bad art from people we like

What do you do when people you like create something that you think is terrible? Starting from one presumption that there are people that like me, I'm sure some of those folks think my art (or some of it) is terrible. So I'm aware enough to consider that I create this uncomfortable situation for others.

But what do you do? What, when your voice seems conspicuously absent from a chorus of complimentary responses? The old aphorism about not saying anything at all (lacking something nice to say) is fine and dandy until the artist in question asks for your opinion.

Maybe I'm just too much of a people pleaser.

mast brothers chocolate

Handcraft. Chocolate. Beards. There's not really a lot left to say about why I love this 8-minute video (via Devour):

The Mast Brothers from The Scout on Vimeo.

(color) pencil pusher

Check out these nifty Pantone colored pencils. Perhaps you can use a favorite Pantone coffee mug as a pencil cup?
(via Curated)

Dinner at Alinea

valerie, chef achatz, and me in the kitchen at Alinea
(blurry photo by the kind hostess)

Yeah, that's right. I also included this post in my "Arts" category. Because the meal Valerie and I consumed over a perfectly-paced three hours was a masterpiece.

I made reservations over a month ago for dinner at Alinea in Chicago and was immediately giddy at the prospect of eating my first haute-cuisine meal. Each passing week brought the realization that I was ever-so-much closer to tonight, and as I sat down in the upstairs dining room of the stylish and contemporary restaurant (perfectly befitting the Great White City) I had the nervous excitement of a child on Christmas morning who has woken just a little too early for his parents to let him tear away the wrapping paper. I know that sounds a bit cheesy and overwrought, but I'm serious. I felt like kid. Before every course. And the excitement built before each of the THIRTEEN courses.

Valerie and I each had the smaller - yes, there's one bigger - of the two menus, but we didn't leave hungry at all. We knew there would be around thirteen items, but with a frequently changing menu we had no idea what would arrive at our table next. One set of flavors transitioned to another with varying intensity of flavor. Amuse-bouches built up to incredible major courses before winding down with three dramatically different yet perfectly complimentary desserts.

I'll not list the entire menu here - perhaps I'll update the post with a scanned image of tonight's menu when I get home - but I'll share a few highlight items. I can't begin to describe some of the preparations, though they did include gels, foams, clever service, and liquid nitrogen. Sure, call it "molecular gastronomy" - a cliché at best - but it would also miss the point. The presentation served to delight more than simply the palate. The aromas, textures, and even how we were to eat certain courses made spectacular entertainment out of what was ostensibly dinner. The food wasn't merely delicious, but it was fun to eat. It was, therefore, easy for me to dive right in to some ingredients that I had until then avoided. Shad roe? Sure! Morel mushrooms? Delicious. Leeks? Absolutely. But there was also sturgeon, confit of pork belly, Wagyū beef, fois gras, and black truffle. It was a culinary tour de force.

It wasn't cheep, and I'm sure you guessed that. And I'm sure a meal like this isn't for everyone. I have no problem with somebody wanting to eat what they grew up with, or comfort food, or keeping it simple. But if you're willing to step outside your gustatory comfort zone, save your dollars and make it happen. It's worth every penny. Is it wasteful? I'd argue it's not. There is craft, there is skill. There is visual beauty. Expert execution coupled with extraordinary creative talent. To eat at Alinea is to be a patron of the arts.


My buddy Phil is writing a fairly regular new web comic strip! Read it! It's hilarious!

great DOF and tones!

It's probably pretty clear that I never went to art school.

I've explained before how, in my formative years, I was on the fence deciding between my creative and analytical sides. Having chosen the analytical school and (so far) job path there's one are of my artistic life that seems to be missing - criticism. I've not, that is, participated in, dealt, received, nor studied formal art criticism (okay, so a really easy voice jury when I took singing lessons as a non-major...I don't think that counts). My photography class in the summer of 2008 was supposed to include two critiques but did not.

The thing is, I believe there's at least some value to deeper investigation of creative output. I just don't really know where to start and how far to go. On the one hand there's the high-minded bloviating found, tragically, all-too-often in the mainstream art world. On the other, there are comments like this post's title and scads like it that I see on Flickr every day that say little more than the obvious.


I'm not suggesting that all verbose criticism is overwrought nonsense. Certainly complex and personal reactions to great art can elicit complex responses. I do not, additionally, dismiss all simple gut-reactions as empty commentary. It's still complimentary for somebody to suggest that your photo's composition is nice, or that the architecture of a concert hall has pretty windows. I guess I just want a middle ground.

I've been trying, as much as possible, to really slow down and examine photographs I see on Flickr before (if at all) commenting. On such occasion that I post something, I've tried to add something of value - some detail about how I react to the picture. There are plenty of "Wow, sweet" comments left in my wake, but when I feel like a picture is worth prolonged staring, I like to say why in a bit more detail than "Great angle and colors."

I'm not terribly worried about the grad-school-style diatribes because, frankly, I don't think I'm that intricate a writer.

two coca cola bottles

To have, to realize that two Coca Cola bottles are not identical and what makes them not identical is that they're not at the same point. They can't be at the same point in space. Since they're not at the same point in space they automatically receive - each one receives light differently than the other, so that it can be as fascinating as going to a museum to look carefully, attentively at two Coca Cola bottles, hmm? And something of that is implicit in a great deal of 20th century art.

John Cage in an interview with Terry Gross on WHYY's Fresh Air.

there is no permanence

There's an intriguing short read on Slate about the use of plastics in art, and the troubling difficulty of their preservation. We tend to think of plastics as everlasting, but museums around the world have been dealing with the reality that plastics can decay simply sitting around.

Raisin Brahms

This is seriously the funniest public service announcement I've ever seen. Guten taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag!


Volley Ho!

Oh man...Layer Tennis starts again today. Set your phasers to "stun" and your Interwebs to today's match.

Should be grand!

Handmade Holiday Craft Show

Tomorrow from 10 - 5 is the Handmade Holiday Craft Show at the Visual Arts Center (where I took my photography course), and my buddy Phil is hawking is mighty wares. I plan to check it out, and if you're in or near Richmond tomorrow, you should, too. If you're participating in the mass consumerism around Christmas, you should at least consider supporting local artists and craftspeople.

Check out some fine examples of Phil's work on his Flickr account.

Adipose Rex

So the other day I woke up with a phrase that slapped me in the face: "Adipose Rex." So I decided I had to draw a picture of this fat tyrannosaurus...

fat tyrannosaurus

It felt pretty good to draw for the first time in years even if it was a silly cartoon character. I used to draw quite a bit through high school but dropped off sharply when I picked up the guitar. Because of that lag, this simple little drawing actually represents a ridiculous process that took me a few evenings. I sketched out some concepts in my Moleskine (maybe I'll share those some time...probably not) and settled on the style you see above. I scanned the page from my notebook and printed it so I had a larger image to replicate neatly on trace paper (Val has loads left over from her drafting classes in college). Finally I scanned the traced image and cleaned it up a bit in Photoshop before posting to Flickr.

Keep an eye out...I make no guarantees, but this may not be the last you see of this big guy.

Lego Man


Fallout Alarms

Okay, you know I'm a fan of the digital galleries curated by folks at The Morning News.

Well this week's offering is simultaneously nerdy, surreal, and beautiful. Rosecrans Baldwin interviews Cornelia Hesse-Honegger about her strangely pretty watercolors of insects affected by low-level radiation.

The Jepson Center for the Arts

museum face

I just posted four frames of Moshe Safdie's Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah, GA.

The website for Moshe Safdie and Associates is tragically Flash-tastic, but if you have the patience I recommend checking out some of his other work.

A Tale of Two Geniuses

Malcolm Gladwell's recent New Yorker Article, "Late Bloomers," has already been linked around the internet, but I can't help chiming in having read the piece. Whether or not you or me or anybody else is destined to reach "genius" status, it's encouraging to understand that not all brilliance manifests itself at an early age. Additionally, I loved the notion that late-blooming talent is often aided by outside forces:

Sharie was Ben’s wife. But she was also—to borrow a term from long ago—his patron. That word has a condescending edge to it today, because we think it far more appropriate for artists (and everyone else for that matter) to be supported by the marketplace. But the marketplace works only for people like Jonathan Safran Foer, whose art emerges, fully realized, at the beginning of their career, or Picasso, whose talent was so blindingly obvious that an art dealer offered him a hundred-and-fifty-franc-a-month stipend the minute he got to Paris, at age twenty. If you are the type of creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it takes for your art to reach its true level.

The article is a lengthy one, but certainly worth a read. It makes me (and hopefully others who pursue good artistic output of any kind) relax a little bit about my own creativity and dulls the false sense of urgency to do something significant before I age "too much." The article also seems to celebrate the pursuit - the research and preparation as a component of the art itself. And that, I can appreciate.

Art, Creativity, and Me

From the get-go, by the title alone, this is a very introspective and selfish piece of writing. For that, despite the personal nature of this website, I apologize.

I've been trying to sort out my thoughts on creative processes for some time now, and I've particularly attempted to reconcile my perceived creative impotence with the strong creative urges I feel. Well I can tell you now that I still haven't sorted out said thoughts, but I figured starting some writing on the topic would be as good a springboard as any to get some of these ideas out of my head. At least after this I can look back on what I wrote and start to filter through that which sounds inane, unclear, or nonsensical and refine my understanding. Here I go, diving right in.

From my earliest memories (hinted at in some earlier posts, no doubt) there's been this great struggle in my mind between the left and right brain, the creative and the academic. By the age of four I was building Lego objects, and identifying dinosaurs by their right names at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. As I continued through childhood I could just as likely be found drawing aircraft and cartoons as watching Mr. Wizard. It wasn't until I was in the middle of high school that I felt I might need to choose between the two sides of my personality (an errant notion, to be sure, but what I thought none-the-less). I figured I could keep my creative inclinations as hobbies while I pursued more "practical" roads in the sciences, so by my junior year I decided engineering was where I was headed.

From the start, though, I stuck with right-brained activities in college. I may have abandoned drawing at this point, but I still played guitar and had recently discovered an affinity for singing. Though I changed majors to information systems halfway through school, I kept playing music, and my introduction to Valerie (before she was Mrs. Warshaw) also opened my eyes to the beauty of architecture, design, handcraft, modern art, and so much of the visual spectrum I'd missed out on. By the time I'd graduated and entered the work force, a great deal of my attention was absorbed by the products of artistic expression, be it theater, painting, music, or furniture design.

But something still felt like it was missing...

You see, participating in artistic pursuits doesn't equal creativity. The ability to play the guitar is not the same as the ability to write music forthe guitar. Appreciation for photography is not the same as having an eye for visual composition. Now a new layer of complexity had come into focus for my artistic frustration. I not only wanted to be immersed in the world of creativity; I wanted to create.

The problem is, as I see it, my lack of real creative ability - at least so far. My attempts to realize songs or lyrics failed miserably in the form of cheesy rhyme schemes and trite chord progressions. My feeble adventures trying to return to pencil drawing did little more than to remind me of the chasm that separated my skill from real talent. Now I play at photography, but I have yet to see how that plays out. We'll see. I still haven't taken any pictures that mean anything. Most of my work to date may as well be snap shots taken with a quality lens.

All of this makes me wonder what it is that develops into expressive ability within artists of various types. Is it poverty? Hardship? Mental instability? I've had a pretty easy life, so perhaps...No, certainly it's no list of causes so simple, but it's tempting for me to associate artistic greatness with suffering or heartache.

The funny thing to me is how this post itself serves as evidence to my point. You see, I'd intended to somehow connect my creative tendency with my history and my experience of certain art forms, but instead I've spent half the writing on my formative years and self-consciously abbreviated the real crux of what I wanted to say. At least I can say that prose was never one of those creative pursuits which I, well, pursued.

Anyway, I've written over 700 words already - far longer than my average post - so I'm sure many of my readers have lost interest by now. At any rate, I'll never give up my search for real artistic experience, and if I'm lucky, some of it may be my own.

Art, Clearly

I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world

-- The late poet Stanley Kunitz, quoted on a wall in the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

Outsider Art

The term "outsider art" is class warfare all wrapped in a neat little snarky bow.
-- Phil Barbato, via Twitter

Artisinally Speaking

I was reading A Brief Message, as I am wont to do, and last week's post about lasting artistic products resonated with me quite a bit. Hugh Graham extols the virtue of art and manufactured items which last in durability and/or significance. This reinforced my own appreciation for skillful craftsmanship - be it a traditional barber shop, a local butcher, or architecture. Even crafts where the end result is fleeting (especially when it comes to food) hold the capacity for great artistry.

Maybe it's just my need for all things authentic, but I much prefer the handmade to the machine milled. I like to see the individual character added to a piece of furniture or a house or a photograph or wrought metal. I'm saddened that such things as bespoke clothing and shoes are now luxury items rather then necessarily commonplace. I'm sad, more so, that the affordable mass-produced goods we have today reach obsolescence or disrepair within a few years of production.

Anyway, enough of this dolorous tone. Here's something obliquely related: Steve Harwood has an awesome photo set of his camera collection on Flickr. There are nice descriptions to go with them, and it's worth noting that many of his cameras still function, even though some are around 100 years old! How's THAT for lasting craftsmanship? I wonder how many digital cameras will still be useful 30 years from now, let alone 100.

Pixish: Questionable Idea

John Gruber posted about Pixish, a new website which looks to match up publishers with creative needs and designers/artists with creative solutions.

From the creator's blog entry, we find that publishers post creative requirements and indicate some reward (money? supplies?). Powazek thinks this is encouraging for artists who "...need a way to get [their] work out there. Pixish is [their] chance to get published." He sounds even more hopeful for the publishers:

On Pixish, you can post an Assignment that asks for exactly the kind of imagery you need. The Pixish creative community can then submit their work, and review each other's submissions. Then all you have to do is pick the winners and send the rewards.

For beginning artists, this DOES sound like a great way to get your work out there. But this sounds even more like the publishers winning and lots of artists doing lots of work for nothing. I don't blame Powazek too much - his profile sounds like he has a publishing background (I should research that more to be certain). But how many web designers or architects or graphic designers or print makers do work for free, and let the clients choose what they want from that?

This sounds a lot more like a TV show that my wife occasionally watches: Designer's Challenge on HGTV. This show involves three different Interior Designers (real ones, too - not wannabe decorators) each providing a design concept to a homeowner who then chooses which one they like best. THEN they hire the designer. My wife is a professional interior designer and while she enjoys seeing the different designs on this show, she hates the format because it's completely unreal. No designer is going to spend hours in AutoCAD and Photoshop coming up with a free design concept for somebody who MIGHT be a client.

So I'm curious - how many artists and designers are going to spend valuable work time on projects that MIGHT bring a reward? I'm not an industry expert so I can't say, but I'm sure curious to see how this works out.


wood sculpture representing air flow over a helicopter rotor

Flickr user Christopher Holland created this excellent little sculpture. I commented on the photo on the originating page:

"This is really cool! It appeals to both my nerdy-technical and creative/design-oriented sides.

I like the continuation of the air stream concept in the lines on the box top as well."

Anyway, I dig it :-)

Willard Wigan

What a discovery (thanks to my boss): Willard Wigan creates some of the tiniest sculpture I've ever seen, and his process is incredible. This clip provides a bit more insight:



Fellow web nerd Phil Barbato is crafting a fuzzy little creature for each day of his participation in Whiskerino. He calls these mighty creations "Whiskerbears", and you can buy them at his Etsy shop.

They are more awesome than your eyes can handle:

picture of a fuzzy little stuffed creature

Visual Chefs

I think Layer Tennis is a lot more like Iron Chef then a sport for the visually creative.