Saturday, May 20, 2006

Lascaux Cave Paintings in Danger

I'm Starting to NOT like Dale Chihuly

This is ridiculous. Can you imagine if Caravaggio sued his various copiers-of-style, or Rembrandt, or Rubens? You can definitely tell we are living in the 21st century. People can be such babies. Chihuly could just step down from his ivory tower for just a minute and make BETTER work than anybody if he is the 'master' that he proclaims to be. Whatever happened to just being happy with being better and flattered that people wanted to copy you? Now artists have to sue each other? It's very unbecoming. A house divided against itself cannot stand--and we artists have to stick together. Sad.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Guilty Pleasure: "The Master of Disaster"

I heard this commentary this morning on Morning Edition on NPR. It discusses the remake of The Poseidon Adventure, Poseidon. The producer of the original is one of my personal favorites--Irwin Allen, the Master of Disaster. I would say it's a guilty pleasure of mine because watching disaster flicks appeals to my sense of morbid fascination. I have seen such notable films as The Poseidon Adventure, The Swarm, Fire!, Flood!, and of course, The Towering Inferno (my personal favorite) countless times. There's just something alluring about a film with big budget effects and watching Oscar winning celebrities in survival situations--far more interesting that today's "reality" television.

Internet Movie Database's file on Irwin Allen.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Charles Sheeler

I was reminded of one of my favorite artists today. He is Charles Sheeler, an American artist who coined the term for his own art movement, "Precisionism." And precise is precisely what he is. I have always been a big admirer of draftsmanship, especially in drawing, and he is the Master. Here is a small collection of some of his works. I could not find my favorite drawing of his. It is "Feline Felicity," a gorgeous drawing of a tabby cat on a rattan chair. Some of his architectural paintings are often confused with some of friend and fellow Precisionist Charles Demuth's architectural paintings.

Charles Sheeler, Chartres Cathedral, charcoal, 1929

Charles Sheeler, Nude, graphite pencil on paper, 1920

Monday, May 08, 2006

Setting Things Straight About Art Education

NOTE: Before you read this KNOW that I love and read comics and am a huge fan of the superhero genre (particularly drawn to the misfit or mutant themes).

This article discusses the premise behind the new film Art School Confidential. I have no doubt the film relies on stereotypes as a lot of comedies do, but I would like to discuss something other than that. The article brings up the chasm between art schools and comic book artists. To be honest, I have had friends who are comic book artists who went to art school and left with bad tastes in their mouths. I have also had comic book artists as students. As I have said, I love comics and always have. The reason why a lot of comic book artists leave art schools with numerous complaints, is that they are simply in the wrong place; that is, if that's all they want to do and nothing else--and some people know what they want to do at very young ages.

Often, art school is a bad experience for some comic book artists because of their expectations. Did they really expect to go to art school and be taught such a finite area of art, at the expense of everyone else's needs? Some actually do and did. Comic book illustration is illustration. It is an area of art--among many. It would be like if I wanted only to paint still lifes in oil and attended a school of figural art and expected them to change their curriculum to suit me. Art school is an experience. Its purpose is to make an artist well-rounded in the field of art. An artist has experiences in: drawing/painting still lifes, drawing/painting figures, 2-D design, 3-D design, printmaking, assemblage, mixed media, idea development, technique, conceptual art--you name it. An artist goes to art school for THESE experiences. An artist who draws comics CAN go to art school and BENEFIT from it--IF they are open to it. Being open to it is critical--as with any education.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on what you believe, some comic book artists tend to be very fixed in their path, and ONLY want to do what THEY want to do. I personally admire such focus and determination, but I'd like to pass on some advice. If ALL you want to do is draw comics and are not at all interested in the art school path, you should at least choose the right place to be. If you feel misunderstood, it's because you KNOW what you want to do, and the rest of your fellow students are EXPLORING (especially at the undergraduate level). When I went through art education, I couldn't get enough of all the different media, subjects, and ideas, but that's just my experience. Because illustration is a subcategory of the arts (and comic book art, an even more finite subcategory of illustration), and more related to graphic art, fine art school probably isn't the place for you. While comics can be artful, I wouldn't expect it to be considered fine art any time soon. It is what it is and there is nothing wrong with that. I would highly recommend, if you aren't interested in benefiting from instruction that flexes your creative, technical, and conceptual muscle in a fine art school, that you look into the numerous illustration schools available to practice your craft. If you are interested in animation or video game design, there are schools for that too. You simply need to consider what you want to do, choose the right place to be, cultivate your art/craft, be the best you can be, and try not to nurture a persecution complex because your art teacher doesn't understand your desire to draw comics. It's more likely that he or she just wants you to expand your horizons--because that is his or her job where HE/SHE works (i.e. what he/she gets paid for). It's just that simple.

Excellent Quote

I heard this this weekend on PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (one of my favorite PBS programs)....

"What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was set next to life would scarcely fill a cup." -- Reverend Frederick Buechner

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Short Film Review: Mirrormask

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

This review is necessarily short, for words would fail me to express the utter visual sumptuousness of this movie. It is the movie Tim Burton wished he had made (in my words). And I do love Tim. There is a richness of artistic knowledge in this film as well as an acute awareness of the dynamics of the writing of a "modern" faerie tale in the intriguing writing of Neil Gaiman. It is the story of a girl named Helena who was raised in a circus family and who loves to draw quirky characters and environments. When her mother falls ill, she has a dream in which she embarks on a quest to find a "mirrormask"--something she has no idea the appearance or purpose of--but it is nonetheless important. The word itself sounds like a word in dreams--the hybrid words that we hear or say that have tremendous meaning about our identities. I'm sure if you think hard enough, you'll remember that one dream in which a word was uttered, and upon waking, you thought--'what in the world does that mean?' In this case it reveals her waking life's struggle with teen angst and becoming an adult. The world of the dream is derived from her waking life's drawings. She discovers that an evil version of her mother (in the dream) has sought to get her daughter back (an evil one), but that daughter has disguised herself as the Helena in waking life. Her real mother in the dream takes on the archetypal role of the sleeping queen/princess. Helena must look through a window onto the world the evil changeling is in while wearing the mirrormask -- a mask that has a reflective outer surface that merges with the glass and changes the position of the heroine with the "bad daughter"-- who is reflective of Helena's negative behavior toward her mother before she took ill and Helena's subsequent guilt.

While watching the film, J. noted the esoteric quality of the film and wondered what audience it would be made for. So I came up with a list: The people who like this film are people who like(d):

Jim Henson (his company made some of the puppets)
Tim Burton
Neil Gaiman
Salvador Dali
Yves Tanguy
Hans Bellmer
Lovers of modern comics
Alice and Wonderland
The Wizard of Oz
Rembrandt's ink drawings
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Max Ernst
Odilon Redon
The Dark Crystal
H.R. Giger
I could go on and basically not that esoteric at all.

As a visual artist, of course, the visuals are what appeal most to me. The story is an archetypal faerie tale with a basic plot that has hints of Alice and Dorothy, but has still holds onto its own distinct voice. The visuals are unparalleled in recent years, in my opinion. I highly recommend it for that reason.

© Stephanie Lewis, 2006

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

You're Only Hurt By the Ones You Love

I've long been a fan of Emil Nolde's work--but not his politics. Why would I be? He was a member of the Nazi party for 16 years until he was the most represented artist at Hitler's "Degenerate Art" exhibit (which was held to mock modern art--particularly German Expressionism), and was then forced to quit making art (to the point where the government put armed guards around him to prevent him from doing so). One of his most famous pieces, Crucifixion (1912) was one of the exhibit's centerpieces.

Emil Nolde, Crucifixion, oil on canvas, 1912

It seems at first glance, that to be a Nazi/Fascist is antithetical to being an artist. But, paraphrasing the famous art critic Robert Hughes in the PBS Home Video "Degenerate Art," every artist is a fascist. Personally, I don't put in with lock-step, goose-stepping yes men and women (who generally don't have original thoughts of their own), but Hughes is right about artists (in general) in their individual lives and work. I think what he was saying in the film is that while artists generally don't strive to control others or the world (and this is a good thing, because we know where that goes), they tend to be control freaks over the destiny of their own lives and their creative vision and can grind their heels in like any Nazi in that regard.

One of Nolde's Unpainted Pictures

About a month and a half ago, I checked out "Unpainted Pictures" from the school library. The book contains the work Nolde was forced to do, basically under house arrest. He called these tiny watercolors unpainted pictures. They are mostly landscape and figural paintings that possess the intensity of Chagall's colors. The figural paintings almost always seem to be representing people acting furtively in body language or with their gazes in very tiny formats that accentuate the message they send that is obviously Nolde's message of confinement. The last time I checked out this book, I didn't notice one little tidbit: a copy of the letter from August 23, 1941 from the president of Reichsknunstkammer, Adolf Ziegler, to Emil Nolde, prohibiting him to practice art. I probably didn't notice it the first time because it is in German (which I don't read or speak) and because the caption is in such small type. Well, I found it this time. Luckily, I have a friend and colleague whose mother is German. Recently, she translated it and I thought I'd share it here.... (special thanks to Cindy's mom, and to Cindy)

The President Berlin, August 23, 1941
of the Reichsknunstkammer

(Governmental Chamber)

of Art

Reference number: II B/ M2603/1236

Emil Nolde
Berlin-Charlottenburg 9 Registered Mail!

Bayernallee 10

Following the Fuhrer's order to eliminate works of "Entartete Kunst" (degenerate art) found in museums, we had to seize 1052 works by you alone. Many of these had been part of the exhibit "Entartete Kunst" in Munchen, Dortmund and Berlin.

These facts demonstrate that your works do not meet the standard expected from all artists active in Germany since 1933. These include the artists residing here of other nationalities and from other countries. You should be familiar with repeatedly voiced instruction as for the direction and goals of future artistic endeavors that show responsibility towards land and people. Speeches relative to this were given by the Fuhrer at the openings of the "Grossen D.K." ("Important German Exhibits of Art") in Munchen.

By looking at your original works of late we received, we believed that even now you do not follow these cultural principles necessary for your artistic activity in this country and for membership in any governmental chamber ("Kammer").

Based on the First Decree of .... re: "Acts of Governmental Chamber (Reichs....) of 11/1/33 (RGB1.I, S.797) we have to exclude you from the Governmental Chamber of Art since you don't display necessary responsibility. We also won't permit you to -- as of this day -- pursue any professional and extra-professional activities in the field of art.

The membership book of my chamber ("Kammer") M2603 is now invalid in your name. Return it to me by return of post.

Signed Ziegler

Notarized: Dohmling


So, how's that for unmitigated gall? Even though Nolde originally subscribed to the Nazi party platform, I do feel very sorry for him. This was a painful pill to swallow--wrapped in Karma. Ouch.

Still, if I were Nolde, I would have taken the letter, ripped it up and rearranged it in some aesthetic way, painted over it in my usual prohibited style, framed it, and written my own little letter on the back before mailing it back to Ziegler. My letter would have gone a little like this:

Dear Ziegler,

So, you are going to kick me out of the club and tell me to quit making art? Are you going to take my toys and kick sand in my face too? Maybe you'll bully me for my lunch money too? I triple-dog-dare you! That's right, the dreaded triple-dog-dare! You're not the boss of me! So take that!


Then, I would have wrapped it like a present and mailed it back to him.

What would you have done?

Of course, Nazi-approved art was absurd as fine art. At best, the 2-D stuff was decent illustration reminiscent of comic book styles. Both the 2-D and the 3-D stuff had a hint of classical style. Can someone explain to me why Fascist movements gravitate toward neo- or pseudo-classicism in the visual vocabulary of their art and propaganda? I would love to know. It's almost entirely consistent across the board. If you'd like to read an interesting book and view some of the Nazi-approved art, Peter Adam's book "Art of the Third Reich" is a disturbing page turner. Most of the work looked like a Stepford Wife drew some comics. The rest is homoerotic art in the language (on the surface) of classicism. Very bizarre.

Here's another great link for additional information.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Nigerian Artist -- El Anatsui

Many Came Back, by El Anatsui, aluminum bottle caps
and copper wire, 84" x 109", 2005

El Anatsui is an interesting contemporary artist. There is an article about him in the May 2006 Art in America. He makes "tapestries" out of cast-off materials and native African wood. The pieces made from liquor bottle caps have an African sensibility about pattern and abstraction, but they also seem to dazzle like a Klimt.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Workin' on the 'Day of the Worker'

What am I doing for my birthday today? I'm at school teaching on my longest day of the week. I thought it might be interesting to share the nebulous history of this holiday-- Mayday. Here is a concise history on a site written a few years ago. I wonder why this holiday never fully caught on in the United States? It seems so fun--maypole dancing, delivering flowers to strangers, fertility rites? Hmmmmm