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Archive for the ‘Semiotics’ Category

Alain de Botton published this book in 2006. His prose can be purple and dense.  You’ll be inclined to read slowly and thoughtfully.  That’s a good thing because you’ll want to reflect on our built environment.  How does the space you live in effect you—your view of life and your  imagination?

I recommend you savor the book at your own pace whenever you get to it, but watch the three episodes that he narrates on you tube—as soon as possible:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80fb7Lt0z58

Why the urgency and why now? Simply put, because we go for walks now.  It’s nice to head for the woods, but it’s also stimulating to walk through the half deserted streets of our towns.  Alain de Botton will nudge you to observe and question why buildings are the way they are.  Do the buildings you encounter and the spaces you enter make you feel happy, optimistic, resourceful, energetic?  Or, do you feel, ermm, locked down?

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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A banana in a grocery store is an excellent source of potassium.  You go to the grocery store for practical reasons. You evaluate the displayed fruits and vegetables according to how they will benefit your body.  You pay money for things that will impact your life and improve it immediately.

A banana taped to a  museum wall is a mind game.

You go to the museum for no practical reason at all.  The entrance you pay at a museum doesn’t get you anything.  Why on earth would you go to such a place?!  You go precisely because you feel it’s time for a mind game.  You want to have your brain scrambled.  Name a piece of art that didn’t have that effect on you!

Correction:  Name a piece of MODERN Art that wasn’t a mind game. That’s because art since the middle of the 19th century has engaged the viewer in the literal sense of that word,   meaning involve.  Meaning you have to think about it, to puzzle it out.

Engaging with Modern Art means identifying your assumptions and expectations.  That takes practice.

You don’t even have to go to a museum to practice that, you can do it anywhere, with anything.  Right now, for example.  Go to your kitchen and look at a banana and at the assumptions you have in your head about its characteristics, like the color yellow.

Becoming aware of your assumptions and expectations is actually easier in a museum than in your kitchen. That’s because in the museum the objects are already taken out of their normal, habitual context.  A banana taped to a museum wall is a mind game if you stare down your assumptions about what’s supposed to be on museum walls and what art is supposed to be.

If you think museums should show this…

and this…

and this…

…you’re also being asked to play mind games.  You may think that ancient images are more real and therefore not mind games.  But that’s because we tend to be in awe of very old objects, whether coins, pottery, murals, inscriptions, monuments or paintings.  Even in their own day, they already were mind games.

Actually, you don’t have to think about anything.  But what’s the fun in that?

 

I recommend this article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/arts/design/banana-art-guggenheim.html

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Nighthawks1942

Film noir is defined as “a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace.”

The central characters in film noir are often gangsters, detectives and a femme fatale.

Hopper’s paintings are also characterized by “a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace.”

Nighthawks, 1942, is his most famous painting.  (The Art Institute of Chicago snatched it up as soon as its paint was dry and it is, along with Grant Wood’s American Gothic, one of the reasons people go to the AI.)

It’s not a Norman Rockwell family scene, is it?  Two guys in fedoras and a skinny redhead in a red dress, smokin’ and drinkin’ coffee way past midnight.  What kind of characters are these?  A gangster, a gum shoe and a dame?  Sounds about right to me.

Film noir drew them in from the late 20’ to the 50’s.  The look of the genre became stylized and predictable. When any art is worked out according to a formula, it can only crank out material for so long before it invites satire and parody.

As does Hopper:

phillies-painting-27

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af5fc1753f3fbc93455b99282aa6bbbf--edward-hopper-funny-art

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Ten years after Nighthawk, Edward Hopper was still working with his wooden, predictable formula.  Here’s Morning Sun from 1952 and a parody I gleaned from the internet.

MorningSun195285732094539607.5e81bc9d26d57

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_noir

 

https://www.google.com/search?sa=X&sxsrf=ALeKk00bTzmOgQZ5Yx88JNsnDKd–FkCjQ:1598208829948&q=Nighthawks+(painting)&stick=H4sIAAAAAAAAAONgFuLQz9U3yEg2LlHiBLHMDHPNM7SUspOt9Msyi0sTc-ITi0qQmJnFJVbl-UXZxY8YY7kFXv64JywVMmnNyWuMflxEaBJS4WJzzSvJLKkUkuLikYLbrcEgxcUF51kxaTDxLGIV9ctMzyjJSCzPLlbQKEjMBOrLS9cEABz2VzCzAAAA&npsic=0&tbs=kac:1,kac_so:0&ved=2ahUKEwj_xNfs_7HrAhWWLs0KHcusC0AQ-BYwJHoECB8QLg

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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  HopperDrawing2

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (“Newfields’) reopened on July 17th with an exhibit about Edward Hopper.

I am glad the curators included some of his drawings because they present the most lively work in this show.

The above drawing is dated in the 1950’s.  It may have been a study for the painting “People in the Sun,” 1960.

What fascinates me is that the drawing is lively and energetic, while the painting is, well, dead.

Hopper’s mind as he contemplated a man in a lawn chair looking over a desolate landscape was nevertheless agitated. We don’t know by what–memories or necessary imminent decisions or shocking insights.  It’s an agitated drawing scribbled out in a frenzy of concentration, took maybe all of five minutes.

But the painting looks like sheer drudgery, as if he just wanted to get it done and be finished with it.

Sunning

If the artist intended to satirize the alienation of modern life,  he failed.  I think, the image fails as satire because it lacks wit.

We instantly recognize it as a Hopper because human forms are part of the geometry of the composition.

Let that be my introduction to Edward Hopper at the IMA.  You can tell that I have issues with this show and with the interpretation of this artist.

So far we have some key concepts: agitation, alienation, drudgery, modern life, geometry, human form,  satire and wit.

Stay tuned.

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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You’re visiting your dear friend Chelsea for tea and catching up.  Her house is as interesting and welcoming as always. You love the nuanced color combinations, the witty juxtaposition of antiques and glass-with-chrome and the good jazz coming from the far corner of the bookcase.  Then you notice a new art work.  It’s a still life nicely framed with a generous museum-grade 4” mat.

Two possibilities:

One, you’re taken aback, you don’t know what to say and you try not to stare. You think something has happened to dear Chelsea. She seems like her old self, speaks in complete sentences, with her usual intelligent sense of humor, shows interest in your life, remembers everything and converses as gracefully as always.  But what’s up with that drawing there?  It’s not finished!!!  How could she!  What kind of person frames an unfinished drawing!!  How irresponsible! Uncivilized! Disrespectful!  Better watch her closely.  Has she been drinking? Was she on something all these years you’ve known her and now suddenly she’s gone cold turkey?

Two, you’re thrilled, excited, inspired, uplifted and liberated by this incompletion. You and Chelsea smile quietly. No need for verbalizations, for explanations, for theories or for questions.  It’s all there. Conversation flows, cups tip and click.

Later, alone at home on your computer, you review the last few posts of the artamaze blog. You scroll down at the other drawings of this kitchen still life with peaches, pears and cup.  At the sight of every one of these drawings you jump up and shout out loud, “FRAME THAT!”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-2/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-3/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-4/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/16/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-5/

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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This painting by Oskar Kokoschka leads you to guess that the flowers might be Black Eyed Susan, Delphinium and Hedge Rose. But you’re not likely to insist on botanical precision.  The painting tells you right away, at first glance, that this is not about illustration.  You know that walking up to it, so that you could study the flowers at close range with your nose almost touching, will not reward you with botanical details.

The reason you know that is because you recognize it as a modern painting. The closer you look at a modern painting, the less detail you get.

Now look at an 18th century painting. This portrait must have pleased the uniformed sitter because it documented not only his smooth features but also his elevated social class:  he could afford to pay someone to do mind-numbing meticulous work.

Notice that the close-up gives you details, ermmm, submissively fussed-over details.  This, to the modern sensibility, is lifeless.  When you look at this, do you feel…confined?

 

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980).  Blumenstillleben, 1959, oil on canvas, 89cm x 70 cm

Jean Baptist Lampi the Younger. “Daniel Mecséy de Tsoor ( 1759-1823),  oil on canvas 112x91cm.

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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A drawing can go through many stages of development. The artist may not aim for mimesis or may not have a particular style in mind at all.  The artist may try one kind of markmaking here and another style  there.  The drawing may develop with a progression from dark to light or various degrees of precision.

The drawing can be called complete even though it contains visual contradictions.  Let’s look at contradictions.

In the above drawing, the markmaking in A is vibrant and lively. The background to the objects on the table seems to shimmer. In B the markmaking is the opposite, it’s mechanical and tight.  This dense, dark stripe representing the table appears to have been made by a different hand, in a very different mood. The contrast between A and B does not add drama to the image as a whole. Rather, it looks arbitrary and therefore the drawing feels unresolved.

In modern art we often find contrasts, inconsistencies and contradictions that are witty.  Consider the following two examples.

The hand fits perfectly over the face, as when a woman is surprised or embarrassed. But hand and face are from different worlds, different contexts.  So they fit together in one sense, but are mismatched in another.  We smile at this surprising juxtaposition.

 

Collage, a quintessentially modern art form, lends itself very well to creating contradictions and witty juxtaposition.

 

 

It’s easy to play with photographs by collaging together disparate elements.

Place a cassette over a face and, voila, the two holes will read like eyes. As moderns we know that all images, symbols and myths are human inventions and so we chuckle when we see the invention process being made so obvious.

 

 

 

 

Back to the class drawing of the still-life.   This student/artist gives us a very credible rendering of reflected light and deep shadow of the cup at C.  As in the previous drawing, the ellipse is not “swinging” but is drawn slowly and carefully and therefore it falls flat.  Practice. Practice. Practice

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/still-life-with-peaches-pear-and-cup-1/

We will talk some more about this cup and the demanding but swinging ellipse in the next posts.

More at:

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/untitled-xii/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/plug-by-the-sea-side/

Aphrodite by seph

Videotape Eyes by Rebecca DiLiberto.

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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One of the themes in these past few posts has been the challenge to look critically at much admired paintings by much admired artists.

Giovanni Bellini is one of the celebrated Venetian painters of the 16th century. At first glance, his Madonna of the Trees seems harmonious, pleasing and perfect.

But look again.  First, the woman has no right shoulder. Her right arm would have to be attached to that (missing) shoulder.  Therefore, quite a bit of anatomy would have to be visible behind the baby.  Second, the drapery over the right forearm abruptly stops behind the baby’s ankles. You would expect it to circle around, but no, it mysteriously breaks off behind the baby’s crossed ankles. This abruptness would be more obvious if the legs were separated, so he makes this plump newborn stand up straight and cross his ankles. If you consent to the missing shoulder, why not also accept absurd drapery and a posturing newborn!

As I’m writing this, I keep looking at the reproduction of this painting in a book.  Even after my analysis and my full realization of Bellini’s trickery, I find this painting totally appealing.

Once that happens, I have to figure out why that happens, of course.  The appeal of this painting, I think, comes from the rational organization of the composition. It’s as if your brain said, how can something so carefully laid out not make sense?  As for the interrupted drapery around the arm, notice how the curve of that cloth is echoed in the left elbow’s drapery, forming a perfect ellipse.  There you are, your brain says, I rest my case.

For more on how your brain accepts trickery like this, including optical illusions, see Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.  Readable, relevant, highly recommended.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Every language has a word for three colors: black, white and what would you think?  Yellow, mauve, turquoise, chartreuse, magenta, grey, beige, orange, purple?   Nope,  RED.  Oh, of course, you say.

There are languages that lump all other colors into one word, something like “colorful.”

Why would we single out the color red above all others? Look at strawberries, apples, cherries.  The color red evolved in nature, in fruit specifically, simultaneously with our love of sweetness.  Ripe fruit tends to be red and sweet.  Think strawberry.  Our evolved taste buds longing for sweetness—and, therefore, red—lead us to eat the strawberry.  It’s the strawberry’s way of spreading its seeds and thereby assuring its proliferation.

But we think red is important because it satisfies our craving for sweetness. The red fruit is a source of nourishment and calories to burn and therefore is important for our survival.

It’s not that your mouth is watering when you see red in a painting.  The association is more subtle. Red is deeply connected to survival.  So, red has gravitas.

Test other colors for gravitas:

Not so much, wouldn’t you agree.

 

 

 

 

Again, this exercise in seeing is brought to you courtesy Adobe Photoshop.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

www.katherinehilden.com

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https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/03/03/red-and-repetition/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/20/green-anyone/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/those-blues/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/red-and-rational/

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You know by now that I like to ferret out why a painting or drawing holds my attention.  In an abstract painting this is particularly puzzling because no reference, no narrative, no memory is evoked.  Then how is it that these bold non-referential brush marks can be so compelling?

There are two factors. One is composition, the other is color.

The composition here is based on repetition.  There are three “brackets” of different size, orientation and articulation. By articulation I mean how clearly the “bracket motif” is stated. The small one at upper right looks like an emergent, potential bracket.  The largest one of the three is more elaborate than the mid-size one at upper left.  The artist, I’m sure did not analyze her process this way, but rather painted intuitively.  And that’s because the repetition of forms is so compelling in a composition.  We like repetition, rhythm and rhyme in poetry and music. And also in our visual art.

What about that yellow dot? Go back up to the original painting and notice how your eye goes back to this tiny element and how fascinated you are by it. That’s it!  The small yellow dot breaks the repetition, it adds a high note.

The second factor is color, which will come up in the next post.

As I was working on this analysis, I randomly pulled a book off the shelf.  It was a book of poetry by Billy Collins, “Aimless Love.”  I opened it at random and read:

Lucky for some of us,

poetry is a place where both are true at once,

where meaning only one thing at a time spells malfunction.

Cassie Buccellato, painting in oil, 6′ x 4-1/4′

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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