Archive for the ‘Art Commentary’ Category

A Short, Irreverent Art History, Part 5

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010


Things Come Back Together

Our story so far: Impressionists revolted against realistic art that was little more than an excuse to make soft core porn, then a bunch of artists got more and more abstract, until subject matter was gone entirely. Artists hit a brick wall, because art couldn’t be any more abstract, so artists started to deconstruct the subject matter and just about everything else about art by making and doing weird stuff.

That brings us to today. Or, maybe a few years ago. Or a decade ago. Or somethin’.

And I’ll be honest. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The only reason I think this is OK is nobody knows what they are talking about.

I haven’t come across any good theory explaining what the “story” of art is right now.

Modernism is over. They successfully deconstructed subject matter. Post-modernism is over, they successfully deconstructed everything else. (If you don’t know how, read my last two entries)

Things are all deconstructed, so maybe art today is about reconstruction. Maybe the job of the artist is to figure out what pieces and fragments of this “art thing” are important to them, and to reconstruct them into something all their own.

When artists find out how they want to reconstruct things from this mess, they will be use these pieces and fragments to make art that is personal, and universal (the secret recipe of relevancy).

A dab of abstract, a bit of impressionism, with some performance and some reflections of our culture. Artists can take the most meaningful bits and methods from all of art history as we see fit, to make whatever is most fitting.

The tricky thing: there are so many bits, that no single artist will be able to pick up all of them. There are so many methods available now, so many ways to make art that have been proven valid, and some of them even contradict each other. Each artist is picking a few different approaches, those that are the most important to them, and doing what they will with them. Reconstructing them in their own personal way.

Is there a linear narrative to describe what is going on now? We probably won’t know for 50 years or so, when someone writes the new irreverent art history to talk about what they think the 21st century has been all about.

Because, I don’t think we really know. And that makes things pretty darn cool.

In the meantime, I’m gonna be reconstructing things.

A Short and Irreverent Art History, Part 4

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010


Things Fall Apart… When they are forcibly disassembled

The modernists went as far as they could go, they proved the thesis of Modern Art – art didn’t have to have subject matter, it could be a “pure” creation, subject matter and the materials used to make it were one and the same.

In the 1950s, a couple of upstarts thought that was boring, and did something different, and they drew (no pun intended) subject matter from ordinary, daily things. Flags, numbers, soup cans, and shoes. Pop Art was invented.

It’s hard to explain how Pop Art was a radical departure from modernism, but the main departure was to say, “art isn’t some hoity toity, amazing thing, a reflection of ‘high’ culture; anything can be art”.

And then all hell broke loose.

Honestly, it is hard to write this entry of my “short, irreverent” history, because so much happened in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s that was so different from anything that had previously been called art, it doesn’t fit into a linear narrative as well as Modern Art does. It was an explosion that went in many directions at once.

There was performance art, installations, pop art, assembelage, video, conceptual art, digital art, and other bizarre ways to make art. Art addressed gender, nature, consumerism, space and environment, kitsch, and religion.

A lot of art from this time was “shocking” (link is NSFW), and a lot of people would say, just plain strange or uncalled for (another not quite SFW image). Often, when people see post-modern art, the response is, “how is this art?”

It seems like art became random in the post-modern era, but I think there was a common thread, just like there was a common thread in the Modern era. The thesis of Post-Modern art is that there isn’t a distinction between art and life. Anything can be art, if attention is brought to it as art, and anything that was art could be part of life.

Art wasn’t a “thing” to be “made” that would sit in a gallery or museum to be looked at when someone wanted to “experience art”, it was something that happened all around us, all the time. Life is art, and art is life, it has the meaning that we give it, and it obtains meaning when we draw attention to it.

The wall between art and life was brought down. Post-Modern art disassembled the meaning of art, each movement and method unravelled the meaning of art in a different direction.

That’s pretty damn cool.

The problem is that it leaves art completely deconstructed, completely disassembled, lacking any definition and structure. This sucks for artists now.

There are a whole lot of pieces laying all over the floor now that the post-modernist are through with it. It is the morning after a raging, drunken party, and we wake up, the house is trashed, and we have the mother of all headaches.

Up next, the fallout, and where we are now.

A Short and Irreverent Art History, Part 3

Thursday, July 1st, 2010


How Modern Art backed itself into a Corner

This is Part 3 of this series, in which I talk about what Modern Art means. Part 1 talks about the rules of art for hundreds of years, and how impressionists broke those rules. Part 2 talks about how the stones the impressionists threw turned into an avalanche of abstraction. You should read part 2 before reading below (if you haven’t already), because this entry picks up where it ends. This entry is really the second half of Part 2, I cut it into parts because of length.

Like before, clicking on the links below will launch a pop-over image, without taking you away from the page. (Though there aren’t many links in this one)

On to pontification.

Abstraction Hits A Wall

There’s one thing I wonder about when I look at the Modern Art period, and the background for this question addresses why folks sometimes have difficulty appreciating Modern Art.

The most interesting thing about Modern Art was the road that artists traveled down, the ways that artists changed the philosophies of what art is during the first half of the 20th century.

Individual works of art are a record of the road they were on, but it turns out that the journey down the road was more interesting than any of the individual stops. Each of those stops along the way, cubism, fauvism, expressionism, whateverism, don’t always make a lot of sense on their own, because each one is a move further down this “Modern Art” road. They build upon the progress that came before, and push further down the road towards pure abstraction.

When I look at a painting of a white square, I look at it as a step towards pure abstraction, a step towards proving that art doesn’t need a subject, a step towards demonstrating that art was about raw art materials, and what could be done with them. Outside of that context, however, a white square isn’t very interesting and doesn’t make much sense.

This is where Modern Art loses a lot of people. The context is missing. An abstract collection of shapes isn’t always interesting or beautiful, at least from an objective view. The meaning and importance depends on the context in which it was made, and how it expanded the boundaries of art.

The history of Modern Art is the history of this march towards pure abstraction, taken one step at a time. I sense that it was a proud march, artists bravely pushing boundaries and courageously proving art could be more and more abstract.

Getting back to my question about this, what I wonder is, did they realize this road was a dead end?

There is a natural limit to abstract art. There is a point at which art cannot be any more abstract, because it is as abstract as is possible with a tube of paint and a canvas. That limit was reached in the 1940s and 1950s, and this was the destination of the Modern Art road.

When artists reached this destination, everyone discovered that the road wasn’t a road at all, it was more like a pier. There was no where left to go.

Modern Art was a dead end, artists had moved in this direction as far as was possible. Even worse, it was the getting there that was interesting. It isn’t nearly so interesting to stay there. They could either hang out at the end of the pier, or walk back to the shore. Both options are boring.

Luckily, a couple strange guys, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, saw a third way; they decided to jump off the pier into the ocean, and that’s when things really got wacky.

Tomorrow, this series continues with the cleverly named Post-Modern art that came after Modern Art.

A Short and Irreverent Art History, Part 2

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Art History is a mess of people, pictures, and strange “isms”. Some of it looks great, some of it… can be harder to appreciate. I’ve got my own take on what Art History is about, and what was important. If you haven’t read my irreverent history of art up to impressionism, You should read it first, because this picks up where that ends.

Clicking on the links below will launch a pop-over image, without taking you away from the page. Hover over the image for an informational caption, click next to the image to make the image go away.

Let’s continue the story.

…and then a bunch of upstart impressionists made all other art styles irrelevant with their sloppy smears of paint on canvas. Monet’s painting of a woman out for a walk may seem downright tame and old school today, but at the time, it was new and original.

The revolution of the impressionists is that they allowed the paint to be seen. The impressionists didn’t smooth out each brush stroke out and blend every color like artists had for (hundreds of) years before. You could see every dab of paint, and every brushstroke, on the canvas.

These small pebbles of change started the avalanche that is Modern Art, an avalanche that would end with subject matter indistinguishable from the materials used to make the art.

[A quick note about the term Modern Art – it can refer to both the time frame (1865-1950), or the styles developed in that time frame (impressionism to abstract expressionism). These art styles followed a certain progression, and explored a certain philosophy of art, which reached a culmination in the 1940s and 1950s. For better or worse.]

Impressionism made the rounds for a decade or two, until some folks started to expand on this “painterly” thing. The result was the keenly named post-impressionism, which features artistic super stars like Cezanne, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, and Van Gogh.

In the early 1900’s, this Spanish guy named Picasso made a painting of some women, and depicted them out of a bunch of flat, angular shapes. The art world was rocked, and cubism was invented by Picasso, along with his buddy Braques. Picasso became super famous, even though he was still alive.

After cubism rocked everybody’s socks off, a bunch of other folks developed a bunch of “isms”: suprematism, futurism, expressionism, surrealism, DaDa, etc. These were all just a bunch of new weird ways to paint things, but they all had one thing in common: the paint, and how it could be used to depict things, became far more important and interesting than the actual subject matter. (Except DaDa and surrealism, which were just weird)

This is the time when artists depicted things very abstractly, and more and more, paintings became pure combinations of shape and color, and did not depict anything “real”.

This culminated in Abstract Expressionism. External subject matter was gone completely, the subject of the paintings was the paint itself. This is the era when Hans Hofman smeared paint on his canvas with his palette knife, Jackson Pollock danced around his canvases and flung paint on them, and Mark Rothko painted cloudy squares of color on his canvas.

This is what Modern Art is all about – art became less and less about the subject matter, and more and more about how the materials were used to depict the subject matter. Eventually, subject matter disappeared entirely.

This series continues tomorrow, I will talk about what Modern Art means, and how it was just a dead end road.

A Short and Irreverent Art History, Part 1

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

[Note: This is the history of Art as I see it. Expect liberties. Every link in this post launches a popover image that exemplifies the art or artist I discuss, run your mouse over the image for a caption. Click liberally for the full experience.]

For the longest time, Art was all about the church and the bible. Paintings and sculptures and stuff were all about the Glory of God. This makes sense, because for most people, all they did was work in squalor, and go to church, and nobody wants to be reminded of squalor.

There were lots of neat paintings and sculptures by Renaissance artists (if you can remember all 4 Ninja Turtle names, you know them). Eventually, some artists started branching out, and painted mythic scenes, rich people, and bowls of fruit. In Holland they invented the “landscape painting” and paintings of “normal people“. Painting was very realistic, and the more realistic, the better.

All this realistic, “highly skilled” type of painting got stale eventually, and by the mid 1800’s in France, paintings were basically softcore porn, with the excuse that they depicted “mythic” or “historical” scenes. But always with naked chicks.

In the 1860’s this young upstart named Edouard Manet thought this was lame (at least, the “calling it mythic” part – he still liked the naked chicks part). He made a couple paintings that at the time were called “crappy“, and are now called “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary”. The paintings were “painterly“, rather than photorealistic. Before Manet, artists tried to “hide the paint”. Paintings were meant to look like the color had magically appeared on the canvas, not applied with a brush. Basically, they tried to make paintings look as lifelike as possible. Manet ignored this, and made his paintings look a bit more like they were made out of, well, paint.

(By the way, Manet wasn’t just a crappy painter, he actually could paint in the style that was “proper” for the time, he just chose not to – Modern Art wasn’t started by a talentless hack.)

A bunch of guys and gals (Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, Morisot, Pissarro, Degas, etc) thought Manet was on to something, and the Impressionism movement steam rolled forward. The era of Modern Art had begun.

Tomorrow: Modern Art, the style, the era, and what it is all about.

WTF? SF MoMA Gives Me Satanic Drug Dogs!

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I renewed my membership to the SF Museum of Modern Art the other day. Well, actually about 5 months ago, but I’ve been sitting on this post a while.

They gave me a poster when I renewed my membership. I got the girl who helped me to admit that she gave me the poster because I am special (I told her to tell me that, after all), though I think they gave everyone who renewed that week a poster.

I didn’t look at the poster until I got home later that day.

It kinda freaks me out.

Country Dog Gentlemen by Roy De Forest.  I'm scared of those dogs too.

Country Dog Gentlemen by Roy De Forest. Satanic dogs on acid.

If somebody told me to draw satanic dogs, then asked me to draw them like they were all tripping, I don’t think I could depict that as well as this poster does.

That’s what I see, but maybe it’s just me.

It turns out this painting is by Roy De Forest, who was a professor at UC Davis from the 60’s to the 90’s. He passed away a few years ago, in 2007. He lived in Port Costa later in life, right up in the North Bay. He was a local Bay Area artist for the majority of his life, so kudos to SF MoMA for promoting the local guys.

It’s still a freaky poster though. I later saw it hanging by the entrance to the children’s education center in the museum. I wonder if this painting has inspired many nightmares?

Hands – Caress them and Care for them

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

I am fascinated with hands.

As far as drama goes, the face is usually the big winner. We know to look to the face to see how someone feels.

Hands are far more subtle, far more sensual, and far more truthful.

Eyes may be the window into a person’s soul, but I believe their hands are the window into their heart.

My painting professor at Santa Cruz once made a side comment to me as I was working on a painting, “hands are made to caress”. He was trying to teach me to see the shape of hands, the roundness and the curvature of them. That comment has stuck with me for about 12 years now, and, as I have seen over time, means far more than it first appeared to.

Functional Hands

inky hands

...and sometimes, my hands just get covered with ink

Our hands are also incredibly functional, amazing tools. They can grip, twist, lift, move, bend, hold, tear, etc, etc. It is amazing what they can do. Would humans have advanced as far as we have without them? I don’t know.

I work with my hands to make art. In many ways, I think of art as a process of absorbing information through my eyes, running it through the processors (brain, heart), and outputting the processed image with my hands.

Without hands, much less is possible.

Always keep the hands

One of my early art lessons from Mrs. Post (my high school art teacher) was to accentuate the important, and leave the obvious vague.

To me, hands are essential, because they tell a lot of the story.

woodblock for a skater print

The last skater print is ready to carve

Whenever I draw a figure, I include the hands. When the image is progressing in such a way that the hands are off of the page, I redraw the image. You may notice that in each of the recent skater prints I’ve completed, I keep at least one hand in the image, preferably two.

The hands get a lot of my time and effort, because I believe that they are a critical part of the image.

Speaking of Skater prints, the last one is in progress, for those following along with this project. I have drawn the image onto the block, and I’m ready to start carving.

I opted for a decent night of sleep last night, rather than stay up till 2 am carving this block.

I should have it done tonight, and then I will be able to reveal the real reason that I have done this series of woodblock prints…

(Those of you that read Dave regularly got a hint today though)

101 things I learned from making 101 prints, Part 5

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

After finishing the 101 Woodblock Print Project (printing 101 all-different woodblock prints), comes this series of 101 things I learned by making these prints.

These 101 prints are for sale to email newsletter subscribers (sign up at left). They will be available to everyone in a couple week, but the price increases by about 7x. As a promotion, I am selling them for the price the materials and shipping cost me, nothing more. If you prefer to spend less money rather than more money, act now.

The last 20 prints are going to be uploaded to the sales gallery today, so all the latest, freshest prints are freshly available.

Previously, in this series of 101 things I learned by making 101 Woodblock prints:

The Last 21 Things I learned by making 101 Woodblock Prints

  1. If it starts to take twice as long to carve a block as you thought it would, relax, and get to it. Don’t take any shortcuts, you will be glad you didn’t.
  2. When you are happy with what you accomplished after a long day of work, that is following your passion.
  3. You may not always be passionate about following your passion. Gruel it out.
  4. Leverage your day job as much as possible, but don’t sacrifice performance. Remember what pays the bills.
  5. When you are stuck, not sure what to do next, do the first thing you think of.
  6. The first dollar that you receive from selling your artwork is going to feel really good. I still have mine.
  7. Framed art looks fantastic.
  8. Variety can extend your theme further
  9. Once you have a theme to work with, make small changes to add variety
  10. Get comfortable with selling your work, and accepting money for it.
  11. Learn how to sell your stuff. There are people that probably wouldn’t buy $10 bills for $5, unless you sold them on it.
  12. Don’t worry if you don’t feel excited when you finish. It just means you have bigger things to move on to.
  13. Plan for success.
  14. Keep working.
  15. If you get sick of your project, keep working.
  16. Keep working.
  17. When you are not sure what to do next, keep working
  18. Keep working
  19. When you finish the project, move on to the next, and keep working.
  20. Keep working
  21. Did I mention, keep working?

101 things I learned from making 101 prints, Part 4

Friday, February 12th, 2010

I know what’s been on your mind. After reading the first 20 things I learned, then things I learned numbers 21 through 40, followed by 41 through 60, you are dying to hear the next 20!

If you are new to this list, then you should know the story. I decided to make 101 Woodblock Prints, all different. I recently finished, and they are for sale to newsletter subscribers. Sign up if you wanna buy art for very few dollars.

So here are the next twenty things I learned by making one-hundred and one woodblock prints.

  1. It’s ok to waste some unused ink. You don’t have to use every part of the buffalo.
  2. There might be another use for that leftover ink though.
  3. There may be ways to use a woodblock that you initially did not think of. Look for those uses.
  4. Develop a fast, easy, and reliable registration system. The extra time upfront is worth it in the long term.
  5. Leaving a project unfinished because you don’t feel like working on it anymore is not acceptable. Or rather, it just won’t get you anywhere.
  6. Most art stores have a horribly small selection of relief printmaking supplies. Don’t count on them.
  7. Order from McClain’s Printmaking Supplies. They rock. Other places I’ve ordered from suck.
  8. Call of Duty is the enemy of productivity (though I am lethal with a silenced SCAR)
  9. Good friends will offer good encouragement
  10. Surround yourself with motivated people.
  11. It feels really nice when people like your art. REALLY nice.
  12. It’s even nicer when they email you and tell you they like it. HINT.
  13. Don’t expect everyone to get it.
  14. Feeling understood is one of the most nourishing things in life.
  15. When you get so tired you make stupid mistakes, stop working
  16. Nurture every relationship that comes your way.
  17. Seek out new relationships and connections to strengthen your personal web.
  18. The internet is a time waster. Unplug when time to work (do as I say, not as I do)
  19. When you pull the print off of the final block, and it looks great, it’s ok to actually yell a “woohoo out loud.
  20. When you hang your art in your window to dry, include a sign directing folks to your website. You never know who is walking by.

101 things I learned from making 101 prints, Part 3

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

After putting up the first 20 then the next 20 things I learned by making 101 Woodblock Prints, it is time for….

The 41st through 60th thing I learned by making 101 Woodblock Prints.

  1. “Eyeballing it” is not a reliable registration method
  2. White erasers can erase quite a bit, including stray ink marks on the paper.
  3. To spend the time it takes to make art good enough to impress chicks, you won’t have any free time for chicks.
  4. After 10 hours of work, beer tastes good.
  5. 12 hours spent focusing on carving 1 block is mentally draining.
  6. 3 hours, on the other hand, is no big deal.
  7. It takes a long time to make art, and a long time to market art. Doing both takes even longer.
  8. Decorative art is ok. People like it.
  9. Wood is more delicate to carve than linoleum, and also, it prints better.
  10. Cheap brayers will deteriorate over time. I already told you to get good ones.
  11. Your least favorite art might be someone else’s most favorite art.
  12. It’s ok to take risks, sometimes you will be surprised at the results.
  13. Sometimes you will be surprised at how bad the results are too.
  14. Pay attention to everything you do, it is information to learn from.
  15. Different colors have different pigment strength. Learn what’s what.
  16. Some colors are naturally transparent. I’m looking at you, Prussian Blue and Pthalo Green.
  17. Speaking of Prussian Blue, it is a surprisingly beautiful color.
  18. Always test the color on paper after you mix it on your palette. It will look different on paper.
  19. Trust your gut. If a color doesn’t seem right for a print, don’t use it.
  20. The most important influence on how productive your morning will be is the prior evening.

Check back tomorrow to read the next 20 lessons.

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