Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category


What Is Not art? Nice Try, Leo

August 27, 2011

First, I must appologize again for falling behind on regular postings. A death in the family has occurred and taken us all off-guard. I’m afraid there will have to be a distance between postings for awhile longer, but I’ll try to pop them up whenever I can. In the meantime, here’s a musing for you to ponder.

Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been re-reading the book by Leo Tolstoy entitled “What is Art?” While I appreciate his attempt at answering the question, it’s obvious that he failed or else we’d already know the result. Unfortunately, he’s trying to hold smoke, and only leaves us with more questions. You can read the text here.

There are moments where he nails it. Being an artist himself he understands the process well, but much of what he says is too personal to be true for others. At one point he describes the creation of art as a communion between the artist and whoever receives it, but is receiving it actually required? If no one ever saw or heard it, would the work be any different? It’s like the old riddle of “if tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” Tolstoy also tries to forecast what the artist of the future might create, and it’s immediately apparent that he got that wrong. I’m sure no one else in 1896 could have guessed what was to come either.

Perhaps another approach to his question is to attack it like Sherlock Holmes might have done while searching for clues and first eliminate the things that are not art. To me, that proves to be just as challenging. What about works of Nature? If I were to point to a bolt of lightning, an icicle hanging from a tree branch, or a bird egg, and then proclaim those as works of art, would you disagree with me? They are things that were created. Is art only made by people? Anything that is made has a reason for being, even if it’s accidental or the result of chemistry. You might choose to dismiss that Nature cannot be an artist, but weren’t we created by Nature? Too many questions, and I have no answer for them. If we make a declaration and then have to start attaching all these exceptions and amendments to it, then we only expose the flaws of our argument, or how organic it must be as it evolves. Perhaps all we’re left with is to evaluate how well something was made and assess its value for ourselves. That, I believe, is something we can’t escape.

What sort of things would you say we should not consider as Art?


Creative Motivation

September 12, 2010

I was visiting with a fellow artist last night and she was commenting on a having to work through new processes to motivate her into being more productive. I shared this feeling with her as one that I’ve faced myself many times over the years, and I still am.

I’m showing this Matisse for the purpose of illustrating a point about making it look too easy. He’s a good target for that. I don’t care to discuss the artistic merit of this drawing, but rather to look at it from a point of view of process. There’s much that can be discussed on this subject that I will avoid, but just for a personal example let me say that if I were to make a copy of this drawing or something similar it would obviously not take much effort. That of course is sort of the point in this case where Matisse had intentionally stripped away the complexity, but nonetheless, if I were to make a whole series of such things that were as easy as walking across the floor, why did I bother? What did I accomplish? I’d rather look like I just walked across Africa, but not because I was lost. Another example for me would be to finish a quick portrait using a very limited palette with as few brushstrokes as possible. I’ve seen many examples of that and they are greatly celebrated. It doesn’t impress me when things look too easy. While it might demonstrate a facility of technique and skill, for me it seems like I’d just be going through the motions and wasting materials. I want it to be difficult and look that way. The flipside of that is making something very complex but poorly designed, which would also be a waste of time and material.

What I have personally been trying to do for most of my career is to take what I’ve learned and what’s familiar and to move into new territory with it in order to challenge myself. Currently that involves small shifts of trying out different materials, tools, and techniques. It’s risky and means that there will be failures, but that’s what makes it exciting for me. My goal isn’t to find simpler or more economical solutions, but to explore the process. In commercial work and commissions I don’t have the luxury of risking failure, but I can apply what I’ve learned from those successful experiments that I made on my own time.

On the other end of this is the need to just paint. When I spend too much time targeting work that must be worthy I won’t get anything done. A certain amount of learning comes from the execution of the work itself and being consistent from one piece to the next. That requires constant practice, study, and repetition, much like an athlete will do before a game. I just don’t want to be stuck in a rut that will wind up boring me and make the creative process seem like a chore.


Frank Frazetta; Rest In Peace

May 10, 2010

The book above is the very first one I ever bought, new on the shelves in 1966. The reason I bought it was because of the cover. I had no idea who the character was at the time, but I am convinced his resurection was 100% due to the series of covers Frank Frazetta made for them. The inside credits was the first time I had ever seen his name, and I voraciously hunted down everything I could find by him. Fortunately for me, this was a time of Frazetta’s own resurection in print, and he hit the shelves with power that has not been equalled since, becoming a major influence upon artists around the world.

Sadly, news has come today that this artist legend has passed away from a stroke. I am heartbroken and literally in tears as I write this, but promise to infuse my work with the same energy today as I felt on the first day I found him. Thank you, sir, for everything.


Redesigning the Hot Dog

February 26, 2010

Okay, not art related. Nonetheless, nothing bugs me more than things that are poorly designed. Recently a newstory made the rounds from a USA Today report that hot dogs were a serious choking hazard for kids. The director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy said that he’s certain that some savvy inventor will find a way to redesign them.

At first I thought this was one of those phony internet stories, but apparantly it’s authentic. Okay, is there a problem teaching kids how to chew? Does food need to come with instructions now? However, in the interest of good design, allow me to submit my proposal for a better shaped hot dog. Clink this link for the reveal…


In Celebration of Marks On Paper

December 27, 2009

I was recently reading an interview of the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard where he says, “I’d rather feed 100 percent of 10 people. Hollywood would rather feed 1 percent of 1 million people. Commercially speaking, my way is not better.” We share a similar point of view, and I’ve never been in better company. Another nice quote: “he who leaps into the void owes no explanation to those who watch.” I’m having difficulty tracking down another statement of his (probably from the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma,) so I’ll drastically butcher it into my own speech: don’t let your audience forget that they are watching a film and not acting in it. You are the one in charge, so your work should look like what it is, a film. Don’t get caught up in the illusion. Try and sit through his film “Les Carabiniers” to best understand what that means.
Recommended reading:
Godard on Godard
 Everything Is Cinema

Evans photogragh

I bring this up since I was also recently looking through some reproductions of early 20th century platinum photographs by Frederick H. Evans. At first glance, they look very much like graphite drawings; so much so I had to check the media description to be certain. They would be very tightly rendered graphite drawings, mind you, but examine the print above, “Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics.” An exhibit of his photographs will be on display at the Getty Museum beginning in February 2010.

I hesitate to show any examples of the sort of tight rendering in pencil that these prints suggest, since I don’t want to be accused of pointing a finger at them for being somewhat inferior. That’s not my point. This is not about an evaluation of skill (or the celebration of it) as it is the pleasure in sharing an artist’s visual translation and the interpretation of their work. It’s about emotional, not visual, accuracy.

While I would still deeply enjoy seeing pencil renderings of images such as this, it’s when I see the marks made by the artist that I feel as though I’m standing in their shoes as I examine the work. I hear what they are saying and can understand them better than when they render the scene with a high degree of tight detail. In these photographic prints the values are very close and fall within the middle range with very soft gradients reminiscent of graphite powder or controlled watercolor. In fact, I see similarities between these prints and some watercolor studies by Maurice Noble which were made for the Disney film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” done only a decade or so later than the Evans print. Look also at this watercolor by Cass Gilbert circa 1910. Not only do I see here what the artist sees, but also as they see it, even looking into their own mind. It isn’t an approach I use to lose myself in their vision, but a search for clarity.

Maurice Noble art

Cass Gilbert art


Tribute to Famous Monsters of Filmland

July 25, 2009


“I am eleven and a half years old and I am your reader – Forrest Ackerman, make me laff.” [sic] So, begins an article from the august 1973 100th magazine issue of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” produced by the great Forrest J. Ackerman, which he ran from 1958 to 1983. Although, slightly older than 11 ½ at the time, I was very much a member of his target audience, and owe a large debt to him for his efforts at getting this material into my young and impressionable hands, much to my mother’s dismay. Fortunately for me, my dad enjoyed them almost as much as I did.

Magazine collection

Magazine collection

As you can see here, I have a couple shoeboxes containing 53 issues of original purchases. Each one is packed with photos from his massive personal collection of loved and forgotten films of horror and fantasy. They gave me laughter, and wonder and inspiration for many years to come. I’ve seen the other reincarnations of this magazine and others like it over the years, but hand me a faded brittle old newsprint copy of FM and see a tear of joy roll down my crusty cheek.

Mad Love

Mad Love

Artistically, what inspired me tremendously as a child was the graphic quality of the printed images in each issue, such as this photo of Peter Lorre from the film “Mad Love.” The high contrast and often slightly overexposed prints had a powerful affect on me and my developing style of drawing. Many of these were from a period of post-expressionist films and early film-noir that fed the work of other graphic artists who had been in print for awhile by this time; mostly found in the old EC comics, but also on pulp magazines covers or interior spots. I ate it all up, not just for the taboo quality of the imagery, but their visual power. For a young kid learning how to draw in ink, these were the ideal reference materials, and many of my copies haven’t survived well from all that rough handling.

Painted cover

Painted cover

Look at these two images scanned from this 100th issue showing Hurd Hatfield in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” The one on the left is an uncredited Basil Gogos painting, and on the right is the publicity photo he was undoubtedly given from Ackerman’s archives to use for the magazine cover. As a child I would use these pictures to create my own artwork; although, not nearly as nicely done, and it never dawned on me to use color. All the great horror films are in black and white. I’ll try and hunt down any of those drawings I may have buried in storage, if they still exist. They’ll be awful, but in a charming sort of way.

Forrest J. Ackerman passed away in December of 2008, but has left behind a great legacy. Rest in peace, sir. You will always be remembered.

Useful Links:
Basil Gogos
Autobiography by F.J. Ackerman


NASA Restores Moonlanding Footage

July 17, 2009

Here’s a musing that’s somewhat off the art track this time around, but it’s slightly akin to my feelings on the restorations of works of art. NASA is celebrating the 4oth anniversary of the landing on the moon on July 20th, 1969, and has been involved in restoring the video footage taken of the actual event. I’ve been having mixed feelings about it. I actually prefer the old stuff.

Original footage

Original footage

Restored example

Restored example








I don’t want to go anywhere near a silly conversation about whether or not the landing actually took place. Of course it did. Buzz Aldrin is not that good of an actor. Nonetheless, it calls into question how much of it is being manipulated which just makes the conspiracy theories all the more clamorous.

In my mind I prefer the original vague ghostly images instead of the enhanced details. It reminds me of the fact that I’m looking at a dated marvel of the historical record of technology itself, not to mention the super-human effort that went into getting us there in the first place.

Think of what video cameras were like in 1969, what it took to put one on the moon, and what it took just to transmit a signal across this planet not to mention across over 200, 000 miles of space.  On top of that is television technology itself, and sets around the world that allowed humanity to witness this event unfolding. I was there with them in 1969, and I still get a thrill thinking about it. What I want to see now is exactly what I saw then, not worse but also not better. Next thing you know, we’ll get The Honeymooners in Hi-Def. Not for me, thanks. “To the moon, Alice!”

NASA footage
Associated Press article about restoration