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Posts Tagged ‘art history

“The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness”*…


A new Instagram account by Australian artist Damien Rudd, @sadtopographies, is collecting Google Map screenshots of the world’s grimmest-sounding places, which makes for an excellent collection of weird travel destinations.

Read more at “This Instagram account collects the saddest-sounding places on Earth“; then take the tour on Rudd’s Instagram feed.

* Carl Jung


As we pack extra tissues, we might spare a thought for Lucas Cranach the Elder; he dies on this date in 1553.  A German Renaissance painter and printmaker, he was court painter to the Electors of Saxony and is known for his portraits, both of German princes and those of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation (including his close friend, Martin Luther)…. though, as evidenced below, he treated more secular subjects as well.  The most successful German artist of his time, he operated a large workshop, which continued after his death under the guidance of his sone, son Lucas Cranach the Younger.

Cranach’s “The Ill-Matched Couple”



Written by LW

October 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Chelsea, please let your art speak for itself”*…


The Artspeak Incinerator Project is an interactive video installation created by artist Bill Claps. This video documents the Artspeak Incinerator in action at the MOMA, Guggenheim, Whitney, New Museum, ARTFORUM, Gagosian Gallery, and other locations.

During Armory Arts Week Claps utilized crowdsourcing and a technology interface connected to Twitter to source examples of artspeak from various art fairs, publications, and institutions throughout New York City. The artspeak was translated into Morse code (representing the art world’s distinct coded language) and digitally incinerated while being projecting onto the facades of art institutions throughout the city, releasing it into the atmosphere in a purified state…


email readers click here for video

See more– and more of Claps’ other wonderful work– at his site.

* “Ms. Patuto,” season 3 of Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven


As we connect with our inner connoisseur, we might send bold birthday greetings to Willem de Kooning; he was born on this date in 1904.  After Jackson Pollock, de Kooning was the most prominent and celebrated of the Abstract Expressionist painters, and with his wife, Elaine, Pollock, Rothko, and Kline, was at the core of what has become known as the New York School.

de Kooning has been the subject of reams of artspeak.

de Kooning’s Woman III, 1951-53


de Kooning in his studio, 1961



Written by LW

April 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I’d rather create a miniature painting than a Taj Mahal of a book”*…


South African artist Lorraine Loots agrees…

365 Postcards for Ants is the second phase of a project started on 1 January 2013, which involved me creating a miniature painting every single day for the entire year.

In celebration of our city’s designation as World Design Capital 2014, I’ve decided to do it all over again, and this time all the paintings will be Cape Town themed…

Learn- and see– more at Lustik, at her site, and on Loots’ Tumblr.

Mohsin Hamid


As we get small, we might send patronizing birthday greetings to Cosimo di Medici; he was born on this date in 1389.  The first of the Medici political dynasty, de facto rulers of Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance;, he was known as “Cosimo ‘the Elder'” (“il Vecchio”) and “Cosimo Pater Patriae” (“father of the nation”).  A fabulously-wealthy banker, he was a powerful patron of learning; he funded Ficino’s Latin translation of the complete works of Plato, and supported the work of scholars like Niccolo Niccoli and Leonardo Bruni.  But he is perhaps best remembered as a patron of the arts: he supported Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Donatello, whose David and Judith Slaying Holofernes were Medici commissions; he commissioned Michelozzo Michelozzi‘s Palazzo Medici; and he enabled Brunelleschi to complete the magnificent dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (the “Duomo“).

Bronzino’s (posthumous) portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici



Written by LW

September 27, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In economics, the majority is always wrong”*…


“Grumpy Cat,” whose image has flown across the internet– and graced the front page of the Wall Street Journal

One may imagine that economics has little bearing on the more frivolous frontiers of everyday life; but in fact it explains why one consumes so much “animal antics” online and so little Shakespearean seriousness…

Economics sometimes has surprising applications. One example is the Alchian-Allen theorem, an observation that came from a footnote in an economics textbook in the 1960s about how quality demand is affected by transport costs…

The Allen-Alchian theorem explains why places with high-quality produce (Allen and Alchian had in mind apples in Seattle, which is where apples come from in the US) nevertheless do not always get to consume that same high quality (they pointed to the market for apples in New York city, where no apples grow) because of the relative costs faced by consumers in each case (for New York consumers, a high-quality apple, once you account for transportation costs, was actually relatively cheaper than a low-quality apple compared to relative prices in Seattle). Hence the market sent the high-quality apples to New York.

You’re still with me? It’s all about relative costs. When you move something, or impose any fixed cost, the higher-quality item always wins, because it now has a lower relative cost compared to the lower-quality item.

The interesting idea is that this also applies in reverse – namely when we remove a fixed cost. The internet does this: it removes a cost of transport, and it does so equally for high quality and low quality content. Following the Allen-Alchian theorem, this should mean the opposite. Low-quality items are now relatively cheaper and high-quality items are now relatively more expensive. This idea was first explained by Tyler Cowen, but the upshot is that the internet is made of cats

The internet lowers the cost of “transport” for every idea, high and low quality alike. It’s the opposite of the apples situation. It means that low quality apples are now relatively cheaper. It means that cats-doing-funny-things is now relatively cheaper than say German Opera. Economics insists that when demand curves look like this we can expect more cat watching, and less German opera watching.

This theorem means that we expect a lower quality, “bittier” consumption to proliferate on the internet (as a technology that lowers transport costs of high-quality and low-quality ideas alike). Which is what we observe. So that’s a win for micro-economic demand theory.

Is this really what’s happened?  Have we all gotten dumber?  Read more– including the arguments, pro and con– at “The internet is made of cats – and you can blame economists“: and read the paper the lays out the “economics of cute” in “The Alchian-Allen Theorem and the Economics of Internet Animals.”

* John Kenneth Galbraith


As we come to terms with the fact that all our bases are belong to them, we might spare a slightly skewed thought for Giuseppe Arcimboldo; he died on this date in 1593.  An Italian painter best known for creating partraits composed entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books, he is considered a Mannerist… though he might well be the first Surrealist.  He was certainly cited by many– from Dali through Ocampo to Švankmajer– as an influence.

Arcimboldo’s portrait of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590-1





Written by LW

July 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”….



I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

… American Scholar‘s list of the “Ten Best Sentences” (a list that includes the quote that titles this post, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice).  The list is offered unadorned, with no explanation of purview nor criteria (no “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” from Marquez?).  Indeed, the site’s picture editor clearly had her own opinion, expressed via her illustration of the article with the photo above– a picture of the typewriter used by William Faulkner, also absent from the list…

But then, that’s the point of any list of this sort: it’s usefully provocative.  And as Roy Peter Clark argues at Poynter, the examples can be instructive.


As we flirt with our inner Flaubert, we might recall that it was on this date in 1893, in the text of Alfred Jarry’s play Guignol in L’Écho de Paris littéraire illustré, that the term– and the concept of– ‘pataphysics first appeared.  Jarry defined ‘pataphysics (derived from a contracted Greek formation that means “that which is above metaphysics”) as “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.”  Jarry insisted on the inclusion of the apostrophe in the orthography, ‘pataphysique and ‘pataphysics, “to avoid a simple pun”… indeed Jarry’s aim was to compound the puns:  The term pataphysics is a paronym (considered a kind of pun in French) of metaphysics. Since the apostrophe in no way affects the meaning or pronunciation of pataphysics, this spelling of the term is a signal–a sly notation– to the reader, suggesting a variety of puns, among them patte à physique (“physics paw”), pas ta physique (“not your physics”), and pâte à physique (“physics pastry dough”).

Jarry’s concept was resurrected after World War II  with the foundation (in 1948) of The Collège de ‘Pataphysique, a “society committed to learned and inutilious research” (“inutilious” = “useless”).  Its members have included  Raymond Queneau, Eugène Ionesco, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, and Marcel Duchamp.

Alfred Jarry




Written by LW

April 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

“When I was shown the charts and diagrams… How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick”*…


How meta is this?!  An infographic on infographics


* When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman


As we ponder pictograms, we might spare a grateful thought for the man who wrote the book on perspective, Leon Battista Alberti; he died on this date in 1472.  The archetypical Renaissance humanist polymath, Alberti was an author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, cartographer, and cryptographer.  He collaborated with Toscanelli on the maps used by Columbus on his first voyage, and he published the the first book on cryptography that contained a frequency table.

But he is surely best remembered as the author of the first general treatise– Della Pictura (1434)– on the the laws of perspective, which built on and extended Brunelleschi’s work to describe the approach and technique that established the science of projective geometry… and fueled the progress of painting, sculpture, and architecture from the Greek- and Arabic-influenced formalism of the High Middle Ages to the more naturalistic (and Latinate) styles of Renaissance.

from Leon Battista Alberti, Della Pictura



Written by LW

April 25, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All the world loves a clown”*…


Nonetheless, circus folk fear that a national clown shortage is on the horizon.  In a trend that only those who suffer coulrophobia could love, membership in the country’s largest trade organizations for the jesters has plunged, as an aging membership struggles to recruit new nabobs of the crimson nose.

‘What’s happening is attrition,’ said Clowns of America International President Glen Kohlberger, who added that membership at the Florida-based organization has plummeted since 2006. ‘The older clowns are passing away.’ He said he wouldn’t release specific numbers, citing the privacy of the members.

Membership at the World Clown Association, the country’s largest trade group for clowns, has dropped from about 3,500 to 2,500 since 2004. ‘The challenge is getting younger people involved in clowning,’ said Association President Deanna (Dee Dee) Hartmier, who said most of her members are over 40.

Read more in The Daily News [via NPR’s The Two-Way, from whence the photo above]

* Cole Porter


As we stock up on greasepaint, we might send provocatively nonsensical birthday greetings to Hugo Ball; he was born on this date in 1886.  Ball worked as an actor with Max Reinhardt and Hermann Bahr in Berlin until the outbreak of World War I.  A staunch pacifist, Ball made his way to Switzerland, where he turned his hand to poetry in an attempt to express his horror at the conflagration enveloping Europe. (“The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines.”)

Settling in Zürich, Ball was a co-founder of the Dada movement (and, lore suggests, its namer, having allegedly picked the word at random from a dictionary).  With Tristan Tzara and Jan Arp, among others, he co-founded and presided over the Cabaret Voltaire, the epicenter of Dada.  And in 1916, he created the first Dada Manifesto (Tzara’s came two years later).




Written by LW

February 22, 2014 at 1:01 am


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