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A place to remember and to share articles, videos, and information about art and culture. My primary audience is students of the arts, with the purpose of expanding the discussion and encouraging research.

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Trusting the Muse

As an art instructor I oftentimes deal with student fears about making art. Young artists, of any age, sometimes find it difficult to trust their ideas. I respond by telling them not to question but to follow where the muse leads. Learning to trust and to follow ones personal muse sometimes requires behavior that others may view as eccentric. This leads to another often asked question: why are artists always so eccentric? These two concepts are really bookends to the pursuit of an artistic path. One is the beginning: trusting the muse and the other is the result of this trust in oneself as an artist.

When I was a kid, I collaged my entire bedroom floor to ceiling because I didn’t like the wallpaper. This idea came naturally and there was no anxiety because I was not trying to be an artist, it was just awful wallpaper. When I began to study art, whenever it was possible to cut and paste fragments of images together that was how I would solve the problem. Now I consider myself a collagist, and photography is my primary medium.

One of the things that I was struck by in the next episode of Art:21 is how the early work of each artist led to a lifetime of images. The footage of Paul McCarthy dragging his young body through white paint reminded me of early William Wegman films of his dog Man Ray drinking milk poured on the floor. Both of these films are silly, and for me, far more interesting for where they lead the artist. Wegman’s dog would not stay out of his films or photographs and so in frustration he lets the dog take the leading role. This eventually leads to a contract with Sesame Street. But can you imagine Wegman telling his parents that when he grows up he wants to make dog portraits? No doubt, they would have suggested something more practical.

Cindy Sherman, another featured artist, never stopped playing dress up and was always enamored with her image on film. I love the little scrapbook where she would circle herself in the picture and write below “That’s me!” Through her love of play acting she has deconstructed stereotypes of women and built a career out of self-portraiture. The history of self-portraits goes back to the refinement of the mirror during the Baroque era with Salvator Rosa and Rembrandt being two of the earliest to explore this genre. It could also be argued that it is an ancient theme dating back to the Greek myth of Narcissus. It has been a genre of photography since the inception but no one has produced a larger body of work than Sherman. Of course now with social networking sites and digital cameras she probably has a few rivals with their cameras at arms length in what I call the My Space point of view.

Albert Einstein once said, "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." The artists mentioned may be considered eccentric; they are known for pushing art in new directions and for challenging the status quo. What they have in common is that they trusted the muse to guide them. Watch Art:21 this week and get inspired.

This article was original posted at Art21 on KACV blog.


Cliche' Verre

A beautiful set of images, by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and others, made with the historic process of drawing into the emulsion of a glass plate. More info on the process here.




Image credit: Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, Le Grand Cavalier sous Bois, Cliché-verre. ca 1854


Xeni on Rachel Maddow

In the last post, I mentioned Xeni on Boing Boing critizing an advertisment by Ralph Lauren where the head is larger than the pelvis. It seems RL tried to force Boing Boing to take down the post and they refused. Rachel Maddow interviews Xeni about the ongoing issues regarding her post and the lollipop-like model.


Ethics and Photography

Photo-manipulation is nothing new. It’s just a matter of where you want to start and how you want to define it. When Hippolyte Bayard posed as a drowned man in 1840, he was stretching the truth by staging the photograph. Oscar Rejlander in 1857 created the seamless combination print, The Two Ways of Life, out of 17 negatives (some say as many as 32). Insertion, adding images to the photograph, has been employed since at least 1865 when Matthew Brady added General Blair, to a photograph of Civil War officers. In the early 20th century, the half-tone printing process brought about a proliferation of photo magazines, and the Dadaist of Germany started making photomontages from the photographs found on the pages.

Digital photo-editing programs like Adobe PhotoShop make the possibility for image manipulation easier and perhaps more tempting. As early as 1990 in his book, "In Our Own Image," Fred Ritchin wrote about the potential of digital images to flawlessly manipulate photographic space and called for a need to label image composites in publications. In the book he gives an example of the pyramids being moved to create a vertical image, out of a horizontal photograph, for the cover of National Geographic.

The power of all of these strategies relies on the inherent nature of a photograph to be perceived as truth by the viewer. The idea that a photograph represents an indisputable truth and the debate about image manipulation starts at the inception of the medium and continues to this day. In Germany, Brigitte magazine has implemented a policy effective 2010 to use normal people (instead of size zero models) for images and not retouching them. In France the politician, Valérie Boyer, advocates passing laws that require enhanced photographs to have warning labels. She says, "These images can make people believe in a reality that often does not exist” which can lead to lower self-esteem and eating disorders. Since most advertising images, and many other images, are frequently manipulated there is naturally resistance to this movement. Currently there is a fight brewing in the blogosphere between the blog, Boing Boing, and a Ralph Lauren advertisement. Xeni, a regular contributor on Boing Boing, criticized the image because the model's head is larger than her pelvis, and Ralph Lauren rather than address the criticism has demanded the blog remove the post claiming copyright infringement.

While these trends are important, perhaps the most effective weapon to use against the persuasive effects of the photographic image is to teach people how to read photographs. In the 1940’s Laszlo Moholy-Nagy said that "... the illiteracy of the future will be ignorance of photography." But over 50 years later, media literacy is still not part of the school curriculum, and considering how many images the average person views in a day, it seems like there ought to be some attempt to teach people how to read those images.

Additional resources:
Dove Evolution
Top 10 Doctored Photos
Photo-tampering Throughout History

This article was original posted at Art21 on KACV blog.

Photo Credit: Oscar Rejlander, Two Ways of Life, 1857


William Kentridge: Thoughts on Looking at Art

I remember the first time that I saw a painting in a museum that mesmerized me. It was a Van Gogh self-portrait with acidic greens vibrating on the canvas to the point of screaming out his pain. I had seen this image reproduced in dozens of books, and we had talked about it in art history class. But when I encountered it hanging on the wall of a museum it stopped me in my tracks. I think I must have stood there for at least twenty minutes staring at it. There is no way to explain this in a slide lecture, and there is no way of knowing what images will evoke this type of a response or why. To really understand art, and artists, it is imperative to look at the actual art.

William Kentridge recently had a one-person show at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth and when I first encountered the work; my response was similar to my encounter with Van Gogh’s painting. I was visiting friends in Fort Worth, and although I must confess that I had never heard of Kentridge, I make it a point to go to every show that Michael Auping the Chief Curator installs. I Googled and You Tubed Kentridge before going and thought I knew something about his work. But I was not prepared for what I found: large scale video installations were behind partitions and drawings from the videos were installed on the outer walls. His drawings alone are world class museum quality work, but what he does with them in his videos is incredible. How can I even explain what a large scale projection of one of his videos is like, let alone describe the experience of seeing seven of them running simultaneously in the same room. Did I have a favorite? Well it would be either the Mozart “Magic Flute” theater installation complete with robots on tracks that run across the stage, the install in the room behind that with seven separate videos running depicting the cultural history of post-revolutionary Russia, or maybe it was that odd piece projected from above, spinning, and reflected onto a polished cylinder (embedded video above).

On the way home, I called all my friends and told them to go. I posted it on Facebook. I arranged a trip with my colleagues for one last look. We spent the weekend at the exhibit. Victoria Taylor-Gore, Chair of Visual Arts, Amarillo College, even went back on Sunday and has the distinction of being the last person in the museum at closing time on the last day of the show. She did not get back to Amarillo until after midnight. It was that good.

William Kentridge’s work is featured in the first segment of Art: 21 this season in a section dealing with compassion in art. It is fascinating to watch him construct frames for his films and listen to him discuss the process. This segment will be broadcast on October 7, and I highly recommend watching it.

Viewing art is crucial to understanding why an artist is significant. Reproductions rarely do images justice; they lack the magnitude, the mark of the artist’s hand, and the experience of the encounter. Some people go to the mountains for vacations; I plan trips to big cities to see art. But I also look at local art. Two monthly local events worth mentioning are First Friday at the Sunset Center, and Third Thursday at the Amarillo Museum of Art. These are both fun events that combine socializing and culture which is always a good mixture. They are also free and kid-friendly.

This article was original posted at Art21 on KACV blog.


50th Anniversary of "The Americans"










It’s been 50 years since Robert Frank published his influential monograph The American’s. Over the past year I have enjoyed thinking about the power of the images in this book. An anniversary exhibit of the project has been traveling the country and is currently up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Holland Cotter’s NY Times exhibition review he succinctly describes Robert Frank’s project The Americans, although the title “America Captured in a Flash” is a bit goofy since the photographs were shot in natural light. He writes about the response to the book when it was published:

Once rejected for its pessimism, now sanctified for its political prescience, the book distills heartache, anger, fear, loneliness and occasional joy into a brew that has changed flavor with time but stayed potent.

And he writes about the man making the pictures:

… For some people a camera is armor. For Mr. Frank it was an antenna, a feeling and thinking device.

…pictures by a foreigner who came to America impulsively, traveled our roads restlessly, and by not fully knowing our language heard it correctly and told us, the way we could not, truths about ourselves.

Other press about the show includes:

An interview on NPR with the elevator girl, 50 years after the photograph was taken, who discovers herself on the wall of a museum. In the foreword, Jack Kerouac writes: "That little ole lonely elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of blurred demons, what's her name & address?" Now we know.

Anthony Lane’s review in the New Yorker discusses Frank’s selection process based on contact sheets in the exhibition. He continues with the elevator girl:

…it is worth consulting the relevant contact strip: fourteen shots of the same woman, at least half of them catching her in the act of a smile—a polite gesture adopted for those riding beside her, you might say, but then professional courtesy is no less a national trait than the ruefulness on which Frank preferred to focus. For every little ole lonely girl, there will have been a dozen young elevator operators as perky and unslumped as Shirley MacLaine in “The Apartment” (1960), fending off the office demons and fighting down their disappointments.

The Met is the last stop on this exhibition tour, it's up right now and runs through Jan. 3, 2010. I totally want to see it.

Image Credit: Cover of Robert Frank's, "The Americans", 6th edition.

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