by aristocrats in India and Persia, that is quite beautiful but which you will not see unless you make a point of looking for it.

Richard said...

For background -- I've always had problems with posts from mobile disappearing, so I don't use mobile to comment on your blog. That's been going on for years.

With this new issue, the post appeared to work, but then disappeared the next time I loaded the page. I then wrote another post to summarize the first, which also disappeared on page reload. This was on Windows 10, Edge Version 106.0.1370.47 (Official build) (64-bit), using my Google Account.

Richard said...

Testing if the same conditions replicate the issue or if this is intermittent:


Unfortunately, I just lost a long post also. It appeared to post, but when I reloaded the page it was gone.

A few sparknotes, for posterity:
- The fascina and other related Roman phalluses existed specifically because women were too shamed to look upon them, that's how they were able to ward off the evil feminine spirit invidia, or the evil eye.
- The erotic frescoes of pompeii were in brothels, which also existed in WW2-era PA
- Delos was a religious sanctuary island in the middle of nowhere, and Bacchus rituals were famously the opposite of normative greek culture
- The Holy Prepuce tells us nothing about how normalized foreskins are in Catholic churches
- If cave people were so enlightened about nudity, why did they cover their junk with grass skirts and leaves?

I'm going to have to tap out for now, I don't feel like losing another one. That hurts!

Richard said...

Fortunately, I made a copy of one of the posts that disappeared and I was able to replicate that posting it under the same conditions caused it to disappear. This time I'm testing if the same post, but not using my Google Account also causes the post to disappear:


Unfortunately, I just lost a long post also. It appeared to post, but when I reloaded the page it was gone.

A few sparknotes, for posterity:
- The fascina and other related Roman phalluses existed specifically because women were too shamed to look upon them, that's how they were able to ward off the evil feminine spirit invidia, or the evil eye.
- The erotic frescoes of pompeii were in brothels, which also existed in WW2-era PA
- Delos was a religious sanctuary island in the middle of nowhere, and Bacchus rituals were famously the opposite of normative greek culture
- The Holy Prepuce tells us nothing about how normalized foreskins are in Catholic churches
- If cave people were so enlightened about nudity, why did they cover their junk with grass skirts and leaves?

I'm going to have to tap out for now, I don't feel like losing another one. That hurts!

Richard said...

Fortunately, I made a copy of one of the posts that disappeared, and I was able to replicate that posting it under the same conditions caused it to disappear again, so the issue does not appear to be intermittent. I also tried testing if the same post, but not using my Google Account also disappeared. Yes it does.

This time I'm testing if the same post, but using Google Chrome, also disappears:


Unfortunately, I just lost a long post also. It appeared to post, but when I reloaded the page it was gone.

A few sparknotes, for posterity:
- The fascina and other related Roman phalluses existed specifically because women were too shamed to look upon them, that's how they were able to ward off the evil feminine spirit invidia, or the evil eye.
- The erotic frescoes of pompeii were in brothels, which also existed in WW2-era PA
- Delos was a religious sanctuary island in the middle of nowhere, and Bacchus rituals were famously the opposite of normative greek culture
- The Holy Prepuce tells us nothing about how normalized foreskins are in Catholic churches
- If cave people were so enlightened about nudity, why did they cover their junk with grass skirts and leaves?

I'm going to have to tap out for now, I don't feel like losing another one. That hurts!

Richard said...

Fortunately, I made a copy of one of the posts that disappeared, and I was able to replicate that posting it under the same conditions caused it to disappear again, so the issue does not appear to be intermittent. I also tried testing if the same post, but not using my Google Account disappeared. Yes it does.

I also tried testing the same comment, but from Google Chrome Version 106.0.5249.119 (Official Build) (64-bit), and it also disappears.

I'm theorizing that this post will work, and that blogger is automatically blocking posts with certain words in them.

Richard said...

That does appear to be the issue. Testing a work-around:

----

Unfortunately, I just lost a long post also. It appeared to post, but when I reloaded the page it was gone.

A few sparknotes, for posterity:
- The fascina and other related Roman ph@lluses existed specifically because women were too shamed to look upon them, that's how they were able to ward off the evil feminine spirit invidia, or the evil eye.
- The er0tic frescoes of pompeii were in br0thels, which also existed in WW2-era PA
- Delos was a religious sanctuary island in the middle of nowhere, and Bacchus rituals were famously the opposite of normative greek culture
- The Holy Prepvce tells us nothing about how normalized f0reskins are in Catholic churches
- If cave people were so enlightened about nudity, why did they cover their junk with grass skirts and leaves?

I'm going to have to tap out for now, I don't feel like losing another one. That hurts!

Richard said...

Testing the words in isolation:
phalluses
brothels
erotic
foreskins

Richard said...

Running some testing on the words in isolation:
phalluses
brothels
er0tic
foreskins

Richard said...

It appears that the offending word is er0tic.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- I'm very grateful for this information, which gave me something tangible to take back to blogger. They've been treating me like I'm crazy. It would, however, be insane for them to filter words like "er0tic." All of my settings are on "allow any adult content."

This would certainly change what I can write about in the future.

kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...

David,

I used the word 'er0tic' several times earlier in the thread and so did you.

I just tested the actual word in a version of this post and indeed my post disappeared.

So if that word is being flagged, I would guess it is only after some threshold is reached for its usage. I presume to prevent some kind of repetitive porn spamming.

Sean Farrell said...

David, It also happened with the last post I put up yesterday morning, but it showed up today.

Since the moral proscriptions of the Catholic Church have been eclipsed, the rise of different authorities have become more obvious. Fears, doubts, insecurities and presumptions have gained greater authority in the individual and society. One might note that we are witnessing a wider and broader level of cruelty which follows the interpretation of sex as power and dominance. More so, governments and NGOs with their endless experts are acting with levels of conformity and near absolute authority not associated with the west accept under seriously threatening wartime conditions.

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

Congratulations David, looks like the issue has been resolved (for now?)

It's clearly karmic that my comments defending censorship were censored by the google bots.

kev ferrara said...

Speaking of Karmic, Richard, I left a comment in the AI thread two posts ago regarding AI and Kim Jung Gi, if you hadn't seen it. Would be interested in your response to it.

Btw, thanks for sussing out the trigger word. Good work.

Richard said...

It's been longstanding and acceptable among legal and ethical systems for living artists to knockoff other living Artists. There are thousands of Frank Frazetta, Jack Kirby or Frank Miller copy-cats.

Hundreds of human artists have created subpar copies of Master Kim's work since he passed away, myself included. People don't tend to view this negatively - I haven't been called a ghoul for it nor have I heard anyone else be referred to as such. It is hard for me to see why there would be an ethically significant difference between silicon copycats and those composed of synapses and axons.

The guy who trained the Kim Jung Gi corpus is being bombarded with crazy accusations. If a person made the same pictures, no one would have noticed. If said human copycat claimed "Look, I can make new Kim Jung Gi pictures.", people would have replied "Lol, no". That would have been the end of it. This whole thing feels distinctly like our weekly exhausting social justice warrior campaign to me. Brigading twitter garbage is the basest form of human interaction.

What's much more interesting to me is how cartooning continues to evade the ability of AI even now, while classical painting, hyperrealism, CGIish work, and photography do not. Usually, the more abstract the cartooning, the greater the failure rate. To me, this illustrates that cartooning is more innately human than other visual arts, it is more intrinsically poetic - something I've long suspected but can now measure tangibly as AI manages to replace everything but the toonz.

(The comment you included from some redditor is ... a comment from some redditor. Am I supposed to comment on some random redditor? I don't have a reddit account for a reason.)

[David -- I had to edit this post three times taking out curse words to get it to post.]

Richard said...

FWIW, it appears that sh1t and @ss are also on the list of words that now make comments disappear. And that, yes, comments are still disappearing. Is erotic still on the list?

Richard said...

FWIW, it appears that sh1t and @ss are also on the list of words that now make comments disappear. And that, yes, comments are still disappearing. And Er0tic will still make your posts disappear.

Richard said...

David, if you would like help configuring and securing a blog on your own domain, and forwarding this blog there, please let me know. I would be happy to do the work of maintaining the site for you.

David Apatoff said...

It seems that blogger has come up with some new algorithm to help all of us out by protecting us from unseemly content. This is extremely irritating (although I admit their filter has recently intercepted numerous posts from a Mumbai escort service which believes this discussion group is a likely source of business) I am seeing what I can do to get it turned off.

Richard, your very kind offer of assistance in securing a blog on my own domain is much appreciated although I would not want to impose. Here too I am investigating my options.

On the other hand, perhaps this AI conscience looking over our shoulder will restrain me from going any further down the path of comparing examples of licentious artistry with Richard. I don't know enough about the history to form a valid conclusion about prevailing practices, but I do know that I spent 10 days in Greece this summer visiting sites like the Archaeological Museum in Athens where I saw an "apotropaic statuette" of a man with an oversized phallus, which hung at the entrance of a home. From the phallus hung a bell. Today your neighbors might consider such an ornament at the entrance of your house to be in poor taste, but apparently in the times of Plato and Socrates it was considered hilarious.

I have one more "crimes against art" post involving nudity already written. I'll post that and see how the discussion goes.

Laurence John said...

The AI generated Kim Jung Gi drawings look like his work at a glance, through half closed eyes, but they're full of the usual scrambled and fudged anatomy and faces that happens with AI multi-figure compositions. So they're a complete fail at trying to be him. They actually look more like swishy fashion drawings, or architectural space sketches in which the figures only need to be loosely indicated.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FeaxyJGWQAYK1AC.png

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FeaxyqjWYAE_jkU.png

I can imagine that the AI will have to be trained JUST on good line drawing, before it gets any better.

Laurence John said...

Richard: “ To me, this illustrates that cartooning is more innately human than other visual arts, it is more intrinsically poetic”

You need to define what you mean by ‘poetic’ first.

If you mean by ‘poetic’ that the brain has to jump larger, empty gaps across the cartoony image to connect one highly abstracted / stylised mark-making decision to the next, in order to flesh out or ‘see’ the image, then I broadly agree.

Does it follow that Richard Thompson or Bill Waterson is therefore a more ‘intrinsically poetic’ artist than say, Dean Cornwell ?

That’s quite the debate, and again, it depends on how you’re using the term ‘poetic’. For instance, although a Cornwell requires less imaginative gap closing than a Waterson, you could argue that the ‘poetic’ quality of the final image resides in the total dramatic staging, which requires lots of subtle lighting effects and / or colour relations to pull off.

(This points out a general problem in the (over) use of the term ‘poetic’ as if it’s synonymous with ‘artistic quality’).

kev ferrara said...

A cartoon tends to have one big expressive idea to it; goofy & silly, witty & clever, wild & wiggly, sloppy & overflowing, appealing & cutesy... whatever it is.

Its particulars are articulated with whimsical and exaggerated stylistic conventions; good cartoons tend to be built of such blithe ready-mades, written in line, and literally nothing more. Any aspect of the moment depicted, where there is no ready-to-hand convention developed is simply ignored. And in the place of what should be, we get a gloss-over; either empty space or a super basic connecting-line that we barely notice, which hooks up two narratively-necessary spots into a relation.

The predicate for the comic conventions, is that there is an underlying comic dream-world behind every comedic voice which is a little bit (or a lot) off-the-wall. We are constantly looking at comedic distortion through a layer of normalcy.

Yet, for each comedian/cartoonist, there is a kind of consistency in that nuttiness. It isn't some filter; it is a whole way of being; a sensibility that creates its own realm. It goes far beyond handwriting or speech patterns, although those develop necessarily to accommodate the underlying sensibility.

In short, a cartoon is the sketch of a funny sensibility codified via its unique blithe conventions.

For most comic voices, it takes a whole childhood and many years of adulthood to develop the realm and its handwritten (or mouthspoken) conventions fully.

AI doesn't truck in layered communication; which includes any kind of meaning, including comic meaning. AI is much more adapted to the superficiality of photography, light rays bouncing off surfaces.

On Dean Cornwell, Thornton Oakley, a Pyle student, once called the Brandywine Method a 'cartooning of the depths.' To develop a poetic reality is an order of magnitude more difficult than creating a comic reality. Because nothing can be dropped; so every aspect of experience must be made to contribute to the central idea. And this requires orchestration in the composing. Which entails development and theme. And at this point, the work starts to get a little bit scary, weird, and intimidating; as it starts radiating with a density of meaning like no other communication in life.

Richard said...

I can imagine that the AI will have to be trained JUST on good line drawing, before it gets any better.

Laurence, I'm going to do a bad job explaining this, and I apologize...

I don't think it's going to work out to be that simple.

All paintings, whether they be realistic or impressionistic, have a connection to reality. This means that all other paintings can exchange relevant information between them. They all rely on the same general principles of anatomy, surface, optics, perspective, atmosphere and value. By being grounded in these shared principles, AI can apply knowledge between them.

In addition to sharing a ruleset with other paintings, paintings also share rulesets with photographs. Painting AIs are always trained on photography corpuses, which gives them extra context to create what appears to be new art.

Because both paintings and photographs share a common foundation, the AI can glean useful data for painting from a group of photos. This is because they aren't that different--paintings usually operate on Semiotic Indexing in much the same way as photographs. This kind of likeness can be faked due to its light mediation by intentionality.

Let me try to provide an example:
Fur. There is a clear relationship between a painting of bear fur to actual bear fur. There exists some algorithm that, given a photograph of bear fur, can extrapolate what that bear fur would look like if painted by any specific painter with a low error rate.

But in cartooning, is there some algorithm that could extrapolate from a photo of a teddy bear to Winnie the Pooh? Or, let's set the threshold even lower, is there some algorithm that could extrapolate from Paddington Bear to Winnie the Pooh?

My instinct, which I am struggling to put into words, is that there is a sort of barrier of intentionality which separates Paddington from Pooh, a barrier which does not exist for Generalized Bear Fur to NC Wyeth Bear Fur.

To cross this barrier of intentionality, a cartooning AI would need to be able to extrapolate algorithmically from useful information in Bill Waterson and Jack Kirby and Paul Coker Jr to apply to Richard Thompson. Why? Because no one cartoonist will provide a large enough corpus in a human lifetime, just numerically speaking, to train an algorithm. It is necessary to include many cartoonists to provide enough data.

But if the information in a Jack Kirby can't assist you in producing Richard Thompson comic, as I suspect, there is still a technological wall that we will need to cross with technological breakthroughs. We would have to discover the class of math equations which can produce Calvin from a photo of a zany boy before we could create something like that.

There is also, I suspect, an issue with how current neural networks reduce error when applied to the problem of cartoons. When lines are meaningless, they're just meaningless. Value and hue have more "shades" of incorrectness.

Richard said...

You need to define what you mean by ‘poetic’ first.

By poetic I mean processed or filtered through human intentionality towards an aesthetic purpose. A cartoon is entirely processed through intention. A painting is part intention, part indexically journalistic.

Does it follow that Richard Thompson or Bill Waterson is therefore a more ‘intrinsically poetic’ artist than say, Dean Cornwell ?

I think I would frame this as more "purely" poetic. Dean Cornwell's work is filtered through a mile of intention, it's why he's so much better than the competition. But his work still contains many layers of the journalistic as well. Bill Waterson is entirely intention/entirely poem, there's nothing journalistic that remains in his work after reality has been filtered by his personal vision.

Where painting is concerned, journalistic content can be used to fill in the gaps where intentionality is lacking. An AI (or a human painter) can hide its lack of intentionality by making something look real. In cartoons, this trick doesn't exist. There is no hyper-realism for cartoons.

Richard said...

On Dean Cornwell, Thornton Oakley, a Pyle student, once called the Brandywine Method a 'cartooning of the depths.'

Kev, I missed your comment before I posted. Busy chasing four kids around while trying to type that out.

I've expressed that same idea on this blog before about Rubens. To me, the great painters are all cartoonists but with traditional painter's tools. I see that quality in Cornwell as well. The work as a whole reflects a singular personal vision.

I refer to Rubens as a cartoonist because his work, much like Waterson's, contains "a sensibility that creates its own realm." Well said, thank you.

kev ferrara said...

I don't have time to wack every mole you've scattered about on the head, so I'll just bang on this one noggen, which goes to the core of your argument....

All paintings, whether they be realistic or impressionistic, have a connection to reality. This means that all other paintings can exchange relevant information between them. They all rely on the same general principles of anatomy, surface, optics, perspective, atmosphere and value.

There is a profound problem in this view. Which is that poetic works of art do not use ‘reality’ in the same way that journalistic works use it.

In journalism, in recording or photography, a thing is a thing; physics is physics and can be explained via recourse to physical theory, which is a kind of dogma. All dogma, all facts are analytic, and analytic work is pre-deconstructed into distinct identities.

In poetry, we have synthesis. And in synthetic works of art, there is only really distinctions of effect. The particular identity of an object or reality of a phenomenon is only incidental – only incidentally evoked, like a standing wave – in the flowing process of expressing the meaning of its larger poetic context; what it helps symbolize, metaphorize, suggest, or otherwise imaginatively analogize.

This is a fundamentally different ruleset.

You cannot compare an evoked horse to stated one. Unless you have the imagination to complete the evoked horse in the mind and visually associate it with the stated horse, or whatever horse archetype or memory you have stored in your memory banks.

But AI does not have that imagination. So it can only compare one stated horse to other stated horses.

Laurence John said...


I want to see if we can agree what 'poetic' means in the context of a visual image.

___

Richard: "By poetic I mean processed or filtered through human intentionality towards an aesthetic purpose. A cartoon is entirely processed through intention"

I assume you mean by 'intention' that the cartoonist / artist has built the image from nothing, without something in front of them to observe / study (or very little anyway, in terms of visual reference), and that everything is marshalled to the expressive force of the cartoon idea.

"A painting is part intention, part indexically journalistic"

As Kev has already pointed out, I don't think 'journalistic' is a good choice of word. When i look at great realist painting I never think that I'm looking at 'journalism'. It sounds like a trendy term that someone would use to disparage such painting, as in "Sargent is mere journalism". I would suggest replacing it with 'representational' or 'observational'. With all of the decision making that that type of painting involves - the artist has everything in front of them to observe, and make an interpretation of.

But I get the point that you think painting has a large amount of observational in it, therefore cannot be as pure (in poetic terms) as a cartoon image which contains almost zero observational, and is therefore almost entirely expressive.

___


Kev,

Richard says that cartoons are 'intrinsically poetic', so how are you using the term 'poetic' to differentiate it from Richard's (bearing in mind my own reading of his statement above) in the context of your statement:

"To develop a poetic reality is an order of magnitude more difficult than creating a comic reality"




kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

I don't think Richard means "created from the ground up" by "Intentionality." I think he means that some reference has been purposefully distorted from fact/mimesis/journalism for expressive purposes, and evidently so.

I can't agree that "poetic" can be defined as "processed or filtered through human intentionality towards an aesthetic purpose."

What exactly is processed or filtered? How? Why? To what end? And what is an 'aesthetic purpose'?

This blogger page was intentionally made, and has an aesthetic effect. Is it then poetry?

Everything you can see has an aesthetic effect. You see a blue bowl; you feel the color sensation of blue, you feel the haptic sensation of the bowl-shape. You see wood paneling on the wall, you feel the flatness, you detect the woodiness, the hardness, the naturalness, maybe the era or means of production, etc.

Nobody is going to say a bowl or wood paneling is poetry, however, even though they have aesthetic quality.

The “What is Poetry?” question comes down to whether any particular aesthetic effect has some artistry, whether it has sufficient linguistic complexity, whether it suggests and evokes ideas beyond its own identity, beyond fact. And in doing that does it get at some truth (or Truth) in a roundabout way?

What is true is movement, change, force, dynamics, modulation, evolution. Photographs freeze an instant, thus producing a lie. There is a story, a narration in every moment, in every thing. The world is alive. Thus poetry is always structured and orchestrated as a narrative and with subnarratives; which only means we experience information sequentially; from the general to the specific, from early to late, from weak to intense, from stability to activity, and so on.

kev ferrara said...

But I get the point that you think painting has a large amount of observational in it, therefore cannot be as pure (in poetic terms) as a cartoon image which contains almost zero observational, and is therefore almost entirely expressive.

Since when is poetry not exceeding observational? The artist-poet is a sponge; distractingly perceptive. And necessarily so. For who would want to look at art that is not showing you something you both recognize and never quite saw?

The great talents have the capacity to resynthesize reality from a profound and hypersensitive absorption of their experience. Is it just emotions that they observe? Or the seeming synaesthetic equivalance of emotions with certain abstract designs? Hardly.

Splash paintings are ‘entirely expressive’, entirely emotional, or sensational… but they aren’t poems. Make some crazy noises with your mouth, and they will be ‘entirely expressive.’ And won’t be poetry. Look at an alley wall and you’ll find expressive forms at every scale. And what of it? Something is missing that keeps these examples from being poetry.

To again refer back to Herbert Read's aphorism; The function of art is not to transmit feeling so that others may experience the same feeling. The real function of art is to express feeling and transmit understanding. This is a qualitative matter; organizational, linguistic, referential.

There is no such thing as purifying poetry of content. Poems are about; they mean. How can something mean without saying something about something?

Laurence John said...

Kev: "Since when is poetry not exceeding(ly) observational ?"

I probably shouldn't have used the word 'observational'. Let's stick with 'representational' while I try to steel-man Richard's take:

Richard claims that cartoons are more 'purely poetic' than more realistic painting because there is less (or even zero) 'journalism' in them, which I'm taking to mean 'representational' realism.

Therefore, the less a drawing adheres to a real-life likeness of the thing it represents - i.e. the more stylised / built out of cartoon conventions / built out of 'blithe ready-mades' (your phrase) - the more 'intrinsically poetic' it is.

kev ferrara said...

Therefore, the less a drawing adheres to a real-life likeness of the thing it represents - i.e. the more stylised / built out of cartoon conventions / built out of 'blithe ready-mades' (your phrase) - the more 'intrinsically poetic' it is.

Dubious claim.

Cartooning is graphic, and graphic is blatant. The 'fine' in fine art means subtle. The subtlety of great poetry is that you sense meaning beyond the narrative veneer, but you can't put your finger on why. That's because the meaning is sublated/subliminal behind some narrative front that appears naturalistic.

But the more you look at great work the more you realize even the 'naturalistic' veneer is built of suggestions, effects. To make poetry seem naturalistic requires wave upon weave of suggestive effects. Everything manifests and is part of an aesthetic effect of sensual meaning-force at every scale, from edge to edge, all interwoven. This gets scary, it is very intense.

Whereas cartoons are simple big effects, with the appeal of simplicity. And built of blithe conventions; conventions being a kind of pre-developed code, codes being anaesthetic in terms of how their meaning is conveyed.

The aim of the poet is to present significant aesthetic experience and to vivify or revivify whatever is representated by seeing it afresh through the filter of emotional-sensational meaning (aesthetic force-effects).

Poesis is thus, necessarily an imaginative process. And a difficult one. Poesis is observation, imagination, or realized construction distilled down to abstraction then articulated through suggestions. (What is observed, imagined, or constructed is experience.)

A poem is a kind of narrative, even if that narrative takes place in an instant (even a face is read sequentially). And narratives refer to reality.

Poetry is the narration of scalar or 'musical' suggestions about sequential referential suggestions; in superposition, orchestrated, concatenated... that all contribute to a revealing central great effect, also suggestive and recognized as true and fateful.

To the extent anything refers to reality as it appears, it has Iconicity. Cartoons and illustrations alike have iconicity. Cartoons, to the extent they are poetry, could not be so without referring to a reality we all share. So it is hardly the case that cartoons have 'zero' journalism. (Most journalism is a cartooning of its own; most journalists are neither great minds nor great poets. And they usual proffer highly simplified narratives.)

As I said before, the difference between a cartoon/comic world and a more fully fleshed out poetic world is that the cartoon comic world can simply drop out whole chunks of experience without suggesting them. Leaving blanks and glosses. Whereas something that poeticizes an experience naturalistically must marshal every quality of the event, setting, atmosphere, to expressing the epiphany of the main pictorial idea.


Richard said...

Richard claims that cartoons are more 'purely poetic' than more realistic painting because there is less (or even zero) 'journalism' in them, which I'm taking to mean 'representational' realism.

I don't think I mean representational, I think I mean journalism. Cartoons are also representational, they represent stuff. I'm talking about a journalism-to-editorializing spectrum within the representational.

Ron Mueck and Hyper-realism are on the furthest side of the journalistic end of the spectrum. Next to hyper-realism is Trompe-l'œil still life, slightly more editorializing but still squarely journalistic. Pieces on this end try to recreate an experience that the artist is having.

On the opposite side, pure editorialization.

So the primary rubric is the degree to which an artist or artwork relies on external reference material, as opposed to human memory and the rendering engine of the brain. When filtered through mental systems, any subject will take on a distinctly mind flavor. Works that are informed by reference may have a more naturalistic flavor but will be less "of mind".

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Mueck, where works are entirely human-mind flavored, are pictures I classify as cartoons. I don't mean this just in the Waterson/Thompson sense, this mind-flavor does not need to stop at the highly simplified. Kim Jung Gi tastes entirely mind-flavored. Rubens tastes almost entirely mind-flavored. An image with pictorial depth can be built up from the same mental faculties, memory and imagination, without reliance on external reference.

This mind-first way of working is largely relegated to entertainment today, with Ruan Jia perhaps being the most obvious example, but there's nothing inherent to the process which limits it to works for entertainment. In the middle ages and in the folk art of several cultures, this was the standard practice for picture making. Landscape painting, prior to tube paints and photographic reference, were also historically of this character -- and so the older pictures are best.

To talk about an artist in specific, Norman Rockwell is an amazing painter but I believe he could have been significantly better by putting the camera down and firing the models. Every effect in his paintings that comes from a source outside of his mind is an area of the picture where art was not allowed to happen. This can be seen in "How I Make a Picture" where, for instance, the initial sketches of the fireman inside the frame are filled with character and imagination and poetry, until the stage that he fleshes them out from reference. Then the picture dies, and becomes only slightly more interesting than a photograph of the same.

Laurence John said...


Richard: "I don't think I mean representational, I think I mean journalism. Cartoons are also representational, they represent stuff. I'm talking about a journalism-to-editorializing spectrum within the representational."

I'm using 'representational' in the same way you're using 'journalism'; a realistic study from an external reference, whether from life or photo.

The problem with the word 'poetry' is it's so broad and subjective. I understand the way you're using it here, but in your Rockwell example (as in my Cornwell example) it could be argued that the ‘poetic’ quality resides in the total dramatic effect of the final image - the staging, acting, art direction, attention to real-life detail, quality of sentiment, message etc... In which case, the fact that he'd used lots of photo-ref to aid the realisation of the final image would make no difference to its 'poetic' effect... if that's where you saw the poetry.

kev ferrara said...

EVERY RELATION is a potential source of sensual meaning/effect. Every relation, from the tiniest to the most comprehensive, in out, up down, skipping, linear, scalar, reverently referential or expressionistically cartooned; it doesn’t matter. The Effect - in the context of narrative - is the organizing form of poetry.

The organizing form of poetry is not mind-flavor. The failure of a sand-dry medical illustrator to accurately render a heart has “mind-flavor”. An accident can produce a relation that causes an effect that works in the context of a work, without the artist knowing why. Where is the ‘intentionality’ in that?

Meanwhile, there are intentional aesthetic attempts that fail to produce an effect, or which screw up other effects. Such is ‘mind flavor’ that actually destroys poetry.

FYI, there are different period in Norman Rockwell’s career. Early he was much more of poet of form. Only after his studio burned did he bifurcate his work into rendered jokes vs Art for the ages.

Richard said...

it could be argued that the ‘poetic’ quality resides in the total dramatic effect of the final image - the staging, acting, art direction, attention to real-life detail, quality of sentiment, message etc.

All of those factors can play in expressing some visual poetry. Absolutely.

In which case, the fact that he'd used lots of photo-ref to aid the realisation of the final image would make no difference to its 'poetic' effect

I think it still matters. The artist's specific goal will be better conveyed when directly from the source, rather than pieced together from references. The artist has a picture in their mind, they can see what it is they are trying to communicate before looking for external references. Although there may be close matches to what they're envisioning, it will never be exact. The image in their head tastes Cartoon, in this broad sense.

Therefore, the artist who works directly from reference is left to struggle with trying to balance their internal vision against the information in the external reference. They must be careful of manipulating the reference in a way that it continues to match their internal vision. They have to to ensure that it does not add effects, details, or qualities not in their internal vision.

And it seems to me that the artists become reliant. With the reference providing a hundred ready-made answers, the artist is now out of the driver's seat to the little questions that make a world of difference. The mind naturally gravitates towards the path of least resistance. Imitating elements of the reference material – even if they don't quite communicate what you're thinking – is so tempting.

Even for autistically painstaking artists who carve up details from hundreds of pieces of reference to approach what is in their mind's eye, it will never be a perfect match. They could get closer to their vision by just focusing on the perfectly good image that's already in their head and working hard towards translating it onto the canvas or paper. It may take more work, but it is work worth doing. (If they don't have a perfectly good image in their head, they're not artists. If a musician can't hear the orchestra in their head, they're not a musician.)

For Rockwell, his characters were all modeled after his neighbors. Are we to believe that every scene in Rockwell's head was only of people he knew and had at hand? He never envisioned an image where someone outside of the 25 living people in his 10 mile radius would have been a better fit? Never was someone from his past a better match? His grandfather never earned a place in his pictures?

Obviously, he thought that the realism of the face (or the ease of using reference) mattered more than faithfully creating the art in his head. This is putting reference before poetry. A society that starts down the path of over-referencing reality finds it hard to turn back; audiences become addicted to the magic trick of art, to the sensation of the lifelike, and appreciate them more than organic free-range human expression. Artists become addicted to the easy answers of the morgue.

An accident can produce a relation that causes an effect that works in the context of a work, without the artist knowing why. Where is the ‘intentionality’ in that?

There is no such thing as an accident in poetry -- poetry is all purposeful. Accident is journalism. An accident is how we get to splashed paint -- a perfect history of paint that got splashed. Something that happens without intention may be striking, but if the artist doesn't know what it express or why it works, it's just aimless gibberish and cannot work towards the artist's intention.

kev ferrara said...

There is no such thing as an accident in poetry.

Thousands of artists would be fascinated to hear this.

but if the artist doesn't know what it express or why it works, it's just aimless gibberish and cannot work towards the artist's intention.

Don't you understand that the conscious mind is stupid and the unconscious mind is a genius. When the artist says he doesn't understand why something works, he means his intellect doesn't get it. Because the intellect is inherently analytical-linear, and art is not. Most artists I've met, and almost all non-artists, are disconnected between the types of minds they run in parallel.

Fyi, there are thousands upon thousands of paintings that have backgrounds that are quite abstract, even vague, which get increasingly coherent as the depth comes forward, until the focus crystallizes on a subject. In these backgrounds one will find many 'happy accidents.' The effective movement between vagueness and clarity/identity is a perfectly valid one.

kev ferrara said...

If they don't have a perfectly good image in their head, they're not artists.

Whoah there, Buckaroo.

Vanishingly few artists can imagine an image wholly in their holey heads. Even the greatest Imagists struggled with this challenge.

Most art is improvised, designed and constructed, not imagined. And of those works that are imagined, the vast majority - maybe all - are only partially imagined; some essence grasped in mind; often the arabeseque that cartoons the main figures and their relational energies; a prayer of a sketch of the fleeting interior dream.

Sketches of some of the greatest images of all time exist. Evidencing a development period outside the head. I can count on one hand the stories I've heard of a truly great image being blasted into being straight from the noggen. Surely even those required some on-canvas improvisation.

If a musician can't hear the orchestra in their head, they're not a musician.

Most musicians can't create orchestrations of melodies, rhythms, and instruments in their mind's ear. Most can't even create melodies.

Presumably you mean a composer should be able to hear the whole score in their heads? Which, again, almost nobody in history has ever been able to do.

This is the reason why the sketch - the generality, the gist - is the first step. Because if you begin with a sense of the total effect you are going for, you can work backwards to the parts. And then build back out, part by part, to the articulated whole.

It often takes quite a lot of jiggering to get the sense of completeness that signals "this is a fully imagined work." This is why the principle of unity is so governing.

Richard said...

This is the reason why the sketch - the generality, the gist - is the first step.

I'm not saying great artists don't sketch, quite the opposite. This is what I meant by "focusing on the perfectly good image that's already in their head and working hard towards translating it onto the canvas or paper". Creating an image from the imagination should take MORE sketching. There's no ready-made answers when one works from the brain. They have to envision, and re-envision, and re-envision the scene and the objects in it to find a way to make them work together.

Even as the artist grasps the scene in the large, they need to be able to flatten it for the canvas and a single POV, they have to work out how each figure interacts with the others while avoiding poses which don't read clearly. They need to relight and rerender the characters' facial expressions that are flashing on their mind's eye, since they likely envisioned them straight on with full light, rather than indirectly and partially lit as the picture might require.

This all usually takes sketching -- but without the ability to see a character's facial expressions, the poses they strike, picture each anatomical part, and zoom in on fabric textures or optical effects, that person is not cut out to be an artist. That's like being a tone-deaf musician.



there are thousands upon thousands of paintings that have backgrounds that are quite abstract [...] In these backgrounds one will find many 'happy accidents.'

I've seen plenty of "good" abstract expressionist paintings composed the same way. They are full of happy accidents; some manage to evoke all kinds of feelings, memories, and sensations. That the pictures evoke does not mean that they mean. Chasing happy accidents is not an intention to communicate something specific; it's the desire to already be communicating. It's making sounds and hoping that some of them resemble speech without having anything to say.

I am no musician, but I know the fretboard for any Ionian key, and can fingerpick around them to a rhythm. When noodling on my instrument, I'll visualize ahead up the fretboard knowing "That pattern up there should sound good." But I rarely know what noises are going to emanate, I'm half tone-deaf, but by sticking to the rules and the shapes, they usually end up sounding music-esque.

That is not the same thing as being able to hear music in my brain. I don't pretend that what I am doing, and what musicians do are in the same class of activity -- I'm not a musician, I just play guitar. I have nothing musical to say, I can't hear sound inside my head at all, only pictures, but I can play guitar better than most amateurs. I can piece together a song that sounds like something by plagiarizing bits and pieces from other musicians, but it's not poetry.

This is your soft passages example. That class of artist has memorized the rules, so they know that if they go about turning down the yellows, crushing the values, and softening the edges, they can whip the brush around a bit and get something that reads distant, hazy and detailed -- but that's not the same as envisioning a battle in that distance, and deftly carving it out of the hazy void with the slightest touch.

kev ferrara said...

They could get closer to their vision by just focusing on the perfectly good image that's already in their head and working hard towards translating it onto the canvas or paper. It may take more work, but it is work worth doing. (If they don't have a perfectly good image in their head, they're not artists.

I use the definition of 'Image' as the Imagists/Brandywiners used it. So I was confused by what you meant by that word, which seems to be something like 'a complete-enough idea to work on.' Which is a much less strict prescription than I thought you were making.

They need to relight and rerender the characters' facial expressions that are flashing on their mind's eye, since they likely envisioned them straight on with full light, rather than indirectly and partially lit as the picture might require.

If my experience matters in the least, I see the lighting in my mind. Without the lighting, not only does mood go missing, and pattern, but so do all the most interesting haptic cues. To me, the shape complex, the lighting, spacial depth, and the forces are inseparable.

I do not imagine in front-facing, front-lit symmetry; ever. And I actually don't believe that that is the imagination at work. I believe front-facing symmetry is what left-brain artists produce because they can't get out of their own intellectual way to let their imaginations do the heavy lifting of actually living the Imagistic moment.

without the ability to see a character's facial expressions, the poses they strike, picture each anatomical part, and zoom in on fabric textures or optical effects, that person is not cut out to be an artist. That's like being a tone-deaf musician.

Directors do this kind of thing all the time. 'Go Fish' is an important part of the artist's toolkit. Why do you think artists have mirrors next to their drawing boards?

Also: Tones in music equal colors in art. Robert Fawcett, for example, is colorblind. And is reference-dependent. Many works of art are completely based on live model work. Alma-Tadema's work, for instance.

You are getting into a very sticky area calling well-researched art not-art, or studious artists not-artists. Poetry you don't like or appreciate, even bad poetry is still poetry.

I am no musician, but I know the fretboard for any Ionian key, and can fingerpick around them to a rhythm. When noodling on my instrument, I'll visualize ahead up the fretboard knowing "That pattern up there should sound good." But I rarely know what noises are going to emanate, I'm half tone-deaf, but by sticking to the rules and the shapes, they usually end up sounding music-esque.

I presume this is what a lot of musicians do. Listen to Frank Gambale's guitar playing. It's all patterns and algorithms and you can't hum any of it. I don't like his playing or his music, even though I am often impressed by it. But he is certainly a musician. Jazz musicians are constantly comping via patterns.

When still a teenager I taught guitar; the million-notes-a-second Paganini/Paul Gilbert pattern-by-pattern variety. I had blues scales with added chromatics mapped in my head up and down the neck in A and E. All to show off. And little else.

But by the time I was 21 I had had a 'bonfire of the vanities' moment and realized I only cared about songs. And I returned to the piano as my main instrument then and thereafter.

It took me a bit longer, on the art side, to realize I only cared about Images.

And much, much longer still to realize that Songs and Images are essentially the same thing.

kev ferrara said...

they can whip the brush around a bit and get something that reads distant, hazy and detailed -- but that's not the same as envisioning a battle in that distance, and deftly carving it out of the hazy void with the slightest touch.

True it isn't the same. But every square inch of the canvas isn't required to be specific in reference. The setting just needs to be specified sufficiently for the pictorial idea. It depends on the hierarchy of specificity, the effect one is going for. It is certainly not wise to depend on 'lucky brushstrokes'... but there are a thousand successful examples of wildly dashed-in distant shapes in situations of haze, dust, mist, precipitation, violence, etc. Which we project an identity into... given the surrounding context.

(I've discussed this point previously. I am against vagueness as a dominant quality; the projection test problem. But vagueness inside a well defined, well-believed context where it can suggest something that might fit; that can be a welcome note of focal contrast and an entry point of the imagination.)

Richard said...

You are getting into a very sticky area calling well-researched art not-art, or studious artists not-artists.

One can research without working their picture from reference. If you're making historical pieces, you better know the costumes and architecture from the time period. Again, I think working without reference requires MORE research, not less. When working from reference you can find a picture of a period costume, and let that reference guide you with little awareness. From the imagination, you need to have done 10x more studies to be able to instinctively know that period costume and conjure it at will.

A caricaturist must do numerous studies in order to understand the facial features of a person they're trying to depict. However, once they have a good understanding, they no longer need reference material and can rely on their memory. Their memory will itself provide the caricaturization. A bad caricaturist will use reference images as a crutch and simply change the size or shape of different features without truly understanding that particular face.

Good art, too, caricatures the rest of life. In the artist's mind, the caricature of a rainy day is already there. The aspects grow larger and smaller based on how we internalize them. To rely on reference to establish a picture of a rainy day, we're putting optical realism before our internal sense of raininess.


Robert Fawcett, for example, is colorblind. And is reference-dependent.

Fawcett's colors are a great example of exactly what I'm talking about. They're bad! At best, they're striking design choices. More often than not, they do nothing to contribute to the mood of the image. Usually, they work against it.

The colors he used said nothing, they had no purpose or feeling, because he could have no intention for them. Because they had no intention, they had no poetry. Fawcett has a lot of poetry in his work, but it would still be there with only line, value, and hues of umber. I'm not arguing against Fawcett, I'm arguing for a purification of Fawcett. I perceive an alternative timeline with an artist who is more Fawcett than Fawcett.


Poetry you don't like or appreciate, even bad poetry is still poetry.

While some pictures may share commonalities with visual poetry, and might even serve the same cultural purpose as poetic works, they aren't actually poetry. Photography can create the same feelings and tell stories in ways similar to visual poems, but they aren't poetry. A hyper-realistic copy of a photograph isn't a poem. As we move away from the mechanical camera or it's predecessor, the human copyist, poetry is possible.

I'm not attacking poetry I don't like. Ruan Jia is bad poetry. However, I will accept that it is accurately classified as poetry, it's entirely an expression of his internalities, however bugman that may be. What I am really describing here is the categorical distinction between works of art that come from the artist, versus those that are merely transmitted by the artist.

kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...

From the imagination, you need to have done 10x more studies to be able to instinctively know that period costume and conjure it at will.

Nobody paints specific physical character well purely from imagination, even with tremendous study and a great memory. The ‘accidentals’ of character are simply too proliferative, varied, necessary, and they’re everywhere.

If you want your art to use, for example, the character of a particular fabric to express something in your narrative, you must use reference directly. You can alter the reference – slightly - but you can’t conjure it from, pardon the pun, whole cloth. (I don’t know if you’ve tried, have you?)

Their memory will itself provide the caricaturization.

You mean their imagination. Having been fed.

Fawcett's colors are a great example of exactly what I'm talking about.

Yes but you’re missing my point. The point is that Fawcett has other poetics on offer. Even though he is the equivalent of ‘tone deaf.’

Photography can create the same feelings and tell stories in ways similar to visual poems, but they aren't poetry.

Since photographs are structurally/plastically deficient compared to visual poems in most ways, they actually can’t create most of the same feelings. Some yes, but not many. Either way, photos are a recording of what is in front of the camera. And we shouldn’t confuse the photo of a sculpture for the sculpture itself.

To conclude: 1905 had it right all along; imagination-based aesthetic effects and the kinds of relations that cause them are the most fitting method of analysis for understanding and creating poetics/tropes. And articulating the whys of the apoetic and anaesthetic; fixing art errors.

Adding-in controlling idea, theme, composition, and development - also from The Old Time Religion of Art - one can understand [poems images songs films] in a way that allows for deep back-engineering. Which was always the goal. (While also flagging that one cannot back-engineer real experience or real imagination.)

Being able to read effects as a kind of language allows one to parse the whole aesthetic complex: Even tonal qualities, even sublated intentions, even unconsciously introduced elements and factors; and all the rest of the hidden gold of aesthetic communication.

What I am really describing here is the categorical distinction between works of art that come from the artist, versus those that are merely transmitted by the artist.

I appreciate that distinction, but what do your methods get us? What is actionable in terms of engineering pictures in what you say? And what of the more subtle types of expressions that fall through the cracks in your paradigm?

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