Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Infinite Art Tournament: Brace for the Madness

So, you know what's happening on Thursday.  Everybody knows what's happening on Thursday.

What you didn't know is that March Madness 2018 will feature a veritable glut of high-powered art contests.  All.  Month.  Long.

For example, what happens when Frederick Church loses to Caillebotte? I'll tell you what happens.  He takes on freaking Caravaggio in the Left Bracket, that's what!
And when Albrecht Dürer falls to Degas, it only means he'll be taking on Cezanne

And it's gonna be like that all month.  Because on March 15, we're going to start another Round Six match pitting the winner of Eakins/Friedrich against the winner of van Gogh/Grimshaw!  And on March 27, it's the winner of Altdorfer/Balla against the winner of Bernini/Bruegel!!

It's going to be big big big names all month, and I personally guarantee you difficult decisions and lots of awesome art!  (Plus, we'll take one day out to salute the Tournament's ten least successful artists).  

Tell your friends!  Tell your family!  Tell your social media contacts!  It's

 March Madness 2018 
Round Six has finally arrived!

One more thing: with March madness we're also going to change post timing from early mornings to Tuesday/Thursday afternoons and Saturday evenings.  It will be a Saturday evening post!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Othello

The Play: Othello
Edition: Signet Classics, Edited by Alvin Karnan, 1963.

Genre & Setting: Tragedy in Venice and one of its military outposts.

Previous Contact: This was my first reading. I saw a movie version almost 20 years ago that I don’t remember very well; other than that, my only contact was with a ballet version, which was understandably less successful at exposition than at artsy dancin’.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: Iago, a career officer in the Venetian army, is developing a bad attitude towards his friends. He owes money to the thick-witted Rodrigo, and he is seething with envy because General Othello has appointed Michael Cassio (no relation) as his second in command, a promotion that Iago was expecting for himself.

Rodrigo is smitten with the fair Desdemona, but the fair Desdemona is smitten with General Othello and has, in fact, secretly married him. As the play begins, Rodrigo has only just found out about this and is pissed off at Iago for not having kept him in the loop. In order to get him off his back, Iago talks Rodrigo into waking up Desdemona’s dad and telling him about the secret wedding. Iago is in fact hoping to kill two birds with one stone: to sidetrack Rodrigo, and also to cause trouble for Othello. It almost works – Desdemona’s dad’s entourage goes out to confront Othello’s entourage in the streets – but suddenly the army needs to mobilize, Othello is called up, and dad is forced to accept the marriage.

Having enjoyed this taste of manipulating people, Iago ups his ante. Using Rodrigo as his pawn, he tricks Cassio into drinking too much and brawling at a party. Othello, who runs a tight ship, immediately strips Cassio of his rank.

Now at this point, if Iago was only after solving his practical problems, he would be smart to hold up and see if he gets that big promotion after all now that Cassio is out of the way. But he doesn’t. Instead, he immediately determines to keep up the mischief and destroy Othello. Generations of scholars have debated whether Shakespeare intended by this to represent Iago as a malignant psychopath, or to show that once you start down the path of evil you tend to keep going, or what.  On a pragmatic level, Shakespeare might not have thought too hard about these theoreticals, since he was working pretty closely from an Italian short story, and also because if he stopped after Cassio’s demotion the play would be way too short.

Iago destroys Othello, and re-destroys Cassio, by convincing the former that Desdemona is sleeping with the latter. This is a nicely depicted piece of scheming. Iago starts with a faux-reluctant confession of his "suspicions," then tricks Cassio into some compromising man-talk about his girlfriend while Othello, eavesdropping, thinks they are talking about Desdemona, and, as a final touch, plants the fancy handkerchief that Othello gave Desdemona on their first date in Cassio’s room. Othello, consumed with envy and rage – golly! just like Iago! – overreacts a bit, if you ask me. Lovingly, and feeling really conflicted about it, he strangles Desdemona.

Iago’s tricks have worked the way he hoped, but he hasn't set himself up for sustainable gloating.  If any two people compare notes, it’s going to be patently obvious what he’s done. This happens almost immediately, with Iago’s wife Emelia the first to put two and two together. Iago kills Emelia, Othello kills himself, Iago is condemned to be tortured to death, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The Edition: The Signet is a cheap paperback, but it’s generously fitted out with interpretive material. It’s past half a century old, however, so the critical stuff is a bit stiff and so not exactly reflective of current concerns and bleeding-edge scholarship. Line-by-line notes are fine, but packed together in fine print at the bottom of the page, making them hard to access without interrupting the flow.

Adaptation: I think a gritty, film-noir approach would be my choice, in the unlikely event I was asked to direct Othello. The character that I’d want to develop would be Emelia, Iago’s wife, probably the smartest character in the play -- depending on what you make of Iago's IQ, anyway. She is a tool in the plot, then comes within a hair’s breadth of figuring it out in time to stop it (IV:ii), then is the first to figure it out once it’s all too late. She’s a real tragic figure, until she gets stabbed, and then's she's even more of a tragic figure.

Othello is interesting for a English play of its era in that its title character is black. Now, as a “Moor,” a North African, he wouldn’t necessarily have to be, and in the nineteenth century it was apparently considered obvious that he was a bronzed but basically white Moroccan dude. But, no, the text is pretty clear that Shakespeare is imagining a black Othello. What surprised me most, though, was that it doesn’t seem to matter much, at least not to the mechanics of the plot, that Othello is black. It is so external to the action that the Victorians could have him be a white North African dude, and the play still made sense.

Now, I’ve read (though not in this edition, obviously) that until the 1980s – the 1980s! – that in Britain particularly, it was widely considered a bad idea to cast a black actor as Othello, because it would confuse audiences into making them think that Othello is a play about race. That's pretty absurd.  But, the fact that it's absurd doesn’t mean that Othello is essentially about race. It seems to me – after, mind you, this single first reading – that the text could support anything from an adaptation that was very much “about race” to one that was hardly “about race” at all.

Prognosis: If Othello was a novel, it wouldn’t have quite enough plot to hold its own weight. Plenty of plotting, but not enough plot, because Iago is essentially a one-man show. He puts a scheme in motion, and it either succeeds or not because of circumstantial factors. In a novel, we would need to have someone acting against him – I’m imagining Emilia gradually getting suspicious, discovering his terrible secret, and then trying to foil the plot in a desperate race against time! But then I probably read too much detective fiction.

What makes the play “work,” I think, is the pleasure of watching the plotting unfold. Iago’s schemes aren’t that complicated, but they’re complicated enough that we feel clever every time we figure out what he’s up to. Secondarily, Iago is oddly careful about treading the line between truth and lies. Although his every effort is to get people to believe things that aren’t true, he is oddly squeamish about openly stating a falsehood. Again, we feel kind of clever when we recognize that something he says is technically true but intended to deceive. We’ve all done it ourselves! Although, perhaps not quite to this extent.

All in all, it’s an intellectually satisfying play on the page, and offers lots of room for actors to make tragedy and dark comedy on the stage. I can definitely see why it’s one of the big hits.

Nabil Kanso, Othello, My Warrior.  Oil, 1985.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Semi-Finals: Sheeler v. Signac!

"Semifinals" designates the Fourth to Seventh Rounds of the Infinite Art Tournament.  This is a Fifth Round Match.  It pits Sheeler (4-0, 32-13, .711) against Signac (4-0, 28-17, .622). They beat Schwitters and Sir Stanley Spenser, respectively.

Charles Sheeler
1883 - 1965
Sheeler found and captured the beauty of the functional design of factories, barns, and skyscrapers, but also the allure of the inherent geometric abstraction of these structures. He was considered one of the artists most in tune with the modernization and industrialization of America, as his work revealed how the American pioneer spirit had transferred from exploring natural frontiers to the technological and industrial progress of the nation. - The Art Story.org
  • Beat Cindy Sherman in in Round 1.
  • Defeated Jan Siberechts easily in Round 2.
  • Beat Georges Seurat in Round 3 by a two-vote margin. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Beat Kurt Schwitters in Round 4 by a safe margin.

Paul Signac
1863 - 1935
Signac's style changed substantially as he incorporated the techniques and theories of Neo-Impressionism (also known as "Divisionism" and "Pointillism") that he developed in collaboration with Georges Seurat.... While he is best known for his paintings and well-developed preparatory sketches, Signac was also an innovator in his extensive experimentation with a variety of media, from printmaking techniques like lithography and etching to watercolor and pen-and-ink, including painstaking sketches for paintings produced in tiny dots. Regardless of the medium, he persistently created forms without relying on line, which imposed a consistent level of abstraction on all of his work. - The Art Story.org
  • Defeated Luca Signorelli easily in Round 1.
  • Beat Paula Modersohn-Becker in Round 2 by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Got past Rennaisance Estonian Michiel Sittow in the Third Round.
  • Beat Sir Stanley Spencer in Round 4 by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Third Round: Vieira da Silva v. Tissot!

Maria Elena Vieira da Silva
1908 - 1992
Portuguese; worked in France

James Tissot
1836 - 1902
  • Beat Tintoretto in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Put a big upset on Titian in Round 2.
  • Lost big to J.M.W. Turner in Round 3.


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Element of the Month: Lithium!

February's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 6.94 amu
Melting Point: 180.50 °C
Boiling Point: 1330 °C

Lithium: this month for thee.
Thy elemental number 3!
Reacts with water and with air
Most readily, and thus quite rare
In its pure form, and rarer far
Than most light elements. The stars,
Through nucleosynthesis spin
All other things from hydrogen,
But Lithium is so unstable
The heat at which it's made is able
To tear it back apart, and so
Not much escapes the stellar glow.

It's metal but it's not for use
Within machinery. There you'd choose
Iron made steel in alloys strong.
For such stuff Lithium’s all wrong.
It is not made for heavy work –
You could cut through it with a fork.
Reactive as the day is long,
Leave it in water and it's gone.
You stand bereft upon the shore.
You’ll see your Lithium no more:
To hydroxide it will decay
And literally float away.

The Centerfold!

Many tried, but t’was one man,
Chemist William Thomas Brande
Who in 1821
Isolated Lithium.
(It's not Christian Gmelin’s fault
He couldn't reduce Lithium salts.)
The salts are what we designate
As “Lithium” that medicates
Several mental health conditions –
Bipolar, severe depression...
Why it works we are not sure,
Yet sometimes it's a total cure.

Lithium producers see
Growth in lightweight batteries.
Produce! Produce! But do not dream
Of Lithium vein or Lithium seam.
You concentrate it out of brine.
There's no such thing as a Lithium mine.

Lithium, painting by Giuseppe Pastore.  Offered for sale here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Ter Borch v. Terbrugghen!

Very probably the last Left Bracket Second Round match!

Gerard Ter Borch
1617 - 1681

Lost to David Teniers in Round 1.
Tied with Yves Tanguy in First Round Elimination.
Beat Emil Nolde handily in First Round Elimination.

Hendrick Terbrugghen
1588 - 1629

Beat pastry specialist Wayne Thiebaud in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
Lost to Switzerland's Jean Tinguely in Round 2.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Semi-Finals: Rembrandt v. Sargent!

"Semifinals" designates the Fourth to Seventh Rounds of the Infinite Art Tournament.  This is a Fifth Round Match.  It pits Rembrandt (4-0, 29-15, .659) against John Singer Sargent (4-0, 43-2, .956). They lambasted Rosa and H. Rousseau, respectively, by a combined total of 20 votes to 3.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
1606 - 1669
Rembrandt was a 17th century painter and etcher whose work came to dominate what has since been named the Dutch Golden Age. One of the most revered artists of all time, Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are seen in his portraits of his contemporaries, illustrations of biblical scenes and self-portraits as well as his innovative etchings and use of shadow and light. - Biography.com
  • Survived a brush with Guido Reni in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Beat Pierre Auguste Renoir in Round 2.
  • Edged by Diego Rivera in Round 3 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
  • Crushed Salvator Rosa in Round 4.

John Singer Sargent
1856 - 1925
John Singer Sargent was an Italian-born American painter whose portraits of the wealthy and privileged provide an enduring image of Edwardian-age society.... He left behind a large body of work, including portraits, travel scenes, watercolors and impressionistic masterpieces that have defined his reputation into the current century; his works are still exhibited around the world. ...his admirable skill has given future generations a glimpse into the lives and characters of people long gone — certainly a gift to future generations, and one that those future generations have so far recognized as precious. - Biography.com
  • Beat Juan Sánchez Cotán easily despite crowd support in Round 1.
  • Skunked Roelandt Savery in Round 2.
  • Skunked Dutch still-life master Rachel Ruysch in Round 3.
  • Crushed Henri Rousseau in Round 4 by a two-vote swing.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Third Round: Toulouse-Lautrec v. Vallotton!

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
1864 - 1901

Félix Vallotton
1865 - 1925
  • Defeated Maurice Utrillo by a single vote in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Beat Kitagawa Utamaro in Round 2.
  • Lost to Jan Vermeer in Round 3.


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.