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Archive for the ‘Therapy’ Category

Isn’t it great that he took up painting, hired tutors and practiced!  It’s an activity that can lead to self-reflection and insights into all sorts of things, like other people’s lives, how we conceptualize …cultural assumptions, uncertainties…

These paintings by Bush are not presented as a documentation of what he has learned so far, as evidence of effort.  They are presented to us as finished work, as art worth looking at. When something is presented as art it’s ipso facto interesting and important to think about.

Let’s do a thought experiment:   would my neighbor George have a chance of having his paintings shown in a gallery or published in a book?  He has been painting diligently since he retired ten years ago. His portraits are indistinguishable from Bush’s.

Whether or not George, my neighbor, can get his paintings shown depends on what we know about George.  What’s George’s story? Is he blind or paralyzed or recovering from a stroke?  Is he autistic or dyslexic or epileptic?  Was his father a Greek immigrant or an African genocide survivor or a Russian spy or a US president?  In our present social climate and art world hype these questions weave the scrim through which we see images.

Try another thought experiment:  you buy a portrait at a yard sale that’s just awful but it looks like oil paint and it’s the right size.  You plan to use it as a waterproof mat in your mud room at the side door to your garden.  As you take it out of the frame you see the signature “John Wilkes Booth.”  You know he was an actor. Couldn’t he also have been trying to paint?  It’s a terrible painting but you think you’d better have it authenticated because this could be worth something.  Inept as it is, the name will override the awfulness.

A 2014 review in the Guardian agrees with me:   [George W Bush’s] portrait of Putin actually looks like something you would find in one of America’s trash-rich Salvation Army stores and buy to laugh at. It’s got a classic amateur clumsiness and oddity to it. Bush has attempted to render shadow and shape in stylish blocks of fawn and woodchip and cookies ‘n cream, but they don’t sit right and the whole head looks mildly crazed. Perhaps this mad look is what is meant by revealing Putin’s “soul”, but it seems inept rather than insightful.

 

No, wait.  The Salvation Army stores used to stack their “art” in bins so that you could page through them.  I had a student a few years ago who used to go there to buy awful paintings because she needed stretched canvas to re-use—much cheaper than buying canvas in art supply stores.

I went to my local Salvation Army store last week to see if they had anything as awful as the portraits by Bush, walked straight to the back and found all pictures neatly displayed.  Somebody stood there facing the display, entranced by a copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper.  It looked as if it had been painted on a slab of wood.  I couldn’t get close because after about a minute the Entranced One unhooked it to take it to check-out.

The original is a fresco covering one wall of the dining room in a monastery in Milan, Italy.  Leonardo labored over the perspective to create the illusion that the Last Supper is taking place in that very monastery refectory so that the monks would be edified by saintly company.

Along with much of High Renaissance art, this painting has been adapted in countless Kitsch mockeries.  Here are some:

https://www.google.com/search?sa=X&sxsrf=ALeKk00NtVLvp_9fxsvDJ3pTLcGm675gEw:1620835332636&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=The+Last+Supper&ved=2ahUKEwiqq_aRwsTwAhXJQs0KHQt3DGcQiR56BAgmEAI&biw=1378&bih=837

Sorry about that tangent.  I didn’t mean to associate Bush with the Renaissance in any way, only wanted to clarify the reference to the Salvation Army.

Back to Bush.   A more recent Guardian article, from 2017, refracts the whole portrait project in the context of Bush’s presidency, stating:    In his new book Portraits of Courage, the subjects of the former president’s paintings are the very men torn to shreds, quite literally, by his own policy.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/06/george-w-bush-art-painting-portraits-in-courage

Painting can be therapeutic. If Mr.Bush engages in painting to heal his guilt, let him.

If “idiocy has its charms” (quoting that article here), please, Mr. Bush, show us how you worked through that stage of charming idiocy and then finally developed insights for us to contemplate.

We hope you heal, Mr. Bush.

There is, of course, plenty of commentary on Bush’s paintings, for example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yaSAiXkRtg

Next, let’s take a closer look at how Mr. Bush does not see eyes.

 

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“Most of the writers and artists I know were made for sheltering in place.  The world asks us to engage, and for the most part we can, but given the choice we’d rather stay home.  I know how to structure my time.  I can write an entire novel without showing a page of it to anyone. I can motivate myself without a deadline or a contract.  I was happy, even thrilled, to stop traveling.  I had spent my professional life looking at my calendar, counting down the days I had left at home.  Now every engagement I had scheduled in 2020 was canceled.  With each day, I felt some piece of scaffolding fall away.  I no longer needed the protection.  I was an introvert again.”

———from Ann Patchett, These Precious Days. Published in Harper’s Magazine, January 2021

 

For the full story, https://harpers.org/archive/2021/01/these-precious-days-ann-patchett-psilocybin-tom-hanks-sooki-raphael/

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

 

Cup of Water and A Rose, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1598-1664

 

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How long had she been perched on that thin branch?  When I saw her, I pulled up a chair and watched her sway in the wind for seventeen minutes.  During all that time she faced in one direction and vocalized almost constantly.   No other crow came near.  The wind picked up and she finally took off.

The radical otherness of birds is integral to their beauty and their value. They are always among us but never of us. Their indifference to us ought to serve as a chastening reminder that we’re not the measure of all things. The stories we tell about the past and imagine for the future are mental constructions that birds can do without. Birds live squarely in the present.  —Jonathan Franzen

While being fascinated by her for those seventeen minutes I realized how ignorant I was about crows.  I had read that they have a vocabulary of dozens of calls; that they socialize in groups; warn each other of approaching predators; gather in the place where a crow had died; visit mom’s tree after moving away; make tools and solve puzzles.  Still, I felt ignorant because I couldn’t interpret her call or any of the calls my neighborhood crows make.

As my brain was wallowing in ignorance, I reminded myself that most human brains are happy to fill in that gap of ignorance with myths, superstitions and symbols, all of it Kitsch.

The American philosopher Stanley Cavell said, there’s nothing human beings want more than to be something else.

Some of our myths shows humans with wings—being bird-like.  Voila, Angels, Cupid, Psyche–the epitome of Kitsch!

Why is it worth thinking about this?

Our ancestors slipped into this escape from ignorance into saccharine superstitions and symbols.  Look around you.  We’re still drowning in Kitsch.

As an artist you need to keep your Kitsch-detector turned way up.  When you’re working on a painting, a sculpture, a composition or a short story you have to scan your work repeatedly with that trusty Kitsch-detector.  Revise!  Revise!  It’s work. That’s why a work of art can take so long.

What I’m suggesting with this bird-in-a-tree-story is that you can keep the Kitsch-detector hooked on your belt at all times, even when you’re pacing through your quarantine house and casually looking out the window.

I didn’t want to anthropomorphize the crow when I started to write this post, but “it” seemed inappropriate for such an intelligent being.  Why did I choose “she” instead of “he?”  I like to think it was an arbitrary choice, but maybe I had a Kitsch moment and emotionally identified with “her.”

 

Stanley Cavell, 1926-2018

 

For the full essay by Jonathan Franzen:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/23/the-radical-otherness-of-birds-jonathan-franzen-on-why-they-matter

 

For crows and myths:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/new-caledonian-crow

 

https://mythsymbolsandplay.typepad.com/my-blog/bird-symbolism/

 

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

 

https://www.learnreligions.com/the-magic-of-crows-and-ravens-2562511

 

https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=osu1204876597&disposition=inline

 

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

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Beethoven’s 250th birthday

Ludwig van Beethoven was born on this day 250 years ago.  It was customary to baptize babies the day after they were born and since his baptismal record in Bonn shows December 17th as the date, it’s safe to assume his birth date is December 16, 1770.

The inexpressible depth of all music, by virtue of which it floats past us as a paradise quite familiar and yet eternally remote, and is so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain.  In the same way, the seriousness essential to it and wholly excluding the ludicrous from its direct and peculiar province is to be explained from the fact that its object is not the representation, in regard to which deception and ridiculousness alone are possible, but that this object is directly the will; and this is essentially the most serious of all things, as being that on which all depends.– Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

All art constantly aspires to the conditions of music.— Walter Pater (1839-1894)

https://www.dw.com/en/why-beethoven-snubbed-princes-and-put-his-music-first/a-19544501

Beethoven once stopped playing when an aristocrat was talking in the front row: “I’m not playing for such pigs.”  (Für solche Schweine spiel ich nicht.)

Being an Artist takes courage, it’s work and you have to risk being misunderstood.

 

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

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NOW WHAT!!  You want us to look at your boring geraniums in your boring kitchen???!!!

What caught my attention was how the afternoon light made the stems glow. On the right, see that?  See how the stems are outlined in yellow?

How would my camera see that?  As I framed the shot, before I zoomed in on that light effect, I noticed intimations of the Golden Section.

Not one, but two.  In the green lines, the square is on the left.  In the pink, the square is on the right. As a bonus, the red blooms define the corner of the next square in the Golden Section sequence.

In my peripatetic readings I recently came across a quote from Nicolas Malebranche: “Attention is the natural prayer of the soul.”   He had to talk like that because he was a Catholic priest trying to stay alive in 17th century France.  He’s classified as a rational philosopher, working in the shadow of Descartes: notice the word “natural” in front of “prayer.”

1600 years before that,  Epictetus said:  “You become what you give your attention to. If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will … and their motives may not be the highest.”  Epictetus was born a slave in the Roman Empire and became the teacher of Marcus Aurelius.

So, the difference between boring and ta-dah! is not out there in those overwintering geraniums but in that switch in your brain.  You can practice throwing your attention switch.  You can pivot from worry about your to-do list to…attention, now.

Nicolas Malebranche, 1638-1715

Epictetus, 50-135

Marcus Aurelius, 121-180

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You’re walking in late afternoon when the shadows are very long. You notice that shadows can take strange, aggressive shapes on an expanse of lawn.  Click. In the picture the shadow looks even stranger than it did in reality.  Why is that?

Walk on. At an intersection you see shadows on the distant lawn. Click.

But you took a wide angle, getting the street into the frame of your camera.  It’s merely a documentation of this corner of an unremarkable street.

You raise your arms and you zoom in on the distant lawn.  Click.  Now you have an image of triangular shapes on a green surface with some rectangle in the upper part of the frame.  This is getting interesting. But you still have the street in there.

Now crop the reference to the street because it’s too much context, which makes the image point to something outside itself.

Why is this interesting?  Because now you have an image that can be seen two ways: one, as a reference to a green lawn with triangular shadows cast by neighboring buildings and two, as a pattern of geometrical forms that refer to nothing outside of themselves.

If you want to see this duality even more clearly, take out the color.

Now you have an arrangement of shapes that “does not stand for something outside itself.”  Is this art?  Hmmm, maybe.

On second look, yes.  Notice how the image has a unifying texture: the bricks of the wall have specks of black shadows that echo the specks of leaves on the lawn.  This unifying texture has nothing to do with what’s being represented.  “Art does not stand for something outside itself,” as Fairfield Porter would put it.

You can frame this, hang it on a wall, glance at it in passing and momentarily inhabit the realm of form, which is pure feeling.  Like music.

 

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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

 

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Giamatti1

“There’s really not much to do. I’ve tried to do a little writing. I’ve been drawing again, which I hadn’t done in many years,   that’s been a wonderful thing, actually, having this time on one’s hands, to take up things again….A lot of my life I wanted to be some kind of artist, a cartoonist or some sort of illustrator…

All I can do is sort of weird funny faces…I just kind of do these faces…I got a lot of time on my hands….honestly, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…I never really took any lessons….It’s been fun to do it again….it’s been a good thing.”

Giamatti is in a Zoom (or Zoom-ish) conversation with Stephen Colbert and he’s saying that this self-isolation has a good effect.  He has rediscovered the pleasure of drawing!

At that point the conversation had a chance of going deeper into how drawing feels in the mind, how it’s developed over centuries, how it’s taught or not taught and such, but this is TV, so Colbert takes the shallow turn and suggests Giamatti could do a graphic novel. That’s ok.

Nevertheless, we had witnessed a subtle moment in American television:   we heard a big star saying to another big star in the entertainment industry that being alone in your quiet room and drawing—that is a wonderful thing.

Yes, it is.

 

You can see that conversation at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9B8ij0GGBI

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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/

 

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In the early 2000’s green was a fashionable color, meaning it was associated with romantic love.  In Steve Martin’s 2005 movie Shopgirl (he wrote the screenplay) the walls of the shopgirl’s apartment were green. I remember thinking, how odd, I thought green walls were for hospitals.

So it goes with color associations.  We talked about that earlier, in the post about blue.

There have been paintings of solid black (Barnett Newman), solid blue (Yves Klein), solid white (Bruce Nauman) and solid red (Malevich). But solid green?

In the 1990’s the Tate showed large solid color paintings by Maria Lalic, including a green that is, however, not applied evenly and flat but thinly striped. So we can’t count it.  https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/maria-lalic-2639

What is it about green? Why has nobody made a solid green painting? Kazimir Malevich would not have shown a Green Square next to his Red Square in 1915.

On the internet you can look up “color therapy,” and read that green is the most therapeutic color: “This is the most basic color of all in healing. It is the color which you always use first and last.” https://www.aetherius.org/healing-yourself-and-others/color-therapy/    Is that why walking in parks and woods is restful? But then, consider that there’s more hitting the senses in the woods than green-green-green.

A given color will affect us differently in different contexts.

Try this.

It’s 3 feet square.  In what room of your house would you like to see this?  Really?  For how long?

Next, imagine walking unassumingly into a museum or gallery and there it is, it 8’ x 8.’  Your whole visual field is filled, it envelops you, nothing else exists. Here you have green and its complementary color, red, for maximum contrast.  The Malevich juxtaposition in 1915 would have been comical, but here the contrast may give you a profound jolt.

Now let’s take another break from color.  What happens when you switch abruptly between the Renaissance sensibility and the modern sensibility in which we’ve been immersing ourselves here? We will now toggle back again from 2000 to 1500.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/black/

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

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

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