Tag Archives: dead artists

“ARTIFICIAL, ESPERANTO ART” AND ITS DISCONTENTS

22 Apr
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Costumes by Vahad Poladian. Photo by Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times

Some gems from Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond by John Maizels. Regular readers of this blog will know that I like a bit of O/outsider attitude.

“What country doesn’t have its small sector of cultural art, its brigade of career intellectuals? It’s obligatory. From one capital to another they perfectly ape one another, practising an artificial, esperanto art, which is indefatigably recopied everywhere. But can we really call this art? Does it have anything to do with art?” Jean Dubuffet in L’Art brut préferé aux arts culturels, 1946.

This was in 1946 and it’s still just as true seventy years later. Very, very depressing. This tale of masterful gallery fucking-uppery is much more comforting:

“Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)… had been a junk dealer, making a living by salvaging what he could from the bits and pieces that fell into his hands. To this end he collected the old nibs from gold fountain pens. One day he found in his possession a particuarly fine pen, large and free-flowing, so good to handle that he was somehow led to use it playfully to draw outlines and forms…

Signed simply ‘Scottie’, the drawings became a source of livelihood for Wilson, who held his own exhibitions in music halls and pier booths around Britain. He was even taken up by a London gallery, Gimpel Fils, who were forced to rescind their agreement when he set up his own stall outside the gallery, selling his work for a fraction of the price of those exhibited within.”

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AWARD YOURSELF

9 Mar
Henrik Ibsen

“Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth.” (Henrik Ibsen Hot Chocolate). Henrik Ibsen painted by Henrik Olrik, 1879.

From the book Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney, Paul Johnson on the shitty, unfair and callously underappreciated lives of the world’s most undeniably creative people, who bring pleasure, beauty and inspiration to thousands or millions of people… plus Henrik Ibsen’s splendid but bonkers riposte.

“What strikes me, surveying the history of creativity, is how little fertile and productive people often received in the way of honours, money, or anything else. Has there ever been a more accomplished painter than Vermeer – a painter closer to perfection in creating beautiful pictures? How Vermeer must have cared about what he was doing! And how hard and intensely he must have worked to do it! Yet when he died, his widow had to petition the local guild for charity – she and her children came to abject poverty. That has been the fate of many widows of fine artists… It seems to me horrifying that Johann Sebastian Bach, a hardworking man all his life, at the top of his profession as organist and composer, and a careful and abstemious man too, should have died in poverty, as did the sister of Mozart, another prodigiously industrious and successful maker of music. Both these men were creators on a colossal scale, and consistently produced works of the highest quality. But they could not achieve security for their families.”

(For the reverse of this, i.e. how “successful” artists secretly had the independent wealth to do it all along and couldn’t really fail, see also Trustafarians of the Belle Époque)

Johnson disapproves of Ibsen’s bolshy, can-do response to not getting the plaudits he knew he deserved, but I think this is brilliant:

“One of the most curious sights in Oslo in the 1890s was Henrik Ibsen, walking to a public dinner, wearing his decorations. So keen was he on medals that he actually employed a professional honours broker* to get them from every government in Europe. He wore them on his dress clothes, reaching to his waist and even below it, and he often pinned a selection to his everyday suits. Thus weighted down and clanking, he strode nightly to his favourite café, for schnapps… But his habit was unbecoming unless (and this seems unlikely) his intent was humorous.”

Unbecoming? Sod that. Walking around with a bunch of honours and medals as normal day wear is my new sartorial goal. Award yourself the prize.

*Note: These types of brokers still exist and probably explain some of the odd and random people awarded various medals, titles and honorary degrees for doing nobody-is-entirely-sure-what.

CONFUSING ART WITH ARCHAEOLOGY

14 Aug

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Kakuzo Okakura, 茶の本 (The Book of Tea, 1906):

“We must remember, however, that art is of value only to the extent that it speaks to us. It might be a universal language if we ourselves were universal in our sympathies. Our finite nature, the power of tradition and conventionality, as well as our hereditary instincts, restrict the scope of our capacity for artistic enjoyment. Our very individuality establishes in one sense a limit to our understanding; and our aesthetic personality seeks its own affinities in the creations of the past. It is true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens, and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognised expressions of beauty. But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe, – our particular idiosyncracies dictate the mode of our perceptions.”

“Another common mistake is that of confusing art with archaeology. The veneration born of antiquity is one of the best traits in the human character, and fain would we have it cultivated to a greater extent. The old masters are rightly to be honoured for opening the path to future enlightenment. The mere fact that they have passed unscathed through centuries of criticism and come down to us still covered with glory commands our respect. But we should be foolish indeed if we valued their achievement simply on the score of age. Yet we allow our historical sympathy to override our aesthetic discrimination. We offer flowers of approbation when the artist is safely laid in his grave. The nineteenth century, pregnant with the theory of evolution, has moreover created in us the habit of losing sight of the individual in the species. A collector is anxious to acquire specimens to illustrate a period or a school, and forgets that a single masterpiece can teach us more than any number of the mediocre products of a given period or school. We classify too much and enjoy too little. The sacrifice of the aesthetic to the so-called scientific method of exhibition has been the bane of many museums.”

BARBARA HEPWORTH COSPLAY AT TATE BRITAIN

26 Jun
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Artist duffle coat, £425.

What better way to celebrate a major* exhibition of Dame Barbara Hepworth’s Modernist art at Tate Britain than spending £1200 in their gift shop to dress like a Hepster? Luckily the costumes clothes don’t have bloody great holes through the middle of them like her sculptures. Rather than a real artist of Hepworth’s vintage, they’re more like the sort of slightly-too-on-point-to-be-real ensembles you’d see worn by a beatnik artist Don Draper was knobbing on Mad Men. They’ve also wisely stuck to mod and steered clear of Babs’ occasional sartorial forays into getting herself up like a forest witch from a Russian folk tale. Designer Margaret Howell says “She was a woman to roll up her sleeves, and a woman who needed pockets – for chisel, pencil, and pebbles from the beach.” Do my eyes deceive me or is this woman actually mansplaining pockets to women? I know this revelation of the true purpose of pockets as places to put things will come as a shock to all you ladies who don’t generally need pockets and didn’t know what pockets are for. Buy a £135 Artist Smock and start getting some pebbles in yer. Maybe get a £1 Barbara Hepworth pencil like what she had for making her sculptures and shit.

You get the pencils from the gift shop, incidentally, and not from the beach where you also get chisels, as Howell’s bad grammar would suggest.

* Damn those pesky minor exhibitions, so pernicious that art museums and galleries constantly need to distinguish their “major” ones from paltry minor ones. Yeah, get the fuck out of here and don’t come back, minor artists with your minor exhibition bullshit.

Anyway, I’ve taken the liberty of virtually modelling some of the gear for you all. Next time I’m in the Crapital I’ll have to pop in to the old mausoleum and wear some of them for real. Or maybe we could all dress up as stereotypical-looking modern artists to storm the place en masse. DM me. I probably shouldn’t have said that. They’ll have printouts of me behind the tills or something: CALL SECURITY. When I have my retrospective at Tate Britain because I’m dead and can’t actually benefit from it, it’s going to be really easy for the gift shop buyers because usually I alternate between an outdoors lumbersexual look and for indoors hikikomori time (which is most of it, frankly) a black or dark blue T-shirt and the same trousers I’ve been wearing all week if I bother to put trousers on at all.

GET YOUR SMOCK ON, GET YOUR SMOCK ON, GET YOUR GET YOUR GET YOUR SMOCK ON

HepworthCosplay1

Scarf £195 + artist dungarees [sic] £245 + artist duffle coat [sic] £425 = £865. I’m wearing the artist duffle coat under the artist dungarees because the rules of your uncool square society don’t apply to me, daddio, and hell yeah I’m wearing a headscarf with the Tate logo on it. Half Withnail, half butch lesbian factory worker, all artist, dig?

 HepworthCosplay2

The twin influences of Cold War nihilism and Modernist utopianism are elegantly expressed in this ensemble of artist apron [sic]– a bargain at £75– charcoal silk scarf (£195) and artist smock [sic] for a mere £135. What do you mean you don’t have an artist smock? What kind of an artist are you? No kind of an artist is the answer, my friend, because all artists need a smock: END OF. Get thee to a gift shoppery.

More jolly violations of dead artists:

Miffy Rembrandt. Norwegian weltschmerz with Hello Kitty. Van Gogh Barbie (cut off earlobe sold separately)

… and further fashion choices for your high net worth art as lifestyle:

Silk trousers £575.

MORE MACHINE METONYMY MANAGEMENT

22 Jun

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn interesting summary in MIT Technology Review of some recent research done on creativity in historical art, creativity here being taken to mean novelty in imagery or content that had an influence on other– by definition less creative and more derivative– works by the same artist or by others. A machine vision algorithm analysed “classemes”: visual concepts which “can be low-level features such as color, texture, and so on, simple objects such as a house, a church or a haystack and much higher-level features such as walking, a dead body, and so on.”

Intriguingly, the algorithm is not restricted to figurative art and it can cope with abstraction and pop art, although at this stage they seem to be looking at painting. The software critic also tends to broadly agree with human assessments of the most influential works and artists even though it was not primed or biased in any way; all it did was look at which artists were being creative and which were being derivative in their imagery. Possibly another point for the “yes, good and bad art is quantifiable” side.

By the way… I must point out that despite MIT supposedly having some of the best logical minds on the planet, nobody seems to have noticed that MIT stands for Massachusetts Institute of Technology, therefore this publication’s name is Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technology Review.

Read the original scientific paper here, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technology Review’s review here here.

(Previously: Google AI’s halluncinations)

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