The performance of visual arts

We’re familiar with the idea of sitting and watching people play musical instruments. The rock star is an iconic figure in our culture, and YouTube has made it possible for people with mad skillz to achieve widespread acclaim even if they only ever play in their bedroom. Here is the famous Pachelbel’s Canon video that’s been viewed more than 44 million times so far. Why not watch it and add a comment to the 187,702 other comments already there?

Less familiar is the concept of visual art as a performance medium. But it’s no less entertaining when done well. I remember being mesmerized as a child watching William “The Happy Painter” Alexander on public TV as he painted kitschy mountainscapes and discoursed in a wild German accent on his philosophy of art and life. Several years ago I featured on this blog a pointer to the sand art performances of Ferenc Cako and got a huge response.

Good cheap video technology is making performance visual art ever easier to produce, and I am still smitten. When I see calligraphy, I know I’m looking at a frozen performance, but what did that performance look like? It’s so cloistered and remote that I can’t fully appreciate it. That’s why videos like this are so much fun. I look at this and say “so that’s how they do it”:

It’s like watching Michelangelo pulling David from the marble. You know he’s in there, but only the artist knows exactly where he is. I found this video on i love typography, a marvelous site. Here’s another video on Pointed Pen Copperplate Calligraphy. It’s a little long, so take my advice: just go straight to 6:40 and watch him write “The End”. It’s worth it. I ask myself the same question I ask when I watch a brilliant guitarist: how did all that magic end up in that man’s fingers?

One final video, this time on time-lapse photography of sculpting, video sculpting using a program called ZBrush. And if sculpting with software doesn’t sound sufficiently compelling, really, you should just look at the video.

2 thoughts on “The performance of visual arts”

  1. I especially liked the second video: after years of fighting desks, writing pads, and smudges, I feel vindicated in my left-handedness!

  2. The thing that’s really interesting about the sculpting video is how quickly we’re able to detect that the sculpture will be a human head/face. It’s a lump of clay and then two indentations for eyes are added and by 0:08 we can say “It’s a person!”

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