Love will find a way. Or something. A charming short film by Kirsten Lepore.
Love this time-lapse video compilation (by YouTuber stumptownfilms) from the protests in Madison, Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of people are motivated enough to walk around in the falling snow, and yet there is a lot of joy in these faces from people making history and sharing a cause.
A carnet de voyage is a travel diary, which forms the framework for this beautifully made, Oscar-nominated animated short by Bastien Dubois. We get to look into the journal of Dubois's trip to Madagascar, including a trek to a remote village where our white adventurer gets to observe famadihana, the Malagasy "turning of the bones" ritual, in which family members rewrap the bodies of their departed relatives in a festival of music and dancing.
I especially like the various animation styles used throughout, including what looks like rotoscoping.
The two best lines in the remarkable documentary Exit through the Gift Shop come near the end. Ostensibly about the street artist Bansky, the movie follows Thierry Guetta, an awkward vintage clothing store owner who first transforms into an obsessive videographer of L.A. street artists (including Shepard Fairey), and then becomes the artist Mr Brainwash, overnight becoming as successful as the artists he imitates.
Guetta's footage documents guerrilla artists as they create large and elaborate public artworks under cover of night while they dodge the police (or not). Later, we see these same artists' work become valuable commodities, as it moves from concrete walls on the street to hang on the walls in art galleries.
Much of their work repurposes and juxtaposes pop culture imagery and is thus (like the abstract expressionism in My Kid Could Paint That) highly imitatable. Thus, parts of this movie reinforce the idea that the art itself is less important than the story behind the art and the artist -- but Mr Brainwash's work, which has no history, still manages to sell for absurd prices to an art-buying public eager to catch (or invest in) the latest wave.
This presents a number of difficult questions: Does Guetta make art, or does it just look like art? What's the difference? Is Banksy (whose identity is not revealed) directing Guetta? Is the movie a hoax?
So, the two best lines are... well, I'll leave Banksy's excellent last line a mystery, but I'll repeat what his colleague Steve Lazarides says, since it's been widely quoted:
"I think the joke is on... I don’t know who the joke is on, really. I don’t even know if there is a joke."
Michal Levy is "a designer, a musician, a filmmaker, and a bandleader" who has made a couple music visualizations. She seems to be a synaesthete who visualizes music in terms of shapes and colors, and experiences visual art as sounds. I really like the animation of large-ensemble jazz by Jason Lindner, especially after it leaves its cityscape; be sure to visit her site to see Coltrane's "Giant Steps" (it's on YouTube, but it did not play smoothly and ruined the effect.) (And, yes, we've seen Giant Steps animated before!)
Found on Brain Pickings.
OurGlass of Cockington are a trio of glassblowers, a practice that demands quick work and complete concentration. Cooke captures the beautiful details of their art, from the intense fires to the molten glass to the hands of the artists, which are always in motion, spinning, swinging, cutting, and more. There's a wonderful choreography, as they seem to work instinctively and silently together.
The movie's narrative is pretty straightforward: a four-year-old girl in Binghamton, New York, Marla Olmstead, paints large and mature abstract expressionist paintings, and gets hailed as a genius. Media interest increases to a frenzy until an episode of 60 Minutes calls into question the authenticity of the work -- is the father involved? The parents adamantly deny it. It ends ambiguously, though it's clear the parents felt betrayed by Bar-Lev's editing choices and lack of unconditional support.
Bar-Lev has a privileged place, having started his documentary on the family before the allegations surfaced and having been accepted as a friend. The mother and father seem deeply sincere and surprised by the attention -- and the money -- but everything changes after the 60 Minutes pieces airs, and Bar-Lev turns skeptical. Bar-Lev reluctantly becomes a part of the film, as his motivations are as suspect as 60 Minutes's were.
The whole story plays into the common fear that modern art is a big scam, a hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of snickering intellectuals and a duped audience who continue to see the emperor's new clothes. Finally, the "regular folk" seem to say, proof! I always said my kid could do that crap!
There was a period, shortly after I visited SFMOMA for the first time, when I felt the same way. I couldn't get it, and some of the pieces seemed extremely simple in concept and simple to make. Fortunately, I ran into a colleague who collected modern art (and later "dropped out" of the business world to attend art school). He gave me a great explanation that formed part of how I think about art now. I was happy to see, in the special features of the My Kid Could Paint That DVD, the NY Times art critic Michael Kimmelman touch on some of the same ideas I've been dragging around for many years now.
In addition to speaking about ideas like effort, insider status, intention, and other aspects, Kimmelman mentions story. Specifically, that some modern art is effective because of the backstory it carries. Thus, a single black dot on a white canvas might seem stupidly simplistic and something anyone could do, but if we know nothing of the artist's intention or body of work, then we miss a vital ingredient in the piece's story. Out of the context of this back-and-forth dialogue with the rest of the art world, your black dot is just a black dot, but the one in the gallery is (to use another analogy) like a fragment of a cellphone conversation overheard on the subway -- it's essentially meaningless without the rest of the story.
Are Marla Olmstead's paintings real? The best of them (like the 3'x3' "Asian Sun" seen here) seem to have a compositional intention that is (almost literally) larger than Marla could have done on her own -- her early technique involved her sitting directly on the canvas as it lay flat on a table. On the other hand, if she did do them alone and achieved that result unconsciously, is the art less real because if it? Because of her age, they have no context beyond our shared cultural recognition of expressionist paintings. Is the story behind the art more important?
Some of the most interesting scenes involved the people on the periphery. The primary gallery owner, a hyperrealist painter who gives his true opinion of abstract art in an unguarded moment; the buyers of "Ocean," agreeing to pay $20,000 for a work the wife is clearly ambivalent about before driving off in their ridiculous Hummer; and the original reporter who broke the story, regrets having done so, and who remains the most clear-headed person in the documentary.
It all reminded me of the questions raised in Errol Morris's series in the NY Times, "Bamboozling Ourselves," about Han van Meegeren, an extremely successful art forger who made "newly discovered Vermeers" that fooled many experts despite what appears to be their complete inferiority to the master's true work.
To be sure, the Van Meegeren story raises many, many questions. Among them: what makes a work of art great? Is it the signature of (or attribution to) an acknowledged master? Is it just a name? Or is it a name implying a provenance? With a photograph we may be interested in the photographer but also in what the photograph is of. With a painting this is often turned around, we may be interested in what the painting is of, but we are primarily interested in the question: who made it? Who held a brush to canvas and painted it? Whether it is the work of an acclaimed master like Vermeer or a duplicitous forger like Van Meegeren — we want to know more.
One of the gifts I got this year was the lovely two-volume set of Lynd Ward's wordless stories. Made using woodcuts inspired equally by German expressionism and Albrecht Durer, Ward's "graphic novels" were made between 1929 and 1937. This set from the Library of America collects all six novels, and the title of one, Song Without Words, put me in mind of artworks that are similarly constrained. I have other wordless books, such as Laurence Hyde's Southern Cross and, um, well maybe that's the only other one I have.
I've long been drawn to songs without words. Not just classical, jazz, or jam-band type rock, but actual instrumental rock and pop songs that manage to be catchy and even hot the charts without words. Some are cheesy pop, like "Popcorn"; some are ambitious, like "Classical Gas"; and some are just downright great, like "Sleep Walk." (Funny to listen to Popcorn again and hear it as a precursor to electronica.) "Taps" is a wonderful example of a well-known instrumental -- nearly everyone can hum it, and it manages to retain its emotional impact. (This scene in From Here to Eternity, in which Montgomery Clift's character honors his dead friend, conveys the mournful feeling so well. That's Al Hirt playing.)
What else can you remove from music? A cappella groups dispense with instruments. Brian Eno's ambient music presents textures of sound that proceed without discernible rhythm. Early Steve Reich works used rhythm without harmonic or melodic development.
What's the visual art equivalent? Expressionist painters (some of them) used shapes and color instead of recognizable figures. Jackson Pollack painted without brushes; artists like Christo or Andy Goldsworthy create ephemeral visual works without canvas or paint. Man Ray created his "ray-o-grams" using photographic paper without a camera.
Films began as "moving pictures" without any sound, so we have to find other essential elements to delete. Chris Marker's La jetée from 1962 is a 28-minute montage of still images (with one brief exception), its science-fiction story told only in narration. Early surrealist experiments like Un Chien Andalu did without plot, and there must be many versions of character-less films like Koyaanisqatsi.
I'm sure I'm missing other examples.
(By the way, the title here comes from an old set of LPs for musicians to practice over, Music Minus One. Oh, it looks like they still exist!)