Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Dialogue on Drawing

Max Mulhern, a dear friend and an artist, currently in Paris, best known for his Aqua Dice Project, wrote me about drawing, and I wrote a reply, and the correspondence became a dialogue. I transcribe it here (with some editing) with his permission.  

MM: I thought a lot about your example of writing and drawing. You would ask students who moaned that they didn't know how to draw to go to the blackboard and write their names. You would then ask them to sit down and then you would explain to them that they had just been drawing. Did I get that right?
KK: Yes, you remember perfectly.  I was urging the class that the best way to remember the works of art shown on the screen is to draw them, however sketchily and even inadequately. I want to add that in Japanese 'to draw' and 'to write' are homonyms, kaku, which, incidentally and interestingly, is also homonymous with 'to scratch'.  One is reminded of the silverpoint on paper and the etching needle and even burin on a copper plate. Writing and drawing is also musical with a certain sense of rhythm, or more precisely it is choreographic -- finger tips dancing.

MM: Of course I can't help but wonder about the effects that drawing has on the self and how the style is so revelatory of the person.
KK: I certainly believe that is so, precisely because the finger control is choreographic; dance movements shapes and reveals the person, and so does the handwriting. 

MM: I changed my drawing style through handwriting. I started connecting all of my letters and made each one legible and generous in form. I believe that I am a nicer person because of that. Does that sound possible?
KK: In fact, as you know, there is such a thing as art/science of graphology, or handwriting analysis, which links the graphics of writing with the writer's personality.

MM: In an effort to shed my skin I spent the summer signing my name differently. In fact every time I signed something my signature became  an automatic drawing. This had a serious effect on me. I began to have  flashes of non recognition in regards to myself. I am not sure how deep the self alienation went. Was it superficial or working further down in my subconscious?  I seem to be the old me now but am on some kind of a new path.
KK: Inasmuch as writing/drawing is an extension of the self's bodily identity, changing the style of writing is not very different, I think, from changing one's hair style.  Women are more familiar with this phenomenon; but beard works the same way for men.  A more drastic change like shaving one's hair or thick beard momentarily disorients her (or his) sense of identity and works slowly in time to let its owner rediscover the altered form as the new identity. 

MM: Of course a lot of artists have employed  all sorts of tricks in order  to become something else. That is what theater, for example,  is all about albeit temporarily . . . or do actors undergo irreversible personality changes after playing certain characters?. For a non actor such as myself I need to find other ways to perform a permanent transformation, i.e. through drawing.
KK: Actors, I think, master the art of transforming oneself temporarily on the stage and returning to his/her original self so as to prepare for a new identity in the next play. There are people who don't change their hair style the entire life (excepting those who lose it without trying) and those who do.  So, there are artists who remain constant in style the entire life (like, say, Morandi, Cézanne, Kirchner), those who change gradually as they age (like Michelangelo and Titian), and those who change drastically maybe once (Goya) or more often (notoriously, Picasso and Matisse) -- not only through drawing but palette, composition, medium, subject, etc.

MM: During Aqua Dice I equated drawing with many things: as a roll of the dice, as a GPS unit for the dice, as props for a digital representation (thereby creating ghosts as you once mentioned, but between the drawing and the uploaded digital image of the drawing which entity is the ghost?). I thought that I could draw my destiny or that of the dice (somewhat the same). Of course this is nothing new in light of the incantatory drawings of  cave painters, ex-votos, the studies made for great paintings. It seems that  drawings are prayers and offerings for a future perfect.
KK: Very interesting thought.  Dance and singing can be (and were originally in many cases) incantatory, too.  Studies for a painting (as beautifully demonstrated by Hopper's Drawings recently at the Whitney) can certainly be said to be incantatory, repeating over and over and yet slightly changing with each repetition.

MM: In the end though I often have the words of Fagan (Oliver Twist) echoing in my mind as he sings to the Artful Dodger that he will remain the same as he as always been: "You'll be seeing no transformation . . "
KK: That's only a half of the story.  I often said in my teaching that history is change and unchange; constancy and vicissitudes.  One's lifetime is also both change and unchange. I think everyone who reflects on his/her process of maturing and aging is fully aware of this fact.

MM: I love to draw. It combines the drawing up of contracts, the signing of articles, printing, journalism, archeology, sounding, mapping, engineering, design and writing to mention a few activities. As I struggle to find employment these days I have difficulty deciding what it is that I want to do. This is because when you do art you have all of the jobs in the world rolled up in one.
KK: I also want to say that those who draw see better.  Drawing is an extension of seeing, seeing intensely, precisely, and systematically, and gaining knowledge perceptually as is impossible in verbal comprehension alone. How Leonardo understood this!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Battle of Wits with Vif

I was engaged in a battle wits with Vif, my rambunctious 6-month kitten.

He gets into all kinds of mischiefs but the worst is his obstructionist actions when I sit at the computer.  He would scratch the swirl of cables under the computer table.  I sprayed a bitter deterrent on the cords and cables but it did not discourage him appreciatively.  To stop him, I covered it with a few cardboard boxes so that he could not get at them.  This was more or less successful. 

Then, he learned to climb up on the printer next to the computer, creep into the space behind the monitor, and poke his paws out from under it to play with my hands on the trackpad and keyboard. It is difficult to read anything on the screen and impossible to write. If I chase him out with a loud “No” and a popping of a roll of newspaper, he would rush out and away but come back again, over and over, tirelessly.  The only way to stop him was for me to quit using the computer and do something else away from it.  But, if I sit on the sofa to read, he would come and jump on me and scratch or even bite me.

So, I read his obstructing action to be a scheme to induce me to play with him.  I thought his idea was to annoy me and force me to get up into action.  So, I would abandon the computer and play with him with a string, a stick, bits of paper, and a paper bag.  If I spent a long enough time playing, he would settle down and take a nap near me, usually on the floor next to my chair.  But if he is not fully satisfied and sufficiently exhausted, he would come back time and again to the tight space behind the monitor. So, I decided that playing with him in response to his obstruction was encouraging him to disturb me when I sit at the computer.  He would think at my using the computer was a signal for playtime.

I had to change my tactic.  To demonstrate that annoying me is futile, I decided to pick him up and put him in the bathroom with the door shut.  He likes to curl up in the wash basin and lie down in the bathtub, anyway.  I could then write in peace but when I let him out after a while, he comes right back to the computer and disturbs me.  Eventually, I learned to finish a bulk of writing before letting him out.   Returning to the computer, he finds me elsewhere.  Apparently, it’s not much fun. If I allow enough time, he comes out calmer and gets on the sofa to sleep. But quickly he learned to anticipate the incarceration and would fight viciously when I try to pick him up from the space behind the screen; I got scratched and bitten by forcibly grabbing him. 

So, nowI adopted a defensive strategy.  I put some large metal bookends and cardboard boxes to create a barricade behind the monitor.  It didn’t work.  He would step over it and push the boxes and manage to squeeze himself into the tight space.  I removed the barricade and filled the space completely with boxes of right size.  So prevented, he now sits on the printer and manages to scratch my hand on the trackpad and, otherwise, comes down to the front of the monitor and walks on the keyboard creating a havoc on the text I was writing. 

In the end, I capitulated.  The only way to keep him away from the computer when I want to read or write on it is to spend enough time playing until he is exhausted enough to settle down and sleep.  He is a darling when he is sleeping.

P.S.  I think I won.  Only three days after writing the above, I can say this.  Before I sit down at the computer, I’d play with him for a while  -- even just ten minutes rather than an half hour, and he is calmer.  If he climbs up on the printer, with a firm “no” he jumps down on his own, and then settles on the floor next to me or on the window sill; he sleeps or just rests.  So, now, he gives me ample time in peace in the morning and again late in the evening.  He is, however, exploring new tricks to annoy me.  He discovered climbing up on the kitchen counter; but, jumping up to the range when one burner was on, he singed a few strands of his whiskers, left and right, and he now decided to try only the kitchen sink.

Photographing in Museums

WNYC News reported (Taking Pictures in Museums, 11 October) that its art critic Deborah Solomon, defending the museum visitors photographing works of art, claims that although “some people think cameras corrupt our experience of art,” they actually enhance it.  She is quoted as saying that "When we look through a camera we frame space, and we look more deeply, and in that sense looking through a camera teaches us how to look without a camera, to paraphrase the photographer Dotothea Lange,” and “Photographs of art can contribute enormously to visual literacy in this country, and I look forward to a day when every high school student knows the difference between a Pollock and a de Kooning and a Rembrandt.”  Some 100 people who commented spoke either in favor of visitors photographing or else noted that they make nuisance for other visitors who don’t photograph. I beg to differ vehemently and wrote this comment:

Photographers disturb others in the museum, but this is a secondary problem. Works of art are not just configurations that the camera captures; other characteristics -- the size and scale, texture, brushwork, and subtleties of palette, nature of the medium, and certain details -- are lost in reproductions, and seeing original works in their totality is the reason for going to a museum. Deborah Solomon missed this point. In this digital age, reproductions of renowned museum pictures are available on line (in addition to those in numerous publications), and they are perfect for studying the composition and iconography of essential works at home and make privately photographed images redundant. I propose banning cameras entirely in all museums of art to encourage visitors to take time to look and see the works instead of just glancing at them.  People who are serious about art should learn to see patiently and intensely.  As Yogi Berra has it, “You can observe a lot by watching.” I argue that museums should also discontinue the use of audio guides because they induce visitors to listen instead of watching; it is better to provide notes in newsprint; they tend to make the visitors check the picture phrase by phrase as they read.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wordy Wilde

Wordy Wilde is the epithet for George Bernard Shaw that came to my mind when I attended his You Never Can Tell in the production at Pearl Theater, directed by David Staller, the supreme director of Shaw’s plays and performed with much wit and gusto.  He is as witty as Oscar Wilde but without brevity.  I also think of Shaw as Ibsen improbably being funny.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dance and Dancers

Down below we watch the dancers; high above we watch the dance. Attending the New York City Ballet at the NY State Theater, I normally sit in the Second Ring; I enjoy the synoptic view. The other day, I sat with a friend in the second row of the orchestra, and realized this.  At the Met Opera, my seat is Center Balcony for the good mix of sight and sound.  For symphonic music at Avery Fisher, I sit in the first row of the Third Tier for the total sonic effect; for chamber music at Alice Tully I am down in the orchestra half way up from the stage to enjoy the sight of the musicians.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Vif's Nap

This is where Vif at 6 months likes to curl up for a nap.
Maybe it's cool there when the room is too warm.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Looking While Listening

Listening to music in the concert hall is different from listening at home on the radio or CD, and the difference is obviously vast.  Given the high quality of sound recording today, the CD delivers clarity and purity of musical sound, and we can concentrate more intensely on the music than in the public hall which is never free of incidental and sometimes intrusive noise.  On the other hand, seeing the musicians produce their music is an enriching experience missed in the CD music.  I am always intrigued by sighting the source of sound from different instruments in the different parts of the orchestra (or from the four instruments in a quartet).  I enjoy no less watching the different techniques, say, in bowing, like legato, spiccato, jetée, and arpeggio, not to speak of the wide variety of instruments handled by the percussionist.  The soloist’s bodily choreography, which may bother some serious listeners as a distraction, fascinates me, too.  Music in a concert hall is a visual performance no less than an aural one, a theater in its own right.  The wooden block hit with a mallet near the end of Mahler’s Symphony #6 is some spectacle.  In order to absorb all the visual spectacles, I find myself looking left and right during the performance.  The curious and disconcerting thing is that no one else does that; I see rows of heads in front of me (and I generally prefer to sit in the rear part of the hall for a better mix of sounds), and they are all perfectly still looking straight ahead.  Some of the members of the audience undoubtedly quietly tap their fingers or feet with the music but I have never seen a head looking left and right. I wonder if my head movement distract or even offend my fellow listeners behind me.  I wonder, too, if a concentrated listening naturally suppresses visual observation.  Even at a concert of avant-garde, experimental music, in which traditional instruments are subjected to wild handling, like bowing on the string below the bridge, rolling an iron chain on the drum, and washing pebbles in a fish bowl, the listeners don’t seem to be looking. But for me the worth of attending a concert is the experience of looking while listening, of hearing and watching the music as it is created.  For intense listening, I stay home and put on a CD.