Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

old Betty Boop

These stun me every time.

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This is insane:

The Third & The Seventh

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self portrait

I need to figure out a way to look at my art through the eye of a casual viewer. Though I like the over all feel of this, I keep looking at it and focusing on the too-brown shadows under the lips and left eye, the slightly-off shape of the lips, the white patches in the hair, the flatness of the left eye, and so on. Sadly, with colored pencil there is a limit to the amount you can go back in and fix things.

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Today’s fun site is Gridcosm, which is basically a virtual fractal design-tower. Or something. I’ve been interested for a while in uses of the internet that inspire international artistic collaboration. SITO has some pretty interesting stuff.

The brief description on their site:

Gridcosm is a collaborative art project in which artists from around the world contribute images to a compounding series of graphical squares. Each level of Gridcosm is made up of nine square images arranged into a 3×3 grid. The middle image is a one-third size version of the previous level. Artists add images around that center image until a new 3×3 grid is completed, then that level itself shrinks and becomes the “seed” for the next level. This process creates an ever expanding tunnel of images, the newest level a direct result of the previous level which is a result of the previous level… and so on.

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I have a great big hulking art-crush on Léon Spilliaert. His stuff has so much stylistic variety yet there’s this awesome dark, hallucinatory quality that ties it all together. Check it out. (Those self portraits look a bit “Eraserhead,” don’t they?)


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Mary Magdalene In The Cave, Jules Joseph Lefebvre

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“The Case Of The Bloody Iris” is a movie filled with so many stupid and cheesy moments that it’s impossible to list them all here (just an example: a bloody corpse is discovered in the elevator of a high-rise apartment building while the sun is still up; after several hours, the night has fallen, a woman tries to get into the elevator, and the corpse is still there, lying at the exact same spot – apparently none of the tenants cared enough to call the police). So I’ll just mention the two things that bothered me the most:

1) The dubbing is terrible. The actors who dubbed in the voices of the original cast sound so bored that you wonder if they even got paid for their work or it was simply forced upon them. There is barely ONE LINE that sounds right in this film.

2) Edwige Fenech is gorgeous but ridiculously wooden as Jennifer. She wears the same “scared” expression throughout. A totally bland “heroine”.

This IMDB user is someone who never should watch another 1970s Italian horror movie. Complaining about wooden acting, plot inaccuracies, and bad dubbing. Come on now. If I swallowed that thunderously cliché portrayal of the predatory lesbian, a body languishing in the elevator past its due-date shouldn’t hurt anyone. Aesthetics, Watson! It’s all about aesthetics. (And entertainment. It’s about entertainment too.)

I was once at a museum and asked the security guard which painting was his favorite. He pointed to a painting of a ship on a stormy sea and told me he liked it “because it looked real.” He was guarding a room, not writing hefty tomes on art history, so that’s okay. I remember a painting teacher I once had, the brilliant and elitist (but he knew what he was talking about) David Schoffman, a man who changed the way I looked at art, telling the class dismissively that “anyone can paint realistically. Complimenting a painter for painting realistically is like saying someone is a great writer for having flawless grammar.” (I’m not sure I’d go that far — and like almost anyone with a more than superficial interest in linguistics, I have a big long rant readymade about “proper grammar” — but point taken.)

David was the one who taught me to stand as close to a painting as I possibly could without getting yelled at by security guards to study brushwork. He also gave me permission to admit that Picasso had some shitty paintings and that Monet was not so great at composition (in other words, that these weren’t untouchable heroes beyond my grasp but were humans — extremely talented but not infallible). For the sake of comparison, he pointed out the neurotic attention to composition displayed by Degas, a man who added thin little strips of paper to his pastel drawings because otherwise it just wasn’t right. I also recall David telling us: “You want an easy job? Go to medical school. If you’re an artist, you have to compete with God. That means every time you paint, you’re trying to top the Pacific Ocean!” (Yeah. It’s no wonder that those days I saw the red apples of my still-life when I closed my eyes at night, shimmering, fading in and out, and gliding over each other like images printed on semi-sheer sheets.)

My point is that art, at its core, is not about flawless rendering. There are reasons one can have for not liking this breed of movie, including that you find wooden acting painful to watch, but assuming that every movie should have the aim of mirroring reality, or at least of not being obviously “fake,” is pretty ignorant. If you were to cast some deep/complex method actor in “The Case of the Bloody Iris,” the inclusion would be extremely jarring. The movie isn’t about character development or believability so why should you expect to find that in the acting?

I think by now I’ve linked almost everyone I know to this lecture, but I’m going to post it again anyway: The Artful Brain. It’s by V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and professor in the psychology department and neurosciences program at UC San Diego. The whole thing is interesting, but I especially wanted to draw attention to the bit about Tinbergen’s study.

Here’s the excerpt in question:

[….]you need to go and look at ethology, especially the work of Niko Tinbergen at Oxford more than fifty years ago. And he was doing some very elegant experiments on seagull chicks.

As soon as the herring-gull chick hatches, it looks at its mother. The mother has a long yellow beak with a red spot on it. And the chick starts pecking at the red spot, begging for food. The mother then regurgitates half-digested food into the chick’s gaping mouth, the chick swallows the food and is happy. Then Tinbergen asked himself: “How does the chick know as soon as it’s hatched who’s mother? Why doesn’t it beg for food from a person who is passing by or a pig?”

And he found that you don’t need a mother.

You can take a dead seagull, pluck its beak away and wave the disembodied beak in front of the chick and the chick will beg just as much for food, pecking at this disembodied beak. And you say: “Well that’s kind of stupid – why does the chick confuse the scientist waving a beak for a mother seagull?”

Well the answer again is it’s not stupid at all. Actually if you think about it, the goal of vision is to do as little processing or computation as you need to do for the job on hand, in this case for recognizing mother. And through millions of years of evolution, the chick has acquired the wisdom that the only time it will see this long thing with a red spot is when there’s a mother attached to it. After all it is never going to see in nature a mutant pig with a beak or a malicious ethologist waving a beak in front of it. So it can take advantage of the statistical redundancy in nature and say: “Long yellow thing with a red spot IS mother. Let me forget about everything else and I’ll simplify the processing and save a lot of computational labour by just looking for that.”

That’s fine. But what Tinbergen found next is that you don’t need even a beak. He took a long yellow stick with three red stripes, which doesn’t look anything like a beak – and that’s important. And he waved it in front of the chicks and the chicks go berserk. They actually peck at this long thing with the three red stripes more than they would for a real beak. They prefer it to a real beak – even though it doesn’t resemble a beak. It’s as though he has stumbled on a superbeak or what I call an ultrabeak.

Why does this happen?

We don’t know exactly why, but obviously there are neural circuits in the visual pathways of the chick’s brain that are specialized for detecting beaks as soon as the chick hatches. They fire when seeing the beak. Perhaps because of the way they are wired up, they may actually respond more powerfully to the stick with the three stripes than to a real beak. Maybe the neurons’ receptive field embodies a rule such as “The more red contour the better,” and it’s more effective in driving the neuron, even though the stick doesn’t look like a beak to you and me – or maybe even to the chick. And a message from this beak-detecting neuron now goes to the emotional limbic centres in the chick’s brain giving it a big jolt and saying: “Wow, what a super beak!” and the chick is absolutely mesmerized.

Well now what’s this got to do with art, you’re wondering?

Well this brings me to my punch line of about art. What I’m suggesting is if those seagulls had an art gallery, they would hang this long stick with the three red stripes on the wall, they would worship it, pay millions of dollars for it, call it a Picasso, but not understand why – why am I mesmerized by this damn thing even though it doesn’t resemble anything? That’s what all of you are doing when you are buying contemporary art. You are behaving exactly like those gull chicks.

In other words human artists through trial and error, through intuition, through genius have discovered the figural primitives of our perceptual grammar. They are tapping into these and creating for your brain the equivalent of the long stick with the three stripes for the chick’s brain. And what you end up with is a Henry Moore or a Picasso.

The advantage of these ideas is you can test them experimentally. You can actually record from cells in the brain which sort of fire when you show it a face in the fusiform gyrus. Now some of them will fire only to a particular view of a face. But higher up you’ve got neurons which respond to any view of a given face. And I’m predicting that if you present a Cubist portrait of a monkey face – where you present two views of a monkey’s face in the same place – that cell will be hyper-activated. Just as the long stick with the three red stripes hyper-activates the beak-detecting neurons in the chick’s brain, this Cubist portrait of a monkey face will hyper-activate these face-detecting neurons in the monkey brain – and the monkey says: “Wow! What a face”. So what you have here is in fact a neural explanation for Picasso, for Cubism.

I was so excited when I heard that for the first time. It’s still a theory of course, but it potentially makes everything I ever thought about art make sense. Aestheticism hardwired into the brain! Yeah! Red tempera-paint blood is my seagull beak, guys.

Apologies if this has come across as pretentious or meandering. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Basically, I am a devoted lover of anything that is aesthetically interesting. If it’s rendered realistically, fantastic. If it’s not, wonderful. If it has some cultural significance or philosophical meaning, great, but it sure doesn’t need to. (I mean, beyond the cultural significance/philosophical meaning that anything has by virtue of just existing.)

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