Abstract Expressionism - Again

2017 09 07 - 15:37

What Makes an Abstract Expressionist Painting Good? Though broadly interested in using abstraction as a way to convey individual emotions, the painters who worked in an AbEx mode actually spanned a wide range of techniques, styles, and intentions. In short, like all art-historical groupings, AbEx is both broad and somewhat limiting in how it brings together a diverse range of artists. Each artist had a signature style, from Pollock’s spontaneous, chaotic drip technique to Rothko’s atmospheric squares.

The fact I don't like abstract expressionism is not news to anyone who bothers to listen to me rattle on about art. I find it - in large part - unattractive, noisey, and unfinished. I won't go on about the other reasons I don't like it, because they're too nit-picky for public consumption. I do, though, not mind the paintings of Franz Kline; but I think that's got a lot to do with them being fairly monochromatic - all black and white. They are not a mess of colour as Willem de Kooning's works were, nor the pantone book on acid works of Mark Rothko (although some of them do put one in mind of looking out of a window that's frosted over in condensation, so you only get a vague idea of the world on the other side of the glass. Geezuz, took me over 30 years, but I finally found a point to Rothko), nor the bird shit of Pollock. But, these people did do one thing for which they do deserve a lot of credit: They opened a door. That door had nothing to do with what they did, but with the fact that it allowed people another layer of freedom when it came to painting. It took off yet another layer of fetters.

But, as with all abstract art forms, to my mind, the whys of it can be summed up in that it "can elicit an emotional response from viewers that requires a physical, often prolonged, encounter with them". That's what the point of a lot of abstract art is - to make you feel something. The colours, the shapes, the patterns, the mess, the size, whatever it is, is designed to get a reaction from you. Jackson Pollock got it out of me, by the very fact that he made something I hate to look at; a lot less vehement than the self-loathing that poor bastard experienced for much of his life before he drank himself up a tree trunk.

I love abstract art, but something a lot less frenzied than much of the world of the abstract expressionist. I like a less violently jarring and frenetic use of colour. I like recognisable shapes, even if they aren't shapes out of reality. I like patterns. I like shading and gradient. I like the kind of abstraction that comes out of surrealist creative techniques. I like surrealism itself.

And to anyone who says "I could do that" or "my kid could do that" - if that's so, then by all means go home and do it. But, otherwise, keep it to yourself if that's your only criticism. If you're saying that because you hate the work, then just say you hate the work. If you are saying it because you - like myself - think that Pollock looks like bird shit, then just say Pollock looks like bird shit. If you don't grok what you're looking at, then say that - maybe someone can give some perspective. But if you think you can do better, I won't challenge that. I'll help you select the paint and the canvas to use. I'll tell you the cheapest places to shop. I'll give you names if you need some works to be inspired by.

I find that most criticism of art comes from a lack of understanding. Hell, I've been an arty kind of person most of my life - in one way or another - am familiar with most major schools and genres, have taken art history courses, have been to galleries, looked at books, read articles, listened to artists - and I still very frequently look at something and think, "I don't get it." I don't blame or fault anyone for not getting it. It's a legitimate visceral initial reaction to anything, especially abstract works. So, if you don't get it, look at it for a while. Don't try to figure out what the artist was trying to convey, just have a reaction to it. Enjoy the colour, the brushwork, the pattern, whatever it is. If you don't get the artist's point, at least you've given yourself one.

Also, remember that not everything can appeal to everyone all the time. There are seven billion people on this planet, each with a different perspective. Just as not all of them are going to like your cooking, your taste in music, or even you, they sure aren't all going to like the same kind of art; and even if they do, they might not all be liking it for the same reasons.


Diva of Dissatisfaction

2017 09 07 - 10:31

I used to spend an enormous amount of time as a young person, staying up late watching movies on TV. Anything, really. It's how I developed a love for old Hollywood. Then, when I'd stay over my high school bestie's place at weekends, we would - as kids are wont to do - stay up late watching movies on the telly. When we weren't doing this together, we'd often have ended up watching the same stuff separately, so it happened that one week we'd watched the 1981 French film Diva - the plot of which I won't detail overmuch. Suffice it to say, that it's a thriller surrounding the illicit recording of an opera singer, prostitutes, and corrupt police. I remember quite liking it.

Well, a couple of years afterwards, and gawd knows how these things ended up being made, that same friend gifted me with a pocket notebook that happened to have the movie's poster on the front of it (which features a knife - this is key to the story). Sometime after that, I ended up at a neighbour's for tea. She was a nice enough person as I recall, but a thoroughly nervous born again Christian. I had taken the notebook out to write something down, and accidentally left it there. When she returned it to my grandmother, she had some kind of hushed, 'concerned' conversation about how she thought I was worshipping the devil because of the content of the notebook cover - the knife, in specific. (Couple with the fact that at the time, I was going through my late visually punk heavily wearing black and a leather jacket phase).

I don't think my grandmother was really worried, but she did bring up the conversation with the neighbour when she gave the notebook back to me. I explained the plot of the film to her, and that was that.

I've been seeing a lot more - old and new - stuff lately, about what it means if your child is listening to certain kinds of music. I didn't listen to punk because I was looking to rebel - I listened to it because I liked the sound of it, the feel, the rough edges and raw energy. I would have rebelled anyhow; punk just happened to come along for the ride. It did help lift me out of a mousey personality that I should never have had, and give me a vehicle to express something that yards of Bowie albums - much as I loved him - was never going to do.

I'm still rebelling a little I think, and still about the same thing - against a person I do not want to be. In a good way.

* * *

The movie poster in question:


Post Cladis

2017 08 30 - 02:00

As a nerd child I loved hard sci-fi, but was never much into fantasy outside of the idea of it being costume drama (when it came to film or TV). Sword and sorcery was never my deal. I could never identify with any creature that was too non-human: no orcs, no trolls, no werewolves. I was far more Dune and Doctor Who than LoTR. To be honest with you, I found trying to read Tolkien a massive chore. He wasn't a great writer; but I don't think he was trying to be. It's always been my understanding that he wrote the books because he'd invented the Elvish language Quenya - linguist that he was, and the books became his vehicle for showcasing it.

I was talking to someone today about all this, and what it is I do love these days - which is dystopian or speculative fiction. I have a fascination for how societies will try to reconstruct after a disaster - what social orders do they choose, what of the past do they eschew, what ways do they attempt to control and codify people. As a side to this, I like post-apocalyptic stuff as well. I think the reason why I enjoy the speculative fiction genre so much, is because I find it all so very plausible - even the more far-fetched situations. I can see how we could end up creating some of the cultures I've seen in YA dystopia. I've read a lot of YA dystopia, because they're the only ones really getting it directed at them. Sometimes I wonder if it's all a message to the young to prepare for a less than savoury future. I haven't seen any adult-directed dystopian/speculative fiction in the societal construct vein - outside of The Handmaid's Tale, which I love, in all its forms - and as I've mentioned before, I don't count Snowpiercer; it's a piece of shit, and it's been too long since I've seen A Boy and His Dog for me to opine on it. "Snowpiercer's" (*) only saving grace was having John Hurt in the cast.

Also, I don't identify at all with non-human creatures - not animals, nor elves. People are my favourite animals. If I had a spirit animal, it would probably be a human. (Although, according to some bullshit Native astrological thing I once read, it's a bear.)

* And it occurs to me that I'm not sure how one would do a possessive with a title that's in quotation marks. Does the 's go inside the quotation marks, or outside? This would probably also be affected by whether you're writing like a Brit or an American. Addendum: I was told that if one can't just rewrite the sentence to avoid it altogether, the possessive should go outside the quotation marks.

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2017 08 13 - 20:05

I really need to work on the niceties of my reiho.

Not just because I could fail a grading for bad reiho faster than I would for mistakes in the waza, but also because it bothers me that it not nearly as tidy and precise as it should be. Reiho is the most important thing. I'm not kidding when I say that you could fail a grading for bad reiho even if your waza are perfect. It counts for far more than anything else. Bad reiho means bad manners and lack of respect.

During the koryu form of the kneeling part of reiho, one must grasp grasp the middle of the saya with the left hand, and the tsuba with the right, in such a way that every time I do it I feel like I'm going to pitch forward on my face. It's the left hand part that does me in, because I have no issue with the seitei form of this part of reiho. I don't think anyone's noticed it yet, but in order to make sure I don't pitch forward, when I have my left hand down to grasp the saya, I actually place the heel of the hand on the floor briefly and put a little weight on it, then kind of push myself back up, because I don't think I can get back up otherwise. If the sword were a little closer than it is, I could probably manager it properly; but it's got to be far enough out that I can bow to it without touching it or the sageo. In the kneel part of Muso Shinden reiho, though, the angle of the sword relative to the body is much greater than in the seitei form, and the tsuba is in line with your right knee. In the seitei form the angle is less and the tsuba is out past your knee. Maybe it's the right hand part  after all, because I'm leaning farther out.

Either way, It's not elegant; nor is my seitei reiho.

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Coloured Pencils

2017 08 10 - 12:15

I'm going to detail some of the minutia of my obsession with coloured pencils; because I know you're all just as excited about that as I am. I know it. I can tell.

Moving on...

Some of you may be aware of my incessant need to own every set of quality pencil crayons there is. I'm doing all right so far, as you can see; but there are a few missing. There are also a couple of things not yet on the list, because I can't find reliable lightfastness ratings for them. Apparently the CPSA has done extensive testing and has charts, but I haven't yet bothered with a membership with them in order to access those charts.

These ones are on the way. They have arrived, and are sitting in the pile o' pencils happily with their friends.

These ones are next on the list.

These ones will probably never happen because, yeah, price. And believe me when I tell you that that's the cheapest you'll see them for.

These are currently impossible to get in Canada - I have yet to find a source, so I'd have to order them from the US, which would put them at nearly $400 CAD, so also probably never coming to live with me.

These ones are also not yet available in Canada, but I'm sure will be at some point. However, I'd currently have to order them from the UK open stock, as a number of the set are not acceptably lightfast, so I'd only buy the ones that are. And, after doing a colour comparison to the Derwent Artist line I already have, I see that there are only six colours in the Procolour line that are not in the Artist line - so I'll just get those. They are also now availlable in Canada through Above Ground Art Supplies in Toronto. You can order off their website in sets or open stock.

There are open stock pencils in the cases, from a few different sources.

What you can see:

Derwent Drawing Pencils 24
Faber-Castell Polychromos 120
Koh-I-Noor Polycolor 72
Gallery Soft Pastels (not pencils)
Lyra Rembrandt 72
Derwent Inktense Pencils 72
Derwent Inktense Blocks 72
Derwent Coloursoft Pencils 120
Prismacolor Premier 150

What you can't see:

A handful of Caran D'Ache Luminance pencils
Derwent Studio pencils
Derwent Artist pencils
Derwent Metallics
Derwent Graphitint
Derwent Tinted Charcoal

I'm leaving my drawing and painting pens out of it.

My stash

Picture Imperfect

2017 08 04 - 23:33

Photographic series or bodies of work are being explicated, explained, contextualized, rationalized, and elevated with text or verbal rationals. You’re thinking: so what? That’s no big deal. Let me start with a short history and then let’s take a look at current practice.

While a lot of art exists in context to other things - like the visuals of photography in context to any narrative attahced - I can see the concern that photography might be - to some - losing quality as it begins to depend too much on other mediums, and becomes less able to stand on its own; or, rather, the creators are taking poorer pictures, putting less effort into the craft of photography, and spreading their efforts too thinly over other other things to pad out the photography they present. I think the author of this article sees some photographers as being lazy.

A few years ago I was heavily into what I referred to abstract photography - some aspects of which others refer to as macro photography, a term I never cared for. I was very much into taking pictures of shapes, patterns, stains on pavements, cracks in things, curvature. I remember posting a photograph somewhere, a close-up of the curve of the necks of three vases of gradient hues of orange, yellow, and a pink. It was meant, as much abstract art is, to be appreciated on its own - for its shape, the curves working together - but someone asked me what it was a photograph of, and I told them it didn't matter. They disagreed. It really didn't matter, because my telling anyone what it was, would get in the way of appreciating just the visual of what was being shown to them.

It reminds me of an Ansel Adams show I went to several years back at the AGO. Rows of framed and matted photographs, a simple title, a date, that's all. Because those images could stand on their own without the audience being told what they were looking at.

Labels, as Daoists will tell you, are traps. Naming things damages the audience's relationship with what they see, because the audience then frames their perspective in terms of what someone else sees, rather than discovering their own interpretation. Some art requires labels, names, description, as part of the art; but not all art does. And, in fact, not all art should be trussed with labels.

I don't think the art of photography is in any real danger. There will always be trends that are favourable and those that are not; but the purist act of photography is never going to die off. There will always be those who will show you images and hope you will find an interpretation of your own, without them having to lead you by the hand to figure the puzzle out.


The Handmaid's Tale

2017 07 26 - 19:23

There were three very interesting additions to the recent TV version of The Handmaid's Tale that were not part of the book. If you haven't seen the show, or read the book, or both, you might want to go do both and come back later.

I like purity when it comes to translating a story from one medium to another as much as the next person; but that's not always possible. Sometimes changes are interesting, sometimes good, sometimes not. We'll see in the end how they play any of these out; or even if they do at all.

The first thing I noticed was the use of clitorectomy as a punishment. Now, at first I thought it was clitorectomy, but realised later that it also could have been a version of another form of female genital mutilation know as Infibulation, whereby not only is the clitoris removed, but so are the labia. The skin is then stretched across from both sides and sewn shut such that only enough space is left for urine and menstrual blood to come out. Later, the space is opened enough such that the woman's husband could penetrate. This 'punishment' was used on a woman who had committed what they call "gender treachery". She was a lesbian.

The second thing was the implication that Gilead would use their handmaids as barter to other countries; but in trade for what, was never specified. Specifically, by the looks of things, to a country led by a woman. Which brings me to the third thing.

The third, and potentially more telling addition, is finding out that one of the architects of this 'brave new world' was a woman. So, yes, the sisters do it to themselves as much as for themselves.

I recall reading that when she wrote the book, Margaret Atwood tried not to use anything that was not actually present in our world. She did not use anything that had not already been done. Given her involvement with the show, and from what I know of human history, I know they've kept to that.

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2017 07 23 - 19:20

People often bring up huge, life-altering situations when discussing why they'd prefer to have universal health care such as we enjoy here in Canada - cancer, sick child, what have you - these are certainly situations where not having an extra worry can really take a load off you. But there's another side to why it's good - and it's a very small thing, tiny even, so tiny that someone with poor vision such as myself can't easily see it.


We've most of us had a splinter at one time or another; and generally you can either get it out yourself or there's someone there to do it for you. This was not so much the case for yours truly, who had broken a lightbulb some years back, and thought she'd gotten all the shards up. Turns out, not so much. My feet found shards at least four times - and an actual wooden splinter another time.

I live alone, I have very poor vision, my doctor lives on the other side of town in an almost hour-to-get-there kind of way, and every single one of these incidents happened at times when I couldn't have someone I knew take it out for me, nor was I working; but I lived within a stone's throw of two walk-in-clinics and one major hospital. So guess where I end up? I think Dr. Ibrahim was sick of seeing me - but he is still the doctor with the best bedside manner I've ever experienced; though Dr. Donnery runs a close second.

Anyhow, the point of this little - no pun intended - story, is that had I lived in a place where I didn't have coverage during a time when I was not working, given the other circumstances listed herein, I'd have been screwed.

Universal health care is great for the scary traumas of life, sure; but it's also handy for the little things that you might not have any other way to deal with. So, take my taxes; build some roads, educate people, and make sure they're healthy. I'm good with that. As for your fright-wig wait-time attacks, detractors, wait times exist below-the-fold as well.



2017 07 23 - 02:03

In my dojo, during the summer months, we concentrate most of our time on koryu - reiho, waza, etcetera. So far this summer we've been learning some alternate versions of some of the koryu waza - Koranto (two steps forward instead of three), Seichuto (stepping back upon rising, rather than stepping forward), and Gyakuto so far. The first set of Muso Shinden koryu waza already has two versions of In'yo Shintai - the first one the sword cuts forward as you step back on the second unsheathing, and in the second one the sword cuts down and to the side a bit during the second unsheathing. Apparently there's another way to do that one as well.

With Gyakuto, there's a method of noto whereby, rather than doing it partial Jikiden style as we do with Ryuto, Junto (MSR's version of Kaishaku), and Gyakuto normally, the sword is held flat in front of you parallel to the floor with the right hand, while the left (of course) reaches for the saya and brings it to the blade. I'm not loving this. I found it incredibly awkward. ("More left hand" is the single most repeated term in any Iaido dojo.) Of course, I also found Jikiden style noto incredibly awkward when I first started learning it. It's... a bit harder with a blade that's longer than what Jikiden folk normally use. My sword would have to be at least an inch shorter than it is, for me to do Jikiden style noto properly. Size matters - an inch can make a lot of difference. I can see a lot more pierced between-the-thumb-and-pointer-finger webbing in my future ... or a lot of scratching of the inside of the saya, which is not at all healthy for it. A split saya is nobody's friend; and all the noise you make doing it, is a big dojo nono anyhow. Apparently this flat-style noto is more common in Muso Shinden than the way we normally do it.

We've got a couple of oddities in our school; by which I mean my dojo's lineage. One of the more obvious things, happens when we kneel for reiho to sensei and to the kamiza. In most schools when you place the blade to your right side the ha, or cutting edge, faces inwards towards you. In our school we turn the cutting edge out. It's a more aggressive posture.

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You've got it

2017 07 22 - 02:11

Here's the thing about art.

Everybody's got it in them. Everyone. All of you. It's got absolutely not one thing to do with the finished product, but with the desire to make something. It's got nothing to do with talent either. It's never been my aim to do anything but make sure people understand that they, too, can make something. Everyone should exercise the creative muscle if they want to.

So when people come to me and tell me they can't make art - because they aren't 'artists', because they have no talent - I tell them it's bullshit. You can do it if you want to. Sometimes a non-artist wants to show me something they've made, but they hesitate because they think I'm going to judge it poorly maybe? I make sure, no matter what it is they've made, to find something good to say about it, because you shouldn't step heavily on people ever, much less when they're doing something new. It doesn't matter if the end product is good or not; it matters that they've tried. Good end product is a learned skill in a lot of cases anyhow; and not even Picasso painted a masterpiece every time he picked up a brush. Artists make a lot more duds than people realise.

As for talent, well - if talent can be defined as "a natural aptitude or skill" - then perhaps some are born with it turned on and some are still on a dimmer switch. They just haven't found the medium, or they aren't watching with the right eyes, yet. It's a matter of finding the right key for the lock. I didn't discover any creative gift with visual arts until I was in my 20s. Prior to that it was words, and I could sing, but somehow the idea of visual arts just never caught my eye - pardon the pun. I just never 'thought' about it. For some, their creative gift comes with visual arts; and for others it's cooking, or carpentry, or math.

I don't much care for people who think art is the exclusive domain of the artist. Art is part of the human condition - like music, or eating, or anything else that comes naturally to us, like taking a breath. Everyone can do it. Everyone should do it if they want to. If, in the end, the only thing you ever get from it is happiness, then that's all that matters.

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