Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Michael Jennings on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Brian Micklethwait on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Rob Fisher on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Rob Fisher on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
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Category archive: Art
Me having written here about Anish Kapoor, he of the Big Olympic Thing, someone today emailed me about an art website which includes him. None of the pictures of Kapoors at that place strike me as very interesting. Certainly not nearly as interesting as the Big Olympic Thing, or as interesting as The Bean. So instead I googled for other Kapoor imagery, and found this rather excellent Kapoor photograph, of him posing in front of one of his creations, outside the Royal Academy, in London, in 2009:
Click on that photo to get a bigger version, which I recommend doing.
What I (of course) like is that you can see the little clutch of photographers, including (of course) the photographer who took this photograph, in the photograph.
Here’s a nice coincidence. There I was writing about how I went from being, in my teens, a bad pen-and-ink picture-maker to, from around 2000 onwards, a far happier digital-photographic picture maker. And here is a picture that captures that kind of metamorphosis perfectly:
It’s one of these pictures by Christoph Niemann. Niemann’s pictures bring to mind that phrase used by one of the alter egos of Barry Humphries, Barry McKenzie, who described paintings as “hand done photos”. These pictures really do only work as photos. Until they are photoed, the job is not done. But the hand-done bit is essential to what they are.
One thing about these pictures that I particularly like, apart from the basic fact that I like them, is their very favourable effort-to-impact ratio. For my taste, too much of the picture-making displayed at Colossal consists of stuff that is quite nice to look at, but which took an absurdly huge amount of time and effort to contrive. Also, there is often no logical or even meaningful connection between how the pictures are contrived and how they end up looking. So, you’ve made a table cloth out of seeds. Clever you. But, why? Niemann’s pictures answer this question perfectly.
But then again, the internet being the internet, if your elaborately pointless pictures catch people’s fancy and thousands glance at them, then I guess that, if you put in a lot of time and effort, you may well reckon than all the time and effort was worth it, especially if you had fun spending it and doing it. And of course it is digital photography that transforms a laboriously produced one-off item of visual art that took far too much time and effort to do, into a mass experience that it made sense to spend a lot of time and effort doing. But, most of these intricate sculptures and pictures at Colossal are just sculptures and pictures that were then photographed. Niemann’s pictures are real Hand Done Photos.
As for me, between being a bad pen-and-ink picture maker and an okay-to-good digital photographer, I endured a big interval during which I made hardly any pictures of any kind. My pictorial enthusiasm expressed itself in the design of pamphlets, and graphic design generally. Basically I became a desktop publisher. (I even earned money doing this.) First I just did publishing, on a desktop, paper-scissors-glue-photocopier. Then computers arrived, and I was an early adopter of “desktop publishing”. Then the internet arrived, and drew a big line under all that stuff. I shovelled all my pamphlets onto the internet, and became a blogger. And, I bought my first digital camera. At first, blogging and digital photography did not mix very well. Now, they mix very well indeed.
From time to time I go looking for pictures of bridges, preferably new ones, but seldom find anything I don’t know about. And then, quite by chance, while clicking through these old photos, I chance upon this:
It’s the Golden Gate, being built, in 1937.
I recall doing a pen-an-ink type sketch (as opposed to something theatrical like a comedy sketch – odd double meaning that), when in my teens, of the Severn Road Bridge, when it only had a chunk of road in the middle, suspended in glorious isolation, going nowhere in either direction (like in the photo here). This photo reminds me of those times.
I never actually drew any decent pictures, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about composition, by which I mean that I chose quite good pictures to do, but actually did them very badly. Now I take good pictures, rather less badly. How I wish there had been digital cameras when I was a teenager. My cycling expeditions around France, and then Scandinavia, and then Iceland, would have been far more fun, and now far easier to remember. The old cameras, with “film” in them, were ridiculous. You had to “develop” all the damn pictures, very expensively, just to find out that about three of them weren’t total crap. But you tell young people this nowadays they think you’re mad. And if you did all this, guess what, you were mad.
I have never shared the contempt that most people show - or pretend to show - for Adolf Hitler’s paintings. Okay, so they aren’t Rembrandts, but even so, I would have loved to have been as good hand-done picture-making as he was. Could it be that people just can’t bear to accept that he ever did anything well or anything good? Just a wild guess.
Busy day today, so another from the I Just Like It directory:
It’s the head of Hymn by Damien Hirst, when it was outside the Tate in 2012.
Behind it, we see that the Shard is nearly ready, but not quite.
A common complaint about modern architecture is that it is “faceless”. Tending not to feature single separate windows, but rather showing a bland expanse of featureless outsideness to the world, modernistical buildings do not allow the viewing human to see what the viewing human always wants to see, faces, turning the windows into eyes, doors into mouths, and so forth.
But there is no problem with seeing faces in this building, in Rome, because someone has painted twenty seven faces on it, with the windows being – what else? - eyes:
The pieces utilizes nearly 50 windows to create the mouths and eyes of some 27 bizarre faces all vying for attention.
Although, I see that two of the windows there are mouths.
It all looks a bit graffitiish to me, although as this lady says, this is “artful, thoughtful graffiti”. (In other words the kind of thing that favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley likes to photo.) And I think it’s a bit of a shame to do this to an old building, rather than to a new one. But if the alternative is for this old building to just continue crumbling, then this is surely better. I’m sure it is already a tourist attraction. It would definitely attract me.
But, I look forward to the day when buildings like this one get decked out with lots of different colours (that being another Mick Hartley photo).
This morning I did a rather negative would-be posting about some Art, Art which had at first rather appealed to me but which, upon further consideration, I decided I did not much like or admire.
But then I realised that my rule for stuff that other people are doing with their own time and money and others are buying and enjoying with their own money and time is for me just to walk away. Why moan? The world is full of stuff I don’t much care for. So long as I don’t get taxed to pay for it, or made to pay attention to it against my will, what on earth is the point of me seeking it out and bitching about it?
For me, this is one of the great benefits that has been brought about by the internet. In the age of the mass media, you had this whole tribe of professional hacks who, day after day, week after week, were made to pay attention to things which quite often they would rather not have been paying attention to. Inevitably, an air of irritation, even hatred, entered the souls and writings of these people. The subtext, and often the text, was: I wouldn’t have picked this in the first place. Only the Culture vultures who really were allowed to pick whatever cultural prey they were inclined to descend upon were able to communicate genuine pleasure, because they were the only Culture vultures who truly felt pleasure. The rest of Culture writing was a mixture of grudging reportage and grumbling, with the occasional cheer when some hack found himself not clock watching, not trying to think of what the hell nice things he could say about something he considered nasty, or worse, just … shrug.
But now a tidal wave of amateurs has crashed into the culture-writing game and it has become, well, a game. It has become fun. We bloggers and twitterers pick on stuff we like, and say: hey, this is cool, this is fun, this is good, this is something I really enjoyed immersing myself in. Maybe you’ll like it too. Commenters and other twitterers then say things like: well, I prefer this, or this, or that or that. If, on the other hand, you said you didn’t like something or other, the response from other www-chatterers is, not unnaturally, just to say: well then why the rude word do you waste your time moaning about it? Walk away. If what you are moaning about is some Big Thing, heavily promoted, made much of, that everyone else seems to be paying attention to, fair enough, you are warning the rest of us off it. But if it is just some little thing you found on the internet and you don’t like it, so rude-word-ing what?
For as long as there was just the one big Culture, that the media people agreed or had to agree was It, then all who wanted to be Cultural had to pay attention to that Culture, whether they liked It or not. It was their duty, just as it was the duty of professional Culture-writers to write about It, to pay attention to It. There was an air of joylessness and obligation about It all, like a queue in a passport office.
Favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley has written from time to time about the way that Art is now turning into fairground entertainment, often implying that this is a bad thing. I also notice this when I visit London’s South Bank Arts enclave, which now has a much more “visitor attraction” feel to it than it used to have. Hartley does do quite a lot of moaning, but mostly the Cultural stuff he does now is drawing attention to something he likes, thinks deserves to be more noticed, more enjoyed, more celebrated. His posting today is a perfect example of this. It’s not Art, it’s street art. Street art is fun, it appeals to people, and it is also where a lot of the official Art action is now, because the Artists know that these street people are upstaging them.
Political money is now tighter than it was a decade and more ago, and if the Arts fraternity want yet more money, they must try appealing to their audiences rather than baffling them or insulting them. They must now try to give pleasure, the way they tended not to in the twentieth century.
But there is more than economics going on here. After all, there is still a hell of a lot of Official Money being competed for. There is still a great big Culture out there, still being paid for, if not enjoyed. No, the other difference is that there is also that damned internet out there, where regular punters get to say what they really think about it all. If they are being got at by Culture, they can now get back at it, by saying: bollocks, and: I prefer this, or this, or that or that. It’s a different world.
And you’ll never know what it was I just moaning about. I will instead look for other things, that I actually like.
The sort of place I will be looking will be at places like Colossal, which, by the way, is where I found the thing that I liked at first but then didn’t like, that got me started on all this. I don’t like everything at Colossal by any means. But I like a lot of it.
Or, maybe this is really a posting that is not really about Art as such, more about getting old, as so many postings here are. As you get old, you stop worrying about what Art is, if you are one of those people who ever did worry. You just stop paying attention to Art, as in: Where Art Is Going. It will go where it goes, and you go where you want to go. It’s not the world getting happier. It’s not Art getting more fun. It’s just you. It’s just me.
Ah blogging. You can change your mind in mid posting, or even right at the end if you feel inclined. What’s that you say? You disapprove. I must make up my mind. Must I? I tell you what, you go away and read something else, something you’d prefer. This was just a bit of fun, and for you it wasn’t. Forget about it.
I like this kind of thing, this particular thing being the back entrance to a hotel in the vicinity of one of my local tube stations, St James’s Park, photoed by me earlier this evening:
Looking at the photos that others like to take - even characters in tv adverts for goodness sakes - I don’t think I’m the only one who likes such things as this. We are talking totally conventional aesthetics here. The cutting edge of aesthetics, as practised by people half my age who do aesthetics for a living or who try to, has presumably gone to other places entirely.
(Part of) what I like about this is that this composition was not actually composed. It looks so artful, but it absolutely is not. It is all rectangles because that is the most convenient shape for the back entrance of a hotel to be, not because its designer had been immersing himself in the work of Piet Mondrian. And the piper are where they are, not because the pipist who did them is a sculptor manqué, but because that is where they need to be, to do what they do.
(The earlier versions of “piper” in the previous paragraph were, first: pipemonger; and then: pipist. There already is a word for a person who pipes, but I didn’t want to waste those earlier efforts.)
Doing photography makes me happy, both as something for me to do and as something for me to photo others doing. Before digital photography, I had the usual dislike felt by people of my nationality and with my approximate level of upbringing and education for crowds of tourists, barging their way around my city, bumping into me and making me feel insignificant, like they owned the place which of course they sort of did and sort of do. The Masses were bad enough as a mere idea, but actually seeing them, Massed, made it even worse.
Tourism, I used to tell myself, unthinkingly, is not “real”. But tourism is every bit as real as an Amazonian rainforest, just as affluent suburbs are as real as inner city sink estates. And ever since I discovered the joy of photoing these crowds of tourists, tourists taking photos, photos of my city and of each other, and of themselves, I have deliberately mingled with these crowds, which basically means that I have become a tourist myself, in London, the city where I live. A state of silly and unthinking grumpiness has been replaced by a far more thoughtful and philosophically elevated state of happiness and smugness. Happiness and smugness are also just as real as misery, and my happiness and smugness is all the happier and smugger because provoked by the exact same things as I had formerly been making myself miserable about.
Crowds like those pictured below, in other words, are just as real as the events that all those red Poppies that everyone has come to see hark back to. One of the many remarkable things about these Poppies is the huge - truly enormous – scale not just of the Poppies themselves, but of the crowds of people who have journeyed to the Tower of London to look at them. Here are a couple of my better Poppies crowd shots:
My single most unforgettable Poppies Crowds Moment did not happen to me when I was actually there being a part of one of these crowds, but in a tube station in some other nearby part of central London, the weekend before last. I was on an escalator, and an intercom voice started saying that if I intended visiting the Tower of London to see The Poppies (I didn’t – not that day), then I should definitely consider using another tube station besides Tower tube station, because Tower tube station was jam packed or words to that effect. I should go instead, said the voice, to another nearby tube station (the voice offered several suggested alternatives) and walk from there, from only a little bit further away. That’s how big the crowds have been. And instead of snarling with silly rage at that announcement, I instead said to myself: I must remember to put that on my blog. Which has been another source of great happiness to me, and would have been even if I had not got stuck into photography.
Those Tower of London Poppies are causing quite a stir, with politicians of all parties, and people too, saying they ought to stay there longer, beyond Remembrance Sunday (today), beyond 11am on Tuesday, and maybe as long as Nov 11th 2018, so as many people as want to can get to see them.
I’ve checked them out twice myself, and took many photos of the sort that are presumably now tsunaming all over cyberspace. I already mentioned these Poppy trips in passing, in this and in this and in this, but this is the first Poppy Posting here that is specificallly about The Poppies, hence the number in the title.
Here are a few of my “what it looks like” snaps (click to get them larger):
What these snaps of mine don’t show (although 2.1 and 2.3 hint at it) is the panoramic hugeness of it all. For that I turn to Goddaughter 2, who accompanied me on my first Poppies visit.
She had her mobile phone with her, which has an app for taking extremely wide photos. By combining these two snaps …:
… she arrived at this:
That is about two thirds of it. You can see all of it only in pictures like this one
I can entirely see why thousands upon thousands of people have wanted to come and gaze at these Poppies, because the effect is very striking, and the vast scale seems entirely appropriate. There is one poppy for each British soldier who died, the Britishness of the poppies being the excuse for the Guardian to have a go at it all, in such postings as this one and this one. But if I was French or German or Turkish and I saw this huge spread of poppies in London, I don’t think I’d feel that my dead ancestors were being dissed in any way. And actually, I think I did hear quite a few foreign languages being spoken when I visited. I mean, why wouldn’t a nation mourn its own dead? I didn’t feel any resentment, when I recently visited a French graveyard with lots of war dead in it, that the ancestors of me and my fellow countrymen were being omitted from the story, any more than I do when I chance upon a war memorial in England with only local local names on it. Why would I?
The odd thing is, my two personal sets of ancestors had no WW1 deaths in them, or not one that anyone in my particular little family ever talked about. This was not because of any general reluctance to talk about such things. In WW2, we lost my mum’s older and only brother, Uncle John, and that was talked about every now and then, as were the two uncles who fought in WW2 and survived. But stories about my ancestors in WW1? Nothing. I’m guessing this is a bit unusual.
The way to photo “iconic” buildings is to muck around with them. You can’t just stick up your basic passport photos of them, so to speak, because everyone’s seen that, even the foreigners.
You have to put your iconic building next to something else, perhaps iconic in a different way ...:
… or, you bounce your IB off a non-iconic building covered in slightly bendy glass.
Or you photo it through a Riverside Thing …:
… or behind an Iconic Bridge (the one that wobbled (see the posting immediately below)).
Or you put something else in front of it, like a photographer, and have the IB itself behind and way out of focus.
That works fine because the whole point of an IB is that you can recognise it even if it is ridiculously blurry, the way you never could a regular building.
Or, you photo it on the screen of another photographer, perhaps even a bald bloke photographer. I am now collecting bald bloke photographers, and believe me, the species is now very abundant. And by the way, if you click and look at bit carefully, you can see that the bald bloke had the same idea as me about photoing the reflected version of the Shard, rather than just the Thing itself:
As the autumn light fades, the screens of other photographers shine ever more brightly. (LATER: And, on the right there, I see cranes.)
I picked those four snaps of snappers entirely because I liked them. But, they are all pictures of snappers using their mobile phones. Mobile phone cameras are getting better and better. But of course. I mean, would they be getting worse?
But having said all that, I do like this:
No frills, no complications, just the top of the IB itself, with a bit of orange light from somewhere.
All of the above photos were taken on my way to and from the Tower of London, about tendays ago, to see all those poppies.
LATER: How in the world could I possibly have failed to include, in this, this?
Shard on camera screen, and poppies. But, this time, a clunky old camera camera rather than a mobile phone camera.
The other day, I forget which one, I worked something out that had been confusing me. Why, given all the fun I get out of photography and given all the time I spend doing it and thinking about it, have I not immersed myself in all the technicalities of photography? Why is it that the only setting on my camera that I regularly use is the one called “Automatic”? Why am I no nearer to understanding manual focussing than I was a decade ago?
The answer is that it is the point-and-shoot sort of photography that strikes me as the most interesting sort of photography now happening. Not in art galleries where the latest black-and-white photos of plague victims or under-age African soldiers are on display, in photos that cost more to buy than paintings and took more trouble to produce. That is all so twentieth century, and even, actually, nineteenth century. What counts now, for me, are the photos you can take with your mobile phone camera, or with the jumped-up mobile phone camera that I use, and the sort of photos that regular people are now able to take, of regular stuff rather than of foreign catastrophes that someone will pay them to take art-gallery standard photos of.
In short, I take point-and-shoot pictures because I like to be part of history, and this is where the history of photography now is. (If you disagree, realise that what you are reading is not an argument. It is a description of a feeling.)
What I have is called a “bridge” camera, but all that this means is that it is a bog-standard point-and-shoot camera that takes somewhat better photos when you go click, and which has a twiddly screen, and a lens that can go from close-up to mega-zoom without any faffing about with multiple lenses. I have the best cheap camera that I can get, rather than the cheapest proper camera. Oh, you can set my camera on manual and go all Real Photographer with it. But if you want to do that, you should have a proper Real Photographer camera, not a bridge camera, and you should have a rucksack full of lenses, each perfect for each oh-so-carefully-taken shot. What “bridge” means is the best camera you can have without having to give any thought to “photography”. Instead, you just think about the picture. More precisely, you think about what you see and which of the things that you see are the most interesting, and why.
My camera is not really any sort of “bridge”. Bridge suggests that I am going somewhere with it, somewhere different, as in different from the technical point of view. But I’m not. Technically, I am staying right where I am. If I am getting better at photography, it is because I am getting better at choosing what to point my camera at.
A bridge camera is rather like “crossover” music in that respect. Crossover music is not for people who are actually doing any crossing over, from one sort of music to any other sort of music. Crossover music is its own sort of music. The people who like crossover music (and there’s nothing wrong with that) are people who like crossover music and who will continue to listen to crossover music, with no actual crossing over from any other sort of music to any other sort of music happening at all.
No links, because I thought of this all by myself.
Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”. He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.
Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):
Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).
In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.
And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.
Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art. (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.
The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance). Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.
Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography. Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things. Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer. Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.
But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism. What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly. For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.
To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist. It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.
All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday. As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.
Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk. It will be an illustrated talk. Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.
A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed. But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:
As revealed in this earlier posting, I recently visited Tate Ancient, which is only a walk away from where I live. I should go there more often.
One of the big reasons being that it is a wonderful place, not just to learn about Art and all that kind of stuff, but to photograph photographers. All who frequent this blog know that photographing photographers is an obsession of mine.
Photographers like these two:
The blue-haired lady on the right was photoing the sculpture that can be seen more clearly, behind the man on the left.
Note that neither of the cameras seen in action here are of the old school and conventional sort. No, they are iCameras. There was a lot of this going on, not just picture making, but note taking.
The Guru was finally able to deliver God/Godot this evening, but he only just finished, so time only for a quota cat, photoed by me in Tate Ancient yesterday:
More about that picture here. It’s by David Hockney.
I didn’t know that you are allowed to take photos in the Tate, but I did so with increasing confidence. There were official looking people well able to intervene and stop me, if they had wanted to. But, they didn’t. Interesting. Was that always the rule, or is it only recent, in response to an irresistible tidal wave of students taking notes with their iPhones?
The weather in London today was particularly fine. The light was bright and washed clean by recent rain, and the atmosphere was neither too hot nor too humid. There was bright blue sky, but there were also plenty of clouds. I had a bank to visit and electrical items to obtain, all doable on Sunday if you are in Tottenham Court Road, and then I and my companion went south towards the river.
I photoed tourist stuff, hereinafter termed touristuff. I love to photo touristuff. It changes from year to year, and it is arranged in hightly photogenic clumps such as you could never enjoy if you merely bought a single touristuff item:
Those queens seem now to be very popular, but popes less so. But those decapitated lady bottle openers are a new siting, for me. It’s amazing what can look sexy, even after being guillotined.
I photoed books, under Waterloo Bridge. Books in large and sunlit clumps, and particular books, with particular titles:
It seems that the Conan The Barbarian books were written not by just the one writer, but by a team of writers. I did not know this. I wonder how that was organised.
I photoed Art. I photoed a lady all in white, photoing Art under the Queen Elizabeth Hall. That’s if you reckon middle of the range graffiti to be Art. Is this a possible future for brutalist architecture? Painting such concrete relics would surely make sense.
And I photoed people sitting on Art, in the form of giant green chairs, next to the Imax Cinema roundabout near Waterloo station
Apparently these big green chairs used to be down in that strange circle of pedestrian space that surrounds the bottom of the Imax Cinema, inside the roundabout.
If my walkabout this afternoon is anything to go by, Art is becoming less about Deep Significance (of the sort that has to be explained with Art Bollocks essays next to the Deeply Significant Art), and more about fun. Bring it on.
And bring on the day when they have exhibitions of Touristuff in Tate Modern. I hardly ever go inside Tate Modern, but I bet that would be more fun than what they put there now. And it might also be more Significant.