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Found art: pinecone turtle

September 11, 2008 3 comments

Out photographing bugs on my lunch hour the other day, not much success.  But on the way back, I saw an odd pile of pine cones on the walk:

Interesting to think about whoever collected pine cones in the park South of campus and made them into a turtle…

Categories: Art

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like

June 7, 2008 1 comment

What is permanence?  A sculpture that lasts a thousand years?  A solar system that lasts 20 billion years?  A sidewalk chalk drawing that lasts a day?
Man’s Creations of chalk, sand, plants, and ice

Categories: Art

Movie Review: My Kid Could Paint That

February 3, 2008 1 comment

Last night I went to the Historic Normal Theater to see My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary about Marla Omstead, a child art prodigy.  At age four she became an international sensation by creating a number of abstract paintings that took the art world by storm.

I remembered blogging about Marla a couple years ago, but could not recall what I had said about her.  Fine, I thought, I’ll go see the movie and then look up my old post.

The documentary walks a fine line of agnosticism and is beautifully done.  My sympathies were mostly with photorealist painter Anthony Brunelli, who lamented that he spends a year on a painting and has never sold one for more than a hundred thou, only to see two splotches of paint on a canvas go for ten times that much.  He says; “Hey, screw you, abstract art world; I’ve got paintings by a four-year-old that you can’t tell from Kandinsky.  What do you think of that?!”

But despite the SF Chronicle’s attempts to posit Brunelli as the villain, I saw him as one of the most sane people in the documentary.  Of course if you have been reading this blog for very long you know that I just don’t ‘get’ abstract art.  My feelings are best described by this unfortunately erroneous prediction set in the futuristic year 2000:

7. “The cult of the phony in art will disappear.  So-called “modern art” will only be discussed by psychiatrists.”
- Robert Heinlein, 1950

The fascinating aspect of the documentary was how badly people wanted  to believe that this sweet little 4-year-old possessed a visual and conceptual sophistication of someone much older.  You could see it in interviews with people who had been taken in collectors who had purchased her works; they could expound at length on the symbolism and imagery.  “See, up in this little corner of the painting, this is a doorway, and another person’s face is looking back through the doorway, and in the distance, you can see an infant’s face, like a sonogram…” 

Yeah, OK.  And if you were deeply religious, you’d be seeing the face of Mary in a cheese sandwich.

At one point, 60 Minutes did a very negative piece about Marla, which left the impression she couldn’t possibly have done her own paintings.  The family fought back, and eventually made DVD showing her painting one of her works from start to finish.  Her reputation, which briefly bottomed out after the TV broadcast, recovered and today her paintings are selling again, if more slowly. 

I liked the small-newspaper arts reporter who broke the story of Marla – she had a sense of perspective on what fame could do to a little child and reached a point after the 60 Minutes broadcast where she wouldn’t report on it anymore.  She really cared about the little girl, and it’s difficult to find anyone in the story who didn’t – except that they were all caught up in the hype.

For what it’s worth, I think young Marla Olmstead, now 6 and now certainly doing her own paintings, probably did have some help from her dad on the early ones.  But to admit as much would open her parents to some rather giant lawsuits from collectors who paid big bucks for paint splotches putatively done by a 4-year-old. I just hope she manages to grow up without severe psychological damage from it all.

What’s going to happen to Marla?  And how do you feel abut abstract art?

End Notes:

  • Turns out, I hadn’t exactly been taken in by little girl’s story, as my previous post was titled; “With the right marketing…

  • Illustration above stolen from BBC which I photoshopped to make Marla black & white, pumped up the saturation of the painting and left background as it is.  When I think about the technological infrastructure needed for me to casually Photoshop a picture, and how much of that infrastructure was around when i was four, well… electricity had been commercialized and there were mainframe computers flipping punch cards around.
  • Other posts I’ve written about art – it seems likely that nobody will be offering me a position as the curator of a modern art museum.
Categories: Art

Andy Warhol, and why I’ll never understand modern art

May 17, 2007 6 comments

I heard somewhere that the country of Holland had once based its entire economy on tulips.  Then one day, someone said; “Wait a minute!  They’re nice and everything, but they’re only flowers!”  And starting on that day entire fortunes were ruined, companies went into receivership, and the economy took a long time to recover.

It won’t be the whole economy by any stretch, but there’s bound to be wailing and gnashing of teeth the day after someone with the right credentials says; “Wait a minute: any art student can do better than Warhol!  There’s no need to pay $71m for a crummy painting of a wrecked car!

Here’s more.

Categories: Art

Shared experience: haulin’ ass

March 17, 2007 Comments off

It’s one thing to go 253 mph in a $1.5m street-legal car, quite another to produce a little film that conveys something of the emotional flavor of the experience. Visit KeesKennis: Bugatti Veyron at top speed.

Turn up the speakers for this one: fantastic use of editing and music.  My car could probably go about 85 mph, though I’ll never know it.

Categories: Art

Iron and gravity

December 1, 2006 4 comments

I found it laying on a pallet behind the library:

For about 30 years it bore the weight of countless people as they rode up and down the elevator on their various quests.  It also bears evidence of the engineering knowledge of its designer and the skill of the machinists who made it.  If you cleaned it up and put it on a pedestal in the art gallery, it would be an object worth thinking about. 

I am curious about the maintenance, though.  Does anyone know how long elevator machinery is supposed to last?  I remember reading somewhere it is often quite a long time.

No worries leaving it outside the library.  I suppose there’s little danger of anyone making off with it. 

Below the fold is a picture of the type of winch that moves the elevator up and down…

Between the motor at lower left and the worm gear transmission is a disc brake very much like the one on your car.  There are two vertical round things to the rear of the winch;  the near one is a gear that engages a worm gear on the end of the motor shaft.  The larger, far one, is the pully.  This winch does not lift the whole elevator; rather the elevator’s weight is counterbalanced by iron weights on the other end of the cables, making for a very safe and efficient way of moving up and down.

And with apologies to Paul Harvey, that is hardly the rest of the story.  From the quantum properties of the steel used in the cables, to the wiring and infrastructure that provides electricity so reliably that people think nothing of stepping into steel boxes and waiting impatiently for the doors to close, the machinery used to produce gears, the computer controls that run it, and a thousand other interconnected details, leads to a whole society transformed by these humble machines.  What would our cities look like without them?


Updates:

Categories: Art

Million-dollar floor

November 2, 2006 11 comments

I like to believe that I’m pretty clever.  After all, I can make sense of the physical sciences and even write recognizable HTML code.  Once I used a part from a long-dead centrifuge to fix a broken tennis racket stringing machine (don’t ask).

But I am way too stupid to begin to fathom how a painting by Jackson Pollock could possibly be worth $140 million dollars

The Pollock work features the US artist’s famous drip-and-pour style…

Ooh!  Drip and pour style!  Isn’t that a coffeemaker?

Jackson Pollock’s work had a major influence on art in the latter half of the 20th Century, sparking the emergence of abstract expressionism.

But the artist battled alcoholism and depression and is generally regarded as a self-destructive, tortured genius. He died in a car crash in 1956, aged 44.  (BBC News Online)

I can see abstract expressionism anytime I want a cup of coffee.  In fact, I can walk on it…

If Pollock’s painting “No. 5” really is worth $140 Mil, then this floor from The Coffee House at 114 East Beaufort St. in Normal, Illinois, must be worth at least a million.  Just look at it!  Such line, such form!  Genius!  And much bigger than Pollock’s little creative dribblings.

Any takers?

Categories: Art

Wonderful sight

June 20, 2005 3 comments

Driving home from a friend’s house in the Illinois dusk I am amazed to see the new corn swirling with light, like the phosporescent nighttime sea in the eddies of a rowboat.  Millions of fireflies rise and fall above the corn, blinking their gentle green lights always on the ascent just above the stalks.

96 kb version – 425px wide
900 kb version – 1024px wide

The scene would have been a challenge to all but the best films from the foundation of a sturdy tripod.  I had only my little Minolta XG, which is hardly suited to nighttime photography, propped up on a guardrail post.  I would have had a better chance with my Olympus C2100-uz, which has a knack for this sort of thing, or even a Nikon D-70 or Olympus E2.  Regardless, the image would have been still, and this picture only suggests the miracle before my eyes.  Depending how bright your monitor is, you might be able to see it better.

I could only struggle to describe the aliveness of the fields with their lights moving about in the falling darkness.

Categories: Art

Imagine this guy at your kids’ school

June 16, 2005 Comments off

An artist named Dave Devries does seminars in grade schools which, I imagine, would really fire kids’ imaginations for the potential of the art within them:  “The Monster Engine

From ***Dave

Categories: Art

Update on “The Gates” in NYC

March 6, 2005 Comments off

Chicago Tribune reports:  Touch of saffron spices up a quiet February in NYC (free registration required)

I wrote earlier about “The Gates” public art display in Central Park put up by Christo & Jean Claude.  It was a big hit, drawing in $254m in tourism during the show.  Everyone from cab drivers to hot dog vendors (to say nothing of hoteliers, waiters, well anyone who benefits from tourism) got a boost.  One carriage driver said; “Since 9/11, tourism has been down quite a bit, but this was like Christmas every day.” 

It took New York authorities 26 years to approve “The Gates” for display in Central Park.

Categories: Art, News