Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

18 May 2017

Dr Great Art Episode 7: Art Beyond Complaint

Jan 28, 2017
A short artecdote discussing how criticism and complaint about the moribund artworld is important, but what positive things we can do to improve the situation.

Read more at http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-7-art-beyond-complaint
 
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Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements when recording).
 
 
Dr Great Art Podcast Seven
"What Can We Do? Art Beyond Complaint"

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the seventh "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today we have a short Artecdote discussing what we can we do beyond complaint to improve the situation in art?

I find Europe in general and Switzerland in particular to be a fabulous place to live. I found New York and the Caribbean and elsewhere great too. Chicago, my hometown, was a quite stimulating city. The artworld itself in Chicago ---- or the artworld itself in my chosen beautiful home in the eastern part of Switzerland --- that is, well, another story. A story which arises here often --- and perhaps thereby it is changing.

You know the story --- whether Chicago, Switzerland, Cologne, hell even London or NYC, it's the same. Everything is "good enough" --- but that's it. We artists have hardly lived in more secure times for us financially, many of us even have a good measure of success, so my complaints are NOT sour grapes. I'm doing very well. BUT I am NOT blind and will not pretend to be so, as seems to be demanded of artists nowadays. We live in a moribund, academic, mannerist, in short kiss-ass-ly boring, artworld. And this is VERY dangerous in our new-found political world at large where populist, demagogic idiots are driving us toward a new fascism.

Don't get me wrong. Silence is indeed death. Complaint is good and necessary. But ---Beyond complaint, though --- what will be the NEXT steps for progressive, concerned artists and their allies and kin? In short:

What can we do to improve the situation in art?

First of all, make extremely high quality art. Particularly with well-honed technical abilities. If you DO NOT now have these skills, this is NO surprise as they are seldom taught in art schools any more. But GET them. That ability can not be denied nor taken away from us and will outlive many an overblown curator justification.

Second, openly criticize the situation. Step on toes. Stop kissing butt. And that means IN THE ARTWORLD as well as in the POLITICAL WORLD!

Third, offer and create constructive alternatives, even perhaps to the point of creating your own artworlds, venues and so on. Even the biggest ones are really only art-villages after all, as Paul Klein has so rightly stated. Attempt to add a positive answer to every correct criticism you level.
Fourth, encourage others who do the same. Help build critics, curators, students and especially other artists who pay attention to what is around them, who have independent minds, who are more than simply careerist toadies.
Fifth, network in a POSITIVE sense, even internationally. And that's what we are doing now. As artist Alex Meszmer says so well, "Amateur artists compete, professionals collaborate." In this, I see a possible leadership by women and so-called minorities. They have been generally excluded, thereby see the truth more clearly, --- and as we saw in the Women's March on Washington could well lead the way.

Sixth, leave doors open. Tell the truth, be upset about hypocrisy and lies and toadiness, but be willing to "let it go" if they improve, if the purveyors of pedantry and their groupies gain consciousness or make overtures toward reparation.

We may even have to create an entirely new artworld, as the Impressionists did which kick-started Modernism. Whatever is necessary, but lets start now. The political world appears more and more hopeless each day. Like my friend the great political philosopher Dr Cornel West, I have no optimism, but am addicted to hope. i think artists can do it. It begins at home in ones own neighborhood.

That was "What Can We Do? Art Beyond Complaint"
Thanks for listening. That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 7. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.
I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.
You can find or contact me at
www.drgreatart.com/
book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com
or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Dr Great Art Episode 6: Genius in Small Things: Chiaroscuro

Jan 3, 2017
A short Artecdote illustrating how important innovation often arises in apparently unpretentious discoveries. This is exemplified by chiaroscuro, the technique in paintings of using radical light-and-dark.

Read more at http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-6-genius-in-small-things-chiaroscuro
 
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Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements when recording).
 
Dr Great Art Podcast Six
"Genius in Small Things, Chiaroscuro."


Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the sixth "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today we have a short Artecdote illustrating how important innovation often arises in apparently unpretentious discoveries. "Genius in Small Things, Chiaroscuro." This will be exemplified by Chiaroscuro, the technique in paintings of using radical light-and-dark. Yet it can be seen in MANY such discoveries, from Contrapposto to Perspective and the relativistic anti-perspective of Cubism.

Let me begin with the Renaissance and its ending in Mannerism. 'Mannerism' is the term for the transition period around 1550/1580 between the Renaissance and the Baroque. Mannerists endlessly “sampled” and combined aspects of Michelangelo’s work. As summed up so well by famed art historian Walter Friedlaender, Mannerist art’s traits tended to be stretched proportions, capriciously patterned rhythm, broken symmetry, willful dissonance, unreal and unresolved space, overly fashionable (although not intellectual) theorizing, coldly calculated style, exaggeration of borrowed forms --- in short, confused over-refinement. Where Mannerism had sometimes-great artists such as Rosso Fiorentino or El Greco, it also included Alessandro Allori "who flooded all Tuscany with his insipid pictures," as stated by Friedlaender (in Mannerism and Anti-Mannerism in Italian Painting, originally published in 1925).

However weak, historical Mannerism was not merely a bewildered conjunction between the Renaissance and the Baroque. It was a necessary and meaningful passage, allowing the development of that less bizarre and more natural successor to the Renaissance, the Baroque. Some things simply must be worked through.

In this vein, we have required Postmodernism in art and culture at large in our time. Nevertheless, we have dragged out the learning phase far too long, for various commercial and sophistically careerist reasons. At the symbolically important time of the New Year when I am doing this, let us beghin to do the hard work of getting OUT of the malaise of our art-time and the rightwing backlash of our political time. But more about that in another podcast.

Back to Mannerism and Baroque. Mannerism transmuted into the Baroque by achieving an aggressive purposefulness, healthiness, a vigorousness that was the reverse of the Renaissance in technique (painterly as opposed to linear, spiral compositions in place of stable triangles, etc.), yet similar temperamentally. At least in strength!

Certain artists made Mannerist dissonance more practical, more individual, seemingly natural, less abstruse, more corporeal, more playful. They were able to accept influence without being driven into pastiche.

The way was shown by Cigoli, Cerano, the Carracci and most importantly Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. These artists believed they were returning to a more classical form, when in fact they were integrating and uniting Mannerist traits into a new whole and thus transcending it by subsuming it.

Caravaggio gave density back to hue, brought forthright vision back through reference to everyday life, and replaced clutter with dynamic effect. His tools importantly included naturalistic reference and chiaroscuro — that amazing effect of radically strong light and dark which allowed him to plastically retain distortion by transforming it into theatrical space.

The realistic portrayal of a pre-framed, mediated yet real event, the stage. His simple breakthrough was astounding in its implications, empowering such later masters as Rembrandt, Rubens, Artemisia --- Artists calling themselves "Caravaggisti," who rallied to Caravaggio's art, even though the major art historian of his day, Giovanni Baglione and others, attempted to erase him from the record, hating him for his wild, rebellious lifestyle. And chiaroscuro has continued through to our day in Hollywood films and comics.

Art critic, art historian and psychologist Donald Kuspit has formulated three vital necessities for rejuvenating art in our postmodern times, when "the avant-garde [has died] from entropic pursuit of novelty." These requirements are: to find the heart of creativity in desire, to embrace idiosyncrasy, and to nourish one's yearning for healthiness. I see this as a desire to develop art which encourages unconventionality and manifests a desire for maturation on the part of the creator. Even if that maturity itself is not reached, the desire and will to achieve it is drive enough. The struggle to mature is a synecdoche of the will to reach psychological healthiness. A playful maturity, replacing a deadly solemn immaturity.

Caravaggio's simple 2 point solution to achieving a new maturity (in his work, if not in his life), one advancing beyond Mannerism was: 1) observational details and most of all 2) chiaroscuro. This shows how great genius, useful progress, often lies in what after-the-fact appears to be a simple discovery! An uncomplicated, visual invention yielding grand innovation and solutions to problems then troubling all artists. Radical light-and dark! This did not require massive tsunamis of textual theory or permission from any academicists.

I believe similar brilliant, metaphor(m)al breakthroughs can be found when analyzing the development out of any transitional period into a strong one. They appear almost effortless in hindsight, yet in truth required intense effort, making and studying, looking. Visual thinking.

Genius and Breakthroughs are often in the in Small Things: Chiaroscuro

Thanks for listening. That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 6. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.

You can find or contact me at
www.drgreatart.com/
book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com
or find me at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 5: Santa Claus's Look!


Dec 12, 2016
Christmas time! A podcast about how Santa Claus LOOKS --- the history of his visual appearance. St. Nicholas, Thomas Nast, Fred Mizen, myths like Coca-Cola, Luther, the Orthodox Santa, "Twas the night before Christmas," and more including the Swiss Samichlaus and Schmutzli!

Read more at http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-5-santa-clauss-look
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Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements while recording)-

Dr Great Art Podcast Five
"Santa Claus's Look"

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the fifth "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today, because it is Christmas time, I want to do a short podcast about how Santa Claus LOOKS --- the history of his visual appearance.

First, for my European listeners --- a BIG surprise: No matter what is repeated, even by so-called experts on TV, it has almost NOTHING to do with Coca-Cola! Yes, they use him, and do some of the most visually beautiful TV ads at Christmas, and have done ads since the 1920s. The first Santa ads were directly based on the drawings of political cartoonist Thomas Nast, who we will get to soon. In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke, and that lead to all the future ads. This was the more modern version, but that image of Santa had long appeared overall and elsewhere in the US --- Mizen was a great illustrator though.

Furthermore, even though it's often said that Santa wears a red coat because red is the color of Coca-Cola, Santa appears in a red coat because he is a version of St. Nicholas, who was a bishop, originally painted in a variety of clothing colors, but finally in those of a cardinal, oddly enough. Thus scarlet, or red.
Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, the Weihnachtsmann, or simply Santa, is of course the legendary figure of Western culture who is said to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved children on Christmas Eve (24 December) and the early morning hours of Christmas Day (25 December), in MOST cultures, but not ALL (you'll hear more about that in the following).

The modern Santa Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra, as I said.

Plus in the mix is the British Father Christmas, the Dutch Sinterklaas, and the holidays of Twelfth Night and Epiphany, the Three Kings (the gift-giving Magi of the Bible) and Befana, --- who in Italy is the legendary old woman who delivers gifts to children on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). Santa Claus also absorbed elements of the Swedish Santa Claus (so close to Nast's drawings.)
The German figure of the Christkind, a sort of fairytale version of the Christ Child --- was created by Luther to be an attempt to eliminate the reverence for Santa Claus --- uptight guy! Especially since he is responsible for bringing the heathen Christmas Tree back into the holidays! I was raised a Lutheran and am a Christian and love the idea of Santa in any form. It could be worse: Puritans banned the holiday entirely in 1647, as Hitler and the Nazis sought to do repeatedly after 1933, settling for progressively taking all Jesus and God references out of it slowly but surely, turning them into racist, Hitler and pagan-esoteric references.

Back to positive! Santa Claus is usually drawn as a chubby, cheerful, white-bearded man, with spectacles — wearing a red coat with white fur collar and cuffs, white fur-cuffed red trousers, who carries a bag full of gifts for children. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of the 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore  --- ( You know "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house..." etc.) and most of all the influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
Thomas Nast (1840 –1902) was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist the "Father of the American Cartoon." He created the political symbol of the elephant (Royal animal) for the Republican Party and popularized the donkey (working animal) for the Democrats. He also solidified and popularized the image of Uncle Sam, the female version of him named Columbia, and more. 

For Nast, and the poem mentioned, Santa was a small elf-like person. This changed as living humans began to disguise themselves as Santa for various functions --- his "Official Helpers" as my mom Ruth told me when I asked, a little too perceptive, why there were so many Santa Clauses running around.

For my American and other non-Swiss listeners, the Swiss version, Samichlaus, is rather different. He is not exactly a jolly good fellow. He is not mean spirited either, but a kind of disciplinary figure originally!
Every year on December 6, NOT 25th, kids get visited by him and his assistant "Schmutzli". They emerge from their hidden cottage in the woods, not on a sleigh of flying reindeer, but rather shuffling through the snow with a donkey!
These days, whether they have been naughty or nice, children are left with a bag full of walnuts, peanuts, chocolates, tangerines and ginger breads, etc.
BUT in the past, the companion known as Schmutzli (dirty or raggedy perhaps) in the German part of the country and Père Fouettard (from "whip") in French, who carries a broom of twigs, would theoretically give out punishment to children whose behaviour throughout the year had been bad!
Over the years though, and despite retaining his foreboding appearance, Schmutzli has evolved into a more benign figure.

The Orthodox Santa also bears mentioning. Christmas is celebrated for three consecutive days, starting with Christmas Day, which is usually later than ours, January 7th, as their day is based on the Julian calendar that pre-dates the Gregorian calendar, (and is usually more closely tied to the Jewish dates). For many Orthodox Christian kids such as Russians January 7th or the New Year celebrations, are the big deal!

This is when 'Grandfather Frost' (known in Russian as 'Ded Moroz' or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka).
Whoever brings you gifts, which symbolizes the great, generally undeserved gifts we get from the Higher Being in life, I hope he or she or it blesses you! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Io Saturnalia, Happy Festivus, Happy Yule/Winter Solstice, and the Buddhist greeting: May all sentient beings know the peace and compassion taught by both the Buddha and Jesus.
Thanks for listening.

That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 5. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.
I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.
You can find or contact me at
www.drgreatart.com/
book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com
or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
 

Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety, by Sue Taylor, a Review

 First published:

HANS BELLMER: THE ANATOMY OF ANXIETY
by SUE TAYLOR

MIT Press 2001 £27.50, $42.95
310 pp. 5 col/121 mono illus
ISBN 0262201305
Review by Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian


Why do so many of us in art and art history find the art of Hans Bellmer (1902-1975) enticing? Feminists such as I expect to despise the work due to its clear and vicious misogyny. Conservatives anticipate dismissing the art because it manifestly wallows in perversion. Nevertheless, even these viewers are won over in the presence of the art works themselves — at least to the extent of admitting its theoretical and aesthetic interest. This German-born Surrealist is known for his notorious, life-size pubescent dolls and the photographs he made of them. In these works, the female figure is deformed, dismembered and threatened in ominous situations. In short, Bellmer's art is often distressingly disturbing. Sue Taylor, the author of this study, does an admirable job of analysing the conundrum one feels in appreciating Bellmer's art, with neither apologising for, nor vilifying the artist.

An art historian concentrating on modern and contemporary art, Sue Taylor received a B.A. in art history from Roosevelt University, and an M.A. and Ph.D., both also in art history, from the University of Chicago. She has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Northwestern University. Taylor was Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum and Associate Curator at the Smart Museum in Chicago. Currently, she is a professor in the art department at Portland State University in Oregon. Taylor is also an accomplished and engaging art critic having published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Art News, the New Art Examiner and Art in America.

With the currently fashionable interest in abjection among various contemporary curators, Bellmer's work should be in vogue. It has been suggested that Bellmer may be a modern cult figure, inspiration for artists Paul McCarthy, Jake and Dinos Chapman, and others. However, such contemporary creators often seem to be manneristically copying Surrealist formulae, rather than being inspired by them, for the superficial purpose of simple shock effect. This all the more drives us back to the raw and fearful power of Bellmer's work.

There is an art historical precedent for Bellmer's dolls, which he acknowledged and which Taylor discusses. Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka commissioned a doll in Berlin in 1918, intended as a simulacrum of his former mistress, Alma Mahler. The great difference between these two artists lies in the fact that Bellmer visually accentuated his dolls' artificial status, making his position far more intricate and perplexing.

Taylor's remarkable book helps to elucidate the wedding of attraction and repulsion in Bellmer's work by drawing on psychoanalytic theory, while questioning the artist's own psychoanalytically informed interpretation of his art. Bellmer presented himself as an exemplary case of the Freudian Oedipal son. Taylor suggests that his attitude was far more complex, involving feminine identification. However, she is not an apologist for Bellmer's misogyny. As the artist's own declarations reveal, using psychoanalytic theory to interpret him is intricate. Bellmer often displayed his own familiarity with Freud, forcing one to wonder how much of his artistic approach involves the conscious manipulation of Freudian themes.

Unfortunately, as in most studies influenced by Freudian theory, many other facts of Bellmar's life, especially wider sociological ones, are somewhat disregarded as possible explanations or influences. Subjects touched on only lightly by Taylor include the artist's admitted alcoholism, his childhood in Germany during the First World War, his being labelled as degenerate by the Nazis, his emigration, the death of his wife, and others. Freudian theory in the scholarly world at large is in dramatic decline. Perhaps in response, psychoanalytic thought seems to have erected its last line of defence in the quasi-scientific domain of art and literary theory, fields which seldom demand rigorous concrete or logical proof. Although Taylor is an avowed proponent of Freudianism, fortunately for this book her feminist suspicion of master theories and her high standard of scholarship wins out. She quotes one of Donald Kuspit's alternative, post-Freudian yet still psychoanalytic definitions in her discussion of fetishism. For art historians attracted to the psychoanalytic, including Taylor, Kuspit's notions of idiosyncrasy, maturity and health could offer a liberating future inspiration and source. It fits particularly well with Taylor's own predominant approach in this book, wherein she extends earnest, sympathetic thoroughness within a sceptical frame of thought. This Denkmethode rises above her forays into standard, classic Freudianism (primal trauma, castration complex, and so on).

Bellmer's work does beg for psychoanalytic interpretation of some strain. From the early 1930s in Germany until his death in Paris in 1975, the artist steadfastly remained occupied, if not obsessed, with sexual subject matter. His frequently repeated assertions of father-hatred may seem suspect, yet the neurotic repetitiveness of Bellmer's pornographic representations suggest captivity in compulsion. Taylor sees in this masculine anxieties inspired by the female sex, repressed homoerotic attachment to his father and a attendant sense of guilt and fear. She proposes that as a result, the artist internalised an identification with women , which brought on all the disquieting aspects of Bellmer's art. Furthermore, this paradoxical combination of the objective and subjective, the feminine and masculine, empathy and attack, is what creates viewers' simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from his art.

Pointedly, Taylor has commented in an interview that she chose to avoid the congratulatory term erotic, choosing to clearly describe the work as pornographic. Whereas she initially "set out to take revenge on him", she came to realise that Bellmer was "a thoughtful, well-read, and sensitive individual, a real intellectual." In her research, she came to "admire his conception of the artist as an 'anti-specialist,' as he put it, interested in poetry, engineering, carpentry, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and more." Taylor also discovered that "the women he attracted were remarkable". She comments that she "tried to give voice to these women in my book, to take seriously what they had to say about Bellmer." Her book does this extraordinarily well, and thereby imparts an entirely new and intriguing discovery concerning his art, adding credence to Taylor's claim that Bellmer's work contains as much identification with the feminine as abuse of it.

This alone would make Taylor's book praiseworthy. However, there are several further reasons to read this book. First, the book causes one to personally ponder the question of the combined attraction and repulsion of Bellmer's art. Second, Taylor has a genuinely readable writing style, graceful conveying her solid scholarship. Third, some of the photos are published for the first time and the book includes valuable texts by Bellmer previously unavailable in English. Finally, and most significantly, Taylor has accomplished a bona fide critical achievement, born of scholarship, poststructuralism and feminism. She combines detailed aesthetic evaluation with the "hermeneutics of suspicion" into fresh comprehension and appreciation of Bellmer's art, thereby offering a new and more balanced understanding, one never ideologically simplistic, but rather complexly heterogeneous.