Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Birthplace of Art

Watch "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" by Werner Herzog.  Its a very simple and straight forward documentary about the Chauvet Cave in France which contains the oldest know cave paintings in the world.  They date back to 32,000 to 30,000 years ago.  To give you some perspective Ancient Egypt began around 5,000 years ago.  I can't help but to want to visit the valley where this cave is in France to meditate on the birthplace of art.

Also, oddly enough just after I watched this film the BBC began broadcasting their series "History of the World in 100 Objects" (  All of these fantastic stories about the dawn of art and culture has stirred a fantastic imagination inside of me.  It has given me yet another form of art to juxtapose with contemporary art.  I ask this question to you:  Is it possible to make such authentic and honest paintings like the ones in the Chauvet Cave today?  I doubt those people created these paintings for any reason other than fascination and amazement.  But perhaps it's an unfair question because is assumes you can compare cave painting to contemporary painting.  I'll never forget the conversation I had with a friend who complained to me that it is plain wrong to categorize King Tut's Sarcophagus and Gerhard Richter's abstract paintings under the same umbrella of "Art".
Depiction of the head
of a Bison on top of
the pubic area of a
female (which happens
to be the first depiction
of the human form in

After watching the Herzog film and viewing the incredible images they'd taken of the paintings it occurred to me that these earliest forms of visual art contain within them all of the elements and principles of design.  It feels as though these paintings are simultaneously the beginning and end of art.  Within them we find the entire visual vocabulary that gave expression to human emotions for thousands and thousands of years.  Similarly, I found in an old New Yorker article that after a visit to the cave of Lascaux, Picasso reportedly said, "they've invented everything".

A few weeks back I asked a friend "if you had to choose one work of art to represent all of humanity which would it be?"  I now know the answer to this question.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Art Needs to Get a Tan and Loosen Up

Joanna Connor
­I was in Chicago last weekend and decided to catch a blues show at a local venue.  Buddy Guy’s famous Legend’s blues bar was sold out because he was playing both nights that weekend.  Anyway, I found Kingston Mines which had been around the North Side since 1968.  Wow!  This place was like a big old barn inside.  It had two stages, the price was right ($15), and the MC, Frank Pelligrino, was freaking magic!  He appeared to an old perverted drunk who was likely to topple over at any moment.  But when he lurched for the mic and started rapping his genius came to life.  Byder Smith , a ninety year old guitarist rocked the first set.  The next set was The Joanna Connor Band.  What a fabulous guitarist.  You gotta check this mama out if you’re in Chicago. 

Anyway, the next day as I was leaving Chicago and we drove by The Chicago Art Institute toward Midway Airport.  That got me thinking about a topic I frequently mull over in my mind: Broadly speaking, what happened to Art’s soul?  In the context of the Blues scene in Chicago this question seemed to be especially relevant.

Kingston Mines
If Art was a person I had seen at Kingston Mines he would surely be a scrawny white guy with glasses stiffly trying to move his pale rickety body to the groove.  Now if we look at history, for a while there it seemed like Art had loosened up his European backbone starting around the time of Impressionism in France.  Then, Art really took the world by surprise when he began flirting with Japanese women and soon after, women of color from Tahiti and Africa.  His son, also named Art, was nicknamed was Modernism.  He was such a cool guy… the kind of person that you’d see at Kingston Mines dancing the night away. Yeah… the good old Art.  The Art you could have a few drinks with, talk philosophy or politics with, or listen to some killer Jazz with.  He was cool.  But then Art gave birth to the next generation of Art.  This Art grew up watching TV.  He developed a sharp wit and conceptual mind.  He didn’t care for dancing much and seemed withdrawn from the world around him.  Indeed, Art lost his soul.

Frank Pelligrino on the mic
Now remember I’m speaking broadly here… of course there is art out there that resonates with the kind of Blues I heard at heard at Kingston Mines.  I should also add that soulful music such as Blues and Jazz is only a small fraction of the music being listened to and played today; So Kingston Mines may just be some anomaly outside of Chicago.  Maybe its just because I’m such a fan of Howling Wolf, Jimi Hendrix, Lester Young, and Billy Holiday that I’m acutely aware of the absence of music like this in the popular music scenes of the day.  But it seems so obvious to me that Music and Art of soul is the most human and the therefore the most exciting and enjoyable to experience.  So where’s it at Chicago?  You kept the Blues alive… so where’s all that soulful art at?  I doubt I can find a gallery that turns me on as much as Kingston Mines did last weekend.  Surprise me!