June 29, 2006
Art isn't really about trees and cows and madonnas

An amusing story, but not particularly well-written: Vancouver art controversy just a sign of the times. The art in question:

[A] member of the Vancouver Police Department strode into the ultra-cool Contemporary Art Gallery on a lovely, sunlit afternoon one day last week to inform the gallery that David Grandy wanted his signs back.

The gallery was caught red-handed. The signs were right there, bold as brass, in the gallery's big front windows. They carried brightly coloured, somewhat mysterious words and acronyms, such as "HUFF," "B32U," "INFINITY" and "WORK CREW" stencilled on arrows.

According to the gallery, this was art, an enchanting installation piece called Production Postings by Vancouver artist Christian Kliegel.

The rather sneering tone of the article ('Contemporary art, of course, is not easy for the so-called ordinary person to grasp.') is a bit much - what's so hard to understand about this? It's a bit of a trifle, I suppose, but anyone who lives in Vancouver would probably recognize what the piece was about and be amused by it.

And seriously - those signs are worth $9 each?


Posted by Bill Stilwell at 09:25 AM
June 21, 2006
Rothko the Writer

Rothko the writer - an article discussing Rothko's writings, The Artist's Reality, and Writings on Art.

Although it had enjoyed a long life in the mythology surrounding Rothko, the actual manuscript for ``The Artist's Reality" had spent almost 50 years hidden in a manilla folder, labeled ``miscellaneous papers," before being accidentally discovered by the estate's bookkeeper in 1988. Not wanting to spoil the ``sensuous adventure" of his father's art with second-rate writing, Christopher Rothko then held on to the many scraps and drafts for 15 years before deciding to edit them into an intelligible (and intelligent) book.

In 1941, poised between his surrealist experiments of the 1930s and the unforgettably simplified luminosity that would emerge eight years later, Rothko took a year off to write. All the anecdotal evidence suggests that he approached the task very seriously, and these publications show he did it very well. While most of the ideas in the book are not original to him, it is still exciting to follow along as one of our best painters addresses the big problems of the era, with chapters on Primitive Art, Modern Art, Beauty, and Decadence. If he sometimes loses himself in a pile of abstractions, Rothko usually finds his way back to basic concepts, and the journey goes more smoothly if one keeps his future paintings in mind while reading. His detailed inquiries into the role of light in painting are a bit technical, but less so if one remembers how nice it is to bask in the light that his iconic works effortlessly emit.

If ``The Artist's Reality" gives us Rothko the theorist, ``Writings on Art" aims at a fuller picture. The 90 or so chronological entries start in 1934 with his enthusiastic conviction that ``painting is just as natural a language as singing or speaking" and end, in 1969, with a very short speech marking the ``difficult" acceptance of an honorary doctorate from his abandoned alma mater,Yale. (Having finally achieved fame, Rothko tells his audience,with overtones of his impending suicide, that he longs, instead,for ``pockets of silence.")


Posted by Bill Stilwell at 02:36 PM
June 11, 2006
Action Philosophers

I'm not a big recommender of comics, but there's no better deal going right now then the first collection of Action Philosophers, which is cheap ($8.99 at my local comic shop, $7.76 on amazon), funny, and educational. Previews here.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 11:22 AM
June 09, 2006
We were exiled from the garden

From a wonderful interview with Leonard Cohen in the new Brick:

SR: Do you think opinion is second-rate in general?
LC: Well, for the purpose of conversation, opinion is valuable.
SR: It gets you through.
LC: It just gets you through the dinner. You know, I could dredge up an opinion and even defend it, but I'm less and less willing to do that... We're living in a time now when opinion is becames as rigid and belligerent as religion and faith are, so we're living in this period when you're defined by opinion. People want to know are you for or against this particular issue, and will base their entire possibility of friendship with you on opinions that you may hold or not hold, so that's another reason to keep quiet about most things.
SR: Did you always feels that way?
LC: I've never had much faith in my own take on things, and I know that the world is far too complex, first of all, for a solution. This is not the realm of solutions. We were exiled from the garden, and that's what I understand is the nature of the human predicament. This is not paradise, and we can't really put the world in order.

Also this articulates the usefulness of working within restrictions very well:

LC: I've always been interested in form, maybe because I don't trust my own spontaneous nature to come up with anything interesting, and form imposes a certain opportunity to get deeper than your first thought... I think my opinions are second-rate, but when you submit yourself to a form, then something happens and you're invited to dig deeper into the language and discard the slogans by which you live, the easy alibis of language and of opinion.
Posted by Bill Stilwell at 09:22 PM