Friday, November 14, 2008

Art by the Numbers

In Komar and Melamid's 1994 focus group which studied democratically created artwork, a participant had stated that, "I don't think you can sit at a table and ask people what they want...the entire ludicrous. Then you're not an artist." Whether or not asking for public input makes something art may be open for debate, but the process of audience research for films has been around since at least the 1940s. For better or worse, I feel fortunate to have seen this process in action while working in the Disney studios. In regards to changes in the direction of art because of shifts in public sentiment, there are some similarities to be found in Romy Golan's Modernity and Nostalgia. Golan traces the changes in attitude among French artists after the traumas they had experienced during WW1 and the Great Depression, arguing that the popular reactionary sentiment was supported by artists, writers and the national leadership of France whom had suffered a crisis of confidence, regressed into an idealized pre-war self image which sought a "return to the land," and became distrustful of technology and foreign ideas. I picked up this book because I'm generally anxious about why figurative works receive outright hostility in art criticism, if not indifference otherwise. There seems to be an inevitable response that you must be nostalgic about a Golden Age or about an idyllic rural past if you do work that is remotely figurative or depicts the natural landscape. While I do appreciate many artworks of the past, I'm also not particularly nostalgic farming or about the political past. Given that: 1) my early childhood was spent growing up in the idyllic Silicon Valley and 2)that if I had lived in previous eras, I would have been ineligible to vote or to marry my wife, there isn't a whole lot from the past that evokes a longing for the good ole days! During the so called "Golden Age of Illustration," life probably wouldn't have seemed so "golden" working on a plantation or being someone's servant. For #@*sake there is still an Alien-Land Law in Florida...14th Amendment anyone? That said, the book was even more interesting given the time difference between when it was written and the current systemic banking crisis which has since unfolded. At the time Golan's book was published in 1995, the future seemed quite bright - In Charles Morris' The Trillion Dollar Meltdown, he describes the 1990s as a "Goldilocks Economy" - among other factors, the government ran surpluses "in excess of $300 billion, the best performance in the postwar era." The US had completed a successful military campaign, the Dow Jones average had risen 167% since October 19, 1987. During the 1990s food production had soared to the point that investment in agricultural research went from 2% in the 1980s to 0.6% in the 1990s. In contrast, our recent history is marked by 9/11, two ongoing wars, an $11.3 trillion deficit and three major drops in the stock market; the most recent crash having fallen 44%. For a number of reasons, the rate of growth in food production has dwindled relative to consumption. According to The New Scientist, grain yields are increasing by 1.1% per year, while the global population is growing by 1.2% per year. As China and India want more and more to live like the West, annual growth is expected to push to 1.6%. With the contrasts between the economy in 1995 and 2008, one wonders what the book would've been about had it been written more recently. After it was published, most reviewers saw it in light of the various philosophical differences between art historians. For instance, Lisa Saltzman, of the The Art Bulletin wrote,"In quite particular yet fundamentally united ways,...Romy Golan can be seen as participating in the project of redressing the deliberate blind spots and resulting lacunae of Greenbergian modernism and its legacy..." One might've never guessed that another Great Depression might be lurking around the corner.

When you look at the economic numbers during the Great Depression in France, there are some similarities: From 1930 to 1936, unemployment in France was 10.2% and by comparison, in the US, we're currently at 6.1%. From 1929 to 1932, GDP in France was down 13.64%; in the US, from the second to third quarter, GDP was down 0.3%. In France, where the base period was 1929, the consumer price index was 93.6. In the US in September 2008, where the base period is 2002, the CPI is 123.2. In regards to food production, the numbers are quite a bit different. In 1929, France was producing 7% of the world's wheat despite the fact that, as Golan writes, "France postponed its 'second' industrial revolution to the 1950s and 1960s." This "return to the land" was supported by the rhetoric of Marshal Petain and in authors such as Gaston Roupnel. In Histoire de la campagne Francaise (1932), Roupnel writes:

"...human work, developed on the theme of natural quiet seasons, realizes the conquest of land, and the adaptation of the earth to the needs and wishes of humans."

In stark contrast to the aspiration for returning to an agricultural past, by comparison, according to the USDA, in 2000 just 23% of the American population lived in rural areas and only 1.9% of the population worked in agriculture. With the rise in the popularity of organic foods and CSAs, apparently Americans want some return of farming culture, but most of us don't know how or have too little time to spend cultivating it.

One of the artists who displayed a more dramatic change from abstraction to naturalism was Auguste Herbin, whose work prior to the end of World War 1 was largely influenced by Cubism. Golan writes, "between 1921 and 1926, (Herbin) featured an equally and unabashedly academic approach to composition and the rendering of forms." Likewise, Fernand Léger also did a dramatic about face in the inter-war years. Whereas in 1928, Léger entitled an essay, "The Machine Aesthetic," which scorned "sentimental...imitative values," in 1932, he wrote a personal letter on his new found appreciation for working on the land:

"An afternoon spent with real peasants - in a rough farm - where everything is stamped by work - the lines of people, the folds of clothes - all marks are made by the repetition of the same movements, the same efforts... I've eaten cheese with raw bread and drunk cider - gone to see the sheep - learned a thousand things about the animals."

André Derain became a paragon of what French artists should become during this time, having gone from a post-Fauve direction to a naturalistic landscape artist. Golan describes the praise Derain had received for this new direction: "in an article in the popular L'amour de l'Art as the great 'regulator,' the ideal model for the younger generation of French painters if they did not want to surrender to the seductiveness of a colorist like Henri Matisse or the overpowering influence of Picasso's cubism." In 1920, fellow artist and critic, André Lhote wrote in La Nouvelle Revue Française that Derain was "the greatest living French artist." Going by the numbers, the ticker tape of his rise was dramatic; in 1925 he sold paintings for about 10,500 francs, and three years later his works were going for 87,000 francs.

The changes within individual artists these days are not as plainly seen in an environment where images are referenced indiscriminately or for very different personal reasons. Gerhard Richter's comment on his landscapes is telling in this regard: "My landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all 'untruthful'...and by 'untruthful' I mean the glorifying way we look at Nature - Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy...Every beauty that we see in our projection; and we can switch it off at a moment's notice, to reveal only the appalling horror and ugliness." Some parallel between France's inter-war years and today's post 9/11 climate can perhaps be seen though more sweeping comparisons. It was perhaps revealing that on September 11, 1995, Arthur Danto chose to review an exhibition of Nam June Paik . Danto opened with:

"A dedicated collector of contemporary art told me, not long ago, that she had become enthralled by video now, perhaps to the exclusion of everything else. 'The next time you visit, maybe none of this,' she said, sweeping her arm demonstratively around to take in the large sculptures and paintings with which I identify her taste, 'will be here.' And then, leaning toward me confidingly, she added: ' I am thinking of having nothing in my home but video."

Cut forward a little more than a decade and now we have the New Britain Museum of American Art commissioning Graydon Parrish's mural about 9/11 - an odd mix of something like three parts idealist Neoclassicism, one part erotic Academicism, one part anguished Romanticism, and one part socially-engaged Realism. The changes in the post 9/11, Great Recession era are also telling if you look at the sale prices of Gustave Courbet works; in 1995 a Courbet sold for $261,330 (adjusted for inflation) and in 2007, his work sold for $7,269,434. For those whom find that looking at rural images only evokes retrograde sensibilities, the renewed interest of the "return to the land" couldn't be all bad these days, considering that a 2007 survey found 22% of 1,073 adult Britons didn't know where bacon or sausage came from. Perhaps in the future the point may become irrelevant anyways, when cities end up using vertical and urban farming out of necessity.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ruff and CU Character levels

Rough animation and Clean-up character levels of the overlay for "Landscape in Spring: Sam's Portrait." To complete the faux animation portion, I need to do CU for the small bit of the BG in the overlay and also send it to the Ink and Paint Department.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

more 20 min workshop drawings

...had to have a break and practice drawing again...

Friday, October 10, 2008


In light of Paulson's lobbying to remove the net capital rule for brokerage firms ( US SEC Clears New Net-Capital Rules For Brokerages - 04/28/2004 ) and then later asking for our own capital to shore up these same institutions, the movie, Pickpocket, caught my attention as an appropriate film to transition away from the news in the Northeast. In the end, the movie was less interesting for the specifics of the story than in how it was telling it - an avoidance of the dramatic, unexpected editing and framing, etc. Paul Schrader has an excellent commentary of the film, which is partially shown below (part 2 of the interview is in a thumbnail at the end). The Fuller / Bresson comparison reminds me of a Jackie Chan interview - after being a stuntman for Bruce Lee for so long and having always to be in the subordinate role, he found his own identity by being what Bruce Lee was not. Jackie was saying (paraphrasing): 'If Bruce is going to be serious, I will be funny; if Bruce kicks high, I will kick low. Whatever Bruce Lee does well, I will do the opposite.' In this case the situation is reversed and Bresson already had a reputation for his particular brand of filmmaking, but perhaps that was worth mentioning. At any rate, though the emotionless storytelling in Pickpocket grabs one's attention, particularly for a person coming from a Disney background, in terms of the visuals of French minimalist movies, the cinematography of Jean Charvein & Henri Decaë in Le Samouraï is probably a bit stronger in a classical sense.

Gary Indiana has a great piece in the liner notes: "Pickpocket, like all of Bresson's films, records the expiration of humane feeling in the modern world, the impossibility of decency in a universe of greed. This is amply illustrated in Au hasard Balthazar (1966), a film about the sufferings of a donkey so painful to watch that if you can see it through without weeping, you deserve to be hit by a Mack truck when you leave the theater. For Bresson, the casual destruction of life, any life, is the damning imperative of the human species."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Newshour 2006

You gotta love Yardeni's sentiment that if you yourself are doing okay, everything is alright in the world. He then goes on to remark that people are "stupid" to spend beyond their budgets without considering that perhaps people might end up spending beyond their budgets unwillingly - i.e., having to pay for medical expenses which are now being collected with interest by privately run debt collectors ( Hospitals Put Patients' Debt Up for Auction - )or because of someone being laid-off, etc. He also didn't consider that home prices may've been even lower than what was listed on paper because sellers were throwing in extras to sweeten the deal (No Bubble Trouble - )( popular incentives that might catch a home buyer's attention - MarketWatch) -no wonder this guy was wrong on Y2K.

Hoover Institution - Facts on Policy - Consumer Spending

A visual essay: post-recessionary employment growth related to the housing market

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

So Happy to Buy Toxic Assets

I'm so glad that we're going to be buying up all of these empty condos and "efficiently" built homes in prime locations because this was such a good idea in the first place. There are of course thousands of fixed-income retirees and well-heeled people working in theme parks and fast food restaurants who are just jumping at the chance to pay the asking price for these places. If there's no room in one of these condos, they might look into living in one of the huge water-guzzling homes set out in the middle of a desert. The government should get preferred shares from the banks for what we chip in...

Miami Condos

Polluted waters become developers' dollars --

Pricy Las Vegas homes quickly lose their luster - Los Angeles Times

Who's running this place? Eight alternatives to a $700Bn giveaway:

Ten Steps To Recovery -

Lessons from Another Crisis: Why Providing Debt Relief for Households is Not a Good Idea - Brookings Institution

Edward Leamer - Alternative

Lucian Bebchuk - A Plan for Addressing the Financial Crisis by Lucian Bebchuk

Andy Xie - alternative

Wilbur Ross - Alternative

James K. Galbraith, "A Bailout We Don't Need"

Avinash Persaud: Paulson's bail-out plan places too much burden on taxpayers instead of creditors | Comment is free |

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Studies of characters for Sam's Portrait

I'm planning on integrating some 2d characters into a portrait painting of Samantha. These are a couple of the rough model sheets for the characters living in this world. Part of the inspiration for this was from reading about Alexsandr Rodchenko giving up painting to pursue his true calling of Art in the form of Graphic Design.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Two studies of T'ao-t'ieh

A couple of designs of the T'ao-t'ieh: dragon-like creatures which are said to look somewhat like a bull and tiger. Since the design of the face is the only visible element on the ritual/food vessels where they are typically found, there's a bit of freedom in interpreting what it might look like otherwise. The designs are for a painting I'm hoping to start on sometime.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Double portrait of mom

Mother Controlling Her Giggles

Friday, June 27, 2008

Studies of my parents

...A couple portrait studies of my parents. Thought I'd try using a brush and ink instead of a dry medium for my mother's portrait. Though, there's a little bit of charcoal in there as well.

Dick Oden Artwork

(current FRB exhibit)

Since I'm on the topic of memorials, I thought I'd post some work of Dick Oden, who was the head of the Illustration Department at CSULB until his passing in '93. Some quotes from his obituary: "The figure is above all a way to not have to intellectualize a relationship with your work... It's sort of equivalent to just hugging somebody as opposed to talking to them." "My reason for making a living out of art is that you're free to just take your pencil and pad somewhere. You just don't need any other equipment. That freedom is wonderful." "I've also always thought I would never get a job where I had to wear socks."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Memorial for Barbara Bradley

A few photos from the memorial... Barbara was the mentor who challenged me to always push myself and helped me with some straight forward drawing technique advice. However, in her "technique" there was a melding of "content" as well. For her, I think the process of drawing people and appreciating people were one in the same. Her "opinion" about the model didn't necessarily have to be a grand narrative, but could be about visual design of their features and/or clothing. In drawing other people, I think she felt somehow it made the world a little better - taking time to look closely at other people suspends judgment for a moment. If you too quickly make an assumption about how a model appears, the drawing suffers from being too generalized. By overriding one's own conception of what the model should look like for a moment, and studying the other person, a certain level of connectedness occurs - in some cases, random models unknowingly being sketched sometimes become aware of their being observed. In an age when people interminably have their hands glued to their ears in phone conversations, a little less inwardness and a little more mindfulness of others couldn't be a bad thing. At any rate, after some successes working for WDFA and later teaching for the AAU, we were somewhat colleagues, but obviously she had the much greater well to draw from and was the "mother hen" as she was referred to.

Memorial Dance for Aunt Judy

Part of a dance performance for my Aunt Judy, who passed away recently. The dance was performed by Na Mamo No'eau, where Judy was taking hula lessons. She was a very vibrant person and made many friends, so the loss is all the more saddening.

If there's anything to be gained from losing her, it would be learning to notice when someone appears to be choking - ask them if they can breathe! Aunt Judy unfortunately was choking on a cough drop after walking out of a BART station where nobody knew what to do.

Choking Treatment Instructions

CPR Instructions

Memorial Week Sketches

In remembrance of Barbara Bradley (and Dick Oden ), I took some time to go out sketching people. Most of them were done at various airports, but some were sketched in SF, during the week of Barbara and my aunt's memorials; a wonderful week topped off with the passing of Sumo.