Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Digicel Flipbook--My New Best Friend!

I've found out--straight from the horse's mouth!--that I can use Digicel Flipbook commercially, so I'm going to become very good friends with it.  I'm still going to work with Maya at the same time, but since I'm not only not allowed to freelance but not allowed to submit work to film festivals--also straight from the horse's mouth--I'd like to work with a program where I might actually be able to get some more avenues for publicity out of my projects.

So I figured out the spacing and got my art table into my own room and out of the spare room (which is where the dog paper and cat litterboxes are all located--not ideal working space!)  I've dug out my old Advanced 2D Animation project, which I never finished but my teacher (Mr Schwab) said would make a great piece to submit to animation and film festivals if I could finish it.  It's a second skit involving Ziingr, the little ice-cream hatin' and hurlin' alien from my reel.  Now that I'm set up, I think I'll start by doing a walk cycle on Ziingr and maybe Sister Mary Hendrix to get re-acquainted with the process, then get to working on the next scene.  Only remaining hitch to the plan is that I'm out of animation paper and can't afford more, but I found some printer paper that was about the same texture, thickness, and consistency as animation paper, so that's what I'm going to use.  I'll use a small three-hole punch as a peg.

This will be new though.  This can't be left in sketch form like the reel animation and will have to be cleaned up and colored if I want to show it off at festivals.  I have had some limited experience with cleanup animation, but it's still a bit new to me.  I may just get my parents to help me a bit with the paint-bucket part of the coloring, which they've already said they wouldn't mind helping with. 

I'm still working my way through the Mel scripting book too.  It's not a light read and takes quite a bit of focus.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I am so excited!

I finally got my mel scripting book! I can't wait to get started on it! I want to read and work from it from at least a half hour a day!

I tried to understand the mel script info in the "Mastering Maya" book, but it only used dynamic examples, which is the one thing I haven't worked with much, so it made it kind of hard to understand--kind of like they were using French to teach me Greek, if that makes sense. This book looks like it gives you the basics of mel before moving into more complex examples, which is exactly what I need!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Aesthetic Judgements

This paper was written for the Thinkers in Dialogue philosophy course, in which we studied, contrasted, and compared the views of Kant and Hume on various subjects.

Are aesthetic judgments possible? This is the question, and to many it is never a consideration. However, to an artist it sounds like a trick question, as this is a question so often considered that it ceases to be a question. Of course aesthetic judgments are possible, the creative person will tell you. If aesthetic judgments were not possible, how could we have art classes or piano lessons? If aesthetic judgments were not possible, how could anyone get any degree in art, music, theater or film, or take part in a constructive critique? All one needs to do is to categorize the individual aspects into subjective and objective categories, and those which fall into an objective category are the ones by which aesthetic judgments can be made. Once this is done, judgments might be made on creative work no matter the culture or genre.

But though poetry can never submit to exact truth, it must be confined by rules of art, discovered to the author either by genius or observation. If some negligent or irregular writers have pleased, they have not pleased by their transgressions of rule or order, but in spite of these transgressions. They have possessed other beauties, which were conformable to just criticism; and the force of these beauties has been able to overpower censure, and give the mind a satisfaction superior to the disgust arising from the blemishes...It appears, then, that, amidst all the variety and caprice of taste, there are certain general principles of approbation or blame, whose influence a careful eye may trace in all operations of the mind. (Hume, 3)

David Hume maintains that there are definitely objective rules within creative work, despite whatever subjective elements might be brought to the table by the viewer or the creator him/herself, and it is by these rules that aesthetic judgments are made possible.

In any creative art, there are physical aspects and psychological aspects, and each of these groups can be divided into subjective and objective categories. This gives us four groups into which aspects of creativity can fall: subjective physical, subjective psychological, objective physical and objective psychological. My argument focuses most on the objective groupings, the ones by which aesthetic judgments are possible. I will, however, briefly address the more subjective groupings toward the end of my paper.

Under the objective physical heading falls things like craftsmanship, composition, color, technique, harmony, and accuracy (in musical performance) among others. The list could easily be added to, so I give these as simple examples. These are completely physical and objective aspects that can be commented on without bias, and can be present in any work in any combination and to greater or lesser degrees. It is possible to speak of the composition of a painting, a photograph, or a scene in a film without letting one's own personal feelings get in the way. No matter where or when you live, human beings are sensitive to a poorly thought-out composition in a movie or a picture, and a badly written script, one that leaves out major plot points or has poor or inconsistent character development, is confusing or infuriating to all people. It is a difficult thing to attempt to categorize in words, especially for myself, because I tend towards creative arts that combine all creative disciplines. This creates a wide range of possibilities for successes and failures. However, as long as we know which particular aspect we are focusing on in any given work, whether it is the composition, character development, or use of color, we can speak about it without bias, and therefore judgments are easily possible on these aspects of creativity.

As a simple example, in my Painting I class we paint only still life so as to be able to focus our attention on techniques, materials, craftsmanship, and the use of color theory as opposed to the more subjective content. Neither the artist nor the viewer ca n muster up much personal bias when painting plastic flowers and fruit. As a result, we can focus on the objective physical aspects and, during a critique, it is these aspects that are criticized. Also, the criticism of one specific aspect, such as use of color theory, is separate from another, such as brush technique. If someone has a good understanding of color theory and uses it well, that receives positive criticism. If this same person has a poor technique in his/her use of the brush, that aspect will be negatively regarded and the criticism will focus on how that might be improved.

One might argue that the criticism of these aspects could easily involve personal bias. Some people will prefer the photo-realistic styles and others will prefer Abstract or Impressionist art. However, these are merely styles and can be executed well or poorly. One might also argue using examples of clashing colors or atonal musical compositions by those commonly considered masters in their respective arts. In the refutation of these objections, the intent and ability of the artist tends to come in here a little more. For example, if the artist intends the picture to be photo-realistic and it is not, then he/she has failed somewhere in technique. If the artist intends the picture to look sketchy or blurry and it looks that way, then the artist was successful.

This brings a further objection: How do we know what the artist intended? This is where I admit that artist's intent can be a somewhat ambiguous thing to use in aesthetic judgments, as not every creator leaves a statement of intent, but I have developed a couple of good guidelines which have served me well over the years, and I often find that others have developed the same guidelines.

The first guideline involves careful study of the artist's other works. If the artist is an Abstract or Impressionist, and has in his/her portfolio some well-executed realistic drawings (which is the most difficult), it stands to reason that this person is capable of doing detailed, highly controlled realistic work, and therefore is not an Abstract artist because he/she is incapable of doing anything else. A better example would be heavy metal music. Many heavy metal musicians are incapable of performing outside of "guitar shredding" death metal. However, some bands, such as the legendary Metallica, are capable of playing blues, as in their cover of "Tuesday's Gone", and a more country style, as in the song "Mamma Said". While some of their work, early and late, was certainly "guitar shredding", they have proven themselves capable of playing other styles of music.

The second guideline is less deductive. It simply involves the confidence with which the work was created. If a painting is distorted or the brushstrokes are not clean and smooth, are they strong or weak? Someone who does this deliberately will be cool and confident, the lines or brushstrokes will be strong, sure, natural and fluid, and it will show in the work. An example can be a professional comic book artist. Comic book art is deliberately distorted, and the styles are many, but any comic book reader is sensitive to the difference between a distortion that was made deliberately and a distortion made because the artist was unskilled. This also can be supported by the sue of the first guideline--if the distortion is deliberate, it will be consistent throughout the book.

David Hume speaks of the delicacy of taste, and this would be where this comes into the picture. He argues that some people have exposed themselves to enough creative work, and have analyzed and studied creative work enough to have a better opinion about creative work. Basically, some people know what they are talking about, and if someone is completely uneducated in the finer aspects of creativity, then he/she doesn't know what he/she is talking about, and that person's opinions count for nothing.

Where the organs are so fine, as to allow nothing to escape them; and at the same time so exact as to perceive every ingredient in the composition: This is what we call delicacy of taste, whether we employ these terms in the literal or the metaphorical sense. Here then the general rules of beauty are of use; being drawn from established models, and from the observation of what pleases or displeases, when presented singly and in a high degree: And if the same qualities, in a continued composition and in a small degree, affect not the organs with a sensible delight or uneasiness, we exclude the person from all pretensions to this delicacy. (Hume, 5)

This makes perfect sense. While everyone has an opinion, and with the Internet everyone is capable of publicizing their opinions, when we look for a professional review of a movie, a musical or acting performance, a painting, or any other creative work, we expect that this reviewer has plenty of experience in his/her field. The same goes for judges in talent contests. The judges in American Idol, for example, are professionals involved in the music industry, either as producers or performers, and so their opinions concerning vocal performance are considered superior to the opinions of, say, an average beer-swilling sofa jockey watching boxing or monster truck contests on cable.

[Note--This paper was written during the early days of American Idol, when it wasn't quite as much of the sideshow it has become.]

Objective psychological involves the basic feelings within cultures, across the world. Whether one is in ancient Rome, medieval England, or Ohio in the modern day, or even a hundred years into the future, the loss of a child will still be a tragedy. One could write a story about a parent's loss of a child to cancer or a killer, or write a tragic love story, or even try a love story with a happy ending, and there will be a mutual understanding across nations and cultures. No one would expect to go to Greece and tell someone about the murder of a small boy or girl and not be met with sympathy and sorrow--and perhaps, anger at the killer. In vaudeville shows, you are supposed to react with anger and hatred at the villain and sympathize with the sweet and innocent lead characters. A picture of a staving child is always going to create strong sympathetic emotions, and we tend to think that a person who does not react with sorrow and horror at the child's plight is devoid of all humanity. This is also a basis for all political ploys to the people, whether campaigning for a war or campaigning for another term in office. Whether you're touting 9-11, or showing the dead Iraqi children and the photos from Abu-Ghraib prison, you're presupposing this common sympathy is true. Of course, an argument against this would be that some people think that the one cancels out the other, and many looked upon the Abu-Ghraib atrocities as "justice", but my refutation of this is simply to point out that that part does not fall under the heading of "objective" but "subjective", which I will address toward the end of my essay.

Death also creates a mutual reaction among cultures, in this case of fear and/or awe. no matter where you are or what time period you live in, you will die someday and you could die before your time. This does not change with the times nor does it change across time zones. Whether you are watching Romeo and Juliet, or Miss Saigon, the love, friendship, and other emotional relationships between the characters is reacted to, as well as the despairing suicides at the end. The betrayal of a friend is always considered to be a terrible and reprehensible thing. Whether we speak of Judas betraying Jesus, Brutus betraying Caesar, or Lando betraying Han Solo (despite his later repentance and reform), we look upon such betrayal as one of the foulest of actions.

The subjective physical heading is quite simple, as it only consists of cultural differences in symbolism and content. For example, in the West black means mourning and white, meaning purity, is never to be worn at a funeral, but in many parts of the East white means mourning and is worn at funerals. So a sorrowful scene might have a lot of black for a Western piece, and the same type of scene in the East might have a lot of white in it. It's not as touchy as the subjective psychological, and many parts of the content of a piece might fall under the objective physical as well. For example, in most if not all cultures, darkness is considered evil and light is good, due to the fact that daytime makes us feel safe and the dark is where we feel frightened and vulnerable. When critiquing a piece in an art class, the content and meaning will come up. If the artist has failed in expressing what he/she wished to express, objective cross-cultural symbols will often be discussed to find a more successful way to communicate the artist's meaning.

To return to the issue of different responses to Abu-Ghraib as an argument against universal objective psychological common ground, I refute that on the grounds that that aspect fits not under the objective but the subjective psychological heading. The subjective psychological heading is where we get the great diversity of taste, even within people who might have Hume's great "delicacy of taste". Every creative person knows that, however well they do in the objective aspects of their art, the viewer or listener is always going to bring his or her own baggage to the piece. We bring our own personal psychological baggage everywhere we go. Even in writing this paper, I bring my own experiences to the table. Some people have had many experiences, have traveled or are well-read, and others might be semi-literate and have never gone twenty miles from their own homes. We also interpret these experiences, and we develop social and political opinions that we apply to everything.

My grandmother abandoned my mother, and she had to live with her aunt. She is affected more deeply at the "Sunrise, Sunset" song in Fiddler on the Roof and will leave the room rather than hear it. Due to this experience in her life, this song creates more than just a wistful looking-back at children growing up and the years passing. For her, it creates a deep sorrow as a reminder that her mother was not there and did not care about her.

For myself, I have a deep relationship with my father, and one of my greatest fears is losing him due to the fact that it is inevitable. Therefore, I am deeply affected at movies, books, and songs involving fathers and daughters and especially one involving the father's death. No matter how my own well-developed delicacy of taste might tell me that the whole thing is trash, I must still have a personal reaction while watching it. Quest for Camelot was not the most brilliant animated movie and certainly nothing to compare with The Lion King, or Tarzan, or The Nightmare Before Christmas--so my delicacy of taste tells me. But the song "On my Father's Wings" always makes me cry, and I can never watch the beginning of that movie unless I want to start sobbing. The same went for the movie Armageddon. As far as my own delicacy of taste is concerned, Deep Impact was far superior. And yet, despite the flaws in Armageddon and my ruthless savaging of the film as I watched it, the father's death at the end still got to me. Of course, I don't allow emotional prejudice to blind me to the fact that a movie is not particularly good. But most people make their aesthetci decisions based on their personal prejudices.

Alex Ross's cover for the Village Voice, depicting a vampiric George Bush sucking Lady Liberty dry, evoked an angry reaction when it was published in Wizard magazine. Aesthetically speaking, it was beautifully and realistically done, and judging it on its objective aspects would bring praise. However, it was the content that upset some people, who apparently held differing views of George Bush. A fundamentalist Christian will prefer to read Christian books and listen to Christian music. An atheist or agnostic might want to read Robert Ingersoll and listen to Bad Religion instead. While the objective qualities of all these materials might be excellent and completely equal, it is the personal reaction to the content that makes one person choose the former and the other person choose the latter.

We choose our favorite author as we do our friend, from a conformity of humour and disposition. Mirth or passion, sentiment or reflection; whichever of these most predominates in our temper, it gives us a peculiar sympathy with the writer who resembles us...It is plainly an error in a critic, to confine his approbation to one species or style of writing, and condemn all the rest. but it is almost impossible not to feel a predilection for that which suites our particular turn and disposition. Such preferences are innocent and unavoidable, and can never reasonably be the object of dispute, because there is no standard, by which they can be decided. (Hume, 9)

Hume and I would, again, agree. For example, an atheist with great delicacy of taste and an ability to apply objective judgment without prejudice should be able to behold a beautifully rendered picture of Jesus or statue of the Madonna and acknowledge its objective beauties without letting his/her own opposition to the content get in the way. also, the genres are very subjective and difficult to compare, at least to the point where one could say that one type of music is superior to the other. A person who likes cheesy pop music and love songs has a different disposition than someone who likes punk and heavy metal music. One genre of music is calm and sweet, the other is louder and angrier, but it cannot be said that one is superior to the other by genre alone. One person would seem to be a hopeless romantic and the other is into rebellion and questioning authority, and they choose the genres that reflect their own personalities. A heavy metal fan is perfectly sensitive to good and bad heavy metal music, based on the same objective references by which one might judge an opera.

I speak as one who likes music ranging from Mozart to Marilyn Manson. I can be taken to an opera or symphony or to a heavy metal concert, and enjoy the music in each based on the objective attributes I perceive in each. If I am angry, I might choose heavy metal. If I am in a sarcastic mood, I might choose punk. If I am feeling contemplative or creative, I might choose an orchestrated movie score or a musical of some sort. Depending on my current disposition, I choose to listen to or watch different things, and it cannot be said that Metallica is superior to Mozart or vice versa. Taken within their own genres, both are legendary due to their objective excellence.

I rarely, if ever, will listen to country music. I hate country music. However, my hatred of country music is due to the far right politics that are usually communicated within that genre. My choice has nothing to do with the music itself, but is due to my own prejudice. I can objectively acknowledge that the music in particularly Republican-minded country song is well-done and the lyrics were well-written with a catchy tune. I will not choose to listen to it, however, because the views expressed are in opposition to my own.

Many people do not apply this to their aesthetic judgments though, as Hume points out, and I maintain along with him that basing judgements entirely on one's personal prejudice is not an admirable trait.

It is well known, that in all questions, submitted to the understanding, prejudice is destructive of sound judgment and perverts all operations of the intellectual faculties; It is no less contrary to good taste; nor has it less influence to corrupt our sentiment of beauty...In all the nobler productions of genius, there is a mutual relation and correspondence of parts; nor can either the beauties or blemishes be perceived by him, whose thought is not capacious enough to comprehend all those parts, and compare them with each other, in order to perceive the consistence and uniformity of the whole. (Hume, 7)

To choose one's entertainment based on one's disposition is perfectly understandable. However, to base all judgments of all creative arts based entirely on personal prejudice is pure ignorance, and applying one's prejudices to creativity should be avoided.

In conclusion, both Hume and I say that aesthetic judgments are indeed possible, if they are based on very specific objective aspects, which must be separated from the more personal and subjective aspects. I have demonstrated in my own argument how these aspects might be objectively and subjectively grouped so that former group might be used in universal aesthetic judgments, across all cultures and genres, and latter shown to be the source of the seemingly wide variety of tastes. I have also addressed how prejudice often overshadows objective and unbiased aesthetic judgments. Finally, though I did not set out to necessarily defend Hume, I have found in writing and categorizing my own reflections on the matter, that I am indeed with Hume in my thinking about aesthetic judgments.

Works Cited

Hume, David. "On the Standard of Taste". CSU Library, 31 Aug. 2005 http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/361rl5.html

On Martin Heidegger's "The Memorial Address"

This paper was written for my Western Civilization class at Ashland University.

Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher born in 1889, was a complex writer and thinker with an extremely non-traditional view on philosophy, especially involving concepts of thought. His works generally were not meant for the common man. Even among scholarly circles, his work is almost impossible to understand and has been associated with a wide range of ideas. In 1955, however, he spoke at the 175th anniversary celebration of the birth of composer Conradin Kreutzer, supplying history with one address from from Heidegger to the average person. In The Memorial Address, Heidegger offers a grave warning for the future of human thought as influenced by modern technology and, although this warning is not optimistic, it is not particularly hopeful either.

According to Heidegger, there are two kinds of thought: calculative and meditative. Calculative thinking is the more technical kind of human thought, in which people gather information and put it together in order to put it to some specific use. Calculative thinking is always in use with mankind, as it is necessary to the more practical activities and motivations of life. It is the more active aspect of human thought, concerned more with the doing of a thing than of considering the possible consequences. Meditative thinking, however, involves something much deeper than practical calculation, and it takes much more effort. Meditative thinking tells us why we should do or should not do a thing, beyond the simple calculative process of actually doing it.

However, meditative thinking is not limited to simply coming up with reasons why to or not to do a thing, according to Heidegger. Meditation is not limited to expanding on calculation, and it does not necessarily have to have an end product, as does calculation. We need only "dwell on what lies close", simply for the sake of the dwelling and because this is what we do because we are human.

"Anyone can follow the path of meditative thinking in is own manner and within his own limits. Why? Because man is a thinking, that is, a meditating being. Meditative thinking need by no means be "high-flown". it is enough if we dwell on what lies close and meditate on what is closest; upon that which concerns us, each one of us, here and now; here, on this patch of home ground; now, in the present hour of history." (WebCT, 3)

It would seem on the surface that calculative thinking is more important, since without it we could not actually build a home, cure a disease, or simply drive a car to a job. We could not go through with any action without using calculation. Compared to that, meditation seems to be nothing but aimless thought. However, Heidegger considers meditative thinking to perhaps be even more crucial. He considers meditative thought to be the cornerstone of human nature and the primary aspect that makes us human and separates us from other animals. We think meditatively, therefore we are human.

He does not consider human nature to be inherent though. He believes human nature can change, and that it is in the process of changing to exclude meditative thought. It is this potential loss of the meditative aspect of human nature for which he fears and this is the main focus for The Memorial Address.

Heidegger believes the meditative quality of human nature is related to man's sense of origin and each man's connection to his or her homeland. he uses the terms autochthony and rootedness to express this. The loss of rootedness is directly connected with the loss of meditative thought, and one does not need to leave one's homeland in order for this to happen.

"Many Germans have lost their homeland, have been driven from their native soil. Countless others whose homeland was saved, have yet wandered off. And those who have stayed on in their homeland? Often they are still more homeless than those who have been driven from their homeland. Hourly and daily they are chained to radio and television...We grow more thoughtful and ask: What is happening here? Answer: the rootedness, the autochthony, of man is threatened today at its core. Even more: the loss of rootedness is caused not merely by circumstance and fortune, nor does it stem only from the negligence and the superficiality of man's way of life. The loss of autochthony springs from the spirit of the age into which all of us were born." (webCT, 4)

One cannot seem to cite a passage in the Address about the loss of rootedness without drawing in the roll of technology in accomplishing this loss. Heidegger is convinced that the rapid advancement of modern technology has seriously endangered man's sense of autochthony, so much that he barely mentions one without the other. In the consideration of the events of his time, the two are inextricably linked. The standard of thought in modern technology is that if something is not immediately and absolutely useful, it should be discarded, avoided, or ignored, and this mindset has deeply affected the general mindset of all born into this world.

"From this arises a completely new relation of man to the world and his place in it. The world now appears as an object open to the attacks of calculative thoughts--attacks that nothing is believed able any longer to resist. Nature becomes a gigantic gasoline station, an energy source for modern technology and industry...The power concealed in modern technology determines the relation of man to that which exists." (webCT, 5)

The technological world of today, as much as in Heidegger's time, grants far too much importance to calculative thought, and causes man to ignore meditative thought as "worthless for dealing with current business." One must "persevere meditation", because it "requires greater effort" than calculative thinking, but in the modern world it is unnecessary and unprofitable. For the same reason that some might go to a vocational school rather than a liberal arts college--to avoid taking any classes not absolutely necessary in their chosen career--modern man tends more toward calculative thinking to the exclusion of the meditative to his own ruin.

Heidegger uneasily sees the events of his time leading to a day when calculative thinking will have completely superseded meditative thinking, becoming the only possible way of thinking. Every day, he sees modern man going out of his way to avoid thinking any more than absolutely necessary, and following the glamour of technology like easily impressed children. We want everything in our world big, loud, useful, and immediate and we concern ourselves with little else. If the world continues in this vein, he believes human nature may be changed forever, and for the worse.

"This assertion is valid in the sense that the approaching tide of technology revolution could so captivate man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted as the only way of thinking...What great danger then might move upon us? Then there might go hand in hand with the greatest ingenuity in calculative planning and inventing indifference toward meditative thinking, total thoughtlessness. Then man would have denied and thrown away his own special nature--that he is a meditative being. Therefore the issue is the saving of man's essential nature. Therefore the issue is keeping meditative thinking alive." (webCT, 8)

The amazing thing is that Heidegger is not afraid of what might happen if the hydrogen bombs are dropped. He is not concerned, as we are, about reigning in the threat of nuclear war. He actually seems to consider these threats to have a positive aspect and he fears what might happen if we actually eradicated such threats. The constant thought of our impending doom is what forces modern man to stop and consider our modern values. Our fear forces us to think meditatively, however marginally, about technology and keeps alive the possibility of finding a sense of autochthony in the future. Without that fear, we might lose meditative thinking all together. As always, throughout history, fear is the great motivator.

Heidegger is not optimistic about man's ability to escape his thoughtless fate. He sees technology as virtually unstoppable at this point, and is not actually suggesting that technology be abandoned all together, as if he were some nature idealist in a trite morality play. He is not encouraging man to "destroy the evil computers before they enslave us all." In fact, he sees technology as a potentially positive thing that "challenges us to ever greater advances" and could be the greatest thing to ever happen to mankind--but only if we learn to put technology into perspective. What Heidegger is calling for is a new autochthony to preserve meditative thinking and so preserve mankind's special nature.

He believes this new autochthony can even be rooted in technology. There are two things mankind must do in order to achieve this. The first step Heidegger calls releasement toward things. This is simply putting technology into perspective and not allowing technology to control our lives or define our inner being. This first step happens when we strip modern advancements of the bloated importance we have bestowed upon them, reducing them to their appropriate uses and nothing more.

"We can affirm the unavoidable use of technical devices, and also deny them the right to dominate us, and so to warp, confuse, and lay waste our nature. We let technical devices enter our daily life, and at the same time leave them outside, as things which are nothing absolute but remain dependent upon something higher. I would call this comportment toward technology releasement toward things." (webCT, 7)

Releasement toward things is a good way to halt the negative effect of technology on human nature; however it is not enough to achieve a new autochthony for mankind. The second step is to find a way to stir up meditative thinking in modern society, since the original, pre-technical source of rootedness has been destroyed and cannot realistically be expected to relate to human life in the modern world. Heidegger believes technology can provide a new source for our new autochthony, once we have achieved that first step of releasement. We can dwell on the underlying quality of technology that is not openly visible to us, a meaning within technology "not invented or made by us, which lays claim to what man does and leaves undone." He calls this openness to the mystery.

"We do not know the significance of the uncanny increasing dominance of atomic technology. the meaning pervading technology hides itself. But if we explicitly and continuously heed the fact that such hidden meaning touches us everywhere in the world of technology, we stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery. I call the comportment which enables us to keep open to the meaning hidden in technology, openness to the mystery." (webCT, 7)

As simplistic as the analogy may seem, I have come to associate this argument with the special effects 'revolution' of the nineties. The movie industry was discovering more and more new 'tricks' involving CGI effects, and this resulted in Hollywood churning out more effects-driven films than one can count. All these films were based not on sound plot and character development, or even imagination, but on what new trick the fast-growing technology had recently made possible.

My father and I argued about this frequently. Although we both agreed effects-driven films were a travesty of both art and technology, my father, much like Heidegger, did not believe that the finer theatrical and literary qualities of film would ever return and that technology was to blame. Unlike Heidegger, he believed CGI technology must be abandoned. I agreed that technology was to blame but, much like Heidegger, I did not support the destruction of the technology and I did believe that CGI could raise film-making to new and greater heights if used appropriately. Like Heidegger with meditative thought, I believed that audiences were dazzled by the technology like a child with a new bauble. Unlike both my father and Heidegger, however, I did not believe the situation was hopeless if it continued in the same way. I argued that people were simply fascinated, but eventually the new technology would become too commonplace, the advancements would plateau, the audiences would become bored, and CGI would finally be used as a tool for the story instead of the purpose of the story. Some years later, as we left the theater after a showing of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, my father conceded defeat.

The purpose of this analogy is simply to illustrate my own stance on Heidegger's ideas. I agree with everything he says, especially that man's nature is essentially meditative. However, the one thing I disagree with is that calculative thinking can ever overcome and replace meditative thinking all together. Even if the majority of mankind focuses mainly on calculation, there will always be some hidden scrap of need for meditation in their basic nature. Certainly this scrap might be obliterated entirely, but for creative intellectuals, such as artists, writers, composers, directors, and other thinkers who do not fit in as children, and grow up to produce creative challenges that stir up that "openness to the mystery".

What this means is that there will always be outcasts who will find their autochthony and therefore pursue meditative thought simply through the necessity of it, because they cannot find an anchor in mainstream calculative society. They are not permitted a place in the calculative 'herd', which is how most people seem to find their meaning, therefore they must find their meaning elsewhere and are forced to meditate lest they lose their minds. Some of the greatest and most creative thinkers in every field were outcasts, or at least not particularly popular. It would seem that casting certain individuals out of the group is as much a part of human nature as meditative thinking. The only way meditative thought could be entirely eradicated is if mankind as a species ceases entirely to cast some individuals out of the social collective. As this does not seem likely, it does not seem that meditative thinking will be phased out anytime soon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reflections of the Artist: Caravaggio vs. Artemesia Gentileschi

This is a paper I wrote for my Baroque Art History class, for which I received an "A" grade. I won't attach images of the paintings in question because I'm not sure how the rules work regarding that in blogging just yet.

An artist's work will often reflect his/her own reaction to the time and culture in which s/he lives. Nothing can illustrate this more effectively than a comparison between the Italian Baroque painters Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi. Contemporaries of one another, they both had an interest in portraying realistic people and situations, though they approached this interest differently due to their different experiences. This was especially true regarding their respective genders.

Caravaggio was bold and offensive both as a man and a painter, shocking Italy with his bluntly naturalistic and often irreverent-seeming artwork and the unbridled violent streak that caused him to flee the country, while Artemisia, bolder still, flouted the conventions and challenged the assumptions of her time simply by being both female and a painter--in other words, by being true to herself instead of accepting her prescribed role. Their similarities seem to demand their differences; while Caravaggio had to make an effort to stand out among the many other male painters, Artemisia had to make an effort to be a painter in the first place and an even greater effort to be taken seriously. It is doubtful as to whether the latter even occurred in her lifetime.

A comparison of their respective depictions of a popular contemporary subject, the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes, effectively shows their respective experiences with the culture and its views as well as their respective passions regarding such. Both of their pieces capture the most grisly moment of the story and neither artist holds back or shies away from realism, depicting the scene in all its brutality and gory violence, but the vast difference in their personal values is as blatant and obvious as the visual itself.

Caravaggio may have seemed quite the rebel when one regards his work or considers his lifestyle, but in his Judith and Holofernes (fig. 1) he displays more conformity to culture. The image is far more idealized and reflects his approval of the values of the times. Judith is portrayed in ideal beauty, contrasted by the hideousness of both the dying Holofernes and her elderly maidservant. This is meant to underscore her moral significance (O'Neill 257). The triumph of good over evil--a message as old as time--is evident in this image and clearly reflected in the appearance of the heroine of the tale.

Additionally, Judith is realistically painted but not realistically posed. she stands tall, proud, and rigid as she slices off Holofernes's head--her pose belies her action. She is not a real woman who exists in the real world. She is a femme forte, "a term that began to be used around 1630...meaning that rare, virtuous woman whose price is far above rubies" (Garrard 167). A femme forte is an exceptional woman who exists in a higher realm than reality, as they saw it in the seventeenth century. To them, women simply lacked reason, fortitude, intelligence and moral character--all characteristics associated with men in the culture--and it was exceedingly rare in their minds that a woman could rise above the obstacle of her gender to be as good as a man. As a result, a strong woman was not entirely a woman but more a man, and was not portrayed in terms of female empowerment.

The lack of realism in Judith's pose is not the result of Caravaggio's lack of skill but an emphasis that a woman of this caliber is not realistic. It makes perfect sense when viewed in regard to the seventeenth-century mentality. Caravaggio is a conformist in this sense; at first glance, to the average viewer, it might seem to be a strong feminist statement but it really only confirms, both socially and theologically, that women are inherently inferior.

The consideration of the Counter-Reformation must also come into play with this piece. Art created during the Counter-Reformation in the Catholic church often underscored and affirmed the importance and divinity of the Virgin Mary, but she too was portrayed as femme forte--possessing virtues inherently unattainable by the vast majority of the "weaker sex". Judith "prefigures the Madonna, and is invoked on the feast of the Immaculate Conception" (O'Neill 256), and so it is arguable that there is a Counter-Reformation message embedded in the image, emphasizing the validity of the Virgin through the emphasis on her precursor. The message, as such, is also accessible to the average viewer. Again, there is less rebellion than there is conformity in his work, as it reaffirms the power of the status quo of his time.

Artemisia, on the other hand, paints the story from a completely different viewpoint, and she also explored the subject in greater detail, producing a number of different images. In her Judith Slaying Holofernes (fig. 2), Judith is not an ethereal femme forte, inaccessible and unrelated to real women, but is a real woman in a real situation. Her maidservant shares in this; unlike the Caravaggio piece in which the maidservant is used primarily to help set off Judith's symbolic beauty, this maid is complicit with her mistress as she actively participates in the deed. Both of them are in believable poses in relation to their actions, with no hint of idealistic grace and beauty in either stance. Both of them also appear to be physically up the the task, especially Judith who is obviously strong and well-fed with thick arms that seem perfectly capable of wielding the sword in her hand, and she hacks through Holofernes's neck as if it were a side of beef, as opposed to the graceful carriage of Caravaggio's Judith. In both paintings a spurt of blood explodes from Holofernes's cut throat, but in Artemisia's version it bathes the bed on which he lies.

There is also greater dramatic quality in Artemisia's Judith Slaying Holofernes. The very tenseness of the figures and the realism of their expressions convey a sense of animated, momentary violence, as opposed Caravaggio's far more eternal and archetypal depiction. Both Judith and her maidservant sport stern and unrelenting expressions--which is reasonable in relation to what they are doing at the moment--as opposed to Caravaggio, in which Judith is serious but transcendent, and her maidservant reacts to the scene in horror. There is greater passion and power in Artemisia's piece, rather than the carefully composed image of Caravaggio. Her figures do not pose for an eternal moralizing portrait but live in the moment. Caravaggio's figures are more like puppets used to illustrate points about the Catholic church, the rare transcendence of the femme forte, and the triumph of good over evil. Artemisia's figures are not concerned with moralizing or idealism, but are rather real, passionate human beings engaged in a realistic struggle and expressing very mortal and human emotion. She relates to the scene and to the characters--to her, they are not simply dolls or puppets. It is clear that she truly feels the violence she portrays in this work. This story is personally important to her.

The use of lighting is also more dramatic in Artemisia's piece, which is strange since Caravaggio is supposed to be known in part for his dramatic lighting. In Caravaggio's Judith, he still utilizes the simple black background, but the shadows fail to integrate with most of the figures and completely avoid Judith altogether. The majority of the shadows that are present fall on Holofernes and the maidservant, drawing them into the background, while Judith stands as a brilliant beacon in the center, again underscoring her divine, unwomanly virtue. This contrasts with Artemisia's piece, in which the light falls equally on all the figures to create a more believable environment despite the simple black background, underscoring the momentary drama of the entire scene rather than emphasizing the symbolic characteristics of any particular player in the story. The chiaroscuro effect of the lighting helps to enhance the violence of the scene, however.

Overall, the effect of Artemisia's vision is far more gruesome than Caravaggio's vision of the exact same story. Artemisia's vision focuses on the human and the momentary, while Caravaggio's emphasizes the transcendent and eternal. Artemisia's vision is a greater success in realism than Caravaggio, the celebrated master of realism, and manages to out-shock the master of shock with her image. A clue to how this is possible lies in her personal experience as a seventeenth-century woman, as a painter, and as Artemisia.

The concept of femme forte, that subject of the superior woman who transcended the worthlessness and weakness of actual women in seventeenth-century eyes, contrasted to another concept prevalent at the time: the concept of ingegno. This was one of those admirable virtues thought to exist in the real world, but only in men, especially in regard to creative work.

"By contrast, the artistic creations of men were considered in the Renaissance to be the products of ingegno, a term whose meaning ranged from superior rational intelligence to absolute genius resulting from divine inspiration. Women in general were not considered capable of possessing ingegno because they allegedly lacked the higher power of reason, especially those pertaining to inspiration, that were believed in the art academies to distinguish the genuine artist from a mere craftsman. The idea that women were weaker in reason than men and the corollary notion that, being subject to men and thus farther removed from God, women were incapable of divinely inspired invention--concepts that had firm grounding both in scholastic theology and in Renaissance poetic theory--were the bases for the tacit assumption among male artists and theorists of the sixteenth and seventeenth century that women might practice painting or sculpture, but could not, on account of their inferior biological nature, produce works of creative genius. (Garrard 174)"

Ingegno was something no woman was thought to ever be able to aspire to, no matter how hard she tried. Even if she could persevere against all odds and become an artist, and even if she produced works of incredible genius to the unbiased viewer, none of it could ever be appreciated in her time because it remained stubbornly unrecognized as a result of this idea. Artemisia, by right of being female, was not capable of creative genius, even if she was. Unlike Caravaggio who, by right of being male, had more access to the field of art and was one of many male painters who simply had to stand out with his work, Artemisia had to prove her mettle to a society that refused to acknowledge she had any mettle to prove. Her works were purchased, of course, but her clients were likely more interested--and possible aroused--at the idea of a woman painter than by her actual painting. (Garrard 172)

Despite the fact that she could never really be taken seriously as an artist by her contemporaries or by her society, she had to work harder to achieve the same level of excellence. As a woman, she was not allowed to attend figure drawing classes or hire any male models for her paintings, so she was forced to improvise. She used her "firsthand knowledge of female anatomy" to create images of female nudes that were much more accurate in detail than her male contemporaries and possible contributed to the erotic appeal of her work to her clientele (Harris 52). On top of that, as a woman she could give her female figures far more humanity than the male artists of the time, who hardly regarded females as being human. Rather than being Madonna-whore archetypes either proudly moralizing or wiggling seductively, she painted three-dimensional personalities as well as painting three-dimensional forms (Garrard 171).

The greatest factor in her undeniable passion for the subject matter, however, has to be the fact that she was raped by her teacher Agostino Tassi, and to add insult to injury, "was tortured by thumbscrew to test whether she was telling the truth" when it went to court--and in the end, her rapist went free and her reputation was forever tarnished (Ashby 50). This may seem inconceivable--or even obscene--to us as we live in the twenty-first century that a rape victim would be tortured, but this was the inevitable result of a society that regarded females as lazy, shiftless liars. She had been raped, dishonored, and yet as a female and consequently a deceiver, she was the one to be regarded with suspicion, to the point that she was tortured to protect her rapist from her "natural" female deceptive nature. This alone, outside of the cultural contempt for females, would have been enough to account for the intensity one can feel in her Judith Slaying Holofernes. Perhaps she envisions herself as Judith, exacting her vengeance on the man who had destroyed her, bringing Tassi finally to the justice that he had so unjustly escaped.

In Judith and Holofernes (fig. 1), it is clear that Caravaggio supported the Counter-Reformation Catholic church, believed in the eternal and archetypal idea of good triumphing over evil, and affirmed the inferior nature of women by emphasizing femme forte. In Judith Slaying Holofernes (fig. 2), Artemisia clearly stands against the standards of the day regarding the worth of women and draws emotionally on the experiences of her own personal past, passionately portraying her female figures as real women with strength and humanity, who are captured in the moment rather than posing artificially. In comparing Caravaggio to Artemisia in their depiction of the story of Judith and Holofernes, it is obvious where they stood regarding their society and how they felt about the conventions of the time. The fact that they have painted identical subjects, yet have come up with two extremely different versions each conveying a completely different message, is a conclusive demonstration that they are reflecting their very different experiences as people in their work as artists.


Ashby, Ruth and Deborah Gore Ohrn, eds. Herstory: Women Who Changed the World. New York: Viking, 1995.

Garrard, Mary D. Artemesia Gentileschi. New Jersey: Princeton University, 1989.

Harris, Ann Sutherland. Seventeenth-Century Art and Architecture. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2005.

O'Neill, John P., ed. The Age of Caravaggio. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985.