This post is a very focused exploration of art and should not be taken as an exhaustive history, thus I will be ignoring some of the rather unusual and fascinating styles out there such as Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism, Surrealism, and other such avant garde tangents. I’ll do a post on those at a later time. Oh, and I haven’t forgotten the art of three dimensions, namely sculpting and architecture. I have big plans for those.
A visual artist helps us see the world in a new light or escape into the fantastic dreams of the mind. Thus, the visual medium can be a study of internal imaginings or external sights in the world around us. As I explained in my previous blog post, I believe the beginning of art came from a desire to share a story. At one point those campfire tales needed to be more visual.
How does a hunter teach his little boy about hunting mammoths? Hunting trips are too dangerous until the boy becomes a man. Painting a mammoth on the cave is the next best thing.
Paintings frame a moment seen from the view of the artist. It is an internal art, drawing a window into the artist’s mind. The artist is free to think anything he or she wishes, even if that view is unrealistic.
This Egyptian painting has very little to do with perspective, yet the artist did a great job of telling a story.
You don’t have to read hieroglyphics to understand what is going on. It is a Pharaoh’s funeral. The royal court is mourning his death while the Egyptian god of embalming, Anubis, overshadows the body. Below, drawn rather small in comparison, peasants or slaves are seen laying out gifts for his trip into the afterlife.
Medieval paintings were far from perfect in capturing reality, yet still some are quite amazing to behold. Take this painting of the siege of Antioch by Sébastien Mamerot.
Unless the houses and cathedrals were on a very high hill, I don’t think the viewer would be able to see them over the wall. But the painting does a great job in showing the cathedrals and houses the Crusaders are fighting for. Realism is cast aside for the sake of propaganda. What amazes me most is that the scene is a miniature, meaning it was painted on something very small and mobile.
The Renaissance was a great time of math and science. Here we can see how the intense study of perspective created realistic proportions of human anatomy.
Rembrandt, Anatomical Lecture
Notice the subtle attention to detail on the expressions; the physicians are not malicious in dissecting a human, only curious.
This notion of more realistic proportions continued on into Baroque era, even used to help in bringing the fantastic to life. Notice the sense of drama and motion, the damsel in distress, the valiant knight who wins the day, and the evil dragon beneath his sandal.
Rubens, St. George and the Dragon
The Romantic Era featured exaggerated depictions of nature and its connection with true love.
Watteau, The Bird Nester
The nature around them isn’t meant to be viewed as real (notice the lack of bugs and sweat). It is rather an external reflection of how the lovers feel for each other. It tells a story older than time itself. The word twitterpated comes to mind.
And then there was Realism.
Jules Breton, Girl Guarding the Cows
Realism was an interesting move away from the Romantic Era. It ran far from the fantastical musings of young lovers, focusing instead on what can literally be seen by the eye. The idea was not so much the telling of a story but simply an explanation. Here is a girl. She is guarding cows. The end.
Realism was a movement created by painters in response to a new type of visual medium. For hundreds of years oil paint was king in creating internal visions on flat surfaces. A new form would come to quickly usurp it, one that in all its various incarnations, we use to this day. Realism mimicked our reality, as best it could, with the old style of painting it. This new medium uses light to capture and freeze the reality around us.
Louis Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple
Photography is the artist’s view of the outside world. A picture can be distorted with things like Photoshop or lens flare, yet it is still a statement on what is seen. A good painting must have good composition and form. With photography you must grasp composition, form, and timing.
Time is not usually associated with art, but it has a very important role in taking a photo. It is also that single element that evolved photography into something far greater. The spark of genius came when hundreds of thousands of photos were strung together in order to create film. No longer frozen in a single frame, pictures had movement and motion. This also meant that it was no longer stuck forever in place. You couldn’t study it as intimately as a painting. It was a medium constrained by time.
Movies are a celebration of every framed medium that came before. They are the natural progression of these things, the most famous of all the arts. But movies are more than just hyper-photography. Motion pictures are a collage of various artistic disciplines. Even before movies talked, the silent film borrowed techniques from a close relative of hers.
Surf in next time when we explore the ancient performing art of motion.
The first form of art was likely a simple story. We don’t know what the story was about, nor can we say who told it. I imagine it began naturally as a response to that age old question, “how was your day?” This would have been the first time one dared to ask the question. Maybe Adam asked this question of God while meeting in the cool evening of a young, vibrant Earth, or perhaps God asked it of Adam when he replied, “It was fine. How was yours?”
Only a story can answer this question properly. Many more stories followed the first one, gradually evolving over thousands of years until we pay 15 dollars to see them on the silver screen. But what is the process that got us there? How did we move from campfire tales to movies?
Art is proof that we are complicated creatures. It is the expression of our humanity, based on a heightening of our five senses, something very hard to define. It is the testament of our search for meaning, and, I firmly believe, our search for God. Enjoying public art is an essential journey we all take when watching a movie or listening to a song. Every form or art conveys a meaning, even if that meaning is to seem meaningless. Art parrots life, and sometimes life is lived without purpose. The audience is wired to respond to what the artist creates. Good public art is celebrated by many because of how well the artist fashioned it. The way it was formed will make it a passing fad or a timeless classic.
Art’s various disciplines illuminate what makes us human. You can’t tell a good story without using one or more of the five senses, for example:
An Independent Bagel
On my way to work, I was going to stop for a bagel. Then I remembered it was the Fourth of July. Bagel Baileys was never open on the holidays. I went without one as best I could, but it bothered me because, you see; I always have bagels on Wednesdays. I would have tried to find a bagel joint during lunch, but my boss was screaming at me over the phone. My tired ears ringed in pain after her third call. She really wanted me to finish the report on time. For some reason she believed that shouting would help.
After 2:00 I was irritable and nervous. I looked at the report before me, giving up on ever having it done in time to celebrate Independence Day. My phone rang a fourth time. I let it go for seven rings before picking it up… reluctantly. As I lifted the receiver to my ear, preparing to flinch at the demonic growl of my boss; instead I heard the soft fluttering voice of an angel. You sang to me of independence and fireworks. I grinned from ear to ear when you asked me out on the date. I wanted to say yes, immediately, but it would take a miracle. Your promised me everything short of the moon if I could just finish that report. I would have settled for a bagel.
As you know, I called you back at four. I could imagine those sweet blue eyes grow wide with joy at hearing the news. I was inexplicably done, and my boss was too hoarse to yell at me further. I could hear the hint of a smile tugging one side of your mouth into a curve. The smell of your breath must have been intoxicating. I can smell it now, cheeseburgers and double mint gum. Here we are, hand in hand, watching rockets burst in the night sky, glittering streams of red, blue, white, and yellow; vibrant colors mirrored by the river.
You are my ever-loving, independent one, feeling me with so much joy and peace that I forgot about the bagel… almost.
Taste, see, smell, hear, and touch are the hidden Easter eggs of this story. Without them you have something forgettable like:
My boss made me work on the Fourth of July. You called me at 2:00 and asked me out on a date. I finished the report by four. Now we are enjoying the fireworks. You’re love is like a bagel to me.
Every good artist understands art’s connection to the five senses. Even before moving pictures were invented, we viewed movies inside our minds while dreaming. Dreams of the day come to life when reading or hearing a story. Well-written words fuel our imagination. It’s so natural that we don’t think about it. In the small story I wrote, you imagined the taste of the bagel so desired by our protagonist, the sight of the fireworks, the smell of cheeseburger and spearmint, the sound of the angelic voice, and the quivering touch from the protagonist’s date. My point is that stories said or read touch on all five senses. They are the most hyperactive form of entertainment. Books are the closest we can get to dreaming during the day.
Movies are the closest thing we have to an external type of day dream. They are external visions we both see and hear. Two senses out of five means that we are engaged twice as much. It is thus, one of the most external hyperactive forms of art. You cannot taste or smell a movie, though. This is left for another type of hyperactive art, the art of food. Cooking and baking are chiefly based around the senses of smell and taste. In some cases the sight of the food or how it is presented can also add to the art of enjoying it.
The fifth sense, touch, has largely remained untouchable to an audience. The audience can only see a painting or hear a song. The closest thing to touch they get is in lifting a cheeseburger up to the mouth before tasting it, or holding a piece of chocolate cake up to the nose before smelling it. The artists are the ones that truly touch their art. Unless you wish to become an artist yourself, you will never touch it.
Thus the public art of touch has been an elusive prey, but we have found it none the less. It is the youngest form of our public expression, and hardly merits the complexity a movie or the aroma of a cranberry and apricot pie. Hints of touch can be found in the video game industry. Until games allow us to literally touch the walls inside them, controllers and mice will have to do.
But I am speaking well ahead of myself.
Over the next few weeks we will explore the five senses and how they have brought about our public arts.
I will begin next week with the art of sight.
Today, while clasping our glasses of chocolate milk, Jason Craft and I have made a celebrator toast to a year and a half’s worth of literary work (Amanda White not here at the moment). All three of us aspiring authors have worked and toiled, written and rewritten, fought aver and compromised for a brand new urban fantasy set in our very own city of Shreveport. Shadeskin is an anthology of five short stories written by Jason Craft, B. L. White, and Amanda White (not related to me). We have created our own brand of creatures, based upon the angel and demon archetypes.
The Illumin are bold creatures of light, sent from another world to protect us from sinister specters that hide behind the mask of humanity. The Shades are the origin of these specters, brooding beings of shadow, forever trapped in our realm. The Raven family are the only humans aware of these creatures and they’d like to keep it that way. They fight alongside the Illumin.
The first anthology is based upon an ancient Aztec relic set loose in the nearby town of Wheelbarrow Creek. The common folk have been rudely awakened to the supernatural as the relic reanimates anything that is dead, including skeletons, dead relatives, road kill, and Mrs. Atwater’s cat graveyard.
Here is an excerpt of my story Zombie Delivery Service:
He knocked on the door. Forty-five seconds later the blinds on a nearby window parted. Matt conjured up a smile and a wave. The door opened to reveal Mrs. Atwater’s ancient frame, hunched over. She was gibbering as usual about her long-deceased cat.
Matt handed her the dry-cleaning and went into his conversation on auto-pilot as she droned on about her dull life. “Here you go Mrs. Atwater…. I’m terribly sorry about your loss Mrs. Atwater…. Perhaps you should get another cat Mrs. Atwater…. I didn’t mean that…. No cat in the world could replace your Percy.”
It was then that Matt’s auto-pilot ears went haywire. “What was that you said, Mrs. Atwater?”
Her gravelly voice spoke as high as it could, “It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. My Percy’s come back to life and he’s trying to get at me! I just don’t know what to do about that.”
Matt stood there stunned. The grandfather clock behind her tick-tocked in the background, keeping time for no one. Mrs. Atwater’s cataract pools stared at him from behind wide-brimmed glasses. He could see she was more worried than usual and really did believe her dead cat was alive and out to get her.
“Well, Mrs. Atwater, I don’t know what to say about this. Perhaps you’re just going through a time of mourning. Maybe you want to see your cat alive and—”
“Young man, the only time I want to see my Percy again is in heaven. My cat’s alive and certainly not well. He’s been viciously attacking all my other cats, poor dears. Tried to get him to stop.” She lifted her right hand, still holding the church clothes. “Look at how he bit me!”
Matt saw the bite marks on her arm. Something whispered at him to get out of there. He took a few steps back, trying to hold on to reality. “Maybe it’s another cat. Some cat that looks like Percy but—”
“No, no, NO! I know it was him! Only way I could stop him was to cut him up myself.” She pulled the door open all the way, revealing a bloody left hand hooked around a large red blade. She took a step toward him, “My strength just isn’t as good as it used to be. I only stabbed him once, but it sure felt good!”
Matt stumbled backward.
“Why are you stepping back? I won’t hurt you. You’re not Percy.”
Matt stepped farther back. Mrs. Atwater’s eyes were blazing now. She threw her freshly-pressed dresses into the well-manicured flower bed. “You come by here every other day, young man. I see you looking down at me, all high-and-mighty, too young to speak to little ol’ Mrs. Freda.” She aimed the bloody knife at him, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“No ma’am. I don’t think any such thing.”
“Just some crazy old basket case asking for nothing less than a few moments, just to share her life with someone, anyone that will listen before she nods off to heaven. All you do is come here, drop off my clothes, and run away scared of talking to me, scared of talking to an old, decrepit lady!”
Matt was really backing up then. Her sweet, grandmotherly disposition was gone, vanished and snuffed out, replaced with something less-than-human.
Then he heard a hiss and a growl. Turning around, he saw Percy surrounded by ten other cats. These were not the laugh-out-loud, hold-me kittens he often saw on the net. They were something else entirely—mutilated, decrepit things with skin hanging from their teeth.
Matt didn’t have to think very hard to conjure up the pitchfork.
Purchase your Shadeskin eBook today!
I love writing in multiple genres at the same time. It works my brain all the way around, sloshing the creative juices everywhere. Now that Supremacy: Reformation is officially off the ground, I need to tell you about my cross-pollination with urban fantasy.
About three years ago, I wrote a short story involving angels and demons, completely ignorant of just how big the urban fantasy genre had become.
Hello world. It’s me—
—a nerd enraged.
It’s been a while since my last rant. That’s because I couldn’t find anything worth ranting about. Our little Earth is oh, so perfect. And here was perfect, little ‘ol, six-foot-five-inches me, going to the movies to watch the newest sci-fi flick Lock Out. It’s about this dude named Sno (or Snow… not really sure) who goes to save the president’s daughter. She got herself stuck on a prison, during a prison break… in space. Is he a bad enough dude?
The flick itself was fun to watch… I just can’t remember half of what was going on because SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE I couldn’t see the SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE and then the scene with the Tron-looking motorcycle and SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE he’s throwing something in the subway and a few shakes later… um… the good guy wins… I guess?
Am I missing something here? Do movie theaters spike their sodas now? Or perhaps, we’re just living in a time when it’s considered high-quality cinema to show frantic scenes with ThE cAmErA MoViNg EvErY dIrEcTiOn but strait. See what I did there. It gives my blog post more edge. And that’s what these movies are after… they want to look kewl and EdGy.
Back in my days (the 90s) cool meant sunglasses and hot pink (early 90s). Now it means messing with the means in which we view things. It all goes back to how we perceive the media.
Take, for intense, the first tale ever told . Cave man Ugg spoke to his cave friend Boogu about this mammoth he killed last moon day. Ugg used the spoken media to spread this tale. Boogu used his auditory senses to hear the words and his imagination to bring the story to life.
When Ugg described the Mammoth as a, “Big furry bolder with buck-tooth and snake nose”, Boogu imagined a tall furry beast with two, sharp teeth and a long snout (we might imagine a large, buck-tooth nerd with a neck beard while eating ramen noodles).
If Ugg were to mess with how he spoke… you know sort of slur his words into a jumbled mess, speak them too quickly, or ignore any sense of a dramatic pause, then Boogu would be confused about what happened. That is why when you’re telling a story, it’s important to know your timing. It is the means by which you speak. Comedians deal with this all the time.
If someone were to write the mammoth story down they should punctuate the book with markings that indicate to the reader when to pause if the author were to ignore these punctuations then the story would become incoherent and trail off into the distance until the reader got bored and stopped re
That is why we have written in pauses (period) If (comma) for example (comma) the author wanted to elaborate on the mammoth’s scarred right eye (semicolon) he would put that detail in a brand new sentence (period) This would focus the reader’s thoughts on the next bit of detail (period)
You shouldn’t mess with the means in which people perceive your art, unless it makes artistic sense. You don’t give patrons blurry glasses to see realistic paintings; you show them a Van Gogh.
Movies tell stories with sights and sounds. If you have no artistic reason to mess with how a movie is perceived, then keep the sounds lined up properly and keep the camera steady. Wanting to show a scene with high action is fine and dandy. But there’s already a lot of chaos on the screen (i.e. dudes punching and kicking, jet planes dog-fighting over the Atlantic). Keep the camera still so we can take it all in.
I’m reminded of a scene in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The king is angry and takes it out on a thunderstorm. In the play, the spoken words are so stormy that an audience can imagine this large thunderstorm pouring and pounding about. In movie adaptations of the play, the scene is often drowned out with a visual reminder of this storm. King Lear sounds like a raving lunatic, speaking incoherent sentences all over the place. You can’t hear a thing he is saying, which takes away from why you watch anything by Shakespeare. Psst, it’s about the words.
It is the same with modern action movies. The Bourne Supremacy comes to mind. There is a riveting scene with Mr. Bourne fighting another agent of equal prowess. I heard that they spent a month choreographing this fight scene. They wanted it to be raw and brutal, and it was… I think. But Mr. Camera man had a little too many doughnuts that morning. His sugar high was shuffling the screen about this way and that!
“What’s a treepod?”
This fight could have been viewed as one of the best, but compared to the clear precision of the camera work in Matrix… it doesn’t come close. All that work by the actors and choreographer went out the window because the camera man decided to add an EARTHQUAKE feel about it. It doesn’t need an earthquake to be edgy and cool. It was better off with stable camera work. It’s called a tripod.
Here’s the problem, our eyes are already having trouble focusing on the two men fighting. A stable camera allows us to take the action in. But with the camera shaking about… we have no anchor to what is going on. The camera man knows where he is moving the camera so from his perspective it looks eDgY. We can’t predict when and where it’s moving so from our end… it’s all juembld up. Just try and watch someone playing a first person shooter video game like Call of Duty and you’ll understand what I mean. Playing and controlling the camera is different from watching another do it.
The Blair Witch Project has ruined the movie industry. At least in that film there was an artistic reasoning behind all the shaking. With everything else… it’s just dumb.
My best friend Jason Craft has many things in common with me. We both like to play video games, we like the same types of movies, and both of us are aspiring to become science fiction authors. Something I have finely achieved in mid September 2011 with the first episode of Void Voyage. He has finished his in November of the same year.
Supremacy is a fascinating universe in the style of two seemingly opposed genres. It is high-brow space opera sci-fi mixed in with the fantasy of ancient gods. His plan is to present a sprawling epic in episodic form. You can read the first portion for only .99$. Get it for your eReader at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or read it on your computer at Smashwords.
With the rest of the galaxy shrouded in darkness, the Second Order stands as humanity’s last bastion of hope until the gods return. Its citizens cling to their emperor who rules with the divine mandate bequeathed him. However, many question his loyalty to the gods saying that he has supplanted them.
In this episode, a Priestess of the Communication Order leads a covert mission that heralds the beginning of a new era for the Second Order. For when the gods return, they will find a people ready to receive them instead of slaves to an emperor.