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Posts Tagged ‘art

“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness – to save oneself trouble”*…

 

Lion-man-angles-Vergleich-drei-Ganzkörper-Ansichten

 

Like all other animals, our species evolved by gradual processes of natural selection that equipped us to survive and reproduce within a certain environmental niche. Unlike other animals, however, our species managed to escape its inherited biological role and take control of its own destiny. It began to innovate, actively reshaping its way of life, its environment and, eventually, the planet itself. How did we do it? What set our species, Homo sapiens, apart from the rest?

Searching for just one event, a decisive change in culture or brain structure, would probably be a mistake. For more than 1.5 million years, archaic humans (earlier Homo species, such as Homo erectus) had been slowly diverging from the other great apes, developing a way of life marked by increased collaboration. They made simple stone tools, hunted together, might have cooked their food, and probably engaged in communal parenting.

Still, their lifestyle remained largely static over vast periods of time, with few, if any, signs of artistic activity or technical innovation. Things started to change only in the past 300,000 years, with the emergence of our own species and our cousins the Neanderthals, and even then the pace of change didn’t quicken much until 40-60,000 years ago.

What caused our species to break out of the pattern set by archaic humans? Again, there were probably many factors. But from my perspective as someone who studies the human mind, one development stands out as of special importance. There is a mental ability we possess today that must have emerged at some point in our history, and whose emergence would have vastly enhanced our ancestors’ creative powers.

The ability I mean is that of hypothetical thinking – the ability to detach one’s mind from the here and now, and consciously think about other possibilities. This is the key to sustained innovation and creativity, and to the development of art, science and technology. Archaic humans, in all probability, didn’t possess it. The static nature of their lifestyle suggests that they lived in the present, their attention locked on to the world, and their behaviour driven by habit and environmental stimuli. In the course of their daily activities, they might accidentally hit on a better way of doing something, and so gradually acquire new habits and skills, but they didn’t actively think up innovations for themselves…

The story at “Our greatest invention was the invention of invention itself.”

* Agatha Christie (who would surely have agreed that invention is also, sometimes, aimed at explaining ourselves to our selves… and sometimes simply at delivering delight)

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As we contemplate creativity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1925 that the trial of John T. Scopes in Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee (aka “the Scopes Monkey Trial”) began.

The State of Tennessee had responded to the urging of William Bell Riley, head of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, by passing a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution– the Butler Act.  In response, The American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend anyone accused of violating the Act.  George Rappleyea, who managed several local mines, convinced a group of businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee, a town of 1,756, that the controversy of such a trial would give Dayton some much needed publicity.  With their agreement, he called in his friend, the 24-year-old Scopes, who taught High School biology in the local school– and who agreed to be the test case.

The rest is celebrity-filled history, and star-studded drama.

Scopes in 1925

 

Written by LW

July 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Better than YouTube”*…

 

EXP

 

EXP TV is a live tv channel broadcasting an endless stream of obscure media and video ephemera.

EXP TV’s daytime block is “Video Breaks”–a video collage series featuring wild, rare, unpredictable, and ever-changing archival clips touching on every subject imaginable. The nighttime block starts at 10pm and features specialty themed video mixes and deep dives.

In an age where we all waste so much time figuring out what to watch online, EXP TV airs 24/7 and there’s always something cool on…

There are certain things you don’t know you’re missing in life until you’re exposed to them: EXP TV.

[TotH to to the ever-enlightening Dangerous Minds, also the source of the image above]

On a somewhat tonier note, see also Everest Pipkin‘s “Lacework.”

* Some guy, Beyond Fest

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As we stay tuned, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that Roswell [New Mexico] Army Air Field public information officer Walter Haut issued a press release confirming what had been rumored in the area for weeks: that personnel from the field’s 509th Operations Group had recovered a “flying disc,” which had crashed on a ranch near Roswell.  Haut’s report identified the find as the debris of a fallen weather balloon. While the military now suggests that their not-altogether-credible explanation at the time was an attempt to conceal the true purpose of the crashed device– nuclear test monitoring– UFO enthusiasts persist in believing otherwise.

300px-RoswellDailyRecordJuly8,1947 source

 

Written by LW

July 8, 2020 at 1:01 am

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”*…

 

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Artist unknown (Cristovão de Figueiredo?), Hell, Museu da Arte Antiga, Lisbon, ca. 1515. Oil on oak, 119 x 217.5 cm.

 

Naked people are tumbling into the picture through a circular opening at top right, their features immediately blurred by rising heat and smoke. Below, various bodies are being put to the flames, a traditional punishment for those consumed by lust in their lifetimes…

No one knows who painted this depiction of hell, or who asked for it to be made, or even what purpose it served. We only know that it was done in about 1515 in Lisbon. To my eye, the facial types resemble those of the royal painter Cristovão de Figueiredo, who died in 1525. Several of the strange motifs—the figure with bent knee on a crutch, the pig orifice, the spurting fire, the beak-nosed figure, and the albino monster—are closely drawn from a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch that was in Portugal (probably in the Portuguese royal collection) at the time, and now hangs in the same museum as this painting.

Our painting of hell is big, much bigger than you might expect from looking at a photo. It doesn’t fit clearly into any category of picture known at the time. It is an independent panel, not a scene in a fresco cycle that gains meaning from the larger program. It’s not an altarpiece, nor is it a typical private devotional image, which would have been smaller. Its oblong shape suggests it was not part of a larger structure, as in triptychs by Bosch and others, where hell occupies one compartment, one part of a larger statement about human life and the world. This is a big stand-alone painting of a subject that normally didn’t stand alone. The painting lowers you right down to the sub-basement of hell and lets you look. The looking begins as voyeuristic fascination and then sinks into self-reflection…

There had been paintings of hell before, showing people (much like the people for whom the paintings were made) undergoing various punishments for their sins. But this painting no longer represents generic humanity. Here, the tortured are marked as white Europeans, being punished by mostly swarthy monsters with distinctly exotic trappings drawn from the newly encountered inhabitants of the farthest ends of the world—all the way down the African coast, all the way across the (Atlantic) Western Ocean, and, possibly, as far as India. And the punishments seem to concentrate on the sins unleashed by the European expeditions, the sins of rapaciousness: lust, gluttony, and greed. The monks and friars who accompanied these expeditions, tacking missionary work onto commercial exploits, are emphatically included among the damned…

Turning the colonial gaze back on the colonizers, the painting presents the hairstyles of the Europeans, such as the tonsures, in the manner of recent European reports and images depicting the strange hair and stylings of outlandish natives. Here, Europeans themselves go naked, just as bestselling accounts were then describing the inhabitants of America, Africa, and India. Here, white people are the rapacious ones, the lusty ones, the ridiculous ones, and the defeated ones. Two faces, the albino monster to the left and the flame mask to the right, turn toward us as if to say, yes, I know you’re enjoying watching this, and have you considered this might be you?

Some images from the period—just a few—show the costs of subjection and colonization for the native populations of America, Asia, and Africa. Almost none, apart from this one, prod their viewers to imagine the costs for the colonizers themselves…

Alexander Nagel offers a close reading of a remarkable work, a 1515 painting that turns a mirror on its viewers: “Hell is for White People” (much larger reproduction of the painting available there).

* Oscar Wilde

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As we see ourselves in others, we might recall that Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro González died on this date in 1541.  In the event Pizarro was assassinated in the palace he’d built himself to rule over Peru, after he’d conquered the Incas (and executed their leader Atahuapla).  Pizarro’s death was in retaliation for his own murder of an old partner, then rival, Diego de Almagro.

220px-Portrait_of_Francisco_Pizarro source

 

Written by LW

June 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Oh, I am fortune’s fool!”*…

 

poker

 

For many years, my life centered around studying the biases of human decision-making: I was a graduate student in psychology at Columbia, working with that marshmallow-tinted legend, Walter Mischel, to document the foibles of the human mind as people found themselves in situations where risk abounded and uncertainty ran high. Dissertation defended, I thought to myself, that’s that. I’ve got those sorted out. And in the years that followed, I would pride myself on knowing so much about the tools of self-control that would help me distinguish myself from my poor experimental subjects. Placed in a stochastic environment, faced with stress and pressure, I knew how I’d go wrong — and I knew precisely what to do when that happened.

Fast-forward to 2016. I have embarked on my latest book project, which has taken me into foreign territory: the world of No Limit Texas Hold ’em… The biases I know all about in theory, it turns out, are much tougher to fight in practice…

Maria Konnikova. a New York Times bestselling author and contributor to The New Yorker with a doctorate in psychology, decided to learn how to play poker to better understand the role of luck in our lives, examining the game through the lens of psychology and human behavior.  An excerpt is adapted from her new book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win: “The Hard Truth Of Poker — And Life: You’re Never ‘Due’ For Good Cards.”

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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As we ante up, we might spare a thought for Don Featherstone; he died on this date in 2015.  An artist, he is surely best remembered for his creation of the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament in 1957, while working for Union Products.  It went on sale the following year– and now adorns lawns nationwide.

In 1996, Featherstone was awarded the 1996 Ig Nobel Art Prize for his creation; that same year, he began his tenure as president of Union Products, a position he held until he retired in 2000.

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A Featherstone flock

source

 

Written by LW

June 22, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I like ruins because what remains is not the total design, but the clarity of thought, the naked structure, the spirit of the thing”*…

 

Raphael

The Chigi Chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo, designed by Raphael

 

Poor Raphael! This year, the five-hundredth anniversary of his death, was to have been his year of glory. After major exhibitions of Michelangelo in 2018 and Leonardo da Vinci in 2019, the museum world was in the midst of celebrating the third member of the glorious trinity of High Renaissance art. Then fear of a new coronavirus forced museums everywhere to take down their banners, chase away visitors, and close their doors…

It’s a kind of tragic coincidence, or perhaps poetic injustice, that celebrations of Raphael’s achievement were interrupted by a deadly virus. It was a viral pneumonia ripping through the papal court that killed Raphael himself, aged thirty-seven, on April 6, 1520. The overworked and exhausted artist was carried off, biographers tell us, by a grandissima febbre. His greatest patron, the Medici pope Leo X, died suddenly of pneumonia a year and a half later, aged forty-six. The most fruitful partnership between artist and patron in High Renaissance Rome had lasted just over seven years. Among the casualties was Raphael’s career as an architect, cut off just as it was beginning to blossom…

Humanists since Petrarch had mourned the destruction of Rome’s ancient fabric and dreamt of restoring the city’s physical grandeur. Earlier pontiffs such as the humanist pope Nicholas V had begun to rebuild Rome in a more classical style. But it was Raphael, supported by Pope Leo and his humanist advisers, especially Baldesar Castiglione and Angelo Colocci, who undertook the serious work of surveying the ruins of Rome and attempting to reconstruct the appearance of the ancient city district by district, building by building. It was this quasi-philological project that fired the imaginations of Renaissance literati and led them to praise Raphael as the greatest architect of the age.

Yet Raphael’s Plan of Rome, with its reconstructions of major monuments—temples, baths, theaters, palaces, fora, and public buildings—was not simply a learned contribution to antiquarian studies. It was a practical project, designed to serve architects and patrons interested in building in the modern classical style, the Renaissance style. In his work as a painter Raphael was famous for collecting the designs of other artists throughout Italy and making their inventions and techniques his own. Michelangelo and his coterie sneered at him, with appalling injustice, as a mere magpie, stealing his best ideas from other artists. As an architect Raphael practiced the same kind of recombinant classicism, choosing elements from innumerable antique structures but reassembling them in harmonious, creative ways. He understood, as modern educational theory does not, that creativity is the child of knowledge…

James Hankins appreciates Raphael’s brief turn as an architect: “Raphael, interrupted.”

* Tadao Ando

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As we reappraise famous men, we might spare thought for a predecssor of Raphael’s, Lorenzo di Pietro; he died on this date in 1480.  Better known by his “work name,” Vecchietta, he was painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and architect of the (earlier) Renaissance.  He was born and did much of his work in Sienna– work prized highly enough in his times to earn him a spot in He is among the artists profiled in Vasari‘s Le Vite delle più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects often known simply as The Lives).

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Self-portrait. Detail of a fresco in Collegata di Castiglione Olona

source

 

Written by LW

June 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

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