Venomous Porridge | Dan WinemanSorry for excerpting Wineman's entire post, but it all seemed integral to the discussion. Here are some of the pieces they're discussing (which I love, by the way):
I want to know if these are painted from actual photographs or from the artist's imagination. If the former, doesn't that make them less amazing because the process could be considered mechanical? Or is process unimportant to the enjoyment of art?texburgher:
(lots of smart art talk omitted)That’s exactly what’s been bothering me. I think I can explain it, though.
The real question is, “Knowing those paintings are probably painted from photographs, if your admiration for, or enjoyment of, them is diminished, why do you think that is?”
Here are some of my reactions when looking at one of those hyperreal paintings (say, this one for example):
Note that all of the above would still occur to me if it were a photograph and not a painting. But then:
- That’s pretty.
- Good color balance. I like the restricted palette.
- Nice composition too.
- I like the way the out-of-focus stuff is still recognizable.
- Interesting how the reflections of the headlights look like upside-down candle flames.
- Wait, how much of my personal experience am I bringing to this? Would someone who hadn’t spent a lot of time driving in cities in the rain be able to pick out the same details as I do?
- Wait, this is a painting? OMG everything I know is wrong (runs halfway up a grand staircase; turns; clutches banister; sinks to knees; weeps).
If you handed me a photograph of that precise scene, a big blank canvas, and some paint, and allowed me to use whatever techniques and equipment I wanted, I think I could eventually create that painting. I would probably start by scanning the photo and projecting it onto the canvas, and then I’d carefully match the projected colors pixel-by-pixel. Or maybe I’d divide everything up into a grid, or write some software to tell me what paint colors to mix. I don’t know. But at this point it’s an engineering challenge, rather than an artistic one, and I know how to approach those. So yes, it’s far less impressive now because it’s something I could maybe do myself.
I also think that I could learn to forge a Monet without learning anything about how to paint like Monet, but perhaps I’m naïve.
The point I’m trying to make is that if the most striking thing about this artwork is what it’s made of, then I also have to know something about how it was made or I can’t appreciate it properly. If this guy has the skill not just to paint a vivid street scene from his imagination, but also to imagine what that scene would look like through a rain-spattered window and then paint that with perfect accuracy, then there’s something magical going on.
But if he’s just mechanically translating the pixels of a photograph from one medium to another, then it’s more a stunt than a work of art, and not magical. To me.
There are lots of good topics here. Enough to keep an art student busy writing essays for several semesters. The only one I will point out is that plenty of art is "mechanical," and that's tended to turn people off at first, and then we gradually get used to it. Raphael had apprentices and students doing most of the real work. Sol LeWitt only created detailed instructions for other people to create most of his works for him. AFAIK Damien Hirst doesn't even bother with detailed instructions, leaving things for his assistants very vague. Then there is the whole matter of artistic disciplines like film, composing, and architecture, where a vast majority of the "real" work is and has always been mechanized by other people.
I don't want to get into that whole thing though. What I want to say is that as an art lover and an engineer/scientist is that the engineering challenge is equally as interesting to me as the artistic one. On fact I have a very hard time separating the two in my mind.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I was in Kansas City this weekend. While I was there I got to see the Kemper's wonderful exhibition of works by the Gao Brothers. It was wonderful in a lot of ways, but I want to focus on the one relevant to the matter of entangling engineering and art.
Some of my favorite pieces of their's were monumental oil painting portraits.* I appreciate them from an artistic perspective, first of all.** They had some of the same quality as Chuck Close's work: they look completely different depending on how far away from them you are standing. But I also appreciate them from an applied level: How did they do that? How could I recreate that look? What were the rules? Were the rules strictly followed or were they guidelines? Essentially, what program could I write to recreate this, and what would the Kolmogorov complexity be?
Those are fascinating questions to me.
Maybe I'm also less turned off by trying to mechanically translate an image pixel-by-pixel because I think doing so is really hard. Doing it and getting it to look good is no easy task, even for a machine. Getting a computer to create expressive, (especially non-abstract) images is very much an open and difficult problem.
As a sort-of side note, I'll mention that in the handful of studio art classes I've taken, the "best" few students always included the engineers in the room. I have a feeling that part of that may be that these were photography classes (photography being a rather technical discipline) and sculpture classes (engineers being good as thinking in three dimensions). But part of that may be a deeper entangling of art and engineering than many people would like to believe.
* I can't find images of the best of them online, especially not in a scale that does them any sort of justice. My favorites were the "striped" portraits of Marx, Mother Theresa and Hitler, and the tetraptych of Mao, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao titled "Standard Hairstyle”.
You can sort of make out the nature of "Standard Hairstyle” in the left side of Mao there. That's not dithering or some sort of artifact in the photo: that's the way the thing is painted.
** I follow a rule that I have come to think of as the "Filmspotting Criterion." Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson, hosts of Filmspotting, evaluate every movie by itself. It must succeed as an independent piece of work, without reference to the book it's based on, or the movie it's a sequel to, or the subject if it's a documentary, or the validity or importance of its theme or moral or cause. I feel the same way about visual art. I'm tired of artists who hide behind causes and themes. It's great that you want to explore the idea of [oppression of your preferred victim class / effects of whatever change on modern life / whatever -ism you think is important right now], but you need to make something that succeeds visually first before you get to start preaching to me. To paraphrase Banksy, it's great that you're willing to suffer for your art, but you ought to be willing to learn to draw as well.
The Gaos met this criteria with flying colors. I was open to what they had to say about Maoism because their work was intriguing even divorced from the message.