Archive for July, 2008

Jesse van Dijk’s Journey

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008
Jesse van Dijk

What makes great science fiction art? What makes it work? What is it striving for? Artists like Jesse van Dijk’s paintings are successful when they represent the vastness of the worlds they portray. They create a sense of wonder. They allow us to imagine worlds that spawn from the artist’s imagination. Science fiction art, when it’s done well, can possess many of the attributes of classical painting.

The figure has a primary role in science fiction art. From the first science fiction artist creating illustrations for pulp fiction magazines and dime novels, being able to draw and paint the figure has been critical to the genre. Some of those spacesuits are pretty tight and most barbarians wear next to nothing. The best science fiction artists keep their figures believable. When an artist exaggerates there is a loss of the realism that makes the fantastic scene accessible to the viewer. It losses power when it’s exaggerated. How can an artist convince us that the three headed monster attacking our hero is real we can’t even believe our hero is real?

Landscape also plays a vital role in great science fiction art. To really create that sense of wonder and vastness nothing beats a panoramic landscape. We need to believe these imaginary worlds go on forever. Landscapes need to be plausible if not possible. It’s a big universe out there so maybe all kinds of wild landscapes are littered throughout space and time.

During the zenith of the French academy historical painting was considered the highest subject matter. Even more so than religious and mythological themes. Science fiction art is a combination of all of these. Science fiction is our new mythology. God know Dune is a better read than any holy book. Successful science fiction artists like van Dijk have managed to create a genre of painting that has many of the most attractive qualities of the long tradition of Western art.

The painting below is a commissioned work for something called Xyanide: Resurrection.

Jesse van Dijk

Mike Mitchell’s Mickey Mouse

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008
Mike Mitchell

Mike Mitchell is a good example of the evolution of pop art. Pop’s not what it used to be. Today pop art has become the favorite artistic style of the average American. It’s a style that’s easy to understand and is usually attractive on a very base level. I’ve heard pop art described as the road of least resistance. That seem appropriate. Who doesn’t love a painting of Mickey Mouse? Especially when it’s kind of creepy. Mickey has been a mainstay in pop art since Andy Warhol elevated his image from low to high art so many years ago.

Though Warhol was only one of a number of pop artists from the sixties he has come to personify the entire movement. It was Warhol who really fleshed out the theories that have become the intellectual backbone that justifies painting a picture of Mickey Mouse when you know you really should be painting a heroic nude or landscape. But more than that Warhol went to town embracing his celebrity and made it as much a part of his art as the prints he paid his hippie friends to make for him. He also came around at just the right time. By the early nineteen-sixties abstract expressionism had overstayed its welcome. What could be more boring than abstract expressionism? It’s like watching the wallpaper peel. I guess it’s more interesting than minimalism.  You can imagine how refreshing those pop art images must have  been.

Pop has since come to be understood as a statement about popular culture. At its inception it was a revolutionary concept. Today we realize that TV is just a con and advertising is a pack of lies. The result of this has been that much of it is no longer a con or pack of lies. Because of the insight of the early pop artists and intellectualizing of Andy Warhol, pop has actually changed the culture it was critical of. Much of television and movies have stopped being stupid and commercials have taken a small step toward being more honest. So in this light pop art actually has made some small contribution to the human condition.  But since most of us are aware of it’s achievements what is the point of pop art today?

Pop art is interesting. Its lessons have been learned but it can still be enjoyed without the preaching. Mike Mitchell’s work is a good example. He doesn’t seem interested in telling us that our culture is a big lie. We already know that and the people who are going to appreciate Mitchell’s art don’t need any life lessons, at least not about popular culture. Today’s pop artists are more interested in painting interesting pictures. They don’t have any of the high-art low-art hangups that make a lot of contemporary art pretentious and boring. Pop art has become a part of our mainstream culture rather than a comment on it.

The work below was created created for the Santa Fe reporter about Furries and the problems they have leading normal lives.

Mike Mitchell

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Sunday, July 20th, 2008
Stephen Smith

What is the value of art? It’s worth whatever you can get for it. But how much can you get for it? That depends on who you are. Are you a pushy salesman? Are you a crummy, unaggressive salesman who lets rejection wear him down?  One’s ability to sale doesn’t reflect on the quality of a work of art but it does reflect on its value. Value can be seen as price. But what about value as quality? When we question the value of a work art we aren’t questioning its price. The price can often be found on a little sticker on the wall beside the work of art. What we are asking, in aesthetic terms, is what is the innate value?

Value can only be determined in relationship to other objects. Money, itself, used to be nothing more than pieces of paper with pictures powdered-wigged or mutton-chopped former presidents before they started putting microchips and stuff in it. Even when money was based on the gold standard what was the value of the gold? Gold doesn’t have the sort of innate value of something really useful like say a glass of water and a sandwich. Does art have a function? Before the advent of modernism art was more of a craft. It served as decoration, was used in religious ceremonies or maybe just told a story. But it did something. Eventually art became a victim of its own success. When art began to be thought of as having some indescribable, sublime qualities the the function of art became unspeakable value judgments difficult if not impossible.
This line of thinking is a dead end. If value only exists as a relationship between entities and is subjective, it is useless as a descriptive quality of a work of art. Especially recently when comparisons are virtually impossible given that so much art has no similar aspects of other works of art. Here we are basically back to the value of art being what you can get for it. But that leads us no closer to the absolute value.  So is it impossible to arrive at this elusive quality of value?

Like most other philosophical disciplines, aesthetics has suffered from the troubling issue of the vague, nonsensical words. Even before modernism, when the goal of aesthetics was to define and qualify “beauty”, we were still chasing after a meaningless word. What is beauty? Saying it’s some subjective value judgment gets us nowhere. It’s impossible to go about the practice of aesthetics with the same naivety of our predecessors.  Not only can’t we come up with a good working definition of beauty we can’t come up with a good definition of art. So much of modernism involves expanding the definition of art. “See, this can be art too.” It’s amazing that that’s still considered clever in some circles.

So basically we’re left with no objective value for art. All we have is what you can get for it. So the value of art is relative to salesmanship and marketing. Things we can measure in dollars and cents.

Updated picture from below

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

So check it out. I desaturated Green Lantern’s face a bit. See what a difference it makes. One of the primary rules of “realistic” painting is that everything is gray. All those bright colors may be “pretty” but if you want your painting to look like the thing it portrays add some black and white or Payne’s gray to your palette.

This painting has no name

Friday, July 18th, 2008
Stephen Smith

This painting doesn’t have a name because I’m not sure who the girl is dressed up as. I am sure that it will be called Green Lantern and ______. The ______ will be whoever that girl is suppose to be. As soon as I solve this mystery the work will be much closer to resolution. I’m sure she’s scarlet something or other. Maybe not. Beyond being yet untitled this painting is also unfinished. This image, at 400 pixels wide, will be pretty much indistinguishable from the finished work. Some of the edges will be a little crisper in the foreground, there will be a bit more detail here and there and the guy’s skin tone needs to be a little more neutral. But for the most part this is it.

I’ve developed a number of rules for what I want out of these paintings. First and foremost I want it to be well painted. It’s been easy up until recently to settle for a painting that’s half-ass. But today more and more artists are learning how to paint with of a degree of skill that, if not completely unknown, has been widely disparaged during the 20th century. Not that art hasn’t made tremendous intellectual advances during this period it’s just that technique hasn’t been a primary concern. Artists have spent the better half of the last hundred years striving to find new understanding about the human condition. Needless to say they’ve all failed miserably and anyone who believes otherwise is just an unsophisticated fanboy.

Another arbitrary rule I’ve made for myself is to paint real things. The costumed characters are a compromise. I find them interesting and they allow me to flirt with fantasy art while still working within the very conservative genre of genre painting. Many of the best painters today are afraid to paint anything that wouldn’t have been accepted by their Victorian heroes. I guess everyone has their own temperament but I believe it’s possible to acknowledge some of the ideas of the 20th century without leaving your painting half finished or gluing some goofy collage element to it.

Stephen Smith