Category Archives: Painting

The Guernica of our time

I have a few albums that I have collected and organized into a playlist I just labeled thoughts. It consists of the type of music that really cannot be just in the background, but rather consumes the entirety of my being and prevents me from participating in any sense required activity other than giving it my full auditory attention. Today in shuffling my entire playlist as I furiously completed cover letters for jobs I had researched (the life of the unemployed teacher) my itunes stumbled on a track from an album I had almost forgotten was given to me near two years ago. Trinity Requiem by Robert Moran,  was commissioned by and performed in Trinity Church to honor the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. That was how this piece was introduced to me and added to my collection of thought music I listen to when contemplating what 9/11 means and how it should be remembered. As a New Yorker I have no shortage of opinions on the day and its aftermath. But one opinion has stayed with me for as long as I can remember, the idea that no artist captured that which needed to be captured from that event as Picasso had with Guernica. Guernica represented the devastation and tragedy that was to become modern warfare. I remember first seeing Guernica not too long after 9/11, in the Spring of 2002, and asking myself where is the Guernica of our time? What I didn’t realize then and now only realized too late to appreciate it live was that it didn’t come visually but rather from an auditory source.

Moran’s Requiem captures the emotion, the sadfullness hope of New Yorkers building a world after that fateful day. This piece is our Guernica and like Guernica is not to be listened to one day out of the year, but rather should be enjoyed and appreciated more regularly with the same heart that produced the hopeful sorrow it captures.

I will never forget that day, but can now listen and be inspired as to how we can positively prevent that day from ever happening again.

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The future of Cover Art

I want to start simply by saying I’m not sure where I stand on this or if there really is something to stand on. But for the past few years my friends and I have been wondering about the future of cover art in the music industry. Ever since the first album was “officially” released through programs like iTunes the question of the necessity of such a design came about. However if time is any indicator, it hasn’t phased it one bit.

But now comes the more interesting question. With the recent announcement from Amazon that the Kindle is outselling its hardcover equivalents, are the days of cover designs numbered? Not so unrelated is the example set by Project Gutenberg. The digitization of countless classic novels now considered to be in the public domain has rendered them coverless. Should you choose to download (for free… legally) a classic such as say… Washington Square by Henry James, you will find (at least in the case of the iBooks App for iProducts) there is no cover design. This is simply because it has been digitized as part of this project and is not being published by a publishing house, thus has no commissioned cover art.

Perhaps discussing classics is almost meaningless because despite how they are digitized, the hardcover equivalents continue to display cover art. But what happens when there are no more hardcovers? Will that happen?

Or put it more simply, why aren’t we digitizing the original cover art for these texts in the public domain? Perhaps that art is lost, or perhaps it predates cover art (my own understanding of the medium is limited, especially its historical evolution).

Ultimately it comes down to this: Will the art of cover design have a home in the digital evolution of music and literature? We already know that it can exist, but just because something can be there doesn’t necessarily mean it will be there. In the tangible form it was convenient because the cover was necessary. But in the digital world there is no cover.

So I leave the blogosphere with this question: What do you think is the fate of cover art?

-huysmans

The Art of Talent: Evgeny Kissin

In the world of artistic discussions performance has been considered an experiential artistic work because with every performance of a piece the piece changes and takes on new character. I have always loved that about staged art, no matter how many times you see it, each time is unique. So the questions of artistic value for a performance become divided based on whether you are trying to analyze the creation of the original idea or that of the current interpretation. The problem with revisiting the classical works is that the original idea is not necessarily preserved to the creator’s specifications, then again Barthes that might not be a problem.Thinking a little bit about the intensely complicated issues that were only briefly described above I have had the enjoyment of listening to Evgeny Kissin at Carnegie Hall. He is no composer and therefore is not a creator of musical compositions and yet has been credited as one of the most talented artist playing piano today. This is an interesting form of art if you really look at it, yes it is easy to define him as an artist but the way he is “creating” art is not necessarily in the tangible world. The pieces he performed are credited to others, to the composers who first wrote them. It can be compared to how a copy artist might practice his trade by painting the work of a great master. However that comparison fails to recognize the performance aspects of staged art. Though the copy artist will add his own take to the painting, the ultimate goal is to make it look like the original. A better example would be that of Picasso who recreated Velázquez’s Las Meninas in his own style. Kissin isn’t appreciated because he sounds like everyone thinks the piece should but rather because of his phenomenal talent to do what ever he wants with the piano. His hands can be anywhere, his timing is flawless and his style is unique.

He is an athlete of the art world and just as the art of athletic performance can be valued in its own way; his ability has the artistic potential in his movement, in his sound, and in his style.

So is this a different way to look at the arts? Can we judge an artist for his talent in the field? Can this form of art be considered a revival of the talent driven art of the salons? And what about the Dadaist who will consider this nothing more than a copy? Beyond any question or answer that can be conceived the reality in my opinion is that the creativity needed here is more hidden and harder to define than with an artist in the traditional sense, and yes in this sense I am including the Dadas in the category of traditional since they were creating. It’s a creativity that is in the way a piece is interpreted, in essence perhaps the best comparison is to a translator. In literature a translator is creating her own interpretation of the work of art and is therefore cultivating a new art work in the simple fact that the words change. Since it is not a one to one relationship between two languages, it is far from that as Saussure defined for us in the beginning of the 20th century. And in finding the best way to make that interpretation, a new work of art is born, and the translator becomes an artist. The same is happening here. In Kissin’s interpretation of how the notes on paper and the markings associated with them should be converted into sounds we hear. That conversion is creation and Kissin, the artist.

Thoughts…

-huysmans

Bob Dylan, Visual Art, and Marketing

The recent Times interview with Bob Dylan has mostly gotten attention for the (characteristically cryptic) endorsement of Barack Obama that Dylan threw in at the end. The Times even published a news article about their own feature in order to expand on the point. As a Dylan acolyte, I am certainly glad to hear that the man himself likes the same candidate as me, but there’s more to the interview than that endorsement, and it relates in particular to the subject of this blog, which is art. Dylan has become a painter.

The particular point I want to comment on is the position of an artist with a reputation in one area crossing over into an unrelated one. Of course, the celebrity novel that rides on name recognition rather than actual quality is not an unfamiliar thing, and one could easily assume the same of Dylan’s visual art – that it would not be in a gallery if it were made by an unknown. (Dylan has published a novel, by the way, although it’s hardly the sort of thing you’d expect to come of a celebrity book deal – from what I’ve read of it, it’s reminiscent of André Breton’s automatically-written Nadja. It’s calledTarantula.)

But while a People Magazine-level actor would hardly have trouble getting a novel out there, the world of visual art is different from that of trade publishing. Sez Dylan, “The critics didn’t want to review it. The publisher told me they couldn’t get past the idea of another singer who dabbled. You know, like, ‘David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney…Everyone’s doing it these days.’ No one from the singing profession was going to be taken seriously by the art world, I was told, but that was OK.”

Perhaps this reflects well on the visual art establishment – that Dylan’s celebrity status turned out to be a hindrance to getting his art out there rather than a boon. Dylan himself compares the visual art world favorably to the music industry: “From the small steps I’ve taken in [the art world], I’d say, yeah, the people are honest, upfront and deliver what they say. Basically, they are who they say they are. They don’t pretend.” In any case, it shows that critics have a much more prominent place in visual art than in literature, which tends to listen much more to the market than to the experts. What complicates the issue is that it’s not just a matter of the difference between a gallery, which is a destination, and a book, which is a product: the first edition of Dylan’s art book, Drawn Blank, came out in 1994, while his first gallery exhibition, held in London, is just opening until this Saturday.

As regards the art, I’m reserving final judgment until I see more of it, but I haven’t been blown away yet. From the examples that the Times article provides, it seems to go for the same sort of mood that Dylan’s most imagistic songs convey, and it pulls it off fairly well. I’m not sure whether it really adds anything substantive to that mood, but I like to think that it’s getting attention for its own merits, and not just because it’s Bob Dylan. Even if it’s read as outsider art, which it probably could be considered, that’s a better position to be in than celebrity tie-in.

~therighthandofnixon