So many gigabytes, so little time….

     I travel a moderate amount.  Often overseas where they drive on a different side of the road, the electrical outlets come in a baffling array of shapes, sizes, and voltage and where I am lugging around enough clothing and gear for two weeks.  Plus, all the stuff my toddler needs.  

     My biggest problem though is what to do with data.  I end up taking a lot of photos, as one would expect.  The problem is, I only have a 32GB CF card in my D800, and one 16GB SD card.  I realize that this is my own fault.  I should have more than this, but quite honestly CF cards are pricey.  Well, the ones I need are pricey.  CF cards are a unique animal.  They use the same interface that PCs used up until a few years ago for their hard drives.  It means that CF cards can be insanely fast.  As fast as the fastest hard drive in theory.  But, this also means that truly fast cards with large capacity are very expensive.  The D800 takes huge images.  36.2 megapixels comes out to something close to 43MB an image when it is on the card.  Now, shooting a burst of images at full speed means you can end up having to force 4 images a second out to the card.  That is a lot of data. The faster the card, the longer I can do that before the buffer on the D800 fills up and starts to slow things down.  I also need a reliable card.  There are a lot of cheap cards out there that make great speed claims, but are of an inferior quality.  So buying brand-name is the only way to go here.  Which means paying through the nose sometimes.  A 128GB Lexar Professional x1000 card runs around $600.  I could pick up a bunch of cheaper 16GB and 32GB cards, but even they cost a lot, and the idea of having a bunch of small expensive things rattling around my bag disturbs me.  Far too easy to lose one.  I’d rather have one or two massive cards I can keep track of.  Plus, when you break it down, the price per GB stays pretty much the same all across the product line.  

     So what to do with all that data on the road?  How do I get it someplace safe so I can reuse a card?  Also, what happens if I lose a card?  

     The cloud to the rescue!

Image

     The solution is simple now.  If you are in a place with wifi, you can simply upload the card to a cloud server for storage.  You don’t even need much of a laptop to do this.  I don’t edit when I am traveling, so I don’t need to lug along a heavy laptop with enough power to chew through the huge images the D800 throws out.  I can even use something as simple as a Chromebook to pull the images off my card reader and then up to any number of cloud storage services.  The Samsung model even has a single USB 3.0 port, which you seriously need (along with a 3.0 reader) when dealing with large images.  In fact, for the cost of one 64GB CF card you can buy a Chromebook.  Which is light, has a ton of battery life, and boots up very quickly.  It also uses solid state memory, so no worries about your hard drive getting a good knock and crashing.  

     In fact, on my next trip I will be using a Chromebook and wifi, as well as the 100GB of free storage you get on Google Drive, to test out this new workflow.  I should be able to throw everything up from my CF cards, and not have to worry much.  Far less worry and cost than buying a bunch of cards or a portable hard drive.  

There is no room for Mozart in an elevator

 

I was watching a wonderful interview on the BBC with Thomas Hampson the wonderful American baritone, and some of his comments struck me as applicable across the entire art spectrum.

First, a link to a relevant snippet of the interview – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23468086

Now, what got to me was this idea that there is a dilution that goes on when you are bombarded by something in venues that are not appropriate or traditional.  That saturating an environment with something makes us insensate to the artistry of it.  This strikes me as intensely true.

This is I think especially true in the world of the visual arts.  In fact, it is holding us back by a large margin.  In particular one certain habit which is engaged in routinely, and is almost ubiquitous now –  Making everything an “art gallery.”

I like to call this the “and gallery problem.”  It is the tendency for all sorts of businesses to look at some bare walls and just declare that they are now “an art gallery.”  Coffee shops do this a lot.  For some reason every non-Starbucks coffee shop needs to also be an art gallery now.  Restaurants too.  In my own city a recent restaurant opened up and threw on the old “and gallery,” at the end of their name.  We even have a head shop that makes this claim!  Yes, they won’t just sell you a bong, they will also sell you a painting.

This is ridiculous.  Now, I am sure many people have good intentions here.  In fact many probably feel that they have to do this now since, well, this is what everyone does!  But what is really happening here?  What is going on?  What is the impact of this on the local art scenes?

Dilution is what is happening.  Just as Mr. Hampson mentioned in his interview.  If everything is a gallery, then what are galleries?  What place do they hold in a world where every bare wall can be labeled as a gallery?

An art gallery is more than empty space that needs to be filled.  It is more than a series of blank walls.  Far more!  A gallery is the heart of the art world.  More so than the museum I would argue.  The gallery is economic life blood of the art world.  It takes more than some white paint and nails to have a gallery.  Far more.  You have to know the art world.  You have to know trends, and history, and tastes.  You have to have a keen eye for good art versus bad art.  And you also have to manage the artists.  A good gallerist is a mix of agent, salesperson, parent, and yes, even psychologist.  They tend to the local art scene like a gardener.  They encourage growth in certain directions, and discourage it in others.  This is a good thing.  This is a needed thing.

This is something that the “and gallery,” can’t deliver.

Simply put, the people in charge of these things are usually far too busy making their business work to worry about the art side of things.  They are often rarely, if ever, educated in the field.  It is simply a matter of putting up whomever comes in with art they find non-objectionable.  Which, by the by, brings up another issue.  You can’t truly call yourself a gallery if you have to censor work because of what the guy buying his daily latte might think.  Controversy does not do well in environments like that, what with the business owner having to consider, well, their business.

So here we sit with “galleries” popping up everywhere and really doing nothing for the art world.  In fact, all they do is dilute the word “gallery” into something rather inappropriate.

Rather like playing Mozart in an elevator.

A European model for America?

     I discovered this wonderful article in The Guardian by Clair Biddles about how Glasgow created a wonderful and vibrant arts scene and a very supportive gallery system. 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2012/dec/06/glasgow-art-galleries-artist-support

     One must wonder if this would be a useful model for many American cities to emulate. The tiering of the system seems very wise, and you will note that it mentions council galleries, which would be galleries run by a town or city government.  Another European feature that is to be admired in this case.  In fact, a tiered system would greatly benefit the city I am in now due to a massive gap between the local fine art museum (we are blessed with an excellent one that ranks very highly,) and the local art scene.  Sadly, the art scene would rather stay the same out of some unknown urge.  Which is a pity, because they would only benefit from such a change.  Perhaps another municipality should look into this.  I

Owning It – Race, Class, and Art

Last week, I was driving through Salem, where I live, and I passed through a low income neighborhood known as The Point.  The Point is pretty typical of any low income neighborhood in the state – mostly minorities, the usual host of social ills that come with crushing poverty and little, if any potential for upward social mobility.  I noticed that the local “Art Box,” program (where the city awards people small stipends to decorate utility boxes,) was working at a park in the heart of The Point, a park that consists of a few benches, some anemic grass, a war memorial, and a handful of drug dealers.  The two women painting the box were notably your typical “Art Box” winners in Salem.  Young, middle class-raised Hipsters who were white.

They were also notably nervous.  Due to my schedule I had to pass the park several times that day, and never did the pair look at ease.  Considering the nearness to the Zimmerman trial verdict, one might as well have taken a picture to illustrate the dictionary definition of “Racial Unease in America.”  I should note that in full disclosure, I probably would have felt the same way, as I am a white, educated male from a middle-class family.  Mea culpa.

What struck me though, was that I had only ever seen one person from a minority group paint one of these utility boxes.  And they were doing it far away from The Point.  In fact they were doing it on the verge of a busy highway interchange in a rather industrial area of town.  In fact the vast, vast, vast majority of public art (or what passes for it,) in town was all done by the white majority.  Far in excess of the actual demographic makeup of the city.

And that is wrong.  In fact, it is part and parcel of the whole race/class issue plaguing America today.

The fact is, bringing white majority art to minority neighborhoods is not at all helpful to the actual neighborhood.  It is in fact just another symptom of the larger biases of society.  The intent to help is there.  But it often seems rather paternal.  The white man shouldering his “burden,” of having to show “those people,” what art is.  Oh, and often the art they bring is mere decoration.  Devoid of any deep meaning or resonance with the residents of the area.  As I recall one utility box in the area is decorated with nice little bird silhouettes.  Which is fine, but what does it mean?  Well, honestly, not a whole lot.  Now, compare something like that to these Chicano murals in LA – http://www.sparcmurals.org/present/cmt/cmt.html

Those murals are heavy with meaning and significance!  Even as an outsider I can see that just from the execution and effort put into them.  They mean something to the community.  They are glorious in their significance and show the true power of art to be an expressive medium!

Compare this –

LaOfrenda

To this –

Salem Art Box

I am going to be honest here, this is one of the better ones.  At least they are emulating Mondrian.  Otherwise they are mostly devoid of much meaning.  Some are even out-right rip-offs of popular cultural trends and images simply painted on.  No thought or meaning behind them.  Sure, the boxes look less Brutalist and utilitarian, but they certainly aren’t going to stir the soul like the Chicano murals one can find in Chicano neighborhoods.  And that is fine for some locations.

But the mistake here is in not reserving a significant portion of these opportunities for citizens of The Point.  Especially the younger members of the population.  Time and again we have seen that when a population is allowed to express themselves and create something that is intrinsically their own, they benefit.  They benefit socially, and they benefit economically.  When given the opportunity, they can create amazing art.  Deep art. Art that changes the way they see the world.  A teenager who is granted a $500 stipend to express himself and his culture will feel accomplished.  They will feel pride.  And most of all, they will feel hope.  They will feel that there is a chance for them to have a future of some kind and that they have intrinsic worth.  Something that is far too rare in a society that has said through the legal and economic system far too often that minorities are worth less than the majority.  Sometimes to the point of nullifying their very lives.

Do we not owe it to these people to offer them the chance to adorn their own communities with their own stories? Do we not owe it to them to allow them a seat at the communal table?

We do.

Yet sadly, we don’t.  And we should.  We should.

 

 

 

Nice Paintograph you got there…

Look!  Up on the wall!

It’s a painting!

It’s a photo!

It’s a huge giant mistake masquerading as art!

This is what I am talking about…

Everyone will think it is a Warhol….Honest!

 

Photos on canvas.  The worst thing to happen to photography since disc film!

Before I rant on, and I will rant about this, I have to thank the people who wrote the following  –

http://www.ilikebirds.org/index.php/fashion-articles/14-society/280-why-photos-on-canvas-are-just-not-done-walter-benjamin-and-jacques-derrida

Excellent summation of why photos on canvas are a bad idea.  The fact is, photo canvas is a horrible, horrible thing.  It manages to make whatever is on it sit somewhere between a painting and photo.  And not in a good way, like say, the work of Richie Fahey.

Richie Fahey - Paint on photo

Richie Fahey – Paint on photo

 

When a photo is printed onto canvas it loses a huge amount of resolution and becomes rather dull.  It is too detailed for a painting, but not good enough for a photo.  It is almost as if it falls into some sort of uncanny valley.  And there is also something weird about buying a 20 megapixel camera and then throwing 90% of that resolution away.

There is also a bizarre amount of fraud that comes with this.

Yes, fraud.  Sometimes outright; sometimes less so.  It is now not unusual for someone to grab some photo off the internet or their camera, throw on a couple of “art filters,” and print it to canvas and sell it off as a painting.  Even if it isn’t labeled as a painting, I have often seen photo canvases simply mounted on the wall with no explanation that what you are seeing is not a painting.  Even painters use photo canvas deceitfully!  There is one vanity-gallery in my town where the “artist,” has taken pictures of his paintings, printed them on canvas, and then sells them.  I’m not sure what he tells people, but he certainly isn’t running editions of these or plainly labeling them as photos.  And his prices are much closer to painting prices than the prices for un-numbered, unlimited editions.

Now, historically photos and paintings have occupied different spheres in the art world.  Paintings have commanded higher prices, overall, due to the work involved and the uniqueness of the work (each one is a one-off usually.) Photos and other mechanically produced methods tend to command lower prices since there is less labor and uniqueness in them (or so they say…I might disagree…) The mixing of the two seems like a very cynical attempt to combine the “mechanical ease” of photo with the cachet and cash of painting.

So can we stop it?  Can we just abandon this horrible, horrible trend?

It Can’t All Be Art….Can It?

We have all heard The Question. The one that causes art theorists a massive headache and the start of a drinking problem.

“What is art?”

And of course the answer back is very vague and very “open.”

Which is fine when you are talking about the simple artifact that is art.  Tons of things count as art.  But what kind of art is the real question here….and I don’t mean subject matter or genre or style.  What level (for want of a better word) does the art achieve in the art world?

I should point out that I already feel like I might be walking into a quagmire here (giggity.)  What I am trying to say is, art needs a class system.

There is a lot of art out there, and not all of it is equal.  This is something that the art world tends to dance around.  Let’s look at an example –

Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light™ - "Along the Lighted Path"

Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light™ – “Along the Lighted Path”

On the face of it, this is a well rendered painting of an idyllic scene by Thomas Kinkade.  His work has sold very well, and his estate operates galleries that sell huge amounts of his images in varying sorts.  Posters, paintings, prints, coffee mugs, and lord knows what else.  Thomas Kinkade bidet covers?  Sure, why not.

Now, what about something completely different?  Say, a Lucian Freud.

Lucian Freud - "Eli and David"

Lucian Freud – “Eli and David”

This will probably not get on nearly as many posters, mugs, etc.  The image is challenging when compared to the Kinkade.  It isn’t pretty.  It is rough.  It isn’t something you buy because it matches the new couch.  It won’t make you think of some mythical idyll purpled by the setting sun.  Freud’s work challenges you.  It is real.  It is immediate.

And it inhabits a class of art far, far, far above Kinkade’s.  Freud in the artistic stratosphere here.  He is a Brahmin of the art world.  This is why his work appears in the finest museums and galleries.

Kinkade….not so much.  While Kinkade has an excellent gallery system that sells his work, it is not nearly at the level Freud is.  Not at all.  And yes, Kinkade can command up to $125,000 for an original, none of his work would ever be shown in a world-class art museum.

So, where is the problem here?  All I have done is show that there are different classes of art.  What is my issue with this?

Well, the issue is this – The world tends to lump Kinkade and Freud together.  While the curators and auction houses know the difference between the two artists, the world as whole does not.  Worse, the same words are used to describe wholly classes of art.  Kinkade shows in places that call them themselves “fine art galleries.”  The words used to describe Kinkade’s work are the same used in professional critiques of Brahmins like Freud.  And this is not merely and issue between the two.  Oh, no.  In my own experience I have noticed that a lot of self-proclaimed artists do the same.  Kitschy paintings of lobster shacks (Motif Number 1, I have your number!) are described as if they were hanging in the Tate Modern. Shops selling ticky-tack made of seashells and driftwood call themselves galleries.  Hell, your average frame store says they are a “gallery,” despite selling pretty much expensively mounted posters.

This results in a very corrosive effect.  The words that the art world uses in regards to the finest art, the art that survives generations and is studied for it’s depth and meaning, is rife with words that are also used to describe a picture of a lawn chair at sunset on Instagram.

This corrosion is most evident…most painfully evident I should say, when it comes to community arts associations and efforts to engage in public art.  While some are quite excellent, others tend to lump all art in together and use the same feel-good words for all art.

End result?  Well, we get communities with bland, Kinkadesque, art being pushed.  The exciting, energetic, interesting work never shows up.  Why?  Because if Kinkade is “fine art,” then paintings of docks and sailboats must be just as good!  Our language has trapped us in a burlap sack of mediocrity!  The artists looking to follow the Brahmins are pushed out in favor of an almost Dalit level of work.  Even worse, when we are told that this bland art is top notch stuff, we accept it as a society.  We accept it as consumers.  As a (mostly) photographer, I often find myself pinned against the wall at a party by someone who is “also a photographer.”  Which 99.9% of the time means someone whose work is not even relevant to mine.  The person who just wants a pretty picture is not operating in the realm I seek to operate in.  And yet, we tell them they are.

I am not saying we should discriminate against other classes of art, just that we need to categorize art and work to find a place for all work.  To this end I have proposed the following terminology.

Contemporary Folk” – The more pedestrian, untrained, art.  The kitsch.  The work of those with little or no formal training.  Anything on DeviantArt.com pretty much.

Contemporary Fine Art” – The aspirational work of current practioners.  This work is more informed, has more depth, and seeks to be something more than just, “a nice object.”

Fine Art” – That work which is so good, and so rich, that it transcends time and becomes part of the art historical discussion.  Freud, Banksy, Johns, de Koeing, etc.

It will only be by engaging in deep, critical thought on these issues that we will be able to move forward in the art world.  As much as the art world loves uncertainty and confusion at times, this is not one of those times.  We must look to new model of thinking here.  Especially when it comes to pushing our art to higher levels.