Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

Friday, February 24, 2017

Natasha Dances for the American Deep State

How nice that I have managed to appreciate art in 'this lifetime.' Although music and comedy were two forms of art that were easy to appreciate, the visual arts left me yawning, in the past.

I refer to "art" in the Tolstoyan sense. This is quite different from Beauty, which most people confuse with "art."  Tolstoy thought that art was anything that transferred emotional experiences from the artist to the viewer/reader/listener, by means of words, pictures, sounds, or stories. Beauty is a another matter, according to Tolstoy.

Movies should be good at providing "artful" experiences in this sense of the word, and, one would think, the Russian movie version of "War and Peace" should be good at it, too.

I watched the first third of the three-disc movie, and couldn't make up my mind if I liked it. The star of the second third of the movie was "Natasha," the young Russian noble-girl who came of age during the lead-up to Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia.

It became easier to notice how graceful her movements. Well of course! Look at her: she has "ballet dancer" written all over her. And thank heavens they chose a young actress to play this role, instead of taking the BBC approach of using a 30-year-old actress to portray an adolescent.

Tolstoy uses the behavior of Natasha's family at a wolf hunt to foreshadow the upcoming big-battle-scene. Gone are the genteel French manners. Natasha's family starts acting like Russians. But what exactly does that mean? Napoleon is about to find out.

I wasn't prepared for what came just after the wolf hunt, at the evening meal at her bachelor-uncle's hunting lodge. Natasha hears some Russian folk music being played on a balalaika, a traditional instrument. They tell her to dance, although she doesn't quite know how to dance to uncivilized Russian folk music.

But she plays along, and improvises, haltingly, almost reluctantly. Somehow she connects with something, and finally cuts loose, while the voice-over and subtitle repeats Tolstoy's words: had this young countess absorbed the spirit of this dance from the Russian air she breathed? Dressed in silk and velvet, educated by a French emigrée governess, how had she acquired these movements; yet these movements were the very ones, inimitable, unteachable, Russian, which her uncle expected of her. How well she understood all that was in...

Let's be playful with an anachronism, and imagine ol' Bonie in the slow lane on St. Helena. Since he has lots of time on his hands, he pops the movie into the machine one night. What would he really think of the wolf hunt and Natasha's dance? "Art" or merde.

Perhaps modern neo-cons, Democrats, and Deep-Staters might get something out of Natasha's dance, as well, before they try to force Russia to surrender Crimea.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Photographic Manifesto

Sure, it is bad news when you drop your digital camera with the zoom out, and kill it. But maybe the longer-term result can still be good. In the past I resisted rushing out to buy a new camera, and instead, took a vacation from dragging a camera along. The appetite will return after awhile.

Better yet, why not use the hiatus to reevaluate what you are trying to accomplish with a camera.  It is not as obvious as it first seems. It is a "nice" thing to have an excuse to pause on a mountain bike ride, and soak up an especially pretty little snack. 

These flowers caught my eye, the other day. The photo is mildly pretty, but I don't see what the viewer can get from this photo that they couldn't get from millions of other pretty photos already on the internet. And there will be more next year.

That prettiness is trivial and mostly useless does not make it EVIL. But it does mean the photographer hasn't gone as far as they could have. Notice that there is only one thing a little special about this photo: faint, not-so-pretty vegetation in the upper right corner. Its relationship to the three flowers suggests an idea. What do you think it is?

Perhaps the photographer should strive for a visual representation of an important idea about life. There is something tedious about verbosity that tries to express important ideas. It can easily devolve into a logomachy.  And there is something gratifying about metaphorical images and visual representations of that same idea. The miracle of condensation.

Whenever I am in the high country I look for a "vision" that always suggests something. Typically it appears far away, on a faint, ascending ridge-line. Many times the lighting is such that the single layer of trees seems to pull away from ridgeline as it climbs up to the sky. I always flutter my eyelashes at this sort of thing, but not because of trivial prettiness, but because it is a visual representation of one of the great issue in philosophy: the matter versus spirit conundrum.

A rationalist sees the word, spiritual, as a metaphysical fiction. But there is still a fetching idea in this second photograph: that matter alone doesn't explain everything. Surely a rationalist would not reduce the profession and art of architecture to so many tons of bricks and a certain number of sticks of lumber! It isn't just about "stuff." It is also about design and how the building functions for its users.

In physics there isn't just "mass." There is also motion and different types of energy.

In living creatures, there isn't just cells and tissue. If you would rather avoid the word, soul, then you must still admit the importance of the design/organization of the cells and tissue, their function, and interchanges of electrical and thermal energy.

I believe photography is a noble art if it seeks to provide visual representations of important ideas. Word-wranglers would be wise (and kind to the readers) if they integrated such photographs into their monstrously tedious verbiage. The viewer/reader would be helped by putting the visual representation right next to the verbal representation of the idea. Perhaps a short title should be given to the photograph, but it shouldn't turn into a long-winded caption. The readers' minds need to make the connection.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Taking Sensual Pleasures to a Higher Level

The other day, I sat out on the porch of the "Chatterbox" cafe. It was noon on an unseasonably warm day. Already I felt a mild dread about warm weather returning, and on top of that, I was drinking hot coffee.  But the porch was shaded. The gentle breeze felt so cool and reassuring.

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that I would pop my insulated bib overalls on and lie out on the 'patio' (ramp) of my cargo trailer, with it facing the still-valid Arizona sun. Then, I was asking relief from the wintry air. 

These two experiences were as pleasant as they could be. They were mirror images of each other. Today's pleasure was even more piquant because of the contrast with the oh-so-recent mirror image.

But the pleasure didn't stop there. Recently I posted about the visual metaphor from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," with the ugly Creature swimming upside down while stalking the beautiful girl swimming on top of the water, with the sunlight rippling the surface. [*] (The camera was underneath the water, looking upwards.)

With this visual image in mind, the experience was transported to a higher level -- from the purely sensual to the aesthetic realm. This made a noticeable difference. I'm glad that I've finally come to appreciate, and actively shop for, visual metaphors from the movies. It is possible to find examples from the world of cartoons or even sculpture.

What a shame that visual metaphors are so hard to find in the world of (still) photography! It may be possible that many photographers don't even know that they are supposed to aspire to visual representations of ideas or fundamental components of the human condition. 

[*] As usual, lots of good movie trivia is available at

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Conversations with Strangers in Coffee Shops?

I stand before you today to announce a great and newly discovered truth: that it is possible to have an interesting and useful conversation in a coffee shop. With a stranger. Do you think I am exaggerating? Consider just one feature of this conversation: it was 10 or 15 minutes before he fell back on the old 'Soooo, whar ya frum?' If you wanted to be scientific about it, you could easily correlate how late that question arrives with the interesting-ness of the person. I am used to it being the second thing out of their mouths, and I have been known to literally groan out-loud when it happens.

But maybe you are going to tell me that this kind of thing happens to you all the time, and the fact that it has never happened to me is my own fault. Indeed, it is easy to misjudge people. Perhaps I don't ask people who look sufficiently available, are the right age, or are displaying the right body language. Perhaps they take one look at me and say, "How could such an over-opinionated know-it-all who can't keep his trap shut have such a nice dog?"

But there is another explanation: the art of conversation is no longer valued much in our society. Nor do we agree on formal rules that make conversation easier. The notion of "good breeding" or "gentlemanly" behavior has disappeared. Nor does the average blockhead know about much, or care about much, other than their job, television shows, celebrity gossip, daily chores and drudgery, Facebook trivia, etc.

This fellow was so facile. He quickly divined our common denominator: that we both drive old Ford Econoline vans. After I boasted that mine would soon hit 250,000 miles, he mentioned that his had 480,000 miles on the original engine and transmission. We then went on to methods of extending the life of a vehicle, the characteristics of a good mechanic, and his plans for converting his van for extended stays in the Arizona desert in winter.

But it wasn't in the list of topics that the magic lay. It was something more ineffable, at least at first. I think it was the back-and-forth between concrete (and well selected) details and generalities. We leaned one direction or the other at any given time, but then we flipped in the opposite direction. Perhaps this is almost a definition of intellectually healthy thinking.

Somebody who is addicted to easy theories might wait for two honest data points, draw a straight line between them, and then induce a universal law. I see no reason to be so cautious. After all I might not live to my next interesting conversation with a stranger.

So then, here is my grand and mighty conclusion based on one data point: he was an artist. Perhaps they get in the habit of dancing between concrete illustrations and general ideas, and then carry that habit into other parts of their lives.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why Bother Photographing the Mountains?

Earlier I expostulated on Tolstoy's idea of Art: that Art is really NOT about Beauty, but rather, is anything that conveys emotion from the artist (who experienced it directly) to an audience.

Now that we are all agreed on that, let's move on to conquer the issue of Beauty. Even the most dissolute and stubborn optical sybarites -- and I know a few, personally -- would be willing to correct the old adage about 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder', to 'the brain of the beholder.'

But we should really say 'the mind.'  Somebody needs to convince the optical sybarites that Reality and Beauty actually exist in Ideas, of which photographs (paintings, sculptures, etc.) are merely the concrete representations.

Yes, I said 'merely'.  Shapes and colors, or textures and contrasts, no matter how well they tickle the eyeball, can only be "beautiful" in the same sense that gooey lacto-globular confections at a Dairy Queen can be "delicious" to a seven-year-old.

It is fundamental Truths that are beautiful; and yet, they need pictorial representation. After all, 'Man is a little lower than the angels.' We aren't disembodied intellects like those orbs that housed the mighty minds of some aliens in one of the more memorable episodes of the original series of Star Trek. We have bodies and senses. Thus it is important to find concrete representations of Ideas. But still, it is the Ideas that matter most.

I certainly don't want to endorse the iconoclastic fanaticism of the JHWH cult (Jews, Muslims, and bahbll Protestants). Lucky for the Christians that they absorbed some of the intelligence of the Greeks, and their appreciation for the representation of Ideas.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Falling in Love IN -- not WITH -- Tombstone

It has always been a noble and unselfish thing on my part to leave the tourist kitsch of Tombstone AZ for others to enjoy. I've never set foot in the place until yesterday. But I offered to take a woman to dinner, and we knew there would be some places open in Tombstone on Easter. Under the right circumstances even a ridiculous place can be enjoyable.

Naturally, after lunch, there was the obligatory and painfully slow tour of so-called art galleries, aka, bauble and trinket shops.  What is this perverse fascination that colorful junk holds for women?

Now a music cue should break in. The romantic music should swell, as the two lovers run to each other in slow motion from opposite ends of a flowery meadow. This is no April Fool's joke. And I even have a witness. On the far wall was a large painting that wowed me. This was only the second time in my life that a painting appealed to me. This seems odd, so naturally it must be explained.

In Arizona it's hard to believe that somebody would paint an object other than a saguaro-in-front-of-colorful-sunset, a kokopelli, or, more locally, a windmill on the grasslands. But here was a painting of a shallow vertical sidewall of an arroyo, with plant roots exposed. You can walk by so many examples of this in the Southwest. They might only be a few inches tall, or maybe 30 feet. Regardless of the size, I have always been attracted to them.

15 foot high vertical side-wall of an arroyo in NM.

For years this confused me. Appreciating geology can be difficult. It can be off-putting to consider how old visible geology is. Processes are so slow that geology seems static.  It's easier to get pulled into geology when you can visualize it as dynamic processes; the limiting case of this is a topographic feature that could conceivably be drawn in the landscape during a human lifetime.

Thus a small sidewall helps you appreciate the topography/geology in much the same way that a dog helps you appreciate any number of things in the outdoors world: they both serve as stepping stones that enable your first baby-steps from the confines of the Self. Once that process is started, you could eventually melt into the outdoors world.

So I have nothing but compliments for the artist of that painting. They added pleasant southwestern colors, which looked lush in this painting because of the austere subject matter. In fact the contrast was violent. 

There is a violent contrast of that type all over southeastern Arizona right now. Despite the winter rain, the grass is yellow and decrepit. The mesquite looks lifeless. Even thorns seem to lack their usual higher sense of Purpose. Tawny yellow/brownness sounds merely boring. But the contrast with the young green leaves of the cottonwoods (that delineate the rivers) will stop you dead in your tracks.

To a stereotypical woman, natural beauty in a painting means little more than that it's color scheme matches the window drapes. To a stereotypical macho knuckle-dragger, natural beauty means anything that's vertical and freakishly large. 

But there are so many qualities that are real and interesting in nature: cruel necessity, harshness, stubborn survival, discomfort, courage, youthful play, maternal sacrifice, and many others. That is why this painting is so important. It encourages the viewers to take that first step towards liberating themselves from the tyranny of trivial prettiness. How that painting ended up in Tombstone is a mystery.

Let's conclude with an analogy. We all know that people are least likely to be funny when they are too obviously trying to be funny. I am suggesting that the same is true of artists  who are focusing too directly on producing beauty: they glob on layer after layer of prettiness until they think Beauty will result. They would be more successful if they thought more about one of the qualities mentioned last paragraph, and let beauty be produced as a byproduct of some conflict. When the viewers don't think the artist is spoon-feeding them, they are more likely to imagine beauty. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Great Charnel Houses in the Cloud

I want to follow up with some suggestions about conquering the Uninterrupted Prose Syndrome, by making verbiage "breathe" with some kind of pictorial illustration, gotten somewhere. (Let's ignore the fact that music might be even better for this purpose, since it's probably more technically difficult to get it into the blog post.) 

So off I will go, searching for shareable photographs in the great charnel houses for internet photographs, such as, Picasa, or Flickr. Blogs that have a Creative Commons License, such as a commenter's blog, are also worth a serious look.

Oops. There is a likely problem that we must address before rolling up our sleeves. Recall the controversy that good ol' Leo Tolstoy got into in the Colorado arts scene, one summer not so long ago. (grin) By invoking his arguments on "What is Art?" (free on Google Books), I am not trying to con you with an "appeal to Authority," as it might appear at first. A "big name's" theory is not necessarily correct. But can we agree that his is at least worth considering, before making up your own mind?

In short, Tolstoy thought the conventional world of Art was barking up the wrong tree in pursuing Beauty or the Pleasure to be gotten from viewing Beauty. Tolstoy thought that Beauty is just the pompous, but empty, term we use to describe whatever is de mode amongst the smart-set.

He finally answers the question in Chapter 5:
...that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.

And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man's expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling—this is the activity of art.

Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings, and also experience them.
Now, I'm not going to use this as an excuse not to go looking for paintings and photographs that I can borrow to help my own blog posts breathe; but much of the art world only cares about Beauty, which in the final analysis, is nothing more than what sells to a bourgeois matron looking to fill empty spaces in her McMansion's living room.

Where can I find a world of illustration that isn't concerned about beauty, but can be used to transfer the emotional content of the thoughts being expressed, per Tolstoy? I'll bet it's the world of cartoons! (Such as they used to put in Barron's or The New Yorker.) Nobody can accuse them of being pretty, since they are just crude line drawings of poor verisimilitude. 

Consider an example. Last post I complained of the tedium of reading uninterrupted prose. Think of how much of human life through the ages has been captured by that one word, 'tedium.' So are artists too busy to bother with something so fundamentally important to the human condition? But just try to imagine a photograph or painting that expresses Tedium. Even if an artist were clever enough to think of one, they wouldn't do it because it wouldn't be beautiful enough. (That ugly word, again.)  Perhaps music could do a better job. Consider Eric Satie's Gnossiennes #1. (I am extremely grateful to a long-lost commenter who once suggested I look into Satie.)

But I can remember a couple cartoons from 20 years ago (!) that expressed tedium/futility in a way that knocked me off my feet.

Aw gee, now I have another internet search project: to find a (shareable) charnel house for cartoons in the cloud.