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.

SculptorHouse: place as art

You’ve heard of landscape architecture. Now get ready for the architected landscape. My brother-in-law Craig Pleasants is an artist who has worked on sculptures at an architectural scale. With years of experience to draw on, he’s now turning the idea of architectural sculpture into a business opportunity with a site called The picture shown here is actually one of Craig’s first architectural projects: the house he lived in for many years. Eight sided, eccentric, and endearing, it became known in our family as the OLU, for Octagonal Living Unit. Now with Craig’s help you can have an OLU of your very own. Contact him at the site and he will create something beautiful on your property.

Incidentally, Craig has also done some writing and illustration. One of my favorite stories of his is the ethnohistoriographical deconstruction of the Three Little Pigs story. I won’t give away the surprising conclusion, but I will say that the first little pig deconstructs a straw house, and the second little pig deconstructs a… well, just be sure and read all the sidenotes.

Mathematical sculpture

Bathsheba Grossman is a sculptor who sculpts with a computer. She makes mathematical models of 3-D objects that never were, and then prints them in three dimensions using new solid printers. In every age, artists are enabled by technology, and a new age is dawning for sculptors like Grossman. Two things are new here. First, her subjects are sculpted by computer in a virtual studio. Second, although she also makes large commissioned works like thousands of sculptors before her, she also has the capability to “print” lots of small copies of popular pieces, just as a print maker can run off dozens of prints from a wood block. The picture at the left (called a Soliton) is one of her sculptures that I bought. The small models are relatively inexpensive, because she prints them in batches using direct metal printing.

I was showing off my Soliton sculpture at work, and someone pointed me to another artist doing similar work, Helaman Ferguson. Grossman also has some excellent links to both technical resources and other mathematical sculptors on this page.