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Posts Tagged ‘art’

A Cybernetic Meadow

July 27, 2015 | by

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Brenna Murphy, SunriseSequence, 2015, archival-pigment print mounted on Dibond, 35" x 30". Courtesy American Medium

In 1967, while he was a poet-in-residence at the California Institute of Technology, Richard Brautigan wrote “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” a gamboling techno-utopian vision that reads, nearly fifty years later, as farcically, hauntingly naive:

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

And that’s just the first stanza. Brautigan goes on to imagine “a cybernetic forest / filled with pines and electronics”; “it has to be!” he writes of “a cybernetic ecology.” One imagines he was not too gung ho on Blade Runner. Read More »

Mannerism

July 23, 2015 | by

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René Ricard in a photo by Allen Ginsberg.

“Mannerism,” a poem by René Ricard from our Summer 1970 issue. Ricard was born on this day in 1946; he died last year. An obituary in the New York Times calls him “a notorious aesthete who roamed Manhattan’s contemporary art scene with a capacious, autodidactic erudition and a Wildean flamboyance.” In the eighties, his essay “The Radiant Child” helped to burnish the reputation of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Read More »

Excuse Me!?! … I’m Looking for the “Fountain of Youth”

July 22, 2015 | by

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Michael Smith, Fountain of Youth State Park, Journey No. 1: Entrance, 2012, C-print, 22 1/2" x 32 1/2"

Head to St. Augustine, Florida, north of the Mission Nombre de Dios and south of the Vilano Bridge, and you’ll find it, as advertised—the Fountain of Youth. It’s open to the public from nine to six daily. Children’s admission is cheaper than senior citizens’, which seems cruel—what need have the young for more youth? T. D. Allman sets the scene in his illuminating history, Finding Florida:

You’ll know you’ve almost reached your destination when you find yourself peering up at an ancient-looking arch. Across the top you’ll see displayed, in Ye Olde English–type lettering, an inscription. It reads: FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH. The lettering is meant to evoke long-vanished times of chivalry and derring-do, but one detail marks it as indubitably Floridian: the sign is made of neon tubing. In the gathering subtropic twilight, the FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH sign glows and sputters like the VACANCY sign on a state highway motel. According to press releases provided by the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which is what this venerable tourist attraction currently calls itself, this is the very spot where “Ponce de León landed in St. Augustine in 1513 searching for a Fountain of Youth.”

There is one minor hiccup, though. “Juan Ponce de León never visited and never could have visited St. Augustine: St. Augustine was not founded until forty-one years after his death, in 1565.” Read More »

Thinking Through Images: An Interview with Nick Sousanis

July 20, 2015 | by

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

Everything about Unflattening is odd, from its ungainly title and unfashionable subject matter (Rudolf Arnheim art theory meets Herbert Marcuse radicalism meets Scott McCloud comics boosterism) to its provenance: Nick Sousanis initially wrote and drew this full-length comics essay as his graduate-school dissertation. (He was earning his doctorate in education at Teachers College Columbia University, studying under the philosopher and social activist Maxine Greene.)

Sousanis’s career might be considered a little odd, too. He followed up an undergraduate degree in mathematics with a brief stint as a professional tennis player, then cofounded and edited a cultural magazine in Detroit, while also working as an artist. This isn’t the typical career path for a cartoonist—though to be fair, that profession doesn’t provide many followable emblematic models in that regard. Wild enthusiasm and plunge-taking fearlessness aside, Sousanis seems like a solid citizen; while his ideas are radically utopian, their flavor is resolutely wholesome. He is reminiscent of the kind of small-town high school teacher who’s popular with students because they believe he tells the truth and is unafraid to veer away from the curriculum-assigned script.

The script Sousanis is veering away from in this case is the age-old Western bias against visual imagery (and in favor of the Word), which he traces back to Plato’s cave. Sousanis believes that verbal language alone is a poor vehicle for capturing the multidimensional, many-layered fullness of human experience, the equivalent of Edwin Abbott’s two-dimensional flatworms trying to explain a sphere. It’s not so much that a picture is worth a thousand words, but rather that a picture is worth concepts that can’t even be put into words. And in an attempt to prove his case, he drew it.

What does “unflattening” mean?

It would be easier to tell you what the book’s about than to tell you what “unflattening” is. Actually, I’ve thinking about that lately because there’s a French translation in the works, and they can’t use that word because it doesn’t mean anything.

How could it not mean anything?

Well, I don’t think it means the right thing. It doesn’t mean anything in English—it’s not a word people use. The book is very much an argument that we make sense of the world in ways beyond text—teaching and learning shouldn’t be restricted to that narrow band. So rather than talking about visual thinking and multimodal stuff—from Howard Gardner to Rudolf Arnheim, people have been talking about it—comics just let me do it.

That’s what the book is about, if it’s about anything. Read More »

Iris Murdoch’s Favorite Painting

July 15, 2015 | by

Titian, The Flaying of Marsyas, ca. 1570–76, oil on canvas, 83" × 81".

Iris Murdoch, who would be ninety-six today, thrilled to paintings of every stripe, but she was compelled by one work in particular: Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas, from the late sixteenth century. She mentions it in her 1990 Art of Fiction interview:

INTERVIEWER

Do you see a painting you are particularly interested in and think, I might be able to use that some day in a novel, or I’d like to use it because it attracts and interests me?

MURDOCH

The novel often indicates a painting during the process of creating the characters. Somehow the character will lead to the painting. A great painting that I have only recently seen—it lives in Czechoslovakia—is Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas. He was over ninety when he painted it. This painting gives me very much, though I have only referred to it indirectly.

Elsewhere, Murdoch has called the painting the greatest in the Western canon. It makes prominent appearances in her novels A Fairly Honourable Defeat, The Black Prince, and Jackson’s Dilemma; she even went so far as to include it in the background of her portrait, which hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The Flaying of Marsyas has “something to do with human life and all its ambiguities and all its horrors and terrors and misery,” she told the BBC, “and at the same time there’s something beautiful, the picture is beautiful, and something also to do with the entry of the spiritual into the human situation and the closeness of the gods … I regard Dionysus in a sense as a part of Apollo’s mind … and want to exalt Apollo as a god who is a terrible god, but also a great artist and thinker and a great source of life.” Read More »

Solve Your Problems with Symmetry, and Other News

July 15, 2015 | by

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The Shaker Meetinghouse in New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York.

  • Philosophers are always telling us what to do and why to do it—telling us, in essence, how to rescue ourselves from childhood, how to grow up. For Vivian Gornick, their advice is lacking in what a college counselor might call real-world experience: “The Hebrew philosopher Hillel urged that we do unto others as we would have others do unto us. Kant urged, similarly, that we not make instrumental use of one another. With all the good will in the world—and remarkable numbers of people have it—we have not been able to make these noble recommendations carry the day. Not because we are lazy or venal or incompetent but because most of us live in a state of inner conflict that makes purity of behavior an impossibility. Every day of our lives we transgress against our own longing to act well: our tempers are ungovernable, our humiliations unforgettable, our fantasies ever present … ”
  • Today in ill-advised marketing campaigns: the Australian publisher of the new Lisbeth Salander novel has taken branding to a disturbingly literal level in its quest to find “a female fan prepared to ‘donate’ her back for three months. This would have involved being adorned with her very own Dragon Tattoo for advertising purposes.” The so-called tatvertising campaign sought to find someone who could “handle the pain, just like Lisbeth Salander.” The publisher has since canceled the promotion, but there’s nothing stopping true fans from pursuing masochism to please their corporate masters.
  • Does the art market depress you? The answer should be a resounding yes—no one likes plundering plutocrats. But here’s a thought: you can probably just ignore the whole sordid commercial aspect of the thing. “Sensing that people will one day look back on this era as a freakish episode in cultural history, why not get a head start on viewing it that way? Detach and marvel. Meanwhile, art goes on making meaning for those who are rich only in the desire and leisure to engage with it … To expect the running-scared super-rich to behave benevolently, in regards to art, is plainly foolish.”
  • So you’re conceiving a building in which the sexes are segregated—congratulations! The Shakers have just the kind of architectural design you need. The key is extreme symmetry, “in which one side meticulously mirrors the other, door for door, stair for stair, each fitting answering another … The control implicit in the design goes further. Men and women worked in different trades, so rarely encountered one another in the workplace … The Shakers perfected what they called a ‘living building’: a settlement that served their purposes while also reinforcing their separation from non-believing outsiders.”
  • Critical thinking remains an integral part of an education in the liberal arts—and a vague, endlessly broad term, with no real applicability. What is it? How do we use it? For the answers to these and other unanswerable questions, all you have to do is go to college. But even there the term is on watch now. “One of my colleagues adamantly rejected the inclusion of an allegedly trendy catchphrase (‘experiential learning’) as part of our mission statement, and insisted that we use ‘critical thinking’ instead. My colleague was ostensibly rejecting the professionalization of college education, in favor of the more properly academic priority of intellect. This preference, however, struck me as curious, as it revealed that ‘critical thinking’—whatever cluster of ideas or intellectual ideals hide behind the phrase—had become something for which we felt nostalgia.”