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Posts Tagged ‘art

“I have long, indeed for years, played with the idea of setting out the sphere of life—bios—graphically on a map”*…

 

Carmel

A Jo Mora carte of Carmel-By-The-Sea, made in 1942. Larger image at David Rumsey Map Collection

 

Joseph Jacinto Mora knew all the dogs in Carmel-By-The-Sea, California. He knew Bess, a friendly brown mutt who hung out at the livery stables. He knew Bobby Durham, a pointy-eared rascal who, as Mora put it, “had a charge [account] and did his own shopping at the butcher’s.” He knew Captain Grizzly, an Irish terrier who went to town with his muzzle on and invariably came back carrying it, having charmed a kind stranger into taking it off.

If you spend time with Mora’s map of the town—which was first printed in 1942—you’ll know the town dogs of that era, too. They’re all stacked in a column on the right side, lovingly described and illustrated, and looking as natural as those items you’d be more inclined to expect on a map: streets, land masses, the compass rose. On this particular map, those elements aren’t so typical either: the streets are strewn with tiny houses, and both the land and sea are peppered with busy people. The compass rose is rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise, and—as befits an artist’s town—is helmed by a painter, a performer, a writer, and a musician.

Such is the way of a Jo Mora map. Over the course of his life, the “Renaissance Man of the West,” as some have called him, packed history, geography, and personal details into a series of maps of different parts of California. Although well-known in his time—“Mora has produced works of art which have told their story to more persons, probably, than have the works of any other Californian,” columnist Lee Shippey wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1942—he has largely fallen out of the public consciousness. But a few minutes with one of his maps plunges you back into his era, and his own worldview…

Jo Mora poured the state’s whole history—and his own life—into his incredibly detailed, whimsical maps.  More of his own extraordinary story at “The Cowboy Cartographer Who Loved California.”  Browse a wonderful selection of his works at the glorious David Rumsey Map Collection.

* Walter Benjamin

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As we find our place, we might send delightfully drawn birthday greetings to Ben Shahn; he was born on this date in 1898.  A photographer and artist, known for his social realism, he earned acclaim in a variety of fields:  Edward Steichen selected Shahn’s work, including his October 1935 photograph The family of a Resettlement Administration client in the doorway of their home, Boone County, Arkansas, for MoMA’s world-touring The Family of Man which was seen by 9 million visitors; he was selected as a painter to join Willem de Kooning in representing the United States at the 1954 Venice Biennale; and his commercial illustration (like his well-known 1965 portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the cover of Time) earned him membership in the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame.  His published writings, including The Biography of Painting and The Shape of Content, have ben enormously influential in the art world.

220px-Ben_Shahn_artist source

 

Written by LW

September 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”*…

 

 

Keat urn

A tracing of an engraving of the Sosibios vase by John Keats

 

At least as far back as the ancient Greeks, poets and philosophers have struggled to define the nature of beauty. More recently—that is, for the past 150 years—psychologists have joined the effort to discover why we find certain sounds and images aesthetically appealing.

Answers remain elusive, and a new analysis in the journal Current Biology helps explain why. It finds some preferences—including our inclination to favor curves over angles—appear to be universal.

However, New York University psychologists Aenne Brielmann and Denis Pelli report that individual differences “outweigh general tendencies in most aesthetic judgments. Even for faces, which are popularly supposed to be consistently judged, individual taste accounts for about half the variance in attractiveness ratings.”

To a large extent, beauty really does seem to be in the eye—and brain—of the beholder…

A new analysis finds a few widely shared aesthetic preferences, and a whole lot of individual and cultural variation: “Beauty is, mostly, in the eye of the beholder.”

* Confucius

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As we examine the exquisite, we might send intricately beautiful birthday greetings to Jan Švankmajer; he was born on this date in 1934.  A self-proclaimed surrealist artist who has worked in many media, he is best known as a filmmaker, more specifically, as a stop-motion animator whose works have influenced Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay, and many others.

Here, an example of his work:

 

Written by LW

September 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I see black light”*…

 

Caravaggio

Michelangelo Merisi
da Caravaggio used ivory black to convey asceticism, piety, and inspiration in his 1605-6 painting, St Jerome Writing.

Suddenly, black was everywhere. It caked the flesh of miners and ironworkers; it streaked the walls and windows of industrial towns; it thickened the smoky air above. Proprietors donned black clothing to indicate their status and respectability. New black dyes and pigments created in factories and chemical laboratories entered painters’ studios, enabling a new expression for the new themes of the industrial age: factory work and revolt, technology and warfare, urbanity and pollution, and a rejection of the old status quo. A new class of citizen, later to be dubbed the “proletariat,” began to appear in illustrations under darkened smokestacks. The industrial revolution had found its color…

Black is technically an absence: the visual experience of a lack of light. A perfect black dye absorbs all of the light that impinges on it, leaving nothing behind. This ideal is remarkably difficult to manufacture. The industrialization of the 18th and 19th centuries made it easier, providing chemists and paint-makers with a growing palette of black—and altering the subjects that the color would come to represent. “These things are intimately connected,” says science writer Philip Ball, author of Bright Earth: The Invention of Color. The reinvention of black, in other words, went far beyond the color.

In the 20th century, a flood of new black paints would inspire a new set of artistic styles that took on modern subjects and themes. “Black was increasingly connected with industry, technology, and the urban environment,” says Erma Hermens, who leads the Technical Art History Group at the University of Glasgow. “Black becomes a statement.” Black also helped artists to delineate a new period in the history of art. “It was saying that the time of classical painting was past,” says Ball, “that we’re using modern materials in a modern way.”…

Black through the ages– as the means of creating the color black have changed, so have the subjects it represents: “The Reinvention of Black.”

(And looking forward, consider the implications of the newest technological revolution in creating black: vantablack.)

* Victor Hugo’s last words

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As we paint it black, we might send a finely-limned birthday card to Jacques-Louis David; he was born on this date in 1748.  A master of cerebral “history painting, he is considered the preeminent artist of the French Neoclassical period.   David had a great many pupils and followers, making him the strongest influence in French art of the early 19th century, especially on academic Salon painting.

 

Written by LW

August 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults”*…

 

cards

Bumblepuppist

Definition – a bad whist player

Every so often you need a specific insult, and bumblepuppist is about as specific as they get. We will grant you that the game of whist is not as popular as it once was, having been edged out by newfangled card games such as euchre and canasta, but once upon a time whist was the most deucedly popular card game in the land. This ranks pretty high on the list of words which are likely inapplicable in your life, but imagine how excited you will be if you do meet someone who not only plays whist, but is bad at it, and you have the appropriate descriptor.

Bumblepuppist is also sometimes rendered as bumblepupper, and the word for “whist played poorly or without regard for rules” is bumblepuppy (from bumble and puppy).

“Bumblepuppy,” as defined by a renowned authority upon whist, is a game played by people who imagine that they are playing whist, but who in reality know nothing of that intricate game.
— The New York Times, 1 Jul. 1883

Just one in a collection of put-downs bigger than the sum of their parts: “8 Insults Made Up of a Noun and a Verb.”

* Louis Nizer

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As we test the limits of civility, we might send fascinating birthday greetings to Fernando Arrabal Terán; he was born on this date in 1932.  A playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet, the New York Times’ Mel Gussow has called him the last survivor among the “three avatars of modernism.”  In 1962, Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, inspired by the god Pan.  In 1990 he was elected Transcendent Satrap of The Collège de ‘Pataphysique, a “society committed to learned and inutilious research” (“inutilious” = “useless”).  Forty other Transcendent Satraps have been elected over the past half-century, including Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco, and Jean Baudrillard.  Arrabal spent three years as a member of André Breton’s surrealist group and was a friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara.  A chess fanatic (a passion he shared with Duchamp), Arrabal wrote a chess column for the French weekly L’Express for over thirty years.

200px-Fernando_Arrabal,_2012 source

 

Written by LW

August 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I went to the bank and asked to borrow a cup of money. They said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I’m going to buy some sugar.”*…

 

 

sugartown_final_lw_smaller.0

Sugar is sprinkled everywhere in our language. When children are good and happy, they are cutie pies. Cool stuff can be “sweet, man.” Our crush is a sweetheart, and our sweetheart might be our honey. “A spoonful of sugar,” as Mary Poppins croons, is a bribe, something to help “the medicine go down.” Sugar is leisure and celebration — what British birthday would be complete without the stickiness of cake frosting on fingers? It is, according to Roland Barthes, an attitude — as integral to the concept of Americanness as wine is to Frenchness. In the 1958 hit song “Sugartime,” to which Barthes was referring, the sunny, smiling McGuire Sisters harmonize sweetly, filling their mouths with honey: “Sugar in the mornin’ / Sugar in the evenin’ / Sugar at suppertime / Be my little sugar / And love me all the time.”

And like anything pleasurable, sugar is often characterized as a vice. The flood of industrial sugar into packaged food has real public health consequences, but predictably, the backlash has taken on a puritanical zeal far beyond reasonable concerns. Sugar is “America’s drug of choice,” one headline claimed. “Is sugar the world’s most popular drug?” wondered another. Even those selling sugary food winkingly parrot the language of addiction — consider Milk Bar’s notoriously sticky, seductively sweet Crack Pie. A drug that decimated predominantly poor, black American communities is now a punchline for middle-class white indulgence.

For black Americans, sweetness was an essential ingredient in Jim Crow-era stereotypes designed to keep newly emancipated people from their rights. Those stereotypes persist — and even generate profit — today…

Sugar is survival. It is a respite for palates swept clean of childish joy for too long. It is sexual desire and pleasure, and also temptation and sin. And it is a commodity, one historically produced with some of the most brutal labor practices on the planet. In the Western imagination, sugar is pleasure, temptation, and vice — and in modern history, it is original sin…

How a taste for sweetness, developed for survival, became a stand-in for everything good — and evil — about our culture: “Sugartime.”

* Steven Wright

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As turn to the tart, we might send bodacious birthday greetings to that most fabulous of flappers, Betty Boop; she made her first appearance on this date in 1930.  The creation of animator Max Fleischer, she debuted in “Dizzy Dishes” (in which, still unevolved as a character, she is drawn as an anthropomorphic female dog).

 

Written by LW

August 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary”*…

 

ernst_ludwig_kirchner_-_czardas_dancers_-_google_art_project

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, CZARDAS DANCERS, 1908

 

Ugliness has never been the subject of much scrutiny. For the most part, artists and thinkers have treated ugliness as an immutable category, filled with things they simply didn’t like. These included dangerous landscapes, people with disabilities, and objects that showed signs of too much use. When survival was a number one priority, people viewed anything potentially threatening as ugly. And for the most part, ugly works, particularly pieces that were unintentionally ugly, were forgotten to history.

As a result, the most significant ugly works created before the nineteenth century were intentionally ugly, created by technically skilled painters who decided, for whatever reason, to depict an ugly subject. Often, ugly art was created as a warning. There but for the grace of God go I, screams the gargoyle clinging to a medieval facade. To contemporary eyes, the art of the Dark Ages looks ugly as a whole (consider this great Vox explainer about ugly babies in medieval paintings.) At the time, however, people didn’t consider the malformed dogs or awkward hat-wearing crows to be ugly, though they did know that doom paintings, which depict the worst-case afterlife scenarios, were hideous. Doom paintings highlight the difference between heaven and hell in order to strike fear into the heart of viewers and thus discourage them from, say, coveting their neighbor’s hot spouse or lying when the tax official came around to collect coins. Sometimes these paintings function like the medieval version of Jonathan Edward’s hellfire-and-brimstone sermons: they actually make the afterlife look interesting, stimulating, and perhaps even a little bit appealing…

A consideration of the less-than-beautiful in Western art through the ages: “Ugliness Is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings.”

* “Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary, and there is no question but that every ardent imagination prefers in lubricity, the extraordinary to the commonplace”  -Marquis de Sade

(Echoed by Umberto Eco: “Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.”)

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As we agonize over aesthetics, we might spare a thought for Lucas van Leyden; he died on this date in 1533.  A seminal Dutch artist, he was among the first Dutch exponents of genre painting and is generally regarded as a very accomplished engraver.

220px-Durer-Lucas-Van-Leyden

A portrait of Lucas van Leyden by Albrecht Dürer, June 1521

source

 

 

Written by LW

August 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”*…

 

banana

Doug Battenhausen spends much of his working hours searching for pictures no one else cares about.

They’re the kind taken by people would never be considered ‘photographers’, the kind that no one has even thought about for years, where any sense of artistry is purely accidental.

Instead they’re pictures of drunk friends at grotty house parties or silly sleepovers, landscapes snapped from car windows on boring drives, and assorted images that Doug can only describe as “strangely mundane”…

drunk

relection

Learn more– and see more abandoned images– at “The internet’s forgotten shit pics are accidentally amazing,” and then visit the motherlode: Battenhausen’s Tumblr, Internet History.

* Henri Cartier-Bresson

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As we smile at serendipity, we might spare a thought for the source of today’s title quote, Henri Cartier-Bresson; he died on this date in 2004.  A master of the candid and pioneer of street photography, he was one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.  With other luminaries (Robert CapaDavid Seymour, and others), he founded Magnum Photos. a photographers’ co-op that covered the world for news outlets and other publishers.  His Magnum coverage of of Gandhi’s funeral in India in 1948 and the last stage of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 brought him international acclaim.

View his Magnum portfolio here.

220px-Henri_Cartier-Bresson source

 

Written by LW

August 3, 2018 at 1:01 am

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