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    Photogravure etchings at www.kamprint.com and http://kamprint.com/xpress/

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    Photogravure etchings at http://kamprint.com/ & http://kamprint.com/xpress/

    Photogravure etchings at http://kamprint.com/ & http://kamprint.com/xpress/

Pattern Recognition

Until the extent of Government surveillance of phone calls, emails, Web postings, searches, social-media preferences, and so forth became widely known, the commercial purpose of gathering all this private data was unclear. After all, the business model of targeting or pestering people based on algorithms of rapidly shifting likes, associations, and Web-browsing habits never made much sense. True, people corralled into a mass market can be pressured into buying things to satisfy psychological needs. Freud’s American nephew Edward Bernays perfected what he called the ‘engineering of consent’ on behalf of both business and government during the first half of the 20th century.

But once the methods of mass persuasion become generally known, as they did in the 1950s and 1960s, they lose their effectiveness. New methods that provided a plausible veneer of free choice had to be developed. This the Internet giants proceeded to do, using a variety of personal data they were privy to as a means of inferring what products and services their users were interested in. Where Bernays used Freudian theory to reveal hidden desires, the Internet giants claimed they too had a hidden pipeline, via the private data they collected, into their customers’ secret desires. And in contrast to traditional mass-market advertising, Internet ads could be ‘served’ especially to those already known (through those algorithms) to be in the market for what an advertiser was offering. Social media enhance the odds of success by using group membership and friendship-association as a basis for marketing, aware that many consumer purchase decisions are highly motivated by ‘influentials’ and by ‘reference-groups’. These new methods of advertising have been more successful at attracting investment than in generating sales for advertisers.

It took about 30 years for the public to catch on to Bernays’ methods of psychological manipulation. Such methods no longer work when people become aware of them. Similarly, the success of the Internet giants’ business model depends on concealing how they siphon private data and use it to predict and influence purchase decisions. When users block ‘cookies’, for example, or enter fictitious data about themselves into registration forms, then the accuracy that advertisers rely on is degraded. As users grow more aware of how to opt-out of being data-mined, the business model breaks down. The model fails even if only a small minority of users actually install privacy-protecting software, or intentionally post false identity or location markers, (with a proxy server or a VPN). The connection between the ingenious algortithms and actual purchase decisions becomes ever more tenuous with every ad-block, anonymizer, Web-tracking rejection, and so forth. Behind the growing awareness and usage of these protections lies a breakdown of trust, and trust — which the snoops have forgotten — is the essence of any commercial transaction.

So, without a credible commercial justification, what purpose is served by collecting all that private data? Data-obsessives have persuaded themselves and like-minded investors that it has some inherent value. But the value proposition here is based on a fatally flawed version of human nature, the notion that raw data shorn of human intelligence or analysis is valuable in itself.

This seems to be the mindset of one very large customer who needs no economic justification. Governments of all persuasions — communist, capitalist, fundamentalist, or what-have-you — share a common curiousity about the private lives of ‘their’ citizens (and others). With the false dichotomy of privacy versus security, they claim to be preventing more terror attacks through their sweeping surveillance of all communications. Left unsaid is how this protection system works and indeed whether it works better than alternative methods. ‘Traffic analysis’ has in fact helped uncover some terrorist plots. But the first (1993) WTC bombing, the attacks on embassies in East Africa and later in Libya, on the Cole, and most spectacularly on the Pentagon and the second WTC attack in 2001, eluded advance detection. It is likely that over-reliance on computer-readable data blinded the spy agencies to common-sense clues like flight-school students telling their instructors they weren’t interested in learning how to land airplanes.

Nevertheless every failure becomes an argument for additional resources, which are routinely provided by legislators regardless of austerity everywhere else. The Internet giants and phone companies gather vast amounts of data on their customers, assuring them it’s confidential and anonymized. Actually it’s neither: When presented with a secret Court order authorized by a secret law, they hand over all that data to the Government, in many instances allowing direct access to their servers and call-routing equipment. While this has apparently been going on for some time, it is only recently that the data storage and processing capabilities have become sufficient to store and analyze all communications. To this is added the data from ground and aerial surveillance videos, mobile devices, Web postings, social-media preferences, and other electronic sources. The extraordinary accuracy of detail visible from 17,500 feet (5,300 meters) up, for example, is achieved with an array of 368 ordinary phone-cameras and a lot of computer-processing to weave the images together. The Air Force can review its database, zoom in on an area or point of interest, and play back the video from that spot on that day. All of this requires facilities of unimaginable size simply to store the tsunami of data streaming in every day.

Just such a facility is already in operation at Bluffdale, Utah, supplementing the expansion of a linked facility at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Bluffdale Data Center

Bluffdale Data Center

Costing two billion dollars, it is five times the size of the U.S. Capitol. ‘Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases’. Pictures of the inside are unavailable, but Google’s own facilities, where much of the data originates, are presumably similar. This is what ‘the cloud’, as the term is used to describe remote data storage, actually looks like.

Google Data Center, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Google Data Center, Council Bluffs, Iowa

The storage capacity is measured in something called yottabytes. Gigabytes are familiar, and now terabyte-sized hard disks are available in stores for $70. One thousand of those equal a petabyte. Multiply by another thousand, and you get a zettabyte, and that by another thousand equals an exabyte. It takes a thousand exabytes to make one yottabyte, which is a 1 followed by 24 zeros — 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Supercomputers can search vast quantities of data, but at some point a human being must determine what to search for, and what the search results mean. Otherwise the results are too numerous or diffuse to make sense of, and their action implications hazy. A Web-search returns millions of results, the vast majority of which are unrelated in any meaningful way to what one is looking for. The user usually selects something from the first 10 pages, a problem which generated the ‘SEO’ (search-engine optimization) industry. Even the vastly more sophisticated search algorithms used by snoops have the same problem — too many results, no time to check them all, and uncertainty about how to make practical use of them. Diverting resources away from human intelligence and intuitive pattern recognition, into tasks with a very low probability of identifying specific threats, interferes with rather than enhances security, by dumbing-down the common-sense of the ‘big-picture’.

– – – – – – – –

Chess champions like Susan Polgar win by recognizing complex patterns on the chessboard that presage advantages or disadvantages. The ability to recognize such patterns is developed by tournament experience and study of thousands of past games.

Chess champion Susan Polgar

Chess champion Susan Polgar

This does not involve a computational talent or an ability to think many moves ahead, but rather a constantly adapting mental grasp of the ‘big picture’. The rules of chess are embedded in the pattern recognition ability. Polgar, like other grandmasters, can play winning chess without even looking at the board, so vivid is her mental grasp of the game’s dynamics. But her memory of random arrangements of chess pieces that don’t follow the rules is no better than that of an average person’s. The part of the brain responsible for pattern recognition is the same as the one that enables us to recognize faces.

Washington Square Park, New York

Washington Square Park, New York

The most complex feats of pattern recognition are executed instantly to differentiate those whom we know from those whom we don’t know. Other parts of the brain connect the recognized face with other memory and experience we may have about that person. Clearly, the better we are at this — the more finely tuned out discrimination is — the better our chances for survival. Sorting out the right moves ‘in a flash’ from the chaos of irrelevant noise can make the difference between life and death.

It is precisely this ability to see the ‘big picture’ that is lost when processing yottabytes of data. Only a very small fraction of the available information is actionable intelligence. Misinformation, intentional disinformation, and sheer irrelevant noise abound. Whether the task is identifying a terrorist, blocking spam, picking stocks, finding a destination in a strange city, selecting a mate, deciding whether to trust a potential business associate or buy a particular brand, the ability to ignore noise is essential. One way to do this is to rely on family and friends, trusted associates, or recognized authorities. In traditional societies, age-old ancestral patterns are followed out of respect for the past, and because they work pretty well if circumstances don’t change too much.

In modern societies too, public opinion grants enormous deference to annointed authorities even when they are out of their depth. Purported expertise often substitutes for independent analysis. People at the top of large organizations can easily fall prey to intelligence failures due to faulty filtering-out of highly relevant information. The well-known ‘executive bubble’ restricts input to a few trusted sources, excluding meaningful dialogue with the outside world, reducing all thought to an echo-chamber of the like-minded.

Modern societies also resort to modeling to reduce the available information about a problem under consideration. Climate modeling and economic forecasting are two prominent methods in widespread use. Their predictive power is assumed to be based on the superior ability of computers to take into account all the factors relevant to outcomes. By seeking to replicate all of the relevant reality, they merely avoid the critical task of discriminating the significant from the trivial, while concealing the judgments that go into the selection, quantification, and weighting of inputs (often jiggering them to produce a favored result).

Celebrity and branding, and celebrity branding, are other mental shortcuts that ‘work’ by filtering out the thinking required for important decisions. Masses of people rely on trusted brands when they buy soap, cars, or politicians. Hence the value of celebrity endorsements. Academia and government are hardly exempt from brand-reliance, as credentials often confer ersatz credibility well beyond their specialty.

Pattern recognition is thus a kind of simplification, a selection of fundamental forms that encode the larger whole.

In art as in life, this encoding of fundamental forms bypasses computation and ratiocination. It is simply too time-consuming (and tedious) to sift through all the logical possibilities before drawing a picture or acting on a decision. Intuitive forecasting, acting on a hunch, split-second decisions based on fragmentary information — these are the stuff of life. We compare the instant situation to something like it in our experience, adjust as best we can for different circumstances now, and fly at blinding speed into the canyon of choices. The patterns we recognize and act on have in large part been learned and imprinted on ourselves by our own education, experiences, memories, and oft-repeated mental associations. Advertisers and publicists spend a great deal of money to implant their brands and styles in our minds, so that we adopt them as if they came from our own innermost desires. With art we reclaim our own minds and hearts, re-discovering a personal style that really fits our experiences and prefrences.

The forms and patterns of artwork are as varied as life itself. Our notions of beauty evoke recognition of pleasureable experiences we or our species or our antecedent species have had. The landscape with wind-blown grasses, a flowing river, green trees and hills in the distance, drifting clouds recalls, perhaps, a treetop-view of the savannah. Oceans, even storm-tossed seas, give a sense of our origins, our wandering, our inter-connectedness. The patterns we recognize in these and other natural forms are intimately connected to our well-being and to our very survival.

Tidings, photogravure etching, Peter Miller

Tidings, photogravure etching, Peter Miller

– – – – – – – – –

Additional information:

Matt Damon as the math genius in ‘Good Will Hunting‘, takes a shot at answering the question ‘Why shouldn’t I work for the NSA?’

Some free software to protect personal privacy:
Block ads: Adblock Plus: https://adblockplus.org/
Remove Local Shared Objects, or flash cookies: Better Privacy: chrome://bprivacy/content/BetterPrivacy.html
DoNotTrackMe: https://www.abine.com/how-donottrackme-works/
Secure Web browsing: https everywhere: https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere
Block scripts: Ghostery: https://www.ghostery.com/
Search w/o being tracked: duckduckgo: https://duckduckgo.com/

Renewal

Spring is the time for all creatures to crawl out of their burrows and renew their lives. I travel to the southernmost point of the four main islands of Japan, Ibusuki at the southern tip of Kyushu, to get an early taste of spring. At Ibusuki this begins with my immersion in the hot-spring sands at the edge of the sea.

Preparing for my burial, I lie down on the beach. As an attendant shovels sand onto me, I think of the Kobo Abe / Teshigahara film Woman in the Dunes where a visitor stumbles into a sandpit and is trapped with the beautiful young widow who lives there.
砂の女
The sand is unexpectedly weighty, and even though I COULD get up anytime, I don’t really want to. As a comforting warmth envelops me, I feel my heartbeat, and every whoosh and push of my arteries, as never before. Far from being a burial, this is a rejuvenation! Steam rises from the beach, as heat from the earth’s molten core percolates just beneath. Here in Ibusuki, I am in touch with the deepest forces of earth and cosmos.

Hot-spring sands ・ 砂むし

In the volcanic soil created by an ancient explosion of Kaimon-dake, and warmed by the sun above and the earth below, grow soramame — ‘sky-beans’. Sweet to eat right out of the pod, and very fine roasted as well, they grow here year-round. soramameDinner at the minshuku, Unagi Kohan (tel 0993-34-1954), steamed over a hot-spring vent, is superb. The family have lived there all their lives. Hot-spring vents supply all their energy requirements, and nearly everything they need is available locally. Geothermal energy supplies a lot of the electricity in the region.

Geothermal energy plant

Back in Ibusuki, I visit Sakai Shoten (tel 0993-34-0070), a factory that turns katsuo, a smaller version of tuna, into various forms that are a staple of the Japanese diet. In one form, it is solid, preserved after steaming and drying with repeated applications of a special fungus, then sun-dried. The work proceeds with astonishing efficiency and speed, and artistry as well. katsuo sortingWhether fresh or dried, the shape is very important for the supremely exacting tastes of Japanese consumers. Sakai-san explains there is an inherent love of beauty, even (or especially) with food. He demonstrates how the shopper’s hand inevitably gravitates to the more appealingly-shaped fish, and this is reflected in its price — the difference between profit and loss for his company. The dried version, expertly carved, reveals a pine tree, a bamboo leaf, and a plum-flower, the traditional shochikubai, symbols of long life. A pair, masculine and feminine, is traditionally given as a wedding gift.

The solid katsuobushi can be shaved into very thin pieces with a box-plane. These are used to flavor rice, misoshiru, vegetables, and other foods. The number of steps, the immense amount of work, and the sheer artistry required to put this on everyone’s table is mind-boggling. In addition to everything else, to meet new food-safety standards, the factory must tag every fish with the date it was caught and the name of the fishing boat.

Katsuo with Tags

The wealth of historical experience wrapped up in seemingly simple katsuobushi is a real revelation to me. I feel a kinship with my own etching, minimalist, black-and-white images that emerge from the simple materials of ink, paper, and copper. After gazing at a field of nanohana flowers, with Kaimon-dake in the distance, I return to my workshop newly inspired, and happy to have experienced the warmth of Ibusuku and its people.

nanohana

The Art of War

Robert Capa Centennial / Gerda Taro Retrospective at Yokohama Museum 2013.1.26 – 3.24, Minato-Mirai 3-4-1, Yokohama, tel 045-221-0300 (closed Thursdays except Jan 31)

As the forces of a cataclysmic world conflict gathered in Spain in 1936, two young photographers, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, responded to the besieged republican government’s call to arms. Fascist forces had bombed Guernica, the first aerial bombardment of civilians in history. Picasso’s monumental Guernica depicted the agony.

Picasso, Guernica

Picasso, Guernica

The Spanish poet Garcia-Lorca was murdered by fascist rebels in the early days of the war. The Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) called forth an international gathering of artists and writers unparalleled in modern times. Soon-to-be-famous luminaries including Orwell, Malraux, Hemingway, Auden, Spender, as well as Stalin’s future spies Philby and Blunt arrived along with legions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and other volunteers.

In the laconic prose of reportage, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls related the heroism and the atrocity of war, the character of Pilar modeled on the real-life La Passionaria in David Seymour’s memorable photo.

David Seymour, La Passionaria

David Seymour, La Passionaria

Robert Capa’s photographs documented the face of war, even unto the moment of death of a Loyalist soldier shot by a sniper. Capa was always there, in the thick of the action, the original heroic war photographer.
Robert Capa, Spain, 1936

Robert Capa, Spain, 1936

He covered five wars, the camera his only weapon. Born Endre Erno Friedmann in 1913, he fled his native Hungary in 1931, finding refuge in Paris. There, on photo-assignment for a Swiss life insurance company, he met Gerta Pohorylle, a German Jewish refugee who was teaching photography. Thus began one of the most storied romances of the 20th century.

Gerda Taro and Robert Capa

Gerda Taro and Robert Capa

Two Jews on the run, exiled from their homelands, struggling to survive in the chaos of 1930s Europe, they were truly star-crossed lovers. In a brilliant stroke of both marketing and survival, they concealed their Jewish identities and merged themselves and their photographic work into one name: Robert Capa. She re-invented herself as Gerda Taro, the first name an adaptation of screen star Greta Garbo’s, the second from Taro Okamoto, a Japanese artist then studying anthropology and the occult at the Sorbonne. She used a square-format Rollei, while his camera was the rectangular-format Leica. Together they found that the same photos sold under the American-sounding name ‘Capa’ fetched three times the price paid with the name ‘Friedmann’.

With the call to arms in 1936, they made their way to Barcelona and the Spanish front, embracing their heroic destiny as graphic reporters of republican courage and fascist atrocities. Capa/Taro were fearless and lucky, living on the sheer adrenaline of risk-taking, somehow always getting the shot without getting shot. Gerda Taro kept her own identity, refused Capa’s offer of marriage, and later in 1936 started selling photos to European publications under her own name. They continued working together as comrades-in-arms, and kept company with others. Tragically after only a year, her luck ran out in a ‘friendly-fire’ collision of a tank with a car where she was perched on the running-board. She was only 26. She was accorded a martyr’s funeral in Paris by the French communist party, with tens of thousands of mourners in attendance.

But there’s more to the story. Gerda Taro’s negatives, taken on the day of her death and for several days before, disappeared completely. The war was not going well for the republican forces, which by 1937 were controlled by the Soviet Union. Any documentation of their defeat, or of the murders of deserters ordered by Stalin’s commanders in Spain, would have been most unwelcome. Robin Stummer, writing in the New Statesman, suggests that Gerda Taro’s death was no accident, that she was a targeted victim of Stalin’s henchmen. Future West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who was also in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, believed Gerda Taro was already on Stalin’s hit list for her affiliation with the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, and warned her against staying on in Spain in 1937. Experiences such as these took much of the blush off the communist rose.

A continent away in Mexico, the intertwined arts of love and war wove a similar political strand in the relationship of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Rivera’s communist views did not prevent him and may even have helped him secure commissions from none other than the arch-capitalist John D Rockefeller. The diminuitive Kahlo, like Taro, was eclipsed by her more famous partner, who cast a very large shadow, as can be seen in this 1930s video: Kahlo and Trotsky enjoyed a brief affair, after which Trotsky was murdered with an icepick by another of Stalin’s agents.

The ultimate role model of wartime romance is that of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) in ‘Casablanca’, with Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) as the odd man out.

Paul Henreid as Victor Lazslo

Paul Henreid as Victor Lazslo

Recognizing that ‘the troubles of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world’, Rick’s sacrifice of Ilsa’s love, so that Laszlo can carry on with his leadership of the Resistance, is an act of the most excruciating heroism. After WWII, Robert Capa and Ingrid Bergman in real life became lovers for a year, another pair of exiles seeking solace.
Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund

Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund

The Capa/Taro photos themselves, pried apart from the photographers’ legends, retain their shocking immediacy even as the scenes depicted have since become commonplace. There are photos of wounded soldiers in hideously contorted positions being carried on stretchers, of the sprawled-out dead, of funerals, of battle-plan conferences, of tanks, trucks, the amphibious landings on D-day, anxious refugees in Haifa.

Robert Capa, Haifa Refugees

Robert Capa, Haifa Refugees

Through five wars, the war-photo genre changed little, only the venues of the carnage moved — to China, Israel, and finally to Indochina, where Capa’s own luck ran out in 1954 when he stepped on a land mine. Gerda Taro’s street-ensembles, reflecting her lively engagement with her subjects, are more convincing than her battlefield scenes. Had she lived longer, she might have brought her intensity and fine personal touch to the arts of peace.
Gerda Taro, Street Musicians

Gerda Taro, Street Musicians

The genre of war-photography moved on, in unsavory directions in some cases. Made-for-TV scenes became all the rage in the Mideast, Iraq, and elsewhere as the ‘new journalism’ obliterated the boundary between editorializing and reporting. The Capa/Taro photos remind us of a time of seeming moral certainty and just causes. Their exposure to war sharpened their senses, forcing concentration on the moment, knowing that death can come at any time — tragically soon for Gerda Taro. In the brief 17 years remaining to Capa, he became a consummate practitioner of strategic positioning and precise timing. These skills, learned at the front, became the defining legacy of the Magnum photo agency which Capa co-founded, along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, Elliott Erwitt, and others.

The Capa/Taro photos are archived at the International Center for Photography in New York, thanks to the fortuitous discovery of many of his negatives in a suitcase in Mexico. Many of the photos may be viewed here along with the fascinating story of the Mexican suitcase.

Images Clairvoyant

Images have the power to transcend time, evoking responses drawn from primordial memory. Curiously it is this link to deep time past that enables images to anticipate the future as well. The exhibit is entitled Clairvoyant.

Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, in the Loire Valley of France

From Parc Perraudière

From Parc Perraudière

is again the venue for an exhibition of my photogravure etchings, this time in the Pavillon Charles X, Parc Perraudière. A previous exhibition of my photogravure etchings of Mongolia, held in April 2010, was organized by l’Association Touraine-Mongolie (president: Paul Olivier; Secretary-General: Mireille Turquois).

The 36 photogravure etchings in the 2012 exhibit encompass Currents, Rhythms, Reflections, Light, Fog, and Shadow (six each): Affiche

A special edition of the exhibition catalogue, limited to 30 impressions, includes an original photogravure etching — Matines — printed especially for this edition on 210 x 210 mm Fabriano Tiepolo etching paper, is available here.

<em data-recalc-dims=Clairvoyant catalogue” title=”Clairvoyant catalogue” width=”432″ height=”254″ class=”size-full wp-image-740″ />

Une édition originale du catalogue d’exposition, dans un portfolio 22 x 22 cm, est limitée à trente exemplaires numerotés de I à XXX constituent le tirage de tete de cette edition. Celui-ci comprend une photogravure originale — Matines — spécifiquement tirée sur papier Fabriano Etching 210 x 210 mm, et signée. Pour s’abonner, prière de visiter: http://kamprint.com/venues.html

Marie Parra-Aledo writes in the Introduction about the connection between modern and primordial intaglio:

‘From simple gestures to the most innovative technologies, the print always resonates with visceral perception, with the vital rhythms of primordial gestures seen today as gestures of art, intimately bound up with the instinctive, living perception possessed in common by humans and animals, in search of memory.’

‘Du geste simple aux innovations technologiques, l’estampe contient toujours une résonance spontanée avec la perception du corps, de ses rythmes vitaux comme des gestes primordiaux percus aujourd’hui comme gestes d’art, intimement melés à la perception du corps de l’homme et de l’animal et, de facon vitale, au desir de mémoire.’

The inspiration for this exhibit comes from Japan, where I live — not only the geographical Japan, but the image of Japan wherever it may be found in the world. The City of Saint Cyr on the banks of the Loire and the gracious citizens of the Touraine region provide the perfect setting for this excursion into the wonders of intaglio. My sincere thanks to the Direction des Services Culturels, Mairie de Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire for making this exhibit possible, to Roman Kames for his design of the exhibition catalogue, to Jean-Yves Couteau for the Introduction, and to Marie Parra-Aledo for her essay.

Authenticity

One of the most essential questions we ask of art or experience is: ‘Is it authentic? Is it the real thing?’ With artwork, we usually mean ‘Is it by the hand of the artist?’ If ‘something is wrong with this picture’ — an uneven style, a mechanical sort of perfection, a lack of integrity — a connoisseur can usually spot it. An authentic experience is known by the depth and quality of the emotional reaction it evokes. We usually know intuitively when someone is ‘faking it’, or professing an emotion that is expected rather than deeply felt. Of course neither ‘test’ is foolproof, and therein lies the fascination of art-fakery.

The higher the financial stakes, the more fraudsters are attracted to the game of passing off copies as originals. Following the scheme of all con-men, they prey on the hopes and beliefs of their victims. Foremost is the belief in the astronomical valuations accorded famous antiquities and later celebrities. Given such a belief, the wish that a painting or drawing on offer is the genuine article can easily overcome critical judgment. Without these beliefs, the con wouldn’t work. ‘According to European police experts, Rob Sharp wrote in The Independent, ‘as much as half the art in circulation on the international market could be forged and a large proportion of those forgeries goes under the hammer in London.’

Modern forensic science and technology can help correct this self-deception by testing physical and chemical properties against what is known about the materials available during an artist’s lifetime. For example, if a certain pigment found in a painting attributed to one artist is known to have appeared only after his death, a re-attribution is in order. A painting allegedly by Goya was unmasked as a forgery when X-ray technology revealed that a layer hidden under the surface paint contained zinc white, which did not exist as a pigment during Goya’s lifetime.

Radio-carbon dating can reveal the presence of modern materials in ‘antiquities’ that have been artificially aged. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). X-ray diffraction, infrared micro-spectroscopy, x-ray photo-electron spectroscopy, and x-ray fluorescence provide other techniques for authenticating artwork. These techniques are taught at a consortium called the Forensics Colleges, for application to a variety of criminal investigations in addition to art crime. This site also has links to other resources such as a detailed account by Peter Landesman of the scandal involving forged Renaissance drawings acquired by the Getty Museum.

Because modern forensics techniques are expensive, their use is limited to the highest-cost artworks, and even then are only deployed when there are reasonable grounds for suspicion. Connoisseurship will always be needed to identify the tell-tale sketch-gesture that doesn’t fit, an unnatural line, color that seems off, or an overall lack of spontaneity. ‘If the work is authentic,’ as one curator has remarked, ‘it all hangs together as a statement — there are no oddities about it, and it is organic and coherent.’ Forgers often have their own styles, which, though inferior to those of the artists they copy, are recognizable to those who study them.

‘The old masters,’ Landesman notes, ‘worked ink with great speed and fluidity to capture the grace and gestures of their subjects. Forgers mimic an artist’s style but never fully capture the nuances that define an artist’s ‘handwriting.’ And the lines on these drawings seemed, in Turner’s opinion, spidery and haltingly drawn. Four of them, all supposedly by different artists, had been punctuated by what Turner identified as the same clumsy hatching.’ (Nicholas Turner was the curator who identified as forgeries many of the ‘Renaissance’ drawings acquired by his predecessor at the Getty.)

So we return to authenticity, the individual response of a seasoned observer who re-creates in imagination the gestures and practices of the artist, in judging the originality and quality of a work of art. As Stanley William Hayter put it in About Prints, ‘the work itself must possess one quality, variously described as spontaneity, authority — in fact the ability to convince… This quality of conviction… is that to which the result bears witness: it is impossible to fake, and its effect on the observer demonstrates it.’

Titles

Ideally, the graphic arts work their magic without words. They bypass verbal understanding and reach directly into the emotional centers of perception. But some people demand explanations of even the inexplicable. They want to contextualize, rationalize, process. The best titles, though, don’t do that. Instead they initiate the viewer into another world, the world of the print. Like poetry, they use words to go beyond words. Often the title once arrived at through intense thought-association appears obvious, as if pre-destined.

Leaf-whispers started as a search for poetic associations of ‘leaves’. Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Song of Myself contain numerous leaf-references involving communication between himself and vegetation, but none short enough for a print title. Spring festivals feature various characters covered in leaves, and there is the Millais painting of Ophelia

Ophelia

Ophelia

covered in leaves, but these suggest burial or death, not what I had in mind for an image of living leaves. Then there is the role of leaves in divination and prophecy, such as the Sibylline leaves of ancient Greece and Persia. This seemed closer to the mark, as I wanted to suggest some sort of message to be divined from the rustling of the leaves in the wind, some confidence being confided to the listener. I thought of ‘Whispering Leaves’, but this sounded like the name of a down-at-heels B&B. It took me a while to to think of the singular ‘leaf’ and to couple that with ‘whispers’ — that sounds exactly right.
Leaf-whispers

Leaf-whispers

With Mind the Gap, at first, descriptive terms like ‘rocks and trees’, such as are used in Chinese ink-brush painting, occurred to me. One of the Chinese ink-brush paintings I looked at was entitled ‘Rivers and Mountains Without End’, and that idea seemed to resonate with the islands disappearing into the mist, and the suggestion of a limitless, though ethereal expanse. But what would ‘islands without end’ mean? Perhaps instead of highlighting the islands themselves, the image is about the spaces around them — the gap. The apparently empty space embodies form and gives shape to what it surrounds. But just ‘the gap’ seemed too abrupt, not to mention redolent of a clothing store. What is the significance of the gap? How are we to think of it? Think of it, consider it, of course! — Mind the Gap. That’s what the conductor tells you when getting on or off the train. It’s also a reminder of the void that awaits us, awareness of which makes the present more vital.

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

The persistence of autumn grasses in midwinter suggested the co-existence of seasons in time, encompassing an entire cycle of growth, decay, and rebirth in one scene. The pattern also suggested musical staves, and at the same time, a kind of calligraphy: ‘Notes’, as if Nature had hastily scribbled some messages from seasons past. The notion of recollection inherent in these contemporaneous seasons prompted ‘last time’, as in ‘remember the last time we did such and such a thing?’ or ‘remember when this snow-covered field was green with fresh grass?’ Remembrance of the cycle of seasons implies that the sequence will be repeated, that we will have another and yet another opportunity to revisit the scene anew. All of these meanings coalesce in Notes From Last Time.

Notes From Last Time

Notes From Last Time

Vaclav Havel’s Vision

Vaclav Havel, the playwright-statesman and former president of the Czech Republic, who died last Dec 18, understood from the inside out the meaning of the fall of communism. One of the great dramas of our time, its significance for the West is no less than its significance for the lands behind the former Iron Curtain. In a speech to the World Economic Forum in 1992, Havel reminded us:

‘For many years, decades in fact, the West was defined against the background of the communist world. As a common enemy and a common threat, it was this communist world that kept the West united both politically, and in terms of security arrangements. Against its will, it also helped the West strengthen, cultivate and develop its time-tested principles and practices, like civil society, parliamentary democracy, the market economy, and the concept of human and civil rights. Confronted by the gloomy, dangerous and expansionist world of communist totalitarianism, the West was continually required to prove its commitment to freedom, truth, democracy, broader cooperation and growing prosperity. In other words, the communist world was instrumental in the West’s own self-affirmation….

‘As the Eighties became the Nineties, the whole Second World, as it used to be known, exploded and, in a rather frenzied fashion, collapsed in upon itself. In its place, a crater has suddenly opened up before the eyes of an astonished world, one that is now spewing forth a lava of post-communist surprises. Mixed up in this lava, we will find a long-forgotten history coming back to haunt us, a history full of thousands of economic, social, ethical, ethnic, territorial, cultural and political problems that remained latent and unnoticed under the surface of totalitarian boredom.’

The collapse of communism took everyone by surprise, releasing long-suppressed ethnic and other grievances and re-aligning (to use Havel’s metaphor) the geo-tectonic plates of the continent. But Havel focuses on what he regards as the more lasting effects for human thought and freedom everywhere:

‘The end of communism is, first and foremost, a message to the human race. It is a message we have not yet fully deciphered and comprehended.

‘In its deepest sense, the end of communism has, I believe, brought a major era in human history to an end. It has brought an end not just to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but to the modern age as a whole.’

What Havel somewhat wishfully had in mind was the end of the idea that civil society could be engineered. It seemed to Havel that those who overthrew communism understood from their own experience, and all who witnessed it understood sympathetically, that using the State to force-march entire societies into so-called rational organization could never work. But those who seek dominion over others will always find some principles, be they communist, liberal, conservative, relativist, or fiscal to justify their own aggrandizement. Those who bear the hardships imposed on them by Statist intrusions into their lives can, if they will see for themselves, pierce these various guises and rationalizations. Havel’s view of history helps in this endeavor:

‘The modern era has been dominated by the culminating belief, expressed in different forms, that the world — and Being as such — is a wholly knowable system governed by a finite number of universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct for his own benefit. This era, beginning in the Renaissance and developing from the Enlightenment to socialism, from positivism to scientism, from the industrial revolution to the information revolution, was characterized by rapid advances in rational, cognitive thinking. This, in turn, gave rise to the proud belief that man, as the pinnacle of everything that exists, was capable of objectively describing, explaining and controlling everything that exists, and of possessing the one and only truth about the world. It was an era in which there was a cult of depersonalized objectivity, an era in which objective knowledge was amassed and technologically exploited, an era of belief in automatic progress brokered by the scientific method. It was an era of systems, institutions, mechanisms, and statistical averages. It was an era of freely transferable, existentially ungrounded information. It was an era of ideologies, doctrines, interpretations of reality, an era where the goal was to find a universal theory of the world, and thus a universal key to unlock its prosperity.

‘Communism was the perverse extreme of this trend. It was an attempt, on the basis of a few propositions masquerading as the only scientific truth, to organize all of life according to a single model, and to subject it to central planning and control regardless of whether or not that was what life wanted.

‘The fall of communism can be regarded as a sign that modern thought — based on the premise that the world is objectively knowable, and that the knowledge so obtained can be absolutely generalized — has come to a final crisis. This era has created the first global, or planetary, technical civilization, but it has reached the limit of its potential, the point beyond which the abyss begins. I think the end of communism is a serious warning to all mankind. It is a signal that the era of arrogant, absolutive reason is drawing to a close and that it is high time to draw conclusions from that fact.’

Berlin Wall, 1989 (photo: Sue Ream)

Berlin Wall, 1989 (photo: Sue Ream)

And yet..

‘We are looking for new scientific recipes, new ideologies, new control systems, new institutions, new instruments to eliminate the dreadful consequences of our previous recipes, ideologies, control systems, institutions and instruments. We treat the fatal consequences of technology as though they were a technical defect that could be remedied by technology alone. We are looking for an objective way out of the crisis of objectivism.

‘Everything would seem to suggest that this is not the way to go. We cannot devise, within the traditional modern attitude to reality, a system that will eliminate all the disastrous consequences of previous systems. We cannot discover a law or theory whose technical application will eliminate all the disastrous consequences of the technical application of earlier laws and technologies.

‘What is needed is something different, something larger. Man’s attitude to the world must be radically changed. We have to abandon the arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be fed into a computer in the hope that, sooner or later, it will spit out a universal solution.’

Instead of which, Havel has the courage to assert that personal, private experiences afford a scope of action that is inaccessible to the rationalist central planners. In the multitude and variety of unique personal experiences lie great untapped energy for self-governance, peace, and prosperity. These are the very qualities that experts find so uncomfortable and therefore dismiss as ‘merely subjective’. Havel’s genius as an artist, statesman, and philosopher, is to restore this experiential wisdom to its proper central place in human affairs. It is an inherently democratic approach, since everyone’s personal experience is of use, and it emboldens the populace to shake off its passivity and seek guidance from their own common sense.

‘It is my profound conviction that we have to release from the sphere of private whim such forces as a natural, unique and unrepeatable experience of the world, an elementary sense of justice, the ability to see things as others do, a sense of transcendental responsibility, archetypal wisdom, good taste, courage, compassion, and faith in the importance of particular measures that do not aspire to be a universal key to salvation. Such forces must be rehabilitated. Things must once more be given a chance to present themselves as they are, to be perceived in their individuality. We must see the pluralism of the world, and not bind it by seeking common denominators or reducing everything to a single common equation. We must try harder to understand than to explain. The way forward is not in the mere construction of universal systemic solutions, to be applied to reality from the outside; it is also in seeking to get to the heart of reality through personal experience. Such an approach promotes an atmosphere of tolerant solidarity and unity in diversity based on mutual respect, genuine pluralism and parallelism. In a word, human uniqueness, human action and the human spirit must be rehabilitated.

‘The world, too, has something like a spirit or soul. That, however, is something more than a mere body of information that can be externally grasped and objectified and mechanically assembled. Yet this does not mean that we have no access to it. Figuratively speaking, the human spirit is made from the same material as the spirit of the world. Man is not just an observer, a spectator, an analyst or a manager of the world. Man is a part of the world and his spirit is part of the spirit of the world. We are merely a peculiar node of Being, a living atom within it, or rather a cell that, if sufficiently open to itself and its own mystery, can also experience the mystery, the will, the pain, and the hope of the world….

‘In a world of global civilization, only those who are looking for a technical trick to save that civilization need feel despair. But those who believe, in all modesty, in the mysterious power of their own human Being, which mediates between them and the mysterious power of the world’s Being, have no reason to despair at all.

‘Thank you for your kind attention.’

Full text of Vaclav Havel’s speech

Obituary

Vaclav Havel, statesman and playwright, born 5 October 1936; died 18 December 2011

Apocalyptic Visions

Sarah Dunant’s novels of religious and political intrigue bring the 16th-century Medici era to marvelous life. The Birth of Venus sets Medici opulence against Savonarola‘s preachings of imminent damnation, in a story of forbidden love between a novice nun-to-be and a young artist. Sacred Hearts relates the story of another girl unwillingly sent to a convent, delirious with rage at her incarceration, whose saintly devotion to heavenly music eventually brings her and the convent a sort of peace. The world of the Renaissance is strangely familiar to us, and Sarah Dunant knows why.

She writes about the contradictory apocalyptic visions that trouble us today: One version of the contemporary apocalypse tells us that the only way out of the black hole of debt is to spend more, lest eternal stagnation and misery engulf us all. Another version tells us that economic growth itself is destroying the planet, that the oceans will rise, tempests will rage, the very climate and atmosphere of the planet will turn malevolent if we don’t mend our ways. No one except Sarah Dunant seems to have noticed that these two versions of hell are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.

The Medici era which gave rise to modern banking 500 years ago was also, by no coincidence, beset by visions of impending doom, especially for those engaged in the idolatrous pursuit of money for its own sake. The succeeding centuries have witnessed a seemingly endless sequence of apocalyptic visions, heralded by a collision of the sun with the earth (1603), the passage of comets (1719 and 1910), earthquakes (1805), planetary conjunctions (1919), and Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast (1938). And who can forget Y2K, the year when a couple of missing digits would doom everything from banking to air traffic control.

Of the various forms taken by popular fear, Dunant writes:

It is almost Darwinianly protean in the way it changes shape — from the four horsemen, through fears of nuclear destruction after World War II, to the contemporary debate about the raping and over-heating of the planet. For those who passionately believe it, the difference between this scenario and apocalyptic fears of the past is that those were misguided, but this one is correct.

History suggests, though, that each age begets its own sort of anxiety, related more to conditions here on earth than in the heavens. The dates often coincide with times of impending warfare, extreme deprivation, or revolutionary conflict. Every apocalypse features punishment of the wicked amid massive destruction, followed by the reign of the few who are saved. In earthly terms, they may be viewed as implicit threats against the elites of the day, warning them of the limits of their power.

Perhaps hellfire and damnation restrained the avarice of the first bankers. Back when usury was a mortal sin, the Scrovegnis (14th-century) who had

Giotto, Last Judgment

Giotto, Last Judgment

profited from it sought to redeem themselves with the gorgeous art of Giotto. Today’s financiers, lacking the exquisite taste of their predecessors, prefer to flaunt their wealth with guilt-ridden auction-certified dreck. In an odd reversal of the ancient apocalyptic message, the order of the day is opulence for the super-rich and restraint for the rest of us.

Hellfire (detail of Giotto fresco)

Hellfire (detail of Giotto fresco)

Sarah Dunant expresses perfectly the confusion of contemporary mixed apocalyptic messages:

But what has happened this year — which I think goes some way to explaining the confusion and despair that many of us have been feeling — is that we have basically experienced two potential apocalypses colliding. While on the one hand we are being told that if we are to save our planet we simply cannot go on exploiting its resources and must drastically reduce our levels of consumption – we are also being told that in order to pull ourselves out of the nightmare of spiralling recession, we must have growth and that growth depends on continued spending and consuming, ie more credit and more debt. I can’t be the only one, who while listening to these two voices simultaneously, has experienced mental vertigo.

She ends by quoting the eminent philosopher Woody Allen:

More than any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter helplessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

As the history of apocalypse suggests, it might be wise to seek inspirational visions in everyday life here and now rather than in the hereafter. Depriving oneself indefinitely of the little pleasures of everyday life actually impoverishes that life rather than enriching it. Such things as a glance at a favorite print, the discovery of something new in a familiar image, the caress of the eye across the textured surface of a hand-made object, remind us that all happiness is fleeting, but not on that account to be put off indefinitely.

Real wealth consists in the accumulation of a lifetime of little impressions, chance meetings, journeys through the unexpected, memories, and perspectives developed from art and music, science and engineering, literature and philosophy. Denying onself the visual resources to do this is simply false economy. Especially in times of distress, bold acts of imagination are required to create a future different from the present. Original artwork presents us with imaginary alternatives contrary to the apocalyptic nightmares we are immersed in, and in so doing helps to realize more benign visions of our future. That is my mission at The Kamakura Print Collection and kamprint.com/xpress/

I don’t know whether the planet is boiling over or drowning in debt, but I intend to continue pressing on with the work of photogravure etching that I started 20 years ago. I hope you’ll join in this deeply satisfying endeavor soon.

Renaissance city Urbino

Renaissance city Urbino

Three Peaks of the Phoenix ・ 鳳凰三山

The Three Peaks of the Phoenix, a range midway between Fuji-san and Japan’s second-highest mountain Kita-dake, offer incomparable views to either side. At sunrise Fuji-san appears red for about 10 minutes, and the early light on Kita-dake opposite warms that formidable mass of rock. The mist on distant peaks gives a sense of unlimited vistas. As the day brightens, Yatsugatake (Eight Peaks) with its distinctive 3000-meter high Aka-dake (Red Peak), and Yarigadake, become visible, bringing memories of other ascents.

Takushi-dake summit

Takushi-dake summit

The Asian phoenix and the Arabian-Egyptian phoenix are not really birds of a feather — more like distant cousins. The Arabian-Egyptian phoenix rises every half-millennium from the ashes of its own pyre, a resurrection myth that informs Christian lore and inspires hopes of triumph over adversity. It appears as a double-headed eagle in European heraldry and coinage, and as the Firebird of Russian and Slavic lore involving heroic quests. Stravinsky made wonderful use of the legend in his Firebird Suite.

The Asian phoenix, like its distant cousin, is also associated with the sun and with ascent toward the light, a feeling we can readily appreciate among the brightly lit rock outcroppings of these three peaks. But the Japanese version, having been introduced during the Asuka Period (7th century) from China, is more of a Yin/Yang creature, an embodiment of both harmony and conflict. As such it is both an Imperial and a marital symbol. Its best-known Imperial incarnation in Japan is atop the Byodoin in Uji, between Nara and Kyoto. The kanji 鳳 凰 mean male and female phoenix.

Winged Fuji

Winged Fuji

Each of the Three Peaks of the Phoenix represents an aspect of the Buddha, personified by a deity with specific responsibilities for our welfare. First up (if arriving by train to Kofu) is Yakushi-dake (薬師岳), for health. It has a marvelous natural rock-garden which looks like the artifact of some primordial civilization. Then Kannon-dake (観音岳), the highest of the three at 2840 meters, the Goddess of Mercy. The way its forms fit together seems to have, instead of the usual craggy rock-face, a feminine grace. From there a narrow ridge leads to Jizo-dake (地蔵岳), the god of travelers. This is one of the most distinctive peaks in the entire Japanese Alps, and the one Walter Weston chose for his frist ascent, sparking Japanese interest in mountaineering in the early 20th century. So, there you have it — health, compassion, and safe travels. What more could one wish for.

Museum Without Walls / Musée Imaginaire

Explorer of Cambodia, freedom fighter (Spanish Civil War), Resistance leader, and Gestapo prisoner André Malraux emerged from World War II to write a book that prefigured the World Wide Web. Musée Imaginaire, translated as Museum Without Walls, written in 1947, still resonates today. Great art, he wrote, made accessible to all through reproductions in books, is liberated from the time, place, and history in which they are usually confined by museum categories. Removed from historical context, they can be rearranged in the mind according to aesthetic or philosophical qualities. Malraux drew on the thoughts of Henri Focillon, in La Vie des Formes / The Life of Forms in Art, in suggesting a kind of universal consciousness that all great art responds to. In this way it has the power to transcend the bitter partisan divisions that Malraux knew so well.

Malraux recognized that while taking the great works of art outside of museums liberated them from history, it also threatened to homogenize them into reproducible formats. Everything from the gigantic Sphinx to medieval miniatures assumes the same dimensions in art books, obliterating the effects of scale. Despite the great advances in color reproduction made by publishers like Skira (now Skira-Rizzoli), Alinari, and others, the reproductions were inevitably flat and standardized. They could never really substitute for the originals, nor were they meant to. If they served merely as a reminder of the originals, the creative connection would not be lost. The newest form of this cultural commons is the World Wide Web.

With the Google Art Project, the firm turns its mapping skills to the graphic arts, enabling viewers to zoom-in on artwork in the same way Google-Earth lets them zoom-in on the ground. The familiar slider and plus/minus controls reveal a level of detail in paintings far beyond what can be seen in a museum visit.

Van Gogh, Starry Night detail

Van Gogh, Starry Night detail

These controls thoughtfully disappear after a few seconds of inactivity, easily reactivated whenever the cursor is moved. Bellini’s ‘Saint Francis’ in the Frick Collection, New York, becomes instantly accessible with all its symbolism —


that flock of sheep, or the stork, or myriad other details that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Uffizi in Florence, .. At each museum you can wander around the museum virtually as if you were there, in a simulated walk-through the galleries. To examine a particular artwork more closely, click a particular room in the museum’s floor plan, see a list of the artwork in that room at right, and select any for a detailed look in the ‘View Artwork’ mode. Unobtrusive links at right go to brief notes, history, tags, artist information, more works by this artist, and more works in this museum. The ‘Artist information’ links to a Google map showing the artist’s birthplace. Like the artwork, all the information is viewable in any level of detail that may be desired at the moment — brief notes, expandable to more detailed notes, which in turn link to scholarly treatises. The Viewing Notes are straightforward, well-informed, and thankfully jargon-free. Insights gained there can be instantly explored in closeup views.

This ‘musée imaginaire’ opens up virtually unlimited democratic vistas of exploration for everyone to ‘see for themselves’. If a viewer interprets a detail in a painting differently from that of the conventional wisdom, or wishes to gather evidence for attributing it to a different artist, or sees something amiss, or uncovers a previously unnoticed marvel of the artist’s composition, the tools to do so are immediately at hand. No special permission needed, no off-days, no waiting in long lines or peering over others’ shoulders.

Just as with art books, homogenization-by-format is a risk. Pixels on a screen are not the same as paint on canvas or ink embedded in etching paper. (My Inklings essay looks into this through the innovations in optics, etching, and light-sensitive materials that led to photogravure in the 19th century.)

Les Andelys, detail of photogravure etching

Les Andelys, detail of photogravure etching

The infinitely varied and unique visual nuances of the originals are reduced to the standard colors of a backlit monitor. Texture disappears. Depth is flattened. Subtleties of tone are dithered into the nearest adjoining pixel-values. All of this obscures the creative forces that bring great art into existence, the formal qualities of tone, color, line, texture, depth, and composition that bypass rational analysis and connect directly with our emotions.

The distinguished contemporary landscape artist April Gornik writes movingly, in her essay An Artist’s Perspective on Visual Literacy on the effects of losing touch with the physical and creative basis of artwork:

We are bombarded to the point of being inured with images, and clearly a vast number of people are increasingly unable to perceive the importance of the physicality of images, even when they are declared to be art. People who are looking at and theoretically being seduced by ads are typically receiving them in a flat manner, the manner of video, the computer screen, billboards, magazines, etc. Their medium is chosen to translate into a wide variety of these information-conveyors. The lowest common denominator of this flatness tends to be photography, and its ubiquitous use is helping erode the perception of physicality in both ads and art. In the case of an advertisement, its materiality is subservient to the message it’s meant to convey, and doesn’t reside in its substance (‘Image is Everything’, as the Canon Camera Company unapologetically reminded us in a popular ad campaign). Its strength is its expediency.

I am a painter, drawer and printmaker of unpeopled landscapes. I came to think about what I perceive as this problem of visual literacy while noticing that, during studio visits to see my work, collectors would often look at large charcoal drawings (which to me look like nothing else in the world) and innocently ask, ‘Is this a photograph?’

The innocent question answers itself soon enough, with a moment’s closer inspection. It is merely the ubiquity of mass-media imagery that narrows viewers’ vision into a standard format they are familiar with. From her own experience, April Gornik observes that looking at artwork with a sense of how it is made enhances our ability to relate it to our own lives. In Vermeer’s View of Delft, for example:

Vermeer, View of Delft

Vermeer, View of Delft

the clouds at the top and the gently curving shore open to the middle of the painting, like an eye opening, into the exterior world the painting reveals. Light in the distance draws us towards infinity and a sense of the immensity of space extending limitlessly out from us, but which Vermeer presents with great intimacy.

[I]n the same way that a painting holds within itself the history, time, and the tale of its formation, a person looking at it is informed, enriched, and is subliminally able to experience all of that input. This physicality, the way an art object is ‘built’, speaks to us, and our response is an affirmation of our own sensory abilities, forming a connection and an interface of time and space, intent and emotion, even history.

April Gornik, Halang Bay

April Gornik, Halang Bay

A painting in the flesh is, and should be, a somatic experience for the viewer. An image painted by hand, rather than reproduced in a magazine, contains in its painted surface a person, a world, in the manner in which the paint is applied and the object made, be it realistic or abstract.

April Gornik, Shining Sea

April Gornik, Shining Sea

The real power of visual art is its capacity as virtual reality to create a complex physical experience. Painting is so specifically powerful, and more powerful than other mediums, because an artist who makes one builds into it their actual experience, including decision-making, intent, corrections, and (importantly) actual time passed. Paintings generate all this experience back to the viewer. The summary that a painting is of all that activity is capable of both holding and regenerating that experience. The object powers the somatic connection that remains between the work of art, the artist who made it, and the person looking at it. That connection is an essential part of the human experience, a verification of humanity, history, and our connectedness itself.

April Gornik, Light through the Forest

April Gornik, Light through the Forest

I would only add that original printmaking equally embodies the personal experience of the artist, and takes equal part in the connectedness of human experience. April Gornik’s paintings certainly testify to the truth of her observations. The Google Art Project, like Skira’s art book, is only a technology — a fascinating, wonderful bounty that will enable discovery and enjoyment for many years to come, with a creative energy of its own, expanding the territory of the cultural commons. It is a marvelous resource for artists and collectors alike to stay in touch with their senses and with the creative forces of art and the human experience.

Les Andelys, photogravure etching

Les Andelys, photogravure etching, Peter Miller

Henri Focillon’s La Vie des Formes is available in French at no cost from Project Gutenberg. and from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (dans le cadre de la collection: ‘Les classiques des sciences sociales’ dirigée et fondée par Jean-Marie Tremblay, professeur de sociologie au Cégep de Chicoutimi).