Archive for the ‘art’ tag
Here are some new renders:
I loved the obscure references to fractal art in this clip (“infinite fractal recursion” and “iterated algorithm”) and the analysis of that silly One Direction song, “What Makes You Beautiful.” The Colbert Report and writers brilliant as always.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The 2012 People’s Party Congress of Charlotte – Youth Vote|
Yes, that’s right. It’s apparently open season on custom pancakes in the Ugly Pancake Contest. Folks have been sending in Star Wars pancakes, organ pancakes, math constants and my favorite, fractal pancakes.
Here are said edible fractals:
As evidenced by some posts on this site, I have recently gotten back in to fractal art, and I usually use either a program called Apophysis or Mandelbulb 3D to perform the renderings. Fractal art is basically a way to create digital artwork using mathematical algorithms, while using the power of the computer to actually perform the calculations. I enjoy this particular genre because of the abstractness and because the sheer number of potential designs is pretty much limitless.
I have also begun to appreciate the genre in another regard: its resemblance to the process of evolution. I’m about halfway through Richard Dawkin’s “The Greatest Show On Earth,” and early in the book, he mentioned his little program called, “The Blind Watchmaker.” He has a book by the same name. The idea behind the program is that the user essentially begins with a very simple form (a dot) and by selecting one of many potential “genes” by which to modify the current “biomorph,” the user can synthesize a new “organism” on the screen and see evolution at work by selecting a particular “gene” over another. Obviously, no one is “selecting” which genes will be passed on to subsequent generations in real life. In nature, variation takes place because of the environment, predation and any number of other factors. But the program synthesizes the basic process, similar to some other evolution “games” in which users can manipulate simple “organisms” on the screen, add variation and see them develop into different forms.
Here is a set of biomorphs that I rendered using Dawkin’s programy. These biomorphs are more than 200 “generations” old:
In fractal art, the same concept applies. Once you select the basic shape that you are going to manipulate, you can then “mutate” the shape using one of many “trends,” which are analogous to real life genes. The “trends” apply unique characteristics to the original shape, and the user can manipulate how strong the influence is for each gene. I was creating fractals a couple years ago when I first read “The Blind Watchmaker” and first learned of the biomorph program, but the resemblance to evolution, for whatever reason, did not occur to me at the time. But once this occurred to me, I was quite fascinated to learn that I was, in one sense, creating artwork using a similar process as that of real life evolution on a very small scale.
Here are some screenshots from Apophysis that show the various trends and the program’s “mutation” tool.
Within the last year or so, I decided that I wanted to try to read at least one book on each of the major wars this country has been involved in since the American Revolution. In recent months, I have undertaken David McCullough’s elegantly written “1776″ and James McPherson’s expansive “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”. After just finishing John Keegan’s 1999 book, “The First World War,” I will probably continue and read his other one, “The Second World War.”
On the back cover of Keegan’s account of WWI, a review by The Boston Globe reads,
Keegan has the rare ability to view his subject from a necessarily Olympian height, and then swoop down to engage the reader with just the right detail or just the right soldier’s voice…. In the field of military history, this is as good as it gets.
Other reviews have described the book as “magisterial,” “quietly heart-rending” and “a masterpiece.” The New York Times got it right when it called the book, “omniscient.”
As history books go, I sometimes find myself being frustrated by being supplied with vastly more detail than I often require. I stopped midway through The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade for this reason. And for another reason: it was pretty dryly written. I’m vastly interested in that particular subject, but on page after page, the reader is inundated with, for example, the number of pints of rum on board such-and-such ship or the record of how many bushels of corn, etc. The number of slaves on certain ships is important, for instance, but not how much liquor the crew had on board. At least I can’t imagine how that would be important information. I hope to try the book again in the future. Perhaps I’ll do some “smart” reading and sort of skim over the minutiae.
Regardless, Keegan’s book, as well as McPherson’s 800-page volume, while offering us some of those types of “omniscient” details that we may or may not want, suffer not from such tediousness. Keegan, in a masterfully written style, takes us through Austrian archduke and heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Serbia’s “complicity,” the Austrian empire’s declaration of war, Germany’s entrance and straight to the trenches and no man’s land through four years of fighting that would eventually lead to revolution in the Soviet Union and Germany, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, the formation of modern Europe and, of course, the end of 10 million lives.
WWI was called The Great War, in my view, because it not only was waged by all of the vast empires of the world at the time (the United States played a limited, but important part in 1918 by overwhelming the German military conscious with millions of fresh troops that would prove too much for the often underfed and tramped down Triple Alliance forces), but because it was a decisive moment in history that carved up what we know of Europe today and razed the very idea of vast and sprawling empires that had so gripped most of the world for thousands of years prior. Hitler, of course, would attempt to resurrect this idea two decades later.
In recounting all this in a masterful literary style, Keegan gives us maps of the major battlefields, photos of sinking ships and lumbering soldiers and head shots of some of the key players on both sides of the conflict that in the first sentence of the book, he dubs “tragic and unnecessary.” Ending with a chapter titled, “America and Armageddon,” he sums up that much of the commanders’ actions, particularly on the alliance’s side, was a mystery. For instance, the Kaiser’s attempt to contend with Britain, a clear naval superpower at the time, for seas between Norway and the United Kingdom. On the Kaiser, Keegan notes,
Had he not embarked on a strategically unnecessary attempt to match Britain’s maritime strength, fatal hostility between the two countries would have been avoided; so, too, in all possibility, might be been the neurotic climate of suspicion and insecurity from which the First World War was born.
He goes on to describe the mystery of Ludendorff and other German officials insisting on continued military operations despite troop conditions and being outnumbered as “selfish and ultimately pointless military ambition.”
The legacy of the war’s political outcome scarcely bears contemplation: Europe ruined as a centre of world civilisation, Christian kingdoms transformed through defeat into godless tyrannies, Bolshevik or Nazi, the superficial difference between their ideologies counting not at all in their cruelty to common and decent folk.
At 427 pages and with often challenging vocabulary, this is not an easy or quick read, but one well worth the effort. Of course, Keegan ends by looking forward to what would become another episode of egregious loss of life during World War II and backward to the trenches, in which he notes, with untold irony, soldiers existing where love and compassion were all-but vacant, the friendships that inevitably developed as soldiers fought with, and for, each other:
Comradership flourished in the earthwork cities of the Western and Eastern Fronts, bound strangers into the closest brotherhood, elevated the loyalties created with the ethos of temporary regimentality to the status of life-and-death blood ties.
Indeed, for many soldiers, their fellow men in arms would be the last family, and sometimes, only family they would know.
Men whom the trenches cast into intimacy entered into bonds of mutual dependency and sacrifice of self stronger than any of the friendships made in peace and better times. That is the ultimate mystery of the First World War.
When thinking of military history, or history at all, one often thinks of tedious and an uninspired presentation. And indeed, while readers may feel the need to re-read more than one sentence in this book because of sometimes complex structures, this is the anti-thesis to dry historical studies. If not for its obvious factual nature, I would be inclined call this historical-literature, the difference between literature and mere fiction being that literature is art. And that’s how I would describe this work.
I feel a lengthy essay about Scientology brewing in the near future, a la this post, and probably focused specifically on St. Petersburg Times’ series of stories on the church, a religion — or something — based, like Mormonism and the rest, on the writings of a mere man, and a decidedly maniacal and self-ingratiating one at that. But that will be for another day, or, perhaps, for another hour in this day. We will see.
For now, I wanted to speak briefly on art. I have spent a little time recently modifying a few entries on Wikipedia, namely a woefully incomplete list of authors, which, if you can believe it, did not include Thomas Wolfe, one of the great American writers of the 20th century, nor William Styron, author of the book, turned movie, “Sophie’s Choice,” and the historical-fiction work, “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” (The question has come up on occasion, most memorably by Dr. Paul Anderson, my Civil War professor at Clemson University, about whether William is my kin. The votes out, but I would happily accept that ancestrial connection if it were the case.)
File sharing, or the transmission of music, videos, documents, programs or other files over the Internet, if we narrow it down to music or movies, is really nothing more than the exchange of art for free. Record companies, of course, seem to have made headlines the most for their attempts to quell such activity, with or without hearing the opinions of the artists they represent. For a good article on the topic, see here. Understandably, artists of any medium tend to feel a bit slighted when their works are copies and distributed among the masses as if its creation took no effort whatsoever and as if the works were made without tireless, sometimes agonizing hours of recording and sampling. Artists like Metallica, which has in the past stood firmly behind the record industry’s attempted crackdowns, have at once slighted their own fans by standing behind the towering companies, who, consequently, pass along very little, if any, record sale revenue to the artists. Most artists have to “make their bones” — and their green — on the arduous concert trail.
Music is art. So are films. One could even argue that computer programs have definite artistic elements. When I write a song or a poem (I do this one very little because my meager attempts usually end in disappointment or frustration) or a newspaper column, it immediately upon its completion falls under U.S. copyright protection, whether I physically file paperwork in Washington or not. All music created under major record labels have that innate protection, plus additional legal protection from being copied or distributed. While it’s understood that major artists receive a two-fold benefit from their craft (making money and doing something they love for a living), artists also must understand, (Radiohead would be an example), that in this digital era, music, once its recorded in whatever fashion, becomes susceptible to dissemination. The millions of videos on YouTube showing fans playing the songs of the artists they love attest to this fact. For those not familiar with Radiohead’s album, “In Rainbows,” it was distributed free of charge (or whatever amount fans felt appropriate) in the weeks leading up to its official release in stores. I couldn’t with a clear conscious get it for free since it was so graciously offered to us, so I downloaded it for $5.
Record companies have a clear dog in the file-sharing hunt, but their purpose is singular, to make money, while the nobler artists out there seek to create art first and foremost, and if they can get paid for it, all the better. Most artists create because it flows out of them. They can’t not create. It’s in their bones as its in mine.
I recently reread John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” where Keats grapples with what must have been happening in the scene depicted on the urn. I regret that I only have time to briefly mention the poem, but here are a few words about it and the urn it depicts:
The first four stanzas are filled questions about the scene and the final stanza climaxes with the exclamation: “Cold Pastoral!” One can very well picture the author throwing his up his hands almost in frustration about this “tease” failing to be forthcoming with the full story about what’s taking place. In this first stanza, Keats throws out a wave of questions, which I think, were we to find the answers, would explain the meaning behind nearly every piece of music or painting in history:
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
And this is the essence of art: the stories of struggle, of escape, of mad pursuits, of wild ecstasy. In other words, the millions of pieces of art created through the generations are a million answers to one question: What does it mean to be human? Answers, painful or joyous as they may be, more often than not, come without the rewards of money or recognition.