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Art That Works

It was May 20th of the 1883rd year of AD when people living in Dutch East Indies, back then in 19th century, started to feel more intense earthquakes and to spot first steam venting out of one of three volcanic cones, just above the powerful caldera in today's Indonesian archipelago of Krakatoa. In the following days of May eruptions started from the one of volcano peaks and after a week or so calmed down only to issue a warning for what would come in following months. What started happening on June 16th and culminating in August 27th is now well known as the most massive and powerful volcano eruption in the documented history of mankind.

William Ascroft's pastel sky-sketches*

The eruptions were so powerful that the most intense explosion was heard all the way down in Perth, Australia, which is almost 3000km south of Krakatoa. On the west, across the Indian ocean, people located almost 5000km on the islands not far away from Madagascar thought it was cannon fire from nearby ships. If this is not good enough to describe the size of Krakatoa misfortune on August 27th, let's just say that caldera sucked in almost two thirds of the Krakatau island and two out of three volcano peaks are destroyed and went under the sea completely reshaping the geography of the archipelago. Large quantities of ash and dust erupted into atmosphere had serious impact to the Earth climate for several years. Simply put, they blocked amount of solar radiation and temperatures on the Earth’s surface were severely reduced. After the final eruption, several years of poor summers and harsh winters followed as a result of this effect. But, in spirit of today's post, it also brought interesting meteorological effects all over the globe. In the late of 19th century, even though some rudimentary color photography existed, it wasn't right for true colored landscape photography and the only way to document the orange-ish skies during winter of 1883-84 was, well, to paint them. William Ashcroft, 19th century British artist and painter did just that and every day, from the banks of the Thames at Chelsea, he used his tremendous skill to produce hundreds of paintings trying to sketch vivid colors of late afternoons and sunsets. His work today is probably the most known "Art That Works" and the most detailed recorded optical phenomena of the Krakatoa after-effects.

Art is very subjective area and for me as much as the art itself is perfect and artist behind is amazingly talented it seems that the current technology is obsoleting many artistic pieces and the only thing left in private collections all over the world is not the art itself anymore but the value of money behind. Take the realism and hyper realism for instance. Once, long time ago I visited an exhibition of the most famous Serbian hyper realist of the time Dragan Malešević Tapi and even though his paintings were perfect from the artistic point of view I couldn't get rid of the feeling that as much as the artist is talented, creating the art that perfectly resembles simple photograph was perfect back in Leonardo da Vinci time but today my inner sense for pretty doesn't admire realism anymore like in the time before photo cameras matured enough toward artistic world along with computerized post-production of the final artistic photo. However, while I don't really admire the final realistic art like before, when I see the artist like Diego Fazio aka DiegoKoi** and it's work I always stay speechless for a while (usually with my jaw opened in simple disbelief of what Diego can do). I hope he will forgive me for attaching one of his latest work made only with a pencil (link below):

If we move from realism now and try to seek more artistic themes, it would be totally unfair not to mention the mass hysteria for the paintings and sculptures that perfectly fit within the self-describing sentence: "I don't get it". If you are eager to dive into this you can start with the keyword that is its well known synonym: "Picasso". I wanted to show couple of his paintings next to Diego's work just to demonstrate how art can easily divert into the world of shallowness where you are not sure anymore what is the real art and/or who is the great artist. However, while searching for perfect example for this kind of artistic insomnia I found something even better and perhaps more appropriate illustration for this artistic direction. Mike Esparza imagined how super heroes would look like if Picasso took the job to paint them so instead of Picasso's aliens or whatever they are, take a look at these:

I can't even imagine how "Man of Steel" would look like on the big screen if Picasso, Dali or any of their successors were selected to work on this motion pictures franchise. When I showed this to my six years old son, he simply said "I could do better". Although, he liked Hulk, but I suspect this is because it looks like zombie and kids in this age for some reason like zombies very much. Sometimes I wonder if real skills are needed at all in order to get fortune and glory in the artistic world or you only need to do something unusual (whatever it is) in the right time and right place.

The same story is when we replace two dimensional canvas with 3d modeling tools. Only in this case with one exception. With simple fact that their life can be extended outside museums and galleries, sculptures located on streets, walks, parks and other public places have much bigger audience. With bigger publicity we might think they would have bigger responsibilities in order to spread the message they are originally created for. In my experience, just like with paintings, this is not the case as well. Some of them are doing great job, like in following example, art to the left is giving right message to the right audience, illustrated in both, simplicity and symbolism covered with text message. The other one, even though made for the same event and posted on display with same intentions, the main message popped to my mind, when I saw it for the first time, is that its creator collected several busts and fused them one to the other and later came up with what this could mean.

In the nutshell, if my opinion matters, the art, even though it is not driven with rational or logical mind, like anything else obeys the simplicity of life. It either works or doesn't. Yes it is purely subjective, contrary to the scientific thought, which is trying to be objective and reasonable, but still we are not living in the painting and all things in real world are mutually connected and dependable to each other. If we go back to the beginning of the story and to the end of 18th century, about a century before Krakatoa disaster, second president of the US, John Adams, said something interesting in behalf of my thoughts (not every day I actually agree with a politician):

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." - John Adams

Perhaps the final thought could be that subjectivity and objectivity are not really two opposite sides of the same stick as it seems on the first glance. If you have 17 minutes of free time, don't miss embedded TED, with world class pianist Albert Frantz talking about relations between science and art and, above all, human legacy we inherited from the past and how to convey it to the future with our own little contribution.

At the very end, forgive me if you find mu thoughts in this post a little bit more judgmental than usual but I think this cannot hurt anybody's feelings. After all, this is art we are talking about, there is no right or wrong here, neither true or false, it's just a matter of individual preference toward one or another artistic direction. In my case I like mathematical symmetry, simpleness and the message the art piece is trying to say. Those designed with hidden meanings or without any story behind my mind tends to forget fast no matter how nice and beautiful they are.

*Image origin (The Krakatoa Sunsets):



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