Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Coffee-Lover's Dream Gift; Andy Warhol Survey Results

I won't be recommending electronic appliances very often, but this one is awesome, the perfect holiday gift for the artist or coffee lover on your list -- the Aeroccino Plus Automatic Milk Frother. Fill it with milk, push a button and in seconds you have a heavenly pitcher of perfectly frothed milk. No fussing with that nozzle spewing hot water and steam all over the place, this magical machine takes all the pain out of making a perfect cappuccino. Chaz and I have had ours for over a year and use it every day.

Click here to buy from

Andy Warhol Survey Results

Thanks to everyone who responded to last week's survey "Andy Warhol: Genius or Killer of Art?" I asked you to rate Warhol's work on a scale of one to ten. The graph of the results (below, figure 1) shows a couple of interesting things, the first of which is that Warhol is a polarizing figure. Out of the 127 responses, 25 (19.7%) rated him as a ten, while almost the same number, 23 (18.1%) rated him as a one.

figure 1
If we leave out the extremes (1 and 10) in the second chart (below, figure 2), and then look how you rated his work, it becomes obvious that most of you don't think highly of the work itself. It peaks at a three and descends from there.

figure 2

What I'm taking away from this, and from the many comments you left (see below), is that you think Warhol had a huge influence on contemporary art, but not so much for the quality of his work (only one or two respondents actually defended the work itself) but for the change he ushered in. Or as Marshall McLuhan put it: "Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it." For better or for worse, Warhol was decidedly that.

Andy Warhol by Jack Mitchell
I think the debate will continue on whether or not Warhol's influence on art was primarily a good one. I agree with most of you that he knocked down barriers and allowed for an expansion of our definition of art. But, as Marshall Mc McLuhan also stated, "Art is anything you can get away with." It's the "getting away with it" part that bothers me about Warhol's legacy. I believe much of the contemporary art world suffers from a serious case of the Emperor's New Clothing, especially the art market that places so much value on Warhol that he accounts for a staggering one sixth of all contemporary art sales.

Here are a few of your comments:


"I am a huge fan of Warhol. Not so much that it has incredible merit for its technical aspects but most assuredly because it makes one ponder. Art for me has to stir up controversy and he most certainly achieved that status."

"He was on the ground floor of appropriat­ion art, now ubiquitous­. But it is not at all a dry conceptual­ism--witne­ss his popularity­--but something ravishingl­y stylish, with an iconic, high modern classicism and Matisse-on­-acid color that does so much to redeem the general kitschines­s of the psychedeli­c aesthetic."

"Is art a soothing, comfortabl­e arm chair after the toils of the day, as Matisse dreamed about? Is there only that one dimension? Should work not conforming to that definition be torn down? We don't need the self-indul­gent grunts of arrogant and wayward elites, do we? Maybe we should just reject the entire 20th Century."

"He completely derailed the pre-existing canonical narrative of art history, defrocked its 'priesthood'; and liberated artists and art to move in many new directions via every medium and formal strategy under the sun. He's as important as Brueghel."


"I owned a Warhol and got bored with it early on. Delighted to sell it."

"Personally, I can't help but agree with the assessment that Warhol's serious work ended in 1968. When his retrospective was at MOCA, the earlier work seemed radical, the later just commercial. I loved the deKooning quote, "You're a killer of art!". I just saw de Kooning's retrospective at MOMA in New York. He reminded me of how great art can be. One can't help but think that Warhol's enormous influence has had a negative effect on today's art."

"He was an ad man. There's a need for that, but I'm not certain it's in fine art. He was a master manipulator of the media and creator of self image. An ad man."

"It has as much real substance as a can of Campbell's Soup. That is why collectors love him. He doesn't challenge the status quo in any way and the status quo is to make art = easy money."

Bada bing, bada boom

"I remember going to Pittsburgh and while there I visited the Andy Warhol Museum. A friend asked, 'How was it?' I responded, 'I liked it for 15 minutes.'"

Click here to see the survey results

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Andy Warhol, Killer of Art? / Small Books, Big Ideas

I ran across this article from Intelligent Life Magazine, "A One-Man Market" by Bryan Appleyard that leads with the following staggering statistic: "Andy Warhol is an art-world colossus whose work accounts for one-sixth of contemporary-art sales. How did that happen, and is he really worth it?"

Of the Andy Warhol Foundation's role in the creation and preservation of the Warhol "bubble" the article states:

“'The problem is', says Georgina Adam, 'that the foundation wants Andy Warhol to be a high artist with high ideals, they want him to be like Leonardo da Vinci. They don’t want to think that he just signed a lot of stuff without even looking at it, but he did.'”

My personal opinion is that Warhol's work is highly overrated. Yes, he was an icon and a celebrity, and influenced many artists, but was his influence a good thing? Was it the end of the notion of mastery, depth and emotion in art? When you put aside Warhol's very public life and get down to his work, I find it too easy, superficial and vacuous. I expect more from art.

Here's a video I posted last year of art critic Robert Hughes chatting with billionaire collector Alberto Mugrabi. Hughes very easily reduces Mugrabi to babbling inanities about why Warhol and Richard Prince are great artists. Hughes makes a great case for contemporary art suffering from The Emperor's New Clothes.

Willem de Kooning is purported to have shouted to Warhol across the room at a party: "You're a killer of art, you're a killer of beauty, and you're even a killer of laughter." What do you think?

Click here to rank Andy Warhol's work on a scale of one to ten.

Click here to see the survey results.

Small Books, Big Ideas

I’ve had to use great restraint not to order more than a handful of the 50+ titles available in Wooden Books’ handsomely designed, lavishly illustrated main series. Tagged as “Small Books, Big Ideas,” each of the 6” x 7” volumes has exactly 64 pages. One-page chapters are illustrated with a veritable cornucopia of black and white reproductions of engravings, drawings, graphs and charts. For now, I’ve narrowed it down to two titles that I think will be of special interest to you as artists and art-lovers: Perspective and Other Optical Illusions, and The Golden Section.

Perspective and Other Optical Illusions
by Phoebe McNaughton

Author Phoebe McNaughton begins her small volume with a brief history of classical perspective -- man’s attempt to create the illusion of a three dimensional world on a two dimensional plane. From ancient Egypt to the Renaissance, from one-point, two-point, and five-point perspective, to orthographic and oblique projections, McNaughton lays out the basics.

Etchings from Albrecht Durer's Underweysung series illustrate the use of drawing machines from the 16th century, machines that utilized grids and glass to help artists better imitate perceived reality. Chinese paintings from the 13th and 17th centuries illustrate atmospheric perspective. We see how a pinhole camera obscura, used by Vermeer and others, projects perfect reverse images onto a darkened wall.

McNaughton then moves on to optical illusions, things that trick the eye. Prints by Dutch artist M.C. Escher are used to illustrate renderings of impossible objects, figure and ground flipping and rotational perspective. There are diagrams that seem to move and swirl, a stereogram that magically turns into a 3-D image if you align the dots and stare “through” it, as well as depictions of rainbows, moon bows, haloes and glories.
Relativity, by M. C. Escher. Lithograph, 1953.

McNaughton goes on to pose philosophical questions about the nature of reality. Synesthesia, auras and chakras are all touched upon as examples of unusual ways of perceiving reality. Plato's cave is sited.

You won't be bored by this little book -- you'll return to it time after time, as a refresher course in perspective, as a jumping off point for philosophical reflection, or for the pure pleasure of looking at the illustrations.

Click here to buy from

The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret by Scott Olsen

Author Scott Olsen opens The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret with a promise:

"If you are willing to proceed step by step through this compact little book, it will be well nigh impossible not to grasp by the end a satisfying and stunning glimpse, if not deeply provocative insight, into Nature's Greatest Secret."

With that promise, Olsen takes us on a voyage of discovery that starts with the earliest references to the golden section by Plato and Pythagorus to the nature of consciousness itself:

"It is possible then that consciousness may reside in the geometry itself, in the golden ratios of DNA, microtubules, and clathrins. . . Clathrins, located at the tips of microtubules, are truncated icosahedra, abuzz with golden ratios. Perhaps they are the geometric jewels seen near the mouths of serpents by shamans in deep sacramental states of consciousness."

You'll learn about the numerical expression of the golden section through a simple series of whole numbers, commonly referred to as the Fibonacci Sequence:

"Although officially recognized later, the series appears to have been known to the ancient Egyptians and their Greek students. Ultimately Edouard Lucas in the 19th century named the series after Leonardo of Pisa [c. 1170-1250], also known as Fibonacci (son of the bull), who made the series famous through his solution of a problem regarding the breeding of rabbits over a year's time. . . Fibonacci numbers occur in the family trees of bees, stock market patterns, hurricane clouds, self-organizing DNA nucleotides, and in chemistry."

From Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Libri tres de occulta philosophia.

You'll see the golden section at work in classic works of art such as DaVinci's The Annunciation, Van Gogh's The Beach, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Salvador Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper. We see examples of the golden section found in music, philosophy, science and mathematics and more.

Author Olsen delivers on his promise with this lavishly illustrated, accessible guide to the golden section and its presence in the world around us.

Click here to buy from

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: A Luscious -- and Affordable -- Must-Have Art Book

As soon as I saw Taschen’s luscious volume Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo in a museum gift shop, I knew I had to have it. I don't have a big budget for luxury items these days, so I was delighted to find how affordable it was. Released in 2010 as one of Taschen’s 30th birthday “Golden Books,” reprints of luxury books at affordable prices, this volume packs a lot of bang for the buck. Encased in a box depicting a detail of Hiroshige's iconic grey tree limbs and white plum blossoms against an organish-pink sky and fastened with faux ivory toggles, this book is a must-have for art lovers.

Inside the box, the book itself is soft bound Japanese style with a silk-like cover, and printed on folded paper allowing printing on only one side of each sheet. The 118 ukiyo-e prints were reproduced from a series of original wood-block prints in the Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo, one of the few complete series consisting entirely of impressions from the first run. Later editions, many of which found their way to Europe, were printed with fewer color blocks and did not display the delicate color gradations of the original prints.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858,
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo #107, 1857,
"Fukagawa Susaki and Jūmantsubo", Brooklyn Museum
Each of the prints is accompanied by descriptive text, and a map showing all 120 locations depicted is included. An essay by Melanie Trede, Edo: Images of a City between Visual Poetry and Idealized Reality, gives a picture of life in mid 19th-century Edo and Hiroshige's role as an artist in it. The essay details the history of the creation of the prints, including the importance of the woodblock cutters, printers and censors who had to give their seal of approval to every image:

"After the publisher had commissioned the print, the ink drawing had, following a decree of 1790, to be submitted to the censors and given the round seal of approval. In the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, this seal is placed, together with a date seal, either at the top of the print or on the left, outside the image. . . . Following the appearance of a print with 72 different colours the previous year, a censorship law of 1842 restricted the number of colours to eight. Hiroshige's series demonstrates that the colour limitation also had its positive sides."

So sophisticated were the printing techniques used by Hiroshige, that some of the original images, such as the carp banners in Suido Bridge and the Surugadai Quarter, and the eagle plumage in Fukagawa Susaki and Jumantsubo were printed employing expensive mica dust that created a silvery shimmer. The eagle’s talons were printed with animal glue to produce a deep shine.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858,
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo #107, 1856,
"Kinryūzan Temple, Asakusa (Asakusa Kinryuzan)",
Brooklyn Museum

In her essay, Melanie Trede states:

"It is to the printers that the series owes numerous visual effects, such as the subtle gradations, known as bokashi, which give volume to an area of colour, or express effects of perspective or light and make each print unique. There are various forms of bokashi, for example atenashi bokashi ("not-indicated colour gradation"), frequently used in this series, in which the cloudlike colour gradation is applied to an area of the woodblock not indicted by the artist, for example in the sky or water surfaces."

The prints, which depict over a hundred views of mid-19th century Edo (now Tokyo), were incredibly popular in their time and each was printed between ten and fifteen thousand times. Hiroshige chose to use a vertical format for the scenes, novel in its time for landscapes. The prints depict temples, shrines, public parks, famous trees, pure landscapes, rivers, canals and bridges, throughout the four seasons. Some reflect current affairs, such as the depiction of a reconstructed Edo, rising from the ashes of the 1855 Ansei earthquake in which approximately 10,000 people died.

Of particular interest is the influence Hiroshige’s prints had on European art in the late 19th century. Both Vincent Van Gogh and James McNeill Whistler found inspiration in Hiroshige’s landscapes. Van Gogh went so far as to copy the prints Plum Park in Kameido and Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake, acknowledging Hiroshige in the titles of the paintings.

Click here to purchase Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo from

Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

Click here to read the LA Times review of Susan Sironi: New ABCs

October 23 - November 20, 2011:
Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation

December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Short Takes: David Lynch's Big Fish; A Trip to the Moon; How to Save $60k in MFA Tuition

Have you ever wondered where the dark genius of filmmaker David Lynch comes from? Lynch's 2006 book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity gives rare insight into his creative process and how 35 years of Transcendental Meditation have helped him along the way. The book is comprised of 85 short chapters, some as short as a sentence, describing how Lynch captures ideas and turns them into reality through filmmaking, from Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks to Inland Empire. Catching the Big Fish is a charming, easy read and gives us a refresher course in where our own creativity comes from and how to stay connected to it. Here are some pearls of wisdom from Lynch:

"Ideas are like fish.

Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They're huge and abstract. And they're very beautiful.

I look for a certain kind of fish that is important to me, one that can translate to cinema. But there are all kinds of fish swimming down there. There are fish for business, fish for sports. There are fish for everything.

Everything, anything that is a thing, comes up from the deepest level. Modern physics calls that level the Unified Field. The more your consciousness -- your awareness -- is expanded, the deeper you go toward this source, and the bigger the fish you can catch."

Lynch, who has meditated twice a day for over 35 years, describes how it has helped him overcome negativity:

"When I started meditating, I was filled with anxieties and fears. I felt a sense of depression and anger.  . . . I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It's suffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how putrid was the stink when it starts to go. Then, when it dissolves, you have freedom.

Anger and depression and sorrow are beautiful things in a story, but they're like poison to the filmmaker or artist. They're like a vise grip on creativity. If you're in that grip, you can hardly get out of bed, much less experience the flow of creativity and ideas. You must have clarity to create. You have to be able to catch ideas."
Lynch gives the following sage advice for realizing our own creative visions:
"Stay true to yourself. Let your voice ring out, and don't let anybody fiddle with it. Never turn down a good idea, but never take a bad idea. And meditate. It's very important to experience that Self, that pure consciousness. It's really helped me. . . .  So start diving within, enlivening that bliss consciousness. Grow in happiness and intuition. Experience the joy of doing. And you'll glow in this peaceful way. Your friends will be very, very happy with you. Everyone will want to sit next to you. And people will give you money!"
Sign me up!

Here's an ad for Parisienne cigarettes that Lynch directed in 1998:

Click here to buy Catching the Big Fish from

* * * * *
Speaking of wonderfully bizarre films, I came across this article about the color restoration of Georges Melies’ 16-minute 1902 silent film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), and a documentary that is being released about it.

The documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage by Serge Bromberg, which closes with the restored hand-colored version of A Trip to the Moon, will have its world premiere November 11 at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (the restored short itself debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year).

For those of us not in New York City, the black and white version will have to suffice until a distributor is found for the film or it is released on Blu-ray. Not to worry -- it's amazing in black and white!

* * * * *
My blog post from earlier this year MFA: Is It Necessary? -- The Debate has by far been the most widely read one, receiving the most hits of any of my posts by a two-to-one margin. It has been reposted on many blogs and seems to have taken on a life of its own. It's obviously a hot topic of interest to many of you, so I want to pass on the following essay, What I Learned in Grad School, by artist, instructor and curator, Quinton Bemiller. Bemiller wants to save you the high cost of MFA tuition.

What I Learned in Grad School
by Quinton Bemiller

People have debated, literally, whether or not MFA degrees are necessary, whether or not attending grad school is necessary for serious artists and so on. I have many students who are never going to go to grad school for art. The reasons vary. Yet, many of these students desire to further their education.

Honestly, grad school teaches you things that are far different than undergraduate education or individual classes in art. A BFA teaches you how to make art. An MFA teaches you how to be an artist. With or without formal education, one must learn both.

So, I am going to save you the $60,000 in grad school tuition I am currently paying off (with interest) and cut to the chase. Here is what I learned in grad school (each point comes from a particular experience or instructor):

1. Your work is the most important thing. The quality has to be exceedingly high. Do this and the shows, reviews and sales will follow.

2. You are in competition with other artists, dead and alive.

3. The only voice you should hear in the studio is yours.

4. Know art history and contemporary art as it applies to your own art.

5. Be present as you make your art. Be in the moment and honestly connect to each and every step in the process of making your art.

6. Guard your reputation as an artist. Donʼt show your work just anywhere. Donʼt sell your work to just anyone.

7. Teachers/artists never share all their secrets. Some things you have to learn on your own.

8. Assume you are great and that you will accomplish great things. Make choices about your art and your career with the confidence of knowing that you alone call the shots. What kind of art career do you want? Do that.

9. Artists are like crabs in a cage, pulling down all the others trying to climb out!

10. You need to be completely, madly in love with the art you are making.

11. Donʼt fight battles that have already been won.

12. Get beyond yourself to think of solutions that are unexpected.

13. Know what the driving force is in your work, the main concept or premise on which all other things are built.

14. Serendipitous opportunities will arise, so be sure you are prepared for them.

15. Donʼt make art for an audience or “the viewer”. Make work that is sincere and let the chips fall where they may.

16. Recognition does not always come from those around you. Sometimes you will find more recognition far from home.

17. After you are an accomplished artist, it often takes ten years for anyone to notice.

18. Your peers will do more to help advance your career than anyone else.

19. Your work need only touch one person. That alone can make things happen for you.

20. Despite intellectualism, there seems to be a factor of simple attraction that makes people excited about an artistʼs work.

Quinton Bemiller

Quinton Bemiller is a painter, instructor and curator in Los Angeles. Solo exhibitions include the Armory Center for the Arts, Torrance Art Museum and Offramp Gallery. He earned his MFA at Claremont Graduate University, BFA at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and AA at Pasadena City College. He can be reached at

Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

October 23 - November 20, 2011:
Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation

December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm