modernist technique as a way to self?

 

Maybe another question we might ask would be – “Why are we artists painting in a manner (loosely termed abstraction) which seems to say ‘I’m abstract’ more than it advances any other sort of dialogue or reading?  Why are we still choosing a language that is more subjective than objective in an age of where the issues we face in our current politics, (those that rely upon objective fact and science to discuss ) are now requiring a social-activism of sorts, a championing of, serving as topics of social justice and taking to the political streets in protest?  In an age where we are having to defend science and truth and facts (an inversion of Renaissance thinking) how does painting something that looks like yet another abstract painting relate to our demand for objective analysis at such a dire point in our political landscape?  There must be something that this approach is providing us with in the face of our current reality.

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Looking at the history of abstraction in Western Art painting, we see the approach tackled in its infancy with an Arthur Dove foghorn through the Josef Albers square to the eulogizing canvases of Ryman and Martin.  Painting moved from objects recognizable to those no longer until we met our final fringe of the material canvas itself.   

 

And, now, here we are, in the 21st century still tackling the canvas but with our intentions very different.  We’re no longer advancing a theory, but are engaged in the act of painting in an emotive sense, as therapeutic release, where the artist chooses “inner journey” over outer reality.  The common theme is one’s interest in taking that ‘inner journey’ in a self-conscious remove from the outside world, away from the fragmented commercial CMYK landscape and indulge in a “meditative, intimate, individual, excavating of self.”   

 

With our current surroundings being filled 24/7 with images on screens, fashion and advertising in HD, moving billboards as we drive, television screens everywhere and in every direction we look, abbreviated symbols, emojis, and thumbs up or thumbs down, the fact that artists working today are choosing to use a non-image approach, a nonobjective one in order to ‘say something’ with their paintings is symptomatic maybe, of the current flux mentioned by one of the artists here —- and that is, in an effort to survive it.   

Maybe we are still painting in the abstract manner to comment upon our current world of image-saturation.  Maybe making and then looking at nonobjective swirls of paint are what we need to survive as our current image-making landscape becomes sharper and sharper and more inclined to dictate our behavior (lead us away from our meditative self) rather than supply us with something supplementary to look at on any given day.

 

 

May  2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe the art on the walls in galleries should be distanced and removed from the real world in terms of its delivery, discussion, and deal with large open swaths of generalized concepts like spirit, balance, harmony and nature, allowing for the connections to be made by sense and feeling rather than study and cultural relevance —- for that is how we may have come to define art anyway.

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Artists were once our sole image-makers.  Their work, (whether political cartoon, lampoon, editorial illustration, architectural design, photograph, painting, sculpture, carving on clay) assumed a role of communication via a select few.  Artists of guilds, patron-hired painters of renown and reputation, professional orators and writers, critics and draftspersons were the ones who gave to our mass audience its cultural signifiers, its innovations within disciplines, and the communication of thoughts, information, and ideas.  The circle of influence was small and exclusive; its contributors, for better or worse, employed by patronage, power and privilege.

Today, with our media platforms allowing us a far wider range of respective contributors, we have universal image-making running alongside the artist’s.  In addition, we have Visual Art’s seemingly tenuous relationship to its once-inseparable theory; (Greenberg’s Modernist Theory which both promoted painting as it simultaneously, and, accordingly, penned its eulogy);  the artist working well within an established discipline pushing tenable Modernist’s boundaries.

Today’s Visual Art seemingly floats without a discipline, and its Modernist Theory, in retrospect, [a discipline criticized itself for its elitism and reduced scope during its time] seems now a welcomed breath of intellectual discourse sorely missed.

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A language without a discipline in which to speak it (advance it) is where we seem to find ourselves:  wanting our cake (the mooring of Visual Art to a valid language no longer found in theory and scholarship but by virtue of the exhibiting and marketing of the art itself) and, eating it, too – asserting that anything found in these spaces is art, regardless of its challenge to the form, its historical progression, (technical development or any advancement in form) made within the language itself.

So, we have a language that needs to be understood in order for the art to exist, and, the space for that language to exist needs to be open-ended and understood.  If either of these fail in communicating, what do we have?

For the most part, the contemporary art gallery exists in its own subset of isolationism by insisting that the language used here in this space is a mystery, is supposed to be one not quite understood, arcane, and, at its furthest, incommunicable.  It is a place to go to be inspired, awed, moved by the art objects we see before us.  We are there to look at and experience (almost meditatively) objects before us that are presented as art, no matter the success in translation of the language being used.

Elizabethan audiences understood the language of pun and aside, nuanced allusion, political and religious satire.  They understood the role of theater, the language of the stage.  I’m not sure we can carry this over to today’s gallery-going experience.  The deck is stacked against the innocent viewer wanting to get something out of the work displayed.  In the open-armedness of the inclusive-minded 21st century – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain a performance of awed silence] remain firmly in place.

For Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane and mysterious, but gratuitous and random.  It seems to consist of an ‘anything goes’ — as long as it “looks like art”, the kind of art that we’ve come to know and trust.  The Copernicuses of art-making have had to become Geo-centrists by market-success default.  Revolutions are for flipping paradigms on their heads, and the market-controlled Gallery-to-Gala-to-Big Art Fair wants nothing to do with this.  It cannot, for its own survival.

So, to look at this whole established system — to look at  “looking at art”with some sort of silver-lining – maybe where today’s art is to be found is in the gallery space — but in the gallery-goer’s own sentient experience of ‘going to a gallery and looking at art’.  Maybe it is the activity that is the important thing, the social interaction and the community participation and not the “getting anything” from the art, or, what the artist has tried to say with the art object.  Maybe it is the diversion itself; the contemporary gallery space really well-designed in successfully generating the collective sigh, gasp, or reflex and, maybe this is what we truly need.

Maybe our art today is to be found in the ‘experiencing of ‘ it —  in all of its intangible, abstract and ineffable nuanced state.

 

Nov.  2016

Subject: digital & the making of images

We live in a world where digital transmissions of images and ideas are only eclipsed in quickness by the changing of the very technology itself and its effects on our society.  We seem momentarily remiss of a cumulative history while we capture with a digital ferocity every current changing element of our own very-now life.  Thousands of digital photographs live and breathe on our tiny hand-held cameras. Thousands.  And thousands which will never see the form as “printed photograph” in which to record history.  It is all a digital blur which will change the next time we “load our cameras”. 

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The quickness of a ten year old’s hand and mind as he moves the mouse to edit a photo that he took of a tree against the sky from his own backyard is the subject.  The photo, in origin, having the tree a bit out of focus, transforms itself from an “okay” photograph taken by a child to an exposition of technical facility by this very same child who downloads it and edits it and crops it and saves it to his file.  This action changes everything. 

All of a sudden the idea of a “good photo” precedes documentation of both tree and sky, trial and error, and the focus shifts to the child’s ability to use the computer skills he has mysteriously acquired in order to “technically adjust” his photo.  The photo then begins to talk about the incredible facility this ten year old has already assumed in his role as “photographer”, as seer, as observer, as “maker of images” , and most amazingly, as technician:  a child responding to the availability of a digital world before him.  

The actual (original) photo of the sky, or the tree, may never see the light of day again, but that’s okay.  The art is not in the printed photo, but in the observation of, and extension of this newfound facility. 

In looking at a child’s activity of photographing a tree against the sky — what is the significance of [our] attempts to capture something with our cameras and then somehow [given technology] be able to then ‘fix it’ later ?   The photo as documentation of the actual world becomes secondary to the activity of manipulating it to a preconceived liking. 

Where does this process of alteration come from, and where does the actual tree fall in all of this, and why, in the end, [upon reflection of both the ‘tangible’ digital picture and method of technical facility ] did we stop to take a photo of [a] tree to begin with?  Do we applaud the visual given us (in the form of a photo of a tree against a sky) or do we applaud the facility which got us there?  What is it that we are actually taking a picture of ?

April  2016

From Mail Order Catalog to Amazon Prime or, the loss of aura (all over again)

 

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When Warhol silkscreened Marilyn Monroe off-register onto a painted canvas and painted cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, (placing both on the platform of High Art) — he did two things: he called attention to the distance between the mythical and the real, the iconic and the ordinary, and, at the same time, with the same motion, he closed that very same distance.

Not only does he erase the platform of High Art itself, — but, ends up making the platform even larger in significance in order to grasp the meaning of his ‘act of doing this”. The gesture’s the thing with Warhol; his art found in the placing upon in the ironic erasing of.

This whole closing of space between high and low, iconic and ordinary we note in Western-rooted Greek Antiquity’s anthropomorphism. This is then re-echoed in the Renaissance’s distance-closing humanism where the artist’s introduction of man-made formulae applied to theories of perspective disavow the mystery of spatial differences between the heavenly and the earthly and shatter the mythical distance once again. Warhol’s Marilyn, his Jackie O. his Elvis fall from their pedestal as he places them (off-registered silkscreened-smudged in mass reproduction as the ink itself, runs its mechanically-printed course) simultaneously upon it.

The point to note is that there is a line there for Warhol to blur; the distinction existed; the fall from the distant and the sacred, real. This is what accounts for the disillusionment we, [as a generation living through it] experienced. We experience the tragic when he does this.

Today, though, is quite different.

Today, we are not given the distance needed to note any such fall. We are as close to our Beyoncé’s and Lady Gagas as we can be, just in terms of sheer mediated enumeration. There is no mythological goddess in the distance for us to worship – for, the form in image that they take, and, the one they took from the start – one of enumeration and accessibility makes this no longer applicable. Lady Gaga was never mythic, sacred. She was never that far away from us.

 

The use of the tally mark eventually morphs into numerals to signify ‘all of those many marks’. A threshold reached; the realizing of an amount unmanageable results in a change in form. Degree influences kind.

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We are no longer a society of manageable quantities: _the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, Life Magazine and The National Geographic M., only three broadcasting networks on our television sets, the tangible vinyl records of the music of the ‘70’s taking up only one aisle in a Caldor Dept. store, and, a handful of books found on high-school- requirement reading lists, and, these lists fairly standard: manageable, finite. We all read Animal Farm in 8th grade; Lord of the Flies in 9th; The Great Gatsby in 10th; Our Town in 11th, and The Grapes of Wrath in 12th.

Today – there is no end to the amount of books, musicians, writers, bloggers, magazines, publications, artists, news cycles, references, television entities [and, options for viewing], videos, movies, images, data, tweets, texts, opinions, information, margins, status, standards, trends, and, more importantly, those which we have access to: our access to it making all the difference.

“Google estimated in 2010 that there were 300 exabytes (that’s 300 followed by 18 zeros) of human-created information in the world, and that more information was created every two days than had existed in the entire world from the dawn of time to 2003.” 1

We are not only living in more of what we used to have, but, by this very fact, are experiencing it in a new way. This translates to a change in the way we read things; our act of reading influenced by the enumeration of the readable (sheer amount available) and the form in which the ‘enumerated readable’ takes.

Digital form offers both a reduction in distinguishable style (“An electronic version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark looks just like a Rowling’s Prisoner of Azkaban. They are treated in the same way. Calibri 11 pt. Arial Unicode MS 12 pt.) and, a far busier field of no longer static written language, but moving text and image. Our efforts to concentrate (engage in a gracious default reckoning of such change) becomes more and more like a Ray Bradbury metro-ride: “Consider the lilies of the field….”?: we try – but it is becoming more and more apparent to us that we cannot.

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For those of us who grew up in an age when the amount of media access was limited in comparison; limited in amount of options far more than we are now, we were more assured of a knowledge base we could manage, and, given the limited sources, far more willing to trust without the built-in skepticism needed for today’s source-sifting. We took our time, because we had the opportunity to, and, because we were dealing with a fairly manageable amount. Most of what we knew was determined by what was within our own tangible reach. Library aisles were walked; book pages, turned. Screens were limited to one small box in the corner of one room in our house. This was our limited-in-perspective access to (a) much larger world.

For this generation, there was far more mythical due to limited access, not unlike
Plato’s cave where shadows served us far longer than maybe? they should have. (The Christopher Columbus we learned about in elementary school back in the 60’s — not quite the Christopher C. we’ve come to know today).

For this generation, the purchase of an LP record closed a sacred distance that truly existed, brought us nearer to the music artist we cherished as much as the poorly printed photographs we clipped from magazines and posted on our (real) walls. These were larger-than-life images held up by scotch-tape — significant in a way not quite possible today.

Today, iPods hold our music — but not in tangible “cherishable” form, (a record album cover’s physical wear relative to its degree of “cherishedness”), but in an un-felt invisible digital code. Even the act of purchasing a record album has lost its recollected significance. It would be difficult to do this, I think, with an electronic purchase download onto a replaceable-when-it-breaks device –:  we probably won’t recall our favorite iPod, our favorite Kindle.

–The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of our cultural products (literature & art) turns what used to be individual hand-held objects into a field of digital code. 2

 

Where does all of this technological advancement lead us?

Our re-losing of our sense of aura “in the age of digital reproduction” is our newest change, creating a whole new context with which to view things. For those of us who experienced the 1st loss of aura with mechanical reproduction of image, living with our so-called “luxury of loss” – we will view things quite differently than those who never knew of a slowed-down time of limited choice and access.

The way we seem to be viewing our present is in an overlapping of distance and myth, closeness and real; the experienced disillusionment now viewed as our “something cherished”.

The Warhol mass-reproduced image can now be read as our Marilyn Monroe before she was silkscreened; that very gesture in demystifying as our latest version of “hand-held treasure” — as we hold onto not the myth which was lost, but rather, the memory of our personal experience of losing that myth. In a sense, we cherish our ability to have had at least the opportunity to experience it. This is not unlike Keats in his choice to reject both nightingale and urn for “being too happy in thy happiness” –like those of us experiencing now (with our Star Wars reunion of Fisher and Ford) a charged sentimental nostalgia desired over the possibility of never having the experiencing of one.

At least, with our worn-out record collections and recollected awe—– [when Lucas first gave to us ‘special effects’ (BCGI), that, at the time, were thought to be the size of galaxies ]- we have something to weigh against the present – and, one quite different in kind – and, not merely, degree.

 

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Our reliving of yet another loss of aura is worth the introspective reflecting, but that is as far as it will go.  Today’s digital is the new linear perspective.  Video Killed the Radio Star —– once again. The technology’s too good, too remarkable. We will gladly sacrifice the sacred for the access, the shadow for the indefinite pixels on our high-def screens.

As with our mythical bird’s song – a song that does not change, it “singest of summer in full-throated ease” – but, fortunately, [and, regardless of any lines blurred or distance lost], our listening does.

“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far………..” 3

 

1 In the Age of Information, Specializing to Survive By J. PEDER ZANE   MARCH 19, 2015    

2 L. Szpak – “Some Thoughts On Language and Its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology” 2010

3 THE BUGGLES lyrics: “Video Killed The Radio Star” Copyright © 2000-2016 AZLyrics.com

Image:  By L. Szpak -from Fine Art Handmade Edition Book – “A Theory of Human Nature” – 1988

Made in America: Gratefully, another Coen Brothers movie

We may not make things anymore in America — but there is one group that still does –  artists.  Artists are the ones still making things.

And, what is it that makes [something] art?  Mix irony with a reflection of the times, reference the past while pushing a progression of form and ….hold the mirror …..steadily.  Cervantes accomplishes with his Don Quixote, our Jon Stewart with social satire, and the Coen Brothers with their latest film “Hail, Caesar!”

[And, leave it to the Coen Bros. to give us a film with a mirroring tale of a search for human redemption by posing it in the light of Corporate Production Image-Making Hollywood and extolling [its] sincerest virtues while admitting its ultimate power over us.]

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The film has irony play lead – it’s all over the place, and, so too, is the very fabric of our American culture.  The film’s subtitle (A Tale of the Christ) alludes to every other Hollywood production regarding the story of Christ and the lasting power of its image-making.  To depict Christ through a Hollywood lens is the ironic task which is, in itself, impossible, unless we allow the Coen Bros. to give it a try.  From George Clooney’s  Caesar-like Roman centurion to Scarlett Johansson’s Mary Magdalene to Channing Tatum’s Judas Iscariot, the Coen Bros. end up presenting us a full cast of redemptive characters.  Alluding to the power and production of Hollywood filmmaking and flipping everything on its head, the film ends up portraying not only the perfect Christ figure in the lead role played by Josh Brolin, but the glorious high craft to be found in a Hollywood production itself, [capitalist money-making machine and all] – in the most wonderful (so-grateful-for) movie-making light.
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As for the film’s topical stance, free-market capitalism has been second-guessed lately in our politics, and, religion, as always, is in constant battle to maintain a palatable image in spite of itself.  We have a more socialist agenda offered our political conversation, an ongoing iconoclasm with religious ideology and an ever-growing understanding of differing faiths due to such media depictions, and, the current economic crisis of inequality and whisperings of a re-distribution of wealth.  Socio-economics, politics of religion, and the power of Hollywood image-making (our American culture) all end up as grist for the film’s mirror-holding mill.

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Luke: 20:24

As history admits, there are no things of Caesar apart from God –; it is always economics that determines the path taken, and, this film unfolds as giant parable with Clooney (as film star Baird Whitlock) giving us both a Roman officer with heartfelt compassion for the dying Christ and an unlikely prospect for preaching Marxist theory.

Allusions and irony continue with Josh Brolin as our Christ figure, taking the lead role not by faith alone, but by deed. Brolin’s Eddie Mannix, in his search for his own redemption – ends up revealing that he is our true redeemer, all in the sacrifice of self [missing hours of sleep, spending time with his wife, watching his son play ball], and the saving (actor’s job, star’s reputation) of others.  It is the action taken (the deed so often left out in the practicing Christian; we love to quote the New Testament but we rarely follow in deed) and not simply the words “in the script” given us that matters.  (Only when Clooney acts on the lines given him do we become moved, awed, and rendered [as with all great art] speechless.)

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And the Coen Brothers don’t miss anything with their N. T. allusions: Mannix’s 40 days in the wilderness temptation played out in a Chinese restaurant with the devil as Lockheed representative waving an employment contract; (a Scriptural three times) – ( the choice to create or destroy mankind – yet another layer of irony with the Hollywood film industry always taking a hit for “destroying culture” by its making); his agony in Gethsemane unfolding in the confessional – unveiling doubts and seeking help from the Father.  And, Mannix , (again, our Christ) calling in a board of experts from all religious angles to see if his depiction will stand up to the pillars of all the faiths.   And what do the Coen Bros. give us when asked if there is any problem with the film’s portrayal of Christ?  Orthodox Christianity ends up questioning the technical magic of the editing in the film’s chariot scene in asking “how can he jump from one to the other so quickly?” — [and, this, from one who believes that Jesus walked on water?] and, our  Hebrew scholar, after countering with his own belief structure ends up with the apt and comically delivered “I’ve no opinion”.

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“Hail, Caesar!” is a brilliant work of art – for it does what all art is capable of doing – allowing us to see ourselves in it, in the sharpest light, with irony as one of its strongest tools.

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As with all of the Coen Brothers’s films, the angles used to approach are always comic-tragic.  In “H., C.!” the dark passage in our history of the blacklisting of Hollywood writers is, too, twisted sharply : – an injustice shown not with due sympathy, but rather, in double-edged irony with a roomful of bickering self-interested writers [standing in for the pillars of Marxist –Socialist ideal] extolling communism’s virtues of brotherhood and looking out for the little guy while seemingly not even able to tolerate each other in the same room.  At the same time, such socialist virtues of camaraderie and loyalty are shown to us in the character of the Hollywood Industry instead.  “I’ll do whatever it takes to say that line right, Mr. Lau-rentz” – says Hobey Doyle. “I want to do it for the picture.” The picture is what matters. We’re all in this together.

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Our human flaws, failed theories, all our faults lie not in the stars, but in our inability to see them in ourselves.

Nothing is ever clear-cut, black and white –no theory good on paper (just the lines written on a page (script or Scripture) can do much until it is put into practice — until acted upon – in deed.  Then we can see if the picture works, the words come alive, the economic theory applies, the illusion succeeds.

And, as for artists being the only ones making things these days while our economic portrait gets painted elsewhere, “Hail, Caesar!” pays homage not only to our Hollywood Pictures, but ensures us that any other country taking on the once-Made-in-the-USA manufacturing of goods will not be able to make for us our creative culture.  We’re stuck with it –our Hollywood, and according to the lens the Coen Bros. give us, it’s not a bad deal:  the art that we get in return is more than worth it.

Feb. 8, 2016

“Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition. We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.”

Marshall McLuhan
1967 from ”The Media is the Massage”

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The way in which we both read and communicate is being altered by digital technology with its quantity, pace, immediacy, and accessibility. Information is transmitted and made available all of the time, and foremost, is generated in “real time”.  Images, the same.  This poses all sorts of changes made to how we write, read, interpret, and, ultimately, make changes to our existing language.

If the form of writing changes from handwritten correspondence to instant messaging, the language in turn, follows suit. The limited time and space of the text message and the tweet leave no room for the contemplative lengthy passage, the periodic sentence.  The abbreviated word in the rising use of acronym is just one of the changes taking place in our digital communication. The phonetic translation of these acronyms could certainly find their way ( back?) to the logogram. A three word expression taking the form of three letters in acronym could eventually turn into a furthered shorthand symbol.  The new shape is no longer phonetic, but logographic. Our written language is changing.

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In the field of Linguistics, Benjamin Whorf said that the content of a language is directly related to the content of a culture and the structure of a language is directly related to the structure of a culture.  If so, the culture of the tweet, text, and blog (the form) alongside the globalizing power of the Internet (the context of influence) will invariably alter our existing language, or, evolve into a completely new system of sign and symbol all of its own.

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