No more planned posting, not for me, no sir…

I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks and, you know, I feel fine about that. Totally abandoned my ‘new post ever Sunday and Wednesday’ schedule and, you know, I feel fine about that as well. Because I realised that all the advice out there for aspiring bloggers had got it all wrong. Blogging isn’t about ‘building a subscriber base’ or ‘increasing your view count’, it isn’t about strategies for ‘increasing your visibility’. It’s about producing content with which you’re happy. It’s nice when somebody else reads it, and even nicer when they comment, but that isn’t the end goal. The advice seems to assume that the end goal of all bloggers is to make at least part of your living from blogging. One blogger has a thing called bloggingbreakthrough which she says will help you “find out what your audience wants, plan your content, create your brand, use social media effectively & lots more”, and that’s right there in block capitals. I tried her ideas a while back and it was interesting (as well as hard work) to see how it all fitted together and I can see how integrating blogging and social media can increase your traffic. But in the end I realised I loathed it. I hated it with a vengeance.

Because it wasn’t what I think blogging is about

Blogging is about the act of writing. It’s about having ideas and publishing them online. It’s not about who, if anybody, reads them. I don’t want to find out what people want and write it. I want to write what I want to write, in the best way I can, and if anybody finds it and reads it then great. I don’t want to follow up on my post by using my social media to publicise it, I don’t want to have timed Twitter posts to come out at whatever time my blog stats say I get the most visitors. I don’t want to have my posts planned ahead for the next couple of weeks. I’m not a brand, I don’t want to BE a brand; I’m a guy who writes stuff.

So Visupulse is still going to continue, still going to be my thoughts about visual stuff I’ve found exciting or interesting, and my ideas about art and design. But not to a timetable, just when I’ve got something to actually say, because the Internet doesn’t need more words for the sake of them

Art – or ‘art’?

Yeah, it’s cryptic title time, only this time not because I wanted a cryptic visitor-hooking title but because I actually couldn’t come up with something which said what this post was about any better than that did.

I found myself today looking at a website of art by somebody I sort of know, I knew she did art but had no idea what it was like – she’s called Bryony Aston and the site is here if you want to take a look. I think it’s good, in fact I think it’s really good: I’d have one of her paintings on the wall any time (this one if I could pick). So that got me thinking about all the amazing artists we’ve never heard of, which got me thinking about why some artists sell for millions at auction, which got me thinking about all the artists who don’t even exhibit. What is it about some art and some artists which suddenly makes them, if not famous, then at least well known. When does somebody’s art become Art?

Now there is a part of me which has always thought that art really shouldn’t ever be monetarily worth more than the materials and time involved in its creation. Let artists be fairly recompensed for their creativity and effort, and gallery owners for their work in selling the art on, but they should be the ones who benefit, not somebody who really never even knew them years down the line, not people who buy art as an investment. Think how much more visually interesting the world would be if that were the case, nobody would buy pictures as investments and stick them in vaults where people can’t see them, public galleries would be able to build their collections easily without having panic funding drives to keep something in the country. What’s more with low values on the stuff it might be easier to borrow and exchange works (dunno about that though). People who owned art wouldn’t be forced to sell it off to cover taxes, and folks could take their pictures along to the antiques roadshow without the risk of finding it’s so bloody valuable the they can’t really have it on the wall of the living room any more due to the risk of theft. So yeah, I’m opposed to investment art in general. I’m in favour of art because the more art you have the better civilisation you have, your world is a better place.

So what about all the unknown art? What about all the hundreds of thousands of creatives like Bryony out there? What about the art you and I have never heard about? Well, I reckon without Art there would be more respect for art – Joni Mitchell said ‘he knew they’d never been on their tv, so he passed his good music by’ and that’s the lot of a load of artists out there, they make stuff which immeasurably improves our world, but it doesn’t get shown. Frankly, if I had a choice of a reproduction Old Master and one of Bryony’s paintings I’d take hers any day, because a reproduction isn’t the painting, it lacks everything which makes the painting worth looking at. I’d rather have a picture by somebody unknown which I loved on the wall any day. Okay, I have a lot of prints of pictures, including one I’m not ever going to take down, but that’s going to be a future blog post (‘spoilers, sweetie’).

See, frankly, I’m not convinced that Art is actually any better than art. Certainly much of it is brilliant, though a lot isn’t I think that great – I’m not doing the old master v modernism thing here, it’s got nothing to do with the type of art, some is just better than others. I accept that ‘better’ is a personal opinion thing though. For example if Millias had not painted after Ophelia I’d have been happy, it would have saved us from mawkish dreck like Bubbles. We clearly can’t think it’s all good because it’s famous because if you watch anybody visiting a gallery they wander the rooms and stop at some paintings because those are the ones which engage them. You know what? I reckon if you took one of Bryony’s paintings and put it in an exhibition of art by well known abstract painters as many of the public would stop to look at it as they wander the rooms as those by famous painters in the same genre. Because deep down art lovers, real art lovers (it’s my blog, I can be as polemical as I like) look at and enjoy art which engages and captivates them. The Ecstasy of St Theresa doesn’t captivate because it’s by Bernini, it captivates because you swear that if you reached out and pushed on one of her feet it would swing.

The Cass Arts chain says “lets fill this town with artists” – they’re actually wrong to say that (though I totally applaud the sentiment), it already is full of artists, we just need to realise that everybody who paints, or draws or sculpts, or scrapes, or prints is an artist, even if they’re not Artists.

 

Victorian Fan Service

Last week I was in Bristol, and took a turn round the City Museum and Art Gallery, which I’ve not visited in years – very good it is too, in the foyer look up and marvel at the replica Bristol Box-kite (made for the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, at Vickers when my dad worked there).  But this post isn’t about early aircraft, though a future post might be if I can find a way to work it in.

No, this post is about Victorian paintings of somewhat less than totally clad women, of which the City Museum has a few. I was walking away from them when I found myself musing about the fact that really they’re an excuse to show women with less clothes than the respectable Victorian lady might wear under the guise of putting them in a classical setting. Then the phrase popped into my head…

“It’s just fan service really”

And once it was there, it stuck there.

For those not familiar with the term, ‘fan service’ is an expression to describe young ladies with no clothes in Anime and Manga, generally they take their clothes off for no apparent reason, or they’re somewhere clothes aren’t required. They go with the whole Anime/Manga territory. But really, apart from a century or so, there isn’t as much clear blue water between chaps like Alma Tadema and the illustrators of manga like Battle Vixens. At this point I’m going to say that you can go off and google for images if you want, both of them feature heavily on the Internet and by not posting images I can’t be held responsible for doing NSFW stuff. Just don’t google at work or college, that’s all I’m saying here…  You might well say that Alma Tadema is by far the superior artist, and I’d say if you’re talking about painting then yes he is – but Manga and Anime artists have to produce a whole load of graphic images in short order so the skill set is different. Though I admit it’s not likely that pages from High School of the Dead are going to be hanging on gallery walls in a few decades. But they’re art of their time, and they both in some way serve to provide images of unclothed ladies under the guise of a storyline which somehow requires that.

So, there you are, a brief ramble on based on an idea which made me giggle in the gallery.

It’s not about the camera

One of the great sayings about photography is that it’s not about the camera. Actually, sometimes it is, if you’re shooting for Vogue then using a £50 point and shoot probably isn’t going to hack it. In the broadest sense though it’s always true, if you watch the Cheap Camera Challenge on Digital Rev you get to see top pro-togs (their phrase) using the direst cameras and getting great results. If you haven’t watched this series then I’d really recommend it. The camera is the tool: the skill and experience of the snapper is what makes the difference.

Personally, I’ve realised how right this is.

After years of shooting film we got our first digital camera, a Fuji Finepix S5000, not top of the line by any means. Took adequate photos, though I never felt that happy with the results. I’ve taken photos for years but a few years ago I decided to take it seriously and, you know, practice and be more self critical. After a while I found myself in a position to upgrade to a DSLR and got an EOS 450d which is much better than my Fuji and which I’ve used a lot. Last week I was up in London and took the Fuji because it’s small and light, and if something happens it’s not a significant loss (though having seen the second had price of the 450d on EBay that’s not as big a concern). It’s got really slow autofocus, and low resolution by modern standards, and a really crap digital viewfinder. But when I was looking at my results I realised something.

I’d taken better photos on my old Fuji than I was taking on my EOS when I first got it

Clearly I’d improved as a photographer far more than I realised I had – as a result of my own “cheap camera challenge” I’d proved it really isn’t about the camera.

Andrew Wyeth – marmite artist

What is it about Wyeth?

Up till a few weeks ago the only Andrew Wyeth painting I knew was (yes you’ve guessed it) Christina’ World. This wasn’t down to intentional avoidance tactics, just that somehow I’d managed to miss the rest. So while working out what I was going to say in this post I’ve been spending some time exploring his work. There’s a lot of it. I think it’s really good. I’m not planning on talking so much about him and his life because loads of people have already done it really well (links at the end); I want to talk about his marmite effect. See I’ve found that he’s somewhat contentious, people love him or loathe him. Not all people of course, that’s a rhetorical effect again. I like those. As in my previous post.

He seems to be the depleted uranium round in the war with modernism. The laser-guided munition fired against all the drippers and splodgers. The American Artist (in fact the ‘premier American Artist’ of which more later) who painted real people doing real things in a proper painterly manner with real skill, unlike all that stuff 5 year olds could do. It’s all bollocks of course, apart from the real skill part, he was all that. He picked on a difficult medium, egg tempera, which requires a lot of skill to master and which gives his work it’s texture. Spent a lot of work out in the field sketching and was a bloody good draftsman.

But a painter of real life, no way. Wyeth no more paints real American life any more than Ansel Adams photographed the real American landscape or constable painted 19th century rural England. The cheerful rustic dream of the Hay Wain isn’t the real one of poverty, under-employement and the poor laws. Take the painting we all know – now it’s easy to read this as young girl, in a field on her nice family farm. Touseled hair, sprawled on the ground, dreaming of her future. Easy reading isn’t it? I read it like that and so did at least one other person I ran it past. But it’s not: it’s a 55 year old woman crippled with polio looking at the house where she eaked out a poverty stricken existence…and it’s not even her, other people posed for parts of her because Wyeth wasn’t happy about asking her to pose too much. He’s not guilty of pulling of any deceptions here, he painted what he wanted to paint in the way he wanted to paint it. He’s not staking any claims to be a particular type of artist or to be opposed to anything.

1948, the year of Christina’s World has Pollock getting really into the dripping and De Kooning abstracting for all he’s worth. The year after would see Life ask of Pollock “is this the greatest living American painter?”. As time goes on Wyeth is either loved or vilified, depending on what side of the abstraction fence you were on (or indeed perhaps still are). He’s either about real art or a reactionary has been depending on how blinkered your viewpoint was. I think, and it’s a personal view though not an original one, that the reason Wyeth is so much a poster child for ‘real art’ is about what he isn’t.

*“In today’s scrambled-egg school of art, Wyeth stands out as a wild-eyed radical,” one journalist wrote in 1963, speaking for the masses. “For the people he paints wear their noses in the usual place, and the weathered barns and bare-limbed trees in his starkly simple landscapes are more real than reality.” *

So there you are; he’s the painter of the person on the Maine omnibus, the one it’s safe to like, the one you don’t have to think any of those wild modernist ideas to like. It’s very easy to remember the 60s (if you can) as the summer of love, woodstock and all that sort of thing, but most of it wasn’t like that. In 63, black people were still using separate drinking fountains in much of the south, the pill wasn’t easy to get (and it’s way before Roe v Wade), fuel was cheap, the US hasn’t yet realised where it’s involvement in Vietnam was going and the Hayes Code still pretty much governed cinema. I reckon it’s the America the republicans wished they still had. Talk to many conservatives in the US today and they view Europe as a place from which all the dangerous and left wing ideas flow…and modernism was just so very European. Who is the journalist in the above quote talking about who paint people without their noses in the right place? Sounds very pre-war too me, not really very 60s art at all, not Pop Art or anything. I’ve just read an article which takes the position that one of the candidates in the current American election isn’t fit because he’s a socialist and that all the countries in Europe do that and are somehow ‘bad’ because they state control a lot of things.

In 65 Time called him America’s Pre-Eminent Artist (in an interview in which he, interestingly, called himself an abstractionist and said he detested the sweetness in muc realistic paiting) – now that’s a heck of a big accolade for anybody and one which Time doesn’t justify in the article. It throws it in right at the begining, twice, and then moves on. I’d say it’s an empty bit of rhetoric for any artist at any time and in any place and is more interesting for what it says about Time than about what it says about Wyeth. The article is free to look at on the Time archive and is worth reading for anybody interested in Wyeth and drawing their own conclusions

Personally, I think he’s generally very ‘modern’, he may be right in calling himself an abstrationist but not in the sense of the abstract expressionists, cubists, futurists, vortacists or whatever. His work is not chocolate box stuff, apart from Christina’s World until you lean what the image is about at any rate. So I’m not going to join in the line drawing and name calling: he’s an artist, he’s a good one too. Job done in my book.

Some other interesting articles

Andrew Wyeth dot Com

Smithsonian Mag

His obituary

Looking Out, Looking In

 

Why I Hate Poundbury

Okay, so I don’t actually hate Poundbury.

The title is there for rhetorical effect I’m afraid, so if you were hoping for an amusing anti-Poundbury rant you’re in the wrong blog. I’m sure it’s a great place to live, convenient for both central Dorchester and easy to get to other places, lots of trees, always seems clean and vandal free, designed to encourage walking and cycling rather than driving. Apparently there are rules about what colour you can paint your front door, but for Poundbury-ens that’s probably a small inconvenience though from what I read on the Internet the gravel paths are. My grievence with Poundbury isn’t it’s existence, or even how the individual buildings look, it’s the fact that the whole place is built so completely to match HRH’s Vision of Britain that it fails to look like a real English village. It lacks the modernism he so fervently detests, but it goes so far the other way that it even has false windows the sort which used to be found in the days before the window tax. It’s a film set, it’s a pastiche. You ever watch cult TV show The Prisoner? That’s sort of how it feels to me when I drive through it.

Housing the population has a long history as an issue, especially when you need to deal with an influx of people into an area and has frequently been approached by the building of estates, or sometimes entire towns. Swindon has The Railway Village , built to house workers in the GWR works. It’s very victorian and quite a tourist attraction. Then after the first war you get Garden Cities like Letchworth and Welwyn, then post WW2 we got the New Towns like Harlow housing the bombed out from the cities. It’s not a UK only thing, mass housing projects are a feature of the Europe and the US too. Anywhere you need to house your workforce, or just an increasing population, people have commissioned and built places like this. So I’m not knocking the concept of Poundbury one bit. Where I think it went wrong is that it’s not, I think, really about housing an increasing population or a mobile workforce, but about somehow proving that you can build mass housing in some kind of traditional manner.

It is according to The Guardian about being a ‘vibrant place to work as well as live – like a traditional English town centre’. But English town centres do not spring fully formed from the head of a member of the royal family, they develop over hundreds of years as buildings are put up, torn down, fall down or burn down, get rebuilt, altered, knocked together, divided up, change use, etc. This is how real town centres develop, over time and as their use changes. Look at any real English town centre and you’ll see a huge difference in building ages and styles, you’ll see old fashioned shop fronts, brand new ones made to look old, and ultra-modern ones scarfed onto the front of old ones. You’ll see a riot of colours and design. You’ll see everything you don’t see in Poundbury.

It’s fashionable, among many people, not just among some members of the Royal Family, to decry modern architecture as though there is something intrinsically (or even somehow, morally) wrong with it, as though the failings of the brutalist estates are inherent in the very concept of them. They did fail in many ways, but that had as much to do with poor mainteance and management by the authorities as the design. To say that the dark alleys between the blocks made people feel unsafe is ridiculous as a criticism of the estates when traditional English town centres have loads of alleys and paths in them; is a 20th century concrete alley somehow more dangerous than an 18th century dirt one? But we’ve learned a lot about managing and designing estates over the past few decades, so why isn’t Poundbury an ultra modern place, incorporating the latest materials in exiting modern designs managed in the light of all the mistakes made in post war projects?

It seems to me that the desire to produce new housing has become mixed up with the Prince’s desire to create his vision of what a traditional English town should be like. So Dorchester wound up not with a new community which has grown organically and is full of buildings which learned, as Stuart Brand put it, nor full of buildings which say clearly when they were built and which fit in with 21st century design and technology, but with a rather boring pastiche which, because of the controls on what can happen there, will always remain more one man’s dream than a real place.

Pop Art: Child of it’s time

I have to say, I’ve never been sure about Pop Art; never been sure if my response to it is positive, negative or just plain indifferent. It’s a bit like any movement really, can any of us really say that they like x-ism or dislike y-ism in their entirety? No of course we can’t, all it really comes down to is saying how we feel generally.

Well generally, I’m pretty indifferent to Pop Art.

Some of it I respond to positively. It may be hackneyed but I’ve always like Whaam! – child of the 60s that I am…but then again I’m a bit ‘so what’ about the cover for Sgt Pepper (okay, I said it, sue me). Wasn’t sure about Andy Warhol until I saw an exhibition about his work at MOMA Oxford last year and felt more positively disposed. So when I got an opportunity to get to one of the last days of The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern I decided to give it a go; I thought an exhibition on Pop Art which wasn’t American would be interesting and maybe give me some new insights. I paid my entrance fee (discounted with my Art Pass, first time I got to use it) and ‘did’ the show…and ultimately found my opinion on Pop Art unchanged, I’m still not sold on it. There were a couple of, for me, stand out pieces which made going worth while. Cornel Brudascu’s Youth on the Building Yard,  the timber and fabric newsprint of Joe Tilson, and Komar and Melamid‘s reworking of post-holocaust canonical American pop art impressed me a lot and made me want to look at more of their work.

But what I really found myself thinking was that it was all very 60s counter-culture, it’s a child of its time. Pop Art is, inseparable from the summer of love, Vietnam and throwing rocks at coppers. I don’t think it’s just the fact that for those of us who are children of the 60s the visual effect is just so there, it’s that the whole central idea of Pop Art means that it’s totally rooted in that period. Pop Art is about taking imagery from commercial art, graphic design and popular culture and making art with it…which means that it shrieks it’s time of creation. Adverts and popular culture have limited shelf-lives and the imagery is transient, very few things are timeless. The Tilson news paper pages (like this one) have to be from the 60s, not only because the photos say that but because the look of the page isn’t like newspaper pages today. The colour choices are those of 60’s commercial products. The idea of Pop Art too is of course only noteworthy for the 60s because it was new, nobody now would bat an eyelid about an artist incorporating commercial or news imagery in their work, it’s accepted, it’s what many artists do.

And that, I think, in a burst of introspection, is why I’m largely indifferent to Pop Art – because it’s embedded in the world which created it. I remember my sister (who was 16 years older) having loads of weird friends, and being into the Maharishi and TM, and I wonder to this day how much pot I may have passively smoked hanging around with them. I remember seeing the Grosvenor Square riots on tv and the news being full of Vietnam and Watergate. These are part of my memories of being 8 or 9. When I look at Pop Art I can see this time, but I can’t see anything relevant to any feeling beyond that time. Nothing which says that what I’m looking at says anything about what it is to be human, or which is bigger than me.

Nothing which moves me for good or ill beyond a sense of nostalgia.

 

Exhibition review on ArtsDesk