The one, the only, the original.

Authorship is a complicated business. Ideas and images are used and reused, and oftentimes, even new work can but follow known and established forms. There will ever be things that serve as references and sources— content is often more meaningful because it draws upon things that already exist, things that already in themselves hold a concept or association. And imitation is how people learn in the first place, learn how to create work in their chosen medium, learn its parameters, learn how to produce work that transcends those boundaries.

But at what point do allusion and imitation and reference, especially after filtered through artistic license, become plagiarism? Is a fictitious account of a non-fiction source original? Credible? Is a painting of a photograph a legitimate work of art in itself? (There have been massive outcries over this.) Is the recreation of a piece in a different medium its own autonomous entity? Even when accusations of plagiarism can be mitigated by attribution and sourcing, things deemed the first or the original are also deemed the most genuine, the most valuable, the most worthy of reverence.

Photography, in particular, often finds itself in a morass of undefined attribution. Technology has rendered the ability to take images mundane, trite. The sheer volume of pictures produced every day, hour, minute, of anything and everything, has changed the nature of photography and its perceived value. It has, moreover, given new weight to the question “what is art”: are images of other people’s art art?

Some of the answer depends on subject, of course. Natural subjects, photographs taken for journalistic and documentary purposes— these are not so much contested. But if someone else has set up the installation or erected the building or made and laid out the food, or what have you— which part, the physical piece or the carefully oddslot composed image of it, is more important? Photography requires translating a more ephemeral or greater-dimensioned, multi-sensory experience into something that cannot merely allow itself to be reduced, but needs to create for itself a greater, meaningful something that might not have been visible in the original form.

Purpose and context are what everything comes down to, in the end. While copyright laws regulate the commercial aspect of intellectual property, they do not regulate its creation, it social meaning, its cultural significance.

Ethics in the Art Market

Today in one of my art history classes, we discussed the greatly heated debate of whether or not the art market is ethical and if so, is it less ethical than the stock market. At first, I was somewhat taken aback. Comparing the art market to the stock market seemed quite a longshot. The art market deals with fine works of art, excellent pieces composed by masters, those that have changed the face of what art is and how art affects society. The stock market, so far as I know, is nothing more than intangible dealing with numbers – figures so far removed from the everyday life that it is nearly impossible for me to correlate the two.

However, once we began to delve into the topic, it became apparent that the differences between the stock and art market are not nearly as great as they initially seemed to be. Rather, there are quite a few similarities. The thing that struck me most, however, was that the legal regulations that are implemented on the stock market are nowhere to be found in the art market. For instance, in the art market, the auction house can be a bidder at the auction, invariably raising the price and the base price of works of art without any restriction or regulation. But is that, in any way, fair? Should the auction houses, rather than the buyers, be the ones setting the market? And if it is the auction houses, how are they determining the value?

Rooks, Knights, and Bishops, Oh My!

The greatest game of all time garners its beauty not only from the intricacy of its elegant design but from its variety of tastefully styled constructions. Chess derives from several ancient games intended to simulate war across the globe, and each contributes to the miraculous game that we all know and love. Specifically, chess draws its origins from the Indian chaturaṅga—a game containing pieces with similar movements to modern rooks, knights, bishops, and pawns, but called chariotry, cavalry, elephants, and infantry—and the Muslim shatranj—which has many similarities to both modern Western chess and the Japanese variant shogi. After chess was adopted into European culture, it fully became the standard F.I.D.E. (World Chess Federation) version we know today. While the game is an abstraction of war tactics and strategy, the design of its pieces gives it a classic and elegant feel that mirrors the brilliance of thought required to succeed in the game. In this regard, there are quite literally hundreds of variants in existence, which attempt to embody and exploit different aspects of the game and explore its further intricacies, whether that be increasing the number of players, the movements of pieces, or the shape and size of the board. Many of these deviations from standard F.I.D.E. chess are wonderfully amusing, and I strongly suggest exploring them at the Chess Variant Pages.

With so many varieties in existence, it is easy to see the impact chess has on the people subject to its addictive allure. Years are dedicating to exploring and mastering this game, and, as a result, it has become a quintessence of the human condition. At its heart, chess subsists of pure logic and rational thought. In this regard, it tends to employ the left-brain, which is often favored by society for the progression of accomplishment, in war, business, or development. However, while the game is mastered in understanding and applying this rational thought, the display of chess and the environment it operates in allows for creativity to play its part. Ergo, chess sets are some of the most brilliant pieces of art.

Many sets are traditionally beautiful, with hand-carved pieces or glass boards, many of which can be placed on display in homes for the sake of class and esteem. Some sets change the display of pieces, deviating from the traditional Staunton chess set which has been adopted by F.I.D.E. as the standard since 1924. These deviations can sometimes become more concrete, such as using figurines, which are designed as people or animals. Other times, they can become more abstract, such as finding a singular shape to stand for a known piece.

Not only are the pieces greatly altered, but the boards themselves can take on dynamic changes, whether that is scale or direction. There are several “life-sized” chess sets around that involve two to three foot pieces on a large ten-by-ten foot board. Also, the boards can have a variety of different colored pieces, separating from the standard black-and-white checkers. The most original design I have found incorporates a vertical board, where the game is played on a wall-hanging by moving pieces up and down a picture-framed surface.

Many variations of chess exist, from the concept of the game to the design of the pieces and board, but they all mirror the brilliance of the elegant game.

Manifesto on the Rain Part II: Non-Artifice

Art is fake. It is people and objects pretending to have a significance that they don’t actually have. Paint means nothing and a painting means nothing. This is the place where I start as an artist, the endpoint, the place where nothing has significance anymore. Of course, this means everything has significance. But such is post-modernism.

If nothing is significant, we must make something that actually contains meaning to make the truest and most honest art. That, I think, is my goal in art-making. I want to honestly show someone something that is true. And for now, all I know to be true is that of my own experiences and my own self.

When I was young I loved having friends spend the night. We’d stay up late playing video games and finally decide that we were too tired to continue and retire to sleeping bags. But at this point, a curious thing happened. We stayed up. And we began to talk. And at these points, I was the most vulnerable and the most honest. And so were my friends. We were sharing things together – things about our oddslot lives and our psyche and our experiences. It was affecting. It was beautiful. But, of course, I know this to be not a unique experience, it’s a near universal scenario. We’ve all been in situations where honesty takes over and the pure humanity of existence comes into focus. I want to create art in that moment. The moment where the young boy tells his friend his nightmares, something he would never share in the light. The moment where everything is broken and only ourselves remain.

Theatre is lying. Acting is lying. It is pretending and being as convincing as possible but still not true. There is no honesty in art. The work I make is also lying, but I’m trying to push it to something further. To a place of honesty and realness and non-artifice. I want to make work in those moments.

Part 1

Angels Versus Amsterdam

The City of Angels has wings. It’s bright and clear rays create new marks on my skin; my face scratched by the salt of the sea.  As the sun wakes the earth and unveils cliffs and valleys naturally spotted with magenta, lime, and lemon, a new world is revealed.  Yes, changes by man are inconspicuous, and neighborhoods exhibit the expected heeled, bleached, glamorous reality of television.  But those who inhabit it show a way of life unbeknown to the deciduous breed that I’ve only known. Striving artists of multiple types show rigor and passion for their craft in bountiful numbers, only to hopefully become the cream.  Tension is slowly erased from my mind and instead is filled with sunlight. Strides turn to strolls and stress to smiles.  The Hills rise up and up and above your head and are polka dotted with residents burrowed in between them.  The lights at night shine like stars in a clear sky, creating constellations new even to the Greeks.

The City of Angels has wings, yes, but New Amsterdam breeds an unmatched animal. Its hills are paved with concrete and glass, its parks artificial, and its people never stationary.  The once pure waves that still exist in The City of Angels are littered here with bottles, over population, and sweat. Buildings block sunlight and fill the air with intensity.  With few areas of solace and escape, intensity reigns this world. It will thicken your skin, and make you feel overwhelmed and alone all at the same time. But it’s the destruction that makes you stronger.  Passion is in never lacking in a place that has transformed from The Gangs to The City.   Constantly pushed out of comfort and into the wild, you know it’s for the better.  Strife and stride keep you going, donned in black and ready for anything.

It’s Angels versus Amsterdam, the eternal battle.  There are no winners, just wanderers and explorers, trying to find their way home.  To which do you belong?

The Rise and Fall of Picture Books

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then why don’t books have more of them?

Books that aren’t intended for fourth graders, I mean.  Seriously, in the early dating/infatuation phase of books and humanity, the uppercrust was obsessed with pictures books, which scholars refer to as “illuminated books”.

Just take a gander at some of these beauties from the early history of books, when they were codexes, barely out of their puberty papyrus phase….

This page is from the ‘Vienna Genesis’, which scholars date to mid-sixth century Syria.  It is a gorgeous  PURPLE dyed codex with silver writing.  It demonstrates how sixth century books were not merely illustrated, they were also color coded!   Purple meant that you were rich and brown meant that you had spilled beer on your book during the last round of Byzantine festivals.  This page shows the temptation of Joseph with that slut Potiphar’s wife, which landed him in prison :/  And then landed him in the position as Pharaoh’s go-to Grain Guy, which eventually led him to place a silver cup in one of his brother’s sacks (which is less weird than it sounds…).  If you don’t know the story, you should read it!  In terms of biblical narratives, it takes up thirteen chapters in the book of Genesis and sets up the conditions of the Israelites in Egypt which forms the kickass sequel to Genesis….the book of Exodus!!

But moving on in our history of awesome picture books….

Chi Rho Page from The Book of Kells
Chi Rho Page from 'The Book of Kells'

This is the ‘Chi Rho’ page (the two Greek letters that spell the nomina sacra for ‘Christ’) of the Book of Kells which dates to roughly 800 AD (or possibly earlier).  In addition to beautiful Chi Rho pages such as this, the entire work contains other similarly adorned pages full of animorphic figures and colorful Celtic interlace designs.

Jumping ahead six-hundred years, we stop upon a book of hours, which was a type of devotional book used by medieval Christians.  This one is from Valencia, but was most likely produced in a French workshop in the fifteenth century.

I have GOT to get me one of these!
"I have GOT to get me one of these!"

Jumping ahead three hundred years, we come upon the watercolor poetic works of William Blake, who was not merely a stellar poet and storyteller, but was also an excellent watercolor artist as well.

Poem and accompanying illustration for The Lamb from Blakes Songs of Innocence
Poem and accompanying illustration for 'The Lamb' from Blake's 'Songs of Innocence'

Yet another instance where illustration meshes with text in a beautiful way.

There are countless other instances of illustrated works throughout the history of manuscripts, print, and literature.  My charge to you (if you think you are currently creating the next great piece of literature) is to take the pictorial plunge and add illustrations!  We live in a visual culture.  And who knows?  Maybe now that we’re out of the prime age of watercolor and illuminated manuscripts, perhaps it’s time we started using vectors and programs like Photoshop to make our literature both intellectually and visually appealing again.