by  Chrissie_White on flickr

by Chrissie_White on flickr

As the photographer so aptly quotes from J.M. Barrie’s tale, “You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Peter Pan. That’s where I’ll always be waiting.”

IMG_0501 This is my art manifesto.

Inspired firstly by Claes Oldenberg’s poem, I am for an art…, I set out to create my own manifesto of what kind of art I am for, or, as I put it, what kind of art I will stand for.

My original plans were simple – I was going to write out my manifesto much as Oldenberg did his, and that would be that. I would spend my time making sure it was worded perfectly, or at least as close to perfectly as I could come, and then it would go in my commonplace book with all the other works of writing I have done throughout the course of the year. There is, however, a part of me that always wants to rebel against what is expected, and that part won out in creating my assignment.

IMG_0504Over the past few weeks, thanks in great part to art history class, I have gleaned inspiration from experimental and abstract artists, such as Rothko and Pollock. Paintings I formerly scoffed at, saying, of course, “a child could do that!”, have become visual wonders, and have greatly changed what my art manifesto previously would have said.

Today, it is a manifesto of experimentation and trial. Both the content of my manifesto, that is, and the physical representation that I present before you pictorially. I have no idea if this experiment with words, markers, pencil, film, bandages, mud, coffee, and blood succeeds in displaying what I stand for in art. It could be a complete and utter failure.

At the finishing step of my year, I think I could accept that.

The written portion of my manifesto follows. Some is reproduced on my constructed piece, some not. Together, they are a complete manifesto, or at least as complete as it is.

I stand for art that bleeds. That rends great and terrible tears through itself, sobbing through the pain, and bandaging the wounds.

I stand for art that comes from the bottom of a sneaker; unseen, unnoticed.

I stand for art that devours you. Alive.

I stand for art that melts in your fingers and on your tongue like blackened, burnt popcorn. I stand for art that leaves butter stains on your cheeks long after the taste has faded.

I stand for art that never has to say a word, but kills you with its eyes.

I stand for art that forces you to exhale when all you really want to do is scream.

I stand for art that lets you be afraid of the panthers that slumber under dark beds.

I stand for art that’s been dirtied, that everyone has had their hands in. Art where the painter is six people or twelve or three thousand.

I stand for art that children can play in or around or with; art that lives with them more fully than any adult every could.

I stand for art that releases truth like daggers out into the vast crowd, hearing the cries of pain, but never yielding.

I stand for art that drips off your tongue when you’re not quite awake yet and will forget your words only a second after releasing them.

I stand for art of color and light.

I stand for art like me.


 

Mark Rothko, Red, White, Brown, 1957.

Mark Rothko, "Red, White, Brown", 1957.

Jackson Pollock, Seven Red Paintings, 1950.

Jackson Pollock, "Seven Red Paintings", 1950.

 

Georgia OKeefe, Red Canna, 1925.

Georgia O'Keefe, "Red Canna", 1925.

Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life Red Poppies and Daisies, 1890.

Vincent Van Gogh, "Still Life Red Poppies and Daisies", 1890.

 

Andy Warhol, Campbells Soup Can, 1962.

Andy Warhol, "Campbell's Soup Can", 1962.

 

Salvador Dali, The Elephants, 1948.

Salvador Dali, "The Elephants", 1948.

It’s not a terribly subtle theme, I’m afraid. I struggled between various ideas on connecting pieces of artwork; artwork about water, artwork about friendship, artwork with fish in the background, artwork that had something to do with clouds. But with each route I attempted to go for this entry, I kept finding myself right back at the first piece I thought of, Mark Rothko’s “Red, White, Brown”. And so, in the end, it was a very simple theme.

Red.

Red has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember. I had an obsession with crayons as a child (and still do, to an extent), and I remember my mother painting my bedroom to surprise me when I was about ten years old. All around the room, in a border of color of parade, she had cut sponges into the shape of crayons and dipped them in brilliant, primary colors to cover my walls. The red crayon shape was just above my head when I slept, and I sometimes fancied I could see words written in the holes of the print left by sponge. 

Even as I write this, working in my dorm room almost a decade later, the rug I sit on is the same bright red as that crayon from so long ago. Not much has remained the same since I was ten years old, but my favorite color is still red.

When people try to give meaning to colors, red usually gets classified as the ‘passionate’ color, the ‘angry’ one, the one with energy and life. I don’t think children choose a favorite color based on what meaning has been handed to it; I know red isn’t my favorite color because of what it means. Red continues to astound me simply because of its brilliance. Placed beside any other color, red immediately stands out. A can of red paint seems to glimmer, inviting pale fingers to dip inside. Red lipstick is almost a fashion icon of it’s own. 

Each image, each work of art I found connected with the color red, immediately struck me as vibrant, trembling works that picked the color specifically for its draw. The red on a Campbell’s soup can is instantly recognizable. Pollock’s seven paintings could be dancing with the life the color gives them. And Rothko… 

I have to search for my own breath. This rare constant in my life, my ever-present color, contradicts itself as it continues to change me upon each glance. Red, the lifeblood of the painter, spills across his canvas without abandon. I look, and am forever changed.

One stanza of this poem, in bold text below, has been one of my favorite poetic stanzas of all time. Today, I finally found the entire poem, and it is just as wonderful. No, this does not pertain to art history (the lab for this week is a separate post), but I’ve begun to enjoy putting bits of my favorite parts of the world in here. 

THE DAY is done, and the darkness
  Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
  From an eagle in his flight.
  
I see the lights of the village
  Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
  That my soul cannot resist:
  
A feeling of sadness and longing,
  That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
  As the mist resembles the rain.
  
Come, read to me some poem,
  Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
  And banish the thoughts of day.
  
Not from the grand old masters,
  Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
  Through the corridors of Time.
  
For, like strains of martial music,
  Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
  And to-night I long for rest.
  
Read from some humbler poet,
  Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
  Or tears from the eyelids start;
  
Who, through long days of labor,
  And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
  Of wonderful melodies.
  
Such songs have power to quiet
  The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
  That follows after prayer.
  
Then read from the treasured volume
  The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
  The beauty of thy voice.
  
And the night shall be filled with music,
  And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
  And as silently steal away.
 

 

Jackson Pollock, Number 8, 1949.

Jackson Pollock, "Number 8", 1949.

In the wake of great and terrible war, some generations have used art to depict the carnage in realistic or otherwise graphic terms. Some generations attempted to use art to explain what was going on around them, why the world was turning upside-down. A great many generations painted what they saw to try and put the war aside.

Abstract expressionism, upon its arrival onto the art world, did not attempt to portray World War II in any kind of realistic vision. In fact, the paintings from abstract expressionists are not even about war, but only caused by it. I wonder, indeed, if this movement would have ever began without the internal turmoil of artists that followed the war. 

Jackson Pollock’s Number 8 is not an abstract image of war, but a direct result of it. After a period of so much chaos and destruction, of everything being turned around and destroyed, Pollock fought back by creating art that was a deliberate, chaotic creation. The confusion on canvas is purposeful; unlike war, it is beautiful in the nearly-nonsensical order of things. When it seemed that anyone could photograph the reality of the great tragedy, artists took to “just painting” as their outlet for so subtly speaking on the crashing horrors of the war, without ever having to be direct or obvious. 

When I look at Number 8, I see the entire world reflected back at me. The contrasting and complementing combination of color, the lines extending across the canvas to touch other parts, the light tripping over dark and everything working together in some nearly-unexplainable, beautiful way. War incorporated into the movement of the entire world. In a way, Number 8 is about war, but it seems far more to be a result of war, and about creation. 

Never before have I appreciated Jackson Pollock so much.

 

Blowing Clouds, by Flickr user PateoForma

"Blowing Clouds", by Flickr user PateoForma

[Before I continue, I think I need to justify myself a bit. In art history class, this might be considered a repetition of a lab, doing the same thing two weeks in a row. Truthfully, though, I find this piece to be completely different than my previous post about my camera. While that was a piece commenting on a found object, this is a found object created; a two-part series, if you will. I know that’s breaking the rules a bit, but I feel it’s necessary. I stumbled into this piece almost by accident, and I feel I simply must put it out there.]

these people so scared of silence. these are my neighbors. these sound-oholics. these quiet-ophobics.

this is the arms race of sound.

there are worse things you can do to the people you love than kill them. the regular way is just to watch the world do it. 

just read the newspaper.

sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.

here’s the power of life and a cold clean bloodless easy death, available to anyone. to everyone. an instant, bloodless, Hollywood death.

imagine a plague you catch through your ears.

sticks and stones will break your bones, but now words can kill, too.

my Hiroshima.

the deaf shall inherit the earth.

she says, “armoires are the cockroaches of our culture.”

this furniture was supposed to represent, it’s all vanished.

and what if you can’t forget it?

sticks and stones may break your bones, but watch out for those damn words.

power corrupts. and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

yeah, the world could be just perfect, with a little trimming here and there. some unnatural selection.

these noise-oholics. these quiet-ophobics.

through the walls, you hear the laughter and applause of dead people.

it could be I’ve just killed the whole building.

it’s the sound of dropping an egg on the kitchen floor, only a really big, big egg full of blood and brains.

and I’m counting 578, counting 579, counting 580…

these media-holics. These quiet-ophobics.

sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can hurt like hell.

either a brave, stubborn southern belle is trying to keep the Union army from burning the apartment next door, or somebody’s television is too loud.

we’re the culture that cried wolf

with a hundred paper tigers to slay along the way.

for whatever reason, Oedipus Rex comes to mind.

pretty yellow devastation.

this is both of us looking straight ahead at the road in the headlights rushing under the hood of the car.

there are worse things you can do to the people you love than kill them.

I have to agree. It does get to be a bad habit.

constructive deconstruction.

the ballad for our revolution, turned into background music for a television commercial.

some people still think knowledge is power.

I tell her, I have no idea.

the more people die, the more things stay the same.

sticks and stones may break your bones, but here we go again.

another scarred parasite. another mutilated cockroach armoire.

I look at him, too long, and ask if he isn’t the pot calling the kettle black.

“do you still love me?”

and I ask if I have a choice.

these rock-oholics. these quiet-ophobics.

the old power of words. till death do us part.

the best way to waste your life is by taking notes.

the easiest way to avoid living is to just watch, a grateful member of the audience.

all that work and love and effort and time, my life, wasted.

everything I hoped would outlive me I’ve ruined.

after that, I just listen. I wait for him to stop crying so I can say I’m sorry.

and this, too is my life.

holding out her hand, Helen says, “Here.”

and I take it. and she doesn’t let go. and we kiss. and it’s nice.

I need to rebel against myself.

it’s the opposite of following your bliss. I need to do what I most fear.

welcome to hell.

and I’m glad.

everywhere, words are mixing. words and lyrics and dialogue are mixing in a soup that could trigger a chain reaction.

sticks and stones may break our bones, but our role is just to be a good audience. to just pay our attention and wait for the next disaster.

this is the equivalent of a fashion rape.”

she wants to destroy all the jewels that people think will save them. all the residue that outlasts the talent and intelligence and beauty.

she wants to destroy all the lovely parasites that outlive their human hosts.

jagged pink sapphires

fragments of purple spinels

shards of black bort diamond

the details of her suit are, it’s some color. it’s a suit. it’s ruined

my blood and hers, mixed now.

her mouth is open a little, her glittering teeth are real diamonds.

you are the possessed.

we’re all of us haunting and haunted.

look for magic.

look for saints.

 

When you pull lines from a piece of literature and cobble them together, it’s called a ‘found’ poem. This certainly classifies as one, although perhaps more so, because I didn’t even find the lines myself. Each line was highlighted in a book lent to me by a friend; I found each line marked as important to her. All I did in the end was put them together to create some strange, trembling piece of poetry. 

 

The tenuous hold I have on this piece surprises me. It is no longer entirely of my construction – my friend and the author of the book also have their hand in it. Like those artists, sharing studio space and switching off pieces to work on each other’s, I feel I have lost my grasp on any idea of ownership. Because who really owns this piece? The man who wrote it, the girl who found each line, or the one who stitched those lines together?

 

You can’t always put art into pretty little boxes. For every period, there is a Bosch, defying the ‘natural’ movement of the work. For almost every artist, there is a piece that nobody knows who to credit for. Art is far more complicated than that. 

img_0491 Out of the recesses of my father’s closet came my most prized ‘found’ object. He’s an executive for a well-known computer company, and I had to admit great surprise at finding such an artistic device as a camera within a closet scattered with old computer parts and ugly ties.

I suppose, for most found objects, one wouldn’t have to request keeping it. In this case, however, I did, and since it turned out he hadn’t used the camera in years, it became mine that week or so before Christmas. 

I can’t say it works perfectly; the light meter inside is broken, so I often expose incorrectly (it’s too early for me to have exposures down by eye). But every click of its shutter is something beautiful and powerful; a device that can capture the world so wonderfully is perhaps the most wonderful of found objects.

It’s the kind of found objects that begets others as one studies the world through the viewfinder. And not just found objects, but found people, places, memories. As Barthes used a photograph to find his mother again, the camera can quietly find so much more than we would expect it to. Perhaps a found camera, despite its slight technological flaws, is one of the most meaningful of cameras. It was found, it finds. We repay each other with every photograph. 

Those artists from the early days of photography, the ones who thought it a far inferior idea of art, don’t make me angry. They make me laugh. Cameras are rarely as objective as they seem; they paint the world in their own shades of color.

And as to finding one, well, it is a great and rare gift.

 

Shadow Drawings

Shadow Drawings

The commonplace book work for this term’s art history class has turned towards doing labs – small projects creating and asking questions about art. For the most recent lab, I went to the Learning to Love You More website and picked an assignment of theirs to complete. Specifically, number six, “make a poster of shadows”.

Being a filmmaker and a future cinematographer, I have to admit choosing this project because it felt natural. I spend hours of my days staring at light and shadow, hoping to figure out how to re-create the world that so beautifully exists. Anyone who is in cinematography will agree that a great part of painting with light is also painting with shadows. I had never drawn some of these shadows out, however, and I found the experience remarkably invigorating. My drawing is not particularly skilled or beautiful, but it is fantastic representation of how I see the world around me.

Honestly, I don’t know how to bring all these thoughts back into a particular work of art. The assignment didn’t cause me to think about a single work of art at all, but rather to consider shadows even more deeply and their role within the painted world, as well as the photographed one. The importance of shadows can’t be overlooked; a world, a piece of art without shadows would be immensely more boring than a world inhabited by light and dark.

“Never fear shadows. They simply mean a bright light is shining nearby.”

Dear sir,

Man Jumping Over Puddle, Paris, France, Gare Saint Lazare 1932.

"Behind the Gate St. Lazare", Paris, France, 1932.

Why such a hurry? I can see the the rain has muddied things up quite a bit in Paris, but surely that’s not cause enough for you to go flying across the street. Has your wife taken ill? Your child? I could go on for so much longer, but the pointlessness of the exercise begins to draw at me. 

The truth is, sir, there is just so much you could be doing, thinking, hurrying off to. Your photographer (one Henri Cartier-Bresson, that is) managed to capture with such skill that moment in which everything is illuminated, and yet the moments before and after the shutter click are left entirely to the imagination. It is the one fact I have of you, that second of suspension over a French puddle. All else is fiction, creation, an attempt by myself to fill in the rest of your story.

Perhaps not all else, though. There are, at least, two other things I know about you from this picture. A second before it was taken, you jumped, and a second after it ended, you landed. The rest of your life remains a complete mystery, but I know of those few, sparse seconds.

I hope you did not get your shoes too wet as you landed. I know what a frustration it can be to have damp shoes when the weather is already horrid outside. I’d like to think that you didn’t; that you landed safely on the other side and ran down those Parisian streets to happily conclude your day. I’d like to think that whatever mission you had to accomplish was, indeed, accomplished, and that this was not the only time you were captured on film. I hope someone else took your picture at some time, so that history might have a record of your face, as well as your puddle-jumping skills.

Sir, I apologize for not knowing your name, but I hope you can understand that. The buildings in the background of your picture are so much clearer than you are; you are, really, a human-shaped blur reflected equally blurry in the water beneath your shape. In your rush, you have only barely slipped onto film – almost as if through an accident – but while leaving this mark of identity, you have failed to separate yourself from every other man on the street.

Except, of course, as the puddle-jumper.

Please write back. I want very badly to know your name, and why you were in such a hurry that day. I continue to hope that you are still alive.