Art Just Shelley

My mother’s pen and ink

The first image is “One of the Family”, by Frederick Cotman, painted in 1880.

The second image shows the same painting, but this time in black and white from a magazine page. This second image is coated with ink marks, stains, and other signs of wear. The reason why is my mother used this painting as inspiration for the only pen and ink drawings she’s ever done.

I happen to have the first, and the best of her pen and inks, in image three. Mom gave it to Dad, who passed it on to me when he went into assisted living.

Mom took some liberties with interpreting the original artwork. For one, the father figure was dropped from her work. I’m not sure if it’s because Mom thought the he was extraneous for the work, or she was making a symbolic choice reflecting her ambivalence about the men in her life.

The rest of the images are of Mom’s pen and ink. I thought I would provide some detail. It took quite a bit of time to scratch this piece out.

Art Money

Stop creating and get a real job

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I don’t know that I agree with Nick Carr’s assessment that the Bebo deal is equivalent to sharecropping. Anyone who contributes anything to any social networking site should be aware that what they contribute will eventually be monetized in some way by the site owner. In other words, if you want to give it away for free so that others profit, I don’t necessarily have a lot of sympathy.

I did like what Broadstuff had to say on the issue, though.

A good rule of thumb with the mass Tech Media is that when such howls of outrage are heard, the howlee is generally onto something. And what Bragg is articulating in essence is this simple thought – the only real difference between the New Music Aggregators and the (automatically despised) Olde Aggregators is that the Olde Industry actually paid the artists something.

That, in a nutshell, is the bottom line on this discussion. It’s not whether the artists knew they weren’t going to get paid or not, but the fact that we hold social networks like Bebo up to high acclaim while sneering at the old record companies, when both groups profit from the efforts of the artist. However, it is only the old companies, those badies, that actually pay for music. Even if the payment is considered miniscule, it is pay and is a whole more than you’ll ever get for your efforts at Bebo or any other site that promises you “fame”.

The intrinsic value of fame on Bebo aside, I am irked to see this discussion used, yet again, for the cry that all art demands to be free and that artists should be happy with getting attention. If artists want to pay the rent or buy food, then they should get a “real” job, and quit whining because people download their stuff for free.

According to people like Michael Arrington all recorded music should be given away for free, and artists make their only income from concerts. If they can’t make their living from concerts, or busking for tossed dimes in the subway, than they should consider music to be their hobby, and get a job digging ditches.

Of course, if we apply the Arrington model to the music industry, we should be able to download all the songs we want–as long as we’re willing to sit through an ad at the beginning and in the middle of every song. Isn’t that how Techcrunch makes money? Ads in the sidebar, taking time to download, hanging up the page. Ads at the bottom of the posts we have to scroll past to get to comments? And in between, loud, cacophonous noise?

It angers me how little value people in this online environment hold the act of creativity. Oh we point to Nine Inch Nails and Cory Doctorow as examples of people who give their work away for free but still make a living. Yet NIN levies an existing fame, selling platinum packages at several hundred a pop to make up for all the freebies, and Doctorow has BoingBoing as a nice cushion for the lean years. They bring “fame” to the mix, and according to the new online business models, you have to play the game, leverage the system if you really want to make a living from your work. We don’t value the work, we value the fame, yet fame doesn’t necessarily come from any act of true creativity.

All you have to do to generate fame nowadays is be controversial enough, say enough that’s outrageous, connect up with the right people in the beginning and then kick them aside when you’re on top to be successful. You don’t have to have artistic talent, create for the ages, or even create at all–just play the game. If you do it right, you get Techcrunch. If you do it wrong, there’s the ditch.

Though I may not agree completely with what Nick wrote in the previously linked post, I agree wholeheartedly to what he wrote in a follow-up post, written in response to Arrington’s statement, Recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist.

As a poem, one assumes, is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of a poet. As a sculpture is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of a sculptor. As a film is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of a director.

In the fallen world of the social network, “awareness” is the highest, most noble accomplishment that anyone could possibly aspire to. Because, you see, “awareness” is a monetizable commodity.

In a world where the only measure of success is attention, can anyone truly be great?


Body Worlds

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I went to the Body Worlds exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center today. If you’ve not heard of this, it’s an exhibit of preserved human bodies formed into shapes to best demonstrate the human anatomy.

The human bodies are without skin, so that the muscle, bone, tendons, organs show. Believe me when I say that there is nothing at all gross about the exhibit. On the contrary, it was all rather fascinating. Our bodies are incredibly sophisticated machines, and the exhibits were a celebration of our wonderful sophistication.

In addition to the staged human bodies, the show also featured cross sections and preserved organs, both diseased and healthy. Another interesting type of display was the vein work sculptures, displaying only the veins.

What was terrible, though, is that I had the strongest craving for beef jerky during the show. I confessed my hunger to my roommate, and he said that he had the same craving. As we were leaving, we could hear the people behind us, debating where to go to lunch because they were starved.

There was something very Freudian about all of this.


I gather there was or is a 20/20 investigation of Body Worlds, especially about where the bodies originated. According to the information I know, the bodies used in the displays at the Body Worlds in St. Louis were all donated at the behest of the individuals, and with permission of the individual families.

As for whether the show was purely entertainment, most of the show is devoted to a closer look at organs, including those diseased, as compared to healthy. Displays of lungs damaged by smoking, livers damaged by drinking, and one cross section display of an obese man with diagrams detailing of the damage to his body based on his weight–including a cross section of the pacemaker he wore–were juxtaposed with bodies seemingly in the peak of health and vitality.

Was the work educational?

One elderly woman wearing a camel colored coat, and a hat with a little feather was talking with three kids who part of a school tour group. Their discussion was occurring over an exhibit of hip bones, including one demonstrating a hip replacement. Evidently, the kids had been at the display, looking at the hip replacement when the lady heard them talking. She started telling them about her own hip replacement, her mobility before and after, answering their questions. The small group of four were so intent, they were completely unaware of the kids’ chaperons, patiently waiting for them to finish so they could move on.

Was the work art? Art is, as always, in the eye of the beholder.

Art Books

The Art of Book, Volume One

A month or two ago, Steve at LanguageHat pointed out a New York show consisting of Art Deco book bindings by Pierre Legrain and Rose Adler. I was mesmerized at the beauty of the bindings, and the concept that book binding could actually be considered an art form.

I’m not an arts and crafts type of person. I don’t knit or sew, embroider, build things out of wood, make things out of straw or glass or sculpt out of clay or rock. I did try jewelry making in San Francisco, but unless I create a forge and build a press in my kitchen, it’s not necessarily the type of craft one can pursue in an apartment. Frankly, I have little patience for most crafts.

But the concept of bookbinding was different. I started researching it and found several books at the library on the subject, as well as resources online. The more I researched, the more fascinated I became.

For instance, pages in a book are not just stacked and glued at the end. They are usually folded into groupings called signatures and most hard cover books consist of several of these signatures sewed together, usually through the use of tapes. You can actually see these groupings if you look closely at the spine of most of your books. The term itself was from a time when a small signature was placed at the bottom of the first page of the grouping to assist in the collation of the book.

Single Sheet Tunnel Book

As for the binding itself, there are so many varieties, that I’m still researching some of the more esoteric, such as the dos a dos, and the complicated star tunnel book. The ‘book’ above is a training exercise in folding and cutting (decent folds, lousy cuts), and is a single page tunnel book. The ones most familiar to us, which is the stack of pages and a cover, usually with writing, are known as codex, a word from ancient Roman times used to describe tablets joined together on edge. This style is not to be confused with pamphlet binding or album binding, though all three look similar.

Bookbinding is now usually referred to as book art, and some universities, including Washington University here in Missouri offer Fine Arts degrees in the book arts. One of the more well known artists who specializes in bookbinding is Richard Minsky, one of the guiding lights behind the Center for Book Arts in New York. His Bill of Rights exhibition is both an inspiration and intimidation for a newly interested practitioner of this old, old art.

However, I think I will pass on incorporating live explosives in any of my work, though the use of book art as message has definite appeal.

I don’t think it’s surprising that many of those who practice book arts also like to write, which adds to the personal appeal of this beautiful craft. At this site that covers ancient Japanese bookbinding techniques, the artist, Graeme, recounts his early introduction to hand bookbinding:

One evening my father came home from work and held something out to me. It looked a little like a book. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a school geography text book, bound in green cloth and with erratic gold lettering on the spine. Perhaps it had been in a traffic accident at the mobile library.

‘Lionel at the office did it at his book binding evening class. It’s not bad is it?’
I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be kindest to take it to a qualified librarian? He could give it a lethal injection and put it out of its misery?’ No, I didn’t really say that, what I said was, ‘Mmmm, yes. Mmmm.’

It was important to sound neutral. My father could be unpredictable, and any trace of enthusiasm in my voice might encourage him to take up book binding himself. Without warning, all my school text books might suddenly be transformed into green-bound grotesques like the one in my father’s hand. I was responsible for those school books – I might still be in detention when I was thirty.

As said earlier, my libraries have several books on book arts and bookbindings and I’ve checked most of them out, including an old one from turn of the century, when bookbinding was considered a useful skill to teach in schools. Another of the books focuses on increasing your own self-sufficiency by creating your own paper and books, including excellent demonstrations of some of the equipment used by bookbinders, which I’ll get into more at a later time.

One can spend a lot of money starting this hobby, but you can also start small, with a minimum of equipment such as an awl for punching holes in paper, tapestry needles, linen thread, greyboard for covers, a bone folder, used for folding pages, and, of course paper. Luckily the art store near where I live not only has bookbinding supplies, but it usually runs a special on paper every week. I’ve spent three days there this week picking through the bins to match end papers to signature sheets to cover papers, and then on to the fabric store to get complementary thread. I never get tired of going through the papers and fabrics. Or the satisfaction of creating something unique with my hands–something that’s not wired to the Net, or plugged into the wall.

Books aren’t just thrown together. You have to have a basic idea in mind, and then you carefully find the material to create the book. I currently have five book projects in the works, including a codex, two Japanese stab binding books, and two star tunnel books, one of which is going to feature some interesting and perhaps even hauntingly familiar photographs.

I am now in the midst of finishing my first significant work, a journal bound using the Japanese stab binding technique, one of my favorites, and consisting of several sheets of handmade ‘weed’ paper printed with photos, with five sheets of bond paper in-between each to act as blank journal pages. The weed paper is a light golden green with flecks of plant material, which does an amazing job with the photographs. The cover is a rich tomato red, nicely textured on one side, and flecked with gold silk threads on the other. I’ll use the textured side as the outside cover, and the flecked side for the end papers. All I need to do is find the right combination of gold/green threads for the binding and I’ll be finished.

One thing that makes this journal stand out is the last page contains instructions on how to remove the binding, take out the white bond journal paper, use it as pulp for new homemade paper, and then put the book back together again with the homemade paper sheets in addition to the existing photographic sheets. A journal in perpetuity, unless one wants to keep the writing; a statement about the ecology of bookbinding in addition to the beauty. Every book tells a story, and it isn’t always to be found in the writing.

This book is a present for a dear friend, for his 60th birthday (there, the cat’s out of the bag). It’s not an expensive gift nor a glamorous one, and it probably won’t even be all that polished, I imagine–I am new at this. But it is a gift from my hands and my heart.

Makings for Japanese Stab binding journal

Art Media Writing

Mockingbird Live!

Long ago, I begged Aquarionics, otherwise known as the sexiest voice in weblogging to record my Mockingbird’s Wish.

Well, I’m happy to say that he’s started, and has already posted outtakes from his first efforts, which are exceedingly entertaining. And a very nice and welcome surprise for me today.

Read the tale, listen to the recording.