Category Archives: Art

Descriptive stumbling blocks

I don’t know why I dislike analysing texts (Shakespeare especially for some reason!) and paintings so much. I started loathing it when I was doing my art A-Level, and one of the reasons I like the Impressionists so much is that their art is straightforward and about beauty and colour and joy. Painting’s like Renoir’s The Jardin d’Essai just leave me breathless. I’ve got to the stage in my documentation where I have to start putting down on paper exactly why I love the particular paintings I chose and why they influenced me so much and I’m having such a hard time doing it.

Renoir's The Jardin d'Essai, Algiers - 1881

I do love the contrast of the aquamarine + teal and burned gold, I love how the flashes of silvery white add such liveliness and character; it makes the piece seem perfect. I think the buildup of textures and strokes is masterfully executed, but even writing it down in this blog in the most informal way possible makes me cringe a little. It seems to cheapen the art and make it less, discussing it. I do wish I could work out why I think it’s so, because intellectually I know that a group of people discussing what they love most about a piece of art means everybody gets more out of it; some people might spot bits other people haven’t noticed and so on.

I enjoy discussing The Wire and certain books and so on, it just seems to be visual/aesthetic things like artwork or video that I have a bit of a block with (and Shakespeare and a lot of the classics). This next lot of documentation is going to be painful.

This is dent to my determination to get it done is not helped by my evil evil housemate introducing me to Professor Layton and the Curious Village which is seriously quite scarily addictive. I have a terrible weakness for puzzles and this fulfils that weakness in a very big way. The art is really cute and the dialogue is either terrible on purpose or written by somebody with a very dry sense of humour, either way it makes me laugh a lot. I do like it.

Planescape Torment

Planescape Torment is the best RPG I’ve ever played. The combat system sucks and it seems to be as buggy as hell but oh the story more than makes up for it. You start off waking up in a mortuary, with no idea of who you are or how you got there. Slowly you start to uncover your past and the past of your companions (who you pick up along the way with the exception of a floating talking skull called Morte who’s turns out to be there with you in the mortuary). I wasn’t completely sold on it until the first sign you get of something being not quite right – more than waking up clueless I mean. But then betrayals, treachery, double crossing, love and hate and insanity galore – the plots are layered and woven with such depth I couldn’t stop playing for about 2 days solid.

Why do so few game companies realise the importance of hiring proper writers? Is it really the case, that linear half hearted/2 dimensional stories are the ones people prefer? I don’t really know, I mean I suppose going by what’s on TV that’s the case… The Wire for example has some really amazing writing in it but it doesn’t seem to be aired anywhere in the UK and I think up until recently even to get the DVDs you had to order from amazon america. My friend assures me that what sells are the tired old rehashes of previous titles, and that’s why there’s such a lack of innovation in the game industry. I’m not entirely convinced though. I recently (well, not actually recently, but since I last posted) played Portal and the dialogue in it was outstanding, and I’m pretty sure that’s a big hit. Apparently the only reason Valve can spend so much time and money hiring really good writers is that they have steam and were started by private funds or something?

And it’s funny, writers seem to really want to write compelling and absorbing plots rather than your standard trash, and all the gamers I know seem to want to play them (maybe I just move in very elite circles or something!). We even, you know, buy them! I just don’t understand how the best selling games of last year were all sequels to one game or another as far as I know (fifa, need for speed, pro evolution, the sims).

3rd year project/dissertation

These are disjointed thoughts I’m just keeping for myself, so I can remember what I’ve been thinking (because I seem to be going round in circles

So, I have this idea that when it comes to new media – not much of it is art. I mean it’s got a commercial basis. Which isn’t to say that art can’t have a commercial basis, but it gives it purity if it’s about conveying the artist’s social/political commentary, or his/her ideals or emotions, or, you know, just pure aestheticism.

There’s a lot more opportunity to give a lot more impact to whatever it is the artist wants to achieve with the new technology we’re starting to see more readily available. There’s more scope to get the audience even more involved.

I think looking at a straight kind of ‘port’ from traditional art to digital art is far too naive a way of looking at this kind of thing. Okay so, it’s a new media and it needs to have a wild kind of approach, but there’s no reason why I can’t take the fundamental principles from a movement of art like say, expressionism (or impressionism, these are the two I think would be really interesting) and look at them in a digital context. In fact, why not both of them?

Impressionism – from what I remember a lot of it’s all about the movement that goes on around us in the world, and the quality of light and so on.
Expressionism is all about manipulating reality to get certain emotional effects.

So, I could look at combining those two schools of thought and creating a digital [b]interactive [/b]piece of art.

Is it a really bad sign that part of me is going : What is the point?

Connections (James Burke)

So, we watched a very interesting video in a lecture for emergent technologies today. It was called ‘Connections’, and it consisted of this remarkably 70s looking man named James Burke, complete in a kind of elvis-like white suit, giving a very structured insight into the future (of science) and exactly how it progresses (by looking at the past). Among other things. Anybody interested in reading a very long ramble triggered by the video, feel free to read on, but be warned I’ve only read it through once to make sure it’s not complete nonsense and I’m remarkably tired. It feels like I had to get this all out before I could sleep, well so be it.

Ah, Wikipedia has an entry on it.

Episode 10, part 1/5
Episode 10, part 2/5
Episode 10, part 3/5
Episode 10, part 4/5
Episode 10, part 5/5

There are a variety of interesting topics Connections touches upon. Burke points out in an interesting and engaging way how there is no way to tell what a key trigger is going to be in our current time, and how past events have hinged on a single thing which at the time seemed perfectly insignificant. It’s an interesting, non-linear history of practical science on one level. On another it’s almost about the philosophy of science. It also deals with the problems technology has caused, and the three different standard ways people react to this. That’s very interesting actually. Should we :

  • shut down everything and go back to a rural society,
  • stay where we are and stamp out all technological advances (no more research, no more upgrading),
  • or carry on as normal?

The possibilities of each are touched upon. Honestly, it’s an excellent programme to watch for anybody at all with even the remotest interest in the world around them, and I can’t recommend it enough. Of course the language seems slightly patronising (I believe it’s aimed at older children), the style is slightly ridiculous (but charming!) and the computer specific scenes are laughably out of date (in a cute way!). But still.

It concludes :

The key to why things change is the key to everything. How easy is it for knowledge to spread? Change comes from knowledge. Communication between scientists is important, and possibly most important of all is a willingness to learn and understand everything we can. The scientists and technologists are the true driving force of humanity.

But what of art, philosophy, politics, literature?
Burke suggests that at best the products of human emotion are interpretations of the world, second hand views of the world. Art is easier to accept, understand and perhaps delight in. “Scientific knowledge removes the reassuring crutches of opinion, ideology and leaves only what is demonstratably true.”

This is very worrying to me, because although I keep trying to pick it apart, it seems to stand firm.

Perhaps you could argue that art and philosophy and so on all have their function in keeping our society a healthy, developed one – mentally at least. I mean, they must exist for a reason right, other than to make life more complicated? Since the dawn of human consciousness there has been art, it must be something the human brain needs to do – either to enjoy and take in and understand or to create. It helps develop the minds of the young, I’m sure it’s not possible for a human being to never take in any form of art (books, film, music, etc) or philosophy or politics and not suffer from it.

That’s all a bit wishy washy, and ironically I don’t have any scientific proof to back it up. Maybe science and art/philosophy/etc are interrelated, are co-dependent. Leonardo da Vinci is one famous example of course, a brilliant engineer and inventor as well as artist and all the other things he excelled at. Of course, geniuses don’t come along every day. Most people seem to have more natural aptitude for either one side or the other. [This begs another question I’m deeply interested in of course – are women in general better at social and artistic academia because of gender roles or because our chemical balance and our brains are more adapted for certain things? I’ll leave this for the moment.]

I think what I’m trying to work out is how the human brain works. Maybe, um, scientists are more interested in the world at large (as well as humanity), and artists are more interested in how the mind works. My thoughts are running round and round in circles and I think that as a human race we’d better damn well find ourselves a point and a reason for being so I can stop thinking about it! Um, to go in another circle, I suppose that’s part of what philosophers are trying to do. At this point I often start to think about us being a TINY little blip in space/time, soon to vanish away forever without a trace (apart from radiowaves maybe). This is a particularly useless thought loop I seem to so often get stuck in, so I’m going to leave it now.

Maybe it’s coincidence, or in searching for a suitable topic for a third year project I have become remarkably sensitive to what people say about thought processes. That episode of Connections in a way is all about trying to find ways to translate the knowledge, to teach ourselves to ask the right questions. Several different sources in my life have all emphasised that it is important to know where you’re trying to get to, and what you are trying to achieve, when you set out to do something. Of course this is self evident, this is the sort of like that which had me gritting my teeth through Systems and Computing in first year, on account of it’s painful obviousness. And yet. And yet. It jolts me each time I hear it because I truly don’t know what I’m setting out to do. I’m not a naturally decisive person I don’t think, and without wanting to sound pompous I think I’ve got quite a broad set of interests. It’s very hard to pick something when there is so much interesting stuff to explore and play with! (And yes even though the paragraph above this was fast approaching a blunt statement “What the hell is the point of it all”, I can’t but help delighting in everything even so.)

Well, maybe it doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, seeing as I don’t seem to have any idea in which way I want myself to head (knowledge-wise). Perhaps I should do something I’m more interested in than lots of other stuff, and something I think I will enjoy. And really it’d be a real shame to spoil that run of straight As I’ve lined up so nicely to point towards getting a 1:1, so maybe something which will get me a good mark too.

To go back to Connections, James Burke notes that ‘we’ (the audience in the 70s) are on the cusp of a revolution in human communication, and essentially if we don’t learn to use the tools we will be left as good as deaf, dumb and blind.

I think there’s something very sad about maybe one day not being interested in finding out stuff. I’m quite scared of the idea of that. And I love learning so very much, and I’m so glad to be back at university, with my awesome lecturers who can show us so many cool things like that Connections video, and who are kind enough to share what they’ve managed to find out in life so far.

Women in art

500 years of female portraits in the west

Absolutely beautiful and fascinating and incredibly memorising. There’s something so intimate about the way their eyes move and catch the viewer’s gaze. Reading the youtube comments was slightly depressing ( this xkcd comic captures it perfectly) but hey that’s the internet for you. Full of awesome stuff, but also full of depressingly unsophisticated ingenues who do things like leap onto the “OMG THIS PROVES MODERN ART IS BS” bandwagon.

Birds and videos

This deeply unnerved me on many different levels. Damn freaky things.

Oh yeah, and I was really obsessed with this for absolutely ages. It’s charming and also quite cool if you are willing to completely suspend your knowledge of how video works. And I am a total whore for suspending my knowledge of reality in general so this entrances me.

And faster than a New York minute, digg redeems itself

rob gonsalves

So, after dissing digg in my last post, I found something which made me remember why it’s still worthwhile to go over all the interesting looking links on there anyway.

Rob Gonsalves‘ art is awesomely cool. The style reminds me of Magritte’s, but the pictures themselves are very Escher-like. Critically, I’d say they were lacking the palpable air of menace or tension that the surrealists have, but his technique is beautiful and the ideas he comes up with are very creative. They’re well worth a look at if you like Escher‘s eye-watering artistic concoctions, at any rate.

poisoninjest

Best Renaissance stage direction that doesn’t involve bears and exiting pursued by them?

It’s just GOT to be “He gets into a large tortoise-shell.”. Buahaha.

In slightly related news, I have stopped trying to read old english in the office when I am in a giggly mood (The canterbury tales [God bless the Gutenberg Project!], my brother and I used to listen to it as we went to sleep off a vinyl we got from the library – RETRO COOL GUYS, RETRO). It’s so immature, but when you feel like laughing already and you read:

“Of fustian he weared a gipon*,
Alle *besmotter’d with his habergeon,* ”

You just can’t help burst out laughing.

Oh, and while I’m at it, why don’t more text/code editors have split-screen options like jEdit? SciTE has a weird kind of thing a bit like it I guess, but it would make lots of sense for dreamweaver and other programs to have it as a function. I’ve needed to compare things loads of times.

The House of Asterion – Jorge Luis Borges

I know they accuse me of arrogance, and perhaps of misanthropy, and perhaps of madness. Such accusations (for which I shall extract punishment in due time) are derisory. It is true that I never leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (whose number is infinite) are open day and night to men and to animals as well. Anyone may enter. He will find here no female pomp nor court formality, but he will find quiet and solitude. And he will also find a house like no other on the face of the earth.

And the queen gave birth to a child who was called Asterion.

This short story gives me goosebumps just even thinking about it. I became briefly obsessed with the legend and the idea of the humanisation of monsters (such an unoriginal theme I know) when reading The helmet of horror.

The Darkening Garden reviewed by Sarah Monette

I’d make a new years themed post but I can’t really think of anything to put. It was uneventful, although the fireworks I went to see with Fergus and Alessa and Gavin were pretty awesome. So, onwards.

I’m very much interested in language and I guess just different ways of expressing things to people. Emotions and thoughts and feelings and expression. Videogames and multimedia in my mind have such power to deal with these things, and probably has a somewhat wider appeal than, say, the small-text edition of Crime and Punishment. And that’s the reason why I’m enjoying the course I’m on so much, that and the excitement of all the programming ;).

Sarah Monette writes beautifully, so I usually keep tabs on her livejournal and read her essays and so on. She’s clearly very intelligent and her opinions are always insightful and usually miles ahead of whatever I thought about writing and literature. So I was surprised when I saw my own thoughts about design mirrored in her review of John Clute’s The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, which I think I’m going to have to dig out and read for myself (yes yes I know it’s terrible, reading a review before you’ve read the actual book, but there you have it).

The other thing that makes me uneasy about Clute’s argumentative definition of horror is his use of an explicitly prescriptive four-part structure in talking about the narrative progress of horror. I am dubious about this rhetorical move for several reasons. One is that, as a genre theorist myself, I am suspicious of and philosophically opposed to prescriptive definitions. In my experience, this leads to a habit of fitting the facts to the theory instead of modifying the theory to suit the facts.

I hate the thought of having a set structure to any form of art, be it writing or not. Yes of course I realise that if you look at things generally enough it works, and design processes are there to help and everything, but it still gets on my nerves for some reason. So, I thought I’d share.

Another interesting article on processes.