Category Archives: Opinions

Politics Brings Haters to Art

Art appreciation is complicated enough. Bring politics into it and… things get really confused and messy.

Could you look at art and appreciate it for the sake of itself? How would your perception change knowing the artist was someone famous, notorious even? How does your art appreciation fare knowing the artist was Hitler?

hitlerflowers

Of course, that brings up the question – Who is Hitler to you, personally? Were you born before his death? Is your family German, Austrian, Jewish or European at all? What real relevance is there about Hitler for you in a personal way? Is there anything real enough to change the way you look at the art he created at various times in his life?

I admit, other than reading history, Hitler has very little connection to my life. My family are Austrian but I hardly know anyone from that connection and I’ve never travelled to Europe at all, so far. I can remember my Grandmother (on my Father’s side) ranting about “never letting a German into her house”. This was a little shocking to me considering I thought of myself as German (on my Mother’s side of the family). I never forgot her saying that and the conviction she had, or how misled she seemed to me in that moment.

Hitler was an artist, as are/ were many other people who didn’t stand out in history. What matters in art? How much does it matter that the artist was a German politician and later a famous dictator? Is art about politics? Do you still believe in the connection between politics and religion too?

Some questions don’t have easy answers. However, I would not like to see Hitler’s original art defaced or destroyed. It’s part of our history, our culture and something one man left behind of the beauty he found in the world.

A batch of the Führer’s watercolours has just been sold at a controversial auction. But as well as having zero artistic value, most ‘Hitlers’ are probably fake – so why do we continue to collude in this grotesque deception?

Source: Littered with fakes: why the Hitler art trade is such a sick joke

There Is Only Art!

In Memo to budding art collectors, art collector Paulino Que gives three tips for beginner art collectors — but the best part of the article or interview is this part:

[I]n the course of merely listening to him, you will realize that what you have been doing since the day you were born has been a big mistake. From the start, there was no need for psychoanalysis, higher education or your vaunted profession, even if you happen to be a mind reader. In fact, going to college or chasing after your career goals were red herrings if they did not lead you to life’s biggest bonanza which Que spoke of with much zeal: the pursuit of Juan Lunas and F.R. Hidalgos, the chasing-after of Fernando Zobels. If there’s one thing that explains itself, it’s “You should have been collecting art in the first place!” No need for repetition or explanation. There’s no golden pot somewhere over the rainbow. There’s only art, art, art!


Photo of Paulino Que posing before Imagining Identity, a selection of a hundred self-portraits by Filipino artists in Que’s private collection from the Business Mirror article.

I Love a Good House

If my life had gone differently in my earlier years I think I would have become an architect. I love buildings and all the trimmings. I’m still trying to teach myself all the right names for the parts of buildings. I go out and take photos of old buildings, mainly derelict farm houses here in Ontario. I also like going to the main street of a small town or city and looking up. That’s where you see the fancy parts of old stores, homes and banks. Most of the old parts below have been renovated away.

Maybe I never would have been a great architect. I like the old stuff too much to make the modern looking type of building with more right angles than curves and more sensible and practical elements than elegant columns, gargoyles and gingerbread trim. It would be hard to design something just to stand there rather than to pose there.

I am still very attracted to anything building/ house related. Art with houses draws my eye. Even fiction about a house stops me long enough to at least skim it. The old woman living in a shoe caught my imagination from a young age. How did she live in that shoe? Did she use the laces to cool the house off in winter and then tie them up tight again to keep warm in winter? How did she put a roof on the shoe, was the sock still around to be stuffed over head? Did she make the eyelets for the laces into windows? Did she put the door back at the heel where it would have been strong but had that higher step down or somewhere else? So many questions. Living in a shoe didn’t seem that appealing all things considered.

I’d rather live in a castle, except I’d like a much smaller and cosier version of a castle than a real castle. A castle like Dr. Who’s Tardis, bigger on the inside than the outside could work well. Like the Tardis, no one ever seems to need to clean it either.

I have drawn my perfect house. It was harder to pick the location than the decide on what I wanted inside the house. But the harder part still was to limit myself to less rather than more when it comes to how the outside of the house will look. There are so many great old things that could be added. Small like old iron doorknobs to huge like a dragon sculpture taking up a large part of the garden.

I enjoy drawing unusual houses. I’ve drawn the shoe house. I’ve drawn a house made in a teacup. I’ve drawn a plan for how very small people would live in the standard sized world. I’ve drawn magical houses for elves, fairies and of course dragons too.

There is something special about a house, any building really. People make them, plan them, live and work in them. Keep them. Repair them. It’s saddest of all when a place is abandoned and left to the elements. There is a mystery to the abandoned places. Something time and people forgot. I never feel they are creepy or haunted. just sad and yet still dignified and majestic in some way. We give a house a power by it’s creation and everything we put into it beyond that point. You can’t just lose that when the house is empty. It’s there, right in the very design.

I think I would have been an amazing architect.

I Know It When I See It

There are two broad semantic categories in our society that are defined largely by intuition. One is ‘What is Art?’ and the other is ‘What is Obscenity?’. And the two are related in that anything deemed to be art, is generally excused from being suppressed as obscenity. Indeed this very relationship is enshrined in American Law.

Thus a recent legal judgement (pdf) may have very broad implications, not just be expanding that which is considered obscene, but contracting what is considered art.

Essentially what has happened is that an American man has been given a six month custodial sentence for the possession of drawn material depicting underage sex. These Japanese comic books (a.k.a. manga) were deemed to be “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children.”

More importantly, in my opinion, they were not seen to be exempt from the obscenity charge due to having serious literary or artistic value. After seizing 1,200 items seven manga were used as the basis of the prosecution. And these manga, or perhaps manga in general, were not considered a legitimate art form for the purposes of this prosecution. There is no evidence that the accused has ever behaved improperly with children or purchased material that depicted real abuse.

Do we find ourselves facing that old argument, that degenerate art may not be considered art at all, and so not offered the protection ewnjoyed by “real” art?

Hey, Me, Get Out Of My Travel Photos (Not!)

There are just about as many reasons for taking photos as there are people who take them, so it would be foolish for me to try to encompass them all in one itty-bitty blog post. But I do feel I need to respond to this blog post about travel photos by Natalia Forrest. Especially this part:

Much has been written about the modern scourge of tourists with their camera phones, roaming galleries more intent on taking photos of (or more precisely, having someone take their photo in front of) famous works of art than actually looking at the art itself. And call me a curmudgeon, but when I see this myself I give a little shiver of condemnation. It just doesn’t seem right when people are more interested in the artefact of their travels—the photograph, the trinket, the t-shirt—than they are in the actual experience.

I don’t have any data to debate claims that more people pose with art than actually look at art, but as a person who, as previously exposed, takes photos of my children with art at museums, I feel the need to defend those actions.

Forrest, and you, dear reader, may see these photos of people with objects of art — or any photos of art — as pure kitsch. And you’d be keeping company with many a scholared-sort too. But snapshots, trinkets, etc. are artefacts, facts of art, if you will, are precious mementos of the experience we had. And, if we are parents, of the experiences our children had.

Why isn’t baby’s first Monet, his first steps into art appreciation, as important as baby’s first steps walking — and so worth documenting?

And these photos are prompts for sharing the experiences in the future:

“What’s this you stand by in this photo, Bob? You have an odd expression on your face…”

“Oh, that was a majestic whatsit — did you know it was the only piece to survive the mawhozit’s war? Just being in the presence of such history would have been remarkable on its own, but there was something about it which reminded me of a thingamajig in the courtyard of this building we stayed at when I was a kid… Maybe it was the smell of sunshine… Whatever it is, it reminds me of Whosits, my favorite artist because of her use of color…”

Why should a person resist the human desire to keep a piece of something, so that they can recall, recount, and recapture something magical or important? Because other people think it’s kitschy or a scourge to condemn? We’ve keeping personal souvenirs as long as we’ve been people, including burying our dead with trinkets and pictorial images of stuff… I’m certain more than a few people have been buried with photographs.

But perhaps most offensive to me is Forrest’s post was this:

we took [photographs] because either a) we thought it would make a nice picture or b) to remember something by. The photos were for us, not to prove something to others.

Our photos are not necessarily to prove something to others — whether we are in them or not. Excuse us if we, every now and then, believe we are part of the something which would make a nice picture. Excuse us if we want to remember our experience with ourselves participating in it. After all, we travel because just looking at someone else’s photos and/or postcards is not enough.

Perhaps it’s most accurate to say that our photos of ourselves with art, scenic views, etc. are taken to prove — or reaffirm — something to ourselves.

You don’t have to look at them if you don’t want to.

Is Stock Photography Evil?

It is no longer difficult to take an adequate photograph. I say that with confidence, as a person who treats her digital camera as essentially a magic box with a button on one side and a USB port on the other. And yet, if I take enough pictures under good light, I can turn out clear photos of attractive subjects. And I am not alone. The natural consequence of photography become cheap and easy is that more people have taken it up. Between rechargeable batteries and online forums, more people are developing their abilities to a useful level. More people are deciding to try and make a little money from their pictures.

Enter the stock photo agencies. Stock agencies (such as Shutterstock and Istockphoto) accept digital photographs in large numbers, and sell them for a low price for non-exclusive use. At a few dollars each, stock photographs are an inexpensive alternative to hiring a professional-photographer-shot pictures. A few stock agencies, such as stock.xchng, even offer pictures for free. Many professional photographers are, predictably, not thrilled by this development. Some argue that people who sell their photographs cheaply or give them away for free undermine photography as a profession, impoverish working photographers and allow themselves to be exploited.

There is one glaring problem with this argument: they are essentially blaming the apple for gravity. Digital camera are cheap to buy, cheap to use, and automate much of what used to be a complicated process. The internet allows the products of these cameras to be shipped to vendors for free. Given these two technological development, the crash in the market for adequate photographs was inevitable. The destruction of the careers of adequate photographers could not be prevented. You may dislike this development, you may complain about it, but it will not be reversed.

Stock photographers are the absolute creators and owners of their photographs. As such they can give their work away, they can charge as much—or as little—as they like. And there will always be some teen settling for “exposure” or someone in a less developed country who can trade fifty American cents for a hearty meal. No professional can demand higher pay when they are competing with the unwashed masses for skills that are common using equipment that is cheap.

And as a member of those masses I am completely unapologetic. I take photographs for fun and I sell them for a small amount of supplemental income. As a creator of photographs that is my option, my right, and to my benefit. Any photographer who wants to charge full professional fees can no longer be merely adequate. They can no longer do what any member of the public with a compact camera and a steady hand can achieve. And no matter how much they complain about this new reality, it is not going to change.

Stock photography my have crushed the businesses of some photographers at at the lower and middle reaches of the professions, but that is not evil any more than gravity is evil. People will always buy what is cheap, do what is easy, and take what they can get. That is just one of life’s realities–and anyone who thinks berating stock photographers is going to make a difference needs to… well, they need to get real.

2009 Art Sales May Not Have Been Bad For Auction Houses, But Was It Good For Art?

Antique Week, Vol. 41, Issue No. 2112 (January 11, 2010) has a report in the national section on art sales in 2009.

In the article, two things stood out for me.

First:

Auction houses started slashing pre-sale estimates by as much as 50 percent to stimulate sales. When Sloans & Kenyon of Chevy Chase, Md., gave a $6,000-8,000 estimate to an unsigned 18th century oil of the Grand Canal in Venice, bidders from around the world smelled a deal. Instead, the painting went for $687,125 at the Sept. 27 auction.

The math’s off (the pre-sale estimate was what, 10-15% of the final sale?), but one thing’s for sure: People buy classic art the same way they buy bags of socks at Wal*Mart.

Second:

Old Masters are getting a new look from investors wary of fluctuations in more modern art, Warhol excluded. In its art review of 2009, Bloomberg said, “Collectors responded to the financial crisis by selecting the best 20th century classics, Old Masters, wine and jewelry at international auctions. They shunned investment in some contemporary art as prices dropped by half.”

And, it was noted earlier in the piece that Bloomberg had reported “that the sale of high-value contemporary art took a big hit last year when major auction houses ceased providing consignors with price guarantees.”

What this says to me is something about fundamentalism at times of crisis and art pretension as a form of commerce; art as financial investment based on fear of depreciation, not art purchased for appreciation.

Michael Jackson: King Of Commissioned Kitsch

We keep hearing how poor MJ was, but the dude spent a fortune commissioning art — of himself. And while he was one helluva a musical artist & entertainer, he didn’t have a clue about art.

Just unveiled, Kehinde Wiley’s monumental commissioned portrait of Michael Jackson:

kehinde-wileys-monumental-commissioned-portrait-of-michael-jackson

And here’s a 1990 painting of Jackson by David Nordahl:

MJ_Art Lover_REPRO.indd

Now maybe you’re not surprised to see the size of MJ’s ego displayed in such works. I’m not; but I thought he had more of an artistic sense. All that money to promote yourself as a kitsch icon? Such high prices for such low kitsch? I mean he could have commissioned such portraits from any high school art class student. All he’d have to do is give the kid a copy of an art history book along with the deposit check. But what screams to me the most from all of this is that Jackson would have put these on display, likely in his home.

Where his kids could see them.

So I no longer can buy Prince, Paris and Blanket dressed in masks, scarves and blankets as some sort of shield protecting the kids so that they’d grow up normal. Not when he was willing to subject them to such portraits of daddy. These painting not only distort images of dad as a real person but distort images of real art too.

Well, at least I don’t think Jackson commissioned such artworks to include his kids’ faces as cherubs or whatnot. Or maybe I just don’t recognize his kids.

Or maybe there are frightening family portraits we have yet to see.

See also the edible MJ.