Monday, August 31, 2009

Best Illustration Art Sites of 2009

1. BLU


2. Zach Johnsen


3. Merijn Hos

4. Lapin

5. Silke Werzinger

6. Ronald Kurniawan

7. Kukula

8. Audrey Kawasaki

9. Yuko Shimizu

10. Mattias Adolfsson

11. Paul Heaston

12. Jesus Galiana

13. Tomer Hanuka

14.Matei Apostolescu

Do you know of any outstanding illustration art sites? Add them in the comments . . . .
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

How does pot affect your mind exactly?


Jamie Nadalin, a reader of the Blog of Innocence, recently posted this comment:

"During the day, I'm ceaselessly striving. I'm striving for a picture in my mind. Every morning I wake up and try to attain this ideal.

You can imagine I'm regularly disappointed. But I brush off the disappointment--I've learned to."


Your blog is a pleasure to visit, I'm very glad to have stumbled upon it. I identify with the above quote very strongly. Not only am I regularly disappointed but also disheartened by not achieving that mysterious goal. Most often I do brush it off, but sometimes I can't help but feel like I've failed. What's worse is the goal or picture in mind is so vague, I can't rightly decide how it is I should improve myself or my approach.

I also want to ask you why you stopped smoking pot? You say your mind is important to you, how does pot affect your mind exactly? you see, I smoke on a regular basis, mostly because I think it's the only way to feel any real motivation, there are other reasons of course but that's the main one. Sometimes I want to quit though, I'm afraid it will turn me into some kind of a blob, a slug. Is that what you felt as well?

My response:


So you too have had this experience . . .

From time to time, I feel as though I've failed in achieving my mysterious goal. Especially when I consider my accomplishments from the point of view of my father; in other words, how he sees me.

My whole life I've been striving for my father's validation. On the one hand, I've done what I've wanted to do in life. I followed my dreams, my desires, my instincts. But on the other, I look back over my shoulder, always thinking of him, and anticipating his reaction.

I never feel recognized in my achievements by my father. Perhaps if I was leading a more conventional life, with a high-paying career, a family and such, he would recognize my success. As of now, I have done little to impress him. The last time I impressed my father was when I graduated from college.

It's a petty thing to need my father's approval, but this sort of thing dominates many people's lives. For some it's the mother's approval. For me, it's my father. I'm living the life my mother would have wanted for me. I run an arts and culture publication. I'm creative; a writer. My life is in accord with her dreams as an artist.

So, when you say "failure", I think of myself through my father's eyes. Of course, he would not say that I am a failure. Perhaps it's the reassurance that I'm not a failure which I need from him. I know I'm not. But certain things that are important to him--my ability to support myself, financial independence, etc.--demonstrate that I have fallen short in his eyes.

Sure, he's pleased with my literary and creative accomplishments, but they mean very little to him without a paycheck.

I love what you say here:
What's worse is the goal or picture in mind is so vague, I can't rightly decide how it is I should improve myself or my approach.
The mysterious goal we set for ourselves is meant to be vague. This is so that we can never actually attain it! So that we must continue striving, and achieving all sorts of things, but never anything that truly satisfies us.

The logic goes that if we were satisfied, then we would stop living. There would be no reason to continue doing anything in life.

We make the goal of our lives, our "destiny" per say--elusive. It must remain elusive for us, or we won't have a desire to keep going.

If your goal is to retire and move to Puerto Rico, like one of my uncles, then you attain it eventually and you move to Puerto Rico. This is not a mysterious goal. This is a concrete goal. And when you are there, you may do like my uncle did. He bought a house that overlooks the ocean and he sits on his roof and admires the view, or he drinks whiskey and watches the stock market ticker.

He has no elusive goal before him. He is done with life. Ask him, and he'll say there is nothing more.

You say, "I can't rightly decide how it is I should improve myself or my approach."

If you have a desire to live, you will improve yourself. We live in a culture of self-improvement and half the time this seems like the disease and not the cure. You are always improving your approach toward achieving your mysterious goal in that you are re-defining your goal and goals constantly.

As long as you are actively re-imagining your goals in life, you are coming closer to what you really want to do.

You ask me why I stopped smoking pot. This is a big question. First of all, I'm a recovering drug addict and I shouldn't have been smoking pot in the first place. I had what you call a relapse.

So when I was smoking pot recently, I was not leisurely smoking it. I was compulsively smoking it. I went out and bought a $150 glass bong. I took bong hits nightly.

And I didn't really enjoy the experience. You can read my essay "How many of us are self-medicating" to get an idea of the situation.

Yes, the mind is important to me. What I mean by this is I depend on my mind. I depend on my mind as a creative person, as a writer and intellectual.

I've done the experiment. Meaning, I've tested it out whether I'm more or less creative, more or less effective, while stoned.

Usually, while high, I have lots of interesting thoughts in my head. And I tend to end up on Twitter. Smitten by my own thoughts, I want to share them. I'll tweet something profound and wait for people to respond.

When I write high, however, only 1 in every 10 times does something articulate and meaningful get manifested. A lot of time it is just manic thought patterns and I don't have the wherewithal to compose a single coherent article, essay, or poem.

But I'm not going to lie, sometimes I tap into a profound stream of thoughts and I'm able to get them down on paper. For example, the Preface to the Blog of Innocence was written while I was stoned.

Every individual is different. You say you're more motivated while high. For me, I'm not more motivated, I'm more manic. And just because I'm manic, having racing thoughts, doesn't necessarily translate into motivation to produce a solid result.

I didn't worry that smoking would turn me into a lazy, unmotivated slob. My personality is Type A, so there's little fear of that. I do too much in life, which is why I gravitate toward drugs. I seem to need them to help me relax, to unwind, and to stop working.

So when I was smoking pot on a regular basis I would get all of my work done first. Pot was my reward at the end of the day.

But this didn't work out for me because I would stay up all night when I smoked. Smoking interfered with my cycle. I wouldn't wake up until the afternoon. And during the day, I noticed a bit of cloudiness.

I wasn't lazy. I didn't stop working. I just began to feel as though my brain wasn't at its peak performance. That's all.

And my brain is important to me. In fact, my life depends on the performance of my brain. I'm a writer, a thinker and an intellectual. I want my mind in the best possible condition for writing these essays, and running my website and business Escape into Life.
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Best Art and Design Blogs of 2009



1. Boooooom! My favorite art blog. Features photography, illustration, film, design, fine art. What makes this blog so good is Jeff Hamada's exquisite taste. He always finds the best art on the Web.



2. But Does it Float Easily one of the best visual blogs on the Web. Combines design and art, illustration and typography. Dubbed a visual conversation between two curators, Folkert and Atley. You can get lost in this blog for hours.



3. Design is Kinky Design blog from Australia that dates back to 1998. Incredible sense of style. Features photography, fine art, illustration, and design.



4. A Journey Round My Skull JRMS is a treasure trove of vintage illustration. "Unhealthy book fetishism from a reader, collector, and amateur historian of forgotten literature." Recent obsessions: illustration and graphic design.



5. CGUnit Dubbed "Daily Drugs for Artsy People," CGUnit definitely has an edge. You'll see at a lot of nude photography, but the work is top notch. Also some excellent fine art and illustration.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Marsilio Ficino's "Book of Life"


Marsilio Ficino's Book of Life arrived today.

The Book of Life was a surprise . . .

I'm exchanging journals with Kate from Wyoming. You remember the Moleskine Project I talked about in "The Unknown Aspect of Human Creativity" . . .

She included a translation of the underground classic from 1480.

I thought of Lin Yutang and The Importance of Living . . . . a book that is very important to me.

Ficino talks about the Muses, Mercury, Apollo, and Venus as if they were real people. The language is infused with metaphors the author seems to take literally.

The Book of Life is a book of advice, of counsel, on healthy living. Ficino sees himself as a physician of the soul. He writes, "I have done the healing medicine of souls for a long time now . . ."

Here is a curious passage:
How diligently one must take care of the brain, the heart, the stomach, and the spirit

Runners take care of their legs, athletes take care of their arms, musicians take care of their voices. Those who study and write ought to be at least that much concerned about their brains, and their hearts, their livers and their stomachs. They should even be more concerned, since these parts are more important, and more often used. A skilled craftsman takes great care of his instruments, a soldier his horse and weapons, a hunter his dogs and birds, a lyre-player his lyre, and so on.
Only the priests of the Muses, only the greatest hunters of good and truth, are so negligent and so unfortunate that they seem to neglect totally that instrument with which they are able to measure and comprehend the universe. The instrument is the spirit itself, which doctors define as some vapor of the blood, pure, subtle, warm, and clear. From the warmth of the heart, where it is produced from thinner blood, it flows to the brain, and there the spirit works hard for the functioning of the interior, rather than the exterior, senses. That is why the blood serves the spirit, the spirit serves the senses, and the senses, finally, serve reason.
On the surface, many of these claims sound absurd. Nobody living in the 21st century would agree with a sentence that begins with, "Only the priests of the Muses". And yet, this writing somehow still evokes the truth.

Complete falsehoods interwoven with truths.

The mind is important to me. I just realized this two weeks ago when I immediately stopped smoking pot.

Earlier this evening I was sitting in Border's, where I go every evening to read. As I said, the mind is important to me. Without it, I couldn't read the New York Times, which gives me so much pleasure. And I couldn't write these essays for the Blog of Innocence, which challenge me.

It would be harder every night to write a chapter of my novel. But instead I settle for a task which is hard but not too hard. My mind is able to concentrate better when I'm not frustrated by the task.

I think when I die my ghost will stay here on earth, mainly to roam through Border's and wait for the cafe girls to fill up my coffee. The cafe girls will probably end up ignoring my ghost because they won't know it's me . . .

While I was reading Kate's journal in Border's, I had a palpable sense of her, like she was there beside me.

At the end of the first entry in the journal, I began to draw in the remaining space left on the page.

I drew for about an hour, completely engrossed in squiggly lines.

Doodling has a certain effect on me. I disappear into my doodles. I stop thinking. There is nothing . . .

During the day, I'm ceaselessly striving. I'm striving for a picture in my mind. Every morning I wake up and try to attain this ideal.

You can imagine I'm regularly disappointed. But I brush off the disappointment--I've learned to.

A number of days go by when I'm possessed by a flurry of intoxication over my perceived accomplishments. I feel as though I am really getting there, I'm nearing that perfect thing I want so bad.

It's a dream, a rush, a hallucination. I feel the pulse of achieving whatever it was in my head, whatever seemed so beautiful I had to chase after it.

There are moments when I am thrilled to be me. There are moments when I am giddy over nothing. Because everything feels so right.
The instrument is the spirit itself, which doctors define as some vapor of the blood, pure, subtle, warm, and clear. From the warmth of the heart, where it is produced from thinner blood, it flows to the brain, and there the spirit works hard for the functioning of the interior, rather than the exterior, senses. That is why the blood serves the spirit, the spirit serves the senses, and the senses, finally, serve reason.
I don't even know what it means to be spiritual anymore. I used to meditate. But then I changed my habits, I acquired bad ones again, such as smoking and drinking.

Every day I am caught up in the picture in my mind. There is a larger picture, a landscape, like the city of Oz. But there are pieces too, fragments of the dream, and I try to grab these. I try to snatch them out of the air . . .

Melancholy . . .
Melancholy, that is, black bile, is something double: some of it is called natural by doctors, but another part touches on burning. This natural type is nothing other than a part of the blood getting thicker and dryer. The burning type is divided, however, into four kinds: for it is produced by combustion of either natural melancholy, pure blood, bile, or phlegm.
Nonsense, isn't it? Or maybe, the most sense. It kind of sounds like when a psychiatrist explains a mental disorder by calling it a chemical imbalance in the brain.

What doctor can explain sadness or joy? We are a living cocktail of emotion all hours of the day.

Maybe the only doctor who can explain us is Ficino and his Book of Life . . .

I wouldn't take every word literally. Unless you know that words are metaphors to begin with; that nothing can be taken literally. We say, "dog". But what is a dog?

Those are my thoughts tonight. They are jumbled, irrelevant. I'm making a post on the Blog of Innocence every day. This is part of the picture in my mind.

Image Credits:

http://www.mgscarsbrook.com/profile

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Response to Readers of the Marden Article

I tried to publish a response to the comments, but Blogger said it was too long. Here is my response:

Thank you for making this discussion possible!

@Kate: You know I never thought of the graffiti comparison . . . and I do identify with graffiti art; in fact, I'm reading a book on it right now. But Marden's work does not remind me of street sketches or graffiti art.

To me, creative graffiti has more heat, more intensity, more attitude and character.

I'm glad you told me how you receive the work--as "loopy and strangely restful". Excellent description.

And certainly I can acknowledge this experience. Thank you for opening up my mind.

@Anita: Thank you for sharing this. Formlessness indeed can be beautiful. As in water.

@Joey: Your response was pitch-perfect to my ears. Thank you. I agree.

You know, I'm not an art student. I never was. I studied literature and literary criticism. Literary critics do the exact same thing.

Coming from a younger generation, I would like to see a language, and a particular manner of discussing art, literature, and culture, that is not limited to a select few. I do not like the idea that only certain people can hold the meaning of an object in culture.

I understand the difference between critical judgment and non-critical judgment. I believe intelligence and the ability to articulate one's thoughts and feelings is all that is necessary to distinguish the two. To make a critical judgment, to discuss a cultural topic, one should not have to rely on the guarded terminology, references, and phrases of elite or specialized discourses. We all have our frames of reference, we all have our contexts of understanding art, literature, and culture. Why is one context privileged over another?

But I think democratic language is possible, at least within a given culture. Why should we let language be further fragmented into tiny sub discourses, and sub sub discourses. After a certain point, only two people can understand each other, and then not even that!

Art critics, literary critics, historians, scholars, are cocooned within their own vocabularies; I would like to democratize language. So everyone can talk about art, culture, and literature.

@Peter: My pleasure . . .

@Villa: I thank you for this story. I would not like to admit it but the more I looked at Marden, the more I opened up to the possibility of feeling slightly differently toward these works. But I do not want to exaggerate this; it was no great shift from my initial impression. I simply became more sympathetic to the works.

You describe something that happens a lot in life. Such as when you first meet someone who you can't stand; the next thing you know they're your best friend.

I'm open to a change of heart on anything. This happens in life, and to refuse to acknowledge change, is to be a fundamentalist. We change our ideas, our views, and our feelings constantly change. I embrace contradiction as Whitman once said.

@Jamie: Like with Editorial Joe, your response was pitch-perfect to my ears. Maybe it's a generational thing. I don't know. But I hear you!

@Mark: You're an outstanding writer. You understand art on many levels. But I'm going to have to disagree with you about the question of difficulty.

Yes, ballet is difficult, writing novels is difficult. I'm not arguing about whether what Marden does is difficult or not. Having watched the Charlie Rose interview, I'm aware of the complicated process behind Marden's paintings.

But that's like saying because a novel is a thousand pages long, and caused the author great strain to produce, then the novel itself is great.

Some of the book reviews I read in the New York Times fall into this trap. . . A critic will imply in one way or another the plot was weak or the characters were undeveloped, but because the work is "ambitious", the novel should be considered worthy of our attention.

My primary question is do Marden's works justify his fame, the MoMA exhibit, the world tour, and so on?

Could we be putting the spotlight on better artists and better art?

And if I stood in front of a Marden, would I change my heart and mind? I doubt it, I really doubt that the real thing before me would change my heart on his work. But I'm willing to yield to this argument.

I looked at scores of his works last night. I asked my heart, "Do you feel this?"

My heart said, "No, I do not feel that."

One more thing Mark, I love Pollock. I've seen the movie. I've read about Pollock and I've seen his work.

Pollock's work moves me. I am in awe of it. Marden, on the other hand, is a faint echo of Pollock, not even that. As someone remarked on Twitter, a parody of Pollock.

Anything can be done well or poorly, effectively or ineffectively. Anything can be interesting or not interesting.

Abstract expressionism or photo realism or country music. The school does not dictate the quality and (yes, here's that word again) the originality, or the challenging, daring aspects of the artwork.

But you cannot compare Pollock to Marden! I will not let you make that comparison. Two totally separate levels of creativity and mind.

Marden, in my view, does not have a unique voice.

As Jamie said, "I'm astounded that this man has spent so many years doing such unimpressive work."

@Kayin: Art critics have little power in the art world. I'm reading a book right now called, "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark"; and the power is in the hands of major museums like the MoMA, branded dealers, and branded auction houses.

When the MoMA decided to put Marden in the museum it wasn't as transparent as that. His art sales will be affected by this--there is a lot of marketing and stone cold business behind art museums, exhibitions, dealers, and collectors.

What this means is we stand to lose great art in place of branded art, art by institutional decree, art that is not really good but serves as coin in the art market.

It's complicated and ugly.

@Chip: I have nothing against Abstract Expressionism. If art makes me feel, then it doesn't matter what school or tradition it's from. Rothko, like my comments about Pollock, is in another league. Rothko and Pollock came up with the stuff that Marden only seems to be creating poor, distant imitations of.

And originality, while I agree is a difficult argument to make, is still an element that must be reckoned with. All works have sources. All works derive from something that came before; but not all works are derivative.

Thank you so much guys for sharing with me your thoughts. My intentions are not to dominate the conversation with my views. I write these articles to engage others, to find out what other people think, and then through a conversation I like to come to a place where we can share our ideas.

Lethe
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Meaning of Brice Marden

Brice Marden: Study for Muses, Hydra, 1997

I envision a moment--perhaps two hundred years from now--
when people, not institutions, get to decide what hangs on museum walls.

Brice Marden was floating around the Internet earlier today. I found a New Yorker article on Reddit Art, which I tweeted. And then a friend, in response, sent me the Charlie Rose interview with Brice Marden.

Who is Brice Marden?

He is an abstract expressionist painter who gained worldwide attention in 2006 because of the Brice Marden Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (New York).

The show traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in early 2007, and then to Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart . . .

The MoMA called the exhibition "an unprecedented gathering of [Marden's] work, with more than fifty paintings and an equal number of drawings, organized chronologically, drawn from all phases of the artist's career." (Wikipedia)

Brice Marden: Bear Print, 1997-98/2000

Sometimes I use Twitter to get a sampling of public opinion on a prominent artist or intellectual figure. Last week it was the Lacanian-Marxist political philosopher, Slavoj Žižek. This week it is Brice Marden.

I'm interested in what people think. I tweeted the New Yorker article to see what people think of Marden's work, and the merits of the article itself.

We already know what the Museum of Modern Art thinks of Brice Marden.

If for some reason the show does not make that clear to us, we can always read the 330 page hardcover book (published by the Museum of Modern Art) about Marden's importance to the art world, "Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective."

At the time of this publication and retrospective, Charlie Rose also thought Brice Marden was important. So he interviewed him.

And surely, forty years of painting must mean something!

A detail from "The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, Third Version," 2000-2006

So what did people say on Twitter when I asked if they liked Brice Marden's paintings?

@TDeregowski
love it, saw a big show at the whitechapel.

@LT78 brice bardon = snooze. sorry. (This comment was erased, probably b/c the author realized she spelled his name wrong)

@twicklicious Brice Marden, excellent marketeer, not so much "artist" though.. (personal opinion)

@ownnothing I've never liked Brice Marden's work. Flat, lifeless, doodles, color studies. Are these paintings for the ages?

Now let's look at what the New Yorker had to say in 2006:
Marden’s current retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art confirms him, at the age of sixty-eight, as the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades.

The surface eludes them. Sombre color seems at once to engulf you, with a sort of oceanic tenderness, and infinitely to recede. This effect distills that of the furry-edged, drifting masses of ineffable color with which Rothko aimed, he said, to evoke a mood of “the single human figure, alone in a moment of utter immobility.”


His grays and grayed greens and blues recall the ungraspable nuances of Velázquez and, at times, the simmering ardors of Caspar David Friedrich. (Am I dropping too many names? There’s no helping it. Marden, an artist bred in museums, communes rather directly with all past painters whose temperaments correspond to his own.)

Regardless of the merit of these aesthetic judgments, never has a writer been so accurately self-conscious of his own journalism.

The Peter Schjeldahl article in the New Yorker drips with what the anonymous commenter (from my recent essay Art, Taste, Money) detested as art-speak, intellectual art babble, hyperbole, and so on . . .

We can almost picture the anonymous commenter, after reading the New Yorker, lifting up Peter Schjeldal by his shirt collar and shouting, "Just tell me what you think of the goddamn painting!"

The interview with Charlie Rose is also revealing.

Marden: There is a real responsibility of being an artist. I mean you’re not just doing this stuff to make pretty things for people to hang on their wall.

You know, there is some meaning to it. You are living in the culture and you are reflecting on the culture.

I mean they’re going to know more about this stuff in three hundred—I mean, this stuff is made to last . . . You look at Venetian painting and you have some idea about what’s going on—you don’t have to read about all the battles--

CR: Art is the permanence of a civilization.

Marden: Yeah, well, it’s a reflection of a culture.

Brice Marden: Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), 1989-91

Terence Clarke, a blog critic, finds the trumpeting of Marden's work absurd. As for the meaning that everyone seems to be talking about, he writes:
In the case of Marden's work, Stella's dictum (what you see is what you see) is an accurate assessment. You theorize about its deeper meanings at the risk of describing the emperor's new clothes. There is little here of the great intentions that I've read about in descriptions, by many critics, of Marden's art. They may think such intentions are there. Maybe even Marden thinks they are. But they aren't.
Clarke also has something to say about feeling.
Metaphor is what makes good art so riveting. It opens the soul to variegated depths, to an acknowledgment of emotions. To conflict. To soul-saving resolution. It stirs the heart's blood, surely one of the classic purposes of all art.
And of these particular elements--emotions, conflict--he finds a definite dearth in Marden.

Brice Marden: For Pearl, 1970

In another segment of the Charlie Rose interview:

Marden: I think there’s a lot of painters around doing it (abstract expressionism) . . .

CR: There’s a line that goes through Pollock and you and . . .

Marden: Yeah, but I don’t know who they are. I mean, I sort of know some of them. I mean, it’s still going but . . . it seems to me the big thing going on now is like non-abstract expressionism—

CR: It is?

Marden: Well, it has much more to do with the kind of literary, storytelling . . . as I said, it’s more literary, it tells little stories. Not little stories, but there’s a narrative, there’s a lot of narrative stuff going on . . .

CR: Does it influence you?

Marden: Ehhhh, maybe, I don’t know . . . I mean these things, these long paintings are sort of a narrative, but no, I don’t want to tell stories in my paintings. If I tell the story, I’d rather it be a symphony rather than like a book.

CR: With movements . . .

Marden: So you respond to it viscerally, rather than intellectually . . . You can look at it, you’re figuring it out, but at the same time, if you’re beginning to have some sort of jump in your stomach, then I think you’re sort of getting it.

I did in fact have a "jump in my stomach" tonight, but it was not looking at Marden's oeuvre, nor any individual painting.

The "jump" came from all of the voices around me, responding to Marden's work. All of the voices that contributed to this meaning of Brice Marden.

I'm interested in what people have to say. Not institutions. Not the MoMA. Not the New Yorker.

Meaning takes care of itself. The artist need not worry about meaning. If the art has integrity, originality, and yes, beauty, it will provoke meaning.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Best Online Art Stores, Auctions, and Galleries of 2009


The global recession has definitely affected art sales online and off.
What will be interesting is to see how art sales evolve in a Web 2.0 environment after the recession is safely over. An article in the New York Times from 2007 notes, "New works, even in the six-figure range, are selling by digital image alone." We can expect that digital images will become more accepted as a medium for advancing sales in the art market. eBay continues to be the largest art marketplace but most of the art on eBay is sold for significantly less than other online auctions and galleries.

During the Internet frenzy of 1998-99, every major auction house and art gallery went online. This resulted in a saturation of the marketplace and only three years later online art galleries were folding. Although I don't have the statistics, it seems there was a revival in the online art market between 2004 and 2007, roughly paralleling the surge in offline art sales.

And here we are now in 2009--with new technologies and an abundance of sites that offer many angles on the art market. Some sites target the artists themselves, offering web tools to sell and market their work. Others are moderated online galleries where the artist must submit an application to gain entry. And lastly there are the sites that target collectors and represent the traditional art sector for high end art sales. Each type aims to fill a different niche. Let's look at some of the best online art stores, auctions, and galleries of 2009.

eBay art auction $$Low/Mid/High

eBay needs to be mentioned only because it is the largest art marketplace in the world. From 2003, a website called Elise.com gives a good analysis of eBay art sales. The major insight to take away from the analysis is that 90% of the art listings are under $100. Above $300 it becomes significantly difficult to sell art on eBay. Nonetheless, art selling for $5,000 and higher does occur.

My site, Escape into Life, arts and culture webzine, will in fact be using eBay for our arts auction. I chose eBay because it is the most recognized web-based auction system. I plan to do the marketing for the auction myself, and therefore I am not relying on eBay to provide me with all of my bidders.

Unless you've already developed a customer base on eBay, I would think simply jumping into the pool and trying to sell art would be a challenge. For a buyer, eBay is a mixed bag. You definitely need to comb through the listings. It doesn't filter out the best niche contemporary artwork for you, which a good online art store will do.

Artnet $$$$Mid/High

Artnet.com is the second biggest player in the online art market with more than 166,000 artworks by over 39,000 artists from around the globe. On the site you can search the inventory of 2,200 galleries in over 250 cities worldwide. In addition, there is a sleek online auction for works that range from $500 to $100,000.

The online Artnet magazine features interviews with artists and art reviews. There are also event listings and videos on the website. The combination of online magazine, auction, price database, gallery listings, and artist listings, into single functional, easy to navigate site deserves the highest praise.

Keep in mind though that the breadth of Artnet is sometimes overwhelming for the casual buyer. And the target audience is mainly collectors of fine art and arts dealers.

Mixed Greens
$$$Mid

Another well-established online art gallery. Mixed Greens is a moderated online gallery, meaning one must be accepted into the gallery through an application process. Currently, the gallery represents 22 artists "at varying stages in their careers."

The clean site design makes it easy to browse the listings, and the limited number of artists helps to act as a filter for niche contemporary art. One of the exciting and different aspects of this website is that Mixed Greens puts on physical gallery exhibitions. Works for sale on the site range from $2,500 to $20,000.

College Art Online $$Low/Mid

College Art Online sells student artwork at affordable prices. The average price of artwork on the site is $250, but works can sell as high as $3,000. The site is not moderated, which means anyone can join.

I was impressed by the site design and navigation, large gallery images, and quality of work. The site says that it gives "art enthusiasts the chance to buy an original piece of art and collect works from artists who are hitting their prime in the art world."

As with most online art galleries, you can search for works based on color, size, medium, and price. Once you find something you like, you can add the work to your cart for the listed price or you can make an offer.

Artbreak $$Low/Mid

Artbreak is a community based online art gallery where artists can easily upload their images. Some work is for sale, other work is simply being shared with the world. The aim of the site is to make it easy for artists to sell their work commission-free.

The site says, "Artbreak is a democratically disruptive gallery and marketplace. It's purpose is to give independent artists everywhere a global audience and an opportunity to sell their work directly without commissions, galleries or representatives."

A large, random image changes regularly on the homepage and below are listings with thumbnails of "What's Hot" and "Brand New".

Artmo $$$$Mid/High

Artmo, art market online, features works from "the most distinguished and reputable art dealers." Similar to Artnet, Artmo has gallery pages showcasing a particular gallery's collection.

The Artmo Marketplace seeks to eliminate the disconnect between dealers and collectors. You can browse by artist or artwork. In some cases, the price is listed; otherwise you must request the price. It is also possible to make offers.

I would say that Artmo hints at the future of high end online art sales. The site is personable and not overwhelming; a simple way for collectors to view works, make offers, and purchase art without leaving their house. You can already see the Web 2.0 interface built into an online gallery for high end art.

Mobtal$$Low/Mid

Mobtal, portable art gallery, is a savvy membership based site, where artists can showcase and sell their work. Each level of membership gives an artist more tools and marketing opportunities on the site. Featured artists are prominently displayed at the top of each page. When you click on an artist's work, you find links relating to the artist such as profile, biography, resume, virtual exhibitions, news, events, and projects.

Most of the work on Mobtal sells for under $1000. You can also buy "M-cards" (wallpaper for your cellphone) of the art images.

One of the featured artists, Janet MacCallum, says, "Since joining Mobtal I have sold three paintings and have been recommended by one buyer to his friends via the M-card function. The M-card is a quick and efficient method of promoting my artwork and has already helped me line up some commissions!"

In addition, Mobtal has partnered with the The Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation to donate £10 for each artist membership.

Here are more of the best online art stores, galleries, and auctions of 2009:

ArtQuid

20x200

Saatchi Online Salesroom

Photographers Limited Editions

New British Artists

Counter Editions

UGallery
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Monday, August 24, 2009

The Unknown Aspect of Human Creativity


The future of any creative endeavor is uncertain.
I've learned that the only project worth doing is the one you don't know where it's headed . . .

Life unfolds in much the same way.

I'm going to publish one blog post per day on the Blog of Innocence. It took me awhile to get to this point. And I've been writing my whole life!

But confidence is fleeting. There is always a small fear that nothing more will come out of the well, that the well has dried up for good.

The well is never dry. It only needs time before a new groundswell is discovered, more abundant and richer than the last.

Right now I'm working on an art journal for the Escape into Life Moleskine Project. In contrast to my usual manner of writing essays, I have virtually no inhibitions while creating these pages.

There are no rules for the journal. I fill it with doodles, poetry, ephemera, free-writing, collage, illustrations. I use a variety of pens, markers, even some crayons.

I remember when I was in grade school we used to have a half-hour of free time in class. I would sit at a round table next to a friend and we would draw pictures on notebook paper. We made fanciful patterns with red and green markers, and lots of skulls and caricatures. After awhile the other students saw us drawing all the time and they would come over to the table to watch . . .

Before I begin working in my journal at night, I read from one of two art books I purchased last month. The first book is called, Street Sketchbook: Inside the Journals of International Street and Graffiti Artists. Sketchbook is described as "unparalleled access to the books of more than sixty contemporary artists worldwide working in a broad range of disciplines--from graffiti and street art to illustration, painting, design and animation."

I have an affinity to illustration art. My favorite artist of all time is Henry Darger. There is something about illustration art that mystifies me. The Street Sketchbook reveals the illustrations and markings of graffiti artists in their private sketchbooks, and for some reason, this excites me.

The second book is 30,000 Years of Art: the story of human creativity across time and space, by the editors of Phaidon.

The gigantic book barely fits on my lap. It presents 1000 masterworks from different countries, cultures and civilizations. I've only gotten up to 3300 BC. I marvel at the artifacts, trying to imagine the artists who carved ivory tusks, painted images of bison on cave ceilings, and engraved life-size depictions of giraffes on rock.

When I open to a fresh page in my journal, or turn to a page I've been working on, I enter a state of near total relaxation. I practiced Zen meditation for five years, twice daily, and nothing comes even close to what my brain does when I'm drawing and working in my journal.

The first markings I create on a page don't meet my expectations. To be honest, I find them a bit juvenile. But for some reason, working in this medium, it doesn't bother me. I have already created the space and the freedom to draw and write spontaneously. This is also where my energy and relaxation comes from.

And then, something interesting happens. I go back to pages I started. I spot an opening on a page and begin to tease out another progression of lines, or experiment with a different pen. Soon an entirely different picture comes into focus.

I am zigzagging through the journal, picking up wherever my instinct guides me.

What I find is that my "mistakes" are no longer mistakes. A previous error simply leads to another framework, a re-appropriation of the original lines.

In this sense, there are no mistakes. In fact, it is impossible to make a mistake.

What I discovered with drawing in less than three weeks, I'm still trying to fully grasp about writing. Because writing follows the same principle. Nothing I write in the first draft is it. There can only be formlessness in the beginning. But when I go back to a poem, a drawing, or the chapter of a novel, I begin to see it differently.
There are no absolutes in human creativity. A work of the imagination is never finished and it always holds the possibility of becoming something else.

Like many writers, I struggle with this. My whole writing career can be summed up by an attempt to break free from my inhibitions while writing. I just want to write and not care about whether it will turn out a certain way. I want to immerse myself--and channel the writing directly.

But a nervous edge, usually present at the start and sometimes into the middle, tells me that what I'm doing must be perfect, must be absolute.

Yet when we look at great works of art, there is an honesty, an openness. It's the enigma of the work which comes from the unknown. And though we may perceive the work as perfect, the artist's conception had to go through countless deaths and rebirths to arrive at that last reincarnation before our eyes.

The beauty of the art journal is that there are no absolutes of creation. Whatever goes down on paper can always be re-envisioned, re-invented, re-worked. Words can cover words, drawings can grow out like vines, and if the page you've created becomes hideous or revolting, you can always paste a picture over it.

Art is impermanent. Nothing I create during my lifetime will be the final word, the final poem, the final drawing. All is ongoing, evolving, entering into a new context or another possibility.

I may not know what it is I'm creating, but it's better that way. Let my guide be the work itself, rather than my conscious thoughts. To follow this path, I must be willing to stumble and look foolish. But if I allow those perfect sentences to fall apart, and those mistakes to be part and parcel of the work, then I've shown that I'm ready to be counseled.

It has a voice, you know, and desires of its own. We only need to listen to our creations.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Art, Taste, Money

Turquoise Marilyn (1964) by Andy Warhol

Your taste determines what kind of art you like to look at. Taste is intuitive, and also learned. You just know what you like. But when you are asked to explain why you like, say, a Salvador Dali over a Stephen Prina, you are hard pressed. “It’s more beautiful to me,” you reply. The key phrase here is “to me”.

As some of you know, I’m the editor of Escape into Life, arts and culture webzine. We publish art reviews, feature articles, and interviews. Most of the writers have a background in art history, and are familiar with many different schools of art.

Most of our readers, however, do not have art history backgrounds. As a result, they tend to respond more viscerally. There is less intellect involved and this is not always a bad thing. For example, when Aurelio Madrid published a review on Stephen Prina entitled, “Difficult Art”, one reader replied:
I must be stupid, unaware, not intelligent and extremely uncultured because I don't get this thing you're critiquing. When I'm looking at it ... I want to see the intelligence behind it but I only see the naked-reality that there is an unattractive, un-engaging, un-organized collection of dots simply dirtying up someone's perfectly good white wall.
Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet, 208 of 556 (2004)
by Stephen Prina; [Partie de Croquet (The Croquet Game), 1873]


Maybe the reader overlooked or had simply forgotten Aurelio’s description of the work's origin at the beginning of his review:
The general idea for the project is that Prina will recreate each of the 556 Édouard Manet paintings, as recorded by a (now obsolete) 1960’s catalogue raisonné. Prina does not recreate the works as direct copies; rather he uses only the actual size & title of the original Manet. Each work in the series is a diptych. One ½ of the diptych contains a “legend” of the whole of Manet’s output, represented by thumbnail outlines of each painting (with a number). This is a monochrome (ivory colored) lithograph printed on white paper (in a black frame, under glass). The “legend” is coupled with Prina’s re-painting. Prina’s re-paintings are painted using an ivory colored ink wash on white paper (black frame, under glass), with no visual reference to the original (the size & title are the only similarity). And so the project continues until Prina paints the 556th Manet.
Most likely, the anonymous commenter drifted off at about the third or fourth sentence (as I nearly did myself the first time I read it!). That’s not to say Aurelio should have excluded it; rather it’s essential to understanding the context of the work. Without this context we merely see dots on a canvas, some lighter some darker.

Where Aurelio sees a tradition of minimalism, conceptualism, and “institutional critique”, the anonymous commenter sees, in his words, “fartwork.” He goes on to say, “When I see this ‘Fartwork’ I get sick from the fumes of it's own arrogance.”

Another word commonly associated with taste and art: arrogance. Art critics are arrogant buffoons, declares the anonymous commenter, because they deem that a work of art has value when in truth it has none. Art critics resort to making up ridiculous stories about the “meaning” of the art; art critics fall back on jargon and intellectual babble to justify their impressions. For if the work had value, then at least it would be aesthetically pleasing.

And here we find ourselves in a delicious paradox. “Value” in the art world does not seem to correlate at all with “value” in the people world. Let’s take a look at the most expensive Post-War painting sold at an auction . . .

White Center (1950) by Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko’s White Center, which was created in 1950, sold at Sotheby’s New York auction in 2007 for $72.8 million.

Who can explain this price tag?


Don Thompson can. Thompson’s book called, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, explores the concept of branding in art and skillfully reveals the complex relationship between marketing, mystique, and influence.

“Art professionals talk about Impressionist art in terms of boldness, depth, use of light, transparency, and color,” he writes, “(and) they talk about contemporary artists in terms of innovation, investment value, and the artist being ‘hot’.”

Okay, so our value code changes with contemporary art, and the new value code makes critical judgment slippery at best. At least with Picasso we have some ground to stand on when we declare a Cubist painting as beautiful, appealing, or interesting. But what happens when we’re given Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash (Burning Car 1), which was created in 1964, and sold for $72.7 million at Christie’s New York auction in 2007.

Green Car Crash; Burning Car 1 (1964) by Andy Warhol

I took one art history class in college, and if I remember correctly, it was Early East Asian Art. While my mother was an oil painter, and I have been exposed to art my entire life, I respond to art mainly from the gut. I’m the same way with literature. While all of my friends were reading Thomas Pynchon and John Barth in college, I was reading Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola. Intellectual games do not interest me. I want to see a picture.

And so—not unlike the anonymous commenter—I rely on my aesthetic sensibilities. And my aesthetic sensibilities tell me that this work by Andy Warhol is not beautiful. My gut tells me, “It’s too green.”

Does my opinion of the work change when I discover that:
Between the years 1962 and 1964, Andy Warhol created a fantastically morbid series known as Death and Disaster. These serigraphs were all based on grainy, black and white tabloid images of race riots, suicide, fatal accident scenes and instruments of death including electric chairs, guns and atomic bomb blasts. The arguably best-known and most gruesome component of this macabre lot is Warhol's set of Car Crashes, of which the five "Burning Cars" are extremely highly prized.

Here we see Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), created by Warhol and his newly-hired assistant Gerard Malanga (b. 1943) in 1963 from an image taken by photographer John Whitehead and published in the June 3 issue of Newsweek. Whitehead's shot captured the aftermath of the fiery conclusion of a police chase in Seattle. The car that had been pursued overturned at 60 m.p.h., ejecting its driver at a speed sufficient to impale his body on a climbing spike in a utility pole.

Green Car Crash was the only Warhol "Burning Car" painting of five (all based on Whitehead's photograph) to utilize a color other than black and white. It had been privately held for 30 years and generated a tremendous amount of interest in potential buyers. (About.com)
I must say that with this knowledge I have a slightly greater appreciation of the work. Like with Aurelio Madrid’s elucidation of Stephen Prina’s methodology, at least now I understand the context. But on the whole, Green Car Crash does not provoke me to tears and I surely wouldn’t hang it on my living room wall unless Andy Warhol did it and it happened to be worth $72.7 million.

Which brings us to money. Or maybe we’ve been circling around money all along, like a hungry shark in search of prey. Thompson’s masterful thesis gives a perfectly rational explanation for why contemporary art is priced the way it is. There are two major reasons.

1.) Non-contemporary work is becoming an endangered species.

The recent surge in art prices is driven by a shortage in non-contemporary work. While new museums are being built, existing museums expanding, and private collections growing, the availability of masterpieces becomes scarce. Thompson sees a direct correlation between this shortage and the price explosion of contemporary art. He writes, “Contemporary art has achieved its current importance in resale markets in part because the best examples of other schools of art are disappearing from the market, and are never again likely to appear for sale.”

2.) Branding rules the art world.

“You are nobody in contemporary art until you are branded.” (Thompson)

Branding in contemporary art works in much the same way that it does in consumer products, or for that matter, luxury goods. People tend to buy branded products over generic ones because they offer a sense of security. I trust Colgate. I do not trust the toothpaste at the Dollar General, especially after I discovered that a Chinese-made toothpaste contained trace amounts of a poison used in some antifreeze.

Luxury goods offer a different kind of security; they give the reassurance of "prestige" or “elegant fashion.”

Contemporary art seems to need a lot of branding because even “art schools and critics can’t agree on the merit of a work” (Thompson). Furthermore, branding adds personality and distinctiveness.

When Thompson talks about the 25 major contemporary artists, he is mainly talking about artists whose work is represented by branded dealers such as Larry Gagosian, bought by branded collectors such as Charles Saatchi, and sold in the auctions of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which are brands themselves, and by extension, brands of paintings.

“In the end,” he writes, “the question ‘what is judged to be valuable contemporary art’ is determined first by major dealers, later by branded auction houses, a bit by museum curators who stage special shows, very little by art critics, and hardly at all by buyers.”

I mentioned that I’m the editor of Escape into Life, arts and culture webzine. What I didn’t tell you is that I’m introducing a new dimension into the site in less than two weeks.

I have asked a select group of artists to auction their work on my site for the first time. I hired a designer and artist in his own right, named Christopher Cox, who designed the popular site ChangeTheThought. He was commissioned to redesign Escape into Life with an auction/virtual arts gallery. The purpose of the auction is to draw attention to the art.

To bid on a work, viewers on the auction page will click on a bid link that will take them to eBay. Bidding on eBay gives us a larger pool of bidders, combined with the readership of Escape.

Those works that don’t sell in the first round will be moved to the online store. The store will give us more flexibility than the auction—we can set fixed prices for artwork and hold a larger inventory--but I suspect the auction will be more of an attraction.

What are my criteria for choosing the “select group of artists”?


Let me quote an article from the New York Times, “Maybe we can once and for all stop defaulting to easy categorical boundaries between high and low, and discriminate instead between the well made and the shoddy.”

Well-made art is my sole criterion. I'm looking for visually appealing art and essential quality. Let the frenzied mind, fixated on inventing something new and different, rest for awhile.

More essays by the author can be found at Escape into Life

Image Credits:
Turquoise Marilyn (1964)by Andy Warhol
Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet, 208 of 556 (2004) by Stephen Prina;Partie de Croquet (The Croquet Game), 1873
White Center (1950) by Mark Rothko
Green Car Crash; Burning Car 1 (1964) by Andy Warhol
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Monday, August 3, 2009

Loving Her

Melancholy, Edvard Munch (1894/96)

Nearly three months after we had broken up, my ex-girlfriend and I continued to see each other. Both of us were dating, but neither of us had found anyone we liked. You could say we were happy, not as a couple, but as two people who enjoyed spending time together. And the sex, well, you get the point . . .

Before we broke up, she lived with me in my house. In the beginning, it was exhilarating and rife with possibilities. This was the stage of the relationship when you picture living in Europe together, or on an island. But then, the novelty wore off and I wanted more and more time to myself. I started to say things like, "I want to be left alone tonight." By the end of the relationship, it seemed like we hated each other. That grim statement by Sartre, "Hell is other people," echoed in my mind. It wasn't going to work . . .

My difficulty was loving her. But love shouldn't be difficult at all. I've loved before; love is the easiest thing in the world. Love is effortless, a joy.

Maybe if I would have fallen in love with her, then I could have effortlessly loved her. You know, the romantic, feverish feeling, the tingling, anxiety, and butterflies--that never happened to me. We even talked about this. "I'm not head over heels for you," I told her bluntly on one of our morning walks, "But I do have feelings for you."

What were those feelings? I never really examined them. The feelings I did examine were the ones I didn't have. I was obsessed with the void, the emptiness, the missing piece, and I constantly brought it up, as if to safeguard myself from the tidal wave of her affections.

Despite my weirdly anti-social behavior, we grew together as friends, as partners, and I believe she accepted my shortcomings. We argued and disagreed on many things, but in truth, we were hopelessly entangled, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. Whether it was love or something else, stuff just happened, and Ariel and I were bound in some mysterious way.

Now that she has another boyfriend, I guess you could say I'm coming to terms with what I lost.

I remember one day in particular. We were spending the weekend in Chicago. At night we had plans to go to dinner and then to the movies. During the day, I wanted to take her to the Art Institute. It's the largest collection of art in the city, and my mother graduated from the School of the Art Institute. So, I loved being there. It reminded me of my mother.

Ariel wanted to be close to me. She loved me . . . I can't deny her that! I kept pulling back from her, though. I narrowed my focus, or I distracted myself with my obsession . . .

Did I tell you about my obsession? I have many, but on this day, I felt as though I did not love her. The entire day felt like a sort of pantomime, an act, and the mere thought of faking it was beginning to disturb me. What was worse I gazed at the couples who appeared all around us, radiantly attractive in their picture-perfect worlds.
We walked through the cold, granite park that day,
ice-skaters breezed by in merry furies, loops upon loops,
maddened by the wind,
with bright shining faces and bright shining eyes,
and everywhere I looked
couples burrowed in each others’ arms.
This was January, and our faces were red from cold air. That's when I noticed all of the couples wearing knit hats and gloves. I stood by the ice rink and Ariel took a picture of me. It was too cold to smile.
I suggested the museum,
the first floor was empty
except for two high school kids who played hooky
and jested beside the glass of Renaissance art;
I stared at them meekly, as if I envied their sweet
adolescent rebellion. They were drenched in
whatever I wanted.
The high school kids. I was jealous of them for being so blithe and carefree. They were oblivious. But I saw them, I peered into their self-contained world. The boy wore a jean's jacket with a chain hanging out of one of the pockets, and the girl had a seductively sweet face. The slightest thing the boy said made the girl laugh. Sulking, I continued through the museum with Ariel.
You lingered in the early art periods;
I approached a Grecian bust, once perfect,
now broken,
scuffed forehead, damaged nose and some dust.
A security guard paced the length of a wall,
I asked what exhibit was showing,
“de Kooning just left,” said the Chicago accent.

The Girl by the Window, Edvard Munch (1893)

We walked through the galleries, and I noticed more couples in love. But I must have stopped noticing them because I was suddenly engrossed in art. It was Edvard Munch's, The Girl by the Window, which commanded my attention. The colors, a mixture of shades of blue, seemed to emanate from the canvas. Ariel was standing right next to me and we were both transfixed.
On the second floor, Munch’s bedroom girl,
we both agreed, “a mystery of emotion,
haunting, beautiful, a dream . . .”
That brief instant was gone forever, like the day,
and the next, dominated by a hunchbacked curator
who lectured to the floor about floating blocks and cubes,
“both subject and
object moving,” (a preacher
went to see his lover, a dancer in a midnight club)
amorous obsessions, I thought.
In the next gallery, a large crowd was gathered before a giant canvas spanning the entire wall. A hunchbacked curator gave a short lecture mostly in anecdotes about the abstract masterpiece. To me, the painting looked like so many random lines and squares with splotches of color. But apparently, it was a painting of a nightclub, and the story involved a preacher who came to the nightclub to see his mistress perform.

Self-Portrait, Van Gogh (1889)

I strayed into the next room. Ariel was gone. Maybe she was still listening to the hunchbacked curator. Maybe she left the museum all together. It didn't matter; I found Van Gogh.
Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait:
I stood there in a trance
beneath the fixed stare of triumph or terror,
beneath the weary beard of jagged lines,
inchoate strokes . . .

Later in bed, you grieved.
I said what I loved
about the portrait
the sheer incompleteness—as if
the colors were still dripping, and the artist
somewhere near.
When we returned to my father's apartment, we fought, made love, and fought again. She wanted to know if I loved her--

"Van Gogh, Van Gogh, Van--" All I could talk about was him. He was perfect, and I was alone.


You might also like this post: Shakespeare's Sonnet 29

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