Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Gris v. Gros!

Juan Gris
1887 - 1927
Spanish; worked in France


Baron Antoine-Jean Gros
1771 - 1835


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Reading List: Watchmen

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 1987.

Part of the weird time-space compression that is traditionally called “growing up” or “getting old” or “senility” is that if you’re not careful, you will continue to regard things that were considered fresh and new many years ago as “fresh,” or “new.”  What a surprise, then, to get around to reading Watchmen – one of those new “graphic novels” that people seem to have been talking about a lot lately – and discover that it has a copyright date of 1987, which according to my calculations is 26 years ago.  Sheesh.

During those twenty-six years, people have done a lot of rehashing, reconsidering, and reconstructing of the super-hero motif.  There has been, for example, the new Batman movie franchise, and then also the new new Batman movie franchise, and there have probably been a couple of generations now of comic artists who have reinterpreted the notion of superheroics to each other via the internet.  So it is a little bit hard now (and deeply inadvisable, I might add) to transport oneself back into the 1980s and try to figure out just how clever the Moore and Gibbons take on the genre is, or was.

Certainly, you have to give Watchmen points for highly literate storytelling, strong graphic art, and an aggressive exploration of the conventions and possibilities of its genre.  Among any number of neat tricks, here’s one that stands out: a minor character spends much of the book reading a comic book.  That comic-book-within-a-comic-book’s text and artwork leak out into the main story, creating weird parallels and contrasts.  The overlap is managed so that we encounter the main story and its counterpart more or less simultaneously.  It’s pretty cool, and it would only really work in a comic format.

Watchmen takes place in a well-developed alternate reality that seems to branch off from history as we know it around 1940.  Instead of costumed magical beings with magical powers, the Watchmen of the title are simply costumed human beings – mostly.  That means that this assay into the superhero genre also a great big questioning of the whole notion of superheroes, an open speculation on how American society would really act to the presence of people in tights and capes running around fighting crime.  Mostly.  Except, it turns out that there is one magical being in the mix, complete with a conventional science-experiment-gone-awry creation myth.  This inconsistency bugged me a little, but to be fair it doesn’t hurt the basic comic narrative any, and I suppose it keeps the work as a whole from being too much of a one-dimensional exercise in asking “What if superheroes didn’t really have superpowers?”  It also, in a roundabout way, sets up a brisk questioning – by comic book standards – of the concept of a nuclear deterrent. 

Visually and emotionally, Watchmen takes a lot of its cues from film noir, and the whole of the thing is saturated with a mood of grim, detached pessimism.  Thoroughly saturated!  Thoroughly, thoroughly saturated!  You have to celebrate the creative achievement of invoking and sustaining a certain mood, even while wishing that the thing wasn’t such a complete downer.

And this is, I suppose, half of why I didn’t particularly care for this innovative and sophisticated work of literature.  For, although Watchmen certainly makes a strong case that the comic medium needn’t be limited to telling stories that are basically amusing in nature, I am not sure that the evolution of the medium as a light entertainment is entirely accidental.  Hell, I really don’t want to say that comics are best suited for laughs and kid stuff, because I realize that we are past all that now and that many people passionately believe otherwise.  But nevertheless, really, in my heart of hearts, I think I feel that comics are best suited for laughs and kid stuff.

The other half of why I didn’t particularly care for this innovative and sophisticated work of literature is that it’s all about superheroes.  Now, I realize that you can get very excited about studying popular culture and you can ruminate about archetypes and have all sorts of intellectual fun with the enduring importance of superheroes in our collective imagination.  But I would like to suggest another point of view, not because I particularly feel like being negative, but because I think it has become a minority report and therefore a point of view that should be voiced from time to time in order to prevent the tyranny of an assumed consensus. 

Here goes: I would suggest that our stock of well-loved superheroes are really just instances of cheap pabulum that were originally churned out as a platform for advertising to children, kept alive by nostalgia and frequent infusions of capital in the form of easily constructed big-budget movies.  So, even though Watchmen takes an apparently very innovative look at the concept of superheroism, in the end it’s still a superhero comic.  As a superhero comic, it’s probably pretty awesome.  But because it is a superhero comic, its real substance is limited by the essential triviality at its roots.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Play-In Artist SubTournament: Phase 2, Flight 1

It's our first foray into Phase 2 Action!
  1. In Phase 2, you may cast votes for up to TWO artists.  
    • Yes, it will be harder than Phase 1 was.  Democratically driven art criticism is not for the faint of heart.
    • One vote per artist per person.  None of this "both of my votes for X" business.
  2. Since Phase 2 artists have already been granted something resembling a consensus blessing of the IAT community, courteous and affirmative voting -- although always in excellent taste -- is no longer mandatory.
  3. Of these seven artists, two will survive to play in the Big Leagues of the main tournament.  Full rules, procedures, and anticipated timeline for the Play-In SubTournament are available on the Play-In SubTournament page.

Phase 2, Flight 1 will be open until October 25.

#3 Remedios Varo
1908 - 1963
Spanish; worked in Mexico

Finished First in Phase 1, Flight 3, with a voting score of .917.

#9 "The Mysterious Book Artist of Scotland" (almost certainly Su Blackwell)
b. 1975

Finished First in Phase 1, Flight 6, with a voting score of .800.

#14 Ansel Adams
1902 - 1984

Tied for First in Phase 1, Flight 4, with a voting score of .733.

#22 Theo Jansen
born 1948

Finished Second in Phase 1, Flight 5, with a voting score of .692.

#25 Giovanni di Paolo
c. 1403-1482

Tied for Third in Phase 1, Flight 10, with a voting score of .636.

#35 Charles A. A. Dellschau
1830 - 1923
Prussian-born American

Tied for Third in Phase 1, Flight 1, with a voting score of .533.

#40 Baptiste Debombourg
? (contemporary)
probably French

Tied for Third in Phase 1, Flight 9, with a voting score of .455.

Vote for up to two artists! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. This poll will be open for approximately one and a half months past posting.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Wednesday Post

The Desert of Maine
They don't speak Eng. there.

The DESERT OF MAINE is the greatest natural phenomenon of its kind known.  The Desert covers approximately 500 acres and is still growing, with possibilities of extending into several thousand more in the next 25 to 30 years.  It is a spot no tourist should fail to visit.

We ran away.  And far!

ALL of us  Bob, Lysida, and Mother H.

Famous Bald Head Cliff which rises 90 feet above sea level near Ogunquit, Maine.

July 25
Just to say thank you again for your help in starting us on a very successful trip!  I reached the hotel at 5:15 P.M.!  I was ashamed to ask you to check my light but I couldn't struggle with getting the door open.  J. Packard

Visitors watching the heavy surf along the famous Marginal Way.  Ogunquit, Maine.

Thurs, Aug 9

Drove up to Maine on Tuesday for a one week stay at Wells Beach.  Today came south and had lunch at Fisherman's Wharf at Boothbay.  Enjoying the trip very much with two friends.  Hope you & your family are getting along.  Sorry to hear from Phyllis of the accident & illness.  Love, Dorothy Wetzel


Weds., 7/9/75
Hi Gang   We're down at Bar Harbor Maine.  Beautiful country.  Trip's been great.  Came down thru Canada.  Got lost in Quebec Canada.  They don't speak Eng. there.  Jack See you in the Fall.  P.S. Send money!  Kalee and Joann


9-24-62   Plans have changed & I will be dropped off at Union Station some time after 1:30 CST.  I hope our tour manager cooperates, as we all want to make our train, even if time of arrival is uncertain.  Don't put yourself out but would love to see you.  Hazel

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Infinite Art Tournament, First Elimination Round #18/64

Faceoff #1: Fantin-Latour v. Fautriet

Henri Fantin-Latour
1836 - 1904

Skunked by Carol Fabritius in Round 1.


Jean Fautrier
1898 - 1964

Routed by Lyonel Feininger in Round 1.

Faceoff #2: Flavin v. Fouquet

Dan Flavin
1933 - 1996

Lost to Lucio Fontana by a knife edge in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!


Jean Fouquet
1425 - c. 1480

Lambasted by Tsugouharu Foujita in Round 1.

Vote for the two artists of your choice! Votes generally go in the comments, but have been known to arrive by email, by postcard, or in a sealed envelope.

Please note that you may vote only once in each face-off.  Opining that both of the artists in one of the two face-offs is superior to the other is fine, but casting your votes for two artists in the same face-off is not permissible.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Songs of the Fifty States: Mississippi

(What is "The Songs of the Fifty States"?)

Mississippi artist Walter Inglis Anderson, Reflections in a Pool


Size: 125,443 km2 (32nd)

2012 Population: 2,984,926 (31st)

Statehood: 1817 (20th)

American Human Development Index: 3.93 (48th)

Art Mecca: The only obvious game in town is the Mississippi Museum of Art, in Jacksonville.  It looks to be a credible regional institution, with a mission to showcase Mississippi and the South balanced with an impulse to give broader art history the old college try.  MMA claims, perhaps a little defensively, that it "has amassed a meaningful survey of American art," and their description of their international holdings, even while dropping some impressive names, hints at a bit of a hit-or-miss collection:
British nineteenth century portraits are represented with examples by Thomas Lawrence and Thomas Sully, while impressions by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, and Rembrandt are among the highlights of the European prints. An important collection of Pre-Columbian ceramics further demonstrates the diversity of the permanent collection.
As you might expect from a Southern art museum, one of the strong suits of the MMA holdings appears to be "outsider art."

I note, incidentally, that admission is peanuts and that the Museum campus is easy-off, easy-on to I-20 and I-55.  It's an obvious choice to break up your next trip across the Magnolia State.

Michael 5000's Mississippi

First Visited: May 10, 2003 (43rd)
Most Recently Visited: May 17, 2003 (38th)

First Run In: n/a
Best Run: n/a

Have Slept Overnight In: Yes.

Have Admired the Visual Arts In: No.

Counties Visited: 20/82 (21st)
% Complete: 24.4% (34th)

Mrs. 5000's Counties Visited: 20/82 (19th)
% Complete: 24.4% (31st)
Mrs.5000 First Visited: May 10, 2003 (48th)

Atlas of All Roads Travelled

Plans and Aspirations

I've got no particular plans for Mississippi at this time.