Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thomas Merton on Sanity

I am beginning to realize that "sanity" is no longer a value or an end in itself. The "sanity" of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of a dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane...perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally "sane."
Thomas Merton, "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann."

Is Art Constrained?

Last week, I attended the performance of the band VCDC (or Voice, Cello, Drums, and Clarinet) not knowing what to expect. Steigerwald Hall was crowded with people, and many Freshman trying to fulfill a cultural credit were in attendance. As the music started, the sound was initially jaunting and like nothing I had ever heard before. After I had a few minutes to become acclimated to it, I closed my eyes to block out all of the visual noise in the room and let the music stand on its own. What I heard was beautiful in its own way. There were many times that through the dissonance a more organic sound took shape. Every sound had a purpose, and you could fill the musicians constructing their own pieces off of eachother's playing. This is not to say everyone in the room had the same experience as me. Many people were confused by the music and began snickering or talking to their neighbors around them. A couple students even stood up to leave after a while. The sounds were challenging the students' notions of what music actually was. So I pose this question, is the purpose of good art to challenge our beliefs, forcing us to reconsider our own personal definition? How far is art allowed to go to challenge these convictions?

Value of Art

     I came upon something interesting online.  In this article a man has in his possession a physical Campbell's soup can that is autographed by Andy Warhol.  It is a rather interesting story of how he came to own the can.  Here is the article:
     He wanted to sell it at auction, but finding a price for the item was difficult.  Some, like me, assumed that the can would be extremely valuable.  The auctioneer disagreed.  While the paintings of soup cans sell for tens of millions of dollars, this actual soup can would, or so the auctioneer thought, sell for the low five digits.  He said that since Warhol never presented the can as "art" it was not nearly as valuable as one of his paintings.  From what I can tell these autographed cans are rare, there might not be many of them in existence, far far fewer autographed cans that actual pictures that he painted.  So if they are technically rarer, why are they so essentially worthless since they are not technically art?  I would take the autographed can over one of the paintings any day, it is a much more interesting piece.  To me the object is more tangible. I wonder if this value difference points to the pretension and arbitrary nature of valuing contemporary art.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Experimental Music

The VC/DC presentation gave an insight into experimental music  While not completely the same style, there is a band called Time for Three (TF3) who were once all musicians in an orchestra and when the power went out one night, they all started to play whatever they felt like playing.  TF3 does many covers of music with different arrangements to make them their own.  My personal favorite is their take on the song "Little Lion Man".

I don't like that

In class we discussed the idea of taste and how important philosophers like Aristotle believed it to be.  We also questioned when it was that we develop taste.  Professor Langguth remarked that his daughter will say when she doesn't like certain music, as does my 3 year old sister, Hope.
     Hope is very vocal, and will make sure that everyone knows when she does or doesn't like something.  Usually such a claim is followed by a pouted lip, little fists on hips, and a furrowed brow.  While the things she does like (music mostly) result in her saying she likes it louder or gasping and shouting out who is singing, ("It's Katy Peery!" or "Mumfy!" are some of my favorite examples.)
     I definitely know that her love for Mumford and Sons comes from much exposure to their music.  Yet, other things she likes are things I can't find a cause for.  Such as Hope's tendency to change out of her pajamas and into dresses at bedtime.
     I believe that aesthetic taste is something that begins to develop at a young age once we are given the option to express our likes and dislikes.  I also believe that tastes can change over time.  Thoughts?

In Defence of Poetry and Composition.

With the discussion between what composes art being renewed with the introduction experimentalism in music and the melding of art cultures through the melding of European art with that of primitive africa and indonesia, once again it seems necessary to look at the different perspectives in which art is viewed and the purpose that it serves.  I have recently read "The Philosophy of Composition" by Poe, and "In Defence of Poetry" by Shelley, and both essays have differing viewpoints and offer interesting insight to this discussion.

In class, it was vaguely mentioned that Sun Ra was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe.  As was demonstrated in the video, Sun Ra was an experimental musician which is very interesting, as Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" lays out a process of writing that is in direct contrast with Sun Ra's style of composing music.  Poe believes that the content of a story should be entirely known, before it is actually written.  The entire plot structure and the material that comprises the story should be worked out before anything is written down.  Sun Ra's brand of music is more reactionary than strictly structured as Poe believes it should be.  Yet in contrast to this basis of Poe's essay, there is one quote in particular that although lends itself to Poe's argument is also relevant to experimental composition.  "It is an obvious rule of art that effects should be made to spring from direct causes- that objects should be attained through means best adapted for their attainment."  The fact that Sun Ra and other experimentalists rely on their musicians to react to the music being played, is supported by this statement.  Also Percey Shelley lends a hand to Sun Ra's argument by stating that a poet can't will himself to create anything.  Not even the greats can do that.  Rather poetry (art) is a product of inspiration and is very serendipitous in that it is reactionary.

This explains also the degeneration of classically inspired styles of Europe to the art of "primitive" people and those from Asia.  Many artists as was laid out in our most recent Scharfstein reading that explains the assimilation of art styles across cultures.  Shelley also writes, "yet it is by no means essential that a pet should accommodate his language to this traditional form, so that the harmony which is its spirit, be observed."

*it should be noted that Shelley regarded a poet as any member that practiced one of the traditional artforms as well as "institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society and the inventor s of the arts of life and" those founders/teachers of religion.

Sun Ra ☥☥ Brother from Another Planet [Documentary]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Avant-Garde Experimental Norwegian Jazz?

Not as weird as you might think. After the lecture on Tuesday, I was a little skeptical about the event professor Langguth was hosting on Wednesday evening. My reluctance going into the concert soon diminished after hearing VCDC begin to play. To some it might have sounded like noise that didn’t have harmony or any structure. But I found it interesting that they fed off of each other’s sound to make it flow together.

After the performances the audience asked a few questions and I was struck by one member of the band had described music in general. It doesn’t necessarily have to follow structure, emotion, or meaning, but everything around us can be heard as music. That brought me back to a movie I really like, “August Rush” the movie is about an orphan boy who has musician parents and uses his music to find his parents. He heard music in the wind, train station and in a busy city. Some may think its just noise but he focused on the qualities it possessed and made it into something beautiful. It also made me think about different kinds of music tastes. For example, I like alternative and indie music and have a very low tolerance for country music. Some people think the kind of music I listen to is just noise, but I think its beautiful. So the members of VCDC make music and do what they like, the members of their band will follow or go a whole different direction with their song. It all depends on where the music takes them and what the outcome is. 

I Know

"Just as it's impossible for people who can't read to appreciate literature or calligraphy.  It's impossible for those who don't know how to paint to understand anything about painting."
                                                                                                                        -Chang Lu

Does this quote resonate within our society today?  With our conversations earlier in the year on "what is art?"  Does this perspective hold any truth in the qualification of people in them being able to pass judgements on painting (and other forms of art?)  Does it really take instruction of how to paint to understand anything about painting?  Is it possible to gain knowledge on the creative process and the products of this process through visits to art museums, and galleries?  Do lectures/discussions with artists, curators, or art historians give people any qualification to assume knowledge of certain artistic processes or endeavors.

Perhaps Lu doesn't even insinuate that people are unable to understand the product but rather the process of creation, as many artists find the process of painting more meaningful and liberating than the physical painting itself.

Stealing Originality

Scharfstein briefly discusses that artists in the medieval ages signed their work to show pride in their work, or to show that a "professional" known for their proficiency in a particular art form had been hired to create an art piece, rather than to gain recognition.  So why has the practice of signing pieces of art evolved to the point it has today?  Is it because medieval artists focused more on religious works, so the point of creating art was to become closer to the divine rather than gaining personal recognition?  Or was it because the worry of having the idea of an art piece being stolen was not as important as it is in today's world? 
In the American culture, we value originality so much that we become so protective of our thoughts and ideas, and become terrified at the thought of someone else "stealing our originality".

Monday, October 21, 2013


Just a funny little blog post that I thought related to class.

Kant did say that sweating was bad for your health...:P

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Making It

As an Art and English major, I am constantly asked what I want to do with my degree.  Usually people ask me if I'm going to be a teacher as that is apparently the only profession open to someone with such a degree.  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I told people I wanted to pursue a creative career as a "professional" or full-time visual artist or writer. Not that I have written anything or have the drive to be an artist, what would people's responses be like?

In Scharfstein's pages concerning the Romantic artist, and the amateur vs. professional, it brings up questions concerning the lifestyle of a modern artist.  As society has changed quite a bit since the time of Vasari, Giotto, and Cezanne, so has the system of an artist finding patrons.  No longer do artists rely on the patronage of wealthy merchants or the aristocracy, but rather any people in the middle class can become patrons of local, regional, and even Nationally recognized artists.  Although purchasing art is perhaps not a high priority on many people's to-do list, it raises the question of how do the majority of artists make a living?

What does it mean to be an amateur artist?  Are these the ones who do art on the side of having a real job?  Are they the ones who use the job to support themselves but still spend a great amount of time and energy producing and honing their craft?  Do professional artists and amateur artists have the same distinction that Scharfstein discusses?

An aspect that I found very interesting is the idea that some amateur artists who were very proud of being amateur and not placing a monetary value on their work, would give them away.  Can you imagine what would be people's reaction would be if a collection of renowned modern artists collectively just gave away their work?  For instance, what if a group of artists just laid one original piece each in a random part of a metropolitan area?  It would be interesting to see if people would see the work, take it, try and identify the artist... Just to examine other people's reactions.  Anything you could add to this?  I found this part of Scharfstein's work to be very intriguing...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Can Genius Be Self-Aware?

Last class we talked about the elements of genius. One of the elements that were not mentioned that I think is a key identifier for genius is the lack of awareness of genius that goes into those works. Genius is neither a formula nor a process; it’s instinct. Genius cannot be trained or taught which I think is crucial to understand genius. I don’t think someone could be a genius or create works considered genius if genius is actively present in the creator’s mind. 

What do you think? Can someone be considered a genius or create works considered genius if they are consciously thinking about genius?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Common Genius

Photojournalist Tim Hetherington built a reputation as a war correspondent, and received acclaim from his documentary with Sebastian Junger called Restrepo, which showed American soldiers as they went through a deployment in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.  Although i am not an expert in his work, he may be considered a modern genius and a member of the avant-garde  In an interview, his responses echo on what makes a genius, especially since modern tech, like iphones and photoshop, changes the whole dynamic on how images and sounds are presented to us.

When asked about the ability to alter photos with and be more inclusive of non-professionals and if this was included in the realm of photojournalism he said,

"I have no idea.  The thing was, it was shot on an iPhone, and that's been the discussion.  I'm [more] interested in the content.  What was it saying?  What did it reveal to us that we hadn't seen already?"

He also gave his opinion on amateur video footage, and the development of the medium of photography/video.

"I'm not interested in replacing photography.  I'm interested in what's happening with the still image and the moving image and their discussion together.  But video is having a profound effect on our society.  I watched Anderson Cooper right after the Japan earthquake, and the entire broadcast was amateur videos.  And they were fascinating, almost more powerful than professional images."

Coomeraswamy says we all have genius inside us, yet with such an accessible way to present and alter images, does that make images less original and individualistic, or is it like Hetherington says and its all about the content?  With the accessibility of this technology, and easy ways to spread images, the overflow of material presents another problem.  How do we determine what is genius and what is simply art?  Maybe technology is simply making it easier for people to discover their inner genius, rather than inhibiting it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Classless Classicism

Scharfstein spends a good amount of time speaking of classicism and archaism.  It seems as though the evolution of art has been a combination of a respect for antiquity and a desire to replicate those styles.  However it must also be mentioned that artists also desire to insert their own originality in their work.  Beginning with the Renaissance and ending with Impressionism there seems to be an almost uniform attempt by artists throughout this era to try and imitate the Romans and Greeks portrayal of the ideal human form and values conceptualized in their art as well.

With such a "realistic" approach to art, how does Scharfstein explain the extreme decline in art that appreciates the archaic or classical forms in the beginning of the impressionist painters?  What inspired these artists to go down a path less traveled?  Why did they deviate so far from the set standards of artists?  After all after the impressionists, Expressionism became an establised movement, and after these modernism, dadaism, abstract, regionalism, surrealism, popular art, etc... all became established art movements which all deviated from the classical norm.  Although classicism didn't disappear and is by no means dead, its present practice has diminished.

What seems to be a primary factor in this change is the political, economical, and social change upheaval that characterized Europe at the turn of the century in 1800.  The aftermath of the French Revolution and then the devastating Napoleonic wars led many to challenge existing norms.  Literature even saw a change with the revolutionary works of the Romantic poets who were inspired by the people and who sought to revert from classical forms of poetry to those that reflected the common speech of man.  Art too also seemed to be focusing more on the common man.  Francisco Goya may have played a pivotal role in this change from the classical ways.  Too many he is considered the last great master, and also the first modern artist.  He did his fair share of portraiture for the aristocracy in Spain, but his most famous works are his series of prints that criticize the treatment of common people and the evils in contemporary society.  The masks and faces of many of his characters are distorted and demonized.  Many of his scenes could actually be identified as surreal as they do have a surreal feel about them.  Perhaps the emotions of the Romantic poets as they focused on the beauty of nature inspired the impressionists as they sought to paint such scenes by trying to translate emotion rather than picture perfect scenes.  So perhaps the with such change occurring the shaping of society seemed to begin to influence art more than the archaic forms of art which were associated with tyranny of the old aristocracy.

Universal Art

When reading the document Professor Langguth posted about Kant and the Critique of Judgment, I found myself agreeing very much so with his point of view. I think we can think something is beautiful but not necessarily aesthetically beautiful when it comes to judgment of taste. The Critique of Judgment uses the example of a cold glass of lemonade on a warm, muggy day. I think this is a perfect example of something that we can find beautiful just because of the circumstances in that particular period of time. However, for us to make a true judgment of taste, it should be through an art form, something that is aesthetically pleasing. So for example, a well-known painting or a very pleasing piece of music would be considered something that a judgment of taste would be needed. The article also talks about how a judgment of taste can be “universally binding.” I found this very intriguing because some people think that art is just for artist or art enthusiasts. Being in the studio at Thomas More for the majority of my day every day has made me come to realize and appreciate everyone’s artistic ability whether they are the ones teaching the class or taking their very first studio art class, everyone can have something different to say about art. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Most Unwanted

Lately I've been thinking about the supposed "Most Unwanted Song", and I got to wondering, what makes a particular piece of art "unwanted"? Personally, I don't want art that feels uninspired, art that has the sole purpose of pleasing. It doesn't feel real, almost like a form of stock "art". Art shouldn't be churned out and commercialized. I have a difficult time even referring to them as "art". What do you guys think make some art "unwanted"?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


One thing bothered me about the Picasso video with the second commentary. He talked him up to be almost god like in his decisions and absolutely perfect and flawless in his execution. while he is a great artist, and I am not doubting his ability or fame, I believe the commentary got a little caught up in Picasso, the man, rather than Picasso, the art, if that makes sense. I believe Picasso's fame creates his tragic flaw, that anything he does will be adored by someone, whether he had art in mind or not. I also think his fame takes away from the everyday artist, the hidden talent all over the world in every city and country. Just because Picasso was famous doesn't mean that no artist can ever compare or even surpass him. I honestly believe there to be better artists that receive much less praise, but then again, this is my opinion, and is beauty in the eye of the beholder or is it universal?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Uncageable John Cage

Though it's been a while since we have discussed Cage in class, I thought there was still a lot left to delve into about this particular artist. He was an important figure of the 20th century, often sonically coloring outside the lines of what was common of traditional music. To Cage, music was any sound that was heard. Traffic was music. The sound of the audience was music. Silence was beautiful. As Cage put it, "The sound experience I prefer to all others is silence." He was able to be modern and deconstruct our current notion of what music was, yet also take influence from Coomaraswamy's ideas and the concepts present in traditional art. For a guy who is quoted saying "I have nothing to say, and I am saying it," he sure was able to make a big commotion and force us to reassess how we looked at art in the world around us. I'm interested to see what others thought of Cage's art. Was he truly an artist, or more of a philosopher? Was he both?

Kosinski, Casablanca, and The Market

As suspected, I had some of the details of the Jerzy Kosinski Steps hoax wrong. The real story is far, far more interesting than my garbled version. More astonishingly, the same thing was done with Casablanca's script.

No Cliff's Notes version is needed here, as the articles linked are rather short, but I do have some comments, to give a counterpoint to the criticisms presented:

While I can understand why Steps might not have been universally accepted by the publishers, M.A.Orthofer is waaaay off base in his characterization. Steps is utterly unique and very uncomfortable to read, but it's also rather obviously brilliant. To say it "made no impression" is either irrelevant to the question at hand if he refers to its cultural/societal impression, or plainly insane if he refers to personal impression. If reading Steps doesn't affect you on some level, then you've probably seen one too many snuff films (too many being one). I can see some publishers rejecting it, particularly publishers less concerned with pure literary merit, but all of them, including the original publisher? Unacceptable.

Really, the implications are fascinating for any conception of art. To the modernist/post-modernist/not-traditionalist: So, what exactly are the standards, anyway? "Eye of the beholder" is at least a functionally coherent provisional answer, but the beholder would appear to be awfully unconcerned with the art itself in its judgement of art these days, wouldn't you say? One might call it erroneous to mix art and economics, but the latter can be understood on a more general, pertinent level as well; what is the market but one more indicator of human preference, and thus human nature?

To the traditionalist: Is this symptomatic of a fallen, egotistical society, or is human nature merely a poor channel for "divine influences" regardless? What of these gatekeepers you would have regulate the standards for art? Has human nature itself really changed so much, or is it that, apart from the existence of the metaphysical truths art strives towards, those truths are functionally elusive, even inaccessible? Perhaps the publishers were correct, human nature overcame society's collective delusion, and it is the work of Kosinski and Hollywood which are decadent. (If not, then perhaps the metaphysical truths of Steps owe more to the Hellish than the Divine. Seriously though, read that book. It'll take a few hours tops.)

Lotta content here, and answers have scarcely yet been ventured, let alone explored. Have at it.

Picasso: Confusion Then Confidence!

Today's continuing video of Picasso was somewhat strange to me.  When he was being taped actually creating Pan, it at first, resembled something a child had created in Kindergarten.  I had to chuckle to myself and think, is he kidding us?  Based on the narrator, I got the distinct feeling that part of what made Picasso a genius was the fact that he probably didn't know what would be created until he felt satisfied with the outcome.  I personally like to know what I'm going to draw before I put it on canvas or paper, but it appears that Picasso had a 'devil may care' outlook when he put his brush to canvas.  I say 'confusion then confidence' because that's exactly what it looked like when he began with a fish that turned into a chicken and then something completely different.

Scharfstein's text discusses the old term for genius as a 'guiding spirit' in which William Duff stated that "A man of Genius is really a kind of different being from the rest of his species."  Even though I tend to agree with that statement I was sitting here thinking about some other artists that reminded me of Picasso, and not necessarily painters.  One such artist that popped into my mind is Prince, or as we all remember, the artist formally known as Prince (yes, some of you may disagree but I digress).  I'm sure that Professor Langguth will remember when this artist changed his name to a symbol, which of course, most thought absolutely preposterous. And he, not only got away with it, was embraced as one of the greatest artists known in which his music is still popular in certain circles (mostly the 80's generation).  His quest for 'standing out' among the rest, because of his originality, is why he is most remembered.

Such is the case with Picasso because, in my opinion, he tested the boundaries too with regards to some shock factor.  Not to mention his noted insufferable character!  I will probably never be famous for the art that I create considering it is for my own selfish pleasures.  However, maybe if I change my name to a symbol and go out in public wearing jeans with my ass cheeks showing through then I will be remembered.


While watching the Picasso documentary today, there was one painting that he did (the one that looked like a chicken, then a face, and finally like Pan) that fascinated me. I always assumed that when an artist began a work, that he had an idea of what the finished product would be and was constantly moving towards that idea until they decided it was as close to their original idea as they could physically make it.  However, we watched as, within a matter of minutes, Picasso changed his mind and then his work until the finished product was completely opposite of what the viewer expected.  This amazes me, that so many possibilities can arise from a few amoeba-like circles.

Monday, October 7, 2013


We viewed the video on Picasso and watched him create a few art pieces on camera.

When I was younger, I used to think of Picasso's work as being scribbles - if a child could recreate it, then it was definitely not art.  (Did anyone else feel the same?)
Yet, at that time, I didn't know about Picasso's work as an artist prior to his cubist artworks.

The Old Guitarist

The Kiss
How can two disparate artworks come from one person?  Comments?  Ideas?

Sniffing Out Art

Scharfstein makes another point in chapter two. On page 85, he regards the inhabitants of Malaysia, and their view of smells. In their culture, everyting is classified by a smell, pleasant or disgusting. The moon is said to smell like flowers, and the sun is said to smell like raw meat.

This is interersting, considering we still categorize things as pleasant or unpleasant by our sense of smell. Also, we categorize just about everyting using every one of our senses. If a certain thing pleases our sight, smell, touch, and hearing, or atleast one of these, then it is considered pleasant.

The problem is that in the ancient cultures these things were universally accepted or disposed of. Everyone agreed by a whole. Nowadays, universality is becoming more and more prominent, because everyone is entitled to their own opinion. So beauty has become highly subjective. 

But the thing to keep in mind is that art evolves with society. When the people of Maylasia compared the sun to raw meat, they were agreeing with what their culture told them to. Now that we live in a diverse culture, art has evolved and branched off into many different things. Thus leaving the question, "What is Art?"


Related to Scharfstein's text in chapter 1, he makes a point that stuck out to me. On page 50, hé explains that in the European culture, foot binding was a popular way to make women more beautiful, or visually pleasing. He goes on to explain that this was usaully done by women of upper-class, and sometimes by women of lower class. This stood out to me because I interpreted it as mans quest for beauty. And if man, or women, found this beauty, then they would be viewed as perfect.

Another interpretation could be this: if it was women of upper class that practiced this strange "mutilation," then maybe it is was because people who were thought of as "ideal" or wealthy, had a responsibility to look the part of upperclassman. Just as men would wear rare, expensive clothing, women were expected to look delicate and small.

This could be related to art in that people who have the luxury of finer things, must prove it in the way they display it. Just as artists must make their art visually pleasing, they must display it properly as well, so people can see without doubt what that art was meant to say.

Are names really that important?

      I found the part Scharfstein wrote about the ideal of the anonymous craftsman very interesting. As I read on, one artist really struck my interest. Shoji Hamanda refused to sign any of his works of pottery simply due to the fact that he thought names shouldn’t change the person’s perception of the piece. Personally, I agree very much so with this action. If you like the art, what does a name have anything to do with it? If the person buying the piece likes it enough, they should like it primarily because they really like the piece, not because of the name signed at the bottom. Besides, sometimes signatures and pieces of artwork can be forged. For example: when Professor Langguth talked about pieces of Rembrandt's that were forged and signed with his name. I feel as though a name doesn’t really need to be on a piece of artwork because if you want to like it, like it. If it is forged, it’s forged, but you still like the piece nonetheless. Do you agree or disagee?