Almost finished. It finally occurred to me to look at the image in B&W to see how my lighting and modeling is without the distraction of color. Not bad. It looks more like a digital sculpture than a drawing, which is what it is. I’ve still got some detailing to do, and other modifications. Should be finished tomorrow (and there will be prints!).
The inspiration for checking the values in B&W was an art history video about Jan Van Eyk. Holy crap is he amazing! I was looking at one painting, and it was so perfect in every way — including how it speaks to me presently, and as compared to contemporary works — that it brought tears to my eyes.
Anatomy, perspective, color, composition, lighting, movement, texture… he’d mastered it all. The most remarkable thing, perhaps, is that he’s done it all in glorious 3D. I’ve mentioned this before, but even today’s art critics are a bit visually illiterate, as they tend to have mastered ideology and convinced themselves painting was washed up as soon as Duchamp carted a urinal into the sacred gallery space. Not only are they wrong, their perspective is insipid, barely distinguishable from parody. It’s even perhaps worse than parody: a cruel joke.
Above you aren’t looking at sculptures by Van Eyk, you are looking at paintings by Van Eyk of sculptures that don’t exist. When you see his monochromatic paintings, you can really appreciate his absolute mastery of illusionistic three dimensional space. Not only can he make the imagery recede, but it also pops out at you. And all this over 600 years ago. Unbelievable!
It was just that pair of paintings above that caused me to remember to check my values in gray-scale. And something that has happened because I am working on my own realistic modeling is that I am that much better able to assimilate and appreciate when the masters do it. Oddly, this creates a connection between Van Eyk, for example, working in oils centuries ago, and me working digitally today. It’s nothing special about me, it’s just that if you work realistically, you are doing a lot of the same thing. But, yes, in doing so, a continuity can exist despite the urinal, the balloon dog, the shark tank, and the banana taped to a wall. Those works are what they are, and belong to their own genre. The astonishing mistake of art history was to view these new modes of art-making as a repudiation and replacement of painting and visual art proper.
Last night I got the hot idea of watching some art history documentaries on YouTube. I would not have guessed that this would be the best therapy for me in these very troubled, and dare I say ludicrous times. The fashionable, radical, revolutionary rejection of Western civilization that is paramount today sickens me, but I hadn’t quite realized the whole of why. It’s also a rejection of history and reality, and when you reject history you unwittingly deny your own place in it, because the next wave of revolutionary zealots will want to eradicate you as well, and enshrine themselves in the limelight.
But when you sever yourself from history — or when something like a cultural revolution does it for you — you cut yourself off from your roots, and all the plausible incarnations of yourself that might have existed before. It’s not only cruel and stupid to devalue our ancestors, but it’s a tragic spiritual vacuum where there could be a rich, nourishing core. I’m pretty damned sure it’s infinitely better to build on history, and learn from our mistakes — as science does — than to arrogantly scrap everything and try to reinvent the wheel.
I watched a couple videos about the Baroque period, and my jaw dropped several times. Of course I’ve seen a lot of the works before, but mostly in my art history classes in college, in which case it was via slides. I didn’t see them in video, which captures architecture so much better. Anyone who thinks Western culture is nothing because, well, Christianity is a fiction, and there are more exotic cultures out there, hasn’t seen some of the more outrageous churches with their painted ceilings of angels floating up into the heavens. It is only less exotic than anything else if it’s overly familiar to you. Objectively speaking, nothing gets more exotic or spiritual than the best of Western art, it only rivals it.
The hatred we are often taught in college towards Western civilization — I speak from experience here (think Postmodernism and “critical theory”] — and a certain group of people, is worse than vapid, it’s so wrong as to be sinister. Just to be clear here, I am all for championing every quasi-legit art style, and the value of each cultural heritage. But, no, I’m not going to join the ranks of deriding and vilifying my own, and only my own, and myself along with it (which is not to say I belong to just one group, etc.). But the upshot of this for me personally is that it goes against the grain of my general character — for whatever reason — to embrace that which is crammed down my throat. I’ve never been one to clamor aboard a bandwagon, swell my chest in allegiance with group solidarity, and pump a fist in the air. And so, now that the paintings of the old masters are maligned, and the culture is popularly seen as worthless or even pernicious, I can enjoy it for what it is — amazing! — directly, without being told to. In this way it becomes more my own. Not only is it my choice at this point to cultivate it, I can also integrate some of its lessons and fabric into my own art.