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.

Print Shop

Art Monday: Girl & Dino, made on iPod

Girl & Dinosaur, done on iPod Touch using Brushes.
©  Glendon Mellow

I've been messing with this drawing on my iPod off and on in odd moments. Used Brushes, which is so much better since it added layers.

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

Print Shop

Help me with my homework

This term, I'm taking a new studio course that looks gruelling in the best possible way. To start it off, we were paired with another student alphabetically, and we each separately need to come up with a favourite quote which will fire the trajectory of the term.

So, why not a poll, I thought immediately. But I gotta hurry. Poll closes Tuesday morning at 5:30 am.

Help! Please vote on the poll in the sidebar, and be a part of my art. You can pick multiple answers.

(This is the last class of my Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours degree. Can't wait. All those times I'll be at the opera, and the stage manager comes rushing out, "is there an artist in the house?!" and I'll coolly take out a ballpoint pen and perform emergency blow-painting with ink all over their backdrop.)

Here are the quotes I am nominating:

1) "-no frogs called, no insects sang, the tree branches stood silent, and no breath disturbed the motionless air."
-the last line of The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

2) "The word transformed the land surface of the planet from a dusty hell to a verdant paradise."
-from Genome: the autobiography of a species in 23 chapters by Matt Ridley

3) "I no longer believe that the momentum of a life headed in a worthwhile direction ends when that life does."
-from Star Wars: X-Wing - Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston

4) "Science is spectrum analysis. Art is photosynthesis."
-from Half-Truths and One-And-A-Half-Truths by Karl Krauss

5) "This may be because they are forest animals, and the leaf litter of forest floors is not friendly to fossils."
-from The Ancestor's Tale: a pilgrimage to the dawn of life by Richard Dawkins

6) "The strawberry was too old to remember anyone. By this time the hedgerows were filled with bones."
-from the poem, A Child's Garden of Strawberries, from Selected Strawberries and other poems by Susan Musgrave

Vote! Oh, and keep in mind we have been encouraged to draw and paint with unusual materials.

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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 ***

Science Checkmate

Using my oil painting Science Accommodating Religion, I've been noodling around with the image.

This might look good on a t-shirt if I punch up the colours to a less painterly, more graphic cartoony look. Hmm. I saved the image with all the pieces in separate layers so I can move them around and resize them easily. Now that I look at it, perhaps the pieces should not be so evenly spaced.

Looking for opinions: how should I tweak it for a shirt in my repro shop?

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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 ***

Creative Spaces - Closet Creativity

Artist-writer-oaf Sean Craven of Renaissance Oaf and I have talked about how fascinating it is to peek inside another creative person's studio space. To quote Sean, "I'm always fascinated by the workspaces of creative types. The factories of the culture industry, the monastic hives of the culturally isolated, closets and couches as well as studios or arts centers."

Sean has started things off with Ascending the Lavender Staircase his Workstation and Decor by Default. So let's whisk into the wall of my living room.

My baseball-playing, special education teaching, gorgeous wife Michelle and I live in an ancient 3 story apartment just west of downtown where Littles Italy, Portugual and Brazil meet. It's a two-bedroom, and because our nephew stays over once a week, a few years ago we gave him the second bedroom as his own. Michelle's office moved to the living room. I offered to take one of our two huge living room closets. I didn't want the little guy messing with my painty chemicals.

So let's pull one book out on the shelf and whisk into the wall of my living room. My studio is a closet, painted to look like part of the wall. I don't have a lot of photos of the outside of the studio. Here's one from a couple of year's back. It's behind my holiday smile. Weird colours in that photo. The walls are actually more neutral blue-green.

This is just inside. You can see I have pieces of the Of Two Minds and Meming of Life banners tacked to the door. I also sometimes pour stand oil, a thick-as-honey heated linseed oil on top of my finished paintings, like the diatom fairy painting in the foreground. Gives it a mottled, glossy surface.

The view above my card table/drawing surface. Some pieces from the Migrations banner, and a large drawing about my asthma and lungs in general I did years ago.
Almost every surface of the studio is crammed with my images. I find it helps me to recall brushtrokes or colours I may presently be having trouble with. One of my only non-mybigego images is an article entitled "Evolution, and nothing more" by Jerry Coyne, published in Canada's National Post on Friday 2nd of December, 2005. It was a one page rebuttal to the previous day's insipid "intelligent design" article. It was the first time I had ever read Jerry Coyne, and it electrified me. I was drawing and talking about it like crazy. So now it's plaque-mounted and been in my studio space ever since.
Paintings, collapsible easel, buncha portfolios. Naked humans with mitochondria and trilobites.
They say the trick to taking pictures of oil paints is to use 2 bright bulbs at 45 degree angles or less and very distant from the painting. I paint in a closet. Meh.
My original painting-drawing for the current blog banner actually just moves awkwardly around the studio (below on my paint-box). The drawing is lined up on a piece of bristol that I carelessly got squidges of paint on. I really need to get that framed properly. Haldane's Precambrian Puzzle is under glass in a hinged 12x12 scrapbooking frame.

The wooden flying trilobite necklace Tanja Sova made and gave me is hanging below.
Our home has books in almost every room. Like Bond, I like to have some inspiration and reference close at hand. The bright blue book below the awesome Art S. Buck mannequins and Precambrian toys is my mother's original nursing anatomy book. Books on concept art, atheism, science and art techniques all sit hand in hand on there. And Twisted Toyfare Theatre tends to creep in sometimes.
Paint! I use such thin layers when I paint, many of those tubes are from when I originally worked on my undergrad 12 years ago. I think I have only replaced the lamp black, titanium white and naples yellow. More storage portfolios, one with another diatom fairy from the period when all my people had green skin.
If studio spaces are like a room into the mind of the artist, mine is fit to burst. Or collapse inward and make a crushing singularity.
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This trip into Creative Spaces wouldn't be half as fun if it wasn't continued by others. Some Creative Spaces I'd love to see: Almost Diamonds, eTrilobite, The Day After, Heather Ward Wildlife Art, Claudia Massie and State of the Art. If you participate, feel free to use Sean's excellent logo above! We plan on collecting all the links in a post on Art Evolved.
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Other Creative Spaces so far:
*Renaissance Oaf, Parts one, two, three.
*Bond's Blog

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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 ***

Subway trilobite with Brushes app

Still practicing with the Brushes app on my iPod Touch. Did this while on the streetcar and subway yesterday. I kind of like the sketchy pencil lines. Trying to keep my practice pieces simple. Limited colour palette, subject I'm familiar with and a dark background. I think that's always best when exploring a new medium.

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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 ***

Looking Ahead: Glimpses of Artwork for 2008

As promised in my last post, here are some closely cropped details and sketches of art pieces I've been working on. This will see the flickering pixels of day some time in 2008. The first one is complete, and will make a splashy debut within the week.

No links - these aren't online anywhere else yet. The images may be a little washed-out and blurry since I won't subject them to a healthy Photoshop exfoliating until they are finished gestating.

One of these will be The Flying Trilobite's new banner for 2008.

Glendon Mellow featured on The Eloquent Atheist

The Eloquent Atheist, an online atheist & humanist magazine, has featured one of my paintings, Symbiosis.

This is the first entry by a visual artist on The Eloquent Atheist, and naturally (not supernaturally) I am very excited to be a part of it! From The Eloquent Atheist:

"Our intent is to expose people to the positive aspects of Atheism and
Humanism through various types of the written arts..."

I do consider myself to be a Bright , a term coined a few years ago for one who believes in a natural universe. It is an umbrella term, or at least it seeks to be for people who variably describe themselves as atheists, humanists, rationalists, Darwinists, skeptics and freethinkers. Some find the "Bright" name unappealing, and worry it is too arrogant or silly. A proposed term (I believe by Daniel Dennett) for people who believe in the supernatural, is "Supers". I have chronicled my growth out of agnostic-pagan thought before, and I like the Bright label. Hard to say you're a Darwinist when you are talking about astronomy or quantum mechanics, since evolution by natural selection doesn't enter into it.

Just to be all linky about it,
the article is here.

A bio about me is on
The Eloquent Atheist here.

My original post about the painting
Symbiosis is here.

I also posted
a sketch I did of the painting here.

There are a lot of great articles and pieces of poetry on The Eloquent Atheist. A special piece by Harvey H. Madison called Cosmic Connection struck a chord with me, it is secular numinism, if I may say such a contradiction in terms. As well, Michael W. Jones' short story, Night Sky is a thoughtful portrayal of realising which universe we really live in. Fans of astronomy should check these out.

Thanks to Michael W. Jones and Marilyn Westfall at The Eloquent Atheist for creating a great magazine, and for showcasing my artwork.

Trilobite's out of the bag

I've made a couple of vague statements about being hard at work on something in my last couple of posts. Well, for fans of ScienceBlogger Shelley Batts over at Retrospectacle: a neuroscience blog, they know what it is. She made the announcement here.

Shelley approached me about making a new banner for her blog, so she could have a few to rotate through. The other new one is already up, a beautiful and sleek piece by professional scientific illustrator Carl Buell. It's the banner with the shell and African Grey parrot. Be sure to check out his detailed and fascinating work at Olduvai George!

My banner is almost done and ready, and I'll be sure to post a link when it's up.

I started this blog to promote my artwork; I have been exceedingly pleased with the people I have met online, and what a rich community there is out there for artists and scientists. And I thank Shelley Batts for the opportunity.