Category Archives: Art

Hohle Fels Venus reveals more about modern times than ancient ones

A 35 ooo-year-old ivory figurine discovered in a small cave in Germany this past September has proven to be the oldest known piece of figurative art in the world, beating the previous record-holders by 5 000 years. Disappointingly, but not unsurprisingly, the archaeologists who made the discovery revealed their modern prejudices by describing the figurine as ancient porn. Violet at Reclusive Leftist elaborates:

…the Science Now article, the archaeologist who found the figurine is talking about pornographic pin-ups: “I showed it to a male colleague, and his response was, ‘Nothing’s changed in 40,000 years.’” That sentence needs to be bronzed and hung up on a plaque somewhere, because you couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of the classic fallacy of reading the present into the past. The archaeologist assumes the artist who created the figurine was male; why? He assumes the motive was lust; why? Because that’s all he knows. To his mind, the image of a naked woman with big breasts and exposed vulva can only mean one thing: porn! Porn made by men, for men! And so he assumes, without questioning his assumptions, that the image must have meant the same thing 35,000 years ago. No other mental categories for “naked woman” are available to him. His mind is a closed box.

Sad, but true.


From the horse’s mouth

Jake at Streetsy posted this photo today:


I consider this evidence in support of my claim about graffiti in this post.


This is how I feel about painting.

Except replace “gouache” with “any kind of paint.” (This if from Ryan Pequin’s LJ. Click on the cartoon for more – he has a wonderfully natural, easy-looking sketching style that somehow comes through with ton of personality.)

Does he wish his hand to show?

My rant about HDR and tilt-shift reminds me of earlier this year when I went to see the “TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art” exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. When I sat down at one of the rest stations and started flipping through one of the art journals that was sitting on the coffee table, I was pleased to discover an article that chronicled the early history of debates over photographic post-processing, debates that go back to the 1850s (It’s here if you have access to JSTOR). I’ve heard people defend photoshop post-processing on the grounds that it’s a practice that has a long history (e.g. “Ansel Adams was the king of post-processing, and he’s the best photographer of all time”), but they tend to overlook the debates about post-processing that were raging even well before Adams’s time. If anything, citing the history of the debate makes me more steadfast in my anti-post-processing position, because after all, if people haven’t come to a conclusion after 150 years of debate, then why should we reach one now? On a related note, don’t get me started on free will.

Photography and the (Lost) Art of Seeing

Two online photography fads that are annoying me: HDR and fake tilt and shift.

High dynamic range photography (HDR) is a technique of digitally sandwiching multiple exposures of the same scene in order to increase the dynamic range of the photograph. (The “dynamic range” refers to the number of values in between dark and light). In theory, this it to make the photo appear more like what the scene would look like in person – the human eye has a high dynamic range, which means it can see detail in a wide range of intensity levels, whereas film, and now digital sensors, can only detect detail in a narrow range of intensities. By combining a regular exposure with an underexposure (which captures detail in the light areas) and an overexposure (which captures detail in the dark areas), the resulting photo will have much more dynamic range than a single exposure, which (in theory) makes the photo look more “realistic.” The problem is that most HDR photos end up looking like this:

Or this:

Namely, heavily over-processed, fake-o photoshop jobs rather than actual photos, nevermind how far off the mark they are in terms of making the scene more “realistic.” For some reason this is technique is taking over the internet photography world: Flickr is overrun with HDR pools, sites that used to be cool like Pizdaus and are 40% HDR, even deviantART is crawling with HDR. With all the hype over post-processing, people are forgetting what it’s like to look through a viewfinder and see. It’s how you see that makes a good photo.

Tilt and shift photography has been around for a long time. (So has HDR as a matter of fact.) Tilt and shift photography has typically been used as a way of correcting perspective on photos where the camera angle is restricted, such as in architectural photography, in order to make lines parallel. For example, a photo of a high-rise building taken from the ground will end up with the sides of the building converging toward the top of the photo. By shifting the lens in relation to the film plane, the edges of the building can be brought back into parallel. Tilt and shift lenses typically look like something this:

Some photographers use tilt-shift lenses to restrict the depth of field of photos taken at infinity to a strip across the middle of the frame, which produces cool (albeit gimmicky) miniature-looking pictures like this:

This was taken by a guy named Olivo Barbieri, as part of a set that cascaded through the blogosphere and initiated a resurgence of interest in tilt-shift photography among online photographers. Unfortunately, cheap-ass photoshoppers got a hold of the idea and decided to take the low road and post-process tilt-shift effects into normal photos. So now we have photos like this:

Where low-rent snapshotters take their rejected photos and add cheesy effects and borders in order to make them more “artistic.” Jeff Croft, yet another Flickr member to fall victim to this craze, admits, “This is far from a great picture, but it’s exactly the kind of picture that lends itself best to this technique.” Once again, if you learn to see what’s going on in your viewfinder, you won’t need to post-process in order to give your work some kind of aesthetic merit.

A Tale of Two Children

I was riding my bike through a random industrial part of town when I stumbled upon this (click then click to enlarge):
I was understandably puzzled. It turns out that this is a piece of public art by none other than famous Canadian artist Ken Lum, who happens to be the guy who taught the lecture portion of Visual Art 182 when I took it back in 2003. On the first day of class he introduced himself as Ken Lum, explained how he was a practicing artist, and deadpanned, “So if you’ve ever wondered what a real artist looks like, here you go. Sorry to disappoint.” His class was the first place I ever heard about the Gaze.

This piece is called “A Tale of Two Children.” It was commissioned by the city and sponsored by Grosvenor, a huge international property development and investment group. Most accounts claim that the piece references his experiences of growing up in a somewhat ghettoized Chinese-Canadian community; according to Robin Laurence of the Georgia Straight,

[I]t’s not clear what Lum is trying to tell us about language and culture as they affect parenting styles and expectations. There’s a provocative element in much of his work that does not find easy resolution in the mind of the viewer.

For me, it’s ambiguous message and unorthodox location made it more of a treat, especially considering the serendipity of its discovery.

Fonetic Man

From the New Yorker: