Art I Like And Artists I Don’t Like

After the complex questions of the last few months, it’s nice to see a simpler question from Dan for this week’s F5:

Who are your five favorite visual artists? This includes painters, photographers, etc., even video stuff.

I can’t say I’m all that into visual art, but I think I can summon up a few things.

For one thing, I’m quite partial to the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. I know, Kandinsky is supposed to be a stage everyone passes through at Uni, right? Well, for me it has been more than that. While I really got into Dali for a while—and still enjoy his work when I see it—Kandinsky seems to me the one who got things right. All those basic geometric forms that are so everpresent in the mind, all the blur and bright color and contrast that are so clearly filtered for in human perception. He was showing us what the inside of our own heads, our own visual processes, looks like. He hit the nail on the head.

Chaim Soutine is another painter whose work, when I first saw it, struck me in the head like a hammer. The distortions were all absolutely perfect, absolutely humanizing. I found it all fascinating and somehow true to some kind of very human experience of both painting and seeing. Weird as is expressionist paintings might seem, they fascinate me, especially the portraits. See some of them from links on this page.

The illustrations of Gustave Dore. The book I’ve written, which I think should be turned into a comic book? I don’t want it to look like manga, though it’d be a manga format for a manga audience. I want it to look exactly halfway between manga and Dore’s Bible scenes or Dore’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy (available, illustrations and text together, here).

I’ve always loved those sort of misty, blurry-looking, very atmospheric portraits of Hindu deities that I’ve run across since I was a kid. I can’t seem to find any good examples now, and though the Web seems to be telling me the likeliest candidate for the name of the artist Ritu mentioned to me ages ago on the subject was the name of Raja Ravi Varma, Varma’s paintings seem to be the ancestor to the pics I am thinking about. The ones I’m thinking of look distinctly airbrushed, fuzzier… like this Krishna, or this one (though it’s less blurry), or this Ganesha or this one (the last few being especially good examples of that benevolent blurriness and trippiness I so enjoy). It may be cheesy of me to claim to deeply enjoy just this specific class of Hindu devotional painting, given my general ignorance of the subject in general; but I do like them and have since my folks gave me a copy of the Bahagavad-Gita as a kid, its pages full of such images. So there.

Finally, for photography, you might expect me to mention some famous, well-known artist or someone, but actually, I’m making a hard choice here. With the quantity of wonderful photography available online, especially now that flickr is up, it’s hard to choose one photoblogger, but I think I’ll have to go with Mike of Satan’s Laundromat. This guy is documenting New York through things, and it’s amazing to me how he can render the city so interesting, so consistently, for so long, mainly via things. It’s like William Carlos Williams’ dictum, “no ideas, but in things,” realized via camera. Wonderful.

And now, a couple of my least favorite artists: Orlan and Stelarc. Stelarc especially grates: this idiot is tromping about spewing about how the body is obsolete and that technological self-adaptation and cyborgization is the future—yet he cannot even design a decent-looking webpage. Sure, buddy, sure. Why don’t you try getting a decent digital camera and putting some shots onto your site that don’t look like crap? Sorry, but the high-tech age he dreams of will be here when even half-baked artists (or half-baked bloggers) can create decent-looking webpages. (And yes, I know mine’s not yet perfect either, but his is ridiculously bad, considering the claims he’s advancing.)

As for this Orlan character, there’s a word for what she’s got: it’s called surgical addiction. Mark my words, if the operations don’t kill her, she’ll keep getting them. What the hell are those bumps on her temples supposed to do or mean? They just look dumb. Not radical, not shocking, not interesting, just dumb. Good grief, lady, get some useful, functional, or interesting implant. An enormous nose is next? What’s the point? Ah, she’s upsetting the male-dominated imposition of current discourses of feminine beauty onto the flesh of women? By implanting bumps into her temples? I don’t see that (a) affected the inborn predispositions of male human attraction or (b) changing the way women react to the socially-amplified and reinforced expectations that follow from the aforementioned instinctual attractions. Orlan, it seems to me, is just making a career on rhetoric. Perhaps because she can’t really do truly interesting art… or at least, nothing on her website interested me.

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