Work Blog

Slowly does it

It would seem that I got work. As in: paid work. And to boot it is creative… well… sort-of-kinda-not-quite-maybe-semi-creative. At any rate it’s close enough to make me a happy bunny.

To celebrate this momentous occasion I shall reanimate the blog (for the umpteenth time, I know… please don’t laugh).

While in Greece I did a lot of heavy thinking on the subject of creativity. I realized that there were a few new-ish things that I wanted to try doing (which I won’t quite talk about just yet). I realized that what I really really really *want* to do is to write. I came up with a few things that I would like to write in the future, which is awesome. I came up with a few ideas of what I want to do with the (hopefully) awesome things that I am going to write in the future. I realized that I’ve been too worried about writing to actually just sit down and write. (Which I think is also why I haven’t been blogging.) And I realized that I need deadlines.

Now, I have a very real and very frightening deadline regarding that sort-of-kinda-not-quite-maybe-semi-creative project that I mentioned above, so that’s not going to be a problem. But beyond that I think I will have to be a little creative. Luckily, I have a blog.

So, come November, once I’ll be done with the semi-creative-writing-thingie, I’ll be abusing this blog as a pseudo-deadline-generator and I’ll post regular updates of what and how much I’ve been doing. This won’t only be writing-related, but will also be about the graphics that I’ll be doing for the Lands of Dream and a few other things that shall be revealed in good time. I hope it will help me get back on me feet creatively. I sure could use that.

I realize that most of the above is terribly vague. Which is partially because if I say what new and exciting things I want to do then I’ve committed to them, which is scary. Also because I don’t want to brag about these so-called “new and exciting” things without having anything to show for it. What I can tell you is that there will be cool Lands of Dream stuff soon and that Jonas and I did a lot of work on Ithaka while we were away. And that I’m finally back to updating/rewriting Zombies and Elephants, so maybe the final version of that will be ready before the year is gone.

The Art Of Selling Art

Preface: My eleventh to thirteenth grade art teacher, Mr. Ciolek, is a very talented, kind individual who has taught many a hopeless case how to paint and draw beyond their wildest expectations. Just thought I’d get that out before I start.

And now a few thoughts about that bane of society, that great misfortune which has befallen the 21st century, so-called “modern art”:

Meet my nemesis. Readers, say hello to Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack. Pretentious piece of crap, say hello to my readers. Bottle Rack is what is known as a readymade. The more observant ones among you may have noticed that it also happens to be, well, a bottle rack. Readymades are a great way for artists, and I use the term very loosely here, to make a fuckton of money. You take a piece of equipment –  lampshade, fork, bathtub, toothbrush, used condom, pretty much anything will do –  sign your name on it and then sell it for a truckload of money. The beauty is that you can go into a shop, buy more of the same item, and rinse and repeat until you are filthy rich. That’s pretty much what Marcel Duchamp seems to have thought when he came up with his idea for Bottle Rack, which is nowadays considered to be the first “purebred” readymade.

Here’s how it went: In 1915 Duchamp wrote a letter to his sister in which he gave her instructions on how to dispose of the inventory of his studio in Paris. He mentions the old bottle rack and tells her to sign it in his name and sell it. Marcel, really, too cheap to sign your own signature? But the trend was born. Bottle racks, bathtubs, chairs… you name it.

And that was the beginning of the end for 20th century art: the readymade. Suddenly it was no longer important if you could paint or draw or work stone. It was enough now to own a pencil and a few bucks (or buckets) and to know where the nearest home improvement store was. Born was a movement that would spawn Beuys’ Fat Chair and Man Ray’s Indestructible Object and ultimately also Damien Hirst’s Pickled Shark The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. (No, I’m not dismissing the damage done by the gradual movement from realism to abstract art that happened in painting and sculpture around the same time, but that’s a different story.)

Why have I got a problem with this? Mhm… let me see.

It all started in twelfth grade, in art class to be precise. We’re doing presentations on a selection of important styles, movements and works. And one of those is the readymade; to be more specific, Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack. I knew it then, I know it now, it’s the day I meet my nemesis. A turning point in early 20th century art. I suffer through the presentation. All I want to do is shout: Why is this art? Why? I don’t get it. Didn’t then, don’t now.

Christoph Ciolek, our teacher, does. His eyes are glowing, he is truly riveted: Rembrandt, van Gogh, Picasso – they are all forgotten in the face of the glory and artistic talent residing in the person of Marcel Duchamp. After the presentation he announces – quite proudly, as if he expects us to burst into spontaneous applause – that our next art project will be to produce a readymade. The rules are simple: create a work of art based on an everyday object that you alter slightly. Find meaning in the mundane. Be artistic and deep, philosophical even. Be… artsy.

At this point I briefly consider killing myself. The urge deepens as I see how all my classmates actually do burst into spontaneous applause. (The reason for this becomes clear after class, when they discuss how to achieve the best results with the least amount of effort – buying and re-painting IKEA furniture is fairly high up on the list.)

Four weeks pass and the time of the project presentation draws neigh. Everyone is terribly busy being pleased with themselves.

And here they come:

1. A lamp (IKEA), its lampshade plastered with Subway napkins. It apparently symbolizes how fast food takes away our knowledge (enlightenment, get it?) of what’s healthy and what’s not.

2. A table (IKEA), with one leg sawed off, which is all about the instability of our upcoming student lives.

3. My own rather uninspired shoe that has a plaster copy of the sole of my foot stuck to it. I didn’t bother coming up with an explanation, so Mr. Ciolek does it for me. It is, apparently, about getting back in touch with nature after being coddled by technology for too long. Interesting, didn’t realize that.

4. A few teacups with plants in them. No idea what they were about, probably something to do with child labour in India.

5. The only good one, a toy gun manipulated to look like a flying dove… which is dismissed as too dreamy. I weep, despite the good grade that I got for my shoe.

What I take away from this class are two things: knowing how to approach an empty sheet of paper and that a true artist can sell anything, as long as he manages to keep a straight face. And that is after all what a lot of modern art is about. None of these people are good at anything. Many of them, just like Marcel Duchamp in 1915, don’t even touch their art personally, they pay other people to create art for them (yes, Damian, I’m talking to you, now put that skull down and be embarrassed like a good kid). Art is about doing the newest, most unthinkable things until these revolutionary ideas have actually become standard. Then you keep doing them and just pretend to be revolutionary. It’s all about keeping a straight face, love. When have you last seen a modern artist put effort into something? I can’t find the quote right now, but I believe it was Pablo Picasso who once said that in order to paint like a child one must first learn to paint like an adult. And you can see that he was good. There’s talent in all those abstract and cubist paintings. Some of his pencil drawings are spectacular. With a lot of his contemporaries and those who came after I’m not so sure of that. I’m not just talking about readymades anymore. I’m talking about how art just went down the drain in the 20th century. Just look at this guy, Alexej von Jawlensky, a particular favorite of mine. Notice how anything he made after 1919 looks kind of the same and… shit. The head to the left is one of about twenty virtually identical pictures that he did around 1930. Needless to say that they’re all considered timeless classics. One story among many. Here’s another one: Mark “fields-of-color” Rothko. An abstract expressionist. What was he trying to express, I wonder? Maybe that he really liked colored boxes. You know what Jonas calls these? Wallpaper. Ugly wallpaper. Where are the Rembrands and the Van Goghs and the da Vincis? Why can’t anyone just paint a landscape anymore? Because that would be boring, profane, old-school. Hell, it would almost be like actually dealing with the world that we live in. Can’t have that. Art has become afraid of saying anything other than: life is shit, nothing is certain and I’m not sure if the universe actually exists, what’s this “science” thing you speak of. Art isn’t dealing with life anymore. I don’t usually make political statements on this blog, but I assume that this decay in the meaning of art is also to a large part due to the fact that art has become nothing more than an investment opportunity, a toy, for the super-rich. Art sells for as much as never before. Art has become almost akin to stock options. To be sold and bartered and kept until it’s worth a few millions more. This gives us works such as this one: For the Love of God, by Damian Hirst. A platinum cast of a genuine 18th century human skull, encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. It sold for 50 million British pounds. I can’t even begin to say how wrong or pretentious this is. (Although, for some reason, the thing my minds keeps coming back to is this: Why an 18th-century skull?) And Damian Hirst didn’t even touch the bloody thing.

And that is what I realized that day in art class. If you can only keep a straight face and come up with a really, really good story, then you can sell anything. Or maybe an art critic will be nice enough to come up with a story for you. Like with my shoe. Or like Gertrude Stein did for an understandably baffled Picasso:

Those who attempt to explain a picture are on the wrong track most of the time. Gertrude Stein, overjoyed, told me some time ago that she had finally understood what my picture represented: three musicians. It was a still-life!

But that, I fear, is a story for another blog post. Critics, be it of paintings, movies, or literature, are a subject I’m also keen to write about. For now I merely ask: Whatever happened to works like this one? Or maybe the one below. That I’d put up in our living room.

Art of the Present

This work of art (I’m in a charitable mood) is called “Schwarze Tafeln”, which basically means “black panels”. And this object really is what it says on the box. There are five of these, they look absolutely identical and they’re simply cardboard squares stuck onto big metal frames. And I hate them. They symbolize all that is wrong with modern art. We saw these things when we went to the Frankfurt museum of art, the Städel, the other day. They’re the work of a Frankfurt-based artist named Peter Roehr and they’re exhibited in a bright and shiny and simply humongous new wing of the Städel that deals with “Gegenwartskunst” (Art of the Present). And the sad thing, the really depressing thing, is that these weren’t even the worst things on display, but merely the ones that I can rant about the easiest. The artist,  who died in 1968, apparently said that this work is supposed to express the meaninglessness of modern art, but seriously, if you say that about your work you’re just not trying hard enough. You also don’t do another 599 pieces that express exactly the same. To be fair, if he had said that this piece symbolized child starvation in Uganda, I wouldn’t have bought it either.

I can’t quite fathom the mind of an artist like Peter Roehr. He died young. I shall refrain from any jokes, because he died of cancer, a fate that no one deserves. And yet, at the relatively tender age of 24, he managed to produce more than 600 works of art. Had a writer produced even one tenth of that in a full life with 40 good working years, many would call him a hack. Now, that may or may not be true, but what does it say about Peter, and his 600+ works? We seem to accept this number, even if accomplished in such a short time, much more readily when it comes to paintings. Yet no one ever seems to consider the assembly-line-esque conditions under which these works must have been created. Did Peter Roehr, or any of his ilk, really put any heart or effort into those works? Some say that anything is art, but I disagree. I like my art to be pretty; that’s a subjective statement, but on a more objective level I also like my art to mean something. Not “mean” as in “this painting is about child starvation in Uganda”, but as in something that took thought or effort or skill.

My viewpoint isn’t easily quantifiable. It is obviously silly to say that something that took ten minutes to make isn’t art, but something that took 10 minutes and one second is. But still. Peter Roehr was active as an artist from 1962 until his death in 1968. That makes, if one assumes a steady output of 600 works total, one object every 3 days. That’s an awful lot, I’d say. And as we’ve discussed above “it symbolises ze futility of art” doesn’t really cut it for me.

So what makes you tick, Peter? Greed? Maybe. I’m not sure. Some people need to have creative output, I get that. I don’t suspect my musings on the subject will get me anywhere, at least not anytime soon. If there’s an afterlife I’ll pop the question to Peter in a few decades or so. I hope he has a satisfying answer. Until then I remain vaguely puzzled at the mystery of Peter Roehr and why people seem to think his “Schwarze Tafeln” are the bee’s knees.

Slight change of subject: I’ve been thinking a lot about art lately, mostly because I’ve been wondering about ways to sell my own art. Am I too modest or too arrogant? How much is too much when it comes to the price? Peter was too arrogant, I’d say, but the opposite isn’t great either. I loved making the Compendium entries, and they helped us out of a terrible fix monetarily, but we sold them barely above what it cost us to produce them. What is the artistic value of these drawings outside of this highly specialized context? I have always felt (unlike my friend Peter, I assume) that it is hugely important to give value for money. The thought of overpricing my works is horrifying to me. The thought of somehow grossly overestimating their artistic worth even more so. No-one likes pretentiousness, least of all me. I erratically oscillate between self-doubt and confidence. To make it worse, I don’t only have to think about my own skill, but also about what other people will consider art. Judging from what we saw in the Städel… a whole lot, and not much of it looks like what I do.

Sigh. Another question with no easy answers.

What I was going to say, before I got hit by seven tons of self-doubt, is that I’ll also have a lovely, more general, article about modern art for you tomorrow. So be sure to check back!

I Can Haz News

Much is new in House Kyratzes and it’s all terribly exciting.

The best news is that a few days ago I officially started work on the graphics for the new Lands of Dream game. This one is going to be close in size to Desert Bridge and will have oodles of locations and gadgets. While doing the children’s book and the Oneiropolis Compendium I’ve improved my technique used for the Lands of Dream images dramatically, which makes me all the more excited about this project. We’re aiming to release the game in March, so you won’t have to wait too long.

I’ve also finished the last images for the Oneiropolis Compendium. This project has been a lot of fun, with silly pop culture references and deeply serious philosophical questions – often in the same entry. And it’s not over yet. The Compendium really saved us when things got tight financially in November and December, and while we needed the money, I was also genuinely pleased to draw these pictures. So if you still feel like donating to get an original, framed Lands of Dream image, please feel free to do so.

If you read Jonas’s blog or come to my page every now and then, then I’m sure you’ve heard of our IndieGoGo campaign to finance a webpage for our cooking show. It’s another project that I’m very happy about, since I love cooking and cookbook recipes can sometimes drive one barmy. Instructions like “add italian spices” or “use a lug of olive oil” just make me want to tear the cookbook into tiny little pieces of confetti and set fire to them. The other day I had a recipe that told me to prepare an ingredient ten minutes before the  sauce was done, without ever mentioning how long the bloody sauce was supposed to cook in total (and it’s confetti time!). So yes, the Starving Artists Kitchen Show is something I’m happy about and that should help lower my blood pressure. And you can help. Our IndieGoGo campaign still hasn’t reached its goal. Also you can expect a new episode and the website to be up soon. We’re just experiencing some minor difficulty connected to dark German winters and our kitchen light being broken.

That’s it on the creative front, I think. There’s more to tell, as always, but that will have to wait until later. Expect a post on The Who’s Tommy and creative responsibility in the next 24 hours and something about bad postmodern writing by the end of the week. Now to draw a room with crazy wallpaper.

Tonight on ‘It’s the Mind’ we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu.

So. I faintly remember saying that I promised high intellectual content for today. A book review, I seem to have implied. Yes, well, about that… tell you what. Books are boring anyway. So instead I’ll give you a link to the most awesome intellectual thing the internet has ever witnessed. What could be better than ninjas, cats and Doctor Tennant Who? Nothing, that’s absolutely correct. So here you are. My treat.

And no, you’ve never seen this footage before. Must be a trick of your tired mind. Sleep now, there will be more tomorrow.

Some nice places on the interwebs

Instead of the Epic Announcement™ that I had planned for today (which will be postponed until Sunday or possibly Monday due to a) me being too optimistic and b) things outside of my control), I’ll drop you some links instead. Because I promised a post for today and breaking promises isn’t nice.

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking on the subject of Modern Art and, more specifically, Postmodern Art these days. This is one of the things that make me despair when it comes to modern art. “I wanted to give something back to the city that gave me so much,” says the artist. And that‘s what you came up with?

Luckily sometimes things happen in Germany that take my level of general despair down a notch, like this. A hotel that looks cool and that lets you pay how much or little you want/can afford. Of course they’re booked out until just after the heat death of the universe.

And here are a few videos. If you’ve never heard of Saturday Night Live’s version of Celebrity Jeopardy you lead a sad and miserable life. Here’s my favourite skit. Or, if you’ve got about two hours to spare, you could have a look at the Spoony Experiment‘s review of Final Fantasy X. And if that doesn’t cheer you up, you could always take a look at ninja cat. If that doesn’t cheer you up, you’re probably a cyborg.

Also, if you’re tired of me constantly shamelessly promoting my own pictures on Flickr, here’s me promoting someone else.

A few blogs/web-thingies that I regularly look at. The Atlas Obscura is a wonderful compendium of silly, secret and surprising places all around the globe. And Everysaturdaymorning’s Blog is a thought- provoking (and sometimes infuriatingly, stubbornly misandrist) blog run by a volunteer escort for an abortion clinic. If you’ve got a problem with abortion clinics please go away and never come back again. I mean it. Most of the women have got very serious reasons for going there. No one just wakes up one morning and says: “I think I’ll have an abortion today.”

And here’s an Asian mimic octupus chaser from XKCD for all those who are freaked out by the mention of reproductive justice issues on this blog.

Finally, and then I’ll shut up (honest), The Book of Living Magic is still out and it still needs your love and cuddles.