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Archives for December, 2007

one’s truth

New Year back in my home town:


Per aspera ad astra; through adversity to the stars, I read at school in my Latin class. more… »

Art – self healing or big picture?

Roberta Smith wrote a lively piece in the Sunday Times last week titled ‘What we talk about when we talk about Art’ (link here). She weighed in on the use of commonly used clichés used by the artworld that inherently reflects and harbors intellectual insecurities. As an example, she talks about the oft over-used ‘Referencing‘ (as in the statement “this work referencing male chauvinism uses…”), ‘Privilege’ (as in “privileging the leftist agenda”) and ‘Practice’ (as in “my studio practice”). I have seen these used and sometimes abused in many artist biographies, statements and exhibition descriptions. While Referencing really means ‘referring to’ and Privilege means ‘favoring’, it is the term Practice that has the biggest potential for being misconstrued…

 She makes three assertions:

#1. First off, there’s the implication that artists, like lawyers, doctors and dentists, need a license to practice. Many artists already feel the need for a license: It’s called a master of fine arts. But artists don’t need licenses or certificates or permission to do their work. Their job description, if they have one, is to operate outside accepted limits.

#2. Second is the implication that an artist, like a doctor, lawyer or dentist, is trained to fix some external problem. Art rarely succeeds when it sets out to fix anything beyond the artist’s own, subjective needs.

#3. Practice sanitizes a very messy process. It suggests that art making is a kind of white-collar activity whose practitioners don’t get their hands dirty, either physically or emotionally. It converts art into a hygienic desk job and signals a basic discomfort with the physical mess as well as the unknowable, irrational side of art making. It suggests that materials are not the point of art at all — when they are, on some level, the only point.

While I completely agree with #1 (that a formal degree while definitely useful is not essential to the development of an art mindset in an individual) and #3 (the subversion of materials around an artist constitutes an important part of artistic expression), I do have questions about #2 (the assertion that artists have a self-help, therapy based relationship with their art and it serves to solve personal, subjective problems rather than focus on larger global issues)…

I would say that in a large number of cases, the output produced by an artist may be directed to induce the viewer to think about (and in the ideal case, acting to alleviate) a problem hitherto unknown or underrepresented (sewer cleaners in India or a film about plantation workers in Dominica are two cases that come to mind). I might also add that artistic expressions such as the above stems from strong sincerity that the artist must have for the problem rather than being an accidental by-product while the artist indulged in self therapy…

Feedback appreciated.

Christmas Tree

In light of Sunil’s posts in which he displayed photos of a number of items about his household and, subsequently, led a discussion of Photoshop methods, I will add one of my own.

Each year we get a conifer and cover it with a grab bag of ornaments, many of them home made, which together form a gathering of memories and associations. Throw in some beads and wheat bulbs and we have something that, while something of a jumble, is just fine for us.

This year I have tried taking some shots of the tree for further manipulation. The re-shaping has been modestly tonal and chromatic, with an occasional wave of the magic wand. As has so often been mentioned in this blog, continuing to focus on a motif can and will lead to new visions. I have always accepted our trees as apparitions of an inside-out nature, glowing from within as they present various surface effects – all merry and light. This year the tree has been lurking at me, perhaps the result of some of my recent reading and viewing. I have approached the images in this mood.

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It’s Never to Scale…

This is a long tale and tail, as you will see. It has several segments.


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For digital manipulation

True to the age of ‘my results NOW!’, the current trend towards digital manipulations of photos is a good case in point. Free image manipulation software now seem to bring out results that sometimes rival established image manipulation software like Photoshop in the aspects of touching up and sharpening digital photographs. Photographs of bananas on our kitchen counter top and a solitary ship in the New York harbor (that were then digitally manipulated using something as low tech as PAINT.NET) are shown below as an example… 

Of course, there is a certain school which believes that the instant you alter your photographic images with software tools, you pollute the concept and the resulting image is not worth its salt. This may be true for images produced in scientific journals, but does not seem to hold true for a lot of amateur photographers (and some professional – especially folks who cover the news) who have clearly started to use these tools. Tell-tale signs are visible to a practiced eye and even if I do not claim too much practice myself, I did notice a couple of photography shows down in Chelsea where the images were clearly manipulated to suit the subject or the theme. Personally, I do not think there is anything sinful about manipulating an image. It is just that the chemical laced manipulations laboriously done inside that makeshift and cramped darkroom can now be done fairly easily in front of a computer. Of course, historically, ‘more effort’ is sometimes perceived as being ‘more original’ and the darkroom based morphs of yore were definitely heavy lifting. 

What are your views as regards digital manipulation – especially considering that there are some very good photographers here on this forum…?



‘Cold ship’, Altered digital photograph


‘Bananas’, Altered digital photograph 

Ordinary deaths

If death is one of the great mysteries, it seems somehow unfitting that I most often simply stumble upon it. Last week, along a river bank where I was exploring for cottonwoods, I came across the remains of a pronghorn (antelope) on the shelf of ice at the edge of the water. They are quite commonly seen in the fields around there, but this was the first I’ve seen dead. My eye did not recognize at first what it was seeing among the stones and the crow tracks.

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“The world must be measured by eye”


In my scattered reading, I came across a Wallace Stevens poem that seems to speak to the recent discussion on essence.

On the Road Home

It was when I said,
“There is no such thing as the truth,”
That the grapes seemed fatter.
The fox ran out of his hole.

You. . . You said,
“There are many truths,
But they are not parts of a truth.”
Then the tree, at night, began to change,

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