(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘art

“The principle of the Gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable”*…

Tower Bridge in London, England, is one of the most famous structures in the Gothic Revival style. Its spires echo Islamic architecture’s minarets, pointing to the ancient exchange of cultural ideas between the West and the Middle East.

There’s more to Gothic architecture and Gothic style than we might imagine. Roger Luckhurst explains…

When fire devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in April 2019, the architectural historian Diana Darke noted in a Twitter post that of course everyone knew the famous twin tower and rose window of France’s finest Gothic cathedral were copied from a Syrian church in Qalb Loze, built in the fifth century. The post went viral: amplified or rebutted, triumphed or tossed.

Darke was surprised at the reaction to what historians have established as a well-known path of influence: the East-West trade in architectural ideas. It was argued centuries ago that key defining elements of the Gothic style were borrowed from the Islamic architecture of the Middle East. The soaring pinnacles of the Palace of Westminster in London, the pointed arches of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and the rose windows of Notre Dame all point to the influence of Islamic design.

But from early in the 19th century, these contributions were forgotten, and Gothic became celebrated as an intrinsically Northern European style. In Britain, it was only in the revival of this medieval style of architecture that it started to be called “Gothic.” The Revivalists no longer dismissed the Gothic as a crude or barbarous form, and instead repurposed it as a national, patriotic style.

By knowing this deeper history of some of Europe’s most iconic buildings, travelers can approach these well-known attractions with new eyes and can appreciate that the “East-West divide” isn’t as deep as we are often led to think…

Hidden in the architecture of some of the world’s most famous buildings is a cultural exchange between Europe and the Middle East: “What is ‘Gothic’? It’s more complicated than you think,” from @TheProfRog in @NatGeo.

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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As we esteem exchange, we might send well-designed birthday greetings to Arduino Cantafora; he was born on this date in 1945. An architect, painter, and writer, he became a postmodernist (in the mode of his teacher/mentor Aldo Rosi), creating designs and paintings that reached back to the Renaissance revival of Gothic themes.

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November 8, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen”*…

Eric Oglander

Art without intent…

The Found Object Show captures things that are out of control. Happenstance hijacked their original roles. Time blotted out their former significance. As the decades and centuries passed, these found objects broke from the designs of their creators to emerge today as things transfigured in form and meaning — as art without intent.

Armed with aesthetic and conceptual powers equivalent to conventional art, art without intent has no artistic motive nor objective meaning, but nevertheless lies in wait for someone to discover its latent value. The found object’s inanimate ambush succeeds only upon its chance confrontation with an open mind and perceptive eye.

Art without intent ennobles the random, celebrates the anonymous, and embraces the subjective, empowering individuals to see art where they may least expect to find it…

The inaugural 2022 Found Object Show was a gallery exhibition of art without intent on view from March 24-27 in the Lower East Side of NYC; it returns to New York in the Spring of 2023.

The Found Object Show.” [ToTH to @BoingBoing]

* Charles Simic

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As we celebrate serendipity, we might spare a thought for Wilhelm Freddie (born Christian Frederik Wilhelm Carlsen); he died on this date in 1995, A painter, sculptor, and filmmaker, he moved between abstract and surrealist approaches. Some of Freddie’s works criticized Nazism and fascism; some was considered considered pornographic at their time, resulting in confiscation of the works and his imprisonment– though his artistic merits were later recognized.

Examples of his work can be found here and here.

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October 26, 2022 at 1:00 am

“I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do”*…

Why do we need art? And what does it have to do with dreaming? Neuroscientist and author Eric Hoel has a very provocative theory…

How will we spend the remaining 700,000 hours of the 21st century? In the metered time of our own discretion, there have never been more options for our personal entertainment, nor have they ever been more freely available. We find ourselves strolling the aisles of a vast sensorium. On the shelves is a trove of experiences: video games, movies, TV shows, virtual reality, books, podcasts, articles, social media posts, all prepackaged for our consumption. What had previously been accomplished for food through the centralized distribution of supermarkets has now been done with experience itself. The recent grand opening of this supersensorium has been mediated through the screen, a panoply of icons, images, links, downloads, and videos auto-playing, which we browse through entirely at our leisure.

Such abundance of choice would have been heralded as miraculous in any other age. What a rousing cry for progress that our lowly living rooms would have stupefied with their luxuries even the God-like pharaohs, even the court of Versailles! Or maybe not—for it all comes with a price. Who hasn’t lost days from binge-watching Netflix, or deep in the dungeons of some video game? Here’s a scary, or maybe heart-wrenching, thing to consider: of our waking leisure hours, what exactly is the amount of time devoted to the consumption of experiences from the supersensorium? In 2018, Nielsen reported that the average American spent eleven hours a day engaged with media. Does anyone believe that this number is going to decrease? For the technology that undergirds the supersensorium will only improve. The algorithms will grow more personalized, the experiences will become more salient, and the platforms will get faster in their delivery of content. And we should all admit that the vast majority of what lines the shelves of the supersensorium is merely entertainment, for otherwise we wouldn’t feel a gnawing guilt so great most of us avoid consciously calculating how our time is actually spent.

The infinite entertainment of the supersensorium is especially problematic if you happen to be someone who likes and maybe even produces art or fictions. E.g., a writer such as myself, who views the tidal wave of middling fictions with a feeling akin to terror. Not that these problems are entirely new. In a letter to a friend, a 31-year-old Tolstoy wrote:

I shall write no more fiction. It is shameful, when you come to think of it. People are weeping, dying, marrying, and I should sit down and write books telling “how she loved him”? It’s shameful!

If that was Tolstoy’s judgment of himself, what might his fiery judgment be of our now endless ways of telling “how she loved him”? The mere scale of the supersensorium pushes to the fore old questions about the purpose of art and fictions. Why do humans desire these petite narratives we gobble up like treats? What’s the origin of this pull toward artifice, a thing so powerful we might even call it an instinct? Is it virtue or vice? And if it can be a vice and technology is making it easier and easier to while away our lives this way, a reasonable person has to ask: why add to the supersensorium? Why take away from the real when the real is already back on its heels, and behind it, a cliff?…

It turns out, Hoel suggests, that the answers have everything to do with dreaming…

To explain the phenomenology of dreams I recently outlined a scientific theory called the Overfitted Brain Hypothesis (OBH). The OBH posits that dreams are an evolved mechanism to avoid a phenomenon called overfitting. Overfitting, a statistical concept, is when a neural network learns overly specifically, and therefore stops being generalizable. It learns too well. For instance, artificial neural networks have a training data set: the data that they learn from. All training sets are finite, and often the data comes from the same source and is highly correlated in some non-obvious way. Because of this, artificial neural networks are in constant danger of becoming overfitted. When a network becomes overfitted, it will be good at dealing with the training data set but will fail at data sets it hasn’t seen before. All learning is basically a tradeoff between specificity and generality in this manner. Real brains, in turn, rely on the training set of lived life. However, that set is limited in many ways, highly correlated in many ways. Life alone is not a sufficient training set for the brain, and relying solely on it likely leads to overfitting…

What the OBH suggests is that dreams represent the biological version of a combination of such techniques, a form of augmentation or regularization that occurs after the day’s learning—but the point is not to enforce the day’s memories, but rather combat the detrimental effects of their memorization. Dreams warp and play with always-ossifying cognitive and perceptual categories, stress-testing and refining. The inner fabulist shakes up the categories of the plastic brain. The fight against overfitting every night creates a cyclical process of annealing: during wake the brain fits to its environment via learning, then, during sleep, the brain “heats up” through dreams that prevent it from clinging to suboptimal solutions and models and incorrect associations.

The OBH fits with the evidence from human sleep research: sleep seems to be associated not so much with assisting pure memorization, as other hypotheses about dreams would posit, but with an increase in abstraction and generalization. There’s also the famous connection between dreams and creativity, which also fits with the OBH. Additionally, if you stay awake too long you will begin to hallucinate (perhaps because your perceptual processes are becoming overfitted). Most importantly, the OBH explains why dreams are so, well, dreamlike.

… and everything to do with the role that it plays in our lives– and in shaping the media and entertainment that we consume…

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s rather amazing humans are willing to spend so much time on fictions… Why are we so fascinated by things that never happened?

If the OBH is true, then it is very possible writers and artists, not to mention the entirety of the entertainment industry, are in the business of producing what are essentially consumable, portable, durable dreams. Literally. Novels, movies, TV shows—it is easy for us to suspend our disbelief because we are biologically programmed to surrender it when we sleep. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a TV episode traditionally lasts about the same ~30 minutes in length as the average REM event, and movies last ~90 minutes, an entire sleep cycle (and remember, we dream sometimes in NREM too). They are dream substitutions.

This hypothesized connection explains why humans find the directed dreams we call “fictions” and “art” so attractive and also reveals their purpose: they are artificial means of accomplishing the same thing naturally occurring dreams do. Just like dreams, fictions and art keep us from overfitting our perception, models, and understanding of the world…

And as you’ll see if you read this piece in full, as I hope you will, the implication is that art– real art, good art– matters…

… as the supersensorium expands over more and more of our waking hours, the idea of an aesthetic spectrum, with art on one end and entertainment on the other, is defunct. In fact, explicitly promoting any difference between entertainment and art is considered a product of a bygone age, even a tool of oppression and elitism. At best, the distinction is an embarrassing form of noblesse oblige. One could give a long historical answer about how exactly we got into this cultural headspace, maybe starting with postmodernism and deconstructionism, then moving on to the problematization of the canon, or the saturation of pop culture in academia to feed the more and more degrees, we could trace the ideas, catalog the opinions of the cultural powerbrokers, we could focus on new media and technologies muscling for attention, or changing demographics and work forces and leisure time, or so many other things—but none of it matters. What matters is, now, as it stands, talking about art as being fundamentally different from entertainment brings charges of classism, snobbishness, elitism—of being proscriptive, boring, and stuffy.

And without a belief in some sort of lowbrow-highbrow spectrum of aesthetics, there is no corresponding justification of a spectrum of media consumption habits. Imagine two alien civilizations, both at roughly our own stage of civilization, both with humanity’s innate drive to consume artificial experiences and narratives. One is a culture that scoffs at the notion of art. The other is aesthetically sensitive and even judgmental. Which weathers the storm of the encroaching supersensorium, with its hyper-addictive superstimuli? When the eleven hours a day becomes thirteen, becomes fifteen? A belief in an aesthetic spectrum may be all that keeps a civilization from disappearing up its own brainstem.

In a world of infinite experience, it is the aesthete who is safest, not the ascetic. Abstinence will not work. The only cure for too much fiction is good fiction. Artful fictions are, by their very nature, rare and difficult to produce. In turn, their rarity justifies their existence and promotion. It’s difficult to overeat on caviar alone. Now, it’s important to note here that I don’t mean that art can’t be entertaining, nor that it’s restricted to a certain medium. But art always refuses to be easily assimilated into the supersensorium.

…only by upholding art can we champion the consumption of art. Which is so desperately needed because only art is the counterforce judo for entertainment’s stranglehold on our stone-age brains. And as the latter force gets stronger, we need the former more and more.

So in your own habits of consumption, hold on to art. It will deliver you through this century…

The neuroscientific case for art in the age of Netflix: “Exit the supersensorium,” from @erikphoel.

* Haruki Murakami

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As we dream on, we might send birthday greetings to Konstantin Yuon; he was born on this date in 1875. A painter and theater designer, he was involved with Mir Iskusstva, the Russian magazine, and with the artistic movement it inspired and embodied, which was a major influence on the Russians who helped revolutionize European art during the first decade of the 20th century. Later, he co-founded the Union of Russian Artists and the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia.

New Planet, 1921

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Self-portrait, 1912

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October 24, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Uniformity is not nature’s way; diversity is nature’s way”*…

The U.S. boasts an impressively vast array of agricultural and botanical species. In an attempt to document that fact, The United States Department of Agriculture collected over 7,500 botanical watercolour paintings of evolving fruit and nut varieties in its Pomological Watercolor Collection, assembled between 1886 and 1942…

Independent publishing house Atelier Éditions is now revisiting this documentation of American pomology with the release of its latest book: An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts. “I came across the collection a few years back while researching botanical artworks,” says Pascale Georgiev, editorial director of Atelier. “There was such potential for a book with this collection, and it fits with our way of building archival or collection-based volumes.” The book is a biophilic wonder, with beautiful images of fruits popping with gentle colours and careful watercolour work. Accompanying them are often texts by well-versed experts, giving a fascinating insight into the agriculture behind the produce.

“We only produce and consume a handful of varieties today, mainly hybrids that cater to our desire for a certain sweetness, juiciness, smoothness, even specific shapes and lack of seeds,” says Pascale on the importance of the book’s current publication. “In some respects, the collection is a time capsule, and a reminder about the importance of diversity and conservation,” she adds…

Joey Levenson in discussion with Pascal: “We talk to Atelier Éditions about its new Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts,” in @itsnicethat. More at Atelier Éditions.

Vandana Shiva

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As we fancy favorite fruits, we might carefully compose a birthday greeting to Pierre Athanase Larousse, the French grammarian and lexicographer, born in Toucy on this date in 1817.  In 1856 Larousse and his partner Augustin Boyer published the New Dictionary of the French Language, the forerunner of the Petit Larousse.   On December 27, 1863 the first volume of Larousse’s masterwork, the great encyclopedic dictionary, the Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle (Great Universal 19th-Century Dictionary), appeared.

The cover of the first Larousse French dictionary (1856)

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Then, in 1938, the Larousse publishing house published an encyclopedia of gastronomy, Larousse Gastronomique edited by Prosper Montagne.

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And Happy Mole Day (or to be more precise, October 23 at 6:02 pm, in honor of Avogadro’s number: 6.02 x 1023 items are in a mole — it’s the chemist’s version of a dozen)

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October 23, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.”*…

A consideration of the GOAT…

It always feels like an appropriate moment to talk about Buster Keaton, if only because talking about him leads naturally to watching his films and experiencing again the shades of awe and amazement they reliably awaken.

For all his fertility in superbly improbable inventions, what counted for Keaton was a sense of realness, an avoidance of the “ridiculous,” an adjective by which he indicated the disconnected gimmicks and anarchically unleashed aggression typical of Mack Sennett and Keaton’s own cinematic mentor, the ill-fated Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

He insisted on gags that evolved logically, story lines “that one could imagine happening to real people”—imagine being the appropriate verb, and the logic in question being of a peculiar sort unique to Keaton. The predicaments of his heroes were made to seem not only plausible but inevitable, even when they involved being chased over hills and valleys by a mob of women in wedding gowns (Seven Chances, 1925) or guiding a herd of cattle through the traffic-clogged streets of Los Angeles (Go West, 1925).

The pursuit of realness was carried to extremes in the epic proportions of the landscapes he sought out, the use of actual ocean liners and railroad trains as comic props, the execution of stunts like making an eighty-five-foot jump into a net in The Paleface (1922) or standing motionless in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) while the façade of a building falls on him—he is saved only by a conveniently placed window opening. (“We built the window so that I had a clearance of two inches on each shoulder, and the top missed my head by two inches and the bottom my heels by two inches.”) Magic act merges with cinema verité in films that become documentaries of the impossible. The fantastic structures and machines have the stark authenticity of the handmade. Most authentic of all is Keaton himself, continually testing the limits of the body’s capacities, not with bravado but with a demeanor that could pass for self-effacement…

Geoffrey O’Brien‘s illuminatingly-appreciative consideration of two new biographies of Keaton (the wonderfully complementary Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life by James Curtis and Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century by Dana Stevens)– and of the genius himself: “Keep Your Eye on the Kid,” in @nybooks.

* Buster Keaton

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As we marvel, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that Keaton’s The Chemist was released. A short from Education Pictures (which is remembered not only for its Keaton comedies, but also as the studio that introduced Shirley Temple), it was directed by Al Christie, who was Mack Sennett’s great rival in the silent era.

While it’s not of the same stature as Keaton’s self-directed silent masterpieces, it’s a treat:

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October 9, 2022 at 1:00 am

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