Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Many Sides of Wisdom

2/23/2016  by Susan Weinberg

Wisdom has often been personified by King Solomon, so much so that he was known as Solomon the Wise.  For our session this evening we took a closer look at Solomon throughout his life to identify the qualities of wisdom that were associated with him.   Meryll Page had prepared handouts that looked at different aspects of Solomon's wisdom and added a dose of imagination to give him voice.   You can find the handouts (Solomon the Wise - many views) that contain the passages that we referenced and a brief summary follows. We also identified the part of the body that governs each kind of wisdom, not always what one might expect.

A Rabbinic View
Rabbinic teaching credits Solomon with writing Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs in middle age and Ecclesiastes towards the end of his life.  When given the choice by God to select what he wished, Solomon chose wisdom, knowing all else would then come. His choice is perhaps an evidence of wisdom even prior to his "God-given" gift. The mouth governs the rabbinic view.

Wisdom in Love
Song of Song and selections from Kings I present a wisdom that love is more than a physical act, it is poetry.  Solomon recognizes the power of words to women.  Of course he had a fair amount of practice with 700 wives and 300 concubines.  The intestines and liver (kishkes) govern love.

Wisdom Through Architecture and Construction
The passage on the building of the first temple presented a different kind of wisdom.  Solomon collaborated with others in the building of the temple and valued the wisdom of skilled workers in their creative work.  The hands govern the arts and architecture.

The Wisest of Kings
Excerpts from Kings I and Proverbs informed the passage on governing.  Solomon had requested of God a wise and discerning mind. He governed strategically and with foresight, relying on  alliances and collaborations.  He advocated for owning up to mistakes and noted that wisdom does not mean that one is perfect, more on this later.  Ruling is not relegated to one aspect of the body, in fact it required all of his awareness, morality and perhaps most importantly his fear of God that he notes as the beginning of knowledge.

Reflections of the Philosopher King
Ecclesiastes is the passage attributed to Solomon in his later years. His body was weakening, his mind still strong.   He was waxing philosophically realizing that the end was approaching, advocating for taking pleasure in the joys of living, eating bread and wine, finding happiness with the woman you love.  The heart is not the seat of love, but rather the seat of wisdom and hence the home for the philosopher.

A Shunned Prophet's View
This passage examines Solomon's behavior against the standards set in Deuteronomy 17:16-20 and finds him wanting. A good time to remind you that Solomon noted that Wisdom is not perfection, perhaps with good cause. The kidneys are the seat of our conscience.

While Solomon is granted wisdom by God, it is a gift to which he needs to be attentive. By the end of his life he has squandered it by losing his fear of God (1 Kings 11:1-12).  The Rabbinic view is that his wisdom grew as he aged, writing Ecclesiastes (the Koheleth) in his old age.  We like our heroes without clay feet so this may have been a bit of reputation management.  In his lifetime Solomon grew the kingdom and built the Temple, but he also lost the kingdom for his people ultimately by worshiping idols in his later years. 

The second part of our session was devoted to some design concepts led by MCAD professor Jan Jancourt.  One of our upcoming projects will be to work on posters around our exhibition.  In preparation for that Jan  presented basic design strategies and concepts.  He shared a variety of posters with us dating back to the 1800s where we could observe the different movements and occasional throwbacks.

Art Nouveau 1899
Early examples challenged the eye.  All typography was justified with bands of information (steamship poster-above left)  The eye doesn't know where to go first. As graphic design became more sophisticated text was integrated into the artwork (above right).

Some design sensibilities were specific to a given industry and carried forward within that industry.  The introduction of photography began to change graphic design.  Often there was a technique known as outlining that removed the distracting background from an image to focus on the aspect to which the artist wished to direct your attention.
Saul Bass 1955

We talked at length about the Saul Bass poster on the Otto Preminger film, Anatomy of a Murder, where each body part is divided as well as the poster.

Jan noted that the term "concord" addresses what kinds of things look like other things, an echo of a concept in this poster and the opposite of contrast.

Polish - Tadeuz Trepkowski 1952
(Nie means wedge)
Polish designers were instrumental in conceptual design and metaphor after WWII. (above left) You can find more information on Polish posters at Polish poster art.

We discussed the use of illustration used by European designers after the war and Swiss typography, also known as international style, which was reflected in a 1964 poster right.  The concepts of less is more and form follows function are reflected in this simplified style.
Swiss -1964

San Francisco style
 The San Francisco style (left) is immediately recognizable through their use of color, image and type.

We also examined more current examples from Nike and Target to look at where design is heading. Jan reminded us that Gertrude Stein once said that anything truly new will be ugly.  Designers are creating for the future.

For the entire slide show click here.

While a whirlwind of information, the presentation captured the evolution over time of a number of  different styles including Classicism, Modernism and Minimalism.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Text as Texture

2/9/2016 by Susan Weinberg

Our session today was led by Hillel Smith, an LA based artist, currently in a show with Toni Dachis at The Tychman Shapiro Gallery that employs text in unusual ways. Our lab theme also built on the use of text, exploring how it adds texture and meaning to artwork. Smith uses text in art as part of the art itself. He raised the question of whether it needs to be legible in art and argued the case that when it is hard to read it forces the viewer to engage with it, to work to understand. Even when we are unable to draw meaning from the words they create texture. When it is illegible or in another language we respond to the rhythm and strokes.

Hillel shared a number of his pieces as well as those by other artists who make use of text. (see presentation) Among some of the projects that he shared was a joint effort with Itamar Palogue that used calligraphic brushstrokes that evoked Hebrew, but were not actually Hebrew.

The work that illustrates each artists' body of work actually melds together text and image often with text morphing into image (Slides 23, 24). The practice of melding text and image has a long history. It often made use of Arabic as illustrated by the Wazir Khan Mosque (slide 25) and is employed in early printed bibles (slide 26). Microcalligraphy has developed out of this tradition. It uses tiny Hebrew letters to form a design that may be representational, geometric or abstract.

Some artists who make use of text in their artwork include Keturah Davis (slide 28) who creates images out of text and Marian Bantjes (slide 32) who hides words within image. Michael Beirut (slide 30) took the approach of deconstruction by taking the Saks Fifth Avenue logo and deconstructing the text into a graphic now used on their shopping bags. While text is the medium, there are many ways that artists have worked with it, distorting, overlapping, repeating and deconstructing represent just a few.

We moved into a brief exercise where we were asked to use text in this manner. You can see some of the efforts below.

For the second part of our session Rosyle Ultan and Sharon Stillman presented a talk on the complementary topic of Wisdom in Word and Image. Rosyle shared text and poetry from the Kabbalah and other sources that she felt evoked wisdom. (See handout, Wisdom in Word and Image) Some thought provoking questions were proposed that examined the role wisdom played in the creative process. The small group discussions were introduced by this wonderful quote from Picasso.

“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.”