A painting's "aura": repost


This was originally posted in October 2008. With over 600 posts on The Flying Trilobite now, I've been re-posting a few from time to time. Incidentally, the artwork featured here is available for purchase in a variety of card and print formats.

Reprinting today because originals versus prints has been on my mind again lately. Make sure to check the original post for the insightful comments there. 
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Today, I'd like to touch on how the artist feels about their own work, and its "aura", and how that differs for the Fine Artist versus the Illustrator. And no, I haven't lost my skeptical, rational mind.


The idea of a painting's aura is one I remember being presented without judgment by the prof in university. The concept has stayed with me.It's the notion that original paintings have an "aura" that emanates off the paint & canvas surface. Almost as though the original painting has a soul, or a living presence you sense when looking at it. It adds to their specialness. You have not truly experienced the painting until you've seen it in person. Our teachers tried to impart that this is mainly a macho, modernist idea.





In Fine Art, the modernist period was something fairly specific. To sum it up all too briefly, modernism in 
painting was "paintings with the subject matter of paint". You weren't painting a still-life of an apple: you were painting red paint. As an example, think of something by Rothko, or Pollock. Giant humongous canvases, covered usually in a couple of dominating colours. There was a lot of baggage that went along with this type of work, including that they should not ideally be viewed as reproductions.
Post-modernism in the fine art world, was (again, gross oversimplification) about deconstructing those modernist ideals of pure paint and pure sculpture, and of overthrowing the unique. A post-modern piece of art could contain both a painting and sculpture adjacent asone piece. Take that, modernist!
To look at one example, modernist Charles Demuth created the painting Figure Five in Gold, (1928). Classic Modernism, interplay of colour over a familiar, somewhat random symbol (5) we all know. It's distinct, and certainly was in '28.

Post-modern painter Robert Indiana created this painting,The Figure Five, (1963) as a way of overthrowing the originality of Demuth's Five. He disrupted the original by Demuth's claim to importance by making it one of many instead of unique. I see it as kind of a fine art world version of "screw you".


So paintings may have an aura you can only feel in the presence of the actual artwork, not a reproduction? Not likely. This smacks of vague New Age-y feelings-as-fact. I wondered about this idea for a long time. An exhibit, entitled 7 Florentine Heads came to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I remember there was to be a Da Vinci drawing included. When I saw it, I anticipated the moment. I frickin' love Da Vinci, and his interest in science as well as hissfumato technique. I looked at each drawing in turn. Looked at one, read the placard, and saw it was his. I got an involuntary shiver down my back. Was it the aura?

Even back then in my proto-skeptical days, I knew there wasn't. I only felt it's "specialness" after reading who it was by. Looking only at the drawing, I saw another example of excellent work by a Renaissance artist. Context mattered to the aura, it seemed.
Which brings me to addressing the photos of posters peppered throughout this post. Is one of the differences between an illustrator and a fine artist -at least, a modernist one- how they feel about a painting's uniqueness and supremacy of being the original? 

Recently, the artist (and good friend of mine) Christopher Zenga took his artwork online for the first time. And when discussing how the first couple of posts about his Zombears looked glowing off of the computer screen, Chris remarked to me, that he just sat back and stared at them; he was entranced by his own artwork reproduced in a different medium. 

Chris is right. I was elated for months looking at my paintings and drawings online, and knowing others might see something of value there. Do I have a fondness for the originals? Of course. Some are hanging in my living room. And yet there is an undeniable thrill to walk down the streets of Toronto and see a poster up with artwork I laboured over.
Starting with a discussion on the nature of art over at Laelaps, author of Renaissance Oaf Sean Craven has had a lot of excellent points about whether how to judge if a piece of artwork can be deemed "art".

I would put forth there is a difference between art created for the purpose of Illustration, and Fine Art, and a small part of that difference is in how the artist feels toward reproductions. The tingly feeling is enhanced when the image leaps forth to new media and many eyeballs.

The photos throughout this post were taken downtown at the University of Toronto campus, and are of my posterfor the October 2008 lecture by PZ Myers presented by the Centre for Inquiry Ontario


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

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2010 Calendar - atheism months?

Here's a look at two of the more controversial months in The Flying Trilobite 2010 Calendar. Perhaps not controversial to some of the regular readers of TFT. Atheism can still be a charged subject in a crowded room.

May: Science-Chess Accommodating Religion is a painting I did this year inspired by the writing of many atheist bloggers, from Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson, to Mike Haubrich and Jason Thibeault. The whole thing actually started out as a tweet of mine, which Mike at Tangled Up In Blue Guy liked. You can read about that here.

October: October has an image called Education: Science Vs. Religion that was created as a poster for a Centre for Inquiry lecture in Toronto by PZ Myers of Pharyngula, in Octtober 2008. It had some interesting disagreements about symbolism at Pharyngula in the comments. You can see a bit more about it from me here, a making of here, and shots of the final poster here.

Both of my calendar collections, dated for 2010, can be found in my RedBubble reproduction shop.

Collection 1: Collection 2:


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Art Monday: search, download, comment

One of the things about blogging that appeals to me is seeing a bit about the people who come across my art. Widgets can help a lot with the ever-welcome lurkers and shed some light on their shadowy existence. Everyone uses them, so I think the Big Brother aspect of them is largely mitigated by their egalitarian use.

The concept of everyone watching everyone else and the failure of privacy as a right is excellently explored in David Brin's Earth and in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. In Earth, there is still tension; in The Diamond Age, new social mores modeled on Victorians and Confucianism make spying uncouth.

Anyway, I'm not opening this up to reveal ISP's or anything. But as an artist, the subject of who is downloading my stuff is fascinating and a bit daunting at the same time.

If you don't expose artwork to viewers, you languish in obscurity. No security is great enough to stop someone from ripping you off though. I've heard a number of stories about how people have been caught doing just that.

Today, I would like to look and speculate.

-Someone who works at an ad company in Belgium looked at a few pages of my blog, searched for the word "coelacanth" and finally downloaded my Darwin Day liveblog result.

-The most popular download in the last little while is my poster for The Centre for Inquiry-sponsored PZ Myers lecture last Hallowe'en. And surprising to me, is half again as many people downloaded my scribbly rough sketch! What for?

-The second-most popular download is a photo of an albino squirrel in Trinity-Bellwoods park I snapped here in Toronto. Albino squirrel populations exist in a bunch of places, and I suppose the sight of one is rare enough people go online scrambling for photos of the skittish mammals. Perhaps I should apologize for my photography.

-To the person in Sweden who searched for "fossil encrinurus photo" and downloaded my pencil drawing - I make no guarantees about scientific accuracy. Although I aim for a high degree of accuracy to reach out to my core scientifically-literate audience, sometimes I just like how the pencil pattern looks.

-For the Arizona resident searching under "flying trilobite hoax", I'm kind of glad you didn't find one. I don't paint inaccurately-winged flying trilobites on pieces of shale for the same reason people make crop circles or launch flares. In other words, it is not to test people's gullibility. That's why they are usually labeled "Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil". I paint flying trilobites largely for the same reason people paint dragons or faeries. It's fun and interesting, and hopefully sparks the imagination. (Hmm, is there a children's book of flying trilobites hiding inside me somewhere?) Can you imagine if I did try to perpetuate a hoax about finding a genuine flying trilobite fossil? How many people would read their morning papers or bloggy news-source and be shocked? Richard Fortey, Marek Eby, and Sam Gon III?

My stuff is under a Creative Commons Licence, specifically one that means you may share, email and download my art, you simply need to a)always cite it as mine with a link to me, b)not alter it in any way, and c) not make any $$$ from it. That last part's my job. So by all means, share and enjoy my artwork.

And don't be afraid to send an email or make a comment! Feedback for a blogging artist is all that and a bag of chips.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Artwork Mondays: a painting's "aura"

Today, I'd like to touch on how the artist feels about their own work, and its "aura", and how that differs for the Fine Artist versus the Illustrator. And no, I haven't lost my skeptical, rational mind.

The idea of a painting's aura is one I remember being presented without judgment by the prof in university. The concept has stayed with me.

It's the notion that original paintings have an "aura" that emanates off the paint & canvas surface. Almost as though the original painting has a soul, or a living presence you sense when looking at it. It adds to their specialness. You have not truly experienced the painting until you've seen it in person. Our teachers tried to impart that this is mainly a macho, modernist idea.

In Fine Art, the modernist period was something fairly specific. To sum it up all too briefly, modernism in painting was "paintings with the subject matter of paint". You weren't painting a still-life of an apple: you were painting red paint. As an example, think of something by Rothko, or Pollock. Giant humongous canvases, covered usually in a couple of dominating colours. There was a lot of baggage that went along with this type of work, including that they should not ideally be viewed as reproductions.

Post-modernism in the fine art world, was (again, gross oversimplification) about deconstructing those modernist ideals of pure paint and pure sculpture, and of overthrowing the unique. A post-modern piece of art could contain both a painting and sculpture adjacent as one piece. Take that, modernist!

To look at one example, modernist Charles Demuth created the painting Figure Five in Gold, (1928). Classic Modernism, interplay of colour over a familiar, somewhat random symbol (5) we all know. It's distinct, and certainly was in '28.

Post-modern painter Robert Indiana created this painting,The Figure Five, (1963) as a way of overthrowing the originality of Demuth's Five. He disrupted the original by Demuth's claim to importance by making it one of many instead of unique. I see it as kind of a fine art world version of "screw you".


So paintings may have an aura you can only feel in the presence of the actual artwork, not a reproduction? Not likely. This smacks of vague New Age-y feelings-as-fact. I wondered about this idea for a long time. An exhibit, entitled 7 Florentine Heads came to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I remember there was to be a Da Vinci drawing included. When I saw it, I anticipated the moment. I frickin' love Da Vinci, and his interest in science as well as his sfumato technique. I looked at each drawing in turn. Looked at one, read the placard, and saw it was his. I got an involuntary shiver down my back. Was it the aura?

Even back then in my proto-skeptical days, I knew there wasn't. I only felt it's "specialness" after reading who it was by. Looking only at the drawing, I saw another example of excellent work by a Renaissance artist. Context mattered to the aura, it seemed.
Which brings me to addressing the photos of posters peppered throughout this post. Is one of the differences between an illustrator and a fine artist -at least, a modernist one- how they feel about a painting's uniqueness and supremacy of being the original?

Recently, the artist (and good friend of mine) Christopher Zenga took his artwork online for the first time. And when discussing how the first couple of posts about his Zombears looked glowing off of the computer screen, Chris remarked to me, that he just sat back and stared at them; he was entranced by his own artwork reproduced in a different medium.

Chris is right. I was elated for months looking at my paintings and drawings online, and knowing others might see something of value there. Do I have a fondness for the originals? Of course. Some are hanging in my living room. And yet there is an undeniable thrill to walk down the streets of Toronto and see a poster up with artwork I laboured over.
Starting with a discussion on the nature of art over at Laelaps, author of Renaissance Oaf Sean Craven has had a lot of excellent points about whether how to judge if a piece of artwork can be deemed "art".

I would put forth there is a difference between art created for the purpose of Illustration, and Fine Art, and a small part of that difference is in how the artist feels toward reproductions. The tingly feeling is enhanced when the image leaps forth to new media and many eyeballs.

The photos throughout this post were taken downtown at the University of Toronto campus, and are of my poster for the upcoming lecture by PZ Myers presented by the Centre for Inquiry Ontario.


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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.
Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store.

Artwork Mondays - CFI-Myers poster concept


After discussing with Justin Trottier and Katie Kish about doing a poster for PZ Myers' upcoming lecture here in Toronto, I knuckled down to think of some concepts.

PZ Myers is a big cephalopod in the atheist pond, and the C.F.I-sponsored lecture itself is scheduled for Hallowe'en. I played with some rough ideas of having PZ wearing a mask made out of zebrafish, perhaps with a halo of cephalopod arms behind his head.

PZ's personality and yes, celebrity is huge amongst science and atheist minded bloggers. It would be easy enough. I scribbled down some roughs.


But the focus of the lecture from its title is not a smug chuckle and a laugh at how
wrong creationists are when discussing biology (or history, or morals, or the universe, or transubstantiated baking). The focus is much more serious, it is about science education being under threat. Perhaps there is less of a young-Earth creationist view here in Ontario, and yet we are still under sway of separate Catholic and secular school systems. Some citizens would like more religious schools to be allowed by the provincial government.

I say no. One school system for all, with kids raised in multiple belief systems. It's how tolerance starts, it's how diversity and dialogue thrive. Besides, there's more room
for learning without being interrupted for prayers all day.

Canada is a cultural mosaic, and Toronto the capital of that ideal. Take the Dundas or College streetcar and pass through cultures from across the globe in 30 minutes. Besides, there's more room for learning without being interrupted for prayers all day.

So: PZ's poster. It needed to be serious and about the topic, not a poster about the foibles of this entertaining, important writer and scientist. Not a witty attempt at a portrait. Something about science under threat by religion. I hope there will be another day to show Myers the man through oil paint.

I started by thinking about that perennial symbol of school: the apple on a teacher's desk.

I had the sketch.

Then, painting it, not making the snake anything specific, but looking like it had coalesced out of a nightmare. A child's hand reaching up. A little double helix pattern on a tree branch.


We mucked around with the text. I wanted PZ's name and the title to be huge. It needs to catch the eye while posted on university and college bulletin boards and around town.

In my first presentation of this poster here on The Flying Trilobite, I wondered how people interpreted it. Artist-teacher Bond got it right. And Bora of A Blog Around the Clock had an interesting take in a recent email exchange: "
Michaelangelo's God from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and PZ's post on the evolution of segmentation in snakes!"

Does it do the C.F.I & PZ's topic justice? Is the religious/secular symbolism confusing? Are you craving a crisp macintosh right about now?
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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details. Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store.

PZ Myers is coming to Toronto - Poster

PZ Myers of Pharyngula is coming to Toronto to give a lecture about science and religion in education, and I've made a poster for the Centre for Inquiry Ontario.

See if you can figure out the symbols I used.

You can read more about the event and how to get a ticket, here. Or better yet if you live in the Toronto area, help support science and rational thought by becoming a friend of the Centre. Many of the events are free and they've got a staggering new library.

I'm looking forward to it. Like many people, after reading Richard Dawkins site for a while, I began to take notice of this PZ Myers fellow that kept cropping up.

I'm also looking forward to seeing this poster around U of T campus. I'll see if I can get any photos of it up, and I'll post them with the rough sketch and painting on the next Artwork Monday. As well, I'll explain the symbols - and let you know the explanations other people had for them!


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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details. Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store.

Myers, Dawkins and Popcorn...& LOLTrilobites!

It's rare that I post simply to direct my readers to another blog. I like to make sure I have something original and hopefully insightful to say.

If you need a good laugh though, you have to check these out.


The brief background: Noted biologists and atheists PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins were both interviewed for a movie featuring Ben Stein, under false pretenses. The movie is called Expelled, and both professors were told it would be about the false claims of creationists. In fact it seems to be shaping up to be a propaganda film trying to persuade the public that pseudo-scientists who support the theological idea of intelligent design (ick) are being 'expelled' from scientific academia by mean old biologists who understand Darwin's theory of natural selection. Got all that? Good. Ready for an I-can't-breathe laugh? Good.

Read PZ Myers' post from inside the mall where he went to finally see the movie.

You're back? Excellent. Want more?


Brian Switek over at Laelaps (one of my new favourite places) has commentary on the Expelled story and....LOLTrilobites! I'll be chuckling myself to sleep tonight.



All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

The Golden Compass hullabaloo

The Golden Compass movie coming out on December 7th sure is causing a lot of hullabaloo here in Ontario. (Spoiler alerts!)

I am a fan of this series, called His Dark Materials, written by English author Philip Pullman. Here are some quick points about all this.

The Books
The Golden Compass is the first of the three books. The title was originally Northern Lights when it was first published in England, in 1995. They've won several awards. There is more at Wikipedia, and at Pullman's site. The sequels are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

The story starts out in a parallel universe, at Oxford. There are many differences with that reality and our own, the most striking that people's souls exist outside their bodies, and are called daemons. (You can view my damon here; there's a little quiz at the movie site to figure out your own. ) The daemons can change animal shapes until a person reaches puberty, and then they stay in one form for the rest of the person's life. They tend to be opposite the gender of their person, (except a few peoples', presumably gay? It is not explained.) The daemons can talk, and it is considered a breach of the highest order of personal space to touch another person's daemon.

The golden compass in question is an alethiometer that the heroine of the story carries. An alethiometer is incredibly difficult to read, and tells a person the truth.

The heroine of the story is a precocious and mouthy girl named Lyra, with her daemon Pantalaimon, who travels to the cold North to rescue her friend who has been kidnapped by a group called The Gobblers. The Gobblers at first sound very much like an old wives tale to keep children near home, and turn out to be very real and despicable.

The controversy in Ontario
Some Catholic school boards are reviewing whether or not to remove the books from the shelves, following complaints, seen in this article in the National Post. All of this is apparently a normal process. For a book that won the Carnegie Medal. For a book that has presumably been sitting in the library for about 10 years. While in review, students have to ask for the book at the desk. And you know how much kids love to ask for stuff from authority figures.

PZ Myers on his Pharyngula blog has brought up the major complaints with the Ontario schools for pulling the books. Namely, why stop there? PZ has his mad on, and takes the issue of censorship on books to task.

My thoughts on the issue
On the face of it, why should a religious school be expected to stock books espousing a different way of living? Easy. They already have the books. I don't know when they got them, but The Golden Compass was published in North America in 1996. It has won awards for children's literature, and the dubious distinction of being singled out by the archbishop of Canterbury as being adequate for teaching about opposing views to Catholicism in religious classes. Why pull them from the stacks now? Because there is a movie and a video game?

Atheism, fantasy and skepticism
It's a strange thing about these books. Are they really atheist in nature? By the end of the series, we do meet the powerful being known as the Authority who tyrannizes the afterlife and started many biblical legends. Is it the all-powerful God? Hard to say. The Authority 'has no clothes' by the end, and very little power above some of the other characters who do his bidding (Metatron) or challenge him (Lord Asriel). Where all these dimensions come from is not discussed in detail.


These books are fantasy. There are plenty of sci-fi elements, like dark matter and multiple dimensions, but also things like witches flying on tree branches and astrology-like predictions from the golden compass itself. It is not as though the books are about Lyra showing the witches that their incantations do nothing without medicinal ingredients, or that she proves that the daemons are just imaginary friends and everyone has gotten carried away. Skepticism and debunking are not present. Attacking authoritative tyranny over life and death are certainly Lord Asriel's goals, but the point of view is Lyra's.

His Dark Materials have magic and adventure, and an unlikely hero triumphing while trying to save what matters most: her friends. Kids should read them if they like, and make up their own minds about talking polar bears, the nature of their conscience, and where the universe came from.

Edit: The National Post, which carried a below-the-fold front page story about all this in the weekend edition, also carried a massive flyer about the upcoming Golden Compass movie. It unfolds into a poster, Chapters/Indigo/Coles will give you movie snack coupons if you spend money in their stores...it's huge. It's great. It flopped out and dominated the other flyers. Nice giant pic of Iorek the polar bear-blacksmith. The Post's story was largely uncritical of the issue, and tried not to come down on either side.

Return of the Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme!

...this time it's personal.

I have already been tagged by this meme once, and now again! It took me a while to respond to the second one, by Dale at The Meming of Life. What can I say, I was gestating.

The meme has an elaborate set of rules, you can read at my first post about it. The whole thing was started by PZ Myers at Pharyngula. Now Dale, being sly and sneaky, has turned the tables and asked to spread the meme back to those previous to himself in the lineage! Rather than use phrases like "blog-the-casbah with Grampa" I prefer to think of these posts as organisms, and the blogs they sit in as environments. The organism's descendants change when they wander through each blog. (My blog environment is murky and oily in case you were wondering. Sometimes there is strange smoke.)

So then here is my lineage:
My common ancestor is Pharyngula.
My great great grandparent is Metamagician & the Hellfire Club.
My great grandparent is The Flying Trilobite.
My grandparent is Leslie's blog.
My parent is The Meming of Life.

My new contribution to the meme, following The Meming of Life, is as follows:
The best romantic movie in scientific dystopia is: Gattaca (1997). Same as my 1st post.
The best sexy song in electronica is: "Angel" by Massive Attack on the album Mezzanine (1998).
The best satirical movie in comedy is: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990).
I will add one new statement:
The best hot coffee in beverages is: caffe macchiato.

To continue the meme this time, I choose:
Frozen Toothpaste

Forms Most Beautiful

Primordial Blog

Please make a comment on this thread if you are participating. Hope you do, it's crazy-weird-fun. On another note, while checking Technorati for my links, I can see this has gone quite far. I am a 5x great-grandparent already. One of the interesting links I found down the line was from Really Small Fish. It contains Darwinian poetry, at Code As Art. That's been my favourite thing about this meme so far; finding blogs and ideas I may not have found through search engines since to find it that way, you have to know what you are looking for.

Surprise is living.