Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Wilderness Downtown: Cool or Creepy?

Chris Milk's just released experimental film "The Wilderness Downtown" combines Google mapping software with the Arcade Fire's "We Used to Wait" to create a kind of multi-media (and customizable) music video. Viewers are invited to plug in the address where they grew up and watch as their childhood neighborhood is brought to life via Google's street view.

The project seems to be something of a promotional effort for Google Chrome, though it functioned well enough in Firefox for me to get the gist.

Michelle Castillo at Techland provides a few more details and hints a bit at the creep factor, but doesn't go quite far enough with it. I'm less concerned that the program can find/harvest where I grew up (I expect that's been done thousands of times already in much less explicit ways). I'm slightly more distressed at having my childhood memories reinterpreted through an Arcade Fire song. I get that Win, Regine, and the rest of the crew have a nostalgic streak in them, but I'm not sure I want it foisted on me in such a literal way.

If "We Used to Wait" was indeed written as a paean to our collective vulnerable youths (or whatever it was written as), I'd hope my own intellect, imagination, and ability to infer meaning would have figured that out eventually. Being lead there by the nose in such a personal way (i.e. by street viewing my childhood home and incorporating it into a film) comes off as kind of manipulative. Besides, my childhood had a soundtrack, and I don't recall it involved the Arcade Fire.

That said, Milk's film is a technical breakthrough to be sure. I'm glad he did it and I'm glad he shared it. I'm also excited about the possibilities for other similarly creative endeavors. It really is exciting stuff.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Struggling with the Great Masters

If you're even a casual art enthusiast you've probably been exposed to thousands and thousands masterpieces. History of art classes routinely focus on the most seminal and well-realized works. Art history books feature only the best of the best. Museums prominently display their most prized works and use their web sites to tout the same. While studying the masterworks certainly has value, the focus on great paintings can lead to the mistaken impression that all the old masters ever did was sit around churning out one masterpiece after another.

As a painter, this artistic hit parade can be a fairly disheartening. I'm certainly not churning out one masterpiece after another. (...for that matter, I'm not sure I've even churned out one masterpiece). That's why I get a special thrill whenever I come face to face with a less than successful work by one of the old masters.

The Art Institute of Chicago owns a couple paintings that perfectly capture the not always successful masters in action. Both happen to be seascapes done is successive years. One is by Manet, the other by Whistler. I love both painters dearly, but neither has quite hit the mark with these works.

I've affectionately dubbed this pair "Boats We Couldn't Be Bothered to Paint"; and while each has its own sketchy charms, neither is particularly convincing.

Steamboat Leaving Boulogne, 1864 by Edouard Manet
Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Trouville (Grey and Green, The Silver Sea), 1865 by James McNeil Whistler
Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

It's not that these are necessarily "bad" paintings. They're not. And it's not that I take some perverse pleasure in bearing witness to their shortcomings. I don't. Rather, I appreciate their role as a corrective to the idea that great paintings are easy. They're not. Painting is fluid, messy, and imprecise. Success is never guaranteed, and making a really great painting is never automatic - even if your an old master.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Patsys: Summer Tour 2010

The Patsys have been on something of an extended hiatus the last year and a half. We haven't really been playing out, and truth be told that probably would have continued were it not for an invitation to do something really nice this summer.

On Saturday September 18th The Patsys will be playing an event at Clintonville Academy to help out Rob Behler and his family. We hope you'll be able to join us.