TMI

Zero TheoremFrom an interview with Terry Gilliam at Slate, about his new movie, which sounds more like something Aronofsky would have made: “His new movie, “The Zero Theorem,” starring Christoph Waltz as an isolated computer programmer searching for the meaning of life in an overloaded info-society not far removed from our own, has been in the works for at least six years.”

Going back to the character that Christoph plays in this film, there’s so much going on on the surface, but what really got to me was the tremendous sadness. This person who has a creative drive, a creative urge, and is in a situation where there’s no way for him to fulfill that. That struck me as a situation of extreme pathos.

Well that’s how I see the film. It’s very funny but it’s basically tragedy. It’s very sad. It does move me. You can sort of do the parallels between me and that guy, but at heart that’s not really what it is. Not getting to do what you want to do is one thing, but his problem is that he lets life and relationships fall apart because he can’t grasp them. He’s so damaged — I think the scene when Bainsley [a femme fatale played by French actress Mélanie Thierry] leaves and offers for him to come along, he can’t do it. For me that’s the core scene of the film. What happened to this guy? So in the end, I had to leave him with some kind of sense of dignity and a kind of peace. It may only exist in a virtual world and at least he can let the sun set. He can control that much. I mean, when I make a film, there’s always a big autobiographical element in it, that’s the only way I know how to make films. I have to identify with the character in one way or another. And this one, in retrospect, ended up being quite interesting because when I started it I didn’t think it was going to be that film exactly, but that’s what it became.

Your portrayal of the world is so interesting, people will inevitably look back to your earlier films and other people’s. I felt like you were referencing “Blade Runner,” which came out just before “Brazil,” more directly than you ever have before. But the important thing to me was that this portrait of the informational clutter of the world is almost not a satire or an exaggeration. It’s maybe a tiny bit exaggerated, but it’s almost a portrait of the real world.

Yes. Thank you for that. People talk about it in some sort of future, dystopic view. No! It’s exactly what’s going on right now as far as I’m concerned. [Laughs.] When I walk out onto the streets of London, I’m bombarded exactly like Qohen is at the beginning of the film. It’s endless, it seems to me. And that’s why I sort of built that world around him. Everything in the world out there is colorful and people seem to be having a good time and shopping is bubbling away and things are being offered to you left, right and center. The workplace is a colorful place with people zipping around having a great time. There’s only one bit of darkness and grayness in the thing and that’s Qohen. And that’s what intrigued me about him. He’s very much like a monk. He’s in a burned-out church and it’s a church that has no meaning anymore. That particular construct of life has passed him by. And yet, that’s why I love when another character tells him, “Nonetheless, you’re a man of faith. And that is the very thing that has made you not live your life.”

Average and ordinary

milkmaid

Alain de Botton on Vermeer: “But he had communicated a crucial – and hugely sane – idea: much of what matters to us is not exciting, urgent, dramatic or special. Most of life is taken up dealing with things which are routine, ordinary, humble, modest and (to be honest) a touch dull. Our culture should focus on getting us to appreciate the average, the everyday and the ordinary.

 

Summoning stones

lange stones

From the trailer for a documentary about Dorothea Lange, Grab a Hunk of Lightning, on view at Vimeo:

“When I said I’m trying to get lost again I really expressed a very critical point of departure. That frame of mind that you need to make fine pictures of a very wonderful subject you cannot do it by not being lost yourself. I’m trying to get lost again.”       –Dorothea Lange

“I had a handful of shells and stones and thrust them out toward her asking her to look. She said, ‘I see them but do you see them?’ I said, ‘Yes I see them.’ She said, “But do you see them? and snapped a photo.’ ”     –Dyanna Taylor, Lange’s grand-daughter

“When you’re working well, all your instinctive powers are in operation and you don’t know why you do the things you do. Sometimes you annihilate yourself. That is something one needs to be able to do.”   — Lange

Technology rules

tech addicts

Interesting idea for a show, our technology addiction.

We subject ourselves to constant stimuli, without even knowing what this dependency bodes for the future. Artist Rachel Lee Hovnanian already feels the fatigue, which she investigates with a new art exhibition, Plastic Perfect, at Leila Heller Gallery in New York.

“I’ve definitely become an addict, and I really feel the repercussions when I don’t connect back to nature,” Hovnanian tells me over the phone from New York. “I’m just as guilty, but I know that I need to unplug, otherwise, I’m going to become anxious.”   --Maxwell Williams

Words vs. images

frankenSchjeldahl seems to choose the longest linguistic route between the first and last words of this paragraph from a review of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. It weaves its way from here to there in a way I enjoyed. Google maps could have gotten him from start to finish in about a third of the time, but he’s dancing around his topic here like Francis Bacon writing about truth. I’m pretty sure he’s veering toward and away from something fundamental for me: that great visual art often has no content apart from the work itself. I would go further and say visual art that best embodies what visual art alone can do should have no narrative content, no story, no “meaning” expressible in any way other than what’s seen in the image. It evokes a world more than a story. Yes there are plenty of great paintings that serve to illustrate a story or make a “statement” about something good or bad: much of the work of one artist I love, Bruegel, is hard to distinguish from illustration. Icarus falling from the sky, a peasant wedding, a drunken dance, Spain’s invasion of the Low Countries, and so on, all of which almost require a cinematic narrative the paintings reduce to a single frame. Even Winter Hunters evokes a day in the life of the men coming home through the snow, though its power, I think, comes from the way it conveys an entire season, if not an entire life, all at once, lifted out of time and any sequence of events. The story drops away and all you see is winter, winter, winter, in the ecstatic way Elizabeth Bishop forgot about the act of catching a trout and saw nothing but rainbow, rainbow, rainbow. The story of Vermeer’s milkmaid begins when she starts to pour and ends when she stops. It’s the timeless world her image evokes that matters. Anyway, here is Schjeldahl’s meditation on how the mind refuses to give up its thirst for narrative when looking at a work of art, even if that hungry mind has to frantically start imagining the painter’s circumstances, the world that gave birth to a painting, rather than narrative “meaning” intentionally embedded in the image itself. In other words, he seems to be saying, a brother’s gotta think!  With all due respect, to Peter and Pieter both, I beg to differ:

Color-field climaxed a modern ambition to expunge narrative content from painting. You were meant to be alone—“autonomous” was a byword—in wordless communion with art, as with a sunset. But art, unlike nature, requires someone to perform an act of will, and where there’s a mind directing a hand there’s a story. If the story is excluded from a picture, it will reconstitute around it as art criticism, which provides a set of thoughts for the reasons that, as you look, you should abandon thinking. That isn’t fair to individual aesthetic experience, which may find drama in abstraction and transport in realism. It also leaves out of account the worldly circumstances that impel and reward changes in art. Those turned out, by the end of the sixties, to endorse almost anything but more color-field. Color-field paintings are period artifacts, some of them lastingly enjoyable, of a peculiar presumption. — Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, Sept. 22, 2014

 

Is art really “for” something?

 

This reminds me of Alain de Botton’s continuous effort to show art is good for us. It’s therapy. It’s an education. It’s moral training. You can’t disagree with anything said here about literature–and by implication, art or music or movies–but why does it seem utterly simple-minded? I wonder if anyone, having read Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, decided, “Ok, then, I’m not going to have that affair with the butcher (prince, corporate raider, bass player).” If so, that’s fine, but doesn’t it miss the point? Art isn’t “for” anything, unless life itself is “for” something.

 

 

It can be yours

“New York, 1950s,” by Garry Winogrand. Credit The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“New York, 1950s,” by Garry Winogrand. The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

From today’s New York Times, Bill Hayes on art:

When you go — not if, but when (and soon, by the way; the show closes Sept. 21) — I suggest you bring a thesaurus. Because it wasn’t long before we found words failing us. An image of an acrobat caught midleap on a Manhattan street, for instance, struck the three of us as the epitome of “amazing.” So did another photo. Then another. Upon seeing the first few dozen of the more than 175 prints on view we pledged that we would not use that word to describe every single photo. Beautiful, incredible, joyful, strange, very sad — we made it as far as the second room before we were back to the A’s.

“It is just so… amazing,” said Katy, who’s 18 and an aspiring photographer, as if she’d been rendered helpless by yet another example of the Bronx-born artist’s particular genius for street photography. I nodded in sympathy. In a world plagued by intractable problems — police shootings, Ebola spreading, spiraling civil wars, planes falling from the sky — lacking sufficient synonyms for a work of art seemed a good one to have.

When we reached the last room, I asked Katy which picture was her favorite. She led me back to the one that had stumped her in the synonym department. Her sister, Emily, who’s 14 and had been off wandering through the Met’s collection of European paintings, then showed me her favorite piece in the museum: a Monet water lily painting (the first she’d ever seen) from 1919.

This is when I let each girl in on a secret: It can be yours. No different from falling in love with a song, one may fall in love with a work of art and claim it as one’s own. Ownership does not come free. One must spend time with it; visit at different times of the day or evening; and bring to it one’s full attention. The investment will be repaid as one discovers something new with each viewing — say, a detail in the background, a person nearly cropped from the picture frame, or a tiny patch of canvas left unpainted, deliberately so, one may assume, as if to remind you not to take all the painted parts for granted.

Creativity creep

dean-vietor-not-bad-for-art-new-yorker-cartoon 2From The New Yorker, in an article about “creativity creep,” which has pushed the notion of creativity out into discussions about the nature of all work, a reminder about the purposelessness of creative awareness–non-practical, un-work-like, non-results oriented:

Among the many things we lost when we abandoned the Romantic idea of creativity, the most valuable may have been the idea of creativity’s stillness. If you’re really creative, really imaginative, you don’t have to make things. You just have to live, observe, think, and feel. Coleridge, in his poem “Frost at Midnight,” uses, as his metaphor for the creative imagination, the frost, which freezes the evening dew into icicles “quietly shining up at the quiet moon.” The poem begins: “The Frost performs its secret ministry, / Unhelped by any wind.” The secret, silent, delicate, and temporary work of the frost is creativity, too. It doesn’t build, but it transforms. It doesn’t last, but it matters.

Fragments of Fort Howard

Fort Howard #10, 24" x 24", Oil on Panel

Fort Howard #10, 24″ x 24″, Oil on Panel

A solo show of Matt Klos’s sabbatical project, Fragments of Fort Howard, runs throughout September at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD. I saw most or all of the work here at Oxford Gallery. It’s great, quickly executed, focused on the balance between representation and abstract formal issues, with a bright but subtle palette.  See it at John A. Cade Center for Fine Arts Gallery, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, Maryland.

 

A river runs through it

riverbed

“Riverbed” at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

The drama of the work is unleashed only by the viewer’s interaction with it. When, at the official unveiling last week, I spotted two small children gleefully trundling a boulder into the middle of the artificial stream I felt a lurch of horror – and not just because the children happened to be my own. So ingrained is our expectation of the imperative to look but not touch when encountering an artwork, that there is something disorienting about a piece that so openly invites intervention. Indeed, Riverbed demands it; every visitor who walks across the unstable surface of this artificial landscape necessarily effects a transformation in it, causes damage of some kind.”    –The Telegraph

 

 

Embrace at Burning Man

embrance

“Embrace” at Burning Man on August 26, 2014. (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

 

Now it’s gone, up in flames at the end of the Burning Man festival, but it looked wonderful while it was still standing, at least judging from this shot. Read more about it here.

Beautiful bonus

photo (5)

 

A nice bonus of participating in the Tallahassee International turned out to be the first-rate catalog they published of the exhibit. Each artist was given equal space with a full-color plate and the opportunity for an artist’s statement about the work. In the back, they’ve offered a brief profile of each artist with a listing of awards. Outside of the marvelous catalogs Manifest produces for each of its shows, this is the highest-quality catalog I’ve gotten for any show I’ve participated in over the past seven or eight years.

Perceptual painters at Manifest

David Campbell's contribution to Perceptual Painters at Manifest

David Campbell, in Perceptual Painters at Manifest

A show I’d love to see, if Cincinnati were any closer.

From the Manifest website:

This exhibition of paintings by two groups of artists sharing a common approach to their art making is one of six selected from among 165 proposals submitted for consideration for Manifest’s tenth season. Manifest is proud to showcase this tour de force of perceptual painting, and to welcome thirteen artists from the Perceptual Painters collective to Cincinnati. The exhibit, proposed by David Campbell, was conceived to explore and celebrate the common ground shared between the Perceptual Painters group, all from outside the Cincinnati area with many either from, or having crossed paths in, Philadelphia, with a group of five artists currently or originally from the Cincinnati area. Furthermore, it pleases us to share that the five artists in the ‘Cincinnati Group’ are Manifest alum, having exhibited at the gallery or instructed courses or led life drawing sessions in our Drawing Center program over many years. Most continue to be involved in our programming today. The outreach of the Perceptual Painters to invite these artists in our own community to share in this exhibition suggests Cincinnati has a part in this important contemporary movement, and that Manifest has fostered a rich environment in which this can happen.

Berkshire landscape

landscape
©7/14 r potak
Berkshire Landscape
11 x 14″ 
acrylic on treated canvas paper
 

Art is an ark

photo (3)There’s Spoon and then there’s everything else in contemporary music. When Parquet Courts released Light Up Gold, after a few listens, I thought: hm, look out, Spoon. I emailed the hosts of Sound Opinions praising them for ranking the Parquet Courts debut as one of the brightest moments in music last year. Yet I regret to confess that I actually ended that email with the something like the following words, knowing Jim and Greg love Spoon: “Move over, Spoon. There’s a new sheriff in town.” (Me with my giddy crush on “Master of My Craft”.) Though the second effort from Parquet Courts has a few tracks that rank with the best from Light Up Gold, in general it left me a little crestfallen. It sounded as if they were being petulantly difficult, upping the noise and monotony—which worked on their first album. Now they sound as if they’re daring you to not to like them—just to prove they didn’t care if anybody would pay to hear them assert their defiant low-fi integrity. I still love them on principle, but I’m not as in love with them now, if you know what I’m saying. (I once had a pet theory that Sinead O’Conner shaved her head because she was too beautiful to get taken seriously with a full head of hair.) In other words, PC seems to be pushing back against the risks of popularity they know they might achieve if they upped the production quality to Spoon level—which they do perfectly, just to show you they can, on one or two tracks from Sunbathing Animals. If Parquet Courts would just relax and make the irresistibly gut-punching music they know how to make, pop-punk songs offset by complex, poetic lyrics, in such a seemingly effortless way, imagine a concert where they would open for Spoon. Who could top that?

That’s a long way to say They Want My Soul may have already become my favorite Spoon album. Better than anyone recording music right now, Continue reading ‘Art is an ark’

Selling without selling out

An inventory of Gertrude Stein's favorite objects

An inventory of Gertrude Stein’s favorite objects

Interesting post from Brain Pickings on how to succeed–in the sense of making money (in my book, Van Gogh succeeded even though he wasn’t a “success”)–without lowering your standards:

 . . . for many working artists, who straddle the balance between creativity and commerce, art swells into a form of uncomfortable self-consciousness . . . cartoonist Hugh MacLeod captured this perfectly in proclaiming that “art suffers the moment other people start paying for it.” Such sentiments, argues artist Lisa Congdon in Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist (public library), are among the most toxic myths we subscribe to as a culture and reflect a mentality immeasurably limiting for creative people.

It includes a nice compare-and-contrast guide to the “Starving Artist Mindset” and the “Thriving Artist Mindset.”

Never give up

make your bedmake your bedThis is one of the best commencement addresses I’ve ever heard, and though it isn’t addressed to artists, it certainly applies to anyone who struggles in obscurity with few tangible rewards. From Admiral William H. McRaven, who has been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. “Every morning in SEAL training our instructors would show up in our barracks room and the first thing they would do was inspect my bed. Every morning we were required to make our beds to perfection. It seemed ridiculous at the time since we were aspiring to be real warriors. But if you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day and will encourage you to do another task and another and another, and by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. The little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you come home from a miserable day you will come home to a made bed. A bed you made.”

It applies to painting as well. What you make is what makes you.

Bricksy

Bansky pastiche, done with Lego blocks

Banksy pastiche, done with Lego blocks

A Banksy re-imagined (in a Lego medium) at thebrickfantastic.com.

I’m shamelessly stealing this link from Heather Armstrong’s blog, Dooce, which is worthwhile simply for her fantastic photographs of her kids and dog. The frisson of her potty-mouthed Mormonism is cool and occasionally she lists a ton of odd/fun/interesting things she’s finds while maundering around the Internet. She’s like Kottke; she must spend half her life surfing the Web, she comes up with such randomly good stuff. Or she’s got Snowden on retainer, combing through his archives for her.

 

Humans of New York

 

Unidentified NY painter on Instagram

Unidentified NY painter on Instagram

“It seems that the more I tried to make my life about the pursuit of art, the more money controlled my life: collecting unemployment insurance, the humiliation of borrowing money from friends and family, tossing and turning at night while trying to figure out how to pay the rent. To survive I had to work hard jobs and afterwards I’d feel too tired and too stressed to paint. It’s very hard to create under those circumstances. Creativity is a delicate process. Often times I wonder if I should have just pursued a career for the first half of my life, obtained some degree of financial security, and then transitioned into art.” from Humans of New York instagram feed

If you wait to make money and then paint, you’ll never paint. Gotta juggle.

Signature style

albrecht_durer_signature_monogram_necktie-rece9d3580b2244b9bf08dd07899ac993_v9whb_8byvr_324Business Insider ranks Albrecht Durer as having the fourth coolest signature in human history. For some reason, it always looks kind of samurai to me. Go Al. Ahead of Picasso, but behind Banksy. (That’s just wrong.) Somebody needs to unseat John Hancock.