Friday, May 30, 2008

Line and Space

Jacques Louis David’s The Death of Marat, demonstrates that David is master of more that just analytic line. The figure of Marat, the dressing on his head, and the drape that covers Marat’s bath prove that David was also a master of contour line.

Oil on Canvas, 65" x 50 3/8"
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts at Brussels

Last Sunday, I decided to spend a few hours at the Crocker Art Museum before going to the Sacramento Jazz Festival. I have to admit, seeing such of variety of artistic works in such a short time put me in a state of sensory overload. I was pleasantly surprised to come face to face with Jacques Louis David’s Funeral of a Hero, a frieze that I had become familiar with while making a documentary about a theatrical production of Marat Sade.

In one section of the documentary, during a discussion about the French Revolution, I incorporated Ken Burns like inserts of David’s paintings including of course The Death of Marat.

Funeral of a Hero had no place in the documentary, but I remember seeing it in one of the books that I had borrowed from the library. Seeing it again at the Museum was like running into an old friend. David’s paintings are great examples of classical or analytic line as we saw with The Death of Socrates in our text.

In answer to the question, are my surroundings becoming more visually interesting? I would have to say, between class and the constant exposure to a variety of art, my creative juices are definitely flowing. As I returned to a parking lot near the Crocker after spending the day with some of my musical friends at the Jazz Festival, I noticed the hundreds of Memorial Day flags planted in the grass on Capital Mall. It was magic hour and I was able to capture the picture below. I’m happy to say, it’s a good example of one point perspective.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Controversial Art

When the Maya Lin video came to an abrupt stop, I wasn’t sure if it was the end of the excerpt or if there was a problem with QuickTime. I looked at the counter and realized that the section of the video on Lin’s controversial Vietnam War Memorial was over.

I can’t get the image of the little girl in the big hat listening to a critic harangue her about her as yet unrealized work out of my head. At that moment, she must have been feeling the same pain as the Vietnam Vet who came home and was spit upon.

I was reminded of another cutaway shot from a documentary about the Civil Rights movement. It was a cutaway to a teenage girl in a crowd of people listening to Martin Luther King. I’ve always wondered what became of the girl who was listening so intently to King’s words. I will have to get a hold of the complete Maya Lin documentary and see what has become of Maya Lin.

I came to another abrupt ending when I read the excerpt from “Interpretation and Judgment: Controversial Art”. I started to read about Norman Rockwell whose work it would seem wasn’t controversial enough, when suddenly I was cut off once again. I took the Norman Rockwell calendar off my wall and decided to look at it more closely.

To the left of the Norman Rockwell picture chosen for the month of May were these words, “Courage…Face Your Fears”. A man with a fireman’s hat, a boy, and a dog are running. The man is carrying a hatchet and a bucket. All three characters have firelight reflected on their faces and their lower extremities. This is an inspirational work about volunteers; a popular work that was meant to inspire and delight a large audience.

Art can’t always be uplifting. Sometimes art has to make us think. Sometimes art has to make us get up off our lazy asses and do something. Sometimes art has to show us the dark side.
When people don’t like what an artist has to say or more importantly don’t understand what an artist is trying to say, they become angry; judgmental; and in some cases, violent and destructive.

Artists need to face their fears and decide what they want to say and who they want to say it too. It is a rare work of art that appeals to the heart and the mind like Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial does.

It costs money to create a work of art, so an artist must decide whose message they want to deliver, their own message or the message of their sponsor. Critics often condemn the artist who delivers the message of their sponsor and only respect the artist who delivers a unique message of their own. Personally, I don’t care whose message an artist is delivering. If the message or the experience of their work makes my life more interesting or inspires me, I’m content. There will always be those who judge without seeing.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to put your work on public display because when you do, you are just as likely to be ridiculed as you are to be praised. Maya Lin conceived of a work of art that met the criteria of her sponsors. She fought a tough battle to preserve the purity of her concept. There was a compromise to satisfy the traditionalists, but I think the final judgment can be seen in the eyes of those who visit her work. When they see it, it touches them in the way it was meant to touch them.

In this unit, we didn’t just look at artwork; we looked at the faces of people looking at art. But for me the face that really stood out of the crowd was the face of the artist looking back at her critics. What a beautiful face it is.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Visual Literacy Reflections

I couldn't get this song out of my head as I read the "Visual Literacy" chapter of The World of Art or while going through the study guide for this week. I was hoping that the promotional video made for the song would in some esoteric way have some bearing on what we learned this week and would be worth sharing. I think it does.

What I learned from this unit is that we seldom approach a work of art from the same point of view as the artist and that even when you know something about the culture that produced a work of art there is still going to be diverse opinions as to the meaning of the work. It easy for me to understand why critics had some difficulty interpreting the meaning of Judy Chicago's "Pasadena Lifesavers" as her own interpretation is so completely unique and personal that it's completely illusive to a viewer who hasn't read what she had to say about it. Even when there is some understanding of the symbolic meaning of certain images in the time of Jan Van Eyck, art historians still disagree on what is actually taking place in the painting.

The class discussion we had using Voice Thread demonstrated to me that each of us sees a work of art differently as well as interprets the meaning differently. Our interpretation of the form and the content is influenced by our own ethnocentric viewpoint. We may live in the same culture, but each of us has their own unique way of seeing things. When we look at something, we don't always see eye to eye.

I really liked the work of Ron Mueck. The way he uses scale is dynamic and dramatic. So much of the impact seems to come from how and where the work is displayed. "Big Man" is displayed in a corner and I couldn't help but wonder if the lighting on this sculpture was the choice of the artist or of the museum. The work would look very different and would be interpreted in other ways if it was displayed out of doors in a sculpture garden subject to the movements of the sun.

I was fascinated by the evolution of Mueck's "Pregnant Woman". The stand out moment in the process video was the destruction of the clay while making the mold. There is the danger in his creative process. If he isn't really careful, he may have to start all over again. Risky business making art. A bit like giving birth.

I was able to find some time this weekend to create a little art of my own. Using a few of the photos that I took at the wedding of my friend Dan Levinson, I made a music video using Final Cut Pro. The bride and groom gave all the guests a CD of some of their favorite songs and I picked the one that I thought expressed the mood of the day better than all the rest. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A World of Art - Part Three

Based on my visits to Central Park, which all occurred before The Gates were erected, I can’t imagine being able to take in the scope and scale of the project on a single visit. The park is just too big and the project based on the maps and pictures that I’ve seen is spread out over 843 acres of land.

I’ve mulled over this art project for a few days now and if you ask me why Christo and Jeanne-Claude did it, I would have to say it’s because they enjoy bringing a little color into people’s lives. Their projects come and go more quickly than the seasons. They are like flowers that bloom and then perish, never to be seen again, except in memory. We can take a picture, paint a picture, make a movie, do a news story, but when their art is gone, it’s gone for good. It can be best described in one word, ephemeral.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A World of Art - Part Two

Some people like to dress up their pets, some people like to dress up their dolls, some people just like to dress up. In many ways, The Gates are a fashion statement. Christo and Jeanne-Claude like to dress up large areas of land.

The most memorable aspect of The Gates is the choice of color. Personally the color of The Gates reminds me of two things, prison uniforms and the garb of Tibetan monks.

In the nineteen sixties, Donovan had a hit with the song "Mellow Yellow".

I'm just mad about Saffron
Saffron's mad about me
I'm just mad about Saffron
She's just mad about me

They call me mellow yellow
Quite rightly

The song expressed a hip attitude about a hip time by an artist who was perceived as a hippie or flower child. Were Christo and Jeanne-Claude revisiting "The Summer of Love" when they dressed Central Park in saffron colored love beads?

It is a thrilling choice of color.

Tibetan Monks at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA / Anne Hutchins 5/30/05. Photo of CPDRC Inmates dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is from Reuters.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A World of Art - Part One

My perception of The Gates is based on what I’ve read and what I’ve seen portrayed in photographs taken by Wolfgang Volz and other photographers. I’ve also seen some reference sketches, attributed to Christo and photographed by Volz, and some maps of Central Park showing where The Gates were erected.

The Gates are attributed to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, but they are obviously a collaborative work incorporating the skills of many individuals. Like many projects masterminded by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Gates, reminds me of a theatrical production that runs for a short time and is remembered by those who saw the show and possibly through documentation on film and video.

My personal perception of The Gates is enhanced by the fact that I’ve spent time in Central Park and Central Park has been the backdrop for thousands of films and television shows. It’s easy for me to imagine an installation that utilizes large sections of the park in the same way that I can imagine Christmas decorations going up on most city streets in America during the Holiday season.

When I look at Volz’s photographs, I see places I’ve been in person and places I’ve seen in my head. These areas of Central Park have been, more often than not, interpreted in shades of gray. To see them suddenly lit up by rectangles of gold or orange, depending on the time of day, is quite dramatic. Skylines have an extra tier. The shadows of trees are reflected on fabric. The trees are masked by fabric, but visible in various degrees of opacity. Informal branches peak out from behind the formal frames.

In all honesty, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s repertory company of actors who all look alike and wear the same costume don’t really impress me as much as Wolfgang Volz’s photographs. It’s no wonder that Volz, Christo, and Jeanne-Claude have been collaborators for so long. It’s through the work of Volz that these shows that close after such a short run are truly remembered.

A work with the scope of The Gates is subject to an infinite amount of locations from where it can be viewed. Volz gives us a variety of landscapes to remember. He juxtaposes the architecture, nature, people, and the project with the eye of a master of his craft. His work benefits from the good fortune of a snowstorm. The freshly fallen snow offers great visual contrast.

It would have been fun to take pictures in Central Park while The Gates were on display. But The Gates don’t move me and it isn’t The Gates I see when I consider the pictures in my text book or on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s website. It’s the forgotten artist that I find appealing. Volz understands light, color, and composition. It is through his artistic eye that I see The Gates and it’s through his work that The Gates will be judged by future generations. The Gates have come and gone, but we have his photographs as a reminder of what happened for a very short time in Central Park.

All photos by Wolfgang Volz except portrait of the artist by Sylvia Volz.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

About Me

Today, I took a sledgehammer to a bunch of old hard drives. I could tell you that it was performance art, but I was just doing my job. My boss wanted me to make sure that no one could ever get at the data on these storage units. They were no longer big enough to hold all the information people need to save. So, I worked up a sweat whacking away at twelve heavy metal shells. They really are built to last. I'll try to take some pictures of the damage that I did for a future blog.

If I keep a record of the event, maybe I can call it performance art.

By day, I'm a Customer Service Supervisor for a company that facilitates fundraising for schools, churches, and non-profits. I've been with the company since 2001.

Besides working a forty-hour workweek, I take classes in the evening and juggle my other interests, of which there are many: Writing, photography, website design, music, theatre, film, video, books, and art

Last weekend, I went to Big Sur to photograph the wedding of two of my friends, a musician and a vocalist. I stayed at the Big Sur Lodge with my wife, my daughter, and my daughter's boyfriend. After the wedding we sat in front of the fireplace in our cozy bungalow and discussed the events of the day. A key topic was celebrities. There were a few at the wedding.

This weekend, I will be dividing my time between household chores, posting the wedding photos online, and doing my required reading for Art Appreciation Class. If I get all my work done, I'll reward myself by watching a movie or TV show on DVD. My Netflix queue is always full.

This week, I completed all the classes required to earn an AA degree. Considering that I took my first Sierra College class in 1975, it's about time.

I enjoy learning and plan to continue taking classes that spark my interest. I will reveal more about myself in future blogs.