Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

11 NOVEMBER, 2010

Wabi-Sabi: Finding Beauty in Imperfection and Impermanence

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Wabi-sabi is a beautiful Japanese concept that has no direct translation in English. Both an aesthetic and a worldview, it connotes a way of living that finds beauty in imperfection and accepts the natural cycle of growth and decay. Wabi Sabi is also the title of a fantastic 2008 picture book by Mark Reibstein, with original artwork by acclaimed Chinese children’s book illustrator Ed Young, exploring this wonderful sensibility through the story of a cat who gets lost in her hometown of Kyoto only to find herself in the process.

The book reads like a scroll, from top to bottom, and features a haiku and a Japanese verse on each spread, adorned with Young’s beautifully textured artwork.

A true wabi-sabi story lies behind the book: When Young first received the assignment, he created a series of beautifully simple images. As he went to drop them off with his editor, he left them for a moment on the front porch of the house. But when he returned to retrieve them, they were gone. Rather than agonizing over the loss, Young resolved to recreate the images from scratch and make them better — finding growth in loss.

While technically a children’s book, Wabi Sabi is the kind of subtle existential reflection adults, with our relentless aspiration for more and our chronic anxiety about imperfection, could take solace in. (A recurring theme this week as we unravel our relationship with imperfection.)

via Altalang

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11 NOVEMBER, 2010

Hide/Seek: Portraits of Gender Identity and Sexual Difference in Art

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What gelatin and silver have to do with the history of art and equality.

Gender identity isn’t something openly discussed and studied as a shaping force in the arts (or , until recently, in science, for that matter), but it is a powerful one. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture takes an ambitious look at the history of sexual difference, published as a companion volume to a Smithsonian exhibition of the same title, but offering a powerful stand-alone piece of visual scholarship charting the hidden impact of gay and lesbian artists on the history of art and portraiture and how they explored the fluidity of gender and sexuality.

The book explores the presence and evolution of same-sex desire in contemporary portraiture through more than 140 full-color drawings, illustrations and photographs by prominent American artists, from Georgia O’Keeffe to Jasper Johns to Andy Warhol. (Including a remarkable silver print of Susan Sontag, with whom I’m hopelessly obsessed.)

In Memory of My Feelings - Frank O'Hara

Jasper Johns, oil on canvas with objects, 1961

James Baldwin

Beauford Delaney, pastel on paper, 1963

A historical account contextualizes the artwork, tracing the influential marginality of LGBT artists from the turn of the 20th century to the gay liberation movement of 1969 to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s to today.

Camouflage Self-Portrait (RED)

Andy Warhol, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen on canvas, 1986

Susan Sontag, 1933-2004

Peter Hujar, gelatin silver print, 1975

Hide/Seek comes from authors Jonathan D. Katz, founder of the first department for gay and lesbian studies in the US, and National Portrait Gallery historian David C. Ward. It is both a brilliantly curated anthology of seminal portraiture and an essential piece of cultural history for human rights and equality.

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08 NOVEMBER, 2010

William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible

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What charcoal has to do with democracy, equality and the cultural necessity for absurdity.

South African artist William Kentridge is known for his unique animation technique and the subtle yet powerful political undercurrents of his work. Most famous for using only charcoal and a hint of blue or red pastel to create mesmerizing near-expressionist animations, his artwork comments on the apartheid not through the tired visual metaphors for black oppression and white extravagance but, rather, through complex and philosophical reflections on the duality of man.

This month, PBS’s ART:21 premiered William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible — a fascinating documentary about the artist’s creative process, offering a rare glimpse of the genius behind the charcoal drawings, animations, video installations, shadow plays, video installations, mechanical puppets, sculptures, operas, tapestries and live performance pieces that have made him one of today’s most exciting and diverse contemporary artists.

The film is available in 10 parts on the PBS website and features exclusive interviews with Kentridge in his studio, discussing the techniques and philosophy behind his work, his personal history as a white South African of Jewish descent, and his experiments with machines that use the mechanism of vision as a metaphor for our agency to make sense of the world.

[Absurdity] is in fact an accurate and a productive way of understanding the world. Why should we be interested in a clearly impossible story? Because, as Gogol says, in fact the impossible is what happens all the time.” ~ William Kentridge

Watch the full episode. See more ART:21.

Also available is a fantastic free 32-page educators’ guide, discussing Kentridge’s work in a broader cultural and political context.

For more on William Kentridge and his astounding work, we highly recommend William Kentridge: Trace. Prints from The Museum of Modern Art, the gorgeous companion book to MoMA’s recent Five Themes exhibition on Kentridge.

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03 NOVEMBER, 2010

Auto Focus: A Brief History of Contemporary Self-Portraiture

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Art, some may argue, is a product of the ego. Nowhere is this meta-awareness more palpable than in the art of the self-portrait.

A fantastic new book by Susan Bright, Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography, explores just that through a brilliantly curated survey of self-portraits by 75 of the world’s most remarkable contemporary photographers.

Tracey Rose

Ciao Bella, Ms Cast, Venus Baartman, 2001

Anas Al-shaikh

Memory Of Memories 1, 2001

Intimate and introspective, the book begins with a beautifully written and illustrated essay that contextualizes the photographic self-portrait and its history, from the 1840s to today.

Zhang Huan

Homeland, 2001

Hew Locke

Tyger, Tyger, 2007

The anthology is organized in five thematic chapters: diaristic and autobiographical photos; images of the body; masks and masquerade; classic studio portraiture; and performance, both public and private. Together, they paint a faceted and thoughtful portrait of photography’s relationship with the artist self, making Auto Focus equal parts visual treat and insightful handbook to the intimate psychology of the artist ego.

Images via The Guardian

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