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.

Beatles juggling redux

I’m betting that in the last two weeks somebody sent you a link to the video of the guy who juggles to Beatles music. In case you are one of the people who missed this gawk-and-forward juggernaut, here it is. Chris Bliss juggles continuously throughout the entire “Golden Slumbers” medley from Abbey Road. It’s a well-choreographed routine, the crowd goes wild, and the video propagated like a wave throughout the entire blogosphere. But what was really interesting was the juggle-geek backlash. If you’re a serious juggler (I’m not), you might look at this guy Bliss and say “What a hack! Only three balls… the only thing he has to be proud of is that he went dropless for four minutes and twenty seven seconds.”

In fact, that’s exactly what a juggle-geek named Jason Garfield said. In fact, he said much worse here, if you care to read it. Garfield is a phenomenal juggler, and he posted a sort of challenge video using the exact same soundtrack as Bliss, but doing a much much harder routine with five balls. Now what do you think about that? It really leads to this question: what is the nature of entertainment? Or rather this: what do you owe your entertainer? Garfield’s opinion is clear: you owe it to him to know the difference between hack juggling and “real” juggling. If you can’t tell the difference, he don’t need your steenkin’ applause. Here’s Garfield: “It’s fine if people are entertained by this. But they should not assume he is a good juggler just because he kind of juggled to the music with three balls. A perfect example of how little people know about juggling is that one of his strongest audience response points was when he JUST juggled the BASIC pattern.” Stupid audience! Doesn’t know its juggling patterns!

People may say Bliss is a great juggler, but what they really mean is they saw him perform and they were entertained. Bliss knows how to work the crowd. John Grisham put a lot of talented writers out of work. The contempt of angry geeks is cheaply had, but an entertainer is an entertainer.

I found this last quote on Garfield’s STOLEN MATERIAL page.

… in the juggling community, if you are performing
these routines you are considered to be at least partly a hack.
The percentage of your entire act that is made up of hack material
determines the percentage of how much of a hack you are.

1. Juggling while eating an apple.
2. Passing around a volunteer and knocking something out of their mouth.
3. Juggling Chainsaws
4. Juggling Knives
5. Juggling fire (Torches)

I know I’m embarrassing you, because I saw you doing that flaming chainsaw routine of yours last weekend. You hopeless hack.