Sunday, June 24, 2012

We Have Met The Artist and She/He is Us

Ellen Dissanayake has been saying very wise things for decades about why we humans make art. As I stir my coffee this morning and contemplate Deep History and the Big Picture, I am happy to read her words: "Paleo-archaeologists and ethnographers tell us that from as early as a hundred thousand years ago (some say much earlier) until very recently, in many parts of the world, members of our species have spent enormous resources of time, metabolic energy, and costly materials (such as feathers and ivory from rare and powerful creatures or shells and minerals from far distances) to mount complex ceremonies in which the elaboration of bodies, surroundings, and paraphernalia is joined with vigorous and intricate dancing, dramatic performances, and complex songs, chants, and drumming. In other words, although they lacked money, they nevertheless invested their human capital in the arts. [...] To an evolutionist, devoting time, effort, and resources to apparently non-utilitarian pursuits should have made people less rather than more likely to survive. Yet the fact that they occur so extravagantly, universally, requires an opposite conclusion: the arts must have enabled their practitioners to better survive than humans who did not go to such extensive and expensive extremes. Their “value” had to be not only cultural but biological." Excerpted from an essay, "What Is The (Adaptive) Value of Art?," published August 16, 2011 on the NEA website. You can click here for the full text plus much more about Dissanayake and her work.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

At the bar beyond the edge of the world

Fantastical motifs flourish everywhere in our contemporary field of vision: a steady return to the images we conjured around the first campfires, celebrating the most intimate and original of our minds' companions-- odd, whimsical, frightening, amusing (sometimes all at once)-- a constant counter-point to the Enlightenment's banishing of the hobs and the fairies-- a dancing, shimmering retort to the streamlined functionality and no-nonsense sleekness of industrial design and the various sects of modernism.


To take just one example from modern, urban life: Visiting the craft beer aisle or a wine merchant is now like a tour of Ali Baba's cave, with labels as lovingly created as the liquid within the bottles, labels awash with phantasmagoria, eccentric figures, legendary creatures, and the just plain bizarre.


Surely there is a line from the great book illustrators (Rackham, Dulac, Beardsley) and poster-artists (Mucha) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through the original funny papers and then comic books and the pulp covers, meandering around fantasy and science fiction book covers, traipsing through the font foundries and the hills of Dadaism and especially Surrealism, to the concept art and posters for a thousand strange and speculative movies (Terry Gilliam!), and music album covers of the '60s and '70s (think of Hipgnosis, of Roger Dean).

Thumbnail sketches of empires east of the moon and west of the sun, cameos of curious creatures, a slantwise glance at the Old Man of the Mountains and the Old Woman in the Shoe... all in aisle seven of your local Whole Foods or in the racks at your neighborhood wine boutique.

  For many more labels from beyond the fields we know, click: The Daily Meal, "25 Beers: Great Label Art Slideshow" (400 Pound Monkey! Hophenge!); The Oenologist, "The Art of the Wine Label"; Web Urbanist, "61 Exceptionally Creative Wine Label Designs"; The Pour Curator, "The Best Beer Label Art of 2011" And be sure to check out The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels by Tanya Scholes. Click here for more information.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sigils and Signs at the Observatory

Pam Grossman has curated yet another fabulous show, this one focused on the sigils and signs that illuminate our various paths to enlightenment (however one wishes to define the term). If you are in NYC these coming days, I urge you visit this show. [Full disclosure: my wife, Deborah Mills, and I have a collaborative piece in the show, and one of Deborah's solo works is also exhibited there, so this is hardly disinterested advice. But don't go just to see stuff by Lobster & Canary-- check out the many other fine and wondrous items, some difficult to describe, others easy to describe but hard to all the right ways!] Alchemical symbols, kabbalistic designs and notations, and much more await you. Go! For more, click here.