Archive for the ‘Art’ Category
Self-consciousness, as August Mclaughlin notes in a recent post, will almost invariably show through in your headshots. But there’s a way you can avoid it:
Don’t try to hard. Use your imagination to drift away during the shoot. In particular, don’t think about the photos during the shoot. This may sound odd, but it helps minimize self-consciousness — a potential awesome-photo wrecker. You know how we love characters with secrets? Have one! Look into the lens with your secret in mind… (source)
August, a quondam model who writes thrillers, gives us such sage advice here that I thought it would be instructive to see some real-life examples. The following are a few of my favorites:
But the clear winner is exactly whom you’d guess, that deadly handsome man:
Speaking of deadly handsome, here’s a gorgeous video you’ve probably never seen, containing a song you’ve probably never heard:
(Hat tip August.)
Addendum: Matthew McConaughey — a cool breeze:
It’s been said that a true artist doesn’t ever lose sight of reality: she stylizes it. Similarly, it’s been noted that a good painting often looks more real than reality itself.
The reason for both of these things is that art — which of course includes literature — is selectivity. Selectivity is the process of choosing from among innumerable concretes that which you the artist wish to present.
Here, for example, is a still-life of grapes, as depicted by the German painter August Laux (1847 – 1921):
Here is another still-life of grapes by Buck Nelligan of Ashburn, Virginia:
Note how in both oil paintings, the subject-matter is identical and unmistakable: red grapes. But, for all their similarities, note also how very different these two paintings are.
The thing that accounts for the differences and similarities is what each artist has selected to present.
Observe, for example, that August Laux selected a droplet of water, which Buck Nelligan did not. Observe the shadows, observe the one hanging from a nail, the other a cord. Observe the cloudiness that both have given to their grapes. Observe the clarity, or its lack.
Now take the following literary depictions of autumn:
Down at the stonework base, among the stump-
Fungus and feather moss,
Dead leaves are sunken in a shallow sump
Of energy and loss,
Enriched now with the colors of old coins
And brilliance of wet leather.
An earthen tea distills at the roots-groin
Into the smoky weather
A deep familiar essence of the year:
A sweet fetor, a ghost
Of foison, gently welcoming us near
To humus, mulch, compost.
The last mosquitoes lazily hum and play
Above the yeasting earth
A feeble Gloria to this cool decay
Or casual dirge of birth.
(An Autumnal, by Anthony Hecht)
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
(To Autumn, by John Keats)
Stylization is the artists evaluation of those facets of reality that he or she chooses to present. In essence, it is the artist saying to us: Yes, I regard this as important enough to include in my work of art.
In this way, the artist’s method of execution — i.e. style — as well as the artist’s choice of subject-matter, gives an in-depth glimpse into the artist’s soul.
And we, in turn, disclose our soul in responding — or not — to a given work of art.
This is the way in which art is a branch of philosophy, the science of fundamentals.
A reader writes:
Dear Sir: What is beauty? Is it anything?
– Lily Alderman
Dear Lily: It is everything. Beauty is the esthetically pleasing, it is the lovely. Aristotle wrote: “Beauty depends on size as well as symmetry” (ahem, ahem). But beauty is symmetry. Beauty is congruence. It is the bah-bah in black sheep. Beauty is not, finally, inexplicable or ineffable, but it is elusive.
Darwin noted that a streak of stew in a man’s beard is not beautiful, but he pointed out also — and sagely so — that neither the soup nor the beard is inherently non-beautiful.
Beauty requires, among other things, that sensory data bring with it a very specific kind of emotional pleasure — one which awakens “the contemplative in man,” as Kant said — such as you might feel, for instance, when you see the Northern Lights, or hear a profound song. Beauty even encompasses melancholy.
Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-colored world. No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
Said Oscar Wilde.
Beauty, properly defined, is part of the science of axiology, which is the study of values. Axiology, in turn, is a sub-division of aesthetics. The science of beauty is called aesthetics.
But that’s all purely academic.
Here, Lily, is the only thing you really need to know about beauty:
Sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Stories are important because human beings are conceptual.
This among other things means that humans survive by use of their reasoning brains.
Humans evolved neither the balls of bulls, nor the trunks of elephants, nor the claws of bears, nor the necks of giraffes, but the brains of Homo sapiens, with a capacity to think.
And we think by means of abstractions.
Thus, stories (as with all other proper forms of art) concretize our abstractions.
“The function of art is to recreate, from the rough material of actual existence, a new world that will be more marvelous, more enduring, and more true than the world that common eyes look upon.”
Said Oscar Wilde.
Art starts with an abstraction, such as jealousy, and, in an artistic work like Othello, shows us how in human life jealousy manifests.
Jealousy is the abstraction. How Shakespeare dramatized it is his play is the concrete.
The degree to which a story (or any other artistic creation) persuades or seems plausible is the degree to which it is good or bad.
Painting and drawing perform the same function as Othello but in a purely visual manner.
Sculpture does so by visual-tactile means.
Music — which is unique among the arts — captures emotional abstractions, via sound, so that when you hear music, you feel yourself perhaps excited, or melancholic, or thoughtful, or sexy.
To qualify as a legitimate art form, the medium must have the power to convey ideas (i.e. abstractions) in a perceptual form — which is to say immediately.
This is why culinary art is not, in the true sense, an actual art but a skill: the best foie gras in the world cannot convey even the simplest human abstraction, let alone something as complex as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And the same thing is true of sewing, gem-cutting, carpentry, and many, many other difficult skills and trades as well. They don’t qualify as actual art, valuable and important as they may be, simply because they don’t have the power to capture or convey a wide range of abstract meaning. They cannot, in other words, objectify reality through their medium.
That is what art does. It objectifies the human experience. That is why art is a necessity.
To truly qualify as art, the medium must be able to reproduce nature and then infuse that data with conceptual content.
Abstractions, as previously stated, are thoughts — or, to put that more precisely, abstractions are the human way of grasping reality. We do this by means of thought. And we think by means of words.
Art assists in this. Which is why, philosophically speaking, esthetics is a sub-branch of epistemology: the science of thought.
Stories recast reality and show us our abstractions made solid. In this way, stories enhance reality, as all art does.
It is, paradoxically, artists themselves who are among the most inarticulate when it comes to explaining the nature and function of their art, and so to get beyond their artsy mumbo-jumbo so that we can see at last what gives rise to art, we needn’t listen to the artists and the critics but instead observe how the artistic drive develops in children.
Observe the stories that children write. Observe what the child with that big stick of sidewalk-chalk draws upon the concrete:
A large yellow crescent with blue stars around it.
A white house in a green field.
A blazing sun over black mountains.
Ask yourself: what drives the child to make those drawings. What drives the child to tell those stories? What is that child thinking about that makes her want to set it down in concrete form? What dictates her subject-matter? Why did she choose this and not that?
What, in short, is the child doing? And what is that process doing for her?
Why did prehistoric humans paint animals and hunting scenes upon cave walls? What drove that urge? Why did they tell stories? Why did these men and women choose the subjects they chose? And what did those stories and paintings fulfill within them?
Why have humans always invented stories?
Why have humans always enjoyed listening to those stories, or seeing them played out?
Why the human invention of musical instruments?
Why did David “dance with all his might before the lord”?
What need is being fulfilled in all this?
The answer to these questions is the same:
Each one of those things, through whichever medium, captures the abstract and makes it real and immediate.
Humans — the rational animal — need this because our rational mind operates in the opposite manner: it is thoughtful, it is inductive, it is long-range. Art brings the entirety of the universe into our immediate perceptual ken.
Art makes the conceptual perceptual.
That is why stories are important.
There is no mood or passion that art cannot give us…. Art is mind expressing itself under the conditions of matter, and thus, even in the lowliest of her manifestations, she speaks to both sense and soul alike…. It is through art, and only through art, that we can realize our perfection; through art, and through art only, that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence…. Like Aristotle, like Goethe after he had read Kant, we desire the concrete, and nothing but the concrete can satisfy us.
– Oscar Wilde