From Mail Order Catalog to Amazon-Prime: or, Walter Benjamin’s Loss of Aura All Over Again

Gold Marilyn Monroe 1962

When Andy Warhol silkscreened Marilyn Monroe off-register onto a stretched canvas, 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 action, he closed that very same distance.  The gesture’s the thing with Warhol; his art found in the “placing upon” while engaging in the ironic erasing of.

Mythic proportion (our perception of things seeming larger-than-life) is throughout history unveiled for us as individual societies progress.  Belief systems created to understand the world moved in the direction of science [of knowing] and mythic distances closed. Ancient Greece (Western Art’s primum mobile) gives us evidence in their art’s evolving anthropomorphism: gods and goddesses becoming more and more human in character (sculptural) depiction.  Distance is lessened further during the 15th century Italian Renaissance:  paintings applying manmade formulae to otherworldly spaces (utilizing Brunelleschi’s linear perspective) in the disavowal of spatial translations of  the heavenly with the earthly. In result, we arrive at a shattering of mythical distance once again.  The shifting from earthly to heavenly (specifically, for our purposes here, in Western Art before Modernism) is a constant throughout the intervening centuries. 

By the time we greet Modernism in the early 20th century, American culture had, [was actively in the process of] creating its own version of gods and goddesses in the form of film stars, sports idols and other larger-than-life figures which would become for Warhol, the ideal subject matter for his art.  His art’s meaning would, in turn, depend upon this reality of the mythical, the sacred, the distanced.

Warhol’s art evinces itself in the mechanical reproduction of popular culture icons, offering us the disillusion he sought (the truth he wished to reveal) as he blurred the line between the iconic and the everyday real.  Warhol’s Marilyn, his Jackie O. his Elvis fall from their pedestal as he places them silkscreened-smudged and mass-produced onto canvases, and, as the ink itself runs its mechanical course simultaneously upon it. Image is blurred; literally, smudged, and made everyday by the process and, maybe, more significantly, by the quantity produced. Twenty Mona Lisas placed off-register in deliberate mass reproduction removes the mystery by engaging the process. With every image reproduced, repeated, enumerated, the place of aura, the line between the iconic and the real diminishes.

The point to note here, though, is that there [was] 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 see the metaphorical in changing our Marilyn Monroe from iconic pedestal to many-numbered reproduction, no longer able to maintain mythic distance.  Postmodernism simply ensures for us the finality of the loss of the mythic, the illusion we once had the opportunity to momentarily believe in.

“Shelf Life”, linoleum block print, 2006

Today, though, is quite different.

Today, we are not given the distance needed to note any such fall. We are as close to our Beyoncés and our Lady Gagas as we can be, just in terms of sheer mediated enumeration and our immediate access to it.  There is no mythological goddess in the distance for us to worship – for the form in image that these icons 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 Magazine, 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 required reading lists, and these lists fairly standard: manageable, finite. We all read Animal Farm in the 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, memes, 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.

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, we were more assured of a knowledge base (whether  accurate or biased or mythical itself) 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; reference book sections arrived at; their physical spaces experienced in sound, smell, sight and touch. 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 the pre-digital world 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 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

The way we seem to be viewing our present is in an overlapping of distance and myth with closeness and real; the experienced disillusionment now a perceived “something cherished”. In a way, this “Before Digital” generation views things with the advantage of a luxury of loss.

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 it. 

This is not unlike Keats in his choice to reject both nightingale and urn for “being too happy in thy happiness”, far preferring –[like those of us experiencing now], (with our aim to see the 2016 Star Wars installment simply for the anticipated reunion of Fisher and Ford) a charged sentimental nostalgia as cherished experience.

At the 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, with this, our experience not only varies in degree, but in kind.

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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. We may still find ourselves nostalgic for imagined innocent times, but, these times were simply for us, clouded in myth; our limited number and access keeping us from the real; not unlike Plato’s cave, where shadows served us far longer than maybe they should have. Today’s digital is the new linear perspective.  Lady Gaga could not be more real for us to appreciate, nor her closeness, more grateful for. Video Killed the Radio Star —– once again. We will gladly sacrifice the sacred for the access, the shadow for the real pixels on our relentless 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

Movie Review: The Necessity of Cliché in “Stranger Than Fiction”

Upon viewing the movie “Stranger Than Fiction,” I had no choice but to begin to do what I always do when a movie doesn’t work for me.  I begin to become aware that I am sitting watching a movie rather than being taken in by the images on the screen.  I become anxious and think about leaving the theatre or hitting stop on my remote.   Despite my initial inclination with this film, I decided to give it a chance, and, gratefully, (in retrospect) watched the entire thing. 

From the very start, we are given cliché, almost too much in the image of the writer (Emma Thompson):  i.e.:  chain-smoker, anxious, sterile-looking, recluse.  Adding to this was some weak dialogue; improbable lines presented in a rough sketch of clichéd ideas about writers, specifically, in this case, writers of tragedy, and what kind of impact (both scholarly and commercially) such a piece of writing might have on the world of literary fiction. 

As the story line unfolds, issues of time and death and significance offer themselves up for a weighty grasp of the existential.  There is both the discussion of life and its personal and social value, the distinctive moral load set against our own mortality and an attempt to deliver some sort of twist in irony, redemptive folly, of clever pun regarding such.  Wrist watches and time, death knells and Shakespeare’s “time’s up, you’re ripe”, “saved in the nick of time” – given, almost, as a comic mystery novel’s clues (even the literal pun made with the presented novel’s fictional character (Will Ferrell) and the author’s real life aim in meeting the publisher’s deadline with “dead line” – the line that ends the novel) all offer some nice directions to go in.  But, without reason, or, maybe because I was uncomfortable with the weight of subject matter set within such playfulness of script, (and, at this point, without the nod to irony) I began creating my own depth.

I had John Berger’s viewing of Van Gogh’s crows in that so significant wheat field.  I had the philosophical argument of art’s value in the vast scheme of humankind in relation to the significance of the sacrificing of one human life (powerfully communicated in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway”).   I had Antoine de St. Exupery’s “Night Flight” in this ……. I mean, I was, in truth, doing back-flips in my head trying to reach conclusions with concepts about writing and art and truth and life and meaning which were [being] done here, yes, were given as substantive angles, but only mechanically, as mechanically as the fiction itself, and, then, only on the surface and finally, to no avail.

I then began to see the writing itself as the tragedy; the presented image of the writer as protagonist playing key role in the downfall of literature, of good writing, of uniqueness in creativity and promise in the world of contemporary fiction; the latest hero in a field of writing where bad receives as much an accepting readership as good [possibly more?]; where literature has somehow been reduced to formulaic approach and cliché; where the ending of a character’s life becomes as arbitrary in its choosing as does the color necktie one wears to work.  Death is presented here as something understood by taking a glance at a dead body.  Really? 

Then, it all began to take shape.  It finally hit me.  Maybe the author presented here is supposed to be the complete and perfect mirror of the character she’s created?  This is how it usually works anyway. Could the writer be more unknowing than the projected hero of her story?  Is this not the real tragedy?  A writer who has not lived, has not known love, death, or sorrow (nor, even, the eating of a chocolate chip cookie in one’s youth?) attempts to write about all three as if it were possible, as if to succeed in this should only require the inclusion of a gimmick, an arbitrary plot-mover, a contrivance or gratuitous formulaic ending?  Might the resorting to and then accepting of this approach to writing be, instead, the highest form of literary suicide if taken, rather than allowing it to read as ultimate salvation?

Isn’t this film, then, in its perfect Postmodernist angle mirroring exactly where we are regarding surface and depth?  Could this be in its own clever and very deliberate way a conveyance of the democratization of literature in contemporary society via an example of it presented through this movie’s very script?  Is this more of a statement about how we have come to accept surface analysis and cliché as viable forms of communication?  Is this film trying to have us consider, to ask ourselves:  are we as Forrest Gumpish as we were with our philosophical evaluation of life being compared to a box of indiscernible-from-the-outside chocolates?  Could we be any more surface?  Have we reduced writing to fashion?  Is arbitrariness something we now settle for in our attempts to convey truths? 

It is of uncanny interest, also, that the character of the scholar, conveyed to us in the body of a still-virile-looking Dustin Hoffman, is presented to us as comic element.  Hoffman provides the best lines, the richest character, and, the most enjoyment.  But, as sacrifice, we must accept that even his world of Academic Study has become light.   Simplistic plot devices and synopses are presented as pillars of great fiction writing by him, a leading figure in Literature and the Arts.  The closest we get to dissecting this work of fiction being presented to us comes in the form of a Professor of Literature who must while away precious hours of study at the campus pool watching for swim-lane violations amongst his various and buoyant colleagues.  

The film eventually wins me over; doing so, with its ending.  As presented to us, the only way the author’s book can meet greatness is to have the hero die.  Only death, according to this writer’s work, [and, the scholarly critique of it] can save it from mediocrity and move it to gravity and depth.  Therefore, it is most fitting that the ending give us not a plummeting-to-one’s-death jump from a tall building, [which would make this book an instant classic in literature, a masterpiece, and thereby furthering the plummet of distinction in what we consider to be great writing] but, rather, an airy plunge from an indoor pool chair. 

The script writers give us a nice splash ending:  a lightweight jump into a swimming pool.  No death, no depth, and, therefore, according to the film’s premise, no further harm to Literature. Our scholar jumps into a pool of water, touching upon the depths he knows to exist somewhere beneath, somewhere far beyond the surface splash.  We are then to assume that our scholar rises, [for he is our symbol of bobbing hope] returning to the place where the splash occurs, and where the audience and film have been floating all along – right up at the surface.  Hoffman’s pool-side plunge is perfect.  

March 2007

that venue for showing art

caa show announcement

Regarding the static painted visual art piece on a wall, or, the static sculpted object on a pedestal, what are we to read beyond the object’s own “art-object-ness” in a recycled environment of reference and quotation? Can the object we now make be successful at translating our meaning given its expected reception in a now seemingly all-too familiar field? Is the gallery context itself somehow inhibiting as it moves from exclusive space visited by students of art and other artists to the David Byrne familiar with Eric Fischl painting art’s own art-going morphology?

Is it like the phenomenon of digital accessibility —- with too much equaling too ordinary and expected for us to even blink an eye no matter the possible strength of the work residing? Can the static art object give us the reading it means to in its current context of “being art in a gallery”? or, have we become too savvy an audience, too familiar with how the system works for the art object itself to move beyond the space it relies upon for its translation?

Is Visual Art stuck in its own necessary replication, unable to move beyond the “look” of what we know art on a wall to be, to move beyond the entrenched orthodoxy of this look, this paradigm? Does the gallery space by default, due to our familiarity with it – create for the artist a space impossible for understanding the actual work?  Is our awareness of “looking at art” getting in the way?  Has our method of looking overwhelmed the actual art (if there is any) to be found?

Not unlike a Kafka character caught in truest dilemma, the balance for both lies between the method used (gallery space = traveling circus ) and, the very awareness of the method by both the artist (when placing work in such a prescribed space) and the viewer (upon experiencing that space).  Both require an isolation without self-awareness, and, given our method of viewing art – (which includes taking along our image-conscious selves), neither of these seems possible.

Sept.  2018

today’s realism and bowls of fruit drawn, painted

 

Apples with PLU - entry 1

  • Apples [w/ PLU Sticker] in Pewter Bowl : ( w/r/t the history of Still Life painting)  37” x 46” – Digital – inkjet collage – 2016

 

A realistically drawn apple may be read as the mastering of a skill in the field of representational drawing.  There are endless ways in which the drawing can be done:  varying materials, altering the approach in tackling formal qualities, playing with scale to name but a few.

 

The subject of an apple, or, bowl of fruit, allows for a connection with 2-dimensional art’s tradition, its history in both the academic “learning how to draw” and the prominent genre works found in painting.  This connecting to the past empowers the apple, the fruit as subject matter, referencing a linear progression comprising any true discipline or study which, in turn, genially accounts for its validity and, yes, its relevance.

 

Depending upon how “good” the drawn fruit is (honoring the laws of Realism) will determine the level of mastering.  The drawing becomes somewhat of a biographical sketch of where the artist is at the time in the advancement of a learned technical skill.  Like hitting the perfect note in music, the wows of the viewer are in response to the artist’s performance, the result of a practiced skill, the visual cue to an artist’s bettering this sought-after facility.  We are struck by the artist’s ongoing mastery of drawing something convincingly “real” on a 2-D surface.

 

In looking at a drawing of an apple or fruit Still-life made today, we might be asked to look at it not in terms of success or failure of a bench-marked realism, (our go-to assessment as viewers) but rather in terms of the choice of subject matter itself.  It is in the choosing to draw an apple, fruit bowl that is now our subject matter.  Not unlike our original choosing of the apple, the enactment, the act of drawing or painting is now our content.

 

The weight fruit carries today is not the same in origin, when introduced as subject as it was for Bruegel, Chardin, Courbet.  Our supermarket-stickered fruit reads far differently than the anonymous peasant apple-carting of a Bruegel, the bourgeoisie interior sitting-room of a Chardin, or the crumbling aristocracy of a Courbet.  Our fruit drawings or paintings hold all of these weighted meanings in reference and tribute which is now our subject.

 

In today’s world of the ease of digital rendering, and, an omnipresence of PLU- stickered fruit, the romantic notion of a fruit bowl set in golden-hued light on an elegantly arranged table seems foreign, out-of-date, remote, exotic.  The only connection to this is precedent, art’s own history’s role in continuity of subject for meaning.  We paint and draw fruit because we know painted and drawn fruit register as art.  Still-lifes are wonderful rendering workshops and tradition gives us the proverbial nod to go right ahead and draw the apple, so to speak.  Weight of subject matter is found with a nod from history and the enactment of the actual making.

 

The art part, if there is any to be found, might arise, for instance, from the enacted, the activity or ‘scene from a play’, [maybe Chekhov in spirit?] where the fruit bowl is set upon an old yet elegant gate-legged table, and a drawing is worked on by an actor on stage, the actual result never seen by the audience.

The fruit bowl need not be drawn or painted well, poorly, or … at all, even, for the visual prompt to our much larger subject matter is there, found in the reference to an acceptable academic art-making approach and made real by our artist’s set-up of easel and oils; and, our artist, maybe long-since disillusioned —- yet still searching for meaning in a palette of colors fully within physical reach, but, irretrievably lost to one’s failing eyesight or quickly closing memory.

 

May  2018

                                          cropped-monop-bd-edit1 

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.

hals1
detail:  Berger/Hals 

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.

(blog post update:  wanting our cake and eating it too = Art Basel Miami Beach_

 

 

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.

It is noted that 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 society – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain an awed silence] remain firmly in place.

With Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane 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.

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.

(blog update:  contemporary art gallery as an experience, an event – cite Amanda Hess – “American Dream” shopping malls for the experience_

 

 

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”. 

ben tree

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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

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

Intro. to blog

I would love to begin my blog discussing the latest Star Wars movie and tie this in with [a] recent Guerrilla Girls appearance on The Stephen Colbert Show, along with the SNL ‘Undercover Boss’ sketch with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and, how these entertainment incidentals (the grist of our Postmodernist mill) tie in with where we are in our society with regard to Art and Culture.

But… I think I need to first identify my angle of approach in Getting Art : Now = where I simply want to discuss contemporary art in a way so that we all can try and understand it (why are Warhol’s soup cans so important?) and participate in the discussion no matter our level or background in art. How I will do this will be by looking at contemporary art shows at galleries and writing about the work shown. The art on the walls tells us a lot about where we are, and, who we are.

If the culture of a people is reflected in the art of a people, what is the 21st century artist reflecting with the visual works it comes up with?

The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – [with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern] gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it. The ornamental bands read perhaps as elements mimicking an aquatic nature; a people surrounded by the always-moving bands of water that surround them. The art object reflects the culture that creates it.

“And then I was thinking, what would the worker murals of today be like? They say we are a service economy now – that there are more people selling us hamburgers then making us steel and things. So would the huge wall murals of today be of the people sitting at computer terminals and the people at Burger King handing you your fries? Is there any way to make that look heroic? “Andy Warhol’s “America”; 1985

How is the world of Contemporary Visual Art adding or subtracting anything from the social fabric and does Visual Art have a role, responsibility, or play even a small part in making successful connections with the very same society that sponsors it?

Are those sporadically surfacing visual presentations of the contemporary gallery space doing anything to make us more aware of our current society, or, even better — is that what the assignment is for art? ———has it been? has it always?

Has art and its making become a therapeutic necessity for both artist and viewer; the isolated studio bubble for the artist’s inner peace, and, the contemporary gallery shows and exhibition spaces fulfilling the spiritual-community need like a coffee shop with Wi-Fi or a Y membership?
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My approach to Contemporary Visual Art would like to be one of discussing the work, the actual work on the wall, each piece individually, or, an artist’s direction granted to us by the whole. In doing this, maybe we can find some answers to some of the questions the art object raises.

The fact that so much is familiar to us about art and its making, and, the distance between artist and viewer lessening considerably over the past fifty years [with increased access to the whole idea of artists and making art], there’s a need for the Contemporary Art world to somehow blur the line between arcane language and elitist reading with that of a very savvy digitally-connected here-and-very-now society. This is our context.

With Modernism, we had the approach to painting (making a painting on a canvas in full regard to its tradition and history as a painting) tied to theoretical and practical advancement made within its own well-defined field. With Postmodernism, we no longer have the luxury of such a limited and tidy system of evolution. (Noted, BTW, only in retrospect.) We are no longer reducing painting until we reach the actual canvas material that’s painted on, in order to ‘end painting’, or, at least, to have tried to -Postmodernism -far more unmanageable in its scope. There’s so much here – and, we are swimming in it — our engagement now, (in Post-Postmodernism, Meta-Modernism or whatever term we are asked to apply) something that we have to use as our context for looking at any art object we now make.

The facet of contemporary art’s own tribal chanting of an Anti-Aestheticism attached to the visual art world’s response to Postmodernism makes for an interesting parallel with our conservative movement in our politics. This is what happens, socially, culturally, I guess. The larger we get  (our virtually boundary-less Google-search space) the more tribal we seemingly become; the more protective of our past only in response to an unmanageable present.

The new Star Wars movie (the one everyone is complaining didn’t give us anything new) gives us a glimpse of the culture that created it.  [The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it.]

The question we should be asking ourselves of Episode VII is not “why is it simply a remake of Episode IV?”- but, ……………what does remaking Episode IV actually say about us?
If all we did was add technological advancement to the original, is this not our art? Doesn’t this say a lot about our current culture? The fact that there is no new story-line, the fact that we are so eager to be reminded of the first Star Wars movie, to return to the mythical (we are all anxious to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher 40 years older) gives us a good indication of where we are culturally, and, where our next Star Wars installment might lead us.