Drawn To Art


Pieta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you? Describe the experience. (Or, if art doesn’t speak to you, tell us why.)”

I feel that everyone is drawn to art of some type. If you don’t think you are then you just haven’t found your sort of art. Of course I have a broad definition of what art is. I include theatre, opera, ballet, modern dance, musical theatre, film and television, street art and photography. If we narrow the definition down to painting or sculpture then it might be possible that there exists someone who isn’t attracted to any of it. I doubt it, but it might be possible.

I’m drawn to a piece of art for many reasons. I just wrote a post about my depression and Zematas suggested a number of images. I was immediately drawn to a Van Gogh painting “At Eternity’s Gate”. Not only was it so obviously a Van Gogh but the tone of the painting matched the tone of the post and the image seemed to me to echo my depression. The painting spoke to me. That’s why you see it at the top of the post.

I’ve also been drawn to a piece of art for other reasons. At the Vatican I was drawn to Michelangelo’s Pieta for it’s beauty and the magnificence of the execution. At Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art I was drawn to the works of Anish Kapoor because of the way his sculptures played with my sense of sight and made me question reality.

Then there is the art that seems to speak to my soul. The Van Gogh was like that, the moment I saw it I thought that it had been painted to reflect back to me what is inside me and to tell me the painter knew what it was like.

If you haven’t found art that speaks to you then I beseech you to get yourself to a great art gallery, open your mind and your soul and explore. Don’t buy a book, don’t take a tour and don’t get one of those audio guides. Just walk and look at the art with your own taste, your own prejudices and your own desire and I’m sure something will suddenly ring inside you and you’ll have found art that speaks to you.


‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith

‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith is a difficult book to describe or characterise. It is an autobiography through the lens of a sometimes brilliant and sometimes hurtful relationship.

I could start by describing it as raw since the tale it tells is certainly a raw one. I could call it unadorned since the language is simple and unadorned. At the same time it is romantic since it is above all dedicated to Smith’s love for Robert Mapplethorpe. We could also add honest since Smith does not gild the lily and honestly tells of stealing and cheating.

Smith quickly moves through her childhood and only really gets into detail when she tells of falling pregnant, being dismissed from teacher’s college and giving up the child for adoption at the age of nineteen. Soon after she leaves New Jersey for New York, already seeking the life of an artist and immediately runs into Mapplethorpe who shows her a place to sleep and then disappears before resurfacing when they meet for the second time at the bookshop Brentano’s.

What follows is a love story, a love of the artistic life, of New York, of the times and the artists that inhabited it but most of all a love of Mapplethorpe that changed but did not decrease when they stopped as lovers and he realised his homosexuality. Nor did it seem to change as both climbed the ladder of fame and success.

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Letterpress And Other Fine Crafts

I heart  letterpress (c) Sarah Parrott

I ❤ letterpress (c) Sarah Parrott

Last weekend I went to The Finders Keepers markets at the CarriageWorks. These are a bi-annual craft market.

One of the joys of a market like Finders Keepers is seeing the revival of hand made arts and the market had many.

One of my favourites, since I have a joy in design, typography, books and words, is the revival of small letterpress studios. Art letterpress is more and more popular for such things as greeting cards, wedding invitations and small run books. I bought some great Xmas cards at the market.

In our modern day we tend to buy far too many things that are produced by the thousand in large overseas factories. We all know the problems of those places, when we import those goods we fail to export our labour and environmental laws to control them. You also end up with a product that often has all the personality of a brick.

We end up with something that is boring and disposable rather than delightful and quality. However there is a rising market for the more personal and custom, just look at the rise of craft shops and markets and the popularity of Etsy.

Visit the average gift store and you can see one way we are turning against the mass produced. Gone are the racks of factory produced greeting cards from Hallmark replaced with cards from smaller, independent design shops.

Look closely and you can see that many of them are produced using letterpress printing rather than the more modern offset printing.

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Which Five People?

My list

I wrote my list!

Today’s Daily Prompt was “A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with?”

My list would have to start with my daughter Jessica. I’ve often said that I have no idea how my ex-wife and I managed to raise her, she is better natured and well-balanced than either of us. Being around her always makes me happier, she lifts my spirits in so many ways but principally it is because she sees all my flaws and failures and still loves me without limit.

At the same time I feel a love for her that is deeper and more fulfilling than any other I have ever known. There is no greater joy than the mutual love of child and parent.

The list would then get a little harder.

Next I’d probably choose someone who was going to challenge my intellect and inspire my work. There are any number of great programmer’s I could choose but truth be told I am a better system administrator than programmer so I’d probably want someone like Charles Edge or Chris Siebenmann to spend some time with. I would love to spend time with someone who would keep me on my toes, keep me learning, point me in the right direction and share the successes and the failures.

Now for somebody to share my writing with. Should I go for somebody down to earth and modern such as Hemingway or go for the classics such as Austen or Shakespeare? Perhaps a poet such as Blake, Donne or T.S. Eliot? I think if it is going to be one it will have to be the Bard. Shakespeare was both a poet and a playwright. My one hesitation is that I am terrible at writing a plot and it seems he borrowed most of his, but perhaps he can teach me how to take another’s plot and bend it to your own will.

For number four I would love to spend some time with someone who could fill a gaping hole in my education, I know little about art. Robert Hughes, who died this year, was a Sydney boy who grew to be an influential critic and author. I’d love to spend time seeing galleries and discussing art with him.

The fifth and final spot has had a few contenders over the years but none have really found it home. I have loved many women and thought that many have loved me. I will leave that last spot open not expecting anyone to be there but hoping that one day just as I saw my mother take that spot with my father someone will take residence there and make it hers.

The Future of Higher Education

Just read an interesting article in The New York Times that talks of the future of higher education.

I don’t know all that much about higher education in the US but I know the sector has serious problems here in Australia.

Here we have moved to a funding model where Universities are more and more relying on full fee paying international students. This means that the high Australian dollar has hit the sector hard.

I don’t think we can have healthy universities when they don’t have guaranteed funding. I don’t find the move towards only degrees that have a “career” at the end a good one. I realise that the majority of students may want that but I feel we always need to allow for students who want to study the “softer subjects. I would like to have Universities always prepared to teach the Arts.

At the moment the New South Wales government is taking a huge axe to the tertiary education sector that they fund, TAFE colleges.

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Aesthetic Judgment and the Expertise Gap

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait by her sister Cassandra, 1810 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sam McNerney argues in an article on Big Think that experts in an area of art develop an expert aesthetic judgement, to quote the article “a person’s appreciation of a thing or event varies with the level of knowledge that a person brings to it”.

He further writes “Appreciation is a function of knowledge because experts know what to look for. This is especially true in art. Think about Philip Glass listening to Arnold Schoenberg, Picasso looking at a Monet, or Rodin in front of Venus de Milo. My knowledge of modernism music, impressionism art and ancient Greek sculptures, in contrast, is next to nothing, so it’s nearly impossible for me do anything more than listen and gaze. If I took a class on these subjects I would appreciate them more. In the meantime Monet’s Impression, Sunrise is just another “famous” painting.”

The article is well written and worth the reading, I won’t quote it more, go and read it.

So what makes you an expert, an aesthete? I believe there are two elements, education and experience. You are taught by other experts what to look for and then sent out to experience it for yourself. This slowly develops your aesthetic sensibilities.

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Animated GIFs, junk or art?


(c) Beck and Burg Cinemagraph animated GIF from Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg

Are animated GIFs the stuff of junior highschool hijinks or, are they the political cartoons of the new millenium? What do you think? This was the question from WordPress.com’s Mind The Gap.

OK, let’s start with a little about graphic file formats. The file formats used on the web are changing. At one time the GIF was king. The format was developed by CompuServe, the first major commercial online service in the US. It is limited to just 256 different colours in each image. It’s a ”lossless” format in that no information is thrown out during the compression. Over time the low colour resolution meant it was overtaken by JPEG which offered more colour fidelity but does lose information when compressing the image. Now even JPEG is starting to wane and most people are changing to PNG, back to a lossless format.

There is one place where GIF still reigns, neither JPEG or PNG offer any ability to have those short animations of the animated GIF. This year the format celebrated it’s 25th birthday.

So does the animated GIF offer anything other than short animations of cats, dogs and babies doing amusing things? Can we find art or commentary in the format?

The truth falls somewhere in the middle. While the vast majority of them are just ”highschool hijinks” it is possible to find examples that are lifted above this. There are some that become art.

I’m a great believer in art, a lover of art. I also believe that art can be found in many places, not just hanging on the walls of large stone buildings titled ”Gallery”. I appreciate the art in many places such as paper folding, painted on building walls, on the stage of a theatre and in a well written novel just to name a few of my favourites.

I don’t know about political cartoons but photographer Jamie Beck and motion graphic artist Kevin Burg have used the GIF format to create what can only be described as art. Art is something that touches you, informs you, makes you think. Beck and Burg produce photographs with a small amount of movement that do just that.

They call them cinemagraphs, more than a picture but less than a video. They are like a moment in time brought to life in this file format. You can see them here and here. These are photographic gems that could be done no other way than by animated GIF.

This trend of animated GIF as art is seemingly a new one but more and more artists are exploring it. While the work of Beck and Burg was the first I saw they are not alone. A search at DesignBoom for articles tagged animated-gif-art brings up over a dozen other articles about artists exploring the use of the medium in interesting ways. Among them another favourite of mine, the DANSE$ project from Ryan Enn Hughes that he describes as ”combining aspects of photography, motion pictures and painting in a digital environment.” Hughes work moves away from the realism of Beck and Burg into a style reminiscent of impressionist paintings.

Earlier this year The Photographer’s Gallery in London had an exhibition of animated GIFs.

“In a world where most Digital SLR cameras can shoot high definition video, digital technology raises questions concerning what a photograph is and how we make sense of it,” said Katrina Sluis, the curator of a digital series that begins with the animated GIF exhibit, in a statement. “Our opening show embraces the animated GIF as a uniquely screen-based image.”

Is the animated GIF the political cartoon of the new millenium? Perhaps not but this format is certainly more than high school hijinks. The web is as broad as it is deep and just like everything else; Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, Tumblr and even WordPress blogs; it is possible to find the juvenile, the silly and the amusing but it is also possible, in all of those places to find more — intelligence, taste, skill and yes, art.