Archive for June, 2011

Controversial Young Photographer

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2011 by dmanco

A young photographer’s postmodern take on the Stations of the Cross predictably made his church reluctant to display it last year. I’m going to withhold judgement for now and let you read the article if you haven’t heard about it already. I also encourage you to scan the comments afterward. Check out the article at: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6890609.html

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Daily Diversions

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2011 by dmanco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re ever bored and feel like entertaining postal workers, you could do a little doodling on your Netflix envelopes. Check out some interesting examples at the link below.

http://www.doodlersanonymous.com/entry.php?entryID=1678

I Like to Mix ‘Em All

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2011 by dmanco

I use this video to teach my students about rotoscoping, the art of drawing on film and video frames to create an animated movie. “Waking Life” is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it beautifully combines rotoscoping with some interesting philosophical discussions on life. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

Daily Diversions

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2011 by dmanco

     As an artist, you can’t take yourself too seriously. Look for daily doses of humor here to get you through your day. If you’re unfamiliar with Internet culture, memes are recurring, recycled images and videos with multiple variations. They are usually big inside jokes. Art Student Owl is one of my favorites. You should check it out!  http://lmgtfy.com/?q=art+student+owl

Behind the Scenes

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2011 by dmanco

                                                                                                                  How do you change a bleak and gray Indiana landscape into a colorful and wonder-filled environment? Well, of course it starts with a little imagination. Add some digital painting and texturing using Photoshop, mix in some ingredients which shall, ahem, remain trade secrets, and you end up with a series I call “Babes in the Woods.” I’ve blogged about this series before, but I wanted to show you a little peek behind the scenes, if you will. After scouting locations at Foster and Shoaff parks in Fort Wayne, I began to look for clearings, paths, and areas I imagined two runaways might wander through. For this series, I used my children as the models, but because of their ages, and because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted the final outcomes to look like, I shot their pictures in my home and inserted them into the landscapes. After a bit of convincing, they put on some clothing hand-picked by me from area thrift stores. I knew I wanted a vintage look to this series, so I went for clothing styles and colors that reminded me of nostalgic television shows like the Little Rascals and Hee Haw.  I also chose old doll heads purchased at local antique shops to create a more surreal, entertaining image. In this series there is almost as much digital painting as there are photographic elements. Although I’m loathe to use outside sources, I purchased some vintage, copyright-free butterfly images to complete the piece. The work pictured, “Discovery,” was purchased by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in 2009, and the entire series was finished in 2010.

Chinese Cynical Realists

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2011 by dmanco

                                                                                                         

Upon first glance, the work of contemporary Chinese artists such as Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun might look cartoonish, silly and even surreal, hardly what we today might consider realism in the proper sense. But further research into their work, known by the term Cynical Realism, would reveal that, at the heart of their curious, unusual and sometimes confusing paintings and sculptures, is a piercing look into the reality of the minds and lives of average Chinese citizens, many of whom have become disillusioned with the “glories” of the Cultural Revolution. These artists walk a fine line, where they desire to speak the truth as they see it to those who will listen, but risk persecution for doing so. But these avant-garde artists, despite political and social oppression, have managed to spark their own cultural revolution, founding a style of art that has made the Chinese art market a booming, multi-million dollar industry, and have allowed the world a glimpse of the modern Chinese mindset behind the red curtain.
     Cynicism has been called “the art of seeing things as they are” , and originated with the ancient Greeks. The most well-known Greek cynic was Diogenes who, with his fellow Cynics, would stand on the street like a pack of dogs and ridicule any passerby who seemed “pompous, pretentious, materialistic or downright wicked.” Not surprisingly, these Cynics were unpopular with their fellow citizens, but they continued to reveal hard truths. They considered their chief duty in life to protect virtue and expose foolishness. Nobody was immune from their cynical observations, not even Alexander the Great, and this method of making keen observations and reporting the truth has continued through the centuries, carried on in the works of numerous writers and artists, including Voltaire and Mark Twain. Of course, cynicism in and of itself will not bring people enlightenment, but it can clear the path that leads there. It has also been compared to a magnifying glass, one that can enhance the truth but distort it if one is not careful. It is this truth-seeking and revealing, the original purpose of cynicism, that intrigues me in the work of these Chinese artists, and I wish to keep this original intent in mind, and not the negativity and sarcasm so closely associated with cynicism today, as I discuss their works.
     Cynical Realism is a reaction to and a descendent of Socialist Realism in the Soviet Union and China. Art academies in China had, since the Cultural Revolution, trained students in the Soviet tradition, whose purpose was primarily to promote and support the common good of the public . Socialist Realism was the only approved art style in the Soviet Union for almost 60 years. It became official policy by a decree from Stalin, and all artists who painted or otherwise created art that was outside of this official style could be sent to labor camps in Siberia. It was not until the late 1980s that other styles of art began to see the light of day under Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. Interestingly, Socialist Realism had at its roots a love for neoclassicism and the works of European artists such as Jacques-Louis David, as well as the realism found in Russian literature of the 19th century that described the life of simple folk. This interest in common, ordinary people marked a shift away from the aristocratic art of the tsars to a style that held up and glorified the ideals of the Communist state, namely the struggle of the proletariat toward social progress. Aside from a few stellar examples, the bulk of Socialist Realism produced was formulaic and insipid, depicting happy peasants going about their work in factories and on collective farms, a “reality” that did not, for the most part, even exist.
     Socialist Realism in China followed along a very similar path, with the idealized life of the happy, energetic worker used to inspire the masses. The paintings are perhaps a bit more colorful, with heavier, almost cartoonish outlines, and their bold, commercial look made for powerful propaganda posters. After Mao’s death, his successors Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping, allowed the Chinese people a bit more freedom in order to compete industrially and economically with the West. It was at this time that average Chinese people were able to begin accumulating some wealth for themselves, and the tight political controls over artists began to loosen, allowing for other styles of art, including more modern modes of representation.
     The upheavals of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in China made the world increasingly aware of the oppression and violation of human rights by the Chinese government, and began to turn the tide of public sentiment against the ideals of the Cultural Revolution. Artists who wished to make statements about the socio-political climate or their distrust of the government had to cleverly and subversively hide their sentiments in their work or face persecution. These cynics, many from poor provinces and bohemian communities, had been brought up in arts academies that held to the principles of Socialist propaganda, but they could no longer hold their creative and political urges. Using humor and ambiguous narratives, these artists mimicked and mocked the smiling faces of the Chinese workers of the Socialist posters, putting them in situations that made viewers question the real emotions being expressed. The two most famous “Cynical Realists,” as the they were called, were Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun, and they were the leaders of the avant-garde artistic revolution that was to bring fame and great financial benefits both to themselves and to the country which had, at one time, hoped to squash their talents.
     Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun struggled for years in poverty, with no outlets for their work and no prospects of selling their art. A few years later, they would rise to the heights of the art world, making millions and being featured in numerous international exhibits, including the Venice Biennale. They have defined the contemporary Chinese art market, and their work continues to sell today.
     Fang Lijun is most known for his bald-headed figures and dusty landscapes. It is frequently difficult to tell in his work whether his figures are screaming or yawning, and it is this ambiguity that makes his work so complex. Fang’s paintings and prints reflect the attitudes of modern Chinese youth: that they would “rather be lost, bored, crisis-ridden, misguided punks” than accept the dogmas of the Cultural Revolution. His figures are slightly distorted, and his heads are frequently too large for their bodies, but the reality of the situation shows through the often cartoonish exterior. This is not Mao’s utopia. Chinese people, especially the youth, are in a state of flux, and need to discover who they are, apart from the state. The characters are frequently painted in vivid reddish hues, sometimes wearing what looks like prison garb, and often grouped together in crowds. Occasionally the figures appear to be looking upward to the heavens, pleading or perhaps waiting for the sky to fall. His wicked and dark sense of humor, his innate cynicism toward Communist ideals, and the hard life he led up to his discovery and success, is what qualifies his work “realism,” not his technique.
     Yue Minjun also shows his disillusionment with the Cultural Revolution. His works are usually self-portraits of sorts, with large, exaggerated heads and wide, ambiguous smiles, which, like Fang’s yawns, border on other expressions such as pain. His pink, stylized figures are frequently placed in almost surreal situations and landscapes, but his dark sense of humor is always present. Yue’s self-portraits symbolize China’s everyman, and his smiles and strange scenarios seem to show China’s “collective madness and spiritual dissolution.” These smiles make a mockery of the smiling Chinese peasants in the Maoist posters of the past, which were also distinctively fake and plastic, and stretches them into grimaces. These mask-like faces seem to laugh insanely, as if they are helpless to do anything else in their circumstances.
     There is some criticism of this work despite its acceptance and success. Some claim that it is not Realism in the proper sense, and that the cynicism infused in the work by the artists, along with the sometimes cartoon-like treatment of the figures, work against the realism it claims to represent. While I agree with the concept that it is not the Realism we are used to from our Western past, with a strong emphasis on representing outward realities as they actually appear, I believe that it is the cynicism itself which actually makes it a form of Realism. And if I may make a comparison, I would point out that Chinese Realism, like Western Realism, emerged out of a period of political and social distress in which artists rejected the canons of its time; for the West, academic and Romantic art; for the Chinese, Socialist Realism. The fact that the Chinese Realists worked so boldly, in the face of possible persecution, to shatter the illusions presented so forcefully in the propaganda of the Cultural Revolution, makes it, in my mind, both cynical and realistic. It is certainly more psychologically realistic than the arguably more romantic Socialist Realist posters.
     Another criticism of Cynical Realism is that the work has been sold almost exclusively to museums in the West, and that these artists are pandering to Western ideas about the failures of the Chinese government. However, I agree with those who say that this is an insult to these artists, who are expressing something uniquely new to Chinese society. In my opinion it cannot be held against these artists if their outsider views are only appreciated by other outsiders.

                  

References

Ambrozy, Lee. “A Brief History of Cynical Realism Via Fang Lijun.” Sinopop.org. 7 April 2008. Web. Nov. 3 2010.
Barboza, David. “The Many Faces of Yu Minjun.” Artzinechina.com. 2008. Web. 3 Nov.2010.
Bayan, Rick. “What is Cynicism?” I-cynic.com. 1996. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
Cavaliere, Barbara. “Art Periods: Realism.” DiscoverFrance.net. 1997.
Chen Yifei. “Cynical Realism.” Artrealization.com. 2005. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
“Cynical Realism.” ArtandCulture.com. 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
“Fang Lijun Overview.” ArtandCulture.com. 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
Lu, Candy. “Socialist Realism Art in China.” Ilearn-culture.com. 24 Feb 2010. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
Martin, Thomas James. “Cynicism: The Art of Seeing Things As They Are.” Suite 101.com. July 31, 2002. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
“Socialist Realism.” New World Encyclopedia. 18 Feb 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.

Shaking the Spectacle

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2011 by dmanco

     When Guy DeBord wrote about the society as a spectacle, I believe he was referring to the concept that, in our modern society, we are inundated with images and ideas, primarily through mass media outlets like television, magazines and the internet, so much so that we ourselves get caught up in the circus-like atmosphere of life. This spectacle shapes our reality and becomes a new reality, one in which we become alienated from our own reality, our own self-interests, our own obligations and roles in society and begin to talk and think and act like people we have never met before simply because we have been caught up in the spectacle. In fact, it is so pervasive that it could be said that we do not even know what reality is and that we only know what the spectacle says reality is. It is like an opiate, a perception-altering phenomenon that lulls us into believing we are living life, when in fact we are only observing, as Plato would say, the shadows on the cave wall. We are unwitting, unthinking dupes who buy into what others tell us reality is.
     A case in point is the example of 9-11, when people said that the destruction of the twin towers was “just like a movie.” The spectacle of action and war movies is our reference point, our reality. We know about war in our society primarily from television and movies. The horror of 9-11 becomes “real” when we realize that it reminds us of a movie. For those in the towers and on the ground it was real, but for the rest of us it is made real through the spectacle.
     DeBord’s ideas led people to question art and its role in the spectacle. Fluxus is an art movement that helps wake us up from the spectacle. It shakes us out of our zombie-like state and makes us feel something, and can bring about an awareness of our place and the artist’s place in the spectacle. It can also be a critique of the society it is happening in. Fluxus shows us that life itself can be art, and frequently takes the form of what looks like normal, everyday activities until some kind of “event” happens that is not expected. These events, because they are happening to us or near us, engage our minds, flip on the switch and make us aware that we have been walking around on auto-pilot without really experiencing life fully. It is this kind of reaching out, of attempting to touch us, physically and metaphorically, that makes Fluxus so interesting. With a Fluxus state of mind, anyone can walk through thier everyday life and be self-aware, a spectator to the spectacle but not an unknowing, unwilling participant.