Category: art

Tim’ s Vermeer: A Documentary that Questions Our Definition of Art

Is art as good as the tools that make it?

Is art only as good as the tools that make it?

Is a painting a work of art if the painter uses technology that makes it possible for even a novice to be successful? What tools are off limits for an artist if their art is to be considered legit? These are the questions asked by the documentary Tim’s Vermeer written and directed by Penn and Teller.

The documentary focuses on Tim Jenison, an inventor who has spent most of his life creating visual effects technology used in movies, and his quest to find out if he can paint a Vermeer, specifically “The Music Lesson.” His hypothesis is that the precision and detail in Vermeer’s paintings had to be a result of something more than Vermeer’s genius and skill, that some sort of technology was likely involved.

Jenison goes to great lengths to recreate Vermeer’s painting– building by hand an exact replica of the room Vermeer used in “The Music Lesson” including all the furniture and windows as well as the instruments Jenison believes the 17th century painter used to achieve his masterpieces: a camera obscura and a mirror. These tools would have allowed Vermeer to arrange scenes in a room and focus closely on each part of the scene using the mirror. Jenison tests his mirror by painting an incredibly accurate portrait of his father-in-law from a

Tim Jenison tries out his mirror hypothesis by painting a replica of his father's photograph.

Tim Jenison tries out his mirror hypothesis by painting a replica of his father-in-law’s photograph as Penn watches.

photograph. The whole project from the research stage to building the set to painting a replica of “The Music Lesson” took Jenison over five years to complete — the painting alone taking 130 days — and the whole process was documented by his longtime friend Penn Jillette, who was enthusiastic from the first moment about his pal’s brilliant idea. Watching Jenison’s process was interesting and excruciating in equal measure. He made it very clear that he is not an artist or even particularly interested in art. He’s an inventor, a tinkerer, the kind of guy you know built amazing shit out of Legos as a kid. But what was missing from his experiment and the documentary was any real history of Vermeer’s life and how he may have painted and Vermeer’s original of “The Music Lesson,” as this The Guardian article points out. Jenison, Teller and crew went to Buckingham palace to see the original, but only Jenison was allowed in, sans cameras, so us viewers only got to see his poster version of the painting, which just isn’t the same thing. According to Jonathan Jones at The Guardian,”It’s a painting of hypnotic intrigue and psychological fascination – a painting to get obsessed with.”

And while Tim’s replica is quite amazing, there is something mysteriously different about the two paintings; maybe it is that lack of hypnotic obsession in Jenison’s Vermeer that’s missing. Maybe it’s that his experiment is a bit reductive, implying that with the right tools anyone can paint a Vermeer or be an artist, completely ignoring the heart and soul that create the mystery behind great art. Or maybe it’s that he approached the project like a scientist, not an artist, but he wouldn’t agree with that notion.

Tim's Vermeer is on the left; the original, right.

Tim’s Vermeer is on the left; the original, right.

Jenison says in the film that we’ve now turned science and art into false binaries that didn’t exist when Vermeer was painting. About that he’s right. After all, Michelangelo blended science with art, and as this Quora post illustrates again and again, this isn’t uncommon. It’s true that art and science are cousins that rely on each other for sustenance and life.

The remaining question is what exactly is in art that makes it art? I know, this question is too big, but this experiment of Tim Jenison’s is a good place to start answering that question, or to add more interesting questions to it. Did Jenison actually rediscover Vermeer’s tools and techniques, and if so, does this in any way diminish Vermeer’s art? If this 17th century artist used boxes and lenses and mirrors to make his magical, light-filled work, is he less an artist, or should we just stop asking that question and enjoy what he created?

 

Short Poem & Metamodernism

#IAMSORRY

Have you read the three-word poem by Jesse Damiani, published by Seth Abramson at Ink Node?

Seth Abramson has more about the poem, metamodernism, and Shia LaBeouf at Huff Post.

Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker write in their article, “Notes on metamodernism”:

One of the most poignant metamodern practices is what the German theorist Raoul Eshelman has termed ‘‘performatism’’. Eshelman describes performatism as the willful self-deceit to believe in—or identify with, or solve—something in spite of itself.

They also discuss a reemergence of romanticism—a neoromanticism—and self realization and enthusiasm and irony.

Yesterday the weather turned freezing. Even though I had to scrape ice from my windshield before I could drive to work, I fondly imagined hot chocolate and snuggling with my family under a blanket, watching a movie. A romantic thought with some enthusiasm to it.

Yesterday evening, after I finished a long day of work, I stepped out of the elevator to the sight of an unkempt older man reclining in a chair in the lobby without pants or shirt, wearing a stocking cap, unzipped jacket and well-worn boots, stroking his genitals, staring straight at me. Even now I can’t unsee all of that flesh and that direct look that didn’t seem to hold any sort of message in it at all. The cold is the most likely reason why he chose the lobby of my building for his performatism, ironic in light of my earlier enthusiasm about activities related to the weather.

In the 28+ hours since, I’ve considered the plight of the mentally ill and homeless, my own morals and need for feeling safe and respected, and the expectations and boundaries surrounding my day-to-day life. I am aware that my understanding of metamodernism barely exists. Can one be living and loving a metamodern life without knowing it?

Photo courtesy of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, copyright the artists.

Screenwriting Is Easy, and Other True Lies about Craft

Read a screenwriting book and you'll feel like the king of the writing universe.

Read a screenwriting book and you’ll feel like the king of the writing universe.

This post is going to be short so I can get back to my screenwriting. You read me right. My husband and I have started writing screenplays. I’m diving deep into my first one literally as I type this. (Ideas are always brewing, you know.) Somehow, by reading Save the Cat! and collaborating with my husband, I’m not only coming up with ideas quickly, but…wait for it…I’m having fun! I know. It’s too good to be true. But here are a handful of reasons I think this is happening:

  • Brainstorming works: We’ve been encouraged (by the screenwriting books we’ve been consuming like candy) to come up with as many ideas as we can and not worry about totally fleshing them out, so we’re freed from the hard stuff (at least at first) and able to revel in the glory of what we think are genius movie ideas.
  • Walking collaboration is magic: We talk details as we walk to the store, and it feels more like planning a slumber party than writing a story. We talk motivation, action, conflict, how to ramp up the conflict even more, and how to get to the climax gracefully. And when we get home, we’re so energized, that we have to just write it all out. And we do! The lesson of the walk-talk is that collaboration can make writing more fun. I suppose you have to have a good collaborator, though, so I’m lucky there. My dude’s full of good ideas.
  • Helpful guidance is a sage: The books we’ve been reading (besides Save the Cat! there’s also Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, which is as much fun to read as it is to follow) give some great practical advice, including outlines and examples that are easy to understand and follow.

This isn’t to say that as soon as we get past the outlining phase all the lust won’t have evaporated, but it is to say that I’ve never had such a good time writing in any other genre, and I wonder why…

Hipster Hiking

About a year ago, I started a photo project called the “Hipster Hiking Series.” I began this series because I take many photos and my mother was asking to see more with me in them. The rules were simple: the camera had to be balanced somewhere, on the ten-second self-timer, or handed to someone so unfamiliar with cameras that the chances of them getting the autofocus to work would be less than twenty percent. Also, because I am not one to model, I had to make fun of myself by adding “hipster elements,” including a logo, light leaks, and hue shifts.  They had to be taken while I was hiking or camping. The process has led me to many questions–beginning with the question, “are these selfies?”

What makes a selfie? Is it any self-portrait? When Van Gogh painted himself, bandaged after cutting his ear, was it a selfie? Or must it be a photograph? Must it be more ephemeral than a painting, more off the cuff?

hipster-hiking-white-sands

White Sands National Missile Range, 2014

Read more »

Dreams, the Collective Unconscious, Joan Rivers and Andy Taylor

Joan Rivers circa 1967

Joan Rivers circa 1967 (Getty)

On the night Joan Rivers died, I dreamed of her, her and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran.

Well, this is something that happens. Us common folk dream of celebrities all the time.

Yes, yes. I agree. However in this instance, I had no idea Joan had had surgery, was in a coma and had died. The dream stuck with me for days because it was slightly bizarre and yet felt very based in reality. For me it took place mostly backstage. I haven’t worked backstage since my very early college years (read: before drinking age), and even then I never worked a show for anyone super famous. But my reality is that I’ve been all over stages and dressing rooms and green rooms.

The dream was also very persistent. The theater was sometimes an amphitheater, that was the only bit of inconsistency, which I’ll just call a quirk. The event lasted for hours in the way that dreams can compress and expand time at will. At the beginning, I was ushering Joan and Andy around backstage. Then I was trying to blend in with the stage crew and performers because it felt like I had snuck backstage or very seriously didn’t belong at least. There were chorus line dancers and circus performers. There was a nervous stage director lecturing everyone to do their best. I was terribly afraid I’d get caught, but then Joan and Andy were coming off stage, done with their onstage performance. They knew me! And I hadn’t “dreamed” that I was their escort! (Meta moment: being afraid I had imagined or “dreamed” something in the dream.) We walked out of the theater together. Joan was hilarious the whole time. Andy smiled a lot and was charismatic. It was mostly an enjoyable dream, and I thought about it for days.

Then three days later, I heard about Joan River’s death. And I did the math Read more »

Stories Sway Our Decisions

Last month, I attended a writers conference where Lisa Cron presented a master workshop on how neuroscience discoveries can help your story telling (and your writing). I had to leave early for an appointment, but Ms. Cron’s ideas about the importance of story telling and how stories influence our everyday decisions stuck with me.

So, I looked her up when I got home and found a TEDx talk by her. The video is a little more than 17 minutes long, but worth watching just for the share pleasure of discovering that stories–and therefore writers (hyberbole added by me)–are more important than we think.

In Ms. Cron’s words:

“We turn to stories not to escape reality; we turn to stories to navigate reality.”

and

“If you can’t feel emotion, you can’t make a single rational decision.”

[youtube]http://youtu.be/74uv0mJS0uM[/youtube]

“The Power of story is yours, use it wisely.”

Enchanted Watermelon Seeking Art Submissions

tiny-logo
Enchanted Watermelon is seeking art submissions for a Loteria-themed coloring book.

A portion of the proceeds from each coloring book will benefit an Albuquerque nonprofit organization that help children in situations of domestic violence, poverty, or homelessness.

The coloring book will not only showcase artists’ work, but since children are the target market for the book, it provides a unique, plausible way for children to help children.

A series of community artist workshops will be scheduled once the coloring book is in production.

How to Submit:

1. Select an image from the list of cards and interpret it with your own style and imagination. Your image will be printed in black and white, so please consider high contrast drawing materials/media.

2. Develop a fun rhyme or verse to accompany your image. *The rhyme does not have to be in Spanish.* Here are some examples from the original deck:

EL DIABLITO (The Little Devil): “Pórtate bien cuatito, si no te lleva el coloradito.”   “Be good, or you will meet the little red guy.”

LA PERA (The Pear) “El que espera, desespera.”  “He who waits, despairs.”

3. Please use our Loteria template to ensure that your ratio is accurate and that you have enough space for the title of your image and a whimsical rhyme or verse!

4. To submit, visit: https://enchantedwatermelon.submittable.com/submit

I don’t know if you’ve seen my home in the news recently, but there currently extremely high rates of homelessness and violence in Albuquerque. Most recently, two homeless men were killed by three teenage boys. This kind of violence breeds more violence. One of the boys had been homeless himself only a couple years before.

This coloring book will provide a fun, lighthearted way to raise funds for shelters that take in children, and help give them extra resources to continue the powerful, difficult work they do.

“Make Me Beautiful”

Journalist Esther Honig wanted to examine how the standards of beauty vary across cultures. She sent a picture of herself—makeup free and hair pulled back– to 40 different graphic designers across the globe with only one request: “Make me beautiful.”

What she received back blew her mind.  (And mine.)

Some of the pictures came back with minimal changes, what I  think of as studio photo retouching. Like this image from Romania:

Romania

All images in post are courtesy of Ester Honig

Others were radically altered. This one is from the Philippines:

Philipines

 

What struck me is that some designers changed Honig’s features in ways I wouldn’t even think of, going to extremes like changing her eye color, removing collar bones, and altering the shape of her eyes and forehead.  Read more »

Evidence of Life: Voices from the PSU Archives

Portland State University just discovered new life through history

Portland State University just discovered new life through history

 

Last week Portland State University made headlines after revealing decades of speeches that had been tucked away in their library’s archives, out of sight, out of mind, until now. Some of the greatest minds of our time — leaders, artists, activists — can be heard speaking at PSU online now. Check out Robert F. Kennedy, Toni Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, and a ton of other voices here.

Femcees Rising

Time magazine recently posted an article briefly introducing the 7 female rap artists they say are the industries new up-and-coming superstars, women they indicate are moving in the same direction as Nikki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, both of whom have found huge success in the male-dominated genre. The Time article was a response to XXL‘s (really good) list of 12 freshman rappers to watch over the next year, a list which, unsurprisingly, featured no women. Artists like Noname Gypsy and Nyemiah Supreme are joining the ranks of women like Brianna Perry to shake up the rap world brining pointed and poignant lyrics and melodies to the microphone.

 

However, one rapper they didn’t pay attention to is Minnesota-based rapper Dessa. Granted she is part of the underground rap scene and the Doomtree collective whih are not marked as mainstream music. Beyonce may not post Dessa’s music on her tumblr as she did for Brianna Perry, and you won’t see Dessa working with Timaland the way Nyemiah Supreme did, but her music explores cultural problems, issues of place and politics, crises of the heart, of life, and of childhood. Basically the same topics as all the other important MC’s working in the business and just as interesting to listen to, except she’s white.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSxSCv7Cegc[/youtube]

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