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Category Archives: Ideas & Inspiration

Paulo Uccello and 3D Printing


Paulo Uccello – Studio Da Vaso In Prospettiva

I have been fascinated with this image from the fifteenth century by Paulo Uccello.  Of course the image predates computers by many centuries, yet it so accurately prefigures the wireframe animations of today that it is difficult to imagine its true age. Records of Uccello paint a picture of a man consumed by a desire to represent the three dimensional world in two dimensional space.

Whether Uccello and others Renaissance thinkers like Raphael and DaVinci discovered–or invented–perspective is a philosophical question, but it is clear that this system of representing form in space marked a dramatic shift in the way humans thought about their surroundings.  This system is still vital to contemporary artists and designers.  What has changed is that today, very few images and objects are untouched by machines and electronics.  From the oil painter working from a digital photograph to the latest suburban home designed with CAD software, computers are everywhere to help us understand, represent and now even recreate 3D forms and space.  

Last weekend I visited an awesome mini-maker fair in Cincinnati, OH and played with robots (including R2D2) and awesome gadgets.  But by far the main attraction was 3D printers.  At every other table small machines were churning out tiny vessels, toys, letters, and other objects large and small.  Could 3D printing revolutionize the creation and consumption of objects, the way advances in linear perspective–and later mechanical reproduction–revolutionized images?  Here are some downloadable files of chalices from, so that you can print your own plastic chalice at home.  What would Uccello think?!

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Magenta - Installation View

Magenta – Installation View

Images from a recent exhibition I helped to organize with Modern Makers at Niehoff Urban Studio on short Vine in Cincinnati, OH on July 11.

I think the name speaks for itself!  Excellent turnout for an amazing, fun show from a great group of artists. Fun working with Catherine Richards and Anh Tran of Modern Makers as well.  Artists explored the color from a variety of angles including considering color theory, color psychology, Google and semantics, afterimages and physiology, etc.

Artists included:

Julia Sebastian
Shohei Katayama and Andrew Cozzens
Elise Thompson
Christy Wittmer
Zach Sawan
Paul Rodgers
Anastasiya Yatsuk
Loraine Wible
Philip LaVelle
Jiemei Lin
Joe Hedges
Lindsey Sahlin
Jacob Lynn
Kate Tepe
M. Michael Smith

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Displaced 1

poster by Jiemei Lin

Images from a group exhibition I helped to organize at Harvest Gallery June 27, exploring the idea of displacement.  An excellent, large space in OTR run by the super-nice guy and painter Michael Hurst.

Through a wide range of media artists explore the theme of displacement, asking how cultural, spacial, and temporal shifts effect our perceptions of ourselves and others.  This exhibition has come about through a discussion session with a group of ten artists currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio but from a  wide range of cultures, countries and perspectives.

to displace.
:a premeditative action. To cause, or to push, put, move, pull or influence;  A dislocation, a repositioning, usually for the gain or benefit of someone or something else;  A force, or to force;  A piece of a chain reaction. Something small that ripples out wide;  Communal, a shared experience of isolation;  Systematic, invisible and powerful. Subversive;  Either/or, and both. 
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piXXXel: Sex & Technology

"Loving Myself #3" (detail) - Jacob Lynn

“Loving Myself #3” (detail) – Jacob Lynn

Thought I would share some images from a recent exhibition I helped to organize with a group of Cincinnati artists.  I have been keeping busy in part by conceiving of and putting on art shows–reaching out to other artists, galleries, institutions etc. and trying to make some things happen.  There are so many people in this city with interesting ideas making interesting work.  More to come!


Boom Gallery
piXXXel: Sex & Technology
May 10
Artists explore the effects of technology on sex, dating and romance. Sex–this animal impulse, this most intimate of human experiences is frequently mediated and captured by machines, commodified and marketed by corporations, and continually reappraised by individuals. Using a wide variety of media including performance, video, drawing, photography, sculpture, sound art and painting, responses from these eight artists range from humor to despair.

Sexuality is inseparable from technology. Nearly as quickly as a particular technology is created that technology is put to use by a few clever individuals for sexual purposes. Drawing, painting, and photography brought us pornography. Video improved it. The electronic battery brought us the vibrator. Most recently the internet has changed our perception and experience of sexuality in dramatic ways, both physical and psychological. From finding a suitable partner, courtship, to bleary-eyed late night sexts, the transmission of information through screens permeates our experience of reality and coupling. Like religion for the middle ages or electricity to the twentieth century, the screen–and thus its most integral feature: the pixel–dominates our waking moments and governs our lives, often transparently. Does this sea of mediated information and communication change our collective and individual expectations of sex in unrealistic ways? Or can new technologies bring us greater opportunities for suitable partners and satisfaction? Masturbation, dating, queer culture, pornography, sex machines, etc.–area artists interface with these themes and more in an exhibition which marks the the debut of Boom Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Joe Hedges
Jiemei Lin
Jacob Lynn
Paul Schuette
M Michael Smith
Kate Tepe
Loraine Wible
Jesse Fox

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Ten Tips for the New Adjunct Art Instructor

In the last few years at three institutions I have taught Intro to Digital Imaging, 2D foundations, 3D foundations, 4D foundations, Drawing 1, and Drawing 2.  While I am proud to have taught such a wide range of courses in such a short amount of time–I have long considered myself a generalist–the pace has been challenging as I essentially have not stopped preparing lectures, assignments, and studying.  To put it plainly, I have been completely immersed in the world of the Adjunct Art Instructor.


I have never blogged a top ten list and generally find unsolicited online advice cheesy.  However, the graduate degree required to teach art at the college level is a Master of Fine Arts.  The typical MFA curriculum leaves graduates well-suited to becoming successful artists (provided they are independently wealthy), but vastly underprepared for the rigors of teaching.  Additionally, most of the pedagogical advice out there comes from tenured instructors with decades of experience, experience which may distance those instructors from the reality beginning teachers face.  If you happen to be on this artist/teacher path like me, you may encounter some surprises while abruptly making the transition from student to educator.

When you find yourself required to stick to a predetermined curriculum but without the facilities and materials required to teach said curriculum effectively,  in the middle of longstanding debates between instructors vying for institutional territory, paying nearly as much for a university parking pass as you get paid to teach one class, or eating rice at an increasing frequency while Sallie Mae sends bomb threats, godspeed!  Apologize to your friends and spouse in advance for your ongoing complaints and know that others are feeling your pain.  But fortunately, there are some things you can control.  Here are ten things I have learned in my short time as an adjunct art instructor.

1. Three classes is enough.  Teaching four classes is too many classes, if you also want to have a life, make your own work, have energy to make dinner, etc.  Three classes does not sound like much and as a student it is indeed completely possible to take four, five, even six or more courses every semester, cranking out the quality book reports from cliff notes, five-paragraph persuasive essays about peanut butter and jelly and making, and looseleaf drawings of skull and demons from 9am to 9pm.  As a teacher, however, I strongly suggest taking on only a few classes unless you want all your muscles including your brain to be perpetually sore, even though the brain is not actually a muscle.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 12.02.07 PM

In-class demo

2. Teaching is physical and mental.  Teaching is far more taxing physically than I expected.  Now I am by no means Lance Armstrong, meaning I am not on performance enhancing drugs except coffee and I only ride a bicycle occasionally, but walking from student to student, talking, talking some more, then talking in a loud voice and then a veeeery quiet voice, kneeling to look at drawings, is a small workout.  Of course teaching is emotionally and psychologically demanding as well.  For artists accustomed to spending long, glorious, quiet hours alone being creative, teaching is essentially exactly the opposite–long cacophonous blocks surrounded by highly social young people on energy drinks and worse or falling asleep who nonetheless require all your creative energy and your very best ideas.  Just do three classes, sixty students or so to stay sane.

3. Making a living solely as an adjunct art instructor is impractical.  This is essentially a continuation of #1 and #2.  I do know others who survive by teaching a large amount of classes at several universities.  But frankly, those individuals are cranky and unhappy, and feel (rightfully) that they are being taken advantage of.  My friends who are waiting tables are much happier than those who are trying to subsist on a piece-mail adjunct salary alone.  Besides, doing a relatively mindless job means that you just might have some creative credits in your mental bank to drop into your own art work when you get home.  

4. Find support.  Teaching can be lonely.  Teachers do not have the kind of community students enjoy, particularly at small institutions.  As an adjunct you most likely will not get the benefits that full-time faculty get, nor the resources to even operate your class (something as simple as getting paper or a material for a project can become an enormous challenge).  Also, since adjuncts do not attend meetings we tend to come and go without connecting with colleagues and are often in the dark when it comes to decisions about the department, even decisions that have a direct impact on adjunct faculty.  Thus, it is important to have one or two full-time instructors in your corner to bounce ideas off of, to talk to and to listen to.  I have additionally begun organizing gatherings of other teachers and teacher/artists in town for moral and professional support.

Teaching requires studying.  That's why they call it academia.

Teaching requires studying.

5. Learn at least enough to know what you’re doing.  I now, finally, understand why as a student my best professors seemed to have god-like intelligence–they did!  There is just no substitute for knowing the material.  As an instructor you are forced to learn the content inside and out, if not through repetition then through rational fear of looking like you have no idea what you’re doing.  I have learned this the hard way by showing up to classes underprepared and stammering or just admitting that I have no idea (which is obviously slightly better than lying, a skill that some of my high school teachers had perfected but won’t work at a university).

6. Appreciate your students as individuals.  If you do not like people–I mean really like people, forget teaching.  It’s not a trick it’s a mindset–in the moment to appreciate the incredible beauty and potential of each and every individual despite their flaws like chronic tardiness, laziness, stubbornness, poor hygiene and awful taste in music but I believe (seriously) that true respect can only be gained through true respect, not through coercion.  That’s how my parents did it.

My work not my students work.  For Newton - 8.5" x 14" - Archival Digital Print

My work–not my students’ work.  For Newton – 8.5″ x 14″ – Archival Digital Print

7. Stay student-focused in the classroom.  The ego is the ally of the artist but the enemy of the teacher.  The worst art teacher is the teacher that talks about his or her own art constantly and attempts to make all the student work resemble his or her work.  I know this system well as have worked with these instructors and I have made work that looks exactly like the work of my instructors.  The typical college-aged undergraduate student is intensely impressionable.  Thus, it is essential to allow students to find their own voices (forgive the cliche), rather than subject every student to a particular aesthetic.  When a student graduates and more objectively evaluates her own work, if all she sees is her instructor she may feel slighted or disconnected from her very identity.  Thus, it’s reasonable to let your students wander their own paths, with guidance of course.  Like a good record producer, instructors should seek only to bring out the best in the student rather than putting their own stamp so strongly on the student’s output.  This is not only ethically the right thing to do but in return adds a broader variety of art to the universe for all to enjoy.

8. Set the tone.  If I show up to class in a great mood, the class goes well and the students are invigorated.  If I am feeling depressed or tired, it brings the entire class down.  This is a direct correlation and the only way to counteract this is to simply get enough sleep (yeah right) and to continually reign in your emotions.  On days that you do not feel like doing a particular lecture or being pleasant, well, just do the lecture anyway and force yourself to be pleasant.  If you are a manager, server, customer service representative, or any other member of polite society or a human being you might be saying “of course!”  But as an artist, this kind of compartmentalization requires a little more effort as our work is often intensely connected to our inner lives.  In the classroom, this can be a large amount of responsibility but also a blessing on good days–when you are in control of a class you are truly in control.  Make the class as amazing as you want!

9.  Be Flexible.  It is sometimes said that teaching is performance.  This is true but performance is not necessarily acting; acting is scripted but teaching is relatively unpredictable.  From years of performing on stages as a musician I have learned to roll with the mistakes–technical, interpersonal, etc–and that the show must continue.  The classroom is the same.  Barring emergency situations (and often even in spite of emergency situations) the conversation must go on!  The learning must happen, the work must be completed, the paint must be sprayed in the spray booth only, please.  Stumbles should be absorbed, like a good pair of shocks.  A disruption can only derail a class if you let it, and finding the right balance of rigidity and flexibility is a careful art in itself (I’m still working this out and imagine I always will be).


I have always been pretty flexible! (Photo by Sophia Preziosi)

10. Be yourself.  I have tried on different styles, taking cues from the best instructors I have had.  While I have learned from so many great teachers, my teaching is (of course) my own.  Like anything else in life, if you can be comfortable in your own skin and accept your own shortcomings, those around you will too.  My students, I believe, have come to accept and possibly even appreciate my sometimes awkward, generally confident, intermittently impulsive and laid-back approach to teaching.  Trust yourself and your students will trust you too.

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Michael Sailstorfer: Masculinity and Quiet Destruction

I recently attended the opening reception for the exhibition Michael Sailstorfer: Every Piece is a New Problem at the Contemporary Arts Center here in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This is the German Sailstorfer’s first major solo show in the United States and the CAC is the perfect place for his large-scale sculptures and installations.

Sailstorfer’s work is characterized by unusual sculptural interventions that investigate the clash between technology and nature.  I too am interested in this intersection and was pleased to see an artist taking on this theme using such a massive scale.  The most prominently displayed Sailstorfer work at the CAC is a collection of four large live trees hang upside down.  Each tree is slowly rotated on a motor so that the branches sweep the floor.  The effect is mesmerizing.  Robotic motors whir and needles bristle and break leaving traces on the concrete ground in quiet circles.  In the graceful airy space of the CAC this strange situation feels almost natural and somehow calming.

Hanging Problems

Hanging Trees

Sailstorfer’s other works include a microphone is encased in a block of concrete, picking up subtle vibrations as visitors walk by.  Many pieces simply document past events: a cabin being completely burnt down using its own wood and wood-burning stove, a young tree exploded using air pressure. and a tire mounted in such a way that as it spins it screeches, leaving a rubber mark on the wall and a burning smell in the gallery.

Sailstorfer’s art is undeniably provocative.  The CAC exhibition evokes surprise and even glee, as visitors are confronted by unlikely and curiously dramatic, almost playful situations.  But while Sailstorfer’s works are consistently memorable and powerful, there lingers an undercurrent of unsettling darkness that may not be initially recognizable.

Burning Cabin

Burning Cabin

The CAC website describes Sailstorfer’s trees as “dancers of a melancholic ballet”.  After think exhibition sunk in a little, I am now more inclined to view them as victims of execution by hanging–an inverted lynching.  There is nothing new about upside down trees.  Take Natalie Jeremijenko’s permanent installation of living upside-down trees at Mass MoCA, Tree Logic.  Jeremijenko built a system which nourishes the trees despite their unusual position, asking viewers to contemplate the possibility of naturalness as thee trees respond over time to an unexpected environment.  Sailstorfer, by contrast, slowly kills his trees using decapitation and mechanical torture.

Natalie Jeremijenko: Tree Logic, MASS MoCA

Natalie Jeremijenko: Tree Logic, MASS MoCA

This interpretation is not metaphorical–Sailstorfer’s trees are indeed, actually, slowly dying. It is possible to become so enamored with the art-ness of Sailstorfers works that the reality of these destructive acts is overlooked.  But Sailstorfer is a materialist.  The essence of his art is material; it is reasonable to take his interventions at face value.  Of course, most contemporary art installations, performances, and actions are generally presented as symbolic provocations even as they are “real”.  The problem for Sailstorfer–and indeed much contemporary art–is that he seems unable to articulate the symbolic part.

Dying trees, exploded trees, burning cabins, burnt rubber, a microphone restricted in concrete and an obsession with the idea of “expansion”–Sailstorfer is a contemporary futurist.  Like Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and friends in the Futurist manifesto from 1909, Sailstorfer sings the “love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness…” perhaps even a “contempt for women”–but does all this abstrusely.  Unlike the Futurists, who were transparent about their wholehearted embrace of destruction, machine-power and even fascism, Sailstorfer puts the responsibility on the viewer. This to me is even more unsettling.

Raketenbaum (Rocket Tree)

Raketenbaum (Rocket Tree) – Another Problem Solved

In another arena, Sailstorfer’s works could pass for entertainment or spectacle.  Fireworks, Game of Thrones, the NFL, Nascar–sports and entertainment media are awash in images of male power and violent destruction.  When pressed, however, Sailstorfer describes his art as being solely about nature, technology and art history.

In contemporary art and society ideology has never been more prominent.  For Sailstorfer–and all artists–every piece is indeed a new problem; solving them may require an element preservation, modesty, contraction, compassion and sensitivity.  How do you solve your problems?


Michael Sailstorfer: Every Piece is a New Problem
Now through September 14

Contemporary Arts Center
44 E. Sixth St.
Cincinnati, OH 45202

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The Color Magenta: Extra Spectral Magic

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton – Alchemist, Magician, Scientist, Color Theorist, Physics Genius, All-around Badass with Badass Wig

Only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum is visible to us.  Sir Isaac Newton broke the visible portion down even further as an attempt to describe all the possible colors that we see.  In third grade we learn that the visible spectrum can be remembered using Roy G. Biv–which must be the strangest mnemonic device ever created–and includes red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.  Black is the absence of light, white is the presence of all colors in the color spectrum.  There are a couple shortcomings in thinking about color in this way.

First, who really knows what indigo is?  Some have claimed that Newton organized and labeled his color spectrum to include seven colors, the holiest of numbers, in order to avoid criticism from the church.  That seems likely, given that indigo seems to occupy only a small part of the gradient compared with other hues.  Thus, many now list the visible spectrum as Roy G Bv.  But what about cyan?   And what about that bright looking color



Magenta and cyan make up half of the four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) used to print almost all of the printed material in the world.  Furthermore, cyan and magenta are prominently represented in the additive color system that powers the computer or phone screen you are currently reading.  But magenta is nowhere to be found on the traditional grade school color wheels.  And what about Newton’s color spectrum?  Where can we place magenta on the map?


Magenta happens only with blue and red cones fire together

As it turns out, Magenta cannot be located on the spectrum because it does not exist on the visible spectrum.  Magenta does appear in nature of course, in flowers and between the two parts of a double rainbow.  But to understand why it is perceived so brightly but not in the spectrum, we need only to look to our physiology.

We have three kinds of cones in our eyes–receptors configured to receive red, green, or blue-violet light.  Ever wonder magenta and cyan are so difficult to look at for long periods of time?  Magenta, cyan and yellow appear so bright to our eyes not because they contain more light, but because to perceive those colors two sets of cones are firing at once!  Magenta is not a color exactly, it’s two colors–red and blue-violet at once–with a complete absence of green.  Got it?  One more time–magenta is only perceived psychologically when pure red and blue light mix, and green is completely absent.

Magenta & Yellow – Zinnia, Hafiz Issadeen

Of course, all colors are perceived physiologically and not necessarily “seen”–as color blindness and the extreme differences in color perception between humans and between humans and other species reveal.  If a viceroy butterfly sees millions of colors and a golden retriever sees very few, how can color be anything but a physiological phenomena?  But magenta is a special case in that it is the only color which may only be perceived as a combination of two other hues.

Color harmony is generally understood as pleasing relationships between two or more colors.  But put more scientifically, magenta is already and always a harmony, more akin to the way harmony works music–the perception of multiple wavelengths at once!

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How to embed Soundcloud files into a WordPress or Weebly site

This is for my 4D foundations students but I thought I would share.

Embedding is a way to seamlessly insert content into your website or blog.  Embedding content makes the browsing experience easier for your site visitors, since they do not have to search and click around for your content.

Here is an example of an embedded sound file:

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]


1. You may elect to share your entire Soundcloud profile (which will embed all of your Soundcloud sounds in a playlist) rather than sharing one sound file at a time.  Either way, find and click a share button:Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.23.33 AM


2. When the sharing window pops up, click Embed. Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.25.01 AM


3.Under Embed, you have the option of choosing from one of two styles.  Choose the second. Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.33.25 AM


4. Scroll to the bottom of the embed window and click more options. Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.25.39 AM


5. In the dropdown area containing more options, you will have the ability to select and copy a string of code.  Then,

 – If you are using a Weebly site:  Copy the top HTML code beginning with <iframe (inline frame).  Then jump to step 8.
– If you are using a WordPress site:  Copy the WordPress code, a special kind of code for WordPress sites. Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.28.13 AM

6. Paste the code from your clipboard into the text area you normally use to compose your blog posts or pages.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.38.30 AM

7.  For a cleaner look, you may set _showartwork=true to _showartwork=false. Save draft and/or publish and viola!  You have successfully embedded sounds into your website or blog.


8. In your Weebly dashboard, click “Embed Code” and drag it to the post area. Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 12.32.35 PM

9. Click Edit Custom HTML and paste the iframe code from the clipboard.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 12.33.08 PM

10. Publish the post or page and viola!  You have successfully embedded sounds into your website or blog.

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Selfie or Self-Portrait? Van Gogh and the Art of Sharing

Under the pretense that I was an artist, and that the lives of artists should be documented through self-portraiture, I began taking photos of myself around 2000.  At that time the idea of turning a camera on one’s self was still commonly seen as odd, despite (or perhaps because of) the sudden proliferation of bad MySpace mirror profile pics.  While the practice of spontaneous digital self-portraiture received an enormous boost of in 2013 due to increased usage of camera phones and image-based social media services like Instagram, many still view the practice of taking a selfie as odd or worse–vain, absurd and a reflection of the millennial generation’s self-obsession and inability to enjoy the present moment.  But what happens when an artist makes an image of herself?  Where is the line between a selfie (#selfie) and self-portraiture?

The artist has long enjoyed a special status in culture, an expectation of self-centeredness or even self-obsession.  Thanks to Van Gogh and many others, the self-portrait is connected with ideas of authorship, genius and creative struggle.  Strictly speaking, the selfie is a photograph taken with a digital camera and posted to a social network.  However, self-portraiture is inherently social in nature; through painting or photographing their own faces and bodies, artists attempt to reveal to others some aspect of their very essence or being.  What could be more social than that?


Does Van Gogh’s Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear from 1889 prefigure the #selfie? #vangogh #urgentcare #sucks #whatwasithinking #omg #ear #holyshit #dutchmedicalcare #artist #suffering #torturedartist #modernism #postimpressionism #gauguin #hatehim #sad #lonely #yellowhouse #arles #injured #bandaged #forlorn

Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait with a bandage on his ear is perhaps the art world’s first #selfie in that it succinctly captures the image-maker in a peculiar moment.  While the source of Van Gogh’s injury is still unclear, one thing is certain–the event involved his man-crush of the moment and fellow post-impressionist Paul Gaugin.  Perhaps, Van Gogh cut off his own ear in a fit of depression upon hearing Gaugin’s decision to leave their yellow house studio in Arles, France.  Or, was it Gaugin that sliced it off during a fencing accident?  Either way, the image is nothing if not a provocative update about Van Gogh’s status.

For centuries the words visual artist essentially meant image maker.  An image-maker was a particular kind of person and making compelling images required life-long dedication and skill.  Now that photographic and digital media technologies have become less expensive and the speed of transmission is approaching instantaneous (i.e. Instagram), nearly anyone with the means and motivation to acquire and learn to use a cell phone can become a prolific–although not necessarily adept–visual creator.  This renders the majority of self-portraits in existence anything but artistic.  Could an unending stream of images tagged #bored, #drunk, and #cleave really be Joseph Beuys’ dream of the democratization of art?

A Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, 1500.

A Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, 1500. #selfie #artselfie #blinging #robes #mirrorselfie #jesusstyle #pimpcoat, #fur #selfportrait #self-portrait

Since the Renaissance, the self-portrait has been a form of advertising.  We feel no shame; as artists, self-promotion is a necessary part of life, for who can survive without patrons?  Thus, the self-portrait has survived and enjoyed lasting popularity in art as a two-punch tool: a way to communicate proficiency in one’s chosen medium while maintaining appearances.  But Millennials in the twitterverse are not searching for their Medicis.  We (and I use “we” loosely as I am caught between Millennial and Gen-X stereotypes) have been voraciously consuming–or reluctantly swallowing–images our entire lives.  Why should the right and responsibility to promote and preserve one’s image be reserved for artists and corporations?  Seen in this light, the selfie is subversive:  The audience becomes the artist, the consumer becomes the producer selling herself back to the world.

For all the selfie’s alluring sociopolitical ramifications and high entertainment value, the quick digital image simply neglects to do well the things that art does well.  The selfie does not conform to the elements and principles of design.  The selfie is of a positively low-quality.  The selfie is impulsive.  But isn’t that precisely its charm?  The selfie does not apologize for its vanity nor attempt to hide its self-consciousness.  The self-portrait, on the other hand, takes itself so seriously that the posturing of artists is often comical.  After decades of living in a culture of government and corporate lying and spying, is it any wonder that Millenials distrust the idea of authenticity itself?

Some random Instagram Selfies.

Some random Instagram Selfies.

The bad selfie (and most are bad) could be seen as a reflection of the distrust of propaganda (as evidenced by the hashtag “nofilter”): a willingness to put oneself on display without the handling, designing, research and development, testing, photoshoping, retouching, reshooting, retooling, editing and censoring, all the artifice of bureaucracy.  The artist too, unfortunately, has no choice but to self-censor, selecting and editing ad nauseam, having lived forever with an unforgiving, internal overlord, possessed by the specter of art history and bent on getting things just right.  Just maybe, the less a selfie resembles a self-portrait, the closer the image is to truth.   For to create art is to lie.  To represent is to misrepresent, and to create a self-portrait is to, well, #filter.

Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin), September, 1888

Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin), September, 1888

Van Gogh was indeed an interpreter (not a truth teller) but his willingness to interpret, to stretch, to bend and color made him a master and a great innovator of modern art.  His paintings are some of the most moving works of all time, in any media; in the strokes you feel his presence, his suffering, his joy, his life.  This connection with future viewers, forged by a willingness to overshare, secured his legacy.  Most people will never attempt to become great painters or photographers.  But our desire to share our sadness and madness and joy and everything between through images with any available technology is a reflection of our humanness.  Unfortunately, a quick look at the latest selfies in my feed reveals that society at large still has a great deal of catching up to do–the artist has been sharing for a long, long time.


For a continued exploration of this topic in a fun way, I created an Instagram account dedicated to self-portraits of artists.  Follow me on your cell phone or browse the images so far at

Art Self artselfie selfie

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Pinterest and Postmodernism

An Embalmed Cat

An Embalmed Cat

I was looking at Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp’s pinboards today and was reminded of a passage in Foucault’ The Order of Things.  The fact that the French thinker Foucault popped into my head while looking at images of “Things that Look Like the Death Star” is sad.  But it is also evidence that his text The Order of Things is intensely relevant, and, that somewhere during grad school I crossed a line and am now as much of a nerdy intellectual as I am artist and rock musician.  Anyway, check out this list of classifications for animals from an ancient Chinese encyclopedia (presumably) and consider how closely this idea of order and organization resemble our contemporary Pinterest boards:

(from Foucault, The Order of Things)

This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off” look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

Evan Sharp's Pinboards

But is this system of organization such a stark impossibility today?  Mr. Sharp’s Pinboards are typical in that each board groups images by personal, often invented, organizing principles. Granted, Pinterest pins are classified images, not “actual” things.  But images as signs or symbols are essentially objects or ideas themselves, especially now that our “real” lives are so completely interconnected to our “virtual” lives online.  I just pinned an image of buffalo looking like ants and another of an embalmed cat.  I could keep going.  But what does it mean?  Foucault, again:

That passage from Borges kept me laughing a long time, though not without a certain uneasiness that I found hard to shake off. Perhaps be­cause there arose in its wake the suspicion that there is a worse kind of disorder than that of the incongruous, the linking together of things that are inappropriate; I mean the disorder in which fragments of a large number of possible orders glitter separately in the dimension, without law or geometry, of the heteroclite; and that word should be taken in its most literal, etymological sense: in such a state, things are ‘laid’, ‘placed’, ‘arranged’ in sites so very different from one another that it is impossible.

A Frenzied Wolf Snarling

A Frenzied Wolf Snarling

If I told you I did some additional research and that there is no evidence that the original passage came from a Chinese encyclopedia but was instead from a story by author Jorge Luis Borges would it change the meaning?  (I think not)  I can accept the quote as hyperbole and the idea remains as potent.  Foucault’s uneasiness with such seemingly irrational ideas of order has given way to an online celebration of new ways of organizing and seeing.  Now I’m gonna get back to drinking coffee and pining some things to my own boards, possible orders, glittering separately in the dimension of the internet.

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