28 April 2005

Update on the update

Well, I've got got rid of the frames and got a new look going on on the old website.

Some more pics and things

I also sussed out the snake one. I got rid of the Te Kooti figure and replaced it with Te Kooti glyphs.

The Piero timeline below is for my own reference. Some of the dates are pretty contentious, and not just the ones with question marks either.

I'm also in the process of updating the website. I've put up interim crappy phone pics of new stuff that will have to do until I get around to taking proper ones. They're the same ones that're dotted around here, but I thought I might as well put them all in one place.

I'm going to get rid of the frames and go back to a simpler structure. That should be later on today with any luck.

27 April 2005

Piero della Francesca timeline

Born in Borgo San Sepolcro. Father Benedetto della Francesca, owner of a shoe-making business, mother Romana di Carlo da Monterchi.

Piero goes to abacus school, then is apprenticed to heraldic painter Antonio d’ Anghiari.

Payment by Antonio d’ Anghiari to Piero as a painter in his own right.

Piero working with Domenico Veneziano in Perugia. On 8 January 1438 Antonio d’ Anghiari settles all debts to Piero and moves to Arezzo.

Piero in Florence with Domenico Veneziano, where he sees lots of influential stuff, including council between Western and Eastern churches to deal to the Turks, and could possibly have met Leon Battista Alberti, whose On Painting he has probably read.

Piero signs contract for Misericordia altarpiece.

Piero and Domenico Veneziano on a commission in Loreto that is cut short by plague.

(Possibly from 1448) Piero in Ferrara working for Borso d’ Este, where he meets Rogier van der Weyden. Also possibly in Rome for Holy Year. Paints St Jerome Penitent and writes On the Abacus.

Piero paints St Jerome and Devotee and Baptism.

Piero in Rimini working for Sigismondo Malatesta on fresco for Tempio Malatesta.

Piero issued with crossbow and takes part in practice battle in case of war between Florence and king of Aragon.

Piero signs contract for Sant’ Agostino altarpiece.

Writ served on Piero in absentia ordering him to return to Borgo within 40 days to complete the Misericordia panels or forfeit advances.

Battles with the Turks on the Danube possibly provide iconographical scheme for Arezzo cycle.

Piero does preliminary work on Arezzo cycle: cartoons, some heads.

Piero in Rome working for Pope Pius II, paints St Luke the Evangelist, but leaves for mother’s funeral.

Piero completes Arezzo cycle.

Piero member of the civic reform commission in Borgo. Paints Madonna del Parto.

Piero paints Flagellation.

Piero in Arezzo. In 1465 Piero and his brothers Marco and Antonio are gifted a house in Borgo.

Piero paints Sant’ Antonio altarpiece (finished in 1468), Sant’ Agostino altarpiece (finished in 1469), Hercules and Resurrection.

Piero paints Mary Magdalene, St Julian, and St John the Evangelist.

Piero and his brothers Marco and Antonio buy more property. Piero in Bastia to avoid plague.

Piero in Urbino to assess panel by Uccello on behalf of Giovanni Santi (Raphael’s father).

Piero writes On Perspective in Painting.

Piero paints Brera altarpiece for Federico da Montefeltro.

Piero in Borgo as part of body that appoints doctor.

Piero paints portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza. Directs fortification work in Borgo.

Piero prior of San Bartolomeo confraternity.

Piero paints Senigallia Madonna.

Piero rents furnished house and kitchen garden in Rimini.

Piero paints Nativity.

Piero writes On the Five Regular Bodies.

Piero writes will.

Piero pays niece’s dowry.

Piero dies.

26 April 2005

Oh happy day

I've given notice on my grotty room and am going to move back in with Rose.

25 April 2005

It's half two in the morning

I suppose that's what drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes late in the evening does to you. It's really freezing. Apparently there's lots of snow down south. Rose has been hard at work, and I've been sitting here wrapped in a blanket trawling through Internet weirdness. I think it's time for bed.


How to make fire with a coke can and chocolate.

24 April 2005

Coffee and cigarettes

I've just watched Coffee and cigarettes again. One of Rose's 15-year-old daughter's friends brought the DVD for us to watch (can you dig it?). I've just been looking for reviews and came across one particularly good one.

Most of the reviews I looked at picked out the same three stories as favourites: the Cate Blanchett one ('Cousins'), the Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan one ('Cousins?'), and the GZA, RZA, and Bill Murray one ('Delirium'). 'Cousins' and 'Cousins?' are really sharp, but they deal with the celebrity culture and so didn't really engage me that much. I much prefer the understated ones, though 'Delirium' is extremely good as well.

23 April 2005

Eye bending

Rose and I went to check out the Bridget Riley show at the City Gallery today. The first thing usually mentioned about Bridget Riley is that it's pretty eye-bending stuff. My eyes are still sore. While this is what gets the punters (and there were plenty of them), it's far from all there is.

The main reason I wanted to check it out is because of the obvious links with Gordon Walters. I'm not really into abstraction, but I am very interested in hard-edge geometric abstraction, particularly stuff that involves figure/ground interaction. I'm not sure whether that was ever one of Riley's conscious concerns. She seems to have been consistently interested in opticality - repetition with slight variation to create the illusion of movement in the black and white works, and the same principle with the colour works (repetition with slight variation) to create various effects (movement, space, illusory colours). This means, of course, that the physical object is not the work of art. The art is literally in the eye of the beholder - it is an artefact of binocular sight.

The other reason I wanted to see the show is because it contains some preparatory works, which were fascinating, especially as several of the studies were for works in the show. One thing that surprised me was that the obsessive nature of it reminded me strongly of outsider art.

I strongly recommend getting along to see the show. It's well worth the $7. In fact I kind of wish I'd got a multivisit ticket.

21 April 2005


I've been having no end of trouble with this. I normally suss out a composition before starting something and then lock it in early in the painting process. This one was different. The cardplayer figures were originally sitting in chairs, and the Te Kooti figure was a guy in a bunny suit holding up a sign. Now I'm considering replacing Te Kooti with more glyphs. Changing the figures around meant they went out of scale. I thought that didn't matter because they were separate elements, but now it's bugging me. I'm just going to put it to one side for the meantime though and get on to the next thing. I actually think it worked better as a drawing than a painting.

20 April 2005

In defence of painting

In the late fifteenth century Leonardo da Vinci wrote what are now known as the paragone disputes, in which he argued painting’s overwhelming superiority over other art media, particularly sculpture. Of course, then as well as now, everybody realised that different media are better at different things rather than being better than each other. Each medium has intrinsic strengths and weaknesses that make it more suitable for some purposes than others. James Joyce’s Ulysses would make a terrible film.

There seems to be the idea about now, however, that painting is, if not a zombie-like corpse stumbling about not realising it’s dead, at the very least an inherently conservative and reactionary occupation. Painting is often explicitly contrasted with new visual art media such as installations and video, which are presented as being inherently experimental and progressive (see, for example, Daniel du Bern, 'Shock of the new-ish'). This is as absurd as saying painting is inherently superior to sculpture. It is as absurd as most generalisations.

In contrast to painting and sculpture’s 40,000-year history, installation and video art have only been around for about 40 years. They are so vibrant and new that they don’t even have a full set of words to refer to them yet. If you make paintings, you paint – and you are a painter. If you make installation art, you what? – and you are a what? No wonder painting seems boring in comparison.

Comparing classes of things doesn’t translate easily into comparing individual members of those classes. Men may be on average more aggressive than women, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the relative aggressiveness of any particular individual men and women. In the same way, even if visual art works in new media were on average better than works in traditional media (bypassing for the moment what constitutes better in this context), that would not tell you anything about the relative merits of individual works in those media.

Modernism has left us with many legacies, one of which is the idea that art should be experimental. This is the idea that in order for an art work to be judged good it must be innovative, i.e. that the presence or absence of innovation is one of the main criteria by which the artistic worth of a particular work is judged. It is arguable whether this idea is itself any good or not, but that’s another story. For the purposes of this argument, I am going to use the presence or absence of innovation as the sole criterion for judging something to be a good art work. Likewise, in the blue corner, representing traditional media, we have painting and in the red corner, representing new media, we have installation art.

So are installation art works on average more innovative than paintings? On the face of it, the answer seems a no-brainer: people have been making paintings for at least the last 40,000 years before, everything’s been done before, so it’s almost impossible to make an innovative painting; whereas installation art has only been around for about 40 years, only a small number of installation art works have been made, so it’s almost impossible not to make an innovative installation art work.

A moment’s reflection exposes the flaws in this answer. The first part assumes that painting’s long history has been a project consistently dedicated to finding all the possible innovations in painting, and that this project has been achieved. This is patently not the case. Innovation has only been part of the criteria for an art work to be good for brief periods in painting’s history; for most of that history, innovation has been actively discouraged. In some periods, painters have even been contractually obliged to paint certain specified subjects in a certain specified style using certain specified colours.

Painting has long suffered under the heavy hand of art theory. For 400 of the last 500 years, a painting had to meet the standards of the academy in order to be judged any good. These standards were derived directly from the rules given in Leon Battista Alberti’s On Painting, published in 1437 and the first known book of art theory written in the West. For most of the last 100 years painting has been in thrall to the views of a small number of formalist critics – those of Clement Greenberg in particular.

The second part of the answer above assumes that, because only a small number of installation art works have so far been made, new works are automatically innovative. This does not follow. Whether or not something is innovative depends not on the number of works preceding it but rather on whether or not the new work is derivative of those earlier works.

In fact, it seems reasonable to assume that the next few works after the first in a new medium are more, rather than less, likely to be derivative. This seems to be borne out in the case of photography. It took a while for photographs consciously made as art works to be anything other than idealised portraits. In a case where there are only a small number of works in a new medium, a new work needs to be substantially similar to those other works in order to be recognised.

This state of affairs has its benefits. Unlike painting, installation art is not practised by hobby artists. There aren’t caf├ęs and gift shops full of bad installation art. Only serious artists make installation art, therefore if you make it you are a serious artist. Unfortunately, this is quite an incentive to complacency – you don't have to distinguish yourself from the hobbyists; all you need to do is throw some objects together in a white cube and you have an art work (it’s not as if it can be anything else) – which might explain why there’s so much boring installation art around.

For a work in a particular medium to be innovative, it can’t be completely derived from previous works, and it can’t just blindly follow the conventions of that medium. The latter stipulation is where the intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of a medium come into their own. By its very nature painting can represent anything real or imagined, or nothing but itself, in a huge variety of ways. This gives painting virtually limitless scope for innovation – a seemingly infinite set of possible paintings. Painting is like language – in any language a finite set of words combined with a finite set of rules can produce an infinite number of sentences.

By contrast, installation art is limited to actual objects in an actual space – and those objects are limited to representing themselves and/or functioning symbolically. Those limitations give installation art its interest, but they are not a good basis for an experimental art form. Other media are much more suitable for that purpose.

17 April 2005

Evolutionary morality

This guy at Harvard has this idea we've evolved an inbuilt moral sense, much like our inbuilt propensity for language. He's got a moral sense test up on the web to test this idea - and particularly wants subjects who are young children or living outside the US.

16 April 2005

And another

10 April 2005

Last week's efforts

Here's what I got up to at the end of last week:

And here's a detail of the black panel:

The Mayan glyph in the top left of the black panel says 'u dzib', which means literally 'his painting/writing' (the Mayans used the same word for both writing and painting) but could be more accurately translated as 'painted by...'.

Books and things

I finished Jared Diamond's Collapse last week, and I found it extremely interesting. I'm a Cassandra from way back, and I didn't find his reasons for being 'cautiously optomistic' overly compelling. When I was reading the chapter on the Classic Maya I vaguely remembered something I'd seen in a doco about Mayan writing about how they constructed the word glyphs from syllable glyphs.

This reminded me of an argument I'd had on some mailing list with people who maintained that you could sensibly talk about pictorial language (i.e. semioticians who treat a painting as a text). I don't believe there's any such thing as pictorial grammar in any meaningful sense. But this vague memory of how Mayan glyphs are constructed seemed like it could be a counter-argument (e.g. the individual glyphs functioning as words and their poisition in relation to each other functioning as a kind of grammar and syntax). Then I found the site linked to above and realised I'd misremembered it.

So I went along to the local library and got out Breaking the Mayan Code by Michael Coe. This was also an extremely interesting book, if a little depressing. Basically it's all about how the decipherment was held up by academic egos and infighting, something that seems to be continuing to this day. Bloody academics have a lot to answer for.

I've borrowed an easel from some friends, which has made painting in my grotty room a whole lot easier. I'll try and stick the end of last week's efforts up tomorrow (I don't have the right bits to do so at the moment). Tomorrow I go back to work after what has been quite an extended break. I think it'll be a bit of a shock to the system.

05 April 2005

Back in the world

We emerged from rural isolation, the bach at the bottom of the garden at these people's place on the fairly desolate (apart from this spot) coast opposite D'Urville Island about 5 km short of French Pass, and got back to Wellington last night in time to catch the late news and discover the pope's karked it and John Tamihere's gone nuts. I did hope to link to his blog, but that's gone too.

01 April 2005

Ink drawing exercises and other stories

I've done a few ink drawings over the last few days.

Obviously they're fairly derivative, but I don't think that matters that much. The idea is just to do quick, immediate drawings of whatever pops into my head at the time. You never know, some of them might end up as paintings.

I went along to hear Sandra give a floortalk for her show at Enjoy last night. It was extremely good - very comprehensive and wide-ranging, following her development from a chronological perspective. One of the many things I found interesting was the way some common themes (reclaiming found objects and transforming their utilitarian value into artistic value, the use of the same mass-produced unit as a building block, geometric forms contrasted with the free form of fire, etc) recurred in various forms throughout her work.

When you consider that the talk was given without notes in a non-native language the way she tied everything together was particularly impressive. If you haven't seen the show already, do so at the soonest opportunity.

I only ended up having to sit through Wednesday and Thursday this week after all. My contract finished on 31 March and my new job was meant to start (appropriately enough) on April Fool's Day, but the letter offering me the job said Monday 4 April instead, so I got a day gratis today. I've spent it reading Collapse by Jared Diamond.
visitors since 29 March 2004.